The Sheriff stood surrounded by darkness, it had come suddenly and in a matter of moments he had lost all line of sight with what was left of his posse. He breathed in deep, the encroaching shadows invading his lungs like the smoke of an old locomotive.
To the best of his knowledge it had taken the Sheriff two days to reach this level of the crypts and he had already lost over half of the men he had brought in his posse. Beside him stood his friend and mentor; Doctor Loxley. This man's wits were so sharp he could cut through stone with a lash of his tongue, metaphorically speaking of course.
Every night the posse had been besieged by all manner of creatures never before encountered by a man on God's green Earth and every night the posse pushed the monsters back. At first it had been the legions of undead, the same zombies and skeletons that had attacked the miners just weeks before, the same attack that had brought the Sheriff to New Fairbank with his own swift justice. Soon after the undead, the Sheriff faced all manner of bugs and rats, each one impossibly large in size and voracious of appetite.
It was at this point the Sheriff noticed how the Doctor had began recording his findings in an old leather bound journal, each creature getting a page to itself. The Sheriff remembered thinking at the time that there was no way the Doctor would ever fill every page.
After the bugs came more unspeakable beasts, humanoid creatures with mottled skin and claws, looking more like the demons from the stories he was told at church than anything that should have the right to exist in this world. But still the posse pressed on through each swarm always protecting their ranks while they slept and pushing through the enemies' numbers after they had gathered the minimal sleep.
The Sheriff didn't know when he had first seen the Blood Stone. He knew he had seen it in his dreams long before actually reaching it but when he did it was more magical than anything he could ever have imagined.
The stone itself was just over six foot in size and about two feet wide appearing almost tear-drop in shape and crystalline in structure. While the Sheriff stood transfixed by his prize, it was the wall the crystal was embedded in that both intrigued and terrified the rest of the posse. Standing before the group, absorbing all and any light that approached it was a ginormous wall of black marble.
That night it was the Doc who noticed the creatures of the crypts and how they were keeping their distance from them now. Someone within the posse joked about how it might have taken them a while, but the creatures had finally learned to fear them. Both the Doctor and the Sheriff knew this was nonsense as it was the black marble and the blood red crystal nestled within that held the monsters at a distance.
Doctor Loxley didn't get much sleep that night, he stood before the black marble wall tracing outlines with his fingers before drawing shapes in his journal. The wall's light absorbing properties made it difficult to see, but through touch alone the Doc was able to make out abstract shapes, twists and lines as if a giant mural was carved into it's smooth surface.
Like the Doctor, the Sheriff didn't get much sleep that night either. Try as he might the Sheriff could not drag himself away from the blood red crystal; the Blood Stone. Somehow he knew he had to remove it from it's stone mount but he couldn't see how as it was encapsulated on all sides by the perpetual darkness of the wall.
By the morning the rest of the posse had given up keeping watch, they knew that the creatures of the crypts would not step any closer and in turn they all took long troubled rest. Each man seemed to share the same nightmare, of tendrils of pure shadow reaching for them and pulling their very souls out of their bodies and into the black marble, with each soul absorbed the red crystal grew brighter and brighter before shattering. It was then they would each wake.
The posse agreed that despite the nightmares they should remain at this site and began to build a less temporary camp including the construction of a small fire. Once lit the fire illuminated the room they were in and the Doctor was amazed to see the drawings he was making from the black marble were continued across the walls of the rest of the room and with the brighter light available he could make out the shapes on these walls with so much ease.
The random twists and curves he thought he had felt on the black marble was so much more than he had thought and indeed appeared to be immense tendrils and claws of an incredible beast. With everything put into perspective it all made sense.
Stretching out towards the far reaches of the room they inhabited these tendrils continued until they tapered out by the passage out of the chamber. Doctor Loxley added these to his sketches and began a new sketch. He included the tendrils, the red crystal and the wall itself and pieced together he could see it all. A monstrous creature that reminded him of a giant octopus or squid he had heard so many stories of in his youth. Held in it's mouth was the blood red crystal, the structure the Sheriff had begun referring to as 'The Blood Stone'. Unlike the octopi and squid this carving shared it's imagery with, this mouth the crystal was held within was not a beak like structure but was instead a gaping maw filled with large jagged teeth.
As the days carried on the Doctor continued to sketch the carvings in the black marble and with each new sketch he found more and more horrors. A humanoid trapped in it's tentacled grasp here, another being ripped apart there. What disturbed the Doctor the most however was that he was certain these figures had not been there before, as if the black marble was moving and changing, a response to their presence perhaps, maybe a warning.
