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Chapter 3

Oskar had sometimes tried to imagine what death was like. This
was definitely not it. It was cold, wet and utterly devoid of light.
And he hurt all over. Wait a minute! Cold, dark, painful... He
was in the underworld! He had never truly believed in all the
blather about the afterlife and such. All the misdeed he had ever
done came pouring back into his mind. What was he going to
do? If this was how he was to spend eternity...
Something had his arms bound up as well. He tried to move,
but he could not break loose. Something was crawling over him.
He felt its cold tongue on his face. He thrashed and twisted,
trying to break free. It was on him! He tried to scream, but no
sound would come.
"Oskar... Oskar..." It whispered his name like some wicked
wraith. He tried to turn his head, to shake loose from its cold
kiss. "Oskar.. Wake up. You're safe..."
He would not believe its lies. He thrashed and a groan
escaped his lips.
"Open your eyes. You're all right. I'm here with you." A
red-orange glow filled his field of vision. The beast stopped
licking his face, and the air around him grew warmer. The beast
was trying a new tactic. "Come back to me. Wake up. Open
your eyes." The voice was feminine, almost appealling. He felt a
light pressure on his chest. It was touching him, but the touch
was not so disconcerting this time. Perhaps he would open his
eyes and see what torture eternity held in store for him. He had
to find out sooner or later.
Opening his eyes was no mean feat. It was like loading
heavy sacks onto a wagon, but with significant effort, he parted
the lids enough to see smoky light shining on a rough stone
ceiling. Someone was leaning over him. Someone familiar...
"Thank the gods you're awake. I don't know how long
you've been unconscious, but it seems like days. I tried to keep
you warm, but everything got so wet when we fell. I..."
The person kept talking, but Oskar was not listening.
He was trying to remember.
Falling... falling... falling.
He remembered falling, but not from where, or how it
had happened. What did he remember?
He recalled the golorak coming after them. The
chamber with the seastone coffins. The battle with the serpent.
He had raised his staff and tried to do... whatever it was he had
done back in Thandryll. And then nothing...
He opened his eyes wider and tried to sit up, but a wave
of nausea swept over him and he fell back. He groaned again
and wished that he could have been dead after all. Living was
not worth this.
"Once I was finally convinced you weren't going to die,
I explored a little bit. Felt my way around, really. I didn't want
to use what few firesticks we had. I found bits of wood and
such, and I was able to make a fire. It isn't much, but it gives a
little light and warmth. I had to use some of your parchment,
Oskar, but I made certain it had no writing on it."
He finally realized who was speaking.
"Khalyndryn?" he croaked. "Where are we. Where are
the others?" His mind no longer moved like cold molasses, and
thoughts were coursing through his mind. Where were Shanis,
Hierm, Larris and Allyn? Had they survived the battle with the
serpent? They had heard the bellows of more than one golorak.
Were any lurking nearby?
"I don't know," she said, though the did not indicate
which question she was answering. "Do you remember the
fight?" He nodded. "Shanis took the stone sword off of the
statue in the center of the room, and something happened. It
looke dlike the statue turned into a real sword, and she started
fighting the serpent with it. But when she took the sword, the
statue sank from sight, and the floor started sloping down
toward the hole where the statue had been. You fainted, or
something, and I tried to hold on to you. But we fell."
Khalyndryn had tried to save him? He remembered a
little bit more now. He was holding out his staff, trying to call
down the lightning again, but when Shanis touched the sword, a
blinding flash of agony burst in his mind. Somehow the sword
had done it to him.
"I have no idea what happened to the others," she
continued, her voice tempered by sadness. "I hope they are
alive, but I do not know. We fell into deep water and were
carried a long way. I don't know how I found you, but we
drifted together, and I was able to keep your head above water.
You float on your back quite well, by the way."
"Thanks," he grumbled, trying again to sit up and
managing to prop up on an elbow. "So, where are we now?"
"The water became shallow and I was abe to drag you
onto this ledge. Our packs held up very well, being oilcloth and
all. Our spare cloaks were dry, as were our food and firesticks. I
only wish we had more. We left so many of our belongings up
on the mountain above Murantha. I found one other pack. I
think it is Allyn's. That gave us a little more food and a spare
cloak.
At the mention of food Oskar's stomach roared. "Can
you spare a little for me?"
"I think so," Khalyndryn said. "I haven't had an
appetite. I did manage to warm some water. No tea,
unfortunately, but warm water seems to take th chill off a bit."
Oskar ate a small piece of cheese and a hard crust of
stale bread, washing it down with a cup of hot water. He still
felt worse than he'd ever felt in his life, but he was alive, and
hopefully so were his friends.
"What do we do now?" He was surprised to hear
himself asking Khalyndryn such a question, but he was not in
any condition to give make a decision on his own.
"This ledge continues as we move downstream. I
suppose we should go in that direction." She sighed and looked
away into the darkness. "Hopefully we'll find a way out." She
didn't say what would happen if they did not find an escape
before their food ran out.
For a fleeting moment Oskar imagined wandering alone
in this abysmal darkness, buried beneath earth and stone, far
from sun and sky. He shuddered.
"I hope you aren't taking a chill," Khalyndryn said,
misunderstanding the reason for his trembling. "I know it's cold
and damp down here, but I did the best I could for you..."
He placed his finger on her lips, quieting her.
"Thank you, Khalyndryn, for taking care of me." Her
smile warmed his spirit, if not his body. She had never been
strong or independent, but she had certainly been self-reliant
while looking out for him. "I suppose we should gather out
things and start walking."

