Part 16: Into the Darkness

(This story contains scenes which may not be suitable for all audiences. Reader discretion is advised.)

It was almost nighttime when Filia and Staun emerged from the tunnel. The pair had reached a place where the walls of the old passageway had been breached. From the look of it, a flash flood had carved a ravine in a hillside, long ago, excavating the tunnel. Filia stood in the impromptu entrance, blinking in the fading light. Staun, his blind eyes impervious to the sun, continued on until his cane found the edge of the pavement, then he stopped. They both stood there for a long moment. Filia snuffed out the torch, sat down, and buried her face in her hands.

Their day had started much earlier, in the depth of the ancient temple. Staun awoke first, uncurling and shuffling off in the darkness to relieve himself somewhere up one of the nearby tunnels. Filia chose a different tunnel for a similar purpose, thankful for the dim blue glow provided by the great sworl trap. She was pleasantly surprised to find that she was not terribly stiff after a night asleep on the stone floor. Her injuries began to hurt almost immediately, however, and Staun admitted his did as well. From the sworl trap they gleaned enough information about the path ahead to begin.

“When once the edge of the forest you reach, there you may rest, but not before,” it had advised. “Nor would I rest in the open. Seek shelter.”

They had agreed. Staun had taken time to fill the water flask while Filia gathered material for torches. Staun was talking to the sworl trap and gathering water as she headed off across the chamber. The blue light let her find plenty of material. Her bag was as full as she could make it with crude torches when they finally bid farewell to the old sworl trap and headed up the tunnel.

At first the walk was easy. The tunnel was comparatively clean and well lit. They walked in silence, affording Filia’s mind the chance to wander. Her thoughts returned again and again to wistful recollections of daily life in Selkwyth: simple, regular life, with Gomph to tell her what to do at work and Dartain to lead her around the city at night. That all seemed so close now, despite how far away it really was. She wanted nothing more than for all this to go away, and for her to be back in her nice safe clothes in her nice safe city with her nice safe routine and her nice safe friends. Even with all its oddities, Selkwyth was far better than this, and Dartain would be far better company than Staun.

The blue light had served them for almost a mile, by Filila’s reckoning, before it became too dim to use. She had lit a torch and they continued on. The sworl trap described a journey of many miles, and she wasn’t sure how they would make the torches last that long. The answer came in the form of tree roots that grew down into the tunnel. Her knife made quick work of them when they appeared, and they supplemented the supply of fuel quite well. Food and water was scarcer. They had drunk deep before leaving, but soon they were thirsty again, and so far had seen no glordia fruit.

Their pace had quickened a bit when they saw the sunlight ahead. Now that they were out in the open, all Filia could feel was exhaustion and hunger.

“Staun,” she asked, “do you t’see anything?”

He turned and stared off at what seemed a random angle for a long moment. “Not danger, I don’t think. Not rescue, either. But perhaps …” He turned slowly, then pointed. “There. Water.”

She followed his direction and climbed off the trail and down into the ravine. The underbrush was a bit thinner here, but still managed to add to the growing maze of scratches on her naked legs and belly. She persevered, and was rewarded with the thin sound of running water. She uncovered the tiniest trickle of a stream and, using the cup from the temple, filled their water flask. She also spotted two different sorts of berries. Looking around, she found what looked like a thin, curved bit of tunnel debris. She picked the berries and balanced them on her makeshift plate as she fought her way back to Staun.

“Here’s water,” she said, carefully holding the flask up to him from where she was standing in the ravine. He took it and held it. She thought for a moment. “Go ahead and drink it all, and I’ll go get more.” He nodded, and began to drink.

As Filia stood there, her mind wandered for a moment. She wondered what Dartain was doing at that moment back in Selkwyth. She imagined him at the arena, strapped up and ready to play. In her mind’s eye, he stood tall and unafraid. She wondered if he had learned that the airship had gone down. She wished she were there with him and not in the woods with some naked, blue person.

She came back to herself, and realized with chagrin that she was staring at the forked end of Staun’s limp, blue member. She turned her eyes up to his face instead, and held up her hand to take the flask when he was done drinking. She handed him the flat with berries on it. “Here’s some fruit. Check to see if it’s any good.” He nodded, and she turned back to the ravine, hoping that he could not somehow sense her embarrassment.

