'I'm not afraid,' Din thought to himself. He knew that he was lying to himself. His swallow breaths, the goose bumps on his skin, the shiver down his spine. 'Okay, so I'm a bit scared,' he resigned.
It wasn't only him. He could see that Rob wasn't feeling much better, despite his attempts to hide it. Din could spot it easily, after knowing Rob for so many years. The other two volunteers behind them was also looking a bit bleak.
Somehow, it made him slightly more comfortable knowing that he wasn't the only scared one. He was starting to doubt that this was such a good idea anyway, but it wasn't an option to back out now. The adventurers had seemed so... confident when they asked for volunteers to join them on their trip to the crypt. It had seemed like such a good offer; you took some minor risk and had a good opportunity to get your own essence. Rob and Din had spoken so much what they'd do if they had essences of their own, and now that an offer came up...
... Except the offer hadn't been minor risk. The offer had been to take a good amount of risk. Would it be worth it? Doubts were starting to fill his mind, but they were already far into the crypts. And going back now and risk triggering any traps they'd missed earlier seemed like an even worse deal: You'd still risk death, just without any chance of getting an essence.
Thankfully, they weren't alone in there. The adventurers seemed to know what they were doing. In particular Mist, the agile one. He had already saved Din's life once, by pulling him back when he was about to step on a trapdoor. Without him, they'd probably be long dead already.
Din kept watching Mist, trying to learn how he was working to traps. It wasn't very hard, as he was following only a few steps behind him, with the other three volunteers trailing right behind him. The other half of the party were the rest of the adventurers. They obviously had no need to take more risk than necessary, and that was probably why they'd survived as long as they had.
The tunnel they were walking in stopped abruptly in a door. Mist held up his hand to let the others know that he wanted some space to work. He slowly moved closer, practically crawling, checking every stone along the way. Behind him, Din could hear the other two volunteers whisper amongst themselves. He had heard their names, but failed to catch them. Their whispers were too soft for him to catch any words.
"What's taking you so long?" one of the adventurers in the back row called out. It was the big one, Brick. Din was fairly certain that he was a red essence user, just judging from his massive frame and his nickname. Mist seemed to be ignoring this as he pushed and prodded the door. "I'm sure you could do it much better," one of the other adventurers replied. Din was pretty it came from the one called Will.
"Yeah, just watch," Brick replied. He waded past the four volunteers up to the door. Mist took the hint and moved away from the door. Far away, too. The four volunteers got the point as well, backed around the corner. Still, they were far too fascinated not to watch Brick working his magic.
The big adventurer tried the handle of the door once, with no success. "Here's how you open a locked door," he exclaimed. The red essence flames began to dance around his body. Din knew they weren't real flames, just a sort of display that came with essence usage. He had seen it several times before, though not as powerful as these. Perhaps the lack of light except their torches made it more visible as well.
Brick readied himself, pulling his arm behind. His fist was already read with his essence. With a fierce roar, he launched a punch at the door... through the door. Despite being made of stone, the door shattered in several pieces, sending small bits of stone flying in several directions.
The four volunteers stood practically frozen for several more moments, completely fascinated by Brick's strength. The big adventurer just pushed the remaining pieces of stone out of the doorframe and walked through it. "Much more effective, right?" he asked to the others, without expecting any answer.
He walked a few steps into the next room before stopping. "Your turn again, Mist," he called, obviously a bit impatient. Mist moved swiftly up to Brick, and stood next to him, just taking in the room. "Come on, now, you guys too," the last adventurer called behind the volunteers. Din hadn't gotten his name yet. They did as they were told, and walked into the room, stopping right behind the two in front.
The room they had entered was a bit different from the rest of the crypt they'd seen so far. For a start, the air wasn't stale here. The sound of running water was a welcome change from the silence they'd encountered so far.
The room was rectangular, with the entrance point on a short wall. On their left hand was an altar of sorts, with a big, circular plate of some kind of metal full of inscriptions on the wall behind it. On each side of the alter a big pillar loomed, all the way up to the ceiling. It looked like it had been very well intricately carved, too. Most of the wall on the right hand was simply missing, leaving an open view to the underground river beneath them. Perhaps because of the water, this was the first room in which they'd seen vegetation. Vines crept up the wall above the opening to the underground river.
