A Thumping in the Dark
by Tyler R. Lee
It was supposed to be just another dungeon dive. It was supposed to be
easy treasure. No problem for a seasoned group of adventurers like
ourselves. At least, that’s what Scarf had said when he brought us the
“I don’t buy it,” Laurent had objected. Like most elves, he was always
skeptical of anything that came from a human, exactly the type Scarf
had accepted the contract from.
“Whaddaya not buy?” Scarf asked, cold and deliberately, his huge orc
brow furrowing with annoyance.
“Just that...it sounds too simple,” Laurent explained. He had lost some
of his confidence at the sight of Scarf’s scowl. A nearly
seven-foot-tall orc will do that to you, occasionally.
A low growl escaped Scarf’s mouth as his two long tusks shook from his
intensity. “It’s ain’t no different than any other time we’ve been
asked to delve into a hole in the ground for treasure.”
“They really said we can keep whatever we find?” Trebilo, a small but
stout halfling, my twin brother, asked.
“You got it,” Scarf smiled. “All they want is something they called
‘the Heart of the Dungeon.’”
“Sounds valuable,” I had said, echoing what everyone else seemed to be
thinking. “What is it?”
“Some blood-red stone, deep in the complex,” Scarf answered. “Said that
was all he wanted.” He then gave a small chuckle. “We’ll see how
valuable the ‘Heart of the Dungeon’ is before we hand it over.” We all
laughed at that together. What fools we were.
“I still don’t know,” Laurent said, provoking another growl from Scarf.
“Some oddity of a man, hooded and cloaked, offers us a job; just head
into this nearby dungeon, keep what you want, no strings, plus 500 gold
“We could always split it three ways instead of four,” Scarf smiled,
hinting that Laurent was dangerously close to being cut out from more
than just the current deal. The elf’s paranoia had always earned him
groans, annoyed looks, and chastising from us all. We should have
listened to him this time.
“Whaddaya think, sis?” Trebilo asked, turning to face me.
“Sounds like an easy score,” I had said.
“Good answer, Trabina,” Scarf added.
Trebilo smiled at my acceptance and nodded his to Scarf.
“Well, Laurent?” Scarf asked as he threw a cold grin at the elf, almost
daring him to argue. Laurent did not. He merely hung his head, then
nodded. “Perfect. We head out at first light on the morrow. Anybody
sleeps in, don’t expect us to wait on ya.”
And with that, Scarf got up from the table and made his way to the bar
to drink himself into a stupor as he often did when we snagged an easy,
well-paying job. Trebilo and I just grabbed the attention of a passing
bar maid and ordered drinks for ourselves. Laurent joined us but didn’t
say much the rest of the night.
The next morning, we were all up before first light and ready to be
off. Everyone except for Laurent, that is. Even Scarf, despite his
excessive indulgence of ale the night before, was up and ready to head
out, though he had to squint when light began to peak over the
“That damned elf is dangerously close to getting left behind,” Scarf
growled as he shielded his eyes and rubbed one of his temples. His
normally forest green skin was looking a bit gray as he dealt with his
“You know we cannot,” I answered, matter-of-factly. Scarf shot me a
cold look, tusks bared, but I cared not. The brutish orc only ever
“She’s right, Scarf,” Trebilo added, backing me up, as always. “It
would not be smart to head into a dungeon without our spell slinger.”
Scarf scoffed at this, so Trebilo continued. “Come on, Scarf. He gets
on my nerves as well, but we need him. You’re the muscle and the
leader, Trabina and I are the thieves, and Laurent is the mage and the
healer when needed. It’s balanced and needs to stay that way.”
“Damned cleric,” Scarf said, not looking at Trebilo. “And damn you
halflings for making sense.” Which meant he agreed, begrudgingly.
A moment later, Laurent was seen exiting the tavern, giving us an
apologetic wave. “Apologies,” he called out in his soft, melancholy
voice laced with paranoia. It was never clear if that was how he
normally sounded, or if he was perpetually worried about something. We
all had agreed long ago that it was probably both.
