Into the Cavern
I stretched a little. My neck and back were sore from falling asleep whilst sitting. Perhaps not the best idea. Plus, my right foot still hurt. Kicking the wall had also not been a a stroke of genius.
Somewhat hungry, I grabbed a nutritional bar from my backpack and drank a few gulps water. I only had a few more of the first, and one, now half-empty, bottle of the second. Limited supplies that would have to suffice until I got out of this cave. Although, maybe I could hydrate myself by eating some of this moss. Or, perhaps that too would not be a great idea and I would die of stomach cramps. Hopefully I could find a drinkable source of water underground.
I strapped on my backpack and made to explore the newly opened tunnel. Then, the loudest, most intrusive sound I had ever experienced in my life blasted into my ears like a rocket roaring off the launchpad.
[WORLD CONGLOMERATION & INITIALIZATION COMPLETED]
I stumbled at the surprise of it and pressed my hands against my ears out of instinct. That didn’t help however, as the voice kept going, ignoring my feeble efforts to dampen its volume.
[GREETINGS, INHABITANTS OF THE NEWLY FORMED PLANET KARAKT II.
YOU HAVE BEEN ASSIMILATED, AND GIFTED WITH THE HONOR TO PROVE YOURSELVES WORTHY.
THROUGH CONFLICT BECOME STRONG, AND ASCEND TO MY SIDE.
THE WAR ALWAYS NEEDS VOLUNTEERS. ]
I found myself on the floor, screaming. My ears didn’t hurt, but something inside my mind did. It felt broken, violated, by whatever it was that held so much power and had entered my very being as if it was the easiest thing to do in the world.
Eventually, the pain subsided, and I lay on the soft moss looking at a beautifully lit ceiling. It was mesmerizing. The plants didn’t emit light evenly, instead, the luminescence had an ebb and flow, like waves in the sea. Like night, and day. Life, and death. Yin and Yang.
I seemed to be delirious. I slapped myself out of it.
I thought about what the voice had said. It wanted conflict, that much was clear. And soldiers, apparently. For some kind of war. How making me be stuck in a cave achieved any of that was unclear.
Although, going by the wording, the message had probably been broadcast to all other humans too. Perhaps it had been an accident that I got stuck here, or perhaps the voice just didn’t care what happened to a solitary human who had foolishly entered a cave during the apocalypse.
In a somewhat grimmer mood, I heaved my backpack and made my way to the tunnel. I still needed to get out of here, my food and water would eventually run out. And by eventually I meant tomorrow, I hadn’t planned a long hike, and had packed accordingly.
I wasn’t necessarily claustrophobic, but nobody liked getting stuck in tight spaces. Luckily, the tunnel was still big enough to allow me walk upright without having to crouch. Everything was covered in the luminescent moss: the walls, the floor, the ceiling. It was a surreal experience to go through it. Some spots were bare rock, but even that was pretty, with white veins of what I presumed was marble running through it.
The tunnel had a slight downward slope, I could tell. Not much, but noticeable. After a short time of walking through it, perhaps a minute or so, it ended.
Then, my jaw dropped.
Saying that it ended in a cavern would have been an injustice to the sheer size of it. I was still underground; a rock ceiling was visible way, way up. However, the underground space was enormous. It was so big that I could not see the other side of it. The air seemed to be slightly misty, but still. It had to be well over a kilometer wide, and much longer than that.
I walked “outside”, and found myself on a rocky plateau. To my left, another, smaller rocky outcrop. To my right, the plateau slanted and extended until the cave floor.
Mesmerized, I walked forward and stood at the edge. Before me extended a vast expanse of green. Vegetation I had never seen before. The luminescent moss had mostly been displaced by other types of bigger plants, many of them giving off a similar green-blue light. There were trees growing everywhere. Thin, spindly ones with a single long leaf on top; thick, tear-drop shaped ones with palm-like fronds jutting out of them. Gigantic sunflower-like plants peeking out here and there. And, every so often, sharp beautiful white rocks could be seen poking out of the vegetation. Amidst it all a corridor of mossy plains and spiked shrubs.
It was all alien; it didn’t belong on Earth.
But I supposed Earth didn’t exist anymore. Now, we had apparently been merged with other planets into the horribly named “Karakt II”. Also, why were we the second Karakt? Had something happened to the first?
