Nothing had suggested to me that the day would be unusual; the train was late, crowded, and generally miserable to be aboard. Because I was running late, I was in the last car of the train, which was always more crowded than all the other cars. No one ever seemed to learn to look at the monitor to see how many cars the next train would have and adjust accordingly, instead choosing to cram into the final car. Then again, the trains were unpredictable at best and the monitors never quite matched up to reality. I wound up pinned to the wall of the train like an insect in a Victorian collection, helpless and unable to read my paper until I managed to grab a seat – though a less desirable window seat, leaving me once again with the feeling of being trapped.
At one of the more populated stations, just barely underground, the voice of the conductor blared over the loudspeaker, all of a sudden far too loud for comfort, even with my headphones on: “Please do not overcrowd this train. The train might go down.”
This seemed to me – and I only peripherally considered the statement – an odd way to put it, but I brushed it off, assuming the conductor had a poetic streak. (My favorite conductor announcements were the ones that treated the subway like a real train – the conductors who called out “all aboard” before the doors closed. This seemed no different.) I continued working on the Sudoku puzzle at the back of my newspaper. I noticed many of the people get off the train, including the person sitting next to me. The doors shut and off we went to the next station.
Before reaching it, however, the train paused in the tunnel and the conductor’s voice rang out: “Things aren’t any better. Hopefully they’ll let us go.” Again, I didn’t pay it any attention – this conductor was clearly being melodramatic in his announcements. Sure enough, the train started moving again and we reached the next station. Out of the corner of my eye, it seemed as though more people than usual were getting off, but there could have been any number of explanations for that, none of which I deemed worthy of consideration. It was hard to tell, anyway, since I was at the very end of the train. (I was stupid. I should have known. I should have paid attention. I would have seen the signs earlier. They are there for those who choose to look for them.)
I finished the puzzle as the train jerked to a halt yet again. I glanced out the window and realized the train had stopped between stations. I sighed, annoyed; I was definitely going to be late for work at this point, but there wasn’t much I could do about it on the train. A small sign gave the distance to each of the closest metro stations. A red light smeared like blood across the concrete tunnel. I shivered, but went back to my paper, considering the crossword, confident the train would start moving again momentarily. I heard something bang on the outside of the train, and when I looked up, I realized I was the only one in the car. That can’t be right, I thought to myself. There wasn’t any announcement. And why wouldn’t someone have told me they were emptying the trains? And yet there was no one else around.
My music was still playing. I turned it off, pulled the earplugs out of my ears, and shoved the mp3 player into my bag. I left the bag and walked over to the other end of the train. It looked empty but I opened the connecting doors just in case. No one. “Fuck,” I said out loud. I pressed the emergency call button next to the door and got a shocking burst of static in return. The only thing I could think to do was to get out of the train. It couldn’t be too far until I reached a station. The stops were close together near downtown. I grabbed my bag from where I had been sitting, went to the middle door and followed the emergency instructions. The door slid open with a bit of effort and, taking a deep breath, I stepped out into the tunnel.
There was a breeze. That was the first thing I noticed. Of course, I had felt breezes at the underground stations before, but it had never seemed all that unusual to me. The tunnels eventually lead back out to open air, so it made sense to me that air would flow underground. Something felt different actually being in the tunnel, like the world had been destroyed and the rules didn’t matter anymore. I tried to find the sign I saw earlier, the one with the distances to the nearest stations, but when I looked at it more closely, it said both of the stations were in the same direction.
“Shit,” I said under my breath. “Fuck.”
The only thing to do was to walk in the direction of the stations. I couldn’t see any advantage to going the other way. The red light from the train still looked like a smear on the wall of the tunnel. There was barely enough room to walk beside the train and the wall, but there was only half a car to get by. Every so often there was a fluorescent yellow light, for which I was grateful. I saw a couple of rats scurry by, but rats have never particularly bothered me. I was slightly worried that there was some kind of murderous lunatic lurking in the shadows, but reassured myself that there was almost certainly nothing there. The stations should be coming up soon, anyway.
