Episode 001: The Baker's Sister Part 3

Part Three – The Nightmare

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The door swung open to shadows and darkness. With Sunset leading the way, we entered, crossing over the welcome mat of dried blood. While the dusty windows did not help with our vision, the shadow aura hanging over the place did little to improve the chill in the air, our only source of light being a wavering flame from what we could only assume was the oven at the back.

      Pulling out our torches, Birdsong and I took our light sources to opposite sides of the small shop, letting the light from the fire engulf the place just that little bit. Scanning the jar-lined shelves, we noticed the neatly-positioned jars of preserves and honey, both Avi and I swiped a bottle each – you never know if you’ll need anything along the way. As for the rest of the shelves, molding sweet buns and other baked goods stood, though there was no scent of baking as one would expect – either this place didn’t sell savoury goods, or like what Makinah said, some creature has come and devoured the lot.

      Avisha continued scouring the area, her rogue eyes trained to handle environments like the ones we found ourselves in. Climbing over what we could assume to be the cashier’s table, she confirmed it by cursing under her breath. We looked up and at her.

      “Oh,” she grinned, “There’s nothing in here.”

      “We’re here to find a person,” I said.

      “And creatures,” Sunset added.

      Just as the snappy comeback was at the tip of her tongue, the embers in the oven behind her crackled to life – first a burst of flames, then a slow eruption into the form of a winged beast.

      Turning its head to face us, it screeched in what sounded like a mixture of anger and agony. Avi sped back to us, tumbling away from the counter to avoid the lava spittle coming from the creature’s mouth.

      “What the…” Birdsong exclaimed.

      “Harpy,” I breathed.

      With what could only be a grin of relief, Sunset unsheathed her broadsword, jumped in front of all of us and slashed down heavily and diagonally, splitting the creature in half. Watching with widened eyes, we found ourselves clustered together as we saw the harpy go from a bright, burning orange, screaming itself into oblivion as it collapsed to dust.

      Sheathing her sword again, Sunset turned back to us.

      “So, what’s next?”

#

While the rest of the group scattered around the ground floor, deciding where to head to next, the image of the flame harpy quite literally burned itself into my mind. There hasn’t been any sighting of a creature out of this realm since the government of Neth unified the city with the Law.

      So as Avi and Birdsong crept along to investigate a found door at the corner of the room, and I handed the torch to Sunset and Jalil (right before they bolted upstairs), I leaned over the newly-formed pile of arcane ash. Mentally pushing the final screams of this creature away, I took a deep breath before I reached over and touched the ash.

      Then everything went blank.

#

“How can you do this?!” the shrill voice of a frustrated woman woke me up.

      Apart from the massive headache from what I could assume to be post-teleportation pains, it took all my remaining willpower to gather myself without launching into a panic attack.

      I found myself seated against a wall, on a thin rug that barely kept out the dings and dust from the wooden floors. The walls looked familiar, as if I never left the bakery, but instead of a shopfront, I now faced a curtained partition, with only a silhouette of an arguing couple projected from the lamps on the other side of the room.

      “These people won’t even know these things are gone,” the man said, an object looking like one of those precious stone necklaces Avi would snatch from her own courts just to keep everyone on their toes hung from his hand, “And I didn’t take this! It just… it just fell onto my lap while I was working at the guy’s home!”

      “By the heavens,” the lady said, “This is wrong! You return this first thing tomorrow or we will face consequences!” She collapsed into a crying heap, face in her hands, soon after.

      The man stood in front of her, now arms on his side, unmoving.

      “You women and your fears,” he said, “With this, we won’t have to worry about working hard enough to feed our son, or our livelihoods!”

      As he turned to walk away, I watched as the lady looking back up at her husband, a hand reaching for what seemed to be a knife.

      Fighting against the heaviness of my body, I leapt forward, right hand reaching out to the curtains.

      Only to have my vision go white with searing pain.

