Chapter Forty-two: Calamity Strikes
The barrier had fallen allowing the blightwasps in. Sarah struggled valiantly to get it back up but all she succeeded in doing was trapping them inside the barrier with them. Sieg yelled a warning but it was too late. Everything was going wrong and Coenbert could not stop it.
Not for the first time, he cursed his lack of offensive skills. He stood, immune to the wasps’ stings, and watched the people he had come to care for die. His sword sang furiously as if convinced that if he could cut down enough wasps he could save them. It was a ploy doomed to failure from the start. Coenbert was strong and hardy, not fast and even if he was, he was only one man. What difference could he make?
He watched in half-detached horror as the healer took a stinger in the neck and the mage went down screaming in a pile of wasps, her barrier finally collapsing. Sieg, in an attempt to rescue a party member, fell victim to some kind of paralysis hex when a blightwasp jabbed him in the side. Coenbert snatched his cousin up before he could fall to the ground cradling him as he twitched in his arms, wracked with spasms. It was then he felt, rather than saw, a massive build of mana and heat as Sarah made a last-ditch attack amidst her screaming and flailing. That was the only warning he got. A fireball, larger than any he had ever seen her produce, left her fingers incinerating nearby wasps on contact. Pulling his cousin close, Coenbert raised his shield.
The shield glowed becoming a barrier to protect against the explosion he knew was going to come. Sarah had to have gone mad in her fear. Who the hell threw a fireball at close range? Still, not even he could predict what came next. The fireball flew upward, crashing into the ceiling before detonating. That was when all hell truly broke loose. The light emitting gemstones in the ceiling were caught up in the explosion adding fuel to the fire. The deafening boom of the exploding fireball was soon overshadowed by the bright flare of expanding flames. Silver and gold flames competed for dominance as they went about incinerating everything in their path in a secondary explosion that while smaller the first completely overshadowed it with the new flames appearing to consume the first for fuel.
Bracing himself, Coenbert did all he could to prevent it from tossing him off his feet. The sheer force of it was akin to a charging bull and the heat… [Bulwark] was a great defensive skill but it had its limits. Already, he could see and feel his shield blacken and scorch. Swiftly, he layered another skill over his shield.
[Protector of the Fallen]
Coenbert tended not to use many skills. His mana reserves were pitifully small and not even up to the standard of his rank. Usually, his strength, endurance and massive shield were enough. That was not the case here. He poured everything he had into his skill and felt it suck him dry trying to defend him. The whole thing lasted only a few seconds but to Coenbert it might as well have been a year. Thankfully, all things end. The explosion expended itself and the flames bereft of force and fuel began to die.
Struggling to keep his eyes open, Coenbert fought off his weariness and shock to see if anyone else made it. Sadly, his eyes, bleary and unfocused, only saw the scorched corpses of his former companions. A soft glow to his left he first mistook for more silver fire faded and revealed the remaining dwarf, Bifund who was clutching onto a jewelled amulet as if his life depended on it. The smith looked at the guardian with a mix of awe and fear. Coenbert followed his gaze to see that his shield had partially melted, fusing with his arm harness. and It was the last thing he saw before the ground rose to meet him.
Sanzur ran as fast as he could eager to get away. He did not even turn back. He knew what he would see if he did; accusing glares, hate-filled eyes, disbelieving expressions and Bifund, his friend and business partner. Momentary guilt lanced through his heart. He shook his head vigorously, tossing it aside.
‘It was them or me!’ he rationalised.
‘COWARD!’ some deep place of self-loathing spat back.
He refused to listen. It was done. There was no turning back now. They would kill him if they were not dead already. He hated them for dragging him into this. This was their fault as much as his. He told them he did not want to go and yet they forced him anyway. It did not matter if they wanted to die, it mattered that they wanted him to die with them. He was no fighter. He was just simply a jeweller and smith. He was here to identify and collect minerals not stumble through a death cavern.
