Necromancer and Co., Book 3: The Underearth
Chapter 2: An Old Friend
Lynn pulled on the air around her with her magic, the mana arcing out of her body like invisible, twisting roots. The vines wrapped around the surrounding magic, and with a grunt, she reeled the roots in and formed bubbles of air around her and Alen’s heads, pushing the water away before the necromancer in her arms somehow managed to drown to death. She gasped for breath, and looking back the way they came, she hurried her pace. It was safe to assume that those creatures—whatever they were—were after them, and she absolutely refused to deal with their spears a second time.
Her face twisted into a grimace. The wound on her bicep was bleeding profusely. While she trusted that her attributes—or stats, as Alen had called them—were high enough to prevent her from bleeding to death any time soon, but that didn’t mean that she wouldn’t be weakened. She needed to treat both of them, and soon. Who knew what hid in this abyss?
The water propelling them forward sputtered like a wheezing, dwarven engine and finally stuttered to a stop. She muttered an elven curse under her breath and struggled to use the waterstone in her bracer to channel her magic. She closed her eyes. She was a tree, and her magic herself. Roots, trunk, branches. In the same fashion, her mana reached out and tapped into the elemental stone, causing it to flicker to life once again. A foreign magic traveled up her roots, passed through her body, and by the time it reached the branches, it had blossomed into something she could control.
They sped forward once again.
It was dark, she noted. Even with her vision, the outlines of the rocks and pebbles below were barely visible. The water churned and twisted around her, speeding up her escape. Even the water is different, she frowned. It was thicker—harder to manipulate. Like the air surrounding their heads, everything was filled to the brim with natural, ambient mana. Even more so than the surface. It felt heavy, but Lynn couldn’t deny the strength it lent her magic.
Eventually, up ahead, the darkness began to give way, and little strands of blue light slipped through the clear water to shine down on her from above. The blue crystals, she figured. They were interesting to her. Glowing stones were no rarity, as even normal stones held some kind of mana within, but the stones that lit up the underground world were different. There was no rock, no natural stone that lay within the stone, no. The feeling she got from the stones was that they were made entirely out of magic—pure mana crystalized and compressed into small, glowing crystals. As she swam up from the bottom of the underground river and surfaced into the pocket cave above, she observed them carefully.
With these, maybe I could… she shook her head. It was one thing to theorize on what they were, and another to attempt to cast magic through one. With the way she handled her spells, Lynn knew how volatile mana stones were. It was only with her magic roots being able to sap and assimilate magic from the elemental stones that she was able to use so many elements.
Lynn set Alen down on the stone floor. Seeing that he wasn’t awake, she reached into the back of her neck, and slowly, she tenderly unclasped a necklace before setting it down to rest on her palm. The delicate, silver chain link glittered in the blue light that cascaded from above, and as her eyes traced their length, they eventually settled on the beautiful, snow-white ring that gently rested upon her palm.
She closed her fist, feeling the smooth, wooden texture of the ring on her skin. Her mana reached into it, and suddenly, with a short flicker of white light, two small vials of golden-red liquid flashed into existence on her other hand.
A Ring of Holding. Quite the expensive one, by the looks of it. She silently apologized to Roland in her head.
The elf gazed at them and hesitated, sending a glance toward the unconscious necromancer beside her. He was losing blood quickly; his crimson ichor staining the stones below with a thick layer of red. She felt the hesitation drain from her. If saving a comrade that sacrificed himself for her wasn’t worth a use of these potions, then what was? She was a Frostwood—a declining clan, but one whose roots had clawed deep into the earth of her homeland nonetheless. She was taught of the importance of familial bonds and camaraderie all her life. If her uncle ever found out that she left a friend like him to die over saving a couple potions, he’d probably tie her up and toss her into a Frost Wyrm’s den himself.
Lynn quickly pulled the corks off the vials, before carefully slipping the liquid down her companion’s throat. She’d never heard of anyone dying from choking on a health potion, but the irony would probably be enough to bring Alen back from the grave just to scream at her for a couple of hours. She smiled at the thought.
She never thought she’d find someone so much like Elysia in her adventures throughout the continent.
