I’d like to claim that every plan that springs from the mind of an asura is one of purest genius, unsurpassed until that moment, and only to be bettered by even greater minds in the future. In reality, though, we’re an adaptable people, and whilst we might not like taking the simplest approach, sometimes you can’t argue with the situation.
Like right now, as we were stuck in Vonn’s cage, at some meagre Inquest outpost in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps I could have devised some devious escape route, complete with extraordinary inventions that would baffle our enemy and do my krewe (or perhaps that should be former krewe) proud. However, in that moment, all we wanted was a quick, foolproof escape, and I’d seen a way to provide it.
“On my signal, kick there,” I ordered Erin, pointing to the corner where the cage bars met the rock behind us.
“What’s the signal?” Erin asked, though she was already swivelling round to face the corner.
“This.” The air filled with smoke, nothing more than a thief’s standard blinding powder, but in the close confines of the cave, it was enough. Shouts and coughs went up around us, followed by the clang as the bars Erin had been kicking gave way and rattled across the floor. We scrambled out, one by one, finding the makeshift lab eerie with the glow of asura-made weapons through the fog. At the cave’s mouth, someone sounded to be repeatedly firing a pistol in a mad panic, whilst someone else – possibly Vonn – shouted at them to stop. It didn’t seem to be having much effect.
The second part of my plan was trickier. I’d seen a second entrance to the cave, which someone had tried to block with a pile of crates, but which had still been visible from our position in the cage. I pushed them aside with Caolinn’s help; Erin was grumbling about the state of her aching back, and her objections only grew louder as the smoke cleared enough to see the passage.
“I’m not going down there,” she said, a bit too loudly for my taste, though there wasn’t much hope of the Inquest believing we’d gone any other way. “I’d rather fight my way out.”
That was, if I was honest, a sentiment I shared: the tunnel was an unknown quantity, after all. Still, there were a lot of Inquest in the other direction, and if there was even the slightest chance we could make a clean getaway, I’d take it.
I dived into the passage before anyone could stop me, and heard the clatter of footsteps as both Caolinn and Erin followed. The tunnel twisted and turned for a while, and Erin drew her torch to give us light. There was, at least, just enough room for even the norn to manoeuvre, even if it was a tight squeeze in places.
“This could come out anywhere,” Caolinn pointed out, as we crossed a cavern with a sandy floor and the dripping sound of water in one corner.
“And it might not come out at all,” I added. I’d known that when we entered the cave, of course, but I also knew I could feel fresh air on my skin, a breeze coming from somewhere ahead. I’d stake my life on there being another way out of this system – in fact, I already had.
Around the next corner, there was a skittering of movement: cavern scutters, which rattled away from us across the bare stone at the light of the torch.
“They wouldn’t be down here if there wasn’t another way out,” I said confidently. “And neither would– Oh.”
I’d seen a faint glow up ahead, and for a moment I’d thought it was the aurora of gathered fireflies. This, though, was actually a thick skein of web stretched across the cave, glowing with its own inner light.
“Spiders,” Caolinn said in disgust.
Erin actually laughed. “Why would a necromancer care about spiders? You spend all your time around foul things.”
Caolinn gave a grunt which sounded as though she’d include ‘annoying norn’ in that number. “I had an… unfortunate incident with a cave full of spiders in my youth,” she said. “Although I suppose it might come in useful now.”
I refrained from pointing out that sylvari hardly had a ‘youth’ at all, although it was true I didn’t know how old Caolinn was. “How did you get out of it last time?”
She shrugged, then pointed to Erin’s torch, held above our heads. “With fire.”
I would have said that was a bit drastic, but a quick flick of the webs with my finger said it might well be too strong to cut with blades. And besides, somewhere in the distance behind us, I could hear voices. The Inquest were catching up.
Erin stepped forward, applying her burning torch to the nearest web. It resisted for a moment, trembling as though alive, and then went up in a whoosh of flame that nearly blinded us. I could hear shouting behind us, and wondered just how well the Inquest knew these tunnels. Would we go stumbling around in the dark whilst they made straight for us?
The answer to that, it turned out, was ‘no’. Somehow, our pursuers managed to miss the path we’d taken, and I began to hear cries going up from off to our right. Muffled though they were, I could pick out screams of distaste, and one or two of genuine horror.
Even in the gloom, I could see Caolinn’s wince, but Erin laughed heartily. “Sounds like you’re not the only one who doesn’t like spiders.”
We forged ahead, burning through the webs one at a time, steadily leaving the Inquest behind. I could feel the breeze stronger on my face now, making the spiderwebs twitch and the torch gutter in plumes of black smoke. Erin shielded it with her body as best she could, but I didn’t like the thought of it going out and leaving us in darkness, and by the look on her face, Caolinn liked it even less.
And then, finally, there was light. It was only a faint grey glow at first, but it grew brighter as we advanced, until Erin’s torch was no longer needed. We hurried forwards, making for the exit at a rush – and that was when the spiders found us.
They didn’t make a single sound, and the first I knew of them was when Caolinn screamed. I’d been looking over my shoulder, and spun round just in time to see a wave of tiny creatures boiling out of a hole in the wall. For a moment, I thought they were going to swarm across us, but instead they split into runnels around our feet, before disappearing into the shadows of the tunnels behind. I didn’t dare breathe a sigh of relief, because I had the feeling those little spiders might be fleeing from something – and so they were.
It emerged from the same hole, squeezing out in front of us in a grotesque medley of hairy legs and pendulous body, back-lit by the tempting daylight of our exit. The spider must have weighed as much as I did, maybe even Caolinn, and when it raised itself high on its spindly legs, it was almost as tall as our norn.
Beside me, Caolinn froze, caught between panic and utmost terror. Erin, thankfully, had no such compunctions, and drew her greatsword with a grunt of exertion, swinging it in the same movement. The spider made a hideous screech and lurched back just before the blade swept across what I assumed to be its face; unable to get close without fear of hitting Erin, I was left to grab Caolinn’s hand and pull her forwards. For a moment, she resisted me and my feet scrabbled against the sandy cave floor, but with a yank I managed to propel her into motion and we were off in Erin’s wake.
The spider had fallen back; with shouts and great heaves of her sword, Erin forced it away until it was bathed in the bright daylight outside. That wasn’t a pretty sight, it has to be said, but the spider squealed when faced with the sun and cowered just long enough for us to rush past.
We were at the top of a slope and together we went scrambling down it, tripping and sliding across a plane of scree in our haste to escape. And none too soon: from our right, there was a chorus of shouts. I glanced back just long enough to see a pack of Inquest emerge from another tunnel in the hillside, before quickening my pace.
“This way,” Caolinn called, abruptly veering off across the slope; out of the darkness and the presence of the spiders, she seemed to have made a miraculous recovery. Erin and I had no choice but to follow, and it wasn’t long before I realised what Caolinn had seen: there was an outpost at a base of the hill, and whilst it was little more than a few scattered tents, it had a sturdy wall of thorns and greenery around it which meant it had been built by sylvari.
The slope steepened towards it base, and the three of us were forced to grab onto one another as we went slithering down. We reached the bottom in a rush, almost tumbling over and rolling into a heap, but somehow we kept our feet and staggered into the outpost.
Startled faces looked up at our arrival, every one of them sylvari. I looked back in time to see the Inquest behind us slow, then come to a halt halfway up the hill. With a rising sense of glee, I imagined their expressions of dismay and disappointment, though I tried not to think too closely about Vonn. Whatever he was up to, and however he was involved with Zurra, right now I didn’t want to know.