Content: Some swearing and threats of violence, also if you haven't read the chapter before this then the situation/references might confuse you so you should read chapter 18 first if you haven't already.
The cart and the travellers travelled past a pair of huge pillars.
Carved of stone and decorated by weird signs they just stared up at them dumbstruck. The pair reached all the way up to the ceiling of the cavern.
'Support for the cavern system' Gary explained 'there are hundreds of them down here, very few good books about them, there so commonplace that no one has anything interesting to say, except for some old legends and old wives tales'.
They kept going, Michael occasionally checking up on Mel. She appeared to be in shock, she just sat on the back of the cart. For some reason killing that woman had affected them more than all the other things they had to face and kill on their way here. Of course that woman had been definitely human, unlike some of the other things they had killed whose origins were questionable at best. Michael himself had believed, had wanted there to be another way to resolve that last conflict in some other way than death and misery. He was sure the others felt the same way.
They had travelled silently for a long time before Michael thought to check his watch. It surprisingly late, 7.21 PM
'Maybe we should think of stopping to set up camp' Michael announced 'it is getting late'.
Asuif did not even bothering to turn to face Michael as he said 'lets wait a few more minutes'.
'Why?' Michael asked annoyed.
Asuif turned and walked up closely to Michael 'because I think we should keep a good distance between us and back there' he said aggressively.
It was really getting too much for Michael to handle, being talked down to and bossed around by this jerk. He shoved him back as hard as he could and regretted it immediately after. Asuif stumbled and dropped to the floor.
'What the hell' Asuif shouted as he got back up, wiping off the dust on his shirt 'what did you do that for?'
Michael hesitated, he was tired and he wasn't very sure why he shoved him. 'I…' Michael started but couldn't finish.
'Should we intervene?' Gary asked Flint.
Flint just shrugged. 'Not my problem' he said.
'I saved your life I don't know how many times…' Asuif began.
Oh no Michael thought he's not playing that one.
'And I've saved your life too, if it hadn't been for me warning everybody earlier…' Michael shouted.
'Yeah like last night, oh, save me from the scary rock monsters' Asuif mocked 'give me a break'.
'Shut up, Asuif' Michael yelled 'you always want to be in control-'.
'What the hell does that mean?' Asuif asked angrily.
'Well who died and said you could be in charge' Michael yelled.
'Should we stop this?' Gary asked nervously.
'Nah I want to see 'em fight' martin said.
'I suppose we should let a nut job like you in charge shall we, hmm, someone who thinks bare rocks are out to get them' Asuif then laughed at him.
'I did hear something, Gary tell him' Michael argued back.
Gary looked nervous. 'Ah' he said 'please don't get me involved with this'.
Martin snorted. Gary looked at him crossly. 'And what's that supposed to mean?' he asked aggressively.
Martin looked at him contemptibly. 'What have you ever done?' Martin asked 'other than eat our food and waste our time'.
'What?' Gary yelled he poked Martin with a fat finger 'I've done plenty'.
Martin suddenly punched him and Gary went down quicker than a sack of cement. 'Never seen you help us in a fight' Martin said 'and there've been lots of fights, you just cower behind the cart and let everyone else get hurt and fight for you, you're nothing but a dirty coward'.
Gary clutched at his face; it went an ugly shade of red.
Flint had become agitated.
'Don't speak to him like that' he said gently 'he does the best that he can, not everyone is obsessed with swords and violence like you are'.
Martin looked annoyed at being told off by Flint.
'Stop fighting' Mel suddenly screamed.
They had been so busy arguing that they hadn't noticed her at all; she had got off the cart now and was standing before them with an angry expression on her face and her sword drawn.
'The next thing I hear out of those throats of yours had better be an apology and a promise to behaviour or so help me' she made a slashing motion with her blade, they all instinctively took a step back 'I'll castrate, gut and fillet you all'.
'Sorry' Gary said immediately.
'I apologise Martin' Flint said.
'Yeah well alright' martin said and when he saw Mel flexing her blade he added 'Sorry'.
Mel looked at Michael and Asuif expectantly. 'Sorry' they both said.
'That's better' Mel said as she put her sword back in its sheath 'and for your information, I am in charge and you better learn to like it'.
The others shuffled uncomfortably.
'First thing first I say we check out that weird building' she announced.
'What building?' Asuif asked.
'The one you were too busy arguing about to notice' she replied, looking sown at him as if he were a stupid kid.
She turned and walked back to the cart. There she moved the directional light from the front of the cart and moved it to the right. The light illuminated a short, squat stone building.
'I noticed its outline in the dark while you were knocking seven shades of shit out of each other' she said calmly 'and I thought it might be more important'.
'Just a house' Martin said sullenly 'what makes you think its special?'
Mel sighed. 'Look closely' she said.
They all looked over the building. Didn't seem particular special Michael thought until he noticed a half sunken metal sign.
