Seneca knew she had to return. Jake needed her, so there was no other choice. She couldn’t abandon him. She didn’t know how she could possibly help, but she had to try. She could feel the blood still trickling from the gashes beneath her wings. She cringed at the thought of her wings being shredded––she knew that was the intent. She didn’t want the fear to consume her, but she was dreadfully afraid. She inhaled deeply and began to recite, in a quiet whisper, “You can do this, Seneca. Get a grip! Just do something…anything!”
Gradually, she began to relax. Her hand found the opening of her pocket. She slid her hand inside and felt the warmth of the stone beneath her fingertips. She clasped it in her hand and raised it to her face. It had saved her in the cavern from near drowning and had revealed her wings for the first time. Could this be the answer she sought? She wondered if it could somehow help rescue Jake. Without warning, a deep and booming voice called up to her from below.
“Seneca, do not use the Stone of Fate! Put it away and stay put until I call for you!”
“Who said that?” she whispered, searching the ground below. It was too dark to make out anything other than the trees. She saw no obvious movement, as she circled in hopes of finding the source.
“I am here to help. Jake is in grave danger! Do not intervene!” he commanded in a bellowing tone.
Seneca’s head ached; his presence was forceful. He had shifted to communicating telepathically. Great, yet another mind reader, she thought. She realized that the intruder into her thoughts would likely pick up on her disgruntled attitude. She shifted her attention to his message.
“Who are you?” she shouted into the night air. She knew it wasn’t necessary to speak out loud, but she felt compelled.
“I am Rileau, and I am your mentor. We will be acquainted soon enough. You must not return to this battle. I will address it,” he said sternly. “You are not prepared to handle this! Do not speak aloud again––it is too dangerous.”
“But––” she began and then decided to remain quiet. He had already chastised her and she didn’t want to make things worse. She knew he was speaking the truth. Her ability to help was grim, at best. She had suffered too much and was traumatized. Seneca began circling over the battleground below, and although she couldn’t see anything, she suddenly felt hopeful. She focused on the notion that Jake would survive with the help of their mentor. The more she thought about it, the better she felt. She was confident that he would emerge as the victor. She refused to let any doubt vanquish this belief. The skirmish beneath her suddenly grew louder. She rationalized that Rileau had arrived and a fierce fight was underway.
“Help him, Rileau,” she pleaded softly. She hoped her voice carried to his ears below, since she didn’t dare shout. She resisted the urge to fly closer.
Rileau entered the glen undetected. He determined it was detrimental to address Jake before engaging in battle. The murkgoblins had his arms pinned to a large beech tree; its canopy covered most of the area around it.
Jake had endured countless hits and tears to his torso, but the way they restrained him was agonizing. They pulled his arms tightly around the base of the tree. He felt ligaments being stretched away from his shoulder sockets. It took every ounce of his fading strength not to scream. He refused to give them the satisfaction. He wondered if they used the beech tree specifically for dismembering enemies. Jake knew his time was short. He would not be able to hold on much longer. The pain was overwhelming.
Rileau surveyed the bodies spread about; they remained motionless in various positions. It was evident that Jake had put up a great fight and had successfully tussled several of them into submission. Those that took on the task of restraining him were also engaged in taunting. The others clawed at his exposed skin and intermittently kicked and punched at his midsection.
Rileau eased in closer; and the murkgoblins snapped their heads around upon sensing his approach. The two that were inflicting most of the clawing turned and faced him. They hissed and snarled in preparation to protect their captive prey. The remaining two tightened their grip around Jake. He swallowed hard to suppress a scream.
“Jake, you are fixed to the elements that are inherent to you. You must use your natural powers of protection now!” Rileau commanded.
“But how?” Jake moaned. He could feel himself drifting into unconsciousness. His knees were weak and he slumped. The murkgoblins held him fixed to the tree; they did not allow him to fall. They took turns pummeling him in his chest and stomach. The others did an effective job in not allowing Rileau to get close enough to rescue him. They swung at him with their bark-like arms, threatening each approach with their jagged claws.
“It is within you!” Rileau bellowed as he grabbed the horns of an advancing murkgoblin that came within his reach. “Concentrate, Jake!”
Rileau tossed the creature high into a tree. It hit and broke several limbs as it came crashing down and landed on a wide branch. It was there that the murkgoblin found its final resting place. It didn’t move from the straddled position as its arms and legs hung lifeless over the sides. Rileau readied for any subsequent attacks.
“Come on, Jake!” he yelled.
“I can’t,” Jake moaned and then blacked out as a blow connected to his right temple.
His captors released their hold and allowed him to collapse into the slush beneath his feet. Considering him no longer a threat, the murkgoblins turned their attention to Rileau. He beckoned them to approach, and they complied by rushing him from all sides with claws extended.