Takao Sindai was not the sharpest blade in the armory when it came to his situational awareness, especially on that day. Then again, who would be? It was the perfect morning to be enjoying a fine stiff drink in a public chair outside of a roadside tavern on the outskirts of town. The watch woodsmen were exchanging shifts, people were opening shops in the city up the road by the lake. Fresh woods, fresh winds, fresh people. After riding out on the road south from the Kakereban Empire, Takao sought a life of honorable vagrancy. Loan his services out to guilds, foaling stables, peace enforcement, all were fair game. He'd only been out a month or so from his familial estate, and things were looking good.
The winds were traveling east. Through the rustling trees, the bright jade orb of the largest moon hung low on the horizon past the Tchiar fields, fading out of sight as the Sun peaked over and through the sparse clouds and trees by the road. Behind Takao, the wind picked up, and he needn't have seen the billowing clouds coming from over the western mountains. He could smell rain coming in the afternoon.
He wished he could smell the brigands sneaking up on him. A few well-placed blows later and he didn't have domain over any of his senses.
There was the distinct feeling that his captors had done more than conked him in the head. He felt the jostle of footsteps, the motion of being carried. For a moment his vision cleared, the blindness dissipating enough that he could see stars through a thatched wagon roof.
After that, little else. He had the faintest of notions that he was being taken somewhere far, for days perhaps. A fog on his mind robbed him of most thoughts, a venin that had time pass by in a blink.
And then, a dripping sound.
Warm orange light.
Biting, merciless air.
“Jukette... H-hey, you! Are you awake, Hume?”
Takao moved a finger to his lips, not knowing whom he was commanding to be silent. He blinked hard and shook his head a bit, having just awoken from a batch of rather potent sedatives. Stupid drugs laid a blanket over his brain worse than mahogany wine. Movements slow and trembling, he pushed himself off a batch of straw to a sitting position, found a wall, and scooted towards it, laying his back against cool, roughly-cut rock. Wherever he was, it was dark, almost pitch, and cold and wet and nasty. This was a squarish cell he finally observed, deep within rock, with rough iron bars to his front and left. The warm orange light emanated from 'withering-sun', a polypore growth on some supporting wooden beams just outside his cell. Underground... yes, he felt he was underground here.
He saw hands on the bars to his left, framing the glow of green hair reflecting the gloom of the room's orange. The one he had just demanded silence from. “Nng, sorry,” he whispered somewhat halfheartedly. “I'm awake now.”
“Nice of ya to come to. Looked like you've been out for about a day,” the stranger explained, the voice harsh but noticeably feminine. “You been that way since my last dig, anyways. So what's your name, Hume?”
“Takao of House Sindai,” he explained in a soft whisper, his throat dry. “We’re in deep kak, I'd wager. They knocked me out fairly solid.”
“I guess they did.”
Takao allowed his eyes to adjust for a moment. She was definitely a woman. Elvish, Dawei, by the look of her pointed ears, but her skin seemed far too dark for her kind. She looked about his age, but considering all Dawei, that didn't mean anything; she could have been twice his age and he might never notice. Her hair color denied the possibility of her being Tao-Kong. She wore a torn tunic, a bit too small for her chest, and charcoal-colored pants and sandals. Takao realized he was in a similar garb.
All right, be His Form, be His Form, be His Form...
Takao repeated the phrase in his head like a prayer until he was able to regulate his breathing somewhat and slow his heartbeat against the panic swelling in his chest. Maybe this was a dream, maybe none of it was real, he needed to be logical and calm until he figured out what the hell the deal was. Yes, he’d be like His Form. Takao Sindai of Kakereba was renowned for his cool head and quick judgment, he never bugged out in a situation, he never gave anything away unintentionally. He was a devout practitioner of His Form, the third facet of the Creator, the Nameless One. This facet was patron of logic, valor and crafts. Unyielding... Takao had a reputation to live up to and it wasn’t going to be ruined now, no matter what the situation.
Thinking of his God made Takao want a sword, but there was nothing here. And little did he know, the Dawei in the next cell was thinking the exact same thing.
“Shier Voserit, that's my name,” the woman called. Her voice echoed, and it almost made the man wince. “I'd embrace ya, but hell, bars are bars in a slaver's mine.”
“This place? What kind of mine? I never crossed anyone to warrant kidnapping . . . I don’t think.”
