Several hours had passed since they woke, but both Kantou and Torku were resolved to sit and hope for rescue. They thought it wouldn’t be long before the small shaft of light, shining from high above in the rubble, would start to shift as someone pulled at the rocks from the other side. Their hope, like the sunlight, though, was beginning to fade. They had no way of knowing of the true threat facing the world above.
The bottom of Kantou’s robes were ripped, where she’d torn the material to bandage a wound on Torku’s leg. The cut was deep, but with gentle pressure and a firm knot, she had been able to stop the bleeding. It was enough for him to think he was strong enough to climb up the sheer wall and back up to the Council Chambers, but with a misplaced footing, he fell back to the ground with a splash - along with several rocks.
Kantou spoke very little, which was unusual, even for her. Rantil had made sure she was welcomed on the Council, and for the most part, she was. After all, she helped him save his world at the cost of losing her own. She was out of place on Truaine, and was doing her hardest to build a new life for herself. She spent a few minutes gathering scraps of parchment and broken chairs that had fallen from above and started a small, but welcoming, fire.
Torku kept his gaze away from the stream, where Taehor, the recently deceased Council member, had come to rest. His limp, bloodied corpse, blocked the flow of the stream and had built a small waterfall across his body where the water grew red and thick.
Occasionally, against better judgement, Kantou glanced at Taehor. His eyes were open, and glistened in the flickering of the fire. She thought of her father.
It had been many years since her mind last recalled his face. It made her feel ashamed.
As a single parent, Dawren had raised her, but she grew into an adult alone. She spent much of her time away from home, and away from her father. Arguments forced an unsettled homelife, and she found herself sleeping in the wilderness where she could learn to live off the land. By the time she heard of Dawren’s illness, she barely had enough time to return to Ciameth and reconcile with him before he died. She was thankful for that, at least.
Every time Torku looked in her direction, Kantou’s expression was sullen. Firelight danced shadows across her eyes; her mind was far from the tunnel they were trapped inside. He gave a sigh and squatted down by the fire to warm his hands. Still stinging, he slumped back onto the floor and stretched his leg out to the side. He gazed into the fire and let himself fall prey to the silence that Kantou had already been consumed by.
The stream flowed across smooth rock, and vanished into the darkness beyond the firelight. From what Torku could see, the tunnel extended for quite some way in opposite directions. He recalled Siale’s ancient aquifer system, built when the city was just a small town.
He knew that there must be a way back to the surface, but Kantou’s solemnity ushered him into silence once more.
“Kantou?” he said at last.
She remained still. The only sign she’d heard was a gentle hum.
“We need to find a way back to the surface.”
“Yes. We do,” she replied.
“Or do you think we should wait?”
Kantou raised her head, and for the first time in an hour or so, looked away from the fire. “No, you’re right. I’ve spent too long lost in my memories. I’m sorry, Torku. You shouldn’t be here.”
Torku took a breath and then said, so there could be no confusion, “It was my choice to come back to save you.”
She smiled. “I know. Thank you. Do you think you’ll be able to walk?”
He pulled back his robes and showed her the bandage on his shin. The cloth was reddened with blood, but he assured her the pain was almost gone. She was doubtful, but accepted his answer.
“I guess we should make a torch, something to guide us back to the surface?”
Kantou reached behind her and beside the rock she was leaning against. “Take this.”
She extended something to him, and at once he could smell Jennica Oil.
“Where did you get that?” he said in shock. “I’ve heard stories of your... powers... but I never thought they...”
Kantou laughed softly and stood from the floor. “Rantil does have a habit of exaggerating the mundane.” She paused. “The roots, over there. They’re Jennica roots. Squeeze out the oil, soak them in a strip of my robes, and wrap it around a broken chair leg... that’s no power.”
Embarrassed by his foolishness, Torku laughed as well. He took Kantou’s torch and held it into the fire. It took a minute or two but the oil took to the flames, and the torch lit. Holding it high, Torku tried to peer into the tunnel downstream, but the shadows were still too thick.
“Ready to go?” he asked.
Glancing behind himself when Kantou didn’t respond, he saw she was standing in the stream behind Taehor. She bent down to him, and whispered something behind her fingertips. Before taking another breath, she brushed her middle finger across Taehor’s forehead and closed her eyes. Torku watched her foreign ritual and waited for her to rejoin him. When she did, she looked at him and said, “There are many things that you, or indeed Rantil, don’t know about me.”
The path quickly led them away from the remains of the Council Chambers. The walkway narrowed slightly, and they were left with no choice but to continue, ankle-deep in the bitter chill of the underground stream. Kantou, more than Torku, relished the chance to cool her feet.
They walked for quite some time without speaking another word to each other. Torku held the torch above his head, but, whenever the roof lowered, found it difficult to keep the light ahead of them. Neither of them could think of what to say. Having spent much of her life alone in the wilderness, Kantou felt at ease in the silence, but Torku preferred the continual chatter of the city. He feared what wasn’t being said, more than what was.
“If you found a way, do you think you’d go back home?” he asked, suddenly.
Kantou was a little taken back. So much so that she paused in her tracks.
“I’m sorry,” Torku muttered in quick apology. “I didn’t mean to... I mean, I thought you...”
She brushed off her initial shock yet stuttered, “No, no. It’s fine. I didn’t realise Rantil had explained my situation to you all.”
“I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“I just wasn’t expecting it.” She started walking again. “How could you ever compare two places that are so different? Of course, I miss my home. But our worlds are more alike than you realise.”
“I hope’ve come to call Siale your home,” Torku offered with humble sincerity.
