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Dailin didn’t hesitate to follow, not wanting to be left with the crazed women. Aethin kept a brisk pace, never slowing or looking over his shoulder to be sure they had followed. Dailin wondered if it was a test of sorts. If the children were too dumb to follow simple directions which kept them alive, then what good were they? If they can’t be trusted to act in a calm situation, then in a chaotic one it would be a disaster.

Dailin still check though, more so to make sure Liesan wasn’t about to crush the back of his skull in. There he saw they were a few paces behind, Liesan dragging along the man-child by his hand, who still looked uninterested in the world, save for the Wards. Those he stared at similar to a starving man at food out of reach. Liesan scowled at Dailin when their eyes made contact, and Dailin quickly looked back to the front. The tunnel had an annoying amount of bends and turns, even small steps of stairs having them going up and then back down a few paces further.

They were quiet, not soundless, but enough the Wards would easily stop any vibrations from getting out. Still, Dailin was uncomfortable with how quick the things out there acted when they caught onto sound. He wouldn’t be very surprised if there were all around them, the slabs of stone and magic the only things keeping them separated by a mere arm’s length.

At least they didn’t have to worry of an attack from behind as Aethin closed the passage. If or when their attackers broke into the pyramid room they would never find where Dailin group had gone. Hopefully, he wanted to ask Aethin, but at the same time, he didn’t want to make any more sound. Plus he wasn’t sure if Aethin was in the mood for questions. He looked ready to snap, and Dailin didn’t want to be on the receiving end of what happened to their caretakers. So he waited blindly following Aethin, who eventually stopped. So focused on his thoughts Dailin failed to notice that they had reached the passage end. Another slab of stone was blocking the way. Aethin reached out to it, Dailin noticed Wards sending different signals, not of light and warning but small pulses towards Aethin fingers.

They remained there, moments passing uncomfortably for Dailin as Liesan was closer to him than he liked, especially with her behind him. He was tempted to look to see what she was doing. But stopped out of fear that him eyeing her would set her off. So he stared at the back of Aethin head, praying to gods that he would hurry things along.

He didn’t, worse Aethin returned to the stillness of stone, the only movement was when his hand would quickly spasm. Dailin wanted to ask him what was wrong, but was afraid that the sudden sound would startle Aethin to a scream, or perhaps break his concentration to the Ward.

So Dailin waited stomach tiring into knots as held his arms close to his chest, and fighting the urge not to shuffle his feet. He reviewed what spells and equipment he had, a sad attempt to ignore his oppressive situation. Dailin thought of what he could do if things came to the worst. His spear was clipped to his side with the belt that came with it, his short sword in its scabbard. Both he knew the basics of how to use. He knew more about how to use the sword from over lives, sadly he never had use a spear in a fight, perhaps to fish but not as a weapon.

Even if he did he wouldn’t be all that thrilled to use it in these tunnels. It would only take one time for the spear to catch on a wall or person for it to end him. The short sword would be his go-to weapon when things went wrong. He had his spells, quite the arsenal of them in fact, all sorts aimed at slowing or crippling people. The rest death bringers to either friend or foe alike. If he was going to use them optimally he would have to be at the head of the line. That way there wouldn’t be any friendly fire. But then he would be among those first to engage the enemy after. Not a cheerful thought, the exact opposite of what he thought would be the case for a Chanter. He was supposed to be in the backline defended by eager fodder so he could fire spells down upon the enemy.

With the size of the tunnels, it made that all but impossible unless he could somehow control the flow of the spell for it to fly above their heads then quickly back down to the enemy. As Dailin considered his fighting power, the more concerned he became of their and his chances. The two children were useless, not even showing signs that they knew how or could perform a spell. Then Aethin with his constant freezing up. Dailin breaking from his thoughts look up and scowled, Aethin still remained the same, even though moments before he was hurrying them along. Worst He didn’t know what Aethin was waiting for it appeared he hadn’t shared knowledge about this aspect of the Wards. ‘I wonder if my next life is also based on how long I lived the previous one’. Another thought he quickly throw into things saved for later because if it did he stood no chance of gaining a worthwhile life.

So There they stood for what to Dailin felt like hours, his legs were starting to cramp, and fatigue was setting in. His body could only stay nerve-racked for so long, and it seemed to have reached its limit. That and his second go with the Heart seemed to finally have caught up with him. From the corner of his eye and the noise, he noticed the other two had grown tired of the waiting and sat down. Aethin showed no emotion of annoyances of this act, so Dailin followed their example.

With his back leaning against the wall he was half turned to face Liesan, and it took great effect not to look the rest of the way. It didn’t help that they weren’t even an arm’s length away from each other. But so far she was ignoring him. Dailin gave a word of thanks to the gods that he knew for this miracle. No longer standing his strength began to fade, even though His sitting position wasn’t the best. As he couldn’t stretch out his legs in full, it was still comfortable. His eyelids grew heavy and his head began to bob up and down.

He knew this wasn’t the best idea, falling asleep before they probably were going to be running for their lives. But his body didn’t seem to care, and he had no means to keep it awake. His head bobbed one last time before sleep took him, and he was in his paradise once more.

Stretching, and walking off his bed he went for the large ornate doors that lead outside and flung them open with ease. He let out a sigh of content while looking out at the sprawling grass-covered hills. A rich blue sky joined it, not a cloud in sight, and there was a light breeze in the air. All his worries and fears melted away as he baskets in the scenery, at how things should be. The life he wanted, he deserved after all the hellish ones he’d lived.

His time of peace was disturbed however by the grinding of stone echoing across the landscape, his bells ringed an instant later.

Flinging his hands in the air screaming into the sky “Of course, when I  don't want to leave you’re ready to go!” Dailin eyes snapped opened and darted towards Aethin location.

Aethin was shaking as he looked into the tunnel, his hands leaning against the wall for support. His legs looked ready to give. Dailin sprang up and peered over Aethin shoulder. The hall was in the same state as the pyramid room that they had just left. Looking down the passage filled him with dread, an all-encompassing red light made the hall appeared straight out of a nightmare. He was very tempted to have Aethin bring the stone block back into place and hide in their tunnel for things to blow over. ‘If only that's what would happen.’ He knew better, it wouldn’t be long before their hiding spot would be found too, and the things would dig through stone to get in.

He placed a hand on Aethin shoulder, which caused the man to lockup caught off guard. Dailin ignored it and gave thanks he hadn’t been blasted away. “Which way do we go?” Aethin didn’t answer he just gazed at him, so Dailin shook his shoulder “Aethin can you hear me?” the response was Aethin smiling at him warmly. Dailin frowned at his guide and felt a bang of worry in his gut. “Please tell me you haven’t lost yourself in madness.” Aethin gave a short snort of amusement and placed his hands on Dailin shoulders, rubbing them. It was all very uncomfortable for Dailin. Aethin still staring at him, as if he was looking into Dailin soul “I knew you were special, truly Worthy to be one of my Acolytes.”

Dailin was extremely confused about many things at the present, but the most apparent was how asking where to go was considered special? Were Newborn turned man-children really that dumb? Was he going to be sent into the fray surround by morons as his backup? He shook his head internally and focused on the task at hand. “Thanks. But really which way?” Looking over Aethin shoulder again, noticing that many of the Wards were pulsating. “Please, it looks like we have little time.”

Aethin smile widened and before Dailin knew what happened he found himself being hugged. Awkward wasn’t enough to explain how the situation felt to him, so he patted Aethin on the back as the man chuckled. As Aethin released him from a hug that was growing rather restricting “Truly the Giver provides at the needed times”. His normal demeanor coming back in full. It withered quickly when Aethin looked over his shoulder at the red infused tunnel. “Little time indeed” looking back to Dailin. “But don’t you worry, me and you together, nothing will stand in our way.”

