Originally published at Necia Phoenix. You can comment here or there.
For some reason I started thinking about this old Avaria story which disappeared on a lost hard drive years ago. I decided to try to re-write the intro (I don’t remember how much of it I had actually written) and I have to say, rough as it is, I like this version. Have some slightly raw words;
(quick note, this story will actually pick up right where the prior story, The Darkening Marsh, left off.)
Time was suspended. Somewhere in the distance something dripped. A slow and steady sound, something to listen to besides ones own heartbeat. Zindith drifted in and out of consciousness, on waves of pain reminding him he was still alive. His heartbeat pounded in his ears, his breathing harsh. Whispers echoed in the dark caverns, memories of voices long since silenced. He heard a groan, realized belatedly that it was his own. He opened his eyes, fighting to stay awake. Darkness closed in around him, and he noticed a faint glow nearby. He frowned and turned to look closer at the glow. Pain shot through his body, a throbbing burning settled along the left side of his face and torso.
Memories rushed at him, who he was and how he’d gotten there, he groaned again. Trapped between enemies, he’d acted, tackling the Slayer, knocking them both over the edge of the ravine. How far had he fallen? The Slayer vanished, opening a rift and sliding into another realm leaving him plummeting towards the river below.
Zindith remembered hitting the cold water, the shock of it sent waves of pain through him. Then nothing. He rolled over, gasping for breath and fighting a churning stomach. Sand, he was on sand. He pushed himself up, peering around. He didn’t remember anything beyond hitting the water. He was far underground, deep in the Labyrinth, but where? How long had he been in the river? He didn’t know. He glanced back at the glowing. Thin ropes of pale green glowing things hung from above. The light they provided was faint, almost useless.
He ran a hand through his hair, inhaling deeply. Musty, moldy, with the faint metallic scent that permeated everything in the Shadowlands. He coughed and groaned. His sides hurt, bruised ribs? Cracked? He hoped nothing was broken. There were no healers in this place.
“Thank the gods for being half telaxian.” He murmured. His voice was loud in the cave, echoing and joining the faint whispers in the distance.
He closed his eyes fighting a wave of dizzy, and heard the singing. A woman’s voice, echoing through the tunnels, singing a song in a language he’d never heard. The tone was haunting, full of loss and deep longing. It tugged at him. He pushed himself to his feet, swaying a bit. He was tough. Like his brothers and sister. Like his father. A little fall wasn’t going to stop him. He gritted his teeth, his stomach doing dangerous flops. What little he’d eaten before needed to stay where it was. He had no rations, no idea of what was edible in this place. He couldn’t afford to lose his lunch. Then the song changed in pitch, lower, angry. He listened, focusing completely on it, willing his body to obey. Now was not the time to be ill. He wanted to find the singer. No, he needed to find her, though why he wasn’t sure.
He quickly took stock. His pack was gone, lost in the river no doubt. With it were the torches and the healing salve for his burns. His belt pouch, though soaked, was still firmly secured on his wide belt. He unfastened it and opened it, swearing.
He put his hand over the top and flipped it upside down, letting the water pour out. Everything in there, the herb packets, the small parchment for writing notes, all ruined. He let them drop the the sandy ground, keeping ahold of the small light orb his brother, Auron, had given him. He hoped it still worked. The glowing ropes didn’t provide enough light to see. He wiped it on his tunic, and tapped it as he’d been taught. It flared to life, sending rays of light dancing over the cave walls. He finally got a good glimpse of where he was and his stomach did another dangerous flop.
He stood on a narrow sandy beach beside the river that coiled away, disappearing into the darkness. How far from the bridge and ledge was he? He shuddered, afraid to know. He looked upriver, trying to get an idea for where he was. There wasn’t a riverbank except the strip of beach he was on. The river had carved a tunnel through the rock, sheer cliffs on either side made going back the way he came impossible. He wasn’t about the try to risk walking in the river itself. Who knew what might be lurking beneath the surface? He edged toward the sloping walls, ducking under the ropey-glowing moss. It glowed brighter the closer he got, reflecting the light of the orb. He frowned, peering at the walls. Deep in his mind he felt a tug, faint, but persistent. He moved closer, lifting the orb, hoping to get a better glimpse. There was a jagged tear in the rock, a passage leading up and away from the river. He leaned against the edge of the entry letting another wave of dizzy pass. He needed to get out, to find the singer. He dared not guess what sort of creepy crawlies were in the passage.
