The instant the warrior placed my head over his, he was gone, leaving only the suit of full plate that made up my body. He was the fourth adventurer I’d eaten. I stood still for a few moments and savored his essence. I was lucky this time, this had been his first quest and the group he was with didn’t know him yet. I lifted his sword and shield with the same practiced ease he would’ve and went to join his companions further into the dungeon. I didn’t have to go far before I encountered a lightly armored dwarf balancing a large hammer carefully on his shoulder.
“Looks like a perfect fit,” he said. I searched the memories of my most recent victim. Stone in the River Bed was his name, Stone for short. I gave a thumbs up. I’d be able to mimic my meals voice, but not his diction or manner. It was best to avoid talking to keep up the ruse. “I still don’t understand why you couldn’t wait until we were leaving this forsaken hole to put it on.” I shrugged. I didn’t understand either, but all four previous adventurers immediately donned me after I was found. They were understandably excited to find armor so fine as me, but it seemed an unnecessary risk to put me on in the middle of a dungeon. My theory was that my master had placed some sort of glamour upon me that drove them to do it. “Well, let’s rejoin the others.” I nodded and followed him through the dusty halls, my steel feet clanging on the stone floors.
I could’ve led the way myself of course. This was my home after all, but that wouldn’t suit my master’s game. For now I had to keep up the facade. As I walked with my faux compatriot I took note of the lifeless forms of my fellow residents. We passed ten slaughtered goblins, a horribly mutated bear, several large spiders and a blind cave drake. The drake was new, I noted, my master was always innovating fresh ways to torment adventurers. It was his favorite form of recreation. I was the crux of that amusement, something I might be proud of, if I was capable of such things.
We crossed into another section of the dungeon and into a large hall. Sconces lit with blue flame lined the walls and illuminated stains of dried blood. A large, muscular woman sat against a wall sharpening a menacing looking axe, while across from her sat another woman, as petite as the other was powerful, wearing a simple white dress that had somehow avoided the myriad potential stains that lurked around them. She was mumbling softly to herself. She would be the biggest risk, both to me and my master. The holy ones were always trouble.
“You done getting all dressed up for the ball?” asked the large woman, Hrig was the name according to my last meal. I surprised myself by risking a bow and holding out a hand toward her.
“And would you care to dance?” I asked. She laughed and took my hand, using it to stand.
“Let's head for the ballroom.” She gestured down the hall with her massive axe as if it weighed nothing, and tilted her head toward our still mumbling companion. “Coming? or does your god need you to babble incoherently for a bit longer?” The other woman stood slowly and sighed.
“You know that prayer is important to my spells, Hrig.” She gave me a once over. “The armor suits you Sevald. May it protect you in the coming fights.” I tensed momentarily under her gaze, but sensed no attempt to look beneath my surface. She was the trusting type. That suited me fine.
“Thank you Kyren.” I gave a slight nod.
“I’ll lead the way this time,” said Stone, taking his place in front of us, “I’m tired of being left behind by your overly long legs and lack of consideration for an old dwarf’s constitution.” Hrig shrugged and gestured for him to lead the way. I fell in line behind him with Kyren behind me and Hrig taking up the rear.
After a few winding paths through dimly lit halls we came to the trapped hallway. Of course, only I knew that’s what it was. I watched as Stone’s foot struck the pressure plate. I waited for the inevitable thud of the arrows into him, but it didn’t come. Instead I heard the crash of armor hitting the ground as I tackled him and the whistle of arrows just over my head. I heard cursing underneath me and slowly picked myself back up.
“Yer’ damned heavy Sevald, why the hell did you do that?” asked Stone. I pointed at the wall to our left. All ten arrows lay in a shattered pile where they’d hit the stone wall. “Oh, well… thanks. Ye’ve the keen senses of a Dwarf.” He gave me a firm pat on my pauldron. I felt something warm swell in my cuirass as he did so.
Why had I done that? I’m not meant to interfere with the traps. I’d watched two women and a man be felled by that trap before and felt nothing. Something was wrong. I’d have to report it to my master after this group was finished.
“We should’ve expected traps. With everything else we’ve encountered it was foolish not to.” said Kyren.
“Eh, I say we just push forward and don’t worry about it. It was just a few arrows.” Hrig flexed as she spoke as if to say her tremendous biceps made her arrow proof.
“No, the sorceress is right. I’ll handle it.” the dwarf began muttering under his breath in ancient dwarven. He closed his eyes and when he opened them again they’d changed from blue to slate grey, sclera and all. He looked around the room, into and beyond the walls with his stone sense. I was familiar with the ability. My second meal had been a dwarf who also possessed it. “There are four more traps in the room. Follow me close behind and tread carefully. I think I can guide us all through here.”
