A terrible gloom descended over the cavemouth as Tystnad made his way into the dark, blotting out the only source of light that made the brave act seem doable. Whether it was an omen of foreboding or simply a coincidental shift in the clouds, he felt his courage waver momentarily as he stared into the black abyss that consumed the faintest trace of light that touched its edges.
The cave was cold, even at the opening that bordered the sweltering desert stretching beyond. The contrast was almost unfathomable as the frigid air pierced the robes that the wizard was wearing. Rubbing his thumb and middle finger together, a single snap sparked a magical flame to life that threw its soft gloom to combat the impenetrable dark. The dancing light seemed almost fragile as it hovered over his left palm, threatening to phase out of existence at the onslaught of a single breath of wind. But all was still within this place…
Months ago he had faced the boreal bite of snow-capped mountains, but even the glacial chill of that eternal winter could not compare to the bone-chilling gelid feel of the cave that beckoned him menacingly inward. The desert nomads had warned him about the resistant pull it exuded; an inexplicable allure that filled the unwary traveller with dread as they were drawn to enter unwillingly. Tystnad felt it as well. Dark magic… sorcery that cruelly made its victim aware of their doom while making it irresistible.
As he ventured deeper into the black tunnel, the flame flickering against the glistening rock, he threw up his own wards to resist the warped energies that sought to hypnotize him with its fiendish intent. He suspected though, that this was not some dark sorcerer exuding their evil will. He could not fathom any mage choosing this place for their arcane pursuits; neither could he think of a reason why they would seek their malicious entertainment by ensnaring the occasional traveler that happened past the cave. His suspicions confirmed themselves as he moved farther inward, and as he gleaned more from the deep tracks that winded over the cave floor. Discounting the possibility that this enchanter may also be a shapeshifter, Tystnad was fairly certain that some other vile creature had made this black crater its lair; something far more primal and instinctively ferocious.
The flame that he cradled in his fingers illuminated the passageway, dotted with the ominous traces of congealed blood, crushed bone, and the recent movement of something large. His journey inward revelealed the daunting dimensions of the threat that lay at the end of this tunnel. If it was not unfavourable odds that this beast was somehow sentient through its sorcery, its sheer size would be enough to make any mildly intelligent man reconsider to continue. Then again, he did not believe any smart man even made it this far in; which must have made him either fearless or stricken with imbecility.
Sweat formed on his brow despite the chill that numbed his limbs. It was not so much that he was unaccustomed to facing things that go bump in the night, but when that night pressed you into a confined space… chances were you could be caught off guard. In this place, that outcome would prove to be a fatal lapse.
The air was getting thicker the deeper he went, and the chill suddenly turned into a heavy, humid heat that clung to the many layers draped about him. At this point, the wizard became very aware of the factors that tallied against him – he was heavily dressed, short of breath, blind beyond his outstretched arm, and a flaming beacon for any predator that tasted its prey in the air. His spellwork would require speed and a nimble dance of fingers if he was to come out of this unscathed; or perhaps more realistically, alive…
More alive than this fellow.
Lowering the flame, Tystnad kneeled down to inspect the remains of a hapless young man that had perhaps been too eager for his first taste of adventure. Dressed in the rough rags of a desert ravager and with the ill-fitting armour that was the possible profit to some market hagler, the youth was splayed against the right wall of the tunnel. Only the torso remained, with the agony of his demise frozen upon his emaciated face as a terrible memory, and perhaps a warning. Yet, what caught the wizard’s eye was not the visual horror of this mangled discovery, but the actual cause of the man’s death.
The battered breastplate, still strapped to the upper half, was punctured in a grotesque union of bent metal and bone. The armour was clearly no match for the brutish bite of whatever beast lay deeper in; although, it was clearly tough enough to steal a single fang left embedded within the chest. As the wizard moved his gaze back to the man’s face, the black and sickly green discoloration of both skin and bile around the orifices further alluded to reasons of his end. Venom.
Whatever made this fool half the man that he used to be was consequence of postmortem malice. But this unseasoned warrior drew his last breath in lieu of the poison that had coursed through his veins.
And as Tystnad rose again and decided to continue further inward,the wizard knew that this could only be the journey of an imbecile as more courage fled from him…
You may be interested in the series of tales written during October of 2019, all linked in an unfolding lore of a fantasy universe.
The character, Tystnad, was first introduced in the tale called Freeze.