He says with a calm voice like still water, “I do not wish for your to slow me down.”
My wieght tears the clothes before I land on the geodes on Aethers back. The jutting blocks of black absorb the light around him as his enormous hand leans back down. He says, “Where must we go?”
Deluge shoves me from conscious again as he says, “The assassin used a rare toxin that I found in worms and a colorful frog. These frogs waft pungent odors, and the only place those odors expel from are the hospital, the chemistry room, and that same cave that held the tarantula slime.”
Deluge clings closer to several of the jutting, angular spires from Aether’s back as he says, “I believe they reside in the cave as I already explored the other areas during my travels. It's several miles northwest of here Aether.”
We swap the conscious with a fluid motion as we adjust to shifting personas while Aether says, “Then prepare yourself for speed like gravity’s pull.”
He leans downwards before an explosion thunders from underneath us as the rapid acceleration pulls on the skin of my face. Deluge’s adjustments assist however, so I never grow disoriented.
This doesn’t change my astonishment at Aether’s speed. The detonation of each of his footsteps sounds like a bottle of tornado being shattered. Boulders snap as he crushes through them, but even with his overwhelming heft, he pivots off his feet with a surprising, even mechanical grace.
He sprints across the easiest path almost like growing through the forest rather than smashing it. His steps shear the earth and rip through rock, but he never touches a single branch. He doesn’t collide with obstacles, he either avoids or passes through them with ease.
After the deafening journey, we approach the cave as pangs of fear stab into my gut and spine. The emotion injects until I kneel over clenching my fists as I clash my teeth saying, “I am the captain of my soul, not some demented behemoth.”
Aether turns towards me saying, “Can it defeat me?”
I stand up breathing deeply before I say, “A creature in this cave brought me as close to death as I have ever been, so that is why my skin crawls at the moment. I do not believe it could even scratch you.”
Aether says, “Deluge spoke of your suffering. I will stop the beast. You do not need to worry.”
I tap my forehead several times as a rush of thoughts passes my brain. I wish to accept his offer as it allows me to avoid this problem, but I will never forget it completely. The scars that monster left on my mind still radiate with a raw, intense tenderness. I need to overcome my fear if I wish to move forwards, so I say, “Will you allow me to fight it?”
Aether says, “Why would you want to fight such a monstrosity?”
I lean downwards as I say, “I faced true terror that day. I never felt so close to death, and that creature engraved this dread into my soul. If I could dream, I would still have nightmares of that day. I don’t want to be fleeing in constant terror of shadows behind me. I want to live without fear.”
Aether says, “That makes no sense to me, but I understand your feelings. I shall watch until I see you suffer an injury.”
I smile as I say, “Thank you Aether.”
We would walk into the cave, but the entrance proves too small for Aether, so he destroys the entrance with a stomp. The tarantula slime couldn’t pass the wall of rock, so my initial assumption that Aether is at least ten times stronger rings true as he decimated the barricade without any effort. This lessens my anxiety to manageable levels.
The lack of darkness also calms my spirit. Aether glows in the darkness rather than emitting the shade of day, so every crevice exposes itself leaving nothing unknown. Instead of flailing in the darkness alone, I face this cretin with an allies light...literally.
We pass across several lips before we reach the cavern with slimes rolling across the ground. The difference in view between 5’7 and 6’4(169 cm vs. 193 cm) frees me of my fear for these creatures. They were nearly my height before, now they roll along a foot shorter.
Deluge grows an enamel sword from my left hand tearing through my skin, but I no longer wince at such an injury. The blade falls into my hand feeling like the extension of a limb as I shake out my shoulders. The 6 foot blade curves with extra weight at the tip giving it a nice whip as I swing it.
Aether says, “Impressive. Holding two minds in the same body leaves you saturated in talent.”
I grow spikes from my right palm as I say, “Wait till we get our asses kicked by this demon before you say such kind words.”
Aether sputters before he laughs. He says afterwards, “What is this?”
I raise an eyebrow as I say, “Hmmm?” After a moment, realization pops in my mind as I say, “Ah, you must have never laughed before. Just let it out if whenever you feel the urge to.”
