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Mark of the Red

By TheTravelingSeed All Rights Reserved ©

Horror

Chapter 1

As the sun set on the velvet shoreline, casting its veil of darkness over the water, two hikers pitch their tents and make ready for the night on an outcropping of rock that extended some thirty meters out into the water. With the high tide wetting the perimeter of the rock, the hikers took care as to not set themselves too close to edge of the outcropping. As one of the hikers set iron stakes into the ground to secure the tents, the second quickly fashioned a makeshift fireplace with two layers of the moistened stones that where lying around them. With the dry wood that the two had picked up on the trail, they placed them into the ring of stone and surrounded them with enough tinder as to accept a spark. It was a calm night so the wind would not be dangerously carrying the fire.

With the last sliver of purple hued sunlight disappearing below the horizon, the hikers settled and began to warm themselves in front of the fire. The gentle sea breeze mingled the salty scent of the ocean with the scent of the burning lumber. The flames flickered and danced before them, stinging their eyes though the humidity within the air relieved some of this discomfort.

Though the area was illuminated by the fire, the light of the full moon was more than enough to allow a full range of sight onto the beach. It was empty and quiet, the only sounds being the occasional crack of the fire and the splashing against the rocks.

“We didn’t seem to make it too far today,” one hiker exclaimed out of the silence.

“There’s no need to rush now. Only another day or two I would guess. We’d best enjoy it,” replied his companion.

The two conversed further. The hikers had embarked on a two week trek around a peninsula densely populated by woodlands and hills. They had gotten sidetracked on one or two occasions but were close to arriving to their destination, a shrine overlooking the bay of a neighboring city. The shrine that they were heading to was once the gathering place and representative town center of the city when it was once a small village. It was said that when the ocean did not yield any fish or if the crops had all but withered during the winter, the townspeople would gather at the shrine to provide human sacrifices in order to ensure a bountiful harvest in the coming seasons. This greatly intrigued the hikers whose families originated within the now port city.

The shrine is now said to be rotting and decrepit though the city refrains from demolishing it for reasons of it being a historical site. There is this but also that some say that the spirit of the sacrificed still haunt it to this day. Whatever the case, the hikers were eager to finally lay eyes upon the shrine that their parents and grandparents had spoken so much about.

The moonlight reflected diamonds off the surface of the water and outlined the black waves as they converged onto the shoreline. As the two hikers’ conversation eventually petered out, one peered out into the water watching the rhythmic motion of the sea. It was a calm night…

The hiker saw something. There out in the water. Something flickering like the fire. It was a crimson red swaying about in the water leaving streaks above its surface. No. There were two. Shining pearls in the water. Shining eyes in water. They stared intently at the fire. It seemed fixated on it. The hiker’s eyes grew wide as he witnessed this occur. The eyes shifted on him.

He froze. Like Medusa’s glare the eyes had solidified him in place. His breathing became rampant. Another set of eyes appeared. He looked away and called to his companion. By the time they had turned their heads to look back, the eyes were gone.

“You must be a little tired,” said his companion.

“They were so prominent,” the hiker replied.

“Probably a school of krill that the moonlight was able to reflect off of,” his companion suggested.

“Perhaps you might be right…” the hiker said. There was a noise behind them. A pattering of light feet traversing the rocks. The hikers turned to be met with the withering figure of an old man as he approached their campfire. He was dressed modestly, fisherman’s clothing, and held a bucket of mackerel in one hand and a shanty fishing pole slung over his shoulder. His face featured an assortment of wrinkles and creases with a long white beard that hung just below the man’s chest.

“Oh ho, young people out here at a time like this? You must be on the hike,” the old man said. His eyes were dark but reflected the flickering red of the fire. They resembled the eyes that the hiker had seen just a moment before.

“Yes. We’ve been on the hike for about two weeks now. We should be able to reach the city by tomorrow,” the hiker’s companion exclaimed whilst standing to greet the old man.

“The shrine hike yes? We don’t get many on that trail anymore. No one seems to have time for it in this modern day and age,” the old man said. There was a moment of silence as the old man examined the two hikers intently. The gentle breeze seemed to slow as a cloud passed in front of the moon leaving all but the fire to illuminate the outcropping of rock. There was nothing but darkness behind the smiling old fisherman who seemed to have come out of the sea itself.

