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[FanFic] Aveyond: The Lord of Twilight - In Progress

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I know it's been a year since I updated, but I just found a few things lying around yesterday, so I guess I'll post them one by one here. I'm not sure if time will permit me to continue writing, but I can still try :)

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They changed their way the next morning, taking left at every fork they came at, hoping to turn towards east. They already had come far north from the regular path from Thais to Stormbend, so they had no guideline for their path. Around some time near midday, they had seriously started to worry that they had strayed in the opposite direction when an on-foot traveler announced he was going the same way. Relieved, they increased their speed, hoping to make it the same day.

The path was pleasant and through deep forest, which made it cool on their necks and sleepy on their eyes. Mel had almost fallen from her horse before Galahad suggested that they needed to stop. There was a quick lunch with little talk and no sleep. The sky had already lost its blue and they had no choice but to push on. It was dusk when they hit the wider path on which they found few more travelers and the darkness would have been complete when they reached the town, had it not been for the lamp posts.

It was the salty smell that first hit Mel as they neared. Stormbend was essentially situated on the western coast with the ocean beyond. While Mel had often heard people speak of it, she never herself had seen it. Everyone was eager to witness it, including Edward, but the local inn keeper warned them from doing it at night, citing various reasons ranging from thieves to low tides.

The weather, in Mel's opinion, was horrible. She couldn't stop sweating, neither could the others, barring the vampires. Edward's clothes looked twice as dark than they had been earlier and Stella's pure white gown, much to her displeasure, had turned a murky gray. There was no change in her colors though, for she usually liked to wear dark colored clothes and it was a navy blue dress today. The feeling, however, was not pleasant. It had not been a journey so fast or tiring, but she was practically thoroughly bathed with sweat and couldn't sleep for a long time in the uncomfortable bed, which had bugs.

The next morning, she found herself overslept again, while the others had already gone out. Cursing, she dressed up hastily and practically ran west, much prone to stares from the local people.

'It's amazing, huh?' Edward said as she panted, palms on knees, standing next to him. The ocean stretched far too the horizon, with no sign of any land beyond or islands. The beach itself stretched long towards both the sides before it climbed up the hills, and she could see snow capped mountains in the distance.

'C'mon' she said, dragging him forward. He followed reluctantly, folding up his pants. They stood for a while, feet in water, looking into the distance.

'It's so beautiful' Mel said, looking over the ocean. 'It's so nice here!'

'I thought you said you hated it yesterday'

'Just the weather, yes, but this redeems itself. It's just so calm, and vast. And it's powerful, though I don't know why'

'It is powerful' Edward said. 'Don't underestimate the seas'

She didn't reply. For some time, they stood there, looking over the ocean. The water washed over her feet, tingling her senses. It was blissful, to say the least. Edward scratched his head, trying to get rid of the soil that had flown in.

'I wish I could go there' she said suddenly, pointing towards the horizon. 'It's just... magnetic'

'It's not our destination.'

Mel didn't speak. She looked at him and then away again.

'That's where we are headed' Edward said, pointing to the snow peaks she had seen earlier. 'The ranges of Istir, too steep to climb from the south, or it would have been much easier'

She nodded.

'Towards the far south are the barren lands, then the Mire Woods and finally the ocean again. Far in this direction-' he pointed towards the south west '- lies the continent of Eldrion and further the Aristha isles, from where Rhen Pendragon, the first came. I haven't been to either of them, though'

Mel looked into the distance again. The sea seemed to be rising slightly.

'We'll go there sometime, what do you say?' she said suddenly.

'I'm... not really that fond of ships, to be true' Edward said, scratching his head again. Mel laughed.

'Actually, I don't know when I started to like exploring' she said. 'But I really wish we could go there'

'If you'd said that a hundred years ago, it was impossible. Today, you may have a chance. Might get lucky, I guess.'

He winked. Mel laughed again, putting an arm around his shoulder.

'I wish we'd come here earlier' she said. 'And we'll come here again, what say you?'

Edward smiled slightly.

'I wouldn't have said yes if you'd asked me this question the last time I came here' he said, not looking at her. 'I rather would have run in the opposite direction'

'Why?' she asked, letting go of him. Edward chuckled.

'I didn't tell you why I was here last time, did I?'

