Chapter Thirteen

Kironthus took the lead with Galedia behind him, walking with a lit torch in his hand. The rocks in the cave were unevenly distributed, threatening to topple anytime. As the two of them moved on, small stones kept falling onto the ground. Galedia was almost running behind Kironthus, who did not seem to notice that she was having great difficulty catching up with him. Never once did he even look back to check if the poor girl was still following her. It was, however, a truth that the young warrior had no intention of keeping a distance away from the princess. He had always been like that, not waiting for anyone – Horde and Forlin never mentioned anything about being unable to keep up – and never looking back. He always believed that as long as he was walking at a reasonable pace – his reasonable pace – it was possible for one to keep up with him. Of course, this was a valid assumption for his two most trusted companions, for despite the vast difference in their abilities to battle, Horde and Forlin were the most capable fighters after Ki in their clan. The three of them had always worked on missions laid out by their chief and were often looked up to by the other clan members. Kironthus the leader. Forlin the negotiator. And Horde the strategist. This was one of the rare times that the three of them were not together during a mission. If Horde were around, he would have quickly come up with an idea rather than walk around aimlessly like what Ki was doing now. He could tell that this was not as simple as getting lost. They were in a Ghul's cave. The Ghuls' territory. And it wasn't the least relieving to know what would happen to people who trespass the Ghuls' territory. Especially when you know that you would be outnumbered.

Kironthus finally peered over his shoulder to see if Galedia was catching up with him. The girl appeared almost as though she were hiding behind his broad shoulders, nervous and shaky. She hurried closer to Ki, trying to find reassurance and security. Ki slowed down slightly as he remembered that he was no longer travelling with two guys, but one petite, gentle girl who probably have never even seen a cave before.

Ki felt a sudden chill in his bones. His muscles tensed and became stiff, causing him to freeze in his position. As he breathed, Ki tried to sense for the location of the evil presence. There was a Ghul somewhere nearby... perhaps within a few metres away? No. Wait. The number of Ghuls surrounding them was increasing. Ki shone his torch behind him, making sure that Galedia was still well. The light spilled from the torch, revealing faces of both Ki and Galedia. Ki saw the beads of perspiration and small on Galedia's face. There was also the weary look that reflected how weak Galedia had become. On the other hand, Galedia saw the alerted expression of Ki, knowing instantly that something wasn't right. She edged closer to Ki, scanning the surroundings at the same time.

When Ki started walking again, he did so at an increased pace. A cloudy yellow glow accumulated slowly around his hands.

"Sir…?"

Ki ignored Galedia and continued moving. He placed his hands on the walls of the cave, pressing them gently against the rocky surface.

"They're here."

A scream echoed through the cave as soon as Ki spoke the words. He turned around sharply just in time to grab at Galedia's hands. The yellow glow faded from Ki's hands as he tried to pull Galedia towards him. Something – it was a Ghul, and that was something both of them knew – was tugging at Galedia's legs, stopping her from moving. Ki threw the torch right behind Galedia's legs, making it land on the invisible Ghul. A shriek, and the creature revealed itself, burnt at the claws. Taking this chance, Ki pulled Galedia towards him and started to run. Galedia tightened her hands around Ki's palms, scuttling behind him. There was an increasing commotion rising behind them, and sounds of paws ramming against the hard ground could be heard. At that time, even without turning around, Galedia knew that a group of Ghuls were chasing after them.

Ki released his grip on Galedia's hand and started to unsheathe his sword. He allowed Galedia to run past him before turning around. Flames spurted from the sword, then rushed forward to meet the approaching invisible force. The flames wrapped themselves around the Ghuls, making them appear. As Ki changed the flow his magic, the flames dissipated from his sword and light formed before him. A magical barrier was formed after sometime, preventing the Ghuls from crossing over. The persistent creatures continued smashing their burnt bodies against the barrier, eager to break it and reach their enemy.

Ki hurriedly sheathed his sword and ran after Galedia.

"There's light!" Galedia shouted, full of hope all of a sudden.

