As the hoard vanishes far out of my sight, their silhouettes fading into the darkness of the wood, I feel that lurch in my gut. I feel the dead-light trying to yank me back to the rest of them, trying to draw me back into the swarm of the living dead. But my body can only do so much, my muscles that are rotten and weak and are held together by foul magics can only put up so much of a fight. Zombies are physically weak, but we are sturdy and resilient. We’re more or less immortal as long as we’re in the graveyard, as long as the dead-light shines in the night.
I look forward to the thief who is holding my rotting hand, dragging me along like I was a child in tow. I look at her slender arm, uncovered from bicep to below her elbow, where her fingerless gloves start to cover her hands above her wrists. An urge comes to me. A command from the dead-light. To bite. To sink my broken teeth into that pale meat and to tear into it. My mouth opens and I groan, leaning in forward for the attack. But something stops me and I keep walking silently behind her instead, just staring at the blank, clean skin of her arm.
Is it her humming? That strange melodiousness tune that has no rhyme or reason, that sings into my ear? Or is it because I don’t want to hurt people now that my first-self has come back to the forefront, now that I am able to forget Miika for a moment? Is it because she’s helping me find the secret stairs? Or is it because I think she’d like it if I bit her and I don’t want to encourage her deviant behavior any further? All of these things are plausible, in fact it may just be a little of all of them, tell you what. But the fact remains that the dead-light wants me to eat her, but I don’t really feel like eating elf today. Summer is coming up and I need to watch my figure, you know? In case I ever end up in a swimsuit, I need to look my best for the dungeon-master.
I groan. She turns her head around and smiles at me with a small laugh but then just keeps up walking towards the ransacked cabin. I wonder, are the secret stairs in here? It would make sense I suppose. I think? Maybe? I’ve never actually seen the inside of the graveyard-keeper’s cabin though, but then again… if the hero-party is literally inside of here every time they clear this floor, is this really a good place to hide the stairs? Isn’t that risky? What if they find them?
Then again, thinking back to the last secret-staircase in the library, that wasn’t exactly well hidden either, honestly. I mean… sure, the odds are low that the hero-party will ever pull that one specific book out of the shelf, but it’s possible. Heck, if the hero didn’t purge us from the world because of the thief, they might have ended up going down the secret passage that we opened. I can’t help but feel like the dungeon-master is getting sloppy. Then again-again, I think if I understood them right, they made all of the secret stairs at once, way back when? That’s what it sounded like at least.
She opens the door of the cabin. The inside of what looked to have once been a quaint little home, despite its location, is turned upside down. The table is flipped, all of the walls are covered in scorches and fresh scars from a fight. Odd, drying stains of black-water blood cover the walls from zombies that had been cut and smashed into pieces during their attempt at getting the old man. But apart from that, I can’t see anything out of the ordinary. A few broken chairs and a few odd ornaments and crystals and talismans are scattered around the room together with some still glowing ashes from the now cold hearth on the wall.
I groan, wondering how the thief knows where the secret stairs actually are. Doesn’t only the dungeon-master know? They said the rest of the dungeon was allowed to help me, but I don’t think they know where the stairs are… do they?
Yeah, they do. Didn’t the great-old-one from the uh… water floor, way down below from here. Didn’t she basically bring me to the stairs? That was nice of her. So I guess they do know about them. The sub-bosses at least. Interesting. There isn’t really a sub-boss here… I think? Just the white dead-light crystal. Actually, there seem to be a lot of odd connections in the dungeon, now that I think about it. Like -
“Hey. Hey!” says the voice of the elf who is turning around to face me. “Remember how we always said we wanted a place like this?” she laughs, looking around at the decrepit cabin. “It used to look a lot nicer, obviously. But I think you like the spooky aesthetic it has now. You always liked spooky things,” she laughs, leading me inside.
Did I? I mean, I guess that sounds like me. Though I think I’ve come to prefer sunshine and a warm place these da-
“I always said I wanted to live near the ocean! But you always wanted to live in some spooky, old, creepy forest! Remember? Remember?!” she pulls me closer, her eyes spanning wide and round like large plates. A glimmer of some dying ember reflects off of them, adding a strange glowing orange smear, which feels oddly familiar to look at. Oddly unnerving. The world is silent except for the howling of the dead-winds outside, except for the whispers I hear in my heart to attack and to bite and to claw and to gorge. But I ignore them. Shoo shoo dead-light, shoo shoo!
She begins humming again and pulls me close into a hug. Uh?
Wrapping her arms around my back she holds me and sways from side to side, humming off tune as she does so. I groan, trying to ask what it is we’re doing here. But zombies can’t speak to the living. She just laughs again as I groan and continues her motions.
Some time passes, but she never stops. We just stand there swaying back and forth as if it were some sort of stand-still dance. All the while, I know the hero-party is coming closer and closer to the crystal. All the while I feel that the old man is moving closer and closer to the crystal. I feel the frustration of the many dead I am connected to grow, their anger rising and boiling further at each consecutive failure to stop the hero-party again and again as they blast through each and every wave of undead that comes to stop them. I feel when they reach the graveyard, I feel the pulsing of the crystal as the old man approaches it.
What are we doing here? There’s not much time left. But still we dance even if there’s n-
My body shakes as a pulse shoots out through the dungeon, a single harrowing wave of negative energy that crests high above and then slams down to cover the entire floor in an instant. All of the binding ties of the dead-light come undone in an instant. All of the harrowing whispers of the dead-winds turn silent as if it were a morning bird-song that vanishes upon the appearance of a sudden eclipse. My body goes limp, but still she sways as she holds me. The crystal is no more. We’ve lost.
The world rumbles and I feel myself growing faint slowly but surely as the worms that hold me together are unable to sustain themselves any further. My eyes catch sight of the fireplace, of the heavy stone mantle-piece sliding away to the side, revealing a dark hole beneath. Was this triggered by the destruction of the crystal? A secret staircase that can only be opened by the floor being cleared?
Still humming she turns me around, holding me from behind now, and drags me backwards towards the staircase, her hands wrapped under my shoulders. As I scrape along the floor with my back heel, my left leg comes undone, breaking at the knee, and falls down with a splat. Then my right a second after. Soon my elbow begins to come loose, as all the rest of the strings come undone. But she still hums and keeps dragging me back to the pit.
Looking me in the eyes once we reach it, she whispers something I can’t hear anymore, her red face becoming blurred as she throws me down into the hole.