I had walked for too long when I noticed a side tunnel. I should have reached one of the stations by now, I thought, eyeing the tunnel. Or at least the main tunnel. I looked back in the direction I had been walking. I couldn’t quite see the train, but I resisted panicking and reasoned that the red emergency light was obscured in the darkness. It also, I supposed, could have gone wherever it is that trains go when they’re pulled out of service midway through one of the lines. I had never understood what exactly happened when that occurred. I had seen out of service trains rush past the platform before, but it still left me with unanswered questions.
Something squeaked a few feet away. I brushed it off as a rat and forced myself to focus on the task at hand. My choices were these: continue the way I had been going, which just looked like more of the same, or go down a tunnel which looked darker than the one I was in. I sighed. The time on my phone was 9:20 AM. Late for work. I couldn’t bring myself to actually care that much – there was a part of me that found all of this kind of thrilling.
And that’s why I chose the side tunnel.
It was foolhardy, I know that now and probably knew it then, but I chose it nonetheless. The first couple feet in the tunnel were still lit from where I had just come, but after a few minutes of walking, it was darker than any night I’d experienced. I stepped back into the lit area and rummaged through my bag. The Swiss Army knife I always carried with me would go in my pocket, but nothing else seemed useful. A book, my journal, my wallet, a couple pens, my planner, plus the lunch I brought from home in case I got hungry. I hoped I wouldn’t be down here long enough to get hungry.
My stomach growled. I rolled my eyes. It was about right; usually around this time I’d be making my almost-daily trip to the coffee-shop and getting my morning snack. I looked through my bag again and pulled out an apple. I flipped open my cell phone and noticed that there was only one bar left in the battery. I closed my eyes, heaved a deep breath, and opened them again. It’d have to do. I turned it to face away from me, and it barely lit up what lay ahead with a sickly electronic glow.
A shine of something caught my eye just inside the reach of the light from the phone. I walked up to where I thought it was and found a token on the ground. It was circular with a ‘W’ inside of it. There had been text on the outside of the circle, it looked like, but it had been worn away with time. I thought about picking it up but reminded myself where I was. It was probably carrying at least a couple diseases. I kept walking, taking bites out of the apple until I was done. I dropped the core behind me and heard skittering in the dark.
I could hear the rumble of trains in the distance. There weren’t tracks in the tunnel I was in; it was really only wide enough for about two people to walk comfortably. I paused to see if I could place where the noise was coming from. I couldn’t. It seemed to be everywhere, and then it passed. I checked the battery on the phone: now it displayed only the outline of the battery. (The time was 9:31. It felt like it had been much longer than that.) Probably I should have charged it the night before, but I usually only did that when it was completely dead. We are never as prepared as we should be for situations like this.
It reminded me of a story my friend had told me once, a time when he had been stuck on a crowded train between stations for nearly twenty minutes. The air conditioning had shut down, people started panicking, and a woman started having breathing problems. He said that ten minutes after the train stopped someone started talking about how they were going to die. Panic sets in quickly, that was what he learned from that situation. I laughed at the time, but standing in a tunnel deep underground I could feel panic rising within me and I knew it would only hinder me.
Deep breaths, I told myself. Breathe deep. There was a noise to my left, just out of the reach of the dim cell phone light. I turned my phone toward it, but there was nothing there. I made myself continue forward. I stepped and heard paper rustling under my foot. There was a pamphlet entitled “Fallout Protection,” yellowed with age, dirty but not damp. I picked it up with the tips of my fingers only. Pages fell out, so I left it for the rats. When I dropped it, I noticed another token like the one I had found before. I took nothing with me.
I’m not sure how long it was before the cell phone died. My sense of time was already a little skewed. The light it emitted got inexplicably brighter for a second, then went out entirely. I stopped where I was. I put the phone in my bag. My breathing grew quicker and I could feel my heart speed up ever so slightly. I stood still, trying to breathe calmly and hoping my eyes would adjust to the darkness.
