The Menace From Our Underworld (Poetry)

Hardy miners digging deep close to Neapolis
Were the first who broke into the sealed tunnels,
Where they came across an old statue
Of a humanoid beast carved in stone
It had unknown hieroglyphic symbols on it
The men went back up and told their friends:
“This is not just any temple or statues we’ve seen”
The miners followed the ancient tunnels and found
Cavernous chambers far down underground,
Under where Romans lived and died

As the miners wandered around the huge complex,
They could not believe what they saw:
The ruins were filled with gold and silver,
And precious gemstones they couldn’t count,
And many marble statues, of cultures unknown,
Lay scattered all over, broken or standing upright,
While others had been smashed to pieces on the floor
So hard that some looked like jagged rocks

On many walls were carved words,
But none of the men had seen them before
The statues made of sandstone and limestone
Showed snakes coiled tightly or humanoid monsters
With horns growing straight out of their skulls
Some wore crowns while others held swords

It seemed like all of the wealth
Had been stashed away for safekeeping,
Or else for hiding or selling off
When trouble came knocking on the door

The Romans feared an uprising at any moment,
But it was the enemy they sought within,
For they discovered passages and secret places
Hidden for millennia in great walls of stone
Tunnels so old they are forgotten and lost
Stalactites drip stone on top of each other,
Mud drips off walls stained red with blood

Ancient peoples mined in the bedrock long ago
This is history hidden in plain sight,
Far below the city streets we walk above
A labyrinth of tunnels, rooms, halls, caverns
Pipes carrying water through the rock,
Vents venting air, drains and sewers emptying waste,
Ropes hanging below to reach platforms high overhead,
Floors covered in sawdust, mud oozing from cracks,
Iron bridges spanning deep chasms

Miners waiting in the sunlight heard dying groans
Only a few of the men clambered back to the surface
Their faces were pale, they showed signs of shock
The survivors spoke of evil spirits and daemons
That haunt the caverns deep underground,
So they sent messages back home to let everyone know
That they mustn’t try to dig through the solid rock ceiling,
Because there’s lots of treasure hidden away below
Along with some very nasty creatures

As more of these tunnels were unearthed,
Fathers and mothers told their children, “Be careful!”
Little boys and girls said, “Don’t go near them”
From then on there were always armed men
Spending whole nights on watch at those entrances

Paved roads were laid down to connect the various sites,
To facilitate the exploration of these deadly depths
In a bid to protect the empire, walls were built
Around the entranceway of the ancient crypts
Most citizens feared what lay underground,
But brave Romans fought hard to tame the horrors below

The legions of Rome began a great work of exploration
To search out and destroy these horrible nests
Of dark magic and foulness that haunted the earth
They learned that the tunnels spanned long distances:
Some reached as far as Beneventum,
Others stretched even farther, to Arretium,
Others to the east to the Bithynian port,
While one led to the middle of the Danube River
The tunnels branched and looped and wove together
In every direction under the ground,
Through the rivers and valleys and hills and moors,
Past the forests and the mountains and the lakes
Whole underground roads to the ends of the Empire,
All filled with previously unknown horrors

These new discoveries led the emperor to another fear:
There might be passages leading out into the wild lands,
And enemies could come up from behind to surround us,
For the Romans were constantly defending the borders
Against the barbarians who wanted to take our lands
He ordered a few legions to cross into hostile territory
And see if they could find exits to the outside world

Months after those doomed miners found the first ruin,
Rumors spread among the public at large
That these ruins held great wealth beside the dangers,
This led to increased interested in the ‘Old Ruins’,
As the locals throughout the empire called them
Many of the tunnels were located in the countryside,
And the towns had been built on top of them

Caesar Augustus issued a decree:
Every town had to send soldiers to guard the entrances
No civilian was allowed inside without his permission,
They should stay clear of all the paths and chambers
And keep out of any shafts or caves or ditches,
And avoid even looking into the gaping holes;
They did not want to stare into the eyes of a daemon,
Or any other danger lurking down within

