The Deep World
Breanna made her way carefully down a path which she hoped would bring her deeper into the strange nest-like village. It twisted and turned this way and that and the dust made it easy to slide out of control. The only light came from the central cavern and the fires and forges burning within, which cast unusual shadows and made it hard for her to see, even without a masked helmet.
She came to a sheer drop, it was only a few feet but she knew that once she dropped down, it would be close to impossible for her to clamber back up again without help.
She glanced back the way she had come, wondering if she had missed a tunnel or a different entrance. But she knew she hadn’t.
She took a deep breath and clambered down dropping heavily onto the path below her and hoped the sound wasn’t loud enough to draw attention. She was getting close enough to the creatures to be seen and just hoped that the mask and her armour would protect her from notice.
Most of the DeepWorlders wore rags and furs, some of them bore Iskia feathers on their tunics and belts like trophies and one or two, who did not dirty their hands with working at the forge, wore finer clothes with gold and bronze clasps and buckles.
Although many of the creatures were shorter than her, she knew they would likely still pose a threat and she certainly wouldn’t be able to fight off more than one. Standing still for a moment, hoping any attention she had drawn upon herself in the semi-light would fade, she began to make her way along the path than ran around the edge of the large cavern.
Tunnel after tunnel worked its way from the central cavern.
It would take her hours if not months to find her way through and all the time Leasha and Mim would be suffering, not to mention the poor Iskia.
She heard a shout.
Suddenly one creature, a guard in similar armour to her was upon her. His voice was angry. He barked at her but she didn’t recognise the words.
She gripped her brother’s axe and glanced around wondering how many of the creatures she would alert if she put up a fight.
The DeepWorlder grabbed her shoulder; she was shocked, and she stared up at his giant yellow eyes under the rim of his bronze helmet. Suddenly she hoped he could not see hers.
He pointed down a tunnel and barked at her once again, pushing her toward it.
She hesitated. Was he letting her go?
Confused, she took a few steps toward it then turned, expecting him to follow but he merely shook his hand at her and turned away.
She almost laughed.
It had worked.
He had taken her for another guard. Shabbily dressed and taller than most, she had been given harsh orders rather than captured.
Filled with a well of relief, Breanna hurried down the tunnel and peered around a corner, hoping she was finally alone. As exhilarating as it had been to get away, she didn’t want to have to repeat the exercise.
Before her, there were several more open tunnels, from each of them she could hear the distinct ringing and hammering of working Iskia, but straight ahead was a wooden door.
It would be as good a place as any to hide for a while. With a glance around to make sure she was alone, she heaved it open and she peered inside. Perhaps she could wait it out until the place was quiet and continue her search while everyone was asleep. If they slept.
The room was crammed full of crates and barrels. Perhaps if she didn’t hide, she could still find some supplies.
She sealed the door behind her, the blazing light of the forges was dimmer here, but it still seeped through the cracks in the walls just enough for her to find her way around
As quietly as she could she levered open the first crate with the axe. She sighed, there was no food. It was blankets and furs.
Flour filled the next crate. She was hopeful.
The third was full of weapons.
She was about to close it and move on to the next one when she realised these weapons were not like the swords she had seen in the armoury.
She recognised one of them.
It was Leasha’s bow.
He hands wavering in excitement; she reached out to touch it, it almost felt as though she was back with her Elf Maiden, if only for a moment.
But her elation quickly turned to anxiety. If her bow was here, then where was she? Was she dead? Was she lying somewhere in the deepest part of the tunnels, alone, hungry, and defenceless?
Hurriedly, Breanna rifled around looking for the quiver of arrows and found there were still three remaining; it was precious little in a fight.
Alongside the quiver, buried deep amongst spears and axe heads, was Mim’s staff. It thrummed slightly as her hand brushed against it.
Mim was powerless without her staff.
Breanna grabbed them both, vowing to return them to their owners. Knowing, believing, hoping they were still alive.
