I swam back outside and reported the mystery to Malagor. He did not seem pleased. We left the meat cooking, and wrapped up a burning ember, some kindling and a couple of large sticks in a piece of fur, and swam back into the hidden room. Once inside, we climbed out of the water and onto the dry ground. The room was lit only by a dim glow from the watery passage. Malagor and I started a small fire in the hidden chamber. I had my doubts about doing so, since there was a limited amount of oxygen in the room, and I had no great desire to die of asphyxiation. However once we had the little fire burning, we noticed a small flicker of flame leaping in the direction of the wall. From there it was only a small step to the realization that there was a secret door in the wall right by where we had chosen to build the fire. Even with this knowledge at our command, it took some time for us to figure out how to open the portal. In the end, Malagor and I had to press on the wall in two different places to force a perfectly disguised panel to slide back, revealing a darkened passage. I wondered that Norar Remontar had been able to do it by himself.
Malagor and I each took a burning stick form the fire, and entered the secret passage. It bears mentioning that you can’t make a really effective torch with nothing but a stick. Having watched several hundred adventure movies in my formative years, I have seen many matinee heroes create torches with nothing but a flaming stick. In reality, it just doesn’t work. One needs some oily rags or something. The two burning sticks that my friend and I carried offered little more light than one might expect from a small candle, and after what must have been only several minutes, mine went out completely. Malagor was able to nurse his flaming stick in a way that it stayed alive at least enough for us to see the ground where we were walking.
The passage in which we found ourselves was a rough-cut cave like hallway that could have been natural except for the relatively smooth and level floor. It took us straight back into the mountain. Our footsteps made loud clomping sounds that echoed all out of proportion to the way we were carefully treading. After we had gone several hundred feet, we noticed that the walls, ceiling, and floor became more and more smooth and uniform. After another four or five hundred feet, we stopped to examine the walls again, which by this point had become completely smooth, with nice square corners where they met the floor or the ceiling. At that moment Malagor’s fire went out too.
“What do we do now?” Malagor asked.
“Let’s just wait a moment and see if our eyes adjust to the darkness,” I replied.
I said this just to have something to say, because as anyone who has ever done any cave exploring can tell you, your eyes do not adjust to complete darkness. The complete absence of light precludes any vision what so ever. Nevertheless, when we had waited for a little while, Malagor and I were both able to discern the shape of the passage ahead. There was a faint and indistinct light coming from far away down the corridor. We continued on our way.
As the two of us walked along, Malagor had tended to follow the left side of the corridor and I the right. It wasn’t long before we realized that we had moved farther and farther apart, and that the hallway was gradually widening. About the same time that we made this discovery, the surface of the wall changed abruptly from the smooth stone we had grown used to, to a bumpy soft material. It must have had a great acoustical quality, for I could no longer hear our footsteps. I was just thinking that the hallway had widened form its original five feet or so to well over twenty, when the hallway ended by opening into a huge room.
The size of this room was impossible to measure from our present vantage point. It seemed to be endless in any direction, and we could not judge the height of the ceiling either. I was standing there thinking about what to do next, when Malagor tugged at my sleeve. I asked him what the matter was, and in answer, he grabbed my head with his hands and turned it to my right. In the distance I could see a light. It was like a swinging lantern in the distance that blinked on and off occasional.
“I have an idea what that is,” I said. “Let’s go.”
Even though Malagor and I were both inclined to move quickly toward the source of the distant light, we didn’t move as quickly as we might have. The pervasive darkness was somewhat disorienting, and we could never know when there might be some obstruction that we might run into in the darkness. We managed to make a slow trot across this room, which now appeared to at least a mile across and possibly much larger. It didn’t seem long before we got close enough to the moving light to tell that it was indeed just what I has suspected it was– the swinging sword of Norar Remontar battling some enemy. We managed to reach him just as he had finished striking down the only remaining foe. His sword began to fade into darkness.
“What is all this?” I asked.
“This is a band of Kartags,” said Norar Remontar, turning on his small flashlight and pointing it at several prone figures. “They burst out of a hidden door while I was in the chamber alone, and knocked me out with a well placed blow to the head. I was lucky to regain consciousness before they were able to do whatever it was that they were planning to do to me.”
I looked at the beings lying dead in the circle of artificial illumination on the floor. They would have been about five feet tall when standing and they reminded me of a large rat, at least as far as their faces were concerned. They had legs designed for upright locomotion, and two sets of arms on their upper torso. Their dirty, wrinkled skin was a dull grey color, and hairless, reminding me quite a bit of the way rodents look just after they are born. Though they wore no type of clothing, they did wear simple leather harnesses upon which they carried crude hand-made stone tools.
“The Kartags are well-known to my people,” said my Amatharian friend. “They live by scavenging from more civilized beings.”
“I kind of got that impression from looking at them,” I replied. “It is lucky that you were able to rescue yourself. If it hadn’t been for the soul in your sword, Malagor and I would never have found you.”