((4 - Theme From Amateria))
They had been walking for a few hours when they found the first bodies.
The cave had widened out a bit, and was now wide enough to accommodate them three abreast. They'd been gently sloping upwards, pausing every now and again to examine more of the cracks. All were full of the same strange shadows, which seemed to hiss and hum audibly upon close inspection. It wasn't quite solid--bits of it seemed to drift off and fall back in, snatched in by tendrils of darkness. Whatever the shadow-stuff was, it felt alive, and had everyone thoroughly unsettled.
Eventually, they came to a fork in the tunnel, splitting slightly up and to the right, or straight ahead. The route that lay ahead seemed to curve and be blocked a short ways up. Without checking to see if the others followed, Goat bounded down it.
The others looked at each other briefly, before Giraffe spoke up. "We should stick together..."
Skunk nodded. "I'll go after him. See whether or not the passage is as blocked as it looks." She hurried off, Spider and Owl close behind.
They caught up to Goat a hundred feet down the tunnel. He was standing still for once, silently staring at the obstruction in the cave. It was criss-crossed with spikes and bars of crystal, extruded from the walls of the passage. Hanging from the spikes were the bodies of half a dozen people.
Skunk's eyes narrowed. "I know these people. Members of the guard, all of them."
A shudder went through Owl. "They... must've been the group before us." The others looked at her, knowing she could never un-see their bodies.
Skunk took a step closer, looking over the bodies more closely. "Looks like they've been here about a week, maybe less."
"Let's get back to the others..." Spider fidgeted, clearly anxious to get back. Owl nodded agreement, and they headed back.
After informing Eagle, Zebra, and Giraffe of their morbid discovery, the septet continued up the other branch. A few hours passed, and the light began to dim. Goat prepared sandwiches for everyone from the provisions he had packed, and the group lay down in the cavern to sleep for the night.
Spider awoke in the night to find herself immersed in total darkness. She couldn't see her fingers in front of her face. It felt like... something was crawling on her skin, vibrating, unseen shifting in the air in front of her. With a horrified start, she realized that the shadow-stuff from the cracks was now filling the entire tunnel. The hum of it pounded in her ears. She knew there was no way she could get back to sleep.
Groping around blindly in the dark, she roused her companions. After a brief and uncomfortable discussion, they agreed to continue on in the cavern. None of them would be sleeping more that night.
As day broke, the shadows dissipated, leaving with a rush of whispers and slithering darkness. In their wake, the cave seemed thinner, narrower, more constricted. Eventually they realized that this was entirely true--the further and higher they went, the tighter the pathway was getting. Despite their growing apprehensions, no one was willing to turn back at this point.
Fortunately, by the time it had gotten to the point of squeezing sideways through the fissure in the crystal, several hours later, the tunnel widened suddenly. Spider collapsed to the ground, happy to be able to extend her limbs comfortably again.
Zebra walked up to one wall, and ran her hand along it. Giraffe walked over, following suit curiously, then turned to the group. "Anyone else notice how weird this part of the cave is?"
Owl nodded. "It's perfectly circular... not at all jagged like the rest."
"Almost like someone dug it out intentionally..." Eagle mused.
Spider sat up, spreading her knees wide to turn to Eagle. She opened her mouth to speak, and was cut off abruptly by a massive wedge of crystal shooting out of the ground between her legs. One edge sliced through her woven pants, sliding a red ribbon of blood up the spike. The inside of it seemed to flash with darkness, a writhing shadow that vanished back the way it had come instantly.
The group stared in shocked silence a moment.
Then a second lance of crystal shot out, spearing Owl through the shoulder. Goat leapt forward, pulling her off it even as she went into shock, only for a third spike to slice past his left leg, tearing out a chunk of flesh.
"RUN!" Eagle's cry broke them out of their stunned paralysis, and the group leapt into a sprint down the strangely smooth tunnel.
Spikes shot out from all sides--ceiling, floor, the walls--seeking and spearing. One clipped Zebra's arm, another Giraffe's ear. They dashed madly, the crystal spikes all too close behind. Goat, somehow still in the front in spite of his cut leg, pointed forward. "Up ahead! It widens out! Come on!"
