After Finn jumped off his pedestal without dying, we knew something good happened at last. The relief in the room was tangible. We all stepped off our platforms.
“No time to dally here,” Akachi said. “We must check on the others.”
“Back to the main room then,” Jenny said, leading the way out.
The eight of us were greeted in the main room by the sight of a manic and frazzled Yorick, sobbing in a heap on the floor. Jenny and Finn immediately ran over to him.
“Yorick, what happened?”
“I was the only one… the only one who made it out!” Yorick yelled, grabbing Jenny’s shoulders for a moment before collapsing again. “We’re not safe… those devils that took Diana and Jim’s bodies and the last stitch of Joe’s sanity… they are still in that room… they could come for us.”
“You’re safe now,” Akachi said. She said a mysterious incantation none of us knew and slowly, Yorick seemed to regain his senses. “Does your mind feel clear now?”
Yorick nodded. “It does. I don’t know what you did, but thanks.”
“Yorick, Finn and I will watch this doorway. There’s no way anything will pass by us without us knowing about it.”
Rita shuddered. I don’t know what that was about. But I guess, we’re all a little spooked.
A few minutes later, the groups from the Pride Room – Carolyn, Zoey, Sefina, and Ursula – and the Wrath Room – Mark, Leo, Minh, and Pete, his dog in tow – joined us. Shockingly, none of them seemed disturbed in the slightest.
“Nice to see everyone again!” Ursula said, a big smile on her face. “What did everyone find? We found this ancient crown relic that gives its bearer strange, arcane power!” She held up a golden crown with jewels encrusted all around. “But be wary of wearing it for too long. Spikes slowly emerge from it to impale the wearer through the skull! How very sinister!”
“Ursula, now is not the time for your discoveries,” Rex said.
As I scanned the faces in the crowd, it seemed like this was the first time anyone from either of those two rooms even realized that… that there were less people here than before.
Roland and Agnes emerged from the hallway to the Gluttony Room, carrying an unconscious Wendy. “Thank god there wasn’t another one of those things,” Agnes muttered. “I’ll never get that smell out of my mind.”
“What happened to Wendy?” Carolyn asked, suddenly distraught.
“She’s fine. She passed out from being surrounded by all the corpses in the Gluttony Room for so long,” Agnes said plainly.
A room full of corpses? That sounded like an unimaginable horror.
“Where’s Daisy?” Rex asked.
“I…” Roland stammered. He stopped and looked at Mark, trembling. “I shot her! But it wasn’t on purpose. A creature rose up from the corpses and attacked her. I meant to shoot the creature but I missed and hit her instead!”
“Damn it, Roland!” Mark said.
“No sense in blaming one another. This place is horrific enough,” Agnes said.
“That’s right. Daisy’s not the only one we lost,” Yorick said.
We took some time to fill the others in on the other missing and dead. Norman, disintegrated. Mateo, drowned. Diana and Jim possessed by spirits, which eventually led to Joe shooting himself. And Calvin told this horrific account of finding Skids’ head in a jar.
Sefina’s eyes grew wider and wider with each tale. “I had no idea such things were happening elsewhere!” she said, shaking.
“Well, we in the Wrath Room figured the rest of the temple was dangerous,” Mark said. “We encountered danger ourselves. But in the end we had nothing to fear!”
“What do you mean?” Calvin asked.
Mark motioned his head towards Pete, who smiled and patted Duke on the head. “We unleashed a flaming demon inside the Wrath Room, but turned out the damned thing was scared of dogs. Duke just snarled and barked at the bastard while we huddled in a corner. Then, after scanning the room, Minh was able to spot this strange coin lodged inside a hole.”
“With the creature under control, I was able to pick it up quite easily from the notch it was in,” Minh said, a smile on her face. “That caused the creature to wither away into nothing, right before our eyes.”
“Then, we just walked out here,” Pete said.
“If only everyone’s room could have been so easy,” Yorick said, a hint of sadness in his voice.
Sefina sighed. “Well, I guess aside from Lola, this is everyone who is left alive from what I’m hearing.”
There was a moment’s silence. Calvin looked at Rita.
“Where’s Preston? We never got Preston out of the net!” Calvin yelled at the top of his lungs.
A hearty laugh bounced off the walls of the temple. We braced ourselves for the worst. A figure emerged from one of the hallways, wielding a golden scepter.
“Hello, friends! Quite the little gathering we have here! Discussing strategy without me again? Well, I won’t stand for it. Fill me in, everyone.”
It was Preston. And he seemed… not his usual self.
“Preston, you’re alive??” Jenny, Calvin and Rita all yelled out at once.
“Well, don’t sound so upset about it!” Preston said, smiling. “But to answer your question, yes, I’m very alive. I could hear you all down below, very worried for my safety. But not to worry. Being surrounded by riches is the safest I could ever be. The truth, I could have come down any time! I figured out how the net trap worked immediately. The switch to release myself was always within view from my perspective. I just felt… much calmer and more at peace up there. Once I noticed everyone else was gone and with the rumbling happening elsewhere, I figured I should join you again before everyone leaves without me!”
“Preston, you bloody bastard!” Calvin screamed. “We were worried to death about you!”
“Worry no more my friends! Preston Fairmont is here and ready to venture on!” he said, holding up his golden scepter like a sword.
