Chapter Twenty – This Hallowed Sky
I ran, feeling miserable.
What should’ve been a joyous exultation at the freedom I’d finally attained was tainted now. Hollow. I ran, my legs adapting to the strange terrain.
The bugbears were just as trapped in the Dungeon as I had ever been, and would never follow me into the Great-Open.
I couldn’t run without opening my eyes though. Bugbear. Oh god, I’d left him in that cold cave. How could I have left him, when all of this world was out here, waiting to be seen?
I… ran, feeling numb. But the numbness was fading as it began to sink in. I was free. I was finally free. I didn’t slow for a long while, rushing through the brush and trees wildly.
Bitterness began to fade away as I stared at my confusing new surroundings with wonder. Grief gave way to awe. Even my regret at what I’d done to Momma Bossbear could not stand in the face of the fact that I had finally left my prison. Left it for good. I was free! Not just of the cave but of the instinct itself! I could go where I wanted.
Do what I wanted.
Be… well. Close to what I wanted. I was in the Great-Open!
At that thought, my run became one of pure happiness. I ran because I could and no gut feeling told me to go anywhere or do anything! I began to shout, whooping in joy!
As my body tired, a green bar on the bottom of my vision drained to nothing in tandem with my ability to keep moving. When it finally emptied and I could run no more, I collapsed on the forest floor, panting and grinning and rolling in the dirt.
My heart was beating in my chest. I could feel the new organ working. Hear it with my new ears instead of the ephemeral way sound used to vibrate my body, allowing me to perceive it. My lungs expanded and contracted in their own endless cycle in time with my breathing. Was that a thing that I had to do now? Breathe? All the time?
I grinned, and reveled in the fact that I could grin. These things that I had words for but no way to perform. These actions that only invaders could accomplish! I could do them all now! The sensation of rushing and tiredness in my chest was new and wonderful. It felt good and burned at the same time. My heart was racing, my lungs working overtime to get me the air I needed as I rested on the ground.
I was surrounded by sparse trees and grass and leaves all shaded the nighttime blue that they always were during this cycle, but they were all different.
There was more to it now though! More that I had never been able to see before from my prison in Dungeon Home. The blue glow of the moonlight that illuminated the world was punctured by sparkling lights from bugs that burst and flared and died in a cacophony of randomness that would take me a thousand cycles to learn!
I stared up at the tree branches above me and the starlight twinkling through the forest’s canopy, shining down and illuminating me. My skin glowed yellow, joining the fireflies in the dance of the evening. Tears of joy trailed down my cheeks while I mused on just how often invaders’ bodies seemed to need to cry.
The smells were vivid and wonderful. Earthy dirt and the scent of old trees. Flowers growing in the opening and pollen that made me want to sneeze. Dirt felt wonderfully malleable under my feet next to the hard stone and marble I’d always known. There was just so much new.
I felt guilty, leaving Bugbear, but I knew he would be alright. Maybe… now he could learn to break the instinct too? Maybe when I returned, he would be ready, waiting for me to bring him away.
I took it in the world of the Great-Open with all the awe and wonder I had only ever imagined before. It was… breathtaking.
I thought that becoming an invader, becoming a human might have marred the experience. That breaking the last law of the instinct would be an ever-present blot on what was an otherwise magical memory for me.
Somehow it wasn’t. I felt free, in every way I could think of. I could feel dirt beneath my back and it was new. I could feel the wind on my face and it was new. I could see the sky, and finally knew for sure that I wouldn’t fall into it, like I’d feared all those cycles ago.
I… was free.
I spent a long time lying there in the forest, taking in the new sights and sounds and smells. The night faded and the sun was cresting the horizon, lighting everything up with all new colors by the time I could finally bring myself to stop gaping at every little thing.
Perhaps it was the lighting, but only with the sun rising, casting the tops of the trees in red and orange, I finally began to notice the mostly transparent overlay at the corners of my vision.
