Glaciem gasped as her eyes flew open. She gulped hungrily at the air, breathing deeply as she frantically looked around trying to make sense of where she was in the pitch black. She felt hands began to reach for her and started struggling wildly.
“Glaciem! It’s me!” Alexandros said, trying to calm her, his hands resting on her shoulders.
“Alexandros!” She choked, blindly reaching out in the dark to grasp his arms, holding tightly.
She leaned forward and let her head rest against his chest, letting the rise and fall of his breath calm her own rapid breathing.
“Are you alright?” He asked, freezing momentarily before enveloping her with his arms.
She nodded against him. “I saw my father.”
“You saw your father?”
“I saw everything. I remember everything.”
Glaciem pulled away from Alexandros and breathed softly into her hand. The tiny flame easily came to her this time, unfurling itself like a flower in bloom, its tongues flicking against her skin and illuminating her palms.
“Your markings. They’re different.” Alexandros replied, noting the blood caked into her skin with alarm.
“They’re complete.” She replied. “My father is King Audens, the Heart of the Forest. Umbra is my Uncle. I waged a war against him and lost.” Glaciem said numbly, still watching the flames. “I watched Umbra’s men ransack my father’s kingdom. I watched my mother die as she gave birth to me. I watched my father’s people die.” She paused before continuing. “And I saw Bick.”
She looked up and met Alexandros’ gaze. His eyes reflected the flame on her palm.
“What are you going to do?” He asked quietly.
“I intend to finish what I started.” She replied, her voice was even and she felt more sure of herself then she had ever felt before. “I intend to remove Umbra and his Shadow from existence. I intend to wipe his blight from the face of this planet. I intend to find my father, be he dead or alive. I intend to take back the Forest, and the Valley, and the mountains beyond. I intend to end the darkness, and I intend to do it now.”
“Now that’s the Lilium I know so well and love so deeply.”
Glaciem and Alexandros quickly turned towards the source of the sound. Glaciem stood up from the throne, two bright balls of fire forming in her palms, ready to be thrown, the markings of her people shining brightly in their full glory.
They heard the cackling of moss burning. Slowly the room began to light up with the glow of flames. Umbra stood with his back turned towards them, seemingly more interested in the fire.
“I do love your new leg, my dear.” He cooed, turning to look over his shoulder, his hand held over the fire that was growing at an alarming rate. “The Forest is always so full of surprises, you never can tell when it will choose to perform yet another miracle.”
“Umbra.” Glaciem said through gritted teeth, the fireballs in her palm glowing white hot. Alexandros had unsheathed his sword and stood ready.
Umbra laughed loudly. “You are so wonderfully dramatic, though I would expect nothing less from my brother’s child. He did have a remarkable ability to react in the most dramatic and reckless manner. So much could have been prevented, so many lives spared if it had not been for his idiotic choices.” He turned to face them. “And yet, begrudgingly I’m forced to admit that I am grateful for almost everything he did. If he had not sent away your mother, if he had not been crowned, if he had not had you…”
Umbra trailed off as he stepped away from the fire and walked towards Glaciem and Alexandros as he continued, his eyes burning with a light neither of them could comprehend.
“If not for all of those things I would never have experienced the sweet sound of the cries of all of those people burning alive in their homes.” His eyes flashed as Glaciem’s nostrils flared. “If not for all those things I would not have had the pleasure of watching your mother die, bleeding away as you slipped out from between her legs, never able to hold you to her breast. If not for all those things, I would not have the pleasure of bestowing the same misfortunes to you, ripping everything you love from your grasp and forcing you to watch it burn before I end your miserable life. Of course, not before I make you watch the deaths of every single pathetic human you have come to love.”
Glaciem shouted in anger and threw her arms towards Umbra, the burning spheres flying towards him, growing larger as they did. They hit him squarely in the chest and sent him flying back to the burning moss. He landed heavily, sending sparks into the air.
Glaciem and Alexandros turned away from the fire and ran towards the opposite end of the cave. When they had reached the far wall, she closed her eyes and raised her hands into the air, making a slow tearing motion as she clenched her fists tightly. The earth above them began to break away and open and as it did, she held out her arm, calling for the trees to take her.