'No'

He paused for a second.

'There was...' he said, stammering a little. '... a proposal'

Mel looked at him closely. There was a funny expression on his face. She burst out laughing as she realized what he meant.

'Shut up!' he said sheepishly. 'I didn't ask for it!'

'So what happened?' Mel asked, trying to control the hysterical laughter.

'Well...' he said, again scratching his head. '... to be true...'

Mel raised her eyebrows again as he looked at her.

'It was complete disaster' he completed, looking slightly grim.

Mel was slightly taken aback.

'What else can I say' Edward said. His eyes were slightly wide. 'I mean... she could've picked me up and thrown me a hundred yards had I not done something right...'

It was Mel's turn to raise her eyebrows now. Edward shook his head as she burst out laughing again.

***

Galahad was seated with a handsome blonde man when they returned to the inn. He wore a green dress and had an aura of carelessness.

'Not a pleasant thing you're asking me to do' the man said, looking at Mel as they took seats. Tei'jal, again, was nowhere to be seen.

'This is Eston' Galahad said, introducing him to them. Eston bowed slightly. 'Eston had extensive knowledge of the Istir forest and I was just asking him if he would be glad to accompany us there'

'Indeed' he said, twirling his hair. The blue eyes flitted rapidly towards each of them. 'And as I was saying, it's not a very pleasant thing to do'

'Why?' Mel asked, as if she didn't know.

'The path is blocked by heavy snow and the caves are sealed. You're going to have a tough time crossing that'

'Hmmm...' Mel said. 'But isn't that the case always, if what I've heard is true?'

'It isn't' He shook his head. 'It's most unnatural, actually. I wonder what could have caused. It could have been the wrath of the queen, but I can't be sure'

'How can the Queen's wrath cause snow?' she said, really in the dark now.

'The royal blood line of Istir is filled with sorcery' he said carelessly. 'The queen has long been known to command power over the weather of the region. However, what I don't understand is what could have caused her to get so angry'

Mel leaned back.

'We're going right there' Galahad said as she didn't say anything. 'It would be a good opportunity to find out what is actually going on too'

'I don't know, people, if it's worth the risk really. I have long traveled in the ice forest and I know it all, but it doesn't alleviate it. I live and make a living in Stormbend, so this is where I stay now!'

'Why did you travel in the forest then?' Stella asked.

The man laughed, but sobered up almost immediately.

'I...' He closed his mouth, looking thoughtful. Somehow, he looked confused and bit his tongue. 'I... don't know'

No one spoke and finally he shook his head slowly.

'I know it's strange' he said. 'I think I have long lost something there, something I'm... still...  searching'

They waited for some more time, while he simply bit his tongue. Galahad suddenly banged down his mug, rather too loudly, making everyone jump.

'Okay, then, I guess we shouldn't bother Eston any longer, after all probably it's really not worth the risk. I have few other plans, though we'll have to retrace some of our steps. Let's not tarry ourselves any longer, for our time is greatly limited' He gestured them to get up. 'Thank you for your time and insights, Eston. We'll remember your kindness!'

Eston didn't speak. Without anything further, all of them stood up and walked off one by one. Just as they were at the door, he came running.

'I'll come, but at a price' he panted.

'Very good!' Galahad grinned. 'How much?'

'Not gold' he said, making Mel's heart skip a beat. 'You look capable fighters. You must guard me all the way, as I have to carry something of value, to return to someone'

Galahad grinned.

'Done!' he said as they shook hands..

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Woah I remember reading this a couple months ago and I was so sad that you didn't continue it because it's truly AWESOME. One of my favourites:D I'm sooo excited that you decided to pick it up again! Plus I have no more likes to give but I'll go back and like everything XD

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The party, which increasingly was looking like a long caravan, didn't tarry for long in Stormbend, the obvious reason being that they had absolutely no business there. The forest was more than a day's march from their location, but they hoped to make it before the next night. None of them were eager to go camping in the cold.

The sun was right overhead when they left and their hoods were tightly wrapped around them, for the sweat felt better than the raw heat. They rode more or less in line, with Eston their leader and Edward behind him. Stella and Mel were in the middle while Galahad was the last. Tei'jal, still unhappy for her steed, was beside Mel.

