Sunday – 1:18 PM
When the train pulled into the Seaside station, Ryan disembarked as quickly as he could. He almost tripped over himself running out of the station. Fortunately Alice was waiting for him outside with her back to the station, staring out over the ocean.
“Alice!” Ryan yelled to her as he hopped down the marble stairs of the station’s façade. She absentmindedly turned in his direction, as if she had just been very lost in thought. She probably had been. Ryan knew his friends well enough to know that Alice and Austin often had their heads in the clouds.
“Oh there you are,” Alice said. “What was up with your texts earlier?”
Ryan found it hard to stand still. He was itching to tell her what had happened. He did so, doing his best to include every detail he could remember, especially about the creature and the guy on the train.
“So yeah,” Ryan finished. “I think we should go ahead and hurry to wherever it is we need to go. That guy said there would be people trying to stop us, and I’d rather not keep them waiting.”
Alice looked worried.
“What is it?” Ryan asked her as they hurried away from the station.
Alice looked at him with an expression halfway between confusion and anxiety. “It’s just that the Cyclops thing - what did that guy call it? A Beholder? – I’ve heard about it before. Austin had a dream about it, and I think that guy was involved somehow as well.”
Their path led them down the side of the volcano toward the northeastern edge of the Seaside coast. The path took them down one of the few roads in Seaside, which was usually busier with foot traffic and mopeds than with cars.
“I thought you were the one that had the weird dreams,” Ryan said, turning a corner and jumping down a set of stairs.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought, too, but Austin told me about it on Friday morning before we met you. Also, I’ve seen that guy before. I ran into him at the festival while I was looking at some art. He told me to ‘beware the Beholder’.”
Ryan leapt aside in order to dodge a teenage girl on a moped. “Well now you know what he meant! The Beholder is a big, scary eyeball monster!”
Alice rolled her eyes. “Oh boy,” she said, breathing heavily from the running.
They were entering the Seaside Market, a generally crowded square, full of merchants selling cheap tourist kitsch, local farmers selling barrels of island fruits and vegetables and many, many people. An ancient church of huge historic value to the people of Sombra bordered the market square. The old church still gave service on Sunday mornings, but also offered tours whenever it wasn’t in service. This amounted to floods of tourists cluttering up the square on most days, but on a Sunday, the sightseers were combined with the churchgoers to create an even more densely packed throng.
Ryan and Alice stopped in their tracks. There was no way they were going to make it through there in a timely manner.
“Shit,” Ryan swore. “Alice, do you know any shortcuts?”
Alice thought for a few seconds, her arms crossed. Finally, she turned around and bounded back the way they had come. “Follow me!” she called to Ryan, motioning after her. Alice ran a block or two down the street before turning into an alleyway. By the time Ryan had reached the alley, though, he heard Alice scream and run back out.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
Before she could answer, though, a blue beam shot out from the alley. It shot right between Ryan and Alice, exploding into the cobblestone road a few feet away, showering them with dirt and broken stones.
“Beholder!” Alice yelled. “Just run!”
Ryan didn’t need to be told twice. They beat a hasty retreat.
Alice gave an angry grunt. “The only path now that makes sense is to just go down this road to the coast, then run all the way up the beach to the spot.”
Ryan wiped dirt off his shirt as he ran. “Where exactly are we going, again?”
“To my secret spot,” Alice replied, checking behind her to see if the Beholder was giving chase. It was.
Despite the gravity of the situation, Ryan couldn’t help but make the joke.
“I don’t know if I want to go to your ‘secret place,’ Alice. That sounds a little inappropriate.”
“Oh shut up and run, Ryan.”
They sprinted down the road, dodging people, scooters and cars as they tried to evade the Beholder, but the monster managed to keep pace with them. That was hardly surprising, considering its height, but what surprised Ryan was that none of the pedestrians seemed to notice it. All they seemed to see were two teenagers running full sprint down the cobblestone road.
“Damn kids!” An old man shouted as Ryan almost collided with him. Ryan didn’t have time to stop and apologize, however.
As fast as the two friends were running, though, the Beholder was much faster still.
“Alice, we need a plan!” Ryan huffed, his lungs burning from the cold air. “That thing’s gonna overtake us soon!”
