Elegant white marble columns that glowed with an otherworldly light illuminated the cavern around Albert, filling him with determination. He wasn't sure what he was looking for when he had first set off, but as he climbed the stairs carved out of the same glowing white stone led up to a raised dais set in the center of the pool, he knew he had found it. Luckily he didn't give in to his urge to give up and head back up the trail.
Albert had walked down the animal path for hours, finding nothing other than leaves and stones and was beginning to doubt that there was any point to exploring here at all. A few minutes ago, the mud and dirt had shifted to gravel and sand and the trees withdrew, looking down on him from above. He had looked around with a sinking feeling. The rocky outcroppings that he had seen being pounded by ocean waves from amongst the trees above were now spread out before him. His ears were filled with a constant roaring and salty ocean spray splashed into his face every few seconds as another wave crashed against one of the stone pillars. Each new splash of seawater was accompanied by the stench of seabird droppings that coated the tops the stones like whipped cream on a sundae.
Albert collapsed onto the pebbly shore and stared out over the waves with his arms wrapped around his knees. He had spent ages trekking down the cliff expecting some sort of exciting event and all he had to show for it was a pair of muddy shoes, a throbbing ankle and the sinking feeling that he was a fool. Did he really expect fantastic and magical things to be around every corner?
"I'm such a dumbass. If stuff like that were common, then things like that Chimera wouldn't be considered myths," He berated himself.
"But, then again, it wasn't a myth. I found one!" Albert said, as he clenched his fists and stood.
He refused to turn back that easily. Not yet at least.
How had he found that Chimera before? Something about the clearing with the cliff that led up the mountain had called out to him. Something deep within him was drawn to the area. His senses, keen enough to see the unseen, had led him there and they would do the same here, Albert decided.
Closing his eyes, Albert allowed his sense of self to wash away with the sea. Every time the waves came crashing onto the shore, he allowed a little bit of himself to extend outward, searching.
It was as if fireworks, invisible before, had suddenly popped into existence. There WAS something nearby. Something that was giving off energy so powerful that he felt like he must have been blind to miss it before. His eyes still shut firmly, Albert followed the trail of energy that hung in the air like florescent ink in water. Even as the icy touch of the Atlantic lapped at his ankles, he walked onwards.
He was close.
The trail of energy he was following was flowing out from an area ahead of him like oil from the earth. He opened his eyes inches from glistening stone. He had stopped just before one of the rocky outcroppings that the sinking tides had left behind.
"What the hell?"
He splashed his way around the rock, looking for some reason for the energy he felt coming from the area. All he could see were the curves and crevices of the stone and a large colony of barnacles that clung to it like the mud to his shoes.
"No, that can't be right," Al thought, shutting his eyes again and feeling for the energy again. Immediately he felt the energy pop up in front of him again, enveloping his senses as if he had just turned on a floodlight next to him. There was no mistake, there was something here.
Opening his eyes again, Albert stepped forward, arms outstretched, intending to try climbing the large column of stone. Instead, his fingers sank into the rock as if it weren't even there and Albert fell forwards, screaming as his body passed through the stone and he tumbled downwards.
The air ripped past him as he fell in the darkness, all the light had vanishing as if whisked away by the wind. A few seconds later Albert splashed face-first into a deep pool of water, knocking the breath from his lungs. Panicking and desperate for breath, he thrashed around the water for a few moments, unsure as which way the surface was, then relaxed and let his body float upwards to find it.
Spluttering and coughing, he dragged himself out of the water and onto the wet stone of the cavern he found himself in. The cavern was pitch black and silent other than the steady dripping sound of water sliding off the walls and stalactites and into the pool behind him. Straining his neck, Albert looked upwards. He couldn't even see a speck of light from the tunnel he had fallen down through.
Even if he wanted to, there was no turning back now.
Shivering in his sodden clothes, Albert shut his eyes again, searching for the energy once more and gasped and opened his eyes again. It was as if he were standing in the center of the sun, the energy was infused all around him. The darkness of the caves seemed almost a lie. The energy here was so strong, Albert could see the energy just fine, even without shutting his eyes. He followed the path, his skin beginning to tingle with energy as he got closer.
Rounding a corner, he finally came to the marble structure that he now stood atop of. It looked sort of like the pictures Albert had seen of the Parthenon in Greece, but this structure shone in the darkness, the white stone so pure and clean that it looked like it had just been carved. Just below the triangular geometry of the roof, a turquoise-blue frieze framed with gold wrapped around the entire structure. The blue stone was carved, not with images of gods, people, and monsters as was common among Greek and Roman architecture, but with strange, sprawling, writing that curved in amongst itself as if every symbol were connected.