The road northwards of Stormbend was more or less like a foot beaten path, owing to the fact that few people from the shore town ever took pains to go north. For almost half of the time, it was dense with trees and making way through was painful, though it offered relief from the harsh heat. They spoke less, tired as they were, and it was Galahad and Eston who collected firewood when they camped, even when the former couldn't enjoy it at all. He later explained that it simply had been to make sure Eston didn't suspect he was what he really was.

The next day passed likewise, except that the trees had now thinned to a comfortable level and they could travel without having to worry about poisonous cacti. However, they started thickening again before they could celebrate, though the foliage had changed a lot. By midday, they got their first hint of entering the forest, judging by the fact that they felt pleasant though the sun was still burning overhead. A few hours later, the road widened as it merged with the bigger path from Thais.

'From here...' Eston called out. '...begins the forest of Istir. This junction is often considered the border of the Brightwood, though we still are in the Thial territory. There is no proper demarcation between the kingdoms, though, since there has been no war for centuries in the parts'

'I've heard that the kingdom has no army' Edward frowned.

Eston laughed.

'Istir does have an army and it used to be mighty once upon a time. Rarely do they cross the borders, however, and that's why there has developed this common misconception... Actually, I'd even argue it's army is as strong as Thais'

Edward didn't speak again, though Mel noticed him go slightly red. The weather had turned really cold now and water felt icy. It was almost dark when she saw the slight frost on the leaves.

'We should stop here' Eston said. 'Beyond this point, the snow thickens rapidly and it's useless to attempt something that cannot be done'

None argued, and soon, they were all sitting comfortably beside a bonfire that Eston had somehow started in the bitter cold.

'It's strange' Mel said. Everyone looked at her. 'Yesterday, we were sweating under the sun and tonight we're hoping not to be frozen... It's just ... strange'

'It's magic' Eston said. 'Magic is powerful and a boon in the right hands, but can be far more terrible than your dreams. The Queen is not evil and I know not why she is angry, but it affects us all... she controls the weather. Actually, I'm looking forward to finding out the reason behind this ice'

'But' Stella said. 'If it affects the people, why don't they do something about it? And how can the Queen be so selfish?'

'The people are no match for the royal guards and any of the royals themselves. They can't do anything about it... As for the Queen, the honest answer is that I don't know why she's doing this... The last time this had happened was when there an attack on the capital from the west. But later we understood that it actually was a way in which she used her powers to break the siege, even though it meant the people inside would suffer too. It paid off, however, as the invaders were left with nothing to eat and had to withdraw in less than a month'

He looked back into the fire.

'The Istir is cold, vast and mysterious' he said slowly. 'The forest knows you, it understands you... If you are welcome, it guides you... If you're not, it turns into a never ending maze. The streams are dangerous for some, and life for others. The land holds places you could never dream of'

He scratched his ear.

'What kind of places?' Edward asked.

'I found one long ago, when I thought I was lost. It was like ... a green valley ... with no ice. It was beautiful. I couldn't ever find it again, though there was something I found there'

He didn't speak, his hand hanging in the air like his words.

'What?' Mel said impatiently.

'I lost it' he said, looking at the dark sky. 'I ... can't know why ...'

'But what was it?'

'I lost it' he said again, his eyes unfocused. The others looked at each other, Tei'jal's eyebrows raised. Mel shrugged.

'So what else is there to the forest?' Edward asked, breaking the silence.

'A lot!' Eston said, returning from the trance. 'The forest leads to the mountains, where the cold really starts and it's cold for the entire year there.. The mountains hold caves so vast and caverns so mysterious, that none have ever ventured far inside. Those who did seldom return to tell the tale. The caverns are long and twisted, but beautiful and enchanting. I have to warn you: don't stray into any of them. Besides the caves, of course, is the capital, where we are headed, but I won't describe it now, for fear of you losing the wonder'

He laughed and went back to staring at the flames. Edward was fidgeting with a rock, Stella looking at Eston. The others were all looking at the fire, with Tei'jal glancing away every few seconds. She was seated at a good distance, though Mel didn't doubt she could hear everything. She heard something howl in the distance.

'There are animals here?' she asked, her hair slightly raised.

'Far more than you can imagine' Eston laughed. 'Hounds, wolves...'

