At the south pole of the planet, deep beneath the miles of hard ice and the sting of brutal cold, hums a facility of titanium and electricity. Many thousands live here at BASE, a self-sustaining complex of hydroponic greenhouses, office centers and workstations. For decades the inhabitants have known only this as their existence, and for it they are proud, hard-working, and grateful. There are gyms, there are grocery stores, there are parks and there are schools. You can read about current events in the local newspaper or crack open a soda with your son after his little league game. These are the last remnants of humanity, the final effort for survival after war sealed the surface above in doom. They eagerly await when they can return to their homeland. They are in the sights of something ancient.

Carl Offerson, a 12-year-old boy known for his striking blue eyes, is found missing from his home in UR2, the second residential zone in the upper sector of BASE. Soon after, Billie Callen, a 14-year-old-girl, is reported missing from her home in the adjacent zone of UR1. Three more children of a similar age follow in the succeeding 2 weeks. This is a shock to the residents, as the people in BASE know each other well. The community is small but tight-knit; kidnapped children are far from a common occurrence here, and no one knew of anyone who would do such a thing personally nor of where exactly children would be taken.

Suspicions immediately turned to the governing body, made up of a select few elite council members. The only ones who would have any power to do these things or wield such secrecy over the population would have to be these men and women. Accusations of molestation and experimentation soon began to fly. More children went missing. Angry parents and family members were beginning to turn violent as they demanded answers from officials, who maintained throughout that they had just as little an idea of the situation as anyone.

The deterioration of social ties began to take hold, as paranoid residents began to restrict children from ever leaving their homes and mistrust each other’s motives. Close surveillance and the infrastructure to support it was set in place, and harsher rules were instituted for stepping out of line. If one man happened to know the right time to sneak out of his lower sector flat, however, and decided to walk along the wrong paths, and turn down the wrong places, he would eventually, inevitably reach the bowels of an abandoned mine. And now he will hear the whispers begin to stir…

“Young kin… soul thuul, al ak Baal…”

“Al kin, al duul, al ak Baal…”

“Young kin… soul thuul, al ak Baal…”

A repeating mantra, a faint echo through the tunnel, yet it sat in the ear and festered and warped it with an uncanny sensation all the same. The man, normally lean and confident in frame, sporting a blossoming flock of brown hair upon his head like the crown of a proud king, is in this moment shrunk to his primordial state. This was meant to be a quiet walk, a break from the chaos. What he was feeling now at this sound was pure terror, icy fear paralyzing the blood in his veins.

He took a sharp breath and turned around, his movements stiff and jolted. He walked back the way he came. But it suddenly seemed so complicated. There was a multitude of tunnels appearing before him that he could not recall being present. This was an older mine, closer to the surface. The heat wasn’t as strong here and the cold began to disrupt his focus constantly. And then… there was a smell, a foul odor that permeated in his nostrils. He began to vomit. The chanting became louder. There was spinning, light, fear, ice, tremors… a chaotic assault manifested upon his consciousness, ripping his perceptions to shreds. For a moment time faded out of existence. He was loneliness, he was isolation, he was hatred and separate from everyone. Otherworldly screams fill the tunnel, enrapturing the walls, seemingly carrying on forever – until a brisk silence snaps reality back into order. There is nothing but a faint hum.

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29-year-old Jeremy Howell is announced missing – the first adult to be designated as such since the disappearance of young Carl.  He is described as an eccentric but lovable man who lives alone, has a few close friends and works as a logistics manager. Rumors about what this could mean immediately take root. There is a strict curfew put in place by BASE security forces as reports that Jeremy was seen leaving his house during sleep hours are followed up with an investigation. Lacking a proper criminal unit due to crime being an otherwise minor issue, the council is forced to have Chief Environmental Analyst Robert Jackson take up the role of lead investigator regarding where exactly Howell went. A clandestine team is formed with two armed security officers, Locke and Joel, and another environmental researcher, Marilyn, accompanying Jackson to investigate the tracks leading out of the flat to the various sectioned off mining tunnels and cancelled builds they suspect Howell to have gone missing in.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

“Anyone believe this load of bullshit going on right now?” Locke posed to the group before him in a booming roar, breaking the quiet that had settled in the meeting room as everyone got their papers in order. He was a pale skinned man adorned with various tattoos. His shaved head and large ginger beard added to his gargantuan physical form to create a rather imposing appearance.

Joel, his olive-skinned and utterly hairless partner, glared at him from the chair over.

