Two moons over, p.22
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       Two Moons Over, p.22

           Levi Shipley
 
Under the Mountain

  One

  Partheus had a long life and was willing to give it up if it meant saving his friends, but he would not give it up before saving them. He refused to allow that to happen. Now that the red sun hung over him, he knew it was time to get to Mirwa. Walking would take him only until the next morning to get there, but that wasn’t his concern.

  The creatures that lived under the mountains were abominations. Though few knew it, Partheus knew many were the thrown away experiments of Dahzir and his crystal projects. They were people at one time but no more. Now they were slobbering monsters that didn’t resemble anything sentient, but held all the malignancy that was put into them from Dahzir. They would kill anything that didn’t feel the pain that they felt, and in this had a community of writhing monsters. Many were poisonous, and their bites would eat way at a soul. Some could change normal people into monsters, and though it may seem that these things had some semblance of sanity left, this was false. Their minds were so twisted and warped by evil there was no longer any trace of compassion and sympathy in them. They would kill, and they would eat but never stop to think about it.

  And some were just monsters from birth. Either born from the mating of the experiments or born from primal things that lived with them. These creatures were never people, and if they were there was no possible way to know it. These things were remnants of ages long ago. A few were from the age of Artemis and Orion and were so mutilated by Orion’s magic that they mutated into awful things no one should ever even have to see. Some might have been animals, and some may very well have been plants. They were hunted by the many who were left alive and unscathed and so hid themselves in the deepest caverns of the world. Had the rails not been heavily guarded by warriors and mages much like the ones that ruined their existence, then the builders would’ve been made meals out of by the monstrosities that hid in the shadows beyond the tunnel that was carved. And even now their hatred for those that ride in the trains burned white, but they dare not attack the trains lest they be hunted once more. Perhaps these ancient ones still retain thought, but if so it is little more than the instinct of survival.

  Two

  Partheus’s knowledge of these things was one of the reasons that he had to take flight again later in his old wanderings. It was also this knowledge that helped to secure the sentence given to him and all those he cared for. Their blood would be on his hands if he didn’t do something to stop the execution, and if that meant facing the creatures that all fear live in their closets as children, then so be it. Their gazes might curdle blood and their teeth may rend souls, but Partheus would endure if it meant helping the ones he loved.

  He found the entrance to the tunnel. Another train wouldn’t be through again for a few hours, and there were none around that could see him. He considered what the chances were of being caught trying to ride the train and thought the odds were against him. As he stood by the mouth of the darkness, he could hear the echo of crunching coming from within. The sound of it chilled his spine, and he dreaded to think of what was making the noise and worse yet why it was making it.

  The things inside had nostrils and ears of otherworldly hunters and would catch him as soon as he was out of the light of day. Partheus had learned a cloaking spell a century ago during the final days of his wanderings, which he believed saved his life when he first entered the Dark Forest. He hoped he knew how to cast it still and focused his thoughts, as spells were really no more than focus and being able to control the energy in your soul (the stronger your soul, the stronger the spells were that you could cast). This was a child’s spell, and he knew he’d hardly been able to cast it back then and hoped his strength hadn’t waned since. He thought of unseen, invisible, quiet, silent, unheard, odorless. And kept thinking and focusing only on these. Truthfully it was a spell that anyone could use if they knew how to, but for him this was a feat. For him this was Orion shattering continents. Had the creatures inside known that he was unaware of his surroundings, they would have come from the darkness, revealing their hideous shapes, and taken Partheus there. Some would have gone straight to eating him, but there were some that would have raped him first and toyed with him like a cat does. But none of the abominations knew this, and Partheus was safe for the time being.

  He let his focus break free and be cast. He stomped his feet and was pleased to hear nothing. He couldn’t smell himself when he lifted his wrists to his thin nostrils, but had to hope that that part of the spell worked also. The hands by his nose were visible but translucent, but the creatures within would be blind. He took a deep breath, building his hope up as much as possible that this spell would last until he came to the light on the other side of the tunnel (and hopefully not the one you see after death).

  Three

  After steeling himself more, he took his first steps inside. The overhang of the tunnel’s mouth drifted behind him, and the rays of the sun stopped warming the back of his neck. The sound of crunching was louder, and there were wet sounds now that he didn’t even dare think about. As he walked, the light grew dimmer and dimmer. Finally there was no light, and all that Partheus saw and heard was darkness and horror.

  He crept along the walls, and even though his footsteps were muffled, he stayed on his toes and moved at a crawl. Making sure never to stray far from the rails, Partheus was amazed at just how close he was to the mutants. He had to be sure not to step on anything he heard making those wet slushing sounds or the terrible grinding he heard that must be chewing. Once he nearly stepped on a thing that seemed to be a pool of sludge but was some kind of enormous ameba sopping up nutrients. Partheus couldn’t see the creatures he was avoiding, but he could in a way. Just by the sounds his imagination began to piece together what these things looked like. Not that their appearance mattered very much. He was certain that even if they retained normal forms, they would still rip his limbs from their sockets and pop out his eyeballs like cherries.

  He thought he had to have been walking for an entire day but knew that was just his mind playing tricks. There was a period where the monsters didn’t seem so near, lingering a bit farther out in the dark. It was during this less tense time that he thought of how he first learned of these things, the reason for his final flight to Chrissenia.

  Four

  That century ago when he was not young, but he was still not as old as he was now. He found work in The Courier and delivered mail. It was a simple job, and his legs and lungs were strong from all his time spent in the wilderness. Moreover, he didn’t mind having some troths to eat some real food and have a real bed. Most of his coworkers never thought about their jobs and just what it was that they were doing. But he did.

  Of course, nothing he ever carried had anything to do with national security, and Partheus refused to open mail and read the secrets it contained. Even so he and his coworkers were continually instructed to never breech the confidentiality of the mail service, which he never did. Not really, that is.

  But sometimes old enemies just never die. He thought now that he could’ve seen his fate coming, but in his heart knew what happened was inevitable. The old governor of the Eastern Regions where Partheus had once called home had followed him. Not physically but with agents. The governor knew where Partheus was. That much was evident. And worse still, it seemed that he still harbored anger for the elf.

  Partheus’s undoing was in a letter, one that he picked up from a sister office himself and was meant to deliver to the local Guard. Of course the governor, Bishop, couldn’t have known that Partheus was the one to deliver. Even so, it was the only thing that kept the elf alive.

  He was supposed to deliver a bundle of mail to the Guard Post in Hurlinge, nothing out of the ordinary. But when he reached the steps of the Leviathans, he double checked to make sure he was at the correct address. And there it was, a letter with his name on it addressed to the head of security.

  Now was his und
oing and his salvation. The top letter in the banded together bundle he pulled from his traveler’s sack was headed “Criminal Partheus Sallow, Mailman and Outlaw.” He took the letter and tore it open, never thinking about who might see it, and read its contents. It was as expected, a request for Partheus’s arrest signed by a governor. He knew that if he delivered the letter, especially as it was now, that he’d not only be jailed but executed also. But turning around and walking away was no longer an option. A guard spotted Partheus opening the letter and was briskly walking toward the elf from his post by the barrack door.

  Partheus saw the guard and ran. Now he was a criminal, running from the law before the law even confronted him. He never thought to dump his bag, only run. And then all the years of being a vagabond paid off. He was able to get away from the city and to the outskirts of the Dark Forest. The Leviathans fell back to make a strategy, but he knew also that they feared the woods. He feared it also.

  A spell he’d learned once by another traveler to better take trash without being noticed rose to the surface of his mind. At this point it may help him escape and survive whatever was in the
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