#

Clutching my head in the lingering pain of what I could only guess to be a supernatural vision from another dimension, I coughed old air out of my lungs before trying to gather myself. Now back at the shop space of the bakery, I pulled myself up against the counter.

      I couldn’t see my companions, and grunt-like, murmuring sounds filled the air.

      Where was Sunset and Jalil?

      From where I sat, I inched upwards, peeking over the counter.

      To see Avisha and Birdsong breaking bread with what I could only assume to be reanimated corpses or highly emaciated humans. Holding my breath, I continued watching as the murmuring conversation carried on, until Avisha suddenly stood up and left the table. And the shop.

      “You son of a bitch!” Birdsong yelled at what little fluttering Avisha’s cape gave as she left the shop.

      The click of the door responded.

      Now left silent with about four shambling bodies around her, Birdsong’s shoulders tensed as they looked around. Without whoever seemed to be the anchor of the conversation, the bodies then turned to their right, where different types of blood stains were clumping together in what seemed to be a pile of viscera and dirt in a dark room.

      “Is that…” I whispered.

      “Nargs!” Birdsong exclaimed.

      I furrowed my brows at their greeting, gesturing to our supernatural company. Waving my concern off, Birdsong said, “Nah, they’re fine, Avi made sure of that. (Of course) We might have a problem though.”

      They turned to the slightly opened door, the one that could have blocked out the pile of parts and viscera on the floor.

      “Do I want to know?” I asked.

      “They ate the baker,” they explained, “So that’s…”

      I nodded.

      “The lady went back on her word with Grandmother,” the shambling body with perhaps the (most unnerving) brightest eyes spoke up, “People who go back on their word with Grandmother have to pay the price.”

      “Who’s Grandmother?” I asked.

      “Someone from the Market,” Birdsong quickly said, “We’ll check it out when we can, we have more pressing matters on our hands.”

      While they pointed to the door left ajar, ‘Grandmother’s’ creatures parted like the royal guard. Casting a glance to each other, the both of us passed the creatures and opened the door. Strangely, the smell that I was expecting didn’t punch us in the face. Or exist, more like.

      Now facing the shop’s bathroom and storage, the darkness made it hard to see anything but the dug up ground between the wash basin and the toilet, the dirt now mixed with different blood stains and visceral material. Though it never fazed me, I took at least a slight comfort in knowing that at least, I could not see her face.

      Birdsong continued staring.

      I sighed.

      The creatures standing outside just stood facing us, letting out nothing more than the occasional grunt.

      “I suppose we have to do something,” Birdsong swung their lute from their back, closing their eyes before warming the instrument up to the start of a prayer. The same time that particular lute string snapped.

      They snapped their eyes open, flinched, then fumbled with their lute, refusing to face me. Stepping forward, I smirked at them.

      “You do something then,” they stepped out of the bathroom.

      Now standing over the half-buried body, I took a breath and closed my eyes, accessing my mind’s library for a prayer that could be used at this context. Standing there for a few seconds, I opened my eyes to realized that the prayer that came to my head was…

      Nothing.

      With the rest of the creatures waiting for me, my mind scrambled, finally grabbing onto the first prayer that came to my head.

      But as I recited, I noticed an attempt at a confused expression on the creatures and Birdsong stifling a laugh from the corner of my eye. Done with the prayer, I stepped back quietly, gesturing to the creatures to completely bury Sakinah’s body.

      “Nice job,” Birdsong muttered.

      “Shut up.”

#

By the time the bathroom floor was back to a smoother, less blood-stained state, Avisha walked back into the shop, smile brighter than ever. While Birdsong and I found ourselves subconsciously leaning away in suspicion, she stepped closer, greeting us with a, “So what happened?”

      The creatures shuffled out of the bathroom soon after, acknowledging all three of us.

      “It’s done,” Bright Eyes said, “We’ll need to return to Grandmother now.”

      Avisha nodded, “Thank you all for your help.”

      As the four creatures shambled out of the shop, Avi turned back to us, “So Sunset and Jalil are not back yet?”

