I turned the corner but the priestess wasn’t there. I could hear her voice still, growing alternately louder and softer with each passing moment. But the path ahead was straight and narrow, cramped and cold. There was nowhere the priestess could have gone, nowhere that would account for the impossible acoustics I found myself listening to. And there was certainly nowhere she could have been that would explain how close her voice seemed to be as I heard her whisper, “Onward, ‘scientist,’ onward.”
I looked around. The priestess was not there. The path behind me seemed impossibly dark (not that it had ever made sense from where it would have been lit.) I turned back and went the only way I could.
The walls changed. The marks of masonry became more crude, more deliberate. The delicate arabesques that had been so prominent the beginning of the tunnel gave way to careless chisel marks, deep gouges and knicks. I put my hand on the wall, felt the scars and grooves with my fingers, and although it seemed impossible, I could have sworn that was a quality of warmth and wetness to the stone, as if I were touching the side of some living thing.
Or perhaps the gullet of some great and terrible monster.
The voice called. I answered. I was dimly aware that even as I heard the voice’s words so clearly, as if they had been spoken inside my own head, I could still just make out the priestess’s murmuring. It was mostly indistinguishable, but a few phrases leaped out to me. “The seventh wisdom,” she said. “…the rendering of the veil… the eighteenth wisdom… the three-lobed burning eye… the hundred and first wisdom…” But she grew no closer nor no farther, and the hallways stretched on eternally.
Until suddenly they didn’t. I came at last to an intersection, a simple T with a path to my left and a path to my right. The walls along those paths had changed once more, had become impossibly smooth and circular, ten feet or more in diameter. They were winding. I imagined them in my mind, and I saw them serpentine.
These tunnels, at least, were natural. I knew that something had dug them, something titanic. Something that does not walk, that has never walked, and never will.
“Onward. Downward. Hurry, scientist. Faster.”
“But I don’t know which way to go,” I whispered softly. “I don’t know which is the right path.”
To my left, the walls pulsed, expanding and contracting like a beating heart.