She made it through the roof of the cavern just in time.
She had no idea how the water was doing this. It now gushed as if someone had taken an entire village and cut all their arteries at once. It moved so fast and with such ferocity, she was certain an entire ocean was flushing into this cave system.
Right at the back of her head, one little grain of reason told her that didn’t make any sense. Where was all the water coming from? It hadn’t even been raining when she’d entered the cave system. Why wouldn’t it be draining through all of the cracks? Why wouldn’t it be gushing out of the side of the cave mouth and down the mountain peak? Why would it be centering on this cavern, almost like watery hands reaching from the grave, ready to pull her down into death?
She shot through the ceiling nonetheless, stones erupting all around her. She had to admit without the TI objects, she would’ve been screwed. With them? She hadn’t felt power like this – not for a long time. Not since being a Hendari princess. She might’ve always had a so-called weak psyche, but even she’d possessed a strong mind capable of incredible feats. The Hendari had also had the equivalent of telekinetic objects. They’d been much stronger and much larger. You could lift up a ship with one. It enabled a single engineer to look after an entire fleet.
But the technology her people had possessed before this so-called ascension hadn’t been enough for them. It still rivaled anything the coalition could possibly produce.
Though Sally wasn’t aware of it, tears rushed down her cheeks. They felt like they were gushing in time with the water from below.
Was it her memories? Was it a last-ditch effort of her body to remind her that whatever she faced next would drag her down to hell and further?
She erupted up into a smaller cavern. This one was full of things. There was camping paraphernalia and other assorted objects from boxes to old ration packs. There were even children’s paintings on the wall. It looked like a family had been living here.
The sight stilled her until the water from below gushed out of the hole she’d created. She had a moment where she rationally tried to explain to herself that shouldn’t be happening. The cavern she was in was slanted on both sides and terminated in paths that led down. She vaguely remembered this area. She knew how crisscrossed it was with various tunnels. So crisscrossed that as soon as the water started to erupt into the cavern, it should have immediately drained away. It didn’t. The water level just rose and rose.
She floated there for a few seconds, her wet, sweaty hair in front of her eyes. Then she shot up again.
The water soon lapped at the tents and the boxes, then finally the artwork of the children.
It swept them away, never to return.
She jolted up toward the ceiling. She searched it desperately, trying to find a weak point to dig through. She finally found one. Extending her hand up even though she didn’t need to make corresponding physical movements to control the TI objects, she sent one block spiraling up above her. It smashed into the rock. It wasn’t as easy to burst through it as it’d been in the cavern below. The TI objects had to dig, and that required mental power. She had to be aware of every single vibration as she spun the objects around and around like a drill. Chunks of rock splattered out everywhere, dust cascading out like a cloud.
She kneeled there, as close to the ceiling as she could get as the water started to lap at her ankles.
This much water… impossible.
She finally burst through that section of ceiling and raced through the hole.
Below, everything flooded. It pushed her upward and onward.
As Sally entered another cavern, her head naturally ticked to the side. Tick was too weak a verb. It was yanked, lurching as if someone had it in a tractor beam. No matter where she went in the universe now, she fancied she would always turn back in the direction of the main cavern where she’d died. She was anchored to it completely.
She didn’t question the process anymore. As soon as she entered another cavern, the water came with her. It was as if it was somehow gravitationally linked with her. Wherever she went, it would follow. If she ported out into space, it would accompany her like a funeral shroud.
This cavern was filled with the paraphernalia of children, too. She shot towards the ceiling, determined to flee, but she soon froze.
She turned her head.
There was an old-world photograph. She remembered taking them as a child. One of the other settlers had found an antique camera from Earth. It produced physical stills within a few seconds.
She’d taken photos of all of her favorite things. And of course, that had included Tyler.
Right now, she saw an old shot of Tyler, the photo sepia and rumpled with age.
Her hand froze.
She didn’t pick it up, but then the water decided she would anyway. It bobbed on the surface. As it surged up to meet her, her fingers naturally closed around the photo.
They twitched as Tyler’s name gushed from her lips.
It was him, sure enough. And in a flood, she remembered this cave. They’d been here so many times. They’d camped here, hung out here, and weathered snowstorms. Though she’d once thought a family had been living here – she’d been mistaken. It had been a family of friends, and as Sally had never had parents, that’s all she’d ever hoped for.
She didn’t know if it was the age of the photograph or something else, but it didn’t last in her grip. It soon disintegrated into ash.
The sight of it had a disproportionate effect on her. Her stomach clenched, her heart stopping for a few beats. It was as if someone had taken the real Tyler and suddenly snatched him out of her life for good.
Though Sally didn’t realize it, this was a well-placed psychic attack. Regardless of whether the photo was real or not, the effect it had on her was the only thing that counted.
One by one, the walls around the Queen’s psyche were crumbling down.
An energy started to surround her. Unseen for now, it was already imparting its insidious effects.
She waited too long, until the water was actually around her knees, lapping at her like she was a sinking ship.
She finally shot up. Desperation rocketed through her. She reached the ceiling. There didn’t seem to be an easy way out. She wasted precious seconds by crumpling a hand into a fist and smashing it against the stone. Tears rained down from her squeezed eyes. Finally she connected to her TI objects. But her connection, for whatever reason, failed. Out of the corner of her eye, in total gut-gripping horror, she watched the TI object rise only to fall. It looked like a bird that had suddenly had its wings ripped out. It splashed into the rising water, seemingly disappearing forever.
“No,” she shrieked.
She was still leaning on two TI objects. But as she let her fear rip through her, the one under her knee failed.
She lurched to the side.
She grabbed her remaining object, trying to make it pull her up, just as the water reached her chest.
But it too failed.
She tried to swim. She was too heavy, her body feeling like an anchor that naturally had to drop below the waves.
She couldn’t scream, couldn’t save herself, couldn’t do a damn thing but thrust one hand weakly above the surface of the water. But that too had to sink. Everything did.