Eveth wasn’t thrilled with the way things had panned out.
Her knees were scuffed, and badly so. She didn’t need to see them to know she was bleeding, but that wasn't even the worst of it. Half of the equipment she’d wanted to take with her? Why, that was left out on the table. Books, artifacts, a small leather sack of coins she'd been saving?
Down the tunnel and stairs behind her.
The other half?
Eveth cursed, as she tripped forward, her center of mass turning past the point of no return as the bag slung over her shoulder escaped. Face first, she barely caught herself in time: as her free hand took the weight of it, and she scrambled further up the steps. Weight dislodged in the process. Something slipped out of her bag with the feeling of a sudden absence, as some precious object tumbled free, likely taking a journey down the steps.
She could only imagine what irreplaceable piece that had been, but there was no going back for it.
Which was just wonderful.
This was a classic maneuver, wasn’t it? Legends told stories like this, Eveth could remember at least a few. When the hero in the story was sent running for their life, forced to leave behind a pile of treasure or jewels. Stories of Adventurers who stumbled upon a dragon, or some other fanciful creature. Clearly, the moral of such readings expected that a person shouldn’t think twice about abandoning what had to be several hundred gold in commercial value.
Eveth certainly wasn’t thinking twice about it.
No, certainly not.
Her foot slipped again as she scrambled a few more steps, and her hand caught, awkwardly. It hurt quite a bit, especially on the finger she’d managed to secure one of her rings. The metal was digging into her skin.
The wrong ring.
She’d only managed to put one of those on- the completely incorrect one for the current predicament, but that was just her luck when she was scrambling contents of the table into an already filled bag. Saying the other ring had landed where she’d been hoping, it was probably somewhere deep within her bag: its usefulness greatly lessoned, undoubtable nestled beneath several heavy texts in such a manner that made it impossible to reach.
Again, just her luck.
But she wasn’t bitter or anything.
What was really bothering her, out of all the things that had gone wrong in the previous ten or so seconds, was that she was almost entirely blind.
Blind, and if the incessant ringing in her ears meant anything: also mostly deaf.
“AGGH- those [Light] spells are the absolute worst! Why put traps on the way out, Eveth? WHY? Doesn’t that seem excessive to you?”
Mostly, with one obvious exception.
“The runes reset themselves. We took too long.” She knew she was speaking, but Eveth couldn’t hear herself well enough to know if that came out as a shout or not. “They recharge on their own. They use the ambient mana down here.”
“Just shut up! Waste your breath on the thing chasing us!”
“First of all, I’m not talking to you by breathing- and Second, I really would. Really, really would, if it weren’t for the fact that YOU BLINDED US!”
The voice in her head wasn’t her own, but in fairness, it did mirror what she happened to be thinking. Around her neck, its source was constricting past the point of uncomfortable.
“For fuck’s sake. [HEAL] already! Why the hell are eyes so damn tricky? [HEAL!] [HEAL!] [HEAL-]”
The rush of healing mana hitting her system brought with it the sensation of a chill. Like being dropped into ice water, but from the inside out. Her vision underwent a shift of burning pain and total darkness, to freezing cold and slight variation in shades.
Of course, the heat that had just started to billow off her neck and shoulders was more than enough to make up for that.
“Alright, you rune-covered creeper: eat some of this!”
Though she couldn’t make anything out clearly, the overwhelming glow of green which filled her murky line of sight was enough of a warning for Eveth to brace herself.
The rush of air that followed threw her forward, lifting her to the point where her feet left the ground. After which, she landed hard. It seemed that blind tumbling wasn’t an undiscovered talent, but Eveth was thankfully she’d avoided the last of the stairs. Around her, she could feel flat stone- which meant good news.
They’d made it back to the surface, relatively speaking.
Eveth blinked, then clenched her eyes shut as they almost seemed to… fizzle. It was a remarkably unsettling. When she opened eyes again, she could dimly see the floor. The ringing in her ears faded away to the sound of her lungs, gasping for air.
“Did it work? Everything working?”
“I can see, I think.” Eveth replied, blinking spots and specks floated through her sight. “Just need to adjust a bit.”
“Good, hurry up and get us out of here while you’re at it.”
