Chapter 1:

Cavity Combs

To Know You

Shane found Maya inside a tooth. In the Land of the Giants, Freecer, there was a resting ground for the lives lost in an ancient war he didn’t remember the name of. Among the decay and rolling grass hills was a giant’s tooth, preserved for untold millennia. It was massive, so much so that at its biggest point it was almost touching the clouds. Shane didn’t find it inconspicuous or particularly interesting to look at. He felt it blended naturally with the land, the hills surely caused by the sheer size of the giants slumbering in their graves.

It was early morning now, and the first light of the sun was just beginning to touch the earth. There was a mist lingering on the hills, and Shane felt it cool against his skin. Despite the majesty of his surroundings, he rode his horse across the turf with little regard for the flowers he trampled or the way he cut through the morning mist.

All Shane cared about right now was her. It had taken quite some searching to find this place. Maya had been kidnapped some time ago, and Shane had done all that he could to find her leading up until this moment. He was grateful that the tooth wasn’t hidden away in obscurity. He was tired of solving riddles and puzzles.

Shane's heart was loud in his ears, beating in perfect rhythm with the trotting of the horse’s hooves. He let out a breath of excitement, breathing blue flames into being. They were going so quickly that by the time the flames were in the air, they were already speeding past them, the flames threatening to burn his cheeks. Shane urged his horse to go even faster, having it reach impossible speeds as they sprinted across the meadow. In a time that he thought even professional horse riders and warriors would admire, he arrived at the tooth. From afar it was impossible to tell, but there were guards at the front of the tooth posted on both sides of an ornately carved door.

Both of the guards were dressed similarly to nuns, but their hair was uncovered, and their dresses had no sleeves. Their arms were noticeably toned, and he wondered if they used any kinds of weapons or strength magic. “Are you Shane Inoue?”

“Thanks for the invitation.”

Taking this for the answer it was, they both bowed. “Of course. Lady Maya said she was hoping you could attend.”

Shane had hardly read what the invitation was for, filled with joy at the knowledge that Maya was here, despite the anger he felt at her apparent kidnappers. As soon as he’d seen her name and read the location he set off from the village and came here. He didn’t know exactly what he was attending for, or why it seemed it was Maya that reached out after all this time, but he had no intention of letting this chance to see her again slip away.

Shane loved her, and he would save her.

Shane dismounted his horse, dropping to the ground with enough force to send the priestesses off balance. He reached into his satchel and produced two large fish. He threw one at each woman, smacking them in the face and causing them to scramble under of the weight of the large fish. They looked at him in bewilderment, the slime of the fish soaking their robes. “Gifts for you ladies, for helping Maya in my absence,” Shane explained.

He could tell they were both trying not to wrinkle up their nose at his offering. Shane couldn’t find it in him to feel bad for them. He had purposely gotten the smelliest fish he could find. Most people liked to focus on big revenge, but Shane believed you had to work from the petty to the murderous for maximum satisfaction. “They’re rare bonegrinders. They have great uses in potions and medicines. They’re also very delicious, despite their name.”

That piqued their interest. “I thought these were impossible to catch except for the great fishing masters! How did you obtain them?” The blonde priestess said brightly, no longer struggling under the weight of the fish and looking at it in fascination.

“Well, I’m a Fishing Master.”

They both seemed shocked and humbled by his admission. “I-I see. We appreciate it, then,” said the other priestess. Her hair was curly and red, the color reminding him of the color of a garnetfish. The blond priestess continued to stared at the fish with hearts in her eyes while the other handed her the other fish. “I’m Letitia. I will be your guide for the rest of your stay. Please follow me.” He looked up at the sky one last time before following her inside, handing the reigns to the other priestess while doing so. From here he could no longer see the top of the tooth. As he tried to catch a glimpse of the top, he wondered where Maya was inside this great tooth, and what fate had brought them here.

While the outside landscape was full of life even as it covered up death, the inside of the tooth was a place of great decay. At least, this is what Shane expected. Instead, it was startlingly beautiful and well preserved. While the outside of the tooth had some signs of chipping and wear, the moss of the fields slowly creeping up its sides, it looked like a castle on the inside. There were pillars of white bone made from the tooth lining both sides of the entryway, and they led to a grand staircase with a circular platform. He looked up, and the top of the tooth was nearly unfathomable. Off to the sides were pews a pearly white, and statues of people he didn’t know the names of.

The place had no outside light to speak of, mostly lit with lamps and chandeliers, the flames fueling them taking all kinds of colors. The colorful lights danced on the white walls, each oscillating spot of the light giving birth to new flames that came to life in a elaborate dance of their own. The lights unfolded a legend much like ones displayed in stained glass, depicting a story he wasn’t privy to, nor did he care about.

Letitia must have noticed his gaze lingering on the lights and chose to tell him about them. “Those are living flames. They tell the story of the ancient beginnings of the gods and prophesize their downfall at the hands of a human.”

“A human…” Shane muttered. “Why a human?” He looked her directly in the eye for the first time, her dark brown eyes sliding to the side in contemplation.

She seemed to ponder it for a moment before saying, “I apologize. To tell you the truth, it doesn’t have to be. Here our prophecy is that it’s a human, but there are other sects who believe that it will be another race. The point is that someone will overthrow the gods, and followers back the one mortal who they deem will dethrone them.”

