The Transmundane, Episode 2: The Cavern of Doom

Seitetsu yelped as he was yanked to a stop, startled out of fantasies of a terrible typhoon striking Hawaii and forcing two people who happened to be out hiking at the time to take shelter in an abandoned cabin, and whirled around to see Ashlyn staring wide-eyed at something behind him.

"That wasn't there before." She pointed past him at a black hole in the mountainside, almost round and easily big enough to stand upright in.

He stared at it. "Shit, we must be on the wrong path."

"No, there's the rock I sat on."

It certainly looked like the same rock, and the lights of the campground were visible below, so they couldn't be too lost. "Then somebody dug an entire mineshaft while we were stargazing, without making any noise. Maybe I'd rather be lost..."

Still clutching his hand, she edged nearer without crossing in front of the opening. "Maybe it's natural?"

"Too round, I think, and only an earthquake or an avalanche or something would make a hole that fast."

"But who goes around digging holes in a mountain in the middle of the night?"

He moved closer to her and peered around her shoulder, but the inside of the cave or mine or whatever was completely dark. "Giant alien worms. I saw it in a movie once."


Oh, that must have been the fine line between cool and jerk flashing by. "Sorry."

"No, I shouldn't have--" He covered her mouth with his hand, closed his eyes and listened for a repetition of the rock-on-rock tick he might have heard.

Nothing. Embarrassed, he removed his hand. "Sorry, I thought I heard something. Guess not." Not feeling much reassured, he stepped in front of the opening and aimed the flashlight. The suspiciously circular shaft ran straight into the earth farther than the light reached, every jag of the rough walls colorlessly bright and trailing a shadow into the depths. "I don't see anything..."

"Wait, shine the light up a bit!" In the distanceless dark, something winked bright as metal. "What's that?"

"One way to find out." If you're insane, anyway.

"Tetsu, no! What if what you heard was it crumbling? It could cave in..."

"If I hear anything more, I'll be out of there faster than... Tiffy out of her pants."

"You better."

There wasn't anything to say to that, so he gave her a quick squeeze around the waist and crept into the darkness. This is possibly the stupidest thing I've ever done. Nothing fell on him from above, though, or leapt at him from the shadows, and after a few meters he unclenched enough to look back at Ashlyn standing silhouetted against the stars, pale face and limbs barely visible in the scattered glow of his flashlight. "So far, so good." Said the jumper as he passed the tenth floor on his way down, he didn't add.

The shine ahead of him grew steadily brighter, and took on a faint yellowish tinge, but it was not until he was almost upon it, twenty meters or more from the entrance, that he could see that it was embedded in the wall facing the entrance, at the point where the tunnel turned sharply left. Holding the flashlight well out from his body, like he'd seen in some movie or another, he peered around the corner with one eye, but the tunnel went only a few more meters before turning right again. Keeping an eye and a half on that unknown, he knelt to dig at the dirty metal object half-buried in the earthen wall.

He bit back an undignified scream at chink of stone on stone that accompanied the motion. Even though he had seen it was just a rock disladged from the wall by his digging, it was long seconds before his hands were steady enough to continue cleaning away the encrusted dirt. This can't possibly be... "Holy shit," he said softly.

"What?!" Ashlyn half-shrieked, sounding as nervous as he felt. "Are you okay?"

"I think this is gold."

"No way!"

He looked back at the lustrous yellow metal of the half-exposed face. "It's a statue or a mask or something. Looks... Aztec, or something like that, I guess."

"No way!" she repeated, but he heard her coming in to see for herself. He turned around to light her path, and by the light reflecting upward from the ground saw part of the wall detach itself and wrap massive arms around her.

In the close confines of the tunnel, her shout of "NO!" was deafening, but the vicious stomp she slammed down on to the foot of whatever held her did nothing.

"LET GO OF HER!" He crossed the distance in two strides and grabbed the thumb of one huge hand, yanking on it with all his strength. It felt like stone, and was nearly as thick as his wrist, but when he pushed with one hand and pulled with the other, it snapped free and he landed on his butt.

The... thing bellowed like a landside and threw Ashlyn past him to land with a gasp of pain and impact. Its face would have been hideous before; contorted in pain and rage, it was monstrous, though still clearly a face with ember-red eyes, nose and jaws protruding into almost a muzzle, and a gaping mouth lined with twisted, stalactite-like teeth. Without the bull-like horns it was no taller than Seitetsu, but so thick of body and limb that even if it had been made of flesh, it would have been three or four times his weight; if it-- he, if the bulge in its scrap of a loincloth meant anything-- was made of the stone it looked like, it probably weighed tons. The monster licked its wounded hand with a serpentine grey tongue and emitted a snarl like scraping concrete, but the glow of its eyes never left him.

