There were originally nine of us scheduled for the spelunking expedition, but Murphy’s Law dictated that two of the group had to pull out due to various issues. It was a disappointment having fewer members to share in the experience, but then again, there were benefits – less logistical problems, more space and so on. I, personally, wasn’t that affected by it; while most of us were close friends, I hadn’t known those two well.
Our rendezvous was the cave entrance, at the crack of dawn. I was the first one there, as usual; those who knew me often remarked at my attention to punctuality. Slowly, the rest of the group arrived, parking their cars and unloading the equipment that we had organised between us. As the expedition leader, I had the emergency provisions on me – first aid kit, flare gun, GPS locator. It seemed quite odd that a flare gun would be taken into an underground location, but I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
We assembled at the cave entrance. There was Jason, Alex, Karen, Samantha, Vincent, Ashley and, of course, myself. Alex and I were experienced spelunkers, while the rest had varying skill levels: moderate (Karen, Vincent and Samantha), poor (Jason) and a first-timer (Ashley). Normally it was against my instinct to take a first-timer into an unexplored cave and in such a large group, but he had promised to obey every command I gave him and had agreed to carry the most cumbersome equipment on the safe parts of the trek.
The cave loomed in front of us. It was typically dark and rather foreboding. Not for the first time, I wondered why it was, according to every available record of local geological sites, unexplored. Perhaps it was the isolated location, or the fact that until recently, there had been no way for vehicles to access it through the surrounding forest. “Are you sure it’s alright?” Ashley nervously asked, shifting from foot to foot. His earlier bravado had deserted him. “Yes. You can’t change your mind once we’re in, so decide now.” I said flatly, turning around without waiting for an answer. He’d make his own mind up without any further input from me.
The rest of the group followed me. After a few moments of apparent indecision, Ashley hurried in after the rest of us. Soon, the darkness swallowed us whole.
Inside, the cave was quite larger than it appeared. It proceeded inwards for about two hundred metres and then sloped down quite quickly. As per usual, I ordered the group members to “buddy up,” a system in which the group divided into pairs and three’s and were responsible for keeping together. Ashley and I were partners, given that I was the most experienced and he was the least. It wasn’t as fun spelunking when you had to care for somebody else, but it was a necessary evil. Besides, he was a quick learner.
Soon the sunlight from the cave mouth faded. “Flares out, everybody,” I ordered. One by one, the expedition members cracked the flares. As per local guidelines, each member carried two packs of thirty handheld flares. It may have been excessive, but the flares weren’t very strong and only provided enough light for the immediate area around the user. I took a glowstick from my pack and wedged it into the rock beside me. Only I carried these and they were quite stronger than the flares, able to last up to twelve hours with diminishing light after eight. I would use them to mark our trail back up.
Slowly we continued down. The handheld flares lasted for fifteen minutes on average and soon we reached an edge. I ordered the group to stop five feet from the precipice, where the ground levelled out. As you may have noticed, I am a stickler for safety measures, but not without good reason. I didn’t want a death on my hands. “Ashley, crack a flare and throw it down,” I said, watching to see how he did it. Ashley withdrew a flare from his pack and lit it. Then, without moving, he tossed it forward, down the hole. I nodded in approval – he hadn’t moved forward from the five metre guideline.
I crept forward to the precipice and looked into the abyss.
Then I saw it.
Descending into the darkness, barely half a metre from the cliff edge, was what appeared to be a staircase.
The light of the flare made one thing quite clear. It wasn’t a man-made staircase – at least, it didn’t look like one. It appeared to be hewn out of the descending rock, meaning that the original cliff would have extended further into the cave. The stairs were rough and uneven, but it was close enough for government work, as the saying goes. “What is it?” One of the group members asked from behind me. “Looks like a natural staircase of sorts,” I answered, distracted. I withdrew another glowstick from my bag and planted it at the top of the stairs.
We descended cautiously, for caves are notoriously deceptive. Ahead of me, the darkness grew thicker. It seemed palpable, almost physical. As if my thoughts were true, the flares we held seemed to diminish in the face of the abyss. After fifty or so steps, I reached the bottom.
That’s when I heard the crack.