A blasting sound caused Galedia to turn back. All she saw then was a blinding flash of light. When vision had finally returned, shattered pieces of the barrier were charging at the two humans. Galedia held her ground, her mind in a blank. At that point of time, running wasn't even a thought that came across to her. Somehow, her heart felt at ease. It was almost as though she knew that she wouldn't get hurt. When she recovered from the stunned moment, the first thing that Galedia thought of was Ki.

Ki stood in front of Galedia , his hands weaving in mid-air. The shattered pieces stopped momentarily, then fell to the ground, disintegrating as they touched the surface.

The danger had not been over yet. Behind them, the wounded Ghuls could be seen scuttling after the two teenagers. They wheeled around instantly, continuing with their escape from the hideous creatures. With eyes fixed on the dim light, the two teenagers increased their pace, struggling hard to keep away from the Ghuls.

Soon the exit to the cave could be seen, much to Galedia's relief. She ran across the cramped path, darting past the exit. Once again, she could smell the fresh air. Trees instead of rocks surrounded her. A smile broke out from her face as she turned around to look at Ki.

Ki wasn't there. He was still in the cave, Galedia figured.

"Sir!" Galedia shouted as she ran back into the cave. She rushed forward to meet the mage.

"Get out of here," Ki said in a solemn and harsh voice. The sword in his hand was starting to tremble as though it had come alive. "Move it!"

Galedia didn't do as she was told. She took a few steps backwards, then stayed there. The Ghuls were still coming at Ki, threatening to hurt him once they neared. Ki, on the other hand, seemed to have become a different person. Despite not being able to see him, Galedia could feel fear rising from inside her. The sword that Ki was holding started glowing with such intensity and power, causing the Ghuls to freeze in their positions.

The ground started shaking badly, and small stones were falling off the surfaces of the cave. The rumbling sound of falling rocks increased gradually, and large blocks of rocks were already detaching themselves from the cave walls.

Ki remained in his position without moving. It was almost as though he had gone into a trance state, with no idea as to what was going on around him. Even as stones and rocks fell on him, he didn't move.

Seeing the state that Ki was in, Galedia screamed at him to move, but he didn't seem to hear him. Left with no other choice, Galedia rushed towards Ki, trying desperately to dodge from the falling rocks. She wrapped her arms around Ki's waist and tried to move him from his position. For some time, the teenage mage stirred. The glow on his sword was starting to dim. Galedia tugged at his hand, pulling him some distance from where he stood. By then, the glow was totally gone. Galedia felt a grip tightening around her fingers.

Ki was running ahead of her, pulling her along. The cave was collapsing, with the tremors increasing rapidly. The walls behind them had already given way.

As they were at the exit, Ki released his grip on Galedia and pushed her forward. As he did so, he took a leap, landing some distance away from the cave. Crashing sounds followed, and when the two teenagers turned back to look, the cave had toppled and was in ruins.

Galedia took a step back before falling onto her knees, exhausted yet relieved at the same time. Warm tears welled up in her eyes as she recalled how close they had been to death. Had Ki not pushed her forward, Galedia wouldn't be able to stand here in one piece. She would have been crushed a few feet below the blocks of rocks.

She would have been dead.

Shuffling of feet.

Galedia lifted her head in the direction of the sound. Ki was walking forward slowly, scanning the area as he did so.

Galedia stood up after much effort, for her legs still felt weak from all the running and from shock. She moved her legs to where Ki stood and stared into his eyes. Ki hurriedly pulled his eyes away from hers and turned away.

"Someone has been here," Ki said, pointing to a series of faded footprints. "The three of them must have came by this way."

Galedia nodded, following behind Ki once again as he continued to walk. Rocky caves were lined along the sides of the forest. Fewer trees could be sighted in this area, unlike the previous forest that they had been in.

"Snakes." Ki started saying, "poisonous snakes."

"Ki..." Galedia paused, blushing as he caught Ki looking at her. "I heard your friends call you that. Could I…"

"Whatever."

"K-Ki..." Galedia repeated. "What's that thing ahead of us?"

Ki looked into the direction in which Galedia was pointing at. It appeared to be some ruins. But no. There were huts. And tents. It appeared to have been a village – a deserted village.

"It used to be a village," Ki said. "Let's go over."

As Ki said that, something about his tone didn't sound right.

Galedia looked at Ki's fingers and realised that they were tightly clasped around his sword.