Thrain and company: Chapter 8
Arriving on the next floor, Rugal and Garren gently set down Iris and Veera and used their bags for makeshift pillows. Then, alongside everyone else, they sat down exhausted; ready to sleep right there. Thrain remained seated but looked around the floor they were on.
It was dimly lit, but he could see that ahead lay some sort of dark chasm, almost like an abyss. Over it was a narrow set of rock paths curving and sometimes zigzagging around, each connecting to a flat level spire. The path beyond was through those narrow walkways, it seemed very straightforward, but one misstep and you could fall to your doom.
Before too long Veera and Iris woke up, they seemed fine just more tired than the others. Except Veera, who threw a mild tantrum with what little energy she had to spare. "I am so ready to be done with this nightmare of a tower," Veera said to one in particular. "We've been in here for months now it's probably Fall outside! I haven't had a bath in forever but on top of all of this those creepy demons are waiting on about every other floor now just to kill us!
"I just want to wake up in my bed and this will all be a bad dream. Go outside and find no tower in the distance and see the sun again, or the open sky this place fucking sucks!"
When Veera finished blowing off her steam Adelin pulled her aside for a word in private; far away from the group so they couldn't hear them talking.
After they stopped walking Veera sighed and said, "Look I'm sorry to rant and I know everyone's probably feeling the same thing... But I just don't know how much more of this I can take."
Adelin shook her head and said, "That's not what I wanted to talk to you about." She then rolled up her sleeve and unwrapped the linen bandage she had wrapped tightly around her wrist: revealing the red and green mixed veins slowly climbing her arm.
"One of the spiders bit right through my bracer," She explained. "I tried removing the poison best I could and even put some of my rare herbal medicine on it, but it's only stopped it from spreading; for now."
Veera cupped her hand over her mouth when she saw the wound; her eyes widened and she struggled just to keep looking at the wound. Seeing her face, Adelin asked, "That bad huh, can you do anything about it?"
She dropped her hand away from her mouth and said, "If I had gotten to it within a few minutes sure but..." She had trouble saying more and Adelin urged her to continue. "But at this stage short of removing half your arm there is nothing I can do from in here. If we don't leave right now and get you back to the Capitol with some real healers, then you will die from this. The moment the poison reaches your heart it will infect the rest of you and you'll be dead in a couple very agonizing minutes."
"You sound like you know a lot about this why can't you heal it?"
"Master Cambren taught me about it years ago. It's an ancient venom once found in a special insect that had gone extinct years ago. But some mages in Dorgal have been able to recreate the venom and have used it in their wars years ago. It's been outlawed since, but few of us still study it in case it ever returns.
"I can slow it down drastically but the more you move about, the faster it will spread even with my magic." She looked into the ranger's eyes and said, "But Adelin at the pace we're going I can only give you a couple more weeks max; after that you will be dead. Our only choice is to get you out of here and back to the capitol or to cut the arm off."
"No! No.. I can't do anything without both my arms." She protested.
Veera frowned at the ranger's stubbornness.
"I knew what I was getting into when I came here.-"
"None of us knew what we were getting when we came here," She interrupted.
Adelin continued regardless, "Just slow down the poison best you can, please."
Veera sighed, "I will do the best I can, but we should at least tell the group about this."
"No, if they find out about this they will start acting protective of me and will lose focus. For now I need you to keep this between us until it's too late to hide and I become useless anyways."
"I don't like that plan a whole lot but if that's what you want, I will keep my mouth shut for now."
Veera then grabbed Adelin’s wrist and started working her magic on the wound. The poisoned veins didn't recede, but the pain faded the puncture marks were closed up. Still exhausted Veera said, "All right I did what I could, but a couple weeks isn't a lot of time, so try not to push yourself more than you must. I'm going to go lay down now, and rest some more."
None of them could help but lean their heads over the edge and stare blankly into the dark abyss on that floor. Everyone was ready to move on after some due rest, but their bellies were all empty, and they saw no signs of any of the dark fruit trees on that floor either.
They double checked around the area to see if there was another way to move ahead, but it was evident that they could only cross the abyss on the narrow rock paths above it. Thrain walked along the path to the first flat spire before anyone else, to test if it could support his weight. When he made it, to what Iris dubbed as the 'rest' zone or the flat top spire, he called for the others to follow.
Walking one by one, ranging from the lightest person in front to the heaviest in the back, they crossed the abyss. Making it to the first 'rest' zone they finalized the lineup putting Garren right in front of Curth and Thrain between him and Rugal; Lessa being the lightest walked in front.
Lessa had no problems walking across the narrow paths and moved swiftly with grace and silence. Veera and Iris kept their arms out to the side to help their balance as they moved along and Adelin just walked along it casually. The men had to walk slower, Curth most of all but found little trouble through most of the crossing.
