Alexis waited to move on when the storm had passed the next day, leaving fresher air to breathe. The mare moved out alertly. The rest and clean air had done her good.
Alexis prodded her up the path, which she readily followed. Raindrops dripped from the cold stones. The sight of the rain looked strange on the terrain, like something natural and vital put on something cold and dead.
It was impossible to tell the time, for the clouds cut out the sun. Hour after hour went by looking very much the same—gray and cold. Their way cut through the mountainside, sometimes submerging them in a semi-darkness. But it was several hours before Alexis noticed the paths were getting deeper and darker, descending into the mountains. Under this shadow, it felt as if dusk was swiftly falling...and then the moment just before night falls.
They were passing from the last light into a dark cavern. The moment the mare's hoof touched the shadow, she halted and backed up. Alexis gently prodded her, she was not going to flinch—she just backed up more.
Alexis dismounted and cautiously went on alone, wrapping her cloak tighter around her. The temperature was dropping with each step. The shadow swallowed her up, and the mare neighed uneasily behind.
Alexis moved forward, but felt her sweat break out even in the damp of the cave. She felt as alert and vulnerable as prey for the predator as she watched every shadow, and every step she took. Her hand gripped Wolvring's hilt, ready to draw it at the slightest need. But the tunnels just kept going down and deeper...and colder and darker.
Alexis wondered if she should have tried to find something for a torch. She felt like her insides were turning to jelly. Here she felt like she didn't know what she feared, only that she feared it. She felt its presence like a shroud that was hanging over her head. She drew out Wolvring, pointing it slightly ahead of her as she took tentative steps. Then she felt the tunnel slightly ascending.
Alexis didn't know how long she had been walking, but up ahead she saw the slightest glimmer of light. She stared in surprise as she entered a dimly lit cave strewn here and there with dark vines. Rough pillars of natural rock held up the rugged ceiling. But way in the back the source of light shone—a pool reflecting light, fed by a small waterfall steaming down the cave wall. Alexis shivered. Something about the place made her feel cold to the bone, but it held her in awe. Like something touched by the mystic.
She stood there for a moment unsure and rather fearful. She felt fear of the pool, and the voice was back in her head with full force, telling her to run away. She almost agreed. She even felt herself turning. Then as she was about to walk back, she stopped and hesitated. She hadn't traveled over a hundred miles just to turn back. She looked back the pool.
Find the Mirror...it is possible that you might find freedom there....
Alexis took a breath and walked forward. She slowed as she came to the pool, and slowly peered over. It was clear—clearer and cleaner than she had ever seen water to be. A dim light from a kink overhead beamed into the pool, but the pool seemed to generate the light back, shimmering with a white mist curling over the surface. A ring of stones encircled it, and carved on them were beautifully carven words.
All of it seemed older than anything Alexis had yet seen in Aunninguld...she wondered if it was even natural. But carved on the stones, as Alexis was astonished to be able decipher them, said, “Offer your hand, and drink, that you may understand, and see was truly lies within.”
Alexis knelt at the edge and laid Wolvring on the floor beside her. Offer your hand.... Alexis took off her glove and put her hand in the water. It was so cool, flowing gently over it. She cupped her hand and drew up to drink, and even as she did she saw the waterfall and the surface of the pool began to faintly glisten.
Alexis sucked the cool water into her mouth and paused for a second, letting the coolness blissfully soothe the dryness, just as the image on the waterfall started to become clearer. Then Alexis's eyes widened and the water exploded out of her mouth as she retched in disgust.
It had turned to blood.
The red liquid stained the stones by her hands, and Alexis stared at it in horror and disbelief. The voice was an urgent calling that faded into the back of her head, but there was nothing that could take her attention away from the pool now.
In the waterfall an image had formed. It looked true as life, and vibrant. It was herself. Herself as she set out from Emyris on Zillon, full of purpose. The day she and Resen had set out together. Their flight from the Bleddyns. Carlynda...the death of Draeke. Her struggle in the mines, the finding of Eitan. Her fighting at Ethen'dor with every ounce of strength that she had had.
