Chapter 36 (The Lucidity distillery)
Jekor pushed himself up onto the rocky bank and gasped for air. With the last of his strength, he pulled Kkaj out of the water. Panting, Jekor rolled Kkaj onto his back and performed CPR on him as the books had instructed.
Water spewed from Kkaj’s mouth in a coughing fit. His body convulsed before his chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm. His eyes fluttered open.
“Are you okay?” Jekor helped Kkaj sit up and patted him on the back. “I was worried you had drowned back there.”
“I’m just glad I didn’t end up crocobear food.” Kkaj brushed his fingers through his wet hair, and his sparkling purple eyes darted left and right.
Six paths led from this side of the riverbank with one on the other side. A small bridge led across the river and small vats — bigger than normally barrels — lined the walls. A sticky sweet smell hung in the air and made each breath cling to Jekor’s mouth. Upon further inspection, small tracks lead from teach path save for the center one and the one across the river.
What’s he looking for? Jekor opened his mouth.
Kkaj placed a finger to Jekor’s lips and shushed him. He whispered, “Do you hear that?”
Jekor fished the water from his ears.
Coming down the leftmost corridor, an angry woman’s voice bounced off the walls. Was that Ikiffar?
He nodded then leaned in close to Kkaj. “This has to be the Lucidity distillery.”
“The vats tell you that, fool.”
Jekor squinted, but he couldn’t make out the squiggly lines and shapes scrawled across each of the vats. “Sorry, years of burying my face in books as dulled my vision.”
Kkaj grunted. He climbed to his feet and rolled his shoulders. “Anyway, we need to go save Roffor.”
Kkaj swallowed. “I need you to promise that you won’t tell her that our bastard of a king is involved.”
“I’ve wanted him dead for so so long, but do you know why I haven’t killed him?”
“You said civil war earlier.”
“Basically. Though, now that his son has reached his first year, the country might not fall apart.” Kkaj moved towards the leftmost corridor.
Jekor followed. “Then … ?”
“Without the king leasing them, the Drunkzards would go on a rampage. This would encourage the other monarchs to invade in order to maintain peace and ensure the safety of JemKej’s citizens.”
“Th-th-that just can’t be true. If the other countries invaded, JemKej would be ripped to shreds and divided between the other nations.”
“And the nobility would fight, and a desolation like this would has never seen would take place.”
Jekor arched an eyebrow. “So, we can’t let Ikiffar know about the king’s involvement.”
“That’s right. I’ll give my life to her, and with that, her revenge will be sated.”
“But you still have to die!”
Kkaj shushed Jekor. “If my life will save the JemKej from war, then I’ll let her take it faster than a shot.”
“That’s just … but you’re innocent.”
“I’m far from innocent. I’ve done enough to warrant execution several times over.” Kkaj stared at his feet and bit into his lower-lip. “Especially for what I made Roffor go through because I wasn’t strong enough alone. And not avenging her … loss … .” He shook his head. “No. I deserve to die. I just hope this nation doesn’t burn with my corpse.”
Tears blurred Jekor’s vision, and he rested a hand on Kkaj’s shoulder. “You really are a good man. I’m sorry I misjudged you.”
“Don’t get sentimental. Just keep Ikiffar away from the king and Roffor safe.”
Jekor nodded, and together, they crept through the cave.
Ikiffar’s voice grew louder. She was shouting at someone.
Jekor wiped his eyes then stepped around Kkaj as the corridor opened into a library-sized cavern.
A massive conveyor belt stretched across the room with bottles resting atop it. A collection of vats sat at the back of the machine while crates were positioned on the right. The sour stink of vinegar mixed with the sweet scent of honey and tickled Jekor’s nose while the cool air pricked at his skin.
Beside the crates, Ikiffar towered over a hunched old man, poking him in the chest. “What kind of payment is that?”
The old man swallowed. “It’s the only kind of payment we accept. You need to —”
Ikiffar screamed then pulled a pistol from her Drunkzard vest. “Accept this.” She blew a hole through the old man’s head.
Blood splattered the wall behind him, and his body crumpled to the floor.
She kicked his corpse then spat on it. “I already told you that the monarchs will no longer be coming her.” She glanced to Roffor, who picked through the crates. Ikiffar replaced the pistol then lifted one of the bottles, draining its contents. “How many bottles do we have?”
Roffor scratched her head. “About —”
“Roffor?” Kkaj stumbled into the expansive cavern.
She spun, and her eyes grew wide. She sprinted across the room and wrapped Kkaj in a tight hug. She showered him with kisses. “I’m.” She kissed him again. “So.” Kiss. “Happy.” Kiss. “To.” Kiss. “See you.” Kiss. “Made it here.” Kiss. “Safely.” She lifted his chin and pressed her lips against his, holding him in a deep embrace.
Ikiffar coughed. “Kkaj?” She gulped. “Did Jekor … ?”
Jekor strolled out of the corridor and grinned. “Actually, I’m the one who kept him safe.”
Ikiffar scrambled forward, tears dripping from her chin. “I’m sorry I left you like that. It’s just —”
Taking a page from Roffor’s book, Jekor leaned forward and kissed Ikiffar, slipping his tongue into her mouth.
She moaned then wrapped her arms around Jekor’s neck.
He held the kiss for a long moment. “I’m glad that your safe.”
Kkaj held a hand out to Roffor and made his way to Ikiffar’s side. He dropped to one knee and bowed his head. “Let’s be done with it. Kill me then go live in peace, your revenge fulfilled.”
Roffor squealed. “No. Kkaj. You —”
A whistling breath exited Ikiffar’s mouth, and she scratched Kkaj’s head like he was some type of pet. “You know I can’t do that.”
Kkaj looked up. “What?”
Ikiffar strolled towards the bottles of Lucidity. “I know how much you fought to save the people.”
He glanced at Roffor who shrugged.
“I know who the responsible party is. I know what that bastard put you through.” She drained another bottle of Lucidity. “I also know that the other monarchs are just as guilty and should still be in JimKar as we speak.”
Kkaj shook his head. “No. That … that would create absolute chaos. Much worse —”
He clenched his eyes shut. “No, no, no.” He began to mumble to himself.
She strapped four more bottles into her vest then tossed one to Jekor. “Here you are, love. This should be enough for your research.” White energy wrapped around her hand, and a massive beam ripped through the other crates of Lucidity, destroying the distilling machine along with the other supplies.
Rumble! The cave began to shake. Rocks fell from the ceiling, crashing into the floor.
Ikiffar turned and pointed towards the far wall, releasing another white-hot beam of energy.
A violent tremor rippled through the cave.
After turning towards the door on the far side of the room, she clenched her fists. “Sorry to leave you again, love. But I have to take care of this world’s problems before they have a chance to escape.” She opened the door. “Please escape before this entire place comes down.”
“Ikiffar!” Jekor scrambled forward as the ground shook beneath him. “Please, wait for me!”
“Sorry.” Ikiffar disappeared around a curve in the corridor.
Roffor grabbed Jekor by the wrist and along with Kkaj, hauled the two men from the cavern. As they made it into the daylight, Jekor’s horse whinnied once it saw him. Ikiffar’s horse was still there. How was she —
A few feet away, white energy wrapped around Ikiffar, and her body lifted into the air. She rose higher and higher. A moment later, she bolted through the sky, flying towards JimKar at a mind-numbing speed.
Jekor’s jaw dropped, and his grip around the bottle of Lucidity — the last bottle in existence — tightened. Would his scholarship even matter if Kkaj were right? If the world fell into a chaotic war? Jekor stumbled towards his horse.
Next: Chapter 37