Thirteen - The Next Challenge

2044 Words
I woke up to the feeling of water droplets falling to my face. Grunting, I opened my eyes and sat up. I wiped the wetness from my face with the back of my hand. It came away tacky. Even under cover of darkness, I knew the droplets weren’t water. I drew my fingers to my nose, and the stench of rotting eggs filled my nostrils. Demon blood, I thought as I looked up. There was enough light coming from the far entrance to make me see my surroundings. An unlit torch was perched on the tunnel’s wall above my head. I sighed a breath of relief as I realized there were no demons around. “Look who’s back to the waking world.” a familiar deep voice said. Startled, I scrambled to my feet. “Magat?” “Were you expecting someone else?” I was confused. “How come…” my voice trailed. I was about to ask how on earth he was still alive, but I thought that it was probably a bad idea. Clearing my throat, I decided to ask a different question. “I… I’m alive?” “Of course, you are alive. You didn’t die, you coward i***t,” Magat replied. “I just knocked you unconscious for leaving us.” He scoffed. “If it weren’t for the others, I would have killed you on sight.” The sound of metal whistling filled the tunnel. I looked at Magat’s hand, and his silver dagger gleamed between his fingers. “I’m sorry I bailed on you,” I muttered. “I was terrified. Those Shadow demons scared the living soul out of me. I did not want to die.” “I understand.” Saying that I was surprised that Magat understood my reasons was an understatement. “You do?” “Yes,” he said as he stood up. “Well, what could be expected from an incompetent child like you? Of course, you will run like a scared cat at the sight of danger. I wasn’t surprised in the slightest at your utter betrayal.” “I didn’t betray you!” With one quick gesture, Amias’s dagger was at my throat. “No, you didn’t. You just left us, hoping that we will get killed by the demons.” The war chief’s face loomed over mine as he grabbed me closer to him. “Be thankful that Lyana is so forgiving and that Amias still thinks you are our destined leader,” he said and pushed me away. I fell to the ground on my back. “I told you, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.” A dull throbbing pain flared throughout my body as I hauled myself upright. “Better not,” Magat said. “Oh, you’re finally awake,” announced another familiar voice. I shifted my gaze toward its direction and saw Lyana carrying something in her arms, Amias trailing behind her. Despite what I’ve done, Lyana still smiled at me. She turned her eyes to Magat. “This was all we could find. It’s not much, but we could use this to keep us warm. There’s a storm of violent winds outside. I reckon it would get cold later.” She dropped what she was holding to the ground, and I realized that it was a pile of dead twigs. “This place you found is good, Sh’muel. We could stay here until the storm ends.” “You’re not mad at me, Lyana?” “No, I’m not. Why would I?” she asked as she brushed away the dust from her arms. “Well, perhaps a little. You could’ve just stayed behind the boulders if you didn’t want to come with us into the Dead Forest. But then again, if you did, you wouldn’t have found this tunnel for us to use as shelter.” I sighed and stared at my feet. A long stillness ensued as I did not know what to say. A strange guilty feeling bloomed inside my chest at Lyana’s kindness. They weren’t my friends, but it wasn’t right to leave them for dead. “How did you find me?” I asked to break the awkwardness. Amias finally spoke. “You are a Chosen warrior, Samuel. I will always find you.” “I’m sorry, Amias. I promise to do better.” Really now, runner? “Say that when you are truly ready, Chazaklev.” Amias walked forward and sat down across me. For a moment, I thought that he would speak again, but he didn’t. “What happened?” I asked. “Did you find the sword?” “Yes, we did. As Amias told us, the Shadow demons were afraid of the torch’s light. None of them were able to get close to any of us. If you ask me, I thought it was easy. Some of the demons were even burned away when the light touched them. But, oh for goodness’ sake, the stench was horrible! It was like a feast of festering meat. The smell was so foul I had to pinch my nose the whole time!" she said with matching elaborate hand gestures. "Anyway, when we got to the middle of the Dead Forest, we saw the sword plunged halfway through the ground. Magat pulled it out, and then we made our way back.” “That sounds great,” I remarked as I sat down. “Where is the sword, though?” “Oh, Magat did not show you?” “He showed me something else. A dagger. It was real sharp.” At that, Lyana shot the war chief a dark glare. “What did you do to him, Magat?” The war chief sat down beside Amias. Magat’s large frame looked larger beside the robe man’s small build. “Nothing! I just reminded him not to betray us again.” “Terrorizing Sh’muel will do nothing to encourage him. What you’re doing is not helping, Magat.” “Fear is a great motivator, huntress,” Magat remarked. “I