Breanna, out of breath, with panic and excitement welling within her, ran along the tunnels.
If she had found Mim and Leasha, freed them both against all odds then surely the rest would be easy. Surely she could set free the iskia, and keep her promise to the strange little ShortThorn.
The tunnels all looked the same. Winding around and around, occasionally lit by a rushlight, but stifling and dark, leading up and down and back on herself.
The crawling sense of panic came back to her. What if there was no way out? What if she had come down here, found and freed the others, only to die lost in these tunnels, never seeing light again.
She stopped, turning to Leasha, whose pale face asked a thousand questions without saying a word. Mim was tried as well, hurrying up to them her face drawn.
“Do you know the way?”
Breanna wanted to reassure her, reassure them both. She glanced at the staff, could it help them again, lead her to daylight the way it had led her to Leasha? She wasn’t sure how she had made it work, so she had no idea how to make it work again.
But an irritating tapping caught her attention. She’s heard it before. In the Deepworlder village, at the giant forge. She stopped, listening.
“Bree?” Leasha said again, softly this time only a tinge of doubt upon her voice.
“This way,” Breanna said, eager and bright. She did know the way out. She could lead them back. Take them back the way she had arrived, and free the iskia on the way.
It was only a few more long tunnels and corridors, the heat grew more intense as they neared the forge, and the hammering grew louder.
She could hear the Iskia now too, tapping at the rock face, releasing the ore for smelting.
The first one they came across flapped, flurrying away from her.
“ShortThorn sent me,” she whispered, calming the creature. A chain ran from one foot to the wall, there was no way to pull it free, the chain would have to be broken.
Lifting the axe the bird cried out, but after a first, second, then the third attempt the chain was broken.
In dismay, Breanna stared at Broc’s axe. It wouldn’t take much more punishment, the blade had warped. It was a little good as a weapon for much longer. She couldn’t release all the Iskia this way, her axe couldn’t take it and it would be too slow.
I’ve had enough of this,” Mim said. She raised her staff and brought it down upon the metal, the shock-wave reverberated along the chains, Breanna could feel the magic thrumming in the air the sound reverberated off the cave walls.
“By dragon’s breath,” Leasha muttered.
But Mim didn’t have enough power, the chain was vibrating but not breaking. Leasha stepped forward, hesitant at first but then she placed her hand upon Mims. The effect was instant; her head was thrown back as the power surged through her and it was as if the metal within the chain was screaming, crying out but not yet breaking.
Breanna didn’t know what would happen next, but she knew she had to help. She placed her hands upon Leasha’s. The power thrummed through her, reverberating through her body. It took all her strength to stay as she was and not be thrown from the staff.
The metal chain shook, fiercer and fiercer, it screams grew more painful to the ear until finally there was a crack and then a smash.
All three of them were thrown back as with a resounding crash, the metal shattered into dust.
Iskia cawed loudly and Breanna knew that every chain, and every piece of metal forged in the deep world, including the armour she wore, had shattered to dust.
“What now?” Leasha said, breathless but grinning.
“I think we should run,” Breanna replied.
“And which bloody direction do you suggest?”
An Iskia, newly freed, tore past them, followed quickly by another and then another.
“Follow them,” Breanna replied. She didn’t give the others a chance to question her further, instead, she took off after the birds. More followed, escaping from tunnels eaither side and joining the shrieking happy and frightened crowd of birds as they made their way toward the forge.
The Iskia were everywhere. They could hear caws all around as could the pounding of feet. The guards were coming, battle cries as the Iska and guards met one another. Leasha and Breanna grabbed one another’s hand, they knew a fight was coming and they would have to face it together.
“Where are we going?” Mim shouted over the din.
Breanna didn’t know, but the Iskia seemed to. “Just keep following the birds!” she replied.
Breanna looked around, guards were coming. “Run!” she shouted, “Go! Follow the birds out!”
“No,” Leasha replied, nocking a final arrow to her bow as they stood side by side, “I’m not leaving you!”
More Iskia rushed passed. Their wings soft and fluttering but their sharp claws and beaks catching clothes and skin in their panic.
And Breanna could see why. Charging from each direction, from every tunnel toward them as if the entire network had been awoken as one to their escape, the Deep Worlders were coming.
Leasha’s arrow fired, tumbling a guard. But there were more behind.
With a swing of her axe, Breanna knocked a sword from the hand of her attacker but there were too many.
A charge of lightning from Mim’s staff lit up the cave walls for an instant, toppling several, but it wasn’t enough. Leasha swung her bow this way and that, but it snapped in two as it ricocheted off the cave walls.
But it wasn’t enough more guards were coming, and as they turned to retreat into the tunnel they realised more of them were coming.
“There’s no way out!” Leasha cried looking around desperately at the pressing walls.
“Then we die on our feet,” Mim replied, readying her staff.
But Breanna felt a strange sensation.
One she only half recognised. One that had gnawed at her before, but now only seemed to caress her mind like an old friend.
A hollow roar that seemed to erupt from the earth itself, sounded.
“What in the mother Dragon’s name was that?” Mim hissed.
“I-I don’t know,” Leasha replied, “but it sounded like…”
She didn’t need to finish.
The creature appeared from the gloom. Two huge digging claws each the size of a full-grown goat tore through the rock like wet sand. The blazing hot belly of the beast swelled like liquid fire beneath the long tooth-filled snout above which were the giant round, golden eyes of a dragon.