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A sinking river occurs when a flow of water loses volume downstream, replenishing the groundwater, which in turn restores that water later on. This is also the case for cave rivers in certain geologies, limestone most commonly. In any case, the water eventually returns from the depths, bringing with it dissolved elements to sustain the world above.

This is but a fraction of the miraculous cycle, revitalising the surface from the underground domain, nurturing all life as we know it.

My vocation is speleology – the scientific study, or recreational activity, regarding caves and the like. For me, this manifests as a fervour in exploring them. There are, of course, obvious dangers associated with these activities, and I am not one to push them out of mind.

This all applies to my experience a year ago in a cave I stumbled upon during my travels through Western Asia. The focus of my travels was to find a cave which had not yet been explored. I took this journey alone; even now, I have yet to meet an individual able to match my odd passion for traversing where nary a peep of light enters, snuffed out by the damp, cold darkness below.

At the time, I was trekking the Konya plain in Central Turkey. The area is known for various sinkholes and caves, a little contradictory when it is thought to be one of the driest areas in modern Anatolia.

God, I wish I’d just walked right by that place, but I can’t justify regret when foreseeing the consequences was impossible. Many will likely see me as an arrogant fool reading this – maybe, but I ask you at least hear all that I have to say.

I set up camp near the entrance shaft around midday after doing a little online research. I’m fairly well versed in the Anatolian regions, but I had never seen a cave listed anywhere close to my location. Well, that settled it. I was certain that this cave was wholly unmapped. I could feel my excitement boiling over as I unpacked my surveying and caving equipment, as well supplies to bring with me. I made sure to don some light waterproofs, as a small stream led down into the cave’s entrance. Caves are practically refrigerators as it is, regardless of climate – no need to worsen this by being splashed by equally frigid water.

Suffice to say I didn’t hesitate to get started. It is important during a time like this to rein in one’s excitement, which can swiftly give way to panic if you get lost. In fact, I almost forgot to bring spare batteries for my headlamp – a blunder that could very well have ended in disaster. I took care to detail each tunnel upon reaching a branch or terrain change, using my hand compass and inclinometer to measure the angles in the passage ahead, then record the distance of the current passage with a tape measure, before proceeding – deeper, into the hidden world beneath.

I noted a peculiar feature at the cave’s entrance shaft – an abundance of what seemed to be moss, colours ranging from rusty orange to a striking crimson – at first, this led me to believe it was a colony of sphagnum moss, several species of which can be varying degrees of red in colour. However, said genus of moss has never been reported to exist in this region. Sure, it exists in some areas of the country – albeit, rarely – but this moss is most commonly found in humid climates, especially those which allow bogs to develop. The Konya plain, as I have said, is the driest area in the country. The annual rainfall just isn’t enough to provide the conditions to support moss. I didn’t dwell much on the matter as I forged deeper into the tunnels.

I’d been travelling around three hours down what I assumed was once the path of the ancient river, when the ground in front of me abruptly disappeared. A zap of adrenaline pierced my chest as I steadied my footing, knocking a few pieces of gravel into the gaping pit, seeming to repel the light from my headlamp. Crouching low to the ground, I peered over into the round abyss, revealing near-vertical walls extending down, well past the reach of my vision.

Honestly, that was something that even now I can’t figure out. Of all my knowledge of caves, I was aware of nothing that could detail how this shaft had formed. It was too angular, too straight, too… sudden. Of course, I’m not an idiot. I didn’t have the equipment to explore it at hand and, really, the whole experience had put me off any desire to know where it led. I decided to retreat to the last branch with the use of my handwritten map, continuing down the sprawling passages ahead with the utmost caution. To my relief, I found nothing which compared to that pit of light-eating darkness.

After another couple hours I decided to call it a day. I was satisfied with my progress and, to be frank, I already missed the sun on my skin, however sweltering it may be. Something about that shaft had rattled me, but the fact I’d almost been too late to see it was a good justification.

After a smooth journey back, I was momentarily blinded by the sun, now close to the horizon. I pored over my map, on which I had not yet added any verticality – you try drawing a reliable map in two dimensions surrounded by cold darkness, let alone in three.