Filia once again headed down the ravine for more water. Remembering the sworl trap’s comments about food, she watched for any mushrooms. She spotted a few, and decide to focus on the water first. She once again filled the flask, drank it, refilled the flask, and headed back up. She paused on the way up to pick the mushrooms and put them in the sack. Then she returned to where Staun stood. She noticed that he had a worried look on his face, and was holding the flat debris fragment over his head and was running his hand across the bottom.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Don’t spill the berries.”

“Where did you get this?” he asked, lowering the makeshift plate. Filia retrieved it from him, taking care not to spill its cargo.

“Down in the ravine. Why?”

“Was there more of this down there?”

“What is it? Why are you so worried?” She nibbled at a berry, wondering if she would be able to tell if they were poisonous by taste alone.

“That’s a fragment of a dragon wasp egg.”

Filia almost dropped the plate. She hastily set it and the berries on the ground, and spit out the berry in her mouth.

“How do you know?”

“The texture, and the curve. Were there more down there?”

Filia looked down into the ravine. “It’s all covered over with brush and leaves and stuff. I pulled that bit out from under the leaves.” She hefted the spear, looking around at the trees nervously.

“So you don’t see the shells themselves?” Staun actually sounded relieved.


“Okay,” he replied, visibly relaxing. “It must be an old nest.” He shuffled his feet a bit. “I didn’t know how long egg fragments would last in the wild.”

“So are there going to be dragon wasps around here?” she asked, still looking around. “They’re dangerous — one of my uncles was killed in a dragon wasp outbreak.”

“There are probably no wasps left here anymore. I’m sure they all died out long ago. And by the way, the berries should be fine.”

Filia carefully picked the plate back up again. She looked it over, then divided the berries between the two of them. They ate them, and she tossed the plate aside.

“I’m going to gather more torch materials,” she said. It didn’t take long to replenish their supply, and in short order she was ready to go. She looked around for anything that might make some sort of makeshift clothing, but there was nothing. She looked at Staun, who was now just naked, save for his shoes. His shirt had been scavenged for material to bind the torches. She shuddered to think what the other crewmembers would say when they rescued them.

“Best get going again?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

Filia knelt and opened the satchel. She pulled out an unlit torch and their mechanical torch. She checked the torch’s bindings, to be sure she would not end up with a handful of loose, burning fibers later. As she did so, she looked down the dark throat of the tunnel.

“I suppose you already checked the tunnel for traces of dragon wasps?” she asked.

“Dragon wasp infestations don’t last long, in our world today. They don’t do well in areas already rich with life. This colony probably died out centuries ago.” He cast about with his head. “In fact, I would guess that the tunnel and temple complex was probably built in and around an old wasp nest. This passage itself could even be a wasp tunnel that the ancient ones straightened and lined with masonry.”

“We’re walking down a dragon wasp tunnel,” Filia muttered to herself. “Naked. With no weapons but a wooden stick.” She sighed and lit the torch. “It just doesn’t get any better than this, does it?”

They walked back into the dark passageway. Once again they made their way silently. Long hours of walking in the dim torch light sapped their spirits, and they spoke little. They pressed on until they could go no further, then settled down for the night next to an outcropping of roots. Filia built a small fire, and soon they were both asleep, again curled together for warmth and safety. Filia had dreams, but did not remember them after she awoke.

They had very little idea of the time in the darkness and so merely continued on their way. The tunnel was fairly clear, and they made good time. They found water, again, but this time it was inside the tunnel, running down the wall into a niche and then down in a tiny waterfall to a drain. They also found the glordia fruit, although Staun insisted they not eat them in the dark. They continued on for a long time, until they saw the light at the end. The tunnel ended in a jumble of fallen stones that they clambered over and through and into the sunlight.

They found themselves on a rocky hillside overlooking a small box canyon covered in scrubby brush and rocky outcroppings. The open end led to a forest. Staun took a quick look around and then indicated that they should proceed toward the trees. They clambered down and hurried through the brush, Filia keeping a careful eye out for animals or other dangers. They soon reached the trees, and came to a halt. The sun was setting, and after a discussion in low tones they both decided to stop for the night. Staun insisted that a fire would be a bad idea, but out of the tunnel the air was warm, and Filia was able to find a dry place with lots of soft, dead grass in which to make a bed.

