Authors: Eliza Tilton
She tossed me the key and headed for the stairs. Halfway before we reached the landing, she stopped. “Really, Derrick, you—” When she turned around, I stood a pace behind her.
“I don’t know what game you’re playing, but I don’t trust you.”
“That’s probably best.” She patted my chest. “Goodnight, Derrick.”
This was a very bad idea. I ran a hand across my head. A very bad idea. “You said you knew a shortcut
the land, not underneath it!”
She shrugged. “The underground tunnels my people created will get us there faster. What’s the big deal?”
The Nomad King ruled the desert lands to the west, and it would take weeks to travel by boat, but going underground … Just the idea of being around her people made my palms sweat.
“As long as you follow my lead, you’ll be fine.” Lucy winked. “Oh, and try not to panic when I change.”
She closed her eyes and lifted her face toward the suns. Her pale skin shifted into a soft olive green. Her eyes elongated into two perfect ovals, and her ears pointed at the tips while her black hair flushed a bright, glimmering auburn.
She opened her eyes. They were the same electric blue as before.
“What are you?” I kept my hand on my blade. She looked different, but still human.
“I thought you knew.” She smirked and glided to my side. Her features were sharp yet delicate, and exotic beyond any girl’s I had ever met.
I cleared my throat and stepped out of her gripping gaze. “The rumors said you weren’t human.”
“Reptilian—but don’t confuse me for one of your coldblooded lizards.” She ran a finger down the front of my shirt.
I grabbed her hand, squeezing it before pushing her back. “What’s the plan?” Her charms wouldn’t work on me, no matter her beauty.
“Always business, never pleasure.” She sighed, then turned and flipped her hair at me. “The tunnels are our underground network. It’s the fastest route to the west. Of course, any humans that enter never come out. We shouldn’t run into anyone, but if we do, be quiet. I’ll usher them away before they start asking questions.”
“And they’ll listen to you?”
She laughed. “Of course. I’m their princess.” She ducked under the brush, leaving me thoroughly exasperated, probably on purpose.
I should’ve turned around right then. Gone back to Lakewood and let Jeslyn’s father chase after her. What did I owe her?
“Are you coming?”
If I could save Jeslyn and her grandfather, I had to. It was the right thing to do, even if I had to align with the enemy to do it.
I grabbed the emblem hanging from the thin rope around my neck and said a prayer to The Creator before stepping into the tunnel.
Purple light pulsed through the darkness. Under it, tree roots weaved through the dirt ceiling. I drew my sword and held it in front of me, uneasiness crawling through my bones. Lucy’s outline wavered in the distance. I squinted, searching for … Lucy’s kin?
“Put that thing away.”
I flinched at Lucy’s sudden closeness. How did she move so fast?
“There’s a small group ahead,” she whispered. “Sheath your blade.”
“Where are we going?” I said, eyeing her warily.
“A place you don’t want to be.”
She led us deeper into the ground. Dirt fell away, replaced with a smooth black rock. I rubbed the cavern wall: obsidian. The entire tunnel was carved from it as if the shifters burrowed in like moles. As a blacksmith, I knew about all the mines in Tarrtainya, and had never heard of this much obsidian. Did they bring it in and somehow use it for the walls?
The purple light brightened, and the tunnel widened as we entered into a large chamber.
Creator help me.
Withered corpses lay in piles across the cavern, some freshly dead, some rotted. Green-skinned men hauled bodies onto carts and pushed them into the tunnel on our right. They punched their chests in greeting at Lucy, before trudging on.
Blood vibrated in my veins, drowning out the dull click of wheels rolling across the floor. When Lucy mentioned traveling through underground tunnels, she conveniently omitted this part.
My gaze froze on a young face. A boy no more than fourteen lay atop of a pile, staring straight at me. The dead, terrified look in his gray eyes ripped at my spirit, begging me to serve justice. I
to have my sword in my hand and slashing it at these vile beasts who were slaughtering my people.
Lucy cleared her throat, edging me forward, past the gruesome sight.
I met her frigid gaze, and she shook her head as if she could see the rage boiling beneath my skin.
When we were safely hidden within another passageway, I stopped. “What happened to those people?” My muscles shook with rage.
Lucy folded her arms, seeming annoyed with the question. “Should we sit, have tea, and discuss the culture of my people or would you prefer to keep on and save your precious human?”
“I’m going to kill you.”
“But not today,” she quipped, then continued down the tunnel.
As we walked, the faces of the dead flashed through my mind. How could I ignore such an act? If the rest of our people knew what was happening down here, even the mage army would join in to stop it. They were killing us, and I just walked by.
Lucy stopped near a wall with red runes arched in the shape of a door. She pressed on an indent in the rock and a hidden entrance slid open. “We’ll need to re-supply.”
I followed her into the storage room. Clean, organized, various swords and daggers hung on hooks, and devices scattered atop metal shelving. I touched the material, not iron, not copper, and smooth and shiny.
“Let me check the map.” Lucy opened her palm and placed a circular disk on top. The disk projected a map above her hand. A light blinked in one area. “Of course, it had to be
“What is it?” I leaned closer and swiped a finger through the image—it stayed. Amazing. “How are you creating that picture?”
“It’s a hologram of the tunnel system. I forget that you humans aren’t as advanced as us. This world is so new.”
My breath hitched in my throat. “What are you talking about?”
She sighed, the hologram still floating in her hands. “Well …” She shook her head. “No, it’s too much to explain right now. Let’s just say that Tarrtainya, is not the only world that exists, and the place I come from has lots of stuff like this.” She wiggled her palm, bouncing the picture on it. “Now, back to our plan. We’re here.” She pointed to a white dot in a maze. “And this is where we need to end up.”
