The Dark City
"A Professor Challenger Story"
By John Pirillo
It's this way."
He followed the voice in the dark, making sure to leave a chalk mark every few feet to mark directions. He wasn't going to get caught a thousand feet underground without knowing a way back. He'd been there, done that. His beard was driving him nuts though, the sweat from the heated passage dribbling from his jungle hat on his mop of thick red hair down across his eyebrows, cheeks and mouth, then neck and chest. He could live with the sweat; it was the dratted gnat bugs that were landing in his beard and sucking up the moisture, no surprise to him, just weren't in abundance.
"I'd appreciate a light."
"Not yet." The voice returned, steady and certain.
How in God's name and the name of Queen Mary of Scots had he gotten himself into this deplorable expedition, so far away from his friends? He could just see himself telling his tale to his friends on their usual night together. Sundays. They would talk about their sleuthing, explorations, experiments, and the souls they'd saved, or seen damned. Sometimes it was more of the first and less of the latter, and sometimes...far darker days in his mind...more of the latter. He might have a temper, he might be impulsive and compulsive at times, but his moral compass was tried and true. No life was worthless. None!
Even that dratted...
"Owww!" He cursed as the top of his head scraped the roof of the passage, knocking his helmet off and taking a hefty bite into his scalp.
"Shorty!" He roared angrily, feeling the blood now adding to the sweat in his blood. He mopped it away with what he was sure was now a blood stained, dirt stained, moss stained, and sweat stained coarse shirt he always wore on such expeditions. Good for warmth and cold.
"Challenger, if you insist on being insulting, I will have no recourse, but to leave you in the darkness."
"Go ahead, Batwings!" Challenger roared back. "See if I care. You've kept me in the dark the past six hours, what's another six going back."
"Your humor is most distasteful. You know I don't have batwings."
"No, but I would expect better eyesight from you."
The man ahead of him sighed. "I'm a Dracula, not a bat, and I have neither high pitched sounds to guide my path, nor wings to fly."
"And yet you can see in the dark." Accused Challenger.
"True enough. A small gift from..."
"Are we close or not, you buffoon!" Roared Challenger, his temper getting the best of him at that moment yet once more.
Suddenly, the floor vanished from beneath him and he plummeted helplessly in the dark to an uncertain fate.
"And it is my belief that the Draculas come from a subterranean civilization that once lived beneath the lands of Scotland." Professor Challenger announced to the assemblage of fellow scientists and philosophers.
Were it not for his personal notoriety as an explorer of great accomplishment, he would have been laughed off the platform; instead he was given a tolerant clap of hands.
He sighed inwardly, but bravely went on. "I am announcing an expedition to the highlands to explore a little known cavern, which I have every reason to believe, has a series of tunnels that lead directly to the lost kingdom of the Draculas.
A sturdy older man, Deputy Prime Minster Calloway, stood up. "Professor, am I to believe then that you think the entire vampire race stems from the Draculas?"
"Yes. I do."
The assemblage went wild with shouts and angry disavowals. He waited for it to crest, and then raised his hands for quiet. "And furthermore, I have a brave champion of our Victorian London, and an honored friend of Queen Mary of Scots, here to affirm my thoughts, as well as to help on the mission of exploration."
He turned slowly to the side and a dark and elegantly dressed man swept onto stage and joined him. The assemblage grew so silent you could hear a fly's wings.
"Count. If you will?"
"It is my pleasure, Professor Challenger." The Count replied, then swept his cape over his right shoulder and eyed the men and women gathered before him.
He smiled. "Ah, I can see the Vampire Clan of Easterbury is here tonight."
A group of men and women to his right suddenly tried to look small in their chairs. He turned to the middle and smiled again. "And the Clan of Brighton."
Another group of men and women looked suddenly busy.
Professor Challenger's eyes widened. He'd had no idea so many of the dark ones had assembled to listen to him. Had he thought that would be the case, he might have approached his speech a bit more carefully.
The Count started to expose another group, but shrugged. "It's enough to say that if my friends of the night are interested, then where there's smoke, surely there might be....fire?"
