[DND] Bury us deep for all to see
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<td class="belladsmokeyforest-wc">[+621]

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<p>The time he spent having a house to call, if with some lingering reservation, his own, was gradually growing close to outmatching the time spent without one. He will have soon owned a dwelling longer than he’d traveled through the wilderness from the place of his great tragedy. And yet, these days, he felt more reluctant to return under its roof. Naturally, he would still not break the routine. Though his heart ached whenever he remembered his brother lashing out at him, his duty forced him to go back through the pain.</p>

<p>He would administer what salves or brewed herbs he saw fit to prescribe. The same motions, but all as one were no longer executed with tender care – instead he did so nigh-imperiously, making a point to ignore attempts at conversation beyond curt declarations of intent. That he was leaving, going to sleep, calling on his brother to eat, drink or not move. Ierian almost seemed scared or shamed into obedience. Whenever his task was done, he would seek his leave, whether beyond the building or beyond consciousness by letting himself fall into frequently nightmare-ridden slumber.</p>

<p>Waste of time, Ierian called it. He could not begin to comprehend the amount of time Bellad still felt willing to “waste”.</p>

<p>Bellad did not know how to let it go. And Ierian did not know how to apologize for what he said. The two brothers were caught in their silent, torturous impasse. And time had not applied enough of its force to suture this tear just yet.</p>

<p>Though he was, as a result, found more frequently away from home, it would scarcely lead to any fruitful interaction. He would advise. Bellad was fully aware that following his announcement of the threat of the plague he’d be required. He would occasionally spot someone heading towards his dwelling or else away from it, intercepting them in case they had some sort of task for the healer. He would put on a calm face and keep his tone level, even as he politely but pointedly dodged questions regarding him not being home.</p>

<p>This day has not been generous for tasks. Inaction always left him with too much time on his hands and too many thoughts clamoring for the extra room in his mind. Now too he was woefully unoccupied, sitting in the city square. He soaked in both the sun and the sickening if faint smell on the wind. Left with little else to do, he sought at least to block out incessant thoughts with something more external. And so Bellad hummed to himself an old song that came from memory. Pulling forth the lyrics made the other notions part and, however meekly, he hummed himself out a bit of respite.</p>

<p>Lights come and fade,</p>
<p>Every night lit anew.</p>
<p>Join me while flows the song</p>
<p>And I’ll share them with you.</p>
<p>I would teach you my words,</p>
<p>And while flickers the flame,</p>
<p>We'll rest neath all the stars</p>
<p>And we'll praise them by name…</p>

<p>Despite making the slight sound, audible mostly to him, or else those that would wander close, it did not distract him so much that he’d fail to notice a familiar figure. The golden pelt of the well-groomed merchant was unmistakable. The man seemed to walk with purpose, even more so when the wolf in the city square was noticed by him. He certainly did not look like someone concerned with the plague, so at least Bellad felt safe from the possibility that Calan would complain about possibly being incurably ill.</p>

<p>Ego wasn’t an illness.</p>

<p><b>“Yes, Calan…?”</b> He stopped his humming and looked at the merchant expectantly, hoping at least that the conversation he would provide could steer him away from heavy thoughts.</p>

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don't tie me down cause i'll never stay

If Calan had thought that the grand opening of the Dye Studio would have somehow shortened his list of pressing tasks, he'd had been dead wrong. In fact, since they'd cut the metaphorical ribbon earlier that month, the exact opposite seemed to be the case. It felt like every five minutes another problem arose out of nowhere, or another issue came up that he somehow needed to resolve. Shelves needed installing; workers needed training; supplies needed replenishing. It never stopped.

Case in point: a secure supply of mordants and fixatives. He'd managed to convince Kalypso that they needed at least a barrel's worth of the stuff to best operate, and he'd meant it. Dyeing without anything to hold the colour to the fabric would be practically pointless, considering how quickly the dye would bleed out. A piece of cotton would maybe get two or three washes, if they were lucky, before it lost all semblance of its colour and would need to be re-dyed again. Bit not good, that. And Calan had no intention of selling anything he'd label as subpar. He was a man of quality, after all.

It should have been relatively easy enough to get a hookup for some mordant from a merchant in Amherst. Easy, if a Quake hadn't managed to scatter most of the merchants in their neighboring trade hub, save the loyal Landrys. And of course, this was all hinging on the assumption that the Tavar had a free moment to even get to Amherst at all.

It was like the universe wanted to fuck with him for his horrid timing.

All of this was enough to make the blond question his decision to open the studio in the first place. How would he ever manage to trade any of these bloody fabrics if he couldn't even find a moment to sell them? He'd hardly left the confines of the town, let alone the Realm, for the past two months, and had only managed to trade a little here and there through sheer chance and former connections. At this rate, how would they manage to get a return on their profits?

These were the questions that were buzzing through his head as he stepped out of his home and traipsed his way through the Town Square, his face drawn up in an uncharacteristic frown.

He knew he had to find a more creative solution if they were going to start operations any time soon. They couldn't just sit around and wait for Oliver Landry, sweet as he was, to stumble upon some alum or salt. Hell, even some rusted nails would be better than nothing.

However, there was one option that the trader hadn't explored... A literal minefield of resources...

And just like that, the gears clicked into place. Now all he needed was a guinea pig.