Putting another burst of speed, they threw themselves forward, collapsing out into the larger room. The spikes exploded out to the edge of it behind them, desperately trying to catch them, spear them, but came no further. They seemed to only be able to grow from the walls of the cave, not this new room they found themselves in.
((5 - Lunatic Pandora))
The room was a perfect flattened circle, maybe eight feet to the roof, and a few dozen feet across. The rounded wall of the room was perfectly smooth, save for the mess of crystal spikes filling the way they had come. In the center of the room, a pillar of crystal connected the floor to the ceiling, no more than a few inches wide. The crystal was opaque and white, unlike the normally semi-translucent material of the rest of Face. The very heart of the pillar seemed to glow a bloody red, giving the room an unsettling feeling.
The seven sat down to nurse their wounds and bandage themselves as best they could. No one said much. Goat prepared sandwiches with his usual enthusiasm, but his cheerful smile was not matched by his compatriots. Not long after, the room began to dim again.
Owl frowned. "That's odd. It doesn't feel like it's been a whole day..."
Skunk shook her head. "We must've lost track of time..."
"Or maybe those weird shadows kept us in the dark for a while into the day," Giraffe mused.
Eagle shrugged. "Whatever the reason, we're not going anywhere tonight. Let's bed down and try to get some rest."
Owl found herself being shaken awake, too little sleep later. The world was again nothing but inky vibrating blackness, and she let out another shudder. Nothing to see, nothing to remember, in this kind of night.
A voice whispered to her quietly. "It's Zebra." Zebra tugged her upright and turned her to face inwards.
The pillar stood fully visible, glowing its quietly pulsating red. With no visible floor or ceiling, it seemed to float in the air--as did Spider and Skunk, each touching it from one side.
"Spider? Skunk? What's going on?" Owl's voice was weak and scared.
"Oh, hey, you're awake. Come to the middle... for some reason the pillar seems to be able to make us visible in the dark." Spider seemed to be energetic enough, despite the situation.
Owl and Zebra quickly complied, running to the pillar in the center. As their hands touched it, its light seemed to flow through them, driving back the shadows for the moment. Quietly, Zebra let go of the pillar and vanished again, returning a moment later with a groggy Giraffe.
Skunk nodded in approval. "Let's get Goat and Eagle. It seems safer here, somehow."
Before anyone could do anything, the world changed. The shadows fled, gone in an instant. In their wake they left a thoroughly changed landscape.
The five of them now stood at the top of a cone of crystal, from which the pillar arose, extending dozens of feet to the roof above. The cone sloped down a few yards before meeting a massive curving circular wall that joined up to the ceiling. Half a dozen openings dotted the ceiling, a foot or two wide.
Goat and Eagle, having been brought as well, were woken rather abruptly by the drop to the bottom of the cone.
"GAH!" Goat cried out, looking around in confusion.
Eagle was slower to rise, trying to gauge his surroundings.
Suddenly, shadows began pouring out of the holes in the ceiling like water from a tap. Waterfalls of pure darkness flowed to the bottom of the room, quickly beginning to fill it.
With his usual alacrity, Goat leapt up the slope, darting above the reach of the pooling shadow. Eagle did not fare so well. He ran upwards, but a tendril of shadow caught his leg, beginning to pull him back down.
"EAGLE!" Spider let out a yell, beginning to slide down the slope to grab him. She stopped abruptly, and looked up to see Skunk holding her wrist tightly. "Let me go! We have to save him!" Skunk shook her head, and pointed mutely to the spectacle unfolding below.
As they watched helplessly from the top of the pillar, the shadows wrapped themselves around Eagle, and pulled him into their solid darkness. There was a fizzle and a hiss, like something burning, and one last abbreviated cry of pain. Then Eagle was gone.
The shadows continued to pool, filling up the room and rising higher, towards them. Giraffe swallowed audibly. "Now what?"
No one voiced an answer for a very long and uncomfortable while, as the shadows continued to rise closer to them.
Finally, Zebra spoke up. "We... touched the pillar. And we could see ourselves in the darkness. Maybe..."
"... it could help us more." Spider finished the sentence.
As if answer, the red light at the center of the pillar pulsed, growing brighter.
