Lead vs Fantasy 5-5

5-5 Biomes Part 3 (Not of 1)

 

Facing the exit of the oblong room’s doorway, the Captain stretched his back.  He was getting too old to spend so much time bent over, sifting through the dirt.  Still, he couldn’t bring himself to sit back and watch someone else work.  No matter how much Edge offered.

“I told you it’d be better to let me do it all,” Edge declared, giving the Captain a pointed look.

“If you did, we’d still be stuck in here for another thirty minutes,” the Captain responded, quickly straightening his back and moving towards the exit.

“If I had, I would’ve been less careful,” Edge declared with a shrug as he moved to take position in front of the Captain.

“That’s reassuring,” the Captain replied sarcastically.

“We didn’t find anything, anyway,” Edge declared, lowering his voice as they headed into unknown territory.

The Captain almost lectured about the importance of diligence and all that, but then he thought better of it.  The kid already knew all that.  Instead, he let the matter drop and focused his attention on the surroundings.  They were currently in a dark hallway, headed to something that wasn’t a hallway.  Based on the last two doors they’d passed through, it’d probably be another pointless room, but he still had to be vigilant.

After a few minutes of walking through the dark, narrow space, the pair exited the hallway… presumably.  The space hadn’t gotten any less dark, or much less narrow.  The only change was that the walls their flashlights illuminated were about half a foot farther away and not really walls anymore.  Instead, they were a rough, craggy rock face.  All uneven and angular.

As the Captain tested the air, he felt that it’d grown slightly more humid and stagnant.  Dank.  That seemed to be the right word.  The fragrance spoke of a world where rotting was keen to occur, if all the matter within it wasn’t be far beyond that stage.

“Was this place abandoned under construction?” Edge asked skeptically from the front.

The Captain frowned at his feet, invisible in the darkness.  Then he answered, “I didn’t hear anything about that, but I didn’t hear anything about anything.”

“You’d think it’d be something you’d hear about,” Edge complained as his steps grew more vigilant.

The Captain nodded at the statement.  Then he smiled to himself and said, “It could be worse.  There could be a unicorn here.”

Edge stopped moving for a second, before easily responding, “For some reason, I’m not worried so much about that.”

“Are you not?” the Captain asked, still smiling to himself.  “I’ve heard they’re the worst kind of monster.  Because they’re fast.”

“And have horns,” Edge finished for him.  “Yes, I’ve heard that somewhere.”

As Edge turned back ot look at the Captain, they both gave a nostalgic laugh.  Like that, the gloomy atmosphere that’d hung around since they’d been separated from the team lightened a bit.  After a few seconds of laughter, the Captain’s mood turned wistful as he remembered a time long past.

Edge turned back to the front and started progressing again as he said, “In all honesty, I don’t know whether I should or shouldn’t expect to find any monsters here.  The atmosphere feels too dead, but there’s something about it I don’t like.”

“If any monsters came here recently, you’d think they’d have sprung the trap we did,” the Captain responded as he looked at some ancient scratches on the wall.  He wondered if this place really was abandoned before it was finished.  That’d explain why it felt so strange.

“They could be really lucky.  We’ve witnessed stranger things,” Edge responded from the front.  “Either that or they’re smart enough to unspring the traps eventually.”

“If the unspringing still works,” the Captain muttered pessimistically.

“How long do we search before we give up and blow the gates?” Edge asked, once again stopping and turning to study the Captain’s face.

The Captain staggered back as Edge’s flashlight briefly passed over him.  Then he rubbed his eyes as he answered, “We don’t have a lot of space to work with.  I don’t like the idea of the shrapnel… or the pressure, to be honest.”

“We don’t have any rations, better to take the risk than starve to death,” Edge responded.  His voice had that adjutant air that it got whenever he tried to sound like a proper vice-captain.  Though, his face was still invisible in the darkness.

“I know,” the Captain responded with a deep nod.  “That’s why we won’t be too thorough investigating here.  Not that we could be, considering we can’t see.”

The Captain brought one hand up to scratch at his brow as he did some rough estimations.  Then he said, “If we don’t reach the end of this area in four hours, we’ll head back and blow the gates.  Then, if the rest of the team hasn’t assembled already, we’ll go get them.”

“Sounds like as good a plan as any,” Edge declared.  His voice was strangely gruff as he turned back to the unknown darkness.