“What are you doing out here this late then? Are you on the hike as well?” the hiker asked.

“Oh no, not me. Not at this age. I was simply catching my dinner when I saw your fire in the distance. I made a note to myself to investigate once I had caught my load,” the old man replied lifting his bucket of fish.

“The nearest city is a day’s walk away. Surely you’re not from the city. There aren’t any highways leading here either,” the hiker exclaimed.

“My cottage, just above that hill,” the old man said, gesturing into the distance, “I’ve been living here for some time after my wife had passed away.” The hiker stole a look at the bucket which held around a dozen or so mackerel.

“Seems like a lot for one man’s dinner. Do you freeze your fish?” noted the hiker’s companion, noticing the same thing.

“No, I was sure to catch more than necessary so that I may offer some to you if you wanted any. So, would you care for a bite?” the old man asked with a withered smile. There weren’t many convenience stores along the trail so as a result, the two hikers were forced to bring what food they could on their backs to support them for two weeks. At this point in their hike the food was running dangerously low. They were both hungry and they both knew this fact well.

“Of course. Why don’t you… take a seat?” the hiker’s companion gestured.

“Why thank you young man,” the old fisherman curtsied as he pulled three metal skewers to prop the fish on. The hiker watched the old fisherman’s every move. He was suspicious in some way. Just an old man living in the countryside after having lost his wife isn’t something that seemed too farfetched. But the hiker was on edge for some reason. Only a few short seconds of staring into those crimson eyes, the prospect to arriving at a supposedly haunted shrine. No. Nonsense. He was tired and it would be best to have a bite and…

He saw three pairs of crimson red eyes swaying at the horizon.

“There!” the hiker shouted. The hiker’s companion turned quickly at the noise, as did the old man. They all stared out into the impenetrable veil of darkness to see nothing. The eyes had disappeared again.

“What is it young man?” the old man asked.

“Eyes. No. Red lights or orbs out in the distance. Do you know what they are?” the hiker asked.

“You’re just seeing things. It’s been a long day, maybe you should rest,” the hiker’s companion exclaimed.

“No, no. It’s no need to fear. I see the red lights from time to time as well. They are merely fishing boats or some other ship with their blinking red lights that mark their location to other ships. That is all,” the old man exclaimed. The dark clouds, still covering the moon, obscured all sight beyond the vague shoreline. The sparkling diamonds that shone in the sea now resembled polished onyx.

“But the lights weren’t blinking…” the hiker said, “And they’re not there anymore.”

“Then perhaps it was your imagination,” the old man replied with a rasp, continuing to set the fish to the fire. The hiker returned to his seat with the greatest sense of unease. Perhaps it was all his imagination…

After having cooked and eaten the welcomed meal, the three men sat in silence for a moment reflecting upon the day. The hiker kept one eye fixated on the horizon though he did not see the any hint of the red eyes. A curtain of fresh moonlight streamed through gaps in the clouds slightly illuminating select portions of the sea and shoreline. It was also at this point that the heat of the fire had died down leaving the three men in the dimly lit aura of the cinders. They were now exposed to the chill of the midnight breeze as the smell of cooked fish was wafted away into the blackened hills.

“I am to assume that the two of you know the legend of the shrine yes? Seeing as how you have endeavored to take on such a taxing trail such as this,” the old man exclaimed.

“That’s right. Our families told us about how the shrine was a holy place for the townspeople and that it was used as a place of worship, gathering, and governing,” the hiker’s companion replied.

“And sacrifice,” the hiker added. Under the glowing red light, the hikers could see the old fisherman smile ever so gently at this. His eyes were shadowed in darkness and gave him the appearance of a skull floating above the fire.

“Yes. That is the most interesting part of it all is it not? Human sacrifices no less,” the old man said.

“Yes. Our families told us about that,” the hiker’s companion said.

“It is a wonder how people could somehow lose themselves in a bad situation. When something doesn’t go their way the only means of solving it is through ignorant banter and violence. Very primitive if I were to say so myself,” the old man chuckled.