I let out a deep sigh as I gazed upon the landscape around me. The beauty of our planet has rarely ceased to instil a deep sense of peace in my heart, no matter where I am. The golden tallgrass flittered gently in the late afternoon breeze as I finished a bottle of water. Part of me is grateful I have been able to experience these moments; another part endlessly yearns for more. And I’m glad that this is what makes me, well, me.

Following the short-lived serenity, I packed a small bag and ventured back to a village I had passed on the way here, to stock up on food and water. It was far-removed in contrast to those I had grown up around – children played and ran free in the dusty streets, passing cars being a rarity. Farm produce, vibrant in their colours, sat nestled in wooden stalls attended by wind-beaten men and women. At this time of the day, the people sat and drank tea together – none of that milky nonsense, only a warm and sweet brew into which thyme was sometimes added. Despite the nation being such tea-lovers, they were a great factor in the introduction of coffee to the Western world. Credits to Ethiopia, though, for its discovery.

I was drawn to a small, open-front store, seeing the cooled bottles of water and the packaged food that was practical for travel. The residents here knew fragments of English, but I am fluent enough in Turkish to translate our conversations, for the most part.

“Good evening, sir. My name is Quint, nice to meet you,” I greeted the shopkeeper.

“Ah, you are not from around here. What brings you to this area?” he replied with a hearty, yet tired voice. He bore a wide salt-and-pepper moustache and a pair of rectangular glasses.

“Well, my friend, I am a traveller. I travel across the world, it is my passion,” I said, gesturing toward the street outside.

“You come with friends?” he asked with kind curiosity.

“Nope. Just me here, my head works better alone. I look for unknown caves so that I can explore them and map them.”

His smile wavered then. A faint change, but a change nonetheless. The old man asked, this time in a quieter and lower tone, “You… have, er, you found any you like?”

He laughed a little, but his voice was not so full of life this time. He exuded worry as he awaited my response.

“I, uh, have, yes! It’s just down the road actually. Oh – is it okay if I camp nearby? I have already explored a lot and need to rest so I can go back in tomorrow.”

At this, the store owner’s face dropped much more obviously this time, lip trembling slightly and brow wrinkled in a mixture of fear and pity.

“That… you should not go to that place. It is an evil place since long ago and should be forgotten. Blood was spilled by our ancestors for a reason. Don’t undo their work, I ask you.”

A resonating shiver ran down my spine. My thoughts jumped back to that deep hole I had discovered – it was as if the memory was forcefully pushed to the front of my conscious mind. I stood for a moment, contemplating what possible response such a proclamation could warrant.

“Your… ancestors?” I asked, unsure if this was the right question.

“Not mine, but of the land,” he muttered, “Hittit.”

I’m not much of a history aficionado, but I recognised the word to refer to the Hittite empire from around 3000 or so years ago. That’s probably inaccurate but that is of little importance now.

I nodded slowly, feigning contemplation, then resolved that the beliefs of the man in front of me were just that: beliefs. I had my own as well, one of which was that I would not be dissuaded from returning, however oppressive and suffocating the cave may feel. Though, I’d be lying if I said his words didn’t rouse a faint sinking feeling in my gut.

“Okay, my friend. I will pack up and leave tomorrow, but I must rest for now and get supplies,” I lied.

I turned and perused the wares. After a moment, I returned to the counter with water bottles, and various packets of cereal bars and powdered soups.

With a quick, “thank you, my friend,” I left the store and made my way back to camp. The sky had darkened and the streets were stifled – not quite silent, but like a blanket had been laid over the whole place. I doubt it was anything more than mild paranoia given the events of the past day.

Arriving back at my tent, a creeping anxiety overcame my body upon seeing the gaping hole in the rock face ahead. A little fear is not uncommon in such environments, but this felt different. People had, supposedly, stood on the very ground I found myself standing on at this moment – and during all the time between, so had the cave. Patient and steadfast, outlasting whole generations and many more to come.

