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Jahl emerged from the tunnel passageway, stepped over the roiling trickle, and gasped. Before him yawned a gaping irregular cavern, vast and impossibly large. Stone protrusions jutted out at vicious angles from the walls and various boiling rivers emptied out of holes similar to the one Jahl had just emerged from. They twisted and churned, spilling over the rocks in chaotic patterns, falling with a deafening sound to the pool below. The luminescence of the water intensified as it flowed downward; the pool illuminating the lower half the cavern cast the rocks with wild, multihued, movement.
Stretching before Jahl, a tortured path climbed upwards; a narrow band of dry ground leading to the topmost spire of rock weaving its way through the maze of rock. A pulsing darkness pooled around the ceiling of the cavern, enshrouding the upper reaches of the tallest spire.
As soon as he caught his breath, Jahl began the ascent, avoiding the luminous water, conscious of his breathing. In, out, lost in the white noise of the prismatic flow. He hopped over streams of varying sizes, ducked under falls cutting their way into the rock as they descended, and edged his way around the soft glow of wet rocks. His bare feet still manage to get damp, already the soles were lightening, changing color.
As he passed along a particularly narrow stretch of rocks, Jahl looked down over an overhang, his face lit with wild shapes and colors, the damp air caught in his throat. The pool below was like a portal into another world, its scintillations stirring up visions fantastic and incomprehensible. Eyes overwhelmed by scintillating light, Jahl pulled back and continued working his way up.
He reached the very edge of the darkness, and crossed an abrupt threshold. It was like a barrier, muting the lights and dulling the sounds below instantly as he passed over. The air became cool, crystalline. Jahl’s breath echoed in the fragile space. He pressed on to the corona of darkness. The rock below him all but disappeared; he continued on regardless on empty space.
His arms reached out to comfort his frightened eyes. He passed his hands around him in a feeble attempt to replace his sight. The blackness forced him to his hands and knees, and upon touching the stone with his hands, he dimly realized that the surface beneath him no longer felt like stone.
After what felt like seconds stretched out to infinity, Jahl felt his head connect softly with a curved metal surface. Leaning back onto his knees, he reached both hands up to feel the object in front of hims. As he did, he instinctivly knew: this was the source. His hands felt the cool surface and created an image in Jahl’s mind of a slender metal cylinder, with fine fingers branching off out from the gaps between segmented plates. These fibers reached down and out, disappearing through the unreal stone, shimmering with muted energy. It felt to Jahl like the thing was rooted in the stone, or possibly the stone was rooted in this metal hand, reaching down and holding up the mass of rock with its grip.
Jahl’s hands quested upwards to the top of the metal structure. Trembling, they touch the cold surface of what the arm connected to, a sphere, the core. As his fingertips contacted the glass-like surface, wisps of purple light danced and flared in front of his now-opened eyes. Jahl shifted from his knees to his feet, stood up as high as he dared, and pressed his head forward. His forehead bumped the glass sphere and more violet lights burst around his vision. Keeping his palms against the glass, Jahl extended his arms around to encompass the sphere. The thing was huge, large enough around that there was no way he could fit his arms completely around it.
Jahl closed his eyes again, feeling the pulsating energy beneath the glass beating a dull noise into his head. With each beat he felt a soothing voice weaving underneath his thoughts. Safety, it promised. Peace, it whispered. No more light pushing him forward, no third doorway. Jahl felt the ache in his arms and legs, felt the strain behind his eyes. The light had pulled him so far and allowed no rest. And still, there was more to go, more it wanted him to do.
Jahl felt himself drifting into the center of the sphere, its liquid core surrounding his head, pulling him further in. He found he was travelling inside himself, encased in the dark sphere, stripping away layer and layer of stone, crinkling away with no resistance. He and the dark sphere reached his core and pulled the last layer away. Floating there in the nebulous depths of his mind was the smallest sliver of silvery material, dancing and flashing entrancing hues.
Jahl saw the light, the last flickering string suspended within him and reached out, pressing his hand against and through the hazy membrane encasing him, reached out, and touched the spark before him.
Instantly, a thundering, pounding light broke before him, around him, through him, within him. Jahl’s vision went white, then black as he felt himself pull his head back free from the sphere, his mouth gasping as if emerging from underwater. His body was numb and shaking; all he could feel was the ice cold of his palms against the sphere.
Repositioning his hands to the front surface of the sphere with sudden purpose, he leaned forward, pushing all of his weight onto the large sphere. He dug his feet into the seemingly unreal stone beneath him as best as he could. The sphere offered little resistance, but the weight of the thing kept it locked in its metal holder for a few seconds before, gradually, it slid off, making a rumbling, grinding noise as it did so. As soon as it was free from the metal arm it simply vanished, leaving Jahl to fall forward and clutch at the arm in exhaustion. The dark corona likewise disappeared, throwing the wild light from the pool below up into the highest reaches of the cavern.
The stones underneath Jahl shifted, then crumbled, the metal arm no longer holding them up. The violent protrusions of stone became more attached to reality than they had been in a long time, and took the only course of action that made sense: they fell. As they descended, they broke into huge chunks that hit the surface of the pool with huge sprays of incomprehensible color.
With nothing to hold Jahl up he too fell, still gripping the many-fingered arm, towards the scintillating portal below. As he descended, he took his last breath in this world, readying himself for the plunge once more. The other side held more light, more darkness, and more demanded of him. But at least one fact comforted him as he fell:
One more task.
And then he could rest.