The extra weight from the gold ore in my pack made me considerably less steady on the wooden walkway. Each step set the boards to creaking under my feet increasing my level of anxiety as we ascended. The lot of us moved through the adjoining hallway that linked to the main mining shaft.
The rest of the group was silent, besides the sound of footfalls on the gritty floor. Insects chirped in the humidity, but even that had died down since the excitement with the spiders.
"I'm going to leave my pack here. There's no point in dragging around this load of ore."
I dropped them pack in the adjoining tunnel, then removed my breastplate to further lighten my load. I looked toward the tunnel where the spiders had come pouring through the last time.
I am not looking forward to this. I thought.
"I'll look ahead." Floki offered and tucked around the corner. I could hear the floorboards tremble as he moved over them.
Silah stood silently, her expression tepid. She was on this uncomfortable edge of annoyance and the excitement of discovery. With each life she'd taken, I had felt her getting stronger and she had just crossed a threshold down below, there was an indescribable feeling with that killing blow. This rush of life's energy into her also brought about this manic urging to keep up the pace. I kept thinking of it as bloodlust, but that seemed to be oversimplifying things.
She had told me early on that she could help, but that it would diminish her essence to do so. I had taken advantage of it during the battle with the giant crab on the beach about a month ago, draining her reserves. After that, her appetites increased to an uncomfortable degree and nothing could sate her beyond the temporary fill that us mere mortals found satisfying. I could imagine that it felt a lot like a constant hunger. To her, it was completely intolerable, something that her current form had moved well beyond. Only taking more lives seemed to fill that space permanently.
Yet, taking more life made her grow in capacity in other ways, as I had seen first hand just moments ago. I could tell, now, when a threshold was bound to be crossed. She buzzed with mania after each kill, her anticipation palpably rising; her driving forward more fervent. I couldn't lose control.
"Do you have the tools?" Sig looked over me as I sorted through my pack, retrieving what I needed moving forward.
I produced the shovel and showed it to him. I brought the hammer and pitons, as well. We had prepared to dig out and shore up the tunnel so it was safer to navigate, but also, had purchased a considerable amount of lantern oil, knowing there would be plenty of opportunity to use it more as a weapon than a help. We didn't need to bring our own materials for shoring the tunnels up since the next room over had old timbers we could use in the process.
As I walked in, the others stood against the walls, including a grimacing Silah, their eyes on me. Even Floki's wolf, Tenner, had an expectant look. I took a deep breath, not saying a word, and thrust the shovel into the wall of dirt before me.
In the enclosed space, sweat sprang readily to my forehead and quickly covered my arms. I clenched my teeth with each thrust of the shovel, hauling it back to deposit that the entrance. The passage was still short, vertically, making each move take twice the effort. Bromm was behind me, hauling in timbers to shore up the tunnel as we proceeded. Floki helped Bromm with getting the larger pieces in place.
After quite some time, we broke through, seeing the familiar tossed carts and bones of the long dead Dwarves in their reclined positions; an eerie mausoleum for the long lost miners. I saw some glittering eyes in motion.
I turned to Floki and Bromm.
"There's movement in there. I'm sure they've seen us." I said.
Floki had produced some of the lantern oil, and placed each vial in the tunnel. Bromm was doing the same, edging back to a more defensible location.
I reached instinctively over my shoulder then looked fretfully down the tunnel toward Silah. She pushed from the wall, her demeanor nonchalant, to the center of the tunnel, I was unsure of what she was doing, considering I was defenseless. I could hear the creak of metal and a tumble of rocks through the hole. They were getting closer.
"Think of me as a sword in your hands." She called down the tunnel, "Then call out to me."
Crouched in the tunnel and quieted my mind, doing as she said.
"Come to me." I whispered.
Instantly, Silah was in my hands, in her Greatsword form. Beady eyes emerged from the hole, and I lanced through them, splitting easily through the husk. I edged back, seeing more come through. Floki sent the next dog-sized spider to the floor with a couple of arrows and I slashed through the last that emerged. We waited, listening. I pushed through, peering into the tunnel beyond. The black and gray scene showed no other movement and I turned back to the others and let them know.
I looked down at Silah in my hand and felt a warm smile emanate from her. She appeared in my mind, lounging in an elongated chair elegantly, wearing a sheer dark blue dress laced with sparkling jewels. Her glowing eyes regarding me easily.
