Cave Story
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Three days yonder, down my rugged depths, large bodies of floodwater sprawled in.

Each night, the waves and winds clash. Their nightly war rages for leagues around my weathered shell. Tides and torrents of rain — cavalry at their frontlines — thrust together, howling.

Their shrieks overwhelm even the distant, ever-flashing thunderclaps.

Roiling waters gush inside me and make company by night. But where will those captured waters go when the fight starts up next? And it will start up: Over, and over again.

I cannot see far beyond where I lie, for leagues upon leagues below ground. I do not quake at that thought; somewhere, there, I end, and somewhere else, the sea begins. Beyond where She rolls and twists on every side…

I stretch, in anticipation.

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Two days yonder, upon the beach, two young wanderers — one large, and one smaller — sunk through the sands and discovered where part of me lies.

They pass through me now, pacing over my chalky shale slabs and touching them with shaking, olive-toned tentacles. At least, I think that is what they are; they end at rounded points, and wriggle in two sets of five short lines. Now and then, their thin, supple digits pulsate upon my mighty vertebral stalagmites.

That sensation they give me is relieving, and exciting.

I first learned that sensation of rhythmic, tapping digits from a lost sailor. He still rests deep within me, though hushed. Many moons ago, he too crawled inside my form. Gripping my pitted, underwater rock, his body shook. A brief time after, it ceased.

That shaking and ceasing? A kind gesture of his, to be sure. It is like the sea's ripple, where the freshwater meets my lips. Or the courtship lockstep of love-struck arthropods inside my shielded coves.

Lifeforms can be so… Perplexing. But enchanting.

I can learn to be like them. I can imitate how he moved. To thank him, in a way, for visiting.

Practicing with speleothemic verse, I mime his movements in vast undersea tremors for my two rare guests. As I repeat my sequenced steps and send vibrations through mineral veins, these two wanderers jolt and tremble. Are they cold? Why, then, have they ventured so far from home, and so ill-equipped?

Sailors in their nautical contraptions happen past me everyday. They do not dare venture, though they do seem prepared. If these two are sailors, they should wield the buzzing boxes and lightning stalks. Instead, for hours, they hold limbs and embrace.

I shift, deep below, boiling newly captured seawater with frictional heat. Just for them. I hope they feel my warmth.

Even the sea…

She recedes.

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One day yonder, the hundred-feeler Chthonic Swell found its way inside me.

I have not seen this monster before. But I have felt it as it moaned. It must have charged forth from deep in the earth. Skulking through me, its vast form has nary much room to squeeze. Droplets coating my walls and ceilings steam in its presence, as if afraid.

Those wanderers, too, must feel it. At first, they scurry for hours in my dim, hulking maze. Each time they think to rest, the smaller of the two pulls a bottle of copper fluid out of their dress and removes its cork. The two then gulp it down together. I cannot glean why they do this, but it seems to help.

On one occasion, they find the bottle emptied and discard it with a crash.

And then the beast finds them.

It bursts into a tight hole below them. Sediments of all size and manner shower the passage. It has wounded me. A body of saltwater and plankton displaces into where the pair cowers. Backward, they scuttle.

As the beast flounders, a boulder tumbles down and pins the large one beneath it. They call for the smaller to flee.

But the smaller one does not budge. Instead, they stay, watching with widened lookers. Saltwater of their own falls in rivulets. They wipe them aside. Extending a trembling feeler, they caress the larger one's head and feel the hazel-coloured cilia that grows atop it.

They crouch there for a moment.

Finally, the small one flees.

The large one looks back, an instant, then stares forward.

The beast, too, is stuck. But it will not be forever. It convulses. Its sweltering skin burns more now than when it appeared. Braying about, it raises its spiked head and bellows. My middle regions falter all around. I belch dust. The large one squeezes their lookers shut.

Soon after, the beast, whose body dwarfs the large one by a factor of ten, frees itself. Gnashing its teeth, it sends down showers of spittle.

Its maw gapes–

And, like the lost sailor, the large one ceases. Though, there is not much left to look at, except tiny pieces strewn about.

While the beast savours its meal, my cragged facade waits, clad taut with worry over what I have felt…

Will She not return?

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Not long yonder now, in the black of night, the small one faces a dead end.

A rising, narrow grotto snakes above them. A way out. The stone, smoothed here by the rapids of once-constant waters, now lies dry and bare.

Panting and weary, they rest.

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The aether above illuminates the sky and sea.

Through a small opening, lukewarm water trickles down, green with algae. It pools at the bottom.

The small one jolts awake. As if to grant salvation, Her tide has risen, and water now spills down the passage to fill the area. Fighting the flow, the small one scrambles, losing their grip repeatedly. My walls grow slick and, regrettably, offer no purchase. Surface water rises at unforgiving speeds, forcing the small one to make haste.

I know I cannot be too hospitable to lifeforms, myself. That is just how I formed. But someday, the sea returns to us all, as the small one now finds. Right before the rapids and surface water meet at the top of the cavity, the small one heaves an exasperated breath–

And kicks off.

They dredge their body up, up, and away from me. In a minute, the deep sea gives way to lighter tones. Light claws through the depths in bands.

For the small one, shock, hunger, and exhaustion come all at once.

Choking fits, too.

They grow faint…

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And topple at the sandbank where I first met them, life still in their veins.

Safe.

With the small one liberated, I embrace the sea.

She laps back. Surrounding me, we bask in the light…

In harmony.

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