I can’t help but stare at the desecrated body of the frozen goblin submerged deep in the ice before me. I remember him. That has to be the same creature, right? I look at the talisman around his neck, the one each goblin carries. I’m sure those are the same symbols, I’m sure this is the same goblin. I don’t know what to do with these thoughts apart from feel a strange sense of horror I can’t quite put into words. The minotaur, the spider-kin, the drake, now this. Now him. Were these all of my past lives? The past bodies I inhabited? Why?
The ice creeps around my legs, I feel it rising and I break free; taking one final look back at the horrified eyeless expression of the young goblin patrolman who had dreamed of becoming a royal-guard and part ways with him a second time now. Are these all of my past lives? My past bodies? I look around at the many horrified creatures and people, all perfectly intact but frozen. All missing their eyes. All carrying the same terrified expressions and frost-bitten faces. What is this place? Is this hell?
I keep running down the ice, listening to the slurping sound ring around the walls as the creature has found fresh eyes to consume on the way. But all of these bodies are intact. The goblin faded, didn’t he? But the spider-kin was torn apart, the minotaur was cut in half. So why are the bodies here? Why are they whole except for their eyes? I think. I think. I think and I run, until a glint of purple catches my eye. Another one of the cultists from the previous floor. Does this mean this guy was one of my old lives too? From back when I used to spawn higher? As I look at the purple I wonder, but I think I begin to understand.
I begin to understand that when I respawn the body I inhabited was never entirely mine, right? There was always more. There was always some slime left over, some rat, some minotaur. There was always the ‘other’ in there with me. The creature that shouldn’t exist in any other time-line. The extra spawn. The extra soul, an artificially crafted existence crammed into a world where they were never really meant to be. One too many. Created by the higher power solely so that I could inhabit them, so that I could become them. Is this where they go then? Is this where they go when there is no more use for them in the dungeon? When there is no more use for them because we died? The fakes? My old bodies?
No these aren’t their bodies. Their bodies were left behind in the dungeon. Left behind when I left them. When we died together. These… corpses, these remnants. They aren’t their bodies. They’re them. Their soul. Their character. Their essences. They’re being discarded, removed from the time-line. Cleaned. Purified. Erased. This is why they don’t respawn with the rest of the trash-mobs, this is why my extra lives are always an add-on, rather than me being one of the many.
There is a wet sloshing. The phrase returns to me again. The eyes are the portal to the soul?
It’s purging them. That thing, it’s not eating them. It’s removing them. Removing what they saw, what they heard and did. Removing any trace of their existences. Any trace of their memories of the dungeon they never belonged in, removing any trace of…
A subtle breeze wakes me from my horror. Is this maybe the right way? I can barely run anymore, I can feel myself growing slower and slower as my body begins to give way minute after minute. No amount of adrenaline is enough to push blood through my blackening feet, through my blackening veins and arteries. This isn’t the dungeon. Where am I? Is this the fate of everybody I have ever left? Just… this nightmare? Every time I sat there, just accepting my death was I sending someone here? To this place? Is this my work? My fault? Is this what I do? What I cause? Is this why the thief-girl hates me? Is this why she wants me to die? No, that doesn’t make sense. Does it? No. Or? Aaaaah! I groan mentally aloud as I wrack my brain and keep running. The breeze grows stronger.
The end is in sight, not just of my life but of the passage. I run, scamper-scampering with all I have left. I want to get out of here. I want to go home. I round the last bend and I-
I look up at the purple before me and it looks down at me with hollow sockets. Hollow sockets out of which one glows a vague, shining sky blue light that wafts up like smoke from an incense burner. A robed skeleton sits there in mid-air, legs crossed and a cushion of air beneath him, holding him up off of the ice. Nichodemus? He tilts his head curiously and looks down to my barely still scampering form.
Lowering a hand he reaches out and picks me up off of the ground and raises me to his, uh, eyes for a lack of a better word and looks at me closely. The other hand raises to his not-there lips in a shushing motion as we listen to the sound of the sloshing meat grow louder and louder, but then the wet noise comes again. The noise of the tentacles slipping and slapping around the ice, searching, tasting for the vibrations of my steps that are now missing. We sit like that for a moment, waiting with baited breath for the sound to change.
Nichodemus swirls a bit of magic around his finger, a small crackling fire burning around the tip and he shoots it off down the hallway, a tiny pop like the sound of a minuscule explosion somewhere around the bend rings out. The wet sounds of the moving meat grow fainter and fainter as the creature seemingly goes down the other way, to follow the sound of the distraction.
As the slopping noise dissipates, the skeleton-caster points with his left hand, with his index and middle fingers to his own eyes and then turns the gesture silently to face mine.
Do you see me, Nichodemus?
I smile a rat smile.
There is a crack as my neck snaps as his fingers twist around my body. My limbs go limp in his palm and I die.
I float. As I-
Huh? I open my eyes and look around. Look around at where I am. I look down to my foot, to the single tiny rat foot placed on the first step of many still before me. Turning my head back, I look to the secret-tunnel behind me, the tunnel that was sealed off by the extinguishing of the fire-elemental before. What?
In confusion, in a delirium, I look around at the dark passage. I died, didn’t I? Pretty sure I died. Pretty sure I was in a literal frozen hell and old Nichy urked me. Right?
Didn’t that just happen?
I look around somewhat lost and dazed, my gaze stops as I peer into the darkness rising above me into which the stairs sink into. The darkness that had been there waiting for me this entire time, as if I had been standing on the step for the last hour. Unmoving.
With a sigh, I rise up the first step and then go to the next. My body in full health, my mind somewhat lost in the darkness.
Lost somewhere where I can hear something wet.