Let’s get out of here, Sam. This place is fucking strange. After a militant attack on the archeological dig they protected in Iraq, Sam and Little Man found themselves in a bizarre ancient underground dungeon, one that Little Man would like to leave as soon as possible. Assuming there’s an exit. But no, the kid just stared at that mask he’d just picked up.
“You’re not keeping that are you? There’s no way this shit’s not haunted.”
Sam flipped it around, shining his flashlight on the interior. It appeared as the inverse of the smiling face on the front, all shiny grey metal. “It’s not quite the same,” he said.
“It’s not quite the same. My brother, a techie, put a bunch of stuff on the inside of his, like a really good filter, some paddin’ so a punch to the head doesn’t beat yer face up, lenses to block out flares an’ shit, stuff like that. Made it all from scratch.”
“That’s a pretty diverse techie.”
“Nah, tha’ was his techie overdrive, when his power went apeshit an’ expanded to a bunch of other stuff for a bit.”
Pretty rare for that to happen. Like, once in a techie’s lifetime rare. From what Little Man knew, the overdrive would only last for so long, and wasn’t permanent. The techie would remember how to maintain and repeat what he or she built in that time, but no new information would come to them outside of their specialty. But during that time they could make damn near anything even tangentially related to their field.
Sam remained quiet for a bit, staring at the mask. Eventually Little Man said, “Come on, let’s find a way out of this place.” I’ve never known this kid to be quiet before.
“Yeah.” Sam put down the mask and helped Little Man hobble out of the dark stone room.
God, I’m a fucking invalid right now. This sucks many penises. Shrapnel from the explosion that got them into their current predicament burned in various parts of Little Man. Small bits, and while he’d managed to stop the bleeding before he’d woken Sam up, they still hurt like a bitch. His ankle remained swollen, and attempting to walk on it did not quicken the healing process. Probably sprained, maybe broken. Don’t care which, still hurts.
The general bruising and battering from plunging down with a rock slide after an RPG exploded left him dead tired. Also, the last five hours (at least I think it’s been five hours. Sam’s phone died an hour or so ago, and my watch and phone were broken) had been spent in a lifeless, dead silent ruin with only a flashlight for illumination.
As they resumed walking down the endless corridors at a hobbling pace, Sam asked, “Hey you ever think of somethin’?”
“Maybe we’re dead, an’ the door to purgatory or heaven an’ infinite blowjobs was behind us, but we missed it an’ we’re happily marchin’ our merry way to hell.”
Little Man snorted in laughter. Ah, what the hell? Might as well laugh. We’re going to fucking die in here. Both of them knew it, both of them refused to simply acknowledge it.
After another ten minutes of hobbling (I swear we’re going in circles, but we’ve only turned once this whole time and the hallways are completely straight), Sam asked, “How is any of this still intact? It sure as fuck can’t be magic.” Little Man knew that whenever the caster was killed, the magic would eventually dissipate within the hour. Longer, if the magic was particularly powerful.
“What did the pencil neck tell you? How old this-gah!” he said as he put too much weight on his bad foot. He continued regardless “-was?”
“What was it? 600 BC I think. So tha’ makes this ‘bout… twenty six hundred years old. No way there’s any magic left in this place.”
“We’ve come across some collapsed stuff, so whatever is holding this place up isn’t foolproof. An RPG did get us down here in the first place.”
Sam sighed. “Fuck if I know what’s goin’ on.” Right there with you.
They came to rest in the corridor. Sam passed the flashlight to Little Man, then stripped off the body armor, keeping only the essentials like the last of his water and two knives. He stuffed everything into his pockets and belt, then took the flashlight to let Little Man do the same. Why didn’t we drop this stuff before? Their unspoken intention was to get up and keep moving after that, but instead they just sat in the corridor in mutual exhaustion.
Sam took a swig of water, then passed the bottle to Little Man. He took a drink, the water turning the dry dust in his mouth into mud. It didn’t matter. Water was water and therefore delicious, especially in the miserable desert that was Iraq. It’s not even cold down here. Aren’t underground caves supposed to be around fifty degrees no matter what?
“You still got yer flashlight?” asked Sam.
“Yeah.” They had used only one to light the way forward. So this meant that only one was needed, so they didn’t need to waste the battery life of the other. Normally I’d be cautious, especially in a place like this, but I haven’t heard a goddamn thing besides the two of us. I don’t think anyone’s been down in a good thousand years or so. No, wait, two thousand. That’s twice as long.
“Jus’ makin’ sure. Sleep sounds good, actually.”