'That smells like a wrant' Tei'jal said. Everyone looked at her, Galahad's face hardened.

'What are you, a dog?' Eston laughed. 'Well I don't expect it to be one, since wrants long ago abandoned this area since their great massacre in Caralen... We're still on the road though...'

Tei'jal sneered, but didn't say anything.

'Well anyway, I suggest we keep the fire well lit tonight, and every night since. The wild gets dangerous in these parts'

They nodded and sorted out the watches. Mel didn't hear anything howl again, but she could swear that she had heard soft footsteps in the trees that night.

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Hehe, actually I really didn't know what to write there since Mel does apparently talk to herself I the game, so that came to my mind XD. The story will get a bit darker as you proceed though ...

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The party pushed on, the landscape turning unfavorable with each step they took. Soon enough, they were in thick snow, though the air was silent, so they were just leaving behind foot-deep footsteps. Even the vampires seemed as helpless as them, except for the cold. Eston seemed to really know the way well, as he guided them through the innumerable forks that the way presented. The forest did really have a certain vibe. It was imposing, as though it could sense them.

'We have been lucky' Eston said as they stopped under a ledge. 'It's rare these days not to have blizzards, but I don't want to be caught off guard'

He rummaged through his supplies and drew out a thick rope.

'Tie us up, everyone!' he called.

Tei'jal sulking, each one of them wound a turn of the rope around themselves, Galahad still being the last in line. When sure that they were secured, they set off again, cutting their way through the snow.

Twice, they saw a wolf, but it did not dare attack, probably seeing the number of people. Around noon, the sky still looked like dawn and a slight wind had started to blow, making it even more difficult to move. Eston instructed them to have a short break and lunch, to which no one disagreed. Magically, somehow, he still managed to produce a fire in the icy cold, which seemed god-sent.

The weather and the landscape changed much over the next hour. The foliage had considerably thinned and a strong wind had already started to blow, and everyone was now glad of the rope that was tying them. Mel could only see Stella's hair ahead of her, and Eston had completely vanished from view. Her teeth chattered as she pushed the snow, which was now almost knee deep in some places. Some time later, the string slackened and Eston came running back.

'The road ends here!' he shouted over the wind. 'We have to retrace a few miles and go through the cave'

'Why didn't we do that earlier?' Mel shouted back.

'It was worth checking!' Eston yelled, barely audible as he made his way backwards.

Around almost half an hour later, they reached a cliff, with no apparent sign of any cave. The wind here was almost absent, owing to the shield provided by the tall vertical rock.

'Over here!' Eston shouted, pointing to a wall. He somehow slipped inside, which Mel later saw was a small gap between two plates of the cliff, just wide enough for one man.

'We could have done this earlier' Mel said, having just squeezed her way through. Both Eston and Edward were holding lanterns in their hands, casting a dim glow on the rocky walls of what appeared to be a tunnel.

'There is something here' Tei'jal said, appearing from the entrance.

'Yes' Eston said stiffly. 'And let us prey we don't find it, or it doesn't'

'What is it?' Stella asked. 'What is this place?'

'This is a man-made tunnel' Eston explained as they started walking slowly, Mel feeling better than the forest outside. 'It's abandoned now'

'Why?' she asked, needlessly.

'The tunnel was created a long time ago, by enemies of the kingdom, to provide supplies to the army which had laid a siege to the capital. Construction started before the war was even planned completely and took years to complete. It is an entire network of man-made caves that lie before us'

They trudged ahead, careful of tripping over the uneven surface. Their steps slightly echoed, making Mel slightly uncomfortable. The walls had unmistakable signs of erosion by water, a proof that there had been no ice in these parts at some point.

'The scheme worked, to some extent. The siege laid by the western kingdoms when the tunnel completed lasted for almost ten years, though finally the army withdrew'

He stopped and carefully took a few steps ahead. The next second, he waved at them to continue. They had reached a kind of clearing, where the pathway branched off into four ways.

'Two of these lead to a hundred foot drop, to make sure that anyone who goes there doesn't return'

'You know them, right?' Edward asked, looking apprehensive. Eston chuckled.

'It's not for the first time that I have come here' he said, taking the far left path. 'So, now, the tunnel lay unused for almost fifty years, a time long enough for the forest to make it it's own'

'But that could have happened even if the people did use it' Stella said.