Listening to that, the Captain raised his eyebrow and asked, “Are you worried?  Being separated, I mean.”

“Of course I am…”  Edge answered quickly.  Then, after a few seconds, he added.  “Though, I don’t like the way you said that.”

“You know, it’s okay to play favorites,” the Captain continued, casually ignoring Edge’s complaint.  “You’re the only one who cares about that.”

“I can’t afford to be distracted on a job.  It gets people killed.”

“You really think you can avoid that?”  the Captain asked, running his fingers on the wall and then wiping them on his pants when they came back moist.  “The distraction part, I mean.  Then again, you can’t really avoid the death part, either.”

“I can do my best with both,” Edge responded resolutely.

“Don’t think f purple elephants.  What did you think of?”

“An elephant with a line through it?  …All that proves is that this’d all be easier if you didn’t bring it up.”

“It’d be easier if you stopped fretting about it so much,” the Captain rebutted forcefully.

“Fork,” Edge declared without warning.

“You’ll have to come up with something better if you want to change the topic.”

“No,” Edge responded, waving his flashlight across the path in front of them.  “Fork.”

The Captain looked at the path that split into a ‘y’ configuration.  The two passages in front of them both seemed about as narrow and unpolished as the one they were one.  As could be expected, they both disappeared into darkness.

“We read from left to right,” the Captain declared after a second’s thought.

“So left then?” Edge asked as he already started heading down the passage.

The Captain followed him and the pair ventured forth into more non-descript cave.  This path seemed to have a cure to it, but that didn’t mean much in the darkness.  The only real difference was that the wall to the forward right seemed a bit closer.

After they’d taken a few steps into the new passage, Edge asked, “Should we get ready to head south?  Winter isn’t too far off and you’ve already done what you came to do, right?”

Hearing that question, the Captain’s mind was force to switch gears.  Any thoughts of Edge’s problems were foisted out for thoughts of his own.  If he was being honest, he wanted to stay in Narabesque, but he knew that he shouldn’t.  The longer he stayed the harder it was to leave.

As the Captain considered breaking that news to Evelyn, he remembered what she’d told him and he said, “Maybe we should stay.  With the border problems they’ve been having, they can use all the help they can get.”

“That’s exactly why I want to leave,” Edge rebutted quickly.  Then he hesitantly continued, “Well, not only that, but you know.  “Even if we can kill century and above monsters from the wastes every month, you think the country can afford to pay us to?  For how long can that last?”

“They might not be restricted to century class for long.”

“All the more reason to leave,” Edge responded exactly as expected.  He wasn’t wrong either, but his callous tone made the Captain want to argue all the same.

“We can’t just abandon people who need us,” the Captain declared passionately.

“They don’t need us,” Edge responded easily, bringing his hand up to run it through his hair.  “No one team can make a difference against a millennial class.  Not a real one that isn’t distracted and spread across twenty miles.”

“We did,” Captain rebutted simply.

Edge stopped and turned back to stare into the Captain’s barely visible face.  “I can’t afford that price this time.  Not again.  Neither can you.”

The Captain could only nod.  Even as the words came out of his mouth, they made his own heart sink.  He couldn’t argue anymore.  If there was any chance of an emergency request being called, it was leave as soon as possible.

He couldn’t even argue from an emotional level.  Narabesque wasn’t a small country.  The knights and mercenaries there should be able to kill or repel whatever came at them.  Even if they couldn’t they could buy enough time for the city to evacuate.  There was no way Evelyn or Nari would get caught up in that.  The country’s top researcher and a vice-president from one of the big four were both too important to lose.  Though, even if he knew that, it was hard to accept.

After the Captain spent a few moments in quiet contemplation, Edge continued his assault.  “We can’t afford to be here when the southern roads get snowed in.  Narabesque is not that cheap of a city and there’s too much competition here.  Champ doesn’t have that much leeway on his payments.”

As the Captain listened to Edge’s arguments, he caught some movement on the border of his vision.  Then he reached out towards Edge’s back and harshly whispered, “Quiet! Stop!”

After years of experience, Edge knew when not to argue.  He immediately froze in place.  Then the Captain thrust one hand before Edge’s face and pointed to the ceiling in front of them.  Edge spent a while looking curiously.  Then he went rigid as he saw what the Captain had.

