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Name

Gwen Baird

Armour

6

Class

Hunter

Health

43

Level

6

Dodge

3

Species

Half-Elf (Wood/Human)

Species Skills (Half-Elf)

 

Strength

6

Elf Sight

6

Agility

5

Base Skills (Hunter)

 

Body

6

Stealth

8

Mind

6

Perception

6

Sense

6

Tracking

6

Charm

6

Archery

7

 

For a while they tried to keep off the path mown into the forest, wondering if it was some sort of ploy or trap. Then they gave up and just started walking along it. It was easier and a hell of a lot faster.

"Well, Nikolai's guess about where the monsters would be has held up, we are going straight north just like he anticipated," Gwen said to the others.

They were sat in the shade of a tree, its branches leaning over the path. A few nods were sent her way, but mostly people were concentrating on resting and keeping an eye and ear out for enemies.

"How's everyone holding up?" Marina asked.

"Doing better since I used some of my levelling up points to add to my physical stats," Theo said with a smile. "I'm just glad that one of the super powers that comes with being an Adventurer in this game is a complete immunity to blisters, otherwise I don't think there would be much left of my feet."

"I've been funnelling all of mine into Charm and Agility," Jin Ae said, "One thing I have noticed, I've stopped sitting on my tail so much! I don't know if it's just practise from spending more time in the game or if it is to do with the points I'm putting into Agility, but I'm glad of it." Her tail flicked back and forth at her side. She dropped a hand and the feathered tip pushed into her palm, "The feathers kept getting pushed out of line and it felt like having your hair pulled, only the messages from my nerves were going straight into my spine instead of my scalp." She gave a theatrical shudder. "The points into my Charm score will also add to my magical abilities, something that I foresee coming in handy. And if it doesn't, well maybe I'll be able to talk the monsters into giving Wylla back?"

"I'll drink to that," Gwen said, raising an imaginary tankard to her and then taking a real swig out of the water skin she had with her, "Agility for me too." After a point into Agility she felt like the world was easier to dodge. Her enemies had to push further, lunge closer to hit her, while she was able to smoothly move out of the way with greater ease.

"Right well I've mostly gone for Mind, so I've got some higher spells than I did before," Marina said.

"Anything to beat Nikolai's?" Gwen asked, referring to the enchantment he had cast on them before they left.

"No, I don't know what level he is, or even if as a local he really lines up with the whole level system, but I want that spell," she said, her eyes drifted off to the memory.

Gwen rolled her eyes. She could appreciate that it was an impressive spell, but the way that Marina was going on about it was getting a touch ridiculous.

"How long have we been travelling?" Theo asked.

"Less than three hours, and Edgar said the cairn was three hours away," Jin Ae said.

The others nodded and with a few groans stood. Gwen puffed out a breath of air, it caught one of the threads of hair that had escaped her helmet. The hair sprang away, curling a little in the heat. If this were the real world she would be a lot more tired, even so, she hadn't put enough into her Body stats yet to make walking on a hot day for several hours an easy thing to do.

They got up and started walking again, the forest was eerily quiet.

They hadn't heard or seen an animal or bird since they joined this odd road into the forest. She didn't need the six levels in Elf Sight to know that something was seriously wrong, but blinking it on and off again did give her a hint as to why.

"I think... I think everything in nature knows that the monsters are not meant to be here?" Gwen said. "At home and whatnot, I've never seen anything like this. There's no life. It's not just that things are hiding, everything is gone, run for it."

"Yeah, I mean, I grew up in the city, but you'd expect to have seen something by now. There's not even bugs? And I ever thought I would be missing bugs, but, there's nothing," Theo said.

"It is seriously creepy," Marina agreed.

Jin Ae was in the lead, and had just started climbing the brow of a hill. Gwen could tell at what point she rose above the top, because she froze, and started patting the air behind her. Gwen frowned for a moment, before the realisation about the gesture's meaning hit her; she fell to her knees and crawled up to a point beside the bard. Her points in stealth activating like a cloak.

"What is it, what do you see?"

