The Heartless Dead: Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Sixteen
The Tunnels

Bree hurried down off of the Hall’s roof and ran straight for Elder Parkeen.

“How do I get down there?” she asked. Her voice was rushed. She was letting her excitement get the best of her. She needed to stay calm.

The old man’s smile turned to a look of utter shock. “It’s too late, child. The gnolls are coming. The defenses are laid.”

Bree scowled. Kelmarane had come at her call. She couldn’t leave them outside the town and watch as the gnolls fell upon them! She had to be out there, with them. On the front lines fighting the Al’Chorhaiv. “I’m not asking your permission, Old Man. I’m asking which way to go.”

“You don’t understand. There is no way down there.”

“What?” Bree exclaimed. How could that be? All defenses had a weakness. A blind spot. Something! There had to be one in Thrice Hills!

Parkeen shook his head as if he were reading her thoughts. “We’re used to rushing to defend ourselves at a moment’s notice. With all the time we’ve had to prepare we’ve made the village into a death trap! There isn’t a way down there.”

“What about the escape tunnels? Is there one that will lead south?”

Elder Parkeen’s bronze skin blanched. “Well, yes, but…”

“What?”

“The tunnels all have one way exits to prevent the gnolls from using them against us. You won’t be able to come back in.”

Bree started towards the Hall’s main doors, passing by the outer ring of cacti and the inner picket fence. “I wasn’t planning on it.”

“But the gnolls are coming! You can’t be out there. It’s safer in town.”

Bree nodded. “I intend to help keep it that way.”

Elder Parkeen stumbled over a retort but Bree ignored him and entered the Hall. It was a simple affair made of mudbrick and sandstone, but it’s heavy wooden doors were solid, and its walls far thicker than they appeared. The interior consisted of one large room big enough to hold thirty people sitting at one time. It had a series of benches running down its middle, and chairs lining its walls. A door to the side led to a long, narrow room which held a few beds, a desk, a cupboard, and a large pile of urns filled with supplies and foodstuffs.

Bree had been within the Hall on a few occasions, mostly to visit Elder Parkeen and once to speak at a town meeting, but never had she seen it so packed! Almost forty people, all of whom were children or the elderly, milled about the room. Each had a small bag of food and goods upon their back or thrown over their shoulders. They seemed tense, but not afraid. The eldest among their number had a strong sense of resolve in their eyes. Bree admired them their courage. They had lived through countless raids and attacks and no longer feared anything the gnolls could throw at them. Despite their age, they would be strong defenders of the children if the battle turned for the worst.

Elder Parkeen hurried across the room and walked up to one of the mudbrick walls. He moved a few rickety chairs out of the way and ran his hands along the wall in an arc. “The tunnel runs under each hill in a large circle,” he said. “Eight tunnels branch off from the circle in straight lines like the spokes on a wheel.” He pressed his fingers lightly into the door and slipped them into a groove camouflaged amidst the brick’s seams. He dug his fingers into the brick and pulled, causing a section of the wall to pop up and out of the wall. He swung it aside on hidden hinges. Bree arched up an eyebrow in surprise. Even knowing there was a secret passage in the walls, she would never have noticed the entrance. It was impressive craftsmanship, but she had no time to examine it now. Perhaps she would have a chance in the future, after they defeated the Al’Chorhaiv.

“The tunnels continue for three miles in each direction, but have six exits along their lengths.” Elder Parkeen continued as he ducked into the wall and descended down a short ladder into a roughly carved room filled with torches, oil, and bags labelled either ‘food’ or ‘medicine.’ Bree followed him in a stunned silence. The amount of time and effort it would have taken to complete such a construction through solid stone was unimaginable for such a small village. It must have taken decades to complete! How long had it been here?

Elder Parkeen lit a torch, and pressed it into her hand. He led her out of the room and into a gently curving stone tunnel. The walls were roughly hewn, but the floor was smooth and level. He raised a hand and pointed into the darkness.

“Follow the hallway on it’s southern route and take the sixth retreat path. It’s just past the next storage room. Ascend the first ladder you come across and you’ll surface just outside the canal. If you hurry you’ll beat your friends there.”

“The sixth path?” Bree confirmed.

Elder Parkeen nodded. “Yes.” He placed a hand upon her shoulder. “Are you sure you want to do this, Bree?”

“There’s no need to fear, Old Man,” she replied with a kind smile. “My Lord Cailean will watch over me.”

“Many of us will be watching, child, but that does not mean we will intervene.”

Bree smiled. “I hunt gnolls in my free time, Parkeen. It wouldn’t kill you to have a little faith in me.”

Parkeen nodded. “May Sarenrae’s fire ignite your spirit, and Her light guide you safely home.”

“Take care, Old Man.”

“And you, Bree. And you.”

Elder Parkeen shuffled back into the storage room. Bree held her torch aloft and took off at a jog down the tunnel.

Elder Parkeen’s voice echoed down the tunnel, chasing after her. “I have faith in you,” he said.

Bree smiled.

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