Chapter 16 - Kill Ten Hordelings (Part Two).
Søren followed Neeka through the narrow tunnel. The ceiling was criss-crossed with tiny cracks and had little hollow straw-like formations of stone hanging from it. The cave was reminiscent of the limestone caverns he had visited with his parents during a road trip across the United States. They had visited Marengo Cave, one of many cave systems in the southern half of Indiana. Narrow crevices off to the side drew Søren's attention each time they neared one. The shadows created by the light from Neeka's spear flickered and shifted with each step. After the events of the Tutorial, Søren was still paranoid about being attacked.
Neeka paused at an intersection of tunnels and crouched down. Her eyes looked in different directions, taking in each of the three tunnels in turn while still keeping an eye on the tunnel behind them. The largest turned to their left and had a worn look to the floor. An obvious indication of many people traveling along this path and wearing it down with each slight scrape of foot on stone. Following the path would have been easy enough with a light source. Søren was beginning to wonder how he would have fared bereft of any source of light. Neeka ran the pads of her sensitive fingers across the stone, picking up minute imperfections and details hidden from even her gaze.
The scaled creature he knew as Neeka, stood suddenly and pointed towards a series of small marks on the stone floor. To Søren they still looked like nothing more than a tiny scratch. He knelt down next to the mark and ran his fingers across the stone as he had watched Neeka do. The Fuerven nodded and moved down the tunnel, leaving Søren to scramble after her before he was swallowed up by the utter dark of a lightless cave. Their path took them through many more intersections and each time, Neeka showed Søren the signs of the Hordeling's passage through the cave system.
As the air became warmer and more laden with the scent of plants, Søren noticed paintings and carvings on the cavern walls, etched into flowstone, a pebbled formation of stone that looked like mud or partially melted ice cream. Simple straight lines were used to depict hunting scenes, with numerous smaller creatures similar in shape to Neeka engaged with large tusked creatures that were twice the height of a Fuerven, hunting in a thick forest of trees. Søren half expected the creatures to have trunks like a wooly mammoth, but they looked more like elephant-sized boars with short, stubby legs.
Søren coughed to get Neeka's attention. She stopped moving and her left eye spun around to look at him. It flicked to the paintings on the wall and then back to him. Never going to get used to that, he thought to himself. He pointed to the painting of the large tusked creature on the wall and mimed eating; holding a cupped hand in front of him, picking up something from his hand, and placing it in his open mouth. Neeka's eye twitched back to the wall and then to Søren again. A single nod was the only affirmation he got before her eyes flicked forward again and she started moving.
Ten minutes later, the passage widened considerably and Søren could smell water and hear a constant drip echoing in the cavern. Each scrape of his boot sounded like a gunshot to him. Neeka barely made a sound and hissed with annoyance each time she heard Søren. Neeka paused at the entrance to examine the area, searching intently for any sign of the Hordeling's passage. Søren pulled the dagger out of the sheath and coughed again to get Neeka's attention, mimicking the cough she had used several times when he had paused to look at a particularly complex work of cave art. Both her eyes flicked towards him this time.
Learns quick, Neeka thought to herself. Maybe not as useless as hatchling after all. The pale skinned and green eyes creature behind her held up her dagger that she had let him keep. It pointed to the dagger and then her spear and back to the dagger. Then he tried to speak the Word of Power for Light. Ah, cannot see in the dark as well as the People. She spoke the Word, but without focusing her heart and mind on the creation of the Word and pointed to Søren.
"You try," Neeka said. She sat back, resting on her tail. She lifted her feet in turn, stretching out her leg and flexing her toe-claws to work out some stiffness. I will be glad to see sky again and feel dirt beneath my feet. The dry metal caves in the endless night were an awful experience.
Søren used the time while Neeka was stretching to try his hand at conjuring light within the blue crystal dagger he held in front of him. At first, he simply spoke the Word several times, trying to match the feel of the inflection and tone of voice that Neeka had used. It had vaguely sounded like Latin to him. He then tried speaking the Word Neeka had shared and focused on the dagger, imagining that it glowed with the same illumination of her spear. When nothing happened, Neeka used her spear to tap Søren on his chest and then his forehead. She rubbed the center of her own scaled torso and gestured away from her.
Not quite sure what they mean, but it could be like the interface and equipment up top. Intent. Søren focused his intent on making the crystal blade of the dagger glow. He felt a sense of what he had noticed when Neeka made her spear illuminate, but it was off. Something felt wrong. One of Neeka's eyes spun towards him and her body snapped to a standstill, utterly motionless. Søren froze as well, thinking he had done something wrong.
"What?" he asked, his eyes darting back and forth between Neeka's unflinching gaze. She lifted a clawed hand and made a shooing motion as if to say go on. Søren cleared his throat nervously and held the crystal dagger in front of him again. He closed his eyes and cleared his mind, letting the darkness consume his errant thoughts. He imagined an ember of pure white light glowing in the darkness and then opened his eyes as he imagined pushing the light into the blade. He lifted his hand and made a pushing motion at the same time. Gooseflesh pebbled his arms and raised the hair on the back of his neck. The blade began to glow a pale, dim light. Perhaps a tenth of the strength of Neeka's spear. Søren felt something leave his body and panicked. He dropped the dagger and felt like his mind was trying to claw back whatever had left.
"What the fuck was that?" he said, hs breath ragged. His chest was heaving as he took in several deep breaths. Neeka's own breathing had stilled and her eyes widened even further. A notification popped up into Søren's view on his interface.
Congratulations! You have learned the [Logos] skill. This skill enables you to speak Words of Power, expend TEK, and bring the effects of those words into being. Combine these Words into Phrases to create more powerful and unique effects. You may begin training this skill, but you will need to learn additional [Words] to advance the skill.
