The cave lived and breathed. The rock and earth moved as the magic energy within pulsed towards and away from the depths of the place in the rhythmic heartbeat that was magic. It was fractured though, like a rhythm that was ever so slightly out of sync. Like a person clapping to music, but not being on the right rhythm therewith.
The walls of the cave were smooth to sight, but rough under Ramses' calloused fingers. There was a great deal of energy surrounding him here. He'd have to be careful. There had only been one other time he had felt that much energy flowing around him had been shortly before his mother died.
That was when they had gone to the royal isle, the former territory of an ancient kingdom of the coast of his homeland. It had been abandoned a millennia or two before, but the palace and lands remained. He had always been small as a child - not until moving to Caergwlân had he grown to his present height and size. Among his people, he would be considered large. It may have been the magic, the good food or a combination of other things. He never really knew, but the inhabitants of Caergwlân were rarely known for being small.
During that trip almost fifteen years ago, he had become deathly ill, and it wasn't until later, when he returned to his home that he was able to fully recover. What was it about this cave here which reminded him of that isle? This cave was gray and like the world around it, watery. There was moisture in the air and on the walls. The isle in his childhood was like the land around it - red, brown and dry. There was nothing about the two which were similar, save how he reacted to them.
Ramses paused, and focused his senses onto a space between him and Mederei. There was a ball of energy pulsating as though it was a resting spot for energy to be stored. Cave walls shouldn't have power storages, and rarely did any sort of magic pool in the walls.
"Too much energy is here," Mederei murmured beside him. She touched the air between the wall and Ramses. "It's pouring into you, Ramses. Why is that?"
"Is it going to be a problem?" Hugh inquired. He remained several steps behind the other two. Despite the fact that he was the same height and general weight as Ramses, Hugh appeared large in the tunnel. He had followed them from the main cave into the smaller one where they now explored, but despite his gruff question, Hugh shook. "How much farther is this going to be, do you think?"
Mederei lowered her hand and went to Hugh. She laid a gentle hand on Hugh's left temple. "Do you need me to weave a spell for you?"
She never said cast or make. She used words of the Gwion - weave, speak - words that indicated which magic she would use. Weave a spell, though, was her storyteller magic. Hugh's claustrophobia had to be terrible if Mederei felt the best use of magic was her storyteller magic.
Whoever believed that dragons loved caves had obviously never met one of the demihabil. They were notorious for claustrophobia and other things associated therewith. Their isle was rocky, to be certain, but the buildings all faced the sea, and were high on the mountaintops. The spaces were wide and airy with plenty of space for anyone to visit. It wasn't the cave, theoretically, but being underground and a tunnel.
Hugh's eyes glowed for a moment then dulled as he shook his head. "I'll be fine. No need for you to do anything."
Mederei shrugged. "No one knows anything down here, and I suspect that fae above us will have not heard about the laws of the Forty Isles."
"The earth remembers," Ramses reminded them. "The walls will remember." He looked at the wall and traced his hand along a vein of magic running from the entrance down into the depths. The magic ran deeper into the walls, running around the entire isle. The fae used the magical lines to build their tunnels, having the ability to feel the magic much like Ramses did, but in even more detail. Yet, despite being in one of their sacred tunnels, there seemed to be little to nothing there which indicated their presence.
The fae always kept their most important records on the walls, and they recorded everything for to them, everything was important. The births of new fae, the passing on of the aged - though for as long as the fae lived, it was an enormous event when one of them died. The building of kingdoms and the destruction of families, all was recorded. Here, though, there seemed to be very little.
What did they do to record anything?
"You of all people should know this, Mederei," Hugh was grumbling. "No matter what magic you use here, you'll end up leaving a trace of it in the walls."
Mederei crossed her arms. "I can adjust my magic."
Ramses looked at her, his arms falling to his sides. It was rumored - suggested in legend and fiction - that the daughters of the Gwion could shift their magic. Their storyteller magic was just that - storytelling. It combined their word magic - which Mederei used to masquerade as a wizard - along with their weaver magic to literally weave stories out of thin air. In theory, Mederei could make her magic appear to be something else because she could weave her own story.
"No wonder they put you on the level of the goddesses," Ramses murmured.
