There was a moment of silence. Everyone was thinking, trying to understand what I just had told them. To be fair, until today, I had just thought of it as a story as well. But if this was the truth, it made me question many things. There were many more stories that my father had gathered, stored, or had hidden away. Of course, I found most of them and read them all. But most of them were felt like fantasy stories, or thought out entertainment. But if they were true, or had some truth in them, this world was scary. And more importantly, it made me question my family or my father.
“This can’t be true, right? How in the hell do you even know any of this?” Bill was the first to open his mouth, looking at Alice and Arryn, seeking some kind of support.
“I-I’ve heard about Ceo’ge,” Alice said, eyes closed, head resting against the wall. “A-and everyone knows about the legacy of Hin and Ren. T-the first hero couple, starting one of the greatest bloodlines that exist in Kirkwall till this very day.”
“Akagi Family,” Arryn said, pushing spade deep into the dirt with a lot more force than usual. “Or well, nowadays more known as Red Tree Family. Provides everyone the most expensive and finest red bark you can find.”
“Hilarious,” Bill said as he began to chuckle. “Life can be so… surprising? If this is a true story, and the family happens to deal in trees… Hin had a great sense of humor. What a nice coincidence.”
“If it’s even coincidence,” Arryn muttered. “Not that anything we think matters. We won’t be able to talk to them, not even in a million years,” she said.
I chuckled. Funnily enough, I could, and quite easily. Being the hero and all.
I pushed my own spade at the very top once more, just to accidentally scatter the dirt towards us, but also backward, creating a slight opening. Everyone looked at the opening, immediately.
“Fucking nice,” Bill said, grinning. “We might not die after all.”
“Not yet,” Arryn muttered.
We all began to spade the dirt away from the top, immediately, trying to expand the opening, just so we could squeeze ourselves through.
We could occasionally hear some noises or shouts coming at the other end of the tunnel, but until now there was no signal that the others would be anywhere close to digging the collapse out. It seemed that we won that lottery.
“Alright, I think the hole is big enough. Who goes first?” Bill asked, looking at all of us.
“I’ll go,” Arryn said. As we all stared at her, just for a moment, she sighed. “I can see in the dark? And I’m an elf, which makes me very skinny? Hello?”
“Yeah, understandable, go,” Bill said, nodding.
As Arryn pushed herself through the hole. We continued making it larger, or at least tried. As she was at the other side, there was a moment of silence.
“Well?” Bill stage whispered.
“It’s… safe, I guess?” an answer returned from the opening.
I sighed and got myself near the hole next, looking at Bill. “Give me torch after I get through, okay?”
Bill nodded. And I pushed myself through the opening immediately after. Thankfully there was Arryn waiting at the other side, helping me land on my two feet. As expected, I could see nothing. But as torch followed up, and I pulled it through the hole as well, a new section became visible. Sadly, there wasn’t much to see, really. It was yet another tight tunnel. But compared to the ones we had come from, this wasn’t recently made, and some of the roots were occasionally pushing through. It was surprising that this tunnel existed. It felt like something different, like something ancient. It felt magical. And it was filled with fresh air.
“This is interesting,” I said, looking at both sides where our new tunnels led. “So, now we just have to hope that we are going the right way?” I said, sighing.
“That’s easy,” she said.
Bill just got through the hole, looking everywhere as well. “Holy shit,” he said, grinning. “We hit the jackpot. Now we just need to destroy the tunnel behind us!”
“With what?” Arryn asked. “We are out of everything, really, and it’s too dangerous to do it manually.”
“I-I can create an ice block?” Alice muttered as she got herself through.
“It will melt too much before they even reach it. We’ll keep your magical essence for the time when we actually need it,” I said. I finally turned to Arryn. “What did you mean by that’s easy?”
Arryn smiled and pointed at the torch. We all looked at it.
“Of course,” I muttered, smiling. “Of course. You’re a genius,” I said nodding.
“What?” Bill was the one to ask - as expected. Not that any of us minded.
“The torch is dancing like crazy, you idiot,” Arryn said.
I raised the torch, just to see it dancing towards the other way. As I moved it down, it began to dance in the opposite direction.
“So, the rule is simple, Billy. Heat goes up, cold goes down,” I explained.
