Episode 33: Pressing Forward
The water was always cold.
Still, we had an almost endless supply of firewood to stay warm. A diver would swim out and fetch broken boxes, torn sails, or anything that looked like it may burn, and they’d bring it back to the cave so that I could pull the water molecules out. The dried materials would burned easily after that.
Meanwhile, Erunak was careful to pull fresh air down the long pathway up to the surface, supplying us with a warm breeze that helped to put our minds at ease. We were seven days into our underwater stay and I was starting to get tired of the repetitive activities. I had just started to wonder if I should venture out for the daily supply of crab meat when I heard something thrash in the water near the cavern’s entrance.
“More naga?” I asked as he turned toward Erunak.
“No,” the shaman replied. “A soldier.”
I turned to get a better look and saw several of the survivors helping pull the soldier out of the water and over to the warmth of the nearby fire. He looked beaten and starved, but he was breathing steady for someone in his shape. I quickly pulled some fresh cold water out of thin air and whipped up a cup to store it. I reached the soldier as they laid him down and I quickly got him to take down some of the water.
“T…ha..nk you…” the soldier said between gulps. “I feel like I’ve been underwater for days.”
“Can you tell me what’s happened?” asked Erunak as he came to my side. “How did you find us?”
“I didn’t know you were here,” the soldier replied. “I was just trying to get away. There was a jail break at the naga camp where I was being held.”
“They were holding you captive?”
“Yeah, we were trapped in these bubbles, strong bubbles though; we couldn’t pop them with our bare hands. They had us floating around like idiots. Every once in a while they would take one or two of us off never to be seen again. They kept bringing in others, from the recent string of wrecks on the surface, and they’d come and go. I don’t know why I never got hauled off.”
“So what happened?”
“One of the prisoners got out. The naga didn’t notice at first. He could have swam away and never been caught, but instead he played the hero. He took a knife in the camp and started hacking our bubbles until they popped. What a rush that feeling was. Some of the prisoners he freed actually drown on the spot, but I was lucky enough to have those gills you gave me, Erunak.”
The shaman bowed deeply. “We are glad you found us.”
“Yeah well, the naga won’t be far behind.”
“Did you see Captain Taylor? Was he a prisoner?”
“I don’t know. The bubble I was in wasn’t exactly clear and the prisoners came and went with such frequency that I couldn’t keep track. The man that freed me from the prison… I didn’t even know his name.”
Erunak looked the soldier over once more and then stepped back, tugging on my shoulder so I would know to follow. We had done this several times in the last few days, pulling away from the others so they could talk about the gravity of the situation without destroying any hopes. We were powerful people, and the rest of the Briny Cutter’s survivors were not up to the task of survival in these difficult situations.
“We need to make our move soon,” Erunak stated with his voice calm but firm. “Are you in agreement?”
I thought for a moment, trying to absorb his statement. “If we move now, we’ll be moving alone. I thought your plan was to find help before we tried to push forward?”
“Help has been found,” Erunak replied. “The prisoners that didn’t escape the enemy camp; we will kill the naga, force them into a quick retreat, and then free the captives.”
“Pretty bold plan,” I said. “You sure we can spook the naga like that?”
“The Alliance has yet to stage a major offensive against these creatures. They must be anticipating it by now. If we can fool them into thinking that a large group has arrived we should be able to scare them off long enough to bolster our numbers with the prisoners that they are keeping.”
“Then what?” I asked. “What do we do when their surprise fades and they realize they’re fighting a dozen or so malnourished soldiers?”
“They will not suspect our powers,” Erunak replied. “You and I will hold the line while our bolstered numbers fall back to this cavern. Once they’re safe here they’ll be able to nourish themselves and prepare for a larger fight.”
“What happens to us in this scenario?”
“We draw the naga forces away.”
“I have been contacted by another shaman, Farseer Gadra is his name. He is urging us to aid his forces across the lightless reaches. He says there is an entrance to his location if we try to cross the great expanse.”
“You sure this isn’t some kind of trap? Don’t these naga have the ability to speak from mind to mind?”
“Their methods are not the same manner as our own. Sionis, there is an urgency in his request. I would take the survivors we have and go there now if not for the prisoners we might be able to save.”
A light suddenly switched on in my head. “Maybe there is another way…”
“What way is this?”
“Can you do that thing you did, not so much a thought, but a feeling that you used to show us the cavern when we fled the Briny Cutter?”
“It is not overly difficult.”
“Can you do it to the naga… like a lot of naga?”
Erunak suddenly started to get the idea and a smile spread across his face. “Yes, I think I can.”