It was barely anything.  In the darkness, it could be considered some mistake.  Their eyes playing tricks on them.  However, they both knew it wasn’t.  The slightly iridescent patch of shadows clung to the ceiling a few feet ahead of them.  So tantalizingly far, and yet all the more anxiety inducing for it.

“Should we back up?” Edge whispered, his voice barely eclipsing the sighs of a dying ant.

“Can’t risk it.  Just crouch down,” the Captain responded, almost merely mouthing the words.  “I’ll take it.”

Edge nodded, his face close enough to at least make out the movement.  Then he slowly sunk below the Captain’s vision.  Once he had, the Captain slowly drew the handgun from his right thigh.  He did it as slowly and quietly as he could, but still had to wince at the slight whine of the holster at relinquishing its mate.

The Captain carefully took aim at where the head should be.  It was impossible to make out in the darkness, but he could guess based on the body position.  Once his sights were set a few inches to the side of the iridescent patch, the Captain pulled the trigger.

The sound of the gunshot echoed harshly through the cramped passage and even the Captain had to wince at it.  However, his hearing had returned in time to hear a hard thump signifying success.  After the lizard fell from the ceiling, Edge quickly lunged forward to check the body.  He had his knife in his hand to deliver a final blow.

That was unnecessary, however, and he quickly put it away.  Then he grabbed the lizard, which should be the size of a medium dog, by a foot and dragged it over. “That was a good catch,” Edge declared happily.

The Captain nodded and looked over his quarry.  For an opal lizard, it was pretty average.  It’s size and weight were nothing special.  The scales covering its back shined with all the colors of the rainbow, depending on where you looked from.  Truly a fabulous sight.

It really was good.  Depending on the demand at the time, they could buy half a rover with this one corpse.  A wonderful and relatively passive monster, the only obnoxious thing about them was how skittish they were.  As a rule, opal lizards have a strong sense for danger and damn fast legs.  This one must’ve assumed it’d be shrouded by the darkness.  That’s the only reason they were able to get the drop on it.  Either that or it was asleep.  Whatever the explanation, it was a good get.  Mostly.

The Captain reluctantly received the corpse from Edge and held it up by its back ankle.  Then they started walking again.  Privately, the Captain prayed for the rest of the trip to be short.  The corpse was still dripping from its mangled head.  They didn’t have anything to string it up on and if the blood didn’t drain properly, it’d be worth less.  Thus they had to carry it with them.

If he wanted to avoid being covered in slimy blood, he had to spend the rest of their walk with one arm stretched out behind him awkwardly.  Not only was it a little more vulnerable than his usual walking posture, but most importantly, it was uncomfortable.  His joints weren’t as young as they used to be.  That’s the fib he would’ve told if it wasn’t so natural for the knife user to take point.

Like that, they continued for a while.  The darkness refused to abate and the stubbornly similar, stone passages only got more labyrinthine.  They continued to take the left-most passage for consistence, which made things easy.  Until they hit their first dead end and had to backtrack.

Even that event was uneventful.  The dead end was truly that.  The passage simply died.  A wall appeared in front of them that was much like the ones beside them.  It hid nothing of value.  It only served to muddy their directions.  The Captain was fairly sure they’d gone left, left, right, first from the left, second from the left, left.  However, Edge insisted that he’d reversed one of them.  After that difference in memory was revealed, it was mostly what they talked about for the remainder of their time in the dark.

“I specifically remember that we went second from the left first.  Then the next passage was first from the left,”  Edge insisted for the tenth time.  “I remember thinking, ‘unlucky that the first time we have to change it up, we have to do it twice.’”

                “But it wasn’t the first time we didn’t go left,” the Captain rebutted, furrowing his brow.  “We went right at the y fork before it.”

“Yeah, but that was the first time we didn’t just go left or right,” Edge explained impatiently.  “That’s what counts because that’s when it got complicated.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“It doesn’t make sense that you can’t even remember some simple directions,” Edge rebutted petulantly, kicking a pebble into the wall next to him.

“I remember just fine,” the Captain responded, refusing to back down.

Just as Edge was about to respond, he stopped and instead asked, “Is there something in front of us?”

