Word count, currently 20215.
She walked further. She began to notice smoother newer tunnels, and she wondered why miners were working this far from the Underdark. Usually, miners worked to extend the huge caverns in which homes could be either carved out whole, or constructed from blocks. Disposing of the rock removed was the harder part, and perhaps these were newer access routes to the surface to dispose of the rock. She did not hesitate at the next t-intersection to choose a left turn as Lily had dictated. She preferred walking this new tunnel, as it lacked the stream of water that often trickled through the older tunnel. True there was still some mud, but this could be avoided.
When she felt a rumble, instinctively she stilled. She wasn’t sure how stable this new tunnel was, and there was nothing shoring up its sides. One never knew which way to run during a collapse, or even if one should run at all. It could close her in, fall on top of her, or if she was lucky, merely block her path. Of course she had taken so many turns that there was no way she could remember her way back despite memory training, and she did not know if any of the spiders would be willing to guide her back to the grate, or if they could. The main caverns were often lined with silk walls and other shoring methods. Accidents still happened, and she was not the only one to suffer nightmares of the Great Sky fall when part of the Queen’s Chamber collapsed when she was a little girl. Mother had carted off a rock from the fall and carved it into a chair for her workroom. She had insisted the carver keep the bloodstains intact.
Another rumble. She worried if anyone would find her to rescue her, or even offer the kiss of the knife. Lying whole and forgotten seemed such a pointless way to die. Would Darque be angry when abandoned, so his House would war with hers? Clan wars had been started on much less. She prayed to the Spider to free her from this web.
Another rumble, this one more overhead, and closer. She ran ahead in a fast sprint, then looked behind while catching her breath. The tunnel was still intact. She wondered why.
Movement to her left captured her attention. A puff of dust presaged several pointed things poke through the rock like a dagger through fungi. As the pointed bits withdrew and were replaced with more, she realized they must be teeth, and she coughed with the dust filling her lungs. She felt strong arms lift her and force her against the hard chest, knocking out what little breath she had, and she inhaled more dust. She coughed and looked over the changeling’s shoulder. Something huge and wormlike filled the tunnel where she had been standing, moving rapidly enough to scare her. This changeling had pulled her out of the way in time, for if the teeth had not been troubled by rock, they would have easily destroyed her soft flesh.
He carried her all the way to the older tunnel and stayed with her until she was breathing normally again. She recognized him as the same changeling she saw before. “Thank you,” she managed.
“Burrower trails are distinctive,” he immediately began to lecture, in a deep quiet voice. “When the tunnel is fresh, the dung looks like a thin ribbon of mud. It means they are probably still active in that area. When the walls turn yellowish and the floor is caked dry, the burrower has usually moved on. They digest the rock- and anything else- in their path. They have no senses to determine if living things are there or not, and sheer indifference has killed many like yourself who are ignorant to their ways.”
Tyrrae would have bowed, but he was still holding her upright. Never take the gift of information lightly, her teachers had instructed.
“Where are you headed?” he demanded. “You are too…” He paused, and she wondered if he thought she should be in Seclusion or simply not yet out. Would he think her a newlywed trying to run away? Or simply much older than she looked, and therefore safe to wander alone? Women were sheltered until their first child. It protected the bloodline and secured the First’s position as main heir. Tyrrae held his gaze.
“You are too uneducated in the tunnel’s dangers to be wandering alone,” he finished. “I shall guard you. What is your destination, madam?”
Tyrrae knew better than to sigh in relief or show any other emotion. He thought her married and out, or at least, would treat her thus. She need not fear him handing her over to the Council immediately. “I am bound to the Hated Ones,” she said. “I must seek servants. I had been given directions.”
“I know many paths in that direction, though it is well outside the Underdark. There is a route not far from here. Can you walk, or shall I continue to carry you?”
She was aware of his chest and arms, and heat of him through her silks. It made it her long for things she did not understand, so she said, “I shall walk.”
Slowly and carefully, he set her down. He led the way, for most of this tunnel was too narrow for the wide spread of spider legs to make room for her two.
She watched the graceful way he moved, fascinated by the delicate feet. It was hard to imagine his weight being held by them, and she wondered what they would feel like upon her skin. Spiders walk on the stiff hairs of their feet, and the spider she used to keep as a pet always tickled as it crawled across her skin.
He stopped once. His eyes full of mischief danced. “I will show you a different view of Underdark. It’s more or less on the way, although, it is very dangerous.”
Tyrrae smiled a little. Danger did not matter much when breaking so many conventions already. She felt she could trust this changeling. “Lead on,” she merely stated.
“We must take the proper precautions. Forgive me for entangling you.” He spun a wide girdle of webbing around her middle, and fastened the other end to himself. He anchored himself to the wall of the tunnel, and after they had walked a few more steps, the right wall of the tunnel fell away. Tyrrae could look down into the Queen’s Chamber. She could see the palace and the circle of executive buildings, and a few settlement houses of prominent families who were allowed to directly attend the Queen. There was the dark Tower in the center of it all, where the Queen herself was said to practice her own use of Power, and rumor said the Spider King still visited her there. She also saw from this unusal perspective that there were many other ledges like the one she was on. Surely these were invisible to the ground below. If the Spider still visited the Queen, it would certainly be easy to drop from a ledge, and return by use of silk.
Perhaps, this was one method the Queen used to remain informed about her people. Spiders did make excellent spies, if one could understand their speech. Or, she thought of the web with the repeating pattern, perhaps they wove webs in patterns easily understood? Someday, she may learn for herself.
Some of the edge crumbled under her feet. The silk was drawn tight, and Tyrrae moved on behind the changeling. When they were a little ways down the tunnel again, he undid the line connecting them, and made a present of the rope to her.
She bowed in thanks, and they continued.