The Beginning After the End (Vol. 8.5): Amongst the Fallen
More Dangerous Than It Used to Be (Part 2)
More Dangerous Than It Used to Be (Part 2)
Dec 16, 2021
Without time to think things through, I jumped from the trees, aiming directly into the cave opening.
Wind whipped past, causing my hair to flutter behind me like a flag. I used the mana imbued around my legs to push down and out to better control my fall. Both daggers were held in a reverse grip, poised to strike.
The sword-legged spider didn't even have time to sense my presence before I crashed into it, the force of our collision cracking its hardened carapace and knocking us both through a dense wall of webs. At the same time, my daggers bit down into its back, between where the legs all connected.
We bounced off the wall of the cave—which, it turned out, was actually a deep hole that plunged nearly straight down into darkness—before coming to rest, suspended in the sticky, ropelike webs.
Below me, the sword-legged spider twitched feebly, its bladed legs sawing at the webbing, its insides oozing out through the crack in its abdomen and the holes in its back.
Wheezing, terrified gasps came from above.
Stuck like...well, like a fly in a spider's web, the elven girl was pulling and tugging at the trap, but made no headway in freeing herself. Her eyes, colorless in the dark cave, were wide with terror, and her entire body was expanding and contracting with quick, shallow breaths.
"Easy, the spiders are—"
I was cut off by her screaming as something lunged up from below and ripped the dying sword-legged spider from the web. The strike was so fast that the creature had already disappeared with its catch before I could get a look at it.
The appearance of this even larger, more dangerous mana beast sent the girl into spasms of terror. She twisted and turned in the sticky strands, only catching herself more thoroughly with every movement.
"Damn it, stop moving!” It was no use though. My words fell on deaf ears, and the girl's thrashing was sure to draw the mana beast back to us once it had finished with the sword-legged spider.
Using my daggers, I began to cut through the ropes of spider's silk, careful to make sure I was still supported and wouldn't plummet down into the waiting jaws of whatever subterranean horror lived in this cave.
Once I was free and crouching safely on a rough ledge worn into the cave wall, I focused mana into my eyes and ears and peered down into the dark.
I could just make out part of a coiled, segmented form in a cavern below. It twitched as it devoured the sword-legged spider, the ensuing clacking and crunching noises resounding through the cavern entrance.
Although I could only see part of the beast's body, I could tell it was huge—thirty feet long at least, perhaps more.
It was made up of segmented parts, each supported by several legs, and reminded me of a giant centipede. What little light reached the bottom of the drop shaft reflected off thick plates of chitinous armor.
I didn't recognize the beast, or know its classification, but I was sure it was powerful.
The elf girl was still thrashing wildly against the webbing, sending tremors through it, like ringing a dinner bell for the creature below.
I knew I could get myself out easily enough, but reaching the girl would require I throw myself back into the middle of the web, putting me in a very poor position to defend against another attack.
It would be a lie to say I didn't consider just getting out and leaving the elf to her fate.
Instead of jumping up and out of the cave, though, I went farther down. As carefully and quietly as I could, using wind mana to buffer the noise, I hopped from ledge to ledge until I was just under the lip of the cavern roof that opened off of the drop shaft.
The cavern wasn't as large as I had expected, though I could just barely make out a handful of dark holes where other tunnels exited the mana beast's lair, perhaps extending into a larger network of burrows.
It was twenty feet from the roof of the cavern to the rough floor, and perhaps thirty or forty feet in diameter.
The huge mana beast was right below me.
As I'd thought from above, it looked a lot like a giant centipede covered in thick plating. It was larger than I'd guessed, though. Much larger.
It had two long antennae that sprouted from the top of its flat head, constantly probing all around it, and two curved mandibles, each as long as I was tall. The thing could snap me in half with a single bite.
Its back end split and narrowed, curling up into two barbed, scorpionlike tails.
Then I realized what it was. A ravager…
The S-class mana beast shifted, unwinding from around its short-lived meal. Now that I was closer, I was sure it was at least fifty feet long, but the way it coiled around itself disguised its true size.
Ravagers were burrowing creatures that generally lived deep in the wildest parts of the Beast Glades. They hunted other S-class mana beasts, like the iron hydrax and midnight grizzly, setting traps like this drop shaft and baiting them with other, weaker beasts.
Or little elven girls, I thought bitterly to myself.
Little tremors were running along the network of webs, which continued down to the cavern floor. The ravager already knew it had more prey in its trap, I was sure, but the sword-legged spider had taken the edge off its hunger, and so it was taking its time getting around to its next snack.
Maybe I'd have enough time to get myself out of the tunnel—if I was willing to leave the girl behind. Even then, it was a maybe.
And the creature would still be here, much too close to the Wall for comfort.
Scrambling back up, I crawled around the edge of the vertical tunnel, clinging tight to the earthen wall just above where it opened into the wider cavern.
I could hear the ravager moving, its hundreds of legs churning up the dirt with a deceptively quiet scraping sound.
Its head appeared below me, the antennae feeling along in front of it, prodding at the webs and running up the walls. They reminded me of a couple of giant worms crawling through the dirt.
The war between Dicathen and Alacrya is over and Arthur Leywin has vanished. In the uncertain aftermath of this decisive loss, a few familiar faces navigate peril both political and moral as they are now forced to make a difficult choice: accept life under Vritra rule or keep fighting despite impossible odds? As Dicathen falls, Mica Earthborn, Lilia Helstea, Emily Watsken, and Jasmine Flamesworth must each answer this question for themselves.
NOTE ABOUT READING ORDER: to get the best reading experience, Amongst the Fallen should be read after volume 8 of The Beginning After the End (make sure you've read up to episode 868).