Morning came with the insistent beeping of the alarm clock. There was no way to tell the time down here besides his clock. It paid for him to keep a close watch on him. It would be far too easy to lose track of time down here. He put together a quick breakfast before breaking camp and starting off down the cave once again.
It was a few hours into his walk when he first began to notice the changes in his surroundings. It had been happening so slowly and consistently that it took him a while to notice that he could see even further than his small light should have made possible. He wanted to pass it off as just getting used to the darkness, but he’d been underground too often to believe that.
His hand trembled as he touched the button to turn his own light off. He closed his eyes tight as he did so and counted to ten. He opened his eyes, blinked a couple of times then held his hand up in front of his face. He could see the outline of his hand which meant he wasn’t hallucinating. Somewhere up ahead was a light source.
Hans switched his light back on and checked his GPS for elevation. He had been steadily going downwards since he had entered the cavern. It didn’t seem likely that the light could be just an exit to the outside, but he wasn’t going to rule it out as a possibility. Little enough was known about this planet and less about this cavern system.
As an afterthought, Hans pulled up the topographical view on his GPS and was surprised to see that he had him under the ocean at this point. It seemed even less likely that this light was an entrance to the surface. Hans shined his light around to get a better look at the rocks on the ceilings and wall and saw that they appeared completely dry. It didn’t make any sense to him and he was beginning to wonder if about the exact origins of the cavern.He wasn’t an expert in geography, but he was pretty sure any naturally formed cavern under an ocean would have to have some sort of water flow. He knew there was enough calcium, lime and other minerals to create stalagmites and other formations, but none of that existed in this cavern. Even in some of the older man made ones he had explored, water had found its way inside to create those breathtaking natural sculptures that he enjoyed.
Hans picked up his pace as he continued onward towards the source of the light. He tried not to get too hopeful about what he was going to find, but it was hard to not think about it. The cavern seemed to continue on forever with the light getting neither brighter nor dimmer. It was hard to be sure, but it was getting frustrating. Every now and then Hans turned off his light to try and see if the light was getting brighter or not, but as far as he could tell it was staying exactly the same.
His watch beeped at him and he glanced down to see that an entire day had passed him by as he pursued the source the light. It was time to make camp for another night and hope for better luck the next day. It was his last day for moving forward and after tomorrow he would have to start making his way back. Hans prayed that tomorrow would bring better luck, but the light was at least promising.As his watched beeped in another new day Hans wasted no time in breaking down camp and starting off on his search for the source of the light. He tried to keep his mind occupied on everything, but the light as he walked. He thought about old songs and tried to remember their lyrics, he thought about how things were getting busy enough that he'd have to hire a few more people to keep up with demand. Hans managed to keep himself distracted enough that it wasn't until his stomach growled at him that he realized the morning had passed already.
Looking around he tried to assess how bright the light was. It seemed a little brighter now, but he wasn't a hundred percent sure about it. He ate a few small snacks to keep himself going and continued on after another hour of walking he was sure that the light had gotten brighter. It was also the first time he noticed that the cavern was starting narrow quickly. He could almost touch the ceiling once again and there was less than a meter to each side of his outstretched arms.Hans quickened his pace as much as he could, but was soon forced into walking doubled over. Eventually he stopped as the width of the cavern became only just wide enough for him to fit through comfortably. Hans dropped his gear and just grabbed the most important items to take with him. He knew that if he got stuck down here no one would find him, but that didn’t seem as important as finding out what the source of the light was.
Hans kept crawling forward and hoped that this tunnel wouldn’t narrow any further, the light was becoming brighter with each step and, soon, Hans found himself wishing for sunglasses. If it wasn’t for the coolness of the surrounding rock he would have thought he was heading into the sun itself.He stopped for a moment to tie a piece of cloth around his head to help shut out the light. Hans pushed forward blindly feeling his surroundings with his hands. It was slow going, but he wasn’t about to give up yet. Even with a cloth wrapped over his tightly shut eyes the light was almost starting to be too much for him to take any longer.
Sliding his hands forward he felt an edge to the tunnel he was crawling through. Inching forward he examined around the edge of the opening with his hands, but he could feel nothing beyond that. More than anything Hans wanted to be able to see what was in the opening, but without special equipment it would be impossible to do so.In a last ditch effort to see if he could continue, Hans laid flat on his stomach and pushed himself as close to the edge as he dared. At the full length of his reach he felt his fingertips brush against something warm and metallic. Taking a chance, Hans pushed himself further forward until he could get a grip on the object. He pulled back as hard as he could and it came loose.
As he pushed himself back into the tunnel he heard a soft beeping coming from the opening. Hans backed up as fast as he could until he bumped into his gear. Undoing the cloth from around his eyes, he finally was able to see what he had taken from the other side of the opening. It was strangely shaped and there were markings all over it. Hans turned it over a few times in his hands before putting it in his pack.Hans picked everything up and started heading out, his head full of plans for what he would need to continue onwards next time. He wanted to know what was in that next cavern past the tunnel. He’d need special gear for that and he wasn’t sure if he’d find it on planet. He had already raised a few red flags with his earlier requests, this time he’d have to be even more careful.
Hans spent the next few days planning exactly how he was going to go about his next visit to the Mantou Islands and how he was going to be able to get all the equipment he was going to need to make it work. It wasn’t going to be easy, not in the least, but he had a feeling it was going to be worth it. In the meantime he had the artifact to study and learn about.