Chapter 72
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Sprinting up the staircase as fast as I can, knowing I am living on borrowed time as always, I don’t stop to admire the architecture as one might say. This staircase I am rising upward, this tiny little construction fit only for a creature my size. Perfectly made for a rat and a rat alone. Well… maybe a ghost too? But not much else. It’s not much larger than one of the pipes I just came out of. The hero couldn’t even fit his boot in here.

 

  So what does that mean? It means whoever made these secret stairs, for whatever purpose, has made entirely sure that only a dungeon creature can get up them. That only one of us trash-mobs could find them. Hell. Even if another rat found this place by chance. Even if another rat went up these stairs, they would probably just die at the next floor anyways. So that means… these stairs were made for me?

 

  I’m literally the only creature in this hellhole that can not only find the staircase, go up it, but then also find the next one. Then the next one. Then the next one. Even if I die I can just keep going. Any other creature, any other trash-mob would die and that would be that. So… that means I’m chosen for this particular task. Why? What’s special about me? I mean, I know you’re saying how swell I am and you know? You’re right. I agree with you. But that doesn’t cut it for me. There’s something else. Something I don’t know yet.

 

  But maybe I can take heart in the fact that there is a place for me yet in this universe. A purpose. My purpose is to claw and bite and scratch my way up and out of here. Ah, I can see it now. The surface. I bet it’s green like the forest. I hope it is. I like green too, it’s a nice color, at least when it’s not toxic sewer water filled with fecal matter.

 

  I scamper-scamper as fast as I can, my heart filled with an excitement. That sporadic joy that manages to infiltrate my emotions every so often and overpower the gloom that has anchored itself in me. To wash it away like so much purifying holy water that surges over me, washes through me to remove the… the ick. The goo. The lonely sadness. The gloom. Shoo shoo gloom! Shoo shoo!

 

As I rise up higher, following that path destiny and the gods have carved out for me, I smell… I smell… I stop.

 

What is that smell?

 

Standing in the staircase I smell something new. Something…

 

Something…

 

  Wholesome? It smells… rich. Dark. My nose twitches sending a shiver down my whiskers and my body at the pleasant aroma. What is that? I press forward, leaving the gunk and goo of the sewer behind me as I move towards this new place. Towards this heavenly smell.

 

  Like the hand of a god reaching down towards me I see the light shining bright above me. Rays of the dull, warm yellow glow casting down and enveloping my silhouette, casting a long shadow down in the darkness behind me as I walk into it. Into that warm place where I hear… I hear…

 

Laughter?

 

  I slow my roll and stop my steps, looking cautiously into the bright place before me. Into the chamber filled with warmth and laughter. With merriment and-

 

A vibration shoots through me and for a moment I fear that the world around me is filling with sewage again. But it’s not.

 

  Another comes. A synchronized, combined ‘thud’. A stomping that shoots through the stone, shaking everything from the impact of what sounds like a mass of boots against the ground that mesh into one large hammer-like noise followed by more. More stomps. More claps following afterward creating a slow rhythm of sorts. Stomp. Clap. Stomp. Clap. Followed by the many voices I can now hear as I draw closer, the many rough, coarse singing voices.

 

  I reach the top and peer out somewhat bewildered into the chamber before me. Into the madness I await to see in a second. Stomp. Clap. The primal beat, the chant, continues. What the?

 

The room is…

 

-is nice?

 

  I look around. Before me isn’t some stone chamber. Some cavernous hole filled with fungus and rat-bones. No metal pipes and sewer water. No gaping abyss or murky black coating everything. No. It’s… bright. It’s warm.

 

  The room is square, almost perfectly so. The floors are a bright, warm red-yellow wood, smooth and well aligned. The boards of the entire space shake as each stomp echoes around the room. The walls are white stone with interwoven dark-wooden beams. Tables and chairs covered in drinks and foods fill the space but are currently unoccupied as the…

 

I squint.

 

  As the… creatures? People? Humans? I can’t tell. But as they stand in the center of the home-like room in a circle. Purple robed figures in a circle, shoulder to shoulder stamping in a beat followed by a single clap each time as they sing out together in raspy, masculine voices in some bizarre ritual that… sounds actually kind of nice? What is this? I sneak forward, scamper-scampering under, a quite honestly exquisitely crafted, wooden table and look.

 

  I look at the circle of hooded, purple-clad beings and then I see the thing in the middle. A brazier, a large metal disc filled with a fire that dances and twists, shifting to the music as if the force of their stamping and clapping were altering the flame itself. As the…

 

Wait a second.

 

  That fire isn’t just moving because of the wind or the air. No. I see it now. I see her now. The creature, the living flame standing in the brazier dancing to the chant of the cult as if spell-bound to their words and actions. The fire-elemental twisting and changing as she dances to the stamping beat emanating out around her.

 

  But then I realize my mistake. She’s not following their movements. They’re following hers. She’s leading the dance. Leading the ritual, whatever it is. The voices of the singers become louder and louder forming into a crescendo as the song seems to be coming to an end. A final clap rings out and they explode into a cheer, more laughter and warmth filling the room. The fire-elemental bows down in a curtsy, grabbing two loose flames with her fingers as if it were a dress and the room begins to separate again. The robed figures return to their tables, some hands slap some shoulders and pat some backs as they return to their seats laughing and talking. The room is filled with the sounds of life. Of festivity.

 

  I hide behind the leg of the table in the corner and continue to watch the strange beings. They look like humans but… I can’t see their faces. They’re all covered in those hoods. They’re all… purple? Why is everything around me always purple? Not that I mind. It’s my favorite color after all but… weird I guess. As they sit down and the many chairs scrape and scratch against the stone floors I watch as the many creatures begin to continue drinking from their large, over-frothing tankards. As they rip into…

 

Into…

 

  I sniff. Whatever that smell is. It’s brown and looks soft. I don’t think it's meat. But it smells divine. It smells warm. My rat-fur stands on end, my nose twitching at the delightful odor. My brain screams at me to go and take some. To eat. But I don’t. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know who these things are. Are they trash-mobs?

 

  I don’t remember. Instead I look to the fire-elemental in the center of the room which I do remember. She’s only about half the size of the ‘humans’ in this room, but I suppose that’s just because the tinder in her fire is running low. A moment later a purple-robed creature comes out from behind a counter in the back of the cozy room and places some wood into the fire which roars back to life and she grows in size again. He and the elemental make small-talk for a while, both laughing in a language I can’t understand before he returns behind the counter and leaves the room again.

 

I don’t know who these people are, but they seem nice enough? Very happy go-lucky, you know?

 

  There is a scream from outside the room, from behind a single door I see in the back. Everyone jumps to their feet and looks at each other; the mood quickly shifting to something more… dire. Some nodding in confidence, others grabbing each other's hands in firm clasps as if they have come to some unspoken resolution together. Eyes meet. Eyes affirm and they all stand tall and face the door.

 

  A loud crash rings out as the construction buckles in an instant, as the explosion barrels through from the hallway outside. As inside steps the golden-clad hero. As the rest of his party stands behind him, weapons drawn and ready for a fight.

 

The cultists all take the old knives from the tables and stand ready to defen-

 

- DARK LORD HAVE MERCY!

 

  I watch in horror as they all take the serrated blades to their own throats. As the room full of merry-makers turns red. As the happy people fall down gurgling and spluttering as red oozes from their self-slit throats, staining the beautiful golden wood floors. The singing dying out for good.


Why are you here? Go play Cyberpunk, friend. It's okay. I understand.

 

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

Henry Morgan,  Shadowsmage, The Grey Mage, Spencer Seidel

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