Disclaimer: This work is purely fiction and will follow Lore to the best of researchable and known ability. This work may take creative license to fill in gaps where lore does not have an established basis. It may depict scenes that some readers may find extreme and visually/mentally disconcerting in description. If you find fault in anything written, please feel free to message the author privately to discuss anything you find out of place or otherwise negative. Again, this is a work of fiction and the author has the right to allow the writing to form in a manner of creative design and integrity. The author humbly thanks you for taking the time to read this work and enjoy the imaginative ingenuity behind it. Please enjoy the story.
The smell was putrid. It forced the blonde to cover her nose with her hand before she pulled a kerchief from her pocket and tied it around the lower half of her face to buffer her senses from it. She could even taste the rancid odor it was so strong. With her left foot, she pushed against the head of the dead body at her feet. It didn't move, but there was a slight squishing sensation that she could feel through her leather boot. A frown graced her lips hidden by the cloth and only grew deeper as she realized that rotting grey matter now covered the toe of her boot. The easy damage brought a small sigh of relief though since it meant the dead thing was truly dead and would not get to its feet. It meant nothing of her safety in the dark, cavernous ruin she had willingly wandered into. There were more and she was aware of the noises that the risen beings in the darkness made due to the echoing walls surrounding her.
A small whining came from the hound that stood at her side. His ears were back, flush to his skull, and his tail was wrapped around his hind leg as it sniffed at the air with a wet nose. The girl reached down to give it a gentle pat, attempting to alleviate the discomfort it was showing but it did nothing for the poor animal. The dog was watching the dark opening to their south, the direction of which the sounds they could hear were originating from. As her hand left its head, the dog looked up to the girl and took a small step back. "Some dog you are." the girl said quietly and grinned behind the cloth. "I thought dogs are supposed to be protective and willing to fight to the death for their masters." she jested and then looked back to the dark opening with a sigh. Her hand shot out in a smooth motion, "Well? Get to it then." she whispered to the hound which looked to the opening then back to her as if trying to convey that it did not want to go at all. The girl stooped down and picked up the torch on the ground. A black bow in her left hand glinted in the fire light. Her fingers keenly keeping an arrow at the ready on the string. The dog whimpered but moved forward, slowly and carefully, nose twitching constantly as it smelled the air. His ears lifted and stiffened as it gave the dark opening its full attention, padding softly toward it with cautious steps. Even the girl moved as carefully with each step toward that pitch black entrance.
The noises grew steadily louder as they traversed the corridor. Gravel shifted under her feet, as she placed each step with practiced ease, barely a whisper of a sound emanating from her soft leather boots as she moved. A deep groan resonated through the stone structure and the girl stopped in her tracks. The dog hunkered down on all four legs, stopping as well. Both were alert to the noise and the girl quickly moved against the stone wall to her right as the ground began to shake beneath them. Bits of dust and loose stone fell down around them and the dog lurched to get closer to her. It was a common occurrence and for all her knowledge, it was becoming worse with time. For over a hundred years, the land had been volatile and dangerous in and of itself. That did not include the countless Risen beings that had amassed upon the large land mass in the Sea of Sorrows. It was all the girl had known as a home and she was well aware of how to cope with it, even in the claustrophobic and dangerous ruins of cities long forgotten that had been slowly covered over by the instability of the shifting land. Once the tremors had subsided, the girl let out a long breath. She had been holding it and barely realized it. Thoughts of the entire structure coming down around her had swarmed her mind while she waited for the danger to pass. That made her chuckle quietly as she gently nudged the hound with her knee and got him to start forward once more. The torch illuminated their path well enough and the girl squinted, holding it higher above her head to get the direct light out of her eyes as the dark tunnel seemed to come to an end mere yards before them.
