My entry to the halloween competition, I guess.
PrologueEditThe small, grey spaceship hurtled, out of control, through space. One engine was down, and its left flank was speckled with bulletholes. It was travelling in an inperceptible nosedive towards a nearby planet, the angle of the drop getting steeper by the second. Eventually, the creatures inside noticed.
"We're going to crash!"
There was no chance of steering away from the planet, thanks to the damaged engine. They entered the planet's atmosphere, and the ground rushed up to meet them. But at the last second, the ship changed trajectory ever so slighty, but enough for them to land on the coast.
Some of the impact force was absorbed by the water, before the spaceship hit the seabed. There was an almighty bang, and the nose caught fire, until the waves snuffed it out. As the body fell into the water, the second engine was put out, and the pilot turned it off.
Anxiously, he searched round the ship. Of the crew of ten, only four had survived the crash, including him. They climbed out through a safety hatch on the roof, appeared just above water level. A wave passed over the ship, sending water gushing inside, and knocking the four of them off their feet. They floundered briefly in the water, before grabbing on to the side of the spaceship and hauling themselves back up.
The four Arbotiles gazed out at the land from where they stood on top of their crashed spaceship. An occasional wave threatened to knock them off again, but they kept their balance.
They had landed near a cliff. To the far right of them was a flat sandy beach, which rose up rather steeply to form a small cliff in front of them. The cliff face was pockmarked with holes; some large, some small. One promising hole near water level seemed large enough to fit an Arbotile inside.
They had considered swimming to shore, but the waves along there were fairly tumultous, and Arbotiles weren't brilliant swimmers. Instead they opted for the easier option of paddling over to the hole in the cave.
They set out right after a wave passed over them, hoping to reach the cave before another came. They had underestimated the speed of the tide, and by the time they hauled their soaking bodies into the tunnel, they had been drenched by a wave larger than the others that had come by. It did not occur to them that it may have been a signal that the tide was coming in.
Quick examination of the tunnel revealed it went on for some distance, and turned at some point so they could not see further. The walls were dark and slimy, covered with seaweed and other disgusting sea renmants. The floor underfoot was rocky and uneven, and littered with seaweed and fishbones. The roof was actually lower that they had thought, and it seemed to get lower further in.
"Well, if we go back, the tide will smash us against the cliff. I guess it's onwards and... er, downwards."
They proceeded down the tunnel. In addition to the sea debris and rocks, it was also very wet and slippery, and the Arbotiles frequently lost their footing. The tunnel got darker the further they went from the entrance, and it was sloping, ever so slight yet still perceptibly, downwards.
"Do you suppose we'll ever get out?" one Arbotile asked, if only to break the silence that was suffocating them.
"Maybe this place just leads down to the centre of the planet."
"Yeah, right," said a third.
"Aren't you the optimists," observed the fourth. "We'll get out, don't you worry."
They walked on, to the turn, beyond which they had no idea what they would find. The Arbotile in front stepped round the corner... and began to fall. Quick as lightning, the second reached out an arm and grabbed onto his tail. The first jerked to a halt, nearly pulling the second down with him.
"Aaaargh!" the first cried. "Fire! Help!"
With the help of the others, the second Arbotile managed to pull the first up to the tunnel floor. He then examined the corner closely.
Just round the corner, just out of sight, the floor disappeared. It fell away, in a sheer cliff that must have gone down fifty or so metres. It was almost another tunnel, were it not the fact all four walls were falling vertically. Each wall was smooth and unmarked; even an experienced Arbotile would have difficulty ascending the walls, if they could manage it at all.
And, fifty metres down, where the chute 'ended' was a pool of fire. Lava, probably. It surged around at the base of the tunnel, and the Arbotiles could feel the heat wafting up even in the tunnel. The lava was almost alive, dancing around in the chute, as if trying to get out.
Then, the Arbotile could have swore he saw a face. As the lava whirled around, darker reds arranged themselves on the lighter yellows and oranges, to form a face. Two eyes, and a mouth, smiling a demonic smile, jagged teeth visible.
There was suddenly an unearthly cackling echoing round the tunnel. The Arbotiles turned, but there was nothing and no-one there. The cackling came again, again from behind them. They stared back down into the pit of lava. The face gone.
"Maybe there's a side tunnel," an Arbotile suggested feebly.
"Let's go looking," another replied, and they scoured the tunnel's length, all too happy to stay away from the pit.
At first glance (or rather, feel) the tunnel appeared to have no side tunnels.
"Well, we're screwed aren't we? Doomed to die of starvation in this hole."
"Wait! Over here!"
One Arbotile had felt out a small hole, about one centimetre in diameter, in the rock face. But upon poking a finger through, he had found a space, in which he could find no walls. It could have just been a chamber a bit too large to be felt around in with a finger, but it was worth a try.
