Lewis was lying on the shaded grass underneath the tree he had set on fire the other day. The leaves were still slightly charred and the bark didn't look as healthy as it used to, but the tree was slowly healing. Vita walked out to him from the house and sat crossed legged opposite him- her long black dress stretched over her knees.
"Hello" She smiled and shuffled slightly closer to Lewis.
"Hello" Lewis lifted his head up and grinned at her. "I'm looking at the tree"
"I've noticed" Vita replied matter-of-factly. "Why are you looking at the tree?"
Lewis shrugged, and glanced up at the yellow leaves once more "Just felt like it"
Vita decided to get it over with then "Do you...do you like me?"
Lewis sat up and watched her carefully "Of course I do" he smiled. "You're...you're my friend, my best friend in fact"
"Oh" Vita was bitterly disappointed.
"Oh no reason. I just...I got the impression you had the tiniest admiration..."
"Admiration?" Lewis became jumpy and looked away; he smiled over-innocently "What do you mean? Have you been talking to Gruth, or Amora or Bresh...?"
"No of course not - I've been talking to myself!" Vita replied quickly, she would never talk about Lewis behind his back.
"What?" Lewis looked bemused.
Vita suddenly laughed. "Not like that"
There was a short silence before Lewis talked again "What have you being talking to yourself about?"
"Well..." Vita started fiddling with the grass in front of her- she felt like she was acting like a Dian "It's just I was thinking, that I may have the tiniest..." Vita stared up at Lewis' face, smiling at the curiosity in his distinct, blue eyes. "I admire you, Lewis. I admire you a lot"
"Oh" Lewis blushed then and looked down at the grass for a few seconds. "Would this be friendly admiration...or?"
"Yes..." Vita finished, still smiling. "...The latter would be the correct choice"
"Oh" Lewis blushed even more intensely. "Well, I...erm...I admire you too" Lewis slowly brought his eyes to meet with hers and they gazed at each other for a long time before Vita took a breath and started to draw in, Lewis panicked then, not knowing what to do- he saw Vita's beautiful, white face coming closer to his, she was staring hopefully into his eyes, what could he do but bring in his face to hers as well?
Their mouths met after what seemed a life time and their lips moved in rhythm together as they exchanged a tender kiss, they pulled apart and Vita wrapped her arms around Lewis. There was nothing to say, it had all been said already.
The months passed and eventually Lewis got used to a routine, every morning he'd get up, have breakfast for 10 minutes and then go out to have some more training. Since his outburst, Lewis noticed that Gruth had become more lenient with him and allowed him to have more breaks. Gruth also added another element to their training where they went as close to Thenra as possible and went along the boundary so that Lewis would know exactly where to go and where not to go. The routine had become so frequent and so structured that Lewis thought that life would be like that until he was an old man and the Resistance finally decided to attack the Ery. At least until on another gloriously sunny day out on the meadows, Sethrin arrived, Lewis was practicing archery at the time and was aiming it at the target just opposite him.
"Hold on a second, Lewis. Don't shoot yet." Gruth told him and walked over to Seth, they stood talking for a while and Lewis went back to aiming at the target, from the two Diash he heard the words;
"...I think he's ready..."
"...Well I don't"
Lewis let go of the arrow and it hit the target right in the middle, he turned towards where Gruth and Sethrin were talking, Sethrin was watching him in excitement.
"You call that not ready? Do you know how long it took me to learn how to get an arrow on the target? It's taken him mere months to get it right in the middle- I think he's ready!"
"He's not. He may look like he's good in archery but he's still got a long way to go before going to a place like the Caves of the Undead- look let me do it, I can be in and out as soon as I find the crystal..."
"No, this can be his initiation into the Resistance, I assure you from what I see. He is ready to join us..."
Gruth and Seth nodded to each other before Gruth walked away with an angry look on his face muttering bitter insults about him.
"That stupid, arrogant, Ery-headed..."