"We're not there," Mederei argued. "I need to actually weave my storyteller magic."
"Does Ceinwen?" Ramses suggested.
"Does Isolde?" Ramses pressed.
"Does Alfny?" Hugh inquired.
Mederei stilled. "At the end of her life, I don't know if I see her do anything, but that might be simply because she's so talented, but that's some serious magical skill. I doubt if I will ever be that strong."
Ramses and Hugh exchanged a look over her head. She was a member of a mage guild. There would come a time when her magic would most likely surpass even that of her idol, Alfny. She practiced her storyteller magic, both men knew, though it was often in private and away from anyone who would know. Yet ... It remained a fact that Mederei, like her sister, Ceinwen, and their cousin, Isolde were indeed the heirs of Alfny.
The magic of the three was unparalleled among any of the recent memories of the Gwion. Ceinwen was ten years older than Mederei and married and with children. She kept her magic hidden behind the facade of a busy socialite wife and mother. Isolde, their cousin two years older than Ceinwen, was the Captain of the High Queen's Guards - the very group who protected the High Queen of the Forty Isles. She was in the heart of danger being a Gwion, yet she managed to navigate the path.
It was Isolde who was Ramses' first understanding of the Gwion. He had been five when the royal couple came to visit with their entourage. His father had taken him along for education. He had found himself in the room with the newly crowned High King and Queen, their captains, his father and their isle king.
Isolde had treated him like a human, not just another child. He had fallen in love with her that moment, and still harbored a small, infinitesimal hope that one day she might go on a date with him. But, it was wishful thinking. She was much older than he was. The Gwion women invariably married distant relations. Mederei and Caradoc were too close to marry, but there were other Gwion who Mederei could marry.
Turning away from his memories, Ramses pressed farther into the tunnel. "If you want to return to the entrance, Hugh, Medi and I will be able to manage."
"I will be fine."
"Of course you will," Mederei placated.
She would remain near him, protecting him in the only ways she knew how - by sending her magic into him. She would suppress the dragon's fear of the dark, tight spaces, and she would keep his terrors at bay. They didn't need to exchange words, because Hugh was practically family.
If Mederei would marry outside her family, Hugh would be a viable option.
"You know, Ramses, there's a lot of interesting things on these walls," Mederei called. "But, you keep walking right past everything. What are you thinking about?"
"I want to follow the magic vein that I feel."
"How strong is it?"
"Powerfully strong." Ramses stopped and rolled his shoulders to take off the feeling of crawling over his back and shoulders. A hand touched his back, and the tingling fell away. "What did you do, Medi?"
"How did you know it was me?"
Hugh's magic had dissipated from the records on the wall, meaning he had left. Mederei's magic - well, not her magic, because he could never sense her magic - Mederei's aura remained like a throbbing heat in his brain. He always knew she was around even as he knew where his other friends or family were.
Mederei glanced over her shoulder. "Hugh went back for torches."
"You were the only one who would do anything like this." Ramses looked down at his hands. "What did you take from me?"
"Excess magic." She stepped back as though studying him in a new suit. "It's gathering around you, as though you can carry it away with you ... I've never seen anything like it before. It's like, threads pooling around you in a ball ... No." She waved a hand as though to wipe away a veil.
Around them, brown liquids flowed around the walls as though the walls themselves had suddenly become porous. Yet, touching the wall, it remained solid. Beneath his feet, the liquid pooled as though they waded through a river, though only he was knee deep with Mederei walking on the surface. "What is this?"
"You see what I see."
"And how much have you seen in your life?"
"My life or my adventures?"
"Not much, but I haven't even heard of anything like this. I know excess magic can be channeled off from people, but that usually happens when children are young, and have first developed magical abilities. There's an entire street in the capital devoted to such procedures, in fact. I think most capitals must have them, or maybe just here since we're known for our wizards."
"Were you taken to the street?"
Mederei shook her head. "They didn't do that for reasons. It's why Father taught me to weave, and why Ceinwen took me on my adventures. What's going on here is as though the isle itself has excess magic and needs a release. It's releasing it into the only avenue it has, and it's you. I think you're not going to be able to remain on the isle too long, Ramses. You're pale."
"You look as light as I do."
She was the fairest of the four.
"I feel fine."
