Castle Roland


by D'Artagnon


Chapter 17

Posted: 8 Jan 15

Down the Rabbit Hole

Okay, metaphorically speaking, I was now in over my head, literally. For those of you who can't quite work around the metric system in every day life, the five meter drop to the tunnel floor corresponds to about 16 and a half feet, give or take an inch. So basically three and a half body lengths for me, give or take a joint. My Satyr legs were more than up to the task of landing properly from such a distance, but something I nearly had forgotten about still made that landing a pain for me.

I felt the jarring in my shoulder scar. It wasn't a burning, throbbing, mind-numbing pain, but a sharp, quick pain followed almost immediately by a dull, grinding ache. Like a heavy weight had been tied to two ends of a rope and the rope had been slung across my shoulder right where that bar of Cold Iron had smacked me several days ago. It felt like months had passed since that incident, so much had happened in that time. But in reality, it was all of a few days ago. I paused for a moment, my hand sliding under my tunic to rub at the spot. Kay looked at me with concern but said nothing.

Ahead of us in the tunnel, our werewolf companion, Yoseph, had morphed into the shape of a giant wolf. Even in this state, he was easily as tall as I was at the head, and his upper body was massive. His hips, while narrower than I would have imagined on so powerful looking a canine, had this compactness to them. You just knew that despite the difference in size between his front and back halves, those back legs were still every bit as strong, tough, springy and fast as any canine of comparable size. He could probably leap right up out of this tunnel and into the daylight without straining much, lugging Croaker along as well and not caring about the added weight.

Besides, nature doesn't let supernatural things live too long if they have too many weaknesses. The fact that in this shape Yosephs back quarters were smaller than his front ones probably meant that his front quarters were meant to protect his motor. In that form, he was the lupine version of a tank as far as I was concerned. All business.

Croaker stood beside Yoseph, his sword held back behind his hip, tip pointing forwards and level with the ground. He was ready to stab, and then probably bite, anything that jumped out of the darkness at us. We were on the dragon's turf now, and surely it had things to surprise us with. Every story you read about dragons is probably based on some historical fact or other. And everyone I've ever read about them seems to point to the fact that they are devious bastards.

None of us was planning on taking unnecessary chances while we were down here. Speaking of which, I'd better explain what the tunnel itself was like. That way you get a sense of the kind of creepy I kept staring at as we marched onwards. The entrance was rather narrow and once you were inside, not as big as you'd think. After that though, it opened up into a whole new animal. I looked up and around and just heard myself go "whoa!" Kay nodded and said "Yeah, alla that, squared," silently.

First off, the light from the tunnel entrance above only extended about 15 meters or so down the tunnel. Beyond that murky interchange of light and shadow, it got dark. Like darker than dark chocolate dark. Like inside of a refrigerator when the door is closed dark. What I could see of the tunnel walls gave me clues about why this tunnel was here and who had built it. It was about twenty feet wide once you got past the drop at the entrance. The ceiling started out at four meters up, level with the ground above us, I guess, and then went up into the shadows. I'm not really sure how much higher it went, but just where the light faded against it, I could see the ceiling sloped upwards. My guess is it went up a good long way.

The walls were all glassy. Not smooth glass like a window, but polished and flowing. Uhmmm, a better way to describe it would be like this. Take a candle, a tall one, not one of those that goes in a bell shaped wall sconce, but one that you'd set on a table for a candle light dinner, or that you'd see in an advent wreath. The kind that you sometimes see stuck into the tops of wine bottles and then they let the candle drip down the sides. It's the dripping part I'm focusing on here. Turn the candle on its side and look at the dried drips of candle wax runoff. Now imagine all of the cavern walls around me are like that, with the runoff going sideways, making some allowances for gravity, only made of glass, easily as deep and thick as any glacier walls. That's what the tunnel looked like. Even the ground was dotted with glass drippings from the ceiling and was slick in places, all with the consistency and surface feel of glass.

