Chapter 18: Test of Courage
The group left the side room and finally entered the main entrance to the shrine. They came into a large, decorated room. There was no furniture in the room but beautiful paintings adorned the walls. The paintings showed various warriors and mages fighting horrific battles against a variety of foes. Inside the room was only one man. The man was dressed in clerical robes. He had a somewhat heavy build but a kind face. He was standing in front of a door at the back of the room. He smiled as the group entered.
"Greetings!" said the man. "You have come to the Shrine of Courage. I am the cleric in charge here. How may I help you?"
"We just spoke with the seers in the side rooms," said Suzanne. "They've been telling us about the yellow orb. Can you tell us anything about it?"
"I know nothing about any orbs," replied the cleric. "I am in charge of administering the Test of Courage to the worthy."
"What is the Test of Courage?" asked Suzanne.
"This shrine was founded on one principle: 'A man can be measured by his courage,'" the cleric began to explain. "Beyond this passageway is a tunnel that leads underneath the mountain to a small desert. In the middle of the desert is a cave we call the Navel of the Earth. It is said to be a perilous place, filled with monsters and traps."
"'Said to be'?" echoed Suzanne. "Are you telling us you don't know?"
"Facing the unknown is an essential part of courage," replied the cleric. "Maybe there are no monsters in the Navel, and the courageous will find an easy trek through the cave. Maybe there are worse than monsters in the Navel. I administer the test but I have not taken it. I do not know what waits in the Navel."
"What is the reward for this test?" asked Suzanne.
"I am afraid I do not know that either," answered the cleric with a chuckle. "Maybe there is great treasure in this cave. Maybe the only reward is the pride one finds in facing his or her fears and living to tell the tale."
Alice slipped a suggestion to Suzanne, "Hey Susie. Maybe there's an orb in this Navel of the Earth. One of the seers did say we'd find the blue orb. And they said this shrine accounts for two orbs. Well the yellow orb is missing so the blue orb has to be here!"
"They also stated they can't actually see the orbs but only the connections they have," said Thomas. "If the yellow orb is not here then who is to say that the blue orb didn't also leave?"
"We can use the Echoing Flute when we're close enough," Ron reminded the group. "Then we'll know for sure."
"That's a good idea," agreed Suzanne. "If there's no echo when we're close to the Navel then we turn back."
Suzanne turned back to the cleric and told him, "We want to take the test."
The cleric laughed after Suzanne told him this, drawing many confused looks from the four. "'We' indeed! I am afraid not! Only one who has the courage to fight alone can take the test. I will not allow more than one in at a time."
Suzanne excused herself from the cleric for a moment to talk this news over with her friends. "Well that doesn't bode well for us. As a group we're formidable but on our own each one of us is vulnerable."
"What's to stop us all from going in? This one cleric here?" asked Ron. "I say we just shove past him and check it out."
"You would break this shrine's laws for your own benefit?" accused Thomas.
"Our own benefit and it wouldn't be the first time we did!" defended Ron. "Remember the time we got rid of a dictator? How many of his laws did we break in that endeavor?"
"That man was not a true ruler but an outlaw," replied Thomas. "Besides that he used people for his own gain and profit. People died needlessly under his rule."
"If we send only one of us into that cave then that person could die needlessly!" retorted Ron.
"But at his or her own choice," said Thomas. "Look, I agree with you. It's a stupid rule. But it's a rule that doesn't force people to make choices they don't want or to get hurt. Anyone of us who takes this test is well aware of the risk involved. I'd much rather we could all go into this cave but is it worth it to bend a tradition of this area for our own gain? Just what are we fighting against again?"
Ron looked like he was about to hit Thomas but then suddenly calmed down and said, "You're right. They're not forcing us to do this. If we strong-armed our will unto them then we'd be the villains, even if we have good intentions. Okay, I volunteer to take this test."
"Wait just a moment!" piped in Alice. "You don't have any magic at all! What happens if you come across a hoard of armored monsters? Let me handle this."
"You?" asked Ron with a laugh, causing him to receive a glare from Alice. "Your swordsmanship has improved but you've still got some work to do. What happens when you get cornered by a horde of beasts? You don't have the skill to beat them back with your sword and you won't have the time to work your magic."
"And neither of you are skilled in the healing arts," cut in Thomas. "If one of you gets hurt you'll be in a sour place. I can keep myself going long enough to get out of sticky situations if need be."