Well, not anymore, she thought, watching Alen’s wounds glow and disappear like they were never there. She guessed that she wasn’t in the continent anymore, at least not anywhere near the surface. That fall of theirs was absurdly long, and that was considering that they were teleported midway into the fall.
After making extra sure that the necromancer wasn’t choking on his own spit or something, she put the other vial back into the ring. It wasn’t enough to use one of those on such a simple wound on her bicep. She sent her mana into the ring and bandages and healing salves cluttered to the ground in front of her. She quickly patched herself up, before downing another, far less expensive potion. She browsed through the contents of her ring, and after a few seconds of thought, she threw her Waterwood bow inside and pulled a foreign set of items out:
A bow, a quiver, and a set of twilight leather armor laid on the ground before her.
Lynn stared at her items and shuddered. If she had been in the surface world, she’d have never brought these things out. If anyone who knew of these items saw her with them, she’d be hunted down, robbed, and killed faster than a fat boar during an Orcish Winter Festival.
“Uncle…” She muttered. These were his items. His partners before he retired. And now, with his hopes on her shoulders, he’d given them to her.
She quickly found a quiet spot and donned the armor, throwing the bow and quiver over her shoulders. Lynn secured the straps, the boots, and the bracers carefully on her body, making sure that everything was perfect. It would be her first time donning the armor, and she’d be damned if she was letting herself look sloppy in it. She gave her old equipment a final, appreciative look before she tossed them into the ring too. Gazing at herself in the water, a sense of satisfaction welled up in her chest.
She’d wanted to wear these for so long, but she’d also known that she wasn’t strong enough to protect them from those that wanted to take it from her, so she had kept it hidden. Here, though? She had nothing to fear.
Lynn stepped out of the corner, and her eyes looked back up from the ground in time to lock eyes with Alen, who had just woken up. He stared at her in confusion.
“Why the fuck do you have a cape?”
She grinned. “I look good, don’t I?”
“You have a cape,” he repeated.
“It’s to keep the cold off.”
“No,” she admitted. “My uncle said that it just made him look really cool whenever he disappeared into the darkness after being chased.”
“Are you… are you going to take it off any time soon? It bothers me to see an actual cape.”
“What? No. It looks cool.”
Alen sighed and observed their surroundings. “I’m assuming the big, bad men are gone? I screeched heroically when I fought them off, right? ‘Prolly scared them off.”
“You got stabbed four times and fell unconscious.”
“I don’t remember it like that. I have a good memory.”
“You took four days to memorize the name of the merchant we escorted to the Sandsea.”
“What? You mean Amelia?”
“His name was George.”
“Damn,” his shoulders sagged.
“Yep,” she agreed.
Alen paused, blinked, then tilted his head at her. “I mean, I do remember taking four spears to the everywhere to save your ass when we were running,” he said, then motioned to his robes. Holes were torn into the keratin, but there were no wounds to be found whatsoever, “but where are the holes? I don’t know about you, but getting stabbed with a spear usually leaves a pretty obvious mark.”
“Potion,” she said, after a long moment of hesitation.
“I thought we were out? Actually, what’s with your getup? Even your bow and quiver have changed,” he observed, eyeing her new equipment. “I’m assuming these are your uncle’s? The one you talked about? You didn’t steal them, did you?”
“Oh, no,” she shook her head. “I could never steal from my uncle. If I even tried, I’m confident that he’d sneak up and steal from me instead,” she bit her lip, hoping for a change of subject.
“I see,” Alen said. He studied her expression, and after he seemed to see something in her eyes, he nodded and shrugged. “If you’re uncomfortable with telling me about it, fair enough. I won’t ask any more.”
“Yeah,” she nodded, “thanks.”
“I should be thanking you, really. And in that regard, thanks for the potion. With how fast it healed me up, it must’ve been expensive. I’ll pay you back eventually.”
She grinned. “Is that an all you can eat offer?”
“I’m dirt poor right now. I can treat you to some high quality rocks though. Crunchy.”
Lynn clicked her tongue at the sheepish grin he gave her. She looked at him, then motioned to the underground river flowing just beside them. “So, what do we do now? This is just a small cave pocket I found, and there doesn’t seem to be any exit here,” she pursed her lips, then gave him a look. “Any ideas? I think our best bet would be the diving into the river again.”