Jackson chuckled as he sorted documents regarding what had been officially compiled so far. “No, I certainly can’t. A bunch of people go missing people in a closed, cordoned off facility underground for the first time ever at this scale and we can’t seem to find them anywhere, or have any witnesses up till now?” He propped a cigar in his mouth and sparked it up.

“What we do know about this Jeremy guy is that he was kind of a loner type, liked to go off on his own to be with his thoughts. Makes perfect sense that he went and got lost in a shaft and died or somethin’. I hardly see why it warrants this investigation over the fuckin’ kids,” Locke pushed.

“Optimally this Jeremy’s whereabouts might give us an idea of where the missing children are also at,” Marilyn spoke up. She sat up and seemed to recompose herself, seemingly motionless until this point. “And it’s not exactly common for grown adults to ever go so far as to walk themselves all the way to some dangerous abandoned place; the facility’s massive. Not unless he was suicidal and intentionally isolating himself to do the deed- which I don’t believe there’s evidence of.” Locke delivered a dispirited grunt.

Jackson pointed to her. “There ya go. Exactly. So, what we do know is that he was last sighted by a suspicious neighbor going in the direction of Alur Botanicals, which is essentially a ‘dead-end’ as far as any other areas being accessible past that lab. I did some quick investigative work around the area however and tracked biological data that indicated Howell proceeded to an abandoned track entrance that goes in the direction of the old JCorps mining stations. They’re one of the oldest ones down here, pre-war dated. We were extracting uranium out of them before it was rendered obsolete by the thorium reactors we have now.”

“So have any of the mines actually been looked through yet?” Locke posed.

“Negatory. That’s why you folks are here, to protect me on the adventure!” Jackson chuckled and poured a glass of bourbon for himself. “The mines, and the track leading up to them, are pitch black without any power running to the electrical systems there, which means Jeremy must have known to bring a light source of some sort and was familiar with the area. If he really did travel that distance.”

“How are the mines? Cold?” Joel uttered his first words as quietly as one might expect.

“They do lead up to the surface, highest point as far as anyone can tell is about a kilometer above the upper sector of BASE. So bring a jacket and some fluffy boots.” He knocked back a shot, only momentarily letting the cigar leave the grasp of his mustache adorned lips.

“I hardly see, given all of that, why firearms and force would be necessar-” Marilyn began to gesture to the two security officers.

“HA!" Locke exclaimed, "firearms are always a necessity. Never know when a guy'll wanna kill ya." That answer seemed to sufficiently satisfy everyone.

“We officially leave for this at 0600 tomorrow, so get some rest and a hot meal and meet me back here around 30 minutes before that. And don’t get kidnapped please.”

______________________________________________________________________________________________

As the residents of BASE settled in their homes, locked their doors and attempted to eke out sleep, in the mine, the whisperings began to stir once again...

“Transgressors… transgressors… thuul Tulak al ak Baal.”

“Embody chaos… emerge whole… thuul Tulak al ak Baal.”

The phrases repeat, growing louder yet softer at the same time. And now those who are lesser realized are beginning to hear, even far away, nestled in their metal fortress and cocoons of paranoia…

“Transgressors… transgressors… thuul Tulak al ak Baal.”

“Embody chaos… emerge whole… thuul Tulak al ak Baal.”

A woman in her house screams with horror. She wakes up in her bed, spasming and shutting her ears, desperately trying to ward off the roots that are taking hold. Her husband, jolted awake by the commotion, tries in desperate confusion to comfort her, wrapping his arms around her to no avail. Soon, horror and fear are replaced with the seeds of malice. The woman’s movements slow, her hands leave her ears, an apparent calm settles in as if the prior moment had never happened. As her husband starts to question the randomness of what just happened, she cuts him off -

“Transgressors… transgressors… thuul Tulak al ak Baal.”

“Embody chaos… emerge whole… thuul Tulak al ak Baal.”

The woman chants, her eyes in the back of her head, her back straight up in the large bed. Her husband is by the exit of the room at this point, standing in fear, unsure of whether to approach or to flee for help. Soon, however, he is also completely enamored by the faraway sounds, the chanting. He sees… cold. Ice. Tentacles? Did he ever leave the bed or was by the door?

