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Neopia's Fill in the Blank News Source | 27th day of Awakening, Yr 23
The Neopian Times Week 123 > Continuing Series > Dark Flame: Part Fifiteen

Dark Flame: Part Fifiteen

by child_dragon

Shadows in Shadows

Sabreur kept track of time for us. Around five o clock he called a halt for dinner. We had trail rations, dried food that didn't need reheating. It was bland and tasteless.

     From there we traveled for a couple more hours before finally stopping for the night. We found a decent sized cavern, one that would allow us to spread out and rest. Sabreur studied the walls as I lay out my sleeping bag.

     "See how the rock changes color here," he said, "the brown here is probably some kind of sandstone. And this… not sure what this is. But each color represents a different period of the earth."

     "Are we really that deep?" I asked.

     "I think so. The air's getting hotter, you noticed?"

     "I did. Warm and muggy."

     "We're probably approaching an underground lake. That's where the mugginess is coming from. Another couple days. Then we'll be off the map."

     The thought wasn't reassuring. We drew straws for who took what watch.

     "Is this really necessary?" asked Melody, who managed to draw midnight watch.

     "The texts mentioned that there are things down here," Sabreur said grimly, "And I for one don't want to be surprised in my sleep. Besides, there's enough of us here that each person's watch only lasts for an hour."

     I had the second watch. The ground was hard and the sleeping bag barely made any difference. I had laid mine out near the entrance to the cave with the Elemental Spear at hand. Sabreur and Infernus had taken the spot near the exit. Un-eairkagh quickly caught on to what we were doing and moved his sleeping spot next to me.

     "If something comes in the night I want to be able to help," he whispered, loosening his Sinsis sword in its sheath.

     "Alright. I doubt anything will happen though."

     "Just in case."

     It seemed I had just fallen asleep when Netsuko was shaking me awake. She smiled and returned to her bed without another word. My shift. Sabreur's light was dimmed and placed near the center of our group. I took a spot near the wall that would allow me to watch both entrance and exit. I briefly considered putting up wards to let me know if anything was coming but then quickly dismissed the thought. Some things were attracted by magic. Best not draw them to us.

     My watch passed uneventfully. I did not allow myself to think about where we were and what could be out there. And about the ever-present and crushing darkness. When it was time I woke MoonFall and retired to my bed. I fell asleep immediately.

     I dreamed. There was darkness all around me but there was something in the darkness.

     "So you are trying to find him," a voice said.

     The voice was familiar.

     "You. You were with me when I was in the coma."

     "I was," he answered, "Without me you might not have ever made it back."

     "I know. Who are you? And why did you help me?"

     "My name is Shi'tri. I helped you because you are my ally, if you realize it or not."

     "Show yourself."

     A man appeared out of the shadows. He was tall with long jet black hair flowing over his shoulders. His eyes where black also. He wore all black, mostly hidden under a long trench coat.

     "How are you here, in my dream?" I demanded.

     "You'd best turn back now," Shi'tri said seriously, his hands folded behind his back, "For your own good."

     "But… you said to find Aldrai!"

     "I did. To give you hope, so you wouldn't give up. But now that you're awake… well, I must be honest. There is no hope. Aldrai is quite lost to you. Go home. You're wasting your time."

     "I won't!"

     "Then don't hold me responsible for what happens."

     He bowed and faded from sight.

     "Wait! Come back!" I called, "Who are you? And what do you want?"

     But there was no answer.

     I was woken by FireDarkWolfX. He didn't say anything, just moved on to wake the others. I gathered up my things and joined the rest for a quick breakfast of more trail rations. I checked our water supply next. Quite fine, we'd be good for the next couple days. And hopefully we'd come across that underground lake Sabreur had mentioned the previous day.

     A couple pets in our group chatted as we walked. I couldn't tell who it was. I was up at the front with Sabreur, trying to find the safe way through. He had the map out and was consulting it every few minutes.

     We continued in this form for the rest of the day. One quick stop for lunch and then we moved on. Sabreur mentioned that we had passed the underground lake and I asked if we should double back to stop by it.

     "No, I don't think we can get to it just yet. We're just having some of the humidity travel up here through vertical shafts we can't go through. We'll hit it on our way down, I'm sure."

     "We have to go deeper?" SwiftRiversRunning chimed up from the middle of the group.

     "Yes. We're only a couple miles below the surface right now. Once we reach where Aldrai fell we'll be able to follow his trail as deep as it goes."

     Shi'tri's words came back to me. I brushed them aside. I would not turn back. I got a better grip on my spear though. He'd good as warned me that something would happen if we kept going. I would have to let everyone know about that sometime. Not yet though, but before we reached the scar in the earth.

