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THE EXPEDITION – PROFESSOR D. GROVER THE XIIITH
After three months, the expedition reached its final destination.
At its inception, the expedition group had consisted of myself (the esteemed Professor D. Grover the XIIIth), seven of my colleagues from Oculus Infernus Industries, and at varying points, local guides. We also had a number of pack mules bearing forth supplies, rations, and scientific tools. Our destination was this most mysterious of structures, the fabled Monolith.
We had been studying the myth of the Monolith for years at Oculus Infernus Industries, but our information was limited to secondhand accounts and mad scratchings found in ancient manuscripts. Its actual location was impossible to pin down, and in fact most of the accounts were contradictory, spanning time and distance that seemed unthinkable.When we received word that the structure had been sighted, it was resolved to observe it first-hand. And so I was sent, along with my hapless companion Dr. Spaulding, to observe the structure. The journey did not go well, as Dr. Spaulding went mad and de-fleshed his own face, but I was seemingly unaffected, and so I returned and gathered a proper expeditionary crew.
This expedition was significantly more difficult, due to the heavy forests and the lack of civilization in the surrounding area, but those obstacles paled in comparison to what we encountered along the way. It was as if the entire region had been displaced into some bizarre, evil alternate version of itself, populated by unseen creatures only hinted at in nightmares. Shadows flitted between trees on the edge of one’s peripheral vision, strange sounds echoed in the distance all around us, and the trees themselves had taken a sinister cast, appearing as if they had grotesque leering faces until you looked at them directly.
The whole experience played havoc with our senses. Dr. Alfred Whitworth, a long-tenured member of Oculus Infernus Industries’ paranormal research team, was found one morning shortly after we entered the region in a state of shock. His eyes were wide, with white visible all around the iris, and he seemed nearly catatonic, staring straight ahead at some unseen object. His mouth worked, slowly, mouthing words in no recognizable language, but no sound emerged. A guide took him back to the nearest village. Several of the local guides vanished in the night, although whether that was a result of desertion or things more sinister, I know not. Timothy Cheswick, another member of the paranormal research team, went mad a week later and flew into a rage, giving Roger Pennyworth a black eye in the process and destroying some valuable equipment. He had to be sedated and was also transported back to our starting point.
As with my previous excursion, I found myself oddly unaffected by the lunacy that consumed the rest of the group. Where previously, it grew bad enough that my original companion Dr. Spaulding had defleshed his own face, at worst I experienced some mild headaches. My current group continued to dwindle; young Michael Anderton vanished one night, with a thin trail of blood leading from his tent off into the underbrush. The local guides departed that morning, vowing to never return, but by this point it did not matter. I knew where the Monolith was, faintly visible above the trees now, and it was almost as if I could sense its direction when my eyes were closed. The forest around me was becoming more decayed as I neared it, as though the massive gnarl of rock was somehow draining the life from the surrounding geography.
By the next morning, the rest of my group was gone, along with most of the foodstuffs.
Surprisingly, this did not deter me at all. I felt entirely at ease, in spite of the anomalous surroundings I continued to discover. It was close, now, I could feel it, and I found the going to be almost inhumanly easy. My fatigue was minimal, and although the forest continued to die around me, I had never felt so alive. The terrain seemed to flash by as I grew nearer; I hurdled dead trees with ease, taking little notice of the skeletal remains of animals that littered the area. Time ceased to have meaning to me, until I found myself standing before the thing.
The side of the structure appeared to be impenetrable obsidian, worn with age, but seamless. However, as I stood before it, a rumbling grinding sound shook the earth, and a massive door suddenly opened in the side of it. A black-robed figure stood within, its hood obscuring its face from view. Its arm moved slowly, gesturing for me to enter, and as I did, it turned and shuffled off, bidding me to follow. The interior was unlike anything I had ever seen, with massive spires of rock protruding from obsidian floors. Grotesque, non-Euclidean carvings adorned the walls, lit by torches that burned with cold blue flames. Tortured screams could be faintly heard, echoes bouncing off the walls and vanishing into the distance.
We walked for what seemed to be an eternity, following this long, straight corridor until I began to wonder just how this corridor could extend so far without emerging from the other side of the Monolith. Surely there had to be some sort of optical illusion, some unseen incline or decline to the floor? We continued on, always straight, the corridor visible far ahead until it vanished into distance. And then, suddenly, we reached a doorway. The robed figure halted, extending a withered finger in the doorway’s direction, so I entered.
The room I entered was cavernous and massive, vaguely circular, with tremendous stone figures on thrones lining the walls. An altar stood in the center of the room. I gazed up at the stone figures as I walked, noting the differences in them, and in doing so I came to two uncomfortable realizations. The first realization was that these stone figures were watching me, and the second was that I was unafraid. There was something familiar about this room and these stone statues, and it was almost comforting.
I continued to walk, until I reached one of the stone carvings in particular. I gazed up at it, looking over its facial features, and came to another, more shocking realization. The decrepit stone visage that stared back, decayed though it was, was immediately recognizable, as it was a face I had seen daily in the mirror for years. That stone figure was me.
A sound behind me startled me. I whirled around to discover the robed individual behind me. In a haunting, scraping voice, it spoke. “Welcome home.”