3: Torsten Underground
Byron fell silent, as if waiting for applause. The river continued. Nature cared little for the tirades of poets. Neither did Joel, who looked caught between confusion and mirth.
“Bloody ‘ell, mate, you’d think she turned you down or something.”
“Rather the opposite,” said Byron. “I do not need the help of one such as her, and neither do you. Here.” He aimed a silver baton at the chamber ceiling and, with a snap-whoosh, it fired an alchemium harpoon into an exposed area of rock, where the intelligent material forged itself a secure anchor. “Orpheus, have you any revelations before we depart?”
Dante grimaced; his cellular’s report wasn’t as conclusive as he’d hoped. “I can’t find trace of any residual energy signatures, and the damage isn’t consistent with known weaponry,” he said. “It looks like something tore it apart with brute force.”
“Curious,” said Byron. “It seems that night holds many mysteries. Perhaps our destination shall shed some light on them.” He gave the rope a tug then made for the edge of the bridge. “Would either of you like to go first, or shall I?”
Joel kept his distance. “I don’t trust that shit, mate. It’s proper voodoo.”
With a sigh of despair, Byron pulled himself up the rope and swung across to the other side of the chamber. Dante followed his example—compared to some of the things Master al-Hakim and Sage Khandro put them through, it was a breeze.
Joel, however, was not so confident. He had grown up in the underground, more interested in simulated obstacles generated on a screen than real challenges—but Byron knew his weak spot.
“Imagine Kaori’s face if she saw her heroic partner afraid of a trivial rope swing.”
Joel spun across the river with a warbling cry, one hand and both legs clinging to the rope while his other hand gripped his beloved guitar, as if afraid it might slip from its scabbard to a watery doom.
With a few commands, Byron restored the rope to its original form and buried it back inside his satchel. Then, with a look of smug satisfaction, he led the way back into the tunnels. A few turns later and the sound of water had lowered to a rumble, taking the unpleasant smell with it. Dante never thought he would be so glad to breathe the stale underground air.
“Mate, I bet that bridge were blown away to stop the Sophists,” said Joel, as they arrived at another junction. “I mean, how would they get across in all that armour? It’s not like they’ve got that Malkuthian voodoo crap to help them.”
“Quite,” said Byron, though he didn’t sound convinced. “Meanwhile, my ‘Malkuthian voodoo’ suggests our destination is yonder.” He gestured his cellular towards a tunnel that ended in a dead end about twenty metres away.
“Nah, mate, that’s a wall.”
“So it would seem.”
Alchemium is pretty useful!