Thirty-six hundred blood echoes a piece, the brain-suckers lurked within these walls ahead of me. Wind whistled over my shoulders while a faint song caressed the air. Both bellowed defeatedly like a chained mockingbird. The city of Yharnum far, far below me knew not the danger that loomed near the heavens far, far above its furry brow.
This was the lair where hunters died and zeroes cried. Both the whelps and crows outside fell under my cleaver. They rolled over like tired lumps of coagulated blood. Pah! Measly sugar drops! Inside stood the cake. I wanted it all! Nothing would stand in my way, not even the sickle-guard whose post fell beneath his falling corpse after I wrenched his heart from his chest.
I lowered my flintlock pistol and stepped through the threshold of no return. Steadiness on his feet behooved the silent hunter. The red ghost of a hasty dead man had trespassed and received punishment just below the landing where I stood.
There was one of the fiends on my left and just out of sight. Her hooded “head,” for which some would mistake it, drooled over a fresh corpse at her feet. I had received repeated warnings. “Insight feeds not life but fear, and fear shall starve.” When the Great Ones descended, they inculcated the poor souls who happened to live where their Eldritch magic spread. Then, their accursed victims craved not just blood but the mind of any traveler who dared to smear mud on their doorsteps. Hence, she was a brain-sucker.
The wheezing, half-choked breaths that steamed the air in front of her “head” disgusted me. No, thought I, pay no mind to the hunter so that he may wind up a thrust attack and defeat you at last, monster! But she detected my attack just as I unleashed it, and I missed the sweet spot in her back. Blar! Blar! Blar! Thrice my cleaver landed and spilled her magic blood onto the stone floor. I thought that my victory lied just ahead of this flurry.
Exhausted, I paused my assault and stepped away. She survived, and she plop-plop-plopped her wretched feet towards me, spreading wide her long fingers in anticipation of the meal that the Great Ones personally had delivered, or so one could surmise.
I intended not to be eaten but to eat! Blar! Blar! Blar! But she resiliently resisted my attacks, growling like a hellish stomach and preparing to seize me. Die, commanded I, succumb, and fall!
Her hands wrapped around each of my shoulders, restricting my motion and accommodating the spectral tongue that sprung from the top of her “head.” I watched the tongue leech down upon me. I saw not where it landed but felt, if one could feel such a sensation, the voracious slurp-slurp-slurping that drained my life away. Fortunately, I lacked the insight that she craved, and my mind, though pulled inward like an empty water-skin, relinquished no knowledge.
With a full mouth, if abstracts and blood together could fill, she pressed her slimy, cold foot into my chest and forced me away. My head and shoulders hit the floor behind me, and the fiend tilted her “head” back in order to swallow that which she usurped. What a horrible sight! Tubers protruded from what once was a human mouth in her “head.” Her eyes had collapsed into a nightmarish abyss from which no human souls could escape. Meanwhile, dirty sackcloth rags disguised her as an orphanage warden, a caretaker who presumably tended to the then-deceased Kin of the Cosmos that laid about outside the walls.
The Choir continued to sing its haunting song, and I feebly thought about all of the other hunters that had succumbed to brain-suckers like the one I presently fought. One of them had surrendered his corpse to her maybe just before I arrived, and his body laid defeated against the wall next to me. The voices seemed to rise in volume while I was nearest to her feet. Her cavernous arches could house by their heights off of the floor a prison of the damned. Was that where I was bound to go?
As though to answer my desperate thoughts, her foot perched above my mouth while a gurgle of endless hunger thundered far above my shadowed head. Her cold saliva dripped into my mouth, and I gagged and struggled to free myself. Coldness spread from my mouth to the tips of my toes, chilling my muscles into silent acquiescence. This was how she incapacitated her victims.
“Feel the spreading corruption,” urged a voice to me, “and die.” It was powerful, and the reality that could object to its suggestion ebbed away. It invaded my body with the aim of conquering my soul. On two fronts, the physical floor on which she slithered her foot into my mouth and the abstract dreamscape in my head where heaven and hell locked in battle, she retaliated. My stamina had depleted. My health languished within the grapple.
And like the teeth of a viper, her spectral tongue sank into my head.
I died and I knew the rules. The world was going to reset. I was a mere zero once again, having no proofs of valor other than a dulled saw cleaver and the memories of fallen beasts. I knew well my prey: she demanded greater care than I estimated. Frustrated, I awaited the waking world within which I could redeem my previous nightmare, and retrieve my blood echoes.
But the waking world did not return as I had expected. Instead, a veil surrounded me on all sides through which I could see the earth fall away beneath me. And then the earth rushed up in order to immerse me in darkness again. I have been snatched, thought I, and now I have to escape the Unseen Village! Soon the Snatcher, the hulking, bag-carrying bastard, wherever he stalked while I died, was going to deposit me in a cell for all eternity, that is unless I escaped.
