Remember! by Colin Anders Brodd

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You awaken in the dark. Where are you? How did you get here? You don't remember. Why don't you remember? You must try to think! Remember!

There is a throbbing in your temples, your eyes hurt as if you have had them open too long in dim light – but nay, did you not just awaken? In truth, your whole head hurts. Why? Did you hit your head? Is that why you were unconscious? Why you cannot remember? What is that smell?

You feel around in the darkness, and feel that you are still wearing your chainmail byrnie, still have your sword belted on, still have your lindenwood shield near your left arm. Were you wearing a helm? You cannot remember. You do not even really remember the arms and armor you bear, except in a blurry, instinctive way – your hand reached for the hilt of your sword almost without thought, as if it were a movement made so many times as to be habit. You must be a warrior of some sort, but you just cannot remember!

As your eyes adjust, you see that it is not completely dark where you are. You're in a cave. A natural tunnel of some kind. It is neither cold nor warm in this place. As you slowly climb to your feet, you realize that there is a dim glow, a very mild greenish and purple phosphorescent light, which seems to be emitted by some of the fungal growths that cover every surface in sight. There is a thick, heavy smell in the air. Earthy, but not pleasant, not clean. A smell of rot and decay. A fungal odor. The smell of a cave, you suppose.

A cave? What are you doing in a cave? You must remember!

You take a step forward, stumble, recover. Your boots crunch in the gravelly debris of the cave's floor, and the sound seems unnaturally loud in the stillness and the darkness. You still feel a little dizzy. Lightheaded. Aye. The fungal stench does not help matters, either.

Another step. Crunch. Deeper into the cave. Or are you going out? You do not remember whether this direction leads out of the cave or not. You are lost.

You are lost, your head hurts, the air stinks, and you cannot remember anything. This makes you angry, frightened, nervous . . . your grip on your sword and shield tighten. In truth, your sword is gripped in a white-knuckled grasp of terror and rage. But you are well-armed. You are not hungry or thirsty, but can not remember when you last ate or drank anything, or if there are more provisions nearby.

Sword and shield? Arms and armor? Are you here to fight someone . . . or more likely, something? Mayhaps some terrible monster inhabits this cave, and you have come to slay the beast! A troll? A dragon? Whatever it is, did it do something to your mind? To your memory?

You will not find out just standing here. You have to move. So you begin to walk forward again, slowly, carefully, through the dim phosphorescence. The crunch of your boots on the debris-littered floor of the tunnel seems loud, but the sharpness of the sound is dulled by the thick moss and fungus covering everything, as though the abhorrent growths absorb and devour the sounds you make.

What is this place?

You walk carefully along, almost creeping, sword and shield at the ready. You wish there were a breeze, a breath of air, that might tell you whether or not you were going the right way. A breeze to clear some of the stink from your nostrils. You must be ready for anything. Anything! If only your head did not hurt so much. If only you could remember.

If anything lies in wait to ambush you in the darkness, it must surely know that you are here. Every step crunches. You look down at the floor of the cavern. There is moss and fungus growing there, too, but the growth is not thick enough to muffle the sound of your steps. But what is that horrid crunching sound you hear? Something white gleams in the dim phosphorescent light.

Is that . . .? Could that be . . .? Is it bone? Old, rotted bones, breaking and crunching under your ruthless tread? Surely, not . . . not human, though? But it is. You can see it clearly now. You are walking on rotted, decayed human bones that burst under your boots as you progress through this strange underworld. What killed them? . . . And is it going to kill you, too?

You continue forward through the gloom. What other choice do you have, really? It looks like the tunnel opens up into a larger cavern up ahead, but you see no sign of sunlight, no sign that this is the way out. How long will you be trapped down here?

As you approach the larger cavern, you hear something. Faint at first, but growing louder as you come closer to the source. A wet sound, water trickling over rock. There is water ahead! At least you will not die of thirst! Although, strangely, you still do not feel any thirst . . .

You emerge into the larger chamber. It is roughly circular, and only about forty or fifty feet across. There is better illumination here than in the tunnels from which you have come, but it takes you a long time to realize why it is so much easier to see. There is a pool of water here, fed by little streams that trickle down the walls of the cavern. The water has something growing in it, some algae-like substance, and it causes the water to sparkle and glow. More phosphorescence. Also, the larger open space means more room for the fungal growths that emit dim light to spread out, shedding weird illumination everywhere. And it grows over several large, strangely shaped boulders that litter the floor of this cavern, causing disturbingly suggestive patterns of shape and shadow . . .