Did he ever wake up? Why was his wife back asleep?! There are creatures in the depths diving in on them, surrounding them… there are invaders and they are killing, they are doing worse than killing, they are corrupting… splitting…

“Why!? Why! WHY?! Why do you do this! CURSE YOUR RETCHED SOULS! CURSE YOUR RETCHED SOULS!” The room spins, falls across an infinite plane. “MY CHILDREN! WHERE ARE MY CHILDREN!?” There is no exit. There is an unending void, blank, dark and light. It envelopes the room. There is nothing.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Three more children go missing in BASE. They are named Abigail, Liberty, and Adam. It is the most that have ever disappeared on one day, and all are members of the Walsh family. Parents David and Ellie were seen next to each other shivering naked in the fetal position around a local bar during early waking hours – around 0430. They kept repeating a single word – “invasion” – in a hushed tone. The children were found nowhere in or near the home and the parents seem to be in a comatose state for an indeterminate period. Curiously, there are no witnesses who report seeing or hearing any commotion whatsoever from or near the house – it was not apparent anything had gone wrong until passerby saw them outside.

Robert Jackson’s investigative team is called in an hour early to immediately get moving towards the JCorps mining tunnels, the only lead anyone has regarding the events which have befallen the residents. A separate team composing a much larger security force meant to follow up with Jackson’s team after the initial expedition is prepared in the meantime.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

“Alright folks; get your shit together,” Jackson barked to the three figures before him. There was shuffling and some movement.

“Ready to go, buster,” Locke gave a thumbs up after twiddling with his assault rifle. The other two nodded uneasily.

“Then let’s move it…”

The group took a transit car to Lower Residential 1. Heading across the path Jeremy had initially traveled, they passed by a number of intricate metal buildings supporting an array of flats and commercial spaces, some sporting a kind of red insignia that felt oddly familiar but none of the group could recall seeing before. The area, normally bustling, had become quite empty and void of life in recent times, and there was an eerie stillness to the air. They headed along the route leading by Alur Botanicals; the entrance to the mine track was a few hundred meters off the side of the laboratory and located at the bottom of a stairwell.

“Holy shit, this is creepy as hell…” Joel muttered as the clanking of the rusting stairs met their footsteps. Marilyn let out a light squeak in agreeance as her skinny frame began to tremble ever so slightly. The few dim lights still left in the area, with their constant flicker, did not help the aura of darkness that had already encroached upon the news about what had happened earlier. This whole thing was something different, something… strange.

“Switch those headlamps on!” Locke called as they finally reached the track entrance, a hulking metal block moved with a giant handle. Opening the door, their lights shone into pure blackness, a Tartarus stretching beyond what they could see. The only visible element of the tunnel was the ground, a meter drop-off from the entrance covered in a mess of rubbish and dirt concealing most of the old railroad. The group hopped down one by one, little noise being present save for some exasperated grunts and the ever-present hum of BASE.

“Everyone accounted for?” Jackson called. Everyone called out ‘aye’. There was frantic looking around initially, as the light beams cut swathes through the omnipresent shadows surrounding them. Locke, abnormally shaken by the current predicament, had his gun at the ready.

“Ease up, cowboy,” Joel said, eyeing his partner up and down before pausing for a moment. “We should head that way.” He pointed in a seemingly random direction.

“The fuck makes you say that?” Locke retorted.

“Probably that noise you can hear. The wind, yeah? It’s up that way!” Joel pointed again.

“Wind? There ain’t no fuckin wind down here, we’re underground. I don’t hear shit.”

Marilyn raised her eyebrows. “I hear it, too. It's in that direction, I’m sure of it. Like a whistling. Weren’t the tunnels connected to the surface at some point?”

Jackson, after returning from investigating something on the ground ahead, broke in - “Enough. Frankly I don’t hear anything either but there are footprints in that area that match what we have on record for Jeremy Howell, heading in that direction – so I see little reason to disagree.” Locke gave another dejected grunt. The four continued onward, with Jackson dropping lit flares along the way.

After what seemed to be several hours of aimless walking, as if space had become irrelevant, Marilyn's eyes began to widen. “Anyone else see that? That, way ahead of us?”

The three men squinted their eyes and focused for a moment. Locke nodded. “Yeah, its orange… looks like a light source almost, like flame. It looks pretty far still… Anyone else chilly?”

Jackson and Joel remained silent. As they motioned ever closer, it became more and more apparent this was indeed a fire – a bonfire of some sort, illuminating the wide area around it. This was the entrance to the tunnels –

“The end of the track was marked maybe?” Joel whispered. “Why? By who?” They were perhaps 50 meters out from the flame now, and their walking had slowed more and more as they got closer and closer. Suddenly, all gasped, and were rapidly beset by the nature of a statue. They dared not move a micrometer, as a long, tentacle-like arm oozing something out of its porous rubbery holes snaked its way across the ground immediately by the fire, then another, then another. It didn’t take long for the monstrous form to slither the rest of its grotesque mass into place, its exact shape hidden behind the intensity of the flame.

