"Maybe this wasn't the best idea!" Vaughn shouted from his seat in Gortys' cockpit.
"Oh! You think?!" Sasha yelled back, holding tight to the console in front of her with her good arm as the whole space lurched to the side.
"How was I supposed to know using the beacon again would bring the storm back?" Vaughn retorted.
"Because that’s what happened the last two times?!" Athena near screamed from her position.
"Too late for that though, innit? Look there!" Janey called from her spot and pointed towards the ground.
"What the shit?" August breathed as all eyes fell to the center of the electric sandstorm and the two kneeling figures at its heart, the Vault door materializing behind them.
Violet bolts of lightning crackled all around them and Fiona wasn't sure how hard she was holding Rhys' shoulders. She'd lost all feeling in her fingers save for the tingling numbness lingering in them. Just in case, she tightened her grip as best she could. Or at least she tried to.
She winced as a new scream leaked through his clenched teeth; sudden violent quake overtook them, though she couldn’t tell if they were the ones shaking or the ground, but it only made her hold him tighter still. Violet light shone through his eyelids and what looked like cracks along the left side of his face, bathing the world around them in its hue.
Feeling the steadying, solid ground once again beneath her knees, she looked about at the storm around them and her eyebrows shot up, her mouth dropping open.
"Rhys! RHYS - we're here! We're back - it's okay!" she yelled over the cacophony of wind, thunder, and the company man's stifled cries. He slowly opened one of his eyes, the real one, blinking furiously through tears as he struggled to focus on her face.
Her face, bright and close, so close, enveloped in radiant light so bright it hurt to look at. Or rather, the light; the insidious light itself burned into his eyes, hurting him more than anything else. Screaming roared in his ears and in his skull and bones, vibrating, shaking, and threatening to burst. He shut his eyes again, screwing up his face as another wave of fire exploded from the base of his head and surged all over his body, making an extraordinarily hot circle around his port and in his eye.
Fiona was talking to him, saying something. But he couldn't hear her over the screaming. His own voice, lost in the dissonant chorus, sounded far away.
But she was talking. And her hands gripped his shoulders. Her hand on his left shoulder pinched the streams of the molten fires of agony that coursed all over his body, pressing it deeper into his skin there. Thousands of tiny needles tore at him in the wind, like his whole body was falling asleep; every breath tasted like acidic ash. Fiona shook him and a fresh ball of fire flared, surging down his neck.
She was talking to him and he had to open his eyes. Closing them didn't block out the light anyway but every stinging stab and jolt of electric pain drove them shut. He opened his eyes and saw her face in front of him and felt the pull at him, the sensation newly familiar, and all too unpleasant. Fiona’s smile disappeared in a flash, her eyes widening.
"No, no - not again!" she cried and he tried to shy away from the incessant tugging in every direction. "We're here!"
He opened his eyes and he saw her, smiling, the air still and clear around her, as she said "Well, it looks like we're here," quite calmly.
"Yea," Rhys said with a strangled laugh. He put his hand on his hips and looked around. "Wherever here is." Moments ago they’d been in the Vault of the Traveler with its walls soaring high above their heads. They stood in a completely different room now. No, not a room. A cavern now gaped above them, rocky facades surrounding and enclosing them. "Did you know it was going to do that?" he asked, looking to Fiona at his side.
"Nuh-uh. I'm as clueless as you are, Hyperion," she replied liltingly.
"Again, former Hyperion," he quipped, just as easily. She smiled and shrugged. He looked back behind them at the chest they’d just opened. Now it sat on a rock in the middle of an underground lake, instead of a raised dais in the Vault. "Think this is, uh, a part of the Vault?" he posited.
"Dunno. I was expecting significantly more things of the shiny variety in that box though," she said, casting her gaze about the cavern. Despite no obvious artificial light sources, the cavern walls glowed violet, illuminating the massive space and revealing otherworldly rocks, and vegetation. Rhys leaned forward, peering down into the water that surrounded them. He dipped the tip of his boot into the water and sent ripples cascading out along the surface.
"Maybe there’s some further inside?" he suggested and she shrugged again.
"Only one way to find out," she said, and brushed past him. She hopped down into the water, disappearing completely beneath the surface, save for her hat, and splashing Rhys on the way. He jumped back from the edge, making a face at his wet pants and then scowling at the floating hat. His grimace transformed slowly into a worried frown as only bubbles rose up to the surface, making the hat bob a bit.
"Fiona?" he called, "Fiona, that's not funny come on back up," he scolded and paused. He huffed a bit, his hands on his hips as he attempted to put on his most reprimanding face. "Fiona?" he called again, dropping his hands. He waited a bit longer before dropping to his knees at the edge of the rock and staring into the water. "Fiona!" he yelled, reaching into the water with sweeping strokes, his fingers grasping nothing but water.
Water exploded in his face and he launched himself backwards as Fiona breached the surface sputtering.
"That - was a lot deeper than I thought it would be," she remarked after a couple breaths. "Also awkwardly lukewarm and kinda tastes funny," she observed. Rhys gaped at her from where he sat with his back against the chest, clutching his heart.
"Please don't do that again," he said in a very small voice. She simply pursed her lips in a smirk as she paddled back over and donned her hat.
"Come on in; the water's fine," she urged. "Unless you're going to short circuit or something. Then we’re kind of out of luck here."
"No, no, I'm completely waterproof. Ish,” he replied and she regarded him expectantly. “Water can get stuck in my port and it makes really annoying sloshing... sounds? Feelings? I don't know, but it's like getting water stuck in your ear except a bazillion times worse," he explained, rambling as he scooted towards the water, not quite getting up.