One by one it all was coming back. Scenes passed of her journey to bring peace to other kingdoms. And then...her, broken with grief. Even now the tears came back as Alexis watched. Her own sobs had choked her, the grief leaving her too weak to keep walking. And in the night, in her hour of heartbreak, the monsters had come.
Alexis had all but completely forgotten them...she had no idea what they were. But she saw herself as she tore them apart...even now she looked on in disbelief and horror. Was that really her? Her eyes were dark with hate and vengeance, even though she did not know what she fought against. And she had left them in pieces. The Mirror showed her releasing a scream that sounded demonic, and a shadow fell on her. She gasped. The color had seeped out of her skin, and the color around her eyes had darkened.
Alexis began to tremble violently.
The Mirror flashed scenes of a sickened girl slaying ruthlessly, reaping like a machine. Alexis tried to draw back, but she felt held in place. She started to cry. How could that have been her? All the bodies and blood...they had been done by her own hand.
But even as she closed her eyes Alexis knew it to be true. She remembered it all. Band after band of ravogs had fallen to her hatred. Her hate had fueled her, turned her into something she hadn't been. She wasn't the same girl that had set out from Emyris. Then her heart quickened as a familiar face came onto the Mirror, and she heard Resen's voice.
“You're changing, Alexis. I can see it. Somehow who you were is fading.... Alexis, there is no worse death than that.”
Tears came into Alexis's eyes. She remembered now. Softly she began to weep, and she squeezed her eyes shut. She could almost hear Resen whispering in her ear, “I still believe in you.”
The crying made her chest hurt. She felt such acute shame at what she had done. She didn't want this. This wasn't who she was.
Alexis lifted her head. She heard the noises just as she felt their presence, no longer inside her, but surrounding her.
Alexis paused in silence for a moment, then gripped Wolvring and leapt to her feet, swinging in a deadly arc. Screaming wails blasted from every corner of that chamber as the vipers that had leapt at Alexis were slashed in two, and fell to her feet. Looking up, Alexis saw the Bleddyns emerge, and everything in her soul began to burn with anger. They had dogged her since the beginning, haunting her, tormenting her very being. Had caused so much pain for those she loved, and herself.
Not to be undone, the Bleddyns madly surged forward, teeth agape and eyes blazing with rage.
Alexis could now see the source of the voice. Now her spirit was repulsed by them, and the thought that she had let them in her head for so long. The grotesque creatures looked at her with eyes of hatred and wrath, and Alexis could see misshapen vipers slowly twining down vines from the ceiling as others and the creatures stole out of the shadows. The were closing in, and Alexis dove forward before they'd make their move.
Serpents leapt at her and she twisted, swinging Wolvring in an alternating arc on both sides, cutting down two, and hearing the slightest sound behind she whirled around, bringing up Wolvring in a swinging arc just a viper came within reach, and the blade ripped through its length.
A creature screamed an unearthly call, its mouth pulled open at an unnatural width. They all had black eyes that weirdly reflected what light there was.
But as Alexis finished her twirl and the thing screamed at her, raising a weirdly-shaped weapon, she drove Wolvring upward, ripping upwards into his midsection, and she caught his wielding arm with her free hand. Its face registered shock, its mouth open without making a sound.
There were roars behind her, and Alexis saw swords rising above her head. She whirled around swinging Wolvring, and leapt through the air as the swords were knocked aside. One swung backwards at her as she landed by him, and screamed ferally, throwing its arms wide in a crouch.
Alexis knocked his attack upwards and reached over her shoulder to block the attack of one almost behind her. She kicked the other back with all her strength. To her surprise she didn't feel the crunch of bones, or hear it. In fact, it didn't feel like he had any. It all felt like—flesh.
She gave a savage slash at the demon behind her and then whirled back to sink Wolvring into the one recovering from her kick. He went up to the hilt and Alexis yanked out Wolvring again.
She saw one running at her, and she lunged at him with all her strength. She propelled forward, and she flipped Wolvring through the air to cut down a viper as it dove at her. Wolvring came back down just in time for Alexis to sink him into the demon's chest.
Alexis spun around to face the others, slashing and battering with Wolvring. The rasps of the blades grated on her ears, mingling with the screams of the demons. Their sightless black eyes gleamed darkly and their teeth were bared in challenge, but she battled with Wolvring fearlessly. And the Bleddyns' blades fell as Alexis put them down into silence.
