“Run!” Ari shouted.
He and Killian rushed toward their teammates. The sounds of swords clashing echoed through the cavern, so their fight wasn’t done. After the caster died, not only Ari felt stronger, but also his essence reserve was nearly fully restored, and he was ready to help them. We need to kill the weird goblin before the boar breaks free. He glanced over his shoulder at the enormous red-furred monster, as it tried to get rid of the chains. But soon, dust blocked his view as the whole bone altar collapsed beneath it. He gulped and turned his attention back to the ground in front of him and increased his pace.
As soon as they reached the area near the tunnel, Ari and Killian balked at what they saw.
Elijah lay prostrate in an ever-expanding pool of blood. Tasia stood a few meters in front of him, as she defended his unmoving figure from the husky goblin. His last attack made her stagger backward as she barely blocked it, and her sword fell to the ground with a loud clang. The creature pressed his advantage and swept his jagged sword downward at the raven-haired woman, breaking through one of the barriers. A sharp cry sounded as the blade cut deep into her shoulder, tearing through cloth and flesh, till it lodged into her bones. Then, the goblin threw his head back and laughed.
“Nooooo!” Killian shouted, his voice filled with pain and despair. Shadows leaped across his boyish, normally emotionless face, and his mouth twisted in a snarl as he lifted his bow. The air around him buzzed and crackled, but he hesitated because the woman stood right behind the goblin.
Tasia coughed blood and held up her hand, palm toward them before she placed it on the creature’s neck. A moment later, a barrier shimmered in front of her.
“Break for me.”
Her words were almost soundless, barely a whisper.
Golden light flared, basking the cavern in a strange glow. The barrier shattered, and hundreds upon hundreds of shards pierced through the goblin’s convulsing body. Whenever they emerged on the other side, their golden color turned black. For a second, all was still. Then, the goblin collapsed into a gruesome, steaming pile of meat, entrails, and bones. Even the rusty steel cuirass hadn’t survived the onslaught.
Tasia took a few wobbly steps before she spotted them. She spat out a wad of blood and smiled, showing her crimsoned teeth. Then, she fell face-first onto the rocky ground.
Who should I heal first? Ari’s pulse started to race and his hands began to tremble. No no no. Not now. He slapped his cheeks as hard as he could, and Killian stared at him with a questioning look mixed with horror.
“Check on Elijah and try to stop the bleeding,” Ari said and rushed toward the woman. She was closer, and he couldn’t waste more time. The boar roared in the distance, but it could break free at any moment.
He placed his hands on her back and used his new spell, Healing Touch. The splintered shoulder wasn’t the only wound as he sensed cuts and bruises all over her body. He looked at the jagged blade and he knew he had no choice but to remove it. After taking a deep breath, Ari pulled against it. With a sickening sound, it popped free, and he staggered back at its sudden release. He healed her for a half a minute and let the spell do the rest before hurrying to check on Elijah.
Killian was kneeling beside the chubby man as he pressed a blood-soaked piece of cloth to his chest. Elijah was pale, and his breath was shallow, but he was alive. Ari sent strands of his essence inside the wounded man’s body and cast Healing Touch again. After ten seconds, color returned to Elijah’s face, and Ari sat back and wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“That was a close one,” he muttered. Healing the pair used nearly half of his essence, but they should recover in no time. While their wounds looked severe, they were easy to mend as healing spells boosted the natural recovery of the body, so it worked better on physical injuries.
“Took you long enough.” Tasia’s voice reached his ears. The woman was already on her feet, and she walked toward them. A grimace twisted her lips as she moved her right arm in a half-circle. “Still hurts a bit. What’s that sound?” she asked and turned toward the center of the cavern.
“The boar,” Ari gulped and replied flatly.
She picked her two-handed sword and gave it a few testing swings. “Ah, good. Then we have some time. In most lower-ranked dungeons the boss battle must be initiated. It’s a safety precaution.” She paused when she saw their expression. “What did you do?”
Ari gave her a sheepish smile. “Uhm, it wasn’t us—”
“Aaaaahhhh,” Elijah shouted as he sat up rapidly and started patting his chest down. But after finding only a large hole in his shirt, he let out a deep breath. “Thank god, it’s gone.”
They stared at Elijah, who looked back at them and asked, “Is it over?”
