The Blighted Earth - Chapter 4 (under construction)
We were walking for hours, and still the piles of bones didn’t seem to have an end in sight. I was so caught up in trying not to step on them where I realized I hadn’t taken my medicine for the day. I looked up at the sky to gauge how long it had been since my last dose. It didn’t help that my thoughts were clouding over as I tried to calculate while tip-toeing around the dead.
The crunch of a dried-up femur made me stop.
“I think now is a good time to take a break,” I said as I plopped down to sit where I stood, minding the bodies. I dug around my supplies and pulled out my little leather pouch of salt and a jug of water.
“Here I thought you were trying to drive me insane,” Eĵas said as he sat down next to me, moving to do the same. “It would be a cruel irony if I were the one to fall into madness and you would be the one to have to kill me, wouldn’t it?”
I poured the pouch’s contents into my mouth and chased it down with gulps of water, the dryness and saltiness an unpleasant sensation. A necessary evil.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” I asked.
A slight frown of distaste pulled at Eĵas’s mouth after he finished his own dose. “I don’t know about you, but I rather hate the valley of bones we’re surrounded by. I want to get out of here as soon as possible.”
“You don’t actually believe that the madness is still in these corpses, do you?”
“Perhaps before, but honestly, I’m skeptical now. It’s as you’ve said: we’re surrounded by the dead. Have we been driven insane yet? No.”
At that moment, a chilling gust of wind blasted from the top of the mountain, the force enough to rustle and jostle the piles of bones around us to roll down the mountain.
Eĵas yanked me to my feet by my arm and started running down the incline, ignoring where the bones were laid and crunching them into dust under his feet.
“What’s that for? Watch where you’re stepping!” I shouted, trying to mind where my own steps landed. How could he so blatantly disregard the bodies?
“There’s an encroaching avalanche of skeletons, and you’re peeved at the fact that I’m damaging them?” he reprimanded, my arm still in his grasp.
That was when I noticed the loud rumbling in the distance and I looked at the bone piles behind us. Or, more like one gigantic pile that was forming by the increasing momentum of skeletons down the mountain.
That wasn’t good.
“There’s no way we could outrun it,” I realized aloud.
I yanked back my arm, causing Eĵas to halt his retreat and stare at me confused. I shook my head, not having the time to explain, and planted my feet into the ground.
I probably looked like an idiot to him with my arms waving around without any real patterns to them as I not-so-gently tried to ask the ground to help me grow a tree as a barrier to the falling bones. The surge of energy that I felt blocking me from doing so indicated that my request was denied.
Not a big tree then. I settled on two saplings and weaving vines between them to catch the corpses into a makeshift net-like lean-to. The energies in the earth fought against me each time a new vine sprouted from the ground and I felt their magic tearing into the very essence of my being.
Eĵas took notice of what I was doing and crouched underneath the flimsy shelter. I dove beside him. The net held, bulging under the weight of the bones.
The professors back at the academy would have been so proud at how fast I grew those things. Then again, they would also criticize me for how crooked the trees turned out and send me to the doctors to get my insides checked for not communing with the energy in the soil properly. I was pretty sure there wasn’t any real harm done, especially in comparison to being buried alive by the body of someone who could have been my great-great-great-great grandmother, or if I decided to go with growing that big tree I wanted.
Good thing about being süliras, you could influence the world itself by your own abilities. Bad thing is that the world itself can easily influence you. In my case, I was pretty sure there’s some dirt that got into my system from the sudden lean-to making. Not as bad as the huge tree could have been, though it would have been much more reliable to hold the weight of the bones. But having to get doctors to get my body to flush out all the dirt? Saplings weren’t too bad in comparison. I could easily just sleep off the discomfort as the foreign substance inside me disintegrated naturally.
All that said, it did leave me wanting to lay still and catch my breath for a while.
Eĵas’s eyes told me he was concerned, but his lips said, “That was stupid.”
“We’re alive, right?” I murmured. “I think I made a good decision.”
“A good decision, but still a stupid decision.” He turned away from me to look outside the shelter. “But thank you, nonetheless.”
“Do you think that you can still do this? It’s not too late to turn back.”
I furrowed my brows at him. I couldn’t believe that he was even suggesting it when he was the very same person who said he wanted me to succeed.
“Do not misunderstand, Mr. Cael,” Eĵas continued. “The largest struggles were likely the ones we’ve faced back in Gavallande, and from what I’ve seen, you’re more than capable to handle yourself in an environment like this. However, it has become quite apparent to me that you are needlessly reckless. Are you sure there are some other reasons for you to be here than just for exploratory purposes?”
“What do you mean by that? What other reason would I have to be here? And I was not reckless, by the way.”
“Tell me, how often have you been exposed to the dead and dying prior to being in Gavallande?”
“Just once, when my sister died. Nobody else after that. That was ten years ago.”
Eĵas regarded me from the corner of his eye, silent. His gaze returned to the scene outside, but his attention turned inward. He was making conclusions about me again.
“Why do you ask?” I said.
“Other people are often easy for me to predict. You, on the other hand, are not.”
Then, from Eĵas, “I’m sorry about your sister.”
“It’s alright. I didn’t know her that well. Too young.”
The silent air was accented by the occasional rustle of bones that hadn’t finished their descent down the incline.
Eĵas decided to pick up once again, “I believe it is time to call it a night. We'll proceed based on how you feel come morning.”