Chapter 14:

Chapter 14: Live In The Moment

Element U

Pebbles scattered across grimy puddles in the dank cave with every stride the boys made. Purposeful steps toward the bitter cries of Misumi. Her tender voice was swamped in venomous croaky whispers of the unknown. Various strange mumbles of creatures from the dark expanse of the underworld that spiraled deep beneath the vastellies.

With their arms spread out wide, Kiyo and Daisuke propelled themselves off of anything they could grab. Their fingers scraped against the saw-toothed rocky walls to maintain balance as they dived further into the abyss. Eyes aglow, they could vaguely peer through the pitch-black cloud of the depths. Only assisted by the tepid blue illumination of a glowstone, the treacherous plain came at them with every anxious step.

Critters and bugs fled from the oncoming light as they barreled further down. Misumi’s shrieks only continued to bounce back at the boys, each louder and stricken with unnerving scratchy pitch shifts. The child's pain evident in her egregious scream.

Daisuke only grew more anxious by the second. Skin boiling with rage, the sparse emotions foamed over into a gritty throb in his head. An ache that brought the worst to mind, that they might be too late, that the creature is luring them in, that they might die.

She’s alive, she’s alive, she’s alive! Daisuke repeated in his head as he gritted his teeth.

Picking up his pace, Daisuke sped off past Kiyo. His fury consumed him whole, mind lost for a plan besides diving into the fire head first. Driven by pent-up regret from his previous loss and excitement in the moment to put his practice to use. To save Misumi.

Kiyo only watched his friend mentally break down from behind, able to see the veins bulge out of Daisuke’s arms and neck. A vicious and ambitious frenzy that took control of his young body. Unable to discern the best course of action, Kiyo kicked himself into third gear for the chase. They only had so long until they reached the end, but with what plan?

Less than a hundred feet away, Daisuke spotted it, a glimmer of hope in sight.

The beast’s nesting ground.

A small stream ran down the crooked path into a dugout hole in the cave. Chunks of crumbled stalagmites lined the floor around its opening. A perfectly scrappy look to the entryway was marked by immeasurable gashes in the uneven rock entrance. The deep cuts in the white stone exposed the tuff behind the water-woven walls. It was unnatural, eerie, and unheard of to Paladinians.

This was made by no man.

It was a beast’s creation.

This deep lonely pitch black hole it’s home.

It’s territory.

Yet Daisuke didn’t care. With little to no awareness of the danger, he ventured forward brimming with blind confidence. Lured into the formidable essence of the possibility to save his sister he had no choice in his mind. Her voice bellowed out toward him. The tear-ridden cry shifted into a single word.

“Brother!” Misumi whimpered woefully.

The toxic green glow radiating from his eyes expanded as the muscles in his face sagged. Mind overwhelmed by the utterance of his title to her, the simple cry was enough to crack him. His heart accelerated beyond his control, spiraling into an intense pounding in his chest that refused to relent. To allow him to think. Instincts took over as he leaned forward and rushed toward the dire call.

“Misumi!” Daisuke screamed as he scrambled toward the opening of the room.

Under the guidance of the blue halo cast from the glowstone, the boys trampled over spiky white caps that dotted the floor. Splashing through the stream, Daisuke dodged and weaved between the puzzle-like terrain of the cave. This burst of emotion was enough to hone in his senses.

His true potential.

But Kiyo picked up on something out of place. The more he concentrated on the eerie presence the more his skin crawled with panic. Stomach tied up in knots from the uncanny sixth sense embedded in his skin, he shifted his gaze to the slivers of light cast on the walls around them. With a sharp breath, he took notice of the visceral streaks on the rock wall that grew with every step.

Countless jabs and sporadic tears were weathered in the stone. They weren’t natural formations from what he could grasp but more animal-like, markers for one’s territory. Kiyo squinted at the hazy scraps of rock consumed by shadows, beneath them a violent warning: splatters of crusted blood.

This place was a death trap.

Oh no. Kiyo was too late. Stricken with an unruly fear, he watched Daisuke dart ahead to save Misumi. Blinded by family, he was oblivious to the horrors that surrounded the situation. The end of this tunnel a vile one.