Little Man nearly made a point about how they needed to keep moving, but his intended statement sounded hollow in his head. He knew Sam would obey. Little Man was his sergeant and Sam said he would follow orders. After a full year Little Man had yet to see him disobey an order, despite the fact that one of Little Man’s dumber, more misinformed plans nearly got him killed one time. He’d get up and get moving, but let’s not waste anyone’s time here. And besides, we don’t have anything more productive to do than sleep.
“Sleep? Fuck it, why not?” he said. Sam laughed.
Don’t know how you still have such high spirits, but whatever works for you. Better than arguing with each other. It was hard to get Sam riled up over anything, he usually just sat back and let things happen when bullets weren’t flying. The only time Little Man could remember Sam ever getting angry was when another mercenary mistook easygoingness for weakness and started calling him a liar, just to get a rise out of him. Sam took him by surprise and stabbed him in the dick. Not easygoing, just relaxed. So much paperwork I had to deal with after that, though. At least Sam bought all of my alcohol for two weeks for letting him stay in the company
They settled down (ah, it feels good to sit down again) and got themselves as comfortable as possible, stretched out across the hallway.
“Hey,” said Sam, “maybe if we turn off the light some horrifying abomination will come an’ flay our souls from our bodies.” Sam flicked off the flashlight and the entire world went into absolute darkness.
“Thank you for that,” said Little Man, humoring him. “Don’t lose track of that flashlight.” He fingered his own, just for reassurance. The conversation trailed off.
Little Man eventually passed out to the sound of Sam snoring.
Little Man woke with an immense urge to piss. Right. Tomb thing. Fuck, I’m hungry. And sore. He fumbled around, blind, until he found his flashlight and turned it on. No idea what time it is. Need to take a piss. He limped a fair ways down the hallway, back the way they came, and relieved himself. He came back, trying to remember if they had any rations on them, when something shiny caught the beam of the flashlight.
Is that that mask thing? It rested on Sam’s shoulder as he lay on his back. Sam didn’t appear to have moved at all since they went to sleep, though he looked a bit more sweaty than usual. He gripped that knife that had been back there close to his chest. Through his sleepy haze he thought, Huh? Whatever, he wants a souvenir, that’s more for him to carry around. I’m going back to sleep. Not that it matters. He turned his flashlight off, and the last thing Little Man though before heading back to unconsciousness was, didn’t he say he would put it back?
The next time Little Man woke up, he could see just fine. Everything had a yellowish tint, but for once all of his surroundings were illuminated. Crudely carved stone without adornment, the same drab brown color everything in Iraq seemed to have, made up the walls. He could now clearly see the dusty earthen floor he lay on. It took him a couple seconds to process this.
“Hold up a sec,” he muttered to himself as he got up and looked around. Still underground. Of course this light isn’t from the sun. Globs of gold light were stuck at random intervals along each wall. The fuck? That’s magic, I think, but where did it all come from? I’m looking at about a dozen. Who can maintain that many?
He put a hand on his knife, the standard issue steel one. The rockslide down here having beaten the iron one into uselessness. He didn’t see anyone, but he could see the globs. This is going to suck. I’m in no condition to fight.
“Sam, wake up,” he said urgently. No response. He took a break from scanning the area, not that there was much to see, to look at the kid. Still asleep, gripping the dagger so tightly his knuckles had turned white.
“Sam!” Still nothing. Is he breathing?
Right before Little Man could confirm yes or no, Sam shuddered to life, taking a huge gulp of air. He grunted and rolled over. The mask against his shoulder clattered to the floor. He slowly got up, grabbing the mask as he went, facing away from Little Man. Sam muttered something.
“Sam,” said Little Man. I’m getting tired of saying that. “Look alive, some’s here.”
Sam again muttered something. It definitely wasn’t English. The fuck? Come on, you’re the only one in decent shape, and you haven’t cracked or choked before.
Little Man grabbed Sam’s shoulder, “Hey, you all there? You hear me?” Sam just jerked his head to stare at Little Man’s hand. Something’s not right. Little Man tightened his grip on his knife, slowly pulling it out of its sheath. In hindsight, I definitely should have noticed the mask thing. I’d be screaming at my own stupidity if this were a movie.
Sam must have noticed, because he said something incomprehensible, in a far deeper and more malicious voice than normal. Or possible. That was not his voice, and I’m going to go on a wild guess and say that that was Babylonian or some demon shit. Fuck. We were joking about the possession shit.
Right before Little Man could bring his knife up, not-Sam, in English, said, “I do not recommend doing that, soldier.”
