Welcome to the final chapter of this Choose your Own Adventure style story. I apologize in advance for any mistakes I have made. You can read the first three chapters here, here, and here. Thanks to everyone who helped shape this story into what it is. I hope you enjoy the conclusion.
The sound of the High Priest’s footsteps echoed in the old cathedral. Todd quickly rushed to a nearby wall and started running his hands all over it. His movements became more frantic with each sound of the High Priest’s feet on the cold, stone cathedral floor. He stopped as one of his pale, almost skeletal hands rested upon a stone. He turned to the others and waved them over.
Mark looked to his brother and asked, “Todd what’s going on?”
Todd raised a finger to his lips and pushed the stone in. He then started to pull open a secret door. He struggled with it, barely moving it. He looked to the others and motioned them over. Without saying a word he mouthed the words, “Come over here and help.”
Victor immediately ran over and started to help Todd. Mark and Fred followed soon after, followed by Will and Helena. Rebeca was the last to join. Together t\he seven of them got the door open just enough to squeeze through. One by one they slipped through the secret entrance. Todd was the last to join them. Together they closed the door again. It closed more easily than it had opened.
Mark started to ask his brother again, but Todd shushed him again and ran off into the dark tunnel they had entered, waving for the others to follow. They all shared a look. Victor shrugged his shoulders and ran off after Todd. The others followed soon after, though none felt confident in this decision.
They ran, quickly, but quietly down the tunnel. After moving for some time they caught up with Todd. As they approached he motioned for them to stop. The group came to a halt and Todd put a hand to his ear to signal he was listening. A few moments passed, and not a sound was heard. Todd calmed down and breathed a sigh of relief. He turned to the others and whispered, “I think we avoided him. For now.”
Mark asked his brother in a hushed tone, “Todd, what the hell is happening? How are you alive? Who are we hiding from?”
Mark continued to ask question after question, until Todd covered his brother’s mouth with his gaunt, dirty hands. He gave his brother a stern look and said, “One question at a time little brother. Also let’s walk and talk. We shouldn’t stand around. He’ll have a harder time finding us if we don’t stay in one place.”
With that Todd moved on down the tunnel, the others following close behind. Victor turned on his flashlight, but Todd grabbed it from him and shook his head. “No light,” said Todd, his face more stern and angry than it had been since they had found him. Victor nodded back and Todd gave him a weak smile and apologized, “Sorry. Been a while since I’ve seen anyone. My social skills are a bit rusty.”
They continued on and Rebeca asked, “Not to be rude, but how are we going to be able to find our way without light?”
Todd chuckled and said, “I’ve been here for a while. I know my way.”
Mark looked at his brother and asked, “If that’s true then why haven’t you left. I mean, if you know your way around, surely you could have escaped by now?”
There was a brief silence, which was broken by a sigh from Todd. He said, “I wish it were so simple, little brother. But it’s…more complicated than that.”
“How so?” asked Fred with one eyebrow raised.
Todd took a moment to ponder his answer, before saying, “When I came here…ten years ago? Is that right?”
The group nodded, to which Todd reacted, “Wow, long time.”
Todd drifted off a bit, a sad look on his face. Mark nudged his brother and cleared his throat. Todd snapped back and blushed before continuing, “Oh sorry. Um, where was I? Oh, right. Ahem. I came here he tens years ago with my friends, you remember them Mark. Tyler, Terri, Charlotte, and Drew. We’d heard the stories about some ancient cult and being the little teenage shits that we were, we were obsessed with exploring this place. We did a bunch of research. Found the blueprints at the library. Found old newspaper articles about the place and the cult. We even found evidence that they dated back hundreds of years before coming here. We thought we were prepared. We thought we were just exploring some old abandoned cathedral. We didn’t know.”
“Didn’t know what?” Will asked with a trembling voice.
Todd stared dead ahead, his eyes unfocused. In a deadpan voice he answered, “It wasn’t abandoned.”
The group shot each other looks before Mark asked, “What do you mean?”
Todd replied, “The townspeople discovered the cult’s true nature and came to run them out of town. They thought they did. They were wrong.”
“What do you mean by that?” Helena asked, her heart pounding in her chest.
Todd continued, “The cult never left. They just moved underground. These tunnels were here long before the townspeople came to drive them out. Instead of leaving town, they just moved underground. To the real place of worship.”
