Chapter Five Part 2: Hey, So Good News is: We're Not dead. Bad News is: We don't know if that's the last you'll be seeing of the goblins so you might want to like..... move
Matt's breath was heavy, and his hands were trembling involuntarily as he reached for his knees and kneeled down beside Clandestine. It wasn't a good time to rest, knowing they would have to make their way back to the surface quickly if they wanted to get proper care for their wounds, but his heart was racing. He needed to pause.
Clandestine's cheerfulness despite it all was something of a surprise. They had driven the goblins away, and hopefully the worms with them, but there were many unknowns and worrying implications concerning their interaction. It was hardly a victory, and certainly nothing to joke about. He strained a smile - completely forced, but something he hoped she would mark off as just pain because he was feeling that too. His chest was burning like hell, and it only just occurred to him that they should find some water as his head began to clear and his adrenaline had stopped pumping through his veins.
His eyes flickered to her knife wound. If they were going to have to climb out of the tunnels, he wondered if it would be better to leave the knife in her leg to avoid her bleeding out in the unfortunate event of them getting lost as they tried to find their way up.
Clandestine waved a hand in front of his face, grabbing his attention, then met his eyes.
"Hey. Hey. You okay?"
He nodded, though his attention was divided. He began scanning the campsite, looking for a waterskin, or something akin to it.
"We can just follow the way they went out. There's no way they have a tunnel leading out much farther from the farm. They had to have gone up," Clandestine said. His eyes landed on a murky bucket of water, and his lower lip quivered slightly, though he fought to keep it from doing so. He'd had bad wounds before, though never a burn this large, and even he knew not to risk pouring water of a questionable sanitation on it.
He closed his eyes for but a second, forcing himself to be composed. In that same second a flash of flame came to memory - the flame bent by Clandestine's hands - that scared the worm into freeing them. When he looked over to Clandestine he chose not to think of it, or at least, not to bring it up. He was more concerned with making it back to the surface and not getting buried underground than asking her about her magic, and it seemed she felt the same. He finally nodded at her suggestion.
"That seems th' most reasonable thing t' do," he said, looking back at where the worms and the goblins had fled. "Since we don't got many other options." He looked back at the knife in her leg, dreading the thought of pulling it out.
"I think I can walk," Clandestine said, following his gaze. "I can just-"
"Leave it," he said.
"-leave it," she repeated, half a second behind him, only to laugh awkwardly as her voice became an echo of his own.
There was a prolonged pause. Matt tried to focus on something other than the blistering burn on his chest. Clandestine seemed to be consumed in thought as well, looking visibly ashamed or embarrassed with her head down and eyes averted, though he didn't know for what reason. He was about to get to his feet when she stopped him with a question.
"Were you really gonna kill 'em? The goblins?"
Matt was silent for a moment, and he looked at her through the side of his eye. There was a regret present in her voice that he wasn't sure what to make of. "Of course not. That was a bluff. I was greatly outnumbered."
Clandestine nodded slowly. "Mm," she hummed quietly.
"Why?" he asked, prying more because Matt would. "You're a monster hunter ain't you?"
There was another awkward pause, but Matt waited patiently for her answer. "I mean, yeah," she mumbled as if more to herself. "But those guys weren't really like monsters..."
Matt kept his expression straight. "I know."
The two sat for a few seconds longer in what was likely uncomfortable silence, at least for Clandestine. Matt, personally, didn't mind it, though he did start to finally get to his feet in impatience with a grunt. Clandestine sounded like she was still trying to catch her breath, despite having remained on the ground for most of the fight. He assumed whatever amount of magic she used had to have drained her considerably. She laughed, though it was awkward and choppy.
"Wow... air's thin down here," she commented. He just blinked and offered her a hand.
"Lean on me," he instructed as he pulled her up with a pained expression. He looked away.
"But your burn-" she began.
"Other side," he said as he tucked his lizard-injured arm under her shoulders to prop her up on the side of him farthest from the burn. He wasn't keen on anything chafing against it either.
Matt slowly made the first steps forward, letting her determine the pace based on how quickly she could move her legs. They were both mutually uncomfortable and tense as they moved forward towards the large tunnel, but it was their only option.
They couldn't stay down there forever.
