Felix shifted uneasily where she lay and let out a low, throaty growl. Raithe put out a hand, motioning her to be quiet as he slowly rose to his feet. With his staff in hand, he walked to the entrance and paused, placing a hand on the wall, listening for any sound.
More shifting on the rock outside.
With a shaky breath, he steeled himself and stepped outside. Raithe stood up straight, staring at the figure leaning against the outside wall. The man was maybe an inch shorter than himself, long matted black hair hung down to his waist, he was thin and that smile Raithe had seen before, was now gone. Gin looked absolutely pitiful, standing there in his now muddied and torn up gown. His arms and legs were full of small, superficial scratches and scrapes and he looked cold and very hungry.
Raithe set his staff down on the ground and stood up straight again, clenching his fists. Though his gaze never left that man, he was sure his knuckled had gone white and his face felt hot. Fury boiling up inside. Next thing he knew, he was standing in front of Gin, holding the collar of the man's gown. When Gin tried to move, Raithe slammed him against the wall to emphasize his anger.
“You,” he said, his voice cold. “Why are you here?”
Gin opened his mouth to speak, but Raithe slammed him again.
“What do you want?”
Gin put up his hands, a surrendering gesture.
Raithe narrowed his eyes.
“R-relax,” Gin said nervous tension in his voice. “I just saw your fire and thought-”
“That someone would be here willing to help you?” Raithe asked.
“Well I'll tell you one thing,” Raithe continued. “Karma is a bitch!” he slammed Gin against the wall again and then taking a deep breath, stepped away from the man. Never turning his gaze from Gin, Raithe stepped backwards and slowly picked up his staff. From the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Felix's head peaking out of the cave's shadowed interior. “Why... would I want to help someone who tried to kill me?” he said each word slow, careful and with emphasis.
Gin stepped away from the wall, probably not wanting to be in that cornered position again and faced him squarely, with his hands still up. “I only thought...” he said. “Well... you must understand, I was like you, trying to stay alive and I figured that it would be better you than me.”
“You tried to feed me to that... if it were for that girl I'd be-”
“You'd be dead,” Gin finished in his usual high pitched, calculating tone.
“Yes that,” Raithe said. “So it's like that then?”
Gin looked into the sky, then back at Raithe and shrugged. “I suppose,” he said.
Raithe didn't care how much Gin needed help, he seemed like the type of man who would sacrifice any of his friends just so that he alone could survive. He didn't need someone like that following him around. “Leave,” he said coldly.
“Oh come on!” Gin pleaded.
“Leave!” Raithe said more forcefully.
“You're not even gonna...” he trailed off as Felix walked up beside Raithe. Of course for a man like that, his fear lasted a mere millisecond before he was staring into Raithe's eyes with a scowl. “Look... I think we can help-”
“Each other?” Raithe asked, raising his voice. “You tried to kill me.”
“Yes... yes I did try to... oh just listen,” he said a little more frantic. “I thought I could use you as bait and obviously I was wrong because... well, because you were able to survive. And yes, apparently the next test is nothing to sniff at. I'm sure we both have skills that might be useful. Can't you just... oh I don't know... trust me?” he said that with puppy dog eyes, a pleading voice and a shrug.
Something told Raithe that this guy in his previous life, was a mastermind when it came to deception. Raithe sighed and lowered his staff, relaxing a little. “Trust you? No,” he said, putting emphasis on the word. “Work together? Fine, we can do that... but if you try anything at all...” Raithe gestured toward Felix who let out a low growl in response.
Gin nodded and then visibly relaxed.
“Go inside,” Raithe said, motioning him toward the entrance. “There is a fire going. Felix and I were just about to go get us some fish so... wait there. We'll be back.”
“How do I know?” Gin asked, sounding worried.
“Because I'm not like you,” Raithe replied and then stomped off in the direction of that spring. Leaving him there was actually tempting and amusing to think about, but so were those words. He smiled as the cave vanished out of view.
They caught three fish, one for each of them and then hauled their quarry back to the cave. By the time they returned, Raithe entered to find Gin not wearing his white gown. Instead, it was hanging of a long branch the man had wedge across the top, drying over the fire and he was sitting there with a wide grin on his face, cross legged, with his hands warming over the fire.
Raithe rolled his eyes and then through one of the fish – the smallest – over to him. “I take it you know how to fillet?”
“Of course,” Gin said and grabbed the fish, inspecting it. He glanced up at Raithe after a moment. “How am I supposed to do that without any... tools?”
“That's your problem now, isn't it?” Raithe said and then plopped himself right down beside the man. It really was a small space and with Felix in there with them, there was barely enough space to even move around. Somehow, he managed though.
While Felix enjoyed her breakfast, Raithe pulled a small knife which had been provided for him, from within the satchel and began to carve his up. Removing the innards and placing the rest of it on a stick to roast over the fire. Then he handed the knife to Gin. Although watching Gin struggle would have brought a little amusement to his day, in the end Raithe decided it wasn't worth the time they would be wasting.
“Felix,” Raithe said when they were finished. The fire had been stamped out and they left the place more or less, the way it had been found. “Faux said that you would know the way to test two?”
Felix turned and trotted down the slope which led to the cave. Raithe followed with Gin close behind.
“Hey,” Gin said. “Hey wait.”
Raithe and Felix both turned to face him.
“Where'd you get the clothes?”
“Wouldn't you like to know?” Raithe said in a not at all, smug way.
“Yes... that is why I'm asking.”
“Can't or won't?”
