Axra patrolled the front line. Lysara and Lilly were waiting with Twila in between them, but she wasn’t all that confident with their abilities to respond if more flying skeleton monsters, whatever they were called, showed up.
She was brought to attention by a faint murmur.
“Wh… what happened? Why can’t I see?”
“Just stay still, okay,” Lilly said. “You collapsed. You’ve been out for a little while.”
“We were so worried,” Lysara added.
“I hate to ask, but are you okay to cast more spells?” Axra inquired. “If you aren’t we can wait around for a bit more, but…”
“I know,” Twila said. “We should get moving. I’ll be okay. I’m sorry, I worried you all. Really, I’m all right. We’re more than halfway there, so I should be able to make it. I just need to start with the darkvision spell. Lilly, Lysara, stay close to me. I’ll get all three of us at once.”
She hurriedly cast the spell. Lysara and Lilly squinted for a moment.
“It’s weird being able to see after experiencing just how dark it is down here,” Lysara noted. “Isn’t it?”
“I… I suppose it is, a little,” Lilly agreed.
“Now then,” Twila said, shakily getting back to her feet. “I’d better get Bonnie and Reginald taken care of too.”
“Hold up,” Axra said.
“What is it?” Twila asked.
“I don’t really know much about magic,” Axra began, scratching her head, “but the toll it takes is pretty physical, right? You know, a strain on the body?”
“Well, yeah,” Twila answered.
“So, would it help ease the strain a bit if you could relax your body?” Axra asked. “Like how Velvet travels by getting pulled around by his dogs most of the time?”
“It would probably help somewhat,” Twila said. “But I don’t have trained dogs. So…”
“Then, let me ease your burden,” Axra interrupted. She lifted Twila in her arms, cradling her. “I’ll carry you.”
“This isn’t…” Twila began. She looked up into Axra’s eyes. “Okay, just until we get them through the rock wall.”
Axra nodded. “Okay, I’ll take you to Bonnie. You two, watch the front while we’re gone.”
“Y… you can count on us,” Lilly said. She and Lysara watched the two fade into the crowd.
“What is with that girl and carrying others around?” Lysara asked. “First it was carrying you over the gaps. Now it’s Twila. Shouldn’t a princess be more, I dunno, used to being pampered?”
“W… well, Axra’s dads never spoi… They… they always encouraged her to exercise,” Lilly explained. “She used to spar with them and everything. So… she isn’t really used to being spoiled… in that way.”
“Is that so?” Lysara asked.
Axra carried Twila through the crowd as quickly as she could. “Hey,” Axra said. “I know that you’re strong and you don’t like to burden others, but don’t try to carry it all on you own. I care about you and I’ll do whatever I can to help you out. Lysara and Lilly too. So, don’t try to do it on your own. If you’re tired or need help, you can tell us and we’ll do everything we can.”
“Because we’re friends?” Twila asked.
“Oh, yeah. That’s exactly it,” Axra said.
“I guess I’m not used to having friends like that,” Twila said. “When I was younger… well, I spent so much time studying that I didn’t really make any friends. The only ones I could count on were my family and teachers. But, I’ll try to remember that. For next time.”
The two found Bonnie with a blindfold covering her face. Reginald was taking a nap.
“Hey,” Velvet said.
“I keep telling you to look sharp,” Bonnie said. “You’re the only one who can see.”
“Yeah, but the princess is here,” Velvet stated. “And she brought Twila.”
“Princess!” Bonnie stood and saluted, surprisingly in the right direction. “I’m sorry that you had to see me in this state.”
“Cut the formalities,” Axra said. “What’s with the blindfold anyway?”
“I put it on to stop my lack of sight from being too distracting,” Bonnie said.
“Well, take it off,” Axra said. “Twila’s going to recast darkvision on you and Reginald. Then we’ll get back to the front and get moving to the top.”
“I understand,” Bonnie said.
Twila cast the spell on Bonnie first and then Reginald.
“That should do it,” Twila said. “Now we’ll be prepared in case something attacks us. Incidentally, was there anything like that while I was out?”
Axra’s gaze met hers and she noticed, for the first time, that she was holding Twila close enough that their lips could meet with a slight tilt and craning of the neck.
“Well, there were some flying skeleton things,” Axra answered, shaking her head slightly to dismiss the thought. “It was weird too. A couple of them broke off and made directly for you. Almost like they were targeting you. Thankfully, Lilly was able to handle them, even though she was blinded at the time.”
“Flying skeletons?” Twila asked. “Bat-like wings?”
Axra nodded. “Yeah. I’ve never heard of anything like them.”
“I have,” Twila said. “In some ancient texts. They were called Reapers. Supposedly they were artificially created magic creatures used to hunt mages. They prolong their lives by feeding off of mages. Draining their lives and magic.”
“So, someone sent those things after us?” Bonnie asked.
“Probably,” Twila answered. “It doesn’t seem likely that they survived down here all this time naturally. The question is who and why.” She looked up at Axra. “Keep your guard up.”
“No worries,” Axra said. “If more show up I’ll crush them in not time at all.”
“Whoever sent them is targeting Twila,” Bonnie said. “Fight defensively to keep them away from her and you should be fine.”
Axra nodded. “Got it.”