Beneath the Haunted Woods: Part Five
"Parlebb, did you hear that?”
“I thought I heard something, like some kind of faint howling. You don’t think there are werelupes down here do you?” She turned to face her brother.
“Since when do werelupes hang around in deep caves?”
“I…guess they don’t.”
The siblings found themselves in a cramped, low-ceiling corridor. The rough, ragged limestone walls of the cavern were absent, in its place was cyclopean masonry. The stone cold to the touch as that of a block of ice, yet the flat floors gave some relief to the soles of their feet after walking over countless amounts of debris and jagged cavern ground for so long.
Clara kept one hand on the wall as she and Parlebb continued on their way down the passage. It wasn’t long before they ended up on the other side; a cold draft breezed past them as they stepped out of the corridor leading into a wider space.
The tunnel was pitch-black; the lanterns could barely illuminate anything in front of them. As she took a few steps, Clara felt the furs on her arms and neck prick. She looked down, it was not the cold air chilling her to the bone that made her jump; instead, the cold stone flooring was gone, as was the claustrophobia inducing tight spaces, she could feel that they were standing on a narrow, artificial wooden bridge, hanging high above a vast gorge.
She started trembling, her eyes glued to the emptiness below. From within the depths of the gorge the darkness reached out for her, the shadows coming closer, almost as if the void itself was calling to her, beckoning her to step off the bridge, to fall down into the very depths of the world.
At that moment she felt something grasp her arm, snapping her out of her trance. In shock she looked at her brother. He was staring back, his body twisted to the side.
“Don’t let go.” He said, his voice firm.
Clara looked down at her arm, Parlebb's hand was firmly gripped around her forearm. She looked back up at her brother and nodded. She held his arm, her grip steady as Parlebb led her through. He had his lantern held high above him, his eyes fixated on the floor below, moving quickly but cautiously.
As he guided her, she glanced to the side; she could have sworn that she had just heard something echoing across the chamber in the distance, at first what she thought was a tiny indiscernible wail, quickly drowned out by the loud screeching of stones scraping against each other. She took an exasperated breath, trying to listen as closely as possible.
Her train of thought was suddenly broken as her leg slipped. She gasped as she lost her balance, her leg dangling over the edge, about to plummet into the void below. In one swift motion she was pulled back, sending her stumbling onto the floor of the bridge. For a moment she was on all fours on the ground, her heart beating at a fast rate, quivering like mad, her breathing frantic in an attempt to calm her nerves.
“For Fyora’s sake, pay attention!” Parlebb said, a noticeable aggravation building in his voice.
When her heart rate stabilized she got back up on her feet, carefully keeping up the pace with her brother. The underground pressure was finally getting to her; her head was throbbing, the cold air burning her nostrils as she inhaled, her eyes weary.
They were at the very middle of the bridge, their steps cautious, vigilant. With every step, she could hear the wooden boards creaking, sometimes cracking under her weight with every step. Each passing moment she fought to keep her breathing steady. The instability of the bridge made her uneasy, as she feared the floorboards could break at any moment.
Suddenly a weak tremor rocked the bridge, causing her anxiety to peak once again. She could feel the grasp around her arm tightening, as her brother wisely stopped moving and grabbed hold of the rope supporting the bridge, his posture firm, keeping him balanced, preventing both him and his sister from falling over.
As soon as the tremor began, it ended. The rickety bridge stabilized.
The only sounds were the distant echoes of rocks crumbling followed by dirt, dust and other debris raining down from the ceiling.
At that moment, through mere instinct, Clara looked up. She let out a shocked gasp and stopped dead in her tracks; up above, barely lit up by the dim lantern, rows of jagged, sharp teeth and a gaping maw came down from the ceiling heading straight for her. She recoiled; jerking her hand away from Parlebb’s grasp, jumping back with a startled shriek as it landed on the ground with a heavy thud, the impact nearly destabilizing the bridge.
“Wh—what the Darigan?!” Clara shouted.
She jumped out the way, taking cover behind her brother as the worm slithered, it movements erratic, its limbs quivering like mad. Parlebb drew his sword and dashed towards the giant slithering insect, taking several swings at the worm’s body. The blade made mere scratches on the surface, barely even cutting through. The worm coiled as it adjusted itself to the narrow width of the bridge, its razor sharp maw looking straight towards the pair.
Parlebb held his ground, keeping his vision fixated on the creature, his sword firmly gripped in his hands. Clara was behind him, her hands on his shoulders, slowly backing away as the worm came closer.
The worm retracted, raising itself off the ground, its maw expanding and contracting, exposing the jagged teeth protruding from its mouth.
Parlebb glanced from side to side from the corner of his eyes; the narrow bridge gave little space to move around with nothing but the endless chasm below. The bridge began to depress, the wood creaking and splintering as the worm crawled its way towards them. He took one look at the thick ropes.
“Quick! Get off the bridge!” Parlebb shouted, his gaze directed towards Clara.
Parlebb drew his other blade from its scabbard, raised his arms parallel to each other, and with one quick swing, the twin blades cut through the ropes, the artificial bridge rocked violently as it’s supports were torn. He made a dash for the other side, slashing at the rest of the ropes as he ran. When the last series of ropes in front of him were all cut down, he sheathed his swords and started running on all fours, reaching top speed within seconds, the sounds of wood creaking and splintering echoed behind him, unable to support the worm’s weight.
He was only a few meters away from the other side when he felt the floor quake like mad. The worm was close behind, trailing it’s escaping prey, quivering madly as it slithered, moving at a faster pace. The bridge fell apart, the boards collapsing upon each other.
Parlebb lost his balance as his leg got caught in a small gap between wooden boards, sending him sprawling onto the surface, breaking his pace, only for him to clamber to his feet, recovering almost immediately. Finally, the bridge came down; the last of the ropes snapped under the immense pressure. At the last second, he bent back his hind legs, ready to leap into the air with all his might.
But it was too late, Parlebb slipped as the floor gave way from under him. Clara, already at the other side of the bridge, gasped in fright. She watched in horror as her brother vanished from sight as the bridge collapsed, plummeting into the abyss.
Horrified, Clara rushed towards the edge of the cliff. As she stared into the abyss, her eyes dilated in surprise. She outstretched her arms and reached down just in the nick of time to catch her brother by the arms as he hit the wall, nearly sliding off the ledge. She pulled back with all her might, lifting Parlebb to his feet. As she carried her brother, she caught sight of the gargantuan cave worm crashing down the chasm beneath her. It fell limp into the abyss below, consumed by the shadows in an instant as it faded from view. The crashing sounds echoed throughout the chamber, growing weaker and weaker until finally, silence.
As Parlebb clambered back to his feet, he was met with another tight embrace from his younger sibling, hugging him briefly.
“That…was way too close!” Clara said in between breaths, still shaken from her initial shock.
“Guess I got lucky.” Parlebb replied, dusting off his frock coat. “Let’s keep moving before that thing crawls back up the side.”
“Please don’t jinx it…”
With that, the siblings moved on, carefully navigating the side of the cliff overlooking the chasm, leading further underground, deeper and deeper into the depths of the world.
“You’re welcome by the way.” Clara said timidly, quickly looking away from her brother as he briefly stared back before turning his attention to the passage that lay ahead of them.
To be continued…