This one's not gonna make any sense without some context. Sophius, as you might know, is borb's thylacine adventurer lad who was originally intended for Calelira. This originally started as a quest between me and her that never got finished. I felt bad about it enough to write this—to give it the ending I intended.
Admittedly, the quest is not my or borb's brightest moment as writers. In fact, it's kinda fucking ridiculous, and it doesn't quite line up with the story you're about to read. Characterization's a bit different, some details, all that, but hey, it was fun for a bit. If you want a bit of additional context (since I didn't fit it all into the story proper, like Hademar's regret at being a Shaleven), or you just want to read about some lads screwing around, click here.
For endless hours, Sophius stumbled along the jagged orange cave walls, kicking up soft silt and occasionally crawling atop rocks on all fours. The thylacine reasoned with himself in his head, his topsy-turvy little head, every optimistic reassurance accompanied by an equally obstinate question—we didn't set sail that long ago. The shoreline can't be that far away, can it? Unless we're not near the shoreline anymore...where did he bring us?
As cautious as he was, Hademar was more so—or maybe it was just intense concentration. His form had shifted from the strange, misshapen otter-ferret that existed only in his head to a thylacine to match Sophius. Not that he walked much like him; Hademar was more concerned about keeping the pair out of pitch darkness with a pearlescent glob of light he maintained in his front paws.
Sophius splashed through a small, chilly puddle of mineral water and jittered. "A-and you're sure there's an exit nearby?" he whimpered.
"A mile or two east of here," Hademar deadpanned.
"And where will it take us?"
"A sea cave off the coast of Mistpoint or...thereabouts."
"And—h-how do you know?"
Hademar's eyes darted, glaring, and Sophius took the hint with a whimper.
The dark is not kind to those with eyes, he once overheard a blurry while back. It could've come from anywhere; an unkind shopkeeper, or a mage having a laugh at his expense. They always had torchlight spells anyway. Still, it proved true; the more he stared, the more Sophius imagined the walls as scraped flesh, a bloody, chalky red that seemed to breathe and flex at the edges of the light. Radiant yellow sulphur deposits blurred to turquoise at the edges of the cloudy blue pools of stale cave water. The wide-open ceiling branched upwards, fading as Hademar's light failed to reach its peaks.
Sophius hesitated. "And you—live down here?"
"Yes, it's quite the home, I know."
"I-I mean, it's a fine home! Very—colourful and—exotic! Nothing bad about it at all! I'm just—unfamiliar with it, yes. A-and my clothes are still—very much soaked and that isn't helping..."
Hademar put his arm out, stopping Sophius dead in his tracks. The floor sunk below the waterline here, leaving the bottom distorted in the cloudy solution of minerals and seawater. "Go no further," he instructed.
"B-but...this is the way out! The sea cave!"
Hademar slipped a paw into the water carefully, hanging onto the rock wall for balance and testing for depth and slickness. Shalevens had no trouble maneuvering flooded caves and could breathe underwater, but furbearers on their slipping paws were naturally less inclined. With a groan, Hademar left the glob of light on the floor like a discarded flare, returned to Shaleven form, and morphed out of his wet clothes, which now lay in a heavy pile next to the flare.
Sophius watched as Hademar's serpentine form disappeared completely into the drink. The water grew still again. Though he grew a little worried as time dragged on (He's been down there awful long...), he kept still. Hademar's a water snake, they're supposed to be down there, I think. Still, his feet grew tired, and he thought instead to sit against a nearby wall and rest.
Problem was: the wall had more give than Sophius was expecting. Much more. As he put weight onto it, a large chunk of rock slid backwards behind him, causing the rest of the wall (and indeed, part of the ceiling) to shift downwards suddenly. More rock came with it; by the time Sophius thought to jump away from the hole he'd made, the ceiling looked much closer.
"Hhhhaaaaa—FLUNGEY, HELP!" Sophius cried, diving headfirst into the pool without any regard for its depth. Well, surely enough, it was deep—no bottom in sight, but then again, nothing was in sight. As muddy as the surface looked, it had nothing on the irritating sting of minerals keeping Sophius from even opening his eyes. Panicked at the subzero temperatures and failing to feel the bottom of the pool, he thrashed about, hoping one of his movements would bring him back to the surface.
Instead, the surface enveloped him. Breathable air came once more. Though he could open his stinging eyes once more, he still couldn't see much—only a bit of glow above him where Hademar's flare bled through the water. Sophius had found himself in an air bubble, one he couldn't help but awkwardly wriggle inside.
