Tattoo: The Books of Glory

a webserial about people who are not like us

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Tattoo Book 5, part 2.20

Posted by harmony0stars on February 10, 2010

Once they passed the spawn’s lair, the tunnel began to gently curve, seeming to double back on itself, towards Arkham. It would be a convenient turn of events after so much hassle if they came up somewhere near the city. At least it wouldn‘t take too long to collect the car and be on their way. After miles of spelunking, it was doubtful anyone would be eager for another aboveground trek.

There were still a few pockets of bad floor and pockmarked walls as they went along, but at the same time, the intermittent breeze grew stronger. Glory suspected the holes which peppered some sections of the passage had been caused by the acid skin of the spawn they’d left behind or another of its kind. Hopefully the bad spots just represented old lairing spots, and there were no more spawn waiting for them up ahead. The ghoul boy seemed completely carefree once they had passed the creature’s lair however, scampering off into the darkness only to return moments later as if to check up on them or induce them to hurry. If he was still anxious, it was for what they had left behind, not at whatever lay ahead.

“Is it… getting lighter?” Cindy asked in a fatigued voice. They could have been walking for an hour or more since Glory had even made a conscious observation of her surroundings, but it was impossible to tell. Even if she hadn’t left her cell phone in the car, she wouldn’t have looked to see how long they‘d been underground. Better to over estimate the passage of time and be pleasantly surprised when they finally reached the surface than beat herself up because she knew for a fact how fast it was passing. At least if she was only guessing, she could tell herself that was a chance she was wrong.

Before Glory could take stock of her surroundings, Ehecatl agreed. “I can see the opening up ahead. It won‘t be long now,” he announced. Perhaps even he was too tired to take a jab at anyone’s inferior senses because all he added was, “I’ve heard the wind for a while now. I think it‘s close to dawn.”

That was a relief to Glory, and she was willing to take his word for the time. It was better than her estimate. She’d been worried that dawn was long past. As they plodded along, she could finally see the ghoul’s outline in the opening. Not that she was claustrophobic, but if she never saw the inside of a cave again it would be too soon. She’d never been one for sun bathing, but once she got home, she planned to sit out on her terrace as much as possible and soak in the sun.

There was literally a crack in the wall through which the dull gray light of dawn poured along with a frigid pre-autumn breeze. The main tunnel trailed off into the darkness with no way of telling where it might lead. Maybe it wended its way back to the Miskatonic campus to connect with one of the other entrances Professor Murdock had mentioned.

Glory helped Cindy up through the hole, and Ehecatl and his daughter followed the woman out. As much as she wanted out of the caves herself, she waited for the Cinder-man to catch up. Throughout their journey, he’d lagged behind due to his slowly deteriorating body, and they hadn‘t had the patience or courage to slow their pace and allow him to keep up. Even if they hadn’t been afraid of Professor Scott and his people, the spawn had dampened whatever spirit of discover had made their journey seem even subconsciously like an adventure. At least the oozing mass was between them and anyone Scott might send into the tunnels after them, though that was a small comfort. Glory would lay even odds on Scott either sacrificing the lives of his followers by sending them into the tunnels or walling up the tunnel entirely to keep anyone or anything from coming back with reinforcements.

But Glory couldn’t just leave the Cinder-man alone in the dark to find his own way, no matter how much her compassion offended Phoenix’s delicate sensibilities. The Cinder-man wasn’t human, but his host had been. Somewhere inside him, the memories of his host must still linger and perhaps appreciate the gesture. It was really all she should could do for him, not that she felt he’d even acknowledge her consideration. Besides, she had no way of knowing if he’d figure out that they’d crawled through the hole or kept on through the tunnel.

Several minutes passed before she saw his faint outline approaching. In the absolute darkness, he glowed like an ember nearly dead. It wouldn’t hurt for the others to get some rest while they waited, though she hoped it wasn’t as chilly as the breeze would indicate. None of them were dressed warmly, though she could barely feel the cold. Glory scrambled up through the cleft as the Cinder-man got close enough that she was sure he could see her and was relieved to hear the clatter of his passage as he followed her out.

The cleft was really little more than a narrow split between two gigantic boulders that may once have been one solid mound. Glory had to struggle and squeeze between the two jagged halves, further ripping her shirt, though she was very careful of her cloak. She wondered how Ehecatl had faired, since he was more muscular than she was, but since she didn’t find him stuck anywhere and hadn‘t heard any disgruntled muttering, she supposed he must have gotten through with a minimum of effort.

Finally winning free of the crevice, she fell onto the sparse grass and rubble-specked field with a groan of relief before looking around. It was really not as bright outside as it had seemed underground. Cindy lay sprawled in utter exhaustion against one of the few stunted trees forcing its way up between the rock and boulder strewn expanse. It took her a moment before she spotted the boy nearby, crouched between two small boulders about the same size as himself and overshadowed by a boulder nearly as big as the two marking the entrance to the tunnel. Of Ehecatl and Chusi there was no sign. For a moment, she was distressed, but the more Glory thought about it, the less surprised she was. Now that they’d made it out of the tunnels, he had no further need in the safety of numbers. Still, she would have given him some money so that he could find some clothes to better disguise his daughter and some food for her as well, if the child was willing to eat human food after everything that she‘d been through.

to Book 5, part 2, page 21

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