The tunnel seemed never to end, and unlike before this one didn’t branch into other sections. Just one continuous tunnel that would bend, weave or have them going down an incline. The Nightmares had remained absent, which had his nerves on edge. He never did hear the ice dome break, which should have happened rather quickly with no one maintaining it. Followed by screeches as the abominations swarmed in at their heels. Not that he was giving it much thought, merely passing distractions from the growing soreness in his legs. ‘I could heal them, overuse is a form of damage, I think? But then I’ll be tired in a different way.’ Those two thoughts fought over his action for a good while, tired legs or a tired mind. Lack the ability to run away or the inability to think when things got chaotic.
For now, he chose to keep his mind, as even with healed legs he had doubt they would get him far before being ripped apart. A spasm of pain from his hand also reminded him, that if he ran he would be dragging Aethin along as well. He glowered at their clasped hands, a once intimate act in his mind now twisted into a cruel form of a death trap. Closing his eyes, and humming to speed the mana that flowed through his veins. He wondered what to do, wondered if anything that he tried would help in the end. It was clear that traveling alone even if he knew where he was going was impossible. Those around him with the power to do so would have. ‘Perhaps I should shove the problem back into fates hands.’ If he was doomed to die then so be it, he would focus all his power on making it quick, it was, as his thoughts turned dark and gloomy. One of few things he had control of. At least for now, that had him shiver. Images, memories assaulted him, a smiling man then woman, then a mob. Moments of him being judged and dismembered slowly for crimes he couldn’t care to recall.
He breathed in deep as his eyes shot open, both happy and annoyed that he was back in the confines of the tunnel. Pressed by bodies that were there to keep him safe rather than, he shook his head to remove the remains of what had passed. Finding himself tired both physically and now mentally. ‘Maybe I should give a hover platform a try after all.’ Sure he would be found out but at least he would have a moment's rest before the end came. Which was still disquietly absent, he expected the horror-filled clicking to have returned, at least by now.
He had yet to hear any rustling of arms behind them, though they could also be attacked from the front, or through the walls, the ground, ceiling. The tunnel didn’t feel quite as safe as it had a moment ago. ‘If this is my life, first thing is to learn to make Wards. Then never leave the confines of it.’ Yes, he thought that would do. If he couldn’t find a place to stay he would make his own. The commoners would folk to him then, and he would be adored and showered with gifts. Able men at his beck and call, so entranced in this daydream Dailin nearly screamed in terror when a wall ahead of them flew apart. Large armored insectoid arms quickly grabbing and dragging nearby bodies from the floor. The tunnel devolved into chaos as this happened in multiple locations at the same time. Hastily put up barriers saved most Chanters while the guards were picked off left and right. Dailin would have met a similar fate if he hadn’t been in the middle of a pack of his fellows. Their combined barrier encasing them from all sides. All he could do was watch in frozen horror as large boulders flew about bouncing off the shielding along with large fists striking at the barrier.
Those fists led his vision to the creatures that attack them. Large almost that of a Behemoth, put it was crabbed shaped, six thickly armored legs held it up. As four long muscular arms went about grabbing at people. There it dragged and threw them into a mouth that opened so wide that it appears its whole frame opened up to engulf its victims. A river of teeth, large and sharp as spears points shredded whatever entered.
Dailin wanted to fling a spell at the abomination, his body didn’t care, shock and fright held him frozen in place, as useless as his mentor who was in the process of breaking his hand. Those Chanters that surrounding him though proved immune or use to this situation. Their own hums, and chants sent out rapidly. A new section of barrier wrapped around the old. It glowed hot before flying towards the crab creature that was hammering at their shield. The Barriers coated the arms of the crab, it's screeching deafening the hall as its arms melted. As did the rest of it as the barrier worked its way down onto the mainframe. Dailin mind had a hard time processing the act of flesh melting into a liquid, and he and his body agreed enough to look away in disgust.