 

“Thanks?” was all Dailin could think to say, as he moved into the tunnel attempting to get Aethin to move along. It worked as he followed suit, apparently happy with only Dailin small comment. Going left down the tunnel, Dailin could tell it went straight for a long way. Unless there was another hidden passage that they were going to use which he prayed there was. If not, if an enemy were to appear coming at both sides, it would be the end of them.

As they walked it seemed the light from the wards was dimming, at first he thought it an illusion of his eyes, as the red glow was painful to observe for so long. But as they were nearing another turn, it had become clear that the lights were going out. “Are th—“Aethin hand was over his mouth faster than he could blink. Aethin face racked with worry and fear twisting his smile into a look of someone about to cry. Aethin leaned into his ear, the whisper so quiet that it took time for it to register in his mind. “No noise, walk as quietly as you can, the Wards near failing”. As Aethin moved away from him and removed his hand, Dailin merely nodded his head in acknowledgment.

His heart speed up, mouth became dry, and a new wave of strength enter his limbs. Soon (as he had guessed) they would be running for their lives, but not now. Even with this impending doom, Aethin at most maintained a fast walk. Dailin didn’t think it did him or them any good, he tried his best to make as little sound as possible, but couldn’t come close to Aethin soundless movements. The two other that followed behind them, might as well been wearing bells for all the noise their movement made. Dailin couldn’t hold it against them, they hadn’t been told to stay quiet, and he doubted they could have anyways. Not with Liesan forced to, at times drag the other child when he became transfixed watching Wards.

As they rounded the corner Dailin heart missed a beat, the hall was all red wards as before, though worse as the light faintness here almost had him rushing back the way they came. ‘We can’t go down there, the Wards there are almost gone.’ He saw Aethin freeze up but began moving again in a breath of time. Which was good because Dailin was sure they didn’t have the luxury of waiting for him to get over a panic attack. Though he almost had his own when Aethin started down the hall, instead of finding them another route. He wanted to scream at him to stop, the way his instincts were right now.

Instincts that were draining him, mentally anyway. It had saved him many times, avoiding danger that his other senses had no clue were there.  But right now he wished he could go without it. Danger was around every corner, behind every stone trying to get at him, and his instincts were picking up on it. Right now as they marched down the faintly lit passage, his skin felt as if things crawled upon its surface. He kept feeling tingles rush up and down his spine. He wanted to cry, but restrained himself and committed to double his efforts of making as little noise as possible. Even the other adult children seemed to pick up on their situation. Shoulders shaking when he looked back to see if they were keeping up with them.   

Aethin keeps a steady pass, though his movement was far more rigid now. Of all of them here he was the one who had the best picture of the danger they were in. ‘If this is going to be an everyday problem, I rather die now’. Dailin plans were already being to fall apart, if he did by some miracle gain a decent life, how long would it last? How much could he enjoy it, if the things trying to get to him would be an everyday threat? He looked at his hands, with the knowledge he had it would be easy to form a spell that would kill him in an instant.

His face warped into a snarl as he forced his hands back down. ‘Another suicide, like that, has been of any help’ a cold touch went down his spine. ‘What would the next life be like? Could it really be worse?’ Perhaps he would be born a cripple or damaged in the head.  Maybe a slave again but for an even more cruel master. He used these thoughts, these worries of future problems to blind him of the worries of the present.

It works for a time as he followed Aethin, distracted and numb to his surroundings. Not even when the Wards light became so thin that shadows began to appear. The change eventually became too much for his eyes not to notice and forced his mind to register, stirring him from his thoughts. He fought the panic building in him and stopped his legs from freezing into place. Not the easiest of tasks, when he could just turn around and head in the direction of better Wards. The only thing that kept him moving forward (save for Aethin still heading in this direction) was a glow at the end of the tunnel. It seemed like the sun in brightness compared to the wards around them.

Aethin and Dailin pace picked up, salvation on the other side was Dailin thought, or at least the ability to ignore the dangers awaiting them a little longer. What hope he had started to waver when he heard a strangled cry leave Aethin lips. Only now noticing that his guide was shaking like a leaf, his hands wrapped around his chest. Dailin couldn’t see his face but wouldn’t be surprised to see tears hanged there. He almost voiced a question before clamping down his jaw, if these wards at the best of times had a hard time hiding sound. Then now on their death bed, he doubted they were working at all.

Nearing the light source it became clear why Aethin was distraught. A glowing Warded door blocking their passage. The Wards engraved were better made, and more densely packed together. Aethin had his hands in his hair, staring at the wall in disbelief, not moving again. Dailin looked behind saw that Liesan and the other child were wrapped in a tight hug, both of them shaking. Their eyes moving in every direction on the walls. Dailin wasn’t sure why there seemed so terrified now of the situation, not until he picks up on what they were hearing for himself. It was low volume, only noticeable when nothing else held one's attention. A clicking with the added sounds of stone being scraped at caught his ear. Every hair on his head stood on end, his skin tingled like nothing before.

He spun around to Aethin panicking. The fool was still staring at the wall wide-eyed. Dailin not caring at this point grabbed a shoulder and began shaking him. Aethin flinches and turned his mouth forming chants, and a hand pointed out. Aethin clamped his mouth shut at the last moment when he noticed it was only Dailin. The growing light on his hand diminished instantly. Dailin had backed away out of reflex, not from any thought that it would do him any good. But as Aethin gathered himself, and looked like he was about to burst into a screaming rant. Dailin placed a finger towards his lips, then pointed to the Walls, and made an expression of listening to the wall. It took a passing thought before Aethin caught on, and moved closer to a wall himself, ears raised up and pointed at its directions. Instantly he jolted back, making a beeline towards the glowing door, hands pressed into the wards. Dailin saw him speaking or perhaps commanding the wards as he did before.

This time, however, it seemed he was having some difficulty. The wall would start shaking, move up, and then snap back down. Each time sending a panic formed knife into his heart, the sound reverberated out through the hall. Dailin ears noticed the clicking and scraping picked up speed each time this happened. He got behind Aethin and turned his back towards him. Dailin staring down the hall, the other children had sat down curled into each other. With them out of the way he had a clear view of where they had come. What he saw didn’t inspire hope. The tunnel seemed almost pitch black compared to the light streaming out behind him.

He went through a list of his more lethal spells ready to go down fighting or buy Aethin enough time for them to escape. He didn’t have to wait long, what little power left in the Wards diminished, leaving him and his party in a void. The light behind him seemed to be enough for his eyes to still make out details. Oddly where the light couldn’t reach he could still vaguely see the outlines of the hall.

The noise, the sound of scraping stone, and clicking raised in volume with the wards gone, and his ears went rigid from the surplus output. In that wave of sensations, he picks up on bits of sound that made his limbs feel numb. Pebbles of rock fell first, then large slabs broke off walls and feel to the floor. All of it happening outside the range of the light, but Dailin could see, he watched as a large maggot shaped creatures slithered out of the gap. Its lower body covered in small quick moving stumps. Its head had Dailin shivering in fright. It was covered in eyes, eyes that glowed when light touched them. It had a large peek shaped mouth that it was using to break away pieces of stone, as easily as a man shoveling loose dirt.

