We wandered through the uneven stony gloom for what I think was around an hour, with our heading on a steady but relatively gentle downward slope. Against what I suspected, there wasn't much in the water of dripping water, pools, or anything like that. And the feeling of dread I had entering this place became thicker as I entered, until I realized I suddenly couldn't detect it anymore, as if the air were replaced with whatever I was sensing and it became 'normal'. And again, no one else seemed to pick up on it, as far as I could determine.
For the most part, I found the walk to be relatively pleasant once the sensation left me. The stone was mostly smooth but hardly frictionless, making it easy to walk upon. And the creatures down here seemed to be little else than critters, perhaps no bigger than a cat. Tulsan didn't seem particularly confronted by any of them, so I followed his lead on their level of threat.
After a point, the descent evened off a bit, but the path remained more or less linear, with gentle curves guiding us one way or another. We kept to relative silence beyond our footsteps, as our voices tended to echo and carry, which felt like a bad idea to indulge in.
However, we arrived at a curated passage of stone slabs with the color of iron oxide, which stood upright to the ceiling. Thin gaps spaced one from another and they were mainly featureless, except for simple etchings, as if they were little more than a canvas of rock. Tulsan motioned for us to come to a stop, so we took a moment to get our bearings, and spoke quietly.
"Look," said Rottkap. "There's little pictures on them. This one is a kangaroo. That one over there looks like a man with a spear, I think? And that one... hmm."
"It's a boab tree," whispered Tulsan, who seemed perfectly curious about them on his own.
"What do you make of this?" I asked him.
Looking them over, he tapped his chin thoughtfully. "Well, someone's been down here, no doubt. Why these are pictures from the surface, I don't know. Believe it or not, I've actually collected a few art pieces in my time, particularly the kind my ancient ancestors made. But this style doesn't seem quite like theirs. And if Xibalbans make art, I'm not well versed in it. I can tell you that these slabs are called 'stelas', for what it's worth. I've never seen them used like walls before."
"Ishmael, do your people make art like this?" I asked.
She tilted her head and made a wavering motion with her hand. "Eh. They're not really known for it. Although, I have heard stories of shadowmen making pictographs in the walls of the Subterranea. I don't know much in the way of details, unfortunately."
"Shadowpeople, eh?" I knew of them even back in Adelaide. Everyone heard rumors about their phantom shapes wisping about in the dark. But outside of my brief experience with Atacama when I brought Siouxsie back to unlife, I had little information about them, other than to avoid them entirely. Out of curiousity, I looked to my zombie companion, wondering if any of this rang a bell to her since she seemed a bit more aware of them, but there was no light of register upon her face.
"It's possible that this area was once closer to the surface," Ishmael then suggested. "The Subterranea, at least back in the day, had a weird quirk of dragging shadow heavy regions on Earth down into Xibalba for a time."
"Huh? I thought Earth was Xibalba." I didn't understand what she was referring to.
"Prior to the Herald Event, Xibalba was sort of a spiritual parallel with Earth. Try to think of it as the place all the magick went to during the age of science," she said. "After the end of the world, the two became intermixed proper. Now, there's no difference between what was Earth and what is Xibalba. It's... hard to explain, I suppose."
Tulsan grunted, nodding. "Basically, ancient Xibalba existed before anything else, but modern Earth came about with the rise of humanity, and Xibalba went on the back burner. Herald Event happens and bam, they're one and the same again. It's screwy."
"Yeah, kinda," chuckled Ishmael.
I got it in concept, but it was an odd idea. I never of it before. Even Bali-la didn't go into any real talk about it. Maybe it didn't matter to her?
"Hey, uh... this is a great history lesson and all, but there's stuff moving somewhere behind these slabs," said Rottkap, focused on the tiny cracks of space between the stelas. We went quiet again and listened.
Ishmael, however, was the first to notice visual movement, only moments later. "Incoming. From down the hall... they're getting closer," she whispered, barely audible.
"What is it?"
She squinted. "I can't tell. I think there's more than one, though."
"Ready up everyone. Rottkap, stay behind us," I whispered. My heart began to beat in my chest. What in the world was down here with us? And why were they here?