The Crystal Prison

The darkness is impenetrable without a glint of hope to guide him. His hands scrape into a wall of dirt, and the loose roots rattle against the stones like hanging skeletons. He pulls his arms from the tangle, but his hair is standing, and he has to brush his arms in case of maggots.

He follows this wall until the ground abruptly disappears, leaving him teetering over an unknown height. His mind is dizzy as he fights for balance, and a blast of warm air steals the sweat from his brow with the breath of the deep and fiery earth.

He breathes deeply and falls into a crouch, his arms outstretched and his fingers touching the edge of the chasm. Then he hesitantly finds his way along a ledge, his fingertips probing every stretch of stone to come. The abyss continues to exhale at his side, and he wonders if he was to fall, how long it would take to find his death. One could get lost forever falling into that oblivion.

His fingers soon slip around the smooth metal surface of a rod. He crawls forward and finds his hands on the top of a ladder. For the first time, he is reminded of his eyes as he realizes that they are wide with fear. The ledge has ended. The ladder continues.

He closes his eyes with calm resolution, giving himself fully to his other senses. Then with his faith resting in his balance and touch, he moves out over the edge, turning his back to the monster's gaping mouth, his feet tingling as they rest weight upon the first rung. It will be a long climb.

He takes a breath and begins, one careful step at a time, his hands clasped tightly around the poles. The ladder is nearly vertical. But as the internal breath continues and the darkness presses closer than ever before, his dizzy mind begins to imagine himself upsidedown. The disorientation continues until he is clinging to the ladder with all his shaking limbs.

He holds this position, some twenty rungs down, his eyes clamped closed, and his breathing rapid and short. The wind rushes in all directions, the ladder seems to sway and rock, and his stomach jumps and dives with his mind faint and reeling.

And finally, when this perceived motion seems inbearable, he throws his eyes wide to a warm glow of white light. In his hand, he holds a pocket watch whose diamond face is now glowing through his fingers. He steadies himself with the elegant ticking of the second hand and the solidity of the shadows cast by the glow.

He stares into the glowing face of the watch until his eyes too are glowing. And then he continues his climb into the abyss. The air moves in a wild wind, but it cannot touch him. Time can no longer trap him in this moment; the pocket watch steadies the slipping of time and keeps the spell of forever from reaching his tiring muscles.

Abruptly, his heel hits stone, and he steps off the ladder. The abyss continues, but he stands now on a new ledge.

He turns to find a passageway glowing with red crystals. He walks until everything is red, his skin, hair, and clothes. The only thing that can resist the red hue is the pocket watch, which now glows a brilliant sky blue.

He soon finds himself in a vast cavern where the red crystals stretch into a magnificent pillar that connects with the ceiling. He feels humbled, standing on the floor of this great room of stunning red.

But before he can move any further, a painful screech wails into the cave. He throws his hands over his ears, and the pocket watch flips closed in his palm. The scream stops instantly.

He carefully removes his hands and opens the pocket watch. The scream begins again, this time as if the very vocal cords of the creature are straining like fraying sinues. His fingers are instant though, and the watch closes along with the scream.

He is thoughtful for a moment. The cry had come from every direction at once due to the echoes of the crystal cave. His fingers twitch once more with the pocketwatch, but this time as the scream intensifies, the color of the watch slowly shifts to join the conquering red. The scream falls silent with the changing color. The watch flips closed again. The man walks across the open space.

"Leave this place!" comes a screech.

He pauses. His eyes quiver in the direction of the voice. "Show yourself," he says. His voice echoes back at him with menace, and he frowns.

"You are a creature from the living world! Go back to where you came from!"

His eyes narrow. "This place too was once the living world," he says. "And it must be returned."

The creature lets out a roar, but the vocal cords seem to snap and fray, and the man winces as the voice falls into a sob.

"You are the one who does not belong," the man continues. "The color of the real world burns you. Even these red crystals do not comfort you. You belong in the abyss. You are the abyss. You are made from emptiness, hopelessness, death."

"This kingdom is mine! I have conquered it!"

The man looks over his shoulder, and then gently crouches down to touch one of the crystals. "You are nothing. What do you want with a kingdom? A kingdom is plenty. A kingdom is alive. You are the opposite."

The voice moans. "And that is what pains me. The existence of the life world spoils the void!"

The man grips the crystal in a single hand and cracks a piece from the main vein that stretches from the pillar. "What comfort does the kingdom give you? It already exists. You cannot take that away even if you turn it to ash. Once it has existed, it will always exist."

The man's voice is soft and gentle, and his real attention is on the crystal in his hand. His eyes are steady and intense, but he narrows them abruptly, sticken with sudden affliction. Inside the crystal is a single lock of hair.

He raises his head with fiery eyes. "You have broken the universal law!"

Before the creature can respond, the pocket watch flips open and the red crystals turn blue. The pillar shakes with the cry of rage from the creature, and a wind rips through the cave.

There is a flash, the creature is revealed, and the light falls once more to a gentle red. The man fixes his eyes upon the bundle of red cloth across the floor. He strides to it with fierce steps, his eyes studying the figure with suspicion. When he reaches it, the cloth flies free under his eyes, and he stops in horror.

At his feet lies a disfigured and pathetic creature with red limbs of stretched muscle fibre and blackened bones. The creature's face is wrinkled like a decomposing apple, its eyes like two tear drops and its mouth like a rotting hole. It looks at him as helpless as a baby.

"...This is what you have become?" breathes the man.

"I am not...the one you truly seek," the creature croaks.

"But was it not you who began the destruction?"

"It was I."

"Then what dark powers still man the border of Glokenshil?"

"I am but a creature of the void, as you have said. It is not I that is evil but the deeds that I committed. When I killed, the vultures were fed. When I caused fear, the harpies were fed. When I destroyed the cities, the chaos-beings were fed. And from them, a new power rose."

"And what of you?"

"My punishment was to lose my nature. For all my time in the life world, I became...alive."

The man kneels down beside the creature with the crystal in his hand. "And what of this?" he hisses.

"I defied my own nature, but I could not defy that mighty law. The crystals are my prison. It is that other power that you seek. When you find it, give it to the void. My oblivion will snuff it out. You must give it to the void...as you must give me to the void. As you must give yourself to the void in time."

"Giving everything to the void would put out the fire. But it would be the very same as starting the universe over again. Surely it will not come to that."

"Throw me to the void and I will know. For in the void, there will be no pocket watches to imprison me. I will be timeless again. And then I will know the fate of the universe."

The man nods, holds his eyes on the creature's pitiful corpse, and watches as the being falls cold and silent. Then he wraps the creature in the cloth and straightens to his feet.

His footsteps sound hollow as he retraces his steps to the abyss. Then he tosses the creature over the edge. He stands in silence as the world slowly fades to black.

The crystals have gone out. The power has felt his presence. He has to move.

The End

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