He could see others replicating that form of attack, dispatching their new assailants. The Guards, however, even as they recovered from the shock and mounted a unified assault, weren’t fairing that well. These Nightmares had quite the reach and their arms were surprising agile at moving out of harm’s way. They did serve however as an effective distraction, Chanters having dealt with the ones most threating to their survival turned on the ones heckling the Guards. The Crabs bulky bodies now served against them as the things had no chance of dodging ice spears and pressurized air.
By the time the attack was over, all were breathing heavy, their body’s tense, as people’s ears moved about trying to pick up on any quakes or shuffling stone. This carried on for many minutes, during that time the Chanters maintained their shields, refusing to lower their guard again.
All heads turned as echoes of snapping mandibles and wicked screeches came from the passages they had already passed. That got the line moving again, what remained of it, with the fighting done Dailin finally paid attention to those that hadn’t. The Commoners as he looked about had taken the heaviest losses. They didn’t have armor of any kind, nor weapons so it shouldn’t have been surprising, what did catch him off guard was the number of supplies they were abandoning. True there weren’t enough commoners to carry it all, but he figured Guards or Chanters would pick up the slake. They did not, they didn’t even hesitate to leave stuff behind as all pushed forward. Most of what got left was food, mushrooms of different sorts, some meat (that he refused to think about). ‘Is it to slow the Nightmares down? The meat I can see, but mushrooms?’
He nearly smacked his head when he relieved he could have grabbed a bite to eat before matching off. His hunger was lessened by the number of disturbing sites but he knew it would be back in full force soon enough. ‘Gods, if we're leaving food behind I hope that means we're close to this Sanctum.’ Walking none stop, fighting all the time, with hunger on top sounded.. Unwise, foolish, downright insane.
Dailin eyed the containers that remained, ‘if food is worth leaving, then what’s inside those.’ Part of him prayed it was more of the Hearts that held Mana within, at this moment those were worth more than anything. Especially as he saw some Chanters take out the Hearts Vernac had given them. Witnessed as the glow left said Hearts and entered into Chanters hands, they walked straighter afterward, renewed. Dailin felt his heart drop, and prayed harder that this journey was close to ending. If his fellows burnt out, and no one had the means to fire off spells anymore that meant it was going to be his turn, and no one would want that.
‘They will have to pry Aethin hand off my own if they think they’re going to get any chant out of me.’ He’ll have to say a spell of healing first, as by now his hand felt numb, it didn’t look well either.
Their pace was hurried now, even with most tired and worn. He and the Chanters were fine, and Dailin was more than happy to see them moving faster away from the echoing horde behind them. The noise was getting more distant, so hopefully, the monsters were gorging on the fallen and food left. Hoped that it would buy them enough time to gain a comfortable distance. Their number was half maybe less from when they had left. Those crabs had done amazing fast work at cutting their numbers down. If the caravan ran into another ambush like that, he was positive it would be only the Chanters left racing to a new home.
The echoes of death receded further and further away, till Dailin struggled to hear any Nightmares. Normally he would relax, but with everyone else on edge, and the unnatural silence of the jungle infested tunnel. He was having a hard time at it. He waited, as did everyone for something to coming racing out, some new fore to reveal themselves. None came, which made it all worse. There was a small part of him hoping that they had escaped their pursuers that maybe the abominations had their fill and gave up the chase. The actions of those around him spoke differently.
They entered into a large chamber, even coved in vines and large mushroom shaped mounds the artificial make stood out. The customary dome-shaped framework of these people made it blatant. He took small comfort from it, his mind already latching on to anything that reminded him of safety. The illusion was tarnished as he spotted large claw marks and the Maggot formed tunnels marring the room. Vernac what composure he once showed long gone, replaced with his mad looks and fidgeting. “H-Hold” he looked about terror-stricken “Brothers!” He breathed deeply “Brothers, go block the passage we came through.” A moment later “And these infernal breaches!” Afterward, he pulled away from them, followed by his ever accompanied honor guard, and loyal followers.
