Chapter 2 - What is this strange place?
|Chapter 2 : Light and Dark
Blow out the candle? No, that wasn't something Sej was going to do. His confused mind was still sure of one thing. There was light once again, and he didn't intend losing it.
But the cursing voice in the distance and the agitation from the nearby voice worried him too. He needed time to think, needed some quiet. Needed a drink! Without any of those luxuries, he resigned himself to just do something. The squeaky voice was right about one thing. He didn't want to be seen by the cursing man.
"Where are you?" He whispered into the darkness. His few seconds of thinking had caused him to lose the direction the voice had come from.
"What! Never mind where I am. Blow the candle out, he's on his way. You want us both eaten?"
Sej had locked on to the voice. Ignoring the warning, and crouching slightly, he moved swiftly across the pool of light and plunged into the darkness where he'd heard the voice.
"What are you doing!" Despite still being a whisper, the pitch had risen to such a degree it seemed to be a shout. "Get back out there."
Sej cast about in the darkness, trying to home in on the voice with his ears. It seemed to be coming from surprisingly low to the ground. "I need the light. I'm not blowing it out." He said stubbornly into the darkness. His outstretched hand touched something soft, furry, for the briefest second before it pulled away.
He heard what sounded like a deep sigh, followed by a hissed, "you fool." and the patter of retreating feet. Sej knew he'd been left alone. "Wait!" He called out in an urgent whisper, but only silence replied.
Panic reached out to him again, desperate to offer him its comfort. Sej shook his head, denying it, denying his fear.
He looked around, found the pool of light with the small flame, and focused on it. He was about twenty feet away, but he let the tiny light fill his eyes, absorbing all he could like a dying man in a desert slaking his thirst from some isolated oasis.
"Ka BROKLZ DUZ!"
The venomous shout broke through the trance-like concentration Sej had fallen into. The strange words tickled the back of his mind. They seemed familiar. He shoved the thought away. It was considerably closer than before and sure enough, just seconds later a figure emerged into the puddle of light. First glance made him gasp in horror, but some instinct caused him to clamp a hand over his mouth before the sound could escape.
It was man-shaped, but larger and also distinctly reptilian. A pale, white face with large orb-like eyes and a flat nose, gave way to a green-scaled neck. The jaw was slightly extended, but not enough to be considered out of place on a normal human. From the neck, the scales continued uninterrupted down a broad, muscular chest, completely covering shoulders, and arms. They flashed through a thousand shades of opalescent blues and greens as they moved, strangely beautiful in the flickering light.
Normal hands and fingers, as pale as the face, seemed odd attached to the shimmering body. The scales continued down from the chest, covering strangely jointed legs and protruding in a long tail that shifted from left to right with a fluidity of movement that spoke of muscular control. Arched and clawed feet completed the violent looking horror standing so close.
In those disturbingly human hands it carried a large metallic frame by opposite corners. One edge looked dented. That would explain the crashing sound, Sej thought to himself. Dropping that thing would definitely make a lot of noise, and considering how it clutched it so tightly, likely justified the cursing.
The creature moved directly into the middle of the light, and placed its cargo down carefully, graceful with its movement. It then bent down to the ground and sniffed.
Sej's eyes widened as he realised what it was doing. A horrific chill went rushing down his spine. Could it smell him? It started smacking its lips as if tasting the air. Sej's nightmare continued as he saw twin rows of teeth that wouldn't have looked out of place on a shark.
The lizard-man continued smelling and tasting the air, moving right up to the candle to sniff at its base. Panic slightly lessened its grip on Sej. He'd only been lying there moments ago. Surely if it could actually smell him, it'd have had some trace by now? He began silently willing the creature to go away, wanting only to have the freedom to go back and savour being in the light.
Seemingly satisfied, the creature picked up its cargo and turned to go back out the way it'd come. A gently sigh of relief escaped Sej's lips.
The lizard-man stopped instantly, and its head swung around to stare at the darkness, directly toward Sej. He held his breath whilst staring into those large inky eyes, holding his body statue-like. After a few hour-long seconds the creature seemed to dismiss the sound and continued on, out of the light and vanished.
For several more minutes, Sej stayed still. Breathing as lightly as he could, and straining to hear anything that might announce a sudden ambush. He desperately wanted to move directly to the candle, snatch it up, and explore his surroundings with light. But some inner voice warned him off.