A trap.


With an electric burst of energy, Kiyo dove forward and tackled Daisuke into an abrupt stalagmite. Bits of rock dispersed onto the grimy cave floor, stagnant echoes cast all around. The glowstone rolled out from Daisuke’s grasp as he crashed onto the ground.

Within seconds of their collision, Kiyo wrapped his arms around Daisuke. Grip tightening with every second, he refused to surrender his hold. He wouldn’t let Daisuke go in and recklessly kill himself. He couldn’t.

“Kiyo?! What—are you doing!” Daisuke yelled as he fidgeted with Kiyo’s grip.

It was useless to even try. With every squirm, Kiyo wound tighter around Daisuke’s sweat-ridden body. Interlocked in a bare-knuckle submission, there was no means of escape. There was no other way to get the message through. Too hesitant to speak out, Kiyo resorted to using his own weight and strength to contain Daisuke’s blind anger. If he didn’t he knew what would follow.

“Let—me—go!” Daisuke heaved out as he rose up from the ground on all fours. Kiyo clung to Daisuke’s back for dear life. Teeth gritted and eyelids pinched closed, he refused to release his friend. But his grip began to slip.

Whiff. Whiff. Jab!

Daisuke fought back and wrestled beneath Kiyo’s weight. In a desperate attempt to shove him off, Daisuke thrust his elbows back into Kiyo’s chest. With a few fickle attempts missed, it only took one harsh blow to Kiyo’s ribs to loosen his hold. Kiyo choked on the sudden stagnant breath that constricted his throat. The immense pain flared across his lungs, nerves sent into a frenzy as Daisuke’ continued to pummel him. Jab after jab haphazardly lunged into Kiyo’s sides.

But it wasn’t enough.

In a last-ditch effort, Kiyo yanked Daisuke’s left arm back and firmly pressed it down. The jerk sent waves of agony across Daisuke’s body, the tender pain a pivotal distraction that directed his attention away from Kiyo’s left forearm. Free to do as it pleased as it circled around and clamped itself over Daisuke’s neck, locking him into a Hadaka-jime.

“Stop!” Kiyo said in a hushed tone as he pinned Daisuke to the ground.

Forearm over his mouth, Kiyo subsided Daisuke's inner fury as he squirmed around and tried to free himself. Yet Daisuke’s sequestered bloodlust could only carry on for so long. His sweltering flesh tuckered out as Kiyo forced him into compliance. Releasing his clenched fists, the pent-up anger dissipated. Anguish flattened onto the rubble beneath him.

“You done?” Kiyo asked in a solemn manner.

Daisuke nodded, a small quaint bob Kiyo recognized as understanding enough as he released his grip. Rolling apart from each other, they slumped over against stalactites, their bodies riddled with exhaustion.

“Now. Listen.” Kiyo said with a sturdy point toward the entrance to the den. With another finger over his mouth, he sucked in a cool breath and clamped his lips together.

Within an instant, Daisuke heard it as well. The blatant factor he missed to consider.

It had become dead silent.

Misumi’s voice was absent, no longer lining the murky air. The tension cut despite her screaming just a few moments ago. But now it was ever so quiet.

“Just follow me in,” Kiyo said as he receded from Daisuke, loosening his grip around his neck.

Left arm sliding out, Daisuke gasped for air, hands massaging his neck as the strain wore out. Spit spat onto the chalked floor a little splish splash of the scuffle echoed throughout the cave.

“Did you have to choke me?” Daisuke questioned wearily, bits of water still congested in his throat.

“Shhh.” Kiyo shot back with a wag of his right hand toward him.

Daisuke scoffed and stretched across the ground to retrieve the glowstone. Branches broke off piece by piece as Daisuke dusted off the loose decayed vines. With the rock in one hand, he shimmied over to Kiyo.

Behind the cover of a dripping stalagmite, Kiyo shifted his gaze back to the den ahead. Where Misumi was supposed to be, but only ominous silence echoed back toward them off the cave walls. Not a soul to be heard.

