Friday, 2 September 2016

Artel - Trapped

For half a second Artel felt weightless, then gravity kicked in and he felt himself falling. His first thought was that he was somehow falling into the ground, but as his arse hit the base of the tunnel and he began to slide he realised that was not the case. Panic flared in his chest, a feeling he was not overly familiar with, and his hands scrabbled against the sides of the downwards sloping tunnel, his fingers trying desperately to find a purchase. He wriggled round and flipped over so that he was on his belly, his arms reaching back up towards the pinprick of light that was fast receding as he slid further and further down the tunnel, his feet kicking uselessly against the smooth earth. The sliver of light above him flickered and then disappeared as he slid around a bend and the tunnel became steeper. The darkness was now all around him and his nose was full of the cloying scent of earth. The air seemed thick with moisture and as the tunnel continued Artel felt the walls around him, realising with a terrifying clenching in his chest that they were a lot closer than he thought. He had never thought of himself as claustrophobic, but then again he had never been in a position where the thought had been relevant, but now, sliding through the darkness of a small, tight tunnel, he felt the fear rising through his stomach and squeezing his chest and throat so that he felt as if he could not breathe. He squeezed his eyes shut but it made no difference as his brain frantically tried to work out how much oxygen there might be this far underground. 
There was a pause, or at least it felt like a pause to Artel, then the ground beneath him was gone and he was no longer sliding but falling through the darkness. In some animalistic way he sensed that the walls had opened out and he was now in a cavernous room. The air seemed cooler and clearer and it rushed into his lungs, momentarily heightening his senses. Somewhere he could hear the steady drip, drip of water splashing into a pool. Then he landed, awkwardly and very hard, on an unforgiving floor coated in a thin layer of something soft that felt as though it may be fur. Pain flared in his left shoulder and across his hips and for a moment he lay there, somewhat stunned and relieved that the terrible slide through the tunnel had ended. Long moments passed and Artel felt the pain in his body beginning to subside. He moved gingerly, testing his body, and found to his relief that nothing was broken, merely bruised. He pulled himself into a sitting position and stared into the darkness surrounding him, hoping that his eyes would adjust. They didn't, and the darkness remained as impenetrable as ever. Remembering his training he sat for a while, straining to hear every noise in the dark room. Accompanying the steady drip of the water, which seemed to be coming from somewhere to his right, he could just pick up the slight whistle of wind, although after some thought he came to the conclusion that the sound must be coming from the entrance to the tunnel which was somewhere above him. There were no other sounds. In the darkness and the silence, he felt around for his sword, gratefully finding the slim blade lying only a a metre or so away, and he slipped it back into its scabbard. Then he staggered to his feet, feeling the ache in his hips return and an unwanted pain flare up in his right ankle. His head span slightly and he stood still for a moment, trying to get his bearings, a feat that proved almost impossible in the pitch dark room. Unsure what else to do he stretched his right arm out in front of him and began to walk forwards, hoping to find the wall.
It took several steps until Artel's finger tips brushed the slightly damp, earthy wall and he breathed a sigh of relief that he didn't realise he had been holding. He moved closer and laid his whole hand against the wall, then began to move to the left, keeping his hand against the wall at all times. Theoretically, he reasoned, there must be an exit to this strange hole, a doorway, another tunnel, a gate, it couldn't simply be a hole in the ground with no way out, someone must have built it. 
He walked on, following the wall through the darkness. Minutes passed, or maybe hours, he had no way of telling in the steady darkness. Had he taken twenty steps, or 200? He could no longer remember. The wall went on, on, and on, and on. It was uneven, as if it had been carved in the dark, sometimes it dipped in and then protruded back out, and some parts of it were wetter than others. At one particularly wet point he felt his hand coated in slimy mud and the overly loud splash of his foot landing in a puddle echoed round the room. 
'So this is the dripping that I could hear earlier.' He thought to himself. Then he listened to the echo, the noise seemed to bounce round and round the room, getting fainter and fainter each time, but it gave him no clues as to the possibility of an exit. 
He carried on, following the wall to the left and trying to keep his spirits high. Long moments passed as he placed one foot in front of the other over and over again, his mind began to drift. He thought of his Queen, he thought of the war raging throughout the land and frustration rose in him yet again that he was stuck on his fools quest while others lead the battle in his place. He shook his head, growling slightly in frustration, another sound that seemed too loud and echoed through the darkness. He went to take the next step and found his foot caught in something, unable to stop himself he toppled over and hit the ground again, this time jarring his right elbow and letting out a short yelp of pain. He scrabbled to get his feet again and his hands found something smooth and shaped. 
'This must be what tripped me.' He thought, as curiosity took him and he felt around with his hands, blindly following the shapes of the object, which now seemed to be many objects, small and curved and fairly hard. He followed the contours of a funny part that ran at an angle he thought was somewhere between 35 and 90 degrees and curved at the end, then he moved his fingers upwards, finding another, and a hole with two sockets above. Artel dropped the skull at the exact moment he realised what it was, letting out another involuntary yelp and jumping backwards towards the wall. Although he hated to admit it the skeleton, for that was what it was, filled him with dread. It proved that things died in this room, something had died here at least, and the back of his mind filled in the blank spaces for him, that meant there may be no way out. 
Breathing heavily, Artel stood up against the wall, wiping his hands against the mud as if to rid them of the feel of the skull. Then he placed his hand once again upon the wall and began to walk to the left, placing one foot in front of the other. 

It was a long time before Artel felt the wall give way to a wooden surface, a wooden surface that met another wooden surface that then met the mud wall again on the other side. He breathed a sigh of relief, it was a door, and the door was the best thing that he had ever found in his short life. He had begun to think that he may have been walking in circles and would never find a way out, ending like the poor sod he had found on the floor. Eagerly he pushed against the and could hear the rattle of a chain on the other side as the doors jiggled slightly. He pushed harder and heard the chain rattle again, the doors gave slightly but stopped as they met the resistance of the chain. He pushed again, and again, and again, eventually throwing himself against the wood, hoping to either break the chain or splinter the wood. Nothing worked and at last he sat, panting and sweating, at the base of the doors, one thought whirling round and round his mind.
He had to get out.

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