He looks around as several slimes roll towards us. I say, “I need a warmup before the true battle starts. Just sit back and watch.”
He falls backwards shattering stone as the blue slimes roll towards me absorbing refuse as they slide. I remove the remnants of my shirt before I pop my index fingers while rolling my shoulders.
I set into a mobile stance right before a slime charges into me. Instead of crashing into it, I shoot sideways slicing the creature apart as my blade shears through the thick membrane. The resistance my hands meet reflects the difference between before and now. In a few weeks, Deluge built the body of a warrior, and the grueling training of Petra created the mind of one.
Even without the advantage of sight, these creatures pose no threat to me. I dash across the stony floor as I charge into a slime. My shoulder ruptures the membrane as it explodes diffusing goop in every direction. The liquid pours against me cooling my skin before Deluge absorbs it at an astonishing speed.
I grin as another darts from my side, but I revolve force through my hips by slamming my left foot towards the golem while pivoting off my back foot. I pull the punch close against my body instead of allowing my limb to extend. The blow generates with power while my feet stick against my shoes.
Deluge’s modifications show themselves before I crash my right fist into the creature shooting a wave of energy through its liquid before it splatters its contents from its back. The membrane cracks folding over me while blocking the blowup before I push the thick skin off of me.
Two other slimes approach me, but I launch a spine by rearing back and catapulting an enamel shard into the gel sack piercing its body. The internal pressure of the creatures splurts the acrid slop outside of it with the force of waterfalls spinning through the air as it deflates.
As the other creature approaches me, I lift my sword slamming the saber like a guillotine across the top of the other slime slicing it apart. As the pieces roll past my sides, Aether says, “You are strong Jack. Why do you feel fear?”
I chew through a membrane as I say, “I would have been killed at least ten times if not for Deluge. This world owns many evils, and I have only see the base of the menacing mountain these fiends spawn from.”
Aether says, “I shall trust your instincts.”
I eat the remains of these beasts as I haven’t consumed food for several days, and the prospect excites me with the same anticipation as seeing a favored relative after a long time. The thick gel mushes in my mouth exploding with the same flavor as my dad's vodka. As I devour the slimes, I wonder at my capacity for it.
This no longer bothers me. I am unconcerned with eating a raw animal even if that animal resembles a ruptured fruit. Strange. Before I finish, Deluge says, “This creature is composed using an alcoholic structure for its liquid reactions rather than water like the other ones we've consumed.”
As I finish the sour and somewhat pleasing meal, I think, “So they have liquor as blood?”
“Essentially. They use that along with fibrous sinews and a rapid metabolization of these polymers for generating their mass...The tarantula slime may not be the largest problem these creatures could form. Be weary.”
I say to Aether,”If anything else besides an eight legged slime shows up, please crush it with all your strength as it may be a new variety I’ve yet seen.”
Aether stands from his crater saying ,”I shall do so with my own judgment as well. Are you ready to move forward?”
I nod as we walk through the cavern once more. I forgot about the bright gems lying deeper in the cave, but we discover mountains of those same jewels jutting from the walls here.
The cavern spaces outwards while glowing bats fly from the roofs colored in a deep violet. They shift squirming in hordes while the gems that line the walls reflect their purple light revealing the sharp geodes of amethyst and the bulkier blocks of quartz.
The bats make sounds like whispering while the warm air gives me a soothing sense of comfort despite the abnormal creatures here. As Aether stomps, the bats fly from the cavern blinding us with their glowing purple as they hiss a sound that leaves me unbalanced and almost confused.
After they leave, the true splendor of the cave permeates. Glowing trails fall from the sky with dots shining from their length. The bumpy roof of the cavern and the stalactites give a depth to the aquamarine lighting while the cave offers a slight fog in the air accentuating the mystical atmosphere.
This place has never felt the presence of a human. The exhilaration of exploration crawls through my feet to my hands. The cave is a starry sky of blue...It’s beautiful.
Aether whispers, “I never knew of such sights.”
I smile as I say, “Is it as mesmerizing as the stars above the clouds?”
Aether leans backwards observing the cavern as he says, “Heh, no, but I have taken another step closer towards that sight.” After a moment, he turns towards me saying, “Thank you for taking me with you Jack.”