"But you're not skilled with a sword either," said Suzanne. "So I'm going in."
The others were about to protest but Suzanne raised her voice to silence them. "Think about it. I have enough skill with a sword to fight my way out of corners. I have some healing magic, though not as much as Thomas. I have enough to keep me going though. I also know some offensive spells to take out groups. I even know teleportation magic to get out of there if I need to. You guys are all better than me in some way but if only one person is going in then we need someone well-rounded and that's me."
The other three listened to her story and begrudgingly acknowledged she was right.
"What if teleportation is not allowed?" asked Thomas. "Retreat doesn't sound very courageous. Maybe they don't allow retries if you come back."
Suzanne turned back to the cleric to pose him the question.
"The courage to admit when you've met your limits is valuable as well," answered the cleric. "If an unskilled warrior were to dive into battle with a host of dragons it is not courage but foolishness that guides his actions. You are allowed to take the Test as often as you like so long as life still flows through your being."
"That settles it then," declared Suzanne. "I will take the Test."
"Excellent," said the cleric. "Follow me this way."
After getting her equipment straight and exchanging a few items with her comrades Suzanne followed the cleric down the tunnel leading underneath the mountain. The cleric wished her good luck and she was on her way.
Suzanne had made sure to take the Echoing Flute, the Final Key, the staff from the Soo and the Meteorite Armband with her. The flute and key would help her find the orb while the staff and armband would help her fight. She played the flute as she walked and had only gone about a mile before the flute began making echoes. Satisfied that she had a pretty good clue as to where the orb was she put the flute away.
Suzanne made her way to the middle of the desert where she was told the Navel of the Earth was. Sure enough she came upon a giant hole in the desert. There was an old, moldy, wooden staircase leading downwards into the cave. Suzanne carefully went down the stairs.
Suzanne found herself in a small room. She proceeded into a large hallway. There were skulls mounted on sticks lining across the hallway. Suzanne guessed that they were placed there to scare off some of the test-takers. She did not let herself be fazed by such a tactic. She came across a door at the end of the hallway, took out the Final Key, and opened it.
She was almost immediately greeted by three large green crabs. She was familiar with these crabs from around the Isis region. She may have wondered what these crabs were doing so far from their native land but now was not the time to wonder. Knowing the creatures to have hard, armor-like shells and a fondness for improving their defenses with magic she pulled out the staff from the Soo.
She spoke the command word and directed the ensuing stream of flame at the three crabs. Luckily they were all positioned in a neat line and the fire hit all of them. One died immediately while the other two took significant wounds. Realizing their danger the crabs quickly advance upon Suzanne rather than use magic.
Suzanne did not have time to put the staff away and so focused on blocking their attacks with her shield. She blocked one claw strike but got clubbed in the side by the other. Her armor absorbed the bulk of the shock and so the attack did little more than push her to the side. She quickly dropped the magic staff behind her, drew her sword, and rushed one of her enemies. The creature was far slower than Suzanne and found itself unable to do anything to prevent her blade from going through its head. The other crab desperately swung at Suzanne with both its claws but Suzanne jumped clean over the attack and came down with a vicious swing to its head, almost splitting it in two.
Suzanne looked around to make sure there were no more monsters nearby and continued on. She was now in an intersection with hallways going to the left, right, and directly across from the door she had just opened. She decided to take the left path. The hallway went for a long ways and eventually came to another intersection. But Suzanne could see that she did not have time to decide on a path to take at the moment; there were five giant purple mushrooms with eyes and limbs in the intersection.
Luckily Suzanne had the element of surprise on her side. She used the magic staff to toast her foes. Two enemies seemed to resist the attack outright while one was hit by it and lived. Taking advantage of the increased speed given to her by the Meteorite Armband Suzanne took out her sword and stabbed clean through one of the non-wounded mushrooms.
The remaining two mushrooms seemed to run away in fright at first but then stopped their running and pointed at Suzanne, sending two missiles of ice at her. With the aid of her magic armor the two spells did little damage to her. She chased down the other unharmed mushroom and ended it with a swift strike to its forehead. The last mushroom tried a desperation ramming attack with its forehead. Fortunately for Suzanne this mushroom did not have any sleeping powder on it like the ones the group had fought in the cave where they found the Dream Ruby. Suzanne barely felt the creature's blow and sliced it in half in return.