Not quite Merlin's crystal cave, I grant you, but awe inspiring enough. Taking in this spectacle, and feeling the heat in the chamber through my feet as well as my skin, I quickly deduced where we were. This tunnel was some kind of heat release for the dragon. He might actually breathe flame up this tube of molten glass from time to time. If he choose to do so while we were still in here… well, roasted Kenny isn't on my list of things to eat anytime soon. And I just have this feeling that burnt Satyr fur smells pretty bad as well. All of which wouldn't matter too much to us anyways. If the dragon cooked our goose in this entrance hall/microwave oven we wouldn't stand a chance. Basted in our own juices, cooked in our own sauce.

Oh, and Glamour fairly sparkled against the glass if you looked closely enough. Not bright enough to light our way mind you, but just enough of it for you to consider the whole cavern a dross pit. I saw Croaker actually bite through one roundish dollop of glass from the wall and pocket it. I'd have done the same, except my teeth aren't anywhere near as strong as his.

Caspian brought out torches, one for each of us except Croaker and Yoseph. The werewolf currently didn't have the hands to hold the torch and Croaker was carrying Yoseph's double saber in his free hand. Kay searched in one of his pouches as Caspian held the torches out. It sparked a memory in me and I suddenly knew what to do.

"Let me, Kay." Even as I said it, I felt the knowledge of the cantrip flood my mind. My powers were starting to return to me in little bits and pieces. I felt a little tug through the Glamour of the area and took a deep breath, drawing the magic into me. I stared at the torches, feeling Caspian and Kay Neth's eyes upon me. I clapped my hands loudly, into a sorta praying position and then blew out through my hands as I opened them towards the torches. All three flared to life, glittering briefly as the Glamour powered fire gave way to soaked rags and kerosene burning power. Kay stared at me with his wonderful, luminous eyes and smiled in awe.

"How long have you been able to do that trick without telling me?" he asked, teasingly.

"About ten seconds now," I replied, accepting a torch from Caspian. "I just remembered how to do that."

"Impressive," Caspian said, almost in a voice that made me shiver with Darth Vader memories.

"Let's get going before someone else decides to light our fires," I said, moving to the front of our formation. The fire added an eerie orangine glow to the cooled molten glass. It shimmered now, dancing in torchlight. The soft, warm glows of the torches cast the glass into patterns and shapes more reminiscent of lava from an erupting volcano. Like we were walking into the fires of hell itself.

The tunnel, while burned smooth, was by no means straight. It seemed to meander here and there and sorta wiggled. It wasn't what I'd consider a built path so much as one that had either been burrowed or slithered into this condition. My guess is that this also served as an entrance for the great wurm's minions as well as a fire tube. It could easily have been a natural structure that the creature carved into this tunnel with the whole of its own serpentine form, wiggling and heating the dirt and sand to glassine just by its body heat alone, wedging itself into the bedrock of the hillside. Clearly, no human hands had built this. The light also betrayed another feature of the tunnel we hadn't suspected until then.

It was frickin' long. The slight downgrade of it and its enormous length and the slippery tension to the walls made it an endurance test all its own. There was some condensation down the side of the walls, which only made things look hotter, glossier.

And yeah, I can admit it, scarier, too.

Hey, I'm only 13. Just because I'm supernatural as well doesn't mean I'm immune to fear. Actually, since I know more about what goes on in what you blindly call reality, I'm more afraid than ever some times. But that's a different story, for another day. Right now, I'm kinda wandering off track and need to get back to our quest to slay the dragon (even as corny as that sounds).

We walked that passage for about 20 minutes, following the downgrade, occasionally pausing to listen to an odd sound, for Yoseph to investigate a strange smell (and leave himself a pathmark to help him find his way out. All canines do it, I guess, marking their territory). I did find myself checking out his big wolf package from time to time, but it didn't really interest me. It was just odd to think that he was also a man and not just a huge dog that the US Marines would want to have sign up.

As we neared the 20 minute mark, I heard and felt a sudden rush of air back through the tube, moving in the direction we were walking. I looked over my shoulder and saw nothing coming that way, then it dawned on me. The air wasn't being pushed into the tunnel; it was being sucked down into the tunnel. Like a really big inhale.