“Well they believed that it worked. So if it did, there’d be no reason not to believe it,” the hiker’s companion exclaimed.

“Yes but they also believed in vengeful spirits,” the old man pitched.

“Equal risk for equal return I suppose,” the hiker said. The old man leaned back, receding into the darkness. The two hikers listened as the wind breeze carried his laugh. A hand emerged from the darkness and gestured.

“Tell me, did your families ever tell you about how the rituals were performed? How the victims were sacrificed?” the old fisherman asked.

“Well they told me that they simply bound the victim in ceremonial rope and garb and pushed them off the cliff where the shrine was located,” the hike’s companion said.

“Yes, well, that was only the last bit. The full ritual is a little bit more extensive,” the old man exclaimed.

“Is that so?” the hiker asked.

“Indeed. It takes more than simply killing someone to have their spirit roam the Earth for all of eternity. These victims were brutally tortured,” the old man explained. The hot coals were all but extinguished now. Little more than a soft glow emanated from them. The three men were now sitting in complete darkness.

“I’ll get the lantern,” the hiker’s friend exclaimed from among the darkness. There was rustling of cloth and the moving of articles from within the companion’s backpack. Eventually he settled on something and a click could be heard. Nothing. Another click. Nothing.

“What’s wrong?” the hiker asked.

“Thing must be out of batteries,” the companion said, “I’ll-“

“Don’t bother. Don’t you think that this is a better atmosphere to be telling scary stories?” the old man laughed.

“Well… I suppose but…” the companion replied.

“I will continue,” the old man said. A beam of moonlight passed over the outcropping of rock. The old man, whose face was now stern in expression, leaned in to tell the tale. “The human sacrifices weren’t generally within any particular age group or gender. It was said that whoever’s name the village elder heard first after the discussion of a sacrifice would, as a result, become the sacrifice.”

“Would this include the elder himself?” the hiker asked.

“Yes. On occasion this would occur and the village elder himself would be forced to become the ritual sacrifice,” the old man informed.

“Wouldn’t this imply that any person hateful towards someone else could simply shout the name of their enemy?” the companion asked. There was a reverberating laugh from within the darkness. The moonlight seemed to catch a glint of the old fisherman’s sharp eyes as they remained fixated on the two hikers.

“That could happen yes. Though I believe that this is where your families might have been misinformed. There was never only one sacrifice. There were always two. The one whose name was uttered, and one who uttered it. Apparently this would ensure that the gods were appeased. Always better with two heads than one yes? This also means that the sacrifices were generally chosen by accident. A mother calling her child or even a traveler passing through the village. It was also said that obsessive men who were unable to marry the woman they loved shouted out the woman’s name in order for the two of them to die together,” the old man rasped.

“That doesn’t seem too particularly farfetched. So what happened to these people? How did the ritual proceed that is?” the companion questioned.

“As you may have already known, the name of the ritual was derived from the name of the shrine. It was known as the Red Ritual or the Red Sacrifices at the Red Shrine. The sacrifices were thus known to be the Mark of the Red and were to be prepared accordingly,” the old man continued.

“But that’s not the only reason why it’s called the Red Ritual correct? Am I to assume that this is where the torture comes in?” the hiker asked.

“Indeed. Rather obviously so I think. As a matter of fact the Red Shrine wasn’t even painted red though it was stained red however. Special gutters had to be installed to run the blood of the victims off the cliff-face as to not rot the wood within the shrine,” the old man exclaimed.

“So just what did the village people do to the sacrifices?” the companion asked.

“First they were changed into the traditional white garb which was little more than a cloak. Next the acting butcher of the village would come forth and remove the tongues of the victims-“ the old man started.

“Why do that?” the companion asked.

“It was believed that the gods had given man the power of speech which ultimately led to the evolution of knowledge. Communication was power. Removing the tongue would ensure that the sacrifices would not speak back to the gods or try and challenge them,” the old man replied.

“And did these victims simply sit there to let this happen?” the hiker asked.

“No. Iron stakes pierced the palms of the sacrifices and kept them pinned to the shrine floor. This was generally done near the gutters as to allow the excess blood to flow outside. On most occasions if the victims did not open their mouths for their tongue to be removed, the butcher would simply smash the sacrifice’s teeth in and remove it that way. It was thus a main concern as to not allow the victims to drown in their own blood before the ritual was over,” the old man said.

