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KAL'AN


by Lyka Bloom


KAL'AN


First Edition. May 18, 2017 at Smashwords.

Copyright © 2017 Lyka Bloom


Written by Lyka Bloom

www.LykaBloom.com

Chapter One: The Cave


There is nothing quite like the sound inside a cave. It is at once full and hollow, and plays off the walls in a disorienting way that makes you question your own senses. It is not the place for the inexperienced without a guide, and none of us could be called novices.

I was at the bottom, shining my light at the rear wall of the cavern we'd descended into, while Scott was holding the line secured at the entrance above ground. Len was still snaking down the line, pausing to look at the landscape of the high-ceilinged cavern.

"This is incredible," Len whistled.

"Just get your ass down here," Scott fired back. "You can do your sight-seeing when you get to the bottom."

I turned my light off and let the darkness consume me. There was still some light from the entrance high above that filtered down, but the wall I'd illuminated with the high-powered flashlight had disappeared. I knew by the time we'd gone down another level, even the ambient light would be gone and we'd be in a darkness that you simply can't fathom above ground. There is no ambient light, no shades of deep blue which still allows night vision. It is, very literally, nothingness.

I remember the first time I'd experienced it, Scott had been with me then and turned off his light once we'd wound through a series of corridors, some incredibly claustrophobic, placing us in the heart of my first real cave expedition. With the light out, I felt a sense of real panic, an animal need to see the light again. Scott heard my breathing and laughed.

"It's crazy, right?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said, working to calm myself. "Crazy."

He turned the light back on, held beneath his chin as if he were preparing to tell a ghost story.

"The hardest thing to get used to. After a few trips down, you get used to it, but, yeah. Nothing like it in the world."

I didn't feel like pressing him, to compare it to the depths of the ocean or the darkness of space, but he was right. It's hard to prepare yourself for something so alien.

"How much deeper does it go?" Len asked, unclipping himself from the rope leading up to the entrance in the ceiling.

"It's big," Scott said, non-committal. "You see the tunnel, Danny?"

I flipped my light back on and scanned the floor, where we'd been told there was a slim tunnel running at a stark angle down into the sub chambers of the cavern. That would push us into the deep dark, and into places where few had gone before. That was the fun of it, I suppose, the sense that you were trespassing on some forbidden place, someplace that mere mortals were not meant to see.

Len was staring up at the entrance in something approaching awe. I'd felt that, too, the sense of the umbilical rope being the only passage to normalcy and the world above. There's a queasy feeling that accompanies this, another animal response where you start to wonder, if I should get trapped, how would I be saved?

"Let's get moving," Scott said, tugging on the rope he fixed to one of the columns near the tunnel leading down.

I secured my light back to my belt and tossed my pack on the ground by the tunnel.

"Who's taking point?"

Scott usually did, but he would be keeping Len safe and secure for his first time into the deep dark, so Scott simply lifted his eyebrows as if to say, 'I think it's you, pal.'

"I'll go," Len volunteered.

"No, I'll go first," I said. "Want to make sure that the tunnel doesn't get too tight and no one gets stuck."

I'd been down the tunnel before. It got tight in spots, but most of it was almost big enough to duck-walk through. I'd lead the way to the chamber beneath. I liked the feeling of leading the way for once.

"Cool," Scott said, hurling the rope down the dark passage. He waved his arms to invite me in.

I went head-first. The tunnel was smooth, hundreds and hundreds of years of water trickling down the passage to wear down the edges, and I knew my way from memory. The incline would continue, then veer to the right in a gentle curve, and, finally, deposit us all in the chamber ahead where you could hear the frequent droplets of water falling into puddles beneath. It was humbling, in its way. I knew from science textbooks that these puddles would eventually form the stalagmites and stalactites that would then become columns, while above generations were born and passed on.

In my own life, I was an entry level bank clerk, a man who did well enough to get by, but not much more. I dated, had my times with women which I enjoyed, but I hadn't committed to anyone. I was, for all intents and purposes, a man who lived a life equivalent to the dive of an expert athlete – very little splash.

In here, though, I could feel the rhythm of the planet and see that my place, however small, could be measured in the drops of water. There was a freedom in knowing that, no matter what you do, your life has little to do with the fate of things.

It was this that occupied my thinking as Scott led Len down the tunnel and gained their feet, Scott cracking one of the Glo-lights we left behind like crumbs to find our way home.

"This is incredible," Len said, mouth agape.

I smiled to myself. I knew what he was feeling. I still felt a touch of it myself. It's difficult not to, being in the presence something so old and so much bigger than yourself.

"We could go deeper," Scott mused.

"I don't think that's such a good-"

"How much deeper?" Len asked over the top of me.

Scott shrugged. "Don't know. The passage is pretty snug. We haven't really tried to go too deep."

"We should!"

I looked at Scott in the dim light offered by the Glo-stick, enjoying the darkness a moment more, and I shrugged. It was dicey to take a novice into unknown tunnels, but I was curious, too. This underground chamber was a marvel, but what other mysteries might be in the belly of the cavern?

