Had Dill been one for breathing, his would have been labouring by the time he reached the last of the two-hundred-odd steps that comprised the spiral flight from the level of the Bone Cathedral to the level of what he hoped would be the Manor.
Since he didn’t breathe he was able to monitor the fatigue in his leg muscles, the rise from the depths corresponding with an increase in flora and fauna in the tunnels. Blind white spiders gave way to larger varieties able to feed on insects from the outside world, though they tasted no different, to Dill, than the deeper ones had been.
He found the desiccated corpse of a rabbit at one point, and managed to snare a couple of pipistrelle bats which barely provided a mouthful each and gave him the added worry of whether he’d just broken any laws. Were pipistrelles an endangered species? He remembered reading somewhere that it was illegal to kill them in Britain. On the other hand, it was also illegal to hack corporate security systems, download games from the internet, smoke a whole pound of weed and continue to function after your body had died, so the addition of two small bats to the list of charges wasn’t likely to alter his sentence, should he be caught by the short and curlies.
The passage grew lighter. A graying of the walls he could attribute to filtered daylight. That was a stroke of luck, at least. He’d lost all track of time while underground. He wasn’t even sure what day it was any more.
The tunnel walls changed from granite and flint to dressed sandstone blocks, some with names and dates carved into them dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth enturies. That would have been when the tunnels were built. They were probably a smuggling route used by the landowners at the time, anxious to avoid the taxes levied on good from France and Spain. It was a shame you couldn’t avoid the taxes now.
One last turn of the tunnel led him to the entrance and Dill almost laughed with delight. He couldn’t tell exactly where he was yet. There were conifers outside the entrance and a massive iron gate barring his passage. He paused before touching it. What if it was electrified, or connected to a silent alarm? The accumulated rust seemed to deny both and, bracing himself, he took hold of the iron and pushed.