Chanters turned, doing as they had been instructed, none looked happy about it, most scowled when their backs were turned towards Vernac. Dailin was surprised as he felt his arm being pulled in their direction. Turning Dailin saw Aethin had returned from his daydreams, his composure gone, replaced with the one he was familiar with. Scared, tired, and looking for any means out of this situation. Aethin voice was low and weary “Come it’s not wise to appear unneeded.” He gave a small smile “not unless you want to be picked for an unwanted task.” Dailin face scrunched up before he hurried paced Aethin.
All of them walked in silence towards the walls, plants gave some light but the connecting halls and tunnels were mostly dark. They approached slowly, Chanters hands aimed forward. Before anyone dared move to touch a wall and fix a breach, they would fire a small light orb into the hall. Not far, just enough to make sure nothing was lying in wait. Then quickly two or more Chanters would pull stone over each other. The after effect was very warped stone, a clear give away to any that people had marched through here. ‘Then again were running from monsters, not people, so subtlety doesn’t really matter.’ They repeated this process, even Dailin at one heart facing moment, but Aethin was there to help, and thankfully Dailin already knew the spell to warp stone. He was shocked how little mana it took to perform, at least compared to his lightning bolts. ‘Maybe that shouldn’t be my go-to spell, effective yes, but cost-effective no.’
While they had been doing most of the work and risking their lives, Vernac and co were huddled together going through the supplies. Least what remained of them very little appeared to be food. No most of it was gems of sorts, large crystals, some of which he recognized from the room that had changed him. Vernac and his ilk eyed it all greedily, counting it over and over, before ceiling the containers. Dailin turned away and focused on his task at hand. They almost had all the breaches sealed, not a single Nightmare had been spotted or heard. Not that his nerves cared, his heart would stop every time they fired a light into a tunnel. After hours of being chased around his mind couldn’t come to terms with the fact there wasn’t something waiting to grab him.
When the final wall was fixed he breathed a sigh of relief, feeling just how sore and tired he was. His mind the most worn of all. He looked at the Guards, though haggard most stood straight as they patched each other up. ‘Made of harder stuff than me, then again if that means I have to face death all the time, they can keep it.’ The commoners, however, those left were a sorry sort to look at. They all knew they were dead it was only a matter of time. No spells to hide behind, no weapon to fight with save for their small fists. They looked hopeless. ‘They are’ he offered a prayer of thanks that he wasn’t like them. Though there was a small part of him that wished it. For that lead to his death, leaving this place forever. As long as he was a Chanter that means he has a chance of survival, to elongating this life of fear. Dailin shook his head, shook the voice away.
A hand touched his back, and a soft warmth spread from it, his aches reseeding slightly. Aethin voice called him “You alright Acolyte?” Dailin opened his eyes he didn’t recall closing and faced Aethin giving him a comforting smile. “Fine, everything’s fine Mentor, just shaking the weariness away.” Aethin scoffed, then chuckled as he grabbed Dailin hand. Warmth, energy, life coursed through his frame. It felt like he had slept for days, his body itching to move. Aethin stood straighter his chin sticking out “You’re a Chanter Acolyte, the realm bends towards your needs if you feel empty take what you need.”
It took Dailin a second perhaps two before the words registered, most of his attention focused on the warmth coursing through him. When it did he gave Aethin a rather questioning look. “How?” Aethin rolled his eyes before rubbing Dailin cheeks, he stared lost in thought. “I won’t speak it out loud, not here, but you already know in truth. The knowledge buried in your mind with all the other Chants I gave you. You’ll just have to think about it, till then.” Aethin let go and took a proud stance “You’ll have to rely on me to keep you going, as I rely on you to keep.” He waved his hand about “Things that are left best far away and out of mind.”
