Dare
rating: +1+x
  1. Follow the arrows and don't deviate from the path, else you get lost.
  2. Ignore everything you hear or see. The things you can't see are much more dangerous.
  3. Only take your target with you. You will know it when you see it. Don't touch anything else.

Three simple rules. I have internalized them, but I still check the crumpled note on my hands like it could suddenly reveal more to me. Besides these hints, it contains an address, a number which I assume is the code to a combination lock, and a recap of my mission. Retrieve the target from the Drain. The 'target' is underlined, whilst 'the Drain' is written in double strokes and double the size of the other text.

I sigh and fold the paper back together. It's deep in the night and I'm standing in some abandoned back alley in the outskirts. I'm probably the first person in quite a while to set foot in here. An outsider would never find themself stray through the tangled network of side streets to end up here, and the locals know better than to do so. Not like the stench of the trash cans lining the way wasn't enough to drive everyone away.

Black paint is smeared over a bare brick wall. At first glance, it looks like an ordinary graffiti tag, but I can make out the shape of an arrow pointing to a rusty metal door to the side. It's secured with a simple cable lock. I enter the code from memory and it snaps open. The door is either heavier than it looks, or jammed, because it takes me both hands and considerable effort to open it.

I enter in the room behind and fumble for a light switch. The fluorescent tube takes an awful while before it flickers on and emits a steady hum. I'm in some sort of back room. Shelves full of worthless old scrap and spare parts line the walls. A sticker on one of the shelves shows an arrow in faded colours. It points to a staircase in a corner of the crowded room. I make my way through the mess and descend the stairs.

They take me into a basement of sorts. The walls are tiled with cold white tiles. Pipes run across the ceiling and down the walls. Steel railings hang from above. This place reminds me of a slaughterhouse. I can hear water dripping somewhere in the dark. At least I hope its water. I look around for another light switch, but find nothing. Great.

I get my flashlight out of my backpack. One of those wilderness survival type models, heavy and robust enough to double as cudgel, should the need arise. I also got my trusted Desert Eagle with me, should I have to absolutely, positively make a hole into someone — or something. I draw it. Not like I'm scared, but you never know what crazy shit you may encounter in this job. I hold my flashlight and the gun in that crossed grip I learned from cop shows — I'm apparently not due proper training until I have proven myself.

The shadows cast by the railing move with the shine of my flashlight. As I slowly inspect the basement, it creates the constant feeling of something being in my peripheral vision. I search for a sign, but instead find brownish smears. Some of them look like handprints — in a height I couldn't reach even when I jump. Wait. TI found a metal tag with an arrow on it, pointing deep into the dark. It reads '250 m'.

I turn into that direction and try to count my steps as I walk. This place is too big to be a regular basement — it must reach underneath nearby buildings as well. I end up in front of a wall, a hatch in the floor at its foot. The hatch creaks as I open it and reveals a maintenance ladder which i promptly climb down.

I reach the end of a narrow corridor with bleak concrete walls. Thick pipes and cables take up most of the space. Although there are lamps on the ceiling, calling this place 'illuminated' would be exaggerated. A phosphorescent arrow is helpfully pointing in the only direction I can progress anyway. The only sounds are my echoing steps, my own breath and water rushing through the pipes. One could be forgiven to think of this place as eerie.

After about 30 meters, I can hear the hatch creak behind me. I turn around, but find nothing — Yeah, I get it, this place is ominous. I continue onwards and arrive at a small room. Two other corridors like the one I came from branch off it. In the other wall is a large window reinforced with wire mesh. The area behind it is hazy, the shine of my flashlight reveals only a few slowly shifting silhouettes. I'm not sure whether I'm just imagining things, but I believe to hear a faint scratching. There's a control console in one part of the room — the control lamps for light and ventilation are off, but the one for 'Inhibitors' is lit. Next to them are two gauges, simply titled 'L' and 'D'. The former is somewhere in the yellow scale, but the needle of the other one is at the very end of the critical area marked in deep red. Uh oh.

