The Endless Horizon

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 9 (v.1) - Deafening Silence

Submitted: June 23, 2019

Reads: 69

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Submitted: June 23, 2019

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-9-

Deafening Silence

 

 

It was something indescribable, the supreme darkness that had so readily embraced me, enveloped me in light’s absence. Even during the darkest of dusks, the moon’s glow was comparatively bright to the black sea I now waded in. The ground lay only feet below the opening from which I dropped, but not a single ray of light shone through the oppressive veil.

“It’s safe!” I called up, realizing what a precarious situation I could have dropped into without forewarning.

The thud of dirt signified that she’d dropped next to me. When she clicked her fingers to generate a new flame, it was quickly extinguished by an unnatural wind that emanated from deeper within the winding cave systems. Each further attempt awarded the same result. Just as a curse crossed her lips, I cast my light spell, the same one used to exterminate the shadow that visited that night in the outpost. We were bathed in its temporary radiance.

“I didn’t realize you could use magic outside the realm of parlor tricks,” my companion giggled with a thin layer of condescension.

I gave her an exaggerated scowl such that she could see it given the dim light. She was right that I didn’t know much other than a few infusions, but Israfel had at least imparted the knowledge of a few simple, and otherwise harmless spells.

As we proceeded, I took notice of my strain in keeping the light at its brightest: without my constant attention, it quickly faltered, demanding I re-exert my focus. While I was no sorcerer, I’d never struggled in maintaining this spell in the past. Already I could sense that something was amiss with this place. The wind-flow through these tunnels was anything but natural, and with the way the shadows fought to extinguish the light, it’s as though they lived.

Cordella had likely made the same observation, as she took to speaking in a hushed tone.“Do you suspect that something really does prowl the depths of these caverns?”

While I couldn’t say with certainty if that was the case or not, it still seemed too soon to jump to such a conclusion. I shook my head. “I don’t think so, the passages were almost completely blocked off. Nothing should roam the mine save a few vermin.”

Something about the confidence in my answer must’ve have irked her. “Well, something must have found its way here, no? Otherwise, we must be searching for an apparition.”

I didn’t respond. She was right, something must have shut down the mining operation, and I doubt it was the wind.

As we walked, it was difficult to gauge our progress as the passages hadn’t narrowed any since we began our descent. We had only the dilapidated wooden scaffolding to follow, along with the traces of mining supplies strewn about the earthen floor, left and lost to time. I had just gotten caught up in wondering what the mine was used for when I noticed that my partner was no longer by my side. She had briefly stopped in her tracks and then caught up to me again.

“Did you feel that?” she asked in a chilling tone. whilst I focused on keeping the orb of light at its most radiant.

“Not this again,” I plead whilst focusing on maintaining our orb of light, “This isn’t the right time to frighten me, I’ve plenty to be afraid of as it is.”

Her elbow dug sharply into my abdomen. “I’m serious Kaiser.”

I uttered a miserable and drawn out sigh to mask my unease. “If anything, we should come up with a plan in case we come across what it is we’re searching for,” I spoke of strategy in hopes that it would distract us from the dank surroundings that had clearly gotten the best of us. “Do we have any idea what we’re-”

A stiff wind brushed through my hair, her hand clamped onto my shoulder. We both halted. I needn’t ask if she heard the rattle of gravel from underfoot, there was no mistaking it.

“Dammit!” I cursed at my inability to hold my concentration, losing control over our source of light as a result. The thick veil of shadow drowned us in its totality.

I shut my eyes and envisioned the gleaming sun between my palms, working quickly to restore our vision. It would’ve been easier to do had my heart not been beating twice as fast as it usually did, but soon enough its brilliance flooded the mine, regaining its dominion over territory lost. It lasted only for a second though, for within a rasp breath’s distance from my face was another less than human one looking back at me. Thrown off by surprise we were violently thrust back into darkness.

Cordella shrieked as I pushed her away and channeled roaring flames into my blade, slicing at the phantom with adrenaline-borne strength. It whistled as it split the air, nothing solid to stop it in its flight. The rippling flames revealed that whatever we had seen had already disappeared. I anxiously grit my teeth as I helped my fallen friend back to her feet. She then emitted her own luminescent orb, one several times brighter than my own.

“I-I don’t-” she desperately hunted for the words, “The bestiary! What did it say?!”

Between shallow breaths I told her I’d found nothing resembling that creature in the book she’d given me. The dead eyes that the creature had stared at me with, I’d have remembered something like that.

We forged on after having battled our reluctance to continue. Before long the main tunnel shrank in diameter such that I could reach the ceiling if I’d lifted my arms. This left me with little doubt that we were headed in the right direction. While we walked I ruffled through the compendium. We were still shaken from the encounter, and it’d bring peace of mind if we knew what we had seen. Every time the route branched it sent a shiver down my spine knowing what could be stalking us, waiting for another mistake.

