Blaze wanted to throw up upon seeing the lifeless bodies of dragon-slayers littering the paths she took as she ran with Kingsley on her back. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't get rid of the gruesome sight of her dead allies out of her head. The dizziness caused by the sickening scent of blood all around her was only made worse due to her enhanced sense of smell compared to others.
But she couldn't falter now, for Kingsley's sake at the least. The attack from earlier left him severely injured and traumatized; his squads now were man-less. She needed to keep going.
Blaze recalled the first expedition she joined, assigned in the same squad as Winter and Blake. Back then she was unprepared, freezing up from time to time as she witnessed others dying before her eyes for the first time in her life. If it were not for Winter and Blake watching over her, she could've died.
'Should I retreat and bring Kingsley to the surface first? He's going to be a nuisance with his current condition,' Blaze thought to herself. She shook her head. 'No, no… That can't be an option. The other squads probably don't know that they are in danger. If I prioritize putting Kingsley in a safe place now…I could be leaving the others to die.'
"I know what you're thinking," the blood-covered commander suddenly spoke. "Don't worry about the other squads and get to the surface. I'm sure Alexandria delivered the news to the others while we bought her time. The longer we stay here, the more we put our lives at risk. Listen to me, Blaze."
Kingsley's voice was as calm as steady water in a pond despite his poor condition. It was true that he sacrificed himself in order to let the others escape instead of selfishly ditching his troops to let them fend for themselves. But why couldn't Blaze trust him? Was it because of her suspicion that she couldn't even bring herself to accept such a noble act?
Blaze shook her head. She knew she shouldn't be thinking about that now and instead should be focusing on what was in front of her. She wasn't certain how much longer it would take to get back to the lair's entrance, but the fact that Alexandria was nowhere to be seen was making her question Kingsley's judgment.
Did Alexandria really manage to tell the others about this information?
Blaze pressed her lips in a thin line as she felt Kingsley's hand start trembling on her shoulder, barely managing to maintain the last of his composure as Commander as he began to break down.
"Hey, don't think about it, Kingsley. It's not your fault. Just hang tight, and we'll be out of here soon. I promise." Blaze tried to reassure him. She knew Kingsley was distraught from the deaths of his men, but she could only do so much to comfort him.
She raced towards the lair's entrance where the others should be exploring, still carrying Kingsley on her back, hoping to get there before the Earth Wyrms could.
She knew full well that the Earth Wyrms weren't going to just sit back and wait as she ran, already looking for more prey to feed on. And so she bolted past the dragon's scent she smelled nearby, determined to avoid combat at all costs.
* * * * *
Sensing that someone was nearby, Kaiser tapped on Colleen's shoulder, only to earn himself an immediate glare that drilled mercilessly into his frightened eyes. Colleen did not appreciate the sudden physical contact she did not consent to at all. "What, Kaiser?!"
Kaiser gulped. "U- uh... I think someone's coming." He pointed his finger to the opposite direction from which they came from, and Colleen narrowed her eyes at the silhouette that slowly approached them, uneven footsteps gradually becoming louder and louder as it came close.
The two didn't stand idly, on guard as they waited for the person to arrive… and to their surprise, it was Alexandria, who was supposed to be designated on the opposite side of their formation, that came into view. The pair felt uneasy as they watched the official anxiously running towards them, her expression desperate as she gasped for breath.
"We're leaving," she panted, wiping the sweat from her face. She bent over with her hands on her knees the moment she reached them. "Hurry and evacuate, the others are already at the surface… Where's Blaze?"
"Huh?! Uh... she said she would check what's happening in the front. Sorry, Alexandria. I know she broke the rules of the expedition, but we aren't supposed to be here in the first place… We'd greatly appreciate it if you kept your mouth shut in front of the council members. You know no one can stop Blaze if she wants to do something." Colleen tried to win over the official's understanding. Though she was confused on why Alexandria was even here telling them to leave, she was more worried about Blaze getting punished for breaking protocol more than anything else.
Alexandria blanched upon hearing her words. "T- that can't be!"
Colleen frowned, puzzled. "What do you mean?" she questioned. "What's going on?"
But the official was too lost in her own mess of thoughts to even hear her, fidgeting nervously with her hands as she paced back and forth, muttering incoherent phrases under her breath.
Colleen and Kaiser exchanged looks of uncertainty. They were feeling uneasy since earlier, and Alexandria's reaction only made it worse. Although they knew Blaze was rather impulsive, they also knew that she wouldn't break rules without a reason. She was a genius and always challenged academy-taught doctrines if she felt they were flawed and incomplete, things that not everyone could easily see.
So, what could be the reason that had Blaze leave them in such a hurry?
"W- what's going on, anyway?" Kaiser repeated for Colleen as worst-case scenarios were already playing in his head on repeat.
The official finally answered them as she managed to calm her nerves and regain some of her confidence. Suddenly, she took Colleen and Kaiser by the arms, dragging them towards the direction of the dungeon's entrance and pushing them away before she turned back towards the heart of the dungeon, alone. But before she moved on, she paused and said over her shoulder:
"There are more dragons in here than you can count, it's not just one as we expected. The advance party leading the expedition had already been wiped out, so go. Go back to the surface now, and I'll find Blaze and the rest-!"
"Wait!" Colleen didn't listen to her orders and instead, grabbed her by the shoulder to stop Alexandria from leaving by herself. "I'm coming with you! Let's look for Blaze together!"
Sensing the seriousness in her tone, Alexandria agreed to her request without a complaint. She knew Colleen normally wouldn't do that if Blaze was off doing something idiotic during an expedition since the two friends trusted each other and the team. But Blake's passing could have urged Colleen to take matters into her own hands…she couldn't afford to lose Blaze as well.
Alexandria wouldn't argue with her, especially now when every second on the clock mattered.
"More than one dragon?!" Kaiser said apprehensively, and he took a few steps back towards the direction of the entrance with a nervous chuckle. "That is no joke. Alright, I will go back to the surface. Good luck to the two of you." Kaiser bid his farewell and was about to go, acting as one who would follow orders to save himself but...
"Where do you think you're going?"
Kaiser yelped as Colleen seized him by the wrist, forcing him along. "You're coming with us! We'll need you as a diversion in case a dragon attacks."
The grown man choked up with fear, feeling as if he was about to piss himself any moment now. He protested out loud and tried to pull free from Colleen's iron grip, pleading for them to let him go, but the two women could care less of what he had to say.