Check back every week for a new instalment of the online exclusive by Richard Cozicar The Ice Racer
Marcus wheels around and looks at us with an expression of concern covering his face.
“He’s right. It won’t be safe here for the two of you much longer.” Turning his attention back to the young man who came to warn us.
“Go back up the tunnel and warn us if you hear or see the guards coming.” Marcus instructs, the man quickly leaves our small gathering and bends to scoop up his discarded military robe on his way out.
“What are you thinking?” Annaliese asks him.
“Grab some supplies.” He replies. “We’ll have to stick to the tunnels for as long as we can…from there…I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out as we go.”
I stand back and watch as Annaliese rummages through sacks stacked against a wall assembles a collection food and water and places them into a smaller sack. When she is finished she returns to our side.
“Do these tunnels run under the whole city?” I ask.
Marcus shakes his head before replying. “No. They’ll keep us out of sight for a while but we will eventually come to a dead end, there we’ll have to ascend to the streets.”
I relieve Annaliese of the sack of supplies she has packed. Marcus passes me a flashlight as he takes one last look around the room then proceeds to check the hall leading from the hidden room before signalling us to move.
We follow Marcus for a short distance down the tunnel before he ducks into an intersecting tunnel that leads us in a different direction away from the original entrance. The lava tunnels change from a comfortable open space to where we have to squeeze and crawl through further sections.
The three of us hurry through the labyrinth of sharp lava rock tunnels in silence. How Marcus knows where each tunnel leads and what direction to follow is beyond me. He leads us past tunnel after tunnel walking in some, crawling through others.
The stale air is laced with the smell of sulphur from the volcanic rock. The confined spaces grow humid and tight but still Marcus leads on at as fast a pace as we can manage.
Coming to a halt in a closet sized cavern Marcus paces for a second in the little space before talking.
“We are going to have to surface not far from here. These tunnels end under a street a few blocks away from the entrance to the oil mines.” He says while staring into Annaliese’s eyes. His face is contorted with apprehension.
“Is that were you are leading us?” Annaliese asks with an evident note of surprise.
“There’s no where else to go.” He diverts his eyes. “You know that your dad will have the city torn apart for looking for you two. The people in this city are too scared of him and the rest of the prophets and most would never consider helping or hiding you for fear of retribution. Even for a short time.” He adds.
On our journey Marcus had summarized a brief history about the small resistance that had been growing in the city against the iron-fisted rule of the prophets. A large portion of the people of Adam’s Mountain resented being over lorded and this resentment had been festering for years but the majority of town folk were too afraid to act fearing being sentenced to the oil mines.
The city people would guardedly grumble to their closest friends and then look at their neighbours while suspiciously wondering if they were spies for the Prophets. The distrust that rippled through the community helped the Prophets maintain rule.
“Can’t we leave the same way I was brought here?” I implore.
“No. The path ends not far from the city. A giant crevice makes it a dead end. Several people have died trying to cross it.”
“Then how about along the lava river, surely we could follow it away from here.”
“It closes up farther past the city, besides, the heat from the river would kill you before you travelled very deep into it.” Marcus releases a quick breath. “Your only hope is to climb through and cross the oil mine and try for the air chute, it will take you to the surface.”
I gape at Marcus, confused by what he is saying.
“The surface.” I repeat as I try to comprehend his words. “Annaliese doesn’t have a thermal suit like mine. I don’t know this place at all, but I have to believe there is another choice. She would not survive out there, not even for a short period.” I argue. In my mind I am frantically searching for a plausible solution. “Hell, I don’t even know if I could survive on the surface without a sled full of luck.”
Annaliese gently touches my arm.
“They will kill you if they catch you.” She states matter-of-factly. “We don’t have much of a choice.”
“What will happen if they catch you?” I search her face for answers as I ask.
She turns to look at Marcus; the two exchange a knowing look.
“I’ll be alright.” She mumbles, but her face pales in the glow of the flashlight.
“How about you Marcus? If your friend talks they will know that you two helped me.” There is obviously something they aren’t telling me. I push further, “I am not going another step until you guys level with me.”
“Dissidents get sent to the oil mine as punishment.” He quietly confirms. “I can avoid them, Annaliese should be okay…her father is the High Prophet.” He says without sounding convincing.
“So the only real option we have is if the three of us leave the city? That is the only option I will accept. If the three of us can’t escape then you two should turn me in and tell Annaliese’s father that you recaptured me. I won’t let you take the fall for me you don’t even know me. This is insane!”
“Let’s get away from the city and try to cross the oil mine then we can worry about what to do after.” Marcus declares. “We need to get out of these tunnels. If they start searching down here we’ll be trapped and we won’t have any choices.”
We continue, Marcus in the lead as we snake through the tunnels. Suddenly the beam from Marcus’ flashlight highlights a solid wall of made of rough, sharp rock that appears to have footholds chiselled in it.
“Turn the lights off.” Marcus whispers as he set a foot on the rock ready to climb. In the blackness Annaliese and I wait. The only sound comes from Marcus’s feet in their search for the footholds as he works his way to the surface, only to be punctuated by intervals of the sound our nervous breathing makes.
The scraping of metal signals his arrival at the top of the climb. Then a light flashes back down lighting the wall and the floor.
“Its clear. Hurry, climb up.” He urges as he shines his light for us to see our way up the jagged wall of rock. I motion for Annaliese to go ahead of me, then with caution I follow her to the street above.
Marcus helps her climb out and then lowers a hand to assist me. Out on the street we wait while Marcus gently replaces the cover hiding the tunnel’s entrance then we all creep to the side of the alley we have emerged into.
In the shadow of a building we wait while Marcus adjusts his military disguise. When he is finished he whispers for us to follow and leads the way to the end of the alley. Abruptly stopping he points.
“We’ve got about another six blocks until we come to the entrance of the oil mine.” He describes. “If we are lucky enough to cover the distance undetected we will have to find away around the mine’s guards and down into the pit before we can cross it.”
He has already explained to me how the mine was the most guarded part of the city, not so much to keep city dwellers away, no one in the city was overly eager to see never mind venture into the pit he has depicted, but to insure the dissidents sentenced to a life of labour in the mines have no chance of escape. He did add that the Prophets were extremely protective of the mine. Without it the city would surely perish.
Giving us the signal to move from the mouth of the alley we stealthily creep along in the buildings shadows, our target the start of a new alley that will lead us on a direct route to the mouth of the oil mine.
Ten strides away from the alley we had just departed a stern voice calls to us.
“Identify yourself.” Two guards appear at the far end of the block stepping out of shadows and raising their guns. The three of us stop dead in our tracks.
A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.