Author: CB Droege
Something brushes past Jonaton’s leg under the opaque waters. He slaps the water with his hands, creating as much noise and turbulence as he can. The noise and motion of the water only reflects off the close walls and comes back amplified. He closes his eyes and forces himself to focus. “Left, straight, left, right, right, left” he recites.
It’s surely only a rumor that there are things living in these chambers. He must have brushed past a piece of equipment from a past explorer or some other piece of long lost flotsam. The floor tiles of the passages are loose and always shifting under Jonaton’s thick boot-soles. There is years of debris down here: garbage, clothes, weapons, even the bones of those who came into the chambers and were lost when the tide came in.
Jonaton keeps a careful eye on the water level. Though it is always shifting, rushing around him, it is also very slowly rising. The tide has already reversed, and every step he takes now is pushing the limits of his return window. In a few hours, water will reach the ceiling. He has to be back to the entrance before that time, or his bones will join the detritus on these floors.
Stepping carefully, wary of any sign of serpent or fish, Jonaton sloshes around another corner. “Right, left, straight, left, right, right, left” he recites, adding the reverse of the turn he just made to the beginning of his mantra. The passage he’s stepped into is longer than any of the previous sections, but is otherwise identical to every passage he’s passed through to get here since this morning. He sighs. He doesn’t even really know what he’s looking for.
Soon it will be time to turn around. He should probably just turn around already, but he knows the looks that explorers get when they return too early, when they don’t search as much as they possibly can in the short time they have within the chambers. It’ll be another week before the tide is low enough to let another explorer into the tunnels, and Jonaton’s turn only comes once per year. He should make the most of it. Maybe this next turn will be the one which reveals the exit from The Fortress. Maybe he will be the one who returns to his people triumphantly declaring that their long imprisonment is finally at an end, that seventy-five years of living in a steel trap is now over.
He reaches the next intersection and looks left and right. Nothing that he can see looks like a way out. Maybe the exit is just down one more passage, maybe it’s just around that corner…
No. That kind of thinking must be how explorers die down here, always chasing one more turn in the tunnels. Jonaton turns around and begins to walk back the way he came, confident that he has done his duty to his people. Tonight, he will be honored for his task, for his risk, even if he will not be celebrated as a savior. “Right, left, straight, left, right, right, left” he recites. He knows this will take him home, where he belongs.