The Captain squinted into the darkness before them and could barely make out what he was talking about.  It wasn’t anything in particular and it didn’t have a shape.  It was simply a glow.  Somewhere ahead of them was some light ad they’d finally gotten close enough to see that.

Rather than being flushed with hope and dashing forward, the two of them grew cautious with the change.  They stayed where they were for a few seconds before slowly moving forward.  As they did so, the light grew brighter and more distinct until it finally took on a distant, rectangular shape.

“A door?” Edge asked, stopping again as soon as he could identify it.

“It looks that way,” the Captain responded.  The situation was too strange to speak with much commitment, however.

“So they left however much tunnel unfinished and put a real door at the end of it?”  Edge asked, his tone skeptical as he stared at the distant portal.  It was as if he wanted it to relent and confess it secrets.

“Certainly weird.”

“Weird is bad.”

“Yes,” the Captain responded slowly.  “But we don’t have a lot of choice.”

“We could turn around.”

“And risk blowing ourselves to hell getting back to our car.”

“When you put it like that…”

As Edge finished his statement, he started inching forward again.  In a few seconds, they found the familiar cave walls replaced with the ancient stone brick.  After a little bit more, they exited this new hallway and found the source of the light.

It was a medium-sized room, larger than the debris rooms, but smaller than the cylindrical courtyard.  The ceiling was covered with glowing crystals that covered the space in a sterile white light.  The room itself was filled with stuff.  Not debris, or fragments that were once items.  Actual things.  That people might be able to use.  That is, if they were useful.

The large, waist-high counters that bordered the room were covered in glass things.  The best word would probably be jars.  They had a very science-ish feel to them, so beaker may be better, but they were thoroughly sealed shut.  The Captain couldn’t find any mechanism to open them, even after picking them up.  Inside the various sizes of beaker jars was a thick, translucent fluid and something biological.

Edge stepped forward and picked up a beaker jar that contained what looked like a spikey fetus and held it up to the light as he asked, “This is a lab, right?”

“Something like that,” the Captain responded.  Following his subordinate’s lead he picked up a container near him.  Holding the thing up to his eyes, he gently shook it and watched the disturbingly human thing inside bounce off the walls.

“What were they studying?” Edge asked, growing bored with his jar and picking up another.

“Something biological…”

“Like genetics?” Edge asked absently as he looked into a jar filled with a fully grown bat.  “You think they were trying to make themselves taller?”

The Captain put down his jar and furrowed his brow.  “Dwarves were dwarves, why would they want to be taller?”

“Cause taller is better,” Edge answered simply, not even turning to look at the Captain.

“I hear they lived for twice as long as we do, maybe that’s cause they’re blood didn’t have to travel as far.”

“And Elves lived for ten times as long as we do,” Edge answered, facing the Captain just so he could roll his eyes.  Then he furrowed his brow and corrected, “Live for ten times…  Anyway, it’s only because they can control the fundamental forces of nature.  Which is cheating.”

“Except the dwarves couldn’t,” the Captain responded.

“Fine,” Edge replied, throwing up his hands exaggeratedly and almost knocking one of the jars onto the floor.  “They made tools that controlled the fundamental forces of nature.  Basically the same thing.”

“We do that too,” the Captain rebutted, still not particularly invested in the conversation, but curious where it’d go.

“Yeah, but we do it a not cheating way.”

“How so?”

“Because, given the right materials and knowledge, a dwarf could make a gun,” Edge answered.  Then he grabbed the spikey fetus jar off the table and thrusted it in the Captain’s face.  “I have no idea how I would even start making a jar fetus.”

“If I needed that, you wouldn’t be the first person I’d go to,” the Captain responded, gently pushing the jar away.

“Yeah, well, they did other more impressive things, too,” Edge faltered as he put returned the jar to the counter.

“Quite the argument,” the Captain observed sarcastically.

As Edge said something unimportant, the Captain’s eyes were drawn to the deformed biological specimens on the table.  There were a few animalistic things in there, but many of them had a really humanoid shape, if deformed and terrible.  That bothered him for some reason.  After a few seconds, he thought of the reason and scowled.

“Let’s go,” the Captain gruffly commanded.

Edge looked over at him curiously and asked, “Don’t you think we should find some to take?  It’s very unique, could be what we were sent to find.”

“It’s absolutely what we were sent for,” the Captain spat out.  “We aren’t taking it.  We’re leaving without it.  We’ll blow the gates and go home.”