The naga camp’s warden was a particularly rough looking individual. His face was deeply scarred and his fang like teeth seemed to jut from his mouth instead of folding away like other naga. For me, swimming up close to the terrifying creature was enough to get my heart pumping faster than I wanted, but I was busily trying to keep myself from getting worked up.
I almost wondered if the concern was partly because of Erunak, who was busy filling all the naga in the area with a sense of dread and impending doom. The warden’s death would serve as a kick to that fear and would, hopefully, create enough panic the various groups would retreat. The dozen or so survivors had slipped quietly into position so they would be able to quickly and easily free the thirty or so soldiers that they had found trapped in the translucent bubble prisons.
I waited patiently. Erunak was helping to channel my thoughts to the warden so that I could literally see his fear, like a needle on the gas can of a dwarf’s tank, the naga’s fear seemed to keep climbing higher and higher. The timing was important as it wouldn’t simply do to silently kill the enormous naga. He needed to cause a ruckus, to scare the naga into shouting or screaming if possible. It would need to spur the rest of the soldiers into a true panic. If their leader had been slain they would surely fear for their own lives.
Slowly…steadily…the fear boiled up inside the naga until he was literally shaking. The time was now and I had to make sure I did this right. I formed a concoction I had been working for a little bit; I liked to call it an ice bomb. I created a shell of thick ice and then pulled everything out and replaced it with a powerful flame. I didn’t have long to use it, but I didn’t need much. I propelled the bomb through the water and it flew up to the warden’s face. The naga’s eyes went wide just as the bomb went off, shooting fire and ice shards out around it. The warden’s agony was loud and terrifying, just as I had hoped, and the wounds from the blast turned out to be hopelessly fatal for the creature. He writhed only for a moment and then fell silent; his body bobbing up and down in the water. There was a sudden rush of feelings in my mind, the urge to attack to scream and shout and yell. I knew that Erunak was aiming to create a scene so I allowed the feelings to wash over me. I propelled myself over the warden’s ledge and flung several ice spears in various directions.
I actually caught a naga in the arm and was surprised when I saw that they were all fleeing as quickly as they could. A few of the survivors gave chase while others went to work on freeing the prisoners. Erunak was busy giving the freed prisoners their own set of gills, which was apparently rather painful. I was glad that he had been unconscious when I got my set.
The soldiers were quick and the survivors looked weak, but Erunak seemed to grow determined. There was a prickling on my neck and I realized that I was getting a sense of impending danger. The naga must have gotten back up sooner than anticipated. That was unfortunate. There was a moment where I wanted to head to Smuggler’s Scar, but Erunak’s emotions pushed toward the lightless reaches where the naga would be less likely to follow. There was little option in the matter as the survivors and prisoners quickly started moving the way Erunak directed them. Even if I had felt uncomfortable going that way, my only other choice now would be leaving alone.
As we all swam toward the deep trench that would lead us to our next destination, I saw a small group of naga approaching. I was going to have to stay behind to fight them, but I would need Erunak’s help. The survivors, however, were lost without the shaman’s guidance… until I realized my mind was now swimming with new thoughts and emotions. It was the other shaman that Erunak had mentioned. The two seemed to communicate for a moment, my brain an incidental audience to their conversation, and then Erunak turned away from the group and I felt his resolve. He was coming to help and possibly die in the fight.
Feeling a little shaken by his emotions, I turned back toward the approaching enemy. I was willing to fight, but I had no intention of dying at the hands of these or any other naga. I had been through all of this before and I wasn’t going to let myself get killed down at the bottom of some ridiculous naga infested ocean. By the time I sent that mental message back to Erunak, I had already formed a rather large ice bomb, my mind set on swimming away from this confrontation.
We swam at the enemy and I used my fire power to start boiling the water between us, creating bubbles that confused and aggravated the naga. They punched through and came face to face with the ice bomb that I had prepared for them. The explosion knocked four of them out of the fight, a fifth looked fatally wounded, but there were still five more heading at us. Erunak was quick to disarm the first beast that reached him, spinning the weapon and impaling the attacker on his own weapon. I was truly impressed, but I formed an ice spear and hit the next one that came at the shaman. For some reason, it seemed that Erunak was taking the brunt of the attack, leaving me unfazed and able to defend from the side.
For a brief moment it looked as though we were going to kill off the final three naga and flee for the caves, but a distant horn-like sound meant that more enemy forces were coming. Erunak shook his head and then motioned to the cave. I felt the shaman’s thoughts, the urge to flee. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t going anywhere. I whipped up another ice bomb and spun it out at the shaman. Erunak detected it coming and dove away just in time for the blast to miss him and kill the remaining naga. When Erunak looked at me again, it was I who motioned to the cave.