Once their camp site was set, Filia opened up the knapsack and pulled out the mushrooms they had gathered. She offered one to Staun and asked if it was acceptable. He studied it for a bit, then nodded affirmatively. She took it back, then broke them all into bits and divided them between the two of them. As she ate, she allowed herself to study Staun’s wound. It seemed to have healed a bit since the day before. She felt her own wound,and was pleased to note that it hurt less.

“Do you sense any water nearby?” she whispered to Staun when she was done eating. He nodded, his mouth full, and pointed. “I’ll be back.” Filia gathered up her spear and the water flask and moved carefully in the direction indicated, keeping an eye out for danger.

The land sloped gently downward, and she didn’t have to go far to find a small stream. As she approached it, she passed a small pool of water, and caught sight of her own reflection. She was a fright. She was just plain naked, with scratches and cuts and dirt all over her body. Her hair was a mess. She had never been a terribly heavy person, but after her illness and her days on thin rations her ribs showed, and she even felt a bit lightheaded. Once again she shuddered, thinking of what their rescuers would say. She felt sick at the idea that word of this would get back home to Dartain and the others. She pushed the thought out of her mind and filled the flask.

Filia returned safely, if a bit wobbly, to find Staun sitting with his back to a thick mat of grass, his knees pulled up under his chin. His eyes tracked her as she approached, but he said nothing. She compressed the grass to make a place for herself to lie down in, doing so gingerly as she still felt a bit faint. She considered looking for more to eat, but decided to wait until morning. She lay on her back, breathing just a bit heavily. Overhead the leaves swayed gently in the breeze, the last light of the day flickering from one to the next.

“Can you t’see any better out here than you could in there?” she asked him softly.

“A bit,” he replied slowly. “But … but the whispers are louder too.”

Filia’s stomach trembled at that word, and a chill sent goose flesh across her naked body.

“What are they?” she asked, not wanting to hear the answer.

“I don’t know,” he replied, misery in his voice. “I can never make out what they are saying. I try and try, but …” his voice caught on a sob, and he stopped.

An uncomfortable silence followed.

“How old were you when you became an acolyte?” Filia asked him.

“I was three,” he said. “Father was a Third Adept, and knew right from the start that I was very attuned to the Whind. We are descendants of Kaytla, the Dreamer.”

“She is one of the ones in Memorial Park, right?” Filia rolled slightly to her right, so she could see him. “That place with all those huge statues of naked people?”

“Yes, the park with the huge statues of naked people,” Staun replied wryly. “She is one of the biggest ones. Her statue is right beside the one of Martus, the only one of the Great Defenders whose statue is not standing upright.”

The Kethrios Cycle“I don’t remember seeing that one,” Filia replied. “I’ll have to go back and look at it when we get back to Selkwyth.” In the growing darkness it was becoming hard to make him out. He was still seated with his knees drawn up under his chin, with his arms wrapped around his shins and his heels drawn almost up the the bulge of his genitals. She could not make out his expression.

“Martus was the first of the Great Defenders to die in the battle,” he said. “The circle of power had not yet been completed, and the magistrates had ordered the crowd broken up and the ringleaders caught. Martus led a small group of protesters forward to meet the soldiers. His power was telepathy, and he used it to delay the soldiers.”

“Hang on,” Filia said, laying back down and watching the sunlight dapple the leaves above. “I think I remember this one. He had the ability to let people hear each other’s thoughts, and so he confused the guards by letting them hear what the other guards were thinking.”

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Yeah,” Filia said. “It’s coming back to me. Jaspin and I had just arrived in Selkwyth. and he was giving me a tour of the city. Naturally, the first place he took me was Memorial Park. I think he thought that having to be naked with all those naked people would somehow make me more comfortable with being in a strange new city.”

“You’re not comfortable with being naked,” Staun said.

“Not even close,” she replied, covering her delta with her left hand and her breasts with her right. “And Jaspin knew it. I think he was hoping that the sudden change would make me feel differently. Anyway, he took me on a tour through the park and told me the story of how the Great Eight– ”


“Great Twelve, the Great Defenders, defeated the Actarnine and liberated the city.” She lay there for a moment, admiring the play of the sun on the tree limbs and enjoying the feel of its warmth on her skin.”I do remember one good thing about that day in the park. That was the day I met Dartain. He was standing on a plinth, telling the story of one of the Defenders to a bunch of schoolchildren and I stopped to listen to his story. I suppose Jaspin must have wandered off.”