Placing my hand on the dank wall, I moved forward cautiously. I counted my steps to take my mind off of the encroaching panic. Thirty-seven steps and the wall turned into a corner. My left hand remained on the wall, turning with the corner, and I paused. I don’t know how long I stood there before my eyes adjusted, though just barely. Once I read somewhere that human eyes cannot adjust to darkness unless there is some light. This thought comforted me as I stood there.
I was in a large room, I could tell that much, though the details eluded me. Something dripped intermittently to the left of where I stood, but I couldn’t see what it was. I wished for a flashlight, but who carries that sort of thing with them? Children. There were flashlight key-chains in my past – when? elementary school? – and I would have given just about anything for one of them.
It had been a wrong turn, I know that now. I breathed in, slowly and deliberately. A calm mind will come in handy, I thought, even if I don’t have a flashlight. At least I had the Swiss Army knife. I felt for it in my pocket, not sure if I’d be able to use it to defend myself. I had only ever used it to trim loose threads.
Carefully, I retraced my steps back to the tunnel and made my way to the right side of the room. It was all shadows and darker shadows. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. When I was young, I was afraid of the dark, like many children are. Monsters loomed in my closets and underneath my bed. They waited in the especially dark corners of my room. They lurked under chairs and tables. Every noise in the dark was a monster. I tried not to remember those childhood fears while I explored that room, but it was hard not to. I kept telling myself it was just rats and bugs, normal underground things. It didn’t help much.
All of a sudden, I heard rather than saw a light flicker on in the distance. With a deep breath, I moved in the direction of the light-sound. I kept my left hand on the wall, allowing for the gap where the tunnel I had walked through was, and followed the sound. There was another tunnel – though the dripping sound seemed to be coming from somewhere else and the fact that I couldn’t place it was bothering me more than it should have – and I tripped up a stairwell. I could have sworn I heard a creak above me.
I held out hope that maybe this would lead to the surface. I knew I was at least a couple stories underground, but I could easily make it up a staircase that size. There was a light some distance up, illuminating a landing where the stairs changed directions. My eyes squinted but I smiled. You never realize how essential something is until it’s gone. I started up the stairs, made it to the landing, and assessed the situation. The light at the landing was the only one I could spot. I was headed up, though, and that buoyed my spirits. I grabbed hold of the railing and continued my ascent.
At the top of the staircase, there was a door. It was heavier than I would have imagined, but it was unlocked and opened easily with a loud creak. More darkness. I felt around the door with my hands and figured I was in some sort of tunnel going perpendicular to the stairway. I stepped forward, one hand on the door to keep it open, and felt tracks. “No,” I said, out loud, disheartened. It couldn’t be. Now more than ever I wished for a flashlight, or a candle, anything to help me see what was going on here.
Then I realized I could feel something lurking in the darkness. I closed my eyes and quickly opened them again. It occurred to me that maybe I was dreaming. I frequently felt like I couldn’t open my eyes or otherwise see what was happening to me when I had nightmares, and this darkness certainly accounted for that, even if I could open my eyes. “I know you’re out there,” I called out, more bravely than I felt.
I heard the now-familiar sound of rats shuffling away and sighed. I touched the knife in my pocket again, taking comfort from it like a talisman. The rats had gone to the left so I decided to follow them, figuring they probably needed to get food and water from somewhere. Maybe they could lead me back to a station when nothing else could, however unlikely that seemed. I was desperate. My left hand stayed on the wall as I clung to the side of the tunnel, afraid to walk on the tracks.
After a few minutes of walking, I noticed that the tunnel curved. It was subtle, especially since the wall my hand followed appeared to be the outer wall, but it definitely curved. Soon after I realized that, the wall went from concrete to something like tiles. A light flickered in the distance and then was gone. I’ve gone crazy, I thought to myself, refusing to say it aloud lest it come true. I’m either dreaming or I’m crazy. This can’t be real. I continued forward, though, because my only other option was to go back. I got closer to where I thought the light had been and saw that a candle in a rusted metal holder sat a little bit into an entrance to another tunnel on my left.