"Grab some wall!" I shouted, and practically shoulder tackled Kay up behind a large blob of glass on the left side of the tunnel. Croaker and Yoseph found some meager cover as well. Caspian pulled up his war hammer, smacked the ground four times in rapid succession and then lifted a chunk of the ground glass out and ducked under it like a trap door spider. I was truly impressed by that feat, since the slab he had carved out was both thick and large. He used his war hammer to prop up the back corner for some reason. It looked like a glass skateboard ramp now.

The searing heat preceded the flame itself, along with a sensation of pressure in the air, like a shock wave. I pressed myself as flat as I could to the wall. Kay pulled his Eshu cloak hood up over his head and pressed himself against my side as much as he could, the two of us making the most of the small depression and blob formation we had assumed as cover. I prayed that the others were set as well. There really weren't that many good spots to hide in this place.

The flames shot out, like a fireball, constantly mushrooming as it expanded up the tunnel. The heat was like nothing I've ever felt before. The best way I can describe it is to imagine if your skin were laid over the cast iron of a Franklin stove that was actually a nuke furnace instead of just burning wood. My skin immediately tried to sweat the heat away, and I felt greasy and parched. I held my breath, knowing that if I breathed in at this point, I'd sear my lungs and suffocate on my own blood. There was a wind that accompanied this flame, and I'd like to tell you what it smelled like, but I was holding my breath and can't. Afterwards there was a smell like rotten meat, sulfur and burning oil in the cave. But I can tell you that the wind brought no comfort from the heat. It ripped and dragged at me, fluffing out my tunic and pulling it like a parachute. I nearly let go of Kay, but we clung to each other and fought against the torrent of vacuum-like wind. Neither of us weighs a whole hell of a lot. If we'd let go, we'd both be gone.

The flame passed and we breathed shallowly in the now heated and stinky air. But none of us moved, afraid this was just one puff, that maybe the dragon had a second coming our way soon. After about thirty seconds, I released my death-grip on Kay's robes and moved into the tunnel proper. Caspian crawled out from under his makeshift trap door and wrenched his hammer free. The top part of his shelter was glowing a brilliant orangish white hot. The hammer easily popped free, the glass slagging off of it like hot marshmallow off a stick. Croaker and Yoseph returned to the center as well, Yoseph in his human form. I guess his feet were kinda exposed to nearly liquid glass in his wolf forms. Croaker looked like he was chewing. And then it hit me. He had eaten himself a place to hide. He was just finishing what was left in his mouth.

"Well, that was different," Yoseph said, cheerfully.

"We must needs keep watchful eye for similar places to seek shelter, should yon wurm yawn at us again."

"That was just a yawn?"

"He's being silly," Kay answered me. "Still, Caspian's right. Next time we might not be so lucky. How'd the glass taste?"

"Kinda sugary. Kinda brittle. Like toffee without the buttery taste." He held up a chunk of glass for us. "Want a piece, it's good."

"I think I'll pass," I said, bending to retrieve my torch. Luckily it was still lit. Well, you know, and not a cinder.

"Well, there goes all my careful markings for the trail," Yoseph sighed. His work had been for nothing.

"The passage out will be easy to seek out. All the glass runs the same way."

"Caspian's right," Kay said, pulling his hood back. "It's the way in we need to worry about more."

"We're burning daylight, let's get goin'!" Croaker said, heading back down the tunnel. There was a nervousness to him now, an anxiety to get to the fight and a fear that he might not make it. Later I was to learn how deep that anxiety ran.

We got back in step and headed deeper into the gloomy, hot and glossy fire tube. Seems like the serpentine chamber slid on through the hillside for miles. It was at least an hour before we stopped again, this time all of us dripping in sweat. Not an unusual thing for a Massachusetts summer day (despite what the kids in the south might think, we're not all snow and mild days up here; heat waves, like all other natural laws, have no mercy and know no geographic boundaries).

