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“It’s hopeless,” Laen exclaims. “We’re trapped in here. We’ll run out of air, and we’ll die of thirst, and I hate the dark, and what if the aivenkaites come back and kill us!” Her voice rises as she speaks. The last bit is more of a wail than words, accompanied by her breath, too loud, too fast.
I think of the hilltop on Ira, of debarking in Izyphor without a seal of freedom, of the way out of Yrin’s dungeon, and every other impossible thing that has happened since Saviayr showed up at Tatanda’s house. “Laen, we’ll be okay,” I promise. The strange thing is, I actually believe it, even with Elesekk’s death resting like a stone in my chest. Aia has gotten us this far. I don’t understand why He let Elesekk die, but He won’t leave us trapped in this hole.
“Ow–Drigo, watch your elbow,” Hoenna says.
“I wouldn’t have to if you’d get out of my way.”
Laen’s breathing speeds up.
Saviayr’s voice rings out and makes me jump. “Whoever’s closest to Laen needs to help her.”
“That’s me,” Liwin squeeks. Pebbles skitter as he goes to her.
“Be careful of the hole,” Hoenna says.
“Yes, Dad.” Sandals shuffle over crumbled rock. “Okay, I’m here, Laen.”
“Hold her shoulders,” Hoenna prompts. “Laen, focus on Liwin. Feel his breaths. Try to match him.”
“Yeah,” Liwin says. “Here, see? Breathe in and out. In, and out. Slow like that.”
It takes a while, but Laen’s breaths start to slow.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Laen’s calming down, but isn’t she kind of right?” Drigo asks. “We’re trapped. We’re gonna die. Some god your Aia is–he can’t even keep his Champions safe.”
That makes me angry. I’m holding Savi with one hand–I’ve shrugged off the sling–and Luemikaroeth with the other. I squeeze the sword hilt and feel something…strange. When I first held the sword, it felt like knowledge of swordplay was flowing into me. Now, my anger seems to call to the sword, and it answers by magnifying my anger and clearing my head.
Never before has anger made my head feel more clear.
I see it plainly. “That’s not true,” I tell Drigo. “Aia is Thaies–He is God, and He is perfectly capable of saving His Champions.”
Drigo’s eyes widen in surprise.
Wait–I can see his eyes?
“Rai,” Savi breathes, “your sword.”
The center of Luemikaroeth’s blade, which looked like diamond dust in the sun, now shines white. The rest of the sword, except the black leather grip, glows faintly.
I almost drop it.
Has Luemikaroeth always done this? The night on the hill with Nhardah blurs. There was too much fear then, too much happening. I can’t remember if the sword’s glow was real or imagined.
What is going on?
The sword’s light dims.
Maybe it will only last a short time? Then I need to make good use of the light. I push the questions aside and meet Drigo’s eyes. “Aia has not abandoned us.”
Luemikaroeth’s light grows. The furthest edges of the room come into sight, gray, dusty. Ruined floor strewn with rocks and dust surrounds us and falls off in a remarkably straight chasm a few yards away from where I stand. My heart sinks. It is too far to jump.
Not far beyond the chasm’s far edge, the curved roof of a hall fades into darkness beyond an archway. There is a way out of this room, if only we can get across.
“We really are trapped,” Forziel says, uncharacteristically quiet.
I search the walls and ceiling for some way out. Sword light glints off blue and red paint. Unfinished stone hangs overhead, except for remnants of a repeated pattern of cloudlike swirls at the edges of the room.
Did the aivenkaites drop the whole ceiling on us?
How did we survive that?
And why is my sword glowing?
The mysteries keep growing, but I haven’t the time to ponder them.
Everyone is silent, staring at the gaping floor.
I take a deep breath. Because praying is easiest in the language of my parents, I switch from the Common Tongue to Maraian and look to the ceiling.
“Aia, we are trapped in this room. We can’t find any way out. But You saved me from the river and raised me by Your kaites, You gave me a new name and sent Nhardah to remind me–You said that at last You are going to rescue Your people from slavery, and that You will do that through Saviayr and me. Please, be true to Your word. Please show us a way out.”
The sword shines brighter still.
“Hey.” Drigo dives into his pack. “I just remembered, I packed this.” He pulls a coil of rope out of the bag.