The crossing, at their pace, was simple, but a little tedious and rather boring they soon found. So the girls started making light conversation but no one else would really humor them, so it was just Iris and Veera. When they got to the rest zone, before the curving and zigzagging paths, Adelin told them to start walking in a crouch to be safer.
Veera shrugged the idea off and started walking the curved path, with her arms out to her sides as always before, until she started leaning off the path and almost lost all balance. Then she stopped and crouched down. "Alright, yea, Adelin, I think a crouch walk is best for here."
Finally, they all made it to the last rest zone. One single long line of the narrow rock path lay between them and the other side of the abyss where; they could see the next stairs openly. Lessa had long since crossed over there and was in fact walking on the path just for fun while she waited for the others. Everyone glared at her a little jealous.
Iris and Veera made it down the path first, moving quicker than before just so they could get to the end, to safety. When the two were safely on the other side they turned to watch the others come. "Almost there guys," Iris called out with an encouraging voice.
"There is nothing to it," Veera said a little mockingly.
"Yea, so sayeth the girls not walking around in an extra thirty pounds of armor," Garren replied. He went to say more but lost his balance for a moment and started wobbling, flailing his arms to keep from falling as he ended up leaning backward and over the abyss. Everyone stopped and watched him partially petrified until Thrain hit him in the back with the flat of his blade; pushing him forward enough to reclaim his lost balance.
Garren then smiled at everyone and waved, "I'm alright, it's fine," he called out.
"Okay I think we should stop talking until we make it across this starting now," Rugal said.
They nodded and continued. Adelin walked a little faster, but as she put her weight down her next step, closer to the edge, the rocks crumbled beneath her foot in an instant and she lost all balance and fell sideways. Desperately she shot her hands out to reach the ledge. Catching it only with her right hand a loud pop came from her shoulder and she yelped in pain.
"There's some invisible force pulling me down, I can't get up," Adelin cried.
Rugal rushed over to her fast as he could and grabbed her arm to pull her up. He couldn't get into a good enough position on the narrow path and was unable to pull her up alone. "Shit she's right, I can feel something heavier pulling her down, Thrain help me pull her up."
Thrain came over to her soon as he could and she reached her other hand up to him. But instead of grabbing for it right away he looked down at her; hesitating to act. In his moment of hesitation, Adelin could see it in his eyes: his thoughts about abandoning her there to fall.
For a moment, she thought he'd do it too until he swiftly reached down and grabbed her hand. Together he and Rugal pulled her up and she wrapped her arms tightly around the prince. He patted her back and said, "It's alright you're safe now, let's get to the other side."
Rugal and Adelin held hands all the way along the rest of the path, in case either of them fell again. Once safely on the other side, the girls all group hugged the two and Adelin popped her shoulder into place. Thrain made it over shortly after and Curth was still on his way taking his sweet, steady time.
They watched with anticipation as the large man made his final steps on the path and onto the other end. With all of them safely across, Rugal started to laugh lightly and said, "Out of everything we been through up to here, who would have guessed that we would all almost die just by a little bit of walking."
It wasn't funny but most of them laughed, save for Garren and Thrain.
When the laughter calmed down, Garren pulled Adelin aside for a private word. They went a fair distance from the group, but still Garren kept his voice low as he asked, "He hesitated didn't he? Thrain I mean, when he went to pull you up."
Adelin glanced over to the group, saw that Thrain wasn't even paying them any attention and in a quiet tone said, "Yes he did."
"I have been apprenticed to him for little longer than Rugal, but I'm one of the few people who has ever seen him hesitate for anything in his life. He's a man of immediate action, but he does try to think ahead when there is time for it... But there is more isn't there?"
Adelin looked like she wanted just to forget about it, but she was compelled now to tell Garren the truth. "I saw it in his eyes when he hesitated; he was considering letting me drop."
Garren's eyes widened at the revelation, he didn't think it was that bad. "I don't wanna believe it, even now, but I think Thrain is starting to go mad. This place, it's been doing something to us all of us; but I think it's affecting him worse than us. He's not acting like the lord commander, or the man I know."
"You're right, I remember when I first agreed to join him, but I wanted Lessa at my side too. He would have gone on for days arguing with me about letting someone as young as her come here if he had the time, but he didn't have much other choice he needed me to join.
"Now though he's putting her head first into all this danger, no reluctance or care for her safety. And then there was that time in the swamp when he," Adelin stopped and bit her lip trying not to say more.
"Go on," Garren said gently trying to talk her into continuing her story.
