eta - ⚔️ Night ♕ #attack, 🌘 #underground exploration ⚔️
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June 20, 5 p.m. (or at least this is my best guess) — Two days have passed since my previous log entry. I am now a prisoner of this giant underground maze. My current situation is uncertain. In case I can’t find a way out and shall die here, I hope that at least this notebook, describing the final days of my life, can be discovered and read at some point in the future by my people. Or by any people who might pass, by chance, through this place. I shall let myself go again through my latest tribulations, while my pencil will be writing down my thoughts. And so, the events that took place during this time are filling up now, one after another, these little white sheets of paper.
In the eve of June 18, sixty men from the crew of Excelsior came to the cave located near the freshly discovered gulf, carrying special torches that used whale oil and could last for up to six hours, small bags with gunpowder, swords, knives, and guns. We split into five groups of twelve, each taking on the exploration of a separate tunnel.
The inscriptions above looked different for each entrance. It would have been useful to know what they meant, but we had no means to translate them. After a short council, we decided that they should most likely describe the locations of the city where the tunnels emerged. We were to attempt reaching independently the urban area, explore the surroundings of the exit point without letting ourselves being seen, and return to our base. Before dawn, we were to meet again on the little gulf’s shore and use the gathered information to decide the next course of action.
The captain with his group of sailors were the first to disappear inside the middle passage, I was next, taking the tunnel on the left, and the other three groups, led by midshipmen, began exploring their allotted galleries immediately after us. It was 8 p.m. already. With a compass in my left hand and a torch in the right, I led my men along the narrow path, walking with a brisk and even pace. We passed quickly the one hundred meter limit of my previous exploration trip and traveled for a while without any troubles.
The temperature inside the tunnel was comfortable and rather high for a cave system. The floor and the walls were dry. Perhaps some hidden thermal springs were the source of heat, evaporating the water from the passage and desiccating the place. The walls, made of gray whinstone with a blue tint, were still in a fairly good shape, in spite of a good chance that this path had not been used by any human in centuries. As a proof for the lack of utilization, we could see a thin layer of untouched dust covering the ground, with stones fallen from the ceiling here and there.
If the tunnel really went all the way to the city, we expected to walk through this gallery for about ten kilometers. With our speed, that could mean about two hours, provided we didn’t encounter anything unexpected to slow us down.
Long shadows sliding along the walls in the rhythmic trotting of our marching feet, we continued to advance in a single file through the eternal night of the underground. In the trembling light of our moving flames, the circular tunnel ahead looked like a giant mouth preparing to swallow us, but retreating immediately farther ahead, as if in fear, after each of our steps.
Holding the torches tightly in our hands, we made initially easy, steady progress. However, after the first two kilometers into our trip, we saw something shiny emerging from the dark in front of us, blocking our path.
It was a huge door made of steel, and it was locked. We pushed and pulled it with all our might, but it was tightly jammed. One of the sailors suggested using our bags with gunpowder to blow it out. I opposed the idea for fear of a cave in that could damage the passage ahead so badly that no subsequent explosion or digging would be able to clear it.
“Let’s try first to analyze the lock more carefully, maybe there is a way we can open it with a knife or a nail. We could also use a rod for gun cleaning to reach inside,” I said.
Bringing the torch close to the lock, I took a rod and inserted its sharper end through the huge keyhole. Then I started moving it about, with the hope of reaching the shutting mechanism. It seemed to be a simple lock, I could feel it with the end of my iron stick, but it must have been badly jammed after so many years of neglect, resisting fiercely to all my attempts of releasing it. Two sailors repeated my maneuvers, but their results were not better than mine.
“What about using a tiny quantity of gunpowder inside the lock to make it move?” asked a crewman.
“We need to put it in a small recipient, and we have nothing that could do the job,” replied another sailor.
We sat down and decided to have a short rest, while thinking about a way to continue our trip. The minutes were flowing slowly, one after another. The air began to feel heavy from the torch burn, getting more difficult to breathe.
Looking at my pocket watch I saw that we had already been stuck here for ten minutes.
“We need to find a solution in another ten minutes” I said. “If we don’t, we go all the way back to the main cave and take the central tunnel to support the captain’s group.” And I continued to think feverishly for a solution.
