Chapter 44 – A Retreat into further Dark
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I was again locked in, with a cave monstrosity waiting outside. Except this time, my only way out was actually blocked. I knew one of my options was to retreat back downstairs until the bodugii got tired and returned to its sleeping place, but that would take time, if it ever did retreat. I also knew the others did not have time, they would either have to abandon me or wait forever. Who knew, they might try another attempt at distracting the bodugii. I did not want them to put themselves in that danger on my behalf. 

I refused to let them. There was one more way out. I could lift the pillar, yes, but the monstrosity had access to that room, too. The other entrance to the dug tunnels was blocked by a large boulder, one which I could roll or shove out of the way with much greater ease. If I could make it through one of the tight tunnels, I could potentially sneak by the bodugii or go around. If there was one thing I knew about city architecture, it was that secret tunnels, passageways and even entire underworlds could be found everywhere. Often these were used by gangs, gamblers, smugglers and even cultists for their less than wholesome dealings and desires. The inhabitant of this house could not have been the only one to have a private access to this network of tunnels. 

I did not wait for the bodugii to become tired or bored and instead set out downwards and to the second collapsed tunnel. There waited for me the boulder. It looked only half as big or even smaller as the pillar. It also was not resting on a flat side. It would be possible to roll it further in, even without magic, but there was no reason to forego its use, it was not like there was flux to waste. 

The boulder sat in a small chamber between the basement of the house and the rough-hewn tunnel behind it. I could use my staff as a lever to some degree, stemming my legs against the wall would also grant me more strength to move the boulder. Once I had moved it back and to the side, I could hopefully slip past and would not have to shove the boulder back into place to access the tunnel behind it. 

I found a wooden spar from one of the scaffoldings that would do well as a lever. Then I used a spell to lessen some of the boulder’s weight, taking a few hundred pounds off for sure. I wedged the lever in between the boulder and the rock wall, then pulled on it, pulled with all my weight, put a foot on the stone wall and pushed with it even more than that. I felt the wound in my thigh, squeezing blood into the already soaked bandages, but freedom was within reach, inch by inch I came closer to clearing the way, until it hit an obstacle. I stopped to see my work. 

I had moved the boulder a good five feet into the rough-hewn room behind the hole, enough to walk around it. I saw that the slit it left open to the tunnel behind it was just an inch or two too small for me. With just a little bit of pushing more, I managed to clear my way through and finally stood in the tunnels. 

Although “stood” was a generous term; it was barely high enough for a gisrin, I would have to walk crouched and careful not to hit any low parts of the ceiling; the walls here were jagged and coarse, ideal for a serious injury in the dark. 

I scraped off a bit more of my moonlight crystal and set out. I had two waterskins and a few biscuits of rations, those would last a day or two. Of more importance was my way out and how I would find it. 

I soon came upon a crossing with another tunnel, but I stayed on the one leading me straight onward. Next, I came upon a bend in a corner, hollowed out with niches and alcoves, maybe to let other people pass in the narrow corridors, maybe to sit down and have a chat with someone of an equally secret creed. I headed onward until I came to another cross, this one without an option to head straight on. I wanted to go right out of how I felt to remember the city streets above, but something drew me to the left. I somehow knew it had been the goal of the house’s former inhabitants. It was there that they had desired to go in their covert excursions. 

I moved along the straight tunnel faster and faster, forgetting the discomfort of being crouched all the way. I came to a dead end, a wall before me, but I did not give up. The beckoning call beyond held me close. I pushed on the wall before me and it gave in. I smiled and struck the wall with my staff. It fell backwards, merely a board with stones and mortar stuck to the outside to fool the easily fooled. 

The room beyond was a shrine. A statue of a humanoid figure was there before me atop a little altar. The figure was female and held aloft two arms, two more arms were holding a child. Two small brazen bowls sat to either side of the figure, once, hundreds of years ago, maybe used to place candles or burn oil. Crumpled leaves lay on the floor, above the statue on a shelf stood a plugged flask of pristine porcelain, shining in the dimming light of my moonlight crystal. I stepped closer. 

