He was woken by a prod to the shoulder. And the first thing that Darius saw was the boot, not a foot away. Once astir, he looked up and saw Jakob hovering over him.
Jakob stated simply, “This light will do.”
Darius rolled out of his bed no less puzzled than before. Looking north was the mountain as he remembered it, but now a strong wave of sunlight poured over them and the tarn from the west. It was actually warm, and a great deal more beautiful than before. Weeds and shrubs were blossoming in some places he hadn’t noticed before. Even a number of trees (predominantly bloody hawthorns, and shadowberries) seemed to have magically sprouted out of the ground. And birds had flocked to the branches and struck a tune.
Then Darius looked into the water for the reflection of the cave door, only to not see it appear after a minute of waiting. He saw only the mountain; the wall of lichens carpeting the rock and his stunned face looking back at him.
“What happened to the cave?” asked Darius.
“Nothing, it’s still there,” Jakob replied casually. “What is different is your perception. The moons are what made the cave visible in the reflection last night, but now it is morning.” Then he turned to Darius and said, “and what a fine morning it is.”
Darius nodded in agreement, “Mm hmm.”
“We were fortunate to have had a cloudless night. And now a cloudless day. For the Sangora Rax fear only the dawn and the light until ebb.”
“Your hope then is that these creatures shall burrow through the door and we shall be able to enter?”
“Will the hole be large enough for us to tread?”
“I think you underestimate the number I fit into the confines of the jar. And no,” added Jakob seeing another question on Darius’ mind, “I did not crush these ravaging creatures into the bottle. You forget Darius, that these things are not like the terrestrial beings you and I spy every day. They are celestial. Like the blood of the first gods.”
Darius smirked, somewhat satisfied with Jakob’s answers. Jakob and Etan were standing well away from the grotto entrance from behind a boulder; though Etan was slouching.
“Now unless you have any objections Darius, we were planning to finish this before tending to breakfast. If you wouldn’t mind joining us? For safety’s sake.”
“Alright.” Darius hurried over to his companions and crouched as low as he was able. He was both nervous and excited for every facet of his fearless leader’s plan had to potential to turn sour. And he was even more worried when Jakob asked, “How good is your arm?”
“Oh nevermind. Etan? Would you care to do the honours?”
Etan glowered, and reluctantly accepted the dangerous task. Carefully he took the ampoule from Jakob’s hand. Then he stood upright and eyed his mark, and measured the distance between him in his head; trying to determine the right amount of force to exert.
“What happens if this doesn’t work?” whispered Darius.
“Either we shall walk away empty-handed, or… we shan’t.” To Etan Jakob whispered, “whenever you’re ready.”
Now Etan bounced the glass in his palm and it began to buzz with ire, when finally the man hurled it at the grotto with all of his might. It was a direct hit. Suddenly there was an eruption which made the mountain tremble. And however brief, glass and fire exploded outwards in every direction making Darius duck for further cover.
Listening to the last of the glass shatter against the obsidian, The trio looked up and saw a cloud of black smoke. And yet it moved with the fluidity of a sentient creature.
Once the swarm touched the beam of light it recoiled, and it did exactly as Jakob predicted. The ravagers bit into the hard rock as if it were nothing. Sinking deeper and deeper like a knife through flesh. And within seconds they disappeared, leaving behind a hole large enough for the three men to fit through. As Jakob had promised. Darius let out a sigh of relief and smiled; glad never to hear the buzzing ever again.
Jakob who was waiting patiently, peered around the corner and saw the result for himself. He clapped his hands and rubbed them together in delight. “Ha ha!” he exclaimed. “Excellent toss, Etan! Phew! Imagine if a spriggan had been guarding the grotto, hmm? How difficult then this would have been.” And a proud Jakob instantly went to pat his friend on the back.
“Now what?” interrupted Darius.
“Oh, how quick you are to return to business Darius. Does nothing satisfy you? Not even a job well done?”
“I’m the cautious type, Jakob. How can we be certain the job is indeed done? If we were to venture into the cave now, what else could we expect to find? The ravagers? We would be entering their element after all.”
Jakob sighed, “Yes, of course. But, we needn’t worry about them again. A Fae enchantment should put them straight to sleep.”
“Such a spell would affect us would it not?”
“Not if we take precautions. Here,” and Jakob handed Darius a pile of dust.
Darius grunted, “Ahem! Jakob… what is this?”
Jakob was in the process of giving Etan a similar handful and keeping another for himself, which he put inside a small leather pouch and then tied to his belt.
“Those are flakes of iron. They may come in handy.”
“These will protect us from faerie enchantments?”
“Probably not. That’s what this is for.” Jakob then tossed Darius a sachet made of old thick parchment. It was folded into a misshapen miniature crate by Darius’ eyes. He lifted the paper lid slightly and took a whif. He made a face and closed it instantly, choking and nearly vomiting at the smell.
“Ugh,” complained Darius, “It’s repulsive.”
“My thoughts exactly.”
Darius looked up at Jakob whose eyes streamed with tears, and nose was red and swollen. A translucent ointment had been spread on his upper lip. Then Etan began coughing for he had done the same as Jakob.
Striving to hold his breath Jakob answered, “Apply the balm to your uppermost lip.”
“In the name of the gods, why?” Darius begged.
Jakob didn’t answer. He simply leered and put his hood up as he began trudging toward the grotto. Etan echoed his leader, but continued his dry heaving as he did.
Darius presumed the cream would counteract the effects of the Fae spells set in place, and might ward off any small creatures lurking inside. So reluctantly, he opened liniment once again, dipped in a finger and wiped it under his nose.
Immediately after, his eyes widened and he gagged. Retching, he sufficiently emptied the contents of his stomach next to their campfire. However, he felt no better. Darius thought he actually felt worse. At that point he felt his eyes and his nostrils may have caught fire, and it made no difference when he rubbed them.
A few minutes passed but Darius was able to regain his composure, albeit he still felt ill, and his nose still burned. He looked around groggily for his companions and when he locked on to them, he found walking in a straight line to be a chore.
“Oh,” Jakob said to Darius once he had met up, “Don’t be alarmed if you begin to see things.”
“Pardon?” exclaimed Darius.
Jakob coughed, “Now, we’d best leave the torches outside, so take this.”
In addition to the awful ointment and the iron flakes, Jakob handed either man a large stone. But Darius couldn’t tell what it was exactly, for he was still misty-eyed.
“Stay close,” Jakob advised. He entered and was forthwith enveloped by shadow. Darius nearly gasped. And although Jakob had seemingly disappeared, Etan followed after without fear, leaving Darius alone.
“Jakob?” Darius said aloud, “Etan?” but there was no reply. He made a cursory glance around the cave and the tarn, and detecting no one in the vicinity he yelled loudly, “Jakob! Etan!”
Still, there was no answer.
A minute went by as Darius considered fleeing when suddenly, an arm reached out from the shade of the grotto and grabbed the collar of his tunic. And before Darius could fight back, he was torn into the darkness.