(Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you spot them, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!!)
The expeditionary force camped overnight just outside the border of the Sacred Acre, in order to enter it with as much preparation as possible the following morning.
And during that morning, well before the sunrise, a short discussion between the “senior management” members took place; it was decided to split the group into two, with one staying behind, while the other would raid the Acre. For the stay-behind team, two people were chosen; they were given express orders to not put up a fight if Fiends approached. Instead, they were told to evacuate to a safer place.
Also, if for some reason the party fails to return within the allocated time, then the duo must head back to the village regardless of what their feelings might dictate.
Once that was settled, those diving underground inspected their own equipment thoroughly. Phil gave out brief warnings on what to expect, and what to do when stuff goes down eventually. Some basic precautions, such as not panicking and always covering the backs of his or her mates, things like that.
It only ended up making the inexperienced militiamen tense. Damien felt that was actually a bit better than being carefree – but only by a little.
“Well then. Men, and ladies – let us march.” Jonas declared triumphantly as he unsheathed his fancy one handed sword, and pointed forward like a commander willing his troops into a battlefield, his glitzy, polished metal armor reflecting the sunlight rather gallantly.
He probably wanted to do that very badly ever since he was a child, Damien mused quietly as his eyebrow rose up.
And like an over-eager child, Jonas tried to take the front. He was clearly in a hurry to get there.
Luckily for him, Phil interrupted the hasty man by grabbing his shoulder, and suggested in no uncertain terms. “Please sir, let Gillian take the lead. She’s a scout – it’s her job.”
After coughing away his embarrassment Jonas consented, and they were off to the lone ruin in the distance as the morning sun settled on the sky.
The initial part of the Acre, the crumbling remains of a mid-sized building, was quite harmless, literally – it was always like that. That fact still held true, as no nasties jumped out as the group carefully approached it.
Just like that day when Damien and his Adventurer guildmates dived into this very Sacred Acre five years ago, there were no traps, no shaky footholds to trip the unwary, nor no slobbering Fiends to block the access to the interior.
The sight of the said interior, and a gaping hole set at an angle on the floor, made Damien grimace as a recollection of the past crept into his mind. He still felt the same goosebumps from back then slowly caress his skin. The goosebumps made entirely of unshakable apprehension, a fear of the unknown, the stench of a certain death.
Only, right now he was feeling it far more intensely than before. If he, a veteran, was feeling like this, then how would a newbie like Vagas feel?
Careful not to disturb the walls of the ruin, Gillian descended first, and after a short while, signaled the others to follow in.
The immediate passage past the entrance hadn’t changed as well; a wide-mouthed cavern with a gentle downward slope, smooth stone walls seemingly carved out by men possessing ancient technology long lost since. Wide enough to accommodate four adult men walking abreast, ceiling tall enough to swing a lengthy polearm.
And lighting taken care of by the peculiar blue crystals, Lazulites, that protruded from the various gaps on the walls and the ceiling. These rocks were only found inside the Sacred Acres, and once removed from their depths, mysteriously lose the ability to emit light almost immediately.
Those who were new to the world of exploration, looked around with their mouths agape, taking in the somewhat bizarre sights. But all of them didn’t utter a single word; even Jonas kept quiet as the group advanced slowly forward.
They marched for almost thirty momenta, minutes, and nothing of note happened. Damien didn’t lower his guards but a small bud of doubt began to sprout in his mind, asking him whether he was overestimating the threat level.
Honestly, he thought that the previous night, which was restless to say the least, might be affecting his judgments. Last night, after assigning the schedules for the lookout duties, he tried to catch some quick shut-eyes but couldn’t even get a wink in.
The reason being the uneasiness that wouldn’t just go away, no matter what he told himself to calm down. And whenever he surveyed the darkened forest surrounding them, illuminated by the pale blue lights of the moons, the feeling became more exacerbated than before.
One after the other, questions arose and revolved in his brain; if the Sacred Acre was still active for some reason, why weren’t there any Fiends present in the forest on their way here? Not to mention, there were no threats in the vicinity of the Acre itself.
And thinking back, Damien knew he made no mistakes back five years ago. He was, to the point of putting his honor as a man on the line, certain of clearing the Acre by defeating the last Guardian. Phil was there, Gillian was there, Gordie and Ben and Taylor were there. Lizbeth was there too. They were all there, bearing witness to the feat.
He knew the answer was residing within the Acre’s bowels, waiting to be exposed to the light. But quite frankly, he didn’t want to go down there while this ill-prepared.
