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Into the Darkness
The people say it's haunted. But I know that it's haunted.
Before the incident, I had laughed at the people who had told me about the 'haunted castle' on top of the hill. I should have listened, but after years of playing in its empty corridors, I wasn't about to believe it was haunted. I still remember having lunch with Tyanna on top of the southeast turret with the noon sky clear and bright. I recall fondly the expeditions with Alarvik and Galden into the depths of the castle to rescue imaginary damsels and slay imaginary dragons. I also remember stolen kisses with Brienna in old passageways and empty rooms.
I was eighteen before I finally realized that in all our explorations and playing, we had somehow missed the black door. It was made of oak, with a steel rim and a skull engraved on a steel handle. None of us had ever seen it before.
It was the night before we would part; leave the village and go our separate ways. One last meeting in the place of our childhood romps. I remember us agreeing to meet back at the very same great hall in ten years time. Brienna and Tyanna, now seventeen and sixteen respectively had grown up to be beautiful young women. Tyanna had learned the sword, while Brienna had become a sorceress of considerable skill. And eighteen-year-old Alarvik had learned the dagger and short bow, as well as the dishonorable profession of a thief. And Galden, at twenty, had donned his father's armor. He wielded his mighty axe with a cold proficiency so unlike the gentle boy he had been.
It was I who first noticed it in a shadowy corner. "Look!" I said, "I haven't seen that door before."
"Neither have I," Tyanna exclaimed.
"I think we should check it out," Alarvik suggested.
The rest of us murmured our agreement, and we stood and walked to the corner. Alarvik tried the handle and pushed the door open on creaking hinges. Through the door we walked, into a small chamber, devoid of windows. Light had never touched this room, and dust covered thickly the misshapen statues. Cobwebs, silken strands appearing black hung gloomily with abnormally large spiders lurking in their shadowy corners. An unearthly chill permeated the place, and a rank odour hung thick in the stagnant air. On the far side of the chamber, an archway, topped by a gargoyle, led into other unexplored areas of the castle.
I pressed forward, and the rest followed. I could feel heathen eyes upon my back as I slowly crossed the chamber. A rapid skittering echoed from the left, enhanced to a thunder-like quality by the silence. As we passed beneath the gargoyle and entered the passageway I thought I saw it move slightly. Had I payed more attention to that half-imagined movement, we might have turned back. Perhaps it had not been too late. I ignored it however, and the blame lies solely in my hands for the events which transpired afterwards.
The hallway was pitch black, and Alarvik lit a torch to see by. The light seemed to be oppressed, and it only cast a shine on about half its normal light radius. What we could see, was that the passage was held up by arches, each about ten feet apart. We began to move down the corridor, our footsteps loud and resounding.
"Just like old times, huh," Alarvik whispered.
"Yeah," I answered silently. But it wasn't the same. The halls that had become the palace of our childhood didn't feel like this. The chambers hadn't been so cold and oppressive. The spiderwebs hadn't been so thick, and they'd been silvery-white, not grayish-black. These chambers felt ancient, as if they had stood alone since the dawn of time. They felt evil, and coldly malicious. These chambers had been plunged into eternal darkness. A pervasive evil inhabited this place, and it did not want to be disturbed.
I think the others felt it too, but they clung to the vain hope that this was just another exploration, that their favourite playplace was not the root of a great evil. They clung to that hope as a man clings to the branch on a tree above a cliff. Denial is a way to ward off panic, I thought, and I denied it too.
That was proven to be a mistake. We finally reached the other end of the hallway, descended a flight of stairs that curved to the right, and then opened into a room so large that the torch failed to illuminate it. The light gave way to the hungry darkness after twenty feet, and within that radius could be seen the granite walls and tiled floor. We moved forward towards what we perceived as the center of the chamber. When we saw the sign painted onto the tiles, we somehow knew that it was the middle.
It was an eye, diamond shaped, and it had all manner of lines coming out around it. The red paint seemed to be dried. Suddenly, Tyanna gasped. "It's painted in blood! Dried blood!" she whispered nervously. I shuddered involuntarily, and Alarvik moved the torch lower to examine it.
And suddenly, the torch was out.
I very nearly cried out, only catching it in my throat. The rest of us managed to keep it under control as well, and we held our silence in the dark. I felt the evil stronger now, and it was colder. My teeth almost chattered, and I hugged myself for comfort. Only a few minutes in the dark, but it seemed like years before the torch finally flickered to life again. Alarvik stuffed his flint and steel in his belt pouch and looked uneasy.
"Everyone okay?" he whispered.
