The marching order resumed, except that Zuzana now walked slightly ahead of Anushka. Extinguishing the torches had been considered and promptly rejected. The torchlight made them far more visible in the darkness, but was also their only weapon against an ambush by the insectoids.
During the digging of tunnels and and construction of foundations for their own cities, Vaulters occasionally chanced upon ceratan colonies in warmer climates. On the battlefield they had little qualms about fighting in the open, but in defence of their own colonies, they were ambush fighters. Back in Zuzanas hometown of Vranzova soldiers had rarely died from the encounters, as colony-ceratans had no weapons beyond claws, mandibles and a venom called ‘Rockblood’ among the Vaulters. It was quite potent, but easily treatable given medical supplies. Supplies which the group did not have. Should they be attacked, a bite could well mean death for the individual.
The age of Ceratan tunnels, and thus the age of the colony, could usually be told by how smooth they were. New tunnels were rough, the path freshly made and bearing obvious signs of the tunnelling methods of the insectoids. Smooth tunnels were older, the colony having had time and resources to embellish their tunnels. Zuzana would have described the walls here as silky-smooth, had they not been made of rock. Smaller tunnels branched out from the one they followed, leading back along where they had come from or further down, and while they were smaller, they were still easily larger than any member of the group. Ceratans were large creatures, though flexible if need be. They could use the tunnels as shortcuts through the colony, or in this case, places from which they could attack the party and hide again. Should it happen, she would not want anyone to pursue. They were already in a dangerous position; no need to make it even more dangerous by splitting up.
The group proceeded slowly through the insectoid tunnels, carrying their various weapons and means of illumination openly, hoping to deter conflict if possible. Time that felt like hours passed by as the group descended. Zuzana swore several times that she saw ceratans peek out from their hiding-tunnels. The others reported similar sightings, but no moves were made against them. So they went, an island of light descending through the darkness of the tunnels. When anyone spoke, it was in short sentences and hushed tones. Even the usually-verbose Velabahleke seemed cowed by the gloom all around them. Eventually, Zuzana could tell that the tunnel was curving back around, angling towards where the Endless stairway might be, were they at the correct depth to match up with it.