Chapter 20 - The Shadow and the Spear

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It was to be a day of fire and darkness.

Dakao, Afunakwa, and the village's most powerful shamans escorted Michael and Jaylina to the edge of the great volcano's caldera high above the village. Dark basaltic lava bubbled gently within and Jaylina could feel the heat of it on her face from high above the basin.

After surveying the dark lake of boiling stone, Dakao turned their attention to the view around them: a ring of connected islands and reefs that joined this main island and its neighbors, encircling a small sea in a near perfect circular and massive atoll.

The water of the atoll shone light blue close to its edges, indicating shallow water. It grew progressively darker inward, and its center, like the pupil of an eye, or perhaps a bottomless pit, was entirely black.

"The Mouth of the World," said Dakao.

He explained that the Mouth was a holy place of sorts; the physical place in the universe where energy coalesced into massive, unseen vortexes and fed into the Otherworld.

"How it came to be no one knows for certain, not even the People of the Water," he said. "Though our story songs speak of the struggle between light and dark. This is where souls entered our world, and this is where they come to return to the other side. Along this path the departed take on their journey to the Isle of the Dead, and is the closest living beings can come to it. The spirits of our departed swim these waters until they are ready to migrate."

"It's under water," observed Jaylina, in awe. Pieces of long stored information clicked into place, and her intuition told her this was the reason for old wives' tale about ghosts not wanting to cross water. To do so would bring them here to start their spiritual journey to places their souls were not yet prepared to go. Shadows could not gather here. A slight wind picked up.

"A storm is coming," she noted. The Steward nodded.

"Dakao, we'll need a boat," Michael said. "Something to keep Jaylina's body safe in while we travel to the other side."

"You will have it. There are several on the beach below us," Dakao said. "Take one to the center of the Mouth. There you must cast your travelling spells."

"I will go with them," said Afunakwa.

"You will not," her grandfather replied.

"Jaylina's body will need someone to watch over it while they are away," the girl argued.

Before Dakao could respond, everyone turned as one at the long sound of a conch shell being blown near the village far below. Looking back toward the lagoon, they could see black smoke rising. Jaylina thought she heard the faintest sounds of screams and shouts on the wind as it climbed the mountain.

"The village," said Michael.

"So it begins," said Dakao. "Darkness begins its assault on all that remains of our outpost of the Light. They have grown bold to attack us even in this paltry daylight." He shouted orders to his shamans who set off running down the mountain back toward the village. "The shadows have overcome our defenses, though I'm not sure how."

"Do not underestimate the formidable demon that undoubtedly pursued us here," said Michael.

"Zyzzyx," whispered Jaylina.

"Do not speak its name, child!" said Dakao. But it was too late.

Jaylina felt displacement and heard the grating of chain across the rocks behind them that could only mean one thing. Her heart turned cold with dread. High up on top of the world with nowhere to run, Zyzzyx had found them.

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