Dan Armstrong and Evan Griggors were out on field duty with Colonel Hammerson. Dan and Evan had recently been promoted to the recon team and, as was the rule of this military branch, were leading the way for their first mission. Behind them was one of the most respected men throughout the whole Earth nation, Niles Hammerson. He was a veteran of such missions and held the rearguard partially to ensure nothing came from behind but more importantly to observe the techniques of the new members.
There had been reports of deep spiders attacking herds of cattle as they moved from the city to the surface. It wasn’t an easy task to handle. The deep spiders were clever monstrosities of nature. They could easily blend into the shadows and were able to dig through the dirt without much trace of disturbing it despite their huge size. If they were to stand up, and they do have such an ability to rear up on their back 4 legs and sprint, they reach 5 feet. To top it off their fangs were coated in a venom that would cause paralysis within a few minutes of any type of bite. To put it simply, they were dangerous creatures, and though this group was of an elite nature, there was still quite a bit of risk involved.
“Why did it have to be spiders,” Dan whined. “Damn nightshade serpents, the crag tigers, anything would have been fine.”
“You know they like to eat their prey alive,” Evan quipped as he bent down, digging his fingers into the dirt. “We’re closing in.”
Dan took a deep breath. “Well, best to get it over with quick,” he said, unsheathing the twin swords that rested on his hips.
“It’s so good to be on the same page,” Evan responded, placing his favorite hornet bone knuckles over his hands.
“Not that I’m not proud of you two for picking up the trail so easily,” Hammerson cut in. “But use your brains. These tunnels are close to the surface and the water outlets. Isn’t that a bit far for them deep biters to be crawling around?”
“There have been recent tremors,” Evan stated as he bent down once more to the ground, pressing his entire hand into a soft section of dirt. “We’re right on top of them now.”
Dan’s eyes scanned the tunnel up and down as he put forth his own answer to Colonel Hammerson’s question. “It could be because of the Rite.” Magic’s a bit more powerful for this whole month.”
“But this is the first major issue we have had with the deep spiders in 5 years,” Hammerson stated. “If it was just the Rite we would have issues each year.”
“My call was burning just hours ago,” Evan confessed. “I don’t remember it ever being that painful. Maybe this Rite has been causing some extra stress on them little buggers.”
Dan snorted at that. “Yeah, little.”
“The baby ones aren’t that bad.”
“They’re the ones with the strongest poison. It’ll stop your heart.”
“Then don’t get bit.”
“Both of you. Shh,” Hammerson said, holding his hand up to reinforce the command.
They both went silent and listened. Something was coming down the tunnel to the northeast. It was moving fast and almost upon them. Its run was irregular though. They could tell from the pattern of footfalls that whatever was coming was injured. Still, they prepared themselves.
From the depths of one tunnel entered Krem. He was bloody and his left hand was tucked beneath the skin of his left shoulder in an attempt to stem the loss of blood. Hammerson was there to assist Krem immediately as the other two fanned into a defensive arc around them.
“What happened?” Hammerson asked.
Krem, who had practically collapsed into the colonel’s arms, looked at the colonel. He was terrified and he was trying to catch his breath when suddenly his eyes spread wide in further terror.
A massive deep spider was falling upon them. Colonel Hammerson had seen the spider’s form in Krem’s eyes and in one smooth motion loosed his hammer from his back and smashed the spider across its face. The beast flew across the tunnel’s junction into the far wall where it crumpled into a heap.
“Evan! Dan! On me! We’re clearing out of here!” he shouted as dozens of spiders began flooding the entire area. They came from the ceiling and from the ground.
“Oh, Balat,” Evan said, his face twisted in a wicked grin. “If this doesn’t cure your fear of them, then nothing will,” he said, directing his comment towards Dan who was cutting down the creatures as he made his way to Colonel Hammerson.
“Evan!” Dan shouted realizing Evan was being cut off by a river of the spiders from the rest of the group.
Evan looked towards him still smiling. “Start moving. I’m going to clear out this area,” he said as his fist punched a hole through a particularly large one.
Hammerson looked from Krem to Evan before cursing the fates under his breath. “Dan,” he said, “we need to get out of here.”
We can’t use our magic here without threatening the safety of the others.” Hammerson shook his head in a mix of anger, frustration, and sadness. “We need to move.”
Dan simply nodded as his blades worked in overtime, slipping over one another as they tore into the beasts. “That’s 20,” he called, challenging Evan to a game they had played often.
“I’m already at 25, buddy,” Evan called back, his whole body working into its rhythm. He was a prodigy in the martial arts and this alone was keeping him alive as his hands and feet spun about creating the image of a wall about him.
