The strangest thing about travelling along the underground waterway was the silence. Tip felt there should be the noise of rushing water, but the softly glowing tunnels were almost completely silent. Just the faint lapping of waves against the tunnel walls, as the minimal disturbance caused by them passing made mini ripples in the water.
The others seemed to feel the same. “It’s so quiet,” whispered Val.
“I wonder where we’re going,” mused Tip. She was full of excitement. The boat was travelling swiftly, although their progress was so smooth that it would have been impossible to tell they were moving at all if they hadn’t been able to see the tunnel walls slipping by.
“There’s a fork ahead,” said Kerrick. “We should be ready to steer ourselves into the branch we want to take.”
“Which branch do we want to take?” asked Val. “We don’t know where either of them lead.”
“We’ll just let the boat choose,” said Tip.
Nobody argued with this plan, and when they reached the fork, the boat angled itself decidedly to take the slightly larger right hand fork.
“Hey,” exclaimed Sol, leaning over the side of the boat and peering down the other fork as they passed it. “There’s a light down there.”
“Where?” Tip lunged for that side of the boat to have a look. Her movement was so sudden that she unbalanced the boat. Val gave a little shriek as she fell off her seat and ended up in the bottom of the boat.
“Tip, for goodness’s sake,” exclaimed Kerrick helping Val up. “You’ll capsize us.”
“Sorry Val,” said Tip. She had been too late to see whatever Sol had seen. “What did the light look like?” she asked him.
“Hard to describe. Sort of a purple glow,” said Sol. “I can’t think of anything to compare it to.”
It wasn’t long before there was another fork, and another. They also glided past a few side openings in the tunnel. Each time, the boat seemed certain of its direction, choosing the bigger fork each time, and sailing past all the side tunnels.
Suddenly Val exclaimed. “There! I saw it too. A purple glow!” She was pointing at a side passage, but the boat had already carried them on past it, so the others couldn’t confirm what she’d seen. However, it wasn’t long before they all saw the strange lights. A flash of pale violet light that briefly illuminated a side opening and then was gone as they were carried on past the tunnel in question.
“I hope those lights aren’t anything bad,” said Val after the seventh or eighth sighting.
Tip had been wondering the opposite. Maybe the lights signified something amazing! Maybe they were missing out on whatever it was. Should they make an effort to steer themselves down one of the side tunnels?
“Another fork coming up,” said Kerrick. They all expected the boat to take the larger tunnel branch as it had every time since their journey started. However this time they were surprised when the boat gave a decided jerk in the direction of the smaller one. This was a new development.
“Maybe there’ll be a light down here,” said Tip.
A few seconds later, as if Tip’s words had called it into being, the tunnel was lit with a pale violet glow. It was an oddly thin stretch of light that went from one side of the tunnel to the other. It looked like there might be a narrow crack in the roof and a light was shining through it making a strip of illumination across the tunnel. Except that the colour of the light wasn’t anything like daylight. Also, Tip could see the tunnel ceiling quite clearly and there wasn’t a crack or opening of any kind. The light was simply hanging in the tunnel, stretching from wall to wall without any obvious source.
“We’re going through iiiiit,” said Val, the last word becoming a wail as they were carried closer and closer to the light. It certainly was eerie to be in such close quarters with the ghostly glow. Sol’s words about the cave system being magic seemed all the more probable under these circumstances.
Tip was 40% sure the light would burn. But as the boat carried them through the light, the sensation was more a slight chill, and the faint feeling of dropping. Like when you swung on a rope swing out over the river and let yourself fall into the water. For the briefest of moments before you broke the surface, there was the feeling of weightlessness. That was what it felt like to go through the purple light. Next to her, Sol gave a little gasp, as if he could feel it too.
And then they were through. The light was gone as if it had never been there, and the tunnel around them looked exactly the same as all the other tunnels they’d travelled through, except slightly narrower.
