The cave was just as Lewis imagined it, huge, dark and ominous. Seth made Sleet walk to the massive cave mouth, but the Juthren stopped and made a disgruntled bellowing sound.
"See, even Juthren can sense the Magic in the air" Seth looked at Lewis darkly. "Rain will refuse to go in with you; you have to do this alone"
"Wait, Sethrin. I thought we agreed that I was to go with him" Gruth argued jumping off his Juthren.
"...And me" Vita added determinedly and did the same.
Bresh climbed down off Snow and stood up to his father "Father...we can't just expect Lewis to do this by himself- the Ery undead can only be truly affected by Diash magic- you know that"
Seth stared down at Lewis for a few seconds, before speaking again "Very well, take Gruth, Vita and Bresh with you. I will stand outside and watch for Ery knights, there may be more not quite as stupid as that drunken one"
"Oh how noble and brave- leave the lower Diash slaves to do it..." Lewis heard Gruth mutter, bitterly.
Bresh walked up to the edge of the cave and ripped what looked like a torch from it, he whispered
"Vieray" and instantaneously the torch was alight.
"I could have done that" Lewis muttered, accidentally allowing Gruth to hear him.
"Not if we want the whole of Thenra on fire you couldn't" Lewis glared at Gruth and Gruth grinned teasingly.
Vita took Lewis' hand, feeling anxiety about the deep, dark, freezing cave herself and the 4 of them started to slowly descend deeper into the darkness.
Lewis was immediately thankful for the torch light and they all tried to stick close to the walls. Somewhere far down in Lewis' subconscious there was a feeling of utter and complete dread as small, ancient Diash whispers of warning erupted in his head.
"Can you hear that?" Lewis asked anxiously, gripping Vita's hand protectively.
"Our ancestors leaving warnings about this place" Bresh mumbled, jumpily looking round in every direction. "I reckon that was during the times before Diash were even slaves...that's a long time ago"
Not only could Lewis hear these incoherent, otherworldly whisperings- but he could sense something horrible in the air, something evil and wicked that had survived for centuries in this black place. Yet there was a stirring in his soul that seemed to click into his surroundings as though he had come home.
"Would it be cowardly to admit I'm terrified?" Lewis whispered to Vita, trying to lighten the situation with humour.
Vita shook her head "I'm terrified too...it's like I can tell what's waiting for us"
All was silent as they went down deeper into the cave - suddenly Bresh stopped and knelt down, it wasn't until a few seconds later that Lewis noticed the black lake he was staring at.
"Dead end" Gruth looked around, nervously. "And probably not the only dead thing around here either..." He added, staring at something in the shadows.
Vita let go of Lewis' hand and walked up to her brother "Are they here?" She asked, trying to mask the panic in her voice.
Gruth looked at her sincerely and nodded "They're in the shadows...picking one of us to follow"
Bresh stood up and looked around at everybody "There's an underwater tunnel, which means we have to put the torch out before we go in. As soon as I put the torch out they'll be after us"
"What do we do?" Lewis asked, looking over at where the movements were coming from at the edges of the light.
"Can you swim, boy?" Gruth enquired, not taking his eyes off the movements.
"Yes" Lewis answered. "I learnt when..."
"...Good, then that's what we'll do - go over to the edge, both of you. Jump in when I tell you to and only when I tell you to- you understand?"
Vita and Lewis nodded simultaneously and walked over to the edge of the lake, Bresh touched the black water with his hands
"Brace yourself for the cold" He warned Vita and Lewis.
Gruth started to back away from the velvety-blackness now filled with random, subtle movements and Lewis briefly stroked Vita's hand- his heart started to thump.
"On the count of three" Gruth ordered. "One..." Bresh threw the torch into the lake and readied himself to jump. As soon as the torch was out the movements around them became more distinct in the pitch-darkness "Two..." The first undead appeared out of the blackness and it was more horrific than Lewis had expected, it looked exactly like an Ery apart from the twisted expression on its face and the blank, intense stare in its small, grey eyes as it started to close in on them. "Three...JUMP NOW!"