Alice seemed to be having a harder time of it than he was. She could barely take in enough air to speak clearly. Ryan was glad that he worked out periodically, however, he was by no means trained for this.
Ahead, Ryan could see the sand of the beach coming closer. They were maybe five hundred feet from the sand when all of a sudden Ryan felt someone grab him around the chest. He struggled to break free of the grip, but whoever had grabbed him was holding him too tightly for him to move well. Alice seemed to be restrained similarly. All Ryan could see of her captor was that he wore a black suit and looked burly. Straining his neck against the grip of his own captor, he saw the man holding Alice had a black hat on to match his suit. The rim of the hat was obscuring the man’s face, however, as he looked up again, Ryan could see that the man had no face. Where a normal man’s eyes, nose, and mouth would be, was just smooth skin.
The men holding Ryan and Alice jerked around, turning to face the Beholder. The Beholder stopped in front of the men and stared down at Ryan and Alice in turn, then looked up at the men holding them. The creature nodded its head, as if talking to the men, but Ryan could hear no words.
They’ve got us. Ryan thought. We didn’t make it.
Alice looked like she was about to start crying. Ryan could hear the shrill priming of the Beholder’s eye beam.
I am not dying here today! Ryan thought, then, for the second time that day, did the only thing he could think of.
“Fuck!” he shouted. The man holding him was surprised, loosening his grip every so slightly. Ryan took the opportunity to swing a foot up behind him and kick the man in the groin. His foot made contact and the man bent over, releasing Ryan from his grip. Ryan rolled out of the way right as the Beholder’s beam fired, disintegrating the suited man. Ryan scrambled to his feet again and picked up the lantern, which he had dropped upon being grabbed. The iron felt warm in his hands.
He barely had any time to react, though, because the Beholder had jumped forward to attack him. Ryan ducked under a swing of the Beholder’s clawed hand and kicked the Beholder in the knee. The monster crouched briefly from the impact.
Ryan attempted to switch the lantern to his right hand and attack, but a heavy foot kicked him to the ground, winding him. The Beholder stood above him, about to bring a clawed fist down on his chest, when it staggered. Someone had jumped on its back.
The Beholder thrashed, trying to dislodge the person on its back, but whoever it was took a knife and jabbed it down hard into the Beholder’s eye. The monster fell to its knees, hands clutching at the bleeding eyeball. Ryan could hear that terrible inhuman scream in his head again. Suddenly a hand was thrust into Ryan’s face. A human hand.
“C’mon, get up. We have to go.” Ryan gripped the hand and was pulled to his feet.
“Austin?” Ryan asked, confused.
“Yeah,” said Austin.
Behind Austin, Alice apparently had managed to escape her captor with a swift elbow to the stomach.
“How did you know where we were?” Alice asked.
“C’mon, we’ll talk on the way. We have to get moving.” Austin interrupted. Ryan could tell why. The dead Beholder was beginning to course with electricity.
The three friends took off from the scene, and just in time. Within a few seconds, the dead Beholder exploded in a cloud of blue energy, engulfing the remaining suited man.
Further down the road, Ryan turned to Austin, “So, how did you know where we were? You came just in the nick of time.”
“Well I was doing homework,” he said between breaths. “But I got bored. You know, it was English.”
Ryan nodded in understanding.
“Well anyway, I picked up the spyglass and was messing around with it out of my window. I looked all around, but I couldn’t really see all that much. I then thought of you guys and whatever it was you were doing, and as I thought that, I could suddenly see you guys in the spyglass running away from the train station. You looked like you were in trouble, so I followed you down here. Looks like I arrived just in time, as well.”
“No kidding!” Ryan said.
“I had to grab that knife off of a vegetable merchant’s stand. He won’t be too happy with me. By the way, where are we going?” Austin asked.
“We’re going to Alice’s ‘secret place’,” Ryan said.
Austin gave Alice a questioning look.
“It’s this hidden cove. I wanted Ryan to move a rock for me there. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but Ryan had another Beholder encounter on the train, and he met that guy from your dream, who told him that it was really important that we do this. He said we would encounter resistance. He said someone would try to stop us.”
Austin looked deeply interested. “Well he was right.”
