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“Can you cast that spell again?” I asked, feeling just a little bit of nervousness as I looked at the monstrous spiders all around us.

“Collapse the tunnel! Is that the only strategy you know?” Olivia shot back bitterly.

“Can you do anything else?” I responded helplessly.

“Y-you!” Olivia reached into her pouch and tossed out a mixture that looked like sand and then gave a command.

Just as the giant spider raised up its fangs like it was about to attack, a massive wall of flame exploded in front of us. A dozen spiders at once started making a low squealing noise. Since it came from dozens of startled spiders at once, it was enough that the entire cavern seemed to vibrate. I grabbed the goblin children and Olivia, picked the only available path, and started down it. Unfortunately, despite the wall of fire, there were at least a dozen spiders on our side.

I pulled out the sword and tried to keep them at bay. Meanwhile, Olivia sent out several small fireballs. Each time they struck a spider, it elicited an angry squeal before backing away. We had only made it about a hundred meters when the blinding light of the wall of fire started to weaken, plunging the group of us into relative darkness.

“Light!” Olivia ended another spell, causing a blinding flash.

At that moment, a spider had lunged toward me, and the fangs plunged into my thigh. I let out a curse as I felt like a knife was stabbing into me. I managed to bring my sword down, stabbing into the spider and killing it instantly. The light Olivia had created wasn’t nearly as bright as the fire wall from earlier, so the spiders crawling in the hallway were nearly hidden, looking more like shadows moving in the darkness than an open threat.

I forced the spider off of me, peeling my body off of some webbing on the floor and stumbling backward. I could hear the rustling noises of countless spiders as they were converging on us.

“Don’t you have anything else?” I asked, glancing over at Olivia.

She was red-faced and panting. It was clear that the little bit of magic she had done was quickly reaching her limit. She wasn’t Baba, after all.

“What about you? Aren’t you a devil?”

I blinked for a moment, realizing I had completely forgotten about my own magical ability. I had the ability to influence shadows, but most of what I learned had been developed specifically for combat. I could create illusions, confuse enemies, and create feints, but what kind of illusion would I do for a spider.

“Of course, another wall of fire!” I spoke the last part out loud.

“I can’t do another one!” Olivia hissed. “I’m out of the appropriate reagents.”

“You don’t need to, just create some heat for me!” I need you to trick the spiders into believing their eyes.”

I could just create the illusion, but the spiders may be able to tell its fake by the lack of heat. However, if Olivia used a bit of red-hot fire, we could sell that the entire hallways were blocked with fire. I quickly cut my hand and made the invocation. I wasn’t at a stage where I could just say the words like Olivia, so it required symbols and a sacrifice of blood. It was like I knew the alphabet, but speaking the language fluently was beyond me.

Fortunately, I wasn’t slow, and a moment later, an illusion of fire appeared. I had once used an illusion to fool Lord Stebes. This illusion was many times better than that one. It affected everyone, for starters, and even I could see a fire spring up. At the same time, Olivia created a cone of fire, pushing back the spiders with the heat. They made squealing sounds once again, but fortunately, they were on the other side.

The illusion created light, so we could see a hallway filled with spiders on the floor, walls, and ceiling. There were at least four dozen. However, the illusionary flames flicked up to the ceiling, so even if they wanted to pass, they would have to be burned by it. Thankfully, it seemed to be enough to hold them back. Olivia tried to push them back as much as she could with the cone of fire, giving the fire wall some room.

Since it was an illusion, it would last much longer than the wall of fire. It was difficult to say whether the spell would fail or the spiders would realize the trick first. As Olivia collapsed from exhaustion, I grabbed her and the group of us began to flee down the hallway. We kept going for several minutes. The light of the wall left us and we were plunged into the dim light of Olivia’s failing light spell.

I wasn’t carrying Olivia. She could use her feet, but she was leaning on me for support. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a particularly better state, with the wound on my leg shooting out pain with every step. The pair of us moved as the little goblin children stayed in front of us, fearing to run outside the field of Olivia’s light.

When we reached an intersection, the pair of us collapsed. The children turned around and made startled cries. It was clear they wanted to continue onward. While landing hard on my butt, I fished out the map and immediately worked on locating our position. As soon as I determined where we were in the tunnels, I gestured for one of the children to come to me. The one who had once kicked me was the only one brave enough to come over.

“Sorry… mister… s-sorry…” He was shaking, wanting to tell me things he lacked the vocabulary to say.

The result was just a series of shaky apologies. Perhaps he thought the spiders were a part of the punishment we had planned on the children. In truth, our plan was hardly something so dangerous. We weren’t being misleading. We had planned to go to the surface and check out the entrance. However, Olivia happened to know of a particularly itchy plant that grew in the area. We only planned to pick a few, grind them up, and put them in one of our bags, which we would naturally leave for them to explore.

It didn’t matter now, so I shook my head and grabbed on to the child. “Head to the right. You need to make the next right, and then a left. Three turns. You got it?”