Filia frowned. “No, wait, that can’t be right.”

She rolled over on her side and looked at Staun. He was sitting beside her, having put his shirt back on and leaning back on one arm. He managed to smile at her without making her feel uncomfortable or angry. “I’m getting this all mixed up.”

Filia shook her head, feeling as if her skull was immersed in syrup. “I think I’m lightheaded from lack of food. I didn’t meet Dartain until I was already on the outs with Jaspin. I had left him for the first time, and was staying in that hostel with those kids, and they took me for a tour of the city, and got me lost, and we ended up at Memorial Park again. I wanted to just wait but they insisted I come and so I had to get naked in public all over again and then they abandoned me so they could go play in a mudball tournament, and I wandered all over that park for hours and hours until the sun was starting to go down and that’s when I met Dartain.”

Filia lay back, folding her legs over each other, trapping her hand between her thighs. “I think I was desperate. He was standing on that plinth covered in white paint and un-dressed-up like one of the Defenders. I think it was Martus, or maybe that other guy who died, whatsit, Blinder?”

“Belinder,” Gomph’s quavering voice said from the shadows behind her.

“Yeah, Belinder. Anyway,” Filia said, rocking to and fro on her back, still covering her breasts with her right hand while squeezing her left hand between her thighs, ”he looked like he worked there, so I sat down to wait for him to finish, so I could get directions on how to get out of the park.” Filia smiled, blinking in the strong sunlight. “He was cute, too, talking to all those little kids and answering their questions. I could actually stand to look at him, even though he was naked under all that paint. I’d actually say he was nude, not naked, because he was so comfortable there, so comfortable in his skin.”

Staun nodded, smiling, as did the figure of Gomph behind her. Filia smiled back. “So I waited for him to finish, and it turns out he doesn’t work there, he’s just doing this for fun!” Filia laughed at this amazing concept. The others joined in. “He’s just doing this because he wants to! So I tell him I’m lost and he promises to take me to the lockers where my clothes are. So we go to this underground building where all these workers are and he takes me into this locker room and goes in and takes a shower while he’s talking to me and then he gets dressed and starts to leave, and I ask him where my clothes are, and he says well aren’t they here, and I say no, they’re in my locker, and he says I thought you meant these lockers!” Filia joined all the others in riotous laughter at the inherent humor in the story.

“So we walk all the way around the park, because we can’t go in any more because he’s dressed now, even though I’m still naked, and it’s dark by this time and he even gives me his shirt to wear because I’m getting cold, and we never did find my clothes, and he finally suggests that he take me home, and I realize I don’t even know where the hostel is, so he suggested that we go to his place.” Filia lay back with a sigh. “Oh, Dartain. If only I had known. Right?”

Filia opened her eyes. Dartain, who was kneeling at her side, smiled at her and nodded. His form appeared to waver, like a reflection in a pond. He reached out and gently laid a hand on her arm. Filia sighed happily and closed her eyes again, listening to the birds singing gently above.”If only I had known that, even as I was walking home with you, Jaspin had his face buried between some barmaid’s legs,” she said bitterly, “while some other barmaid did the same to him! I would have just spent the night with you, Dartain. I really would have.” Filia could feel his warm hands caressing her shoulders. “Instead of wasting my time with that diddler Jaspin, I should have been spending my nights with you, Dartain.”

Filia rolled to her side and reached out to touch Dartain. He in turn touched the back of her hand. She moved to his side and wrapped herself around his warm body. She kissed his neck and back, and he caressed her side from breast to knee. She lay him back and covered him with her body, allowing his hands to move across her skin. She kissed him and tasted him and touched him, and he did the same, heating her mood to a fever pitch. Her hands found his eager member and seized it. All around them friends and family and former lovers and all the people she had ever known stood and shouted encouragement. Hungrily, she fumbled with his organ, pressing its forked tongue against her sex as he pressed her breasts and thumbed her nipples.