Tyanna, Galden and I nodded. Suddenly, we all looked around, startled.
"Where's Brienna?" Galden asked.
"Maybe she got lost in the dark," Tyanna whispered back, "She might have fallen or something."
I should have gotten out right then. I should have known what was happening. But denial was working against me. "We should look around this room for her," I suggested quietly.
We began calling her name; it became distorted as it reverberated throughout the massive chamber. We called for about five minutes to no avail, as nobody answered. Now that I look back on it, I think we did get an answer. I seem to recall an icy breeze tickle my cheek lightly. I can't see how I missed it; the air was still unmoving and stale. The musty smell still persisted, even though the breeze should have cleared it momentarily. I was a fool, then.
As fate would have it, we decided to look for her. We set out to our left, and after several minutes of wandering through the tangible darkness, we came to a large square door. It was made of iron, and had an ugly rusted handle. Galden reached out, but as his hand closed about the handle, he suddenly gasped, and jerked it back. He stared at his armored hand in horror, then at the door handle.
"So cold . . . so unimaginably . . . evil," Galden raved, "D-don't open . . . the . . . the door. Just don't open it . . . please . . . it's coming . . . we're all going to . . ."
Tyanna put a reassuring arm around his armored shoulders, but I saw that she was shivering too. Alarvik took a deep breath and tugged open the iron door. As the door tugged open, a scream mingled with the rusted hinges' protests. It was a scream of agony, and of pain. The scream shrieked of horror, and evil, and a longing for death. We all hesitated, and then, Galden acted.
"It's Brienna! We must save her!"
I saw the madness take hold of him as he began to sprint down the passageway. Alarvik cried out to him, and we followed as best we could. But Galden was the most athletic, and we couldn't catch him. His cries became softer and softer with distance, and finally, they stopped. We slumped against the wall of the passage, weary.
"It's after us," Tyanna mumbled.
"We'll all be fine," I reassured her, "Galden will find Brienna, and then he'll come back here. And then we can leave."
"If Brienna's fine, how do you explain the screams?" she accused.
Alarvik piped up, "It was just the wind passing through the passage."
"Wind. There's no wind in here! If there was wind, the air wouldn't be so stale and unmoving. This place reeks of death!" she cried, "And besides, I know. That was no wind. It was human."
Tyanna broke down into sobs, and we sat there for a long time. We muttered reassurances to each other, but we all knew that we had lost two friends that day. Finally, Alarvik lit a new torch, and we set off down the passage to find Galden.
And find him we did. His headless body lay dismembered in the middle of the passage. His limbs had been ripped from their sockets, and his head was just not there. Tyanna broke into fresh sobs, and Alarvik and I stood solemnly, mourning the death of a good friend.
The passage here was subtly different, though. The walls now had wide arched alcoves dug about a foot into either wall. The shadows never left their sheltered confines. I heard a soft clicking of legs, followed by a crunch as something died in the blackness. I shuddered.
Then, a soft hissing sounded from in front of us. It wasn't a snake's hiss, but more of a deep, malicious hiss. It had a loud resonance and a sharp quality that grated against our ears. Tyanna stood, wiping the tears from her cheeks. She drew her sword and held it at ready. Alarvik purposefully nocked an arrow to his short bow, and I pulled out my broad sword.
The hissing slowly faded. Tyanna put the sword away, dropped to her knees, and covered Galden's body with his own cloak. A tear trickled down her cheek before she steeled herself and stood. Alarvik kept his bow drawn, but I put the sword away.
We decided to walk further down the passage. There was really no point in turning back. The hissing thing would probably kill us if we turned our backs. Now that I think about it, the thing probably didn't kill us then because it wasn't hungry. It could easily of overwhelmed us.
Anyways, we finally came to a thick door, which was ajar. Alarvik still held his bow, and he motioned for Tyanna to open the door. She did; it swung further open to reveal a medium sized room. The doorway led down a flight of stairs onto the floor, where another flight of stairs led to a door on the other side. Unfortunately, the floor was submerged, and where it would have been was a pool of murky green water. There was a statue, sunk to its knees in the middle of the room.
"Should we go in?" Tyanna asked.
"I don't like the water," I complained.
Alarvik looked uncertain. I shrugged.
And then, the decision was made for us. The statue moved. We saw it turn around, and then we recognized the features of Brienna.
"Brienna!" Tyanna called, jumping into the water and splashing towards the woman in the middle.
Suddenly, I noticed a slightly glazed look in Brienna's eyes. "Tyanna! Don't go!" I shouted. It was too late, however. A black tentacle burst from the left side of the pool, and coiled around Tyanna's waist. She screamed in horror, a scream I'll never forget, as she was lifted high into the air. That scream still haunts me even now, as my hour draws near.
