The tunnel was long and so gently curved that it took Hannah several minutes of running to realise they were travelling in a spiral. It was leading to a central chamber; a chamber which seemed to be surrounded by some very strange wards.
“Yes, that’s why Marian can’t enclose it in her wards. Those eat them,” Tara said when she commented. “We’re nearly there. I need to arm the traps.”
“Traps?” Hannah said. “You mean like Tomb Raider-type traps?”
“Something like that,” she said. “They’re an ancient psychic technology. We’ve lost the ability to make it and they’re slowly degrading because we’ve forgotten how to maintain them. Marian knows where they are, so she’ll be able to disarm them. But they’re shielded. She’ll have to unpick them one at a time.” She handed Martin to Collette, then stood with her arms spread and her hands pointing outwards. Her calm, white aura ignited and ghostly lights shot from her hands into two grooves in the wall. The tunnel responded, the walls momentarily flashing a blinding white and then subsiding. “Okay, that’s done. Come on! We’re nearly at the centre.”
“What’s there?” Hannah asked. “It must be dangerous to have all these defences.”
“Actually, I honestly don’t know,” she replied. “Dad told me about this place and how to get in, but generally no one comes down here. I think Dad was the last one.”
“Wonderful!” Hannah said sarcastically.
“No, it’s not dangerous like that. From what dad told me it’s safe enough to go in there. I think it’s something they didn’t want anyone seeing.” She stopped in front of a heavy wooden door with no obvious handle or lock. “Here we go!” Her aura ignited again and the door swung open. “Inside!” She ushered them through then slammed it shut. “I’ll seal it. That will slow Marian down.”
“Right, I’ll need to-” Hannah broke off as she turned away from the door. “Oh my!” She stared at the history stones sitting in niches along the wall. They looked ancient and were covered in a layer of dust, which suggested they hadn’t been touched in decades.
“What is it?” Tara asked, then turned herself. “What the hell?”
“It’s a library,” Collette said in a tone of wonder. “A pre-writing library. Why would we be hiding a library?”
“Presumably because we didn’t want people to know what was in it,” Simon said. “Which means they might be relevant, but we don’t have time to scan them now.” He pulled off his shirt and began to form a makeshift bag from it. “Hannah, get to opening this gate or whatever. We’ll gather as many of these as we can fit in here. There aren’t that many, so we should be able to get most of them.” He looked over at Tara as he began grabbing the stones and placing them in the bag. “Can you sense how close they are?”
“To a degree,” she replied. “Closer than I’d like. Marian is disarming the traps more quickly than I expected. Get the gate open!”
“I’m working on it!” Hannah closed her eyes and felt for the barrier between worlds. As she’d expected, it was softer if she reached straight across instead of trying to open a gate to where Ema was. The Core’s influence waned in the outlands. She took a breath and began to work on opening the gate.
“Do you have your bracelet?” Tara asked. “Because you’ll struggle without, it won’t you?”
Hannah nodded tersely and dropped the illusion she’d been using to mask its presence on her wrist without removing her attention from the crack opening in front of her. “I fetched it before we left home. I had a bad feeling I’d need it.”
“Good-” Tara broke off as there was a loud bang against the door. “Can you go any faster?”
Hannah jumped at the bang and shook her head. “I’m going as fast as I can.” She opened her eyes and threw everything she had into the crack before her. It widened a little more, but still not large enough for a person to get through. She could have gone into her resonant form and passed through it, but she couldn’t leave the others behind when they were risking their necks for her.
She jumped again as there was another crash against the door and it cracked inwards slightly. Clara leapt forward and braced it. “Get closer to Hannah, Tara,” she said as she tensed against it. “I’ll hold the door as long as I can.”
“Clara-” Tara began.
“They’ll be through the door before she finishes opening the gate if someone doesn’t hold it,” she said.
“Just do it. Collette and Martin need you. There’s no one for me now.”
“But-” Tara said in an anguished tone even as she did as the girl said and backed towards Hannah. She swallowed visibly and didn’t take her eyes off Clara. “How long?”
“I’m almost there,” Hannah said.
“Goo-” She broke off as door explode inwards. Clara flew across the cave and slammed into the opposite wall. She landed in a crumpled heap, her neck at a most unnatural angle and her dead eyes wide. Hannah gasped but didn’t even have time to move before Marian Laverne surged into the cave. Simon grabbed Hannah and pushed the knot that was serving as a handle on the makeshift bag into her right hand. “Look after Tara and her kids.” He charged past her to block Marian’s path. Hannah gasped and desperate tore at opening gate.
Someone help me, please! She threw the desperate thought through the crack, not expecting an answer.
She got one anyway. Something reached into her gate from the other side and tore it open. She pushed Tara and Collette through in front of her then stumbled through herself. Just before she made it through, fragments of bone and blood showered over her as Marian used her life-weaving to explode Simon’s ribcage.