I made a serial story on Facebook, in which readers could vote on the next turn of the story. Here is the first chapter, consisting of the first nine installments of the story, culminating in a vote on the title for the whole story.
For all whom it may concern, if you find the writing style of the story to be difficult to read, you can always refresh yourself with a little monster slaying game I made.
It begins in darkness. “You” refers to a colony of beings of unknown origin and kind. Now, here is chapter one:
One Day After Three Thousand Years
Your preternatural, many-voiced consciousness simmers at the bottom of a subterranean cavity filled with an unknown, warm fluid.
The spent tremors of distant seismic catastrophe reach you, and trigger a stirring in your immediate surroundings. It is a welcome diversion. For exactly 3408 years you have been exercising your powerful senses to their utmost to register only the most remote activity: local and easily sensed changes allow you to relax, and focus energies on long unused functions, such as movement.
With the vibrations come two other things: currents bearing new and interesting temperatures, apparently from newly opened passages to other subterranean regions; and a faint, vacillating light, apparently filtering from a distant rent, newly made, opening on the surface.
Will you wend your way upwards to the world outside, or probe the new paths of dayless places?
5 – 9
Inside – Outside
The fluid around you, so unused to shifting, bends and parts as you pass through it. You move in a cloud of the echoes you stir up, imperceptible to most creatures who have not learned through millennia to listen.
The temperature begins to vary: coolness radiating from newly uncovered stones, laced with a new and disastrous kind of warmth that sifts down like candle smoke, following the odd, newfangled light into the deep places you have left.
You near the surface sooner than you expect, having so little practice with mobility; though with an immeasurable store of patience all time may now seem soon to you. The strange texture of the water, or of the air where it touched the water, was glassy hard, disagreeing decidedly with its feathery and dancing changeability. Being of the depths, the whole region strikes you as light and airy, as one of us would feel high in a mountain treetop.
The rent opens into the bottom of a wide lake. You take in from below the sweep of winds across it as one would look out across a breathtaking vista. You follow the rough, suspiciously lifeless slope towards the shore. You detect beyond the warping of the water a dark, spreading shape, no doubt tall, and seemingly motionless. Having been motionless for eons, this motionless shape is familiar and and attractive in this new neighborhood, so hurried and tumultuous though so empty.
Yet not entirely empty. Apart from you, you sense another moving thing the moment it touches the water’s edge from outside. It is on the shore, and from the vibrations there are more of the same kind which have kept back from the lake waters.
If they have eyes, they will no doubt see you if you climb out to examine the dark shape. If you leave where you are to evaluate these creatures more thoroughly and safely, the dark shape may not remain: who knows in this new realm of changes, all seems fleeting.
Will you explore the shape, or the creatures?
1 – 6
Unknown Beings – Dark Shape
You break the surface of the fluid, and move up onto the dry, abrasive floor of the outside world. The fluid you have left is so different from the chemistry of your cavern that the change is not such a shock. However the complete change of the world of smell is a shock that cannot be ignored. Never has so great and total an alteration ever been experienced by your senses in all the millennia of your awareness.
You look about for the beings of the land, and for the dark shape. The dark shape is there before you. The beings cannot be seen, and your inexperience of this world and its modes would not recognize any signs of their recent presence, concealment, or departure, however obvious it might be to other creatures.
The dark shape still has not fully entered your comprehension. All things seem out of place since you are out of place, but this seems that it would be out of place even to those who saw it every day.
It is not like the other hard, branching, stationary living things that you see here and there, which are nearly as dry as the ground. Firstly the dark thing seems without balance. The distribution of its weight is hard to trace in its complex structure, but there is a sure sense that it should not be able to stand. Even you can tell this plainly, though you are unused to the more pronounced effect of gravity in the air.
It seems as if molten rock was poured into the lung of some giant animal, which burned away leaving the many armed, spreading network of its internal pattern solidified in ragged, tubular rock, as black as burnt night.
