Thrain and company: Chapter 7
"Thrain, Thrain honey wake up. Come look at your newborn daughter."
Thrain rolled in his bed and mumbled lightly, "Jessebelle?"
"Yes dear, it's me. Now get up and say hello to our daughter Emily," Jessebelle said.
Coming to his senses, Thrain snapped his eyes open and shot up. He looked around him; he was back in his room inside the morning keep, his beautiful wife in bed next to him cradling a young baby: his baby.
"How did I get back here? This is a dream right? It has to be."
Jessebelle only smiled at him and said, "Just because it's a dream doesn't mean it isn't real. Do you want to hold her?"
She offered out the baby to him. Hesitant he took her in his arms and looked upon her sleeping face. Her beautiful green eyes opened up to him and she smiled. Thrain shed a tear of joy and whispered quietly, "My little girl, she's healthy and beautiful."
Jessebelle leaned her head against his shoulder smiling as Thrain played with their daughter's little hands. "You should leave that tower dear, leave it and come be with us in the real world."
"I can't, I have to stop this tower, for the kingdom; for us."
"We can still leave before it's too late; go to somewhere else where we can be together for the rest of our lives. You have given enough to this kingdom. Do you want to abandon your family like your father did: in service to the kingdom? Evercain is unworthy of you and all you have done for it. Abandon that foolish quest and come be with us."
Thrain shook his head slowly, "I don't understand why are you saying these things?"
"Because if you don't leave the tower now; you will never see us again."
The dream world around him instantly faded away and Thrain woke up back inside the tower on the swamp floor. He looked around to see everyone, but Curth, who was on watch duty, sleeping.
Dredging through the swamp floor, they went from a patch of land to a patch of land as much as possible, to avoid the murky waters, in search of the next stairs. It took them, what the measured as, a week to find the next stairs on that floor. Amusing enough it came in the form of another spiral staircase enclosed by a dark evergreen bark, the same material as the stairs.
"You know I started to notice something," Iris said as they climbed. "I noticed that the stairs leading up to the next floor always give some clue as to what the floor leading up them will be. For example, the floor before the demons the stairs were rocks, and then we went into a mountains area. So I'm thinking with these stairs the way they are we will end up in a forest area of sorts."
"Iris that's a great find and all," Thrain said, "but in truth it's not all that relevant. We don't have many options but to climb the stairs leading up or turn around and go back down, so having the very slightest idea what's ahead of us in these scenarios is meaningless. Whatever we will find on the next floors we will find and have to deal with it to move on."
Seeing her dismay, Rugal kissed Iris on the cheek to cheer her up and whispered to her, "Don't worry he's hard on everyone; especially since we been in here."
Although Thrain was right about how little it mattered Iris' belief that the stairs gave a clue to the next floor was correct. At the next floor they found it was a forest of massive dark trees with dark evergreen colored bark. A dense fog coated out areas of the forest and gave off a strange smell.
All of them could sense (on different levels) that something was not right on this floor. They didn't know what it was they were sensing, but they knew it wasn't good; so they moved forward cautiously, looking around at every step.
Before long Adelin said, "Guys I can hear something. I don't understand what it is; maybe light biting from something with lots of small sharp teeth?"
"I don't hear anything, or see anything for that matter," Rugal said. "Perhaps this place is starting to get to you?"
"It's not just me; Lessa hears it too."
Despite the minor protests from Adelin, the group continued ahead through the fog forest. They could feel a very light breeze shifting around them, it seemed to shift the fog too as clear patches would roll in, allowing them to see better. As the empty patches rolled in they also noticed the strange smell in the air would suddenly vanish; realizing it must be the fog that smelled.
Traversing further into the forest Adelin said, "The sounds are getting louder, I think we're getting closer to whatever is making it."
"I be hearin it too now," Curth said.
"Well we still don't see anything, but we should be prepared just in case," Thrain said, "draw your weapons as you please."
