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~ Previous Chapter ~
The trials continue…
IN THE BEGINNING there was darkness, a voice whispered from the heart of Mouse’s sleep.
A darkness so complete and thick, things began to move inside it. Once they moved, they grew, joining to create a larger whole.
In the beginning there was nothing. And everything. And darkness.
Mouse opened his eyes to depthless black. He waved his hands, but though he felt the air move across his face he saw nothing. There was something firm beneath his feet, and when he stretched out his arms he felt a solid presence under his left hand. It was rough and cool to the touch. Stone.
From out of that darkness came light, bringing life and change.
Mouse pressed against the stone beneath his hand and stepped forward. The ground dropped, but not too far. His foot scraped against small rocks and his toes curled in the dirt. He was barefoot.
But even with light, one thing has not changed. Things are still drawn together in darkness. For comfort. Safety. Protection. In the night, what we touch is all we know we have.
In the darkness, the brave are no longer alone.
With a cool breeze blowing against his face, Mouse walked into the dark.
* * *
AS THE AFTERNOON waned and the sun sank towards the ocean, Corin hugged her knees and stared at the frothing waters below. Beside her Jaymes was silent, content in her company as the shadows grew long.
Her eyelids were beginning to drift shut when Jaymes sat up. “Did you hear that?”
The waves surged and Corin lifted her head. “What?”
Raising a hand for quiet, he tilted his head towards the cave. “Listen.”
For a long moment there was nothing but the sea and the wind. Then she heard it. The padding of something soft against something slick. Intrigued, she leant around Jaymes to peer into the cave.
A pair of round green eyes peered back.
“Argh!” Jaymes jumped, flailing backwards, and Corin fell.
Before she could even draw breath to scream something thick and strong wrapped about her waist. Plunging downwards, she gave a strangled gargle as her fall flattened out and she was swung sharply upwards again. Along the way she passed a gangly lizard splayed across the cave wall, clinging to the sheer rock with the rounded tips of its spread toes. Grey-green bumpy skin, speckled with larger blue spots, covered its sparse frame and revealed every sinew and muscle beneath. It was twice her size – not including the tail she was currently wrapped in.
Green eyes peered curiously at her. A pink tongue emerged from its long snout to wipe each orb.
She shrieked, the voice taking her by surprise, and the lizard dropped her.
The shout hit her at the same time she was caught again, hard enough to knock the breath from her. A different lizard, not quite as large or as bright, peered worriedly at her, lifting her up with the thick muscles in its powerful tail.
Come, whispered the voice. Bring.
The lizards turned their long necks to look into the dark cave, and Corin realised the voice wasn’t coming from them. This time she managed not to scream as the lizard dropped her down to the next, then the next, swinging and tossing her from tail to tail and carrying her deeper into the darkness as well as down towards the sea. A yelp told her that Jaymes was following in the same unusual style and, as yet another strange face peered into hers, she was grateful that these lizards were so good at catching.
Until they dropped her.
Straight into freezing cold water.
“Corin?” Jaymes called. “Are you all -” His question ended in a shout and a splash as he was dropped beside her.
“Right?” she finished, when he surfaced with a splutter and a curse. Unsure whether he could swim, she grabbed his thrashing arm and pulled him over to share the rock she was clinging to.
“Ever wish you’d never got up of a morning?” Jaymes asked, shaking his head like a dog.
“More than that, I wish I’d never listened to that stupid voice in the first place,” Corin growled, shivering as a fresh surge of water swamped the back of her head.
“Why, so you can set fire to us next?” Jaymes grumbled, using the rocks to travel deeper into the cave. “It would have been nice if you’d asked whether we could swim before your friends threw us in.”
“I don’t think it’s listening,” Corin said, teeth chattering as she scrambled to follow. Even as she did so, she wondered why, but she’d come too far to turn back now. And even despite everything – the calls, the trip through the Storm Wash, sneaking away from her friends, spending the day scrambling through unfamiliar countryside, being thrown about by lizards and finally dumped in freezing water – she never really considered ignoring the call. She had to answer it. It wasn’t even because of curiosity, there simply was no other choice.
“If it is, I don’t think it cares.”
Which made going forward a truly attractive prospect, Corin thought glumly, even if it was better than turning back. “If it did it would have sent us something to see by,” she complained, spluttering as her hand slipped and she got another dunking. “Instead of stupid clumsy lizards that can’t catch to save their lives!”
“They were good enough to save yours” Jaymes reminded her.
“Thanks for that, by the way. So kind of you to push me.”
“I didn’t push you!” His voice was high with indignation.
“I didn’t shove you! It was an accident!”
“Is that what you call it?”
“It was!” he protested. “Unlike this.”
In the dark she didn’t see it coming, so had no chance to dodge when he hit her shoulder and knocked her away from the rock. Her yelp was drowned out by the water filling her mouth, and when she tried to cough, she was still under. Thrashing in panic, she felt certain this was it, Jaymes really had killed her this time.
Then her feet hit the bottom and she stood up: the water was a little over waist deep. Over her painful coughs to expel the seawater, she heard Jaymes laughing himself silly. He was still going once she’d recovered, which was good, because it meant she knew exactly where he was.
“Ginger. Idiot,” she snarled, grabbing a handful of his hair and dunking him under.
He retaliated by grabbing her knees and pulling her over. Much splashing ensued.
By the time they called an exhausted truce, the water was barely ankle deep and the lizards had returned. They watched their antics with round eyes, the coloured spots on their bodies giving off a low glow as they clung to the cave walls above them.
“Playtime’s over,” Jaymes said with a rueful smile, wringing out his hair and clothes.
As they paused at the water’s edge to drain their boots, a small lizard without spots crawled down from a larger one’s back and dropped a glow stone. It was the same kind of light they’d used in the tunnels beneath Aquila and the dragons used in the Archives. Another little lizard scuttled down and dropped a second globe before scampering away.
“You wanted something to see by,” Jaymes said, as Corin curiously picked up the nearest one, pale blue and slightly cool, before handing the warmer red-gold one to him.
“Maybe it is listening after all.”
Come, Corin. Jaymes, come.
As if they had any choice. Raising her glow stone to part the darkness, Corin reached for Jaymes’ hand and they walked deeper into the gloom with the lizards skittering along behind them.
~ Next Chapter ~
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