Alen sighed. “I always hated underwater dungeons,” he said, then paled.
“Oh no,” he muttered. “Oh no, no, no…”
Hurriedly, he tore at his robes, the fabric splitting away in accordance to his magic. Lynn always found it fascinating—being able to create anything he wanted with his mana was extremely useful. She could do the same with her ice affinity, but to a much lesser degree. She watched in puzzlement as he brought out a thick plate of keratin near his waist. It was cracked, and a corner had been completely blown off. Lynn remembered the spear that pierced his side.
She watched him crack open the plate. Unexpectedly, the top cleanly slid off the plate, revealing a black, rectangular object within. It was cushioned with soft, gray cloth that she presumed he also made with his magic. He pulled it out and cradled it in his arms. She noted its cracked, glass-like surface and finally recognized the object.
“Isn’t that… what do you call it again? The foon?”
“Phone,” he said, sighing in relief. “It doesn’t look to be any more damaged than before.”
“It’s really messed up, though. How did you even crack it that much?”
“I’m pretty sure you know the gods have a fetish for throwing me into situations where I fall to my highly probable demise,” he lamely said.
“Ah,” she nodded, watching him put the foo—phone back in the case, before sealing it shut. His mana coursed into the piece of keratin, and she saw it repair itself before hardening, the material being compressed until its strength increased once again. Alen’s robe knitted itself together, and a pocket suddenly opened up on the side of the fabric. He threw the plate in, and the pocket disappeared once again.
He let out a breath and closed his eyes, crossing his arms to his chest. He thought for a moment, before looking back up at her. “The river’s our best choice, yeah. Only choice, really, but oh well. I can take a day without bitching about it.”
“Are you ready then?”
“Nah,” he shook his head. “My mana’s not fully recovered yet, and as you saw, I’m plenty useless without it. I’d say you need a rest too. Go take a nap or some shit. I’ve already spent enough time unconscious in one week to last me a month. Go and rest. I’ll keep watch.”
Lynn nodded and set herself down near the wall. She leaned against it and watched Alen pull up a screen that was invisible to her. By the gestures he was making with his hands, she suspected that he was fiddling with that thing he called the AutoBone again. Lynn watched in interest. Magic was different for everyone, people would often say—a natural force that obeyed those strong enough to manipulate it. Some users in the same thresholds could be stronger, and some weaker depending on the kind of methods they used to manipulate the pure mana resting within their bodies.
When she’d asked Alen about his methods long ago, he’d given her an explanation that barely made sense. He’d given magic a language, one even more complicated than the runes enchanters like Roland carved. While she often thought that it was needlessly complicated, the results it gave him weren’t to be questioned. Even now, his capabilities continued to astound her. She thought about her own magic.
To Lynn, she was a vessel—a tree that stood in the center of a world that swam in mana. Her roots would dig into the earth and become her world’s foundation, while her branches would cover the sky and grasp at the stars, growing one inch at a time. Elves had long lifespans, but as long as it wasn’t snuffed out, Lynn’s magic would last through eternity. Growing. Thriving. Even now, she felt the roots of magic that she’d created. They dug into the ground, and snaked out into the air, supplying her magic with the nourishment it needed to grow.
Her twelfth threshold wasn’t far off, she idly noted, feeling her eyelids start to close. As she drifted off into unconsciousness, she shivered. A cold breeze had blown over from the river.
It’s cold, she complained internally, remembering the cold lands that she had fled from. The memories filled her heart with an a feeling of emptiness, but suddenly, a warmth akin the comfort of sitting in front of a roaring hearth washed over her body. Another memory replaced the cold, desolate woods she envisioned. Her consciousness began to drift as a single word chimed to life within her slipping thoughts.
Home, she remembered, falling asleep with a warm smile that gently traced her lips.
Lynn’s eyes slowly cracked open to the picture of looming cavern walls and gently glowing blue stones. Just a few meters away from her, an underground river churned and swept across the rocks, carrying them farther up the stream, and deeper into its watery depths. She fought against her drowsiness and stood up, pushing away the blanket that had been draped over her as she slept. A flash of recognition registered in her eyes as soon she saw the material—keratin, as Alen had called it. It was surprisingly warm. The blanket reminded her of the woolen coats her grandfather used to drag around everywhere. She smiled at the memory.
