| ||The group dismounted and led their mounts into the mouth of the cave. The light from the outside soon vanished and torches were lit only to reveal an even deeper darkness further into the mountain. The tunnel led the warriors at a downward angle and after only about half a mile they arrived at their base for the night: A large cave. Rusted old lorries standing on metal tracks reminisced of times long past when this complex of caves and tunnels, cracks and lava runs had still been a mine. And what a mine it had been! The wealth of the mountain still glittered in seams along the walls. Precious crystals imbued with powers beyond the boundaries of this world. |
The group quietly prepared their camp. Practised hands made short work of unpacking the equipment transported down here on the mounts and preparing them for battle. Bandages and tourniquets were placed on the altar stone in the middle of the sandy floor. Finally the warriors girthed their weapons, put on their armour and gathered in a circle.
Styx had always liked these concentrated moments before the battle. She looked at the faces of her fellow warriors. They had fought many battles side by side and weathered some of the fiercest melees. But whenever they came down here to the Crystal Caves it was as if they entered sacred ground. All the faces were turned towards her. Every fellow Human listening for her words, her command. Each one of them had at one time or the other taken the lead in meeting the challenges of the Underground Knights down here in the depth beneath the mountain. Tonight it would be her turn.
She smiled at the others, bent down to the ground and gathered a handful of sand from the floor of the cave as was custom among them. As she rubbed her hands together, heightening the grip of her palms with the pulverized remains of the crystals themselves the typical smell rose among them. It reminded one of blood and flowers, warm with a hint of iron or metal and sweet like roses or elt gambier. “Tonight we will begin in the very centre, the Red Cave.” She was answered with greedy smiles on her companions’ faces. The Red Cave, aye, Styx meant business for sure. No ducking in passages and biding your time tonight: Going for the centre directly would take them straight into the fighting. “I know this is risky,” she continued, “but I count on the Magmar filth being too surprised to offer serious resistance on the first trip.” She clapped her hands once, spilling a cloud of dust into their midst. “Once I have packed all the crystals I can carry” she said nodding towards the bags strapped to her loyal Shankar’s saddle, “I will take a potion of speed and head back here, doing it all over again. This should put us in the lead right away. If there is time we should visit the temple there one by one to increase our powers.” The warriors around her nodded their approval. “We shall be victorious if everyone sticks to his post: One of us in each passage to guard the route back and the rest up front with me so I don’t kill all the Magmars myself!” This was met by laughter and mirth as everyone was lusting for battle at this point. Styx drew her sword and raised it in the circle, the others following her example. As one the war-cry echoed in the caves “For Valor!”
The group advanced through the tunnels. It was always warmer in here than you’d expect, Styx mused. In each passage one of her companions set up his guard position and prepared to engage as many foes as possible, unleashing his mount or summoning a range of monsters to engage the enemy. The smell of the crystals grew ever stronger, the nearer they got to the central Red Cave. At last Styx and four of her brothers in arms could see the dim red light up ahead. Above the ever present murmur of the depth, the water dripping of the walls, the crackling torches they could make out the sounds of voices. Styx raised a closed fist and the party stopped on the spot, each warrior drawing his weapons. Then charging with a battle cry, they ran into the cavern, cutting down two Magmars that were trying to gather Crystals and pressing two more back towards the far wall. Immediately Styx began chipping the red glowing Crystal from the rock and filling the bags. Her Comrades exchanged shouts and commands, engaging a newcomer at the Magmar entrance and butchering the other two. As she picked up a beautiful large red shard she heard a yelp behind her as her Shankar charged a Magmar who had tried to sneak up from behind her. Styx smiled, stashed the crystal away, drew her sword and while climbing onto her trusted mount's back beheaded the foul Magmar. “Run!” she whispered into her Shankar’s ear. “Run and carry us to victory!”