There were not many ruins she hadn't crawled around in with her father as a young girl but this one was new to her. It had been revealed a few months back when a quake had shifted some large boulders and debris from the base of a mountain. In the fashion of the priory, a team surged ahead to enter the newly revealed structure in order to document and study it. A common occurrence that often times lead to her and her father finding priory representatives landing on the shores and recruiting skilled people to go looking for the teams sent when they went missing. Her father had built himself a nice income doing reconnascience and retrieval jobs for those people. They had even been hired to scout locations for the Pact in recent times as well. He had taught her to be a skilled tracker and navigator and had even taught her how to use a bow and arrow, to fight with daggers and swords in order to ensure she would have the best chances at survival. He had once been a Seraph in their home city, a place she didn't remember at all and hadn't been in since she was knee high to a Dolyak. The large pack animals were used by caravans to transport gear and goods and they oftentimes made their job easier as their droppings were large and recognizable, leaving a steady trail to follow until they came upon the poor animal. It would be dead and torn apart by the predators that competed with the risen beings for food. Sometimes, the risen were still eating the rotting corpse left behind.
Her torch seemed to become a weak candle light as they passed through the tunnel and found themselves standing on the edge of a large platform, looking out and down into a wide expanse of space that seemed to be bottomless. The sounds echoing down the tunnel earlier were now much louder and as she leaned slightly to look over the edge, the sparkling reflections far below her gave her pause. It was like a sea of stars had fallen under the ground and were twinkling back up at her as if hoping for freedom from the dark pit. To her left, she saw a ramp that curved with the wall of the structure and as she looked up, she could see the start of a domed ceiling carved with what appeared to be pictures and intricate vine works long faded and eroded heavily in some areas. Directly in front of her the torch light barely illuminated the broken bottom of a column that once stretched from the dome to the floor of the room to support the massive structure and she made a mental note that the room was more than likely capable of being filled with however many tons of rock sat above the structure. It was not the place she desired to be but the tracks she had been following had lead her to this very spot.
Another rumbling groan wailed and the ground began to shake, it was louder in the large room than when she had been in the tunnel and she could hear something heavy crash to the bottom with an explosive smacking sound. Gurgling screams rose up as she backpedaled into the tunnel for whatever possible protection it may provide from the collapse of the room. Her eyes closed for a moment as she waited for the quake to stop before slowly moving back to the edge of the platform and held the torch out once more, looking down at the sea of stars below her. She did not need to go further to know what had happened to the party of explorers the Priory had sent into the darkness. Their demise was staring up at her and the shuffling of their feet on the floor below was enough to tell her she needed to leave before they had made up their dead minds that she was their next meal.
The dog growled lowly and she looked to the ramp that spiraled away down into the room below. Torch light reflected off something metal and before she could decide to retreat back the way she came, her own feet were carrying her down the ramp to it. The small dagger that had caught her attention lay next to the body of an Asura clad in the robes of the Priory, blade painted red which told her that this group had made friends with the beings below. It had been a party of fifteen and yet here was only one fresh body among the many rotted and bloated corpses she had passed on her way further into the ruins. Looking back, the ramp did not continue upward, it ended at her platform. She could only guess that the group had been running form the beings below and were herded into this room. It did make sense since there were no other risen in the ruins it seemed.
"Is...is anyone out there? Hello?" the desperate voice of a man penetrated the silence around her. "I'm stuck. I've been trying to get a hold of anyone who can hear this transmission who might have...might have come to find us." The girl moved to the body and gave it a good poke with her foot for good measure. When it did not move nor rise she set the torch down on the floor and began to rummage through the pockets of the Asura. "We have been here for three days. I think. If anyone is receiving this transmission, please, send help. My colleagues and I have all been separated. It's only myself and Haimii...Haimii is hurt. I've done my best to help her but...She needs medical attention soon or she may die." The girl worked faster to find the communication device before the loud noise attracted the beings below and caused them to begin looking for a way up to her position. They may have been lumbering for the moment but risen were not slow shambling beings. They could run. They could run fast when they saw a prize meal before them or lay their dead eyes on what they had been brought to life to destroy. Some were also very smart and knew how to use weapons as well and the girl was not about to get caught by the outnumbering enemy below her.