She gazed around the cavern and found the necromancer asleep just a short distance away, curled up in a blanket of his own. Knowing that he had probably just fallen asleep, she took off her boots and gazed down at the river below.
The elf contemplated diving in and looking for food, but figured that splitting up would do more harm than good in their current situation. She opened their party chat and sent a message over to Roland. She sighed at the silence that followed. Knowing him, he shouldn’t be in any significant danger right now, she thought, remembering the calm and thoughtful patience that usually lingered around the air of her orange-haired friend. Roland had most likely brought rations, too, she figured, turning her back on the water.
Her stomach groaned in protest. She sighed and sat down on the edge of the river. Being inside of an air pocket, the river below was naturally quite deep. She dipped her foot down into it, but the riverbed was far from sight.
Seeing that simply standing there would accomplish nothing, Lynn channeled her magic through the water. Once again, her mana reached down like ancient, gnarled roots. Stable. Efficient. They branched out, and the branches continued to branch out even further. Soon, an invisible spherical area within the steadily flowing river was within her influence; her territory. Small particles, pebbles, and debris slowly flowed past her roots. She felt the presence of them all, and like her magic, stood patient like a peaceful oak. The water swept past. Flowed. Ran. Until…
Lynn’s eyes snapped open. The water below her stirred for the fraction of a second, the surface rippling violently for an instant before settling back down into its steady flow. Lynn watched as a globe of ice the size of her torso rose up from the water.
Within it, a strange, large fish that looked like a kite was frozen with an expression of panic in its face. She quickly washed a flat stone with the river water and laid it there, before proceeding to gut the fish with an experienced flourish. She’d done this a lot back then, sitting by the frozen rivers and catching fish below the ice.
It’s a shame I don’t have a fishing pole though, she idly thought. After she’d set off from home to see what else the world had to offer, she’d forgotten her fishing equipment back in the storage shack. She remembered this a few minutes after leaving the village, but felt that it would be too awkward to come back just to get it, so she’d just grit her teeth and cursed herself as she reluctantly left it behind. She laughed, raking the hard scales off the fish’s meat. No fish to catch in the Sandsea, and no pole to catch them with in whatever death pit they were in now. She was beginning to question her own luck, really. It seemed to have taken an especially steep drop lately.
She shook her head with a light smile. No matter, she told herself. I’ll just find the time to make a good one later, she finished, placing her hunting knife back in its sheath. Lynn fashioned a hook with her affinity to ice and hung the fish from a lower part of the ceiling.
Nodding at her work, she had her magic once again take power from the elemental stones that were slotted into the bow on her back. One of the gems flickered with a reddish light, and moments later, a flame had flared to life just above her palm. Lynn held it close to the fish and adjusted the intensity of the flame. The fish’s flesh sizzled against the flame. Juices dripped to the floor, and as the minutes ticked by, Lynn finally found herself in front of a nicely cooked fish.
The elf pinched some of the meat off and threw it into her mouth. She pursed her lips. It was bland, but well, she guessed it was to be expected with the lack of seasoning she worked with. Still, the texture was nice, at least. As she stood there, Lynn heard someone moving about behind her. She looked back and found that Alen had finally woken up.
He glanced at her, then at the fish, and grinned. “Do I get any?”
“Only if you make the plates,” said Lynn.
The necromancer nodded, and she watched in fascination as he fiddled with a screen in front of him. Moments later, the fabric of his sleeve abruptly grew, before the mass separated from the clothing her wore. Simple plates and two sets of cutlery clattered onto the floor. Alen nodded in satisfaction and walked off to wash the plates in the water.
After they had their meal, the two sat around for a bit more and readied themselves for the coming trip. Lynn filled her quiver with arrows of ice, and Alen took out what pieces of teeth and shards he had left to summon undead. He assessed them one by one and improved their forms on AutoBone where he could. Finally, after a couple minutes of nervous thinking, the two stood up and looked down at the steadily flowing river below. Lynn waved her hand, and Alen felt the air around him gather and press at his face.
