Ramirez hadn't spoken as they traversed the rocky shore. He only glanced as his comrades kept themselves sharp and keen with their spar. Maybe it was just getting used to land again. Or maybe it was because he'd been deep in thought about what they had to do next.
Dive far down into the ocean.
Navigate a system of tunnels while holding your breath.
A submerged cave is a dangerous place for men. Air was vital, and without it the climbers would last only a limited time before loss of consciousness and subsequently drowning. And though he was aware of how long he could endure on a breath, there was another crucial limit: The halfway point. The point of no return. The point beyond which we'd no longer have time to get back out to the surface. Beyond that point we either came up to an entrance of some kind, or...
It would be a trial. Up against an enemy that couldn't be fought: the ocean itself. It worried Ramirez because he couldn't think of a way to beat it, and if we couldn't beat it, then it would beat us. There's nothing you can say to the ocean. No mercy to be begged. No deals to be made. If we were weak or careless or stupid, it would smother us, crush us, bury us forever under the waves.
Veritas and Stonefuse (and perhaps Prail) had the abilities to withstand the water. They would have the vital task of manuevering through the complex cave systems and finding a route. They would need to remember their course and guide the rest of the climbers through.
Doom upon any who falter in the challenges of Druaga. Only with valor, strength of body, and talent of the mind, could the perils be surmounted.
Aleister could feel the weight of Damien's hefty shield as he was knocked by the strike. He also realised that his other sword had been knocked out of his hands by the same strike.
"I get the winner!" Aleister could hear Caedis shout, seems like she was up for a challenge, as the number of people who came to watch the fight grew.
"Taking all bets! Odds are 1:1; taking all bets!" Another voice called, this time it was Faunra the elven thief. A small line of people started to form in front of her, as small handfuls of gold started to be handed over to her.
Aleister quickly regained his balance, and sidestepped out of the way, as another strike from Damien's sword missed him by an inch. He quickly removed the Edge of Soul from his back, and furiously tried to cast a magic on it, as he dodged further strikes.
"Arcesso Arcanum Crytuf" He shouted, as the Edge of Soul became enveloped in a shadowy aura. He started to charge Damien at high speed, dragging his blade along the ground, a small fissure started to form along the path. Aleister then swung the blade in a forward arc, but the strike was blocked, triggering a sword lock, just as he anticipated.
"It seems like we've drawn quite a crowd haven't we." Aleister remarked with a slight chuckle, and gestured towards the enthusiastic crowd, eager to watch the outcome of their enthusiastic sparring match.
It would seem that most, if not all of his masters left the boat, and so he did the same. The only people that he didn't tell that they've reached their destination were in a duel, swords crossed. Damien and Aleister.
Walking over the rocky surface, moving between the small crowd that had formed, Stonefuse slowly approached the two. Towering over them, no more than 2 feet away, he spoke, first to Damien: "We have reached our destination" and then to Aleister: "We have reached our destination."
Now that that was done, Stonefuse stood there, in a torpid-like state, his white, marble eyes fixed at the air between the two, waiting like he always does, for something to do.
Damien only gave a slight smile in reply and shouted,"RAAS!",throwing the man back and making Aleister lose his grip on the sword that had managed to pierce Lariss, a feat few could match. The sword flew off, bouncing and landing a few feet from where he had landed.
He quickly ran up, picked up the sword, and stuck it in the ground.He then stood there, waiting for him to get up
"Do you yield?"He asked, still in a defensive stance, shield forward, sword low, the blunted tip directly in line for the man's stomach.
Aleister felt the full force of that vocal shout, it sent him flying back, and had him fall on the sands of the nearby beach, which seemed to cushion the impact somewhat. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the Edge of Soul had been planted next to him, whilst the other one was a few feet away, and out of his reach.
He could sense that the shadow fissure he created earlier, had reached its potential, and his hand glowed briefly to signify this, not that his opponent knew that.
Damien stood in a defensive stance, he had raised his shield forward, which seemed to have a slight hole in it; and kept his sword low, the blunted tip fell directly in line with Aleister's stomach.
"Do you yield?" Damien asked, expecting an answer sooner rather than later. Aleister briefly chuckled.
