Voices of Belazar’s companions echo around him, blunted by the smooth walls of the rose quartz room. As their sounds are lessened yet drawn out, so his torchlight is dimmed but reflected. Everything that influences his senses is dispersed throughout the spherical space and stretched between the gaps of his breath.
“This place assaults my perception.” Belazar crosses his thick mountain-climbing legs and sits like a boy mesmerized by an all-night campfire. “I’m drifting.” Time spirals and thoughts from yesterday, last season, and his childhood compete for attention with parallel intensity.
Solaris waves her pale arm in front of his face. “Whatcha doing?” She holds the edge of her short skirt down as she settles onto her knees and reaches for his cheek. “Are you okay?”
With swift, sandaled feet and loose-fitting tunic and trousers, Jacob scouts his squad of mounted adventurers through the night, reaching a lonely inn during the quiet dark before dawn. A cramping calf makes him wince, and he stretches it as his companions rein in around him.
Shortsword in hand and armor clinking, Beorn hops off of Theros, his giant gray goat. “If we hurry, we can loot and escape before sunrise.”
Jacob gestures up to the dimming stars as the sky gains a hint of blue. “The sage warned that our enemy controls flying spies.”
Leather armor creaking, Sylyca dismounts her sweaty horse and spins thin elvish hands about with a hypnotic flair. “I can cloud our travel. No tracks, and blur eyes looking our way.”
“Nice.” Jacob smiles at the petite elf who makes him regret his vow of celibacy as he fingers a blocky stone key. “The secret entrance should be under a stall in the stables. Follow me.”
Beorn brushes a snoring Theros, adding clumps to the fluffy gray pile of fur between his hard leather boots. As he works to smooth the gruff’s coat, the children of Badgertown creep closer.
None of the dozen boys and girls have the height to reach Beorn’s elbow, and only the boy that interrupted yesterday’s story time has the ambition to stretch fingertips enough to pet Theros who stands tall while sleeping.
The gruff bugles like a drowning donkey. The brave boy stumbles backward, and his abnormally large ears turn beet red as several of his peers snicker.
Beorn chuckles and sets his brush on a bench connected to Theros’s stable stall. “Do you kids want another story about Theros?” He points at the boy. “I know you do, Abbot.”
Abbot rubs his big ears and nods, and the other children filter in behind him. Their eyes are wide, and their lips are thin lines.
“So well behaved.” He pats Theros’s neck, quieting a fresh snore. “I must thank your parents for raising you all to be patient and respectful. It is refreshing to have an audience so unlike my bandmates.”
Beorn cups his hand under a fountain spout and splashes his face with water mystically pumped and filtered from the nearby river. Rolling his broad shoulders, he waves Theros over.
The horse-sized goat snorts and stands, scattering a gaggle of human children who had been brushing his coat. With a clatter of hooves on cobbled stone, he joins Beorn and dips his muzzle into the evening-cooled water.
Beorn reaches under the goat’s horns to scratch his thick neck. “These Badgertown kids are enamored with you. Do mind if I tell them your story?”
Theros slurps and lifts his head. His golden eyes sparkle with a soft glow, and a deep sound rumbles up from his belly that makes Beorn’s hair stand on end.
“Okay, so you’re grumpy,” says Beorn. “You’re always grumpy, but I don’t have magic active to interpret your exact meaning. Stomp once for yes. Twice for no.” He holds up a finger. “But consider how disappointed your little groomers will be if they don’t get a proper bedtime story.”
A three-legged dog hobbles across the street, chased by a pumpkin-orange rooster with something metallic strapped to his beak. Telisa turns into the alley they ran out of, bumping into a human boy half her height.
“Oh, shit logs!” He falls on his butt and scrambles back like a crab. “Your eyes are lights.”
Telisa sighs and crouches. “I heard there were rebelling zombies in these slums. Help me find one, and I’ll give you a… treat.”
“You a demigoddess? What you a lady of?”