"What happened?" Lewis asked, curiously.
"I told you to wait before you shot the arrow, Lewis. I told you for a reason!" Gruth glowered.
"What!" Lewis retorted, annoyed.
"Sethrin wants you to go on a mission...to the Caves of the Undead"
Lewis suddenly felt excitement at the mention of a mission; he began firing questions at Gruth
"Why?" He asked.
"To fetch a crystal"
Gruth sighed, exasperatedly "It's a crystal that originates from the Eternal Forest, legend has it the crystal equips its chosen owner with a new type of powerful magic that's prophesised to one day end the battles and the blood. That's why the Diash stole it and hid it in the one place no one would ever go- the Caves of the Undead."
"What? And he thinks this chosen owner is me?"
"I'm afraid so."
Lewis paused for a few seconds, "Well why can't I go?"
Gruth looked up at him, concerned "Because you're not ready, nowhere near ready to face that kind of...Look, the Caves of the Undead have undead with them- are you ignoring that fact or do you want to commit suicide?"
"Oh" Lewis looked at his feet "I didn't think it was actually...I thought it was just a name."
"Well it's not. It's filled with undead Ery"
"Oh" Lewis bit his lip, deep in thought for a moment "Well...if a few Resistance members went with us, perhaps then I'd be safe?"
Gruth looked away from him "Alright, but you really have no clue what you're letting yourself in for. The Caves of the Undead are not a nice place to have a mission, Bresh's real dad died down there when he was hiding the damn thing." Gruth shuddered and looked at Lewis seriously "Or at least...I think he died" He added eerily.
Lewis now felt more than reluctant to go after Gruth's chilling explanation- but what choice did he have other than to obey Sethrin's orders
"Besides..." Lewis thought as they traipsed through the meadows back to the house again "Maybe now I can get out of this boring routine..."
Vita was livid when Gruth told her the news
"What! The Caves of the Undead?" Vita exclaimed, Lewis was outside, practicing archery again.
"But he can't, I won't let him go!"
"You can't override the orders of Sethrin. He's the closest thing we've got for a King"
Vita collapsed into a chair and fought the urge to cry "He'll die..." She shook her head, then a thought struck her "Let me come with you!" Vita begged.
"Vita..." Gruth started to shake his head, but Vita interrupted.
"No Gruth. I can fight as well as you or Lewis, please."
"Vita...I don't want to risk your life as well as his." Gruth took her sisters hand, concernedly.
"You're going too aren't you?" Gruth nodded and Vita's face fell "What if I lose both of you? Please just let me come with you, I need to be with him, please Gruth"
Vita stared into Gruth's eyes pleadingly, until Gruth gave up "Oh, alright- you can come. But borrow a sword off someone and ask Bresh to teach you some Diash words just in case. I can't believe I'm letting you do this"
Vita threw her arms around his neck "Thankyou, Gruth! Thankyou...I won't get in your way I promise. It's just..." Vita looked out of the window towards Lewis. "He's special to me...very special..."
"I know." Gruth smiled, sadly. "And that's what I worry about." Gruth stroked Vita's cheek "We wake up just before dawn tomorrow and then we'll meet Sethrin and Bresh under the shade of the big hill near the Thenranian boundary"
Vita nodded and stopped hugging her brother, then she kissed him on the forehead "You be careful too, Gruth. I really couldn't bear losing you"
"I'll be careful." Gruth promised, grinning smugly. "I always am."
The next day, before even the sun had started to rise Vita, Lewis and Gruth left the house in silence. Lewis didn't really know how to feel, for so long he'd wanted to escape from the normal training routine of things but at the same time he didn't want to die. He took Vita's hand and she stroked it with her thumb and smiled at him
"Everything will be alright, Lewis. I won't let you get hurt, I promise" Vita smiled reassuringly and drew in to kiss him.
Gruth noticed this exchange, "I see you two are more than friends now" He remarked calmly.
