Diaries of a Madman

When Discord breaks free of his stone prison, he proves to be much older and wiser than he was on the show. A being of ancient and unimaginable power, he forces Celestia to make a deal to save her little ponies. What she doesn't realize is that one of the terms of the deal is that she forgets ever making it. Enter Navarone, a poor human just trying to get by—or at least, to the ponies that's what he looks like. Pulled from his home by an accidental summoning from one Twilight Sparkle, Navarone is thrust into a world of ponies and more violence than he expected from such a peaceful seeming world. These are his adventures—with a few asides from everybody's favorite Lord of Chaos, of course.

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133. Chapter One Hundred and Ten—The Haunted

One thing I quickly learned about that shaft is that it was way too narrow to use my wings effectively. I was able to slow my fall, but only barely. Not nearly enough to stop me from slamming into something, though. I hit the side of it and apparently it was hanging in the middle of the shaft, because my body was only partially on it.

My luck continued to hold, so I started slipping and immediately began scrambling around for handholds. All I found was a cord or something, but my hands were slick with sweat from both holding the hot flashlight and panic, so I lost my grip on it and continued falling further.

This time, I was able to correct myself better, and landed on something else. Unfortunately, in my panic, I had dropped the flashlight. Apparently it fell on whatever I landed on, and my foot slammed down on it when I landed on whatever I was on. It slid from under me and I slipped, trying to catch myself again. Once more, I completely failed to do so and continued falling.

Finally, finally, I hit the bottom… just in time to hear two tremendous roars from above. I snatched the flashlight up, took a moment to marvel that it was still working, and quickly discovered that I was in an elevator shaft and that I managed to hit both elevators, breaking the cords. So much for magnetic elevators. Damn Russians.

Since I had no time to act and the bottom doors were open, I jumped through them just as the first elevator slammed to the ground, creating a shockwave that forced me back. Then the second one landed before I could fully recover, pushing me on my ass. There was no dust from the fall, thankfully. It was probably all knocked back by the wind forcing its way in.

After getting back up and finding the flashlight from where it had fallen, I looked back to the way I came in, the elevator shaft. Both the doors were gone like they had never even been there. “What the fuck…?” I whispered, walking up so I could feel for any seams. There wasn’t a damn thing. “Guess I’m not going back that way.”

Since that option was closed off, I did what I probably should have done first and looked around the rest of the room that turned out to be a hallway. The elevator doors were at what should have been the end. As I was looking, I saw a few flickers of light from the ceiling, as though the lights wanted to turn on. That should have been impossible, and it seemed they agreed, because the flickers died out.

“Weird as fuck…” I pulled out my sword and scratched a crude arrow into the wall, pointing down the hall. After all, I’d be exploring anyway, so I might as well have some way of telling anyone following me where I went, or more likely, telling myself where I already explored once I got teleported out.

So deeper into the tunnels I went, wondering just how the place was still intact after God only knows how long. I figured an earthquake, some ice movements, or who knows what else would have fucked it sideways. Still, it might be able to give me some more information about humanity’s demise, so I figured it would be worth exploring.

Oddly, I began getting a feeling of dread down in my stomach as I walked. I had no idea what was causing it until I stopped walking and it became obvious: My footfalls were making no noise. As a test, I tried tapping my foot down. It gently echoed down the hall. I shrugged and started walking again, dismissing it as a sign of stress. The sounds continued coming, so I just forgot about it.

Then I noticed a second set of footsteps coming from behind me. I turned back, aiming the flashlight back and expecting to see Spike or someone behind me. There was nothing there, but the footsteps continued coming, sounding like heavy boots. After a few seconds, I could tell they were right behind me, and then I could actually hear breathing.

My eyes widened and I flinched back against the wall, letting the footsteps continue trudging past me, their owner breathing laboriously. Taking that as a hint, I aimed the flashlight down at the floor.

On it was blood. Not dried blood, no. This stuff was wet and still very fresh. As soon as I realized it was there, the footsteps faded away, making me look up in surprise. When I looked back down, the blood was gone.

...I chose to believe it was a mix of stress and the magic keeping me awake. The other option was one I didn’t even want to think about yet.

I slowly started walking again, heading further down the hall. No footsteps followed me, but I did see something on the floor up ahead. As I got closer, I realized I just found what was left of the person that was walking past me. The skeleton’s pearly white bones stood out against the dark floor.

I couldn’t tell you how long I looked at it, the first true sign of the humanity-that-was. No mysterious locked box was this. No ancient mage hiding in a dimension. No insane spider bitch. This was a true human skeleton, locked forever in an expression of pain.

Finally, I looked back up and jumped back in horror, a pained apparition standing before me. “Forgive me, Ava…” it whispered before falling into the skeleton. “I couldn’t… save you…”

“...I suddenly have a bad feeling about this,” I quietly said, continuing to walk. The apparition began crying as I left it behind. I didn’t look back.

However, I soon heard something running ahead of me, running toward me. Once again, the flashlight showed me nothing, so I just stood back against the wall and let it pass. A few seconds later, something else passed, heading the same way. I just continued walking, even when the screaming started.

After about five minutes of walking, I found another doorway, one that looked like it had been blasted open. The floor on the other side had been scored and marred by something, but there didn’t seem to be any actual doors left. I just shook my head and kept going, but stopped as soon as I passed the threshold, my eyes widening at the scene before me.

“Come on, come on,” the frail fellow before me whispered, striking a match several times against a well-used scratcher. “Light, dammit!” Finally, it did, and he lowered it down to a fuse. I looked behind me to see that the door was still intact. As soon as the flame hit the fuse, the scene disappeared.

A few seconds later, I heard the roar of an explosion. I slowly turned back and started walking again. As I walked, a faintly whispered, “Artyom, my love…” came to my ears. I just ignored it.

However, I couldn’t ignore the fact that as I got closer to the end of the hall, I could definitely see more light ahead. A quick test of turning the flashlight off revealed that it was not a mirror, but actual lights. I pulled out my sword and continued more warily, trying to make less noise.

When I finally got up to the light, I clicked the flashlight off and stepped into the lit room, then instantly became inundated with sensations. The room was well-lit and boisterous, full of people that were all smiling and talking animatedly. Some manner of classical music played in the background.

The room appeared to be some manner of ballroom, as a number of people were dancing. Well-lit chandeliers graced the ceiling, casting a warm glow across the room. My eyes seemed drawn to a couple standing next to the door that I came from, though neither were talking.

After a few seconds of watching, I heard a loud clinking coming from the middle of the chamber. “Your attention, everyone!” someone called. The sounds slowly petered out as everyone turned to the fellow in the middle. “We’ve just had word. The first bombs have dropped. December will forever be known as the month the world truly died… But it didn’t take us with it! Waiters, pull out the best alcohol in the house! I believe we all need a drink now.”

The mood in the hall seemed… rather mixed at that news. Some people seemed happy, some seemed sad. The couple next to me began quietly talking. “I told you I would save you, Ava,” the guy whispered, pulling her close.

“But to what fate have we consigned ourselves, Artyom?” the girl asked, seeming numb.

“Whatever fate we choose, my love. As long as we’re together, what’s the worst that could happen?” Personally, I had a feeling that I could answer that one for him, but before I could, the entire scene just faded away, leaving nothing but darkness behind.

When I flipped the flashlight back on, I beheld several more skeletons, each in poses of pain. Several were missing limbs. I took a deep breath and pushed on, walking further into the large room. As soon as I got away from the doors, though, they slammed shut. I whirled around to see that once again, it was like they were never there.

“Living, breathing…” something whispered above me. I shot the light up that way to reveal nothing but limply hanging chandeliers that couldn’t even muster a sparkle for the new light on them. “Human.”

“Still alive, taunting us,” another voice added.

“We can fix that.” Oh god.

Thankfully, nothing happened at that point. I breathed a sigh of relief and started looking around, hoping that was just another echo. After all, I really had no other choice but to go forward. After a quick look around, I realized there weren’t even any other doors but the one opposite of where I first walked in. I sighed and used my sword to etch another arrow into the floor before walking on.

