Chapter One – Cycle After Cycle
“Good morning, Bugbear!” I exclaimed excitedly. “What are you up to this cycle?”
The creature didn’t respond but that was to be expected. Bugbear never responded. Never said anything at all really. Even so, I felt like we’d developed a real connection. The beastly creature looked at me, snorted, then continued prowling its way down the desecrated halls of our home. Ah! He was in a good mood!
“Me too!” I said, self-assuredly.
I wasn’t actually certain Bugbear could understand my speech. I was, after all, a jellyfish. He was a large beastly creature who wore little more than a loincloth and a leather subligaculum, while dragging a mace along the floor. That was the way he’d always been.
I hoped he could understand me, but even if he couldn’t, we were friends anyway. I knew because he always looked at me! Every day he acknowledged me! Most of the others didn’t so much as glance in my direction.
I floated along behind him, curious about why he was always dragging that morning star around and growling at everything. He was always sniffing and looking down the halls, as if expecting someone to hunt him or hurt him. I knew he was a guard; that much was easy enough to tell, but no one ever came here. No one ever had, as far back as I could remember! Yet every cycle he moved through, he kept up his guard, always vigilant. Did he know something I didn’t? Maybe they all did?
He was the only one who ever noticed me directly though. I didn’t know why I was this way. Why I was… different from everyone else. But what could I do?
“Aww, you did that last cycle,” I told Bugbear sourly. “Don’t you think that area of the hall has been really well patrolled already? Oh I know! Let’s go this way!”
I floated a little further down the hall, and Bugbear’s eyes followed me, as if he was tempted. As if… he just might try to see what was down this hall. I already knew of course. I’d long since explored the entirety of Dungeon Home, but as far back as I could remember Bugbear had never left his circuit.
That didn’t change now, of course. He turned and continued trudging down the same circle he always walked. Like clockwork, he’d reach the end of the hall and come back, wary, sniffing the air, and staring at me occasionally.
The others didn’t even go that far, content to just walk their circles, completely oblivious to my existence. So most days I stayed next to him, jabbering his ears off with my echoes, in the hopes that one day he’d try to talk back instead of just growling at me randomly. Bugbear’s growls were the only random thing in all of Dungeon Home. Everything else was the same as the cycle before.
Sometimes, I wondered if I used to be like that. Did I once wander in endless circles like Bugbear did, long before my earliest memories? I liked to think so. Maybe once I wasn’t so weird. Maybe once I was normal like Bugbear, and like the other creatures that roamed the halls, and Momma Bossbear.
Not anymore though. Maybe not ever. There were no others in Dungeon Home like me, though there were several different bugbears who looked almost identical to Bugbear. None of them were him though. He was special — if only a little. He paid attention to me, every now and then — if only a little. He was different. Like me.
I was Gell, the Jellyfae. And I was lonely.
I shook myself, my shocker waving in the air as I floated up a little higher to swirl around the warm candle-lit chandelier. The fire of the candles felt good. Staying near it or even floating inside it was warm and cozy. One of my favorite spots. I often hid inside the fires as part of my instinct.
I curled up around the light fixture and waited there for almost a whole cycle. The next time Bugbear walked by, I floated back down slowly. He turned toward me, staring with his big eyes and snorting hot air with his big nose as he noticed me again.
“Well, it was good to see you, Bugbear! I’m gonna go see Momma Bossbear! Talk to you later?”
He snorted at me, which I took to mean yes.
I lit myself up bright yellow, which he always seemed to enjoy, before floating away down the halls of Dungeon Home.
Dungeon Home was just that — Home. The whole world, from the great opening at the top with the strange green spikey floor and the hole in the sky where the stone ceiling should be, down to the big boss room where Momma Bossbear sat on her throne looking bored all day.
I slowly made my way through the many long hallways of stone. The flames of the blue torches weren’t nearly as warm as the chandelier, but both felt comfy. I often couldn’t resist camouflaging myself to disappear into them. I could sit right inside the candle flame and be completely invisible if I wanted, though I’d long since stopped trying to figure out what it was my instincts told me to hide from.