I let myself breathe a sigh of relief. The light had been real – that was all I needed. I picked up the candle-holder and walked further into the tunnel. I felt less panicked and more adventurous with the addition of a light. It didn’t occur to me that the candle had to have come from somewhere, that someone must have set it down where I could find it. The discovery was too exciting to analyse.
It was a smaller tunnel than any of the ones I’d been in that morning, but I preferred the smaller space to the cavernous room downstairs. At least there I didn’t feel like something was skulking in the shadows, waiting to attack. Partially that was the light, but I’ve always felt more comfortable in smaller spaces. I reached the end of the tunnel where a closed door waited for someone to open it. Some part of me wanted to turn and run the other way but I convinced myself that was just fear talking. What if this was it? What if this led me back to a station, or at least some place where people were?
Thus convinced, I opened the door. The room behind it was dimly lit with more candles. The walls had hundreds of shelves, all irregular, many of them with chests and urns on them. In the center of the back wall a woman sat on a seat that looked similar to the ones in the train car, but older and more comfortable. It had been set on top of two sturdy-looking chests.
Her skin was pale as moonlight, her hair shone silver in the candle light, but her eyes were green as spring leaves. She smiled. “My, my, what has wandered into the darkness where it does not belong?”
She was terrifying. I felt drawn to her. She stood up and stepped away from her seat. Words got stuck in my throat and I couldn’t answer her.
“Perhaps you are a gift?” She came even closer. “He likes to reward me sometimes with a gift, though the gifts are not always so pretty.”
“I—I’m not a gift.” It sounded stupid coming out of my mouth.
She laughed. “And how would you know? Do you presume to know the ways of beings more powerful than yourself? You never would have made it here if not for the help of His servants.”
“Did you leave the candle for me?”
“Of course not.” She looked me right in the eyes and I couldn’t stop myself from looking back. I wanted to know what she was talking about, I wanted to know more. Her hand reached out for mine. “Come. I’ll show you.”
I let her take my hand and lead me through an exit I hadn’t seen when I entered the room. “Who are you?”
“I am one of His greatest servants.”
It explained nothing. The possibility that this was all some crazy dream loomed greater in my head. Nothing about this situation made sense. Her hand was warm and I realized for the first time how chilly it was underground. I still held the candle in my other hand, though the woman seemed to know exactly where she was going. I almost tripped a couple times, not watching where I was going, too busy trying to figure out what was happening, but she steadied me every time. After a series of twists and turns, we ended up in front of a closed door.
She let go of my hand and turned to face me. “There is a city of sorts through this door,” she said. “It is dark and it is dank and the people who spend too much time down there begin to resemble ancient creatures, the kinds with colorless skin and eye-spots where eyes should go. They grow accustomed to the darkness until they begin to prefer it. These people are solitaires, wild cards who have found their place underground. They have formed a society down here, as much as they can.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You will.” She opened the door, stepped through it, and looked at me. “Come.”
I followed her, needing to know what she was talking about, curiosity getting the better of me. What lay before me was unimaginable. Nothing about it made sense; my head hurt just looking at it. “You get used to it,” she purred in my ear.
It was a city, that much was recognizable, but it was unlike anything I had ever seen. It seemed to be made entirely of stone, but it did things I had never seen stone buildings do. The buildings seemed fluid, somehow, like they changed subtly as I was looking at them. Some of them seemed to be cone-shaped, which called to mind the pyramids but I couldn’t tell how they had even been built. All of them were covered in obscure arcane symbols. I tried to take it all in. It was simply overwhelming. “What is this place?” I managed to ask.
My voice must have given it all away. The woman took me by the hand again and led me away from the city. As soon as it was out of view, I felt more clear-headed and yet I wanted so badly to go back and figure out how it had been done. “It is His city. It has no name, or rather, it has many names unpronounceable to the human tongue. Those of us who dwell here call it Amarth’carr.”