“Maybe not, but when does evil give good reasons for its actions?” she asked slyly, and the wisdom of her words rang true to Takao. Shier experienced enough of such actions for a while; one day on pilgrimage from her home across the Hatheran Republic, much the same occurred. One fair morning on the road, one stroke of bad fortune – and of a rather heavy club. She continued, “I've been here for at least a couple weeks now. Nuuta brutes. Have us and . . . at least a couple dozen others scavenging this old mine for whatever enercrysts were left behind by the previous tenants. Not exactly sure where we are on Amidror, though.” Shier started rubbing at her hands, trying to get them warm, but decided soon after to rub at her wrists instead. Better not to think about the cold. She’d be the savior if that was what was now required. She’d be His Blade, her God. That’s what she was used to, what she was good at.
Takao glanced over sympathetically, wholly despising their captors now. Slavery was a non-issue in Kakereba, but he knew how prevalent it was in the rest of the world, with its varying degrees of severity and human rights in servitude. And now he was beginning to feel very, very tired once more. Dismal thoughts filled his head now, too, concerning his dear friend and mount, Taklan... that poor horse, Gods know what might have happened to him.
Shier could see this bitterness in his eyes too. Poor man, and he hadn't even begun his first day of back-breaking black-boot labor. She got onto her hands and knees and rested her head against the bars of their divided prison, sweat standing out like condensation on her brow. “Jukette, Takao . . . you had better get as much shut-eye as you can before the task-master ud'raan comes and kick you into his gears for the grinding.”
“Yeah,” Takao muttered wistfully, “Guess it can't be helped right now...”
It seemed he would try to fall asleep for the rest of his life and never find a dream. It did not help his situation with the Dawei in the next cell watching over him like some interested predator. Her colors were too strange to him, too easy to pick out from the pitch dark.
In either minutes or hours, Takao thought he heard someone crying.
Grimacing at the stiffness that came with sleeping on a limestone floor, he pushed himself up onto his elbows and tried to remember where he was. Cage in a cave, of course.
The cell was still black against the withering-sun fungi, and it hurt Takao's tired eyes to try and make anything out through it all. The only thing really was the lit up top of Shier's spiky head. She was leaning on the bars by her door, looking down a tunnel to the side and casting a shadow over the man. “Shier,” Takao called softly, running a hand over his face, rubbing at his bright blue eyes, “Shier, why are you crying? Are you all right?”
His new acquaintance turned from the bars and her features were drawn and pale, but trembling all over with excitement. “It’s not me,” she hissed, barely able to control herself. She waved Takao over with an eager hand. “Something outside, it was there, then left, came into view in the hall. I swear to His Blade, Tak, it was a ghost or something! I swear to you!”
“Ghost?” Takao whispered dubiously, ignoring the shorthand use of his proper name, “Woman, you had a dream is all, go back to sleep...”
“Maybe it was a prisoner,” Shier mumbled to herself, ignoring Takao and turning back to the bars. Takao rolled over onto his side, fitfully pulling a dirty sheet over his bare chilly arms. The cold rose up from the stone floors, and it was like sleeping atop a glacier. Damned bandits, damned fates, damned cage.
Shier stared intently outside, at the spot where she’d briefly seen that phantom figure of black. Her green eyes were unblinking. It wasn't long until she'd been starting to pass out again, but when the scream came, Shier suddenly felt more awake than she had in years.
“Takao!” she hissed, darting away from the cell door as though the entire barricade were red hot to the touch. She leapt over and reached her arm through the bars to smack her sleeping cellmate on the shoulder. “Nuuta! Wake up you lazy bastard! Didn't you hear that?!”
Takao rolled over onto his stomach and plopped his cheek hard against the stone floor of their prison. His voice came out sleepy, muffled, and annoyed.
“If it's the ghost again, I am not interested.”
Shier shook the bars impatiently before giving up and crossing her arms, staring at the man as if her eyes could stab him in the back. The cell was quiet around them both, but the air still held the echo of that one short-lived scream. Something had died. That had been the scream of something, someone, at the door of death. It scared the hell out of Shier but it excited her at the same time. “Tak!” she pleaded, “Come now, man, something's going on! Get up off your ass!”
“What is it?” He rolled over finally onto his back, squinting his eyes against the scant light filtering through the bars and into his face. “You have no idea how tired I am.”
“Yeah, well I’m tired too. But you . . . you didn't hear that scream?”
“I heard your scream. That's it.”