His cerulean eyes sharpened as he searched the Town Square, looking around for any sign of a willing victim. Someone who was strong, and wouldn't mind a little of manual labour. He glossed over the Fir-Chlis pups in their play, shuddering to think about what straight hell Arran would subject him to for forcing his children to work.

Then he saw him. Bellad Songthorn, sitting like a ripe goose in the middle of the square. Nothing seemed to be taking his attention at that moment. In fact, he seemed to be bored as all hell, if his tuneless humming meant anything. Perfect! All signs that he'd be the perfect sucker willing to help. The smile came easy to his lips as he strode over to the larger man, swinging his arms with purpose.

If Bellad's greeting sounded even the littlest bit dubious of Calan's intentions, he ignored it entirely. The Tavar was more than positive he'd be able to win the man over to his side. "My dearest, sweetest Bellad," he wheedled, fixing the ebon healer with the largest, cheesiest smile in his repertory. "Would you happen to be free right now? I could use a second set of hands for something..."
679 Shy
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<td class="belladsmokeyforest-wc">[+551]

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<p>He’d cut his quiet song short from the moment he saw Calan approaching. He was perhaps too on edge to truly relax and manage to weave a proper tune either way, left, for the moment, with too much thorn and too little song. Later, then. Later, should he manage to acquire the elusive commodity that was peace of mind. The distance between the two men was soon breached and Calan did not make him wait, responding to the healer’s beckoning for conversation.</p>

<p><i>"My dearest, sweetest Bellad,"</i></p>

<p>Well that was quite a suspect start. It even made Bellad raise an eyebrow. Just the one. Perhaps from that moment onwards, the healer already knew he could have just said <i>“No”</i> and been mostly in his right. Why did this man with the unpronounceable family name ever think those treacly greetings worked? Even if someone more impressionable would buy this manner of theatrics, what made him think they would serve with someone like Bellad? Of course he was no stranger to ceremonious greetings, but their manners couldn't be more different. At least if Calan mustered these superlatives he was probably in a decent mood. If anything, Bellad could not imagine him following up with ‘I am suffering from immense pain and need your assistance’.</p>

<p>But assistance he apparently did need. That was easy enough to decipher and much more likely to follow up this manner of greeting. Sadly, where there could be more explanation and less flattery, the balance teetered towards the less productive. Surely enough, help was required. It was an unspecified type of help of course, but one that seemingly would render the potential helping hand dearest and sweetest for a time. Bellad contemplated Calan with an unreadable expression paired with the usual vivid fiery gaze for a while.</p>

<p>Pondering the implications, he tried to find in his heart the willingness to hear the merchant out. He did desire a diversion. A diversion that could serve some hopefully fruitful venture would be all the more welcome, would it not? Provided of course Calan really did have something useful in mind. With some force of will, Bellad brought up some of the more respectful acts from the time they'd spent together. He did accompany him to the plague doctors when it was needed. And he did prove himself invested in the plight of the quake-ruined city. He was even making a valiant effort for the good of the pack.</p>

<p>He took a deep breath. In the span of the silence and this sigh, he played out the conversation in his head. Sufficiently far ahead, even though he skipped ahead only slightly. He would have asked what it was, Calan would have said what it was, Bellad would have perhaps attempted to come up with some way of saying no. But then, in his present idleness he felt little urge to attempt to justify further inaction. Or to busy the both of them with an exchange the result of which was foregone. Best speed things along, if Calan had a proper diversion to provide. So the younger Songthorn sibling chose to waste no time.</p>

<p><b>“Very well. Then speak of it as we walk.”</b> He answered, standing up at full height and waiting to follow along, showing a surprising case of being easy to convince.</p>

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don't tie me down cause i'll never stay

Bellad's perfectly raised black eyebrow (how could he raise just the one? Even he couldn't do that, no matter how hard he tried) foretold the challenge Calan would have to embrace in getting the healer on his side. Given his own track record for pawning his responsibilities on to others, this resistance wasn't wholly unexpected. If it did phase the intrepid blond, however, Calan tried his best not to show it. He kept up his million-watt smile despite its lackluster reception, hoping that his dogged perseverance would pay off. Bit by bit, he'd for sure wear the man down.

He was just about to continue on the matter when Bellad spoke - but instead of the resistance he'd been expecting, the Tavar actually got the answer he'd been hoping for. Stuttering once, he caught himself just shy of another plea for help. "Oh. Really? Okay," Calan said, blinking back surprise. But who was he to complain? He'd gotten his way, all with little hassle. This was all turning into a little Christmas miracle.

Biting his tongue to keep from saying anything to discourage the healer's decision, the blond quickly turned to follow suit. His smaller frame lead them through the square and in the direction of the town's exit. From there they'd head northwest into the hills - a nearly ten mile trek, from what Calan had surmised from others. This would be his first time visiting this illustrious Underthing since first catching word of it. It wasn't exactly a prime vacation spot, after all.

Calan kept his voice breezy and light as he explained his little plan, hoping that its jovial tone would help to hide what sort of massive undertaking they were about to embark on. Maybe it was only because he was used to push-back from the start, but Bellad's immediate (and uninformed) assent made the blond a little nervous. "So here's the thing. We need some salt for the Dye Studio. Lots of it. And salt's just not the kind of thing that grows on trees, yanno? But it does grow somewhere... D'you catch my drift?" He paused, giving the Songthorn a moment to put two and two together himself, before continuing. "I've had it on good authority that the Underthing has a salt deposit."