“I don’t understand.”
She laughed. “Of course you don’t. You just arrived. You will, in time. The city changes you. It changes all of us.”
“I…I need to get back up to the surface.”
A smile crossed her face but I could tell she was displeased. “I’m afraid that’s out of the question. It would be bad luck to send away such a lovely present. There are few things worse than His anger, or so I have heard. I try my best to be a faithful servant.”
“Who are you talking about?” I wanted so desperately to know what was going on. I wanted her to explain everything to me.
We stopped walking. She touched my cheek. “You’ll understand soon enough. Are you hungry? I could explain more over food, if you’d like.”
She led me through another series of tunnels, not waiting for my answer. It was when we arrived at what I assumed to be some kind of banquet hall that I first saw one of the creatures she had mentioned at the city. It set down the tray of food it carried and walked to the woman with an irregular gait, hunched over with its hands clasped together. Its skin was an ashen grey; it had no discernible gender. Clearly at some point it – or its kind – had been human, but the resemblance was so faint that it was hard to tell anything about the creature. It made a little bow to the woman, who merely nodded, and as it scurried across the room I realized I had heard that sound before.
It was not rats who had been keeping me company when I was alone in the tunnels, not rats who placed a candle where I needed to go. I closed my eyes, hoping that maybe when I opened them I would wake up from whatever crazy dream I was in. I opened them. No such luck.
I opened them, and she was looking at me, bemused. “Sit. Eat. Tell me, what are you called, pretty present?”
“Sam.” I sat down near her, trying to discern what foods were in front of me. I decided I wasn’t hungry. “What’s your name?”
“You can call me Elenna,” she answered, a small smile on her face. She toyed with what looked like a dinner roll and mused, “You arrived at the perfect time, you know. There is a ceremony tonight, and you’ll get to see what most only dream of.” When I said nothing, she continued: “The stars will be aligning soon. I’m so glad I’ve gotten a present – it’s just like a holiday!”
“How did you wind up down here?”
She considered me for a moment. “I suppose I was like you once, with the train and the job on the surface. But then I was brought here by Him and I saw things I couldn’t believe and I knew I could never leave. You feel it too, I can tell. You want to understand what this place is. You want to know the secrets it contains. Stay with us. Learn.”
I didn’t know how to respond to such a request. This was surely madness to even consider. She spoke correctly though; I wanted to know everything about this place. I thought vaguely of news reports and academic studies. School had been many years ago but I was sure if I could just learn a little bit more, I could put some kind of report together and maybe there was a grant to be had. It didn’t matter. I had left a life on the surface. It was going to be hard enough to explain what had happened today. This is what I told myself, trying to be rational. I knew that I was going to stay for whatever horrible ritual was going to take place. I needed to know what was happening underneath the city I traversed daily. “For the ceremony, at least.”
Elenna smiled broadly. “Good. You’ve made the right decision.” She began eating what looked like a rat. I wondered what time it was above ground. My experience of time passing had been altered. It felt like it had been hours since I wandered off the train and into the tunnels, but it had probably been much less than that.
I focused my gaze on the table, but I studied Elenna with my peripheral vision. She was almost preternaturally beautiful, despite the fact that she could not have seen sunlight in months if not longer. Her dress fit her form well; its blackness had the effect of making her skin appear to glow. It was hard not to stare at her. I wondered what had actually brought her down here, to live among these ashen-skinned creatures who seemed subservient to her. What rites and rituals had convinced her of her place in this underground world? I wanted to know her story almost as much as I wanted to know what that city contained.
Whatever trap she may have been weaving for me, I was caught.
When she finished eating, she escorted me to a room with a small bed and a writing desk in it. She smiled graciously, though there was a hint of malice in it. (Danger lurks beneath the surface with Elenna; it shows in even her most genuine smiles.) “You can use this room until you get adjusted to the city. I’ll send someone for you when it is time for the ceremony.”