Before Ari was able to respond, he felt a low rumble as it rose to a terrifying roar, which resounded throughout the cavern. Then, the whole rock formation in the center collapsed, and thick clouds of smoke mixed with dust came rolling towards them. It grew dark, and their eyes burned.
“What the hell is this?” Elijah said between coughs.
“The boss. Those two idiots let it go,” Tasia said.
Suddenly, Ari spotted a pair of red glowing eyes staring at him. They were close, too close. “It’s here!” he shouted in anguish and fired a quick blast of essence in their direction.
The boar roared again and charged at them. Tasia placed a barrier to slow it down, but it tore through the shimmering obstacle as if it was made out of paper. They managed to jump out of the monster’s way, and it crashed into the wall, raising more clouds of dust. Pebbles and rocks started falling from the ceiling, and Ari ducked and covered his head.
“Run to the crevice, we can’t fight it like that,” he shouted.
“Which way? I can’t see shit,” Tasia responded, trying to catch her breath.
“My sword,” Elijah shouted. “I forgot my sword.”
“Fuck your sword, you were useless even with it,” Tasia retorted.
Elijah grumbled something, but Ari couldn’t hear him as he focused on finding the opening in the rocks. The red moss glowed dimly, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one spot without light. Maybe I can use Aura Reading to find… Ari cursed. I’m so fucking stupid. He sent a few thin strands of essence to his eyes and looked over his shoulder. A massive twirling white-gray cloud surrounded the boar, making it visible against the static gray background. And it seemed the monster was stuck in the wall.
“Cover your eyes in essence, now!” Ari shouted. Someone bumped into him from the side, and he stumbled but caught his balance in time.
“Why didn’t I think about it,” Tasia groaned. After a second, she added, “We need to attack while it’s down.”
Ari saw another, but much smaller and dimmer, cloud running toward the monster. His companions joined the woman, and he followed suit. It was a reckless thing to do, but they had no choice.
The group quickly approached the flailing boar and attacked with everything they had. The air brimmed with essence as fire and lightning converged on the monster’s back, making it hard to see anything. Each spell flared with blinding color forcing Ari to remove the essence from his eyes. After half a minute, the barrage of spells stopped, and all Ari could hear was their ragged breaths.
The dust began to clear out, and they could again see their surroundings. The boar lay on the ground not moving, part of it still lodged into the wall.
“Is it dead?” Elijah asked, his voice filled with hope.
Tasia shook her head. Her face was pale as she leaned on her sword, barely being able to stand. “You would have felt it. We need—”
Before she was able to finish, the boar roared again. Some of their spells missed, and the rocks around it were partially destroyed. Not even a second later, the monster broke free and turned to face them. Even without Reading its aura, Ari felt the essence flaring around its massive body.
Then, it charged at them.
Ari fired another blast of essence and dodged, but it didn’t even leave a scratch on the thick red fur. Killian was the one furthest from the wall and he stood his ground with his bow fully drawn. When the charging boar was a second away from crushing him, he released the arrow and jumped to the side. The monster cried in pain, but it still charged for a few seconds before stopping. Now it kept hitting the ground with its head, ignoring everything.
“I’ve got an idea,” Tasia said. “Hide in the crevice and leave it to me.” Then, she ran toward the chasm.
What is she planning to do? Ari though. Then it struck him, and he said, “I will stay and heal her if something goes wrong.” When the other stared at him with a doubtful expression on their faces, he shouted, “Go! It won’t work with all of us here!” This finally got them running, and Ari joined the raven-haired woman as she stood near the edge of the chasm.
“I told you to run,” she scolded him.
“You can barely stand,” Ari responded.
She stared at him before nodding with resignation. Then, both started shouting obscenities and Ari fired another blast from his scepter.
The boar sniffed the air and turned toward the pair, gazing with one remaining eye — an arrow shaft was stuck in the other one. After a moment, it rushed at them, gaining speed with each step. When the monster was twenty meters away from the chasm, it buried its hooves in the ground and clouds of dust rose in the air. But even then, it crossed half of the distance before stopping completely.
“It is not as stupid as we thought,” Ari murmured.
“Shut up, it’s your fault,” Tasia snapped at him.
“How is it my...” Ari paused when he noticed something weird.