I briskly entered my tent and zipped it up, feeling a little ease wash over me. No scorpions or camel spiders came for a sleepover this time, so I couldn’t complain – after all, this is what I wanted to do. Wasn’t it? My calling, or… something like that, you know. I was thankful at the least for the temperate climate, though.

Still… that cave, it… it felt alive, in a way. Not in the sense in that it housed a variety of life, which was already evidenced to some degree by that moss coating parts of the entry shaft, no… more like the cave opening itself had a tangible presence that could be felt through the thin fabric covering me. Like a great, black eye observing my every move, watching for the moment I pulled the zipper down to go outside and heed nature’s call. After some tossing and turning, I managed to doze off and claim my well-deserved recharge.

woke around 7.30. The night had been merciful and nightmare-free. I put on some cargo shorts and a tank top, then left my tent, which was almost an oven at this point due to the morning sun. I brewed a pot of coffee using a gas stove and tore open a fruit and nut bar, musing over my plan for the day. I’d marked any branching tunnels I had seen along my previous path with red dots, and I took some time to marvel at the fruits of my last trip. It felt as if I were holding the cave itself in my hands.

This time, I made sure to bring some rope, as well as a few carabiner clips and several self-driving bolts for use with a bolt driver. As well as spare batteries, I realised with a small shock that, previously, I had not brought a backup lamp with me. After packing one, I set off once again into the water-hewn passages.

The moss felt noticeably spongier than it had the day before. It also seemed as if the hue had shifted, but I couldn’t be certain. It was definitely less dry than before, though the stream’s flow was no different than I remembered.

Intrigued, I tore off a sample to attempt identifying when I returned, since the moss’s strange behaviour had sparked my interest. Stashing it in my bag, I pressed onward in search of the first branch. To avoid overestimating myself, I settled on a rule where I would map a tunnel to a certain distance, then return and do the same for the next. I had to stoop a little upon entering the first marked passage which descended gently, then angled back up and to the left. After rounding this bend, the passage straightened, and I saw a distant flicker of green, or yellow light which disappeared somewhere ahead. I paused and tilted my head in confusion. What had I just seen? My mind scanned for a possible answer but returned empty-handed. I opted to brush it off as my imagination, though I kept it in my recent memory so I could think on it later.

I had barely reached the end of the passageway when a reverberating SNAP pierced the darkness, making me jump. It was very loud yet I could not discern from which direction it came from. Cave acoustics mess with the senses, the walls warping and reflecting the original sound like a game of telephone.

Worriedly, I scanned the solid rock walls around me to look for any signs of a fissure or cave-in. I saw nothing, but I did not want to take the risk of being crushed by a falling slab. I turned on my heels and my pace quickened, and moments later I was back at the sloping bend. Taking care of my footing, I started to descend, only to hear the thunderous echo once more. Abandoning any patience in regard to safety, I broke into a sprint to reach the bottom of the slope. I was slowed as I stumbled my way up the last incline of the branch, finally bursting into the parent tunnel.

Again, it sounded. The rumble almost made me lose my footing as I wheeled to the right and sprinted toward the entrance. This time I was able to distinguish several quieter sounds following the first, like dry crumbling and cracking of some brittle material. Still, nothing around me explicitly confirmed that a structural break was underway, and as the light from outside came into view I skidded to a stop.

The moss… it had grown. That wasn’t possible, it couldn’t be. Moss are slow growers. What had before been a thin padding of the stuff was now closer to huge, red pillows. The stream that emerged from the swollen masses was tinted red as it extracted pigments on its way through. Without further hesitation, I began to build up speed, kicking up dust and stones. I could literally see the soft mounds expanding by the second, like one of those time lapse videos.

Gritting my teeth, I propelled myself forward just as the fourth and loudest crack so far resounded, my ears ringing from its intensity. I jumped onto the pulpy, scarlet beds, now only twenty or so metres from sunlight.

As soon as my boot made contact with the moss, it was as if I had stepped in superglue. I kicked my free leg in front of me, bracing myself to prevent my knee breaking from my momentum. Dazed, I looked down in terror to see that my feet were barely visible. It was pulling me in. Horrified, I reached forward, grasping aimlessly at slick tufts of moss. This was it. This is how my story ended, and I didn’t even know what the fuck was happening. I had so much left to fill the pages of my life, no, this couldn’t be it. And then it was black.