I had the feeling that my head was full of flames and smoke, so many thoughts were going through it at once. Suddenly, the simplicity of the answer hit me like a slap on the face. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and relaxed my whole body for a while. Then I opened them again and smiled.
“Fetch me several stones” I said with a confident voice. “They have to be hard and small enough to enter through the lock’s keyhole.” Exploring the floor and the walls, the sailors found what I needed in less than a minute. I started hitting them with a bigger rock and succeeded in cracking a stone into two almost equal pieces. With a sharp nail, I carved a little hole into one of the halves and filled it with gunpowder. The two pieces were put back together, leaving only a narrow opening. Then I inserted a fuse to connect this miniature powder chamber to the outside.
Everything was joined back tightly with thread in a circular knot made in such a manner as to not hinder the halves when pushed away by the gunpowder explosion. The stone was then fixed on the tip of the iron rod and inserted through the large keyhole into the area where the lock mechanism was situated, with the fuse reaching all the way out.
“I’ll try it first with the pieces lined horizontally, in case the lock has to move left-right” I said, and lit the fuse. We all moved several steps back and waited for a few moments. Even though we only used a small quantity of gun powder, the two pieces of stone were thrown against the lock with a lot of strength, making a loud bang. The lock didn’t move. We had to repeat the attempt with another miniature bomb, this time with the stones on top of each other and placed under the lock. Our second try proved successful. We heard at the same time with the bang a cracking sound from the lock area. The handle could be rotated now and I pushed the door open.
Being already almost half an hour behind the planned schedule, we increased our marching speed. For another five kilometers or so, we walked without running into any more obstacles. Then, the tunnel opened into a large, circular room (I estimated its diameter to be about twenty meters and its height close to four meters). It was illuminated from above by several globes that radiated a strange yellow light, like those used by the natives in the city.
Could it be that someone was visiting this place often? Or maybe the globes could stay bright for a considerable length of time? Nevertheless, for how long were they actually able to function? Days, weeks, or even months? After being through all these adventures, nothing was going to surprise me so easily anymore. However, no matter how long they could last, someone had to come here periodically and provide the globes with the necessary fuel to stay alight, whatever that fuel was. We had to be careful and watch out for unexpected encounters with the locals.
In the center, we stumbled onto a large rectangular stone block looking like an altar, covered with small statues of humans and animals in various poses. Tunnel entrances, similar to our own, surrounded the large room. I counted fifteen of them. Each had writing marks on top, with the same rounded symbols like the five gallery mouths from the small gulf where our ship was anchored.
For a second I had the feeling I heard whispers from above, somewhere near the ceiling. A few moments later, a white-blue light was seen by several of us in front of a gallery opposite to the place we were standing. We rushed to follow it, but the luminous flicker was gone as soon as we stepped in that direction. A thorough investigation of the hall revealed no other presence besides us. We noticed pieces of quartz crystals etched in the walls in various locations and concluded that the light we had glimpsed was the reflection of our own torches onto their surfaces.
“Luckily we have a compass and know the approximate direction of the city, so we can choose the right tunnel to go further,” I said. “However, let’s mark the gallery we came from, to find it quickly on our way back.” A sailor took a nail and scratched a big cross sign on top of our tunnel, next to the indigenous writing. Getting ready to enter the next gallery, I heard behind me the voice of a crewman:
“Sir, there are animal feces in here” he said. “I can also see some hair nearby.”
The proofs of an animal presence were right behind the altar. A bit farther, where the ground was softer, we discovered footprints, similar in shape to those of a wolf, only bigger. Much bigger. The feces and footprints didn’t look fresh, but they didn’t look very old, either. They could have been a few weeks old, most likely.
“We should be careful about these tracks, but our expedition needs to keep going,” I called to my crew. “Just have the guns and swords ready in case we are attacked.”
Our underground march continued through the new gallery. On the last kilometer before reaching the city (at least this was my best estimate for the distance), the tunnel began to climb on a gentle slope and opened soon into an immense subterranean hall. Extended curtains, natural columns, stalactites and stalagmites, all gorgeous looking and colored in blue-yellow, shiny as if made of jade, could be seen everywhere. A little farther, we discovered a wide, deep river flowing across our path. Fortunately, a narrow bridge made of stone provided a link to the other side, where the tunnel continued in the same direction.
