PART III: Chapters 9-12
9. A NEW DIRECTION
TOWER OF KORVAS
THING IN THE PIT
NINE - A NEW DIRECTION
We rode back out, away from the desert and towards more fertile
lands. I had a rough idea of where Aztor was. Somewhere
to the east, I thought. It seemed the most natural destination,
after all, I had a Princess of Aztor wrapping her arms around my waist
as I rode.
“Who was he?” I asked, after we were clear.
“The man they were waiting to meet, the one you feared so.”
“I cannot speak of it,” she replied. “It is too terrible.”
“Whoever he is, we have left him far behind,” I said. “If
he arrived early, then it is certain that the Apes took him. If he
arrived late, he’ll think you were devoured. You are safe.”
“You do not know him,” she said, and I felt her shudder against
“Surely he can’t be so awful that you cannot speak his name,”
“That creature,” she spoke to change the subject, “it sounded
as if it spoke to you.”
“Animal noises,” I said, my stomach fluttering, “I made animal
noises back to it, and I startled it.”
“You sounded like just like it. You sounded exactly like
a White Ape?”
I tried to shrug with her arms around me and her chin resting
on my shoulder.
“I was raised among animal trainers, I learned to make all sorts
of animal noises. I can do a Thoat too,” and let the rumbling lowing
rise out of my throat.
She laughed, startled, and laughed aloud.
“Extraordinary! What else can you do, a Banth?”
“Not without scaring the Thoat. But here’s a Calot,” and
I imitated its bark, enjoying the sudden unrestrained pleasure of her laughter.
I had never heard her carefree. Steadily, she had me run through
every creature sound I knew. I relaxed.
Perhaps fate had more in store for me than a lifetime of petty
murder for petty tyrants, and guarding the whimpering victims of greasy
slave merchants. I gave little thought to the Caravan.
With Haja Obol and his cohorts devoured by White Apes, there was none to
threaten it. I smiled, imagining them bickering every step of the
way, forming endless committees, passing motions, arguing about each little
thing. I felt absolutely no urge to return to that, and to
the crushing burden of hundreds of lives. My life was my own, let
their fates be in their hands.
My heart swelled with something like pleasure. The
open air, a powerful Thoat beneath me, a beautiful woman at my back, and
of course, a bright future. Even if Azara and I did not last,
and nothing ever had for me, I had a feeling that I could find a future
I felt hope. I should have known better.
Once we were well beyond the dead city, I let the Thoat relax
to a gentle trot. We were well beyond the ranges habitual ranges
of the White Apes, they seldom traveled open country, even at night.
Whenever we passed a sparse patch of the ochre moss, I let the animal pause
for a moment or two to graze.
Finally, as we approached the ruins of a solitary building.
I decided to make camp for the night. I circled the area, with the
Thoat, searching for White Ape and Banth signs. I found nothing
but a few half fossilized mounds of Zitidar dung, these we collected for
I dismounted, tethering the Thoat against the partial wall.
Azara helped me unload the animal, and even went to gather the few sprigs
of ochre moss that grew in the buildings shelter for forage.
For myself, I gathered stones for a fire pit. There was a large stone
that served well as a backer for the pit, and so I ringed stones in front
of it. On its side, there was an inscription:
“The tomb of Sapso Ko, king of kings and living god who ascended
bodily into heaven, his legend is eternal, cursed be he who disturbs -
“ and that was all there was to it.
I supposed that the rest of the inscription was scattered far
and wide. I’d never heard of Sapso Ko, his legend, it seems
had been no more eternal than he himself. I glanced around,
this structure had no suggestion of a tomb. Most likely, his grave
had been plundered, first by grave robbers for its riches, then by peasants
for its stone. The king of kings himself, he was now merely
dust, a fate that awaits us all.
Using dried twigs, from around the walls, I got a fire going.
Azara came and sat beside me.
“We will skirt the edge of the desert,” I told her, “avoiding
both Green Man and Red. We have supplies to last. We
make it as far as Tjanath, and from there to Aztor.”
I could tell from her face that this did not meet with her approval.
She buried her face in her hands.
“Darling Tora,” she sobbed, “I would love nothing better than
to take you to Aztor and shower you with my love, but alas, I am bound
“Duty?” I asked. “What duty could bind you?