I came to in an aching haze of confused fear. I thought I was still in the tunnel, until my brain fully rebooted and I realised my eyes were clenched shut, so tight I could see purple noise forming. Slowly, my eyelids relaxed and flickered open. I was lying sprawled on my back, looking up towards… the stars? No, too many, and the colours were all wrong. Glittering spots of blue, green and yellow danced across my retina as I laid there. With a groan I raised my left hand above my face to see my cracked and chipped, yet still functional wristwatch: 3:41pm. My eyes darted between the twinkling expanse above and the time shown, lying in complete disbelief. I wasn’t outside. I grunted, pushing myself up into a sitting position.

The sight presented to me was staggering. I had been unconscious on the floor of an unfathomably large chamber – for how long I did not know. The ceiling looked to be hundreds of feet above. The boreal spectrum cast a grim illumination over the scenery, but I could not determine how expansive this place was. Where in the name of all that is rational was I? I vividly remember sinking in that damn moss, moments from climbing out from the cave’s gullet… but where had I wound up?

I lowered my gaze from the glow overhead to get an idea of the structures around me. Immense crimson stalagmites towered over the chamber as well as equally massive, hanging stalactites which seemed to look down upon me in dismissal. Some had met and formed great pillars, looking as if they were all that was holding this place up. I would have attributed it all the phrase “morbidly beautiful”, but my mind was racing too fast to consider anything unrelated to finding a way out of this hellish landscape.

I stood up with some effort, muscles still sore from my previous actions. Looking to my right, I found more of the ominous formations. To my left… the mother of all monoliths stood before me. It is difficult to convey its size; tenfold thicker than any of the others and stretching toward the stone roof. Red rubble littered the area around it, a result of some unknown assault on the object.

Squinting at the lower reaches of the spire, something smaller caught my attention, what appeared to be a raised stone platform surrounded by carved steps on all sides. Keen to get some form of answer, I walked over to the structure, making out a single object on top.

I was looking upon a sort of podium, atop which were stone slabs stacked neatly. Many of those entrancing dots of light spotted the ancient altar, which came to realise were some kind of fireflies as they fled on my arrival. Were those what I had seen in the tunnels before? I figured there must have been millions, hundreds of millions of them resting on the cavern’s roof.

I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths. I considered the possibility that I had knocked my head, and this was a dream conjured as a result, but… it felt real. The pressure on my feet, the rays of emerald light in my eyes… these things could not be attributed to a dream. If it was, then my awareness would allow me to lucid dream and fly my way out of the chamber.

Climbing the worn stairs, the contents of the stone plates came into view. They had something carved into them, a myriad of pigments colouring images akin to hieroglyphics. I remembered my backup lamp and removed it from my bag, which had stayed with me through the ordeal. I turned it on and illuminated the tablets before me.

They depicted a story, which began with a gathering of people, lying prostrate before a huge, divine being. On its back were majestic butterfly wings, and great oak trees sprouted from its head. Its arms resembled the iridescent tail of a dragonfly, ending with human hands. Standing on many graceful, insectoid legs, it showered the worshippers with a blessing.

The next image showed a green landscape, with crops growing twice the height of men. Infants played and frolicked in the fields, some under sunrays, others basking in rain. For a brief moment I thought back to that shop owner, and what he had said about the land’s ancient denizens; if this was in fact of Hittite origin, it was remarkably well-preserved.

I flipped continued reading to see an unsettling portrayal. The entity, who I assumed to be some patron of farming, maybe fertility, stood over the settlements, this time wearing a bitter sneer. Another frame depicted it then abandoning its people. They looked to be crying out, pleading in despair, their hands reaching out toward the titanic being. Had the people done something to upset it?

The next image was in stark contrast to the rest – the same landscape as before, but this time the sky was blazing, the ground dry and cracked. The once lush fields were withered, and the folk who’d been dancing in ecstasy were now sullen and bony. Underneath this was, god… I’ll just describe it.