"Just recently in the swamp floor when we were all asleep I woke up for an unknown reason and felt something disturbing was going on. I woke up to find everyone but Curth asleep, he was awake on watch duty, I went to talk to him until I heard Thrain whispering quietly in his sleep.
"It sounded like he was talking to someone, but it was hard to make out. I slowly got closer to him, when I could make out the last words he said, 'I can't kill them, they're my friends, my comrades.' He said nothing more after that; least that I could hear."
Garren felt torn inside hearing that, it was the final nail in the coffin. Now he had no doubts that Thrain really was losing his mind, but it was worse than he had known. "I think we should start keeping a more watchful eye on Thrain from here on out, for the sake of all ourselves. I hate to say it, but our commander may pose the greatest threat to us in here."
None of them thought they would miss the dark fruit trees as much as they did until having them absent for a couple floors. Given how abundant they were before it was something easy to take for granted. Now, though, when they made it to the next floor and found the trees, they devoured the fruits of them and started plucking the rest and putting it in their bags where they had room.
When they finished, everyone walked over towards the rushing river that lay before the next stairs. The current looked very strong and the waters stretched out for hundreds of feet: swimming across would be near impossible.
On the right side, higher up on the wall, the water flowed down the tiny jagged crystals that formed the walls and ceiling of that floor. The current just, after the waterfall, shouldn't be as powerful as it was, but clearly there was strong magic at work keeping it that way.
"Well time to give up and go home, we gave it our best," Iris said.
"What be yer problem young missy?" Curth asked. "Out of all the things we had faced before a lil water got ya scared the most?"
"She' doesn't know how to swim," Rugal said wrapping an arm around Iris and pulling her close to him.
"Even if she did, we can't swim across this," Thrain said, "these rapids are too strong for us to clear; especially with that great of a distance.
"Veera can't you and Iris just create some sort of bridge or something for us?" Garren asked.
Veera looked at Garren, crooked her head to the side and said sarcastically, "Sure and while we're at it why don't we conjure us some juicy strips of bacon. Ohh and perhaps some eggs to go with it too, maybe a goblet of wine to drink it down?"
Garren rolled his eyes and said, "Look I was just asking-"
"For us to create a magical bridge, I know," Veera interrupted. "And just what do you think we could make this bridge out of, perhaps we could freeze the water over and above it and walk down a bridge of ice. Not ridiculous enough for you? Well then how about instead we make it out of Thin Air!" She shouted out the last two words.
The others had come over to Garren and Veera after that and Thrain asked, "I assume this shouting is nothing more than productive ideas on how to cross this river?"
Veera threw her hands in the air and said, "Oh it sure is, great commander. Nothing but production in this group, yessir keep moving forward, ignore all peril and maybe one of us will make it to the top." She then turned and walked away briskly.
"Look out boyo!" Curth shouted alarmingly as he shoved Rugal to the ground.
Everyone then turned to see a massive grey tentacle wrap around Curth and pull him into the river below. "Curth!" They shouted rushing to the edge of the river (but not diving in). They waited anxiously when several more grey tentacles popped out of the water waving violently around. Curth was in one of them screaming, "Come at me you shanty sea bitch!"
They could see the red veins on his body now, as Adelin fired an arrow at the tentacle holding him. It didn't do much, but it gave Curth an opportunity to slip an arm free with his axe. He then hacked off the end of the tentacle and fell right back down in the river.
"We need to help him!" Iris cried out.
"How?" Rugal asked frustrated.
Moments later, Curth was hurled high into the air as the demon below the depths emerged with its oval mouth open and its long rows of sharp dagger-like teeth. The Kraken was waiting, as Curth began to fall, to catch him in its mouth. Iris took immediate advantage of that opportunity it presented and shot out a huge surge of lightning at the beast.
It screeched in agony and submerged itself below before it could catch Curth and eat him. He fell back down in the river and Lessa dove in after him. Adelin reached out to stop her shouting, "Lessa no!" She wasn't quick enough, though.
They all stayed by the edge anxious as ever wondering what was going on down there. A couple of minutes passed and a deep purple color mixed with the river and flowed downstream. From the weird purple stuff in the river, they could see a tentacle pop up from the water and float downstream with it.
"God dammit, we can't just stand here and do nothing!" Adelin exclaimed, as she fired an arrow randomly into the water and reached for another one from her quill.
She went to fire more, but Garren stopped her saying, "You might hit one of them, wait until it-." His sentence was cut short as his eyes widened and he looked up past her.
A massive tidal wave suddenly poured out from the waterfall; coming in fast. "Brace yourselves!" Thrain shouted. Garren grabbed Adelin and put his back to the tidal wave covering her best he could, Rugal did the same with Iris.
The wave crashed over them hard and the waters swallowed them all up.