Beneath the Mountains - A Short Story


This story is a little different than any other I've written, told entirely from the journal of an adventuring hunter. I hope you enjoy it, let me know in the comments!

Introduction

An ancient queen sent a group of explorers deep beneath the mountains, where they became lost in a dark and mystifying labyrinth of caves. On the third day, or so they guessed, they discovered a hunter’s journal on the shore of an underwater lake. It spoke of a terrifying beast and the hunter’s struggle to escape.

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Into the Dark

I journey into the belly of the mountains, where it is too dark to be day or night. You sleep when you are tired and eat when you must.

It is the twelfth day of summer, a good time to descend deep into the caves because they will not be icy cold, and I must go deep, endlessly deep, if I am to discover the secrets of the abyss. The mountains surrounding Khyrah conceal a world much larger than the surface, and ever since I was young I have wanted to see the beasts that hide there.

My pack is full of dried meats, fruits, and seeds to sustain me. Still, I will make camp at one of the lakes closer to the surface to hunt, forage, and create a cache. I must be as prepared as I can be for what lies below, though I fear no preparation will be enough for what I am getting myself into.

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Some Days Later

With my cache in place, I took a raft across the lake and followed the river it fed. Cracks in the cavern above let a little sunlight through, telling me when the day ended. I rested by a waterfall and then descended down its cliffs before the sun returned.

I have journeyed many levels down. Each one takes more time for my eyes to adjust, to even see my hand in front of my face. But with patience, my eyesight returns. I cannot risk using a torch or flame here, not until I go deep and need the warmth.

To my shock, I have found several trees growing together here where I have made camp for the night. I did not think plant life could flourish so far down. Yet, these are unlike any trees I have ever seen. Their leaves are hard like thin, tar-covered bark, their roots sinking into cavities within the rocks.

In the dark as I rest, I heed every noise. When I walk, I do so with steps slow and silent. But soon, I will want to make noise. Soon, I will want whatever dwells down here to find me.

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Encounter with a Beast

After I awoke, I began to feel like I was being watched. It was nothing I heard or saw that made me feel this way. In fact, the air seemed quieter. Yet, I have learned that silence can mean that something very deadly is close by.

It was time for me to set a trap, but I needed to search for the perfect spot to spring it. After a long search, I found one high in a tall cavern among a large rock formation. At the top of the formation was a small platform just big enough for me to rest and have some room to move around. The way up would be precarious, though not impossible, for a larger creature to climb.

The trap was simple. I loosened some of the supporting boulders and rocks that the predator would need to use in order to reach me. I then tied a rope to one of the lower rock pillars to pull it down. There would be no way for whatever hunts me to escape.

Finally, to lure the beast I made a fire from my perch overlooking the cavern. It was magical to see the glow of orange again, vibrant flames dancing on the dense, dark bark from the strange trees near my last encampment. The warmth of the fire soothed me. I waited long for the beast to emerge, but it never did. Still, I waited, until the fire’s warmth lulled me to sleep.

I awoke to the crash of falling rocks, followed by the deep rumblings of a horrifying roar. I sprung to my feet and looked down at the rocks below in amazement. The glow of fire revealed the terrifying figure below me, a great beast more terrifying than I had imagined.

Its appearance was like that of an armored warrior, its skin shiny like glass, thick as metal. Its face and body took the form of a lion, yet more than twice the size of any I had ever seen. Its eyes looked up at me, suddenly calm and studious, and I felt as though I knew its thoughts. It had waited in the dark for me to slumber, to sneak up on me then. Now, it needed a new plan to reach me with the way up broken because my trap had worked.

I reached behind my back to grab my bow tucked beneath my pack. I needed to know just how thick the creature's skin was to make my next move. First, tossed some dried meat in front of me to try to turn it and expose its chest, but it ignored my offering. It wanted fresh meat. Me.

It prowled back and forth, head turned, not taking its eyes off me. It even leapt twice to try and strike at me with its sharp claws, but each try fell short. With that, I felt secure provoking it further, so I pulled back an arrow and fired. The arrow struck true and penetrated deeper than I expected. Encouraged, I removed several more from my quiver, firing one after another.

The beast became furious, roaring in anger, teeth snarling and bloody. I felt victorious, my heart swelling with pride at my accomplishment. Then, with nearly all of my arrows exhausted, the beast collapsed, and I stood in awe of what I had accomplished. Blood rushed hot throughout my body, and I let out a roar of the conqueror. But my celebration came to soon.

The beast, roused from its feigned slumber by my cry, sprung up and leapt higher than before, half its massive body reaching above the ledge where I stood and forcing me back. Its front arms clawed into the rock to grip, launching its body toward me knocking me back with a great blow.

I dove for my spear and pointed it at the beast the instant it threw itself at me. The point embedded itself into the beast's chest, and it cried out and lashed at the shaft of the spear, snapping it in two. This gave me a couple of precious seconds to grab the rope from my trap tied to the rocks below and jump off the edge of the platform to swing to safety.

But as the beast swung its arm once more to strike me, it made contact with the rope and slashed it. A few remaining strands of the rope held firm as I looked down to behold that I was above a dark, bottomless pit forming at the edge of the cavern. Desperate, I tried to tug the rope and swing toward the side of the pit, but my effort was in vain. The rope snapped, and I fell into the dark. Seconds later, my head slammed against the wall of the pit, and I was out.

It is hard to explain how I woke up alive at the bottom some long time later. The pit must have been must have been angled, like the steep side of a mountain that gradually flattens. It allowed my motionless body to roll down its steep edges unbroken.

