In The Marble Halls Of Althenia

Chapter Eight

Time flowed by, taking season and years with it. Despite his unease at times and the promise he had forced out of the two Humi on the day that he had arrived, the youngling had yet to experience any decent into madness, or any signs of his magicks trying to consume him. Demyx and Axel had become more than caregivers to him though. The two Humi were now his friends, instructors, family and ones he could trust with his life. Though the elements that they controlled were opposite, the two Humi worked together very well, complementing one another. Axel was still relatively new in his mage craft, but was making good progress in his skills, mostly because Demyx was a great instructor with patience and skill that still surprised Riku.

With the years passing, the young elfkin had adapted wonderfully to his new life. After the first few seasons of being almost frightened of doing anything relating to his own magicks, Demyx had convinced him to retake up his craft, sensing the potential of the youngling. It had been a difficult feat for Riku, as all of his magical training in the past had gotten him to rely on the Earth Voices. At first it had been hard to control the element without the guiding voices, but not long after beginning this new form of training, the youngling began to flourish, able to control as much if not more than what he had before. Even Demyx had commented on the innate powers that the youngling possessed. The practices that the was learning now utilized the elemental connections much more, and though he couldn't communicate to the elemental creatures like Axel and Demyx could, the two Humi assured him that he attracted them like no other.

Along with magical training, Riku also continued with weapons work. The bow was still his weapon of choice, his skills improving and honing with each passing year, but under Axel's tutelage, he was on his way to mastering the blade as well. Learning swordswork always brought forth memories in the elfkin of his days spent training under the swordsmasters, but Riku refused to dwell on those thoughts. Despite all of his intentions and desires, he had yet to find a substitute for Ambrosia to take home. Though if he had to be honest with himself, he was not searching as hard as probably should. It wasn't as if he didn't want to find a substitute it was that he was feeling accepted and comfortable in this life. The other thing was that every time he did begin to search and made progress, he was reminded of the one he had left behind.

As of late, Riku found his thoughts wandering to his childhood playmate more often than ever before. Had Sora survived? Did he have his parents' ability to consume Ysiryan Ambrosia? What did Sora think of him now? The youngling always felt the burn of shame though his body whenever the brunet crossed his thoughts. How he had disappeared without a word, no warning. Did Sora still think of him? Usually the youngling would completely dismiss those thoughts once they took a hold of him; his dreams however usually betrayed him in that sense. He dreamt of the younger elfkin nearly every night, those subconscious thoughts betraying his desires to keep the once bubbly brunet out of his mind.

In attempts to keep his thoughts off that particular subject as much as possible, the youngling had begun exploring the forests and mountain range around Demyx and Axel's settlement, which was known as The Clearing. Deep in the Aniba forest, the two Humi had long lived within these woods south of the Humi Kingdom of Quetzel. Also close by was the Tepey Mountain range, a place where Riku often accompanied one of how friends to harvest rare plants and herbs that they used in poultices and salves. Only recently had he began to traverse there himself, Demyx declaring barely a moon past that he was proficient enough in both mage craft and weapons work to make the dangerous journey alone.

Riku had many times witnessed the Humi distain for his rescuers in the years that he resided with them. As he was told before, the other Humi only ever sought out the Thaumaturagi when their assistance, namely their magicks, was needed. Thrice they were recruited to help save Quetzel from fires or flood, and more often than that for healing potions and such that required a touch of magic that regular healers did not have. Each time the Humi messenger, always the same one, appeared in The Clearing, Riku was hidden in the home under heavy magickal shields. As was explained to him, if the Humi discovered that an elfkin was being harboured, they would either desire to kill him or demand he use his magicks for their own sordid desires. From his hiding spot, the youngling was able to watch as the Humi left goods – those which Axel and Demyx could not make or grow for themselves – in return for service. It was not a fair trade in Riku's eyes, but it was enough for the three of them to evade constant prosecution.

This day found the young elfkin scouting out the nearby mountains for Demyx, as a plague had captured the village and he required many more herbs than normal. The ingredients that were required for this particular concoction were not as rare as some, but had very specific harvesting instructions. Riku had been entrusted with the task of retrieving those herbs on this day, as he had been along with Demyx many a time to collect them. The two Humi remained at The Clearing in order to prepare what they could for the complex potion before their ward returned with the herbs needed.

