Questions and Answers
Miltos laid himself into the corner,trying to make himself comfortable despite his shackles, after the two had left. He felt tired. Sleep seemed to be the best option,though he did not dream peacefully. He saw himself walking with a young man, who walked forward in a confident manner. He tried to follow them, becoming lost in a maze of underground caverns. In the depths, he heard laughter and smelt a strong miasma that came from one of the tunnels. He began to choke, as though something were lodged in his throat. He tried to cough it out, only to find himself coughing up blood. The young man came to him, wearing a form of knightly armor, but Miltos yelled at him to run away. The young ma ndid not show any fear, and the fog of miasma encircled them both, but it did not consume them. He then hold out a small circular object,and the world was engulfed in blackness that spewed from it, pushingback against the miasma. He heard the him say, “Wake up,” but it sounded muffled, as though he were far away. Miltos tried to follow it, but the voice seemed further and further. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up…
“Wake the voids up!”
Miltos felt a splash of water on his face. Cold and a bit refreshing, it startled him. He panicked,looking around the room from where it had come from. Outside of his cell, he saw Adelard sitting near his cell. There was no bucket near him. Still wearing the mask and heavy garment, Miltos could still sense some kind of curiosity stemming from Adelard.
“It’s about time,” Adelard sighed.”Guessing you were sleeping quite soundly. Had to splash water on your face to wake you up.” He stepped closer to the cell, holding onto the bars and pushing the beak portion of the mask through them.”So tell me. Why are you here and where did you come from?”
Miltos wondered what was the purpos eof that mask. “Why are you wearing that bird mask?”
“Why are you wearing that human mask?” Adelard retorted sarcastically.
The conversation was heading nowhere.”I am Miltos of the village of Kiran from the southeast.” He pointed at his mark on his red face. “You seem to know what sent me though. I do know that there is some kind of poison beneath these lands. Maybe that’s why I’m here.”
Adelard stepped back, his head cocked to the side. “Who made you a Hollowed?”
“Dyrda the Alotter.”
He heard Adelard sigh through the mask. Removing it, face of an older man watched him. His hair was gray, and beneath his eyes were dark circles from lack of sleep.
“I’ve heard of her. Nyrna the Spinner, Dyrda the Alotter, and Myrta the Shearer. The Fates.Strange, sending you here.”
“It is even stranger what she has done for me.”
Adelard pressed himself against the wall, thinking to himself. “So even you can notice it. Not that it takes a great mental capacity to see its effects.”
“What happened here? It feels like a plague.”
“Because that is what it is,”Adelard began. “It’s some kind of plague. I don’t know what it is,and neither does my colleague. It’s an infestation, and it started several years ago. Several people became sick, then eventually the larger populace and the royalty caught it.” He sat onto the stone flooring. “Sohnelun and myself seem to be the only ones resistant to it. What you saw outside is what became of it.”
“Then… why stay here?”
Adelard did not move. His face grew solemn. “I’m still trying to cure it.”
The two sat in silence until Adelard removed his hand from his pocket, revealing his pocket watch. The dials pointed towards Miltos. Adelard felt an influence of comfort as he held it in the open.
“There’s a lot of stories about the Abyss Walkers, and those whom they’ve marked, you know.” Adelard started. “Like yourself. It’s said they could control all the elements: Wind, fire, earth, and water. Some did it for good. Some did it for evil. Some people worship them, while others despise them.Whose to say what the gods intentions really are?” He passed the pocket watch from hand to hand. “I’ve never met one. Then again,this kingdom was supposedly founded by an Abyss Walker too. Long ago,a creature of stone roamed this mountainside, turning the people it came across into rock, and the god slew it, founding this city. I suppose it’s fitting that what we have left now is a city of death.”
Miltos watched the pocket watch pass between the hands of Adelard, feeling himself mesmerized by it.
“Do you know what this is?” Adelard held up the pocket watch, opening it up and revealing the dial hands.
“No, not really.” At first glance, Miltos did not notice anything defining about it. However there was a kind of absence from it, much like how he could not sense Dyrda.