Phil had a same opinion when Damien consulted with him. He too was feeling reluctant, but since he had pushed his comrades to get ready for any eventualities, he was thinking that barring some hurdles that can’t be overcome, his group would emerge alright from the ordeal.
Besides, there was no going back for him now that they have come this far. The money was indeed the issue – Phil already had sent a considerable chunk of the request fee to his ailing younger brother, and there was simply no way to refund that amount now. So he was committed to finding this fairy tale-esque Aerinite or whatever it was called, without choice.
“This isn’t what I expected,” Jonas muttered, his voice verging on disappointment and trepidation. “Perhaps it is true that you did clear it after all.”
There was a hint of sneer in the last comment made by him, and that nearly got a rise out of Damien. There was a status difference to consider but the impunity shown by the Capital-bred idiot was bordering on social blasphemy.
The night before, he even complained that he had to do a guard duty. Damien and Phil devised a lookout rotation schedule that would let everyone in the traveling party to participate at least once, but Jonas wanted nothing to do with that.
Phil pacified the indignant man with, “Sir, you’re the most skilled of us, so it only makes sense that you protect us during the time of rest.”
That was doubly tiring.
Recalling the unpleasantness didn’t help, definitely, with the slow progress the group was making. Looking around, Damien saw one too many tired faces, seemingly almost everyone of the militia not getting a good enough rest.
So it was a blessing in disguise that there weren’t any attacks from some hidden Fiends. Otherwise, the damage could have been large.
But at the same time, the lack of Fiends alarmed him deeply. The first time he entered here, his party was swarmed by the various Fiends almost immediately. Yet this time…. nothing. Not a single soul.
He forcibly quashed the nagging thoughts down and sharpened his senses, making sure not to miss any little stimuli, any small bits of information. Smell, hearing, vibrations from the wall, the lot.
Soon, the slope leveled out, and the second part of the underground began. The man-made cavern ended here, and it was replaced instead by something equally artificial: one lined with smooth, dark metallic panels on all sides. The passage took on a rectangular shape, and the width increased considerably, almost thrice of the entryway. The height didn’t change much however, and the Lazulites still dotted the gaps between the metal panels on the ceiling.
“This, this is….” Jonas gulped down nervously as he stroked the wall, his eyes shining with renewed spirit. He had heard about such arrangements of metallic panels lining the interior of some Acres but to actually touch one with his own hands – it was a special feeling. He was getting overwhelmed with emotion – at last, he had something to brag about when he returns to the Institute. All those lab-bound simpletons, possessing not a shred of adventuring spirit would all be utterly jealous of his achievement!!
The thought alone made him as pleased as Punch.
He lightly knocked on the smooth surface while saying, “This metal, it’s a small wonder that no one has yet to pry it off the walls and carry it outside. The Institute would certainly pay handsomely to acquire a sample to analyze….”
“Don’t make any further noise, Sir Jonas.” Damien hissed angrily. “We don’t know what’s lurking in the depths. Let us not wake ’em if we can help it.”
Jonas nodded stiffly, annoyance at being interrupted evident on his face. But he managed to mumble an apology. Inwardly he was murmuring, what a killjoy.
The party continued advancing forward, their movement speed still quite slow. Not long after, Gillian signaled that there was an anomaly up ahead. With a wave of her hand, she gathered everyone’s attention, then pointed to her nose.
This action meant she picked up on a foreign smell.
Soon the mystery odor entered the noses of everyone present – it was a stench of rotting flesh. One or two faces turned pale at that, but under the weak light of Lazulites, all of their faces sported the exact same color so those guilty of weaker constitution were not found out by their peers.
After a few more agonizing minutes of moving forward, accompanied by sounds of their racing heartbeats, they finally encountered the source of the putrid odor.
There were bones with gnawed teeth marks and rotting lumps of torn meat scattered here and there on the floor. The shapes of the broken bones suggested the victims were varied in type, and the, uh, freshness of the remains indicated that they were butchered quite recently. A little further away, there were even half-chewed bits decaying away.
Gillian poked several of the carcasses, confirming that all of them were indeed quite dead and inanimate. Pretty much obvious from the state they were in, but it was always safer to check anyway.
Damien thought that these were likely a leftover from the current inhabitants of the Acre having a meal. Which begged the question, of how the hell did these animals got here. There weren’t any signs of animal or Fiend activity by the Acre’s entrance, and there was no visible indication inside either.
He had to wonder whether there was a trickery involved here.
