Yavin and Benjamin spent the better part of the afternoon and evening to themselves in the corner. Yavin scarcely moved from atop the trunk, though at many points throughout their meeting, Edward had noticed Benjamin pace back and forth, muttering under his breath in frustrated tones. Once, Benjamin stomped his foot as if he were a toddler throwing a fit over not getting another honey candy from Pammy’s pocket. Eventually, Benjamin let out a whoop and Yavin nodded in a gentle accolade.
For Pitney and Edward, and Ottelo (when he had finally tired himself of rock building), they had passed the time by searching out the tunnels, practicing swordplay (with both princes getting tips and tricks from Pitney), and the occasional conversation about Havarth and what they knew of the land they were destined to travel to.
“What of the Vex when we arrive? Are you up to the task, Edward?”
“I can see them, plain as day, but my skills against them are as your own, Pitney. I am only as good against them as I am with a sword.”
“Then we are surely doomed,” Ottelo teased. Edward shoved his shoulder almost knocking him off the stump where he sat.
“But, surely mastery of the gift would wield you a greater power over them? Were you not taught in your lessons?”
“I’m afraid there was little to teach. Once the gift was given, it was mine to use. Even Yavin admitted that I was the first in many a generation to accept the gift. There is no one to teach me, that we know.”
“I heard the women are all sorceresses and the men are all warlocks. Their children will even put curses on you from the shadows if they don’t like the look of your face.” Ottelo made a face that must have mimicked what he thought a child might look like as they were cursing you, sending Pitney and Edward into uproarious laughter.
When they finally calmed down, Edward said, “I only know of what my father has spoken of. He said, as in our kingdom, there are people who would wish us well, and those who would do us harm.”
“But surely, even the Great King would recognize that the evil there would far outweigh the good?” Ottelo steadied himself again as he leaned in towards the table.
“I cannot say, either way. Talk amongst the Elders is riddled with superstition and fear. Some think the whole land of Harvarth is cursed and the people who reside there have all given in to the way of Hazar Maveth’s evil. They drink from chalices and eat from plates with his likeness engraved on it. They pay homage to him at a temple at dusk at weeks end. There is talk of debauchery and drunkenness. Parents leave their children as orphans on the streets, claiming they cannot feed them. They offer up their daughters as wives to the temple priests for promised favors and prayers given on their behalf. Their sons work off their debts in labor that kills them before they reach the age of eighteen. Families risk almost certain death to travel to our richly blessed kingdoms only to be met with a disease or starvation, thirst, along the way. What is worse…the people that they once called their friends, even family, speak of them as traitors and have them killed. The land is dark, the sun hardly shines behind the clouds and the fields yield little fruit. Those who would be considered ‘good’ are bereft of hope and those who are considered ‘evil’ are so fraught with fear, they are willing to ensure no one steps out into the light.”
The light hearted conversation had turned somber. All three sat in silence until Benjamin let out another grunt of displeasure from across the room.
“I am concerned we may be wasting too much time here, Prince Edward. What of Princess ReAnne and the dire circumstances surrounding her condition? Shouldn’t we be on our way?”
“In a hurry to meet your mother, are you, Pit?” Ottelo teased.
“Not so much, but I am concerned for the princess. And we are on our second day here, soon to be a third since it is getting late to travel. Surely I am not the only one that thought of this?”
“No, of course not. But just this morning, we were all in agreement that Yavin seemed to be withholding information.”
“Yes, but how are we to get any out of him without asking him about it? I do not wish to hold a sword to a man’s throat, but I have yet to see someone willingly offer information without a little pressure.”
“Surely we have more choices than such drastic measures,” Edward said.
Pitney stopped his next comment by pursing his lips tight and nodding his head in submission to the prince.
“Lord Pitney, since you have already practiced your sword, of which I am not skilled, I’m sure you would not mind waiting yet a bit longer while I now spend time with Prince Edward.” Yavin remained on the trunk and gestured for Edward to make his way to where he was. Benjamin took his place at the table.
“Now then, Prince. We have much work to do. First, leave your sword. You won’t be needing it.”
Edward glanced down at his sword, a protective hand automatically sat on the hilt protruding from the sheath. “A good swordsman never leaves his sword.” He shook his hand and gripped the hilt.
Yavin, interrupted from his gangly removal of his body from the top of the trunk, shot an angered look at Edward. Not used to seeing Yavin in any state other than flightly, peculiar, or dramatic, he took a step back but didn’t remove his hand.
“Do you want to be taught or no?”
“I am willing to learn anything you think you can teach me of my gift, yes.”
“Then you will leave the sword or you will learn nothing.”
Yavin gave him one last ‘or else’ look and then proceeded to stretch his neck and arms, and then his legs. “I am not as young as I used to be,” he muttered under his breath.