You look away from the strange boulders, all around the walls here. There are more tunnels branching off from this chamber, so you do not really have any better idea of how to find a way out than you did before. If anything, your head hurts worse than before, and you cannot shake the sudden conviction that you are being watched, or at least that you are not alone. Not alone . . .

Suddenly, your gaze is pulled back to the strange, misshapen, moss-covered boulders. They are not rocks, you realize. They are people. Or they were. With growing horror, you realize that what you first thought were strange rocks are corpses in varying states of decay, covered over with moss and lichen and fungus. Your eyes did not want to see the leering skulls at first, the faces contorted in agony, but even buried under hideous growth, the play of phosphorescent light and shadow reveals their true nature.

Many people have died here. Right here. In this chamber. Suddenly, your eyes flick to the tunnels, searching for any sign of movement, of ambush. Nothing moves, except the trickling water.

Feeling dizzier than before, you slump down to sit by the pool of water for a moment, carefully avoiding disturbing the corpses. Just for a moment, you tell yourself. Need to keep moving. Got to get back up and keep moving. Got to find a way out. Your motion dislodged a pebble; you watch it roll into the water and send glowing rippled through the sparking pool.

You wonder if the water is safe to drink. Maybe there is a poison in it. Maybe that is what killed all theee people before you. Something in the water . . .

You lean over and look into the rippling water. Every ripple sparkles with phosphorescent light. You can see your reflection, distorted, in the flowing surface. Your face is dirty. Your hair is filthy. In fact, it looks like you've got some of this mossy stuff stuck in your hair. You reach up to scrub it out of your hair, and it mists the air with a thick green and purple cloud of dust and spores. Ugh! That was in your hair! What is that gunk?

Looking around at the corpses that surround you, you realize that it is the same with each of them. The green and purple fungus grows thick on the heads, on the skulls. The cold horror that seethes under your skin awakens strange thoughts. Memories. Oh gods. Oh gods. You remember something! A warning. Someone tried to warn you about a green and purple moss like this once.

What did they say? What did they call it? You can almost remember . . . almost . . . .

Minna-mosi. That's what they called it. Memory-moss. It looks like simple moss and fungus, but it is nothing simple at all. It can enchant anyone who gets too close to it, and begins to drain the mind, starting with the memory. The spores get on you, get inside you, and begin to grow, and pretty soon you have an organism growing on your body, feeding off your body, while feeding on your mind as well.

Minna-mosi. You have been breathing the spores for some time. How long? How long were you unconscious? The panic is making you breathe hard, you are panting, and the realization that every lungfull of air you gulp down is filled with more of those spores makes you feel ill. You want to vomit, you even wretch, but nothing comes out. Your stomach is empty, Has been all along. Why do you feel no hunger? No thirst?

The minna-mosi has been working on you for some time. As it grows on you, grows in you, it negates feelings of hunger, of thirst. The host simply stops eating, stops drinking, eventually stops moving, and then dies. Then the minna-mosi consumes the body, draining the minds and infecting the bodies and brains of any living things that come near.

You are in a cave full of those corpses.

How long were you unconscious before you woke up? How did you get there? You must have already been infected, then. That is why you woke up with the headache. That is why you woke up with no memories. The minna-mosi has been draining your mind.

But some part of you remembers! Some part of you is resisting! You must resist! You MUST! You need to get out of this place now.

You struggle to get to your feet. Every movement feels slow, sluggish. You wonder how long it has been since you ate anything. The pain and pressure in your head has increased sharply; they say that the minna-mosi is sentient, aware, and it must psychically sense that you are fighting it. It must be fighting back. Waves of pain and nausea roll through your body. Another wretch, another dry heave, another stab of pain in your skull.

You must get out! NOW! You stumble a few more steps, and stop. The pain is unbearable! You can feel it draining everything from you, everything . . .

You stumble again, trip, fall. Your landing is softened by the carpet of minna-mosi growing on the floor of the cavern, but kicks up as massive cloud of spores. You cannot breathe, you are coughing, you feel as if your head were spinning . . . .

It all goes black.

You awaken in the dark. Where are you? How did you get here? You don't remember. Why don't you remember? You must try to think! Remember!

There is a throbbing in your temples, your eyes hurt as if you have had them open too long in dim light – but nay, did you not just awaken? In truth, your whole head hurts. Why? Did you hit your head? Is that why you were unconscious? Why you cannot remember? What is that smell?

Why can you not remember? You must! Why? You cannot remember that, either! But it was important! You must remember! You MUST! REMEMBER!