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No Longer Lost (Probably)

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"So, what's your excuse this time?" the bounty hunter Dela Delon asked, elegant hands in long purple silk gloves on broad, swaying hips. She holds herself more confidently now, noted Ares. The way she returned one hand immediately within reach of her staff in the merest extension of her posture, a gesture of almost serpentine deadly grace, a brief magical charge to wreath her staff in flames barely causing her to break a sweat. She glanced around briefly to make sure there were still no monsters wandering too close to their brief resting place. She casually swiped another healing and magical replenishment potion from Ares' backpack, then squatted down on the side of an old dried-up well, giving Ares a rather good view of her cleavage beneath the (admittedly high grade spellweave and enchanted with several magical shields almost as tough as his armour) clothes she barely wore. For an alleged rival hunting him down like a dog, she seemed to like doing this to him - although he had heard rumours that this was how she acted around everyone.

They'd pooled their supplies at her suggestion - while this was probably because she was all out of healing supplies, it was also true that she'd picked up a few artifacts he'd never seen before. Her education in arcane devices allowing her to find genuine useful magic combined with her... less conventional route around the labyrinth (also known as, falling down every pit trap and triggering every secret door by accident, to the extent that Ares had no idea how she'd avoided killing herself until now, when she also couldn't budget conventional adventuring equipment for shit) to lead her to some unexpected finds. Truth be told, she was getting better at the whole 'not bringing the whole place down on their head' thing as well. Considering she wasn't actually a career adventurer, she was a magical student turned bounty hunter (who hadn't even wanted to leave the academy but had felt forced to by actions that Ares, while he'd never meant it to turn out like this, had been responsible for) she was learning remarkably fast. Maybe it was the added incentive of occasionally being set on fire whenever she did it wrong. Maybe she really cared about defeating the evil in this place that she'd now witnessed firsthand, or at least cared about getting Ares out of this place alive so she could have him for herself, with the intention of doing much worse things to him.

Or so she used to tell him, although she'd mostly given up these childish rants. The actual fury and grief and helplessness, the trauma of her seeing her beloved mentor assassinated before her eyes and not being a skilled enough mage yet to do anything about it, the scenes that had been burned into her eyes and would never go away... the things she hid behind the game of pretending it was Ares' fault... they were coming to the surface now, adding an even sharper-edged ferocity to her spellcasting when something really did threaten her.

"If this is about... you know... I'm sorry, but there isn't anything new I can add," Ares repeated for what felt like the hundredth time, "He'd been involved in some dodgy stuff behind the scenes, some dark magic he certainly wasn't teaching his students, especially ones he probably genuinely liked. I can't lie to you about it. It wouldn't be fair, not when there's other, worse mages out there who are just as charismatic..."

"Oh, shut up," she snapped, hissing between unnervingly white teeth. She's not above using magical glamour to enhance her own charms, realised Ares. There wasn't exactly anyone else around, so he assumed it was aimed at himself or just for her own sake, to boost her self-confidence, "Anyway, it doesn't explain why you were looting this place when I found you last! It's a national treasure! What happened to the magical seals, the guards, the 'no entry' signs?"

"And I already told you the place had already been breached when I got here! I'd been hired by locals to find out what was going on! Can't you see the link between that and the evil things we've encountered up to now?"

"Oh, yes, like you TURNING PSYCHO and randomly trying to kill me!"

"How many times now have you tried to kill me? No, never mind," he sighed and ruffled his shock of spiked brown hair, "That wasn't even me. If it was, how could I have come back through that door afterwards? Something can make dark clones of us. We kind of have a lot more to worry about than old grudges right now. Can we at least wait until we escape from here to settle this?"

"Okay, so, um, did you find the secret door you were looking for?"

He shook his head, "I mean, there has to be something. There's always something. Look, how the hell did you even manage to drop us down here? There wasn't even a crumbling floor trap!"

"I... ahem... got a little overenthusiastic with a lightning spell. There was a scorpion on the floor. I hate scorpions. Don't you hate scorpions? Look, I'll help you with that!"

"What? NO!" he yelled, throwing himself back just in time as a pickaxe was hurtled with enough telekinetic force to fell a dragon, right at the opposite wall. He heard an ominous rumbling from the walls and ceiling in every direction.

"Look, there really was another corridor behind it!" she smirked her satisfaction.

"Yes, and the whole place is about to collapse on us!" he screamed, unfurling the map, "Shield us with your magic! I'll find where we are and get us in the direction of the stairs back up!"

"Oh, we shouldn't be far away from the next floor by now. Give me a look, I can read a map..."

Cradling the map and yelling a few choice expletives, he turned his back on her and ran.