“You ready to go on an adventure?” she asked.
“Not really,” He joked, taking one end of the hook he had and fastening it around a belt he had made her. This way, they wouldn’t get separated in the water, but would still have some form of room to maneuver around without getting tangled up.
“Alright, so let’s go over it again,” she said, then continued. “The bottom of the river is dark, so you won’t be able to see much. I can always light it up by lighting a fire inside a bubble of air, but that’ll drain my magic, so I’ll only be using it when I really need to. You follow me, and I’ll try not to get us lost. That sound like a good plan?”
“I think we’re kind of fucked, to be honest.”
“Yep,” she grinned, then pulled on the keratin link attached to the hook. “Let’s go!”
“Wai—“ Alen barely finished, before Lynn pulled him down into the river below with a resounding splash. She immediately scanned the bottom for any threats. None, she noted, before manipulating the water behind her to propel them forward. She held the link and more or less dragged Alen behind her. His voice rang out in her mind through the party’s voice comms.
I feel like I’m being dragged around on a leash, he complained.
Lynn smiled and sped up, pulling on the leash. He shook his head, then simply sighed and let himself be pulled forward. The next few minutes passed in relative silence. She glanced back and spotted him nervously looking around the darkness surrounding them. She wasn’t surprised. Even she could barely see anything, and the feeling that they were being watched kept creeping up the back of her neck.
She pulled out her bow and plucked an arrow out from her quiver, slowing their pace through the water.
Shouldn’t we speed up or make a light or something? I don’t like how creepy this place is being, Alen messaged her.
No, she responded. I think we entered something’s territory.
Fuck. Can’t we run, then?
It might not notice us if we reduce our presence. If we lit a light, we’d be… she paused.
Do… do you see that? She pulled him closer with the link, tapping his shoulder and pointing his head forwards. Do you know what that is? I think it’s a plant, she said, looking at something in the distance. It was an orb of light, lightly floating in the darkness. From the light it gave off, it was attached to something, and seemed to be dangling about from some sort of stalk. She noticed that it was getting closer.
Oh no, Alen gasped. Oh fuck no. Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck. We need to fucking go. I’m not dealing with this Finding Nemo bullshit.
Lynn licked her dry lips. The air around their heads was enabling them to breathe, but something about that light made her feel like breathing was suddenly harder. She began to pull them back, and whatever was following them stopped in place.
Then the orb of light disappeared.
Complete darkness. For the first time, Lynn couldn’t see past the darkness ahead. Her skin prickled. She glanced at Alen, his features barely visible in her eyesight. He looked terrified.
Lynn, he slowly said.
…Yes? She asked, feeling the water flow past her clothes as their retreat began to speed up. A light flickered to life. The orb had reappeared, and Lynn frowned.
Why was there two of them now? The lights disappeared again.
Lynn, Alen whispered through the chat, grasping at her arm. He floated beside her, holding something tight in his grip. He looked pale. She swallowed, nocking an arrow. The water began to whizz past them as they gained speed.
The fluorescent orbs came back. Three of them. Then five.
Eight. Their backs lit up. They turned. The orb surged to life, and so did the creature it belonged to. Lynn locked gazes with the mass of needle-like teeth and wrinkled, cracked skin in horror as the patterns on its scaly skin began to glow with a bright bluish light. Its mouth was open, the maw that could swallow a tree ready to taste blood.
There’s nine of them, she felt herself falter.
Lynn! Alen screamed in her mind. She cursed and rapidly turned to flee. The necromancer threw the thing he was holding into the creature’s mouth. It chomped down. The keratin Alen had thrown rapidly ballooned, and on its surface, a deep, dark ice began to form. The water bubbled as if being boiled upon contact with the Deathchill. The creature’s maw slammed into it, and the teeth punctured deep into the keratin for an instant, before a massive roar of pain filled the entire cavern.
Pikes exploded out from Alen’s boots and slammed the sphere in deeper, while simultaneously pushing them away. Lynn was dragged back just in time to avoid another set of jaws that had come clamping down on her previous position. She shot an arrow of ice at the creature, and it phased through the water perfectly, before exploding on impact and branding a root-like pattern of ice on the monster’s skin and locking it in place.