Suzanne now examined the new intersection she found herself in. Like the last one this one also split off three ways: left, right, and forward.
"Great," Suzanne thought to herself. "I suppose part of the challenge is not to lose heart when there are so many different directions to go. I hope some of these passages link back to each other."
Suzanne took the left path again. She came across a hallway a lot like the one right after the entrance. It was about the same size and shape and also had skulls mounted on sticks. She proceeded through the hallway into a small room. There was an old, moldy, wooden staircase in front of her. She looked up to where the staircase led and was startled to see it led outside. The cleric had led her to believe that there was only one entrance and exit to this cave. Deciding to be thorough in her search she decided to see how far she ended up from the first entrance she took.
A few hours of wandering around lost and in confusion, along with a few easy fights along the way, Suzanne had come to a few conclusions about the cave. For one, she had left from the same entrance she had first entered from. Not believing that her sense of direction could be that off, she checked the surrounding area of desert for other entrances. But there was only once she could find.
She decided to head back into the cave to see where she had erred in her navigational skills. She retraced her steps and made sure to write down as accurate a map as she could as she went. She wound up exiting the cave again. According to her map there was no way she could have exited. She tried starting at the entrance and taking the right path, the path she seemed to return from. Indeed, she somehow ended up on the left path at the entrance again.
Suzanne realized that, somehow, these paths connected to each other without making any turns at all! She could probably wander forward in a straight line, taking no turns, and never reach a dead end. She decided to test this theory out by not stopping at the entrance but keeping her path straight. Sure enough, she came back to the entrance a second time. Annoyingly enough, there was always a fresh batch of monsters to challenge her every time she came back to the intersection.
"Such a cunning trick," Suzanne thought. "How many became hopelessly lost due to this? How many thought they were wandering in a labyrinth with an infinite number of enemies?"
She finally proceeded forward through the only path she had not taken yet. She came across a large, grand room. In the center of the room was what looked like a place of ritual. Pillars surrounded the middle ceremoniously. However, there was no altar or decoration in the area to confirm that suspicion. There were also two passages to the left, two to the right, and one on the other end of the room.
Suzanne decided to try the passage to her left. After a small hallway she came into a small room with a treasure chest in its center. Suzanne realized that this could easily be a trap; the chest was probably one of those fake chest monsters such as the one the group encountered in the Pyramid. Suzanne wished she knew the spell to check but knew she had little choice but to spring the trap. She had gained tremendous skill and better equipment since then. Though she did not want to fight one of those things by her own, especially considering how she ended up last time, she cautiously went forward to open the chest.
Her fears were confirmed when the chest sprang forward and bit down with great force. Had Suzanne's reflexes been a hair slower she would have lost a hand again. The chest monster wasted little time as Suzanne could hear muffled whisperings coming from it. She realized that it was probably casting a spell. With her sword already drawn she jumped forward into melee with the thing. The creature suddenly ceased its spell and tried to chomp down on Suzanne's arm but Suzanne proved the quicker. She landed an expert blow on the creature hiding in the chest.
Suddenly Suzanne was hit by a large fireball which exploded upon impact. The force made her stagger backwards though she did not suffer incredible pain from the blast. Suzanne then realized that this was another multi-tasking beast; the creature had not stopped whispering even as it tried to bite her! This chest monster was even more dangerous than the one from the Pyramid.
Having no choice but to see the fight through, Suzanne recovered from the attack and charged the creature again. This time the monster managed to bite her shield arm, dealing a vicious gash as its teeth pierced through her armor as though she were wearing only normal clothes. But she managed another return strike to the monster in the chest, though it was not as direct as her first strike. At the same time, the creature finished another spell. A sparkle of green light traveled the short distance from Suzanne to the beast. It had drained some of her magic.
Suzanne patiently waited for it to strike again, so the chest would open and expose the monster inside. She was surprised when its next spell activated first. A cloud of black and purple smoke in the shape of a skull engulfed Suzanne. The next moment seemed to last an eternity. Time seemed to stop. Within the smoke Suzanne suddenly felt an incredible tug. But it was not a physical tug, like someone trying to pull her somewhere. It was as if the smoke was tugging at her very soul, trying to separate it from her body.
