's 2013 Horror Write-off:

" The Adversary "

Submitted by Vague1

In the midst of my life, feeling as if I had conquered my homeland and could trace every path of my town from memory, I became restless and depressed with my life. I had for myself a house, a family, and an employment, but I was unfulfilled and empty. My home was large and lush when I was youthful; the world seemed to stretch on forever in every direction. But now, in my age, I saw life as it was. I remember distinctly my coldest autumn, when seasonal decay seemed to parallel my own. I sat on the porch, the dying light of the fireplace playing over my back, the sunset painting a dismal orange into the darkening clouds. The last of fall beauty had died; shriveled leaves scattered in the wind. The crops were cut and harvested; the fields empty and barren adjacent to their ancient, crumbling farmhouses. The empty chill of winter had arrived, bringing with it an unavoidable sense of dread. Soon the world would stretch out like a pale corpse, a bleak and unforgiving landscape shrouded in ice.

Perhaps I should have accepted such fate. I was comfortable here, but my world was small and I had exhausted my local opportunities. I was in denial. I fought back, refusing to believe that my life would be so dull hereafter. The quiet town, it seemed, was a graveyard, each quiet house a tombstone, the resting place of a dead dream. It was thus that I began to plan my expedition, to find again the freedom and youth that had left me some years ago.

After some consideration, I decided that a mountain would be the best option. I had always wanted to climb a mountain, and it seemed to be the ideal way to break away from my mundane life. I had decided upon an obscure peak, far away from most civilized places. It was not the tallest summit to surmount, but it was significant, and, more importantly, far from my home. I will not divulge the name of that dark precipice now.

Suffice to say, it was distant, and it was adventure enough for me, as dull as my life had been prior to this excursion. I charted a path for myself up the slopes, aided in my quest by several other seekers of adventure, many much similar to myself. Some were hardened explorers, having been to every corner of this world and returned confident and prosperous. Others were more like myself, first-time climbers looking for a challenge, but too inexperienced to go alone. It was in such company that I made my first few days' climb up the slopes. It was not altogether eventful on those days; at times goats, only mildly puzzled by our equipment, would visit our flimsy tent encampments, only to pass us by in favor of some particularly intriguing shrubs. Such events seemed sufficient entertainment for my fellows, but I personally yearned for more.

On the passing of the first week, we had risen to such height that the hills and peaks we passed were barren wilderness capped with snow. On the ninth day, a blizzard struck, and we were forced to stay inside our cramped tents while the wind raged on around us. Emerging from our camp the following day, we were disturbed to see that our chosen path had been snowed in, and that we would need to turn back. However, one of the more experienced climbers of our pack protested this idea, and proclaimed that we might still see the summit in a few days' time if we followed an alternate route. This was initially met with some skepticism, but he assured us that we would be able to find another path by way of a trail he had spotted some ways back. Dubious, but trusting his explanation, we turned back down the mountain in search of our previous campsite. The return was arduous, and it seemed that we were uncertain in our destination. In the midst of our return trip, another storm hit.

The snow stung deep into my face as the wind came, and the world was soon lost in the swirling chaos. I struggled against the storm, but it blew me back, and I stumbled blindly, my companions suddenly gone. In this bout of disorientation, I fell backwards, and found myself tumbling. As I rolled, the ground seemed to disappear for several seconds, then rapidly advance upon me. The blow from the fall knocked the wind out of me; I was stunned for a moment. I realized then that I tasted blood, and that my chest was now pulsing with pain. My breathing was ragged and strained; each heartbeat brought another stab of agony. I managed to orient myself properly, surveying the area. The exertion sent me another cacophony of aches, and I collapsed again. I had glimpsed a nearby cave in my view, and it was there that I dragged myself, bit by bit, to take shelter from the storm. I had not gone far into it before I collapsed, exhausted, into darkness.

I drifted in and out of consciousness for some time. I do not remember for how long. When I awoke, I was no longer in the cave, in the storm. I was lying somewhere. It was padded with some kind of fur, and it was pleasantly warm and soft, a welcome relief from the cave. I opened my eyes to find myself in a dimly lit room. The light came from a candle on a table by my bedside. I was in a bed, it seemed. I sat up, and was greeted again by pain, but slightly less than before. I felt about my chest. Immediately, my torso burned, and my vision clouded as my temples throbbed. I coughed uncontrollably, and my throat burned with dryness. I could taste blood. I looked around the room, remembering that I was lost, and found that I had been transported to what seemed to be either a small hospital or a primitive hotel room. The bed I was resting in more resembled a cot upon inspection, and I could see other patients in the murky light. I saw, to my relief, that the cot next to mine contained one of my climbing companions. He was not obviously wounded, but he was asleep. I wanted to discover more about the nature of my accommodations, but pain overcame me and I fell deeply back into unconsciousness.