With his bow at the ready, Riku gracefully traversed the rocky terrain. He had already gathered the majority of the ingredients he had been sent for, but still required several sprigs of willowdale, an herb that grew sparingly through the mountain range and only deeply nestled within the peaks. The youngling had to admit just how much he loved these mountains; probably because of the adventures he had taken part in with Sora through the Rhion Mountains so many times in the past. Now, however, his senses were dulled slightly due to the lack of Ambrosia, but he was still able to see over a greater distance and hear over further distances than the Humi.

The hard ground made no sound beneath the soft soles of the elfkin's boots, his natural grace still apparent in every step. It was already past the nooning meal, dried meat and some scavenged berries carrying him through. Stopping at a small mountain stream, Riku slung his bow over his back before bending down. Offering a prayer to the unseen Undines that must keep this stream clear of debris, the youth dipped his hand into the cool water, cupping it and bringing the fresh water to his lips. As he quenched his thirst, he was able to gaze into the waters and take in the appearance he would not have recognized several years ago.

Though only a handful of years had passed, Riku's body had matured twice that. At first, his rapid aging had surprised and alarmed both Demyx and Axel, but the elfkin explained that it was the natural progression for his race. His hair had never gained any colour than that of the moonlight, but now it fell long, past his shoulders. The physical training that he had been going through had resulted in a lean body frame covered in tight muscles. He had also grown taller, now taller than Demyx, though not as tall as Axel. The ones that he had left behind would barely recognize him any more if he ever did go home.

As Riku leaned back down to take another handful of water, he noticed something different in the water than just his own reflection. Two dark shadows appeared behind him, disappearing just as quickly behind a mound of rocks. The youngling could feel the presence, but was unable to completely identify who – or what – it was behind him. Though it smelled like Humi, Riku couldn't be sure. After all, there were forces present in these mountains that even Demyx could not explain. And even after all these years, Riku still had fear of those Daemons and Blood Elves that had appeared in the chamber coming to find him and finishing the job that they had failed to that day.

Without moving a muscle, the elfkin was able to switch his sight over to his Other Sense, and his suspicions were confirmed. Definitely Humi behind him. Two of them. Most likely hunters that had gotten lost in the mountains; but there was also the possibility that they were searching for Axel and Demyx. Despite the Humi seeking out the two Thaumaturagi for their skills and powers, there were still those who would prefer to see them dead. And when an arrow landed in the water only a few lengths away from Riku's current position, it confirmed which sort of Humi that it was following him. Feigning surprise, the elfkin tuned around with an artificial look of pure horror on his face. Sure enough, there were two Humi now out in the open and no longer hiding behind the rocky terrain. One had his bow slightly lowered while the other had an arrow still nocked and aimed towards him.

"What…what…who are you?!" the shooter cried out, voice shaking, causing Riku to roll his expressive eyes. Wonderful. Fools who shot before the found out what exactly they were shooting at.

Deciding to play with them a little, it was all that Riku could do to not smile and ruin the ruse. These would not be the first ignorant Humi that he came across, nor would they be the last. Usually Demyx or Axel were there with him, but he knew well enough what to do. At least he was wearing his lengthy hair down to cover the most distinctive feature that would identify him as elfkin. "Please, don't shoot! I am but a humble traveller, stopping to quench his thirst. I merely got lost in the mountains."

"Don't try and deny what you are, elfkin!" growled the one with his sights still on Riku.

Well, this was different. He had never come across other Humi that had recognized him for what he was, at least not this quickly. Though he had to fight a smirk at the thought of the fates of those before who had recognized him. Still unsure of what path the situation would take, but curious, Riku lifted his arms to show that he was unarmed. "I may be elfkin, but I pose no threat. I merely am travelling these lands searching for medicinal herbs. A sickness has taken my village and I have searched long for a cure. I mean no harm to your or your people. I am but a simple traveller."

