Tattered Remains
rating: +15+x

The cold wind blew against her twisting hair as she continued down the cave. She hadn't expected wind in the cavity. The dark stone contrasted with the yellow glow of the lantern. She felt comfortable with the musty smell of dust, dirt, and stagnant air. There wasn’t a reason, but it felt like home.

She had always been drawn to this cave. It was one of many things she'd always wondered about, and after what felt like thousands of hours, she'd made the decision to check it out. After all, her parents couldn’t stop her now. They were always cautious, always overprotective. She clenched her jaw.

Footsteps rang through the cave, clacking against the hard stone. The air was cooler than she had expected. She almost felt unprepared, having only brought a backpack filled with basic tools, and her lantern. Humming broke the air, working her way through the uneven gravely passage. She always took the correct path at the forks, she let her feet guide her further and further down. Everything felt so familiar. It felt like home.

The sound of her boots was now deafening, and the light from her lantern started to grow brighter against the cave walls as they narrowed, finally coming to an end. Her deep groan echoed; this was what she'd dreaded. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like this was the end of the road. Yet, it had to be. Sighing, she pressed her head to the large rock. Disappointment welled inside of her.

Disappointment became frustration. Backing up with clenched fists, she took a sharp breath in. Teeth grinding, she grabbed her backpack and stepped back to throw it at the boulder. The rock moved slightly, cracks spider webbing out toward the edges. She knew there was more, there had to be. Of course, if this wasn't the end, it was probably meant to keep people out. She didn’t know if she was right for continuing on.

Taking her bag, she pulled out a hammer and reared back, aiming for the cracked area of the boulder. She missed, but not by much. The strike sent more cracks through the stone. She continued this motion; each time smaller stones and dust flew off. Flecks of light broke through the battered stone. She smiled, feeling a small bit of hope rise in her.

Her muscles ached and her arms felt like noodles. She absolutely hated her form, but had to admit it was useful for moving things or, in this case, bashing them. It was almost like this was what she was meant to do.

With one last strike of the hammer, the boulder disintegrated, causing a large amount of dust and rubble to release into the air. It clouded her vision and caused her to cough. She held her breath, waiting for the passage to clear. She opened her eyes; the path was open. She felt an overwhelming sense of dread wash over her. Starting at her feet and hands, a vague terror spread through her. Yet something still pulled her forward, some sick curiosity. It felt right.

The clacking of her boots on the stone made her realize she had started moving again. A faint glow caught her attention and made her pick up speed. Her breath sped up as well, as she continued moving faster. The glow grew brighter. It felt as though she was being pushed and pulled toward the source. At this point, she was running. Panic filled her. The clacking was at a pace she didn’t recognize.

The next thing she knew, her face had met the cold, hard, stone. She pushed herself off of the dirt, drawing in a deep breath. Her eyes stung and watered. She rubbed her grimy face, trying to get the small pieces of gravel out of her eyes. It took a moment, but when her eyes opened, she saw what was dragging her along. Her breath caught in her throat.

The cave let out into a vast clearing in the earth. Large stalactites hung from the ceiling, glowing mushrooms protruded from them, and roots wrapped around the ceiling. On the top of the cavern was a split. Vines were hanging down from the surface. The moonlight illuminated a shimmering castle on the back wall. Speckles of red, green, and blue glittered in the stone. It left her breathless, and sent chills running down her spine. Rusted rails connected one side to the other, spiraling around as though it was a roller coaster. In front of her was a huge town. She couldn’t quite count the houses and shops, but they all looked surreal.

As she approached what looked to be a blacksmith’s shop, she saw that the wood was rotting and mold was growing on it. The glass was shattered and the door was broken. The banging of metal filled her ears, and it felt like home. She smiled before peeking inside, seeing a short man laying limp and pale on the floor. There wasn’t much skin left on him, his eyes were gone and his clothes were covered in muck. Her smile fell and her eyes grew wide. His tools were broken and rusted. Mud covered the inside of the house and caked itself onto the furniture and anvils that were smashed against the wall, or what was left of it. This wasn’t right.

Her eyes narrowed and her eyebrows furrowed. The sight made her stomach turn and face pale. She spun around and walked outside toward the edge of the island. Beneath her, stalagmites protruded from the crystal clear water, and rotting bits of wood and rope floated on the pristine surface. Bricks, armor, and bones lay on the bottom and on top of multiple staircases untouched. Minecarts littered the floor as well. There was what looked like a staircase on the other side of the cavern that broke off into two sections, one disappearing behind the other. Sections of ore peeked out from the surface. Attempting to imagine what it once looked like caused familiarity to wash over her, but she was quickly robbed again. This wasn’t home. Faint memories of terror filled her. She'd seen all she wanted to see from the manmade lake.

Another house drew her in, It looked like a family house or at least as far as she could tell. The stone walls were missing bricks. Furniture was pushed against itself. A tarnished chestplate lay on the ground covered in mud. She turned her attention to the stairs. They splintered and it was missing some steps. The handrail was knocked over to her right. It wasn’t a large house, lower, middle class.

The floorboards creaked as she made her way up the stairs. The hallway was small, and let into three rooms. The room closest to the stairwell was a childs room. Clothes were hanging in a closet, but they were also bleached and tattered. Muddy plastic dolls plastered the wall and a bleached purple doll house layed in the corner where the soggy, molded bed met the wall. A small skeleton lay in the bed in a napping position. Her heart thudded in her chest.

She turned away, deciding to go down stairs instead. As she got outside, the castle caught her eye. Vines, trees, and other foliage covered its damage outside, yet light still radiated from it. The castle welcomed her, holding the last remnant of what she had once felt. The slorping sound from her shoes on the mud echoed throughout the barren city. It felt so lonely… something tugged at her heart and weighed on her chest. It was hard to breathe, yet the dank smell embraced her.

The castle towered above her as she stood underneath the splintered gate. As she entered, warmth filled her body and revitalised her spirit. The inside was bright, though that was the only difference. She could almost imagine what it once looked like. The throne was made of cracked stone. It was so dirty and uneven but still felt grandiose. To the left and right of it were fractured statues of men with swords and pickaxes. The detail was soft, only helped by the flooding. It felt like home.

She walked around the room, feeling the mud and stagnant puddles against her shoes. As with every other building, the glass was shattered and the main structure was falling apart. Tears welled in her eyes; she felt as though this was home, but it was wrong. Disappointment overwhelmed her. The beauty this place once held was gone. She couldn’t quite put her finger on the feelings that flooded her. Terror mingled with familiarity which mixed with anger then calm. The broken interior just didn’t feel right, but she knew it was home.

Sighing, she sat on the throne. Lightly kicking the damp and muddy floor. She felt something against her right foot. It was hard, but still gave slightly. She prayed it wasn’t another dead body. She reached down and grasped it and brought a leather bound book out. It was wet and gross, but she yearned for some form of insight.

The book, as water damaged and smeared as it was, was still somewhat legible despite its use of pictures. Where there were words, they weren’t legible or were from a different language. She flipped through the book, her face growing pale and her body starting to shake.

It dawned on her in one fell swoop: the flooding, the ruined buildings, the corpses in the homes, the bones and debris in the water.

“The boulder wasn’t meant to keep people out.” she whispered, her ears rang.

“It was to keep them in…”

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