4.

The heat around the hole K’ton slept in rose every day. Drones with probes attached to them would venture five miles away from the grave, readings of a significant temperature drop proving the scientist on board correct.

“Some sort of wacky phenom going on underneath all this earth. If your tale is true, then whatever you’re looking for is in that hole,” she said, pushing her glasses up with a knuckle.

“It’s very nice that you’re talking to us like regular people,” one of the guards said from the back, getting a titter from the other. She smiled and nodded.

“Of course. After all, I wouldn’t want you to miss me calling you an asshole to your face, so there’s that. You can go do your jobs now.”

She pointed to the door. The guards grumbled and walked out of her lab.

“Mignonne, could you please locate one Arman Reiner and put me in contact with him?”

“Of course, Dr. Tory. Locating.”

The computer beeped for a few moments before a visualizer appeared where the smallest window existed.

“Dr. Lara Tory, how may I help you, my love?” was the answer.

“You have no right to continue calling me that,” she replied.

“Are you still upset that I refuse to drop my kingly powers to run off and explore tombs with you? After all the funding I gave you to continue your little experiments on the poor–“

“You made your point, your majesty,” was the defeated reply.

“Now, how can I help you?”

“I’m sending your two guardsmen to follow-up behind you. You’re too far away from the city itself, what you’re looking for isn’t south of here.”

“You’re right, it’s not south but southeast. Could you see if your sensors are picking up a storm? It just got very windy just now.”

Dr. Tory turned toward the large map made up of glass and magnetic sand. After keying in Reiner’s location, the map cleared itself and shifted, showing the thick forest with no signs of storms.

“No.”

“Oh, wonderful. I will be recording from here on out. I have a fe–“

“Your majesty?”

“–be sure to–“

“Shit.”

Reiner cut off communications and rolled his eyes.

“Always trying to slow me down. It’s not south. She has a wonderful brain, but the need to discount me… It’s an absolute shame that I have to kill her later. Ah, well. Sacrifices must be ma–“

He noticed an ancient figure underneath a natural awning at the entrance of a cave. He slowly made his way to them, waving a hand in front of their face as they didn’t address him as he approached. He cocked his head to the side, trying to get a view of this person face. The shock of seeing smooth skin covering the entirety of their head caused Reiner to step back. The figure stepped aside, allowing Reiner to pass.

He let the darkness swallow him whole before turning on the flashlight on his chest. The cave was covered in moss and spider webs, the air stale with dust and old blood. The walls started to close in before they burst open into another cave dimly lit with torches older than his families legacy. Two figures stood in front of him before grabbing him by the arms. He put up a struggle but the two managed to bring him down to his knees as if he were a child.

How wonderfully arrogant you are,” a voice whispered among the rocks. “Deliciously awful soul.”

Arman’s heart started to race, his voice caught in his throat as he watched Hell open in front of him. Eyes blinked against the blackness that faced him, mouths grinning with teeth sharper than his wit. A hand thrust out from the darkness, gripping his throat, the sharp spindles of Hell digging their way into his neck. His blue-grey eyes showed fear he hadn’t felt since his childhood.

Your body for my power,” the voice said, the hand relaxing slightly.

Arman Reiner’s fear turned into curiosity.

I knew you’d like that,” the voice chuckled, a spiny finger tracing along his jawline to his lips.

He started to choke.

The eyes and many smiles in the darkness in front of him let out of a symphony of laughter throughout the cave as the finger, the hand, the arm and the rest of the spiny, black creature slowly but forcefully made its way into Arman Reiner. The two figures let him go, disappearing from existence once more.

Arman fell to the ground, gasping for breath before letting out a roar of a scream as his body shifted and changed in his own skin. The scream made its way outside the main cave, disturbing the birds, sending off to the sky. His guards noticed and took off in the direction they were coming from, nearly jumping out their skin when Arman came from behind a tree.

“Fucking SHIT, Your Majesty! Are you okay? Dr. Tory sent us looking for you.”

Arman blinked, raising an eyebrow.

“I have no idea why. Ah, well, bless her little womanly heart. Well, lead the way, I’ll be sure to act extra hurt when we arrive back at the ship.”

The guards nodded, turning around and heading back to the ship. Arman lagged behind, laughing to himself.

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