Edge’s face grew more confused as he looked back and forth between the Captain’s stern expression and the jars on the counter.  Eventually he gave up and asked, “What?”

“Who do you think would send us to get ancient fetuses from a dwarven ruin?”  the Captain asked, his irritation making his tone unfairly impatient.

For a second, Edge thought over that.  Then his eyes shone with understanding.  Then he frowned.

As the Captain watched that transformation, he continued, “She knew I didn’t want anything to do with it.  She knew I was against her research, but still, she made use of my niece to send me on her errand.  Well, she doesn’t get anything from it, then!”

“Calm down,” Edge tried evenly.

“I am calm!” the Captain rebutted loudly.  “I’m just angry!”

“Angry isn’t calm.”

“She doesn’t respect me at all.  How can I not be angry?”  The Captain picked up a nearby jar and attempted to throw it against the wall.  Then he remembered how old it was and couldn’t do it.  After a few seconds, he placed it back on the counter lamely.

“She respects you,” Edge answered, still using a frustratingly even tone.  “You just don’t understand each other.”

“I understand her,” the Captain rebutted quickly.  “She just doesn’t understand me.  Because she doesn’t care to try.”

“Can’t we just let this drop for now?  We need the money.  Champ needs the money.  Especially if we’re gonna use c4-“

“No!” the Captain interrupted, finally turning a truly angry face towards Edge.  “I can’t just let it go.  I could never just let it go!  She is in Narabesque, our friends are there, my sister is there.  What she’s doing is going to kill them all!”

“That’s an exaggeration,” Edge responded, still keeping his face expressionless in the face of the Captain’s anger.

“It will kill some of them.  It’ll kill her!”  The Captain responded, loosing no momentum as he ceded the point.  “I left because I thought it’d make them reconsider, but they didn’t.  Now it’s been fifteen years and this has become life.  All I can do anymore is pray that they fail.  How can I do anything to help her research?  How can you ask that of me?   How can she?”

Edge closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  “I understand.  We’ll drop it and leave.”

Seeing his subordinate lowering his gaze, the Captain calmed himself quickly.  “Let’s start back.   We’ll probably have to spend tonight at the camp, but we should be back in Narabesque before sundown tomorrow.”

As Edge seemed to be lost in thought, the Captain felt like he heard something behind him.  He quickly spun around and searched.  There was the empty stone wall and the dark doorway opposite from where they entered.  For a second, the Captain could barely make out some blur of movement. Then nothing.

The Captain cautiously gripped the gun on his right hip as he stared down the scene.  He waited for something to present itself.  Nothing did for a couple minutes.  Then he slowly turned to look back.  There he saw Edge, still distracted and standing over the glass jars.

“Did you hear something just then?” the Captain asked, his voice a little hushed as he pricked his ears.

“No,” Edge answered simply, turning around to stare at the Captain.  After a few seconds, he recognized the situation and shifted to stare past him.

The Captain turned back and cautiously regarded the unknown door again.  He wondered if he was just getting paranoid.  That was most likely.  However, he couldn’t discount the possibility he wasn’t.  If there really was something behind them, he didn’t want to fight it while running back through the dark caves.  Better to face it in the light.

After a few seconds, the Captain was prepared to give up and return.  Then he heard the gentle sound of small feet padding on stone.  That was when he saw it… her… it…?  her…?  It was a girl.  It looked like one, at least.  A small child with short, golden hair and an innocent smile.  She stood in the doorway for a few seconds before retreating back into the unknown.

It wasn’t a child.  It wasn’t a human.  No way it was.  Best to just leave.  But…

“No way that’s not a trap,” Edge commented cynically from behind.

The Captain knew that.  Still, he couldn’t get the thought out of his head.  Was there a village nearby?  Could someone have wandered in here?  He couldn’t discount the possibility.  A lone girl wandering through the ruins might not set off whatever trigger they had coming in.  There was no way that was true, but if it was, he couldn’t just leave it.  That thought pulled at him painfully.  Then he came to a conclusion.

“If it is something dangerous, best to go ahead and deal with it now,” the Captain declared, trying to keep his voice as even as he could.  “We don’t want it to follow us through the dark.  We’d be too vulnerable there.”

