At the Core

Rachel Racette

There is a place, miles beneath the surface of the earth, where the air is so cold, it leaves shards of ice in your lungs, and paints delicate pictures of frost across uncovered skin. The only source of light are the scattered pale blue flowers guarded by row after row of dark thorns so poisonous, that if you so much as pricked your finger, you would die before your next breath.

It is a world of ancient, cracked stone and groaning ice, but like the flora blooming with just enough light to stumble by, there is a treasure buried at its core. A sleeping God, one formed of the very elements of his tomb; a massive, towering man, flesh carved of obsidian stone, draped in fine sweeping robs and silver armor, head crowned with hovering rings lined with spikes, who is said to have eyes that burn hotter and brighter than the sun. And they say your soul may scorch under that gaze, should your eyes linger longer than a moment.

But should you be so brave, so desperate for the aid promised in trembling hushed tones, you will find your way to his cavern deep beneath the earth. For He is said to always answer the call of the hopeless and downtrodden.

So the weary march down, shivers turning to full-body shudders, tripping in the dim, so very few succeeding. Most fall into the deeper shadows, where they are left, echoing screams and decaying remains serving as a warning for those that follow. Stay to the light of the flowers. Avoid the shadows, even if those paths seem easier to cross. The bleached bones and rust stained dust piles sing. There is no reward down here without struggle, and only those who fight on for what they want, who stay devoted, will be satisfied.

So you, far past the end of your rope, march with weak knees down into the hungry dark. Your heart pounding like thunder in your ears, nearly loud enough to distract you from the near-suffocating silence, punctuated only by the distant echoing shifting of the ice and stone. You stumble deeper and deeper down, skin tight and limbs stiff with cold, breath heavy and choked. And not just because of the depths’ lack of fresh air.

Deeper down, until you find what you came for; a cavernous throne room, ceilings and walls smoothed to a shine, those terrible flowers pocketing the corners, thorns larger than those that had laid on your path. Large stone steps at least half your height mark the path to your supposed savior.

He is as enormous as promised, carved of immovable stone and armor, form settled against a massive dark throne. But his eyes do not glow, dust and cobwebs cake his every crease, and moss and thorns creep across his powerful limbs, curling contently around his joints, rising to coil within his crown. The reality of the lost deity is almost disappointing. But even still, even as your eyes blur, the darkness creeping in all around you, your own despair heavy on your tongue, you call out anyway. You came all this way, and you have nothing left to loose.

“I call upon the King of this tomb.” You rasp, teeth chattering, tongue thick and heavy in your mouth. You swallow, drawing a bitter dampness to your cracked quivering lips. “I call upon the one who may save my soul. Who may drawn out my despair and grant me hope.” You call, voice weak as you stutter over the words.

                Nothing happens. No booming voice from above or in your head rises to answer your pleas. This supposed God does not rise, no pulse of power or magic fills the air. You are alone, staring up at withering stone.

Was that a flicker of light? Or is your deteriorating body playing tricks on you. You don’t know, and you can’t bring yourself to care. But you have not come this far for nothing and set to climbing up the massive steps. You scrambled over jagged frost-ridden stone, careful to avoid the creeping thorns, the dark cracks that will claim your feet and make you stumble and fall. You’re not sure if you will rise again if you do fall.

You climb and climb, fingers numb, breaths short and even heavier than you imagined possible. Frost dusts your clothes, and you feel it’s chill roaming up your face, snowflakes settling in your eyelashes. You keep climbing, thinking; If I just get to the top, everything will be alright. Until you reach your destination, and fall to your knees at His feet, chest hot and tight. That band of breathlessness and pain growing tighter and tighter the longer you linger.

You wonder if it would be disrespectful to collapse here. To curl up and sleep forever. You wonder if flowers would sprout from your skin, given life by your death. You are so tired. Would it really be so bad to just, close your eyes. Just for a moment?

But that voice of reason, that primal part of you that wants to live, small as it is, screams that if you do, you will never wake again. Against the heavy weight of your heart, your body, and the rest of your mind, you listen. You shake your head, as hard as you can manage, and lick your lips again. Fruitless as the endeavor is. You repeat your earlier words, your volume half of what you had managed before, barely more than a quiet wheeze. You’re not sure if He heard you. You can barely hear yourself. You say the words again anyway.

Again, nothing happens. That voice of reason grows smaller, weaker. You don’t think you can listen to it anymore. Look where survival got you? The darkness seems to hiss. Look at what your determination grants you?