"Yes" Vita replied, nervously. "I was going to tell..."
"No, I think it's good- it's great that you've found someone" Gruth smiled, politely. "I hope you two are very happy"
"Well we aren't getting married or anything" Lewis chuckled at the thought.
"Aren't we?" Vita grinned teasingly, revealing her light-blue teeth, she knew that Lewis would take this seriously.
"Oh" Lewis suddenly looked nervous. He imagined getting married to Vita, and wondered what Diash weddings were like, whether there was a best man or a cheesy first dance like back on Earth. He hoped not.
"Lewis...I'm just joking" Vita patted him on the cheek "You don't have to marry me if you don't want to"
"I don't?" Lewis thought somewhat regretfully.
They walked the rest of the way in complete silence, Vita and Lewis were hand in hand, and Gruth was walking a little way in front, looking down at the floor broodingly.
Sethrin smiled politely when he saw Gruth, Vita and Lewis arrive, Bresh looked solemn as always, but he too nodded in a polite manner. Vita let go of Lewis' hand and ran forward to greet Bresh.
"Bresh! I haven't seen you in a while" She grinned at him, causing him to smile back- it was the first time Lewis had seen Bresh smile, he suddenly felt himself burning with intense envy.
"Hello, Vita. I thought I'd better leave you alone to get you better acquainted with Lewis"
"Oh and we did" Lewis grinned, cheekily to mask his envy; he walked forward and took Vita's hand, protectively.
Bresh stared for a few seconds before looking slightly pained "Oh...oh...yes, I should have..." Bresh sighed and turned away dejectedly.
Vita turned to Lewis glaring "Why did you do that?" She demanded.
"He was grinning at you" Lewis frowned, confused at Vita's angry tone.
"Sethrin grins at me, Ixen, Jasp and Herthor all grin at me. Are you going to be completely and utterly abrupt with them too Lewis?" Vita let go of Lewis' hand and walked over to Bresh, she put a hand on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Bresh. I didn't mean for you to find out this way...I was about to tell you"
Bresh turned to her and smiled "No...it's fine" there was an odd hint of pretence underneath his facial expression that Vita couldn't ignore, she embraced him "I'm sorry I couldn't love you, Bresh"
Bresh stroked Vita's cheek "It's fine...I hope...I hope you're happy together" Bresh stopped smiling then and turned away, still pained. Vita walked back to Lewis, angrily.
"I'm sorry, Vita" Lewis whispered. "Look...I've never been with anyone before; cut me some slack will you?"
Vita turned to him and looked into his apologetic eyes "Alright, I forgive you. Let's hope Bresh forgives you as well"
Lewis looked towards Bresh- he was under the shadow of the tall hill behind him and he was looking even more solemn than usual. Sethrin and Gruth finished muttering conspiratorially to each other and Seth looked round at everyone.
"I can only offer one piece of advice today. Don't let the undead catch you. The Ery magic has possessed them completely and it controls them, it burns inside them wanting more victims to feast on. The moment they break your skin and infect you with the Magic is the moment you are dying. The process only takes 3 minutes before you are one of them...good luck"
Suddenly Gruth turned round and whistled, at that moment 5 giant grey horse looking creatures with deep wise eyes arrived. They were the same type of horses that Lewis had encountered when he had seen the three, evil Ery for the first time, he shuddered at the memory.
Vita got on one of the grey horses and patted its neck affectionately
"This is Mist" Vita told Lewis, she pointed to the other grey horses "That's Cloud, Rain, Sleet and Snow"
"Are all the horses named after weather?" Lewis questioned, cautiously approaching the horse known as Rain.
"These are Juthren, originating from the very edges of the meadows around the Eternal Forest" Gruth corrected Lewis. "And yes, we do name them after the weather. The Ery name them disgusting names like Beast and Monster. The head knight Warrain's is called Diankiller" Gruth looked at Lewis darkly "It's their idea of a sick amusement"
Vita threw cloaks with black hoods around "I'd put this on unless you want Theolt to torture you" she said brightly.