We paused, and took water. Seems I mighta forgotten to tell you that part of our gear was bare bones survival stuff for a few days. We hadn't intended to wind up in a cavern, but somehow, the possibility existed in the back of all our minds. Hey, I read the Hobbit when I was a kid. Don't think I wasn't imagining Smaug down here somewhere. And we had already gotten partly roasted.

Kay sat and took little as far as water. We found a thin place in the glossy walls, and a large boulder clearly visible behind. Caspian made short work of the wall with the pick axe end of his hammer and both he and a transformed Yoseph muscled the boulder out of the cave wall. Behind the boulder was a large cavity space that we quickly decided was a cooler place to rest up in. But as soon as we were in the chamber, relaxing a bit, Kay got this…look.

Kenny's expression is usually an odd smile that kinda reminds me of King Tut's funeral mask. The big golden one with the inlaid blue stuff and ornamentations and such. That sorta mysterious, amused and devious look. You, know, all proud and happy, even in death, or in this case in the midst of imminent peril. That smile just does things to me, and it's even more effective when he shows his pearly whites. He uses it all the time when he fences, so it's part of his self assurance and his intimidation. And since in all ways that really matter Kenny and Kay are the same, it's an expression, a face set, I guess you'd call it, that they share.

So as I sat, bringing a water skin down after a good hard draw at its contents, I saw this look pass over Kay's face. An expression that took me utterly by surprise. I'd seen him question things before. I'd even seen him worried. I'd never seen him give up, give in to despair or just give out.

But I just saw him look lost. He had always known the right path. He was the one that followed his instincts, trusted that little voice in his head that let him find the right way. Even if it was just something like knowing where to step to keep from tripping while fencing against me, always knowing where to parry an attack, always knowing what's on my mind. I had never seen him uncertain about his own place or how to get there. And he wasn't a coward, so he wasn't giving in to fear.

He couldn't make heads or tails of where he needed to be. To an Eshu that is totally disorienting. It's like telling a fireman to knock down a door with a pickled herring. It's like making a dog nose-blind.

It's kinda like how I know I'd feel without Kay/Kenny in my life.

"Turn around," I sang quietly in his direction. He finally caught that I was looking at him and grinned back at me. It looked close enough to his real smile that others, perhaps even Caspian, might not notice. But when you've been in love with someone for the better part of eternity, you learn to see little things about them that others miss. There was something in the way the light seemed to more reflect in his eyes now, than come from within. Something that seemed to, idunno, somehow dim the luminosity of those awesome eyes of his. Looking into them, I still felt myself at the top of a Nile cataract, glorying in the heights and power, both eager and tentative to jump into the spill of his gaze and be lost forever. That was just who he was. But doubt had entered his mind.

"Hey, you okay in there, Bright Eyes?" I said, hunkering down beside him. He glanced up and made a subtle head movement, looking over my shoulder to see what the others were up to.

"I… I can't feel the path, Robby." Note, he said Robby, not Robyn. That's an important bit right there. When it's just us, he makes every effort to keep both of me in his words. Kinda like I do him. When we are doing things in mortal, mundane reality, it's always Robby, unless we're goofing off, which is a lot of the time, now that I think of it. But when we are doing something in and of the Dreaming, such as, oh, idunno, running around under hills chasing dragons into their own lairs, he always refers to me as Robyn.

I put my hand on his shoulder and he responded almost immediately by hooking his hand on my forearm, as if to keep my hand on him; as if he were drowning and I was the only thing he could grab onto to save his own life. My level of worry notched up a few places just then.

"It will be okay, Kenny," I replied, not even thinking about it. He called me Robby so I called him Kenny. It had become like second nature to me. Instinct, as it were.

"No, I don't think so. I've always been able to at least know whether I'm on the path or just near it. I can't even feel it!" he squeaked out at me, keeping his voice low, but the tension was there. He was really worried. "What if we get sidetracked, or-or-or led into a trap?"

"Then we'll deal with it when it happens, Beloved." He sank against me, his head pressed hard to my chest. Yeah, I know, with three other warriors within easy view of us, both of us loaded down with gear and armor and weapons of our own, hugging should be the last thing we do. So what, sue me. My Kenny needed me. That's what was important just then. "We'll do it together. Actually," I said, stroking his hair, "I kinda had a question for you."

