Chapter 55: the archway

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

Reads: 40
Comments: 1

…It is not just the setting sun that makes the shadows grow long…


The late autumn wind stirred the trees to a whisper, scattering fallen, multi-colored leaves as it caressed the mountain forest. Inside the training hall, the petite girl raised her head as the cool breeze wafting in through the opened windows, lightly touching her face, stirred her back from meditation. It felt pleasant, and brought with it the promise of winter, reminding her there was not much time left to enjoy the natural beauty of the mountain and forest. Soon the first snowfall would come and the white of winter would hide the colors of the season.

Fire sighed. It was mid-afternoon, but her duties and training for the day were completed. Everyone was busy and she was on the verge of deciding whom she could help when a random thought entered her mind. She had time, she reasoned, to explore the dense forest above the Shrine of Autumn Mists. In all the years she and her sisters lived on the mountain, neither they, nor anyone else, had ventured beyond the huge boulders and immense trees that formed a barrier between their buildings and the precipice. It was something she considered doing often in the past, and today was a good opportunity to appease her curiosity and get a little leisurely exercise in the bargain.

There was a chill in the air but the sun was bright and warm. She donned her light-weight cloak and bamboo-twined hat before climbing the steep steps that led upward beyond the shrine and other buildings. Soon she discovered an age-old path through thick foliage that led to a forgotten gargantuan makeshift stone barrier. Years of neglect and the ravages of weather, time and nature had weakened the fortification in places. After close inspection Fire found a collapsed section she was confident she could climb over. She managed to do so with less effort than she thought would be necessary and within minutes lightly touched down on the opposite side.

The trees there were majestic, most of them obviously hundreds of years old. It was as if she had stepped back into another time and place as she continued the steep trek along the ancient archaic path. Eventually, through a cluster of trees, she spied moss covered stone stairs chiseled out of the rock hard surface of the mountain that led upward through a second barrier of rocks and boulders much larger than the first. Her curiosity peaked, she forged her way through the verdant shrubbery and excitedly climbed the steps with the youthful exuberance of a child anxious for new discoveries. Reaching the top, she was surprised to find an open area paved with large stone tiles, and about forty yards from where she stood was a second set of wide stairs leading upward to an ancient Torii.

Counting as she climbed, she was half way up the steps by the time she reached 50. She paused momentarily and looked back the way she had come. ‘It was quite a distance’, she told herself, before turning her attention once more to the dark tori, which she could now see more clearly… “Curious…” she thought aloud. Although it was obviously very old, it didn’t have the look of age like the stairs leading to it. Full of wonder, she continued the climb until reaching the apex, where she paused once more to marvel at the beauty of the tori.

It stood about twelve feet away from the top of the stairs and appeared to be fashioned from an unknown obsidian black crystalline material. Its surface gleamed like polished glass and it reflected, though darkly, the trees around it. Oddly enough, beyond the tori there was no shrine or building, but rather a path leading into the trees. As she slowly approached it for closer inspection, her sense of wonder was abruptly replaced by a dreadful foreboding, as if something extremely bad was eminent. She hesitated a moment, then shrugging her shoulders in an attempt to casually dismiss the premonition, walked through the archway. Instantly she found herself inside a massive subterranean cavern. The fresh mountain air, blue sky, trees, greenery, the ancient stairway, torii and daylight were abruptly gone, replaced by a musty odor, dampness, solid walls, twisted rock formations and darkness.

Fire gasped, turned about quickly and then sighed. The torii beneath which she passed was no longer behind her. “Na-ni (What)…?” she heard herself say. It was as if she blinked and in that solitary moment her surroundings were completely altered. She stood still where she was, slowly scanning the chasm until she detected an emerald glow. Cautiously she walked toward the iridescent light, and soon discovered it was generated by quartz formations on the cavern wall far to her left. It seemed a closer distance in the dark than it actually was, but after taking more steps than she anticipated, as she neared the source of the incandescence her spirit was elevated. A little to the right of the quartz she saw something familiar; a large hall she immediately recognized as part of Sensei Hawk’s private building. Eager to leave the darkness behind she turned that direction and rushed forward. Her momentary joy was short-lived however, as she reached the site, only to run headlong into an invisible barrier, striking it with enough force to knock her off her feet. Stunned but still alert, she gazed forlornly at the room, so close but beyond reach, for just a moment before rising.

As she brushed the cave dust from her cloak her shock and confusion were forgotten as her senses warned her of danger. There was something behind her, moving silent and stealthily in the velvet darkness. When she turned to look she found herself gripped by primal fear; standing still as a statue just a few feet away, highlighted by the green glow of the quartz, was a woman, head lowered, seemingly attired like her. As Fire unconsciously mouthed the words… “What is this?” the stranger spoke the same words simultaneously.

Shocked momentarily, Fire finally asked… “Who are you?”

“Who is who?” questioned the woman in turn.

As Fire ‘thinks’… ‘Am I dreaming?’ the other, head still bowed and face almost completely hidden by the bamboo hat, audibly asked the same question, after which she slowly raised her head. Fire gasped…the other was an exact duplicate of her. As that thought registered in her mind, the opposite spoke; “Not exactly…” she intoned as an evil grin distorted her otherwise beautiful features. The entity, whatever it was, appeared to know her thoughts almost before she was aware of them herself. Too, it was evidently aware of her emotions and plans, moving suddenly to block her retreat.

Fire paused, then took another step, but seemingly just before she moved the other was already positioning herself in her path. ‘Kage’ (Shadow),’ thought Fire, ‘…before the sun has set.’

The girl blocking her way laughed… “There is no sunlight in this timeless cavern.”

That being said, the wicked grin appeared anew upon her face. There was enough light generated by the quartz for Fire to detect a furtive movement, attracting her eyes to the shadow at the other’s feet. Fire stiffened in fright as she watched it suddenly quiver, as if in gleeful anticipation, before abruptly stretching outward, elongating across the cavern floor to stop a fraction of an inch from where the ninja girl stood.

“It is more than just the setting sun that makes the shadows grow long…” the other ominously declared as, in an instant, she was standing nose to nose with Fire. It happened so quickly that she had no time to react. The tomb like silence of the cavern was shattered then, by Fire’s agonized scream.

Submitted: September 02, 2019

© Copyright 2020 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.


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Wow, I was not expecting that!

Sat, October 12th, 2019 7:45pm

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