As Todd said this, the tunnel opened up into a large area. It was a cave, one with lit torches lighting it up to reveal intricate carvings on the cavern walls. The carvings depicted humans being killed by all manner of horrible beasts. The carvings led up to the ceiling, the beasts growing more and more grotesque in nature as they climbed the wall. And on the ceiling, a carving of a dragon.
The dragon, unlike the other carvings, was black, as if it were made of brimstone. It had cracks along its magnificent body, seemingly painted a crimson red. Mark squinted his eyes and made out what appeared to be holes in the dragons body. Holes with tiny carvings of skeletal hands reaching out of the dragon.
The gang stared at the dragon sculpture until they heard Todd’s voice say, “Tartarus.”
They snapped back to reality and looked to Todd, who was also staring at the carving. His face was a mixture of fear and fury. Mark asked his brother, “What’s Tartarus?”
Todd answered back, without looking to his brother, “The dragon. That’s its name. Tartarus, the Dragon. Conqueror of Realms. True Ruler of Men.” Todd looked down at his feet and finished, “Hell made flesh.”
Rebeca’s face went white as she repeated, “Hell made flesh?”
Todd nodded and turned to the others, tears in his eyes as he said, “I’m sorry for dragging you into this. But I can’t leave until it’s finished.”
“What’s finished?” Mark asked, panic seeping into his voice.
Todd stared at his brother and his friends and answered, “We have to stop Tartarus from coming to our world.”
Todd explained to the group what happened ten years ago. He told them how he and his friends discovered the truth of the dragon, and how the cult’s goal is to open the portal between realms to allow the horrifying beast to enter their world. How they had found the inner sanctum, the subterranean Altar of Tartarus. How they were discovered by the High Priest. How he and his friends had tried to escape. He described how Charlotte had plummeted to her death over the side of a cliff. How Tyler had tripped and been impaled by the High Priest’s sword. How he, Terri, and Drew had managed to get away. How they decided that someone needed to get out alive. And most unfortunately, how he decided to stay. He said that he had distracted the old Priest while the other two escaped. He asked Mark if they had made it out, which Mark confirmed. Todd gave them a relieved look.
Todd finished by saying, “I stayed here, unable to escape. The High Priest kept an eye on the exits. I stayed to the shadows. Time passed and I think he either thought I died, or he just got bored. I was going to try and escape, but then something happened.”
“What?” The group asked in unison.
Todd answered, “I heard the Dragon’s voice.”
No one said a thing. Todd nodded and said, “I know, it sounds insane. I thought perhaps I was going mad. But I know now I wasn’t. The Dragon spoke. And what it said…”
Todd stopped talking and shook his head. He continued, “It doesn’t matter what it said. What matters is this. We need to stop the High Priest.”
“We?” Rebeca asked, her face white as a sheet.
Todd looked at his brother and said, “If i could have done it myself. I would have.”
Mark looked to his friends. One by one he looked them in the eyes. He said, “I can’t ask you guys to risk your lives for this. I’m going to help my brother. You guys get someplace safe.”
Victor shook his head and said, “No way man. I can’t just sit around and let you risk your life. We came her together. We stick together.”
Fred nodded and agreed. Will, sheepishly nodded along and stepped forward. Helena also joined in. Rebeca, trembling said with a scowl, “Well if everyone else is going.”
Mark smiled and turned to his brother and asked, “Well, what are we waiting for?”
The group sprinted through various tunnels. Todd weaved them in and out of the dark tunnels until they arrived at a large cavern opening. In front of them was the Altar of Tartarus, a large pyramid sitting on a platform surrounded by cliffs that led to sheer drops. It’s levels were covered in mummified corpses frozen in eternal prayer. Large braziers lit up the pyramid with red flames. It was decorated in statues depicting the dragon Tartarus. The statues depicted Tartarus in many different poses all the way up the pyramid. At the top stood a massive statue depicting the dragon reared back, wings spread, it’s black face cracked away to reveal a red face, that looked like the dragon's musculature beneath its skin. They stared at the statue for some time, entranced by it’s horrible allure.
Todd broke the silence. “There,” he said pointing at the statue, “We have to get to that statue.”
“And then what?” Mark asked.