You were a slave when I found you.”
She stiffened, and I knew that I’d said the wrong thing.
“I wasn’t always a prisoner of Haja Obol,” she said curtly.
“I had a life before then, duties and obligations. You don’t know
me at all. How could you say such an awful, hurtful thing!
I was a Princess of Aztor.”
She threw her face into her hands and sobbed. I wanted to
snap back that she’d told me nothing of her life, so how was I to know?
But a passing bit of good sense caught me.
“What is your obligation,” I said. A warning chill stole
up my spine. “You aren’t betrothed are you?”
“No,” she said. “It is not that.”
My heart froze. Although I feared the answer, I pressed
“But you are betrothed?”
“Yes,” she said, “I was betrothed to a noble Prince of Aztor,
Hastor Tal. But that is not the obligation which binds me.”
I turned my face, so she could not see the effect this had on
me. Of course she was betrothed, these high born girls were pledged
almost from the day of their hatching. What a stupid foolish notion
to think she might be mine. Half formed dreams came crashing down.
I squeezed my eyes to remove a bit of grit.
“Then what?” My voice did not shake, I was proud of that.
“Before I may return home,” she told me, “I must return to the
tower of Korvas and perform a service.”
And thence to her cursed Prince to be married and live in splendor
and forget all about Tora Kar Thor, the Panthan who had risked all for
“That I may not say,” she said. “Oh, please do not ask.”
“Does this have anything to do with this unnamed stranger who
sought to buy you?”
“I cannot say,” she said, but I caught her involuntary nod,
“I beg of you, do not ask these questions of me. I would tell you
if I could.”
“I don’t like it,” I said bitterly. “I’ve fought in
a hundred campaigns and a thousand duels, and if there’s one thing I’ve
learned, its not to stick my head between the jaws of a hungry Banth.
You can do this without me. I will bring you so far, and no
further. You’ll find your way without me.”
“But I need you,” she said. “I cannot do this alone.”
“Fine then, you’ve got an excuse,” I snapped. “I’m not going.
Your mission is defeated, we will go to Aztor, you can marry and if you
must accomplish something, then you can do it from there.”
“I cannot!” It was almost a wail, full of grief and passion.
It startled me with its intensity, and I knew that nothing I could say
would dissuade her.
“Tora,” she said quietly, “I once insulted you by offering money
for a thing you would do from the decency and compassion in your heart.
Now I appeal to that heart, for if we are friends, if you care about me,
then you must not ask these questions. Assist me in my mission, and
I pledge to you my heart and my life, it shall be yours forever.”
Liar, I thought. You are betrothed! Better
to offer me gold and jewels, for we both knew that she offered what she
could not give.
I stood then and walked off into the night. I performed
a slow circle around the ruin. Near us, the Thoat stood, unconcerned.
I looked to the stars for guidance, and then to the sand and dust at my
feet. Sapso Ko, I thought, you believed that eternity lay before
you, but all you had were fleeting moments. In the end, even
your peasants had forgotten your name as they carted pieces of your tomb
away to make their stables.
I did not have eternity, I had only these moments to hold close
to me, like sand in my fist, doomed to slip through my fingers.
I returned to the fire and sat next to her. Staring into
the flame, I spoke.
“How long will this service take? Months? Years?”
“It will be brief,” she pledged. I cursed quietly.
“And then we go to Aztor?” I asked. To Aztor
where I would lose her forever.
“Yes,” she promised. “And all that I have shall be
“I want only what you choose to give me,” I said softly.
Moments, I thought. Sweet moments together, knowing that
there will come a time when she resumes her posts, fulfills the role that
honour demands, and then I will lose her. Would she shower
me with gold and jewels, I thought that a cold substitute for her touch.
Would I be ennobled? Perhaps she’d find a place for me in her royal
guard, and I could stand outside the door as her husband pleasured himself
on her body... Would she think of me in those moments?
She hugged me, and our lips met. I kissed her with passion
and with sorrow, knowing that I had her, and knowing that I could not keep
Later, she slept, curled up against me. But I felt restless.
The fire burned low and I stared into its embers, trying to divine my future.
A mysterious mission to a place I had never heard of for a woman
I knew nothing about, who refused to tell me the simplest thing.