“I’m not entirely sure either,”Adelard turned the pocket watch around, removing the cover from its underbelly. He then held it up again, and inside were four small illuminating crystals, embedded besides the mechanical gears: Brown, green, blue, and red. Adelard raised his other hand, palm up. The blue crystal lit up as small droplets of water began to form above his open hand. They grew larger and began merging, forming an orb of water.
“So that’s how you splashed my face!” Miltos said, more excited at wondering where the water came from.
“It’s Karas…” Miltos muttered,as he gazed at the forming water, ebbing and flowing in Adelard’s hand; the word absently left his mouth.
“At least you know that much.” He pocketed it. “So. Can you tell me where the poison originated from?”
“Yes, from where.” Adelard sighed again. “Must I repeat myself? You can sense it, as can I, but I’vesearched this entire city, every food and water source. I even told our king and guards at a point to not accept any form of trades or people. Yet it continued. Its eluded me for some time, but it’s here.Around us. Somewhere.” He pressed his face closer. “Now tell me.”He gripped the bars, clenching his hands. Miltos imagined that, if it were not for those bars, Adelard’s hands would be around his neck.
“Below us,” Miltos began. “It’s underneath the earth. It’s twisting itself through there…coming upwards like weeds.”
Adelard took a step back, looking at the stone floor beneath him. “So it’s down there, after all this time.”
“There are other things there too.Moving around. What is it? What’s down there?”
“Tunnels and caverns.” Adelard grimaced. “And some of the dead and sick. We,” he groaned, “when we found that we couldn’t control it, several of the dead bodies andthe sick were banished beneath the city. Sohnelun proposed it.” He mockingly laughed. “But I agreed with it. We burnt the dead, butthat didn’t stop the plague either. He suggested maybe it spread through the air.” As he started pacing, he gripped his face in anguish, almost muffling his voice. “We moved everyone that was sick down there. Of course, it didn’t work either. Gods damn it!”He bashed his fist against the wall. “By now they’re like every other bloody thing up here too.”
Miltos rubbed his fingers together,dirt forming in between them. “What… what were the signs?”
“Lacerations. Cuts. Bruised easily.The wounds would not heal for a time, but then,” he paused, making imaginary marks along his arms of cuts, “Bone began forming over the openings. At first I tried removing it, thinking it was just an oddity.” He motioned his hand, as though ripping something from his arm. “The more I removed of the bone, the faster it grew. Some of my patients had their whole limbs encased in bone. Others were bedridden because of it—trapped in their own skeleton. Quickly it spread, like a damn fire.” He unlocked the outer door leading into the cell room, then he stood beneath the door frame. “Did you see anyone out there, with bones protruding from their skin?”
“That’s what eventually became of them. Some we moved underground, but we couldn’t do it for the whole city. Not like it helped at all. Lost their minds I suppose. I,” he began stuttering, “I-I had one girl who came to me. I’d say it was m-maybe halfway through everything. Her gums were bleeding. Can you guess where the bone started growing?” He faced away from Miltos, staring out into the hallway. Sniveling, Adelard was unsure about the placement of his hands, moving them across his hips, across his face,and folding them on his chest.
“In her mouth.” Miltos answered.
“In her mouth, that’s right.” The words came out in quick succession from Adelard. “The bone shot straight up into her brain. But no, of course it wasn’t a quick death. It grew slowly, e-edging its way through her mouth and into her skull. Piercing whatever flesh and muscle, making more bone no doubt. She was still able to talk to me, more like groans though I suppose.” He exhaled. “‘It hurts.’ I’m sure she told me. I-I’m sure. Then death came, in its own way. Finally. Maybe?” He rubbed his eyes, wiping away his tears. “Alive, but not there. Breathing,but her eyes were dead; her body no longer moved.”
Miltos did not speak; he said no comforting words. With what could he comfort him with? He knew the pain, if perhaps only part of it. Wondering, he tried to imagine what would have happened if perhaps he had come here earlier, if he was sent here earlier. Could any of this have been prevented? Why was he here now, of all times?
Adelard removed his arm from his face after wiping his eyes dry. His face was red. “Ah, ahha, ha! I must be boring you. I’m sorry. Just needed someone to tell this to. Not many people I can converse with.”
“Is it just you and Sohnelun here?”