An exasperated voice boomed through the bubble. "I said—go no further."
"T-the cave! The cave was caving in! T-the cave—"
"Quiet, you—" Hademar caught his tongue, lest something profane slip. "You've likely doomed us both."
Sophius hung his head, ashamed. "...I'm sorry, Hademar."
The two sat in silence as pebbles and stones hailed from the ceiling, some breaching the water with loud, deep dunking noises. Hademar seemed unsure.
"...I will bring you to the tallest peak of the next room. You will find your own way out."
"And—what about you?"
Hademar said nothing.
The bubble began to shift through the water under Hademar's guidance. Sophius thought best to sit tight and try not to breathe as his body felt the oxygen in the bubble dwindle. Even minutes later, the crumbling had yet to cease, but something out of the corner of his eye took his mind off the walls: light blooming from the surface. Not mere flares this time—these were beams from above.
"Crystallum deposits. This part of the cave system is closer to the surface. The beaches of Mistpoint are not far."
Sophius about jumped for joy when the bubble finally broke through to the surface, and he scrambled out of the water, happy to be back on solid ground once more. Hademar surfaced next to him, peeking his head out and treading water. His demeanor had changed since the cave-in: slightly aggravated boredom became slightly antsy fear, restless and weary for something Sophius was still yet oblivious to. Despite the brave front, his beady, neon eyes gave him away.
"Climb on my back," he said quietly. "I'll fly you to the peak."
Sophius did as he was told, hoisting himself atop the dragon's back and getting himself situated. Shalevens were covered in rough, sandpaper-like scales that seemed to glitter at the edges when wet. Sophius ran his hand across them a few times; Hademar didn't even seem to notice. With a quick jolt, the two were airborne, with Hademar snaking through the air as if they'd never left the water.
Unfortunately, the weight of the water displaced so quickly excited more rock around the cave room to fall. Caught perfectly off-guard by a stalactite falling way too close for comfort, Sophius near threw himself from Hademar's back with a yelp, and the Shaleven too hesitated. Frightened and unsteady, Hademar surged ahead, doing his best to weather the storm of stones battering the both of them. From a certain angle, the cave-in was almost awe-inspiring, especially as chunks of crystallum fell with the rest of the rocks, appearing like bombs of light sinking through the air and landing with loud, hollow, distinctive clinks.
It all came to a stop very suddenly. Caught in a pinch between boulders, Hademar roared in agony and jerked forwards, bucking Sophius through the air. His head made rough contact with the ground, and before he knew what happened, he was out cold.
It would be some hours before Sophius would rise again. With a bruised hip, he tried his best to stand. He'd made it to the peak. It was a miracle the cave-in didn't cascade up to where he passed out.
Sophius leaned over the edge of the cliff on all fours, eyes scanning the darkness. Piles of rock, in chunks and in dust, littered the bottom of the chasm. Clusters of crystallum were scattered about the rubble, providing the only light that made it down that far. Surprisingly, they seemed to be mostly intact.
Nothing stirred down there.
"Hademar, please? ...Hademar?"
Not a word.
A lump grew in the thylacine's throat. Only one of them had woken up.
As he stumbled off of the peak and onto upward-sloping ground, thoughts of guilt and confusion raced through Sophius' head. He wondered why he made it out instead of Hademar—I did this, I made the walls fall in—then he wondered why Hademar had even bothered to save him in the first place—and that turned into wondering why Hademar even lived down there. Was it fear of Furbearers? Exile? Were Shalevens really that despised in Elinar? Could I have been the way he got what he wanted? A new start?
The sky had turned dim and pleasantly warm by the time Sophius emerged from the caves. To Sophius—downright bedraggled, his old sailor outfit a dirty mess, with an achy hip and a regretful mind—it was a bittersweet relief. Packing up a small satchel as he emerged on the beach was an otter a bit thinner and taller than average in an outfit not dissimilar to his own. Sophius tried to blink away any tears before he got too close, but stopped when he noticed the otter's striking, neon eyes.
"Hello!" the otter chirped as he nursed the satchel.
"O-oh, uh, hello!" Sophius called back, trying his best to seem nonchalant.
But indeed, given enough distance, the thylacine's brow grew furrowed again. The guilt had evaporated—the confusion was as strong as ever.
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