Caesar Augustus bade them all:
If you ever hear a voice speak or shout in the depths
And it sounds like an angry man or woman,
Do not step inside and look around!
Though many ignored such warnings;
They began to dig into the ancient stone walls
To find hidden chambers full of gold and riches
It didn’t take long for most of those explorers to die
Screaming for help and begging for their lives

Groups of wealthy merchants funded expeditions
To bring back proof of the ruins’ worthiness
They hired mercenaries to guard the party’s route
And disuade adventurers foolish enough
To attempt independent explorations
Mercenaries work well because they answer
Not to the laws, but to whoever pays them most
Here we have groups of young men and women,
Dressed in leather armor, with swords at their hips,
Who think they’re invincible and they’ll get rich
From the underground tunnels and the hidden treasure,
But they don’t know what they’re getting themselves into

Despite the high pay offered for such risks,
Many explorers didn’t want to face the danger,
But others felt compelled to dig and delve,
Unearthing untold riches and priceless artifacts,
Like the precious gems, gold, and silver vessels
Found in the gigantic storehouses and caverns
Some men became rich from the goods brought home,
With the discoveries made in these secret places,
But others went missing, and some corpses were found
With arrows through their hearts or heads smashed in

In many ruins, the legionaries felt the presence of evil,
Powerful forces that brought fear and despair
The skulking daemons had done terrible things
To the men who had ventured too deep underground
They killed them, or dragged them further down
The ones lucky enough to escape alive,
They had been tortured, and maimed,
And their cut off pieces were left to rot upon the floor

The tunnels were filled with creatures that lurked
In the shadows of the broken statues and pillars
Covered in blood, mud, dust, and filth
Some of these monsters seemed to be made of stone
One was a giant with the head of a lion,
Another looked more like a monstrous ape
Some of the daemons had no skin at all,
Some had long arms and huge tentacles for hands
Others walked upright and were covered in hair,
And they carried clubs and rocks in their fists
Others were shaped like serpents and scorpions;
Their mouths dripped with poison and venom
Another looked to have been carved out of fire:
Its body glowed red-hot; the men felt the heat
When it opened its mouth, flames roared out
The monsters hid in the dark corners, watching, waiting
For anyone who dared enter their domains

These creatures were called the Daemons of the Dark,
And they’d been there before Rome existed at all

We needed leadership as Rome faced a terrible threat
From within its own borders to deal with
A famous expedition was carried out in the year 8 AD,
When the emperor, Augustus himself,
Ordered his finest men to go investigate
The complex of ruins found under Herculaneum
He brought in experts and scholars and engineers
To begin the task of mapping the lost chambers,
And also sent a centuria of veteran legionaries
To venture into the complex of limestone mazes

The emperor hoped to find answers about how to defend
Against these vicious beasts and daemons roaming free
The many legionaries fought valiantly to repel their foes;
Few monsters would withstand the onslaught
Of the elite contubernia in the subterranean warzones

The tunnels were so dark and winding
That only a contubernium could walk them at a time,
There was no light except what they carried
A torch or lantern gave off little in the way of illumination,
And it was difficult to see much of anything

The tunnels were heavily overgrown with mushrooms
Many of the passages were blocked by fallen rocks,
Or the path flooded down to ankle height
The men kept their weapons close, stayed alert for danger

They heard strange whispers and shrieks of agony
From beyond the cracks and crevices,
But they were unable to locate the source of those sounds

One contubernium ventured into the ancient crypts,
Led by the veteran decanus Septimius Drusus
The air was thick with foul odors and miasmas
From rotting corpses long since gone to dust
The legionaries shuddered at the sight of such filth
They carefully moved forward into the tunnels
And soon came across men with shattered bodies,
Hacked to pieces with swords or axes
Some had their stomachs slashed open,
Others’ skulls were split wide
Like animals they lay dead on the ground
Clumps of flesh and brains oozed out onto the floor
The walls around them were splattered with gore

Rats squeaked as they crossed the only bridge
That spanned a subterranean river,
And the legionaries passed many old tombs
All long forgotten, some filled with bones

