Ashes of Eden

Chapter 8

They'd been walking for two days now. After they left Callibur, Fi guided them around the town's perimeter. Today they finally left Ebbe forest behind, everything became thicker, the air grew hotter. Eric's clothes clung to his moist skin, itching like crazy. He was pushing down the urge to scratch his balls. If only Nadia wasn't here… Eric glared up. The forest trees had been huge, filled with foliage. These trees they kept passing… They were tall, with vine-like limbs growing along their thick trunks. The top of the trees was round, like frisbees made of leaves. Uprooted roots popped out along the ground as they eased deeper into the woods. Eric's boot sunk into something squishy. An awful stench—worse than rotten eggs and old gasoline—hit his nose. Eric lifted a hand to shield himself.

"We're in the swamp lands now." Fi announced grimly, stopping at his side. Eric watched, heaving a cough, as the Fairy beat his wings fiercely. The stench began to disappear. "You have to be careful where you step. That flower eats flesh, mostly insects, but when it feels threatened it releases a foul smell. It can cause nausea and if you're exposed too long, paralysis."

Eric glared down at the purple gunk that was slowly reforming, as if made of rubber. Slowly, it became a five-petalled flower with a large hole in its middle. The flower didn't have a stem, it struck Eric more like moss than a flower.

"Couldn't you have said that before Eric stepped on it?" the girl with blue-hair tips scrunched her nose at the purplish thing passed for a flower in Eden.

Fi gilded toward Nadia, "He shouldn't have gone ahead!"

Eric fell back a couple of steps, getting fresh air into his lungs. He could feel his head settling with each breath. The little bug was right for once, it had been his fault for going ahead of Fi. Eric couldn't help himself. He felt… restless. In a hurry to get somewhere.

"Be more careful." Carter ordered, looking stern with his arms firmly stapled across his slimmer chest.

"There's a safe path though the swamp. It's used by merchants every other day. You need to stay close, though, it's easy to get lost or…"

"To get eaten by carnivore flowers?"

"The flower eats insects." Eric snickered. Fi narrowed his eyes but pretended not to understand Eric's mute insult. "There are places where the ground is very soft, people who step into those patches of ground begin to sink in—they usually can't climb out."

"Eden's a deathtrap." Eric silently agreed with Nadia. "How do people—normal people—survive? Just crossing between towns sounds like a risk."

Fi flew ahead of them, keeping them on a straight line on a green mossy road with marsh land on one side and thicker plants on another. Plants with pointy thorns, some dribbled with some liquid. Eric kept his eyes off them, feeling antsy.

"It wasn't always like this. There was peace between the races at several points of Eden's history."

"It started with Charice, right?" Fi threw a glance Nadia's way. "I read about him in one of Amund's books."

"Yes. He was proclaimed the first King in Eden's history and for a time, there was unity. Bad forces were kept away. Mankind grew to trust Fae and others with different gifts, like Magik or those with Ancient Blood. That peace lasted for a while longer after his death, but after the fourth monarch rose to power... It all fell to shambles." Fi sighed sadly, like he remembered exactly how it happened—like he'd lived it. "Holland, the third King, was greedy. He desired to expand Eden's territory and to do it, he desired our help—the Fae folk—along with others. He wanted to achieve his goal at whatever cost. There was one who coveted his crown, though. Her name was Delvas. She was born in Agnar, but her ancestry came from Ancient Bloods. Her hair was white, her skin darkly tanned—natural traits of Drages."

"Drage?" Eric muttered absently, eyes sliding to soft ripples in the marsh. Nothing came from underneath the murky water.

"...she was a good leader. Her title was a noble one, too. Delvas was respected among Agnar soldiers due to her ability to wield a saber. She was a master of the weapon. No one knows what became of her, though. Some say she conspired in the shadows to murder Holland and take the throne. I guess it could have been that." Fi shrugged his small shoulders. "Holland sailed to Morana—an island—because he heard of people with a unique Magik were born there. He wanted to lure them into his crusade for power after the Fae refused to help cause bloodshed for the sake of expanding territory. The Merrows saw it as an opportunity to humble Mankind. They sank Holland's ship as it disappeared in the horizon. Everyone on Aoide Bay saw it."