'No' Eston said, shaking his head. 'Istir is not like any other forest. It knows itself, and the travelers who traverse it. As far as possible, it protects them. But it needs it's space. The forest was displeased when the tunnel was dug, and so it lost no time to reclaim it when it became unused'

'How do you know it was displeased?' Mel asked.

'The people who dug it... could dig it from the start to the end, without anything happening to them. That was totally unexpected, since these rocks are often known to collapse. And then when they finally emerged successful, they were all killed. Poisoned'

'What does the forest have to do with that?' Mel frowned.

'It does. They were poisoned by cherries, which everyone else also ate. Only the diggers died'

Everyone went quiet, trying to imagine the scene.

'Like I said, the forest is different. Strange, if you prefer the word' Eston said, his old demeanor returning.

'So what's in here now?' Stella asked.

'I wouldn't be here if I could tell you that, I guess. I can tell you though, that I once found an arm, a freshly severed, bleeding human arm inside these very caverns and I can remember only running without looking back when I took a step away and the hand disappeared into something in the shadows. It was years, before I could muster the courage to come here again'

They walked on, trying not to imagine the horror of what they had just heard, hoping they wouldn't encounter anything of the sort. As they ventured deeper inside, vines and cracks began appearing in the walls, and Mel could again feel the same feeling of something imposing that she could feel in the forest. Their walk was uninterrupted for about an hour when-

'What?' Eston exclaimed as the rope became tight. Mel looked back. Tei'jal and Galahad were both looking in the same direction, a strange, worried look on their face. Tei'jal's arm was outstretched, the pale fingers pointing towards them.

'What is it?' Galahad whispered, which Mel could bearly hear. The dead silence pressed her from all sides. 'It can't be...'

'It is not possible' Tei'jal whispered back, in a voice that made everyone's hair stand up.

For almost a minute, they stood still, Mel's heart throbbing like mad. Finally-

'Run' Tei'jal whispered. 'Get on me, quick!'

Without warning, Mel felt a jerk in the forward direction and the wind in her ears. Tei'jal had grabbed her in one arm, and she could vaguely make out Stella in the other and they were moving faster than ever before. A flash of white light dazzled her.

'Faster!' Tei'jal shouted, in a tone that further increased her heartbeat. It continued like that for almost another minute, when suddenly she was thrown out into the white outside, landing into the trees, hitting her leg heavily on her side. Getting up just in time, she saw Tei'jal fire one single arrow inside the tunnel, which was followed by an explosion.

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So I finally found time to write two more chapters after more than a year!!! In case you are wondering how this is possible, well, I always keep at least two chapters in a buffer, so that I can go back and change something that has just happened if necessary at any time. A couple of things:

1) More dialogue to come. Much more!!

2) I accidentally found a way to co-relate some parts of this to the corresponding ones in the game which I found really lame, so things might happen the way they do in the game, but with a completely different perspective!

3) This is coming to a close folks! I don't think the story will last for more than five-six chapters after this. I noticed today how close I am to the part when GoN begins!

 

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'How is it possible?' Tei'jal said, looking straight at Galahad. Her expression somewhat scared Mel, because for the first time, Tei'jal looked really worried.

'It isn't' Galahad replied, looking equally worried. They were staring at each other with intensity Mel had never seen.

'What was that?' Stella asked, causing them to jump. Tei'jal ignored her, still staring at Galahad.

'Can it be a greater force?' Tei'jal murmured slowly, finally looking away. 'Gyendal...'

'Your brother seems more capable than we think' Galahad said, still looking at her.

'What was it?' Mel asked, repeating. She herself was getting worried now.

'A shadow' Galahad said, looking away. 'Of Indra'

'The Daeva?' Edward asked skeptically. 'Aren't they supposed to be dead'

Something just clicked Mel.

'We met some dwarves in Gheledon' she said suddenly. 'They said that the mines were infested with goblins, and that they were led by the Daeva Zarich'

Tei'jal stared at her intensely, making her uncomfortable.

'That is worrisome' she said, turning away. 'This is not supposed to happen'

'But how can a shadow of a Daeva return?' Edward asked.