The thing was widening the gap, as Dailin saw and heard other wholes forming. He wasn’t concerned about those at the moment. No his entire being was entranced by sharp pointed limbs come out of the enlarged opening. Each limb would lightly tap a surface before spreading out more. When it seemed the legs would never end in length, each gripped a part of stone, and pushed through the legs owner. At first Dailin thought it was another limb coming through as it was thin as the legs. But when the head showed he realized he had been looking at a long blade length stinger the creature used as a mouth. It too had a large number of eyes adorning its head. Which seemed to form the bulk of the body as well.  Its long limbs attached at its back, before the mass shank into a long maggot form. That part had three smaller limbs on each side to carry its weight. Which were far bulkier, and seemed off. The size and strength the limbs showed seemed unnecessary for the skinny abdomen it carried.

Dailin, his hands shaking uncontrollably reached and unhook his spear. ‘Forget the short sword I want no part of those things near me’. He lengthens the spear to its fullest and grimaced at how loud the click it made seemed now. A few of the maggot’s heads turned their way before losing interest and returning to their tasks. The Stinger though had its gaze locked on them. Liesan untangled herself from the other child and crawled towards Dailin, stopping at his side as there was no room for her to hide behind him. He should be angry about this, as she, well them, in general, was supposed to be his shields. But all he could feel was cold dread as he watched the creatures before him. The Stinger hadn’t moved forward yet, content it seemed to watch their every move with its unblinking eyes. Its needle mouth pointed towards them showing all too clear that it could pierce through their armor.

If it got lucky and hit leather instead of metal he was sure he was a goner. Especially if it turned at to be fast moving. It hadn’t shown that ability yet, but you don’t have a stinger that size without the strength and speed to use it. All this time, which could have only been a few minutes Aethin kept at the door. Its continued thud as it clamps back down a constant reminder that they had nowhere to run.

Not that his group was in any condition to run, he was, of course, he was always ready to flee, and perhaps Aethin if he didn’t freeze up. Liesan he wasn’t so sure about, he doubted she would keep up. As for the man-child he was hopeless, there he remained still where Liesan had pushed him. Curled into a ball his back towards them, looking at the creatures. The fool didn’t even have enough sense to crawl away from the things that are clearly here to eat them. ‘Figures the one with the brightest soul is also the most useless in a fight or anything at all.’

During his musing and staring dumbly at the creatures of terror, the Maggots continued carving away stone they own tunnels opening, growing in size with each passing breath. Dailin nearly dropped his spear when more of the Stinger beings crawled their way out of the newly enlarged openings. Some were larger than the first that had arrived. But each group behind the first staring at them unmoving. Their black orbs for eyes, looking through to their souls.

It’s at this point common sense or survival instinct kicking him in the head, Dailin realized his spear would do little good against so many of them. As for his short sword, that he would probably be better off without, it only offering him dead weight to carry around. Those things seemed content where they were, but more and more kept piling up. Already the number of sharped stingers pointed his way made his skin crawl, it didn’t matter what armor he wore one of them would eventually worm their way through it into him. Then, then he wasn’t sure, it’s possible their poisonous as well, which he hoped would be instant death, rather than the slow fresh melting kind.

His mind made up, and waiting proving to be his enemy now, Dailin took a large shaky breath to center himself. Letting his spear rest on his shoulder Dailin raised and pointed his hands towards the wall of abominations. Moving his jaw about trying to remove as much of the jitters as he could, he began his chant. Longer than the others, and with added difficulty as he moved fingers about at correct times to help the flow of mana through his body to where he wanted it. The sound caused a stir within the creature’s ranks, those in front started slowly moving forward their long legs tapping stone, and moving oddly about the air as if they were trying to catch the sound.

The panic In Dailin gut had him stutter, slowing his process. But he was nearly done, though it didn’t feel so. His hands began to light, as did areas of his arm where the veins appeared to be. His voice echoed as it raised in volume matching his needs, then a flash. The hall bathed once more in crystal clear view for a few moments. As lighting sprang from Dailin fingers dancing about before connecting to the encroaching horde. The stingers made no sound as they began to spark, eyes busting, flames popping out from leg joints. Only when the lighting reached the Maggots did Dailin hear anything, a loud high pitched scream filled the air, causing him no end of pain. Thankfully not long as they heated up, and began to pop, flesh fragments flying everywhere.

The hall descended into void, Dailin blind at first. The situation only made worse when he was knocked to his knees as the cost of the spell finally took effect or notice by his body. It took all he had not to fall unconscious then and there. It was tempting to die in his sleep. But from what he saw of the creature’s mouths, that way of going would be painful. Painful enough to force him from his dream and live the moment of being eaten alive. The pains in his gut, the worry all the stress he had been dealing with had mostly left him. His body too tired to care about such things anymore. ‘One spell and I’m reverted to this.’ He had known his chance was low of surviving what was to come, but now he had a clear picture. A grotesque picture, as he forced his head to look towards his victims. The first things to catch his eye had Dailin worried. The man-child even laying down was caught in the spell. His skin charred black, large parts of muscle and meat were missing from his frame. He felt some guilt for the boy’s death, but only a little since he knew nothing of him. The feeling was overshadowed by worry as he hoped this wouldn’t cause him trouble. Perhaps people would be less likely to serve him or give aid if they heard how he treated allies, that wouldn’t bold well for his future.

‘If I have a future.’ That thought rang out as he looked farther down the passage towards the enemy, the site, made him a little queasy, the maggots, in particular, had made quite the mess. The sickness in his stomach doubled as he sniffed the air, catching a familiar scent to it. A scent that matched the pieces of meat that had been served with the various mushrooms. ‘They, they feed me filth ridden insects!’ Dailin forced close his eyes breathing quickly, fighting the urge not to hurl. It eventually passed, but he was still upset however that most meat in this world may come from bugs.

His thoughts stopped as he heard movement, not from the mass of cooked horrors, but from the wholes they had come from. Dailin gave out a tired and shaky sign, as new grubs crawled out from the openings, continuing the work of their still cooking brethren. It seemed the creatures were widening their tunnel to match the size of the passage. A triumphant shout came from Aethin as Dailin heard stone sliding up into the ceiling. More light poured into the passage allowing him a clear look at the things that hunted them. The Maggots were a sickly green hue, while the stingers shell were pure onyx.

Their blood was a light bluish gray with yellow mixed in. All together Dailin felt only disgust looking upon these things, his urge to vomit increased thinking that he may have eaten some of them. But he pushed the urge away. Forcing his lead filled limbs around to retreat down the now clear path. Aethin stood their terror-stricken, somehow only now becoming aware of the threat. Dailin moved passed him using his spear as a walking stick. He was forced to turn around when he heard no movements behind him. Aethin remained fixed in place still staring at the scene, Liesan curled into a ball her face hiding in her knees.

The Maggots were growing in number, and Dailin noted his stomach-turning, that the things were eating their dead with great vigor. Their stone beaked mouths crushing though shell like a hand passing through the air. Mumbling prayers and curses Dailin moved back to Aethin, grabbing one of his arms, and tugging him forward. Aethin snapped his arm back and pushed him away, Dailin tumbling backward his legs offering little support and found himself staring at the ceiling. Aethin looking down at him wide-eyed hints of guilt showing. Dailin gave Aethin a look of annoyance and a quick scowl, both warranted, as the fall hurt more than he thought it should, and his spear and made a racket striking the stone floor.

Forcing his body up was even more difficult now, his body fighting his every command to continue moving. Aethin breaking from his stupor gave a worried look and seemed ready to say something before stopping and helping him up. As Dailin was finding his footing and strength to continue on, his eyes caught on to something that made his blood run cold. Looking towards the creatures, in the short time, he was distracted nearly a dozen new stingers had appeared making their way towards them. Not a single note of sound was made as they approached.   Stumbling backward Dailin realized he was mumbling, yelling. “Close the door, close the door, close the door!” The last he shrieks at Aethin, who with jerking movements of his own made for the Wards that still glowed. As Aethin focused on his task, Dailin ready himself to launch another spell, only to choke on his tongue when he gazed upon the stingers rapidly approaching them. It appeared as a charred wall of spears was racing to skewer him. His hands were raised and primed, but the words wouldn’t form. His tongue refusing to obey, only garbled nonsense spewed from his mouth, his whole frame shaking as death quickly approached. His mind raced flowing with thoughts of how to use his spear or sword to hold them at bay, thoughts he found himself scoffing or laughing at. No single weapon could stop them, only magic only a spell, a spell that he used to early.

