Hayden could feel the heat of the hot springs beneath the soles of his boots, regardless of how thick they seemed. But then again, since his feet weren’t moist with sweat, he suspected it might be psychological.
The trio stared at the ceiling of the massive cave in awe.
The double beams of their optic lights shooting up into the darkness all around like a Hollywood movie premiere. Each of the shafts of luminesce accentuated dozens more cylindrical columns of stone, some much wider than the ones nearer to the shore, but this time, they ran from the walls off to the sides of the cavern and riding at forty-five degrees, some more acute, others obtuse, creating a superior support system for the ceiling above like natural shelving wedges.
Other equally massive pillars spewed forth from the bubbling yellow lake in abundance as they neared the dark island, like the architect who built it was more concerned with the roof collapsing than esthetics.
Several times the trio had to alter the boat’s course to paddle around the rock formations for fear of crashing into one of them, sending them and their small craft into the burning yellow depths, ending their quest with a slow pain-filled dunk.
What amazed them the most was not a single one of these roof supporting pilasters, regardless of the angle or position, were within a hundred metres of the island silhouette, above, to the sides or through it. The island was completely column free, from their vantage point, as though even the stone dreaded touching the shore for fear of disintegration.
Danica found this unprecedented formation unbelievable.
The beauty of nature was she could always surprise you.
As deduced by the tribe, nothing could reach the island except by boat or air, and equally, nothing could escape. Even with a grappling line, the heavy stone of the pilasters appeared to be granite, thus likely unable to be pierced by even the sharpest arrow or hook, presuming one had enough rope to get it across without grazing the water.
It truly was a prison.
And the Horror were its inmates.
“How is this even possible?” Hayden asked gesturing to the cave and the way it was constructed.
“Anything is possible.” Danica replied with trepidation. “Obviously such is the case. My suspicion is that over years… scratch that, millennia, there was a slow and gradual buildup of stone, rocks and dirt. Due to the extreme heat and geothermal vents, it created what we see here. It’s possible the air pockets generated by the hot springs cracked or destroyed the less sturdy rocks to form this cave expanse. The remaining formations, not unlike huge stalactites, untouched by man’s brutal hands, grew as time when on and reached up in the only direction it could go, the celling.” She offered a wink. “And voila. I’m sure there are many more untold wonders around the world and beneath the Earth if mankind ever started digging deep enough to find them.”
Carlos on the other hand had seen it before and it still gave him the shivers. “And like the tribe said, the Horror remains.”
“Well, since this Horror has never escaped, we can presume it has no wings.” Danica theorized. “Or it would have flown out of here long ago.”
Hayden agreed with that conclusion. “Or gills for that matter.”
Danica accepted it; doubtful even if it had gills it could swim in that toxic pool for very long.
Hayden and Carlos settled into a steady stride, moving together in tandem for maximum speed, until they could see the island start to take real shape. It materialized out of the nothingness.
It seemed to grow out of the darkness like a black mold being revealed by the opening of the fridge door after a big party, the light giving life and existence to the growth within by the mere extension it had been seen.
Like the cave they traversed to get down here, the island was as gloomy and dire as they expected. There was no light anywhere to be seen. It was a mountainous structure of black stone, surrounded by a large flat beach of grey and dark brown sand. Amidst it all, trails and scuffs in the dirt from constant foot traffic, but as for the prints, they were oddly shaped and ran close together.
The trio continued forward, Carlos paddling on the left and Hayden on the right, slower now as the island closed in.
Once they reached the shore, Hayden directed aloud before anyone could disembark. “Once we set foot on the island, there’s no turning back.”
“Technically…” Danica pointed out. “We can just step back in and paddle away.”
Hayden sighed. “Once we set foot on the island, there’s no THINKING about turning back!”
Carlos prepared to rise.
Danica stated with conviction. “We came this far. I for one intend to see it through.”
Carlos nodded his agreement.
The trio got out, checked all their gear and felt they were ready to invade the island, as they felt in their hearts, this was an invasion.
Carlos lifted the boat up out of the water, careful not to get any acid on his clothes and dragged it onto the beach so it would be waiting for them upon their return. He left a part of the tip dipped at the water’s edge, just in case they needed to make a fast departure. He threw the two oars inside, one atop the other.
The trio formed a small triangle as they walked forward, the purpose was so they could see in every direction as they moved.
“Is it me or is it hotter on the island than on the exterior shore?” Hayden queried, wiping the top of his brow with the back of shirt sleeve.
“We’re in the centre of a hot springs lake, so I suspect it’s not just you.” Danica pivoted around slowly, looking over the terrain. “But our bodies are natural adaptors. It will adjust.”
“Well even mine is having some trouble with the heat as well.” Carlos stated, as he too was feeling hot moisture building up in his loose fitting shirt and pants. “But from what I remember, at least it doesn’t get any hotter.”
“You could have told me to bring an air conditioner.” Hayden pointed out.
Carlos raised an eyebrow. “And how pray tell would you have carried it?”
Hayden gestured to his right. “Director Swift would have been up to the challenge.”
“And where would we plug it in?” Danica replied. She knew Hayden was simply trying to boost their spirits up, especially with the heavy balm of the sauna-like heat of the island and the ensuing Horror they were encroaching upon.
At this Hayden shrugged. “I guess solar power is out huh.”
Carlos and Danica laughed.
The trio spotted a carved opening at the base of the mountain, heading inward.
As they all approached, they came together as a group and looked skyward.