“Didn’t you get the construct with that last one?” Picking herself up off the ground, [Light] spell leaping to life overhead as she pushed a few stray possessions that had come loose back into her bag. One of the notebooks looked singed, much to her dismay. “Can’t I catch my breath?”
“I still don’t think we should take our time.”
“If you hit it, then the problem’s done.” Eveth stood back up, balance wobbling. The small room at the top of the stairs was a smoky mess, haze visible even with the [Light] spell overhead. “I just hope you were thorough about it. We wouldn’t want any of my life’s work to survive, or anything.”
“You’re a real downer, you know that?”
“Could you just tell me if it’s dead?”
“No. Not really.”
“I’m not sure if it’s dead.”
“What do you mean you’re not sure?” Eveth turned, peering down the staircase. “Everything I kept down there is probably burnt to cinders.” She muttered. “Either it’s dead, or it isn’t.”
“Surprisingly enough: not always true.”
“Care to elaborate?”
“No, not really.” Eveth listened as the voice cut off, somewhat, clear tone replaced with a muffled back and forth, slightly out of range. Then it returned. “Besides that, fire doesn’t seem to work well on solid stone.”
“If you’re so worried, then use some other type of magic. Don’t you know other spells?”
“I would, and I do, but none of them seem like they’re going to be much help right now.”
“Fine.” Eveth shouldered her bag, turning to stare down into the darkness of the staircase. There was nothing but ink-black, with a trail of smoke. It burned her throat a bit, as it rose up.
Carefully, Eveth pulled her cloak over her mouth, breathing through the cloth as she raised her staff, pushing the orb of [Light] downwards. In seconds it was completely swallowed up by the acrid haze.
Nothing shown through, not even a tiny flicker. She reeled the spell back, leaving it overheard to reveal the platform.
“Snake… are you really certain that it’s not dead?”
“I’m never certain of anything.” Around her neck, the basilisk loosened its grip. “That’s the problem.”
Eveth watched the darkness, spinning patterns of smoke impossible to pierce. There was no noise, no sound. Just stillness, and smoke.
“Just… open the wall up and get us out of here. I’ll keep watch.”
“Alright.” Eveth stepped up, moving into the narrow passage way she’d apparently made on their way in. It was cramped, with only enough space to move forward or back- not side to side. “This wasn’t my best work… were we in a hurry, on our way down here?”
“Maybe a little bit? Don’t knock yourself for the magic though, that’s better than what I’ve been able to manage, recently.”
“Oh?” Eveth raised her staff and began molding the thin layer of stone that had been used to cover the entrance. It began with ease, rock parting as fresh air poured in. The sunlight hurt her eyes. “Why is that?”
“No clue. It’s almost like it’s been stolen or separated from me… or something.”
“Magic can’t be stolen. The concept is intrinsically tied to a person’s soul… existence? That’s not the right word, but close enough.”
“You’re saying that it’s a permanent part of someone.”
“Yes, exactly. Once you learn magic, it’s for life.” Eveth gritted her teeth. Holding a [Light] spell, talking, and concentrating on the task at hand, was becoming a bit much. “If you master an element, it will always respond to you. You can’t steal another person’s magic.”
“Yeah, well… about that. Mine’s busted”
“If you try to do something, does it react?”
“Uh… sort of?”
“We’re talking about your Earth magic, aren’t we? It obviously listens. That isn’t stolen or missing: you’re just terrible with it.”
“Oh. You did not just say that.”
“What, spinning dirt around? You call that being talented?”
“Nothing to say?”
“I know what you’re doing.”
“Is it Earth magic? Because, that’s what I’m doing.” Eveth replied. “Care to try?”
“I know you’re trying to get a rise from me, make me mad. Probably so I’ll answer some of your questions.”
“Almost sounds accusatory, when you say it that way.” She grinned. “Maybe I’m just venting a little anger because you burned my life’s work.”
“I’m going to be the better person out of the two of us and let that slide. You’ll get your answers when were safe, back at the inn.”
“Person… says the basilisk.”
“Seriously: stop over-analyzing. Aren’t you done yet?”
“Yes, almost. Seems like I didn’t make this outer wall very thick, not much left to shift.”
“Good… that’s good.”