We tried to find out if other routes crossed the underground water stream at some distance from ours, thinking about the rest of the tunnels that could have come from the gulf, but no more bridges or connecting galleries were visible nearby. On the opposite bank, a narrow path carved in stone ran parallel with the current, but there was no time to explore it now.
I took again the watch from my pocket and checked the time. It was 11:35 p.m. We pushed on with our rapid walk towards the city. The tunnel went on horizontally for a while, then started to climb at an angle of about thirty degrees on a track made of narrow stone stairs. We arrived at its end a few minutes after midnight.
June 19 — Sometime before 1 a.m. — An old wooden ladder was leaning against the wall and we glimpsed above us a hatch made of a large gray stone slab. I stepped on the foot-board but the rotten wood fell apart under my weight and I crashed on the floor. Two of my men, master at arms Salik and corporal Roy, had been at the palace on the tragic night of June 13. They had walked on the city streets and might have had a chance to recognize the surroundings of our location in case our exit emerged there. I asked them to stay near me when we got out of the tunnel, so that they could guide us.
The ladder’s remains were unusable, but the stone hatch was only about two meters high, so it should not have been a big problem to lift ourselves up through it. I could easily reach its cold surface with my hands, so I went underneath and tried to push it open. The hatch didn’t move. Then two sailors tried this operation together and it would still not budge. When four men finally crammed underneath and used all their strength to displace it, the huge stone slab was lifted and could be pushed away to the side. Helped from below by my men who were still in the tunnel, I rose my head out and gazed into dark, unknown territory.
Apparently, we were inside an old storehouse. My first look around found no immediate danger, so I crawled out of the hatch and signaled to the others to follow me. Soon, all of us were standing in a square hall, filled with old furniture pieces wrapped in large, white canvases. Everything was covered with dust and enshrouded in spider webs, suggesting that the place had not been visited by any human being for a very long time. No windows were visible, but the room wasn’t completely dark. A couple of pale yellow globes from the ceiling were sieving a faint flickering light. Again, I couldn’t stop from asking myself what kept them so bright for months or even years? A new set of stone stairs was reflecting the light of our torches near the opposite wall, going higher.
Salik and Roy took over from me for a while and moved in front to lead our group. The lack of windows had to work to our advantage, hiding our presence from anyone who could happen to be outside the building. Salik began climbing the steps slowly until he reached a wooden door plated with gold. He pressed the handle and tried to open it, but the door was jammed. It seemed locked. This time the lock was too small and we were probably too close to an inhabited area for a second attempt at using gunpowder to blow the lock open. The risk of being discovered and attacked was too big. Talking in whispers and thinking about a way to open the door without too much noise, we began exploring the room, looking for another exit or even for a key.
Suddenly, one of the sailors produced an exclamation of surprise and fear. He had just discovered a human skeleton behind a large oval table that was leaning onto the wall opposite to the golden door. The bones were dismembered, crushed and spread on the floor, suggesting that the person had been killed and partly eaten by a ferocious animal. A few old pieces of discolored fabric were still visible nearby. At a closer look it was obvious that the unfortunate event occurred many years ago and we all felt relieved. Right then, Roy saw in the same place, next to the human remains, something looking like a key. I reached behind the bones and picked it up. The small piece of gold alloy proved to be exactly what we needed to unlock the door.
The individual who had died here must have been in control of this entrance. He (or she, if the person was a woman, it was impossible to guess the gender from the heap of crushed bones) probably was leaving or returning when the unexpected attack occurred. Perhaps this passage was known to only a few people, maybe only to this individual, and the others had no idea where he or she had disappeared. Or maybe they knew about it but were too scared by the beast’s roars from the other side of the door to open it again. Apparently, nobody had visited this room in a very long time.
Unlocked, the door opened towards us, and we bumped into a huge wooden board that was covering the entrance completely. Fortunately, we could push it away easily and without making too much noise. Salik was the first to pass through and got inside a huge closet full of old chairs. Everything was covered with a thin layer of dust, with our feet leaving clear prints on it.
A beautiful door made of a dark wood and with the upper part shaped like an arch was visible ahead, on the opposite wall. It was locked, too. Again, the key found on the floor could open it easily. Walking slowly and noiselessly, Salik stepped inside a new room that looked like another storage area.
