Corvala entered a large round chamber. It reminded her of the structures and devices she had seen in the forbidden books—a collection of metal pieces varying in size and shape. A half dozen columns held up the ceiling and all about the chamber there were lanterns like the one by the door casting a weak light. In the chamber’s center there stood what looked to be a large machine like a bronze egg with dozens of metallic cords coming out of it.
Corvala went down the short walkway towards machine. As she approached, a pedestal rose up from the end of the walkway. On its glassy surface, the shape of a handprint began to glow. Corvala instinctively pressed her own hand against the glowing print. When she did, the pedestal began to vibrate and the light shone brighter under her palm.
A disembodied, unnatural voice sounded throughout the chamber. It spoke in a strange language that Corvala didn’t understand. She snapped her hand from the pedestal and backed away.
“Who-who’s there?” she stammered.
No answer. Corvala felt her insides turn to liquid.
I have to get out of here.
She quickly turned to walk away and head towards the chamber’s exit, but as she did so, she heard more voices coming from the tunnel. A gang of rowdy men. She needed no guesses to figure out who they were.
“Capels,” she hissed.
She could hear Deker Capel complaining. It was said throughout the village that you could spend one hour with Deker and learn the million things he hated. “I hate cramped spaces. Especially when they’re wet and cold. I bet there’re a lot a rats down here. I hate rats.”
Along with Deker’s complaining, she could also hear Trajan’s feral laughter echo down the tunnel.
With her exit blocked, she had no choice but to remain in the chamber. She quickly looked for a place to hide. There was a mess of thick metal cords behind the room’s central device. It wasn’t much, but it would give her some cover in the dim light. Corvala ducked down and wedged herself between the central device and the tubes. She couldn’t see much crouched down as she was and looking at her knees. She heard the Capels enter the chamber, their footfalls coming to a halt. They grew quiet.
“What is this place?” one of them said at length, apprehension coloring his voice.
“I don’t know,” Morgan Capel replied—Corvala recognized his voice. “All I know is that she’s down here somewhere.”
Corvala heard the men spreading out about the chamber. They stepped quietly as if trying not to wake something.
“I don’t like it here,” Deker grunted. “This place gives me the spine shivers for certain.”
“Don’t be such a coward, Deker,” Morgan huffed. “If a little girl can hide here, then you better have the stones to walk where she treads.”
“Here kitten, kitten, kitten,” one of the brothers laughed.
Corvala could hear their feet shuffling over the metal floor. They were everywhere. She tried her best to hold her breath.
“I don’t know, Morgan. You hear stories of these kinds of places out here in the Mouth—the kinds of places people wander into and never get out.”
“Shut up, Deker!”
“But what if something got the girl when she came in here?”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” said a voice right behind Corvala. “Here she is.”