Nobody ventures here without a mask.
In: 5000 Writing Prompts by Bryn Donovan
Niala led me deeper and deeper into the tunnel system that stretched out for miles under our city. Nobody cared to know who had built it once rumors about the tremendous treasure waiting to be discovered got out. I gave the remains of the long-forgotten civilization little attention as we passed them.
The crystal in her left hand shone brightly and drenched the narrow corridor in a sharp, alien light. “Nobody should venture here without a mask,” Niala told me as she stepped over a fresh corpse. “Watch your step.” I looked longer than I probably should have at the dead young man on the ground. The fact that he didn’t wear a mask gave her remark additional weight. His eyes were bloodshot and twisted in pain. Dark crusted blood around his mouth, and all over the simple shirt that covered his chest spoke of the painfully slow death he must have had. “What happened to him?”
“The air is thick with death. First, it burns your respiratory tract. Then it turns your lungs into mush.” Niala shrugged it off like she had seen it many times. It was precisely the reason why I had hired an experienced grave walker. To not end up like that poor soul. But the service of her guild wasn’t cheap. Most couldn’t afford the expert knowledge.
“You know where the crypt is?” Niala gave me a sharp nod and pointed ahead into the never-ending night. “It should be just down this corridor. Were did you get the intel?”
“A little bird sang to me.” She didn’t need to know that I had trapped and tortured an old friend to get the information. I would do anything for the chance to leave the hell hole that was Direfall. Even with a large part of the treasure going her way, it would still be enough to buy my way out. It was a shame that my husband and children had to stay behind. But I would find someone new once I was out.
Niala said nothing and led me deeper into the catacombs.
Time passed. I didn’t know how much. Every minute in the darkness felt like an eternity. Then Niala stopped.
My hands were trembling in anticipation. The ticket to escape that miserable part of the world was right behind the doorway.
“Can I go in?” I asked her.
“Sure.” She answered.
As I pushed past her, my body covered the light of her crystal. I needed to enter the crypt and walk a few steps until the light filled the room again. It was completely empty except for a sarcophagus. I stepped up to it and froze in terror. In there lay the mangled corpse of the person I had killed.
“Wha-” Iron scraping on stone filled the dead silence of the place. I spun around just in time to see that Niala had activated a mechanism to the side of the doorway to close the barred gate. The grave walker turned away.
I ran to the door, gripping the bars so tight that the color of my fingers vanished. “What are you doing?” I shouted at her. “You cannot leave me down here!”
Niala didn’t stop. Her laughing echoed from the uncaring walls as if to taunt me even further. She left me alone in the dark.
Preparation time: 0 minutes
Writing time: 20 minutes
Editing time: 50 minutes
I started to write this prompt without any preparations. I picked it and just went for whatever came to my mind. My writing was really messy and repeating a lot because of it. And it took me more time to edit the story into something coherent.
My first thought was, why shouldn’t you wear a mask? The most obvious reason is that it is dangerous without it. I imagined a grave, a crypt, something very dark where death is literally hanging in the air. I can see a swamp or anything like that working too. But I have to confess that I am a huge fan of the atmosphere of the game ‘Bloodborne’. My mind jumped there instantly.
From there, I already had the set up of vast and deadly underground catacombs. Now I just needed a reason for people to go there. Well, there might be many ways to inspire people to do so. I thought greed might be the most believable one. Because a lot of people are willing to do a lot for money. To develop the protagonist’s motivation further, I had to make their situation pretty desperate. Direfall seems to be a place wrong enough to justify traveling into a death pit in the hopes of finding something that will buy your way out. I really don’t want to know what’s going on there.
Sometimes when writing gets complicated, I trick myself by writing in first-person and later rewriting the passage into third-person. But I wanted to experiment with a first-person narrator for a while now. So I just decided why not with this prompt?
The story is all about the ambitions of the narrator. They are willing to kill to achieve their goal to find a way out of their situation. This turns back around on them as Niala leaves them imprisoned.
But who is she? Did she have any connections to the protagonist’s victim? Or did she just find out about it and decided to take justice in her own hands? Maybe it had been a set up all along?
The grave walkers seem to be a group of rather odd people. Who would regularly go into those catacombs enough to know their way around? Maybe they are the only ones that see a scholarly pursuit in exploring the place. Going down there because they know it has a deeper meaning. Something to be found that is not just gold and silver. But something more meaningful.
Well, I hope you liked that prompt! I asked people on my Twitter account, which kind of prompts I should go for next. And they decided on SciFi! If you want to participate in those polls or talk to me about this project, follow me on Twitter!
I don’t have too much experience in that field, but I’m already curious about the new prompts.
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