The Red Hand Part 13
by Shane Migliavacca
The Red Hand Part Thirteen The Tunnels
After roughly two weeks we’re ready to leave for the old city of Kuma Torth. There are five of us going, besides me and Tenth. There’s Maebh of course, Seventh, Tenth’s older brother and resident asshole, Ninth Strur a purple lizard from another clan. Don’t really know anything about him. He’s remained quiet so far. I had to leave Wolfie behind. He started following us when we started out. But Seventh started bitching so I had to convince Wolfie to stay, which he wouldn’t. So finally frustrated I had to tie him to some rocks in one of the caves. He pulled at his tether and howled till I had to scream at him to settle down. I felt shitty for doing it and even worse when he gave me that big eyed sad look as we left. I wanted Hallie to come along but these lizards have a real bug up their ass about any kind of technology. I was hoping to bring her to spare Maebh the journey. I’m not sure if the old woman can handle another trip. She told me its fine. I don’t buy it one bit though. Since the first trip across the desert Maebh has looked incredibly tired. I just hope this one isn’t too much for her. The old woman says she has to “See for herself” what they’re doing in the city.
Seventh is leading us to the city using an alternate route from how I had traveled. He’s our team leader for what it’s worth. Having seniority over Tenth and Ninth. I don’t care for the way he goes about leading or anything else. He comes across as arrogant and bossy. But then he’ll say something nice like complementing Tenth that makes me reconsider for a second. And then he goes right back to being an asshole. Then again it could be me, I suck with authority types.
After two days travel we reach the city. We make camp on the outskirts for the night. Hiding behind an outcropping of rocks. Just being here I can feel the fear clawing at the pit of my stomach. I look at the others and try to reassure myself that I’m not alone. Seventh tells us over a small dinner that we’re going to enter the city through tunnels that run underneath, that way we can avoid running into any unfriendlies.
Later Ninth is standing guard as the rest of us get some sleep, but I’m having trouble falling asleep. My heart thumping away in my chest and I try taking deep breaths to calm myself. It doesn’t help much. Tenth is lying next to me. She stirs as I turn over frustrated.
“Are you having trouble sleeping?” She asks. Keeping her voice low.
“I can talk to you. If you wish?”
She climbs out from under her blankets and slips in beside me.
“You don’t mind do you?”
“No. It’s okay.” I answer.
Honestly it was, I was glad to feel her against me tonight. There’s been something I’ve meant to ask her, something nagging me about her brother. Now seemed like as good a time as any.
“Can I ask you a question about your brother Seventh?”
“You can.” She answers.
“Well it’s a couple questions actually. Why is he a lighter color then everyone else?”
Tenth snuggles against me.
She sighs. “He is an abnormal. They are rare but we have them from time to time. They are looked down upon.”
“Well I guess that answers my other question.”
“What is that?”
“Why your brother acts like he does.” I say.
“Yes. He has much to prove as do I.”
What does she have to prove? Tenth has been pretty capable and tough from what I’ve seen of her.
“You? You tell off the wrong person? Or did you fall asleep on guard duty?”
“I do not wish to talk about. I shouldn’t have mentioned it.”
I let it go. It appears Tenth has a couple sore spots. Is one something she did? Her brother is the other subject that’s capable of making her uneasy. When he interrupted my training there was a definite tension between them. A yawn escapes my mouth. I can feel the stress of the day slip away as my body tells me it’s time to sleep. I can ponder Tenth’s problems tomorrow. That is if we don’t die in the city.
My eyes don’t want to open at first. They’re stuck shut with crud. I rub the crap off and open them. For once I’m not the last to get up. Maebh and Tenth are still asleep. Tenth has an arm draped over me. I slip out from under her causing her to wake up.
“I should have be up earlier. Damn.” Tenth says. She stands up, hurriedly dressing.
I feel bad for her in a way. She’s always on the job. The only time I see her relax even a little is when she sleeps. Having her brother along probably doesn’t help matters whatsoever. It’s times like this that I’m glad I was an only child.
I stand. I see Seventh is patiently waiting for us. I reach down and to rouse the old woman.
After a quick breakfast Seventh fills us in on how we’re going to enter the city. There’s two sets of tunnels under the city he tells us. The first one that we’re going to use was for travel under the city during sandstorms. It’s connected to most of the major buildings in the city. It was also used by the lower classes for going back and forth. When a major sandstorm erupted on the surface, the lower class wasn’t allowed in the tunnel. Thus the ruling class did not have to mix with them. Any lower class caught in the tunnel during this period were killed on sight. I can hear the contempt in Seventh’s voice when he talks about the higher class, maybe we’re not so different. The other set of tunnels runs underneath those tunnels. They’re used for waste. Thankfully we won’t be going through those.
