“I’m okay,” I said, but the voice persisted.
On top of that, I started seeing things.
“Did you obtain permission from your school to come this far?” the monk said mockingly. “You have violated the very foundations of the Code of Ethics, the last of the Ten Precepts, ‘Do not desecrate the Three Jewels’. You have fallen for the words of a demon and questioned the teachings of Buddha. So I will seal you in these human shapes for all of eternity. You will spend the rest of your lives trapped in them…”
I was being shaken so hard that I thought I might have whiplash. Slowly, I returned to reality.
“What have you been muttering to yourself? I thought you’d gone nuts.”
“I think I have,” I whispered.
That was probably the real danger. If we didn’t have each other, we might really go crazy.
We wandered the tunnels for a long time. In that time, we didn’t meet a single queerat, but now that I think about it, they might have detected our presence long before we arrived and left to let us pass.
I was the first to become aware of something unusual.
“Did you hear that just now?”
There was no response. I squeezed Satoru’s hand hard. Still no response.
I smacked him lightly on the cheek twice, thrice. Finally, he let out a low moan.
“Wake up! I heard something weird.”
“There’s been a sound this whole time,” Satoru said faintly. “Calling us from below. The voices of the dead.”
I shuddered. Instead of me, Satoru was the one acting insane now. But more importantly, that sound was worrying. After walking through the pitch black tunnel, I felt that I had heightened intuition. My sixth sense was warning me that danger was approaching. This wasn’t the time to be worrying about Satoru’s condition.
Listening carefully, I heard it again. Because of the reverberation in the tunnels, I couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from. But it was gradually getting louder. I could hear it clearly. The shrill screams and battle cries of the queerats. The sound of something metallic, like a gong. And something indiscernible, like applause or the roar of the ocean.
All these sounds clashed cacophonously; it was the sound of war. My premonition was right.
“Hurry, run! The Ground Spiders are attacking.” I pulled on Satoru’s hand, but he didn’t respond.
Another fork in the path appeared. Which way should I go? Left, right, or back the way we came?
I reached for Satoru’s right hand and pointed the spear forward, but couldn’t see the faint green light at the tip. After checking the spear, I discovered that all the glowworms were dead.
Then I realized that we weren’t in total darkness. The moss around the path glowed dimly. There must be light coming from somewhere. We had been in the tunnel for so long that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was already light outside. If I was right, then the exit should be ahead.