This place had lovely crystal vases on shelves that were covering the walls. Less dust was present on the floor this time, indicating that other persons were coming here once in a while. We followed the master at arms in silence, a single file of trembling shadows in the uneven light generated by our torches. As soon as we finished crossing the room, we found ourselves in front of a third locked door. To our surprise and relief, our key succeeded to open even this one.
All the rooms so far were lacking windows, but this one looked cleaner than the ones preceding it, so it was obvious that we were approaching the exit towards the surface and an area occasionally visited by the people from the city.
The atmosphere was becoming tense. I asked Roy and Salik to stay right behind me and took again the lead of the expedition, being the first to reach the opposite wall and the door in its center. This new door led us into a tall, cylindrical chamber about six meters in diameter and maybe five meters high, with the floor covered by large square tiles colored in black and white. Our group, standing in here, looked like a living chess army playing a game of lights and shadows on a giant chessboard. Three more doors were lining the wall, all locked. This time, our key could not open any of them.
1 a.m. — The new enclosure was also windowless and had a set of spiral stairs in the center. The walls were covered with blue marble tiles, without any other kind of ornaments. We followed the stairs in silence, all the way to a hatch in the ceiling. The hatch was unlocked and opened downward. I pulled it carefully and bumped into a large, dark wooden board that was barring our way. However, it was not heavy and could be easily lifted. With care, we moved it to the side and entered another large closet, full of women’s dresses. Now I had the feeling we were next to a room used on a daily basis, because the layer of dust that had become so familiar till now was missing and the whole place looked very clean. We also had to be extra careful with our torches in here, as it was very easy to set the place on fire if one of their flames came close to any of the garments.
A couple of days earlier, the crew members who survived the tragic dinner on the eve of June 13 had told me about the amazing beauty of the king’s daughter. I let my imagination wonder for a few moments. What if we were really lucky and had just arrived now inside one of the closets from her living quarters? Maybe she was just sleeping within an arm’s reach from us… Perhaps we could kidnap her? Talking in low whispers, I shared these thoughts with the men from my squad, who immediately nodded in agreement to my proposal.
Taking such a valuable hostage was going to be much better than just exploring the place for a future surprise attack. I handed my torch to a crewman, then opened the door slowly and with as little noise as possible. In the pale moonlight that was pouring from the large arched windows in front of me, I saw a vast bedroom. The walls, painted in light blue, were elegantly decorated from floor to ceiling with animal and bird shapes made of silver. In a few places, framed paintings could be seen hanging, all of them displaying scenes at sea. Our side of the chamber was filled by many closets with dark wooden doors. Two tables surrounded by chairs were set next to the windows. Both were full of books. A massive bed made of gold and steel was visible in the center, and a young woman was sleeping on it, covered by a green blanket. Her beauty took my breath away.
She had long black hair, a beautiful oval face with pale skin, and perfect body proportions. Her closed eyes looked big and had long eyelashes. A small, straight nose, gave her a slightly Oriental appearance. The arched neck line was visible above the thin sheet that covered her from the shoulders down. Under the covers, beautiful curves in flawless harmony were partially visible, suggesting a slender, muscular body of medium height. The time seemed to stop for a moment. If I could have only run into her in better circumstances, show her the wonders of our world and try to win her heart… Without having met her before, I knew she had to be the princess.
Continuing to stare at her face, I realized that the young woman actually looked somewhat familiar. Had I seen her somewhere before? Perhaps in a painting? But where? My memories were fuzzy, evading all my attempts to bring them into focus. I felt that something important from my past was evading the reach of my brain. Why could I not remember?
Suddenly, I was taken back to reality by my men, who were shaking my shoulders. Salik looked at the beautiful girl and confirmed in low whispers that she was the princess, indeed. My men were ready. In spite of the pain I was feeling, as if a spear was piercing through my heart, in spite of my sadness and sorrow for what I was about to do, I had to act quickly. There was no time to lose. Good bye, hopes of friendship and love! Dear princess, please forgive me!