Shier fell back, somewhat crestfallen. She knew she’d heard it though, she still heard it. The sound tied her stomach in knots. So shrill. And it had stopped so suddenly. Takao watched the Dawei in the dim light, blinking hard to try and wake up a bit more. The drugs seemed to finally be passing, the fog around his mind dissipating. Shier seemed awfully excited, but still, she was being such a dolt. “Just go back to sleep,” he demanded softly, “Being here is just playing tricks on your imagination is all. Unless it's those task-masters you speak so fondly of, there is nothing.”
Shier wanted to believe Takao's words but something wouldn't let her. “It always starts out like that,” she whispered, “Everyone says it’s nothing. Everyone says it’s all in yer head. But . . . but people said I was imagining things when I said the gangs in Masara seemed upset. It was my first week providing my services as Drago to a local lord. I always had this . . . this sense that things are going south. When I told the constables the gangs looked so angry, they told me to ignore it, that things were fine. And so I did. I ignored it all. I ignored it all until they decided to torch the lords estate and cut off his head one night. I suppose they believed me after that. I suppose maybe after the floor is slicked with blood, you'd realize I shouldn't ignore it.”
The dark room was quiet after Shier's words had echoed away. Takao scratched his head, embarrassed and feeling responsible for digging up such a memory in her.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
“Yeah, well, never mind. I guess it was probably a dream then. Ghosts . . . I’m crazy. I’m sorry.”
Shier stepped into the corner of the cell closest to Takao and crouched down against the wall, hiding her face from the light. She laid her cheek against the cold stone and hoped she wouldn’t hear the scream again. Because maybe it was just coming from inside her head, perhaps Takao was right. She buried her head in her arms and closed her eyes. Regardless, just as she had months ago, she knew something was wrong in this place.
Perhaps Takao sensed it too. He seemed more alert, more on edge now. He rose from his place on the cold stone and walked over to the locked, barred gate. < i>To hell with this place< /i>, he thought, < i>and to hell with waiting for work.< /i>
“What's on your mind, Hume?” Shier asked when her companion suddenly started fiddling with the bulky, greasy lock, seemingly scouring his immediate area for something unseen.
“Do mind your own business, lady Voserit,” Takao answered irritably, “And so you know, I dislike being called a < i>hume</ i>. We Akimen are proud of our heritage, and don't need to be placed in the same cart as the Eden-kin and the rest of mankind.”
“Akimen?!” she hissed, suddenly energized once more and darting to her feet. She rushed over and gripped the bars closest to the man, staring intently at his face. Being closer to the light, Shier scrutinized his facial features – and then she saw it, the seal all Akimen shared; a diamond-shaped golden tattoo, right in the middle of the forehead. She recalled her lessons, of the horse-breeders of the northern Empire, of people who had special abilities. Abilities of the < i>mind</ i>. She grinned widely.
“What are you staring at?” Takao inquired, sparing a glance at the woman and feeling flustered all the more at the attention. He cursed himself to his discovery of the gates fair craftsmanship. Whether or not Shier was imagining things, now with his mind a bit more clear than it was a few hours ago he felt the unwavering desire to set himself free. “< i>What?!</ i>” he bitterly snapped at the Dawei.
She winced, the grin vanishing. “There’s no need to yell. I was here for a while, you know. Know more about the place than you. And you can probably get us out of here.” Pausing for a brief moment, Takao's eyes were fixed on hers, but his face remained agitated. “...Maybe you could use that key over there?”
“...Over where?” he asked in a calmer manner.
Shier raised her arm through the bars and pointed a thin finger over to the wall. It was too dark, but following her pointing he managed to see a bit of texture differentiation in the wall across from him. Rectangular shadows, and a few lines in it.
“Can you see them?”
Shier sighed. “The slavers must have been morons to keep an Akimen in here. The whole Empire is full of Humes who can pull objects through the air with their minds and souls, right? Or am I greatly mistaken and you're prime slave material?” she added smugly.
“I was < i>drugged</ i>, you silver-tongued plebian.”
“Oh hah-hah. You’re really smart,” she chuckled, “Oh my Gods, Tak, lighten up! We have a chance to get out of here in one piece!”
Takao rubbed his head. “As you wish,” he said, and he sighed as though he could not possibly be less enthusiastic about the prospect of leaving with this woman on his heels, but good deeds are good deeds. Takao had a difficult time imagining himself engaging in any sort of activity that wouldn’t either please the Gods immensely, or further his own ambitions. One and the same, he liked to believe.