"I think it's the magic." She touched his left temple. "I can help, but we're going to have to go in deeper." She looked back towards the entrance. She rarely showed fear of any sort, rarely showed anything that translated as fear, but something scared her.
"I'm strong, Medi. We'll be fine."
She nodded her head, and continued to follow him deeper into the tunnel.
When they found the end of the tunnel, they stopped. "I find it strange how they did this," Ramses observed. "Don't they normally go into the cave?"
"Usually they begin at a tunnel and go off from the main center which was where we had left Hugh when he wanted to go for the torches." Mederei looked around. "There should be some sort of tunnel here since there wasn't much information on the walls. Do you sense any large space nearby? That would be the main cavern where the rituals are."
Ramses closed his eyes, and ran his magic along the trails running around the island. They were close ... "Damn."
"What is it?"
"We're nearly out of the island. Maybe five meters ahead of us is air."
"How do you know?"
"The rocks feel different."
Mederei dug her toe into the floor. "Maybe they can't find the old caves because they're below the sea level?"
"I'd considered that possibility."
"We can drop down to the lower level and go down, but we're probably going to need additional magic support."
"Or storyteller magic. I don't know how the land down there will hold up to being entered even by an earth mage. Have you noticed that the fae here also seem pale and almost lethargic?"
"I noticed that. Any idea?"
"The fae are connected to various elements, much like mages are. Usually, they are connected to water, light and air. The dae are connected to the earth."
"Fae are good with metals. We don't really know what type of magic the dae actually possess."
"Suffice it, however, that there might be a connection to the island's situation and the fae's life."
Mederei looked around the cave. "I need to study these walls, but I don't know how much help you'll be, and you look worse. Go back up and keep Hugh company."
"Will you be fine?"
"I'm a Gwion, I'm always fine. Go check on Hugh for a bit."
Meanwhile, outside, Hugh waited with Mithrilanna while Mederei and Ramses continued to work inside the cave.
"Is there nothing you can tell us about the area?" Hugh asked Mithrilanna. They had been on the island for most of the day, and planned to spend the night there. With still three hours to sunset, Hugh had taken the chance to go outside and warm up a bit. There, he had found Mithrilanna waiting.
"Nothing," she answered, shaking her head from side to side. She perched on a rock near the entrance, the only one of the fae who had remained outside. "All we know is from recent memory. Anything before the separation is beyond what we know. It isn't as though our island was well-known beforehand save for the jewels we harvested."
"Are you waiting for us?" Ramses asked, emerging from the entrance.
"We came to see how you progressed," Mithrilanna explained. "My people are most curious about the mage, wizard and dragon."
"Did you find anything?" Hugh inquired. Ramses looked drained as though he had to wade upstream. His normally ruddy skin was swallow and dim.
Ramses tugged his chin. "We're going to have to see what's out there, preferably without added support." He glanced pointedly back to the cave entrance. "I left her past where you departed."
Hugh grunted and began sliding away from the cave entrance before Mederei realized their plans. For being at the bottom of the family, Mederei had the uncanny ability to know what was happening. Only one woman scared him more than his mother or Mederei and that was Ceinwen merc Cynwal Gwion, Mederei's elder sister who could hear a pin drop on the other side of the world and know who dropped it.
"If you two believe leaving me here protects anyone, obviously you know nothing of magic," Mederei argued from the cave.
"Her hearing is almost as good as a dragon's," Mithrilanna observed.
Hugh snarled. Her ears were good, but not that good. "Tell me about it. I thought she was farther ..."
Beside Hugh, Ramses shook his head and held his hands up in surrender. “She was farther down when I left, and I haven’t sensed her movement.”
Hugh stopped and peered at the ground. "She sent balls after us." He pointed to a purple black orb hovering in the shadows near the edge of the cave. They were part of Mederei's magic, in this case, word magic. She used them to listen and observe. They took very little of her magic to execute, so she often attached them to somebody or a location. She probably left them along the path for protection.
"I could go," Mithrilanna offered. "Fae magic is not dissimilar to that of an acquired wizard, especially our magic here."
"Take her with you, if you insist on going out. I'll keep Ramses." Mederei stood in the entrance of the cave, arms crossed and toe tapping. She moved one hand to point away from the cave. "This is where I need to remain if someone else can go out and about."
