he shouts, snarls, and sounds of combat echoed down from above. Somewhere to Nimbus’ left he heard another bloodwolf carcass fall to the ground with a morbid thud. There was blood in his mouth, filling it with a sickening, ferrous taste. Above him, the flickering torchlight danced, vaguely defining the blurred images of his allies.
Nimbus blinked, trying to clear his vision. Hesitantly, he lifted first his right arm, then his left, before slowly drawing himself up into a sitting position. As he did, he noticed he had been lying on the body of the same bloodwolf he had been wrestling before he fell. That must be what broke my fall. It’s a tremendous stroke of luck that I’m still alive, not that it really makes up for falling in the first place, or the whole trapped-in-an-incredibly-dangerous-and-convoluted-dungeon-with-no-memory thing, but it’s a start.
Finally, Nimbus forced his eyes to focus. The blurry outlines fighting on the wall-like bridge above sharpened into the recognizable figures of his compatriots. Gilgamesh fought wildly, forcing the bloodwolves back while Stinger and the other men struggled to pull the cart and carry Talos. In the back, Hermes desperately forced back the wolves with a volley of wind bursts that wailed around the cavern. The party was slowly but steadily making its way to the exit on the right side of the room.
“Hey.” Nimbus croaked, before spitting the blood out of his mouth, clearing his throat, and trying again. “Hey! I’m down here! I’m OK!”
No response. Gilgamesh disappeared into the tunnel on the right, with the cart following closely.
The sounds of combat died down as the cart and even Hermes, with one last, apologetic look, disappeared from view. A few more bloodwolves scampered over the bridge in pursuit.
Hermes will tell them I’m down here. They’ll come back. I’ve just got to… Nimbus suddenly remembered what Gilgamesh had said before they attempted crossing the bridge. “If you do slip up, you’re on your own.” It made sense. They were on a vital mission, carrying water. Risking its completion for the sake of one member was folly, and Nimbus knew it. That didn’t stop him from spending the next minute shouting pleas up into the cavern above him.
Who am I kidding? Gilgamesh is in charge, and he wouldn’t help me anyway. Nimbus dragged himself to his feat, wincing from the pain of numerous bruises. I’ve got to find a way out of this pit. Maybe I can catch up to them. Nimbus turned to survey the rest of the cave, but it was too dark to make out much of anything; the only torches were next to the bridge far above.
A sudden scraping and sliding sound from behind caused Nimbus to nearly jump out his boots. He wheeled to face the noise, only to see a dark form, whose features he could not distinguish, sliding down the sloped side of the bridge. The figure reached the ground and stumbled forward a step before regaining his balance.
“Hello?” Nimbus said.
“Stinger?” Relief flowed through him.
“Come on. Let’s move.”
“How do we get back up?”
“We don’t. There’s an exit somewhere.” Stinger ran to the back of the cave and all but disappeared into the shadows. “Here.” He disappeared from view.
Following closely, Nimbus managed to find the narrow tunnel entrance and squeeze through. “You’ve been here before?”
Oh, that’s right: he makes maps. He’s probably been all over these tunnels. “So, what do we do now?”
“We reconnect with the convoy. This way.” Stinger led Nimbus down a tunnel branching off to the right.
“What on Earth is this place for? Who digs tunnels like these?”
“It’s intentionally convoluted, for getting lost. The people who made this place are either mad or cruel.”
“That sound fallacious; can’t they be both?”
“Quiet. There will be bloodwolves near.”
A cold feeling seeped into Nimbus’ chest. If I survived an ambush, a fall off a bridge, and Stinger’s meager conversation skills only to be eaten by more bloodwolves, I think it will be fair to be a trifle disappointed. Nonetheless, Nimbus followed Stinger onward, around bends and up a few steep inclines. This section of the tunnels was darker with only very few torches to break the shadows. Several times Nimbus found himself stumbling over ridges or scraping his armor against the walls, much to Stinger’s obvious annoyance. His muscles, which had been tired before the bloodwolf assault, burned. His bruises ached and throbbed. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore.
“Hey, can we take a quick breather?”
“It’s extremely dangerous.”
“Yeah, but I can’t keep going right now. I need at least a few minutes.”
“Fine. I’ll find a spot.” Stinger conceded.
The two stopped in a decently large chamber that was better lit than most. Not one, but two torches? The cave designers must have busted their budget on this room. Nimbus sank to the floor, relief flowing through his legs.