“We need to leave.” She said, grabbing Alexandros with her other hand. A large root snaked its way into the hole and wrapped itself tightly around Glaciem’s arm, ready to pull her up.
Umbra’s laugh echoed through the cave as he raised himself out of the fire. The flames licked at his skin and blacked his hands, but he did not burn.
“You are a silly girl.” He hissed and shot his hands forward, the flames that had accumulated behind him followed his command in full.
Glaciem and Alexandros gasped as the flames flew towards them. Glaciem yanked hard on the root and it released her from its grasp. “Take him! Go!” She yelled to the root. It moved past her and wrapped itself around Alexandros’ waist.
“I’m not leaving without you!” He shouted, fighting against the root in protest.
“I’m not asking you!” She shouted back. As he disappeared she called after him. “Find the giant oak near the borders of the Forest! It will protect you! Do not let Umbra find you!”
Alexandros stopped fighting the root and stared unblinkingly at her, his jaw clenching. She could see the desperation in his eyes, but she had no time to tell him anything else. Once he was out of sight, Glaciem turned back towards the tunnel of fire and braced herself, ready to absorb the flames.
The impact shook through her and threatened to knock the wind out of her, but she was determined to not let the fire touch the surface. She lifted a hand and closed the hole above her as she held out the palm of her other hand in front of her, cutting the fire into two jets. She gritted her teeth against the heat before lowering her arms, forcing the air in the cave to extinguish the fire, leaving them in hazy darkness. Their only source of light was that of the small flames still crackling in the moss.
Umbra’s figure cut through the smoke, causing it to swirl away from him, his feet clipping roughly against the dirt floor. Glaciem made to call the water from her skin, but as she looked down she realized it was not on her side. She panicked and remembered that she had given it to Alexandros.
It must still be beside the throne. She looked up with wide eyes just as Umbra reached her. He growled and grabbed her by the throat, pushing her against the cave wall.
“You are a stupid girl.” He said through clenched teeth.
“And you are a terrible uncle.” She hissed back, spitting in his face.
The spit solidified into a sharp spike that sliced into his eye.
Umbra shouted in pain and his hands went to his face as Glaciem dropped heavily to the floor. She landed with a grunt and jumped past his feet, stumbling as she ran towards the throne, small hints of ember lighting her way. She misjudged her distance and hit the throne with her side, the force of the impact twisting her around awkwardly. As she hit the ground, she groaned and held her side, her other hand wildly patting the ground, desperate to find the skin of water.
Umbra turned, laughing in amusement. “How vile, dearest niece.” He said as sparks shot out from his clenched fists.
“Please.” Glaciem whispered desperately into the darkness, tears born of sheer terror spilling over her cheeks.
She pushed herself up on all fours and crawled around the throne, still unable to find the skin. Umbra’s low laugh raised goosebumps on her arms. Even though she could hear his footsteps drawing closer she didn’t dare look back.
“I told you before that I thought it rather amusing to see you on the ground like an animal, but now as I look at you I must say I’m filled with utter sadness. It almost makes me want to kill you now out of pity. It would be simple; a quick slice to your throat. You wouldn’t even feel it. It would be much less painful than removing your limbs one by one, don’t you agree?”
Glaciem ignored his taunts and continued to pat the ground fervently.
Finally, she felt the smooth leather against her fingertips. She chanced a look behind her and saw Umbra’s eyes glowing in the darkness, only a few paces away. She opened the skin and scrambled to her feet, shaking as she did so. This was a losing battle and she knew it. Her only purpose was to keep him here long enough to give Alexandros the time he needed to get as far away as he could.
Umbra stopped as she stood. “Is the great Lilium, Daughter of Kings, finally herself once again?” He asked, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“No, not yet.” She snapped, feeling far less brave than her voice let on. “I wanted to make it a fair fight, you see.”
Umbra chuckled. “It’s good to see that your wit hasn’t left you entirely. I suppose you take more after me in that manner. Your father had no sense of humor to speak of.”
“I wonder if that had anything to do with the fact that you killed his wife?” Glaciem spat through gritted teeth.
She raised a hand slowly, the dead trees beside the throne crackling as they shifted slightly. Ever so, she could tell they weren’t going to respond enough to be of use to her.