A second arrow then planted itself at the elfkin's feet, yet the action was not overly surprising to Riku. After all, the other Humi he had come across in the mountains had reacted the same way once they discovered his race. "Your enchanted words hold no power over us, magician. We must demand that you surrender now, else we will be forced to kill you."

That would be inconvenient. But seeing as these Humi didn't want to discuss the matter further, much like the others before them, Riku knew that it would be pointless to continue to try and reason with them. Eyes sliding closed momentarily, he called upon the vast reservoir of power that lay deep within his soul. He could feel a slight pain from using the magicks without the guidance of the Earth Voices as he always did, but it did nothing to hinder him. The magick none the less answered his call. Not wishing to harm the foolish Humi, the elfkin felt the earth conform to his wishes, stones of all shapes and sizes gathering at the feet of the two archers. Though at first they did not notice, after only a few moments, their feet were covered completely in the piling stones. As the rocks continued to mount, the two Humi finally seemed to be aware of their situation and looked down in panic.

Deciding not to stick around in case the two remembered that they were archers and that he was still in range of their arrows, Riku took off running joyfully deeper into the mountains. He could hear the two Humi cursing at him, damning his existence and other pointless threats that the elfkin just laughed off. He would never intentionally harm the ignorant Humi, but he would protect himself. As soon as those two stopped panicking and realized their situation, they would be able to dig themselves out of the piling rocks as Riku had only instructed the earth to cover them to knee level.

Axel had been the one to point out that just because some didn't know better that they deserved to be punished along with those that did. The redhead then went on to add that it didn't count as punishing if no one was actually hurt and you actually were not trying to harm them. After that it became almost a contest between the two of them on coming up with more unique ways of escaping from the Humi. Axel also had a much more skewed perception of punishment that often earned him a slap upside the head by Demyx. The redhead had more reason to hate other Humi than Demyx did though. After his birth and the obvious colour of his eyes was revealed, both Axel and his family were exiled, his family taking every opportunity to beat the child, shunning him and in the end, abandoning him to the countryside. After that, Axel was eventually found by a travelling merchant. Desperate for any sort positive attention, the young redhead attached himself to the merchant. For some time, Axel believed that he had found a new family, one that accepted him and the sporadic and uncontrollable powers that he housed. That was until he was dragged out of his bed in the middle of the night by strangers, having been sold into slavery.

The mercenary overlord that the young child had been sold to had only been interested in one thing: his magicks. Axel had been forced to go to battle while still a child, under the influence of powerful and controlling herbs, creating fires that burned everything in their paths, whether it was land, homes or Humi. Eventually it got to be too much for the redhead to handle and he turned the fires on his 'master' and the others that kept him enslaved. Horrified at what he had done, both forcibly and what he had done under his own free will, Axel ignored his magicks, shutting off all his channels and living off the land on his own. Eventually Demyx came across the young mage, his powers by then almost completely dormant. Axel wasn't even able to create a fire for warmth. That was why to this day he was still unable to control them to any extent. Salamanders had all but abandoned him, but now with the tutelage he was receiving, they were returning to him and the control was returning as well.

Demyx on the other hand didn't have such a tragic story. His family, though ashamed of him, had kept him hidden after his birth. He was not completely shunned by them, but not truly accepted either. When he was finally discovered by the same overlord that eventually had captured Axel, Demyx's entire family, save himself, were murdered in cold blood. Able to escape the overlord's clutches and the massacre of his village, Demyx made his way north, coming across a hermit in the dense Tezcat forest, a Humi that shunned the rest of his race after being caught helping a dying Thaumaturage. The Thaumaturage imposed all his knowledge of the magickal arts on the man, giving him the task of being able to teach another. It was also through that old hermit that Demyx learned the elfkin language as well, from travelling rogue elfkin that the hermit would offer shelter to. When that old hermit died after teaching Demyx everything that he knew, he informed Demyx that he had been able to sense another Thaumaturage out there, not only in need of training, but in need of saving. That had sent the pale haired Thaumaturage off on a quest that eventually led him to Axel.

The years that Riku had spent in the company of Axel and Demyx had taught him a lot, especially after hearing the backgrounds of the two Thaumaturagi. However, never once had he found the strength to divulge his entire story to them. Of course, they had drug a lot of his previous life out of him, but never once had he let slip neither his status nor what had happened on the day that he had left Althenia. Several times he had almost, but the fear that he would unconsciously unblock the Earth Voices that had shut out always won out.

