Tongues of flames came from every part of the Salamander. Each one looked like the jet produced by a torch: bright, and white, and most of all hot. They quickly heated the air around the beast until it luminesced enough that it rendered the monster in the end of the corridor just a vague shadow under its own glowing sheath of flame.
Everyone in the corridor had retreated when the Salamander had first appeared, and they retreated further when the flames lit. Mostly that was the reasonable response to a magical monster igniting just a dozen feet away. However, the thing was also hot. Even at that distance its flames were enough to make them uncomfortable.
Heat like that effectively blocked the corridor. The walls of the tunnel were only 3 to 6 feet apart, and the Salamander stood in a narrow portion. Even at a dead run, any normal person trying to pass it would have been badly, perhaps fatally, burned before they managed to pass the creature. Jessie thought she still might be able to get behind it. She was faster than the others, and instead of passing beside the Salamander she could jump over it. She also had healing magic if things went wrong; though that assumed she could switch to it and it could counter the damage fast enough to do any good.
Fortunately, Jessie wasn’t forced to make any immediate leaps over fiery death. The salamander looked at them all for a long moment, and then settled into a resting position on the floor of the tunnel.
“Hey,” Kyle called, “can you talk?”
The salamander looked toward him in an almost dog-like way, but didn’t answer. The children looked toward him with puzzled expressions on their faces.
He shrugged slightly offended, “Well not every magical monster is stupid you know. I’ve had problems from assuming that in the past, and this one isn’t attacking.”
Alison sighed, “I believe it’s probably waiting for us to display our ‘talisman of passage’. A couple of the records that mentioned the guardian also mentioned a talisman.”
“Which you didn’t mention,” Lynn muttered.
Alison continued as though she hadn’t heard him. “There weren’t any descriptions of it, though. That’s one of the reasons we assumed the guardian was just a statue or something. Ordinarily something as important as a real magic talisman would be described.”
Jessie was only half listening. The tunnel was growing steadily hotter at a rate that made it seemed likely that the salamander would be able to cook them all without shifting an inch from where it rested. If she got past the creature, then at least they could flank it. However, She thought jumping directly over the Salamander might not be her best bet.
The jump itself wouldn’t be bad, not if they were in an open field, but in the tight confines of the tunnel she’d have to use a very flat arc and that would make it a lot harder. Worse, the tunnel wasn’t that tall, so her feet would practically brush the creature unless she tucked them up under her. Even with her enhanced strength and agility it wasn’t going to be easy.
However, if she got up a good running start then she could probably run up the wall, bound off that rock there, stretch her body out superman style, and then worry about landing once she was clear of the flames. She reached up and shrugged her backpack loose. If she did this right, she’d be as close as possible to the ceiling and she wouldn’t want it snagging. The weight of the water also wouldn’t do her any good.
“Guys,” Jessie said, trying to pitch her voice in a way that a giant flaming lizard wouldn’t find threatening, “I’ve got water. The backpack is full of it. Do you think we could use that to drive the creature off?”
There were a lot of blank looks from the assembled magi. Finally Alison answered, “Maybe. Probably, even. In the classic Greek elements fire and water are opposed, and an elemental is a pure representation of an element so it stands to reason that it wouldn’t like water.”
Jessie would have liked a more solid ‘yes’ than that, but she supposed beggars couldn’t be choosers. “Let me rephrase the question: Do you have any better ideas or should I chuck a bottle of Evian at it?”
No one spoke up, so she pulled off the backpack, set it on the ground, and pulled out a water bottle. She tossed it up and down a couple of times giving anyone who wanted to object time to speak. No one did, and the tunnel was getting hotter. Jessie was wanting to take a step back and Kyle’s forehead had already beaded with sweat.
She threw the water. It was a nice shot. The bottle arched smoothly through the air and hit the Salamander right between the eyes. Or, at least, it probably would have hit it between the eyes had the bottle not popped with a loud bang, and the water dissolved into a cloud of steam before it hit the beast.
“OK, that was underwhelming,” Kyle said.