Not-Sam turned to face Little Man fully as he talked, his stretched grin wider than should have been possible. He sounded more amused than anything else, drawing out his words deliberately, and Little Man swore his bones vibrated at that voice. Definitely not his voice. Gotta kill him, because I have no idea what else to do, and I doubt Sam wants whoever this is walking around in his body. Sorry about this, Sam. The light near not-Sam began to dim.
Not-Sam glanced at the rifle he’d left on the ground. “Much has changed, it appears. Such a strange language of yours, this is.”
Little Man lunged as best he could given his condition, knife held with the bottom of the handle towards his thumb, aiming down directly for Sam’s throat. Not-Sam’s attention snapped back to him, and barely managed to shy away from the blade. Little Man still left a nick on his chest. He brought the knife back in for another stab, when Sam took a step back, and all light vanished. Shit. He turned towards where the sounds of footsteps came, bringing his arms and knife up in a defensive position, doing his best to protect his chest and by extension his vital organs. He took a few steps away from the noise of Sam. Then something stabbed him directly in the heart. The lights returned. Dagger.
Sam stood five feet away, the maniacal grin had not wavered. He walked forward. Right before Little Man collapsed, he managed one last defiant swipe at not-Sam’s face. Not-Sam apparently hadn’t expected him to stay on his feet longer than five seconds, because he barely moved out of the way. Again Little Man left a shallow cut on his face, but not-Sam took no notice. The knife fell out of Little Man’s hands as he collapsed on his back.
Not-Sam casually knelt by Little Man’s head, blood dripping down his face like they were in some sort of cheesy book or something. “I told you not to do that. Though it is good to know that man has not grown weak in my absence.” How the fuck am I still alive. I’m looking at a dagger sticking out of my heart out of the corner of my eye right now. Even though the glowing balls did not change their luminescence, the light around Sam began to dim again.
“It is good to be back again. So much to do, now. The world has changed. Too chaotic for my liking, too lacking in direction.”
“Who… the fuck… are you?” gasped Little Man. Chest hurts, can’t feel limbs. Don’t know how… Still breathing, short rapid breaths that hurt a lot. No blood flow. Can’t move. Fuck this.
“Hmm?” said not-Sam, lifting an eyebrow. “This one,” he gestured to Sam’s body, “did not know me, but I perhaps thought he was an anomaly. Does the name Taauth mean anything to you?”
After a moment with Little Man not replying in the affirmative, Taauth said, “Unfortunate. I was the one who roasted the Assyrian king alive in front of his own city and court before I razed it to the ground. I exterminated the horse savages when they threatened civilization itself. I humbled the witch-queen, sent her scurrying back to, what do you call it now? Egypt. I had her severed arm preserved, it should still be around here somewhere if that room didn’t collapse. I am the god king of all mankind. And forgotten.” Bit of a… bit of a… megalomaniac.
“This one,” Taauth gestured to Sam again, “is an interesting one. I can see all he has seen, know all that he has known.” He chuckled softly to himself. “Smile, tomorrow will be worse. I like that. And… ah, his brothers. That is why he was drawn to my mask.” He lifted the mask he held to his face and let it go. It stayed over his face, despite the fact that nothing visible held it there.
He started laughing when the lights went out again. Little Man heard the mask clatter to the ground, followed by a body. Taauth let out a strangled sound. Am I dead yet? Did he just… die?
“Fuck, shit, cock, fuck,” said Sam, in Sam’s voice. “Fuck this, fuck him, fuck everythin’.” What… what do you know? Sam isn’t… isn’t dead. Sounds like he’s… suffering. Sam flicked on the flashlight with shaking hands. “Fuck. Sorry, Little Man. Fuck.”
From the light, Little Man saw Sam crawl over to the rifle on the ground. He grabbed it, then sat with his back against the wall. “Fucker’s in my head, fucker can’t get out, fucker’s strong. Fuck. He’s gonna do shit, too. World domination type shit. No time.” Some clicks.
Sam laughed and murmured, “Seven six two millimeter. Full metal jacket.” Now? Really? He held the barrel to his head, finger on the trigger. Shit. A click. Nothing more. Sam laughed hysterically, banging the back of his head violently against the wall with each word. “Of course. Goddamn motherfuckin’ thing’s beat to shit. Fuckin’ jammed. Fuck. Ow.”
A sigh. After a few moments the lights came back. Oh… shit. Why the hell… am I not dead? He better… better turn me into a… kickass zombie. Can’t talk, barely think. Cold. Sam, now with the wide grin back in place, got up from where he sat and laughed, and Little Man swore the corridor shook. The dagger sticking out of his chest began to glow.