Decanus Justus heaved in the air to catch his breath. The battle was finally over. He was covered in Spider Breeder blood... but was lucky enough to not get any in his eyes.
He tried to walk, but toppled over, his knee banging painfully against the cavern floor as he caught himself with his forearms. His leg didn't move as he willed it to. It just... hurt.
Sitting down, he looked at his leg... blood ran down the side of his right calf...He vaguely remembered a spider gnawing on it before one of the Munifices put a pilum through the eight-legged freak. The wound swelled painfully, the skin around it so tight that it felt like it was going to burst.
Oh, no... Was he going to lose it?
Justus held up his replacement Decanus sword, staring at it in shame... It still wasn't enough. The world of mana he saw fighting against the Manticore-- he couldn't reach it. The pathetic amount of mana he wielded... its concentration, its purity... it was nothing like before.
Was he really the hero that fell a Gold-Rank? He suffered an injury fighting whatever these things were-- clearly not Gold-Ranks, though! He was trash! He was the entire dung heap!
"Decanus Justus!!" A woman's voice shouted his name... and it didn't sound like she was going to congratulate him...
Justus withdrew his shoulders, trying to appear as small as possible.
"I thought I told you not to be reckless," Fortuna reprimanded. She was being accompanied by Duplicarius Zehr who... didn't speak to defend him.
...Maybe it was payback for that one time Justus didn't help him dealing with Rena. As silly as that decision was, at the time... he regretted betraying Zehr more than anything.
"I... I know," Justus sighed.
He didn't realize what was happening before his feet carried him to battle... When he saw one of his allies ambushed by the monsters, he... he just charged... his senses overwhelmed by a need for vengeance.
Justus looked to the side... He had tried to save the Decanus that was attacked.
The fallen Decanus' neck was swollen thicker than his calf and froth bubbled from his paling lips. Spiders scurried about his face... and when they crawled over the whites of his eyes, the Decanus didn't move an inch. He was dead.
Fortuna shivered, "Can we move out of this passageway? The spiders are... ick."
"I... hurt my leg, Ma'am." Justus smiled in embarrassment.
Rena hurt her leg, too... He had to carry her back. He looked to Duplicarius Zehr... It would feel a bit demeaning, but maybe Zehr could at least drag him out of the passageway, away from the spider nest?
"Crawl," Zehr suggested.
Justus felt like he should have expected something like that... but still, his feelings were a bit hurt.
The half-elf glowered over him, "Eternal Flame, ⌈Heal⌋ Decanus Justus' wounds. This, I pray."
Fortuna's hands glowed in a silvery light, and it extended to cover his leg. He felt the skin begin to mend and the swelling visibly reduced in size.
Justus stood... almost as good as new. He did feel hungrier-- as if they never took a break for lunch, but he didn't need his leg amputated, which was a big plus.
"Fortuna... you're... you're amazing," Justus bowed his head in awe. It had been the first time he witnessed Fortuna's abilities.
This was the same woman who healed Rena's leg after being injured in the kobold attack... and the same one who saved Gianna's arm.
Fortuna turned away, flustered, "I-- I didn't do it for you, idiot!"
Justus chuckled in chagrin, "Thank you, Lady Fortuna."
He didn't think she meant what she said. It seemed that more than one of his new friends weren't so great at expressing their feelings.
The woman looked down and to the side at the fallen Decanus, "I just wish I could save everyone..."
Justus nodded, "Yeah... but we can't."
He looked to Zehr. The words were meant for the Duplicarius as much as they were to stifle his own insecurities.
The man always had something wise to say. He'd surely agree-- maybe he���d offer some other profound bit of wisdom. Maybe he'd express that if more lives were saved rather than not, it was fine-- Zehr was pretty pragmatic, after all.
Duplicarius Zehr clapped Justus' shoulder, "Protect your neck, young Decanus."
There it was... Justus looked down at the fallen Decanus and gulped. That was good advice.
After a short break, Duplicarius Zehr went forward to scout ahead. The few that were injured were healed by Fortuna.
They couldn't bury the fallen Decanus, nor halt their progress and carry his body out. They hoped to finish the mission soon, so they could return to camp by nightfall.
The Rhodoks followed the chalk-scrawled arrows left by Zehr with a bit more confidence. The cave passageway opened up, the terrain not as uneven and with fewer rock formations, though it was still slippery.
The size of the passageway could easily fit four or five men across... Justus did not like that, at all. If the scaled creature they hunted was that wide...
The Rhodoks found another of Zehr's chalk arrows on the ground... but it failed to pry their attention away from a large cave mural painted onto a flat wall.
"The hells is that?" One of the Munifices whistled, looking up at the wall. The fantastic drawings stretched up past the glow of their light-enchanted weapons and shields.
Upon the wall were various depictions of a giant snake... Men surrounded it, but not with weapons, but wearing dark robes and raising their hands. Familiar inscriptions were etched into the rock, but it wasn't something Justus could read.
"Can anyone read the Old Language?" Optio Sixtus asked.
Everyone shook their heads. Justus silently wished that either Gia was around. She could read it... Maybe Zehr, too.
"Don't bother. I recognize this Flamescarred shite. Centurion Cyrac spat, "Snake Cult. Nothing good will come from examining it."
"There's always something to learn, old friend." Sixtus reached up with his spear to tap against the rock wall, "See this? This might be what we're looking for."
Justus examined the pictures... most of them depicting a large snake with a diamond pattern on its scales. It definitely didn't look like a dragon. It felt more... believable.
"What's... the Snake Cult?" He asked.
"They're a group of heretics... they perform weird cultist shite like sacrificing men and women to their dark gods," Cyrac grimaced. "Fortuna knows more-- but she cares as much for the Snake Cult as I do."
Justus raised an eyebrow, looking towards the half-elf, "Lady Fortuna, could you tell me more?"
The woman frowned, "Y-yeah... My parents were killed by Snake Cultists."