“That wasn’t so bad,” babbled Val. “It didn’t hurt at all. I was afraid it’d blind us or something, but we’re all fine. What do you suppose it was?”
“There’s something up ahead,” said Kerrick, peering down the tunnel. “It looks like…” he jerked upright. “It looks like another boat!”
They all peered ahead. Kerrick had always had the best eyesight and it was hard to make out anything in the dimly lit tunnel, but slowly and surely, they could make out the shape of a boat just like theirs, bobbing on the water ahead.
“It’s not moving,” called out Tip. “Hey, I think we’ve arrived somewhere.” Sure enough, the tunnel their boat was traversing came to an end in a little cave. Most of the cave was filled with water, but on the far side of it rose a wide shelf of pale, sand-coloured rock. It resembled an underwater dock The other boat was waiting patiently next to it, which only strengthened the impression.
“It’s like a little harbour,” said Kerrick, sounding delighted. “Look, there are even places to tie up the boats.” He pointed to a couple of rocky outcroppings that had lengths of rope wound around them, as if just waiting for a boat to come along and be tied up there.
“Hey, I think the other boat is the one we pushed out first,” exclaimed Val. “I recognise that scratch on the side of it.”
“And it ended up here,” said Tip wonderingly. “I wonder whether it went through one of those lights too.”
“I wonder how we’re going to get back,” said Kerrick, peering down the tunnel back the way they’d come. “It’ll be very difficult to guide the boat back if the current keeps pushing us into this cave.”
“Maybe the currents change at different times of day,” suggested Val. “Like tides. I’ve heard that rivers work that way.”
“But tides come from the sea and we’re miles away from any sea,” said Kerrick.
“Worry about that later,” said Tip. “Let’s tie up and go and explore!” Their boat was already nosing at the stone dock and she took the opportunity to jump out onto dry land. Her legs gave way and she staggered a little. They couldn’t have been in the boat longer than half an hour but it had apparently still been long enough for her to have developed a slight case of sea legs.
“Alright there, Tip?” asked Kerrick, as the other two giggled at her clumsiness.
“Shut up,” retorted Tip. She unwound the rope from around on of the rocky humps and gave the end to Kerrick. Then she unwound another rope and, holding it, took a mini run-up and leapt into the other boat. It rocked and swayed alarmingly but didn’t capsize, and she succeeded in hauling herself to the side and tying that boat up too. If the cave system had some kind of tide schedule, they didn’t want the extra boat sailing off without them.
“Good thinking,” said Kerrick approvingly.
The steps at the other end of the cave dock were roughly hewn but in good repair and led steeply upwards to a wooden trapdoor in the roof. Tip went to push it open, but then hesitated as a thought struck her. Perhaps the trapdoor would lead them into one of the passages in Gretton mines.
“It’s possible,” said Kerrick, when she expressed her theory to the others. “But honestly, it seemed like we travelled far enough to have bypassed the mines altogether. If it is one of the mining passages, it must be a far away one. Hopefully nobody will be there. Still, let’s keep quiet to be on the safe side.”
“What would they do to us if they caught us in the mines?” asked Val in a whisper.
“It’s not the mines,” said Sol in an unexpectedly loud voice. When the others shushed him, he said “It’s not,” in an indignant tone. “We went through a portal!”
“Either way, let’s be quiet,” said Kerrick. “No matter where we are, there might be things that don’t take kindly to trespassers.”
Tip pushed gently on the trapdoor. It didn’t move. She pushed harder, and when it still didn’t move, she went a step higher and set her shoulder against it. With a good shove, the trapdoor flew open suddenly and crashed down on the floor of the cave above.
“Tip!” hissed Val waving her hands agitatedly.
“Sorry,” Tip said. “It was stuck.” There didn’t seem to be any more point in keeping quiet. If anything was around, it would have heard the crash. She climbed out of the hole and stood looking at her surroundings.
- Graz, Austria
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: victoriakellywrites.com
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.