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PostPosted: Tue Dec 28, '10, 12:57 am
Chapter Three

Dimara tried to make Mila's eighteenth birthday as special as possible. She had baked a cake and decorated the top with laerma berries. The family usually did not give gifts on birthdays but, as in the Palman culture, turning eighteen was considered special, as it marked the passage into adulthood. Parek had gotten her a book about exploration into the mountains, and Ederi gave her a new hat. Aside from the cake, Dimara had also made a dress for Mila. The Dezorian women wore pants like their male counterparts, but Mila had remembered some of the different clothing that the Palmans had worn and Dimara was able to create a long, flowing dress from her descriptions.

As they all sat around the table eating the cake, Mila felt blessed to be with a family that loved her so much. No one could ever replace her own parents, but from the moment she had stepped into their house, Parek and Dimara had treated her as if she were their own daughter. She even considered Ederi to be her best friend, now that they were older and didn't tease each other as much.

In the following days, however, Mila reflected on her now adult life. She led a simple, yet fulfilling life in the Dezorian town and had never wanted for anything. Sometimes, though, she thought about what her life would be like if she had grown up with her fellow Palmans. Now that she was eighteen, she thought about it even more. Would she have a job by now? Would she be married and ready to start a family of her own? Would she even still be on Dezoris, or would she have gone back to Palma?

All these thoughts were running through her head early one morning when the knock at the door came. Mila left her bedroom and went to the front door, but Parek had beaten her there. Peering over his shoulder, Mila saw the priest who served as the assistant to the bishop. Even before he said anything, Mila knew what was happening.

“The bishop has requested to see Mila,” the priest simply said. “Please send Ederi as well.” Having delivered his short message, he quickly left.

Parek called for Ederi and relayed the instructions. Somehow sensing that she may not be back anytime soon, Mila changed into her new dress, grabbed her new hat off the shelf, and slipped Parek's small book into her pocket, wanting to have things from the people who loved her close to her. Ederi took his own hat and put it on as Dimara came into the room to find out what all the commotion was about. The two siblings hugged and kissed their parents goodbye and left for the temple.

Though the temple was usually a serene and quiet place, this morning was different. There weren't many people inside, but those who were there were moving around quickly and calling out to each other. A young man who Mila recognized from her part of the town exited the bishop's chambers holding an elaborate shield made of pure laconia. Another man emerged with a laconian sword. The bishop's assistant was standing on a chair underneath the holy torch. Mila watched as he held a smaller torch to the fire, lighting it. Cupping his hand around the small flame, he carefully climbed down and slid a topless glass cylinder around it to protect it.

Ederi nudged Mila towards the bishop's room. She entered first and waited for the bishop. When he finally appeared, she could tell he was worried about something.

“I have received word that King Lassic has turned himself over to the Darkness,” said the bishop solemnly. “He is allowing the Darkness to permeate Algol and I'm afraid that it may have already reached us here on Dezoris.” He produced a small box from his robes. “Whatever happens, Lassic and his minions must not be allowed to take the aeroprism!”

“The aeroprism?” Ederi asked.

The bishop opened the box. Inside lay a small globe, not perfectly round, made out of clear crystal. “The aeroprism is used to help us fight back the Darkness, it shows us things we could not otherwise see,” the bishop explained. “Right now, Lassic is unreachable, as he has moved to a dark castle in the air over Palma. No one knows exactly where it is, but if you raise the aeroprism up towards the Light, it can show the way under the right circumstances.”

He gave the box to Mila. “We have set up various shelters all over Dezoris as to better protect the sacred items. I want you to take the aeroprism into the mountains and make sure it is delivered into the right hands. Do not let Lassic or his followers get a hold of it.”

“Who is supposed to get it?” Mila asked.

“Only those of pure body, mind, and spirit. You will know when you see them.” Mila wasn't completely sure about her instructions, but the bishop seemed to be in a hurry. He walked over to a chest of drawers and pulled out two pieces of paper, a golden key, and a small disk that looked like the one her father used to carry. “This is a map to the cave where your safe room is located, and this is a map of the cave itself. This key will open the room. Take Ederi with you, he can help ensure your safety and he can travel back and forth for supplies if necessary. You will need an ice digger to get through the mountains - there is one waiting for you behind the temple.”

