We rode on the next morning. I allowed Xeron to follow us only on the condition that he would stop stealing to which he immediately agreed. The sky cracked with thunder and the clouds were dark and pregnant with rain. I put my hood up, despite knowing that I would still be soaked when the rain started to fall.
We joined a group of merchants on the road. Their horses were pulling heavy wagons filled with goods. We nodded at each other and rode side by side, our horses making heavy clomping noises. The rain crashed down mercilessly on us and I experienced for the first time the joy of being in a public transport and the fact that I took it for granted. I even missed the congested filled trains in the morning and squirming between people’s armpits. At least it was waterproof. Five minutes later, I was drenched like a drowning cat. The rain trickled down my hood and soaked through the woollen material. It seeped through to my skin and iced my bones. I shivered. This was going to be a long day.
Not long after, the road turned into a treacherous path of mud. One of the wagon wheels ended up getting stuck in the mud and they all yelled and tried to push the wagon free. Maximell whistled at me, his head nodding to the wagon. I sighed. He was always playing the saint.
I jumped off Kyrie and helped the merchants. They looked at us gratefully before we all ended up huffing and puffing as we pushed the wagon. Freaking wheels. My boots were covered in mud and sloshed with rain. My once brown cloak was now covered in dirt. Great; I looked like a pauper, or someone who had a mud bath. Xeron was probably the most useful out of us lot. His muscles bulged as he pushed the wagon as hard as he could and the wood groaned and slipped slowly. Nearly there.
A scream broke into the storm and we all froze. We dropped the wagon and ran around the side. What I saw made me stop in my tracks. I wanted to heave and throw up. There was a woman lying on the road. She was still screaming as a huge, six foot tall demon gorged her innards from her ripped stomach. It wasn’t like any demon I’ve ever seen. This demon was even bigger than Xeron. Its body was hulked like a buffalo; its thick skin was black as midnight. I drew my sword to my hand in a flash. The woman mercifully died as it continued to eat her insides.
Someone else screamed and the merchants huddled in fear. The demon lifted its head from the dead woman’s open stomach. There were strings of meat trailing from its long, razor sharp teeth. The demon stood up and howled.
“We need to run,” Maximell said quietly.
“We need to kill it,” I said.
“You cannot, Alice. This is a different kind of demon. Its hide is hard to cut and it’ll be hard to kill. Running is our only chance of survival.”
“I agree with Maximell here, Alice. We have to go,” Xeron added in.
“Aanya. Oh Aanya, my baby.” The woman next to me sobbed heavily.
The demon approached closer and the horses jumped and neighed in agitation. The demon stopped by the horse pulling the bandwagon and ripped its head off with its hands. I blanched in horror. Oh my god! Run, Kyrie! Kyrie was jumping with his hooves and running in circles as he made terrified, snorting sounds. You can tell if animals are afraid. They have the same, scared expression as we humans do.
The demon lunged for Kyrie and I dashed after the demon with my sword in the air. I ignored Maximell and Xeron’s shouts and lunged after it. It turned its attention towards me and opened its elongated, razor jaws. The demon’s arms made a swipe at me and I ducked under its legs before cutting them with my sword. Blood spilled from the open wound but it didn’t seem to slow it down. Dammit, Maximell was right. The demon’s hide was too thick. It lunged after me and I blocked his hands with my sword. I gritted my teeth as my boots skidded backwards against the mud. Damn, it was strong. I twisted my sword and ducked, before I brought my sword up and sliced its torso. Blood sprayed on my face as it howled.
I blocked his hand again with my sword but the demon swiped my legs with its other hand. I fell backwards against the mud, my arms spread out to break the impact. It jumped after me and I pushed my sword against his face, the only thing that separated me from the kiss of death. I was in a very bad position. Some of the meat chunks from the demon’s teeth sprayed on my face but I didn’t dare break my concentration. I bucked under him. He lifted both of his hands to rip open my stomach and in that second, I took my chance and brought my sword across his neck. I sliced my sword across that thick meat. My sword stuck to its bone and with a scream, I held the sword with both of my hands and mustered all my strength and cut his head off. The head plopped onto the ground. I crawled backwards as the demon crashed into the mud. Blood sprayed from his headless neck like a garden sprinkler. They ran down into bloody streams.