“Never call me Billy again,” Bill said, looking at me, eyes squinted.
“So. Okay. Fresh cold air comes in from the entrance, and hot air goes out from the ceiling?” Bill asked.
Alice looked at us, slightly worried. “W-which makes me question, what’s heating the air up so fast that it’s moving with such intensity?”
“Excellent question,” I said, starting to walk - according to the logic - more inwards. “There’s only one way to find out.”
“I’ll go last,” Arryn said immediately. “I’ll cover our tracks for a while, as well. And just keep an eye out.”
With a nod, she departed from us.
“Damn, she’s good,” I muttered. “Why are you considered the worst team in Kirkwall? I don’t understand. You’re all pretty good. Why others can’t see that?”
Alice and Bill chuckled. “Because we rarely finish the quest we got. But not because we couldn’t finish it, but because we chose not to.”
“How come?” I asked the question.
“You know that people are often the ones who need to pay part of the price, while guild pays the other half, right? Except if it comes to the other side of the wall, of course. But in Kirkwall, the prices have gone too much up. Mostly because there aren’t enough adventurers to help simple folk out. So, us finishing a quest would be devastating to those who requested the quest in the first place,” Bill said, sighing. “So, we often decide not to finish the quest, or take only a partial reward. We don’t want to help villagers, just to devastate their money or resources afterward.”
I sighed. “That’s a pretty heroic thing to do,” I muttered. “Shouldn’t adventurers be those ego-centric maniacs who only look at the money?”
Bill laughed. “If that was the condition, I would never become an adventurer. In the end, it’s up to us to decide what to do. And for some reason, it has stuck with all of us, including Arryn. Someone has to do them.”
Alice took a few quick steps next to me, looking at me seriously. “I-I-If you w-want, y-you can j-join us!” I was stunned for a moment. Alice immediately looked away from me, towards the ground. “D-don’t answer n-now. T-think about it f-first, a-a-alright?” And she stopped for a moment, continuing walking behind us once more.
As I looked at Bill, he was grinning.
Bill leaned towards me. “Alice has never asked anyone to join the team. I’m pretty sure that she likes you,” he whispered.
But the moment was broken by the running steps towards us. Of course, it was Arryn who caught up. I could see what she was about to tell us from her eyes alone. “They’re through. But they don’t know which way we’ve gone, I think. But they have the resources to split up. We should hurry up.”
Alice stopped. “I’ll make multiple ice walls here. It will stop them for a short time.” She looked at all of us, determined.
“Are you sure, Alice?” I asked.
“I’ll stay with him,” Bill said, nodding. “I’ll make sure she’s alright. You go forward.”
Alice sighed. “I’ll stay too. Someone needs to shoot arrows while you drag Alice towards safety,” she said, smiling.
“Oh come on, you’re not gonna send a newcomer ahead into the unknown?”
“You suck at fighting, even though you did better than I expected. So just go, find out what we are fighting for or against, and come back. We’ll also retreat when necessary. We’re just buying you some time, after all. You seem to know most about this shit either way,” Bill said, giving me a pat on the shoulder. It hurt.
“Alright,” I said, sighing. “Don’t create walls immediately. Freeze the ground. Make them a hard time to walk forward. Then create walls a bit later, so they have a hard time mining or destroying it as well,” I told Alice.
“Great idea,” Alice said, nodding. “Thank you for the potion, Hiro. I’m alright now.”
“You guys are weird,” I stage whispered, and started to jog. Meanwhile, Alice was taking out her wooden stick, or like she wanted to call it - a wand, ready to use her magic.
Who in the hell would send the new guy alone to the unknown, ready to sacrifice themselves? But perhaps this was the true charm of this party. And it stung slightly, that it was me, the hero, who was leaving them behind, not the other way around.
I only wish my adventure would’ve begun with all of them at my side. But every moment that passed, it made me sadder to think that it was going to end soon, one way or another.
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- Matthew E. Damson
I'm someone whose pen-name is Matthew E. Damson. Some others know me as Elven. I'm also known as elf, elfie, elves, pointy ears, and some more. To be honest, I have no idea why they call me other names, but they create nicknames, not me.
You can read my stuff and shorts at reddit.com/r/Elven
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