I fold my fingers through my hair as I say, “Don’t worry about it. It’s what friends do.”
Aether’s hands clench as he says, “Friends...I enjoy the sound of the word.”
I tap the edge of his hand clicking the metal as I say, “I do as well. Let’s go, there may even be greater sights to come.”
As we tread through the cavern, a steady growl grows until a seven limbed monster crawls from a crevice above. Deluge and I grow plates of armor across my skin underneath my pants and across my chest. The sheets of material interlock like scales as I say, “Wait until you believe I can no longer continue before you try killing this monster.”
My skin crawls as the thousands of hairs across the tarantula slime’s skin shifts and darts across every surface around it. The creature's head shambles around until it locks onto Aether and I.Before it charges, I slingshot an enamel shard towards the creature sinking the saber into its skin as it roars with a gurgling squelch.
I grimace as visions of thousands of worms flash across my eyes, but I measure my mettle. I grit my teeth. I will not fall to this monster once more. I shall fight against this foe with the same determination as I fight against fate.
The monster’s bumpy, rough membrane shifts as numerous recent cuts show scars while the animal limps on its left side due to the missing limb before I lob another chunk into its body. The twenty foot tall, bulky giant charges by clasping its horned feet into the stone.
Instead of running away, I jolt towards the creatures shoving my feet against stone. I sprint until the creature’s tentacles fly towards me, but I stomp my foot into the ground launching my sworded hand into the nearest tentacle slicing the limb.
As the beast’s attack crumbles from the pain, I leap towards its head tentacle grappling onto the entity’s membrane before I stab my sword through the monster’s carapace. I stab my other arm into the creature before I rip and tear the hellish being with my limbs mushing his flesh like rods of iron shifting through his body.
My fingers harden as my nails grow, and I slice through the creature. Within two seconds, the abomination launches two more tentacles at my back, but I rip the stabbed sword slicing another tentacle in two before I turn towards the other arm coming towards me.
I grab the frontal spike dripping in poison before I jerk the appendage into the goliath’s back as its legs wobble from holding us both up with only 4 legs. I rocket from its back flying towards the roof before I flip crashing my feet into the stone overhead vaulting my body downwards.
I slam into the horror’s back. Its feet collapse before I swing the sword through its neck killing the creature. The head slaps against the ground while the body gushes the disgusting green mucus from its center. The strength it carried before diminished, so I crushed this broken animal with a burst of energy.
The battle felt anticlimactic as I expected at least grievous wounds from facing such a maniacal beast. The factors fell into my hands this time however. Instead of having my arm dislocated from an ambush, I faced it with a knowing charge with it missing a limb. The light, training, and superior physique also enabled my domination.
The ease of killing the being strikes me with a pang of guilt as I hop from its back covered in the green slime. Aether sits in silence as he stares at the creature. He says after I sit beside him, “Why did you kill that being?”
I gasp between breaths, “It almost killed me before...I am paying it back.”
Aether turns towards me as he says, “Why? What of mercy?”
I snap, “I watched a thousand worms crawl from my own leg from that thing, and not once did I see even the slightest hint of mercy towards my life. That is a concept only for the all powerful, and I am no such creature. I am but a man.”
After a moment Aether says, I do not enjoy that logic, but you are right. It nearly killed you before, and it attacked once more..I feel silly for saying such foolish things now.”
After several breaths of stale air, I say, “Don’t. Many seem to think this way for some reason. They’ve never faced someone trying to kill them. Otherwise, they would think as I do. You can afford to think that way though Aether. You are a hurricane in a stone body.”
Aether says, “I believe you will be the same in times to come.”
I shrug as I say, “Regardless, only those who were born all powerful show mercy. I’ve been weak for far too long to forget of the pain of being powerless.”
We stare at the deflated tarantula slime, and after several minutes, Aether says, “Are you going to kill the humans when we reach our destination?”
I meet his gaze saying, “Yes. They tried killing me and my friends, so I shall reply in kind. I love words, but they cannot be used when someone is slicing your throat.”
Aether nods as he says, “I do not think you are wrong, but I will not join you in that task.”