The hallway this time was short, but I heard crying all around me as I walked through it. At this point, there was no doubt in my mind that the place was haunted as hell. All that was left to determine was whether or not the ghosts were hostile.

I was hoping they weren’t, but something in me just knew they would be.

When I got out of that short hallway, I beheld what looked like an immigration station. There were two booths with a fence that had been knocked down. All of the glass in the booths had been removed as well, though it seemed strangely absent from the floor. As I passed the two booths, I saw another vision.

“You can’t go through here,” an angry looking guard said to a familiar looking fellow, one I had seen a few times times before.

“I just want to use the elevator,” Artyom said, calmly holding up his hands.

The guard’s hands gripped his sub-machine gun tighter and he said, “Then use a different one! We’re using the room past here for food storage!” My mind instantly flashed back to the skeletons.

Artyom didn’t seem too perturbed, so he apparently didn’t know. “It won’t take long, I just—” The guard jerked his gun up and the vision disappeared. I heard a few gunshots, though. I just shook my head and kept going.

When I got past the booths, I entered yet another hallway. The sounds of running came at me again, but I just kept going, not even stopping. An icy chill hit me when the sounds passed through me, but they didn’t continue past me.

“Why did you leave him?” Ava suddenly whispered. I couldn’t see her anywhere around me, so I just kept going. It isn’t like there’s anything I could have done for her anyway.

The next room I came upon seemed like a processing room. Three doors led away from it, though two of them slammed shut as soon as I entered, leaving only the one to the left open. As I started walking to it, another vision hit me.

“This is where you will be assigned your tasks,” a well-dressed fellow said to a small crowd of onlookers. “This bunker is a city, and cities need workers of all kinds to run. Our staff will take account of your past experience and send you where you will be most useful.”

“Why can’t we pick ourselves?” one fellow in the crowd asked.

“Because you are all late to the bunker. There are already several thousand people down here, so most jobs have been taken. And besides, this is an extension of God’s Holy Russian Empire, sir. Democracy has no place in this bunker.”

Back up. God’s Holy Russian Empire? What the absolute fuck happened?

Either way, the vision disappeared again. I shook my head clear and walked up to the open door, then made an arrow in front of it. Onward I walked, wondering what new sights the place would have in store for me.

When I got several meters down the hall, my flashlight started flickering. “Don’t you dare die,” I whispered, jiggling it slightly. As I was paying attention to that instead of where I was, I didn’t notice until too late that I was entering a new chamber. The light solidified and I cast it around the room, looking around.

There were several holes in the floor and the roof seemed to be completely black. A few seconds after I started looking, I heard a hissing sound and started smelling… something. Gas, maybe? Weird. And no exit?

It clicked when the door started sliding closed, squealing loudly. My eyes opened wide and I sprinted for the door before it could fully close, just barely squeezing through. The flames started before the door closed all the way, coming from the floor and shooting to the ceiling. With the flames came more screams, howls of pain that continued even when the door was finally shut.

“...Yes, these ghosts are hostile,” I said, my eyes wide, staring at the door that almost led to my doom. Since that option was closed off, I turned back around and walked to the processing room. The door to the middle was now open. The arrow I drew in front of the left door was completely gone, so I just carved one into the floor in front of the center door and walked through, going much more slowly so I could watch for potential traps.

This hallway seemed to slowly curve upward, which I was hoping was a good sign. “I don’t know, Arty,” I heard from my side. “The left door just… it scared me…”

“It’s okay, honey. We’re safe here. The people seem friendly, the bunker seems nice… You’re just stressed because it’s the end of the world.”

His attempts at humor seemed to fall flat as his lover just sighed.

Since I couldn’t see them to get a closer look, I just kept walking. Just a few seconds after I passed them, I heard someone running toward me yet again. “I should have listened,” Artyom was whispering like a mantra, sprinting past me.

“Sure would be nice if I was seeing all this in a more linear time-frame,” I muttered, once again moving forward. Artyom’s footsteps continued to ring past me down the hall.

Finally, I came to a set of doors leading to yet another shaft. The elevator wasn’t there, but there was a service ladder. I took a deep breath, put my sword away, and started climbing, the flashlight in my mouth pointed up.

After several meters going up, the light started to flicker again and I cursed my luck, reaching up to grab it. As I pulled myself in closer to the wall to hold myself steady, I suddenly felt something go shooting past my body, heading down. Less than a second later, I heard a massive crash below as the elevator presumably hit the ground. If I hadn’t moved in closer to check the light, it probably would have taken off my wings and maybe the rest of my body…

I just took another deep breath and started climbing again, the flashlight once again behaving. Since the shaft seemed like it could only hold one elevator, I wasn’t worried about another one slamming into me.

After several seconds, I got to the top, where the door was thankfully already open. I dragged myself out and took a quick look around the big welcoming center. There were a few ancient banners set up, as well as a large desk with several computers and other things on it. A lot of chairs lined the walls, with small tables in front of them where it looked like magazines should rest.

I pulled my sword out to make another mark on the floor when a vision suddenly hit me. “You’re bringing in how many new mouths?” an angry man asked, glaring at the fellow I saw in the job area a few minutes ago.

“You signed the form, sir. Most of these will be class D’s, low-level labor. They know their place. Some of the girls are real lookers, too. Bishop Igor will love them.”

“What do you propose to feed them? Our farms keep malfunctioning!” Before the other one could answer, the elevator doors slid open. Their facial expressions instantly changed. “Ah, welcome! Welcome to the last bastion of humanity!”

Just like that, the vision disappeared, revealing a skeleton on the floor right where the guy had been standing. I shook my head and started walking, thinking about what he had said. Last bastion of humanity. And the place was a horror show, it seemed. Is that truly the legacy we should have left?

Of course, none of the computers worked. I would have been surprised if they had, truth be told. The only signs or books I could find were in languages I couldn’t understand, which was odd because I could understand the ghosts perfectly.

Although something Watcher said came back to me, at that point. Ghosts don’t haunt places. They haunt minds.

There were several doorways in the welcoming hall. All but one of them was closed, though. I sighed and scratched out another arrow pointing to it and started walking again. The very short hall I entered led to a large movie theater. The door I entered was at the top right. I walked on in and of course, the door sealed behind me.

After taking a minute or two to look around, I realized there were no open doors left. I practically fell into a dilapidated seat, just wondering where in life I went wrong. When I realized there was another light source in the room, I looked up to find that a movie was starting. I clicked the flashlight off and sat up to watch.

The image that popped up seemed… familiar. It took a few seconds to realize I was looking at my dad as he shotgunned a bottle of rotgut. I… remembered that, actually. The memory came back to me as the video kept playing. “Whatchu lookin’ at, kid?” my dad asked when he pulled the bottle away. His cheeks were rosy red and he was smiling. “Ah, I know what you want.” He handed me the bottle with a smile, about an eighth of it still in there. “Little guy wants to be like daddy!”

What happened next is burned into my mind, because it reminded me why I didn’t really like being drunk. Namely, the horrid taste of cheap liquor followed by… nothing. There’s a reason you don’t give three-year-olds alcohol.

A whisper came from the ceiling at that point. “What a loving father… So giving, so kind…” I flinched slightly at that.

The next memory was when I was… oh, five or so. My sister and I were always big influences on each other, since we were twins. At the time, she had the more dominating personality, so I ended up growing my hair long so I could be more like her. My mom happened to find that adorable, so she got us matching outfits.

I made the mistake of not knowing it was wrong for little boys to wear dresses. When my mom happened to take my sister and I out in public like that and we bumped into my uber-religious grandparents, they quickly corrected my knowledge. Painfully. I had actually forgotten that memory. Repressed, probably.

Another voice from the ceiling. “Ah, grandparents. Isn’t it nice to see them loving their grandchildren so?”

The next memory was when I was eight, I believe. It was in elementary school. The teacher held up a card with a simple equation: 6*4 = ? “Class, who can tell me the answer?”

It came to my mind instantly, as I remember it doing at the time. Before eight-year-old me could control himself, he said, “Twenty-four. Why can’t we do things that we didn’t cover twenty times already? Everyone here knows how to multiply!”