“S-sorry…” He muttered his eyes rolling and his body shaking from fear.

I grabbed him tighter and pointed at the map. “Three turns, say it.”

“Right… right, left…” He finally said.

“Go to your elders, tell them you must move now. Put the men on guard. You’re too close to the nest.”

“Y-yes… grey one… yes…” He nodded

He pulled out of my hands and ran back to his other friends. He gave us one last thankful yet fearful look before he turned down the right path and ran. The two other goblin children followed him, making loud noises as they raced away much farther than the pair of us could move.

“Do you think… the spiders are a danger to the goblin tribe?” Olivia asked.

“Now… yes.” I admitted with a regretful expression on my face. “Had we not stumbled into their nest, we might have passed by safely without encountering each other. However, now that the spiders are stirred up, they’ll surely act to defend their brood.”

“Are the spiders following us?”

This time, the question was spoken in a high tone, showing the fear in Olivia’s voice.

I glanced deeply at her for a moment. “We need to get going.”

I worked my way back to my feet and then held out a hand to Olivia. No sooner has she grabbed it when I heard a sound in the dark. It was a scuttling noise coming from the direction we came. Olivia let out a shriek and then turned towards the darkness. The tunnel was black. Her light spell was already down to the level of a candle’s light. However, my eyes had also adjusted to that darkness, so I didn’t need to look too hard to see the moving shapes in the darkness. The spiders had not only chased us, but they were already upon us.

“Collapse the right tunnel!” I said.

“But… that will trap us!”

“it’ll give the goblin’s time. Do it!”

She hissed and then raised her hands up in the direction the goblin children had run. I held up my sword to the darkness, but it was clear there were far too many spiders. Even if I used will, I couldn’t be able to kill more than a handful before they overwhelmed us. There were just far too many in number. If I had Bala and Baba by my side, there may have been a chance, but I didn’t.

An eruption of light exploded out behind me, and for the first time, I got a clear look at the spiders racing down the path towards us. The closest was still about 20 meters away, but he was closing fast. The light caused them to slow slightly as they were blinded. They knew to fear it. The ground began to rumble and a new portion of the cave began to collapse. At that moment, Olivia collapsed into unconsciousness.

I grabbed her and started limping down the other path. For the first time, I honestly didn’t have a clear plan. My leg was on fire, and Olivia was now unconscious. The spiders would start coming again as soon as they got over the blinding light. At that moment, the rumbling occurred again, and the ground under me collapsed. The shot Olivia had used had weakened this hallway too, and I found myself collapsing with Olivia in my arms into another tunnel under this one.

No, it wasn’t a tunnel at all. It was an underwater river! I let out a gasp as freezing icy water erupted all around me. My body let go of Olivia, who was instantly pulled away by the currents. The hole the pair of us fell down was already gone, the pair of us being pulled through the black, freezing, murky darkness.

I distantly considered that this was not on the map. This was a natural cave structure that must have been below the unnaturally built tunnels. I felt my body getting slammed a few times into rocks. As I tried desperately to grab on to something. However, it was useless. The world was almost complete blackness, and there was only water all around me.

The cold settled into my body. The flow of rushing water swelled my ears. Soon, my lungs felt like they were about to burst. At that moment, the water suddenly gave way, and I realized we had come out of an inlet. It was a waterfall, and we were now plummeting down to the water below. When I struck the surface of the water, I blacked out.

Shapes danced across my vision, darkness flooded around me, and then warm lips pressed against mine. The last part was an oddity. I could feel hot air pushing into my lungs. They were already full and burning. I let out a cough, and water came out of my mouth. I tried to expel, even more, coughing haggardly as I spit up more water. Finally, I gasped in a breath of air. This wasn’t warm and flavorful, but cold and burning.

As I forced my breaths in, I felt a person holding onto me. It was dark, and the only thing I could hear was the sound of water falling. There was a thick layer of water in the air so thick I could almost choke on it. The only other sound was my own rough breathing, and someone else’s.

As my eyes adjusted, I saw Olivia holding me. Her once pretty face was white, and covered with scratches and bruises. Her hair was matted, and sticking to her face. She was panting heavily and looked half-way between freezing to death and passing out.

“Olivia…” I said, but voice sounding hoarse. “You saved me.”

She didn’t respond, instead, collapsing onto my chest and holding me tightly. A moment later, I heard a sob coming from her lips. I gently put my hand on her head and stroked it. We stayed like that for several minutes. I had a feeling the spiders weren’t going to be able to follow us down here. Likewise, I didn’t know how we were going to get back up. If this cavern was completely subterranean, there might be no place to get to the surface.

“We need to get going?” I said, after holding her for another few minutes.

She nodded, her head moving silently against my chest. The pair of us worked our way to our feet, but I felt pains on top of pains. I missed having a healer around. In this world, even stubbing your toe is something that could be resolved instantly. That was probably more the case for a prince than a commoner, but it was a part of this world I had come to expect. Now, every rock I hit on the way down here I could feel. The only good thing I could say was that the icy water had diminished the throbbing pain in my leg.

