-The First Layer-
"Ozen, how do I become a White Whistle?"
I sit with Ozen on a giant mushroom, the sizzle of frying eggs filling the air. The only response I get is her usual creepy smile. Or is there a hint of sadness behind it? Nah, probably just me.
"Come on, tell me pleeease" I tug on her sleeve. Ozen responds by punching me in the face. Eh, she'll give in eventually. After a few minutes crunching on our omelets, Ozen finally sighs. "Even if I told you, it would do you no good Lyza. Trust me."
"Come on Ozen, whatever it is, I can do it. I'll catch up with you eventually!"
"No." Huh, more stubborn than usual.
A handsome young man's face pops up from the edge of the mushroom, his golden skin glistening in the sunlight. Not something we usually see around Orth. "We need to depart soon. What in the world are you eating?" "Silkfang omelet with chitin, want a bite?"
He makes a sour look. "Lyza, you should be eating energy rations. The only reason Ozen can sustain herself on such… cuisine is the effect of her Thousand-Men Pins. You know, these rations contain exactly the nutrients a delver needs, especially important considering the unique dangers of this expedition."
Ration bars. Yuck.
Ah sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. I'm Lyza, future White Whistle Lyza. Right now, I'm on an adventure! We're gonna grab some special-grade relic from the 5th layer. With luck, this is where I get promoted to White Whistle, once Ozen tells me how…
"Lyza, hurry up!" Geez. Chill out guy. I heft my pack and hop down to join the rest of the group, noticing for the first time that there are a lot of black whistles here. Must be one helluva relic. Ozen is already standing at the front of the group.
"We are entering the 2nd layer. Stay close to the group and do not stray from us, no matter what you see or hear. The Forest of Temptation is known for luring rash young fools to an untimely demise." I coulda sworn Ozen shot a glance at me as she said that. Clearly my imagination, there's no one more level-headed than me.
As Ozen drones on, I idly watch some hammerbeaks fight in a nearby tree…
-The Second Layer-
Dammit, I'm lost.
I heard someone screaming for help, so I heroically dashed off to save them. Turned out to be a bunch of weird birds. Tasty little buggers though.
I could try to retrace my steps, but I don't recognize the scenery. Probably because I blew most of it up when the birds mobbed me. Whatever, I'm a future White Whistle, so I can handle things like this. I'm sure I'll meet back up with the others at some point if I keep on heading down.
A few hours later, I finally reach the entrance to the 3rd layer. There's a pack of climbing equipment and a note from Ozen here. "I am going to smack you later. This is your climbing equipment, which you made me carry for you. Now, carry it yourself." Ah right, I did make her do that for me.
I also notice a small bouquet of Eternal Fortunes nearby. I do love those things, though I'm surprised Ozen would pick them for me! Guess she's not that mad after all eh?
Welp, down we go.
-The Fourth Layer-
Nothing really happened in the third layer. Using Blaze Reap to carve handholds also scared away all the flying things. The others are waiting at me at the bottom, and Ozen of course greets me with her signature punch to the gut. The handsome guy seems flustered when he sees me, and fumbles with his bag. I think his name was Barry or something? He seems sweet and all, but really not my type. Too uptight.
At least he has good taste in flowers, he has an Eternal Fortune sticking out of his pack.
We lose a couple delvers to acid filled pools, but me and Ozen easily clear out any attacking critters. Ozen told me that my "noisy weapon" is why we are getting attacked so much. Which is fine, more fun that way.
-The Fifth Layer-
We're crossing one of those sketchy crystal bridges when a bunch of foreign delvers with guns appear at the other end of the bridge. The idiots in our group start to panic, and a bunch fall off. Ozen stands between us and the delvers as the rest of us scramble back to safety in a nearby ice tunnel.
Ozen is even more serious than usual, though she's doing well considering her wounds. We aren't looking too good, half of our group died in that ambush. I hug my legs to my body to try to keep warm against the freezing air. I almost regret going on this stupid mission. Suddenly, an idea pops into my head. "What if we lure the foreign guys into the tunnel, then I blow up the ceiling on them? My exploding pickaxe can get us out easy!"
The hot guy raises an eyebrow. Ozen barely glances in my direction.
"Awwww come on Ozen!"
Everyone looks relieved at that. Clearly they don't have faith in future White Whistle Lyza. Just as I begin to make my case, voices echo down the passage. The foreigners. Ozen raises her hand and quietly signals us to retreat. Screw that. I'm not planning on getting lost and dying in these stupid tunnels.
My eyes meet with Ozen's, and I grin. Her eyes widen as I slam Blaze Reap into the wall. The unstable ceiling falls on the foreign delvers just as they come into view. Unfortunately, the floor also gives way beneath our feet, and I hit my head on a chunk of ice.
I come to in a dark cavern. God, this hurts worse than a hangover. Pushing myself up against a wall, I notice that it's unnaturally smooth, almost… manmade? I hear someone calling my name, so I follow the sound and run into that handsome guy again. He seems relieved for some reason.
"Are you okay? That was quite reckless of you, Lyza."
"Shut up Barry."
This seems to annoy him. His mouth opens like he wants to say something, then he closes it and shakes his head. "Come, let's go find Ozen. We'll need her to help us carry this."
I look towards where he's gesturing and see… a giant ass. "What the hell is that?"
"This is our mission. The Soul-Slave Machine, Zoaholic. We need to find Ozen immediately, it's impossible for anyone but her to bring this relic to the surface."
I roll my eyes. "Come on Barry, it can't be that heavy. You take that end and I'll take this-"
He reaches his arm to stop me, but my hand has already touched the surface.
The world explodes.
I'm thrust into a sea of agonizing pain, of tortured wails, of souls trapped between life and death. A current just beneath my feet is tugging me downward, and I frantically thrash around just to stay afloat. My face is struck repeatedly by waves, almost as if the water itself despises my existence. A giant wave crashes over my head, sending me spiraling into the black depths.
I stretch my right hand upwards, reaching for just one ray of sunlight, no longer capable of resisting the biting water. And a hand plunges through the water and grasps mine. His face appears up above, and through some unknown connection, I know his name.
He is calling out, pulling at me. I feel his soul, enveloping me, protecting me. A boundless desire to give his all for me. Even as the waves rip him apart, his grip never loosens. A warm glow radiates from his body like the light of dawn, and gently flows into my hand.
And just like that, it's over. I lie on the frozen ground next to Bondrewd drained, something clasped in my right hand.
I force myself up. "Bondrewd, Bondrewd! Wake up! I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." Tears stream down my face as I frantically shake his body. And my wish is granted, the eyes open.
But the thing before me is not Bondrewd.
Everything after that is a blur. Ozen and the others found us. We brought the artifact to Orth. Bondrewd, or the stranger who calls himself that, was the one who carried my broken self to the surface. But there was no feeling from that man, no warmth in his eyes, only emptiness.
Ozen never punished me for what I did. Any trace of anger disappeared once she saw the thing in my hand.
I sit on my bed alone, my only physical wounds some light cuts and scrapes. But guilt consumes my every thought. Bondrewd gave himself to the darkness for me, because of my own stupidity, my own recklessness, my own weakness.
As tears roll down my cheeks, I sense …something. A call, a voice of the soul… Bondrewd? I open my hand.
The white whistle looks back at me.
I place it to my lips and blow./pre