Careful not to make any noise, we took the covering cloth from one of the tables nearby and surrounded to the bed. In a quick move, the princess’ arms and legs were pinned down by four sailors while I was covering her mouth. A few moments later she was wrapped in her own blanket. The table sheet came on top, covering her up to the nose. She struggled and tried to cry for help, proving to be stronger than we expected, but it was too late. Muffled words, somewhat similar to Latin were still audible from her lips as we were taking her away, but not loud enough to draw the attention of the guards who were most likely stationed outside the room:
“Ne! Ne! Kiu vi estas? Kien vi forprenas min? Liberigu min!”
Ten minutes later, our group was rushing back through the underground tunnel, after closing carefully the hatches and locking back all the doors. With the blood pumping in our ears from the sustained effort, we were racing towards our ship as fast as our feet could carry us. Salik, followed by Roy, led the men back home. Two sailors carried the princess with as much care as possible under the given circumstances. Every ten minutes or so, the crewmen were taking turns with the transport of our precious hostage. With the hands and legs held tight by the blanket and her mouth covered by the table cloth, she had ceased to struggle after a while, realizing that any resistance was futile.
The beautiful young woman had recognized us by know and I could glimpse occasional tears of fear and anger flowing along her cheeks. In the same single file, we were trotting along the narrow corridor, trying to put as much distance as possible between us and the people from the palace. I was closing the line, ready to defend our escape route from any potential pursuers.
Luckily, nobody seemed to be coming after us and soon we could afford to slow down our pace and breathe easier. We reached the underground river after some time and were marching now on the path that led to the bridge. Suddenly, the tones of a strange, deep rumble began to reverberate from behind. The noise sounded like a distant animal roar and sent shivers down our spines. We could remember all too well the remains of the crushed bones discovered near the exit to the city, as well as the huge wolf-like footprints from the cave with the altar.
The princess was carried first to the other side, followed in quick succession by all my men, while I was guarding our path of retreat. The sailors were crossing the narrow bridge in a hurry, unsure of what was going to attack them. About ten seconds later, they were on the other side. I was the only person left behind, with a torch in my left hand and the gun in my right, ready to fire at any creature that would jump at us from the rear.
The roars were louder now, but I still couldn’t see anything moving among the trembling shadows projected by my flame. The cave’s walls were deflecting the noises produced by the unknown predator, making difficult to pinpoint its position. I decided that the beast following us hadn’t caught up with our group yet and hurried to cross the bridge myself.
I was in the middle of the crossing to the other side, when a huge shape lunged towards me with lightning speed, springing out of the dark alley that was lining the river bank. It looked like a giant wolf, but its powerful roar made me think of a lion. I could see its fierce eyes, like two burning fires, coming close to my face, accompanied by a mouth full of long, sharp teeth ready to crush my bones. Almost instantly, the beast leaped high in the air, preparing to strike me down and tear me to pieces.
Bending down quickly, I unloaded my gun into the monster’s neck. Shots from my men hit the creature on its flank. The animal flew over me and landed flat on the bridge. Its huge jaws had narrowly missed my own neck. I turned and cut its belly with my sword but the giant wolf arched its back, got somehow again on its feet and its powerful paws hit my chest, pushing me over the edge of the crossing. A second round of shots from the sailors hit its neck almost at the same time. Before realizing what was happening, I saw myself plunging inside the ice-cold water, with the corpse of the already dead beast falling on top of me.
As soon as I recovered from the thermal shock (and that took two or three seconds), I tried to grab anything connected to the bank that could stop my drift, but all the stones were slippery and the powerful current was dragging me further downstream. The water flow was so fast that I lost the sight of the bridge and my men in only a few moments. I was trying desperately to stay afloat, but the stream pulled me down with an irresistible force through an underwater tunnel.
Here and there, my hands and feet were hitting the walls of the passageway, adding more pain to my agony. When my lungs were almost ready to explode from the lack of air, I reached the surface again. Now I was in a totally unknown place and swallowed by an absolute darkness. Terrified, all I could do was to continue swimming and try to keep my head above water. My muscles were numb, I felt thousands of needles piercing my chest, and my heart was racing madly.
I was almost going to give up the fight, when my feet suddenly touched the bottom. My legs and arms, almost paralyzed from the intense cold, could barely drag me out of the water, where I lied down for a while, shaking and struggling to breathe. It was completely dark around, but the echoes of my splashes suggested that I was inside a big cave. Optimism came back to me, and with it the hope to find soon a way out and join my comrades on their return trip to the ship.