"Mermaids." Carter supplied Eric with a smooth smile. Oh.

"How do you know that?" Nadia butted in.

"I've read lots of books on several mythologies. There's all sorts of names for mermaids: merrow, siren."

"So," Nadia pushed the topic onward, clearly invested in earning Fi's attention. Maybe to ask him about the Sight? Clever girl, Eric thought. "That's what made Eden's races... diverge?"

"Yes. For a time." Fi looked over at her, hovering for a moment. "After Holland, came his heir, Caderyrn. He was young, not even fifteen when he was crowned. He tended to listen to his advisers and nobles more concerned with racking every quadra they could—even from the poorest people." It sounded to Eric like money was always the source of problems. "Agnar had enough of it. They started a rebellion against Phaedra, the capital, and against the King."

"Who won?" Eric asked when Fi stopped talking for minutes on end as they trudged through a muddy terrain. He could swear the water kept rippling as they walked on. Every time he peeked, though, nothing.

"In a way, neither."

"Someone always wins."

"Someone did. It was a... complicated time." Fi murmured. Eric saw the quick tilt the Fairy's head made, toward Nadia. "There was a Priestess then—she was born in Bracha, the city of Gods and Goddesses, where Mankind goes to worship, and some go to learn. Since birth, she possessed a gift, a Blessing. It was bestowed on her by Phyta, the Goddess of life. She communed with Phyta and saw things no one else did..." The red-winged Fairy trailed off. "She had the Sight."

Eric's arm launched out—on pure instinct—as Nadia's foot caught on a large root. Carter was snickering at him when Eric straightened with a blinking Nadia close to his side. She saw his brother's face and shoved her elbow into Eric's right kidney. He growled low in his throat, resisting yelling. Nadia took steps toward Fi.

"Like me?"

"Heh. I don't know. You shouldn't have the Sight—it's a Blessing." Nadia made a I-don't-understand-what-that-means face. "Blessings can only be bestowed upon birth." Ah. "You're not even from Eden."

"Truer words have never been spoken." Carter said, busy stretching his neck. How nonchalant of him. "How does a Priestess fit into a war?"

"Well, she was given a prophecy." Of course, Eric rolled his icy eyes. "She was told to gather five people—each with a set of skills. Each hailing from different races or cities. Phyta told her the six of them would bring about a new age for Eden. They were our Paladins, representing us all, and the races united once more for the sake of that prophecy."

"How Lord of the Rings." Carter snorted. His fingers skimmed thick hair and his face became amused. "You actually believed—believe—six people could help an entire country divided by multiple ethnicities?"

"They won the war." Fi stated with his tiny fists curled tight, glaring at Carter with offense. That was new. "Just like Phyta promised and..."

"Eden doesn't seem peaceful. That's what started this entire conversation." Eric's brother shot at the Fairy, arrogantly.

Fi grew red in the face, "They won the war!" he repeated, voice growing in a louder pitch. "Then they... One day, they were gone."


"Yes. For a long time, people held out hope, but... Most think they're dead." Fi's wings drooped and he fell a little, before his wings picked back up. "Maybe they are. It's been nearly thirty years." There was a sad note in the Fairy's voice. "Anyway, that's why the races fell apart again. With no Paladins…"

Eric's mind became clouded by something then. Just as Fi turned on them to keep flying on, Eric felt like the world was folding around him, darkness seeping into his eyeballs, making him blind. His body felt tuckered out for some unknown reason, worse than when he went days without eating or drinking. He stumbled forward—stood his ground, before falling backward. The smack of his sword against his back barely fazed him.

"Shit!" Carter yelled.

"Is he... is he having another seizure?" It felt like his body was being torn apart—like before.

His heart pounded, heavy and strong. Darkness gave way to bright lights. Pain dissolved, and Eric saw a glimpse of pure blond hair before Carter was standing over him, with Nadia peering at Eric over his brother's shoulder. His muscles rippled and flexed as he shot up feeling... He wasn't sure what. He found himself glaring at his hands. Were his fingers... longer? He was still turning them over when Carter grabbed his shoulder, stealing Eric's gaze.

"What was that?"

"I don't know." He whispered thickly.