If 'good authority' meant his own common sense, and 'having a salt deposit' meant 'there might be a bit of salt, but how the hell would I know? All caves have salt, right?' But he wasn't about to tell Bellad that.

"It's a bit of a trek out there - two, three hours or so, as the crow flies - but I think the reward will be worth it. We'll go, peek our heads in, break off some salt crystals -" at this, Calan reached into his pack and retrieved a couple of small hammers, one of which he put in Bellad's hand - "and be back in time for a late supper." Easy peasy. But would Bellad really go along with it?
505 i'm the woooorst
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<td class="belladsmokeyforest-wc">[+615]

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<p>He couldn't help but wonder how many had turned Calan down. He imagined if it were many, then he'd have seen it reflected on his face much earlier. The thought that Calan was a fine actor did not occur to him. But he did appear surprised by Bellad’s willingness. Also quite lacking in questions regarding the healer's motives. Then again, the Songthorns being somewhat good Samaritans was not a secret. Was he not willing to treat Calan’s cold for free when they first met, even though the patient chose to pay regardless? He was, of course, better known as a healing Samaritan, rather than a spelunking one.</p>

<p>They were already some distance into their journey when finally his guide moved on to finer details of the matter. Throughout Calan’s speech, Bellad did not show all too much enthusiasm, but an occasional grunt or nod would indicate he was at least perceiving what he was being told. In some part at least. The intricacies of dyes were best left to Calan and whoever he employed on a regular basis. Even if Bellad’s incidental knowledge occasionally identified a plant he’d remembered to stain.</p>

<p>He took hold of the hammer when it was handed to him. He examined the tool. Was it big enough or sturdy enough for the task? Bellad hadn’t exactly seen salt growing in such a way that it could be broken off. Though he’d seen mineral licks before, they were not exactly something he’d consider working with a hammer. Calan certainly seemed convinced the task would be simple, which, Bellad supposed, explained his unscrupulousness in picking who to ask for help with this. So the healer dismissed his doubts with a steady mantra of ‘So long as he knows what he’s doing.’</p>

<p>After all, surely he knew what he was doing?</p>

<p><b>“Underthing…?”</b> He chose to question the place rather than the task. There was little point backpedaling on the assignment now that he committed to letting Calan put him up to this. But at least he could use what time they had on the trail to find out just where they were headed. That said, he wouldn’t stop walking, not even in response to whatever information there was to take in on their destination.</p>

<p>Some questions, perhaps, would be best answered on arrival, when he could see with his own eyes and survey this coveted salt deposit. Their pace was gradual and, short of asking of what Calan knew when it came to the Underthing, Bellad did not exactly strike up much conversation. At one point he lifted the water skin hanging off his shoulder to his mouth and took a sip. The loudest sound he’d made for a stretch of time.</p>

<p>Finally all the walking, with only a brief break midway to rest their feet and top off the water skin at a small brook, brought the two men to their destination. Bellad wasn’t particularly afraid of caves. He’d taken shelter in a few while on his path Eastward with his wounded brother. Nor, however, was he particularly well-versed in them. His tribe had little interest in places where nothing grew.</p>

<p><b>“And… on whose authority is it, precisely, that you are so convinced salt crystals are to be found inside…?”</b> A few hours too late to start second-guessing Calan’s sources as Bellad stood looking over the gaping entrance into the cave. He remembered the tremors, now from many days ago, and looked at the cracks riddling the rock. They had best watch their step. Calan has been the one to lead the way, and so Bellad looked to him for further guidance. A reliance he faintly hoped he would not come to regret.</p>
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don't tie me down cause i'll never stay

The two gentlemen's walk was brisk, quiet, and otherwise uneventful. Not that that was bad, by any means. Considering how many weird phenomena had been going on - sudden earthquakes, scores of dead fish, and fields of putrid-smelling (and unfortunately not dye-creating) flowers - to have something be 'uneventful' was a treat. The trader was happy to let them lapse into silence as they took in their surroundings, enjoying the outskirts of the land they both called home. His cooped-up muscles relished the light exercise, and Calan realized just how long it had been since the last time he'd gone somewhere without a horse. Pack life had let him grow soft around the edges.

The blond responded to Bellad's repetition with one of his own, nodding. "Yeah, the Underthing. I hear it's a network of caves... or a portal to hell. Depends on who you're asking, I guess." He crouched at the small stream, refilling his waterskin with crisp glacier water. Its coolness buzzed his teeth as he swallowed. "You know. The religious types." The Old Caledonians: those that once belonged to Taur and Lorn. He'd learned much about them since moving here, mostly through his time with Athras and Willow - though in this case, it seemed these were all old wives' tales, designed to keep curious kids away.

So what did that make them?

He pushed that question away as soon as it arose in his mind's eye. With all honesty, Calan couldn't see what the fuss was all about. So there were caves on their land. Sure, they didn't seem to be the most friendly of caves, but they weren't actively trying to hurt anyone, right? So why give them such an eerie name?

Never mind that Calan had never once set foot into a cave, or really anything of the sort. As always, his first inclination here was to doubt first, push on, and ask questions later.

