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Down the Darker Path

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Once, when the grass was greener, when the sky was clearer, a rider approached a fork in the road. There were two paths before him, presented like a system of ethics; the lighter, happier side, and the darker, secretive side. The rider, not giving it much thought, chose the latter.

The path upon which he rode was covered on both sides by thick layers of lumbering oak trees, darkened by the fading light. They were near barren of leaves, and blocked out the remaining sun, so no plants lived below their massive canopy. The rider became interested in the gnarled limbs of the trees, seeming to reach out to him.

Eventually he came to realize his surroundings. He was in the middle of a small town, although heavily overgrown by forestation and weeds. In fact, the only reason he spotted this truth immediately was the statue, imprisoned by vines, which lay before him. After this startling moment of enlightenment, he squinted to see what the statue was of exactly.

To investigate, he wielded his skinning knife: a tool carried with him always, and began hacking at the vines, hewing them from the source. As he slew the vines from their previous residence, his eyes grew wide with fear. What lay before him was something unfamiliar to him and everyone else of this region, although it was unclear what it was, it looked such as this:

The head was that of a rat, however, there were eight. They all lay together upon two necks and stared in all directions. In their sockets were beset small rubies of red, gleaming with a subtle malevolence. As the rider’s eyes descended down the bulk of the statue, he stood back. The creature had a robe on, slimmed to his chest. Each head also wore a crown, also beset with a gem. There was one large tail, coming from the behind of the grotesque statue. The creature had two large, furred arms, muscular and long.

The rider shuddered and wondered how no one had ever discovered this place, or if they had and just not told. Eager to leave, he remounted his brown steed and carried on. He moved along the one road through this graveyard of homes, taking care not to disturb the local residents, as a bear encounter would not hurry his speed home.

Shortly after the statue, no more than, say, ten minutes, he was still riding through the town, on the seemingly never ending road. The foliage was thicker here, and sometimes gripped his home woven cloak. He was beginning to wonder if he had gotten turned around, although this seemed unlikely to him, as he had not turned. Still, he worried for his family, who would be surely waiting for him.

Suddenly, as he was lost in his trance, his horse must have tripped over a misplaced cobble in the road and fell, throwing him off in the process. The rider struck his head and was knocked unconscious. He lay where he fell for a total of two hours, dormant.

Upon the moment of his awakening, he noted two things: one, his horse had gone, leaving him stranded. Two, his rations and supplies were in the saddlebags of aforesaid horse. The rider grunted and struggled to stand, and after some difficulty, he rose.

After a cursory glance of his surroundings, he chose the building with the least growth on it and limped inside. The building he had entered was a large, gothic mansion, with wrought iron gates in front, although they posed no problems due to rust and disrepair. He pushed on inside.

The room which he had just entered was a large, grand hallway, and while it was extremely dark, the rider’s eyes had adjusted to darkness on his trek outside. He could vaguely glimpse a large stairwell several dozens of meters ahead of him. He could also just make out the outlines of large doorways on either side of the hall, two on each side. He ducked inside the portal on his left and took a seat in a vacant chair.

This room appeared to be a sitting room of sorts, with a few regal chairs, a piano, and a long table furnishing the room. He had sat in the chair at the far end of the table, and had started rummaging through his pack.

His search had yielded a few useful items, such as his flint and steel, a couple of torches, and a small amount of food. He lit a torch and his eyes gasped as it lit the room, surprised at the sudden light. The windows showed black, with a rare glimpse of moonlight shifting through the forest roof outside.

The rider decided he would sleep in this manor for the night, and walk home tomorrow. Therefore, he ventured out of the sitting room and reentered the hallway, and started checking the adjacent rooms. The other rooms seemed to be about the same as the room he had just left, although one seemed to lead off in a small sub-hallway. Through a doorway he glimpsed what looked like a kitchen, and decided his search down this rivulet wouldn’t yield a bed for the night.

It was at this point that he heard scratching in the walls, akin to the sound of rats or birds, trapped in the building. Carrying on, he journeyed up the stairs. The carpet was red, and seemed to flow forever in the darkness. The rider used his torch to light his way until he found a suitable bedroom (he had found many bedrooms, most uninhabitable. For example, the room next to his chosen room’s bed was overturned and the stuffing was torn out).

The room he chose had a large, lavish bed, much larger than his bedroom in his home. The room itself was probably bigger than his house, which inspired him to tell the story of his one night bedroom to his friends at home. He unlit his torch and laid it, along with his pack, on a desk near the entryway of the room.

While he slept he had a dream, a very vague dream. In this nightly vision, he was in total darkness, total, encompassing darkness. Through the darkness, a voice echoed, although no speaker was apparent. In fact, it didn’t seem as though he had heard it, but instead it just appeared in his thoughts. The message was clear and simple.

Come to us.

When he awoke for the second time, the rider quickly gathered up his gear and noticed that it was still dark in the corridor. He was rested enough, but it was too dark to leave just yet. He opted to wait by the door, but became sidetracked when he found yet another doorway, unnoticed by him before. It descended into a basement, and was located in the side of the stairs up.

After a while of mental debate, the rider decided to go down and search for food. It was extremely dark here, as no light escaped from above. After several minutes, the voice from the dream returned, although this wasn’t apparent to the rider, as he had forgotten the dream instantly. Come closer.

The voice startled the rider, but he figured he imagined it. After pressing onward, he began to distress about the actual size of the basement, as it was full of barrels and crates, filled with an eviscerating emptiness. Again, a message pierced into his thoughts.

What are you? We cannot see you. Come closer.

Again surprised by the sudden influx of words without seeming to go through his ears, the rider was starting to worry about two things. One, there was no food down here. Two, perhaps the voice wasn’t unreal, and perhaps something was down here with him. He pushed forward through the containers littering the endless basement.