Dailin sniffed and forced himself from scoffing ‘So I’ll be doing most of the work, and keeping us alive when the other Chanters are spent.’ He smiled while cursing Aethin “then, not that I don’t enjoy the fondness, would you perhaps not hold my hand while we walk.” Dailin looked away making sure no one was close enough to hear. “I can’t perform a chant without both my hands” Aethin blanched when hearing this, moving closer to speak into his ear. “How so? Bending the winds and waters of the realm is relatively simple as long as your soul is high enough.” Dailin looked at the floor “Oh, I haven’t tried those yet I’ve only used lightning to clear Nightmares we encounter on our way to the Core.”
“Lightening the Givers light!” Aethin lowered his voice as he looked around hoping he didn’t disturb anyone or something. “That, a” he hugged Dailin and let out a breath he must have been holding. “That is a Chant reserved for things most Horrible,” Aethin shivered “Which by the Giver I hope we don’t run into, it’s not a Chant to be wasted on these scavengers.” Aethin pulled away “It’s no wonder why you were so tired out before.”
Aethin hummed pointing one finger at Dailin, a slight breeze brushed against him, slowly growing in strength. It stopped before becoming anything worrying, but the example was clear enough. Aethin far his part didn’t seem fazed at all. “It’s one of most used when dealing with situations in a Sanctum.” Tilting his head “Why don’t you give it a try” Aethin coughed “It’s rather important for the both of us that you can.”
Dailin pursed his lips “Right.” He sifted through the sea of knowledge given to him, finding the chant quickly. As he sifted through the information, it became clear why he passed it up. It didn’t really hint that it was for killing dangerous threats, but it seems what he deemed a Threat varied greatly to his new people. Pointing a finger away from both of them, he hummed, pouring as little mana as required to get things going. The outcome was the displacement of air similar to breathing out of one's lungs. Dailin poured more mana into the spell watching closely for how much was needed for it to be deadly. He pointed his finger to the ground and observed a thin cut appear across its surface.
He canceled the flow afterwards both of them pleased with the outcome, as Aethin rubbed his hair. Aethin smiling “See easy,” stroking his chin “well anything would be easy compared to the Givers Light. Well done.”
Aethin turned “We better rejoin the other and look busy, Vernac normally wouldn’t bother me, but now isn’t normal times.” Dailin didn’t even get to reply before Aethin had his hand in a vice grip again pulling him along. While the two of them were having their bonding moment, most everyone else was taking the time to try and recoup. All the Guards were together having a meeting, Vernac was discussing things with the other leaders. He didn’t appear happy, not that he ever did.
Aethin lead them to their fellows who also formed a circle of their own. Discussions were being had, worried faces and tones all-round. Dailin catching bits of the chatter “Did you use your Heart already? Ill trade for it if you haven’t.”
“Where did all those Nightmares come from? How did the Scouts not notice that much movement?”
“Has anyone seen Thannis? I lost track of him after that last scuffle.”
Aethin looked around, measuring the group that remained. Dailin thought they were doing pretty good, maybe, they’ve lost less than a dozen. Considering the other groups this was a miracle, especially for what they had already gone through. ‘If every trip is like this, I’m going to lose my mind’ rubbing his forehead. He felt better, Aethin treatment replenished his body, but his mind still wanted rest, an extended period of calm. He wasn’t used to this constant stress, but more importantly the ever-present unknown. His lives though brutal had been organized, very routine.
“Aethin” a voice called out feminine in nature “Good to see you’re still with us, after last time getting down here I figured you’d be Nightmare paste by now.”
Aethin smiled it didn’t seem to be a fond one. “Tallen, glad to see the Giver blessed you as well” He looked to Dailin “This time around I have far more reliable help.”
‘Tallen, I think she was one of those in that table meeting before we debated, Oh gods I hope she doesn’t expect me to remember her full name.’ Dailin bowed slightly, his mind racing to recall if he ever heard her full name, before giving up. “Nice to meet you, Madam.”
Tallen smiled toothily “Oh you found a polite one.” Dailin jaw clenched as he felt her eyes measuring him. Aethin coughed pulling her gaze “I’m not trading him Tallen he is of, great Worth to me.”
Dailin fought hard to keep the worry and anger from showing on his face. ‘So I’ve moved from child soldier to slave, or was I such from the very beginning?’
