Dan’s arm started to shake. The arm above the glove began to itch, then to ache with soreness, and then to hurt for real. Dan remembered NT9 had said there could be some damage. Well, he could live with that. Ana could heal him when she got out.
Cracks began to appear in the stone slab, spider-webbing away from Dan’s palm. Small slivers of rock crumbled and fell away from the slab.
‘Come on,’ Dan thought. ‘We need to go faster than this.’ He pushed harder.
With a report like a thunderclap, a shockwave spread outwards from Dan’s palm, covering the whole face of the stone slab before Dan could even blink. Enormous cracks appeared behind the shockwave. At the same time, Dan felt a burning pain in his arm, and looking, saw that the flesh above the glove was red, and several gashes had appeared, spreading upwards from where the glove met his skin. NT9 had said there might be a few bruises. What Dan saw was significantly more than that.
It was too late to go back now, however. Dan pushed harder, and a moment later the entire stone slab exploded, sending flying shards of stone in every direction. Dan was momentarily afraid that the shards might injure those trapped inside – not to mention himself – but as they flew outwards, the shards broke apart over and over, disintegrating into increasingly smaller particles.
Before Dan knew what had happened, all that was left was a fine dust. The dust slammed into him, coating him from head to foot, the grains of sand getting in his newly-injured arm and making the pain worse. But the slab was gone. The others were free.
Gideon was the first to emerge. “What happened?” he said at once. “How did you get us out? What happened to your arm?”
“I’ll explain later,” Dan said, although he wasn’t sure if he should or not. He didn’t want word of his gloves getting out, and possibly reaching the Khyta soulborgs. “Valkrill knows we’re here; we need to get out now before he cuts us off.”
“The amulet comes first,” Gideon said, as the others began pouring out of the hall where they had been trapped.
“Otonashi’s getting it,” Dan said. “She’ll get it to Vydar, don’t worry. Right now we just need to get out.”
Gideon didn’t waste a second. “Everyone out!” he called. “Make for the fallback point!”
Dan waited to make sure everyone was out. Ana came out last, guarded by two knights. Dan urged them to hurry, and then raced up the tunnel behind them.
Without Dan to guide them, most of the group staggered about in the tunnel, running into walls and holding everyone up. The purple vines offered them some clue as to where to go, but since they were the only light source in the total blackness, and since the tunnel twisted and turned every chance it got, they were still forced to move along it at a snail’s pace.
“Come on,” Dan muttered to himself.
Hearing him, Ana looked back. “Drow!” she cried.
Dan spun around. Aided by his night vision, he could see drow pouring into the tunnel, scurrying along its walls like spiders in their haste. There were too many of them. They flooded the tunnel. There was only one thing Dan could do.
He raised his glove, and shoved his palm outwards.
A corresponding blast exploded from his glove. Dan gritted his teeth as his arm burned with pain, the gashes in it becoming wider and longer. But through the pain, he looked, and saw the drow being flung back by the shockwave. Several were slammed into the stone ceiling and landed a moment later, motionless. Several more were rammed into the walls. His glove continued to pulse, sending out continuous shock waves, and after a moment he saw the drow being held against the walls begin to bleed. First from their mouth. Then from their nose, then their eyes, then their ears… soon black blood was spilling from them. Almost out of shock at what he was doing, Dan lowered his glove. The shockwaves ceased instantly. The drow dropped to the floor, motionless, blood seeping from under them.
After that, no one else pursued them. They reached the cave exit a moment later. But there, another surprise awaited them.
Everything had changed. The light filtering down through the trees was now red. By its light, Dan could see thick clouds of dust drifting through the air. As they stepped out of the cave, Dan realized that something was falling from the sky. It was white, and for a moment he thought it was snow. But then he felt the heat of the air, the faint smell of smoke, and knew that it must be ash. The birds were gone. The only sounds in the forest were the stream nearby, which now sounded muted through all the dust and ash, and the distant calls of crows.
Some, like Dan, paused as they reached the cave exit, blinking up at the sky, wondering what had happened. Gideon was not one of these.
“Come on!” he called. “To the fallback point!”
They all fell in, quickly rushing for the gully they had left mere minutes ago. No one seemed to be following them, but they still wasted no time sliding down the embankment. Then, once they had spread out across the boulders lining the bottom of the gully, they fell silent, and waited. Would Valkrill pursue them?
There was no sound, however. Nothing but the quietly falling ash, and the muted rushing of the stream. No one had chased them. They were alone, ash was falling from the sky, and Dan had never felt more certain that he would never see Heleer again.
What had happened?