The voice continued and finally, her hand clasped around the transmitter and she yanked it free of the pocket. "Shut up." she whispered into the device. "Keep your voice down."
Silence for a brief moment before the transmitter sparked to life, this time, the person on the other end much quieter. "Is it truly? Melandru bless me I never thought I would hear another voice. Who is this?"
The girl sighed and looked down into the room below, "My name is Macey Redmond. Are you one of the fifteen that the Priory sent?"
"I am. I have an injured Asura here with me. Where are you?" There was a sense of relief in the man's voice, "Are you in the ruin?"
Macey looked to the transmitter, a forlorn expression touching her, "I am." she steeled her voice so the man did not hear her sorrow.
"Gods be praised." he sighed into the transmitter. "We were swarmed and we had nowhere to go but further into the ruin. I'm not sure about my colleagues but myself and Haimii made it to the bottom of what I think was once a government room based on the layout. I was able to catch a glance about as I was running. Haimii was struck by falling rock and has a broken leg and struck her head as well. She needs a medic badly."
Her gaze looked to the dog who was watching her in return, they both seemed to share the same thought or at least, Macey wanted to believe the dog understood what was going on. "Do you know where you are down there?"
"We hit the bottom of the ramp and turned right into a corridor not very far from it. About twenty or so yards in there was a sturdy door which I was able to get shut. It's some kind of room, an office I think." the man responded. Macey looked down the ramp and then down into the dark pit. If her father had been there, he would have assessed the situation and deemed it too dangerous to try to get to the man. He would have been correct. There were at least fifty of the risen in that large room below her. That was forty nine more than she was willing to deal with. The man spoke again, this time much softer and quieter, "Haimii hasn't been awake since she was injured. I know this sounds horrible of me but I don't think she will get out of here alive no matter how hard we try."
Her brow raised in surprise as she heard the man, "It's not horrible, it's merely logic."
"I'm not stupid. I know those things are out there. Tell me the truth."
Thoughts wheeled about in her mind and Macey tried to figure out what would be the best thing to say. She could make it seem like it was not as bad, give him false hope and then leave him there. Trying to get to him was dangerous and probably futile given the numbers against her. If she told him she was coming to get him and then just left, he would think she had been killed by the risen in the attempt. He would never know she had simply just walked away and left him to die. It was what her father would have done and had done on many occasions. He had told her it was not the cowards way but common sense when it was them or the people they had been sent after. Their lives were more important than those who were in the most danger and rescuing them would put herself in danger as well. The job was dangerous as is and to increase the level of that danger was simply stupid.
"They are. There is quite a few of them as well." she responded after a moment.
"How many in your party?"
"Two, myself and my dog."
Silence ensued for what seemed like forever. "That's all they sent? A girl and her dog?" his voice wavered as if he were about to laugh in madness.
"I'm a scout and a tracker, it's what I do. I track and then I report back and they go from there as to how they want to proceed." she told him, hoping it would ease his mind.
"How long before you can get back to the people who sent you?"
"I'm two days out at most."
"By the time they figure it out, Haimii will be dead and I will have died from dehydration or starvation...Maybe even a psychotic break that makes me think I can just run out of here." he did laugh this time and Macey could hear the sadness and fear in his voice. It was the laugh of a man who had come to terms with dying.
The dog sat down and cocked its head as it looked at her. Macey arched a brow and looked back down into the room, "Go home, Kevin." she whispered to the dog. "Go find dad." she reached out and gave the dog a pat between the ears. "Go home." she commanded firmly and the dog slowly rose, tail between his legs and ears flat against his head once more. Macey sighed and gestured to the dark tunnel, "Now." she ordered and the dog moved past her, the sound of its paws moving swiftly down the tunnel fading away as it did as told. "Hold tight." she said into the transmitter and then switched it off, pocketing the device and standing up.
