Descent Into The Sky

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Taking in the view.

The view out the porthole was pleasant; its only strangeness being the complete lack of ground. The sky stretched out around us, clear and sunny above, an impenetrable white haze below. Off on the horizon I could still see the pyramid, stretching down seemingly endlessly into the abyss. Far enough down its slope it disappeared into mist, where the atmosphere grew so thick and the light so thin that nothing could be seen. A ray of sunlight graced the cabin through the open top hatch as my friend Dr. Coulthard took in the pleasant skies of the surface-level atmosphere, his spirits high in anticipation of the great discoveries that lie below. As just another doctor on Earth he had little chance of making a great discovery, but here in The Backrooms he stood as an explorer of the unknown: poised above the uncharted depths of The Temple of Blood ready to tread a new frontier for mankind. I have never seen the world of Earth, the birthplace of mankind. For myself the depths held not new wonders but old roots; old meaning. The Domed Meadows was my home, my birthplace, and in the crushing depths of this level I anticipated another ancient wonder akin to the Eye of God or the great domes of my homeland. I expected to find a connection to the great builders of the far distant past that erected the ruins I used to play in as a child, raised the phantom towers I wondered at every morning looking through the fog, and as I have theorized - through generations of their descendants - made me.

Sunlight trickling down through the domed glass window lit across intermixed pneumatic valves and old-fashioned contact switches, betraying nothing of the state of disrepair they had been salvaged from. Pulling myself out of my thoughts and away from the view out the porthole, my eyes followed the sunbeams down to rest upon the controls before me, the assemblage of archaic instruments that would guide us through the depths. I hesitated for a moment, and with a flick of my finger I switched off the jerry-rigged maneuvering jets. The bathysphere swayed as it came to a rest in the open sky. Coulthard ducked his head back inside the cabin and bolted the hatch down over him, sealing off the craft. With the cabin sealed, I twisted a brass valve and the air recycling system hissed to life behind me, a clunking and groaning pneumatic device that would slowly but surely replace the fresh outside air with the stench of metal and chlorine. I ran one last check of the various gauges and meters, and taking in the view of the clear upper atmosphere, pressed the button to disengage the upper balloon. The craft jerked suddenly as the cables holding it aloft snapped from their moorings, sending our small craft sailing smoothly down into the awaiting abyss.

The air whistled past the hull as we sliced through it like a plunging dagger. I felt myself grow lighter as the craft accelerated downwards, before settling back into my seat as it evened out at its terminal velocity, slowed by the lower balloon still tethered to the bathysphere. Without a sound we plunged through the surface of a cloud, momentarily filling our view with white before we fell through into the vast gulf of open air beneath it. Sunbeams piercing the clouds scythed down through the air between the cloud layers, visible for hundreds of miles in all directions like a forest of light trapped between sheets of cloud. An isolated pressure gauge affixed to a brass pipe just outside the porthole silently ticked up the increasing pressure around us, while a spoked barometer awkwardly mounted to the wall of the bathysphere kept careful watch of the constant pressure within the cabin. Behind me Doctor Coulthard appended these sights into the logbook alongside the readings, all the while keeping careful watch over the various instruments strapped neatly down on the spruce shelves like decorations on display.


An endless sea of cloud.

The interior of our craft seemed almost homely, with mountings of spruce haphazardly joining machine and furnishing in a strange union. Aside from the ever-present falling sensation I might have thought myself in a small office admiring the vista outside rather than an aerial bathysphere plunging through a landscape of cloud. I had mere moments to appreciate the view before the clouds below raced up to meet us, obscuring the sight with mist once more. As we plunged deeper into the rolling masses of vapor the shadows of the clouds grew darker, shrouding us in gloom until all we could see in the window was our own reflections, leaving us for a moment with only ourselves to contemplate while the ancient diving suits rusted to the walls stood silent guard in this brief moment of quiet. The calm was broken as I switched on the exterior lights. Two powerful searchlights sliced through the dusk, tracing twin cones of light in the air ahead. Just as the lamps flared to life, another light flashed in the distant haze. A rolling boom followed. I heard the snaps of Coulthard securing himself in his seat and I quickly followed suit. The journey was about to get rough.