I rested, shivering and coughing, for a few more minutes, then took off my wet clothes and boots and began rubbing vigorously my skin, to make the blood inside my frozen body flow normally again. Then, after having squeezed out as much water as I could from them, I put my clothes back on. This took a lot of effort, as the wet linen and canvas was not sliding easily over my flesh. The clothes were cold and uncomfortable to wear, but I needed them to keep me warm during the following hours in this unfriendly place. So, I had to bear this unpleasant feeling and let my attire dry from my body heat, or what was left of it, anyway.
I had several scratches on my chest, forearms, shoulders and shins. A few were painful to the touch, but none felt serious when examined with my fingertips. It was dark, so dark that I could see absolutely nothing. In this eternal darkness, without anything as a visual reference point, my mind began to generate soon by itself various luminous shapes. I could glimpse pale fires and veils of multicolored light dancing at the edge of my vision, but when I turned my gaze towards them, there was nothing to be seen. I just had to keep reminding myself that they were mere illusions and focus my attention elsewhere.
With my wet clothes back on, I moved farther away from the river. After a few steps, my soles felt a flat, even area. There I sat on the ground with my legs crossed and began to inspect my possessions, using only my sense of touch. I found out that I didn’t have my flint with me anymore, and, of course, even if I had it, there were no dry twigs around to make a torch that could generate light. I had also lost the belt with my sword and gun, I already knew that before getting out of the water. The glass of my pocket watch felt cracked under my fingertips and the compass was gone. Inside my inner chest pouch I found the small, flat wooden box where I kept my notebook and a few pencils. They seemed to be in good condition. The gun powder bag from my coat’s pocket, on the other hand, was all wet and rendered useless. Even if I could dry it from my body heat, how could I ever use the explosive mixture without flint and fuse? Yet, I had to call myself lucky, because I still had a small folding knife with me.
In the absence of any light source, everything that was beyond my hand’s reach was a total mystery at first. Yet, there are tricks to help someone find his way out, even in total darkness. In my childhood I had a pal who became blind during a tragic fire accident. For the next few months, he was completely helpless, but over time he learned about the position of the objects and people around him by emitting rapid clicking sounds and listening to their echoes. As the years passed and my friend became better at it, this unusual method helped him have an almost normal life.
So, I took a deep breath and began to calm down my thoughts and heart beats. Then I began listening carefully, between my occasional bursts of coughing, to all the sounds from the cave. In fact, the only audible noises were those made by the underground river that was flowing furiously somewhere behind me. As my mind was becoming accustomed to the absence of any visual stimuli, the illusory lights generated by my mind in my peripheral vision area faded gradually until they became barely noticeable. I stood up and began to make clicking noises with my tongue touching the palate, turning slowly my head left and right, in the same way my blind friend used to do.
Soon I started to recognize direction-related differences in the echoes that were coming back to my ears. My impression was that, besides the river’s tunnel, there was an empty area a few steps ahead and to my left. With my hands stretched in front and swiping the ground carefully with my feet, I advanced into that direction and yes, there was an opening and a gallery. It seemed as big as the tunnel employed by our team to go to the city and I felt full of hope, believing that I could soon get out of this gigantic underground maze.
Continuing to emit clicking sounds once every few seconds, I realized that the passage was making a continuous right turn, climbing in a spiral high above the river bed. Meanwhile, the whole strain from this night’s expedition began to take its toll. I was exhausted and could not continue marching for much longer, but it was too dangerous to stop while my body was still wet and its temperature low. I didn’t know where this tunnel was going to take me, but kept walking in total darkness for another half an hour or so.
At some point, I felt the temperature inside the cave rising and heard a stream flowing on my left. Its water was pleasantly warm. Taking my clothes off, I jumped inside it to restore my blood circulation and stop my shivering and coughs. After my body temperature came finally back to normal, I left my attire to dry on a boulder nearby and laid down on the ground that wasn’t wet or cold to the touch anymore. I fell instantly asleep on the rough surface, next to my clothes, with my boots used as a pillow.