They wandered for what seemed like days, feeling their way
along the cold, rough rock wall. They saved their meager supply
of wood for the occasional fire for warmth when they stopped
to sleep. Sometimes the ledge narrowed, or even disappeared
and they found themselves slogging knee deep through the
dark, icy water. It sapped the feeling from Oskar's body, and
drained him of what little warmth and energy he had. They
stopped all too frequently, always at his behest. He still did not
feel right. Every time they stopped he found himself wanting to
lie down and never get back up, but Khalyndryn always got him
moving.
"Come on Oskar," she would snap. "Get up and move.
You're not going to curl up and die on me down here. I've
worked too hard to keep you going."
And they would go on. Step by mind-numbing step,
wondering if they would ever see a glimmer of light, a reason
for hope. His spirits fell lower the longer they remained in their
dank, black prison. One time, half-conscious, he staggered into
the water and felt something long and slimy slither past his leg.
He shouted and scrambled out of the water, sputtering and
shaking. After that he clung to the wall, fearful that something
might reach out and grab him.
He tried not to voice his fears, but from time-to-time he
would complain that their situation was hopeless.
"We'll get there, don't you worry," she said. "Her voice
did not waver. She gave no indication that she might entertain
even the slightest possibility that she might be wrong." To drive
her point home she seized him br the front of his moist cloak
and yanked him forward. Either she had grown stronger or he
was still weak, because she yanked him around like a child's
plaything.
She kept him going that way until they reached the end
of the passage.
The tunnel ended in a solid wall, the stream pooling at
its base. They felt around for some opening, and seached for a
shart of light or a breath of air, but nothing. They lit a fire and
repeated their search by its faint light. Finally they took flaming
brands and worked their way back up the tunnel searching for
some sort of side passage or egress until they finally gave up.
They went back to the end of the passage, too disheartened to
speak. They would die here. Oskar had neither the energy nor
the desire to retrace their steps, and their food would not hold
out much longer. They shared a silent meal and fell asleep by
the dying embers of their tiny fire. As his eyes closed, Oskar
wondered if he should bother to wake again.

"I see light! Oskar, I see light!" Khalyndryn's voice roused him
from his slumber, and he returned to consciousness like a
swimmer coming up for air. Slowly, slowly, slowly... then
gasping for breath. He bolted up, afraid to believe what he had
heard. Surely it had been a dream. "Down there under the
water. You can just see it. It must have been after dark when we
reached this spot. I suppose it's morning now. Look!"
He rolled over and crawled to the water's edge. Peering
down into its depths, he saw it. A patch of light, its shape
indiscernible through the deep pool. It was the first reason for
hope since they had dound themselves in this dank place, but
he could not feel encouraged. It might be an opening to the
outside, but what if it was too small to get through? What
would they do then? Might it not be better to die in the dark
than to die so close to freedom?
"We'll just have to swim down to it, and see where it
takes us." Khalyndryn's voice trembled with excitement. "We
did it. We found the way out!"
He did not have the heart to voice his concerns to her.
Instead he began stuffing his things into his pack in preparation
for a swim.

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