It sounded like a gunshot, loud and sharp. I spun at the foot of the stairs. Behind me, Jason was tumbling roughly down the last few steps, straight towards me. I spun out of the way and he crashed to the floor, moaning in agony. The rest of the group hurried towards me, concerned, as I bent to inspect the injury. It was obvious – his ankle was twisted at an unnatural angle, clearly broken. Jason’s face had rapidly lost colour.
“Karen, Vincent, grab him by the arms. Careful.” I said quietly, unwilling to exacerbate the situation by panicking. They picked him up slowly, his ankle dangling grotesquely beneath him. Something glinted under the crimson light of the flares. I knew it was bone. I reached into my pack, taking out two small batons and a white bandage. “This is going to hurt,” I warned. The caution was wasted on Jason, anyway – he was half-unconscious. I grabbed his ankle and twisted.
His ankle cracked again.
That roused Jason from his stupor. He screamed piercingly, loudly enough to hurt my ears. Quickly, trying to not to prolong his agony, I wound the bandage around the batons, which braced either side of his leg. The screaming stopped, but not because the pain had faded. He was unconscious. “Take him up to the entrance of the cave and to the hospital. If he wakes, give him these painkillers.” I told his helpers. Karen and Vincent nodded and began the arduous climb up to the surface, holding their unconscious ward.
“Shouldn’t we go with them? I mean, his ankle was-“Ashley began, but I cut him off. “No. We came this far, and we’re not going to stop now. I want to investigate this cave to the end. Remember, I told you that you couldn’t change your mind,” I said sharply, taking out my anger at letting the accident happen under my leadership on him. Ashley – known as Ash to his friends, but I never used that – fell silent. I felt a fleeting sense of guilt at my attitude. I brushed it off and spun around. Already Jason and the others were out of view.
Around the group, the darkness surrounded us like a malevolent entity.
The landing we were on led further into the cave for quite a while and we proceeded incident-free, thankfully. I marked our progress with the glowsticks at various intervals. Strangely, like the flares, they gave off less light the deeper we progressed. It began to unnerve me and I could tell the others noticed it too. Alex and Samantha, who were incidentally brother and sister, fell a few steps behind us. Ashley, to my right, was silent.
Finally, as the flares grew ever dimmer, I saw something in the wall to my right. I called the diminished group over and cracked a new flare to provide extra light. It appeared to some sort of carving in the wall. I studied it carefully. The scene depicted a few humanoid forms on the ground. A few scratches of red seemed to indicate wounds. Various pillars around them rose to the roof of the cavern.
But that wasn’t nearly the worst part.
In front of the people – the victims, I now corrected myself – was a large figure. It may have had detail in the past, but only the outline remained. The body was scratched out. It was a disturbing scene.
Then I looked beneath the scene and my eyes widened.
It had a message.
The strange thing about the message was that it was in English. The carving looked entirely authentic; meaning that a caveman – if you’ll pardon the pun – had created it. I found it impossible that the same person could have scrawled the five words below the picture. Behind me, Alex read it out loud.
“THE JACKAL AND THE CAVE . How strange,” he said. Indeed, that was the message, written entirely in capital. I dismissed the painting and turned back to the main path. It was obviously a hoax – there was no way a caveman could write in any script, let alone in English. Probably some kid mucking around in days long past. But it still made me uneasy, regardless of what I assumed it to be.
If it was a hoax, then why does it look so fucking authentic?
Eventually, the four of us had had our fill of ‘THE JACKAL AND THE CAVE,’ and, after Ashley had snapped a photo of it for a keepsake, we continued into the cave. I was forced to light two flares at a time, now, to ward off the choking darkness. The diminishing effectiveness of the flares puzzled me – in all my time spelunking I had never encountered anything like it. I wondered whether it was a defective bunch or some other reason – it had to have a logical, rational reason.
Behind me, Alex and Samantha were still locked in conversation. I picked up snatches of the heated debate as we walked. They, like me, were still pondering the origin of the admittedly ominous cave drawing. I wished they’d drop it already, or at least quieten down. I looked to my right, saw nothing but a sloping cave wall and looked away, back to the trail.
There, among the rock that I had just glanced at, was another carving.
I felt sick as I hurried over to it. The red glow of the flares flickered on the wall, dancing over the picture, making it look demonic under the sparse light. It depicted a scene much like the last, except there were only two bodies on the floor. The third was in midair, seemingly held by an appendage – not quite an arm, not quite a tentacle – from the titular Jackal. The pillars around the scene appeared again, except with small, indistinct etching on them. Like before, only the faint outline of the Jackal appeared, the rest of it having been scribbled – or scratched, I couldn’t tell which – out.