Present-me facepalmed, remembering what came next. “Just because you understand it doesn’t mean your classmates do. And there’s no need to be snippy. I’m sure twenty extra problems will remind you of that.”

There were giggles around the class as I looked at her, unbelieving. “But… I got it right! I don’t need the practice! These… stupid-heads do!”

“You know, I think he’s right,” she said, smiling and nodding. “Everyone but Anon, do twenty extra problems.” And that sealed my fate as the least popular person in school for a long time. Then she put the icing on that wonderful fate. “And Anon, you get to do all the problems in the chapter, since they’re so easy for you. Maybe that will teach you a lesson.”

Past me just looked down, horribly confused. What lesson? What am I supposed to learn? This math is easy!

The ceiling whispered at me again. “What an awful teacher, punishing excellence like that. Surely such a thing was an isolated incident, never to be repeated.”

Quite the opposite, as I remembered. First, Jane and I complained to my grandparents, who were the only ones who really cared that much, despite being abusive dicks. They brought it up with the principal, who backed the teacher up completely. After that, every teacher in elementary school was completely against me, no matter what I did.

But the next scene was starting. It was one of many times when I was horribly sick. My dad didn’t believe in going to the doctor because that shit was expensive. That resulted in me throwing up on a teacher at least once, but that’s not what was showing. No, this is the aftermath of me with pneumonia.

I had been given two horribly nasty liquid medications and a grainy pill that you were supposed to swallow, but would dissolve very quickly if you didn’t swallow it immediately. Given that I was about nine at the time, swallowing pills was not something I was good at.

My dad was a very pragmatic man. He scoffed at the warning labels on the medication that said not to take at the same time. So he made me use the horrible liquid medications to swallow the pill. When I didn’t get it down with the first one, he forced the other liquid thing into my mouth.

I added my father to the list of people I threw up on.

“So caring,” the ceiling tauntingly whispered. “Trying to make you strong. Trying to make you tough. If only it had worked.”

...It wouldn’t have made him love me, either way.

The next scene came up, showing first year of middle school, when I finally got a new round of teachers that didn’t know they were supposed to hate me. Because of that, one approached me after a few months, making me stay after class. “Anon, how many of those shirts do you have?”

I looked down at the shirt I was wearing, an old ratty thing that I had been wearing all week since I didn’t have anything clean to put on. “W-what do you mean?” I nervously asked, not meeting her gaze.

“You’ve been wearing one just like it all week,” she slowly said. “I know some of the students noticed…”

I suddenly wished my sister was there, because I had a feeling she could have told the truth. Could have told the lady why laundry never got done, why our parents never made PTA meetings, and why both of us behaved perfectly so the teachers never had to threaten to call our parents.

But she wasn’t there. At the time, I was ashamed by such things. Too ashamed to tell the truth. “I have… I have a few, ma’am,” I quietly said, hoping it would convince her to stop.

“How many is a few, Anon?” she asked.

“I d-don’t know… And since my mom does laundry all the time, it’s hard to keep track!” That last part was quickly forced out, an obvious lie. But past-me thought he nailed it.

Looking back, I realized the teacher very obviously didn’t buy it. Unfortunately for the both of us, wearing the same shirt a few days in a row wasn’t enough justification to call child services, so she had to drop it.

“Such loving parents,” the voice in the ceiling said. “Taking care of you and your sister like that. And such a kind teacher. If only she had pressed a little further, dug a little deeper…” All she had to do was ask to meet them once, past-me told myself. Ask to meet them once, and the words would just start flowing and never stop.

She never did.

The next scene was really familiar, one that had replayed over and over in my mind. Sometimes I wish it had happened differently and that I had been standing just a few inches to the left. That time was, of course, when I got shot.

When it ended, the ceiling said, “What lovely and loyal friends and family. No wonder you wanted to go back to see them, to save them…”

I looked down, unable to concentrate on the screen. When Pinkie and Rarity started talking, I realized the scenes were now showing my life in Equestria. My eyes squeezed shut, unable or unwilling to continue watching my own suffering.

When the last image faded and the screen went dark, the ceiling just chuckled darkly before cutting off. A sliding sound alerted me to a door opening. I wearily stood, walking over to the door, my sword dragging next to me since I really couldn’t muster the strength to lift it. I barely even had the strength to hold the flashlight up. It wasn’t the same door from which I entered, though, so the only good thing is that I was moving forward.

When I stepped through the door, it felt like a veil of sorts was lifted from my mind. I blinked several times and shook my head, before looking back to see that the door was gone. “What the hell?” I whispered. Since no one answered, I just looked forward again to find that I was once again in a hallway, though this one was short. I made another arrow in the floor before continuing on, slightly more alive.

As I said, that hallway was short, but the door beyond it led to another thing like a hallway: A catwalk. I cautiously put a foot on it, trying to see if it would hold me. As I did that, I leaned in and shined the light around, trying to get a good view of what was in there. The distance to the ground was really short, so I stepped fully onto the bridge, not worried about a mere two meter drop.

All around the catwalk was a diorama of what looked like the bunker itself, a full 3D map. Before I could study it, another vision appeared. Artyom and Ava were standing in front of the map. Artyom was smiling and pointing out all kinds of things. “Look at the size of that park! There aren’t any like that in Volgograd anymore. And that cathedral! I can’t wait to see it…”

Ava wasn’t listening. Her eyes were fixed on something else. I followed them down and realized she was staring at the job assignment center, where there were three doors. On the map, only two were shown. In fact, as I studied more of the map, I realized that there were several places where it looked like there should have been rooms of some kind. Ava didn’t get the chance to point them out before the vision ended.

I started looking for some kind of exit. The elevator shaft I fell down had several connections on a bunch of different floors, but the chamber I was in was horrifyingly far from all of them. After tracing several potential paths, I realized it might well take me days to find my way out.

“Son of a bitch,” I whispered, slowly walking along the catwalk to look at more of the massive place. “How the hell did they build this in secret?”

The bunker answered me by crying. The light started flickering again, too, so I figured it would be a good time to move on. I continued moving down the catwalk until I hit the end, which was another elevator, and the elevator was actually at the right floor. I used my sword to pry the thing away from the wall, jiggling it slightly until the elevator started rocking. When I could, I pulled the sword back out and waited for the cord up top to break. After a few seconds, it did, sending the elevator falling a single floor down.

Since I wanted to go up, I stepped onto the top of the elevator and walked over to the service ladder. It took me up a floor, as it was supposed to. I just wish it had taken me higher.

The doors were open, so I just let myself out, then carved another arrow into the floor. That done, I finally looked up and damn near dropped the sword in surprise. It seemed that I found the park that Artyom mentioned. Another skeleton was right in front of me, reaching its arm out as if trying to reach for the elevator.

Just like that, another vision hit me. My eyes widened as the area lit up brightly and green life and beautiful flowers sprouted out of the ground. The elevator pinged open, releasing Artyom and Ava. They both started smiling in wonder as soon as they saw what lay beyond the elevator, even Ava’s crushing doubt curbed by the beauty of the park before them.

As they were stepping out of the elevator, a little girl in a cute dress stepped past me to look at them. They didn’t seem to pay her any mind, though I looked down at her. She was facing away from me, so I couldn’t get a look at her face… Until suddenly just her face shot directly toward me, an act that would have broken her neck, and started screeching. I immediately flinched back, seeing her completely black eyes and impossibly sharp teeth.

The rest of her body jerked toward me and I began backing away, my eyes wide in complete horror. She started walking closer, her legs moving awkwardly as though they were broken. Bubbling viscous fluid started pouring from her eyes as she continued wailing. One of her hands shot up and extended toward me, grasping the flashlight. It immediately died and the vision ended.

Leaving me in the dark.

Alone.

With the dead.

I fucking ran, expecting pain and death from every angle. Finally, after several lifetimes, the flashlight kicked back on, once again illuminating my surroundings. I stopped, my breathing manic, and started looking around.

The very first thing I noticed was a small skeleton sprawled out in front of me, the tattered remains of a dress like the one that little girl was wearing. Both of her legs had obviously been broken and dried blood dotted the bottom of her dress. I refused to think about those implications.