"It seems that you and I have a trick or two up our sleeves. Well, I have one more." He remarked, as the shadow glow became more vibrant. The aura from the Edge of Soul disappeared, and transferred itself to his arm.
"Aura Blast!" Aleister shouted, and found a empty space of Damien's armour that wasn't being defended. He placed his hand on this space, and sent out a small blast, not enough to do any actual damage, but it knocked Damien down.
Aleister grabbed one of his blades, and casually walked over to his downed opponent, kicking the sword just out of his reach. He then placed the blade to Damien's neck.
"Care to yield?" He asked, and extended a hand to help his opponent back up in kindness.
"Sorry I had to do that to you though."
"RAAS!" This time Aleister was prepared for it, but it pushed him just enough to allow Damien to roll away,and regain both his footing and his sword, much faster than he should've, considering how heavy the armor looked.
"I am not yet down, Aleister. And you may believe you have the advantage, but the Grand Masters are never done until they are dead.However, as this is simply a sparring match, I ask you again, do you yield?"
He again made sure that the sheath firmly held the blade inside, he didn't want to kill the boy unless he was forced to. He dropped into another defensive stance, this one almost impossible to get through, unless he had been trained by the Grand Masters of course.
This boy is dangerous, he knows just enough to be deadly, but not enough to truly be an artist on the field.
"Fair enough, you've made your point. Pity though, it would of been nice to win against a Grand Master of the Dakesh Warrior Monks." Aleister remarked, sitting down on the warm beach sands, and brushed back the sweat from his forehead.
"Still for how long it had been, it was fun. I take it you found satisfaction in my performance, although, I get the feeling you would say otherwise." He remarked, sounding somewhat pessimistic of himself as he clasped the sword in his hands.
"Anyway, it seems some of our audience found it eventful. Guess it takes alot to beat one of you down." Aleister muttered, conjuring the strength for a brief laugh.
"Anyway, it seems some of our audience found it eventful. Guess it takes a lot to beat one of you down." Atticus heard Aleister mutter before breaking out in a brief fit of laughter. As he walked over, Atticus wasn't sure what to say to to him. They hadn't really talked much on the boat, but Atticus figured his better-late-than-never policy would shine on through.
"Hey Aleister, great fight! I especially liked some of those spells you were using, mainly the ice and electrical spells. Anyway, I just want to if you happen to know anything else along the lines of-oh, elemental spells, weathter manipulation, things like that." Atticus asked, completely interested.
Strange, this Aleister is. He quits while he has the obvious advantage. strange
He was taken aback by the crowd that had gathered, he was unused to such spectacles.
Damien attached the sheath and sword back to his belt,the shield to his back and retrieved his helmet before setting it back on top of his head. He again sat down on the rock by the sea, satisfied with Aleister's skills as a warrior, though,
quick, follows his own code, but sees nothing wrong with what he calls tricks.
It was a little disappointing then again their weapons weren't going to live up to what she was used to at home.
Thinking about it she needed practice she had spent the entire travel period pretty much asleep.
She walked forward. Slamming her tail into the ground once or twice.
Let's see just how good her companions were.
She blew from her horns a few times, the actually resembled a geyser for a second or two there.
The gauntlet was thrown down.
Anyone going to be taking a sip?
Before Aleister could answer, Prail did something strange. She slammed her tail on a ground a couple of times with a thump! She then blew her horns, blowing them in a way he hadn't quite seen before. Looked a bit like a geyser. She stood there with a determined look on her face.
"Wait...Prail, you want to practice too?" Atticus asked.
Atticus wasn't sure what to think of this. He still needed to ask Aleister about his own techniques and magic spells. Plus, this whole crowd still had their eyes trained where the first sparring match had occurred, still anxious to see what the passengers they'd carried could do. They still had to get a move on, get to the next level. But Atticus soon calmed down, they had plenty of time to explore, and realized that he hadn't fought in awhile, . Besides, he could use an equipment check.
" Excuse men if you would, Aleister." Atticus did a quick check of his gear. Gadgets, canisters, traps, rod, pellets, all there.
"Alright Prail..." Atticus said quickly unsheathing his slinghsot and loading it with 3 green pellets, almost instantaneously.
"Show me watcha got."