"There are benefits, you know." She said smoothly. "I am capable of so much more if you allow it."
Silah's expression had softened slightly, her annoyance wasn't nearly as obvious, but it did remain.
I wish that was a comforting thought. I thought, with a smirk.
The annoyance returned instantly; showing a crease in her brow and the glowing eyes sharpened.
"Why are you being so difficult?" She said, sitting forward.
Can we do this later? I thought, breathing out a sigh. I need to focus. Who knows what we're up against in here?
"Fine." She puffed out of existence with a toss of her hand.
Bromm was looking at me.
"Is everything well?" He said, looking concerned.
I chuckled as the look in his eyes.
"More of the same, really." I said, smirking.
We finished the process of shoring up the remainder of the tunnel as quietly as possible. Floki looked down the hallway past the blockade of minecarts that had been in place for ages.
"I'm going to get my armor." I said to Floki and Bromm.
I crouched through the tunnel. Sig and Danin on the far side were talking amongst themselves.
"We broke through on the far side." I said as I moved through.
"Where are you going?" Sig asked.
I patted my chest then pulled at my undershirt. Sig nodded.
"Wait, one other thing," Sig paused, "What was that thing with Silah?"
"Apparently, she comes when I call?" I said with a shrug.
A burning sensation erupted from the hand that held her. I moved out into the mineshaft and brought Silah back to human form as I donned my armor. If there was going to be a tongue lashing, I might as well busy myself while it happened.
She stood, furiously, all five and a half feet of her, giving me a smoldering look with her arms crossed over the milky white dress.
"Again, why?" She growled, keeping her voice low.
I was deliberately putting my armor in place, working with the failing buckles, and tapping at the metal protecting my chest and guts. I turned to her and looked down at her. It was a wonder that such a small thing could command such power over me. I sighed at the thought.
"You're making me uneasy." I said, feeling a little heat rise in me. "You're reckless and you want me to be reckless, too."
Her mouth pinched, but she held her tongue.
I continued, "I need to be able to trust you to let me do my job. Will you?"
"Why do you think I wouldn't let you do your job?" She hissed.
"You've been scratching around in my head since the last fight." I paused, "It's downright unnerving and distracting. Distracted is the last thing I need right now. There's too much at stake."
Her posture relaxed slightly, and she looked to the side shaking her head slightly rolling her eyes. She looked to me.
"Fine." She said, her voice quiet, but ripe with contempt.
"Thank you." I said, I felt my own aggravation just below the surface, held back just enough to attempt being cordial.
"‘She comes when I call.'" Silah scoffed.
"Isn't that how it works?" I looked at her slide-long, while putting my scabbards in place.
"Yes, but … to say it like that?" Silah looked at me, incredulous.
I suppressed a smile.
This can work both ways. I thought to myself.
"Back to work," I said.
As I closed my hand around her arm her expression went livid. She then immediately melted into her Greatsword form at my mental command, and I placed her into the sheath on my back.
I moved down the tunnel to meet up with the others. I could see a deliberately placed cask of gunpowder against one of the walls, an expertly crafted fuse rose from a small hole in the center.
As good of a contingency plan as any, I guess? I mused.
I hoped that this agreement with Silah would give me a little more breathing room. Each time she hit one of these thresholds, it seemed like a new struggle to keep her from taking over. I needed to visit with Duncan soon. Perhaps he could give me some tips on keeping my mind clear and Silah's influence at bay.
"We're going to start lighting up the hallway," Bromm said as I approached. Danin had taken position behind one of the overturned mining carts that blocked the hallway.
Floki had a quiver of lit arrow fletchings, compliments of Sig. Floki was poised with and arrow and Sig was wrapping them with cloth soaked in oil and sparking them. Floki would send them off downrange, clearing the webs from the long hallways beyond. A few curious spiders began to emerge, glittering eyes filling the hallway beyond.
"There's … a lot of them." I said.
"No different than last time." Sig shrugged.
"Heh, oh, I remember." I grimaced.
Last time, it was just Bromm and I. I saw that the ground in front of the carts as well as the carts themselves had been slicked with lantern oil. There was no doubt that we were more prepared this time.