The Captain spent a few seconds thinking about his balance of responsibilities.  Then he added, “You wait here.  I’ll go ahead-“

“I’ll come too,” Edge responded.

The Captain could almost hear Edge rolling his eyes, but he said nothing about it as he moved towards the door in front of him.  In spite of the attitude, the Captain couldn’t help feeling that he had a good subordinate.  He was really proud of how far the dirty brat had come.  Though, he said nothing about that either.

The two men ventured into the unknown.  First they found themselves in a very known hallway.  The same as all the others in the ruins.  After a few seconds, they emerged into a massive room.  Its ceiling was as high as the cylindrical courtyard, but its scope was much more massive.

The boxy room looked like it could house a legion in a pinch.  The back and side walls were lined with what looked to have been machinery at one point.  Now it sat as chunks of rusted metal and shards of glass.  At various places, the Captain felt that he could make out the shapes of gears in the wreckage, but he didn’t spend long confirming.  His vision was draw more to the center of the room.

There sat a hulking statue whose head almost brushed the ceiling.  It looked to be made after a man.  A man by the common definition, not a male dwarf.  You could tell by the proportions.  Whoever it was modeled after, it didn’t do them justice.  At least he hoped it didn’t.  The artist hadn’t bothered adding the fine touches.  The skin wasn’t smoothed at all.  It still gave the impression of a man hastily assembled form unpolished stones.  The only concession to detail was the addition of a face.  Not that it was much of one.  It was hard and angular and gave a sense of cold judgement that made even the Captain uncomfortable.

On top of the massive head that contained that face, perched a small, human girl.  She was sitting on the flat stone and smiling down at them, bemusedly.  The Captain and Edge spent a while watching her and she returned their gazes.  After a few seconds of this stalemate, the Captain took a couple steps forward and opened his mouth to say something.  Then he faltered.  He had no idea what to say.  He was growing increasingly sure she wasn’t a human.  However, if she was and he scared her away, it would be bad.

Before the Captain could say anything, the girl seemed to decide something and nodded to herself.  Then her smile turned wicked… though that word didn’t fit her childish face.  Perhaps mischievous?  Either way, the look didn’t give the Captain a good feeling.  He was caught between speaking, drawing his gun, and leaving.  Then… something happened.

As much as he would try in the future, the Captain could never entirely make sense of what transpired next.  The girl placed both hands on the stone statue beneath her.  Then… something flowed from her into the statue.  That wasn’t exactly right, but it wasn’t wrong either.  Then, the statue, that looked to be made of boulders awkwardly stitched together, revealed that it truly was.

The large stones that made up the statue’s bulk started to slowly separate.  Between them were strung thick, black cables of some kind.  The Captain didn’t have the courage to confirm, but the way they pulsed and writhed made them look more organic than mechanical.

As the Captain and Edge watched in awe, the statue stretched its body and started to move.  With its first, lumbering step forward, the Captain swore he heard a high-pitched laughter.  Then his better senses took ahold of him.

“No sense fighting that,” the Captain declared, still gaping at the stone juggernaut before him.

Edge nodded in agreement.  Then both men immediately turned around and ran out of the room.  Once they’d passed through the entirely human-sized doorway, they felt a little safer and the Captain turned his head to look at the spectacle behind him.  Then he stopped feeling safe at all.

The massive construct, reaching the small door in one stride, showed no signs of slowing down at all.  Instead, with the sound of a city being sieged by catapults, the individual boulders that made up the golem all fell onto the ground in a heap.  Then they started to slowly flow forward, as if a chaotic and segmented snake.

The Captain was stunned for a second as he took in that sight.  Then he doubled his speed. A few seconds later, there was a small crash as the first of the golem’s boulders plowed through the narrow hallway after them.  Both the Captain and Edge tried to ignore the noise and, indeed, everything else.  They simply put all their strength into their legs.

After a brief moment in the glow of the laboratory, they once again plunged into the darkness of the caves.  A few seconds later, a renewed chorus of crashing and banging signaled that the golem had done the same.

“How does it move like that!?” Edge shouted as he desperately moved his feet.

“I don’t know, dwarves,” the Captain answered, glancing back to barely grasp the silhouette of an avalanche chasing after them.  It was hard to see in the dark, but seeing it at all said it was way too close.