All four of them jumped in without hesitation and the icy waters of the lake reached Lewis instantly, they plunged down deeper into the darkness, and he could only see the fluorescent white skin of Vita as she propelled forward in front of him. Lewis swam forward, knowing that if he lost sight of Vita's skin he would get lost in the tunnel and possibly drown, but the need for air had not yet affected him. Even 30 seconds later when they had only cleared half of the tunnel he felt he could confidently hold his breath for a minute or longer. Vita, Bresh and Gruth's kicking had become more clumsy and speedy as their need for air increased. Lewis swam forward faster until he was next to Vita and looked at her, there was a slightly pained look on her face as she fought against the need to breathe, she turned to look at him and grinned to hide the ache of her lungs. Suddenly Lewis saw the surface and he kicked up to it, he surfaced and took in a little of the musty air before shivering and swimming to the edge, he clambered out and sat on the banks, Gruth and Bresh were the next to surface, followed quickly by Vita- they all gasped in air and choked before they too kicked to the sides and climbed out still taking deep breaths. Lewis was startled at his own ability to hold his breath and withstand a temperature just above freezing, he helped Vita out.
"Well done" He smiled.
Vita chuckled "I should be telling you well done, you held your breath for that long without trying"
"I didn't know I could do that either..."
"Hey!" Gruth hissed, interrupting "Be quiet and take a look around, can't you see them- you idiots?"
Lewis hadn't noticed but the black lake on the other side was surrounded by Ery undead, they were advancing on the group fast- Lewis also noticed a Diash undead nearby, bearing the same twisted expression and blank, intense stare. Bresh flinched and moved closer to Vita, suddenly terrified of this Diash, he froze completely at a loss of what to do or say apart from "That's...that's my...that's my father..."
"Bresh!" Gruth barked. "Snap out of it...you've got to use magic, help us!"
Bresh was unresponsive, he couldn't take his eyes off the blonde-haired Diash undead as it walked closer to them, hissing and drooling a foul, green liquid.
Lewis impulsively shut his eyes and focused his mind on fire- it was the only thing that could keep them away, he made his mind grab hold of the fire almost instantaneously this time and suddenly a wall of fire erupted around them. The undead shrieked and backed away from the light and heat of the wall that had seemingly appeared from nowhere, but time was running out- Lewis couldn't sustain the fire in such damp, cold conditions - it was already beginning to decrease in height.
"That's great, Lewis!" Gruth praised "Nice control"
"Come on, Gruth" Vita told him. "Before Lewis runs out of energy, we need to find the crystal..."
Bresh was now walking closer to the fire wall, not breaking eye contact with his undead father on the outside, staring at him in utter sorrow and longing. A red tear rolled down his face as the monster just stared.
"Leave him" Vita replied. "He won't do anything, he's too distraught"
Vita and Gruth scoured the cave desperately for anything that looked like a crystal, with no luck, the fire wall was now falling dangerously low and the tops of the Ery undead could be seen, Lewis was starting to sweat with the effort of keeping it in existence.
"I can't...I can't hold it..."
"Where is it, Gruth?" Vita cried frantically.
"I don't know...I don't even know what it looks like, it could be in the lake for all we know!..." Gruth looked at the black lake and realised "Of course..." He whispered. "How could I be so Ery-headed, it's in the lake, this is a trap!"
The fire wall diminished and Lewis collapsed to the ground, once again the undead started advancing on the small helpless group. Lewis panted trying to get some strength back to stand up, he managed it, shakily.
"I'm sorry, I blacked out..." He whispered weakly. "I couldn't hold it" Lewis felt his strength regaining second by second, and it was lucky as an undead was now staring at him blankly, its dead, grey eyes seemingly penetrating his soul and infecting it with complete terror, it had locked onto him. Vita withdrew her sword and sliced the head off one of the undead nearby, Gruth too had begun to battle against the undead using physical force, although all they'd do would get back up again, they were immortal. Lewis' undead was still standing, still staring at him and Gruth shouted orders at him
"Don't move, Lewis! Do not move- if you move the thing will just follow you, you hear? You can't get away"
"I could..." Lewis replied, fear running through his veins. "I could outrun this thing..." he stared defiantly into the undead's eyes and shouted "I COULD OUTRUN YOU!"
The undead wailed in a way that repeated Lewis' shout and Lewis backed away, alarmed- the undead followed him and it became apparent that more had locked onto Lewis sensing his vulnerability in being frightened. Lewis looked down at the lake behind him and thoughts sped through his head
"I have to get out of here..." he thought, desperately- longing for the light of the Beory sun to put his mind at rest. He couldn't stand the constant terror anymore, so he turned round and dived into the lake, hearing the hysterical cries of Vita
"LEWIS, NO DON'T!"
