As they marched deeper into the cave, it quickly became dark. Darker than even a moonless night! Heinrich hesitated to light a torch. It could help them see, but it was also an extremely bright beacon to tell whatever was dwelling within the cave that they were there.
Heinrich whispered back: “Adam, how well can you see?”
The darkness did not affect Adam very much. His Spirit Sight did not rely on light, but the presence of Spirit Essence itself. He did notice the sudden drop in light essence, though. He had never realized just how much light saturated the world until now.
Whispering back, Adam said: “I can easily see thirty or so meters around us. If I narrow my vision, a hundred meters should be no problem.”
Under Heinrich’s direction, everyone continued forward with their hands on the walls of the cave while Adam looked out for anything in their way or branching paths in the cave.
After continuing down the cave in silence for about ten minutes, a light green hue began to light up the cave! Spotted here and there along the walls, luminescent fungi were growing!
Heinrich sighed: “Well, at least we don’t have to fight in complete darkness.”
George whispered from Adam’s side: “How much further do you think this cave goes?”
Heinrich shrugged: “If the entrance was any indicator, a Spiritualist that could control Earth Essence went through here. If they decided to dig this cave out deeper than it originally was… we could be here for hours yet.”
Jenn shuddered: “I hope not. If the roars really are coming from somewhere in this cave, it will be far worse hearing it roar in here than it was out there.”
With that dreadful thought hanging in the air, they continued forward as quiet as they could. The further they got into the cave, the more glowing fungi grew on the cavern walls. After what felt like an eternity of walking, the cave opened up into a large cavern!
The cavern was rather large and spacious. Strewn across the floor, stalagmites rose up and sometimes met stalactites hanging from the ceiling. However, it was clear that none of these were naturally formed! They were grouped together into artistic patterns and there was even sand on the ground as though someone was making a rock garden out of them! In the center of the cavern, a pool of water stood. Faintly the sound of dripping water could be heard echoing across the cavern.
Heinrich stopped short of entering the cavern and whispered to Adam: “Do you see anything?”
Adam was awed by the cavern. Everything was touched by Earth Essence in a way he hadn’t ever seen before! Surprisingly, even the pool of water was rich with Earth Essence! There was also a thrum in the air that only Adam could hear. He tried to describe all of this to Heinrich.
Frowning, he responded: “I’m not sure what to think of it, but I can also feel something here. As I said before, a Spiritualist was definitely here at some point. Whether they caused this or this was the reason they came… Let’s proceed further in. We’ll move around the stalagmites. Adam, tell me the moment you discover anything else!”
As they moved, Adam continued investigating the cavern with his Spirit Sight. He found his sight was constantly dragged to the center of the cavern where the pool was! It was like there was something there begging for his attention. After spending some more time looking at it, Adam began to notice a shape lying at the bottom of the pool. A part of it stretched up and onto the shoreline and rested there.
Adam froze as he began to recognize the shape! With a pale face, Adam whispered: “Boss!”
The other three stopped with Adam. He shakily pointed a finger at what looked like a large rock by the pool. However, that was no rock. Adam forced one more word out of his mouth: “Dragon!”
Unfortunately, it came out louder than he intended! The word echoed across the cavern and the Dragon twitched! Heinrich frantically whispered: “Hide!”
They dove behind a stalagmite that would block the Dragon’s view of them. Heinrich wasn’t sure it would work, but it was better than standing out in the open!
The droning thrum in the air grew louder as the hulking form of the dragon began to stir. Adam watched in awe and terror as the earth essence within the cavern began to… pulse! It was as though the Dragon’s heart had begun to beat and the Earth Essence resonated with it!
A crash of water could be heard as the Dragon rose up from the pool. A low grumble could be heard emanating from its throat. The ground itself seemed to tremble before it! Earth Essence began surging through the dragon’s body in larger and larger amounts. As this happened, the rocky looking scales that covered its body began to take on a deeper golden color! Even as the Dragon became densely cloaked in Earth Essence, Adam noticed an oddity with the Dragon’s soul; it was in chaos!