Is it possible that a some type of Invocation has been used? There are certainly spells that are capable of attracting & herding living creatures – is that the reason for this ugly sight?
Damien felt a cold sweat trickle down his spine just thinking about the odds of a such occurrence. The mere hints of meeting a Fiend, or Fiends, that were evolved enough to cast spells of this magnitude were enough to cause the outbreak of his secretion.
Fiends or wild animals with the ability to wield Aeterna freely were referred to as Awakened Beasts. There were varying degrees to the threat level, but basically those were the worst type of enemies to encounter if you happen to be an Adventurer.
Unlike humanoid Invokers, most of these creatures didn’t need to chant in order to cast spells and, on top of that they gained a large amount of intelligence when evolving, thus simple tactics didn’t work on them, making subjugation a difficult task.
Once, Damien was involved with a wide-scale subjugation request of a Gray Wolf pack. Now normally, wolves posed little threat as usually these canids avoided interacting with men. But this pack was different; they purposefully sought out villages to pillage and destroy.
And as it turned out, they were led by an Awakened, in this case a Gray Strife-Wolf.
It had united two dozen packs and led them in daily raids into various small settlements, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction.
A detachment of soldiers belonging to the local fief was sent to take care of the problem, but the commanding officer didn’t know he was facing an Awakened and had his troop walk into a battle utterly unprepared. All were slaughtered mercilessly.
The Strife-Wolf was capable of casting Lightening Elemental Invocations at will, and by using its cunning, it set deadly traps for the soldiers. Suffice to say, they didn’t stand a chance.
By the time the subjugation request was placed on The Board at the Adventurers’ Association, the number of civilian casualty was running quite well into the double digits, closing into triple.
A total of fifty Adventurers signed up for the job, Damien included. At the time he was ranked Silver, which was very respectable, all things considered. Besides him, there were ten Silver ranks, seven Gold ranks, and nearly twenty Bronze ranks – a truly formidable group.
Yet when the dust settled on the battlefield, more than half of the group were so badly injured, some had to retire permanently from the active duty. They were lucky – over ten people lost their lives, two of them Silvers and one Gold ranker who sacrificed herself to ensure no more lives were lost that day, Damien’s included.
One Awakened Beast amid normal animals caused that much carnage; now imagine that kind of power but bestowed upon a bloodthirsty monster. It was going to be a tough battle. No, a deadly battle where casualties were going to be unavoidable.
No matter how one spun it, it was easy to see the current group was just too ill equipped to handle the situation.
Phil exchanged deeply grim looks with the rest of his party, then with Damien. He seemed to say, screw this, we better head back now before it’s too late.
But before the seasoned Adventurers could open their mouths and say something, Helga, Jonas’s lackey, exclaimed loudly while examining a wall that was ways further ahead in the darkened passage like an excited child.
“Hey everyone, come and take a look!! These markings, these shapes!!”
When did she get over there?! Damien looked at her incredulously. The tense examination of the surroundings made him not notice this foolish, pampered-in-The-Capital girl breaking the formation. He couldn’t believe something this sloppy happened right under his nose.
Or maybe that Helga woman was just that good at slipping past a defensive cordon. Either way, this was bad.
“Hey you girlie, get the hell back here this instant!!” Gillian hissed at the clueless Helga.
“Who are you calling a girlie, auntie? I’d much appreciate if you refer me with more appropriate terms.” Helga returned a prissy reply that didn’t really fit her tall, broad-shouldered stature.
A spark briefly flew between the two women and none of the men present felt like intervening, out of fear for their own safety.
Still, there was enough noise made, and the veterans strained their hearings to suss out whether they managed to rouse whatever monstrosity was sleeping within.
There was nothing. Only the sound of buzzing coming from the inner ear filled their hearing. This made them tenser still.
Helga continued to examine the wall and its markings like a child with a new toy in hand. Before her, geometric shapes, worn down from neglect and passage of time lay hidden beneath dust like an archaeological treasure. She brushed offending sand off one of the shape and leaned over closely.
A broad smile appeared on her thin lips as she was able to decipher the shape in front of her. It was a confirmation that Aerinite was indeed hidden somewhere here.
While she was gleefully running her palm over the panels and muttering to herself, Phil approached Damien and whispered.
“What do you think?”
“….We should leave. Quickly.”
Both men nodded in unison. It was time to abandon this trip and return as quickly as possible. They both decided not to chance an encounter with an Awakened. Better safe than sorry.
Turning around, Phil gave a silent instruction to his party members, while Damien quietly approached Jonas to update him.