Arrows lanced through the gap between Danin and myself. I could hear Tenner growling and Floki's voice keeping the wolf at bay. Then came a deafening boom, rattling everyone. I glanced around. Bromm had a focused and determined look on his face, eyes down the hall. He seemed to be the only one unfazed by the percussion. He put the musket off to the side and pulled his sidearm. I clenched my teeth, bracing for the next shot.
As the spiders reached the carts, Danin and I swung out, side by side. These dog sized spiders were easy prey for me, but took a little more effort from Danin. Danin, however, was far more protected with his shield and heavy armor where I had to be more wary of their sharp little fangs. One slipped through, biting me, and sending poison through my body. I could feel it weaken me, but only slightly. I pressed through, dealing with the pain and the sickening poison, and slashed the Greatsword through it's thin carapace. Silah didn't seem to respond to the poison as she had done in the past. She was focused on the feeding frenzy before her.
I felt the blade warm with a hum as each creature fell. Her passion was restrained but that energy was building within her. I distantly wondered how much time I had before she was able to exert more control over me.
A cluster of them approached the carts and Sig lit off the oil with a snap of his fingers. They hissed with pain, but unfortunately, it merely burned some of the prickly hairs off of their bodies. Danin and I made short work of the rest.
Eventually, the waves of spiders subsided regardless of the amount of noise we had made. Even the echoing blasts from Bromm's pistol shimmering through the tunnels ahead failed to lure more toward us. I could hear him reloading as the spider's diminished.
"Let's advance to the first intersection." I said to Danin, who nodded in response.
We hopped over the carts and pushed forward. I clenched my teeth, shuddering with each step as the dead spider's thin forms yielded briefly, until they crunched flat under each footfall. Floki took his lit arrows and shot them down the corridor that extended off to our left. I moved around the corner with Danin, a few of the dog-sized spiders were quietly moving down the hall and reared back threateningly as we faced them.
Danin's impervious shell held firm against the multiple spiders that attacked him. I moved to his side, following him as he pressed down the corridor.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves!" I shouted to Danin. "We could get flanked if we're not careful!"
Danin seemed to be fully engaged, his axe swinging readily as he moved forward against the swarm. I matched pace with him to make sure he couldn't get overwhelmed. Ahead, I could see into a large cavern. There was an edge just inside that dropped into some sort of abyss. A little ways further there were steel cables stretched to the edges of the cavern suspending a bridge over the gaping hole. There was a lumpy form on the bridge, covered in dust for the ages it had been there.
Bromm moved in behind us, taking the flasks of oil and holding them at the ready as Sig snapped his fingers, sparking them. Bromm would toss them into the cave and down over the edge of the abyss. There were crashes and fire erupted for short periods of time. Moments later, the spiders halted the advance, yet there were clicking sounds still echoing from just beyond. It sounded like Floki and Tenner were holding the other hallway, flanked by Sig.
There was a collective gasp from Bromm and myself as spider, its body the size of a large horse and cart, pulled itself over the lip of the abyss. The hairs on its carapace were still burning from the oil. It reared up, it's large legs thumping against the ground with each movement. All over its back was crawling mass of smaller spiders. I looked back to Bromm, incredulous.
"Oops, I didn't expect that." He said looking sheepish as he pulled his pistol.
"I hate spiders so much." I breathed, turning forward, gritting my teeth and feeling rage course through me.
I stepped forward and took a swipe at another of the smaller spiders that had appeared around the corner, feeling the hum from Silah gaining intensity.
"Fall back! There is another one moving on Floki!" Sig called out from behind.
"Another one?" I said incredulous then growled toward Danin, "Are you falling back?"
I waited a moment, but his heavy brow looked to me unspeaking. I fell back, aggravated, as the large spider lashed out at me, narrowly missing. As I turned, Silah appeared in my mind's eye, her grand aspect bearing down on me with its menacing glowing eyes. She gripped the floor, on either side of me buckling the wooden stage with her grasp. She leaned in, her massive inhuman form brought it's face close.
"What are you doing?" Her bellowing, angry voice shook me to the core. I felt anxiety mount as my will pressed against her own.
This is exactly what I was afraid of. I projected at her, my relatively diminutive self snarling on the darkened stage, doing my best to stand my ground.
She looked on, her frightening expression unchanged, but she did not continue to press.
I turned the corner and looked back as Danin moved in from behind me. Sig reached into a pouch and tossed a small marble that immediately expanded to fill the hallway beyond.