Adelin pulled the bow off from around her shoulders and placed an arrow in line; but didn't notch it. Curth too prepped his weapon, unstrapping it from his back and relaxing it across one shoulder while walking. Thrain, Garren and Rugal all placed their hands on the hilt of their swords but didn't draw them.
They continued ahead, walking into the thick fog again as it shifted around more. They didn't get much further when Adelin frantically shouted, "Above us!"
As soon as she said it, giant man-sized spiders started dropping down from the trees. They surrounded the group quickly; though one dropped right above Iris. She couldn't react in time but Rugal, in a blur of speed drew his sword, and pushing her out of the way to safety, caught the spider on the tip of the blade. As it slid down the blade, its blood oozing from the wound, it shrieked and fell silent. Rugal then swung the spider corpse off his blade and pulled Iris to her feet, putting himself between the spiders and her.
Instinctively the group stepped back forming a circle with their backs facing each other. They could see the man-sized demon spiders had sharp little red fangs and red streaks like lightning bolts on their legs and backs. "Guess we know what was making that sound," Adelin remarked.
The spiders then started lunging themselves at the group from all sides. As Thrain, Rugal, and Garren cut them down easily with their blades, Veera and Iris incinerated them with a torrent of flames, clearing up the horde in front of them which was soon replaced with more spiders dropping from above.
Adelin fired her arrows rapidly, but there were too many for her to handle so Lessa, with her arms transformed into bear claws again, ferociously slashed at the spiders tearing through them like they were made of cloth. Adelin then put her bow back over her shoulder and pulled her long daggers out and started fighting them up close. Making quick jabbing strikes into the spider's faces and pulling back before they could sink their teeth into her hands.
Meanwhile, Curth openly swung his great axe back and forth at the spiders; as if it were a sickle and he was cutting down some long grass. Each swing he took out four to five spiders and even as more came at him he kept swinging. The man looked like he could start singing a song while he killed them.
The spiders were ceaseless and seemed like it would go on until the group simply ran out of energy. However that changed quickly when one of the spiders got the drop on Adelin from above. It landed on her hard, throwing her on her back and knocking her daggers away.
The spider immediately went in for the kill trying to bite into her neck. She got her arm up in time to block it but it's fangs were sharp and pierced through her bracer. She grunted in pain and went to kick it off her but Lessa beat her to it; grabbing the spider with one hand and smashing it into the ground with the other, spraying blood all over her and Adelin's legs.
Adelin's eyes went to the trees above for a moment and saw countless more spiders ready to jump down on them. "Above us, Veera, Iris, burn them!" Adelin shouted in panic.
The girls looked up and saw the spiders just as they began to jump down. Together they unleashed a torrent of flames above them which incinerated the spiders and started causing their ashes to rain down on the group. "You know it was hard enough to fight with this thick fog but now the ashes are really making it difficult," Garren half shouted to Veera and Iris.
"He's right we can't fight like this. Can you clear up this fog a bit?" Rugal asked.
"Yeah sure, your welcome for that big save by the way," Iris replied sardonic.
"I got it," Veera said in irritation. She then waved her hands through the air in a sort of dance catching the ashes as they fell and pushing them, along with the fog, back several good feet away from everyone.
The fog clearing up indeed made it easier to see, but the spiders outside of it suddenly stopped and started hissing. They began to retreat: back into the fog. Realizing what was happening Thrain said, "That's it, that's their weakness the fog! They can't seem to be outside of it without it hurting them."
The fog slowly started creeping back to them and with it the spiders. Veera was catching her breath when she said, "Obviously, but neither me and Iris can keep pushing it back like this, we need some rest."
"You don't have to keep pushing it back forever just keep it away from us as we move to the next clear patch that blows in." He turned to Lessa and said, "Lessa go climb the tree and search the closest open area without fog."
Lessa went to do as he said but Adelin stopped her and shouted to Thrain, "No! I'm not letting you put her in that much danger again."