But he couldn’t do it. A soft clack was heard on the distance, freezing everyone on the spot.
Another distant metallic clack, and Damien’s hand was gripping the hilt of his saber tightly. It felt heavier compared to a moment ago. His fingers nervously played with the tiny bit of loose, protruding string that tied the leather of the hilt. He always did that subconsciously.
One more clack came from the passage further ahead. It was a bit louder. Whatever it was, sound was coming closer.
The dim lights of the Lazulites weren’t enough to show the group what made that sound, but they all felt hairs on their skin rise; the oppressing Aeterna of the Acre just became even more unbearable, its dark strength heavily pushing them down mentally.
Gillian, who as a scout possessed the superior eyesight, first noticed what was making that clacking sound. She inhaled deeply, and nocked an arrow with such haste, it jolted everyone out of their edgy stupor.
“It’s coming,” she sharply hissed. “Miss Helga, get your butt back in here right instance, or you’ll die where you stand.”
“Mmm? Did you say something?”
Helga, who were mindlessly studying the wall’s geometric symbols, turned her head towards the older woman nonchalantly. It was obvious she hadn’t noticed anything, not even the ominous clacking sound coming from directly behind her.
And she still failed to notice the intense glares she was receiving. Rooted to the spot, she tilted her head, utterly puzzled.
“Oh, for the love of Uunos, woman – come over here now!!”
It was Jonas who blurted the words out angrily at his subordinate, who was turning out to be surprisingly airheaded, something even he didn’t realize until now. Sure, she sometimes exhibited a personality trait where she seem to forget her surroundings when engrossed in new research materials, but to think she was this clueless – he had to do a double take whether this woman was the same person he asked for back in the Institute.
Helga knitted her brows at the faces of tense people behind her. “Is there something…. on my face? Why do all of you glare at me like that?”
That’s when Gillian let loose the arrow.
It whizzed by Helga’s face, flying straight and true to its intended target, still obscured by the darkness. She jumped in alarm but then even she heard the faint sound of arrow tip striking something in the unseen depths. And a low growl that followed it.
She then belatedly recognized where she was; better late than never.
She flipped open her mantle quickly and pulled out her mace, and fell back within the group in a flash.
Damien was rather impressed by her movements. She was slightly annoying in The Capital Nobility kind of way, but as expected of a Journeyman Invoker, she showed an admirably sharp reaction as soon as she detected a potential danger.
An Invoker was supposed to be a pinnacle of what humanoids were capable of becoming; an important source of pride for the denizens of The Empire. And Helga, as obnoxious as she can be, wasn’t planning on becoming an embarrassment to her peers.
Gillian quickly nocked another arrow. By this time militiamen were readying their bows as well, their sights squarely set forward. Now, the target had moved close enough for its general outline to be shown, somewhat.
It resembled a slow moving…. person.
“Tsk,” Gillian scowled, and fired the arrow again. It struck the head of the human shaped target with unnerving accuracy, causing the part to flop backwards while making a bone-cracking sound.
But that did not stop its slow advance. It dragged its feet, and another soft clack could be heard. It was dragging something along, and whenever there was a small gap between the metallic panels on the floor, the sound was made by the object hitting it.
“….It’s an undead, but something’s off.”
The usually silent Taylor murmured cautiously.
Damien sucked in deep breath after hearing the information. He felt a trickle of nervous sweat tease its way down his forearm, until it settled on the thick wrist protector worn below the simple metal-and-leather gauntlet.
Undead Fiends were a bad news. Not only were they disgusting to look at, but they smelled bad as well, causing those with weak stomachs unable to withstand the assault on their senses. Not only that, regular attacks had no effect – cutting, chopping limbs off, blunt weapons on the vitals, none of that worked.
Light or Fire type Invocations were the most reliable way to deal with this type of enemies. Alternatively, one could try to find its ‘Core’, which was located somewhere within its decaying flesh. Easier said than done, really.
The Core itself was small, and never placed in a fixed position. Sometimes it could be where the heart might be; sometimes, where the brain was. Or even around the gut.
Fortunately, the current party had two recognized Invokers in their midst, so a slow moving undead wasn’t going to be an issue as long as no one lowered their guard.
Another soft clack, and the creature finally stepped into the pale blue light.
“What the….? Is that really an undead?”
Someone in the back gasped out upon witnessing the sight unfolding before the group.
