With white fog coming out of my mouth, I used both my hands to tighten the clothes as much as possible to my body as I approached the source of this predicament, all at the same time as I regretted not having grabbed footwear to cover my feet when I was in the women’s room.
Even so, I wasn’t too regretful for having forgotten it, as walking barefoot has been what has allowed me to keep my balance in this area covered with mud and frost, where one false step could bring me to the ground.
As if I had returned to the entrance, the mud covered my toes completely, causing them to suffer from the unpleasant pain of frostbite.
Despite this, I did not stop or turn back, so after a while, I reached my destination, the spot in front of the completely frozen room, which was as if it was enclosed inside a large ice cube.
It was what I assumed would have been necessary to perform such a feat. After all, something like this couldn’t be caused by Mother Nature… maybe.
‘‘I… underestimate… the old man…’’
Just standing here, over time, became a challenge since I couldn’t even speak without pausing between words to breathe.
Moreover, when, moved by curiosity, I tried to touch it with one of my hands, before even coming into contact, the cold air it gave off sent stabs of pain through my skin and muscles to my bones, a pain equal to or worse than the one I felt in my feet. So, in the end, I not only refrained from doing so but also stepped back to position myself flush against the wall opposite the door.
Having experienced such suffering, I thought about leaving here. At the end of the day, the fact that no one was beside me meant that the others had continued to go deeper, so I still had a way to go if I wanted to reach them.
However, I finally decided to stay a little longer since it was impossible for me to ignore all this. I could not do so as long as the transparency of the ice allowed me to see what was hidden inside.
So, squinting my eyes, I focused my vision, ready to observe any detail that would tell me what had happened, as well as any trace of death that would indicate if there was a corpse there.
Without much difficulty, I obtained results.
The first thing I noticed were several slabs of thick and elongated stones, which were being held up by blocks of the same material while they were arranged at equal distances from each other as if they were beds.
A room to rest? I thought, although that assumption was soon discarded when I saw that, apart from those structures, the place was empty, very different from the other room where I had been, since in that place there were trunks where the women kept their clothes, along with rustic chairs, and even a small enclosed space that appeared to be a bathroom.
Lacking all that, it would not be able to share the same use.
‘… anyway, it doesn’t matter’
From that, I stopped thinking about it, as even if I knew what the correct answer was, I wouldn’t get any benefit from it. Then, turning my head, I fixed my gaze on something else that caught my attention.
What I was looking at were the various inscriptions engraved on the walls, for I was able to recognize them as identical to those that were in the place where Tinny resided when he was still alive, despite never having seen the latter with my own eyes, with the only difference being that these were in a deplorable state.
Cracked, with pieces of rock torn off and thrown down, or with huge cracks that prevented the recognition of its original appearance, so large were they that started from the ground to fracture part of the roof, so if it were not for the solid ice that supported its weight, the site would probably have collapsed.
New questions formed in my head, but not finding even a human trace inside, I lost interest in staying here, suffering from a vain pain that slowly blackened the soles of my feet. Therefore, I decided to leave, and this time it was definitive.
Although, before I did so, by mere coincidence rather than skill, I faintly caught a glimpse of something at the back of the room that, because of the angle at which I was standing, I had ignored until now. It was a pit at least two meters wide, from which a faint, almost indiscernible, red light was radiated.
‘‘… I see’’
Upon saying that, I resumed my walk.
Along the way, I came across places I didn’t know existed here. Some were half-finished rooms, while others, despite being completed, seemed to have been intentionally destroyed, with areas collapsed or even some parts partially charred.
Apparently, this site contained a lot more history than I thought.
But, all these were overshadowed when I came across a branch of the cave, which seemed to have been created as a mining area to extract the white crystals growing from the walls and ceiling. Still, what caught my attention was that it was deeper than what I could perceive at first sight since my eyes, even when focused, could not see the end of it.
Again, the innate curiosity invaded me, urging me to enter to know what was hidden inside, but I refrained from doing so to continue the search for the others. Although, in my mind, I kept this location in case it was necessary to go back.
The minutes passed, making it increasingly clear to me how long this corridor was, and although I hadn’t noticed it before, now that I was taking each step in total concentration, I realized that it was sloping downwards.
Thus, no matter how far I walk, I will never see the other side of the hill.
I shivered at that new knowledge. After all, I was still not over my fear of tight places, so adding that this one was several feet underground didn’t help me calm down.
Still, that didn’t stop me, so soon after, I caught sight of a light coming out of a door frame, along with elongated human shadows. Finally, I reached the group.
Being so close to my destination, I slowed my steps, for it was then that I began to hesitate. I feared that the giant had become annoyed with me because of my delay, that he believed I had disobeyed him by cowardly running away.
In the end, knowing that the longer it took, the greater his anger would be, I got to where they were, a place where I witnessed an unpleasant scene, one that would probably have made me vomit instantly if it weren’t for the resistance to this kind of thing that I had gained over time.
Before me was a cave made entirely of natural form, one which was as strangely beautiful as it was macabre when illuminated by the few inscriptions in good condition, which the old man, present, had so far arranged.
Besides that, I also realized that it was pretty cold in here despite it being incomparable to what I felt next to the block of ice that I passed by, even though it was so much that if it weren’t for the garment that covered me, I would be shivering like a newborn deer, just like the other boys my age, who in a corner, not far from the entrance, were huddled together to share the warmth.
That, however, seemed to be a problem that only affected the younger ones, as the adults, either because their bodies had finished growing or they had managed to adapt due to arduous training, lay indifferent on the frozen ground.
Yes, those big guys were face down, with evident marks of blows or even bloody wounds, lying under the feet of the giant, who, with his fists clenched, appeared to be the one who had hit them.
‘Why? What did they do to deserve such a beating?’
Momentarily, I questioned that, so I could avoid making the same mistake they did, but once I saw their red faces and the saliva dripping from their mouths, I understood everything.
‘These lustful motherfuckers of shit’
I understood that the bastards were excited and that if the giant had not intervened, they would most likely have rushed toward the group of pregnant women not far away from them. Then, when I came to that conclusion, I looked away from those pigs to see the victims of all this.
Or that’s what I tried to do, as I didn’t endure for long before I looked away from them due to the many emotions I felt when I noticed their miserable state. However, when I did that, I could see something that paralyzed my heart.
My breath hitched, and no matter how cold it was, my body began to sweat like crazy while my teeth chattered. My reaction was so severe that it attracted the attention of the giant who had so far ignored me, although I didn’t care about that.
Taking hesitant steps, staggering between haste and reluctance, I approached a corner hidden in the shadow of a pillar, where the body of a woman, dressed in clean clothes compared to her companions, as well as thin, young, and small, lay dead as all kinds of mucus coming out of the few intact parts of her not so graceful face.
That was the day, the moment when, for the first and last time, I could see the uncovered appearance of the girl to whom I imposed to be the rope that held my sanity.