“Save your damned apologies and let’s go,” Scarf barked, to which
Laurent quickened his pace, not making eye contact with the towering
The entrance to the underground complex we were contracted with
exploring was only a few hours hike from the roadside tavern we had
stayed at. Along the way, Laurent asked Scarf to explain the details of
the contract again. Annoyed, Scarf repeated what he had explained the
night before. Laurent didn’t respond with anything more than a low,
contemplative murmur, which seemed to push Scarf’s buttons.
“I swear,” Scarf barked, “one day, we’re gonna take a job and you ain’t
gonna bitch about every little thing. One day.”
“Not likely,” I said with a chuckle, which got laughter from Scarf and
my brother. I slapped Laurent on the back and flashed him a smile,
which prompted a small grin. He may have been a pain, but I didn’t
dislike him. Plus, I preferred everyone to be on the same page, no
matter how easy the job seemed.
We must have walked for another couple of hours, which included Scarf
complaining about having to shorten his stride so my brother’s and my
short legs could keep up. We reached an area of the Moonway Woods that
became unusually thick with trees and brush. As we entered, the air
become tighter, and the light had more trouble breaking through the
“This place feels old,” Laurent said in a low voice.
“Can’t argue with that,” Trebilo agreed. “Bit stuffy in here.
Everything is too close together. Can’t imagine how you tall folk feel.”
“It ain’t fun,” Scarf growled. “We should be almost...there,” he
pointed as he said the last word. We all looked and saw a small cave
entrance among entangling brush and trees that seemed to be bowing to
the cave itself. If I had not known better, I would have thought the
trees looked...subservient to the cave entrance. Broken and brought
low, like slaves to a cruel master. Looking back, maybe I was right.
“Can you fit through that entrance, Scarf?” I asked, genuinely
concerned as to whether or not the massive orc could fit through a cave
entrance that would prove comfortable to someone my size, but only just.
Scarf gave an annoyed growl as he looked over the entrance. “Durned
employer said the main opening was small, but he assured me I could
fit. I should be able to crawl. Trebilo, you go in first, then I’ll go,
followed by Trabina, that way you two can push and pull me out if it
gets too tight. Laurent shouldn’t have a problem. Skinny elf,” he added
as he looked to Laurent.
“Comes in handy, occasionally,” Laurent responded, still sounding
Lining up as Scarf had said, we made our way through the cramped space
that led into the dungeon. It sloped a bit at certain points, leading
us further underground, though not by much. It was here we first heard
the sound. The damn sound that would perpetually follow us throughout
our nightmare in this underground prison. It wasn’t a voice, it wasn’t
a moan, nor a whisper, or some call from some evil from the Underurth.
No, it was a rhythmic, steady, thump...thump...thump...thump, with
about four seconds in between each beat.
“You hear that?” Laurent asked as he stood up in the larger room the
crawl space opened up into, unsurprisingly being the first one to take
“Hear what?” Scarf said, stretching his limbs and cracking his bones
after being so confined.
“I hear it,” I answered, holding up a hand to silence everyone.
“As do I,” my brother responded, looking around the room we had entered
After ignorantly writing off the noise as the earth moving sporadically
somewhere below or some similar scenario, we examined the room. It had
many of the common characteristics you would expect for an underground
cavern. There were no lights, aside from the Illumination spell Laurent
was using to allow us to see, pushing the small globe of light higher
and a bit away from the group so as to illuminate the cavern.
The walls themselves looked like an odd mixture of earth and stone.
They had what looked like stacked stone shapes but with a brownish-red
tint to them, unlike any bricks or stones I had seen before. From the
ceiling hung the roots of what we assumed were the dense collection of
trees from the surface. The small entrance had only sloped down
slightly so we couldn’t have been very far from the surface. The roots
that came from the ceiling seemed to entangle themselves within the
stone and ran along the walls in branching paths, sometimes delving
into the stone itself, sometimes coming out to run along the walls,
ceilings, and floors and connect with other roots. These roots were of
a similar color to the walls, but darker. Again, I wrote it off as
being stained with the soil or stone that colorized the walls and
As we examined the room, we saw two exits in the form of gaping holes
in the wall. Without a second glance, it was clear that these were more
natural tunnels than those created by man or dwarf. “Alright, Laurent,”
Scarf started. “You know what to do.”