She finally engulfed him, howling her pleasure as he filled her up. All the world was engorged with light and heat and sound as she gripped him as hard as she could, inside and out, pushing him in again and again and again. Her mind and her body tensed on the verge of ecstasy, and she surrendered totally to it, letting her body go where it would. The moment came, and seized her, wracking her in electric spasms that would not stop, filling her mind with blinding light, until all was white and the world disappeared.

*  *  *

Filia knew two things instantly the moment she woke up. Firstly, she knew she was exposed. It wasn’t just that she was naked, either. She was in the open. Secondly, she knew that someone had been in her. That hadn’t happened very often, but she knew the feeling and didn’t like it. She especially didn’t like not remembering it. That make her feel doubly naked. She covered her breasts with one forearm and her mons with the other hand and sat up, looking around.

When she had lain down the night before, she had been hidden in a copse of young trees. Now those trees lay splayed out, flattened to the ground, with all the leaves and twigs stripped away. Beside her, on his side, facing away from her, lay Staun, unmoving.

The memory of what had happened in the night, or what she had thought had happened in the night, returned to her. Her breath came fast and ragged, and she felt nauseated. She looked at Staun with alternating pity and loathing. What had happened? she asked herself. It was obvious that it had been a dream, or a nightmare, or even a hallucination. But it had also been real, as the feeling in her groin told her.

Filia tried to stand, but an awful ache in her womb refused to let her. With a moan, she lay back down. Real, and quite … vigorous. Violent, even, from the looks of the surrounding area. She looked about. Whatever had happened had flattened every tree, bush, and plant for dozens of meters around, yet without injuring either of them.

Or had it? Staun remained still.

“Staun,” Filia said. He didn’t move, but at least he was breathing. She prodded him with her foot, still covering her breasts.

“Staun!” No reaction. A hint of concern seized her. She touched him, found his skin to be cold and clammy. She pulled him toward her. His head lolled loose on his neck. His eyes were open and his mouth was slack. Blood was streaked across his face from a cut somewhere above his hairline.

“Staun!!” She gingerly lifted him into her arms and cradled his head. His torso was warm, but his arms were cold. She put her face to his, and could feel his breath, but just barely. She rubbed his arms. “Staun! Wake up!” She grabbed the water flask and bathed his face. She dribbled a bit of water on his tongue, then splashed more on his face. Finally he flinched.

“Staun, wake up!” Filia looked around, scanning for danger. The landscape appeared empty. She looked back to Staun. His eyes were moving slowly from side to side. He blinked, and closed his mouth and swallowed. He moved his arms, legs, and head awkwardly, without power. “Staun, can you hear me?”

“Uhhhhh …” he said, as if trying to talk. His eyes rolled around, unfocused.

“Staun, can you hear me?” she repeated. She rubbed his arms again.

“Uh, mmmmm. Fiiil … Filia?” A puzzled look crossed his face, and he brought one hand to his head. He flinched as he touched the scab. “What … what did …” He opened his eyes and looked towards her, animation in his face now. With his arms and legs he pushed himself away from her, clumsily and without grace. Rolling off her lap, he flopped onto his belly, his limbs flailing as he tried to propel himself. After a moment he righted himself, then retreated, curling up as he had the night before. He cast distrustful looks her way. “What happened last night?” he asked.

“I …” Filia looked around. “I don’t know. I … you and … I … don’t know.”

Staun rubbed his privates in a way that showed he, too, was suffering the after-effects of their union. Then a surprised look came over his face. He straightened up and turned his head from side to side, as if listening to the landscape. Surprise gave way to awe.

“What happened here, Filia?” he asked.

“Whatever … we … did last night, all the trees and bushes are just flattened, all around us. It’s like something burst right here, right where we were … were laying, and it knocked the trees down all around us.”

Staun held his hand to his tongue, tasting it, then stood, shakily. She went to him, flinched in revulsion for a moment, then took his hand and steadied him.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

He put his hand to his head. “It was one of the mushrooms, I think. You should have let me check them all.”

“I’m sorry,” Filia said, and to her surprise a tear rolled down her cheek.

“I’ve never … “ he turned his head from side to side, his expression one of disbelief. “We need to get going.”

Filia nodded. “Okay.” She gathered up the knapsack and his walking stick, and began to lead him out of the debris field. When they reached the open scrubland they began to skirt the afflicted area. As they left it behind, Filia threw one last look back over her shoulder at the wreckage.

What had they done?

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