Several hours had passed now and the nightbirds had ceased their songs and the harmonic buzz of the insects had long since faded away. It was the twilight hours, just between the end of the night, but before the early warnings of daybreak to come. The little blue light had shone its way quite far up the path ahead. A small figure could be seen in its dim glow, rising to her toes to stretch with a deep yawn. Pausing only to do so, before both of them continued their march.

Esper felt the first inklings of exhaustion, but was determined to press on, even if she hadn’t gotten as much sleep as her weary body had yearned for the night before. Daylight was soon to come and it would be foolish to waste these precious hours. She did however, feel a pang of hunger and so she stopped and carefully set her load onto the ground, making sure the lantern sat upright as she did so.

Carefully undoing the binding at the top, she opened the wrap and looked inside for the big jar of paste. Taking it in both hands, the girl sat down and placed it between her legs and tightly gripped the lid. A twist of her hand didn’t even come close to prying the container open. Only after she squeezed down with her legs and put her entire body into turning the lid, did it release with a slight popping sound.

The deep savory aroma rose up immediately, wafting through her nose, reaching both her stomach and her heart which apparently shared a deep connection to another. Placing the lid down, she looked at the cold congealed mass and then to the lantern. Would kobolds fire heat glass? She didn’t know, the thought of trying came to her for a moment, but then she realized that that would involve stopping for a longer time. Pursing her lips in resignation, she decided for the next best thing and dipped her fingers into the jar.

The tallow was hard on the surface, but once she broke through, it slowly gave way like a thick and dry viscous gel. So like that, she scooped a large heaping of it into her mouth, leaving her fingers there for a second. The taste was just as intense as before. The deep, fatty richness of the tallow and the tart bite of the berries. She closed her eyes with a smile and let the glob of tallow melt in her mouth, as she chewed on the dried fruits for a while before swallowing it down.

Two times more this process repeated itself and she had to refrain herself from a third. She knew she would eat too much of it if she didn’t stop herself and then she wouldn’t have enough to reach the surface. Taking a final deep breath of the hearty aroma, she took the lid and screwed it back on tightly onto the jar, taking a moment to lick her fingers clean again after. Esper looked down to the pouch and placed the jar back inside of it.

Curiously picking up the skull mask she held it close to her eyes, leaning somewhat closer to the fire. It really looked a lot like a skull. But now that it was this close to her eyes she saw the intricate line-work running across the mask, making a series of assorted symbols. None of which she recognized more than faintly. Though something in her nagged about a vague familiarity with some of the odd shapes. She turned the mask around.

There was no strap or cord to bind it to one's head. Puzzled, she lifted it up and placed it onto her face. Much to her surprise, it stuck in place as she released her hand. Facing her gaze down she shook her head from side to side, but the mask didn’t budge. Now deeply intrigued, she took her hands to it and pulled on the sides, it came off immediately and without resistance. “Haah?” she stared at the thing, turning it from side to side in the dim blue light trying to decipher its secret.

Thoroughly puzzled, but impressed with it, she placed it back down on to the wrap. She wasn’t sure what she would do with it, but having it made her happy. She looked now at the little pouch that she had taken from the tall man's bag. She ran her fingers over the material of the little bag that fit neatly in the palm of her small hand. It was smooth. Not cloth, but a very thin leather of sorts. She hoped he wouldn’t mind that she took some stuff, but she felt it was fair since he broke his promise.

Her eyes widened, as she felt the texture. Curious now, she undid the string and looked inside of it. There were three small metal disks, stacked neatly on top of each other. Reaching in, she took them out and looked at them closely. They were all identical, each about the size of the gap between the tips of her index finger and thumb and each fairly light. All of them had a picture of a man she didn’t know on one side. The other side had a strange symbol that she also didn’t recognize.

Esper placed them back into the sachet and placed that in turn back into the wrap. Once more, she bound it together in a bundle, taking an extra moment to make a loop for the arm that held the lantern. Then once more, she repeated the method of encrusting it as before, so that the heat wouldn’t damage the fabric too badly. Once all was said and done, the girl rose back to her sore feet, using her better leg to propel herself up and off of the ground.