"Fair enough, you've made your point. Pity though, it would of been nice to win against a Grand Master of the Dakesh Warrior Monks." Aleister said, before sitting on the beach, sweat dripping from his brow. At the words, nearly a quarter of the audience sighed in disappointment, their bet's misplaced. These sighs were vastly overpowered by the cheering of the remainder; some from the incredible show of skill, some at their sudden windfall. You can imagine which group was cheering louder.
Faunra remained stoic. She was happy of course at the sudden gain in profit from the "5% house take" and the show was great. She had even found herself silently cheering for Aleister, if only so that Damien, who seemed to make a hobby out of criticizing her "endeavors", would lose. Worse, it was not the defeat that depressed her gains, but an inescapable feeling of dread.
Dread regarding a certain mysterious figure
While the spar had shown the remarkable prowess of the fighters below, it had also broadcasted their strengths and weaknesses. Aleister was strong, fast, and determined but the relatively short fight had drained him, forced him to burn through his reserves with unnerving speed. In a drawn out fight, he would be out of the action quickly. Damien for his part was experienced, powerful, and could show a mountain a thing or two about endurance. In an all out bruise-fest he was all but invincible, but his armor slowed him down and a smart fighter would take advantage of this; keeping his distance, slowly burning through Damien's strength while attacking from range. "If the figure following them was watching them..."/, she shuddered at the thought
As the first of the passengers approached to claim their winnings, Faunra was forced to break from her thoughts, but as the repetitive motion of checking names and handing out winnings began to set in, her worries returned. "Maybe I'm just being paranoid. Damien was a powerful opponent, so perhaps Aleiester burned through his reserves more quickly than normal; and Damien must have a word of power that will cover his weakness - he is experienced enough."
As she handed out the last of the winnings, she caught a flutter of black in the corner of her eye. Reacting on instinct, Faunra brought her hands to her daggers, unofficially reclaimed from the cargo hold a few days prior, only to realize it was the shadow of the newly unfurled sails. Relaxing, she resolved herself.
"fear keeps you alive and it's not paranoia if your right."
He bookie task complete, she stared out over the sea at the nearest crystal column and muttered aloud "I guess I better brush up on my knife work." to no one in particular.
Aleister watched as Prail and Atticus prepared for their own bout, he thought about betting, but decided against it. He could hear the sighs of those who lost out on the match, obviously rooting for him. Still, he felt accomplished that the sparring match had brought some fun and excitement to both the crew of the ship, and to the climbers that he travelled with.
He then noticed Faunra staring out to the sea, and stood next to a crystal column, and overheard her planning to practice some knife work. Aleister never had much time to talk with her, so he decided to get better acquainted with her.
Aleister got up off the sands, and returned his various swords to their correct positions, and began to walk towards her; hearing congratulations from the crew for putting on a good performance.
"I take it you enjoyed the show then Miss Faunra? It seems you've done rather well in terms of the betting pool." Aleister asked as he calmly walked towards her, both his hands in his pockets.
"Hmph, with all this fighting you'd think someone cast a spell on us to kill each other..." Caedis said as she watched yet another spar unfurl between Atticus and Prail. It was a very interesting fight between Aleister and Damien. For Caedis it was akin to watching the gladiatorial fights back in Helliot save for the cheering crowds. As she was about to say something else, Caedis saw Faunra's sudden reaction to... something. Caedis looked around wary for any possible enemies but there was none.
"You alright there, elf?" Caedis asked as she approached her. She noticed her dagger's drawn and her worried eyes. Perhaps she had seen a ghost. As soon as she did so, Aliester took notice as well.
"Good job out there. You should have been a gladiator with your fancy moves." Caedis said.
Big balls or a small brain? Oh well she could figure out which it was later.
She knew exactly how to break her opponent.
She fixed his gaze, her abnormal eyes really helped boost her races natural talents. She was monitoring brain activity and could identify every hormone coursing through him by smell alone. Hopefully the psychic bombardment would go unnoticed, as with her increased pheromone production.
Go on look away monkey, I dare you.
With any luck he wouldn't notice her tail making its way to his legs, a few more second was all she needed to hook one of her spines round his ankle and then a short sharp tug could topple him.
With any luck she wouldn't even need to use her flyers.
She produced a candle from her pocket. It was his if he could earn it.
Damien and Aleister completely ignored the golem, continuing with their clash.
