How does one know they are experienced? Simple, they have explored life.

And how does one know how exploration is done? Nutrose knew that there were several answers to this, but still found himself rolling the question over in his mind.

Was it by knowledge gained? Than the two Sarrofop sisters, Pidelle and Pidella, were the greatest explored of all. They dove deep into exploration on a daily basis, all while never leaving the comfort of the Archives as they delved down in the darkness.

However, the two girls could not help but be frightened. Looking around, they could find no solace, nothing familiar. All around them the trees beckoned, treacherous and inviting them to misery. No, their exploration was sheltered, displaced from reality.

How about distance travelled? Nutrose’s gaze found Ruby Lawks. The Hoppi girl had most likely exceeded the entire company of the Leaves combined with her own travels. Her Lady demanded a busy social life, one that traveled the width and breadth of Europa. But even considering that, one knew of the luxury that Lawks most likely held at her fingertips on those journeys. Pampered servants for even more pampered lords and ladies. She didn’t experience life to the fullest, merely to its most extravagant.

But then there was Bin. Broken Bin, the Ogre Mage. The kid who was too stupid to know how wretched his lot was at the Circle. Or perhaps he was smart enough to hide his own weaknesses. Doubtful. Regardless, he was young, and apparently easy to manipulate. Experienced he was not.

Ona and Kleb weren’t there. As for Goldmight and himself… well. They were something different.

Why did he have to think of all this? They were on their way to adventure. They’d fought off the Archiwrecks, held them at bay. Soon they would face their greatest test, and be the stronger for it.

Fools. These weren’t adventurers. They were students, glorified library rats. They all lived in the safety of school, every last one of them. No one had taught them what couldn’t be taught. Real pain, real sorrow. And the true meaning of fear.

That was what awaited them at the entrance into the cliffs. It was a small, stone door, broken in half. The handle was scattered in powder around the bare earth in front of the hole. The door itself lay inside the entrance, the pieces moved out of the way to let the Archiwrecks in. What was left of them, anyways.

All of the cowards that Nutrose had seen earlier were dead. They hung from trees around the entrance. Their throats had been slit. They stared out with dead eyes.

Ruby cried out, and looked away. Goldmight stared ahead, grim. He patted Ruby on the shoulder, the Sarrofop sisters trying their best to console her. She sobbed, soon joined by Pidelle and Pidella.

Nutrose stood next to Bin. The child looked up, and said nothing. A tear rolled down the side of his face. It was one of confusion, of sorrow with no understanding for why it was going on.

“This was a message,” Nutrose said to Goldmight. “A warning that the Archiwrecks aren’t to be messed with.”

“Mmhmm…” Goldmight looked up at one of the men. “But was it for their enemies, or any Archiwreck who might be thinking of showing mercy?”

Nutrose shrugged.

“We go on.” Goldmight said. he moved into the cave. Bin followed behind, and then the girls. They had nowhere else to go.

Several of them might die here today, Nutrose thought. But they might also become the stronger for it.

He almost laughed. More a fool was he. This wasn’t a test. It wasn’t even real life.

This was power. Reality caught up to power, and experience explained why. That was truth.

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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