It is filled with a movement as complex as its form, but for the first time you are unable to tell living from non-living. If it is alive it is many lives, but many lives together often have a movement like that of fluid flowing through an intricate texture, which this dark, hollow thing is full of.
Is this shape filled with a vastness of small lives, or does it reverberate to the coursing stream of some concealed origin?
5 – 3
Lives – Unknown.
The strange and interlaced perspectives of the dark shape make it difficult to judge how close one is to it, or how quickly one is approaching it. You may have underestimated the distance to it at first, seeing it through the shifting surface.
But you begin to distinguish that the fluid movements within the dark passages are of many origins, innumerable to any creature that has not counted almost as many hours. Then you begin to smell the dust lifted by the oscillations of minute limbs. And you find that the dust is biological: not composed of the black rock the beings swarm in. No doubt any particles of such material that could be easily worn off have long since vanished.
It may be that your senses, vastly perceptive as they are, have never learned to adapt quickly. Nor have they learned to discern significant matters, the only significant matters before being anything new and different that could be detected: and now all is new.
You are now near enough to know that these living things do not yet know you are near; at least not one individual out of all their myriads makes the slightest alteration in their sinuous courses. Yet perhaps they could sense your approach before, and their present courses are in preparation.
You see an opening, a crevice, the nearest thing to the color of your cavern you have yet seen since you left. A thought crosses your mind of communication: another thing you are wholly unpracticed in. It may be safer to try to communicate before you come nearer, or it may be safer to quietly enter, into a place far more like what you are used to, and learn their nature and perhaps a language before you interact with them.
Would it be wiser to risk awaking a hostile host with an untried attempt at signals, or wiser to risk entering their dark place, so like your own?
3 – 4
Signal – Inquire
You at last touch the shape you had seen when still below the surface. It is indeed free of any loose particle, as you had determined by smell, yet every individual detail of its texture is so defined that it is as solid and clear as the point of a needle.
The blackness of its appearance is of no common origin of color: you can feel the black in the substance as an infusion of some light-devouring manifestation. The history of the structure would be of great interest, but is no doubt of some remote period, like your own history.
As you enter the shade it is to you more than a shade of light. It cuts much of the over stimulation of your senses, allowing you to focus and guide your analysis more purposefully. Yet even in the brief rest from focus (brief at least to your collective mind) your abilities seem to have partially atrophied.
Even so, you are at once able to examine all the minuscule inhabitants that flow in interlaced streams throughout the darkness, and read their behaviors. You work out the scope of their language that is in current use, which is complete enough, but uses the vibrations of patterned tapping and some pheromones to lend expression: modes that are to you rather violent in nature.
By their reactions and the electrical patterns that glimmer in their nerves you learn that their senses are very limited, but have higher potential if exposed to light, though light is uncomfortable and aggravates them. They seem to enter it to wage their tiny bouts and skirmishes. You are glad you did not signal to them from outside in the light, seeing they would have taken it as a challenge of war to their entire population.
But now you make a more disturbing observation: a smell whose source is nearing rapidly. In dealing with such small beings for a short but thorough time, you experience the feeling of an insect with the ability to watch the galloping approach of a vastly larger animal, able to crush you without notice. But these creatures are unaware of the approach.
It is the smell you smelled when one of the beings touched the fluid before you left it: the unknown beings who seemed to have disappeared. You can smell the chemical markers of negative intent, and as they are following your path from the lake, they must be able to follow your smell.
Should you remain in the dark shape, in the home-like darkness, hoping to hide as well as avoid being discovered as an invader of the small creatures home, or venture out to escape, perhaps finding some unused speed in your movements, and perhaps trying to draw out the small creatures to fight or at least distract your pursuers?