"Did it feel like last time?" After the Dybbuk attacked.

He nodded, "It was shorter. I'm... okay." Eric swallowed before shaking off his big brother's hand. Carter watched as Eric climbed to his feet—which felt surprisingly steady. Nadia's mouth was parted in wonder? Confusion? Eric couldn't tell, she shook it off too fast. "Stop looking at me like that."

Carter didn't. His brother got in his face, grabbing Eric's shoulders.

"You should tell me if you've been feeling sick, Eric."

"I haven't."

Carter's eyes hardened.

"That's not normal."

"It's not my fault!" He gritted out. He hated feeling cornered. Carter knew that, so, why he was making Eric feel that way? Eric hadn't a clue. "Maybe it was the flower thingy or whatever." Carter's gaze held Eric's in an unnerving cage match. Carter thought Eric was hiding something from him. "What the hell is your problem?"

Carter's fingers dug deeper into Eric's shoulders... Nadia shouldered between them. Carter looked baffled at her sudden interference, almost like he'd forgotten she was there.

Carter's somber glare and sharp tone made Eric frown, "What do you think you're doing?"

"Stopping this stupid overbearing brother crap." Nadia stated flatly. "If Eric is sick, staying in this swamp—arguing—won't do him any good. He said he's fine now, so maybe it was the flower toxin. Who knows. What I do know, is that I don't want to spend the night wandering around this place." He glanced around them, and Carter did too, noticing how the light had dwindled—it hadn't been able to penetrate much to begin with. "That's right. So, lay off until we're somewhere remotely safe."

Carter looked away, resigned. Eric kept a smirk at bay—Nadia gave him a furtive glare over a slim shoulder, "Get moving."

Eric exhaled slowly. This woman was getting on his nerves like little people could. Her hot and cold attitude was giving him serious whiplash. Fi and her went ahead, leaving him and Carter to pick up the rear. Neither of them spoke. Eric was enjoying the silence, along with the comforting weight of his sword, when he saw Carter half smirking. Eric's brows drew together, expecting nothing good.

"What?" He asked, voice gruff. Carter's blue petrol gaze slid to the front, lingering on Nadia's back, before returning to Eric's face. The smirk grew. "Get bent." Eric felt his cheeks heat as he scrambled to look away from his brother's all-knowing eyes.


Nightfall had left them blind. It was a good thing they'd managed to stumble along the swamp, leaving it behind, a few minutes ago. Eric had been hot all day long. Now, there was a proclaimed chill in the air. It wasn't as bad as the night they'd arrived in Eden, though. The greens had thinned out, large mountains of rock and soil flanked them. There was smoke curling in the sky in the distance. Fi decided to call it a night, saying Loron was unsafe to travel at night.

Eric leaned against a large rock in front of the fire he'd built. Carter, always the boy scout, had picked up some wood along their swamp journey. Eric considered the bristling flames intently. How had Carter guessed they wouldn't find any wood here? He scratched the back of his head.

Eric lifted his head. Carter was sitting alone, across from him. His brother's eyes were shut, shoulders dropped. He looked asleep. Eric tilted his head left—where Nadia was. She was closer to the fire, tilting the book Amund had given her so that she could read. Fi had snuck into Eric's bag about way back. Eric scowled at that. If he listened closely, he could hear the Fairy snoring. Slowly, he set his head against the stone. His thoughts were all over the place, his mind was loud, filled with images from before. That nightmare. With the man. Eric's eyes shot open—he glared at the unfamiliar constellations. He felt excessively angry and disgusted—at himself, at that man.

Eric racked a hand across his hair. He got up, grabbed the hilt of his sword and pulled it from the sheath. Practicing would do him good, set his mind straight. It always did. So, Eric stationed himself about twenty feet from their little camp and began his routine. The way his sword moved, whizzing, cutting the air so intensely and fluidly—it felt like another limb he possessed, a very sharp, deadly one. He couldn't say how many long hours he'd spent practicing. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, a voice always whispered he needed to be the best. Eric imagined another shadowy figure creeping along and stabbed it through. He always came up with enemies, it helped his focus and determination.

