Vivienne's deafening silence drew Milo after her. His heavy leather boots skidded on the debris left by the pit. Landing on his feet with a thump Milo found Vivienne laying prone amongst the rubble. The eyes behind her closed lids shuddered back and forth.
Three concerned faces peeked over the rim of the gaping hole. "Don't come down here, kids! It's man made, so we should be able to find a way out at some point. Just stay put and try to get some rest."
Milo knelt down, sliding an arm under her legs and another under her back. He lifted Vivienne's limp body off the cavern floor. Cradling her in his arms, he trudged forward. The damp, mossy walls muffled their movement.
Smoothed granite lined the walls and floor, aged by the trickling water from above. Hanging moss tickled the tops of Milo's ears as he walked forward into the darkness. A torch would be handy. Vivienne stirred in Milo's arms, wiggling to get more comfortable. With a small grunt of pleasure, she snuggled her head deeper into his neck and shoulder, enjoying the warmth and closeness.
"You're rather stunning when you're not spitting fire." Milo's eyes lit with an amused chuckle. I hope she doesn't find another club down here.
Vivienne smiled, her eyes still closed. "Ian, I've missed you so much." Her declaration a whisper in the abandoned corridor. She lifted her head, looking for that familiar face to see Milo looking down at her.
Screaming, she jumped out of his arms, knocking into the sanded granite wall. Her foot caught in a hole and sent her flying on to her already concussed face.
Pushing up on her elbows and knees, she stood tall. Vivienne clenched her hands into shaking fists. "What the hell is going on?"
"Well, the floor dropped out from under you." Milo tapped one of his fingers, counting. "Then you fell about 15 feet." Another finger. "And I jumped in the hole after you. Seemed like the right thing to do." He shook his head, smirking. "You're like a stuck doe down here. No sword, no Saint's Raiment, and no way of making light."
Vivienne wrapped her arms around herself, a shiver snaking up her spine. "Saint's Raiment? What-."
"You know, those ridiculous pure white habit or robes you Saints wear." Milo waved his hand around a bit.
"Saints, as in plural. There are more of me?" Vivienne gave Milo a sideways glance, her mouth dropping open before snapping shut again. I'm not...alone?
"Yes, of course there are more of you. Or there were. In Adalsindis the population is just you. Grand Matron Yeva rides Saint's hard and throws them away." Milo snorted. He looked away, eyes downcast and blurry.
"But what does my old habit have to do with being safe?" Vivienne furrowed her brow.
"The Exemplars have the garments fortified with layers of Ley enchantments to turn you Saint's into non-stop, creature killing power houses. Extra stamina, boosted up time for using your Sanctifying Fire, and Ley fortification so you never run out of fuel." Milo stared off into the distance, wracking his brain for more information.
"So, I'm weak without these enchantments?" Vivienne fussed with the sleeve of her robe.
Milo crouched, rummaging in the dark. Hollow clattering and cloth tearing filled the silence. He snapped his fingers, creating a spark, and blew on the object now in his hand. Fire burst to life, a torch fashioned from ancient cloth, and a femur crackled merrily.
Milo motioned over his shoulder and headed deeper into the blackness.
"In a manner of speaking, yes. Each time you use Sanctifying Fire, you should be getting stronger. But the Raiments siphon the essence you absorb away to the Ley crystals in the hem, which keeps the garments working as they should. Without them, you will be weaker, but not forever. You won't be taking down any Vurkolaks for a while though." Milo laughed to himself, amused by a joke that Vivienne just didn't grasp.
"Do you still have that old thing? I just might be able to adjust it. At least remove the drain."
"I-uh, no, I burned the robe. The rest is probably still under a tree in the Darachen."
Milo raised an eyebrow.
"We were being chased by Wargs. I thought throwing parts in different holes might confuse them. I don't think it did, but Vicious turned and just about tore the nose off the one who tried to dig into the warren we found. She is a baby spitfire."
Milo barked out a laugh. "Hey! That's actually pretty slick!"
Vivienne gave him a tiny smile.
The macabre torch burned bright against the washed out darkness. A fork in the corridors put their forward progress to a halt. "Fantastic." Vivienne said, her eyes rolling upward to study the archways. The skin on the back of her neck crawled. Something was creeping its way up her robe. Eight thin feet clung to the crimson cloth. "Milo-" Vivienne peeked over her shoulder.
