As Haruka tiptoed further into the tunnel, tiny bones crunched underfoot. The sound made her smile, there was something oddly satisfying about it, but she tried not to let it distract her from her goal. She still had a way to go yet.
She was already shivering, not because of the cold, but because she was excited and nervous.
This place, like no other, made her feel at home. Like a home, she knew it well. She knew when to stoop as the ceiling closed in and she recognised the dank smell that told her when to feel for the crack in the wall to slip through. She also knew not to wear a belt, not after the first time when it had gotten her stuck for about an hour. And like a home, she knew when something was amiss. From all around, the rhythmic dripping, as rapid as her heartbeat, could not soothe her unease as she traced her fingers around another bend in the rock. There were grazes along the tunnel wall; it had been damaged. Others had been here.
She could smell them and taste their sweat in the air. It made her gag. They would have to be punished for intruding, but not now.
She glanced down at her watch, doing her best to hold her quarry still, and pressed the light. She pre-emptively squinted, but was still dazzled by the bright digits. It was half one. She only had ten minutes left.
Haruka had never really thought much about the gods. She had written tiny prayers with hearts and kisses on New Year’s Day and posted them in the walls of temples, hung them on the branches of sacred trees and scattered them in the holy flames, but she had never really thought about who she was writing to. Now, as she hurried through the dark cave, doing her best not to fall and praying she had enough time, she knew exactly to who she was praying. They were expecting her and she knew they would not forgive her if she was late. She wouldn’t forgive herself either. So, clutching the boy’s hand, she dragged her quarry onward. She would tear his hand off him if it ensured they made it.
She should have found him sooner, the bait should have been chosen more wisely.