Kiyo glanced at Daisuke and it was like looking into a mirror, both masked with vexed glares that wrinkled their pasty faces. Distressful jitters rippled across Daisuke’s body, caught between the urge to charge in and the hesitancy instilled by Kiyo. But truthfully, both the boys felt the same discouragement. Mentally unprepared to jump into combat with another foe they had such little knowledge of. They weren’t even positive about what it was.

But they’d have to figure out one way or another.

Creeping forward, the two boys inched their way to the narrow entrance of the hollowed-out den. One look in and it was easy enough to find the expected staring back: a pitch-black abyss. With a sniff of courage, Kiyo planted his foot in the sea of darkness. Yet something felt odd the instant his foot made contact with the unseen earth. He recoiled back at the strange substance that protruded into the sole of his shoe. It couldn’t be a rock. Could it?

“What now?” Daisuke complained in a childish whisper.

There was no verbal response. Kiyo pressed his left palm over his mouth, a war command of complete and utter silence communicated to Daisuke. Forced to comply under the circumstances and his loss, Daisuke sarcastically bobbed his head with a sarcastic smile. Sill able to see his face beneath the tepid blue shine, Kiyo rolled his eyes and pointed at the floor. Taking a few small steps back, Daisuke eased forward to Kiyo’s side.

Both squatted down simultaneously, Kiyo reaching into the darkness to take hold of the peculiar shrouded object that pierced his sole. He rubbed off the slivers of filth stuck to the sides and motioned for Daisuke to bring the glowstone closer. Raising the object into the wavering light of the glowstone the mystery revealed itself.

It was a chunk of a paladinian’s skull.

“Woah,” Daisuke uttered as he ran his fingers down the side of the splintered fragment.

Kiyo remained indifferent at the sight of it. The only sensation pulsing through him was a silent alarm for the impending danger ahead. Whatever the creature was must’ve been strong enough to take down an ample-bodied Paladinian. If not multiple of them.

Daisuke shifted his attention from the skull to the unknown depths ahead. Gradually elevating the bounds of the stone deeper into the secluded burrow, Daisuke shed some light on what awaited them. But it only got worse. Eyes broadened at the apparent trail of bones that decorated the floor.

This was no basic beast, it was a monster. A man-eater.

“How big is this thing?” Daisuke said warily, realization seeping in over his curiosity.

“Shhh.” Kiyo spouted out.

Kiyo kept his focus as he swung his arm over for the glowstone, Daisuke pawning it over to him with a muttered sigh. The longer they lingered there the more aware he became of the level of peril that enveloped them. His desire for exploration was quelled by the inner urge to escape, to save Misumi, to all get out of there alive.

Stone in hand, Kiyo rolled it over the bones further into the room to flesh it out.

Crack. Snap. Crack. Dink. Snap.

Daisuke watched attentively as the glistening rock crunched over withered bones, left to sit with anticipation for Kiyo’s plan of thought to come to life. For the beast to take the bait or for the light to reveal it to them. The first option was far better in his mind.

But nothing happened.

The stone continued to roll until it bumped into a little lump laid in the middle of the room. A leathery softball that shrunk away from glowstone’s impact. Body shaking all over, it slowly peered back at the boys over its shoulder. Mouth hung open, a mix of tears and snot leaked out of the creature's face. But it wasn’t menacing.

It was scared.

It was a Paladinian.

It was a child.

“Misumi?” Daisuke whispered.

The little girl spun back toward the crevice where Daisuke’s voice wafted from. Straightening up, she rubbed her eyes as the tears trickled down onto her overhanging swaddled coar hair shawl. With little balled fists, Misumi clamped her knuckles onto her cheeks. Her hood slid back off her head to reveal her current state to the two boys.

She was a mess.

A look of pure terror encapsulated her face, cheeks stained a crummy crimson hue from the perilous tears. Her hair was tangled and layered with bits of rubble and dirt from the forced trip down there. Misumi’s once lightly tanned overcoat was torn to shreds, her interior clothes all that remained. Yet that was the least of her problems.

