Pelthe 6, 5682---Tora’Sor lived in total darkness among the cave dwellers. After two days, she was beginning to feel her inability to see weighing down on her despite the weeks spent in the dark when she first met Sushala’Mol. Back then, she was in a castle and able to step from the room whenever she felt a need to see. Here in the cave where Sushala’Mol lived, there was no respite from the pressing dark.
She still had another day before the elders of the cave dwellers decided her fate, but from the rumors she had overheard, the decision was unlikely to be in her favor. As she washed her clothing in an underground stream, relying only on her sense of feeling to scrub, she wondered about the coming decision. Would the elders let her leave? Would they accept her as an ally despite her differences? Even though they treated her as an adult, she knew her senses in the dark left her almost as helpless as a toddler. She would not survive the dark for long; she needed to see the light.
She set aside the garment and picked up another piece of clothing to scrub in the stream. Although she could not see if she cleaned off any dirt, the activity was familiar enough to give her some comfort in the strange place. Even so, it was slightly disturbing to hear the hushed whispers around her. The cave dwellers had no need of clothing in the dark, so washing clothes was completely new to them, as were many of the other things she did. Everywhere she went, it seemed a crowd followed her in curiosity, and she did well keeping them intrigued.
As she scrubbed at her clothing in the darkness, Tora’Sor felt a slight tremor beneath her feet, accompanied by a quiet rumble. She noticed a distinct uptick in the urgency of the murmured conversations around her. “Is that normal?” she asked. “Do you often have earthquakes in here?”
It was several minutes before anyone answered. It was Elder Sethanoth. “The world grumbles and shudders. This is as new to us as you are.”
“Then it cannot be a good thing,” Tora’Sor decided. She gave up trying to wash her clothes, and quickly began to put on the drenched garments. By now, she could hear what sounded like distant roaring, although the ground no longer shook. “I need to go,” she announced. “Something bad must be happening.”
There was some snickering among the crowd surrounding her. “Who’s going to lead you?” someone laughed. “You haven’t managed to go anywhere without being led.”
“You cannot leave,” Elder Sethanoth added. “You cannot find the way out, and our guards would stop you from ever getting close. Tell me, does the ground often quake where you walk?”
Tora’Sor frowned at the insult, and sat down. “Not only have you lost your sight,” she said softly, “but your decency as well.”
“I said three days,” Elder Sethanoth told her. “For your obstinance, we will shorten that to two days. We will have a decision shortly.”
“What are you going to decide?” Tora’Sor asked. “Will you make more insults, jest at my fumbling in the dark, or laugh at how your lack of hospitality makes me suffer? I don’t need you to make a decision for me. I can make my own.”
“Lack of hospitality?” the man sounded amused. “Here you are, a full-grown woman, unable to care for yourself. Our decision is that you will stay, but you must fend for yourself. No more will any of our people help you find your way or supply your needs. You will stay, but there is nobody to help you.”
“There is me,” a woman spoke forcefully. “If Tora’Sor requires my help, I will not let her down, as I know she would do the same for me in my time of need.” It was Niahla’Sen, and Tora’Sor could hear the surprise pass through the surrounding crowd. Tora’Sor felt a hand touch her shoulder, and knew Niahla’Sen was behind her.
“Who are you?” Elder Sethanoth gasped. “Where did she come from? Where are you now?”
“I am here in my time of need to get Tora’Sor’s help,” Niahla’Sen said. “She will come with me.”
“She will not,” Elder Sethanoth said, adamantly rejecting Niahla’Sen’s statement. “Find her,” he told the others standing nearby.
“There is no time for this,” Tora’Sor decided, standing up. She raised her hand high over her head, and suddenly held aloft a small ball of fire.
Screams echoed throughout the cavern as people scrambled to escape from the light. Those in the crowd around her stumbled over each other in their haste. “Niahla’Sen,” Tora’Sor said quietly, “why do you need my help? I thought the Prince planned for twenty Sisters to protect the incursion.”
“They will do what they can,” Niahla’Sen said, “but the entire expedition is currently retreating---everyone except Rarla’Nun, and I think you are the only one who knows how that woman intends to fight alone against the combined armies of fifteen Dark Magicians and a sky full of dragons. Is she mad, or are we mad to let her?”
Tora’Sor’s eyes widened in surprise. “I know what Rarla’Nun plans,” she said. “We have to stop her or everyone is dead or blind! What the Lunari did at Razhinoch that caused a large crater and leveled half the jungle, what the Dark Magicians did to turn Eranithon into a barren wasteland---that is what Rarla’Nun plans to do.”
