“It's you?!” Moushira and Naxio called out at the same time.
Turning to them was the Oodan boy who when they last remembered had been unconscious for the past week and few days. Seeing the boy awake was a shock but a welcome one as he did help them just now.
“S-so are you alright now?” Naxio asks as he stands, now that his shoulder wasn’t heavily injured.
However, silence only answered him. The Oodan boy didn’t respond and seemed to look between the three of them curiously. As the silence stretched on, an annoyed look came to Moushira’s face.
“Excuse me, young master. But my friend who kindly healed your wounds asked you a question?” Moushira said in a strained tone as a plastic smile appeared on her face.
The boy looks over to her for a few seconds before turning back to Naxio. Receiving still no response, it was apparent that Moushira was getting furious even as Naxio was trying to calm her. But then suddenly the boy spoke.
The boy’s voice was unexpected. It was deep and a bit low sounding. Nothing like the gruff growling sound he has made before under the Ying corruption.
“...Ah, you’re welcome..” Naxio responded, not really knowing what else to say in that situation.
“What is your name?” Kaldov suddenly asks even after being silent for so long.
The Oodan boy looks over to him and bows his head a bit.
“My name… is Thakan.” He responds in a respectful tone.
Finally with a name to put to him, Thakan stood back up straight. He was about the same height as Kaldov but bigger in size. Moushira and Naxio looked at each other as a clear question was ringing in their stare.
“...So Thakan, do you remember anything about how you were corrupted?” Moushira asks while crossing her arms over her chest.
She seems to watch him with a heavy look of suspicion. He turns back to her and then turns his head down seemingly in thought. But after a few seconds, he looks back at her and shakes his head.
“...Nothing? Not even fighting us?” She said again with the same look on her face.
Again he shook his head, looking and appearing innocent as ever. Moushira however only frowns and motions for Naxio and Kaldov to move a few feet away before turning back to Thakan with that same fake smile.
“Just one second okay!”
She then drags both boys away and into a huddle.
“So you know what I’m thinking right?” She says in a low tone.
“Uhh, I’m not sure?” Naxio asks in a similar tone, with an almost nervous expression as he looks at her rather odd facial expression.
“I say we ditch him! It's too weird that he remembers nothing at all! He could be just lying!” She hisses and her eyes dart between both Kaldov and Naxio.
“...Huh? But why? I mean if what we are saying is true, it would be helpful with more people, Moushira.”
“But Naxio!!! He’s odd and very suspicious. I don’t believe anything he says.” Moushira hisses again, as volatile as a cat dumped in water.
“I get what you mean Moushira, but if he wanted to do something bad then I think he wouldn’t have helped us before and just left.” Naxio said.
“Ugh, you’re too nice! Kaldov, backed me up here!” She said, turning to Kaldov.
Kaldov however seemed to be watching Thakan from the corner of his eyes. Thakan for the most part was just standing off the side. Not once looking like he was trying to eavesdrop or anything of the kind. He appears almost like a loyal guard watching around to make sure nothing sneaks upon them.
“...He can stay with us…” Kaldov decides before walking back over.
“HUH?! Wai-wait what?!” Moushira said, completely confused and shocked at this utter betrayal.
“...It's okay Moushira, I’m sure he is going to be a friend, don't worry! Naxio said as he pats her shoulder with a smile.
“Ughhhh… this is a bad idea….!” Moushira said with a groan before walking back with Naxio.
Soon the four of them found themselves back in the little tunnel that they had been using as a base of stores and discussing what to do next. Moushira was still eyeing their new ‘friend’ with a less than approving look.
“So you also think it's a hex Kaldov?!” Naxio said in shock as he looked over at him.
“It's the only thing that makes sense with how this cave is structured. The Ashvel caverns do go on for a long time, however, there is an issue that the further up you go, there is no end. What would take 5 months could stretch on to years.” He said.
“So then we have to go to the center….” Naxio said in a thoughtful tone.
“..Guys, that’s great and all that we figured out. But you do know that the center is where the Ying is most concentrated right? What we’ve been feeling now will be nothing compared to the center.” Moushira said in an uneasy tone.
