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The tunnel was dark, winding beneath the ground and branching out to other side passages. The sweet, dusty smell of decaying earth filled the air as she took one step at a time, her feet tapping on the frozen mud that made up the passage’s floor. She had immediately recognized what it was when Kari had pointed it out: a tunnel crafted by her people. Hopefully it would wind its way somewhere safe, somewhere where she could find a family again.
Danielle glanced behind herself, her eyes easily making out the curved walls, the roots hanging from the ceiling in long, tendril-like streamers. She could no longer see them, but she could hear them. Robin sounded angry. That seemed strange. From what Danielle understood, Kari had essentially saved them in some strange way.
She hesitated for a moment, continuing to listen to the voices. She could leave them behind; she had fulfilled her obligation to Robin, after all. Without her, they would all have been prey to the living dead: so much food for the creatures that made life so difficult. A life for a life, Rak had told her. If Robin chose to stay and wait for the restless to follow, she couldn’t be blamed.
Her feet moved of their own accord. First it was one step, then another, then she was running down the passage back toward Robin and Kari and the man that they had called Richard. Her side throbbed, the pain arcing up her side from her wound as she tried to keep up her speed. Rak had also always said that you never abandon family.
She rounded the corner and stopped, staring. Kari was convulsing on the floor, her eyes fluttering as her limbs spasmed. White foam came from her mouth, pouring down the side of her pale face. She didn’t look quite so pretty now. Robin was sitting nearby. For once, his emotionless face was twisted into something else: disappointment. Richard, on the other hand, was kneeling down next to her and shouting. He reached down and grabbed Kari’s shoulders, pulling her into his arms, “You can’t just leave without explaining! Why did you do it?!”
Danielle stepped forward hesitantly, keeping to the back wall of the tunnel. She could hear the screams of the dead above them. Soon enough, one of them would follow the sounds down the shaft…and then they’d be in trouble.
Just as suddenly, Kari stopped moving. Her blue eyes gazed blankly at the ceiling, her body going limp. Richard leaned over her and murmured something that Danielle couldn’t hear. Then he reached down and closed her eyes. Robin still sat on the ground, seemingly dazed.
Danielle suddenly heard a tell-tale thump and then the sound of a shuffling gait from around the bend. For a moment, she was frozen. The restless were around her once more, her brothers beside her as they tried to escape.
Then the moment passed. Danielle rushed forward, tapping Robin on the arm, “We need to go.”
Robin glanced up at her blankly. Slowly, he nodded, “Let’s go then.” He stood and walked over toward Richard, grabbing him by the arm roughly and pulling him away from Kari’s body. Richard made a noise that sounded as if someone was choking him as he struggled. Robin jerked him hard and then slapped him across the face, “Quiet. You can’t do anything more about her. It’s time to leave.”
Richard stared at Robin for a moment. Shock and disbelief crossed his face, and his eyes flickered back toward Kari’s prone body. Then his lips curled into a sneer, “If you do that again…”
Robin cut him off, jerking his head toward Danielle, “No time.” He jogged toward her, nodding for her to lead. Danielle took off down the tunnel—away from the screams, away from the entrance, away from death. Roots scraped the top of her head as the packed dirt flashed by on either side. Her feet pounded the dirt floor, thudding and then clanging as it gave way to metal. She could hear Robin and Richard behind her, following. Further behind, she could hear screams and quick footsteps. The restless had finally decided to follow.
The walls slowly changed from earth to rusted metal. Water dripped downward into the frigid air and left greenish streaks against the walls. The footsteps behind her suddenly stopped. Danielle whirled around, her eyes seeking out her companions. Robin had stopped, his sword withdrawn. The metal gleamed dully in the darkness as he turned to face the way they had come. There was a figure approaching them quickly. It had an uneven gait, one of its arms twisted backward while the other swung forward as it ran. Robin crouched slightly as the creature let out a horrific scream; it bounced off the walls, echoing through the small space as it reached one skeletal hand toward him.
At the last second, Robin shifted his weight and stepped to one side. The creature barreled past him and he swung his sword, catching the monster’s neck. Blood sprayed outward as the body stumbled, still reaching for Robin. Then the head fell and what was left of the creature slumped to the ground.
More screams came from down the hallway. Danielle glanced to Robin and then spun around, sprinting away from the sounds. The pain was almost non-existent now. All that mattered was getting away. She could hear his and Richard’s footsteps following, their breath heaving as they rushed forward.
Danielle rounded a corner and slammed into a metal wall. She stared for a moment. Unlike the rest of the system, the wall had been maintained. No green stains marred its surface, and there were only a few patches of rust to mark where age had taken its toll. She pressed her hands against the metal, feeling its cold, smooth surface, tracing her fingertips along the faint grooves that were there. Richard’s voice sounded high-pitched behind her, “We’re trapped!”
She closed her eyes, ignoring Richard’s panicked words, ignoring the screaming, ignoring the pain. She moved her hand along the metal until she found one indentation, pressing it with her finger. Then she found another and pressed that too. There was the squeak and whine of rusty hinges as the door slowly swung inward, revealing more of the passage.
Danielle didn’t waste any time. She darted through and waited on the other side, watching as Richard and Robin followed. She was already tracing the grooves on the wall as the screaming came closer and closer. Her eyes moved over the small symbols, finding the right shapes before she glanced briefly toward the open door. That was a mistake. She could see more shapes sprinting toward them, teeth gnashing. Danielle turned her attention back to the wall. There. She pressed a finger against a small indentation, and the door swung closed with a click.
She slowly turned to look at the others. Relief showed plainly on their faces as they looked back. If it hadn’t been for her, they would be dead. Danielle allowed herself a small smile before turning to continue limping down the passage, “This way.”
She was sure Rak would have been proud.