Brown explored all three paths when they had arrived at the crossroads. While he was lighting his torch upon the road by the left, he heard a scream - it came from the distance. The scream echoed off the walls of the cave, and lasted for a while, but silence finally came back.
“Brother, that scream…”
“Yeah, that’s bad news.” Brown finally found the thing he had been looking for, and lifted it. “We had better hurry.”
“But where to?”
Brown lifted a wooden stick lying somewhere on the ground. “Hell if I know, Wünder. This entire situation has escalated to a level which I can’t even make heads or tails of.”
“...You mean that it’s that serious?”
“You saw the dragon, right?”
“I did,” Wünder replied, watching Brown tearing a piece of cloth off his shirt and wrapping it around the top of the wooden stick. He knotted it tightly. Brown then dipped the stick into the pitcher he had carried along with him.
“Okay. Point out your torch, Wünder.” Wünder did as he was told. Brown touched his stick to the flame of the torch, and it lit up, blazing as some undrenched parts of the cloth went up in cinders.
“Do we separate and explore each path on our own, brother?”
“You don’t need to do that.”
“Show me your leg.” Wünder showed his leg. “See? I did think that you had a limp since a while now.”
Wünder bit his lips. “Then, I’ll follow you.”
“No,” Brown patted Wünder on his back. “You stay right here. I’ll take a look around and come back in a while.”
“What if a lizardman attacks you?”
“I’ll be careful.”
“Two’s better than one,” Wünder said, wincing as Brown kicked Wünder lightly on his calf. “You said that, brother.”
“Well, let me take that back. You are tired, Wünder.”
“That’s not really fair.”
“I know, Wünder,” Brown smiled, giving his brother an accolade. “Just take a breather. I’ll skewer any lizardman if I come across one.”
Wünder stared at the ghastly face of his brother through the dim light offered by their respective torches. “I’ll follow you if you are not back by twenty minutes.”
“Make that fifteen. Although I’m sure that you’ll see me coming even earlier than that.”
“We’ll make it out of here, just you wait.”
“Yeah,” Wünder high-fived his brother.
And Brown was gone.
The cave was rift with lugubrious shadows at each corner Wünder looked. Wünder stared idly at his feet. He turned around, surveyed the path that had led them to this place and noticed that the ground had transitioned from gravels of pebble and decay to sand.
He thought he would have been less nervous now that he was away from Reynolds and the dragon, but his feet still trembled, and his spine felt cold. The cave echoed at every creak his feet made against the ground.
Wünder looked at the wound at his calf - there was a small, bloodied gash there. It hurt a little, but not so much that it could prevent him from making a few steps every second - Wünder walked back and forth, trying to ease away his anxiety, but the slightest air current in the cave made his hairs stand on ends.
Soon, about five minutes had passed, and Wünder started to feel too worn out to take even a step further, when he heard more screams - this time, it was coming from even closer. Wünder stopped pacing himself, listening intently to the sound.
A few steps forward confirmed to him that the screams were coming from the path on the right. For a moment, Wünder thought that it was the screech of one of those lizardmen, even though he had only heard one of them, but as he approached, that notion left his mind - most assuredly, it was the shouts of a woman.
Wünder felt conflicted between wanting to keep his word with Brown, and reaching out to the voice asking for help. It took him half a minute to finally decide on following through to the source of the voice.
“Well, I’m sorry brother!” Wünder yelled, in the direction of the path his brother had taken.
Wünder gripped his left hand into a fist, and rushed forward into the eastern path. The ceiling abruptly elevated, and the tunnel grew narrower, but Wünder ambled through, listening to the screams as they intensified.
Wünder’s legs felt stiff, and the air swirled about his body like a phantom, all frigid. He wiped his eyes, all breathless. The cave led him on, until a light started shimmering into the distance.
Wünder beheld the light, edging closer and closer to it. It seemed ethereal, ebullient, and it glowed with a green color, like burning sulphur. Wünder weaved further through the tunnel, until he was mere meters from the light.
Panting, gulping large potions of air, Wünder discerned the figure beyond the light.
Brown felt somewhat reassured that he hadn’t encountered another lizardman so far - this meant that there was a good chance that he wouldn’t encounter one anytime soon. He marched forth determinedly, certain that whatever he saw next would not be as threatening as a dragon itself.
The world seen through his eyes was glazed against the flume emanating from the makeshift torch he held on his right hand. The cave grew more sophisticated as he made his way forward. Gushes of wind blasted against him from the front.
Brown shielded his face, watching the flame dance like a will-o’-wisp in the darkness. His brusque march led him to a statue lying by the side of the cave. It was a clear-cut portrait of a human - a miner - a person he knew.