The only option was to run, even if he already knew it was hopeless. His legs shook and felt numb, any attempts at running would only have him falling face first. Even then he could never outrun them, even if they slowed to eat his companies they would catch up.  ‘I would have been better off with a large group, even if they were dim-witted’. Dailin felt some shame and a heaping amount of annoyance that those horde of empty-headed children were going to live longer than him. He forced his eyes shut, hoping the death would be quick and that he didn’t end up impaled on the living wall, with nothing vital damaged. Left to wither in agony waiting to die of blood loss.

A loud crashing sound of stone slamming into each other pried his eyes open, startling him enough for his already weak legs to give out, knocking him to his knees. The door was in place again, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Aethin slumped down to the floor leaning on the wall, he looked dazed and just as drained from the encounter as Dailin did. His eyes widened when he noticed that Liesan wasn’t with them. ‘She never moved from her spot?’ Dailin stared at the Door that separated them from her. He didn’t feel any guilt. It was her fault for not having the sense of running or at least crawling away from those horrors. He didn’t like her either, but still, he would never have wished such a fate to befall her. He stopped his train of thought when they went down darker avenues, images of what those things could be doing.

Using the wall, and his spear he forced his legs under him and pushed up. His legs protested, sending signals as if he had run for hours, or had been climbing a steep cliff. By the time he was upright most of his weight was placed on the spear. He felt and appeared old in his movements, taking small and slow steps to turn himself around and get a good look at the state of the tunnel they were in. He felt much safer compared to what he just passed through. Not a single Ward so far was warning of an attack. The hall bathed in clear white. He rubbed his face, and eyes that had grown heavy, the danger blocked for now, and his need to run or fight leaving him. Dailin frowned when he noticed from the corner of his vision the color of the light changed behind him. The door was giving off a green glow and was being to shift to yellow.   

He breathed out through his nose loud and quick, the best he could do to vent some anger, and annoyance that his piece was already ruined. With a grunt he started down the path, only to sigh and drop his shoulders, as once more he only heard his own footfalls. A glance told him all, Aethin remained seated hands cupping his face. ‘Truly I would have been better off with the guards, least they act.’ He stopped another sigh from leaving him as he forced himself around to retrace his steps, cursing with every movement. He would have bent his knees to have their eye level, but Dailin didn’t trust his body to achieve such a feat right now. He hoped it wasn’t too rude as Dailin lightly poked Aethin on the thigh with the shaft end of the spear. He encountered no reaction from this as Aethin continued to ignore him.

He continued undeterred, poking and this time calling Aethin name “Aethin, Aethin, Aethin” and on. He eventually stopped when Dailin found he was the one becoming annoyed, and notice he sounded like some child trying to get the attention of their parent. He snorted both embarrassed and angry, with a growing amount of disgust. Aethin this person he thought would be the answer to all his problems, was becoming the problem or at least one of many. Glancing at the door had him frowning again, it had become a solid yellow and was now changing too orange, and after that, he really didn’t want to be around.  

He was thankful and gave a pray that Wards around the tunnel seemed so far left untouched. Not that it meant much when he thought about the door coming down. The things able to flood the passage anyway as they had bypassed the outer Wards. That image gave him some strength which he used to not so nicely poke Aethin with. That finally got a reaction, as Aethin looked up at him. The look of a tired and annoyed parent. The tired part stood out more, as his eyes were bloodshot, similar in appearance to staying up for a day or two.

Dailin gave him his only look of disapproval “We have to go” looking towards the door which Aethin was close to for emphasis “Don’t you agree?”

Aethin eyes still had a heavy glaze about them, as he glanced at Dailin observation. Surprising Dailin when for the first time he didn’t panic about a Ward under assault. Aethin with a run-down laugh shook his head. He looked to Dailin “No need to worry, not yet anyway, those Blocks are made for these” a wave of his hand “situations”. Lowering his head again, his eyes closing shut “Besides I, my thinking newborn need to rest little”. Folding his arms across his chest, clearly getting into a position for a nap “Blocks aren’t supposed to be raised without a key, I had to be creative to bypass certain safeguards”.  His voice lowering in tone “I’m in need of a rest, a short one, we'll be on our way soon enough. You’ll see you’re in safe hands.” The last Part Dailin had struggled to make out as Aethin mumbled his thoughts before sleep claimed him.

He snorted when his mind registered ‘safe hands’ he was the one that saved them, kept the monsters away. Dailin didn’t think Aethin cared all that much about them at all. The man never even notice or maybe doesn’t care that it’s only the two of them now. Though he couldn’t help but think that they were better off, as the two others were dead weight. Still, that’s two fewer bodies to hide behind when things got tough.  He only had Aethin now, who he had to admit was very good at just the thing. He huffed as his own thoughts started to get murky, his body eager to join Aethin in the partaking of a nap. But Dailin wasn’t a fool, least not after so many lives of playing the part. His body was drained and if he dared sleep, it could many hours before he woke. By then the chance of escaping this death trap could have left them behind.

He started down the passage leaving Aethin where he lay, up ahead not far he could see that the passage turned a corner. He never thought that a corner would raise so much worry and concern for him. What lay beyond it? This he knew would determine his chances, and he prayed during the whole length of the passage, his shuffling steps making it all the more agonizingly long. He slowly peered around the corner, heart pumping ready to give flight. He leaned on the spear as relief filled him, as he sighed and laughed. The passage beyond had been left untouched, not a single off-color he could see.

He had an extra kick in his step now, eager to join any others they may still be around, anyone would be better than relying solely on Aethin. He would take the group of children gladly, that amount of fools to stand and let themselves be eaten so he could run, would be perfect for him. As the time passed, he felt life returning to his limbs, not to say he wasn’t tired anymore, far from it. But now he didn’t feel like an elderly man, a good thing when he had to run. The tunnel eventually opened up into an intersection, including the opening he came from there were five others. ‘Great’ a soulful expression marked him ‘I haven’t a clue where we’re supposed to go for an attack’

His knowledge was very clear on what to do to aid against one, how to help the guards, what Wards should be charged first. But not a single thing on where to retreat or group up for an emergency. ‘I bet Aethin didn’t even think of it, we were meant for the front, the first to die. Why would we need to know where to regroup up, or fall back to?’ It also possible as Dailin thought, looking to each tunnel figuring which would be best to head down. That none of them thought he and the other children were smart enough to retain all the knowledge given to them, or perhaps be unable to act on it. Aethin reactions to him had shown he was special. Dailin didn’t feel much pride from that, as being seen as smarter and useful, from a grouping of empty-headed, dim-witted children wasn’t saying much.

He looked at the entrance he came from, making sure not to lose his place as he went to every entrance looking down them. Each one growing his spark of hope as none were under assault. ‘I must be deep in this fortress of theirs’, a clear victory in his book, he had so far avoided the front. He now just had to find where everyone had gone, and then, then he would have to go with how things fell. Aethin had kept key knowledge from him, and with every turn, it was becoming more obvious. Dailin could feel the old bitterness in him rising, a cold anger from countless lives, all screaming to be left alone to have a chance at a worthwhile life. Yet again denied, as he looked around, it all so transparent he and the others were meant to live very short violet lives. 

