This is the final story that I wrote for my short story class a few years ago. I have made some edits since then, and I am going to submit it to some publications, so I will post an excerpt below.
Mark of the Phoenix
by Clinton Nix
A globe of light emanated from the lantern Ifanco held as he stepped carefully over the rocks. The cavern was dank and full of bats, but he encountered no hostility during his descent into the dark. For what seemed like days, he had searched blindly through the last known entrance to The Great Below, a series of cavernous veins that coursed underneath Benu mountain. They were largely abandoned, but several centuries ago, stories of lost treasure and mysterious creatures captivated the interest of explorers. For some unknown reason, many of the entrances had been sealed off since that time. Ifanco caught wind of the last few that remained, but upon discovery, none of the paths led further than a couple hundred feet, until now.
Ifanco’s heart thumped as each step brought him deeper into the cave. Supplies were low, but he wouldn’t dare turn around. There was no going back, he thought, and he kept pushing onward even as his eyesight blurred, his stomach clenched, and his muscles quivered. Ifanco wore a pendant that bounced against his chest as he walked, and the giant ruby inside glowed ominously in the dim light.
Ifanco set the lantern down briefly to catch his breath, fondling the pendant nervously while his gaze wandered off into the darkness. His mind drifted and tumbled over the rocks, deep into the wilderness of infinite crevices that surrounded him. Images of golden shining headdresses filled his mind, and the twinkling of curved armlets that cuffed thousands of dancing arms. A sea of faces swarmed around him, laughing and looking, glowing, waiting in need. A vision of a grand hall of windows and banisters, draped with intricately designed tapestries, swirled upon the rocks in the cave, and Ifanco twisted and blinked tightly to banish them from existence. His eyes hollowed out when the images receded into the blackness. His consciousness faded, waiting to be surrendered forever to the blanket of darkness, when his eyes tripped on a sliver of light that glinted between rocks in the distance. With regained awareness and posture, he grabbed the lantern and stepped toward the light.