Underneath it was another five-word message, one that I read quickly and immediately wished I hadn’t.
‘GO BACK. THE JACKAL WAITS,” it said.
I turned from the carving as the others moved in to get a good look and tried not to panic. The air felt thin and dry, much like the air in the Andes. I’d gone climbing there a few years ago, and terrible things had happened – which explained my preference for underground rocks as opposed to aerial ones – but that’s a story for another day and another time. Around me, the darkness was thick. I could no longer see without the flares in aid. Suddenly, irrationally, I knew if I stayed in this underground labyrinth for much longer I would lose my sanity.
But that was the mind of an irrational man talking.
I leant against the opposite wall, breathing deeply and slowly to regulate my rapid heartbeat. Spots danced in front of my eyes momentarily as I oxygenated my blood rapidly. Slowly, the panic faded, to be replaced by a sense of calm. I didn’t get overworked often, but when I did, I tended to edge towards to hysteria. Taking one last deep breath, I straightened and looked around.
That’s when I realised that Ashley was gone.
That’s when I realised that Ashley was gone.
Slowly, I stood, scanning the passage for any sign of Ashley. Samantha and Alex were still arguing over the cave carving. They were typically argumentative of identical twins. As Alex drew breath to continue his opinion, I stepped between them, holding my hands up in peace. “Have either of you seen Ashley? He’s gone,” I said, stepping back once I saw that they had ceased fighting and listened to what I said.
“No,” they said in unison.
I sighed in frustration and looked around the cavern. There was no trace of Ashley anywhere. “He couldn’t have gone far, not with that massive pack he had strapped to him,” Alex said reasonably, possibly sensing the panic that I felt. The entire expedition had had problems from the start; first the dropouts, then Jason, now this. It was like we were cursed or some other superstitious bullshit – I was a born sceptic and proud of it.
“He could have only gone forward or back,” Samantha said, walking forward to the edge of the light and looking around. “We should split up and-“
“No,” I said, resolute. “We are not going to split up, under any circumstances. If Ashley went back, he’ll eventually get out of the cave by himself. So, we go forward and hope that stupid prick hasn’t done anything reckless,” I interjected flatly, turning away from the duo and proceeding into the darkness.
After a shared glance, the meaning of which was undecipherable – at least to me – they followed.
And so we went.
As we progressed, I felt the path lead downwards. It was a marginal slope, undetectable by the naked eye, but I felt myself pushing harder into the rock with each step, thanks to the extra gravity of descent. It wasn’t of any concern to me – such natural formations were common. We proceeded ever further into the depths of the cave, calling out Ashley’s name as we went.
Then I saw it.
It was over to the right, like the others.
It was, of course, another carving.
I felt sick as I scanned it.
The titular Jackal had increased in size yet again. The tentacle-appendage hybrid was shorter, as if the beast had pulled it back. The previously-held corpse was ominously absent from the scene. I tried not to think about what had happened to it. The pillars with carvings on them also appeared. As before, the Jackal had the majority of its detail erased, making it little more than an outline. However, there was detail on the edge of the beast this time. I knew the short lines represented skin, apparently leathery and cracked. Then I read the message – it was again five words long – and my eyes widened in a flash of shock and fear.
“THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE,” it read.
I stumbled back from the carving in fear, raising my hands in front of me as if it was alive and coming for me. As I hit the back wall, I saw Alex and Samantha close in to study the carving. They seemed unaffected by the ominous message as I had been. I gasped for breath, winded by the sudden impact of the wall against me. I tried to clear my mind, to cut through the mix of panic and fear I now felt at having read the carving – the carving which I no longer thought was the work of pranksters.
I turned to my left, hoping to see Ashley.
Instead, I saw the gateway.
It appeared to be a stone arch, hewn from black granite. It followed the contour of the cave precisely, creating a strange effect. Carvings of various things – symbols, letters and pictures – covered the gateway, which appeared to be seamless, without join or cut. I approached it almost unwillingly, feeling my heart rise into my throat as I stared at the ground immediately behind the gateway and onwards.
