Chapter 4 Blood Fire

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Waking in the cave startles many in the group, but the main panic comes from the loss of comforting light from the torches. Only three remain lit as the group slept and the darkened cave fills many with fear.

Meager breakfasts are prepared while others continue sleeping. In the dark of the cave it is hard to tell how long they slept. Torches are counted and a decision is made to only have half used at a time. They hope it will make the light last longer. Those who know fire magic are paired up with a torchbearer and told to only use their magic if they see the creatures. If a torch goes out they aren’t to use their magic to relight it. They must be relit using already burning ones.

The last of the group awakens and eats prepared food. Ironically, Jaxon is the last to awaken. He seems surprised to see he is the last to awake and jumps when Bruer and Fleance hand him food and water.

A couple of hours pass before the group is ready to continue through the caves. Jaxon takes the lead. Ime lowers the way out and the darkness stretches before them yet again. They enter the narrow passage and continue moving forward.

The sounds of the cave have returned to the normal dripping of water, rocks settling, and wind blowing through the rock walls. Still at each sudden sound members of the group jump or let out tiny screams.

The passageway remains narrow for a great distance much to everyone’s relief. It is easier to keep an eye out for the creatures…the flesh carvers.

Hours pass, but no one can truthfully determine how much time has passed or how long they have been wandering in the darkness. Jaxon doesn’t speak as he leads them down different passages. He stops to double check the map and make small notes.

The passages start looking the same and many think they’ve only been going in circles.

Jaxon stops the group and turns to them. “We should rest here. Get our strength back up. If some wish to sleep we can trade off watching. We’ll start moving again in three hours.”

Once the three hours are up they continue moving. They stop a couple more times over many hours until everyone has had a chance to sleep and once to eat. Renewed energy brings a more positive attitude to the group and they move at a more brisk pace.

They reach a passageway that narrows so much that the only way to pass is for the group to crawl on their stomachs one by one. A number in the group grow nervous, afraid of getting stuck, but Jaxon assures them there is plenty of room.

“I’ll go first. When I reach the other side I’ll signal for the next person to follow. It should be a straight path to the other side,” Jaxon consoles.

“I’ll go next,” Bruer says, stepping forward. “If I can make it through, none of you should have any problem.”

“To make it easier, you can either push your bag in front of you or drag it behind. Whatever is most comfortable for you.”

Jaxon takes his bag off, puts the map inside and crawls into the small hole. He holds a hand out for a torch and Bruer hands one to him. It takes several minutes for the light of the torch to fade from the hole and the ensuing silence makes the sounds of the cave seem much louder than normal. Those at the back of the group keep their eyes behind, straining to see if the shadows are just that or something alive.

“All right! It’s clear! Bruer, come on over,” Jaxon’s voice calls from the hole.

Bruer takes his bag off and squeezes into the hole. The group collectively holds their breath. Grunts from the hole put images of Bruer being trapped in the tiny passage into the minds of the group. Minutes pass excruciatingly slow.

“Made it! Whoever’s next, come on through!” Bruer’s voice echoes from the hole.

Many in the group relax and they line up to crawl through. Tanith easily makes it through, leading Daniil and Kylii. Mava, Rava, and Bern follow. When half the group has made it to the other side, Meah readies to enter.

She turns to Ime. “See you on the other side.”

“Yeah.”

Meah takes a deep breath and crawls into the hole. Ime tells the rest to head in first. One of them hands him a torch and he watches each group member enter the passageway one by one.

As he enters the hole, he has a little trouble keeping the torch in front of him and dragging his bag behind him. He manages to find a comfortable crawling position and makes his way easily through the passage. At the halfway point he feels his bag catch on something and struggles to free it. Before it comes free, he thinks he feels a hand on his leg. He quickly turns, holding the torch in front of him, but sees nothing. He hesitates a moment longer, but then continues ahead at a faster speed.

Hands help Ime out of the hole and he returns the torch to its owner. Meah takes Ime’s hand in hers and smiles at him. He smiles back, but can’t shake the feeling of a hand grabbing his leg. He looks at the hole one last time, almost expecting to see an arm reaching out, but there is nothing.

The group continues forward, but the continued darkness of the caves begins sending panic through the group. The fear they will never escape the darkening abyss settles in and every sound sends someone into a terror-filled frenzy. Ime and Meah do their best to reassure the group, but the fear weighs the group down, dragging their feet and slowing their progress.

Ime quickens his pace to be next to Jaxon. “Maybe we should rest. It may help calm everyone down.”

Daniil appears next to Jaxon. “I wouldn’t suggest that.”

“Why not?” Jaxon asks.

