Chess ran through the dark cavern corridor, clutching her adult’s hand in hers. They’d been running from the sound for ages, but it still seemed to scream all around them, blaring out of the darkness in some horrible substitute for light.
“This was a mistake,” said Chess’s adult Ribs, his high voice clear even against the din. “It's not worth it, not even for this. Perhaps we could still get back, if we just ran.”
“It’s worth it,” said Chess, not letting her fear come through. “What you’ve told me lies beyond the darkness, the voice that cuts right through it. Something that’ll give us hope, remember? Something that’s able to save us.” It was silly, but at first she didn't realise she could see again, her senses all overwhelmed by the horror of the sound. Slowly her eyes adjusted to the dim light of the cavern, then quickly they adjusted to the sight of the pile of bones. It rose like vomit and bundled up into the air, but still they were nothing against that unthinkable thing.
Ribs shrank back and hugged Chess at her side. “We shouldn't have come here,” he wept. “I shouldn't have made you leave.”
“You didn't make me,” said Chess softly. Ribs wouldn't remember — not with all the sugar — but they’d all had dreams in the past, before their city was eaten. Afterwards, it had been easy to set them all aside. But the conviction of her adult that some dreams were still worth having had reawoken something in her, a belief in possibility which no one on her world would ever have thought to call childish. It was foolish, thought Chess as she looked up the pile of bones, almost as silly as the thing that was seeping down towards her.
It looked so stupid, that thing. Chess felt like if she said that enough that it might go away, that the universe would admit a thing like that couldn’t exist. Then, the world would make sense again. Then, she wouldn’t have to die.
She’d heard rumours of the thing before her, of course. That there was a monster in the caves that would destroy you, if you tried to run away. But sometimes people escaped, they’d said. And she’d always known it’d never be her who died...
“We shouldn't have come,” repeated her frightened adult. “And everything's all of our fault.”
The thing slurped away from the stacked up pile of bones.
Far above the cave, a counter clicked two marks down.