The red haired one flew to the ground, his weapon clanking on the the ground.
Why are the masters fighting? His old masters didn't approve of fighting. They were quite mad when he slammed one of them to the ground, even though he asked of him to do it. That's why he was sent away. Do they plan to send me away as well?
He didn't want to travel alone again. It was hard finding new masters. He didn't want to go through that again.
If they ignore me, then I shall do the same to them, a childish thougt came to him.
The two stopped fighting, and Atticus drew near to Aleister. Just Atticus is obviously best suited to be my master. And with that on his mind, he tramped towards him. As he did so, a geyser like sound errupted nearby, but as always, he was deaf to his surroundings when he had something to do.
"Alright Prail... Show me watcha got."
He wanted to reach some underwater caves. I should ask him about that.
"Just Atticus, should we not start our search for those underwater caves?"
Atticus knew not to understatement Prail. She was light years ahead of the rest of them in terms of intelligence. Her technology far superior, he brain more developed, her body more powerful. Luckily, Atticus wasn't too ignorant to what Prail was, but she could still overtake him any second.
"Just Atticus, should we not start our search for those underwater caves?"
"Give me a moment here, Stonefuse. We'll start right after this."
He'd have to play his cards, he'd have to turn this into his game. While he'd been taking aim, Atticus had discretely dropped two tornado traps behind him.
The first one went off as it came in contact with something.
"Nice try, Prail!" He ran forward, propelled by his trap slightly while quickly getting away from what was most likely her tail.
"Eat this! [i]Medius Zyphrerium[i]"
He fired off the green itching powder pellets at top speed, propelled by a wind spell.
As Faunra stared out into the sea, the voice of Caedis drew her back into reality.
"You alright there, elf?" Caedis asked, a look of concern on her face. before she had a moment to respond with even a nod, another voice drew her another direction.
"I take it you enjoyed the show then Miss Faunra? It seems you've done rather well in terms of the betting pool, sorry for not making those profits bigger though." Aleister said, a slight grin on his face.
Again she tried to answer before Caedis spoke up. "Good job out there. You should have been a gladiator with your fancy moves."
Faunra waited a moment to confirm it was her turn, than started tried again. turning to Aleister first, she said "Didn't matter; the odds were 1:1. I got my 5% regardless. For what it matters though, I was hoping you would win, and wipe that smirk off the Damien's righteous face." she said the last part loud enough so that Damien would hear, were he not focused on the upcoming fight, a smile on her face and the tone of her voice to show it was a joke... mostly a joke anyway.
turning to Caedis, she answered her inquiry. "And to answer your question, I will be. just... getting over my seasickness." She knew the lie was bold face and that she didn't hide it nearly well enough, she quickly changed the conversation. "Anyway, weren't you going to fight the winner? I have some serious folks waiting to earn their money back." she finished, a smile again to cover her joke... and hopefully the lie.
Zavier picked up his journal and quickly jotted some notes on the fight. Very intriguing. Damien would be difficult to stop in a head-on battle. Best to remove quickly, and quietly if possible. Aleister was also deadly, strong on the defensive and he possessed some cunning, however small. Solution: force an opening and overwhelm. With the notes finished Zavier shut his book and walked around the crowd to where Caedis, Faunra and Aleister were speaking.
In the middle of the crowd Prail and Atticus took up positions, preparing to duel. This match would also be worth watching, but keeping an eye on his allies was more important at the moment.
"That was quite a fight." Zavier said to Aleister when he got closer. "Though you should have ended it earlier. You squandered your advantage when you gave him the option to yield." Faunra was looking off into the distance, at what, he couldn't guess. "I suppose you made a small profit on that match, Faunra?" It was best to seem as if he hadn't noticed anything. Such deception gave him the advantage. Never reveal everything you know to an opponent.
"- For what it matters though, I was hoping you would win, and wipe that smirk off the Damien's righteous face." Faunra remarked, probably being one of the people that was betting on him.
Aleister waited for the conversation to slow down a minute before he could respond.
"Yeah, I thought that as well Faunra. You could say that Damien's high physical strength, meant I had to burn through my energy alot quicker than usual. Plus, I hadn't trained since before we got on the boat, so my technique was a little out of practice. If I had time to practice though, the fight would of played out differently, and in my favour."