“We’re being followed,” Daniil says, speaking so low the two men barely hear him. Tanith and Kylii move close behind the three men. “Tanith has been hearing the creatures move closer for a while now, but they sound different.”

“Sound different, how?” Ime lowers his voice to match Daniil’s volume.

“Faster, for one.”

Jaxon turns his eyes on Ime. “What do you think?”

“We should probably start running.”

“I agree.”

A terrified scream echoes from behind and everyone turns to see one of the torchbearers throw his torch into a group of flash carvers. However, these are larger and continue forward even with the flames so close to them. One grabs his legs and drags him from the safety of the group. The ripping and tearing of his flesh as the creatures begin devouring him eventually drown out the screams. The familiar shrieks of the flesh carvers echo through the caves and more emerge from the darkness, unafraid of the torches and the small fireballs the fire magic users throw at them.

“RUN!” Ime and Jaxon bellow.

The group breaks into a run, their exhaustion forgotten and their screams barely overpowering the shrieks of the monstrous creatures behind. The flesh carvers are more in number, larger, faster, and fiercer. The torches do nothing to keep them back and they manage to venture far closer than their smaller counterparts. Bruer and Fleance manage to hold off the beasts with their weapons and many in the group pull out the weapons given them by the villagers and join in the fight. When a flesh carver falls dead, those around it immediately stop to feed on their fallen brethren.

The passageway opens up, allowing the group to move closer together, but the sounds of flesh carvers crawling on the walls around them help their feet to move faster. A flesh carver reaches for Meah, almost grabbing her arm before Kylii throws a torch at the creature and uses his magic to set the creature on fire. It shrieks in pain and falls into a group of flesh carvers setting a few more on fire.

The flesh carvers crawling on the walls and ceilings try grabbing for the group. Several fall from the ceiling, trying to land on top of members of the group, but those with weapons attack the creatures, killing them. Screams fill the cave and another member of the group is pulled into the darkness.

A large canyon appears, but there is a ledge along the wall wide enough for the group to run along without fear of falling. A naturally made bridge crosses the gap and Jaxon orders the group to cross.

“Go! Follow the passage on the other side! Don’t stray! Keep going straight!”

Flesh carvers emerge from a passageway at the foot of the bridge and Jaxon draws his sword. He kills the creatures easily, knocking others over the edge of the cliff. He manages to fight off the creatures from the passage and crawling down from the ceiling as the last member of the group crosses the bridge. He starts following, slowly. He keeps the creatures back with his torch and sword.

Halfway across the bridge, flesh carvers emerge from under the bridge cut him off. He turns from those behind him to those in front of him. Those that are on the bridge distract him as those behind grab him and begin dragging him into the darkness of the passage. Their teeth bite into the thick armor and their tails wrap around Jaxon’s legs and arms. His torch falls from his hand down into the dark abyss below and he tries to use his sword to free himself.

“Jaxon!” Meah tries to run after him, but Daniil and Kylii stop her.

Ime, Bruer, and Fleance turn to go back for Jaxon. Bruer and Fleance swing their blades at the creatures and Ime shoots parts of the bridge up, knocking the flesh carvers into the chasm.

“Keep moving!” Jaxon screams echo over the flesh carver’s shrieks. “Follow the passage straight ahead! Don’t stop!” He disappears into the passage. Waves of flesh carvers follow while others turn to run after the group.

Meah screams for Jaxon, but the brothers pull her forward. She manages to break free from them and runs towards the bridge. Ime, Bruer, and Fleance stop her, but she fights against them.

“Meah! We have to go! There’s nothing we can do for him now!” Ime yells at her. He turns and destroys the bridge, sending most of the flesh carvers to the bottom of the canyon, but others are ready and find another way across.

The group manages to stay together and run through the dark passages, now blinded without Jaxon leading the way. The only clue they have is Jaxon’s final words. They continue straight, ignoring the branching passages. The sounds of the creatures giving chase grow louder.

Light appears ahead and the group cheers, believing they have finally reached the exit. Their excitement pumps new energy through them and they push their bodies faster. The sound of rushing water lifts their spirits higher and they emerge into the light.

Their hearts drop. They haven’t made it outside. A giant cavern rises around them with large crystals embedded in the walls, emitting light. The cavern is filled with the light from the crystals, but as the group looks around there is no exit. The only way out of the cavern is back the way they came.

The group is forced to stop as the earth beneath them ends at a cliff. Waterfalls cascade from the walls down into a deep pool below. The members of the group stare down at the pool from the cliff edge, but the fall is too great for them to safely jump down. They are trapped.

The flesh carvers emerge from the passageway and push the group closer to the edge. They shriek at the group, clawing the air and opening and closing their razor teeth filled mouths.

There are only two options. Jump or fight.

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