     We didn't make it before we had to stop for the night. The same routine followed, drawing for shifts and the strongest fighters taking the entrances and exits. There were three tunnels leading out this time. I took one, Sabreur and Infernus the other, and Terraile and Un-eairkagh the third. I had the third watch after midnight.

     I didn't dream that night and nothing happened during my watch. As we were packing up the next morning, though Padiglione broke the silence.

     "I thought I felt something watching us last night," she announced, "But I wasn't sure and nothing happened. So I didn't wake anyone. It might have been my imagination."

     "Maybe not," I said softly, "I had a dream the other night and the person who spoke to me when I was in a coma was there. He said he'd lied to me just to get me out of the coma and that there was no sense in going to find Aldrai. He hinted that something might try to stop us."

     "And you're just now telling us?" Sakuko said accusingly.

     "Um. Yeah," I said sheepishly.

     She sighed in dramatic exasperation and returned her attention to breakfast.

     No one really talked when we started out. I noticed everyone was keeping a better lookout on our surroundings and side passageways though, and that everyone's hands hardly strayed from their weapons. I even stretched out my magical senses to see what was around us. If it attracted something, so be it. At least I would be forewarned. There was indeed something there. I only felt it for a couple seconds before it faded from my senses. Apparently it had felt me searching and hidden itself somehow. I could not tell what it was but I detected no outright hostility.

     "We're being followed," was all I said.

***

We reached the spot of Aldrai's fall about an hour later. I stopped short as the tunnel widened out into a vast open area. My friends gathered around me on the outcropping. The area was immense. Light magic coated the walls of the cave, jagged and sheer. The shaft was newly formed as time had not yet dulled the edges. I looked up and saw only a stone ceiling far above us. The shaft itself was wide, about the width of a house. It plunged deep into the earth. I knelt by the edge and looked over. I could not see the bottom. Just an inky hole of nothingness.

     "What now?" Terraile asked.

     "We have two options," Sabreur replied. "Try to follow the tunnels down. That might lead us to the underground lake but there's no guarantee we'll be able to find the right way further down. Or we follow this shaft itself."

     "Meaning…?"

     "We fly," I replied, quickly counting up the ratio of flyers to non-flyers, "Swifty, you carry Padiglione. Terraile, you can carry Netsuko. Infernus, you carry Sabreur. Un-eairkagh, you take Melody. Moonfall, you carry Sakuko. Do you think you can managed two pets, MoonFall?"

     She glanced over at FireDarkWolfX.

     "Sakuko isn't that heavy," she said slowly, "If it's only a glide down then yes, I should be able to manage. Why can't you carry him?"

     "I'll be scouting ahead."

     "Shouldn't you stay with us in case of attack?" Melody asked.

     "Infernus and Sabreur know how to fight in the air," I said. "Melody will be on Un-eairkagh's back so he'll still be able to maneuver. Those that can't fight and fly will just have to stay out of the way. If you do get attacked Terraile can contact me and I'll get back to you. Since I'm the most powerful, I'll be safest alone. Make sense?"

     There were agreeing nods all around. I walked to the very edge of the outcropping and spread my wings.

     "There's not much room to maneuver, so take it slow. Glide down," I instructed.

     And I leapt off the edge.

     Even with the glow of my Elemental Spear the darkness was crushing. I could barely see the walls, much less what was below me. I took it at a controlled half-fall, staying close to the center. Every now and then I'd encounter a side tunnel branching off but there was no sign of anything else. I could see the faint glow of Sabreur's Halogen 3000 above me but that was all. I was alone. The light from the lamp did not reach me.

     I continued falling for what seemed like ages. My wings were starting to hurt from the constant strain when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I twisted in midair just in time to bring my spear up to parry the attack.

     It was a Korbat, but like none I had ever seen. It had no fur and its skin was a bleached white. Its eyes were huge and pale and its teeth viscously sharp. It reminded me forcibly of the deep sea fish that never saw light of any kind. I yelled in shock and disgust and smashed the butt of my spear into it. It screeched and was thrown back to smash against the side of the shaft. It fell and recovered. A second Korbat slammed into me from behind and I free-fell for a bit until I managed to right myself. By then a third Korbat was on me. I twirled my spear and slammed it against the wall. The two other Korbats kept their distance and I flew up to meet them head on. The scattered out of my reach and I snarled in frustration. Then I felt sharp claws rake my thigh. I kicked and there was a crunch as my hoof connected with the Korbat below me. The two others dove for me then. I rolled in midair and slammed my spear into both of them at once. They hit it hard and dropped off to either side of me. I quickly flapped my wings, gaining altitude. If I was under attack, then what of Sabreur and the others?