Jin Ae was in a crouch, shuffling forward so that she could reach the brow of the hill proper, but remain hidden. She tipped forward onto her hands and knees, appearing to count for a moment, Gwen could see tiny nods of her head, and then she was shuffling back to the small group behind her.

"We might not be at the cairn yet, but we're close; there's a patrol coming. They won't reach here for a couple of minutes," she said in a hushed whisper.

"How many?" Gwen asked.

"Ten," Jin Ae said.

"We can take that many if we surprise them," Marina said with a grin.

Gwen shook her head, "No way. They're a patrol, we kill them off and all that does is tell whoever or whatever they are reporting to that there is something out here that can take them."

Jin Ae nodded, "Let's get off the road. If we hide in the woods they shouldn't see us."

They ran. They were getting better at this, Gwen thought. They were starting to think more like soldiers and less like idiots allowed out into the countryside for the first time.

Gwen shoved herself into a natural divot behind a tree, tugging Theo along with her. Jin Ae and Marina went a bit further in, where their bright clothes and shining armour were less immediately obvious.

Dark clothes in neutral colours, that was better for blending in. Unless, she allowed, you were running around in a forest in autumn and had cloak made out of orange and red patches, but that was a bit of an extra clothing choice for it to only work once a year.

Hidden in the hollow, she held her breath and watched the monsters walk closer. Ticking away, she could feel her Stealth levelling up as she did her best to be as unnoticeable as possible. She imagined sinking into the leaf mulch and disappearing, anything to hide.

Theo was stock still and looked like a frightened rabbit. She still held his hand so she gave it a squeeze,

The monsters strode past.

They walked in an odd, rolling way, none of them quite hitting the points where you would expect them to. A shoulder jutted out too far, while a hip stopped short of the spot where it should go. They all looked like they had been made out bits and pieces rather than full bodies.

Even the ones who managed to look somewhat together had legs of vines that broke and healed and broke again as they walked. It looked horrific. They were bleeding from what would have been called joints in anything else. Of course, in any other creature they would have been screaming in pain from constantly breaking the bones of their ankles and knees like that. But they showed no awareness or care, instead the leaking sludge that was their blood seemed to be an indication not of pain, but of their alien life.

Their heads were all animal, one a boar, another a bear, but mostly they were wolves. It appeared that whatever was making the things, or growing them – that was maybe the right word – whatever was growing them had settled on a style now.

It was really quite unfair, she thought, she had always liked wolves. She appreciated the fact that they wouldn't bother you if you steered clear of them. There were a lot of things, and people, in the real world that such a philosophy didn't apply to and she could respect the ones for whom it did. Also, she was a dog person and she liked wolves almost as much.

Eventually the patrol was past, the only sign of their going the yellow marks on the ground where the sludge they bled was killing the grass.

The Adventurers waited a few heart beats more, and then a few more just to be safe. Then Gwen crept forwards and looked through a gap in the trees. They were gone, she nodded back to the rest and they left the tree cover. "Stay close to the trees, use the shadows they cast," Gwen said as she moved to the front, "Jin Ae, with me, we'll go have a look, shall we? Let's try and figure out what exactly is going on?"

Jin Ae nodded, then looked down at her clothes. "I don't suppose you have anything that isn't designed for looking good on stage?" she asked softly.

Gwen smiled a half smile at her, "I have a cloak, you're not that much taller than me, it should cover everything."

Jin Ae sighed in relief and nodded her thanks.

"You two, stay here, if we don't come back then..." Gwen froze unsure what to say.

Theo answered for her, "Stay here some more?"

"Yeah, that, if it really looks like we've been eaten or something, go back to the temple and wait for us to respawn. We'll have to try again and hope they haven't killed Wylla yet," Gwen said.

Marina looked like she was about to argue, but she appeared to catch herself.

That's a relief, I really don't have time, Gwen thought.

"Here you are, running off into danger again," Marina said.

Oh, so we are doing this, after all. Gwen blinked in surprise then shrugged, "We're in a world with monsters, what else are we supposed to do? At least I have my," a pause, "lovely knife that Dove gave me."

"Stay safe; better than last time," Marina ordered her.

"I will, I've died once I don't intend on making a habit out of it," she said, trying to make it a joke.

