We walked up the staircase in silence. It was longer than I had anticipated, but surprisingly uneventful. A lot of people were on edge from what they saw unfold so far during this expedition, but sometimes, a staircase is just a staircase.
Once we emerged, we saw what the next area had for us. It was a very small circular room, maybe 15 feet in diameter. There would be space for all 20 of us to fit, but it would feel cramped. As before, open passageways with writing above them were placed around the room, but this time there were only four. The writing said North, West, East, and South. Not the same weird alien symbols, but English, yet again. Strangely though, the titles of the room were… less descriptive than they were on the first floor. I wondered what could possibly lay in wait for us. Slightly off center from the middle of the room was a very large tome, open and placed on a stone podium.
When the last of the group made it up the stairs, another rumbling sound rung out around the temple.
“Looks like the stairs are closing back up,” Sefina said.
“We won’t be able to go back down!” Jenny said.
“Damnit, we left Carolyn and Lola back there,” Roland muttered. “I hope they’ll be okay until we get back.”
“I wouldn’t worry,” Silas said. “They’re capable, and remember, the room was pretty empty to begin with. They can handle themselves.” Silas folded his arms across his chest. There was a strange amount of tension in the room. Agnes and Sefina eyed him suspiciously, but everyone else seemed satisfied.
“A lot to take in for this new area,” I said. “Let’s get our bearings and make a decision on what to do next.”
Agnes immediately walked up the tome and began flipping through the pages.
“Careful, Agnes,” Minh said softly. “It could be dangerous.”
Agnes waved for Sefina to join her. “Sefina, look at this.” Sefina walked over to join Agnes, and soon both women were transfixed by the book.
“What is it, Agnes?” I asked.
“It’s a grimoire. These are all spells,” Agnes said.
“How do you even know that?” Zoey asked.
“Look, there’s a lot I can tell you, but that’s another conversation best had when we all make it out of here,” Agnes shot back. “For now, just trust me on this one.” She had suddenly got a lot more aggressive since whatever happened to her in the Gluttony Room.
“Okay, well, 20 of us, four passageways,” Ursula said. “Let’s divide again.”
“I’m not going anywhere!” Yorick said. “Last time I went in a room like that, I ended up being the only one in my group to walk out!”
“It’s fine,” Agnes said. “Yorick, you can stay with us. Keep Sefina and I safe while we try to make heads and tails of this spellbook. I have a feeling like we’re really going to need to understand this book to know what to do next.”
“If Agnes is staying here, I want to stay here too with her,” Wendy said.
Yorick nodded. “I’ll do my best to protect all three of you!”
“Well, if my math is right,” Ursula said, “with four people staying here, that means four people back in each room yet again. That should be okay!”
I nodded. “A good plan, Ursula. Let’s divide up and pick a room to go in.”
After some deliberation, groups were made. Marie, Rita, and Finn would join me as we explored the South Room.
“Meet back here if you encounter any trouble,” I said before heading out. “Remember, there are still lots of us here to back each other up. No sense dying one by one.” With that instruction, I lead my team members into the South Room.
After making it down another darkened hallway, we were greeted by a humongous chasm.
“How is this… how is this even in the temple?” Finn asked. “There’s no way this even fits inside the temple.”
“It could be some kind of perception trick,” Marie suggested. “I have no idea. But, we are in some kind of alternate dimension remember? Who knows what the laws of reality are?”
“Well, there’s a rope bridge going across it to the other side,” I said, pointing it out to my team. On the other side of the rope bridge, there was another doorway. “That must be where we must explore next. I’ll lead the way over.”
“Be careful, Leo,” Rita said.
I smiled. A rickety rope bridge scared me not at all. I was the famed Leo Anderson, after all. I took my first step on the bridge. It held. That was good then. I walked confidently across. Briefly, I looked down. Utter darkness lay below us. No, not darkness. Nothingness. Oblivion. Finn was right. This chasm doesn’t fit inside the temple. This is something beyond physical comprehension.
Thankfully, the bridge was not too long to walk across. I was able to clear it in about three minutes. I waved to my team on the other side. “It’s safe. Let’s go!”
I watched from the other side as the remaining three did a little deliberation. Then, Finn was next to go. Rita and Marie stood on the other side, perhaps not feeling bold enough to cross yet. Finn walked more slowly than I did, but he too made it across.
“That was terrifying,” Finn said, looking me in the eyes as he stepped off the bridge. I felt like he may have resented me for ordering us to cross. But what other choice did we have? We have to explore this temple and there was nowhere else to go but over the bridge.
Rita was next to cross. Marie stayed on the other side, so I assumed that meant she would go last. As expected with two people making it across safely, Rita was able to cross as well.
“Glad that’s over,” Rita said. She turned back and yelled to Marie over the chasm. “Marie! Come!”
Marie took a step on the bridge. She must have become confident the bridge would support her weight, because she started walking further across.
“Once she’s over, we’ll explore the next room,” I said, turning to Finn and Rita. The two looked at me and nodded.
That was when we heard Marie’s screams.
We had only looked away for a second or two, but in that time…
In that time, all of the steps of the bridge simply disappeared.
Marie was holding on by one of the ropes, over the center of the chasm.
“MARIE!” Rita yelled. “Drag yourself across!”
Marie screamed. “I’m not strong enough! I can’t do it! I can’t!”
After what we just saw, I had expected the ropes to disappear, just like the steps of the bridge did.
But they held.
What I actually saw was Marie’s grip on the ropes give out. Her screams rang out, then faded as she fell further and further down the chasm.
“Is there even a bottom to this thing?” Finn whispered. “Does she just… fall infinitely far…”
I turned away from the chasm. According to my own rules, we would have been required to go back to the central room to get help. But with no bridge, that would be impossible. There was no real choice for us now.
“Finn. Rita. Let’s go. We have more to explore.”
June 10th: MARIE, fell into the chasm in the South Room
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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At this stage, the investigators initially split into groups of 4 yet again. For reference, they are currently divided as follows:
Book Room (Central Room): Agnes, Sefina, Wendy, Yorick
North Room: Calvin, Jenny, Rex, Roland
West Room: Mark, Minh, Pete, Preston
East Room: Akachi, Silas, Ursula, Zoey
South Room: Finn, Leo, Rita