This is the opening scene for No’va current chapter.
There was no telling how far into the mountains the tunnel went. With a single lantern, all Thomas Gracie could see was a small amount of light passing over gray stone wall. He was careful where he stepped, as the cavern floor was uneven. Stalagmites littered where water had contorted the stone with mineral deposits over time. Some were fairly large spikes, which Thomas Gracie picked his way around. He dipped to his left, avoiding a low-hanging stalactite. Another nearly caught his shoulder.
It must have leaked through this part. He hunched low to keep from smacking a whole family of them. Wonder how Jenario’s fairing?
He had to laugh, then listened to the echoes of his solitary musings fade down the tunnel. It was too easy to imagine the young man smacking into one of these long rock formations, though he hoped no injuries occurred in the frigid weather. Nickademis already had his hands full back at camp. Adding one of the four leaders would only dishearten the group from a survival perspective.
Gradually, the tunnel curved to his right. He was almost positive it connected to the one Jenario had gone down. A few others branched off here and there, but nothing that contained questionable sounds other than his own echoing movements.
“Jenario! Can you hear me?” He thought it odd no echoes could be heard anywhere else. A little farther down he called again. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this doesn’t connect. But if that’s the case, then where does it lead? It has to be parallel to Jenario’s!
As if to answer his question, the lantern’s light finally revealed a dead end. To his left, a smaller opening continued with the possibility of connecting to his friend.
With a sigh, he contemplated turning back. Having told Jenario not to veer from the main tunnel, Thomas Gracie was not about to chance his own luck. Other than watching his step, he had proven the cave empty – at least on his side, and he hoped Jenario’s was same. The thought of bringing in the group deemed safer by the minute.
Even if the air is still cold, at least we’ll be out of the wind.
About to turn back, a hint of blue caught his eye. It was a faint glow that illuminated the side tunnel entrance, so low in fact that his own light source had overpowered it. But once he turned away, the glow remained. Curious, kept the lantern behind him to better see.
Jenario doesn’t have any such light. Should I..? He peered into the opening.
There was something traced into the wall. The etchings themselves cast a faint aura that flickered along the mark like a slow pulse. Intrigued to its meaning, Thomas Gracie decided to take a chance. He stepped through the opening.
As soon as his foot touched the inside floor, more symbols lit up as though activated by his mere presence. Not one, but four of these marks, lined side by side down the wall. Thomas Gracie just stared in stunned silence. He finally stepped close to the first one and watched while the blue light faded away. It was hard to see anything once the color dimmed, but he swore the symbol looked like waves of water.
He stepped to the second. This one revealed a fiery crimson that reminded him of Shafari’s attempt at spell-casting, and he wondered if the two were related. The mark’s shape resembled something like fire before it too dimmed.
The third was harder to identify. Its fading color had been a light teal tracing several swirls winding into the stone. It reminded him of a drawing Jenario’s son had scribbled out one day. The simple forms of clouds swirling onto the top part of the paper slightly matched the etching.
Maybe it represents the sky? Unsure, he moved to the last mark. It was the easiest to recognize, being the shape of a leaf. Like all the rest, its green lighting faded until Thomas Gracie had to raise his own lantern again to see in front of him. Someone had to have made these, but for what purpose? What does a leaf, a cloud, fire and water have do with anything?
The tap of toenails over stone floor echoed from the tunnel he had just been in. Frozen in place, Thomas Gracie held the light steady as the tapping drew near. When a low growl penetrated the silence, he knew a hungry wolf was about to enter.
He started to back away, his light no longer able to reach the spot where he was sure the wolf’s head had appeared. Now only two glowing orbs of white reflected from what little light reached them, but it was enough to make Thomas Gracie turn on his heels and run. Armed only with a lantern, as the council prohibited weapons, his only defense was to flee.
Why didn’t I think to grab something from one of the Trappers? As a master huntsman, A Trapper was granted this title if the council approved their successful hunts. There was only one in the group, as the rest had been too proud to consider leaving the city. It was these the council had promoted to guard duty, and probably were the same tasked with eliminating those off Jenario’s list.
Thomas Gracie did not hear anything advancing after him. His steps, however, did not slow. He wanted to find Jenario and hoped he was on a connecting path. As he ran, the same four symbols lit his way, dimming when he approached and flaring up again when he had passed. The interest in them had vanished, replaced now by a rising fear that something may have happened to his friend.
“Jen—” His call was cut short when his foot tripped on a stalagmite. The lantern went flying, and so did he. All he could hear was shattering glass and the echoes of his own painful yelps when his arm scraped against jagged floor.
He lay still, waiting for the tunnel’s returning mimic to calm itself.