The assemblage stopped squirming in their chairs and examining each other and looked forward again.
Professor Challenger was not one to be fearful of death and dying, and rather than plunge to certain death, he reached to his right hip and slung loose a hook ended rope and flung it outwards. It scraped the walls of his plunge, and then with a huge jerk and a loud crunching sound, he was flung forward into the shaft's wall he had been falling into.
Then a funny thing occurred. He felt someone breathing at his left.
"I had you."
"You let me fall sixty meters to what seemed certain death..."
"Oh Challenger, stop being so dramatic."
Count Dracula used his strength to lower Challenger the rest of the way.
"I was prepared to catch you."
"You might have told me there was a shaft in front of me."
"What! And miss out on all the fun of seeing your face as you fell?"
"I hate you!" Challenger snorted in anger and derision.
Before he could say more a bright light flared, revealing he stood at the doorway of an immense cavern. Inside was a city like none other he had ever seen. It glowed with an eerie green luminescence.
"The home of our forefathers."
"You mean yours!"
"No, actually I mean ours. Man was not always a topside dweller. And he was not always...well, human as you appear."
Challenger gave the Count a scowl. "Have you been holding out on me, Count?"
"Let's just say, I've been dancing around the truth somewhat."
Challenger would've said more, but the lure of exploration overrode his anger. He strode through the immense doorway and stood on the crest of a small rise that descended into the city. "Just imagine what treasures must still remain here."
"I thought you were a man of science."
"I am. A man of science who needs to pay his bills just like any other man. Treasure pays for my next expedition."
The Count nodded. "In that case, let's explore."
They finally reached the last structure of the ancient underground city. It was carved from the rock of the cavern. It had scrollings and depictions all about its walls, inside and out. Challenger was cooing like a happy baby, when he finished examining the chamber inside. It had a huge dais with a throne the size of a giant.
"In those days Dracula's were giants, Professor."
"As now. Cattle."
"Cattle. Good lord, man, how can you be so callous?"
The Count shrugged. "What was, is not now, what is, could not have been then. My ancestors were the first to go against the laws of the ruling Draculas. They were shunned and sent to the earth above, where they lost much of their height over time as they intermingled with the masses of men above."
"You sound sad."
"That's because we should have risen as a society to greater heights than raising humans as cattle to slake our hunger."
Count Dracula flung down the backpack he was carrying. "I intend to wipe out every visage of this civilization that ever existed so no other vampire can ever again use this place to gain power and position."
He opened his backpack and revealed String bombs. "Tesla made these for me."
"Dear Lord, what are they?"
"The cleansing of history."
"Run! Run!" The Count hollered.
Professor Challenger was running behind him, the marks on the walls now luminous and glowing as he knew they would be.
"Why...run?" He gasped.
Then the world behind them shook them to the floor and a hammer of air pressure flung their bodies like balloons through the air.
Count Dracula caught Professor Challenger in his arms and ran faster, then leaped with all the strength he had as the very passage behind them began collapsing.
They tumbled into the high grassy knoll and its rocky fields as the short mountain behind them began to collapse.
"Run!" Count Dracula yelled.
"I've already run!" Professor Challenger shouted.
Then he saw the mountain began to collapse.
"Okay!" He agreed, and then began running again, his lungs and legs aching from the stress of his exertion.
Finally, they reached about twenty yards away from the collapse and it tumbled to a stop, leaving a huge smoking heap of rubble and an odd colored, green luminescent smoke that glittered and glowed in the dying sun of the highlands of Scotland.
"We made it." Professor Challenger sighed with relief. "But I had no time to get any treasure."
"Oh, but you did, my dear friend."
"The greatest treasure of all....your life!"
"The Eighth Ring of Hell"
A To Hell and Back Story
by John Pirillo
Swimmer, also known as Ryan Stone to his friends, and Squad Commander the Triple A squad, hunched down behind the outcropping off North 41 coming out of Vegas. It was a little traveled road, and for good reason. There was hell to pay there during the summer, because the nearest gas station was a hundred miles away, which had no water unless you bottled it in and no food unless you liked eating Little Debbie's, the only food the station carried, or probably could afford.