Men stood, naked, revealing what I can only describe as widespread castration. Jesus, I was nauseous even looking at it. It was like their parts had become gangrenous, in various states of progression. Some were fully castrated, others only half. Among them were an equal number of mothers who wailed over stillborn children. All shared the same gaunt, malnourished stature.

I stepped back for a moment, catching my breath. I’m not generally squeamish but this was something else entirely. How could a deity allow any of this to happen?

I returned to the pedestal, and quickly overturned the tablet in morbid apprehension. The next illustration showed earthquakes ravaging the towns and villages, and rivers which had been impossibly bent askew from their beds and diverted elsewhere. True Armageddon if I had ever seen it told.

I was about halfway through when a splintering crack tore through the ambience. I immediately correlated the noise to what I had heard in my flee from the tunnels. A deep sense of dread grew, winding its way up and throughout my skeleton. I could not at first identify the source, but the answer presented itself before I had the chance to try. I sank in awe as a great chunk of the scarlet mountain before me had broken off. The scale of the landscape made the boulder seem to fall in slow motion. Finally, the hunk of maroon rock drove into the ground with such force that I could feel the Earth tremble beneath me.

I leant on the pillar, paralysed for a moment. A cloud of brown dust plumed from the site of impact, which I hoped I was upwind of. I had enough problems at the moment, I didn’t need particulate lung disease as another.

Allowing my heart rate to subside, I looked back down at the tablets. Following the doomsday imagery, there was some kind of official gathering. Many of the attendants wore robes, and were discussing something in a heated debate. To the right, a recipe for something was inscribed. The characters of the long-dead language meant nothing to me; all I could do was attempt to follow the accompanying illustrations.

The first displayed five men, bleeding into a pot. Their robes featured colourful artwork depicting gods, men and various symbols. It made me think these were holy men, priests, uh, shamans maybe. The pot was full to the brim, and the next image showed the people preparing a fire and placing the pot on a hanging cradle above it. Next, an arrow was set ablaze with a flammable liquid, then dunked into the boiling blood. The final step revealed the arrow, removed from the blood, burning with a crimson flame, its shade heavily emphasised.

Another air-rending clap demanded my attention, this time closer and much higher up. As the crumbled mass fell away, something became visible underneath, with a contrasting dark green texture. The fragment shattered against the ground, an even larger cloud of orange dust billowing out into the air. Heart drumming in my ears, I looked back down to the tale of biblical carnage. On the next tablet, a priest stood at the mouth of a cave, facing outwards. It... it couldn’t be. It was. The shape had already been ingrained into the folds of my brain. It was identical.

Close to full-on panic at this point, my eyes drifted to the lower portrayal. The creature from the beginning stood leagues above the congregation, bathing them in its shadow. Pure malice and rage were its expression. I felt it was addressing me directly. Splintering rumbles now rising in a terrible crescendo, I flipped the slab to reveal the final page.

The burning arrow was shot by a bowman into the deity’s left shoulder. I could almost hear its howls as its very being was separated into two; one bursting with the same glorious light seen in at the start, and the other a putrid, twisted mockery of divine power. The abomination was pulled into the cave along with the arrow, swallowed whole by the Earth itself.

I will never be able to rid my memory of the final scene. Cattle, goats and even people were being sacrificed en masse, their blood forming a gushing torrent which drove its way into the cave. The river was shown seeping through the rock into an immense chamber, where it showered down onto the vile, writhing being. It encircled the creature in a sanguine whirlpool, constricting around it as its appendages flailed around.

Blood… these… these enormous towers were made of blood? How? There was way too much of it. How many were drained to leave such an unimaginable amount of blood, and for that matter, why blood? It hit me then; that moss I had seen. Of course it wasn’t some offshoot of sphagnum moss, it was another unremarkable species that had been tainted by the blood of the masses.

