Eyes of the Sunken Hold- Part Two: descent.
Part Two: descent.
- 3. It hides in deepest waters.
The journey down was long and quiet. The rags around our mouths meant speaking was difficult, we had to communicate with our torches and hand signals. Despite that it wasn’t silent; the soft crackle of our torches; the far away but persistent sounds of flowing water and that…. Hum. I don’t know what else to call it. Like a ringing in the ears, constant, barely noticeable, but there regardless.
We got to the stairs, we went down as far as we could. Any lower and the stairwell was filled with water. We entered the corridor, little more than a waterlogged cave. The floor had a constant trickle over it that flowed back towards where the entrance would be, the northern wall. Odd, I thought, that must mean the water still drains out somewhere. This was the level where I believed we would have the best chance of finding our lost comrades, it was the last place any of us had gone to search for the first missing lad. Right at the bottom, Where the waters were always just below you.
As we moved through the soaked stone hallways, I took the lead, Mari was still convinced there was something more down here, something hostile, so she took the rear. Guarding our backs with her silver sword in hand. James was between us, trying to navigate.
We followed the hallway around back to the northern end, under the very entrance we’d just come through. After searching inside ancient stone doorways and finding mostly empty rooms or cave ins, we found something bigger. A grandiose room, water still crisscrossed the expansive floor, but its flow was interrupted by colossal iron ladles, They were on stone holders as to sit just off the floor proper, and they went up higher than the great hallways we’d been walking through. Above it all, supported by ornate pillars were walkways, just at the right height to reach the tops of the metal vats. The room went a far way back too; had side rooms, big and empty; an abandoned forge and sure enough stairs up to that higher level. I figured it must have been a foundry, these vats were for holding molten metal. Empty now, no sign of workers or their craft.
While I had my head turn upwards trying to get a sense for the vast room, James let out a call. Hard to tell what he had said because of the rags but it got our attention anyway. Two bodies in a pile, hidden away in a corner of one of the side rooms. The waters soaking them thoroughly, they weren’t moving. Mari rushed to them, I followed after. We turned them over to face us and sure enough, it was one of the knights that had come with us and their own squire. For some reason, the knight had abandoned their armour and weapons, and was covered in blood. The two kids were distraught, Mari furious, James frozen. But I checked our downed comrades’ pulses regardless. The Knight was Dead, no pulse, so I quietly inspected him, and the cause of death was obvious, his chest seemed to have been crushed, the blood coming from the wounds where his ribs had pierced through his skin.
The other Squire still had a pulse. They were bruised, and unconscious but alive. Their breathing was shallow though, I wasn’t putting a rag over their mouth as it might just suffocate them, but we could bring them back up to the surface. So I picked them up, and carried them over my shoulder. I told the kids what was going on, they took it well. Couldn’t make out what they were saying but they had the energy to help me carry him at least. As we got moving, James pulled me towards the stairs at the back of this room, made a good point about getting them up as soon as possible. It made sense to do so even if we didn’t know for sure that there was a way back out up there. Mari helped me carry the poor fellow, She said his name was Clenn, their Knightly tutors had been friends you see, so they met a few times before this. He was quite the fighter apparently, strong to boot. She wondered out loud what could have taken down both him and his knight. I hadn’t mentioned the crushed ribs yet. The question of what caused them wasn’t one I wanted Mari asking yet.
We got him up to the second level of the foundry. James rushed off ahead to scout out possible passages, despite my best effort to tell him to stay in a group. Thankfully though, he did come back, said there was a passage with a light coming from it. Which would hopefully be a good sign. We were on the upper floor, moving along one of the walkways above the great metal vats. As we passed over the entrance we’d first used to get in here I saw to my left the tunnel James was leading us to. Sure enough from the very end of it, a light flickered from an unseen turn at the furthest right. I hoped real hard this was one of our lost companions, and not a trick of the mind.
- 4.With many spiteful eyes.
It is rare for hopes to be answered so fully, but I suppose fate wanted to give us one last gift before it played its cruellest hand. The two dwarven members of our expedition huddled around a slowly burning torch. I didn’t know who was happier about the reunion, they greeted us with open arms. Though once our greetings were over, their choice of hiding room had brought a shiver to my spine. Looked to be a tomb, maybe a shrine to long-dead ancestors. The room rang with that same strange hum too, like an echo chamber it rang in my skull.