It fell extremely flat. Out of the corner of her eye, Gwen saw Jin Ae and Theo wince.

Marina's ears turned red and she took in a long, slow breath like she was about to start swearing at top volume. Instead she let out the breath again, just as slowly.

"Just come back," she said eventually. Then she punched her sister in the shoulder.

Gwen rocked on her heels for a moment, before giving a sheepish smile and a half shrug, "I'll try?"

Gwen shot a look over at Jin Ae, "Time to try out those new presents, see if they are all they were promised to be?"

Jin Ae grinned, "As long as you don't feel too left out."

Gwen rolled her eyes, "No, I think I'll manage." Theo and Marina were quickly persuaded up a nearby tree, it was one of those solid ancient trees that felt like a pin holding the forest in place. It would, Gwen hoped, keep her twin and new friend safe.

"You two alright with this?" Theo asked.

Jin Ae nodded, "It's time for us to go kick some ass. You two stay unseen. We will be safer without the noise you two make."

Theo grinned and gave her a thumbs up.

Smiling Jin Ae turned back to Gwen, "Ready?"

She shrugged, "As I'll ever be." But the reluctance was faked. It was easier when there was a clear target in front of her, rather than the questions of what could happen? What might happen? What should happen? She was starting to recognise the relief that came with being pointed in a direction and set loose.

It was easy to crouch down and start running at a slow lope, one that ate up the distance well enough and kept her out of sight. As they went the ranks of Stealth she was gaining rolled up like clockwork. Her class was clearly designed for this stuff and experience was cheaply come by.

Jin Ae wasn't doing so well, but she was keeping up and the borrowed cloak she was wrapped in was doing a decent enough job of hiding the entertainer's gear that she was wearing.

The anklets she got from Dove will actually be useful for this, Gwen thought bitterly, while I'm stuck with this knock off horror movie prop. And not even for one of the good horror movies that make you think about the nature of human fear. But a shitty one, where you can see the set wobbling in the background and it's so bad it doesn't even circle round again to funny.

They crept forwards, staying in the shadows and keeping low to the ground. It didn't take as long as Gwen had hoped to reach a point where they had to stop, they hadn't been far from the Barrow at all. Nor had they seen any other monsters on their way. There were none just lazing about and they hadn't passed any more patrols, either. That was good.

Unfortunately it seemed to be because they were all standing around the Barrow.

There wasn't an organised ring around the cairn, nothing like the attempt at barricades there had been around the village. Instead, they just seemed to be standing around, like toy soldiers when their owners have gone for lunch.

Only, rather than staying where they were put they were moving around in a restless prowl. They would stand in groups of three to six, but then one would be chased off by the sharp claws and tempers of those around them. From what Gwen could see it wasn't as if one or two monsters were moving on at a scheduled pace, instead they were all just losing patience with each other and the strongest would bully the weakest in their immediate surroundings away.

"We need to get inside," Gwen muttered, looking for any inspiration.

"Obviously, but how? People tend to not build back doors into graves, so we cannot go looking for another entrance. And I think the monsters may notice if we try to dig our way in," Jin Ae was speaking. But Gwen got the distinct impression that she was speaking to herself as much as to her.

"What kind of distraction can we make, to draw them away?" Gwen said.

Jin Ae smiled slowly, looking first at Gwen and then at the crowd of fractious monsters. Even in the few moments they had been watching, they had lashed out at each other, nothing more dangerous than growls and claws that came close but didn't hit

"I know your aim is good with your bow, but how is it with pebbles?" Jin Ae asked, nodding her head at some of the grumpier beasts.

Gwen grinned.

***

A pebble bounced off the branch of a tree, it hit the bark covered scalp of a monster giving a satisfyingly loud knocking noise.

The monster that had been hit lifted a paw to rub the impact site, but found nothing. Turning to its neighbour it gave a jump and had the wide, fanged muzzle around the other creature's neck with an enraged growl, before its foe could flinch.

