Part 7

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Cricket soon tired of watching the stars. She decided a moonlight stroll might be nice. As she walked, her mind wandered aimlessly. Suddenly, the beach ended. A dark, endless cave loomed up ahead.

She turned, only to find that the city was nowhere to be seen in the distance. Ahead she wandered, until the mouth of the cave. Curiously, she walked farther in.

Luminescent mushroomscast a green mist about the cave, lighting her way. The moss was soft beneath her feet, and tiny critters went about their business scurrying among the dark rocks. The cave narrowed and made a few sharp turns. Cricket wasn’t sure if she should venture further; she knew she could get lost. Tesser had mentioned something about tides…

She told herself that she would just go around one more corner. She turned and turned. The cave split into three caves. A voice inside her told her to stop and go back, but curiosity turned her around the next corner.

She felt something squish under her foot and listened to the repeating calls of her gasp echo through the passageways. She really should be going back. More steps led her around another corner.—and to a dead stop.

Two yellow eyes and a mouth of sharp teeth grinned at her out of the blackness.

*

Airik nervously scanned the beach. Where did she go? He knew she had walked down the beach; had she gone as far as the caves? Was she foolish enough to enter them? He thought for a moment that he should chase after her. He felt bad about earlier, but something else made him want to just go talk to her. He descended the outside stairs and jumped down to the beach, running down the strand.

*

“Do not be afraid,” said a sharp, growling voice—the voice of the owner of the haunting eyes. “I haveno intention of harming you.”

Cricket wanted to run, but she had nowhere to go. Her heart skipped a beat. The looming shadow of the beast stepped into the green light let off by the cave mushrooms. Her captor was a wolf!

What a great way to die, she thought. Being torn to shreds and eaten alive. I hope it doesn’t hurt much.

Cricket knew she couldn’t act afraid; animals like this sensed fear. He inched forward. “P—please,” she whispered. “Do not step closer.”

“I repeat, I shall not harm you.” Cricket watched his strong jaws and jagged fangs as he spoke. “My name is Torshak. And if it will calm you any, I have eaten my fill of cave rats this evening.” Cricket made a gagging noise. “To wolves, the are considered a delicacy.”

She smiled. “I—I’m Cricket.,” she said, masking the fright in her voice.

“Yes,” he said. “You are her. Why do you fear me so?”

Cricket felt no reason to lie, so she spoke the straight truth. “I fear the feeling of death your eyes hold. I fear the stained blood that appears when you bare your teeth. I fear that you might take me between your strong jaws and have me for dessert. I fear your sharp claws that cut like razors. I fear all that is you.”

A flicker of amusement flashed behind the ferocious yellow in his eyes as he answered her explanation with a wide grin. “You do have a way with words,” he said. “You flatter me, my dear. Yet I still hear true fear in your voice. I stay not to harm you, but to aid you.”

Cricket realized that he meant it. She relaxed a little and let him lead her through the dark halls. She hoped she could trust him.

*

“Damn!” Airik said as he tripped over a rock in the darkness. At first he tried to follow Cricket’s footsteps, but they eventually disappeared in the moist sand. The darkness consumed him and he staggered into another wall.

“Where is she? I’m sure if I could find her we could get out together, but she’s run off. I’ll be here till morning!” He began to wonder why he was chasing this wench. What did he care what she did?

For some unknown reason, his heart grieved to find her.

*

Torshak led Cricket through the devious tunnels. She wondered if there ever was an end to these garbled passageways. She squinted through the darkness and spotted a tiny light ahead. A spark of hope burned in her heart. She could hear Torshak’s heavy breathing as he made his way to the light.

Closer and closer they came, until Torshak stopped.

“In the many years I have wandered these corridors, never I have I come upon such a room.”

Cricket’s spark of hope dimmed. What she had hoped was the light of the moons was the remains of a thick candle.

She and the wolf stepped curiously into the room. Stone-carved bookshelves lined one wall, and the floor was covered in a thick, moss-like carpet. Cricket wondered what sort of hermit dwelled in a place like this. Cricket examined the many charts and graphs put up on the walls and wondered still. No hermit made charts and read centuries-old books of…magic?

Cricket walked farther into the room. Her face paled and she let out a horrifying scream! There was a dead man in the chair!

*

Airik stopped dead in his tracks. He heard the scream echo through the caves.

“Cricket,” he mouthed as he ran down the hall, to his left, his right, trying to follow the scream. The noise continued to echo in the corridors around him, and he found himself in a large entrance with dozens of passageway entrances. Which one should he go in? He ran into the one he thought the loudest echo came from, but he was confronted with something worse.

There was a new wall of corridors to choose from and dead silence.

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