3 – 11
“You want us to leave here!?”
The maid raised her trembling voice.
“And go where, exactly!? How do you expect us to move in the dark when we have injured and elderly people here!?”
“The important part is not where we are going. We have to escape from here because it isn’t safe. Although I definitely recall saying something like that earlier!”
The shaking was almost constantly now. Every time another explosion echoed in the distance, Nicole trembled. That low rumbling had gradually turned into a higher pitched whine. The walls around them creaked as if something was pressing hard against them on the other side.
“It’s not as if we can be sure anywhere else is safe either!”
But, even still, the people didn’t trust Camilla. Leaving this cavern meant having to go into one of those tunnels. Even if their eyes had adjusted to the darkness, the thought of squeezing through those narrow crevices was too much to bear. There were old folks, not to mention children. Some people were still sporting injuries. It would be an exceptionally hard road for them especially.
Most of all, it’s just as that maid said. There was no guarantee that they would survive if they took one of those tunnels, nor could she guarantee they would be able to return back to the cavern if it turned out to be the wrong choice. It could lead to a dead end. Or, before they escaped, they could be caught up in an explosion of magic.
In that case, it would be better to stay in a place like this, where at least they could feel secure in its size. Her line of thinking made sense.
“I agree, it would be better for us to stay here.”
One of the manservants agreed with the maid.
“This is where we first fell. So, there should be a connection to the part of the surface that collapsed. If we move thoughtlessly, it might frustrate the efforts of the people looking to rescue us.”
The servant’s words were both sober and persuasive. What’s more, he was one of the few men amongst them. People found themselves leaning towards trusting him unconsciously.
“For the miners, it’s an important rule to never move from the place you were initially trapped. Even if there aren’t any manastones to break, that doesn’t mean there’s no way for anyone with magical power to find you from the surface. If there was a cave in or collapse because of a manstone explosion, a magic user can follow the clues to find you. By waiting where you are, help will definitely come. That is how we have always done things.”
‘That’s right’, she heard people whisper from around her. Camilla shouted to drown out those sounds.
“There is no point in waiting here just to be buried alive!!”
The walls quaked, shaking loose debris. Falling rocks fell into the pools of miasma with loud splashes. The miasma was getting thicker in the air, to the point where Camilla couldn’t tell the difference between it and the regular darkness anymore. Standing next to her, Nicole shook, her eyes closed.
“The person with magical power herself said that it was dangerous here! If just wait for help to come, all our rescuers will find are our corpses!”
“How can you say things like that in front of the children!?”
With an angry shout, a sound rang through the darkness. The maid had slapped Camilla hard across the cheek. As she felt the warm pain spreading across her face, Camilla heard a child crying at the same time. One of the townswomen tried to soothe them with a hug. Those reverberating wails only seemed to add to the fatigue of everyone there.
Still, Camilla couldn’t keep quiet. She could still hear the explosions. The walls were creaking even more violently than before. There was no way that the people didn’t realize that it was getting closer and closer.
“If we stay here like this, then that child won’t be able to cry anymore either!”
“And if we follow you, it will be the same! If you want to go, then go by yourself!”
The ground shook as the maid shouted. Even in the darkness, it was obvious just how frightened she was by her expression. A crashing sound somewhere nearby ended their argument, as something heavy collapsed in one of the tunnels.
When the sound faded, there was a momentary silence. Even the child’s wailing had died away. The only thing they could hear was each other’s breathing. Somehow, that helped cool everyone’s heads.
Camilla took a deep breath, then let it out quietly.
“I do not want to die in a place like this.”
“…Obviously. I especially don’t want to die together with you, either.”
“I agree completely. That is why it would be better for us to leave here.”
“Even if people follow you, someone might get killed. What will you do if someone dies?”
She met the gaze of that sharp-eyed maid. So, this was the truth of it. They all knew that this place was dangerous. But, they still hesitated, because moving forward didn’t guarantee any safety either.
Would it really be okay? What if the road that lay ahead is even more terrible? Can we really believe in and follow her?
Right now, Camilla didn’t have any means of getting them to trust her. She couldn’t even guarantee that they would survive. They didn’t want to regret the choice to follow her into death.
“If you die, I will take on your grudge.”
So, she would simply have to accept those regrets on herself.
“I cannot ensure that everyone here will make it back alive. If someone dies, however, I shall take responsibility. I do not mind if you hate me for it, either. If you have any complaints, feel free to vent them to me as we go!”
Camilla said that as she looked around at the people in the dark. The maids, the manservants, the people of the town and even Martha. All of them looked back at Camilla as well.
“I will take responsibility for everything! In return, if we manage to make it back, make sure you appreciate it!”
Of course, she would want a grand show of it. Something like having them all bow down low before Camilla and apologize for their rudeness up until then.
As Camilla’s words echoed off the walls of the cavern, the people looked at one another. They didn’t say a word, simply looking in silence as another roar echoed from an explosion nearby.
Once that quaking ceased, the maid who had argued with her the whole time finally gave in.
“…I still think you’re a fool.”
“What did you say?”
– She still wants to pick a fight?
Camilla snarled at her, but the maid didn’t seem to care. Looking at the floor, she spoke thoughtfully.
“If you wanted to live, you should have escaped by yourself before. That way, you wouldn’t have had to take on responsibility for anyone’s lives, or their regrets… But, well, you don’t seem like the kind of person who would die so easily, either.”
The maid massaged her temples. It seemed like she was at a loss for words as she sighed.
“…If I die, I’ll haunt you forever.”
As the maid looked at her, Camilla smiled.
– Very well, I’ll accept that.
With Nicole leading them on, Camilla and the rest of the people entered one of the tunnels with the least amount of miasma flowing through it.
The elderly and the injured were supported by the servants, whilst the townswomen lead the children by the hand. Camilla had been the last one to enter the tunnel, and as she did she heard the largest explosion so far.
Turning around to look, she saw a bright light on the far side of the cavern.
It took her a moment to realize that was pure magical energy.
Looking back, she realized that the pools of miasma must have amplified the explosion. The dense miasma and the magic in the air caused a chain reaction, leading to that dazzling white light. Then, it spread between the pools of miasma one after the other. Every time a puddle ignited, the white light flared so strongly it was as if that pitch black cavern was exposed to the light of the sun.
The darkness between those flashes showed that the miasma had become even denser.
“…Time to go.”
Tearing herself away from the sight, Camilla followed the rest of the people who were advancing into the tunnel.
They proceeded in that darkness for a while. To make sure that nobody got separated or left behind, the people constantly called out to one another.
Naturally, the tunnel wasn’t like a well looked after path. The surface was slick with mud and unstable to walk on. They often had to hunch over or even crouch because of how low the ceiling of the cave was, and often times they had to squeeze through narrow crevices.
As they gradually grew more and more nervous, Nicole finally let out a voice.
Suddenly coming to a halt, Nicole looked up. They followed her gaze, but there was nothing there. At least, nothing they could see.
“Lady Camilla, above us.”
Even though she called out to her, Camilla had no idea what Nicole was pointing out. But, she felt a little relief just hearing Nicole’s voice, since she had simply shivered in silence up until now.
“Someone is… Probably… Just maybe, I think there are traces of Lord Alois’ magic. It’s as if its trying to show us the way out.”
Nicole pointed towards the deeper part of the tunnel, her hand hovering up and to the right just a little bit.
If you go that way, you’ll find your exit.