They could see the exit on the other side of the room, but for some reason there were a lot of half-decayed skeletons littered on the floor all the way up to it. 'Correction, probably for some bad reason,' Din thought to himself. "Well, this looks like a trap if I've ever seen one," Mist said out loudly.
"If you say so. In that case, time for you to make yourself useful," Will spoke behind them. Din felt his blood freeze into ice. The thought of walking into a trap was not a merry one. "No need for that, I can..." Mist tried to interrupt, but Will waved him off. "It'd take you far too long to move through the entire room. And, after all, they are getting a share of the loot, why shouldn't they work for it too?"
"Yes, move it," Brick chimed in and pushed them forward. A quick glance at Rob revealed that he was feeling as extatic about this as Din was. One of the other volunteers looked at Brick, obviously frightened. Brick, in return, just cracked his knuckles, replying in a silent way that this wasn't open for negotiation. "Stand apart with about an arm's width between each of you and walk towards the other door," Will commanded them, "and be careful where you step," he added, with a chuckle from Brick.
Din looked down at the floor. He had noticed that Mist always seemed to be walking with the weight on his back leg, and always stopping if there were anything unusual about the stones on the floor. He walked slowly forward, trying each stone before putting weight on it. "Will you look at that," Brick said, "seems like you've gotten yourself an apprentice, Mist." Din ignored him, and kept moving forward. Despite moving slow, he seemed to be deciding the pace for all of them, as noone dared move past the others. He carefully stepped over any skeletons on his way. Some of them seemed to have some equipment still lying around, but most of it had decayed over time.
"There's something strange about this room," Mist said, "Why would they leave a wall open to the river?" "Bah, they probably threw their dead into it or something," Brick replied, attempting to end the conversation as soon as possible. "And then there's the skeletons. I'm fairly certain that the door was sealed," Mist went on, overlooking Brick's reply.
Din couldn't help but follow that thought further. What could've killed these guys? They'd obviously been here for quite some time. He tried to shake the thought away for now, focusing on the floor. It was looking good so far. Wait, one of the rocks there looked strange. It was further elevated then at the rest. Just as he was about to shout out a warning, Rob stepped on it. They heard a loud click, and the sounds of some mechanism being triggered under the floor. They all stopped dead in their tracks, listening.
Suddenly, the room was filled with the sounds of bones grinding against each other. The skeletons, despite being obviously dead and even half-decayed, were rising to their feet, and they weren't looking friendly.
"Heads up," Will called out. With a bang, the first of them were crushed into dust by Brick's mighty strike. "Good, I was starting to get bored," he replied, already in the middle of attacking the next one as well. The other three adventurers quickly faced the skeletons, sending them flying left and right.
Unfortunately, it wasn't fast enough to help the four volunteers who were now surrounded. The skeletons moved slow, but there were too many of them to keep in view, and they weren't waiting for their turns. Din felt the adrenaline rush into his veins. All he had to do was survive long enough for the adventurers to take care of them. His sling wasn't of much use here. One of the skeletons lounged at him. He dodged low, and then kicked the skeleton's leg, causing it to fall. Fortunately, they seemed to lack in balance. He saw another strike at him, and brought his arm up to cover his head. However, the skeleton never connected as Rob body tackled him. Unfortunately, he wasn't fast enough on his legs, and felt another skeleton drive his arm, lacking a hand, into his leg.
All between the dodging, Din couldn't shake the thought that there was something else going on. Why was there still ticking under the floor? He turned as he heard a click behind the altar. The big, round plate. He turned to the other wall. The river.
Two thoughts connected, just as he dodged another swipe. "Rob! The veins!" he shouted. He ran towards the open wall, and leapt at the veins over it. Rob had still not gotten to his feet when the big plate suddenly opened wide, revealing tons of water from beneath it. The water poured into the room with massive force, catching everything and pushing it into the river. Din saw Rob being washed away by the river and reached for his friend. He felt a massive tug at his arm as Rob caught his arm. A sharp pain shot through his arms, and only the adrenaline in his veins kept him from loosing his grip with the other arm. Rob managed to get a grip himself right before Din would have had to let go of them both.
He noticed that Mist was holding on to a vein as well. Will seemed to fly for a moment, and landed on the veins, holding on to them. He glanced over at the other side of the room and saw Brick, holding on to the alter with all his strength, a massive red essence flame engulfing him.
