The four of us walked through the forest as an awkward sight: a Treek, a Gnome, a half-breed, and a Beastfolk disguised as a Saurian. Once we got far enough out of sight from the colony the Beastfolk dropped her Saurian disguise, transforming back into her bobcat-like figure.
"So what should we call you?" Zef said.
"Don't call me anything," she said. She kept her eyes forward as she walked.
"If something goes wrong out here, if trouble is coming your way, we're going to need a way to get your attention," Zef said. He walked next to her and the height difference between the two was astonishing.
"Tigala," she said.
"Well, it's nice to meet you, Tigala. My name is Zef, and that is Lolan and Kaia." Zef said.
Tigala kept walking as if she hadn't heard what Zef said. Bringing her along was starting to feel more and more like a terrible idea.
We reached the stream and I lead the group to the cliff, keeping an eye open for ogres this time. The only evidence left of the scuffle was some scattered blood on the stone cliff, a few patches of torn up dirt, and some of my lingering dead vines.
We all looked out into the forest below and saw the same gray shape poking out of the trees.
"Woah. I thought this place was uninhabited," said Lolan.
"That's what I heard too," I said.
Zef just stared, amazed.
Tigala broke the silence. "Are we gonna go inside or just stare at it?" With that she started walking along the cliff, looking for a way down. We found a spot where the cliff sloped gradually into the forest below and continued to the mysterious building.
We walked mostly in silence, in fear of provoking Tigala further. She was clearly willing to attack me, even in a place of sanctuary, just because I was a Treek. I was pretty sure it wouldn't take much for her to do it again.
Instead, I walked a distance from the group, stopping with Chipry at bushes he found and listening to his song echo through the trees.
At one of our berry bush stops, I found a feather near the base of the bush, but it was tucked neatly under branches Chipry hadn't visited yet. Could there be others like him on this island? I thought. I had never seen another bird like him before, so it was unlikely. Still, I had to wonder.
"Over here," yelled Zef standing at the base of a hill.
I reached him about the same time Tigala did, standing at the base of a set of stone slabs forming a staircase up the steep hill. "Are you trying to alert the whole forest of our presence?" she said.
"Nope. Only the three of you could hear that," said Zef. He made a puff of purple sparks fly from his hands and smiled as punctuation to his sentence, implying that he had used magic to do it.
Tigala reacted. Her body grew tense, only relaxing again once the sparks dissipated. She growled in response and then stomped up a set of stone slabs leading up the hill toward the structure. The rest of us followed.
It was a round watchtower-like structure made completely of stone, but it was built in a way that I had never seen before. Solid pieces of smooth stone formed the walls, reaching from its base to its top, about 30 feet off the ground.
The tower was old like it had sat and been overtaken by nature for fifty years. Chunks of the stone wall had crumbled and fallen both into and out of the building giving it an irregular shape. One whole side of the wall was collapsed from the ground to its peak. What remained stabbed into the air like a broken bottle.
The front had a wooden door of delicate craft. It looked even like the pieces of wood had been grown together and then cut. It made me think of the times mother and father had reminisced to me about Treek villages. Was this door Treek made?
We all stared at it in amazement for a few moments, then Tigala broke the trance. She walked forward in through the front door, unconcerned with subtlety. Zef and Lolan followed her in.
Before I entered, I looked at Chipry on my shoulder and said, "You'd better wait out here. Stay out of trouble. Okay?" I whistled to command him to wait and he hopped up to a nearby tree branch. Then I joined the group inside the tower.
It was a dark room with only a few small bars of light breaking through cracks in the old walls. Before I could ask, Zef was already preparing a spell. He touched the tip of his staff and a purple glow lit up the room.
The room was mostly bare. It had a small bed to the right and a staircase recessed into the floor at the far end. Cobwebs filled the room along with a musty smell of stagnant air.
Tigala looked around for a moment and then started down the stairs that led deeper into the hill.
"I can go first. I have the li—" said Zef.
Tigala cut him off, "I can handle it," she said continuing down the stairs. It was clear that she didn't want to be doing this with us at all. It made me wonder why she didn't just stay at the colony again. Even with the threat of Rodrigo kicking her out, it seemed like there had to be more behind her decision to join us. It made me nervous.
We all followed Tigala down the stairs and came to a door upon reaching the bottom. Tigala tried the latch, but it seemed to be locked. With her good hand, she punched through the door. There was the click of a sliding lock, and the door swung open.
Behind it was a dark natural cavern. The purple glow highlighted the smooth walls and ceiling of the room but dissipated before reaching the far wall. We stepped in slowly, Tigala included.
"Woah," Lolan whispered. Zef smiled in silence.
After a moment of awe, Tigala started her stomp-fest once more. She stepped into the cavern and began walking forward, expecting Zef to keep up. We followed, but I didn't like the idea of trudging through the darkness so quickly.
I thought I heard something deeper in the cave. A slight clacking maybe.
"Tigala, we should take it slow. We don't know what might be hid—" I started, trying to be quiet.
"Look, I only joined this ridiculous group so that if something does attack us, all I have to do is outrun you," she said. Her voice grew louder the more she spoke.
The clicking grew louder. "Tiga—" I said, trying to warn her, but I was cut off again.
"—I don't care about your names, or what you can do, or why you're here. Just stay out of my way." She shouted the words.
As she finished her sentence I found the source of the clicking. A few feet above her head, I saw 8 small reflections of Zef's glowing staff.
