Chapter 104 – The Caves of Caer Drarrow
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PreCursive

The eyes that were watching us from the ceiling didn’t blink once as they watched my companions scrabble onto shore. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see everyone capable of it shivering from the cold. I could feel it myself, but I was frozen in place.

I didn’t know if the owners of those eyes had noticed that I had seen them yet. Whatever was up there, most likely a group of Neptaurians, hadn’t shifted or moved even once since I’d seen them. From the number of eyes that I saw, there must have been over a dozen of them above us. What the fuck were they doing up there? Neptaurians were mostly aquatic creatures to my understanding, not goddamn bats. I had no doubt they were strong enough to cling to the ceiling, but…

Wait, what the hell was I doing. I didn’t have time to be frozen like this, I had to warn everyone. Slowly, trying not to draw attention, I tried to sit up, shivering from the cold all the while. My slight movement immediately drew the attention of several of the eyes, causing them to fix on me.

I wasn’t able to keep my own from meeting the eyes of the lurking creatures above us.

The pair I’d met narrowed at me, causing a ripple among the rest of them. Almost as one, I saw quadrupedal shapes begin to fall from the ceiling.

I abandoned any attempt at stealth. “ABOVE US!” I shouted into the cavern air, scrambling to my feet. My voice echoed off the walls, though it did its job.

My companion's heads rocketed upwards, just in time to watch as over a dozen Neptaurians closed in on their position. Azarus and I rolled out of the way in order to avoid being crushed under one particular Neptaurian, while I could see Venix unsheathe his four swords at lightning speed and block the claws of another.

With a shout from Grey, the light that he had been projecting intensified. Suddenly, the entire cavern was illuminated in a bright silver glow, that managed to fully dispel the darkness surrounding us. Stumbling back to my feet, I drew my collapsible spear, and extended it in one motion. I didn’t want to fight these guys up close. At the same time, I activated The Scintillant Blade, lending my own rainbow light to the cavern. I saw Azarus draw his hammer and shield from their place on his back, while activating whatever skill he had that caused the chains he used in combat. Meeting his eyes briefly, we got back to back.

I didn’t get a chance to check on the others. The Neptaurians chose that moment to attack.

One of them charged my position, claws brandished, hoofbeats ringing off of the cavern walls. Ducking down, I set my spear and let the aquatic horse creature impale itself on my spear from its own momentum. The creature shrieked as my burning blade easily pierced its scales, scrabbling weakly at the spear in its chest. Thank God for The Scintillant Blade. The skill hadn’t failed me yet. Well, except that one ti-

I was knocked out of my odd mental tangent by the sound of an impact on metal from behind me, followed by a grunt of effort. Immediately collapsing my spear to get it out of the flesh of the Neptaurian, I spun in place. Behind me, Azarus was buckling under the blow of one of the Neptaurians as it bore down on his shield.

Automatically bringing up my free hand, I aimed it at the face of the pseudo-Centaur and cast Poisonthorn Shot. The corrosive barb pierced into the right eye socket of the monster, causing it to reel back in pain with screeching whinny.

Azarus didn’t miss his chance.

Directing a chain to wrap around the neck of the monster, he yanked downwards on the chain with his right hand. Simultaneously, he maneuvered the edge of his shield underneath the falling jaw of the beast. I didn’t know this, but apparently the edges of that shield must be sharpened or something.

The head of the Neptaurian was sliced in half crosswise, and the beast fell over dead. No doubt because I could see whatever passed for a brain on that thing.

Nice.

Azarus turned to look at me, and we exchanged short nods. Our attention was stolen when we heard the war cry of another Neptaurian. Another one was charging on our position.

A flash of light came from behind us, flowing around both of our forms, casting us in shadow on the far wall of the cavern. At the same time, I heard a shouted word from Grey, followed a crackling boom and the sound of several screaming Neptaurians.

The Neptaurian charging us flinched and stopped, blinded by the light.

This time, both Azarus and I didn’t miss our chance.

Azarus threw out a chain with his hammer attached to it, winding it around the legs of the monster. He yanked, causing the creature to fall over with a nicker. As he was doing that, I was running at the downed creature with my spear trailing me. Before I reached the monster, I engaged Sylvan Vigor for a brief burst of strength, and jumped as high as I could manage. As I descended towards the downed Neptaurian, I angled the blade of my brilliantly burning spear over its form.

Impact.

Driven by both my skill and the weight of my jump, my spear pierced through the equine abdomen of the Neptaurian. The creature let out a final weak screech, and then fell silent forever.

I didn’t get a chance to celebrate the kill.

I was knocked off of the Neptaurian I was standing on by the charging swipe of another, accidentally losing my grip on my spear and leaving it behind. I cried out in pain as I flew, as I’d felt the beast’s claws slice through my flesh. I hit the floor of the cavern with a grunt of pain and slap of wet clothing on stone. I looked up in time to see a Neptaurian charging on my downed form, claws brandished. My eyes widened in panic, causing me to scrabble at my back for my spare spear-dagger.

