Traipsing up and down the mine, Theodore wracked his brain trying to remember how his father escaped. The memory was bitter and foggy. He was crying, and his father ordered him to be quiet. They were both speckled with blood, and Theodore recalled feeling as scared of his father as he was of the creatures. Lance pulled him along by the arm, feeling his way along a trail of light.
Theodore traced his hand over the vein of fossilized magic. He scraped at the filth that crusted the top and followed the glow underneath.
“There!” He said, recalling his father’s excitement. “The mine cart tracks! They should connect to the outside! We can follow them!”
“Good thinking!” Oboe said.
“Uh, guys?” Lemmy started to bristle. “…Do you hear that?”
Theodore stopped to listen. A sound was swelling through the lower chambers. A mournful melody rang on strings, echoing off the tunnel walls. “What is that?”
Oboe flicked her ears. “Sounds like a violin to me.”
Lemmy scrunched his face. “I don’t know a lot about exploring caves, so I my might be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure that’s a cello.”
“You’re right,” Oboe said. “Definitely a cello.”
There was little chance of the musician being friendly. “We can sneak by if we keep silent,” Theodore said. “Come on.”
The music only grew louder as they followed the rails. It was a dirge, bleak and slow, and each note echoed through the tunnels around them to linger.
Oboe kicked a stone by mistake. It clattered along the cave floor, and the music was gone.
“Sorry!” Oboe said. Theodore hushed her and leaned against the wall. After a few moments of perfect silence, he motioned for the others to follow him as he crept along the wall. Rounding the corner, Theodore peeked and discovered a bedroom.
A cello was propped up against a wall but the musician was absent. A long hammock stretched overhead between rocks. Books were strewn about in a messy, irritating manner alongside dirty dishes.
Whoever was here had gone but was no doubt nearby. Theodore entered with caution. In the center of the room was a stalagmite cut across to form a table. A map of the country was draped over it, with white tokens spread over the valley and black ones piled on top of the capital city.
Scraps of paper were strewn everywhere. Some were crumpled, most were torn to pieces, but one in particular appeared to have been flattened back out. Theodore bent over to look. It was filled with scratched out sentences and short blurbs. A few scattered phrases were circled, underlined and re-written over again.
Fount is the key. Choke the city. Starve them out. Like they did w/Scarlett. Justice.
Devil damn them. parasites
There was a crude drawing of the Fount, with sketches of possible fortifications.
Low ground. awful position. Perimeter huge. Open/Vulnerable.
Need more recruits to hold.
Countess sends money. need SOLDIERS
Need army. How?Force them?
I can’t Greater Good
Hollows = cowards. toadies. useless.
Fair Lady = no support. Recruit from Whirl
Theodore put the note back, feeling faint. He found a first draft for a revolt. “This is the leader’s room.” He scanned the shadows for the vanished musician. “We need to leave.”
Oboe struggled to climb back out of the hammock. “Okay! Which way do we go from here?”
“Uh. Not that way.” Lemmy said, pointing.
Theodore looked and saw a black fog rolling into the room from one of the tunnels. Beyond the bend of the passage, a sound could be heard. The noise of claws scraping along the rock wall grew louder, until the figure appeared. Silas Jack lurched through the shroud of vapor, his eyes shining bright red.
“Pardon us, we were just passing through!” Theodore said. He snatched Lemmy off the ground and pointed Oboe and himself in the opposite direction. Fog chased them as they raced blind through the passages.
Gloom swirled after them, filling the cavern faster than they could move. Theodore’s heart pounded as he heard the thundering laugh of Silas closing in behind them. He was so panicked that he almost missed the forking path.
“Wait!” Theodore grabbed Oboe by the arm to halt her and was almost dragged off his feet.
“The tracks!” He waved his arm toward them which ramped up the branching tunnel.
It took a precious moment for Oboe to catch his point. Dark mist swamped around their ankles. She changed herself into a large goat.
“Get on my back!” She said.
There was no time to argue. Theodore climbed on, with Lemmy clinging to his shoulder. Oboe sprang forward along the path of the tracks, bounding as fast as she could while rolling black smoke chased them up the shaft. Theodore held on for dear life, terrified of falling off. Silas reached through the thick fog behind them, his hands and face growing larger. His jaws opened, and sparks of fire licked across his teeth. Theodore grabbed Oboe by the horns and steered her away as Silas spat a spray of flames. Oboe sprinted up and up along the tracks until, with one final leap, they burst through into open daylight.
Theodore peered back, jostled as Oboe bounced down the hillside and into the trees. Black fog exploded out the mouth of the mine. It slowed, spreading in every direction now. If Silas was fast out in the open, Oboe was faster. She darted through the trees, home free.