The walls, floor and roof of the cave from the gateway onwards were covered in fine, white dust.
Alex and Samantha joined me at the edge of the gateway. We were silent, studying the gateway. I looked the top and saw yet another five-letter message carved there.
“THE GATEWAY TO THE JACKAL,” read the message.
And Hell with it, I thought.
Then, I heard the scream.
It was Ashley screaming.
“We have to get to him!” Alex yelled, turning to me. With every fibre of my body, I resisted stepping through the gateway. I knew if we did, terrible things would happen. If I stepped through, I knew, sooner or later, I would meet the Jackal. But I had to know; about Ashley, the carvings, everything. I had to. So, with a deep breath and trying to still my hands, I made my choice.
Together, we stepped through the gateway to Ashley and the dark beast beyond.
The first change I noticed was the ground.
The fine white dust was coated on the entire cave, right past the gateway. I didn’t know the origin – it didn’t appear to be from any sort of mineral or rock I had encountered before. It was strange, but then, given the nature of the rest of the cave, that made it almost normal. The darkness grew progressively thicker as we advanced. I noticed we were running low on flares – about only twenty each. It was a problem, but not one I was particularly concerned about considering the current predicament we were in.
Ashley hadn’t made any noise besides his original scream. It concerned me far more than if he had kept screaming. There could be a logical reason for him not screaming. Perhaps he ran deeper into the cave. Maybe he was conserving his voice, I thought. But I was throwing up improbable answers to cover my fear. My true thought rose unbidden to my mind:
What if whatever made him scream stopped him from doing so again?
I felt sick.
Ahead of us, not even a hundred metres from the gateway, was a crossroads, the first such divide in the otherwise-linear path. I had appreciated the lack of divergent paths so far because it meant that we didn’t have to divide our group, stunted as it was. Appearing now, as it had, seemed like extraordinarily bad luck on our part.
Seemed like. That’s the key point. Nothing in this godforsaken cave has been left to chance.
Lost in my grim thoughts as I was, I didn’t notice the object ahead of us until Alex exclaimed and ran towards it. Startled, I looked up. Alex blocked my direct view of it – all I knew of it, apparently, was that it was quite large. I ran towards it.
It was Ashley’s pack, ripped and torn. Blood covered it and the immediate area, in irregular patterns. Beside me, Alex stepped back tentatively, lost for words. “Something attacked him, tore the pack right from his back with incredible force. It must have injured him as well, judging by the blood,” I said quietly, surprised at how clinical and calm my assessment of the scene had been.
“That’s it. I’m out. I’m going,” Alex said, turning away quickly, but not before I saw the fear in his eyes. He was terrified. Samantha nodded in agreement, turning to leave as well. I didn’t try to stop either of them. They would be back.
“You won’t get a foot past the gateway,” I called to them, certain that it would prevent them from leaving.
I turned back to Ashley’s pack slowly and began searching through it quickly, taking only a few items. I hesitated when my hand landed on the flare gun, but I took it and kept it in my hand. I knew from experience against various types of wildlife that it made an effective weapon.
If I met anything – anything – that wasn’t Ashley, I would fire without mercy.
I stood and chose the right-hand passageway. I didn’t feel scared anymore – in fact, I didn’t feel a thing. Adrenaline was coursing through my system, leaving no room for fear or anything else.
It grew progressively darker. The darkness was thick and cloying – as a lifetime asthma sufferer, it reminded me of when I needed my inhaler. I knew the flares would soon be useless, regardless of whether they should have been effective. Beside me, I noticed scrawling in the dust, apparently of human origin. That, at least, was no mystery. I glanced at each in turn, almost mechanically, knowing that it couldn’t be any worse. It appeared that we weren’t the first people to stumble into this place.
“I HAVE SEEN IT, AND IT BLINDED ME”
“THIS IS IT’S DOMAIN”
“TALLER THAN ANY HUMAN”
Suddenly I stopped. The last was different from the others – in lowercase, and appeared to be freshly written.
“it cut me. i’m running for my life.”
And then, as if by magic, I heard two things.
A scream and a roar.
And they were close.
I ran forwards.
I felt, rather than sensed, that I had breached into a massive cavern.
