There was no doubt about what Kaellax had just said, but the group didn’t want to believe it. No one on the World Ship knew what a Yunai was two years ago. After a brief run-in with one on World Ship 2296, Elsie and the Explorer’s Group had dedicated an entire research division to learning as much about the creatures as they could.
“A Yunai?” Timothy asked, his voice rising in panic. “You mean the dark and mysterious spirit that can, supposedly, possess someone’s body and use it for their own nefarious purpose?”
Kaellax looked at him with an impressed nod. “Yes… more or less.”
“So there’s a monster out here other than George?” Willa asked. “So now we know what happened to the six campers. Mission accomplished. Let’s get back home.”
Kaellax pursed her lips. “It’s not that easy. The creature, had it encountered your campers, would have surely possessed at least one of them. The Yunai are relentless. It would have come for you all. They went missing almost a year ago. The dates don’t add up.”
“We should consider ourselves lucky and report back,” Timothy agreed. “If Elsie or the others want to send reinforcements to figure this out, that’s up to them.”
“Time is short,” Kaellax said, turning her attention to the other three. “Timothy, I agree with you in part. You should return to your vehicle and warn the others. Your leadership should be alerted that a Yunai is out here.”
“What about us?” Willa asked. “You’re not suggesting we stay out here?”
“It has to be done,” Kaellax said. “I’m afraid you might already be out of time.”
“If this creature has been out here a whole year and hasn’t bothered us, then it can wait until we get support from Town,” Timothy chimed in confidently. “Flynn will—”
“The Yunai are creatures that exist between two realities,” Kaellax interrupted him. “When they start to grow active in our reality, they emit greater energy. That’s how I track them. I was drawn here by one Yunai, but when I arrived I felt a second presence. That second presence has been growing more active each day. It’s building to something, and it’s going to act on it sooner than later. My gut tells me we need to act now.”
“I’ll go with you,” Brecken finally chimed in. “I have to know what happened out here. It sounds like you are our best bet in getting that answer.”
“Ugh, seriously?” Willa asked. “If you’re going, then I’m coming too.”
Timothy looked back up toward the vehicle at the top of the cliff. “You guys sure?”
“Go ahead,” Brecken added. “Kaellax is right. If something does happen to us, they’ll need to know what is out here.”
Timothy returned to the vehicle, then sent down a pack of extra supplies before rushing back toward civilization. The others felt uneasy listening to the roar of the large truck as it faded away, but Brecken felt strangely confident about Kaellax’s presence. She had an aura around her that felt supernatural. He still wasn’t sure that he trusted it, but nothing about her gave him pause, so he let her take the lead.
Not long after they set off into the darkness, the three spotted a glowing aura. They approached carefully until they reached a clearing in the forest and got a better look at the scene. The undergrowth was low here, and in the middle of the open field was a large home. It was odd enough to see a house here, but this place was covered in lights from top to bottom. Not a single inch of the place was unlit from the outside, and the lights extended well beyond the home’s perimeter too, shining out into the open field.
“That’s impressive,” Kaellax said as she stepped toward the structure.
“What am I looking at?” Willa asked with a face of complete shock.
“A heavily improvised containment system,” Kaellax replied. “At least that’s my guess.”
“Containment system?” Willa asked. “Like, a prison?
The shrill scream from before echoed again. This time it was ear-piercingly loud, and it was unmistakable that the sound was coming from inside the brightly lit home that Kaellax was currently approaching.
“#&*% that,” Willa said, stepping back. “The Yunai is in that house?!”
Kaellax nodded, still going.
“So now we know where not to go,” Brecken said. “Right? Why are you still walking?”
For a moment, Kaellax did stop. She looked around the house, slowly, then nodded as if he had made perfect sense. “Perhaps you’re right. It’s lasted a year. Perhaps this containment system really is the—”
She went silent as one of the small lights illuminating the home flickered. It didn’t go out, but it dimmed ever so slightly before returning to its normal brightness. It was noticeable enough that the three of them knew why Kaellax had gone silent.
“Is that bad?” Brecken asked.
Kaellax sighed. “The lights are the containment. If even one of them goes out, the Yunai may be able to escape. They move through shadows the same way a fish swims through water. Those lights are dams holding back that creature, but if they go out then it escapes into the darkness all around. It would be impossible to track, but the damage it can do would also be immeasurable.”
