The chamber floor sloped slightly, and the ground was wet, so Darius tumbled further and dirtied himself more than he would have enjoyed. Upon stopping, he leapt to his feet and drew his sword. He brandished it dangerously in the pitch black; barely holding it in the faces of his two companions. Yet neither Etan nor Jakob moved.
Aside from water dripping and percolating and the heaving from Darius, nothing could be heard within the cavern. And were one to try to listen, they would scarcely hear an echo rebounding off the walls.
“Are you planning to kill us, Darius?”
Once Darius heard the familiar voice, and saw the dim green glow emanating from the rocks in the hands of either man, he lowered the sabre and replied, “No. You pulled me in?” Darius asked as he brushed himself off, “why did you not answer?”
“Why should spoken words pass through the threshold of an enchanted cave when its entrance was so difficult to find and open?” Jakob didn’t wait for Darius to answer, “In any case, we’d better move along. Though we shan’t have to deal with the ravagers, any number of creatures could still be lurking in here. Goblins, trolls, ogres… perhaps even grues.”
Darius snorted, “Possibly goblins, Jakob, but trolls and ogres? They died out long ago. And grues are a myth entirely. Stories for children.”
“Of course they exist. I even know a troll.”
“Really?” said Darius in disbelief, “you know a troll?”
“Certainly. I know several. And Wodon Aku is a dear friend of mine… sometimes. At any rate, unlike an ogre, trolls can actually be reasoned with. As for grues, well, I’ve never seen one. But Etan has.”
“Even if grues did exist,” argued Darius, “you could never see one. They’re shadow creatures. Unless it was devouring you. They are invisible.”
“If a grue ate every soul who came in contact with it, then from whence would the stories come?”
Quietly the three men continued to walk; beyond from where they came, having discerned a tunnel in the faint light. Slowly but surely, the trio trundled in.
“Remind me why we didn’t bring torches?” whispered Darius as he fumbled forward clumsily, brushing his hand on the wall of the passageway. He was aggravated by hardly seeing a step in front of him.
“You’ve never been in a faerie cave have you?” though Jakob’s question sounded more like a statement, and his voice was grave and frigid.
“No,” replied Darius.
“Well I have I’m afraid, on a number of occasions.”
“There is almost certainly something guarding this grotto. And since we did not encounter it outside, we can conclude there is something inside. Whatever it is, an open flame will draw unwanted attention to us. Understand? You wouldn’t want anything to be alerted to our presence would you?” susurrated Jakob.
“No, of course.”
Jakob sighed, “The phosphorescence of these stones couldn’t animate a ghost. Now hold a moment. I think we’ve come to the end of an antechamber. And there are…” Jakob said as he felt around, “… three, four, five, five passages which branch off of this one.”
“Marvelous. A labyrinth. So which do we take?”
Darius couldn’t see, but he pictured Jakob putting a great deal of thought into which tunnel he should choose; scrunching up his face and grimacing as he did.
“That which is leftmost.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Listen, Darius; feel even with your hands and feet. That trickling you hear is all we need. To let the stream lead our way.”
With the toe, even against the heel of his boot, Darius felt runoff. All of it was leading in the said direction. The route carried on as straight as an arrow for over a mile, drawing the trio down at ever so slight an angle.
And as the three men wandered further in, the hall around them became more and more wet. Evermore frequently drips poured upon their heads, and what was once a tiny flow became a flood, making it difficult to stand or walk.
Deeper and deeper in, they also began to see another light. A glow unnatural to them, though at first as dim as their stones. The bloom was not green like theirs but magenta. A hue of pink and violet emanating from an unknown source.
On the walls as they neared, Darius saw fluorescent fungi and lichens growing, and even dripping down like stalactites. And small crawling beetles with multi-coloured shells and lighted antennae were crawling along the floor.
Darius wondered aloud, “What is this place?”
Jakob whispered back, “A glimpse into an ancient world, Darius. And not dead, but dormant. Most of the fae have been hiding for over a thousand years, and are now in a deep deep sleep.”
“Why though? Why are they sleeping?”
“Well that is the question, isn’t it? I’ve asked mages and sages, elves, faeries and spriggans. But they all seem as unsure as anyone else.” and Jakob thought for a moment before adding, “of course… I suppose it’s possible the spriggans were telling the truth.”
“What truth?” implored Darius.
But Darius never heard the answer to this question. For they had come to the end of the hall, which opened up into a large domed cavern.
The room was a ruby and fuchsia incandescent. A lilt, however faint, like the sound of birds was sung. And rolling down the walls were hundreds of streams of water cascading down into a small pool at the centre of the room, which took up all the floor. Though mosses and mushrooms still grew where they could on the walls. Dancing in the pond were shoals of multi-coloured fish. And thousands of radiant insects glode about pliant and softly.
Darius repeated himself, yet again in awe, “What is this place?”
“Dahnd,” Jakob replied simply.