Alarvik loosed his arrow as I jumped into the pool, sword whipping from the scabbard. I slashed out, but another black tentacle slammed into my chest, knocking me backwards into the water. I jumped up to see the tentacle drag Tyanna kicking and screaming into the depths of the pool. The bubbles floated up for a few seconds before the water began to take on a reddish hue.
"Noooooooooooooo!" I screamed.
I sank to my knees, holding my head in my hands. I sobbed for only a few minutes, but it seemed like years before Alarvik touched my shoulder. I looked up. His face was grim, and he wore a frown.
"Brienna was dead when we saw her," he said.
I stopped crying, and stood up. My eyes were red, and I shook with sorrow. My thinking wasn't clear, which accounts for my actions. I drew my sword, and ran towards the pool where my love had disappeared, and Alarvik grabbed me hard.
"She's dead! There's nothing we can do! I'm sorry!" he cried.
"Maybe I can save her!" I yelled.
"I'm sorry. I loved her too! She is dead!" he bellowed.
I stopped trying, and put on a grim image. "The bastards that are haunting us are gonna pay . . . in blood."
"Yeah," he agreed menacingly.
It was then that I noticed that Alarvik had his daggers out, and they had blood on them, up to the hilt. I glanced around, and saw that Brienna was missing. Then, I saw her arm, sitting on the far stairs in a pool of spattered blood. Her face was partially submerged, but not enough to show that the jaw was missing. I looked back to Alarvik in shock.
"She wasn't alive."
"But I saw her move!" I protested.
"She was . . . undead. A zombie," he sighed.
"Let's get out of here before that - that thing comes back," I said, my voice cracking in sorrow.
Alarvik nodded, and we stepped up the forbidding door. Alarvik tugged it open, and we stepped through. The hissing started immediately, and suddenly, Alarvik pitched forward, pulled through the doorway. I jumped back as a hooked spike slashed forward at me. I slipped on the arm, and fell into the water with a splash. I came back up to see Alarvik's head come flying across the room to splatter against one of the walls. The shards of skull and gobs of brain fell into the water with sickening splashes. I ducked back under the water, and looked at the submerged floor.
The floor had sunken in one area, the pit where Tyanna had died. Blood red water still rose from there in tendrils. I came back up, to hear the far door slam. The creature hissed loudly from the door as one spindly leg stepped out. It was not a spider's leg, though. It was jointed backwards, and an arm followed it, gripping a bloody hooked blade.
With no choice remaining to me, I dove, and swam, to the pit. Coming up for air, I caught a glimpse of a the blade being jabbed down at me. I ducked, and it passed just above my head. I swam through the hole. The pit beneath was dark, but there was another shaft of light coming down a ways off. It seemed that this entire castle's cistern wasn't quite pure. I swam as hard as I could towards that beam of light. It was my life, my only hope, perhaps even an exit from this den of hell. But as my head came up above the water, I found myself in a flooded corridor. I climbed onto the floor, and began to run.
I don't know how long I ran down that interminable tunnel, but I finally reached a door. I tugged it open, and saw a room beyond, quiet and lit. There were four torches in their scones, and the small room had a small chair and a desk. There was a rug on the floor, and a picture on the wall, showing an old man with venomous eyes. They seemed to watch me, and I honestly believe that they actually are. Well, I found paper, and a quill in an inkpot, and I decided to stop.
While I had been running, I had known that I was as good as dead. It's just that when I got here, I stopped fighting the impossible, and decided that if I was to make good use of my experience I ought to write this down, so that if somehow my body is found, then the people will be warned, and nobody will be subjected to the terrors that I faced. I still face, even now, the horrible feeling that I will die.
The terrors hunt me even now. There is no escape from this room. If you are reading this, know that I wish you well in your escape. Because if you are within the castle's lower chambers, you are now trapped as well. There is no escape from here. You should have listened to the elders in the village above. I hope that by some miracle should you escape, distribute this, so that none will undergo what we have.
I hear the hissing, and it draws nearer. In these final minutes, I realize that I have only one regret. The fact that I couldn't save Tyanna weighs heavily upon me. I only wish that I could have saved her. If only I had the strength, or the magic, or anything. Although I suppose it wouldn't be a better death here. At least she didn't know what was coming; at least she didn't have to wait in dreadful anticipation of an imminent death.
The hissing draws nigh. My life is done. I bid farewell, and may the almighty gods smile upon thee...
Thanks to Jason J. Romein for this contribution!