Wrapped in shadow, safe in the silence of her muffled steps, Havia scoured the corridors nearby.
Eventually she was far enough away that the smell of burned spider had dissipated. Creeping from shadow to shadow was tiring, her heart thundered in her ears as she leaned against a cold, well-masoned, wall.
She still felt the heat on her chest from where her old leather armour had been melted by the spider matriarch’s acid, her whole chest itched. That was way too close for comfort. Havia liked to leave the real danger up to Utig and Antios, the fighters of the party. She preferred searching for traps, opening locked doors, solving puzzles. What on earth possessed her to step up to that giant, furry bitch of a spider? Let alone set the damn thing on fire?
Utig was obviously rubbing off on her.
She mediated for a moment, orientating herself and pondering her actions, whilst also steadying her heartbeat.
It was a trick Jung had taught her; it was how he refocused his magic after casting several spells at a time. The memory of her friend, gone for over a year now, still stung. If only she had reached the room first, disarmed the chest. That’s what being reckless gets you. Impaled in a pit trap. These dower thoughts were not like her, she shook her head to try and shake the gloom away.
She had skulked through the dungeon floor for a while now, although she was still close enough to reach her comrades in a dash. The winding network of tunnels felt pointless, not even a good maze. A few empty looking rooms, a few dead ends, no obvious way to get higher or lower in the dungeon. She sighed, letting the sound reverberate around the bizarrely empty corridors. Pushing herself away from the wall, intent on tracing her route back to the others, she turned her back to the shadowed dead-end before her. It was then she saw it, watching her.
A shade at the far end of the corridor, unmistakably darker than the shadows that surrounded it. Rocking side to side as it watched her walking away. She didn’t jump, twitch, or signal in any way that she had seen it. Turning her back on it fully before reaching an intersection, crouching as if to check for traps. Looking back into the pervading darkness over her shoulder, she casually scanned the sides of the corridor she had just been walking down. Nothing out of the ordinary, not a single mark of traps or an awaiting ambush.
A memory was tugging at her, worrying her. Not here, not now. No, no, no, not again. A panic was rising inside her, an irrational fear, or rational depending on how you looked at it. Something tugging at all the lose threads in her mind, a chill that pervaded all her thoughts.
She stood slowly, turning to slowly face towards where the shadow watched.
With a flick of her wrist a dagger flew straight towards the shades hiding place. A bright spark briefly illumining the dead end as the dagger struck the wall. Nothing.
Havia stalked forward, not even masking the sound of her footsteps.
“Not again.” She said into the shadows, a slight waver in her voice, she bit her lip and carried on forward.
“I will not be taunted by a shade, or a memory, or whatever the fuck you are.” She all but shouted, purposefully taunting whatever might be there as she bent to retrieve her dagger. Tapping it against the stones of the wall nonchalantly to hide the slight shake of her hand.
She stood for a while, head tilted to one side, ignoring the tear that tracked its way down her cheek.
Antios was finally getting the last of the spider grime from his breast plate when Havia returned.
“Anything we need to worry about?” He asked as she stepped out of the darkness and into the light from Quink’s spell, still radiating down softly from the ceiling.
She looked worried, upset maybe, not her usually cocky self. It took her a moment to adjust her eyes and compose her expression before she replied.
“Nah, it’s strange, this floor seems empty. So far.” She sat down next to her backpack, taking a sip from a water skin before carrying on.
“This place isn’t making sense.” She threw the skin back down on to her pack.
“A normal dungeon has wall to wall lower-level monsters on the first few floors, there’s no way that big ass spider ate everything on this floor. I mean there’s a lot more to check out, but for now, we can probably get a good rest here. Anything coming has to walk on solid stone for quite some time before reaching this corner. I scattered a few caltrops for good measure.”
She fidgeted, adjusting the new armour that adorned her chest. Its dull grey leather was adorned with intricate scroll work just visible along its finely stitched edges. Antios tried not to laugh at her, she was talking seriously while doing a little dance as she pulled at her tunic underneath the armour, trying to straighten it out.
“I, I think we should be careful, set a proper watch and get a rest for an hour or so, and then search for a way off this floor?”
She finally gave in with a frustrated huff and stood back up to take off her jacket.
“Quink, could you help me a minute, I put this leather on over my wet tunic and the bastard thing is itching like hell.”
Quink nodded as both headed into the corner of the room so the mage could help her out of her leathers and arrange her tunic better. The men looked away.
“Oh Havia, let me put a bit of healing on that, it looks angry.” Quink was pointing at Havia’s chest as her tunic fell slightly open. A red patch where her previous leather had been melted stood out in the centre of her chest, not unlike an angry birth mark.