Jessie growled a little pissed off the shot hadn’t had any effect. She reached down and snatched up four bottles tucking them under her left arm, then machine gunned them at the creature hurling them in as rapid a succession as she could manage. The first two boiled in the air and broke with the same loud explosions, but that cooled the area in front of the salamander enough for the second two to hit it. They melted on contact, of course, and the water sprayed out onto the salamander as both bottles made high pitched wheezing whistles.
That was enough to anger the creature. It stood and threw open its mouth, and hissed at them its angry voice as loud as a train stopping in the enclosed tunnel. With its mouth open, it looked way less friendly. Its teeth were those of some creature from the deep sea: jagged dagger like points that seemed less designed to eat food and more to kill prey. It had a lot of them.
Jessie wasted a moment staring into the thing’s maw. Fortunately, Bob kept moving. He swooped in and scooped up several bottles then threw them at the thing even faster than Jessie had. They hit, broke, and sprayed the creature with water. It stood and retreated a few feet, then braced itself and gave another hiss. It seemed more angered than hurt.
“Yeah,” Jessie heard Lynn mumble, “that would have been too easy.”
“Try rocks!” Jessie couldn’t even tell who yelled, but it seemed like a pretty good idea. The only problem with it, she found as she looked around on the cave floor, was there weren’t any rocks. There were small pebbles, but nothing bigger than a marble.
“There aren’t any rocks,” she said.
“How are there no rocks? We’re in a cave!”
The cave was still getting hotter. They were all sweating now, and the air wasn’t catching in Jessie’s lungs correctly. It felt like the oxygen had been sucked out somehow and each breath just stole moisture from her. At the end of the hall, the salamander took another step forward so she whipped another bottle of water at it. It stopped, but just that tiny bit of movement seemed to have made the air hotter.
Bob had summoned his magic. Or, perhaps for him like for Jessie, it never went all the way away. He made a gesture with his hands like he was reeling something up, or gathering something in, and black smoke twisted and formed around his hands. When it had thickened enough that the tunnel wall couldn’t be seen through it he gestured outward and it rolled down the tunnel in a thick wash to hit the Salamander full on.
The darkness was enough to hide the light of the flames and for a moment it seemed like whatever the magic was it was having some effect. Then it cleared and that was proven false. The salamander stood in just the same place it had before, apparently unharmed. It shook its head just a bit, so maybe Bob had managed to make it uncomfortable or maybe he’d just confused it.
“Whatever that thing is, I don’t think it has any blood,” Bob said
Fern stepped forward. Her eyes were glowing very weakly so apparently she’d managed to get a bit of magic together. She had a bunch of the tunnel’s pebbles in her left hand and one in her right. She held the right hand out, about chest height with her palm open, facing up, and pointed at the salamander. There was a pebble in the center of it. She did something, or said something, Jessie didn’t really see what and the pebble vanished from her hand with a small cracking sound.
The salamander hissed again, only this time the sound came out high and piping. There was more pain in it than threat. Jessie squinted past the light of its flames, and she could see a place where a gouge had been torn out of it. Bob was right. There wasn’t any blood. More flame leaked from the hole as though that was what it was using instead. It backed up a foot or two.
“That worked,” Jessie said, but she wasn’t sure Fern had enough magic for a second shot. The other woman was swaying slightly on her feet and the glow of her eyes was dim to the point of nonexistence. She shut her eyes, clenched her teeth, and triggered the spell again. Another rock flew out, and cut a second gash into the creature. It howled again, and backed off another step. Then Lynn had to catch Fern.
Kyle had been behind Jessie in the tunnel. After Lynn pulled Fern back he brushed forward past her with a glowing ball of light suspended above his hand. As soon as he had a clear shot, he blasted that out towards the creature. It entered the beast, and presumably Kyle filled it with power, but nothing obvious happened. Maybe the Salamander’s flames grew brighter briefly.
“I can’t hurt it with heat!” He said.
Jessie shook her head, “You think?”
“Just because it has a hotter healthy equilibrium than a human doesn’t mean it can absorb an arbitrarily high amount of thermal energy without suffering!”
“Except it did!”
“Maybe a little!”
