“I kill you! I eat your lungs!”
Inside the chamber, Kane kept to the left, staying close to the wall. It was his guide rope, so to speak, his way back to the passage should there come a need to escape at speed. He quickly discerned that the wall curved inwards, an indication the chamber was circular, and based on the low degree of curvature, it was clear to him the chamber was gargantuan. Kane’s plan at this stage was to follow the wall all the way around until he returned to Dylan and Arika, at which time, if he hadn’t found the Necromonicon, he would criss-cross the chamber in case it was somewhere in the middle.
Here in the chamber, the noise and stench intensified. Kane also noticed a slight breeze, or rather a gentle stirring of the air that he felt like a caress against his face. He figured the breeze was caused by an exhaust system (the source of the droning noise he’d heard earlier), though it could also point to the chamber being open to the surface at some point. At first he breathed shallowly, hating the thought of the putrid air settling in his lungs, but he soon gave up and did his best to turn his mind to other things.
It wasn’t long before he came to the first distinguishing feature since entering the chamber: a shallow indentation in the wall. A metal gate barred the opening, though the cell was home only to piles of clothing: uniforms, similar to the ones in the earlier room, but much older and mostly dusty and worm-eaten. Further along were two more cells, but these clearly had a more sinister use. Shackles were attached to the wall, two at shoulder height and two resting on the ground, and the walls were smooth and shiny. The rotting straw on the floor stank like urine and faeces and decay. Kane felt sick. It was becoming clearer to him with each revelation what this place was all about.
What came next, though, blasted away this preconception.
Just beyond the three cells, the wall was scored with high-relief carvings, dense patterns in the stone that began suddenly and seemed to rush outwards and upwards. The carvings represented no earthly objects as far as Kane could tell, only recurring fractals: spirals, twirls and curls, some exploding out into the darkness, others that flew up the face of the wall before plunging down to the stone floor. Not only were the shapes impressive in their detail, they were enormous.
Moving the lamp along the wall, following the lines of the fractals with his eyes, Kane felt a growing dizziness. Shapes began to appear, three-dimensional shapes suspended in the air: irregular pyramids, multi-limbed starfish and other objects which later, with Arika’s help, he would identify as antiprisms and rhombic polyhedra. They twisted out of nothing, ballooned into kaleidoscopic colours, then folded in amongst themselves, to be replaced by new shapes and colours. And in the background, mixing with the ever-present sound of wailing, he began to hear the beat of faraway drums and the sound of flutes playing something frenzied and atonal.
With an effort of will, he pulled his eyes away from the wall. For a time, the fantastic shapes continued twisting, ballooning and folding in his mind, and then the sounds receded, the colours melted away and all Kane saw was the dull brown stones of the chamber floor.
This was when he noticed that, further along, the high-relief fractals on the wall joined with the floor and became a bas-relief version that led away from the wall and towards the centre of the chamber. He raised the lamp. The light didn’t travel far so it was impossible to see where the path led, but he was certain there must be something of importance there. Could this be where Waite was hiding the Necromonicon?
Following the path, Kane held the lamp low and examined the bas-relief carvings. He could see now the pattern was more than simple fractals. The shapes were formed from dendritic worm-like creatures that writhed together in a vaguely erotic way. The shapes held a remarkable amount of detail – they looked more like fossils than carvings – but if he examined them too closely, or for too long, the forms and sounds he experienced earlier would reappear and he would have to stop and look away.
Half-blinded by the visions, Kane was startled, on looking up, to see blocks of stone emerging from the darkness. At first all he could discern was a series of thick, black, rectangular pillars of varying heights – from a metre or so to over five metres tall – but as he went past the first pillar, he spied something massive in the midst of them: a stone cube, more than three metres along each edge. When he approached it, he saw the stone had been roughly hewn, though it dully reflected the lamp light. Resting atop the cube was a thick black plate, comprised of some kind of metal. The fractals ascended the sides until they reached the top, at which point they disappeared under the plate.
The block was sheared irregularly at the edges, and it was covered in a greenish-black resin, which ran unevenly down the sides of the stone and felt spongy to the touch. Holding the lamp close, Kane discerned, locked within the resin, string-like fibres and what looked like fragments of bone.
