The Heart (Part Ten)

The merciless sun poured down on us as our sweating palms struggled to grip the arid rock face; every new stone touched felt as if it could slip away at anytime. I could sense them inside and I am sure they too could sense my presence. Frani appeared unfazed as she continued her ascent. I wished she were less confident sometimes; some humility would do her good.

“Come on! I can see an opening!” Frani shouted encouragingly.

“This is so foolish. We are chasing fairy tales,” the magister pouted from my back.

Earlier that afternoon, as we reached the foot of the dormant volcano, the magister began acting frightful. He refused to climb or even hover his way up using magic. But we had not come this far to simply have the man who could confirm our suspicions stay below safe and ignorant. Frani and I devised a harness for the old white beard and Frani cast an incantation to mute his magical abilities. And so, the magister found himself bound to my back like the child he proved to be.

As I placed my raw blistered hands on the ledge, I could see the extent of ecstatic expression on Frani’s face as she reached out her hand. I put hers in mine and allowed her to feel as if she were pulling me up. The sores on my hands had healed by the time I pulled myself up..

“How is our friend doing?” Frani asked, patting the magister on the head.

His wrinkled face could barely muster a scowl. I uncoiled the vines that held the miserable frail man in place on my back, sending both the harness and the magister crashing to the ground.

“Ahhhh!”

I whipped around to see his head peering over the edge and watched him with great amusement. Frani could not help but to laugh hysterically.

“Come now, Highborne. You are used to being in the sky. Free of danger.”

“You Lowborne are sick! Sick I say!” he yelled.

A fire ignited in Frani’s eyes and she placed his foot on his arse.

“Sick is abandoning the poor to fend themselves against the horrors of the night!”

“Frani.”

“I watched my mother get gored by the Great Hoskur! Yes! A beast vicious enough to take on a small army maimed and devoured my mother! And all my father and I could do was watch! You all did nothing! You just watched it all happen from your haven in the sky!”

“Frani — “ I watched as she pushed harder on his arse.

“And my brother!” she continued as the tears collected in the ducts of her eyes, “My brother jumped from a cliff thanks to the haunting nightmares we endured!”

Feeling she was now going too far, I pulled her from his dangling life.

“He gets it. Be calm Francesca. There will be a time for this.”

“You’re right. Let’s keep moving,” she said as she turned to the mouth of the cave before us.

I knelt down and loosened the fastenings holding the sacred magister with emerald hued vines. I did not help him to his feet.

As he brushed the soot from his robes he scoffed, “Everything was fine before you came along. We had the Lowborne doing as we asked. Now they have their own housing in the sky forts and actually have a say.”

“You say all of this as if it is a bad thing.”

“It is. Some must bear the burden so that rest may live in relative peace.”

“All of that does not matter.”

“What? Why?”

“Follow me. You will see for yourself.”

I walked into the maw of the cave with elevated caution, intent on finding the heart of the volcano. I could sense an army within these seemingly solitary caverns, and him. I could hear the magister’s footsteps behind me. I could hear his heartbeat and I could feel the blood flowing through his veins.

I cannot be getting this heated this quick. I need to control my anger, for now.

Memories of Vincente poured through me like the cascading flow of the waterfall we used to visit. At first, it felt exhilarating. I was once again by his side; I could feel his soft hands brush against my ever worrisome cheek. But suddenly his touch felt cauterizing, scorching. I remember the great fire. The end I wished for but never came. And the final visage captivated unwillingly in my mind was that of him being — I felt a hand touch my shoulder which released me from my malign daydream. With a crushing force I clenched it and whipped myself around to see who crept behind me.

There the magister stood with a look of such bewilderment that he could not scream from the pain of his crushed hand. Though grunts of pain climbed from his throat. I felt guilty for my outburst and promptly released him.

“I — I just can’t see. I know you are fine, but I cannot see. The others are too far ahead.”

“Do not touch me. Understood?”

“Yes.”

“I cannot do anything about the light. Walk forward and keep your hands out. Can you use your magic?”

“No, your friend cast that incantation on me. I am bound until she relinquishes me from it.”

“Well, there is nothing I can do. Walk forward and keep your hands to yourself.”

He gave me no answer and I found that suitable.

I felt concerned as the magister and I wandered through the darkness for, what felt like, a good while. Then, not far from us, I could see the faint glow of light. I could not determine its source. I gripped the magister’s wrist and dragged him along the ground towards the faint illumination. To my delight I saw Frani and her crew; to my dismay I could hear them murmuring words of ill-spoken excitement.

As I exited the tunneling cave I found myself, I joined them in shared astonishment. The vast hollow chamber before them appeared marvelous, at first. I could see the sky above me from where I stood. The dread came when I looked down. Down at the army of daemons. Their numbers and power unbridled. And there in the center, the horned wolf headed behemoth himself: Malos.

Every single piece of me wished to unfurl my wings and to wreak havoc on the hell below me. But Frani turned to me. Her confidence expelled and her beautiful eyes held that deathly concern I wished to never see again. Not in another loved one.

“Is — Is that him?”

“Yes, Francesca. That is him.”

The magister stood next to us, speechless. His legs trembled and caved, forcing him to his knees. He could not stop shaking his head.

“I told you, magister. This,” I pointed my hand outward “is what you should be concerning yourself with. Not continuing class inequality. There will be no more lavish lifestyle for you to uphold if this army goes unchecked.”

“Angie,” Frani gently turned me to face her, “For the first time ever,I am not so sure I can win.”

“It will be okay. We will find a way. Your magic is strong; your people’s magic is strong. We can do this.”

“Do — Do they know we are here? Can they sense us?” the magister uttered.

“No, of course not.” I said.

“Do not lie to them Angela!” Malos’ voice boomed from below.

Frani’s soldiers dropped their weapons and darted off into the cave upon hearing his gravelly voice echo through the chamber.

“Why is he not killing us! They are all just standing there!” the magister bellowed.

“Fret not, you worm. I will come for you when I feel ready. But if I were you, I would leave before I decide I am hungry.”

The magister fled, too, albeit on shaky knees. Frani looked at me with such despair. A feeling we both shared without a doubt in the moment. The moment she realized what we were up against I found myself looking into the eyes of another loved one I would more likely than not, see die.

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