Finally becoming aware of his surroundings once again, the elfkin looked around to see where he had ended up. While lost in his thoughts, he found himself deep in the mountain range, further than he had ever been before. That was not an issue as he would be able to follow his own magical signature through the pathways back to The Clearing. But first he was going to do some exploring. After all, he still needed to find the willowdale and collect some, and if this was somewhere he had never explored before, he might be able to find some uncultivated areas with more of the rarer ingredients.

Instantly, Riku was able to notice a difference in the air in this part of the mountains, but he couldn't pinpoint exactly what it was. Continuing to hold his bow at the ready, the graceful elfkin made his way over the rocky mountain floor. Where was this new place? What was the scent that teased his senses? It was unlike anything he had ever encountered before. Wanting to investigate a little, the elfkin extended a bit of his power outwards, unsurprised when he felt that there were no other presences nearby. Even the wildlife seemed to be straying away from this peculiar area of the mountains, and with only a little more probing; the elfkin realized that there had been no other life forms here in quite some time.

What exactly was hidden here?

With his sense not as enhanced as they once were, Riku was unable to pinpoint the location of this new scent right away. It had him entranced like nothing before. He had to know what it was. Unslinging his bow and quiver from around his chest, the elfkin placed it on the grass covered area before sitting down, long legs folded under him. Taking in a deep breath, the silver haired youngling savoured the intoxicating scent.

Seated on the grass like that, Riku allowed his eyes to close, his mind easily fell into a gentle and silent chant that Demyx had taught him to clear his thoughts. When there was nothing left crossing his mind, the elfkin opened his Other Senses to cover the area, hoping to discover the source. It had taken him a long time to learn this particular skill without deferring to the Earth Voices, but now even Demyx had told him that Riku's Other Sense was some of the most powerful he had ever heard of.

Falling into the familiar trance, the silver haired elfkin took in the flowing energies that surrounded him. Most felt no different than the normal energies that flowed through this ancient mountain range, but there was a concentrated and almost tangled current of unfamiliar colours that radiated from a portion of the clearing. When he began to probe those new energies, the flared so much that it knocked Riku completed out of his mental trance and physically over.

When Riku caught his breath and blinked the spots out of his vision, he could hardly believe what he had just experienced. What had been that intense sensation? And why had it knocked him out? Judging by the position of the sun and how different it was from when he had first entered this area, he had been out for quite some time. Though he no longer had his Other Senses invoked, the elfkin could still feel the strange energies in the air around him. Curiosity still getting the best of him, the youngling pushed his body off the grassy mountain floor and made his way over to where that strange sensation came from. Unsurprisingly, the direction that he was going in was blocked by things like rocks and branches and overgrowth, but the determination that had begun to burn through him helped Riku push through it all. Though the obstacles were heavy and obstructions were great, he continued to move them causing a thin sheen of sweat to appear on his tanned skin.

Even without the assistance of his other senses, Riku knew that he had finally gotten everything cleared and was now close to the source. A fissure ran along a sheer side of the mountain, and even to the naked eye the elfkin could see a magical barrier shimmering in the setting sun. There was no doubting that whatever was concealed in there was what was sending off those energies and that the barrier was fully elfkin in origin. Excitement rushed through his veins and without hesitation, Riku drew his dagger. Pricking the tip of one finger, he watched as the blood welled up. As soon as a large enough pool of blood appeared, he reached out to press his finger to the semi visible barrier.

As he did, the silver haired youngling's heart constricted painfully as he recalled preforming such a similar action so many times in order to access that cursed chamber, the thoughts was lost quickly as he put the past behind him. He would not need to revisit those thoughts again. Quickly tracing a rune of release on the barrier, Riku was thoroughly surprised when it fell and granted him access.