The faded lettering read: 'DANGER! KEEP OUT! RESTRICTED! RESEARCH CENTRE DARWIN'.
'Holy shit' Michael whispered.
'But… but…' Asuif spluttered.
'Amazing simply amazing look Flint can you see' Gary said excitedly.
'I don't get it' martin muttered 'what's so special'.
Mel brought her hand up to her face and shook her head.
'It's a research centre' she said calmly.
'And, so what?' martin continued to be oblivious.
'People conduct research there' she said simply.
'I know that' Martin said.
'So then what's it doing down here' she said loudly having lost patience with her calm schoolteacher helping slow student thing.
Martin gave her a filthy look.
'It must be a government installation' Gary said proudly 'we'll be able to get help and get out of here'.
'We'll we better get going' Mel said 'no sense in just standing here is there'. They grabbed a few torches and lanterns, then they all began to walk towards the building.
'I can't wait to have a hot shower' Mel said 'and a nice, warm bed'. Asuif grinned 'Yeah, I'd beat sleeping on the floor, in the cold'. 'I'll be able to see my parents again' Gary said excitedly 'they must think I'm dead or worse'. 'Junk food' Flint said 'haven't had any sweets or chocolate in years'. As they got closer Michael got a feeling there wouldn't be much help after all.
The first thing he noticed was how damaged the sign was, wouldn't they have tried to keep it clean and tidy. The second thing he noticed was that the building had sunk into the ground and the only way in was through the few windows that the building had. The third thing was how dishevelled it looked as if no one had cleaned it in decades, the building was grey with dust and blackened by soot. Why wouldn't anyone be bothered to maintain it?
They didn't have to smash a window to get in, there were already plenty of damaged ones already. 'Watch the glass' Asuif warned as he went in first. What enthusiasm they had earlier had almost faded to nothing.
They all entered, one by one, a small stairwell. It was very crowded.
The words level 5 in faded yellow lettering was inscribed on the wall.
'Ok' Mel said looking up and down the stairs 'if we split up-'
'Isn't that what stupid people suggest before they all get killed?' Asuif asked. Mel glared at him. 'Sorry, I didn't realise we weren't allowed to question the great leader' he said.
'I never said you couldn't Mel said 'thank you for your input Asuif, it has been most helpful, and because your so scared, how about you and me explore this level together'.
Asuif didn't argue back to her. She turned to face the others. 'Alright, Michael and Gary you check the floor above us and Martina and Flint you check the lower levels, if there's anything snarly and nasty around here, just scream and we'll come find you or if you find something really important like a working landline or a computer just holler, regardless we come back here in ten minutes'. She surveyed as in a manner that reminded Michael of how a proud Captain would survey his soldiers. 'Ok' she said 'let's get this over with'.
The others went of exploring, leaving Michael and Gary alone on the stairwell. Gary looked nervously out the shattered window. 'I think I should go get Rees, he might wander off' he said.
'No he won't' Michael said 'Mel tied him up earlier, don't you remember?'
'Oh' Gary exclaimed 'I completely forgot about that'.
Michael looked up the stairs. 'We better get a move on or she'll shout at us again' he said. Gary grimaced and nodded. They both went up the stairs. 'Do you think it'll hold?' Gary asked 'I mean it's a very old building, it can't be safe'.
Despite Gary's protestations the stairs were strong enough to hold the both of them and they entered the next floor.
Michael pushed the double doors open. Strange, they were similar to the ones you find in hospitals; perhaps this building had been a hospital.
The corridor they were in was dusty, rusty and dirty; it looked like something out of a horror film. The rooms were ransacked, jumbled piles of rubbish strewn all around, whatever there original purposes they were useless now. There wasn't as many cobwebs as he would have expected.
'We're not going to find anything helpful here' Michael muttered aloud.
'Are you ok?'
Michael looked around, Gary was checking the other chambers so who had said that. Then he noticed a hole in the floor and through it he could see Asuif's back.
'What do you mean?' another voice said, it must be Mel's.
'Are you over…' Asuif hesitated to speak '… what happened earlier?'
'If by over you mean forgotten, no, I haven't but I am feeling more my self now' Mel said calmly 'It wasn't the same as the others for some reason, it felt like I was killing a person, not a monster'.
'You didn't have a choice' Asuif said 'its not as if we could just let her kill us or get away scot-free'.
'There should have been another way' Mel said wistfully. She sounded sad. Michael turned away, embarrassed and slightly ashamed that he had eavesdropped on a private conversation. He had misread Asuif, he wasn't a jerk, and it was sweet that he showed concern for Mel.
Michael searched the rest of the room, a bookshelf contained a few crumbling, ancient books: The Island of Dr Moreua, The Lord of the Rings, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Silver Chair and a variety of others. They all seemed to be fantasy stories. Someone liked their elves and goblins thought Michael.
