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Chapter I: Escape
Lendrig’s cackle echoed in their minds as bestial roars echoed from the hall. The echo did not help pinpoint distance, but it did solidify Lendrig’s threat.
Time was short, but Argent did not hesitate. His eyes met the monk’s, “Hamish, we need to get the doors shut. Now.”
As the two rushed over to either side of the open doors, Selene could now see the group clearly. Three columns of beasts charged down the hall. At the front were the massive thralls, barrelling forward with a sopping slap of tentacles on the floor. Behind them were the Merrow, sliding forward on fish tails. Their torsos and heads were covered in a strange coral armour with faces more shark than human. Each carried an ornate trident.
Following them were the Sep’tha on palanquins carried by the fish-men servants, dressed ornately in robes and finery similar to what Lendrig had worn.
The force increased its speed as the closing doors came into view, but they were still too great a distance to prevent it.
With a great heave, Hamish and Argent managed to shut both doors.
“Now, get back!” Argent bellowed, turning to Ari, “You know what to do.”
Ari nodded, closing her eyes as she fell into a crouch. She placed her hands outstretched on the ground. Ice began to form around her finger tips, growing and crossing the threshold until it covered the door in a frozen sheen. Her incantation complete, Ari’s eyes opened. With a fierce shout, Ari shot up from her crouched position, with her hands high up in the air. As she did so, a massive wall of ice, starting from the floor by her fingertips, rose to the rafters of the ceiling.
From behind the ice, a loud thud could be heard, followed by repeated slams. Ari’s hands dropped as her feet gave out from under her. Breathing heavily, she announced, “That will hold them, but not for long.”
“It’ll be enough, thank you,” Argent said, placing a hand on her shoulder. Turning to the rest of the party, he continued, “Now then, let’s find another way out here.”
The party searched around, but it seemed their only exit lay encased in ice with an army beating down upon it.
Looking around vaguely in search of some way out, Selene’s eyes fall upon the grates above them. They clung to the edges of the ceiling where it met the wall, and Selene remembered that the water for Lendrig’s throne came through them.
Might be a room up there…or at least some network of tunnels we could use to get out?
“Hey!” Selene called out, getting everyone’s attention before pointing up at the ceiling, “Could we get out through those grates in the ceiling?”
Argent eyed them for a moment, “Perhaps…”
His eyes scanned where the ceiling met the wall, following the path of the grates around the room. As he turned to the ice-encased door, he smiled as he spotted one of the grates near the ice.
In the blink of an eye, he rushed toward the ice. Drawing two small axes from his belt, he leapt at the wall. Using the axes, he found grip on the ice’s surface. Then, as if climbing a massive cliff’s edge, he scaled the wall. Argent moved with an alacrity befitting his race, reaching the top in minutes. Near the top, he grabbed a hatchet from behind his back and slammed it into the wall, using it as a foothold as he leaned out to study the grate.
“Good work, Selene,” Argent said after a moment, “It looks like these lead to another room.”
Grabbing the grate with both hands, he checked to see if it could be pulled free or moved. After a few minutes of pulling and tugging, then hitting it with the morningstar he sighed.
“Too strong,” Argent said, “I can’t even dent it. We’ll need to think of something else.”
A thought came to Jezran. His eyes widened as he leapt in excitement.
“Wait!” Jezran cried out, “I can get us through that with the Passage spell!”
Everybody stopped for a second, taking in such an obvious answer.
“Great thinking, my friend!” Hamish cried, slapping Jezran on the back softly. It was still enough for Jezran to let out a pained yelp.
However, it was not enough to strike the smile from the wizard’s face.
“But how are we getting up there?” Selene asked, “I don’t think the rest of us can climb like that.”
“We don’t need to,” Ari said, having regained enough strength to rise to her feet. She placed her hand on the ice before her. Instantly, edges shifted as steps took shape large enough for footholds to the top of the room, “We’ll still need to be careful not to slip, but this should be enough to get us up there.”
“Uh,” Jezran stammered, suddenly a shrinking violet, “I’m not sure I can climb that. I’ll probably slip and fall…”
“No problem, my friend, “ Hamish declared, scooping up the tiny wizard in one hand, “I will carry, so you will not fall.”
Jezran was about to protest when he suddenly thought better of it, “Thank you, Hamish.”
“Is no problem,” Hamish laughed, “Once carried twenty children ‘cross big river. This much easier.”