Blood was spurting into the sky, but it had not even hit the ground before another monster joined the fight. Whether it was out of loyalty to the victim of the attack or merely because it wanted a chance to get its paws dirty too, it was impossible to say. It barely sent a look at the bleeding out monster in the grass, except to step over it as it clawed at the other.

More monsters joined in, piling onto the fight. The first victim was soon hidden from view by the leaping and clawing bodies over it. The thick blood of the monsters started to run freely into the grass and the smell of rotten and burning plant and flesh started to fill the air.

***

"Right, move now," Gwen hissed to Jin Ae and the pair sprinted from the edge of the forest up to the entrance of the cairn.

They stopped in the archway, the cold shook Gwen to her bones.

"What's that?" She said to Jin Ae. The only thing that was stopping her from jumping back out again of the tunnel was the knowledge that the monsters outside wouldn't be kept busy for long.

Jin Ae's shoulders were up around her ears, and she was huddled into her borrowed cloak. Her arms were wrapped around her middle and a wince covered her face. "I think it's the death magic, not necromancy, it's the magic of death itself, not bringing the dead back to life," she said.

"It feels like all the warmth in the world has been pulled out," Gwen said, as she shivered and wished she hadn't handed over her cloak.

Jin Ae nodded, "Heat is a form of power. And I think the magic here, it feeds on anything that comes its way. Though, I am likely anthropomorphizing the magic by saying that, it is not alive after all, it is merely using the energy, like a heat sink, or a black hole at the edge of a solar system pulling in all the light and life within it," she was muttering the words, her voice coming faster and faster.

"We need to go in," Gwen said. She could have been reminding the other adventurer or herself, she wasn't sure.

"Yes, yes we do," Jin Ae said, hauling in a breath through her nose before blowing out again through her mouth, she looked up at the end of the tunnel, "You first."

"I'm not the one with the magic stealth jewellery," Gwen hissed.

"No but you have a stabby thing and if you go first you will have the advantage of surprise over anything you find in there, which is what you need to make it work. And you have better armour than me," she added.

"You've really thought it through, huh?" Gwen asked.

"If it means I don't have to go through that first then you would be amazed at the alacrity of my thoughts."

Gwen grimaced and looked again at what Jin Ae had termed "that".

It was, more or less, the other side of the tunnel-like archway that was the less than welcoming entrance to the cairn. But, to speak more about what was less, and what was particularly upsetting to her, a hair's breadth beyond the end of the stone wall, where normally it would open out into a larger chamber, there was, instead, a void.

A mix of ash grey swirling on never ending black. It looked like the death scream of a universe. It looked like something that you didn't come back from.

"We could go and get everyone? Get some back up?" Gwen said, she bit her lip. Did her voice really have to tremble so much when she spoke?

"How exactly will that help?" Jin Ae said.

"It'll make me feel better," Gwen said. "And you know, whatever it is that people say about how more people makes things more safer." She stumbled over the words.

Jin Ae broke eye contact with the void at the end of the tunnel. She tilted her head to the side and looked at Gwen with a frown. "I am not sure if the automatic translator running in this game just had a glitch, or you did? What did you just say?"

Gwen rolled her eyes, "Your dark vision is better than mine, can't you see anything?"

Jin Ae looked back at the void, "No. Which makes me think that that is the point. Whatever is on the other side, we cannot see it coming. Our only hope is that it cannot see us, either. Though the longer we stay out here debating the quicker something will find us, so move it."

Gwen groaned. "Always the peer pressure," she muttered, "why is it always the peer pressure that gets you?"

She unsheathed her blade and stepped through.

Stepping through the void made her feel like she had died again.

It was a cold so thorough that it leached any heat from you as if it were hunting out even the slightest memory of warmth. The tears in her eyes felt like they had frozen. The blood in her veins felt sluggish.

When Gwen landed on the other side, and it was only a step between the two sides of the void, it felt like she had been thrown through an endless sky in a nightmare. Falling without the sight of the ground but always fearing it.

While her veins seemed to stand up proud from her skin, her heart was hammering. Or at least trying to. Her body felt all wrong and she was certain it was falling apart from the inside out.

And yet, somehow. When she landed on that dusty cavern floor on the other side of the void, there was nothing in that space that suggested it was anything out of the ordinary.

