I continued to head down the right hand path of the tunnel further into the salt mines while marveling at how the magical illumination from whatever source continued to follow me. It was like they'd implanted one of those sets of sensor lights found in office buildings and good libraries not to mention the freezer aisles of upscale modern grocery stores that kept the lights on in front of me and a few paces behind me. There hadn't been any more roars from whatever currently inhabited the mine, but then I had yet to hear Riley, Gordon or Kirk coming into the tunnel. They were stuck on the other side of the enchanted door. At Riley's urging I'd gone into the tunnel first. Part of me wondered if Riley had gone first, would I be with the other two instead by myself now, and if he'd be stuck here without us.
I could actually hear Riley mentally cursing me, "Esmeralda? Emma, where are you? Where'd you go?"
I had no ties to him mentally ever before, so I couldn't answer easily. Even if I was able to, I figured it probably best I didn't try down here in the mines in case something else could hear me. But I did find it interesting that a werewolf had been able to project a thought to me. They'd been busy trying to push and read my mind ever since I'd met up with Gordon and Kirk. That said, never had Riley been able to think into my thoughts. But now I was by myself, in the massive salt mine beneath Detroit or maybe outside Detroit. The three werewolves I'd traveled with were stuck on the other side of a heavy door. I wondered if Uncle Harry's presence in my mind had kept Riley out of mine. Nothing I could check out right this minute so shrugging yet again, I kept walking deeper into the tunnels. The walls were composed of blasted out rock salt and here and there was the silvery glitter of the threads of protection they'd put in decades ago.
Every time I made a turn, I sprayed an arrow in the direction I went. If Riley, Gordon and Kirk ever broke the spell that hadn't let them join me and got inside the mines, they'd be able to see where I'd gone. That was if I stayed. I still wasn't sure I wasn't going to pop out to California. Part of the reason I didn't try to pop out was because I was here, and I figured I might as well experience what there was to experience. There was also the fear I'd be stuck in between the mines and the top of earth. I'd never journeyed so deep in my entire life and didn't have a clue how deep I could travel and safely return.
Walking, I kept waiting to see something other than more salt crystals glistening and the various flecks of silver along the walls of the tunnel. The corridors were well protected, which made me wonder how far out Star, the fey creature, had thrust us into the mines. We'd never specified a spot and she hadn't asked. Not having a clue, I kept following my gut instincts and spraying arrows along the way.
I'd yet to see a single chamber or doorway other than the various choices at the forks in the road. I'd been walking at least twenty minutes when I came to three forks in the road. Puzzled, I found my tummy wasn't pulling me in any specific direction. Without a pause, I picked the middle path and walked. The magical illumination still traveled with me, so I hoped that I'd picked the right path. The silver bits had started to diminish, but there was a pulse of something new pushing in my body. The mines definitely weren't normal. I knew this without being told.
In my research I'd found that the salt layer a thousand feet plus or minus a few feet was vast and stretched further than the state I was currently in -- I thought it was still Michigan, but I wasn't precisely sure where the portal had sucked us into. Researching various journals and newspaper articles in the past few months, I'd selected Michigan as the best pathway -- to find the cell where another possible traveler like me had existed; finding it possibly would unlock a key to my life and my past. Now that I was pretty much cut off from my werewolf buddies, not to mention my vampire, Uncle Harry, I was more than a bit anxious. I sure hoped Riley was able to communicate with him because the abrupt severing of our connection had to be causing trouble in the vampire's home over in California. I wondered if he was already on his way here, or if he'd begun traveling a night ago after he'd sent Riley to me without bothering to mention it. Uncle Harry tended to do what he wanted and rarely asked my opinion. It comforted me that he possibly was already on his way to me. Shaking my head at the rambling musings of my thoughts, instead I concentrated on keeping my eyes and ears open for any signs of activity.
A loud pain-filled howl filled the tunnel in which I was walking, and instinctively I fell to my knees and stuck my fingers in my ears like a five-year-old. This wasn't a werewolf howl or the roar that had greeted us when we'd all come through the portal that Star had ripped open for us. And it also wasn't the same cry that had greeted us when we all landed down in the chamber where the werewolves were currently stuck. It was something different. Toe-curling oddly different -- I wasn't surprised but somewhat curious. My ears hurt even with my fingers stuck child-like in my ears. I slowly pulled my fingers out. I didn't have a clue what I could to do to help the creature but I felt a need to try.