“They did this while the victims were still conscious?” the companion asked.

“More than this. It was an actual effort to make sure that the victims were awake,” the old man replied.

“And if they died?” the hiker asked. There was a momentary silence. The world seemed empty and void. There was nothing but the hikers, the old man and the moon that existed. The hiker heard the old man adjust himself.

“If the victims died then the ritual would be considered a failure and they would be forced to start again,” the old man said. “Why the sacrifices were forced to endure the pain is unknown. They were to be killed anyhow. The gods supposedly preferred it. Imagine a sort of tenderizing. It could’ve also been a metaphor or some sort of message to the gods. It could’ve meant that the villagers were but mere humans and were expected to suffer the pain and wrath of the gods. This is purely speculation though the true reason as to why all those people had to die in such a gruesome manner remains to be seen.”

“What do you mean by that?” the hiker asked. Suddenly, as if by some unnatural force, the wind began to pick up, blowing water high over the edge of the rocks and leaving it to crash down near the hikers. The moon was then covered once again as the piercing eyes of the old man disappeared into the darkness. The chilled air bit at the hikers’ arms and legs and they began to stumble about in an effort to secure their backpacks and tents.

The wind picked up further and further. Waves could be heard crashing ashore. The humidity in the air nearly drowned the men as particles of water rained down upon them. The hiker held his backpack close to his chest as a strong surge of wind pushed him backwards.

The hiker flinched as he felt a cold sheet of ocean water envelope him beneath its hold. As the water receded it attempted to drag the hiker back into the ocean with it. The hiker was only barely able to take a hold of one of the iron stakes that secured his tent to the rock, preventing himself from being swept away. The thunderous crashing of the waves against the rocks, the salt in his mouth, the shiver penetrating his bones all culminated and manifested themselves in the hiker. Where had this weather come from all of a sudden?

The hiker turned his head and looked behind him only to receive another suffocating blanket of liquid. When he was able to open his eyes again, he saw it. A dozen of them. No. Two, three, five dozen red glowing orbs stared back at him. They shone brightly, swaying back and forth in the darkness, hypnotizing the hiker. Crimson red. Approaching him. Getting ever so closer to the rocks. They looked like droplets of blood streaking across the night’s horizon. They shifted, changed locations. They were getting closer.

The eyes were upon him now. Red with bloodlust. Red with anger. The hiker heard whispering. He seemed to have heard crying, shouting. What is this? This cannot be. They circled his face, whispering his name. He closed his eyes and began to shout. Scream for help so that they would go away. It was madness. He tried to shut them out. He was engulfed within the red.

“Am I going to die?”

“No. Perhaps not today at least,” the hiker heard from beyond his shut eyes. It was the old man. The hiker kept his eyes shut but felt at his body. He was dry. He listened to the soft breeze and the splashing of the waves on the water.

“Hey are you okay?” the hiker’s companion asked from beside him. The hiker opened his eyes and stared toward his friend’s direction. The moonlight illuminated the familiar face as he exhaled in relief. What was that?

“I-I’m not too sure. I just saw… I don’t know. There was wind and- and the waves and…” the hiker stuttered.

“Man you must be really tired,” his companion exclaimed.

“Is it … how did…” the hiker replied.

“Oh ho. It is only naturally that you would be tired. You’ve traveled a long way. But I do believe that I should allow you to rest for tonight. You do have a long walk ahead of you. I enjoyed our conversation very much,” the old man said.

“Of course,” the companion replied. The hiker, at relative ease now, turned to face the old man. Whatever just happened was not normal. Something was wrong and the utmost dread was mounting in the hiker. So as he turned to face the old man to bid him farewell… he was met with two large reflective crimson eyes instead.

