Evil plans to destroy Etias. The king, known as the Reaper, must save the realms.
Kyvan did not relent on their travels as the group marched from the castle to the south. Only when Casimir convinced the ill-tempered prince that his human companions could not continue without rest did he allow them to set up camp for the evening. Kyvan growled and rolled his blue eyes at this information.
"Humans... such a waste."
Casimir took nothing by his remark, considering the knight was also human. He was used to the entire royal family holding a high prejudice against his race, as it was a common theme throughout the lands. Melina, however, did overhear the snide comment as it brought a deep frown to her face. The knight bowed to the prince before he turned to inform the others they could set up camp for the night. Bleiz started a roaring fire while Melina pitched each tent.
Prince Kyvan ignored everybody, save for a few sporadic comments. He sat on a nearby log, studying several maps and scrolls he brought along for the journey. He did not aide anyone in setting up the campsite. Melina glanced at the man from the corner of her eyes, a bubbling annoyance building in the pit of her stomach. She did not care what his title was; to act so high and mighty was irritating to her senses.
The young woman grabbed the prince's bedroll before standing to walk to him. He did not glance up at her or acknowledge her presence. Melina lifted the bedroll higher before she let the bundle fall at the prince's feet with a dull thud in the dirt. He stared at it before raising his eyes to glare up at the girl. Melina was undeterred, her arms folded over her chest as she narrowed her eyes at the prince.
"As important as your studying is, I imagine you can stop for a moment to help your companions set up camp," said the woman.
"It is not my place to do anything of the sort. Such work is for commoners such as you," he snarled back at her, annoyed for being interrupted. Melina huffed as she planted her hands on her hips, her anger rising with each syllable that passed Kyvan's lips.
"You may get away with that haughty attitude in the castle, but out here, you need to contribute as much as everyone else."
Kyvan let out a dry, humorless laugh. "I do not need a pathetic human wench to give me instruction. I will request your advice only when I deem it worthy. Until then, hold your waggling tongue."
Melina's upper lip curled into a disparaging smile. "It was my understanding you are the one who needs our help, not the other way around. Therefore, you will expect suggestions from us, including what needs doing on your end to keep everyone else happy."
Kyvan closed the book he was reading as he stood straight and tall. He was well over half a foot taller than the young woman and carried an air of superiority. He did not look into Melina's eyes, although he considered it every time she argued back at him.
"If you cannot figure out your place as a woman and subordinate to the crowned prince, you should runoff back into the forest with the little birdies and squirrels where social pariahs like you belong!"
"Oh?" said Melina, turning her sharp glare at the black-haired man. "Maybe you should run off back in your ebony tower where you're better suited to keep the thick stick up your ass!"
Bleiz was beside his sister as he grabbed her by the arm to drag her away off to the side before Kyvan could explode back at her.
"Enough!" Bleiz hissed under his breath, "You will get us both killed with that mouth of yours."
"I don't care!" Melina snapped right back, the fire in her blue eyes, making them burn like sapphires. "There isn't a damn thing any of them could do that I will fear or dread. The only thing in this world I consider torture is traveling with a self-righteous, pompous asshole like him! Let his world burn for all I care. Better that than to have him as our ruler." And with that, she turned on her heel to storm off into the trees, disappearing from view.
Bleiz let out a heavy sigh and ruffled his spiky brown hair, rubbing the back of his neck as he shook his head. Aneira exhaled as Melina walked away, having witnessed the entire exchange. She stepped forward to speak to Bleiz.
"You need to talk sense into your sister. We are with a prince that comes from a family of human-hating shaydes. We must keep our focus on saving the world instead of petty squabbles. If he orders an execution on you both because of her mouth, there is little I can do to convince him otherwise."
"What should I tell her? 'Do not hate the man who considers you a wasted breath of life, and whose family prefer to see you eradicated.'" He spoke loud enough for Kyvan to hear him. Kyvan glared at the two from where he stood. Bleiz approached Kyvan before he stopped parallel to the prince, returning the glare tenfold. "He was was born an ignorant, arrogant ass... isn't that right, Your Highness?"
Bleiz walked on, bumping his shoulder into Kyvan's as the prince did to him back at the castle. Kyvan said nothing, only frowned at Bleiz as he stepped away. Aneira watched the two siblings walk off before she turned to Kyvan, bowing before him as she spoke.