Was it too late to sell her back into slavery?
But no. No matter what, she had an effect on me.
I knew that if she asked me to descend to the gates of the underworld with
her, I would follow willingly. What then was following her into the
jaws of the unknown?
She nuzzled into my arm, sleeping as I stared at the fire.
Somewhere, far far away, there was the cry of a Banth. It was
so faint and far, so lost and lonely that the Thoat did not even bother
to lift its head. I waited, but there was no answering call,
the Banth was all alone in the distance, pining for another voice.
There is an old Barsoomian proverb that of all the fates, the
unknown is the most fearsome.
Far off in the distance, the lonely Banth called again, but nothing
TEN - THE TOWER OF KORVAS
The Tower of Korvas lay in the lands of Korvas. Lands
that had once been the the Kingdom of Korvas, a land that had withered
as the seas and lakes had dried up. Somewhere out there, I
presumed, was a city named Korvas, probably home to nothing but scattered
tribes of White Apes now.
We rode at a leisurely pace, traveling towards the edge of the
desert. The bitter mood that had taken me on the night I’d
rescued her had left me.
So I could not have her forever? So what? Torakar
Thor was well known for her roving eye and exploring hands.
I couldn’t imagine being tied down to one person. And as for
being a royal guard? Ha. Only until the next adventure called,
the next war, the next battle against the ever devouring forces of Helium.
As we traveled, she called forth animal noises from me, and in
turn, I imitated Darseen, seklet, Calot, Ulsio, Thoat and even Banth.
Our Thoat paid no mind, now used to the strange cacophony on its back.
“You grew up with animal trainers,” she said. “That
must have been so remarkable. Were they your parents?”
I laughed. “No,” I told her, “it was because my mother
had died, that I came to them.”
“I am sorry.”
“Forget it,” I said, “it was long ago, and death comes to us all.”
She hesitated then, as if about to say something.
“What was it like?” she asked. I wondered what she had taken
back, had chose not to say. “Being with animal trainers.”
“Cages. I remember there were always cages all about.
And it was smelly,” I chuckled, “And noisy. Oh sometimes you
could not imagine the noise from a half a hundred beasts.”
“Make the White Ape noise, for me,” she demanded suddenly.
“I cannot,” I claimed. “It’s too difficult, I’d all but
forgotten how until I saw the creature.”
She pouted. But then I told a joke, and she laughed, and
so we continued merrily along.
As we traveled, I taught her some of the craft of living in the
wild. What hardy desert plants were safe to eat, and what were not.
I trained her in the art of shooting, and even schooled her in the ways
of swordplay. For all of these things she was a precocious
and willing student.
I even taught her to look for signs, to use her nose at least
slightly better than the average red man.
And in return, she taught me of noble ways. We laughed
as she related the proper way to eat and drink at a Merchants feast, and
how this differed from a nobles feast, and how a separate set of manners
were demanded for a Jeddak’s table.
She told me of literature and art, of history, of a hundred things
so removed from my life, that I could barely imagine them.
“What of Sapso Ko,” I asked once, “which Jeddak of Korvas was
“Sapso Ko,” she said? “Even when Korvas was young,
that name was old and all but forgotten. He was thought to have been
a sea lord of some reputation, but all there is are a few mentions of the
name in passing in some of the oldest records. Wherever did
you come by such an obscure reference?”
“His name was on the stones at our camp,” I told her.
“How extraordinary!” She said.
“More extraordinary than you think,” I replied, “he convinced
me to embrace your cause.”
“Even more remarkable!” she said. “Did he convince you to
“No,” I laughed, “that was my own idea.”
I kissed her then.
After a time, we reached the edges of a lost sea.
Land rose up, a series of cliffs and steep banks. This had
been the shoreline, I thought. What must it have been like to look
out from there and see crimson waters as far as the eye could follow?
“I recognize this,” she said, “I’ve been this way.”
“It is that way, all we have to do is follow the shoreline.”
I wondered at the journey she must have taken along this shoreline.
But she refused to speak of that. She refused to speak of many
things, a habit that irritated me. But then again, I was not well
suited to complain, I had my own secrets.
If I had any thoughts that the journey would be short, I was mistaken.