Determined and ready, she continued her walk up and around the spiral path. Soon the first cries of the day came to ear. Little birds singing sweet melodies and a new series of insects crying out aloud, calling for their mates one final time in this last day of their lives. With a good mood and a smile that matched it, despite her exhaustion, she kept walking; inspired, if by nothing else, then by the delicious food in her stomach.

Another hour passed, as she walked with perseverance. Suddenly she saw a dim orange glow appear from the darkness ahead, it was coming her way and fast. Panic hit her for a moment and she looked around looking for somewhere to hide. A strange crunching sound filled the air. A constant stream of sound that she was unfamiliar with, as if something great and round were rolling down the pebble path. A metallic jingle ringing out from time to time, as if from the striking of blades.

It was too late to hide, it was too close now. Whatever it was had definitely seen her light. Frozen, she stood at the side of the road. The orange lamp came into view now, hanging from a rod before a great beast that she had never seen the likes of before. It was massive, taller than the tall man was and it walked on two long, backwards bent legs. A loud clopping struck out as it came close, pulling a large wooden cart behind it. It was like a bird. But it was big enough to eat her.

An old, gray-haired man, wearing a wide brimmed straw hat, raised his head to look at the strange child standing by the side of the road, but only raised a hand to wave as his cart passed by without pause on the way down. Not sure how it came to her, Esper waved back instinctively and watched as the man in the cart pulled by the strange thing went past her. She stood there for a moment, not too sure what had quite happened just now. The sounds of the creature and of the metallic ringing vanished.

After a moment, the orange light faded too into the darkness down the way that she had come from. Somewhat perplexed, she turned back to continue on her own way. Thoughts of the strange bird however wouldn’t leave her mind now for a time to come. She bet it was delicious. “Ah.” She stopped in her tracks.

If she had a giant bird, she could eat it, yes. But what if she had a cart like the old man? She could reach the surface in no time. Though she did wonder why the bird didn’t just simply fly with the cart in tow instead of running. Maybe it just didn’t know any better. That answer was satisfying enough for her and she proceeded with her limping walk up the stony path.

Esper’s aching leg wasn’t made any better by the stinging of the little pebbles and rocks beneath her bare feet. But she grimaced and kept going, not going to let little things like tiny rocks stop her. Thankfully, she soon found herself whisked away once more to the realms of her thoughts and imaginings. Of places and people unseen and of the strange giant bird that had captivated her heart and mind and stomach.

Another hour would pass and then another after, and soon after that shone in the first rays of sunshine from above. Just barely, but as the first ray hit her skin she placed herself in the middle of the path and shutting her eyes, simply rose her gaze and let the sun warm her face and body for a time. The warm kiss of the nigh-autumn sunlight accentuating the forest song emanating around her made her deeply calm and for only a brief moment she felt herself fading into sleep on her feet.

The girl shook her head, snapping out of the trance and continued on her trek. She couldn’t fall asleep if she was walking so that was her plan. To just keep walking until she got where she wanted to go. She could sleep afterward, it seemed simple enough. Esper wondered if she could stay awake till she reached the surface. Mama always told her sleep was important, but she hadn’t gotten much of it lately. Stopping for a moment only, she took the lantern off now that the fire had burnt out, touching it gently to see if it had cooled and seeing that it did, placed it inside of her wrap.

Did birds sleep? She didn’t know. A warm, wet wind blew past her rushing from the deep abyss below and she heard a high whistle as it sheared along the edge of the cliff that rose to the distance high above. She hated how it always showed off and so, rolling her eyes as dramatically as she could, she placed her gaze back straight forward, determined to ignore the howling wind.

As she shifted her head however, she saw something in the distance. It was only a vague jumble of shapes and formations, but there was something different there. A beat of excitement came to her and she pressed on. Was it perhaps the next town? She walked faster now, her determination renewing.