It seemed that the Dragon’s soul was fighting against the Earth Essence in its body! The dragon shook its head as though to clear its mind. Its gaping maw then opened wide as it gave a furious roar!
The four of them clutched their heads as the roar passed over them. Not only was there a great force pressing down on their souls from the Dragon’s roar, but the concussive blast of it was enormous! Adam quickly fell to his knees while George and Jenn fell to the ground!
Despite the pain assailing him, Adam did notice one thing. The dragon’s roar wasn’t actually one of fury. Nor was it somehow malicious. No, the dragon was roaring in pain!
Among them, Heinrich was the least affected. Doubting whether the other three could even live if they had to endure this roar for a minute or more, Heinrich took halting steps out from behind the stalagmite!
Suddenly having something besides the pain to focus on, the Dragon’s roar died out as it looked at this human that had found himself within its lair. Without the roar to press down his soul, Adam was able to stumble up. George and Jenn remained on the ground, groaning in pain.
Free from the pressure himself, Heinrich pulled the giant ax from his back. The dragon responded with an aggressive rumble from its throat while lowering itself on its haunches. It also tried to spread out its wings, but the cavern was too small and the various stalagmites and stalactites wouldn’t allow it to comfortably spread them. Heinrich yelled out: “Adam, escape the moment you see an opportunity!”
Without waiting for a response, Heinrich launched himself at the dragon with a war cry! Adam was momentarily shocked: ‘Is he really going to attack a dragon!?’
Heinrich didn’t so much as attack, but harass the dragon. In a straight up strength contest, Heinrich was sure to lose! His only chance was to strike fast and distract it. His first move was to slash at the dragon’s side while rushing past it! Sparks flared and left only a scratch on the scute scales protecting the Dragon’s side!
Giving Heinrich and evil glare, the dragon lashed out with its tail like a whip! Heinrich barely moved in time to avoid the strike! The Dragon followed up by smashing at him with a clawed hand! Heinrich once again dodged while moving behind a stalagmite. A wise move, as the ground erupted in an explosion of Earth Essence caused by the dragon! The stalagmite protected Heinrich from the exploding debris.
Adam was stunned by the spectacle. He could see the Earth Essence surge each time Heinrich and the dragon moved or attacked. He also realized one thing: he was too slow to make it to the exit! They moved so fast during their exchanges, Adam wasn’t even sure he could safely make it to the next stalagmite, let alone George and Jenn who were still recovering from the roar!
Adam frowned: ‘Even if I were to escape, what about Heinrich? I doubt the dragon would let him get away so easily… we need some kind of distraction…’
Really, there was only one thing Adam could do. He didn’t know if it would actually make a distraction or not. Still, it was the only other option. Adam pulled his flute out and thought: ‘What should I perform to distract it?’
Adam looked at the dragon’s soul that no longer seemed to be in chaos. Now that it had something it could focus on, its soul no longer fought against its body. Adam noted that the Dragon’s soul was similar to a human’s. While it was primarily formed of Earth Essence, there were still other types mixed in. These were likely the cause of the chaos in its soul.
‘If I can cause it to fall into chaos again…’
Adam listened to the cavern, looking for inspiration. Beyond the sounds of battle, he could hear the water essence in the pool. The light essence emitted by the mushrooms. A draft of wind coming from somewhere within the cave. Thinking back to what he learned in SIH, there were ways he could use these types of Spirit Essence against Earth.
Water Essence can erode Earth. Wind Essence seeks to move through all things and it would love nothing more than to whistle through any crevasse Earth formed. Light Essence sought to illuminate the darkness the Earth hides.
