Chapter Thirty One – Over River, Through Woods
Dungeon Home was… small. It was impossible to think anything else when staring at the hole that just a few cycles ago had been my entire world.
A cave. A dark tunnel with dim blue lights visible deep within. It was almost unnoticeable with all the brush and trees surrounding it. Missing it could’ve been easy.
My whole world.
My best friend was still trapped down there, and going in would just get him hurt. I wanted to bring him out of there. To free him. The only way I could think to do such a thing was to become a Beastmaster like Half Bold and put him in a horn. Or… or convince him to kill one of us.
I would never do either of those things. So I’d have to explore. Find new options. New ways to handle my problems. New solutions.
I’d have to grow. Maybe one day, I could become strong enough to tear the instinct out of my kin entirely. For today though, I could only look back and imagine a world without the instinct or invaders.
“You… lived your whole life down there?” Amy asked as we slowly walked back to the Shady Woods Copse, Iron taking the lead with the two of us following behind him.
“Until yesterday, yes!” I said. “It was great! Before… before the invaders came. I would just… float around all day. Following the instinct. Looking at rocks. Annoying Bugbear…”
Amy cocked a quizzical eyebrow at me, looking concerned. She looked like she wanted to ask about something but held back.
“That… was all there was. It was…” I sighed, unable to lie convincingly. “It was life. I guess. When there were no invaders, obeying the instinct was all I had. Then after the invaders, they were the only thing that was… different! I loved them for being something new, and hated them for wanting to kill my… family. It took a long time for me to realize they weren’t family at all. Just… mindless.”
The two of them were quiet for a long time.
“This… instinct, you keep mentioning. What is it?” Amy asked.
I turned and looked at them in horror. They really didn’t have an instinct. But… surely they once had!
“You’ve… never had an instinct? Something guiding your every sway? Pushing you to do things? Pushing you to be the same as the rest?” I asked.
Both of them seemed to grimace a little at that.
“Yes… Gell. I’ve had… some experience with a person like that,” Amy said, somberly looking off into the sunset. “My own mother was… very much like that.”
It was my turn to be curious. “Mother… A female parent? What does that have to do with the instinct?”
She blinked but recovered quickly. “Gell… it sounds to me like… uhm... the Instinct was trying to make you into something you weren’t. My mother did that to me a lot when I was younger. I still loved her, but she could be absolutely infuriating.”
“Tell me about it,” Iron added. “She made a mean apple pie though.”
“Meaner than mine?” Amy joked, swatting his arm playfully.
“Eh… they’re both equally worse than the ones I make,” he joked right back, and Amy rolled her eyes fondly.
I was utterly confused. Why would you want your food to be mean?
“I… suppose the instinct was like that. Do you think the instinct is a real person? That it’s like my mother? I never really thought of it that way. It was just… what I did when I wasn’t doing anything else. A list of dumb rules, that I began to hate the more cycles it spent letting invaders kill me.”
They were silent again for a while, exchanging a look that conveyed meaning I couldn’t catch. Would I ever be able to talk with someone by just looking at them?
“Perhaps we… aren’t talking about the same thing,” Amy said. “Who taught you to speak? To read and write? Do you have a mother?”
I thought back, but there was nothing like that. No mother or father, though I supposed Momma Bossbear could’ve been like a mother. She was so big and strong. But she’d never nurtured me. Couldn't possibly have taught me anything. She was a slave of the instinct. One of many in Dungeon Home.
Momma was in her name, but she wasn’t a Mother. Not in the slightest.
“No. Not that I remember. Just the instinct. That was fine before the invaders came. When they did... it kept making me act so stupid! ‘Attack while they’re ready for you, Gell!’ ‘Attack their exposed back, it's not like they just said they were going to bait you that way, Gell!’ ‘Get killed for me, Gell!’ Again and again and again, until I just couldn’t stand it anymore.”
Amy’s eyes went wide. “That’s… I’m sorry you… had to go through that. It sounds horrible.”
“Uh huh,” I said. “But the way the others just… went along with it was worse. They just accepted it. Just kept faithfully following. Never learned. I tried to convince them to break it, like I did. Defy it. They never did. I didn’t even know if they could until yesterday.”
“There are others….? In that cave? Like you?” Iron asked, his tone hard. “Could we help them? F-free them?”
Oh, how I wished. But… none of them would come. None of them would defy the instinct. None but Bugbear, and going down there would only hurt him.
He needed more time. More time to come to terms with his place. More time to defy the instinct. More time to learn that he could.
“No. No… not yet. Someday I’ll come back for him, though. Someday I’ll be able to ask him if he recognizes me, and he’ll be able to do more than growl. I’m sure of it,” I said wistfully.
We were all quiet for a while, until I heard Iron lean over to Amy and whisper softly.
“What the fuck?”
We arrived at the safe zone and a tension left the air that I didn’t realize had been there.
“Damn. Hoped it would last longer,” Iron commented as he sat down, leaning his back up against a tree. “Hate going back…”
“So… you’re going back again, then? To wherever it is you go?” I asked, curiously. “I answered a lot of your questions. Would you… tell me some things? Before you go?”
Amy smiled sadly. “We have time for a few questions, but we need to go quite soon, Gell.”
“Well… an easy one then.” I turned to Iron, holding a curious hand up to my lip in a way that felt natural for this body. “If you hate going back, why go back?”
Iron grinned. “If I don’t, I won’t be going anywhere. The rea– er… The other world that we’re from. That’s where we live. If we don’t go back, our bodies there will become weaker. Less stable. Less able to come here too.”
I clapped my hands over my mouth.“Oh no! I’m so sorry! Y-you can go! I won’t hold you up anymore. Uhm. Wh-when will you come back?”
I could relate to a body changing in a way they didn’t want it to.
Amy was looking at me with her “I’m concerned and worried about you” look that made me feel special, but also kind of annoyed.
“Well… we’ll probably be back in eight hou–!”
“Cycles!” I interrupted, before stuttering embarrassed. “I… I don’t know how long an hour is. Uhm. Do you know how many cycles it will be before you come back?”
Amy blanched. Iron picked up on my question faster though.
“Probably about five cycles, Gell. Fortunately, all we need to do is sleep and exercise in the other world, and then we can come back. Sound good?”
Five cycles sounded like an eternity, especially now that I could no longer curl-up in my Orc Glove, but I didn’t want to complain.
“I’ll see you then! Go make sure your bodies don’t change, okay!?” I insisted. “Go go!”
Amy laughed, and smiled at me. “We’ll see you soon, okay, Gell?”
I beamed at her, feeling like I might be closer to finding that family I’d always wanted than even I could believe. “You bet! Oh. Uhm, one last thing? B-before you go? Could I have some more Steak-and-Broccoli?”
They laughed and opened their inventories, seemingly as happy to give me the wonderful lumps of steaming goodness as I was to eat them.
They opened up their invisible menus after I was happily nomming upon all the food and then, a few seconds later, faded away out of existence like they had never been.
But they’d be back.
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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.
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