The lantern turned on, lighting the area. The waves splashed softly on the rocks and the gentle breeze of the sea carried the scent of humid salt into the mainland. The moonlight reflected diamonds off the surface of the water. The sand shone in a brilliant shade of velvet. It was indeed a calm night. And the old man was gone.

~~~~~

There was a rustling in the brush. Two field mice emerged from the cover of the leaves and stared at the two hikers as they made their way onward. The shadows of the palms were ever lengthening and extending into one another creating large pockets of shade that darkened the trail. Loose gravel parted roughly beneath the men’s feet as they moved on, trudging through the overgrown path. A slight whistle seemed to emanate from the hills as the ocean breeze blew through the grass.

As the terrain became more rugged the two hikers concluded that staying close to the shoreline would allow for faster travel. There shouldn’t have been any obvious cliffs dividing the shoreline so theoretically it should have been easy to simply take the beach trail the rest of the way to the city shrine.

Despite this the two hikers seemed to still be far off from their destination. Dusk was nearly upon them now as the eastern hills became evermore shrouded in darkness. The hiker could not particularly determine what it was but the trail seemed familiar. Of the whole two weeks on the path, the two hikers had traversed through forests, hillsides and grasslands in order to make it to the beach. All very different but now it seemed too familiar. Once they had left their campsite from last night the hiker could not help but feel as though they had been to this portion of the trail before. It was different, but it was all too familiar.

As the sun crept below the horizon once again, the tide began to creep up to meet the hikers. Soon the moistened earth began to sink their boots into the sand. They should have reached the city hours ago.

“Were we off do you think? We should’ve been there by now,” the companion exclaimed.

“There’s only one shore. It can’t be too far off now. It should be a straight shot to the city from here,” the hiker replied.

“I don’t see any lights. It still must be a ways away,” the companion noted.

“Do you have the map? Maybe we can find out where we are,” the hiker said.

“I thought you had it,” the companion answered. There was a moment of silence as the orange hue of the dusk shone on the two men’s faces. The sea water foamed at their feet as the dark hills began to whisper in the breeze.

“Well alright then,” the hiker sighed. He made a gesture, “There’s an outcropping of land over there. Let’s make camp for now and sort the rest of this up in the morning.”

The two men quickly made their way to the outcropping with what withering light they had left. By the time they reached it, the sun was all but a glow on the horizon. Familiar. The hiker’s companion took out the lantern to light the area. Familiar.

“Alright, you get the fire going while I set the tents yeah?” the companion said. As the men set their backpacks down to begin their encampment, the hiker’s foot hit something on the ground making it topple over. The companion directed the light toward the sound. A ring of rocks in a circle, two layers high.

“What is this?” the hiker murmured in disbelief.

“Do you think someone was here before us?” the companion asked. The hiker reached for the lantern and directed its light to the ground. There were fish bones scattered before them, and circular holes drilled into the rock. “Wait…”

The hiker reached for one of the iron stakes held tightly in a side pocket on his friend’s backpack. He adjusted the spike at the opening of the socket and let it fall in. A perfect fit. They were here yesterday.

“There’s no way. We went in one direction up the shore. This has to be a coincidence,” the companion exclaimed.

“This is no coincidence…” the hiker murmured. There was a pitter-patter of steps behind them. The hiker quickly turned to direct the light towards the sound. He staggered backwards as the old fisherman from the other day came from out of the darkness.

“Welcome back young men. I didn’t think I’d ever see you again,” the old man rasped with a smile. His withered frame, his long white beard, the fisherman’s clothes. He even held a bucket of mackerel in one hand and a fishing rod slung over his shoulder.

“You again!” the hiker cried out.

“Yes. This airs a bit of déjà vu does it not? I’ve even caught the same number of mackerel. Care to share again?” the old man asked.

“You said you caught a surplus because you saw us setting up our tents yesterday. How did you know to catch that many now?” the hiker questioned.

“I saw you walking up the beach, is that anything wrong?” the old man asked.

“There’s no way you could’ve caught so many extra fish in the time we appeared on the shoreline,” the hiker exclaimed.

“The seas are abundant this year. Perhaps it is a result of all those ritualistic sacrifices that happened so long ago hm?” the old man chuckled. The hiker took a step back and tapped his friend’s shoulder.