She clasped them to her chest and closed her eyes, fighting to stop the tears that threatened her eyes.
The door behind her opened.
Breanna spun around as two guards entered.
The three of them stared at one another for a long moment, then suddenly the two intruders charged at Breanna.
She didn’t have time to react.
But the staff did.
In an instant, a blast of lightning threw them both back against the far wall with a cry.
Now she could hear others. There were voices, curious then angry. Hurried feet heading in her direction. Any second they would be upon her.
Without another thought, Breanna leapt over the bodies, hoping they were still alive and darted from the room. She glanced both ways along the stone corridor. Darting shadows and raised voices told her which way the guards were coming from, and she headed off in the opposite direction. Still clutching the staff and bow.
She didn’t dare look behind her as she ran. Turning this way and that running deeper into the maze of tunnels. She could hear the commotion behind her, and from other tunnels as she ran past them. All she could do was move further and further away from it hoping against hope that no one would find her.
Her masked helmet half-blinded her, and more than once she tripped on falling rocks and debris, but she didn’t dare take it off.
She darted around a corner; it was pitch black, she was concealed in shadow. Breathing heavily, tired, thirsty, terrified and alone Breanna sunk to the ground.
She didn’t know if they would find her here. But she did know that she was now so lost that even if she could have clambered back up to her tunnel entrance, she would never be able to find her way back there.
It was hopeless.
She was out of food, out of water, and although she carried the weapons of her brother and her friends, she had no skill at using any of them.
She thought of Cassian and Koax and wondered how they fared. She thought of Mim and how she would never manage without her staff, and how far away she would be hidden in the endless maze.
Then she thought of Leasha. Her heart ached. Her whole body ached for her. Above all others, she longed to be alongside Leasha. Just for another moment just to be together. Even if it was only for a few hours, even if it was for the last few hours that she had, she wished that she could spend them alongside her.
The staff suddenly thrummed in her hand.
The shock of it made her throw it aside. She breathed in cold gasps and looked around. No one was coming. Everything was silent. The commotion had long fallen behind her. What had she summoned? A fire? Lightning?
She was alone in a quiet black corner and could barely feel the magic of the staff.
She clutched the bow and quiver in one hand and in the other she felt out for the staff. As she grabbed it, it thrummed again, shining golden in the dark. The warm vibration pulsed along her arm and she dropped it in surprise making it clatter to the stone floor.
Readying herself, feeling a fool for being afraid of magic when she was supposed to be a Wizard’s apprentice, she reached and took the staff in her hand.
It thrummed again but she was ready for it this time. The energy ran up her arm and she could feel her hairs standing on end; the staff felt alive and she was forced to grip it tightly to avoid dropping it.
She could feel it getting strong and somehow knew the magic was growing within it, then as suddenly as it had started, it stopped.
The staff was still but the air tingled with magic.
She sighed. Wondering what it had meant.
But just as she believed it was over, the faintest glimmer of gold thread emerged.
It seemed to dance upon the air just bright enough for her to see it. It wound its way along a path, leading back the way she had travelled.
Some part of her gut she knew she had to follow it.
Was she a fool?
Was she mad to go back out and face the creatures that had chased her down and would be sure to be even more on their guard now they knew someone was in their midst?
But she could follow the thread or stay hidden forever in the dark until she starved to death and that was only if she didn’t get discovered first.
She pulled herself back to her feet and edged forward.
Like a cord, the soft gold light stretched out before her. It never went too far ahead, only enough for her to see the direction she ought to go. More than once as she passed close to the light of a torch she lost the thread, but each time she found it again and headed on and on through the narrow tunnels leading her ever further into the hillside away from the heat of the furnaces.
She passed tunnels that went further down either side of her, and she passed little rushlights and oil lamps that lit the way but barely emitted enough light to reach the floor.
Suddenly, the cord of golden light veered off down a side tunnel. She paused, double-checking the route before heading off on the new path.
Then came face-to-face with a guard.