"You got a better idea?!" Thrain snarled at her. "Veera and Iris can't keep this fog off us forever and we all need a moments rest. She's the only one who can climb fast enough to spot a safe area in here."
Adelin went to argue more but Lessa tugged on Adelin's arm and gave her a defiant look; she was going to do this to help them.
Lessa then focused on her camouflage abilities and then disappeared to climb. She returned not a few minutes later and conveyed to Adelin her message about seeing a large clear patch off to their left. Iris and Veera pushed through their exhaustion to push the fog aside ahead of, and around them, towards the clear patch.
Thrain and Curth stayed in the back to keep the spiders off them while the fog crept back up so the girls wouldn't have to spend even more energy on the blind spot.
The clear patch wasn't too far away but without Lessa to guide them to it they never would have found it. It was an enormous area without fog so even with the light winds pushing the fog around they had some time to rest. Iris and Veera were more exhausted then the others; they used the most stamina casting all their spells.
Even well rested, the guys formed a circle around the girls prepared in case the spiders decided to come out of the fog. "I don't think we have more than half an hour in this spot at the very most," Thrain said. "Adelin I know you won't like it, you either Garren, but we're going to need Lessa to go into another dangerous situation. We need her to use her camouflage to go around the spiders and find the stairs."
"I hate to say it but I think Thrain may be right about that," Rugal said before Adelin could protest. "Our only other option would be to descend back down to the swamp floor and rest up for a day or two and then push the fog around to search for the stairs leading up."
"I would much prefer that plan," Adelin said sullenly.
"There is an even bigger problem with that though. If we go searching for the stairs and don't find them in time, before Veera and Iris run out of stamina to push the fog back, we'll all be killed. We wander in here blindly and we won't be able to find our way back to the stairs descending."
"Then why not just cover small areas at a time? Go day by day and map this damn place out until we find the stairs."
"Because that can take weeks, months even. And the longer this tower remains the more it sucks up the life from the lands all around: time is not on our side."
Adelin went to say more but soon realized Lessa wasn't around. She got to her feet but she couldn't' see her anywhere: she must have gone through with the plan without telling her. She turned to Thrain, (who was still facing away from her looking out towards the mass of spiders waiting in the fog,) and said, "I hope your happy now ass, Lessa went out to search for the stairs."
"She's the best chance we have and you know it." Thrain said, still not turning to face her.
"I should have just taken her and fled the forest and leave the kingdom to its own devices. Coming here was a big mistake."
Thrain turned to face her now, glaring at her, "And what If this tower doesn't just stop at sucking the life out of the kingdom's lands? What if it swallows all of Grimnar, then where would you run?"
Adelin had no answer for that.
"You're right maybe you should have left Evercain to its own devices you owe it no loyalties. But the fact still remains that we don't know when or if this tower will ever stop sucking the life out of the lands; we couldn't find anything about it in any of our history books.
"But let's say it does eventually stop absorbing the life from the land, what does it do with all that energy? What if it goes towards fueling these demons, and what If there are even stronger ones further up? Perhaps what comes next is the demons leave the tower and go around our world slaughtering anyone or anything that comes across their paths?
"We might have come here to save the kingdom initially, but there is a very real chance that more than the Evercain kingdom is at stake here. Maybe not all of Grimnar is in danger, but from what I have seen of this place so far, it seems that most of it will be if no one stops this thing."
While Thrain and Adelin argued Lessa had returned to the group. Gleaming in sweat and out of breath there was a light of hope in her eyes. She conveyed her message to Adelin and Adelin translated to the rest of the group.
"Lessa said she found the stairs, but they're about a few hours from here at walking pace."
Thrain looked over to Veera and Iris and asked, "Do you think you two can make it? Or should we turn back and rest a couple days on the floor below?"
The girls looked at each other then back to Thrain and Iris said, "If it gets us away from all these fucking spiders and keeps us from going back to that swamp then we can yes."
"Then we make ready and move just before this clear patch recedes too far."