His consistent pace faltered only when he caught sight of the cave's mouth - and with it, took in the scope of their embarkation. It surely was an ominous bugger, wasn't it? The Aear did his best not to let this show to his colleague, even as he pointedly ignored the healer's question. "Well, this wasn't too hard to find, hey?" he announced breezily as he approached the mouth of the Underthing, keeping up a carefree smile. Its cool, damp chill as he neared did little to ease his apprehension.

There was little either could see beyond the first fifty feet or so, even in broad daylight. The darkness seemed to engulf everything further. He squinted, trying to see if his eyes would adjust, but it did little to help. "It's a good thing I brought my lantern," Calan found himself saying as he turned his head back to his companion, swinging his bag off of his back.

It was perhaps this lapse of focus that would be their little party's downfall - for when Calan went to reach for the bag's free strap, his elbow made clear contact with the mouth of the cave. A harsh buzz ran up the length of the blond's forearm as he struck his funny bone, and he went to clutch it with a small curse. He was so focused on this sudden tingling that he didn't hear the shifting of rocks above him as they prepared to loose themselves from their current resting places.
571 let's get some action going!
[+619] ooc: I concur! Let me know what you think
Of course the merchant didn’t say anything that could compromise his source. It was a strange thing to relate to – the reluctance and near-inability to admit to oneself being wrong. Regrettably his own fortitude of character wasn’t all too superior to that of Calan. He was not one to teach him where he himself clung so desperately to his own convictions. His canine companion headed on towards the opening of the cave. Bellad drew in the air, as he often would, knowing his nose to be more reliable where eyes could fail. Dust, cool air. He wasn’t sure what he expected to smell from here. The gaping entrance to the Underthing did not appear willing to betray anything of what lay inside from the ominous safety of its entrance.

Yet in that very safety, it seemed the fearsome cave prepared a betrayal of a different sort.

At first Bellad thought little of Calan’s gesture. It was auspicious that he would have a source of light on him. And it showed that, despite the healer’s doubts, the golden pelted Caledonian did take some precautions. All this preparedness to admire his foresight only for the image of the luckily prepared to dissolve as he hit his elbow, clutching it, cursing. The healer at least had the empathy to wince slightly, as though acknowledging the pain as a valid concern. But there was another sound other than Calan’s hissing tone. Bellad didn’t immediately think much of the light knock of stone on stone. What of the slight shift of rocks?

But the sound didn’t stop. It grew instead, gradually rising to call more attention to itself from Bellad than Calan’s warranted profanities. Instead it rose, brewing into a threatening rumble. The healer lifted his head and his bright orange eyes widened at the sight of the mass of rock looming over the entrance to the cave coming into motion bit by bit.

There was but an instance to begin his forward motion, too little time to consider what it would translate into. His escalating steps took him in too deep already, and the first tiny bits of rock pelted his shoulders and head as the rumbling grew ever louder.


No prelude, no explanation, not even to himself. Only the pressure in his gut driving him into a forward leap, sweeping with his arms as he pushed both himself and the canine Soul deeper into the cave. They tumbled, they rolled, he felt the uneven floor of the cave bruise his shoulder-blades, heard the sound of raining stone finally reach its crescendo. He thought he heard the sound of something breaking amidst it.

At the end of their combined tumble, he found himself over Calan, his larger figure covering him completely even as he felt a few stones roll off his hide. Dust clogged his nostrils for a moment and his eyes were tightly shut as he curled up over the toppled merchant, to shield them both, though some terrified part of him pondered if he was instead burying them both.

Moments passed as the sound of rockslide seemed to subside back to nothing but tiny knocks of tiny debris. He could hear his own breath again. The Songthorn opened his eyes and saw only a slight difference from when his eyelids covered them.

“Are you alright…?” He asked, mostly on instinct, propping himself on his arms above Calan if only to make sure he was not smothering the other male with his weight. This was the first thing he chose to pay attention to. Not the mound of fallen rocks behind his back barring the entrance to the cave.
don't tie me down cause i'll never stay

Bellad’s shout, surprising as it was, was enough to shift Calan’s focus from his buzzing elbow. The blond snapped his head to attention after a moment’s confusion, his gaze flooded with a sort of anxious befuddlement. No one had raised their voice to him - not since he’d left home. It really surprised him that Bellad, of all people, would be the first to break the trend.... but then, in a moment, the meaning behind the man’s words hit him. Look out. His eyes snapped upwards, following where the Songthorn was looking, as his hands flew up to frame his head.


But whatever question he was about to ask didn’t even get close to seeing the light of day. Pure muscle, hard, slammed into Calan at full force, stealing his words and his breath. He was too dazed to react, other than to squeeze his eyes shut, as he felt himself tackled to the ground, and then quickly smothered.

It was all over in about thirty seconds.

A moment passed, then another, and Calan realized he’d flattened his ears against his skull. He made a conscious effort to remedy that, if only to get a better sense of what the hell was going on. Was that roar he heard from the shock? Or was it something else? He blinked once, then again, as rock dust tried to clog his eyelashes. The darkness offered little in way of information.

Tears brimmed, a defense mechanism. Definitely something else.

Before he could parse more, however, the weight above him lifted. Breathing became easier. The ringing died down enough for Calan to recognize that someone was speaking to him. It took another beat for his brain to catch up to his ears, and yet another for his mouth to join in. ”Am I alright?... Am... I alright?! Are you alright?!? Bellad, what the hell was that?!” What had started in fits and spurts soon became a rapid stream of words as the blond tried to feel the healer’s head for any injuries, almost poking him in the eye in the process, while simultaneously wiggling his way out from under him. His own head throbbed at the effort.