Something wet slimed his hand. He looked down to see the broken-off thumb bleeding black and shiny onto his fingers, and thought Idiot! He looked up just in time to see the monster lunge at him.

He brought his feet up to fend it off, but those stony arms were not only thick but long as a gorilla's, and a flailing fist drove deep into his stomach, collapsing him into a breathless, agonized ball.

He tumbled upside-down against the wall as the monster kicked him out of the way, and tried frantically to untangle himself as it stomped past him toward where Ashlyn was struggling to her knees. She slammed an elbow into its face as it scooped her up with one arm around the waist; it ignored her yelp of pain and dragged her around the carner, her feet scrabbling ineffectually for purchase to resist.

Dark spots crawled on the already murky scene as Seitetsu finally got his feet under him and surged more or less upward. Oh yah, breathing. His breath sounded loud as a jet taking off to him, but the monster didn't even look back; probably it hadn't even heard him over Ashlyn's loud and remarkably profane demands to be let go. I'll teach you to turn your back on me, asshole!

It didn't react to the scuff of his sneakers on the floor either, and just as it was turning the second corner to leave the faint glow of the fallen flashlight, he kicked it as hard as he could just above the waist. Rocky skin crunched beneath his foot with a revolting semi-mushy consistence, like frozen slush, and the monster skidded face-down into the darkness.

There was a schrrrrip from where the monster had fallen and then Ashlyn was scrambling toward him and to her feet at his side, gasping like she'd been suffocated and missing most of her shirt but otherwise intact.

Stone scraped on stone. "GO!" he yelled and pushed her behind him.

Startled, she almost whacked him in the face with her elbow, but changed the blow into a grab for his arm, to drag him after. "Come ON!"

He shook free. "I'll keep it off! GO!" She opened her mouth to protest, then closed it and ran.

He followed far enough to behind that if it hit him, she'd still be out of arm's reach, eyes fixed on the shadows from whence the unsteady footsteps and low, seismic snarl came. When he passed the flashlight, he crouched nervously to pick it up left-handed, ready to spring to his feet, but he was already moving again when the monster shambled around the corner, dragging one leg and shielding its burning eyes against the light.

It looked past him, and charged with a bellow after Ashlyn, arm swinging to bat him out of the way. He didn't quite duck fast enough, but even seeing stars he could foul its ankles, and it went down to its knees. Emboldened by the sight of the black-oozing foot-shaped indendation in its back, he leapt over it, and paid for his rashness when his foot caught on a horn and he tumbled to the floor. He rolled to his feed immediately, though, glanced back to see it struggling to rise, and ran like a monster was right behind him.

It snarled again, this time not an animal's cry but something that sounded like a word, and the earth heaved as the mouth of the cave started to collapse. It seemed to Seitetsu that he crossed the fifteen meters to Ashlyn in a single stride, flinging himself forward to shove her out of the cave-in. She squawked and sprawled undigifiedly, but the important thing was that she was at the far edge of the path. He shoved himself back up to a crouch and a wave of earth slammed him against the wall and buried him.

Oh, shit. It wasn't loose dirt that could pack itself around him until he suffocated, though, and only a moment passed before he started shoving rocks and large clots of dirt out of the way with his hands, wriggling into the path he made with frantic kicks.

It seemed like a very long time before the debris gave way before him and he saw the stars, but it couldn't have been, because Ashlyn had hardly noticed his arms sticking out before the monster grabbed his trailing foot. Sharp points sank into his ankle, he kicked wildly with his other foot, Ashlyn grabbed his hands and pulled with all her weight, and he popped out of the earth as neatly as any movie vampire, leaving his shoe in the monster's jaws.

She helped him to his feet, and for a moment he thought she was going to throw herself into his arms, but then they both realized that all she had on above the waist was a rather skimpy black lace bra.

He would have hugged her anyway, or maybe especially, but was earth shifted loudly behind him and his heart went back to pounding because of the mortal danger. It was only the loose rubble collapsing into the tunnel he'd crawled out of, but he realized what that meant. Shoving the light into Ashlyn's hand, he dragged off his remaining shoe and cast it away.

Ashlyn glanced at him, eyes huge, and then they were both running down the trail as fast as they could.

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