Hunt - Chapter Eleven
~ 11 ~
18 Arodus, 4692 AR; Mongrel Base
18 Arodus, 4692 AR; Mongrel Base
The base had grown quiet since the groupâ€™s fight with Hosilla, the human cultist. It was as if her death stopped the alarms and fighting all together. Shayliss knew that was not true. The mongrelmen were just waiting for the group to poke their head out from around a corner carelessly. That way they can send arrows into the groupâ€™s skulls.
So, Shayliss ordered a careful march through the tunnels and back up into the first room. No ambush awaited them and no sudden cries echoed throughout the cavern. Which only made Shaylissâ€™s nerves jangle more. Moving slowly and with extreme caution, she had Mordria lead the group as she was the quietest and the best close quarters fighter they had.
The first room they had entered was some sort of trophy hall. Worked stone walls of the rectangular room held a number of hooks, nails and string. There were a few that were not being used, but all of the others kept up preserved bodies of dire rats, lizards, vipers and bats along other various critters and beasts that could be found within the caverns underneath Kenabres. Platforms were crafted from stone that held various parts of animals, mostly claws and fangs but also a couple of sheets of pulled scales and a piece of fur skinned from possibly a rock panther. Two swiftly abandoned bed rolls lay by one of the corners not so covered with carcasses.
When Kaira entered the room, she made disgusted sound and seemed to want to rip all of those displays off their walls or pedestals. Shayliss watched as she controlled herself and forced her body to keep moving forward. Her eyes did not look over any of the animals. Blueeye did the same, keeping his nose to the ground and his eyes to his nose. It was obvious that the â€~trophysâ€™ angered them. Most likely because in this state, the bodies were not used to repair clothes, or eat, or as accessories. The hunter in the pair screamed for them to do something about it. Yet, they ignored it and continued up the ladder on the other side of the room.
The second room was some sort of nest. Random collections of junk: paper, slivers of wood, old gear, leather and so on, were packed into various piles along the four walls of the room. Blood stains marring the surfaces of those piles as well as some splatters on the wall gave Shayliss the impression that this was a feeding ground as well as a nest.
Without a word, the group passed through the room along the path built for people to not trample the piles, and found themselves in a long tunnel that ran for about thirty feet. A flicker of hope rose in Shaylissâ€™s chest. Maybe this was the tunnel out. Did they finally make it to the surface? What would they find? Kenabres standing tall, managing to hold out against the demonic threat? Or it flattened into nothing but ash and ruin?
EIther fortunately or unfortunately, her questions would not be answered right away. The tunnel opened up into yet another room. This one was the largest in the whole base, rising up about fifty feet and spreading out to about the same distance in all directions. And right in front of them was undeniably a maze. Ten feet in front of the group was a stone wall that rose up thirty feet and only had one opening into it.
â€œDid they really have to build a maze in here?â€ Mordria asked in complaint.
â€œIt is a pretty strong defense mechanism.â€ Shayliss answered, â€œMake sure those coming from the surface are slowed while archers attack from the balconies.â€ As she said that, she pointed upward to were what had originally looked like flat wall opened up into areas large enough for mongrelmen to stand in.
Mordira looked up as well, â€œHuh. I thought that was just a wall.â€
â€œI did as well.â€ Shayliss looked around, â€œBut that also means that those wanting to get out would have a difficult time. I wonder-â€
She was interrupted by a series of growls emanating from within the maze. Her back stiffened and she could feel eyes on her even though she could see no one. Everyone behind her reacted in the same way which made her feel less like a scared child.
â€œWhat was that?â€ Shayliss asked behind her.
Strune let out a deep breath, â€œDretches.â€
A chill went up Shaylissâ€™s spine. She had heard of the Dretch Demons. They were among the lowest ranking demons, if not the lowest. Yet, that did not mean they were weak and pathetic. If one was not careful, the bully demons could tear a man in half. They were not to be taken lightly, despite their relative power to the other demons.