As fast as he dared, he started edging sideways through the dark. Feeling carefully ahead of him with his bare feet, he slowly moved in a wide circle around the candle. Not a single rock, or even a pebble. The warm floor was as swept smooth as any kitchen floor. His arms stretched out to either side groped for any sensation of a wall, but found only more darkness. There was simply nothing.
Eventually he arrived back to where he'd started. No sound had betrayed anything waiting for him in the dark. Just as he'd decided it was finally safe to go back to the candle, and had taken a first crouching step towards the light, the familiar squeaky voice filled his ears from right beside him.
He stopped, his heart racing. How had it snuck up on him like that?
"Everything down here can move silently if they want to," it answered, as if reading his mind. "Including the Trajak you just saw."
"Yes, scared is good. It's still out there you know. It's far more intelligent than you realise. It picked up your scent and is waiting for you to go to the light. It knows you will."
Sej tried to shake his head, but couldn't find his voice to go with it. The squeaky voice continued.
"You think your clumsy patrol proved anything, except just how much noise you can make? If the beast hadn't been waiting for you to go into the light, I'm sure it would have been laughing at you."
Sej found his voice, a harsh whisper.
"So what's it doing now, and why have you come back?"
"Despite appearances, a Trajak doesn't hear too well, it can't hear us right now. It relies more on sight and smell."
A brief pause, a silence. Sej got the strange impression he was being scrutinised by the strange thing next to him.
"You have doubts. You think Morhem is lying to you. I will prove it then. Wait here. Crouch down. Don't move. Watch the light"
Before he could say anything, the feeling of the presence near him faded and Sej knew that ...Morhem had moved away. He lowered himself to the ground, and settled down, hugging his legs to himself, and making himself as small as possible. His head rested on the top of his knees and he stared silently toward the candle.
Without warning, a rock sailed out of nowhere and landed in the middle of the lit area with a crash. Before it had even come to a rest, a flash of green flew out of the darkness after it, pouncing on it viciously. Sej had barely taken a breath before the Lizard-man's voice was cursing again, the air rent by its frustrations.
"Time to get out of here." Morhem's voice appeared behind him again, the softest of whispers.
Sej didn't move, eyes fixed on the angry beast. The creature swung round in its rage, and the tail caught the barrel the candle rested on. In Sej's eyes it seemed to topple over for an eternity, slowly, slowly. As it tumbled, the candle slid to the edge and also fell. It touched the floor, and time sped up again. The light winked out, and the darkness consumed everything.
Sej felt a furry hand grasp his own and start to pull at him. "Come, quickly. We'll be safe in the tunnel."
The horrible darkness was back. He let himself be dragged, feeling some trust in the strange companion, but also too numb to think for himself right then. Being told what to do suited him just fine for now. He winced as he recalled how close to going back into the light he'd been. How close to death.
"Faster," said Morhem, no longer a whisper, but a plea. "It's coming."
With those words, Sej felt adrenaline pour into his veins and his mind cleared somewhat. He started running, terrified that it was blindly into nothing, but irreversibly relying on the guidance of the creature that called itself Morhem.
Any reluctance he had to running in the dark evaporated a few seconds later when a guttural growl echoed behind him. Sej could have sworn it said 'dinner'.
"How... much... further?" He managed to gasp. No answer, but he felt the hand holding his own suddenly stop, and he stumbled to a halt himself, visions of running into a wall filling his mind. He held out his other arm, and with some shock felt the rough edge of a wall just in front of him.
The growl echoed just behind again. "Get down low." Morhem yelled. "The opening is just in front of you."
Sej did as he was told, dropping down and reaching forward. Indeed, where higher up he'd felt wall, there was an opening at this level. He wasted no time and crawled forward. It was a tight squeeze. Almost immediately he felt his shoulders scrape along the edges. He dropped down on to his stomach, and pulled himself in as fast as he could.
He heard Morhem follow behind, making strange little noises that somehow made Sej understand how scared it was. Why had it helped him? It was immediately apparent the large lizard-man would have no chance of fitting down so small a tunnel. Why leave its safety for a stranger like him?
