A few months ago, I made the daunting decision to join the world of Twitter. I thought this would be a painful chore that I had to do if I wanted to “build an author platform” (aka ever get more than my mom to read my stories). Full of trepidation, I dipped my toe into the Twitter waters–and I have been completely surprised and overjoyed by the hugely supportive community of writers I’ve found there!
One of those incredible members of the Twitter community that I’ve met is E.B. Dawson. Not only is she pretty cool, immensely supportive, and a fellow Narnia/Lord of the Rings fan, but she also thought I was worth interviewing! So, friends, I am overjoyed to announce that my first ever author interview, with the delightful E.B. Dawson, will be posted tomorrow. You can find her website here, or follow her on Twitter @ebdawsonwriting. I’ll post the link to the interview tomorrow, or as soon as I get the chance.
And now, I present to you this week’s chapter. (Find previous chapters here.)
The way is dark. I lead, scuffing forward one foot at a time. My hand runs along the walls, searching for forks and the impossible decisions they might force on us. So far, I have found none, only two walls close enough that I can’t straighten either arm fully. Their stones steal heat from my hands even as their rough surface nicks my palms.
“Can you go any faster?” Savi whispers from the back of the group.
I bite my lip. “This isn’t exactly easy.”
He sighs, and Nihae’s hand squeezes my shoulder. I try to picture what we look like, me with both hands on the walls, them with one hand on the wall and one on the shoulder of the person ahead. Nihae’s toe juts into my sore ankle. “Sorry,” she whispers.
I force myself forward, try not to limp, and say, “It’s nothing.”
The darkness steals all sense of direction. I can’t tell if we’re going straight or gradually winding around in circles, much less if we’re going up or down. When my head spins, I squeeze my eyes shut and keep going.
Our breaths are loud in the silence. I try to pick out which breath belongs to whom. The shallow ones are Nihae’s, the slow are Savi’s, and the loudest are Elesekk’s.
Then I shuffle my foot forward, and it meets only air.
“Why are we stopping?” Elesekk asks.
“The ground stopped.”
“For how far?” Savi asks.
The air hasn’t changed. It still smells like dust, and still stands still. I slowly crouch, one hand on the wall to steady myself. “Nihae,” I whisper, “hold onto me.” Only when her hands grip onto my shoulders do I dare lean forward and feel for the rest of the floor.
Nothing meets my hand within arm’s reach of what lies ahead. Even the air doesn’t draft up, like it might if there were a chasm ahead.
I try feeling down the stone.
There it is–a step. We move forward, but now every step is even more painfully slow than before. The steps go on, fifty in all, and I have to check each one to make sure it doesn’t open into a gaping hole.
When the ground levels out, we all sigh in relief. Here, our slow pace feels much faster than it used to feel.
“Your shoulder is so tense, Rai.” Nihae says it in a regular voice, and the volume makes me flinch.
All three of us hush her.
“I’ll relax when we’re safely out of this tunnel,” I murmur back to her.
“Where are we going?” Nihae asks.
Elesekk’s voice is gentle. “We’re trying to get out of the palace, dearest. We don’t know where this tunnel leads.”
The walls and the darkness stretch on. I’m beginning to think we’ll be forced to rest, or maybe even be trapped down here forever, when something changes. At first, I think it’s the darkness playing tricks with my eyes. Then Elesekk says, “Hey, is that…light ahead?”
That confirms it. The tunnel ahead shows faint gray light, just enough to make out where the walls and floor join.
I laugh in relief. We’re almost out. I can relax.
Then a shriek shakes my bones.
I freeze. Nihae’s fingers bite into my shoulder.
The shriek repeats, accompanied by cackling like a roaring fire.
“Aivenkaites.” The word leaves my mouth dry.
For a moment, we’re all frozen. Next moment, we’re scrambling back the way we just came, tripping over our feet. It’s senseless. There were no branches in the tunnel. There’s nowhere to hide. And we can’t outrun aivenkaites.
Their voices grow faster than the light. I glance back. Orange light silhouettes forms of what used to be humans. Did these people give themselves willingly to the aivenkaites, or were their lives forfeit by force? Either way, the evil spirits inside those bodies have twisted the flesh into something grotesque.
Fear blinds me. I claw my way up the tunnel, but it’s like a dream where I try to run but the air is thick as honey.
A slimy hand curls around my arm and yanks.
I scream. Savi screams. All of our screams mingle, human terror and aivenkaite evil. I scratch and kick and bang my head back against the fiend.
Elesekk’s scream cuts short. A snap echoes over the scuffle.
“Dad!” Saviayr’s shriek pierces my ears.
For a moment, everything slows. I lose focus on the aivenkaite attacking me. All the world narrows to the gray shadow of Elesekk slumped on the floor, neck bent too far. Nihae’s wail is an eternal lament.
Even the aivenkaites pause their attack, to delight in a life cut short.
Then another voice joins the fray, yelling in wordless rage. Nhardah charges up the hall. The fury on his face gives me hope. He’ll save us. Nothing, not even aivenkaites, could stand against the Firstborn’s furor.
The aivenkaites whirl back into motion. The fingers of ice tighten around my neck.
Nhardah shouts, “Rai, catch!”
Something twists through the air. Light glints off it. The aivenkaites flinch out of its way.
By some instinct, I catch it. Leather wrapped around metal claps into my hand: A sword. The instant I touch it, knowledge starts flowing up my arm. I’ve never held a sword, but I somehow know how to use this one.
And I do.
I swing and hack and duck and twist, and somehow manage to avoid hitting the walls, Nihae, or Savi. The blade catches one of the aivenkaites in the neck. Its shriek chills my blood, but leaves me feeling stronger. The body crumbles, and the shriek flies off into the night.
In the back of my head, I’m aware of Nhardah giving Savi the same command, and of another sword joining the fight. But there is too much happening, too much to process, too much motion and danger.
Until, suddenly, there isn’t. I blink, and I’m standing in a quiet hall. The ringing screams fade from my ears. Then I can hear my ragged pants, loud in the corridor where they were inaudible the moment before.
Sight, too, returns gradually. The world widens from the pinpoint focus I had during battle. Light wavers over six hideous, deflated corpses, over Savi panting and clutching another sword, over Nihae bent across Elesekk’s empty body.
My knees buckle. The sword slips from my hands. It bounces in the pools of red on the ground.
Elesekk. Elesekk is dead.