“A blast like that could cave in this entire land,” Niahla’Sen observed. “No wonder she kept you and I too occupied to intervene.”
By then, only one frightened person remained in sight, although she was somewhat distracted and looking at the surroundings in the cavern for the first time. It was Sushala’Mol, the only one of the cave dwellers able to tolerate the slightest amount of light. “I must leave,” Tora’Sor told her. “Which way is the exit?”
Sushala’Mol pointed toward a pool at the far end of the stream. “Through there, if you remember how we came in,” she answered. “Try not to hit any rocks as you swim.”
“I’ll be careful,” Tora’Sor said. “You should also get out of this cave. Take as many others out of here as you can. What is coming is worse than any curse you can imagine---light bright enough to cause true blindness---assuming you survive if this place collapses. I’ll do what I can to prevent it, but you and your people need to get out.” She paused. “I hope you know of another way out, because the way we came in will be full of soldiers.”
She took Niahla’Sen’s hand, and turned toward the exit. “You have to fill me in on what happened,” she told the woman as they walked toward the submerged exit. “I know the Prince expected a battle, but against fifteen Dark Magicians and dragons?”
“It was a trap,” Niahla’Sen said. “They lured us in with an abandoned city, demoralized our troops with a diplomatic show, and attacked us with such a force that they must have known we were coming for some months now. I saw what was coming when I went out scouting, but I could not return soon enough to give any warning.”
They quickly reached the pool, and Tora’Sor eased down into the water. “I’ll meet you on the other side,” she told Niahla’Sen. She sunk into the dark water, and slowly felt her way through the passage beneath the rocky wall. It was slow going in the dark, but she soon made it to the other side. She took a deep breath as her head broke the surface of the water.
Tora’Sor held up another ball of fire to see her surroundings. There were several screams as cave dwellers rushed to hide from the light, but nowhere near as many as were in the main cavern. She was in a large pond, and swam to the edge to climb out. Fish bones and partially eaten fish lined the shore, making it hard to find a clean place to step out of the pond. Then there was the tedious process of wringing the water out of her clothes, but she had enough urgent matters to deal with that she made little effort to do so.
“Leave this place,” she loudly warned the hiding cave dwellers. “Get out of here before the ceiling falls and crushes you.” She wondered how many would heed her warnings.
She briefly glanced around trying to find Niahla’Sen before remembering the woman could not be seen. “Where are you?” she wondered softly.
“Here I am.” Niahla’Sen answered from in front of her. She took Tora’Sor’s hand, and began to lead toward one of the passageways opening into the cavern.
Tora’Sor could hear distant shouting echoing from the passageway, and guessed she was hearing the soldiers in their urgent retreat. “Where is Rarla’Nun now?” she asked.
“I last saw her sitting at the entrance to the Underground,” Niahla’Sen answered. “She probably saw me leave, and knows I came to find you.”
“I know you can walk through the rock in your current state, but can you see through it also?” Tora’Sor wondered. “Perhaps you could see her.”
“Rarla’Nun might be able to, but my sight is more limited,” Niahla’Sen admitted. “I can see a short distance through things, but not too far. It’s as if everything is made of smoked glass. I could point out where to dig for some nearby emeralds, but I cannot see all the way to the Underground.”
Tora’Sor laughed. “Emeralds? On a day like this?”
Niahla’Sen chuckled. “Perhaps not emeralds, but I can see some type of crystals growing in the rocks. Every nearby crack, fissure, and impurity in the rock is visible to me.”
“That is interesting,” Tora’Sor decided. She was starting to see light from somewhere ahead, and the noise was clearer. It was definitely the retreat of the army. Turning a corner, the soldiers came into view. “How can we get past that?” Tora’Sor wondered, watching the tightly packed retreat rapidly flowing through the other corridor.
“I can get through easy,” Niahla’Sen replied, “but you will have to go against the flow. I’ll meet you at the entrance to the Underground.”
Tora’Sor finished hurrying to the junction of the two tunnels, and slowly eased her way between the wall and the rush of the army. “Hurry back to the ships,” she shouted. “Do not stop. Set sail as soon as you can! Get off this land!”
Several soldiers suggested that she retreat with them, but she gave them the same warning as she continued down the passageway, trying hard not to let the crowd push her too hard against the rock wall.
It took some time, but Tora’Sor eventually reached the entrance to the Underground. She could hear the din of battle, but the entrance was too crowded for her to pass through. She stood to the side and waited, continuing to urge the soldiers to hurry to the ships. She guessed Prince Nomolo had already left the Underground, but Commander Toparez and some Sisters would be among the last to retreat. After what seemed an hour, the flow started to decrease, so she knew the retreat was ending. Even so, the cracks of lightning seemed to increase.