The finely ground dust on the floor was dry and soft on her knees where she had fallen. Mosses and lichens had covered the walls and ceiling, giving it a fuzzy, almost gentle look.

The trio of monsters in front of her were less welcoming, but Gwen had almost gotten used to them too.

The knife was in her hand and, hearing Jin Ae arrive beside her, Gwen launched herself at the nearest one in less than a heartbeat. Keeping the blade low and pointed up, she stabbed into the small of the monster's back.

It let out a whimper, a horribly low and sad one, before it was falling into her arms. A single hit, thanks to the element of surprise and the strength of her new blade. The sudden influx of experience from her kill felt like a drug and the knife in her hand seemed to dive deeper into the blood and gore of the creature's back.

Jin Ae skewered another, her longer blade stabbing through the unprotected back, before bouncing off the bark armour that covered the creature's front.

Pulling her dagger from her first kill, Gwen threw it at the final monster. It flew true, and hit in an unarmoured spot on the neck, sinking deep into what Gwen suddenly knew was a blood vessel, maybe even the jugular, and, rather than sending green blood spurting into the air, the monster seemed to shrivel with the impact. When the monsters Gwen had killed dissolved into the dirt, they left no blood to reveal their deaths.

Gwen was still in a wobbly half crouch, one hand out in front of her from throwing the dagger.

She sank to one knee as the body of the last monster faded into nothing, the support she had gained from its heavy form disappearing along with the body.

Jin Ae pushed the body off her sword, letting it drop and hit the ground with a soft thud. It dissolved a moment later, leaving behind a slimy puddle of gore.

She didn't say anything. They both sensed that to speak now would not be a good idea. But she held out a hand and helped Gwen to her feet. Shaking, Gwen took the help, before bending over to retrieve the dagger.

She still didn't like it, but even she couldn't deny how effective the thing was. With the monsters disappearing after dying their blood was usually the only thing that remained as evidence of their killing, but with the Backstabber's Dagger there wasn't even that.

The cavern they had stepped into was pretty clearly a not-so-final resting point for a lot of people. The walls were made up of shelf-like niches for bodies. They went ten or so high from the ground and every one of them had been emptied. Jin Ae let out an angry sniff.

Slowly, they started forwards, taking care to keep their feet on the soft sand rather than the crumbling gravel.

Jin Ae picked up a few pieces, before shaking her head and replacing them carefully. That was when Gwen realised that the gravel, which covered about a third of of the floor, had once been a shell around the niches. The monsters must have broken through and smashed them all when they arrived.

Gwen wrinkled her nose. Grave desecration: just another crime to lay on the shoulders of the monsters. In a world like the game, where the dead could rise and kick up a fuss, it seemed extremely unwise to tempt that fate by ruining the resting places of the dead. It was like tempting fate, almost.

They kept walking, investigating those niches that looked like something might remain. But whenever something did, it tended to raise more questions than answers. Some of the bodies, it was clear, had not been trusted to stay put. There were stones lying in the midst of cracked ribs. There was no bone dust on the stones to suggest that they were recent additions. In fact, Gwen had the distinct impression that they had been placed there with the bodies at the time of their internment.

The idea that the people who had built this cairn were worried about the dead waking and had taken precautions to prevent it, didn't make walking through the passages any less creepy. Given how the bodies often lay scattered across the ground it often made it more so. Whatever had been done by those long dead to keep their contemporaries in place, the Monsters of today had undone with careless abandon.

It was interesting though, from what Nikolai and Edgar had said about the necromantic battlefields she had assumed that that was the source of all the necromantic energy in the region, but the fact that a place as ancient as this had precautions in place hinted that it had been a worry before then, too. Perhaps the battles had given whatever systems made the dead walk more power, or maybe it had moved the focus from a wide lens to a narrow one. Rather than anyone who died being a potential zombie it was now all focused on the dead of those battlefields. It was an interesting idea.

The cairn had been made with lasting in mind, after all. This wasn't done over a weekend.

