Secret of Silver Crest: Part Three
As Tiran stared at the impudent little Cybunny before him, he had to resist the urge to thump his head in frustration against the shiny stone walls of the cave.
“What were you thinking?” he demanded. “This place is miles from your house. And we had a deal. I’d go with you to your home, and you would stay there.”
Lyara continued to grin. “Nope. I said I’d go home if you came with me. I didn’t say anything about staying. Besides, I’ve been here before. My parents take me to the Ice Caves every other weekend to go to the market.”
He growled slightly. “I don’t think you understood me. You are not coming with me. It is not okay. You’re nowhere near old enough. You are going home again, right now, and I’m coming with you just to make sure they put a leash on you or something this time.”
A little cowed by his tone, she hopped back a few steps, but nonetheless remained unabashed. “I could help you,” she said, her voice innocent. “Like here. The Ivory Cave is like a maze. It’s hard to get anywhere without a guide.”
“And I suppose you know your way around,” he said sarcastically.
She paused. “Well, no, but – ”
“But nothing. We are leaving right now.” He turned on his heel and strode away from the cave’s mouth, secretly relieved to have an excuse to not go in. Lyara followed him, her hops sounding subdued.
There was a steep hill that led from the village of Ice Caves up to the actual caves themselves – a tiring walk, but nothing worth worrying about. As they approached the edge of the hill, Tiran could hear the voices of many pets, a subdued, tense murmuring, like the humming of nervous bees. Suddenly cautious, he gestured at Lyara to remain silent and warily approached the hill’s edge.
Below him stood a crowd of twenty or so Bori. Their clothes were luxuriant but comfortable, their interactions unperturbed and practiced, as if they often met in such a group. As they drew closer, he could pick out large brown eyes, broad noses, and thickset paws, just like his own. In the lead were two Bori approaching middle age who nonetheless moved with the grace of Lupes at the hunt. Even from this distance, he could see the glint of his mother’s favorite necklace and hear the rumble of his uncle Roland’s voice.
Tiran felt his hackles rise, and cold, sharp prickles ran up his back. His family had finally found him.
With Tiran’s grandfather’s death, the leadership of his clan had fallen to two of his children: Tiran’s mother and one of Tiran’s uncles. Both of them stood at the head of the party that was now approaching the caves, but neither they nor the group behind them seemed to notice Tiran, frozen with terror but partially obscured from their view by the ridge of the hill.
His mother still had a kind of glacial beauty, despite her age; tempered only with wear that served to give her a disdainful dignity, as if the ravages of aging didn’t dare to approach her, and the years only gave her their gifts. His uncle was broad, stocky and strong; with silver fur that was only barely beginning to touch his temples and an eternally displeased look that gave others pause before they even thought of crossing him.
They argued as they walked, taking even the steep hill in stride with their unhurried, deliberate steps. The growing wind carried their voices to Tiran as he huddled miserably in the snow.
“– told you that the spell doesn’t give an exact location,” his uncle was saying irritably. “It only gives a general area, and I told you, Essina, this is as specific as it gets.”
“Why would he be here, though, Roland?” his mother asked nervously. “Do you think he knows?”
“Maybe. Who knows? I don’t care, as long as we find him. That son of yours is far more trouble than he’s worth.”
“Yes, well, your – ” His mother’s heated response cut off suddenly as she looked up abruptly, and Tiran suddenly became painfully aware of his own position.
“Run!” he yelled at Lyara, and they both scampered backwards, then dodged into the only available outlet – Ivory Cave.
They stumbled through the darkness of the cave blindly, tripping over loose rocks and scraping themselves on the roughened walls – the inside of the cave wasn’t nearly as polished as the entrance. Lyara even ran into a large stalagmite, making a little “oof” noise, then running on as frantically as before.
As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, Tiran noticed that the cave wasn’t pitch black, as most caves were, but rather dimly lit with the odd glow from the walls. Apparently the light people saw from the cave wasn’t just the reflection from the sun. It wasn’t bright enough to make out details – even Lyara’s pure white fur was just a dark shadow against the wall – but it was enough light that he could stagger his way through corridor after corridor, with the annoying itch of the thought that even if he did managed to shake off his pursuers, he could probably never find his way out. Finally, he collapsed against the wall in exhaustion, and Lyara followed suit, breathing a sigh of relief.