The three reached the end of the road without any further difficulty. They ran out onto the beach with Austin leading, as usual. Once out on the sand, Ryan cupped his empty left hand over his eyes, shielding them from the intense sunlight.
“Which way?” Austin asked.
Alice pointed up the beach toward the towering cliffs. The distance to the cliff was about the same as the distance they had travelled down the road. Ryan sighed to himself. He wasn’t sure how much more running he had in him.
A thought struck him. Where are all the people? There didn’t seem to be a single person on the beach, and Ryan couldn’t recall seeing anyone after Austin showed up.
As they made their way up the beach, a cloud passed over the sun. Ryan was glad for some shade, but then he looked up. The cloud was dark grey, and it was only the front of an ominous-looking group of dark clouds rolling in over the island.
“Looks like rain,” Austin said, who was always a step ahead with observations. “This can’t be a coincidence.”
“Well then, let’s keep moving!” Alice urged.
As they moved, the sky got darker and darker until the sun was completely obscured, casting the beach into almost complete darkness. Ryan didn’t like it at all.
When they were about halfway down the beach, the sky opened up and rain began to pour down, drenching the three friends in only a minute or so. They weren’t prepared at all for rain at all, so their only strategy was to run for it. Behind them, Ryan could almost make out shapes moving toward them in the darkness of the storm.
“Austin!” He yelled out over the thunder. “There’s something behind us!”
Austin turned his head as they ran, inspecting the beach behind them. “It’s hard to tell,” he said to Ryan, “but there probably is. Keep an eye on our back for us, will you?”
Ryan nodded and fell back a few feet, periodically shooting glances over his shoulder. Before too long, he definitely spotted something. It was a lithe, dark shape, but big, like that of a panther. It seemed to be slowly growing closer and closer to the sprinting friends.
A flash of lightning struck out and by its momentary light, Ryan could make out the forms. They looked almost exactly like panthers. They were pitch-black, except it wasn’t exactly black fur. It looked more like they were made of the darkness, itself. The beasts had glowing red eyes, which grew brighter as they advanced on Austin, Alice and Ryan.
“Uhh, guys?” Alice called out from the front of the formation. “There’s something weird going on up here.”
Ryan looked forward as the cliffs drew into focus. The water from the ocean seemed to be receding. An ear-splitting crack rang out over the rain, but it wasn’t thunder. Ryan could feel it in his feet. It was a few seconds before he could see where the noise had come from. In front of their group, the sand had cracked, as if it was all one solid object. Ryan was confused and scared, but he kept running, all the same. Cracks sounded more and more often as they reached the cliffs, and the cracks extended further inwards. Ryan looked behind him. The shadow things were only a hundred or so feet behind them.
Suddenly, the ground below them began to sink.
“What’s happening?” Ryan shouted.
“The cracks are breaking apart the land!” Austin shouted back. “Pieces of it are falling!”
“Falling?” Alice asked, alarmed. “Falling where?”
“I have no idea!” Austin confessed. “Nothing to do but keep moving!”
Ahead, Ryan could see a crack between the piece of land on which they stood and another, which still seemed to be connected to the main island. Their chunk of land had already sunk about a foot, and was continuing to lower. By the time they reached the edge of the piece of ground, the height difference was over three feet.
“Jump!” Austin yelled.
Alice jumped first, but tripped over the ledge and landed face-first in the somehow rock-hard sand, but she stood up and kept going. Austin went next, leaping deftly up onto the higher ground, then Ryan, his sore legs screaming at him as he stood up again and kept running. Only a few seconds after Ryan had cleared the jump, the whole chunk of land they had left fell away, as if into a pit. Ryan didn’t want to stick around to find out where it had gone. The cliffs were only a hundred feet away, now.
“We’re almost there!” Alice shouted, almost crying with relief.
Ryan was glad. He felt like his legs were about to fall off from exhaustion. He wished he had known he was going to be doing so much running. He could’ve worn some running shoes. A swift glance told Ryan that the panther things appeared to be gone for now. The crumbling ground had put some distance between them.
