Beneath the Haunted Woods: Part Six
The entire chamber was consumed in pitch-black darkness. The air thick, cold as the ice caves. The only sounds were the distant echoes of water dripping onto the floor and the faint howling of the wind travelling through the many holes and tunnels scattered around the cavern.
The shadows recoiled and retreated as a sudden jet of flame burst from within the obscurity, light flooding the cave in a reddish-orange flicker, revealing a red Zafara holding a lantern, closing the open compartment shut as the last embers expired.
Arthur strapped the lantern to his side; the metal clinking as he started moving forward, the shadows parting as the lantern’s light cast them away.
Within moments two massive brass doors stood before him, closed shut. The thought of trying to push them open was out of the question, as he knew it would be to no avail. He turned tail and made his way through the inner chamber.
He could feel his lungs burning and his head throbbing, the thick pressure of the depths forcing him to take deeper breaths.
There was a sudden crack. Arthur jumped at the unexpected noise. He looked down; he had just stepped on something soft, crushed to pieces under his foot. He backed away slightly, crouching down to his knees. Upon close examination he saw that it was decayed, it’s color a mold-like green covered in dust. He reached out and touched it with his hand; only to immediately lurch it away as he realized what it was.
It was a bone.
Arthur jumped back, petrified, only to hear another crunch beneath his feet, this time louder than the last. He looked down again; a small assortment of bones lay beneath him, joined together from end to end. The lantern swung forward, the light briefly revealing a decayed skeleton of an unidentifiable species just a mere foot away from where he was standing.
His eyes widened and his mouth was agape as the lantern’s light revealed his surroundings; the walls of the cavern itself were not of the familiar sight of bedrock, limestone or sandstone, but rows of bones stacked one of top of the other. He turned to his side, more bones were scattered all around the chamber, some were fully intact, but many were shattered into pieces, crumbled to dust.
He began trembling, his breathing frantic and his heart beating at a faster rate. He forced himself to keep moving, putting one foot slowly in front of the other, picking up the pace with each step, the light revealing more and more collections of bones and whole skeletons; some were amassed into holes dug into the walls, many more lay scattered on the ground, the piles rising higher and higher until they towered above him, obscuring the ceiling.
He started running, blindly into the darkness beyond, the lantern swinging madly as his pace hastened, briefly illuminating a few meters in front of him with each swing. He turned a corner as a wall of bones blocked the path ahead, leading into tighter corridors.
He ran faster, turning corners through dark, narrow corridors; the sounds of crunching, cracking and the snapping of bones and other skeletal remains ringed through his sensitive ears as he traversed through the labyrinthine chamber.
As he turned one more corner, the furs on the back of his neck pricked, he twisted his lower body, setting one foot in front of the other at an angle, sliding against the floor, slowing him down right as he came dangerously close to crashing against a wall. The lantern swung, the light briefly illuminating a long snout fitted with pointy, jagged protrusions. The light arced upwards, revealing a pair of thin slits, then another pair of wide, hollow sockets and two black voids staring straight back at him. He shuddered, coming to a sudden realization; what lay before him was the skeleton of a Bori, crumpled in between stacks of bones and various remains.
Arthur began backing away at the sight; he was about to turn tail when his eye caught something glinting in the lantern’s light. His eyes dilated as he set his sights on a ruby amulet, its straps wrapped around the bony neck.
Cautiously, he outstretched his hand, reaching for the talisman. Suddenly his hand reeled back as he looked up at the skull, he could have sworn he had heard it make a crackling sound. He waited for a brief moment. Not a sound was made.
He reached out again, keeping his eyes on the skull, his fingers touching the amulet’s encrusted jewel. As he clutched the amulet, he pulled back, the straps snapping into two pieces as he took his newly found treasure in his grasp.
Arthur uncurled his fist, the jewel, a bright shade of red, reflected in his eyes, casting a glare upon the surface of the amulet.
He took one last look at the Bori skeleton that lay before him.
“Thanks.” He uttered, a slight trembling in his voice.
Right as he said the word, the skull fell apart, collapsing into a pile of fractured remains as the weak, ancient bones crashed against the floor beneath his feet.
Arthur jumped, taking a couple steps back, cupping the amulet with both hands. He stood there for a moment, taking deep breaths, giving himself a moment to calm his nerves. Then he turned tail, running in the opposite direction, turning corners, rushing through the corridors, dodging left and right, up and down, until he finally reached a pair of stone slab doors. The Zafara was relieved; he pushed through the gates without hesitation, a draft of cold air breezed past him as he barged into a larger room.
The room led into a larger chamber, it’s space so vast that the lantern’s light couldn’t reach farther than a few meters. In front of him lay an archway suspended over a chasm, connecting both sides of the cliff. Arthur did not hesitate, he ran across the bridge with due haste, gusts of cold air coming down from the ceiling chilled him to the bone as he made his way through.
Suddenly, his expression turned to fright as the light revealed that the floor beneath had come to an abrupt end.
He skidded to a halt, tilting his feet up as the heels skidding against the ground slowed him down, just barely stopping right at the very edge, coming dangerously close to sliding off and plummeting into the chasm below.
His heart skipped a beat. As he regained his composure he saw that the other side of the cliff was a few meters away from where the broken bridge had been. He bent over a bit, staring down the abyss, then back up to the cliff side.
Arthur gulped. He took a few steps back, positioning himself in the middle of the bridge. He took a deep breath, exhaled and then made a dash for it. Right as he reached the edge he kicked back his hind legs with all his might, launching himself into the air as high as his powerful legs could allow.
As he soared over the chasm, a vast feeling of dread overcame him; he broke into a cold sweat, slightly gasping as the surrounding air began to rush past him. He started to fall; he closed his eyes, outstretching his arms as he fell through the air. He clenched his eyes shut, gritting his teeth as the feeling of falling overwhelmed him, the chasm pulling him down.
Arthur opened his eyes as his feet landed on rough ground. He chuckled, straightening himself up, only to suddenly feel the back of his feet slip. He gasped in shock as he lost his balance, his gasp turning into a scream as he found himself tumbling head over heels off the side of the cliff.
He could see the void beneath him as he fell, its haunting, vast emptiness dragging him down into the depths, the shadows coming closer, about to swallow him up.
Suddenly, his hands grasped the edges of the cliff, bringing his fall to a sudden stop; leaving him hanging over the bottomless pit. He breathed heavily for several moments, trying to calm his skyrocketing heartbeat.
He began to pull himself up; his arms, shoulders and hands tensed, his teeth clenched and his eyes squinting. He was only able to lift himself up to his elbows before his strength failed him, sending him sliding back down, panting, the muscles in his elbows and forearms burning from the effort.
His ears twitched; above the ledge he could hear a faint thumping. He closed his eyes and listened, trying his best to filter out any other noises. The thumps grew slightly louder, but this time he could also hear the faint clinking and clattering of metal and lead in the distance. His ears perked, his eyes widened, his expression almost turning to disbelief.
Arthur raised his legs, his entire body tensed from the effort as he used a pair of footholds to lift himself up just about enough so he could just barely see over the ledge. His eyes dilated as they adjusted to a pair of dim flickering reddish-orange lights in front of him.
But then a new sound echoed throughout the cave, in the opposite direction of the path, the sounds of skittering and scraping, as if something were tearing through the ground with relative ease, grew louder and louder, coming closer.
To be continued…