War: Chapter Two

The chittering increased, echoing off the hollow bone walls. Bone walls of the valley. He scrambled to his feet. Readied himself for an attack. Sweat beaded from his pores, though the ghostly chill remained. There was not enough rancid air to fill his lungs. He pressed a hand on his chest. Hoping to keep his heart inside his rib cage. It pounded dreadfully.

He blinked several times. Vision granted since the first time he opened his eyes. The darkness seemed a better option than this visible nightmare. Swallowing down a lump in his throat, he surveyed the dead area around him. He was, indeed, in a valley. Not too horribly wide. He reckoned maybe three football fields. But he could not reason how high the walls rose. How deep was he?

Everything appeared in faded black and white, slightly tinted blue. Except there was more red than he would’ve liked. Not a bright red. A red that had most of the pigment washed out. It stained almost everything. Especially the soft ground. Blood. Oozing, saturating blood. He fought the urge to inspect his feet.

Bones littered the terrain. No, bones made up the terrain. The walls, structures resembling trees, and he could only assume bones made up the ground underneath the muck. No wonder the place reeked of death. How many people had died down here? Was he next? He had never feared death until now. Nover thought of a preferred way to die until now. He certainly didn’t want to die down here.

The chittering picked up again. They refused to show themselves. He ran. Searching for anything he could use for defense. He wasn’t ready to use the bones of another as a weapon. However, he may not have a choice. The squishing sounds under his feet sickened him. It sounded worse now that he knew what he travelled on.

Another moist sound he couldn’t describe echoed off and on in his ear. He assumed it came from the muck until he stopped by a bone tree. Not that he wanted to stop. But he was human, after all. He needed to catch his breath. His eyes found the skeletal structure. Thick blood poured from between the spaces. Plump white specs dotted the red. He peered closer. Maggots tumbled to the ground, their plasma casing relocating.

With another exclamation, he jumped back. Careful not to fall to the disgusting floor. Maggots lived in the blood? That could only mean the larvae touched everything, too. He dared not look down. His skin crawled with the theory of his shoes being infected. A shriek snapped his head right. Mutated maggots? That was all his brain could conjure. And it wasn’t a pretty image.

An unsettled breeze passed his left. He pivoted, but nothing could be seen. He didn’t understand. What good was this new-found sight if he couldn’t see what truly hunted him? Glancing around, he jogged forward. The soaked bottom of his pants slapping his legs. But he still dared not look down. He kept his eyes on the darkness out of reach up ahead. This valley had to have some sort of end. Surely it couldn’t go on forever.

Or did it? He paused at this thought. What if he made a never-ending loop? Never meant to find the end. Caught in an eternal cycle of hellish nightmares. He didn’t know where this valley existed. Didn’t know if he existed any more. Refusing to accept this as his fate, or as fact, he pushed on. What else would he do? Stand and do nothing?

The unnatural cackle reverberated off the valley walls. He swallowed. Not this again. He had no weapons. Which still wouldn’t do any good if he couldn’t see the thing. Another round of laughter stood his hair on end. It edged closer. The creature made its way toward him. But he couldn’t tell which direction it came from.

Cracking bones made him cringe. Covering his ears, his eyes widened. A mound of bones rose in front of him. The form shifted and settled, sending blood in every direction. Its size increased with every passing moment as it emereged from the ground. Until it reached roughly twenty feet high. Then the creature shook off the mess of bones and muck, revealing its true form.

Its body comprised of a grotesque mixture of robotics, bones, and decaying flesh and muscle. Front haunches peaked its height as its back sloped to a mechanical tail ending in a spike. Black ooze and green-tinted liquid seeped from all parts of its body. Thick smoke escaped its spine grinding into place. A large, mutated animal skull served as its head, eyes glowing bright red.

He backed away in horror. Chunks of rotted flesh, swarming with fat maggots, fell to the ground. How was he supposed to fight this? Wicked laughter escaped the nightmare’s jaws. A constant sound of moving bones headed toward his back. He glanced over his shoulder. Something burrowed under the muck to get him. Once again, he had no choice but to run.

A serrated metal talon from the beast in front of him barely missed his head. Falling to the ground, he rolled back to his feet. Dodged the skeletal maw. More laughter sounded. He did not look behind him. But this was the creature that chased him before? Why did he have to put the belt on? Why did he have to see? He liked the darkness better.

The moving mound caught up to his left. It swelled like a wave ready to burst free from the ocean of blood. A cave in the valley wall caught his eye. Vaulting the mound, he made a break for it. Pumping his weakening legs as hard as he could. He barely made it into the carven as the mound mowed by. Fought his breath trying to escape. His eyes adjusted to the dim light.

Then he squinted. A white haze pulsated from the back of the cave. Curiosity sunk in. He crept to the source of ligt. A shriek from outside quickened his pace. Nothing but more skeleton piles lined the back wall. He fell to his knees and pushed bones out of the way. Ignoring the sound of feeding maggots. A breastplate emerged. And it was the cause of light. He ripped the piece of armor from its previous owner. Slipped it over his head. His chest swelled. The breastplate filled him with a righteousness he had never known before.

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