An avian outline in the sky approached the treetops, coming into view from a distance. The rustic brown and golden bird swooped through the branches, slowing as it neared the forest floor. It landed on the outheld fist of Elquis Eytheraltin, novice adventurer and Elven Druid. However, no one knew his true name, to everyone else he was Branch. He was accompanied by his eagle companion, Quincy, and his newly formed questing group. Branch was regretting his choice of traveling partners but he was tolerating the two Elven adventurers for the time being.
“So, what exactly brought you to this mission?” Jerre asked, looking between Branch and the third member of the crew, Alcor.
“I was hired to get some artifact,” shrugged Alcor.
“One that you don’t know the name of?” Branch inquired with a side eye.
“Sure don’t,” Alcor replied with a smile. “What about you?”
“I’m a druid, this field is like the Great Grove for me. What about you, Jerre?”
“There are supposed to be these apples that are really good for potions.”
“Alright then, let’s get going. Quincy alerted me that we could be at a nearby cave by nightfall if we leave now.”
“Hot dang, those apples aren’t going to pick themselves,” Jerre hopped up from the ground and with a flourish of his hands, summoned a horse made of branches.
“That can’t be comfortable,” Branch said as he stood and began walking.
“It really isn’t…”
A few hours later, the three elves, Quincy, and the scarecrow horse arrived at the mouth of the cave.
“So, how are we doing this?” Alcor asked, setting down his pack
“I’m more of a warrior wizard so I’ve got offensive illusions, deadly gasses, earthquakes… that kind of thing. It might be helpful.”
“And, your apple potions?”
“Well not yet, silly,”
Branch turned to Alcor, “What about you?”
“I’m a ranger - so ranged attacks mostly. How are we going to see in the dark? I assumed the wizard would be able to at least conjure a lamp,” Alcor said.
“Well excuse me! How about you run through the cave and I’ll send a fireball in after you - bet that’ll give you enough light, you-”
Branch interrupted, “It's cool, I can attach light to an object. Although I do wonder why we never discussed our compatibility before coming all this way.”
“Off to the apples!” Jerre snapped his fingers, his horse of sticks fell apart and he high-stepped in the direction of the cave.
The three figures entered the mouth of the cave; Quincy riding the shoulder of Branch, a magical light emitting from a bracelet around one of the bird’s talons. The group of seemingly incompatible powers made their way through the cave, continuing down the straight passage for a dozen minutes.
“Hold,” Branch held up his hand, “I sense magic.”
“Oh, oh yes me too!” quickly added Jerre, snapping out of a daydream.
Branch rolled his eyes, creeping forward and waving the group to follow. Around the first turn in the rocky hallway, Quincy alerted them to their first obstacle. Branch dimmed his light. The creature ahead of them had black, scaly skin, easily blending into the darkness. It crawled along the roof of the cavern, hands made of two large, pincer-like claws. The creature was able to grab a spot on the roof and swing itself quickly along the ceiling. However, the black skinned monster did not seem to have noticed the individuals peering at it from around the corner yet. It slowly made it’s way to a corner in the wall and paused.
“What now?” Alcor inquired.
“Not sure. It’s not an animal, so I can't do much in the sense of charming it,” Branch whispered, “I could send Quincy but one of those fireballs would probably work better.”
“Can do!” Jerre exclaimed a little too loudly as he walked in front of Branch, beginning a short chant. A ball of flame flickered into existence and shot directly at the black creature. The flames hit the wall and dissipated.
“Shoot! Where’d it go?” Jerre squealed
“Jerre, on the ground!” Alcor yanked his bow from his back and launched a quick arrow toward the charging creature’s knee, at least, where the knee would be if it had one. The clawed beast stumbled but kept coming. It unfurled itself to its full height of seven feet while it sprinted across the cavern, 20 feet and closing.
