Chapter 87

Chapter 87

Unlike many other portions of the known Dungeons, even when considering those with regions of arguably higher difficulty and danger: The Nether-Forest has long since been considered unique. More so, it holds a rare title as an "Open Network."

 

An Adventuring-specific term: in essence the description of a Dungeon zone as an "Open Network" is typically reserved for regions that present more a massive-expanse than a series of tunnels and passageways. Though there are certainly other examples known and explored, there are none that quite match the Nether-Forest's sheer scale.

 

Quite the contrary to most zones (where caverns rarely open up to even a tenth of the the regions great size) no matter how thick the foliage of the plant-life can gather along the bedrock and floor, an adventuring group can never be directly separated from any other region within the expanse. Beyond those few and rare side-tunnels which have been noted to lead out towards deeper depths and zones beneath the earth, the entire area is a massive and open cave.

 

Known and infamous for its position beneath the core of the Great Northern Forest (one of the few portions of the center continent not established and occupied by mankind) the Nether-Forest was long sought as a potential trade route to the far northern-most regions of the continent's dungeon. Tracing back along known history, Entire Merchant alliances have tried and failed to establish some level of profitable lines within the region, none quite managing to do anymore than waste their coin. The terrain, while lacking high-class monsters, is still rugged, and occasionally frequented by mana-swells during the Northern Storm season.

Still, up until the destruction of the local sanctuary, it was favored as one of the more unique and accessible areas possessing an attribute of "leveled" terrain, both in context of danger by Dungeon-Beast and geographic manifestations. While not quite as useful to Merchants and investors, it has been known as an ideal location for Adventurers (Either Guild sponsored or of private means) to learn their craft with a lower rate of fatalities than what might ordinarily be expected.

In one final not of reference, the Subterranean Nether Forest is also one of the few known dungeons to possess direct influence and contact from the surface (however dangerously inaccessible this might be) due to its unique physical interruptions. Those famous and alluring structures, twisted and gnarled along strange routes. Some of petrified and ancient stone, but most of living root. These Pillars, their forms diving deep into the earth from the mighty expanse of the Great Forest above ground with intertwining and enormous size, are the means that most Adventurers seek to travel this area. Either by route in which to safely enter known hunting grounds and harvest the Dungeon monsters which prowl the region, or for the naturally occurring plants or crystals which form in the mana-rich environment.

 

Swordmaster Zane:
 

Climbing up to the root-network was never a simple task. Even for trained and professional adventurers, the effort was always pushing the limits of excessive both in planning and execution.

First was the challenge of plotting their route.

In his younger days, still eager to prove himself to the Guild, Zane had often roamed solo or as an escort for hire. Those first years especially, he had seen numerous expeditions to the region of the Labyrinthian Dungeons know as the nether-forest ( more infamously known as the Goblin-zone, or as some might call it: the "Gob-zone") and he had in turn witnessed a wide variety of successes and failures. Many of those last, had come from ignorance.

Zane had made certain to learn from them.

Pulling on the line, a thick tethering of rope consisting of both twine and Iron-Bison hair, Zane dragged the last of his companions upon the small ledge of the overlooking pillar with a heavy puff of exertion. Each and everyone of them was drenched in sweat from the effort, but it had finally paid off.

They had taken to the last portion of the stone, reaching the rally-point often referred to by the Guild as Citadel. After climbing several hundred feet to reach this ledge, the reasons for this title were perhaps more obvious than most. Looking down might make any but madman dizzy, below the expanse of the cavern stretched out in the distance.

 

"Knox, keep look-out here. I'm going to scout ahead up the tunnel." Zane issued his command as he dropped the rope into waiting hands, turning back towards the material waiting behind them, feet carefully pressing on along the thin space of stone no more than a full pace wide. "Daxton, Ryker- follow when you're ready."

"Yes sir!" A voice replied somewhere over Zane's shoulder, as he pressed around the bend of rock and thick root, hands feeling the smooth surface of the root for thin but present handholds. carved out painstakingly for this specific purpose. The Citadel rally point was perhaps one of the safest places in the Subterranean Forest, with the sole exception of falling hazards. Not all of it was out in the open though.

Feet carefully places in a slow scooting motion, Zane finally felt the root give way beneath his left hand, finding air where wood and fiber had been before. Pulling the rest of his body along to find it, he stepped inside the passageway: into the True Citadel.

His eyes adjusted slowly, darkness of the space barely illuminated by a single over-sized glowing mushroom. Stepping in closer Zane kneeled to the floor, fingers tracing along the wooden surface. The evidence was there, though not the source.

Closer, but not quite there.

"Younglings?" A voice called out behind him, as the Spearman Daxton stepped through the crevice of the root into the hollowed room. "Younglings, are you here?"

"They're not. Best you keep quiet." Zane replied, rising from the floor..

"Anything?" Another voice joined them, funneling into the hollowed space of the root beside them. "Knox says he can remain a lookout, but he's not seeing much of anything out there. [Keen-eye] or not."

"They were here." Zan replied. "Recently, if I were to guess. My bet is they came here after their first scouting efforts, so we're not far from the trail."

"That's good! They're still focused on the mission then?"

"So far as we know." Zane replied, considering. "Tell Knox he'll stay here. You too, Ryker."

"Me too? Why?" The man questioned, stepping in from the crevice-way with irritation clearly in his tone. "I can help Zane. I'm not new to this, and it's my apprentice out there too-"

"No." Zane spoke with finality as he moved deeper into the room, looking up at the carved latter of handholds ascending a vertical tunnel far above their heads. "No, we'll need two people if they come back injured. Climbing down from here isn't a simple matter."

"But-"

"I said no, Ryker. Leave the red-seal as proof if they show, and get them out. We'll catch up."

"What if they don't come back?" Ryker asked quietly, hushed tone in the sheltered space barely a whisper. "Do we just sit here and wait? Should we follow?"

"Yes, you should wait." Zane replied with a gruff voice. "Stay put until we come back, understood?" Zane waited, before turning back to the brooding face.

 

"Understood, Ryker?"

 

"Yes sir." The reply came, if forced.

"Good." Zane turned back to wall, motioning to the other man present. "Daxton, lets get a move on. If they're still on mission, we'll know where to find them."

"Yes sir." The Spearman replied, beginning to climb with a renewed vigor.

"And Ryker?" Zane set his hands onto the carved sections of root, beginning his own ascent with quick and efficient motions.

"Sir?"

"Don't worry." Zane said, before disappearing in the tunnel above. "We'll find them."