â€œThey were placed within the maze as another defense from the surface.â€ Shayliss muttered, â€œWhich means we are going to have to get past them.â€ She looked to Strune, â€œAny suggestions?â€
The strix shook her head, â€œThey have us at a disadvantage in there. The narrow spaces and our large group will hold us back rather than strengthen. And while they are not the brightest candles, they will know how to use those to their advantages.â€
Shayliss sighed, â€œWe will ha-â€
Yet again, she was interrupted. This time, it was by the alarm bells behind the group. With those bells, yells and battlecries echoed throughout the complex, bouncing up to the group. The force of the noise was almost enough to stagger Shayliss with its mere presence.
â€œDamnit!â€ She growled, â€œThey were waiting for us to get here.â€
Her mind raced. She had to figure out how to get the group safely through the maze. The problem was, the mongrelmen and cultists would know the maze inside and out. Not only that, but with dretches on one side and the force approaching from the other, they were effectively trapped. Going into the maze would only pin the group while only being able to use half of their members to defend themselves. No matter what, they would be overwhelmed. There was only one thing they could do that had any reasonable chance of survival.
â€œStrune and Kaira!â€ She barked turning toward each as she said their name, â€œGet into the maze. Keep together and find your way out. Kill the dretches as you do and then get back here. You will lead us out.â€ She then faced the entrance to the room where a mass of shadows could be seen getting larger and closer, â€œThe rest of us will buy you time. Form a line, shoulder to shoulder. Protect each other.â€
As she was finishing the last orders, people were moving. Strune and Kaira grabbed their weapons and ran for the mazeâ€™s entrance. Seconds later, Shayliss could hear more growls and yells from inside. The others, besides Horgus and Aravashnial, formed a straight line right in front of the entrance to the room. That was the only place where they had a hope of containing the fight. Metal scratched against metal and leather as blades were pulled from sheaths. Mordria and Snaga each let out primal snarls and the others gritted their teeth in fear and battlelust.
They were only there for a second before the horde of mongrelmen and cultists crashed onto them.
The next ten minutes would be the more strenuous, difficult, and thoughtless ten minutes of Shaylissâ€™s life. She had no idea where all of those mongrelmen and cultists were hiding, nor how they had enough room in the base for them all, but the force arrayed against Shaylissâ€™s group numbered near one hundred. Shayliss was numbered almost twenty to one. The only thing she had going for her was that her group was better trained and more experienced.
A scaled mongrelman with an oversized maul ran up to Shayliss first. With a yell the man raised his weapon up to come crashing down upon her yet she ducked down low, preventing him from getting a good hit, then stepped forward. Her blade thrust up with her motion, sliding neatly under the manâ€™s rib cage. He died before she even pulled the weapon back out. Which took a few seconds as it got stuck on something.
As she worked on the weapon two more people, one mongrelman, one cultist, took the opportunity to jump her together. The cultistâ€™s glaive swung down in a diagonal arc that would have cut deep into Shaylissâ€™s shoulder while the mongrelman went with the more precise option of sending a thin-bladed shortsword into her heart.
Shayliss flicked her grappling hook forward to crash into the mongrelmanâ€™s chest. The blow staggered him enough to send his attack wide of her. As she did, she fell to the ground as low as possible and felt the glaiveâ€™s blade shave off some strands of hair. Changing the direction of her momentum, she twisted, pulling her longsword out of the corpse, and sliced at the glaive. Wood cracked, but did not part, from the force of her attack. While the glaive did not break, it was sent flying from the hand of the cultist who stared at it in surprise for a quick second. That second ended when Anevia, standing to Shaylissâ€™s right, sliced right through the cultistâ€™s neck. The woman then gave Shayliss a hand getting onto her feet again.
Shayliss then pulled the woman aside from a double bladed axe aimed to half her. The motion caused Anevia to snarl in discomfort as she was forced to step hard on her awkward leg. With a mutter of, â€œSwitch,â€ Shayliss rotated herself using Anevia as the axis. She then raised her blade up to block a second attack which sent a powerful shock of sensation up her arm. Forcing the feeling away and making sure she did not drop her weapon, she shoved the axe aside weakly but firmly and pulled herself in close to the ape-like mongrelman. So close, the mongrelman could not get an accurate attack going which allowed Shayliss to throw herself into a thrust without worry. The blade cut in deep and the ape mongrelmen let out a burbble before falling limp to the ground.
