No matter how much I struggle and squirm I am unable to get out of her grasp. Everyone is together now in one group and we are heading to the staircase down to the floor below, to floor ninety-six. The Slippery Tentacle Wet Fun Place. I am surprised I managed to remember that made up, convoluted name honestly. A feeling of great unease settles into my furiously beating little lizard heart. I’ve never gone down a floor before, have I? Not like on foot, I don’t think. Can I even go down stairs? Real stairs?
Damned adventurers! My struggling and squirming is interrupted by the sidewards glance of the thief-girl looking back over her shoulder towards me. Our eyes meet again. This is the third time now she has snuck a glance over to me in this life and I hiss loudly, defensively; a puff of smoke leaving my nostrils. Shoo-shoo thief-girl! She turns back forward, her elf ears bouncing from the motion. I narrow my eyes in suspicion.
I begin to wonder, now that papa is dead and I still exist does that mean I am not limited in my time in this life? I can’t fade away if there’s no sub-boss connected to me anymore. Well, okay, no. I suppose I have until the dungeon-master dies in that case. Those would be the usual rules, wouldn’t they? Hmm. Still, I need to make the most of this. I need to get away from this possessive witch and find those secret stairs! I can’t go down a floor, I need to go the other way. Damn it!
I feel sick. A wave of nausea washes over me and my body shivers with a pulse of damp cold, like the rising of a sweat just before a fresh fever settles in. I feel… bloated. My whole body is bloated. Like there was some gigantic cystic mass growing in my heart that was swelling to take over the rest of me, filling me with some briny, filthy liquid that will seep out of my eyes any moment from the overwhelming pressure. Some… befoulment of my blood and of my being. This is the price of my unnatural re-existence I suppose. Ugh.
The hero takes the first step down. Then we follow directly behind him, the others around us. The real stairs are pretty luxurious in comparison with the dinky secret ones honestly. In some sense I expect the wizard-girl to freeze in place right then and there, as if she couldn’t take another step down. But then we do and I realize that of course I can go down these steps. I can go up them too. I ‘unlocked’ floor ninety-five. So of course this is fine. Did I forget that already? Well, I suppose going down the stairs is still new but… hmm. We bob as we descend together down the flight.
I turn my head to try and look behind us and think. The secret stairs of ninety-five. Where could they be? The stairs are always where the adventurers can’t get them, right? So where can’t the adventurers go? Where… where… there is only one answer. Swimming. The adventurers can’t go in lava. I mean magma, sorry. But can I? I shudder and feel close to vomiting. I guess at this point I don’t care. I can’t stay in this life. It feels wrong. It is wrong. I know I don’t approve of killing myself, but if it comes to that I will make an exception if jumping in the lava does that. Magma. My core tenses up squeezing my gut and a wave shoots through me from my bottom upward like I was about to purge my syste-
All the jerky and meat and bile inside of me shoots out of my maw. Chunks of digested red food and acid fly onto the hero’s back, goo dribbling down his shiny plate armor and magnificent, glorious cape. Haha, take that you perfect jerk! Ugh. The wizard turns to the side and holds me away from herself with a disgusted squeak while the last of the puke dribbles out of the corners of my mouth and my head leans forward a little. The thief shuffles a step away in turn as well, holding her mouth closed. The monk is just laughing and pointing at the hero who looks annoyed but is doing his best to keep a calm face. I can clearly see he’s grossed out though and is holding his stained cape outward with the tips of his fingers. Nice! I think I like the monk. Anyone who can laugh at the hero is good in my books! Uf.
The wizard is talking to the priestess in a somewhat panicked voice and she comes over to take a look at me. She leans in close to look at my face. I have never been this close to her before, the priestess. She has nice eyes too, you know? I could reach her. If I snapped now. If I shot a fireball I could maim her in an instant. I would perhaps never get a chance like this again. But I don’t. She’s my favorite. I don’t like seeing her hurt. Call me a softy if you want to. The black slit pupil in my yellow eyes narrows, I can tell because of my vision focusing on her own eyes, the rest of the world becoming blurry and vague on the sides of my field of view.
She asks something with a smile and closes her eyes as if to emphasize the expression, tilting her head. Reaching into her bag for a moment she pulls out a cloth and reaches out towards my face. I feel a powerful urge to bite, to lash out and snap shut down on her soft hand. Wait. Why do they all have such soft hands I wonder? Don’t adventurers have to do a lot of hard work and fighting? Weird. I resist. Instead I let her wipe the dribble off of my mouth as if I was any old raggedy newborn. As she does so she pokes and prods my body, examining it in a way that would indicate, in some cultures at least, that we were married now. Finishing her inspection and cleaning my face she says something to the wizard-girl and waves it off. I’ll be fine apparently. I don’t feel fine though. The hero having shaken the largest chunks off of his cape calls out and we continue walking, sidestepping the reddish puddle on the step.
Soon I see the dim orange lights of floor ninety-four below us and I know we’re there. I hope the great old-one doesn’t see me like this. That would be really embarrassing. My body rumbles at the thought. It’s been a fun ride, being pampered and carried and all. But it doesn’t feel warm anymore. I am tired. I yawn. But it is not an exhaustion borne of comfort. It’s just a tiredness. A kind of tiredness that no sleep can fix. Holding me with one arm the wizard pats my head with the other as we come down towards the end of the stairs. I have an idea. Swimming. I rumble. Purring loudly, letting my body vibrate and shake.