Everything of her natural instinct for survival, of what her father had taught her, screamed loudly in her mind as she made sure her dagger and sword were free in their sheaths so she didn't have to struggle to remove them if she had too. Her arm reached back and her fingers carefully sorted her arrows, taking count of how many she had. Twelve feathered shafts shifted under her gentle touch, a thirteenth still at the ready in her hand that held her bow tightly. Macey bent down and snuffed out the torch, plunging herself into blind darkness. Her right hand reached out to touch the wall and with careful steps she slowly and silently began her decent down the ramp, toes feeling the ground in hopes the ramp was not broken and missing anywhere. It was a feeling she hated, being blind and in the dark with no way to tell what was in front of her. The wall was smooth in some places, cragged in others where a century or more of quakes had torn it apart and caused cracking. Her fingers felt their way before her as she made her way down the ramp that curved around the large room.
The ground leveled under her feet and she paused, listening as best she could. Her lack of sight making her hearing and sense of touch, sense of smell, better than it was when she could see. The shuffling gate of the risen, the noises they made were close and her heart began to race, adrenaline coursing through her very being as she waited, wondering if they knew she was there. Something brushed against her shoulder and the drooling snarl that stung her hearing made her hold her breath, sucking in air and praying to the gods in hopes that it would not know she was alive and what they would consider a meal. It passed by and she shuffled her feet, doing her best to mimic the dead gait of the risen around her as she moved. Her lungs burned as they screamed for her to breathe but Macey refused their urgent cry until her hand felt the opening of the corridor that she hoped was the same as the man had told her he had traversed in his escape from the beings. Her grip tightened on her bow and she was forced to expel the used air in her lungs and gasp to get another breath. Macey paused, squeezing her eyes tightly shut as she waited to find out if the dead beings had heard her.
Her legs propelled her forward when she was sure they had not sensed her presence and her fingers felt the wall, her arm winging out to find the opposite side as she slowly made her way through the hall, looking, searching for the door the man and his companion had found sanctuary behind. It felt like forever before her hand touched what felt like old wood and she let out a sigh of relief. From her pocket she pulled the transmitter and turned it on, holding in the button and she whispered, "I'm going to tap lightly on this door three times. If I have found you, do not hesitate please and let me in." She immediately turned it off again and gently tapped her finger as she had said against the door. It remained closed and Macey frowned, beginning to move forward once more and then she heard a loud click then she heaved against the door and hurried her body into the opening and shut it quickly behind her.
Light assaulted her vision and she closed her eyes, slowly opening them and letting them adjust. The man she had been talking too pushed her away from the door and he slid the locking bar into place, "You came." he said in disbelief.
Macey nodded, "Did you think I wouldn't?" She said as if she had never had the thought to actually do so.
"To be honest, no. I would have left us to our fate." He said with a guilty expression. His blue eyes stared at her a moment and Macey took in the stained metal armor he wore, blood flaking off of it in places and she realized he hadn't reached the room without a fight. "Thank you."
She nodded and looked past him to the Asura that lay on a tattered blanket near the back wall. "Is she....."
He looked back and shook his head, "I wish I could get her out of here but in my experience, to do so would mean certain death for the two of us."
As he finished his sentence, the door creaked with the weight of something slamming against it. Angry snarls and groans could be heard beyond it and Macey closed her eyes briefly before backing away. "That won't hold them for long." she said when she took an account of the rusted hinges and rotting planks that made the door. "What's your name?"
"Thomas Carrington." the man said and held out his hand to her which she took, shaking it briefly before letting go and bringing her bow up in a slack stance as she watched the door move. "Odds of the two of us getting out of here?"
He shrugged and then went to the Asura, kneeling down and checking her, "You should have left us." he said in a sincere and serious tone.