"That was quite a fight." Aleister heard Zavier mention as he got moved closer to the group.
"Though you should have ended it earlier. You squandered your advantage when you gave him the option to yield." Zavier added, disapproving of the fights outcome.
"Hello Zavier." Aleister said nonchalantly.
She should have expected a trap, then again it was a rare person indeed not taken in by her scaly charms. Of course he ruined it a bit by running towards her and staying in range of her tail. She wasn't able to stop his shots getting off thanks for the trap but she wasn't delayed long.
The impact on her scales hurt as she was still sensitive from shedding the powder however was less successful. Missing her eyes and horns meant only her skin was really affected; now the powder was obviously designed to dry out and get deep into the skin. Now of course having scales her skin was both much harder to get under and dry already. The impact still hurt though.
Now the question became how to get him from behind with her newly freed tail without running him through. Then again he'd be expecting that what he probably wasn't expecting.
CHARGE she ran towards him bending down to try and get her horns to knock into him; they were blunt so he wasn't getting stabbed. The horns weren't really supposed to be used offensively they were too valuable as air ways and ears to be used in that way. But just for play that shouldn't be a massive problem.
"Right..." Caedis remarked. Faunra was acting strange but she couldn't put a finger on it. Before even Aleister began to speak, Caedis noticed something about the group and it was the fact that Ramirez was nowhere to be seen from Caedis' point of view. "Aleister, did you see where Ramirez went? I fear he might have wandered into the cave or worse."
Caedis walked forward past the group before Aleister could respond assuming he catch the levity of the situation. She walked the path closer to the cave and sighted the watery depth ahead of them. At that point it didn't matter to Caedis if Ramirez was there or not it was just the sight. This was indeed one of the harder sights to take in because it looked wonderful and all but it was the fact that they had to actually go through the ocean that was the hardest to swallow for Caedis.
It wasn't the search for Ramirez that drove her to the cave but it was a subconscious yearning, a need to that drove Caedis into the cave. Whether she liked it or not, standing around a shoreline and taking turns hitting each other wasn't the sort of adventuring she had hoped for. Whatever lay ahead she wanted to accomplish with the utmost haste and in truth the "sparring" had left a bitter taste in her mouth.
Caedis looked around and saw the entrance to the submerged cave with water already greeting whoever needed to pass through. She walked carefully to the land surrounding the thrashing water of the cave. Out of curiosity she stick the bottom part of her spear into the water to test its depth. Hopefully it was a gradual decline for those would be easier to traverse through.
Atticus felt Prail's horns dig in slightly and yelped. He was better at sniping, and knew he probably shouldn't have charged, but this was just a fun little tussle, so why not? Besides, it got him close enough to do this. He grabbed a blue capsule from his belt, twisted the top, and threw it towards her as he pushed himself off her horns. Or at least tried. She'd gotten though a piece of cloth and Atticus was trying desperately to pull away.
"Oh crap, oh crap, I hate the cold!" Atticus exclaimed as he braced himself for what was about to happen.
Ice droplets fell from the air between them and a large white puff of smoke engulfed the two. When it cleared, both Atticus and Prail were stuck together, body parts slightly frozen. They both tried to break free, Prail making some notable progress, but in the end found that breaking out of a layer ice wasn't as easy as it seemed.
"Um...you know what, we should really get going. Get on to the next level and whatnot. hehe...Stonefuse, if you would ever be so kinda as to come help us both out of this."
Well, that's the last time Atticus would get into a fight without actually needing to fight someone. As Stonefuse chipped away at them, Atticus looked around at his companions and a few of the remaining crew members who still cared about what was happening, but noticed something was off.
"Has anyone seen Nathan or Caedis?"
"How are you, Aleister?" Zavier asked, "I'm surprised that you're still up after that fight." He turned away from Faunra. Caedis, he noticed, mentioned something about Ramirez and began walking along the beach. By the time he thought to keep an eye on her she had already left his sight. That didn't matter quite so much, Faunra and Aleister were the ones he needed to keep an eye on at the moment.
Sometimes having mysterious biology was a great advantage. Lallowens were much more suited to dealing with the cold then anything warm blooded. Her tail made a fairly effective ice pick and she was more than able to get herself.
Looking at her opponent and Stoneform still struggling she decided to help.