“And what was with that girl?!”  Edge continued, bouncing off one of the walls in his haste to escape.  “She was creepy as hell.  Was she an undead?”

“Worry about that later!”  the Captain ordered.

The pair ran with only the incessant grinding and rumbling behind them to punctuate their movements.  Then they came to a small area where the cave widened to branch into two forks, or this time, merge into one hall.  Coming the reverse way, it was easy.  They continued running forward and found the correct path.

Barely pausing at the branch, they continued forward for a few seconds.  Then Edge asked, “Is it getting louder?”

The Captain looked back to see their pursuer.  He couldn’t speak for certain, but it seemed like the figure was a little less obscured by shadows.  The Captain’s heart sank at that revelation and he couldn’t bring himself to answer.

Edge didn’t wait to hear.  “Screw this,” he declared.  Then he spent a few seconds rummaging around the pouch on his back.  When he’d finished, he threw something on the wall without stopping or looking back.

The Captain looked at the small device barely visible in Edge’s hand.  Then he looked back at the equally obscured white blob in the passage behind them.  When he put those things together, he quickly said, “Wait!”

“Cover your ears and don’t stop running!” Edge shouted, not bothering to listen to his captain’s desperate warning.  Then, Edge pressed the button on the detonator he was holding.

Before the Captain could even process that movement, the passage behind him turned into a roaring dragon.  His back felt a flash of heat and a deafening roar robbed his consciousness for a few seconds.  Then a wave of pressure picked up his body and threw him forward.

The next thing the Captain remembered, he was on his knees, covered in darkness.  For a second, he worried that he’d died or been trapped in rubble.  Then he remembered where he was and had a few successful experiments at moving his arms.

The Captain forced himself to his feet and found Edge trying and failing to offer a hand in the darkness.  “That was reckless,” the Captain declared in his most reprimanding tone.

“It worked, though,” Edge responded, probably giving one of his cheeky grins.

The Captain ignored that and looked to their rear.  There he saw a wall of collapsed rock.  That was at least something.  If they could stop the golem, then it might’ve been worth it.  Then something dawned on him.

“If you used the c-4 here, how are we going to blow the gates to get outside?” the Captain asked, once again dressing down his subordinate.  This safety was worth nothing if they had to sacrifice their tickets out of the ruins to achieve it.

“Lotus has more,” Edge declared with a wave of his hand.  “It’ll be fine.  Let’s get out of here.”

The Captain was going to give one more reprimand before leaving.  Then a dull thud from behind them interrupted him.  The Captain turned back to the fallen rocks.  As another loud thud rang out, some dust was violently thrown up from the debris.

“We should still be running!”  The Captain shouted, taking off before he could hear Edge’s response.

Like that, the pair continued bouncing and jostling through the blind cave as the thudding from behind grew more persistent.  After about a minute, the thudding gave way to a single, clear crash.  Then the chorus of the golem’s pursuit sounded again.  The only reassurance they had was that it was quieter than before.

A few seconds after the golem broke through the blockage, they arrived at their second branching path.  This time, the cave opened up into a circular room.  Still small compared even to the laboratory, but it was an impressive mansion by the cave’s standards.  In this case, it was given such a grand space to accommodate the seven possible exits it had.

The Captain wasted no time in counting out the door they’d come from the first time and taking it.  Even if they had a momentary lead, they didn’t have time to hesitate.  The pair silently fled through more narrow rock tunneling.  Then, after a few seconds, they came to another split path and froze.  There were only two options.  That’d usually be a boon, but the next choice was supposed to have five options.

“Shit!”

“I told you it was second first,” Edge declared, almost incomprehensively.

The Captain looked back and thought over their actions.  No way they back on the right path before the golem enters the passage they were in.  They had to think of a way around it.  Though, such a thing probably didn’t exist.

“Maybe one of these leads back to one of the other passages,” Edge observed, looking at the two paths before them.

“We have no guarantee they aren’t both dead ends,” the Captain rebutted, biting his lip as he found himself thinking in circles.  He could hear the sounds of the golem getting closer.  “Even if we do get to another passage, we’ll have no idea where we are.  We can’t go running blind through the dark.  We’ll get caught eventually.”

“So we just give up and get crushed here?” Edge asked irritably.

