45 Years Is Near
In silence, they wait, enveloped in stone and dirt, in darkness unknown by most. They lay still, waiting for the day they are stolen from their earthly embrace. The darkness chipped away, swing after swing, allowing their form to fall to the dusty candle-lit ground.
“I found another one.” A man picked up the gem from the rocky ground before tossing it down to the next man in line.
“Shard.” The next man yelled before tossing it on.
As each man received, he yelled, alerting the next in the line that he must accept. The gem was weightless as it traveled down the line of tired men till it finally saw daylight from the mine. The blinding light filled the gem allowing its vibrant green color to cover the Foreman’s face as he rose it to the sun. A thumb ran across its surface, clearing the remaining dust to allow an unobstructed shine from the sun. As the Foreman stared into the gem, another set of eyes stared back.
From another world sat the deity of gems, Gleam Eyes. In every instance, he sees through all gems that reside upon Hollow. He gazes through the gems, using them as seeing stones, enhancing his presence on Hollow. The world below him is seen only partly; he names champions to be his eyes and commune with him.
Far from the mines of Svelt, a hurried scholar nervously laid forth his ritual, placing gems around himself and starting the chanting needed to call forth his god. As the words are spoken, the grounds shake, vibrating the carefully placed crystals out of place. He could hear the relentless searching of the nightmares scurrying up the mountainside towards him. Hands shaking as fierce as the ground beneath him, he finished his ritual, a shimmering surface domed over him, dampening the sounds of the outside world. Moments later, clawed hands reached over the cliff side, striking towards the scholar. Painful shrieks erupted as the skin was peeled from the striking claw, the recoil of its strike sending it down the cliff side with haste.
“Gleam Eyes, I have that which you seek. Please reveal yourself so we may speak.”
The scholar shouted to his god, eyes closed and knees bent. He waited for his god’s response.
“You did not choose this life for me, but you serve me well.”
A hushed voice whispered from nowhere, slowly taking form, slow-moving tar seeping from the gems and pooling in front of the scholar. A demon took shape before him; outstretched limbs covered in bards erupted from a hunched, slender body. A maw peaked from the top of the body, slowly forming a broad head with no eyes. It grinned as it stood watching the scholar bow in subservience.
“Stand, you have not wronged me. You need not pray.”
The scholar stood, staring down at the god hunched before him.
“I am Syddall; I retrieved the relic you requested.” Syddall reached into his bag, pulling a gem-encrusted statue forth; he laid it before Gleam Eyes, unsure what to do next.
“You serve well, I shall name you my champion, and with your title, you shall receive many gifts.”
Gleam Eyes pulled a black gem from the air; he placed it upon Syddall’s forehead and watched as it slowly sank into his skin. Syddall fell back to his knees, his arms tightening as the gem entered his brain. Not a single whimper escaped his lips as he controlled himself to take the pain. Gleam Eyes watched on, pleased with Syddall’s dedication to appear strong.
“That gem will allow you to complete this ritual without the components, merely speak the words, and I shall appear before you. Your next challenge, my champion, is to collapse the mines at Svelt; they have already harvested too many gems, and they are getting close.”
Syddall stood from his bow, his forehead still scared.
“Locating artifacts is one thing, but collapsing a mine so it won’t open again is far beyond me.”
Gleam Eyes long leg extended, pinning Syddall to his back.
“You shall complete this, or when you die, you will be sent to serve an eternity in hell before you can reincarnate.”
A chilling shrill resonated from Gleam Eyes before he returned to black tar, retreating into the stone that made the mountain. Syddall slumped to the ground; he filtered through his satchel and pulled forth a map.
“I am currently on the South-Western side of the mountain, which means it is only a month or two from here. Getting there should not be hard, destroying the primary income of a town might be.”
Gazing over the edge of the cliff, Syddall could see the remains of the nightmare that had previously tried to eat him. Hoping to avoid the same mistake, he took the path down, following the winding, crudely cut stairs. Upon reaching the base, he took a moment to find the nightmare’s corpse; using his little knowledge, he cut a few messy steaks from the bones and moved on.
Syddall had barely left the mountain by the afternoon sun started to set, spreading fear to his heart. He drew his pistol and looked for an appropriate place to spend the night.
“Maybe I should have stayed at the mountain’s base; at least there are caves. Out here.”
Syddall turned in circles, trying to spy somewhere to hide, but the craggy landscape he was in had little to offer.
“I guess I have hidden in worse places.” He said as he ran to a small pile of large boulders.
Grunting, he narrowly squeezed into a gap.
“If I just… success.”
He lay prone as he shimmied himself under the largest rock; entirely out of sight, he squirmed, trying to get comfortable in his tight confine. Turning one of his feet, he found a small hole where his foot sat comfortably without touching anything in the hole. But as he tried to move again, he felt his foot hole get slightly bigger.
Syddall tried scrambling forward but found himself falling through the ground; in the last second, he grabbed his satchel. Syddall landed straight onto his back, only a few meters below the hole he fell from. Suffering from the ground shock, he stood looking up and the still hole, knees still vibrating. He started to move just as the gap began to widen. He leaped as far as he could as the small outcropping of boulders came crashing down, sealing the hole. Syddall lay on the ground with his hands over his head, waiting for the noise of the collapse to come to a complete silence.
Without looking, he could feel the crushing pain pinning his foot down; he crawled forward with his hands, stopping instantly due to the pain. He spoke his prayer through gritting teeth and surrounded himself with a muffling bubble.