The walls were covered in plant life, but below the moss she could make out the different stones and rocks that made up the walls and ceiling. None of them were regular, but each of them fitted perfectly into their neighbour. No room for gaps, not enough for the tiniest breath of wind or blade of sunlight to make it through. Whoever had built the cairn had made it to not just last but outlast anything and everything.

And it had, right up until this latest crop of monsters had come along and ripped out all the grave coverings.

Gwen shook her head free of such dark thoughts. The grave desecration shouldn't have been a surprise. The monsters were monsters, it was probably in their programming to do monstrous thing on a semi-frequent basis. At least the dead were not around to take offence or feel the lack of shelter. She looked around at the dark tomb. Well, she wouldn't put it past them to do so anyway.

There was a small nook near the end of the cavern. At first glance it was difficult to tell it apart from all the other cracks in the walls. When the monsters had stripped the coverings off the graves they hadn't been careful with it and had done a lot of damage to the surrounding areas too.

But Jin Ae seemed to recognise it for something.

Putting her hand in front of the gap she smiled, a toothy grin that seemed out of place.

At Gwen's frown she rolled her eyes and caught her hand, before pulling her over. There was a draft coming from the crack in the wall.

"Shall we see where it goes?" Jin Ae mouthed.

Gwen wondered at the sense in forcing your way into hidden tunnels in burial mounds. But, everything else they had done so far was a terrible idea, what was one more?

She nodded.

Slowly, Jin Ae shimmied through. There was a soft huff of breath as she appeared to land a bit further down than where she had started, but she soon whispered through the gap, "There's a bit of a drop, but you can make it easily."

Gwen took a deep breath, holding in her stomach, and shuffled through. Bracing one hand on the wall she fumped down the foot or so of difference.

Her elven eyesight and the extra metres given by Nikolai's blessing came in handy as she looked around. There was somehow even less light here than there had been in the main cavern.

She inched closer to Jin Ae.

There was a soft creaking of leather and then a muttering sound.

Jin Ae suddenly appeared, holding a ball of soft blue-grey light in her palm. She held one hand in the direction of the crack, blocking the light from escaping and revealing that they were there.

Gwen blinked in the light. It was dim, but even so after nothing at all it was a shock to her eyes.

The room they were in was better lit, but no more illuminating. If anything, Gwen thought, as she looked around she was less certain of what it might be than she had been going in.

She brushed a hand over the dull scratch marks on the walls. They weren't anything like she expected. They weren't the desperate scrabble of fingernails, or finger bones. If anything, they looked like the marks left on a doorway after someone had struggled to move a too big wardrobe through it.

The floor too was not the well-made and smoothed path of the other cavern. It looked like it had been shoved together and the only thing that had shaped it into some kind of uniformity was infrequent foot traffic from long ago.

It reminded Gwen of something.

Once, when she had been a part of a very badly paid team of thieves, she had set herself up in some abandoned servants' quarters. It had been in the attic of a room across from their target, one that had been forgotten by the owners. It had been that same kind of unpolished environment, too.

People didn't spare much money for the areas that were not meant to be seen.

Jin Ae waited for Gwen to turn back and then gestured for her to follow.

There was a narrow passage, it led downwards and Gwen knew that wherever it was leading them too there would be more dead bodies and probably a lot more monsters as well.

They started off, the dim light of Jin Ae's magic showing them the way.

Whoever had built the passage, as well as being very skilled, had apparently been quite short, since both Jin Ae and Gwen had to duck their heads as they shuffled along. Jin Ae, in particular, was having trouble since with her horns she was above average height.

But slowly they managed to make their way along the passage, pausing here and there to try and listen in on the noises coming through the walls. Everything that the original builders had made still seemed to be doing well, however it was clear now that they walked on this side of the wall that care had been taken to make sure that while the walls were solid enough to last for centuries, that didn't stop anyone from being able to eavesdrop should they want to.

Gwen ran her fingers along a length of wall that was particular well suited to that. Someone had built it out of many different layers of stone. Some sort of fossilised mud that still had the ripples and lines of the river it had come from. But by layering them in just the right way, the thin stone funnelled the sounds from the main cavern into the passage, without any risk of doing the same out the way.