Vivienne turned her head that last increment, getting her shoulder in sight. A black, fuzzy face came up, moving fast, fangs bared. Milo wielded the torch like a mace, knocking the eight-legged thing off her back. The small body hit the ground with a screech. Legs curling in on itself, leathery wings beating once, twice.
Milo's boot came down on the creature with a disgusting, oozy crunch.
"What is that thing?" Vivienne hopped around patting herself. Please be the only one.
"A baby Spider Bat."
Vivienne turned to face Milo, her blood running cold. "A baby? Oh, I need a sword, or a really sturdy piece of wood."
Milo rubbed the back of his head and gave Vivienne a sideways look. "Sorry. Sort of." She said, looking down at the toes of her boots. Shuffling noises came from the side, breaking the silence.
Hissing groans echoed from down the left hallway, the shuffling footsteps slowly thumping toward the torchlight. Milo handed off the torch to Vivienne and drew his sword.
A skeleton in rotted clothes and a pair of ill-fitting leather boots came from the shadows. A short sword in one bony hand, the skeleton took clumsy swings at Milo. He parried the steel blade away with ease. A quick side step brought the skeleton just close enough. Milo readjusted his sword grip, using both hands, and swung.
The flat of his blade connected with the empty skull, detaching the useless thing. On the third bounce back down the hallway, the skull broke into pieces. The body crumpled at the knees, collapsing in a puff of dust. The short sword clanging against the cobbled floor.
"Well, there's your sword." Milo swept his arm out toward the blade.
Vivienne scooped it up. It was a simplistic one handed sword, with a steel blade, bronze crossguard, and rounded bronze pommel. A soldier's sword from an unknown era.
"Swing it around a bit, see if it'll even be a good fit. No use lugging an unusable sword." Vivienne nodded, swinging it about like she was sparring with her brothers again. It didn't sing, but it still came with ease.
"Yeah, I can use this one."
"Good. Now the first rule of dungeon delving is always go up and to the right, more often than not you find the exit. If not, you've at least hugged the walls well enough to come back around and go a different way."
They encountered three more skeletons as they ventured deeper. With swift effort and two swords, the skeletons and their various parts scattered on the tunnel floor. Vivienne's sword arm was burning as rarely used muscles took a beating. I think my shoulder might fall off all together.
Milo and Vivienne crept around another bend in the tunnel, ears piqued. A wet, slapping, suctioning sound came faintly from the other side. "That noise is making me sick. What kind of creature makes that?"
Milo shrugged, "Anything with wet flesh. Swords aren't going to work in any case." Peeking around the corner, they spied the host of the disgusting noises. Patrolling in front of a solid wooden door was a blob. A purple mass of thick, gelatinous substance slid back and forth. Swirling in its nearly opaque body were objects indiscernible of origin or type.
Milo picked up a palm sized rock and threw it into the jelly. There was an audible sizzle as the rock hit oozing flesh and dissolved. "Yep, this one is all you, Saint." He said as he pushed Vivienne out of her hiding spot. It turned toward them. Audibly swallowing, Vivienne looked the purple blob up and down.
The creature slipped and slid at an agonizing pace, closing the gap one schhlllp-plup at a time. Its shape changed, elongating toward the ceiling and tall as a man.
Okay Viv, you can do this. Roast this thing. Pulling from inner reserves, Vivienne concentrated on the wisps of the Fire's Call, gathering the pieces together, letting it hum through her fingers.
It oozed ever closer, a wall of toxic gelatin closing off the tunnel and creeping at the languid pace of a predator with trapped prey. Vivienne released the small blast of Sanctifying Fire. At its touch, the ooze convulsed, melting down into a roiling, gooey mess. The bubbling mixture seeped down through the cracks in the stone floor, leaving a small but clear path down the center.
"That was disgusting." Vivienne said. She scrunched her face as she sidestepped the infected cobbles. They moved together toward the heavy iron banded door. The smell of fresh air and running water seeped out of every nook and cranny.
"What did I tell you? Up and to the right!" Milo strode forward, wrenching the door open. Gusting mist and crisp, cool air hit their faces. Vivienne turned her nose to the wind and breathed deeply of the earthen, mossy smells.
"We're not done yet. This is just a cave." Milo waved the torch in front of them, the light not denting the darkness of the cavern depths. A hint of light shone through from the far end. The steady breeze swept the mossy floor, sending more spray from the small river at Vivienne and Milo. "That might be the exit?" Vivienne said, gesturing to the pin-prick of light.
Picking their way through the slick boulders, the point of light grew steadily large. As they broke the light line, breathing sounds came from the left. Milo reached out for Vivienne's elbow. She stopped, one foot hovering, ready to take another step.