'Daevas are strange demons' Galahad said, nodding. 'They were killed by Rhen, I myself was there when Indra was defeated'

'Rhen...' Edward stammered.

'Pendragon, the First' Tei'jal completed. 'Yes, we fought with her. She was a great leader, perhaps the only one I ever considered worthy of leading me

into battle'

Edward looked white, almost as white as Galahad.

'You...' he gulped. 'You fought beside Rhen the First?'

Tei'jal ignored him.

'Perhaps' she said. 'It is possible that someone has carried out the summoning'

'Impossible' Galahad replied almost immediately. 'The sword is sealed, and we would have felt it, had it reappeared in the mortal world'

'That's true' Tei'jal said. 'But I still can't believe Gyendal could...;

'Can you please explain what's going on here?' Mel said angrily. Tei'jal looked at her as if she was a troubling kid.

'Yes, the Daevas, as I was saying, are strange demons' Galahad said, snapping out of the trance. 'While it would seem we killed them all those years

back, it really isn't easy to kill a Daeva. A Daeva has no soul, so it cannot be destroyed completely. It is just a spirit, bound forever to one of the realms.

The only thing we have to worry about is to keep it away from the mortal realm'

'So how did they come back now?'

'Well, you can't say they have come back' he frowned. 'These are shadows, strangely enough, both weak, but powerful'

'Meaning?'

'They cannot exert much physical force, but they influence everything around them. They can create havoc... in your mind and body'

'So but how did these form at all?' Mel said impatiently, her question still unanswered.

'We cannot be sure' Tei'jal said. 'I have read a lot, having not much to do for hundreds of years. Having said that, still, not much is known about the Daevas at all, since few have ever returned after seeing them, though their terror is known far and wide. So a Daeva can be brought back only by an extremely powerful mage, with the Sword of Shadows, which was used by Rhen to kill Ahriman. The Sword is now sealed, in another realm, from where it cannot be brought back easily. Only Aveyond is the way to the Sword, where no demon can enter. However, a shadow of a Daeva may rise without the Sword, only when there is a dark force in the world, on the brink of explosion'

She ended with a mysterious tone. Mel shifted.

'You mean Gyendal...' Mel said.

'Impossible!' Tei'jal said, her teeth flaring. 'Gyendal is simply not strong enough!'

'Let us hope' Galahad said grimly. Tei'jal shot him a dirty look.

'Wait, so you mean that Ahriman can return as well?' Edward said, looking alarmed.

'No' Galahad said shortly. 'Ahriman was never sent back to the demon realm. He was trapped in the Sword, where he shall lie for eternity. Even a shadow of his cannot return'

Edward looked relieved, so did Mel, though she hadn't really come of hold of the gravity of the situation.

'So what do we do now?' Stella asked, clearing their minds.

'Nothing' Tei'jal said before anyone. 'There is nothing we can do right now about this. To try and defeat a Daeva, even a shadow, singlehandedly would be suicide. We continue onwards'

Mel suddenly remembered-

'Wait!' she said. 'Where's Eston?'

Galahad chuckled and moved aside. Eston was lying on the ground beside him.

'He'll be fine' he said, looking at their faces. I wanted to prevent him from going mad at the run, so I knocked him out before picking him up.

'We should camp at least a few miles away' Tei'jal said. 'I'll carry our guide. We are out of danger for now, since the shadow cannot easily escape its bounds, but be wary'

Everyone nodded at once. Legs and arms aching, they made their way ahead.

***

Eston woke up early the next morning and created a havoc, saying he couldn't remember anything. Galahad calmed him down, convincing him that he had been hit by a bear in the caves and that they would henceforth stay away from the tunnels where possible. Eston agreed, sulkily.

Their slow trudge began late, everyone too tired and the numbing cold made everyone wish they were back in the inn at Stormbend. The sweaty sea side seemed like heaven compared to this. Mel pushed her thoughts away, telling herself to focus on the task. The consolation was the lack of any breeze at all, probably owning to the high rise of mountains to both the sides.

Their journey through this patch went uneventful, except that towards noon, the snow actually seemed to be thinning. Walking would have been much easier, had their legs not already been feeling like jelly. A couple of hours later, they reached another cave.

'Here we enter the Quin Kingdom' Eston shouted from ahead. 'I assume everyone is here for the first time, right?'

