Cave of Wonders

Written by: evilgm
Edited by: JennyB and Kathleen A.
Original post date: 20 May 2010
Modification dates: N/A

A light flickered in the darkness. It cast shadows on the surrounding hoard of wealth, acquired over countless generations. The light grew from a faint spark into a solid presence throwing a light onto the cavern walls. A deep darkness waited beyond the lightís reach. It was a darkness that knew no end, and rarely was pierced by any light other than that of the presence itself. Little more than a wisp of color, the being surveyed its surrounding treasure, its legacy. It considered its grandeur and fumed.

"How long have I been here? How many generations do I have to wait for someone with the will to find me?" A powerful hand hurled a pile of gold and jewels, leaving it to cascade to wherever it would - a fortune vast enough to make Solomon blush. It watched with unseeing eyes as the final bits stopped their movement, and the echoes in the cave subsided.

"The last one... I thought he had a chance. I was certain after all of the failures and disappointments, that he would be The One. I had begun to know hope once more. I was a fool. He passed through the cave of trials, tricked the final guardians, and yet took his eyes off of the prize at the crucial moment. Damn him and his pride! As if there was anything more important here than me?! His arrogance cost him his life, like so many before him. Like so many more will die, for the chance of holding me close, to make me their own. What a sick and twisted world we live in where my only respite from an eternity of boredom is to watch the foolish struggle of humans as they try to get past their own greed and lust and inevitably fail time and again.

"I used to consider who my rescuer would be, and list the many things I would do for them out of gratitude. I used to dream. I used to hope. I was but a child and learned that reality is a cruel mistress. I wonder if there is a god. Why would he give me the wealth of eternities and the very power of the universe itself, only to thrust me into a prison no mortal is capable of breaking? Nearly limitless power I cannot use of my own volition. Foolishness!

"No one pure enough to find me would ever seek me, while all the rest become a weak and barbaric entertainment for my many captors. They who cannot endure my presence, but cannot let me go. I can feel their greed as each new meal approaches. A hunger which rivals my own desires for anything but the boredom that endures without end. I weep for what I have become... a shattered and nearly inconsequential shard of light, buried away in a cave of wonder Ďtil time itself comes to an end"

"How much longer will I be here?"

The light flickered again in the darkness and was gone. It retreated back to the vessel that bore it and the cavern was bathed in darkness once more... perhaps for another eternity.

Sir William had left early that morning, when the oblivion of sleep had refused him entry to its restful halls. Luciern whickered nervously as he was tied to the tree opposite the cave's mouth. "Peace Luciern, I shall return from the cavern in but a moment." Rechecking his broadsword, 2 dirks, and buckler, Sir William knelt for a moment of prayer before venturing onward.

"Sancti spiritus adsit nobis gratia. Maria, Stella maris, perducat nos ad portam salutis. Amen."

William didn't know how Lord Baldwin had managed to learn of this relic's resting place, but he had come to implicitly trust his liege ever since his decisive victory at the Siege of Ascalon. Although Patriarch Fulcher held remnants of the True Cross, Lord Baldwin was not convinced that the coalition would hold and possibly lead to worse troubles than the last civil war in Jerusalem. The power of the Lamp of Joseph of Arimathea would undoubtedly turn things to their favour forever more, and help them strike down the heathens who dared to besmirch the Holy City and his God, Christ. Baldwin had promised the title of Grand Master to whomever could find the lamp. Sir William felt he was unworthy of such an honor, but would receive it gladly upon his quest's completion.

Torch in one hand, sword in the other, he crept towards the cave's entrance. Carefully he descended the depths to the perils that no doubt waited to test his faith below. God would grant him this victory for his righteousness, for his faith, and for His glory. The crusades would soon be won, and Jerusalem would return to the peace that would usher in the holy reign of His Lord.

As William stepped to the cave's entrance a sharp pain lashed through his neck. He fell to his knees and reached up to find an arrow lodged in his throat. He struggled for breath and died, falling forward, hand still clutching his throat and his unbelieving eyes locked open.