Hardly able to take in what he was seeing, he walked around to the other side. Attached to the tallest of the stone pillars here, at least four metres from the ground, were thick iron rings, some of them a metre in diameter. Rust had eaten away much of the metal, which, to his relief, suggested a great age – though perhaps the damp air and proximity to the ocean had caused the corrosion and the rings weren’t as old as they appeared. As Kane was worrying about this, he noticed something more recognisable: a second cube, this one much smaller: about the size of a kitchen table. There was no mistaking what this one was. Etched into the surface was a pentagram, along with a repeating pattern of hieroglyphs and geometric shapes.
“It’s an altar,” he said.
His words echoed amongst the pillars, and almost instantly a muffled sound rose from the floor at his feet.
Lowering the lamp, he could make out a row of holes in the flagstones near the base of the cube. “That’s interesting,” he said to himself in a low voice.
Placing the lamp and the axe on the floor, he got down on his hands and knees and tried to see through the holes. The light from the lamp wasn’t strong enough to penetrate them, but he could tell that whatever had made the noise was still moving around. A scrambling noise; a grunt; the occasional whine: it was definitely some kind of animal.
“A rat,” he pronounced in disgust, getting to his feet. “Just another bloody rat.”
It was then he heard what sounded like a voice.
Dropping again to the floor, he moved his mouth close to the holes. “Hello,” he called softly. “Is someone down there?”
Whatever was beneath him scratched at the stone with talons or nails. Then silence. A few seconds later came a guttural whisper.
“What?” he cried. “What was that?”
He listened again, his ear to the floor.
“Hep … mai,” he now heard, from a throat that sounded swollen and thick with phlegm.
“I’m here!” he cried. “Name’s Kane! Hold on, I’ll find a way to get you out!”
He listened again and heard the voice say, “Huuuryyyy.”
Despite everything he’d seen and heard to date in this hellish place, it was almost impossible to conceive of evil on this scale. But here at last was confirmation that Waite had prisoners locked away down here in the cold, dark bowels of the Earth.
Placing his fingers in the holes, Kane tugged at the flagstone. The stone was heavy and hurt his fingers, and at first it felt like it was immovable, but after pulling at it until it felt like his arms were separating from their sockets, the square of stone made a sudden grating noise, and with that he was able to lift it enough to drag it to one side.
The noise spurred a flurry of activity below. “Come … down … hep … mai,” urged the voice.
Grabbing the oil lamp, Kane lay on his stomach and dangled it into the opening. A shaft ran down a couple of metres before the space opened into a larger cell. The shaft was too narrow to crawl down, but Kane surmised there must be stairs somewhere that led to another level below the chamber floor.
“You still there?” he called out.
“Hurry,” growled the voice, louder now, more insistent. “Come now.”
“Where are you?”
There was no response.
“You still there?”
“Come now. Bing food. Bing. Bing meat.”
“How do I get down there?”
“Where’s the stairs?”
“I don’t …”
Uncertain what to do next, Kane lifted the lamp out of the shaft and glanced over his shoulder. Dylan and Arika were waiting for him back at the study, depending on him to find the book and deliver them safe and well to the surface. His purpose here – his sole purpose – was to rescue his brother. Dylan would almost certainly die if he failed. He looked back down the shaft. He couldn’t risk spending valuable time saving anyone else, no matter how dire their circumstances. This rescue would have to wait.
“Look,” he called down to the prisoner, “I’ll get help … I’ll get the police. Just hold on a while longer. I’ll send someone, I promise.”
He clambered to his feet, and at the same time a frantic scrambling came from below.
Now the voice shouted hoarsely, savagely, “We-baaahh! We-baaahh! Come down! Come now!”
“I’ll send the police. Just hold on.”
There was the sound of fast, raspy breathing. Then, at a low volume: “I kill you.”
Kane froze. “What the hell?” he cried into the abyss.
The voice began screaming insanely. “I kill you! I eat your lungs! I drink your marrow! I chop you into pieces and feed on your flesh! Your meat, your blood. Aahh-aaahh! I feed! I feed! We-baaahh! We-li-baaahh! We-li-baaahh!”
The voice dissolved into a string of obscenities and threats that pierced the blackness of the chamber like a knife. Kane backed away and glanced about him in panic. If any of Waite’s cronies were holed up down here, the yelling would be sure to lead them straight to him.
Grabbing the axe, cursing the invisible fiend under his breath, he ran back down the path.