She peeked through the entrance. Commander Toparez was pushing the last few stragglers toward the tunnel while the Sisters held the enemy at bay with their deadly attacks. They too were slowly retreating, although mostly walking backward as they faced the enemy coming from all directions. She saw Elendra’Tel among them.
To one side, Rarla’Nun sat on the ground, hands resting on her thighs, and head bowed. Tora’Sor frowned, knowing what the old woman intended to do. As a gap opened between the soldiers passing through the entrance, Tora’Sor stepped through.
Lightning flashed all around as the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar fought the advancing Dark Magicians. Dragons in the air roared overhead, swooping at times to breathe their fiery breath toward those on the ground. Arrows flew through the air; many incinerated or deflected by the unseen powers of the Sisters, but some passing through to pose a danger to the retreat.
Tora’Sor grabbed one of the Sisters as the last of the soldiers passed through the entrance. “Get out!” she shouted. “Get out and to the ships before the entire land above collapses in on you!”
The woman gave an order, and the rest of the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar hurried to the exit, leaving Tora’Sor alone with Rarla’Nun.
“You must not do this,” Tora’Sor said. “You could bring down the entire land above us, killing thousands of innocent people who are not from down here.”
Rarla’Nun shook her head. An arrow lodged into the ground beside her. Lightning struck nearby, sending dirt and debris through the air. “I will destroy the enemy, and there is nothing you can do to stop me,” she said. The old woman looked up at Tora’Sor. “Leave, as you must, but if you wish to save lives, you will learn to do the impossible in what short time I have remaining.”
Tora’Sor stepped backward toward the tunnel. “You are a fool to try this,” she hissed. “The High Council was right to reject your ideas.”
“The High Council no longer needs to give approval,” Rarla’Nun answered. “Now get out of here while you still can.” She looked away from Tora’Sor, and once again bowed her head. Several more arrows struck the ground nearby, but she paid them no mind.
“You cannot...” Tora’Sor began to say, but a loud voice echoing throughout the Underground interrupted her.
It was Rarla’Nun using her power to amplify her voice. “THE DESOLATION OF ERANITHON RETURN UPON YOU,” she said. “FIVE.”
Tora’Sor paused until she realized the number was the start of a countdown. She turned and sprinted for the exit. Dark Magicians shouted urgent commands to their archers when they realized what was about to happen.
Tora’Sor sped into the tunnel, and found Elendra’Tel waiting for her. She grabbed her friend by the arm, and pushed her farther into the tunnel. “Don’t just stand there, run!”
“And what about you?” Elendra’Tel argued, refusing to let Tora’Sor push her away. “What will you do without me?”
Tora’Sor spun to face the opening into the Underground. Something struck her head as she turned, but she ignored it. “It’s too late!” she shouted, holding her hands out in front of her. “Make a wall---the largest you ever will---and close your eyes.”
Tora’Sor closed her eyes, and used her powers to create the largest and strongest invisible wall she could imagine, stretching far in all directions. She knew Elendra’Tel was probably attempting the same, and hoped Niahla’Sen was nearby to assist. “...to protect not just us, but everyone in the caves and...”
Everything went blindingly white.
It was not yet dawn. On the surface of Eranithon, Prince Nomolo stood with several guards on a hill, surveying the retreat from the Underground. Without any warning, the ground beneath his feet shook. The land to the east appeared to rise briefly, and in a puff of dust, collapsed into a hole that seemed to grow larger and larger until it swallowed the horizon. As the tremendous sound reached them, the guards grabbed the Prince, and carried him swiftly toward the beach and the safety of the ships.
The land groaned and shuddered and distant rumbling continued unabated in the east as more land collapsed into the chasm. Dust in the sky blocked the stars and cast dark shadows across the moons. A large fire somewhere in the bottom of the pit cast a glow over the horizon, followed by steam as the sea rushed in from the far side of the land to fill the void.
Inside the caves, men, women, and children screamed in terror, although each scream was as silence compared to the noise that filled them to the core. Their world shook as never before. Rocks fell among them as they scrambled for an exit. It was better to brave exposure to light once more than to risk the cavern collapsing on them in the dark. Many wished they had given Tora’Sor’s warning more consideration. They were spared the worst of the destruction, but it was dangerous until they managed to escape the caves.
It would be days or weeks before the weakened land finished collapsing into the Underground far beyond where anyone could see, and no one could guess how much of the sea the hole would swallow. Of one thing everyone was certain: the Dark Lunari would wake with such disaster in their land.