The creature seemed to pay little mind to the headlamps in the distance, as it navigated itself away from the fire as quickly as it had entered its light. “What… the… fuck… is…” Locke whispered, exasperated. Marilyn crouched to the ground, beginning to breathe quite rapidly.

Jackson moved slightly closer to her. “Calm down, calm down. I don’t – AGH!” he collapsed, a loud thump accompanying his fall.

“SHIT!” Locke cried in a hushed tone, and he and Joel moved in on Jackson.

“Turn the- turn headlamps off… turn them off!” Joel commanded to everyone. Locke complied as Jackson remained motionless and Marilyn continued to huddle on her knees. They had found themselves surrounded by the shadows, paralyzed by panic and confusion.

“Is he awake? Get him up, get him up, we need to..” the voices of the security officers began to flow together as they coddled with the old man’s body on the ground, along with Marilyn’s hyperventilation, a perfect single moment of chaos – until, finally, she took a single deep breath - and stood up.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

The cave was brimming with commotion like never before –their power was growing, and with it, they would all soon be enlightened.

“Young kin … they are chosen… eternity…”

“Tulak … thuul al ak Baal… set us free.”

The Chantmasters sang their hymn, echoing throughout time and space, unending in fervor and passion. They had been singing long before there were ever souls here, and long after they will be gone. Their work had been stalled, interrupted… it did not matter. The end result was always this, for fate is not determined by chance, but by things far greater.

The chants filled her mind. They distorted it, shaped it, melded it to shapes and places far beyond what can be described by something as profoundly simple as language. The enlightened do not need command when they see what must be done.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Marilyn had seemingly vanished into the darkness. “What the hell man? What the fuck is happening right now?” Locke targeted at Joel as the two sat helplessly by Jackson’s unmoving body. “Radio's out. That girl’s up and gone, I didn’t even see her leave –“.

Joel looked at him deeply, his eyes piercing into him. “Why not keep moving, and see just what this is all about?”

The brute let out a nervous chuckle as he watched Joel get up and approach the entrances across from the ever-raging fire. Upon realizing his predicament, he quickly followed, the two holding their arms at the ready and turning their headlamps back on.

Locke glanced erratically at his surroundings. “Hey, Joel, I really think we should cut our losses and try to get the old man back as soon as possible – or at least get radio signal.”

Joel turned back to look Locke in the eyes once more. “If you haven’t realized it yet, we’re probably dead already.” He flipped back around and marched onward, seemingly unfazed, as Locke sheepishly followed.

There was a clearing several dozen meters ahead of them within one of the JCorps tunnels that seemed to contain another source of light. Moving in on it, a sharp cry coming from a small clearing through an adjacent path cut the otherwise soundless air.

“That sounded like that girl – Marilyn…” Locke whispered. “I’m gonna check it out, she was having a total panic attack or somethin’. We’re not dead yet.” Joel shrugged, silently following along towards the source of the noise. They searched through the darkness, glancing through the abandoned mechs and mining equipment that were left behind. An inexplicable gooey, green substance seemed to be sticking - or perhaps growing - across most of the objects, and a foul stench began to sting their nostrils, overwhelming all other senses.

“It smells like shit – what is that man?” Locke questioned. He looked behind him, to see… nothing. Glancing desperately all around him got the same result. “Uh… Joel? Hello? Are you fuckin’ kidding me?”

Suddenly, the light bleeding into the tunnel from the bonfire seemed to disappear. It was like the track tunnel again; pitch black, surrounded, a lone beam of light providing some semblance of order in the unknown. A feeling of cold, of freezing ice setting in straight to the bone paralyzed Locke all at once. He was… he was confused. Where was he again? Time was shifting…his headlamp flickered. He desperately looked around. Faces. Children’s faces, rotting and deformed, staring with bright blue eyes crept into his vision, attached to great crustacean bodies, adorned with tentacles, covered in green growths and putrid gore. He felt tentacles grasping him, snaking around his limbs, pulling and stretching his pathetic form.

He cried out, but there was no noise. In fact, it was dead silent. All he could sense, or feel was the chilling pain in his body, the pull of something alien on his skin, the occasional flash of sight, all shooting jets of fear and adrenaline into him. He was being consumed, his very being stretched… there were terrible visions of a great storm. There was water, and ice, and beasts of the sea wreaking havoc upon everyone he knew, there was darkness, evil, there was…

The End.

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