The Faded Kingdom – Chapter 5

The glow from the crystal pushed valiantly against the dark. It illuminated a small sphere just large enough for the Human to see a few feet down the path. Enough to avoid a crevasse or pit. As the Human stepped into the darkened tunnel, the door to the Rock King’s throne room slid shut, cutting off the outside light. The Human held the crystal aloft, attempting to avoid becoming dazzled by the light. Peering into the dark, clutching the walking stick in one hand and the crystal in the other, the Human stepped slowly forward.
For a time, the only sounds were the Human’s footsteps and breath. That breath came fast and shallow, as the Human tried in vain to see anything beyond the light of the crystal. Only the small circle was visible, and the tunnel could have ended just beyond the light or opened into a massive cavern for all the Human could tell.

The first sound the Human heard was the echoing drip of water from somewhere off to the left. The air felt moist and cool. As the Human passed further into the dark, there was a growing smell of dank and the air became stale. The air smelled old and heavy.
The next sound was a small splash, also off to the left. The Human froze in place, ears straining. Surely that sound was just a cave fish or a falling rock. All was silent. The dripping water had stopped at some point without the Human noticing.
As the Human started to walk again, there was another sound. This was much closer, still to the left. It was a wet, low, dragging sound. The Human froze again, raising the crystal higher and leaning forward trying to see the source of the sound. There was nothing. The Human took another step and stopped, foot in midair. There was a wet track across the path. It was as wide as the Human was tall, and it led from the left across the path and into the darkness. The Human bent to examine the track and saw it was not just water, but some sort of ichor was streaked through the moisture. It smelled of copper and immense age. Stepping carefully over the track, being sure not to touch the fluid, the Human continued on, walking as fast as the small circle of light would allow.
“SsssssSSSSsssaaaaaahhhh.” A hissing sigh sounded from behind the Human, from the right of the path. The Human whirled around, holding out the crystal.
“Who is there? What do you want? I mean no harm. I am only passing through, and with the Rock King’s blessing!” The Human tried to sound brave and confident, but was not entirely successful. Gripping the walking stick tightly, the Human turned in a circle, seeking the source of the sound.
“Hhhaaaaahhaaaahhaaaahhaaa,” came a rasping, horrifying laugh. “The Rock King has no power here. How unfortunate that it told you otherwise.” The voice was wet and thick. Each word seemed to come from a slightly different location, making it impossible to find the source.
“Who are you?” the Human managed to say, struggling to maintain some semblance of composure.
“Do you seek MY name? You come into my Dark with your tiny light and demand my name? Hhhhhaaaaaaa… You do not seem brave enough to do such a thing thing. I can only guess you did not know what you were to face. Ask me not who I am. As me what I am,” the voice sighed.
“Alright. What are you?” asked the Human, despite not truly desiring the answer.
“I am why Humans fear the Dark. I am very, very old. I am from before your people knew fire. I watched as your fore-bearers huddled in the dark, afraid to sleep. I have whispered my name in the ears of Human children just to watch them wake, screaming. I am That Which Dwells Below. This is my realm and you shall never leave it.” The voice came from behind the Human now, close enough to ruffle the Human’s hair with breath. The Human turned quickly, thrusting forward the crystal.
What stood there was horror itself. Towering in the dark, a shifting, black mass of tentacles, eyes, and teeth writhed before the Human. It had as many mouths as it had eyes and it had too many eyes to count. The part of its body closest to the crystal recoiled, the pupils in the myriad eyes shrinking to points and the mouths baring teeth and hissing.
Glancing back to be sure to stay on the path, the Human backed away from the That Which Dwells Below, holding the crystal out. The creature flowed forward, staying back from the light, the mass of its body visible only as glints of light on lenses and slime-coated tentacles. Without warning, it fell backwards from the Human and disappeared in the dark.
Turning back in the direction of the path, the Human tried to walk quickly away from the cursed place. The Human’s left foot, however, would not move. Looking down, the Human saw a black tentacle reaching from that ankle back into the darkness. It did not pull, but it would not allow any forward movement.
“You think your light can keep you safe, do you not? True, the light is painful to me. I, however, am endless. I cannot be denied what is mine by a small shining rock. You are MINE!” The tentacle yanked, throwing the Human off balance. The Human landed in a seated position, feeling the tentacle pull forward towards where the sounds of water had been earlier. Remembering the walking stick, the Human struck out at the tentacle.
The stick passed through the monstrous flesh like the creature was made of smoke. There was the slightest tug of resistance, but nothing more. The tentacle appeared unharmed. The Human’s heart sank for a moment before a terrible screech filled the cavern.
NO!” screamed That Which Dwells Below. “It cannot be. You cannot have such a thing. Not you. Not here.” The creature let out another wail of pain, unwinding from the Human’s ankle and retracting, limply, back into the dark.
“Go. Leave this place and take that accursed thing with you. I shall not let you contaminate this holy place. GO!” The last word was a bellow that came as a physical force.
The Human scrambled upright, clutching at the walking stick and crystal and ran.

Author: bekern

I write, draw, and make stuff in general.

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