“It itches a bit; I didn’t think the acid had seeped through though.” She said as Quink placed her hands before her and muttered a healing incantation.
“Better safe than sorry, but I am definitely going to need an hour or so rest after this.” Quink smiled as the aura from her magic faded, she began to lace up Havia’s tunic before patting her on the cheek.
“We wouldn’t want our favourite thief getting sick on us, who else would stop those nasty traps from setting my precious Utig on fire?” She giggled playfully as Havia tucked her tunic neatly into her breeches.
“Well, my current record isn’t great, keeping that lug fire free is harder that you think, but I do try.” She reached for the chest piece and began fastening it back on, satisfied that she was more comfortable as she stretched out before walking to her backpack for something to eat.
Antios watched from the corner of his eye, He’d been in a party with Havia for years now, they were friends. That was inevitable when you put your life in each other’s hands daily. He knew something was off and wasn’t sure how to broach the subject. So, he casually unfastened a wine skin from his own backpack and sat down next to the rogue as they watched out of the far corridor.
“Here, its Jykloisan red, thanks for scouting the area.” He pulled the cork from the skin and handed it to her as she took a bite from some waxed cheese.
“You don’t normally share the good stuff, what’s the deal?” She asked before taking a good pull on the skin and passing it back.
“Come on, am I that transparent?” He asked while Havia, mouth full, nodded.
“Well, yeah, I guess I’m not that good at this stuff, but something has you spooked. I can tell, we’ve done this for too long to keep shit to ourselves. Spill it.” He nudged her with his shoulder as he took a swig from the skin and put the stopper back in.
“You know you can talk to me, right? Even if it’s something stupid. Did we learn nothing from fighting those weird mushrooms in Flindora?” He laughed at the memory.
They were not long into tackling dungeons, learning the hard way to not trust too big a party who will leave dead weight behind at the drop of a wizard’s hat.
So, they were sat, alone, in a dark cave, surrounded by mind controlling mushrooms. Eventually they would have died of starvation and been consumed by the fungi. Lucky for them Havia had a trick, well, she had an accident, which shook her out of the delusions they were being fed. And then she had dragged Antios out of the cave. They had stuck together ever since.
“Look, I know there’s stuff you don’t like talking about. We promised not to talk about your bizarre reaction to too many mushrooms, Its all history, you know. But if something spooked you, just let me know, I will help if I can. Always.” He left the skin next to her as he got up, returning to his bag beneath the mural to retrieve something else to eat.
“Er guys, just a thought as were all eating. We should start rationing a bit.” He said clearly. Utig and Quink were sat near the other exit to the chamber, where they had originally come in. they all nodded agreement and started putting a bit of food back in their packs.
“Maybe we should keep an eye out for anything edible as we go?” Quink suggested.
“I ain’t eating no fucking spider meat.” Utig said petulantly.
“I don’t care what you say.” He pointed back towards the corridor nearby.
“Those things are for killing and killing alone. Preferably with fire.” The barbarian smiled at the rogue.
“Which by the way, was bad ASS.” He gave her a thumbs up before taking a mouthful of water.
“We’ll need water before long as well.” He said before stoppering his skin and attaching it to his pack.
Havia stood back up, scratching absentmindedly at the front of her chest.
“Look, guys, I need to admit something. I, I saw something a way’s off down the corridors. A Shade.” She lowered her eyes to the ground.
“I’m not sure if it was real, or maybe it’s like back in Hinderis, you know.”
Antios walked up to her, putting his hands on her shoulders.
“How many did you see?” He asked.
“Just one, and it didn’t attack, faded right after I threw a dagger at it.” Havia stared down at the ground.
“Then I believe you. In Hinderis you’d been fucked up by a flayer, seeing shit that wasn’t there was, in hindsight, inevitable.” He gave her shoulders a squeeze before returning to pick up his pack.
“If there’s one shade on this floor, there will be more. Let’s get moving. The faster we find a way off the better.” he smiled as the rest of them threw their packs over their shoulders and followed him. It was then he realised he wasn’t sure which way to go.
“Er Havia, which way do you think?” He turned to Havia to catch her grinning at him, much like her usual self.
“And you said you weren’t good at this stuff. Dumb ass. Let’s head south, I haven’t scouted much of that area so were most likely to find an exit there I guess.”
She wiped at her cheek as she turned away from them. Grabbing a torch from a sconce before lighting it and heading out.
“Might even be something there for Utig to squash.” She said over her shoulder as the rest of the party followed.