Suzanne tried to fight the smoke off. She tried to step out of it or strike the creature. She tried to simply move. But the pain was piercing. She could not believe it was possible to feel such pain. She wanted desperately for the pain to end. Anything would be preferable to such excruciating agony. Even death would be preferable…
No! Suzanne quickly snapped herself away from such thoughts. As she did so the pain seemed to subside, the cloud disappeared, and time went back to its normal flow. Distracted by the spell Suzanne failed to dodge another bite from the beast, this one tearing into her midsection. Suzanne realized that she was losing a lot of blood from her wounds at this point and needed to heal herself soon. She launched a desperate strike at the monster, trying to hit it before the chest closed. She felt relief as her sword connected with flesh and the chest fell to the ground, unmoving. She tested it quick to make sure it was not a trick but sure enough, the creature was dead.
Suzanne took a moment to heal her injuries. Since she was not an expert in the healing arts it took her several spells to do so. Deciding that this encounter had been too close, she decided also to teleport out of the dungeon before another chest monster rendered her unable to. This test would have to be a failure.
"It was probably an incredibly powerful spell, one that tries to inflict death without inflicting wounds. It is said to be capable of ending a powerful warrior's life in mere moments," explained Thomas after Suzanne told her story of her attempt at the Navel of the Earth. "You're very lucky to be alive."
"Then that monster must have been a mimic," said Alice, with notable awe in her voice. "They're the most powerful of chest monsters. It is said they could kill half a dozen warriors with one spell. Besides that they had other spells for disabling or harming others, could bite and cast magic at the same time, and that bite is no joke either. It's incredible that you managed to defeat one in single combat."
"Those monsters must be really rare right?" asked Ron. "There are probably plenty of chests in that place and one of them must have the orb. The others can't all be mimics right?"
Alice did not look so sure, however.
"Hopefully I won't have to check all of them," suggested Suzanne. "There was what looked like a shrine of sorts near the entrance. I'm hoping that the chest containing the orb will be similarly decorated. Or even better, maybe there are no more chests. Or maybe all the chests are near the entrance. Other than the mimic, I didn't face great opposition. The cave was filled with monsters we've seen before. I'm sure any one of us could hold their own in the portion I explored."
"It's too dangerous. The cave could be filled with those things," said Thomas.
"We don't have a choice," replied Suzanne. "I've proven I can handle one in combat. I'll be even better prepared next time. We need to find that orb."
"I'm also a little concerned over the monsters you fought there," said Alice. "A lot of those beasts should not have appeared there. And the fact that there were always more waiting in the same spot bothers me as well."
"I fear some foul magic keeps the cave stocked with monsters," noted Thomas. "There's no way to know for sure, but it would help explain how you encountered the beasts in the same spot every time you went past."
"I suppose it helps ensure that there's always something to fight," said Ron. "It's not much of a test otherwise."
Suzanne rested the rest of the night. The next day she went to the blacksmith to have her armor repaired from where the mimic had bit right through it. Then she went back through the tunnel, into the desert, and back to the Navel of the Earth. This time Suzanne would not open any chest unless it was ceremoniously presented. Even then, Suzanne would be sure to be ready.
Suzanne returned to the large ceremonial room that split off into multiple paths. She checked the other three side passages and found they all lead to rooms similar to the one in which she fought the mimic, complete with their own treasure chests. Suzanne wisely opted not to disturb the chests. If she did not find the orb in a different spot then Alice could easily take the test herself and check these chests.
She continued into the passage on the back side of the ceremonial room. She found a larger room adorned with a singled skull on a stick. There was another, longer, thinner passageway on the left side of the room. In the middle of the passageway was a group of large green goat creatures. But like the mushrooms and crabs from the last time through, Suzanne dealt with the monsters easily. After dealing with them Suzanne reached the end of the passageway where a descending staircase awaited.
The next room was absolutely humongous. It had to be an entire mile or more between the north and south walls. The west and east walls were probably three quarters of a mile apart or so. As Suzanne would soon find, the room was filled with monsters. As the room was completely barren, Suzanne realized that she had to move quickly as it would not take long before she was set upon by a hoard of beasts. From what she could see, the monsters were of the same caliber as those she had been fighting. But even those monsters were dangerous in great numbers.
Looking off in the distance Suzanne could see two ascending staircases. She quickly realized that descending staircases would be difficult to see at a distance, but she did not have time to search around at a leisurely pace. She went forward at a quick jog to the staircase she could see on the northwest side of the huge room. Unfortunately, the monsters saw her. The noise that was stirred up soon alerted every monster in the room to her presence.