Hidden deep within the rock fissure was a cavern unlike any the elfkin had ever seen before. Long spires protruded from the walls and ceiling, each one giving off a light violet glow. It illuminated the ground beneath them which was covered in flowerless plants that were only ankle height. It was very obvious to the elfkin that this was the source of the scent and the magical energies, and those energies were so elfkin in nature that Riku almost felt as if he were home again. Kneeling down, the youngling ran his fingers over the slightly fuzzy leaves. There was still something more familiar about the flora that was more reminiscent of the land he left behind than he wanted to admit. Pulling a single leaf from the plant, he brought it up for closer inspection. Inhaling deeply, the elfkin still could not determine where he had encountered this plant before. He was sure that even within the great cultivations of Althenia, nothing like this grew. Out of curiosity, he then bit the very tip off the leaf, not worried about poisoning. After all, he had all the ingredients for a powerful antidote in his pouch.

The moment that the bitter piece of foliage hit his tongue, Riku was thrown completely off guard. Everything was clearer all of a sudden. The sound of a brook nearby; the smell of these odd plants; the details of the lightened edges of the leaves illuminated by the violet spires; the feel of the ground beneath his legs. It was all clearer and sharper. Like before. Like when he had Ambrosia. Not exactly the same. But similar enough.

What exactly was this plant? Could this be the solution to the nightmare that had plagued him for so long now? He knew that he would need to be sure before he could entertain the thought of returning…if he was ready. Riku still had a lot of repenting before he even consider going back.

Gathering up as many of the fallen leaves as possible, followed by any smaller pieces that could possibly be seeds, he put them in his pouch, knowing that he would need to take them back to The Clearing to see if it would be possible to cultivate it. But that was getting ahead of himself. As carefully as possible, the elfkin dug a single plant out of the grotto, wrapping it in a piece of cloth before attaching it to his belt. As tempting as it was to ingest more, until he knew what the full effects – and the possible consequences- were, he couldn't. But for the first time he could remember since leaving the borders of his lands, Riku didn't feel the mental strain of trying to keep the Earth Voices blocked. It was suddenly much easier.

Making his way back out of the cavern, the elfkin then placed his own seals on the entrance, keyed to his own personal runes. He couldn't risk anyone else finding or destroying these plants before he had the chance to test the full use of the plants and if they would be the answer he was seeking. He had to do everything in his power to preserve them until that time. For the first time since his exile, Riku finally felt a brief glimmer of hope at the possibility of returning to Althenia, despite whatever the others may think of him. But not yet. There was still the chance that this plant would not be a substitute or even work for the majority of the elfkin.

All these thoughts ran through the youngling's mind as he followed the path back to the knoll, laying down beacons of his own signature so that he would be able to get here again. He returned to where his bow still lay, untouched in his absence. As he bent down to retrieve it, the silver haired elfkin paused his movements. Maybe it was from the lingering effects from the small taste of the mysterious plant that he was experiencing, or something else that was here in the mountains, but there was something that began to nag at the youth's Other Senses. This time however, it wasn't coming from the cavern or the mountains at all. It was coming from the direction that he had originally come from. Could it be the Humi that had attacked him before? Could they have recovered and begun tracking him? No… the energy signature was different from that, magical traces tainting it. Extending his Other Senses out even further outwards, the elfkin was almost thrown backwards at what he discovered.

There was something descending on The Clearing that he called home. A strong something. And it was closing in fast. He had to get back.

There is really no excuse for the lateness of this chapter, as it has been done for several weeks now. I was just so tied up with real like busyness that I never got the chance to type/edit it. I really had hoped to get it out the first week of July, but then everything hit me at once, a trip to the hospital, I was my best friends maid of honour, family I haven't seen in 5 years visiting, 20 hours a week of overtime at work…didn't exactly leave a lot of time for writing. So I am sorry. I will not make a promise of when the next chapter will be out, I will say that I am still actively working on it and will not abandon this story. Its been with me too long to do that lol.

Thanks again to everyone who follows/reviews this story. I'm always so flattered when there are so many of you out there who enjoy the demented products of my mind. Thank you all so very much, especially Pahoyhoy, who has been with this story since it was just a little seed in my mind and you let me ramble on for 2 hours about it before anything was ever on paper. I love and miss you so much!

Hopefully life eases up a little for me now and the next chapter won't be as far away. Thank again and until next time!