It… took effort sometimes. To make myself go where I normally wouldn’t. It was a little scary and a lot exciting! I felt like I was breaking the rules. Though even that had become dull at some point. Nowadays, when I let my mind wander I’d find myself automatically drifting back into those old patterns. Following the instinct that guided the cycle was easy.
I didn’t feel like it today though. Today was a day for rule breaking. Maybe I’d finally get up the guts to venture out into the big open on the top floor today!
… Probably not. That big blue ceiling so far away felt like I might just fall into it. Worse, every time I thought of venturing out, the scandalous feeling of breaking the rules went from a mild excitement to a gut wrenching fear. More than once I’d been determined to venture out, only to turn back upon the realization that there were some rules I shouldn’t break.
I might be different from the rest, but I belonged in Dungeon Home. With my family.
I skipped my usual routine and floated through a metal door when Skeleton and Skeledog opened it. I’d long since timed everyone’s path and when they opened the doors so slipping through them was easy. It had been so exciting when I discovered I could use doors whenever others opened them. I didn’t have any hands like everyone else. Just my shocker. But that wasn’t so bad. Skeledog couldn’t open them either, with his paws always on the ground. And none of them could float or fly.
Most important of all, none of them could break the rules.
I reached Momma Bossbear’s throne room with a lilt in my float. I bounced around happily, flitting between the bones that always littered Momma’s cave floor. I had wondered if those bones might become people like Skeleton if I arranged them properly, but when I’d actually done it they never had. Instead, at the turnover time they’d always reset to where they were before, scattered all over. It was incredibly frustrating.
“Hiya, Momma Bossbear!” I said exuberantly, glowing my usual blue shade as I entered the throne room. “Anything new?”
Momma Bossbear didn’t acknowledge me, content instead to merely stare at the door like she always did. I wasn’t surprised.
Momma Bossbear was the biggest member of my family. She was huge! At least twenty of me. Maybe fifty, though that wasn’t really saying a lot. I was the smallest after all. I fought down the brief surge of envy at Bossbear’s big arms and legs. She could open any door in Dungeon Home with arms so big, but she never even used them!
It was why I came here sometimes, though my instinct didn’t ever take me here. I wanted to make her move! All the others at least got to walk around and see their world. Even I, strange as I was, had the freedom to see our whole world. Why, then, did Momma Bossbear have to sit still in her dreary throne room forever? She was the boss after all, right? Shouldn’t she get to go wherever she wanted?
She never did, though.
I trembled a little, but shook myself to ward off the fear. The fear that… that maybe she never would.
In the dark corners of my mind, the place where I hid my deepest rule breaking, I trembled with the thought that ran through me unbidden.
“Is… this really all there is?”
The answers might lie beyond the great hole at the top of Dungeon Home, with the green floor and the too-high ceiling. And maybe one day, I would be brave enough to venture out. For now though, I was wasting time. Maybe today, Crumbled Skeleton would wake up after I arranged his bones for what must have been the thousandth cycle.
All of a sudden, the torchlights changed color. The torchlights that I danced in and hid within. The torchlights — blue for as long as I could remember. Blue for cycle after cycle, blue, blue, always blue. They changed.
They became the brightest red I had ever seen.
Then, while I was already reeling from my stupor at the abrupt change of my entire world, a sudden whirlwind buffeted me into the far wall.
Momma Bossbear stood. She roared. And I trembled, sore afraid.
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I'm Materia-Blade. I've been a long time fanfiction writer, and have recently decided to toss my hat into the original fiction arena. I love fantasy, sci-fi, and Lit-RPG's and have read hundreds of books from each genre.
My new story Artificial Jelly has released and is currently being pretty well received! Excited for it to hit trending! Thanks to those who support it, and me, and I hope it continues to impress!
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