Behind her, something clattered. Like a stone, tumbling down. Step by step, by step…
“What was that?”
“Nothing. Just keep working.”
“That didn’t sound like nothing.”
It was strange, hearing something so close. Every sound in the tunnel resonated ten times over. Eveth turned back and could clearly see there was nothing there: just smoke, spinning as the outside air came in.
“Just keep working, Eveth. I’m watching.”
“Alright, I’m going.” She took a step into the constrictive passage, crouching down lower as she went, staff ahead as the stone continued to part ahead of her. One step at a time, she eased through the tight fit towards the glow of natural light. It mostly wide enough now, but she’d apparently curved the walls inward for support, so that would still need to go. Plus, the bag over her should took up additional space…
There was another clatter of stone.
Another clatter, this time loud enough to make her look back.
“Oh gods.” Eveth’s voice caught.
Barely out of arm’s reach, Construct stared back at her.
“Yeah.” The snake’s voice hummed in her mind. “It’s not dead.”
“How long has it been there?” Eveth whispered. “How long?”
“About a minute.”
“Why the hell haven’t you attacked it?”
“Because... I don’t need to.”
“Don’t need to?” Eveth whispered desperately. “It’s just been standing there, and you’re not going to put it down?”
“Yeah… it’s not an idiot. I think that’s what it wants me to do.”
“Why would it want you to attack?
“So that it can dodge... maybe.”
“You’re just going to wait?”
“I might.” The basilisk let out a low hiss, as it repositioned itself. “Depends what it does.”
From the darkness, Eveth watched as the stone face continued to stare. The Construct made no motion, standing completely frozen. If it weren’t for her [Light] spell, there was no way she’d be able to tell it was there. The thought sent another shiver down her spine.
Still, it didn’t move.
“Did it… break, you think?”
“No. It’s definitely not broken.”
“Then what is it doing?”
The Construct simply sat there, wide shoulders pressed against the stone. Eveth saw the head tilt, rotating, as it twisted. What was ordinarily a neutral expression, had morphed. Now, there were teeth sprouting from the stone as a hideous grin. Its eyes had compressed and angled, shaping as if enraged.
As if in response to Eveth’s whispered question, it slowly traced a bladed hand along the tunnel out of the stairwell. The quiet dragging-out brought with it, a continuous screech.
Yet, the Construct didn’t move towards them.
“I think… maybe there’s not enough room to get to us easily, and it doesn’t want to risk getting stuck.”
“What should I do?”
“Just… keep going. If it tries to get us, I’ll blast it again.”
Slowly, Eveth kept moving while facing back towards the construct and her weapon still pointed towards the daylight. The light blue glow of the basilisk bobbed beside her, greenish smoke escaping from its mouth in occasional threatening puffs as she went.
Finally, her foot found nothing but air.
“We’re there.” The familiar warmth of a fading sun had never felt so good, as Eveth let her foot drop down into the crunch of dirt. Sucking in her stomach, she shouldered the bag through the gap.
Outside, at long last.
“Seal it in.”
“You don’t have to tell me that.” Eveth grumbled. Quickly as she could, the stone began to fill back in behind her.
Distant in the tunnel, Eveth could see the construct was still staring at them.
It never faltered.
She could see those false eyes, wild and angry, as the light of day began to fade behind the stone. As more and more began to fit back into place, the closer those seemed.
No, not just seemed- they were actually getting closer. It was moving.
Slowly, methodically, but there was motion around that horrible face. Shifts and shakes, accompanied by a soft but terrible scratching: the arduous task of dragging the construct dragging its shoulders against the stone of the tunnel, while those claw-like hands dug for purchase to pull itself closer…
The tunnel was almost completely sealed, several inches of stone missing in its center, but the construct didn't stop. Not until it reached the very end, body physically unable to move further. Completely trapped, as the stone continued to mold the exit shut for good.
Still, Eveth couldn’t help but stare at those eyes, as it pressed against the molding stone. False impression, a mockery of life.
Then came the voice.
A crackling volume that echoed about the tunnel, repeating over, and over again with dissonant octaves no human was meant to hear:
“[Enemy of the World]”
“[Enemy of the World]”
“[ENEMY OF THE WORLD]”
“[ENEMY OF THE-
The screeching cut off, as the tunnel closed completely.