We fell back into formation and followed him. We avoided the pitfall, the pendulum axes and what my master referred to as the ‘razzle dazzler’ , a flamethrower hidden in a wall. I hardly noticed, I was too focused on determining why I’d saved Stone. Perhaps it was a directive that had been placed into me without me knowing? Master often spoke of his growing boredom, perhaps having more adventurers make it through to the end was a way to increase his pleasure? The dwarf held up his hand for us to stop.
“Everyone quiet down. That’s the end of the traps, but there's something in the room up ahead. Something big. I raised my shield in preparation and readied my sword. The troll was next. I kicked open the door to the dark room and charged.
“Wait, you idio- !.” I charged into the room with a roar, doing my best to draw the trolls attention. I succeeded, and after a moment of surprise he knocked me across the room with an almost casual swing of his massive club.
I slumped against the wall, feigning unconsciousness. This was part of the routine of course. I rush in and am struck down only to miraculously recover after the fight ends and my short-term allies are softened up.
I watched as Stone charged, rolling between the troll’s legs at the last moment. Before the troll could turn around, Hrig was in front of him, and he narrowly avoided having his guts exposed by her axe. Already off balance he was knocked to his knees by a swift hammer strike to the back of his legs. He swung his club in a wide arc to buy space, but just as he started rising to his feet chains of light sprung from beneath him and brought him back down to the ground where they bound his hands and feet. Kyren had entered the room, her eyes ablaze with light and her dark hair drawing sharp contrast with the halo of white that surrounded her.
Another strike from Stone’s hammer caused the troll to let out an animal cry. Hrig closed on him, her axe held high, but she’d made a fatal mistake, she’d forgotten his teeth. Before she could bring down her axe, he stretched out his neck and wrapped his teeth around her waist biting hard. She dropped her axe. There was a loud and terrible crunch, but she didn’t scream, instead she started striking the troll's head with her bare fists even as she coughed up blood.
I was on my feet and across the room before I knew what was happening. I dropped my shield and leapt the last six feet, taking my sword in both hands. I brought it down on the troll's neck, severing it in a spray of viscera. I realized after a few moment’s that I’d been yelling. I felt a fire deep in my breastplate. A kind of internal heat I hadn’t felt before.
I moved toward Hrig and pulled the troll's jaws from her.
“You’re a great dance partner Sevald, you just need to work on those first few steps.” said Hrig as she spat blood from her mouth.
Kyren ran to her muttering under her breath, the light had not yet left her and I watched as it began to flow over Hrig, stitching her wounds and sealing her innards back into her stomach. By the time she was done the light that had surrounded her had faded completely.
As Hrig’s wounds healed I felt yet another new sensation. Almost as if I was a clenched fist that was easing its grasp. I searched for an explanation from my previous meals. Relief? Where was that coming from? “Thank you Kyren.” said Hrig, wiping blood from her mouth.
“You're welcome, but be careful. I can seal your wounds, but you lost a lot of blood. You’ll likely feel a bit weak.” Hrig responded by launching herself back to her feet and picking up her massive axe with a single hand before giving it a few test swings.
“Eh, I didn’t need that extra blood anyway.” Kyren sighed, Stone chuckled and I stood there enjoying what my meals told me was a sense of camaraderie.
As we descended down to the final room of the dungeon I continued to reckon with the new sensations that were overtaking me. I felt as if heavy stones were rattling around inside me, clanging against my hollow interior. Dread, according to the essences I’d absorbed. This was always my masters favorite part, the conclusion of his grand design.
The room was high ceilinged, held up by six thick stone pillars. The walls were covered in rich tapestries and lit by a massive chandelier. At the far end of the room sat my master on his throne. He was draped across it with one foot hanging playfully off one of the arm rests, his right hand held a golden chalice from which he took a generous sip as we entered the room. He smiled at us, but it didn’t reach his eyes.
“I see you made it to my inner sanctum.” he swirled the wine in his cup, “ I’m impressed.” The party was close enough to make him out at this point. He appeared as a young handsome man wearing red silk embroidered with gold thread and covered with jewels.
Instead of responding we fanned out, readying ourselves for a charge. He wouldn’t like that, he always preferred to banter. I’d try some myself, but he wouldn’t really consider that satisfying. It would be like a child speaking to their toy.
“Nothing to say? Not, 'stop killing villagers?' Or, 'we’re here to end your reign of terror?' Come now, I’ve been terrorizing this area for years, I’m sure you could come up with something!”
“Oi, I’ve got something,” muttered Stone, hammer held menacingly in his hands. The lord smiled and nodded for him to continue. “This!” he charged the throne, raising his hammer to strike. The lord sighed, but didn’t move. The hammer fell, cracking the throne, but my master was no longer in it, he was behind Stone, facing the rest of the party, wine chalice still in hand, not a drop spilled. He drained it, crushed it with his bare hand and threw it aside.