They took their formations when the clear patch put the spiders within just a few feet of them. With Iris, Veera and Lessa in the front and Thrain and Curth in the back, they went forward at a brisk walking pace. Even with the girls keeping an open area cleared of fog, where the spiders dared not go, moving through the forest with the demons always surrounding them was terrifying.
Garren Rugal and Adelin kept their weapons out and their eyes on the spiders that moved around the cleared paths. The spiders never dared to go outside the fog. But as they continued on Veera and Iris began to feel the bitter wave of exhaustion and messed up on a few backlashes of their wind force; causing the fog to come up to Rugal and Garren for a moment. In those brief moments the spiders rushed at them. They fought them off easily enough until the girls got the spell back under control.
Veera and Iris started making more and more slip ups now and felt like they could collapse at any moment. "How much further?" Veera struggled to ask while she continued her magic.
Lessa started pointing frantically ahead and Adelin translated her body language, "Lessa says the stairs are just up ahead only a few more minutes at this pace."
"Is it straight ahead, I can't see through the fog?" Iris asked.
"I think so yes," Adelin said.
"Tell everyone to prepare to run. Me and Veera will use the last of our energy to push open a large path ahead through the fog: we can't keep up like this."
Adelin conveyed the message to Lessa as Veera and Iris began counting down together out loud. When they got to three they used the last of their energy to clear out a wide path of the fog ahead of them. It pushed all the way back to the wall where they could see the stairs. The girls then collapsed after that.
Rugal, in a blur of speed, caught Iris in his arms and dashed for the stairs. Garren scooped up Veera along the way, everyone else easily got ahead of him. Everyone but Garren made it to the stairs before the fog started closing back in around them. He went as fast as he could but the fog returned before the stairs before he could make it and spiders blocked the way immediately.
He couldn't fight while holding Veera; so he had only one thing left to do, plow through them and toss her to one of the others on the stairs. Taking a couple steps back Garren prepared to charge when Curth and Rugal burst through the fog by the stairs and in maddened frenzy started hacking down the spiders before them; opening up a path for Garren.
"Hurry up!" Rugal shouted.
Garren hesitated no longer and rushed blindly through the fog and to the stairs. He tripped on the first step as Curth and Rugal accidently stepped over him on their way up. They stopped as soon as they saw him lying on the steps still holding Veera close trying to protect her as she was still unconscious.
He quickly rolled on his butt and started scooting up the stairs best he could when he saw that the spiders were not coming up. "Looks like these demons really won't leave the floor they're on," Rugal said, "but that was still way too close."
Garren got to his feet, huffing for breath and said, "Yeah, tell me about it."
Curth offered to carry Veera but Garren only smirked and said, "I think you did more than enough for now. You should relax I can at least handle this."
Curth nodded and moved on ahead. Rugal had already moved on once Veera and Garren were safe, he had given Iris to Thrain to carry as soon as he realized Garren wasn't right behind them;
Curth followed with him without a word. But now Rugal wanted to carry his lover on his own.
When Rugal caught back up to Thrain he gently took Iris back into his arms. "Are they okay?" Thrain asked as they continued climbing.
"Yeah they made it just fine," Rugal said, trying to hide his bitterness.
"I didn't expect them to collapse like that, if I had known I would have at least caught Veera and carried her. I know you wouldn't want anyone else saving Iris."
"Of course, magisters are too valuable to die first." Rugal said derisively.
Thrain ignored it and asked, "So how long have you been able to perform those magical bursts like I use? I never taught it to you or Garren; did you learn it on your own?"
"Iris had been slowly learning it herself over a couple years so she could then in turn teach me. Since it was evident you wouldn't be teaching me anytime soon. It's a good thing she did too because without it I wouldn't have been able to save her or Garren or Veera. Not even Curth knew that the two were not with us until I went back for them; not like even he could do it alone either.
"You should have taught it to us, or at least Garren, before we came here. Because the next time you make a bad assumption I don't think that the luck, which has been keeping us from dwindling in numbers, will hold out again."