He reached out with his hand and with his mind, and within a blink's span the keys from the far stone wall, hooked on by nails and a piece of plywood, flew into his hand.
The Dawei wanted to be surprised. Surprise was knocking at the door but she wouldn't open it. Instead she casually nodded, holding her palm out after Takao looked her way. She hoped too, hoped that this man was noble enough not to leave her here to rot, but that was a minor concern; Akimen had a reputation to keep. Takao dropped the small iron key into her hand.
They both unlocked their doors, the crusted iron sliding and clinking, sounds that rang freedom to their ears. And somehow it was that simple?
“Not bad, diamond-head. So, what do the fates have in store for us now?” she called to Takao's back. The man was now focused with running his hands over the new walls like a blind man trying to find his way.
“Weapons. A way out. Both would be nice.”
“Oh. Well, remember, this place is occupied. It won't be easy getting out. But you're up for a fight, right? I sure am,” she stated matter-of-factly.
Takao shrugged and made his way down this new stone hallway, sticking close to the shadows and almost lost in them. His sandals crunched almost too loudly against some straw on the ground. “There’s an excellent chance we'll get caught.”
“By those nuuta guards running this place?”
“They did it rather well once before.”
“I guess. I guess you’d know, Tak, I won’t argue with you, though I – woah. Woah. Did you hear that?”
Takao had already quit his walking and froze mid-step, head cocked up and listening. Shier mimicked his actions. There was the obvious sound of a scream, shrill and sudden, and just as suddenly silenced. The two spared a look at each other and nodded together, progressing slowly. They kept their hands pressed to the wall. “Perhaps we shouldn't take a light for ourselves. Keeps us unseen, just in case.”
“Right,” Shier replied, “although I think being able to see would be, I don't know, a good thing in a place like this.”
Down the hall there were tight, closed rooms lit only by lanterns of varying brightness and cluttered with debris. Dancing shadows were thrown on the walls. Far-off cries rose in the deathly quiet, causing the pair to nearly jump from their skin more than once. Dark enveloped many of the rooms, the weak lantern light spread throughout the area providing a sickly little glow that quivered and fluctuated with even the smallest breath of air. Other rooms were bright as a cloudless day, either by lantern or withering-sun. Still, it was all part of the same maze. Nothing but a labyrinth of tight, confining tunnels that led nowhere but in circles and offered nothing but torment.
“A pity,” Takao sighed, looking around and trying to make sure they hadn't come across this particular corridor already.
Eyes widening a moment after however, he bolted into a larger, well-lit chamber with more than clutter. Mining tools. Carts. Chests. Weapons. The storehouse of the area, no doubt! Fumbling around and checking nearby containers, Shier hissing nearby, he found his blade. Grinning and chuckling, he was amazed to see all of his stolen raiments!
“Takao, what the Hell do you think you're doing?!” Shier snapped, smacking the back of his head. “You don't run around haphazardly around here, do you want us caught?”
“You think there would be anyone around if there wasn't anyone guarding this repository?” Takao was using the tone of voice he reserved for when he thought his sister was being foolish.
“The guard might be out using the latrine,” she replied stubbornly.
“And if that's the case? I have a blade now. I think we're far better prepared to handle any unwelcome maltworms.
Shier remained unconvinced, but she didn't feel like arguing with this man. There was something about this mine that made her anxious and edgy. Something beyond the imprisonment and the abandonment. She could practically feel the evil of this place. Though she didn't know it, it was not completely her imagination. She really could feel something. The presence of Death was strong enough to make itself known in one way or another, regardless of how faintly she felt it or how ignorant she was of it. If Takao felt the same, he'd long since brushed it off as unimportant. He never did listen to superstitions, which was strange as he was more devoutly religious than Shier herself. All superstition, just a different context.
She mentally shrugged at the thought. Shier was a Blade and a Drago, here to do the world a favor by ridding it of evil and not dawdle around wondering about the faults of humanity or the workings of the universe. Superstition bred only fear, and fear death. Still, she couldn't help it–
“Gah, Takao, what are you doing?!” she shrieked, blushing and turning on her heel at the sight of the Akimen stripping by a crate.
Takao chuckled. “Well where else am I going to do this? My clothes are here! Just keep your eyes and thoughts over there and – there,” he said, pulling up his pants. “I'd think your cloths would be around here too, and your weapon if you're lucky. Otherwise you might have to resort to the iron shovels.”