A giant spider dropped on top of Tigala and closed its long spindly legs around her. Then, it climbed back into the darkness with Tigala in tow.
"Where did it go?" I said.
Zef held his light higher but it didn't help. He muttered a few words and the light grew twice as bright. Above us, I could see Tigala, still being dragged away by the spider.
Lolan already had an arrow ready and let it fly. It hit the spider but just barely. The arrow glanced off of its abdomen and clattered to the floor deeper in the cave. As he prepared another arrow, Zef continued his muttering.
I focused on Tigala. Whether she hated me or not, I wasn't about to have the Beastfolk soldiers after me for losing one of their own. I mustered all of the magic I could to send a single vine up to the spider. It grew slowly due to the dusty floor it sprouted from. I focused more on length than healthy growth and reached the spider quicker than I would have expected, but it was too thin and weak to do any good in holding the spider still. I started to focus more energy into the vine, but as Zef's light continued to grow brighter, I realized that we weren't just up against one spider.
The walls crawled around us with spiders of varying size, the smallest being about the size of a dog. Behind us, the path to the door was still clear. Everything in me told me to run. It was what I had always done. It's how you stay safe; stay alive.
I looked to Zef. He was focused on some sort of spell, purple magic swirling around him. He didn't seem to even look towards the entrance. Lolan wasn't trying to escape either, he readied another arrow and took aim at the spider that was wrapping Tigala in webs on the ceiling.
Were we really doing this? Working together? Relying on each other to get us out of a sticky situation? I looked around at the giant spiders swarming us. It seemed ridiculous to fight for the life of a Beastfolk, but I needed them as much as they needed me.
The spider was now near the twenty-five-foot ceiling with my thin vine hovering just below it. It began spinning Tigala and tying her up with web as I continued to focus on making the vine sturdier so that I could actually do something with it.
The spiders that were inching closer to us jumped back as a fire appeared around the three of us. I looked at Lolan, and noticed that Zef was the one to create it. How did a Gnome use fire magic? But the fire gave off no heat whatsoever. Ah, an illusion. I thought, mentally tapping my finger against my head. But the confusion led me to another thought: Can Lolan use fire magic?
I didn't have time to follow the line of thinking at the moment, but it was something to hold onto for later.
As my vine was nearly strong enough, Lolan fired another arrow, and this one connected. It pierced the largest part of the spider's abdomen, causing it to let out a barely audible, high-pitched scream.
It dropped the webbed Tigala and my thin vine grabbed her. It snapped under the weight and Tigala plummeted to the floor in a heap of vines. An orange glow from within the spider-web coffin showed that Tigala was at least alive in there. Hopefully the vines took the brunt of the impact. Then again, with how she had treated me and the rest of the group, I was okay with her getting roughed up a bit, even if we were in a dire situation.
I looked back to the door and it was now blocked by three spiders. The ones closer to us we're now testing the false fire and learning to ignore it.
On the ground, a giant spider crawled out of Tigala's web sack. My gut reaction was terror at the sight. Even after I saw the same scar across its face and a shortened front leg, it was still unsettling.
Tigala-spider dug her way out of the webs, Lolan fired another arrow, and Zef, still maintaining his composure, said, "Can you clear the way?"
The walls near the doorway now crawled with an army of spiders. There was no way to clear them all. In the opposite, the cavern continued and only two spiders stood in the way. Better to regroup than die, I guess.
I began running at the two spiders farther from the door as I sucked the magic out of the remnants of my previous vine. I grew another underneath one of the spiders. It shot up and wrapped around the creature, pinning it to the floor.
An arrow flew over my shoulder and cut off two legs from the second spider. It squealed but began skittering toward us, nonetheless.
I tried to grab it with another vine as I ran but I was too slow. It lunged at me. I raised my arms to protect against it, but I felt no impact. I opened my eyes and saw Tigala, in spider form, on top of the other overturned spider. Tigala's mandibles came down on the arachnid and crushed its head. I looked over my shoulder as we ran and saw a moving image of our group still attacking the swarm of spiders back near the door. I figured it was one of Zef's illusions.
Zef dimmed his light until we rounded a corner, leaving the horde of spiders behind us. I slumped against a wall once we were out of sight.
"Well, that was terrifying," said Lolan between breaths.
Tigala was transforming back to her normal Beastfolk form now. As her face reformed, it held the same scowl she had worn the whole trip. No thanks were given to any of us for saving her. Just the scowl.
Zef smiled, "It could have gone worse."
"It could have gone better too," I said, glaring at Tigala.
"Is there something you want to say to me?" she said. It was more of a threat than a question.
Lolan spoke. "Stop. Fighting now is only going to get us all killed," he said. He was probably right, but all Tigala had ever been was trouble.
I held my tongue, for the sake of the group, but I craved the thought of shoving it in her face—telling her that this whole situation, us trapped in a cave behind a wall of spiders, only happened because of her selfishness—because she wanted to make it clear that she hated us.
Instead, I looked around at the cave walls, dimly lit by the glow of Zef's staff. We had left the large room, the lair of spiders, and found a small natural corridor at the far end. It was about two shoulder lengths wide and led deeper underground.
"So, where to? Should we try fighting the spiders or go deeper underground?" Lolan asked.
"There's no way to get past all of those spiders right now. Let's go deeper." I said, and I started walking into the darkness.