My soft leather boots thud against the large-stone floors as I sprint down the corridor, doing my best not to step on any of the cracks between the brickwork. You know how it is, don’t want to break my mother’s back after all. Poor woman had to work all of her life, the last thing she needs is back pain. I stop in my tracks. What am I thinking? Shaking my head, I adjust my very spooky hood back straight and then keep going forward.
The fortress is on high alert now, many of the others are running past me in the other direction to fight the intruders. The rest, the ones who know things, who have many secrets. They take knives to their throats, glass shards along their wrists. A hand full of magic to the face. A quick death at their own hands is the only way to ensure they aren’t captured, that they aren’t questioned. The only way to ensure that no eyes see our secrets, that no eyes see what we do in the shadows of greatness. It can’t find out before he returns. For the sake of those secrets, my brothers are willing to take their own li-
“Georg! Where are you going? We have intruders the other way!” asks a voice from behind me, I turn around and look. Ah, it’s just Pavel. Without thinking about it I wave him off and shout “I’m going home” and keep running. I never liked Pavel, he always seemed to have some chip on his shoulder. Something to prove. Then again I guess that’s what happens when your family is killed by a man claiming the title of hero. Pavel is from the Hidden-Village like the rest of us you know? One of the few survivors brought to the safety of this floor by our hero after they found it. After they… ‘cleared’ it.
I’m going home?
What an odd thing to say I think as I hurry down the corridor. I shake my head. The cultist brain is a real big deal, guy, tell you what. There are several screams behind me and I turn my head to look and see the silhouettes of many cultists fall down one after the other as some green shadow swipes through their group, as the silver dagger cuts through their purple robes. Any defense they had hoped to muster quickly dashed as they are simply outclassed at every level in the blink of an eye.
As the thief-girl who already has her eyes on me from the distance breaks the line alone and sprints after me, the few cultists who were still standing there fall a second later as if the wounds cut into them had only dramatically manifested a moment after she burst away into a sprint in pursuit of me. I gulp and lean forward, sprinting as fast as I can straight ahead, my cultist mouth letting loose every swear I can think of in my escape. Hollering the names of every old god and deity I can think of as I run for my life.
It’s probably not the most optimal breathing technique, but it sure makes me feel better, you know?
There! Just ahead of me I see the single banner that I know to hold the secret door behind it. Lunging forward I tear the cloth to the side and rip the door behind it open, praying it isn’t locked as I do so. Thankfully it gives way and I jump inside, slamming it shut behind me. Holding the handle I pull on it as hard as I can from the inside of the room, holding the door tightly shut.
Not a second later there is a tug on the other side and the wooden barrier rattles. The door gives way an inch, opening ever so slightly before my weight pulling back on the other end draws it shut again. Doesn’t this thing have a lock?!
The ‘fight’ goes on like this for a minute, the elf on the other side doing her best to yank the door open and me just holding it shut with all of the weight in my body. With gritted teeth and sweaty brow, my palms red and shaking, my heart beating frantically I hold the door shut with all the strength I can muster. Adrenaline coursing through my core, my survival-focused brain overwhelmed with surging thoughts, I shout out aloud.
“CAN YOU STOP TRYING TO KILL ME?!”
The rattling stops for a second as my human voice rings out, resounding around the hall.
“SERIOUSLY, WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?!” I yell out with scrunched eyes and gritted teeth, my body leaning back as I hold the door shut and my face strained and red. “Are you mad about the whole me exploding you thing?! You had that one coming! Stop being such a jerk, guy! I’m just trying to leave the dungeon! I’m just trying to go home! I just want to stop being here! I want to have a real life! Real food! A real drink! I want to see the real sun! I want to stop… stop…” I trail off, not sure where I am going with my sentence anymore.
Everything is quiet for a moment and I open my eyes slowly to stare at the door before me. I feel paranoid at the silence. I begin to look over my shoulder, half-expecting to see her standing behind me with a dagger in hand, having found some other way in to get to me. But there is nothing behind me except for the many statues of those great people who the wretched little creature that I am could never hope to be. Nothing but the empty hall with the monument at the top of the rise. Nothing but me and my echoing voice, resounding desperately around the empty space. Around the grand chamber filled with no life, with no joy, nothing. Just emptiness and me as always. Home sweet home.
“That’s too cruel” says a soft voice from the other side of the door. A voice I remember from my ghost life, if you can call it that. A voice belonging to the elf who has it out for me. In a sense I feel bewildered to hear it after all this time, to hear it clearly. We’ve spent all of this time together, her and I. Her stabbing me, me running from her. We’ve established a real healthy relationship, you know? A real deep repertoire, tell you what. But we’ve never talked, I think. It feels… weird? Yeah. I feel weird hearing her voice. Understanding her voice.
“You can’t” she says with something in her tone, some emotion I don’t recognize. Something… something that makes me uneasy. Like an eye staring at me from the shadows of my memory, there is something about its presence that unnerves me. Some forgotten trigger firing a synapse in my mind that doesn't lead anywhere anymore, having been overwritten and erased from my eternal existence. The feeling simply fades away leaving me uncertain and unsatisfied. There is something I'm forgetting. Something I've forgotten.
“You can’t go back there. You can’t leave. I won’t let you.”
“I'll never let you” she repeats again and the door rattles once more. Her voice shifting just ever so slightly in the oddest fashion.