I'm looking for a clue on where to go next and eventually find a piece of duct tape with an arrow scribbled on it. It points to the button of a service lift right next to it. I press it and the lattice door slides open. The lift takes me down into a large tunnel. The smell alone tells me I arrived in the sewers. Yuck.

The white arrows painted on the walls are easy to follow and guide me through the subterranean labyrinth. Interestingly, most of these sewers don't appear to run any sewage through them. Not like I'm complaining.

I suddenly feel silly running with drawn weapon through the sewers. Civil engineers go here every day, after all. I holster my pistol but keep the flashlight in hand. The batteries should last a couple of days, so I don't need to conserve any charge.

Turning around the next corner, a massive gate stares me down. It bears black and yellow markings and has '9B' written on it. A nearby warning sign tells me in big bold letters that this is a 'RESTRICTED AREA. UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS IS STRICTLY FORBIDDEN.' I open it by turning a wheel recessed in the wall. Since I'm moving the entire gate with my muscle power, it takes a while until I can fit through.

Behind it is another identical gate with another wheel to turn. This one closes the gate behind me whilst simultaneously sliding the other open. The air behind it is hot and dry — but definitely smells better.

The tunnels here are clearly not part of the normal canalisation. This looks more like an elaborate bunker or something. I notice there are lamps, but yet again no light switch. Of course not, couldn't risk the creepy atmosphere. Goddammit. Off I go into the facility.

I have read the file on the Drain, and I understood approximately nothing about it. Sometimes I get the feeling the eggheads don't understand it either and thus make up some vaguely science-y sounding mumbo-jumbo to cover their arses. The best explanation I got was by the guy who gave me this mission.

Everyone has hopes and dreams, which can form into a wish. And sometimes, wishes come true. But what is about worries and nightmares? They too sometimes come true. These are monsters, born from people's worst fears. When we lived in the woods, those monsters were exceptionally rare. But now we live cities, millions of us, densely packed, and even the rare becomes common. Our sorrows would seep into the ground and clump together, if it weren't for the Drain taking them away. But sometimes it also drains a wish by accident. And then somebody must go down there and get it back.

And that somebody happens to be me — the rookie. Well, I guess everybody has to begin somewhere.

The arrows suddenly point to a chute in the wall. Please, God, no. I wave my flashlight in case it could have missed some alternate meaning, but it looks like this is the way to go. I touch the metal. It is warm. Not hot, but still uncomfortable to crawl through. My backpack is too large to keep it on, so I take it off and push it through. The chute leads downwards in an almost 45° angle and is incredibly claustrophobic, but I make it to the other side, one level deeper.

Seems like the arrows here were sprayed in red paint. Going all back this way later is going to be pain. I decide to make a short pause to drink something against the stifling heat when I hear something. A howling — it almost sounds like intelligible speech.

"Mmmmmmmoh-moh!"

I'm not sure what makes these noises, but it must mean I'm getting closer to the Drain. I pack up my bottle, because no matter what they say, I don't want to encounter the source of this sound up close.

Sadly, the source seems to see this differently. It is following me. Deagle time. Just in case.

The hallways end all of a sudden in a large cave. I completely have lost track of where I am in relation to the surface, but this must be somewhere far outside the city. No such massive cavity could exist undetected in the city centre — or could it?

The rock surrounding me is black and lacklustre. Empty tents and other remains of an excavation stand around the otherwise empty area. Compared to the abandoned facility, this place is cold. I shiver.

One of the tents is build over a shaft leading down into another cavern. An arrow is drawn in chalk, telling me to go down there. Deeper.

"Mmmmmmmoh-mmmoh!"

Fuck. That was right behind me. I slide down the smooth rock ramp. I barely notice the shafts and tunnels I'm rushing through. I never though myself able to duck and squeeze through so many narrow passages so fast — but whatever is behind me is just as agile and picking up pace.

"Mmmmmmmmmmoh-moh! Moh-moh!"

'Just ignore them' my ass. These screams are nothing like I've ever heard before. I make the mistake of looking over my shoulder. What is that thing? It looks like somebody tried to create a praying mantis from human parts. All the limbs and joints are somehow bend the wrong way. This doesn't looks like the sort of bogey that gives up just because I blasted its brains out.