She closed the door and I heard the click of a lock. I sat on the bed. The room was lit with a few candles, as all the other rooms were – though every so often a fluorescent bulb flickered on and off. It reminded me of all the post-apocalyptic media I used to enjoy. I had no idea how long it would be until I was fetched, so I reclined on the bed and pulled the book out of my bag. It was a book I had already read, though, so it didn’t hold my interest. I put it back and took out my journal. Soon I had filled a couple pages with sketches of the underground city, and Elenna, and made the beginnings of notes.
My stomach made an embarrassingly loud noise. I took the lunch I had saved from earlier and sat at the desk with it. Luckily it was a sandwich; I hadn’t brought utensils with me because I kept a fork and spoon at the office. Idly I imagined my boss calling to find out where I was and when I didn’t answer, maybe trying an emergency contact number. (I think I provided one of those when I started there. It was a long time ago.) No one knew where I was. I had managed to fall out of that loop into which modernity has brought us, with status updates and social networking and all of that.
I spent some time after my meal looking around the room. The desk had several drawers, one of which was filled with the Fallout Protection pamphlets I had seen earlier. Two of them were empty. The last drawer I checked had a journal in it, similar to the one I used. I opened it up and found a couple of undated journal entries in it; the author mostly discussed how lonely it was in the city, and how hard it was to make friends. There were a couple lines about how difficult adult life was, especially compared to college. They were sentiments I could relate to. I checked the front and back for any identifying information and found none. I returned it to the drawer I found it in and continued searching the room. I had my hopes set on finding some kind of secret compartment or passageway, but there was nothing out of the ordinary.
I flipped through a pamphlet, sitting on the bed. I woke up to a creature ringing a small bell near my face. It said nothing, just gestured for me to follow it. I rubbed my eyes and stood up. It led me down into the city; when we emerged on one of the streets, I looked up and immediately felt a sense of vertigo. The perspective was skewed in some way, wrong. The towers rose above me like giants, but that couldn’t be right; we weren’t far enough underground for them to be so high. I started feeling dizzy, so I just looked at the ground in front of me.
The creature took me into a building, and upstairs to a lavishly decorated room. Elenna sat at a table with a bottle of wine and two glasses. She smiled. The door shut behind me. “Please, sit and have a drink with me. We’ve got some time before we need to begin.” I sat down in the unoccupied chair. She poured wine into the glass in front of me and raised her own glass, already filled. I raised mine and took a sip. It was maybe the best wine I had ever tasted. We sat in companionable silence for a few minutes, sipping wine, then she said, “You’ll need to change before the ceremony. Luckily we’re about the same size.”
She walked over to a closet and pulled out what looked like ceremonial robes. When she handed them to me, I asked, “Why do I have to wear these?”
“All will be made clear in just a little bit, don’t you worry. Put that on and let’s go.”
Her tone was reassuring and yet I couldn’t help worrying. She slid into her own set of robes and looked expectantly at me. I stood up and realized the wine must have had an unreasonably high alcohol content. I grabbed the back of the chair to steady myself. It all hit me at once. I fumbled for the knife in my pocket but then I looked at her. My mind felt groggy and my limbs felt like they belonged to someone else, but I managed to get the robes on. Elenna took my hand and we walked back out onto the streets of the nameless city called Amarth’carr.
The symbols and signs on the buildings moved and swirled as we rushed past them. I heard groaning from somewhere in the city, or everywhere in the city, and it sounded like a house creaking. We headed toward a building with a spire and a doorless archway for an entrance. As we passed through the archway, I realized that the building was circular even though it had looked rectangular from the outside. It was filled with people whose faces blurred together. There was some sort of pit toward the back of the room, and behind it was an altar. We stood at the altar and Elenna let go of my hand.
