Chapter 7: The Hall of the Gluttonous King
How bad can it be after those minotaurs? John Younger crept down the stairs, the hair on his arms standing up as he processed the information. I don't like the sound of that. The door shut behind him. The only option remaining was to descend further down the stairs, deeper into the bowels of the dungeon.
This time, he could at least see his surroundings as he stepped down the stairs. He was lucky that the white glow of his [Twin Axes] gave a bit of illumination, just enough for him to see. Though there wasn't anything worth noting. The staircase was encased all around in grey stone.
As he descended, John tested the walls, looking for a hollow point. Maybe I'll be able to find some sort of secret passage that lets me get out of here. But the stone remains solid against his touch. The only way out lay down.
John's leathery boots echoed heavily on the stairwell, the only sound besides his breathing on the otherwise silent enclosure. His heart beat faster and faster with loud thudding noises as he went, feeling as if he was heading into an even darker underworld. An underworld that would take him straight into the heart of darkness.
|<Disembodied Whispering Voice>
Maybe you are. There are many mad things that lay within and madder still below. Come, come. I am waiting.
John ignored the voice. He didn't recognize it. The stairs continued for a long time in an almost endless stretch. After a while, John came across something he had not been expecting in the slightest. A sensation that had become absolutely foreign to him.
It was the smell of food, but not just any food. Hot food, meat, cooked fats over cooking fires.
Instantly his stomach began to grumble. Reminding him once again that he had not eaten since his drugged meal back at the tavern. But I have food though don't I? He realized as he held out his hand and imagined the place the bread he had found before was stored.
"Bread," He said, giving the command. The hardened wheat loaf appeared in his hand, and though it wasn't the food he was smelling, he bit into it hungrily knowing he would need his strength.
Maybe when I find the source of that wonderful smell, I'll meet up with others like me. Others trapped by whatever cruel gods reside here.
Still, John was cautious, and while eager to meet up with others, he was not a fool. With his [Twin Axes] at the ready, he finished his descent as silently as he could. The stairs finally ending.
At the bottom of the staircase, there was a small landing where a wooden door lay open. There's nowhere else to go but through. Every door that he had come through thus far had locked behind him, urging him deeper and deeper into the dungeon.
He approached the door, cautiously, and looked in with an unobstructed view of the scene that awaited him.
The door opened up into a large and spacious kitchen. In the center, there sat a huge copper pot over a roaring fire. The pot boiling with an unknown substance. John had smelled whatever it was that was cooking before, but he couldn’t place it now.
Milling around the pot were several people. Actual people. They looked dirty and were draped in rags, but they were people nonetheless. Some of them were stirring the pot with large spoons, while others periodically dumped in chunks of bloody meat. While others carved what looked like turnips and potatoes into the pot.
They did all of this in near silence. In fact, it looked as if they were going through as much effort as possible to be as quiet as possible. Have they lost their tongues? What possible reason do they have to be so quiet? Regardless. I need to take note and do the same.
John took a few small steps forward in an effort to see them better. The only source of light in the kitchen seemed to be coming from the fire under the boiling pot. While further in the distance, a couple of scattered torches cast their flames. He held up one of his [Twin Axes] to try and see a bit better in the dimness as the door started to shut behind him.
As John stepped through the door, his boot scuffed the stone underfoot. In the terrible quiet of the kitchen, it sounded like loudly and echoed.
The head of the nearest human snapped toward John, and in the next instant, it was right in front of his own, illuminated by his [Twin Axe].
It took all of Johns's hours of training and practice to not make a sound. To not scream. He held his breath, lest it betray him.
What stood in front of him was not human. Or at least not anymore. That's a man at all, that's a monster.
Gray, unseeing eyes bore into him from sunken sockets, desperately trying to see even though they had stopped doing so long ago. It was bald except for a few strands of wispy gray hair that poked out from under its ragged hood. The monster looked ancient, its drooping skin sagging over a body that was mostly bones. No muscle or fat. That skin was marred with scars, both old and new.
