The Afterworld Saga — 6
Chapter 6 — The Key
By the time Tamra and Roy left the Temple of Themis, the sun had begun the slow descent into the velvet sky. Roy was trying to make sense of the Oracle’s message. He couldn’t understand how he could be the key — after all he was just a porter.
One day you will face an evil the world has long forgotten.
The words came back to him in a flash, as if they had been spoken aloud. He could hear his father’s voice speak those words to him, years before. Without revealing any further details, his father rushed off to bed — leaving Roy with a mountain of unanswered questions. But when his father was murdered by their own mother the next day, Roy passed off his father’s strange ramblings as a drunken prophecy about his own death and thought nothing further on the matter.
He had it coming to him. Roy assured himself, believing his father was the mastermind behind his mother’s psychotic episode. He drove her to it. Roy thought to himself as he held onto his horse’s strap, guiding it in the direction of their home on Trident Way while Tamra — in the form of his sister — rode on its back. It was all so confusing to him.
Damaris was a half day’s walk from the Temple. Roy managed to find a spot near Stiph Lake to pitch a tent before it got too dark for them to see.
“I think we should stop here for the night and have dinner.”
“Okay.” Tamra agreed, positioning herself to climb off the horse when Roy came over to lift her down by the waist. She could sense a little aggression in his handling of her. They hadn’t spoken to each other since they began the trek back.
“He’s bothered. Say something to him.” Leida voiced to Tamra.
“And what should I say exactly?”
“I dunno. Anything. Tell him he’s not alone.”
Roy began piling wood for the fire in a makeshift pit when Leida broke the silence.
“Your sister says you’re not alone.” Tamra tried.
“And what do you know?”
“I know that you’re scared.”
“Oh, yeah? Are you an oracle now?”
“No, but it’s written all over your face.”
“Look. Unless you can figure out how to give my sister back control of her own body, you shouldn’t talk to me. If it wasn’t for you, we’d never be in this mess.”
“I… I… That’s not fair!” Tamra shouted.
“NO. You’re right. It’s not fair. We just happened to be strolling along King’s Way when you decided to jump off the tower of the abandoned castle to escape your own fate. A whole lot an eye for an eye got you.”
Tamra stormed off without a word to the tent that Roy pitched — although she was certain it was only because she was occupying his sister’s body. Otherwise, Roy would have probably left her to her own devices on the rocks that scattered about the shore where lake leopards hunted crab in the night.
“So much for telling him he’s not alone.” Tamra scoffed at Leida, pacing around the small tent.
“Give him time. He’s processing the huge weight that’s been placed on his shoulders.”
“We just need to go back to the Shadow Keep to retrieve my body and traverse the Afterworld in search of the Dark Heart. After that, I’ll be on my way to the next life and out of your hair for good.”
“Easy now, Assassin. This is the Afterworld we’re talking about.”
“Surely the Vessel and the Key aren’t mere mortals.” Tamra chided. She could hear Leida burst out laughing inside her head but felt that she knew Tamra had a point.
“It was Leida’s fault for rescuing her soul. She would have been better off dead.” Tamra tried to conceal her thoughts.
Roy decided to go for a walk along the water to clear his mind. He knew Leida heard his argument with Tamra. She was the last person he would have wanted to upset. But it isn’t Leida. He tried to convince himself. He had spent the last year trying to protect her from whatever evil had been following them. Since his mother was struck down, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. He made a vow to protect her from experiencing the same destruction, no matter the cost. She had already attempted to kill herself and had been fighting dizzy spells since the day her mother died.
Roy didn’t even know how he’d get to the Afterworld or what he’d be up against once they were there. The Oracle had mentioned something about not being far from the depths of the ocean. What ocean? We’re land locked, he thought. Stiph was one of seven man-made lakes that were barely deep enough to bathe and swim. They were built to honor the gods. Of course, he had heard about sea creatures inhabiting the God Lakes, but weren’t those myths?
As night wore on, the air grew warmer. Roy had fallen asleep on a boulder where he sat thinking. The water below bubbled. Steam and mist fogged the atmosphere, and an odorous stench of dead fish aroused him. He woke up in a panic and pinched himself to confirm he wasn’t dreaming. “Leida!” He shouted as a white, almost luminescent head appeared rising from the water’s surface. He ran towards the tent to wake Tamra.
“We have to get out of here!”
Tamra shrieked as she noticed one of the giant snake-looking creatures with a long body approaching the tent. She had never seen one before but had read about them in her early years as an understudy to the Beast Tamers of Old Pyhrrea.
“We have to get closer to the path. They won’t be able to touch us there.” Roy said, untying the horse and setting Tamra on its back.
“What about you?” Tamra asked.
“He-ya.” Roy shouted, ignoring her hesitation and slapping the horse’s ass to move it along.
He pulled his dagger from his satchel. But, as soon as he turned back to face the hideous creatures, he found that one was staring down on him within arm’s reach. Roy could feel the beast’s hot breath on his skin. A thick foam of saliva dripped from its mouth. He squeezed his eyes shut and raised his dagger. When he opened them again, it was gone. They had all disappeared. The air chilled and dawn cracked. He couldn’t believe it. He lowered his arm and looked down. There was an odd-shaped key on the ground. He picked it up. Strange, he thought. The key matched the lines on his right palm. A golden light flashed before it melted into his flesh.
“Roy!” Tamra shouted in the distance, but he was certain that it was Leida’s beckoning.
“What happened?” Tamra asked, coming closer.
“Nothing.” Roy hesitated as he scanned the edge of the lake then looked back at his tingling hand. “I think it’s all clear now.”
“I didn’t even know those things were real.”
“Well you’d better believe it. I have a feeling that won’t be the last time we see them.”
They started up the path again, heading back to Damaris. The Sea Creature had said nothing and everything all at once in that startling encounter. Tamra and Roy remained silent the rest of the trip. But Tamra perceived Roy’s attitude towards her had changed. She sensed that Leida was smiling inside. She, of course, knew her brother’s darkest secret better than anyone.
Editor’s Note: Because the queue for writing chapters is getting so long, we’re starting a second book. The first chapter has already been written by Joshua Valdivia and we’re planning on starting it sometime this weekend. We are also planning on choosing a third book from the short story section of The Unending Tales. Please help us out by reading some short stories and commenting on which one you’d like to see be made a new book.
Thanks to Joe Rodriguez for his awesome chapter! The list of authors has been updated:
Ashley Khue Pham April 28 ch7
Nnubia Ogbuefi May 5 ch8
S Lynn Knight May 12 and 19 ; ch9 and 10
Kevin M. Schenk May 26 ; ch11
Joshua Valdivia — June 2 ; ch12
C. Allen Exline ; June 9 ch13
Si — June 16; ch14
Rhiannon D’Averc — June 23 ; ch15
Raine D. — June 30 ; ch16
Tobi Amos-July 7 ; ch17