The hairs on Hugh's neck bristled. "Makes me sound like some kid." He crossed his arms and scuffed the dirt.
"Well, in the greater scheme of things, one could consider you a kid. I mean, humans normally live, what a hundred and twenty years at most?" She calculated on her fingers. "Makes me ... Wow. You're like four in relationship to a human." She pinched his cheeks. "What a cutie you are."
Behind Hugh, Mithrilanna coughed. Ramses chortled, wrapping his arms around his waist to hold in the laughter. He slapped Hugh's shoulder. "Never thought about it that way."
"You won't be eighteen until you're like, seventy-five, Hugh." Mederei giggled. "No wonder Gran calls Gramps a bratty teenager."
"So Gramps can say he's eighteen with over fifty years’ experience," Ramses joked.
"Mithrilanna, we're going now," Hugh ordered. "You can show me the around. We'll be back in an hour."
"Fine, go on," Mederei grumbled.
At the cliff where they first landed, Hugh shook off the human for the dragon. "Is it painful to change?"
Touching her hand with the edge of his nose, Hugh answered. No, more like a good stretch, but you have to keep contact with me to maintain the conversation.
"Is that why the Riders go barefoot?"
Hugh nipped the back of Mithrilanna's gown and put her at the base of his neck. Mostly. It also saves on shoes if we have to change our form. Our clothing can change to and fro, but the shoes are always a mess afterwards.
"Wonder why that is?"
Gwion fabric. It cannot be destroyed by magic, only time.
"But if one is a time mage or a wizard with those spells?"
Still magic, isn't it?
"You're overly confident in your lack of knowledge, demihabil."
Hugh chuckled. Not confident, I only know that we've tried magic against it, even the time spells, and it doesn't work..
Mithrilanna twisted. "She seems to know a great deal for one so young."
Hugh chose not to answer, but shifted the conversation as they flew towards the clouds. The history of the island, and the fae's relationship with Rukisismos were paramount to the investigation, and any hope they had of solving the situation.
We're nearing our thirty minute mark, but we're no closer to the clouds than we were before.
"I told you it would be pointless."
Hugh pulled up to hover in mid-air. His nostrils contracted and relaxed to draw in the scents surrounding him. The ocean had no real scent, and it was the smell of land most people preferred. One could always smell changes in weather such as the smell of rain in a storm, but out here, despite seeing the clouds, nothing could be distinguished. If someone comes from the other side, would the two meet under the clouds, I wonder.
"No one has ever attempted it, but it would take days to fly both ways."
A year and three days, to be precise, but that's sailing continuously at a strong clip which one can't do flying. Hugh turned back to head to Delmas Isle. What do you know of the protective barrier at Rukisismos?
"The town on the shore?"
Hugh nodded his head once.
"Very little as we have no way of maintaining many of our former contacts. I do know who might remember something about it, though. Our older, wiser members would remember things about the town." She snapped her fingers. "Grosmater would be the best one."
Grosmater, if these fae were like the ones Hugh knew, used the term to refer to anyone of a certain age regardless if the woman was one's grandmother or if she even had children. The same was also true for the term Grospater, the male equivalent.
If the memory of the separation was out of everyone's living memory, when was the last time anyone had contact with the shoreline on a regular basis?
The sunlight warmed Hugh's back as he banked to catch a breeze with the scent of earth. Looking over his shoulder at the clouds one last time, he squinted, hoping to see anything different, but all he could see was the clouds and flashes of light.
"At night it's quite beautiful," Mithrilanna said. "Children are often afraid of it, but it's beautiful. You know, I've heard of things called storms and the like, but none of us have ever experienced one."
None? There was one which came through a few days ago.
"If you stand on the cliffs away from the forest, you can see the storms passing overhead, but no rain falls, no wind blows stronger than a gentle breeze."
How do the plants grow then?
"Every morning dew collects on the trees, and the water from ocean is collected by the roots. We live in a glass world, Hugh. I think everyone has wanted to feel a strong wind knock us over, hear rain on our roofs, but we cannot."
Were you ever able too? You're people, I mean.
"I think so; once, many ages ago." She patted his neck. "We've been this way for so long none of us remember if it's the normal way things are or if we were cursed."