Sporadically lit by flashes of lightning, the image of a storm unfurled below us - a storm unlike any on Earth. I felt a pit form in my stomach as I stared into the heart of what I could only compare to The Great Red Spot of Jupiter. My initial feelings of wonder were quickly overridden by panic as our craft plunged towards the rolling mass of dense air. Deep and primal fear rose in me as I fell through the atmosphere trapped in an iron ball, punched about by currents of air at pressures high enough to crush the human body like an eggshell. I willed myself to adjust the controls but found I could not release my deathgrip on my hastily converted office chair as the billowing surface of the powerful storm system rose to meet us. Winds whistled across the hull as plumes of dense cloud buffeted the porthole, clouding our view as we entered the storm.

The craft was suddenly jerked to the side as we fell into a stormwind. Lightning split the sky, seeming to barely miss striking us and nearly deafening me in the process. The bathysphere was suddenly wrenched in the opposite direction as we dropped into a lower current. A cacophony of thuds sounded through the craft as some kind of strands blown about in the wind forcefully pelted the hull. I gripped the seat leather tightly as the craft twisted about violently in the wind. Our searchlights spun across a dense front of rushing storm clouds and I heard myself scream as we were sucked into it. The craft plunged through the eye wall and we were cast into the very center of the storm. I dreadfully looked up to see the vortex towering above me, lightning acing across its center like the rungs of a ladder. I felt myself rise against the straps of my seat as the downdraft of the vortex hurled us downwards, launching us through the eye like a shot down the barrel of a cannon. As we fell flashes of stormlight lit across the twisting cyclone above us like the faint trickles of sunlight at the bottom of a well. Coulthard's screaming joined my own we hurtled down the throat of the massive cyclone. Lightning flashed past our craft as we were spit out into the darkness of the storm's shadow. For a moment we fell through the darkness in silence, with the storm stretched out before us like a weather map. I stared at the flashing bulk of the monstrous storm as it roiled and seethed slowly before my transfixed eyes like the crushing, methodical footfalls of a marching colossus. And then the moment ended.


A raging abyss.

Lightning struck the bathysphere like a gong. The metal hull deflected the surge of deadly current around us, leaving us alive and unscathed but doing little to save the electronics. A searchlight burst in a shower of sparks and the cabin was filled with the smell of burnt wiring. Blinking off the blinding light and shaking the ringing from my ears, I fumbled in the dark for the fuse box. When my shaking fingers managed to insert the replacement fuse the remaining searchlight flickered to life and a dreadful shriek filled my ears. To my horror I beheld a massive tendril lowering itself from the storm. Strands of the same substance I had seen blown about in the storm flaked off the outstretched tentacle and streaked towards our craft as if beckoned by it. A terrible realization filled my mind. All the strands we had seen blown about in the storm were Gestalt worms. Billions upon billions of Gestalt worms, gathered from all corners of the atmosphere by the maelstrom, now forming themselves into a single, massive colony. And it was coming for us.

A speechless Coulthard jabbed frantically to the sonar display. With one fearful eye still on the approaching mass, I glanced at the screen. It was worse than I'd thought. The radar showed a mass forming inside the storm that measured miles from end to end. As if to confirm this, another tentacle descended from the opposite end of the storm, and still a third tentacle emerged from the swirling gloom, writhing beneath the storm like the trailing stingers of a vast medusoid jellyfish. I watched helplessly as the unfurling arms of the beast drew towards us. The hull of the bathysphere could handle enormous pressure but was designed to do so from all sides, not constricted about its circumference. My fear-struck mind knew with utmost dread that our craft could not withstand the grip of this churning monstrosity of flesh and storm. As the reaching tendrils converged around us I squeezed my eyes shut and slammed my hand down on the only button that would do anything. With a foreboding lurch, the craft separated from the lower balloon and plunged unabated out of the arms of the Gestalt and into the abyss.

I was thrown against the control panel, my face left with the bruised imprints of buttons and levers as our craft spun end over end, tumbling through the darkness. Up was down and then forwards as the cabin spun wildly. The hull creaked and groaned and I forced my dizzied eyes to focus on the pressure gauge. It was still well within the safe range but climbing rapidly. As I wildly searched the controls for something helpful the logbook came free of its clasp and bounced about the cabin, cracking me solidly over the head.

