Chapter 92:

Chapter 92 - Fumbling in the Dark


Roulette stooped low, checking the furrowed ground for signs of a scuffle. There were none, of course. If Copperlock was smart, he’d have knocked her friends unconscious before dragging them away. The lack of hard-edged ridges in the dirt told her he’d probably dismissed the weights as well–a sensible move, considering he’d have had to lug an extra hundred pounds along on his way to wherever the hell he’d taken them otherwise.

She rose up from her haunches and slapped the dirt from her hands, turning her attention to the little alcove he’d retreated into. It looked to go far deeper than she’d originally thought, and ran right on down into a veil of darkness she had no means to penetrate.

The girl sighed in frustration. Going in after him would be a fool’s errand, but what choice did she have? If she didn’t, she’d risk losing the trail. And besides, she was being watched here in the canyon; whoever had rolled that boulder down from the mesa’s crown was still around, and would likely move to flank her if she tried to stroll on out.

There was nothing else for it. She’d have to try her luck.

“Damn it, Morgan,” she huffed under her breath. “Why didn’t you listen to me?” Staying strong for her friends was simplicity itself, but coping alone was another matter. Roulette could feel an unwelcome ache building at the back of her throat–the prelude to a river of tears she was determined to dam. She could do this. She’d gotten by on her own before, and she could do it again.

…All she had to do was take that first, terrifying step into the darkness.

Without further second-guessing, she proceeded, feeling along the cave walls as she went. The meager scraps of daylight she’d enjoyed in the canyon gave way to total, all-encompassing blackness, forcing her to rely on her other senses for guidance. Blind or not, she was sure of one thing: this was no simple alcove. It was a full-blown cave, and she had no way of knowing just how far it would take her from the sun-drenched safety of the surface.

Suddenly, her hand brushed against something novel. She felt along its length and identified it as a sturdy wooden beam. The reassuring firmness of it lifted her spirits right away; after all, where there was one beam, there would probably be more. She came across another one in short order, just a few feet beyond, and then another! That could only mean one thing:

She wasn’t in a natural cave, but a mine shaft. The walls and ceiling were properly braced, and the ground beneath her feet was mercifully even. Navigating a man-made tunnel, even in total darkness, would be preferable to just about anything else. At least she could count on some semblance of order and safe footing and–if she was very lucky–a useful tool or two to make the going easier.

No sooner had that thought crossed her mind than she glimpsed an aura of flickering orange light up ahead. A lantern! She hurried along toward it as quickly as she dared, mindful of the possibility that there might still be unseen rocks or vertical shafts in her path. Thankfully, she was able to reach the vicinity of the lantern without incident, and was pleased to find that it had been designed to be detached from its mount if need be.

Relieved, she took it up and bathed the surrounding area in light. She could see the glint of other lanterns hanging in the tunnel behind her, but their wicks had been snuffed. Maybe it was a coincidence, but her intuition told her that Copperlock himself had done it to dissuade her from following him. After all, this one was still lit, and she could see why: the beginnings of a rail system stood a few feet away, and the grooves in the ground she’d been following led right up to the rails.

“Must’ve needed the light to load them into a minecart,” she muttered, waving her lantern about the area in search of additional clues. She found none, but what she did find was an overturned minecart that had fallen into disrepair. It lay a few feet away from the tracks, abandoned by the miners who’d once frequented them. The cart looked rusty and appeared to be missing a wheel… But it was something, and it would beat exploring the shaft on foot.

Before she could so much as get a hand on the thing, a series of concerning noises began to issue from the narrow passage behind her: coughing, chattering, and the thumping of boots.

Her would-be killers were coming to finish the job.

Roulette flew into action. She ran for the cart and threw her weight against one side, using every bit of her bodily strength to try and right it. Only when she wedged her fingers under the rim, however, did she begin to see results; the toppled minecart peeled away from the hard stone floor little by little, filling the passage with the scrape of metal on rock as it came to teeter on its end. But it was the tremendous slam of its wheels meeting the ground that really made a racket.

The hunting party reacted accordingly. She could hear them shouting and picking up the pace–it wouldn’t be long before they were right on top of her. The girl’s heart hammered in her chest as she rolled the busted cart out onto the rails, careful to keep the wheel-less axle to the rear. If she kept to the front of the cart and leaned forward hard enough, she reasoned, she might be able to maintain enough momentum to keep the absence of a fourth wheel from being a problem… Assuming the path ahead wasn’t riddled with too many twists and turns.

She didn’t like her chances, but it was time to move. Roulette lowered the lantern into the back of the cart and gave the wobbling vessel an almighty push. From what she could see, the rails descended into a steep drop-off some distance ahead–if she could just get herself there, then maybe…


She was out of time. That shout from behind was soon accompanied by more, and quickly followed by a series of gunshots. They pelted the back of the cart with startling regularity, spooking her into a state of single-minded desperation. She ran the cart forward for all she was worth, knowing that a stray bullet might cut her efforts short at any time. There was no room for strategy or innovation here.

There was only her, the cart, and the terrifying sensation of death looming over her.

Finally, just as she was leaping in to assume her place at the front of the cart, one of the shooters’ bullets found its mark. It punched through the flesh of her thigh in an instant, dappling her legs with a spray of hot blood. Roulette collapsed into the minecart in shock, bracing herself instinctively against its rusty borders as it rattled off down the slope. Its harsh, jerking movements only served to intensify her fear–she cried out in pain and confusion as it jolted her injured body this way and that, throwing her up against each wall in turn.

She could feel her clothes becoming sodden with her own vital fluids as the minecart sped along. It barely stuck to the rails at times–she found herself gripping the rim in anticipation of a crash more than once. In that rickety metal vessel, time didn’t exist. Screaming, bleeding, and the random tensing of muscles became her entire reality. At a certain point, the lantern shattered against the side of the cart and pelted her with broken glass, depriving the girl of her last remaining comfort:


Eventually, after what felt like hours of white-knuckle rail-riding, the minecart’s structural deficiencies caught up with it. A sharp turn put it off balance, and the struggling cart took a sudden and inevitable tumble, emptying its lone occupant out onto the ground like yesterday’s trash. The girl shrieked in surprise and threw up her arms, trying to mitigate the worst effects of the spill, but it was no use; she hit the ground hard and rolled to a stop, picking up a bevy of bruises and scrapes along the way.

Afterwards, Roulette lay still for a time. She panted and groaned, allowing the tears to flow freely now. What else could she do? She’d botched her big escape, and with injuries like hers it’d be a wonder if she could make her way out of the shaft, much less rescue her lost friends.

For the first time in a long time, she felt the sting of true hopelessness. She could almost hear Gunn mocking her: This is why little girls shouldn’t play with guns.

Your daddy should’ve taught you better.

Her hands clenched into fists. No way in hell was she giving up now. Roulette crawled to the nearest wall and dragged herself to her feet, staring staunchly ahead into the darkness. No matter what obstacles lay ahead of her, she would keep moving forward.

…And move forward she did, step after hobbling step, until she caught a glimpse of natural light in the distance.

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