She knew they were underground. She didn’t need to open her eyes to feel the oppressive nature of the soil all around them. It was hot, stuffy and smelt terrible. Though her snow gave a chill in the bones, there was something very different to being surrounded by earth than the feathery white flakes from the sky.
She was tied up, and the knot was tight around her hands, she could barely wriggle them behind her. Both she and Ezra were bound, separately but just as securely down in an underground vault not far from the Mondol stone. A candle was spluttering around the corner to the area they were being kept in, no bigger than her larder back at the cottage. The candle’s little light danced shadows around the place, but she could see Ezra bound on the other side. He was still unconscious, his head lulled forward like a drunk outside a tavern.
Her heart was racing, a mix of the confinement and the toxin the gentlemen of the boxes had used on them both. She could see nor hear him now, and aside from the little candle spluttering she heard nothing, as is the case underground. Quiet as a tomb.
Her legs were bound also, but not as tightly as her hands, and she was able to thump them a little in Ezra’s direction. After a few tries, she managed to knock his feet, but he didn’t stir at all. She kept on, quietly calling to him to wake, which he eventually did.
“That old bastard!” Ezra boomed into their small space.
“Shhhh, I don’t think he knows we’ve come around yet. I’m not sure where he is.” The lady of the jars hushed, her eyes desperate to peer around the side.
“Come around? I’ll make him come around and back and down and all over the place. That nasty old….” But she cut him off.
“Ezra, shush. We have to think to get out of here. They’ll be time for retribution later.” She hissed. At this Ezra smiled and nodded to her.
“How tightly are you bound there?” He asked her. He wriggled his own hands behind him.
“It’s very taut, he’s a whizz at knot tying it seems.” She said.
“Well, what else is there for the old fart to do all day sat underground! Right, let’s sort this out quickly.” He said, and with that he banged his feet up and down on the ground three times.
A crackling sound came from around the corner, and she saw the candlelight dim suddenly before the small sound of insects began to buzz. A throbbing light came pulsating into their little space, strobing a yellow light around them. The point of the light then broke off into two dots, one going over to Ezra while the other found the lady. They were little fireflies, born in the candle flame and now finding their way to the rope that bound their hands. They rested only for a moment before the ropes burnt away, the singeing smell filling the air momentarily. With a little snap the fireflies disappeared, extinguished now of their little magic flowers.
“Wonderful!” The lady said, rubbing her wrist involuntary and getting to her feet. Ezra stood too, ducking his head slightly in their confines.
“So, what do we do now?” he asked her. The lady looked around, but the place was bare of anything of use for them. She knew the gentleman of the boxes had taken everything off them.
“Well, we need to find out the extent of this underground place. We know that he wants the girl, but what he plans to do with us I no longer know.” She said.
“Well, he hates your weather, we know that. Sorry, but he’s had it in for you for ages now.” Ezra said.
“Well, it’s not my fault he can’t appreciate the beauty of winter.” She added.
“You’ve had it coming for a while, it’s all I’m saying. I know you’d be my downfall.” He said. She frowned at him.
“When I go, you go. You know that!” She huffed.
“We’ll see.” He said and made his way towards the corner of the room, poking his head around.
“There’s a long tunnel, that candle is almost out. How long do you think we’ve been down here?” He asked her.
The lady put her hand to her head, laying it flat on the top. She twisted it twice in place.
“I would say three hours.” And she joined him by the corner.
“Then who knows what’s become of the girl already.” Ezra said.
“Yes. It’s not looking good. Come on, let’s try and find a way out of this infernal warren.“ And with that she set off down the corridor, grabbing the candle as she went, Ezra marching behind her.
He’d watched her descend, seeing her come down through the clouds. She glowed like a blue ice crystal, the magic from the stone sparking upwards. He thought he’d heard the space exhale as she landed, but it must have been the wind.
The gentleman of the boxes lurked at the edge of the clearing, hidden by the thicket of bushes that clung to the larger trees at the edge. He’d been mindful of the Dimian, which he knew were clustered over by the other side of the clearing. He’d set up a little magical blockade, keeping them contained in the area by the cavern where he was keeping the lady and Ezra. His own magic had evolved significantly in the past few years, and what had seemed so foreign to him at first now came as second nature. What he failed to realise was that he’d slipped further and further into the darker realms of the power. Not fully registering what he had to give away of himself, in return of something only he desired.
He wanted the girl; he knew what she was. He didn’t really see her as a girl at all, his eyes now blinded by the power source that emanated from her. At first, he’d only wanted to end the tormented weather that had blanketed everything, that was his driving force. Then he wanted to teach the lady of the jars a lesson, nothing too bad, but something she would remember. But his thoughts had descended quickly, the little friend now forever by his ear telling him he could have more and more. Why not other things in boxes? Why not bigger and bigger boxes to store things that he didn’t want to see, or that he could keep forever contained. Why does the world tick to a tock that he must follow? Cannot things bend to his whim just for once, after years of being so uncontrolled. When was it his time to succeed?