“If you fall asleep, I’m leaving you here.” said Stinger, eyeing the tunnels for enemies.
“I won’t; I won’t.” Nimbus assured him. “Hey, why did you come back for me? I thought Gilgamesh said not to.”
“He’s not in charge. I don’t leave people to die.”
A long moment passed while Nimbus reflected on the attack. He spoke again: “So, we were attacked after all.”
“But I thought the wolves only attacked large groups when the Alphabeast was with them.”
“Yes…” Stinger’s voice hardened, “that was unusual. We were in a vulnerable position on that bridge. I suspect that’s why they attacked…” Stinger clenched his fists, “without the Ravager.”
“Some call it that. Descriptive.” Stinger growled.
“Ah.” Nimbus hadn’t known Stinger for long, but something about his demeanor was making Nimbus uncomfortable. He searched for another topic to discuss, noticing, for the first time, the carving on the far wall.
The carving was rough and amateurish, as though it had been made rather hastily. Nonetheless, it was detailed, featuring a tall, muscular man riding what appeared to be a horse with the head of an eagle. The lines of the carving seemed to indicate rays of light shining in all directions, with the man as the point of origin. All around him were images of people bowing, kneeling, some even lying flat on their faces. Beneath the carving, a few unfamiliar characters spelled out enigmatic words in an unknown language.
“Who made that?” Nimbus asked.
Stinger shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s not the only carving like it.”
“Huh.” Nimbus stared at the carving for a while, examining it for some kind of explanation, but no new details presented themselves.
Only a few moments had passed before Stinger interrupted Nimbus’ thoughts. “Get up. We need to keep going.”
They hadn’t gone far before before Stinger stopped and whispered carefully to Nimbus, “If the convoy stopped at the right place, then we’re close. That means the bloodwolves will be close; we must be silent.”
Nimbus swallowed and whispered back, “It just wouldn’t be a proper outing without a run-in with our ravenous, canine friends, would it?”
Stinger turned silently and, drawing a dagger, crept down the tunnel. Nimbus, unsheathing his own sword, followed closely.
It was frustrating for Nimbus, trying to stay quiet while wearing armor. Stinger’s leather hunting outfit moved without so much as a murmur, his footfalls like leaves coming to rest on the ground. Meanwhile Nimbus’ numerous plates scraped and clinked together as he shuffled along awkwardly. Fortunately, as Nimbus hazily remembered, the armor wasn’t made of traditional metals, otherwise it would have to be far larger and denser. Augmented fortisium, that’s what it’s made of. That’s not especially useful information, though. Nimbus did note, however, that the armor, while not suited for stealth, was fairly comfortable, considering he’d been wearing it for hours. It must have been tailor made. Just, you know, not by a tailor. Smith made. I mean, all armor is made by a smith, but…
This rather absurd tangent of thought was interrupted when Stinger suddenly came to a halt. The archer held up a hand, signalling for Nimbus to stop, before slowly turning and whisper with scarcely a breath. “Hear that?”
“What? I don’t…” Nimbus heard it: a distinctive snuffling coming from just up ahead. “Well, that never means anything good.”
“It’s between us and the party. We need to kill it as fast as possible, then run before the other wolves catch us.”
Nimbus’ could feel a headache building up. “Great. Who’s taking point on the killing part?”
“Your weapon has more reach.”
“You have a bow!”
“Shh!” Stinger gestured for him to be quiet. “Only have five arrows.”
“And this would be a great time to use them!”
“Get ready.” Stinger slipped past Nimbus and waited behind him.
Nimbus tried to keep his sword hand from shaking as he waited for the bloodwolf to come into view around the corner. Now would be a great time for a lightning bolt, if only my stupid magic worked. Suddenly, a familiar sensation returned; a surge of energy coursed through him. Great. My magic does work, but with a sense of irony. The power crackled inside him, howling through his mind, begging to be released, and release it he did. A white-hot bolt of pure electricity thundered through the tunnel, filling the air with sparks and ozone and leaving both Nimbus and Stinger blinking the splotches out of their eyes.
“By Jaktur, what was that?”
“That…” Nimbus found himself out of breath. “…that was… my magic. I’ve been trying to get to work for a while now, and I’ll be honest…”
A howl resonated through the tunnel as the first bloodwolf rounded the corner.
“…I really wish it had happened, you know, when the target arrived, instead of just before.”
The tunnel echoed appallingly as several howls answered the first.