"I still hold strong to my stance on the matter, Your Majesty. We must unite if we hope to stop whatever darkness is threatening Etias."
"I do not need the humans. I can do this without them slowing me down!" Kyvan spat back, whirling around to glare an Aneira.
"Forgive me, my prince, but you are wrong," the qheilae woman insisted, remaining strong despite the prince's glower. "You have little to no idea what you are doing out here. You know little of the ways of navigating through the various terrains, not like the Rangers do. I understand the humans can have irrational behaviors, but you must let them help you. You must trust them. Trust me when I say their race is capable of good."
For a long moment, the prince said nothing, pondering Aneira's words before he glanced over his shoulder at the direction the siblings walked off through the trees.
Over the next several days, their travels remained uneventful, much to their relief. The mountain paths became narrowed in the rocky passes. A sharp right would have sent them careening off the cliff to a raging river far below. The higher they climbed, the colder the surrounding air became. The frosted wind stung their eyes and forced its way into their throat and lungs. Piles of snow and ice-covered the rocks, slowing the companions travel with no trail for hundreds of years.
Kyvan turned his head as he lifted a hand to signal the others. "Over here." He gestured to a unique marking in the stone. Crumbled stairs led up to a landing far above them.
"This must have been the entrance to the city," said Casimir, looking up at the decay of the front pillars.
Aneira gazed up the collapsed stairs. "It doesn't appear stable."
Bleiz shrugged as he stepped forward. "Just step carefully."
They ambulated up the crumbling stairs until they reached the top of the landing. A gust of bitter wind hissed through the maze of ancient stone buildings where tattered tapestries of old doors blew in the howling wind. Only small streaks of sunlight could peek through the haze of the gray clouds while a heaviness hung in the air. There was no movement save for the winter wind. Everyone felt the hair on the back of their neck stand on end, their senses screaming at them that something was wrong. Far on the opposite side of the courtyard stood a high canopy, shielding the snow from blocking a large entryway.
The group approached the archway, staring inside into the gloom. Darkness descended the staircase, the thick smell of decay looming in the air.
Melina squinted into the darkness. "I doubt anything good is down there..."
Bleiz pulled his longbow from his back. "Let's go then."
With that, he brushed past Kyvan and walked along the stairs, an arrow pulled taught at the ready. Melina pulled out her own bow as she stepped in practiced coordination with her brother.
Kyvan summoned his scythe and gripped it tight in his hand as he lifted his free hand to cast a floating ball of light beside him. He followed behind the siblings. "Casimir, what do you know of this place? What are we to expect?"
Casimir pulled an unlit torch out from a sconce against the wall, setting it aflame as he drew his sword. "I know little, Your Highness. Judging by the information we collected, this was where Xarsunon had his generals' rule over the land long ago before the Reaper came into power. They were involved in necromancy, so there are many evil spirits still lurking."
Kyvan rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Wonderful."
They reached the bottom of the stairs, stepping out into an empty cavern. A sudden roar thundered from somewhere far beneath them, causing the ground to rumble and crack. Before anyone could stop to act, the floor crumbled beneath the group's feet, sending them tumbling and falling on a giant slide deep into the earth below into complete and total darkness.
During the bumping slide, they broke through a hole in the ceiling of another cavern and landed in an underground lake with a loud splash. Bleiz was the first to resurface as he wiped water from his face. Glowing mushrooms littered the walls and ceiling which gave him some source of light to search for the others. Taking in a deep breath, he dove deep into the murky depths in search of Melina. Meanwhile, Casimir and Kyvan broke the surface of the water near each other. They approached the shoreline, coughing black water out of their lungs.
"Aneira!" Casimir called out, coughing out more water as he did. Beneath the water, she couldn't hear him. She was several feet below from the impact of her weight.
Nearby, she felt a steady hand grab her arm. Though the water was dark, an eerie light glowed beside her as she turned her head to see a ghastly face sneering at her through the water. Its eyes glowed an angry red, and years of being submerged in the underground lake bloated its skin. It reached up towards her with its second hand.
Aneira let out a scream or tried to as a bubble escaped her mouth. She struggled against the hold of the undead monster, kicking with all her might into its face. Aneira squirmed from its grasp as she swam as fast as she could upwards. The moment she reached the surface, Aneira released a loud, desperate gasp, panting.
