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Becoming a Monster, Part Two

Becoming a Monster
A Story by Nace Phlaux
-Part Two-


Syrell grunted and gave a weak tug on the shackles dangling him from the wall. A wiggle of his foot told him he wasn’t close to a floor, and the cold, dry air in his nostrils suggested he hadn’t left the cavern. Pain flashed across his head when he attempted to open his eyes, the purple light stabbing into his vision like a blade. In the distance, it sounded as though someone was examining the contents of his bag, mumbling as they tore through his possessions.

A voice growled and said, “Standard Wispus wares. Hmm. But what’s this?” Bottles clinked and scraps of leather rubbed against each other, the noises clear across the smooth rocky expanse. “Nice find, traveler. Very nice.” Syrell practiced opening and closing his eyes as the sounds continued, allowing himself to build a tolerance to the pain. “You awake over there yet, thief?”

A groan escaped his throat before he could contain it, and at once, something heavy stomped toward his position, the creature’s rancid breath filling his nostrils in an instant. “The wisps, boy,” it said. “Tell me about the wisps. Judging from your bag, you have a thing for jewelry, but you weren’t wearing any when I found you. So what inspires the wisps? One of these gems?” Syrell gave no response, and after a time, the voice continued, “Or what of the plants? The white roots, to be exact.” Some subtle reaction must have made its way across his face, for the beast said, “Hmm. Singed, eh? Yes, makes sense.”

The footsteps thudded away, and his eyelids lifted enough to see a stone golem crouched on the other side of the room, ransacking his satchel. Syrell’s fingers explored the shackles, as his captor examined the white roots that could conjure the flaming wisps. The golem’s voice croaked, “Those? A gift from the ancients, enchanted by sunlight. Haven’t seen anyone tear them off yet.” The monster looked in his direction, its eyes almost looking human. “The trick is in the buttons. Touch them in the wrong combination, and the fetters will tighten around your limbs, demolishing your bones. The time I discovered that was…a story. You can’t imagine the mess.” A demented laugh erupted throughout the cavern.

“Foul beast, you shall feel the steel of my—”

“Let’s stop there with the dramatics. Your tools are mostly from Wispus. You’re barely a beginner. Don’t pretend you’re an experienced warrior, child.” As the creature spoke, he examined a slave bracelet from Syrell’s bag, the ring engraved with the shape of some animal’s jagged tooth. “Although I must admit an admiration of your penchant to pick the darker of his inventory.”

The prisoner let out a scoff-turned-cough. Once he regained his composure, he said, “You’ve hidden in your cave too long, monster. Wispus and his town of Westwick have disappeared. Once word spread, his charms tripled in price. What you have before you is a small fortune, and it could be yours if you let me go. What say you?” Syrell grinned for the first time since entering the cavern, hoping he had found a way to escape.

Instead, the golem gathered the charms he recognized into a small pile between his hands and clapped them together, stomping to a position in front of the adventurer where he could pour the debris out before the trapped treasure-seeker. “Forgive me, but I’ve been in this cave for so long…Triple the price of nothing is what again?”

“Then tell me, what do you need of me? You’ve kept me alive for some reason.”

“I keep you alive to be your savior. One simple request is all I make: Stop hunting treasure. Change your path. Promise me this, and I’ll let you go. Agreed?” The golem shifted until they faced each other, the monster’s head three times the size of the adventurer’s.

“Perhaps,” Syrell said, but unbeknownst to the beast, the young man tongued the tip of his incisor three times. “But if I may, let me counter-offer with—Hamartia!” At the word, a pulse of blue energy erupted from the adventurer, causing the clamps to release his wrists and silencing the red flare that had been routinely bursting against the ceiling, possibly since the ancients’ time.

Syrell landed on his feet, stumbling as he found his balance, running toward the entrance once he’d gotten his bearings. The golem, startled at first, charged at him, careening across the stone pathway, growling threats and curses as he burst forward. Small stones fell from the ceiling as the two raced through the chambers, catching in the young man’s hair and bouncing off the hide of the beast.

As they reached the entrance to the cavern, Syrell twisted around, tearing out a seed sewn into his tunic and throwing it to the ground, shouting a word of enchantment that sprouted vines from the tiny shell. Soon the entire antechamber filled with thick green coils. The monster’s claw tore through and grasped the young man’s ankle, dragging him back through the hole his hulking mass had created.

