As the dust cleared, Cleo stood, stunned with a look of fascination on her face. Curi’s face was still beaming with excitement, even more so at Caelos’s work. Horrus stood with arms crossed just barely out of reach of the rubble. Durrus was at the back of the room, covered in a coat of dust, sand, and debris.
“I can assure you, Curi is under safe watch. Now please, if you excuse us, we must continue on our way.”
Durrus struggled to get back up, shaking off most of the small bits of wall and brushing off all of the sand. He used his scutum as a support to bring him back to his feet.
“Argh, this is going to cost me an arm and a leg to get fixed…” His eyes locked onto the heavenly looking figure of Caelos.
“Well, I’m pretty sure you have no idea how these ruins work, but since you didn’t manage to kill us through nearly collapsing the entire room, you’ve probably just made our presence known to god knows how many scarabs and Ahzaks. We’ve got nowhere else to go-”
He noticed the gaping new room exposed past the crumbled door. The worn stone walls and roof starkly contrasted with the new, smooth, dark grey metallic material this new room was made of. The walls were lined with dimly lit green lamp-like objects. At the front of this new room was a simple doorway completely blocked off by a sheet of metal. Cleo and the others moved closer towards the room. She turned around, sneering.
“Told you this was a discovery of a lifetime. I guess a little bit of risk taking does go a long way, no?”
“Oh quiet, now’s not the time to be heckling. We need to keep moving before we get a few more Ahzaks stop on by. Now then Caelos, pleased to see that I’m not crazy, but since you got us into this mess, I think it’s only fair you guide us through your old home.”
“My apologies for causing these problems. Things have certainly changed in the past millennia. I’ll be sure to be more cautious.”
Cleo butted in, wonder in her eyes.
“But before we move on, what exactly was that power Caelos? Is it some kinda long lost magic? Is that what you are?”
“Cleo…” Curi interrupted. “You know how sometimes rocks fall from the sky?”
“Meteorites you mean?”
“Yeah, she can just instantly summon them and launch them just like that!”
“In the simplest terms that you can understand, yes, that is an ability I developed a long time ago.”
A banging came from within the new room, Durrus kicking at the sheet of metal.
“You done chatting? Good, help me get this door thing open. I don’t think we have much of a choice in this matter but Caelos, mind helping out with this door as well?”
She stifled a laugh.
“These compounds were built to last an eternity, there should still be some power running through them. There’s a small button on the side, press that and it should still be able to open.”
Durrus paused for a moment, looking at the side of the frame noticing the button. He pushed it in, and the sheet slowly slid up, revealing a long, metallic corridor, dimly lit by the same dark green lamps.
“Well I’ll be…”
Curi and Cleo bolted past Durrus, Caelos literally being towed along.
“Hey, hold up now! We need to take it slowly-… God damn it!”
He drew his scutum and gladius, about to charge forward until he caught the sight of Horrus strolling past him.
“You, hold on. How good are you with those axes of yours?”
“I used to fight bears with these things, what of it?” He said with a nearly monotone voice and deadpan look. Durrus paused for a moment, staring, before returning to his senses.
“Whatever, if that’s true, you’ll have no problems taking the front with me, right? Lord knows what other creatures we’d encounter in here.”
“That’s exactly what I’m hoping for you know.”
His voice had perked up a little bit, and the two dashed down the hall, following the disappearing glow of Curi’s staff.
The trio of girls ran deeper into the compound, constantly gazing and ogling at the strange passing sights of the metallic tunnel. A mess of pipes ran across the roof, each intertwining, interconnecting, and plugging into various spots in the walls. Each of the dim green lamps let out a low hum, many of them flickering with due to wear and tear from time. Curi eventually keeled over, wheezing a bit, and Cleo skidded to a stop, still breathing heavily as well.
“All right, excitement is over, now would probably be a fair time to sit down for a minute or two.”
She stood up straight, taking a few more deep breaths.
“Curi. I have a question for you. Don’t you know about how dangerous it is this far away from home? You do have a loving family at home or something, don’t you?”