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Ederi's eyes lit up. “An ice digger!” he whispered. He had seen them in the shops before, but he had never had the opportunity to use one.

Mila could not share in his excitement, as she was worried about her duties. She took the aeroprism from the bishop and tried to sound confident as she said, “I'll do my best.”

“I know you will.” The bishop managed to smile at her. “Please hurry. I have prayed to the Light to protect our small town, but I do not know how long we have before the evil of the Darkness reaches our planet. Go quickly, and good luck!”

The bishop's ice digger was one of the smaller models, only big enough for Mila and Ederi to fit inside and not too comfortably. Ederi turned it on and guided it towards the entrance to the passageway to the surface. Once inside, he proceeded slowly, being careful not to hit any of the walls.

Mila navigated from the passenger's seat using the first map the bishop had given her. After leaving one of the mountain caves, Ederi drove to a familiar place. Mila pressed her face against the window to see the giant plain her father had wanted to show her all those years ago. Though she had grown, the vast openness of it still made her feel so very small.

Ederi snapped Mila out of her brief reverie by asking where to go next. Following her directions, he turned the wheel of the ice digger to the left and they continued south. As they approached the mountains, Mila doubted the power of the small vehicle, but the ice digger broke right through the walls of ice with ease.

They came out into a tiny space between the rocks. Mila squinted through the snow and saw an opening in the mountains. She pointed it out to Ederi and he parked the ice digger next to it. They exited the vehicle and hesitated slightly before entering the cave.

It was warmer inside than they had expected. Mila found her hands full and struggled to light the lamp and see the second map. She handed the box containing the aeroprism over to Ederi. “Be careful!” she warned.

The first part of the passageway to the safe room was fairly straightforward, with few turns. There were several locked doors and Mila used the key to open them. They came to a point where the passage branched out into two different directions and Mila studied the map. “I think we're supposed to go to the right,” she said.

Neither was sure which of them heard the noise first. They both looked up simultaneously and listened. “What's that?” Mila asked.

“I don't know,” Ederi said, “but it sounds like it's getting closer. Let's go.”

They hurried down the passage, but the booming sound caught up to them. Mila turned around and screamed as she saw a giant, brown, ogre-type monster looming over them. She backed down the hallway, Ederi following after her, but there was nothing they could do. The monster raised its heavy fist and brought it crashing down onto Ederi's head.

Mila was too petrified to move. She watched as the monster leaned down and plucked the box from Ederi's motionless hands. It disappeared back down the hallway, its deep growls almost sounding like laughter.

Mila rushed over to her fallen brother and knelt down beside him. She shook him by the shoulders, but there was no response. Frantically whispering his name, she leaned over and put her ear to his mouth. She heard nothing.

She sat in the narrow passage, wondering what to do, when she started hearing more strange noises. She didn't know what they were, what was real and what was imagined, but she knew she couldn't stay in one place. Based on the map, she figured she was much closer to the safe room than the exit. Mila raced down the hallway, imagining all sorts of hideous creatures chasing after her, until she reached another locked door. Breathing quickly, she fumbled with the key and eventually got it open. She rushed inside, locked the door behind her, and burst into tears.

She had failed. Evil had procured the sacred aeroprism and she was to blame. Not only had she lost the aeroprism, she had lost her brother as well. Mila dropped the lamp next to her before she slid down to the floor and continued sobbing.

When she could cry no more, she brushed the tears from her eyes and looked around. The room was sparsely furnished, with two cots, a bookcase, and a large box. There were several books on the shelf and Mila assumed they were religious texts. Atop the bookcase stood one of the small stone replicas of the holy torch.

Mila crawled across the tiny room until she was directly in front of the tiny torch. Folding her hands in her lap, she faced upward and begged the Light for forgiveness. Following her pleas, she asked for guidance, as she had no idea what to do next.

