Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Dwellers Under The Tombs

The final page of Jonas Kiles' journal:

"I wonder how Jacob Kiles discovered these subterranean ways?  He did not construct them.They were carved out of dim caverns and solid rock by the hands of forgotten men -- how long ago I dare not venture a conjecture. 

While hiding here, waiting for the time to be ripe, I have amused myself by exploring them.  I have found they are far more extensive than I had suspected.  The hills must be honeycombed with them, and they sink into the earth at an incredible depth, tier below tier, like the stories of a building, each tier connected with the one below by a single stairway.

Old Jacob Kiles must have used these tunnels, at least those of the upper tiers, for the storing of plunder and contraband.  He built the entrance tomb to mask his real activities, and of course cut the secret entrance, a stone door hung on a pivot.  He must have discovered the burrows by means of the hidden entrance at Smuggler's Point.  The concealed door he constructed there was a mess of rotting splinters and rusting metal when I found it.  As no one ever discovered it after him, it is not likely anyone will find the new door which I built with my own hands, to replace the old one.

I have wondered much as to the identity of the race which must have once inhabited these labyrinths.  I have found no bones or skulls, though I have discovered, in the upper tiers, curiously hardened copper implements.  On the next few tiers I have found stone implements, down to the tenth tier, where they disappeared.

Also, on the topmost tiers, I found portions of walls decorated with paintings, faded but evidencing great skill.  The picture paintings on lower tiers were cruder than those of the tiers above, until the last paintings were but meaningless daubs, such as an ape might make with a paintbrush.  One gets a fantastic impression of an imprisoned race, burrowing deeper and deeper into the black earth, century by century, and losing more of their human attributes as they sank to each new level.

The fifteenth tier is without rhyme or reason, the tunnels running aimlessly, without apparent plan -- so striking a contrast to the top-most tiers, a triumph of ancient architecture, that it is difficult to believe them to have been constructed by the same race.  Many centuries must have elapsed during the building of the tiers, and the builders must have become greatly degraded.

But the fifteenth tier is not the end of these mysterious burrows.  The doorway opening on the single stairway at the lowest tier was blocked by stones.  Prompted by curiosity, I cleared away the debris, in spite of the tax it was on my strength, and opened a hole, this very day, although I did not have time to explore what lay beneath.  Indeed I doubt I could do so, for my light showed me not the usual series of stone steps, but a steep smooth shaft leading down into the blackness.

Into what unthinkable pits it leads I do not care to even guess.  For some reason, the realization that the fifteenth tier descent is not a stepped shaft gives me a strange creepy feeling, and led me to fantastic conjectures regarding the ultimate fate of the race that once inhabited these hills.  I had supposed that the diggers, sinking lower and lower in the scale of life, had become extinct in the lower tiers, although I have found no remains to justify my theories.

Tonight I leave this infernal retreat forever.  Nor will I be sorry, for the eternal darkness and silence are beginning to shake even my iron nerves.  I am becoming imaginative: even as I write, I seem to hear stealthy sounds, as of things creeping up from below."

-- Robert E. Howard, "The Dwellers Under The Tombs"


Trey said...

Nice. :)

Black Vulmea said...

The man had a way with words, didn't he?

garrisonjames said...

Great stuff. Very inspirational. A great companion-piece to HPL/Bishop's 'The Mound,' in some ways. This would make a great lead-in for a subterranean campaign that could rival the classic Vault of Drow series...