I woke the next morning to a much brighter world and the silhouette of a man standing over me. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I was taken aback by his appearance. He seemed to belong to no race of the world I had ever seen before. His skin was quite pale, and his hair was long and white, though he did not look as if he was over the age of 30. He was tall and lean, but muscular. His eyes looked red, as if bloodshot. He spoke to me in an unfamiliar language, full of rough edges and short syllables, a dialect of a sort that I had never heard spoken before. His face was strange and his features were somehow misaligned, in a way I could not place. Another silhouette appeared behind him, which resolved itself as my companion from the adjacent cot.

"He says, 'Greetings, did you sleep well?'" my companion explained. "I have lived in this area for a while leading up to this expedition, and I know the local speech. He speaks in a tone I have never observed in this region, but the language is a variant on the native tongue, so I can interpret for you. I have never seen this village before."

I felt awake, but hurt. I told my new translator, whose name, for his own sake, I will not mention, to tell the man that I still needed to rest and recover from my injuries. The man nodded, and spoke several more words to the translator.

"He says, 'Feel free to stay here as long as you need to. We do not need the hospital space for anyone else,'" said my translator. "He was on the patrol that found you in that cave. Without him, you might have died there."

I asked him where I was now, and how much time it had been.

"You arrived here three days ago. You are now in the injury ward in the village," explained my translator. "We are still on the mountain, slightly higher up from the cave where you fell."

I thanked the translator, and he left, but not before saying that he would come back sometimes to help understand what my hosts were saying. Over the course of a few weeks, I learned about this strange village. It seemed that the villagers survived here by growing toughened crops from the mountainside, and they managed to avoid the snowstorms with a large wall built around one side of the village. I noticed that it seemed to be built less to defend from the environment than to act as a barrier to the outside. They used what seemed to be some sort of geothermal to keep warm and grow crops, extracted from the inside of the mountain's tunnels. They had an extensive system of tunnels worked in through the sides, and all were very heavily patrolled. I could not understand why, because they seemed to have no enemies. Theirs was the only inhabitation for miles, and the only one at all on the mountain. Their lives seemed dull and routine, barely more than farming day in and day out. I wondered why they would live in such a tedious lifestyle, but they seemed content with their lot. That may have been the strangest thing about them, in fact.

These villagers were an odd race of people. All of them were white-haired and pale; they seemed albino in their appearance. The men were tall and strong, but skinny and ropy from their mostly monotonous, hardy diet. The women were similar: somewhat shorter, perhaps, and maybe softer as well, but still tough and devoted. They were all resigned and serene and bore their burdens well. But perhaps the strangest thing about them was their religion. Now, as far as they were from my home, I had not expected them to have heard the word of God, but they seemed to reject the idea of a creator entirely, dismissing it as irrelevant. Their culture embraced martyrdom as its highest virtue. Their greatest glory in life was to die in battle; all other deaths were seen as dishonorable. All of their sick, wounded, and their elders were sent into the tunnels to die honorably. They went without complaint; they were resigned completely to their fate. They did believe in one god, but not a creator: not a loving, benevolent being.

They believed in an entity they called "The Adversary." It was their ultimate fear, the cruelest evil. It was a beast waiting in the darkness, a looming anxiety waiting to surface into absolute terror. It was the depth and power of the mountain. It lurked, they said, in the dark tunnels: tunnels they had not carved. All of their dying villagers were sent to the tunnels to combat it, it was foretold that there would be one, or perhaps many, who would one day defeat it. It was upon this that their entire culture, their thoughts, their desires were based. It was a cult of death and sacrifice. They were told to multiply, to bear children before they were old, and to go fearlessly into the tunnels to do battle. I was taken aback to hear these things; their beliefs seemed to me to be strange and barbaric.

The following week, I still lay in bed; my wounds had almost entirely healed. However, I was informed that there was to be another round of villagers sent off to combat the Adversary. I could walk, but I was still weak and pained. Nevertheless, the laws of the village demanded that I too must go into the tunnels. There were no exceptions for the wounded villagers; if your wound would not heal fast enough to make you productive, you were to be sent to the tunnels.

