Drowned In Grief
rating: +8+x

Finding Paradise

I met him at a bar.
There he stood.
I asked their name.
Not a soul responded

Drowned In Grief

The first thing to wake me up after passing out from my pain and blood loss was the sensation of something cold making contact with my forehead. I let out a sharp inhale, subconsciously turning my head to the side in surprise. The muscles of my face scrunched as I began to wake up properly. An unfamiliar face was looking back down at me, a stone-faced, pale-skinned man with fairly delicate facial features. It was all nearly obscured by the decorated yellow hood that hung over their head, though the angle they loomed over me gave the perfect view up at them.

They looked right back into my eyes, the ethereal green of their irises contrasted with the pale silvery-blonde locks of their hair, barely distinguishable from their ghostly complexion. I felt like I was looking at something inhuman–ghostly or otherworldly–mimicking human life.

Whoever or whatever they were, they soon moved the cold rag they had placed onto my forehead. Perhaps in some consideration or realization, they might not have needed it, the being put it aside. I didn’t keep track of it for too long though. Instead, I began to sit up to figure out where I might’ve been. It looked to be some kind of structure or small wooden room, although I was also the only other person in there.

The space this “person” brought me to contained a few amenities; a bed, some shelves containing miscellaneous items, and many, many plants. Almost every available bit of space in the room contained some form of pot containing a plant. Some of them were overgrown, the vines and leaves stretching beyond the confines of the shelves or tables they were kept on.

“Ah, you’re awake, nonbeliever,” the mysterious humanoid thing in the robe spoke, locking eyes with me. Upon realizing that I was staring right back though, they shuffled back to obscure most of their face.

“As I hoped I’d be… Where are my friends?” I immediately questioned back, trying to sit up so I could check my leg.

The being remained silent, seeming to give me the moment to check my injury. Much to my relief, it seemed to have been bandaged, although something that looked to be leaves or some kind of herbs had been haphazardly packed under the slightly bloodstained bandages. I assumed that Olivia had done it at some point, though all the plants around me in this room indicated that it could’ve been the work of this strange person.

“The two others? They’re being prepared for the rite of purification. I must now ask you… what may be your goal coming here?” They suddenly interrogated, the cold and plain nature of their voice having a far more sinister aura.

“My goal? Well, that’s a big question. I was mostly coming along to help my friend find someone.” I confessed although part of me wanted to admit that I was also curious about exploring whatever lies beyond just Level 11.

“Find who? Where?”

“Uh, I’d say if I knew where, but my friend is looking for their partner if that helps clarify anything…”

I couldn’t tell the emotion that the strange person was reacting with given their pretty blank expression and mostly concealed face, let alone if they even could. However, they slowly began to stand from their kneeling position.

“Come then, nonbeliever,” they said, almost like an order, “follow and you may be a witness.”

“Do you have crutches or a wheelchair for me at least?” I questioned, prompting a silent stare from the hooded person.

“Simply follow as I asked. Your leg will be fine.” They insisted in their monotonous tone, ignoring my question for the most part.

I probably shouldn’t have foolishly asked for something like a wheelchair in a place as vacant and uncaring as The Backrooms were. I couldn’t even tell what sort of stuff this being had, or if they were even being honest with me. Nonetheless, I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. I dragged myself onto my two feet, seething in pain as I felt the sharp burning from the bandaged bite. The yellow-cloaked person stood by the doorway out of the room, holding their same crook as they patiently watched me hobble over.

They didn’t say anything more, turning to fully lead. The dangling bits and bells on the curve of the crook jingled and clattered as they shuffled out, taking me to another large office space on Level 4. The drop tile ceiling and flooring made it clear, though the walls were hidden behind the many makeshift shacks of various residents in similar yellow patterned robes. They seemed to all be paused in an eerie silence, watching as I was guided along the open space between all the buildings.

Right at the back of the village were the darkened windows dotted with spots of rain, the middle of the wall had some kind of model crucifix or effigy meant to resemble one. It was overgrown with vines and plants, though looking at some of the shacks in town, that almost seemed to be the norm. Crowds of people began to make way, allowing me and the person acting as my guide to pass by them. With that, everyone gathered around and began to silently kneel.