Finally landing on what seemed to be an accurate entry I read my findings aloud, “The Scyscera, a rare troglophoric species with little documentation. Their kind can live only under earth’s crust, as their underdeveloped limbs and poor eyesight deem them unfit for traditional terrestrial life. Underground they thrive using their sensitive hearing to detect prey.”

“You don’t think that was what we were sent down here for, do you?”

“It says here that they eat mostly insects and vermin, they shouldn’t pose any threat to us.” I shut the book and held it out for Cordella to put away. “Terrifying as it may have been,” I whispered back, “I think what we seek is far more horrific.”

~~~
We had made significant progress in our descent when a dissonant rumbling shook us at the soles of our feet. Initially distant, it seemed to be drawing closer rapidly. “Somethings coming!” I yelled and frantically searched for an alcove to take shelter in. Unable to find a wide enough divot, I yanked Cordella by the cloak and flattened myself against the cavernous wall. Before she could push me away a blood-curdling screech resounded from the same direction that the quaking emanated, followed by an orchestra of lower volume cries. We didn’t dare move a muscle as the wall itself began to tremble. The horrendous serpent that soon slid passed us was something of nightmares.

At a blistering speed it slithered like a serpent along the rocky floor. Though snake-like in its locomotion, it was entirely alien in appearance possessing no apparent head, only a gaping maw where one should be. The razor scales protruding from its stony skin only narrowly scraped by without shredding our flesh. After several bated breaths the monstrosity had completely swept past us, and after several more, I unclenched my jaw and knuckles.

Afraid that it would try to return from where it was headed, we hastened our stride. Despite the magnitude of what had just transpired, I fell silent. Even without asking I had to imagine that Cordella was dealing with the same apprehension that I was. That beast was leagues larger than any creature I had ever seen, including the wyverns. Had we even the most remote chance of defeating it, or were we walking towards our death with open arms?

It was obvious when we neared the end of the mine, for our light was slowly becoming obsolete. Small crystal outcrops now littered the cavern walls, giving off a natural phosphorescence. This must have been what this mine was used for, the thought struck me. The tunnel that we had followed up until now soon concluded in a massive cavern filled with the crystal clusters whose light bounced off of the damp, rock-ribbed walls. Stalactites hanging from the cavern’s roof threatened to break free of whatever held them in place while a shallow flow of water along the craggy surface gave the illusion of an underwater river. I'd have been awestruck were the circumstances less precarious in nature.

“This is it,” I said in a pitch that was higher than usual. “Now what? How are we to accomplish the impossible?” We hadn’t prepared a strategy ahead of time, Samson's confidence in the outcome made us think it unnecessary.

“Now we kill it,” she said plainly.

I wasn’t satisfied with that. “Do you hear the words that escape your mouth? Did you not see the infernal beast as I did?”

“Of course I did, but I can’t let the shackles of fear bind my legs. We knew very well what lie in wait in the mine, are we to do just turn tail now that we’ve found it? We’ve fought little as a team, Kaiser, but I’d like to think the two of us capable if we work as one.” I followed her skyward gaze as she took my hand in hers. “This is our battle to win.”

I didn’t know if her words were backed with conviction, but they served the purpose of filling me with motivation. Weeks ago I had I was left to rot in an Abderan holding cell, and against all odds I had escaped and found her. There was no way to chalk it up to chance. Perhaps the scales really were tilted in our favor.

Her words fueled both of us with determination. The tremors that soon rattled the earth around us did little to fracture our resolve. We stood side by side, united as one all-powerful force against a common enemy.

Through the cave’s roof the leviathan burst forth with relentless speed, immediately burrowing into the ground when it had made contact. I pointed my sword at my feet as the shaking intensified beneath them. Instead of coming up true, it rose at an angle causing me to stumble, however, Cordella's quick reaction time kept me standing. She had grappled my desperate arms before I had fallen too far.

When it circled back for a direct attack we both vaulted over the top of it with ease. Cordella landed off to the side, whereas I had opted for a diving strike into its back. With the addition of the surging electricity I poured into my steel I dropped like a bolt of lightning onto my target. A horrible cry reverberated around the cavern as the entire length of the blade plunged into the body of the wyrm. Before its violent writhing could sling me off of its back I wrenched my weapon free of its scales and dismounted.

In trying to maintain my uprightness upon landing I could see that my legs had been sliced and bloodied by the thousands of scales that lined the length of the wyrm. Likewise, both hand and blade had been coated by a thick discharge. Thankfully my ally was already at my aid, granting me a brief respite while she launched her own assault. Static bounced between her fingers just as it had mine, only with more intensity. She resembled a puppeteer when the serpent again threatened to assail us, the way each finger manipulated a separate current like threads of silk. The beast’s momentum carried it ever closer to the pulsating circuit, but at the last second it burrowed beneath us.