I arrive at a point where the passage I've been following splits into two. I try to make out an arrow, but suddenly freeze in my tracks. There is not one arrow, but two, pointing in both directions. Fuck. I have no time to think. I need to get that thing off my neck first.

I spin around and fire without aiming — my bullets strike nothing. But not because I missed, but because that creature disappeared. It was right behind me just a second ago, now there is only a damp empty cave. I do a full scan for hostiles, but find myself completely alone in the bellies of the ground. What the actual fuck is going on?

I lean back and breath a sigh of relief. And I am relieved. At least until I notice I still have no idea where to go now. I pull myself together and turn around to compare the two paths. When I leaned against the wall, I smudged one of the chalk arrows. I guess that's also a solution and take the route of the remaining arrow.

Two more arrows — this time luckily lone ones like the rest — direct me to the bank of a subterranean river. At least I think it is a river. The liquid is smooth and black, but permanently rippling, as if it is alive. The blackness is strangely gleaming — shining darkness. A pier of petrified wood leads me out onto the river. I can make out a waterfall — or nightmare sludge-fall, whatever — in the distance. This must be the Drain.

I survey the river, and spot multiple objects floating atop of it. Mostly junk — perhaps keepsakes. 'You know it when you see it' — after the first two rules being utter bullshit, why did I expected this one to be different? Yet I still don't feel like angling for random objects would be a good idea.

Then I spot something. A small book, bound in a pink cover sporting a cartoon pony. A diary for little girls. I don't know what makes me think that, but it just feels like it is something special — something important to someone. I could use my flashlight to reach for it, but immediately realize what a stupid idea that would be, because it means letting the darkness draw even closer. Still, I see no other way to get the book out of the Drain without walking all the way back.

As I hold my flashlight by its very end, its cone of light reduced to a single bright spot on the river, lying on my stomach to get that book out. I tell myself my goosebumps are only from the cold, but deep within I know that there are things lurking in the shadows. The definitely-not-water is viscous, like tar. I'm not as much pulling the diary to me as I am beating it closer.

I have to the pull it out with my bare hands — should have brought some disposable gloves. The liquid is putting up some resistance against me lifting the book. My muscles feel weak like before a fainting spell. But I somehow manage to remove it anyway and put it into my backpack, also using the chance to reload my gun.

With that done, all that's left to do is getting back out. Easy. If I could get down here, climbing back up will be a cakewalk, no reason to be afraid. I nod to affirm myself. Yes, I am not afraid. Only somewhat concerned because I haven't memorized the last part of the way during the chase.

The ground is slippery. Wonder how I didn't slipped earlier. I can feel a faint air draught coming from the Drain. The more I backtrack through this cave system, the more I have to think how these passages look like they were meant to be wandered. The floor is to even, and although there are many choke points, none of them were any real struggle for me with my backpack. It's like the Drain was meant to be discovered.

The route back seems longer than I remember it — I guess the adrenaline warped my perception. Or some anomalous shit did. I keep coming across arrows pointing the other direction occasionally, so I must still be on the right track.

In the distance is a dim red glow. The reflection of a reflection on the smooth stone. It's in the direction I am going, leaving me no other choice than walking towards it. I'm now at the ramp I slid down earlier and have to climb it with everything above me being tinted in deep crimson. The half struck tents make for a bleak scenery in this red light.

Only a few steps before I'm back in the facility's tunnels, the light suddenly disappears. I wince at the sudden darkness. This place is playing tricks on me. Too bad I'm a badass Insurgent in the making and not a little pussy. I'm already more than halfway done with my mission and I have a gun. Just keep walking.

I decide to hum a melody to calm my nerves. Unable to concentrate on any particular song, I end up improvizing an out of tune one myself. It takes me around a couple corners until I realize that I'm openly broadcasting my position to the human mantis and any of its friends that might be listening. I don't want to encounter them whilst squeezing myself through a chute. I better shut my mouth.

Apropos that chute — I nearly missed it. I can't imagine what would have happened if I walked past it — getting lost and walking this place until I collapse. I make my way through it, shoving my backpack in front of me through it.