Todd stood silent for some time before responding, “There’s some stuff set up for a ritual. A sigil, some bones, yadda yadda yadda. Doesn’t matter. All we gotta do is destroy any of it. Like, literally anything of the things and the High Priest can’t bring Tartarus to our world.”
“Okay,” Rebeca said in a questionable tone. “But if even if we destroy the stuff, what stops the High Priest from just, you know, replacing that and starting over.”
Todd replied, “Nothing. But it won’t matter. The ritual takes centuries to complete. If we disrupt it now, it would have to be started over, from scratch. And the High Priest doesn’t have much time left.”
“What do you mean?” Will asked, his vice wavering.
“The High Priest is the last member of the cult. Those mummies on the pyramid are the remains of the others. He syphoned away their life force to keep himself alive to see the ritual through. But that time is running out. If the ritual doesn’t go through soon, he won’t live long enough to see it through. And he’s failed thus far in convincing anyone to join him. So this is all we have to do.”
Todd took a step forward to the pyramid when a laugh echoed behind them. They all turned toward the sound of the laughter. There stood the High Priest, cackling at them. He wore golden robes tattered and stained with blood. A large, pope-like hat adorned his head, with the dragon’s visage stitched onto it. His skin was leathery and dried, cit cracked with each movement of his body. His face was twisted into a monstrous smile, his lips long since shriveled away leaving his blackened teeth showing. In his right gnarled hand was a sword with a golden hilt and slightly rusted old blade.
The group froze at the sight of the creepy old man before them. Rebeca put her hands to her face as the High Priest cackled again, tears beginning to fill her eyes. He moved toward them, slowly, the blade of his sword scraping the ground. Todd turned to Mark and told his brother, “Go. Now. End this.”
Mark nodded at his brother then turned ran off up the pyramid. Todd turned back to the High Priest. From under his rags, Todd produced a steel pipe which he wielded like a weapon. The High priest laughed and raised his blade, his hand shaking. He brought it down, Todd blocking with the pipe. Despite the old man’s age and brittle nature, the sword struck hard, taking out a notch of the pipe. The High Priest struck again, faster this time. It was apparent that his body was swifter and more able than it appeared.
Mark continued up the pyramid, sprinting. He slipped and scraped his knee, letting out a cry of pain. One of the High Priest’s milky white eyes turned toward Mark. With his free hand he whistled a strange, unsettling tune. One by one the mummies on the pyramid began to rise slowly, their old bones snapping as they moved. Their eyes glowed red and they let out guttural moans of torture. They turned toward Mark and began to slowly pursue him. Mark saw this and bolted up, rushing up the pyramid once more as the mummies slowly moved toward him.
Victor and Fred saw Todd’s predicament and shared a look. They nodded and turned to Will, Rebeca, and Helena. Victor said, “Fred and I are going to help Todd. You three back up Mark.”
“What?” Rebeca asked, crying still. “No, Vic, you can’t!”
“Don’t argue, Rebeca,” Victor shot back. He looked at Rebeca, and recognized her pain and said more gently, “I’m sorry, but we have to. Todd needs help and Mark could use some too. We have a better chance of success if someone makes it up there.”
Rebeca stared at Victor and then wiped her tears. She nodded and told Victor to stay safe. He nodded back and then he and Fred picked up some rocks and ran to Todd’s rescue. The others turned to the pyramid and started to run up its steps. Rebeca took one last look back to Victor as he ran toward the two battling men in rags and said a silent prayer for him. Then she turned back to the task at hand.
Todd was at the end of his rope, the High Priest ready to strike once more. Todd’s pipe was filled with notches and he knew it would not withstand another blow. The High Priest stared at him and with a raspy, dry voice said, “Finally. It’s been ten years since you crawled your way in here, little rat. And now I finally get to finish you off.”
The High Priest raised his sword for the final blow. Before he brought it down a rock smacked him in the head, throwing him off balance. He turned to the source of the rock to see Victor and Fred running toward him. They were holding rocks. Fred lobbed another at the High Priest who tried to smack it away with his sword. The rusted blade snapped in two. Seeing his opportunity, Todd tackled the old man and they began to struggle. Their fight led to the edge of a cliff. Todd saw this and tried to throw the old man over the edge. In doing so he was dragged down with him. Fred dove after them and reached out to grab Todd. He did so, barely. He and Todd dangled from the cliff’s edge. Victor rand after and grabbed Fred’s legs, to stop his friend from plummeting over the edge.