Swimmer had stumbled upon the station in a delirium. He had just escaped a very, very dark place, but without his support. They had fallen back to cover his escape, so he could bring the big guns back with him. It wasn't going to happen. He was stunned, dehydrated and beaten.
Oh, and by the way, there are regions...not really on our world...we call them rings...where hell resides. Each hell caters to the beliefs of those who have imagined them into existence. You see, the problem with human beings is that their thoughts are so powerful, that when they fear something enough, they actually create it at some point, in some place or another. Thus Hell. And more than one version. All nasty places, all places a smart person would rather have no part of. Not that only dumb people go to hell, they're actually more filed up with smart people than the other way around, because smart people think they can get away with anything. But they're wrong. No one gets away with anything. Ever. Not in the long run, sometimes not even in the short.
Anyway, he had survived. They had survived. The owner of the station turned out to be a little known angel...literally...named Michael, who looked after those doing the work his kind carried on for the Big One upstairs.
He had awoken on a crusty counter, devoid of anything but Little Debbie's, chocolate doughnuts. Michael was gently dabbing his mouth with a swab of cloth from bottled water he had sprung into, and poured liberally over Swimmer's body.
"Sorry. It's the best I can do. Angels thrive on Little Debbie's."
"So I hear." I told him, trying to laugh, but my face was too dried up and cracked. It hurt like hell from the sunburn I had gotten. Never march three hundred miles in the hot deserts of Vegas. It's begging to be hurting.
"Your men are safe." Michael told him with a gentle smile.
"They're safe too, but one of them will need a few weeks to recover her pride."
I gave him an odd look, but he said nothing else.
"What did you say your name was?"
I pointed upwards slowly.
"The Big One?"
He shook his head. "None of us are any bigger than the other. It's a humble thing, you know."
"Yeah." I agreed, not really knowing what to believe.
I had just escaped the Eighth Ring of Hell and had stumbled into a gas station run by an angel, whose name was Michael, and sold only gas and Little Debbie's.
"You'll be better in the morning when they find you." He told me.
"Find me? I'm already found."
He just gave me that odd smile and said no more.
I managed to get my feet under me, and dropped to the concrete flooring. Big mistake. I collapsed like a rag doll. He rushed around, though I don't remember the sound of any footsteps, even though he was wearing thick boots. He came to me and lifted me as easily as if I were no more than a bag of feathers and set me on the counter again.
"I don't want to mess up..."
He grinned. "Too late. Here."
He gave me another Little Debbie. Damn! If it didn't actually boost me as soon as I bit into it. My mind became sharp as a needle.
It had been 0800 hours. Our team had been chasing a cluster Demon. It's a rare one, but very dangerous, because it can multiply itself, and believe me, when I say multiply, I don't just mean to ten. We had followed it all the way from Vegas across Red Rock Canyon, over the Vegas Valley desert and heading towards Mohave. It was fast. We were faster. Equipped with sand sails, we used the winds, which usually gusted quite a bit through there, to propel us on our sand slays at over sixty miles an hour. The cluster demon could make just barely fifty.
We corned him in Baker, before he could reach the city proper and diverted him back towards Vegas again, thus avoiding him killing everyone in Baker, and making sure we could battle him on grounds where we held the advantage. Were we stupid!
He reached the 41 and took off like a bat of hell. We swept after him, barely able to keep him in view until he cut off the narrow paved road and began jumping in enormous leaps up a raw hillside, where aged sandstone boulders and granite spikes rose threateningly in the air.
"Blue and Red teams to the left. Green and Yellow right." I ordered and we split up.
My team caught up to him just as he triggered the Doorway. We called them doorways, because they sort of looked like them. But bigger, much bigger. Demons don't do anything in miniature. Everything's big and grandiose. This is why you don't want one rampaging in a city or town. They won't just take one soul, but all of them they can.
