Gripping the thick, prickly vines, I pulled myself up onto the gritty, rocky ledge. I cast my gaze across the area below. It was covered in dense trees and more vines. A small stream located to the south was barely noticeable amongst it all. Some sunlight peaked through the overcast and several birds seemed to screech at me as they took to the sky, rushing over my head.
My eyes drifted down to the other side of the ledge and I softly smiled. The wooden rods we had inserted into the cliffside to make a staircase were still there after nine years. It had been about over two years since I had last seen Caleb. We had briefly met up one evening in Slothia Isle. Then he had been on a diplomatic mission, so he hadn’t been able to spare much time. Such jobs were how he made his living.
Turning around and squatting at the edge I just came over, I grabbed Fletcher’s hand. Together we heaved him up onto the ledge with me. I stood up while he brushed some gravel off his pants. Rising above me, he adjusted his belt. “How much further do we have?”
“Hm, about another mile, I think. It’s just beyond that little stream over there” I pointed south.
He followed my finger and nodded. “Why are we meeting him so far into the Isle?”
“Because that’s what he told Gertrude,” I shrugged. Back when we were on Fandra Island, I had sent a letter ahead by a parcel seahawk if he was at Amoria Isle. And, we found out he was two days after we had landed and traveled a bit inward.
Fletcher frowned while crossing his arms over his chest. “You question pretty much everything else, but not this?”
I clasped my hands behind my head. I looked back out at the forest below. “I question things I don’t understand, which isn’t the case with him. Maybe you don’t know much about his work, but the nobility uses him as a neutral negotiator to handle small conflicts between the countries to prevent them from being widespread,”
“Did you assist him with these jobs?”
“Yes, I did,”
“Then why aren’t you well known like he is?”
“As Caleb puts it, his role carries burdens no one else would understand or need be burdened with, so he kept me in the shadows away from the nobility. Besides, that’s the way I would have preferred it. Being a noble was suffocating with the way my father raised me,” Raised wasn’t the right word, but how could you describe a childhood where you always fought for your life against a father intent on murdering you? All because you supposedly killed your mother, even though the only thing you knew how to do was cry when you were first born?
I jumped when Fletcher squeezed my right shoulder. “Sorry, I wasn’t trying to startle you,”
I angled my body more towards him. “I know, thanks,” I gave him a closed lips smile.
He removed his hand. He shoved both of them into his pockets. His eyes on both his feet until they came back up to me. “Wait, I get why he would want such a private location for his work, but our issue isn’t a diplomatic matter,”
I crossed my arms over my chest and titled my head. “That is a good point. He must know something about the Purowick Scale that he wants to keep private,”
“Ok,” He grimaced, running a hand through his hair.
I cocked an eyebrow as I watched him stare off into the distance. His nostrils flaring slightly. His free hand balled up. Did he not trust Caleb? I knew they had never met, but he had one of the best reputations in Voyia and I knew him probably better than any other person. “Do you not trust Caleb in regards to our situation?
His body jolted, his eyes darting over to me. “No, I don’t know him, but I don’t see any reason yet to not trust him,”
“Then why are you angry?”
He growled as he ran his hand all the way through his hair and down his neck. “I’m just mad with myself,”
My eyes softened and I frowned. “Why?”
“Being back on Amoria Isle. I, I haven’t been here in 12 years. Since I got your initials revealed on my mate scar,” He lifted his right wrist up and studied the mark. The grey scale at the top hadn’t changed in size over the last three weeks since it had started. “And it just reminds me of how I kept ignoring you for all these darn years,”
I blinked repeatedly a few times. I gripped my arms tighter. When we first got to the Isle, I had been trampled with memories of how I had painstakingly sought him out for six years here. And ever familiar face I encountered who asked me if I had found my soulmate yet was just another small needle being pushed in my heart as if it was a pincushion. Ever smile I had to force when I told them a semi-truth of what was happening with Fletcher felt like another smack of my dad’s hand across my face. I had been at peace, until running into Fletcher again. But that didn’t drum up nearly as much torment as being here did. Maybe because this Isle reminded me of the idiotic, idealistic little girl I had been, the only part of myself I truly resented.
Droplets of water echoed throughout the cavern as the sunlight pouring in from the openings in the ceiling cast dancing shadows along the high rock walls. I ghosted my fingers along the slick, wet walls of the tunnel as I continued deeper towards the main chamber. Now that I was fifteen, I was finally able to come here, to the Amoria Spring, to unveil the initials upon my mate scar.
I paused while I traced the lines of my bare scar. When I was four years old and learned what this scar meant, I had dreamed about this day since. The day I would be able to journey to find the first person who had ever loved me. The one who had kept me alive for all those years until my brothers found me.
Resuming my trek, I weaved my way through the shallow puddles that increased the closer I got to the end of the tunnel. Reaching it, I crouched down and passed through the narrowed passage. I stood back up once I was out.
I let out a contented sigh. My eyes flickered around the main chamber. It was a ginormous room with no openings anywhere aside from where I just came from, yet the room was dimly lit. The spring that filled up the entire room gently bubbled, these bubbles giving off a subtle light. When the bubbles popped into the air, they floated up, producing a stronger, white glow.
