Eleven - The Tunnel

1607 Words
That is what you’re good at, after all, I heard Amias’s words inside my head again as I bolted away from the Dead Forest. The sound of the trio’s shouting invaded my eardrums. I looked behind me just in time to see Magat and the others dive into the unholy woods. Did they notice that I was gone? I wondered for a brief moment. Shaking my head to push the thought away, I shifted my gaze back in front of me as I realized it didn’t matter if they knew that I bailed on them. What was important was that I was running away from them as fast as possible. An infinite desolate landscape stretched before my eyes. Everywhere I swept my gaze was barrenness. There was nothing to see aside from an endless expanse of red soil, which made the realm even more sinister. What’s more frightening than discovering that Hell was real and empty? Sure there were demons in Hell, hordes of them at that, but apart from the four of us, there were no other living spirits. Not that I preferred that there were torturers burning the souls of humans in fiery lakes, it’s just that the concept of being trapped alone in this plane for the rest of eternity was a concept too frightening to dwell upon. Droplets of sweat broke out from my skin as I continued to run. Despite the strong winds that slapped my face, my body felt hot. I have been running for a while, but I still haven’t found a place to hide. I glanced over my shoulder. I stopped running as I realized that I was already far from the Dead Forest. Placing my hands on my knees, I tried to catch my breath. I sat down on the ground when my raging heart settled. Sweeping my gaze around, I realized I was perched on top of a low hill. I’ve made it, I thought as I laid on my back. The sky was still flaming orange, and there were no clouds in sight. If I didn’t know I was in Hell, I would have been fascinated with the majestic horizon. Despite the absence of a sun, Hell’s sky looked like a horizon lit by an eternal sunset. What should I do now? I wondered as I turned to my side. I moved, and a small rock rolled down from the elevated ground. I watched with detached interest as the smooth pebble tumbled to the foot of the hill. The rolling stone thumped against a heap of rubble. As if a gift from Heaven, the rubble crumbled in on itself and fell, revealing what looked like a tunnel. I blinked my eyes hard and fast to make sure that I wasn’t just seeing things. When I opened my eyes again, the hole was still there. Without wasting any second, I hauled myself to my feet and bolted downhill. My heart rushed again. This time, it wasn’t because of fear. It was because of excitement. I realized that my plan wasn’t fruitless as I first thought. In front of me was a tunnel I could use for shelter, and there were no demons around. Hope bloomed inside my chest. However, I knew that I should still be careful. I picked up stray rocks on the ground and tossed them into the hole one after the other to make sure there were no monsters hiding inside. I tossed the last pebble into the tunnel and waited. Aside from the echoes, nothing came out of the hole. As a last step to make sure that the space was clear, I craned my neck forward and took a lungful of air. From all the encounters I’ve had with demons, I realized that they had a foul stench. The indescribable concoction of rotten eggs and decaying flesh meant that there were demons nearby. When the air smelled of nothing, I knew that the tunnel was safe to use as shelter. I glanced over my shoulder for the last time to see if there was anybody around. There was none, so I stepped inside the hole. Cold air greeted me as I maneuvered down the tunnel, cooling my sweaty body and face. A small amount of light made it inside the hole, enough to make me see. Everywhere I turned my eyes to, I just saw hard, packed soil. There was nothing else inside. I could feel my heart raging like a war song. I was scared, even though I was certain there were no demons around. I made my way deeper into the tunnel, making sure that I took deep breaths with every step to make sure that the air was still fresh. If I smell even just a tiny hint of a demon’s scent, I will run the other direction like there was no tomorrow. Deciding that I was deep enough inside the hollowness, I stopped walking. I sat on the ground, my back against the tunnel’s wall. The wild beating inside my chest settled down into a steady rhythm. My legs ached from running. I squeezed my tired muscles with my hands, and I sighed as I felt some sort of relief. For an entranced moment, I wondered what had happened to the trio. Did they succeed in retrieving the Angelic sword? I wish they did, but they were more likely to have died. I shook my head and decided that I did not care. I didn’t know who they were. They were strangers. My survival was more important than their crazy whims. It wasn’t my fault if they died running after demons; they were literally chasing after death. I closed my eyes and tried hard not to think of anything at the moment. For the first time since I got here, I felt safe. I wasn’t going to waste my breaths thinking about other people. I was tired, but for some reason, I wasn’t sleepy. Still, I decided to lay down. Smooth rocks dug into my back, their coldness seeping through the thin fabric of my white tunic. Time ticked by as I lay on the ground. Seconds felt like years, and hours felt like eternities. I was bored out of my skull, but there was nothing I could do. Back on Earth, whenever I was bored, I would start a sourdough for the Challah bread. It always fascinated me that I could make bread rise using a yeasty dough. I was about to lay on my back again when a loud noise pierced the silence out of nowhere. I looked toward the far entrance and saw a shadow blocking the light, plunging the tunnel into utter darkness. Approaching footsteps told me that something had entered the tunnel. I stood up, a loud pounding inside my chest. Demons, my mind suggested. Heart inside my throat, I felt for the nearest thing I could use to defend myself. If the demons found me, at least I could say that I did not go down without a fight. Covered in pitch-black darkness, I rummaged around for something. Anything. My hands found something solid and sharp on the ground. I picked it up. Even if I could not see it, I knew it was a rock as it felt heavy in my hands. I tried my best to contain my trembling, though my legs still shook. I was thankful to myself that at least I wasn’t screaming like an i***t. The sounds of muffled footsteps echoed through the hollowness of the tunnel. With every footfall, my heart pounded. I was sweating like a worker under the scorching sun, and even my palms were wet. My fingers were quivering. I clutched the rock tighter with my hands as I did not want it to slip away. The echoes grew louder as whatever was outside made its way into the tunnel. I took a step back. My shoulders hit something flat and hard, and I realized I could retreat no further. Blood was ringing inside my ears. My mind was whirling. For a frightening moment, I realized that all that I did was for nothing. I tried to save myself, but the joke was on me. I tried to escape, but death still came knocking at my door. A sharp, clattering noise pierced the silence, breaking my trance. My head was turning in frantic swings as I struggled to make out whatever was coming. The sounds of footsteps grew louder and faster. The intruder was running toward me, and there was nowhere I could go. My breathing became ragged. I covered my mouth with my hand to muffle my breaths. I raised my hand, holding the rock over my head. It’s here, I thought as the rushing footsteps sounded terrifyingly close. An ugly ululation broke through the deafening silence as something grabbed me by the neck. I choked in my own screams as the rock slipped from my grip. I thrashed my body as I was lifted off my feet. Covered in shadows, I couldn’t see my attacker. Pain flared from my face down to my neck as I received one hard blow after another. I tried to break the hold on my neck, but the thing was too strong. I was losing breath. My body felt numb, and my heart wanted to burst out of my chest. I tried to fight back, but my body refused. Sharp, bony knuckles landed on my face. My head swung, and my arms fell limp on my sides. A nameless fear crept inside me. It’s over, I thought as I took one last struggling breath.
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