We plunged through the doorway, not even seconds after the cluster demon, but still too slow. He had already managed to lunge ahead along a narrow path that ran around steep black mountains next to a liquid fire ocean that slithered and sloshed at its base, casting very hot and bright flares of light upwards, so that any clothing it touched seared and threatened to catch fire.
I turned to Digger, my right hand man. "Anything?"
He shook his head. "This place is new."
Shaker, who was vibrating a mile a minute, shook his head, which was quite an event to see, as his whole body was already shaking so bad it hurt to watch. "This place is a different vibration from all seven hells, Swimmer."
I shook my head, discouraged. Another hell. God! How many were there?
Almost as if answering my question." Digger shot back with. "I told you there were probably more."
I gave him a stern look. He shrugged.
I sighed, and then we put on a burst of speed, limbering our Flingers for the upcoming battle.
We reached a hard turn that began to climb steeply, and widening as it did so. We finally crested the top, our bodies straining from the effort, sweat stains over every inch of our uniforms. The cluster demon stood on the top of the black mountain, its ravenous purple eyes fixed on us. It began to cluster.
"We're so..." Digger said.
"Screwed." Shaker finished.
"Not if I can help it." I told them, and began firing my Flinger. The whole time I held my trigger finger down, I thought of my daughter, and what would happen to her if I didn't get back home. I had lost her once. I would never do that again. "Never." I swore as I ran out of ammo and the last of the demons launched itself at me, reaching out with lobster claws to skewer my throat. Instead, I skewered it with my regulation knife.
It fell to my feet and I scrunched its head into mush, then looked up just as one of the cluster demons, that had not died put on a burst of clusters. I grabbed over my shoulder and reached for my grenade launcher. They were miniature atomic bombs, clean ones, that only blew up and killed things, didn't leave any radiation traces behind.
The cluster demon's forms continued to multiply. I blew up first one, then the other, but there were always ten more than the last time I fired. Digger and Shaker joined in and we began to catch up. My teams converged on our position and we laid down a blanket of highly volatile short range missiles that rearranged the shape of the mountain top. When the dust settled, all that was left was blood and guts. Demon blood and guts, which is just totally disgusting. Imagine living inside a slaughter house, with all the sewage of the world dumped in there for flavor, and you have just a glimmer of how awful their smell was.
We looked at the remains and the holes in the mountain top, and then made a short camp. I looked at our teams. "Okay. This place is new. Let's not wait to find out how new. Got me?"
"Yo!" They all answered.
"I signaled them with my right hand and we all hustled down the mountain, seeking the doorway we had entered through. Usually the only way out of hell was the same way in, but sometimes the devils changed things, laid traps. They were quite crafty, if somewhat ambitious. I finally was able to take in more of the details on the return hike.
The black rock we had been traveling over was not rock at all, but condensed bones of humans. Every now and then a piece of the rock would move, revealing a hand, or a mouth, or a set of eyes. All of them reaching towards us, pleading for help.
It broke my heart, but I knew we couldn't save them. Anyone down here, up here, wherever in the hell this place was...they were out of our ability to make a difference. All we could do was hope to stop more from being trapped.
We reached the doorway. It was open.
I had been sweating the possibility of it being closed, but it appeared to be just a fear, nothing more. But as soon as we approached the doorway, a burst of demons broke forth through the doorway, and shook their way free of the black rocky ground about us.
In moments we were fighting for our lives.
That was when my good people had practically shoved me through the doorway. They could hold their own, but no way could they all make it through without half of them biting it.
"Penny for your thoughts." Michael told me.
I looked up from the counter at him; he had another Little Debbie held out for me.
"This will be the last one."
I nodded and reached for it. I took it and dragged it towards my mouth to take a bite. I bit.
Then I felt a hand slap my face really, really hard.
I blinked my eyes and Mustard was squatted next to me, sucking on her hand, which I had just bitten. "What were you thinking?" She bit out to me, her eyes bloody red from anger and sun stare.
"Always thought you tasted better than you looked." I quipped.
She reached a hand up to slap me again.
Digger caught it.
"Welcome back, Commander."
Everyone gathered around me and as I rose, I could see how weary and beaten all of them were.