"Fine," I said. "I think the shaft was over there."

I turned on the LED light and aimed it at the west wall. Because I knew where to look, I could just make out the opening in the wall near the floor, though Len's untrained eye I'm sure left him staring into the apparent unbroken wall.

"Yeah, I see it," Scott said, and led us all to the unexplored tunnel.

It sloped downward and out of sight. I placed my hand on the wall of the underground cavern to steady myself as I peered into the darkness, jerking my hand away when I felt a strange and nerve-jangling hum through the very rock. I had an image of something deep below us, buried and twisted, its eye opening.

"You okay?" Scott was at my shoulder, looking past me into the tunnel.

"Yeah. Just got a chill, I guess."

I was the smallest of the three of us, so it made sense for me to go first. Not that I was a waif, but I was only five and a half feet and had a slim frame. Not great when it came to women, who preferred the tall, muscular type, but it made cave-diving a natural for me. Scott was the one with the build, the short-cropped dark hair, the over-six-feet stature. If he weren't so damn agreeable and friendly, I'd probably hate him for his good looks.

Len, who neither of us had known for very long, was somewhere between us in height and build. His hair, though, was a wild tangle of brown hair he let fall to his shoulders most days, though he had tied in a bun at the back of his head today. He was looking up the tunnel we'd just descended.

"Are we going to have time to get back out before dark?" he asked.

There was something child-like in the question, as if he was concerned we'd still be at this when the sun fell and the monsters came out.

"We'll be fine," Scott said.

"I'll head in. Wait for me to call you down. If I get stuck, I'm going to need you to pull me free."

"You can get stuck?"

He knew we could. We'd been over all the safety practices with him already, but Len struck me as the kind of guy who didn't listen too hard unless you said his name first.

I angled myself in and started squirming my way down the passage. I couldn't shake the notion that I was making my way down the throat of some giant, slumbering beneath the earth. I was usually more calm, but my palms were sweating and I had the most intense urge to flee I think I'd ever experienced. Still, I forced myself down. If I came back for no good reason, I'd never hear the end of it from Scott.

"Danny?" he called above me. "You okay?"

"So far," I replied. In fact, the tunnel was widening and evening out so that I could almost squat in it. Oddly, I could see light illuminating the walls of the tunnel. Something up ahead. Maybe bioluminescent algae or something? I wasn't sure, but the glow was orange-hued and only getting brighter with ever inch I progressed.

"There's something down here!"

I could hear Scott respond, but I was unable to make out the words. There was a hum coming from the passage ahead, as if the light itself were alive and vibrating at a resonance that traveled down my spine. With each push forward, it filled me up more and more until I was bathed in the orange light and then I was falling...

Chapter Two: Kal'an


I landed with a grunt, wincing at the sudden collision with earth. Before I opened my eyes, I knew that something had changed. I could feel heat on my back, and there was light pressing in on my closed eyes. The rich smell of soil and grass filled my nostrils. Somehow, inconceivably, I was outdoors. When my eyes did open, I was met with a sea of grass, towering over me. The stalks were green, growing lighter as they rose until golden tips swayed with the wind.

I pushed myself up, marveling at the chest-high grass that rose all around me. It covered the rolling hills before me and the valley to my right like an undulating carpet of gold and green. Off to what I presumed to be the west was a winding river that cut through the grass on either side.

"Hello?" I called out.

I wondered if I'd been knocked unconscious inside the cave and all of this was some kind of dream, but the fidelity of the sights and sounds made me question this. My suspicion that I was awake was both confirmed and challenged as I heard Scott wail and then land in the spot where I had just been.

"Oh, shit," he murmured.

"Scott?"

He rose, wiping his hands on the thighs of his jeans. "Where the hell are we?"

"I don't know. Where's Len?"

As if on cue, Len, too, appeared in midair, landing nearly atop Scott, who dodged out of the way just in time.

"Ain't this something," Scott mused, ignoring Len as he climbed to his feet, looking more shaken once he saw the landscape surrounding us. "What do you think, Danny?"

"About what?"

"The troubles in the Middle East. What do you think? Where are we? I mean, last I remember, we were all in Esther Cave and now we're in a wheat field."

While I puzzled over the question, Len took some of the tall grass in hand and rubbed the tip between his fingers, scattering seeds that the wind caught and blew past us.

"It's not grass. Not sure what it is, actually. I mean, it looks like wheat, but it's not."

We both looked at Len.

"My dad was a farmer. I know my cash crops."

"Well," Scott said, rubbing his chin with the back of his hand, "if we aren't in the cave and we aren't in Kansas, my guess is we have found ourselves in a real mystery."

"No matter where we are," I said, "we don't have a ton of supplies. I don't think we're going to get back the way we came."

Scott followed my eyes to the point in the air where he'd appeared, now a seamless brush of sky.

"Guess that's true. You saying we need to find us some food, shelter and water?"

