Keagan’s memory continues as he meets a very special creature who gives him unexpected help.
The tunnel I have followed for the last few hours empties into a vast room; the ceiling barely visible in the light I carry. For the first time, the flame flickers and the movement of air gives me hope. I study my surroundings, moving forward in slow, even steps, scanning the floor for signs in the gravel. Farther into the cavern, the distant echo of moisture dripping catches my attention. Though faint, the sound grows louder as I approach a dark opening to my right. Another tunnel.
The soft sounds call to me, turning my mouth dry. Though I see no sign of Kord having entered the tunnel, the need to drink propels me into the darkness. Deceptive echoes come and go, drawing me deeper. Five turns and an hour later, I discover the source: a cracked and dripping fountain built into the stone wall. Dropping my torch, I stumble to the flow and cup my hands, bringing the precious moisture to my mouth again and again.
The torch sizzles on the damp ground. I stop drinking and gasp. I cannot lose my light. Leaving the stream of water, I pull another torch from the bag at my thigh and hurry to the sputtering brand, cursing my foolish actions as I drop to my knees. Heavy gulps of air fill my lungs once the second torch lights. The final embers of the first flicker out. I fall into a sitting position.
I do not know how long I have been in the maze, but exhaustion and stress drag at my eyelids and turn my muscles to jelly. I must rest. I fill the three tiny bottles with precious water and wedge my brand into a crack in the fountain. I slip down next to the ruined masonry, my body sliding sideways to the ground. I will close my eyes for a few minutes. Just a few.
I blink. Faint light exposes a flagstone floor beneath my cheek. Confused, I wonder where I am. It all comes back, riding in on a wave of anger mixed with fear. Fear? No. I am King Nettlespore’s son, crown prince of Noras’Delsham. Fear belongs to weaker beings.
Pushing up to a sitting position, I groan. I had not meant to sleep. How long? Whispers surround me. “Who is there?”
Except for the persistent dribble of water, silence reigns and a strong odor of corruption permeates the air. The whispers come again. Hollow. Otherworldly. A shiver skitters up my spine and I pull in a gulp of air. Pushing up onto my feet, I scan the room. “Show yourselves.”
My display of bravado is short lived as rumors I have heard fill my mind. Tales of strange things living in these tunnels. Evil things. Stories of brave Shadow Shifters and aelves who entered the labyrinth and never came out or emerged weeks later babbling. No longer sane.
Fear, like a living thing, permeates every part of me. Brave boy. Yes. Yes. A brave boy. You will never see the light of day again. Your fear will be a tasty treat. Tasty. Tasty fear.
More voices join the first. The panic escalates until I can do nothing except huddle with my knees pulled into my chest and my hands covering my ears.
“Stop! Stop! Just stop!” My calls go unheeded as muted laughter fills the air. I focus on the flame fluttering at the top of my torch and force myself to move. If I succumb to the voices I will die. My breaths come in gasps and release in hisses of air. In and out. I can do this. Kord survived and escaped unscathed. How could I do any less?
I battle the fear with equal portions of anger and stubborn willpower. Slipping the handles of the sack holding the unused torches over my shoulder, I retrieve my lit brand. Placing one foot in front of the other, I leave the fountain room behind.
By the time I make it back to the cavern I had left seeking water, my heart rate has returned to normal. Thinking the Whispers have been left behind, I turn to my right and track across the width of the vast room. Reaching the far side, I groan. Two tunnels lead out of the cavern. A skittering of terror climbs my spine. Behind me, the voices scratch at my hearing, growing in volume. A decision. I need to decide. Now! Which way?
Swinging my torch low over the gravel and flagstones, I search for any sign of passage. Nothing. Panic sets its claws into my mind, seeking to open a path for the voices and the fear.
Then I see the rat. Raised up on hind legs, it waves its front paws as if calling me forward into the left tunnel. Silver with black eyes, the creature waves again, as if impatient with my hesitation.
I take one step and the rat drops onto all four feet, twitches its whiskers, then turns and scurries off down the dark passage. I follow.
The straight tunnels have given way to curved tunnels. My little friend races around the bends without hesitation. Why I trust him, I do not know. But somehow his presence seems to drive the voices away.
Time becomes meaningless. How much I lost sleeping, I do not know. How long I have followed my rodent guide, I can only guess. Every time I stop to rest, I allow myself a few sips of water. The first couple stops, the silver rat keeps his distance. The third stop, he approaches, his black eyes fixed on me.
In gratitude for his company, I pour a few drops of precious liquid into the bottle cap. He ventures close and drinks my offering. My stomach growls. If I am hungry, my little guide must be starving as well, but there is no remedy for our lack of food until we reach the end of the labyrinth.
The least I can do is give the little guy a name. After some thought, I land on a name. Something that seems appropriate since I keep chasing the rodent through this maze of tunnels. I fix my focus on him and call, “Chaser.”
The rat freezes, then turns to face me. I squint my eyes. Is he smiling?
I am surprised at the chuckle making its way out of my dry lips. “I will see a feast set before you, my tiny friend if you lead me out of this maze. A great feast the likes of which no rat has ever seen, Chaser.”
I hope you enjoyed this second installment of Keagan’s memory from Shadowsprite and Lightfoot. My next post will bring this segment to an end. Look for Shadowsprite and Lightfoot, book one of my newest series to be published within the next few months.
Blessings and happy reading!