Brad had just left the room and I waited for a few more moments before throwing on some clothes and following him. I let him go ahead before following him down each bend, using magic to create a circle of reflective air in my hand, using it as mirror to peek around corners; he had good ears and his eyes were much better than mine in the dim light, being discovered was much too likely.
Brad had somehow managed to pass off the time just after twilight when the villagers going to bed were already asleep and the ones rising were already immersed in their work and duties and so, nobody stopped neither him nor me. He headed towards the cliff that was our construction site. The pillars we had already raised there stood like the burnt trunks of trees bereft of any leaves and branches. Brad began to climb up the cliff with his usual skill and surety.
It was time to approach him, I came forth from the corner and called out to him. “Where do you think you are going?”
He turned around, still clinging to the cliff face. “I knew I should have checked twice. Don’t try to stop me, there is nothing that can hold me anymore.” He tried to continue his ascend.
“There are a thousand things between the soil and the heavens that will stop you. You are not going anywhere!” I raised my hands towards him, ready to yank him from the crumbling rock with my magic. I had not my staff with me, but he did not know my reach with or without it and an accelerated pebble would still be able to hurt him if need be.
He again turned while clinging, shooting a scowl my way that was ready to kill if it could have. “What exactly do you think is the point of any of the things you are doing?”
I came closer, not lowering my hand, he did not continue his climb. He in fact climbed down and turned me fully, still scowling at me for catching him in time.
“You can’t leave. We need you and Anne is still in these people’s care. What do you think they will do to her when one of us disappears?”
“I’m sure you people can figure something out. Don’t you always, with your great intellect and persuasive power?”
“Don’t put this on us! We can’t talk our way out of everything and we made a promise. Do you want to make me a liar? Do you have no sense of honour?”
“HONOUR?” Brad looked insulted. “What good is honour here, everyone hates us already. And honour won’t bring us back home, which is where I intend to go!”
“You don’t know the way back out, abandoning us will just get you deeper into unknown lands but with no one to help you!”
“I know the way back. Curses, I’ll even stop by Uvraitam if need be, and then I’ll ascend that damn tunnel!”
I had to take a moment to fully realize the insanity of his plan. “You can’t ascend the tunnel. Have you even paid attention? By the time we were falling and the speed falling objects acquire, we could have fallen well over five hundred miles. You cannot climb that far, especially not such a smooth surface.”
Brad threw his arms up. “Oh, I am so sorry I did not pay attention and take note while falling in a black shaft! I am sorry for not being educated in these things. I know how to track and find a way no matter what, that has always been enough for me and it will be this time.”
“And even if you find the way back, the tunnel is closed anyway.”
By Brad’s face I could see he wanted to hurl another sarcastic remark my way before he stopped, then furrowed his brow. “Why would it be closed?”
I wanted to sigh at the stupidity of this man, but I realized it was most likely his refusal to use his intellect rather than its absence. “It drained the magma chamber above, which could only fill if the gate was closed or did not exist at some point before. And if it was once closed, it can close again.”
“So we’re trapped in here?”
“No, we are looking for another way out. Have you not been paying attention? Have you not used your head for just one moment? How can you be so careless and stupid? Explain that to me! What exactly was your plan?”
He struggled to find words, tears made their way to his eyes, then he slumped together on the ground and leaned against the cliff. “I just want to see them again!”
I took a moment. “Your family?”
He nodded with closed eyes. “I have wife and child to take care of, you know? Who else will? What will they do without me? I have to get back. I HAVE to!”
I came closer, then knelt down to him. “I am sorry, I know the feeling, but we canno-”
“WHAT DO YOU KNOW?” He lashed out, swinging his arm at me as if I was an annoying fly. “None of you do! Childless, wifeless, careless, I wish I had your lives! My family survives from day to day, if I stay away too long on a contract, the money runs out and they go hungry.”
I had to stand back up. “I do know what it feels like; I have parents I need to take care of, I should soon graduate to pay for their pension, I have a girl too I wish to see again.”
Brad’s teary eyes shot me a glare of cynicism and disdain. “Oh really? Are you going to tell her of your sweetheart down here?”
I was perplexed by that statement at first before realizing what he was hinting at. “I have no sweetheart here!” Was my instinctive reaction to deny everything.
“Please stop lying, we all know why you keep disappearing with that pale woman.”
“I... It’s not lik-”
“He’s right, stop denying it!” Sarita’s voice came closer from behind. She too had followed us and apparently waited behind a corner as well. “You still have that smell on you even right now.” She arrived, then turned to Brad. “But you’re still an ass, you cur! Leaving us behind like that! And then saying we don’t have families to miss. I miss my family too!”
Brad, in obvious offense, stood back up and tried to wipe the tears out of his eyes. “You? You’re running away from them! You left your family behind, it were not some business partners that dragged you into this without your knowing!”
Sarita raised her outstretched finger to Brad. “I still love them, even if they can’t return that! I still miss my mother when she was reading stories to me or my father when he carried me on his shoulders.” She made a short pause but continued before either of us could take a breath to answer. “And I miss Mukta too! Who knows what they have done to her, risked too much helping me a second time? Don’t think you are the only one suffering, because you’re certainly not, you selfish bastard!”
Her words echoed through the caves and surely some of the villagers had heard us by then, but nobody came. I stepped closer to Brad and put my hand on his shoulder. “Brad, I am sorry for questioning your motives, but we need to stick together at all costs. Separating means death for at least one of us.”
With a sigh, he let all of his pent-up anger and sadness go. “I miss them, Havel. I don’t want to die down here.”
I nodded. “I understand. And I will stick by you as long as your destination remains exactly that, I promise.” With these words, I hugged him tight.
A hopeful look came to him. “I don’t doubt you or anyone else of you, just... the future... the world in general.” He hugged back.
After a moment of patting each others backs, we all looked to each other and smiles appeared. I was relieved to have seen it end this positively.
“Still, I’m not buying that this woman isn’t your sweetheart, or at least some distraction.”
“I told you, it’s not like that, I told you. I’m just helping her conceive. She has her reasons and I have mine. Now let’s go back.”
Brad and Sarita nodded.
“And if you tell anyone about me and her, I’ll turn you into a newt!”