“Won't,” he replied. “Look, I am sure that we can find you close along the way. But right now, we really should focus on that second test.”
Gin eyed him suspiciously for a moment, then he sighed. “Alright fine.”
Raithe fell silent as they followed Felix through the forest to where the second test would be. He chose not to speak because he thought Gin was just an arrogant tool who didn't deserve his time of day. And Gin didn't say anything more because... well... he didn't know why. Regardless, this next part of their journey seemed to go by a lot quicker and soon they came out into a small clearing of sorts.
The area was covered in grass and moss covered boulders, the ground was damp and squished through their toes as they tromped their way through it and the was a huge mound on the other side. A small hill with a mixture of grass and moss growing all over it and a few shrubs and bushes all growing on one side. As they came closer, it became clear that this wasn't just a bump in the earth. A stream flowing through the mound, revealed what it actually was. What those shrubs and bushes hid, was a long and dark tunnel.
Felix sat casually on one side of the opening, waiting to be given some kind of command, Raithe guessed.
Gin walked passed him and pushed some of the thick branches and leaves to the side. He peer inside. “You sure this is the way?” he asked. His voice came out a little shaky, nerves breaking.
Raithe ignored the question and looked inside as well. The tunnel was long and very dark. Wind howled through it, but the sound it created then was something not human or something none of them would be able to imitate in any case. A deep moaning, groaning sound. He stepped back and nearly toppled over as that breeze came back out, like a living, breathing thing. Then there was the smell. The same as that bear creature. Rotting flesh, feces, rotten eggs and rotten fish all combined into one. He covered his nose.
“As much as I wish the next test has something to do with unicorns and rainbows.... I don't think that is the case,” he said in a voice which sounded like he was talking with a stuffed nose because, well... “Yes, I do think this is the way.”
Gin looked at him with eyes that were actually open all the way. A serious expression on his face. Somehow that seemed a little bit more creepy than his usual squinty, eyed stare. “Alright so... I'm only going to say this once. Felix is an animal, she can't speak like we do and she doesn't think the same way either. How can you be so sure that she actually understood what you were asking of her?”
Raithe shrugged. “Dunno,” he said. “What I do know is that she is the best thing we have to a proper guide.”
“Alright then... fare point,” Gin said. He sighed and shook his head before continuing. “So... here's the next question... how can you be so sure this is the beginning of test three? It seems... a little too easy. I though we were supposed to just survive here for a given amount of time.”
“I think,” Raithe began. “The whole idea of test two was to find the entrance to test three...”
Raithe nodded. “I do.”
“Fare enough,” Gin said and then went back to his squinty eyed expression.
Raithe shivered. Nope... that one was still just as creepy. He stepped into the scary tunnel passed Gin, Felix stood up and heeled right beside him. “The sooner we find the exit to this place... the sooner we won't have to work together any longer.” he glanced down at Felix. “What's beyond here anyway?”
She meowed up at him.
“Yup, didn't think so,” he said as he began his walk into darkness.
Behind him, Gin muttered under his breath, “he's talking to a cat. This guy has definitely gone insane.”
The journey through was exactly as he had expected it to be, absolutely terrifying. If that constant moaning sound wasn't bad enough, he felt almost as if something was watching him. Peaking over his shoulder, breathing on his neck. Always he swiveled his head from one side only to find nothing and then to the other, where he thought he could catch the slightest glimpse of a shadowy thing, vanishing within the enveloping darkness. Through the entrance where light rays flowed in, it was like a veil. Blocking most of it, stopping it within just a few feet of the opening.
There came a point when Raithe couldn't tell whether he was still awake or sleeping through a nightmare. Just as in his dreams, there were those dark gelatinous tendrils reaching out for him, trying to grab his ankles, to trip.
Felix hissed which caused even the ever so, cool Gin to jump in surprise and Raithe felt his tail poof out to five times its natural size. He nearly jumped five feet in the air as well which would have resulted in a pretty nasty headache. “W-what is it Felix?” he asked, kneeling down beside her. His entire body was involuntarily shivering. He just... couldn't stop it.
She looked back up at him, meeting her gaze with his. Then Felix meowed softly and shook her body as if trying to rid herself of being wet.
“I... think it's nothing,” Raithe said standing up.
“Nothing?” Gin said exasperated. “She nearly made me jump out of my skin!”
“You and me both,” Raithe replied.
Felix continued passed them at a trot, almost like nothing had even happened. Perhaps she was just trying to forget.
The tunnel ended abruptly at a drop which seemed to go down several hundred feet. It opened up into an enormous chamber and from where they stood, Raithe could see two other tunnels. Each one had a stream which flowed endlessly down into a pit. Huge waterfalls were created as a result and down below there was a massive pool of water. To their left was a sloped path leading down.
Felix was the first to step onto it and descend. Each step she took was careful and precise on the slippery stone. Raithe followed next with his arms stretched out to either side for balance and then there was Gin who tip toed behind them.
Right when his first foot hit the bottom of the ramp, more words appeared in front of him.
|The Way Under|
“Hmmm,” Gin said intrigued. “Interesting.”
“This your first time seeing words pop up on their own?” Raithe asked.
“You can... say that, I guess... That is the name of this place, right?”
Around the very deep pool of waster, was a thin, stone path which they followed in silence. It wasn't until they came to the opening of another dark tunnel, that they heard the terrifying screech. Felix whirled to face it, Raithe tightened his grip on his staff and... and Gin just stood back, leaning against the wall.