She eyed Dailin one last time “Of course, perhaps later when things are less, hectic” she appeared ready to say more, but Vernac claps and calls for attention ended that.
Vernac scowled at them all, his false smiles, and kind words were long gone. “I hope you enjoyed yourselves, for we won’t be doing it again. We have our heading and we're going full spend, no carefully steps or doubling back. The Nightmares know were here, they may already have surrounded us. So get into formation.”
They all lined up marching towards one entrance that had been left unblocked. Even though Dailin was still near the center of the caravan it didn’t mean much. Not when traveling through a tunnel, nor the fact that most of the meat shields had been used up. This next stretch of running for their lives was going to be up to him and his fellows ‘Gods give me strength, please don’t let my limbs freeze up, and if I’m to die PLEASE make it quick.’ Dailin continued this mantra as Aethin returned to crushing his hand and going into his trance. When they all had left the dome behind, a Chanter closed off the entrance. Not that it would do much to stop Nightmares. ‘If they track us mostly by sound moving stone seems counterproductive.'
Their march wasn’t like before, a pleasant pace, that slowed at times. No, it was as Vernac said full spend, or as fast as they could go without killing themselves. It was nearing a jog, and all of them were making a racket compared to before. ‘We better be somewhat close to our destination.’ As Dailin eyed people, that looked ready to drop, namely Guards and commoners. ‘Or we’re going to lose what remains of our expendables.’ Dailin would have been among them if it wasn’t for Aethin releasing a torrent of warmth from his hand into Dailin own body. Then life would return to aching limbs and his burning lungs. Where Aethin was getting the reserves to keep doing that while remaining unfazed had him thinking. Not much as he was scanning his surrounding continuously
‘A Chanter takes what they need from the realm or something near that.’ He knew somewhere in his head was the key to that, someway he could copy what Aethin may be doing. But, as he almost tripped again unaccustomed to running yet with these new legs, he also knew now wasn’t the time. Especially as familiar sounds started to echo.
The sound of stone coming apart followed a ways back accompanied by the clicking that had his hairs standing on end. People moved faster, even if it may be unwise in the long run, especially in the long run. But Dailin, as his own pace quickened couldn’t blame them.
Growing crakes were forming along the tunnel, the Nightmares either growing in number or becoming increasing well at determining which way they were headed.
A boom voiced out ahead and the march came to a halt, as people bumped into each other. Screams and screeches went about as Guards were fell upon by Maggots of varying sizes, their Stinger cousins close behind. The Crabs had yet to appear, and he hoped that would continue.
The tunnel they were in wasn’t particularly large, a width allowing two to be shoulder to shoulder. This played in the Guards favor before another breached appeared knocking people about, those that fell were quickly consumed by waves of fangs. Vernac yelled “Brothers dispense of this filth!” Guards looked back in horror as those that could through themselves to the ground.
Chanters on Hover plates, and those at the front of the Chanter line aimed forward. The wind howled, those hit by the brunt of the attack were sent flying, then descended upon by invisible blades. All along the tunnel thousands of small cut imprinted on the stone. By the time the Chant ended everything that had been blocking their path was rendered into a red smear. A few Guards close enough to the Chanters that had laid on their bellies had survived the ordeal.
Shaking like leaves, wide-eyed and were having difficulty getting up, the shock taken them completely. Dailin shallowed forcefully, even with his stomach now feeling empty he still felt like something wanting to come up. He looked at the ceiling and took large breaths as he readied himself to walk through that muck.
The little act of self-harm had cleared their path, which was good as from behind Nightmares were streaming towards them. Chanters yelled and pushed commoners and Guards forward not a care given for their distressed state. Dailin held his breath and closed his eyes as he walked through the shredded bodies, clamping up when he stepped on a particularly large chunk of meat. He peeled his eyes open when his steps no longer felt wet. That and the war cries of Nightmares were getting near again. Those that had followed behind them had been blasted apart. Chanters now on the offensive, no longer waiting for Guards to try and get things under control. In truth, the Guards and commoners alike were watching him and the Chanters more closely than the Nightmares. Fear plainly written on their collective faces, ‘Praise be to the gods that I wasn’t born a Guard!’ Dailin also threw in few prayers for these poor souls, but he didn’t hold hope that any would be answered.