“A bit, but I gotta be brave! Caelos told me all these wonderous stories about her people, humans of the past and all the wonder magic brought to Chidetah, and I knew I just had to go find out myself someday. Unfortunately, both of my parents wanted me to take over my family house. Working as a noble sounds really boring, at least from what they told me it was gonna be like.”
“From a house of nobles, huh? You left a really nice life behind. Honestly though, I think you did the right thing. You should be allowed to do what you want in life, right?”
“Well then, what kinda adventure do you have planned anyways?”
“Caelos wants to find a special room in this compound-”
Curi stopped, as a clicking noise reverberated down the tunnel ahead. Cleo stood up and drew her Kilij, and Caelos seemed to prepare to launch another asteroid, before Cleo looked back and held a finger in front of her lips. She turned forward again, noticing a very strange creature had entered the lamplight. It looked something like a human crawling on all fours, except with six skeletal looking legs. The body looked like it was covered in a carapace of some sort, layered almost like plate armor but still looking flexible. It had a short and stubby head which seemed like to be mostly mouth, showing off several long, sharp, and thin teeth.
The thing shrieked and leapt towards Cleo as Curi hurried back. She swiftly leapt to the side as the thing thudded behind her. She seized the opportunity to counterattack straight into the thing’s back. Her Kilij struck, but it barely dug into the carapace, and seeming to irritate the creature even more. It whirled around and swung at her with one of its front limbs. It struck her in the side of the chest, knocking her back, the blow thankfully glancing off of her armor. She regained her balance quickly, as the thing charged up preparing for another swipe. She dodged and swung at one of its limbs. Her sword managed to cut through most of its leg. The thing shrieked and leapt back. It dashed down the northernmost corridor into the darkness, practically dragging its injured leg across the floor. Cleo let out a deep sigh, and turned around.
“Curi, are you oka-”
She was staring back, wide-eyed with a massive smile across her face.
“That was amazing! I’ve never seen anyone fight with a sword this close before, let alone with a beast like that, but you sure showed that thing!”
Cleo cracked a smile. She sheathed her kilij, putting her hands on her hips.
“I’ve been training my whole life for something like this. Not really for fighting… whatever that thing was, but nothing tough nonetheless.”
Suddenly from behind them came more thudding. Cleo stood ready to attack, only to notice the glow of another lantern heading down, revealing Durrus and Horrus running down the tunnels, Horrus with his axes drawn.
“There you all are! Thank God… We heard some screeching way down here, the hell happened?”
Horrus’s eyes were wild with excitement. “What was the monster exactly? Is it still alive?”
“Don’t worry, I managed to take care of it. It was Some strange cross between a human and a bug crawling on 6 legs. It has a tough carapace but the limbs aren’t as armored.”
“All right then, at least you didn’t get killed. I want everyone to gather around for a quick moment.”
Everyone came close to Durrus.
“For this new place, I opt we stick together for now on, all right? You, Caelos, I just want you to navigate, no need to throw around any meteorites or whatever. I want us all to keep a low profile. I’ll take the front, and I want Cleo and Horrus to stay close behind. Let that thing come after me first and you two can go for its limbs. Curi, I want you to stay far out of any conflict, unless you have some combat experience. Are we all clear?”
“I used to work with a long-ish pointy sword back at home, but I don’t have it right now. I understand though!”
Cleo nodded. “Sounds like a good plan to me.”
Horrus groaned. “Look, just leave this bug thing fighting to me, it’s why I’m here.”
“I don’t care why you’re here, I care about staying alive. Just stick next to me, got it? Now, which way Caelos?”
Caleos pointed down the westernmost passage.
After traveling down the halls for quite some time, they finally reached an end. Caelos motioned her hand towards a door at the end of the wall. Durrus walked over, pressing the button on its side, and the door slowly climbed upward, letting out a mechanical groan as it did. The group walked inside slowly, lighting up the room with lantern fire. They stood in a long rectangular room, which connected directly with an open cylindrical room. The rectangular part contained quite a few long, podium like machines, unfortunately far damaged beyond recognition. Another sub-room viewable through a window was at the far end of it. The cylindrical part however was badly damaged compared to the rest. Rubble had fallen, a mix of rock, sand, and steel practically blocking up most of the room, with little of it spilling into the rectangular part. Caelos’s stern expression soon gave way, a look of despair taking over.
