Chapter Five – All Askew
I didn’t wake up. I didn’t come alive. It was more like I was suddenly aware that I was doing something, but forgot exactly what.
The halls of Dungeon Home were tranquil. The wall torches burned with a gentle blue light. I floated on the second floor, flitting between sconces and torches. I turned down to see Bugbear. He was scratching his butt with his club.
I was alive! Oh my god I was alive! Bugbear! Bugbear was alive! It was a miracle!
I immediately moved to flit down the hallway and check on Skeleton and Skeledog but I hesitated. Moving down the hallway… that was against the instinct. Going against the instinct… well. It didn’t bring the invaders. I didn’t know what it was that brought them, but I refused to believe they were following their instinct when they killed my bugbears. When they killed me.
So I waited.
Time passed as it once had. All was quiet in the dungeon. In time I discovered that Skeledog and Skeleton were alright too. Buggy, Bearington, Busterbear, and Bugrimace were also fine, though without breaking the instinct my cycle never overlapped with Overbear or Butterbear. I had no way to know if they’d come back.
I had no way to know if the whole situation wasn’t just an elaborate dream either. A fantasy conjured by my growing madness. As cycle after cycle passed and nothing seemed to have changed from the way life was before the invaders, I began to wonder if it had actually happened at all.
The water dripped from stalactites into the pool beneath Momma Bossbear’s throne room. It was calm and gentle. Everything was exactly as it had been before, yet the blue light of the torch flames offered no comfort. The presence of my family did nothing to make me feel safe.
All it took was a memory of the greed in Red Thorn’s eyes. The sheer delight she’d taken in throwing that dagger and stabbing me, and suddenly I was right back in the middle of the horror. The world was red and Momma Bossbear looked like a monster and my bugbears were lying in dead heaps around me.
The pleasant routine of each cycle had been irrevocably tarnished with fear. Fear for the next time Momma Bossbear roared and the blue torches burst into bright red flame. Fear for my next death. Fear of pain.
“Grrhph,” Bugbear growled, some eleven or twelve cycles after I’d awoken from my death.
“Grrhph right back at you, Bugbear,” I thought, dismayed. The instinct insisted that I wasn’t to talk, so I didn’t.
The worst part about this new world – this post invader world – was that I had nothing new to discover. My life before the invaders had been safe, calm, and quiet. Above all, it had been mind-numbingly boring. Then, for a few precious, horrible moments, I heard new opinions! I had new ideas and new words and new concepts blasting at me, all while destroying everything I thought I’d known. Both metaphorically and physically, the sheer amount of change to my unerringly structured cycle had left me numb.
Numb and bored. I could no longer find joy in Bugbear’s occasional growls. So what if I was certain they were different from the last cycle? It wasn’t like he could speak. Not like the invaders.
Looking at him though, considering how I’d almost lost him, I decided then and there that I needed something. I wouldn’t break the instinct to do it. The instinct let me cross paths very close to Bugbear, and as I did, I snatched at his tunic with two tentacles, wrapping them around it.
Bugbear didn’t notice or care. I tore off a piece of the tunic and kept it, dropping it off in my hiding place. Just… just in case he ever didn’t come back. If they invaded again, and I was left alone.
Well. More alone.
I hated and idolized the invaders at the same time. They were awful, horrible creatures who invaded with no regard for my family’s well being…
But they used words. I could understand them, even if I hated what they were saying.
They destroyed the world around them. Looted corpses. Killed my family. Hurt me! Destroyed me! But…
I’d never felt so alive, as when I’d heard them speak. I almost felt… sad that they were dead now. I followed the instinct, and while my body acted without input my mind brewed a thousand new fears with every idle moment. When would more invaders come? How long would it be until another group came through and killed my Bugbears again?
Or… or had it really all been just a fantasy, cooked up in my mind? Bugbear was fine. Ghoul was fine, lingering in her chamber as she always did!
So… what in the world happened?
I had nothing else but the mystery. I found no joy in Bugbear. I found no happiness in Skeleton and Skeledog. All I had were my memories. That experience. Horrible, but also somehow more. Over the next few cycles Dungeon Home had transformed from a home with a… boring yet constant family, to a prison of monotony and fear. Nothing dangerous happened in the muted blue of the torches, but nothing of value happened either. Nothing in Dungeon Home could satisfy my need for more. After experiencing battle and speech and change… this repetitive cycle was torture.
What other nightmares rested beyond the Great-Open on the top floor? What wonders? Were there more than just those five invaders? Were they all cruel? They couldn’t all be cruel right?
What if they were? Oh! What if they were all worse! The invaders had seemed jovial if completely unconcerned with the lives of my family. What if other outsiders actually delighted in hurting us? On the other hand, what if they could be convinced that my family were like them?
Could I maybe… talk to them?
My thoughts spun in so many circles that after a few cycles had dulled the fear of pain, I began to question whether I was afraid of the invaders or excited by them.
When the torches burst into red flame again and Momma Bossbear roared her deadly challenge, I knew for sure.
It was both.
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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!
Hope to hear from you soon!