The creature before them was indeed a humanoid in appearance. A man, in fact. It walked with a limp, as if its left leg was broken. On the right hand, it dragged a bent and rusting blade. His clothes, some remains of broken bits of leather armor, were all in a state of total disarray. His head was askew in a very much unnatural way, with two arrows fired off by Gillian stuck on it.
Its jaw was slack, missing several teeth; dirty drool oozed from it, and there were nothing in its eye sockets, just a spooky pair of hollow spaces.
It certainly fit the bill for describing an undead. However, what stumped all those present were strange metallic panels of different sizes stuck on the chest, side of the head, and parts of its legs.
The panels resembled those from the walls of the Sacred Acre. It was as if the man ripped the metal off and had his mates glue it on haphazardly. But one thing was for sure, the exposed flesh just visible beneath all the decoration were in the process of decaying. This man was as undead as an undead could possibly be.
The Fiend stopped its movement once it came to a certain distance away from Damien’s group. Its hollow eyes unmoving, the head stiffly, slowly rotated around, searching.
Then, its slackened jaw slowly dropped further, more of that thick mucus-like drool falling out of it. Those who caught the whiff of the foul stench couldn’t help but lift hands to cover their noses.
One of the militia let out a groan. “Urgh, it stinks!”
That triggered it into action.
The undead Fiend let out a long, sharp screech. It was cold and shrill, piercing deep into the bones of all present; Damien’s focus was shaken terribly, making him momentarily unable to concentrate.
The metal plates stuck on its body started glowing intense blue light. No, the plates themselves were not emitting the light but rather, thin lines suddenly appearing on them, were. The blue lights streaked in straight lines, and the Sacred Acre began to rumble at the same time.
The blue lines also appeared one after the other on the walls, the ceiling and the floor, following geometric lines and spreading from where the Fiend stood; the lines extended from its feet outwards, racing past the confused and alarmed group.
“What…. What the bloody hell’s going on here?”
Vagas cried out in shock. Damien too wanted to cry out, but somehow, managed to rein it in. Last time he was here, none of this happened. None of this bizarre light show accompanied his previous journey into its depths.
This wasn’t supposed to happen, whatever this was.
Helga and Taylor were chanting their respective Invocations already; Phil and his group quickly shielded the Invokers, picking up the sharp weapons that seemed to glisten under the disorientating shower of blue lights.
Damien too, raised his saber and pointed its tip at the Fiend, ready to strike at a moment’s notice.
The undead stopped its shrill scream, and lunged forward at speed that betrayed the ruse of its previous sluggishness. It swung the bent sword in a rising arc so fiercely, it seemed to leave a blue afterimage in the air.
A militiaman, who happened to stand in the front as the formation dictated, desperately raised his spear to block the attack. When the two weapons collided, a shower of dull sparks exploded, and the spear was blown out of the man’s grasp.
Before the others could lend an aid, the undead swung its blade back down. The militiaman’s headless body collapsed after that. Someone screamed out the fallen man’s name in terror from behind but Damien disregarded that and quickly issued commands.
“Encircle and retreat,” Damien shouted as he rushed forward. “Give the Invokers a chance to cast their spells!!”
Encircle and Retreat was a common battlefield strategy employed when an Invoker was involved in the fight. It took a bit of time to cast a spell so in order to prevent the target from moving, vanguards would rush forward to engage the enemy, and retreat when the signal was given. Damien shouted out the commands for the benefit of his militiamen who were frozen in fear.
He understood instinctively that they had no chance of victory with brute strength alone against this foe. Invocation was the only way to reliably destroy this Fiend.
However, something about those blue-line shining metal plates worried him, and the off-kilter reaction of the Sacred Acre terrified him. He was sure of it, more so than ever before, that they had to escape no matter what before something even worse decides to block them. Quickly defeating this undead should greatly expedite that process.
Several spears and longswords found their way into the gaps in the tattered armor of the deceptively lumbering creature. None slowed it down, none of the attacks caused it to cry out in pain. Rather, it took a few more sharp, practiced swings at its attackers, knocking a few off their feet and making the militiamen to drop the precious weapons.
Phil was astonished at the speed, the strength and the technique of the Fiend in front of him. What he just saw was simply not possible; an undead should not retain the skills learned during the time it was still alive. But what was displayed before him, was definitely of a high caliber.
Perhaps, this a rotting, walking dead creature was somehow still remembering a little of its past, of its lucid days.
He shook his head clear of such nonsensical reasoning; right now, there were much more urgent matters to get to, such as defeating the Fiend.
“It’s time!!” Ben Musgrave shouted out from behind, where he was standing guard for the two Invokers of the party when the spells were ready to go.