"Oh?" he said, slightly muffled against my tunic.

"Yeah, that thing I did with the fire. I didn't even think about it, I just did it. You once told me that Pyretics was one of my Arts. Does this mean my old powers are returning?"

"I'll have to think about that before I can give you a proper answer, Robyn. It could be that all the Glamour in this place has our powers a little punch-drunk. Maybe it did jump start something. But that was one of the more basic uses of Pyretics, so maybe it's a little of both."

Well, he mentioned it so I felt the need to test it. Glamour was everywhere in this tunnel. It seemed to pour out of the very walls. I know I spoke about what Glamour is once before, but I think a little clarification is in order.

In the Dreaming, everything is Glamour. And I mean everything. The air, the ground, the color of the sky, the sound of birds in the trees, the trees for that matter, and even the stuff you wear, all that is Glamour. Which explains why it's so hard to get into the true Dreaming. Glamour is stuff that human flesh can only take so much of at a time. You just aren't equipped to handle its raw power, I guess. It can be a sensory overload.

But, while everything Dreaming is Glamour, often that Glamour is locked into specific patterns. For example, our clothing. Technically, it's what you call chimerical, or Glamour made solid. Locked in. I guess you could undo the creation of chimerical things and get the Glamour back out of it, like with Dross, but it wont be as much. I'm sure there's some kinda weird physics about it but from what I understand, you basically have to either drain the Glamour back out of something chimerical, or utterly destroy it to free the energy back up.

Which meant we had a lot of dragon slaying to do to get rid of the thing permanently.

In the places that a changeling or a powerful chimerical beast like this damned dragon live in, frequent or just plain pass through often enough, some Glamour leaks out. Kinda like how everyone is always shedding skin cells that wind up as dust motes. Sometimes, like using a cantrip or a flashy Glamour power, a bit of Glamour soaks into the physical world. Like radiation, for example. My guess is that the Dragon had been breathing fire up these tubes in an effort to mask himself behind the residual Glamour that seeped into the tubes and thus the hillside itself because his flame is chimerical.

Oh, and that's a word I never explained either. I'm a dope some times. Chimerical means, literally, of the changing, or of the dream. We use it to explain things that are of the Dreaming itself. You can wound a changeling chimerically, and not kill him outright, like what I did to Croaker in our duel. Had that damage not been chimerical, Juan would have earned the nickname "Lefty" and had a lot of difficulty cutting his steak. Things and creatures can be chimerical, and spirits often are, like I suspect that shape shifter we fought earlier was. To put it rather bluntly, if you can imagine it, and fuel it with Glamour, and it takes on a reality all its own, then it's chimerical.

And sometimes, powerful chimera, like the dragon, for example, can become self aware and almost become alive. Chimera are the products of our own dreams, whether dark dreams or bright ones. Obviously, a lot of dark dreams had fueled this thing's creation. That in and of itself made it dangerous. I only hoped that the dreamer who made it was well and truly centuries dead. That way, we only dealt with the chimerical beast, and not its animator, who could control it, summon it and possibly even re-make it.

Anyhow, Satyrs have an advantage over Eshu in one regard as far as Glamour rich environments are concerned. Our innate powers, not the Arts mind you, are mostly based on our bodies. I'm quick, able, have incredible stamina and agility and can run for hours. I can also head butt you into the middle of next week, but that's a different story.

The Eshu talent of knowing or finding the right path is more of a mental ability, a sense that they strain from the essence of the world. So in order to do it, to know the path, to find the way, they actually have to open themselves to the free floating Glamour of the world, whichever world they are in. Which explains his feeling of being drunk from all the Glamour while looking for the path. It wasn't that there was not enough clues to show him the way. Quite the opposite. The Glamour was so thick that it flooded his sense of direction. His radar was jammed.

