The Soul Stone
The faint light from the crystalline minerals on the cavern walls reflected off the hilt of Kryptonite's sword as he progressed farther into the underground. His steps were steady, measured, and taken with certainty. That same certainty persisted when he came to a fork in the tunnel; he strode onward, taking the left path with such confidence that any onlookers might have assumed that he actually knew where he was going.
Several of the miners who worked in the upper levels of the shaft had watched him enter the complex, wondering who had given him that map and whether it was just a hoax, or if there truly was some sort of relic buried under their worksite. Some laughed, saying that he was a fool and would be lost forever once he ventured down into the unexplored regions. Others just silently whispered a prayer for him. One elderly miner had even tried to talk him into turning back, but that was a futile effort. One thing was for sure – all these miners were scared of something that supposedly lived in this cave. Were it not for the money to be made and the diamond-hard armor that could be forged from the cave's crystals, no one would have ever set foot here in the Cave of the Forgotten.
Kryptonite paused for a moment as he withdrew the faded piece of parchment from his coat pocket once more and studied the ancient writings for what felt like the hundredth time that day. He could not accurately translate the writing of the page, and thus this whole expedition so far had been guided solely by the strange pictures on the document. Over the Mountains of Unspeakable Annihilation, across the Ocean of Disintegration, along the Yellow Brick Road (of Death), through the Forest of Bloody Dismemberment, his journey now ended here in the Cave of the Forgotten. So far, his journey had yielded no rewards, save for the extra map pieces that had led him here.
Something else was out of the ordinary as well. This adventurer was not carrying a torch, yet he could see just fine in this underground cavern. Stranger still was the fact the cave was growing brighter and brighter as he descended... the glowing crystal formations on the walls of the cave were becoming gradually more numerous as he descended, casting more and more light upon the interior and providing better lighting. By now it was bright as day where he stood, though the blue light from the crystals was a different color than sunlight.
He rounded another bend, marching blindly forward. He had no idea which way to go now other than to keep moving forward. All the tunnels looked the same, with no distinguishing characteristics to set them apart. The crystals were so dense now that he could no longer even see the rock walls of the cavern. Nothing but crystals lined his vision on every side, as if the entire cave were made of nothing but shiny crystalline gemstones. Though the area was incredibly well lit, this served only to confuse the wanderer further, as the bright lights simply made it harder to tell which tunnel led to where.
He was actually starting to get worried, thinking about how easily he could get turned around and not be able to back track, when all his worries vanished. Up ahead, the light was a different color. Coming from the next chamber, a deep crimson hue was displayed on the walls, signifying that his search was over. He broke into a run.
After nearly three hours of hiking, the explorer reached the room he sought. He entered the chamber with relief, having finally found the artifact he was after and proving that the ancient map he carried was indeed legitimate. There, lying in the corner of the room on top of a particularly massive crystal formation, was the Soul Stone. The blood red gem lay sideways on the ground, no larger than a cucumber, and was apparently unguarded.
Kryptonite swiftly closed the distance to his prize, inspecting the ground as he went for traps and watching the walls for the movement of any hidden guardians or trap mechanisms. He stood directly over the gem now, and as the red light reflected his eyes, he appeared to be alone.
Here goes nothing...
With nothing else left to do, he reached down and wrapped his fingers around the gem.
Immediately, he heard screaming from every direction, thousands of voices yelling in dozens of languages. Kryptonite recoiled backwards from the stone as the voices swamped his senses. Some called for help; others threatened him; but most he simply could not understand. For a brief second, he could see what looked like thousands of faces swimming around inside the stone, endlessly lost, forever trapped, seeking an exit which did not exist.
He instinctively yanked his hand away from the stone; the voices immediately ceased, the faces vanished, and the glowing stone was silent. The stone shot from the ground and hovered in the air in front of him as its deep red tones suddenly darkened, casting a menacing dark aura around the room. The entire cavern began to rumble as the gemstone floated in the air, all the while pulsing waves of light flooded the room with dramatic intensity. The crystal formations on the wall began to shake slightly at first, but the rumbling and vibrations grew exponentially more violent with every passing moment until chunks of crystal broke free from the wall.
The debris itself soon joined the Soul Stone, hovering around it like a swarm of flies. The Soul Stone hung motionlessly in the air while the other bits and pieces of debris flew around it like a tornado, and as this process continued the quaking continued to worsen. Larger chunks of glowing crystal tore free from the cavern floor and walls and soon joined the swirling mass of glowing rocks, presenting a maelstrom of stone and crystal every size and shape that almost hurt to look at as the magnificence of the glowing crystals grew brighter.
Slowly, right before his eyes, the stones began to configure themselves, moving with purpose towards specific areas, and the figure of a golem took shape before him. The blood red hue was soon drowned out as the sky blue glow from the other crystals covered it under their mass, with larger formations forming the core and torso of the creature. Within seconds, the smaller stones had assembled themselves in clusters to form arms and legs, until finally the smallest pieces of the debris formed the fingers and extremities of the crystal giant.
It was rather small for a golem – only nine and a half feet. The Soul Stone was no longer visible at all, completely encased in the rocky shell of the other pieces. It looked to be an awkward creature; its arms and legs were neither the same length nor the same thickness, and it appeared as though it topple over it took but one step. Perhaps this awkward construction and complete lack of physical coordination were part of the reason that Kryptonite was so surprised at the lightning fast punch that struck him in the chest.
The seven hundred pounds of arm behind the pumpkin-sized fist that slammed into him were far more than enough force to catapult him across the room, and his short flight through the air was cut short by his violent contact with the jagged crystal. He did not feel like counting how many bones had just broken; instead, he drew forth the Alastor and gritted his teeth as the blue flame engulfed his weapon.
The creature charged again, and Kryptonite found that the brilliant glow coming from the crystal golem made it nearly impossible to look straight at it. Furthermore, the golem's body blended in with the rest of the crystal formations and created a sort of chameleon effect.
He steadied himself with his sword at the ready, relying more on his hearing to track the golem's movement. The creature charged, rapidly approaching with its great lumbering footsteps. The swordsman listened intently to the timing of its steps, and when it came within swinging distance, he vaulted forward, leaving the ground just as a titanic fist crushed the crystal he had been standing on into powder. He sailed up and over the creature, and then jammed his sword into it from behind, hoping he could hit the Soul Stone directly.
Unfortunately, there was no direct hit available even from behind, as the layers of diamond hard crystal rocks overlapped each other to form natural plate mail. Even if there were an opening, staring directly into the blinding creature would be incredibly painful and reduce his accuracy. The golem swung around to attack whatever had tickled it; Kryptonite again avoided the creature, hopping backwards just as another crystal fist demolished the floor where he had just been.
The golem had no mouth and made no sound, yet the frustration it was feeling was still somehow felt. It angrily flung its arm towards the human in a punching motion, and at the end of this swing the stone on the very end of its arm detached and flew like a slingshot.
Yes. The golem just threw its own finger at him.
Kryptonite never saw the reflective surface of the twenty five pound stone that struck him in the abdomen, nor was he able to observe the replacement crystal that floated up from the floor to replace the missing finger. He did, however, get an excellent glimpse of the massive golem foot that soccer kicked him clear out of the room and headlong into the wall of the next chamber.