We followed the former shoreline for several days. Several
times, Azara proved her knowledge by guiding us to oasis and sheltered
glades where we might pass a day in rest and love making.
Twice we came across the spoor of Great White Apes, but always
avoided encounters with such creatures. And once we were forced
to confront a Banth, using up precious bullets from our radium pistols.
But there came a day when I found Azara nervous and irritable.
I knew then that we were coming close.
“It is not truly the Tower of Korvas,” she said suddenly, as we
rested. “No one knew its name, it was ancient even in the days
of Korvas. It was built of carved black stone that was not native
to the region. Indeed, where the stone came from is a mystery that
has never been solved. There is no quarry known of which has ever
produced stone quite like that.”
“Sounds forbidding,” I replied.
“At times, according to legend, it was infested with Corphals.”
“Some say it was made before there were even men on Barsoom,”
she said darkly.
“Then who built it?”
She did not answer.
The land grew more barren, it was longer to each oasis, and they
grew poorer. Even the ochre moss grew sparse and ragged.
The sands gave way to naked rocks, tumbled as if by giants, the
cliff face more savage. One night we camped in the wreckage of a
gigantic petrified galleon. In the sand beneath our feet, we
found worn coins from forgotten empires.
Finally, two days later, it came into sight. A massive
spire, atop the tip of a steep peninsula, jutting far out from the sea,
remarkable for being so well preserved.
“It’s a lighthouse,” I said.
She looked at me in confusion.
“A lighthouse,” I explained, “a tall building atop which a fire
is lit to guide travelers. There are still a few on the edges
of the desert near civilized places. In the old times, they
were placed at the edge of water for seafarers.”
“Perhaps it was at times,” she said, “but it had other uses.
It has another use now.”
“What is it then?” I asked.
“Hell,” she said. “A place of horror and torment.”
As I looked at her, I saw that she was afraid. Genuinely
“And you want to go there?”
“I have to go there.”
“Is he there?”
“I don’t know,” she said, “but even if he is, I must still go.
I made a promise.”
But she did not answer, she only turned her face towards the grim
tower of black stone. As we gazed up at it, I felt an almost superstitious
“Give me a pistol,” she said. I had taken to carrying
both by this time.
“I will need it,” she replied. “There is something I must
I thought about challenging her, but stilled my tongue.
She would not answer. All my efforts to tease information from her
had come to naught. She would give me her body, but not her
I handed it over without another word.
“Shall I come with you?” I asked.
“I cannot ask this of you,” she turned away, studying the cliff
“You do not have to ask.”
She turned to me then her eyes brimming, and embraced me suddenly.
“Tora Kar Thor,” she whispered, “I thank the fates that have blessed
me with such as you.”
As I held her, I stared up at the dark tower, full of menace and
We climbed together, it was not difficult. All along the
cliff, generations of labourers had carved stairways into the living rock
as the ocean had retreated. At one place, we found a
section where the rock had peeled away, exposing carved black stones.
I stared in wonder.
It was as if the rock had formed around the tower.
But that was impossible, wasn’t it? How old was this building?
Azara’s reply was not comforting as I voiced these thoughts.
“It goes down,” she said, “down into the depths of the rock.
At its bottom is merely sand and dirt, but if you dig into that, you find
it goes down further. I don’t think anyone knows how deep it
goes. Even for him it was a mystery. He could not
I filed the reference to him, away. Her mysterious enemy.
She would reveal nothing about him voluntarily, but sometimes when she
spoke, she let things slip.
Finally, we reached the summit of the rock. A dark and cyclopean
doorway faced us. I stared at the dust and shifting sand that covered
“You came from here?”
“I escaped,” she said and shuddered. “Now I have to
go back, to finish it.”
The tower was empty and derelict, the signs were clear that nothing
had been here in months. There was no trace of anything, not
a human, not even an Ulsio.
“Perhaps,” I said, “they abandoned it after you escaped.
Nothing has been here for a long time.”
“You are wrong,” she said quietly, still standing in front of
the doorway, not quite having the courage to go in.
Then, just at the edge of perception, my ears picked up a sound.
I tilted my head, trying to focus on it.
I had never heard anything quite like it, this faint whisper that
came to my ear. It was gibbering, a soft ululating gibbering, as
of some mad unholy thing.