The networks of tiny cracks across its glazed surface seeped a presence from inside, ancient and caged. Sadness and longing overcame me. I knew I had to free this being. Some may judge me harshly for being myself easily fooled by such an entity, but at that moment in that cave, it was the only right thing to do I could think of. I undid the plug. 

The luminous mist of the caves, Fjoersa’s last breath, streamed from the bottle, surrounding me and lifting my mind up to unseen heavens. A message came over me, a grateful plea, a precious favour. 

Warpupil, skyseeker, deathfather. 

Hear caverns’ mournful answer to your dread. 

Shrink not from ancient fiend of fateful rhyme. 

Rebuke not wandering wisdom of familiar heart. 

Brave the searing sands that scorch your thirst. 

Beware the hand whence ill mercy drips. 

The mist swirled ever faster, before dissipating into a shower of a thousand tiny droplets and I knew that I had been blessed. The words echoed one last time in my mind, then the moment was gone and I returned to the tiny chamber in which I had knelt. There, before the shrine to the unknown goddess whose unknown servant I had freed. I put the finely crafted bottle back on its shelf, its plug next to it. I felt the strong conviction that it best remained where it was. 

I could not quite put what had just then happened into my past. The words clung to my awake mind like a spiderweb one walks into in the dark. All the titles it had given me, all the warnings and advice, they seemed so clear and so sensible at that moment. 

Hear caverns’ mournful answer to your dread. 

It made sense, somehow. I took my staff and remembered a spell. Sending waves of shock through stone, I could sound the walls around me. I had used it to find light stones upon that beach in darkness where we had first landed in this world below. And the rock returned the echo, telling me of cavities in all directions. I know where I could find more tunnels and where they expanded into halls. 

I thanked the spirit and headed on. 

Through the tunnels, carelessly through rooms and meeting points where once entire lives had been decided I went. I knew there was a way out for me and sure enough, I happened upon a wide cave. 

It was more than ten feet in diameter and most of the rock was smoothed by a constant stream of water that had once flowed there but was now only a steady trickle on the cavern floor. When I lowered my moonlight crystal, I noticed sets of sharp grooves, betraying claws of a monster that recently walked here. This would be the migration route of the bodugii.  

I sounded the walls once again and this time, received more than one echo back. After I had tapped the wall a few times, I heard another tapping, much faster than mine and with a metallic object rather than wooden as it sounded. 

I stopped and listened. Again, the bright cling of a metal tool came to me. I send out three shockwaves in a repeated pattern and shortly after, I received the same pattern back. I had found a survivor. 

I already had felt they came from a tunnel further up the underground riverbed, but the shortest way out was straight across. Finding the survivor would be a detour and a danger, but I felt as if I needed not fear the bodugii happening upon me. I set my steps up the riverbed with a surety I had rarely experienced. 

I heard the metal clinks once more, not far ahead of me, then I heard another sound, much deeper and less concise. I sounded the rock with my staff again but received no reply. I hurried my step. 

Before the crevice came into view, I could clearly see the bodugii in all its might. A dozen legs, a neck long enough to bridge a large room, a tail with a hundred of those dreadful quills that could pin a man’s arm to stone. The monstrosity stood guard in front of a tiny crevice from which the pale light of a moonlight crystal shone. I could see the light move, I knew someone inside was alive. Someone I had to rescue. 

I slowed my step and crouched down, hoping to remain undetected. The monstrosity sniffed and scratched at the crevice, hoping to expand it far enough to fit its maw through and reach the morsel inside. 

I came to about twenty yards from the creature before it noticed me. It whipped its head around and focussed on me. The hatred glaring from its remaining eye was enough to flashboil my sweat, but I withstood. I thought about distracting to dash into the  crevice and forge a plan from its protection, but an angel’s voice reminded me of what had to be done. 

Shrink not from ancient fiend of fateful rhyme. 

And the words of Brad came to me as well. I too was tired of being chased around by monsters. So very tired. I clenched my hands around my staff and returned the monster’s glare. I already knew all the formulae I would need. 

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