It took them what felt like forever, but they had finally reached the first miner's outpost. This was the last point of safety within the mines from what Ryun's father told him. After that, most definitely no children were allowed within the mines. As Ryun set down his lantern, Railyn popped up next to him.
"Whatcha looking for?"
"I'm... not sure." Ryun said truthfully. He scanned the leather map sprawled out on the table. It was a rough drawing of the caves and tunnels they had just gone through. There was a circle surrounding what was probably the entrance. If there was no other option, Ryun had a fairly good memory and could retrace their steps leading back to the entrance. That would defeat the reason he wanted them to go into the mines in the first place. He traced a finger from the entrance to where they were on the map. A square. That was most likely the outpost they were at. There were scribbles next to it, but Ryun had not learned how to read yet; it was not on the top of his learning to-do list. He'd much rather learn how to spar with a sword with his father than sit with Elder Graykon and scribble the same boring letters for hours on end. The last time he did that, he didn't know who fell asleep first, him or the elder. He didn't need to learn words to understand his role in the town and the world around him.
Well, learning words would help on this map. Oh well.
"Looking for hiding spots. That's cheating." Railyn piped up.
Ryun couldn't help but hide a small smile when he glared at him. "I am looking for a place to hide from your face."
"That's cheating and rude!" Railyn complained as he went over to another table and inspected the variety of tools that were laid on there. Ryun didn't have to be Railyn's best friend to know that he was itching to start playing hide and seek, but he was trying his very best to be patient and let Ryun do what he needed to do. While Ryun's heart wasn't in the game as much as Railyn's, he would try his best to oblige the younger boy. So, he put his attention back on the map.
Past the square that was most likely where they were at the moment were several smaller, squiggly tunnels that led to nowhere. While those would be good hiding spots, they were not exits. There were two squiggly lines, larger than the others, that looked like some kind of corridor or path that led to another square. The map, unfortunately, ended there. If Ryun wanted to find another exit, he would have to go further into the mines. While, yes, it was his idea to go into the mines in the first place, his mind was not exactly happy with the prospect of going even deeper into the mines for the hope of another exit. The incident that happened last year was still fresh on the back of his mind.
He sighed and grabbed the small pins on each corner of the map and tugged them out of the wood. Rolling up the thin leather, he stowed the map within his belt.
"Hey, Ryun." Railyn said.
"Look, a better knife. This one might actually cut something." Ryun stared at Railyn, waiting for the joke he most definitely had not heard a thousand times before, but Railyn didn't say it. He did, instead, smile knowingly, which made Ryun roll his eyes as he snatched the knife from Railyn. "You're welcome." Railyn said teasingly.
"Uh huh." Ryun said, replacing the better knife in his small holster. He picked up his lantern, and twisted the knob at the top which trickled a bit more whale oil onto the flame, flaring it to higher life once more. He glanced to the larger hole in the wall. Ryun looked back to Railyn, then led the way deeper into the mines. The walls were slick and wet, and the available space to walk on was beginning to be smaller and smaller. Ryun slipped first, his sandal failing to get a good foothold. Railyn grabbed his shoulder and braced him so he didn't fall. Ryun looked back at him to thank him, but his mind immediately emptied when he saw Railyn's eyes were filled with fear for the first time. Ryun patted him on his back, trying to give him a reassuring smile. He slowed his pace after that, paying more attention to where to place his feet.
The tunnel curved to the right and widened out right after. Ryun's pace quickened and not long after they reached what seemed to be another outpost. Ryun let out a sigh of relief and the knots on the back of his neck lessened as he was able to relax just slightly. He immediately walked up to the largest of the tables in the room, setting his lantern on a corner of the table closest to him while Railyn meandered around to the side, looking around at all the equipment. Ryun kept a watch on Railyn through the corner of his eye while he examined the new map. This outpost was certainly larger than the last outpost, and glancing at the markings on the map, it seemed like this was the latest outpost before the mining was stopped.
"Whoa, Ryun, look at this." Railyn said.
Ryun raised a brow as he glanced up. Railyn heaved up a large metal object, and the sound of chains clanked on the rocky ground. It looked like a large metal web, and there was still quite a bit more on the table that Railyn took it from. "Spiky." Railyn observed.
Ryun nodded. Part of him wanted to make a joke, but a larger part was far too focused on finding a better way out for them. He focused his attention back on the map. Judging where they were, there seemed to be a few large tunnels. One looked like a dead end. Two others had different shapes at the end of them.
Railyn sighed and dropped the metal thing back on the table. Finally, he glared at Ryun. "Can we play hide and seek now?"
Ryun was far too absorbed in trying to figure out what the map was telling him to fully understand what Railyn had said, so he just nodded absentmindedly. Railyn grinned from ear to ear. "Okay, you're hiding first then!" He raced to a corner of the room and started counting to himself.
Ryun, meanwhile, was completely and utterly absorbed in the map, tracing the writing underneath the symbols on the map. One symbol, at the end of a smaller tunnel on the right-side of the map, was in a dark red and had a lot of writing underneath it. Ryun tried understanding anything it was saying, but with no success.
"Ryun." Railyn groaned as he walked up to him.
Ryun didn't acknowledge him.
"Ryun!" Railyn shouted, his annoyed voice reverberating around the cavern. Ryun finally glanced up, confused. Railyn answered that confusion with crossing his arms. "You were supposed to hide!"
"Oh. Well, uh, you found me." Ryun mumbled.
"It's not fun if you don't try." Railyn muttered. Ryun didn't have to pay complete attention to tell he was hurt.
"Sorry, Railyn, I was just looking at this map." Ryun placed the first map on the table, replacing it with the new map in his belt. "Tell you what, you go hide now. Don't venture too far into the cave tunnels, okay? Keep your light with you."
"You'll find me right away with my light, though!"
"And you'll get lost if you don't have it." Ryun shooed him, and Railyn grumbled but skipped away with some fashion of excitement still within him.
Ryun counted down from ten. Nine.
He had to choose which way to go down.
He had to make sure they got out of there safely.
He didn't know what to do after that. What if his parents weren't safe?
What if he was making it up? What if he was just seeing things? They would get in so much trouble for being in the mines.
Either way, he would have to get them out of there.
Ryun grabbed hold of his lantern and started down one of the tunnels, not knowing what he would find down there.
AN: Thank you for reading this chapter part! This part, and the part before, were more of transition pieces as I brainstormed where I wanted this prologue to go, but expect more action coming soon! I will also warn you that the story is 18+! Right now, there is no content warning but there will be in the future.
Also, as a bit of a retcon (this will be important for future parts and will be edited at a later date to actually be in the story) Ryun will see torches in 0.2 which will prompt them running to the mines.