Chapter 34

Chapter 34

 

 

In full, it had been at least a day, but possibly more that they had been moving without true rest.

Surviving, sleeping in short shifts, breaking the little bread and dried meats left from Talia's pouch with sullen faces. While one stood watch, the other might close their eyes for the barest of moments before being awoken by a warning of enemies, and forced to continue again.

In short, they were exhausted.

Turn after turn after turn, but none of them lead back to the main passages. Talia herself was starting to run low on strength and magic, but she knew that Grant was even worse off. He'd cast more serious magics in succession than she had ever seen, or attempt for that matter.

Just standing on his own was impressive. A mage without mana was like a warrior without a sword, and possibly a few arrows in the chest; one foot in the grave.

To make matters worse, instead of upward, they'd been forced down. Further and further down. No matter what Talia did, they were harried further into the depths. This many layers down into the Dungeon, she knew even the slightest misstep could be fatal even with a full team. Just the two of them wouldn't stand a chance.

"We need to find a Sanctuary zone." Grant's voice was hoarse as he spoke. "There should be one on this floor nearby if Rodrick's map was right."

"Aye." Talia replied, eyes peering in the dark recesses of shadow ahead of her glowing mace. "Aye, there should be one soon."

It was both a lie, and a truth. Grant was right: There had been one on the map. It had been one layer deeper in the Dungeon than they had reached before getting separated from the others, but it had been there. The only problem was she'd long since lost any clues to where they were.

Even if she kept a stoic face, it didn't change the facts: They were completely and utterly lost.

"Craaaaaaaaaw."

Talia froze, holding at the next intersecting passage with a feeling of dread. Peeking around the stone, she could see and hear what was feared. Another monster swarm, Tar-spiders this time. Beneath their onslaught, some unfortunate creature cried out as their fangs sunk in to pass the paralyzing poisons with a pitiful "Craaaaaa..."

"We're going left." Talia whispered, nodding quickly to Grant's waiting stare. She couldn't believe how tired he looked. Face sunken, exhaustion teetering on the edge of collapse. She held a forced grin as she continued. "Right are some Tar-spiders, left looks like it widens out to a larger passage-way. It might be the Sanctuary."

Potions could only take a mage so far, eventually they would need to rest. His mana reserves were probably at their wit's end.

"Lets go." Grant replied, weak nod passing agreement and feet trailing softly behind her own as they crept forward.

Talia steeled herself for the end with each quiet step. She awaited the cry of hunger from some unseen monstrocity, the sound of motion or ambush with every twising corner.

But none came.

Instead the hall did widen. It grew larger, and larger, and larger still. It passed into a massive tunnel-byway, carved stone molded with giant bricks; as if some ancient castle had once stood where they now tread.

Perhaps it had, for all Talia knew of the world's history. Behind he, she could see Grant staring in bewildered and exhausted wonder.

"Where in all the seven hells have we wandered, Talia?" He whispered quietly, hand tracing along the stone of the cavern. "Work like this... no I've ever known Dungeon can manifest something of this nature."

"The ancients then?" No monsters seemed to show, but neither did Talia's guard settle. This place lacked the familiar hum of magics often associated to the precious zones of Sanctuary, and the floor had not a single rune, instead falling to bricks of heavy stone. It was as if they were in a castle. A structure of hands and design, deep beneath the earth.

"It might just be..." The haggard reply settled into huffing breaths, ending their conversation as they continued on into the unknown hall. "A sunken portion of a city... certainly from before the Empire if I'm to interpret the architecture. I know people have found similar things before."

"Turn out well for them?"

"I'd say it's an even-split between rich and dead."

They settled back to silence after that, neither willing to attract unwanted attention. After an hour of marching, without a single monster approaching or blocking their path, finally Talia forced them to stop. Turning to Grant, she grinned as she watched his head tilt back, eyes widening in awe at the strangeness before them.

A giant set of doors, arching up ten wide paces high and covered in the ancient scripts of long-forgotten runes. The familiar hum of magics settled atop the stone with a static filled buzz, almost music-like in quality.

"Do you think this is it?" Talia asked, staring at the tired man beside her. "Or is it something else?"

"Well... We can't be sure, but..." Grant let his hand fall to stroke the thin hairs of an approaching beard coming in atop his chin and jaw. Tired as he was, his eyes seemed to hold the glimmer Talia often saw in him when he was running at full-strength. The look of excitement, that turned to her with a wide smile as he pulled free one last vial from his belt.

"There's only one way to find out, isn't there?"