Chapter 10 – Sunless Shores
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I was locked in, in a prison. There was another, just like me, both of us with ambitions. We struggled with each other, we both knew one had to win, so the other could lose. He overpowered me, but I knew my defeat could not last forever, the struggle had to continue. 

A violent shaking freed me from my prison, a voice calling to me. It was Brad. “We should get up.” 

We were still on sunless shores, our supplies were still dwindling but at least we knew an answer to the problem of crossing the body of water: A stone raft. 

We had a measly breakfast, following it up with plenty of water to fill our stomachs. Then we got to gathering large chunks of the reddish-brown rock. The Professor with Brad went into one corner of the cave while Anne-Liese with me in another. We would gather large chunks of the reddish rock to a single heap and then I would tap them with my staff's crystal ball, using basic magic to send a shockwave into the rock. With its resonance, I could guess how dense the rock was and thereby, whether it would float. I used the opportunity away from the Professor to ask Anne-Liese a few things I had been wondering for a while. 

“Anne-Liese, say, is the Professor always this absent? At times he makes an almost uncaring impression on me.” 

Anne-Liese sighed. “Oh yes. Still, I acted like a jerk yesterday, I should have known better.” She looked to me with a face asking for forgiveness. “I accompanied him a few times before on expeditions. It was always that when things seemed most dire, he turned the most distracted, I think he’s trying to avoid facing the situation. The tea should keep him level headed and focussed on what’s important.” 

“The tea?” 

“Yes, it’s medicinal. The valerian certainly helps, along with some other herbs I selected for their qualities. It calms the nerves, every bit of which is necessary for my uncle in these situations.” 

“So you developed a tea to keep him focussed?” 

Anne-Liese nodded while staring absent-mindedly into the air. “He is family after all. My mother gave me the idea, described how tea would keep him focussed back when she was still visiting him in his studies. Under this stress, he might just run off to examine the cooled lava some more while we starve to death.” 

“And he does not know you do this on purpose?” 

“No, he thinks it’s my favourite tea that he just happened to also like. And even if he did, he probably wouldn’t be able to really care, he is too far from reality.” 

I mulled over these words for a while. Sedating one’s own uncle to keep him on track seemed like a dubious thing to do at best, but given the circumstances of this particular uncle, it seemed rather caring. Anne-Liese often appeared so cold and annoyed by her uncle, but it seemed her emotions sat deeper than her cynicism. 

“Is this normal with mediums? I heard they can be odd, but this odd?” 

Anne-Liese let off an even heavier sigh, a sign of something sitting heavily on her shoulders. “Yes, maybe. Most mediums discover their gift or are discovered when they are children. To deal with daemons and spirits is to deal with the unreal, the absurd and the otherworldly. They need to be inducted when their mind is still malleable, can deal with all that.”  

She made a pause and sat down on a large boulder. “Uncle was discovered to have the mystic gift when he was twenty, very late. When it happened, his mind turned erratic, a grown mind is not so quick to deal with awakening to an entire world of unreality, whispers from dark shadows and music in every breeze. My mother told me what he would be muttering about at times, what he would say in his sleep or that he suddenly lost consciousness. He interrupted his studies back then and travelled the world, visited many druids, shamans and witches to learn to wield his gift. When he came back, my mother said, he was more focussed than before, but on other things, he turned to geomancy completely, talking about the melody of primordial rock and fire. My mother said he used to be an anxious boy, worried and scared but since then, he had been happy and calm in that newfound world of his.” 

I could see in Anne-Liese a weariness of a lifetime. Had she been living half her life for her uncle? I was about to ask her further questions, but she had already closed herself off, hauling another large rock my way. After setting it down and walking off to find another, she turned to me and said “And Havellan, you can just call me Anne. We are in this together deep and I see no reason to uphold these stupid formalities.” She smiled a beautiful, honest smile through a face I had seen so far only annoyed or exhausted. 

“Then you can call me Havel, I guess.” 

We eventually found enough rocks and carried them back to the shore, where the others were already waiting with their own finds. 

With simple magic, the Professor and I put the rocks to each other like gluing a vase back together than never was whole. Soon, we had a small raft with upcurving rims. The material itself floated without issue, the rim would help us stay dry as well. It was sturdy and large enough to carry all of us and our cargo, but not Chrysita. She would have to walk on the bottom of the body of water, pulling us by a rope. All we had to worry about was that the bottom would not be more than sixty feet below the surface, or Chrysita would pull us under.  

