All was silent. So silent that a pin would have been heard, had one fallen. The sorry inhabitants of the dank cavern had melted away, as if they had become one with the walls. Only the stench of putrid humanity that perfumed the air, the one memory of their earlier presence.
Her electromagnetic field was holding, protecting her against renewed attacks, only none came. As the shielding aspect of the nano-bracelet could only function for up to five minutes, she was running out of time and needed a way out of here. More guards had been called in, heavily armed, capable looking, muscled no nonsense guards.
Outnumbered, surrounded with more coming in, Jaiya knew she would not come out of this fight as well as she had the first one. Which meant she had to do the one thing she could not afford.
After twenty-seven years of hiding her abilities, Jaiya had been stupid enough to drive herself into a corner where she either died or exposed herself. There was no choice though, the world was clueless to it, but as the last of her kind, it needed her more than she was willing to let anyone know.
With her mind made up, she closed her eyes to reach out to nature, like she had been taught. It was an acknowledgement of her part in it, an inclusion that expanded the bounds of who she was to encompass all that was nature, earthy.
When she reached out, the energy always rushed to her, as if eager to embrace. Continually, she had to be careful whenever she reached for it, as it yearned to wholly claim her, as if she were a lost part that needed to be brought back. Without failing, she resisted.
Maybe it was the fact that she was underground that had nature shy away from her, as if she were a foreign being, alien. Or maybe it was something more sinister, something she dared not imagine, instead of the enthusiastic welcome she expected, a malevolent repulsion lashed at her. A force that sought to take from her instead of sharing in what united them.
With ruthless determination she squashed it, reaching deeper, past the unnatural energy to touch the living earth. Whoever had abducted her must know who she was, the only thing that made sense since they had chosen to imprison her in the former haunt of a dark mage. Unless she was not the last as she had believed.
She felt the hollowness beneath her, levels of tunnels that were as much natural as they were man-made. A sense of wrongness permitted their construction, like the cave systems were a cancer to the earth as a whole. An earth that felt very different from the one she knew.
‘No.’ Jaiya thought to herself. Yet it made sense. Her watch showed that only ten minutes had passed since she had last noticed time. Right when she had slid into the back of her chauffeured hovercraft.
Unless she had lost her mind, or was hallucinating, Kansas had waved bye bye to her and she hadn’t even noticed. Which meant her situation was worse than she could ever have imagined.
For a moment her concentration was broken as her phone rang, the tone telling her it was her friend Rose. Jaiya had no idea if answering her phone and making that connection might bring Rose to this hellish place. As much as she wanted to talk to her friend, just to hear her voice, Jaiya punched in three letters in response, CTD. Rose would be reassured she was fine, for the moment, and she would stall until she knew how bad things were.
Taking a deep breath, she let go of it in one slow exhale. It was unnecessary, but made Jaiya feel like she was becoming insubstantial enough to sift through the earth. An ability she had because as an earth mage she was one with the planet. Any planet, it seemed, as she slowly sank into the ground to fall into the next tunnel.
The earth felt heavy, it’s oppressive weight moments away from resting upon her. Jaiya had always been comfortable underground, sometimes spending days exploring the cave systems in different parts of the world. But this?
There was a heavy feel to the air, stale in the sluggish breeze that she thought held a touch of magic. Maybe that was what was so oppressive about the tunnel, magic. Not the effervescent one she was used to, no, this seemed dark, debilitating. Somehow what little strength she had seemed to drain away from her with every second.
She found herself at the fine edge of panic, unreal shadows looming and rushing towards her. Was this what claustrophobia was? Walls closing in on her, the air thinner than it should be and the constant pressure.
She wanted to scream, but that would be the height of stupidity. Having just escaped from some sort of dungeon there were, no doubt, people searching for her, and the weapons they had! She shuddered at the thought before blocking it off. The last thing she needed was to add to her discomfort.