A blinking light was flashing there, and the more I focused upon it, the more visible it became. Only upon reaching up to the location with my hand and pressing the blinking light did anything actually happen though.
I was lucky I was lying down, otherwise I might’ve fallen as a big box with words written on it filled my vision.
“Welcome to Tread the Sky! We hope you enjoy your stay! Wander yonder, and don’t be afraid! Adventure awaits!”
I shivered, a strange, yet not unpleasant chill going through my body as I heard the exciting words in my ears, and read them before me at the same time. My skin bubbled and little hairs on it rose up in anticipation. I wasn’t afraid! I was excited!
“As a new player, tutorial mode has been activated. If you are an experienced adventurer, you can disable this option now, or at any time in the “Options” menu. Would you like to disable this now?”
The words were read to me simultaneously by a plucky female voice who sounded much like myself.
Two large buttons at the bottom of the box appeared just in front of me, one reading “Yes, I know what I’m doing,” while the other said, “No, please help me get started.”
Tutorial? Well… experienced adventurer? I had explored the entirety of Dungeon Home, but somehow I didn’t think that qualified as experienced. I also liked the term adventurer much more than invader. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to get my old body back, so I decided I might as well learn to accept it. Strange as it felt.
I chose No, and the menu disappeared.
“Great! Remember, you can turn off the tutorial any time via the “Tutorial” option in the Options menu.”
I was about to ask how to get to the options menu when the text continued appearing, and the voice continued explaining my new invader’s lifestyle to me.
“You can access the Options menu at any time by saying “Options!” Be warned, accessing this menu in combat will not stop your attackers, only you! So be sure to access your menus in a safe location, okay?”
“Okay!” I responded, enthused. I liked this voice. “What next?”
“Well, let’s get started! First and most important, you currently haven’t set a home point! That’s the location you wake up at after your character dies. We’re hoping that won’t happen much, but… well… it's a dangerous world out there!”
She could say that again… fucking Red Thorn.
“You are currently in a safe zone called “The Shady Woods Copse.” You can use any safe zone that you have discovered as a home point. If you are the first person to discover a safe zone, you can declare it your own, and charge a fee to others for using it! For now though, your first one is free, regardless of the owner. Would you like to make “The Shady Woods Copse,” your home point?”
A… safe… zone? Did this mean that I would always be safe here? I was skeptical. I’d thought I was safe in my ceiling, fully invisible, but Red Thorn had found me.
Again, yes and no buttons appeared. I chose yes this time, and a flare of light exploded around my body. I heard music and was enthralled by the fanfare.
“Alright! You now have a place to call home, or at least home away from home! We hope you enjoy your stay! I’ll pop in from time to time to give you tips and advice! Tread safely!”
“Wait!” I exclaimed. “Please Miss Tutorial, don’t go! I… I wanted to talk to you!”
The voice was gone though. Wherever it had come from, apparently it didn’t need to tell me anything else. I slumped. Maybe… maybe I was just bad at conversation? I hadn’t had very many of them before, after all. Oh! I had barely even said anything to her, instead focusing on the buttons she kept presenting to me! Did I bore her?
I flopped back onto my back, gazing up at the few stars I could still see through the beautiful morning sky. The sun was rising quickly but here in this cozy glade, I thought I could lay here forever.
The green bar had refilled. I could get up if I wanted… but it felt so nice here. The grass felt good, and the shade of the trees above felt like I’d brought a bit of Dungeon Home with me. I wanted to explore!
But I found my eyes drifting closed as I took in new smells and new sensations on my skin. There was so much new to me that… just… just lying there for a while, staring at the Great-Open was more than enough for me.
“I’ll show you this one day, Bugbear. I swear I will,” I told myself, wondering how Bugbear was doing back in the cave.
I drifted away, closing my eyes and dreaming of falling into the sky, but instead of being afraid, I loved every moment.
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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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