She holds out her hand, curling fingers thin and long to help him up. “I host nothing divine. My eyes shine because my race stores sunlight. Have you never met an olympian before?”
A lighthouse in the middle of a misty city street, Telisa stands a head taller than the traffic that parts around her. Eyes glowing like lanterns and a black cloak snug about her shoulders, she is a mystery the locals whisper about but do not molest.
Dawn has arrived, and Telisa is lost. Reaching with fingers too long to be human, she traces grooves in a large oval sign. It was supposed to detail Titantale City, every street and block. Perhaps it did once, but generations of vandals have marred the oak, almost cutting through it with their graffiti.
“Hey there, pretty lady.” A shirtless blue man flies up to her and hovers on a swirl of smoke instead of legs. “I can direct you to interesting things.”
“I have been tricked and abandoned by rivals.” She brushes midnight hair away from pale cheeks and shining eyes. “Because I am an interesting thing.”
“Oh, then I’ll direct people to you.” He cackles and slaps his bare belly.
The granite wall sparkles next to Jacob’s torch. Smooth and flat as glass, it is carved with a titan’s eye towards perfection. Jacob crouches, butt hovering over sea water that fills the room up to his calf, and the flame flickers where a knee-high tunnel bores through into another shadowed room.
Jacob places his torch in the hole, pulls out his black coral flute, and plays crisp notes. Discovered in a treasure chest full of titan gold, the instrument summons piquant water that he gulps like a flask between blows. He sighs. It’s refreshing, as if from a cool mountain spring, despite an off-putting taste.
Kriv hops over. “Can I try some magic flute juice?”
Wiping his mouth, Jacob tucks the flute into his ragged tunic and splashes the little beebo with sea water. “Since this room isn’t draining on its own, do your part. Drink your fill of this ocean slop that your awesome friend summoned.”
The Undersea hall is wide and tall, made by a giant race of scaled men. The floor is smooth and wet, and Jacob is slow with his steps. An iron and oak box strains his callused fingers. Sealed shut by centuries of neglect, it is red with rust and soft with rot.
Metal clinks inside as Jacob shuffles forward. “This one’s heavy enough to be filled with gold.” He huffs, struggling to maintain his posture. “Not more devil-damned dwarven copper.”
Kriv, short as Jacob’s hip, scoots his bald blue head under the chest. “Need more light.”
“Get out from under there,” says Jacob.
Belazar, a head taller and a barrel wider, shuffles over with a torch and grips the side of the chest with his free hand. “May I have a turn, Sir?”
Jacob nods, and the burly orcelf tucks the box under his arm, easy as a load of laundry.
Torchlight makes shadows dance as the adventuring band tiptoes deeper into the Undersea maze. Built by a giant race, the place shrinks the veterans into children. They are like puppies and kittens with trinkets and charms, exploring an endless dungeon with fur raised and ears twitching.
Breath hushed, the band of five pause where the yellow ribs of something colossal blocks an entry like a portcullis.
Solaris runs her hands along a carved bone thick as her arm. “Could you break through this?” She gestures to Belazar. “Without too much noise?”
The bulky orcelf saunters over and grips the bone bars. “Maybe.” His dark gray skin flushes and tiny tusks poke from his lips as he grits his teeth.
Spiders: Featured spider color altered from original: taken by Thomas Shahan. Used with permission.
Still under the docks of Titantale City…
The empty bookshelf swivels open to a passage, a short tunnel through the Undersea’s speckled blue granite.
Solaris runs her soft fingers across the rough cut stone. “Not titans’ work. It is old though. Maybe chiseled through by the first people that took advantage of the scaled giants’ disappearance.”
Jacob rubs his hands together. “Let’s get some treasure.”
Solaris taps his back with the base of her torch, and the martial artist leads her and the rest of their party into another dark room. The floor is dusty instead of damp and webs cover the walls all the way up to the ceiling, a tree’s height above Solaris.