My eyes were immediately met with the only three people still standing beneath the crucifix and an opening revealed beneath it. Sam, Olivia, and another robed individual. However, this other individual seemed to have a thin layer of moss growing across the patches of painted cloth sewn together to make their robe. Their faded and dull outfit hung like long and heavy sheets, illuminated by the backdrop of wildly rocking blue water that bubbled from the strange flooded stairwell beneath the cross.

I gulped nervously at the eerie silence that filled the air, looking between Sam and Olivia. They both appeared pretty worried, though Olivia looked to be far more anxious than Sam did. She opened her mouth as I was brought right up to them, stammering silently before Sam put a hand on her arm.

“Deep breaths… We don’t know what they want, it can’t be that bad though?” He reassured her, speaking just loud enough for us to hear.

I looked to Olivia to see if she would say anything or act on Sam’s advice, though she couldn’t muster any words. I also noticed the streak of pink in her hair, accompanied by another streak of light pink which I had somehow failed to notice before. Either way, I didn’t exactly know how to reply.

Our attention soon shifted as the sudden echoing boom of a deep voice spoke to us. The person in the moss-coated robe lifted their arms, reaching to pull back their hood, parting their braids of matted hair. Some form of wire wreath or crown adorned their head, teeming with the buds and branches of plants that grew from their hair and along the metal wires. The green of their eyes nearly blended in, flashing with each blink they gave.

“As we prayed, others have found their way to us…” he announced, looking to my side as my robed guide moved to take their place by his side, “Nonbelievers, you must be purified. You are destined to be amongst us.”

“Huh? We have somewhere to be though? We were just passing through. Right Sam?” I asked with confusion. Joining some weird plant cult was the last thing on my to-do list for the week.

My voice echoed in the near-total silence. I felt frantic, feeling the need to reach for my bag which I failed to realize was no longer looped around my arms. I failed to reach to my shoulder for one of its straps, looking around frantically. The idea of being stuck without proper supplies began to weigh on me, only making me more anxious.

Sam moved his head a little to try and sneak in front of my darting gaze, prompting me to stare at him as his eyes motioned toward Olivia. He didn’t say another word, looking back forward at the man in the mossy robe, listening to them speak again.

“False, fate and the powers above have brought you here. Your life must belong with us; with the plants.”

“I… I don’t think so… Listen, thanks for saving us–whoever that was–but we really need to go. We’re on an important mission.”

“Nonsense.” They coldly responded, their green-eyed gaze fixed on me only. “I deem that fate and Our Lord brought you here. Is that correct, Brother Strelkov?” They soon questioned the person who had previously been guiding me.

Strelkov nodded, their long silvery hair bobbing slightly as they agreed. “It is true, Father Smith. I found them swarmed by the beasts. At least one is destined…”

Father Smith replied to them with just a nod, pointing to Sam first. “You sir, the one who seeks another, come forth to be purified.”

As nervous as he was, Sam looked at me and Olivia, stepping forth to be in front of Father Smith. There was complete suspense as the two stood face-to-face, the sound of silence again being broken by Father Smith speaking, lowering his raised hands.

“Kneel, receive my blessing.” He spoke, almost with a stern, demanding tone of voice. Sam went right along with it, starting to slowly get down on one knee.

Strelkov slowly handed their crook to Father Smith, allowing them to raise the crook as he took it. Almost like Sam was being knighted, the crook was shaken above his head in a little circle and lowered down to each of his shoulders in a little tap. It only lasted a few moments before Sam gave a relieved exhale, looking up from the ground.

Father Smith looked down at Sam with a blank look, nodding as a sign for him to get up off the ground. “You may stand by the baptism pool… Strelkov will baptize each of you soon. Now- you.” He soon ordered, pointing the crook to me.

Although I had a good feeling about the simplicity of the little ritual they were doing, I felt apprehensive about approaching him. Sam winked at me though, standing next to the watery pit a few feet back from Father Smith and Streklov. I swallowed my fears in a visible gulp, approaching and kneeling just as Sam did moments prior.

I shut my eyes in sheer anxious anticipation, hearing the jingling of the long crook being held above me. Despite the ritual going just as it did prior, I still felt an inexplicable dread overcome me. The crook slowly lowering down to my shoulders only made me give sudden gasps of fear, though once it was over, I remained down on my knees in fear.