The myriad slashes from the vines’ thorns throbbed with every bang of the adventurer’s head against the stones or cavern floor, which the golem ensured were numerous. Once back to the far wall, the beast wrapped Syrell’s body in chains, leaving nothing bare save his head. In the distance, the sizzling of the rhythmic flare building up to its climax with the explosive finale returned, changing the eerie silence of the chamber to some semblance of what passed there for normalcy.

“Sounds like your counter is wearing off, boy. The ancients’ toys are returning to life. Since you so disgracefully refused my offer to renounce your path as a treasure-hunter, you’ve inadvertently volunteered to further test their…treasures.” The creature’s demented laughter filled the cavern once more.

“W-why?” the young man managed to stammer.

“I was once like you, child. Hungry for adventure. For fame. Until one of my own finds made me… this. Now I preach a new way—a way where we hide or destroy the ancients’ terrors. I offer your kind a chance to renounce my fate, but it seems that no one can sate such a hunger. So I spare you from this kind of life by tearing out what’s left of yours.”

“B-but why destroy us? Especially with the recent tales of Victor Raleigh?” A snort and hardened stare from the beast insinuated he was unaware of what Syrell talked about. “The capital is gathering relics as we speak—and their owners. Whispered lists of those who’ve disappeared grow by the day.” Getting no response, the young man continued to babble. “They’re preparing for a battle, but with their reluctance to fight against Blacklehn at Atalatha, the question is, with whom?”

The living stone rubbed his grey face and stretched out his lower jaw, mindlessly eyeing the cave as he contemplated the adventurer’s words. “Do you have children?” the golem finally asked, standing from his crouched position, stretching his body until he filled nearly all the adventurer’s vision.


“Offspring, thief. Stop your stuttering. It shadows the grace of your upcoming death.” The beast cracked his neck with a look on his face that could have been anticipation of his kill or a pain from his thick body as bits popped into place. “If not, what would you name your first son?” The thief didn’t respond with words. Instead, tears flowed from his eyes, and a ball of snot dropped onto the ground beneath him. “Come, thief, we don’t have all night.”

The boy opened his mouth, steadying himself before finally saying, “Krueler. After my uncle.”

The golem silently moved to a pile of treasure, burying his arm in the trinkets until it reemerged holding a box covered in runes and symbols of death. “Thank you, thief,” he said, pulling out what appeared to be a sort of cap with jagged metal spikes.  “You’ve not only sealed your fate, but potentially my own as well.” The adventurer shouted, then screamed, then shrieked as the beast came closer. “I must warn you: This will be excruciatingly painful. Deliciously so.”


*             *             *             *             *


“Krueler? You ready, boy?” a thundering voice bellowed from the cave.

Strange shadows danced on the side of the mountain as clouds graced the soil and stones with their cool touch. The warmth came over the apprentice’s garments like a beloved memory, enveloping him in waves between the moments of darkness as he stared at the valley below.  Blades of grass jutted through the softer dirt of the hill, and somewhere in the distance, the call of a hawk announced its hunt for prey.

“Krueler? You hear me, boy?” The stone golem emerged from the cave entrance, a heavy bag strapped over his shoulder. “You ready to go?”

The apprentice stood, continuing his dazed gazing of the valley, until the golem shook his shoulder. “Hmm? Hoalun?” The mention of the name brought on a wave of pain, with two different timelines battling for dominance in the poor boy’s head.

“Yes, boy?”

“I—I just had—It was the weirdest dream. Daydream, I guess. Hmm. You were torturing me.” The young man rubbed his fingers against his forehead, feeling the marks there. “My scars came from some device you had. You—You called me by another name. Well, not exactly. You called me a thief. But it felt like…”

“Mayhap that blackberry wine was stronger than you had figured, eh?” the golem said, dropping a satchel on the ground overflowing with trinkets and wares. “By Nerot’s fuzzy chin, you should be watching yourself. The gods know you can’t handle your drink well. You scraped yourself against the walls as you thrashed about in your stupor. Now throw that over your shoulder, and let me know if it’s too much for you. I’ll give the cavern a once-over, then we’re capital-bound, right?”

The young apprentice rubbed his temples but said, “Right, Hoalun.” The name brought another twinge of pain to the boy’s forehead, but he was unable to stop himself from pulling the satchel over his shoulder. “Ready to go when you are, sir.”

