Note: This is a 2014 remake of my early 2012 short story, which can be found here in its original form. Please enjoy this remastered tale. Stat cards will be provided.
Diving under the frigid depths of the pool within the deep, dim, and miserably dank Spider Cave, I located a large purple crystal of Dark Eco that jutted out of the floor of the pool. I rocketed through the waters towards it, my small body making it even easier to pilot myself to that little beacon of pay wages. I was the smallest and sleekest in the expedition group I was placed with, tiny but an expert at reconnaissance and maneuvering my small figure in ways no one else could. I was the youngest as well, only barely eleven years old, and the best medic aside from Jay-Jay.
I was but one member of a small expedition group that comprised of a bunch of boys native to the Valkan Islands. One was a tall broad-shouldered boy with golden hair that we called Barku; it was he who had been designated as the leader. The second, a ginger-haired and slender boy named Callan was our tactician and attack coordinator, also having the sharpest aim and quickest wit. Black-haired Jay-Jay was a new story himself, a refreshing breeze of compassion and loyalty. He was a gifted tracker and scout and was the group’s de facto navigator. It was golden-brown haired SJ who was the group’s mechanic, inventor, and repairman. He could fix or improve anything if he got his hands on it. We had all been sent out to the eerie Spider Caves to complete a particular mission involving Dark Eco crystals that were backing up Volcanic Crater’s local red eco supply line.
I touched the crystal, feeling the cool smoothness of it against my pale hand. In an instant it began flashing and I torpedoed through the water, frantically making for the surface. I broke the surface and was unable to catch a handhold on the slippery wet rock around me. It was Jay-Jay and Barku who hoisted me out of the pool in time to watch the crystal explode and leave a cascade of bubbles in its wake.
We trekked onward powerfully, even though I was dripping wet and coughing. I kept pace behind Barku and Jay-Jay, in front of Cal and SJ. We came to a small pool of dark eco that had been left here as a testament to the lurker work we knew was being conducted. There were small precursor platforms, so we leaped across them. I had the smarts to know that precursor artifacts seemingly were unaffected by Dark Eco’s natural destructive properties. There was a Dark Eco crystal in this room that Cal pointed out, and we made mental note to return for it later, because SJ pointed out an odd-looking tunnel that seemed to lead lower into the caves. Barku nodded at the tunnel, so we proceeded across the platforms, not even noticing the thick sludge of Dark Eco below us.
The mouth of this tunnel was lined with luminous mushrooms. Barku called from the front of the procession to let everyone know to watch their step, and I soon saw why as we went down two natural stairs of rock. An odd crystalline shape entered my line of vision and I looked to the others for approval before touching it. We leaped back, expecting it to detonate, but it instead glowed bright green. We gaped at each other, but SJ then shouted.
“Spiders!” he yelled, pointing as a dozen multi-legged masses came pouring into the tunnel. Cal pulled a small round device out of his pocket and threw it to the ground, releasing a few Yellow Eco clusters. We raced to grab one and as soon as I had, a certain kind of tingling entered my arms as I outstretched my left to face them. I began firing blasts of eco-energy at the advancing spiders, noticing my comrades doing the same until the tunnel was cleared.
A high ridge barred access into the next room of the caves. We made our way over, climbing the ridge. It was harder for SJ and I, the smaller members of the group, but we made it up and over the rock with a bit of crafty teamwork. Beyond there, we crossed a creaky wooden bridge, and I peered below the bridge. All I could see was darkness and I shuddered at the idea of slipping over the edge and falling into that void of nothingness below us. Part of the platform was out, so we helped each other across the gap. We became plunged in darkness until Cal was sharp enough to hit another of the strange crystals.
The bridge ended in yet another crystal, which Jay-Jay hit to illuminate the area. To our right was yet another platform of wood, this time raised high above us. The left led to a small nook, illuminated with its own purple light. It was full of water and had a Dark Eco crystal at the bottom. I knelt beside the pool and gazed into its depths, noticing that this particular pool went very deep. I gulped and gave a thumbs-up to the others before I dived into the chilling deep. I took in a huge breath before submerging myself wholly, kicking my legs as I dove down towards the crystal. I reached out tentatively and felt the smoothness of the crystal against my hand as it began flashing. I frantically splashed away from the crystal, looking back at it. This proved to be a huge mistake
As I rose, I cracked my head into a bit of rock jutting out from the walls of the pool. The impact dazed me and I began to feel myself sink as stars flickered in my vision. For a moment came an impending sensation of doom. I was going to die. Before I could fully comprehend my imminent doom, a strong arm wrapped itself under my armpits and pulled me away from the evil illumination of the crystal. My head surfaced and I gasped in air as Barku climbed out of the pool and pulled me up onto the rock behind him. So Barku had saved me from death. We both watched as a cascade of bubbles erupted from the bottom of the cave. I stood with my back straight and saluted him graciously for my rescue. He grinned at me just before the lights flickered out and left us in deathly darkness. There was an annoyed grumble and a hard whack, followed by the return of the light. Callan had punched the crystal in utter exasperation.