”You could’ve gotten yourself killed! Merde, you... you...” And just like that, his words were gone again. His brain, as sluggish at it felt, was catching up. A lack of light meant no entrance - and if he’d been standing right at the mouth of the cave...

Well, he owed this man his life, in truth. And about a dozen broken bones, had his tuck and roll proven less effective.

Cowed by this realization, the trader took a second to stare at the ebon healer, his face so close to his own, his hands still resting on the man’s skull. ”...Sorry,” he mumbled, stilled for a moment. He couldn’t see anything wrong with Bellad’s head - but then again, he couldn’t see much of anything, period. His eyes stubbornly refused to adjust to the dim light. The blond could only assume this wasn’t going to change. They’d need some kind of light source... And at that, Calan’s own eyes lit up.

”Ah! My lantern!”

Where was it? Nearby? He’d had it in his hand when Bellad had tackled him, so it couldn’t have rolled far... His manic energy restored, the slim dog patted the ground around him, but couldn’t feel anything of note. ”It’s gotta be around here somewhere... let’s feel around ‘til we find it, yeah?” He didn’t wait for Bellad’s response before he started crawling on hands and knees, brushing his fingers over pebbles for any sign of glass or metal. It would only be a moment before the other caught on.

It took nearly five minutes of fumbling around in the dark for them to find the lantern, and another three minutes to get it lit. All the while, they listened for the sound of another rock slide, fearing further damage and confusion. Or, at least, that’s what Calan was doing. He had no idea what kinds of thoughts or ideas were running through the Songthorn’s head. Fear? Dread? Frustration?

The glass that had once encased the lantern had shattered at the impact, but the oil hadn’t leaked from its metal container, and the wick was still intact. Calan could only breathe a sigh of relief as he crawled back for his bag - and for the flint nestled inside. It wasn’t an ideal situation, especially if they encountered any kind of breeze, but... well, nothing here seemed really ideal. They would have to make do with what they have, or sit blindly in the dark.

However, in lighting the lantern, the two men could no longer avoid their true problem: for where the mouth of the cave once rested, only a mound of rock remained. ”...Oh,” the Tavar whispered more than spoke, his breath catching in his throat for the second time that hour.

This time it wasn’t because he was being tackled.

It was because they were trapped.
804 raised stakes!!
[+547] ooc
Bellad moved little, other than the slight twitch of his head to the side to avoid Calan’s probing inflicting more harm, miraculously, than the healer's forceful push did. His ears were ringing from the noise and he felt the chalky dust on his pelt, but otherwise seemed fine. “Rocks.” He said matter-of-factly in response to the last of Calan’s questions. The only real information he could give, and not particularly useful for that matter. He sat up, then stood to his feet, grunting slightly.

He helped the canine up when the unknown fate of his lantern was brought up. That would certainly help them in the dark, which, perhaps, Bellad was too shocked to read as a sign of their exit being gone right away. Instead he got to work trying to find the lantern, groping around the tunnel they were in, pricking himself on some shards, though drawing no blood. They fumbled for quite some time, the dark healer ending up with his nose serving better than his touch. The smell of oil was useful in that affair.

Soon they had some light. Dim, barely enough it seemed to make a spot of light they both could fit into without bumping shoulders. Haunting shadows remained around them even with the tiny saving flame. And then at last they turned in the direction that they came from. “No…” Bellad breathed out, briefly allowing a kind of fear show. The fallen stone formed a large mound at the entrance, leaving only a tiny gap at the very top of the mound through which light, impotent to aid them in the darkness, streamed. He spoke no further for now, instead reaching out, though his hand felt strangely numb.

Touching the mound of rocks he heard the sound of something crumbling. It might as well have been the hiss of a venomous snake – so urgently did he recoil from the obstacle barring their way out. So it was unstable enough that they could risk being buried further. Carelessness would perhaps even lead them to stumbling right back into the fate his desperate leap, one more of fear than of faith, helped prevent. Though perhaps only to push them both into something far worse.

“It is… dangerous to stay here if the tunnel is still unstable, Calan.” He turned his head back towards the light-bearing merchant, the fire reflecting in his eyes in the dark. He couldn’t see past his companion’s shoulder into the cave. Only inky blackness spread forth there. The most prominent smells seemed to be those of themselves. The rest was the slowly settling dust, which discouraged him from breathing deep through his nostrils.

“… Perhaps there is another entrance. A path deeper inside that leads to the surface elsewhere.” He had no idea if it were so. But he did not let it tinge his voice with the worry that their plight deserved. Bellad leveled with Calan, standing tall in the murk of the Underthing, and peered into the darkness spreading before them. He exchanged a glance with the fellow soul. His momentary slip reigned in and replaced with a forced calm.

It took at least a nod from Calan for him to begin his descent deeper into the tunnel.
don't tie me down cause i'll never stay

Seeing his own growing fear reflected in Bellad's eyes did nothing to abate Calan's own. If anything, it only heightened the stakes. Still, he felt strangely calm as he surveyed the damage, even as the lump in his throat refused to subside. His blue eyes scrabbled over the rock pile, searching for any kind of gap in the boulders. Nothing.

For once, Calan was absolutely silent.

