“Legends are often filled with terrifying events and warnings. I believe they’re that way for good reason. Beware if you try to prove them real.”
I wrote this story in answer to the following prompts:
Word of the Day Challenge — Evanescent
#Writephoto Challenge — Picture above by Sadje
Pensitivity’s Three Things Challenge — Respect, Showed, Turned
AuthorWorld — First line.
Lake of Fire
Deep in the centre of the cavern with my feet resting flat against the cliff face; clinging to the rope, I prepared for my next rappel jump. Daylight was evanescent down here. A distant memory of brightness, fresh air and freedom. The caverns were the total opposite; dark, claustrophobic and dank.
I turned my head to look at my next pitch. This rappel would take me into unknown territory.
The legend told of fiery rubies being found here. If they were anywhere, they had to be down there. I had great respect for those who climbed down before me. They had only gas lamps and basic ropes to reach the depths of this cave.
With one final calming breath, I dropped over the edge and descended into the darkness. My torchlight barely illuminated the bottom two-hundred feet below me. Staying off the slimy wet walls, I used my ropes to rappel straight down. The cleanest most energy-saving method. All my energy would be needed on the return climb.
My light illuminated ancient iron stakes in the wall. Proof miners had been down here in the distant past. My feet told me of the putrid landing first. I squelched into thick, ankle-deep mud. Holding in some choice curses, I gazed about me. The large caverns had at least three passages leading into the earth.
There was a line running around the wall just above my head. It quickened my pulse as I realised it was a high-water mark. If this place began to flood, I wouldn’t have long to escape.
Disconnecting from my rope, I decided this would have to be a very quick recce. There was no running with the mud sucking at my climbing boots. I sloshed my way to the first cave. My torch showed the ceiling had collapsed a few feet in. No going that way.
The next cave piqued my interest. Its rough, brown rock walls showed signs of water-worn chisel marks. Ducking inside, I moved as fast as I could. Watching for the moment my torch would glint upon the treasure stones I sought.
The passage split many ways as first. Using chalk from my climbing pouch, I marked my route through the ever-narrower passages. After what felt like a dozen direction changes, I emerged into a wider cave again. I was sweating by then and needed a break. All I could hear was the sound of my breathing reverberating off the rock walls. Then I couldn’t. My ears were filled with the roaring noise.
Looking left and right, I was sure this is the passage I’d entered into from the muddy cavern. I didn’t walk through the water flowing towards me though. Even as it reached my boots it was growing deeper — moving faster.
My body went ice-cold as my chest constricted with panic. That roaring noise was water and it was flooding my way. In a split second, I was running.
Before I’d gone too far, I was wading and then barrelling as the full force of the water bludgeoned me along the passages. I’d become a passenger in the most terrifying water chute and there was nothing I could do about it. Twisting and tumbling through the churning water, my body struck the rock again and again. It was all I could do to hold my breath and protect my head.
This was it, this was where I was going to die. My hip, shoulder and helmet slammed into a wall. The impact shattered my torch as the water ripped me away along another submerged passage. My ears popped and my lungs screamed for air. Then my head hit something — hard.
For the longest time, I laid there in total serenity. My blurred vision told me of a blonde angel looking down upon me. I felt warm and safe. All I needed was a chocolate éclair and a cup of tea and I would be eternally happy.
I wasn’t safe, brilliant sunlight burned my eyes as the torrent of water rocketed me out of the caverns. I woke up and screamed as I thundered through rapids. The roaring returned — a waterfall.
Safety and survival kicked in. I began spiralling my battered body through the water. The corkscrew motion helped me move laterally through the water. Just as I felt I was making progress I was flying. No falling.
The angel stood over me holding a plate of choux buns and a steaming mug of coffee. I ordered an éclair and tea damn it!”