“What are you suggesting we do?” Brecken asked. “Go in there after it?”
“We need to keep those lights on,” Kaellax replied.
“How exactly?” Willa asked. “None of us are electrical engineers.”
“You’re a smart pair,” Kaellax said. “We can figure it out together.”
“I do have experience with electrical work,” Brecken added. “I helped wire up the treehouse campsite”
“Of course you did,” Willa groaned.
“So you’ll be coming with me?” Kaellax asked, gesturing forward.
“Wait,” Willa said, holding fast. “How do we know this isn’t just a trap? You knew where the camper was. You’re the one that’s been leading us here. Brecken and I both saw you look toward the sound in the night before we heard anything. For all that we know, you’re the one that lured the campers out here and fed them to the Yunai.”
“I did no such thing,” Kaellax said. “We don’t have time for this. If I wanted to hurt you I could have done it ages ago.”
Willa and Brecken both shifted uncomfortably.
“I mean it,” Kaellax replied, extending an arm toward each of them. “I’ll show you.”
The two watched in horror as the darkness around Kaellax seemed to manifest itself, shifting and moving, then lashing out at them. Brecken opened his mouth to scream but the darkness surrounded him, silenced him, holding his voice in the night. He struggled to breathe as the wall of inky black pressed in on him from all sides. The forest, Kaellax, Willa, it all faded into total black. He struggled against it, but the realization set in that he was completely helpless. His mind raced with the nightmares that the campers must have felt just before they too were claimed by this monstrosity.
Then, the darkness receded as quickly as it had come.
Kaellax stood there, her eyes glowing with a brilliant purple hue, as the darkness pulled back, vanishing within her own form until it was like nothing had happened at all.
He looked to Willa. She had collapsed on the ground and was gasping for fresh air. It was clear that Kaellax had done the same thing to her.
“I could have ended you before you knew I existed,” Kaellax spoke with a seriousness that hadn’t existed until now. “I am not your enemy. The Yunai will not be so kind. I can help you keep this World Ship safe, but you must help me too.”
“How can we possibly help you?” Brecken asked, rubbing his throat. “You used some kind of magic or something we’ve never seen before. If the Yunai can do that too, we’re useless against it.”
“No,” Kaellax replied. “Not useless. You exist in this physical reality. You can repair the lights and make sure this thing doesn’t escape its prison. I can keep it at bay until you’re finished, but I will need your help.”
Surprisingly, it was Willa that agreed first.
“Okay,” she said, standing up and looking strangely determined. “We get inside and find the controls for the light prison thing. Brecken gets it fixed, then we bail. Meanwhile, you’re going to keep the Yunai busy with your dark magic or whatever.”
“That’s the plan,” Kaellax said.
“Then let’s get this over with.”
The front porch of the structure was the first place where the group encountered darkness after walking through the extremely bright lights that surrounded it. A hole in the wood decking revealed a lurking doom below. It was just darkness, but somehow it looked different. After what Brecken had seen, he wasn’t sure if it was his mind playing tricks on him, but Kaellax ignored it, so he did too. They reached the front door and found it hanging open, so Kaellax stepped inside without delay.
Inside, a dusty foyer welcomed them. It didn’t look terribly old, or particularly impressive. The walls were built with little care for detail. What areas had wallpaper clinging to them looked patched together from scraps of leftover remnants from other projects. Bracken used his flashlight to look down the three hallways that branched off from the entryway, but he couldn’t make out much.
“There,” Willa said, pointing toward the ceiling.
Brecken adjusted his light and saw it too. A thick electrical cable was hanging from the support beams. It ran along one of the hallways, disappearing into the darkness where his light couldn’t reach. “That has to be the power line for this whole setup. We can follow it and—”
An inky black tendril lashed out from the darkness. It grabbed Brecken by the ankle, and he yelped as he angled his flashlight toward it. The tendril vanished when the light encroached, freeing him for a moment. He barely had a chance to recover before Willa screamed too. He snapped his light to her, and the darkness retreated again. She recovered and had her own flashlight ready to go, realizing how he had weaponized the light.
The two of them spun around while Kaellax watched with almost no interest.
Brecken was starting to think Willa’s theory was right. She was too calm. She was too comfortable with everything that was unfolding here.
The tendrils continued to poke and probe the lights, trying to sneak around the waving and thrashing, but they were beaten back each time. Brecken wondered how long they could keep this up, and he was about to say as much when he felt an icy chill sweep down the hallway. He turned to the direction it had come and in the darkness, he saw a shape. It looked like a person, darkness surrounded by more darkness, but somehow distinguishable.
He heard it speak in a whisper.
“Follow where I go. I can give you everything you want. I can give you all that you will ever need. You will be safe under my control… just let me in.”
Brecken could feel something twisting through his mind like the creature was wrapping itself around his very being. The world got fuzzy. The shadow was consuming him. He tried to fight back, but he didn’t know where to being or how to even attempt to resist.
He was lost.
Then, he felt the tightening grip release. A bright flash of light forced the creature to retreat once more. The whisper was silenced, the cold air warmed, and Brecken was free.
“Go,” Kaellax said, holding a burning flare in her right hand. “Use the torches to light your path. I’ll keep this thing occupied. Fix the lights.”
Brecken and Willa took off without another word on the matter. They fled down the hallway, following the hanging power cable as they went.
The hallway itself wasn’t terribly long as far as Willa could tell. They passed by two bedrooms, one of which she peeked into as she ran by. It was too dark to tell for sure, but she was certain he saw the shape of a body inside. Swallowing her fear, she forced the thought out of her mind and focused on their objective.
They reached a metal circular staircase that spiraled up and away. The power cable hung there, snaking up the climb.
“The highest point in the house,” Willa grumbled. “That seems right.”
She took a step, then screamed.
Brecken had his flashlight ready, shining it in every direction, but Willa covered her mouth and pointed down at the ground.
They saw the remains of a person.
A young woman from the look of it.
Willa’s heart sank. They had already long ago assumed that the campers had met their end inside this place, but seeing the evidence firsthand was disheartening. A loud screech from down the hallway broke his moment of sorrow and she pushed on Brecken, forcing him to start up the stairs.
They could hear the sounds of clashing from the hallway below. It was all so foreign and evil to Willa, but she pressed on. Kaellax, for whatever reason, had given them a chance to help save this World Ship and that was what they planned to do.
They reached the top of the stairs and spilled into a small observation room with a thick glass ceiling and plenty of electrical equipment that was all wired up in a bundle of cable management that would make anyone concerned. There were entire spools of unused wire and other bundles that looped in a circle dozens of times before connecting to something less than a few inches from the original point. It was shocking to believe that any of this worked at all.
“Help me find the problem,” Brecken said as he started to sift through the cables. “We’re looking for an exposed conduit, frayed connections, or anything that could be weakening the power draw to the lights.”
Willa did as he asked, searching through the bundles until she managed to spot something that did indeed look out of the ordinary, or at least compared to the rest of the chaos around her. She pulled Brecken over and he nodded in approval.
“This has to be it,” he said, turning the cable over to reveal frays and loose connections. “It looks like it was spliced together in a rush. I can fix this. It’s a straightforward job. I’ll need supplies. Find me a loose bundle of wires and I can cut a piece to replace this one. We need to make sure it’s not connected to something else, though.”
“Right,” Willa said. “I’m on it.”
She started pulling on cables, gently, looking for one that had some give or might be disconnected. It was an absolute web of connections and cables. She moved closer to the stairwell as she poked and prodded the cables, hoping for the one that would give them what they needed.
Then, she felt the air around her going cold.
She looked up at the stairwell and saw it.
A figure, a shadowy outline within the darkness itself. It was unmistakable and yet impossible to see at the same time. It loomed menacingly at the entrance of the observation room and she heard whispers emanating from its very being.
She couldn’t understand the words. It was talking, but it wasn’t talking to her.
The figure shifted, then snapped forward, causing her to reel backward. She was certain that it was coming to consume her or whatever it did to those poor campers, but as she tumbled to the ground she realized she was unfazed.
She recovered and stood up, looking to the sound of her name. She saw the woman, Kaellax, now standing in the doorway where the figure had been.
“It was just there,” Willa said. “I think—”
Willa heard the heavy footsteps approaching. She instinctively jumped to her left and just missed a crashing metal chair. She fell into a roll and then scrambled back up to see Brecken there with the crumpled chair in his grip. He looked like the color had drained from his face, and his expression was blank. It was like life itself had been stolen from him, and when he looked at her she saw a purple glow in his eyes, just like Kaellax…