Wash Me Clean, Part 5: Price of Redemption...
How many days? One by one, the glow globes that Maleus and Aelu had salvaged from the bodies had dimmed, sputtering out as the chemical fires that cast their pale radiance exhausted themselves. The had only a couple left, then they would be trapped in the dark unable to go forward without risking a back breaking fall. This fact pushed them on without rest, each step an agony. A dozen small falls and slips had marked each of them with dark bruises, made their fingers raw and cracked and splintered their hooves. They continued on though, a pair of would be corpses trying to dig their way out of the bowels of the earth before their time ran out with their light.
“Did you feel that?” Maleus had stopped at a opening in the rock that split off from the main passage. Aelu moved over to where he stood, peering into the dark fissure in the rock. Then she felt it, a soft breath of air flowed over her grime stained face. She gave a little sob and the two of them pushed their heads into the crack, Aelu's horns tangling them in their excitement to see if they'd found a way out of the labyrinth. The fissure rose above their heads, a sheer crack in the rock plunging down to the depths. Far away they could make out the glint of the nebulous Netherstorm sky. If they could make the climb, they would be out of the trap. They both burst into manic laughter that degenerated into sobs and they embraced, forgetting themselves.
After a few moments they parted, looking at each other. Then without another word, they began to examine the walls of the crack for hand holds. Maleus again went first, looping their single rope around him into a makeshift harness. Aelu followed close behind, the pain and exhaustion in her limbs driven away by euphoria at the proximity of escape. Through the cramped dark, the wedged themselves up, using either side of the crack to brace themselves as the climbed. Small chunks of the rock face sheared and broke away as they set their weight against it. The rock consisted of some sort of fibrous shale, brittle and crumbling. The climb quickly became difficult and sweat poured from Maleus's forehead ridges into his eyes. Aelu struggled beneath him to keep up, her back wedged against the far wall as she scrambled up, inching her way along.
They climbed for what seemed like hours, the sky coming closer at a snail's pace. Then, a large chunk of the shale broke loose under Maleus's grip. He fell back, arms pinwheeling as his fingers hooked into claws, clutching at the near wall behind him. It too broke free under his fingers though and he fell. Aelu shrieked and clung to the wall as he whipped by, the rope trailing behind him. Time seemed to slow down as she watched the line and the falling draenei. He struck, ricocheting off the sides of the crevice as he fell. There was sickening crunch as his bones snapped against the stone and then the rope snapped taut. Aelu pushed out her arms and legs with all her might, wedging herself and holding the two of them up as his weight dragged her down the crevice. She screamed in fury, tears streaking her face.
Below her, Maleus looked up, his vision doubled. Blood trickled from his nose, mouth and ears. His leg seared him with pain. It had smashed at the hip and his arm left arm hung limp and broken. He looked up, trying to focus on Aelu above him and the sky beyond her. He tried to right himself, grabbing the robe, missing it, and finally caught hold and pulled himself upright. Aelu whimpered, her muscles popping and shaking as fatigue ate up her reserves.
“Get hold!” she cried. Maleus tried to reach out with the broken arm for the wall. Another lance of white hot pain smote him almost into unconsciousness and the arm dropped again to his side, useless. He laughed and coughed, spitting out a thick wad of blue blood. Aelu's body slid another couple inches, , sending a small rain of shale falling down on him. Maleus smiled, shock setting in. He looked up at her. Then, dreamily, he loosed the rope and reached down to his boot. His knife was there, tucked away. He drew it with his good hand and put it to the rope. Then he smiled again up at her and without a word, he cut.
Aelu felt his weight leave her and she shrieked. Maleus fell, his body smashing against the rocks. Tears rolled down Aelu's cheeks as she looked at his ruined corpse in the distance below her. Then, still sobbing, she began again to claw her way up and out into the sky.