The entrance to the service tunnel is inside of a small building just outside the city. It’s unguarded and unlocked. But according to Tenth this city has been abandoned for a very long time. The entrance is a rusty old metal door. On the other side is a set of stone steps leading down into darkness. We descend them in single file. Seventh takes point, Ninth behind him. Maebh is next. Using her staff to light our way. I’m behind her and stuck behind me is Tenth. The tunnel is constructed out of stone blocks. They make up the walls, ceiling and floor. Wood supports hold everything in place. The air down here is stale and heavy. Cobwebs the size of a large child are scattered about the tunnel. We spend as much time knocking them down as we do walking. Soon we’re coated in webs. They hang from our clothes like confetti. I start to itch compulsively, both from the heat in the tunnel and the webs. The thought of whatever made these webs could still be down here. Pissed that we’re ripping down its carefully crafted work sends a shiver down my spine. I scan the walls lit by Maebh’s staff. Hoping I don’t see some large bug staring back at me. Sweat drips down my back. For an instant I think it’s a bug crawling on me.
Hello? Anybody there?
I stop in my tracks. Tenth nearly walking into me.
“Did you hear that?” I ask.
Tenth looks at me perplexed. “Hear what?”
“Someone calling out.”
“No. I didn’t.”
“You didn’t hear that?”
“No. Now hurry Serena before the others leave us behind!”
Tenth shoves me forward. “They’re leaving us! Go!”
Pushy bitch. I turn. Maebh and the others are just a little way ahead. Not that far away at all.
Please! You have to help!
“You’re kidding! Nobody hears that?”
Tenth rushes past me. “Fool! They’re leaving us.”
What’s her problem? The others are just ahead. There’s somebody here that needs help. Screw that lizard bitch.
“Hey!” I call out. “Where are you?”
Here! I’m here!
I reach into my cloak and pull the new crystal sword from my belt. I concentrate. It hums to life forming a small blade. More importantly it lights my surroundings. Don’t know how long I can keep it going. I can see Maebh a further down the tunnel. They’re still moving forward. Tenth is close behind them.
The others fade into the darkness as they get further into the distance.
“Hey! Don’t you hear that?”
I rush forward to catch up. The light from my sword rapidly fading. I keep my free hand on the right hand wall. The sword fades out altogether. I stop to catch my breath, winded from running and the sword’s drain on my energy.
Serena…Don’t let me die down here.
My voice bounces off the walls and echoes into the distance. Up ahead the tunnel must open up. I start forward slowly keeping my right hand on the wall. I let my hands play over the stone blocks. Crafted so long ago. The ones who made this tunnel and used it are all dust. Equal in death. I’ll join them if I don’t find the others.
Then the wall gives away to nothingness.
“Hello!” My voices echoes out into blackness. How big is this area?
I concentrate on the sword again. I need light. I get just a flicker, but it’s better than nothing. I step into the dark chamber. Inching forward. I see a brief flash of orange in the distance.
I get about five feet before tripping and falling over something. I go down on my hands scraping them up and my sword tumbles off into the darkness, it’s light quickly going out. I fumble around on my hands and knees trying to find it. I touch something large, warm and sticky. Instinctively I pull my hand away.
A hand touches my shoulder. I let out a shriek.
“Do not fear.” It’s Tenth! “I am here Serena. Take my hand.”
I reach out gripping her hand tight.
“There’s something there on the ground.” I say.
Tenth holds up her other hand, bathing the area in warm light. She’s wearing the gauntlet Maebh created for her.
I look down at the ground to see what I tripped over. I see my sword first. I grab it. Not far from that is the thing I tripped over. It’s Maebh cocooned in webs. She’s unconscious or…No! I won’t even think that! I start pulling at the webs covering her. She looks like she’s only been partly covered. Whatever did this wasn’t able to finish. I start tearing at the webs faster.
“Where were you?” I holler at Tenth. “You left me!”
“I thought they were leaving us. I ran ahead ended up here. I got lost in here. I saw your light when you entered.”
“Why didn’t you use your gauntlet before?”
“Because we’re not alone. I can hear it moving in the shadows. It was feeding on the old woman’s staff.”
“Help me with her.” I pull at the webs but they’re tough to break.
I hear it. Moving over the stone ceiling somewhere above us. Tenth tugs at me.
“We must get back to the tunnel.” Her voice crackles with fear.
“We can’t leave her or the others! Your brother!”
It’s getting closer now. Coming down the wall I think.
I grab Maebh’s limp form. “Help me drag her!”
We haven't had guests in some time.
Tenth sighs defeated. “It’s too late.”
It emerges from the shadows. A large horrid thing born from madness and nightmares. The thing’s body is covered in armor, something like you’d see on a crab. Growing from the armor is thick black hair. Crawling over its large backside are little versions of it. Horrid offspring no doubt. Its twelve eyes burn with an orange molten hate. All of them focused on us.
I am Nirzai The Wicked. Welcome food.
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