And it was coming from inside the tower.
ELEVEN - THE TERRIBLE MISSION
Azara lead me within those dark walls. She was correct,
I could not make out the type of stone. Nor, I noticed, did
the style of architecture seem to resemble any building I had seen in any
city, living or dead. I shivered.
She lead the way down the hall until she came to a central staircase.
“Will we need light?” I asked.
“This place has its own unholy light,” she replied.
It didn’t look like it had light. The staircase that the
stared down into was as black as an Ulsio’s den. After a moments
hesitation, she began to descend.
“This was a prison once,” she told me, “during the time of Korvas.
Or so he claimed. The chambers below were filled with political prisoners.
During a revolution, they opened the gates to the sea far below, and everyone
“Afterwards,” she said, “the victors kept their prisoners here.”
As we walked down the stairs, I was surprised to see a ghost light
steal over us. It was not as if a light appeared, but rather,
it was more like our eyes were adjusting to perceive an unnatural radiation.
An almost supernatural luminescence that seemed to fill the very air itself.
Her skin gleamed strangely in this peculiar light, almost glowing.
As near as I could determine, my flesh did not react the same way.
There were no shadows, and I could not determine where the light was coming
Ahead of us, the peculiar gibbering grew in audibility, and it
was joined by other voices.
Yet the dust beneath our feet was undisturbed. Nothing
had been through here for months. What lay down beneath us
and how could it have survived? Perhaps stores of food and
water? But I saw no traces, there was nothing but the stones
and the dust.
Finally, what felt like halfway down into the depths, she came
to a barred door. With surprising strength, she lifted the
bar and threw open the door, exposing the thing that lay within.
And yes, I must say thing. For my eyes had never seen such
an abomination. Chained to the wall was a cringing thing of limbs
and viscera, its flesh visibly rotted, its every aspect deformed and horrid.
It was a nightmare brought to life, it could not live, it should not live,
and yet it did live. Worst of all, there was something of its
aspect that seemed obscenely suggestive of humanity.
Azara did not shrink from it. Instead, she went forward.
Paralyzed, I did not think to stop her. She stepped within the reach
of its chains, and embraced the abomination, calling it by a name, cooing
as if it was a lover or a beautiful child. Astounded, I watched
as she stroked it tenderly, whispered endearments to it and wept without
Finally, she stepped back, and pressed the barrel of the radium
pistol to what forsaken reason suggested might be its head, and pulled
At the sound of the blast, there was a horrid cacophony of gibbering
yowling noises coming up from the chambers below. It fell heavily,
its life ended.
Azara looked down at it, her grief palpable. Finally,
she steeled herself, and turned to walk past me. Her only words:
“There are more.”
Before I followed her, I glanced around the chamber which had
been its cell. There were no supplies, the dust beyond its length
of chains had been undisturbed. This thing had lived for months
without food or water.
At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to run up the stairs,
flee this mad dark place.
But Azara was descending, and so I followed her.
“What was that thing?” I demanded. I could not
imagine what that creature could have been. I could not comprehend
her solicitous manner towards it, and her brisk execution. Had the
thing welcomed her bullet? It hurt even to think about it.
“I cannot tell you,” she replied, “and you must not ask.
I have to do this, do not make it harder.”
The next cell was even worse, an oozing thing of eyes and wet
pulsing flaps of flesh. Again, she embraced it as a lover, whispered
to it, wept, and in the end, shot it.
Thus was the performance repeated in each cell, the only change
was that each monstrosity seemed more hideous than the last, its appearance
more repulsive and unspeakable.
The next seemed to be a quivering pile of ropy intestines and
organs, glistening as muscles and bones flopped around it.
The one after that was a lopsided wormlike thing, twisting helplessly
over and over in its chains, its body lined with waving cilia which bespoke
a horrible awareness.
How could these malformed things live at all as they were?
I could not fathom it, the laws of biology and anatomy lay impaled and
bleeding. Worse, they seemed to live without food or water,
for at chamber after chamber, the dust was undisturbed and their cells
were empty of provisions. They had neither ate nor drank since
Azara had escaped, and yet, I could sense their unnatural vitality was
undiminished. Perhaps they had not eaten or drank while Azara
was imprisoned here.