1 – 3
Hide – Escape
You disperse throughout the population of the dark place, spreading among them in their language that creatures of a large size challenge their race. You say these creatures live all their lives in the light, and thus believe they can easily destroy all the smaller creatures. As you surmised, this inflames the small creatures to great indignation, for they see this as a vulgar bloodthirstiness.
As the small things sally from the internal shade of the dark shape, their boundings resemble sprays of spinning flies. Wingless, they drop like small grains until they touch some surface, whence they dart or cast themselves lower. They fall in teeming piles on the ground, which expand like a film of fawn colored liquid from around the dark shape.
Looking out of the shadow for a chance of escape, you make rotating trials of your speed individually and in groups. You see the beings you had before not known, and examine them as they lope forward, spanning great spaces of ground with each stride.
Their structure and movement suggest to you that their accustomed manner is bipedal, but when in haste they throw themselves forward with all their four limbs, seeming also to thrust off the ground with a powerful tail. They are hunched, with heavy, folded necks, and their bodies are covered in coarse, dark hair.
The small beasts from the dark shape spring in swarms up the creatures’ swinging legs as if drawn by static electricity. You can easily tell that this unexpected assault is too much for the massive creatures by the change in their scent alone. You do not wait to see their ridiculous tossings, prancings and folding and unfolding of their various parts, but make your way to an opening you know of in a thin arm of the dark shape far from the conflict.
In the all but uniform landscape you must choose quickly where there may be the best safety from the crooked, giant beasts that pursued you.
On the one side there is a distant disruption of the ground which appears unnatural, of a strange formation, and in the other direction there is a haze shrouding the horizon, and perhaps anything else.
4 – 5
Unnatural – Haze
As you sally from the small aperture and gather to make a your way into the distance, you feel for the first time that you are far from where you began. Perhaps because the interior of the dark shape that you leave is so similar to that place, you feel a sad draw backwards.
If not for the impedance mismatch of the surface of the lake, you might very well be able to hear the discordant noises behind you echoing from the very rock in the cavern where you lay and sensed, for so many unknown generations of this blazing world outside. It is so far, yet it seems you could so easily return, and to flee out of sight of the lake and its depths that lead back is hard to bear.
You cannot do else but run across the uneven, dusty slabs, further from the glittering lake, and away from the shape so strange that to tell its height is as difficult as tracing the tributaries of a jungle river to find its source.
You are disappointed by your speed, having tested it in the interior of the shape, which bore no resemblance to these shifting, hummocked stones and their slippery, sand colored dust. Though you never thought to feel impatience, it troubles you that the haze seems to draw no nearer.
Weariness: a thought as foreign to you as this changeable world, and more striking as it is a change in you. Again you bear a sad feeling of distance, as you see nothing that may be kept with you unchanging. It is something to sense how much you desire this, something you could not have sensed before.
Rather than seeming to come nearer, the haze seems to lose its form. As when approaching fog or mountains, their outline is lost the closer one is, and the peaks are invisible or unrecognizable which were plain from a distance.
You are deep in the mist now, yet the ground is unchanged. Your senses are overwhelmed with stimulus, while for the first time since your ancient origin your senses are also compromised by your physical exhaustion.
You can tell now by the variations in the sort and movement of the particles which make up the haze that it has many origins, one of which is relatively close. Also that the vapor is not entirely generated by heat, but by a chemical process, and one that is biological in nature.
As you pass you also detect large, regular forms, inconsistent, as if they are changing position, yet also inconsistent in that you do not sense any of the necessary artifacts of such movements. It is possible that your senses are weakened beyond what you thought, but such things should be obvious.
Should you search out a possibly living origin of the haze, or rectify the mystery of those things that surround you, which seem to violate physical law?
3 – 2
Biological – Preternatural
The lapping folds of the haze wander over you, and you wander forward under them, following the wafts that have a newer scent. You trace a spotty line to the epicenter of this dimness.
It appears in the obscurity when you approach it as a dark form, high and long as a wall. The vapors jet upwards from some part of it yet beyond your sight, and drift downward slowly: thus you enter a space near the great object where the haze is still high above, giving you a clearer view.