On cue, Laurent nodded and began making small hand gestures and
muttering under his breath. After a moment, and a few thumps from the
surrounding walls, the elven cleric held out his hand and a purplish
light lifted off of it, leaving a trail behind as it fell to the
ground. As we headed into the right tunnel-- “Always right, first,”
Scarf always said--the light followed Laurent, though the trail it left
would lead us back to this exact spot. His Homeward spell was one of
his more useful magics and one of the main reasons we never did a cave
crawl without him.
The first few hours exploring the cave system was very uneventful. So
uneventful, in fact, that we got complacent. We continued delving
deeper and deeper, taking fork after fork, stairway after stairway,
finding nothing, not treasure or threat, not trinket or trap, thump
after thump after thump. With nothing to give us pause,
we simply kept going. By the time something did happen, we were deep
within the dungeon.
After a good five hours, we had all started to become annoyed by the
constant, mysterious thump...thump...thump.
Try as we might, we had not been able to discern where it was coming
from. It simply emanated from all around us, as if it was coming from
the very walls itself, the very vines that ran through them. On top of
that, as we had traversed deeper, we had begun to hear the sound of
shifting earth and rock every so often. Sometimes it was soft and
echoed through the tunnels and chambers, as if it were far off in the
blackness of the dungeon. Sometimes it was loud and sudden, seemingly
coming from the other side of one of the walls we were surrounded by at
the time. However, never did we see the source.
“Something is not right in here,” Laurent had said, voicing what myself
and my brother had been thinking for the past hour or so. “This
is...unlike any cave or dungeon I have ever been in.”
“How’s that?” Scarf questioned, shooting Laurent a typical look of
irritation at yet another complaint. “Dirt, stone, roots, dark, seems
the same to me.”
“How often have we explored a cave with such rhythmic thumping?”
Laurent asked, doing his best to keep his unease under control.
“I don’t remember the last cave I explored where I didn’t hear the
damned earth make noise,” Scarf scoffed, thinking this conversation was
“Maybe,” Laurent muttered. “But what about what we have found so far?”
“What about it? We ain’t found nothing!”
“Exactly! Does that not strike you as odd? We were told by your
employer that we could keep whatever we found. But, after several hours
of exploring, we have yet to find a single copper, nor weapons or
armor, not a trinket of any kind. Just more caves, more roots, more
“Then I guess we need to keep going.” Scarf growled the last part as he
moved closer to Laurent, who lost a bit of his color and stifled his
“It is a bit odd,” my brother said, to which Scarf spun around and
glowered at him. “Not finding anything at all.”
“Not you, too,” Scarf grunted. “Trabina, ya wanting to turn back, as
“I never said I wanted to turn back,” Trebilo shot back before I could
“Then everyone needs to just shut up and keep moving.” With that, Scarf
headed for another tunnel out of the chamber we were in. However, he
stopped at the mouth when we heard something coming from one of the
other two tunnels.
“Voices,” Trebilo said, holding up a hand to hush everyone so we could
all listen. What we heard were moans; anguished cries from what sounded
like someone dying from some grievous wound or hunger. It echoed
through the tunnel, bouncing off the odd colored stone and the roots
that wrapped around them. It was a terrible wailing. Whatever was
making this sound was either in the middle of something traumatic or
had recently seen something horrible.
Scarf got by the tunnel entrance and hid around the corner, then
motioned for all of us to get out of sight until we saw what it was. We
did so and waited to see if anything came from the tunnel. The moans
cut through me, like someone was pushing a thousand tiny needles into
my skin and slowly sliding them up my arms and spine.
As the moaning grew louder, we heard a gurgled sputtering that Scarf
recognized. “Goblin,” he whispered. “It said ‘light.’ It’s noticed the
light.” He motioned to the bulb of light Laurent had kept conjured but
gave no indication for him to put it out. No sense in hiding at that
point, I assumed.