“There were times when I would have given anything to go back home. Ciameth is something magnificent to behold. I wish I could be back in the expanse of the Southern Forest, waiting for the next thunderstorm, or watching the sun rise behind the Citadel on a warm, bright morning.” She lowered her head to pass under a jutting section of rock. Her tone changed. “Yes. I do miss it.”
“Rantil never mentioned, do you have family back on Ciameth?”
“No. Not any more.”
Torku diverted his eyes and tried to keep his gaze on where he was stepping. “Oh.”
She continued and with a few words turned his embarrassment to pride, “My family is here now, on Truaine.”
They continued walking, a little faster than before.
It wasn’t long before the ceiling began to rise, and the stream cascaded over a small waterfall into a large cavern beyond. They stood, overlooking the huge underground lake presented before them. There seemed little choice for them, but to jump.
Torku lifted the torch higher.
“I think there’s an exit over there,” he motioned to the far side of the lake. “This could be one of the old aquifers. It should take us back into the city.”
But before he could hand her the torch so he could plunge into the lake and attempt to swim to the far off shore, she bent down and peered into the water.
“I see a light,” she whispered. As her eyes strained to see something, resting at the bottom of the lake, her heart grew colder. “It can’t be.”
“What?” Torku asked. “What is it?”
Kantou’s mind raced back to the Temple, to where Rantil was able to kill the demon. She could see the brightness of the altar in her mind, but also the light of her sword: Sanity. It bathed Rantil in an orange glow that reminded her, yet again, of home.
But now, at the bottom of the pool was a sword of exact design, shining with a vague violet light.
“Wait here,” she muttered. She paused for only a second longer, and then dove headfirst into the pool.
The freezing water encouraged her to dive faster as she swam deeper and deeper towards the light. She was overwhelmed by a sense of dread, but she knew not why. The light grew brighter as her movement unsettled the grime resting at the lakebed. Once the dust had settled, she could read the inscription along the narrow blade of the sword.
Her mind flurried with thoughts: but above all else was a persistent desire to take its handle and feel its power. The sword beckoned her with shifting light from beneath its blade. She was running short of breath and conceded to the urge in her mind.
As soon as her fingers touched the hilt, her stomach churned, her mouth opened and any remaining air surged to the surface as bubbles.
Immediately, the sword began to burn, and the surrounding water boiled with a flash of heat. Kantou’s hand fused with the handle and her dwindling strength couldn’t pull her away. She screamed, but her hand would not release its grip. The blade shone purple, black and white, and crackled thick, oozing sparks into the bubbling water. Her body began to shake under the might of the sword which grew ever brighter.
Even from the ledge, above the lake, Torku was blinded by the intensifying light. He stumbled backwards and dropped the torch into the stream. It extinguished with a fizz, dwarfed by the growing rumble bursting out from beneath the once calm surface of the lake. He could just about see the water, boiling and steaming. Kantou was drowning.
The sword raged and blistered the water into swirling funnels of air. Kantou desperately tried to pull away but her knuckles were seized in a death-grip around the woven handle of the sword named Calice. She had to turn her head away when the blade grew white-hot and began to pulse with tendrils of purple energy.
Suddenly, Torku was thrown from his feet as an explosion erupted from beneath the surface of the lake. Water, hissing and steaming, was thrown high into the air and the cavern shook. Rocks ground against themselves as huge boulders fell from the high ceiling. Torku was just able to catch a final glimpse of Kantou who was tossed across the cave towards the far ledge. She slammed into the back wall and fell unconscious.
The ceiling gave way and the cavern caved-in.
‘I think I can see another’ came a whisper ‘There’
‘This isn’t her time...’ came another voice
‘...her time will come: when her spirit is free’
When Torku knew the dust had settled he opened his eyes. They were hazy at first, but they soon became accustomed to the dimness of light and he glanced around the cave that was now so different.
The lake was gone; the water had evaporated from the heat of the explosion.
The path was blocked; the ceiling had collapsed, bringing tonnes of rubble into the cave.
And what was worse, Kantou was trapped on the other side.
He glanced to the soddened torch, lying in the stream that trickled fruitlessly into the deep pit that extended down into darkness. Its light was gone, yet somehow, the cavern was still alight. He took a moment to crawl out on the waterfall’s ledge and stare upwards. His initial thought, that the cave-in had given him a route to the surface, was short lived. But there, he saw, lodged into the rock just within reach above his head, a sword. It glowed with remnants of purple light, which burnt across his vision and lingered even after he looked away. He quickly found he couldn’t think of anything else. The sword was all his mind would allow him to focus on and all his body sought for.
Kantou faded from his mind: extinguished by blinding light behind Torku’s eyes.
He, like Kantou, couldn’t resist the song of the sword and he stretched out to touch its smooth, pure surface. He didn’t care for his safety, and even when his foot skidded on the wet rock, he still pursued the sword. It wasn’t until his fingertips touched the handle when, for a brief second, he realised his mistake.
Rage consumed him; malice devoured every innocent thought in his head.
He couldn’t hide.
He couldn’t shy away from the sword as it led him back through the tunnel, back past the ruins of the Council Chambers, and into the unknown.
He stopped dead.
It wasn’t far that he’d followed the stream back to its source before he came out on another cavern. The rush of a huge waterfall tainted the air with a fine mist, but Torku failed to notice. His gaze was fixed on a portal, floating just above the ground. Shouting echoed through the cavern, but he didn’t stay long enough to find out what it was.
The sword began to vibrate. It shook his hand softly, almost as though it was urging him through.
With a burning in his eyes, he stepped forth through the portal.