Again, Jezran appeared about to protest, but thought better of it as the Half-orc began his climb up the steps.
They each made their way up the steps. Hamish, carrying Jezran, went up first, followed by Ari, then Selene at the back.
Everyone seemed to handle this matter with a fair degree of competence. Selene, on the other hand, slipped and fell on the first step.
“Oww,” Selene called out as she rose back to her feet, massaging a bruised bum.
Ari heard her land and turned around, concerned. That quickly turned to mild amusement as she realized what happened.
“Careful, Selene,” Ari called back, trying to keep a serious tone.
Argent, seeing the whole thing from up top, added, “If you take a tumble like that up at the top, you might not make it up again.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Selene muttered, biting back a bitter tone.
“Need assistance, friend?” Hamish, who was actually already carrying Jezran, called down as well, “Have extra arm for you.”
Selene took one look at the visibly uncomfortable wizard and quickly shook her head, “No, I…I would rather climb this myself.”
Hamish sighed, but nodded, “Then please be careful.”
She nodded as she dusted herself off and began again. This time, she put her weight on the step slowly, making sure she was prepared in case she slipped again.
As both her feet sat on the first step, she grinned. Easy.
It was, in fact, not easy.
Every step seemed uncertain as she felt her feet shift and slide beneath her. Her tail was outstretched behind her, desperately trying to help her balance. She could not tell if it did. As she reached around the halfway mark, she was beginning to get the hang of it. She no longer slipped as much, anyway.
Fear is, as always, an excellent motivator, she thought as she stared down at the floor below.
Looking up, she frowned as she realized the other two were having far too easy a time. Ari practically melded with the ice as she floated up each step. Hamish, on the other hand, seemed to simply have enough size and mass to him that the ice could not move him, even if it tried.
Or maybe it’s his…Brackva…ness? Selene wondered.
Regardless, the rest were nearing the top at a comfortable pace.
Sighing, she tried picking up her pace. Only to nearly slip off the end. She gasped loudly as she steadied herself once more.
Okay, Selene. Focus. I cannot die here. If I die here, this will be the worst adventure ever. My face got attacked by tentacles, my brain got attacked by freaks, I ran around in the dark all alone, and then I die by falling from an icy staircase? No way. That story would not work.
Psyching herself up, Selene found a way to use her natural abilities to her benefit. Instead of waiting to get her bearings on each step, she would leap onto it. Keeping her feet close together, she found herself sliding forward. Using the momentum, she leapt again and landed on the next one. Keeping up this rhythm, Selene managed to gain some ground with her friends.
Then the foothold shook.
Losing her balance, Selene slipped and landed on the step. This did little to slow her momentum. Still sliding forward, she only barely managed to grab the icy step in front of her before she could slide off. Her fingers began to sting as they clung to the ice, and she soon found her grip slipping. With a flick of her hand, she drew her dagger and slammed its edge into the ice wall beside her. She did not know if it was deep enough to hold her weight, but there was no time to check. She used the dagger in the ice to leverage herself up on the step.
She gave out a sigh of relief as she found her footing once more.
Looking up, she saw a massive fissure now cut through the center of the ice. Time was swiftly dwindling.
Using her two daggers, Selene instead jumped to the furthest step she could. Slamming her daggers into the wall and step, she would use the hand holds to pull herself up. Once stable, she repeated the process. She managed to leap a few steps each time, but the process was draining.
Another slam hit the wall, deepening the fissure.
A few moments later at a far quicker pace, the remaining party sprinted up the stairs to meet Argent.
“Okay.” Selene panted, catching her breath a few steps below the rest of the party, then she called out, “No time like the present, Jezran,”
“Oh! Right,” Jezran held his focus and prepared the spell. A moment later, a Passage opened in the ceiling directly above them.
Argent sheathed his tools, then positioned himself so he could loop his legs through a portion of the nearby grate, “Give him to me, Hamish, I’ll pull him up.”
Hamish nodded, lifting Jezran up so he could grab Argent’s hand. Once Jezran was safe inside, Hamish grabbed the nearest side of the Passage and pulled himself up.
Ari was only a step behind. She looked back at Selene, who was still struggling up the last few steps.
“Everything alright, Selene?” She asked, concerned.
Selene nodded, “Yeah, just…having some issues.”
“Is this your first time climbing so high?” Jezran asked as he peaked back through the Passage, confused.