The Captain didn’t listen to what Edge was saying.  He was thinking about something else.  The cave was certainly dark.  Too dark to see anything.  At all.  So how did the golem know where to follow them?  Sound was the best bet.  Of course there were others.  Smell, though he didn’t know how a statue would do that.  Also it could have some unknown magic sense.  He wouldn’t put that past the dwarves.

Whatever, he had to bet on the best option.  Cacophony from the golem’s approach grew interminably loud, he shoved Edge down the passage to their left and hissed.  “Don’t make any noise.”

Then the Captain looked for something, anything in his surroundings.  His eyes landed on the corpse in his own hand.  He’d been unconsciously clutching onto it since they first found it.  It was certainly worth a lot, but not worth their lives.

He waited until it sounded like the golem was right on top of him.  Then he tossed opal lizard’s corpse into the right passage and ducked into the left.  He barely heard a few wet thumps as the corpse bounced down the tunnel.

Then rumbling of the golem’s movements overtook everything.  It pushed through the tunnel, a couple feet from where the Captain and Edge hid.  Then it lost no momentum as it shifted to tumble down the right passage.

The Captain didn’t dare breath as the train of boulders continued to flow by them.  He could barely make out their chaotic movements in the darkness.  The thought of that parade rolling over him made his blood run cold.

After almost a minute, the golem had passed them by completely.  Then they quickly and quietly sprinted back towards the correct path.  Once they reached the seven branch path again, Edge was put in charge of navigation.  He quickly picked a door and they ran on.

A few seconds after they were back in familiar territory, the sounds of the golem started growing louder again.  That merely motivated them to run faster.  They would make it out and then… something.  What came next was starting to bother the Captain a bit, but he couldn’t allow his mind to be clouded.  He had to focus on running.

By the time they once again saw the light at the end of the tunnel, the golem was already almost caught up with them.  They made a mad dash for the exit.  Once they passed out of the pure darkness and into the dark once again, they didn’t have time to be dazzled.  They pre-emptively shut their eyes tight and gave them time to adjust.

Their legs never stopped moving.  Though, that came with its own share of problems.  They both nearly tripped at least five times trying to make I through the debris rooms blind.  Then they passed back into the cylindrical courtyard and were greeted with a surprise.

Once they’d returned to what seemed to be the hub of the ruins, they found that the landscape had completely changed.  For one, the gates that’d separated the room into quadrants were now slowly rotating.  Also, the gate blocking their exit was gone.

They almost ran straight out of the ruins at that revelation.  Then the Captain remembered what’d been bothering him and he reached out to stop Edge.  “If that thing’s followed us this far, it’ll follow us outside.  I don’t think we can get into the car before it crushes the rover.  We’ll have to face it here.”

“Just the two of us?” Edge asked, skeptically.

“If the rover’s destroyed we might as well be dead,”  the Captain declared as the two of them were slowly forced away from the exit by the cross-gate’s rotation.  “No way we can walk back to Narabesque from here.”

“Shit,” Edge protested.

Then they both turned their eyes to the door they’d emerged from.  The sound of rumbling and grinding stones signaled the arrival of their opponent.  After the boulders spilled out of the narrow door, they quickly assembled themselves into a roughly humanoid shape.  Once again, the golem’s height reached the ceiling and its width reached almost the length of the room’s radius.

Fully assembled, the golem looked down on its prey with lifeless eyes.  Then the             gently rotating gate collided with the stony body and attempted to persistently brush it along.  The golem responded by reaching out with its malformed rock hand and grabbing the insistent gate.  With a simple tensing of its body, the golem tore the wrought iron to pieces.

The air filled with metallic death screams and flying shrapnel as the cross gate met its last.  Both the Captain and Edge had to dive to the side to avoid flying shards of metal.  Once the sounds abated, the Captain felt safe raising his head again.  He did so just in time to see the golem step forward, crushing the stone fountain in the middle of the room beneath its foot.

With that, the room was clear of obstructions.  It was time to begin their battle.  Though, privately, the Captain questioned whether this could be called a battle.  The next few minutes would be one of those interesting times.

 

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2 thoughts on “Lead vs Fantasy 5-5

  1. Pingback: Lead vs Fantasy 5-4 | Dakotah Sicking Web Novels

  2. Pingback: Lead vs Fantasy 5-6 | Dakotah Sicking Web Novels

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