Part 08: The Wizened Man

Filia looked where Staun was pointing.  She saw just another vine-covered part of the great pile of jumbled rocks and stones that they were standing before.  She looked back at him. His blind eyes were flipping from side to side, and his head was not quite pointed in the direction his hand pointed in. It was as if he were listening to the rubble pile instead of seeing it. kethcyc_08_final“What am I looking for?” Filia asked Staun.

“An entrance,” he replied.

Filia again followed his pointing arm with her eyes. In the growing gloom it was difficult to see many details, but after just a moment she could see a darker shadow behind the vines that covered this part of the rubble pile that Staun had led them to. She released his hand and hefted her makeshift spear. Using its point she pushed aside the vines. As she did so she noted that there was already a small path in the undergrowth that lead back into the darkness.

“I need some light,” she commented. She looked around for something to make a torch with.

“Once inside we will find dry wood,” Staun said.

She looked at him, considering a response. Of course dark didn’t frighten him; he was blind. He had lived in darkness since … since when? How long had he been blind? And was his life really dark?

“Can you t’see inside there?”  she asked.

Staun shifted his head and his gaze until it focused more clearly on the opening.

“This is the entrance to a tunnel, that is part of a series of tunnels inside and underground. They go for quite a ways.” He moved his head side to side a bit. “They are stable, mostly, and probably aren’t in danger of collapsing any time real soon. I think.” He searched with his head a bit more. “There aren’t any spiders here, and no animals, except some small furry things. They were close here, when we arrived, but they fled when you started poking around.” He smiled suddenly. “They have big ears. They squeaked and ran down the tunnels. That part I heard with my ears.” His smile faded a bit. “It should be safe for us in there.”

Filia looked at him for a moment. How much did she trust him and his weird senses? She decided she needed to.

“OK. Do you want to lead the way?”

He nodded and stepped forward. Shifting his staff to his other hand, he extended his left hand out to her. She took it. Using his staff to push aside the vines he led the way in. Filia followed, using her spear to hold aside the greenery.

The entrance was narrow, partially blocked with collapsed and fallen rock. They eased up and over the jumble of stones, feeling for their footing.  Filia shuddered as the foliage brushed her naked body, making her skin crawl. They pushed through the hanging vegetation and stumbled forward until the floor leveled out. Staun stopped.

“There is some dry tinder here. You can make a torch.”

Filia stood quietly and stared into the dark until her eyes adjusted. Sure enough, there was a jumble of small sticks and plant material on the floor.

“That’s the furry critters’ nest, isn’t it?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied slowly, “I suppose it is.”

“I don’t want to burn their nest,” she said. She looked around. “There’s some larger stuff here too, though. I can use that.”

She carefully moved about, gathering what wood she could find. Her eyes quickly adjusted to the dim light, and she soon had a pile of sticks on the floor. She used the torch to ignite it. The fire flared up fast and soon they had enough light to see by. Filia examined the walls. They were covered in vines, with patches of stone peeking through. At one time it had been faced with a layer of plaster. Much of the facing had crumbled and fallen, but what small patches still survived showed traces of color. The tunnel ahead swallowed all light. She turned and saw that Staun was staring down into the darkness.

“We should go down there. I … I t’see something … up there.”

Filia hesitated, then nodded. “OK. Give me a second to make a torch.” She found a stouter stick and trimmed it down. She tried lighting the end, but it only smoldered. She wanted to wrap some cloth around the end, but the only cloth they had was either the sack, which was far too valuable to burn, or his shirt, and Filia was already seeing far more of him than she was used to. She instead used some thin, green vines to bind drier material to it, then lit that. Once the torch was burning, she turned to Staun. “Can you lead?”

Staun nodded and moved onward. Filia followed. They walked along silently. The passage was actually modestly passable once they were past the entrance. The vines dwindled and were left behind, and few roots could penetrate the stone. More and more plaster was clinging to the walls here. There were figures, some human, some not. She didn’t have time to examine them closely. The passage descended gently, and they walked for long minutes.

“What do you t’see up there?” Filia wondered how far ahead he could see with his unearthly gaze.

“I think it’s some sort of trace of whind,” he replied. “It’s very old and faint, though.”

“Do you think you can use it to …” She stopped. The tunnel opened out into a large chamber, the roof of which was lost in the dimness overhead. They both stopped. In the silence Filia could hear a faint trickle of water.

“Over there,” Staun said, and pointed towards the sound. Filia moved past him, torch held aloft and spear held out. For a number of steps she could see nothing around her. in that blackness she felt naked like she had not felt all the way down the tunnel. It was like being clothed in nakedness. Then her heart jolted and she gasped in fear. She pulled back, then relaxed. She had seen a face appear in the darkness, but now she could see that it was a face sculpted onto the wall.

“Are you OK?” Staun asked, concerned.

“Yes,” she replied. “There’s a sworl trap here — a big one. It startled me.” She examined its wrinkled face. It seemed intact, but inert. It was the largest sworl trap she had ever seen, and it was different than the others in how the face was laid out. It was as if it depicted a person of a different race, one she had never seen before. The face was old, very old, and very still. Below it, where the wall joined the floor, was a small alcove with a thin stream of water flowing through it. “There’s a spring here, too.” She bent and touched the water, feeling it and tasting it. “Water seems good.” She stood and looked at the sworl trap. She reached out and touched it.  “I think it’s dead. Is that what you t’saw?”

“Yes, it was,” a voice said. The wall moved, and Filia snatched her hand back with a squeak. The sworl trap opened its eyes. “And I’m not dead. Not yet.”

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