I awoke upside-down, my face hanging unnervingly over the pitch-black window below me. I groaned and shook myself awake. The bloodied logbook lie on the window with a collection of broken-off parts that must have been knocked loose when we were falling. It took me a moment to realize we had come to a rest. The cracked pressure gauge was steady, although difficult to read sideways. We must have fallen so far the air now had the same density as our craft, leaving us floating in the murky depths and somehow unharmed despite being well below our crush depth. Deep rolling booms of thunder in the deep and crushing darkness warned of a nearby storm. My heart palpitations came to a rest when my addled brain realized a storm system at this level would be so slow and massive that we were likely being swept along with one and simply hadn't noticed. The gyroscope next to the controls had long ago spun to a stop so I could not even be sure of our trajectory. In the unrevealing darkness there truly was no way of knowing in which direction we were going. An injured groan prompted me to check on Coulthard. Twisting around in my restraints to look at him, he appeared concussed but otherwise unharmed. With extreme dread and a creeping realization I slowly turned to look to face the sonar. It was swimming with shapes. I watched, fixated, as tentacular horrors slowly traversed our sonar screen. The Gestalt colonies were all around us.

I hung limply from the seat, unable to do anything but wait for death to descend upon us. Amidst my dread the problem of how we were still alive nagged quietly at the back of my mind, finally surfacing when my eyes chanced upon a crumpled over cast-iron diving suit. From the looks of it, it was in perfect condition; as good as the day it had been made. Despite the hopelessness of the situation my eyes widened as realization flooded through my consciousness. I had come looking for a miracle of my ancestors and here I had found one - a reservoir of Mend-Sedmin Energy in the depths of the fifteenth level. The force that held the backrooms together surged about me, restoring the diving suits and maintaining the integrity of the diving bell as it restored every Backrooms object it contacted - every item in the cabin, salvaged from levels all across The Backrooms. Everything but us.


No light reaches here.

My discovery was interrupted by a sudden jolt and a long scraping noise as our craft dragged across something solid and came to a rest. Coulthard staggered uncertainly to his feet and glanced about in confusion. I made an effort to hold onto the seat as I unstrapped myself, only to lose my grip and come crashing down onto the inverted ceiling of the cabin. Clutching my head and rising to my feet as well, I groaned and stumbled in the direction of one of the suits.

"We-," I managed, "We're on the pyramid, the winds must have blown us onto one of the lower steps."

Coulthard's defeated stare did not change.

I continued, "The Mend-Sedmin levels are high here. It's keeping the bathysphere intact." I paused, and continued, "I think it would also keep the diving suits intact."

Now Coulthard looked at me, surprise intermingling with dread. Slowly, he spoke, disbelief in his voice, "Are you proposing we climb?"

"Are you proposing we stay?"

Several minutes of silence stretched after my question. Finally, he stooped and began opening one of the pressure suits. I made my way to a wall shelf, the instruments still strapped onto it, dangling upside-down. With a gesture I motioned for the suit gloves, and Coulthard handed them to me. From the parts of disassembled instruments something between a nail gun and a climbing piton began to take shape almost of their own accord, fusing together in my hands as I envisioned them before I even had a chance to reach for my tools. Finally, I held four suit gloves equipped with retractable climbing pitons that could be fired into the rock with an explosive charge. Despite the situation I could not help but wonder. Was this the secret of the precursors, the source of their creations? Did the pyramid help channel this energy - or is it what stored it up in the first place? Desiring to experiment further but lacking the time, I returned to the task at hand, handing two of the gloves back to Coulthard. Suited and equipped, I paused beneath the emergency air valve, and with a nod of confirmation from Coulthard, twisted it open.

With a shrill whistle high-pressure air began to flood the cabin. Coulthard's watch from Earth shattered inwards, being unaffected by the repair mechanisms of The Backrooms. The objects salvaged from levels proved hardier with Mend-Sedmin Energy preserving them. Still, they failed one by one as the pressure overwhelmed even their strengthened structural integrity. The light bulbs popped in succession, spreading sparks and darkness with each failure until the murkiness of the depths had filled the cabin. Still, the sounds of breaking and crushing continued as the pressure rose, imploding wood and collapsing tubing until at last there was silence. Our suits had held.

I switched on my suit lights, illuminating a now destroyed cabin that more resembled a shipwreck than a home as it once had. For a moment I felt a pang of loss for the craft, it had taken an odd resemblance to the halls of The Backrooms we had salvaged its parts from in the way a son takes a resemblance to his father, and now I stood in its desiccated corpse. Crushed equipment and twisted piping littered the ceiling around my feet. I shifted my footing and grasped the wheel of the hatch. Even though the craft was already depressurized some irrational part of me still feared the crushing force of the deep atmosphere would come hammering down through the hatch when I opened it and force our entire bodies into our helmets as I had heard in horror stories of deep diving accidents. Forcing the thought down, I turned the wheel and with a low groaning deepened by the dense air swung the hatch slowly open, revealing nothing but unbroken void beyond. With an awkward motion I lifted myself through the hatch, and gathering my courage, I stepped hesitantly onto the unholy stone to meet my doom.