Edward contemplated what Yavin had offered against what he had always been taught. Since he was six years old, he had slept with a sword at his side at night and walked with a sword at his side during the day. To leave it would be to leave an appendage of his body. Like cutting off his foot and then asking him to walk without a limp.
“It is the only way, boy. Make up your mind. Quickly, now.”
Edward walked to Benjamin who looked up with a raised eyebrow from the current conversation of what to have for supper as he laid his sword across the table. “I will be needing that back, brother.”
The room was silent as Yavin stood at the tunnel opening, waiting. Out of habit, Edward put his hand on his now empty sheath and shuddered.
Yavin wound them up one tunnel and down another, left, then right, then left again as they followed a curve around and then around another one. Edward had no idea which way they had come, but clearly, Yavin was used to the tunnels. “Are you using your gift, boy? To see?”
Yavin turned to look at him when Edward didn’t answer. “Well, don’t just nod, now. Answer me.”
Edward stared at Yavin. “Who gave you the gift of Foresight in Shadow?” His stomach tightened as he realized he already knew the answer.
Yavin answered slowly, “Your father did. As a safeguard. I didn’t bribe him with a secret,” he said when he saw the anger in Edwards eyes. “He…we…were both concerned it was falling too far out of practice for the truth to be known about it any longer. I have spent long hours in these tunnels, practicing the use of it in the dark. Before I came, I gleaned as much as I could. Elder’s told stories and the histories have their own tales of it when it was at the height of its use by those who needed to defeat Vex. And now, I am afraid, I am the only one that can teach you anything.”
Edward took a deep breath, weighing the depth of his annoyance with the opportunity he was being presented to learn more. The last image he had of ReAnne played in his mind and won him over to the latter. “And have you gained mastery over it? Will you teach me?” He said through clenched teeth.
“I will teach you all that I know. Come…we are nearing the place.” Yavin’s long robe billowed up dust from the floor as he turned. Anyone else would have only had the sense of smell of dirt in ones nostrils, but Edward watched the dust specks fly and hurried after him.
“What is this place?” He asked when he finally caught up to the old man. They were standing in a small room, smaller than Yavin’s home, but still somewhat circular in nature. Across from where they stood, there were tunnels, all flowing into this room, one much larger than the other two. Behind them, but next to the tunnel they had come through, were two more tunnels, smaller in size. On the dirt wall next to him, there were faint markings.
“This is a thoroughfare. They travel through here during the day to avoid the blistering hot sun of Paaschar. Back and forth they come. Spies for Havarth. Spies devoted to Hazar Maveth’s priests. I often watch them and for the most part, they do not pay me any mind. Those markings are when I had the insane thought I could count their number. But there are too many. This is one of the few traveled paths for them, but I can take you to where there are many if you wish. Though, I highly recommend starting with one at a time.”
“They…they travel…are you talking about the Vex?” Edward put a hand on Yavin’s shoulder and spun him so they were face to face. He was growing weak from using so much of his gift and now, he spoke into the dark to conserve some. “Are you serious? Have you lost your mind, old man? Are you trying to get us killed?” If he had been using his gift, he would have known Yavin did not blink at the furious speed with which he spoke.
“Quite the contrary, boy. I’m trying to teach you something.”
With that, Edward engaged his gift again. Yavin looked over Edward’s shoulder, but Edward was not going to let Yavin get away with it. “Look at me when a prince is speaking to you.”
Yavin’s eyes darted from Edward to behind him. “Remember that you do not have your sword. Good luck, my boy!”
At that, Edward turned to see a black vex coming his way. It had one horn seated rightly on its snout. Wings, folded neatly at its side as it half walked, half ran towards him on all four legs, the back two as large as trees, the front two smaller and more agile with fingerlike claws. He scanned the room to search for Yavin and saw the tail end of his robe breach the entrance to the larger tunnel across the room. Edward gauged how close the vex had gotten and knew he would never make it.
“Aggghhhh,” he yelled at the vex as he reached for his sword. His hand met with its absence. The vex fanned out a wing and tried to swipe Edward with it, but he rolled and ended up behind the vex, crashing his head into a wall. In the small quarters of the open space, the vex was considered rather large and its size made it cumbersome to turn around. This bought Edward some time.
“You have no weapon. You will have to use something else, Edward,” Yavin yelled from the tunnel entrance.
Edward kept pace with the backside of the vex as he searched for a rock, anything that he could use to hit it with.
“Yavin, throw a tree trunk and hit it,” he yelled.
“A tree trunk?” Edward heard Yavin’s familiar belly laugh echo through the room. “Tell me what good a tree trunk would do against a vex? They use trees to sharpen their teeth.”