“All right, we can break formation here. Just keep an ear out for anything funny.”
Cleo and Curi walked towards the end of the room, trying to get the sub-room open, Horrus taking a seat leaning up against the wall, tapping his fingers impatiently, while Durrus stood with Caelos.
“Now then, why exactly did you bring us to a dead end?”
“This place is supposed to connect us to the rest of the compounds.”
“Hold on, what?”
“Below all that rubble you would likely find the crushed remains of a transport. All throughout the wastes spreads a web of our compounds.”
“You know, you haven’t really said anything on this matter, and now seems like a good time. The hell is the point of all of this place? All that’s down here is worthless scrap and dust. Maybe for a scholar-type person, it’d be interesting, but I’m not exactly one of those people.”
“Not valuable you say? My people constructed these compounds long ago because of the wealth that lied beneath the soil. We would ship several tons of gems, rare metals, anything you would deem precious back to our central compound.”
His eyes suddenly perked up. “How many tons of what now?”
“My people had to live here as well. We needed Store and process minerals, ship them off, maintain machinery, and plenty of other work you probably take for granted.”
“Look, I’m taking nothing for granted here, I’m just saying this place doesn’t seem as valuable as you’re making it out to be. However, now that you mentioned it, where exactly are all the minerals and gems stored?”
“On the other side of the compound from here, near the mines.”
“We’ll head there next, we at least deserve something of value here for escorting you and Curi, right?”
A sudden smash from across the room caused Durrus to suddenly flinch as he whirled towards the source of the noise. The window to the subroom was destroyed, and beside to it was Cleo with a piece of rubble in her hand. She turned to Curi.
“Stay here till I can see if I can unlock the door. I don’t want you getting cut, all right?”
“Got it, but try to find a way to let me in too!”
Cleo climbed through the window frame, watching for any other shards of glass, and scanned the small sub-room. A few strange long podium-like machines similar to the ones outside lined a few of the walls, a large black screen above them. Near the end of one wall was a tall, rectangular, metal cabinet. She briefly checked the door to the subroom.
“Sorry Curi, no luck on this side either. The room at least doesn’t seem to have anything much.”
“Aww… Well if you do find anything show me!”
She opened up the strange metallic cabinet, a long, rifle-like object sitting inside, with a few more strange smaller, flat rectangular objects sitting on the floor near it. The object was covered in scratches, coated in a thick layer of dust. It was long like her musket, but a bit more fat near the center. Three of the rectangular objects were black, while one had a red stripe around it. She pulled the rifle out and began inspecting it. She flipped it around and flicked the trigger to it a few times. She continued feeling around, and suddenly felt a strange rectangular shaped hole on the bottom of it near the center. She paused for a moment, before grabbing one of the rectangles and shoved it into the rectangular slot. It snapped into place perfectly. She felt the trigger, noticing it was more tense. She pulled it back completely, suddenly sending off a loud bang and a flash, the gun nearly flying out of her hands.
“Cleo? Cleo are you all right? What did you find?”
“Just fine! Hold on, I’ll be out in a second!”
A bit of dust poured in from the roof. She looked up, noticing a new small hole in the metal above.
“I think I discovered something amazing!”
She threw the rest of the rectangles into her pack, grabbed the rifle and hopped through the window. Durrus and Caelos were also hurrying over.
“Dammit, I thought I said to not bring your rifle!”
“No I found something better, take a look at this thing!”
She presented the rifle. Caelos hovered over, observing before letting out a small smile
“Oh, this brings back memories. That’s a vermin rifle. Sometimes the tunnels would get filled with too many creatures and they needed to be cleared out, so they started giving these things to designated exterminators.”
“Oh so another gun. Great, just what we need to keep a low profile. Horrus, get over here and take my lantern. Keep watch at the door for me!”
Horrus shot up and sprinted over, taking the lantern before springing back to the door.
“It’s really odd. You can quickly load it by putting these block things inside and it just fires like that! Not to mention it had some really insane kickback as well when it fired. If I can just figure out how they did it, that’ll revolutionize firearms at home alone! I just hope it doesn’t involve any kinda magic.”