I was emptied of thought when a sudden, deep, menacing rumble vibrated through the entire cavern. This was different, it pounded its way through into the core of my being. Impending doom manifested, and I rose my head meekly above the altar. That dark patch I had seen before, it- it was moving. Oscillating, back and forth. All of a sudden, the roaring tremor ceased, and… I saw… an eye. At least, I assumed that’s what it was, but it bore little resemblance. A deep depression in the mottled surface, shaped like a diamond with concave edges, contained a small point of white light that was emerging from the darkness, intensifying until a blinding marble gazed down at my puny form. A crackling voice erupted from within, sounding like the splintering bark of a thousand trees being felled all at once, booming to address me.

You have changed your minds, I take it?

The force of its words made me stagger backwards, and any response I may have had was throttled as I stared up at the glare of some colossal being.

“Why do you cower in silence, human? SPEAK!” it bellowed.

“U-uh I- wh- what are you talking about?” I stammered, breathing shallow.

“Hmmm. I see some time has passed since your people and their self-proclaimed holy men entombed this form, using the very symbol of MY gift. Does one not perceive blasphemy at this? It seems not. I’ll allow you a gentle reminder. Return me to my body and I shall consider sparing life.”

“Life? What, mine? I- I don’t know anything, please. I don’t even know where I am!” I cried, instinctually sensing the waves of anger emanating from the presence, sapping the strength in my muscles as I held onto the podium for support.

At that moment, I heard something else. Yet again its source was unknown to me, but I recognised the groaning of something under immense pressure.

“Your understanding is not a requirement, human, but know that on the near morrow, the offspring of this world shall be torn from the future’s womb,” the voice blared, cold, yet frothing with ire, “all you need do is share the whereabouts of my body, and be done with this.”

The deep creaking suddenly exploded into a deafening cacophony. A jet of broken rock – blood, rather – shot out into the air from the rear, the force sending shards far into the distant blackness in an instant.

What I saw next, I wish could be wiped from my memory, but I don’t think anyone could forget what then emerged. A vast appendage extended from behind, unfurling in all its awful might. The only way I can describe it was… primordial. It looked something akin to one of the raptor-like pedipalps of a whip spider, rough and covered in bumps, and terminated in a collection of extremely long, sharp barbs. It swung around to the front, with a speed that wasn’t physically possible for something its size. The nauseating stench of a charnel house then permeated my nostrils, as I watched in disbelief as the demonic appendage began scraping away at its prison.

“W- wait, wait, please, stop,” I sputtered, words cascading from my lips before I even had time to think of them, “I don’t know where your body is!”

The grotesque appendage continued tearing away at its cage. Shattered slabs fell by the dozens, further revealing the form beneath, to my terrible dismay.

“So be it,” the voice thundered, “I shall take the task upon myself. Do not worry your frail mind; I will see it through that this realm is returned from whence it came.”

The words had a disturbing sense of finality to them. Had Earth just received a sentencing, myself being the sole member of the jury? I continue to hope with all my heart that that question is never answered.

The imprisoned being then seemed to set its sole focus on escaping. A second of the bristled limbs began forcing itself out of the side closest to me, fissures spreading through the dried blood like tree roots, grasping and reaching toward this plane of existence. Both limbs free, they drummed and slashed away, until at last the structure failed, collapsing in a deafening whirlwind.

The being’s true form was beyond words I am comfortable writing. It must have stood at least a hundred and fifty feet tall, hundred eighty with the dead, rotten trees which sprouted as horns from its head. Most of it was covered by a sickly black-green carapace. It stood upon vast, triple-jointed legs, constantly shifting for balance, shaking the underlying bedrock and stirring the luminous insects from rest.

The torso was vaguely humanoid, but was littered with bulbs that rhythmically spewed puffs of vapour. Countless writhing tendrils came off its back, snaking about the chamber, itching for something alive to grab a hold of. They moved at such a speed that my eyes barely perceived them.

Its face haunted me the most – also humanoid, but lacking a jaw. In its place was a cavernous pit filled with fleshy spikes, freely dribbling a rancid, viscous fluid. I saw no nostrils or ears, but its eyes were those diamond-shaped pits I had seen prior, holding orbs of pale light.


I am sure there were more legs than I have depicted.