“Gleam Eyes, come fix my leg. I will need a hand if you still want me to be your champion.”
Gleam Eyes reappeared; he examined Syddall’s foot as it lay crushed by fallen stone.
“You are fortunate; though you will not see it as I do, you will come to find yourself lucky.”
Gleam Eyes touched Syddall’s forehead before he started to vanish.
“This I give you is yours; you have yet to realize it.”
Syddall felt only the pain from the crushing stones; he groaned, struggling to sustain consciousness. His hands started to shake violently. His body was to follow.
“Fuck, I am going into shock. I need to calm down… stop shaking, you little bitch!”
Syddall’s bones started to crack and extend, his skin thickening black. Holding his hands in front of his face, he watched as they twisted and extended, his fingers growing extra joints as they darkened and grew claws. His screams became a roar as his body transformed into a replica of Gleam Eyes’ image. Spikes erupted from his back as the last part of his transformation. Clawing at his own head, he felt no eyes; he whipped his head around till he was staring at his satchel, which seemed to be emanating a light that let him see his surroundings.
Reaching into his satchel, he pulled out his crystal pistol; the crystal seemed so alluring. It was warm in his blackened hands. His mind started to empty as he stared longingly into the crystal; incapable of thought, his mind became as feral as his image.
Words whispered from the crystal.
“Feel its energy, be my champion, give in to my image, become the nightmare.”
Syddalls new form started to tense up. He could feel his mind slipping away to be filled by another. He watched as his body moved against him, scrambling through the dark, gaining occasional vision from the crystals in the dirt. His body sprinted through the tunnels, colliding with walls and clawing at open air. Still holding the crystal from his gun, he raced blindly until his final collision, which knocked him unconscious.
The sound of light footsteps reached Syddalls ears; he remained motionless, hoping those who found him did not realize he was conscious. His hair stood on end as tiny hands ran across his body, pinching and clawing at his skin. Ropes were bound to his wrists, and he panicked, leaping forward.
“I told you he was awake. Get his things, quick.”
Syddall turned as he ran towards a dead end; before him stood a swarm of imps. Three-foot-tall and worn like old wood, they were as ugly as they were vicious looking. They held primitive weapons, crafted crudely, and wore tattered cloth if they wore anything at all. Two stepped forward, neither of them armed. They handed over the crushed remains of a crystal pistol and the crystal itself.
“Seems like you don’t know your own strength, champion.”
“That or your strength does not know you.”
The imps continued talking as Syddall zoned out; he stared blankly at the masses before him as he held the remains of his gun. Not realizing that the imps were still talking, Syddall spoke out.
“Where is my bag?” He said, fingering through the remains of his gun.
The imps slowed their chatter, turning to one another. They all looked confused. The lead twins spoke as one.
“No bag, only gun.”
“You don’t understand; I need my bag; it has all the tools I need to survive. Map, compass, notes, gun.” Syddall looked down into his hands. “My gun.”
The two forward-stepped imps spoke in turn.
“I am Remdal.”
“I am Roogal.”
“Need not tools.”
“Need not gun.”
“Your champion now.”
“You will use blessings.”
All the imps spoke out the words of their deity.
“May we shine for the god of eyes.”
Syddall repeated it slowly after the imps spoke.
“I need my notes, I need to know where I am going, I need to know everything before I move; otherwise, I will die. We need to go back; we need to find my bag.”
Syddall started to walk through the imps, snarling. They raised their weapons to Syddall.
“We don’t have time.”
“The crystal eyes have spoken.”
“You are coming with us.”
Ropes snaked out of the crowds of imps, binding Syddalls wrists and ankles. He was swarmed before he had time to react and once again knocked unconscious.
Syddall awoke again, blindfolded; he struggled to escape but quickly realized the binds had been removed. He grasped his wrists, feeling the grooved skin from the tightly bound ropes; reaching up, he removed the blindfold from his eyes. In amazement, he circled the cavern he found himself in, taking in the awe-inspiring site of crystals larger than buildings.
“This one cavern must have more crystal than what is currently being used by the entirety of Hollow,” Syddall muttered as he gazed upon the vast quantities of colored gems surrounding him. As he stared into the gems, the form of gleaming eyes appeared.
“This is what they are close to; you must stop the miners. You will have my imps to help you; I would not send a champion without an army.”
“I do not think even with the strength of the imps that I would be able to take the mine. They appear to be strong in numbers, but those of Svelt are hardy people. They will not let it go without a fight.”
Gleam Eyes led Syddall out of the cavern and into another; below them was a sea of imps stretching farther than Syddall could see.
“You can solve this task how you see fit, but we have an army, wild a feral. They just need a leader.”
“Several million will follow you as long as your goals are mine.”
“I think this is the only way; I still have months before I reach Svelt. How long do I have to complete this task?”
Gleam Eyes sighed as he walked away from the masses of imps.
“You are under a strict timeline; the first picks will pierce this chamber in forty-five Hollow years.”
Syddall grinned as he leaned back against the cave wall with relief.
“I forget you are not often on Hollow; forty-five years will likely be longer than the rest of my life. I have plenty of time to sort this out. Maybe we can do this without destroying a whole town.”
“Do as you must; the imps will tell you anything you need to know. Finish this before the timeline, or you will burn in Hell.”
Gleam Eyes walked back into the chamber of crystals, climbing into the largest. Syddall watched as he could see Gleam Eyes walk through the crystal, out of sight. Syddall turned back around to see Remdal and Roogal standing before him.
“All right, imps, let’s get prepared. We only have forty-five years.”