The boar’s enormous tusks started glowing red and flames appeared on their pointy ends. Ari’s eyes widened. He wanted to push Tasia away, but before he did, his spider crashed into the boar from the side, and both creatures were sent tumbling.
“We need to regroup and find another way,” Ari said. The woman nodded, and they sprinted off as fast as they could.
The spider jumped around the boar, trying to keep it occupied, rather than hurt it in any way. But it only bought them a few seconds before the boar impaled it on its sharp tusks and the summon dissolved back into the water. Water. Ari thought and stopped dead in his tracks.
When Tasia noticed that she shouted, “What are you doing, you idiot?”
“Tell the others to buy me two minutes!” Without waiting for an answer, Ari rushed toward the muddy goblin huts. There, he spread his essence tendrils around himself and started gathering all the water he could sense. Whatever he found, even if it were a few drops, was added to a cloud floating above his head. After half a minute, he reached his limit and hurried toward the chasm.
Looking to his left, Ari saw the rest of his team fighting against the boar. Or rather, doing whatever they could to avoid being impaled by its tusks as they took turns in baiting the monster, while the other two tried to attack it from behind. He was glad nobody got hurt because he had maybe a third of his reserve left.
When Ari approached the chasm, he cautiously peered over the edge and gulped because he couldn’t even see the bottom. Then, he let the cloud fall to the ground and formed it into a long strip, which ended close to the chasm’s edge. He made two more trips to the huts before he gathered all the water from the area. But even then, the strip was at most two meters wide at the part furthest from him. This will have to do.
“I’m ready!” Ari shouted.
His teammates retreated to the crevice, and the boar roared and stomped outside as if this would lure them out. Ari discharged his scepter, and while the blast missed, the monster turned his attention toward him.
The thundering sound of boar’s hooves striking the ground echoed in the cavern, but it soon got drowned by his heartbeat pounding in his ears. When the monster was thirty meters away from him, its tusks began to glow. Fuck, it’s using the spell earlier than before. But Ari knew he had no other choice but to stand his ground — he wouldn't be able to move all the water in time to adjust the angle.
The boar’s mouth opened wider than it should be possible, and fiery essence seeped out of it. Time seemed to slow down. Flames started forming deep inside its throat, and Ari could swear he was able to count them one by one. Then, a stream of fire burst from the charging monster’s mouth.
Ari took a single step to avoid being hit straight into his chest. If he ducked, the monster would probably adjust its aim and this would end even worse. He braced himself by bending his knees and planting his feet firmly on the ground. His shield came up to block, but the sizzling stream burned through it in less than a second.
The fire engulfed his arm and shoulder, nearly pushing him into the chasm. The cloak and shirt bought him some time before their enchantments failed and the fire burned through the fabric.
Then, he screamed.
Each second the fire devoured his flesh felt like an eternity. The odor and the agony were overwhelming, but he knew there was no other way and he had to withstand the pain. For his friends. For his Mother. The soothing mist of his healing spell constantly repaired the damage. While this allowed him to stay conscious, it also meant his nerves were destroyed and rebuilt in a never-ending cycle of suffering.
Just one more meter.
When the boar’s front legs touched the water, it sensed something was wrong as it closed its mouth, cutting off the fire.
Too late, Ari thought and activated the scepter’s enchantment.
Instantly, the gem flared into blue brightness and a chill filled the air as the water strip in front of him froze. Ari gathered as much strength he could muster and jumped to the side.
The boar slipped and fell to its knees. The ice groaned under its weight as it slid toward the chasm, carried by its momentum. It tried desperately to thrust its tusks into the ground outside of the frozen path, but barriers shimmered on its edges, blocking those attempts. Two seconds later, the monster’s last pitiful cry escaped its mouth as it plunged into the darkness.
Ari writhed in pain, unable to prevent a low, guttural groan from coming out of his mouth as the spell tried to heal his body, this time without any interruptions. But he already felt something was wrong with his arm. Suddenly, he gasped when a warm essence wave passed through him, and three boxes appeared in his mind.
|The Kreanrink Caverns have been cleared|
|Your rewards will appear shortly|
|Essence Rank progress: 16% -> 31%|
|You have learned a new active spell Summon Lesser Fire Elemental|
|You have learned a new passive spell Mental link|
Then, his vision grew dark and the pain finally disappeared.