My eyes automatically looked away, but a soft sniffling stopped me from walking away. I very noisily gulped and looked back, dreading the sight that would curse my eyes. Where the skeleton had been was a little girl, crying her eyes out. It seemed that she was afraid to make too much noise, though, because she seemed to be holding her breath as much as possible.

I very dearly wanted to move on, but something inside me forced me to kneel down next to her. My hand caressed her head. My mind wanted to feel a smooth skull, but it felt like coarse hair. “Pokoysya s mirom, ditya Bozhye,” my mouth automatically said.

Another very loud and pained shriek graced my ears and I spun around to find the ghost of the girl behind me, reaching toward me with impossibly long arms with horrifyingly sharp fingers. Not fingernails, but actual fingers. I lifted Excalibur to ward her off, but the flashlight lit up even brighter, making the ghost child flinch back and stop screaming.

As soon as she stopped, a growl cut through the suddenly still air. It came from behind her, so her neck broke once again to look back. I didn’t have that kind of problem, so I just looked over her head.

Once again, the room lit up, though the lights were much more dim, as though several had blown out. The girl flinched and suddenly disappeared, then I felt gentle hands gripping at my pants. “Don’t let him get me, please!” whoever it was whispered.

The owner of the growl suddenly appeared from the bushes, a grim looking fellow with a nasty looking hammer covered in gore. As soon as he saw me, he smiled. “Ava. You have something of mine there.”

A voice not my own erupted from my mouth. “You will not take her!”

He whipped the hammer back and let it fly. I ducked and suddenly the scene was over, leaving nothing but a quiet whimpering behind.

My eyes slowly looked around the area again, the flashlight illuminating everything I tried to see. Strangely, the skeleton was gone, leaving not even a pile of dust. I closed my eyes and took a very deep breath before slowly releasing it and once against walking.

“I’m so sorry, Arty,” Ava whispered through the air. There was no reply.

The flashlight I had wasn’t an overly good one, and with every step I took, it felt like the darkness pushed in a little further. It also started to get colder, mist beginning to form with every shaky breath I took. Some items started materializing from the gloom several meters ahead of me. Since my sword wasn’t doing any good, I went ahead and put it away as I continued walking.

As more of the objects appeared and I got close enough to pick up details, I realized I was in front of a playground. The happy laughter of children began to fill my ears as I walked through the park, a smile coming to my face. Oh, I just can’t wait for Artyom to finally decide to have children!

The errant thought stopped me dead in my tracks, the laughter stopping with it. As I tried to sort out what happened, another vision struck me. Ava and Artyom were walking through the park with all the children on it, marveling at the carefree attitudes the children possessed. Such a thing doesn’t seem possible on the day your species died, after all. The kids didn’t understand or didn’t care, just happy to have something as simple as a jungle gym to play on.

Ava in particular seemed to be paying close attention to them, still smiling like she had been when she first stepped off the elevator.

Then all the ghosts stopped and every single one of them was instantly facing me. As one, all the apparitions whispered, “We will make you one of us.” Then they all vanished, cutting the vision off.

...Getting away from the park was starting to sound like a better and better idea. I started walking again, heading in the same direction. My paranoia sense was kicking and I felt eyes watching me from every angle.

Every angle… On an impulse, I slowly craned my head and the flashlight up above me. The light didn’t reach all the way to the ceiling, but I saw several feet dangling above me. I slowly craned back down and fought back from sobbing as I continued walking.

Finally, another wall started becoming apparent in front of me. A wall with… windows. A wall that I soon realized was attached to an entirely separate building, which appeared to be the cathedral Artyom mentioned. I very, very much wanted to go around it, but as soon as I started walking away from the doors, I began hearing another growl. I slowly corrected my steps and started heading toward the door, making the noise stop.

So with a deep breath and a feeling of much trepidation, I stepped over the broken doors of the ancient building. The first thing that greeted my eyes was a defaced statue of Jesus. Like, literally defaced; someone cut the front of his head off and left the rest alone. That didn’t seem to bode well, but I just pushed forward, stepping over broken stain glass, trying not to pay attention to the sobbing I heard all around me.

As soon as I stepped through the doors of the chapel itself, another vision hit me. The place was packed with believers, all standing and singing a glorious song. Their words were all in Russian, oddly enough, but it fit.

When the song ended after a few seconds, a greying old man stepped forward, a smile on his pleasant face. “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. And a special welcome to our newcomers.” His eyes moved to a certain place in the crowd, where Artyom and Ava were standing. Arty awkwardly waved while Ava just looked down. “I am High Patriarch Francis.”

I hope he doesn’t want to see us. I’ve heard stories about bishops… Once again, the thought widened my eyes.

I didn’t have too much time to think about it, though, as the patriarch turned to me next. “And even more of a welcome to you, interloper. Don’t you worry, though. You’ll find yourself fitting in very soon.”

This time, every single ghost instantly faced away from me. “We’ll drag you to this hell with us.” The vision died off, leaving me in a room full of shattered pews and several bodies bent in prostrated positions. The sobbing sound picked up again as I started walking through the chapel, toward the back from where the preacher would normally enter.

All of the doors had been torn down, so I just let myself inside one of them at random. It seemed like a storage closet with a skeleton on the floor, but I saw a smaller door further in that was actually closed. I took a very deep breath and walked over to it.

As soon as I touched the wooden handle, the thing turned to dust. I shined the light inside and saw a skeleton with a chain around its neck, holding it against the wall. In front of it was a metal dog bowl with the name ‘Christine’ across it. Also around the room were several sex toys.

I turned to go, but stopped as yet another vision struck me. “Igor, I have heard many startling rumors,” Francis said, stepping into the closet that was suddenly full of dark clothing, bibles, and a number of other church-like things.

Behind Francis stepped a nervous little man wearing the same clothing that was dotted around the room. “I assure you, there is nothing to be worried about, High Patriarch! Please, that is just my private prayer room!”

“Women have gone missing, Igor. I heard a young man whispering to another about the glances you were giving his wife. Men are weak, Igor. I trust your faith. Truly, I do. But I don’t trust your body.” With that final statement, Francis threw open the door.

As soon as it opened, the girl inside started begging to be released. And of course, Igor stabbed Francis dead in the back. “Goodbye, my old friend,” Igor quietly said, holding his hand over Francis’s mouth. “It truly is a shame that the rebels broke in to assassinate you like this…”

When Igor finally released the guy’s mouth, Francis very faintly whispered, “Satan’s curse upon thee, Igor…”

Igor just shook his head, smiling faintly. “You foolish old man. God died one hundred and thirty years ago in Stalin’s glorious revolution. But then, I suppose some old relics just don’t know when to quit. Unlike you, it seems.”

Francis’s eyes glazed over and his body was still. Igor chuckled faintly, then casually reached forward and grabbed me around the neck. Before I could even think to resist, he threw me into the room with Christine. My body slammed into the skeleton, shattering it, then the collar slammed shut around my neck as if controlled by a will of its own.

“You’re pretty enough,” a dry voice whispered right next to my ear. A sandpapery tongue licked my cheek and I felt something grope me. “Angelic, even. Breaking you will be a ball!” He laughed darkly as I finally started struggling to break free of the chain.

Finally, I remembered that I had a fucking sword, and ripped it out of its sheath and broke the chain in half with it. Instead of standing, I just started scrambling out of the room, knocking the dog bowl out as I fought to free myself. The vision ended as soon as I got out of the room.

As soon as I did, I collapsed, exhaustion seeping into my bones. But since I knew falling asleep in that place would guarantee death, I forced my eyes back open and struggled to stand. As I did so, my hands found the flashlight. I stopped and put the sword away again, the chain dangling from my neck. I took another deep breath and started walking out once more.

Something stopped me, some strange inkling. When I turned back to try to figure out what it might be, my eyes fell upon the dog bowl. The name on it had changed. In dull metallic lettering, the name ‘Ava’ proudly read off from the front.

I turned and started walking away without another thought. When I got back to the chapel, I noticed something I didn’t before: The pulpit. Strangely, amid all the destruction and horror around it, the pulpit was left completely untouched. There was even something laying on top of it.