After another few heartbeats and the ever-present thump...thump...thump,
a small, gangly figure came around the corner. If Scarf had not taken
its head off swiftly, it most certainly would have noticed me from the
gasp I gave at its appearance. In the seconds before it lost its head,
I got a good look at it. Gaunt body, no armor, sunken eyes, and pale
bluish skin. Goblins were small, usually with green or greenish gray
skin, but this one looked sickly, like it had been starved. However,
the look on its face, it’s mouth open impossibly wide issuing a painful
moan, was was one of torment. The look in its eyes was one of terror,
of one who had already lost its soul and was now just wandering in the
wake of something horrific. When the head hit the ground, the eyes
looked around for a moment longer than they should have, and it issued
its signature moan an instant after it should have been able to.
“Guess we aren’t alone,” Scarf said, wiping the blood from his axe.
“Yeah...yeah...I guess not,” Trebilo stammered, as shaken by the
goblin’s form as I was.
“What is...what was wrong with him?” Laurent asked, who had fallen back
at the sight of the goblin and the beheading.
“Whaddaya mean?” Scarf asked, looking at all of us in annoyed
confusion. “It’s a damn goblin. Scraggly little cowards.”
“He looks like he was starved. And he isn’t wearing armor,” I finally
said as I found my voice.
“Goblins often look that way,” Scarf said as he rolled his eyes.
“They’re scavengers. I know one thing, though,” he said, putting his
axe away and grabbing his great hammer, his favorite weapon. “There’s
never just one goblin.”
It was then that we heard another noise coming from that same tunnel.
Not pitiful moans of pain or anguish. No. These were cries of horror.
The cavern filled with wails of the dying and of the fearful, and it
was growing louder by the second. Suddenly, we saw more goblins rushing
down the tunnel. All with the same look of absolute terror on their
faces, issuing cries of retreat and fear of an imminent death from
whatever was behind them. Mouths impossibly wide, eyes sunken and full
of death and the fear of whatever evil they had borne witness to. Even
Scarf took a step back out of the tunnel, taken aback by the state of
the group coming our way. However, he quickly regained his senses and
went on the offensive.
“Scarf, wait!” I cried, but it was too late. Our brutish orc leader was
swinging his hammer wide and hard. One goblin lost his head, though not
nearly as clean as the one who had lost it to the axe. Another was
splattered into the wall, painting it a darker red with goblin blood.
Another one had his knee cap imploded by the hammer as he tried to run
past Scarf. His head was then crushed by a downward strike.
Two more got passed Scarf and headed our way, blades held high. Looking
back, they were definitely more scared than aggressive and would have
probably just ran past had we let them. My brother and I were
frightened and on edge from this whole thing, however, so we fought.
The first one came in and gave a crazy swing with his knife at me,
probably just trying to get me to move out of his way so he could
escape. I sidestepped it, grabbed his arm, rolled forward and used my
momentum to take the goblin down with me. When we landed, I jammed my
dagger into his throat. My brother, being almost as quick as me,
sidestepped his “attacker” and buried a dagger in his stomach and
another in his throat, then let him drop. I can still hear their
screams. The high-pitched wails of one who has seen the darkness and
been driven to insanity by it. They never stopped, not while running,
not while attacking, not while we turned the offensive on them, and not
while they died. Only when the blood choked them out did their wailing
turn to gurgles, then to silence.
The wailing didn’t stop completely, however. There was more coming from
deeper in the tunnel. “More,” Scarf said, a bit of a grin evident in
his voice. Clearly, he was bored, and reveled in a battle or two.
Before we could stop him, he was running down the dark passage. Trebilo
helped a shaking Laurent to his feet and we all chased after. The scene
we came upon I am only recently privy to what it truly was.
By the time we arrived, the only cries were the echoes of the ones that
had recently been silenced. There were...pieces of other goblins
scattered all over the chamber. A few arms, a couple of legs, three
heads, all frozen in that terrified wailing expression the others had
died with. Blood painted part of the walls, floor, and ceiling. It
looked as if something had torn them to shreds, ate parts of them, and
decided to leave the rest. However, what might have been most
unsettling at the time was the fact that there was no way out of this
chamber aside from the path we had just came from. It was a complete
dead end. Whatever had done this...was just gone.