“There… you can get up. Stand with your friend.” Father Smith said in what appeared to be their usual commanding voice.

I was only able to utter a brief “thank you” as I got back onto my feet. Sam was still standing next to the sloshing pool, watching me with his own pretty serious face. I hurried to stand by him, trying my best not to act out of line in the slight chance that the people around us saw something wrong with the way I was acting or what I was doing. Thankfully though, no such thing happened.

Sam gave me a single, gentle pat on the shoulder for a moment, looking ahead at Olivia now that she was the only one left in the crowd. She looked completely anxious, even more than I usually was in stressful situations. She was visibly shaking, her shoulders rising and falling as she was ordered to step forward for the same odd blessing me and Sam received.

Olivia seemed hesitant to kneel, holding her messenger bag as Father Smith held the crook up, looking across her. She seemed to be trying to hide her sword somewhat, though the end of its scabbard was clear jutting from the side of her hip, hanging in clear view. She seemed to be contemplating reaching for it, though Strelkov spoke and prompted her to stop.

“This is the one who slayed many of the beasts before I threw the firesalt pouch… She is exceptionally gifted, Father.” They informed.

Father Smith nodded, using their free hand to point down. “She must kneel first. Receive our blessing.”

“No… n-no I can’t do that…” Olivia responded quite suddenly, her voice shaking as Father Smith lowered the crook.

“Pardon? What might be the issue? Fate brings you to us! It is destined by our spirit, our God.”

“I said… I can’t do that. I won’t allow it.” She said, speaking in what almost sounded like a grumbling murmur. Along with that, I noticed that the streaks of pink in her hair began to grow, consuming the brown in a vibrant pink as they spread across her slightly curly strands of hair.

Father Smith and Strelkov stepped back, giving their own little gasps as the crowd of robed onlookers murmured and exclaimed in shock under their breaths. The two men standing before Olivia recoiled back as she suddenly threw her heavy messenger bag over their heads toward us.

Sam nearly missed catching it, though he did manage to snag it with both his arms, almost like a quarterback. He also grabbed my arm, trying to pull me towards the pool as I was distracted and watching Olivia. She had drawn her sword at Father Smith and Strelkov, her hair now illuminated in shiny metallic pink as it fluttered in a nonexistent wind. I had no idea what was going on, though I wasn’t given much of a chance to. Sam soon threw me right into the pool. I struggled and thrashed in the water finding myself gazing in the startlingly clear water, seeing a submerged stairway that must’ve gone for miles down.

An open doorway was close on one of the landings, open and shining light through the distinct warping of a point where I could noclip through. I hadn’t swum in a while though, and pushing through the water on my own was a little struggle. I flapped my arms in an amateur attempt to swim deeper down. On the other hand, though, Sam moved like a pro. He held the bag against him in the water, using his legs to propel ahead.

My eyes burned from trying to stay focused, and my cheeks bulged and strained from holding in what little oxygen I had. Bubbles streamed from my nose and the gaps between my lips, my very breath escaping as I pushed and struggled with all my might to reach the doorway just within arm's reach.

Sam was right there as my eyes shut from the burning, grabbing me firmly by the arm to pull me through the doorway. With that, we gasped and collapsed onto the flooded floor of some kind of home or building. It was almost instant, shocking me as I coughed up the water I had inhaled, pulling myself off the wet ground as the water from my soaked clothes dripped and pattered on the flooded floor.

I looked back at where we came through, now being replaced by another flooded room full of living room furniture. I hadn’t even registered any of what happened, too shocked by the cold of my soaked clothes to comprehend that Olivia wasn’t with us.

“Shit… you aren’t hurt, are you Jo?” Sam asked, going right up to shake me by my shoulders to snap me out of my shock.

Stammering, I struggled to form words. “Is…Is she?…”

“Dead? I doubt it… I have no clue what the fuck was going on with her, but it doesn’t seem like something any human could do.”

I raised an eyebrow at Sam’s statement, slowly coming back to my senses. “What are you trying to say?”

