The leather bound book felt particularly light, the pages slightly crispy. His eyes ran across the stained pages, searching for any mention of that one particular word. With great care not to rip a hole in the page, his wrinkled fingertip gradually flips the page. He squinted his eyes, trying to make out the faded words on the page. Without any effective ventilation, the candle flame stood still, only flickering occasionally when he sighs.
“So, how is it?” A coarse voice shot the question from across the room, accompanied by a slight echo.
Slowly, he placed the book onto the ruined table with one hand while massaging his temple with the other. Shifting his body weight to the right side of his body, he pulled out a pouch from beneath his long blue robe.
“It’s not here, Agnar…” he answered while fiddling with the pouch, sounding somewhat disappointed.
Agnar dragged his left foot across the room, his leather shoe scribbling lines in the sand beneath him. His irregular breathing making it all the more obvious that he is having trouble with just walking.
“Tell me Agnar,” he asked, all the while undoing the string on his pouch. “When was the last time you took your medication?”
Agnar leaned against a nearby wall with his left shoulder, catching his breath. “I ran out two days ago,” Agnar replies, undoing the strap on his helmet. “What of it, Rowan?”
Reaching into the pouch, Rowan pulled out some breadcrumbs. “Must be agonizing for you then?”
Agnar slid along the wall onto the ground, propelling a cloud of sand and dust into the air. Rowan hastily threw the crumbs back into the pouch, in an attempt to prevent the dust from getting onto the last remaining food ration.
“I don’t know what is more agonizing,” Agnar answered in a grumpy tone. “Having a broken leg or being stuck in an ancient ruin with an old fool like you.”
Rowan swung his forearm back and forth, in an attempt to get rid of the dust cloud before him.
“I maybe an old fool, Agnar,” Rowan protested, with a slight frown on his face. “But at least I am an old fool still with a dream.”
Agnar stayed silent, with a gentle smirk on his face. He closed his eyes, leaning his entire back against the wall this time. The last time he managed to grab some decent shut-eye was the night before they entered the ruin. That was at least 4 days ago, he reckoned. The longer they stay in this place, the harder it is for them to effectively tell time. Rowan did promise that this would just be a scouting mission, and it would not last more than 2 days. Well, not like Rowan ever kept a promise anyway. Not to his family, much less his friends and colleagues. Either way, it would be really nice to take a bath right about now. One could only reminiscence about the stream they passed by outside the cave, just how sweet and refreshing the water was, cooling to one’s touch…
“Agnar!” A sudden roar forcibly woke Agnar from his fantasy, though the only thing that did not change was the cooling sensation to his face.
A pair of chelicerae hanged before Agnar’s eyes, widening as it plunged right in his face. Agnar instinctively dived to his right, sending his helmet flying across the room in the process. Twisting his body around to face the attacker, Agnar frantically tried to stand up, only to be undermined by his broken leg.
“On your foot, young man!” Rowan shouted in a commanding tone as he pointed his staff at the creature. Sparks flew around the staff and began gathering at the tip. Within seconds, a ball of flame no larger than a man’s fist was formed. “Die, foul beast!”
Swinging the staff, Rowan flung the ball of flame towards the creature. The creature then sprung from the top of the wall, effectively avoiding the flames and landing a couple of meters away from Rowan.
“A bluefang,” Rowan whispered under his breath. Rowan found himself face to face with a creature that has the face and fangs of an arachnid. The body on the other hand, closely resembles that of a chimpanzee. The bluefang bends over, supporting its hairy body with the six muscular arms growing from the chest region. Rowan held his staff vertically before his chest in preparation for an attack and sure enough, the bluefang lunged forward in an obvious attempt to decapitate Rowan.
Rowan fell on his back, still clinging onto his staff. Two of the bluefang’s arms began tugging on the staff. Being the only thing between him and those fangs, Rowan held on for dear life.
“Any time now, young man!” Rowan huffed as he struggled with the bluefang. The same cooling saliva dripped from the bluefang’s mouth, splattering onto Rowan’s face. Rowan always knew that it would be his turn to go one of this days, but this is indeed a horrible way to go. Deep inside, he was beginning to feel bad for the lambs he used to feed the bluefangs with during one of his experiments.
Just as Rowan’s arms were about to give way, the dripping and cooling sensation was replaced by a sudden spray of warm liquid. Before Rowan could react, a sharp shriek followed suit. The bluefang released its grip on the staff, promptly falling over. Green liquid blood oozed forth from the abdomen of the blue fang as it convulsed on the ground.
Rowan wiped the blood off his face with his sleeves, opening his eyes to see Agnar before him. Green colored blood dripped from Rowan’s badly chipped blade, forming a little puddle before his right foot.
“You’re welcomed,” Agnar commented, with the corner of his mouth slightly raising.
Rowan picked himself up, using his staff as a clutch in the process. “Likewise, young man.”
Agnar took a second look at the bluefang, just to be sure that it would no longer move. After all, a clean cut through the abdomen together with the spinal cord would usually mean the end for most living creatures.
Rowan then proceeded to kneel beside the bluefang, promptly collecting the saliva in an empty vial. “The saliva of a wild one is much more potent as compared to farm bred ones,” Rowan commented, seemingly in response to a question Agnar was about to ask.
“I wasn’t about to ask,” Agnar replied, shrugging his shoulders.
Leaving Rowan to his task, Agnar proceeded to pick up his helmet. As he neared the helmet, a glare caught the corner of his eye. Agnar turned his head to the side, investigating the source of the glare. It was coming from the hole in the wall where Rowan’s fire ball hit. Agnar limped forward, looking through the hole.
“Rowan,” Agnar called out for Rowan, slightly raising his voice while doing so. “You have to take a look at this.”
A puzzled Rowan stuffed the cork into his vial and walked towards Agnar. Knowing Agnar, it might not be anything even worth mentioning.
“What is it now?”
“Look, through the hole,” Agnar replied, stepping to his left.
Rowan threw Agnar a doubtful look before placing his eye on the hole he made. After staring for a few seconds, Rowan pulled his face back and looked Agnar straight in the eyes.