How had Azara managed to escape this horrid place? And more,
how had Azara managed to live here?
The one beyond that, I have no words to describe.
Even the thought of it makes my skin run cold now. I remember clearly
though, that alone of all the things, it could speak. Not easily
and not well, but it could speak, for I heard it say a single word with
a voice that no human throat could match.
Now that we were among them, the sounds and smells of them assaulted
my senses. They
were indescribable, and I could not bear to look at them.
After a pistol shot, and another abomination’s life ended, I grabbed
her and pulled her from the chamber. I struck the pistol from
“What is this?” I asked. “What are you doing?
What are these things?”
“I cannot tell you,” she cried.
I slapped her, the violence of my act shocking us both.
“Tell me,” I said, “What are these things?”
I slapped her again.
“What are they to you?”
“It was my mother!” she shrieked, breaking.
I froze as she began to sob.
“That thing in the chamber, it was my mother,” she sobbed.
She sagged abruptly, and I felt her fall into my arms.
“And before that, it was my father.”
I was shocked.
“And before that, my brother.”
I was speechless.
“Is this what you wanted to know? Is this what you needed?
This is the place I escaped from, and these are my family and friends.
And I have come back to offer give them the only mercy possible, to release
them from their torment!”
She pushed herself away from me, snatched up her pistol, and went
on to the next chamber. Numbly, I followed. I had demanded
answers, but now that I had them, they made no sense. She was
a Princess of Aztor, her father and mother were a Jeddak and Jeddara.
I could not relate the life she had told me of, to the parade of abominations
we had encountered. Each fact, each observation, seemed more monstrous
than the last, more unwilling to link up to any other fact.
They stood independent of each other, pillars of madness.
And as I struggled to conceive the inconceivable, as my mind reeled,
and I followed helplessly in her wake, she continued her strange procession.
First revealing, then embracing, and finally killing. When
her pistol ran out of shells, she took mine.
Finally, she stopped.
We had not come to the end, I knew that. For far down
below us, an unholy gibbering grew louder and louder. With each shot,
its volume had grown, until now it was overpowering.
“How many shells do we have left,” she asked.
We both knew the answer.
“Six,” I replied.
“I do not know if it will be enough,” she whispered.
At each word she spoke, the gibbering took on a strange modulation,
as if attempting to echo her words. At times, its noise verged on
the sensible, an unholy and unnatural parody of speech without sense or
“How many relatives do you have left?” But my bravado rang
“There is just the one,” she said. “But for this one,
killing is not a mercy but a duty.”
“If we can kill it.”
“What is it?” I said.
“Even he had no name for it.”
Slowly, with visible hesitation she descended the stairs again.
But this time was different, each step was more hesitant, more reluctant.
It was as clear that even as she’d seemed to love each abomination above
us, this thing below repulsed and terrified her.
She reached back and clasped my hand, seeking my strength.
I squeezed her palm. She turned and gave me a grateful glance, her
lips not quite daring to smile.
Finally, we arrived at the landing. The gibbering
seemed to come from a thousand voices now, each mad and inhuman.
I heard the clanking of heavy chains, far heavier than the abominations
up there. There was a massiveness to the metal sounds, as if these
chains had been made to tether a battleship. There were other sounds,
wet sucking sounds, and scrabbling sounds of movement.
And always, the gibbering, the unwholesome mad gibbering, made
more awful by the hint that beneath the irrational chaotic madness of the
sounds, there was a sense of something more, something awful, something
that reeked of purpose.
“We’re here,” she whispered. As I turned to her, I
saw that she was shaking and terrified.
TWELVE - THE THING IN THE PIT
Azara threw herself into my arms.
“I cannot,” she cried. “I must, but I cannot.
My courage fails me.”
“Hush,” I whispered, almost afraid that the thing would hear my
voice, “you destroyed the others. You can do this last thing.”
More than that, whatever lay beyond that door, I wanted to see
it destroyed. The things I had seen in this tower were creations
of madness and chaos that had no place in a sane world. Whatever
she had said to me about what they were, and still, I could not conceive
of that, I knew that it was right to destroy them. This place was
wrong and its wrongness needed to be expunged.