We clambered up the high wooden platform using some of the rocky outcroppings of the wall as holds. There was a stone rotating slab platform that went in a perfect circle. Only one person could go across this lift at a time, so they sent me across first to test it. I stepped onto the small slab of rock and felt highly nauseous for a moment as it spun around, allowing me a mere moment to step off onto the next wooden platform. SJ came across next and we shared each other a relieved look as we waited for Callan to cross over. Barku was the last to make his way across before SJ whacked the nearby crystal and we gaped.
“You would have to be psychotic to build something like this.” Callan said, and we privately agreed as Barku swore under his breath and spit.
There was but one narrow platform about the size of a wooden board. We sidled across it in the same order we had come across the rotating platform before coming across a two person lift. Barku and I were the first ones sent up, followed by SJ and Jay-Jay. SJ rode the lift twice, going back down to accompany Callan on the way up. We crossed another rotating stone platform and up another lift.
“There!” SJ shouted, pointing up to a shining power cell. This would be worth a lot if we could get it, so I took a head start and leaped, barely catching hold of a small plank of wood. I barely got my body onto it and reached the power cell, feeling a surge of power as it rested in my palm. I grinned down to the others.
There was suddenly a colossal eruption as a giant spider creature teetered onto the scene. It salivated heavily at the sight of us, looking to make a good meal out of us. Naturally, we all screamed and swore and tore down a lift and into a familiar cave. As it took chase, we could not find the exit. A terrifying gloom came over me…what if we were stuck here forever? A leg intercepted SJ and I, catching SJ and throwing him to the wall.
“SJ!” we all yelled in unison as he crumpled to the floor of the cave. I dodged the same leg as it sought to dislodge me. We made for SJ, but a second leg caught Barku and Jay-Jay off guard and pitched them towards another wall. Jay-Jay landed hard on the ground, the wind knocked out of him. Barku tried to land and miscalculated his position badly and roared with pain as his leg crumpled first beneath him. It was just Callan and I now, and we both eyed a Yellow Eco vent before glancing to one another. The vent had not been open before, but it certainly was running now.
“Ready to make for the vent?” I asked Cal, who got in a ready stance with his arms raised.
“Definitely.” Cal replied coolly.
We both dodged around the spider and leaped into the vent. As soon as we entered it, I felt that same wisdom enter me, along with a jolt of energy in my arms. Both of us spun out of its reach and blasted at it. My blast tipped it over just as Cal released a blast that caught it in the sensitive abdomen it had concealed. Blood and a yellowish pus-like substance oozed from the great spider as it twitched and convulsed before growing still, legs curled up.
Jay-Jay pulled himself to his feet and seemed okay, but SJ was clearly unconscious and Barku’s leg was badly injured from the landing. Jay-Jay allowed Barku to use him as a human crutch and they staggered along behind Callan, who lifted SJ easily over his shoulder. I led the way this time, silent as we trooped out of the light-crystal cave and into the rest of the caves.
“This is pointless. We've been walking around in circles.” Cal said, kicking a rock aside, watching it tumble into the large pool of Dark Eco before us. “We've been by this wooden platform before.”
“Well we can’t be stuck in here forever.” Jay-Jay pointed out optimistically. A chill swept through my body then as I paused, waiting for something to happen. Something had to happen.
“We gotta stay hopeful.” Barku sighed. “We have to believe we’ll find the way out.”
I let my eyes shut then and reached inside myself for something powerful. With my eyes closed I walked, ignoring Callan’s protests as I did so. I felt a light breeze on my face and knew the breeze had to be coming from an exit. I opened my eyes and saw nothing but a path we had taken before, then looked low out of intuition. There was an opening below us.
“I've got one more trick up my sleeve.” I said, pulling Jay-Jay over. Jay-Jay peered at the cave below us and gave an approving nod before we carefully descended the ridge we were on, lowering the unconscious SJ down. We stood before it.
It was oddly shaped and looked unfamiliar, but it possessed the breeze that was our indicator to escape. I proceeded first, almost in a reverie as we strode into the tunnel. The breeze grew stronger as we reached a tall ridge to bar our path. We managed to lay the injured on it before scrambling up ourselves, then carefully crossed the raised rock platforms beyond it. A familiar warmth began to envelop us as we stepped before what we perceived as the final ridge, for we could now hear the sounds of nature instead of the unnatural hair-raising noises of the cave. SJ gasped heavily and his eyes fluttered open. Callan let him down gingerly as the five of us turned and peered back, seeing the glow that symbolized darkness, confusion, and fear before we turned back and climbed out of Spider Cave and back into the world.