Umbra laughed outright at her comment. “Well now, if you aren’t the spitting image of your former self, what with all of that spunk.” He lifted a palm and a large flame formed, illuminating his looming figure. “Don’t bother with the trees, dearest.” He walked past her to the opening where she and Alexandros had fallen through originally. “I appreciate how resourceful you’re trying to be, but it’s a reach, even for you, to think that you could overcome me with a few dead twigs and a skin of water.”
Glaciem clenched her teeth, hating the fact that he was right.
“Besides,” Umbra said, lifting his free hand. “I’ve told you before. I’m not here to kill you.” A large root snaked around his arm much like Glaciem had attempted earlier. He turned to look back at her with a sneer. “Yet.”
Glaciem grunted in alarm as several smaller roots shot out from around Umbra and pulled her roughly to the surface. Umbra stood waiting for her in the circle of trees that had not yet moved from around the opening. They shook with anger at his presence, all bowing low to shield Glaciem, their curled forms almost animal like.
The roots unwound themselves from her waist as she looked up to meet Umbra’s eyes as he stared down at her, blood slowly trickling down from his eye. In his hand, he held the circlet of wood.
“Despite what you might think, I’m here to educate you, to enlighten you.” Umbra said after a moment of studying the crown in his hand. The edges began to char and smoke as he held it.
Glaciem snorted. “I have no desire to learn anything from you.”
“That is unwise.” Umbra retorted. “You can’t fight something you don’t remember, much less understand. That’s why I’ve had the upper hand all this time. I’ve understood you from the moment you were born all the way up to the moment you were placed in that wretched stone box.
“On the other hand, your father did not understand me or my strength in the slightest. He was so desperate to remove me from the world, so desperate to keep you and his valley and the Forest safe, he tricked himself into believing his last blow was enough to rid himself of me. If he understood anything at all he might have aimed better.”
Umbra dropped the circlet in the ground and moved closer to Glaciem, trodding on the crown and splintering it as he did. As he walked, he pulled away part of his cloak to reveal a thick scar running across the side of his torso, deviating the otherwise sharply chiseled muscles.
“I didn’t completely understand it myself when the sword ran through Audens all those years ago. In fact, he has a scar that is almost identical.” Umbra laughed darkly. “Do you not find that ironic?”
“I don’t find anything you say to be ironic or otherwise.” Glaciem said, watching Umbra uneasily as he walked casually towards her.
“Lilium,” Umbra chided. “That is no way to talk to family.”
“That is not my name, and you are not my family.”
Umbra smirked at her, his eyes darkening as he did. “That’s the beautiful thing about it, love. So long as you think that way you shall lose every battle and fail at every turn and while you’re stumbling along blindly, those you care about most shall die in front of you by my hand, slowly. Painfully. I told you once before there would be a time when you would be worthy enough to challenge me, but it’s clear now that once again I’ve come to visit you far too soon.”
Glaciem clenched her hands tightly, the water inside her skin bubbling. Before she could call it, Umbra lifted his finger and the waterskin burst, droplets spilling out into the ground.
He grinned widely. “The reality, my dear, is that your name is Lilium, and you and I are family, but so long as you refuse to accept those truths, you will never be a worthy opponent. You will never be more than a mere nuisance to me and you will never be able to protect those you hold most dear. It would have been better had you not been discovered at all. At least then you would have not only been out of my way, but you also wouldn’t be bumbling around with only half a memory pretending like you’re still someone special to me or to anyone else.”
Umbra waved his hand languidly and the trees surrounding Glaciem shrieked and shied away, their branches curling into themselves as they submitted reluctantly to his will.
“As you can see, even the trees loyal to you are forced to obey me. Can you say the same for my shadows?” Umbra asked, his words dripping with contempt.
Glaciem looked around helplessly. Fire and air together would be the worst thing for the Forest, but she had no water, and now the trees around her were too terrified to help her in any real way. She turned back to Umbra, his grin widening as he saw her helplessness. She tensed as she watched the first sparks of fire ignite on his palms.
Umbra lifted his hands, but as he did he roared in pain and began clawing wildly at his back before dropping heavily to the ground. Alexandros stood over him, his sword poised and ready to strike again. His eyes lifted to meet hers.
“What are you doing here?” Glaciem shouted in horror. “I told you to go!”