“Tch, a lunatic is what you are,” she quipped, looking around the crates. After removing a particularly heavy one, indeed she found that which had been stolen from her – except for a particular bag of trophies she had attempted to collect on her travels.
“By Form's teeth, I'm missing some things.”
“Well don't complain, I'm missing things too. Be happy you've found anything at all!” she snapped, looking back to make sure he was still engrossed in his possessions before properly dressing herself. Either he was a very covetous man or a very noble one; she wasn't discreet in her actions and was gladdened he didn't dare turn around for a free show. A welcome change to things, she supposed.
Takao nodded, “I suppose you're right.” And he was quite engrossed after donning his dark blue tunic, boots and leather armor; next to a horse, his most valued possession was his sword. It was a mythril jian, passed down as it had been for generations. This was an everlasting metal, its glossy surface like opaque ice, shimmering with a cerulean hue in the shadows, etched down the center, a gold horse-head figure at the pommel. He was immensely relieved to see it returned to his hands.
Paired up with his sword were a few other weapons, one in particular was a steel longsword with a similar hexagonal blade profile. A clean but obviously used weapon that was almost immediately swiped from Takao's hands.
“That's mine, thank you!” Shier exclaimed, giving her blade a once-over before snatching up the sheath for it. “I don't see my shield anywhere, but I suppose I'll have to make due.”
Takao looked up, impressed to see a Dawei woman handle such a weapon. She wore tan-colored attire, rough and complimented with armor made of bone. She was the image of a warrior. It dawned on Takao then, her attire and skin color unmistakably labeled her as a woman of the eastern desert. He nodded and rose as Shier continued looking through the stolen goods. “Yes, I suppose it will. I bet that will be difficult to use in these corridors, but it'll do.”
“You let me worry about that, Tak.”
“Please don't call me that,” he asked as he stepped out into a cross-section of tunnels. Now, although armed, he still had to find a way out. His heart sank when Shier's steps shadowed his immediately. “Why must you follow me so closely? Really, I am not planning anything diabolical against you. And I’m not a terribly exciting man.”
Takao turned around and saw Shier not immediately behind, but on the opposite end of the shadowed hall, still at the portal of the repository. At once a dark figure brushed by out of the corner of Takao's eye and by the time he twisted about to see, it had disappeared down an ascending path. “Did you see–?”
“Yes...” Shier breathed thoughtfully. This time her treads did indeed follow Takao's and both hurried quickly up the winding after the unnamed figure. Some ways above, there was the faint sound of a door slamming and at least three pairs of running feet, but they were the distinct treads of men trying not to be heard. Very, very odd. Takao looked around a corner and saw a few benches, and rickety wooden doors, breath held.
“Something’s afoot,” he whispered, drawing a steel stiletto from his hip. He left his sword where it was, made useless in these tunnels.
“I’d say three somethings are afoot rather,” Shier answered. She seemed to disregard the logic Takao was following, holding her sword against her, the point of the blade leading. “I really, really don't like how empty everything is. Perhaps–”
Takao swung lightly out into the dim passage. A check at his back to be sure Shier was close behind, and he put his shoulder to the wall, advancing carefully towards where he thought the entities may have tread. Something in the air was... was prickling his skin, for lack of a better word. Something dark, but not the constant buzz of the Spirits to the senses of those with skill in magic. This was raw and intrusive power and he didn’t understand how it had managed to sneak its way into this place full of occupants. Coiled and coolly angry, he reached a large door to find it ajar. There was written word above it, but he couldn't read the tongue it was in. Glancing in a manner unsure of himself, his eyes met with Shier's.
She looked up and smirked. “It's in Thaczil. Reads 'Surface Junction from Red-Bear Tunnels'.”
“Seems we're on the right path, at least...”
A flurry of footsteps distracted Takao for a moment, but it was coming from beyond and had gone by the time he jerked his head about. Yet the force was coming from behind the door; he’d have sworn to it. So with a quick and murmured prayer, he pushed the door the rest of the way open and slipped through.
The main room here was bereft of people. By the looks of things, it seemed to be a small break-room. A square table, a few chairs and two lanterns lit behind screens of green glass occupied the center of the room. The floor here was smoother, cleaner, and some chips and clay mugs remained on the table. Three other doors marked entrances to more tunnels beyond.
