At darkfall, the sable golek named Machef brought the small band of wayfarers to a hidden place by the edge of the forest. The moon had not yet risen, and Benda’s eyes could make out nearly nothing beyond his nearby companions, who were all huddled close, peering out of the forest across the dark plain, in the direction of the mountains.

“When I give the signal,” Machef’s voice sounded in their minds, “Follow me, and make no sound.”

Eradus tugged on the sleeve of Benda, who had been intently peering into the gloom. He signaled to him to pull up his cloak and hood completely over himself, as he had done. They wore Cloaks of Becoming from the ancestral treasures of the Drynarean Forest. Though in full light of day, the eyes of an eagle or magician (no less the two combined in one person) might perceive, just so, the blurred edges of the cloak-bearer in motion, it drastically reduced their chance of discovery by dark of night. Benda pulled the hood up over his head, and arrayed the cloak around his shoulders and arms.

Dema made a slight nervous whuffing noise once, and was silent. They waited a breath or two longer, and Machef — whose ears had been forward listening flattened them back behind his head — thrust his neck out, and lunged forward without a sound. Dema and Selef followed immediately behind, and Benda followed after Eradus, whose form became all but invisible once he passed beyond arms length. Benda fixed his gaze on the edge of white underside of the tail of Dema, which hung low as they tiptoed silently out of the tree cover.

Several breathless minutes passed, and the gloom of night settling in for earnest gave way to stars bursting forth, and the sky lightening enough that Benda could easily make out the three goleks. The form of Eradus, though, was all but hidden from his view, except when his friend turned once and lifted slightly his hood at Benda and smiled, like a smile coming out of a crack in the darkness.

At once, Machef was leading them down a slight dip in the meadow, which seemed to deepen ever so slightly. They rounded a subtle bend, and Benda’s eyes could just make out a rocky cleft, which had been wholly invisible from the plain above, across which they had traveled.

They all froze suddenly when they heard a “hoo-hoo” from somewhere not far off in the night. An owl.

“Run!” Machef’s voice spoke urgently in their minds. “ Now!”

The goleks sprinted off ahead, being naturally faster and more suited to such terrain than the two men who trailed after them as best they could. But it was a short sprint, after all, ending by an earthen wall where they halted. Machef searched around, sniffing close to the ground, and within a moment, the three goleks were rapidly digging at a spot indicated by Machef. In another few seconds, there was a hole large enough for one to pass. Dema and Selef bolted in. Machef nodded to the two men, who he let follow after the goleks into the hole, himself bringing up the rear.

As they passed below, Benda’s searching hands in the darkness felt the edge of smooth cut stones. He traced upward along the edge, and realized what it must be.

“An arch!” he whispered.

No one replied. If any of the others reacted to him, he didn’t see it. They moved through the arch into a more spacious cavity within.

Benda heard the goleks shuffling back past him, and Machef said in their minds, “They will close the hole again from within. The eyes of the Watcher Above cannot see us here, but there may be others who can.”

“Here?” Benda whispered. “Where is here?”

Machef replied, “The Place Below.”