I panted heavily as I looked through the rain. Maximell and Xeron were staring at me in shock. I saw a shadow filling my vision, covering me in darkness. For a moment, the rain didn’t touch me. Their eyes widened in alarm. I looked up and saw another demon looking down at me.
“Alice!” Maximell screamed.
The demon howled and I rolled to avoid its crashing jaws. This one was a lot bigger than the previous demon I killed. It slammed its fist at me and I blocked it with my sword, but my sword couldn’t last against its massive strength. I felt the impact and my bones rattled. I slashed my sword against his arms but it didn’t even faze him. I didn’t even make the cut.
The demon slammed into me again and this time, the force of his weight knocked me flat on my ass, my wrist twisted and my sword fell to the ground. I rolled into the mud, avoiding its swiping hands. My wrist throbbed painfully. I tried to run away but it managed to grab my leg. I cried out as its talons pierced into my skin. Bloody hell, the pain was excruciating. Maximell was suddenly there, and he brought his sword down and sliced the demon’s cheeks.
Xeron swiped me under his arms and threw me over his shoulders. “Now Maximell,” he shouted at him.
Maximell turned to run and they both ran towards the forest.
“No. Kyrie!” I yelled out for Kyrie. That stupid horse was still there, frozen like a little mare. Stupid horse, run!
“Run, Kyrie!” I screamed.
The merchants followed us into the trees, slipping over the mud. My eyes were frozen wide as I saw the demon ripped open Kyrie with its meaty hands and pulled out strings of blood dripping intestines. I could still hear the wet, meaty sounds as he slurped the innards. Then it stood up and took after us. It was running after us.
“Oh god, Xeron. Put me down!”
Xeron dropped me to the ground and we all ran frantically, knowing that the demon was catching up. We jumped over a fallen tree, my hands scraped against the tree barks. Two of the merchants stumbled against the trunk and in that swift second, the demon ripped their stomach apart and fished out their guts. The deaths of the merchants gave us seconds to spare and made us run harder.
“There, that cave. Get inside that cave.” Xeron pointed out to the cave between a wall of rocks and we scrambled into it, ignoring the dying screams we left behind.
We ran inside the cave. I didn’t care how deep it was as long as we had somewhere to run or hide. The demon jumped after us, but the mouth of the cave was too small. It didn’t seem to deter the demon as it smashed through the ceiling, gaining some entrance. We huddled backwards as we watched it pushing its way inside. Clusters of rocks fell and the ceiling started to crumble.
“Run inside, it’s a cave in!” Xeron yelled and we all dived into the back of the cave as the ceiling crumbled from the tremor, the rocks slipped through the mud and crashed down in sudden, violent tumbles.
As the last rock covered the upper part of the mouth, we were engulfed in darkness. I heard panic breaths and rapid pants as we tried to regain their breathing. We were all soaked and in utter darkness. I could still hear the roar of the demon on the other side of the rocks but it didn’t seem like it could penetrate through. I heaved a sigh of relief. We were safe for now.
“Mercy on all of us, we’re trapped here. I can’t breathe.” One of the merchants sobbed hysterically. He was a bald man in the early fifties. His clothes were tattered and dirty from the mudslide. A younger woman comforted him, putting her arms around him. His wife perhaps.
There were more panic whispers and a lot of rustling in the dark. My eyes squinted. Despite the darkness, I could still make out the shapes. I must have pretty good night vision.
The other merchant wrapped a cloth around a stick. He pulled out something that looked like a small leather pouch. He took one of the little sticks and scraped the end with the cave wall to create fire. He lit the torch; the flames flickered, reflecting the long shadows on the cave walls. It made the cave looked eerie and haunted.
