As Hamza entered the labyrinth, the first thing he laid his eyes on was the injured and unmoving form of a Lagaard Soldier. There was always a guard at the front entrance to aid first time explorers with their very first mission. He must have tried to interfere when he realised that the guild entering was holding someone against their will.
Hamza wasn't sure who of the guild was responsible for this latest crime, but he was fairly certain that it wasn't Anaxarete. She preferred to give the orders rather than doing much herself.
Checking the man over, Hamza was relieved to realise that he was still alive. Unconscious, but alive. There was no foreseeable risk of him dying. Hopefully another explorer or guard will stumble across him soon and take him to the hospital.
Hamza had to get going. He couldn't risk being late for even a moment.
Getting through the first and second floors wasn't difficult for him. The monsters, once quite fearsome to him, were barely worth pausing for anymore.
Hamza ran up a narrow path to where a group could be seen waiting in front of a closed door. As he drew closer, he noticed with intense anger that Cedric was still being manhandled harshly, in a show of force and nothing more. His health was deteriorating. With a hand clamped over his mouth and being drugged around, it was hardly a surprise.
He needed to get him to safety and to the hospital.
"About time you showed up," War magus Anaxarete scoffed, looking highly impatient as she indicated toward the seal incrusted door with a wave of her hand. "Give me the key."
Ignoring the way Cedric was shaking his head at him, Hamza revealed the key, presenting it in his open palm. The very second he did so; Anaxarete snatched the key and gripped it tightly in her hands, a look of triumphant on her face. It seemed to Hamza that she had been waiting to get her hand on this key for years.
With a rather superior sway of her hips, Anaxarete made her way toward the door, more than intent in opening it right now. She lifted the key in front of her and of the door. A mere showing of the key with the intention of the door to open was normally enough to unseal the lock.
However, it wouldn't work. She pressed the key up against the door, but still nothing would happen. The Tree Key simply was not responding to her. Irritated, she threw it to a teammate, ordering her to open the door. Silently, the ronin did as she was order. Yet, it would not open for her, either.
One by one, each member of the Infamous Guild tried to open the door through the use of the key, and one by one, they failed. Hamza was baffled as they were. True, he had not used the key for many years. It still should be as effective as ever.
It was the right key. No mistaking it.
With her lips pressed together in a tight, thin line, Anaxarete turned to look at him with a dangerous expression. "This better be the right key," she hissed at him.
"It will only work for me," Hamza said, inwardly hoping he sounded convincing. "Hand it back."
Reluctantly, Anaxarete did just that, glaring at him the entire time. Gripping the key tightly, Hamza drew in a sharp breath as he approached the door. As he drew closer, glowing lines appeared, making out the eccentric pattern of a tree within a glowing circle. As soon as he lifted the key, the light brightened and the door slid open with a grinding sound.
Immediately, Anaxarete and her guild stepped through the door, dragging Cedric with them, so Hamza had no choice but to follow. He didn't want to step within these naturally formed halls again. Not after what had happened seven years ago. He most certainly didn't want Cedric to be here.
For some reason, as they moved well beyond the doors, they remained open. When Hamza and his guild had first stepped across the threshold, the doors had slid shut behind them the very second they were over the threshold.
He didn't have time to dwell on that.
"The door is open now," Hamza said as he looked at Anaxarete, giving her a very pointed look as he indicated to Cedric. "Release him."
A slight scowl appeared on Anaxarete's face, clearly not liked being on the receiving end of a demand, but she made a motion with her hand toward the gunner. Silently, the male gunner nodded his head and released his hold on Cedric.
Lurching forward, Cedric struggled to stay on his feet and he clutched at his throat. As he staggered toward him, Hamza met him half way and reached out to him catch him as he stumbled. Cedric gripped at Hamza's arm as Hamza wrapped the other around his back, holding him protectively close next to him.
Although it may be a silly question, Hamza still wanted to ask, "Are you all right?"
Cedric shook his head, his silver hair falling haphazardly over his shoulders. "You shouldn't have come," he said, his voice a little raspy.
"It'll be all right," Hamza said simply as he inauspiciously slid the key back into his back pocket.
He then removed his cloak and wrapped it around Cedric's shoulders, tugging it tightly around him. Cedric grasped at the material with his hands and stayed close to Hamza as possible as he skittishly looked around. Cedric's fear was understandable. The last time they had ventured through this door…had not ended well.
"You," Anaxarete said as she pointed a finger at the gunner. "Watch the door. We don't want intruders."
The scruffy looking male nodded his head. "Right," he said, speaking for the first time.
Hamza watched the man did as he was ordered with a suspicious look before turning his attention back to Anaxarete, keeping an arm around Cedric. "We'll be taking our leave now."
"You two aren't going anyway," Anaxarete snapped. "There must be a reason why you haven't used the key before."
"And you're the only one who can use that key," another guild member suddenly stated. "So you're stuck with us."
While another added. "You're also going to be our shields."
Cedric curled closer to him as Hamza looked at his former rivals with an expression of intense hatred on his face. They were ruthlessly competitive before. But now, they moved beyond competitiveness. Explorers and adventures were meant to look out for one another. Having rivalries with other guilds not at all unusual.
They were acting…ruthless. Doing whatever they felt was necessary to get what they wanted. Never mind who they hurt along the way. And it wasn't just Anaxarete. The other members of her party weren't just following her orders because she was their leader. They were following willingly.