By mutual silent agreement, everyone fell a few steps further back down the tunnel. The salamander seemed content not to follow, but the tunnel was still getting hotter. The rock walls were now uncomfortable to touch and sweat was running off of everyone. “Does anyone have any other magic,” Alison asked the group.
No one spoke up. Jessie looked around for Fern hoping that she might be able to teach someone the spell she’d been doing with the pebbles even if she couldn’t sustain the magic for it any longer. She and Lynn weren’t anywhere in site so Jessie assumed Lynn had helped her around the bend to where they’d all entered. It would be the coolest part of the tunnel, but it wouldn’t be safe.
“Nothing,” Alison asked incredulously.
“Nothing I’m really eager to try, no,” Kyle snapped back. “If we don’t have any better ideas, I’ve got a couple of special effect spells or some corporate magic that I could toss and hope we get lucky. You don’t have anything?”
“I’ve got sap from Pando, but I doubt that’ll do any good.”
The entire time the magi had been discussing things Jessie had been looking around the cave for something she might use as a weapon. It was an unfortunately empty cave. Thus far her total supply of materials came to: water bottles, granola bars, gravel, rock walls, a magical door, and some stalactites. Wait, the stalactites!
Jessie had noticed them when she’d come in, but not really thought anything much about them. They were clustered behind the group near the wall where the tunnel bent just after the door. The biggest was about as long as Jessie’s forearm, and while no one would mistake it for sharp it had a sort of pointy end. Certainly it wasn’t the sort of thing a big lizard would want in their eye. She thought she could probably break it off.
Jessie realized her combat magic was starting to get into her head when she found herself halfway down the passage and leaping for the stalactite before she’d even fully formulated the plan to go for it. Of course, by the time she’d worked her way through that thought she was in the air, and couldn’t have stopped even if she wanted to. She caught the stalactite with one hand and the little piece of stone had enough strength to it to almost stop her when she threw her weight against it. That was good, it meant it was stronger than she would have guessed. However, it cracked off with a fairly loud snapping sound before she had time to worry that there’d be a problem getting it loose.
The other members of their little spelunking expedition had, of course, stopped to look by that time. The expressions they were wearing suggested they didn’t entirely grasp the point of her gymnastics. “I can use it as a weapon,” she explained.
Bob asked, “What about the heat?”
At almost the exact same time Alison said, “What if it attacks?”
Kyle was rubbing his chin though. “I still have my shield. We could hide behind that and poke it in the eye or something. If we drench ourselves with this water first it might work. You said there’s a map room up ahead, right? If we get to that, but the guardian hadn’t let us pass, do you still think we can open the door?”
“Yes, I don’t think the guardian and the map are linked, so it should be fine.”
They’d all been looking at each other so the voice that came from the back of the tunnel was a surprise. “That’s good, that’s really awesome, because you didn’t know about the guardian in the first place so I really trust your judgement on how this will play out.” Lynn walked around the corner and shot an angry glare at Alison.
Alison responded calmly, “How’s Fern?”
“Bad. She overextended herself more than I’ve ever seen before. She feels like her head’s going to crack in half and she’s so exhausted she can barely stand upright.”
Bob voiced what they were all thinking, “Did you ask her how she was triggering the rock spell?”
Lynn rounded angrily. “Yeah dude, I thought I’d push her just a little more.” Then he sighed and seemed to crumple a little, “I can try, but I don’t think it’ll do any good. She’s only half here. I don’t know if it’s the heat, or the magic, or the stress, or all three but she’s in and out, not really getting everything I’m saying.”
“Do you have any combat magic,” Alison asked.
Lynn shook his head. Jessie wanted to punch them all. What the hell kind of magical radical group were these guys? When they set about overthrowing the archmagi were they just planning to shoot everyone who stood in their way? Actually, that was probably the case. Which both lacked style and stranded them in their current predicament. “I could maybe meditate and find something. I don’t know how long we’ve got, but it can’t be that hard to come up with a spell that incapacitates salamanders. Couple of hours, max.”
“Yeah, start on that,” Jessie said, then she nudged Kyle, “Ready to poke a lizard in the eye?”