On foot.

The current nearly carried me away into the abyss, iron pressure suit and all. What would have only been a light breeze at ordinary pressures was a forceful flow in the pressures of the depths where air was as thick as water. Staggering forward, I fired a climbing piton into the great stone step in front of me to stabilize myself. A deep thump resounded through the deep as Coulthard dropped onto the stone behind me, salvaged equipment from the bathysphere thrown over his shoulder.

"Your device works." He surmised over the radio, "We do not die yet."

Striding forward, he drove his climbing piton into the stone face of the above step and braced his foot above the wall, his suit emanating a metallic groan as it hauled itself up to fire the second piton higher in the rock face. Following suit, I pushed off the wall with my boot, forcefully raising the plates of solid iron that encased my body. The effort threatened to overtax the suit motors, and my climbing piton twisted threateningly in the rock. Straining my suit, I raised my free arm to the stone face of the pyramid step and fired my second piton into the rock. Stabilized from above, I ejected my first piton and a replacement rod loaded into place. The suit gave another whine of exertion as I heaved my arm over the top of the step, scrabbling for purchase before finally using a piton to latch onto the stone. By the time I had hauled myself onto the step above the full magnitude of the task ahead had fully set in.

A booming voice thundered through the void.

Elhgrask fa’eln, elhsk grai!

Elhgrask fa’eln, elhsk grai!

Elhgrask fa’eln, elhsk grai!

The alien words resounded through the ocean of air, reaching what one might generously call ears on things I shudder to think of. Rising swiftly to my feet I took in with shock the source of the arcane chant - Dr. Coulthard, salvaged hydrophone wired into his comm. His face, visible through the faceplate of his suit was a mixture of fear and grim determination.

I could not find the words to respond as he gave his ultimatum, "Climbing the pyramid is impossible. The only thing in these depths that can save us is The Gestalt."

The words came stoppingly, "W-Wh- Who do you plan to kill?" I shouted, my voice breaking free of my shock to rise in anger. "Whose life will you sacrifice to save ours?"

The fear and determination in Coulthard's face rose in equal measure, "It's too late. It's too late. It's too late." A roaring gale ripped through the air as Coulthard spoke, "We bargain with The Gestalt or we die."

The roar of the wind was joined by another roar, a deep and many-voiced howling of a thing with a thousand tongues. The crashing of thunder accompanied the scream, and flashes of lightning broke the darkness as a dense and twisting stormfront drew near, fleshy tendrils writhing beneath. As the titanic monstrosity closed in, a resolve of my own hardened my face.

Stretching my hand to Coulthard, I offered my own ultimatum, "Die here as a man, or live as a monster."

Coulthard backed away from me, stepping closer to the incoming abomination, his eyes wild with primal terror.

"You would live as a beast and a murderer, blood on your hands and worms on your flesh! It is better to die than to be reduced to such a state!"

The roar of beast and storm and thunder nearly drowned out my words as the creature approached the pyramid, intent on the two opposed metal figures that had summoned it. Coulthard turned to look up at the monstrosity that bore down on him, staring in fear and awe. The tendrils writhed before us as the beast chanted back the alien words. Coulthard turned slowly to face me, and reached for my outstretched hand. The beginnings of a final farewell formed on my lips before they twisted into a grimace of pain as Coulthard fired his climbing piton into my glove.

An anguished gasp of pain and betrayal escaped me as I stumbled forwards. With a soft click, Coulthard ejected his piton and I stumbled off the step into the waiting grasp of the Gestalt. The writhing mass of worms encircled my suit, penetrating the seals, and burrowing inside, into the suit, into my flesh, devouring me from the inside. I shuddered and surrendered my last breath.

Mission Assessment

Craft wrecked against pyramid during ascent by sudden gale. Captain Howard Meyer deceased upon impact. Doctor Coulthard sole survivor. Minimal injuries sustained, only health condition to report is he "feels hungry." Recommend promotion to senior researcher for Doctor Coulthard, posthumous honors for the deceased Captain Meyer.

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