The walls are a mixture of porous and smooth, hard granite and fossilized coral full of holes. Solaris swings a flaming torch from side to side. Blues, blacks, and whites, all swirl together, and the wide corridor echoes with skitterings and clickings coming from inside the stone.
“Crabs are fine.” Solaris kicks at a foot-sized claw poking through the wall. “It’s the beetles, bats, and spiders.” She shivers. “Especially the jumping spiders. Those things look like a nightmare ate a teddy bear and grew eight legs, too many eyes, and huge fangs.”
The crab she had kicked snaps at her. Shell striped, purple and gray, with cyan barnacles adding a spiky layer, it is a giant crustacean that has survived many seasons. Solaris makes a circle and slash motion of her overgoddess to show respect and then jabs with her torch until the creature skitters deeper into the nether behind the carved stone.
Sylyca, the diminutive elf holding the parties’ other torch, points back at the oversized stairs they’ve descended. “We are below sea level, aren’t we?” She lowers her voice. “Have we entered the Undersea? Is that dream demoness close?”
“We have entered the titans’ labyrinth,” says Solaris. “The demoness, djinn, or whatever was in our vision, isn’t close and doesn’t matter if our sanity holds.” Snickering, she motions to Jacob. “You lead, Mr Circus, and I’ll be your light.”
The martial artist pumps his fist in the air. “I am a scout master!” He seems to step forward, but with jerking knees and gliding feet, he slides backwards across the damp floor. “Follow me.” He spins, kicking aside a hairy crab claw and hops down the hall.
“Jacob, save your dancing for the fancy balls.” Solaris cracks her knuckles. “Adventuring is serious business.” She motions towards their magician, a short, gray-skinned half-elf. “Messoack, after me, and then Sylyca and… Belazar the Brave, guarding our rear.”
The large warrior grunts and thumps the hilt of his great sword against his bare chest.
“Yes, thank you.” Solaris clears her throat. “We’ll start with clearing rooms we’ve been before, making sure nothing nasty has moved in.”
The dog-sized crab that Jacob had kicked hisses and skitters into Solaris’s path, shell hairs golden in the torchlight.
Messoack spins his hands around a ball of dark blue energy, but Solaris blocks his view with her body and clicks with her tongue and cheek. The big crab smacks pink-tipped claws together and scurries back into its hole.
Sighing, Messoack lowers his hands. “We should make our dock guards barrack down here, so we can go straight to a proper adventure.”
Solaris shakes her head. “I don’t think the crabs will like them.”
“Then, kill off the shelled monsters—”
Whipping her hand about, Solaris jabs his chin with a fingernail. “Do not threaten them.” She clicks with her tongue. “I’m building a rapport.”
At the end of the dripping hall, Jacob claps. Solaris catches up, and he kicks open a massive stone door. With a huff, he tumbles through. She steps after, shining torchlight throughout a square chamber a pair of barns could fit inside.
The floor ripples, a carpet of small crabs skitter away from the scattered bones of people, human and giant-sized.
“Hey, Belazar.” Solaris shoos the crustaceans into the walls’ porous stone. “Put your ear against a wall. If something doesn’t nip it off, you can hear the ocean’s breath.”
The bulky orcelf presses the side of his head against the damp granite. “Water and wind.” He snarls and jerks, snapping off a small crab claw that’s pinching his ear. “I’m not food. You’re food.”
Solaris bites her lip and winces as Belazar eats the arm, shell and all. Licking his lips, he returns and wiggles his ear near where he got nipped.
Forcing a smile, she goes to Sylyca. “Ask him to stop eating them, or I’ll cast a tear to Ocean World and hold it open until something bigger than him rips his arm off.”
The small druidess nods and hurries past a chuckling Messoack.
“Hey!” Jacob motions towards an empty bookshelf, sized for a human library and out of place in the titanic room. “I remember there’s a passage behind this, but it’s got a trap.”
“I know.” Solaris frowns. “We found that a few weeks ago, but didn’t go through. You still have the key, right?”
Jacob holds up a pair of stone keys. “It’s one of these two for sure.”
Solaris raises her torch. “All right. Everyone get back. Jacob is going to gamble.”
Messoack sighs. “I hate to ruin what could be grand fun, but shall I burn some spell power to open it from a safe range?”
“Too noisy, and we should save it.” Solaris retreats to the chamber’s entrance. “I trust Jacob’s dexterity, if not his memory.”
Jacob gives a thumb up. Everyone else hurries to Solaris.
Messoack makes a fist. “Hold tight to your soul, Jacob! That trap is hungrier than an orcelf at a crab buffet.”
Solaris growls. “When Colgrevance or Beorn leads a party, no one undermines—”
“Yikes!” Jacob stumbles and falls to a knee as an inky darkness spews over him from behind the bookshelf. “I’m stretching.” He holds his arms over his head like a devout man worshipping. “Help me.”
Solaris curses and runs to him. “Concentrate.” She drops her torch, and it sizzles on the floor as she spins her hands around a darkness which pulses blood red. “Forgive me, Lileth.”
She points at the biggest crab poking into the room. Larger even than the one that Jacob had kicked, it can only fit one massive hairy claw through its hole in the wall. She grimaces and a line of darkness connects the bulky crab to her and then to Jacob.
Messoack gives her a thumb up. “Keep twisting your spell as only a tinkering witch can.” He chuckles as the giant crab shudders. “Come on, suck in that salty soul.”
“Shut up!” Solaris drops her arm that was pointed at the crab and grimaces, thickening the mystic line to Jacob. “Accept this sacrifice, instead.”
A pulse flows down the line from her, a shadowed crab-shape that mixes with the inky darkness covering the martial artist. Jacob reaches towards the void trap emanating from the bookshelf, and as his smoky soul is pulled out, the sea creature’s life-force skips past.
His spirit settles, and he shakes like a man coming out of an icy river. “I am not ready to die.”
The darkness withdraws like a wave and only drags the clawed soul with it, satiating the trap. Solaris’s torch goes out, and Sylyca huffs over to relight it with hers.
Solaris wipes her brow, and squeaks as Jacob hugs her.
“You saved me,” he says. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Messoack waves Belazar over. “She deserves a hug from you too, big man.”
“No,” says Solaris, “wait.”
She winces as the warrior wraps his massive arms around both Jacob and her, adding warmth but only slight pressure.
“Well done, sea witch.” Messoack nods. “Now, we can respect your leadership.”
Belazar, warrior—rugged former Verdant crusader
Jacob, martial artist—tumbling scout with mystic fists
Messoack, magician—loyal explorer of madness
Solaris, sea witch—whimsical lover of the grotesque
Sylyca, druidess—elvish caster of dreams and life