This time, Shayliss was able to jerk the blade out of the body on the first try. But she was not able to do it fast enough. She did not know it when another cultist shoved a glaive at her. A deep line of parted skin and blood formed on her back as the blade slid under her armored coat. Grunting in pain, Shayliss spun toward the attacker and slammed the weapon down with her longsword. Stone shards broke from the ground at the glaiveâ€™s hit and it stunned the cultist. Shayliss then elbowed the cultistâ€™s head, kneed her belly, and slashed her chest. The cultist fell and right behind her was another cultist. Before Shayliss could deal with him, he was sent to the ground by a spiked gauntlet. Snaga then punched the fallen cultist and elbowed another behind him.
Their line had become more of a mass, yet somehow they were keeping the enemy at bay. The group was exhausting fast, though. Pain was crawling all over Shaylissâ€™s body from the slash on her back, and she could see that the others were bleeding from countless wounds. It was undeniable that numbers were kicking their asses. The fight had only been going on for maybe two minutes, yet Shayliss had almost met death five different times.
â€œWhere the hell were they?â€ Shayliss muttered, ducking from yet another attack.
They are not coming. The voice in her head whispered, They saw the exit and fled. Why not do the same? You are dying. You need to get some help. There is no way to do that down here. Go up! Find a cleric!
Without realizing it, she had turned her body toward the entrance of the maze. It had given a mongrelman with two hand axes a chance to hit her back, but Snaga intercepted the worm woman with two right hooks that sent her to the ground. Shayliss did not see it though, as she watched Kaira run through the mazeâ€™s entrance with Blueeye right behind her. When the huntress saw that Shayliss was looking at her, she stopped and waved her hand toward herself in a â€~come onâ€™ gesture.
â€œMake a fighting retreat!â€ Shayliss yelled, â€œTighten up and back up slowly! We will ease ourselves into the maze one at a time!â€
The fighters of the group started making cautious steps backward, continuing to hold their ground against their opponents. The mongrelmen and cultists followed closely, trying to move around and flank with little success, and pushing forward more and more. Those who were not fighting hoofed it. Horgus did not help Aravashnial, but Shayliss figured that the elf was using Horgusâ€™s loud and heavy breathing or foot-pounds to orient himself. Kaira stood at the entrance of the maze, letting the two non-combatants through, and assisting in getting the rest of the group to the maze. She was the main reason the mongrelmen and cultists were not able to flank.
When the group finally made it to the maze, Kaira made sure that she led them forward. Then the group pushed themselves in a single file line to slowly make their way through the maze, using Kairaâ€™s guidance and the people next to them in line making sure that they did not make a wrong turn. As they did, Snaga, who was the last to enter the maze, fought to hold the foe back. Shayliss moved around one corner and into another intersection as she had no choice but to listen to Snaga fight.
After what seemed like an eternity, Kaira said, â€œThis is the last turn! Strune!â€
The strix, apparently at the very end of the maze, let out a grunt of effort and Shayliss watched as she curved over the group, above the space between the maze walls and the ceiling, and dove like a catapult boulder down within the middle of the mass of enemies. Cries of surprise and pain rose from them and Strune added herself to the combat.
â€œGo go go!â€ Kaira yelled.
Now that the enemies had a new, and more dangerous foe to face, they paid no attention to the fleeing fighters. Seeing that, Shayliss yelled, â€œRun!â€
All hell broke loose as the tired and injured party turned and raced for the end of the maze. Kaira and Strune had timed it so that it was obvious where to go. Just around the corner to the right and straight ahead. At the other end of the path, a tunnel leading up into darkness opened up. Shayliss sprinted for it and then turned to watch the others do the same. Once everyone was out of the maze, Kaira yelled, â€œStrune, come on!â€
In a near reverse of her dive into the fight, she rose up on white and red wings and flew toward the tunnel. Her black skin was marred with numerous wounds and speckles of blood fell to earth as she flew above everything. When she landed, Shayliss could see that her armor and shield were dented and damaged. Yet, she landed gracefully and led the charge through the tunnel. They now had plenty of space between themselves and the enemy so they did not worry about caution as they ran at a full sprint into the mouth of the tunnel and up to the surface.