I fly up higher. Upwards past the shelves in order to get a good overview of the library. Breaching the surface I reach the oddly empty open space that just hovers above where all the shelves come to an end. It makes me uncomfortable in a sense as I see it, the empty. If you spend your life in the labyrinth of the shelves, then going above them, going where there is nothing is an odd feeling. We prefer it down in between the shelves. In the clutter.
Looking around I try to pinpoint where exactly it is I am. Ah, I can see the dungeon-master’s table and the pit from up here. Looks like the elf is gone which makes sense, I suppose she’s on her way back to me now already, along with the rest of the hero-party.
Along with the rest of the hero-party? If I unlocked this floor now, does that mean the hero-party is going to clear it on their way down? Does that mean they’re going to kill the dungeon-master and reset the dungeon?
If the dungeon-master is here then… then where does the staircase on floor one-hundred go to? Is there just some other floor mixed up in there? Some weird floor that belongs somewhere else and if they clear that one the dungeon resets? I should ask.
Floating over the many shelves and the dozens of books flying back and forth in all directions I head towards the gaping chasm the dungeon-master seems to be stuck over. I wonder if they couldn’t just walk over us like everyone else, but I guess that’s against the rules or something. So… that means there’s someone higher up on the ladder than the boss? The only person, well, not really a person but… the only thing I can think of that could be higher than the dungeon-master in our hierarchy of life is some sort of deity, some cosmic existence. The only really relevant one for us is the dark-lord, the god of everything that gribbles and urks.
Oof, so does that mean we upset the dark-lord personally? That’s obviously less than ideal. Is that what this is then? This whole thing? Some cosmic punishment for something I did? Is that why everyone here has to be stuck and has to die forever? Because of something I did? Apparently? Something I don’t even remember? Is that why everyone has to be stuck here? Because of me? I guess so. Man, I must’ve been a real jerk if the god of monsters got mad at me.
I reach the pit and fly over it, heading towards the slumped over figure on the table. The dungeon-master has their head down on the wooden surface covered in scattered papers, a minimal drawing of a single book sticks out beneath their hands splayed out wide over the table which is covered in wet spots of red-wine. A loud audible snoring rings out in the space, the noise almost swallowed up by the massive empty pit below us. Looking down into it, I shudder. Feeling a chill on my spine.
Get it? Spine? Because I’m a book and books have spines? You know? Right?
Ah never mind.
I nudge the dungeon-master with my body, not really having any appendages to speak of.
“Mmmrgh,” is all they say and swipe at me without raising their head. They miss and knock one of the two empty wine bottles down, sending it spiraling into the abyss. I try again and the small hand swings out a second time, just barely grazing my leather-bound cover. I guess they’re out of it from all the drinking. But I need answers guy, there’s no rest for the wicked after all, right?
Budging into the side of their head I press again. A roaring, throaty “Mrgh!” is all I hear as the hand swipes me out of the air, my escape not as successful as the first two times. There is a loud slamming sound as I am slapped down onto the table, half-dried spots of wine splashing out from beneath my body. Two hands hold me down and the dungeon-master’s head flops groggily down onto me, a single cheek squishing into my cover as they continue snoring away.
Dungeon-master please, this isn’t appropriate work-place behavior. Everyone is watching! That’s what I want to say at least, but it turns out I can’t talk if I’m being held shut. A single dribble of drool leaks out of the corner of their mouth, pooling on my clasp and I can’t help but wonder what the elf will think if she sees this.
Actually, that’s a terrifying thought the more I think about it. I need to get out of here before she shows up. Best case she’ll kill me. Worst case she’ll want to get in on it. I squirm and wiggle myself around, trying to budge out from beneath the featherweight dungeon-master using me as a pillow, but it turns out books are some of the physically weakest trash-mobs there are. Turns out being made of paper isn’t that great for your athletic performance, who would have thought? I’m just glad my leather is treated, I don’t want to end up with stains. Determined to escape, I keep wiggling but I don’t seem to be getting far honestly.
A sudden flutter of pages next to me grabs my attention. A laugh. Who- oh. It’s just Madison. I can hear her laughing at my predicament. Which to be fair, I can understand, I feel like I would do the same. But since it’s happening to me personally I don’t really appreciate it to tell you the truth. The book nudges itself against the surface of the table, wedging the dungeon-master’s arm up just a bit, just enough for me to squirm free.
Pulling myself out, I shake the strand of drool off of me. The dungeon-master’s head and arms flop down a few inches to the table and they let out another strained “Mmmrgh.”
“It’ll be another few hours until the alcohol wears off,” says the book, pulling herself out free after I escape.
“Thanks Madison,” I say. “I guess I owe you another one,” I pause as I say the words realizing I have a whole history with this book. I literally just came into existence yet I’ve known her for as long as I can remember. Thousands of memories, of moments that never really happened fill my mind’s eye.
“I- It’s fine,” says the book somewhat flustered. “You know you can always count on me!”
“Hey Madison, can I ask you something? It’s awkward though.”
“Y-Yeah?” says the shy book turning red.
“Is this weird?” I ask her. The books know about the respawns too, since they are extensions of the dungeon-master in a sense. I guess I learned that earlier. So Madison knows that I’m not really those memories she has of me in this life. That mental image she has of this creature I am. That creature which I’m pretending to be. She knows that I’m just… an impostor. A fake. A ghost possessing the body she knew.
“Oh… Yeah. Yeah I guess it is,” she says in that strange dreamy way she has of talking as if she was always thinking or just somewhere else entirely in her head. Her blushing cover returns to its normal argent shade.
“I mean, you know I’m not… I don’t know, real, right?” I add on.
“Hmm… I guess so, but you know…,” she begins to float away, to get back to work before the dungeon-master yells at us for slacking off. Which is of course somewhat ironic, but we won’t get into that.
“You might not have really been there for it all to happen, but I remember it all happening. So… that makes it real enough, right? You’re real in my memory, just as real as every other book here. You’re real in all of our memories. You’re a bit of a dummy, but you’re a hard-worker.” Her voice grows quieter “We like that about you.”
Turning around one last time I hear the words “So do your best, okay?” She floats off in that dreamy, swaying manner of hers before vanishing into the shelves.
Looking back to the drooling heap that is the dungeon-master I think for a moment and respond, even though nobody can hear me anymore.
I set to work, flying off to find those secret stairs.
Henry Morgan, Shadowsmage, The Grey Mage, Spencer Seidel, Slime girl chapters 4 lyfes, chp2001