Olivia had just managed to create a faint amount of light using her spell. At that point, we saw a cave tunnel and started to move down it. The pair of us hobbled away, using each other equally as a crutch to make the next step. We only got as far as a somewhat dry place before we collapsed. Olivia was shaking, and so was I. It had nothing to do with nerves. The both of us were drenched, and we were underground, where the temperature sat at a chilly 55 degrees Fahrenheit. It would be exceedingly easy to die of hypothermia at this point. Our clothing was completely soaked, so it offered no respite.

My pack was gone, and with it, just about everything I could use to survive. I reached my shaky hand into my pocket, and I pulled out the dripping remains of the underground map. It had survived, but there was no telling to what extent it was readable in the dim lighting that the exhausted Olivia could provide. I placed the map on a dry surface, carefully unfolding it and then leaving it for tomorrow. After that, I collapsed into a corner, the icy rock pressed against my back.

“W-w-w-w-what do you think are our chances, nya?” Olivia asked weakly while her teeth chattered.

“We’ll make it,” I responded softly into the darkness after a few moments.

“H-h-how can you be certain?”

“Because there would be no point worrying about it if we didn’t make it,” I responded.

We either made it, or we were dead. That was simply the way of things. I could only focus on making it. Focusing on death would be a pointless endeavor. Perhaps it wasn’t the comfort Olivia was looking for right now, but I didn’t have the strength to be witty at the moment. The light she had created went out, causing an impenetrable darkness to surround us. The manmade tunnels still had some thin areas and places where light could penetrate. This lower cave had nothing like it. Even my sensitive eyes couldn’t pierce this darkness.

As a result, obscure shapes in the inky blackness, and the distant incessant roaring of that waterfall were the only things my senses could grasp onto. They were preferable to the biting cold, which was slowly turning into numbness.

“I-I’m freezing, nya… can’t we… make a fire or something?” Olivia asked.

“Can you?”

“I…” She didn’t know how to respond.

Even if our lives might depend on it, she wasn’t certain she could conjure another piece of magic. It left her feeling bitter and perhaps a bit guilty.

“Don’t worry about it.” I forced out. “Even if we could create fire, there is nothing down here to burn. There is only one way two people can stay warm in such a situation.”

“There is a way?” Olivia’s voice suddenly perked.

I made a face. “That… I was just being crude.”

“Nya? What’s the way…I-I’m freezing. I don’t care about crude. I want to live!”

“That… even if you ask…”

“Just tell me!”

“Ah… isn’t it to take off our clothing and then… cuddle together to preserve body heat?”

My initial jab had suggested having sex, but in front of Olivia’s blind optimism, I scaled it back to simply huddling together. The wet clothing was doing us no favors, so our only chance to survive was to preserve our body heat together. After I said the words, a resounding silence filled the room. The water falling in the distance still roared in the background, but I felt like I’d still hear a penny drop.

“Fine…” A voice suddenly broke out in a resolute voice causing me to blink.

“What did you say?”

“Nya! Fine, I said, fine, Nya!”

I felt a person suddenly stumble next to me. The next moment I could feel her moving, and the sound of rustling. I realized she was doing exactly what she said she’d do. A wet article of clothing, I had no clue what piece, slapped onto the ground wetly. I listened for another moment until I suddenly felt her hit my shoulder.

“Well! Take it off!” She cursed.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I slowly started to lift up my shirt. Olivia didn’t continue until she heard an article of my own clothing hit the ground. After about five minutes of fumbling, the pair of us were now sitting next to each other, completely naked. I hadn’t moved to touch her. Her hip was about only a centimeter from my hip. I could feel the heat coming off of her. However, I was strangely uncomfortable. Perhaps it was that I was cold and injured and not thinking clearly, but this whole event had caused my brain to gum up.

“Let’s get this over with!” Olivia cried and then leaped on me. “Quit being a baby!”

I couldn’t help but make a sound when she had suddenly leaped on me, but she immediately admonished me to hide her own embarrassment. Her body was extremely cold, and it pressed against me like ice. My brain told me she was my own source of heat though, so I wrapped my arms around her and held tight. I could feel two large soft things pressed against my chest, and two hard pointy things in the middle ready to cut glass. I closed my eyes and held her tightly, and she did the same to me.

We remained like that until warmth slowly flowed between the pair of us. Lying huddled in a corner, the two of us clung to each other, feeling every nook and cranny, but seeing nothing.

“Just…. A few hours, when I can cast magic, I’ll dry and heat us… Nya…” Olivia’s voice came forward weakly, and it sounded half asleep.

She had already reached her limit, and she passed out just like that. I could feel her hot breath against my neck. Her feminine scent was in my nose. Her warm body was pressed against mine. She seemed to fall asleep with ease, but despite everything I had been through, it ended up being a very long night for me.

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