Hunt - Chapter Six
~ 6 ~
17 Arodus, 4692 AR; Under Kenabres

After recovering from that massive fight by Strune and Kaira’s healing magic, making sure everyone was still in one piece and scouring the dwarf’s campsite in the next cavern over, the group continued moving forward. As they did, Aravashnial talked about the statues they found in the first cavern. Apparently, they were supposed to depict those from the First Crusade who were supposed to have left the surface to live under the ground. Abyssal energies from the initial battles had corrupted the crusaders and their children started to be born malformed, fiendish, half-creature. They left their homes in order to raise their children outside the scrutiny of the surviving crusaders.

“No-one heard from them since.†Aravashnial continued, “People started to assume that they all died. Yet, there are statues.â€

Horgus let out a sigh, “Who cares about those mongrel freaks? Your only concern should be getting out of this hell-hole.â€

“There is nothing wrong with understanding one’s past.†The elf answered, “Especially if those mongrelmen still live. There is every chance that-â€

Kaira raised her hand for silence and Anevia squeezed the elf’s shoulder for silence. The group stopped and Shayliss turned to look at the huntress, “What is it?â€

The woman stood still, her eyes staring at the darkness ahead of the group. Her eyes had no chance of penetrating it, especially with Strune’s light. However, those green orbs twitched and jerked as if tracking prey. Horgus let out a hiss but before he could say anything, Kaira whispered, “There are people ahead of us.â€

“Can you tell who?†Shayliss asked.

Kaira gave her an annoyed look, “There’s a difference between determining animals and people by hearing. The only thing I can tell is that they may not be completely human.â€

Shayliss sighed, “Fine. Let’s approach with caution. They may just attack without asking questions first.â€

Getting a nod from everyone except Horgus, who just huffed out an annoyed breath, she led the group forward. It did not take more than a minute, even walking at their slowed pace, for the group to enter yet another cavern. It was so large that Strune’s light could not shine on all of the walls. Yet, what it could touch ere all cracked and damaged. The ceiling was also out of the light’s reach, but the walls all curved up in such a way that the cavern was most likely domed at the top.

That was not as important as the collapsed structure near the center of the cavern, just within the light of Strune’s holy symbol. At one point, the structure may have been a tower. However, now half of it was collapsed to one side of the remaining base. At the rubble, two forms knelt at its edge, clawing at the stone and wood. Shayliss could only make out the sounds of what may have been a call and response between the two and something within the rubble.

Strune, on her wings, was about to launch herself toward them. However, Shayliss managed to grab her ankle just in time. At the strix’s twist and look of confusion, she said with a grunt of effort, “They may be scared. If you just charge to the rescue, you may make the frightened enough to attack first and ask questions later.â€

Strune narrowed her eyes, “So, we just leave them?â€

Shayliss shook her head, “Of course not! But we have to be careful about it. If we spook them too much, then there will be no helping them one way or another.â€

The strix stared at the woman for a bit but then relaxed, “I understand.â€

Shayliss sighed inwardly. If Strune had wanted to, she could have easily gotten free of her grip and charged after the people. Granted, there was the chance that nothing would happen, but at this point Shayliss did not want to risk it. They were all injured and another fight may not go as smoothly as the last one did.

Waving the group forward, Shayliss sheathed her weapon and moved at a walking pace. Her posture and attitude were to make it clear that she was not a danger to those ahead. A glance backward showed that Kaira and Strune were doing the same. Mordria, while trying, had very little success on the account of her claws and scales. Yet, she did her best to look friendly. The others had weapons sheathed but only walked as normal. For Anevia and Aravashnial, it was because they could not do much else with their conditions. Snaga and Horgus’s motivations for not showing friendly body language were unknown, but at least they were not openly hostile. It would have to do.

It was not until the group was about halfway to the people next to the rubble when they were heard. The pair sharply spun around and took a cautious step back. From behind them, a muffled cry for help could be heard. Strune was visibly holding herself from just rushing to the rubble pile.