And she would be correct with that thought. The center of the hex would have the most Ying and the highest risk of corruption. But that would be the only way to get out of the hex.
“We don’t have much choice. There is no other way out of the hex than to go to the center.” Kaldov answered with a shrug.
“And what if we are wrong?...” Naxio said with a dark look on his face.
“Then we all get corrupted and wander these caves until we die.” Kaldov stated simply like he was talking about the weather or his preferred weapon of choice.
Both Moushira and Naxio look at him with looks of both shock and fear. Both at what he said and the idea of being locked in this cavern until they die.
“There's no way they will just let us get stuck here! I mean the-they gave us a Daemon Hunter flare!!”
Kaldov then looks back at them with his same stony expression.
“Ah… it was a joke…” He said dryly.
Both Moushira and Naxio look over at him with equal looks of spite and suspicion at his ‘joke’.
“Anyway, we won’t get anything done if we are too exhausted. So, for now, we should rest and then we can begin in the morning? Sounds good?” Moushira said to the group.
Everyone more or less gave her a confirmation sound or nod. And with that they all prepped for sleep. Whether it was night or not was still lost to them at this point given there were no holes here to check outside. The next day they went out just as planned to try and fight their way through. And then the next day the same, and then a week. Time seemed to flow past quicker than anyone had realized. The cave was large and felt like every turn was the same as the last. And to make things difficult just as Moushira stated the Ying corruption made travel harder. And also there were more Daemon beasts the further they went towards the middle.
Before long, 3 whole months had passed them by in a flash.
“...Naxio, watch out!!”
Naxio quickly twists out of the way as a large wing creature comes barreling down from the ceiling. It was a Bat Daemon, the size was about half of one of them but it was quick and had razor-sharp fangs and screech that could easily pierce their ears causing them to bleed. Naxio quickly strums out some notes, much unlike his usual style which is meek and gentle. These notes had power behind them and were quick and precise. The sound wave shot out in a purple light slicing one of the wings on the beast clean. Off-balance now it began to fall to the ground. And then from above came both Kaldov and Thakan. Both had their weapons poise to pieces and then the beast stood no chance to escape. Their weapons easily shred the beast, killing it instantly. All three appear much rougher than months before, clothing ripped and dirty, small bruises and scuff all over.
“Huff, grea-great job guys!” Moushira called over, out of breath.
She was similar to them, her hair was a mess. Her clothing was too torn and dirty. She slumped over against the back wall of an open area with a nasty wound on her arm. Naxio was at her side in an instant, healing her wound.
“Ahh… this place is really getting on my nerves!!!” She yells in frustration as the pain slowly fades away.
“Huff... I understand what you mean… But we are close to the center..” Naxio said with a bit of strain.
At this point in the cave, the Ying energy was all but almost overbearing. Maybe they had gotten used to the steady pressure on the frontier areas but the center was unlike anything they were expecting. The energy came in waves, harsh and violent. When it came to sleeping was the worst. That is when it is most dangerous. Naxio had never been able to get a full night's sleep as he constantly had to be shielding himself and sometimes his friends as well. He has gotten so used to playing the Song of Calming that he practically had it memorized now.
‘Hah… if Li-Ren could see me now.. She would be so impressed.’
At the thought of her, Naxio wondered how she was also faring on this test. Hopefully, nothing had happened to her. He then shook his head and focused back on healing.
‘Li-Ren will be fine! Focus on yourself before you start trying to worry about others!’
After Moushira is healed up, Naxio helps her stand up.
“Ugh, Is everyone ready to keep moving?”
Both Kaldov and Thakan nodded in response and together they continued onward. The deep portion of the cavern was slightly different from the outer portions. More open areas and the cave dipped further downward. And the danger that they face seemed almost to increase with each turn. Almost as if…
“...Guys, I think these Daemons are protecting something.” Moushira said as she flicked off a piece of just recently killed Daemon.
The rest of the group turns to her but realizes how true her words seem. The Daemon have been coming in waves upon wave as they get closer to the center. They weren’t sure what exactly the Daemon were doing at first but it does seem to make sense that they are protecting something.
“...Moushira you don’t think…?” Naxio asks as he looks over to her with a worried look.