The height of the mountain was unprecedented for an underground peak; its top vanished into the blackness above. Up close, it was dark and dreaded, absolutely no vegetation whatsoever along the sides, edges or cliffs. It was as lifeless as a barren planet.
“Not as scary as I imagined it.” Hayden commented right away, more for himself than the others, his eyes moving up and along the mountain sides and to the shadow shrouded top. “Dreary, creepy and damn hot, but not as scary.”
Danica hesitated before speaking. “Take into consideration, we’re not inside yet.”
Hayden dropped his gaze to Danica and scowled. “Hello rain. Welcome to my parade.”
Danica returned the glare.
Carlos stepped between them both, having drawn his shotgun, carrying it before him with his finger on the trigger. “Looks can be deceiving. From his point on, I recommend extreme caution.”
Around the cave entrance, about twenty meters before the mountain portal, were two individual single foot high wooden posts, driven hard into the dirt, each outfitted with ropes, many ripped and shredded.
Hayden was the first to speak before the others could ask. “They’re for sacrifices. The tribe obviously brings down animals they capture to present to the Horror. Either to pay tribute or at least, draw them out for whatever nefarious purpose they need them for. My guess, likely for its miracle juice as the Elder called it.
Danica offered a disgusted look, not expecting to see animals intentionally presented as food to another predator, regardless of the reasoning. “Barbaric.”
“And mandatory.” Hayden replied. “Like the tribe said, if they keep the Horror happy and sedated, they won’t even attempt an escape.”
The trio continued forward.
Carlos maintained their flank for a surprise assault, watching for the Sentinels they were warned about. “Hard to keep your eyes peeled for an enemy when you don’t know what it looks like.”
“In a place this barren and dead, anything moving is likely it.” Danica stated.
Right in front of the entrance, Hayden came before a large stone pedestal, a foot high, composed of clay and rocks, and tightly bound with rope, almost haphazardly built, more for need than endurance. In the centre, on a five foot bamboo-like shaft, at the top, wrapped several times around was a moist material, smelling of something sweet, coated in dark charcoal stained streaks.
Hayden leaned forward and took a sniff. “Oil?” He drew a lighter from his pocket. He snapped the flint and placed the flame to the oil drenched cloth.
Within seconds, a warm glow illuminated the dark expanse around them as it lit up.
A bright glow filled the empty space for a good twenty metres in every direction, including the first few feet into the cave, which revealed nothing,
Danica watched the flickering light for several seconds. “Is it wise to light the torch? Is that not what usually attracts the Horror?”
“The Elder did indicate the Horror sleeps at this time. Plus, as far as I’m concerned, anything to enhance our seeing an attack coming at us from out of this gloom outweighs the prospect of attracting them.” Hayden offered her an offhanded look. “And since we need to find one of these things, if a little light brings one our way, so much the better.”
“Presuming they’re not sentient.” Danica commented. “And they can figure out what we’re doing and outsmart us.”
“Had they any semblance of problem solving skills, I’m sure they could have found a way off this island by now, which leads me to believe the Horror acts on instinct, not intelligence.” Hayden argued.
Carlos listened intently to both Danica and Hayden. He joined them at the entrance. “I would have to agree with Doctor Lattimer. I would prefer some light to find our transport as opposed to wasting any time searching.” He gestured to the water’s edge, the boat visible under the glow of the torch.
Hayden pointed up to the mountain side. “Well, will you look at that?” Now that they had the light of the torch to bring some well-deserved sight to their vantage point, things looked a lot clearer. “The entire structure is pockmarked with holes. Either that or dozens of cave openings. It’s like a giant sponge.”
Danica stared up at it with a quizzical look. “I honestly have no explanation. Some rocks form holes due to air pockets, but a whole mountain?”
“Unless they were dug?” Carlos threw in, thinking this would be a welcome tidbit to the conversation.
Hayden ran his hand along the mountain base. “Well the stone is pretty hard, so if it was dug, the Horror either has sturdy digging hands or….”
Danica cut Hayden off. “Or claws.” She patted her front pocket. “Not unlike the one Carlos gave me on the plane.”
Hayden turned to her. “But it would take a long time to dig a whole mountain.”
“Based on how long this tribe has been guarding this place.” Danica replied. “They had all the time they needed.”
The trio dropped their examination and returned their gaze to the cave opening into the island mountain.
Danica felt her body twitch as she tightened for action. “I guess this means we’re going in.”
Hayden commented. “You know, in the movies, when I see the brave and ruggedly handsome archeologist heading into the dark temple in search of ancient horrors that a tribe has dedicated their lives to protect, I find myself thinking… ‘What the Hell is wrong with you?’”
Carlos laughed. “Well, as I’ve been here before, I can tell you, I’m thinking the same thing.”
“So….” Hayden posed it. “This is our last chance to turn and run people.”
Danica looked to Carlos, then to Hayden and back to Carlos. She took a deep breath and declared. “We came this far. We need to see it through. And more importantly, we need to beat Maximus and his cohorts to the secret of this lost island.”
“Even if it kills us?” Hayden joked.
Danica smiled confidently. “I have no plans to die today.” She drew her weapon and held it at her side, lifting the safety.
Carlos held his shotgun aloft. “I can’t say the same for the Horror though.’
Hayden grinned from ear to ear. “Then I guess its ’Tally Ho!” He declared, being the last to pull his weapon from the holster, ready and willing to fight.
And with that, the trio entered the island cave.
Unaware to the trio, high above, on the mountain side, observing from a small cliff ledge, something had watched them enter.
That same something later crept back inside to find them and stop them before they found the others.