There we stood, at a shore without waves, looking at a boat made of stone, which should carry us to an unknown place just so we could be somewhere else than where we were.  

We entered the stone-made bowl that was just big enough for everyone to squat together rather uncomfortably, but at least we warmed each other that way. To a front post we tied the rope and fastened it to Chrysita’s waist. Her single remaining light shone from below the perfectly still and clear water, showing us a bare and grey floor, free from the rusty red stone we floated on. The Professor told us about how magma cooled when it hits water and what kind of peculiar rock formations that would bring forth. 

Chrysita dragged us along while walking on the sea floor ever deeper. At times, she had to look for more shallow areas to continue her trek and not pull us beneath the waveless waters. As I peered into the stillness, I noticed an absence of any fish or other life. I knew from story that caves would sometimes be inhabited by fish without eyes, for eyes were pointless in the dark. At times I thought to have seen movement of some sort, but the culprits turned out to be rocks with odd shapes casting even odder shadows to fool my starved and anxious mind. 

It was almost lunch time when we came upon a rocky shore. It looked barely traversable so we chose to remain in the boat for now since it got us ahead quite well. We cleared a corner and saw something blocking the way further through the cave on foot: a fortress wall. 

“Ahemmm,” I tried to say something, but I did not dare utter anything foolish. Brad and Anne-Liese too were looking for words. The Professor was the first to find them. “Astonishing!” 

It took me a while to finally bring forth something. “Somebody built something down here? Why? How? What is this place?” 

We all remained in shock for a moment and so I did not notice the sound of splashing from behind on the otherwise perfectly still waters. Reality came back down upon us only when Chrysita’s light suddenly went out. 

“SHE IS UNDER ATTACK!” The Professor yelled mere moments before something grabbed me from behind. A row of claws dug into my leather mantle, violently yanking me back. I managed to jerk my upper body around in that tiny nutshell of a boat. A tentacle wrapped around me as I turned towards my assailant. 

A slimy heap of skin sat on the rim of the boat, more tentacles glistened in the dim light of my light vial, lined with hooks ready to bury into my flesh. I jabbed my staff ahead into the slimy mess ahead of me. 

“WHAT IS THAT!” I heard one of my companions. “Get it off me! AAAAARGH!” 

A soft cutting noise and a squirming scream followed while I was still battering the soft thing that had the advantage of not having any bones I could break. I focussed my mind onto what I could use as a weapon. The spell for frigid winds came to me. 

“UUAARGH” The screaming continued, I heard flesh being pierced, blood gushing forth, screaming and squirming. 

Pressure, circulation, direction, air. All the elements came together in my mind. I shot my hand into my flux pouch, then unleashed all the energy I could find in there. A hot flash shot through my veins at painful speeds. A loud BANG shot through the chamber. I was pushed back, into whoever sat next to me. The boat rock back. The slimy ball of tentacles shot away from me, hitting the water’s surface with a loud splash. The boat came to a sudden halt, then remained still. 

With my spell’s force, I had pushed us backwards onto the shore and everyone else jumped off board. "Is it off me? IS IT OFF ME?” 

I left the boat in haste as well and looked to my companions. The Anne and Brad were tearing and pulling on another mess of tentacles that had attached to the Professor’s back. In the light of their vials, I could see its slimy skin dripping with a blue liquid that gushed from its flesh where Brad had buried his knife in deeply. Before I could join to help them, the creature was off the Professor and thrown to the ground. Brad continued to stab at the creature and in the light of his vials I saw it change shape, texture, even colour as if trying to adapt to the rocky underground in an attempt to fool our eyes. In vain, as it turned out. The creature expired mere moments later. 

Heavy feet stomped onto land and Chrysita stood before us, a third mess of tentacles attached to her hull. Without arms, Chrysita seemed to rely on throwing herself onto the ground and rolling around on the rocks. With knife and staff, we pulled this creature off and ended its life as well. 

When we had rid ourselves of the beast, we collapsed at the shore. Tentacled menaces, fortress walls in a cave, a raft made of stone. Nothing seemed safe or for sure anymore. I just wanted this world to end so I could return to sanity, beneath sun, sky and stars. I was breathless and just wanted to go home already. 

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