Very short as the images of the creatures resurfaced forcing him to shiver, with the danger removed and his body worn down those things became even more terrifying to recall. The eyes were the worst he found, large unblinking, and dark as the void. It conveyed to him that no mercy was heading his way, only death, a painful one with the number of claws and pincers they had. Dailin shoved those thoughts aside they weren’t doing him well. It was affecting him more than he thought normal. As Dailin had a growing urge not to be alone, a need. Others to press against, to hide with, and lie to themselves that everything was fine. Which was all very odd for Dailin, as he knew from vague memories that he never had such a strong desire for those things before. ‘Something to do with the body?’ His shell acted on instinct heading back down the path he had originally come. Heading for Aethin the only person he knew was around, that for now seemed enough for this growing demanded.

Dailin wasn’t all too happy about this, his many bodies did have their differences and needs, but never as strong as this one. The others he knew he could fight away, but this, this need got worse. It was fading now, the panic and terror that come with it following suit. All because soon, even if it’s only one person apparently he won’t be alone. Rubbing his face removing the heaviness from his eyes Dailin slowly retraced his steps. Not at all happy about this, he would have returned to Aethin eventually, as he hadn’t had the forethought to ask him where they needed to go in the first place.  

As he turned the corner he took a step back, and almost tried running away, before he gained control of himself. Forcing his reluctant body forward towards Aethin who was still asleep. Everything was the same, save for the door which was now blood red, the color sending his instincts into new heights of alarm. ‘He better not freeze up, please oh gods don’t let him freeze up.’ The walk down the passage seemed longer this time to him, his heart already badly abused, was pounding loudly in his ears. He had to look down and stare at the floor as he walked, staring at the door wasn’t doing him any good for his well-being. Near Aethin he wasted no time in politeness and began quickly tapping and poking him. Aethin woke with a snort, his eyes unfocused as he looked around confused, still half asleep. “You’ve slept enough right? They’re not showing this door much mercy.” Mumbling other things his jitters returned, as his skin crawled being so close to the door, knowing what lay on the other side.

Aethin bolted in his direction, crawling away from the door when he laid eyes on it, shoving into him. Aethin flinched away before he relaxed, eyes darting from him to the door and back again. Switching the spear to his left hand, Dailin offered him a hand, Aethin took it without question, putting much of his weight on Dailin, nearly sending both tumbling down. They both righted themselves Aethin not even complaining, his eyes on the door, and his grip on Dailin hand and arm continued to increase. Dailin didn’t allow himself to waste any more time, as he turned and departed from death clawing to get to them. Aethin didn’t protest following eagerly, his grip ironclad. Not long after Aethin took the lead and Dailin became the one being dragged. Aethin would look over his shoulder every few seconds, making Dailin own worries eat at his gut with increased vigor. ‘That door best not be ready to fail.’ He thought as he hurried his steps.  

Their rush continues till they arrived at the junction, there Aethin took a moment to catch his breath, Dailin doing the same, rubbing his now throbbing legs that felt ready to give at the next step. Leaning heavy on his spear the only thing that was probably keeping him upright. ‘If I ever have the chance ill have a proper walking cane made for me.’ In only a narrow bit of time Aethin turned and was looking at him confused. He was already mostly recovered, ready to continue their dash to safety. “Are you well Acolyte, you look ready to embrace end.”

Dailin sucking in more greedy breaths “Still suffering from my last sp- Chant, I’ve never done one of that size before.” Aethin had neared him, placing a hand on his back. Dailin felt a warmth emanate from it, traveling throughout his body, where it went his soreness, and fatigue vanished. “Rather odd, true an area heal does take more out of a Chanter but I haven’t seen it come with such cost.” Aethin moved his hands to his shoulders, then legs each time accompanied by the warmth, renewed energy flowed into him. “You're nearly spent, it’s no wonder your struggling to stand” Laughing nervously as his eyes darted from one passage to the next. “But don’t you worry your mentor is here, you’ll be back in fighting shaped soon enough.”

Dailin waited for him to cease his mana induced massage, not wanting the man to stop sooner than was necessary.  He was fully enjoying the warmth that had engulfed his whole frame and was doing his best to remember it. His dream would never run out of a need for more comforts. This, this one he knew would be one of the more used when he had time to return to his dream.

By the time Aethin stopped all of Dailin fatigue was removed, leaving him straight-backed, and primed to run as fast as possible. He glanced at Aethin expecting to see him winded again, in need of his own time to recover, but he looked as well as ever. He was also looking around confused “Where are the other two?” The question wasn’t aimed at anyone in particular, but Dailin as the only one around, and the only one who knew the answer felt obliged to answer. “We left them behind.” Aethin huffed, heading back the way they came “You’d think they know enough to follow their Mentor where he goes.”

Dailin was generally concerned about how little Aethin remembered, he was with them after all. Even distracted he still had a good look at what had happened. Dailin prayed that the door hadn’t damaged Aethin head in some way. That was the last thing he needs, a guide with a broken mind. “We, they didn’t follow us to the other side before the block came down” Aethin stopped in his tracks, and reversed his heading, looking at Dailin. He wasn’t mad, he looks somewhat surprised, and relieved. Aethin shaking his head “A pity to hear that, but better now than later” He was close to Dailin his hand on his shoulders. “If they couldn’t simply follow us away from our Nightmares then they would have been no use in fighting them.” He was hugging Dailin now, who found it all rather odd, but did notice that his urge to be with someone was almost gone. ‘So is he this touchy not because he cares? But only to feed that urge’ Aethin had continued his talk when Dailin came to, he heard something about learning from them, and I’ve always been of more worth than them.

Aethin had pulled away from Dailin “Though I find it odd our Nightmares waited long enough for me to raise the block” he smiled at “Maybe the Giver was at our side this day?”

Dailin scratching the back of his neck “Oh they weren’t, or well at first but when their numbers kept growing I panicked and hit them with a Lighting chant.” He coughed, as Aethin smile kept growing, and his eyes felt as if they were boring into him “Its why I’ve been so tired out, the chant was more than I expected.” Aethin wrapped him in another hug, this time so enthused as to lift him off his feet. Aethin laughing as he spun Dailin around. “ I knew you were special my Acolyte, a newborn with the mind to use what’s given to him” The spinning only went on a few seconds more, before he was put down, and Aethin caught his breath, the entire time elated as he patted Dailin on the head and continued singing him praise. Grabbing his hand Aethin led them down a new passage “Stay with me newborn and we’ll go to better places, mark my word you’ll never find us holed up in a place like this again.” He mumbled others things has he turn his head from Dailin.  Catching something about ‘he never should have had himself talked into this position’.  

Dailin knew that the Wards were horribly made, but maybe he didn’t have a clear idea of how bad. It’s possible he mused, that these wards were equivalent to a rotten wooden wall, or maybe a crumbling dirt made one. ‘This can’t be normal this race should be dead by now is their defenses dissolve so easily.’ Dailin prayed this wasn’t the norm, he may not like it here but he had no desire to be eaten alive by those things outside. Maybe he’ll get lucky and be assassinated quickly by someone, or maybe fall on the receiving end of chant that ends him instantly. Those were the best options to move on from this world, besides dying of old age, which sounded impossibly small.