Suzanne quickly got the magic staff out. She decided it would be of more use than her sword since she could put the staff to use at a range. On her right approached a group of large purple ape creatures. In front of her was a group of mummies. She realized that she would need to switch between staff and sword in short succession. When she had done so earlier she always dropped her staff temporarily. But to do so now was to leave the staff behind. So she strapped her shield back onto her back and pulled out both staff and sword.
Suzanne lamented that she could not use both at once. Though the staff required only a command word to activate she had to guide the stream of fire with it for its duration. She quickly conjured up a fire stream at the mummies, intending to break through their line. None of the mummies were destroyed, but they were all injured. She was a decent distance away when she used the staff and was now closing in on them. Dodging the scratching claws of the mummies as best she could, she dispatched one on her left and began to sprint to avoid the other two. She suffered only minor scratches.
The mummies proved surprisingly fast in their pursuit and covered in her thick armor Suzanne could not hope to outrun them for long. Suzanne decided to make a quick stand against them. She used the staff to give them another dose of fire. The mummies all fell this time around.
When she turned around, Suzanne realized that she had another fight on her hands. The ape monsters had propelled themselves across the room quickly with their powerful, long limbs. Before she could send out another burst of flame an ape came up and swiped at her with its huge arm. With no shield to cushion the blow the best Suzanne could do was put her arms up to keep her head safe. She fell backwards, dropping the staff as she did so. Luckily, this put her out of the other apes' swipes.
Luckily, Suzanne did not depend on the staff to produce a magical assault. She reproduced the flame stream with her own magic spell. One of the apes fell dead and the others were wounded. She quickly rolled under the swipe of one of the apes but caught a blow on the shoulder from the other. She was almost directly underneath the beast that hit her and brought her sword up into its vitals. Before the remaining one could strike again Suzanne saw it off in a similar manner.
But there was no time to relax yet. She could see flying enemies coming from the east and a group of mushroom monsters waddling to the north to cut her path to the staircase off. Suzanne went to pick up the staff and broke into a run for the staircase again, knowing the flyers would overtake her soon enough. She kept an eye on her pursuers, ready to turn around with fire when she had to.
When she turned around to fry the flyers, three of them fell immediately. But the last one seemed to take no harm. As she looked at it she realized that she had never the seen the likes of it before. It looked like a baby demon wielding a pitchfork. The creature stabbed at her with its fork but Suzanne disarmed it and slashed at it. It proved to be surprisingly agile as it avoided the worst of the blow.
The creature fell back and tried to cast a spell. Suzanne realized she could not make it in time to disrupt the spell. She was surprised when sparks fizzled out of the creature's hands but no spell came out. Suzanne had seen and experienced this before: the creature was out of magic power. She found it odd considering that the creature had not cast a spell yet but decided not to question her luck. She ran the creature through with her sword and pressed on.
The mushrooms were in front of the staircase now but a quick look around the room told Suzanne that if she was fast enough she could get past the mushrooms and make it to the staircase. She ran as fast as she could to get within range of the mushrooms and blasted them. Of the five that blocked her path, only two died. One other was wounded but the last two shook it off.
The mushrooms stood in their place, realizing their best weapon was magic, and sent several missiles of ice into Suzanne. Suzanne ignored the pain and blasted them again. This magical battle lasted for one more round before the mushrooms fell. Suzanne saw she had little time to make the staircase. She made a break for it.
Suzanne made it to the staircase just before her pursuers made it to her. She climbed up it and made a quick check for enemies on the next floor. Seeing none, she turned around ready to stand her ground. The remaining monsters on the floor had pursued her to the staircase, but now she had the tactical advantage. Any melee monsters had to go single-file up the staircase to get to her. And any ice missiles or other magic spells her way were blocked by the floor between her level and the monsters'. To hit Suzanne with a spell would mean to bring itself within the wrath of her power.
The next few minutes were a blur of steel and flame. Suzanne furiously used both her sword and the magic staff to fight off a seemingly unending tide of monsters. It seemed for every one she vanquished another two took its place. None of her opponents on their own were all that dangerous but they were dangerous enough to give her a scratch here or there. Besides that, Suzanne was getting very tired. She began to wonder if she should try to disengage and warp out.
Suzanne shook the thoughts from her head and stubbornly defended her position. If she left now chances are that all the foes she had defeated would probably be back when she returned. She would have to get through this at some point to proceed. She went at her enemies with increased fury.