"Where's..." I started to say as I realized a very important member of our teams was missing.
"She's back a mile, nursing her pride." Laughed Mustard. "She got nipped in the.....uh, place where the sun don't shine."
Everyone broke into laughter. I did too.
I turned around, instinctively knowing the direction to go, because I had already spotted the direction of their footprints. I was going to have to scald them about leaving tracks for the demons to follow, but right then I was just happy to see everyone alive.
Now to get back home and give that daughter of mine a hug and kiss. My heart began to ache at that thought and worry. Because she had already been in jeopardy once by the demons. I had sworn it would never happen again. And it wouldn't. Not as long as I was alive and my Triple Kick Ass Angels.
"Yo!" They joined in when I ordered them to double time behind me.
What Man Hath Wrought
"A Journey to the Center of the Earth Story"
They were not as intelligent as man, but they were close enough to see what he was doing right and what he was doing wrong. Or at least what they thought were right and wrong. Their skin was chitinous, insectile, hard and durable. Man's skin was soft like water and spilled a bright red substance when they were slain. Their eyes could see in all directions, but men could see only in one at a time, and some even seemed to not see so well at all, having to use some kind of condensed stone to see through.
Kark, the leader of his Battle, a group of three hundred Sectiles, an underground insect race that could walk upright, or crawl on hands and feet as easily as a spider, unlimited by ground, ceiling or wall. And precisely why they could do that was another reason that Kark saw humans as weak and futile. Their skin broke as easily as water, and they could only fight in one dimension.
Their strength, though, was their strange barking weapons that spit stone so fast and hard that it shredded the chitinous armor of his family, reducing their numbers as effortlessly as a quake, when it shook the ceiling of the world down upon them, as it had some cycles back, causing their entire civilization to be demolished to the point where only a few Battles remained in existence, ranging from one underground cavern to the next, seeking shelter and food, which they drew sustenance from in the form of a radiant plant that thrust its feet into the stone of their world.
When they first met the soft ones it had been his mother Karthis, who had greeted them. The traditional greeting was to offer ones claws to the stranger and then cut their right appendage and drink the blood. She had done so with a large heart filled with hope of a new friendship with this strange species, but instead the one she had offered the sign of friendship had recoiled with a scream and others had come running and using the bark bark things had ripped her body armor apart until she lay on the dirt and rock, oozing her life force before them, a smile of welcome slowly fading into the nocturnal night that came to all intelligent creatures.
It was on that act that Kark had declared war against the soft ones, acting decisively, he and his Battle had managed to kill dozens of them. And since that first great battle, he and his Battle had sought other Battles to join together against these invaders of their dark world.
But even as he and his Battle ranged ahead of the weaker, soft ones, his mind was troubled by the uselessness of the violence. It was not in his nature to harbor so much darkness inside, when there was already so much outside. He and his Elders had heard of another world, deeper in the caverns. A place of great beauty and serenity, where all creatures were welcome with open hearts. Even if they had only two or three as his species did.
In that other realm there were soft ones too, but these were much larger and shone as if they had a light bursting forth from inside them. Even tales of this caused his armor to glisten brightly with hope, its dimmer black colors brightening to a more hopeful green and red.
Kark sighed, which to humans, would have sounded like a razor blade cutting through thick paper, but to him was a clear emotional release of his souls. His race believed each one of them had two souls. One that inhabited their bodies and another that fled upon their release from mortality and went to the Inner World that the Elders told tales of.
He prayed that when his time came he would be able to fly there as well, but he wasn't so sure these days, not with the advent of the soft ones. He had once spied upon them, trying to figure out more about what they were thinking, why they were there. He was starting to grasp simple words, such as eat, food, drink, hot, cold and this helped, but unless he had one to speak with, he'd never get further than a rudimentary understanding of the soft ones.
So he stayed alert for the chance that one day one would make a mistake and become isolated enough for his Battle to surround it and capture it, even if it meant maiming it to do so. He prayed he didn't have to take off its head. That usually slowed down a creature until they could grow a new one. His people could lose their head at least six times and regrow it. Upon the seventh it came back stunted and the member of his race was blind and dumb.