The ground, by look and feel, is clearly of the same sort as by the lake, though in slight and different light. Yet you can tell plainly enough that no such lake is near. If this place had been the shore of such a lake then, judging by the slope, the surface would be just beyond the great object; indeed, the thing could have been mostly submerged.
The thing is dark, not merely in darkness, and it is sleek, bulging and rounded by its own towering weight pressing it down against the unyielding ground. It is a vastness of flesh, not altogether alive, but having some life in it, like a branch but newly cut from the root.
Harsh cries scratch the air, and a new spout of the gaseous ejecta stretches up and begins adding to the canopy. The creatures that gave the cries come into sight, flying slowly up from somewhere near the origin of the newly opened spout.
The forelimbs of these creatures bear layered fringes of thin, stiff structures, forming heavy wings. Some alight within view, and dig the jagged edges of their globular heads into the flesh of the great object. It seems to you that in their scavenging they at times break into a pressurized organ filled with the vapor; whether these reservoirs are leftover from processes the body once used, or are products of its present state, you cannot tell.
You find that the weariness you feel cannot be dispelled so long as you remain active. You have slept in shifts before, but have never had the necessity to sleep all at once. You must find a secure hiding place to carry out this process.
You find in the side of the great flesh a largish hole, which must have been a gill hole, judging by what little you can see inside. By the movement of sound you can tell that the hole leads deep into many places within the body.
At a little distance away there are also the cracks and caves in a heap of rock where the flying beasts clearly live, and may have a spare crevice. But, observing when one of them approaches the scavenging place of two others of its own kind, and is driven back with deadly fierce repulses, you are not sure if you should risk approaching the sleeping grounds of such creatures.
Should you seek a place within the great body, or risk taking one among the scavengers?
3 – 4
Gill Hole – Scavengers’ Dens
You make your way at a distance along the line of the stone heap. You can sense places with little or no activity, but find that these are gaps between separate great piles. It seems that every crevice in the stones of any depth has been lived in to some degree, and may expect a returning owner at any moment.
You find a slope that has clearly been taken by a different sort of creature than the scavengers. By all signs they are smaller, and are not very active at present. You wonder if they have held their ground against the scavengers by some noxious substance, or greater ferocity. In your previous searching you witnessed weaker scavengers that seemed, like you, to be looking for a vacancy, and even fighting to the death (and subsequent devouring) to claim a space.
The only conclusion is that the scavengers would rather risk death among each other than try laying claim to this slope that you face. They clearly have no ideas of honor or shame that might restrain them.
You approach a lower opening in the slope which seems to have had the least activity. The stones are pale and dusty, and the dim, foggy light finds its way far inside somehow. Just beyond where it could be more reasonably called dark, you see a large irregularity on the surface of a rock, an irregularity that is inconsistent with the usual formations of the stones.
This “irregularity” spreads its several, flexible limbs, and moves towards you. Its surface is rough as a fused mass of rock fragments, and other than its limbs it seems to have no features, though you are sure there is a hidden mouth. You are about to discover whether their weapon is their rough bodily members, or some poisonous fume or spray.
4 – 1
Grim – Noisome
The scavengers are fierce, yet you are far from the same creature as them, and may succeed where they fail. You disperse fractally into groups of groups, so that while you cannot be attacked all at once, you avoid being separated into isolated individuals or small, unsupported bands. Unfortunately this creature’s eyes, weak as they are, can see you quite well, and are located in the tips of all its limbs, leaving no blind spot.
You part before your enemy’s advance, circling out of reach on all sides, feeling your lack of rest keenly. If you had your full strength, you would not need to challenge the inhospitality of this grievous animal. Some of you make a feint at approaching it.