     It soon became apparent that they too were under attack. A whole swarm of the pale Korbats had appeared out of the side tunnels and were attacking my friends indiscriminately. Swifty and MoonFall were cornered near the wall with Terraile attempting to hold them off. Netsuko had managed to find an outcropping to stand on which freed them both up to fight. Infernus was concentrating on his flying while Sabreur fought. He held onto Infernus with one hand and in his other one of the throwing stars. He threw it as I watched and it struck a Korbat in the wing. The creature let out a shriek as the star burst into brilliant purple red light and all the other Korbats fell away from the light. Un-eairkagh had his Sinsis sword and dark battle duck out. Melody was just hanging on best she could.

     "Everyone!" I cried, "Freefall!"

     Un-eairkagh gave a shrill cry and shot a beam of darkness at one last opponent before going into a straight dive. Melody shrieked and buried her face in his fur. I too went into a dive before anyone hit me. There wasn't enough room to maneuver. As it was, I nearly hit the wall as a Korbat shot out at me. I smashed it aside with my spear. There was a thud and then nothing. I could hear the sounds of sporadic fighting above me as we all fell. I twisted in midair to look. Sabreur had let go of Infernus and was on his back, throwing stars up at our pursuers. Bursts of light accompanied each hit. Infernus was also on his back, grappling with a Korbat. He threw it away and it slammed into Swifty and Padiglione. The Gelert hit the wall and tumbled. Padiglione was thrown off and Swifty quickly directed her fall to the side. She flared her wings a bit and caught the Kougra before going back into freefall. Un-eairkagh's maniacal battle cries reached me, accompanied by the infernal squeaking of his duck. At least one person was enjoying the fight. Terraile had her bow out and was shooting upwards at our attackers. Netsuko had let go of her and was just directing her fall to stay close to the Shoyru. My heart was in my throat as we fell. Sabreur's lamp could only illuminate so far. We were falling into nothingness, a bottomless hole that seemed to go on forever.

     Suddenly, the Korbats shrilled loudly and flared their wings. The popping of air filled the shaft and reverberated into hundreds of echoes. In seconds the Korbats were left behind us. I rolled to face down and spread my wings a bit. I caught up to Sabreur and grabbed one of his flares off the back of his pouch.

     "Wha…?" he gasped at me.

     I didn't reply, merely pulled the tab and threw. The light fell and fell and then stopped. A collective outcry of fear came from all the pets.

     "Grab hold of your flyer!" I shouted, powering my dive to get in front of everyone.

     The ground neared us. I could dimly see it now in the light of Sabreur's lamp. We were too close, we didn't have time to stop.

     "Flare your wings, NOW!" I shouted, and spread my own, thrusting both hands downwards and channeling my power.

     A vertical column of air burst up from the shaft's bottom, filling our wings with a deafening pop. I grunted as the bones in my wings were jerked painfully up from the sudden rush of wind. The wind screamed in my ears, whipping my hair wildly about me and slowing my fall. The muscles in my back were taunt with trying to keep my wings out and I felt like they were about to be torn right off. But my fall was slowing.

     I landed hard but not hard enough to injure myself. I staggered and slowly stood as my friends and family landed all around me. Un-eairkagh hit hard enough to send Melody tumbling off over his head. But he was laughing with sheer adrenaline.

     "That was awesome!" he cried, "Let's do it again!"

     "Let's not," Terraile said, visibly shaken.

     I glanced up and saw pale outlines of the Korbats following us.

     "No time to talk!" I snapped, "Into that tunnel there, now!"

     Everyone obeyed, rushing for the tunnel at the bottom of the shaft. I was the last to follow. The Korbats were almost on us.

     "Keep going, get ahead of me!" I ordered, turning to face the oncoming horde.

     "Kiddo! What about you?" MoonFall cried.

     "I'm going to stop them. Just go!"

     She hesitated.

     "GO!"

     And she turned and ran after the rest. I faced the Korbats again. They were almost at the tunnel entrance.

     "Here we go," I said grimly, and slammed my spear into the earth, point first.

To be continued...

Previous Episodes

Dark Flame: Part One

Dark Flame: Part Two

Dark Flame: Part Three

Dark Flame: Part Four

Dark Flame: Part Five

Dark Flame: Part Six

Dark Flame: Part Seven

Dark Flame: Part Eight

Dark Flame: Part Nine

Dark Flame: Part Ten

Dark Flame: Part Eleven

Dark Flame: Part Twelve

Dark Flame: Part Thirteen

Dark Flame: Part Fourteen

Dark Flame: Part Sixteen

Dark Flame: Part Seventeen

Dark Flame: Part Eighteen

Dark Flame: Part Nineteen

Dark Flame: Part Twenty

Dark Flame: Part Twenty One

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