Macey pulled the transmitter from her pocket, shouldering the bow and setting the arrow between her teeth. She didn't respond, simply opened the main panel on the device and adjusting a small dial. She spoke with the arrow still in her mouth, her words distorted only slightly, "Dad? Dad it's me. Can you hear me?" Silence, nothing came from the transmitter and she adjusted it once more, repeating her call, "Dad, are you there?"
"What are you doing?" Thomas stood up and looked at her curiously as the door groaned and cracked.
Macey merely shook her head as she adjusted the dial again, "Dad, you bastard, respond." she said more forcefully.
Thomas began to speak and the transmitter crackled to life as the door nearly buckled, "Macey?" her father’s deep voice came through.
"Dad, where are you? Are you still top side?" she said frantically.
"Yes, Kevin found me somehow and I started heading toward your last known." her father's voice came back.
Macey let out a long breath, "If I have to guess, about two thousand down from the dead elder tree we said we would meet at."
"That's a long way down, Macey."
"Can you do it?"
"Maybe. I need a moment though."
Macey snortled through her nose, "Make it a fast moment."
This time she laughed, "You know how you told me that saving myself versus another was stupid?"
A long pause came before she heard her father's voice, "Stupid girl."
"I can't disagree." Thomas said quietly.
Macey gave him a look, "Trace the transmitt..." she dropped the device, reaching up to pull the arrow out of her mouth and knocked it to the bow, as the door broke and she could hear her father calling out to her as the foul smell of a risen permeated the small room. "I hate to say it, but toss your friend to them!" she shouted and the man gave her a disgusted look. Without further hesitation she quickly moved, picking up the Asura with a rough gesture and then hauled her toward the door, shoving her seemingly lifeless body into the hole and nearly found herself being pulled with it as the tiny being was grasped by rotting hands and pulled through with such force it broke a wooden plank and tore it as well into the hall beyond.
"The hell did you.." Thomas stopped and scooped up a large sword, realizing that Macey had simply bought them enough time to maybe put up a good fight against the tide of risen ready to tear their lives away from them.
Macey looked at him with compassion and a serene sense of acceptance before stealing her vision to the hole in the door. Her bow came up and she let the arrow that she had been holding at the ready fly. It struck true, piercing the being in its dead white eye and sending its head pitching back as it growled and fell away. She didn't hesitate, reaching back and grabbing for another arrow, bringing it to bear and letting go once more with a powerful twang of the string as she sent it careening through the opening in time to meet another risen, striking home in it's rotted throat but hardly slowing it down as the being sank its nails into the wooden plank and began to tear with inhuman strength at the wooden board. The board cracked and screeched as it was ripped away, and Macey had already sent another arrow flying forward to meet another. Thomas moved to her right side, the great sword bared at the opening but he stayed back as he let her range handle the beings for the moment.
"That door won't hold for much longer." he hissed out.
Another arrow gone and Macey stayed silent, unresponsive as she kept count as to how many of her arrows she had left. One after another soaring through the door which was quickly becoming nothing but a torn opening revealing the number of risen beyond. She reached back swiftly and then grasped at the air, her arrows depleted and she skillfully dropped her bow over her shoulders and freed her sword and dagger, bringing them up in one smooth and fluid movement as the last of the door was torn away. The risen paused, those that were at the front of their line seeming to wait as if judging whether more arrows were going to be heading for them. Thomas brought his body more in line for a stance to ready himself for impact and Macey hunkered down as well as she watched the beings, counting the seconds under her breath and anticipating that when she finally hit ten, they would come for them.