I stepped back from the edge. Perhaps standing so close was not the best idea.
What should I do? I needed water, first and foremost. Then food; and then to get back to civilization.
With so much vegetation, I’d surely find water if I descended down to the forest floor. The plants needed it to grow so lush (presumably, I didn’t know how this alien vegetation functioned), and water tended to collect at the lowest point. Perhaps there was a stream or smaller river flowing down the middle corridor? I was a bit too high up to make anything out.
Food I would also probably find if I went down, in the forest. Perhaps some berries, or fruits. Although if they were safe to eat was another matter. Perhaps I could even hunt a rabbit or some such small critter. I had never really been good at that. Or even gone hunting, truth be told. The most I knew about the matter was watching a few survival documentaries on television.
But the decisive factor was that I needed to get out of here. My tunnel was a dead end, only leading to the chamber I had initially been trapped in. There were no further tunnels in the cavern side behind me, and nothing else of interest on the smaller rocky outcrop that extended from the wall to my left. So, a descent to the cavern was what I had to do. The space was enormous; there had to be some connection to the outside world somewhere.
Decision made, I descended the sloped ground with my backpack still slung over my shoulders.
The air was… dense. Full. Of something, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But it had a certain presence and weight to it. A certain freshness that felt invigorating.
I wondered if it had some hallucinogenic properties too, or else I would have to entertain the fact that I might have been going crazy. Air that was full? What lunacy was that.
Reaching the bottom of the descent left me somewhere at the start of the mossy corridor, with the tree lines starting a bit further to my left and to my right. Ferns and some smaller spiky bushes were growing down here, along with the ever present glowing moss.
The forest was loud. I could hear frog-like croaks that had a deeper tone than they should have; the high pitched chirping and whistling of some sort of birds; the bumming and buzzing of forearm-sized dragonflies that flew about.
It was unreal. Like descending into a dreamworld. Or a nightmare.
I skirted along the middle of the corridor between the tree lines, apprehensive to go inside for some reason. Still baffled at all the new sights and sounds.
There were a few saplings and younger trees of the long, single leafed variety growing here. I touched one. The wood (if it even was wood and not some alien-analogy) felt smooth. Like the treated and sanded wood you might find as flooring in a nice house. The plant was slightly taller than head-height, but I could still reach its singular long leaf growing from the top if I stretched my arm out. It was soft, like touching velvet. Covered in minuscule hairs that gave off a little bit of light at their ends, which gave the entire thing a slightly glowy look.
Thinking practically, it would make a nice walking stick if cut down. Also useful for parting overgrown vegetation out of the way, in case I had to wade through that forest. Especially if I had to go through some thorny bushes or a dense patch of plants.
I took out my outdoor knife and started cutting with the serrated edge at the tree base. Or tried to. The young tree was much harder than I had expected it to be; indeed, much harder than it had any right to be.
Was it naturally like that, or had the air and atmosphere down here somehow changed it? Or was it just a hardy alien species?
Regardless, I wasn’t someone that was easily deterred. I wanted that walking stick now, and I’d get it. Even if it was extra durable. I needed a small victory. The past day and a half had been very hard.
Like this tree! Hah.
I seemed to be making some, if slow, progress. The steel teeth of my knife were slowly biting into the wood, making the cut larger and larger.
And then I was through. Only took me about half an hour.
I waved my new walking stick around. It was a little bit too long, reaching above my shoulders and almost to eye-height. Not perfect for walking. But cutting it had already taken so long; I would certainly not do it again any time soon.
Feeling a little better with my new equipment, I was about to continue my way forward, when I noticed a change in my environment.
There were more of those spiky bushes. Some bigger ones too.
There hadn’t been this many before; I was sure. Then again, perhaps I was hallucinating. The day had been strange enough for that to be an option.
Puzzled, I walked closer to one. It seemed normal enough, in this alien cave. A rounded ball of a plant with a dense mantle of spikes. Cactuses were kinda like that, right? I could accept spiky bushes easily enough. Didn’t necessarily want to touch the spikes themselves with my hand, so I did the next best thing and poked my newly acquired stick into it.
It wasn’t rooted to the ground, like a plant would be, and instead toppled over when I poked it. It’s now upside belly featured a huge teethed maw and six small, but stubby, insectoid legs.
Then all the bushes started moving at once.