To prove my theory, I impulsively punched the air to my right. If I was still in the claustrophobic cave, my hand would surely be shattered on the wall. As I expected, I hit nothing but the stagnant air of the cave. The flares provided nothing more than a dim glow. I looked at it in horror as the glow faded slowly. The fading light represented my last defence against the virulent darkness of the cave (or Cave, as I felt it should be called) and its sole inhabitant.
The inhabitant some called the Jackal.
The light faded completely.
I was alone.
The moment I was, I heard the voice. It was flat and terrible and loud. It reverberated around me, seemingly without a source or direction. I spun in the darkness – the cloying, constricting darkness – and felt my heart in my throat. I knew that if I walked backwards, I would no longer find the passageway that had led me to the lair of the Jackal. Once you entered this central cavern, there was no leaving it. Just like the carvings promised, I thought.
“THIS IS MY CAVE,” it bellowed.
I screamed and ran.
It was a futile gesture. The voice boomed around me, terrifying in its alienness and its flat, expressionless quality. The Jackal was not human, nor was it even some revenant or ghost of a forgotten culture. It was something that had no place in this universe and something that I wished never to see. My heart thundered in my chest and my eyes vibrated – I could no longer even control my own body. I’m a prisoner in my own body.
“THE OTHER ONE SCREAMED BEFORE I TOOK HIM,” boomed the Jackal, interrupting my thoughts.
“Fuck you!” I screamed hysterically into the darkness around me. It was a petty rebellion – I doubted the Jackal even knew what it meant – but I felt better for it, all the same. Around me, the darkness coalesced. It’s alive, I thought. I tried to stifle a scream as an image popped into my head-
thousands of millions of bugs crawling over me in the darkness biting scratching and running
-and was banished moments later by the Jackal’s next terrible oration:
“YOU WILL REMAIN HERE FOREVER,” it howled.
I know that voice, I thought vaguely.
After the voice came the footsteps.
I sensed – I could both feel the tremors and hear the steps – hundreds of them around me, pounding the floor in a rapid and terrifying rhythm. Rolling thunder, I thought crazily, and laughed. What little sanity I possessed was rapidly being eroded away by-
the darkness millions of bugs rolling thunder
-the Jackal and its influence over the Cave and, consequently, those inside it. I doubted if Ashley was still alive, that Samantha and Alex had escaped. I didn’t even think that Karen, Vincent and Jason had escaped alive. Even as I considered this, the Jackal howled again, the flat voice echoing throughout my dark prison.
“THEY ALL DIED. AS WILL YOU,” the Jackal roared in its expressionless tone, creating a queer wavering effect that hurt my ears. My throat burned from the lack of moisture. A headache pounded in my head and my ears throbbed, strangely in time with the footsteps. I’m just rolling thunder, I thought, and laughed crazily. Then, as I considered what the Jackal had said:
It can read my thoughts.
It was not such a fantastical idea. The Jackal had only ever spoken after I had had a thought. A coincidence? I think not, pardon the pun. I considered the mental connection an idea began to form. I stopped running and emptied my thoughts, banishing the sensory manipulations the Jackal used on me. The footsteps around me intensified but I heard none of it as I shut down my senses and opened my mind.
Then, exposed without the cloak of my previous panicked thoughts, I felt it.
The Jackal’s mind. It was a colossal, alien thing, like a structure too gargantuan for the human mind to comprehend. It would dwarf me, swallow my mind whole and leave me a gibbering wreck if I considered it for too long. It wasn’t even natural, let alone human. Thoughts and ideas seemed to be constructed in a fashion that was incomprehensible to the human mind.
In a word, the Jackal’s presence was dark.
As I felt its presence wash over me, I steeled myself and sprung the trap. Instantly, before the beast could retreat, I thought of light. A blinding supernova, more light than any human had ever witnessed. A bright inferno of light. I let the mental image expand in my mind – and over onto the Jackal’s colossal presence. I guessed that such a creature had never seen light, or if it had, it had spent so long underground, bathed in the darkness which it controlled, such light – even as an image – would do tremendous harm to it, considering that the Jackal’s mental abilities far outclassed my own.
I was right.
The instant the supernova-image touched the Jackal’s presence, a tremendous shriek filled the chamber, immediately overtaking all the phantom footsteps that had so tormented me. I grinned savagely despite the pain the high-pitched squeal caused my ears. That, at least, sounded vaguely human. It felt empowering to know that I had hurt the Jackal, probably badly. I heard rushing noises around me and opened my eyes.
