This Week’s Prompt: :59. Man in strange subterranean chamber—seeks to force door of bronze—overwhelmed by influx of waters.
The Research:Bound Beneath The Earth
Theodore was unconcious when the lowered him down the ancient pit. His mind had been adled shortly before, so that when he awoke, he would only distantly recall the actual descent. And his limbs would be limp, unable to resist his executioners. They were oddly kind for what they did, lowering him almost gently down to the dimly lit shore of that vast aquafir. After it was done, they cut the rope with a quick knife stroke, and closed the door.
Theodore came to an unknown time later, with only a dying fire and his stocks. Finding a sufficiently sharp rock, he bashed his hands free, and seized a larger piece to be a light. The rest he tossed on the fire, to shine brighter on his return. Doing so, he made his way along the shore. The water was fresh but almost algae filled. It lacked the familiar smell of salt, the motion of coming and going waves.
There were no shells, only broken stones along the shore, and the charred remains of other stockades and fires. Theodore stepped around them with some respect, wondering sometimes if something lived in the lightless pool. But no motion, not even the pull of the moon, seemed to alter it. Deciding that he would not die with only a pool of water to stare at, he turned away and walked deeper into his tomb.
The first thing he found was a corpse, bloated and rotting from the nearby lake. It lay curled up at the bottom of an alcove, the burnt ashes of stocks having only left a vague mark on the ground. Theodore raised his torch a bit to see if any remained, revealing the man’s slack jawed face as he did so. His hair on end, Theodore turned and pressed on. The cave couldn’t go on forever.
Theodore found the quiet and emptiness made him prone to introspection. His shadows and the unmistakable presence of a hundred other condemned bodies were the only company. He wondered how long this receptacle of misery had existed. What crimes had condemned men through the ages down into the pits. Ages past they said, blasphemers, witches, sorcerers, and worse had been sent into the unknown depths of this purgatorio. Theodore felt his own crime, then, was rather small. A bit of blood on the stones was not compared to the horde of sinners that teemed around forgotten fires.
As the cave descended, the flickering light revealed crumbling walls and walkways of stone and dried mud, the outlines and echoes of a habitation. There were collapsed beams of smooth stone, having given way to long forgotten weights. There was nothing written here, no wind to stir the accumulated decay. The only marker of time was that as he went farther and farther, the buildings rose and grew sturdier and sturdier. As the fire began to fade a great gate, opened by a long forgotten traveler, came into view. It’s metal frame and wooden form were better made. Atop it was something inscribed:
The hands that raised me have perished. The hands that sought to tear me down have become naught but dust. The Sky that smiled at me is buried, and the mountains from which I was quarried are long worn down.
Inside the buildings were of stone, locked together without mortar. The cyclopean structures were preserved, with only broken shards of glass along the floor. Here, the dead had taken more corporeal forms. Corpses lay, as Theodore explored, against windows. They looked out longingly, minerals having long replaced muscle, statues frozen in rotting states. The dead idols, lifeless beyond dead, were found in the streets.
Here were some locked in embrace, heads tilted and small streams of salt marking where tears would fall. There, beneath the greened copper eagle, was a figure gripping at the base of an altar to some forgotten god. Around a dried fountain lay others, arms covering their chest. They waited in rows,eyes and tongues missing, some creature having long chewed them away before the petrified wastes could have their way. At the base of the fountain, Theodore found more scrawled writing in holy script.
Weep not for us, traveler, who has come to this most holy shrine. Far and wide is our fate known, and you must surely know it well. Your pilgrimage is welcome, to look upon our last works before the great gods recalled us to our heavenly posts.
Theodore continued on, stepping carefully around the stone bodies, moving deeper inward. The statues at the gate were crumbling horsemen, proudly facing out with rusted blades the underground lake, welcoming long passed foemen. The center statue between them had decayed such that the line between victor and defeated was hard to see. Whether the forms gripping the standing man’s limbs were carved from stone or frozen flesh, Theodore did not want to know. The limbs had fallen limp either way, outcry now fallen away, recorded only in it’s failure.
The dark had made Theodore numb. The vague outlines of finished structures, edged by shifting shadows, and the remains of the sedatives he’d been given when lowered into this pit had made put his mind into a state of dull curiosity. Still, the bodies had broken into his soul, and planted a seed of growing fear within. Deeper in, he went, until he came to an elaborate door of painted wood. When the torch touched it, it sparkled and nearly blinded him. The broken piece of stock dropped to the floor and nearly went out as he rubbed his eyes to see the bejeweled door. The engraving was as follows, in archaic tongues.
I defied the deep. I defied the Flame. But when at last my doom came, it made me hollow and hallowed my steal to gold. An exquisite corpse I leave, for lesser worlds to recall.
The buildings rose like columns beyond, broken tops of glass shimmering like stars from the torch. A shimmering and flickering of candles and the constant smell of incense and myrrh filled the air. Theodore tossed the burning remains of the torch aside, and watched in horror and awe as it caught on a puddle and ignited a larger fire from the strange mater. In the snaking light of the new inferno, he saw bodies wrapped in fine silk, with tendril funerary masks carved from green stone.
A pair of statues, carved from flesh colored stone and covered with moss, leaned forward in the hall. They were like lions, but with manes of peacocks feathers, a million colored and cracked eyes. Past them were orbs held up on hundreds of spindly legs, like spiders of glimmering glass, red sand illuminated by their circuitous path. They danced around a monolith with a whole running through and what appeared to be an entire choir of bells and drums inside it’s hollow frame. When Theodore rapped it, a wondrous tone was made.
He could have, should have, wandered among those many delights for ages. Had Theodore done so, he would have perhaps found rare rest among illustrious if unknown people. The three eyed forms he found, their bodies thick in oil and dripping along the floor, eight feet tall and with the occasional visible claw, were at the least of more noble dress than those he left behind. There was something, however, that caught his eye. And Theodore’s eyes had betrayed him before into this down below.
There was a bronze door along the wall. It was plan, without ornament. There was an engraving, a fish and a hand. It’s meaning was lost to him, but given the dire warning that every other door had born, and the safety so far, Theodore was unafraid by now. He gripped the strange, circular hold, twisting it readily, and throwing open that antique door.
The onrush gave no moment for though. Lights were extinguished as the waves suddenly overcame him, overcame the tomb. Glass and fiber, metal and bone, silk and stone mixed in the pandemonium that fell out, that rushed down along. It swelled and surged, dragging the glorious dead to the convicted and damned, mixing the ashes of the condemned with the sacred oils of the eldest. When and how Theodore died, none can say. His fate was learned, when the waters bubbled up, out of that old forgotten hole.
I didn’t have time to edit this one as much as I wanted, and obviously the details of Theodore’s crime are left to the reader’s imagination more than I might have preferred. Aw well, that is the nature of these sorts of things. Next week, we pull strange and ominous things out of the sea!
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