“What is that?!”

Cato, Kyros, and Anica were all thinking it the moment their eyes settled in on the strange corpse in the center of the Temple’s cellar, but it was Kyros that chose to speak the obvious question.

Putting aside his confusion and the odd revulsion he felt when looking at the thing, Cato turned to the priest that had led them down here and revealed it to them. The man was smiling now. It was not a normal, happy smile but one of a severely disturbed individual. His eyes were a little too wide open and a hint of soft laughter crept through every few seconds.

A temple in a remote, isolationist city. Within the temple, there was a room that no one was ever seen to exit. Kyros had gotten in practically by accident, then been chased out to be the first person observed exiting. And yet when they came to investigate later that night, the door was hidden by magic. Then the cellar itself was concealed by a magical veil, making it look mundane despite a horrid smell. And now this crazed priest had revealed a monstrous thing that caused all of Cato’s senses to rebel and inform him that it should not be there at all. And the priest was laughing. And clearly mad.

At this point, every little bit of information that was added in made the whole damnable situation worse. And the priest was still standing there looking mad and proud of himself.

Cato was through with that.

While Anica and Kyros were keeping their distance from the thing in the center of the room, Cato turned fully to the priest, grabbed the man by the collar and roughly forced him into the nearest wall. Once there, he shifted to hold the man’s neck and glared straight into those crazed eyes, “No more! Explain this!”

With that, the man laughed loudly and manically. Or at least, he attempted to. Right as the sound began, Cato gripped the man’s throat tighter and slammed his head into the marble wall, “What is going on here?!”

The priest’s crazed look faded into a daze, and his eyes met Cato’s. It wasn’t long before he spoke in a strained voice, “The weak cannot comprehend the doom before their very ey—”

Before the man could finish speaking, Cato slammed him into the wall again. This time, the body slumped as unconsciousness took him.

Good.

Cato let the priest drop to the ground and turned to the other two. Kyros was still keeping his distance from the corpse in the center of the room, eying it cautiously. Anica, on the other hand, was off to the opposite end of the cellar, digging through a pile of dusty tomes that always occupied creepy rooms filled with old runes.

“I hate cultists,” Cato grumbled as he walked over to the other two, making sure to keep a wide berth between himself and the thing that he was also doing his absolute best to not look at.

Anica glanced over her shoulder to him and nodded, “They can be frustrating. I think I have a better source of information anyway.”

Her entire pace of speech had altered now. The innocent, foreign girl routine was gone and Cato now heard a voice that matched what he saw. It was a voice that did not hide any intelligence, and combined with her constant act up until this point, it all led him to wonder if even this was the real Anica.

“We’re sure this is dead, right?” Kyros was understandably still worried.

Cato stopped and looked back at the corpse on the tomb. His eyes fought him, only telling him that this black, humanoid shape was featureless and wrong…and by all rights, dead. Tearing away from it, Cato put a hand on his brother’s shoulder to turn Kyros away, too, “If it can live with it’s entire torso open, I’m not sure there’s anything we could do about it anyway.”

“You’re not helpful at all,” but despite the anger in his voice, Kyros pulled away and they both moved over to where Anica was, pouring into a book as big as her head.

Looking over her shoulder and at the book did little good. Cato couldn’t read the mix of strange runes and what he assumed were at least two other languages. He could make out some diagrams, but they were crude and strange and all said to him that this book was a key to very bad things. This was why Cato didn’t like books. They had a habit of containing dark, evil things that ended worlds just as often as they contained horribly boring histories about evil things attempting to end worlds.

“I think it’s a record,” Anica said, noting the confused looks on both of the brothers’ faces, “Most of the early sections read like any magical study of The Wall. But then it reaches this point…”

She turned back a few pages, revealing a spread written in a single language accompanied by what looked like dates. Cato still couldn’t read it, but he could tell from the style of notation that it was a moment by moment record of some event.

Anica pointed to the middle of the first page, “A week ago, a group of priests and mages took to the sea to study The Wall more closely. They found a body in the water. When they dragged it aboard, the sailors panicked and tried to throw it overboard. They killed the sailors and managed to bring it back here.”

Her finger moved to the top of the other page, “There’s speculation on its origin. Something from beneath the sea, maybe. But all the entries begin to detail the natural revulsion they all felt when looking at it. It looks featureless and yet wrong, and…they thought it came from the other side of the Wall somehow.”

“Is that even possible?” Kyros’s voice was shaky. This entire thing had grown into the kind of situation that he was not used to dealing with, and he’d never liked the idea of magic and monsters. Most children were told stories of monsters waiting behind The Wall. It surely didn’t help that the massive red thing was visible from nearly anywhere in Oriona.