It snaps out in return, with far more speed than you would have thought, like a sound changes shape when that which makes the sound is stricken a sharp blow. It has killed some of you, and is consuming them even as it tries to close with the rest of you. The smell burns in the air, stinging you with something else; senses honed for millennia are now filled with this; you smell yourself in a horrible way.
Your thoughts have changed as suddenly as the killer’s movements had changed, and you move in a fiery pang. More of you dart across its striking distance with enough speed to avoid the well guided blows, and now it whips itself with its many arms in a contorted display of vigor. As before, you circle its attacks, dancing over its body like the warping of light by fluid, always in a safe place. Yet you can never pause long enough to make any harm in the harsh, stony skin. And you cannot pass the shivering teeth to find a more vulnerable place inside.
The eyestalks are always partly withdrawn, and their concealment reflex is too quick. You sense no dulling of its energy, and know that you cannot outlast it, though it is expending far more strength than you. Some of you escape its body by in turns tempting its blows to make an opportunity for others, and the last few escape by springing from the tips of its limbs as they flick like tongues of hardened magma. Those of you that return are covered in your own remains, and you have a kind of gladness to have taken back some of your own, even in this unnatural way.
Your thoughts, which have spread with your senses throughout the whole of the rock heap, have at last returned with a hope of final triumph. You release a piercing energy, which reacts with the stones, producing both sound and low frequency electromagnetic waves. But the main effect you seek is well measured and specific: it renders your killer wholly blind.
You easily evade its unaimed movements, slow it with many small wounds, and with repeated incisions cut a way between the base of one of the teeth and the edge of its hard skin, deep enough to finally dig further in without being crushed, and surgically dismantle it from inside.
You know that the energy you released has drawn every one of the creatures to destroy you, and you know where they are and how they must come. You know many things, and guided by this knowledge you scatter farther than you had ever though you would in the whole of your existence. You seek out many chosen locations, and apply perfect measures of pressure and vibration in various crevices of the rocks.
Like a great, solved puzzle the result follows the pattern seen in your mind: the calculated shape, weight, texture, and position of more than forty thousand stones large and small, and how they would interact if moved. With precise forces added, you turn yourselves and the stones into a complex machine, systematically closing off any approach, while allowing a way of retreat far into the interior of the collapsing mound.
You gather in a space formed by several large stones meeting at many angles, a place not low or high in the mound or near any side, inaccessible by anything but the smallest and most flexible of creeping things. You can now sleep in this complete darkness.
This concludes chapter one, titled: “One Day After Three Thousand Years”.
Now it is for you to decide what the entire story shall be called.
1 – 3
“Far Beneath the Sun” – “The Deep Fault”
Waking suddenly is a thing you have never done before in all the millennia of your existence. But now a sense of alarm is running through you, and strange tidings with it.
As more of you come to full awareness you sense the steep rise in humidity that tells of harsh, rising water. When enough of the rocks in the mound are submerged you know from the memory of your previous analysis that they will collapse, and you may be unable to avoid being completely crushed inside.
You feel throughout you another feeling that is entirely new: a dragging heaviness from having slept longer than necessary. Though some of you knew, you now collectively realize that almost a month has passed, while your accustomed times of sleep would have lasted no more than three days.
I order to leave this place quickly you will have to shift the boulders, having sealed off all but the smallest openings. Filing out slowly will be too high a risk, yet shifting the massive weights in your weakened and confused state is also dangerous. You are glad that you had already planned the points and pressures needed for the task before you slept.
Unfortunately it takes longer to prepare the attempt, and you fail to calculate with the risen fluid’s effect on the lower stones. The rocks slip in unpredicted directions, and some of you are badly wounded, further endangering your escape. You now have to reassess the possible outward paths: one course would be go down and meet the rising water, and find your way out of the base of the mound; a fluid would be a more natural medium for you to travel in, but the longer route and possible changes in current would be great dangers. Nevertheless moving through a dry course in your dazed and injured condition may be equally perilous.
Will you go up or down?
Up – Down