Ezria and Marine were breathing hard by the time they reached the end of the tunnel and pulled up just before the entrance to the Cavern. The sounds of fighting had got louder and louder the closer they’d got, but Marine was calmed to notice there were no snarls or soft popping noises. This meant is was unlikely to be their two biggest threats: a predator or Vanweer.
Marine gripped the stone and let herself sink into invisibility. She was beginning to notice more and more about the sensation the more she did it. It felt looser. She was far more aware of needing to concentrate on balancing and thinking about how each of her limbs moved now that she couldn’t see them. It was the most curious sensation… like the world was wobblier somehow and all the movements she’d barely given a second thought to since she learned to walk were suddenly the hardest things in the world.
Ezria turned to her and began to speak in a rusty whisper. Marine saw her eyes widen and the words peter out as Ezria glanced about to see where Marine had gone.
‘I’m here.’ Marine reassured her.
‘This is going to take some getting used to.’ Ezria grinned, ‘In this case, can you head in and see what’s going on?’
Marine nodded, and then realised Ezria couldn’t see her nod and whispered yes. She slipped past Ezria and crept along the edges of the Cavern watching the fight. Rishekke and Mortglade appeared to be trussed up on the floor - lying on their stomachs with their arms and legs pinned behind them with roots. Kurann, Eleff, and Aysmar were deep into a fight with what looked to be about 10 or more strangers in thick brown uniforms. They had woven roots that they were using to club, and some of them had long stringier weaves that they were whipping at lassoing with. As Marine watched she saw Aysmar lose her battle and be forced to the ground under 3 of these strange Tingions. Her hands and feet were swiftly trussed and she was moved to one side with Mortglade and Rishekke. The three that had secured her then swiftly made their way back to the fight. The odds did not look good for Kurann and Eleff.
Marine scampered forward and pulled her knife out of her belt to free the captives while the fight was turned away from her. She was roughly five paces away from Mortglade when a shout went up from one of the strangers.
‘There’s another one! Eengo, Mulling on me.’ Two Tingions broke away from Kurann and Eleff and followed the shouter straight to Marine. Marine looked down at her hands in surprise but they weren’t visible. She tried to dash away back into the dark but they were on her before she was halfway back. The surprise at being seen broke her concentration on remaining invisible and she felt herself flushing back into full view. They bound her wrists tightly behind her and then secured her feet.
‘Stay on this one,’ said the Tingion who had first noticed her, ‘She’s of the old.’ The two Tingions held on to Marine’s feet and arms so tightly that she soon gave up wriggling and lay still, watching as they secured Eleff and Kurann and lay all five of them out on the ground next to each other.
The Tingion who had first spotted Marine seemed to be the leader, they were tall with skin far darker than Marine had ever seen on a Tingion. Marine gazed in astonishment. Now that she noticed, all of these Tingions were a darker shade. She had assumed at first that it was to camouflage themselves with their uniforms but now that she looked it was simply their skin.
‘Who are you?’ Asked the leader, and the group lay quietly on the ground. No one spoke. Marine glanced at Aysmar and then immediately wished she hadn’t as the leader of the strangers pounced on the look and pulled Aysmar into the air. Marine marvelled: the Tingion was so tall that they could lift Aysmar fully off the ground and hold her up. ‘I’ll ask again, who are you?’
Aysmar swallowed and struggled, the pressure from the ropes and the Tingions grip clearly uncomfortable.
‘We are outlaws.’ Aysmar said eventually, ‘We’re on the run from Vanweer.’
Marine actually gasped and then felt herself flush with embarrassment. The Tingion holding Aysmar up grunted.
‘Vanweer?’ They asked, ‘That’s the Commander in Chief of you unders at the moment?’
Unders wondered Marine. She had heard Pappy Gloat use that term to refer to Tingions who lived in the city before but she’d never given it much thought. It was an old word; from back before the city even existed. Back when most Tingions lived above ground. There were a few tribes here and there who chose to live beneath the surface: the were the unders. Those who lived in the sky world were the Topsiders. Since everyone had migrated beneath though, the word had ceased to be used for obvious reasons.
Marine gazed at the strangers. Did they live Topside? Her curiosity and lips were too closely woven because suddenly the question was aloud in the air and the leader of the band of strangers turned to look at her.
‘We do.’ They said with a smile, and Marine found her face mirroring the smile back. She couldn’t stop looking at the band of Tingions. So tall and alive. The energy fizzed off their bronzed skins and Marine felt a pull to them like nothing she’d ever experienced.
Does Ezria make herself known to the strangers?