Anica didn’t seem to notice the reaction, however, and simply shrugged, “This says they believe it was. They performed all sorts of magical tests on it, even attempting to raise it from the dead. Nothing worked. The last bit seems to have truly startled them. The next entry doesn’t come for another two days. They brought in a high priest from the Great Observatory in the southern part of the city and…”

She turned the page, and there was a large diagram of the monster. It was as well drawn as could be, and here it was shown with it’s chest entirely open and a large, blue-black glowing thing in the center of its mass of insides.

Cato resisted the urge to look back at it, “They cut it open.”

“And found something,” Anica nodded and turned the page again. Here were diagrams focused on the blue-black object. She then flipped through multiple pages before stopping. Here was a drawing of an oval shaped window, through which it looked like there was an entire landscape of grey and black. Anica pointed to some of the text on the page, “The gem inside the creature. They used it to create a portal…to the other side of The Wall. They were sending people through it daily. From here.”

No one was seen leaving the way they came in.

They all thought it and, this time, none spoke it aloud. Instead, all of their attention was on the book and Anica’s translation. She flipped through more pages. Scanning them quickly, then moving on. Looking for something, Cato assumed. And then it reached a half-finished page.

“Here,” she looked to both of the brothers for a moment, “This is from today. They moved the gem after you found this place. But it doesn’t say where. This doesn’t even look finished. I think our friend over there was working on it and heard us coming.”

Cato resisted looking back at the unconscious priest, as that would mean having to look beyond the creature’s body again, “So we’re done here.”

“No,” Anica said the word so firmly that Cato knew better than to argue, “This is worse than I had expected. The record has cryptic hints of working with whatever is on the other side of The Wall, and none of it sounds good.”

“You had to read a book to figure that out?!” Kyros threw his arms in the air and then swung around to motion furiously at the corpse in the center of the room, “What about that? The horror that smells almost as bad as it looks in the center of the room?”

Anica pointed to the tome in front of her and shrugged, “Monsters of all kinds roam the world. Horrible creatures from realms far and wide. Yet, I have never heard of anything breaching The Wall outside of legend. It is supposedly sealed off from the world by some dark, evil power banished from our world thousands of years ago.”

Before Cato could point out the fact that Anica seemed to know quite a lot about this specific situation, a low thrumming sound began to echo through the room. The trio looked to one another, then around the room. There was nothing new to see, but the sound was growing and it didn’t take long for the air itself to begin feeling heavier.

“We need to go!” it wasn’t cowardice that made Cato state that firmly. He had a sense of these kinds of things. And right now, everything in him was telling him that something very bad was about to occur in the vicinity of the cellar they currently occupied.

To his surprise, there was no argument from Anica. Instead, she simply grabbed the tome and another underneath it and fell right into step behind him as Cato made for the stairs. Kyros lingered just a second more, but it seemed that his need to do stupid things was gone for the day, and he quickly followed.

The weight in the air grew, as did the sound, and just as Cato reached the steps, he heard a loud crack of something from behind. Sense told him to keep running, but instinct made him stop and turn his head. He didn’t feel too stupid, though, as both Anica and Kyros had done the same thing.

On the far side of the room, an oval shaped hole in the air had formed. It floated a bit, the thrumming sound now clearly coming from its edges, and then the strange blackness rippled to reveal a very forboding scene beyond. A grey, dead landscape. Bones littered the ground, and an obsidian path led away from the hole to a city made of the same material, but constructed like nothing Cato had ever seen. Spikes and sharp corners, all shooting up into a crimson sky.

And then three figures came into view.

Cato immediately recognized the one in the center. An older man, grey-haired and wearing the crimson robes of the priests in Oriona. He was flanked by two tall, thin, black, leathery-skinned…it was two more of the creatures. These were not dead. These were nearly seven and a half feet tall, and seemed to glide as they walked in the same way that their features repulsed the soul of those looking upon them. Not only were they made up of Wrong, but they moved in a way that Should Not Be.

All three stepped through the hole in the air, and right away the priest pointed to Cato, Anica, and Kyros, “You need not hunt long, my friends. Your prey has come to you.”

A chill went up Cato’s spine as he realized the two alien creatures made eye contact with him. Black, shining eyes, uncomfortably large and never seeming to blink against that dull, black skin. And they looked right into him. And as they began to come for the trio, they spoke.

But the creatures did not seem to have mouths with which to speak. Rather, their words echoed within the bones of everyone around them.

You. Cannot. Run. You. Shall. Not. Hide. Your. Death. Approaches. And. There. Is. No. Escape.