      “You’re one to talk!” Birdsong started, only to stop when Jalil sprinted down, the echo of his descent down the steps sounding through the bakery. We turned to the staircase at the back of the shop.

      “You all need to see this,” Jalil panted.

#

We didn’t spend much time on the second level, where Sunset was waiting for us, appearing as if she just awoke from an experience similar to what I went through just a few moments ago. Despite the presence of the two rooms waiting to be checked, we sped our way to the third level, where Jalil was waving us over.

      I went up the steps with some trepidation – didn’t the bakery only have two storeys?

      Yet we continued up this spiral staircase, the darkness hanging over our heads more than ever, not helped by the fact that the “third floor” was lit only by the flickering flames that barely stretched taller than my palms, peppered in intervals far enough to keep the shadows of this place thick, but close enough to spot the tapestry hung on the cylindrical walls of this storey.

      Jalil and Sunset continued leading the way, skipping this bare level, continuing up the spiral staircase to the next (?!) level. Tailing behind, I squinted at the tapestries – weaved to depict battle scenes in muted colours, though the needlework served to be sharer and more life-like than I needed them to be.

      Ascending into the darkness, we kept silent on our way up, so when we heard the inkling of colicky crying from a child in the distance, we found ourselves hesitating to finish the flight of steps before we reached the next level.

      Wider than the third floor, this level had nothing more than a single crib in the center, and the erratic infant cries coming from the covered crib piercing through the air.

      “Do you think…” Birdsong started.

      “Maybe,” Avi said, “Who’s going to look inside?”

      “Maybe we can give the baby something to soothe it first,” Jalil said. Agreeing, Avi took the gifts from her satchel, standing with us while she continued staring at the crib. I noticed the slightest tremble in her fingers.

      “What are you waiting for?” Birdsong asked.

      “I don’t know what’s going to come out of I go near it!” Avi whispered.

      “We can’t stand here for too long!”

      “You do it, then!”

      Pursing their lips, Birdsong snatched the toys from Avi and stepped towards the crying crib. A few steps in, the cries grew irregular, Birdsong stopped, looked over their shoulder while we watched, bunched up in a corner. Crossing the room, Birdsong waited at the side of the crib, before dropping the gifts and running back to us.

      The crying stopped.

      Avi’s eyes widened first, then Birdsong turned back to the rest of us.

      I did the first scary part, it’s now your turn to step up, her eyes told us. But before any of us took the first step forward, a deafening crash echoed through the roof. We all crouched down and looked up.

      Into the bulbous eyes of a giant dragonfly.

      The walls crashing down with the roof tiles had us jumping aside, weapons out and ready for battle. Quickly scanning the area, Jalil’s eyes locked onto a walkway on the other end of the level.

      “This way!” he yelled, bolting over.

      As the dragonfly’s wings buzzed, it sent an earthquake-like vibration across the room, with us tumbling to stabilize ourselves. Jalil made it to the other side of the room first, flinging the door open and diving through.

      “Go!” Sunset waved us off, “I’ll hold it down!”

      “Use this!” Avisha flung metres of fabric rope towards Sunset. Catching it, we watched as Sunset fashioned a rough lasso from the rope and held down the beast while we made for the side door – myself first, then Birdsong and Avi – while Sunset tied the beast down.

      Struggling against its bounds, the buzzing grew louder and its wings fluttered more aggressively against Sunset’s raw strength. Quickly tying the beast down, she let go of its bounds and dove through the door with us, shutting it behind her.

      “Well,” she stood up, “That was fun, what’s next?”

      “Sunset,” Jalil said, “We have an new problem.”

There was another flight of stairs – I was hoping it to be the last one – and at the very top, alien ooze glowed pink and bright.

#

Author’s Note: The significance of the creatures and scenarios in the nightmare dungeons are explained more in-depth in The Nightmares Underneath by Johnstone Metzger. You can create your own scenarios and stories in this world by getting the hardcover here, or trying out the game first here.