Gilhooly Skute was a fast – but his two fearsome pursuers, with their great long strides, maintained a steady pace behind. He could hear their heavy footfalls; a moment’s hesitation and they would be upon him. Impelled by an urchin’s instinct for survival, he lowered his head, balled his little hands into fists, and ran for his life.
What had become of Miss Ginsburg? he wondered. Where were Brother Lapis, and Mr. Emerson? Were Malus and Miss Kaylee even still alive? Gil was alone but for those creatures. In this world darkness was his friend. The light illuminated unspeakable horrors.
Whether he was breathing harder from exertion or shear panic was debatable. Arriving at the fork from whence he and Miss Ginsburg had set out he made for the blocked tunnel on the left, gripping and shaking the bars in an act of utter desperation, “MISTER EMERSON! BROTHER LAPIS! DEM MONSTERS IS TRY’NA EAT ME UP!” But lonely silence was the only answer to his his frantic call.
In despair, little Gil turned towards the terror, his back pressed against the bars. His chest rising and falling; heart beating furiously; gasping for breath. The only option available to him was the tunnel on the right… back to the hole beneath The Gangplank… back to those other horrid monstrosities that had scaled down the walls of the pit and chased them into this tunnel.
The giant olive-skinned pursuers appeared to hesitate when they saw the urchin leaning against the grate to the barred up tunnel. It was all the Gilhooly needed. In their brief moment of indecision he sprinted down the tunnel to the right – back to the pit beneath The Gangplank and whatever abominations still lurked there – unaware that the creatures had given up pursuit and had raised the grate to the blocked tunnel.
“Is it just me or is it actually getting lighter in here?” Emerson observed.
Brother Lapis slowed his pace, studying the walls and ceiling of the tunnel. “There is some element providing light.” He stopped, giving the earthen wall a flick with the tip of his sword, scratching a glowing scar across the surface. “Snuff the lantern.” Lapis instructed Emerson as he sheathed his sword. “We should conserve our oil.”
Emerson hesitated in the midst turning down the wick, his hand stayed by the faint sound of a distant scream. He glanced at Lapis who caught Emerson’s look of concern. “What is it?” Lapis asked.
“I heard a scream coming from the mouth of the tunnel.” Emerson replied. Lapis studied the darkness in the direction from which they had just come, raising his hand to stifle any reply Emerson might offer the desperate hail. “Do not shout out.” Lapis hissed barely above a whisper. “If there is danger, our only advantage is lies in maintaining stealth.”
The two men stood in silence, the blue/gray glow of the walls washing away all warmth resulting in an unnatural sheen that only heightened the sense of foreboding.
“The grate!” said Emerson. “It sounds as if it is being raised.” Lapis and Emerson exchanged glances, both of them understanding that someone, or something, was now in the tunnel with them. Lapis inclined his head, nodding in the direction they had been traveling. With silent footfalls the two men continued in the direction they had been going, searching for some vantage from which to defend their position. The light emitted by the walls increased as they continued on.
“I hear them Lapis!” said Emerson, motioning to the priest. “Something is gaining on us!” Lapis paused and followed Emerson’s point. He narrowed his eyes. Through the gloom he discerned two giant forms rapidly closing the distance between them.
“Run!” yelled Lapis “I see an opening about a hundred yards ahead. If we can reach that we may gain a tactical advantage!”
The two men, abandoning all efforts of stealth, sprinted for the opening yet the creatures with their great strides continued to close the distance. It was going to be close. Lapis drew his sword. “When we reach the opening you go to the left and I will go to the right.” Lapis called over to Emerson. “Distract them any way you can and I will attack when you have drawn their attention.”
The men were very close to their goal. The creatures were still at least fifty yards behind them. Emerson and Lapis cleared the opening and though they had won the race to the great cavern they would gain no tactical advantage. The spacious cavern with the gleaming space vessel at the centre was occupied by no less than twenty of the olive skinned giants who immediately fell upon the two men.
Junie struggled as the hand pressed more firmly against her mouth tipping her head back at an uncomfortable angle. She bit down on the fingers causing her assailant to instantly release his grip. An arm suddenly, and with great strength, wrapped around her middle, pulling her deeper and more securely into the fissure in the wall. Junie dropped her lantern which shattered upon the ground. The darkness that enveloped her was complete.
“Do not make a sound.” a voice hissed into her ear. Though it was a whisper, the voice was was clearly that of a man. Reflexively Junie brought her elbow back, noting with a sense of satisfaction the barely stifled groan of pain, yet she was not able to overcome the man’s strength. He continued to force her deeper into the chasm until she felt the walls were opening and the air seemed to circulate. Instinctively she knew she had been dragged to a chamber of some sort. Her assailant spun her around, releasing his grip.
Junie heard a click. Balling up her fist she threw a punch connecting solidly with the man’s jaw before having time to process that it was a lighter, not a gun, he held in his hand. The tiny flickering flame reflected in the dark tinting of his glasses.
“Petharic!” Junie exclaimed sounding most incredulous at the unexpected sight. “How did you get here?”
“I am searching for a missing urchin.” Petharic explained, as he rubbed his jaw. He spoke softly but the reverberating acoustics of the room appeared to amplify his voice. “His name is Johnny Dawkins and we became separated.”
“I know the boy.” said Junie. “Where is he?”
Petharic shook his head. “I have been unable to locate him.” he replied finally ceasing to rub his jaw. “Why are you here – alone?” he asked.
“I climbed down to help get something of Emerson’s that was lost in the pit.” said Junie cautiously. “And I became separated from my party.”
“The cavorite?” Petharic sneered. “That man is a fool!”
Junie narrowed her eyes, wondering how Petharic knew of the cavorite, but remained silent.
“How many were in your party?” Petharic asked.
“Enough.” replied Junie
“Apparently not enough to keep you safe.” Petharic said. “Fortunately you found me.”
Junie bit her lip. “Do you know a way out of this little chamber?” she asked.
“There is a stairway located on the far side of the room.” Junie looked around, taking full notice of the chamber. They were in a circular room, not unlike the one they had descended into beneath The Gangplank. This one, however, had a high vaulted ceiling about forty feet above their heads. The same white pillars as they’d seen in the other pit stood on either side of ornate marble door which was open. In the dim flickering light Junie could just make out a set of stairs ascending into the dark.
“Where does that lead?” Junie asked.
“I don’t know.” replied Petharic. “But I believe it is our best option at the moment.
Junie hesitated, weighing her options. She was not helping the others by hiding in this pit and going back through the fissure seemed foolish considering those creatures on patrol. She thought about Gilhooly but knew he was better equipped to elude the creatures than either she or Petharic.
Suddenly Petharic’s lighter flicked out, darkness blinding them once more. “I am out of fluid.” Petharic informed her. “Take my hand.” Junie felt Petharics hand close around hers. Together they felt their way across the pit to the passage leading to the steps.
“Do you know anything about these stairs’ Junie asked.
“Not much.” Petharic replied. “I noticed a plaque beside the opening.” he added. “It said The Dunsany Rehabilitation Facility.”