Glancing down, the lustrous blue light captured the reason for her sobs. A two-inch deep gash ripped open her left leg. Blood trickled out over the pile of bones beneath her, a pitiful sight to say the least. Daisuke’s heart throbbed at the torment his sister had endured, torn between vengeful anger and fright toward the beast that did this. But why didn’t it kill her?

“Hey, Misumi. Misumi!” Daisuke whispered as he flailed his hands, anxious to get her out.

But she refused to respond. Voice sequestered behind her clenched lips, her teeth ground down the urge to scream. Every spike of pain another talley on the scale, on the verge of collapse.

“Misumi come here,” Daisuke called out a little louder.

But she only shook her head.

“Wha—Misumi c’mon. Father and Mother are gonna lose it if you don’t come back.”

“Daisuke. Stop.” Kiyo muttered brokenly, words grated by what he saw within the depths.

His gaze followed the feeble flares of the bluestone as they scaled up the wall. Little by little, it unveiled the true nature of the place they had uncovered. In the far right corner, he spotted a pile of rotting corpses, half eaten from the looks of it. The bodies were pierced and slashed apart at the waist and neck. Blood dressed the floor beneath them in an aged scarlet. Shifting his focus to the left, Kiyo discovered multiple tunnels. Passageways that led further into the cave system. Dark fascinating caverns.

“What now? There’s nothing else in here but her.” Daisuke but in abruptly.

Off a shallow reflection of water, a ray of light cast a shadow of an obstruction on the ceiling. The ghastly presence that loomed above them.

“No. There is.” Kiyo said stiffly, body held down by the intensity of the situation.

“No, there’s—not,” Daisuke fumbled his words as he took notice of shallow breathing. His confident tone diminished into oblivion, decimated by the gruesome creature.

Feet wound around a stalactite, the pale monster gazed down at the measly prey that wandered into its den. The cave stalker quickly darted its eyes between all the children, two hefty snow-white balls that lacked a center pupil. Just a blank surface, vision lost at the cost of a life in the underworld.

The rest of its face consisted of sharp clean-cut edges. Skin sunken in on its skull, a blackish-gray composure that blended in with the darkness that swarmed around it. Adaptive camouflage. Yet the rest of its body and limbs were completely pale like Paladinians. Its pores lacked any human consistency, composed of a rubber-like texture that left them stiff and rigid.

The lank creature was nimble, one that lurked from the shadows. Grown to be at most seven feet tall, this male specimen had surpassed adulthood. A hunter of the pack. Deadly when it struck in silence, it confused its prey with replicated sounds. Voices close enough to the real thing to lure them in and finish them off.

Yet it only stared at the children for a few minutes, never blinking once as it analyzed them.

Then it opened its tremendous jaws, rows upon rows of teeth unveiled. Chest vibrating, the stalker heaved in a dreary breath, and let its pitchfork tongue hang freely. Words crawling up its throat one at a time.

“HeLp mE. . .” It whispered.

Close and in person it was easy to separate the difference, the unnatural tone that made zero sense if it came out of a person’s mouth. Distant and eerie, its hollow voice was riddled with subtle wavers that required echoes to make sense. But only ten feet away it only inspired utter dread.

Whispers filled the room as the stalker slid down the stone pillar like a spider on a web. Its long skewer fingers curled around the spiraled rock. So effortless and elegant in its movements.

Terrifying to watch from below.

The whispers came closer with each sway downward. Convinced it could easily overpower the two standing prey, its talon-like hands stretched for three feet on each finger. Bones toughened enough to obliterate rocks and sharp enough to dice up a whole person in the blink of an eye.

“B-Ro-tHe-RRr.” It moaned as the dreary human voice descended into a desolate hum.

“Grab her,” Kiyo uttered quietly.

“You’re kidding.” Daisuke shot back, petrified by the sight.

“I’ll distract it.”

“Are you serious?” Daisuke asked cautiously with a glance from Kiyo to the monster, unconvinced they could even outrun the thing.

“Trust me,” Kiyo said as he wound his fingers in his right hand. Nails plunged into his worn palms, an iridescent greenish glow emanated from beneath his skin. The tension of the moment was enough to draw out the radiance within him. A beacon of hope.