Once he held up, a spark of electricity came off the scepter. Then another. “Drop it, Preston!” I yelled. But he only held it tighter. I closed my eyes, not wanting to see what might happen next, not wanting to see another death.
“My word!” Preston yelled.
I opened my eyes to see…
Steps of a spiraling staircase emerging downwards from the ceiling right before us.
“That scepter must serve as some sort of key!” Ursula exclaimed. “Extraordinary. I guess it’s time to explore the second level of this place. See if there any more answers. Leo, lead the way once more!”
“Before we go, aren’t we forgetting someone?” Carolyn asked.
Nobody said anything.
“Lola!” Carolyn said, folding her arms. She seemed quite upset nobody would talk about it.
“Carolyn, she made a sacrifice so we could all continue onwards without having to worry about the button. We can go get her when we have to pass through that exit again,” Leo said.
“Well, she was in a sorry state when we left her. Silas can attest to it,” Carolyn said. I didn’t like being dragged into this, but I couldn’t deny Carolyn was correct. “At the very least, I would want to tell her what’s going on.”
Leo sighed. “All right, but make it fast.”
“Come with me, Silas. I don’t want to be walking around here alone.”
I obediently took a torch and followed Carolyn back into the dark hallway that lead to the button room. I did not want to be part of this. Not at all. I agreed with Leo. We had left her here on purpose, had we not?
“I don’t like this plan, Carolyn,” I said as we walked together down the hallway.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Carolyn said. “I fear for her sanity greatly.”
That was a very good reason to not be doing this. But I didn’t say that to her. I kept that reflection to myself.
The button room was exactly as we had left it. The weird glowing symbols. The darkness. And Lola, pushing the button.
“Must push the button,” she said softly to herself. “Must push.”
Slowly, Carolyn and I approached her.
“A starring role for Lola. Lola Hayes as the Button Mistress. One night only. ONE NIGHT ONLY!”
She began to sing the lyrics to some song she must have improvised while stuck in here.
“Alone in the dark, but I still have a part! The button! The button! The button!”
It wasn’t a very good song.
“Lola, my dear,” Carolyn said softly, tapping Lola on the shoulder. Lola spun around to look at us. It was the first time we saw her, and my god, her face was completely sunken in. Her hair was a tangled up mess. What’s more, she smelled horrific. Like some kind of foul rot was on her. “Lola, we are going to move on to the next level of the temple. I wanted to tell you that. So you would know what’s happening.”
“Oh, I know what’s happening. You want me to press the button,” Lola said, a small smile creeping across her face.
Carolyn stopped herself. “I guess… I guess you could put it that way.”
“You want me to press the button.”
“You’re not mad, are you?” Carolyn asked.
Lola stared at Carolyn, her eyes completely… soulless. Then, she shook her head. “I’m not mad. Of course, I’ll press the button.”
“I’ll press the button right now!”
With inhuman speed, Lola swung her arm behind Carolyn’s neck and smashed her face into the button.
“Alone in the dark, but I still have a part!”
Immediately, I tried to wrestle Lola down to the ground, but with one impossibly fast motion, she kicked me backwards to the ground. The torch fell from my hands, but there was still enough light for me to watch as Lola – as though nothing at all had happened – continued to smash Carolyn’s head into the button in time with her song.
She dropped Carolyn’s body to the ground at her feet. From the torchlight, I could make out her body, a pool of blood seeping out around her. I couldn’t bring myself to look. She had trusted me to protect her and I.. I couldn’t do that for her…
“That ought to give everyone more than enough time to explore the next story of the temple! This has been my most successful role ever. I can already hear the applause!” Lola said, clapping her hands. She whirled around to look at me, still knocked down on the ground. “But what if they need more time?”
I didn’t know what had happened to Lola. How she got these inhuman qualities. How she lost her mind. But I did know what had just happened to Carolyn.
I stood to my feet and picked up the torch. My knuckles turned white as I gripped it in my hands. “Show’s over, you bitch.”
What could be taking them so long? That’s the problem with people with soft hearts like Carolyn. They never have any sense of urgency.
Finally, I saw Silas emerge from the hallway. No torch with him. No… no Carolyn with him either?
“Everything’s okay. Better than okay actually. Carolyn and Lola had a chat, and they’re both staying in that room now. Also we’ll never have to worry about the button ever again. We’re set on the button for a week or so. Made sure of it before I left.”
The look on his face. I didn’t believe his story. If we were set on the button, then why would they continue to stay in the room? Why wouldn’t they just join us? Also, I thought the button didn’t work that way? Can you actually store up time on the button? But, we had no time to deliberate on the validity of Silas’ tale. We had to move onwards.
I began the ascent up the spiral staircase. “Let’s go, everyone. To the second floor of this hellhole.”
June 9th: CAROLYN, head smashed by Lola in the Button Room
June 8th: JOE, shot himself in the Lust Room
June 7th: SKIDS, dismembered in the Greed Room
June 6th: JIM, possessed by Ambrose in the Lust Room
June 5th: DIANA, possessed in the Lust Room
June 4th: MATEO, drowned in the Sloth Room
June 3rd: DAISY, shot dead by Roland in the Gluttony Room
June 2nd: NORMAN, disintegrated in the Envy Room
June 1st: LOLA, abandoned in the Button Room
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