“We’re not staying here tonight. Let’s go,” he exclaimed. The companion complied and hoisted his pack onto his shoulders. They walked past the old man, quickly pacing back out onto the shoreline, now little more than a pitch black sheet of paper.

“Be careful boys! It’s dangerous to walk at night!” the old man called from the darkness. They increased their pace.

They followed the lantern’s light through the surrounding darkness. The puffs of steam that were emitted from their mouths were quickly blown into the hills by the ocean wind. Their boots sank into the sand as the weight of their backpacks slowed them considerably. They stumbled through the veil of darkness listening to the sizzling foam of the waves and the ominous whistle of the night.

They walked and walked. For many hours they walked. The same sand, the same sounds, the same darkness. The moon did not seem to move. Once it overhead it seemed transfixed to the location. The full moon… how could there be another full moon?

The hiker was not mistaken. It was indeed another full moon. This could not be right. There was something wrong. Regardless of this, the two men pressed on, tired and thirsty. They had last taken inventory of their items the night before. They were almost out on food and water. They had only brought what was necessary for a two week journey through the hills. At the very beginning of the hike, the two men were weighed down considerably off their food and water alone. They tried to capitalize on their consumption but now they were almost out. If the city was close, it would have to get closer.

“If the city were close then we would’ve seen its lights by now. Just where are we?” the companion asked. The hiker could not very well answer. The stars above their heads reflected themselves on the ocean through the holes in the clouds. If a city were close, would they be seeing this many stars?

There was a sudden gust of wind that blew an upcoming wave over the hikers’ boots. When look back up to continue, the two men saw something in the distance. A faint glow. A flickering candle. A fire.

“Someone’s there! Maybe they can tell us something!” the companion cried out. They made haste toward the light which seemed to extend out into the sea and float on a dark island above the water. When they neared ever closer and closer the two men realized what it was that they were staring at.

“Welcome back boys. Enjoy the run? Why don’t you have a seat and take a bite?” the old fisherman gestured whilst he sat before the fire on the outcropping of rock.

“No way…” the companion said.

“Again!” the hiker cried, pulling his friend back onto the trail. “We’ll go through the hills.”

“Be careful boys! Who knows what roams in the dark!” the old man shouted as the two men forced their way through the brush.

“How did we end up there again? Are we on some kind of island?” the companion questioned. It was impossible. They were on a peninsula and had followed the shoreline twice. There was no possible way of having looped back to outcropping again.

They walked blindly in the darkness. The light of the lantern was obscured by the high grass that grew on the hills. The land itself seemed to move as this grass swayed back and forth in the wind. Dead leaves and branches splintered underneath their feet as they wheezed their way through the elevated terrain. The moon shone above them, still in the same location. Something seemed off though. It looked a little red. No. Not a little. The whole moon was shaded in a deep rustic coloration. Droplets of dew that had formulated on the grass blades reflected the same color. It was a blood moon.

It was not this shade of red a moment before. The hiker could only trudge on in dread for what was to come. This was an omen perhaps.

They pushed their way through the foliage, making a path through the tall grass and keeping careful watch as to not stumble on some unseen object. The wind sent a torrent of dried leaves and dirt over the heads of the hikers. The air smelled of musty and decaying wood. The hikers picked up their pace.

The hills, now they were whispering. They seemed to hum. It was low at first, like some sort of deep breathing but now, the hikers could just barely make out simple words from the sound. The hiker could have sworn that he heard something whimpering in the distance.

As they continued, rushing, running through the brush, there was a flicker from the lantern. The two men stopped in dread. The light flickered again. And again. The buzzing static sounded before there was a loud pop and the light disappeared. The light bulb had blown out and the two men were left in the red light of the moon.

“D-don’t worry I have a flashlight,” the companion said nervously.

There was a rustling in the tall grass. The two men perused their surroundings. Another rustle. And another. The men quickly turned at every sound. The hiker nudged his friend in the arm.

“Get the flashlight,” he said when suddenly a pair of red orbs appeared from within the brush. It was no more than fifteen meters away. It swayed and bobbed leaving streaks of red in the shadows.

“What is that?” the companion whispered.

