Elania lost her sense of direction in the maze of the dimly-lit corridors. Numerous closed doors dotted the hallway, but she didn't bother trying them. The sounds of the battle echoed behind her, and she desperately needed to put some distance between her, the cultists, and the paladin. ‘Preferably a million miles and a rocket ride home, but…’
She was still naked, so once she made it around a few long hallways and turned what felt like a few dozen corners, she thought to try a door. It was unlocked, revealing a seemingly unused old furniture storage unit. She skipped that room and then tried another, and another. She was growing frustrated with each door she tried, the rooms all looking alike until the fifth door revealed a candle-lit room.
Elania didn't have time to waste, but she needed something to wear. Unfortunately, the closet only contained the large black robes the cultists had been wearing. The ground shook beneath her feet, and she hurried with her ransacking, putting the garment on in a hurry. The garment wasn’t close-fitting, and despite how comical it looked on her, she managed to pull the corded belts tight enough to fit her… or at least stay in place.
In the dresser, she found a sharp-looking dagger and stuffed it in the robe's oversized side pockets, along with the mana shard she was still carrying. Elania grumbled inwardly as she looked for anything else that would be helpful, but the dresser didn’t have anything else in it except a heavy black book that she discounted as useless.
‘These guys are almost as bad as monks who have taken a vow of poverty.’
Since there was little else of value in the room, she focused on what she did have. Looking at the remaining robes in the closet, she thought of making some kind of makeshift knapsack, but another resonating shake of the room had ceiling dust falling on her head. Elania grabbed two extra robes from the closet and fled, she hoped she would find something to use them for later.
Racing down the halls turn after turn revealed nothing but the same never-ending dark walls and candles. Elania had lost count of how many turns she had been forced to make. Only when the combat sounds became distant did she feel some relief. She assumed that she was getting farther away from the battle.
Her elation was short-lived, though, because as she rounded another corner, she slipped and almost fell on a puddle of blood. She halted quickly, taking in the two bodies that were splayed on either side of the corridor. The knight had slashed them...?
Elania carefully stepped around the bodies and made her way to what appeared to be the exit. The cut stone of the corridor suddenly stopped as it poked out into a large cavern. Despite the size of the underground space, it was brighter than the candle-lit corridors.
All kinds of bluish-green glowing mosses hung from the ceiling, and in some places, the carpet of moss had begun to spread down the walls as well. The floor was spotted with patches of strange purple, fluorescent fungus. The colors were stunning, and under other circumstances, Elania would have loved to inspect their pretty luminescence closely.
Pushing into the cavern had her cursing after only a few dozen steps. The ground was mostly rock and pebbles, which had painfully poked at her bare feet. She didn't even consider stopping, though, she couldn’t afford to. The cavern was wide open and if anyone was chasing after her, they would easily spot her.
She preserved and as the first cavern opened up into a second, and then third she realized each one resembled the other, and that upset her a little. How big could the cave be? Shouldn't she be at the surface by now? Was that too much to hope for? Distance was hard to gauge, but she’d come at what she considered at least a mile already.
Elania had a vague idea she was slightly moving uphill, and she worried that she'd need a guide to find a way out. There had been several turnoffs she had ignored along the way and she realized that the area might not have such a straightforward layout as she first surmised. The thought of being trapped underground for the rest of her life shook her.
‘Lead us to victory against the overworld.’
Elania frowned as she looked up at the continuously glowing ceiling. Overworld. Did they live completely underground? She had never been very religious, but she considered offering a prayer for her chances of finding a way out.
It felt like hours passed as she trudged through the caverns. Each section was slightly different in shape and size, but they all seemed to follow the same turquoise and purple hues. Elania tried to go in a straight line, but time and time again, she was forced to choose a direction at a junction as the caves began to branch out in different directions.
She was about to stop, rest, and try to make sense of her situation when the overhead moss went dark. It was like someone had flipped a light switch off, and the sudden dimness made her heart pound violently in her chest. ‘What is going on?’
