The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 100


“There it is!” Phillip said. “The lights will lead us to the lens!”

I’d paid little attention to the pit the first time I’d seen it. It had appeared to be nothing more than a tube created by the volcanoes that formed this land, and maybe it was. But Phillip was correct — this was the pathway to the third lens.

I studied the strange lights a moment longer, wondering about their glow in shades of blue, purple, and pink, darkening in tone as they descended deeper into the pit.

Again, the devils must have been laughing at my expense. To obtain the third lens, I’d have to dive into a deep pit and survive a water-filled tube that might continue forever underground. Whoever designed this clearly did not want the lens to ever be found. I gritted my teeth and began to climb again. My leg ached horribly. Every part of me hurt by now.

“Still wasting your strength.” From a position far below me, Phillip angled his body away from the wall. “I will get the lens first. I will get the glory.”

He dove toward the pit, and should have made it, except at the same moment, a new wave crashed into the cave. Had he been higher, the greater speed of his body might have pushed him downward, but now the wave thrust him against the opposite wall. He crashed hard against the rock and was knocked unconscious, then the same wave carried him back out to sea. Just like that, he was gone.

I cursed under my breath, then cursed again until nothing was left but to attempt the same dive from higher up on the wall. Maybe it wouldn’t matter. The very same thing could easily happen to me. Inhaling deeply, I let go of the cave walls and dove directly into the pit.

The speed of my dive and flow of the water carried me deeper into the pit than I would have expected to go in only a few seconds. Soon, I was being pushed through a dark lava tube with my only light being what must have been a form of glowing algae.

Once the tunnel flattened out, I began to swim, though my body was already begging to breathe. Finally, when I could stand it no longer, I rolled to my back and exhaled. To my surprise, there were no bubbles. This was air.

I opened my eyes and realized I was floating past a thin layer of air, created by a pocket in the tube that was higher than the level of the water. I drew in a new breath just in time for the tube to narrow again, and I continued swimming. I pushed one finger upward against the lava tube. As soon as it widened, I rolled and took a new breath, then returned to swimming, never knowing how long it would be until I found more air. Never knowing if I would find more air. I just swam.

Ahead of me, the tube seemed to split. To my left, almost impossibly, I saw sunlight, which was surely my chance for escape. But the glow that had carried me this far through the tunnel flowed to the right, into total darkness. Death.

That was the direction I had to go. Not to fight against my fate, as Imogen wanted, but to accept it. I hoped that one day she would forgive me.

I took what might be the last breath I ever drew, and swam to the right. By the time I realized the truth about the choice I had made, it was too late. I was carried headfirst over an underground waterfall with no idea of what lay below me.

I splashed deep into an icy pool of water and fought my way upward with lungs about to burst. The river ran onward, continuing deeper underground and into total darkness, but there was land to the side of me. The air in here was as cold as the water, but at least it was air.

I rolled out of the pool onto the patch of damp ground and looked up to find myself in a small room carved out of the lava rock. I could easily touch opposite walls with both arms spread apart, but the ceiling became lost in the darkness overhead.

I attempted to climb the rock, but my injured leg failed me, and I fell back to the ground. I had no strength to escape this place. I didn’t know if an escape was possible, even if I did make the climb.

Less than a minute later, that question was answered. The moon reached an angle where it shone down directly into the room, bathing it in light. A glint of metal caught my eye. Curious, I stood and limped to the far wall, toward a sword balanced on two hooks that were embedded in the wall. The sword’s workmanship was the finest I’d ever before seen, artwork as much as it was weaponry. I doubted the best craftsmen in Carthya were capable of producing such a sword.

Both edges of the beveled blade were sharp, and the metal lacked any nicks or scratches. The hilt was ornate and made of curled steel with similar carvings on it as I had seen on the scope. I almost didn’t dare to touch it.

Almost.

My eyes lifted. Directly above the sword was the third lens, also embedded in the wall. I brushed a finger over it. There was writing on the glass that I could not read. I tried to pry it from the wall, but my fingers were shaking too much to be of any use, and the lens was in too deep anyway.

I reached for the pin lodged in my belt, then cursed under my breath. It was no longer there. So I cursed louder.

My gaze returned to the sword. It seemed like a crime to use such a fine weapon to pry glass out of rock, but I had no other choice.

I lifted the sword, already amazed at how light it was for its size, how perfect its balance and grip. Breathing an apology to the craftsman who made it, I inserted the tip of the sword into the rock and carefully wedged it against the third lens. This was far more difficult than I had expected, and I worried about breaking the glass.

Finally, I had my first hint that the lens was coming loose, though it was anything but good news. Water began leaking from inside the rock, and not a small amount of it. Just loosening the lens had started a chain reaction of cracking sounds throughout the entire room, spurts of water coming through seams in the walls, and a realization that my feet were now standing in water flowing up from below.

A realization that I was about to die.

I pried the lens free in the same instant water burst through the hole I had just created. It came at me with so much pressure that I splashed onto the ground. Where was all this water coming from?

A splitting sound ahead of me turned to a deafening crash and the lava wall opened, rocks flying at me in a sudden flood of water. I was slammed to the far wall, finding myself rapidly being carried upward by the water. I tried to avoid the rocks swirling around me, but to no avail. One finally hit me, and water filled my lungs.

I awoke on dry ground, coughing out water. Someone was kneeling behind me, propping me up. The moon was lower in the sky, suggesting morning wasn’t far away, but it was still a cold night, one that worsened my shaking after I drew in air again.

“He’s all right, he’ll live,” Tobias said from behind me. I looked up at him and just managed to nod. I still couldn’t speak.

“We can see he’s going to live,” Teagut said, crouching in front of me. “What kind of a physician are you, telling us what we can plainly see for ourselves?”


Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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