Shier stepped forward and drew out of her memories and realized how close to the exit they were. She remembered being a little intimidated by how tight some of the passages and tunnels were. Though a little more used to it now, tight places were to be avoided in the future if she could help it. Just an irrational thing, nothing she couldn't handle or suppress. It gave her that much more reason to hate it here, hate the dark, hate imprisonment and evil. “That doorway,” she stated as she pointed across the room with the tip of her blade, “They brought me through here once with some mining gear they needed repaired. This is a lot more familiar.”
“That's good news to hear,” Takao breathed. He made his way over to the table and, observing the contents of the clay mugs, drank and doused the burning in his throat. He stepped back to hand the rest over to Shier.
But then, the lights went out.
There wasn’t a sputter of magic or a breeze. The lights just suddenly went out.
Takao grunted as he carefully put the mug on the ground. “...This is just terrific.”
He heard Shier give a yelp from tripping on a stone but he ignored it, immediately finding a wall and putting his back against it, dagger up again and pointing out at the empty black air. He held his breath, listening. Shier stood her ground, ears perking up and standing still, trying to get an image of the room, targeting any breathing. She could hear Takao against the wall, but there didn't seem to be anything else.
“No one's slicing us open yet,” Shier whispered, “I don't hear a thing. Maybe it was just the air from us coming in...”
A slight orange glow told where the doors were, some withering-sun growing from the wood, but other than that there was nothing but black. Takao inched his way closer to that glow, his heart hammering in his ears, his hands growing colder in the vicious chill of the mine, but it wasn’t the cold that made him tremble.
“Frack me!” Takao exclaimed in a little squeak, the words sounding strange coming from the swordsman's mouth. He wasn’t one to normally swear but this was a special occasion; “Something just brushed past me!”
“That was me so don't stab me,” Shier said quietly. She didn’t sound disturbed at all now. She rubbed her chin. “Lack of air perhaps? Likely not, actually. No, I do believe–” Her speculation cut off mid-sentence when a flash of purple light lit the room like a lightning strike from behind. She barely avoided the sword slash of a lithe and ragged figure melting into existence before her like a shadow.
Another powerful blow came down, this one fierce and desperate enough to disarm the Dawei immediately. With a choked cry of surprise, she fell backwards into a stool, and there was a glimpse of her attacker's eyes. He was obviously abnormal, as the swordsman had magic swirling around his very being. Shier saw her own reflection, indignant, dark, and startled, in the Ghoul's violet crystalline eyes, and for a moment she deliriously wondered if she would die with her own eyes open or shut when this descending sword cleaved her chest open. Takao left the question unanswered. His dagger flew through the air with a horrible shriek, connecting sickeningly with the swordsman's head and rocketing him backwards into the wall. For a moment he teetered there, with the hilt sticking from his shattered forehead like some extra appendage; then gravity caught them, and they slid slowly to the floor. There the entity, barely discernible from the shadows engulfing them, vanished in a cloud of ash.
Panting, too disturbed to even try to piece together how any of that had happened, Shier merely watched the ash collect as light returned to the room, as if the lanterns never ceased giving it.
Takao stepped forward immediately to reclaim his weapon from the pile of black soot, asking anxiously, “Only one, eh? Only one . . . Are you well, Shier?”
“Yes,” Shier confirmed from the floor. Takao helped her up, his jian gleaming naked in his other hand; his eyes were deadlier. Sharp and crystal-blue, they settled for a moment on the remnants of their foe. A bead of sweat dribbled from his chin, spotting his breastplate. His eyes widened disturbingly as they took their steps back towards the table.
“Damn snakes!” Shier swore, though she would have said anything to break the silence.
“Not snakes. Ghouls,” Takao announced quietly.
“I < i>know</ i> it's a Ghoul.”
Takao was about to ask < i>why did you say snakes, then?< /i> to distill the stress with humor, but Shier's gaze broke any chance of that happening. “Well now,” he began. “Maybe this is our 'ghost' then that you saw earlier.”
“We'd be in trouble then if you're telling the truth,” Shier sighed. “That was a lucky shot! Ghouls that can shadow-walk and douse the lights with their will was < i>not < /i>what I was hoping for.” She rolled her eyes and smirked, nudging Takao with her elbow. “Then again, I wasn't hoping to run into any adversary, but I might take one of those ud'raan slavers instead of this.”
“I agree wholeheartedly,” Takao nodded. “Now then, which way?”
“...Door says this way, so this way we will go.”