“Hey, what’s so funny?”
“Oh, just how you’re getting so excited at the most basic of our weapons.”
“Like I said before, we give those to exterminators. The weapons we gave to our actual soldiers were much more impressive.”
“Well is there an armory around here or something? I’d love to see some examples.”
“This was merely a mining station, I doubt you would find anything greater than that, since most equipment was moved back to the central compound long ago. Maybe there is some leftover at the weapons factory compound.”
Cleo’s eyes looked like they nearly bulged out of her head. “Are you saying there’s more compounds?”
“Lost throughout the wastes, unfortunately.”
Curi butted in. “Oh are you guys talking about old weapons? Caelos once told me about how these big monsters usually as big as the caves used to nest underground, and so her people built these massive cannons that could blast huge holes right through them!”
Cleo gave Durrus the same smile from when they first found the compound. She turned back to Caelos.
“Do you happen to know the location of these other compounds-”
“Hold up Cleo, I think we’ve been dragged into enough trouble as it is. If you really think we’d survive longer than a day out there in the wastes, I’m seriously going to have to knock your head in a few times till you start thinking straight.”
“I’m sure we can work something out. I mean, we have an all-powerful being at our disposal who may know where to go. We can just go to and from, not even have to spend more than a few days in the wastes I bet!”
“If you do plan to kill yourself out in the desert, I’m not going, and god help you if you try to get these kids wrapped up in this either.”
Suddenly a shriek emanated from the room’s exit, followed by a cry from Horrus. The trio dashed across the room, flying out the door to see the sight of one of the strange creatures, writhing on its back without any limbs. Horrus, with axes in hands, expertly dodged around strikes from two other creatures. He dodged another strike by quickly leaping to the side of one, and with a hefty swing, cleaved one of its limbs clean off. He didn’t show any mercy, continuing to cleave the rest of the limbs off of the side of the creature. He gave it a kick, toppling it over onto its back. It flailed about as it tried to get up. The other took a look at its companion, before turning around and fleeing back into the darkness. He gave a quick sigh, before turning to the flailing creature. He pinned it down with his foot, sheathing one of his axes, and two-handing one of them. He swung with all he could muster into the thing’s chest. It smashed right through it, sending out a spray of a clear, viscous fluid all over him. He continued to inflict blow after blow until the creature stopped writhing its head about. He walked over to the other creature, writhing and screaming more as he approached, as he inflicted the same blows onto it.
“Holy crap kid… I had doubts when you said you fought bears but now I believe you fully, that’s for sure.”
Curi ran over to him.
“That was so awesome Horrus! How was it to fight them?”
“Refreshing for once.”
He put away his axe.
“I don’t think I’ve fought pack animals that were that tough. Nor have I really fought bugs that big. I hope we find more.”
Cleo hurried over as well.
“Did you say hunt bears? Where the heck are you from Horrus?”
“I’m just a simple hunter.”
“Simple hunter, huh? With fighting prowess like that, you had to have some seriously good trainer.”
“Nope, just learned what my dad taught me.”
“Well then! I’m surprised you didn’t take that skill to the military, your skill would have done well there.”
“Pah, like other people would actually be a challenge.”
“You really think that? Why-”
“Shut it, both of you and let’s take formation! Come on, we got one more place to explore here before we all pull out got it? Caelos, mind showing the way to the storage?”
Caelos halted at the end of the hall, this time staring down a massive iron door that was more akin to two large slabs of metal connected together at the center. Right beside it on the wall was an open doorway.
“We can break formation now. Now how exactly do you get this thing open?”
“That leads to the mines. What you’re looking for is the storage, which is simply in that room over there.”
Durrus and the others marched over, and entered the room. The lanterns lit up several large metal crates scattered across a large, square room, with some stacked on top of each other. A few had holes in their side, revealing several glimmering gemstones. On one of the walls, however, a metal plate was missing, leading into a tunnel that dug into the rock wall.
“Now this is what I’m talking about! Take as much as your pockets can carry everyone!”