They paused for breath as they proceeded deeper,
Forcing their way through countless passages
Their torches burned low from frequent use
As they searched side-passages, walkways, staircases,
And even steps on which not much light shone

The soldiers chatted idly about their home,
How far away they lived, how many wives they had
They talked of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters,
Of friends and neighbors they had left behind,
And spoke of the homes in the towns above ground
Where the people worked every day from dawn to dusk
Before returning home for a good meal and sleep

The legionaries pushed ahead, but came across
A horde of animated corpses, malevolent daemons
Who were still hungry and thirsty after all this time
The men hacked their way through this horde of undead
Some were rotten and fat, some looked like skeletons,
Others had no skin, just heads upon thin stalks,
Others appeared to be made entirely of bone,
But all these creatures were dead, and their bodies
Were covered in reeking black ooze,
And the stench of death was all around

It took what felt like an hour to fight off these fiends
Who had been trapped there forevermore
These cursed creatures would keep biting the men
Until their rotting bodies were torn apart
The contubernium lost two comrades that day,
But they ended the slaughtering of the wretched horde,
Conducted themselves well, bravely defending Rome
In service to His Majesty, Emperor Caesar Augustus

Septimius Drusus’ men were exhausted,
And he ordered a break to rest, drink, take a piss
The water they carried was running short
The warriors gulped down the last of the wine
The decanus brought out his flute and played a tune,
While others sang a song in a loud voice
About the battles they fought against evil spirits,
The monsters that lurked in the ancient underworld
They were washing off the filth of blood, sweat, and mud,
And laughing at the silly things they’d heard before

They reached an iron door blocking further progress
With all their strength they turned a massive wheel,
And the door creaked open, revealing darkness beyond
Pushing onward, the legionaries went ever deeper
They soon came to what seemed an underground pond
Where three strange women bathed their naked bodies
The soldiers stared in awe at the oddity of this scene
The beautiful women were covered in greenish scales
Their eyes glowed like lamps as they stared at the men
They beckoned the Romans to approach them

Caesar’s decanus, Septimius Drusus, told the men,
“Don’t do it! Don’t go near! They are nereids of the deep!”
Not a man moved as the beautiful women came closer
They seized one of the legionaries, then dragged him
Towards the pond as if to bring him into their realm
The women pressed themselves against the legionary
And kissed him repeatedly, holding him tight,
Rubbing their bodies up and down, moaning lustily
The legionaries were shocked to see this lewd display

The women tried to take off the legionary’s armor
The soldier resisted fiercely, but he couldn’t escape
“Enough!” Septimius roared. “We need to escape
While we still can. There’s no time for such pleasures
With these bizarre nereids of the underworld!”
He pointed his sword at the horrific trio of beauties
And ordered the legionaries forward
The men grabbed their accosted companion,
Although the women were pulling him into the pool
Once the stunned man returned to the formation,
The nereids disappeared into the water, swallowed whole

The men were weary after a long journey through
Tunnels and chambers, covered in dust and dirt
They discovered a series of rooms and corridors
Filled with neat stacks of scrolls and books,
And ancient paintings on the walls depicting scenes
Of days long past, before this world began
The soldiers were amazed by the ornate statues
That adorned every corner and wall of the chamber
Ancient peoples carved these works of art,
Drawing upon their memories for inspiration

Here was a warrior god with his broadsword in hand
His eyes stared out at those who passed him by,
With hounds chasing fleeing victims in the sand
Men were shown being dragged, beaten, and flogged,
Then driven to the mines of the underworld
The slaves were forced to work in the dark,
Toil all day, until they collapsed, all worn-out
Some of the mine shafts were so narrow,
They could only be dug downward using hands

Deformed forms moved among the lavish riches:
Hideous monsters, lurching around with greedy eyes
At the sound they made, the legionaries drew swords
Leaving their torches beside the tunnel’s mouth
They crept along the passageway with fear in their hearts
As the daemons slowly turned to face the intruders,
Those monstrosities looked like nothing seen:
They had huge heads, large gaping eye sockets,
Their skin was covered with scales of bright red,
A black cocoon of tentacles hung down to their waists,
They had three long arms and four legs ending in claws