“Fine, we’ll skip to the part where I kill you.”
Hrig threw herself at him, her axe high in the air, but he raised his hand and she was thrown back by a wall of force. Stone was back on him, sweeping at his knees with his hammer, but he lost his footing as the tiles beneath his feet rose in pillars underneath him, launching him into the air.
Next was my turn. I followed the usual pattern he’d made me practice. Downward strike, left, right, shield bash, he moved the bare minimum necessary to avoid each strike, yawning as he did so to emphasize his overwhelming power. Finally he gave me a wink as he lightly struck my chestplate with an open palm and I launched myself backward dramatically.
As I clattered across the floor an enormous ray of light engulfed the lord and I was momentarily blinded, despite my lack of eyes. Holy light would do that. When it cleared the lord was standing, visibly singed. His expression changed from amused to annoyed. Kyren was standing, surrounded by the light that accompanied her spells and preparing another one with rapid mutterings under her breath.
He began to move toward her menacingly, but before he could close the distance both Stone and Hrig attacked him simultaneously. This time, he wasn’t prepared and both strikes were true. He stood there for a moment, unmoved by either strike, but bleeding from a tiny cut where the axe had hit.
“That’s enough!” He yelled and force propelled his attackers backward. He raised a hand and the floor beneath Kyren shifted and enclosed around her, he made the same gesture and both Hrig and Stone were similarly trapped. Now it was showtime.
I stood up and charged my master with a primal yell. He smiled calmly, enjoying the pageantry. Just before I brought my sword down he raised his hand and I stopped, seemingly frozen by a spell, but truthfully stopping out of routine.
“You cannot defeat me, warrior. I’m too powerful.” he clenched his hand in a fist and I brought my hands to my side as if I was enclosed by an invisible force. I pretended to struggle for a moment before sucking in my armor to give the appearance that I was being crushed. He opened his hand and I fell to my knees. “Do you wish to live?” I stayed there, unmoving, pretending that I had been winded by the force of his spell. He liked this part to be particularly dramatic.
“Yes... I do.” he smiled widely.
"I shall let you live… on one condition.”
“Anything,” I said quietly, but loudly enough for my fellow adventurers to hear.
“Kill your companions.” I pretended to be startled, and looked over my shoulder at my allies. Hrig and Stone looked furious, but Kyren’s face was calm.
“Do it.” She said, and that actually did surprise me. My master's face told me it surprised him too. “He’ll kill us all anyway. There’s no shame in saving yourself.” In all of the times I'd done this, this hadn’t happened. This was new.
“She’s right. Do what you need to do.” Hrig’s expression had changed from angry to sad. “I already owe you my life for earlier.
“As do I Lad, do what you need to do.” said Stone.
I felt in that moment another new feeling building in my empty suit. I looked up at my master. His mouth hung open. He’d never had things go this far off script. He lived to savor the terror and misery in adventurers' eyes as someone they thought they knew betrayed them and killed them one by one. He enjoyed it so much he’d created me to ensure it would play out that way every single time.
Unfortunately for him, this change of script would be the second biggest surprise of his day. I raised my sword and drove it hard and fast straight into the small cut he’d received from Hrig’s axe. I felt his legs give out as I lifted him above my helmet and let the sword slide up through his chest. The look on his face was one of surprise and fear. Two expressions it was completely unused to. I threw him off my sword and watched his body roll across the floor, leaving a trail of blood behind it.
The spell holding my companions was released by my master’s death and before I knew it Hrig had swept me up in an embrace. I dropped my sword and shield as she twirled me before putting me back on the ground, though not quite letting me go. Stone gave me a firm pat on the pauldron and Kyren gave my left gauntlet a gentle touch and my helmet a warm smile.
“Now that was spectacular!” said Hrig, smiling ear to ear.
“Y’know lad, I had my doubts about you when you joined us for this, but you’ve done a great job addressing them.” said Stone as he went over to begin looting my former master’s corpse.
“Agreed. You seemed a bit brash and unsure when we met you, but we couldn’t have done this without you. You were a real asset.” Said Kyren.
“Uh, thank you. I… I’m surprised I wound up being so useful.” I said.
Hrig looked at each of her companions.
“So, shall we have him join us for the next one?” Stone and Kyren smiled before speaking simultaneously.
“Aye,” said Stone with a smile.
“Absolutely.” agreed Kyren.
Hrig, looked back at me.
“So, what do you say? Want to join us for another one, Sevald?” I stood silently for a moment and looked over at my master, whose jeweled tunic was already more lightly jeweled than before. I took a moment to try and process what had happened and all the new sensations and feelings I was experiencing.
“Yes… I would like that very much.”