A darkness obscured head popped up from behind a cluster of fallen boulders. Vivienne gripped her sword tighter. Grey fur covered its face with two small, curly horns protruding from the top of its skull.
"Wait, it's just a goat! It must have gotten stuck down here too! Wandered in off a farm, huh little guy?" Milo laughed, doubling over, the torch pointing at the goat's face.
The goat stared at them, that empty lights-on-but-nobodies-home stare. A halting, grinding growl sounded through the cave. Double rows of browned, pointed, predatory teeth shining with saliva in the light.
The goat's head rose, revealing a fur covered, human-like body.
The click-clack sound of cloven feet reverberated through the cavern as the beast charged, clawed three-fingered hands outstretched.
Vivienne crashed into the cavern wall, Milo's hands on either side of her. The beast flew past with a gust of air. "Get to the exit." He drew his dagger with a flourish. Vivienne ran to the light.
Her heart dropped. A child couldn't even fit through there!
Gripping her sword tighter, she turned to join the roaring fight behind her. Milo clung to the beast's back, his dagger raised to strike. The blade sank deep into the fleshy neck. With a thrash, Milo flew from the creature, skidding across the slick moss.
It stumbled forward, dropping to its knees, and then its hands. Raspy gurgling came from its throat. Vivienne steeled herself, running forward. She thrust her blade up through the beast's chin. With a wheeze and two thumps of its striped tail, the goat-like thing collapsed and breathed no more.
With two wet schlicks, Milo pulled his dagger and Vivienne's sword from the corpse. A slight shine from the beast's wrist caught her eye. An open-ended, braided copper torque lay there. "We might get a few coins for this." Vivienne called, leaning down to remove it.
On picking up the trinket, a coin sized emerald winked and sparkled in the sparse light. Milo looked over her shoulder, "Probably more than a few!"
Vivienne placed the bracelet around her neck for keeping. Her pockets were too small. "The exit is a cave in. The hole is hardly big enough for a dog." Vivienne huffed. She slid a finger over the necklace, fidgeting with the newness. Milo turned away, looking through his pockets.
A transparent purple image sprung to life before her eyes. At the bottom were thick colored lines with numbers and names. Health, Stamina, and Ley. The health and stamina were fully colored in with 100% next to the bar, but the Ley had only 12% left, as she watched, her mouth hanging open, that number ticked over to 13%.
She looked at Milo and saw he had his own box hovering above his head, Milo Andilet - Sell-Sword, with his own percentages. Whipping around, she looked at the dead creature, Lux-Capra-Chimera - DESCEASED.
"Milo, Milo, can you see all this too?" She tugged on his sleeve. He turned, hand rummaging in his bag. "See what?" Vivienne tore off the torque and handed it to him, showed him where to touch the gem.
His eyes filled with curiosity and wonder as he spun the cavern. "I have no idea but I know this is probably priceless. Here, keep it. It might help you stay alive longer." He removed the device, folding Vivienne's palm around it.
"Alright Vivienne, I want you to move back." He moved his hand out in a "back up" motion. As soon as she was clear, Milo lit the round object in his hand, placed it against a section of the rubble, and backed away.
The resulting explosion shook the cavern with a groaning echo, small debris flying. Rubble fell and rolled from the pile, leaving a much more human sized hole in its wake.
Milo grinned at Vivienne from the new stream of sunlight. "Rule two of dungeon delving! Always carry a Fire Bomb."
Outside the cavern was a luscious forest glade. A babbling brook wound lazily out of a crack in the stone hill behind them. Piled high in the glades center stood an ancient, moss taken shrine. Vivienne knelt down before the shrine, to send up a prayer of thanks for their lives.
Brushing away the moss and forest detritus, her fingers ran across an inscription, "Yoena and Derrick - 166."
"166, that's nearly three millennia! Impressive for some piled rocks to last that long!" Milo made light for another moment before stopping, his brow furrowing. "I have absolutely no idea where we are. Does that thing have a compass?"
Vivienne tapped the gem. The blinding display now a deep green. In the top left corner, a compass. I don't think that was there before.
"Yes, it does! Okay, so we need to head south, I think, and hopefully find something familia-" Her feet were leaden, eyes drooping, and a yawn stifling her train of thought.
"C'mon, the sooner we get back to camp, the sooner we can both get some sleep." Milo said, covering his own yawn. Together, they turned southward and kept moving.