I opened myself to the Glamour around us and felt it wash in. And instantly fell over on my ass. The rush of power was immense. No wonder Kay doubted himself. It was like trying to swim through sewer water. Murky and thick, chilling and sluggish, and it had an ominous tang to it. Yeah, I know, I'm telling someone who's Glamour blind about how Glamour tastes, but other words kinda fail me here. Vocabulary just isn't broad enough in some places for English to adequately describe some things.

"Hey, you alright?" Kay said, leaning over to help me up.

"Just a little dizzy, that's all."

"The Glamour?" he asked.

"Yeah, it's kinda not right. It's like it's spoiled or something. Rotten. Does that make sense to you?"

"Lots," Croaker said, walking over. "Korbesh has smelled like that for a while now. Makes me kinda wonder, is it the dragon that gives him that Dark Glamour smell, or something that affects both of them?"

"You think that Korbesh and the dragon are linked?'

"It wouldn't surprise me," Kay said, nodding sagely. "I mean, Korbesh isn't exactly acting sane right now. He could be in Bedlam. If so, then the dragon may actually be his creation."

"But this dragon knows about Atlantis. It's the same one we fought then."

"I don't pretend to understand it. I'm just saying that if there was a connection between the two, I wouldn't find it too odd," he turned and looked around the cavern and shuddered slightly. "It's all too coincidental for there not to be a connection." That's another thing I love about Kay. His directness in some things and his obtuseness in others. He can tease you or he can show you the most hidden secrets with the same relative ease. Eshu come by that naturally. Kay makes it an art form.

Oh, and Bedlam is a form of changeling madness that comes from living too much in one world and not enough in the other. Just like with everything else you learn about life, health and nature, it's all about balance. When something goes out of balance… Well, you get the idea.

And unbalanced is as good a way to describe Korbesh as any I guess.

"Milord, we are ready to continue when you are." You know, for someone as gigantic and heavy and just plain big as Caspian is, I still can't figure out how he moves so silently. Scared the living crap out of me saying that from behind me. I nearly wet myself.

"Gah! Don't do that! Make some noise or something next time."

"My apologies, my lord Robyn."

"It's okay, Casp. We're all just really keyed up here, I guess." I drew out my saber and rolled my shoulders back, loosening up. My scar was a mild pain in the background, but a good pain. It grounded me, gave me something to concentrate on aside from the infernal heat. I kid you not, my tunic was two shades darker with sweat and my cup was running over, you might say. Might have to just ditch that jock strap when we get home, the sweat smell would be overpowering. "Okay, let's get back to it."

We marched down the tunnel some more. And some more. And yet some more. It felt like we were walking that tube for hours. I was sorta relieved when we found the end of the tube. Even though we went from close in, glassy, hot, stinky, slippery, odd orangey cave walls to the next chamber, the absence of the oppressive heat alone was a welcome change.

The tube opened up into a vast dark cavern, echoic in it's expansiveness, infinitely cooler and damper than the fire tube had been, and as luck would have it, we weren't on the ground floor. The drop to the cave floor looked very far down. Caspian lit a fourth torch off one of our already lit ones and dropped the older one to the cave floor below us. It seemed to fall forever, dropping into a swallowing darkness, occasionally lighting up a stalactite or stalagmite as it passed. To the cavern floor was easily a 80 foot drop, at least.

"Sure wish one of us knew Flicker Flash right about now," Kay said looking over the small ledge the fire tube ended in. The curled edge of molten glass was obviously a lot stronger than it at first looked, because it took all of our weight without collapsing. The sudden change in light, from the flickering fire glow in the glass tunnel to the vast, unbound blackness around us made my eyes hurt for a moment. Just then I'd wished we'd brought plenty of rope.

"Well, little changeling lord, looks like this is a jump for us while the others climb down," Yoseph said, slapping me on the back companionably.

"Jump? You must be smokin' crack! We'd never survive that drop!"

"Oh, come now. Do you think I'd suggest it if I didn't think we could manage it?" And he shifted completely to werewolf form in front of me. "Look at our legs. Reverse articulation. Nature's shock absorbers."