Becoming a Monster, Part One

Becoming a Monster
A Story by Nace Phlaux
-Part One-

Strange shadows danced on the yellow walls of the cavern as Hoalun’s torch graced the stalagmites and stalactites with their first light in centuries. The cold fluttered and lanced through the treasure-hunter’s garments like an unwanted lover’s shocking caress when he entered, but the chill steadied as he tiptoed over the cracked paths of the earthen chamber. Pools of crystal-clear water reflected the flames, and somewhere in the distance, the drip of water droplets echoed in a constant beat.

After a certain length of narrow path drove deeper into the ground, the opening in the stone widened into an enormous chamber where Hoalun found a preserved campsite. A circle of rocks surrounded the charred remains of wood, and some remaining cracked sticks indicated there had once been a stove built over the center of the fire pit. A natural recess a few steps away, higher than a man’s head, held weathered pelts that could have been used as bedding for some resident long since forgotten. No tools remained, having been stolen by scavengers or demolished by the hands of time.

Before taking the path beyond the chamber, Hoalun stopped to look through his satchel, digging into the bag of tools and charms until his fingers found what looked like a simple glass globe. With a flick of his wrist, the globe spun faster and faster on the yellow stone floor, and a faint light glowed from its center. That glow increased, and the globe multiplied, each sphere of light rolling out to the edges of the cave and duplicating again. Soon, the entire cavern was awash in a soft luminescence, and the adventurer put out his torch, humming as he continued through the cave in a slight crouch.

At the end of a deep descent, an unnatural wall separated the end of the path from a chasm that had no visible bottom. The treasure-hunter began to throw a globe into the unknown depths, but stopped himself, choosing a rock instead. After a short wait, the echo of its landing told him the drop was too far for him or for glass spheres to survive. Sighing, he felt along the wall for any scratches, extrusions, or inscriptions, to no avail.

Hoalun took a step back, scratching his chin as he continued his tuneless hum—until something gave under his foot and a click reverberated throughout the chilly expanse. Stones within the wall shifted, revealing a small space along the top. Rifling through his satchel again, the adventurer pulled out the map that had brought him to the caverns and unwrapped the brittle parchment to reveal a seemingly matching cube inscribed with runes. With no clue as to which side should face what direction, he chose his favorite of the unknown symbols and inserted that side down into the hole, pounding the cube into the snug space until its edge was flush with the rest.

A great rumbling shook the cavern, knocking the man to the ground, and when he looked up, a stone room had begun to lower from the ceiling beyond the wall, filling the empty chasm.  After some time, an opening appeared in the column of stone that continued to lower, displaying more of the room built within, until its floor was even with the top of the wall. The rumbling ended shortly after the slab stopped shifting. Hoalun stood up, brushing off the dust and pebbles that had landed on him as he cowered on the ground.

Cautiously, he approached the entrance to the enclosure, brushing the rocks on the floor and sides before hopping onto the wall. Scoffing at his own stupidity, he jumped down again for some spheres and cast them across the floor, checking it for solidity and lack of traps. Inside the small room before him, all he could see was a rock formation shaped roughly like a human body. No treasures hung from the figure, as scribbled notations on the map had hinted, and try as he might, no amount of stomping on the ground yielded any more triggers.

Dejected, sore from kicking and pushing every stone in the hope of setting off another transformation, the weary adventurer made his way back towards the entrance of the cavern. Nearing the large chamber again, his foot caught on a chunk of stone, knocking him to the ground and slamming his lower jaw into the upper part of his skull. He shook the pain off as best he could, looking around to allow his eyes to recover focus. Something off to the side, embedded in the rocks beside the path, flashed in his peripheral vision, inspiring the treasure-hunter to crawl toward the glint.

Hoalun advanced on his hands and knees towards the glimmer, finding a band of green iron that could have been a small crown for a child, an armlet, a bracelet for an ogre, or perhaps a ring for something he preferred not to imagine. Once inside the chamber, the additional light yielded little information. No inscriptions, no vibrations suggested any power or worth, and the fact it was found discarded implied it might not be worth taking anyhow.

The young adventurer slid the band up his arm until it fit snugly on his bicep and continued toward the exit. Intense pain stopped him after a single step, with what felt like sharp fangs gnawing into his skin from the iron circle. His flesh distorted and swelled, bubbling over the band, then turning a dark grey before hardening into stone. Falling to his knees, Hoalun screamed into the expanse, his pain echoing throughout the cavern.