He decided to check the adjoining room. It was some sort of archive; the walls were lined with wooden filing cabinets. He opened the nearest one and the files inside were yellow with age. He picked one at random and started to read: -
Cross Breeding Experiment 1001 filed, by Dr. Darius, 21/11/1911-
-Wait, what, Michael thought, 1911? He eagerly resumed reading: -
-Offspring of Male 089 and Female 028 selected, specimen is in fine physical shape, below average intelligence, typical of his sub class-
-The rest was just a bunch of words and numbers, size and dimensions of limbs, reaction times and similar data.
What were they doing down here Michael thought.
He looked at another file; it was labelled Dwarf breeding stats.
WTF? Michael thought. He checked another cabinet and checked the files in there, they had titles such as 'Magical Theory 1903', 'the nocebo effect of Magick (dated to 1929) and 'Blue'. They were conducting research down here, someone knew about this place, about the caverns and the town down here. 'Michael' Gary called out 'I found something'.
So have I Michael thought as he hurried to join his fellow explorer.
He found Gary in a dilapidated looking surgery, the dirty tiles were peeling away from the walls and the operating table was stained a suspicious looking brown colour. The broken sink was full of rusty instruments; at least Michael hoped that was rust…
Gary held up a tatty, faded book in his left hand, with his right he held up his lantern. He seemed barely able to contain his joy. 'I got it' Gary said 'I know what this place is, what its for'.
Michael himself had his own ideas but nevertheless asked 'what is it for?'
'It's a log for this research station' Gary said 'I had a quick read of it, and its major stuff, important stuff'.
He took a deep breath. 'This place, the caverns, the town, the creatures, they are all man made, artificial, fake' he said 'they breed them, Elves, Orcs, Dwarfs, Halflings, the whole lot of them'.
'But why?' Michael asked this news only confirmed his own suspicions.
'It is, well was a Eugenics experiment' Gary said and seeing the confused expression on his friends face added 'you know breeding the master race, the supermen, social Darwinism, it was popular years and years ago, the Nazis were really into it'.
'They abandoned it, I guess' Gary said 'its not very PC nowadays, anyway we should go see the others now, tell them'.
'Do you think anyone knew about it?' Michael asked as they returned to the stairwell.
Gary shook his head. 'Can't see how you can cover this sort of thing up but they did it somehow, it was some private company, I don't think the government would have approved or maybe it did, it'll be in a file here I suppose, if it wasn't destroyed or whatever'.
It was as they re-entered the corridor that they saw it, a creature, and the size of a man on all fours, crouched low on the floor, huge nostrils sniffing the air wildly. How the hell didn't they hear it come in Michael thought. Its skin looked like stone, rock like and hard, would his sword even dent it Michael thought. It had short, cracked horns and jutting teeth, clawed hands and feet with vestigial, useless wings and a tail.
Jesus Michael thought it looks just like a gargoyle.
Michael slowly lowered his torch to the floor while reached for his sword, slowly, so not to draw its attention.
Suddenly the gargoyle screeched and leapt for them.
Originally called the Reveal, The Truth or the truth shall be revealed.
Sorry if the scenes with the characters arguing bored you but I felt it was important for them to have a minor falling out so they could address the issues they had with each other. They needed to discuss the events of the last chapter. Of course you have to maintain a balance, if they don't feel bad about it, they are unrealistic or complete monsters, if they angst or complain too much, they are whiny and annoying
Of course this chapter is the big twist and reveal.
I first had the idea all the way back in chapter 2 when describing the street and how it was light I thought why not have electrical cables reach up to the surface to leech power and after that I thought why don't I just make it a sci-fi story instead?
The portal that Michael entered was of course magical when I first wrote it but now I rational it as a mechanical door.
The rats that assaulted Michael in chapter 3 and left a few corpses around the town in the later chapters were originally wererats but now I rationalised them as people who have been exiled in the sewers for a long time and become semi feral scavengers.
The vampires and werewolves are just people who think they are, they aren't really shapeshifters or immortal bloodsuckers.
The Orcs, Elves and Dwarves are a result of a breeding programme to make warrior/servants. Ogres are chemically treated at birth to produce strong, dumb warrior-slaves.
Magic is just a placebo; it only works because you think it does and even then only for simple things. The characters can't use magic to light up a room but they could use it to make a characters headache fade away.
A grand ceremony to resurrect a dead person wouldn't work but a spell to give you a toothache would and it only works on the people because they have been taught to believe in it.
I know it seems convoluted (that's because it is) but I thought it would make a cool twist later on in the story. Of course the characters are going to learn more as the story goes on, about the cavern system, who set it up and why, who's pulling the strings behind the scene, etc, etc.
Anyway if you want to learn a bit more see my other story collection Side Stories from Strange Aberdare.
As always if you notice any spelling error just message me or if you have any questions.