What could have possibly happened to them to make them so…power crazy?
"Let's see what you've been hiding from everyone," Anaxarete said as she took the lead.
There were three doors on the southern wall. Two of which, Hamza knew first hand, lead to areas of no significance. The very first door simply led to a long hallway with a dead-end. Nothing to be seen there. The second led to a small room. Again, nothing of note.
The third door, however…
Hamza felt Cedric tremble against his side as they were pushed toward that door.
As they walked down the narrow pathway, Hamza felt his heartrate increase. He could feel Cedric becoming more fearful and nervous. It was of no surprise. They were heading to that spot. That place where…everything changed for them.
Could they not sense it? Could they not feel the breathtaking aura of utter menace in the air? They were heading toward something powerful and dangerous. How could they not feel that? Were they really that pompous that whatever was the cause of this foreboding was not a threat to them?
After stepping from the narrow path into a small chamber, Anaxarete and the others immediately focused all their attention to the only feature – a door facing south. They headed straight over to it, pushing Hamza and Cedric along with them.
Having remained mostly calm during the whole ordeal, any composure he had left went out the window the second Anaxarete rapped her knuckles against the door to open it.
"No!" Hamza shouted as Cedric gripped onto the front of his shirt tightly. "Don't go beyond those doors!"
"Hiding something from us, old man?" Anaxarete asked him with an impish smile on her lips as the doors began to slide open in front of her.
Hamza was unable to answer for the moment the doors opened; a tremendous roar caused the trees around them to tremble and birds to flutter frantically into the air. All Hamza could do was shield Cedric against his chest and dive onto the ground a few feet away as a blast of pure power and energy was funnelled through the opened doors.
Anaxarete and her guild mates didn't even have the time to look surprised.
Landing heavily on the green grass on the ground, Hamza continued to shield Cedric as he looked toward the door. The scent of searing of flesh and foliage filled the air with an ominous stench. The smell immediately took him back seven years.
It was the same…
It was exactly the same of what happened seven years ago.
Just like his previous guild, those standing directly in the doorway…no longer existed.
A large reptilian beast, scales of green and beige could be seen roaring irritably into the air. The beast was too big to pass through the door. But it didn't need to. It clambered over the top of the door, perching itself on the archway and superiorly towering over the natural formed room. It was so big. So large. So menacing.
Hamza had seen it before. Although he wished he hadn't.
It was the Wyvern.
That was the beast that took out Hamza's previous guild and caused Cedric's ill health.
That was the beast to changed Hamza's life so irrefutably.
That was the reason why he had kept the Tree Key hidden for so long.
The Wyvern flapped its wings in an agitated manner as it looked over the room with a few turnings of its regal head. It was obvious that it didn't like anyone straying into its territory. It soon stilled, the pupils of its eyes narrowing into thin slits. Its ominous presence grew in intensity. It was almost as if it recognised them. The two that got away.
…They weren't going to get out of this alive.
… … … … …
"There is only one locked door on this floor," Tobyn said as he led the entire Guardians Guild through the familiar foliage of the Ancient Forests. "It must lead to a larger, unexplored area."
"Know anything about it?" Axel asked as he gripped the handle of his axe in one hand as he held Lynus' hand in his other.
"Nothing," Tobyn answered bluntly as they slid over the grass while taking a sharp corner, tearing up a straight path that headed north. "As far as I know, no one has been beyond it before. There must be something dangerous there. That's the only reason why Hamza would keep it hidden from us."
"Then we better get ready for anything."
The door at the end of the path that was usually locked tight was wide open, only a single figure standing in front of it, leaning against the frame in an impatient manner. The man, who looked like a gunner, snapped his head up when he heard them approach. He pushed himself into a standing position and reached for his weapon.
He must be guarding the door to prevent anyone else from entering. Willing to use force if necessary. Why, was a good question, but in all honesty, they didn't care.
"Who the hell are you?" Axel asked harshly as he and the others forced themselves to a stop, they, too, reaching for their own weapons.
"He's the one who had Cedric," Rahas abruptly informed everyone, practically spitting out those words.
"Is he now?" Axel murmured as he pushed Lynus behind him and took a threatening step forward, stretching to his full height. "Are you really going to stand in our way?"
The gunner immediately looked wary and his hold on his weapon quivered for a mere moment. He glanced at each of them, one by one, before wisely stepping back. "Just following orders," he muttered rather lamely.
"Don't care," Axel snapped, the tension in his posture not relaxing at all as everyone stepped over the threshold of the door. "Just make sure no one else enters. Now, which way did they go?"
Before the man could answer, a beastly roar, unlike anything they had ever encountered before, just about rattled their bones, rocking them to the core. Everyone became instantly still, all wearing identical expressions of surprise (mixed with fear) on their faces.
"…What the hell was that?" Axel asked quietly as he reached out to Lynus, instinctively wanting him to be close to him in case of any danger.
"Nothing that I've heard before," Tobyn murmured under his breath as he skittishly looked around.
Everyone shared a brief look. Going toward the source of the noise would mean they were heading into danger. Facing off against something that sounded that powerful would be suicide. They knew it could possibly be dangerous. And deadly.
…Hamza and Cedric were in danger. They needed to get to them.