The rider turned a corner and was surprised to see a figure of the statue outside, although this version was notably smaller. The area around it was laid out in a shrine-like fashion. He jumped, startled, and shut his eyes to avoid looking at it until he got around the corner again.

Open your eyes! We need to see to… guide you, to us.

For the first time, the rider spoke back. “Who are you, and what is this place? Guide me to where?”

Hmm. How odd. We haven’t encountered one capable of speech in a… long, time. What are you?

“Capable… I don’t understand, what is this place? Why haven’t I heard of it?”

This place is Castle Ferax. We have worked hard to keep intruders at bay.

The rider shuddered as he heard the voice, felt his skin crawl as it rasped at him. He also noticed that as the voice spoke, he heard the scratching in the walls, but he wasn’t near any walls. This worried him, as they might be in the containers he was checking.

Can you help us in our… ambitions?

“No… no, I’m sorry, I don’t know who you are, and I wish I could help, but I have to go home to my family. They’ll be missing me.”

No? No? Then share in our pain.

On the last word the rider felt a sting, like a very brief headache. It was nothing serious, and passed quickly. “How… How did you do that? What are you?” The rider was beginning to fear this place, and was hurrying towards the way he had come. His torch was starting to get to a point worthy of worry, and he doubted he could light the second in this light. He considered stopping now to light it, but was fearful of the voice that cracked into his mind every few seconds.

There is no escape. Our… people are coming for you. Then we will know…

“Know what?” said the rider in frightened reply. He was still searching for the exit, and he was pretty sure it was nearby, cloaked by the ensuing dark. In the darkness, he saw a set of glinting red eyes, staring at him, no more than two feet from his face.

Let us see… What!? Human! Kill! Kill!

The rider made a sudden, far-fetched connection, the statues and the voice. Although it was a long shot, the human brain will accept the first, even the most outlandish idea. He made another possible connection a mere seconds later, remembering when the… thing, had said open your eyes. The rider wasn’t accustomed to modern thinking, and knew little about telepathic theories, but he made a brief presumption that this being was in his head. He shut his eyes again.

What? Let us see, human… This only angers us.

Again, the rider had a stroke of luck and quick thinking, and thought, “Can you hear me?” No response. He repeated the message in his mind, again to no reply. So, the rider had figured out one mystery. Sadly, he was still unaware as to what this thing actually was.

As the rider dashed for the exit of the basement, he heard chittering behind him, and the scratching was starting. He swore he could feel something against his legs as he sprinted through the wrecked basement, keeping his eyes closed as much as he dared.

Get it now!

The rider trembled as he fled, and risked a glance behind him. All seemed normal until he realized that the floor appeared to be moving. In truth, it was covered in a huge swarm of rats, as far as his torch lit the floor.

Will you share in our… imprisonment?

Again, the rider cringed and recoiled in pain as the last word was spoken. This time it was worse than his original encounter with the words, and the headache had a longer duration. The rider was not a dumb man, actually quite intelligent for his time, and thought one of two things; the first thought, the source of the words must be getting closer. The alternative was no more appealing: it was getting stronger.

It was also at this point that the rider thought that he should have reached the door by now. It seemed he had been running for ages, but in truth he figured it would have been about 15 minutes. He also noted that his torch was dangerously flickering and the light was fading. So the rider found a small cubby and threw the torch before him, to ward of rats. He was now, however, trapped.

Would you like to see us? We believe an executioner should look his victim in the eye.

“Why… why can’t I go home? I just want to see my family! What is it you want from me?”

We need you to let us out.

“Let you out… let you out of where? Where are you?”

The rats before the rider parted way, and forward came the source of the voices. It was nearly an exact replica of the statue from above, but instead was graying, and the rat heads appeared blind. The thing appeared to be about four feet tall, however. As it came forward, the rats all looked in unison towards the rider, with his back against the wall.

We… we need out of this place… before we die… We are the last of our kind. We will live in the light before we die.

“How do I know you won’t just trick me?” replied the rider, hurriedly lighting his remaining torch.

There is something you should know.

The rider hesitated. This sounded very much like a trap. “Oh, yeah? And what is it that I should know?” The giant eight headed rat chuckled to himself as the next thought made itself heard in the rider’s mind.

You have no choice. You will help us or perish.

The rider sat in his crouch against the wall, mind ringing from the psionic blow that had been dealt to him. Afterwards, however, he was mentally debating with himself. While this was happening, the rats watched with interest for their leader, ready to spring in attack at the first thought.

The rider rose.

Have you made your decision?

“Yes. I’ll help you leave the basement in return for safe passage out of this gods’ forsaken place.”

Good. The door is right behind you.

While the huge blind rat giggled to itself, the rider turned and lo, a door had appeared. He opened it, and greeted the sight of warm sunlight, wafting in in shafts through the glorious windows. He grinned wildly for a split second, and remembered where he was and what he was doing. He turned to face the door to the basement, but it was gone. Assuming his task finished, he left.

The rider eventually located his horse and kept on the road and left the town, although the foliage seemed to have dissipated while he was lost in the subterranean crypt. He eventually made it home, and saw his family wasn’t waiting for him at the door. He opted to surprise them, and snuck inside stealthily.

It was night when he arrived, and dark inside the house. He sneaked into his children’s rooms, and found the beds vacant. He finally decided that they were out, and went to sleep in his bed.

It was bright inside the room when he got up in the morning. He glanced around for any sign of his wife, but there was none. He glanced into the central room of his house, and flinched at the sight. There, on the wall opposite to him, was etched a short message.

Let us out.

Written by AMarbleHornet
Content is available under CC BY-SA

  • Post script: I'd like to write a sequel, but I'd like a bit more feedback here first. Anything would be great.

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