“So you see it now?” the hiker asked. Another rustling. And another. The hiker’s eyes remained fixated upon the devil spheres before him.

“Help me,” it whimpered.

“Run!” the hiker cried out. They flew across the grass kicking up dried leaves and dirt behind them.

“Help me. Help me,” different voices whispered from behind the hikers’ backs. They rushed mindlessly looking for direction. Something to reach, something to head toward. The hiker heard a cry of pain from behind him.

“My leg! I think I broke my leg!” his companion cried out. The hiker turned back to see roughly a dozen pairs of floating red eyes above his friend. But now, now the eyes were… smiling. The hiker rushed over to his friend and slung his arm over his shoulder.

“Drop your pack!” the hiker ordered as they continued further.

“Why? Why? Help me,” the voices whispered calmly. They saw something up ahead. A light. A flickering beyond the grass. They made their way towards it. The hiker did not look back. He gripped at his friend’s arm as tightly as he could and continued. A trickle of sweat rolled between his eyes. He breathed heavily, the steam being carried off to the devils behind them. Reach the light. Reach the light.

The foliage lightened. The grass receded. The light was coming from within a building. The voices, the eyes were still behind them. The two men broke through the brush to see what they had come upon. It was the shrine. The Red Shrine that they had been searching for. It was old and decrepit but where was the city? A small fire burned from within its open doors.

The hiker hobbled his way to the open doors and threw his pack inside. Once they were had crossed the threshold of the building, the two men took a hold of the two large doors and began to slide them shut. It seemed as though the brush had disappeared. In its place was a sea of red eyes and crooked smiles. The hiker could just hardly make out vague forms from the light of the shrine. Blackened bodies seemingly charred. Flailing arms and legs. Missing fingers…

The wooden doors creaked shut, letting a last wisp of air to diffuse into the shrine.

“There aren’t any locks. Can they break through that?” the companion shouted. There was a long silence. No more whispering. No more crying. The two men panted, droplets of sweat trickled down their faces making small pools on the floor. The hiker’s hands were shaking as he slid down the wall of the shrine. His companion groaned as he held at his leg.

“How bad it is?” the hiker asked, motioning toward his friend. He lifted up the cloth to get a better look. The leg was purple and badly bruised.

“Doesn’t look too great,” his companion said, covering it again. “W-what were those things?”

“I can’t very well say,” the hiker replied taking a look around the interior of the shrine. “Oh my God.”

The wood from within the shrine was musty and old. The men doubted the structural integrity of the building as the floorboards creaked underneath them. Two stone gutters ran along the interior of the shrine, still stained red. Close to them were holes where the wood seemed to have expanded and cracked. The iron stakes must have gone there.

“You’d think that the city would’ve cleaned this place if it was open to the public,” the hiker’s companion exclaimed, trying to avoid any obvious dried puddles of blood on the floor. The hiker looked outside of a crack in the wall that was right above the stone furnace which had a stack of freshly spilt would beside it. There was darkness outside the walls of the shrine. The red moon shone into the bay but nothing could be seen of a city.

“There is no city,” the hiker exclaimed.

“Wait… but-“ the companion started.

“I’m pretty sure you’ve noticed by now but I don’t think we’re in any normal situation,” the hiker exclaimed.

“Yeah. I picked up on that. But what’s happening then? Where are we?” the companion asked.

“I’m not sure but I think it’s a lot further from Earth and a lot closer to Hell,” the hiker said.

“You don’t think that maybe… the shrine. The supposed curse,” the companion suggested.

“But if those are the sacrifices then shouldn’t they be haunting this building? They seemed to have stopped coming for us. I’m not too sure anymore…” the hiker replied. At this the hiker’s companion reared backwards into the wall with wide eyes.

“Behind you,” he said. The hiker pivoted himself and was face to face with the same old man from the outcropping. The same old man the whole time. His eyes were sunken in his skull. They were small beads that were shadowed by the light of the fire behind him. His frail frame, his dark skin. He featured old fisherman’s clothes and a fishing rod slung above his shoulder. But now the bucket that was held with mackerel, was replaced with a stained and rusty bucket filled with an assortment of different knives.

The hiker stumbled backwards in surprise, quickly backpedalling to his companion in the corner of the room. The old man remained grounded, unmoving. Drops of liquid dripped down the side of the bucket making a small pool on the floor.

“Isn’t nice to see you again boys? Perhaps now we can finish the story about the sacrifices,” the old man rasped.

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