Creative Writing has always been my passion. When I see a picture or hear a song, stories rise from the ashes of fire like a phoenix reborn.
Making for the Maze
Once morning had come, Kyra and her friends left the inn, backpacks full and extra bottles of water stored away, and made their way up the mountain. Ryan and Leah were conversing quietly behind her, their voices low as they discussed the notes on the notebook in their possession. Sam led the way, a map in her hand and a windbreaker swinging around her neck. Mason was off to the side, camera in hand as he took a photo of an old, lichen-covered, stone pillar tucked between two trees.
Kyra watched him for a moment before turning her attention to the subject of his current photo. The stone itself was made of a series of flat, circular stone slabs that stood roughly nine feet. With the vines wrapped around them, and the moss crawling up the stones, the small, white flowers blooming across the stones did make for a pretty picture. Kyra stepped closer, eyeing Mason as he lowered his camera with a thoughtful look on his face.
"These stones, I think they may be markers," Mason turned to her, then looked over her shoulder to where the others had paused to take a breather. He gestured to the rock, smiling as he said, "The E'dari mentioned that, long ago, the yōkai would rise great stones as a way to warn off other yōkai."
"It's a fence, then?" Leah brushed her hair out of her face, frowning.
Mason hummed. "It's more of an invisible fence with the pillars acting as their foci."
Kyra shook her head, moving over to Sam and her map. She looked over the larger girl's shoulder, eyeing the twisting trail that had been drawn on the map. The older girl shot her a look, one manicured eyebrow arching. Behind them, Mason continued to answer some question Ryan directed at him before turning to Sam to ask, "How much further do you think we have to go?"
"Several miles," Sam didn't look back, the others walking behind her idly.
Mason diverted from the path, time-to-time. Taking pictures. Touching flowers.
He caught sight of a stag in the distance, its antlers massive and branching out through the air like some kind of giant, royal crown. He darted between the rest of them, handing out snacks and asking whatever questions came to mind.
Hands Stained Red
When Mason yelped in surprise before pitching forward, arms flying up to catch himself as he fell, they were all startled. Kyra rushed to his side, slowing as she heard the faint, low whimpers crawling out of his throat. The rest of their group circled back, Ryan kneeling and helping the mousy, young male sit up. Mason turned over his hands, his palms were coated in a layer of blood that oozed from three deep cuts crossing along his palm. Leah swayed where she stood.
Kyra eyed the damage as Ryan unshouldered his backpack, the blond unzipping the bag and pulling a spare shirt from the inside. He tore the shirt in two before winding the pieces around Mason's hands, instructing him to keep his hands pressed to his middle. Turning to Sam, he asked, "How far are we from the site?"
Sam consulted the map. "If I'm right, ten minutes. If the old man's right, the Well of A'tzari should be there. If legends are right, it never runs dry."
"I can clean and stitch up his hands, once we're there," Ryan helped Mason stand, handing the undamaged camera to Leah. He wrapped an arm around Mason's shoulders as he said, "No one wonders off. We stick together, we don't go stalking through tall grass, and we stay in sight of one another. Understood?"
Agreements drifted through the air.
It didn't take them long before they closed in on their destination. The forest thinned out, the woods going still and quiet as they crossed the threshold. The ground itself was a giant slap of white stone, broken pillars of stone circling the outside. What looked like a roof still remained, upheld by a few of the pillars that hadn't crumbled under Time's wrath.
Kyra made her way inward, glad to see the massive, birdbath-like structure at the heart of the foundation. When she paused before it, watching the water as it lightly rippled, she couldn't help but stare. Lines of water seemed to crawl up the outside of the Well, welling up along the edge of the bath like some kind of magical force existed there.
She turned in a full circle, the forest hushed. It was amazing that she and her friends had, finally, found this place. Behind her, Mason crept closer, his bloodied hands tucked against his stomach. His face was white, pale blue irises glazed over. She gestured him closer, stepping to the side so there was room.
Mason ambled closer, drops of crimson slipping from his fingers to leave small drops of brilliant red against the white stones of the circular foundation they had found themselves on. She tugged him closer to the middle, to where the basin of water rested and washed his hands in the water there.
Her own scraped and bloodied knuckles numbed as the water washed over them, the two not paying any attention as the others came up to wash themselves off. As Ryan dipped his hands in, he flexed his fingers, brow furrowing, he said, "It's cold. I think this might be fed from an underground spring..."