“This thing isn’t like the others, it is worse. Destroying
the others were acts of compassion, of love. But this thing, its
destruction is not compassion but duty. It is a thing beyond reason,
an assault on sanity. Its very existence is an affront to reality.”
“Then do it,” I whispered. “I will be with you.”
Slowly, she took up the pistol and approached the door.
I noted that the dust here was especially thick. The things
above us had been left alone for a long time, but this entity here, whatever
it was, had been here for far longer.
Azara came close enough to touch the wood of its door.
This door was twice the size of the others.
Then she broke away, taking three steps, and falling to her knees,
her whole body shaking.
“I cannot, Tora,” she whispered. “I cannot, I’m not
Pity moved my heart. I knelt beside her, taking the pistol
from her nerveless fingers.
“Then I’ll do it for you,” I told her.
“I don’t even know if it can be killed,” she repeated.
“Everything dies,” I said. I hoped that was true,
for the things I had seen in this pit defied every notion of sanity and
biology, and yet they had lived. But they had died as well,
so this thing too must honour the law of death. Or so I hoped.
“You don’t know this thing.”
“Well, there is only one way to find out.”
I lifted her to her feet, and together we approached the massive
door and lifted the bar that kept it locked.
The gibbering paused for just a second, as if sensing that some
barrier to its escape had been removed.
We looked at each other and tried to smile. Finally,
we exchanged curt nods. Then I opened the door.
It is my plainest mercy that I will not describe what I saw.
For even the shadow of it, rendered vague and indistinct through the paltry
medium of words must surely drive the one to madness. Facing
it, I found that my own animal instincts saved me, for I could not look
at it straight on, my very tissues rebelled. It was dark, even the
unnatural light of this place seemed to shy away from this abomination.
I could suffer only fleeting glimpses, each a wrongness assaulting the
very fabric I had taken for reality.
My impressions? Impossible fluidity, of body parts
merging and metamorphosing in my brief glances. Of flesh both
translucent and opaque. Of tongues and eyes, gaping wet maws
from which strange organs protruded and vaginal gaps filled with teeth,
of glistening wetness, tentacles and claws and a hunger like an abyss.
And through it all, most loathesome at all, the recurring suggestion that
somewhere in there lurked intelligence, or something that resembled intelligence,
something that resembled purpose. Beneath it all, there was
something buried in its form, its movements, in the noises it made, some
strange suggestion that took it from the monstrous to the truly nightmarish.
That suggestion within its form, that was humanity, as if somewhere in
its origins or shaping, there had been something in it, of it, that had
been a man.
I had had some idea to aim for the head, but there was nothing
that could be called a head, nothing that might constitute a front or a
back, a top or a bottom. Even the merest glimpses battered
at my sanity. I screamed and averted my eyes, glancing back only
when I raised my pistol. As I howled, as my mind was torn apart
by the sight of it, I unleashed six shots into the gibbering horror.
Then the door slammed shut and it was torn from my sight.
I reeled, my pistol falling from limp fingers. Staggering, I almost
fell, but Azara caught me.
“Tora,” she shouted. So blasted was I that I did not even
recognize my own name. She slapped me.
The gibbering had turned into a mad howling. Its chains
sang as it writhed and convulsed beyond us. Stone cracked audibly
as it redoubled its efforts.
“Tora,” she shouted again, “we must replace the bar. We
must replace the bar to its door.”
She slapped me again, and whether it was that blow, or the sudden
realization that an unbarred door was all that lay between it and the naked
world, I came to my senses. With strength born of desperation,
we quickly lifted the heavy bar, and slid it back into place.
We were just in time, for no sooner had the bar settled into its
mount, the entire door shook as the thing hurled its weight against it.
We were thrown back.
“Tora,” Azara said again, “we must flee.”
These words rang clear I grabbed her, and we
rushed madly up the stairs, oblivious to everything but the steps before
us. My hand found hers and we gripped each other with all our
Beneath us, the thing hurled itself again and again at the door.
Suddenly, we heard the sound of hinges giving way, the bar snapping.
There was a thunderous crash as that great heavy door was hurled across
the chamber. The gibbering rose to a triumphant howl, an obscene
slithering reached our ears.
It was out! The horror beneath us had escaped, and
it was coming up after us!
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