Even though most the caverns were illuminated pale green and blue by flashing insects that ate away at the back obsidian, the paths carved to them were dark and empty aside from the chain link tracked into the walls by thick rusted hooks and the railroad that dug into the fertile dirt. Even though the thick orange gloves on my hands I could feel the cold bite through.
The light on my helmet flickered again. I juggled with the pick and the hammer until I had one hand free long enough to fiddle with the wires that sprung up like old TV antenna.
"I'm tired." It wasn't the first time I said it. We were climbing up hill and the rise just steepened more and more with every step.
"Almost there." said the wooly mammoth with enough rope around his shoulders to hang a giant and a thick enough beard to catch flies in.
"No we're almost half way there. Let's just take a break, my toes are cramping and I think there's a rock in one of my boots." I said.
His boots were better than mine. The rubber soles had glued razors jutting from the heels and toes. I'd seen him walk up sheer cliffs with just those and a pair of oversized fish hooks. When he stopped he hefted the backpack higher on his shoulders. The lantern rattled as well as a few dozen pots and pans.
"All right, Blue falls cavern is right ahead. We'll stop there." He nodded his head, but I could only see the vague outline of it. "But you ought to stop complaining so much." A few stones tumbled down the rocks towards me. My double braid whipped against my back when I tripped over it.
"You live in Derego now and there's no going back from that."
"I know." My stockings were ripped. They used to be purple with silver and gold stars sprinkled in glitter. But the glitter had long since worn off and the rest were ripped and muddy like the combat boots laced tight on my feet. I plucked another string loose and said, "My older brother had a way of putting it. He said life is a long path in the dark. When you look over your shoulder you can see your footsteps glowing in the dirt, far back as you remember journeying, and where. But if you try to go back, the ground will crumble like coal under your feet and you'll fall into the abyss. So you just look, and remember, and keep moving forward."
"A wise young man. Watch your step here, ground's unstable." He held out his hand, but I pawed it aside and stepped around the slate that wobbled when I stepped on it. We'd left the tracks far behind us.
"Ya, just not wise enough. You see he came to a place where the path split into many and he couldn't see the end of them so, out of fear of choosing the wrong one he built a fire on the road. You see mom always said when you need answers, the stars have a way of making the earth tell you. My brother sat right down and waited for those signs to point him down the right path. But the longer he waited, the dimmer the fire got. Darker, and darker, until it finally went out and he couldn't see a thing even if there was a sign to see."
Ahead I could hear the falls. The path stopped rising so steeply and cold water that glowed faint blue trickled down the rocks. My boots squeaked with each step. We could smell dew and mist in the air.
"Reminds me of where I found you." said the man. I could almost see his shoulders rumble when he laughed. My bangs swept into my face when I shook my head.
"Nope. I keep a candle with me, always lit, and when the fire goes out I hold it close. With that light, I can see only one path and so that's the path I take."
We stepped out onto a ledge, into a cavern that rumbled with the white noise of plummeting falls that glowed blue with the algae that grew like moss on the rocks. Way down below, a little ways from the white mist that billowed from the spring where every rock shimmered, was a small pitch of tents and fire pits. There were a few people around a blaze, and they waved up at us.
"We rest here." said the man. He hefted the pack again and headed for the rope bridge across the cavern to where stairs were carved into the rock. "Then we continue up, the Spinders won't chase you that far."
I looked back the way we came. On the ground, though it may not have been in gold, my footsteps glowed on the path, the same blue green as the rocks in the falls.