The tug in his mind was insistent. He needed to go into the passage. He nodded. So far it hadn’t led him wrong. It guided him to where the Slayer had hidden Mayhren, it had guided them back to the surface before the fireball. He swallowed, aware of the tightness in his left cheek, the pain that he was getting used to. He glanced back towards the river and took a deep breath, wincing at the pain in his sides, and stepped into the looming darkness.
It pressed against the orb light, closing around him, blocking off all view and any hope of escape. It felt alive in some way, a malevolent presence that wasn’t willing to let him leave. He forced one foot in front of the other, trying to think of anything other than the dark. His companions, his brother, they probably thought he’d died in the fall. He’d find a way back to the surface and back to Avaria. He’d get beyond the reach of this darkness and find a way to let them know he wasn’t dead.
The passage wound its way upward, in some spots he had to tuck the orb in his tunic and climb steep slopes. With each step the tug got stronger, a pressure in his head that was almost painful.
The passage ended at a stone carved doorway though the door itself had long since rotted away. Zindith stared, disbelief and awe blocking out the pain. How long had it stood silent in the dark, waiting for its masters to return? The tug pulsed, pain shot through his head. He gasped for breath, and edged closer to the doorway. He stepped through the doorway, wishing he had a weapon. Who knew what might be in this place? Stepping away from the door, the light of the orb illuminated an ages old walkway carved into the sides of immense cliffs. Guardrails once stood along the far edge, but most of those had long worn away. All that were left were posts that would have held the railings. Overhead he could see the orb’s light glinting off of what might have been metal chandeliers or some sort of lighting devices.
“Impossible.” He murmured, his voice bouncing off the walls. In the distance, to his left, a stone bridge spanned the chasm, the far end concealed in the blanket of darkness. The tug pulled him in that direction. Bemused and in awe he went where it led, noting the archways that dotted the sides of the chasm, and the passageway. Who had carved these ways? He couldn’t wrap his mind around it. The rahaun hadn’t lived underground. He didn’t recall any other legends that hinted that these passages existed. His heart pounded and the tug became a pounding at his temples. It stopped, as suddenly as it started, when he reached the bridge.
He stared up at the steps leading across the chasm, his heart loud in his ears. The steps led to a wide flat platform, then a walkway arched back downward to a second platform from which another set of stairs led, he hoped, to the other side. He couldn’t tell. The orb’s light cut off, unable to penetrate the wall of dark ahead of him.
He took another look around. The archways, with their passages gaping at him, gave him the shakes. He could almost imagine things just on the other side of the dark, watching him, waiting to strike when the orb flickered out. He shook it off, looked back at the stone bridge. He felt it, briefly. The tug, gently pulling him towards the bridge. He stepped onto the stone bridge, testing it. Who knew how long this had stood, alone, in the dark underground of the Shadowlands. It felt firm.
He went up the steps, wishing there was a rail of some sort. When he reached the first platform he got a glimpse of the other side and smiled. Another passage, but it veered upward towards steps coiling towards the distant ceiling. His ticket out, perhaps? He hesitated, glancing back the way he’d come, listening. His own breathing was loud in the hush. No echos, no drips, no bodiless voices lamenting in a dead language. Silent. The caverns were holding their breath, the darkness waiting for a misstep. He shook himself. Too many knocks to the head.
Zindith wiped his hand on his breeches. He felt clammy, ill, and dizzy. He hurried across the wide arch toward the second platform. He felt the tremble through his boots, and swore. A cracking sound echoed off the walls of the chasm. He swore darting towards the platform as he felt the bridge beneath his feet crumbling. He jumped, landing on his stomach on the platform the air knocked from his lungs as the arch crumbled, clattering far below. He barely caught his breath, starting to pull himself up when the platform shuddered. He swore, the crack of shattering rock deafening. The platform dropped out from beneath him and he was falling again. He closed his eyes, there was no river below to save him. The fall halted and pain exploded across his jaw and nose as he hit the stone face first. Darkness wrapped around him.