“Please.” You rasp, squeezing your eyes shut, bowing your oh so heavy head before this statue, this supposed God. This has to work. You have nothing else. “Please, help me. I have no one else to turn too.” Tears bloom at the corners of your eyes, and you slump to the ground. You curl on your side and use your numb trembling fingers to scrub away the ice that forms from your tears. It’s so cold. You hadn’t known this type of cold was possible.

Nothing. Silence rings in your ears. Or perhaps that is your hearing leaving you. You wheeze, shivering and drained, and wonder if it would be so bad to give up. Surely death could not be worse than this?

No. Your inner voice cries. It screams, a subdued distant thing, and reminds you of the people waiting for your return. Of your three starving little (god they are so little. You wonder if they will ever be big) siblings, and your elder brother drowning in sickness. It reminds you of your friends and neighbors, left beaten and bloody on the streets you all had once called home. Overrun by an foreign enemy that had no right taking out their frustration on the innocent but did so anyway. You hate them, those blank soldiers, those monsters you took everything from your home, and still linger, pressing down on the masses as if you had more to give. That voice, sounding so much like your dead father, your stubborn struggling brother, brings forth an oceans worth of worry. You gasp, as if those feelings could drown you.

How will your siblings react come morning if you do not return? You remember the haunting looks in their dim gazes. You are the only thing keeping them going, aside from natural stubbornness. But even that will not be enough to keep them moving, keep them alive, you know that. You hate it. You hate feeling this way. But most of all, you hate that you even considered leaving them alone. Of heaving another loss on their fragile shoulders.

You wheeze and with shaking arms, raise yourself to your hands and knees, raw fingertips scraping against the stone. It hurts, moving, breathing, living. But you do it anyway. You have no other choice. You are needed, and you will not let death claim you and yours without a fight. God or no God, you will save what you have left. You will hold tight, until your hands bleed, and then you will hold tighter. Like your father and mother had taught you.

So you rise, knees weak and trembling, and begin shuffling back towards the stairs, turning your back on that stone statue of disappointment. You will do this on your own.

And then, bit by bit, the cold slips away, as if the metaphorical heat building in your belly is enough to chase away the unnatural chill of the caverns. Each step seems to renew your strength, each footfall seems to clear your mind. You can do this. You will keep what’s left of your family alive. You –

Crack.

You stop. Foot hovering over the edge of the first step. You breathe, deeply and clearly for the first time in a long time, and shiver. The cavern trembles. That sickening crack sounds again, but you do not turn around. You brace your feet, tasting the thick familiar tang of magic, and shut your eyes against the wall of cold rushing forward and pressing against your back. You will not yield.

Footsteps echo behind you, too heavy to be any mans. Metal clanks against metal, and stone shifts as you wait for your punishment. You rejected a God, there must be consequences. A heavy frigid hand falls on your shoulder, and you send out a prayer for someone, anyone, to take care of your siblings. You pray your death is quick. The Deity chuckles, a heavy, baritone sound, but not a frightening one.

“Or You Could Care For Them Yourself, Little One.” The once-slumbering God says gently. The Power in his echoing voice nearly sends you to your knees, but the hand on your shoulder keeps you from crumbling. You breathe deeply, savoring the warm air and hoping it will not be your last, and then you turn to face the Deity. He looks just as he did moments ago, only cleaner. Gone is the dust, the creeping vines, only the flowers remain, coiled gently around his crown. He stands, flesh of black shining obsidian, eyes so bright it hurts to look for longer than a second, like the sun itself stood behind his skull, with power flowing off his high armored shoulders like water.

He is everything you had hoped for. You want to cry.

“You Have Earned My Aid. So Let Us Rise.” He says, eyes deep and blinding and brimming with promise that makes your heart feel fit to burst. “Let us rise from this darkness And Show Your Enemies The Consequences Of Their Actions. Let Me Guide You Onward, Out Of The Despair Brought Unjustly Down Upon You And Yours.” He grins, holding out one sharp armored hand. “Let Me Make You Stronger.” He growls, pressing close, breath hot against your face. A tear rolls down your cheek, you are so warm. Warm like when you were a child cradled in your mother’s arms. Warm like you had power. “Let Us Show Them Your Determination. And Why It Should Be Respected.”

You grin back, claiming his hand in yours, and that voice in your head sings with righteousness as you ascend with your God.

 

 

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Rachel Racette was born in 1999, in Balcarres, Saskatchewan. Interested in creating her own world and characters and loves writing science-fiction and fantasy. She has always loved books of fantasy and science fiction as well as comics. Lives with her supportive family and cat, Cheshire. Published in the anthology The Spelunkers: A Chipper Press Anthology, and Arthropod Literary Journal Issue 1. Website: www.racheldotsdot.wordpress.com