A familiar sight came to her. Two great posts rising out of the earth connecting to another bridge as before. Once she reached it she squinted her eyes and looked but saw nothing else and crossed it as uneventfully as the first one, making sure to thank it as well for letting her cross safely. Once she had spanned the large gap however, she heard them. The people.

Voices and laughter bounced off of the walls faintly, still some distance away. The striking of metal and wood and stone. The sounds of life and work. She ran forward, sound carried far in the chasm, but it still meant the town was close. After only a moment of running however, she quickly found herself before another bridge of the same making and crossed it as well in the same manner.

It was indistinct, but she saw it now. It was too large not to see, even for her. Great individual pillars of stone rose out of the chasm in several places. Like the fingers of a long dead titan they rose up, extruded from the walls, as if the darkness below itself were trying to claw its way out of the great chasm. Some of these gigantic, mountainous pillars rose higher or lower than the others next to them. But all were interwoven with a series of bridges going in all possible directions. Atop the plateaus of the gigantic stone rises, buildings and towers stood proudly tall. Colorful banners and clothes flying in the wind, dangling over the abyss as if to challenge it to come and take them away.

Esper hobbled on in excitement. The stone path cutting into her feet was completely irrelevant to her now, as thoughts of actually seeing a real town and people overpowered every other sensation in her body. With high hopes and fresh aspirations in her heart, she walked onward until she reached the great stone bridge. The spiral path ended here, no longer running along the edge of the cliff face and she couldn’t even see where or if it would continue again.

But what she did see, were the many people walking about on the other side of the large bridge, passing between bright houses and windows and she hobbled on to see the town for herself. The journey to the surface could wait, at least until she had satisfied her great curiosity.

Besides, she had to go through here anyways, right?

A note from Razzmatazz

*~+---SPECIAL THANKS---+~*

Shadowsmage, The Grey Mage, Spencer Seidel, Slime girl chapters 4 lyfes, chp2001, Shaoraka, James_is_Playing, Collin Love, SageDiu Lei Lo Mo, Lord DragonRose, MetusZerum, Pike, ItsCool, Beowulf, Yenin, Darastrix, Chymor, Sebastian Viller, Chotley Ferguson, Matthew Forlines, Lasse, Harley Shockley, Halima, Colin Clark, Anna Turner, Dontspam Meho, David G Ross, Steven Lindsay, Missus Mouse, Imran, Indigo, Stefan Mensink, James Panao O'Connor, Igors Zvaigzne, Zikarioa, Dionisio Trigo, Ingo Wiarda, Michael Maddox, S T, All-In-Vane, Autonomous Spaghetti, Alex, Nick Tinsley, Michael Lau, Mackintackin, Jose, Tzucaza, Alexis Lionel, Carlos Ramirez Guerra-librero, Jo Gucoka, Matticide FOWD, Matthew Orenstein, Popper369, Boohya, Enleed, Oliverthms, Ignatius Colotta, Christian Kenney, Andrew B, Casel002, Tomas Wood, Chris Meeker, Ivan, Scryde, Krimson Fox, Jacob Imming, Zaire Mudu, Slippery.John, Tom Meda, Zeruke, Joshua Shon, Mark Baitinger, Christie, Vikram Valame, Alex, Sonny C, Pieter, Yates!!, Kris, Benn, Victor, John J Riggan, Chris, Howard Roark, Niraada, Deane L Uptegrove, Patterson, Narasan

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About the author


Bio: Socially awkward witches, sad hugs, dramatic adventures, spooky stuff, and comfy dungeons: My name is D.M. Rhodes, but I love to write about those things under the moniker 'Razzmatazz'. (Hopefully full-time, one day soon!) I’m a hobby occultist and, more boringly, I’m an XR expert, as well as a government-trained media and information specialist.

The main genres that I write in are litRPG-fantasy, action, adventure, romance, tragedy, horror, and slice-of-life. I seriously vibe with religious and occult overtones mixed in with super obscure story concepts. °( ~ )°

Thanks for taking an interest! Because of supportive readers like yourself, I can keep following my socially unacceptable dream! (I'm going to become the wizard-king.)

– Always open for feedback!

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