Dailin found it a good thing for him that he returned for Aethin for this section of the tunnel network had many crossroads. Even able to read the wards he would have gotten turned around at some point, and worse may never have found anyone. So far they have yet to see another soul. “Where is everyone?” Aethin ear cocked to the side “The lucky ones would be at the Core, others should be at assigned guard posts.” They slowed as they approached another corner, each time it had Dailin heart racing, unlike the other tunnels, this one was under a form of attack. Only a few wards were green the rest of them the normal color. Aethin looked at Dailin as he spoke: “A probing, our Nightmares like to have a clear image of the size and length of the tunnel, before committing to an attack.” Leaning closer Aethin added, “Best keep our voices down, for now, the Wards look fine, but I hold no faith in them.” His peace send he hurried Dailin along the passage. This tunnel proves to be a long one, with many branching paths connected to it, Dailin could see Aethin scowl every so often when he saw another path appear before them.

‘This would be a good tunnel to breach, all these interlocking paths, those creatures could bypass a lot of Wards’. When the tunnel finally came to end they found it blocked by another door. Dailin spent moments cursing their luck, while Aethin wasted no time to close and interact with it. Something Dailin wasn’t too pleased to see, the last time had made a large ruckus. He really didn’t want to give those creatures reason to launch an attack.

Contrary to Dailin expectation when the door slide back up it didn’t come smashing down. Aethin didn’t seem at all phased by tampering with the door, and he wasted no time moving past the block. Dailin didn’t hesitate to the follow for if the door did come back down and Aethin wasn’t able to move it again, well he didn’t want to meet Liesan fate. Aethin must have noticed his look of befuddlement, when he shook his head and gave off a sad laugh. “Each block supposed to be special, but these’ waving a hand at the tunnel. “These are clear rushed work, the block was completely the same as the last one. So my trick from before work on it just as well. Touching the wall, Dailin watched a ripple go out and the door quickly fall back into place. “My sisters are going to hear an ear full when I met them.”

As Aethin continued his grumbling Dailin looked around, they had entered the largest intersection yet. At least a dozen connected paths, all of them were blocked by a door. As Aethin said each Warded door looked the same. The patterns woven into them were all similar, Dailin wasn’t too surprised when he thought about it.  The walls had been rushed, why wouldn’t the doors as well? ‘I mean it’s not like those are supposed to keep us alive, but yes let's rush those, what’s the worst that could happen?’ “You’d think there would be someone around, guards perhaps?” Aethin heading to a closed passage, that was marked Core. “Were late it seems, everyone is at the Core by now deciding on what we do next.” Aethin placed his hand on the block and in seconds it was removed “Fight or flee, I have my stakes on us fleeing”. The way to the Core was clear, no signs of attack, and no sign of people.

Aethin was actually running, Dailin racing to keep up, the tunnel which was long was traveled in quick succession, like before a door barred their path. Not that it mattered with how quick it was removed, and on the other side they were met with a swarm of startled faces. Guards already had spears pointed in their direction before the door had fully risen. The Urge Dailin had to be with others was completely filled when looking upon them. With so many people forced into one area, how could it not be? Supplies Dailin assumed were stack everywhere, in stone looking containers, and every person had a weapon of some kind. The guards each had a spear, which seemed to be their preferred choice. One Dailin now fully understood with only a single brush with the creatures outside.

Dailin didn’t have a hard time picking up on the tension, none of the people were too pleased to see them. He found this odd, till Aethin lowered the door back down, and relief flood over the masses. Afterward he, and Aethin were quickly ignored or forgotten by the normal folk. The Guards, on the other hand, seemed quite upset, thankfully not with Dailin. Their glares were saved for Aethin, who seemed annoyed at best by them. He carried himself differently now, one of status and importance. Someone to be treated kindly and with respect.  Dailin marveled how quickly his demeanor had changed. ‘If only it actually matter against creatures of nightmares’ he thought as Aethin walked closer to the guards, his hands were raised and giving off a soft glow. The guards were, less aggressive with the stares afterward.

Aethin voice came out strong, and commanding nothing to what Dailin was used to. “Follow me, Acolyte, we need to be with our own.” The guards parted without being ordered to and let them pass, Dailin expected one of them to knife Aethin or him in the back. But they passed unharmed, most guards avoiding eye contact with Aethin, lowering their heads as he passed.

This Core wasn’t a single room, as he originally thought, as they traveled it branched off similar to intersections. The wards here though were a step above, even over the hidden tunnels Aethin had used. Not that it matters, even if the walls could hold the creatures out they wouldn’t be able to stay here. This Core was well above its holding limit, every area people were packed in. Making it annoyingly hard to travel from one area to the next. Even with all the supplies, people had brought, it wouldn’t take long for them to run out. Holding up in the Core is a slower death, one Dailin knew well, and even if the thought made him shiver, he rather die to the creatures than starve, maybe.       

As they navigated through the masses no one spoke to them, most lowered they heads or looked away. Aethin acted as if they weren’t there, an air of superiority surrounded him. Dailin may have been taken in by it if he hadn’t seen Aethin true side, a coward, a rather big coward. He wasn’t someone to rely on when things were in a pinch. ‘No he’d freeze up and let the danger cut him down, or run past him.’ He was a nice person though Dailin thought, or at least had been to him, and a little to the other two. Which may have been sole because they were Chanters like him. If he hadn’t been Aethin would be treating him, as he is treating the people around them at this moment.

If a person attempting to bar their path for whatever reason, Aethin would make a face, normally scowl raise a glowing hand and point at the offender. Dailin hadn’t seen what would happen next, so far it ends there with the person quickly stepping aside and hiding among the crowds of people. Dailin wasn’t sure if threaten all those around them was the wisest of choices, they were all armed with one weapon or another. Most he could see had a short sword and saw some unlucky ones with actual daggers. He gave a prayer of mercy to those, as they deaths would be assured. ‘A coward towards creatures, but the bravery of a warrior surrounded by his own armed people.’ Dailin kept waiting for someone to come up and knife them, there were a lot of them, they were all crammed close together. Aethin was fast with a spell, but Dailin doubted fast enough if everyone attacked at once.

He kept thinking that till they arrived at their destination, at the end passage stood a pair of guards, unlike before one glance at Aethin and the guards straighten bowed slightly and parted to let them through. Past them, they enter a circular room similar to the other he has seen, but the substantial difference was the room was mostly bare. There were plenty of supply crates stacked around, with other bobs and ends Dailin didn’t know their use, but overall they had pretty empty room to relax in.  The room had no other entrances to it unless they were hidden, and he didn’t see anyone else coming down the path they did.

There’s a table pushed near the wall on the opposite side of the room, where the most people had congregated. All of them acting as if they were the most important person in the room. Dailin stopped himself from scowling. To see such interactions, Dailin could only hope that it was all an act like Aethin, but he wasn’t that optimistic. ‘These people will stab each other in the back the moment things get dire.’ That thought had him sigh, once again he wondered if he had been better off failing the test. Least that way he would be around trained mannish men, willing to fight beside each other.  Nearing the table their presence became known as the inhabitants all looked their way. “Friends” Aethin spoke carrying a smile as he spread his arms in greeting. “It’s good to see most of you here, I feared that our nightmares may have claimed people.”

That got their attention, as some waved in greetings back to Aethin, or bowed their head slightly. “Why would that be?” one of them spoke, “the Wards still hold from what I’ve heard.” Aethin shaking his head a quiet sad laugh emanating from him “That may be true for the Core, but I was farther out, already Nightmares have breached the Wards in areas. Carving out openings for their larger brethren to crawl through.” Aethin looking from one person to the next, “those Wards fell quickly to a full assault, and the blocks” fling his hands in the air “they’re not much better. I tell you friends this whole expedition was a sham, it was never meant to succeed”. Most were looking at the table lost in their own worlds, Aethin words taking their toll. Some fearful, others concerned, but most looked anger, a fire burning in their eyes. One spoke at the end of the table, eyes darting from person to person “It’s little soon for the elders to be sending people off to die, isn’t it? It’s only been three cycles since the last wave was sent.”

