“Tell to us, Athan,” said Sanjer, making his way through the dark by ropehold. “Tell us of the monsters.”
The trainees noted their senior shaking his head by his forehead light swinging in arcs across the tunnel. “Nay, Sanjer. Ahead are trials scary enough. Needn’t you monsters to distract you from the knowing of a good tunnel from a bad.”
“Now then, Athan. Not to be prepared, is that how you want them?” said Luesh from a tunnel fork just as the little party arrived. The two older boys eyed each other with mutual irritation. “Lurking in the dark, beasties of every design, waiting to snap up the unawares what travel within their byways. Old Luesh can lead you the way.”
Athan shook his forehead light again. “Nay, Luesh. I’m these ones’. Leave their minds alone.”
“That can’t do at all, for without the learning, survival is a hope and nary else. Tell them about the Vo-oles, have you?”
Though he stuttered, Sanjer managed to get out: “Nay.”
“Monster moles with maws that gape and show the olden sky? Hungry because the Disaster what forced your grandpappy’s grandpappy down here fiddled them up inside, putting vortexes where bellies resided.”
A few gasps were heard from the younger boys. Athan made a disapproving click of his tongue. “Away, Luesh. Need they clear heads. Checking not for monsters, but for…” The smell hit him. “Bad air!”
The boys echoed his cry, “Bad air! Bad air!” as they turned to run back. Luesh and Athan put aside their rivalry to help the children scrabble forward.
“Pray against a Whiteheart!” shouted Luesh.
“Look not into its depths! Listen not to– to…” But Athan was lost, because he heard it. The whisper inside the flame rushing across the flat, stale air behind him. It bade him turn and face the hot, blinding flash of demonic fire, more frightening to tunnel dwellers than any shadow ever could be. Athan held a hand forward, touching the hissing inferno, and he was consumed.
With Athan absorbed, the flames retreated into the shadows. The trainees looked to Luesh, slumped against the tunnel wall. “Now you know,” he said, staring straight ahead. “Now you know.”