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80 Underground

    We decided to search the tunnel, cave, or whatever it is beneath the pool of the hotel. Water drips from the wall as mud sloughs off occasionally, suggesting the tunnel's structural integrity is not great. However, wedges are placed against the roof of the tunnel sporadically as if attempts have been made to reinforce weaker areas properly. The air is heavy, humid, and surprisingly warm despite the blizzard that has been raging above in the city.

    We move with a steady jog attempting to keep ourselves from making too much noise while also trying to make up for lost time. Although the tunnel is big enough to walk in doubles, we walk in a single file with Aponi at the point setting the pace, followed by Jimmy, Kardama, Eden, and me at the back to listen for someone sneaking up on us. While we give chase, I try to contact Sam through the ring, but frustratingly don't receive an answer.

    Suddenly, Aponi holds up her hand in a fist and states in a pressing voice, "Stop."

    Everyone luckily freezes instantly and looks at Aponi at the front with confusion. She points at the ground where a thick cord covered in mud runs across the tunnel. I look toward the wall to barely make out a branch with sharp stakes attached covered in the mud.

    I raise an eyebrow. "A trap?"

    "Yeah... I hate it, but we should probably slow our pace and proceed carefully." Jimmy states hesitantly.

    Aponi stares at him with a serious expression thinking through his words before nodding in agreement. Thus we continue forward except now much slower to avoid any more traps.

    While watching my feet to make sure I don't step in anything, I'm baffled by how long this tunnel is, 'Surely this can't be that deep, right? I mean, how quickly could those Brutes have dug something like this?'

    "It really smells like sewage down here. There must be a septic tank or something leaking into this tunnel. This sucks." I murmur to myself.

    Eden asks me with a disapproving tone. "Eira, are you not worried about Sam?"

    "Don't give me that tone. Of course, I'm concerned, or I wouldn't be down here."

    She looks at me, doubtfully, "You didn't seem concerned when he fell into the pool."

    Shaking my head dismissively, "Sam is a vampire if he died from a fall like that I would be shocked and it's not like I knew there was such a tunnel underneath..." I look away and continue in a quiet voice, "Besides, if he died, the ring would alert me."

    "What was that?" Eden asks.

    I smile and look at Eden, "I said, I'm sure he's not much farther ahead."

    Glancing at Aponi, I can see she is still limping slightly from her earlier injury. She slips on the mud and her ankle twists followed by a small popping noise. She stops abruptly and grits her teeth with obvious pain.

    Sighing, I adjust the bear cubs position by pushing them further up my shoulder. Grabbing the top hat with the same hand I'm holding the bear cub I reach in with my other hand pulling out a blood bag.

    Placing the top hat back on my head, I raise my voice, "Let's stop here for a minute. I'd like to check the integrity of these walls."

    Aponi notices my glances at her legs, causing her to straighten her back, "No, we should keep going; we can't afford to stop."

    I roll my eyes and toss Aponi the blood bag, "Just drink that while I examine the walls. With the traps we can't move very fast, so we won't catch up to them until they stop somewhere."

    Turning away, I can hear Aponi rip open the blood bag and begin to chug it as fast as she can.

    'She's going to get a stomach ache, but whatever, she'll learn.'

    Petting the bear cub, it coos while I approach the wall to pretend as if I am actually examining it; however, while looking at it, some things actually do catch my attention. Looking closer, what I believed to be mundane mud seems to have some type of magical energy coming off of it. Extending my nail, I poke at it, bringing it closer to my face.

    '...This is the sewage smell, and it smells absolutely disgusting.' I look back at the wall and begin studying it, 'Hmm, but what is that over there, some kind of circular rock jutting from the wall?'

    Flicking the mud to the ground and noticing Kardama nearby, I casually and stealthy move closer to wipe my nail against his pants.

    Feeling my nail, Kardama looks at me, stubbornly, "Uh? You need something?"

    "Yes, actually, see that lump sticking from the wall over there, can you pull it out for me?"

    Kardama looks at it and scowls, "From the mud? Why don't you do it? This is a team effort, after all. Why do I have to do everything?"

