Chapter 49
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He was a strange one, that young man. One of… no, my finest adventurer. My finest student. My favorite son. Not the brightest, but by far the best. But I suppose that was perhaps because he was chosen by the gods themselves after all, I like to think that they know what they’re doing. That young man summoned to our world from his own, that young man brought to my doorstep seemingly only through the power of happenstance; I still remember his face. But I know that single deeper truth, that it was the forces of fate that led that young boy to my tutelage and not just sheer dumb luck. The number of coincidences, the number of ifs and maybes and what-thens that had to have aligned so perfectly that his bright eyes and black hair would land before me. Before my doorstep out of all the doorsteps in this world and in his own. I am honored that the gods found me worthy to tutor him. The summoned hero of our world, the only force who could have saved us all.

If only I hadn’t let it all go wrong. If only I had found the courage to act sooner. If only I had st-

  I shake my head, returning to my senses. Nichodemus was having a moment there. There isn’t much left of him, but the part that’s still here is strong. Intact. I must have been one hell of a dude to hold together this long this well. I’m having trouble keeping a clear mind, a clear me. No, not me, I correct myself. Him. Not like Demon-miasma, bless his wild little heart. Demon-miasma was a lot more… feral when I found him. Rough. Young-blooded. The jagged stone walls of the tiny staircase, that I barely fit in, zoom by me with frightening speed threatening to tear me to shreds on impact as I continue my rapid ascent. I can’t help but notice that I am going faster than before, faster than I had planned on going. My lean forward more excited, the clenching of my old bones more stiff. If I had breath to hold I feel like I would have been doing so this whole time.

   A gentle breeze comes to meet me from behind, rising now at this height with a noticeable strength. I remember the air here being warm, but I can’t feel it now. I must be close. I must be… I see it. The glow of the magical fire in my hand illuminates the gap breaching the surface just above me, just ahead of me. Still going at full speed I launch out of the hidden staircase, going airborne once more from the sheer momentum. Nailing the landing, I bend down somewhat from the impact, my legs sliding sideways together with my body on the cushion of wind magic as my bony fists scrape along the ground to slow myself; to catch myself. Using that motion I make a sharp turn and see the glint of him. Of his weapon, of his armor.

  As if on command, the wind magic releases once more and I drop a foot in height as my boots slap the black stone floors beneath us. My eyes look at him and I feel sad. Lonely, as I see the pile of my son’s bones. The room, filled with a glowing fungus I recognize as a magic-twisted variant of Mycena interuppta, the pixie’s parasol. It seems like a fitting resting place for him. He always got along well with that woman. Beneath them however I see the traces of an old battle long since fought. The scars of old wounds gashed into the rock from the violence. It must have been devastating, I’m surprised the entire dungeon didn’t collapse I think to myself as I stare around at the fragments that remain of the destroyed arena.

  As I think these thoughts I can’t help but notice that my pace has never stopped, my shuffling feet slowly marching towards the body as my mind distracted itself with other thoughts, unwilling to want to see it. Him. But now there are no distractions left, there is just me and him. I stare into the empty eyes of the boy, no, of the man resting there and feel a sting somewhere in my whole. Not in flesh but in someplace beyond that. For a moment I hope he stares back into mine as he always had, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t stir. Nothing stirs. I suppose he really has moved on after all.

  I wonder, are you still here with us in this domain? Or did the gods bring your soul back to your own world? I wonder. The back of my skinless finger touches the dusty corner of his cheekbone as if I was wiping away a tear like I had done so often for that reclusive young boy. It is a selfish hope I suppose, that he is still in our world. In our time. But I gave my life to those children, so gods forgive me for this one greed I possess. But I hope wherever you are, you are with people you love once again.

  As I say those words I turn away from him and look around to see if any of them are here as well. Any of his friends, any of my other children, those bright faces who surrounded him throughout all of his new life. Those who swore together with him that they would fight to the last drop of blood and die together only at the last second before midnight. None of them are here. No bones other than our own. No ghosts other than my own. No companionship other than the spiders nesting in the walls. He is alone in this grave. The two of us are alone here together in this grave. Where are they? Did they abandon him? Did they run? Did they die somewhere else like me? How did this happen? The hero can’t die, right? The hero never died, right? How? How did it happen? Was this some punishment from the gods? Did we wrong them? Did I?

Or was the failing simply my own? Did I raise them wrong? Did I not work hard enough? Not do a good enough job? Did I miss something obvious? Are we all dead because of me?

  I kneel down and place my hand on the forehead of the body as if I was checking his temperature. There is nothing left in this husk. Nothing but dust and time. So he really has moved on just as… just- like- like… ah… do you mind?

Yes I mind, guy! I’m trying to escape a dungeon here so can you just… go chill somewhere else?

This is my body, I’ll ask you to refrain from trying t-

No, Nichy, this is my body now. You’re dead. You had your shot. I’m running the show now, so go to sleep, old man. I told you, Demon-miasma isn’t here anymore. He’s dead, twice as dead as you are. I don’t know what you’re hoping for, but lance-hero has left the building. He’s gone. Moved on. Departed. Faded. On the other side. Living his best life as it were. You know. Dead.

Saying that name, Demon-miasma, makes a sudden anger rise to boil in my chest. He’s nothing close to a demon. I don’t know what form of a corrupted, sad, twisted machination of life you are, dungeon-spawn. But you’ll say his name with respect.

I don’t even know his name, he never told me before he moved on. But he wasn’t much for words either honestly. Also, rude. Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?

At least I had one, devil.

Hey! I have a new mother literally every single day, so get bent gramps!

I can feel my hands shaking, my undead body getting ready to choke itself out of frustration. Not that that would accomplish much, but it’s about the symbolism here really.

Why?

Why what?

Why did he grant such a horrid little thing like you his menu? Some… worthless trash-mob. Some foul underling of the demon-king. Some walking garbage. Some soul-worming parasite.

First come first serve, I guess? Also, again, rude. I can’t help but feel that you’re a little prejudiced against us dungeon creatures, guy.

 

You’re not some dungeon-creature, you’re fouler than that. Sharing a body with you makes me sick.

Okay. We’re done here. I clench my fists together, my bones rattling around as if I was being electrified as I push myself forward. As I squish away that little bit of Nichodemus that I had let run things for too long in my opinion. It’s dangerous to let them run things. I need to stay in control, I can’t risk becoming subservient. Becoming dormant.

I look at the dead hero, the once great man. My friend, the demon-miasma and I can't help but feel a little jealous.


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

Henry Morgan,  Shadowsmage, The Grey Mage

The first advance chapter is now available on Patreon! More will be coming soon as I build up a stockpile.

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