After a long pair of days of running from mobs, priests, and supposed ancient evils, it was only fair to be exhausted. That Cato hadn’t slept on their short float across the ocean did nothing to help. And despite what Pel continued to insist, he refused to call that part of the journey anything more than a well aimed drift. The others were equally exhausted, which made sense as only Kyros had slept and he seemed to have the ability to be tired the moment someone else mentioned it.

However, they were out in the open with no shelter of any kind nearby. Just the waist high, thin blades of grass around them, the cliffs to their right with the ocean below, and the giant magical barrier covering the entrance to the cave that was probably filled with more horrors wishing them death. Truthfully, it was that last bit that made any kind of sleep dangerous.

Due to these obvious complications, a simple plan was devised: sleep in shifts. Pel and Kyros had taken the first shift, watching the magically blocked entrance to the cave below them while Cato and Anica attempted to get some sleep. The ground was at least soft enough to not cause any problems, and after a few hours the pairs switched places.

Cato doubted that his brother and Pel had spoken much during their shift. Partially due to the fact that Kyros had been oddly silent since they’d discovered the barrier around the cave meant to hide more horrible secrets, and partially because Pel seemed to prefer attempting to glare holes in skulls rather than speak. But he and Anica had quickly begun to speculate and plan. This had actually begun with Anica thinking out loud, but Cato felt awkward and couldn’t help but chime in here and there.

And so, by the time Kyros and Pel awoke, just as the sun was beginning its slow descent beneath the horizon, Cato and Anica had come up with what they considered a very acceptable way to get through the barrier below.

Kyros had immediately disagreed with the very premise, and Cato truly couldn’t blame him. His own sentiments were much the same, but that screaming voice known as sanity had been silenced at least a day before. Ignoring that little voice made it a great deal easier to accept the basis of Anica’s plan, which essentially involved walking into a place that would likely mean death. If they were lucky. On the positive side, they had been fairly lucky so far.

Now, they waited. The four of them stood in the shadows of the cliff, not far from the high, red dome of magic. They had climbed down carefully, and with constant assurance from Pel that she could sense no magic operating nearby beyond the barrier, itself. This had not calmed the fears that they were being watched, but arguing whether a magical wall could see or not was low on their priority list, which was instead topped by the desire to not fall to one’s death. And since making it safely to the small, lightly sanded beach below, they had all remained silent.

It was best not to tempt fate. There were going to be far more than enough chances for them to do that later. So they continued to wait.

An hour passed.

Nothing changed, save for the descent of the sun beneath the horizon.

It neared another hour before something finally happened.

The magical barrier began to shimmer. The four of them eyed it carefully as the shimmer became a ripple. The movement began to centralize at one point near the ground, and soon the solid red dissipated into an opening that was twice the height of an average man and barely wide enough for said man to pass through.

Now, the four tensed. Cato gripped his sword, but held back the urge to draw it for fear it would make a sound.

A crimson-robed figure stepped out of the opening. The robe was heavy and covered every inch of the wearer’s skin, with a thick hood draped over its head. All that Cato could be sure of was that whatever was inside of the robe, it was not one of the creatures. They were far taller than this figure. So far, things were going well.

Upon exiting the opening in the barrier, through which Cato could only see a hint of distant light, the figure looked around the beach. For the briefest of moments, Cato was sure that they had been discovered. The covered head of the figure aimed directly at them, yet soon turned away. Instead, it shifted to the small object resting in the sand in front of the barrier.

The figure took another few steps forward and knelt down in front of the massive tome resting there. Surely, whoever was inside of the robes would wonder why the book was there. It would feel like a trap. As would the spell that Pel had placed on it, projecting a magical call that the book was there and wished to be returned to its rightful owner.

Pel looked over to where Anica stood on her left. The young woman gave a simple nod to acknowledge the glance. That was the signal for step two, which would be much, much easier with only one figure. They’d expected at least a half dozen to inspect such an obvious trap.

In what seemed to Cato to be a simple motion, Pel reached out towards the robed figure, closed her fist forcefully, and pulled her arm back in swiftly. The figure made only a brief sound before the invisible hand yanked it back to them as if it had fallen from a great height.

Kyros was the closest to where the robed figure flew, and easily caught the incoming body without needing much help from Pel to slow it down. He gave a quick glance inside the hood, made a face of disgust, then slammed the figure’s head into the rock wall behind them.

The body slumped down and they all quickly gathered around it. Due to the impact, the hood had fallen off of the figure’s head and Cato could see why his brother had made such a face. This had been a man, once. His hair was now patchy and thin in a way that hinted at some sickness. But not nearly as much as the lack of flesh covering his jaw.

“Undead?” Anica spoke softly, and it seemed an unnecessary question to Cato. Rarely had he seen living creatures able to walk around missing large portions of skin and muscle.

But Pel shook her head, “Not exactly. His heart beats. There is something else at work here.”

Cato continued to stare at the bones of the jaw of this figure, “We’re wasting time.”

“And we only have one robe,” Kyros grumbled, his eyes turned as he watched the opening in the barrier. Good. One of them needed to make sure nothing else came through and that it remained open.

“I can duplicate it,” Pel spoke as she began to tug the thick robe off of the man, “It will not take long.”

Kyros didn’t bother to look back as she began to work, “Right. Good. You’re sure I can’t stay out here and guard the entrance?”

“We stay together,” Anica’s voice was firm, but then she surprised Cato by putting a reassuring hand on his brother’s shoulder, “We are safer that way.”

“And stronger,” Cato commented, doing his best to keep his brother calm. He had to admit, yet again, that Anica continued to prove herself to be a much more capable leader than he had given her credit for.

Kyros only nodded, eyes still locked on the opening. It wasn’t long before Pel was handing them all magical duplicates of the original robe. Now they had disguises and the door was wide open.

So far, so good.