“No no! I mean, it's crazy!” She shakes her head viciously.
“What is it?” Kaldov asks.
Both Naxio and Moushira look at each other before turning back to him.
“Well, it's just a theory but… we thought at one point that maybe the center of this hex…is ..Ashvel’s body..” Moushira said with a wince at the end with how crazy it sounded even coming from her.
Both Kaldov and Thakan look at them with shocked looks. However, Kaldov recovers quickly and his face turns back to that stony expression as he turns his head down in thought with a hand of his chin.
“...Ri-Right! It's just a theory. I mean, your great-great-grandfather was the one who killed Ashvel right? There's no way they would just leave the body there…right?” Naxio said quickly as he looked over worried at Kaldov.
He didn’t want to offend or even insinuate that the Ziraniel Clan would lie about any details in the battle against Ashvel. Every Daemon Hunter knows that a King or Queen must be dealt with fully, body burned and cleansed so that Ying corrupted areas don’t spawn.
“Right but what if there was something else other than Ashvel. Something that was just as much of a threat?”
Everyone turns to Kaldov now very confused about what he was talking about.
“Something as powerful as Ashvel? What are you-” Moushira starts to ask before stopping after she realizes what he is talking about.
“Wai- wait you can be talking about that? I mean it's been so long!”
Naxio looked between them all a bit confused.
“What are you guys talking about? What could it be?”
Everyone turns to Naxio.
“Wait, you’ve never heard of it? Ashvel’s pet monster?!” Moushira asks with a rather shocked look on her face.
“Oh uhh no... I don’t think I have.” Naxio said a bit embarrassed at once again being reminded of his gap in education vs someone who has been trained as Hunter their whole life.
“Ashvel had a Daemon beast which served as his loyal guard here. The Dark Wyvern, Vuqun. It was said that the beast made this cavern its resting place after bringing down a good portion of the inner portion around itself. But that would explain the Ying energy for sure.” Moushira explained.
“A-a wyvern? I thought that type of Daemon was extinct!”
“I mean it is now.. But back then there used to be a few of them around.”
A bit shaken by that information, Naxio looks a bit nervously down the tunnel that they are traveling.
“Don’t worry so much about Naxio, like I said it's dead. And that was that last of it's kind so we don’t have to worry about that.” Moushira said give him a smile.
“R-right, no your right!” Naxio responded.
They continued onward until their bodies finally called for rest. This time was especially rough as the whispers were so loud. Naxio did his head to block them as he tried to rest. But nothing could stop the words piecing his mind.
“Ugh they just won’t stop!” Naxio said with a goarn as he rose once again.
Moushira was on first watch and she gave him a small apologetic smile.
“Yeah… It's really awful. And to make matters worse it is nothing but gibberish! Just noise and screeching.”
“.Hmm yeah.. Wait. What do you mean gibberish?” Naxio asks.
“Hmm? Oh well nothing really audible? Like there were sounds and stuff but that's about it.” She explains with a heavy sigh.
“..So you’re not hearing words?” He asks, now visibly confused.
Moushira looks at him also confused.
“Huh? Are you sleep deprived Naxio? I haven’t heard any words since we've been here? It's all been nothing but gibberish for me.” Moushira joked a bit.
Naxio faces who’s only got more concerned.
“But I’ve been hearing words. At-at first it was hard to tell but the closer we got to the center the clearer the words are!” He said now in a slight panic.
“Am-am I going to get corrupted?!”
“Whoa, whoa, hey breathe with me!” Moushira said as she reached over to him to stop him from practically vibrating out of his skin.
After taking a few shaky breaths with Moushira, he does feel slightly better. Not much but better still.
“Okay, first one relax Naxio. If you have been corrupted already given how long we've been in here, I’m sure you’ll be fine. Second, maybe it's different for others! Maybe I don’t hear words but maybe one of the others does. For now, try and get some sleep and we’ll discuss it tomorrow okay?” Moushira says slowly as she eyes Naxio with a worried look.
He nodded meekly and tried again to fall asleep. It takes longer than he remembers but he does finally drift into an uneasy sleep, the whisper for the dark Ying energy around him follows behind.