I looked on, both shocked and glad about what Sig had done. I turned to see another large spider bearing down on me, this one was considerably more colorful and had a few arrows already dotting its carapace. I braced for an attack, but as it got into position, Bromm and Floki continued to put shot and arrows into the creature. Floki's last arrow struck home. The spider thrashed awkwardly in the contained hallway, then went still. I turned to look at them.
"Perhaps we should have thought this through." Bromm said to Floki with a grimace at the now blocked tunnel.
I could feel Silah's menace edging in again, scowling at the loss.
"You had it! You are intentionally holding back." She said vehemently.
I growled at her and then, using my anger, charged the hulking body. Danin joined me and together we pressed it into an alcove in the hallway.
I continued down the hall, picking off spiders as I saw them. Her visage softened with each killing blow, the hum from Silah was nearly all consuming, vibrating loudly in my mind. I paused, grinding my teeth in the darkness.
I need healing. I projected to Silah.
Her large scowling face hovering in the darkness reacted as expected.
"No you don't." She seethed.
Yes, I do. I thought, bracing against her will.
"Fine." She turned away giving way in her reluctance, her essence diminishing slightly to bind my meager wounds.
Thank you. I thought, with an unconscious nod.
The passionate hum reduced, and Silah seemed to quiet sulkily along with it.
Sig was holding a lit crossbow bolt. He chanted something to himself and winked out of sight, becoming a disembodied glow moving through the hallway. I quivered slightly as his presence eddied past me. I restrained the impulse to lash out.
Danin and I moved up the hall after the ghostly glow which then that disappeared around the corner.
"It's up on the wall out here." Sig's disembodied voice echoed toward us. "Be careful."
As we approached the mouth of the tunnel, the creature descended, moving its large legs into our tunnel. It shook aggressively, and the floor began to twitch and crawl as thousands of baby spiders swarmed toward us. Floki and Bromm now had a target as the spider descended, they stepped into the hallway and continued their attacks. Danin and I were, in short order, covered with the spiders. I shook them off and moved out into the cave, seeing a few more spiders that seemed to be milling about on the shelf of the chasm opposite of where I stood. Danin swung and dealt a fantastic blow to the creature, cracking the carapace and bursting the eyes on its left side.
I moved forward, holding Silah at the ready preparing to bear down on the spider, then a round of shot and arrows lanced into its wounded head. It lost it's grip and came crashing down, crushing its jaws and head soundly under its own weight. It toppled forward into the chasm below and, after brief moment later, there an echoing splash.
I could feel Silah's displeasure roll over me again, but then just as quickly it subsided. She seemed to relent in this pursuit, smoldering angrily.
There were shouts from the hallway, I turned and saw small pockets of fire, some of which were moving. Danin seemed to be avoiding a small pile of the now flaming spiders that kept inching toward him. Floki was long gone, he seemed to have run off after the spiders approached him, which explained the shouting. Tenner was now dancing around, too. I moved in, attempting to help get spiders of Danin.
He looked to me, disgust and annoyance in his eyes, then held out his hands, and water gushed from them, putting out the fire, but doing very little else to the seething mass. He moved away from the spiders, shaking them off and moving down the hallway. They moved to me covering my boots and crawling up my legs. Sig produced another flask.
"They'll just move. If I stay, at least I can burn them off. I can take it."
Sig shrugged, and even smiled, as he tossed the oil flasks at my feet. I braced against the burning pain as I held my arms over the small fire. The little spiders bursting as they flames licked at them. The last of them dispersed and I stepped away from the flames, putting out the flames on my soot covered boots. My hands had spots of char and cracked as I flexed them.
"You didn't have to just stand in the flames," Sig prodded with a smirk.
"There was no guarantee they stay on fire. I didn't want to take the chance." I grumbled with a sneer.
Heh, ‘suit yourself'. Smug bastard. I thought menacingly as I watched Sig move in to talk to Danin.
One last spider moved around the corner into the tunnel we were in. I moved quickly to it and brought the Greatsword down hard, letting loose all of my hostility in one final blow. It's goupy entrails splashed the hallway with the force of the blow. I stood, looking back at the others with a seething menace. Weighing, judging each of the others silently.
Bromm looked my way, a little bewildered.
"Perhaps you should be the one to calm down," Silah's voice eddied in, laced with contempt.
"I'm doing my best." I murmured under my breath.
(Get to know Akeron.)