Dawnsong

by

Afrita Hanim

Chapter 9: Burning down the house

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A good while later, Dawn was still sitting despondently on the ground, silently cursing unreasonable quests, vanishing doors and oversized spiders. Sadly, all the cursing in the world would not help her to get out of this passage and back into her - mostly - peaceful valley. With a defeated sigh, she stood up at last.
Sitting here and brooding served no purpose at all. And giving up without a fight was out of the question, no matter how bad the odds. So, once again back to the city.
Conscience-stricken, she looked at Ankou. He was her friend, he had fought with her against the black wolves. Without him she never would have gotten out of that fight alive. And now, because he had accompanied her here, because she had asked him to come with her, he was as good as dead.

They covered the distance to the cavern and were greeted by nearby noises as they guardedly approached the opening. The demons roamed around close by, legs clicking, the rubble underneath them shifting as pebbles slid off sideways.

They waited a good distance away from the opening, tension rising as the big monsters were sifting though the rubble close to the passage. Finally both monsters turned to the right and began to veer away from the opening in the direction of the buildings on the border of the cavern.

Stealthily, Dawn and Ankou found their way to the upper levels once more and hurried along the pathway to the other end of the city. Finally, they arrived at the broader passage. Straining her ears, Dawn listened for noises from the passageway. She’d rather steer clear of further exemplars of these creatures. Who knew how many of these spider-demons were crawling around here, after all.

Steeling herself, she finally ventured into the opening. The curving way led further downwards, broader now, a street rather than a path. They made haste as best they could. Dawn had to deactivate Shadow Play after a short time, nearly running out of stamina. Anxiously, always expecting to be greeted by the sight of spiders around the next bend, they followed along. The passage widened even more and they beheld an aperture bordered by huge metal doors, bent inward and twisted on their hinges. The ground in front of the doors was littered with bones.

“The city was under siege,” Dawn murmured. “They must have been fighting here at the gates, to get out.”
Careful of their footing, they crossed the zone stealthily, Dawn bending down to examine a few skeletal figures lying on the ground. In part, they were still wearing half-rotted leather armor, their skulls covered in helmets studded with dull metal pieces, a few broken spears and shields mixed in with their bones. Through the doorway they encountered the desiccated remains of several gray demons. Shuddering, Dawn turned away.

Looking around, she observed they had entered another cavern, not nearly as high as the city above, but almost as broad. On the left and right sides she beheld doors opening into wide stocky buildings.
Entering the next building to her right, Dawn saw several anvils and a big hearth. Surely, this had once been a forge. She ducked out again and looked into the next one. It had been some kind of workshop with benches and vises. She checked out several other buildings, and encountered still more workshops.

Following along to the other end of the chamber, they were greeted by another opening into a broad dark passage winding further downwards, no doors this time, but a portcullis suspended above the thoroughfare.
“Why didn’t they lower the gate?” Dawn wondered.

Almost she had forgotten the threat of the spiders, caught up in the discovery of the old city. Now she remembered with a start, that they had to be careful. If they encountered one of the creatures in the passageway, they would be done for.

She was getting tired of sneaking around, but no matter. They still had to try and find their way out of here. Thirst was becoming a problem, too, they needed to find water urgently.
Once again they were lucky enough to reach the next level undisturbed. Here they found long buildings with rows of stone beds, empty, dusty and silent. Behind these, at the edge of another passageway lay two buildings with closed doors. Dawn tried to lift the latch on one door and it opened with a deep groan.
Wincing, she slipped into the room, activating stealth once again, afraid that any creature nearby had heard the noise. Inside she was greeted with the sight of racks, probably once meant to hold armor and weapons, all empty now.
In the corner lay a forgotten bundle. She approached slowly and gazed upon the skeleton of one of the city’s former inhabitants, the figure bundled in a tattered brown cloak. It still carried a short sword, leather arm guards and a small hunting bow and quiver.
“Look Ankou, weapons!” she called out. She felt sorry for the dead soldier, but he didn’t need his weapons anymore.
Slightly queasy, she liberated the equipment from the long-dead body. Only a few arrows were left in the quiver, but Dawn felt fortunate to have found that much. Though, she had never used either sword or bow before, she was glad to have the weapons. She didn’t know if the brittle bowstring would hold up if she tried to draw the bow, though.

Ankou sneezed, and looked at her with gleaming yellow eyes, unimpressed by the discovery. “Yes, yes, I know you don’t need any weapons. But I cannot fight with teeth or claws. And I don’t want to get close enough to these gray demons to use a knife. Fat lot of good that would do me. They’d have me pierced through with that spiky legs, long before I ever came close enough to harm them. Though even a sword is not long enough to reach them.” Best not to fight these monsters at all, she thought bleakly.