They were hideous creatures that walked upright
Like apes or monkeys, but they were not human,
These monsters didn’t speak, but shrieked and howled
They also emitted foul odors, their breath reeking
They wore ancient armor, and carried enormous spears
Although no one knew where they came from, nor why
There was not much discussion about what to do next

The legionaries had never been so frightened,
But they stood side by side in phalanx formation
The creatures ran at them, grunting and growling
The Romans felt the earth shake as their enemy came,
And they raised up their shields to stop the charge

The soldiers hacked and stabbed with their short blades
Thrusting them into the flesh of these monsters,
While the horrible beasts attacked the Romans
Throwing spears over the heads of their comrades
To impale or cut down the brave men of the legion

The daemons had no thought but to kill and destroy
Our men rushed forward to engage the monsters,
Wielding their swords and stabbing them in the head
Two of the legionaries were pierced and wounded,
But there was a great roar of fury as the beasts fell
The legionaries gritted their teeth in pain and suffering,
For the battle took its toll on them

A pale green glow illuminated one of the caves:
A skeletal humanoid hovered in the center,
Its fleshless body floating just above a glowing orb
It turned to look at the men and hissed out loud
As the ghastly apparition was approaching slowly,
The daemon dropped to the floor, landing close,
Then transformed from a hovering dead man
Into a hideous insectoid monster with three eyes

As it crawled forward, its hairy, elongated legs
Reached towards the legionaries’ faces,
Who were now backed against a wall
The sulfuric stench of the creature’s breath
Scorched the noses of the terrified soldiers,
Their eyes watering and blinded by the fumes

They struggled to respond, their minds addled
One of the legionaries slashed the behemoth
The blade bit into its flesh, but did little damage
As the nightmare drew close, it opened wide
Revealing rows upon rows of razor-sharp teeth
They sliced through the legionary’s arm and leg,
And then the horrifying beast began feasting,
Gulping down the blood, slurping the marrow
The soldier was pinned to the wall by the huge jaws,
His hand grabbed and ripped away by the carnivore
The other legionaries were fighting back,
But the creature had an enormous strength

The insectoid’s jaws snapped shut around the man,
Smashing his armor and torso to pieces,
Then it lifted the dripping remains from the floor
As it held them aloft in front of the crowd,
The daemon fixed its gaze on another soldier,
Who brandished his sword in defense
He could do nothing as the monster gobbled him up,
His body disappeared within those hungry maws

The decanus Septimius Drusus struck the beast in the back
The weapon found a weak spot and gouged the monster
A hot gush of blood spilled forth, to land
Upon the heads of the terrified, weary men
They looked up and saw the hideous bug squirming
When its monstrous form was thrown to the ground,
Another legionary swung his sword again,
Striking the beast hard, slicing off a leg
The hideous mutant screeched in agony, then jumped
And scurried away, leaving a trail of gore behind
The traumatized legionaries had had enough for the day
They retreated to the surface, where daylight reigned

Successive expeditions pressed on for weeks on end
A divided centuria kept fighting under Herculaneum
The men were tired, filthy, hungry, and thirsty
Hordes of monsters fell prey to the legions’ weapons
Many legionaries were maimed and scarred,
More died before they could flee those hellish mazes
A few brought home riches beyond their wildest dreams
The survivors stumbled out of the tunnels ashen faced,
But victorious over all else

Of one contubernium, only one survivor emerged
He staggered out of the ancient tunnel and saw light,
The sun was shining, a beautiful blue sky overhead
The man was an orphan, barely twenty years old
His eyes were dull, and distant, like he wasn’t there
He was covered in blood, his hand clutched a ring:
A silver band adorned with gems caught the light
The gold inside gleamed brightly, warm, alive
With a final gasp, he collapsed onto the paved road

Many years passed, many legionaries were slain
As they pushed deeper into the unending darkness,
So they could one day certify that no enemy remained
In those ancient halls of death and destruction
Some men carved words in the stone, to warn others:
“Do not enter here! Beware the nereids of the deep!”