Now with an idea of how to turn these types of Essence against Earth, Adam put the flute to his lips and began to perform! At first, his notes were drowned out by the sounds of fighting. Slowly, though, Spirit Essence began to infuse and enhance the song Adam was crafting! Both the dragon and Heinrich began to hear the song! It was a song of strife and turmoil. It was a song where the entire world rose up to spite one thing: Earth Essence! While the other types of Essence easily danced to his tune, the Earth Essence tried to resist. But, it had no choice… the song was just too irresistible to not dance along with it!
Having heard the song, Heinrich inwardly cursed. It was now apparent that Adam hadn’t escaped. As for the dragon, its attacks began to slow down giving Heinrich some breathing room! As the song progressed, the dragon began shaking its head, as though it were losing focus. Adam could see the Spirit Essence in the dragon’s soul roiling at the sound of his song!
At this point, Heinrich began to notice the Earth Essence in his body began to act sluggishly too! However, it didn’t seem to affect him as much as the Dragon.
Looking at the result, Adam felt a swell of excitement in his chest: ‘It’s actually working!’
As the pain of the Dragon’s soul lashing out against its body increased, it became easier and easier for Heinrich to dodge its attacks. Now having time to make a proper attack, Heinrich would occasionally stop at the Dragon’s side so that his feet were firmly planted to make a strong strike! Unlike his fast glancing attacks, the strong ones bit into the scale! Before long, the Dragon had multiple bleeding lines across its body.
Adam marveled at the blood. It was like liquid Earth Essence flowing from the Dragon’s body! If he could actually see, Adam would’ve also noted its color. While the blood still was red, it seemed to have an inner glow of golden brown!
Unfortunately, these cuts were shallow. Most of the Dragon’s scales were thick and hard. Only at its joints, where it needed more flexibility, were the scales thinner. But that would put Heinrich directly next to one of its claws or right under its head! No matter how slow the Dragon was becoming, there was no way Heinrich could dodge its attack if he got that close.
Finally, the Dragon couldn’t take it anymore. The pain of its soul lashing out against its body and the pain of all the cuts along its body became too much. It lifted its head up high and breathed in deep. It was going to bellow out a roar!
With a final war cry, Heinrich appeared in front of the Dragon! With a mighty swing of his ax, he chopped at the spot where the Dragon’s neck met its body. In this spot, was not the thick and hard scute scales that covered most of its body. No, here there were interlocking scales that were thinner and more flexible. Heinrich’s ax cut deep through the scales and into the Dragon’s neck!
The Dragon suddenly choked! Heinrich pulled his ax out and quickly retreated as a torrent of blood fled the Dragon’s body! The Dragon toppled back and fell into the pool of water with a splash!
Adam watched as the Dragon weakened. He stopped playing his flute and relaxed. They had won! Adam noticed something, though. The Dragon’s soul… was calm! It was being released from the burden of its body which allowed it to finally achieve peace.
Heinrich, however, didn’t relax! He ran back while shouting: “ADAM!”
It was then that Adam finally remembered the final terror of dragons. They were difficult to fight, especially when could fly. But when they died, all the Essence in their bodies… exploded!
Even as Adam watched, he saw Death overtake the Dragon’s body. The Dragon’s hold on the Earth Essence within its body quickly deteriorated and it all came rushing out! Heinrich quickly covered Adam as the water within the pool surged out! The Earth Essence was so thick in the air, even Heinrich could see it as it exploded outward! The Dragon’s Earth Essence rammed against Heinrich’s body but he was furiously cycling his own through his body. He prevented any of the exploding Essence from touching Adam, George, or Jenn.
The cavern rumbled as the Earth Essence passed through the rock to rush up toward the surface. Then, it was gone. Adam stood breathless, but it wasn’t over yet. While the explosion was terrible in its own way, that was not the reason it was referred to as the final terror of a dragon. Heinrich picked up George and Jenn, who still couldn’t get on their feet. Slinging each over one of his shoulders, Heinrich spoke: “We need to move fast. There’s no telling how many Ghuls all that Earth Essence will create!”