Alexandros shrugged as he sheathed his sword. “I ignored you.” He said, stepping over Umbra’s body.
“You do not understand what I’m dealing with! It isn’t safe for you to be here!”
“I don’t care.” Alexandros said, his pace brisk. He did not slow as he reached her, but instead crashed into her, pulling her tightly into his embrace. “Don’t ever try to force me to leave you alone with that thing ever again.” He hissed fiercely.
Glaciem wrapped her arms around him, though her eyes never left the heap of black robes behind him. “You should have left while you had a chance. I don’t think you’ve killed him.”
“Then we both need to leave. Now.” Alexandros pulled away and grabbed her hand before starting to walk away.
Glaciem continued to watch Umbra, listening to him groan as he came to. “Wait.” She said, jerking her hand away from Alexandros.
“Glaciem, what on earth are you doing?” Alexandros snapped, trying to stop her.
She ignored him and walked back to the crumpled form on the ground. The light skin and green eyes were a dead giveaway.
“Bick!” She breathed as she dropped to the ground beside him.
Bick wrapped his arms tightly around himself. Blood poured out of both the wound in his back and his eye. Glaciem looked sharply at Alexandros as he dropped by her side.
“How deep was your cut?” She asked.
“Not deep enough to kill apparently.”
She nodded shakily and leaned forward to try and catch Bick’s gaze. “Bick? Can you hear me?”
Bick’s eyes focused on her and he smiled weakly. “Hello, Icicle.”
Glaciem laughed shakily through her tears. She bent down and embraced Bick, oblivious to the blood that seeped into her clothing. He groaned again and pushed himself up, holding her tightly with one arm.
“We need to get you somewhere safe.” She whispered, pulling him up with her. “Alexandros help me.”
Alexandros pursed his lips, but he moved to help her as she asked. They lifted him as carefully as they could manage, their pace slow. As they made their way out of the clearing, Glaciem gestured to the few trees who were not wounded and bleeding, imploring them to help. They refused and shied away, whimpering.
By the time they reached the cave, it was well past sunset. The Forest was no less awake however, noises of trees conversing and animals bounding through the shrubbery masked the noise of the trio as they slid out of view. Bick had fallen unconscious during the last leg of the journey and Alexandros and Glaciem had been forced to drag him the rest of the way, the trees still unwilling to help carry him.
Once inside, Alexandros immediately turned Bick over and began cleaning out his wound. The cut was clean and quite shallow, as Alexandros had promised. He had aimed to cause much more damage and it was simply by chance alone that it hadn’t been any deeper.
“Will he be alright?” Glaciem asked once Bick was bandaged and sleeping soundly in the same spot she herself had been in only a night before.
She was sitting at his feet, her arms wrapped tightly around her legs. She was shivering.
“I cannot say,” Alexandros said quietly. When she looked at him with concern he tried to better explain his thoughts. “He’s not going to die from the wound I inflicted if that’s what you’re asking.”
“But?” She prompted.
Alexandros sighed. “Glaciem, it wasn’t your brother. It’s as you said before, something took over Bick’s body, and I’m praying he’ll be able to recover completely. But we know very little about Umbra and what we do know is not entirely useful to us right now. The best we can do is to make sure Bick gets the rest he needs and to see about finding the giant oak.”
“Giant Oak.” Glaciem looked at him blankly.
“The giant oak. You told me to find the giant oak.” Alexandros reiterated quizzically. “Near the border of the Forest? Do you not remember?”
Glaciem closed her eyes and racked her brain. She remembered shouting it out in a panic, but now that she thought about it, she could not remember why she had shouted it.
“It doesn’t matter.” Alexandros said, moving on from the subject. “Perhaps you’ll remember later. You should rest. We all should. It’s been an…interesting day to say the least.”
Glaciem tried to smile, but it was strained. She wasn’t at all tired and even if she was, the last thing she would agree to would be putting Alexandros on the first watch. He was exhausted enough from watching over her. She didn’t want to force him into the same situation with Bick.
“You should sleep.” She said holding up a hand at Alexandros’ immediate protest. “Besides, I still need to clean off my hands.”
Glaciem raised her hands up to show the blood still caked on her palms before standing up. She walked to the outer edge of the cave before he could stop her.
“Sleep.” She called behind her, not bothering to look back.