“Even if we didn’t have a cave in, we still can’t get out. The demon would be out there, waiting for us,” Maximell said.
“So our only choice is to go inside and see where the cave ends.” The younger merchant said. He was a brawly man with a thick, black beard. One of his sleeves was ripped and his arm was covered in blood.
“No, we can’t go inside! I know what this cave is. We’re doomed. We’re all dead here,” the older merchant said in despair. He hugged his knees and shivered uncontrollably, even someone like me could smell the stench of fear radiating from him. Or maybe it was just the smell of piss.
“It’s just a cave. What’s there to be afraid of?” Maximell said.
“This is NOT an ordinary cave!” the man screamed. “You don’t know the true horror that lies within this cave. This cave is none other than the Cave of Bones. I travel on the road regularly for my goods. I heard of this place. It is said that those who venture inside this cave never return. Some said they could hear strange wailings inside the cave. There’s a beast hidden in this lair. And it will eat us!” He ended his last sentence in a harsh whisper. The others shuffled uneasily, looking afraid.
“Don’t talk so early about doom and death,” I said.
The man looked at me in surprise, and then in anger. “Could you not see that we are dead men? It’s useless! We’re going to die in here and never see the sun again.”
“Don’t utter such a dull prophecy. You’re still breathing so don’t lose hope. There’s always hope. A way out,” I said.
“What way out?” he asked in bafflement.
I grabbed the torch from the merchant. I turned to the back of the cave, the walls glowing from the flames. The long, dripping stalactites looked like sharp fangs. We were in the mouth of the cave, and we were surrounded by its sharp teeth.
“There’s only one way to find out.”
We ventured inside the cave. I was at the front leading the way, and carrying the torch in my hand. We walked in rows, and the young merchant took the rear. The cave was deathly quiet. There was not a single, breathing creature dwelling in this cave. It should be called the Cave of Death, for there was nothing breathing down here.
The others were silent too, save for the shuffling of their feet which echoed through the walls. The sound of our breathing also amplified, making us all sound like a parade of Darth Vader.
The cave was dry, but there were stalagmites rising from the cave floor. I climbed over some of the stalagmites and peered around the columns. Someone at the back whimpered. There were just grey rocks around us and plenty of stalagmites.
Something growled in the darkness.
“Hey, did you hear that?” someone said at the back.
We stopped to listen. Sure enough, ahead of us, there was a sound like...wailing. Something made a long, mournful, continuous wail that crept along the walls. Then it growled. It was an angry sound like male cats sparring with each other. I felt something heavy drop in my stomach. What the hell was that?
The sounds went on for eternity and they rattled my bones. The young woman cried at the back. Her sniffles echoed along the caves and joined the wailing sound.
“Shhh,” someone hissed at her. “You don’t want to alert whatever’s out there.”
“What shall we do, Alice?” Xeron asked me. His body was pressed against my back.
“We go on.” I said and trudged forward.
“Wait, are you serious? You don’t know what’s waiting for us!” The old man said.
“Might as well get it over and done with. We cannot stay in this cave and rot forever.”
“We’ll be going to our deaths!”
“If we go back, we die. If we wait here, we die. Either way, we all die. Now shut up and follow me.”
Mercifully, there were no further arguments, although I could feel everyone getting restless and uneasiness sparked into us like cancer. They shuffled behind me in a single file. Nobody dared to walk in front of me. I guess they were pretty content to let me get eaten by whatever monster lurked ahead and give them seconds to spare while they ran back from the monster’s lair.
We walked into a round cave. What lay on the opposite wall was a big doorway leading to darkness. It looked like a mouth to another cave. It was projected from the wall, more curved than the flat planes of the walls around us.
Rows of stalactites dripped from the ceiling of the mouth. There were three, dark holes on the top wall of the cave; two, huge round holes on each side and a smaller hole, shaped in a triangular shape ripped through the wall below. The sound was louder here and it grated my bones and chilled my skin. Maximell rubbed his arms in agitation. I didn’t see any monsters yet.
Then the screams began.