I needn’t have bothered.

With a whisper of air, a blade shaped entirely of condensed air came out of nowhere and bisected the monster’s upper body from its lower one. The beast didn’t even get the chance to blink before it fell over dead, the pieces of its form skidding to a halt next to me.

I blinked.

Seconds afterward, a bloodied but manic Bella appeared above me. She thrust her left hand down in my direction with a wide grin, a drawn cutlass in her right. Hastily, I grabbed hold of it and let her yank me to my feet. I looked around to see how the fight was going.

It seemed to be dying down. There were only a few stragglers left out of the attacking Neptaurians.

I watched as Venix separated all four legs from a Neptaurian he was dueling, before ending it in the next motion. Azarus was also finishing off one of them that he seemed to have been grappling with, bursting it’s head open with one brutal down swing of his hammer. I guess that’s why he hadn’t been able to help me with the one that had knocked me off my feet.

On the other side of the cavern, Grey was surrounded by a group of five charred Neptaurians, seeming to not have even drawn his sword. Aurum was huddled behind him with eyes wide from fear that was rapidly dwindling. Sylvia was standing next to her Father in a guard position, blue short sword drawn but unbloodied. Honestly, I don’t even know if she had needed to fight during the impromptu ambush.

Meanwhile, Bella was clapping me on the shoulder, causing me to hiss in pain. Looking at the shoulder she had touched, I saw that it had three deep claw marks in it from the Neptaurian she had killed. “Ooh, sorry about that.” She winced, wiping my blood from her hand on her pant leg.

I took a breath to settle my nerves after the battle. “It’s fine, I’ll just-”

I was cut off by cool blue light descending on my form. With a sigh of relief, I felt the wounds on my shoulder close. Looking up, I saw that Grey, Sylvia and Aurum were approaching us. Aurum has his staff our and pointed at me.

I gave a low chuckle. “I was going to say, I’ll just get Aurum to look at it. Thanks man.” I said to the Sculpted healer.

He gave me a shaky smile in return. “I-it’s my job.”

Now that the battle was over, I was starting to feel the cold of the cavern again. I shivered, rubbing my hands over my arms. Doubly so because of the blood I’d lost.

Grey must have noticed, because he frowned and cast a glance at our party that was converging on us. “Everyone else is uninjured?” At their nods, he continued. “I see. Good job.”

Aurum spoke up hesitantly. “Is that…it then? Did we get the herd?”

Grey immediately shook his head. “No, these were just meant to soften us up. The Prime was not among their number. Believe me, we would have known. Everyone has noticed the unnatural cold that permeates this cavern, yes?” At our nods, he continued. “Obviously, this is unusual. The cavern was a bit chilly the last time I was here, but it wasn’t bone chilling.”

Azarus sighed. “I’m guessin’ the Prime is the one that’s makin’ it so damn cold?”

“Yes,” Grey nodded. “I believe it’s having an effect on the surrounding Aether. The beast must be Ice aspected in some way. Perhaps Darkness as well, judging by the gloom.”

Grey was still holding up a bright ball of silvery light, allowing us to see in the cavern. I glanced out at it from his words. Seemed likely to me. I remember how the forest outside Addersfield had been crawling with those red vines, as if to indicate its presence.

As I watched the cavern, the bodies of the ambushing Neptaurians began to poof into Miasma, leaving behind their cores. I pinched my nose against the smell. “So, you think the Prime is further in?” I asked my mentor in a nasally tone.

“I do,” Grey smiled at me in slight amusement. “But first, I believe we should light a fire. We’re in danger of frostbite from the cold, if we don’t warm ourselves up first.”

I raised an eyebrow at Grey. “Isn’t it kind of dangerous to light a fire in such a confine space? Couldn’t we suffocate?”

Grey shook his head. “We won’t linger for long. Only enough to warm our bones as we venture in deeper to slay the Prime, and ultimately, access the prison. Everyone, search around to see if there’s anything we can burn.”

Our group dispersed to do as he asked. It didn’t take us long to notice that there was plenty to burn.

It looked like the Neptaurians had been dragging their victims back to this cave. There were…a lot of bones in here with us, along with scraps of driftwood and clothing. I grimaced to see all the remains of the people that had been killed by these monsters, but continued my searching. Other people didn’t seem to have the same hesitance that I did.

Bella crowed to herself, causing me to look over in her direction. She was holding up a gold coin that she seemed to have pulled out of a small sack she had found. She grinned at me, when she noticed my staring. I shook my head, and got back to work.

Before long, we had found enough rags and driftwood to burn for a small fire. I settled down next to it, and held my hands out in order to warm them with a satisfied sigh. Grey sat down next to me, and copied my actions.

As he was warming his hands, he addressed everyone, who had gathered around the fire. “I would expect more traps or ambushes further in. This Prime seems like a canny example of its kind indeed.”

Oh, joy.

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