Hammerson had slung Krem across his shoulders and was swatting the spiders in wide arcs that tried to stream in behind Dan’s path. Just as they were exiting the junction and heading down one of the main roads, they looked back towards Evan. He caught their looks and smiled once more.
They turned about and ran as Evan concentrated his magic into his fists. With a scream he launched his right hand into the ground and then the cave point burst with light. Stalagmites sprouted from the ground spearing the spiders as the ceiling caved in.
Hammerson took the lead at this point as Dan darted from side to side dicing any spider that got too far ahead of itself. But the pack of spiders that was on their tail was massive. Evan had been able to take a lot of them down, but at least a third of the swarm was still left, trailing the trio.
Dan watched the bulldozing strength of Hammerson barrel through the groups of spiders that had tried to cut off their street, and knew that the colonel could make it if he just had enough space between himself and the pack chasing them. Dan started building his magic up.
Hammerson, sensing the magic, yelled for Dan to keep moving over his shoulder. When Dan didn’t respond, Hammerson quickly turned about to see Dan tearing the tunnel apart with his swords ripping chunks off the wall and from the ground to be flung at the beasts. Then when the tide of beasts had fallen back, Dan rushed forward his swords digging into the ground. He literally cut the stone in such rapid movement that before Hammerson knew what happened, the tunnel was caving in.
“Dammit all to hell,” he cursed.
These were two of the brightest recruits they had received in years, and now they were dead. The recon group had such a reputation for being the most dangerous of the military groups. They spent years living outside of the actual town within the wild. Many feared if they did not praise the prowess of the men and women that comprised the recon squads. They had to be the top of their class to enter into the group and then from there their powers only became stronger. They studied intensively the fighting patterns of the beasts in the Deep, and generally fashioned weapons that would suit the animal that their fighting style suited. In outpost towns, they were generally celebrated, because these people lived in constant fear of an attack. Even in such welcoming towns, the recon groups were still quite the reclusive bunch. They mainly kept to themselves, preferring the company of those that had suffered through the same ordeals. This had been Evan and Dan’s first real mission after the training period. They had been chosen by Hammerson and the other top brass of the recon division to take on this mission, because everyone knew they would be two of the future leaders. Those two needed to take on as much as possible in order to help with the fights that were bound to come. But now this.
Incidents happened all the time. The chance of death was always high and every single one of them that had set out two weeks ago on this mission knew that. Even Hammerson accepted that he might not make it back, especially since the mission concerned the deep spiders. Still, he had been the one to go with them to prevent this type of outcome at all costs. The fact that he was the one running, surviving, bit hard into him. Instead of dwelling on the issue he focused on making it back to the nearest village and stopping the spiders. Every 50 feet he nailed his hammer into the ground and walls until tunnel began to collapse. He did this up until the tunnels spilt into 5 different routes, and he took the third from the right to make it back to the town.
“Please…stop,” the man, who Hammerson was holding, said.
“Not until we get you to a doctor.”
“Please, the water…the water”
The fact that the man was struggling so difficultly to tell him something made
Hammerson slow down. Also, the way he said water and his injuries had Hammerson on edge. The possible truth that he had just come to was not a pleasant one.
“The water faction…invading.”
Those were the last words that Hammerson wanted to hear.
“A guardian…with them.”
Correction. Those were the last words that Hammerson wanted to hear. They shocked him, but he knew what needed to be done.
“Hold on a bit tighter,” Hammerson said. “We’re going to be moving a little faster now.”
Two men and a women garbed with military regalia sat about a fire they had not made. Their attire was dyed blue in water tribe tradition, and circled about them, separating them from their underlings, was one gigantic dragon. Its scales a blend of sapphire, teal, and midnight blue that reflected the light from the fire as blue waves rolling against the ceiling.
“This map isn’t leading us anywhere, Skies,” Wilson said.
“General or General Skies, Wilson.” Skies asserted, his dragon snorting in affirmation. “Our informants have warned us numerous times that the outer tribes are enforced to realign the channels that lead to any city.”
“Bloody, rock heads,” Wilson said.
“General,” piped in the third person, Sergeant Maureen Ice, “our last report suggested this way was still open, and was a mile off from the city. We’re getting close.”
“Thanks for the obvious update,” Sergeant Wilson replied.
General Skies gave him a hard stare.
“What I was getting to,” Maureen said, “Is that we’ve also received reports that every city is bunkered down at a certain level, using a pulley system to any of these tunnels, let alone the surface.”
The general nodded for her to continue.
“Now this might not work, but there is a chance that when creating these tunnels they made them at a slight incline.”
“And if so,” General Skies cut in. “We’re going to need a little water.” All three looked around at the head of the gigantic dragon surrounding them, its eyes shining, knowing what to do next.
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