It’s just like it was in the woods. Daisuke thought, amazed by the power as it seeped from Kiyo’s palm.

“Get her now,” Kiyo ordered as he dashed over to the left side of the room.


Daisuke charged forward, propelling himself off the wall as he made his way over to Misumi.

Boom! Crunch-crunch-crunch.

In that instance, the stalker took the bait and lunged toward Kiyo, Daisuke free to race over the path of bones. At a moment’s notice, Daisuke swooped Misumi up into his arms. A cheery smile wrinkled his face, spread from ear to ear as he tried to console her. She was safe in his mind, for the moment at least.

“I want momma.” Misumi whimpered tearfully.

Whoosh-whoosh! Crack-crunch-crunch-dink!

Daisuke grasped onto the glowstone on his way out and gave Misumi a little pat on the head.

“I know, I know. It’s okay.” Daisuke muttered as he bolted for the exit but he couldn’t leave. Not yet.


His smile was torn back by the bitter realization of what was behind him.

Of who was.


Daisuke took one step out of the entryway and spun back around. Panic unmasked his plastered smile as he searched for his friend in the darkness. Left arm raised, he shone the blue light toward the left side of the room where Kiyo ran to.

“Kiyo! Let's get out!” Daisuke called out adamantly.

No response.


Refusing to leave, Daisuke planted his feet and continued to wait. Squinting at the darkness, he could only hazily spot Kiyo’s arm waving around. Its green radiance an easy marker against the bleak shadows that shrouded its lustrous radiant glow. Obscured for seconds at a time as the stalker crossed in front of Daisuke’s line of sight.

Swoosh! Biff-whiff-biff!

“Kiyo! Let’s go!”

Still nothing.


“RRrrrr-uuUUUunnn-Nnn!” The stalker growled in a low-diminished whisper as it darted toward the back wall in the opposite direction of Kiyo.

Its running from him?

It was a ploy.


Bait for the child. Kiyo was quick to take it as he lunged at the monster, but the stalker was one step ahead. Talons dug into the stone wall, the stalker swung its clawed feet at Kiyo in rapid succession. Releasing its hold it dived toward Kiyo, talons-free for the finishing move.


One swipe was all it would take.


All Daisuke could do was watch and wait.

Running was a coward's way out.

“Kiyo!” Daisuke shouted at the top of his lungs as he hurled the glowstone at the shadows.

The rock landed on a jagged pike in the den and burst into a million lustrous shards. Flickers of light propelled throughout the room, an irregular splash of color for the creature as it stumbled back in fear of the light. Its broad eyes shriveled up, its body falling limp upon the weathered earth.


Without hesitation, Kiyo struck the stalker in the head amidst its confusion.

“STOP-STOP-STOP!” The stalker screeched wearily like a human child. Its tone was so uncanny as it slithered into their ears, a haunting melody.

“Run,” Kiyo said calmly as he dashed away from the beast writhing in agony.

With a quick nod, Daisuke wasted no time sprinting out of the den. Misumi bounced in his arms along the way. Her gaze was stuck back on Kiyo, fear washed away by amazement at what she had witnessed. Old enough to distinguish what he had done. Kiyo saved her.

“Where do we-” Daisuke sputtered out in a panic.

“Follow the stream!” Kiyo responded as he took the lead.

Daisuke followed without question, embedding all his trust in his friend.

Tied together at a rapid pace, Daisuke was able to keep up with Kiyo despite the weight of Misumi in his arms. A little burden that clutched onto his leather-plated cloak for safety.

Through the cavern, Kiyo made his way with the guise of his radiant sight able to see the familiar turns that led to the stream. From there it was a straight shot back to safety. A little flicker of indigo light on the horizon ahead.


But they weren’t out yet.

“COMe baCk-COme bACk-ComE BAck-CoMe BacK-COMe bacK-CoMe Back-Come baCk.”

The whispers echoed up from behind, growing louder with each phrase as the stalker recovered.

“Kiyo! How much farther?!” Daisuke yelled in dismay.

“Just a little more!”