I took the item and held it up to the light. Turns out that it was a rosary made of what looked like fine gold. Before I could put it back, the pulpit collapsed into dust, fading away before my very eyes. So instead, I pocketed the thing, figuring I might as well take a better souvenir than the new necklace I picked up.

After looking around the chapel again, I realized that all the doors and windows were sealed except for one behind me, leading to another room in the back area. I sighed and started walking to it, making another scratch in the floor.

When I got to the next room, I realized that it was more of an office. Yet another vision hit me when I stepped inside. “It feels… strange, to abandon my flocks in the motherland,” Francis said, slowly walking around the room.

“The world is forsaken, High Patriarch,” someone told him. “And you will be needed here, to guide the remnants.”

“I know, my child. But I have many problems with the way the bunker is set up, even now. Why is it set to depressurize in three hundred years if no one can tell it not to?”

“So we can be remembered, High Patriarch,” the fellow said with a smile. “So even if the Holy Russian Empire goes up in flames, a small part of her will always be alive down here, waiting for someone lucky enough to find it, to find our history.”

The vision ended and I was left alone in the room again. However, I noticed something strange in one of the wall patterns. I walked over to it and kicked the ruined plaster in, finding a hidden ladder. After taking a moment to consider the risks, I realized that leaving the building would probably end in death. Since that was the case, I made another mark on the floor and started climbing.

Up and up and up… I knew I had to have left the park way behind at some point, because I probably went damn near fifty meters up. Finally, I found a hatch at the top of the long tunnel. It was sealed, but I fixed that with a few applications of curses and grunts of exertion.

When I finally pulled myself free, I realized I was in some manner of command room, with dozens of panels and screens connected to the who knows how many cameras. Then I had another vision, of just two people in the control room. “Sir, we… got a message.”

“A message? From who? Did the motherland survive?!”

“No, it’s from the… Americans, sir. A bunker in the middle of the country. Apparently they still have access to some satellites and are sending messages on every channel that might be receiving.”

“Bah. What could those heathens want? Wasn’t destroying the world enough for them?”

“They’re saying that the war is over, sir. That there were no winners but Discord, as if that was a name. They want help in rebuilding the world.”

The leader narrowed his eyes. “Close the channel. Tell no one of this. Russia goes its own way!”

“...Yes sir. But I should tell you that they weren’t the only ones sending messages…” The vision cut out at that point, revealing the dead room once again. A single skeleton sat in one of the chairs, the back of its skull missing. Before it was a single corroded revolver. I lifted it up and popped the revolving part out to find that there was just a single brass shell in there, completely empty. I sighed and tossed the thing aside.

When I did that, I heard a small amount of crying coming from the skeleton, then it whispered, “We should have listened… Why, Stalin? Why?” Finally, there was a single gunshot.

I shook my head and started walking again, heading to the only open door in the place. When I poked my head out, I found that I was in the middle of a hallway going both left and right. I stepped on out and looked both ways, moving the flashlight around. When I pointed it to the right, it started to flicker slightly.

Left it is, then. I marked the floor and began walking that way, wondering just where the hell in the bunker I was. A map of some kind really would have been nice, since that diorama was horribly incomplete and didn’t even show the control room I was just in.

I passed several more skeletons, each that whispered at me as I passed, making sure to keep my distance. It felt like I had finally left the sad story of Ava and Artyom behind…

Finally, I found the end of the hall. Not the natural end, mind, but it looked like someone had taken several sheets of metal and welded the hall shut. After tapping on it, I realized that I probably couldn’t cut through it very easily. A few indentations on it from the other side gave me the hint that someone had tried shooting it at some point to no avail.

As I was standing there wondering what to do, a door to my left silently slid open. I didn’t even notice it until I turned, deciding to head back the way I came. When I saw it open, I jumped for a moment before taking a deep breath and nodding.

In I went, wondering what new horrors awaited me. This room seemed to be a large dormitory, with two dozen beds lined up. Several had skeletons upon them. As I looked around, another vision struck me.

“It feels… empty,” Ava said, looking around the room.

“I know we don’t have it all to ourselves,” Artyom said. “But we just got here. Everyone else is probably at work.”

Oh, if only we had a private room… “I guess,” Ava said, nodding. “So which bed is ours?”

“I’m not certain we get to share. But I doubt anyone will mind if we do.”

“As long as we tell them we’re married, they can’t keep us apart,” she said, nodding. “Such is not God’s will, after all.” And it gives us a chance to finally bring life to the world!

The vision disappeared and I continued looking around. It wasn’t until nearly a minute had passed that I realized I heard her thoughts in my head again. “Why does this keep happening?” I whispered, my eyes widening.

The light started flickering again, so I looked down at it as I walked. Looking down helped me spot a metal wire just a few inches away from my legs, hanging suspended in the air. I immediately stopped, recognizing a trap. My eyes slowly looked up and then around, trying to spot what the trap might be connected to.

Finally, my eyes spotted a shotgun in the arms of a skeleton sitting on a bed a few feet away. The shotgun was pointed directly at the wire and there was a string attached to its trigger.

I went around the two beds with the wire attached and walked over to the gun. The thing looked too broken and corroded to fire, but when I reached my hand down there to pick it up, the trigger snapped back and the gun discharged, throwing the bones all across the room.

As soon as it fired, the shrieking started. The skeleton that got thrown apart by the blast suddenly pulled itself back together and stood, staring at me with literal fire in its eyes. “Now this I can fight,” I said with a dark grin, my blade clearing its sheath. The skeleton made a horrific howling noise and charged, its bones clanking across the ground. I quickly bisected it.

However, that didn’t kill it. The two halves hit the ground and started moving toward me. Then I heard some clicking and clacking from all around the room and looked around to find the other skeletons getting up. Some were holding various makeshift melee weapons. My grin deepened and I lifted the sword again, finally having an enemy I could put in its place.

They all bumrushed me at once with no form or coordination at all. Because of that and because of how many there were, most of them slammed into each other, knocking themselves down. Those that didn’t fall came on.

One slammed a large metal pipe down toward me, but I sidestepped it and forced the sword through its arms, removing its ability to do much. Another reached out and grabbed the hand with the flashlight, and I kicked him back, my foot completely breaking through the dry bones. His hands still grasped my arm, but they weren’t connected to the rest of his body anymore.

Another one came at me from behind, his loud footfalls announcing his presence. I whirled around and took off the top of his skull, making it instantly collapse into a pile of bones. A disturbing wailing sound signalled its more permanent death, giving me a clue of how to actually fight these things.

Since the hands of one of them was still on me and struggling to break my grip on the flashlight, I knew the individual parts could still move even without being attached to the body. I turned back to the main mass of skeletons just in time to catch a rotten bar of wood to the face. It broke apart after hitting me, with some of the dust getting in an eye and half-blinding me.

In response, I chopped straight through the skull of the ghoul that dared attack me, sending it back to the depths of hell where it belonged. That’s when I learned why it’s a bad idea to let yourself get ganged up on, because one of them grabbed the chain leading to the collar around my neck and yanked back, making me lose my balance.

I fell into the skeleton pulling on me and shattered it, my weight proving too much for its ancient bones. However, that didn’t do a thing to the others that I hadn’t dealt with yet, and I already felt something trying to tear at one of my wings. I yanked them both back and then slammed them down, using the force to help me stand quicker.

Bloooooood,” something whispered, something that wasn’t one of the skeletons. In response, I lashed out with my sword, just swinging it wildly around and breaking skeletons left and right. None of them got killed, of course, but most of them were so broken up that they could barely fight back. Seeing that, I jumped onto one of the beds and started hopping over them to the only open door in the place. Thankfully, I didn’t trigger another trap and successfully escaped from the hellish room.

When I looked back in to see if anything was following me, I found that the room was right back to how it was when I first walked in, down to the original trap being in the same spot. This place is going to be the death of me… I had no clue where that thought came from, if it was me or Ava.

I just turned back to the hall I was now in and started walking. It wasn’t the same one as from before, so the hall was clear from both directions. The light didn’t change on either side, so I just shrugged and started going in the same direction as before, hoping the hall would take me somewhere.