"There is something in the water!" she shrieked, struggling to keep herself afloat. Casimir and Kyvan turned then and stood up, having to squint in the dim light of the cavern to see Aneira in the water.
They could see it then behind her, the undead monster looming up from under the water's surface, its jaw loosely hanging from its joints. Long strands of the underwater plantation had grown over most of the thing, hiding vast amounts of its decaying flesh. It reached out for Aneira again as she tried to swim towards the shoreline.
Kyvan lifted his scythe, a blue glow building in its titanium blade when the monster let out a screech and gurgle. Kyvan stopped as he slowly lowered his weapon, looking past the beast to see Bleiz in the water behind it. The ranger ripped his carving knife out of the creature's skull, sending it sinking back down to its watery grave. In his left arm, he carried an unconscious Melina.
"Move!" he said, spitting out water as he spoke as he ushered Aneira along. Casimir waded through up to his waist to reach for the unconscious woman, pulling Melina to the shoreline to tend to her. Bleiz reached out with his hand for Aneira to help her the rest of the way on the shore before he crawled up the rocky land on all fours, panting and coughing.
"W-what in the Nine Hells was that?!"
Casimir paid mind to Bleiz as he examined Melina, using the light of a nearby glowing mushroom to get a better view of her. She coughed and spluttered then, Casimir rolling the human on her side as she coughed up the water.
Aneira sat trembling as she glanced at Bleiz. She pushed her light blonde hair out of her face before she spoke.
"Thank you," she said as she bowed her head. Bleiz looked at her in puzzlement for a moment before he shrugged, shifting to a standing position to stare around the massive cavern. The entire place was closed, save for the opening in the ceiling they fell through and a tunnel off to the side.
"There's a dragon somewhere around here," Aneira said, looking up at Prince Kyvan. Casimir helped Melina to a sitting position. The woman took a few deep breaths before turning her attention back to her companions.
"But where is the dragon?" Melina looked towards the tunnel that Bleiz walked.
"... You must see this," he said, offering no further explanation.
They walked to Bleiz and looked through the tunnel. It led to another enormous cavern with an entire civilization carved inside. Ruins of old buildings lined with old cobblestone streets filled the chamber. Surrounding the entrance of the tunnel were beautiful stone statues of various ancient gods and goddess. The whole place appeared as if it hadn't seen life in centuries through the structures held up well. Melina's eyes widened as she stepped out further, looking around at the ruins.
Aneira's brows lifted, and her lips parted as she let out a faint gasp as the city came into their view. "What... How could this be?"
The group walked down the steps, passing by mighty stone statues that appeared as if they were once giant guards for the cities. Most doors to various buildings still stood in their frames as if nothing changed.
Because of its underground location, no vegetation grew around the cavern, save for the occasional glowing mushroom that sprouted. A deep cavern split the cavern into two separate segments, a running river rushed far below a bridge that allowed passersby to cross over.
Kyvan walked in the group's middle while the siblings walked ahead, leaving Casimir and Aneira to take the rear. The prince said nothing about their discovery, his pupilless eyes staring forward and his grip on his scythe remaining tight. His instincts told him to be at the ready for anything. Something terrible was here, and he knew it was close.
Casimir stopped short, holding an arm out to stop Aneira as he looked around, his eyes narrowing as his hand slid to the hilt of his weapon. Casimir threw himself over Aneira, knocking her to the ground to shield her from flying debris as the wall beside them exploded. Detritus whizzed past their heads, rocks striking against Casimir's back. Aneira's head throbbed from her bouncing skull against the hard ground.
She grunted, squinting up at Casimir with dust stinging her eyes. She took Casimir's hand as he helped her back to her feet after the disturbance settled. They both turned to gawk at a black monstrosity above them. The creature expanded its enormous wingspan, its leathery wings stretching near to the entire width of the cavern. Its purple flaming eyes glared down at the group as it bared its razor-sharp teeth.
Casimir pulled his sword out as he glanced towards Melina and Bleiz who held their bows and arrows at the ready. Kyvan stood with his scythe out which gave off an angry blue glow as his eyes narrowed in recognition at the miscreation. The dragon's tail slammed to the ground once again, obliterating the surrounding nearby buildings, sending more debris flying. What sounded like a chuckle came from its throat although it rang more like an evil growl. It spoke in a strange language unfamiliar to any of them.