“What the hell happened here?” Trebilo asked, the shock evident in his
“Looks like all the goblins weren’t getting along,” Scarf smirked.
“That can’t be right,” I said, earning me a look from Scarf.
I motioned around in confusion at the idiotic statement and looked at
Scarf as if it was obvious, which he did not appreciate.
“This is not right,” Laurent said, not even trying to hide the terror
in his tone.
“Oh, gods,” Scarf muttered as he rolled his eyes.
“There is...there is something evil in this place. I told you all
before we entered.” The elf’s voice was quivering now.
With nowhere to go from here, we headed back the way we came.
“Trabina,” I heard my brother’s voice call from the chamber we had
killed the goblins in. He sounded confused. I picked up my pace and
found him looking around, his face matching his tone. Laurent seemed to
be doing the same but was becoming far more unnerved by whatever they
“What did you…” and then I saw it. “Where are the other two tunnels?” I
asked, looking around for the other two of four tunnel entrances that
had occupied the chamber. Even Scarf, ever the skeptic and always
pushing forward, was starting to look unnerved by the situation.
“We need to get out of here!” Laurent cried as he jumped to his feet
and headed for the only other opening in the chamber. He walked
briskly, following his purple trail that would lead him back to the
“Laurent!” I cried, but he didn’t stop. Not having much choice, we all
took off after him. Before long, his brisk walk turned into a full run.
After a minute or so of dead running, we heard Laurent cry out from
around a corner. “NOOO!” We all burst into a sprint. It only took us a
moment to see what had upset him. I’m sure, if we had bothered to look
at each other, we would have all noticed all the blood drain from our
faces. Laurent was standing in front of a wall. It looked like any of
the other walls. It was a deep red, it was covered in vines. However,
this wall, had the purple trail of the Homeward spell going through it.
“What...where is the rest of your magical path?” Scarf asked, anger and
panic rising in his voice.
“It is here,” Laurent said, a bit of a sob in his voice. “It is right
here. No no no no no,” Laurent was muttering as he started pacing back
and forth. We then all heard the familiar sound of shifting earth, but
loud, close. “No no no no. Please no!” He cried and shoved us all aside
as he ran back the other way. We followed, not knowing what to say.
“Oh, gods, no. Merciful gods, no!” the cleric cried as we ran to catch
up. When we did, we found his spell now blocked by another wall, and a
chamber where I was certain a tunnel was, moments ago.
“What is going on?” I asked, panic now coursing through my words.
“The dungeon is...changing,” Laurent said.
“That’s impossible,” Scarf barked, the panic turning to anger.
“Then what do you think it is?” Laurent barked back, completely out of
character for him. “The shifting earth we have been hearing! It was the
dungeon changing its layout!”
Scarf was taken aback by Laurent’s tone. “Look,” he started, his anger
“No! This was your doing! You dragged us down here! I said this
sounded wrong, but you just had to ignore my warnings!”
“Shut your damned mouth,” Scarf said, grabbing Laurent by the collar on
his robe. Laurent shrieked in rage and fear and let his ball of light
explode, flooding the chamber with a burning light that I thought for
sure had burned my eyes out.
A moment later, when we all regained our sight, Laurent was gone, but
he was still leaving a purple trail behind him. “We’ve got to catch
him,” I said. “We can’t get separated if the dungeon is truly shifting
“I’ll kill that little runt,” Scarf said, taking off after the purple
“Whatever gets the party moving, I guess,” my brother jested, trying to
raise my spirit a bit.
My brother and I ran after Scarf, following the sound of his heavy and
deliberate foot falls. We occasionally heard the earth shifting, but,
knowing what it was now, it didn’t matter how close it sounded. It
unnerved us all the same. And all the while, thump...thump...thump.
Eventually, we came to another wall, the purple light going through it.
“Dammit!” I cried out. “Laurent!” I ran my hands over the wall, hoping
it wasn’t real. It felt...unnatural, like ground, but more muddy and
grainy than completely solid.