Owl frowned. "But how do we get it to help us?"
Spider shrugged. "Figure this is worth a try, though." Without giving the others a chance to stop her, she pulled back a fist and slammed it into the crystal pillar. With a crunch, a small part of the crystal chipped and broke off. A beam of red light burst forth from it, glowing with angry force. Where the beam hit one of the falls of shadow, the shadow seemed to be driven back, burned away.
Zebra walked up to the glowing beam, and quietly extended her hand to brush it. She yanked it back a second later, hissing in pain. Giraffe reached a hand out to her worriedly, but Zebra waved her off. "It's okay... it only stung for a second..."
"And look!" Owl cried out excitedly, pointing. "The cut on your arm is healed!" Sure enough, the slice the crystal spike had left on Zebra's forearm was gone.
"Oh man, great!" Goat exclaimed. "I'm gonna get it to fix my leg!" He leapt into the air, flailing wildly, trying to get his leg in the way of the beam of red light. As his body passed through it, it seemed to pick him up with sheer force, as if it were a mighty wind. He flew through the air, slamming into the wall of the room, and slid down it, vanishing into the shadows below.
"Well, fuck." Skunk was thoroughly unenthusiastic. "What now?"
The remaining few looked around worriedly. The shadows were continuing to encroach, now only a few feet below their perch, huddled around the cracked and glowing pillar.
There was a sound from the shadows, and Goat bounded up out of them, parting them behind him. Tendrils grasped at his ankles and slid off, seemingly unable to find purchase. "Check it out! I'm totally okay!" His entire body seemed to glow with slowly fading red light.
Spider broke the shocked silence at his return by turning her attention sharply to the pillar. "Okay, I'm fucking breaking this thing. Any objections?"
There were none.
Spider's fist smashed into the crystal again. Twice. Three times. She whirled around and brought her leg up into a solid roundhouse kick, smashing finally clear through the pillar. Red light exploded in all directions, blinding them--
((6 - Train: Academy Remix))
--as the light cleared, they were back in the smaller circular pillar room. Where the pillar had been, there was what could only be described as a hole in the world. An angry red rip in the fabric of reality hung in the air, glowing a sick and bloodthirsty red. The shadows were for the moment nowhere to be seen.
Something emerged slowly from the hole in the world. It was a long gray worm, tapered at either end and cinched in the middle. It was huge, easily a dozen yards long, and barely fit in the room. A smaller rip in the world opened before it, and it vanished out into the wall of the crystal, leaving a circular tunnel behind it.
Slowly, as a second and third of the larvae emerged from the portal, the humans drifted out of their stunned confusion.
"Something tells me we should be leaving now." Giraffe's statement was the calm brought only by barely suppressed terror.
Owl swallowed hard, shaking. "I rather agree."
The six people of Face set off into the corridor the first larva had left behind, following the way it had come. Without warning, the corridor behind them exploded once more into crystal spikes.
"FUCK!" Spider cursed. "RUN!"
Needing no further incitement, they broke out into a dead sprint, chasing the glowing red creature ahead. The shadow-filled spikes closed on them, stabbing desperately at their arms, legs, and bodies.
To all sides, the distant glowing forms of more larvae tunneling their way out could be seen through the translucent crystal.
After bare minutes, a light began to glow ahead of them--the white light of the fog, and the outside of the crystal. Goat, in the lead, sprinted the last hundred feet to the edge.
Outside, hundreds of the larvae were emerging, all up and down the crystal face, and spreading their narrow leathery wings, beginning a slow flap. Goat's eyes burned with intensity, and he let out a yell. "I'M GONNA RIDE IT!" Grinning with utter fearlessness, he threw himself from the end of the tunnel, leaping out towards the larva.
Behind him, Skunk skidded to a stop, watching the creatures. Owl barreled on, eyes shut in terror, and slammed into the policewoman from behind. The two women tumbled out of the cave, falling into the empty void.
Spider, Zebra, and Giraffe, crystal spikes, closing hot on their tails, stopped at the end of the passage. To their left they could just make out the great city of Face, hundreds of yards away, barely visible in the fog.
A horrible rending noise filled the air, far louder than anything any of them had ever heard before--
--and the world shattered.