Sprawled upon his back and panting he lay still for a moment. His breath came faster. With each inhale the darkness constricted around him a little more with only the small light as protection. He could feel his pulse hasten as the feeling drummed behind his eyes. It beat so hard. In fear he brought his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. Everything felt so tight. Like his heart was going to burst. Then a brilliant white feather spiralled down from above. Delusion or no he could see it. It drew close and he rolled to his knees and leaned over to watch it descend into the well. As it touched the water. An unusually large ripple formed and travelled over the surface. A chime in the wind. A musical sound filled his awareness like a droplet hitting the water but… euphonic, calm, it felt like a mother’s kiss. It woke him from his hysteria. The abyss was still there of course, lurking in the shadows, but for now he held it at bay. He clung to the light as he sought the source of the plume, lifting his head; he could see all the way up the shaft. Nothing. Jagged points protruded from the stonewall. It had been an immense drop and he felt lucky to have survived. The only injury he could account for was the gash on the palm of his hand which now welled with blood. After a moment’s rest he sat up, took off his shirt and began to tear it to pieces. He wrapped the rags around his injured hand first, then the other and then finally round his feet. The ground was treacherous and he couldn’t afford to hurt himself further.
Zephyr got to his feet and held his light source up to the alcove. It stretched back into a passageway and only a few steps in brought him to a crossroads. He had a choice. In fact he had several. Left, right or back up. Each portal was cramped and even he would have to squeeze through. The thought made him nauseous. Veronica had said they led to freedom if he chose. She had not said how far, how long or which direction freedom lay. And he remembered Machuum’s warning. “One of two things can happen from here on. Neither of them require a blindfold.” He had said. Zephyr felt blind here. He had know way of knowing which was the right decision. In the end it was the darkness that persuaded him. There was only one way he could go. Up.
One hand before the other. One grip to the next. He began his climb a hold at a time. The rags held the sharp rock at bay but his hand still burned from the cut. He scaled the wall slowly but surely. As any boy his age he was used to climbing; it was both necessary and an entertainment for a kid. At one point he had even tried to conquer the great chasm wall of Crater; against the cries from his friends who feared for his safety. Height was never a fear for Zephyr in fact he felt exhilaration every time he rose. One adventure had gotten him to the first tower platform but a loose stone gave way under him. Thankfully he was cushioned by the soft cap of a large shroom. He shook the memory away; it was not the time to think about falling.
Halfway to the top his confidence bolstered. He could do it. All he had to do was reach the top. Then a voice shouted down to him.
“Why?” It said. Zephyr remained still. Clutched to a wall as he strained to hear.
“Why?” Came a different voice.
“Why?” Came one more.