Far behind her and high above, Breanna could still hear the distant cawing of ShortThorn. The stone walls of the tunnel closed in on her and she felt her way down as the little light that seeped in from the dawn sky faded as she travelled.
Deeper she went. The downward slope edged her further and further into the dark, become steeper as she went. Her boots slipped and slid on the gravel and loose earth, kicking up dust that could taste on the musky air and made her eyes water.
She could see almost nothing now. The thick walls drowned all light, sound, and air. Everything from the world above was gone. But on she went, stumbling and clambering through the dark.
With each step, Breanna wondered when the tunnel would come to an end. When would she find herself out in the fresh air of the valley? How far down had she already travelled? It felt as though she was now deeper underground than the deepest part of the gorge had appeared when she looked down into it from high up on the hill.
But this was just her mind playing tricks. It only seemed further in the dark. The journey seemed longer when the walls squeezed in on her. When she could think of little else but the crushing weight of the earth that was already above her and how it would crush her if it suddenly decided to fall. But any moment now it would end. Any moment now she would feel the fresh air against her face and see the light up ahead.
The ceiling of the tunnel curved downward and the sides narrowed. After a few more feet, she no longer had to reach out into the dark for her way; the walls brushed against her clothes and she had to stoop to avoid her head being knocked.
Eventually, the tunnel became so low, she was forced into a crawl.
She stopped. Breathing hard.
She could go back.
Head down into the gorge another way.
But ShortThorn had been so scared. He must know the dangers. He wouldn’t send her into this tunnel if it didn’t go anywhere. What would be the point?
She might be just a few feet away from the way out. She could be within arm’s reach of Leasha and not know.
She pressed on.
The air tasted stale and dank the further on she went. Crawling was hot work and sweat trickled down her back. As she wiped her face on her sleeve she could feel the build-up of dust and mud on her clothes and hands. The ground was hard on her knees and palms, the loose dirt and gravel were not enough to cushion her weight. She tried not to think of the creatures that inhabited the dark, the insects that must be caught on her clothing or the larger beasts lurking somewhere up ahead, waiting for prey to fall into their lair.
The rock squeezed at her body and she began to feel light-headed.
As the slope became even steeper Breanna stopped, breathing heavily in the thick air.
She couldn’t do it.
It was too much.
She had to go back.
Panic began to swell within her.
The tunnel was too tight a squeeze now. She wouldn’t be able to turn around.
She would have to force herself backwards.
On the heels of her hands, Breanna struggled to crawl back. Her feet were close to useless, kicking against dirt, there was nothing to grip against.
Suddenly her hand slipped. Her chin hit the floor and in her shock she let go, sliding forward on the tilting ground.
She screamed as the tunnel tilted further, her hands flailed, slapping the rocks but unable to grip as she crashed further and further down the tunnel head first until the walls themselves pinched at her body.
Her body was wedged.
She was upside down.
Blood rushed to her head.
Her face was hot.
She was panting but her chest had no room to let her breathe. She tried to struggle, to pull herself forward or back. She dug her toes in and clawed uselessly against the rock.
She gave herself a few moments more. She tried to keep her mind calm and breathe slowly. Then she exhaled, doing all she could to shrink her body and move backwards through the tunnel.
But the tunnel was too steep and her body was wedged too tight.
Deep in the earth, far from everything and everyone she had ever known, and utterly alone; Breanna was stuck.