Another spoke up “my brother sent word that inner Sanctums are being flooded with castoffs” leaning in closer to the group “Small settlements are being attacked by hordes of nightmares, many had to flee. Now things are overcrowded again.”

The one at the end shook his head “How would that affect us Tallen? Things were stable when our group was sent to start this new post.”

Tallen sneered “Things weren't overcrowded Paetiff, doesn’t mean they were stable. I don’t know about your pull, but for me, it was still difficult earning enough Worth to stay in the inner Sanctums.” leaning back into her chair. “Besides my brother believes the Elders knew about the wave of castoffs long before they arrived.”

Paetiff rolling his eyes and head “And your brother told you all this before or after you left with our merry group? Because if I knew any of this I wouldn’t have dared go on any expeditions for at least another two Cycles.”

She looked and sounded annoyed when Tallen answered. “After I left, well away from the Sanctums before he sent me word.” Many around smiled some let out small laughs, Tallen scowled at them all. “What you all think you’re not in the same grouping? I’m sure most of you here were talked into this.” Many looked embarrassment refusing to meet her eyes. Drumming her fingers on the table they sat in silence. She was the one to continue their tale, which Dailin was finding interesting and very worrying. “I didn’t pay it much mind, at first our expedition was larger than most, and the number of supplies we carried away with us.” She paused “Well at the time I thought the Elders wouldn’t waste so much just to make a little room.”

Another spoke, he looked unhealthy thin, malnourished in appearance “Maybe in the upper area it may have made little difference but at the bottom where the commoners dwell. That’s where those elders would have come out ahead.” Looking almost sickened to admit it “I was stationed to watch the back of the caravan, from there I got a good view of the number of leeches attached to us. Had to be hundreds following behind. Most only carried the clothes on their backs, no water or food of any kind, no luggage.

Paetiff scratching his chin his eyes wondering the ceiling. “I don’t recall that many castoffs when we started our settlement, there were some, a couple dozen maybe, not hundreds.

The unhealthy one rolled his eyes “That because I and the guards only allowed those worth using in, most looked dead already. I had to chant a few times to keep those vagabonds from flooding into the Caravan.” Relaxing in his chair “The Giver be praised, I didn’t have to keep it up for long, the noise attracted Nightmares, and they eagerly dug into the riffraff.” Snorting coughing out a laugh “they didn’t even have any weapons with them, just bare hands knocking on shells. It’s probably why we had such a smooth trip here, nightmares already got their meal.”

Paetiff shooting the thin man a glare “Yes a large meal, which allowed them to multiple in who knows how large a number.” They all quieted, even Aethin as Dailin looked at him seemed distraught. None of them had noticed him yet and Dailin was glad for that, he didn’t want to be remembered, and he wasn’t good at being the center of attention. ‘I suppose it’s good that I passed that chanter test, these people treat commoners as cattle.’ He wondered if guards also fell into that category, perhaps a guard was the highest rank a non-chanter could get.

Tallen broke his thought with her comments “Would have like more of those leeches around now, nice group of bait keeping them off us for a while.” A larger man in height and weight spoke “Isn’t that what the newborn is for? Besides using resources we can’t bother taking with us.

The thin man laughed again “That was the plan, but things seemed to have gone wrong.” The larger one looked worried “What? Don’t tell me Vernac somehow failed the ritual.”

Waving the man off “No, not completely but most of the children came out wrong, dead in the head. They’re not much better than walking corpse, some can’t even do that right. Saw Guards forced to drag the things along, some even carried them.”

Paetiff grumbling “They can still play the part of bait, be a little trickery though getting them in the right place in time.” The thin man scowled “they were supposed to make a scene, lots of noise fighting the nightmares, attract more of them and mask our escape, the things are almost worthless now. They don’t make any noise just stare into space without a care. Even if you hit them they remain mute. Believe me, I tried on some when they ignored me, couldn’t get even a slight whimper out of them.”

The heavyset man looking around “So what do we do with them? Sounds like a lot of wasted effort and time setting this trap.” Tallen speaking up “That isn’t really our problem, it’s the Prime Guard responsibility to fix this mess. But from what I’ve heard and seen of him he’s a kind-hearted man. He’ll take the ones that can fight or follow orders. The heavy man resting an arm on the table “And the rest?” Shrugging Tallen eyed the ceiling “leave them behind, kill them If they really wanted to be merciful. At this point, it makes no difference, their no aid to us now.”

Leaning back into his seat the heavy set man seemed to crumble in on himself. “They’ll expect us to make up for this failure. Spend us dry clearing any large groups of nightmares.” The thin man resting his head on his palm “If you're smart you lie and say you're spent, I “pointing to himself “would never let myself be left so vulnerable in the heart of an attack, especially surrounding by commoners.”

Smilingly happy at the thought the heavy man laughed “Seeing your limp body, those commoners you love to pester wouldn’t hesitate to throw you into a nightmare.” Glaring the thin man scolded back “you annoy them just as much as I do!” The heavy man shaking his head “I punish those that break rules or cause trouble, you" pointing an accusing finger “bother anybody when the mood takes you.”

Perhaps Dailin thought he owed the gods more praise for his fortune. Though he was sure this may have been the normal talk of the high class of other worlds as well. He never got to see it first hand, he was both happy to be a part of this group, sorely for its protection that it offered. But was also very troubled, these people couldn’t be trusted, not in dire straits as the one they were in now. Each and every one would kill him if it meant they would have an easier time surviving.

Their talk droned on away from the problems of now, to what they’ll do when arriving back at a Sanctum. Dailin found this even more troubling, but also hopeful, these people were clear in the belief that they were going to survive this mess. Which maybe they were right, he had little knowledge of what to expect after they ran for their lives. Those here may have already done this before many times.

This term castoff had his heart feel hope oddly enough. They weren’t cast in a positive light, from what he heard, and continued to hear, these were people seen merely as fodder at best. People who had no connections to the people inside, and had no means that made them stand out above the rest. Just another body in an increasing mass of people that could do only manual labor, and beg for shelter against monsters they stand no chance against.  Dailin didn’t have any connections, but he did have magic, and if he was willing to help these homeless people, he would have an army of eager followers.

Servants at his beck and call, people to bend their knee to him, offering oaths to guard and protect him. Dailin internally shook his head, freeing himself from the daydream, ruling would never be that easy, its constant work, tiring work. Building something from nothing, getting people to work together for his interests.  By the time it was done then Dailin would have to watch out for someone knifing him in the back and taking it for themselves. Better to milk off a system already in place, he didn’t need to lead, just have enough power and control to be left alone most of the time to live his life peacefully.

Something, as he listens to his fellow Chanters talk, was more commonly wanted than Dailin thought. Sure some wanted more power, perhaps lead a new settlement, but most fell in line with his thinking, a comfortable carefree life. Dailin shivered when he noticed that none of them here were achieving that. These people who were many years more experience than him, stronger than him, were in the same situation as him. Readying to run for their lives, run from crumbling walls that they thought would keep them safe. They’re going to run to the next city and hope the same doesn’t happen again.

Dailin thoughts and the conversation around the table stopped when all heard the combined steps of feet heading their way. Turning Dailin saw that a larger group had arrived the guards parting even faster than they had for Aethin, he could see their arms and hands shaking before the group of people passed. Dailin instantly knew why when he noticed the madman Vernac leading the group. His eyes as hypnotic as ever, he didn’t seem to have many servants around him now, mostly guards, and others Dailin assumed were Chanters. Aethin walked to the side of the table, and Dailin quickly followed suit.