Lewis plunged to the bottom of the lake and felt like he was in the void all over again, the darkness was all around him and from above he heard the rumble of more bodies hit the water, they moved closer to him before Lewis could get away and Lewis saw faint outlines of grey, blank eyes and twisted expressions inches from his face, Lewis tried to kick away but an undead from behind grabbed his shoulders and 6 of them encircled him and overwhelmed him. The undead pushed him to the ground and started to go into a wild frenzy as they fought over him, Lewis tried to reach for something, anything and his right hand closed around something hard and cold. Lewis felt a sharp, unbearable pain down his arm and he realised that one of the undead had bitten him and ripped out a piece of his flesh. Green venom mixed with a massive amount of Lewis' blood rose to the surface and Lewis' vision went white. Something was calling to him, it was enveloping his soul.
"Join with the Magic. Don't struggle, join with the Magic and be immortal like your brethren...give up your soul to me and you will live forever..."
Lewis struggled feebly against the terrifying power of the mysterious voice, the twisted expressions of the undead turned into twisted smiles as they invited him to join them. He couldn't fight the burning, undead venom in his veins.
"I'm sorry Vita..." Lewis' mind whispered as a final thought before everything disappeared.
From far away, in the back of Lewis' conscious mind the echoes of a familiar lullaby filled his head.
"Soon you'll be free, from this dark place,
Don't cry, sleep tight, don't you cry."
It was the last thing Lewis was aware of.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Vita watched as her Lewis dived foolishly into the lake and the undead that were locked onto to him sprinted after him with unnatural speed. The undead creature that was locked onto Vita got decapitated by her and it temporarily collapsed to the ground. Vita ran to the edge and without hesitation dived in, Bresh snapped out of his emotionally traumatized state and glared defiantly at the Diash undead that was formerly his father, he drew his sword and stabbed the undead in the middle and like Vita's it collapsed to the ground, but only temporarily. Bresh shouted "Vieray!" and the nearest undead suddenly became aflame and galloped into the darkness, wailing and mad with pain. Gruth couldn't wait for Vita any longer, he too dived into the lake and plummeted blindly through the dark waters, almost instantly Gruth was caught by the undead that had originally gone in there to catch Lewis and they started dragging him down- he saw Vita nearby, trying to get to her sword but failing, she too had been caught. The undead pushed them to the bottom, where a red substance was already cascading to the surface, it was mixed with the green venom of the undead. Gruth reluctantly turned his head, and saw Lewis lying motionless next to him, his red blood was pouring out of a gaping wound on his arm- one of the undead had clearly bitten him, he was becoming one of them. Knowing all was lost now, Gruth stopped struggling and Vita looked at him, seeing the fight go out of him, she shook her head determinedly and tried fighting even harder against her captors. One of them was about to bite her neck, it was getting closer and closer to her. Gruth closed his eyes, now aware that he needed air and he felt the claws of the undead against his skin as they came close to piercing it and injecting their venom. But all of a sudden as Gruth foresaw himself dying in the cold, black lake the undead let go of him and Gruth automatically started to float towards the surface, he saw the undead looking horrified towards small, red petals that were now floating down to the bottom. He saw as the last undead holding Lewis determinedly had a petal land on him and he jumped and backed away from it as if it had burnt him. Vita dived down deeper and grabbed Lewis round the waist, Gruth also swam over and helped both of them to the surface.
Vita and Gruth both gasped as soon as they hit air, Lewis did not- instead he remained unconscious and made short, raspy, laboured breaths, his whole body was convulsing fiercely and small dribbles of water ran from his mouth as his transforming lungs heaved out the large amount of water he had inhaled whilst being unconscious down in the lake.
"Did it work?" Bresh asked, hastily. "Thank Beory...I thought it wouldn't work- that's the first time I've used that defence"
"Explain later Bresh, help Lewis to the edge" Gruth commanded.
The undead had backed away, and more of the red petals were floating through the air- they were whimpering in shadowy corners waiting for them to disappear.
Gruth took one look at the horrific, bloody, bite that Lewis had gotten and he shook his head, a massive piece of Lewis' flesh was missing, the wound was so bad it almost exposed Lewis' bone.
"He's going to become one of them." Gruth looked at Vita, sadly. "I'm sorry..."
Vita leant forward onto Lewis' chest and sobbed "No...no, he won't I won't let him!"
"Vita...I told you this was a possibility" Gruth put a hand on her shoulder "We need to go"
"I'm staying here with him!" Vita screamed at him, panicked. "I'm not leaving him" Vita kissed Lewis' cold lips and started whispering incoherently to him, it sounded as if she was pleading with him.