"I think we'd be smart to think about it."

"We can't leave here," Len said. "What if someone comes looking for us?"

Scott sighed beside me. I was too busy turning it over in my head. We weren't in some land beneath the earth. I could look up and see the sky, the wispy clouds and very blue canvas behind them. There was something about the sun, though.

"I don't think they could find us if they were looking," I said.

"Why not? I told my girlfriend I was coming with you guys, even gave her the directions. When I don't show up tonight, she'll definitely call someone." Len's voice was quick and high.

"I don't think this is Earth."

Scott frowned at me as I spoke and Len grew terribly and suddenly quiet. "Look," I said, pointing at the sun hanging just past midday in the sky.

"Son of a bitch," Scott said, and I swear it sounded like he was smiling.

He'd seen what I had. The sun, too large for the one we knew, had a twin just behind it, peeking around the edge of the fiery orb. Unless the Earth had spontaneously generated a new star at the center of its solar system, we were somewhere very far from home.

"This can't be happening," Len whispered. "We're on Earth. How can we not be on Earth?"

"I don't know, buddy," Scott said, scanning the ground for any loose supplies that had followed us through the tunnel. "I expect we're going to be seeing all sorts of strange and wonderful things today. I vote we aim for that river down there and get us some water, maybe even some food."

"We have to wait here. Someone will come." Len's eyes said he was close to some very dangerous denial.

"Maybe," I said. "We don't know if the locals are friendly, though."

"How do you know there are locals?"

"Because there's a road."

As I moved down the hillside toward the river, Scott in tow and Len stumbling after us, I plucked one of the tips of wheat-like grass from the field and placed it in my mouth, chewing on the fatter end. It was sweet.

Scott stared at the light brown path carved into the hill opposite us, one that ran along the side of the river before disappearing again over a bluff.

"Shouldn't we leave a note or something," Len was muttering, but neither Scott nor myself answered. I hoped Len would wrap his head around this quickly. I was having trouble managing the truth of our predicament myself, but I knew and believed what I saw. If that was the case – that we were on a different world entirely – having the freak-out Len was enjoying might get us attention we didn't want.

Wherever we were, it was wholly different and familiar in unsettling ways. The flora seemed familiar, like the not-quite-wheat, but the smell of the air was odd. When I mentioned it to Scott, he proposed it might be due to the fact that we saw no cities, no cars billowing exhaust, nothing to taint the aroma of the atmosphere. As the sun fell, it's shadowy twin behind it became more visible, and there is nothing quite as unnerving as looking up into a sky that feels like the one from home to see the sun you expect in duplicate.

There were also a myriad of sounds to process. The wind rustling the wheat-like plants was infrequently accompanied by loud chik-chik-chik noises, what I supposed were insects singing, but none that I had ever heard. Once, we saw two birds chasing one another through the sky, one with a long tail that looked almost reptilian, the other with both talons and clawed hands at the tips of the wings. I couldn't shake the feeling of implied brutality in this world.

Len kept up his muttering, following behind us while whispering something to himself. Maybe I should have said something, or Scott, but we had our own mental breakdowns to contend with, trying to shore up the rifts in our minds as we made our way down the slope toward the river and the road.

When we reached the edge of the road, I knelt with Scott beside it, pressing my palm to the ground.

The dirt was hard-packed and divided by parallel grooves cut into it – wagon ruts, I thought.

"We are not alone," Scott grinned. "What do you say we get some water and start following this road until it leads us somewhere we can ask some questions?"

"Probably a good idea. What about Len?"

We both turned behind us, where Len had taken a seat, cross-legged, at the edge of the road and was busying himself by shucking long strands of the wheat. He would pluck one strip it, toss it aside, then pluck another. I didn't know much about psychology, but his slack expression told me he was not taking our world-bending travels very well.

"We take him with us, of course," Scott said, "but if things get dicey, we might have to leave him."

"We can't," I hissed. "He's our responsibility. We brought him here."

"I don't know if you've been keeping up, Danny old pal, but we are lost on some planet that is definitely not ours and we don't know thing one about the people who live here or what could hurt us or worse. If we have to run and Len decides to sit on the ground like a goddamn loon, we have to cut bait."

I nodded, but only because I didn't want the argument. I resolved to keep Len safe, for as long as I could anyway.

We moved across the dirt road to the riverside, where iridescent green rocks shimmered at the edge and beneath the water, making up most of the bed. I knelt by the water and dipped my hand in, bringing the sample to my nose where I inhaled. It smelled like nothing, and the water was cool in my hand. If it was poison, I suppose we'd find out soon enough. Man cannot live without it for long, so I took the plunge, so to speak, and poured the cupped water down my throat. It was incredible. I don't know if I'd tasted anything so clean and pure.

"You guys..." I mumbled, but Scott was already at my side, lying on his belly and dipping his face into the water. When he came up for air, he laughed.

"That is the best fucking drink of water I've ever had. Len, come down here!"


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