After another minute, the sea of monsters was drying up. Suzanne realized that many of the creatures were retreating. They apparently realized they had little chance against her, even in such numbers. Suzanne dispatched the last few that fought against her and went back down the stairs to observe. Indeed, the monsters were fleeing for their lives.
Suzanne took a few moments to rest and heal herself. She had not suffered major injuries but she knew if she had to go through that again she might be in trouble. After recovering she went about exploring the floor. Deciding she would not have to fight such a group again she took her shield out. She could still see the staircase to the southeast but decided to check out the northeast corner of the huge room first. She was rewarded in her search when she found a descending staircase.
Deciding that this staircase was as good as the other she descended. She found herself in a small room with a small passageway in front of her. She went through the passage and came into a large hallway, with paths to the left and to the right. She decided to take the left path. The hallway quickly turned to her right and continued on for a ways. Suzanne walked cautiously, on the lookout for monsters and traps. The silence on this floor was eerie compared to the noisiness of the beasts on the previous floor. Adding to her unease were the faces that decorated the walls. The faces were shaped like human faces but portrayed looks of inhuman malice.
Suzanne soon came to a dead end and was forced to turn back. She came back to where she had started and took the path that had been on her right. This portion of the hallway was almost identical to the other, though the faces on the wall were different. These faces portrayed looks of terrible fear and agony. A chilling thought struck Suzanne: maybe these were the faces of those who had failed and died here, their last moments immortalized on these walls.
Suzanne suddenly thought she heard a whisper. She could not make out the words but she was almost positive she heard someone. But the hallway had no cover or places to hide in it. If there was anyone here talking they would have to be invisible. Suzanne continued down the hallway slowly, on the ready for anything to suddenly jump out of nowhere.
As she continued down the hallway, she heard the whispering voice again. This time she could definitely make out what it said, "Turn back!" She made a quick check to make sure that there was still nothing else in the hallway.
"Another trick to confuse and scare a test-taker," concluded Suzanne.
But as she continued the voices got louder and louder. Suzanne realized that a different voice spoke each time, but all had the same message, "Turn back!" As she reached the hallway's midway point the voices had risen to speaking level. A few steps later and the voices were shouting at her. The voices were not those of a menacing beast but of people. These people did not want Suzanne to share their fate.
Suddenly, Suzanne heard an agonizing scream. She jumped at the sound and looked around. Still nothing else inhabited the hallway. Another scream sounded. The voices were no longer speaking warnings to Suzanne but letting her listen to their last, painful moments. Suzanne had to keep herself from bringing her hands to her ears to shut out the terrible noise. She needed her hands free to fight if need be. But the screams continued, each in more agony than the last.
It seemed to have been an eternity before reached a turn in the hallway. The hallway took a turn to the left. Suzanne cautiously looked around the corner, saw nothing, and went forward. The screams instantly stopped. The sudden change in noise caused Suzanne's ears to ring, and the ensuing silence to seem just as scary as the screams. Suzanne had to reassure herself with each step she took.
The hallway took another turn to the left. Suzanne could see this leg took a turn to the right. According to her sense of direction, this would have to be a dead end. But as she reached the middle of the leg she was currently on there was a great flash of light. Suzanne, temporarily blinded, desperately listened for any sound of an ambush. But all she could hear was the sound of several voices shouting in unison, "Join us!"
When the light cleared Suzanne saw she was suddenly surrounded by three armored men dressed in dull silver armor armed with swords and shields. There was one behind her and two in front of her. She quickly took out the magic staff and blasted the two in front of her. She was met with disappointment as neither showed any sign of pain or injury; the flames did not seem to touch them at all.
Suzanne quickly found herself on the defensive, flanked by the three swordsmen. She tried to charge the foe behind her with her shield out, hoping to bowl him over, but he sidestepped and managed to hit her with his sword. The other two enemies were quick to follow, giving similar cuts to Suzanne. She quickly dropped the magic staff and drew her own sword.
Though Suzanne was skilled, her enemies were almost as skilled and they had a three to one advantage. She tried to strike the enemy behind her but the swordsman easily shoved her blade to the side. Suzanne dodged his return strike and managed to block one of his friends' attacks as well but the other foe managed another hit. Suzanne knew if it were not for her great armor she would be in bad shape already.