Sanzur was not sure when the plan came to him. He just remembered being afraid, his eyes darting around whilst he dragged his feet along. Then he saw how absentminded the mage was, all her attention focused on the barrier and their target. Perhaps it was then, that errant frightening thought that warned him that should her focus waver, the blightwasps would set upon them. It seemed to think on it now but that fear strengthened his resolve. He had to get away.
The very thought that frightened him so became his inspiration. It was the only way out but could he get away in time, before his companion set upon him or worse, the demon wasps. Why not? He was small and fast. Fast enough to have even won a few races in his youth. He had not killed any of the wasps so they were unlikely to come after him. Plus, and he hated himself for thinking this way but the others would surely make for a more tempting target than himself. So, he went through with it, striking the fire mage with the side of his pick. Not to kill, merely with enough force to knock her out. He failed but it was enough to bring the barrier down and from then, it was every dwarf for himself.
He was off before they knew what happened, escaping in the confusion. The wasps went straight for his companions, facilitating his escape. A clean getaway and when he made it past the entrance, he was free. One quick stop to catch his breath and Sanzur was off again, retracing their steps through the dungeon. He had to make it to the real entrance or at the very least, the other party.
Calamity struck when he rounded a corner and instead of the used campsite he was expecting he found a cete of badgers waiting for him. Quickly, he backpedalled but they had already spotted him. One took a sniff and snarled, inspiring the others to do same. They attacked.
“StAY AWAY!” Sanzur cried swinging his pick about wildly.
They paused allowing him to take a few more steps back. Suddenly, there was a sharp pain in his ankle. He swung at it but the offender was already gone, a piece of his ankle with it. Bleeding profusely and now unable to run. Sanzur yelled incoherently and attempted to simply rush past them swinging his pick like a madman in an attempt to deter the creatures. A nasty bite to his thigh let me know it was not working.
Unfortunately for him, being scared out of your wits was not a conducive state for coming up with new plans. A massive force impacted his back and sent him sprawling. His pick skittered across the floor. The badger that had pounced on him chose that moment to take a bite out of his neck. Sanzur screamed from the pain but all that was heard was the soft gurgling of blood. As if that was a signal of sorts, the remaining badgers gathered around. Then, the feasting began!
Sieg woke bolt upright like he had been startled out of a nightmare. Unluckily for him, he was waking into a nightmare, not from one.
“Take it easy”, Bifund told him trying to get him to lie back down. “You need to save your strength.”
“What happened?” Sieg asked. His voice slurred due to the lingering effects of his paralysis.
He could not remember much. The last thing he saw was the warrior beside him going down, gushing incredible amounts of blood from a relatively minor wound followed by a sharp pain in his shoulder. Then, he was looking up at Coenbert whilst his lungs struggled to draw in air and his muscles betrayed him.
‘Coenbert!’ he yelled mentally. ‘What happened to Coenbert?’
He turned on his side to see his cousin lying beside him, unconscious. Tears filled his eyes. The guardian was covered in burns. His arm had been bandaged and put in a makeshift sling. From his spot, Sieg could tell it was broken and not just broken burnt as was a good portion of his cousin’s side.
“What happened?” he demanded. How did the strongest person he knew get reduced to this?
“Dumb luck really,” the dwarf said with a sigh. “We should have died. The wasps swarmed us. They would have killed us but for the mage. She went down fighting. I dunno. Maybe she wanted to take them with her…maybe she went crazy. She cast a fireball at the nest and missed hitting the ceiling instead.”
Sieg watched the emotions play on the dwarf’s face as he listened. There was fear, relief and awe. He unconsciously grabbed a religious amulet fixed to his belt and gripped it tight.
“There were moonstone fixtures above the nest and I suppose sunstones too. They detonated in the blaze set off by the fireball covering everything in this gold and silver fire. Your cousin…he…I’ve never seen the like. His shield melted, his armour was practically steaming. We should be dead.”
Feeling better, the ranger forced himself back upright and noticed a black and red longbow slung across the dwarf’s back.
“Where did you get that?” he asked suspiciously.
For the first time since he woke up, which admittedly was not long, Sieg saw the shadow of fear leave the smith’s face as he smiled.