The landscape gave way after another hour to soft hills, and they quickly flattened out again and a forest began to grow up around Isabella. She paused briefly on the hills to check the other side, but there was still just an empty darkness with a chill draught. She listened for a while, just in case, but there were no screams or sighs. There was white noise on the edge of hearing that might have been water running in the distance, but even if was water it didn’t help her. It did remind her that she was hungry and thirsty though, but she preferred not to eat in the TeddyBear world. The food didn’t seem quite right somehow.
When the trees were making it hard to know which direction she was moving in she opened the ways between the worlds again and looked, and was slightly surprised to find that there was a washed-out grey light through the portal, and that the ground was about a foot lower than where she was at the moment. The floor looked like it was the rocky stone of Leszátor’s Cave, and there was a sharp, clean smell to the air like the way the air smelled after rain. She made her mind up quickly, and stepped through.
As the portal closed behind her she looked around. The cave was small and nearly spherical, like a bubble in the rock. She thought for a moment that she was going to have to reopen the portal and go back, but then she spotted a tall shadow that proved to be a passageway leading out and she relaxed again. She might still have to go back to the TeddyBear world if she couldn’t find her way through these caves, but she was in familiar territory here without having to worry about the Teddy Bears. She’d been caving for twelve years now, and was certain she could handle herself.
The corridor out of the cave was narrow and shrank down until the ceiling was only just above her head. She slowed her pace to make sure that she didn’t suddenly run into a jutting piece of stone on the ceiling and knock herself out. She kept her left hand trailing against the wall, to check for any side passages that she might not see, and she never put her weight on her front foot until she was sure that there was floor beneath it. It made for slow progress overall, but it was safe progess, and alone underground that mattered more than anything.
“…wa–… eaten!” Fragments of a conversation caught her ears, and she probed around in the semi-darkness, trying to work out where it was coming from. After a bit of standing still and listening to triangulate the sound, she found a narrow rock chimney, about the width of her arm, that fell down through the floor. The speakers seemed to be in a cave below her.
“…care. You were told to bring her here.” This voice was feminine but harsh, and slightly growly as though its owner smoked heavily.
“What bit of being eaten didn’t you get?” This voice was familiar though, that was David Brackendell. She was sure that she’d never forget his whingeing tone, though she knew she’d like to.
“Was she threatening to eat you?”
“I’m sure she would have done if she’d thought of it! She threatened me with spiders, and I hate spiders.”
“I’d threaten you with spiders myself if it meant you would do your job. Why were you found rolling around in the mine? You were almost run over.”
“Your driver must have seen me! He made no effort to get out of the way!”
“The mine machines are automated and do not have drivers. You are an idiot. I do not understand why we are expected to work with you.”
“Because I can get you Isabella Bonfontaine!”
“Which you have failed to do.”
There was a retort, which Isabella assumed was gunshot. It echoed around the cave she was in, dazing her slightly. When it finally stopped, her ears were ringing and she couldn’t hear anything from the chimney anymore. She sat down on the rock floor and massaged her ears carefully. It did nothing for the ringing, but it made her feel better to be trying. So David had been trying to deliver her like a package and had managed to screw that up as well. She thought he was a complete waste of space, but shooting him seemed unnecessary. And now she knew that there probably wasn’t anything of interest down here for her, and that her life was in danger if she stayed. It seemed like there was only one prudent course of action.