The two Dwarfs were named Bedvick and Vunimir, the first was a scholar of some kind the other a miner. I liked Vunimir. We kept in touch afterward, a good drinker. Their first reaction after the greeting was to ask about the lad we were carrying, Clenn. We explained he was alive but injured and Bedvick went to examine them, said they knew enough about the medicinal ways that they thought they could help. We laid the kid out on one of the stone plinths around the room. They asked about the rags we were wearing as Bedvick worked, to which we asked how they were so sane without them. They were confused, so I took some time to retell my Miasma story, and Vunimir, being a miner, seemed to know more or less what I was talking about, but made the claim Dwarfs are less affected due to their beards acting as filters. Supposedly they still wouldn’t want to stay too long down on the lowest level less they too become affected but they were more resilient than anyone else.
This gave some credence to my theory that all of this was caused by unnatural gases affecting our minds, rather than any malicious entities or supernatural phenomenon. That gave me some comfort. So things were looking up for a time, 6 of us together, only 3 left unaccounted for, not counting the dead man or Simone. It appeared the biggest danger facing us was the Miasma and we were all safe and dry, for the time being.
It was a shame then, that James just had to go and ask if they’d seen anyone else. The first lad that went missing, the one we originally went down into the dark to find before the separation, well they found him. Bits of him. A mauled torso missing some limbs, floating at the far side of the grand main chamber. Apparently, the discovery of the body caused a panic in the already Miasma-drenched group Bedvick was with, which included the other scholar who is still uncounted for and Mari’s missing Knight Angharad. Bedvick said the missing two were rambling about eyes watching from the deepest waters. Before running off towards the northern wall of the central chamber. Vunimir then mentioned they’d seen someone with a striking resemblance to the very same missing researcher fall from higher up past their group on the other level at a similar time. The mismatched stories caused a bit of a stir between the two. Perhaps they weren’t as immune to seeing things as they’d thought. But Vunimir said they’d left their group to follow what they thought to be the researcher down, it was descending the stairs that Bedvick found them. Confusing the timeline even greater. No way our researcher could have gotten up there in that time normally. But also she was a hard one to mistake, she had been wearing bright white scholarly robes. The only one in our group like that.
I came to the conclusion that they were hallucinating, were disoriented but being stoic about the whole thing. However, unfortunately, they had given us the only leads we had.
This put us in a rough spot. 2 dead at least, 2 more likely dead or near it, one of whom was our young Mari’s tutor; and she was most upset at the idea of their untimely demise.
So as you can imagine. The debate that followed was loud, I stayed quiet mostly. Mari was determined to go back below to where her master had last been seen and track them down. James was fully in her corner too. The dwarfs both called that folly and said they would be returning to the surface the first chance they had. Clenn, of course, was still unconscious and gave no opinion.
Stalemate, so I piped up to force a compromise. We needed to get back to the surface eventually, and Clenn needed to be taken to up and given treatment, our dwarven friends here were the best choice for that. The two of them use James’ rough map to return the quickest and safest way and they take Clenn with them. The other three of us would go down to search for Knight Angharad and the researcher. Once we’d thoroughly checked the area we’d return to the surface, regardless of if we found anyone. The effectiveness of the rags was wearing thin you see. By that point I had already started feeling paranoid, seeing shadows move unnaturally, and knew we didn’t have long before our senses would betray us. They agreed eventually, some more reluctantly than others. But regardless we set out on our way.
We left the room we had been cowering in, that tomb or shrine or whatever claustrophobic trap it was. James led us along the left-hand wall and soon enough he found our way to a stairwell.
The dwarves went upwards, carrying Clenn between the two of them. Myself, Mari, and James went back down. Down into the dark, and I could already feel eyes watching me from the void of the great main chamber, under the ever-darkening waters.
- 5.Full of curiosity and disgust.