As they matched and the tunnel widened enough the Guards reorganized. They and commoners alike had all repositioned themselves in the back of the party. Chanters were leading the way, and surprisingly Vernac didn’t voice any complaint of this. Least not after he made sure the commoners that were carrying the crates stayed near them. After this switch their pace increased, The Guards, but mostly commoners had a hard time keeping pace with them. It only got worse as Guards would slow or stop to help their own hold off Nightmares running after them. He and his fellows, however, kept moving and stopped rendering aid altogether.
“Should we just kill that riffraff, they're only bringing more attention to us at this point.” Voiced one the Chanter ahead of him. “No” answered others simultaneously “Not yet” called another “Their staff Hearts still glow with soul, they can hold their own a while longer.” That got a muffed grunt out of the first Chanter to speak.
Their race with death seemed to last ages to Dailin view. Even if it could have been only minutes, everything looked the same winding path of greenery. ‘It better have been longer than that.’ As he eyed Chanters, they no longer looked well rested, no they were being too look tired. Taking quick breaths to maintain their near jog. Dailin glared at Vernac back, as from the beginning the madman was riding on a hover platform. His veins a constant glow, feeding mana into the runes of his glorified flying chair.
He wanted that chair, so very badly, and was about to give Aethin a glare as well for trading theirs away. But he stopped himself as another wave a warmth washed over him. Aethin for all his faults was doing quite a bit to keep him alive, and somehow his mentor still seemed unaffected by the constant fight and flight. Sure he was breathing heavily like the rest of them, but he didn’t look worn.
Screeeech, that sound was everything for a time as sections of wall broke open ahead of them, they slowed but didn’t stop. Chants went, and pressurized air answered, swatting away everything. They walked now, slowly towards the breaches. When one of them had a clear enough room, they fired inside the tunnel. As Dailin past he saw within a mess of deformed Nightmares. ‘Least these things don’t seem to learn.’ They no longer wasted time nor mana closing off the holes, this made things worse for the Guards that trailed behind them. More than once new waves of Maggots had stormed out of a cleared tunnel, catching Guards off balance or to thinly numbered to deal with the problem.
It was sad and unfair, yes, but not his problem, no he had a far worse one. He was increasingly being the one of the few firing off spells to answer incoming threats, or to clear a tunnel. True he hadn’t done anything for much of the trip, but seeing himself doing a lot of the work had him worried. It’s not that Chanters didn’t want to help, they just were too tired or near being used up. More and more were looking and acting light headed.
During the whole ordeal, and his constant need to kill things, Aethin was there pumping mana into him. If not Dailin would have been the first to drop, or lag behind. ‘Aethin, I’ll hug you back I swear, as long as you keep up whatever you’re doing.’ Was his thought as another wave of fangs was reduced to shattered meat scraps. The tunnel was ending, and from the entrance, he saw a cavern spread-out, what he saw next had his blood curdle.
Nightmares seas of Nightmares awaited them, but that wasn’t what had his heartache, it was the large hill sized creature that was in the center of them. It had been laying down, but the commotion they were making stirred it to life. It stood held aloft by four large bug shaped legs that ended as spikes. Many lengthy armed shaped appendages sprouted from opening in its hill shaped mound. Its head was small compared to the bunched up bulk it was attached to. It was still large enough to swallow him whole, not that the large mandibles and fangs would let that happen.
It stared them down as they entered its domain blasting apart its child that barred their path. Its mouth opened, a cry of rage let out that grew in volume, till the whole carven seemed to reverberate, and his eardrums felt like they were going to burst. It stopped, but his ears kept ringing, the flooring shook as all the Nightmares turned towards them and charged.