The water quickly subsided, leaving only a tiny stream left. All of the skeletons had been washed away, as had the last of the adventurers and the other two volunteers. "Rob, help," Din called out. Rob nodded. Din let go of his grip, and felt himself being pushed by Rob away from the river under him. He landed on his feet and immediately tripped on the slippery surface, crashing with his shoulder first into the ground. A groan of pain escaped his lips. He heard Rob land right behind him, slightly more elegant than himself, despite his wounded leg. As the adrenaline faded, the arm Din had used to catch Rob started to radiate strong pain.
As he rose to his feet, he heard Mist and Will talking. "Ah, that unlucky moron," Will said. "He wouldn'tve liked you calling him that," Mist replied, "... but it doesn't matter much now. I'm also sorry for the youngsters who died that way." "Ah, forget them," Brick broke in, "the strongest survive, that's the way it works."
"Now, let's get moving," Brick said, turning to Din and Rob. Din's arm hung useless, and Rob was unable to get to walk. "Lead the way," Brick commanded Rin.
"No." Din stated sharply. "No?" Brick echoed, surprised at Din's sudden defiance. "I'm not leaving my friend alone here." Din explained.
Brick glared at Din. Red essence flames started engulfing his body. Din could hear a part of him screaming in fear, but tried to shut it out as long as he could. "Brick," Mist broke in, "no need for this. If he doesn't want to come, he can stay here, and he gets no share of any essences we find."
Brick kept glancing at Din for a few more moments before turning away. The red essence flames faded again. "Yes, you can stay here and rot for all I care." He walked over to the exit and pushed the door through the hinges without bothering to check for traps. Mist sighed. "We'll pick you up on our way out," he told Rob and Din before following the barbarian. Will nodded goodbye and walked after the other two.
As soon as the adventurers left, Din and Rob worked together to bandage Rob's leg. Din could only use one of his arms. Fortunately for him, his right. The wound in Rob's leg didn't bleed too much, but seemed to have done quite a lot of harm anyway. Rob was unable to stand on it, he had no strength at all in it.
Din let Rob examine his arm. "It looks like it is pulled out of the socket," he declared. "I don't know how to put it back in, and it'll probably hurt like hell, too." Din commented that it already hurt, although not like hell yet.
Sitting against the altar, they broke out some food and relaxed. There was nothing much else to do, except wait for the adventurers to come back.
Meanwhile, the three remaining adventurers passed a few more traps and reached the inner chamber. It was quite large and tall, considering it was dug out from the stone. At the center, on the top of a lot of stairs, an altar resided with a figure on top of it. It was a small statue of a female figure. Even from the entrance, they could see the glow of a blue essence. It looked like blue smoke, vaporizing from the statue. It was also very strong, considering it was only from an inanimate object.
They knew that if the essence was strong enough, the first one to touch the statue would absorb it. They hadn't really discussed the possibility that such a strong essence would be down here. Now that they were here, it seemed reasonable that they'd discuss who would get the essence, to the greatest effect of the group.
At least, that seemed reasonable to Will and Mist. To Brick it seemed more reasonable that whoever got it first would get it. With an essence-infused leap, he was already a good way up the stairs.
Will immediately understood what was happening, and pursued the big man. He literally flew up, trying to catch up with Brick. Mist was left with only his legs as an option to get up the stairs quickly, and both of them had quite a lead on him.
Brick reached the top first. He heard Will shout "Wait!" from behind him, but completely ignored. Will was just landing beside him as Brick touched the statue. As the other two watched, a blue-red flickering engulfed him, so fiery and wild that it was almost blinding to watch. He seemed to experience some inner struggle for a few moments, then the aura settled down a bit more.
Will was about to open his mouth to speak when he suddenly felt a sharp pain in his neck. Suddenly, his point of view changed, and it took a few moments to realize that he was watching his own decapitated body sinking together from his head falling down the stairs. He also spotted Mist sprinting out the door they entered by. Brick's strike had been so swift and hard that he hadn't even spotted it. That was also one of his last thoughts.