As his words echoed from within the tunnels, Edward lost his footing and landed on the floor with a thump. His sight vanished and the room went black. He stood quickly, but he was tired and his foresight was dulling. He turned just in time to see two sharp, razor-like teeth snap in his direction. He barrel rolled again, which brought him to a dimmed Yavin, recognized by Edward only because his beard was so white, even with his gift muted, he could still make it out.
“Boy, you better figure this out in a hurry.”
“Do you not have some pointers for me? Something that will help…constructively?” He asked as he dodged another wing slap.
“I did the most constructive thing I could by taking your sword. It is up to you to do what the histories say one can. Watch it!” Edward ducked under a swinging tail that whipped around with the vex’s lumbering stomps.
“Set your mind on what you know. Your foresight is your greatest weapon. Not your weakest.”
“Yavin, I can barely see. I am using all my strength to dodge. What in the world…”
Edward barely noticed the shift in direction except the orange eyes that shimmered in his sight were suddenly no longer setting their sights on him. The vex finally caught wind of Yavin in the tunnel and made a headfirst rush where he stood.
“Yavin!” Edward yelled as he rushed over. He pushed Yavin out of the way just in time to miss a snap of the jaws, fumbling them both further into the tunnel. They scrambled up and started running down the winding tunnels.
“You had to choose the bigger tunnel to hide in?” The vex ducked its head and collapsed its wings fitting its body easily enough to pursue its prey.
“Edward…this one remembers me…and she’s mad….”
“Remembers you? What are you talking about?”
“I may have held her captive….at…one point…for observation…as a young vex…I did not mean to hurt her…but she was wounded by the rope I held…her with…and I let her…go…” Yavin gasped for air.
“How did you….?”
“Now…is…not…the time for…explan-“ Yavin didn’t finish his sentence. He tripped and fell head long into the dirt, but this time, he did not spring back up.
“Edward, I cannot…move…”
They both looked to the vex who was gaining ground on them by the second. Edward, exhausted from running and using his sight was only allowed the distinct sight of orange eyes in darkness. He was helpless and frustrated. He cursed himself for letting an old man talk him out of his sword and looked around for anything that might stop the vex.
Yavin lay in the fetal position, rubbing his knee. “Edward, you are not going to find anything stronger than yourself to defeat the monsters of Havarth. You have already been given the gift, what you need to defeat it; you just have to believe you can do it. Use what has been given to you.”
Edward looked at Yavin, white beard now marred with dirt and dust, his robe blending in to the dimmed light of Edward’s sight.
“I cannot see…I am sorry…Yavin…”
And when he turned, the vex had closed the gap entirely. In a last effort of bravery, Edward stepped in front of Yavin.
But when the vex opened its mouth, Edward instinctively yelled “Stop!”
To their surprise, the vex stopped. Closing its open mouth, the vex lifted its head, tilted sideways to eye Edward. It narrowed its stare, making the orange of the one eye Edward could see appear so much smaller. It reared its head and snorted through its large nostrils, sending dust flying from the floor of the tunnel. The vex leaned in, studying him, sniffing him.
Edward did not move. A strange course of energy was running through him. His sight now working perfectly, every deep crevice of the creature’s black skin, etched in jagged lines, were evident. Across the snout, Edward could make out an even deeper scar, thick, like something had scraped off the outer layer of the skin’s crust in a hurry. Yavin’s wound. If Benjamin were here, he could tell him what she was feeling, but he was going to have to take a chance what he saw in her eyes was the fear he thought it was.
He stepped towards the vex. The vex stepped back. He took another step. The vex took another step backward.
The vex slowly backed out of the tunnel by which it came and when Edward was sure it was gone, his body slumped and he fell to the ground.
“Well, I’ll be…” Yavin stood up and started dusting his robe off. “I had heard it was true, but this is amazing, my boy. Well done.”
“How did…I? What was that?” Edward could barely comprehend that Yavin was speaking at all, much less what he was saying.
“I would say it was mastery, boy. It was only a beginning, and I suspect not all of them will be so easy. Lucky for us, she was, eh? Well, let’s be going. Now we know the histories are true, at least in that sense. You need to be on your way.”
Yavin skipped over to Edward and helped him up with the strength of a young man. “I thought you were hurt…”
“Oh, nothing a quick dusting off cannot fix. Come now, let’s be on our way.”
“Yavin…” Edward warned.
Yavin grabbed Edward and flung an arm around his shoulders, bearing some of his weight.
“I knew you could do it. You just needed a little extra oomph. This way. Oh, I can’t wait to tell the others.”
“You mean Ottelo, Pitney and Benjamin? They’ll never believe it.” Edward’s legs were wobbly, but with Yavin’s help he was slowly regaining the proper use of them as they made their way back through the tunnels.
“Oh, but they have to…if they want their quest to succeed. I am hungry. Now then, what shall we have for supper?”