Monday, February 5, 2018

Weird Revisited: Apocalypse Under Ground

This post first appeared in March of 2012. It was the first of a series of 3 in this setting...

He could barely remember a life before the refugee camp. His family had fled there like the others when their village had been overrun. They were without his two sisters; they had been carried away to fill monsters’ cookpots, perhaps. While he spent his days begging for food to feed his family, the monsters took his father, too. Maimed and in constant pain, his father had died with the beak of some leech-thing in his arm—a drug sold to those without hope by agents of the mind-flayers.

If the cleric was to be believed, the monsters took his mother as well. Even then, boy that he was, he knew enough to be skeptical. The wasting sickness that claimed her seemed all too common in the conditions of the camp—gods know he’d seen it enough. The cleric, evangelizing among the refugees, had claimed it was a magical disease sent by the monsters. The clerics always blamed the monsters. Their gods were as hungry for monster blood as the monsters seemed for the blood of man.

The boy didn’t care about the truth. He found a makeshift club, beat some scavenged nails into it, and joined the new crusade. Down he went, with a few veterans but many more hollow-eyed youths, into the lair of the foes of man, into the underground. The boy had survived. He had watched most of the others die in horrible ways: cut down, rended, chewed, dissolved. He had survived.

That was years ago. He barely remembered how young he had been—how weak he had been. Wounds that would have been fatal before now healed within days. He was strong and fast. The underground changed you. The trick was not to change too much. Some scholars thought that many of the tribes of monsters had once been men, in ages past.

Those same sages said it had always been like this. When a civilization mastered enough magic to discover the undergrounds, the war started. Who built them, no one could say. All the beings fighting for them now were like babes crawling through a grand temple in search of a toy. They understood so little. They knew only that there was treasure to be had: the doors in the depths through which the most ancient monsters traveled, the magic they fought over, and the gold that drew the poor and the greedy.

And no one—not goblins, not trolls, not dragons or men—was inclined to share.