As I reach the upper level, I hear a clicking sound. I point my flashlight at the source of the sound and reveal a vaguely humanoid creature. It looks like every spot of its body is covered in leeches. It doesn't move. I carefully fully raise out of the chute. Another click. The creature jerks forwards. I hold my breath. For a long moment, I just stare at it, until I'm sure it won't move again.

I calmly aim for where I suspect its head and fire a .357 Magnum round into it.

It seems like it dodged the bullet by charging a couple meters forwards in the very same moment. But it shows no sign of continuing to chase after me. I slowly take a step backwards. Another clicking sound and the entity draws closer. It only moves when I do. Interesting. I take three steps back in quick succession, and it advances three times. That confirmed my theory.

Unless it decides to suddenly break the rules, I should be able to deal with this monster. I turn on one foot only and continue backtracking my route with extra long steps.

"Click. Click. Click. Click. Click."

Every few steps, I ascertain its position. It dawns on me that each of its advances covers slightly more space than my longest leaps from one foot to the other. Not by much, but it is slowly getting closer every time I move. I check my surroundings, and see a gate labelled '4A' at the the end of one corridor branching off this one. I could go and try exit there — ignoring the first rule I was given. Tempting, but I rather play it safe. Even if playing safe means being chased by some leech-covered hulk.

Sticking to my old path, I continue tracing back the arrows. The monster is getting close enough so I can hear the whirring inside of it, but I can make out gate 9B in the distance. This is going to be goddamn close. When I reach the first wheel to turn, its only an arm's length away from me. I crank open the gate and make leap. I'm now between the two gates, but so is the monster. The slimy leeches are visibly wriggling.

I operate the interior wheel until enough of a gap opened, through which I throw my backpack. I ready myself for the final jump out. What would happen if I land improperly and instinctively take a few steps to keep my balance? Better not think about it.

I leap forwards and land just in reach of the outer wheel. The thing after me almost touches me. It's standing directly in the sliding path of the gate. Fuck. I have no other choice than to try closing it anyway. I move the wheel with the one arm that can reach it and turn it painfully slowly. The halves slide close just as slow, until they pinch the monster between.

I focus all my strength and continue turning against the resistance. The gates do indeed move, slowly squashing the thing. I take a step. No clicking. I somehow was expecting it to jump unharmed from between the gates. But no such thing happens. Cool. That's probably my first confirmed kill.

I never though I would be happy finding myself in the sewers, but they are the most comfortable area so far. I make my way through them quick and unobstructed until I'm back at the service lift.

Even from down here I can hear something in the control room is not right. Thumping and distant screeching. I still press the button to get up. The soundscape is growing more agitated as I ascend.

Some horribly disfigured creatures are throwing themselves against the observation window, leaving bloodied marks. Those which have apparently broken their legs in an attempt to break through continue smashing their heads against it.

I do the only rational thing and run. Just one long corridor to follow. Should they get out, I'll know at least where they'll be coming from. I reach the ladder and start hastily climbing it. The hatch above is closed. I pry it open with a single thrust. Fear really makes you stronger.

The basement above has changed. Body bags are hanging from the ceiling, tightly wrapped in tape. They are twitching. I don't have time for that. I sprint like I never sprinted before until I see the exit.

Taking three steps at once, I almost trip but somehow make it up the stairs in no time and rush through the back room, throwing stuff of the shelves in my hurry. Only one door separating me from freedom now. Using all my momentum, I kick it open with a loud bang and stumble into the clear night outside.

A man in casual attire is with me in the alley, not a bit surprised to see me bust out of that door.

"Did you got what we need?"

Heavily panting, I take off my backpack and open it to give him the diary. He takes a close look at it, turning it in his hands, before throwing it in the trash behind him.

I try to find my words.

"Nothing down the Drain was actually dangerous. This was all just a test."

He nods in agreement.

"And… did I pass?"

"How many bullets did you fire?"

"Uh… four, I think?"

"And did you killed anything?"

"I think so. But not with my gun."

"Then yes."

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