Marine stood between Ezria and the strangers, although it was unclear who she was shielding from whom. Marine could feel the anger coming of Ezria like a flame. Her eyes were small and focused with fury. Marine had to hope that at least part of that fury was for the strangers and not all for her. She swallowed nervously, unwilling to break the stand off.
‘Should we tie them up?’ She heard one of the Topsiders ask eventually, but the Leader shook their head.
‘No,’ they said, ‘There doesn’t seem to be much point does there?’ Marine thought she detected a dry humour in their words.
‘What do you want with us?’ Marine asked, licking her dry lips and hoping that her voice came out strong instead of quavering.
The Leader fully grinned now and shook their head at Marine. ‘I like this one.’ They said, ‘Put her at the front. Move out.’
The Topsiders sprang into action around them. Marine and Ezria had someone on each side, no more than a hand placed on each shoulder but the weight of the hands and the sounds of the root weapons swinging at their sides were enough to keep Marine quiet. She wondered if Ezria felt the same.
Kurann, Rishekke, Eleff and Mortglade were lifted to their feet and had their ankle bonds severed so they could walk along with the Topsiders. They were put in single file with a Topsider on either side and marched towards the edge of the Cavern. When they reached the tunnels, the topsiders got between them and they were marched through the tunnel and out of the Cavern.
Marine realised she was more scared than excited. Perhaps they were being taken Topside? She had never left the Cavern through this tunnel but could feel from the general direction that they were not going in the direction of the city, and the tunnel seemed to slope gently upwards. The smell of rat was unnerving, but her position at the front of the line of captives and captors had her near the Leader of the Topsiders and she felt energised by their presence.
As she walked she looked at them carefully, studying the long legs and easy strides. Their hair was smooth and long and pulled into weaves down past their broad shoulders. Marine’s own hair was short and caked down with mud and bits of the dust and detritus that hung in the tunnels below ground. Every now and again the leader would turn round to check on the file of Tingions and Marine could study their face. They had dark blue eyes with long, long eye lashes heavy set eyebrows over the top. Their cheeks were broad and rounded, with a reddish tinge to the bronzed skin. Marine liked their mouth. It was small, with the lower lip plump and overhanging slightly. Marine had a wide mouth herself which she had never liked and she was envious of the petite roundedness of the leader’s lips.
‘What’s your name?’ Asked the lips Marine was studying and she felt her face heat up in the darkness of the tunnel.
‘Marine.’ She said, and then cleared her throat to say it with a stronger voice, ‘It’s Marine. What’s yours?’
‘Briar,’ they said, looking back up the tunnel, ‘What does Marine mean?’
‘I don’t know, really.’ Marine admitted, wishing she did so she could continue the conversation, ‘I think it has something to do with water but I’m not sure what. What is Briar?’
Briar nodded and didn’t show any emotion at Marine’s lack of knowledge on her own name. ‘Briar means provider for Topsiders. Food, shelter and protection.’
Marine nodded, considering this, ‘So, were you born to be a leader or did you grow into your name?’ Briar laughed and Marine decided she liked making them laugh. Briar’s laugh was loud and confident. She realised then that none of them were trying to be quiet. They couldn’t be nervous of running into Vanweer, or anyone or anythign else for that matter.
‘I grew into it. Although the nice thing about something as vague as Briar is I could have been a chef, or a builder and it would have felt just as appropriate.’
Marine laughed, her laugh sounded small and pathetic in comparison to Briar’s boom. ‘Are you taking us Topside?’ She asked, unsure if she would get an answer to this question.
‘We are.’ Briar said instantly, surprising Marine more than a bit, ‘We weren’t expecting you all to be in the Den, I’ll admit. But we can’t go leaving outlaws lying around for Vanweer to snaffle up now can we?’ The way Briar leant on the word outlaws piqued Marine’s curiosity. She couldn’t help asking more questions.
‘You don’t like Vanweer?’ She asked, hoping the answer was affirmative.
‘She makes life as difficult for us as possible. We used to have small but significant trade routes with the city but since Vanweer took office they have been strangled to near uselessness. And then… and then there are the stones.’
Marine’s heart leapt into her mouth. She opened said mouth to respond but heard Ezria’s voice gently in her head, ‘Say nothing.’ The voice was quiet but full and Marine had the strangest sensation she hadn’t actually heard it with her ears. She trudged along in silence, sure that her lack of follow up questions gave more away about her knowledge of the stone than her silence but unsure at all of what to say back.
She felt the air sweetening and moving as they reached the Topside and prepared herself for seeing the other side of the world again.
Is it night or day when they reach the surface?