She took a small step forward and began speaking in a language I couldn’t understand. Voices responded in a similarly incomprehensible tongue. She spoke again and produced a knife out of her robes. The room spun. More things were said, by the chorus of voices and by Elenna. She gestured me to step forward next to her. I shakily did so. The room was lit up but I couldn’t tell where the light was coming from. The knife glinted, its edge a dark red. Elenna took my hand again and made a small cut in my left palm. I barely felt it. She held my hand over the pit and my blood fell into it drop by drop. I heard a rumbling but I couldn’t tell if it came from the pit, or the people, or if it was just inside my head.
I stepped back and leaned against the cool stone of the altar. My palm throbbed. There was more speaking but I couldn’t pay attention to it. I looked down at my left hand and noticed there was a bracelet of blood around my wrist. I don’t know how long it was until I was led out of the room, back down the winding streets to the building the creature had taken me to. Elenna smiled at me and touched my cheek. “I’ll be up for a little while longer, if you have any…questions. You may stay in the other room down the hallway.”
She pointed down the hallway and I stumbled to a door. I fell into the bed and slept. When I woke there was a bandage tied around my hand, though the blood was still around my wrist. So that actually happened, I thought. I heard a gentle tapping on the floor a couple feet away. Elenna sat in a chair looking impatient. “Oh,” she said when she noticed me, “you’re awake. Finally.”
I sat up; my head pulsed like the worst hangover I’d ever had. “What happened?”
“You’ve been dedicated to Him, bound to this place.”
“I can’t stay here. I have a life up above. People will notice I’ve gone missing.”
Her smile was cruel. “That’s really not my problem.” After a few moments of stunned silence on my part, she continued: “You can return, if you wish. But you will always find yourself back here, wondering what secrets you could have learned, yearning for the power that could have been yours. You will return for rituals like last night’s and wake in the morning with a misplaced wanting.” She stood up. “Or, you can choose not to fight it and stay here. You can learn what the others only dream of.” She sat next to me and I could feel her warmth radiating out. I wanted her to touch me again. “You can have power, if only you reach out and grab it.”
I don’t know how long we sat on that bed, not moving, while I debated all the courses of action in my head, trying to figure out which was the best. I could feel her staring at me but I tried not to let that influence my decision-making. Her offer appealed to the part of me that refused to believe I was just ordinary, leading a life of quiet desperation. I closed my eyes for a second and felt her lips on mine.
I blurted something out about staying; my mind was made up in that instant. There was no way I was going to go back to that stressful office job, and the commute, and everything that went along with it. She was right; the power was mine if I just had the courage to take it. If anyone ever reads this they’ll think I’m mad, but what prophet is not thought mad by some?
The libraries in this city are filled with books in languages no one remembers, words of power traced back to a time before the stars. Important people from above come to the rituals and wake up thinking they’ve had another strange dream, again, of labyrinthine tunnels underground and blood and chanting. They wake a little more tired than usual, even though they could swear they went to bed early the night before. We stay here in the city, with the creatures descended from the previous humans who made their way down here and stayed, with the offerings brought from the surfacers. Every day we get closer to enacting the greatest age the earth has ever known.
I will have greatness in the world after He comes. The story of how I was found and brought into the fold will be passed on through the generations, and this is why I write it down. The journal I found in the desk drawer was Elenna’s, an aborted attempt at documenting her life. She needed someone else to be the scholar, to read the books and write down the information, to decode the lost tongues. Her mind is made for action, mine for contemplation.
(It seems like so long since I’ve seen the sun. The sun had been shining brightly the day I boarded the train for the last time, I remember that. I remember its rays on my skin. I don’t miss it as much as you’d think. The darkness has its own comforts.)
The knowledge I’ve gained goes far beyond what I could have ever possibly imagined. I know now that those who wrote of terrible powers underneath ground and sea were not madmen but truth-sayers. I know that Elenna prayed to Him for a companion and shortly afterward I arrived. I know that blood in the pit causes small awakenings. The books say He arrived from beyond the stars and when the stars have rightfully aligned He shall return from his place under the earth. When that happens, Elenna and I shall be rewarded for our work and all the rest can burn for all I care.