I've attached a rough sketch here of how I remember its appearance, but the memory is traumatic, and details may be astray.

With a great effort I tore my eyes from the behemoth and thought frantically, searching for anything that could possibly aid my situation. I was close to just giving up when I caught a glimpse of something beneath the remaining tablet. Swiping it off with little regard for their historical value, a deep groove betrayed a square hatch. Opening it, I peered inside to see a bronze arrow, flickering with a meagre, lilac flame. In terrified confusion, I picked it up to find that instead of being hot, it was strangely cold between my fingers.

For a moment I stared, puzzled, until I made the link to what I had just read. Regardless of the validity of the carved illustrations, it was my only chance to avoid befalling a terrible fate.

With all the determination in my bruised and battered body, I rose my head and began descending the steps. What was I doing? Surely this would mean the end of me. I was but an ant for one of the being’s thundering legs to soundly crush. Despite my mind screaming in objection, I willed my legs onward, all while trying to formulate some plan of action. The flying insects had become frenzied swathes of light, swarming away from the thing in mass exodus, pelting me like hailstones in the process.

Seeing my trembling march, the being let out a deep, reverberating laugh. Its face remained unmoving; it seemed to speak from somewhere else entirely, vibrating from every direction. Suddenly and without warning, I felt an excruciating pain in my crotch. I doubled over, eyes watering, groaning from the searing pain. I had to push through it. Once again, my march continued, now slowed and limping, wading through the swirling, buzzing clouds.

“You think to do what exactly, child? Tie me down as a hunted boar?” the creature spat, venom quickly returning throughout its chuckles, “you are alone.

I did not answer, for I had none – I was asking myself the same question. My dragging feet came to a stop, causing the entity to tilt its head in bemusement.

“I admire your resolve, pathetic as it may be, though I grow tired of this futility,” it hissed, shifting its pounding legs to face me.

In an instant, it raised an arm and swung it toward me. I did all I could think to, and held up my hands defensively. I squeezed my eyelids tight and mentally recited a prayer to an unspecified god. The flies had become like rubber bullets at this point, stinging my skin with each impact.

An ear-shattering boom rang out as the attack broke the sound barrier. I was blasted back a few feet as a result, whereupon I opened my eyes to see a bleeding stump in place of where my left pinkie finger had been; otherwise, I was somehow unscathed, for the most part. The force of the attack had cleared the area of the insects, leaving nothing but a graveyard of twitching legs.

Looking up, it became apparent that the arm had swiped at the arrow I’d held, now embedded into the sharp extremity. Sizzling cracks spread from the location, and the creature howled, backed by a choir of screeching metal. Its arm spasmed violently, forcing me to retreat in fear of being rendered a pile of diced flesh and bone. After a time of stumbling, I tripped and fell onto the cold floor. Turning around, I could see the beast struggling with its wound, scraping away at it, roaring in pained fury. It managed to dislodge the arrow and fling it far into the darkness, before turning its head to look directly into my eyes. It took a step forwards before dropping to a few of its knees, for lack of a better term, then strained a weakened chuckle.

“Ach, hah... I am patient. Run, little one, and spread word of my coming. Instil fear into your tribes, your settlements… it will be far more exhilarating upon my arrival.”

“Go to hell, you depraved piece of shit,” I yelled, coming out more as a fleeting wish than the powerful taunt I’d hoped for.

“Good, very good. There is little fun to be had in hasty submission.”

And with that, the colossus dropped to its remaining knees, and collapsed.

I don’t know how long I sat there, panting and heaving. I observed the creature for a while, but it seemed to be in some kind of coma; I wasn’t going to check for a pulse, but the mounds on its torso continued to expel gas which dissipated into the cool, subterranean air.

After I was certain that it wouldn’t be moving any time soon, I shakily stood up, then retrieved my gear from the altar. It seemed that the only way out of this place was up; squinting, I could just make out a tunnel. A dark blemish on the ceiling, close to the top of one of the columns. I’d need to recycle some of my bolts during the ascent, but regardless, I clipped myself into and tightened the harness.