Vernac smiled as he drew close looking at everyone at least once, thanking the gods when his looked fell on Dailin and skimmed over him. ‘Good he doesn’t remember me, or doesn’t care.’ Bobbing his head slightly up and down Vernac seemed pleased about something only he knew. “It’s good that so many of you have arrived, these walls failed us worse than I thought possible.” Shaking and bowing his head for effect “Many wings fell quickly, and I fear that we have lost some of our own.” Not stopping to even let a single person reply “But be assumed I have things well in hand, we will be at the center of the caravan, as is right.  And will only be called upon when the worse of situations have occurred.”

His eyes looking up lost and thought, looking as though he’s reading an internal list of announcements. “As for the newborn, we will be responsible for getting them in place” grumbles went out, but things quieted quickly when Vernac held up a hand. “The preparation has been all completed, we only need to levitate them in place.” Smirking “The ones of no use have been drugged, and filled with a slow-acting poison, for the rest that can fight the Prime Guard took them in.

There was silence for an extended period of time, as Vernac looked lost or debatable whether to tell them about something. Looking back up he glimpsed every person again. “I’m not going to lie to all of you, things won’t go smoothly.” That got people to perk up moving uncomfortably in their seats. “We're going to be running blind, the scouts have proved themselves too incompetent to be trusted in their task.”

Vernac snapping his fingers, those that arrived with him sprung into motion, opening small containers they had carried along. Inside Dailin instantly recognized the contents as the crystals that these people love to use, Hearts. ‘New spells? Perhaps knowledge that will increase our chances?’ The hearts were small in size, reaching the length of a hand, and the width of his arm. Vernac's Followers passed one to every person including Dailin, it was heavier than he expected and warm. He felt power swimming inside waiting for a chance to burst out.

“These are from my personal stock” smiling, one he probably thought brought comfort, but to Dailin it looked like the smile of a man making you his slave. “I could find no better use for them than helping my own, each Heart has soul stored inside waiting to be claimed.” Moving his head to look each in the eye. “I hope all of you will know best in maximizing its use. We’re not going to stop for breaks or regroup, this is going to be a full retreat to the closest Sanctum. When people start to lag behind they’ll be left, we're not going to slow down for anyone.” Staring at a few individuals “And save your soul, use it only when absolutely necessary, we have no clear idea how many Nightmares are out there, or if more are heading our way.”

“Ready yourselves we leave within this Round, perhaps sooner if the Wards fall faster than planned.” Vernac turns heading towards the exit, his followers doing the same once the last of the Hearts were dispersed amongst them. He can see people openly relax once they're gone, many sending them unsavory looks at their backs as they leave. Aethin kept a slight smile and even bowed to Vernac as he left. His face didn’t smooth out till they were completely out of view. Only then did Aethin show that he was displeased with what happened. Dailin on the over hand was confused but glad for the gift if it increases his chance of survival he wouldn’t scoff at it.

The others, however, took it differently, some cursing, grumbling, and a few looked ready to explode in rage. The sickly man eyeing the Heart “It’s no wonder that he was placed here, he must have angered someone of great worth.”

Tallen left her heart on the table, a look of disgust whenever she eyes it “I don’t think he could have been blunter that he expects a favor for this later.” The heavyset man looking at her “Perhaps that’s the point, he’s always shown that he thinks he’s above all.” Pocketing the Heart “I wonder how much he expects in return for this aid. This Heart only holds enough for six maybe eight chants if I hold off on their size. Nice to have but it’s not a life saver, not if we’re going to be running, and fighting the whole way to a Sanctum.”

Another chipped in, a haunted individual always scanning the room. “He plans us to do most of the fighting,” leaning in “As you say these Heart won't guaranty we will survive, so Vernac will come collect his favor soon.”

Paetiff closing his eyes sinking into his chair “It would be something he would do, hide while making everyone else do the work for him.”

Dailin eyed his own Heart, no longer as hope-inspiring as before. It will aid him, greatly since he knew for sure he had nowhere near the mana pool as those around him. But at the cost of being the first forced headlong into a life threating situation, no not worth it. He began to share the same annoyance as the others for their savor Vernac. He knew their words rang true about him, his first appearance of the man showed how afraid he was to face these creatures. He was the most crazed when he thought they were around. The thought of being near that man while the creatures were actually nearing them didn’t sit well with Dailin.

‘If he’s like Aethin and freezes in place at the sight of them, doesn’t matter how good a Chanter he is.’ A quick smile formed and left at the thought of him outliving Vernac for such a ridicules reason. He has a moment of peace suppressing that smile, comfort, a distraction from the growing worry in his gut. It takes him time to cast a spell, he’s not like the others shooting them off with a wave of the hand. Now he was going to be on the move and trying to sling a spell at the same time. If he’s running he isn’t sure he’ll be able to cast at all. It’s all about the hum, how the words ring in such a way that gets the mana in him to move to the desires he wants. Running might mess with his humming, and the rest would fall downhill from there.

A hand rested on his shoulder snapping him back to his surroundings, Aethin looking at him worried “you don’t look well” his smile returning trying to comfort him. Dailin shrugged “just thinking about how this will go.” Aethin nods his head knowingly, looking around he motions for Dailin to follow him to sets of chairs that have been moved against the wall. They weren’t being used, being too far away from the table where the talk was taking place. 

Sitting down what energy he thought he had faded, his body wasn’t sore, but it did feel tired of moving around. Or it could be his mind, things happening too fast, keeping him in a constant state of alert. He wasn't use to this, he was a man of repetition, a nature ground into him by many boring lives. Till eventually, he found peace in it, the knowledge of what was going to happen next before it did. No surprises but also no worry or fear. ‘That’s all this place is, a den of fear.’ Dailin let out a long breath and placed his head in his palms. He stayed like that staring at the floor blankly, until Aethin began rubbing his back. He titled his head enough to look at him, Aethin wasn’t paying him any mind, staring at the ceiling like others.

Dailin looked himself but found the Wards, all the same, so he began looking around. He must have been staring at the floor longer than he thought, people had moved about, dispersed into groups. They all were close together, leaning, hugging, holding hands, it was the same with every group. There were even people close to them using the sets of chairs. There was some conversation going on but it was mostly quiet, everyone getting a bit of peace in before things all went to hell. Dailin did feel safer, with Aethin being this close to him, the body contact making it more so. Thankfully there were no primal urges going along with it. ‘This kind must be a pack race, huddling together for strength and safety.’

It’s perhaps the only thing that may be keeping them alive, looking at those remaining at the table ‘It sure isn’t the leadership.’ Dailin forced himself to relax, to clear his mind, this might be his last bit of calm before everything went wrong. What better way to use it than dreaming? Once his eyes closed it took only a matter of second for them to reopen. The green flowing fields greeting him once more, he breathed deeply in the rich clean air and watched the grass dance in the wind letting his stray thoughts float away.

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Freethorm

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kohlth @kohlth ago

do you come from down under?....

Ashcheul @Ashcheul ago

I think leadership of Inner Sanctums is missing a problem of momentum. The more they feed their people to horde, the more powerful the horde of Nightmares becomes (they eat, grow, reproduce, and if they are sentient, then comfortly develop tactics to crack Sanctums), while strength of Sanctums remains the same or even detoriates.

For this race of Sanctums to survive, momentum must be broken.

j03man @j03man ago

I really like your story so far. It desperately needs an editor. PM me.

MarkM @MarkM ago

"wholes" should be just holes - no need for the extra "w". I've noticed it a couple of times so far ...

StorySeeker @StorySeeker ago

Both he knew the basics of how to use

He knew the basics of both of them

he was they with them after all

Get rid of they

Only then did Aethin show that he was unpleased with what happened

displeased

It’s no wonder that he was placed here, must have angered someone of great worth.”

he must have