Alas, I would have preferred the Unseen Village, for I did not reawaken there. Instead, I awoke both to the singing of the Choir and a cold, dark cell that veiled me with what I previously mistook as the inner walls of the Snatcher’s bag. I pushed myself off of the cold, stone floor until an even colder, slimier ceiling restricted my rising any further. My legs likewise had stuck between the floor and a ceiling that seemed to be even lower to the ground near my legs than my head and shoulders.
That was when I heard a familiar gurgling that chilled my bones. The sound arrived from far above my body, and I had learned that that sound belonged to a brain-sucker. I was still in the Upper Ward but something changed! I did not reawaken at the lamppost that conducted me from the Hunter’s Dream to the waking nightmare of Yharnum.
I knew that this was not just another dream because my blood echoes shone its beacon, a column of light, above where all of my previous experience had accumulated. That pool of blood glistened several feet away, beyond a pillar of darkness, from where I lied in my strange cell. Wait, if my blood echoes are there, pondered I, then that is where I have died, the world has reset, and the brain-sucker that has killed me has regenerated from any damage I have inflicted. Where was she? Why could I not get up?
I observed the corpse of the brain-sucker’s previous victim as it lied against the wall, thoroughly defeated. No, wait, that was my corpse! That was my goofy top hat! I could not ever see my own corpse after I had died. Yet, here I lied in a different body, immersed in a cold slime that proceeded to retard my muscles. The ceiling that exuded the slime crinkled a pale, pearly white surface with fleshy grooves and wrinkles. It gently undulated up, and down, and up, and down again. That was when I finally saw through the veil the other pale, pearly white surface on the floor near where my blood echoes lied. The brain-sucker had imprisoned me underfoot.
Time slunk away, and I began to claw my way towards my blood echoes where I could salvage the only possible gain from this horrible awakening. The side of the brain-sucker’s foot near her pinky toe was low to the floor, and it still pinned my legs. I slid my legs back and forth until I could gather enough of her slime in order to lubricate my escape.
Even more slime dripped down from far above the floor, presumably from her “head” while she savored the blood of her latest meal, my own corpse. Drops of her putrid saliva splashed against the veil, which I presumed to be some kind of black nylon stocking. It oozed down the wall of the veil and puddled in front of my exit. I could not touch her saliva without sacrificing precious stamina but few avenues remained by which I could safely escape her trap.
If the song of the Choir had merely haunted me before, then it almost deafened me. The songstresses seemed to be so close-by that they were that much louder. They too were trapped underfoot. Faintly, they wailed their pleas. Dreamily, they had forfeited their opportunities to escape. Nightmarishly, they acquiesced beneath the brain-sucker’s foot and sung in vain to warn anyone who might avoid their fates.
Rip! I tore open the cage of nylon, and my blood echoes shone clear as moonlight beyond a pillar of darkness, which I presumed was her other foot. Crawling away from her stocking, I could not feel my legs, and my deliberate twitches could not revive them. Her saliva had paralyzed them, and the rest of my body too was going to suffer total paralysis in vain lest I scurried like a bad-legged rat and retrieved my blood echoes. Arm over arm, I dragged myself across the floor between her feet, the closest path to my goal.
She snarled and wheezed with contentment over my lying corpse against the wall. Continue to lick your lips, you fiendish witch, thought I, and pay no mind to the tiny hunter who crawls on the floor beneath you towards victory! Lick her lips she did, if that mouth of tuberous horrors could fit a tongue, and she globbed a ball of saliva from her lips to the floor, engulfing your humble hunter and narrator in an icy ooze.
I screamed at the iniquity of it all! If I died again, then I would forfeit my blood echoes. It had been ages since I turned in my blood echoes for a level up, or a refill of blood vials, or repaired my weapons. All of those opportunities mushed into a slimy paste, nullifying into cold, obsequious failure.
She detected my scream, and she looked down, if the pits of hell could look, at the tiny hunter who failed to inch more than a foot away from her stocking prison. A low rumble erupted from her bottomless gullet. Her feet squished and squashed the slime on the floor while she watched me squirm in her spit, poisoning me with fear. She spread apart her claw-like toes and snatched me between them.
My entire body numbed in the grasp of her toes. Beside me, at a tantalizingly short distance away, sat the puddle of my blood echoes, and I had neither working arms nor working mind to take them. The toes squeezed together like walls of ice, scrunching away my remaining health, and sealing me to the worst fate I had ever known. Again, a voice crept up, a voice that could have been the projection of this voiceless abomination whose toes were squishing me, suggesting, “die.”
And die I did. My body emulsified into a pink goo between her slimy toes. I knew where I was going, where I had been just previously, where escape was impossible, where the entire world began and ended beneath the brain-sucker’s foot. The Choir did not mind an additional voice, as I was sure they were accustomed to adding more singers to their ranks. Here was where we took neither pain nor anguish but a tinge of pleasure from watching our prior fellows, the noble hunters, all foolishly trespass into the Upper Ward and gain their apportioned fates. This was how the nightmare endlessly persisted into the night, and this was where some of us could gather a modicum of peace: Underfoot in the Upper Ward.