Only the sound of the boat gliding smoothly across the lake could be heard. In the midst of deathly silence, the hushed whisper of waves echoed like voices.
The wooden boat carried no passengers. It did, once. Here, the stone walls bore solemn witness to the story of a disfigured spirit—but that story and that spirit have since become fiction.
It was dark here. Damp and dark and musty, filled with shadows that chased away what little light the eye could see. The boat crept closer, closer, closer still to the indistinct edge where the water ended and cold stone began.
Eventually, the ghostly vessel bumped against a wooden dock. It drifted, wobbling unevenly in the black water. Had there been any passengers, they would have stepped, either lightly or anxiously, onto the corroded wood of the dock. Their steps would have veered clear of its jagged planks and wet, slimy moss.
And then they would have looked up.
And they would have seen nothing but inky black sky, despite being buried miles underground. So far up was the roof, in fact, that even strained eyes could catch no glimpse of it. With an immense ceiling, and time-sculpted walls, the space was an unsettling mirror image of the opera house
But unlike its sister hall up above, there were no ruby red satin banners. There were no gleaming chandeliers. There were no cheering audience members. No huzzah!, no Bravo!, no Encore! A human here would only sense a vast nothing. And yet, it felt smaller than any cage.
And far, far lonelier.
A table stood to one side. Someone had raked deep gouges into the age-worn wood, leaving angry, prominent scars. Stubs of candles littered the table, having long ago run out of wax to drip onto the faded paper beneath them.
“Don Juan Triumphant” read one page, covered in an inky scrawl.
“Christine, Christine…” read another. And strangely, it was blurred with water-warped and salt-stung tears.
What little brightness the squat candles threw was soon smothered by the oppressive darkness. There was no sound. The air was heavy, dense, thick. The darkness left no room to even breathe.
Walking deeper into the cave, and the chill of the cave would raise the hairs on a human neck—but the unease at the leering dark would accomplish the same.
Images of relics lay at the edge of vision. The glint of a gilded edge here, a broken pipe there.
At some point in time, all would have been cared for: the faces on a music box had been rubbed off by consistent fingers; an organ bench in the corner was overflowing with sheet music; a violin, bow still rosined, lay shattered on the floor.
But the oldest relic stood confidently, glaringly, backed by a wall of stone. It was a—
It was the throne
Made of sculpted wood, it gleamed in an unearthly light. Rosy velvet cushions adorned the back and the seat. Despite its scratched legs and ripped seams, everything about this throne oozed grandeur.
It was magnificent.
And it was dangerous.
A black cloak, half-on, half-off, pooled otn the seat and the floor. Despite its careless position, it resembled a dark cobra. Lazy and venomous. Protecting the abundant secrets that slept within caged stone walls.
And on top of it…
A pearly white mask.
It was smiling.