He clenched his fist, his blue flames lighting up the interior of the tooth. Letitia eyed him warily. “How is this leader chosen?” he asked, fists still clenched tightly.

“By Fate. Or more like, Master Terra, who knows the future and the fate of the world.”

Shane had a feeling that the reason Maya was kidnapped was all due to this "fate" and quite frankly, he didn’t appreciate it. Still, he had to keep calm, or he’d be saddled with a fight before he’d even seen Maya. For all he knew, she really may not be here, and this was all just an elaborate trap on this Master Terra’s part to manipulate him into being on their side. He nodded at her, accepting her answer as they continued to walk in silence. “Do you know what we call this place?” she asked, seemingly uncomfortable in the silence.

“Not really. I didn’t read the invitation that much.”

She snorted, before quickly covering it with her hand. He graciously chose not to say anything. “This is the Cavity Combs. It was uninhabited for centuries until we came in and rebuilt it."

“Who is 'we'?”

“Oh, Bai Hu, or White Tiger. We were founded three centuries ago.”

“I see.”

“What, no questions?”

“Is Maya really here?”

She looked at him and then down at his feet. He had legs sleeves on, but his bare feet were flat on the floor. “You should be able to see for yourself, no?”

It’s true, he could. He had the ability to sense the people in the building through low-frequency sound waves. It was a minor ability he had gained from his fishing escapades. However, he still didn’t want to alert the entire place to his presence just yet. If he used it, his own presence will be noticed immediately. He wanted to avoid that until he got a better feel for the situation. Shane shook his head, his long bangs shifting to cover one eye. “It’s fine. I like surprises,” he reassured her.

She shrugged. “If you say so.”

They continued to walk through the Cavity Combs, the priestess deciding to give him detailed information on the place. Despite its massive appearance, most of the Cavity Combs were dedicated to books and tomes from around the world. Also, while some of the priestesses and priests lived here full-time, others still lived elsewhere or had families they returned to. Even in a cult, bills needed to be paid and people had lives. Somehow, it wasn’t like anything Shane had heard cults were like.

He pondered whether Maya had come here of her own volition. It was a painful thought, so much so that he didn’t notice when he was torn open by one of the sharp pieces of bone jutting out of one of the pews.

“Oh dear! That looks painful. Would you like me to get someone to heal it?”

Shane looked down at the blood on his arm and tried not to get lost in the color, dazed.

“Sir Inoue?”

He snapped out of it quickly. He couldn’t lose himself here. “Sorry. I was just thinking how useless this armor really is. I should take it off; it’s ridiculously heavy anyway.”

She smiled at him. “If you’d like, I can take you so you can get changed. After we get your arm looked at, of course.”

He gave her a small smile. “Thank you, Letitia.”

She looked like she been struck by lightning for a moment, before quickly brushing it off. “Y-You’re welcome! Follow me please! I’ll take you to our resident healer.”

He decided not to question the debacle and followed her up the bone staircase, his good hand smoothing over the smooth white bone of the railing as he climbed the steps. When they got to the top, there was an intricate symbol etched into the platform. They both got on it and Letitia flicked a switch. In less than a second, they were gently floating up through layers of bone, the view becoming grander and grander as he looked down below at the array of lights. He noticed that many of them coalesced in the middle in a grand kaleidoscope.

“Cool right? The Master has a flair for the dramatic.”

“Did she design it?”

“No, but she commissioned it. There’s a famous braquean that did it for her.”

A braquean. He’d never met one, despite his spent fishing in some of the grandest bodies of water the continent of Agronder had to offer. They were rare, and most of them lived in Lumiere. “Was it ugly?”

“Ah, well…they’re not known for being very attractive, but Brine had his own charm.”

She sighed. “I was the one helping him a lot while he was here, and he was…sweet.”

He looked down at her and blinked. “They’re asexual, you know. You’re waiting for heartbreak.”

She whipped around and looked at him. “T-That’s not what I was saying!”

She briskly walked off at they got to the 5th layer, vehemently trying to convince him that it wasn’t like that. He believed her, but he was admittedly amused by how quickly her façade as a put together priestess shattered so quickly. “So? Where is the healer?”

She grumbled at him, clearly able to tell he wasn’t listening before entering a room at the corner of the hall. The walls were, surprisingly, decorated with a blue patterned wallpaper that reminded him of the cottage he owned back in the village.

She quickly pulled her herself back together and addressed the woman sipping tea in the room. “Greetings, Lady Florence.”

The woman took another sip of her tea before placing it down on a little saucer, while Shane took her presence in silently. She had graying hair, and she looked middle-aged, maybe a little older. Her eyes were still a bright green, brighter than the grass of the fields he just traveled through. “My name is Shane Inoue.” He held up his bleeding arm. “Could you fix this for me?”

“He hurt himself in the main hall on the bone,” Letitia explained. “Since he is a guest, I was hoping you could heal him, and perhaps procure him some more suitable clothing for the ceremony?”

The ceremony. So that was why he was here. To be a witness to something. But what? Was it connected to Maya? Was she going to be involved in some kind of…human sacrifice? Whatever the reason, whatever type of ceremony it might be, he wouldn’t allow any harm to come to Maya. He simply wouldn’t.

He was too preoccupied with his thoughts to notice the way Florence smiled at him. “Sure,” she said softly. “Anything for our dear guest.”

Real Aire
Joe Gold
Taylor Victoria