I say as I stand up, “I understand. I will handle the humans. Just focus on the golems. Deluge will consolidate the lost souls of every person we kill as well, so they won’t truly die either.”
Aether stands up saying, “Yes. That is...easier for me. Let us go.”
We walk deeper into the cave as the color of the stone shifts from gray to black. Aether’s light shines reflecting off the rock revealing spiders with scorpion claws crawling across the floor. White salamanders scurry across the ground with claws and no eyes.
Hordes of insects line the roof, but none of them move as a white fungus spurts from them. Hordes of harvestmen also crawl in bundles in the crevices of the cave with their tiny legs crawling over each other. This creepy atmosphere bothers no one as these small creatures pose no threat to me.
The vibrations beneath us offer me real, tangible concerns. Aether’s steps resonate with the force of violent stomps, so whatever exists below us will know of our presence long before we show ourselves. Whenever we breach their safe room, all of the soul smuggling operation may turn on us or worse; a horde of underground horrors lays waiting for us in the darkness.
I say to Aether, “Would you lead the the breach into the other room?”
We reach a plate of stone that vibrates more than the others as Aether replies, “Of course. I have yet to prove myself. I am glad you offer me the opportunity.”
I nod my head as I say, “Alright then. This plate of stone is thinner than the others. We should peirce downwards by creating a rupture here.”
Aether lifts a hand as he turns towards me saying, “ How did you know that?”
I say, “Imagine the level of rumbling your feet emits as indications of the amount of struggle the stone has holding up your weight. The louder it groans, the thinner the piece.”
Aether nods as he says, “Ah. Are you prepared then?”
I never removed the plates of armor across my skin, so I say leaping on his back, “Of course. Get us down there big guy.”
Aether lifts his foot before he slams the titanic slab of stone. I cover my ears as the floor creates a mosaic of cracks before a sudden, vociferous wave of sound slams against my body with enough force to rattle my teeth and shake my skin.
Aether then jumps upwards 10 feet in the air before lands on the stone crushing through the broken obstacle with an astonishing level of precision. Instead of bringing the cave down, he measures out the level of force needed to break the rock better than I would.
I say after we land with a granite shattering boom, “That was impressive. How did you know how much force to deliver?”
“I’ve grown through rock before. It takes years of applying pressure in order to accomplish the feat, so I gained a proper understanding of how much power I need to do so.”
With the tone of a naive professor, I say, “Incredible.”
Aether hunches raising his arms parallel with the ground as he says, “Don’t express your awe just yet. Look around us.”
As I lift my head surveying our surroundings, I raise my eyebrows in confusion. Slimes move across the ground around us carrying rocks and dirt while enormous boulders roll across the ground flattening any unlevel expanses of both stone and earth.
Aether’s blue light reveals the blue worker slimes of before, but they move with far more intelligence than earlier. Even with their lack of sensory organs, they flow in hordes without ever bumping into one another like a swarm of bees.
They expose a new red slime around a foot shorter at 4 feet tall. They move with a far greater dexterity by extending spikes of keratin from their bodies. This new variety of slime approaches us with a tenacity matching their fierce appearance before an enormous pair of golden claws pops into view shouting a voice with the same resonating force as Aether’s,
“Stop little ones. We do not know why they are here.”
The tension in the red slimes bodies crumble before they grind to a halt several feet in front of us. The claws of gold rip from an adjacent room revealing an orchestra of gold and ashen blue orbs. The monster floats as dozens of spheres connected by the will of the central orb alone. Elegant and deadly blades mold from the creatures spheres with chips throughout the otherwise perfect weapons.
These chinks in perfection amplify the overall impact of the beast however. Each one positions just perfect for giving just enough friction to pierce the armor or skin of a foe allowing the smooth, glossy blade to slice through the rest of the enemy. The creature’s length exposes its hulking size while the floating of the creature offers an otherworldly elegance as it floats through the air with the same grace as a hummingbird.
The orbs still form the general outline of a long snake with enormous blades lining its front assault orbs, side leg orbs, and the sharpened club at the end of its tail. The beast slithers 200 feet from us saying, “I am Razor Queen. Why are you here?”
I say, “We believe there are other humans here who wish to harm us. We aim to end them through brute force. We do not wish to fight you.”