"I am Uddris, Lord of the Black and General to Lord Xarsunon," he chuckled again as his purple eyes fell upon Prince Kyvan, his gaze narrowing. "Well, well... the Prince of Death himself makes an appearance. How quaint? You seek information on my Lord, no doubt. Your search will be in vain. Not even the Guardians can prevent the upcoming downfall of the Reaper."
Bleiz noted movement to the side, and he turned his head to spot several figures appear in different points of attack around them, holding various dangerous looking weapons.
"We have company," he whispered to his sister. Melina lifted her gaze to note the enemies surrounding them.
"People are down here? How?" she hissed back, her blue eyes darting from each target.
Uddris turned his massive head at Kyvan, though it avoided the prince's direct gaze.
"I will be sure your suffering is great," the dragon spoke in the common tongue. Its body arched towards Kyvan, the enormous claws stomping into the hard earth below it. Kyvan stood calm and ready, his eyes never parted the dragon.
With an outstretched hand, darkness crept over Kyvan's eyes until they turned solid black. Its depth resembled that of the desolateness in the black void, an aura of eeriness and unsettling coldness emanating from his gaze. In a language that no one from the group understood, he raised his blade high into the air. A glow illuminated over his scythe, giving a shimmer on its gleaming titanium weapon. The ground shook and trembled before the soil split apart into several places. Skeleton hands reached up for the heavens above them before hoisting their remains out from their graves.
Each skeleton still wore the armor they died in, their weapons at the ready as they stood. Kyvan spoke again in the necromantic tongue. As undead monstrosities, Kyvan's servants showed no fear to the dragon before them as they lifted their weapons and charged, attacking Uddris with abandon. The dragon roared and slashed the warriors with his claws, teeth, and tail.
The figures surrounding them lunged, slashing at them with their various weapons. The sound of metal clashing against metal rang out among the horrific screeching from the dragon. Melina ducked and rolled as she blasted an arrow into the face of one enemy, sending him flying several feet away. In the fight, she managed a glimpse of her victim.
"Dritearus! Gray elves!" she called out her warning to the others as she dodged an attack from another elf. She looked up as the sound of rumbling rocks stirred. Boulders tumbled from high above, crashing to the ground with thunderous crashes.
"The cavern is crumbling. How are we going to get out of here?" Aneira shouted over the mix of screeches and roars in the background, dodging a massive boulder that almost came down on her head. She turned to an elf attacker, pointing her staff to him as a powerful beam of green light blasted the elf in the chest, leaving a hole in its wake as he died before he hit the ground.
Casimir slid underneath another elf before he kicked out, sending the figure over the edge of the cavern and tumbling down to the raging river below. He turned to find the rest of the elves disappearing into the shadows as more boulders fell from the ceiling.
Casimir grabbed Aneira's hand as he darted towards the bridge, gesturing for Bleiz and Melina to follow. The siblings followed at first, but Melina halted as she turned to look back at Kyvan who stayed behind in his trance. Bleiz turned on her, shouting at her over the fighting,
"Melina, let's go!"
"We have to get him!" she shouted back at her brother. Melina pulled herself away from her brother's grasp as she rushed back to the prince in his spell casting. She grabbed his forearm, tugging him along. Her touch pulled him from his trance, his black eyes once again returning to normal. He turned to her in surprise but had no time for an explanation as she pulled him with her. They sprinted for the bridge, the rest of the group waiting across the way.
Uddris let out a roar that shook the entire cavern, the ceiling stirred as loose rocks fell from above, raining down on them. The dragon obliterated Kyvan's undead allies, pieces of bone scattering throughout the cavern. Several huge boulders tumbled down and struck the bridge in front of Melina and Kyvan, leaving deep cracks in its structure. Kyvan cursed under his breath as he hurried. As the two passed the half-way mark, a long tail swung down to crash into the middle of the bridge, crumbling beneath them.
The ground disappeared under their feet, the pair screaming as they tumbled down into the cavern.
"Melina!" Bleiz cried, attempting to lunge forward before a small cloaked figure rushed forward, slamming into Bleiz's midsection. His breath escaped his lungs as he tumbled backward into the cave. A loud rumble shook the ground as boulders came tumbling down, sealing off the tunnel.