As soon as Senta and the other three members of her group had approached the far left side of the courtyard, they had seen the small passage leading down into the darkness. It was about the same width as the typical human doorway, though only about five feet tall, which meant that all of them would have to stoop to enter. Senta would have gone right on in, had Bratihn not stopped her with a wave of his hand. He then stepped in the doorway first, bending down, and following the downward slope. Senta and then Vever and then Brown followed. They had gone no more than thirty feet from the doorway, when Bratihn stopped.
“We need a torch,” he said to Senta.
She reached into her tiny bag and pulled out an oil lantern. As she handed it to Bratihn, the cloth wick inside ignited, bathing the corridor in light. Bratihn took the lantern and continued on. He slid a bit on the sand that dusted the stone floor. Forty feet beyond, the narrow little corridor joined a much wider and higher one, which ran perpendicular to the first.
“I think our entryway here was a ventilation shaft. It probably had some kind of grating over it long ago.” Bratihn held up the lantern and looked left and right down the larger hallway. “This looks more like something someone would walk in. See those holes in the wall on either side? They’re evenly spaced. I’ll bet there was some kind of lighting there—oil lamps or sconces for wooden torches.”
“So which way do we go?” asked Senta.
“Left should take us out toward the front, so right should take us further back.”
“Right it is then.”
No longer needing to crouch, the four explorers were free to move more quickly. Only the darkness and their unfamiliarity with the oppressive passageway kept them to a slower pace. The air in the corridor was cool, dry, and odorless. After about one hundred twenty feet, the passage intersected another forming a tee. Bratihn held the lantern high over his head and looked down each of the three open passageways, but there seemed to be nothing to distinguish one from the others.
“Which way now?” asked Brown, peering over Vever’s shoulder.
“Right,” replied Bratihn.
“Orientation. When we leave, we can simply follow the left wall and it will take us right out.”
“Isn’t it time we headed back?” offered Brown.
Bratihn took out his pocket watch and held it in the lantern light. “We’ve only been gone ten minutes.”
“Come on. We’re wasting time,” said Senta.
“You heard the lady,” said Bratihn, turning to the right and stepping quickly but cautiously down the hall.
This hallway went about another hundred feet and then took a ninety-degree turn to the left. Sixty feet beyond the turn, it ended with an open doorway into a much larger chamber. The four of them examined the sides of the door. Here, like on the great gate in front of the fortress, were indications that there had once been hinges and some sort of lock, but whatever door had once barred the way was now long gone. The light spilling from the lantern spread out as they entered the room beyond the doorway, but it was a tiny drop in an ocean of darkness. The room was huge.
Twenty feet past the doorway, there was a large step downward. Twenty feet beyond that, there was another. Then another. To either side, stretching out into the distance, cut into the stone floor, were benches. Their surfaces had been worn smooth by years, maybe centuries, of use.
“This is an amphitheater,” said Bratihn.
Senta, who had never seen an amphitheater before, strained to make out what she could in the darkness.
“But why build an amphitheater underground?” wondered Vever. “Wouldn’t it be better outside, where you can see?”
“They must have had lighting—like in the corridor,” replied Bratihn. “Maybe whatever they were watching was better underground—some kind of secret rites.”
“Or perhaps they could see in the dark,” muttered Brown.
“How big do you suppose it is?” wondered Senta, still peering around.
“We can go down to the bottom and get an idea. We have to be careful not to get turned around though. We need to find our way back up this particular walkway.”
“When we get near the bottom, we can scratch a mark on the floor,” suggested Vever. “If no one else has anything, I have a pliers in my backpack that should do the trick.”
Senta put her arm over the shoulder of the little man and walked side by side with him, behind Bratihn, while Brown brought up the rear. They walked and then stepped down and walked and stepped down. The amphitheater seemed impossibly huge, and by the time they had reached the bottom, they had passed more than four hundred rows of seats. Vever set down his backpack and pulled out his pliers, using them to scrape an arrow, pointing back the direction in which they had come, on the floor. Senta meanwhile jumped down the last step into a vast expanse of sand that made up the floor of what must have been a mighty coliseum.
“What do you think? Gladiator fights, like in the time of Magnus the Great?”
“Could be,” said Bratihn. “I’m sure it wasn’t dinner theater.”
Suddenly a horrible cry rent the subterranean air. It echoed through the great chamber from somewhere across the darkness. It was impossible to tell from which direction, but it seemed clear that it was at their level and not along the top.
“Kafira Kristos!” said Vever. “What is that?”
The cry rang out again.
“I don’t know, but it can see us,” said Bratihn. “Get over here, girl.”