    I bite my tongue and resist the urge to smash his face into the dirt that smells of sewage "...Oh, it's okay, I just thought since you're strong you could do it easier than me, but I guess not."

    Shrugging, I casually walk toward the protrusion. In the corner of my eye, I notice the others staring at me in confusion while the gears in Kardama's head spins.

    "W-Wait, if that's why you need my help, I don't mind..." Kardama coughs, and changes from a panicked voice to one of confidence. "Y'know using my immense strength to pull it from the wall."

    "Oh, are you sure? I mean, I can do it."

    "Yeah, of course, I will" Kardama reaches into a pocket and pulls out a pair of gloves. "Let's see I'll just pull this thing out."

    Taking a step back, I observe from a distance as Kardama sinks his hands into the 'mud'.

    "Is this like a ball or something? What the hell is this... well, it doesn't matter; I'll yank it out of there in less than a second." He pulls with all his might, and his face turns red, "O-Oh, yeah. Now I see."

    Kardama props his feet against the 'mud' wall and pulls even harder, "Dammit! Come on!"

    Noticing the sphere begins to slip from the wall, I'm about to warn him, but it's too late. The sphere flies from the wall, and Kardama lands on the soggy ground with a thunk.

    "What the ** is that!" Jimmy shouts uncharacteristically.

    From the back of the sphere, several dark-pink wiggly tentacles squirm. Kardama screams and hurls the wiggling sphere to the ground. The tentacles release the sphere and begin encompassing it. They rise from the ball and open their ends, revealing hundreds of tiny teeth before gurgling at Kardama threateningly.

    '\u003cAnalyze\u003e.'

    Name: Unnamed

    Gender: Hermaphroditic

    Race: Wiggler Worm (Juvenile)

    Level: 1

    Health: 30/30

    Mana: 10/10

    Strength: 3

    Endurance: 4

    Agility: 6

    Intellect: 1

    Constitution: 3

    Talents: -

    Skills: Animalistic, Advanced Excavation

    Titles: -

    Quickly, I realize what these are, "They are mutated earthworms it would seem... not good."

    Jimmy grips his rifle while shaking, "Earthworms!? Those things are bigger than most snakes!"

    "Do you have a snake phobia or something?" Eden asks curiously.

    "It's not about my phobia! J-Just look at them; they're huge!" he yells with a panicked voice.

    'Actually, now that I think about it, I could use \u003cAnalyze\u003e on the dirt and the thing they're protecting... Slipped my mind. \u003cAnalyze\u003e.'

    {Name: Regurgitated Soil

    Grade: F-

    'Wow, I can't believe I let some of that get on my nail. Anyway, it doesn't seem like the system has much to say about it, but if I had to guess, the reasoning behind it was to infuse it with mana... maybe? That or it just happened by accident? I don't really know. \u003cAnalyze\u003e the sphere.'

    Name: Unnamed

    Gender: -

    Race: Worm Egg

    Level: 1

    Health: 20/20

    Mana: 10/10

    Strength: 1

    Endurance: 1

    Agility: 1

    Intellect: 1

    Constitution: 2

    Talents: -

    Skills: -

    Titles: -

    'Ah, that makes sense, it's an egg... Actually, that is pretty bad; it means there are probably a lot of these things around... Also, if this mud coats the whole tunnel, anything that wonders down her might mutate if exposed to the mana infused soil for a while.'

    Thinking for a moment, I turn to the others, "Let's leave them and keep going.

    Kardama's head twists in my direction and he stares at me in disbelief, "W-What? You had me pull them out, and now you wanna just leave!? What about the essence?"

    "My reason is pretty simple, they're just juveniles, and I'm not interested in opening up that can of worms," I reply while chuckling to myself.

    Aponi groans and shakes her head, "Eira, that was bad, but yeah, let's keep going before something happens to Sam."

    For another fifteen or so minutes, we walk at a quick pace until the downward slope eventually flattens out. Abruptly, we walk through an opening and find ourselves in much larger tunnels than before, and these seem to be much less primitive. I glance around in confusion as the tunnels split into three different paths; while I'm thinking through memories of Robert's time in engineering, Jimmy steps forward.