For how long have I slept? Six hours? Ten hours? It’s impossible to tell the time in this absolute darkness. I suppose it’s the morning of June 20. I feel hungry and thirsty, but at least I am not coughing anymore. For thirst, I try some hot spring water. It has a vaguely salty taste, but it’s drinkable. I put my dried clothes and boots back on and continue my trek.
To compensate for my lack of vision, my ears are becoming more and more sensitive with every passing hour. I’m using the clicking sounds more efficiently now and can follow the tunnels most of the time without having to reach for the walls. I am still careful with my steps, touching each time the ground gently with the tip of my boot before sinking my weight onto it. You never know what hole or chasm could lurk ahead of you, especially when you have no ways of seeing it.
After about an hour, I hear the sound of a water flow ahead. Is this the same river or a different one? I get down next to it and check with my hand the direction of its current. My steps were going against its course, which is good. It means this track should be climbing slowly towards surface. I just hope that the river will lead me to an exit from this place, to a location where I could see the Sun shining above me again.
What I am following now is actually not a tunnel anymore, but something more like a path cut in the side wall of a large gallery with the water flow in its middle. I don’t see any of the things I’m describing, all the information about them comes from my hearing and my sense of touch. As for the smell, I haven’t noticed any changes so far, it’s the same cold, mushy air everywhere.
I am thinking for a moment about trying to go back in the direction of my comrades by retracing my steps from the previous day, but the only way to reach the bridge is through the long underwater tunnel while swimming against a powerful current. That is definitely way beyond my strength and probably beyond any human strength. I have to resign myself into following the river and hoping to find another lateral exit.
My thoughts are wandering in spirals, taking me back to the princess at some point. I still can’t remember why her face looked so familiar. There is a persistent sensation that I have seen her in a painting, but can’t remember where and when did that happen. This is driving me crazy, because I know that I used to have a clear memory of that painting and of that place. I feel as if an evil spirit has erased it, knowing how important it had been for me.
I have been marching for several hours now, I think (without a watch or a sun, it’s impossible to measure accurately the time). The river can be always heard flowing at my right. When thirsty, I descend with care near the bank and take a few sips from its stream, then continue my trek into a direction that hopefully goes towards the Island’s shore and back to the surface. Yet, without food, if I don’t find an exit within a few days, I shall become too weak to continue my journey. In the end, I am going to die slowly of starvation. Or of cold, as I also need food to keep my body warm inside this damp underground network.
Sometime in the afternoon (I believe it’s afternoon, but I might be wrong), I see a faint glimmer ahead. My morale rises quickly and I increase my walking speed. An immense cave opens to my left. Its arched ceiling is radiating a soothing yellow light. This is not the Sun, but probably a phenomenon similar to the light generated by fireflies or by the locals’ night globes. As I arrive in the middle of the hall, it’s bright enough inside to even read or write. My eyes need a few minutes to readjust with this level of luminosity.
The temperature is warm and comfortable, too. White mushrooms are covering a large part of the floor. Having few natural enemies in this underground realm, I assume that these fungi must be edible and try a few bites from one of them. The taste is not so bad. I lie down on the floor to rest and let about an hour pass, to make sure there are no ill effects, then I eat a few more. This is not the ideal food for a human being, but it can keep me going for several weeks, or even months. However, I hope to find an exit out of here sooner than that. Much sooner than that…
I do a quick exploration of the walls, looking for a way out. However, I cannot find any exit. I decide to spend the rest of the day inside this hall, filling my log with notes while my memories are still fresh. Six or seven hours later (that’s my best estimate of time, anyway), I’m done with the writing. I check one more time the cave for an exit, or at least for a gallery to take me further, but without success. Disappointed, I have a frugal dinner made of another bunch of raw mushrooms and plunge into a deep sleep.
Excerpt from "Butterfly's Dream", a novel by Marian C. Ghilea;
photo by Marian C. Ghilea: Ocean #cave in #Goleta, #California
(c) Marian C. Ghilea, all rights reserved
12 sample chapters (pre-final draft) are available here: http://nivitx.blogspot.com/2017/08/final-proof-reading-novel-almost-done.html
#scifi #literature #amwriting #romance #adventure #books #writing #fantasy #novel #comingsoon #ya #chapter #prose #history #photography #exploration #maze #underground #night
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For the previous chapters, please check: