The cave was just as Tip remembered, cool and calm, with its gentle greenish glow and the quiet plashing of the lake. She was the first to emerge out of the tunnel, having opted to slide down in the manner of her first entrance. The others were taking longer because they were insisting on being cautious, tying a rope to a rocky outcrop outside in order to let themselves down slowly. While she waited for the sluggards to arrive, Tip savoured a moment alone with the lake. Then she went to look at the boats.

There were five of them, lined up in a row on the strip of pebbles that formed the side of the lake. All of them seemed to be in good repair and as far as Tip could tell, watertight. She didn’t know much about boats, but it seemed like a fairly simple concept. Put the boat in the water, climb in and push off!

Kerrick was first to arrive down the rope. He clambered out of the tunnel and stood for a moment, taking it all in. Behind him, Sol appeared in the tunnel entrance, and Kerrick reached out a hand to help the younger boy to his feet.

“Wow,” breathed Sol eyes wide. He wandered forward and immediately lost his footing on the rough, rocky floor because his eyes were fixed on the rippling pattern of reflected light decorating the cave roof.

Sol’s rapt gaze sent a feeling of pride tingling through Tip’s body, though she reminded herself she’d hardly done more than stumble upon the cave. Still, it was nice to see someone else appreciate her lucky find.

Meanwhile, Kerrick helped Val out of the tunnel. She too took a moment to stare at the cave in wonder before she and Kerrick followed Sol over to where Tip was sitting in the biggest of the boats.

“It’s amazing, Tip,” said Val. “Not that I didn’t believe you, but… just wow.”

“I know,” said Tip. “It’s hard to imagine until you’ve seen it for yourself.” She gestured over the lake to where the water flowed calmly through the three large openings on the other side. “I think we should take the middle path. It’s the biggest, after all, and I reckon there’s an 80% chance it’ll lead to-

“Just a moment,” Kerrick said, interrupting her. “I see a big problem already.” He pointed to the bottom of the boat she was sitting in. “No oars.”

He was right. They checked all the boats but there wasn’t an oar or a pole or any method of propulsion to be found.

“Well this is a setback,” said Val. “I suppose we’ll have to make ourselves some.” It went without saying that they wouldn’t be able to find any in Grevick settlement, where all activities were firmly focused on mining and smelting.

But finding wood and making oars would take them ages! It could be a couple of days before they made it back to the cave, and Tip wasn’t willing to take the risk that the others wouldn’t want to come back once they’d had more time to think it over. “Maybe we won’t need any oars,” she suggested brightly. “Since there aren’t any here. Maybe there are underwater currents that take the boats where you need to go without any rowing.”

“That sounds horribly dangerous,” exclaimed Kerrick. “What if the current wants to take us down a waterfall?”

“The magic will take us where we need to go,” said Sol in a disconcertingly assured voice.

The others looked at him, then glanced each other. “Sol, what if the magic decides to throw us over a waterfall?” asked Val.

Sol gave her a scornful look. “That’s not how it works at all.”

“And how does it work?” asked Kerrick.

The younger boy heaved a sigh, as if they were all being rather stupid. “It has to be magic, because it’s flat.” He pointed at the placid lake. “We’re halfway up a mountain. This water should be a river running downhill. But it isn’t.”

He was right. Tip wished she’d thought of that. The water was perfectly still and calm, yet it wasn’t stagnant like you’d expect from still water. And there was that strange glow that they hadn’t yet managed to explain. Perhaps it really was magic. She shivered, and goosebumps appeared on her arms.

“If there was a waterfall somewhere, all the water would have flowed away a long time ago,” continued Sol. “So it’s definitely safe.”

Val looked troubled. “I’d still feel better if we had some way of moving ourselves along if we got stuck,” she said. “What if there’s a cave-in somewhere in one of those tunnels? We could get completely stuck and starve to death.”

”We won’t starve,” said Tip scornfully. “We can all swim back if necessary. Or I can pop over the side of the boat and kick us back.”

“Here’s an idea,” said Kerrick. “Let’s put one of the boats in the water without anyone in it and see what happens. If it moves off quickly, we’ll know there are underwater currents. If it doesn’t move, we’ll know we need to find oars before we can go anywhere.” None of them could argue with that, so they set to work dragging one of the smaller boats down the rocky shore. They pushed it out into the water, where it bobbed and drifted, looking exactly like an empty boat that no-one was guiding.

Then something strange happened. All at once, boat stopped bobbing and became still in the water. Then it spun slowly until the prow was pointing towards the largest opening on the opposite cave wall. Without further ado, it began to glide quickly and silently in that direction. Before any of them could do or say anything, it had disappeared through the arched opening and was gone.

They gazed after it. Tip didn’t know whether to be triumphant that she’d been right about the underwater currents or taken aback over the fact that the boat had disappeared so swiftly.

“See, I told you,” said Sol quietly. “Magic.”

“That looked a lot like a boat heading towards certain death,” said Val, faintly.

They waited for a while, but nothing else happened. The boat didn’t come back and the ripples it had created in the lake gradually calmed until everything was as still and tranquil as when they’d arrived.

Tip decided she’d had enough waffling. “I’m taking a boat and I’m going to see where the waterway goes,” she said. “The rest of you can come with me or not, as you like.” She put her back against the biggest boat and gave it a good shove towards the lake.

“I’m coming,” Sol said enthusiastically and threw himself at the boat, helping her push it towards the water.

“Just a minute,” said Val. “Don’t go yet.” Tip and Sol paused. Val’s face was troubled but resolute. “I think I want to come,” she said. “But can we at least get a couple of tree branches first? In case we get stuck, or need a weapon or something.”

“If you’re all going, I suppose I’ll have to come too.” Kerrick sighed heavily. “Tip, you go back up the tunnel and see what you can find. We’ll get the boat ready for when you get back.”

They were all coming! Tip was overjoyed. She doled out a round of hugs, then raced back up the tunnel to the moonlit mountainside. There was just enough illumination to hunt around below the tree line. She quickly found two fairly straight branches they could use to pole the boat away from potential dangers. After taking a moment to strip off most of the forking twigs, she hurried back to the tunnel entrance, where she let the branches slide down in front of her, before following them back underground.

The others had indeed got the largest boat most of the way into the water and Val was holding it steady while they waited for her return. Sol ran over and helped her lug the branches over to the boat and stow them under the seats. Tip was excited enough to dance. They were really going to do this, they were going to sail off and explore the uncharted waters of the cave system! What was it Sol had called it before? The Underrun. “Let’s go,” she called. “We’re heading into the Underrun!”

The others caught her enthusiasm and there was a jubilant air as they clambered eagerly into the boat. Kerrick took one of the branches and used it to give themselves a final shove off.

They were off!

At first nothing happened. The boat acted like the previous one had, bobbing and drifting without much direction. It seemed to go on for longer than it had with the previous boat. Tip began to wonder whether it would work with so many of them in the boat. Did the magic or whatever it was only work on empty boats? Were they weighing the boat down too much so the current was unable catch them?

But then it came. A jolt of something shot through the boat and all at once it stilled, before turning slowly in a circle until the prow, where Val was sitting, headed firmly in the direction of the middle opening. Val gave a squeal as the boat began moving purposefully in that direction.

It was indeed an eerie sensation to feel the boat moving of its own accord through the calm water. It felt like a powerful force had them in its grip and was dragging them irrevocably towards… something.

Tip was 95% sure it was going to be something good.


About the author


Bio: I write fantasy and humorous tales with a twist of magic. I'm currently working on a full-length manuscript but somehow I'm never satisfied with a single project so my smaller works get posted here. If you like what you read, the completed stories are also available to download as ebooks from my website:

I'd love to hear what you think of my stories so feel free to leave comments. I'm also happy to trade feedback as long as you write in a similar genre.

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