He lashed out with a well-aimed punch. There was a crack, though whether it was his knuckles or the wall they couldn't tell. A second punch, and the entire wall segment fell away in a mini landslide of rock and dust. There was now an opening tall enough for one Arbotile, and wide enough for two. The very walls seemed to glow an unearthly, threatening orange colour, but the Arbotiles' attention was more riveted to what lay in the centre of the tunnel.
An enormous spider-like creature lay in the landslide, but it was slowly getting up, shrugging off bits of rubble like a zombie arising from the grave. Its eyes glowed a deadly red, and each leg ended in two large, sharp claws. It opened its mouth and hissed out the Arbotiles, revealing white fangs. It must have been five metres long, and about two metres high; any larger and it wouldn't have fit in the tunnel.
It clambered up the wall and hung from the ceiling, gripping it with its rear two sets of legs. It then hissed and spat at the Arbotiles, as well as lashing out with its front legs.
As it lashed out yet again, one Arbotile boldly strode forwards, grabbed its arm and yanked. The arm came off, dripping blood, and smaller spiders scuttled out from the inside the flesh, crawling along the arm towards the Arbotile, who dropped it in panic and disgust, before leaping back out of the tunnel.
The spider seemed unfazed, until one Arbotile finally mustered the courage to jump forward and slice downwards at its head. The head came clean off and more spiders scuttled out from the stump, causing the Arbotile to back away. However, the large spider seemed dead.
Once all the smaller spiders had crawled out from the larger one's flesh and scurried away, the Arbotiles waited another couple of minutes, before finally proceeding down the next tunnel.
"This place is creepy, huh?"
"Well, a little," one replied. He paused, before saying, "Well, alright, a lot."
The tunnel still glowed with the threatening, unearthly light. It never flickered, never wavered, which made it in some ways creepier than flickering lights that threw all sorts of strange shadows.
They were still walking onwards, occasionally taking furtive glances behind them, when one paused.
"I heard a jangling. I'm sure!"
"It's just your imagination playing tricks on you. Come on!"
They walked onwards. Suddenly, there was another jangling. Two skeletons suddenly dropped down in front of them. The Arbotiles panicked, backing away, but another pair dropped on top of them. They screamed and struck out in a wild panic, trying to get the skeletons off. A cackling filled the tunnel, like earlier on. There was a smash, and the sound of crumbling bones, as a skeleton was dislodged by an Arbotile fist and smashed onto the ground. All terrified, the Arbotiles bounded onwards, putting as much distance between them and the skeletons as possible.
In his blind panic, one Arbotile failed to see a rock sticking out of the ground. He tripped and fell, and his face ended up mere centimetres from some sort of insect. He jumped up quickly and stamped on it as hard as he could. The insect became a mush, but its black blood stained all over his foot. Though he rubbed it raw against the tunnel floor, it would not completely come out.
Suddenly realising he was alone, he hurried up to catch the others. He was just in time to see them turn a corner, and rushed after them. He belted round the corner, and ran straight into the Arbotile in front of him.
"Watch it!" the Arbotile cried. "Look!"
Ahead of them, the ground fell away again. The sides were smooth and unscaleable. The only safe way down was a single vine rooted to the ceiling, but they had no way of telling if it would hold them, or how far down it went, as the lights faded away around here.
"Who's going to go first?"
"I'll go," volunteered the one who had arrived last. After his encounter with the bug, he had deduced his life couldn't get much worse.
He slowly descended for what he reckoned was about twenty metres, before the vine ended. Here goes nothing, he thought as he let go.
He fell about five metres, landing with his knees bent in a perfect posture. As far as he could tell, he had no broken bones.
"You can make it!" he called up, "Just drop at the end!"
Soon the other three Arbotiles were down with him.
"Well, that was easy, wasn't it?" one joked.
"Yeah," another agreed.
Suddenly, they all felt something long and heavy land on them. In the dark, they had no way of knowing what it was. They all struck out in panic. One Arbotile felt his claws hit something solid, and raked them across it. A second later, a fist connected with his face and he hit the ground, in the process shaking off the thing. He felt around for it, and closed his hands around the thing, confident it was at his mercy. He yanked and pulled and threw it around. He heard the other Arbotiles cease their struggling. A light was switched on.
The Arbotile saw his hands closed around the vine, and burst out laughing. Soon, the other Arbotiles joined him.
"We forgot we had a torch!" one of the Arbotiles managed between bursts of laughter.
"We should be safe now," another said when his laughter subsided.
The Arbotiles were suddenly silent when the cackling echoed through the tunnel again. It sounded louder, closer, than when they'd heard it previously.
"Or maybe not."
"Well, there's no way back up now, so we might as well keep going."
Cautiously, the Arbotiles walked onwards, casting furtive glances left, right and behind every few seconds. The cackling had stopped, and they stumbled down the passage now brightly lit by their touch. It was clearly sloping downwards.
