Chapter Ten

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The fire on the torch's head illuminated a short area of the woods around it. It was as if the world simply fell away beyond that glowing circle, and every step beyond might have been a plummet into hell's abyss.

Even though it seemed that such was the case, Cornelia kept lifting her feet and settling them back on the ground, taking step after step that led her closer to the caves. The scattered clluerths that made their home within these dark trees continued to cry out in the night, as if mourning the death of their kin that she'd slaughtered. Cornelia did not feel sorry for their show of grief. She had her own feelings of the same.

On this night—as important as it was—she'd lost the only two people in her life that she thought she could count on. Granted, neither of them had been with her long, but they had enough ties between them to make their dedication true. She, Glenn, and Blue had shared a common goal, and this journey through the woods had been pertinent to that. Now, Glenn had been killed in a most horrific way, and Blue had deserted her. She'd known the boy was a bit fragile at times, and so she could not say that his flight was unexpected. She only hoped that he could get himself out of the woods safely, for she would not turn back now.

As she moved on, the floor of leaves and grass beneath her feet finally wore down to stone. The trees thinned out around her, and the young woman with yellow hair knew she had reached her destination. The worry of creatures from the woods passed from her mind, for she had reached the place that the beasts had been set to guard.

The light cast over several poles that were wedged in the rock. From each, a small burlap sack was secured, reeking of rotten entrails, sulfur, and other elements mixed by the hand of one with true arcane knowledge. Combined with the arrangement of the poles, the blend of cursed ingredients served their purpose. They were set as a barrier, one that warded off the clleurths and would not allow them to cross beyond. Cornelia, however, was not some unholy monster. She was fine for the passage through, and she sighed with relief as she was accepted within. She was safe—from the creatures of the dark, at least.

From beneath her hood, she could see a faint glow ahead that was not created by her own torch. It was as she had been told. She would find the one she sought here. The woman moved forward into the dark mouth of the cave, minding her steps more carefully now. An even greater darkness had set around her, and she was welcomed only by the cold, uncaring whispers of the water that dripped down on her head. Cornelia continued toward the tiny glare of light, and once she had navigated herself around a bend, she came to a halt.

The den of the cave was separated from the dark passage by a stone door. There was an unbroken seam of light coming out from around the edges of the rectangular obstruction. At her approach, the door began to open on its own, soundlessly, as if it was braced on a cushion of air. Once it had begun to part, the brightness of the space behind it irritated her eyes as her pupils were forced to adjust to the sudden change.

She wasn't sure what she had expected to find upon reaching this place, and so she could not say that what she walked in on surprised her. The chamber was wide and dry, not appearing as a cavern at all. Quite opposing to the fact of the room's placement, the space was perfectly square, with a ceiling and floor and sharp angles very contrary to a naturally formed cave. It was as if the rock door had opened to a separated place on a magically fabricated plane of existence. And it was plausible to assume that this was exactly what it was.

Gingerly steps led her further into the room of fine adornments and tapestries, and she was an odd complement to it. She was a woman touched by the world, who'd moved through mud and past monsters to get here, and yet it seemed as if she should have arrived wearing her best gown—not that she possessed gowns and finery anymore.

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