"Keep moving!" There was undisguised terror in Morhem's voice. Sej realised with a jerk he'd stopped, and quickly continued the awkward belly-crawl. After a few more minutes Morhem called out for them to halt.
"We're safe now. You can take a moment to rest."
Sej did just that, lying on the smooth rock floor, breathing deeply. He heard a strange scratching sound behind, from Morhem, but ignored it.
The scratching stopped, and then Sej heard Morhem whisper. "Sleeeep."
He woke up to a strange tugging about his neck. He was lying on something soft and warm. His own bed! It was all just a nightmare! His mind rejoiced.
The tugging continued, and he opened his eyes. A small creature, a bizarre cross between a cat and a hedgehog but about three feet in length, was sat on his chest, tugging intently on something tied around his neck.
"Gimmie it, gimmie shiny pen." The voice was high pitched, and girly. Memories of his flight through the dark tunnel, of Morhem, flooded back. It hadn't been a dream. The yanking at his neck contnued. Before he could do anything about it, another figure appeared beside him. It was taller, but otherwise the same. It cuffed the thing on his chest.
"Let go Pollir, that's not yours. Go see your Mother."
Pollir appeared to sulk, but said nothing and reluctantly let go whilst it clambered off Sej's chest.
"Sorry about that," Morhem said. "Always such an inquisitive child." He said fondly.
"Mor..Morhem?" Sej managed to say.
"Yes, it's me, my friend. Glad to see you awake. I was afraid I'd knocked you out too hard back in the tunnel, but you'd gone through enough."
"What did, did you do to me?" Sej stammered, still groggy from waking.
Morhem waved a hand in dismissal. "Nothing much, just a small sleep spell. I'm no mage."
Sej looked at Morhem. He was very similar to his daughter. Cat-like features, but with a fan of sharp quills on his head, where hair would normally be. He was about 4 ft tall, and covered with dark fur.
"What are you?"
Morhem looked put out for a second. "Well I could ask the same of you. Whatever your species, clearly you're no use in the dark, that's for sure. I'm a Katoraz... "
Sej interrupted him.
"A what? That's just fairytale. Where am I? What is going on?" Without the immediate fear of the dark, or the Lizard creature, a lot of oddities were beginning to demand attention in his mind. "How'd I get here? Where's my home?"
"Su..su..sush, calm yourself. You're quiet safe here." Morhem said softly. "But I have no answers for you. I simply discovered you back in the Longblack, by your candle, whilst I was hunting."
"But, I fell, through the hole. I was writing, but the hole, it appeared." Sej's voice was loud and anxious as he rambled.
Again came the brief scratching sound, and again Morhem whispered "Sleep".
It was a pleasant dream. Everything was white. Bright and light and warm. Sej floated through it, relaxed and peaceful. He heard voices, distant and distorted. He thought he recognised one. A strange friend who'd saved him from death. What were they saying? So difficult to make out.
He drifted closer. Moving, but not moving, in the vast empty white. A pinprick of black appeared in the distance. It grew bigger as he moved closer. He could hear the voices louder now. He wanted to hear them, but the black was getting bigger. It was the darkness again. He didn't want to go there. Why couldn't he stop moving?
"We can't keep him here!"
"It's only for a little while. Something strange has happened to him, he needs the rest."
"Look at the size of him, Morhem! We can't feed something that big, we have our children to think of, and food is only getting scarcer in the Longblack. And what if it's dangerous?"
"But aren't you curious where it came from? Look at his strange pale skin. The odd patches of fur. No spikes or claws. And it speaks our language."
The black continued to grow in his vision, all but filling his view as he rushed closer. He tried to pull back.
"The only thing I'm curious about is where our next meal is coming from. I leave other such pointless wonderings to The Watcher."
"The Watcher... darling, you're a genius. The Watcher. He'll have answers."
"Oh no, no, no. Morhem, you're not leaving me here with the children to go trekking across half the world just to satisfy your curiosity."
"Two less mouths to feed, sweetness."
"And one less to collect the food. No, I forbid it."
The blackness filled his vision, and unavoidably he plunged through it.
"Ooh, he's awake."
As Sej blundered into consciousness, he heard the distinctly unimpressed huff as the second figure turned and walked away. Slowly Morhem’s face came back into focus.
"I hope you are feeling calmer now. Exciting news. I think I know where we can get you some answers!"