The trio – an archer and two swordsmen – stagger through the door, panting and wheezing. They made it. Goodness. They made it.
“Close that door, Soren,” orders the leader, his voice shaky.
They can hear ghostly shrieks from beyond the door. They get closer. Somehow the trio outran them. They don’t question their feat, just accept. Soren musters whatever strength he can from his oxygen-deprived muscles and closes the colossal door. Thud – echo-echo-echo.
Soren keeps his back to the door, gasping. He looks at Ander, a beefy guy clad in steel and a mammoth of a blade in his shuddering hand, and nods his head at a stack of thick boxes. There’re no words. Ander shuffles, leans his blade against the wall and drives the stack toward the door. As Ander positions them in front, he backs off and breathes in deeply through his nose.
His nose picks up a smell. Not his sweat, though there is that, but something else. Iron. It’s profound, nose-curling, suffocating. Ander breathes out hard, clearing his throat, hacking wildly as if the smell were sending him to throw up. He feels his morning toast crawl up his neck. An acidic substance sits at the back of his neck.
“Oh my goodness,” Ander coughs. “What is that smell?”
“No idea—forget it, just… just catch your breath.” Advises Finnur, the leader.
He looks about, gets his bearings. They’re in a room, he discovers. Obviously. A dark room. There’s only one light source and that’s a dim lantern above the door they had just entered. The light doesn’t reach far. Probably twenty steps worth of it. After that – darkness. Jet. Black. Darkness. Finnur can’t even make out the ceiling. Because of this, Finnur concludes that they’re in some kind of hall. A huge one. Massive.
Besides the darkness, it’s cold. An ever-present draft seeps through the gaps in his leather armour. A blanket of goose bumps comes over him. Finnur regrets wearing it now. He wishes he could swap for fur, but its weight would only slow him down. And as an archer, Finnur needs mobility. Neither of his friends have fur on them anyway. Both of them are clad in steel. Though cold steel isn’t exactly ideal if not worse than leather.
Thud, crack, splinter. Thud, thud, thud, thud. Scream.
“Think the boxes will hold the door?” Asks Ander, his breathing regulating.
“They better.” Soren hopes.
Ander turns around and stares at Finnur. Finnur stares back. Both know they need to move soon. But where to? Look at this place. It’s dark. Darker than dark. Neither of them have ever seen such impenetrable blackness before. Maybe they could follow the wall? Finnur considers this, but then decides against it. He’d need light to guide him and his friends. No telling how far this hall goes. And what if he finds another room without any light?
Finnur has an idea.
“Um…” his eyes bounce off Soren and Ander. “Ander. Get that lantern. On top of the door.”
“Wh—the boxes, Ander, climb them.”
“No, no way, that smell is coming from them.”
“Be a man, Ander, for the love of my beard. Hold your breath or something.”
Ander doesn’t protest this time. Instead, he examines the boxes with blue eyes. His brows furrow. Wrinkles form on his forehead. Lips scrunch together. Soren steps back, giving room.
Ander lays his sword on the floor and surmounts the boxes. He hides his coughs behind a clenched fist. Cough. Ugh. Cough-cough. Hmm. Ander wrinkles his nose. Right. Okay. He takes a brief look at the lantern. It’s fixed to the wall. The metal seamlessly blends into the cold stone. This both confuses and annoys Ander.
He coughs, waving his hand.
“N—” cough-cough. “No. It’s, uh, uhm. I don’t know, the thing is glued to the wall.” Ander explains.
“Glued to the wa—you serious? Just unhook the thing, Ander.” Finnur moans.
“Come and look for yourse—” cough-cough. “Yourself. Ugh. No. I’m coming down.”
And he’s down in an instant.
Finnur shakes his head. “You got muscles. Use ‘em.”
Ander didn’t consider this. Well, he couldn’t. With that stench, and the confusion, and the annoyance, and the constant moaning and nagging from Finnur, nothing rational or complete went through his head.
Finnur opens his mouth, ready to rain more grief over Ander, but Soren steps in, his brows knitting at something in the pitch black; he holds a finger up.
“Listen.” He whispers.
They hear nothing. Nothing! Just their breaths. At first, Finnur and Ander don’t pick up what Soren is getting at. But then it clicks – to both of them. Silence. From beyond the door. Those things have gone. Or have they? None of them could tell.
Ander shoots a long look at Finnur. He throws one back. Their minds sync. Finnur nods. Ander places his ear next to the door. Nothing. No banging, no shuffling of the feet. They just vanished. A smile comes across Ander’s face, he glances up, sees his friends. My goodness.
“If they’re gone, might as well move the boxes,” Finnur suggests, staring at them. His eyes then move left. An agape Ander stands statue-like.
Soren has already turned around, retreating away from Finnur.
The leader swerves about.
A deformed white figure stands before them. With the shape of a straight finger for a body, this creature has five stick-like legs and two stick-like arms, an ear-less and nose-less head, a cluster of beady eyes and an open mouth bearing several sets of serrated teeth. Most bizarre of all, a plethora of string-like tendrils hang out of its ‘back’ and scatter off into the abyss behind it. Its skin is flaky as well as wrinkly.
The creature makes an odd sound, the sound of someone who would choke on their food. Then shrieks.
Finnur freaks out; his stomach falls through his backside. Nothing rational goes through his mind. His hands just go for his bow. Where is it? He had it on his back. Wait. He feels the string. That’s it. Guiding his hand down, he finds the grip. He takes it out and backs off. Slowly. No – sudden – movements. Finnur’s eyes don’t falter—not even blink.
“Ander…” he whispers. “Move the boxes…”
A series of coughs and hacks and gasps respond to his command. That smell again? Finnur isn’t amused. Not one bit. In fact, amusement doesn’t pass his mind. He’s terrified.
“Ander! Grow a pair and—” he sees Ander. Inserted in his neck, chest and temple are white tendrils. The colour from Ander’s face drains completely. He’s stuck, shaking uncontrollably, foam and spittle dripping out of his mouth. The tendrils get bigger. Ander gets smaller. The chokes silence themselves. Ander falls. Dead. Life literally sucked out of him.
“Soren…” Finnur calls very, very quietly.
He looks for him.
He’s on the floor. Dead. The tendrils leave his body, blood dripping from the holes at the end.
Finnur’s bottom lip quivers wildly.
He gains his composure and focuses forward, seeing the creature advance awkwardly, with a limp. And the tendrils behind his back follow. Slither.
One creeps close.
Simply, and calmly, Finnur gets an arrow.
He draws it.
And lets go.