The philosophers of the time were beset by nightmares
Of unceasing hordes of otherworldly monsters
Clambering into the Roman towns from the tunnels below,
Determined to overrun every settlement they saw
To devour men and women or just make slaves
The scholars tried to solve the riddle of these creatures:
Where did they come from? Why are they attacking us?
How can we fight them, and survive to tell the tale?

The philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote in his treatise
‘The Denizens Of The Deep Underground Tunnels Are Real’,
“These strange subterranean creatures are indeed real
They’re not myths or legends, but living beings
That inhabit some of the deepest caves in the world
The legions march into the dark labyrinths,
Screaming their battle cry, ‘Forward, forward,
We’ll find the secrets of the underworld!’
It is the duty of the army to exterminate them
If we fail, then we’ll be forced to live in terror!”

Pliny’s words didn’t help the citizens of the empire
Who were plagued by dreadful nightmares and visions,
Worried about being attacked by subterranean horrors
Some people locked themselves in their homes at night,
Trying to sleep with the lights burning bright,
While others slept with a dagger nearby,
And they whispered stories of terrible encounters
Where darkness swallowed men whole, who dared venture
Into these ancient catacombs were daemons reigned

The Senate debated, but those men could offer little help
One senator suggested the beasts came out of the earth
Like maggots, and rose up to feed on human flesh
Other senators disagreed, saying the monsters
Were simply victims of ancient cataclysmic disaster,
From aeons past when thick ice sheets covered the world
Some argued that the catacombs were the perfect refuge,
And would provide them with protection in times of war
The Romans debate, and have no idea what to do
As they stare at the wondrous maps of the underworld,
Which show the location of passages and chambers
That connect directly to the surface above,
As well as the locations of statues and paintings,
Many of them depicting scenes of gods and goddesses
That none of the men present could begin to name

One of the senators stood up, and offered his thoughts:
“If I may be so bold as to speak my mind,
I believe the emperor is making a terrible mistake
My colleagues don’t seem to agree,
And call me paranoid and insane
When I say the monsters are hiding in our midst
They might not look it, but they’re more than animals
These creatures are superior beings who were once men
They have learned to disguise themselves,
They lure unsuspecting men, women and children,
And then they strike, with a swiftness that cannot fail
These daemons leave a trail of corpses in their wake
They killed hundreds, left even more maimed and broken
A few brave survivors escaped into the daylight,
Others were trapped inside the tunnels, unable to climb
Vast numbers of the enemy slain, yet still we fall
They made a mockery of our immortal legions,
And now the monsters feast upon our brave men”

The senate was stunned by this speech
Some of the men whispered among themselves
They asked the speaker if he had any proof,
Or just repeated wild stories from the streets
The man raised his voice, and told the senators
What they already knew in their cowardly hearts:
“We’ve lost the legions, and the empire is doomed!”

They feared that the old gods, who had ruled before,
Would rise up and destroy the eternal empire
They imagined scores of monsters and daemons
Reaching Rome itself and burning it to the ground
We keep praying to our own gods, to save civilization
From the barbarous horrors of our underworld

While the emperor pondered what to do next,
His generals advised him against further exploration
Rome faced many enemies, including those inside
No amount of manpower would clear those halls
The Senate agreed, and the entire operation ceased
The ancient tunnels were sealed, the entrances blocked,
And the scarred legionaries returned home to rest,
Their work done for the year, but they couldn’t forget
About the terrible creatures in the dark below

There is a secret, hidden history to be found,
In an age when the world yielded to the dawn:
The dark tunnels remain, hidden underground
Daemons lurk in the death-filled labyrinths,
Prisoners of a past age, trapped for aeons,
Waiting to find their way out again

We built walls to defend against outside threats,
And now the walls keep our monsters penned within

‘The Menace From Our Underworld’ by Jon Ureña

One thought on “The Menace From Our Underworld (Poetry)

  1. Pingback: Random AI-generated images #1 – The Domains of the Emperor Owl

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