The next building with a closed door beckoned to her. Slowly, she lifted the latch trying to make no further noise. Inside she looked at emptied shelves. The only thing left were a few bars of metal lying on the ground, maybe dropped accidentally. They were lightweight and had a silvery blue sheen. She inspected them carefully, though she could not identify the metal. Shrugging, she decided to take them with her, though she had no immediate use for the material. She still had some space in her signet ring.

Turning away from the empty shelves, she wanted to leave the room but Ankou, who had been waiting outside bounded into the room and pushed her back.

And now she heard that clicking sound approaching again. The monsters were coming. Dawn retreated into the room together with Ankou and slowly and silently started to close the door, leaving only a little gap. She couldn’t risk the door mechanism making a noise if she closed it all the way, and she felt better if she wasn’t blind to what happened on the outside.

Activating her stealth skill for good measure, she waited with baited breath for the spiders to arrive. Moments later the huge gray beasts passed by without pause and entered the opening of the next passage, seeming almost close enough to touch.

When the clicking died away in the distance. Dawn let out a relieved breath, reminded once more that they were playing a deadly game of hide and seek here in the depths of the mountains and even one mistake could very well be their last.

They would have to follow the monsters further down to find another exit from the city, they were left with no other choice.

Anxiously, they started to follow yet another pathway to the deeper levels, arriving in a circular room containing an elongated building on the right side and some kind of shelving, subdivided in small compartments on several levels all along the rest of the wall. As she approached she realized there were little plaques inscribed with runes on the front of the compartments. Through the broken front of one of the spaces she could see bones inside.
“Looks like a cemetery,” she breathed. So many graves!

She stood still for a moment, gripped by an atmosphere of sadness and regret, then turned away vigorously. She could not afford to waste time with fanciful musings. The clock was ticking. She and Ankou needed to find water and food and an exit from these underground dwellings.

She entered the long building on the side, just to be thorough. She didn’t expect to find anything, all the buildings had been left empty so far. She beheld an entry chamber and on the other side through a doorway a long narrow hallway with many doors on both sides. A square grid was set in the upper side of each of the doors. Maybe these had been some kind of prison cells?

Slipping out, she listened for any sound and hurriedly followed Ankou along the length of the cavern and into the next passageway. Once again a portcullis hung over the aperture. ‘I really hope the mechanism doesn’t give way at the wrong moment,’ Dawn thought wryly when they went through the doorway.
It seemed they had been walking along endless passageways for days already. She felt tired and dispirited and just wanted to get out of here and feel the sun and the wind on her face again, and to hear the sounds of birds calling and leaves rustling in the breeze. Even Ankou was looking the worse for wear now, his pelt dusty and decorated with cobwebs and dirt, ears drooping against his head.

They held still for a long moment when they reached the next aperture. Dawn heard some kind of sound, but couldn’t identify it. Creeping in slowly, they found themselves once again in a gigantic cavern, a dark surface of water extending over most of the area. In between the paths around the water, white and gray irregular columns rose up to the ceiling from the floor or hung down from the ceiling. Now, Dawn could recognize the sounds she had heard before, a slow dripping of water and the trickling of a stream as it flowed along.

“Water!” she cried out softly. Swiftly she approached and bent down to scoop up a handful. The ice-cold liquid felt good sliding down her parched throat. It had a slightly metallic tang and she wondered belatedly if it was drinkable. Too late now to worry about it. Ankou had approached beside her and was lapping at the water delicately. Dawn scooped up several handfuls more, drank deeply and scrubbed her face and hands. She felt invigorated afterwards.

Looking left and right, she saw paths veering around the water to both sides. They disappeared between the stony columns in the distant darkness.

Here, they were confronted with a choice of ways for the first time. Shrugging, Dawn turned to her left following along the stony path. On the wall to their left a doorway appeared. Looking in, they recognized some kind of gated animal pens, standing empty and silent.

Further down, they came across another huge opening in the wall. Sneaking in, they saw walls covered in gray hangings, rope-like threads holding in place great webs extending across the chamber. Several small and large gray bundles were hanging from the ceiling.

Alarmed, Dawn backed up, pressing her back against the wall next to the opening, heart hammering, expecting huge spiders to pour out any moment now.
Nothing happened. Slowly, she risked another glance into the chamber. Nothing moved inside, the room seemed lifeless. “Keep a look-out here, Ankou,” she told her companion. “Warn me if anything moves outside.”

Daringly she stepped inside the room once again. On the ground before her, pot-sized gelatinous blobs were sitting in several piles. When she inspected the blobs closely, she could distinguish dark shapes moving softly inside. Sickened, Dawn realized these had to be eggs. Lots and lots of them. A huge pile of gray demons to be.

Queasy but determined, she threaded her way between the piles. Her head brushed against one of the web-like structures hanging down. It clung to her hair stickily. Freaked out, Dawn started to brush it off wildly, panic-stricken, managing to spread the sticky residue on her hands and clothes, too. Breathing hard, she stood still at last. “I really, really hate spiders!” she growled.