Everything was falling apart around the three. Not only was the ground crumbling away into nothing, but also the sky was pitch black. The rain fell as heavily as ever, almost, it seemed, heavier than before. Lightning was striking the ground with frightening frequency as black, shadowy things were soaring across the sky toward Austin, Alice and Ryan. To make matters worse, the shadow panthers had found a way around the chasm that the falling ground had left. Ryan could hear them snarling only fifty feet behind them.
“Here it is!” Ryan heard Alice say. They had reached the cliff. She scrambled up a rock and ducked behind it. Ryan and Austin followed hastily. It seemed quiet inside the cove, except there was no water from the sea flowing in. Everything in that direction seemed black, as if some void had replaced the ocean.
Alice led Austin and Ryan to the far side of the cove and showed them the rock they needed to move.
“Alright,” Austin said, sizing up the rock. “We can probably move this together, but we have to do it now!”
The three friends each pushed as hard as they could against the rock. Ryan gave every last amount of energy he had into that boulder. He could hear the shadows outside of the cove, searching for a way in. He could feel the rock starting to slide.
“Come on, dammit,” Austin grimaced.
An explosion sounded outside of the cove. Suddenly the sound of the rain was a lot louder. Ryan spared a quick glance to see that the rock that partially blocked the entrance to the area had vanished. He wondered briefly what could have done that, when a familiar blue beam shot through the opening and smashed into the wall above Ryan’s head.
“Another Beholder!” he groaned.
Would they make it? The rock had moved maybe two feet, and had so far revealed a hole that was not yet big enough for them to crawl through. Just a few more seconds, though, and it would be ready. Ryan gave the rock everything he could as the Beholder stepped into the cove with six shadow panthers at its heels. Ryan could hear the high-pitched sound of the Beholder’s beam charging up and braced to be disintegrated when Austin’s voice broke his thoughts.
“It’s good! Let’s go!” he shouted. Ryan looked. The hole behind the rock was just big enough for them to scramble through. They wasted no time. Ryan went in last, behind Alice, and no sooner had his back foot made it inside the tunnel than the beam from the Beholder struck the rock wall, causing an avalanche of boulders and debris to fall, blocking the tunnel.
Ryan breathed the biggest sigh of relief he had ever experienced. He could hear the beasts outside trying to move the debris, but he figured it’d be a while before they made any progress.
“Let’s keep moving,” Austin, who was at the front, ordered. The tunnel they were in was big enough for someone to crawl through, but only one abreast. Also, it was dark.
“How’re we supposed to see where we’re going?” Ryan asked. He wished he could light the lantern in his hand. It was kinda useless, otherwise. He tried the little wheel on the side, just in case, but nothing happened.
“I can see light up ahead,” Austin said. “Also, I think the roof raises, so we should be able to stand up in a little bit.
After about five minutes of crawling down the tunnel, Ryan could start to see again. There was some sort of light coming down the tunnel. He could also see now that the tunnel curved around to the left. Ahead of him, Austin felt above his head, and then stood up, careful to feel around, so as not to hit his head. Alice and Ryan followed suit. As they progressed, the tunnel got brighter, and Ryan could tell that the light was blue.
Finally, the tunnel widened out into a small cave. Austin, Alice, and Ryan could stand beside each other. Ryan had to stop for a moment to fully realize what he was looking at. In front of them, right in the rock itself, was a glowing blue door. It had a knob with a large keyhole underneath.
“What the hell?” Ryan gaped.
Austin stepped forward, reaching for the knob, but he jumped back sharply, as if shocked with electricity.
“Ow,” he said, holding his hand.
“Maybe it needs a key?” Alice said, pulling the key from her pocket. She inched forward, holding the key in position to insert it into the lock. The door accepted the key, but when Alice went to turn the knob, she received the same electric shock as Austin.
“Here, lemme try,” Ryan offered, however, when he stepped forward to touch the door, his foot kicked up against something. He reached down to pick it up, and in the light from the glowing door, he could see that it was something familiar. Something black and shiny.
It was the cube.
“What the hell…” Ryan breathed. Austin and Alice walked over to look at it. They looked just as shocked as he did. On the top face of the cube, where the countdown normally stood, was the word STANDBY in red letters. Austin and Alice reached over at the same time to grab the cube, and at the split second when all three of them were touching the cube, the display flashed off and the cube opened, causing Ryan to black out.
END OF ACT 1