To my relief I finally felt the light recede again and I cracked my eyes open. I could just about make out faint pink lines where the light shone between my fingers.
The pain was gone so, gingerly, I took my hands away from my face. I kept them raised still just in case the blinding light returned for a second time, and tried to fight back the petrified fear which still had me tightly in its grip.
First of all I could only see an amber glow, but after a couple of seconds the shape of what I assumed to be boulders began to form in front of my eyes.
The drums were still hammering out their demonic rhythm in my ears but I could at least finally hear, the familiar rushing sound of the waterfall somewhere to my left. Just knowing there was an exit from this evil place steadied me some.
Before I could turn gratefully towards it though, my hands finally came into focus. My breath froze in my lungs. Eyes wide, I stared down at them, now coated from wrist to fingertips in a thick layer of sticky, red blood.
With growing horror, I realized I could feel the same gore clinging to my face where I’d tried to protest my eyes.
I screamed, the bloodcurdling sound bouncing off the stone walls as the echoes of the cave screamed right along with me.
I don’t know how long I screamed but it seemed like an eternity before a strong pair of arms pulled me into a crushing embrace.
At first I fought the contact, still lost to the nightmare but the arms refused to let me go. At last I recognized the woodsy scent of the person holding me and my screams turned into shuddering sobs. Solen’s grip relaxed a little but he didn’t pull away, patiently letting me sob out all my terror and pain.
Minutes passed and eventually my sobbing trailed off allowing me to pull in slow calming breaths.
“There’s so much blood…” I whispered brokenly into his shoulder.
He eased back and I stared up into his grey gaze through the watery veil of my tears.
He reached up a hand and stroked a lock of hair back from my face, seeming not to care at all for the blood which made it cling to my skin.
“It’s only red cave mold, Chieftain’s Daughter. Earth’s blood. Not human, I promise you.”
The dizzying relief made me feel suddenly sick, and I lowered my head to my huddled knees willing it to pass so I wouldn’t embarrass myself any more than I already had.
“How did you…?” The sickness rose again interrupting my question but apparently I didn’t need to finish speaking.
“I heard you screaming.” He stood and moved back to give me some breathing room. “The Priestess tried to stop me but I was too fast. I ran down to the chamber to find out what was wrong and there you were covered head to foot in vines.” In his voice I could hear an echo of the same horror I’d felt when I found the girl trapped beneath those serpentine coils. I raised my eyes to his but I couldn’t make out the expression in them in the flickering torchlight which now filled the cave.
“No matter what I did, I couldn’t free you from them without risking hurting you myself.”
“It’s okay, I experienced exactly the same thing, only I didn’t know at the time, that the girl I was trying to save was actually a Goddess.”
Solen looked truly shocked for a moment and I must admit a part of me enjoyed being able to get under that cool facade of his.
“A….how?” I smiled in complete understanding, as I watched him struggling to try and wrap his head around what it all meant, only to come up just as empty as I had.