"Look, I've never..." Bresh wavered, wondering whether this was a good idea "Father taught me the words of healing, but I've never practiced them. All I know is that if Beory chooses to save him then he'll heal"
Lewis' breaths were getting increasingly more rasped and they were slowing down, Gruth pondered over him for a few dreadfully silent moments.
"Do we have time to take him to Seth?" He enquired, calmly.
Bresh shook his head "Nowhere near, he has 2 minutes to stay alive at the most..."
"Then do what you must" Gruth gently took the shoulders of his inconsolable sister and he held her "Bresh will try to heal him, alright? You're going to have to trust us, Vita" Gruth stroked one of her stray, wet purple locks and put it behind her ear.
Bresh put his hands on Lewis' gory wound and closed his eyes, he started whispering "Ui portan ik be hearler, ga Bresh dian fe Sethrin. Ui portan ba bo erina se verted clum di doufrey gren ba de tull strov" Vita turned her head and watched as Bresh repeated these words three times, and the gaping wound on Lewis' arm started to disappear, his breathing started to return to normal and his hands began twitching as the life returned into him. Sure enough, seconds later Lewis gasped and his eyes opened as he woke with a start, he instantly put his face in his hands.
"Don't...don't..." he whimpered weakly, still petrified.
"Lewis!" Vita half-laughed, half-cried with relief and she moved closer to him. Lewis started shaking uncontrollably.
"Don't, please don't, don't let them get me- PLEASE!" Vita took Lewis' hands and put them down by his sides, his eyes were unfocused as though he was staring at something only he could see, he wasn't registering Vita at all.
"Lewis...shhh, it's alright now, they're gone they won't get you" Vita stroked Lewis' face.
Lewis muttered feverishly to himself "Don't let it get me...I don't want to join you!"
"What's he talking about?" Bresh muttered to Gruth, concerned. "Did the healing work?"
Gruth nodded "He's referring to what controls the undead... He's brushed the outskirts of impure immortality and he's seeing things beyond even our wildest nightmares"
Lewis cried out hysterically once more "Don't let it get me!" before seemingly passing out again, Vita glanced at Gruth worriedly.
A few seconds later, Lewis' eyes opened and focused in on Vita's face "Am I on Earth again? Did I pass through the void?"
Vita shook her head "Do you remember what happened?" She stroked Lewis' face.
Lewis turned his head "I remember whiteness...and a voice asking me to join it" Lewis felt at his arm without looking at it, suddenly panicked. "My arm, I was bitten!"
"It's healed" Bresh told him "You're alright now"
Lewis sat up dizzily and slowly, he looked at the dark edges of the cavern, petals were still floating through the air, and the undead were watching from a distance.
"Thankyou" Lewis told Bresh. "I owe you my life..." he smiled at Bresh, and Vita wrapped her arms around him and kissed him.
"I thought you were dead" She whispered tearfully.
"So did I" Lewis replied seriously and wiped a tear from her face before kissing her again.
"Come on" Gruth told them. "We need to go back to Seth, before the petals disintegrate"
"But...the crystal" Bresh reminded them.
"Forget the crystal!" Gruth snapped, aggravated at Bresh's lack of priority.
"No wait" Lewis held up something hard and cool that he remembered grabbing down in the lake "Is this it?"
The crystal he was holding was beautiful, a single light from a petal floating nearby shone through it and a rainbow was cast against Lewis' face.
Gruth stared at Lewis and the crystal in utter awe for a few seconds "Humans never cease to amaze me..." He shook his head in disbelief and took the crystal from Lewis.
On the surface, Gruth told Sethrin everything that had happened and Seth looked at the greenish scar on Lewis' arm.
"You are truly a member of the Resistance now" Seth told him. "And yet while being under attack you managed to grab the crystal"
Lewis nodded "But it was completely by accident. Bresh saved my life, by healing me"
Seth smiled and turned to the others, "I congratulate you all on your bravery. That was a terrible and dangerous mission you completed successfully"
They climbed on their Juthrens and started galloping off back to Kalemoors. But deep down in Lewis' mind there was still the cold chill of the Voice that had ordered him to join it, there was still that terror that he had felt when the undead were staring him out with blank, grey eyes. The experience of the mission had scarred him for life, physically and mentally and he wasn't even the chosen one that Gruth had mentioned yesterday. Perhaps the mission was not so much a success as Sethrin thought.
Lewis looked at Vita riding on her horse and then looked away again, relieved "At least it was me" He thought "At least it wasn't her..."
And they rode back to Kalemoors in subdued silence.