Then I remembered I hadn’t left a mark in front of the door, so I turned back to do so. However, I didn’t even see a door anymore. I just sighed and etched an arrow onto the floor before walking again. This time, the halls were completely silent again. Not even my footsteps made noise. I tried tapping the sword against one of the walls to find that it, too, was affected.

The silence was… eerie. When I found another skeleton, I expected the silence to end, but it didn’t. The normally loud dead were now completely quiet.

As I walked along, I realized soon that it was getting… warmer. My brows furrowed as I wondered what could cause such a thing. Of course, I didn’t stop, even when I started seeing more lights ahead of me. And then I started smelling things, things that brought back… memories. Steak. Ribs. Smoke. Someone was having a cookout.

When I got closer to the light, I realized that it led outside. That was actual sunlight ahead, not artificial or ghostly light. Instead of being wary, I started feeling intrigued and curious. When I finally stood in the doorway, I looked out upon a clear summer day, at a large family gathering of mine.

I saw my sister and several other children playing to one side in a pool. The adults were all talking with each other. My grandfather was cooking the steaks to what he considered perfection: horrible well-done nastiness. The only saving grace is that he didn’t put ketchup on them.

But still, the memory was one I remembered well. It pulled me forward involuntarily and I felt myself begin to shrink to fit the mold. My feathers disappeared into my body and my clothing changed to match what it was supposed to. Even my gender changed back as I walked over to my sister, following the memory as it was supposed to go.

“Come on, Anon!” she happily called from in the pool. “Just jump on in!”

My legs strained to obey, but the rational part of my mind started fighting. This isn’t real. This memory isn’t happy. You remember how it ends. Look. Truly look around.

I did, then. My eyes opened wide and my wings shot out as I gazed upon the room. It was a rec center and the pool that I was standing in front of had massive metal spikes at the bottom, several skeletons impaled upon them. Some of them still had clothing on them. As I looked down on them in horror, my feet mere inches from the side, blood started pouring from their wounds. Faster and faster it came, filling the pool up to the top in mere moments.

“Come on, Anon!” a voice happily called. “Just jump on in!” Something yanked at my collar, forcing me closer to the pit. I scrambled back, bumping into a table. Then I reached around to the chain to find a hand trying to pull it. Not bones, not a person, but just a normal human hand, completely removed from its body.

When I tried pulling it away, it refused to budge. I had to actually use my sword to cut its fingers off, making it release me. As soon as it fell to the ground, another vision hit me. “Ladies and gentlemen, let us say grace,” Bishop Igor said from his spot at the front of the tables.

On the table before him was a leg, a human leg. Each of his followers had some kind of human body part on a plate in front of them and they all bowed their heads in unison.

“Dear Ivan. Thank you for this wonderful meal. We won’t waste it, don’t you worry!” There were several chuckles around the room as they all looked back up at him, smiling. “Now go ahead and dig in, folks!” His eyes shot to mine and he added, “Don’t worry, dear. You’ll be on the menu soon!”

The vision disappeared, leaving nothing but the tables and several bones scattered about the room. I took a deep breath before nodding and looking back to the pool, just to sate my curiosity. The blood was gone, but in its place was black tar, a full pool of it. The viscous fluid bubbled and steamed and then started shaking. Whispers started coming from all around me, half-heard mutters that seemed to have a common theme: “Run.”

Slowly, ever so slowly, a figure began rising from the depths of the hellish pool. The whispers immediately ceased. As soon as I saw the top of the head pulling its way out, my entire body froze, just watching it. More and more features became apparent as it rose, including a pair of completely white eyes that seemed to glow; a mouth with no lips that looked more like a circle full of rotating, whirring teeth; no nose; a rotting leather shirt made of what had to have been human skin; a nametag etched into it that read “Ivan” in a sketchy, twisted script; long arms, one of which ended in a butcher knife instead of a hand and the other of which ended in a callused hand that constantly twitched, sending the gooey slime everywhere; legs with three joints; and completely covered in bubbling pitch.

With the way his mouth was just a gaping wound with no tongue, it was completely impossible for him to either smile or speak. So instead, I could only tell he was pleased through his eyes, which seemed to shine with a sadistic glee. His challenging roar confirmed my suspicions.

My flashlight chose that moment to start flickering, which is probably the only thing that saved my life. I had been completely frozen in place, trying to process just what exactly it was that I was looking at, but the flickering gave me a real problem I could deal with. In response to Ivan, I turned and fucking booked it. There was no way in hell I was going to fight that thing.

One of the doors on the far side of the room was open. As I started running, I heard him giving chase. He used his butcher knife arm to cut through everything in his way, so I started vaulting over metal tables to hopefully slow him down. It didn’t seem that they gave him too much resistance, though, as I heard him behind me all the way up to the door.

...The door that thankfully slid closed behind me as soon as I stepped through it. However, it seemed that particular apparition wasn’t so easily dispelled, as it started beating on the door and slashing at it with his knife. The door was metal, but I could also hear it giving in. I considered stopping and trying to fight him, but only for a second. If the skeletons didn’t seem to mind getting pieces cut off, I doubt this abomination would either.

“Nope, nope, nope, nope…” I kept muttering, just sheathing my sword and then running down the hall. The light I was holding had no consistency, no solid area it lit up, so the ghosts chose that moment of frantic lighting to begin truly invading my mind.

As I ran from hell’s butcher, pain began to assault my senses. The stench of rotting corpses and drying blood trickled through my nose. Faces, garbled and destroyed, rotting and broken, glared at me from my peripheral vision. Bloody hands and crackled fingernails clutched at me, trying to slow me down as I ran. Several made grabs for the chain still around my neck, but none were able to hold onto it fully. All around me, I heard a mix of laughs, screams, sobbing, and chanting.

“One of us. You’ll be one of us. You’ll be one of us. You’ll be one of us. One of us. One of us!” On and on it went, growing angrier and more hateful the further away from the butcher I got.

Finally, the sound of an explosion behind me cut out their screams as the butcher freed himself from the room. That only increased my speed, the horror I felt serving to drive me on and on.

Freeeeeshhhhh. Meeeeeeaaat!” something behind me howled, louder than any of the voices could have been. With that, the chase truly began.

Since I saw the hall ending in front of me, I dove into the first door I saw, one leading to the right. I hoped—prayed—that it would lead to another hall or somewhere I could hide. Maybe another elevator shaft, since the dude couldn’t climb without hands.

But no, instead it led to the exact opposite place I wanted to be: a butcher’s shop. And of course, the visions chose that very moment to assault me. The happy couple from before stood in front of me, with a smiling man with a somewhat bloody apron on the other side of the counter.

“Freshest meat in the bunker,” the butcher said with a smile. “Name’s Ivan. You two look new here.”

“We are,” Artyom said with a nod. “Everyone here seems so nice! I’m so happy we decided to come.”

You decided, you mean. You didn’t even ask me. “Well, here’s a little something extra, on the house,” Ivan said, reaching under his counter and plopping something down. “Consider it a welcome home gift.”

“You don’t have to, really!” Ava said, smiling somewhat awkwardly. Lord only knows what kind of meat he serves...

“It’s nothing, ma’am. Just a gift.” The way Ivan was smiling… it didn’t reach his eyes. The man seemed hollow, an empty shell.

“Thank you for it,” Artyom said.

“Always nice to meat new people,” Ivan said, nodding. His head suddenly shot toward me and he added, “And to kill them.”

Just like that, the vision ended and another roar came from almost right behind me. I vaulted straight over the counter and body-slammed the half-open door there, trying anything to get away from the butcher following me.

However, I very obviously did not think my decision through. After all, what do butchers normally keep behind their counters? If your answer included a large walk-in fridge covered in swinging meat hooks with human bodies on them, you’d have one fucked up mind. And you’d also be correct, because that’s exactly what I found when I walked in. I don’t mean human skeletons, either. These were fresh and had obviously been harvested recently.

Ivan the butcher followed me in, his white eyes boring holes through me. For some reason, The Final Countdown started blaring through my head, even though it seemed wildly inappropriate. I slowly drew my sword, starting to circle. Ivan matched me, lifting his blade in a fighting stance. His empty hand grabbed one of the empty hooks and ripped it from the ceiling, grabbing onto the chain part so he could use it as a weapon.

