The room was engulfed in darkness save for a 9-branch menorah barely lighting up the far end. As the only door in the room creaks open, the sound of heavy raindrops accompanied by moonlight floods into the darkened space like a dam which walls collapsed from overwhelming pressure.
A man enters, bald and clothed in a drenched, white robe almost sweeping the floor; he walks gracefully with his hands crossed, hidden beneath the long sleeves towards the row of candles. The expression on his bearded, chiseled face was serene even as droplets of water dribble down his scalp, as if not a single tragedy could shake him. A rope was tied around his waist, a sign of a priest or monk of an order. He lifted the menorah and turned towards the closing room door, standing in place. Within moments, the room darkens again, and the candles could only light a few steps ahead.
He breathes in and hues of mana seeped into the room from the space between floorboards and cracks on the walls, forming seven similar apparitions. All wore the same patterned necklace as the robed man.
He bows deeply, and the apparitions nodded in unison.
“More of those infidels are now servants of the eye. The sculptures of their fake gods are now rubbles for the Lord’s temples and their witches are burning on their stakes.”
“What of the little witch of The Great Forest?”
“Dead. She fell in a hole underneath a dead tree during the pursuit. I set the entire forest ablaze along with her pursuers.”
One of the apparitions sighed in disappointment. “Did you see her die?”
“I made sure the hole was – ”
“Answer the question, priest.”
The bald man shuddered and grit his teeth at the cold anger of his master. At the rumble of thunder outside, the flame burned fiercely atop the candles, and frost started to appear on the corners of the room.
“You fool. Our Lord’s plan will be in jeopardy if that girl survives.”
“I-I will return to the forest and bring her charred remains as proof, masters.”
“Do not disappoint us, priest.”
The apparitions dissipated, sinking into the cracks and leaving the priest once more in the empty room. Placing the menorah back on the far end of the wall, he walks slowly toward the door, pausing briefly only to hear the rumblings of thunder and howling of wind shaking the room. Moonlight and sounds of raindrop fill the darkened room before fading again with the closing of the door.
Asherah. guide my hand and devour this blaze!
I motion my palms toward the river, gathering the blue essence in my hands and, as if turning the river alive, gracefully directs the snaking water into the sea of flames. Thick and white, billowing smokes fill my vision as the forest fire ahead of me was extinguished.
“Woah, how did that happen?” I stare amazed at my palms. It feels so familiar – doing whatever this is. The words just flowed into my head as if it has always been there.
“There is reasonable evidence to suggest that you, Natra, are able to manipulate the essence of mana.” Cortana’s voice stated through the object in my ear. “Interesting.”
“So pretty,” I said, admiring the essence now fading from the tips of my fingers. Even though my vision was mostly obscured by the pillars of smoke, I found a few wraps of cloth inside my satchel, soaked it in the river and wrapped it around my face, and cautiously made my way deeper into the forest.
The sun began to slip from its peak when I finally arrived at our destination. A steep and open hill inside of the forest, surrounded by overgrown trees nearly 80-feet tall, with its vines hanging down and massive snake-like roots covering the ground, and bushes. At a glance, the ruins are almost completely hidden by nature’s passage.
“Here,” Cortana voiced out. “The panels are right ahead of you. If the blueprint is right and my sensors are working well, the main panel should be at the crest of the hill. “
“Right,” I replied as I began hiking up the tree roots toward the peak. The closer I get to the hilltop, the more wreckage of ruined metal frames could be seen. Perhaps it was used to hold up the panels? I guess even man’s greatest creation could not withstand the test of time. It was literally a graveyard of rusted metals with earth-stained panels, broken and barely protruding from the ground, and the ‘grave markings’ hidden beneath the bushes and overgrown leaves – until I arrived at the crest.
A tip of the rectangular-shaped black panel jutted out of the earth. I assumed it was of the same size as the ruined panels below and started shoving dirt and earth aside, only to realize after a quarter hour that only a section of the main panel could be seen.
“Cortana, how big did you say the main panel was again?”
“6.2 meters. Have you found it?”
“Yeah,” I panted. “I just didn’t think 6.2 meters meant that it was almost completely buried! This is going to take all day now.”
Sinking to the floor at the base of a nearby tree, I took out my canteen and quenched my thirst. Wait a second, I can use mana can’t I?
“Ah, how does it go again?” I focused on my hands, trying to will the mana into my palms. Nothing.
“I believe the essence can only be gathered through verbal incantations, Natra.”
“I know that, but I don’t know the words.”
“Then until you can remember the words, the only path of action we can take is digging.”
“You mean I have to dig.”
“I guess we have a volunteer!” she laughed. Even so, the sun is almost on the horizon now so I have to set up camp in the forest for the night and continue digging up the main panel at first light tomorrow.
At that very moment, just before I got up from resting against the tree, a deep and low growl echoed in the surrounding forest.
“I guess you must be hungry by now.”