Well, okay, so he had a point. On my Satyr legs, I was springier and quicker and more resilient than normal. Maybe, just maybe, I could survive the fall.

"Look, when you land, take it all in the knees, okay, don't tighten up. When you hit the bottom, let your legs take the shock and then as you go to the ground, roll forwards, keep your head tucked. We'll be just fine. And if you aren't, well, I get to set a bone." He grinned and I'm not sure which smile frightens me more, Croaker's flat, grinding, merciless teeth that can bite through anything (and I mean anything), or Yoseph's face full of fangs. Not that Satyr's don't have big canine teeth as well, just not as, um, developed as Yoseph's jaw full of life takers.

"Oh-kay," I said, not thoroughly convinced. Besides, the idea of having someone set a bone while we were miles from anything resembling a cast wasn't very inviting. Then again, needing the cast in the first place wasn't high on my "to do" list, either. He took the double blade saber in his hands, jumped forwards about three meters or so and did a front flip as gravity snagged him. I backed up to get a running start and wound up back to chest with Kay. His arms snaked around my waist from behind.

"Cya on the other side, Beloved," he said in my ear. I turned my head slightly and we managed a small, open mouthed kiss. Nothing deep or probing, just a promise for more of the same later. We broke that kiss with a loud popping sound and he released me, smacking me on the butt. "Go get 'em, Robyn!"

I took about four or five quick steps and launched myself out of the tube into open space. In retrospect, I probably should have taken one more step, just on the edge of the small glass balcony itself before jumping into the blackness, but I didn't. Oh well, live and learn. I even managed that neat front flip thing Yoseph did before I started falling down. My saber was in my hand, held out to the side. I had no intention of burying that point in the ground as I landed, and then having the pommel punch a hole through my gut as it doubled me over. No sir. Not my cup of tea.

After falling for what seemed a lifetime, my hooves hit the ground. As instructed, I let my knees take the strain, and boy did that ever feel like hell. I collapsed forwards, tucked my head under and rolled with the fall. Must have tumbled about three times before my butt found the uphill slope of some rock formation. I had displayed all the grace and coordination of a rock. With my forward momentum halted and a slight pain above my Satyr tail, I looked around. Yoseph was striding towards me, slowly, the double blade saber in his hands glowing faintly.

"You still in one piece, Robyn?"

"Mostly. That was a hell of a drop."

"I knew you could handle it," he said, ruffling my hair as I stood up. "Scents down here are very faint, but pungent. I get the feeling that these caves are formed as much from wind as water passing through."

"Why do you say that?"

He squatted beside me and held the saber close to the ground, its Glamour glow casting a pale green light on the stone. "No sand anywhere. It's as if this place were cleaned out by a leaf blower on a regular basis. Water erosion leaves particulate matter behind. Wind erosion carries it off."

"That's something to think about. Let's get back to the torch, wait for the others."

We trotted off to the spot where the dropped torch landed, having to skirt several narrow pools and runnels of standing, stagnant water. There was an air of decay about the place that made me nervous. Checking my Ironman watch, I noticed it was barely 4 pm. The sun would still be high in the sky, far above where the daylight was. I was missing the sun already. Felt like we were down here for weeks.

After nearly 45 minutes, the others managed the climb down. They were fairly tired out from the climb, since they had to do it all in complete darkness, no torches in their hands. It had been slow, careful going, and they were talking the whole way down, telling each other where the hand holds and foot holds were as they descended. Again, we rested. Seems like so far the most arduous part of this quest has been the "getting there" bits. The only fight we'd been in was brutal, no doubt there, but it seemed like in the adventure stories the getting there bits get skipped over a lot. Now I know why. It's mostly boring, tiring and frustrating until you actually get somewhere and do something.

We put the torches together, to make a sort of camp fire. The coolness of the cave rapidly became a coldness and we huddled closely together around the torch light. Caspian suggested that we eat now, since we were resting anyways. Seemed like a good idea, so we brought out our haul from Barny's.

That's when the first arrow hit. That's when the ground shifted and split. That's when all hell broke loose.

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