I began speaking, pumping myself up. “I have fought a demon king. I’ve killed assassins. I’ve been a father and then a mother. Courted princesses. Been tortured and raped. Beat every challenge to come before me. I refuse to die in this bunker, felled by an abomination.” Ivan just roared, and since I realized my circling had taken me exactly where I wanted it to, I turned and booked it, slamming the door shut behind me.

This door was made of sterner stuff, since it was actually designed to withstand who knows what, and it locked from the outside. So I locked it, put my sword away, and once again began running. Of course, I heard the sound of him banging on it before I even locked it, so I knew it would only hold him for so long.

I was just hoping it would be long enough for me to get away, though I knew I would have to fight him eventually. I just absolutely refused to do it on his home turf.

This time, the ghosts kept their distance from me, though the oppressive silence returned as I ran and ran. Finally, after going through several more living quarters and passing through several halls, I stopped running. Despite my insane stamina, I hadn’t seen the sun in weeks, hadn’t eaten in days, and was running solely off magic. Exhaustion was starting to creep into my bones.

Unfortunately, I knew that even if I could safely sleep without the butcher or the ghosts coming for me, I would probably never wake up. No sun, no food, and no magic meant I would probably hibernate until I died.

So I trudged onward, hoping I’d find my way out soon or that someone would notice my predicament and teleport me free. At that point, though, I wasn’t holding my breath. I knew I had been down there for at least three hours, probably more. That was time enough for the ship to get back and for them to be told of what happened. Thinking about that reminded me that I hadn’t left any marks on the floor in a while, but then I immediately decided against it when I realized that the butcher could probably use them to track me.

Besides, I had no plans to ever come back.

After about half an hour of mindlessly walking and doing my best to ignore everything around me that didn’t seem immediately threatening, I came to another elevator shaft. I began counting my blessings as I looked up and down, trying to find the elevator. It was below me, so I cut the cord, making the thing fall down a few more storeys. That way, the cord couldn’t break while I was moving down and whip me across the back. Then I jumped over to the ladder and started to climb.

The first thing I realized was that this ladder was not at all steady. I had several rungs break off as I climbed up, but that didn’t stop me from climbing anyway. After all, I needed to get away from that maniacal butcher.

However, a new feeling of dread started entering my stomach as I moved up the ladder. Below me, I could see a foul light start emanating from the door that I left. A few seconds after I saw it, the butcher burst into the shaft, the pitch that was covering him now on fire. His eyes had taken on a hellish green glow while the flames consumed his body, and teeth were moving faster and faster as he howled up at me, the sound knocking off a few more rungs above me.

Then he slammed his knife arm into the wall, followed by the meat hook in his other hand, slowly climbing up like that.

“Oh hell no.” I drew my sword and pushed off from the wall, holding the sword steady as I dropped past the butcher. Since his knife and hook were embedded into the wall, he could do nothing but howl as I fell past him, my sword slicing him in half from his head down to his crotch.

Awful ichor began flowing from his body the moment I cut into it, the flames dying everywhere my ancient sword cut. His body fell from the wall, hitting the ground less than a second after I did. When I slung as much of the gunk from my sword as possible and put the blade away, I started climbing again. By the time I was a few meters up again, nearly jumping from rung to rung, the butcher was already putting his body back together. I bought myself a few minutes, but I had a feeling it would never be enough time.

When I got to the very top, Ivan’s body was emitting flames again, but he wasn’t climbing the wall yet. I launched myself over at the open door leading out of the shaft and immediately started running, hoping I could put more distance between me and the monster.

However, I didn’t take into account the other monsters. As I ran, everything started getting colder and colder and I saw yet another light ahead, though this one was more pale and seemed… emptier. Didn’t stop me from running toward it, though, as I hadn’t seen any side paths yet and I refused to turn around.

I didn’t even pause when I got to the room, just burst straight in and then immediately stopped, a grand vista of snow and ice before me. Am I finally… free?

I wouldn’t be so lucky. “Beautiful shot, Anon!” my uncle whispered happily, watching the deer struggle to rise. Another memory. I remember this. “Guess all that practice paid off, huh?”

My mouth involuntarily said, “Sure did!” The rifle that appeared in my hands felt heavier than I remembered as my uncle led me closer to the deer, whose eyes were rolling frantically about as it panicked, knowing its body was broken but in so much shock that it was unable to feel the pain.

“Not quite perfect, though,” he said. “That happens, sometimes.” We got up next to the deer. “And when it does, you have to take responsibility.” He reached down to his belt and pulled off a large dagger. “Are you a man, Anon?”

“I… I guess?” I asked, starting to feel the same dread I felt at the time. I didn’t know… He told me the deer would die instantly!

“Then take responsibility.” He pushed the knife into my hand. “End it.”

“What… what do you mean?”

He knelt down next to the deer, pulling me forward then pointing to the deer’s neck. “Right across, quick and clean,” he said. “She won’t feel a thing, but the longer you wait, the worse it’ll be.”

My eyes looked to the old dagger, a relic passed down in the family for so long we didn’t even know how old it was. “R-right across?” I asked.

“Right across.” I gulped and closed my eyes, moving the dagger down. Five seconds later, it was done, my eyes still closed. “Now, the hunter’s tradition. Open your mouth, Anon.” My lips slowly parted, my body trembling. “Bring the knife to your mouth.”

I slowly did so, but this time, I remembered who I was, where I was. My eyes slammed open and I looked down at the ground. Taya was on the ground before me, her body broken from a shot and her neck sliced open from a dagger. Her delicate blood graced the dagger on its way to my lips, staining the ancient metal a brilliant crimson.

In my horror, I threw the dagger away. It skittered across the floor and I fell back, pushing myself away from the body of my daughter. “Trust… broken,” something hissed in my ear. “Life… taken!

This isn’t real. Just an illusion. And yet, when I forced myself closer to her body, I could feel the warmth radiating from her. The blood still pooling around her neck was wet. The pain in her eyes was evident, though they were glazed over in death.

Daddy, why?” her voice whispered in my ear.

“I didn’t… I didn’t know!” I shouted, looking around the room. “I was seeing things!”

One of them, now… Locked forever here to suffer…

“No… No!” I ripped my sword out of its sheath, my eyes narrowing. “Locked here, maybe. But you won’t be alone.” I began lifting the sword up and was just about to slam it into my chest when something froze my body.

Another vision struck me. “How’d they get a forest down here?” Artyom asked with childlike wonder in his voice.

Ava walked up to one of the trees and tapped her hand against it. “Metal,” she said. As if they’d actually bring part of Siberia’s forests down here. “Merely an illusion.”

“But an amazing one! Look at the mountains, at the snow… There’s even animal tracks!” As he said that, a few birds flitted over his head and he watched them fly by, giggling in glee. “Amazing!”

“It’s… actually nice,” Ava was forced to agree, a smile coming to her face. “I wonder if it’s a playground, too.”

Artyom’s head turned to me. “Only for the most dangerous game.” The vision disappeared and I heard another howling. I looked around and found that Taya’s body had vanished, taking the blood with it.

“...This place is gonna kill me,” I breathed, putting my sword away with shaky hands. I suddenly heard the baying of hounds and knew I needed to move before something else found me. I started sprinting into the dilapidated metal forest, looking for any sign of an exit. All of the snow had long since melted away, leaving a hard dirt ground and metal bushes in my path.

As I ran, I continued finding more skeletons and hearing more whispers, alongside the sounds of something running behind me and a hunter shouting orders. After a few frantic minutes of running and trying to keep distance between us, the first dog jumped out in front of me. I didn’t even slow down, just put my foot on its back and used that as leverage to jump over it, forcing the ghoulish animal to the floor and running off before it could nip at me.

I kept running until I tripped and fell into a pit full of skeletons, what I realized had probably been a lake or pond at some point. All the dry bones I landed on broke and scratched at my skin and clothes, cutting me and slicing open my outfit. I started scrambling around, looking for a side of the pond that wasn’t too steep to climb. A few more seconds later, the dogs started smelling my fresh blood and their howling increased in volume as they all homed in on me. The hunter began laughing.