    Jimmy wipes away mud with his feet revealing concrete below, he taps it with his boot, "This is man-made... I don't think the first tunnel was, but this tunnel is without question different."

    "Yeah, you're right, these tunnels seem like something that was done with a boring machine." I point toward a wall where a small light is shining through mud, "And there seem to be lights down here as well. This place would have been incredibly expensive and difficult to make..."

    Looking around carefully I maintain my thoughts, 'What is this place? It certainly isn't an abandoned tunnel if there are still lights? Where are they getting power for this place anyway?... I guess I should focus on the problem of finding Sam before thinking about it too much, but we need to be careful.'

    "How are we ever going to find Sam down here! This place is huge." Aponi asks.

    Jimmy points at the ground, "Actually, seems like they went that way."

    Glancing at the ground, a small trench along with two pairs of oversized footprints can be seen.

    "Yeah, you're probably right. Looks like something is dragging him by his collar," I reply with a nod.

    "How do you guys see anything down here!" Kardama shouts.

    "Hmm?" I stare at Kardama before realizing what he means, "Oh, yeah, it's because we all have night vision."

    "Night vision! I've been carefully watching my step this whole time, and you guys have just been going along business as usual!"

    "Does it matter? I just didn't think about it... stop getting your panties in a bunch about every little thing. Let's follow the tracks; there's no way they're that far ahead of us." Taking a step forward, someone grabs me by the shoulder.

    Kardama pulls down his hood for the first time since we met, "Hey! Why are you always insulting me and treating me like **!?"

    "Because you're thin-skinned and arrogant, which is going to get you killed one day. How old are you anyway?"

    "Don't insult me and then change the subject like that!"

    "Because I don't know how to treat you, so just tell me."

    Kardama smiles smugly, "I'm ninety!"

    I shrug and sigh, "So you're basically a teenage Shadow Demon? Explains a lot."

    Kardama stops and stares at me, dumbfounded, "...How do you know that? Shadow Demons hardly associate with other demons much less outsiders."

    "Hey, you two need to keep it down." Aponi turns and glares at us, "Your voices are echoing through the tunnels."

    "Agreed. If you want to have a conversation, do it at a normal volume." I reply.

    We continue trudging forward, and Kardama keeps eyeing me, "What do you know about the Shadow Demons?"

    "A lot," I respond casually. "Possibly more than you, I don't know."

    He points at me, "How old are you?"

    After his question, I notice the others suddenly turn their heads to hear the conversation better, "Hmmm. That's a tough question; I'll just say old, I guess."

    "Old? That's it?... Fine, tell me, what race are you? Are you really a vampire? You look different than them." he says accusingly and points at the others.

    With pursed lips I respond, "I'm mixed but the system does indeed classify me as a vampire."

    "Mixed with what?" he asks while staring at me.

    "Y'know this twenty questions game you're playing right now seems a little unbalanced," I think for a moment before continuing, "Let me ask you a couple of questions first."

    He waves his hand, dismissively, "Fine, wanna know what Hell's like or something? That's the typical mortal's question."

    Donning a serious expression, I ask my question, "Tell me, is the Old Capital still standing in Hell?"

    Kardama stares at me with a scowl, "How the ** do you know about that?"

    "Is it a secret or something?"

    "It's not a secret, but it's far from well known either. So how do you know?" Kardama demands to know.

    "Just answer my question."

    He sighs, ��It's there, but it's basically all ruins. Half of it has sunk into the lava while the rest was destroyed long ago. There are rumors of a library that was found to be missing, but no one ever found it, so it's assumed to have been destroyed."

    'Hmm, that's disappointing actually. I hoped at least some of the architecture would have survived. I'll make note of the library missing, but I don't have time to pursue such things right now.'

    "Eira, what's the Old Capital?" Eden asks curiously.

    I scratch behind the bear cub's ear, considering how much I should say, "It was the Blood Race's secondary capital in the Hell Dimension. It was called the Old Capital because it hardly ever changed over the centuries... so I hear."

    Suddenly I hear someone shush me, and notice Aponi waving me toward a corner. Looking around the bend I'm surprised to find the exterior of a large warehouse.
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