She showed her tail in all its horny glory and slowly began to chip away. Hoping it wouldn't upset him too much. The fight hadn't really go as planned but it was nice. She handed him the candle anyway.
If he wasted it she might no be so careful next time she used her tail.
"I'm surprised that you're still up after that fight."
"Yeah, it was rather intense duel Zavier. I suppose I am a little sore in places, but I should be able to manage a while longer before I need to rest." Aleister remarked, reflecting on his stamina. He then noticed that Zavier was focusing his attention on Aleister himself, and Faunra.
"Was there something specific about us you wanted to talk about? Or, are you merely taking notes." He then asked, seemingly out of nowhere; noticing the journal that Zavier carried.
It wasn't the search for Ramirez that drove her to the cave but it was a subconscious yearning, a need to that drove Caedis into the cave.
She went off, looking over the shore. Then- there was something else. A voice compelling her... filling her with thoughts that echoed in her mind. Savio was feeling the wind shift around her as the climbers drew deeper into this world, a part of the Tower where in the depths of time countless energies had been shaped and formed.
It was as if her father were standing there: a presence that spoke and moved but was not quite heard or seen, a thing vaguely sensed but still not material. But it was the feeling of an earlier era, when Caedis was a girl, and then a young woman, and her family were lavish merchants, nobility. She saw a ghost in the waves. A Helliot nobleman, killed by Darius's forces, yet sent as a spirit to speak to her.
Caedis Saavio, bearer of our family
You're on the very brink of fate.
Staring into eyes of darkness and despair
that rise and shrink with hate.
Beware. Beware what gazes on you.
Beware what you find in that cave.
For you are strong.
But if your drive consumes you
For eternity will you be it's slave.
The voice faded away, until nothing was left but the sound of wind and the ocean crashing on shore.
Nathan Ramirez called out with a laugh. "We don't need the Tower to vanquish us. We're perfectly capable of doing it ourselves!"
His provisions were in a bag, wrapped and watersealed. The rest was tied down, to prevent dragging. He arched his back and slipped down into the surf. He descended quickly, past shelves and hollows. Past reefs and schools of fish in the living sea. Down to where an enormous opening grew, flanked by crystal spires. Like an undersea vault.
He came back up to the surface.
"Was there something specific about us you wanted to talk about? Or, are you merely taking notes."
Zavier shrugged, "I've been taking some notes on our journey thus far. Now was as good a time to do it as any." Revealing that he was recording the fighting styles of his allies was, he decided, far from the best idea. Aleister focused on him. He's watching me, Zavier realized. He squinted and looked along the shoreline. "Did anyone see where Caedis went?" He asked, drawing Aleister's attention onto something else.
"I've been taking some notes on our journey thus far. Now was as good a time to do it as any." Zavier said. The comment seemed innocent enough, reasonable even, but his actions gave him away. Faunra could see it.
It was in the way he moved, the way he said it, the way his eyes darted up and to the left, and the subtle inlet of breath. Most obviously, it was in the way he changed the conversation. "Did anyone see where Caedis went?"
"He's good." Faunra thought. He had lied, or rather half lied, and he was good at it. He knew how to hide his intentions, how to speak in half truths to maintain the deception, the tricks to keep composure no mater how serious or strange the tale he was spinning.
And though it pained her to admit it, he was better at it than she was.
Faunra briefly considered calling him on it but thought better of it. "If he wants to hide something, that's his business; but I'd better watch him more closely from now on."
"She went to the shore I think" she answered before continuing. "Probably to look for Ramirez. Speaking of Nathan, where did he get to?". As if a clarion call had been sent, Nathan chose the moment to rise up from the sea, drenched, with a slight look of wonder on his face. "Nevermind, there HE is."
Curious, Faunra decided to call out to him. "Find anything interesting?"
When Nathan emerged, his comrades were already there. Waves passed over him, and he climbed onto a rock, breathing deeply, letting the air fill his lungs once more.
When the Faunra asked him what he'd seen, he smiled. "You said you hated ships. Well, this is the alternative."
He slicked the wet hair from his face. "I think we're ready to do this. There's an entrance down there. It's enormous. Too big to be natural. The spires were there."
He took another breath. " I couldn't see where it went. Stonefuse and Veritas should go first."