Were they really stuck in here? It seemed that way. The only light seemed to shine from the very top. Numb, the blond followed Bellad's lead, his hand reaching for the mass of rocks that had once been their entrance to the outside world. But the healer's words - and the precarious crumble of pebbles that even the slightest brush dislodged - held him back. He met the man's eyes when he looked back to him, but couldn't register what kind of emotion was going through the Songthorn's mind. Hell, he couldn't even figure out how he felt about this all.

He hated that Bellad was right. It wasn't safe to stay here any longer. Who knew what kind of rockslide this cave in had caused? They'd probably need to let the dust settle for a while before they attempted anything - but how long would that take? Hours? They'd probably run out of lantern oil by then, if they didn't start rationing.

Shit. Was this something he was supposed to be thinking about? Rations? Survival? This was all supposed to be a simple in-and-out trip. How long would they be stuck here? Had anyone noticed them leaving the Town Square?

Would anyone even care to look for them if they were gone?

The ebon healer mentioned another option. Another exit. Would this kind of place have something like that? It seemed likely. But where? "...Perhaps." Maybe. Let's hope. He wanted to snap at the man, if only to relieve some of the anxiety bubbling up his esophagus.

But Calan wasn't about to be the negative one. Not when this was his fault. So he took his place at Bellad's side, his arm holding the lantern outstretched, and followed his friend into the darkness.

The first thing that struck him was just how wet it was in the caves. Water seemed to hang to every surface, leaving the rocks shimmering with an unearthly sheen. The air grew damper and cooler as the two Caledonians made their way further into the depths, even as they maintained the same altitude. It was strangely refreshing, if a little alien.

The blond kept his gaze half on the winding tunnels in front of them, and half on his own feet. Several minutes of silence passed before he spoke, cutting through the sound of dripping stalactites. "Guess we won't be short of water," he murmured to his companion, hoping that he wouldn't mind the break in the silence. His voice echoed ever so slightly.

What was going through Bellad's mind right now? Fear for their lives? Hatred for his companion for getting him into this mess? Calan could only assume that it was the latter. What kind of dimwit would get them stuck in a godforsaken cave? This guy, apparently. The blond refused to look at Bellad beside him, already imagining the ire that he'd see reflected back to him.

He wanted to apologize, but that, too, got caught in his throat. Calan wasn't quite ready to admit how hopeless he was starting to feel. Not even the weird splendor of the caves - a world that he'd never set eyes on, nor had seen anything quite like before - helped to dispel the pit in his stomach.

More minutes passed. How many, it was impossible to tell. It had to be going on hours, now. The flame continued to burn away, illuminating no more than a few feet in front of them. The path they'd come from was as pitch black as the path in front of them.

Judging solely on the level of oil, they'd probably used about fifty percent of what was left in the lantern. The Tavar only hoped there was more to be found in his pack. At some point he'd have to check - but until then, ignorance was bliss. It was better to imagine that he'd come prepared than to face a reality of them losing their light.

The pounding of his head refused to fully subside, even as it receded to a dull ache. He could feel a slight headache starting to bloom at his temple. But when the blond reached to feel the back of his skull, he could see no sign of blood. He started feeling his head in multiple locations, pushing aside his hair as he did so, to make certain that there was no cut. Should he be more concerned about that? He frowned, the corners of his lips pinching.

He was thinking about this as he felt the air shift around them. The walls, which had once hugged close to their taller forms, suddenly dropped away on both sides. After hours of mild claustrophobia, this unmooring from the rock made the blond feel strangely untethered. Calan stopped immediately in his tracks.

The water sound was louder, now; the drips plinking and echoing off of some body of water, where they'd only been the slap of droplets against stone before. Shining a lantern revealed only darkness, broken up with the occasional teeth of stalagmites - an otherworldly cityscape, jagged and raw. It was impossible to see the walls of this underground cavern, nor find the source of this water noise. All he could tell was that this space was big - bigger than anything he could have imagined finding here. Big enough to hold his entire studio building, if he had to take a guess. Or perhaps even bigger.

Calan took this all in slowly, studying the eerie landscape, before taking a cautious step forward. He dropped his pack at the mouth of the tunnel with a small, reverberating thump - a way for him to tell, albeit temporarily, where they'd come from.

"I wanna circle around. See what kind of space we're looking at. Hang back a couple steps, would you?" He switched the lantern between his right arm to his left, feeling the strain of keeping his arm aloft for so long. If he fell into some kind of water pit, he surely wasn't going to take Bellad down with him. Another wave of dull pain throbbed at the junction of his neck and skull, and he fought back a wince with a shake of his head, stubborn to press onwards.
1050 ty for your patience!
No, thank you for your patience [+854]
Even the light of the oil lamp did little to pierce the darkness, perhaps more so due to its mostly broken state. One could be thankful it remained sufficiently intact to cast any light at all, yet Bellad felt little gratitude for the Myriad now as the two of them descended. No doubt the worst kind of best idea one could get, but they were beggars and their choices, appropriately, were scarce.

Every so often his eyes would peer deeper into the darkness. Make some attempt to tense his eyes into discerning something in the gloom, outside that tiny halo of light carried forth by the blond Luperci by his side. He had far better luck with senses other than his eyes. His ears that could hear the distant patter of water. His feet under which he could feel the floor of the cave grow more uneven. His nose that, any minute now, had to pick up something other than the dust from when they got caved in. Damp air. Rock. The oil in the lamp. The two of them. For once the act of dismantling the jumble of scents into pieces brought him no comfort. Too urgently did he feel the need to find some thread to grasp among them, to lead them from here.