So it was that I went into the depths of the mountain, among many other villagers. To each of us was given a knife, a candle, and a canteen full of water. Outside of the mouth of the cave, a large stone door was pulled back. We were rushed into the darkness on the other side, and held in, until the doors slid back into place completely, leaving us stranded. It was pitch dark inside the cave. All of them scattered almost immediately, there was a great rush of bodies in every direction, and I nearly fell from the agitation. The villagers may have been calm outside, but once in the darkness, they reverted to chaos.

When at last the rushing of feet across the stones had subsided, I lit my candle, and saw that there were several cave openings, tunnels into the darkness. At random, I took one to the right. I went slowly, clutching my knife and candle in opposite hands. The tunnel stretched on deeply. My candle had much time to dwindle in that long stone hallway. By the time it had burnt through halfway, I emerged into a larger room. It was square, roughly, and quite large, compared to the twisting, narrow passage of before. A set of three large shelves, recessed pockets in the stone, was built into the wall on one side. Stacked across the first shelf was a row of canteens, all in a line. Across the second was a line of knives, each one bright and sharp, all aligned. On the top shelf, in a row, was a multitude of candle-holders, all empty, wax still clinging to some of them. I continued, my hands now shaking.

Through another hallway, much shorter and straighter than those before, I came upon another room. Inside were rows upon rows of the same. Empty canteens, unused knives, and spent candles-countless shelves of them-stretched on through the corridor, until the shelves were lost in darkness. Each row was stacked with items on top of each other, in columns. Beneath each column, I noticed, symbols were carved into a stone tablet. I continued on. The hallway was convoluted and branched and turned back upon itself many times, but I navigated it.

When at last I reached its end, I was in another room, this one smaller than those preceding it. It smelled strange, musty and old. A multitude of candles, I noticed, were placed seemingly at random on rocks around the room, providing some illumination. Every available surface, it seemed, was covered in tally marks, countless scratches etched into the walls. Disturbed, I continued on through the tunnel. It took some time to find my way through in the dim light.

At last, in near darkness, I found an end to it all. It was a massive grave-pit. The ground was strewn with bones, and the concentration only became thicker as I strained to see beyond them. The bones became corpses, the corpses, bodies. An ocean of limp, pale carcasses stretched on before me. The room was heavy with the scent of flesh. It seemed to never end, and the light became steadily dimmer as I stood there. My heart was racing, and my every instinct told me to flee. There was no life here, only its absence. The corpses became fresher with distance, and the room seemed to expand to accommodate all of them. I was terrified by the spectacle, but I had to move on, to look for a way out. I had to keep going.

As I took my first step onto the bodies, something shifted and stood up from beneath them. The shape was familiar. It was my translator, who had accompanied me here and looked over me while I rested in the hospital. I stood in stupefied silence, staring at him. His head was downcast, and his clothes were dirty and torn. We faced each other for what felt like hours. At last, I worked up some courage. I stammered a greeting to the uncertain figure.

"Hello," he said. "I was running from it, and it chased me here. I was here to blend in with the bodies," he said. His voice was an odd monotone. His head rolled from side to side, and he stood uneasily, shaking on his feet.

"I saw it. I saw them die. They stood no chance. They fell in waves to the ground, and it dragged them here," he lamented. His arms raised in the dim light.

"They do not run. They fight. They die."

His head began to turn, indistinct in the murk. At last, it rotated to face me.

"...I kill."

His body had not moved.

His last words wavered in the air, shaking from the translator's mouth. It was the sound of human speech, but from an inhuman source, something terrible and alien. There was the distinct impression of a voice that had been carefully practiced, but only a shallow and imperfect imitation of human life. The Adversary had spoken.

Something pulsated and slithered its way out of his back, leaving a husk in its wake, rising from among the countless dead. The bodies shifted and slid beneath as a vast, indistinct shape slithered from the pit. Some pulsed and rose. Pallid corpses fell and contorted, crumpling against the ground, as the Adversary stood.

I never stopped to glimpse it before I reacted. I sprinted back to the passage as it twisted out of the pile. It whispered and screamed into my mind. The voice was resounding, pounding in my skull. I could only hear it in throbbing pulses. It echoed off of the smooth tunnel walls and slid into my mind with a reverberating groan, masking a multitude of incoherent whispers. The tunnel back was darker, now, the creature had stirred up a storm of dust from the bodies, and the fumes made the candles die one by one in the flickering light.

The darkness spread from behind me, the dust and horror suffocated the flames.

Its words chilled me, and I sprinted down that dim hallway in the faint hope of evading it.

