Today, we saw the ruins. We stumbled upon it by accident, not knowing that this particular setting housed what had once been a good-sized village. One that had once upon a time housed the Akara people. Lives, dreams, battles, had been fought here to nothing but shattered objects, broken temples, and leveled buildings. Our enemies had besieged us, and we’d fallen. Now, we lived in a Safe House under the ground.
“It’s so sad,” Alice said, picking through the items on the ground. “Such glory reduced to ashes.”
“And the wise shall fall too,” I quoted from the mouth of one Elder who’d told us about this place, its time.
“No one shall be spared, or find themselves bountiful in the future.” Alice’s smile melted at the Elder’s other words. “Oh, Sebastian. Why are we here? To pick up baubles?”
I shook my head. “To find it.”
“Is it so important, we should risk our lives?”
“We’ve seen nothing to indicate danger.” I shrugged.
“Nor anything to assure us of our safety,” she said.
I put a hand to her shoulder. “Have no fear. We’ll find it.”
“I hope you’re right.” She shivered as she looked around at the overgrown deathtrap. Did you hear that?
“You’re imagining things. It’s the surroundings.”
I kicked aside a bone or two. An object caught my eye. “I think I’ve found something.”
“Let me see.”
We both leaned down toward the shiny gemstone.
“There’s another.” Alice pointed.
I dug the first out and handed it to her then the other. I’d barely finished when the high-piercing, eerie keening of the Jattalii broke a sweat on my forehead. “They’ve found us.”
She nodded. “We need the other two.”
“We better dig faster.”
We parted ways then. Alice using a large stick to forage for valuables while I dug with my hands. I cried out when the glass of a long-ago dish exploded in my hand.
“I’ve found the third,” Alice called.
“The fourth can’t be far.” I wrapped my bleeding fingers in a handkerchief and glanced up in time to see the beasts leaping down the rock that piled down around us. Alice screamed when they moved in closer. The thought that we’d given our lives for nothing rushed through my head. The first four-legged, furry animal with the bite of a canine and the venom of a snack lunged at her. I shot it dead. The second came within inches of her neck before she did the same.
Shoving it off her, she yelled, “Hurry, Sebastian.”
It was then that my boot kicked away a vase from my path. The fourth jewel lit up with the rays of the sun. Two more Jattlii raced down from the rock. My fingers grasped the stone and I tossed it to Alice. Immediately, she tossed the gems into a circle around her.
“You’ve made the pattern too short. I won’t fit inside its protection.”
She lifted her chin. “There was always meant to be one sacrifice, Sebastian. The Elders chose you.”
A bright light skirted her and the Jattlii pivoted in my direction.
I backed away. “You can’t do this. We were meant to be married.”
“Yeah, well, I had other plans.”
My boots hit the edge of the rock and I fell through space. Screaming out at the horror of it all, my head struck a boulder and the lights dimmed. Above me, the Jattlii denied their meal swung toward Alice again. How long would she last inside her prison? We had food but little. If the Jattlii continued to corner her—
Morning woke the land and me. I heard no sound above me as I climbed. When I reached the top, I hesitated. Hand to my head, I struggled to get my bearings. Alice and the Jattlii were gone. So were the stones. I made my way over to the ruins. After searching most of the day, I found the pointed tier of the temple I sought. Kneeling before it, I carefully felt inside and located a cloth filled with jewels. Right where our Ado had said it would be. Alice wasn’t the only one who’d made allies before this journey.
I would make it home. And Alice and the Elder would be the first ones I paid a visit.