“Yes. We’ve been trying to do something, anything. Obviously no success. He’s an old friend, though we don’t always see eye to eye.”
“Are you talking about your ‘work?'”
“Hmm? Oh. That. Yes, I suppose. He sought how to replicate it; I worked towards eliminating it. The means, however, didn’t matter. We both had the same goal of trying to understand the plague. By replicating it, we would know how it came about and its extent. Never got far though.” Adelard sat upright besides the bars, removing the pocket watch and listened to the hands slowly tick and tock.
“Does he hate me?” Miltos asked.”Is that why I’m in here?”
“I suppose so,” Adelard replied,still watching the hands. They began to move quickly. “When this started, he began cursing those old gods, those hidden gods. People prayed to them. People prayed to the patron of this city. Nothing happened. He lost his wife to it. That would make any man resentful,no?”
Miltos felt guilty. For what, he was unsure; he was not the cause of this. The thought came again that if he was here sooner, perhaps things would have been different. Why was he here now, after all of this damage was done, after so many lives were already lost? He began to silently question Dyrda, wondering if…
“But you’re here now.” Adelard interrupted Miltos’ thought. “Better late than never. I’m a bit of a procrastinator too, did you know?” He raised the pocket watch to show Miltos. “Things seemed to come easily once I had this. I didn’t have to put much effort into anything. Until the plague that is. You’re the only one I’ve showed this to though.” He gazed at it in amusement. “I was afraid people wouldn’t understand, being only Hollows can control the elements, or that maybe someone would steal it. Then what would I be? Ha ha! Ah, well. Maybe it would’ve beenbetter if someone else had it. Maybe they could’ve done something better with it. Maybe I should’ve told Sohnelun about it. Maybe I should’ve given it to him. I kept it from him, too. I was—I wa sjust really scared.” He muttered beneath his breath. “Not that it matters now.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Hm? Oh. Sure, I suppose.”
“Are—Are you sure it’s just you two here now?” Miltos began to inquire. As Adelard explained the plight of this kingdom and his own pain, Miltos could not imagine Adelard despising him as much as the creature that had attacked him.His tears attested to that, along with him saying, “But you’re here now.” Though Sohnelun seemed to hate him, the unknown creature was not a human, as it tore through a wall as well as possessing thousands of eyes.
“I’m positive. You’ve asked me twice. Why?”
“I don’t doubt your friend found me dead—or near death. Something attacked me. It’s, it’s hard to describe. It was a monster with a thousand eyes. Think me crazy ifyou will.”
Adelard pondered, thinking of any creatures that could possess that many eyes. “Sorry,” he replied.”We try to not venture out there into the streets, for obvious reasons. It is nightmarish out there.” Scratching his chin, he mused aloud. “Perhaps the plague is shifting into… something different. There were stages. Mysterious cuts and bruises. Then they would not heal. Then they would heal with bone instead of flesh.”He sighed, hitting the side of his head against the bars. “This is troublesome. Now monstrous strength and … eyes?”
Adelard stood up, placing his hand onto the lock of the cell. “Well. You’ve survived it once. Think you can survive it again?”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t really think you’re here to hurt us or do anything terrible. I mean, how much worse can this become?” Adelard clenched his hand on the lock. The click of metal rang and the cell was unlocked. “Plus. You’re here to help, right?Or something of the sort anyhow. You can sense where it’s coming from. I can’t. It just seems like a fog surrounding me. And…” His voice slowly drifted. “If the plague is shifting, then that means that down below there are more of those things you encountered.”His eyes saddened. “We’ll need whatever help we can get.” He walked to Miltos. Without touching the iron shackles, Adelard motioned his hand, swiping it from left to right, causing them to loosen and fly to the wall. Miltos’ weakness faded, feeling strength pour into him once again. “Come with me.”
“I should probably wake Sohnelun and tell him I’ve released you. He was very intent on keeping you there.”Adelard waved off the statement as he spoke, giving the impression that he was indifferent to his friend’s concerns. “I’ll see about convincing him.”