“There’s gotta be a way around,” Scarf growled, and headed down an
“Wait, Scarf,” my brother called out as he ran after.
My brother and I pumped our smaller legs, following after our enraged
leader, until we heard an angry cry from him just a few turns away. We
picked up our pace and heard him cry out in pain, curse, and cry out
again. As we moved closer, we pulled our weapons, and noticed his cries
become muffled. Finally, we turned a corner and saw a familiar sight
that stole our breath. Most of the corridor was painted with blood.
Walls, ceiling, floor, everywhere. And there, on the left side of the
tunnel, were bits of Scarf. A leg was caught in the wall, still leaking
blood. An arm fell from the wall, severed at the elbow, right where he
had been sticking. A hand lay by the leg.
“Gods, save us,” my brother uttered, having never been a religious
halfling. However, I saw the fear in his eyes, just like I knew he saw
it in mine. It was the same fear I had seen in the eyes of the goblins.
“We have to get out of here,” he said as he grabbed me by the arm and
As we ran, we looked for the remnant of Laurent’s Homeward spell. After
what seemed like hours of searching, we found nothing. “We’re lost,
brother,” I said, hopelessness drowning my words. My brother tripped
and fell to the ground, breathing heavy as he lay there.
“We can’t talk like that,” he said, turning to look at me as he sat on
the ground. “We can’t give--gah!” Trebilo’s sentence was cut short as
roots that ran along the ground wrapped around him and began to pull
him into the ground.
“NO!” I cried and dove for my brother as he began crying out for me.
Suddenly, he was jerked to the side and pulled further in. He cried out
in pain and spit up some blood, but I never let go.
“Help! Help me, Trabina!” he cried as I did all I could to hold on. It
dragged him further up the wall as he gasped in pain, and I saw blood
trickled from where his body met the earth as more roots wrapped around
him. As it dragged him to the ceiling, both of us crying out in fear, I
lost my grip on him. When that happened, his face became that of the
goblins, one of sheer terror at what was happening.
“Trebilo!” I cried as I tried desperately to reach him, but he was
being pulled deeper into the ceiling. As it pulled, as he cried in pain
and horror, his body began to rip. It pulled his shoulder in and his
arm sloughed off to the ground next to me. The roots wrapped around his
midsection and I saw it open up before the ceiling swallowed. I heard
the bones in his legs crack and pop as they were pulled in as well. I
saw the pain and fear mix on his face as a vine wrapped around his head
and pulled him fully into the earth, blood and wailing pouring from his
mouth until the end.
While I have no way to know for sure, I feel certain that was at least
a day or two ago. I have been wandering the ever-changing corridors and
tunnels of this damned hellscape since then, not sure what I am looking
However, as if the gods saw fit to give me a bit of closure before I
died, my wandering brought me to this room. And I wish the gods had let
the dungeon swallow me. I stand here, now, in this large chamber, with
the so called “Heart of the Dungeon” that damned human sold us on
retrieving. It is, indeed, large, and blood-red. But it is no gem. Thump...thump...thump.
The thumping is clear now. Thump...thump...thump. It
reverberates off the walls in this room. Thump...thump...thump.
Because it is coming from this room. “Heart of the Dungeon?” How
poetic. This large, red, part stone part...something else...is a
heart. It is, truly the heart of this forsaken hole. And the
ever-present thumping is from this thing, pulsing through the roots, through
its veins, lining the walls, lining its stomach.
Damn that cloaked and hooded stranger that gave us the job, that
tricked us into coming here. He stands behind the beating heart now,
grinning under his hood, stroking the wall as if the creature is his
pet. And, as I feel roots, veins, curling around my feet, I understand
that this ancient creature has discovered there is still a little food
left to devour.
© 2018 Tyler R. Lee
Bio: Tyler R. Lee is 29 years old and has been in love with writing
fiction since high school. He graduated with a degree in English and
Literature from East Central University in Oklahoma in 2011, and has
previously published a fantasy novel, An Unlikely Company.
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