Din and Rob heard sounds of struggle, and tried to figure out what was happening. Din stood up, looking down the hallway the other had left through. He spotted Mist as he rounded the corner. The alarmed look on Mist's face immediately warned Din that something was very wrong. Just a moment later, another figure appeared, with a streak of blue-red fiery smoke following his speedy movements. In mere moments, it struck Mist into the ground so hard that Din could hear the crack of bones clearly from his position. Only then the figure stopped enough that Din could recognize it. It was Brick, but the look in his eyes was one of a true madman. It was the eyes of a man who will not only kill everything in his way, but also kill just for the sake of killing.
As he loomed over Mist's body, Din quickly understood that he'd suffer the same fate in a moment. Rob too. He had to do something quickly, and there was no way he could outrun the abomination. Even if he could, he wasn't going to leave Rob alone if he could help it.
Thinking quickly, he turned the bag of sling stones in his belt upside down, letting them all fall out. "Hey, weakling," he called out, almost unable to believe that he was actually taunting Brick rather than hiding. As Din had predicted, the barbarian easily bit the bait. "Who are you calling weak? I'll show you,"
The red-blue glowing Brick closed the distance between them in just a second. Fortunately for Din, he was too far lost to look down. Unfortunately for Din, he had no time to dodge. As the big figure of the tripping barbarian practically flew through the air, he also knocked down Din. He felt an intense pain in his chest. 'Probably a broken rib,' he thought to himself, 'or several.' he added after feeling an explosion of pain as he attempted to breathe.
However, he had no time to hesitate. Brick was already getting to his feet again. "Take t--that," Din called as he threw an object at Brick. The barbarian just waved the object away before it hit him. However, even if the flask was crushed and pushed away, the oil in it mostly kept travelling in the same direction, splashing over the barbarian. He looked confused for a moment, then turned to face the puny human again, even more enraged than before.
Din had used the opportunity to dart behind one of the pillars. Brick charged it. He wasn't going to play around at all. In particular, he wasn't going to get around the pillar. With a red essence-infused punch, he struck right through it with his fist.
Just as he did so, a spark escaped from Din's dagger. He had been holding it against the pillar in anticipation of the attack, and the impact of the stone being pushed against the metal had generated sparks. For a moment, it seemed time stood still as the barbarian realized what was going to happen. Then he was engulfed in a flame, this time a real, hot flame, as the oil he was soaked in caught fire.
Din, on the other hand, was flung against the wall behind the pillar. The impact from the stone pillar had sent him flying, and he felt himself crashing against the back wall like a rag doll. He fell together in a heap, unable to move from his wounds. His conscious was fading in the sea of agony.
He was violently jerked back to the living as Brick picked him up. The barbarian was badly burnt, and a few traces of the oil was still burning on his skin. He readied his fist to deliver a punch so hard that it would utterly crush Din into pieces. Just as he sent his fist flying, he found himself unable to move. He felt something strange from his lower body. Looking down, he could not make any sense of it. It looked like his body was quickly turning into ice.
Din was dropped as the ice reached the upper body. The now ice statue of Brick fell forward, lacking any possibility to keep the balance. It crashed into the floor in a thousand small pieces, with the legs hitting Din.
Once again, Din felt himself fading into unconsciousness. This time, however, it was with a smile. At least Rob would survive.
However, as he was dying, Din saw a vision. A blue woman appeared in his sights. She looked naked, but somehow it didn't seem very important to Din at the moment. Despite him lying on the side, she was standing upright in his view.
"Do you want to live?" he heard a female voice in his head ask. With his lung punctured, he was not even able to answer her vocally. Still, he thought 'yes' in response.
Somehow, the woman caught it even so. "Then you shall be my Avatar," he heard her say.
Suddenly, his body was somehow picked up into the air. It was as if it had stopped obeying gravity, as it hung in mid-air. He also noticed a blue glow around him. Then the strangest of sensations hit him, it felt as if he was pulled, tugged and pushed in every direction at once. It wasn't painful, it was ... beyond what his senses could express.
However, he couldn't miss the pain subsiding. In fact, it disappeared completely. In its wake, a growing feeling of exhaustion appeared. It felt as if he had been pushed harder than he had ever done, twice.
After what seemed to him like several minutes, the strange feelings from his body subsided, and he felt himself once more falling to the ground. He felt himself falling into deep sleep from the exhaustion. It felt different than the dying he had just witnessed first-hand. He caught sight of Rob as he fell asleep, and his last thoughts were 'why are you looking so strangely at me?'