Steeling herself, she continued into the room, taking care to evade the scattered webs this time. Taking out her knife she tapped nervously on one of the hanging bundles. No reaction. Painfully scraping off a part of of the sticky covering with the knife, she discovered the remains of some unidentifiable, dead and desiccated animal. She continued down the row and opened up the cocoons on after another. All held dead animals, in varying stages of decay. Arriving at the last bundle, she saw a furry copper-colored head with large triangular ears pressed down on it by the webbing and a small protruding snout. Astonished, she realized the creature was still breathing. Spontaneously she cut down the bundle and began to free the body from the sticky cocoon. She wouldn’t leave it here for these monsters. Though she realized she had a problem now. The creature was unresponsive, she would have to carry it out. It was smaller than her, but even so it was a heavy burden to carry.


Slinging the body over her shoulder with an effort, she strained to get out the chamber, back to Ankou. She let her burden fall down slowly next to the water and rolled the body in, careful to keep the head out of the water. She didn’t want to drown the creature by accident. It opened its eyes partly but didn’t move otherwise. She tried to trickle some water into its snout but finally gave up, disappointed. Maybe it was too far gone already.


She heaved the wet body out of the water and carried the creature to the chamber with the animal pens. carefully draping it sitting up against the wall in a corner. Looking it over, she cast Nurture on the creature, waited for a moment, then recast the spell. It started to look a little healthier, but still didn’t move. At last, she decided to leave it there for the time being and explore further with Ankou. They couldn’t afford to wait for hours here. They followed the path along the water further, past the cave with the eggs and cocoons and around a a sharp bend to the left.

Dawn hissed softly. Behind the bend, the water ended. Away from the shore a long narrow space extended the cave farther. It was criss crossed with a multitude of enormous webs, many filled with the huge dark shapes of gray demons. Some of the creatures were climbing among the webs on rope-like threads, others were moving along on the sandy ground. Many of the webs contained bundles comparable to those she had found in the room with the eggs.

She backtracked hastily around the bend once more. No way out there. They would have to go back and take the path on the right, see where that led to. As they passed the egg-chamber she thought with horror about the multitude of gray demons that would hatch from all these eggs. Abruptly, she jerked to a halt.
She had a quest to kill all the gray demons! Obviously, she was no match for the grown ones. But surely she could destroy spiderlings still in the egg. 'It’s all about starting small,' she thought grimly.

Swiftly, she approached the huge chamber. Thinking furiously she looked around. Would the grownup gray demons react if she destroyed the eggs? Better to be ready for it, just in case.
After it was done, she would run back to the room with the animal pens and hide inside. Thoughtfully, she looked at the webs and cocoons. 'I wonder if that stuff burns?' she thought.
She scraped shreds of the cocoon material on and around the egg piles with the help of her knife. Backing away to the opening, she laid down a line of the material in front of her. At last she took out her Firestarter, and with a deep breath struck a spark and let it fall down on the line. The material caught fire directly, and with a small whoosh, the flames spread out along the line, over the egg-piles and jumped up to the webs and the threads. Suddenly, the whole room was burning fiercely.
Dawn backed out hastily, glad she had been at the exit. She hadn’t expected such a sudden combustion. ‘Take that, demons!’ she thought, grimly satisfied.
She fled down the path to the next room together with Ankou and retreated into the corner where the stiff form of the furry creature was still sitting, unmoving.

A minute later she received a notification.

Level up x 2!

Nature’s Shadow Level 6

You have 4 free stat points to distribute.

You have 1 free skill point.

I got experience for killing the spiderlings, Dawn thought elatedly. 'And a new skill point, too!' She called up her status.

Status screen
Name Dawn Trakam
Path Nature's shadow
Level 6
Exp 535/1200
HP 120/120 HP Regen 1.2 HP/Min
MP 112/120 MP Regen 8 MP/Min
SP 100/100 SP Regen 10 SP/Min
Stats
Strength 10 Willpower 11
Vitality 12 Perception 15
Endurance 10 Intelligence 12
Agility 15 Wisdom 8
Dexterity 10 Charisma 7
Class Skills
Nurture Level 3
Shadow Play Level 4
Dark Sight Level 5
General skills
Cleaning Level 1 Analyze Level 1
Sewing Level 1
Climbing Level 4
Knife fighting Level 1

She felt giddy with excitement, proud of herself.

In this very moment, deafening shrieks echoed through the cavern. Dawn winced. “Seems like the demons did notice that someone killed their brood.” She told Ankou, sheepishly.

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About the author

Afrita Hanim

  • Germany

Bio: Hello everyone.
This is my first time writing a story. I'm still learning as I go along, so there may be some hiccups down the road. I am a voracious reader myself and especially adore science fiction and fantasy. Recently I have discovered the genre of LITRPG for myself and it fascinates me.
Please feel free to comment. I'd love to hear from you.

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