The earth ripped open beneath our feet, trees growing sideways in the chasm, helping to push it open further. Rocks and mud literally tore themselves apart, splintering and shifting in all directions.
There was a sudden lurching sensation, my feet falling out from under me, and then we were falling. Plant life continued to grow above me, forming a protective cover that prevented the janitor from following us into the ground.
For a moment, all I could see was Harold’s stark white body, falling in unison.
It was too hard to tell just how long I fell for but I spent the time cursing myself for being such an idiot. Yeah, I had wanted to get the hell away from the creepy glowing janitor dude, but opening a hole into the unknown and just dropping in? Probably not my best decision. I tried calling up some plant life to catch my fall, but nothing responded. Not a surprise. I mean, what else would there be underneath the ground besides just more rocks, rocks and more rocks? I closed my eyes and resigned myself to an inevitable rocky death. At least it would be quick.
The impact hurt less than I expected, but it still knocked my breath away. Coldness swept over me, and I felt my body go numb, as if it was weightless. Was this what death felt like? I opened my eyes and saw a vast blue abyss stretching out before me, bright lights shimmering in the distance. I gasped.
And I immediately got a mouthful of water.
My body jumped into panic mode, and I began thrashing, confused and disoriented, as water filled my lungs. I kicked and reached out with my hands, hoping to find some sort of hold. To my surprise, something grabbed me back. Rough hands pulled my forward onto a dry surface and I hunched over, coughing. When I finally caught my breath and confirmed that I wasn’t actually dead, I began laughing. Yeah, I know that’s weird. Maybe it was just a final breaking point, but the irony of almost drowning after surviving all the other bat-shit dangerous situations I had experienced in the last few days struck me as oddly humorous.
Someone behind me cleared their throat, and I remembered I wasn’t alone. I turned towards my savior and recoiled as I found myself looking at a person with no face.
No, that wasn’t it. I couldn’t see clearly in the dim torchlight, but what looked like a faceless monster was apparently a person wearing a grey mask. The mask was smooth and featureless, an oval shaped case that covered the person’s entire head, like a slim light bulb. The person wore a loose robe that made it hard to make out any details. Besides for their height (a little taller than me), there was nothing I could go on. I would have been unnerved if the person hadn’t just saved my life.
We were in a large stone chamber that was mostly filled with a deep pool of water. I looked up into the dark fissure I had ripped in the ceiling, still dripping earthen clumps. I wasn’t sure how clean the water was before, but dumping a bunch of mud and gravel into it probably hadn’t helped.
The masked figure had brought a few makeshift jugs and canteens, but they were all empty. The figure glanced over at the water, now too dirty to drink.
“Look, this was my fault,” I said. “I wasn’t even thinking there would be people under here. Shit, I feel like a jackass. You save my life and I pollute your entire water source.”
The figure tilted its head and pointed upwards to the crack.
“Yeah, I did that. Long story. If there’s any way I can make it up to you…”
Before I could finish talking, the figure turned away and began to leave.
“Hey, wait! I said I was sorry!”
I stood there, drenched and cold, feeling like a total jerk. I had finally found something in this world who wasn’t either actively trying to kill me or worship me, and the first thing I had done was destroy part of its home in a single rash decision.
Speaking of which, where was Harold? There didn’t seem to be anywhere he could have gone, but he clearly hadn’t fallen into the water with me. But his disappearance was only a minor worry when compared to the strange whiteness that the janitor had caused. What the hell was going on? My own fingers had turned back to normal from where they had touched the white on Harold, so I hoped that meant he was okay.
The masked figure had stopped a few feet down the tunnel It turned back and motioned for me to follow.
Either it forgives me and wants to help, or it is planning to spring a trap on me somewhere down that tunnel.
I looked around at the dead-end chamber I had fallen into. The only other way out was the crack I had caused, and unless I developed flying powers any time soon, that wasn’t going to be an option.
I shrugged and followed the stranger into the darkness.