The aisle of the tunnel continued to magically light as I walked towards the new set of howls in the distance, but not quite as loudly as when they first assaulted my ears. That there were more than one set of howling beasts in the salt mines was probably a crappy thing, but I wasn't going to give it any energy. I mean why bother? It wasn't like I could do anything magical like Star or fang out like Uncle Harry much less flip to a furry side like the werewolves. My little talent was popping out of bad places to somewhere safe. Not that I was so sure I could do it down here but it was a good talent, mostly.
Hopefully I could still do it from one side of the room to the other. I was now noticing that were also what looked like various enchantments sketched into the tunnels at ankle level and slightly above my head. I wasn't very tall, so the etchings were probably at throat level for most humans. Still I tingled slightly more, the deeper I went into the tunnels. Less and less silver in the salt but still tons of salt and unrecognizable etchings.
I'd been walking at least a half hour by my calculations and hadn't heard a single call from any of the werewolves or anything from Uncle Harry. Riley had stopped trying to touch my thoughts, or I'd gone out of his range. I was on my own for the first time in what seemed like forever. I was less nervous than I thought I would be.
The howling had stopped and so had the tunnel. I had arrived at yet another fork in the road and felt a tug in my tummy to the right. I sprayed an arrow and added the words, "Howls in this direction." I figured at least I could give the werewolves warning in case I was gobbled up by whatever had been making the noise.
The illumination was softer, like a candle burning down. Taking a deep breath, I cautiously walked down the larger tunnel. For the past hundred or so yards, the tunnels had been gradually getting larger. I hadn't a clue what that meant but continued walking.
Suddenly there were two wooden doors on opposite sides of the tunnel, and the rest of the tunnel passage ahead of me had grown dim and nearly invisible. Not a sound came from either cell, but I knew unconsciously both were occupied by some manner of supernatural creature. I sucked in a bit of air and asked, "Either of you speak English?"
A muted roar from the cage on the right, and nothing from my immediate left.
"Not much help for me. Friends or foes? I need to know." I could see there were bolts on both doors allowing me to free either or both creatures' cages. Part of me wondered what the hell had fed them in the past. I certainly didn't want to be the first meal for starved creatures -- go figure.
A sigh and from the right cell, "We are both relatively harmless."
The voice was slightly above a whisper, and I chanced a glance at the small hole in the middle of the wooden door. The mesh that covered it sparkled, letting me know it was more than likely silver. I could see an eye shine, both flat and predatory. I didn't know what manner of creature was behind the door, but somehow I knew it was locked behind that door for a damn good reason.
I turned to the left side and took a risk going closer to the small portal. The eyes that met mine were wide and not in the least scary. Instead they were sad. Very sad -- like a country western song about the dog getting run over by your pickup truck driven by your soon-to-be ex. I didn't hesitate but pulled the bar back and opened the door.
What came out was withered and almost invisible. The creature nodded and said, "I owe you. My name is Parrot. Call me if you are in trouble once you escape this hell." I felt a flutter of care and then the creature disappeared, leaving me with a feeling of abandonment and relief. It was like I'd righted a wrong for the universe. In my heart, I knew it was a sincere offer, and I mentally pegged it as something to explore once I did escape the mines.
I continued walking and the creature I hadn't released began to swear and curse promising vengeance once freed. I turned back, and using my spray can wrote above the cell, "Do NOT free this creature. Dangerous and psychotic." I took a second more to spray out the skull and cross bones related to poisons and death. Not that I thought any of the werewolves would free anything, but I wasn't going to take any chances.
I continued down the pathway feeling like I'd finally made a difference. If I didn't survive, at least I had helped something go in the right direction. Hope lifted my steps and I kept on down the path that had brightened. It dawned on me then that the mines had in a small way become -- dare I say it -- enlightened about the guests stuffed inside the walls. I'd passed some test, I figured.
Another set of three choices, but this time I headed to the left for some reason. There wasn't any roar or sound coming from any of the tunnels, but the pathway brightened and I continued. I calculated that I'd been down here now at least a full hour, and could only continue another thirty minutes if I hoped to go back and escape through Star's portal. The backpack on my shoulders weighed heavily, reminding me I'd been expending lots of energy. I took a minute to suck down some water with an energy bar. I wasn't willing to risk death because I hadn't bothered to take care of myself.
Uncle Harry and Riley both weren't in my mind so I continued to walk, marveling at how the mine felt cozy. I knew from my research it wasn't tropical-warm, but after being in a blizzard for the past few days the mid-sixties to possible fifties didn't feel cold at all.