He remembered Dad scolding him—more than once—for practicing under pouring rain in their backyard. Eric hadn't minded being yelled at, since he deserved it, he'd gotten sick many times because of his stubborn ways and... It showed Dad cared. For the first since being ripped from Earth he thought about Dad—was he worried? Eric feinted and lunged until sweat dripped along his hairline, until his muscles felt stretched and without tension.

Eric swung around in a final, graceful—to him—one-eighty. He panted, allowing his left arm to fall at his side. Still, he gripped the hilt like a child would a teddy bear. Once he glared at the fire, Eric noticed how the flames had shrunk. His gaze caught Nadia's above the rim of her book. Across the dying fire.

He lifted an eyebrow once she kept staring.

"Do you always practice like that?"

"Like what?" How long had she'd been watching him? Nadia stayed silent. Eric shook himself out, then shook his head, striding to his previous spot. "Don't tell me spying became more appealing than a book?"

Nadia didn't take the bait. Instead, she said, "Was that all pent-up anger?"

Eric cocked his head down, sheathing his sword. "Yes. I've got to unleash my anger in some way, since there's someone continuously pissing me off."

"I'm guessing that's aimed at me."

Eric gave her a cocky grin. But it wasn't true. Not all his warring emotions had been brought on by Nadia's strange tendency to piss him off. It was everything—Carter, her, Fi—things he couldn't explain. Like those nightmarish dreams.

He heard the book flap closed. Eric's eyes found hers in the night. They held on.

"You fight like you're afraid of something." She whispered.

Eric brought a leg up.

"I'm not afraid of anything." He said it even as images of that brutish, older man haunted him. He could almost feel himself being held down against the cot—face smeared with snot and tears as that man... as he...

He startled at the touch. It was unfamiliar and sudden. Eric couldn't help himself. He recoiled, pressing into the stone. Nadia was kneeling beside him, her hand on his wrist. Eric let out a long-suffering breath. She came closer, strawberry blond hair darkened, hanging freely. Her mouth stopped inches from his cheek.

"You're an awful liar." She whispered. Her breath tingled his cool skin, like she'd chewed some minty gum.

Eric found himself trapped between a rock and her hovering body. His shoulders tensed in anticipation, like a lion about to be pounced.

"Don't get too cocky because I defended you against your brother."

"I don't need anyone defending me. Especially against my brother."

Nadia gave him a little smirk, "I wouldn't be too sure about that, tough guy. But, hey, next time I'll let you two kick and punch like little kids who don't know what communication means."

"Says the girl who elbows me instead of thanking me. Next time, I'll let you faceplant the floor."

A little spark made her eyes seem brighter in the dead of night.

"I didn't know you cared, Eric."

"Caring is a strong word." Eric paused, pretending to give thought to what he said next. "Even using the word tolerate is me being generous."

Nadia shifted then, taking a seat beside him. The small flames danced with the wind's direction.

"I need to ask, though." she pulled her cloak closer to her, shivering. "Are you alright? That looked bad."

Eric thought about teasing her back, about the caring thing, but Nadia was looking uncomfortable and away from him. This seemed to take effort on her part. Eric respected it.

"I feel fine—great." He wasn't lying. "I don't know what happened. It just… did. Everything went dark and there was this nagging pain in my body—spreading everywhere..." he stopped himself before sharing about the person with blond hair he'd seen before returning to reality. "It must have been that shitty fungus."

"Flower," she corrected him.

"It didn't look like one."

"I guess not." Nadia drew out in a hush.

Eric eyed her from the corner of his eye. Her chin almost touched her chest. She was dozing off.

And because Eric thought it wasn't obvious, he stated: "I'll keep watch. Get some rest."

"I can keep awake." Sure, she could.

"Yeah, but I owe you guys." Silvery irises gazed at him dumbly. "For taking care of me when I was out. At least, I owe Carter." He scuffed his boot across gravel.

Eric thought she had drifted off to the land of dreams, everything fell quiet for several minutes on end. Nadia proved him wrong with one last sleepy remark.

"I'm sorry about your Mom." He didn't get to ask how she knew. "…you talk in your sleep…"

His older brother's words came back to him: You called out for Mom. Nadia had been present. He scarcely remembered hearing them talk. Eric didn't respond. He didn't know what to say.
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