War: Chapter Three

He pivoted. Stared down the tunnel he came from. The monsters lurked outside. This, he was certain. But he had another piece of armor. And it would be hard for them to get his heart now. Assuming that was what they wanted. What did they want? Did it matter? Their vile nature didn’t seem to frighten him as much. So he began a slow pace forward, the radiating breastplate lighting his way through the darkness.

Ignoring the bones lining the walls around him, he continued back toward the valley. Kept his eyes on the exit. Even when bunches of maggots dripped from the ceiling of the long cavern. Well, he tried his best to ignore that. It disturbed him beyond what it should. How could it not? Determined strides kept him going. He still knew not if he would live. But he had chest armor. That, he was most thankful for.

Then he heard it. The grinding of rusted metal against bone and the hiss of smoke-escape. There was no laughter. Not yet. But it waited at the mouth of the cavern. Paced back and forth. He could see its glowing eyes. Its talons dug into the muck, ready for him to come to it. It wanted him. Wanted to devour his soul and spit out his leftover bones. Or maybe let his disfigured carcass rot with the numerous others. His stench of death would simply mingle with the rest.

He breathed deep. Paused a few moments before stepping out into the valley. How could he face the monster? He may have found another piece of armor, but he remained weaponless. Did he have a choice? He needed to push on. Needed to find a way out of this nightmare. Perhaps the only way he would wake was by finding the valley’s end. Perhaps by dying. Was he supposed to die by the horrendous combination of flesh, bone, and machine?

There was only one way to find out. He emerged from the protection of the tunnel. The pacing creature stopped. Giving off a horrifying shriek, it stumbled away from him. While remaining close. Close enough to snap at him if it needed to. Its head lowered. A form of grating growl escaped its jaws. The glowing eyes seemed to darken.

Was it mad? He looked behind him. Then down at the breastplate. His brows furrowed. Perhaps there was a reason the piece’s owner died in a cavern. Away from the monsters. Did they not like the soft glow? He stepped forward, toward the beast. It lurched back. Gnashed its fangs. The spiked tail swayed back and forth angrily. He surveyed the breastplate again. Continued on his path down the valley.

The monster stalked him at a small distance. Occassionally making noises of unfamiliar sound. It never laughed. He never looked back. The new addition of armor seemed to have power over it. Not that he wanted any control over the beast. There was at least an essance the monster hated. Did he tease it, now? He remained at a walking pace. His toes were sticky. As long as the maggots stayed out of his socks…. Shivers coursed through him.

A cracking sound made him stop and cringe. He glanced over his shoulder. The fiend snapped its jaws, repeating the sound. It echoed throughout the valley. Another gruesome crack. Chittering responded this time. Chittering of a thouand creatures. His eyes widened as he looked all around him. There was nothing to be seen except for the monster following him. How many were there? He swallowed and returned his gaze to the unseen destination.

What else did this valley of death have in store for him? Monsters worse than the one behind him? He couldn’t see the end of the valley. Didn’t know if there was an end. He just knew he had to reach it. Didn’t he already go over this at one point? He couldn’t remember. Surely, he was losing his mind. Movement caught his eyes as multiple mounds rose and sped through the bones.

See? Who pictured things burrowing under the muck of the valley floor? They were like sharks moving under a water’s surface without breaching their fins. More cracking made him cover his ears. None of this could be reality. But how did he get back to his previous life? What even was his previous life? All he could remember was the valley. Waking up to this hellish atmosphere. He wanted to go back. But what did he have to go back to?

Shaking his head, he took a couple unsteady steps. He couldn’t falter now. He had to keep going, though he knew not where. Did it matter what his reality was? Certainly, anything was better than this. Nothing could be worse, right? He sucked in a breath of rancid air and straightened. Still, this situation unsettled him. The zooming mounds closed in on him. He broke into a run again. Not wanting to see what would finally surface. However, one particular mound possessed an unusual shine to it.

He chased it. Pursued it until he was close enough to dive. And he dove. The mound simply dispersed, bones clattering on themselves as they settled back to the muck. He scoured through the dismantled skeletons and thick blood. Did whatever creature take the shiny thing with it? He had to know what was there. Had to know if it was more armor or perhaps a weapon. Something. Anything other than bone and blood. Please let it be something helpful.

His fingers touched metal. Gasped when he pulled out a pair of armored boots. The joy of having new boots brought tears to his eyes. His shoes were so moist, he assumed they were washing off his feet. But first, he thrust his hand in them. Making sure they were empty. Thanking the mound for accidentally giving him dry armored boots, he hurridly swapped the old shoes with the new. Stood in them. Vibrations shook the ground. His heart beat fast. However, the shoes gave him certain readiness for what lied ahead.

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