Back on the pyramid, Mark and the others continued upward. The mummies began to reach the stairs. One reached for Marl, but he knocked it away. But soon another reached out for him. And another. And another. Soon mark, was having trouble fighting them off. Will and Helena suddenly appeared at his sides. They fought off the mummies for him, Rebeca right behind them.
Soon Mark was at the top. Below him the others were fighting off mummies, slowly being swallowed by the mob. Rebeca yelled for Mark to hurry and destroy something and end this. Mark rushed toward the ritualistic altar, but was rocked as the cavern suddenly shook. He fell to his feet, as did the others. Luckily the mummies also fell, several of them crumbling to dust.
Mark got to his feet, as another tremor shook the altar. He asked himself what was happening. A voice echoed out, “Mark! Hurry!”
Mark recognized the voice as his brother’s. He turned to see his brother, hanging from a ledge, Fred and Victor trying to drag him back up. He asked Todd what was happening. Todd replied, “It’s the ritual! It’s almost complete!”
“What?!” Mark shouted back.
“Tartarus!” Todd shouted. “It’s coming!”
Mark’s heartbeat stopped momentarily. He turned back to the horrible statue of Tartarus. It’s eyes were glowing. A dark aura, began to rise out from it. A low grumble could be heard, and the cavern vibrated with evil energy. Mark ran forward at full sprint, desperate to end the ritual. Another tremor stored, shaking him off balance, but he continued on. Mark was determined to end this.
On the pyramid, Helena, Rebeca, and Will stood back to one another, their energy almost depleted. Under her breath, Rebeca urged Mark to hurry. A mummy reached out to her and she barely managed to shake it off as another grabbed her hair. She let out a shriek of fear.
Victor’s brow dripped with sweat as he tried to pull Fred and Todd up from the ledge. Each tremor that signaled the coming of Tartarus making the task all the harder. He had almost gotten Fred all the way up when they heard a distant cackle echo throughout the cave. Todd and Fred both looked down to see the High Priest climbing up the sheer rock face toward them. He was approaching slowly, but he wasn’t far away. Fred told Victor to pull faster when another tremor shook the cavern, causing Victor to drop Fred a bit. Now Todd was even closer to the High Priest who did not slow down at all.
Mark was just about to the altar. The tremors were getting stronger. He was almost crawling to his destination. Mark gritted his teeth and used every ounce of strength he had to move forward.
As he was just a few feet from his destination, a powerful tremor shook the altar. But this one was different. This one wasn’t seismic in nature. This one was sonic. This one was a roar. The roar of Tartarus.
The dragon’s roar was horrifying. It’s sound was layered, one part the roar of a beast, one part the sound of metal screeching against metal, and lastly one part the sounds of thousands upon thousands of tortured souls wailing in pain and misery. Mark could barely stand the sound of it. The intensity of its terror driving him to the brink of insanity. Mark started let go and let himself slip away from his mortal coil. His heart slowed down and his breathing stopped. His eyes fluttered as he began to black out.
A voice rang out in the cavern as Mark started to slip away. A voice calling his name. The voice was soon joined by more voices. Mark recognized them. The voice of his friends. The voice of his brother.
Mark snapped out of his spiral and raised his head to the altar. His goal was just a few inches from his grasp. Mark summoned a final burst of strength and got to his feet. The cavern was now shaking constantly, but Mark kept his balance as best he could. He stumbled forward, nearly falling a few times. Slowly, but surely, he made his way to the statue.
Mark saw the source of the ritual. Before him was a sigil, etched into the stone floor. It depicted Tartarus and his ruination of worlds. There were candles, placed in holders made of human bones. There were bowls filled with blood surrounding the area, the blood now boiling as Tartarus edged ever closer to our realm. The statue stared at Mark, it’s red horrifying face glowing. The source of the roaring appeared to the be echoing out of its gaping maw. Right below it was a book, like the one from the High Priest’s chambers. It’s letters were glowing and its pages were turning on its own. It was almost to the end of the book.