'Yes' everyone said in chorus, even Tei'jal, amusing Mel.

'Then brace yourselves!' Eston said, waving his hand inside, a large grin on his face.

Mel gasped.

As soon as they entered the cave, which looked dark from outside, a new light seemed to have entered inside. The walls gleamed brightly, and Mel could see tiny specks of lights everywhere. Closer examination revealed that there were innumerable crystals on both the sides of the cave walls. The cave had rough walls, but the lights arranged themselves so that each part of the cave looked beautiful. The path, she suddenly noticed, was tiled and no snow seemed to have entered inside.

'The Crystal Cave!' Eston said, clapping his hands. 'Your first welcome to the aesthetic Quin Kingdom!'

Instructed by Eston, they got rid of the rope binding them.

'The Captial is still a long way from here, but I shouldn't expect much snow once we cross this cave' he said merrily.

'How is that possible' Edward asked inquisitively. Eston grinned, plainly showing his delight at being asked the question.

'The rulers of Istir hold power, but understanding this, a mechanism has been created, so that people do not suffer. A long time ago, a spell was set on this cave and beyond. Any part ahead cannot ever witness extreme weather, which would destroy people's lives. This ensures that even a bad ruler can't make the people closest to the capital suffer!'

The journey through the cave was uneventful, to say the least. Initially, Mel was fascinated by the crystals and the light inside the cave, but after some time, it really had become monotonous and she was longing for the tunnel to end. After about an hour, it did.

'That was long!' she said, stepping out into the sun. The weather seemed mild, almost comfortable. Snow was falling gently, unlike outside, and the foliage was less dense. Moreover, the path was still tiled, meaning they could no longer lose themselves and blame it on their guide. Around evening, they saw the first house, a small hut which seemed unoccupied.

'Welcome to the Capital of Quin!' Eston said, grinning at the hut. 'Just remember, you got here real easy; I've seen far worse on the way here'

Mel turned around just in time to see Tei'jal looking at him, an eyebrow slightly raised.

Quote

Sincerely sorry for being the laziest writer ever, but then I also had exams :(

 

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They spent their night at Eston's modest home, a few miles ahead. The traditional housing of these parts didn't have much to say, except for a lot of storage space to stock up piles of goods, rather small windows and big fire hearths, which were quite necessary. They houses were small and didn't rise for more than a couple of floors, probably for the fear of them toppling over due to wind. Eston's house in particular had a bad smell and the typical signs of being in disuse. The floor was covered with a layer of dust and the ceiling was covered with cobwebs. Any furniture Mel touched seemed to be falling apart. But that was the least of her worries.

Now that they were here, Mel was starting to wonder whether they really had any plans after all. Everything had been too fast for her to comprehend what was really happening. In a matter of a few days, they had crossed the country and ended up in a completely different land, but now she had no idea where to go. The map suggested one of the keys was here, but they had overlooked the fact that the area itself was much larger than they had imagined, and it seemed like a fool's errand to look around the entire city, let alone the whole forest, searching for what would probably be a small artifact.

Everyone was too sleepy to wake up early the next morning. Eventually, it was almost noon by the time everyone was at the table, and their next destination was already the hot topic of discussion.

'The key could be anywhere for all we know', Mel said, voicing her thoughts from the previous night. 'It is even possible that it could be buried right beneath where we are sitting'

'Well then, lets start digging!' Edward exclaimed.

'How big is this country', Stella asked, ignoring him.

'It is a big country' Edward replied, nodding his head. 'We cannot possibly go everywhere, just asking people if they had it'

'Now that I come to think of it, we have no idea what the keys look like either', Mel grumbled.

'I don't think the key would be just anywhere', Galahad said, leaning forward. Everybody turned to him. Te'ijal, who had been sitting with her back towards them, turned back in her chair.

'Yes', she said, nodding. 'We do not know what these keys really are. It seems unlikely that they are just pieces of metal'

'What do you mean?', Mel piped in.

'It's obvious, isn't it?' Galahad said. 'If the key was indeed just a piece of metal, it'd be too easy to forge, create a duplicate or get lost or molten for that matter'

'You don't want to block the entrance to Naylith just because some stupid king threw the key in his hearth', Te'ijal said. 'No, such objects are generally bewitched with ancient magic, of the type that is unheard of now. They posses powers, often those that would keep them in safe hands. And more than often, their definition of safe is ...'