"I guess dunking you is out of the question then, huh?" Fiona quipped and he glared as he swung his legs over the edge.
"Yes, no dunking, thank you," he replied and stared at her. "Stop smiling like that; it's creepy," he griped but she just arched an eyebrow. He groaned and lowered himself into the water. "Euhhhhuhuhuh," he moaned with a shudder as he let go of the rock and floated up and down in the warm water. "Why is it so warm? It's like a giant bath tub." Fiona made a vague noncommittal response and started paddling away. With an uncomfortable whine, Rhys followed her.
They were nearing the shore when one of Rhys' feet hit something other than water. He yelped and catapulted himself forward, almost completely out of the water, and ahead of Fiona, plunging back into the water. He reemerged, coughing and flailing in the water.
"Something touched my foot! SOMETHING TOUCHED MY FOOT!" he squealed, "There's something in the water!" he cried, and began paddling furiously, with a startled Fiona close behind.
"Stop - splashing - so much!" she yelled in between spitting out mouthfuls of water. But another of Rhys’ kicks hit another solid, writhing object, and he was off.
"Oh my god, there's another one! It's infested! It's-"
"Seaweed, you scaredy cat!" Fiona shouted over the ruckus, but he was already tripping over himself, climbing out of the water. It wasn't until he fell forward to his hands and knees, gasping for breath that he looked at the gentle waves lapping at his wrists, and the layers upon layers of thick, purple seaweed with solid knob-like seeds the size of his fist, that he registered what she said.
"Oh," he muttered. Fiona patted him on the head as she waded past him with laborious steps. She was already ringing out her coat when he'd gotten to his feet and finally on shore. He ran a hand through his wet hair with a frown. "Great," he sighed with a shake of his head and quickly stopped, his face tight. Noticing his sudden freeze, Fiona stopped as well, her jacket half way shrugged back on.
"What is it?" she asked, but he didn't answer immediately. Very carefully, he tilted his head to the side and gave a slight shake. Immediately he scrunched his nose and grimaced.
"Oh you've got to be kidding me! I got water in my port!" he groaned, jerking his head to the side again several times forcibly, as if trying to dislodge the water. Fiona clapped a hand over her face.
"C'mon, you weirdo, dry off as best you can and let's go," she said and finished straightening her still wet, if no longer quite dripping, clothes. She walked over a little ways towards the cavern wall.
Vegetation of all shades of purple, some vines with lavender spotted leaves climbed the walls, others with deep purple bladed leaves lined the crevice where the ground met the walls. Jagged violet crystals peaked out from behind the leaves, interspersed with the flora throughout the cavern. She leaned a bit closer to one cluster. "Is that...?"
"Eridium?" Rhys finished, coming up alongside her. "Wow, yea, that's... a lot," he said, looking around at the glowing violet veins in the walls and floors. "Do you know how much this stuff costs?! We could make so much money if we could bring this back somehow! Wow," he exclaimed, no longer seeming to notice the water dripping from his hair and suit.
"Maybe we can set up a mining operation or something; just gotta figure out a way to prop the door open," Fiona wondered, before looking back to the lake. "Assuming we can find the door again," she quantified.
"Oh, we're going to find the door. There is no way I'm getting stuck in here. Not after all we've been through," Rhys proclaimed and started walking along the path, his socks squelching slightly in his boots. "Besides, it just wouldn't be fair to never see Vaughn or Sasha or anybody else again,” he said with a pause and a glance at her out of the corner of his eye. “Not after you've given me your blessing and all," he said with a grin. Fiona rolled her eyes.
"You're never going to let me live that down are you?"
"Nnnope," he replied.
"I take it back," she announced.
"Too late; that's not how that works," he stated.
"It is, because it's my blessing to bestow upon whomsoever I choose," she retorted. The edges of her lips curled up as she sent him a sidelong glance while they walked along the rough hewn path. "And I decided a grown man who squeals like a baby at some seaweed-"
"Oh no, don't you dare - please don't tell her about that," he sputtered in a rush.
"Oh, I'm gonna tell her," she said, "though it's not like she's unfamiliar with your common acts of heroism ," she added and Rhys could only groan.
The walls became increasingly bright as they walked farther along the path, the veins of eridium growing thicker and more prevalent.
"Huh," Rhys exclaimed after rounding another corner. "Would you take a look at that?"
Fiona whistled. The veins of eridium coalesced and led to a giant chest, nestled in an alcove in the wall. A chest which appeared to be made of eridium too.
"Why would anyone make a chest out of eridium?" Rhys pondered aloud.
"Don't know. But if that's the chest, just imagine how valuable whatever is inside it must be!" Fiona said, the wonder clear in her voice. Rhys looked over to her to see her eyes practically glinting with glee, an eager smile spread across her face. She returned his stare before moving forward though. "Shall we?"
"Hold on a second, remember what happened last time we opened a strange, giant chest? Like a half hour ago? We got teleported who knows where," Rhys reminded.
"I know but come on, it's a giant glowing chest in an otherwise empty vault ! We can't just not open it," she replied, waving towards the chest. Rhys ran a hand through his hair again. It was starting to dry off and began curling oddly at the edges.
"I know, I know, let's just... let's just be careful okay. I'll try scanning it, and see if, I don't know, see if I can see any obvious tech or traps or something," he suggested and she crossed her arms.
"By all means," she said, waving him ahead. "You really think your ECHO eye will be able to read whatever it is though?"
"Doubtful,” he replied honestly. “But it's better than nothing right?" he said and she laughed. His golden eye pulsed and shone a bit brighter as he squinted, then opened his eyes wider and focused on the chest. "Let's see what we have here... scanning..." he muttered, as much for himself as for Fiona, as his ECHO eye flickered and changed modes.