“No!” Selene yelled back, visibly offended. She then muttered, “Just not used to thinking I might fall. Especially from so high up…”
“Don’t think about it, then,” Argent stated bluntly as he reached out for Ari, “Keep moving, we don’t know how long this will last.”
Ari looked back, not fully convinced. “Are you sure you don’t need help, Selene?”
A mixture of feelings rose up in Selene. Shame. Guilt. Helplessness. Each one had sunk their claws deep in her at one time or another. This time, however, a fire roared to life, burning them all away.
“Just…go,” Selene said weakly, frustration and fatigue straining her voice, “I can do this.”
I’m tired of needing to be saved—
—I don’t want to be a burden—
I can’t let this stupid ice beat me.
Each thought added further kindling to the flame, the grip on her daggers tightened as her jaw locked in place. Selene did not understand this feeling. All she knew was the fire burned at her weakness, and left an aching need to prove it could not beat her.
Ari’s concerned gaze was met by Selene’s determination. Finally she sighed, giving in to Selene’s desire, “As you wish.”
Argent grabbed Ari’s hand and pulled her up through the gap. The elf now met his student’s gaze. He saw her fire, and nodded. A smirk tickled his face as he grabbed a portion of the grate unaffected by the Passage spell, and pulled himself up. A moment later he peered down through it. He would allow her the attempt, but he would save her, should she need it.
Now only Selene remained on the stairs.
Without Ari’s touch, the ice was actually beginning to melt, making the task all the more difficult. So close to the top, Selene shifted tactics from leaping to crawling. She would create handholds by planting her daggers in the ice, then lifting herself up to each step. She used her sleeve to dab sweat from her eyes as she caught her breath for the last time.
How do they walk so casually on ice? I feel like I’m going to fall off any second.
Another tremor travelled through the ice, deepening the crack. As the ice settled again, she began her final ascent. Each step was a victory unsung as she continued her crawl. There was no time to bask in success. The tremors increased in frequency, and icy chunks now freely fell to the ground.
Body in constant motion, nothing deterred her until she was met by the final step. A genuine smile touched Argent’s lips as Selene stood at the top. She beamed up at him through heavy breaths. This victory, so hard fought, was sweeter than any she had tasted this whole journey.
Argent reached out to her, ready to pull her up. She returned the gesture, fingers inches from his grasp.
A chorus of guttural bellows echoed through ice as the thralls slammed into the wall in unison. In her weakened state, the tremor in the ice was enough for Selene to lose her balance. Joy gave way to panic as she felt her feet sliding out from under her. Too late to react, she lost her footing and began to fall.
“Selene!” Argent cried out.
Thinking quickly, she stretched her tail out toward the nearest foothold. Quickly, she wrapped her tail around the foothold as tight as she could. Her descent was halted, but the strain on her tail made her cry out in shock. A shiver ran down her spine as she stared at the ground far below the step. Another shiver came as her sensitive tail gripped the ice firmly.
“Oh, that ice is cold,” she muttered to herself.
Her reprieve was short lived, as the next strike by the thralls exacerbated the fissure. The room was filled by the sounds of massive shifts in the ice.
It was beginning to fall apart.
In a flurry, Selene swung herself to a nearby lower foothold and managed to pull herself up in the chaos. No time to waste, she leapt up to the highest step. As she reached to pull herself up, she saw the ceiling stretch further and further away. The wall was crashing to the floor below. In a rush, Selene scrambled to her feet. She reached the top with outstretched fingers to grab Argent’s hand, but the distance was too great.
She sighed, sheathing her daggers. Only one way this will go, then.
Crouching, Selene prepared herself for a leap.
Legs don’t fail me now. It’s a long way down and I’d really rather not end up smashed against the floor.
With a cry, Selene leapt from the foothold as the ice collapsed underneath her. For a moment, she felt as if she were floating in the air.
Then came the sudden lurch of descent.
Time slowed as something from above grabbed her wrist, bringing the descent to a sudden halt. Looking up as she swung helplessly in the air, she saw Argent, swinging by his legs from Hamish’s grip.
With a heave, Hamish lifted them both up through the Passage.
Looking down, they could see the army searching for them below. Before they had a chance to look up, Jezran snapped his fingers and the Passage closed behind them.
As they collapsed in a heap, Selene could not help but say, through gasping breaths, “That…was…too…close. T–thank…you.”
“You’re welcome,” Hamish said, “But next time, you let me carry you.”
Selene wanted to say something, but thought better of it.