So it was with great hope and surprise that he saw two of the soft ones clambering through a series of vents in the stone, trying to avoid the hot wastes that spewed from a river below them. They made it to the other side of the cavern he and his Battle were camped in, and then laid down to rest. Another creature joined them. It looked like one of their own, but was much taller, and even from where he stood upon the precipice of stone over the raging lava river below. Even there he could sense it had more hearts than his own.
What manner of creature would join with the soft ones who had so many hearts?
He had to know.
So he made sure he left the Battle in a safe position to follow him if necessary, and then made his way to the base of the soft ones. He had no intentions of capturing them at that time. He just wanted to speak with the hard one, the friend of the soft ones. He was puzzled as to why it would betray its hard skinned friends, the Battles.
Rowff stood sentry over his exhausted friends, Rush and Everett, watching the ever changing tides of magma...lava, his friends called it. A strange sound that was hard to pronounce, and caused his multiple tongues to get stuck together and tangled.
They had been traveling for about a week, another strange term, his friends used, that made no sense to him, as in his world there was no time...only tired, hungry and needy. When he had to emit the noxious liquids and solids his body threw off.
They had run into a strange species that lived in the walls of one tunnel they traversed. The creatures never left their hive homes, but instead extended their heads out and when someone approached, shot lanced tongues at their approaching food, and then eating it in one gulp.
Lucky for Rush and Everett, he had been leading on that day. The tongue that struck his lower armor, glanced off its hard surface. Had it shot out at a different angle, and had the creatures waited until they were fully in the tunnel, then they would all have perished, even Rowff.
Rowff had torn the tongue from the mouth of the creature, and sadly, its head as well, for they were firmly attached together. In a matter of moments, he went from hive to hive ripping out tongues as Rush and Everett covered for him, sometimes saving him, sometimes not, as he saved himself instead.
But by the end of that time period, they were all juicy from the evisceration of all the creatures and the saliva spewed by their mouths. The two humans were worn out and depressed.
"We never get a break." Rush had growled as he flopped down on the bed of broken rock, which to him at that moment, seemed like a soft mattress after the stone floors they had been using up until this time.
Everett had rested with his back against a wall and nodded. "Breaks we get all right, just not the kind you can live with. Literally."
For some reason both humans broke into laughter then, but Rowff couldn't see the humor of it, but he could laugh when they did. Their faces and noises they made were somehow funny to him and comforting.
That was when Kark had shown up, extending the claws of his right hand.
Rush and Everett immediately jumped to their feet, grabbing their make shift weapons, which were rough spears of stone.
Rowff laughed. "Worry not."
They didn't believe him, kept at the ready as he approached Kark.
Kark immediately cut Rowff's right arm. Rowff didn't' scream out as a human might, but instead nodded his great head, causing both Rush and Everett to back off, thinking maybe their friend had lost his mind.
Rowff immediately lashed out at Kark's left arm and cut it. The two creatures leaned towards each other.
"Be prepared to charge the monster." Rush warned Everett.
"Got him covered." Everett nodded.
But instead of the two insectile creatures battling, they licked at the wounds they had made, making happy sounds. After several seconds of that, they straightened, then nodded, then sat down like two rocks out of control with thuds on the floor.
Rowff looked to his two friends. "Twould splike you to meet mi ah new frienda, Kark."
Everett gave Rowff an uneasy look. "But he never spoke."
Rowff laughed in that rough way he always did. "Humans. Always fudge everyone by twat you do. Our blood spleeks as loudsly as our voices."
Rush and Everett put down their spears and taking a chance, sat next to Rowff, who grinned at them, with that look that most children would have run home screaming for their Mommies had they seen it, then looked to Kark.
"Speak now. They listen. I help the dumb ones do."
Rush barked out. "Hey! We're not stupid!"
Rowff eyed him sternly. "To swum tings, most shupid!"
Then they sat there and spoke to each other. Humans and insectiles, learning how they each other thought. And for a few hours the world beneath the earth was peaceful. Even if a bit crazy confusing.