“Tiran?” His mother’s voice came booming through the darkness, sounding alarmingly close, but he knew it was just due to the echoes. “Tiran, darling, where are you? Why did you run away? Everyone’s been so worried about you.”
He wanted to laugh hysterically, but couldn’t, afraid that the sound would give away his position. His uncle’s voice came next, rebounding off the walls like a physical thing.
“Tiran, you’re not in trouble. We just wanted to find you and make sure you’re all right.”
At this, Tiran could no longer keep quiet. “Yeah,” he said sarcastically. “It’s hard to sacrifice someone to a monster if they’re already dead.”
Everything was silent for a moment, except for the sound of his own breathing, and Lyara’s. Then he heard his uncle again. “He knows,” his uncle said in an undertone that nonetheless echoed into Tiran’s ears. “Spread out and find him. Knock him out if you have to. Just bring him back. Fast.”
Tiran and Lyara exchanged looks, dim shapes against the darkness, then got up and carefully began picking their way forward, trying for silence over speed.
Occasionally, they saw a flicker of orange torchlight in an adjoining corridor, and they ran furiously but silently in the other direction, backtracking whenever they met a dead end. Then – finally, a glow of blue light down the next corridor, the light at the end of the tunnel, and Tiran broke into a run, relief giving his limbs extra strength. He turned the corner, then came abruptly to a stop, as he saw that the light came not from an exit to the cave, but rather from a glowing blue ball of fire, the color of the sky.
Lyara realized it was a trap a split second before he did, giving a yelp and dodging with lightning speed around the corner. Tiran was not so fast. Suddenly, movement seemed almost impossible, as if he was trying to push them through cooling molasses, as his cousin Aldren lazily made his way out from behind a giant column of rock and grinned smugly at him.
“I keep telling everyone that running around is no good,” he said his slow spiteful drawl belying his handsome, polished features. “It’s better to set the trap and wait for the prey to fall in. Far less effort on your own part. You should be thanking me, by the way. This passage leads down to the Snowager’s cave.”
Tiran found he could still speak. “Oh please. I’d much rather deal with the Snowager. Better conversationalist, you know.”
Aldren’s face twisted in a sneer, then returned to his attractive, flyboy smile. “It was very selfish of you to run away. If you ran, you probably know the story, and if you know the story, you know what happens if you don’t die.”
“Why don’t they kill you instead, then? Do the world a favor.”
“Me? I can’t die.” His smile was mocking now. “I’m going to be a statesman. I’m important to the world. I’ll probably rule this mountain someday. And you? You were apprenticed to a blacksmith. No one in our family has done such a tawdry, menial job in generations. You were intended to be the sacrifice since you were born, and Grandfather only took an interest in you out of spite when my father and your mother took all the real power from him. No one cares about you. Not even your parents. Not even Grandfather. You’re hardly a loss to the world.” His eyes glinted. “Don’t worry. It’ll be painless. You won’t even be awake for it. You wouldn’t have even known if you – ”
With a hollow thonking noise, a circular rock hit him right between the eyes and cut off his diatribe. He collapsed to the ground with a look of surprise. With relief, Tiran found that he could move again, and he turned around to find Lyara standing behind him with a fierce little scowl on her face. He gaped at her. “How did you do that?”
She grinned. “I’m snow wars champion, two years in a row. You don’t live around five older siblings and a million cousins on Terror Mountain without learning to throw snowballs really hard.” Her face took on that fierce expression again. “And I care about you.”
He was touched, but had no time to thank her, as he caught the faint flush of torchlight approaching their passage, attracted by the noise.
“Let’s go,” he said, as he turned and ran, past the fading blue globe of fire, with Lyara a step behind him. They ran and ran, and the pursuing lights grew dimmer and dimmer, as did the glow from the wall, as the luminous limestone deposits gave way to plain old stone and ice. He didn’t stop, though his lungs burned like fire and his mouth tasted of salt and copper, until he crashed into a large, striped, horizontal column of ice. As he thumped to the ground, legs aching and nose sore, the column shifted as if in irritation. With sudden clarity, Tiran remembered the words of his cousin, spoken not five minutes ago, but forgotten in all the excitement.
You should be thanking me, by the way. That passage leads down to the Snowager’s cave...
To be continued...