Atop the stairs leading past the pillars and under the sprawling roof, a massive pool was encircled by statues of fantastic creatures made out of the same blue stone that was carved above. Each statue trickled water into the pool from their horns, mouths or other parts of their bodies. In the center of the pool, a raised plinth rose from the water like the stone outcroppings did from the ocean far above Albert. The plinth was roofed by a dome, supported by another set of pillars, also made from the same blue stone as the statues and more of the interconnected writing was etched into them, plated by beaten gold.
The energy that had led Albert here all emanated from atop that plinth.
He began walking towards the plinth with his heart beating as if he had just run several miles, eying the strangely lifelike statue of a centaur-like creature beside him nervously as he passed. It had the body of a horse like a centaur, but instead of a man's torso on the upper half, a pig-snouted creature extended from the corded muscles of the horse. Albert shivers from a reason as he turned away from its brutish looking eyes and climbed the final set of stairs up to the plinth.
Energy rushed through him, all of the hairs on his body standing on end as Albert ascended the final steps of the plinth, revealing an a clear crystal bowl enshrined in a large slab of the glowing white marble. On the right end of the marble slab, the small statue of a muscular man wearing nothing but a single cloth around his waist held a spear out in front of him. This was mirrored on the other side by a topless woman, staring demurely at the floor and clutching a curved sword on her lap as if it were a baby. Surrounding the bowl, shapes that Albert thought looked like horns were carved out of various different stones, hiding the bowl from view from all other than the one who stood before it.
Albert stopped in front of the bowl, letting the power of the place wash over him and looked around the altar.
"Alright, now what?"
"Blood for blood," the spear wielding man on the right side of the table shouted, turning on the spot and brandishing his spear towards Albert.
"Knowledge for knowledge." the woman with the sword intoned next, also turning to look at Albert.
"And a vessel for the vessel-less," the two chanted together, both looking expectantly at Albert.
"Holy fucking christ," Albert breathed, stumbling backwards a few steps.
The man and woman did not move, though their eyes still followed him as he nervously stepped forward again.
"What does that mean? Where is this and who are you?" Albert asked the statues, receiving only their deadpan stares in return.
"Blood for blood," Albert thought to himself after a moment. "Pretty obvious what that means but, 'Knowledge for Knowledge?' 'Vessel for the Vessel-less?'"
Albert paced upon the plinth, trying to make sense of the instructions.
Finally, after what felt like an hour of wracking his brain he stepped before the bowl again. He reached a hand out to the outreached spear of the man on the right and sliced his palm with the point, wincing as it caused more pain than he expected. He held his cut palm over the bowl and squeezed it until heavy drips of blood splattered into the clear crystal, which immediately started to glow with an ethereal blue light.
"My name is Albert Chen, and I offer all of the knowledge I know and shall learn," Albert chanted, hoping that he was right about what this altar was asking for. "My body shall be the vessel, with my blood as witness."
"The offering has been made, requirements for knowledge met and vessel accepted," The two statues intoned together, the melodic female voice mixing with deep male voice and creating a harmony that echoed around the chamber.
The statues on either side of the altar kneeled, saluting with their weapons crossed at their chests. Albert's blood, black in the blazing light of the bowl, was absorbed through the center of the bowl, disappearing as quickly as water did a sink. The horns around it bent inwards over the bowl, one after another, each horn glowing as it froze above the bowl. After every horn had taken its place, all of the light from the altar and room surrounding it coalesced and gathered above the bowl. It was as if the very essence light had turned to flowing liquid, billowing and swirling in the air above the altar. A tendril of liquid light extended from the writhing mass and touched Albert's chest and the rest of it began flowing into him in a single stream. Electricity sparked over his skin and his chest and head felt as if they were melting to become one with the liquid.
Albert's world became nothing but pain.
Every second felt as if he were being struck by hundreds of bolts of lightning, yet it did not stop. The stream continued into him, flooding every inch of his body, merging with him. Changing him. He was the light, the light was him.
Okay, well, it's been a bit longer than I expected. Real life has a way of getting in your way.
Thanks for waiting patiently and not dropping my series guys! Here is the next chapter! I plan on releasing my next one later in the week.
As always, any support is welcome as it really helps motivate me. See you all next time!
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