She was right. The few in the front surged forward into the room and Thomas let out a battle cry as the sword curved down and then flew upward. It caught the first under the chin and cleaved through the deteriorated jaw, splitting it into two pieces and sending half flying off to the left just as the sword came back around to catch the second. Macey lunged forward, her sword jamming into the rib cage of the third and she realized her mistake in that choice. The blade biting into the flesh and bone and she yanked back. The blade was stuck and only served to bring the being closer, snapping jaws and clawed fingers reaching for her. The risen's grotesque face was entirely too close to her own and she kicked her right leg out, planting against its hip and forcefully sending the being backward into the others that were jamming together to get inside the room. Their only blessing was that the door was not entirely gone and the beings were bottleknecking into the room. A small advantage to them but not one that would last for much longer.
Another forced its way into the room, this time getting past Thomas' sword and slipping to his right side. The man spun on it and Macey instantly put her back against his own, forcing their bodies together in order to prevent either one of them from causing the other harm unintentionally as her father had taught her. The man seemed surprised by her action but he did not hesitate in matching his own movement to her own. It was as if they were suddenly forced into a dance. Macey dropped her dagger, reaching back and latching her hand onto the man's hip and feeling for the bottom of his chest plate. Her fingers gripped it in order to ensure they continuously moved as one together. Her sword arm was tiring and she began to falter, flailing as well at the beings trying to get through the door. Thomas struggled to fight back the one that had gotten into the room and then pushed back against her as it forced itself into his reach and prevented him from being able to use his sword against it. Macey heard him curse under his breath as the snapping jaws came dangerously close to his face and forcedhim to drop his sword, using both hands to grasp the being and try to push it away. The being lashed out with both hands and Thomas yelled loudly, his strength feeling as though it were no match for the risen that was hungrily watching him. Macey pushed back against Thomas as her sword was knocked to the side by another, her grip nearly faltering but she kept her sword in hand and swung it desperately at the beings coming through the door. She wanted to back away but she couldn't. Thomas was pushing back against her and she was pushing back against him, they were dead locked and Macey was only a few feet from the door as it was ripped from the hinges and finally thrown aside as though it were merely a feather.
Time seemed to slow down at that moment. Macey let the tip of her sword fall to point at the ground. Her eyes closed and she let her breath leave her in a moment of clarity and acceptance for what was to come. She let go of Thomas and her arm fell to her side, palm forward and fingers splayed as her chin rose and her closed eyes went skyward with a soft prayer on her lips. Forever was true in that moment. It was eternity, the final moments of life that brought clarity and understanding, a deeper knowledge one could only gain in the very moments before death finally claimed life. She felt Thomas finally win out against the being that was trying to make his face breakfast and his body slacken against her own as he looked over his shoulder and also saw the inevitable coming through the door. There was a sinking feeling that came over the pair suddenly. A heavy pressure between their ears and an unsettling feeling that surrounded them. Macey drew in a forced breath as if she were trying to breathe underwater and then it felt as if she were falling. She knew this feeling and she felt Thomas struggle to turn in place. His arm came around and gripped at her, a muffled shout bursting from his mouth as her own hands grabbed at his arms and then they hit the ground in a heap. The air expelled from her lungs forcefully as his weight crashed down against her body and her head spun.
"Macey?!" Her father's voice was like a booming sound of thunder in her ears. Thomas picked himself up off her and she felt his and her father's hands lifting her up. A hard smack on her back caused her to suck in air and she coughed harshly. "Damn you girl! Why don't you ever listen?" he shouted angrily then looked to Thomas, "You're damn lucky she was with you." he spat at the man.
"I'm good." Macey gasped and doubled over as she gulped fresh air into her lungs. Her fingers finally let go of the hilt of her sword and it clashed against the rocky ground.
Her father nodded then looked to Thomas once more. The two men stared at each other, her father in heated anger and Thomas apologetically. The elder man clenched his fist as he looked to his daughter. "For one man?" he asked and Macey nodded. Her father looked to Thomas again and the man averted his eyes at the wrong time. Macey's father hauled back his arm and then sent his clenched fist forward, knocking the unsuspecting man square between the eyes and he dropped heavily to the ground as his senses reeled before he passed out from the hit.