Mark moved as fast as he could for the book. As he approached the dragon’s head glowed more and more. The roaring intensified, causing Mark to begin to bleed from his nose. Amidst the sound of metal, the roaring, and the sounds of wailing, Mark heard a new sound. A dark, raspy voice. The voice of Tartarus itself.
"YOU WILL NOT STOP MY EMERGENCE CHILD. I WILL NOT ALLOW IT. I WILL BURN YOU TO CINDER. AS I WILL TURN YTOUR WORLD TO ASH."
The statues head glowed almost white now. Mark heard a sound like a blowtorch emanating from it. His hands were just an inch from the book.
With his last ounce of strength Mark threw himself at the book, grasping it with both hands. He held it up in front of him as the statue belched flames at him. The book blocked most of the dragon’s fire, and was incinerated in the process. The book no longer able to protect him, Mark was engulfed in fire.
The dragon let out one last cry as the shaking of the cavern grew in volume. It cursed Mark as the statue’s head lost its glow. Rebeca lay in the fetal position, crying as mummies disintegrated around her. She opened her eyes as their horrible pawing at her ceased to see the sight. will and Helena followed suit. On the ledge the High Priest reached out, just a few inches away from grabbing Todd’s leg. Suddenly he froze and his face twisted into a horrible grimace. He let go of the ledge and plummeted back into the abyss, clutching his heart as he fell. Todd watched him fall, making sure that this time, the old creep was gone for good. As the shaking slowed down and stopped Victor pulled Fred up over the ledge, and then they both pulled up Todd.
Mark stood as the shaking ended. He smirked a bit and then promptly passed out.
When he awoke he as in a white hospital room. He tried to sit up, but a dull pain shot through his body. He looked at his arms to see them heavily bandaged. He heard a voice cry out, “Guys! He’s awake!”
One by one Mark’s friends entered his hospital room. They were all banged up, but otherwise okay. Mark looked at his friends and asked, “What happened?”
Fred smiled at his friend and answered, ‘Well for starters, you saved the world.”
Mark gave him a surprised look and said, “Wait a second. Did that shit actually happen?”
They all nodded. Mark felt a weird know in his stomach before saying, “But that means…”
Mark looked around, looking for something. When he didn’t find it he asked, “Where’s Todd? Where’s my brother.”
Mark started to get up, visibly in pain. Rebeca stopped him by placing a hand on him and saying, “Calm down Mark. Todd’s fine. He’s at the police station answering questions. He was missing for years. They have a lot to talk to him about.”
Mark calmed down and laid back in his hospital bed. In a slightly concerned voice he asked, “What’s he going to tell them?”
Victor replied, “Well first you should know what really happened. After you passed out we all ran up the pyramid to you. You were on fire. Todd quickly started rolling you around to put you out. He burned his hands pretty badly, but he probably saved your life. Then he picked you up and carried you away.”
Helena continued, “We were just entering the tunnel when we heard a horrible cracking sound behind us. The pyramid and the ground below it started to crumble. Seems like all that shaking really fucked it up and it couldn’t stand it anymore. It just…crumbled away.”
“After that,” Will continued quietly, “the tunnels started to shake. We ran out quickly, as the tunnels collapsed behind us. We barely made it out of the cathedral before it fell apart too. There was nothing left of that horrible place.”
“Good riddance,” Rebeca muttered under her breath.
Fred finished the story with, “Anyway, we discussed what to tell the cops. We told them why we came to the cathedral. Then we aid that we found the tunnels by accident and found Todd inside the tunnels. He’s claiming he got lost in them years ago and has been trying to get back ever since. They aren’t going to investigate too hard. The tunnels collapsed after all. Luckily they felt the tremors all over town. They thought it was just an earthquake, so they bought that that would cause the cave in. They don’t know about the cult. Or the dragon.”
Mark breathed a sigh of relief. He let out a smile and asked, “So everything’s good. It’s over.”
“Yeah,” Todd’s voice called from the door.
Mark turned to his brother who was newly dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. He was clean, and his long, gnarly hair was cut short and looked clean and neat. He smiled at his brother, his teeth still gross and dirty. Todd walked over to his brother and gave him a hug. As the y embraced he repeated, “It’s over.”
Thank you for reading/playing along. I had a lot of fun writing this. I hope you had fun reading it.