“Fall back!!” Damien gave a swift order the moment he heard the rear-most vanguard’s voice. With haste, all who surrounded the undead retreated. Those whose weapons were stuck in the creature’s torso, simply released the hold and went empty handed.
As soon as the coast was clear, two powerful Invocation spells activated and attacked the Fiend.
Taylor attacked with mid-tier Lightening Elemental Invocation, Arcing Thunder, which as its name implied, arced towards the target in an instant; while Helga went with somewhat more accepted type of spell, a wide-area Healing Touch of the Spirit.
The undead Fiends were weak against Light and Fire Elemental spells. However, using the latter in a confined space such as an underground passage like the one they were in was a stupid thing to do, so both Invokers went with other spells in their repertoire.
An ill-placed flame not only caused smoke which led to difficulty in breathing, but it restricted the vision; also, if there was a pocket of trapped gas nearby, that could also ignite it, causing an explosion. Fire type Invocation was thus not used in underground caverns with tighter dimensions.
The arcing, dancing Thunder struck the Fiend’s chest area, immobilizing it on the spot, allowing the Healing Touch to slowly wrap it in white light. The undead howled in agony for the very first time during this encounter, and dropped the bent sword while trying to ward off the warm light embracing it.
Its howling weakened gradually, and soon there was only silence; when the white light dissipated, the Fiend was crumbling into bits and pieces, limbs and the metal plates falling on the floor with loud thuds and clanks.
Damien remained tense, watching the creature closely for a sign of it rising one more time. Thankfully that didn’t come.
As the rotting flesh melted and fell, Damien suddenly realized the man who’d became this undead was somewhat familiar. But he couldn’t really place the hollowed-out face with a name, or a place where he might have seen it. His unease increased further with that revelation.
He just hoped that it was just a mistake on his part.
The undead’s body finally became nothing more than a heap. It stopped howling too, and the only noise the group heard was their own harsh breathing.
“Aid the injured! Retrieve the fallen, hurry!! There might be more!!” Damien issued new orders to his men while surveying the damage. One life lost, four injured – one heavily.
“I shall aid with the healing,” said Helga. “Bring the injured over h….”
Before she could say something, the ground beneath the unmoving undead began to glow.
Everyone hastily took a step back, drawing their weapons ready.
The ground shone in the same, eerie blue light as the lines on the wall, and a circular formation expanded below the heap.
Vagas shouted, while pointing somewhere else. The corner of Damien’s eye followed the young man’s finger, and saw the same blue circular formation below the body of the fallen militiaman.
“It’s the Sacred Acre. It’s absorbing the dead,” said Taylor, while his eyes focused on the patterns of the formation. It was obscured from his vision but nevertheless he was greedily taking in the sight as this was a valuable chance for an Invoker such as himself to witness a rare occurrence of Death Absorption, a unique phenomena only known to exist within the Sacred Acres.
“Damn it!” Cursing, Damien hurriedly tried to retrieve the body but he was pulled back by Gordie.
Might as well – the headless corpse began to sink into the solid ground as if it was a quick sand sucking in a hapless victim. Same was happening to the heap of the undead Fiend, being pulled under the surface.
In less than half a minute, both lifeless bodies disappeared from the sight, leaving behind a spear and the bent sword.
Everyone stood around in a daze. No one spoke a word, complex maze of emotions running through each and everyone of them. Damien felt like he should’ve prevented the body from getting taken by the Acre. He had forgotten that an active Sacred Acre always absorbed the fallen that fit a specific criteria, such as being a humanoid or a Fiend. Now it was too late to give the man a proper funeral rite, and he had nothing to give that man’s family a closure.
If this was five years ago, then he wouldn’t have made a mistake like this. Being a bloody lord of a village had dulled his instincts.
Damien gritted his teeth in anger. He hated failure, and this was one.
But he couldn’t remain idle. He still had a job to do; he volunteered to lead the expedition, so lead he shall. “Do not lose focus, there could be more!! Gillian, scout the area. Sir Jonas, we are retreating immediately.”
He fired off the new orders while offering a silent prayer to the fallen man. That was all he could do now.
“Damien, there’s another one!!” Gillian called out as she readied her bow once more.
He turned his head towards the passage and sure enough, he could hear another soft clanking sound. But unlike before, the blue lights emanating from the metal panels shone faintly in the dark.
Seeing this, Damien issued the new order.
“We already brought down one, so we know how to defeat another. Everyone, in formation. We’ll go with encircle and retreat again!!”