• Brent Streeter

The Shard

Photo by Deena from Pexels

It started with a spark as flint struck steel. The oil-ragged torch flared to life, the flames devouring it like a starving beast. The shadows that surrounded me leapt to life, dancing to a tune only they could hear. I pricked my ears for any hint I was not alone. There was none.

Alone, but for how long?

The thought tickled the back of my mind, taunting me. I had tried my best to keep what I had discovered a secret, even from my colleagues at the university. They already viewed my theories as absurd!

No doubt they would have tried to stop me.

Even I had struggled with the concept. How would the world react to its reveal?

I’ll show them. My theories are not just some madman’s ramblings!

I gathered my thoughts, reining them in like a teamster would his horses. This was not the time for idle thoughts.

I must find the entrance that leads down to the cellar.

I extended the sputtering torch into the air above me. It would serve no purpose if I blinded myself. Satisfied with the dim pool of light that surrounded me, I examined the foyer. It, like the exterior of the manor, must have been breathtaking in its years of prosperity. Now it was but a husk of its former glory. Thick, clogging layers of dust sat atop every surface, shifting like the tides at the slightest disturbance.

Prior owners or looters had stripped the walls bare, revealing the cracks beneath, leaving behind only imprints of portraits and tapestries that had once adorned the walls. Ceilings sagged with water damage and rot, while a section of the staircase that ascended to the upper levels had collapsed.

Rubble and debris sealed off any attempt at gaining entry to what might lie above.

Directly ahead of me stood a corridor. Like the gaping maw of a slumbering beast, so black, I felt that the torch I bore would do little against the impenetrable darkness.

This is the path I must tread.

I shivered as the thought made its journey across my mind. Steeling my nerves, I took a step towards the inky black corridor. I faltered. My body was unwilling to take the second step.

There is no turning back. You have sealed your fate.

The thoughts came unbidden. They felt not of my conception. They felt alien. I shook my head to clear the haze that swirled through it like a deep fog bank rolling in on the ocean breeze.

For a moment I thought I smelt the stink of rotting fish wafting out from the corridor, but it vanished as quickly as it had come, leaving only a mildewed smell.

I took the second step. The darkness lurched up to greet me, its shadowed tendrils clawing at the sputtering torch in my grasp. I pushed on, moving deeper into the bowels of the mansion.

The further I walked, the worse the decay became. I gawked at the room I found myself in.

Where the foyer had shown cracks along walls and gathering dust. Here, the walls had all but collapsed, revealing brick and mortar alongside rotten wooden support beams. A black veil of mold that seemed to bubble like a tar pit encased what little of the plaster I could see. It felt as if the very walls drew breath. I hurried on into the next room, eager to leave behind the hair-raising sight.

However, the next room was an equal match, if not worse. It was a great dining hall. At its center was a long table with high-backed chairs swollen from years of damp. My skin crawled. Bodies still occupied the chairs. Their grotesque forms sat; slumped and unmoving. Their decay frozen in time.

The table too still held the feast that these forsaken souls had been partaking of. Platters of spoiled meats that had the look of marine life, but none of which I could recognize, populated the table in a spread. Crystal-ware filled to the brim with what I hoped to be a fine wine sat beside dished plates untouched before those seated. I couldn’t help but wonder how they had died. But the answer I sought eluded me.

I felt a tugging sensation and allowed myself to be torn away from the table. This was not my goal. I needed to delve deeper. I took the nearest door, glad to have escaped the macabre scene. The tugging was stronger, like I was a fish caught on a hook being reeled in.

As I placed a hand on the doorknob, I shivered despite the warm mugginess of the dining hall. I twisted the knob and pushed the door open. It swung inwards, revealing a pitch-black void. The stench of fish was even fouler than before. My stomach lurched in protest.

I stepped through the portal. With a suddenness, I felt as if my body had been submerged and dragged down to the depths of the ocean, and yet I could still draw breath. The sensation faded, and with it the pitch-black void gave way.

It feels as if I have stepped into a world not our own.

An altar stood before me, carved from polished obsidian, that rose from the center of a dais jutting out from the middle of a vast cavern. Disbelievingly, I looked back and found the door had vanished, replaced by cold wet stone. Small tidal pools dotted the cavern, and some sort of bioluminescent plants washed the cavern in a pale glow. I drew my eyes back to the dais.

The altar.

I took to the dais with certainty - a compulsion. This was what I had been searching for. The altar was a thing of immaculate beauty and craftsmanship. Polished obsidian glinted in the torchlight. The sculpted altar took the form of a great Kraken, its tentacles rising to grip the altar's bowl.

The shard.

Again the alien thought, only this time it was stronger, as if the thought had truly been my own. I rummaged through the satchel at my waist and pulled out the shard. It felt warm to the touch and fit snugly in my hand. It was the key to everything. I had always known it to be.

The oath.

I embraced the thought; it was my own. I was sure of it; it was all I could think of in the swirling haze that had engulfed my mind. The stench of rotting fish was almost overwhelming, but this also felt right, and I embraced it like I would a lover.

I held my empty hand out over the altar and began the oath. I brought the shard up above my head.

“Accept this, which I offer!”

I drove the shard down into my exposed palm. The shard dug deep into my flesh. I felt the sweet release of pain flow from my body. I felt myself adrift in a sea of ecstasy as the shard tore across flesh. Dark rivulets of red cascaded down my wrist and into the waiting bowl.

It is done.

I shuddered as I forced the shard away from my flesh. I yearned to continue, but once again I felt the tug of the hook drawing me away from the altar and on towards a great pulsing arch that I was sure had not been there before. Beyond the arch was a sight that took my breath away. A sight that transcended my conception of reality.

An immense being shimmered into existence beyond the arch. Its presence was so overbearing that it drove me to my knees in submission. I prostrated myself before it.

“I lay bare before you, Great Ancient One, and come as a willing servant.” This I knew to be right. This was why I had come.

A great tentacle slithered through the shimmering veil and touched the center of my forehead. I felt its foreboding presence in my mind, and I trembled in awe.

Serve you shall.