Every so often his eyes would return instead to the tiny, slowly progressing strip of light and the one who held and directed it. Surely Calan couldn’t have anticipated this happening. Surely he wasn’t any more ready for this then Bellad was. Some tiny voice in the healer’s mind pondered if maybe it would be worth letting the merchant gloat and boast, in return for him proving to know what they could do better than the wolf did. The voice was too small to speak up, to actually voice any question. The one thing they could do they were doing already.

The way the light illuminated only what was at their feet, only capturing the uneven tips of the tooth-like protrusions above them, made the space they were in seem unimaginably vast. Bellad’s imagination, nourished well by having beheld so many new and unusual things throughout the Realms, painted this fanged ceiling being as tall and vast as the sky, walls unreliably distant. These rocky teeth shimmered with moisture. It did little to dispel the idea of them being within something’s bowels.

“Dare not drink this water while we still have our water skins filled…” Bellad warned humorlessly, blind, it seemed, to Calan’s attempt to harness some positivity in their otherwise quite grim scenario.

He saw some movement from his companion, beyond simply holding the lamp aloft. Was that the trace of a wince he saw? Was he touching his head? “Are you  certain you are alright?” He repeated the question he’d asked at the former entrance to the cave. The healer frowned when the merchant attempted to wave the issue off. “Halt and show me your head.” 

Bellad hoped, from the bottom of his heart, that the merchant wouldn’t think to fight his attempts at providing care despite the stress of their situation. He proved mostly right, outside of a few mutual stern looks. He sat Calan down, he had him lean his back against one of the stone pillars, a dubious comfort at best. He used the lantern to shine some light on the eyes of the master of the Dye Studio, fortunately finding him to react. And unfortunately finding him to react not just with the pupils of his eyes.

“Sit.” He ordered, halting his companion’s attempt to get back up to his feet. “We must afford rest if only for a little while. If only till you feel no more traces of headache…” Virtually nothing here allotted the Songthorn any measure of control. To be able to prescribe and to share his advice was his sole unsteady shelter from the bowels of the unknown they’d tumbled into. He eyed Calan for a bit, as though looking away could have him spring to his feet and gleefully rush off into the darkness taking the light with him.

The light…

There was little left to fuel their light, wasn’t there. “… If you snuff it, would you be able to light it again…? We shall pause here, and we should spare the oil for when we move once more.” Though he still barely knew where outside of “from here”. Letting Calan retain some degree of control, if only over his own possessions, the Songthorn let him be the one to snuff out their only source of light. The tiny sparks of the healer’s eyes faded to blackness as the light went out, the darkness deep enough that the black wolf was just barely a silhouette of greater black on pitch black.

It seemed he was not oblivious to the fact. After half a minute passed in murk-wreathed silence, Bellad’s hand landed briefly on the man’s shoulder. “I’m here. I will stay until you are ready to go.” He promised, simply, matter-of-factly, and said no more unless prompted, letting Calan rest his head as the doctor ordered.
don't tie me down cause i'll never stay

Leave it to Bellad to mess with his plans. Before he’d even taken his first step, the Songthorn was holding Calan back, his keen eyes missing nothing. “I’m fine, just let me be,” he insisted, trying to wave the healer off, - but just like the first time they’d met, Bellad had no intention of letting this issue go. Calan soon found himself seated on the damp cave floor, his head in the wolf’s hands, his herbal scent filling the blond’s nostrils. The pillar at his back leeched the heat out of his already cold body.

The bright lantern swung in front of him, its light uncomfortably bright. He squinted as Bellad moved it from left to right, forcing his eyes to track its path. After a couple rounds, he squeezed his eyes shut, the lamp only serving to make his pain worse. Dark spots danced under his eyelids.

So what if he had a little headache? That seemed about normal, considering the stress they were currently under. It wasn’t anything worse than that. The blond cursed under his breath as he tried to get to his feet once more, shrugging off the ebon wolf’s worry, only to be met by those same strong hands holding him down. Sit. It looked like he had no choice in the matter.

“I’ve got a flint. If you grab it first, it’s safe to douse.” There was no way he was going to fumble in the dark for his tinderbox if he could help it. The Aear pointed to his sack nearby, signalling to his friend to bring the pack to his side. Once there, he took a few fumbling seconds to find the familiar steel tin, and another few to make sure that everything was where he’d left it. He would have no trouble re-lighting the lantern when the time came.

Then he looked towards Bellad and, with a nod, shuttered the light.

Darkness, so thick it could be felt, swept all around them.

He’d never put much thought into caves, not before they’d been stuck in one like this. It wasn’t like he’d had much time or interest as a young pup to go spelunking - and that was all assuming that his parents would have allowed him to do so in the first place. Definitely not the kind of risk-taking behaviour they would have endorsed in their prodigal son and company heir. Come to think of it, were there even caves at home? Probably not. None that were safe to explore. He’d have at least heard of one.

Regardless, he’d always imagined caves to be simple, quiet things. Just a bunch of piled up rocks and hidden gemstones and tunnels that stretched as far as the eye could see. But now that they were here, Calan was shocked at just how loud it was. Cloaked in darkness, with his sense of sight stripped from him, his ears couldn’t stop picking up sounds. Water continued to plink down from multiple stalactites, echoing through the chamber. A rock dislodged itself from somewhere, clattering against the floor.