One of the pair, a man whose whole body was literally split in half between elf and lizard with a single horn sprouting from his elven half, stepped forward. His body language was uncertain but ready to fight if needed.

“If your intentions are ill, we ask you to move on and leave us in peace.†His voice was raspy yet his Common accent was very eloquent. As if he had been sent to a high-priced teacher, “If they are good, then perhaps you can help. As you can see, misfortune has befallen us.â€

The second of the pair, a woman who had a severe hunchback, nodded eagerly. Her face was warped with numerous tumors which gave Shayliss the idea that she could not speak at all. Yet, her nods and hopeful straightening of her body was a clear indication of her emotions.

Horgus let out a disgusted hiss as soon as he clearly sees what the pair were and took two steps back, “You cannot trust them! Just look at them. They are mongrel freaks. They could be dangerous to my well being! We will be better off leaving them and continuing on.†The pair glared at the noble which made Horgus back up even more, “See? Look at how they stare at me!â€

“I say they have a right to.†Mordria growled, “I suggest you keep your mouth shut if you do not want someone to do it for you.â€

Horgus glared at the half-fiend but the combined looks of her and the pair seemed to force him back into silence. Aravashnial was acting as if he was observing the cavern, even though there was no way for him to do so. Anevia must have spoken to him. She, for her part, only looked upon the pair in quiet pity.

“I apologize for him.†Shayliss said giving them a small bow, “We do not mean you any trouble.â€

“Far from it.†Strune added, “We wish to assist you.†She waved her hand at the group, “As you can see, we have plenty of hands to help move the rubble.â€

The mongrelmen looked at each other then the first said in a careful tone, “We would appreciate the help. But would he be doing anything?†He pointed a malformed finger at Horgus who acted as if he was just stabbed.

Strune shook her head, “Not if you do not wish him to.â€

Horgus huffed, “Good. I would not do it anyway. Would not want to be near you filthy creatures.â€

“Horgus! That is enough!†Shayliss snapped.

The man stared at her in shock for a couple of seconds but then turned his back to the group. Shayliss let out a large sigh and said, “Again, I apologize. Shall we get started?â€

With looks of skepticism the mongrelmen nodded, “Thank you. Our friend is stuck under this rubble and we have not been able to get her out.â€

Shayliss carefully steps forward to look at the rubble, “Under that large slab there?â€

The mongrelman nodded, “Yes. It is too heavy for us to lift on our own. And when we have tried it almost slipped and fell upon her. She’s always been able to resist pain but even she would not be able to last against something that large and heavy.â€

“Yeah. I think about six of us will be able to get a hold on the rock.†She turned to the group, “Mordria, Snaga, Strune, come on up. Careful of shifting rock.â€

The half-orc’s eyes widened in surprise but followed the others as Shayliss led them plus the two mongrelmen up toward the slab. As she got closer, she could get a bit more detail from it. Like she had expected, it was a large piece of nothing but pure stone. Fortunately for the woman underneath of it, there were other pieces of rock that braced it to an elevated position. Yet, the tiniest bit of force could cause the braces to slip and crush her.

Shayliss would have to get the stronger of the group at those braces. All they had to do was hold up the slab long enough for the woman to crawl out. Assuming she was not injured. Just the thought of the strain of holding the rock was enough for her back and arms to start hurting. She ignored them and knelt down next to the slab, making sure not to touch it.

“Hello?†Shayliss called, “Can you hear me?â€

A silky smooth feminine voice answered from under the rock, “Yes. I can hear you.†It was shaky from fear and cautious yet it sent sensation through Shayliss’ body. From a quick glance, she was not the only one who was affected. Strune and Snaga both fought sudden shivers and Mordria’s hands clenched to release some kind of tension or energy.