Forziel perks up. His eyes dart eagerly around the room. Then he grins.
“What are you thinking?” Savi asks him.
The boy points at the wall. “See that?”
Up high, almost at the ceiling, is what looks like the remains of moulding that would have linked pillars together.
“What if we hook Drigo’s rope around it and swing across the gap?” Forziel bounces on his toes.
“That sounds…” I trail off.
“Terrifying?” Laen supplies.
“It could work,” Savi says, doubt clouding his voice.
“I can tie it,” Forziel offers. “I worked on the cargo ships, transporting marble for new buildings. I’m great with knots.”
Drigo snorts. “Calm down, kid. I’ve got this.” His hands twist the rope faster than I can follow, but I recognize a lariat loop as well as any slave would. Ropes were the few tools the Izyphorns allowed us to use in our work.
When he finishes, Drigo tries to loop the rope onto the moulding remnant. After he falls short a dozen times, Laen snatches the rope from him. “Let me,” she says, and weighs the rope in her palms. After a couple heartbeats, she swings the rope.
The loop catches the moulding. Laen flicks the rope to scoot it further over the stone, then tugs it.
“Okay.” I take a deep breath. “Who’s going first?”
Forziel jumps at the opportunity, and immediately swings out over the chasm. He doesn’t reach the other side, though. His sandals don’t even brush the edge.
Hoenna and Savi haul Forziel back onto our side by his tunic when he swings back. “Problem,” Forziel says. “That thing’s closer to this side, which means we’re going to need to run to swing all the way to the other side.”
While Forziel holds the rope, the rest of us scoot rubble out of the way to clear a running path.
“Is Elesekk over there?” Nihae asks me with utmost calmness. She dumps a boulder on a rubble pile.
I stumble. “What?”
“Elesekk,” Nihae repeats. “We’re going to meet him, right?”
I meet Hoenna’s eyes. He mouths, “Play along.”
“Maybe,” I answer, trying to keep my voice from shaking.
“Okay,” Forziel says. He stands as far from the edge as the rope will reach. “Here we go.” With that, he takes off running. Just as he leaps, Forziel whoops. The sound echoes off the rock walls.
Forziel stumbles onto the far side and falls, but manages to keep ahold of the rope. “That was amazing,” he laughs. “You’ve got to try this!”
“That’s kind of the idea,” Drigo drawls.
Savi edges up to the chasm. “Tie a rock to the end and swing it back over.”
Forziel does, and Savi catches the rope. He turns to look at me. “There should be a Champion on both sides, just in case they come back while we’re getting across.”
I bite my lip. “That’s a good idea. Will you…?”
He nods. “I’ll go now, you protect everyone here.”
Savi backs up. Just before he starts to run, I grab his sleeve. “Be careful?”
He smiles. “Of course. You, too.”
Then Savi’s running, leaping, swinging.
Forziel grabs him on the far side, and they swing the rope back. One by one, everyone swings across. Liwin laughs, Laen squeeks, Drigo says, “Man, I hope we don’t have to do that again.”
“We wouldn’t be able to, anyways,” Hoenna points out, landing with a thud next to him. “This is our only rope.”
Nihae is the last before me, then it’s my turn. I fumble to catch the rock at the end of the rope, and frown at Luemikaroeth. What am I going to do with the sword?
I tuck it into my belt. As soon as I let go, the light dims. I snatch ahold of the handle, and the light returns.
Aia, what am I going to do?
I wiggle my hand through the hilt as much as possible and hold the rope and sword at the same time.
“Rai, will you be able to hold on like that?” Savi asks. His eyebrows push together, and he leans forward.
My palms are sweating. When I try to answer, no sound comes out. I force a smile and nod.
That’s when I hear a strange noise vibrating the air.
The aivenkaites are coming back! I have to get to the others before the aivenkaites reach us. That thought gives me courage. I take a deep breath and run.
Two steps from the edge of the chasm, a black shape darts into the room, followed by dozens more. I leap over the edge, and I recognize the shapes for what they are: Bats.
Bats pour into the room, hundreds pitching through the air. They flood between me and the others. Their wings brush my arms. They flap in my eyes, blinding.
I feel the rope soar up then start to swing down again.
I missed the far side of the room.