Before I could get to one of the edges, something grabbed the chain around my neck, yanking me down. I whirled around, slamming my fist out and through the skull of the skeleton that had grabbed me. It broke, of course, and the spirit released it. However, the other skeletons started animating, grabbing at my legs and my body, trying to drag me down.

They lacked any kind of muscles, though, so I was thankfully able to slowly overpower them. It cost me a lot of time, though, time I very desperately needed. It was only when I was out of the pit did I remember that I had wings, but a quick shine with my flashlight up to the ceiling told me that the tops of the trees were very sharp and there was almost no room between the ceiling and the trees.

So I continued to run, hoping the hunter didn’t have any kind of gun. An arrow suddenly appearing in the ground next to me answered that hope, telling me that he didn’t need a gun to kill me from afar. Another dog materialized in front of me and once again, I stepped on it to jump over it, forcing its head into the dirt.

As I ran away this time, another vision hit me. Now is not the fucking time, god dammit! Several horrified refugees ran along with me in the woods, whimpering in fear every time they heard a dog. After a few seconds, a large man appeared directly ahead of them, wielding a bow the size of a pony. They all stopped in fear at the sight of him.

His mouth was bloody, as though he had just been chewing on fresh meat. There was a garland of ears around his chest, dangling and jumping about as he moved. At his side was a massive wolf with fangs the size of fingers, dripping blood and saliva. Scars of all kinds covered all visible parts of both the dog and its owner, criss-crossing their features like some kind of horrid tribal tattoos.

The man drew his bow back with a dark grin and launched an arrow longer than my arm right into the chest of one of the refugees next to me, then burst from the woods to cut off the fellow’s ear. The rest of us scattered, with the dog following me. Just like that, the vision ended with the massive wolf still on my heels.

Seconds later, I heard its feet leave the ground and whirled around to meet my death face-to-face. However, something extremely unexpected happened. The butcher from before grabbed the wolf around the throat and slung it into the ground, then jammed his butcher-knife hand through the thing’s neck. His whirring mouth reached down and tore off a strip of grimy flesh before he turned back to me.

My savior glared at me, pure hate in his eyes, and then erupted into a brilliant red-orange flame. Then he started moving toward me, lifting his knife again…

...Before a massive arrow blossomed from the back of his head. I turned and booked it, deciding to let the two of them duke it out. The sounds of fighting diminished as I ran and ran, looking for any kind of possible exit.

Finally, I found the edge of the forest and a crack in the wall, something that was definitely not an official exit. As soon as I started crawling through it, a vision hit me. “Come on, Artyom,” the fellow whispered to himself, pausing at the edge of the crack, looking out into the forest. “Gotta get through this forest… Ava is counting on me. I have to activate that elevator!”

Some shouting came from behind him, toward the direction I was moving. He gulped and got the rest of the way out of the crack, leaving the place at a dead run. It wasn’t until he was gone that I noticed he had been bleeding. The vision ended and I continued crawling.

After nearly a minute and several close calls where I thought I’d have to turn around because of my wings, I hit the end of the makeshift tunnel, though I almost immediately regretted it.

Before me was a field of fire, a battleground where hundreds, thousands, of demons fought. Their shapes were varied and strange, though all were equally grotesque. A few semi-normal shapes lurked among them, fighting with beasts even more horrid than others. A centaur fought several monsters at once. Hordes of undead squared off with hordes of weaker demons. Blasts of magic fired from several hands and horns. A force of frantic and fanatic female demons went wherever a radiant male demon pointed, killing all as they went.

And before me stood a large demon of fire, holding a wicked glaive in both of her hands. “This land was mine, ape,” she hissed, bringing the bladed staff down at me. I jumped right the fuck out of the way. “I owned it, my warriors conquered it! You will not take it from me!

My sword instantly appeared in my hands and words not my own came from my mouth. “I’ll take it and I’ll take you, fire! You will help me!”

“I would sooner die!” She whirled her glaive around toward me. I blocked it with my sword, but the force of it pushed me back and knocked me off balance. One of her legs lashed out and kicked me square in the chest. “Weak! Puny! How could you have ever united this land behind you?”

“My mind.” I reached a hand down and grabbed a throwing knife that shouldn’t have been there, throwing it at her. She blocked it effortlessly and pushed forward again. However, it pissed her off enough that she became somewhat sloppy.

I ducked under her next swing and stepped in, so I was too close for her to hit. My sword then slammed forward. She jumped to the side and batted me away with the haft of her weapon, but my icy blade still cut into her, killing some of the flame on her body.

“I will give you to my demons and laugh as they tear you to pieces!” she roared, jumping forward for another attack.

However, the vision instantly ended and her form was replaced by the butcher, still damaged slightly from his fight with the hunter. The fight that ended, by the way, with the removal of the hunter’s head that was now in the butcher’s free hand.

Since my sword was still in my grasp, I used it to block the butcher’s attack, then slid it down his arm. The flames died down where the mighty blade sliced him, but I wasn’t paying attention to his other hand. He beat me upside the head with the hunter’s head, knocking me straight down and making me lose my grip on my sword.

He pounced down at me, bringing his horrifying mouth to my face and trying to rip off anything he could. His fiery body burned me even through my clothes, though that didn’t stop me from lifting up my hands to hold him back. Ivan didn’t like that one bit, and lifted his knife hand to slice at me. By the time he did, though, I lifted up both of my legs and kicked him up and away, then rolled over to grab my sword.

I got up and turned back to him just in time to get hit in the chest by a flying head. As soon as it touched me, it started biting, trying to rip through the singed fabric. My entire body was in pain by that point, so I was in no mood for that shit, and just grabbed him by the hair and ripped him off, throwing him away.

When I finally recovered, the butcher was back on me. The flashlight chose that moment to start flickering, so the fucker kept blinking in and out of focus as I dodged and parried all of his blows. If his eyes hadn’t been glowing and his body hadn’t been emitting light from the fire, there’s no way I would have lasted even a second like that.

As it was, I was actually… winning. Mind, holding onto the sword with a bloody and burned hand was nearly impossible and he kept doing more damage to my clothing every time he got near, but it seemed that he didn’t actually know how to fight. When I finally did some damage by cutting off his hand, I thought the fight might be winding down.

Still, cutting off his free hand didn’t seem to bother him at all, and he just lifted his now useless arm and slung his blood at me, getting it all over my face. The liquid began eating into my skin and I screamed, jumping back and struggling to wipe it off while still fending him off. Several frantic seconds passed as I fought almost completely blind, going solely off the heat I could feel to dodge and strike at random. He was still throwing blood at me, but most of it was hitting my clothes instead of my face or any exposed flesh.

Finally, I cleared my vision. He was swinging at me yet again, bringing his fire arm up to bear. I let all my rage come to the forefront, all the pain and hate I felt, and used that to completely ignore the horror of the action I was about to do. Then I stepped inside his swinging arc, bringing me right up next to his burning body and whirring mouth, and stabbed him straight through the gut with Excalibur.

More ichor shot from his mouth and I ripped the sword up, cutting through flesh, bone, and evil organs, until finally it went through his head again. The butcher fell back on the floor, bleeding horribly.

But since he got up before, I wasn’t going to count on that to keep him down. This time, though, I decided to take a more… proactive approach to dealing with him. I stepped in and slammed my sword down on his knife, cutting right through it. Then I brought it down on both parts of his neck, cutting his head off. One part, I kicked against the wall, sending acidic ichor and brain matter flying everywhere. The other part, I stepped on, crushing beneath my heel.

Then I cut off both arms and both legs, then cut them again at the joints so it would take him even longer to come back. Finally, I pulled out one of my daggers and cut out the fucker’s black, beating heart. I dropped it on the floor and crushed it as well, making a wail of pure pain and anguish erupt from what was left of his body.

Finally, I spit right on his remains. “Rot in hell, bitch.” I cleaned my blades and turned my back on him, walking off. “Bring me your worst,” I said aloud, walking off and shining my flashlight ahead of me. “They’ll end up like him, I swear it.”

I would come to very, very much regret saying that.

 
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