Monsters and Dust

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Eventually I reached an immense space that extended several hundred yards. The light seemed to throw further here, and I walked more quickly. There was a steep drop to the left, which I narrowly avoided, taking instead another immense tunnel that fell off to the right.

I followed on till suddenly a crop of sharp stalactites surrounded me. Great pillars of rock jutted up from the floor, sometimes nearly touching the multitude that hung from the ceiling, as though the insides of the earth were nothing more than a vast churning mouth of animal teeth, somehow now frozen in time. I had never been in such a place before, and the feeling it gave me was beyond description. From my lantern colors rose along the rocks, and the shapes and kinds were arrayed in endless variation, the decorating work of something inhuman. The colossal white totem poles, like the pillared halls of some underground race. The ceilings hung in chandeliers of onyx, the stone wet and dripping in places, hanging draperies that looked so fine as to be moved by my breath, but were, once touched, indeed of solid stone. Pools of ghostly water, so clear that they may as well have not been. Even though I was loath to break the perfect mirrors of the waters’ taut surface, I had to quench my days long thirst. This water was finer than any sullied by the air and soil of the terrestrial sphere, and I drank my fill, and I filled my canteen besides. The smooth floor gave way to spiky rocks, a plane of stiff grass blades, all straight as though no wind had ever touched them. In the gloom and strangeness of the place I began to forget completely the desert day above. The air was cool, and my lungs felt wet and fresh. The mystery of the world that I had found began to envelop my mind completely, and time seemed a distant concern.

But I was suddenly shaken from my rapture by a situation that scared me more than perhaps any on this journey so far. My lantern began to flicker, and I realized that I was short on fuel. The blackness suddenly felt as though it were tightening around me, and my light was dim. I was instantly regretful of not having left small markers or some such device by which to guide back out and up into the day.

As the blackness swarmed around me, and I hurried back the way which I thought I had just come, the noises were suddenly apparent, if they hadn’t been there all along. The dripping of water, yes, and perhaps the fluttering of bats, but other noises I couldn’t not understand, the rushing of water, and the chiming of musical strings, and the creaking of wagon wheels.