There was a rushing without wind, and the feeling of presence departed from the chamber. Alexis paused, surprised at the sudden silence. It was like the voice of battle was suddenly muted, and all you hear is...nothing. The forms lay dead on the cold stone, their fingers curled in as their blood continued to seep out. Blood dripped from Wolvring's tip as Alexis continued to stare at the demons' dead bodies. All all seemed so unreal, yet incredibly real at the same time. The Bleddyns were gone.
Alexis hurriedly walked back to the pool. She dumped out the chalky water in her water horn and filled it from the pool, then washed the blood and sweat off herself. When she was done she felt cleaner than she had in a long time. She cleaned Wolvring in the water, and left.
Alexis stumbled out of the cave, and leaned against the wall. She took a few more steps, then sagged, and slid down to the ground.
Looking up into the sky, she could discern the individual constellations. The Anglaran, with it sharp thrown out arms; the Ring, with is dense circle of scattered stars; the Oldor, which its branching labyrinth of groping fingers. The Five Eyes with their glinting white stars surrounded by studs of color. And so many more besides.... Sweeping curtains and lone stars shining bravely through the dark.
Alexis breathed in and out, grateful for the fresh air rushing into her lungs. It felt good and pure, a sensation that she found comforting.
The mare was nowhere in sight. Alexis didn't blame her. The presence of the Bleddyns was enough to scare anyone away—far away. Alexis sagged closer to the ground and took in a deep breath, resting back her head.
She pushed her hair out of her face, and when she took her hand away she saw that three strands of black hair had come off. She shook her hand and they fell off. She looked where they fell, and then at herself. She was so worn out and raggedy. Her once handsome jerkin clothes were now battered and faded, torn and rough.
For a few minutes she sat there getting her bearings. There was no doubt in her mind that it had been the Bleddyns that had been trying to guide her. And she had let them whisper in her ear for so long.... Yet the voice didn't seem theirs at the same time...they just came with it. Like they were a defensive barrier to any opposition.
They were a feed to the darker side. All people had that potential...everyone had that choice.
Alexis trembled at the thought of how far she would have gone had she not chosen to listen to the one voice that had given her hope. She wondered who he was. Perhaps an anglair. Whoever she was, she owed him her life. For she would have slowly lost everything she valued had she not chosen to follow his little thread of promise.
Just then Alexis felt a pain wrench her gut. She gasped, curling up into a ball as she clutched at her stomach. She carefully felt herself as her body seethed, but there were no wounds. Her head lolled back, and it was only then she realized something. She had drank the water from an Endor spring.
There was a great possibility that the waters were still poisonous. Then she thought of the water of the Mirror, and she undid the cap of her horn. She took a big gulp, and she felt the pain slowly subside. Maybe she could keep going as long as she had the water to counteract the poisoning. But how long?
Alexis pushed the thought out of her head. That wasn't the question at the moment. She had what she had, what remained before her was unchanged. She just could keep moving forward.
When Alexis felt she had the strength to walk on, she stood up and followed the path that she had taken.
When she had walked about twenty yards from last night's shelter and turned around the ridge, she saw the mare just a few yards away. She heaved a sigh of relief and beckoned to it. It looked at her alertly, rolling it eyes a bit.
“Come on,” Alexis beckoned gently.
The mare immediately perked up and trotted to her, perhaps hearing a change in Alexis's voice that it found comforting.
Alexis gently got on her back and leaned forward, suddenly feeling very weary. The mare confidently and willingly went they way they had come through the mountains, never stopping once until they were several miles from the Mirror's mouth.
It paused to eat some scant grass it found growing form some clefts of rock, and Alexis dismounted and rested on the ground. A short time later when the horse was finished grazing, she snorted and the sound awoke Alexis.
“Thank you, girl,” Alexis said, stirring. She got up and mounted her again.
They went on for awhile, and later when they came to the rise of a mountain Alexis looked off into the distance. What now? She looked to the northwest. Then she thought of her last promise to Resen, and Raena and Ash. She thought about the people and the plague that had left Endor empty.
She had something to finish. She'd find Fauzazge. They had an issue to settle...one way or another.