I felt the Priestess’ cool hand on my shoulder and turned, reluctant to meet her strange violet eyes and hear the words I instinctively new she was about to say.
“This path is for you alone to tread, Amara.” And there it was, the sentence I’d hoped in my heart of hearts wouldn’t come.
“But…I have so many questions…” The Priestess smiled and raised a single pale finger to my lips.
“All in good time, Amara. You aren’t quite rid of me just yet I’m afraid. Your brave consort and I will be waiting right here for your return.” Lowering her hand she stepped back. Swallowing my trepidation I nodded stiffly, not wanting to risk my voice betraying the panic I felt welling in my stomach. Turning, I glanced back at Solen searching for the inner strength I’d need to continue on alone. The strength that he somehow always seemed to have in abundance.
“You can do this, Chieftain’s Daughter.” His smile was reassuring but it couldn’t eclipse the concern I saw in his eyes as I turned from him and started down the stairs.
With every step I took down into the green hued passage, I felt the press of the power increase upon me. It was like a slow trickle of sand and I could feel every single grain adding to the vast mountain which threatened to crush me. It was how I’d imagine claustrophobia would feel.
Small spaces had never really bothered me much. In the close confines of the tunnel, I was starting to reassess my standpoint.
It took me a few moments more to realize that the low noise I could hear was actually the walls of the passage. They were humming softly. The energy I could practically see running through them, creating its own unique melody. It’s sound was almost intoxicating.
I don’t really know what I had expected to find once I reached the bottom of the staircase, but it certainly wasn’t anything like what I saw as I descended the last few steps into the small chamber below the island.
In the center of the small space was a dais, not unlike the one I’d stepped up onto inside of the ceremonial circle what seemed like a lifetime ago now. It too had something large set upon it, another shrine perhaps, like the one which the Amphis has occupied? It was impossible to tell though, as wherever it was, was completely encased in a mat of dense, green vines.
I stepped closer, curiosity winning out over fear, as I tried to make out the true outline of the thing lying beneath. As I reached the top step of the dais, I noticed a small gap which the vines hadn’t yet managed to cover over. I leaned in to get a better look. Whatever was inside had to be what the Priestess has sent me down here to find. There wasn’t anything else contained within the small chamber after all.
Finally, I managed to find the right angle to peer beneath the thick foliage, but what I saw within its verdant coils filled me with a sickening wave of horror.
It was a girl! She couldn’t be many summers older than me, her skin was pale and her eyes closed as if in sleep. It was then that I realized with revulsion that the vines weren’t just encasing her small form. They were consuming her. Feeding from her body in the same way a strangleweed plant would feed from its host tree. Countless pink tinged tendrils punctured her skin and the network of small purple veins, which I could see clearly now beneath the green skin of the plant, we’re slowly draining her life away.
One thought eclipsed my mind. I had to save her! I began ripping at the vines, tearing away at them, using my fingernails to claw them off of her still, pallid skin.
Moments passed or maybe hours, my frantic mind lost all grip on the passage of time as no matter how hard I fought, the snakelike vines would just shift and lengthen, instantly filling in the damage which I inflicted with fresh new growth.
Tears of frustration ran unchecked down my cheeks but still I kept on clawing and tearing, unwilling and unable to just give up on her. I could feel her slow steady pulse as I dug my fingers deep into her tormentors flesh. It confirmed what I’d already known in my heart. She was still alive in there, it wasn’t too late.
“That is not the way my child.” The new melodious voice swelled to fill every space within the small chamber with its soothing beauty. My hands stilled and I dragged in a sobbing breath, collapsing to my knees on the cold stone platform.
“But I have to save you!” My words were a broken whisper. I didn’t even question how it was that I knew the voice to be hers. Bitter tears blinded me, turning the emerald tomb into a sea of watery-green hues.
“And save me you will, Amara, Daughter of Kocheck, and Princess to the Nacaguan people.”