Dreams from the Darkness
I now see a world that is vastly different from the one I knew. With the knowledge that I have gained comes the ability to see past the mask that the rest of the world sees. The paint has been removed from the picture to reveal the artists sketch and it is not a pleasant sight. The hand that drew it was not of a sound mind and it is no wonder that the hands that painted over it tried to hide its horrors. This world is built on a foundation of evil and the paint is fading.
A boat gently cut through the still water as a single ore weaved from side to side. The ripples rode the surface until their lines were broken by columns that rose from the depths to support the heavy arched ceiling of the cavern. Watery echoes entangled themselves in the stone forest that had never seen the sun and the starless stone sky looked down on the tiny boat that floated on the subterranean sea.
The three occupants were silent. At the bow, a man held forth a burning torch to light the way ahead, its flame choking on the stale air, its faint light unable to penetrate the black water below. At the stern, a second man gripped an ore with both hands, pushing and pulling it in a fishtail motion. The third sat motionless in the middle of the boat, staring straight ahead to where column after column broke into the circle of light and then faded back into the darkness as it passed them by.
After a time, the boat came to rest at the edge of a ramp that rose at a steep angle to a horizontal plateau. The oarsman tied the boat to a mooring post, alongside several other boats of similar appearance, and footsteps replaced the sound of rippling water as the torch wielder led the small party to the top of the ramp. The glow of firelight could be seen in the distance and sounds of hammering grew louder as the three men made their way towards the gathering. Columns obscured their view until they reached the outskirts of the fire's glow and a congregation of robed figures was revealed.
A small group of the priests were chanting somewhere in the shadows. They spoke words that had no earthly translation in a mesmerising tone that was aided by the cavernous echoes of their voices. The majority of the robed priests were busy preparing something. Some were carrying tools and lengths of timber, moving and stacking crates of unknown content. Others erected wooden scaffolding around a structure that was being built at the centre of the gathering. A few turned their heads to look at the three visitors but nobody approached them.
They skirted the workers and moved beyond to where the chanting had its source. The sounds faded as distance separated them and the noise of construction was all but lost. The shadows concealed the elite gathering of high priests where they waited patiently for the group from the boat to join them. As they approached, a sharp wind erupted and died almost immediately, taking the torchlight with it. The three were left standing in darkness, the one who had sat in the middle of the boat looking around nervously.
His eyes adjusted to the near absence of light and shapes separated themselves from the columns. The source of the chanting lay deeper in the cavern but that was not why he was here. The reason he was here was close at hand and every sense he owned told him so. The torchbearer was the first to speak as he lowered the smouldering stick he had been carrying.
"He came to us only an hour ago. We have brought him as you asked."
The torchbearer and oarsman stepped aside and something approached the remaining visitor, slowly circling him in awkward steps. The sounds it made as it walked were not that of a man. They were the only sounds to share the silence with the chanting and they teased his senses, daring him to flee from that which he sought out. His dream had brought him here. A creature called him; a thing so repulsive that he believed it was concocted by a diseased part of his brain. But here he was, standing before it now, wishing he had never went to sleep that night.
He couldn't see it clearly but he knew it was there, scrutinising him with eyes that did not require light and looking deeper into his soul than even he could see himself. Then the voices spoke. High and low pitched at once, two voices in perfect, unnerving harmony that cut through the air to reach his ears. "Do you know who We are?"
The words sent an immobilising rush through his body and he forgot to answer. The voices spoke again in more impatient tones. "Do you know who We are?"
"I...do." His voice was almost inaudible and he hoped the creature heard it to save him from a third request.
It moved closer. "Speak Our name."
The fear and confusion that tortured his mind almost caused him to forget to answer again but he gained enough control to say a word he had never heard before. "Du'drosmos."
"Speak it again." The tone in which it asked almost suggested a sense of pleasure.
"Du'drosmos," he said a second time, trying to sound more confident.
It moved closer so that its cold breath filled his nostrils. The unnatural sounds of its body were more audible now than ever and for the first time he was thankful for the absence of light.
"Do you fear Us?" The words reached from its mouth and clung to his cheeks in a wet grip he wanted to wipe away. He knew the answer without thinking. It just took all his effort to say it.
It moved away, severing the link it used to drain willpower and drive fear. He suddenly realised how fast his heart was beating and took deep breaths to try to slow it down. The muscles in his neck and shoulders were threatening to snap before he forced them to relax. In less menacing tones, it spoke again. "Keep that fear in your heart for it is not unfounded. We are to be feared...and worshiped. We are here to bring changes that mankind has not seen in a thousand lifetimes and you are to become part of that. You are a sculpture."
It wasn't a question but he answered anyway. "Yes."
"Your hands know the feel of stone. You see shapes that lay hidden deep in the rock and you draw them out with your hammer and chisel. You will do this for Us. You know what We want, you have seen it in your dreams. Go now and take up your tools. Bring the images We have shown you to life. Use the skill We have given you in Our service and you will know the rewards We have promised."
A hand grabbed his arm from behind. "This way," a voice said in his ear and the two men from the boat led him away in the direction from which they had come. After a few paces, the torch flared back to life but he didn't look behind for fear of what he might see. His dreams were vivid but he didn't want to believe that such a creature could exist outside of them. He decided to let the darkness keep that which belonged to it.
As they walked, a figure ran past them towards the place where he had encountered the creature. "They are beginning to hatch." A young man stood before the high priests, breathing lung-fulls of stale air and pointing behind him.
The voices said. "Show Us."
The man led the group to the edge of the light that illuminated the construction area and then veered to the side where water ran down a smooth slope to feed the underground lake. The light form the torches barely reached the nest that lay in the shadows of a column at the edge of the man-made river. Two large oval-shaped cocoons, about the size of a sheep's head, where suspended between the ground and a toppled column in something that resembled a web of slime. They were the spawn of some creature unknown to man and possible unrelated to any creature on this earth.
One was making a squelching sound as its occupant tried to break through its surroundings. The man who had drawn their attention to the cocoons stepped closer to inspect the second one, only to find that it was split in two and the soft shell was empty. He stood up and turned to face the others but before he could convey the news he screamed as something took hold. Two tentacles twisted around his leg and squeezed until the pain was almost unbearable. Then two blade like pincers cut through skin and bone to sever his leg beneath the knee. He fell onto his stomach as the creature retreated with its prize, flopped over the edge and splashed into the water.
It happened in an instant, before he had time to take a second breath to scream again. One of the onlookers pulled him away as the other cocoon split open and another creature slumped onto the ground in a pool of ooze. It flailed about for a moment, unwrapping its tentacles that extended several feet from its body. Resembling some sort of flat fish, it slid across the ground and joined its sibling in the water with a splash and rode the current to the still lake below.
The chants were joined by cries of pain, a natural accompaniment to the words had they been understood. The arched ceiling echoed the sound and the water carried it to every corner of the cavern for all to hear. It was a taste of things to come, a teaser for those who longed for it and a warning to those who feared it. Physical pain is such a transient thing. It hurts and it heals. Another pain with its distinct cries and invisible wounds will soon be heard. It will echo without, and also within, and time will not be the healer, it will be the tormentor.