“Stand over the water!” she demanded urgently.

Half-aware of her plan I did as was instructed of me, darting to the shallow but broad puddle that covered much of the ground. When the beast finally broke free of the earthy membrane, I narrowly avoided the shock that ensued as Cordella lowered one of her hands down to the water. The body of the hyperbolic earthworm seized and seared from the electricity that coursed through it. She wasn’t finished though. She lowered her remaining hand to the ground just as she’d done before, but this time icy spicules erupted from the puddle, skewering and locking the beast in place.

I was left to marvel at the sheer strength of my partner. By the current state of things, it seemed like my trepidation had been unwarranted.

“Finish it!” she cried, her hands hovering over the newly formed mass.

Sparing no time I positioned myself before the monster and pressed my blade between its scales, but as the hilt sunk inwards, the behemoth shattered its cold prison. In the process the weapon had been wrenched from my hands, remaining lodged where it had been thrust. I fell back and took out my bow, but my arrows were unable to pierce its thick skin. Now unable to aid in battle, Cordella was forced to fend for herself. My dismay intensified when Cordella was struck by its tail amidst the wild thrashing. I looked on in horror as she crumbled to the ground.

I was over her in an instant, jostling her at the shoulders. The leviathan had, for the time being, retreated to the cavern's outskirt. The impact had drawn the air from her lungs and left a gash in her torso. Her breathing, while faint, was definite; she’d live, but not if I couldn’t emerge victorious on my own.

When I removed my hands out from under her I fixated on the blood on my hands in the crooks of my fingers. Whatever had I done to lead me to such a fate; how had we come so far for so little? To think, the chance at a new life so recently introduced to me was already threatening me with its flight. But it wasn’t just my life on the line, whatever innocence I felt of myself was felt doubly so for her. No, I couldn’t turn my nose up at the minuscule odds of survival. At the very least, I couldn’t die without even an attempt.

The beast hurtled towards me at a breakneck speed. I distanced myself from my fallen ally and prepared to evade. Before it could engulf me in its maw I sidestepped and leaped onto one of its protruding scales. My hands stung from contact with the sharp plating, but I pushed through the pain and pulled myself to where my weapon had been embedded. We were headed for a wall, and I had to proceed with haste. Nothing that I could imbue the sword with would be able to kill it, but I had one last-gasp idea. I ripped the handle from the creature's flesh and dove for the ground.

With my bow drawn and the string pulled, I channeled energy into the shaft of the arrow. Just before the infusion could take the form of an element, I relinquished my control and loosed the arrow towards the ceiling. It detonated just as expected, releasing a brilliant show of light and tremendous force. More importantly, it shook the stalactites free of their restraints, causing them to rain upon the wyrm. Propelled by the shockwave, they fell with great velocity pinning the monster to the ground.

After fierce squirming, it finally ceased in its attempts and released one last deafening roar. It had been defeated. I came to kneel beside where Cordella lay, I was concerned with little else now that the threat had been dispatched.

“We did it, it's done.”

My attempts to rouse her were ineffective. Her shallow breath and a slow heartbeat were all that I heard from her. I was too absorbed in her revival to notice the stillness that had fallen upon the surroundings. The leviathan had not only fallen but began to deteriorate, scattering ash and scales to a quiet wind. The serene nature of the event was in stark contrast with the deafening cacophony of piercing howls that erupted soon after. The pale rider had been denied entry yet still he came to knock at my door.

Exerting more energy than I had left in my reserves, I slung my partner over my shoulders and in a broken run headed towards the exit. My arms and legs yelled at me unspeakable things in their agony. Before I could cross the cavern threshold, countless of the pale anomalies spilled into the large space. They raced in the most unnatural of ways; like humans but born to four legs they crawled. I first thought they came at the call of the wyrm to tear us apart, but instead they carelessly brushed past me. They had heard the cry of defeat had come to witness it with their own eyes. Had it been another day I'd have looked back to see what such an assembly did next, but my one-track mind forced my head vanward.

Upon leaving the naturally luminescent cavern, the shroud of darkness greeted me like an old friend. When one wall was surmounted another of greater stature stood in my path. Whereas my adrenaline had burned to the cinders, fatigue had finally caught up to me. Each hobble sent a jolt of white-hot pain into my muscles. An endless expanse of tunnel sprawled between us and the outside, there was no way I could retrace our steps without the aid of a spell, nor would my legs carry me that far to begin with. It wasn’t long until my knees buckled beneath me. My elbows took the brunt of the force so that Cordella was spared of further harm.

I didn’t immediately lose consciousness, instead I lay there, awaiting the end. Just before I shut my eyes, I could swear his cloak hung just over my head. I couldn’t see it, but the sound of flapping and unfurling cloth was unmistakable. Death had found us already buried in our crypt, his job already complete.

 


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