Liluye had been summoned by Jhod’s eagle and had left the party on the cusp of their attack on the Stag Lord. But what could be so direly important as to call the druid away on a battle’s eve?
The tunnels behind them were caving in. The sweet violin choir played no more. Liluye, still half-drowned, vomited water down her front gracelessly as she sprinted down the corridor. Jhod ran just two paces behind her; she could hear his ragged breathing as they pushed their bodies past their limits. Jhod’s face was pulpy and unrecognizable from the mauling. Blood poured down the Liluye’s neck from the enormous bite wound. Poison darts protruded like porcupine quills from the elf’s body – there was no time to remove them. Her ankle oozed pus from the festering wound and she ignored the stabbing pain that shot up her leg when she put her weight on it to run.
Elf and cleric barreled out of the small tunnel and into the larger one.
As she ran, Liluye screamed down to Wander over the rumbling of the cave in. “RHEGED, WANDER!”
Wander was waiting for them, precious cargo tied about his neck. He danced in a circle, dark eyes showing their whites with fear. Liluye vaulted up onto his back in a motion as fluid as water, leaving an arc of her own spattered blood on the white canvas of the elk’s hide. In that same motion, Liluye reached back to help haul Jhod onto Wander’s back. The elk was already running.
The sparkling magical stream seemed to laugh in the voice of Delrus’s eidolon.
The cave in followed them, inches from Wander’s hind hooves. It seemed that every step the elk took was just barely enough to keep his three riders from dancing on the brink of death. His long white legs tangled and untangled themselves as he ran. The deer leapt over two of the red sinew traps that threaded across their path, but triggered the last one. Jhod yelled as a thousand blood-red darts fired from the encroaching walls. The elk was just fast enough to avoid the majority of the trap. A single dart spiraled in what seemed like slow motion, tearing some pale fur from the end of Wander’s stubby tail and pinning it to the wall for a only a moment before the wall itself shattered.
“RHEGED, WANDER, RHEGED!” hissed Liluye, pushing Wander harder than she ever had in her life.
She cradled the newborn baby to her chest protectively.
The tunnels wound endlessly in a corkscrew, hot as a womb. It was a miracle that Wander kept his footing as he ran. Their speed was so great that tears were pulled from Jhod and Lilu’s squinting eyes. The earth swallowed greedily behind them, determined to bury them alive. The motley crew spilled into the vine chamber. The altar and silver scales were in their way – there was no time to tip-toe through the entangling mass of murderous vines!
“Hedfan,” whispered Liluye. Wander’s ear flicked. And he leapt.
For a split second, elk, elf, man, and babe were silhouetted against the sparkling golden light Jhod had cast in the room earlier. Liluye could feel Jhod’s pulse fluttering in his arm where he clung to her waist. The baby’s giggle was almost too faint for Lilu’s ears. Wander’s entire body was a flexing muscle as he hurled himself into the air like a pale bullet. He leapt over the altar and across the entire room. From its nest in the ceiling the assassin vine surged down. It tried to snatch the baby from Liluye’s arms to add to its nest of bones. Time stopped. In a moment too heroic to recount adequately, Wander tore the vine away with his antlers…
And landed flawlessly on the other side of the room.
They rode on. What else could they do? In the distance Liluye could see the exit. It felt like they had been running for hours. Clods of earth were falling in front of them now, and Wander’s hind legs were showered constantly with crumbling rocks. The boulder was slowly moving to plug the doorway. This would be their tomb.
“C’mon, boy,” wheezed Jhod to Wander. The elk had pushed his body long past reasonable expectation, and blood dripped from his nostrils. The door was closing and the beautiful, ugly, sound of a woman’s laughter flowed through the earth behind them. There wasn’t enough room out the closing door, they wouldn’t fit, surely they would die here.
But Wander hadn’t given up. The elk dropped his head and continued to barrel forward like a battering ram. His antlers clacked against the closing rock as they breached the demon’s womb and poured back into the light.