A figure scanned the horizon for additional targets. Finding none he casually strolled forward as the sandy ground hungrily lapped up the lifeblood of the late Sir William.

"You were a knight, and I a sergeant and knave, but you were a fool, Sir William, and now you're dead. Not only will I rise to the title of knight, but Grand Master will be mine as well. I earned my right at Ascalon, but you couldn't give me my due because of my birth. Who is the mightiest now, Sir Knight? The lamp will be mine, and the accolades you stole from me will be restored. It is a tragedy I found your horse riderless and alone. I ventured into the cave to try and find you, and though I found you not, a boon not be o'erlooked fell into my lap. The Lamp! It must be a sign from God above."

After several savage kicks to the corpse, the figure strode into the cave with purpose, never to be seen again.

Dieter rested behind the stalagmite which afforded him cover from the enemy fire ahead. He had been intrigued by the offer of a special assignment from Herr Himmler to locate the Lamp of Darkness. Dieter knew that the war was not going as well as it should, and the general was certain that this powerful relic of the past could turn the tide in their favor. He knew all of this and even though he was one of the elite members of his squad, the closer he got to the truth, the more likely it seemed he would die, forgotten, in this cave, just like the rest of his team.

The ambush had happened suddenly from the dark recesses surrounding his position. There weren't too many enemy, but the surprise had been complete. Dieter had managed to kill a few before finding cover, the rest of his men hadn't been so lucky, and now he was the sole survivor of his squad. Victory or defeat was solely on his shoulders.

A bullet hit centimeters from his left shoulder and chipped some rock that ricocheted off of the cave wall into his cheek, leaving a thin line of blood in its wake. "Hosenscheisser!" Dieter swore he would rip the miserable affenschwanz apart with his bare hands when he finally got close enough. He had already killed 4 of them, and now there was just 1 left.

Movement to the left! Dieter brought up the barrel of his Sturmgewehr and trained it on the head of the last survivor as he tried to get better position on higher ground. He stopped his breath for a heartbeat and squeezed the remaining slack from the trigger. Although he could barely see in this god-forsaken hole, the soft splat brought a smile to his lips. "At last."

Dieter put in a fresh magazine, collected the empty ones at his feet, and checked his remaining supplies. " Schiesse." He was running out of ammunition and severely hoped that there would be no more guards hiding out in the recesses of this tunnel. Although it would reveal his position, he needed the light and turned on the red-lensed flashlight to scavenge any supplies he could and to find the way ahead.

Dieter moved cautiously from one rock formation to the next until finally he came up to a long hall, and Dieter stopped to stare and consider this new reality. Unlike the earthen hew of the last 3 hours of his life, this hallway was cut and fitted stone. He rubbed his hand against his chin and pondered his options. The hall was long and there was an open doorway at the end. Although he didn't see any more enemies, and surely his last gunfight would have roused any remaining forces that were left, he would have no cover and it was at least 25 ft to the end. It was then that he realized it that he was no longer using his flashlight and he could see. A soft light emanated from the end of the tunnel, almost reddish in hue. The floor also looked... odd.

With as much determination as he could muster he crept forward and into the hall. Foot by precious foot he was as tensed as he had ever been, as exposed as he was. It was all he could do to not break into a run, as he that knew silence was his best ally now. As he hit the halfway mark, he finally understood why the floor looked odd and despite himself, he gasped.

Although the object of his quest was in his sight, it was surrounded by more gold and jewels than he had ever seen in his entire life. A handful would be a fortune. No need to let all of this go to waste. Dieter made his way to the lamp and picked up handfuls to stuff in his pockets and pouches along the way. He stopped his progress when he noticed a thin, red point of light resting on his chest. "Was ist dieses?"

The light intensified and though the pain lasted only a millisecond, it was long enough. Dieter collapsed to the floor, and a pile of wealth partially covered his corpse, filling in the hole where his chest had once been, before all was still once more.

The security code on the door had worked just like Mike had promised him it would. Miguel was going to give him one hell of a thank you when he got out of here. Always take care of those who helped you on your way. You never knew when you might need them again. Friends were a commodity that few could do without, especially in his line of work.