The box in the corner caught her eye. She opened the lid and found a supply of burgers and cola, the traveler's food of choice. She did feel a little hungry, but chose to save the food for a later time. Exhausted, she collapsed onto one of the cots and quickly fell asleep.

When Mila awoke, she immediately knelt in front of the statue and prayed for the Light to instruct her what to do. Should she try to make her way back out of the cave? She was too afraid of another attack by the monsters to leave the room. Would someone from the village eventually notice that Ederi had not come back and send someone to look for them? She wasn't sure how many people knew he was supposed to return for supplies if needed. Mila tried to clear her mind and listen with an open heart, but as hard as she tried, she couldn't hear the Light speaking to her.

Mila had no concept of time in her windowless cell. She tried to eat only when she was absolutely famished, but she couldn't tell how much time was passing in between meals. She alternated between reading the holy texts, reading the book she had brought with her, and praying for help and direction.

As expected, the food supply began to dwindle. After she finished eating the last burger, she knelt in front of the statue and begged the Light to tell her what to do. Once finished with her prayers, Mila walked over to the door and cautiously opened it several inches. She stuck her head out into the hallway to listen, and heard various footsteps, growls, and screeches. Pulling her head back inside, she slammed the door shut. She knew she was trapped.

Mila grew weaker, though the pain of hunger eventually faded away. She knelt to pray one day and when she was done, she couldn't find the energy to get back up. She also didn't have the energy to be particularly bothered by this, so she lay back on the floor and stared at her stone torch. As she gazed at it, she could almost swear that the small solid flame began to flicker. She prayed to the Light again, but this time, her single prayer was a simple one: “I believe in whatever you feel is right, I put my faith in you.”

She lay there for quite some time, though of course she wasn't sure for how long. She may have even drifted in and out of consciousness, but whenever her eyes were open, the holy torch stood in front of her. Mila was intently staring at the flame when she heard noises outside her door. This time, she was sure it wasn't in her imagination.

Mila closed her eyes. The monsters were coming to kill her, just as they had killed Ederi and her father, she was sure of it. But rather than the door crashing down, she heard a key in the lock. “Humans...they must be humans!” she whispered to herself.

She forced herself to stand up. The room seemed to spin around her, but she managed to face the door. When the door opened, she saw a girl, not much younger than herself, clutching something in her hands.

Mila looked down and saw that the girl was holding the aeroprism. Breathing a great sigh of relief, she started to cry, but no tears fell from her dry eyes; had they been there, though, they would have been tears of joy. “Thank the Light, it's been recovered,” she whispered.

Mila looked up at the girl's face and was captivated by her clear blue eyes. As she stared into them, she knew that this was the person “of pure body, mind, and spirit” that the bishop had told her about. Satisfied that the aeroprism was in its rightful place, she began to give her prepared instructions.

“Raise the aeroprism towards the heavens!” Mila exclaimed in the loudest voice she could muster. “You should then be able to see the Dark Castle.”

As Mila said the words, she felt a warmth growing inside her. She had fulfilled her duty and served the Light. She collapsed to the ground and felt the warm feeling extending all the way out to her fingertips. As she closed her eyes, she was vaguely aware of some voices around her and snippets of their conversation made their way to her ears: “ she okay...take her with us...'cure' isn't working...”

The voices seemed to move further and further away from her. Mila's head fell to the side, eyes still closed, and she saw Ederi's face smiling at her. She called out his name, but he stepped to the side. Behind him stood Jonathan, extending his hand to his beloved daughter. Mila took his hand and they were walking through the trees again. She didn't have much time to enjoy the reunion, though, for as he led her back to his favorite place, the wide open plain on Dezoris, one last figure waited to greet her. Mila ran through the snow and saw the face she had almost forgotten – there was no mistaking the dark curly hair so similar to her own, the beautiful brown eyes, the warm smile...

As Mila raced towards the woman, the snow around them seemed to glow with a bright light. The trees behind her seemed to vanish and she could no longer distinguish between land and sky. As Mila embraced her mother, with her father and Ederi close behind, she gave herself over to the Light and allowed it to consume her.
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