Lem closed the door to his hut as if he were going to bed, but instead, he began his preparations to leave. He changed into the clothes he had been wearing when he found the underground village and folded up the extra shirt and pants that Running Wolf had given him. Taking two cords that he had saved for this purpose, Lem tied the shirt and pants to his knees as improvised kneepads. He clipped his small flashlight to his belt, slung his pouch with some dried food it in around his neck and tied his shoelaces together draping his shoes around his pack. Standing up, he took a deep breath. He was ready.
Lem walked to the door of his hut and cracked it open just wide enough to peer out into the darkness. He couldn’t see them, but he knew they were there. Even at night the warriors stood guard blocking each exit. It would be tricky getting past one of them, but first, he had to make it across the wide cavern without causing any sound or attracting any notice.
Concentrating on each step, Lem inched his way along the path that he knew well from weeks of study. He had never moved so slowly in his life, so painfully slowly. His muscles ached under the strain, but he didn’t dare go any faster. With each step, he felt out the ground in front of him before he placed his foot. Then he lowered his toes first and gently his heel followed. He had tried just walking on his tip toes to start with, but after almost losing his balance a few times, he changed his tactics.
Inch by inch, Lem made his way to the other side of the village. Once he reached the archway and the huge boulders that covered the floor underneath, he sank to his knees and crawled over them one by one, feeling his way carefully. It was in anticipation of this that he had made his kneepads, and they served him well.
The journey which would normally only take a few minutes, felt hours long. Only when his outstretched hands finally hit the rock of the cave wall near where he had entered all those days ago did he allow himself to take a moment to rest, but even then, he hardly dared to move. Up above his head somewhere on the ledge by the tunnel entrance stood a guard.
This would be so much easier, he thought contemplating his next move, if I could just somehow climb up the side of the rock. Hmm, some animals can do that, can’t they? I wonder if those skills could be transferred to humans. Probably not. After all, humans don’t have the sticky hands and feet that some animals do. Lem let his mind wonder over the possibilities. But, what if there were some way to imitate that characteristic in people? Wow, the possibilities could be endless. Hmm. A soft noise brought his distracted mind back to task. That’s a thought for another time, He told himself. Right now, I’ve got to focus.
Bending down ever so slowly, Lem picked up a handful of dirt and small stones. Gripping it tightly, he began inching his way around the cavern wall to the steps that led up to the ledge. Breathing as quietly as he could and taking one cautious step at a time, he slowly made his way to the top counting the steps as he went. Once he reached the ledge, he knew that only a few feet away stood the guard. He froze. He hadn’t heard a sound, but he got the feeling that the warrior knew someone was there. It might just be his overactive imagination, but he couldn’t take the chance. He would wait a moment before moving again.
There he stood in the pitch darkness only inches away from being caught. The sound of his breathing seemed to pound in his ears, so he opened his mouth hoping that would help. The air seemed to crackle with tension. Lem thought he heard the whisper of light cloth moving and instantly started to panic. The guard only had to reach out his hand, and he would feel him. He had to do something. Not moving his feet, Lem slowly and quietly bent his knees to squat closer to the ground. He waited a few seconds and then carefully bracing one hand on the ground, while not letting go of the dirt and rocks he had picked up earlier, he picked up his leg with the other hand, so he could more easily and more quietly move, and in this way, he shuffled over to the opposite side of the ledge, his leg muscles screaming under the strain. He was glad for the darkness at this point. He could only imagine how ridiculous he looked. He felt like a frog. Hmm, some frogs could stick to the sides of walls, couldn’t they? Focus, focus. He told himself roughly.
Once he felt the edge of the rock platform, he froze again and listened and waited. After what seemed like an eternity, his nerves couldn’t take any more. The adrenaline rushed through his veins, and he began to fear that his breathing was getting louder. He had to make his move. He took the dirt and small stones and measured out the distance in his mind. He would have to throw them, so they would land at the bottom of the steps. If the guard had detected his presence, that distance might be believable. He would also have to throw them low, so they wouldn’t make much noise when they landed. Anything loud would be too obvious, but the warrior might believe a soft sound was someone trying to sneak by. Concentrating on the direction and distance, Lem threw. It was perfect. The small stones, muffled by the soft dirt, made only the lightest clatter, but it was enough. Lem felt more than heard the guard leave his post.
He didn’t waste any time. As quietly as he had been moving but with a new sense of urgency, Lem made his way down the tunnel. Fortunately, he remembered this passage well. It ran pretty smoothly and straight. With his hand feeling the wall as he went, he was able to move a little more quickly. However, in his newfound haste, he forgot to be cautious. When he came to the end of the passage where it opened up into the small room, Lem squeezed through the tiny opening and immediately hit his head on a low-hanging jagged edge.
Momentarily stunned by the pain, he sucked in his breath and reached up to feel the quickly forming bump. His hand felt something wet and sticky, and he knew he was bleeding. When a wave of dizziness hit him, he sat down on the rough ground to catch his breath. Feeling his head again, he tried to determine the extent of his injury. The last thing he needed to do was leave a blood trail. He untied the spare pants he had been using as a knee pad and wound them around his throbbing head.
Rising to his feet slowly and shakily, he continued his journey, but this time, he held his hands out in front of him in addition to feeling along the ground with his feet. Eventually, the ceiling of the tunnel began to get lower, and he had to scoot along on his elbows. Daring a little light, he pulled out his flashlight, and covered the end with one of his pants legs that hung down by his face. The dimmed light was barely enough for him to see immediately in front of himself, but it still helped. Just when his battered and bruised body felt like it couldn’t take any more, he saw the moonlight streaming in at the end of the tunnel and knew he was almost out.
Crawling through the small opening, Lem wiggled out into the soft glow of light in the forest and sank to his knees in relief. He was out! He had made it!
Suddenly, his joy was interrupted by a low snarl from his right. Looking over, Lem’s blood froze. There glaring at him hostilely, stood five dragons. With teeth bared, they began to circle around him.