As the agony doubled, overtaking his vision, the treasure-hunter writhed on the cold slab of rock and reached for the exit, hoping blindly that someone would hear his cries of desperation. Those cries turned hoarse as he felt his deformed arm, engorged, hardening into something like the surrounding formations. With his other hand, he scratched at the place where the band should have been, but his nails did nothing to the impervious flesh. Exhausted by anguish, he collapsed, powerless to stop the transformation from overtaking the rest of his body.


*             *             *             *             *

Strange shadows danced on the yellow walls of the cavern as Syrell’s torch graced the stalagmites and stalactites with its light. The cold fluttered and lanced through the treasure-hunter’s garments like an unwanted lover’s shocking caress when he entered, but the chill grew steady as he tiptoed over the cracked paths of the earthen chamber. Pools of crystal-clear water reflected the flames, and somewhere in the distance, the drip of water droplets echoed in a constant beat.

After a certain length of narrow path drove deeper into the ground, the opening in the stone widened into an enormous chamber where Syrell found a recent campsite. A circle of rocks surrounded the glowing embers of a campfire, a stove with a kettle resting over the center of the fire pit. A natural recess a few steps away, higher than a man’s head, held fresh pelts fashioned into a bed and shelter. Opened lockets and small portraits hung on the shelter’s walls, surrounding whoever slept there with smiling faces.

Before taking the path beyond the chamber, Syrell stopped to look through his satchel, digging into the bag of tools and charms until his fingers found a small bundle of white plant roots. Once the edges were ignited with his torch, three flaming wisps escaped and circled the adventurer, illuminating the room at least twice as well as the meager torch, and the adventurer put out his flambeau, whistling as he continued through the cave.

At the end of a deep descent, an unnatural wall separated the end of the path from a chasm that had no visible bottom. Scattered piles of coins and jewels inspired the treasure-hunter to pull out a small coin purse from his satchel, enchanted to carry more than its original design could hold, gathering what he could before the bag became too difficult to carry. As he scooped up the treasure, something gave under his foot, and a click reverberated throughout the chilly expanse. Stones within the wall shifted, revealing a small opening along the top, and the adventurer slid the cube he’d purchased—along with the map to the cavern—into position.

Syrell crouched low and steadied himself against a wall as a great rumbling shook the cavern. A stone room lowered from the ceiling beyond the wall, filling the chasm, more treasures vibrating out and over the edge as it descended. The young adventurer had to stop himself from running to the edge, to gather the falling wealth as it dropped from above, yet as the rest of the room came into view, he realized the coins and jewels were nothing compared to the true riches the cavern held.

Coins from various nations and glass globes emitting light covered the floor of the room while broken, battered blades and spears lined the walls. Torches engulfed in purple flames hung in the corners, helping to show a rock formation on the opposite side of the entrance, adorned with several vests and sashes, encircled carelessly by piles of trinkets and bags. A noise rhythmically crescendoed from a pile of treasure until a red flare burst out, exploding against the ceiling. Deep scorch marks indicated the explosions had occurred countless times before.

The treasure-hunter analyzed the contents of the room, unsure where to begin. A growl in the distance distracted him until another flare flashed, bringing him back to the here and now. Some digging found chained boxes buried beneath the jewels, and in the purple light of the chamber, the locks appeared to be sealed shut by acid. Another growl snarled closer, but a gauntlet, with a dial with what might have been numbers engraved into its back, had captured his attention.

Absentmindedly, he rummaged through his satchel, pulling out a small gemstone and rubbing it clockwise until a shield formed a globe of energy around him and his wisps. The air’s scent turned from a biting dryness of the cold expanse to that of the burning plants of the enchanted flames as his fingers wrapped around the exposed fingers of the glove. Once pulled from its home, the gauntlet’s removal triggered the collapse of its pile, revealing a trio of glass containers, each holding a differently-colored vial. Syrell reached for the green one when a hoarse voice behind him said, “Don’t touch that if you value your internal organs.”

The adventurer turned back to find a tall shadow at the entrance ripping something off its leather sash and throwing it into the enclosure; thick red smoke poured from the object once it had landed on the floor. Despite taking in a deep gasp of breath once he had seen the plume, eventually it had to be replaced, and the smoke overcame the treasure-hunter, sending him into a deep slumber.

“Goodnight, dirty thief,” was the last he heard, before slipping into darkness.