by Johnny Tam

I was the first to stumble into consciousness after the roof of the cave collapsed from the explosion behind us. Fighting through dizziness and what felt like a broken rib, I fumbled my way through the darkness over the debris to the first body I came to. Kayla’s first reaction was swift, instinctive, and painful as she struck out at the touch of my hand and hit me square in the ribs which were now definitively broken. I doubled over and wheezed out a string of gibberish which she thankfully recognized as my voice.

“Oh, the divine! Jules, I’m so sorry I just felt something brush against me and I didn’t think. Oh, heavens above, where are you? Hold on.” She threw up a glowing orb which hung in the air and filled the room with light. I could see Faren and Lucille by the edge of the debris pile. They were unconscious but seemed fine for now. “Your ribs! Oh no, they’re broken aren’t they? Oh no, no, no. It’s my fault isn’t it? Ancestors forgive me. I’m so sorry Jules.”

“P-please, calm down Kayla. I-I need you to check on Faren and Lucille.”

She helped prop me against the wall before going to check on our companions. As she did, I looked around the cavern, taking in the greyness of it all. To the right, the light stretched down a corridor before being swallowed by shadows. On my left was the debris from the collapse. I couldn’t see any trace of the other two members of our group besides the torn corner of a cloak peeking through from beneath the rocks and a half covered bag. They were behind all of us and most likely got caught in the brunt of the explosion. Ancestors ease and guide their passage, but I couldn’t let that distract me. There is always time to grieve when one is dead.

In between each painful breath, I tried to think back to what happened but could only pick out the crack of the roof coming down on me and screams reaching out from behind me. I tried to clear my mind and focus on that moment, but a fit of coughing and the taste of iron stole my attention.

“Hey, don’t go dying on us you old bastard,” called Faren. I hadn’t noticed he and Lucille had come over to me. Kayla was nowhere to be seen.

“Shut it. If he’s got broken ribs I’m surprised he’s still breathing. You alright Jules? Kayla’s filled us in on what’s happened so far. You look pretty bad. Damn it, Allie’s the medic. Where is she?”

“Allie and Kain are gone. Somewhere beneath the rocks over there if you don’t believe me.”

Faren rushed over to the rocks and laid his hand on the rubble. I knew he was scrying through the rock hoping not to find the hollows where their bodies would be. In an instant he turned and retched onto the floor. Lucille was convinced enough by his reaction, but simply collapsed on the ground weeping, her hands covering her mouth. I gave them a moment to take it all in and we stayed in silence for what seemed like hours. During that time I took in the situation around us and realized it was Kain’s turn to carry most of our supplies. Finally, Faren sobered up from the shock.

“I should go tell Kayla, she went on ahead looking for them…”

“Alright. Be careful though, we don’t know what set off that explosion or how stable the rest of the cave system is. Lucille, go dig out Allie’s bag from over there. At least we can make use of her supplies.”

Lucille and I rummaged through the bag and managed to find bandages and a vial of herbal ointment which went to trying to manage my broken ribs. We also found some dried fruit and meat along with other medical amenities as well as some of the iron spikes we were marking our path with which were imbued with a tracking charm.

When Faren and Kayla returned, it was obvious Kayla hadn’t taken the news well as she was still crying. After calming Kayla down, we took the time to set up a crude grave marker by stacking a pile of stones over the bit of torn cloak we pulled out. We gave a brief prayer for their souls. It was all we could do. Afterwards, we divided up the food and discussed what to do next.

“This shaft should connect with a main branch up ahead,” said Faren, drawing a vague sketch of lines in the dust on the ground. “If we can make it there, it’s only a matter of dragging ourselves out the rest of the way.”

“How long do you think this one goes before we hit something?” I asked.

“Damned if I know. You’re the one who wanted to come down here and map this section out.”

Lucille smacked Faren on the back of the head. “Quit being an ass and try to be helpful.”

“Okay, fine. This section is unmapped, obviously. But if we consider the geography of the neighboring branches and the distance we’ve already travelled, we should come across a main cave branch if we keep a good pace for a day. If not, we’ll hit one of the junction chambers in a few days. I can’t say for sure though since we have no idea where we are.”

No one wanted to say it, but the likelihood of finding our way out was slim. Even if Faren was right, I was in no condition to move. Trying was better than nothing, but as we picked up our meager supplies, I was still bothered by the explosion.

About the Author (in his own words):
Chemistry, sophomore, math minor, creative writing minor, trombonist, Starcraft II gamer. I’ve been writing since I was old enough to realize that when you write your ideas down, you can actually remember them and then other people can read about them. High fantasy is my usual medium, but I’m not afraid or unable to write in other genres. I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo for the past few years– you should check it out because it’s an awesome thing! I took Intro to Creative Writing my sophomore year and it was a blast. Hope you enjoy.