Durrus bolted over and shoved several handfuls of gems into his sack. Cleo took a few good handfuls and tossed them into her knapsack as well. Horrus didn’t even bother to move. Curi peeked inside the crate and shuffled around the pile of gems, intently staring at the pile before sighing and giving up. After failing to pry open a few of the other crates with his gladius, he noticed Curi and walked on over.
“Hey what’s wrong? These gems not precious enough for you?”
“Well yeah actually… None of them are anything special.”
Durrus stifled a laugh.
“Kid, you can buy something special if you really pleased, haha!”
“I already have enough money though. I came here to find something truly unique, like that cool rifle Cleo found!”
“Sheesh kid, you come from a family of nobles or something?”
“Actually, yea! The money is nice, but money can’t buy you a good adventure!”
Durrus stared at her intently for a few moments.
“Well, no use in forcing you then.”
Durrus went back to fiddling around with the strange crates while the rest of the group waited by the door. Time passed until Durrus finally gave up, and returned to the others, his sack constantly jingling with the sound of ores and gemstones as he walked. Intermixed with the jingling, however, a scratching was heard from the other side of the room. From the strange hole in the wall, another one of the strange creatures squirmed its way through and leapt at Durrus. He responded by punching it. His blow sent it flying back as it crashed against the and quickly slinging his scutum off of his back and into his arm as he slowly backed to the door. The thing rolled back onto its feet and let out a loud screeching howl that caused Durrus to wince a bit.
“Let’s keep moving back down the hall everyone! I think he’s calling his friends! Caelos, feel free to do your thing to them or whatever, I don’t think we have to worry about attracting more attention to ourselves now!”
Caelos smiled as she held her arm up, a small asteroid forming above it. Durrus was suddenly shoved aside as Horrus made his way to the screeching creature, taking a hefty swing at its neck. Unfortunately, his axe made nothing more than a dent. The thing paused its howl and clawed at him, tearing through his tunic and somewhat cutting him. He winced a bit, preparing for another strike before Durrus grabbed him by the back of his collar.
“Hey, let go of me you ass!”
“Kid we’re pulling out, unless you want to be their next meal!”
As he tugged him out of the room, Caelos launched the asteroid into the room, smashing the creature and sending bits of flaming rock everywhere. As the group retreated back down the hall with Horrus in tow, several more creatures began spilling out of the doorway. Practically being towed back by Curi, Caelos continued to launch asteroid after asteroid at the ever growing horde, thankfully slowing them down enough to where they weren’t instantly overwhelmed. They quickly took a left at the crossroads with the horde continuing to chase them down. The swarm had grown large enough to the point that the entire spacious halls were completely lined by them with even more trailing behind. The door leading back to the ruins was finally in sight, but the horde still was moments away from them. They bolted through the door and into the halls, the loud scratching and screeching moments away from them.
“Caelos, blast the roof, and everyone keep running!”
Caelos paused for a moment to prepare, and launched a final asteroid at the roof. The ancient stone could not hold up after such an impact. Cracks quickly spread throughout the room until finally, several tons of sand and rock collapsed into the room and somewhat poured into the halls. The dust settled, revealing nothing but a massive pile of rocks where the room once was. At the sight, Durrus, Cleo, and Curi all practically collapsed, gasping for every bit of breath they could get.
“That… Was… So amazing… hoo…”
“Sure was… something indeed right? Haa… I don’t care… how much somebody offers… I’m taking tomorrow off…”
“I still… wish we could have explored… all of it… “
Horrus stayed silent, pressing his hand onto his wound.
Several moments passed before they all clambered back to their feet.
“My god, some night wasn’t it? Bahaha, with all I got I might as well stop escorting adventurers down here, already hit a motherload!”
Cleo observed her rifle a bit.
“There’s still more to be discovered, though isn’t there? If Caelos is correct, this is only the very surface of an even greater discovery.”
“I said it before and I’ll say it again. It’s suicide. No maps or any way to navigate, no water out there, no food, no hope.”
“Is that really all that stopped humanity from exploring Chidetah?”
Durrus turned to Caelos.
“If that really is, I can provide some solutions to your problems. In return, you will have to assist me and Curi with our quest.”
A grin slowly spread across Cleo’s face.
“Before I do anything I regret, at least let me get some sleep tonight, all right?”