The elemental orbs embedded into every wall of the room were a shining as well. Whenever a bubble would burst on them, they gave off a twinkle of yellow, red, pale blue, silver, or green based on the respective orb. The place appeared filled with prancing stars accompanied by multicolored fireflies. I understood now why it was considered treason to mine any orbs out of this cavern. Discovering the second piece of the identity of your soulmate was a beautiful moment and the marvel created by this magical spring with these magical orbs complimented it.
Magic existed in Voyia, but only as a part of the landscape. Some creatures and mate scars were debated on whether they were magical or not. But there was no debating a scene, a place like this. Magic abounded here.
In the center of the spring was a ring made of rock. A small pool of a much deeper blue was located in the center of the ring. These rays of dark blue light leaped above the surface of the pool, making it seem as if it was an icy fire. This was where one dipped their arm in to reveal the initials.
Before the guardian of the spring had let me in, they told to find the spot where this ridge lined up with the ring. Approaching it, I hiked up my skirts. There was a spot in the water that was a bit darker than the rest. Slowly, I placed my left foot into the water until it connected with something solid. A shimmering, white oval appeared under the water. I put my other foot in to have another oval appear under my right foot. Carefully, I ventured across the spring. A new oval appearing with the old one disappearing with each step. It seemed as if the water itself was solidifying under me.
Reaching the ring, I stepped up and dropped my skirts. I kneeled down. My left wrist hovered over the frolicking rays. My heart pounded in my chest as a grin broke out across my face. The time had finally come. The journey I was destined for would finally begin.
Dipping my arm into the water, all of the rays spun around my mate scar. I gripped the coarse edge of the ring with my other hand, the force sucking my arm in up to my shoulder. I bit my lip when my skin started to burn from the freezing touch of the rays.
Suddenly, the ball of rays burst, knocking me back onto my back. Hissing, I stretched my back off the ground while it throbbed. Why hadn’t the dumb guardians mentioned any of this? Cracking my eyes open, they caught the soft gleam of my left wrist. Tears gently spilled from my eyes as I observed my completed mate scar. FAZ was spelled out in brown letters.
The hairs on my arms stood on end. I noticed my breath coming out in white puffs. My lips quivered slightly as I stopped. Turning towards Fletcher, I took notice of the tremble in his body. He kept moving in place.
“Does this Isle have another magical spot other than the spring?” He grunted, quickly buttoning up his charcoal grey jacket.
“No, my guess is this is the work of an ice orb,” I grinned and faced forward again, picking up my pace. Ice orbs were the rarest of the elemental orbs and currently were only known to be located in the icy caverns on the southeast edge of Hudamela. Also, the Amoria Isle, but those were unable to be mined. I had only ever seen them used from far away, but now I might see one closer.
A harsh grasp on my shoulder forced me back into Fletcher’s sturdy chest. I swiftly took a few steps away from him and met his eyes with a frown. “What?”
“Why are you rushing towards it when we have no idea what’s causing it?”
“Because it’s likely Caleb,”
“True, but he could be fighting an enemy?”
“If that’s what you think is the cause, then why are we wasting time talking instead of going to his aid?” I rested my hands on my hips and tipped my head to the left.
Fletcher’s face slightly flushed. He scowled. Shoving his way past me, he drew one of the halves of his naginata from its sheath on his right side.
I rolled my eyes, yet a smirk crept onto my lips. He hated owning up to when he was wrong. If this wasn’t a potentially pressing situation, I would have teased him about it. Taking my mace into my left hand, I jogged after him.
We both came to a halt when we saw several patches of icy grass. A frosty chill hung in the air and the wind that whistled through it seared any exposed skin. I slipped my mace back into its holder on my belt as I took in the scene before me.
The trees on the north and east side of the clearing resembled giant shards of ice. The ice encased everything in the area, rocks, ground, shrubs, even the nearby stream and waterfall. It all glittered in the sunlight, which had yet to melt it any.
In the middle of all it stood Caleb. His hair that always looked ablaze was tied back into a long ponytail. His black iron staff pressed firmly into the ground by his right hand. A brilliant, pale blue orb glowed in the middle of it, causing this mist to snake its way down the staff and billow across the ground.
I grinned. So, my assumption had been correct, it was an ice orb. And a big one at that! Caleb used elemental orbs that were bigger than the average size most people did. The bigger the orb the more power they could store, but also the more expensive they were. Not an issue for someone if they worked for nobility though.
My eyes widened and my lips pressed into a firm line. He was wearing nothing, but thin, flowy white pants. His exposed skin was a mess of light purple blotches and cracking, ruby bumps. What the heck was the idiot thinking? He was starting to get frostbite. Lowly growling, my hands formed fist at my sides.
In a fluid, fast motion, he was facing us in a squatting, fighting stance with the spiraled point on his staff directed at us. His body relaxed as he returned to his full height. A full smile graced his lips. “Ah, my little apprentice you’ve arrived,” His eyes flickered over to Fletcher, his smile falling into his typical closed mouth one. His eyes darkened while he studied him. “And you’ve brought along the brute of a mercenary, Fletcher Aven Zuric,”