Impossibly, the virulent darkness was retracting around me.
I spun wildly, in the grip of the receding darkness. As I moved, I glanced around me. I was in a huge chamber, one that extended far into the distance. I saw columns and pillars and carvings, and realised that this really was the Jackal’s-
-lair that had been the subject of the ominous cave paintings. I had no time to consider that, however, as the final darkness receded. The cave that was lit by light that had no source – my mental light, I thought – exposed its only occupant and that occupant’s slave.
Just like that, I saw them.
I could never truly describe the beast before me.
It wasn’t because I didn’t know the right way to articulate it – I knew exactly what to call it. I simply could not comprehend the Jackal. It was as if I were viewing it from the extremities of my peripheral vision; it was blurry and soft and weak, weak because it had no hard angles or edges. No matter how hard I looked, how much I stared, the Jackal remained hidden to me, a formless shape hidden under a veil of unreality. The cave paintings, carvings – whatever adjective I attached to them – were truer than I had thought, even after the Jackal had turned out to be real. They depicted a blurry, formless Jackal, and so it was.
Yes. I knew exactly what it was: indistinct.
Ashley, however, was not.
I looked at him in horror. His body was covered in blood, flesh and other less identifiable materials. I could count at least eight visible wounds and more red lines that I couldn’t distinguish from the gore saturating his form. A gaping wound cut across his stomach, revealing intestines, pink and rubbery. Blood flowed from multiple slashes on his arms and legs. He was probably dead, certainly unconscious. But that wasn’t the worst of it.
His entire right ear had been torn off clean from his head.
Bile rose in my throat as I stared at his prostrate form, horrified. The Jackal had done this to him. As I thought of the beast before me, I realised that the cavern around me was silent. The Jackal’s screech, so loud to begin with, had been cut off instantly some moments previous, unlike the gradual decline that was characteristic in humans.
Then again, it isn’t and has never resembled anything close to a human. I would wager every possession I own it has no similarity to any creature of this dimension. I can’t even begin to consider its true form.
Even as I watched, it got infinitely worse.
Until Ashley began to move through the air, I hadn’t even noticed that he had been airborne, so enthralled I had been by his ravaged body. Slowly, never wavering in speed, Ashley began to recede towards the blurry shape that represented the Jackal. I thought back to the carvings in horror. With every sacrifice, it gains form – and so a greater foothold in this dimension. I wanted to rush forward and tear Ashley from the Jackal’s thrall. But to come within reach of the creature would mean an unspeakable end, one that I would have already faced had I not wounded it with the psychic supernova.
Suddenly, Ashley stopped moving, mere metres from the Jackal, and I realised with a shock how the Jackal had previously communicated – through Ashley.
Now I know why I recognised that voice, even distorted as it had been.
Ashley’s mouth opened and from it roared the Jackal.
“YOU WILL SUFFER FOR USING THE GLOW AGAINST ME, SUFFER AS HE DID.” roared the grotesque Ashley/Jackal hybrid. Evidently, it only knew the light that had so hurt it as “the glow”. It didn’t matter. The important thing was that it had been hurt, and badly. I probed my mind. No trace of the Jackal’s presence remained. Apparently, that part of it, physically manifested in the virulent darkness, had been either destroyed or banished by my mental counterattack.
“Even if I meet my death here, beast, I will do my utmost to bring you with me.” I responded bravely. The saturating fear and accompanying thoughts which had so crippled me, both mentally and physically, was gone. Now I could see the Jackal – regardless of how well I could comprehend it – much of the terror that I had felt at the hands of it was gone, just like the virulent darkness. Even the voice was less intimidating now that it had a definitive source.
It spoke again.
“I HAVE CONSUMED MANY. THIS ONE IS THE LAST. I WILL BE FREE FROM MY PRISON.” The Jackal bellowed, drawing Ashley towards him.
“No.” I whispered.
I sprinted towards them. No matter the cost, even if it were my life or my sanity, I could not allow the Jackal to consume Ashley and escape whatever prison it was incarcerated in. Such a beast would wreak unimaginable destruction on the surface. I pulled a silver piece of equipment, the last thing I had taken from Ashley’s pack – the flare gun.
As the Jackal and the Ashley came together, I drew and fired.
The world exploded around me.