Thankfully, the fungus was still glowing, so it wasn't absolute darkness, but she didn’t want to think what would happen if those lights went out as well.
For the time being, she decided to stop exploring. Quietly, she backtracked the way she had come a few minutes ago, until she found a smaller section of the cave with an elevated hump against one wall. It wasn't much, but at least she'd have the high ground if anything found her, plus there was fungus near both entrances, the light they provided there might help her spot anything approaching as soon as it entered the room.
Setting one of the robes she had been carrying on the ground, she sat on one. As soon as her feet were off the ground, she realized how badly they hurt. She had never been what one would be considered as an 'athlete,' but she was neither unhealthy nor overweight. Back home, she often ran or cycled for exercise—‘With shoes on, though.’
It wasn’t the first time her feet hurt or raw blisters were starting to form, but the hard surface and being barefoot had caused a lot of damage. Her feet hadn't been prepared for the pebbly surface, and she contemplated what to do about footwear. It was obvious she’d need to wrap them in something. She just hoped infection wouldn’t become an issue.
‘They probably don’t even have antibiotics here.’
She wasn’t sure what to do and a few moments later she decided to put it off for a moment and try to figure out the status screen again.
[You have previously unread messages.]
[ ???? - Human - Lvl 33 has been neutralized!]
[You have gained multiple levels!]
[You have gained a level in Unarmed Combat!]
Name: Elania Reyes
Race: Lesser Demon (S Class Monster)
[Some functions are disabled due to insufficient requirements.]
[You have sufficient requirements to unlock Skills. Unlock Skills? Y/N]
Reading over the information, she noted the small differences from before and swiped her hand over the 'Yes' button. The status screen suddenly disappeared, and a new one popped up in its place.
[Skills: Elania Reyes]
[Affinities: Demonic, Mana]
[Magical: Demonic Aura Lvl - 1 (Activated), Mana Manipulation Lvl - 1]
[Physical: Unarmed Combat Lvl - 2, Darkvision Lvl - 2 (Activated)]
[Mundane: Identify Lvl - 1, Universal Speech Lvl - 5, Reading Lvl - 4, Writing Lvl - 3]
Her highest skills were in talking, reading, and writing. Great. That would be really useful in the current situation. Was it because she was a college student? If that was the case, shouldn't she have some more skills? ‘How about wake-up-quick-or-be-late, or survival-cooking-with-ramen!’ Granted, she didn’t really expect those to be skills, but what she had received seemed sparse. She frowned, unable to hide her disappointment while looking at the list again, trying to piece it together.
Four skills stood out to her—[Demonic Aura,] [Mana Manipulation,] [Darkvision,] and [Identify.] [Demonic Aura] and [Darkvision] appeared to be toggleable, but she didn't remember ever turning them on or... maybe she had them on all along. That would explain her sudden ability to see so well in the dark.
Biting her lip lightly, she decided to try and test things out. "Demonic Aura, Deactivate!"
The sound of her voice made her wince. Her words echoed around the room chaotically and the volume was amplified by the quiet silence that seemed to permeate the caverns. Fortunately, that quietness quickly returned as the echo slowly died.
Even more disappointing was that nothing had actually happened with the skill. ‘Talk about embarrassing.’
So, she thought to try once more, but this time without speaking. ‘Demonic Aura. Demonic Aura!’
Still no response, and she checked the skill screen to make sure.
[Demonic Aura - Lvl 1 (Activated)]
Maybe skills didn't respond on command or thought. Somehow she was doing it wrong. The cultists had been chanting something to use their magic, hadn’t they? Did all the things follow the same set of rules? Did she need a secret set of words to turn off the skill? That seemed like it would be very unfair since the stupid thing did not come with a user manual.
A sense of defeat washed over her, and she pulled her legs up to her chest and rested her head on her knees. She hadn't cried from the shock and fear of the events yet, but now it seemed to catch up to her all at once and her eyes watered.
‘I just want to go home.’