The Cenotaph

We are the last. With our death, we shut gates that must never be opened.  
— Translated engraving
Once hidden and condemned to the dark by rubble and time, Cenotaph have been unlocked once more. A sprawling complex of connected caves, hewn into shape with meticulous care by what must have been skilled artisans, it is a quiet tomb in the heart of Patala. Within it rests the bones of a folk, their names and stories lost to the darkness, consumed by time, just as they were consumed by what lurks in Patala.    

A Puzzle Of Bones

I am the last. There is no one else. No one to put my bones into place.  
— Engraving
The Cenotaph is a tomb the size of a city, with tunnels and caverns that reach for miles, with only parts still explored. Walls of bone stretch to the ceiling, hiding the stone behind them, with skulls stacked in neat patterns in the bone. In places, time has claimed its due and collapsed some vital support, resulting in bone fragments scattering the path into the Cenotaph.  
Few explorer are willing to brave the Cenotaph. It is a place beyond ill-omened, and even those not prone to superstition find it ominous.
 
by Atlas Obscura
Like the rest of Patala, the caverns are humid and moist. Some of the skulls are slick with water or a greasy corpse-wax, but nothing grows within the Cenotaph, neither mold nor fungi, or bone-chewing insects.   The air holds an echo of decay, all flesh long since rotted away, with wet bone and broken corpse-dust settling across the Cenotaph as an ever-present stench.
 
Among the human bones are the desiccated remnants of the occasional Shrike, dismembered and bound.
  Only dreams remain here; those who have slept in the Cenotaph see visions of some ancient past, when there was still light and life in Patala. Shifting dreams that turn into dark, until each of the caverns go dark, one by one. Few are willing to repeat the experience, and many fear that by opening the path to the Cenotaph, they have unleashed a great evil on Patala. Only fragments of the cuneiform symbols have been deciphered, and they have done nothing to dispel those worries.
Many of the skulls in the Cenotaph are damaged or mutilated, with many looking like the bone been flayed back from the inside.
Only three caverns of the Cenotaph have been explored so far, with several more still cloaked in gloom. Some believe that some great horde of treasure lies at the heart of the Cenotaph, the collected riches of a dead folk, ripe for the taking. Others fear the Cenotaph was locked beneath rubble and stone for a reason, and that whatever is in there can't be good.
Patala, the Descent   A recently discovered region of the Inner Shell, Patala is a cavernous realm of great, canyon-like tunnels and abyssal descents into further darkness. Deep within the winding grey halls and bone-strewn charnel pit lies the Cenotaph.   Early explorers thought they were the first to step foot in Patala, to caves that had never heard a human voice before. The Cenotaph told them otherwise, a stark warning of what might become of them, too.   Read More About Patala

The Pit of Bone

The path to the Cenotaph went through the Pit of Bones, a cavernous chasm filled with bones deep enough for a man to drown in them. It was once thought to be a single grave-chamber of some ancient folk, but turned out to be the first step into Cenotaph.   The Pit of Bones was the first time that settlers and explorers knew that they had not been the first in Patala; some hoped they might find survivors somewhere, an ancient folk who still lived deep in Patala. Others were less keen to share this new realm with old inhabitants.   So far, they've found only ancient corpses.
Some who slumber within the Cenotaph see a man among the scattered bones, patiently stacking them, one by one, all while surrounded by watching Shrikes.
 
by Unsplash



Cover image: by Jennifer Martin (Unsplash)

Comments

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23 Jul, 2022 17:13

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!!!!!!!!! I got chills reading this. Why did they open the tombs?? whyyyyy!!!!

23 Jul, 2022 18:25

For the adventure and treasure! :D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
23 Jul, 2022 18:27

If you ever write a novel or short stories about Patala, the Cenotaph or something like this, let me know. The more I learn and see the more I want to read stories about it.

You want to hear the voice of fire? I got you covered with my actual entry to the bard challenge: Amara Silverharp. You wanna see what we did for Summer Camp? This way please: Eddie's Summercamp
23 Jul, 2022 19:10

I think it might happen! After Summer Camp, I'll look at maybe writin' some short stories set there :D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
23 Jul, 2022 21:30

Yes please!

You want to hear the voice of fire? I got you covered with my actual entry to the bard challenge: Amara Silverharp. You wanna see what we did for Summer Camp? This way please: Eddie's Summercamp
Eternal Sage AmélieIS
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
28 Jul, 2022 17:47

ooooooooooh. Very intriguing ending... The temptation is great to just lay down there and ream to get all the answer. Or better, force other people to do so and then force them to speak XD At the end, it sounds either like that person controlled the shrikes -unlikely or they wouldn't have died - or like the shrike wanted the cenotaph to be closed and the whole area to be left alone... But then, they also seem to want people to feed on XD Unless the last -the engineer I guess? - had a way to only protect themselves... Is there something like rubbles that prevent people from just quickly exploring the rest of the cenotaph and so they have to clear the rooms slowly one by one?   And I want the short stories too! XD <3

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29 Jul, 2022 18:09

Thank you :D   And yeah! It's big and spooky and people think it's haunted for obvious reason, so people aren't plunging right in. It's just a question of how big it is, and the relatively low number explorers. :D   And I'm glad to hear that <3 I will definitely have to start thinkin' about what to write...


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.