The behemoth slams its bladed limb into the ground saying, “Then why are you covered in the essence of my children?”
I say as I open my palm gesturing towards the other creatures, “Unlike these docile creatures, the other beings attacked us on sight. The eight limbed and sickly green one nearly killed me before he attacked me once more, so I ended him as well.”
The orbs spread from the creature as it says, “Ah, so you met Kara. I thank you for ending its miserable life.”
I raise an eyebrow as I say, “What did it do wrong?”
The fiery tone of a betrayed mother infects the being’s voice as she rasps, “He broke from our colony after we created a treaty with the other humans. We allow them to enter our domain in exchange for resources...Kara refused the coalition, so he left with a few others.”
Aether says standing from his defensive crouch, “Then why did he attack at the slightest hint of our presence?”
The Razor Queen scrapes the edge of the stone creating a fireworks display of sparks as she says, “All my children lose their minds if they are away from me for too long. He was one of the strongest of his kind, so his arrogance led to his demise. I never wanted to send my babies to kill one another, so I left him to his whims.”
Her central orb lowers as she says, “I am sorry for placing you both in danger. I should have handled this earlier.”
For the most terrifying creature I’ve ever seen, this queen commands with a humility I’ve also never seen, not even in the poorest of humans. I say, “It was nothing. I’m just glad we didn’t kill one of your rational children before we spoke with one another.”
Her tail slides back and forth as she says, “Likewise. You wish to destroy the humans below us then?”
I raise my hands saying, “They attempted destroying both me and my friends when we were most vulnerable. They wish to entrap our souls in a body like my friend here. He was once a mighty tree taller than the clouds in the sky. These humans would do worse to us however.”
The red slimes roll away as she says, “They create a divide in our colony as well. We enjoy the alcohol they grant us, but I cannot condone their actions any longer. I do not want another capable child like Kara falling into the path of madness. We shall hinder you in your goals no longer.”
I raise myself onto Aether’s right shoulder as I say, “Then you offer a great service to me and my friend. If you ever need a helping hand, then simply ask as I have few allies of such a reasonable disposition.”
Her circular bodies grow closer as she says, “Hmmm. An interesting prospect. We as a colony harbor several problems with your race normally. Your kind strikes against us attempting to kill us, and I do not know why. If you could give us some method for achieving peace, I will be grateful.”
I grin as I say, “Diplomacy has always been my strong suit. Place your faith in me, and I shall return your prayers with my own retribution.”
She taps the stone underneath her with a 12 foot claw saying, “You speak differently than the other humans. You also...feel different. Do you harbor a link with Gaia? I believe you are both...connected.”
I raise an eyebrow as I say, “How do you know of Gaia?”
Her back, sword orbs move with the gentle ease of branches in the wind as she says, “Hahaha. Do you not feel her all around us. She is watching our every move at these depths. She protects us and gives us her energy. That is how we live.”
I nod my head saying, “I should explain myself then. On the surface, Gaia used a piece of herself to end the apocalypse. I am collecting those pieces so that she doesn’t distort our world anymore. A piece of Gaia is within me right now in fact.”
The Queen lowers her orbs as she says, “We are honored to be before even a fragment of her might. We are sorry for asking one who carries her within them to solve our petty concerns.”
I wave my arms before I leap from Aether’s shoulders staring up at Razor Queen saying after I land, “No, no, no. Do not belittle yourselves. We are all equals under Gaia’s gaze.”
I think towards the fragment saying, “That’s right isn’t it?”
Gaia’s piece says, “Hah, hah. Of course little one. Speak what you feel. Your thoughts interest me.”
I mentally nod before I say aloud, “Raise your heads. Gaia speaks of your gratitude with kind words.”
The Queen scrapes the floor revealing another explosion of sparks before she says, “May I...touch you?”
I squint my eyes as I say, “Hmmm. What do you mean?”
The floating orbs of the creature undulate upwards and downwards like waves as she says, “I would just like to be...close to her.”
So Gaia is considered a female by underground races. Duly noted. Deluge says, “I do not trust this creature so perfectly as to allow her to touch us with sharpened swords double our height.”
