[Short Story] The Land Underground

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Gentle folk, children, come gather round. I’ll tell you the tale of the land underground.
No doubt like the crazy old man of the town!

Yet it’s real as the eyebrows you raise at me now, as real as the dubious look on your face. It isn’t a vision, a myth or a ruse, but by my own blood, it’s an actual place.

Perhaps you have ventured once into the dark. Exploring some cavern, perhaps for a lark. But nary did you stay any longer than that, driven back to the sun by a shadow, or bat.

I tell you that if you’d continued below, you’d come across trees, rivers, mountains and snow. The darkness and rock walls give way to the light, a cavern so massive the roof’s beyond sight.

Where’s the light come from? Nobody knows. Nor, when night comes, do they know where it goes. In truth, though you doubt me, there’s an endless frontier, to be conquered by men whose hearts beat without fear.

You won’t be the first, nor will you be last. Heretics, exiled, or iconoclast. Banished from the surface world of sun, wind and sound, they venture below, to the land underground.

Overthrown kings, warlords or chiefs. At one time a hideout for assassins and thieves. All tried to lay claim to what’s under our feet. ’Til the natives emerged, to feast on fresh meat.

The ruins of castles and forts testify to the desperate battles of eras gone by. One after the next, empires rose and fell, destroyed by unspeakable creatures from Hell.

They wait ‘till you’ve settled, invested it all. Committed yourself, thrown your hat o’er the wall. That way you won’t run, but instead stay and fight what’s been watching from shadows, beyond reach of the light.

This is how they feed. They have no need to hunt. Prey comes to them, an ingenious stunt. Driven by greed, and dreams of return, that the empire they’ll forge might one day surface to burn, rape and pillage the kingdom which banished them there, but that dream before long turns into a nightmare.

As soon as they’re settled, there’s no need to pretend, no need to hide, no disbelief to suspend. Gracefully, they emerge from the walls. Silently crawling through chambers and halls. Shifting their shape while your back is turned. Just the way to stalk humans, their ancestors learned.

There is no free land. Nowhere left you can go. No freedom from tyrants, above or below. Lest you ignore my warnings and set off for the cave, know that the land underground is a grave. Containing the corpses of millions of men, but also of kingdoms they failed to defend.

The ones waiting there I am sure will not starve. No shortage of men more ambitious than smart, will continue to feed them thanks in large part to man’s unjustified but unwavering perception that despite all who’ve died trying, he’ll be the exception.

So despite the grand tales and the dreams they inspire, balance that against everything dire I’ve told you about what waits to be found, by the fools who would seek out the land underground.

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