I began to climb, one repulsive handhold at a time. Flakes of blood showered me like confetti, celebrating an empty victory. I developed an efficient routine for bolt recycling, descending from a higher rung and unplugging the previous ones. I often had to hang from the rope in near exhaustion to prevent my body from giving out entirely.

30ft left. Multiple bolts had already slipped my grasp and tumbled back into the hellscape below – I tried to avoid this, though my recently severed finger didn’t help. It may have been my tired mind, but I could swear I heard distant rumbles coming from all around. I blocked out any implications regarding the dozens of other scarlet obelisks, nearing the final stretch before reaching the opening.

Finally, after more than 200ft, I clambered into the tunnel I hoped would lead to salvation. It extended upward another 50 or so feet before my fingers grasped the rim of the shaft’s opening. It took a moment to reorient myself to the surroundings, after which I realised where I was: the dark pit, whose discovery had shaken me up the day prior.

I walked, no, crawled my way in the direction out of this nightmare. My knees were cut and scraped on the sharp gravel scattered across the floor, but I persisted nonetheless. While more bearable now, the pain still lingered in my groin, and I refrained from examining the damage as I scrambled my way out.

Near the cave’s entrance, I was worried initially, seeing no daylight, and I checked my watch to see it was almost 8pm. I could taste fresh air, feel the cool stream running past my knees and ankles, washing away blood and grime. It was like drinking a glass of ice water after a hot day.

After moving closer, within range of my almost-dead lamp, the moss was mostly gone, a few dry scraps left clinging to the walls. A relief to be sure. On the verge of passing out, I hauled myself past the entrance with a grunt and flopped onto my back, gulping long, deep breaths from the night air. It was nice to see the stars again, instead of a colony of cave-dwelling fireflies. My senses had calmed enough to again be accepting of smells, and the distant scent of iron and smoke became apparent. I’d had my fill of curiosity, and I pulled myself inside my tent, allowing myself to wane into a deep slumber.

I packed up my belongings the next day and cut my trip short. I just didn’t have the strength nor will to pursue any further ventures.

After some disinfectants and bandages, I returned my rental car and bought a ticket home for the same day. It was surreal, to say the least, sitting amongst fellow plane passengers in their blissful naivete, knowing what I’d seen yet surely couldn’t speak upon, lest I be shot down with pitied looks and quiet dismissal. The journey home was inconsequential, the usual work or life worries I may have otherwise had eclipsed by my experience.

I immediately visited my doctor, who inquired on my missing finger. I had come, however, in regard to the frequent pains in my lower back and genital region, which had not eased since the day I left. Of course, no diagnosis was made – all the doctor could say is that the blood flow in those areas had drastically decreased, and that necrosis was a possibility. I mean, I wasn’t planning on kids, but it might have been nice to preserve the option. I was prescribed some pain meds and sent on my way, for the moment.

Months later, I still have not reached any substantial conclusion. There is no closure to be had. I did some research on the ancient Hittites’ mythologies, and I have in fact found something that seems similar to what I had held witness to. The tale follows a deity by the name of “Telepinu”, whose desertion led to a similar sequence of events. It ends with a priest banishing the god’s anger to the “brass containers in the underworld, from which naught returned”. That’s where the similarities end, though. It didn’t seem like a demon, nor angel or god, but something else entirely, the impurities and flaws of a deity given form.

For one reason or another, I feel that the other bloody monuments in that place may not have been empty. Maybe, this process had repeated many more times than I could comprehend. If so, what of these divine beings who were purified? Where have they gone? Ascended, to someplace else? I don’t see them anywhere on Earth.

So, if anyone believes this, stock up on canned goods and other non-perishables. As time passes it grows harder and harder to quell my hunger and thirst, though I do not starve. Procreate, while you can – or not. There is a school of thought which says that it would be a mercy to spare our children the terrors which will inevitably break their shackles, and curse those children, and their children’s children forevermore.

The Earth has been nothing more than a cleansing site for those above us, allowing them to reach greater heights. And all the filth and depravity that remains…

Has been left for us to inherit.

Credited to rephlexi0n