To my surprise, the place I then found myself in, where I write this entry now, was not completely black. A light lingered in the distance that gave the cavern shape without my eyes needing to adjust. An amber glow that I followed to its source, my body cut and aching.

I called out, hoping I had come across some other adventurers, but no reply came. I limped closer to learn that the light was not from sun or fire, but some unbelievable phenomena. Not far from where I had landed was a small pond, and just beneath its shallow waters were glowing stones, small and wondrous. I spun around, my eyes adjusting, to find that the pit formed a large cavern, and the pond was just a small part of it tucked in an alcove. Its waters led down a narrow channel around a bend in the rocks, and a small creek fed it from the dark. More trees formed at the edge of the pond, I used their bark to able to build a fire near the water's edge.

That is where I am now, writing these words as my body warms and I tend to my wounds. I wonder if anyone will ever read it. If I will ever be able to escape. There is little hope I can get back up the pit, and with no knowledge of where I am or how to get back, I may live only long enough to see this labyrinth become my tomb.

I do not mind if this will be my end. I have lived my life in isolation. I always supposed I would die in isolation. But there is no reason to give up yet. I will explore this area as best as I can, create a map to track my way, and see if I can’t escape. It is never a bad idea to have hope.

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A Trail of Blood

No luck finding a way out so far.

The most promising prospect so far was the creek that feeds the pond. It forks just before it reaches the large cavern with the lights, and I had hoped that at least one of the two would lead me out. The left fork led to loud waterfall pouring in from a hole in the rocks above. After many painful attempts, however, it became clear that there was no way to fight the water and climb my way up. The right fork was also a dead end, its water coming from cracks in the walls.

When I returned to the camp, defeated, I discovered a sign that I was no longer alone. I heard a scratching from the far side of the cavern and went to it, bow at the ready, but when I reached it, I found a trail of blood. Strangely, it led close to where I had made camp, but stopped at the edge of the light, where the blood pooled.

I fear that the beast has found me. If so, why did it stop before reaching me? My only guess is that it remains weak from being pierced by my spear, hidden and waiting for me to sleep again. I will have to be more cautious moving forward.

The trail of blood from which the beast came might be the only way out, but I can’t risk that yet. It could be a trap. The beast is far too large and quick for me to outrun or have any advantage over, especially if it ambushes me. For now, I must seek another escape before going that way.

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Running Out of Options

I have surveyed most of the other paths exiting this room, but the trail of blood remains my only promising route. I have made a map of my findings to be sure I have tried everything.

My supplies are low, and I cannot wait much longer before risking an encounter with the beast. I think I hear it in the distance sometimes, waiting and hissing beyond the trail of blood.

Yet, I take it as a good sign the beast remains unwilling to cross into this cavern. I wonder if it has something to do with the glowing stone from the pond. I went into the shallow water to take one, and to my surprise, it retained its glow even after being removed from the water. The stones themselves are the source of their light, though they do not burn nor are hot to the touch. I have gathered several to help guide my way as I search for another way out.

My wounds from the fall have healed well, though I do not take encouragement from this. Surely the beast is recovering, too. Yet, the stains of blood continue to be fresh when I come across them on that side of the cavern. It makes me worry that it is not the beast who stalks me but some other predator. I fear I will find out soon enough.

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Another Encounter

I was roused from my slumber by a familiar, deep bellow from the darkness. For the first time, I could tell that the beast was in the cavern with me, just beyond the light’s reach. Still, it waited and would not approach me to make the killer blow.

Was it still hoping to provoke me, to lure me away to a place where it would have the advantage? If so, it was mistaken. Instead, I drew my bow and fired three arrows into the darkness near the trail of blood. The first two landed hollow, but the third struck true.

The beast cried out, but did still would not charge. Encouraged, I stepped closer and fired again. Once more, the beast howled in pain. I screamed loudly as I shot another, wanting the creature to step into the light so that I could finish it with my hatchet and gain my freedom.

But the beast cowered and fled. I have not heard from it since. Still, I will not let this event convince me that I have the advantage. The beast still rules the dark, and I am not going to let it win now. I will continue to seek another way out until there is no other option.

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Farewell

My map of the area is complete, but my options remain meager. In all my exploration, there are only two alternatives to the trail of blood. The first is a giant pit. I threw a flame down into it, but the fire fell until it disappeared. It is too treacherous to risk going down so deep when I might not have the strength to get back up.

The second is an underwater tunnel in a large lake near the pit. I tried swimming it a short distance, but even with the glowing stones to guide me, I could see no end in the distance. I would have to push further than my breath could bring me back.

I am left then with three options. There is no coming back from any of them. And so I say farewell and determine to follow the trail of blood.

Maybe I should have chased the beast into the dark when I had the chance. It was weak. That might have been my best hope. Or maybe the beast is dead, our last encounter its final attempt to lure me away. The blood of trail has dried. Though perhaps because its wounds have healed.

Should I encounter the beast again, I cannot risk letting it escape again. One of us must fall. I am prepared for that. After all, what better ending could a hunter like me ask for? As for this journal, I leave it to you, whoever you are. Let its map be your guide and give you hope of escape if you are trapped. Do not fear the glowing stones, but take some of them with you to light the way. Know that you, too, must follow the stain of blood to return to the world of the living.

For my sake, I hope the beast is dead. And it is not, I pray for your sake that I am able to kill it.

Good luck, and farewell.

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