The various scythes that the undead abominations had been wielding, as well as their pasty flesh that was drawn taut over their emaciated frames, began to bubble and dissolve as their evil spirits finally lose the battle to remain coherent.
“Good work,” Nickels says as he walks up behind me, reloading his rifle. He scoops up his pistol from the ground and holsters it again, giving me a wary eye. “That sword of yours better pack a wallop, because they confirmed what I feared was down here.”
“Darkness Given Hunger,” He interrupts, looking at me pointedly. “Never say his name, or his eye will be cast upon you. Even now he sleeps… hopefully.”
“Than what were those?” I ask, pointing my sword at the bubbling green muck at my feet.
“I’m no expert on the Elder Gods, but those were clearly fractured pieces of the Darkness that serve as guardians for him.” Professor Nickels says as he kneels by one of the steaming puddles, pulling a flask and a spoon from his satchel and ladling in a fair amount of the muck. “Each God has beings that serve them, which are a part of them. The followers of the Christian God call them Angels, the followers of the Yellow King have the Byakhee. If I recall, Darkness Given Hunger has the Dreamless Nightmares, or Quan-gao.”
“Yeah, I can see where they’d get that name.” I say, toeing one of the puddles with my boot. “That sounds somewhat Asiatic in nature.”
“That’s because it is,” Professor Nickels replied from his place on the goo slathered ground. “The Darkness Given Hunger was originally sealed by the Uruk, the Sumerians. How do you think they overcame the vast Ubaid empire history claims they toppled?
“I’ve never thought about it.” I admit, wincing as the Professor pulls a slicked shard of bone from the quivering mass.
“Nobody ever does. Every time a great empire fell, it was because one of these… these things awoke or arrived from beyond time and space, and undid all that man had labored so many years to create. The Sumerians buried this creature after it gorged itself upon their civilization, merely renaming themselves afterward to the Sumerians thanks to the hero who led the battles against the Quan-gao.”
“So why didn’t the Sumerians deal with all of the Quan-gao when they had the chance?” I ask, looking at the bubbling remains of the foul beasts.
“Each man slain in the Darkness’s name, or under his gaze, are pulled into his dreams and made into one of the beasts we just fought.” Professor Nickels says with a distinct shudder. “What you just did was release the souls of three men or women that had spoken his name and died by the hand of one of his agents.”
“Oh… that’s disheartening. And we’re going to go deeper into the tunnels where these things came from?” I ask a tad incredulously, pulling a pit of cloth free from my ruined shirt and wiping away the gunk from my blade.
“Just to blow the narrowest point of the tunnel closed, so that none of this can ever surface. If the Darkness awakens, the world as we know it could fade into a living nightmare.”
“Well if the world is at stake,” I say with a sigh, looking around the tunnel in search of something to plunder. “I’m going to need a shield. I can’t use a gun to save my life.”
“I know,” Professor Nickels said with a smile as he cracked his rifle into the ready position, “I saw. You do well with a blade, and if my eyes don’t deceive me, there’s a round shield just under that debris over there.”
Looking to where he was pointing, I indeed see a battered iron round shield, one that would have been used by virtually a dozen civilizations that had ruled over this area in the last thousand years, pinned beneath a large slab from the mosaic. Moving over, I wedge my blade into a crack in the detritus and heave my weight forward, breaking away the crumbling remains pinning my new prize to the ground.
Covered in verdigris and dents, the leather arm straps within the shield are surprisingly sound, with very little rot to them that I can see. The dented shields surface bears a wolf’s head symbol, perhaps linking it to one of the numerous barbarian tribes that had ravaged the lands above over the past thousand years.
How it got down here when it took the Professor and me over three days of spelunking is beyond me, but I’m thankful for it. I quickly tie the shield off on my left arm, freeing the hand to hold a flare.
While I busy myself with that, the Professor has been busy studying the remaining sections of mosaic with intense scrutiny, jotting down notes in his ever-present journal. “A group of people native to this land dedicated their entire civilization to worshiping the Darkness,” he says aloud as I’m adjusting the straps, “according to this for over five hundred years they lived in the caverns above, building this great complex to house the ancient horror while it lay dormant. Of course, they revered it as a God… and according to this it gave them blessings in return.”
“How? It’s asleep, right?”
The Professor snorts and shoots me a derisive glare. “A being like this is never fully asleep, nor fully awake. It neither lives nor is dead, it just is. Those ghouls up top we encountered were the caretakers of these sacred grounds, blessed with eternal life to serve better their God.”
“Oh…” And we’d killed them. “Then we better hurry, or the rest of them will notice those guards are missing and come looking for us.”
The Professor remains silent as he finished the mosaic, clearing his throat every few moments as he had to stoop to the pieces I had broken away to get a clearer view of what the pictographs read. From his face, they weren’t anything pleasant.
“Anything else I should know about?” I ask as I tighten the last arm brace over my bicep.
“Just that the Darkness slumbers so long as it is regularly fed warriors. If it goes too long without eating, it sends out the Quan-gao. If it goes even longer than it wakes up.”
“Lovely,” I grumble, adjusting my satchel along my hip to have a better sense of balance in the inevitable case of having another fight, “Well then let’s hurry and blow the tunnel closed so that it can’t get out.”