My mouth felt as if I’d eaten a kilogram of sand and mud when next I woke up. This time I was laid out on an earthen bank amidst the debris of broken branches and tree roots. Rolling onto my back, I swore through the pain of a broken rib among bruising injuries I suffered. Fluffy white clouds in the blue sky reflected in the calm lake which spread out before me. Each bank was populated by tall cedar and fir trees. Evergreen forests stretching up the hills as far as the eye could see.
The lake was populated by a large number of fish. I could see and hear them rippling the water as they plucked insects from the surface. This would be a spot of paradise, if only I knew where I was. Rolling on my front, I attempted to stand. Instead, I looked straight into the barrel of a shotgun.
“Howdy, you look like hell,” said the owner, his voice gruff but not unfriendly.
“And, you don’t look like a doctor. So, I guess we aren’t pleased to see each other,” I retorted with no energy to fight.
The man let out a guffaw of laughter. “With a sense of humour like that after what you’ve been through, you must be a good guy,” he said, having put the shotgun over the shoulder of his plaid jacket.
“I’m Irvine, climber and treasure hunter. Don’t suppose you know where a man can get some painkillers, chocolate eclairs and some tea do you?”
“Willem, lumberjack and hunter,” we shook hands. “I can supply you with two of the three. Sadly, there’s nowhere for miles where you can get pastries.”
I immediately hated this guy for killing trees and animals. Right now, he was my only chance of survival so I forgave him, at least a little bit. “I appreciate it,” I said as I finally regained my feet.
“What sort of treasure were you after out here?” Willem asked as he led the way into the trees.
“Fire rubies. Came across a legend saying they were in the caves above the waterfall. I was underground when the caves ejected me like a foreign object in a log flume!”
Willem laughed again, “Them there, caves will do that. They don’t like strangers much.” Stopping he put his hand in his pocket and withdrew a single object. “You don’t need to go in there for these rubies either.”
I saw the brilliant red object glittering orange in his hand. It was big. Worth a fortune. Maybe I could strike — no, I’m not a greedy murderer. “That’s a stunning stone,” I said with my arm holding my battered ribs.
“She’s a beaut. Every once in a while, I find these when I go for a swim in the lake. Here’s my dilemma. I take just one of these into the city to get me some money and this place will be crawling with treasure hunters.”
“Yeah, wouldn’t want this beautiful place overrun and destroyed by greedy scumbags like that.” My eyebrows furrowed. Things weren’t making sense. “You kill trees and animals every day. Why bother to protect the lake?”
Willem started walking again. “You’re a smart man. The lumberjacking is just a cover. I came up here as you did, thirty years ago. The legend of the fire rubies drew me here. When I found them, they made me prisoner. Forced me to stay here and protect them.”
“But why? You can walk out of here any day you want. Sell what you found in a city far away and never reveal where you found the stones.”
“It’s not that simple,” Willem spun to face me. He placed his ruby in the palm of my hand and squeezed my fingers shut.
I winced at the pressure upon my hand. The ruby felt as if made of fire. The inferno raced up my arm, filled my body with a raging fire. Darkness clawed at my conscious, filled my mind with evil, angry thoughts. Then Willem pulled away and I collapsed to the leaf litter sweating, panting with exhaustion. “What—the—hell!”
“Exactly. You see why nobody can ever find or know about these stones, now.” Willem said as he hauled me to my feet.
“Then why not just kill me?” I asked as I staggered after him once more.
“I’ll be a hundred in a month. The stones keep me young, but I can’t resist the darkness anymore. You will take my place as the guardian of the fire rubies.” Willem led me to his log cabin. He showed me a trapdoor leading to a cache of over a ton of the rubies. “The cabin. The stones they are all yours, now.”
“But, I. My family …”
“Goodbye, Irvine. Thank you for releasing me,” Willem gave me the large ruby. Packed his meagre possessions and left.
Even as I stood there looking at the ruby in my hand, I knew I could never leave. Nobody should ever possess the power within these stones. With Willem gone, I was the only man left to protect them.
Have a great day!