Eveth stared at the plain wall in front of her: its stone completely ordinary. There was no sound, no visible evidence besides the lack of scorching on the surface compared to the surroundings. There was no trace of what lay only half a pace behind it, entombed.
It was over.
“Gods.” Eveth let herself crouch down, suppressing the urge to vomit. “I’ve been down there, working on that thing, for years.”
“I believe it.”
“Years! Piecing it together, finding out what makes it tick. I drained a pint of my own blood for that- that thing! Don’t you get it?”
“Don’t play dumb, you scaly bastard! Years, and it never made so much as a peep! Now, today it’s suddenly after me? You expect me to believe that's just some coincidence?” Eveth pulled at her bag, tightening the straps as she stood up. “The hell is going on? What the hell did you do to it?”
“I didn’t do anything to it.”
“Then what the fuck did it just come after us for? If it could do that the whole time, why not kill me years ago?”
“Well… okay, maybe it wasn’t after you… specifically, but-”
“And [Enemy of the World!] What in the flying-fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, that? Yeah, that’s a long... hey, hold on a second.”
“Don’t you dare deflect-”
“No, seriously, Eveth: not trying to deflect, but do you remember this many footprints?”
“There are footprints here, right near the entrance you made. Look at the dirt.”
“Oh…” Eveth stopped, checking for herself. “Yes… there are. Quite a few of them.”
“Someone was here, while we were underground.”
Eveth looked. They were right.
“A lot of someones.”
“Yeah… has to have been at least a couple people. Look over there, they split up and then… huh. Weird, almost seems like they circled and climbed out?”
“It does seem like that.”
“You think it was Alem? Or some others from the guild?”
“Maybe, but…” Eveth checked their surroundings, glancing at the stone that rose up around them.
Nothing had really changed.
The wreckage of the Guild hadn’t moved, the supporting walls were still in place, but there were footprints. At least three or four people had been here, specifically here. The rest of the foundation barely had any prints at all.
“I think we should leave.” Eveth spoke quietly. “Soon.”
“Oh, definitely. Day’s a wash, but if we leave now, I think we could still regroup with Imra and Dren, then-” The voice stopped. “Hold up. Did you hear something?”
“I didn’t hear anything.”
“Seriously? There… there it is again. Like some sort of clicking noise, creaking almost.”
“Still don’t hear anything.”
“Hmm…” The Basilisk let out a thoughtful hiss, as it pivoted around Eveth’s neck. “You know, that sound? I just heard it again. It’s almost like a… oh shit.”
“Like a what, snake?”
“Above all, don’t panic.”
“I’m not panicking.”
“No, I’m pretty sure you are- but was talking to myself.”
“What’s wrong. What is it?”
“Well, the answer to those questions depends on how quickly you can get us out of this basement.”
“I could get a pillar of stone, if you gave me a minute to concentrate.”
“Yeah… I’m not sure we have a minute. Can you do faster than a minute, if you start right now? Maybe some sort of air magic, to pick us up?”
“You mean [Flight?] Do I look like I’m made of mana?”
“You know what, never mind- don’t panic or anything, but maybe- you see that support wall, to our left? The one with a few bits of wood still leaning on it?”
“I do, but I don’t understand-“
“Can you walk over to it? Like, quickly, but not panicky?”
“Just walk as if everything is totally alright. All normal, no pressure. Sooner the better.”
The voice in her head seemed strained.
“You’re not making the slightest bit of sense.” Eveth whispered, as she turned about to start walking. Nervously, she adjusted her grip on the wooden staff in her right hand, leaning it on her shoulder. “What are we doing? Do you do this to Imra, just randomly spout instructions?”
“Imra? Yeah… maybe I should call Imra. She'd come running, might help...”
“Call her? She’s hours away, back at the inn.”
“Yeah, that’s sort of a problem, isn’t it? Could take her awhile.”
“Could you just tell me what the fuck we’re doing? Why am I standing next to this wall? What did you hear?”
“You promise not to panic?”
“Like, really promise.”
“Yes, snake. I really promise.”
“Well, in that case: I’m pretty sure someone is about to take a shot at us.”