It was, Gwen could acknowledge, a beautiful piece of espionage via architecture.

And it was very useful as they crept along, keeping one ear pricked for the sound of the monsters tramping back and forth in the caverns. Gwen wasn't sure how big they were, unlike the rooms on this side of the wall they were definitely bigger, she could hear the echoes of footsteps and the grunts and growls.

At one point, the harsh sniffing noises that came to them through the wall was enough to have them both breathing in and pushing themselves against the opposite wall. The monster moved on after a time, but hairs on the back of Gwen's neck stood proud for a good while after.

They reached the end of the tunnel about the same time that Gwen spotted the way out.

Tapping lightly on Jin Ae's shoulder, she pointed out the crack in the dark stone. Like the one they had entered through it was barely wide enough to shimmy through, but it was also fairly well hidden. Gwen walked up and carefully peaked through.

On the other side of the exit a huge slab of slate had been balanced. Not to block the way in and out, but, she realised it was another piece of camouflage. Whatever the builders had been expecting to happen to the cairn, they had been determined to be safe and hidden.

There were no monsters visible on the other side. She laid her head against the rock, doing her best to get a good angle. Closing her eyes she concentrated on the sounds of the cairn. There was so little in the cairn that her heart beat was the loudest thing she could hear. There were no sounds of monsters moving about. Not even distantly. And here, in their home base, they didn't seem to give a damn about being quiet so she was certain she would have heard them coming.

Her Sense wasn't high enough for her to pick out the individual droplets of rain in a storm, and she never particularly wanted it to be, but half by stubborn will and half by stubborn hard work she had gotten her Perception high enough that she could trust it to warn her when something was coming towards her in the dark. And, she determined, opening her eyes, it seemed safe enough.

She stepped back and nodded to Jin Ae.

Jin Ae smiled and moved to follow her. Then her eyes went glassy for a moment. Something buzzed along her skin, telling hr with words she couldn't know or understand that there was magic being wrought on her friend.

Gwen frowned and came over, but she didn't seem to be able to feel her worried shoulder taps or see the words she was mouthing at her. Then Jin Ae's eyes were clearing and she was shaking her head, as if to rid herself of a ringing in her ears.

It was only a few seconds long but it had Gwen's heart in her mouth for every moment of it.

Jin Ae looked sharply at her, "Message from Theo, they've been attacked," she said. The words were so quiet that they seemed to belie the cataclysmic volume that they seemed to carry with them.

Seeing Gwen's face pale and her eyes widen, Jin Ae gripped her hands. "They're fine, but the monsters know that they are out there."

"We need to go help them!" Gwen said in a fierce whisper.

"No, Gwen, the monsters know that Theo and Marina are out there. But they don't know that we are in here. This is the best chance we have to find Wylla and get her out of here," Jin Ae told her sharply.

"That won't do us much good if our exit is blocked by all the monsters that are chasing after Theo and my sister," she countered.

"Then, let's do our best to thin the crowd before they get up there. You've seen them, they have no discipline, half of them would sooner claw each other's eyes out than keep a proper watch," she squeezed Gwen's hands again, "this is the best chance we've got and the best chance they've got."

Gwen bit her lip. She wanted to run back up the passage and kill everything in between her and her sister.

But she could see the sense in what Jin Ae was saying. They were behind the backs of the monsters. And that was where fighters like her and Jin Ae were best suited to being. She placed a hand on her dagger. Time to put it to some more use, she thought.

Nodding she straightened her back, "Alright, what are we going to do?"

"We need to wait for the monsters to start moving up towards the surface, we kill any stragglers, anything that is by itself that it looks like we can take. And we try and find Wylla. Then, when the monsters start leaving we can take on whatever is left and hopefully save our damsel in distress," Jin Ae looked at her, "Alright?"

Gwen nodded. It was a better plan than running through the passage and killing at random.

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About the author

K Mackay

Bio: I used to lurk on here, now I've got some writing up. It's been a novel experience.
I love Science Fiction, Fantasy, and everything in between. I tend to get overprotective of characters who are not mine and should have been treated better. Catch up with my life updates at my website, www.watchedplotneverboils.com

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