I ran. I ran as fast as I could, adrenaline coursing through my veins, barreling forwards, never looking back. The halls within the tunnels twisted and sprawled, turning back on themselves, labyrinthine corridors, pathways into the darkness. Every step brought with it a new decision. I couldn't afford to hesitate, flinging myself through to a random direction each time. I could feel it pursue me. Its voice was faint, but still audible, whispering to me. I was exhausted, but I continued on in my terror. I could not stop it from following, but I had to outrun it. I ran for hours in that dark maze, until at last, rasping and terrified; I stumbled into a familiar chamber. I had, at last, returned to the entry. Gasping from my exertion, I collapsed on the wall, now in total darkness. I could hear something approach, a steady, growing pace.

It had followed me.

It had come all this way, in the darkness, to find me.

I pressed myself against the wall, tensed with fear. I held my breath and stayed as still as I could, clamping my eyes shut. The cave wall was cold and hard, and I hurt terribly from my wounds. I curled myself into as small a shape as I could, and I waited. It drew nearer. The sound increased. It was a rhythmic scraping, punctuated by echoing thuds. In several minutes, it seemed to close in on me. It had entered the room. I did not dare to move, and my heartbeat pounded in my ears. I could feel its presence, a hulking, indefinite shape in the darkness. I could feel it facing me. I could feel its gaze move around every surface of the room, passing over me.

It started to move.

I tensed, preparing for my death. But what occurred instead was stranger. It turned, not towards, but away from me, and withdrew from the room. As it moved, the pacing of its footsteps grew steadily fainter, and, in time, subsided entirely. I did not move for hours, staying in that troubled position, until darkness and exhaustion overtook me, and I fell asleep.

I awoke to the sound of a door sliding open, and a beam of light falling across my face. I blinked in the sudden light, my eyes searing from the new brightness. My head pounded with each throbbing heartbeat, and I was only dimly aware of the figures standing over me, silhouetted in the opening to the outside. I struggled to my feet, fighting the soreness that now covered me.

Adjusting to the light, I saw one of the silhouettes to be that of the man from the hospital. He seemed confused about why I was here, but without the translator, I could not understand his speech. Feeling my new injuries, I gestured towards the hospital, and he helped me gradually make my way towards it. Once there, I thanked him, made my way to a spare cot, and collapsed, resting comfortably for what felt like the first time in days.

I lapsed in and out of consciousness for the next few days, getting my bearings once again, but now determined to leave this place as quickly as possible. After some time, I felt well healed enough to pursue this goal. I planned my escape well, over the course of my recovery. I would steal one of their carts, and some supplies, and head for one of the tunnels. I began at nightfall. The hospital was dark and abandoned. They thought that I was sleeping, and so they had put other priorities ahead of my care. I was thankful. It gave me an opportunity. I quietly exited my cot, placing my blanket aside. Making my way out of the hospital, I crept through the empty streets. I found a suitable cart by a market stand, and took some of the food from it as well. The fruit of this village was tough and bitter, but there was little else to have. I stole two goats from the market, and tied them to the cart as well. Then, there was only the matter of finding an exit.

The village was sealed off, for the most part. Along the mountainside, there were tunnels, many blocked by heavy stone doors. Those that were not were illuminated by torches. I took an open passage which seemed to lead to the outside. Unlike most of the others, it did not look like it was guarded, and its lights had gone dark. I took that dark tunnel down, down as far as it went, until it opened into the bitter cold of the mountain. The stars shone down upon me, clear and perfect above the clouds. I climbed into the cart, and gradually made my way down the slopes.

I reached our second campsite at dawn. My former companions had long since deserted it, and it had suffered against the elements for several days. Thankfully, what remained served as adequate shelter for me for the moment. When morning came, I departed, and found my way back to the ground. It was thus that I returned to civilization. I made my return trip easily, and found myself back in my own town. It now seemed even smaller, but safe and tranquil. I have had my fill of adventures.

But it still worries me. The Adversary... It could have killed me. It could easily have found me, and laid me to rest like so many others in the pit. It was immortal, wrathful, and terrible beyond anything else I have ever seen.

...But it did not kill me. And I must wonder why. The Adversary had tracked me through that maze. It had followed me as I ran desperately through. Perhaps it did not want to kill me. Perhaps it simply needed to find the way out. There is one detail that I have yet neglected to mention. As I left the village, I passed along the mountainside, where the tunnels were. The entry to its tunnel was there, as well.

The door was slightly ajar.