“And that’s a problem how?”
She swiped the image away. “A slight problem. The portal we need to get to the west is past the krad tunnels.”
“Extremely large, angry worms.”
“Large enough.” She grabbed a satchel off the wall and tossed it to me. “We should be able to deal with a few angry insects. As long as we’re silent, they won’t come out of their holes.”
She glanced at me, her gaze roaming up and down my body. “We’ll be fine. Ready?”
We didn’t see any more lizard men or corpses lying about. Wherever her people were, we weren’t near them.
The obsidian walls changed back to dirt. We passed through an open cavern. Large holes punched through the walls at various angles. A sticky white slime spotted what passed for the landscape. Lucy pulled a black whip off her belt and put a finger to her lips.
I drew my sword as we crept across the cavern. White shapes slithered past some of the higher openings, giving me only a slight glimpse at their massive size.
Lucy made it to the opposite side and waved wildly for me to follow.
With quick, careful steps, I inched forward, making sure not to step in the white slime. Tiny glowworms dotted the ceiling, pink lights that broke the darkness, allowing me to see my way through the tunnel.
“That went better than expect—behind you!” Lucy cracked her whip past my head, giving me only a moment’s warning to duck. Crackling blue lighting surrounded the whip and lit the worm on the ceiling behind me. The bug screeched as it thrashed and tumbled to the floor.
That worm is as big as me!
It opened its circular mouth, showing off deadly pointed teeth.
Lucy snapped the whip back to her side. “We need to move before more come.”
Two worms inched out of the walls, one on each side of her. She spun, slashing at the one on her right. The worm on her left jumped and latched onto her shoulder. She screamed, and I raised my sword, ready to strike, but as I glanced behind me, I saw another dozen slithering our way.
“We were quiet!” I dashed forward and swung my blade in an arc.
Every worm I cut turned into two more. “What is this?”
“You can’t cut them,” she groaned. The worm stuck on her shoulder wrapped its body around her waist. She grunted and reached for the head. “Only fire, acid, or electric will kill them.”
“I don’t have any of those things! Didn’t you think to warn me?” The worms slithered forward and I stepped back.
“Take the whip.” She tossed me her weapon.
“How do I make it work?”
“Two grooves on the handle,” she yelled and ripped the worm off her shoulder, launching it down the tunnel. Her breaths were heavy, blood leaked from her shoulder, and she had to steady herself against the wall. This was not good.
I pressed the grooves and lightning crackled on the whip as the worms joined one another, creating one mammoth bug. The sheer size shocked me frozen.
“Hit it!” Lucy screamed.
I snapped the whip forward, and the worm jumped. It jumped!
Lucy slid on a pair of clawed gloves that dripped green. She circled around to the left of the cavern. “I’ve never seen them do that.”
I slapped the whip again, but it didn’t snap like before. “I need my sword!”
Lucy grinned. “Improvise.”
The worm slithered across the ceiling, and dropped right behind Lucy. She pivoted on her left foot and raked her claws against the lower half of its body. Yellow oozed out of the marks, and it stank of rotted pork.
Holding my breath, I sprinted to the right and slapped the whip on the worm’s backside. Lightning shook the krad, and parts of its white flesh burned and fell off in clumps. It thrashed and made a
sound, pitching white snot at my face. I dove to the side, missing the wad by inches.
Lucy leapt onto the worm and clawed away like a rabid beast. I used the whip to strike the same side repeatedly. Its faceless head swung left, then right, unsure of whom to attack, until it fixated on me and spat.
Slime splattered my chin, covering part of my nose and mouth. I pulled at the sides, but the sticky substance wouldn’t come off.
My throat constricted and burned. My eyes watered, and my chest yearned for a deep breath. I glanced at Lucy who wobbled with her last strike. Dark blood ran from the wound on her shoulder.
I needed a knife to cut this glob off my face before I passed out or suffocated. The stench burned my nostrils and eyes, and tears filled my vision.
A loud thud echoed through the chamber.
Lucy stood next to the krad which squirmed on the floor. “The whip!”
I threw it to her, and she sliced the bug down the middle, burning it, then wobbled over, holding a hand over her shoulder. “Stay still.”
Before I could ask why, she slapped the whip forward. The tip singed the glob off my face and burned the few facial hairs I had.
“Are you crazy? You could’ve killed me!” I rubbed my chin. The skin was tender but not burned.
“You were already on your way. Let’s move,” she said between breaths.
“Are you … holding up?”
“I’m fine.” She clasped the whip to her belt, stumbling in the process.
fine.” I put my arm around her waist, helping her stand.
“The portal isn’t too far from here.”
We moved away from the krad chamber, with me constantly looking back to see if more bugs followed, but they didn’t.
“We’re almost there,” Lucy said. “You’ll need to carry me.”
“You wish. You can’t pass through the portal unless you’re Reptilian. I’d carry you, but I’m a bit wounded.”
I scooped her off the ground, and she looped her arms around my neck.
“Where’s this portal?”
She leaned against my shoulder. The scent of roses swirled in the air. Soft. Delicate. I inhaled, taking it in and washing away the residue of the krad stench. Lucy may have worn perfume, but that wasn’t an item one packed when traveling. She was a fighter, possibly even an adventurer, and neither would consider perfume a necessity.
Could she really smell that nice?
“For a human,” she said softly, “you’re quite handsome.”
Heat spread out from where her head touched.
“I don’t know why Jeslyn didn’t choose you.”
“I would’ve chosen you.” She yawned.
With her head resting against me, I walked through the dark caverns, wondering what I was doing here. Lucy didn’t need my help, maybe Jeslyn did, but why would Lucy care? I didn’t know much about Lucy, and with each passing moment, my curiosity grew.