"How the hell did the people who built this make a basic that feeds into a spring?"
Sam's question was legit. Kyra pulled Mason's hands from the water, idly running her fingertips over the cut etched over his palms as Leah said, "Maybe the demons in the old man's stories made this place."
"Or, maybe, it was originally a well," Ryan commented dryly.
Leah frowned. "Why would demons need a well?"
The Well of A'tzari
"It was K'taranaka who made this place," Mason sat on the side, now. Ryan was tending to the deep cuts in his hand as Kyra watched the red swirls curling in the basin. As the inky strands curled and danced in the water, thick and almost alive in the way they move, Mason said, "I told all of you this. K'taranaka had come up here to tap into the power of the Well of A'tzari. It was a magical well. Maybe even holy. I don't think the E'dari know which it actually is."
Kyra backed away from the Well as the tendrils of crimson spiraled further and further down the deep basin until they vanished through the bottom of the stone container. Leah, standing to the side of her, stared, her eyes wide, as she witnessed the same thing Kyra had seen unfolding before her eyes.
Sam blinked, looking between them as she asked, "I'm not crazy, right?"
"Ryan, how much longer?" Kyra called back to the two men, edging away from the Well with Sam and Leah at her side. The air seemed to thicken, a type of heaviness settling as the Well's water began to ripple. Rings formed, pushing inward from the edge of the basin. The red splashes on the stone from where it had been gripped in their hand lifted off the stone, drops of red lifting into the air as Kyra said, "Ryan? I think we have an issue here!"
The Well of A'tzari shimmered, the air around it contorting. A low, echoing, drone-like sound rose from the depths of the ground. She heard Ryan curse, heard Mason protesting as he was drawn away from the area. Kyra turned, hauling Leah forward as Sam booked it. As Kyra pushed forward, she heard the ringing echo of chains.
She had only a moment to adjust before she felt cold metal biting into her stomach, ropes of cold metal crisscrossing through the air in front of her. She heard Ryan yell her name, hear Leah's terrified scream. Kyra drew in a breath, shaking her head as she turned, slowly, to face the Well and the pillar of shifting, contorting air that pierced the basin and pushed through the opening in the stones above it.
Ryan was making his way towards her, slipping between the chains to grab her arm. She was turning into his hand when a metallic, silver-skinned shot past her the same moment Leah and Mason screamed. Then Ryan was being pulled inward as a hard hand curled around the back of her neck. She was turned as Ryan was flung against a stone pillar, bands of silver whirling through the air.
Kyra watched, horrified, as those silver tendrils constricted, trapping her friend to the stones. His feet didn't touch the ground, his breath knocked from him as she turned, slowly, to face the creature that had, illogically, appeared before them like a demon from some long-winded fantasy.
The creature, his skin was metallic silver that gleamed in the light of the fire, the color and hue a sharp contrast to the face and headdress the daiyōkai wore. Never had she seen such a thing in her life, the entity's upper face like that of a skull that seemed to merge and fuse unto the lower jaw and neck of a human man.
Despite the silver sheen of the creature before them, nothing could distract them from the dark grey markings sweeping along the skin, markings seemed to shift and fade from view every few minutes. Kyra couldn't pull away, not with this creature's hand cupped around her neck. She stared into the dark bowels of the creature's gaze, a tendril of fear uncoiling in her gut and traveling along the line of her back.
Kyra prayed that Mason stayed low to the ground, that he stayed far outside the Well. He would be too afraid to draw the demon's gaze. The lanky teen had always been one to hide, shying away from a direct confrontation and quick to run if it meant steering away from danger. Ryan, on the other hand, was struggling against the bands of energy trapping him against one of the massive, stone pillars that the monster had tossed him against.
As Kyra stared this creature in the eye, she knew, suddenly, the E'dari had been right to tell the stories they did. They warned the young of their village of the Well and the creature, a daiyōkai, sealed within. This man-like entity, he was a Lord of Demons, a monster with terrible power and inhuman intellect.
If the gleam entering his gaze was any indication, he had come to the same realization she had. He was free from the prison he had been tricked into, free to leave the mountain. Free to seek retribution for the trickery inflicted upon him.
He was free and she, and her friends, were the ones to be blamed.