We followed the direction given by the dwarves to the best of our ability, tried to find signs that our two missing compatriots had gone this way but the water down here was spilling over the walkway, with no footprints to follow. I had a bad feeling from the start, it all reeked of a wild goose chase. The humming was getting louder too, itched in my ears. We’d already passed part of the northern wall of this same main chamber earlier when we’d passed into the foundry room, though we’d only made it halfway along that side I feel we would have noticed something like a torch or a knight's armour if they were close by, after all the chamber was vast but empty, filled only by a small sea’s worth of water. Regardless I wouldn't be able to convince Mari to give it up, and I was more curious than I was fearful. Even with an ever-growing feeling that something was watching me from beyond the water’s edge. Worse, all that separated us from that ledge were the few still standing columns that held up the higher levels and a crumbling stone railing that was broken in places, and completely absent in others.
We did, fortunately, find something. It was a pauldron I think, maybe a helmet. I don’t know, but something metal clicked upon the Edge of the walkway, stuck between bits of the stone railing. We all heard it and we all knew that must have been from a knight armour. Probably not far too. Mari picked up the pace. At first, I went to peer over the edge. See if I could make out any more pieces of armour nearby. But as I looked deep into that murky abyss, it felt wrong. I couldn’t look away but I felt off, nauseous, uncomfortable. The longer I stared the more I felt that I was not the watcher, but the watched. Slowly the reflected light from my torch began to make out the faint shape of orbs below the surface. It was like a shimmering reflection of the night sky. Only with stars that blinked.
As I realised what I was seeing I moved back, I knew my mind was playing me for a fool but that didn’t make me any less terrified. Still, I steeled myself as to not unnerve the other too. I picked up the pace to catch back up.
I could just make out where the walkway came to the far corner of the chamber when I heard splashing just around the bend. I reacted before the other two had even noticed, and as I peered my head around one of the columns that supported the upper layers, I could just make out a figure at the boundary between the flooded walkway and bottomless deep. They seemed to be desperately searching for something under the water. They were laid out on their stomach with much of their upper body below the waters, But they were moving and they were human. So I quickly signalled the other to follow and went to help the figure.
They didn’t even notice us till we were close enough to touch them, when they came back up for air. Their face was filled with a look of unearthly terror. Eyes that whispered of the things they’d seen as they pierced through the veils of darkness that hide us from the horrors we are not meant to know.
It was Angharad, she was dishevelled, most of her armour was missing and she seemed injured, and exhausted near to the point of collapse. By the looks of her, she likely hadn’t slept in over a day and had probably been down here mired in the fowl airs for far too long. But she seemed to recognize Mari. As Mari rushed to her master's side, to offer aid, Angharad began to try and speak. But every word coughs up more water than sound. Though clearly suffering from a great deal of stress and madness Angharad did not fear, no, her befuddled cries asked for help, but not for her, for someone trapped under the waters. James had already begun trying to bandage her wounds and Mari had dragged her away from the deep edge. Angharad struggled to get back to continue her search but I stood in the way, making it clear I would look in her stead. It seemed to calm her. I had little hope of finding anyone, let alone anyone alive. For the most part, I looked into those waters just so she would let her mind go to something else, I thought it likely she would collapse from exhaustion once the adrenaline ran out. Then we could drag her back up.
I moved my head below the water's surface, the hum reverberated under the surface as though coming from all directions at once. I opened my eyes to the unhidden abyss. There was a whole other layer of the main chamber under this one, same walkways, railing and columns only caked in centuries of grim and damp. Perhaps even more underneath, but couldn’t see far in those waters. But as my gaze pierced downwards I saw Glints of white flowing in the water. I made a connection instantly, the researcher girl. The white robes. Angharad had been trying to get to someone. Who knows how long she had been stuck under the water though. Clearly the girl wasn't moving, I don’t think Angharad’s sense of time had withstood the onslaught to her mind. I had the horrid feeling she’d spent hours nearly drowning herself to try and save a long-dead woman. At least she was righteous even in madness.
There was little chance to ponder that for long though, as I started to move my head upwards my eyes glanced forward into the mass of water. What I saw proved to me I had joined her in insanity, maybe the water was just as tainted as the air. Or maybe what I saw was really there. I knew not. All I knew for sure was the presence of those eyes, that writhing mass, watching; with condescending hatred. Filled with disgust and curiosity, like the eyes of a cruel child set on an insect it wishes to torture. That expanse of eyes met mine, and left for a moment as those they were appalled at something so pathetic, so insignificant as I dared to look upon them.
Then it moved closer.
End of part two.