Occasionally, without warning, he could hear a kind of groan, as if the whole cave were somehow breathing. What would cause a sound like that, Calan couldn’t say. Didn’t want to know. It was just better not to think about it, really.

He shivered.

Time passed. How long, Calan couldn’t be certain. The darkness had that way of making seconds feel like minutes, and vice versa. But after some time - minutes? hours? - he felt a hand come to his shoulder, steady and warm. He shut his eyes. Bit by bit, he could feel his headache subsiding.

After a few more moments, it felt about as good as it was going to get: not completely gone, but not so terrible it made him feel like he was seeing double. “…I think I’m alright. Thank you,” he whispered, loath to speak too loud after so much silence.

Skilled, it only took him a few moments to re-light the lantern with the flint, coaxing the flame just so. The cavern felt smaller, somehow - as if all the echoing he’d heard had made the place feel ten times bigger than it actually was.

He made to stand up once more, but hesitated, sensing from experience that Bellad would rather he play it careful. It would be better to relinquish and ask than to fight over who did what. “Do you want to scout around? I think I see an entrance against that wall, there,” he said, pointing to what looked like an indent in the rock past the pool of water. “I’ll stay here and watch. Just shout out what you see.” Then he watched with trepidation as Bellad set off in that direction, leaving him all alone.
801 spooky cave inspo!
out of character text here [+874]
It was quiet for much longer than he’d expected of the flaxen-haired Soul. Though he couldn’t say the silence was a comfortable one. Minute sounds from all around them, vague echoes of plinking droplets of water, their quiet breaths made for a minimalist backdrop. But in the pitch blackness that they found themselves in, every such sound beat a warning in his mind. A mind not yet entirely wrapped around the two of them being… He wasn’t even certain what it was that they currently were.

Stuck? Lost? Stranded?

The dark and the relative silence left too much room to think about those things. Bellad took a deep breath and closed his eyes to let them rest for a bit, just as his companion rested his head. Just listen to the water drops. Just try to catch air of anything that could help resolve this situation. Just try not to think of what happens if this darkness and the drops are all that there is. Do not panic. Do not overthink past simply getting out of here safely. His own inner voice rose to a droning mantra that tried, fruitlessly, to drive him towards relative thoughtlessness. It was like trying to talk down a pouring rain.

“What?” This was Bellad’s first reaction when he heard Calan’s voice for the first time after the two of them had fallen silent. “Hm… Good.” As though he was relearning speech after those few minutes that may or may not have combined into a larger body of time much like the cave water drops pooled into a puddle. Calan, however, had more ideas and continued to talk. When the merchant rose to his feet, the wolf indeed followed him with his glance, the little flame twinkling in the healer’s fiery orange eyes.

To suggest that Bellad should be the one to scout was a rather level-headed suggestion. Especially for someone who may have hit his head. The healer stood up and traced the direction in which Calan was pointing. His eyes still weren’t used to discerning nuance in the cave silhouettes. He wasn’t sure they could get used to it. Certainly not with them relying on their tiny tamed light. But he wouldn’t dare snuff it out to find out.

“… I won’t be long.” Bellad promised. For a time, he was visible at the very edge of their tiny broken lamp’s glowing halo. He probed the cave wall, finding the rock cool to the touch, moist too, finding the pads of his paws hitting liquid with rough rock underneath. Every now and again, he would turn his head back to the light and the figure next to it. He wasn’t sure which one of them had more reason to worry about the other. They were still both stuck in the very same cave, so perhaps it was quite the mutually warranted concern.

Whichever direction he went in, there was nowhere to go but into the dark, beyond where their light could reach. His eyes proved increasingly inept at making out anything so touch and smell were the senses that tuned in most. He traced the jagged spikes of rock and the walls of the cave by touch, his nose trying and failing to catch much other than themselves and dank air. Somewhere behind his back, the light lingered. He stole a glance towards it every now and again, just to confirm if it was still there. Just to make sure he wasn’t even more lost.

A jutting bit of rock nearly brushed his brow, making him crouch down a little. There really was an indent here, some kind of recess where perhaps the cave opened into its further expanse. A path they could take at best. And at worst? Well, Bellad knew too little of caves to truly imagine what it could be. Too little to know the telltale signs of making actual progress in navigating one.

He certainly knew absolutely nothing of what to do if his leg slipped and suddenly he skidded down across rough soggy rock.

Bellad’s cry of surprise and the sound of scraping stone cut through the darkness abruptly, mere minutes after he left. And at the point of origin the black wolf had fallen, finding no footing, catching himself just barely on an edge of rock that bit at his fingers and pressed into his palm. The dark below was just as the dark above and all around. The only difference was the direction and the way this emptiness gaped below him, waiting for his own weight to pull him down. As his legs flailed against it they found no footing. Like swimming with Fennore for the first time, only this time there was no water to hold him. And no hands held his.

“No, no!” His eyes widened, panicked, his body straining, like he didn’t know which part of it was meant to stop this. This feeling of his own weight pulling him down, fingers of his right hand curled against the edge of rock that he caught on, aching, threatening to give in. His left arm flailed, trying to find the same ledge, instead swinging about ineffectively. “Help!” He barked desperately, voice strained through teeth half-clenched with tension. “HELP!”

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