The rest of the creatures began to race towards them. Lynn pushed her magic to the limit and brought them back the way they came. One set of jaws opened up to bite her leg off, and an arrow shot into its eye before it could. In the corner of her vision, she spotted a centipede burst into existence from a shard of keratin, wrapping itself violently against one of the gigantic fish. The fish screeched in pain and obliterated it by slamming itself against a wall, but not before the Deathchill that lathered the centipede’s body could inflict its terrible, necrotic effects.
They sped forward. The creatures gave chase. Light opened up ahead of them. Lynn looked back.
This was the way we came, but why is it opening up!? She then noticed the water around them. It had changed directions, flowing into the direction they were fleeing in. No, she realized. It was dragging them with it. The river was rapidly draining into a waterfall.
“Not another goddamned fall!” Alen screamed into his bubble of air, slamming one of the fish against the wall beside him with a well-timed Bone Spear.
“Get ready!” she shouted at him, bracing herself for the coming drop.
“I already am!” Alen shouted back, then stamped his feet into the riverbed and turning, sending them shooting towards the drop until finally…
Boom! The water exploded out in all directions. They shot past the waterfall, and Lynn felt the bubble of air peel away from her face to be replaced by the stupidly familiar feeling of the air brushing past her cheeks as she fell. One of the fish fell in with them, and it dropped down, mouth open to eat its final meal. Alen cursed and pulled her in with the link and grabbed her hand before roaring against the fall.
“Yeah, not this time, fucker!” He shouted, before a large flap of cloth exploded out of the back of his robes. The carefully crafted parachute caught the air and their descent rapidly slowed to a crawl. The fish zipped past them, missing them with inches to spare, before falling past the trees and hitting the ground with a loud splat on the stony earth below.
Alen grinned down at Lynn. “I’m so fucking good it’s insane,” he said.
“Yeah, yeah,” she laughed, then watched as the ground lazily moved closer to greet them. Alen’s parachute disintegrated to dust in the wind before it was caught by the gray branches of the stone-like trees and their glowing fluorescent leaves. They landed on the ground with a slight tap, and Lynn let out a sigh of relief.
“Does your magic even have any limits?” she asked him.
“I’m like an edgier Green Lantern,” he proudly stated.
Who names themselves after a colored lantern? Lynn was about to ask, but suddenly froze as the cold feeling of a blade pressed itself against her back. She looked at Alen and saw the figure that stood behind him too. A blade was pressed to his neck. He gave her a look.
Should we fight?
She shook her head. No. These men would kill them as soon as they displayed signs of resistance. She felt it from the blade pressed to her skin. The man behind her was ready to kill.
“Okay. Listen here, whoever you are,” Alen slowly said, “we’re just passing through. Let us go, then we’ll find the nearest hole to fall into, and you’ll never see us again.”
The man spoke a language she didn’t understand and pressed the dagger harder against his skin. A line of blood formed on its tip. She frowned. Most people spoke the Common tongue when talking to strangers, but she knew the sound of many languages. She failed to recognize any of the words that left his mouth. She saw Alen with a calm, cold look on his face. She scrunched her brows. It was that look again. The same one he’d given Gravil when they’d fought.
She slowly inched her hand down, channeling her magic into the ground. The roots of the stony trees around them responded, ready to erupt out of the ground and strike as soon as Alen made his move. Is there really no other way? She bit her lip. This was going to be tough.
“You two found more of them again? You should really ring the signal before you try and…”
Footsteps rang out from their left, and a young human with black hair and icy, blue eyes stepped out from the cover of the trees, flanked by two more of the noseless, pale-skinned, big-eyed people. As soon as he looked at her, shock made its way into his face. Wait. No. He was looking beside her. She followed his eyes and saw Alen with the biggest grin she had ever seen on his face.
“Alen?” The icy-eyed young man doubtfully said. He incredulously signaled with his hand, and the two men behind them reluctantly lowered their weapons.
The necromancer raised his hand in greeting. His eyes were red. “Yo Sam,” Alen told him,
“I got a shit ton of stories to tell."