John waited as the monster in the human form began to look for him, long fingers outstretched looking for him. John knew if those fingers were to touch him, were to find him. It would be his doom. Even if I fight off this one, I can't fight off all of them. He waited, still as a statue, his lungs crying for air. I can't hold it anymore.
His rescue came in the form of a rat.
John didn’t know how the little creature had gotten in, but it scurried across the floor, its sharp claws grating against the stone.
The monsters were on it in an instant. They fell upon it like vultures. Those pale outstretched fingers ripping its flesh between them. They fought over the corpse, striking out at others of their kind with long yellowed nails that extended out of the fingers like blades. Those that won a prize of meat slurped it down vigorously. They fought over the food like they had not eaten in months, and from the looks of their bodies, they hadn’t.
That could have been me. John thought as he stepped away from the entryway and headed further into the darkness away from the monsters.
All of them wore the same dirty rags, but though they were nothing but skin and bones, John knew they held monstrous strength. And a weakness, as far as I can tell, they're also all blind. If they can't hear me. I should be ok.
In the commotion, John was able to catch his breath. But as the sounds died down, John dared not move from his new spot. There were at least a dozen of the sunken humans around the kitchen. He might have been able to fight off a third of them, but they would eventually overwhelm him with sheer numbers.
No, it was better to stay still for now and weigh my options.
A new sound disturbed his thoughts, though none of the monsters seemed to react to it.
Whimpering. Human whimpering.
John cast his gaze around, searching for the source. Being careful not to draw any attention to himself by making noise. The source didn't seem to be any of the inhuman monsters. Not even those that had taken damage from the others in the skirmish for the rat remained silent.
No, this sound was coming from along the far wall of the kitchen. That area was bathed deepest in darkness. John tried to adjust his [Twin Axe] and aimed the dim light as best as he could. John thought he could see bars.
Those look like cells. Cages. Like the one, the skeleton was in. Only this time, the occupant was alive.
Then, a voice boomed from all around. A new voice he had not yet heard.
|<Gutteral Disembodied Voice>
These are the unworthy. Those who were tasked with bringing my name back into the world of men. They failed, and this shall be their eternal punishment.
At the sound of the voice, the unworthy all fell to the ground. Their long spoons and meat abandoned. They curled into the fetal position, while others crawled against the ground. Their hands over their ears, trembling.
<Gutteral Disebodied Voice>
“They toil and cook food for their gluttonous king. One who does nothing but sit and eat, while they are forced to live off of the dregs that this dungeon provides. They will not die, and they will never truly live again.
The kitchen once again faded to silence. Gradually, the unworthy began to rise. They picked up their spoons and their meat and began working once more.
The voice that had guided him so far spoke to John.
You have drawn his attention too...
I grant to you a quest. Free that which is hidden here and escape to the next floor. Find the key and move on, or meet the same fate as those that have come before you. Some of which still remain. But not for long.”
Another whimper issued from the cells on the back wall. One of the unworthy stuck at the bars with its long spoon. It brought a finger to its lips in a shushing gesture, and the whimpering stopped.
John obviously could not stay rooted in place forever. The god had told him that there was another key to be found If he wanted to move on from this place.
He was growing increasingly angry and wary of this place. If he got the chance to meet this old god face to face, he would make sure that one of his [Twin Axes] would be embedded into its face.
With the utmost caution, John began to move. He took deep, shallow breaths, and calculated each and every step before he took it. The dim light of the kitchen as well as that of his axes played to his advantage. He was able to place his footing carefully, and skirt around any obstacles that would have otherwise given his position away.
Many of the obstacles were gruesome. Consisting mostly of yellowed bones cracked bones. Some were the size of the rat skeleton that now lay just to John's right as he proceeded. The unworthy had picked the bones clean and split them open after to get at the marrow.
Other bones were bigger. Too big to be anything but human.
In that instant, John remembered the smell that he had encountered when he first reached the bottom of the staircase.
A smell he had thought he would never forget.
The smell of cooking human flesh.