I roll my eyes before I think, “Of course not. You wouldn’t trust me if we didn’t share the same body.”
“Then offer us before this mighty behemoth. Put our lives in her hands.”
I say with a grim calm, “Deluge. I understand you and I both have much we wish to accomplish. Risking our lives for the whims of this creature seems absurd. I understand that.”
I raise my volume as I say, “Yet think of what this entails. This creature, despite her fearsome appearance, has shown us a hospitality I have yet to receive from a human. We can choose to never trust another living creature or live without fear. Which life would you rather live?”
Deluge says in a voice like broken glass, “Fine. We shall live without caution. Have you ever wondered why you would have died so easily without me? It is because of scenarios like this.”
I lean my head downwards as I think, “If you truly wish to avoid these risks, I will let you decide.”
After a moment of discussion, I say, “You may do so Queen, but allow me to approach you. If you move suddenly, then Aether will motion to save me.”
I look towards Aether saying, “If you're ok with that of course.”
He nods before Razor Queen says, “I understand. Thank you for giving me the chance to be close with Gaia.”
I walk forwards sliding my feet with each step. Deluge increases the thickness of the plates covering me. His nervousness leaks into my own as my heart rate increases, but if anyone understands the kindness of unusual creatures, it’s me.
Deluge has saved my life countless times, Aether offers protection and an interesting companion, even Sophia’s soul resides in a body not her own. These entities offer a rich depth to my life, and I am willing to take risks for adding another person to this list of unconventional allies.
As I near her, she reaches out with an orb covered in the smallest spikes she has before her smooth membrane touches my cheek. I grab the ball between both of my hands saying, “You're nothing like Kara. You’re far smoother and...warmer.”
She says, “He does not represent us. We are a mighty coalition of well maintained and sentient beings like any other race.”
I nod my head saying, “I must agree.”
As I brush against her blade, the slightest touch I muster slices into the skin exposed on my fingertip, so I jerk my hand back before she shoots backwards saying in her motherly, deep voice, “I am sorry. I did not realize you didn’t know my blades were dangerous.”
I throw my hand to my side as if shoving someone off of me as I say, “Don’t worry about it. I just wanted to know what they were like.”
She approaches me slithering past with a quiet calm for a moment before I say squinting my eyes, “What are you doing?”
She curves around me saying, “It is warm. I can feel Gaia within you. It feels like...home.”
I grin as I say, “I’m glad to hear it.” After two minutes of her poking me with an assortment of orbs, I say, “I’m sorry to end our conversation so suddenly, but we must stop the others before they catch wind of our schemes.”
She suddenly stops as she says, “Ah, yes...Of course. It was fun. Please come once more. I will tell you more of my kind if you are interested.” She points towards Aether with a talon saying, “That offer extends to your friend as well.”
I nod saying, “Likewise.”
I bend downwards before leaping over her colossal body of 30 feet in height. She floats over herself in the enormous cavern saying, “I’ve never seen such athleticism from someone of your race. How did you do that?”
After I land with a smooth crouch, I say standing, “I’m more than just human.”
She says, “Would you mind leaving with a name as you go?”
I reach Aether leaping onto his shoulders saying, “I’m Jack Donovan. You can call me just Jack.”
“Then until we meet again Jack.”
I nod my head saying, “May the stars shine on you until that day Razor.”
Aether says, “After our journey back, I will likely return with another human. She will love hearing of your culture and species. I shall see you soon.”
Aether bends his knees before he dashes shaking the earth as he pounds the stone beneath us with unrealistic strength and weight. Despite her massive frame, Razor probably weighs less than Aether even though he’s less than one tenth her overall mass.
As we dash through the cavern, Aether side steps innumerable slimes until we reach a series of tunnels. The lack of slimes and enormity of gems down the leftmost passage offers an obvious conclusion for the location of the smuggling operation. We cross several miles of a single tunnel until the sound of pacing golems overpowers Aether’s own thunderous steps.
I say as we reach the last fifteen feet of tunnel, “This will be gruesome...Are you ready Aether?”
He hunches his shoulders saying, “I spoke of my resolve before. Nothing has changed. Let us destroy this evil.”
I nod as we step into the room with screams razing the air and golems pound something wet.