“Can you take me to the entrance of the caverns first?” Miltos inquired as they walked down the citadel’s hallway. Old paintings and armor clothed in blue shawls decorated the passage. Long-swords hung atop the armors, or they were placed besides them. Torches and candles were sparsely interwoven,providing light. Miltos looked on the paintings, watching as their shadows crawled along them. He looked at the faces of royalty, whose blood lines were no more. Older paintings bore images of unknown lands. One painting in particular displayed a lady in a garden, and behind her was nothing but sky, as though she were on a floating island.
“You’re slightly impatient.”
“I think it’s best if I go where I am intended to quickly.”
“Sure, sure,” Adelard replied. “I don’t think it can become any worse, save for that creature you came across.”
“Yes, except for that.” Miltos tried recalling the strength of the creature, but its movements werewhat frightened him. Strength and speed were at the creature’s disposal. He would have to be extra wary. Heightening his senses, he scoured the landscape around him, sensing the gait of creatures walking or crawling. He could not find it. Adelard’s gait seemed lighter.
“Do you think, maybe,” Adelard considered “that its lair is in the caverns?”
“Its possible. There were many things down there that I could see.”
“Hmm. I’m not someone who does well in a fight.”
“I’m not sure I’m one either.”
The pair traveled over an archway,connecting a series of towers to the main building of the citadel.Miltos’ cell was located in one of the tower, with the others being vacant except for bats and rodents, as far as he could tell. The structure of the citadel, with its high walls on the outermost part of the city, and the citadel itself having been built on a high ground, gave the impression it was ready for any sort of warfare from external enemies. It was without a doubt that an internal strife,such as the plague, left its citizenry perplexed.
“The caverns are also a part of the sewer system,” Adelard began explaining, as they walked down a spiral staircase to the main floor. “Most of it is unexplored. When the city was built, so I’m told, portions of the cavern were sealed off due to the depths they traveled, though the architectural notes show that a majority of the caverns are all interconnecting. There are a handful of ways to access it.”
“You seem to know a lot about it.”
“Yes. Well. When we started moving people down there, I had to.”
Passing old dining halls and knight’s quarters, Adelard led Miltos through the courtyard at the center of the citadel. In its center stood an over arching tree that held a lantern on one of its limbs. At one time, the courtyard served as asmall garden for the royal family of Revash Bohde; now, it seemed like a small farmer’s field, with the only remnant being a large tree that held a lantern on one of its branches. Only two were visible as they walked: potatoes and soybeans. Patches of one kind of vegetable intermixed with the other.
They reentered the citadel, cutting through the courtyard. Before leading him further, Adelard stopped to take a hanging torch from the wall. Unlit, he searched his pockets for flint and a piece of steel when he came to a realization.
“Right,” he said. He placed his fingers near the flammable portion of the torch, snapping hisfingers. It ignited. “Don’t really need to hide that I can do this,do I?”
Miltos followed Adelard outside as they took several stairs heading further downward to ground level.They were within the city again. Miltos continually sensed his surroundings as Adelard led him through; all that he could sense were the small rodents, wild dogs that roamed the streets, and the occasional human-like creatures that wailed. He shuddered.
Adelard led Miltos to what appeared to be a large storehouse or barn; its large doors were left ajar as the walls of the building rotted away. The faint, foul odor of death hung in the air. The flooring was covered in wood, but as they stepped towards the center of the building, Miltos found himself stepping foot onto rock. A large hole, uncovered by a grate, gaped its devouring maw. As Adelard lit the indoor torches, Miltos saw several bats clinging to the ceiling and, having been disturbed, flew off into the night.
“Careful now. You don’t want to fall in. Or maybe you do.”
“Maybe I need to,” Miltos said in a serious, but worried, tone.
“At least take these.” Adelard handed him his beak mask and torch. “It’ll help keep you safe from infection, I assume. It has kept me safe so far. If that thing is down there…” He peered into the hole. “I’ll just try to hurry back with Sohnelun.”
Miltos pressed the mask onto his face,smelling the scent of various herbs: Mint leaves, roses, basil, and garlic. “Hopefully it isn’t there.” He walked into the floor’s, sloped gaping maw, the entrance to the poison that decimated this land with disease. Afraid, he peered behind him to see if Adelard was there, but he had ran off to find Sohnelun, and to try to convince him that Miltos was there to help.