Sethrin chuckled "That is if he isn't too busy chatting incessantly to that portrait of his mother"
Lewis hurriedly put the black cloak on and looked up at his new Juthren, Rain. He awkwardly managed to scramble onto her back, Rain made a deep, husky noise that sounded more like a wildebeest than a horse and the other Juthrens started to gallop off towards Thenra. Lewis looked down at the back of Rain and wondered what to do, he gently kicked the sides of the Juthren and Rain started galloping astoundingly fast to catch up with the others. Lewis clung onto Rain's silver mane for dear life and Vita glanced at him, perfectly perched on Mist's back as the wind blustered through her long, dark-purple hair. Vita laughed hysterically at Lewis' position and shouted a command at him.
"Sit on her properly, Lewis. Don't lie- you'll only slow her down!"
"I want her to slow down!" Lewis retorted over the rhythmic thumping of the hooves on the earthy grass, causing Vita to laugh even more. Lewis slowly managed to heave himself into the sitting position on Rain and suddenly felt slightly more confident, he kicked Rain's sides harder and she galloped past Mist, then passed Gruth and Bresh's Juthren Cloud and Snow and finally they passed Sethrin's Juthren, Sleet. But suddenly, the looming darkness of the first Thenranian town appeared on the horizon and Lewis slowed down, remembering the appearance of the Ery knights last time. He slowed Rain down until she was level with Mist again and decided that he wouldn't be racing everyone until they were clear of the Ery knights.
The town was eerily quiet. There was no buzzing noise of jolly market-folk innocently making their way to town. Lewis looked around the seemingly empty town with trepidation, wondering what to expect in this new place. As their Juthren quietly trotted passed the run-down, rotten looking houses - small, half-naked Dian stared with wonder at the strangers. Lewis noticed how thin and sunken the Dian were, their pure, black eyes wide with wonder and curiosity. A Diash woman carrying a basket crossed in front of the trotting Juthren and nodded to the hooded figures politely as they passed, she too was thin compared to Vita and Gruth, her eyes were wrinkled and had dark-blue shadows underneath. The wizened, skinny Diash woman noticed Lewis and stared at him in utter shock, she dropped her basket and ran off the other way- Gruth looked at Lewis and hissed
"Put your hood up, foolish boy! Do you want the Ery knights to know we're here?"
Lewis realised how stupid he'd been and instantly put his hood up, he had been around the Diash for so long that he'd forgotten that he looked different to everyone else. No sooner after he had done this, a patrolling Ery knight without a Juthren was staggering around, drunk- he looked up at the hooded figures trying to concentrate on their faces.
"Oi!" He slurred, completely intoxicated. "You wouldn't be escaping slaves would you?" He asked Sethrin.
"No" Seth huskily replied, making his voice deeper and more gravelly than usual "We're just lowly Quopes, sir. Making our way to the path of the Land of the Unknown"
"Oh...right" The Ery knight swivelled round dizzily again. "I'll leave you to it then, Quopey. Don't get lost now...you sly beast..." The Ery knight then promptly collapsed onto the road and the riders all trotted slightly speedier out of the Thenranian town. Lewis was the first to say something.
"That was..." He shook his head disbelievingly "Horrible"
"Luckily, today you were here on a good day, when there weren't more Ery knights on patrol. Usually there wouldn't be any Dian out on the streets; the mothers wouldn't let them out when so many Ery knights were hunting them." Vita explained, shuddering for the Dian. "Now you know, Lewis. Pretty soon the streets will be empty because any day now Theolt will snap and wipe out all the Diash in Thenra, any day..."
Lewis was shocked at this revelation- how could he be related to someone with such a strong and terrible hold over the life and death of a whole race? How could he be related to a race that was so evil and corrupted? Lewis shook his head, and patted Rain's head affectionately- now he had truly made his decision.