Whatever this creature was, it was strong. Its initial lunge nearly wrenched Bonnie’s blade from her hands. The impact did send her several steps backwards. It brought its other claw swinging down at her but Axra stepped forward and blocked it with her blade.
“Princess… get back,” Bonnie grunted.
“Not a chance,” Axra declared. “You aren’t fighting this thing alone.”
The monster shifted, bringing three legs on each side. It slammed Bonnie and Axra into each other. Before it could take advantage of their temporary vulnerability, an arrow flew into one of its eyes. It shrieked and swung its tail at Lilly.
“Yeah, no.” Velvet said, catching the tail in his hands. The stinger coming only a few short centimetres from his face.
Lysara ran for the creature’s front. He chakram clashing against its claws. Her nimble body avoiding its swipes.
The creature used its claws to gradually guide her inward. Eventually getting her into position so that it could swipe at her from two sides at once. It almost managed to crush her between them, but Bonnie had regained her feet. She pushed Lysara out of the way.
Fang flew from Twila’s shoulder and blew fire into the monster’s eyes. It shrieked and jumped back, or tried to. Velvet braced himself and held firmly onto its tail causing it to trip over itself.
“Now!” Twila cried. “Burning Lance!” Flames burst from her palms and slammed into the creature.
It wailed in pain and flailed ferociously, pushing Velvet away from its tail, its stinger scratching into his chest.
Lilly fired an arrow. It flew through the creatures’ throat. It convulsed for a moment more and went still.
“Is… is everyone okay?” Lilly asked. She and Twila helped Axra to her feet.
“I’m fine,” Axra said. “It just stunned me for a sec. That’s all.”
“I’m cut, but its nothing too serious,” Velvet answered.
“Are you quite certain?” Reginald asked. “Its stinger may have been poisonous.”
“I’m part dwarf so it probably won’t affect me even if it was,” Velvet stated.
“You think that’s what was let loose down here?” Lysara asked.
“I shouldn’t think so,” Bonnie said. “I mean. yeah it would be dangerous if we were fighting a bunch of those, but I don’t think they would pose enough of a threat to force the dark elves away.”
Lilly helped bandage Velvet’s wound and the group rested from their battle before continuing their trek down. Bonnie waited until they were on a clean stretch without breaks that had to be jumped over before pulling Velvet to the back of the group.
“Did you notice?” she whispered.
“Notice what?” Velvet asked.
“During that fight, he stood back and did nothing,” Bonnie stated.
“Well yeah, but he probably didn’t want to get in the way,” Velvet speculated. “After all, we didn’t have a huge area to fight and if someone had fallen off…” He looked over and noticed Bonnie’s glare. “Got it. I’ll keep watching him.”
In the front of the group, Lysara was talking to Lilly.
“You sure are lucky.”
“I… I am?” Lilly asked. “H… how do you mean?”
“You’re so cute that even a princess fawns all over you,” Lysara stated. “I thought that I was charismatic but damn, you have got it made.”
“I… I don’t know,” Lilly said. “I… sure, everyone is kind to me… but I don’t think… I mean… I’m really not any cuter than any other girl here.”
“That’s exactly what it is!” Lysara cried, snapping her fingers. “It’s that timid demeanour. You seem like the type of proper lady who needs protecting!”
Behind them Axra rolled her eyes.
They made it to the bottom of the steps without any further incident and Axra finally got a close look at the city. The home of her foremothers. Most of the buildings were domed with columns lining the entrance. They had been constructed of a bright white marble. They had probably been an impressive sight a long time ago, but now they were devastated. With collapsed roofs, split and cracked columns and crumbling walls. Still, they were in surprisingly good shape considering their advanced years.
“We should camp here for the night,” Twila suggested. “We can explore the city in the morning.”
Axra nodded. “Good idea. I could use the rest.”
“How do you know it’s night?” Lysara asked. “Have you kept track of the time in your head?”
“Not at all,” Twila answered. “I’m just saying night for lack of a better term. The truth is, I have no idea what time it actually is. But we’ve climbed a long way and I think we all need a rest.”
“We’d better set a guard schedule,” Bonnie said. “Two people at a time, given the potential danger.”
“All right,” Axra said. “I’ll go first.”
“Princess, you should sleep,” Bonnie protested.
“Don’t give me that crap,” Axra said. “I came all the way here not as a princess, but as a warrior in my own right and no one can tell me I’ve slacked off at all.It’s not like this is my first watch either.”
“But…” Bonnie began.
“But what?” Axra asked.
“With all due respect, your Highness,” Bonnie stated. “You and Velvet were the ones most affected by that battle. As such, you two should be the ones who sleep through the night.”
Axra was about to protest again when she felt a hand on her shoulder. “It does make sense,” Twila said. “Lilly and I can take the first watch. Bonnie and Reginald can relieve us.”
“Fine,” Axra agreed. “But next time, I’ll take the first watch.”
The group set up a small cooking fire and prepared a quick meal. Afterwards, Twila and Lilly waited outside while the others retired to their tents.
They were about halfway through their watch when Twila froze up.
“Twila?” Lily asked. She moved over to the other woman. She was completely still.
Lilly checked her pulse, hand shaking. Her pulse was strong. Lilly let out a sigh of relief and gently shook her.
“Twila, wake up. You fell asleep.”
“She’s no getting up.”
Lilly turned around, startled. “Gail?” she asked.
“Yo,” Gail said. She was sitting in the exact spot Lilly had been a moment before with her legs crossed.
“Did… did you cast a spell on her?” Lilly asked.
“Don’t worry, it’s nothing harmful,” Gail said. “She’ll just be stunned for a bit.” Gail rose and held out her hand to Lilly. “Come! I’m getting you out of here.”
“Oh… I couldn’t possibly…” Lilly said. “I… I don’t mean to sound ungrateful… but, you know… they need me here.”
Gail knelt down, putting her hands on Lilly’s shoulders. “This is no place for you,” she said, her face had the same expression as when she’d warned Lilly about the djinn. “More than scorpitoids lurk down here. There are steel golems, psyrens, worst of all, the sleeping destroyer. If it awakens…” She looked back to Lilly. “Anyway, those creatures and more are why I came to pick you up.”
“I… thank you… for thinking about me… I do appreciate it,” Lilly stated. “But… I really can’t leave. I… I need to help my friends.”
“Then I’ll bring them along too!” Gail declared. “I’ll get all eight of us out of here. Just take my hand.”
Lilly shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t possibly make that decision for them.”
“I see,” Gail said. “Then I’ll come back for you when those six die. Just remember, I offered to save them.” In a flash of light, she was gone.
“Lilly?” Twila asked. “What are you staring at?”
“It… It’s a long story,” Lilly answered, turning back to Twila. “And really confusing.” Lilly looked back to where Gail had been and gazed over the ancient city. Gail’s words haunted her. The half goddess had been so certain when she’d said it: ‘when those six die.’