“Spread out!” Branch yelled as he sprinted to the opposite side of the cavern hallway, withdrawing a stick from his pack about a foot in length. He tapped it with his left hand and it extended to reach the floor. At that moment, another fireball flew through the cavern and hit the floor in front of Pincers. The creature leaped, barely impeded - it was almost upon Jerre.
“Jerre, again! Hit it in the same spot,” Branch drew back the newly expanded staff, “Alcor, load an arrow. Be ready.”
Jerre shot his third mass of flames toward the creature and once again, it jumped. This time, it's body met with a thrown staff, causing it to come crashing down, rolling to a stop in front of Alcor. The ranger let loose three arrows simultaneously into his best guess at where its head was.
“Is it dead?” Jerre blew on his smoking fingers, leaning on the rock wall behind him, spitting to his side.
“Yep,” Alcor drew his hunting knife and the creature was beheaded in a few deft strokes.
They continued down the hallway, this time more alert. A few minutes of walking and they reached a large room. It was about the size of the large buildings seen in a few local cities, dome-shaped and looked to have been dug out to accommodate some sort of large creature. The group exchanged glances but it seemed no one knew what to expect. The passage on the other side of the room was much larger than the one the group had come through. Branch gave a command and Quincy took off, flying down the corridor. Branch sensed Quincy flying through a large, makeshift hallway but he didn't encounter anything for several hundred feet. The corridor eventually forked into two passages - the left leading down, and the right leading up. The pathway leading up had a light shining from within it, while the down passage was dark as night. Branch recalled Quincy, relaying the collected information to his group, asking what they wanted to do. Branch had kept his staff full length, the passage wasn't burrowed out for no reason.
The trio of adventurers decided to proceed after a few minutes of discussing their next step.
“We came here to get to the field, no? In that case, we have two options… sit here procrastinating and definitely get eaten by whatever lives in here, or at least attempt to get to the field and only maybe get eaten,” Jerre said.
Branch and Alcor looked at each other, perhaps a bit surprised Jerre was their voice of reason. The group positioned themselves in a flying V formation that Jerre insisted would prevent sneak attacks. Branch and Quincy had the lead of the triangle while Alcor and Jerre brought up the rear. They reached the fork without incident.
“I’m assuming we want the path with the light?” Alcor asked. “Fields don’t happen in the dark do they?”
“Apples need six or more hours of direct sunlight,” Jerre whispered.
Without a further word, Branch shrugged and they continued up the path toward the light. The path eventually leveled out and continued on. The patches of light were coming from holes in the top of the cavern. The party walked for several more minutes until a third of the triangle formation stopped moving.
“Guys…” Alcor stammered.
Branch turned around. Beyond the visibly nervous Alcor and the slack-jawed Jerre, he saw the tail end of something slither into one of the holes in the ceiling. Within moments of the disappearance, Jerre began a chant. An aura of red energy began to gather around him. As he turned around, Branch saw that Jerre didn’t look like Jerre anymore. Jerre’s usually slightly poofy brown hair was straight up. His eyes became bloodshot and his everlasting smile was absent. He brought his hands together, holding them clasped together. The red energy migrated to his hands as he brought them apart, holding them at his side. His bloodshot eyes closed and he started walking in the direction the group had been traveling. Branch moved out of the way, confused, but crouched into his ready position. Branch wasn’t sure whether he was getting ready for the creatures in the wall or Red Jerre, but either way, he wanted to be prepared.