Shayliss shook her head and said, “Are you injured?â€

A second passed before the voice responded, “No. Not enough to hinder me.â€

“Alright. What we are going to do is lift up the slab high enough for you to escape. Do not rush. Doing so will risk you being even further trapped and possibly crushed. Once you are out and clear, let us know and we will drop the slab.â€

“I understand.â€

Shayliss nodded mostly to herself and said to the others, “Snaga, Mordria and I will, grab the rock at those brace points.†She points a finger at each brace, “The rest find room to grab the rock yourselves. We lift on three.â€

The six of them moved to get into position and placed their hands under the slab. When she saw everyone ready she counted down, “One. Two. Three!â€

Right as she said three, everyone there started straining against the rock. Shayliss could not speak for the others, but she could immediately feel the pressure on her muscles and back with little progress. Within seconds they were screaming at her to stop. That they needed rest. With all of her mental fortitude, she ignored them and continued to lift.

What seemed like an hour later, she could feel the rock start shifting. It was rising up ever so slightly and contrary to what she expected, it started getting easier to lift. The rock rose another inch. Then another. Finally the voice below said, “I can get out.â€

“Go!†Shayliss answered, her voice straining like the rest of her body.

From under the rock, she could hear something scrabbling. She was not on the side that the voice was coming out of, so she could not see anything but grey surfaces and the other five straining faces.

“I am halfway out.†The voice reported an eternity later.

“Keep going! Remember, don’t ru-â€

Something happened. The rock in Shayliss’ hands started tilting toward the mongrelman able to speak. He let out a cry of fear and tried to hold the rock back but its massive momentum would not stop now. It would crush both him and his friend.

“Strune!†Shayliss called.

The strix, who was standing next to the mongrelman, acted out of instinct. She reached out one hand and tried to help him hold back his imminent death. Strune was too late, though, and the rock continued to slide down. But then it was stopped by something. A second later, the voice from under the rock called, “I got it!â€

Shayliss let out an explosive sigh, “Regain your hold on the rock. Keep moving. We are almost done!â€

The process continued on for five more minutes, but Shayliss finally got the call, “I am out!â€

“Alright!†Shayliss said, “Everyone, gently lower the slab. Let’s not cause a landslide.â€

With great effort, the six slowly lowered the slab until they could feel it touch the rubble pile. Then with even more effort they slid their fingers out from underneath and gently moved away. Being careful, they all made their way down from the pile and regrouped with the others.

The woman they saved was stunning. While one of the mongrelmen had lizard features and the other had tumors on her face as deformities, the only thing that the woman had were swollen knees that were also backhinged and purpling skin. Other than that, she could have passed as a normal person.

“Thank you.†She said reaching out a hand to shake, “I owe you one.â€

Shayliss hesitated for a brief second before returning to reality and shaking the woman’s hand, “It was nothing.â€

The woman gave her a sultry smile, “With all that straining you did, it did not sound like â€~nothing.’â€

Shayliss let out a small gulp that she hoped was not noticeable, “I would not worry about it. We succeeded in the end.â€

The woman continued to hold Shayliss’ hand, “We did indeed.†She gave one last shake and let go, “I do not believe we have introduced ourselves. My name is Crel. My friends,†she waves her hand toward the other two mongrelmen who were conversing with the rest of the group, “are Lann and Dyra. Lann is the one who has been speaking for the pair.â€

Shayliss took that in, “I see. I am Shayliss.†She then pointed to each of the group and spoke their names. When she was done Crel nodded, “If I may be so bold, why did you all come down here?â€

With a sigh, Shayliss explains what had happened on the surface and their journey in the caverns underneath Kenebres. When she was done, the three mongrelmen were all paying attention and held wide eyes.

“That must be why the tower fell.†Lann said, “That massive blast must have been what caused the collapse. I still remember how strong those quakes were.â€

Dyra nodded slowly and Crel turned her attention to the ground, “So many dead.†She looked back up, “You want to get back to the surface, right?â€

“As fast as possible.†Was Shayliss’ near immediate response.

“We can assist you with that.†Lann answered, “After all, we owe you one. We can lead you to our home, Neathholm and introduce you to our Chief. I am sure he would be glad to help.â€

Horgus let out an overblown sigh but Shayliss cut him off before he could do anything else, “Of course. We would greatly appreciate any help.â€

Crel smiled and said, “Follow us.â€
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