'Powerful', Galahad completed. Everyone looked at him.

'So you mean the queen has the key?', Edward said slowly.

'It is possible', Galahad said. 'But again, it really depends. The powers of a ruler are limited, curbed by responsibilities to the people, further if they have a strong advisor. Such an object will seek power that is concentrated with one person. Moreover, I never said power meant ruling people'

'So what else do you call powerful', Edward said quickly.

'There are much greater things, young prince', Te'ijal said, making Edward go a bit red. 'Tell me, if you ruled, but I had the power to control your mind, then no matter whether I used this power or not, wouldn't I be more powerful?'

'That's not all', Galahad said. 'Even a different kind of power, say a strong magical affinity for some particular element or having glimpses into a different time would mean being equally powerful. As I said, this is not the conventional power that we are talking about here'

There was silence for a minute as everyone tried to imagine various other possibilities.

'But that doesn't help', Te'ijal said finally. 'We still need to start somewhere, and the queen seems like a good idea'

'And she won't see you', a voice said, making everybody jump. Mel scowled as Eston stepped ahead from the shadows.

'You were eavesdropping, you know that?' she said angrily.

'Further, I've discovered that the queen is not causing the bad weather', Eston said, ignoring her. Everyone leaned forward. 'In fact, the ruling queen apparently never even had the power to cause so much snow'

'So who?', Te'ijal said, surprising Mel, seeing her speak to Eston. 'And how do you know this?'

Eston chuckled mildly as she asked the second question.

'I have some really well placed sources, whom I had the opportunity of connecting to last night', he said. 'As it turns out, the queen won't see you because she is in deep sorrow. Her only daughter, princess Claria went missing some time ago. But that was not all. It all got worse when she was found a couple of months back'

He paused for a couple of seconds, creating a dead silence. Mel noticed, unlike Thais, everything got really quiet here, owing to the fact that there wasn't much activity happening outside.

'She was found at Elonaria, which is an ice castle not too far north from here. And she was asleep. Alive, but she wouldn't wake up. And nobody could move her from there. Everything was tried, but it was impossible to get her out of there. And so we fast forward to today, and she still sleeps there and the queen mourns'

'Why didn't this make the news then?', Edward said slowly. 'If I understand it right, many big news agencies from Thais have connections here. Surely I wouldn't have missed something so big'

Eston chuckled.

'There's more to Claria than just being the queen's daughter. She is rumored to have the powers of the family, and was all set to be the next ruler. And the queen has no other children, which makes her the last of the line. If the people come to know what has happened, it would inevitably lead to war, internally or otherwise. The queen wants to prevent any bloodshed, so everything was carried out under the highest possible secrecy. For anyone else, the princess is safely inside the castle and the weather is bad because she is angry at them'

'But all this still doesn't answer for the bad weather, does it?' Edward said. 'How can the princess be affecting the weather if she is asleep?'

'That is not how these things work', Eston said, shaking his head. 'You don't always control your magic; sometimes it just flows. For an example, a nightmare for the ruler of Istir would mean a thunderstorm'

Mel looked away, surprised at how powerful and strange things were. She never had imagined that people could ever be at the mercy of the whims and feelings of a single individual. Somehow, this was even scarier than the situation they were all in.

'There's only one thing we can do', Galahad said, getting up from his chair. 'If we are to talk to the queen or the princess, we first have to wake her up. I'm guessing a lot of our time henceforth would be spent traveling after all'

'We'll need a plan' Edward said. 'There'll be guards, traps that will be laid out for us'

'Not exactly' Eston said, shaking his head. 'Unless I'm very wrong, not more than a dozen people know about this, and half of them are sitting here. I'll be surprised if the queen herself is sitting with a spear guarding the gate.'

Everyone looked at him for a moment.

'Besides, she doesn't exactly need protection, considering that something might blow you off if you tried to harm her' he chuckled.

'What was this source you talked about?' Mel piped in. Eston chuckled again, clearly amused.

'You don't want to know' he said, vanishing out the doorway.

Surprised and suspicious, nobody said anything as they filed out of the small dining room, each chair creaking as they got up.

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