Congratulations! You have learned the logos [Light]. The basic use of [Light] will allow you to imbue an object with light. The duration and intensity is determined by the amount of TEK used when the logos is spoken.
"Awesome! My first skill," Søren said to Neeka, despite knowing she couldn't understand him. Hopefully she would recognize his happiness and enthusiasm. Ah! Søren had an epiphany and brought his interface into focus. The bright steel bar had dropped a fraction and his chat log confirmed the reduction. He had spent ten TEK trying to create the light. That must have been what I felt leaving my body. Going to need to get used to that feeling and managing it, if I want to keep using this skill.
Søren cleared his mind again, focused on the image of light in darkness and made a slight push motion towards the dagger with his free hand. He concentrated on the flow of that feeling of TEK leaving his body, imagining it to be much like opening the tap for water at a kitchen sink. The crystal blade of the dagger began to glow, much like Neeka's. When the illumination reached the same as the spear, Søren focused his mind on shutting off the water faucet. He followed the fading trail of essence from his body to the dagger and quickly imagined tying a knot into it. His TEK had been reduced a further twenty-five points, leaving him with 965/1000 TEK.
Neeka simply nodded and resumed her search, methodically covering each section of the cavern floor before moving on to the next. Søren's elation deflated when Neeka had turned away abruptly, her single nod the only reaction to Søren creating the light within the dagger. Maybe it's not all that uncommon among their People. The upgrade needs to hurry up. I have so many questions for them.
Søren moved off to the side to examine a spiral pattern of carvings he had noticed on a stalagmite before his first failed attempt at creating light. The geometric repeating pattern that spiraled up and around the stalagmite was far more intricate than any of the other carvings or paintings he had discovered up to this point. Perhaps a savant or an upgrade in tools or materials. A new technique invented maybe. I wonder if these Fuervan were here before the Atlanteans or even created by them. The resemblance to a chameleon is too much of a coincidence to ignore.
Søren followed the pattern around the base of the stalagmite when he came across a fresh mark in between two sections of the existing pattern. A second mark just above the first had been slashed through the spiral pattern. He lifted the dagger higher and tried to illuminate more of the stalagmite above him. A sudden screech sent Søren stumbling backwards. He tripped over his own feet and fell down just as the Hordeling Spawn leapt off the top of the stalagmite it had been hiding upon and landed on Søren. The first talon missed. The second talon pierced through his side, glancing off his hip bone. The serrated point of the talon buried itself into the stone beneath Søren. The talon plus the weight of the hordeling pinned him in place.
The dagger had been forgotten momentarily as he fought up the waves of pain. His free hand had thrust forward and grabbed the leading edge of the chitin armor that protected the hordelings mouth and sensory organs. Søren grimaced in pain and noticed Neeka charging over from the other side of the cavern, leading with her crystal spear. The hordelings smaller legs dug into Søren's own legs as it scrabbled on top of him, trying to push its jagged maw into his gut. Saliva from the monstrosity's mouth spilled out of its maw. The burning sensation of the acidic spit weakened Søren's resolve as his strength was flagging from holding the creature back.
Neeka heard the screech and spun around in time to see the pale skinned creature that had brought her back to life, fall to the ground. A Hordeling Spawn had landed on top of him and pinned them to the ground. Bright red blood splashed onto the stone beneath the two struggling creatures. Neeka still remembered the shapeless void and the strange blue box that had asked her if she wanted to allow a [Søren Quinn, Archaeologist of Earth] to revive her. Why is he from dirt? She had asked herself that many times before she finally said yes to revivification. Or rather, tried to say yes. Without a body, she had resorted to speaking the words mentally, much as she did when using the Logos skill.
When the pins and needles had faded, she had not been sure what to expect from a creature from dirt, but he had surprised her many times since first laying both eyes upon him. How he learned to use the Logos skill so quickly was an amazing feat. It had taken her many years to master moving her essence around in her body before she could manipulate it enough to empower her thoughts and voice with Logos. To see this creature from dirt learn a Word and master its use in a quarter of a cycle was awe inspiring, a little humbling, and above all frustrating. Neeka wasn't above a little jealousy towards the creature and had started calling Dirt in her mind.
Weaker than a hatchling, she thought as she charged across the cavern, leading with her spear. She focused her sight on the hordeling and activated her Inspect skill. She did not have an interface to guide her. Her and her clan-mates, the People of her tribe, worked through instinct and feeling. To Neeka, the [Hordeling Spawn (Copper II)] looked grey and evoked feelings of weakness. It was likely a threat to Neeka only if she was unconscious and the foul creature had time to try and chew through her scales. Neeka slowed her pace to get a measure of her traveling companion. It wasn't too far to her village, but it wasn't a safe trip either. The straight arm hold to keep the hordeling at bay was an admirable effort, but not a sustainable solution. Use the dagger Dirt. Is still in your hand, she thought to herself as her clawed feet carried her closer to the two brawling creatures.
Neeka watched as Dirt suddenly remembered the dagger in his hand and jammed it into the side of the hordeling's head, just under the lip of the chitin shell that protected the creature from attacks from above it. A bright red -40 (critical hit) scrolled upwards. Dirt repeated the attack several more times and Neeka watched the floating numbers, adding them up in her head. Blue blood mixed with red as it oozed across the stone floor of the caves. The Hordeling Spawn started writhing atop Dirt, trying to get away, but the creature from dirt had the hordeling's shell in a death grip. A final strike hit a critical point and sunk in deeply, dealing -48 (critical hit) damage. Dirt yanked the dagger downwards and a torrent of ichor and mucus spilled out of the jagged gash in the hordeling's side. Neeka stepped around the the mess.
"Good job, Dirt," Neeka said, patting him on the head. Søren just groaned in pain in response.