She kept on walking, something she had been doing for what felt like hours. The unrelieved sameness of the barren cave tunnel stretched time, since her watch told her only twenty minutes had passed since she’d dropped from the prison cave.
No branching tunnels could be seen, the floor of it was unnatural in its evenness, the walls, smoothed by both time and human hands. With her current luck, Jaiya had most likely trapped herself. Or maybe this tunnel went on forever and they would find her rotting corpse seated against the wall. Again, Jaiya shuddered at the macabre thought.
There was no clue to where she was and Jaiya had never been interested in the stories of the worlds her mage ancestors had visited, even the one they were said to have originated from. If she was honest, Jaiya had never believed in the existence of other populated worlds. Now she was paying for that neglectful thinking.
Even as she tried to distract herself, the air became harder to breathe, alive, refusing to be drawn in and coming out of her when she managed to draw it in. Gasping for every breath, each step became an exercise of will. Her eyes became blurry, spots dancing before her while her mind shrieked its alarm. She knew she was forgetting something but her thoughts were chaotic.
Her primal instinct had taken over, unfortunately all it did was fixate on the fact that she was dying. Logic escaped her, a mind she had always been proud of reduced to a primitive knowledge of unpleasant facts without the scope to solve them.
She fell to her knees, unable to hold herself up. Her hand braced against falling to her face. Where it had always been a comforting touch that infused her with strength and comfort, the earth drove all the warmth out of her with that small contact.
Her breath stalled as her body froze, all thought escaping her. The knowledge of her own death faded, the fact that she hadn’t gone far from the dungeon meant little. Regrets held little sway as her mind slowly shut down and darkness overwhelmed her.
The eerie quiet of before reasserted itself, the air resumed its sluggish disquiet. Sound became extinct as the heart that had just now beat a fandango to save the young woman stilled.
Like a discarded doll, she lay in the filth that floored the dank caves, her hair fanning about her as if arranged to effect. Soft lips parted as if she was about to utter some thought, though in fact no thoughts passed through her mind.
As if a hand guided them, gelatinous spores spawned about her skin, the substance growing as if it were fire upon dry grass, until it covered all that she was. It drew the the little warmth left to her out, leaching life from her,
until only a frozen caricature of humanity was left.
The rank air became still, stale as the crypt the cave system had become countless times. There was no pursuit, all the inhabitants of this place knew what became of all escapees. All that was left was for the scavengers to come and collect any valuables.
Time moved as it was its way to do, no breeze relieved the dismal aspects of the place. Cloying heat hung in the air, just this side of bearable. The scavengers were used to the punishment that was their lot. Hideously deformed, they trudged through the muck in deathly silence, their eyes roaming to the dark corners for anything usable.
Plants that were hardy enough to sprout in the harsh environment, clothes from the dead, bones from the same dead and any flesh to be found. They gathered all onto the heavy carts they dragged strapped to their bodies.
Curiosity had long departed them in their misery, disease marred and ate at them to their indifferent attention. Their death was not theirs to decide, much less their lives, so what was there to be curious about. Walking four abreast, as was their way, they came upon a rock blocking their way.
This was the kind of thing their lady punished them for. There shouldn’t be a rock in the passages. If she wished to inspect her caves, the lady should never find anything amiss, moreso anything that could trip her, like the rock that could not have fallen from the smooth walls of roof.
Someone must have put it there, someone whose own pain drove them to pick on the lowest denizen of this hell hole. They shivered to think of what horrors all their kind would have endured if the lady had come across it.
As one, they went to lift the rock and froze. Lighter than a rock should be, the thing was obviously not a rock. Their lady would reward them if they brought something that would interest her, maybe she would give them a day of rest, or an extra helping of food. Maybe both.
They turned to the cave wall. One of them drew out a charcoal stick, enchanted by the lady herself. It drew a crude door on the wall and one materialised. A dark abyss that shouted its dark nature to terrify anyone drawn to the light. Without talking or any change in emotion they dive into the scar of reality.
Jaiya would never have found a way out of the tunnel.