The wizard asks the priestess something and the priestess thinks for a moment and seems to give a tentative but affirmative nod, the monk just laughs again. I wish I could speak human.
We stop at the second to last step and everyone seems to relax for a moment. Some of them sit down on the steps next to each other just below us, others lean themselves against the wall. The wizard sets me down on the step next to her. She even has the audacity to raise a finger and say a single word which I presume is ‘stay’. I almost lose my control over the body at this. They killed papa. Slow down. Breathe. My plan is working though, my eyes narrow. Control yourself. Stick with it. I sit down on my haunches and rumble, foregoing my pride this time for the sake of the long game. She smiles a happy smile at my obedience as if it were self-evident and sets her bag down off of her shoulder and digs through it for the meat. Dragons have a strong appetite by nature and I for sure could eat again. But I won’t. I just needed them to believe I wanted to.
Not only because of the nausea but because I have places to go, people to be. As her back is turned to me, as everyone’s backs are turned to me I spring up on my feet and twist to the left in a mad dash! A shout rings from behind me. With a bounding spring I jump onto the shoulder of the person just below me, whose head turned towards me only too slowly to stop me. The monk. With feeble wings spread wide I leap down the last steps and glide that last foot, dropping into the water like a rock. Screams.
As I hit the water I turn sharply around again, facing the direction I just came from. My body convulses as the surge of icy cold touches against its lizard skin borne of fire. While the drake body isn’t built to be in water, the first me can swim enough to move forward on my own in this form. I won’t last long though. With hurried kicks and an awkward movement of my wings to stay upright beneath the black murk I make my way to where I remember the secret stairs being and pray that a serpent or crab doesn’t get me before I make it. More shouting from above. They’ve stepped down the steps now and are shouting. I can hear the wizard-girl frantically shouting. I think she’s crying. For a second I feel bad, but then I don’t. Idiots. You’re going to wake her.
A dim light shines out from the stone before me and I see the tiny crevice and press myself towards it, the air in my body growing thin and the ache in my chest growing painful. It is so cold down here. So empty and loveless. This feeling is worse than death. Squeezing through the gap I pull myself out of the water onto the stone surface panting. Back at the secret stairs from last time I hurry, climbing up the awkwardly thin construction as best as I can with this lacking body. In a sense it isn’t even that difficult as my, until now, useless arms prove fairly capable of helping me scale each step.
Soon I breach the top and find myself in a dark corner of floor ninety-five near the real entrance stairs, by the large magma lake I tossed a coin into earlier. The familiar radiance of heat and shine of magma brings only a sliver of calm to my franticly striking heart. There is no time to waste. Rising up from beneath the crevice I look around. Another wave of nausea comes over me. I am running out of time I suppose. I really could have gone for that jerky though. Oh well. A part of me wants to go see papa, but I know I won’t be able to. Sorry papa.
The lava lake is before me and I feel the fiery touch of the roiling, bubbling magma before me. I gulp. I have never died to magma before. I bet it hurts a lot. Oh boy. Okay. Okay. Breathe. Breeeathe.
I spread my wings wide and jump feet first into the fiery brew, preparing to scream as loud as a drake can at the pain of my brutal death. But no pain comes. It’s… mildly uncomfortable at worst. Actually. I think I kind of like this. Oh. Ah. That really feels good on my sore legs, tell you what. Turns out drakes are magma-proof from birth. Either papa didn’t know that during the fight or dragon’s breath is hotter than magma, hard to say without some proof in either direction. Awkwardly kicking forward I notice it’s very difficult to move in. Not like water where I glided in a sense, even in this body. No, this is thick. Gooey. Like a caking mud it just swallows and sticks.
Swimming out with some effort to the rock where I threw the coin before, I get ready to submerge myself and take a look below the surface. A shining whistle glides through the air and my body spins and I roar in pain as the arrow tears through my wing, snapping some part of the cartilage holding it all together. Looking back in panic I see the thief-girl standing on the far shore, bow in hand. A look in her eyes I can’t quite put to words. Bitter? Enraged? Ireful? It is some kind of anger that is deeper than just being mad. There is something there burning; burning in those eyes shining out from beneath the shadowy hood like the fire around us. Clawing myself to the rock I hold myself tightly to stop from sinking just yet.
She is shouting something. Something I can’t understand. I roar at her from the distance, I doubt she can understand me either over the boiling magma. I see her jaw clench tightly and she reaches back to pull another arrow out of her quiver. Oh boy. I let go of the rock before she has the chance to get a clean shot and push myself down beneath the magma as fast as I can manage, my broken wing searing in pain. How did she know I was here? Why is she trying to get me? What’s your problem with me thief-girl?! My body lurches, another arrow strikes me as it plunges through the thin magma, slowed by the substance but not enough at this depth to stop it from piercing my side. All of the air leaves my lungs and I sink, my body rubbing against the long rock I was pressing against until I reach the bottom.
There, in the rock is a crevice. I knew it. Hoping there are no spiders in here I press my body into the gap, the arrow already burnt away entirely and crawl through a small horizontal tunnel. My head rises out of the magma in this odd pipe-like passage only big enough for a creature exactly my size. Exactly my type. I breathe.
I am losing blood fast, the magma doesn’t hurt my body but it doesn’t cauterize my wounds either. There, just ahead. I see it. I see it!
Flopping up and out of the grooved channel, up on to the top of a tiny, ridiculously thin step; I lean back against it. Exhausted. Overwhelmed. Tired. So tired.
I did it. What a long life this was. I'm not used to them being so long. I close my eyes and sleep.