The Box (Part IX)

The effects of the magical enchantments threw off his battle senses.  He could hear his breath and the subtle creaks from the padding beneath his armor, but no other sound emanated from him.

The enemy was all around him.  He had yet to see his attackers, but he was able to discern that there was more than one based on the simple whistle-click system they used to communicate.  Unlike his companions, their tactics had no effect on him. Decades of service under the order of King Altharak had tempered him to the ways of battle.  He had faced armies of human invaders from the front lines.  Atop his Gryphon mount, he’d engaged in aerial combat against dragons.  His blade had spilled the blood of the living and the dead and he had the utmost confidence that it would do the same for the creatures flanking him.

For all his experience, however, Elladuer had spent very little time beneath the ground. Much like the noble creature he fought upon, his place was in the open sky.  His heart longed for the icy winds of the north.  His soul craved the view of the ocean as it sprawled endlessly beneath him, far to the west.  Because his elfin blood gave him a greater resistance to the elements than the lesser races, he wasn’t happy unless he was pushing himself and his mount to their absolute limits.

In the few hours since leaving the open sky behind, he had found himself fighting a new kind of battle.  With the walls so close and the darkness pressing against the meager light his enchanted armor gave off, his imagination created an enemy which he had never before faced; claustrophobia.

He stood in the center of a ‘y’ junction, with the tunnel he just exited yawning silently behind him. The chamber was thirty feet in diameter, giving the monsters just enough room to circle while under the cover of darkness, from which they were also allowing glimpses of themselves to peek.

They were toying with him, feeding off of his fears and becoming more frantic in their communications.  Each whistle took only a couple of seconds to complete, but they began softly, quickly rising to a pitch that caused his delicate ears to ache.  The change of volume had another effect as well.  Combined with the echoes from the natural caverns, it gave the impression that there were many more of them than there actually were.

Though it wasn’t happening, his mind convinced him that the range of light was diminishing, allowing for the darkness to creep ever closer.  He could feel the walls around him amplifying their shrill calls.  They were pressing against him, narrowing his only means of escape from this room and threatening to crush him beneath their infinite weight.

His sword arm faltered.

“Get a grip Rider,” he muttered to himself, “you’ve faced worse than this.”

The sound of his voice was unconvincing.  Much like his arm, his voice wavered and cracked.  His mouth had suddenly gone dry, choking the words off as quickly as they were spoken.

A sudden shriek to his right startled him and he jerked his body in that direction, leading with his sword.  For the first time since he was apprenticed to his king’s army, he found himself off balance and out of stance, and had he been facing a more intelligent being, he might have found a new piece of steel protruding form the opening where his shield should have been.

“Gods,” he sputtered in anger and disbelief.  He knew that what he was experiencing was in his mind, but this was an enemy he had never before faced .  It had grown so strong, so fast, and left him vulnerable to the real threat around him, which, for as far as he could tell, consisted of several dozen of these things.

The air tasted stale on his lips.  It reeked of fungal growth, a hint of purification and other more sinister smells which he could not imagine.  It was hot against his skin and stirred only with the breath of the one they had come to slay.

“Give me strength,” he pleaded, finishing his thought.

It was a useless prayer, one which fell from disbelieving lips and quickly faded into the darkness.  He could now hear the soft clicking of the creature’s claws as they closed the distance to him, scratching and tapping on the stone floor with each pass.

“…Elladuer!”

As before, he turned ungracefully towards the source of the cry, again exposing himself for attack.  This time, one of the Destrachan took the opening and attacked.  He had only enough time to see the conical opening of its mouth as it appeared from the darkness before it released the attack.

One of his first battles under his king’s rule had been against a banshee.  He had led a small group of soldiers against the creature and had felt first-hand the force behind its wail. With the banshee, the attack had spread over his body, attacking him all over. This creature’s attack was concentrated and it smashed into the buckles which fastened his shield to his shield-arm.

When he had turned, he hadn’t kept his shield against his body as he should have, and the Destrachan had noticed.  The straps shattered and his shield fell to the floor.

Now vulnerable on his front-left flank, Elladuer watched helplessly as the creature stepped fully into his circle of light and prayed that Joeshan could hold on long enough for him to face his own battles before getting there.

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