“What the hell does this mean?”
Brown tried lifting the statue, and then shifted it slightly so that it was still redolent, but in a straight line parallel to the cave’s wall.
The statue held an astrolabe, and seemed incredibly life-like. “What have they done to you, Dowell?”
The atmosphere surrounding him seemed more sprite-like than it had ever been. The sorry sight of a comrade reduced to this state made his eyes turgid with tears which, yet, refused to fall.
The light reflected from the statue in glitters, which showered upon Brown’s face and the cave’s wall. Upon close inspection, Brown found a broken part of the statue, which seemed to have bones inside it - these stuck out against his palm.
‘What kind of sorcery is this?’ Brown brooded, his jaws firmly set. The cave left him with a bitter taste in his mouth. Brown strode forward, hoping to unravel the mystery behind the state his friend had fallen.
Wünder glanced sideways, before looking down. He faced ahead, and said. “Who are you?”
The light which had beaconed him thus, glowered emerald to his face. Wünder gritted his teeth against the pain pulsing against his calf. His feet felt flaccid, almost like they were without structure because of the degree to which Wünder had grown tired. He verily felt attenuated.
The being in front of him whimpered and wept, soaring above, touching the end of the ceiling. “What kind of… thing are you?” repeated Wünder, gazing at it vexedly.
Inanely, the silhouette removed its hands from around its chest. “I’m Mideia… I’m glad I’ve met you.”
Wünder observed the figure in silence. “Mideia. You are literally floating. You are pretty much getting cosy with the ceiling. Are you a ghost?”
The being wiped its tears, and iterated. “Just what did you say?”
“I just asked if you are a ghost.”
“I am - I mean, who was getting cosy with the ceiling!?”
“You were. In fact, what are you even doing up there?”
Mideia’s eyes flashed with a shade of cobalt. “Is that the way humans are supposed to treat ghosts?”
“Dunno! I’m just doing what my brother told me to do in such situations.”
The ghost descended from its high perch, and Wünder noticed that the person he was talking to was in fact a girl. “I wonder. Humans are supposed to treat ghosts more respectfully, in a more foreboding manner, and like…as if us ghosts are akin to God. You get the general idea.’
“That’s an interesting view on how things should be. I appreciate it. I learned a lot.”
The sprite looked at him, speechless. She considered continuing her crying, but looked the boy over. “And you are?”
“Just a passer-by.”
She looked at him in shock. The ghost whimpered, and sniffled, lighting three green candles in front of her, and then blew upon them, projecting them on Wünder’s face.
“Now then, now that I’ve satisfied my curiosity, I believe that I shouldn’t be a bad guest, and take my leave right about now.”
Wünder retracted his feet mechanically, feeling his heart close to jumping out of his chest. “Oh no, you won’t!” The spirit created a web right behind Wünder and pulled Wünder back towards her. “I expected you to look more callous,” she said, peering into Wünder’s eyes.
“If I’m not too presumptuous, I believe that I look fairly callous. Maybe you should consider waiting for another person to come up so that he or she fits the kind of face you are looking for.”
The ghost touched the ground with diaphanous feet, and then swooned. “I see. You are rather adept at exhibiting false bravado.”
Wünder felt himself being lifted off the ground. “And what does that make of me?”
“It makes you quite perfect for being the recipient of my tale, I suppose?”
“You need to take revenge on someone? I hope that you are not a typical bad spirit. I unfortunately am short on my supplies of cares to give to these kinds of creatures.”
The spirit pulled Wünder even closer to her. “But well, I presume you wouldn’t mind hearing me out just this once if you are already trapped and all, wouldn’t you agree?”
Wünder glimpsed at the ground, and found that it was already more than five feet above him. “Certainly.”
The spirit smiled in delight, and swirled about him. After more than sixty seconds, Wünder wondered about how long she would continuing doing this trick of hers; his head was growing dizzy from trying to follow her with his eyes.
She assuredly inspired fear into him, and his limbs grew rigid from needing to move. ‘Maybe I should have restricted myself from strolling until my brother came back after all,’ Wünder thought.
“By the way, why were you crying?”
“Is it only now that you are asking this question?”
“Well, I’m ready to listen to your sob story and all. Figured I should actually ask you before I forget.”
“That’s far from a wonderful response, but anyway, quite satisfactory. I’ll tell you about my tale then. It’s rather simple so make sure to hear it all, okay?”
“Let me in on that talk too,” said a familiar voice, and the spirit’s face puffed as it looked behind Wünder.