If Matt had been counting the passing minutes - and he was - then roughly fifteen minutes passed of hobbling in dim-lit dirty darkness before they saw sunlight peeking into the tunnel up ahead of them. Clandestine's hunch had been right. Somewhere along the way, the large tunnel intersected back with the one they'd entered in, but it had to have been a newly dug tunnel, which meant that the goblins intentionally had the queen worm carve it out, or it happened by chance. Matt was too blinded by burning pain and his single focus to keep Clandestine steady as he took one step after another to favor either. He was only happy they had a way out that didn't require getting on their hands and knees because he didn't know if he could handle more crawling. Or if she could, for that matter.
As soon as their heads began to poke out into the midday sun, they heard relieved shouts not far off. Laura and Kaleb began rushing over, both looking wide-eyed and panicked as their old frames hurried at the extent of their capacity to meet the two before they got far from their entrance point.
Laura looked relieved at first, but as they got closer, her expression shifted to worry, and then the hardened look of a nurse who saw urgency and timestamps on their wounds. Kaleb however, skipped the last phase. He hurried up to the two of them, quickly tucking his arm around Clandestine and taking her from Matt. Matt's shoulders then sagged considerably, no longer bearing the weight. Laura met him with a hand on his arm as she got a look at his burn.
"Oh dear, we need to get you both inside," she whispered.
"I didn't know if ya'll was gonna make it out alive!" Kaleb exclaimed, considerably louder, his concern palpable as he began to lead Clandestine towards the house. "When we saw them goblins comin' up outta the ground riding worms of all things I thought oh gods, I couldn't imagine-"
"We're so glad you're alive," Laura interjected, leading Matt by the hand. Matt didn't pull away.
"So glad!" Kaleb echoed.
Clandestine laughed weakly, though her face was in a grimace. "Well, we're alive! Yeah! And I've had worse days. Brushes with death are normal in my field anyway."
"I just never thought it was this serious!" Kaleb said, shaking his head. "I ain't never seen goblins and worms doin' whatever that was. They ridin' worms now like horses?"
Clandestine laughed again. "I honestly wouldn't be surprised if they did that often," she said, smiling again as she craned her head forward to try and get a look at Matt. Matt noticed, but avoided eye contact, and continued to do so for the minute's walk it was back to the house. As they made it inside, Kaleb and Laura turned to each other, exchanging wordless glances of communication.
"I'll go with Clandestine," Laura announced. "Kaleb gets queasy around lots of blood," she said looking down at Clandestine's leg. "Help me get her to the bed though, will you? And you remember burn treatment, right honey?"
"Same as like what happened with Ben, right?" Kaleb asked.
"Yes," she nodded, following Kaleb as he led Clandestine past the stairs, down a hall and into a bedroom, letting her sit. Matt followed idly behind, staying in the hall. He heard Laura and Kaleb mutter a few more hurried words about bite wounds before Kaleb hurried out, looking at Matt.
"Okay bud, let's get you tended to," he said hurriedly, heading into the bedroom the next door over. Matt followed behind and plopped down on the bed. Kaleb rushed out of the room, presumably to grab something.
"I'll be back in a second," Kaleb assured him.
Matt nodded, gaze falling down to his chest and his arms as Kaleb left the room. His hands went to unbutton his shirt, but his stomach felt uneasy, and his hands were trembling again. His upper lip flinched in frustration at himself and he closed his hands into fists for a second before trying again, button by button.
He tried to focus on the details of the room: the soft cotton sheets beneath him, likely to get drops of blood on them; the sun-bleached yellow walls with shadows of where pictures once hung; the wood flooring with color faded in the main walkways. He stared at his bare chest as he pulled his sleeves off his shoulders. His skin began to squirm against the open air and one of the small blisters on his chest popped without any provocation. He winced, looking down at the small bites that now littered his abdomen just under the burn. But then the open air hit his back, and Kaleb entered the room once again. Though momentarily once engrossed in the status of his current wounds, Kaleb's presence only reminded him of the many scars that littered his wiry frame; scars that didn't logically belong to someone who'd only presumably been a cowboy living in the desert all his life - namely the three long streaks that striped his back.
Matt met Kaleb's eyes with an unreadable blank expression, one he'd learned to set in stone early on. As Kaleb approached he knew the old man already saw it all, and on Kaleb’s face was a look he knew that said:
How did you get those? I thought you were a cowboy, not a monster hunter like Clandestine.
Matt didn't give an answer.
Kaleb sat next to him on the bed, having arrived with a basket of medical supplies.
"Well... you're hardier'n you look," Kaleb said as he pulled out a jar of something Matt couldn't identify.
Matt forced a smile and chuckled. If he could pretend to be amused and appear lighthearted about it, he would hopefully be free of suspicion.
"That's what they all tell me."