found that terrorizing children back in my village worked wonders for obedience. None of them defied me because they were scared. That’s why I’m the war chief.” “Well, you are not in your village, are you?” Lyana asked. “You should really stop antagonizing him. Try to be more encouraging. It is better to be respected than to be feared, Magat.” At that, the war chief just scoffed. He stood up and walked a few paces away from us. I watched with wide eyes as he lifted something from the ground. When he walked back, something long and metallic was in his hands. The sword of the Archangel Raphael. He took a step closer and pointed the sword at me. The tip of the blade was a few fingers’ lengths away from my face, and I couldn’t be more disappointed. “That’s it?” I asked no one in particular. “That’s the Angel’s sword?” “Yes,” answered the old man. “It doesn’t look that it can defeat the Demon King. I don’t think it could even slice through bread. It’s… dull,” I said as I stared at the blade. It was true. The sword looked dull. Its blade was old and rusty. When I heard that they had the sword of the Angel, I expected to see something glorious, something that spoke of Heaven and power. The blade in Magat’s hand looked nothing like that. It was gray and blunt. “Are you sure this is it, Amias?” “I am sure,” replied the robed man as he stared at the blade. “The sword has changed, yes. It is not how it used to be before, but I could feel the connection to it. Its powers are faint as though the sword has fallen asleep from years of disuse.” “Do you know how to… wake it up or something?” “I don’t,” Amias admitted. “This has never happened before. When I was given the Angelic armaments, they were all blazing with glory. Their powers were reeking in waves that even the mere sight of them frightened demons away. Now, the weapons are muted, and I do not know why.” “Maybe you could try asking the Archangel Raphael?” suggested Lyana as she gathered the pile of dead twigs in front of us. “You said that the Angel told you we were the Chosen Ones. So that means you can talk to him. Ask him why the sword turned dull. Maybe even ask him to wake it up for us.” Amias’s chest heaved as he took a deep breath. “I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way, huntress,” he said. “I could not choose to speak to the Angel. Only he could do that. If he desires to speak with me or any of us, he will.” Upon hearing the old man’s words, something tickled the back of my mind. Memories of a dark place lit up by a blazing power came rushing to me. “I think he has spoken to me,” I blurted out. “The Angel, I mean.” “Utter nonsense,” remarked Magat. “I don’t believe any of this boy’s words. Especially not after what he has done to us.” “Quiet, Magat! Let the boy speak," pitched Lyana as she turned to face me. "Go ahead, Sh’muel, tell us what the Angel told you.” I cleared my throat and swept my gaze around. Everyone was looking at me, even Magat. Their eyes were shining as though expectant. “Well, I am not sure if it really was the Archangel Raphael. I just saw a ball of light about this big,” I said and spread my arms to demonstrate the size. “It spoke to me and told me that it was on my side. I couldn’t identify whether the voice was male or female, but I was sure it came from the glowing orb.” “Where did you see it?” Amias’s eyes were wide, and his mouth was gaping open. “What did it say? Was it in this realm?” “No.” I shook my head. “It was in a dream. Just now, before I woke up. Everything was dark in my dream until the orb came. Its glow burned all the shadows away, and I saw that I was in someplace that looked like an infinite white hall.” “That’s impossible!” exclaimed Amias. “You aren’t supposed to dream. Dreams are for the souls on the mortal plane. Once it descends to Hell or rises to Heaven, the soul loses the ability to dream. You cannot even sleep in Hell!” “I wasn’t asleep, though. Magat knocked me unconscious. I don’t know, maybe that’s why?” I asked, shrugging my shoulders. “Don’t look at me like that. I am telling the truth!” Amias placed his thumb on his chin. His eyes seemed distant as though he was thinking. “I am not sure," he said and looked back at me. “What else did it say?” I stared at the tunnel’s ceiling, trying to recall the words of the glowing orb. “Oh, I remember now,” I said. “‘Believe, Samuel. Believe.’ Those were its last words before it disappeared.” Amias smiled a little. The confusion and worry vanished from his face. “If that’s true, there is still hope.” “Even if the sword seems useless?” I asked. “We don’t know that yet,” Amias answered. “All I know is that we should continue with the Divine Quest.” Lyana struck two rocks together with sudden force, and a spark flew to the pile of dead twigs. At once, the wood caught fire, lighting the surroundings with an eerie orange glow. “What are supposed to do next?” “We venture into the mountains once the surging winds pass,” said Amias. “We will steal the Angel’s shield from the Minotaur.”
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