Just like she scaled the stone pillar, the Navigatrix climbed the cliff surprisingly quickly, pulling herself up hand over hand, feet braced on the wall of ruined bricks. The Captain switched between watching her progress and eyeing the growing glow, which was spreading like ink.
The noise the Navigatrix had mentioned was now audible to the Captain as well, a strange, musical, rolling soundscape, vibrating up through the water. It was clear she could hear it too, most of the way up the wall – she turned and stared into the dark before finally reaching the lip.
“I’m going to set up the other rope!” The gravel rattled down to the water as she climbed to her feet in the tunnel. “Be ready to go!”
The Captain was staring into the glow now, and only managed a grunt in reply. It wasn’t moving like ink, it was moving like conscious tendrils.
The colour of it hurt her eyes; it felt like the colour you saw behind your eyelids after a bright flash. And it was reaching up to the surface of the water, wrapping around the stone pillars and testing the far wall and it was sinister how clearly it was searching for something.
And worst, it was getting closer.
No answer. The Captain watched as the roiling, curving, glowing feelers swept systematically closer and closer to the raft. The center of the flowering glow was moving as well, as if slowly walking along the lake floor.
And then the flare in the Captain’s hand started to sputter. “Nav…!”
And mercifully from up in the tunnel; “Almost ready, Captain!”
A brief moment of relief, and then the flare flashed and went dark.
The darkness made the glow feel even stranger; the line between water and air felt invisible, and the Captain was surprised when her hand broke the surface of the water as she leaned over the raft to stare down.
Was there.. a person? At the center of the glow?
The Captain leaned further over the edge of the raft without thinking, desperate to see what this strange thing was, and shocked herself with a wave of water. And just as she felt her eyes start to drift back to the approaching tendrils, the Navigatrix yelled “Heads up!” – and the rattle of falling gravel announced the rope, lowering quickly down from the tunnel with a lamp attached.
The Captain hauled herself up on her good knee, grabbing it as soon as she could reach it, and hooking her harness into the hardware.
She felt herself hauled up out of the raft with surprising force, and spun to brace herself with her good leg and arms against the wall as the Navigatrix hauled her up.
Below, the swinging lantern light made the glow seem even more malicious, rippling the water with shadows.
It found the raft, drifting away from the wall, and the Captain watched in fascinated horror as it seemed to wrap around it from underneath and pull it down into the water. There was a loud pop as the seal on the raft broke, and the splash from the explosion shot up the wall.
The Captain could see light coming from the tunnel now, nice mundane light, and as the incline became less vertical, she started pulling with her hands and her good foot, pushing herself up inches more between hauls, laser focused on getting out of this cursed cave.
Until finally, sweet daylight – sweet lurid green sunset daylight, and a fresh breeze, and she was pushing herself backwards out onto the sandy slope, and the Navigatrix collapsed beside her, both of them breathing hard and dizzy from effort.
“Fuck,” said the Captain. “I coulda died.”
The Navigatrix half-smiled as she huffed out, “but you didn’t!”