These short-sighted thoughts had pushed him on, pushed him to do things that many years before he knew were rotten and would not have conceived. He took the lives of the animals before but knew there was a balance in nature. Now he took the lives, because he could, and not just of animals. Now he did the rotten things because he did not see the other side of it any longer. The darkness had spread over his eyes. Perhaps from being too long underground.
The stone sparkled and ran with a magic electricity. Sparking at the points where the girl touched it. She looked around the clearing, searching for the others. He watched as the doubt began to spread across her face. Quickly replaced with pain. He had to wait of course; he could not do anything with the stone. His study had taught him that.
The girl now sat down on the stone, crossing her legs and allowing the flow of energy to course through her. Where she made contact with the stone, it blurred with her own skin, rippling like mercury in a shimmering dance of magic. She placed her hands together and closed her eyes, replaying what had happened there. She saw as the gentleman of the boxes had captured her friends, taking them away to a place not far from where she sat. She watched too how he had ensnared the Dimian, and where they were now caught in a maddening cycle that he had placed over them. She opened one of her eyes and saw him now, crouched and trying to hide at the edge of the clearing. She could see it all, and she could see the darkness that now swelled within him. How his anger had let such negativity inside. The stone had changed him too, powering the thoughts he had, the will he wanted. Energising the darker aspects of himself.
She knew what he wanted, but she also knew that he was not powerless himself. She needed to get her friends back first, then they would deal with him. And she knew exactly what the best lesson would be to teach. She opened her eyes and looked up towards the sky, and with a simple thought she shot up like a rocket, so fast the gentleman barely saw it. Yet she had not gone skyward, but simply burst some energy up into the night while her body had slipped off the stone and made its way towards the Dimian.
It is sometimes forgotten how vast the underground world can be. You can dig for years and still only scratch the surface of the world. The gentleman of the boxes had become a master of underground life. He liked it there, with no weather and no change. He could control his environment, and he knew what came and went. He knew this land and all the cave systems that rooted and veined underneath the feet of those above.
Down deep is where he had put them. Many levels down, in a confusing maze of dead ends and vast rooms. He knew the area of course, and he knew that unless you knew the way out; it was all but hopeless. But the gentleman was no fool, and he also knew that magic was on their side. So, although he’d been quick, he’d placed his own precautions down there underground to keep them contained while he took the girl.
“We’re lost!” Ezra said, exhaustively.
“What, how can we be lost. We didn’t know where we were to start with.” The lady said, looking down two separate tunnels, gauging which was the better route.
“Well, I know you don’t know where we are or which direction to go.” He said, looking back from where they’d come.
The candle they’d taken was down to a nub, the little light struggling in the overpowering darkness.
“Look, you’re meant to be a help to me. Now, do something with this candle.” She said, thrusting the little wax towards him.
He took the stump and cupped it in his hands, plunging them into darkness. She could smell the extinguished candle, reminding her suddenly of a birthday party. She heard Ezra breathing in loudly, and she watched as tiny sparkling bits of dust began to lift from the side of the tunnel. He breathed them all into the cupped hand, a little light collectively coming together to burn on the ends of the wick.
“Not much down at this level, we must be quite deep.” He said to her, handing the back.
“Please, keep hold of it.” She said, and she began to place her hands on the side of the tunnel. Bits of the earth tumbled away, and she brushed the dirt gently.
“What is it?” Ezra asked her.
“Something. Something is here.” She said, her hands now flat against the wall of the tunnel. “It can’t be……”
“Urm, I think we might have some company.” Ezra said, looking off down the tunnel. He could see a greenish glow, very distantly.
“Dimian!” the lady said. “Come, we must go the other way.” She darted quickly; Ezra was suddenly surprised by her speed as she raced down the other tunnel which led away from the Dimian. With the candle bobbing in his hand like a mushroom glow, he doubled his pace to keep up.
“What was back there, what did you think you felt?” He asked her, he was getting out of breath as she raced like a mole through the tunnels.
“I’ve read about it of course, and it would make sense for it to be here if anywhere. But I’m sure I felt the vibrations; it was so clear to me. It came into my head like a picture.” She said, not the least bit out of breath herself.
“Well, what is it?” Ezra gasped.
“The other Mondol stone.” She said, glancing back at him.
“You’re kidding me. Now there’s two?” He said, tripping slightly over a big rock on the floor.
“There were actually three to start, at least that was what is written. But it’s always been assumed from the current texts we only have the one. The others lost or destroyed. But it’s here Ezra, I felt it and saw it!” She said, an excitement in her voice.
“So, what does that mean?” He asked her.
She stopped suddenly, he almost smashed into her.
“It means we have a bit of leverage on our side, and I might be able to live through all this after all”. She said with a smile.