It was time to get serious. Suzanne faked a shield bash to the foe behind her. When the swordsman reacted as she thought he would she came around and caught him in the side with her blade. The enemy noticeably staggered in response to the blow, showing that Suzanne had indeed hurt him, though no blood poured out.
Suzanne used the momentum from her strike to spin around, executing an impressive move in which she blocked the other two blades coming at her. The wounded one came up behind her to try to behead her, thinking her vulnerable. Suzanne just barely managed to duck her head in time.
Suzanne knew she had to eliminate that enemy quickly as she could not keep up such impossible dodges forever. She launched a shield bash at her opponent's legs. Having been fooled once, the man was slow to realize this attack was not a fake and took the blow in full force. As the man's legs gave out Suzanne easily stabbed her blade into the man's head. Still no blood poured forth but the man fell over.
Suzanne did not have time to check if the man was truly defeated, she had two more to worry about. She sidestepped one attack only to walk into another. Unfortunately, the man had turned his blade sideways, using it like a blunt object, and hit Suzanne square in the head. She staggered backwards, dazed from the blow.
Fortunately, she managed to shake the stars quicker than her opponents thought. She acted like she was still in a daze, causing one of them to charge her, thinking her almost done. The man soon learned his error as Suzanne seemingly came out of her stupor just in time to launch a vicious strike. Suzanne, as though suddenly possessed with incredible strength, had managed to cut through her foe's armored neck, severing his head. Like the last man, there was no blood to indicate a kill but Suzanne was sure he was down for the count.
Unfortunately, she left herself open to her last opponent. But instead of trying to slice her, the last swordsman tried a daring move. He ran forward and tackled Suzanne, sending their armored bodies to the ground. Caught by surprise and with the momentum of her attack still carrying her, Suzanne was slow to recover and the man quickly had her pinned. She was unable to move her arms or legs to try and free herself and she had dropped her sword.
The man tried to reposition his pin, trying to get his blade to Suzanne's neck. Suzanne tried her best but the man had her stopped. She realized she had only one chance left, and it was a long shot. She had been learning a spell recently, one from the old days of the Great Wars. The spell was unlike one either Thomas or Alice had mastered. But unfortunately, Suzanne had not yet mastered it either. It was highly dangerous to cast a spell one had not yet mastered. And as she had seen at the beginning of the fight, these foes had magic resistance. Lastly, with her foe on top of her she would likely blast herself as well.
But with her sword knocked away and the swordsman bringing his blade closer and closer to her neck, Suzanne began chanting the words with grim determination. She no longer doubted whether or not she would get the spell right or whether she would harm herself. A wave of courage poured through her. She would cast the spell and end this fight.
A blast of lightning, seemingly from out of the ceiling of the cave, came down on the two combatants. Caught in the blast, Suzanne was temporarily blinded. She could feel the pain of the lightning bolt hit her, but she would not give in. She suddenly realized that she was no longer pinned, her opponent had grown limp. She pushed him off of her and quickly retrieved her sword. She checked her three opponents, all still lying on the ground. None of them moved even when prodded.
Suzanne took a moment to rest and heal herself. She could not take many more fights now. She still had the magic to teleport herself out but another tough fight and she probably would not any longer. She wondered if she even had enough strength to last through another fight. Nevertheless, she stepped forward to the end of the hallway.
The hallway curved into a ceremonial chamber. Two large statues of great giants flanked an alter, upon which sat two treasure chests. Suddenly, dread came over Suzanne. She did not know how, but she suddenly knew without a doubt that if she left to rest that she would have to fight all those enemies over again. And she did not know if one or both chests were a mimic. Even if the blue orb did rest inside one of the chests, it was pure luck to guess which had the orb and which was a mimic.
Suzanne slumped to the ground, feeling defeated. She did not think she could handle a mimic in her present state. Even if she won, she probably would not have the magic left to teleport out. The two treasure chests sat in front of her, almost taunting her. Which one was the orb? Which was a mimic? Are both these chests mimics?
Suzanne got back to her feet. She could not come all this way and leave empty handed, knowing that either she or one of her companions would have to go through all she had gone through. She took a coin out of her pocket, flipped it, and decided based on the flip which chest to open. She walked up to her chosen chest, sword drawn, and carefully started to open it.
She sighed in tremendous relief when the chest opened all the way without snapping at her hand. And sitting peacefully inside the chest was the blue orb.