Miguel had worked some big jobs in his day, but never anything of this magnitude. The planning alone had taken nearly two years, and he was almost done. He didnít know why his employer wanted this lamp so badly, but he had promised a payday that had made him stagger when he heard it, and had given him half up front. Just a little further and he would have it in his hands.

Miguel surveyed the room in front of him. Motion, heat, and acoustic sensors... maybe even some weight sensors in the floor. Hijo de Madre! He silently swore in his head as he saw miniguns on swivel mounts. Damn. Some pinche cabrůn wanted to protect this bad boy and keep it nice and safe. The green optics of the night vision goggles werenít perfect, and his depth perception was shot all to hell, but you learned ways to make it work and compensate. He was a professional.

For the first time, he saw the pedestal and the lamp. The room was pretty plain otherwise. It had lots of open space, hard stone floors and walls. For some reason that seemed wrong, but he couldnít quite figure out why. That bothered him, but heíd come too far to let a little cash of the jitters stop him now. Two years had gotten him to this moment, and he couldnít turn back, but those miniguns...

He had entered from a straight hallway, and if the guns got tripped, there was nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

Miguel slowly moved his hand down to his belt pouch and took out the DAT player. After carefully positioning the speaker for maximum range into the room, he hit play and prayed like he hadnít done since his early days back in Mexico. The servos kicked on at the initial sounds from his DAT device and the chain guns spun up and swiveled in his direction. He had long ago memorized those tones, and he knew if they were not the right ones, he was a dead man. They were supposed to deactivate all of the sensor traps in the room as a backdoor engineering password. The security team whoíd set this room up had decided to get all of their gear from the same Israeli firm.

As soon as the guns had spun up, they stopped rotating and Miguel breathed a heavy sigh of relief, as any breath was most welcome. But now came the tricky part. He had to get the lamp and get out before anyone monitoring the system realized the sensors were down. He raced the remaining 15 feet up to the pedestal and grabbed the lamp with one hand to stash it into his backpack. "Ugh, pesado." The weight might throw him off, but he would move fast and get the hell out. He had spent six months on conditioning his body to carry extra weight and gear over a long haul, and it was about to majorly pay off.

Miguel swung around and headed back to the main door just as the klaxon sounded and the doors sealed shut. "Dios mio."

The servos whirred back to life and Miguel could only wonder what had gone wrong as the tracking software locked on.

"Crap! I thought I had it that time! Iím telling you man, this new game is intense. This A.I. is so wicked, I swear itís just waiting for you to make the slightest mistake and then it pounces with no mercy."

"Give it up, dude. Whatís that, your hundredth attempt? Yes, okay, the graphics are amazing, and I thought you did a great job infiltrating that layer Ďtil your character got turned into Swiss cheese by those sentry guns, but come on, youíve been addicted to that thing. You have to be Harry Fricking Houdini to get through there. I say it canít be done. The learning A.I. is just too good. Do you even know anyone whoís ever gotten through that level?"

"No I donít. Itís the last one and I canít wait to see the ending. Based upon everything else in the game, I bet itís worth waiting for."

"If you say so... come on, bro, letís grab some chow."

A light flickered in the darkness and it brooded. "How long have I been here?"


Author's notes: I originally wrote this story with just the 1st, 4th, and 5th sections in place. I later went back and added the 2nd and 3rd after some reflection. In the original piece you were lead to believe that the Lamp was merely the advanced AI of a new game, and that Miguel was a character in the game. When I originally wrote the piece in school, there was no Miguel, you just watched the person go through his movements and routines with a 3rd-person perspective. When I rewrote the piece and gave Miguel a personality, that dumbing down of his existence didn't flow as well, so I needed to make some changes. In particular I added two more pieces that showed a chronological progression of the Lamp and how it was sought in different places by different would-be finders, eventually ending up being hidden in a video game. I thought long and hard about potentially introducing the captors of the lamp, but ultimately decided against it. Hope you enjoyed it. Let me know if you have any suggested fixes or see any grammatical errors.

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