Throughout all this time the Sheriff had grown tired of the Doctor. The Sheriff didn't understand how a learned man could be so obsessed by some old sculptures while the true prize was within their reach but out of grasp at the same time. He found himself cursing every god he knew for placing The Blood Stone in this damned wall of darkness. The Sheriff's displeasure turned to rage and with a curled fist he punched the blood red crystal over and over until his skin cracked and his own blood began to splatter over the crystal surface.
No one in the posse was certain they had seen it, but they all thought they had as the blood from the Sheriff's attack began to be absorbed by the crystal itself and it began to ever so dimly glow a dull red. Everyone looked on as the Sheriff began to manically grin, he had found out how to unlock the Stone's power all he needed was more blood.
Pulling a large hunter's knife from his boot the Sheriff crept up behind a stunned posse member. He couldn't remember the man's name; John or Frank, it didn't matter, this man would soon be a part of something greater than any of them could even began to comprehend and he brought the knife across the man's throat and in a singular motion forced the man against the stone leaving the spurt of arterial blood to wash over the crystal.
The Blood Stone grew brighter and brighter as everyone other than the Sheriff backed away from it. The black marble began to emit a guttural growl and soon began to move, a seam appearing in line with the crystal as it opened like a great door, the crystal itself falling onto the floor now free of it's structured prison.
The Sheriff reacted to the crystal almost violently, pushing everyone aside as he raced to cover it in a blanket. The Sheriff was amazed to find the crystal was so light weight and with a quick flurry of leather straps he had fashioned a harness and strapped it to his back. The crystal secured and safe he turned his attention to the opening in the black marble.
With the crystal gone, the wall's unusual light absorbing properties had vanished and everyone was soon able to see for themselves the grotesque image that adorned the wall. The Doctor had been right, carved into the black stone was an image of a terrifying creature; all tentacles, teeth and claws, but it was not this carving that drove fear into the hearts of the posse at this point as they stared past the carvings, through the gaping doorway that had opened in the wall and into the inky blackness beyond.
They all stood in silence as tendrils of shadow spilled out from behind the wall. It smothered the campfire and encroached on the Crypt's creatures all gathered at the chamber's entrance, too afraid to actually enter, but still waiting for an opportunity to strike at the remaining posse members. These creatures scattered like leaves in the wind and soon in no time at all the room was pitch black, the inky darkness washing over everything and everyone.
It was here that the Sheriff stood, the Blood Stone strapped securely to his back, a pistol in one hand and a hunting knife in the other. All around him was nothing but darkness and slowly he crept towards where he was certain the exit to the chamber should have been.
The Sheriff felt something beside him, it moved suddenly and in reaction he twisted and jabbed his knife out in a stabbing motion. He stood in shock as what had happened came into vision. With this death the crystal on his back began to glow brighter still and as it did it pushed back the shadowy darkness revealing the blood soaked body of one of his posse. By his count there would only be three left now including himself and the Doc. The Sheriff didn't like those odds and he ran.
For what felt like hours the Sheriff pushed through the pain as he sprinted to safety, past the cowering demons near the chamber, through the gigantic spider webs and through the swathes of undead that gathered at the entrance to the crypts, all awhile not daring to look over his shoulder at the unseen but ever felt pursuer that had followed him since the black marble chamber.
After what felt like an eternity of running the Sheriff emerged on the surface, the warm mid afternoon sun beating down on him and he fell to the floor grateful to be able to see the sun one more time. Behind the sound of the pursuer erupted and the Sheriff quickly raised his pistol in preparation. What he was confronted with however was the familiar face of Doctor Loxley. This time there was something different about the Doctor, it was clear to the Sheriff that the Doc was not the same man he had entered the crypts with.
They had ventured into the crypts after reports of monsters attacking the town of New Fairbank that had brought the town's gold mine to a halt. They had lost about a dozen men but they themselves had returned with the prize of The Blood Stone still strapped to the Sheriff's back. The Sheriff knew in time he would learn it's secrets. Somehow he had escaped the crypts and he knew the blood red crystal had played a part in it.
Try as he might, the Sheriff struggled to pull a smile at their fortune. He has seen all manner of horrors in the crypts, and he knew they had released something in that chamber, something that was held captive behind the black marble, held in place by this crystal structure that now spoke to him whispered of the great power it can give to him and others like him.
Like the Sheriff, Doctor Loxley was also grim about their fortune. Yes they had escaped but at what cost? The shadow they had unleashed on the world was not something of this world, of that he was sure. He resented the idea but he knew he would need to keep an eye on the Sheriff, for knowingly or not that man had awoken something deep underground, something so terrible and evil it had been trapped behind that black marble for what must have been centuries.
As the Doctor had followed in the crazed footsteps of the Sheriff he felt the change. The crypts, once a simple network of tunnels and chambers had been altered. The inky shadow had reached out and permeated the very walls themselves with something truly horrific; the Dark Below.
- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley