Chapter 46 from the Ama audiobook
The mountain jutted from the desert like sharp flint through a vast leather hide, jagged at its base and then becoming a sheer, vertical wall of grey rock. It reached high into the dusty sky, disappearing into a simmering haze thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, of feet above. Its peak was obscured by the multitudinous inbound streams of sand, many veins crisscrossing the sky and feeding into the rock.
Jason reached out a hand and touched it. He expected his skin to burn as he placed his palm upon the rock, but it felt cold, with a smooth yet powdery surface. He pulled his hand away and looked at the powder that had coated his skin. A moment later the dust lifted, as if caught by the wind, and returned to the rock from which it came, leaving no trace on him to wipe away. Dust to dust.
He walked along the foot of the mountain, looking for the cave entrance and using the immense rock as support, trying to take the weight off his throbbing leg. He didn’t walk far before the cave presented itself, although his ears were first to receive proof of its existence, not his eyes.
Screams came at him like an avalanche of despair. If a rock had fallen from the side of the mountain, it wouldn’t have crushed him more than the sound of those screams. The cries vanished into abrupt silence. He froze.
The silence died as an immense growl erupted from the cave entrance. The call of a caretaker amplified to a level that caused Jason to shudder and a sickening feeling to weave a prickling path beneath his skin. In an instant the screams came again and joined the creature’s demonic call, as sharp as before and with no build-up of momentum. Vocalised pain like nothing he had heard before. The sound infected his body, sapping his muscles of the strength to move, and became a disease vehement in its assault on his nerves. The sound of pure agony silenced his mind and chipped away at the few remaining fragments of his will. He fell to his knees, still holding onto the rock as if he were hanging from its face far above. He peered into the darkness. The sounds stopped.
A moment passed before the thunderous cacophony exploded from the cave once more. A deafening cry of utter hopelessness in a sickening duet with the call of the creature. Jason felt sure the cries were coming from a man. Although, what state that man was in gave him an icy feeling of trepidation. Was the man being cremated by the caretaker and then set upon again the instant he was reborn and had opened his eyes? An eternal loop of death, rebirth, and death, without a moment’s reprieve. He turned and looked at the statues a few metres away, and then up at the airborne sand joining with the mountain.
Did it start with one? he wondered. How many would it take to build this mountain? He thought of the statues in his garden. There was one, now there are three. How many more would appear? If he were to stay in hell, a mountain of his own would be sure to form in time.
He realised he was alone. The other pilgrims he had passed while crossing the plateau had disappeared. The statues remained as his only company, still and unmoved by the sound of sorrow emanating from the cave.
With great effort, he stood, getting to his feet proving to be a colossal act of determination. The screams coming from the mouth of the cave threatened to knock him back down again. This will all end, he assured himself, if he could find the nerve to go and find what Lilith had left in there for him. If he could venture into the cave and ignore the sound and probable sight of cruelty, he would be allowed to leave this place. The demon bitch was playing a game with his fear and counting on it stopping him from claiming victory. His life, the prize, was waiting for him. All he had to do was take these few final steps.
He took a step forward, paused, and then took another and another, until the darkness within the cave consumed him.