The three continued in a line for a minute until Jerre suddenly twisted his body and flung a red ball of energy backward, forcing Branch and Alcor to duck. The ball flew double the speed of Jerre’s prior fireballs and hit one of the holes just as a giant worm-like head was peeking out. The red energy exploded, taking the worm and the cavern roof with it. The entire ceiling now began to collapse in a domino effect. The three individuals and Quincy ran away from the falling rocks. The walls continued to come down, chasing down closely after the adventurers. Jerre, zipping through the air away from the cave in, took the red energy in his other hand and blasted another giant worm, without sparing a glance for aim. With the rocks caving in, the group was losing their source of light as the holes closed up and fell behind them. Branch attached a light to one of Alcor’s arrows and the ranger plucked that arrow out of his quiver and shot it down the tunnel ahead of them. The arrow’s flight revealed several of the worms waiting to ambush along the path that ended in another large, domed room. Branch ran through the spells in his arsenal and cursed his lack of focus on mastering more of the Druidic spells. Create Water or Know Direction would be of no use here. He gave Quincy a command and the eagle sped forward toward the worms. On the other side of the tunnel, Alcor had already shot half a dozen arrows at the worms, downing two of them. In the middle was Red Jerre, who was still unresponsive to any communication. He suddenly began twisting in the air and the red aura around him flowed brighter. The apple-loving wizard burst forward as they neared the worms and speared through several of the creatures. All but one exploded. Quincy picked at the final one until their path was cleared. The group reached the domed room and was able to stop running momentarily as the pursuing rockslide ceased at the mouth of the tunnel, enclosing them in the room.
Jerre landed, slumped on one knee. His red glow faded and his hair regained its usual puffy texture. Alcor and Branch jogged over to the wizard, waiting for an explanation on what had just happened.
“I… hate… worms…” Jerre managed to say through clenched teeth.
“Ah, an apples worst nightmare...,” Branch chuckled.
“Now it all makes sense,” Alcor added.
“Yes,” Jerre squeaked out, a tear sliding down the side of his face. He slowly stood, repeating his catchphrase, “Let’s go get those apples, boys.”
“Um, can you walk?” Alcor asked as Jerre took three stumbling steps forward.
A familiar noise of slithering on rocks was audible throughout the room. The party looked up to see more worms than they could count emerging from the dome walls.
“I’ll have to!” Jerre stated as he muttered an enchantment; his legs now covered in a blue aura. He stood up straight and was sprinting towards the opposite hallway before Branch or Alcor could get a word in otherwise.
They made their way down the cavern with the worms quickly gaining on them. The group rounded a corner, seeing a shimmering light on the ground up ahead of them. It almost looked as if it were reflecting the moon in the sky. As they moved closer, the shimmering floor began to reveal itself more clearly as a body of water. It was an underground river that bisected the tunnel, at least 3 body lengths in width.
The three elves came to a stop before the river, turning to see the worms already rounding the corner in pursuit.
“Where is this gosh darn field of dreams?!” Jerre said, stomping his foot.
“Not the time, Jerre, open a portal” Alcor spoke quickly, crossing his fingers, “You can do portals, right?”
“Yes, of course!” Jerre clapped his hands and closed his eyes. He began murmuring under his breath as a dark void began to appear in front of him.
“30 seconds, Jerre,” Branch said.
The portal grew and stretched, the opening big enough to squeeze through if one were to duck. Alcor began walking toward the void.
“Not yet! I have to open the other end.”
“10 seconds,” Branch looked to the other side of the river. The other portal opened up but only stretched big enough to fit one of their packs. At that moment, the moonlike shimmer on the water suddenly burst through the surface with a deep roar. The newly emerged creature had the body of a turtle with a head resembling a dragon. Caught by surprise, Alcor, who was essentially already halfway in the portal, tumbled backward, falling completely into it. A sharp crackle sounded and the portal cavern shook. Sparks flew from the portal edges and Jerre’s eyes went wide, indicating something was going wrong. The dragon-turtle hit the water and sent a waist-high wave into the two remaining elves. Branch commanded Quincy into the portal and pushed Jerre in as well, multiplying the sparks and sharp whine the portal was emitting. The portal suddenly expanded to cover the entirety of the tunnel, leaving the worms and Branch on one side with the river and dragon-turtle on the other. A worm jumped for Branch but he was able to step to the side, letting the worm fly into the tunnel which expanded it further. The rest of the worms were almost upon him, so Branch jumped into the portal as well and hoped for the best.