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Discarded Chapter Seventeen
When Apulia confessed the danger he had put the travelers in, everyone turned to face him. The hands of Meramix and Keramos felt to the hilts of weapons, while Sohemus regarded the renegade lord calmly.
“It would have been better for you to have told us in the beginning.”
Apulia glanced at Meramix and Keramos before answering her. “I did not realize that the Hive tunneled in this part of the underworld. I thought they were only a danger on our side of the sea.”
“They are a hungry people,” said Keramos. “I have even seen them take down a monster or two, overwhelming them with numbers and disregard of sacrifice.”
“But we cannot disregard life so easily,” said Meramix. “You should leave our fellowship.”
“If the Hive Queen obtains this gem, then she may study our souls even as we used it to study her magic.”
Mysis wanted to intervene, but held back. The Kazan scouts stood a hair’s breath from violence, and anything could push them over. Nor did she wish to pair herself with Apulia in their minds. She was here for Chan’s quest, not Apulia’s.
And the more she thought about the danger Apulia had put them all in, the less she cared to save him. The Hive was a greater danger than Emeth, in enough numbers a threat to either of their cities.
“You misunderstand,” said Sohemus. “You worry that we would have abandoned you if you informed us.”
“Meramix just told me to leave.”
“But I do not.”
Sohemus lifted her hand. “May I touch Cinyui?”
Apulia glanced at the scouts again, resistant to the idea, not knowing what Sohemus had in mind. Seeing the critical moment when she could ease them back together without seeming to take sides, Mysis whispered, “Is there a better time to see if Sohemus’ god can help Cinyui?”
Apulia held out Cinyui’s soul gem, its energies disturbed by the telepathic flow of the Hive Queen’s communion with nearby insects.
Is Cinyui afraid of the Hive, wondered Mysis, or so infected that she wishes to rejoin their mind?
Sohemus touched the gem, and her face contorted with pain and loss, as if stabbed and betrayed, confused. Her breathing quickened, and she looked around blankly. Everyone but Apulia eased back, just out of her reach, but Keramos and Meramix looked ready to give her a merciful death.
Closing her eyes, Sohemus breathed a little slower, then a little slower. Even as her face relaxed, the rippling in the gem slowed. Eventually Sohemus’ face regained its placid confidence, and Cinyui appeared smooth, if still green.
Apulia looked at her with hope. “Can you cure her?”
“Perhaps, but we do not have time to discuss that now. Chan, feel the earth for our hunters.”
Chan touched the walls on either side of them with his fingers and looked as if he was listening intently. “They are using an old tunnel of theirs, below and to our right. They plan on digging back up when they have our way blocked, but the Hive Queen is confused. She has lost our scent, as she thinks of it.”
“Then she will either never spring the trap,” said Keramos, “or will spring it prematurely.”
“Let us assume the latter,” said Meramix, even as he broke into a run down the tunnel, “and hope for the former.”
Everyone ran after him, with Nithas right behind him lighting the way. They didn’t try to conserve themselves. The immortals drew upon reserves of energy, and Chan kept up, stronger than ever deep in the earth, regaining every loss with each footfall. He almost looked bouyent as he ran at Mysis’ side.
From behind them echoed the sound of a cave in, followed by the dreaded clicking of dozens of rushing clawed feet. When no sounds came from ahead, she took a little comfort in how they had apparently outran the vanguard. They would only be attacked from one side.
“I have an idea,” said Chan, “but I need the rest of you to buy me some time.”
“How can you purchase time?” asked Apulia.
“Then fight for it,” snapped Chan.
“Is this you, or the dragon doing the thinking?” asked Sohemus.
“I am fairly sure the dragon.”
Keramos stopped and drew her swords even as he spun around. “Then I will give it a try.”
Apulia joined her, but the tunnel wasn’t wide enough for more, so Mysis and Meramix took places behind them. “We will relieve if you tire.”
Chan held up clawed hands. “I hope I do not need that long,” and he shoved them into a tunnel wall.
The Hive warriors rushed into the radius of Nithas’ light, their jaws beginning to snap as their prey came within range. The immortals fought with reflexive skills honed to perfection, but hindered by their inability to maneuver, or even to back up. Apulia preferred to stab and Keramos to slash, but used whatever opportunities they found, weaving their patterns of death in front of them.
The pile of corpses became as much a hinderence to the Hive warriors as the swords, but Mysis didn’t feel any better because of it. The Hive’s standard tactic at that point would be to return to burrowing and find another angle of attack.
When the earth vibrated, she was sure they were lost, that the workers had created another way for the warriors to attack, but then the ceiling fell down on the attacking warriors. Turning, she spied grim satisfaction on Chan’s face.
The vibrations grew in strength. “Run!” shouted Chan, and the Immortals dashed back the way they had been going.
Mysis grabbed Chan. “Come! You have saved us!”
“They have more tunnels around here! Go!”
Nithas and Sohemus both grabbed Mysis her arms and pulled her away.
The stone cracked beneath their feet. “The earth will not harm him!” shouted Nithas, and Mysis finally let herself be pulled away, then joined them in running from the epicenter of a small earthquake. The stones around them shifted even as Chan turned them against the Hive warriors, man-sized splinters of the cavern falling from the ceiling.
Sohemus led them, her sensitive feet taking them in the direction of weaker vibrations, down a tunnel they had to run through crouching. Nithas’ light broke around their bodies, but shot down the too smooth tunnel and weaved upon and down. The light reflected off strains of silver in the rock.
“This is bad,” whispered Keramos.
“Worse than the Hive?” asked Nithas.
“Maybe, maybe not. Silver and gold are what are left over from when wyrms drain magical earths of their potency. This earth is still warm, so the wyrm fed recently. It still might be around.”
“Then everyone shut up,” said Lord Apulia.
“It senses magic, not sound, or touch.”
“Nithas, douse your light.”
He did.
“But how will Chan find us?” asked Mysis, wondering if he would survive the cave-ins he caused.
“By following his feet,” said Sohemus.


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