I listen to the warning, dodging rocks that fall near me like fish from the sailor’s nets. My gear is heavy on my back, but I’ve fled like this before. It’s no big deal. We run back the way we came, my siblings and I, down the tunnel that led us here.
The strange beetle is dead, but its death throes have knocked the tunnel down around us. When the dust settles, we realize that our entrance has been destroyed. Fear hides at the corners of my mind, but Katsuo is in my hand. He calms me, as always. There is nothing to do but try the other tunnel, to the left of where our entrance into these strange caves had been. The tunnels had seemed so unremarkable at first, but I can see now that they are about the same size as the beetle. It doesn’t surprise me. I’ve seen so many strange things during my life with Mother.
The tunnel takes us to a large cavern. I can see daylight and my heart leaps. There are cracks in the ceiling of the cavern, much like the ones we entered through. Better yet, I can reach them.
Embarrassingly, it takes a couple of tries.
“What, are you out of practice?”
I ignore how Katsuo laughs.
The ground starts to shake as I reach the top. I look. My siblings are as confused as I am.
And then another beetle emerges in a shower of rocks and we know.
I reach for Katsuo, who sings to join the fight, before realizing that we are too high. I could climb down, but I sense that I would miss most of the battle by climbing. To Katsuo’s dismay, I ignore his protests and pull out my bow instead. Unfortunately, I’m still too far away to do much good. I growl in frustration, but there’s nothing to be done and my siblings dispatch the monster just as a second arrives.
“Swing down. Fight!”
I reach for Kastuo.
But my siblings are climbing the rope and all we can do is rain arrows down upon the beetle until they have reached safety. The fight is below me, but my siblings are here. Safe. Daylight is mere steps away.
I hang my head and follow my siblings out into the air. One of them fumbles, gets caught in the crack, and must be pulled up. I barely even notice.
I spend the entire walk home apologizing to Katsuo. He ignores me.
At least until Naraziy tells us that two new jobs have arrived by carrier bird. We can defeat marauding beastmen in Damar or help deal with miners causing trouble in Malkus.
I whisper the news to him.