"I bet we're underground now."
"Of course we are. Now be quiet. You're not helping."
The torch fizzled, and died. The Arbotiles instantly began to panic. Then, a high-pitched shrieking filled the tunnel, followed by the fluttering, rustling sound of thousands of pairs of wings. The tunnel ahead appeared to be moving, pulsating. One Arbotile felt something leathery against his cheek. Then, the tunnel came alive with bats! They flew past the Arbotiles, flooding the tunnels, preventing any movement.
One Arbotile felt something wet on his arm. He looked, down, but could, of course, see nothing. He felt along with his other arm, and was horrified to discover a bat lapping up his blood! He grabbed it between two fingers and snapped its neck, but there were so many more. He tripped, and fell, fell through the sea of bats, their bodies making it nearly impossible to move, as if he was falling in slow motion. He touched the ground, and lay down flat as possible. He was safer here, but could still feel bats landing on and brushing past his back.
After several horrific minutes, the bats passed, the sound fading to a faint chittering in the background. The Arbotile stood up again, feeling as if his heart was about to stop beating.
Ahead of them was a slab of stone. It appeared moveable, so the Arbotiles scrabbled round one edge, searching for a handhold, until they each had a firm grip, when the pulled on the stone. Slowly but surely it began to move, revealing a large, relatively well lit cavern. They stepped inside.
As they entered, there was a bright flash of blue light, and three of the Arbotiles lay dead on the floor, their chest plates smoking from where they had been hit by some unknown force.
"Who's there?" the last Arbotile asked nervously. The cackling started up again, definitely in the same room.
"I- I'm not scared," he stuttered, though it was plain that he was. The insane cackling continued, reaching a crescendo of noise, before it finally ended. The deathly silence that followed was even worse.
The Arbotile felt something scaly against the back of his head. He whipped round, but there was nothing there. More insane cackling started behind him, so he turned again.
Suddenly, a face of stone appeared in the air in front of him. Its mouth was fixed in a demonic grin with clearly visible jagged teeth, just like the face in the lava. The cackling begun again, and the stone face swayed; it was clearly the source of the laughter. But the Arbotile certainly wasn't going to ask questions. He attempted to jump back, but tripped on a rock and fell with his back against the cold stone floor. The lights dimmed.
The stone face appeared again, right in front of him, chuckling its insane cackle. He tried to push away, searching in vain for a hand or foothold. The cackling intensified. Finally, it stopped, and again the room was deathly silent.
A hand appeared in the Arbotile's vision. It grabbed the stone mask and yanked it off, revealing an organic face, comforting in some ways but not so much in others.
The face had a long horn-like protrusion at the top of the head pointing upwards and outwards. There were small eyes and a mouth filled with worryingly pointed teeth, but no external nose. It was a face etched well into the minds of some Arbotiles, but this ship had not been part of the group that landed on Dragovia.
The creature was a Gaedrongo.
"Well, well, well," it cackled. "You appear to have found my Playground For The Damned. You've done well to be here, all of you; most creatures have had a nervous breakdown by now!"
After this, it descended into uncontrollable cackling laughter. The Arbotile could not find his voice.
"Such a pity, innit," the Gaedrongo continued, "You have to die now. No-one comes into me Playground For The Damned and goes out again. Not alive or in one piece, anyway!" it said, and began cackling. "I'm sorry, I really am!" it cried out, but from the way it was laughing, it was very clear it was not.
"So which way d'ya wanna go? Blast of energy, plasma beam, or a good old standard bullet?"
Slowly backing away, the Arbotile said, "None, thank you."
"Ha ha ha ha ha ha! You think it's that easy! I'll pick for you then! Plasma beam!"
For the first time, the Arbotile noticed a belt round the Gaedrongo's waist. Three guns were hooked to it, and the Gaedrongo picked the one on the right. Then, with the other arm, he put his mask back on.
"Any last words! Ha ha ha ha ha! As if! You're too scared! When you meet ya friends in heaven, tell 'em you met the devil, yeah? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"
The Gaedrongo pulled the trigger, and the plasma beam smote the last Arbotile on the chest, throwing its now limp body against the wall. If he had still been alive, he would have seen the Gaedrongo leave the chamber, and have heard it mutter,
"Tiresome, it is. Fixing up me Playground For The Damned every time someone damn comes into it! New spiders, new bats, and a new vine too! Never mind - it's always worth it! He he he he he!"
- This is my entry to the Multiverses Halloween Contest.
- I have christened the Playground For The Damned as the Cave of Predictable Halloween Horrors as I disagree with that Gaedrongo that called himself the Devil.
For absolutely no particular reason, I am doing a spot the difference.
Arbotiles were the protagonists in this story. Below are two pictures of an Arbotile that, at first, appear identical. However, five pixels on the right picture are a different colour to those on the left. Brownie points if you can find the differences!