“I’m saying that maybe she’s an entity. Though not one I’ve seen or heard of…” He contemplated in a murmur, speaking more to himself if anything.

We both stood in the quiet of the flooded living room for a few moments, trying to figure out what to say to one another. Olivia–whatever she might’ve been–was now separated from us and dead for all I knew. Sam’s demeanor had shifted to his occasionally stoic and flat glare which he had usually put on when we got into situations such as this one. Not long after though, he sighed and spoke.

“We’ve made it to Level 7 at least… just not in the way I planned. Olivia put the snorkels and a bit of your stuff in her bag. As waterlogged as it might be…” Sam remarked, during which he began to reach into Olivia’s messenger bag which she threw him. It was visibly bulging with things, making a small clatter as he rummaged. Not long after, he handed me one of the snorkels.

“Don’t use it,” he warned suddenly after giving it to me, “they have filters that recycle oxygen so we can dive. Swimming down that stairwell probably took away some of that limited time we’ve got.”

Despite all my questions, I stammered and looked down at the snorkel he was offering. Part of me felt offended that he was moving on about our discussion regarding Olivia so quickly. I took the snorkel and held it regardless. In my head, I knew what I wanted to say about leaving Olivia behind, but I struggled to put it together.

“Entity or not, are we just going to forget about her? What if Olivia is in danger and looking for us? We shouldn’t have left her behind!” I finally managed to say, unsure of what else to tell him through all my worries.

He closed his eyes, his face scrunching a little as he wiped it. “Don’t say it like that…”

“Why!? She helped us out back in that creepy settlement full of those mimic things!” I argued back, watching as his stern exterior began to shift to a more defensive, somber one.

Despite knowing Sam as a pretty tough guy based on the few days I had known him, I could see the upset on his face. Through the water that still dripped off his hair, I could discern a few tears silently falling as she looked me dead in the eyes. I began to feel a small sense of guilt, opening my mouth to let out an awkward squeak.

“I’m not having a repeat of Madeline…” Sam managed to utter, huffing in a little choke as he tried to hold back any audible signs that he was crying. “If… If Olivia is still alive, she knows the route we’re taking. We’ll find her on our way…”

I nodded a little, trying to hold back a few tears myself. “Right… you wrote that list…”

He gave an affirmative nod of his own, turning to begin leading me. “Let’s just go and get a head start, we can wait somewhere for her…”

For the most part, I agreed with the idea he offered. If Olivia was still alive, surely she’d be looking for us. She at least had the trust to give us her bag to keep too, and I could only assume that it was important to her. Not only that, but she still had to take the same route as us if she was still going for her goal. If not, then we could only hope that we’d come across her when it was all over. Sam and I still had our own slightly urgent goal though, and that seemed to be taking precedent. At least it seemed to be for Sam.

We began our travel through Level 7 first by trying to find our way out of the building we seemed to be in. We were just about up to our knees in slightly murky water, wading through it as Sam led me to a couch that sat just below a high-up window. He had a small look at it, lifting a foot to check if the couch was stable enough to stand on compared to the over bits of furniture in the room.

Deeming it stable enough, Sam began to get up onto it, trying to find a way to open up the window above it. It didn’t take long before he managed to pop off a small and rusted latch. It allowed him to push the window outwards, creating a little gap for him to carefully climb through. I didn’t waste any time to follow him, pausing to equip my snorkel just in case I needed to dive into anything.

Outside I could hear the crashing of waves intermittently mixed with the creaks of the wood around me. The sofa’s cushions sank with my weight as I stood on them, squishing like sponges as water pooled from the fabric. As gross as it was, I began to reach for the windowsill above. Although I wasn’t all that strong compared to Sam, I managed to lift a leg, getting into a good enough position to push myself up with it.

Once I was up at the window, teetering off the edge, I took a look at where we were. Thankfully there was some kind of tile awning just below that Sam was standing on, barely protruding from the water. The whole area around us was a flat sea for as far as I could look. Houses barely peered from the water’s surface, spaced out a good distance from one another. Other than those, however, were the countless bits of debris and junk. Makeshift wooden rafts, floatation devices, and a startling number of bodies.

Sam looked to have taken out his snorkel, starting to put it on himself once he saw that I had equipped my own. Once I dropped down to the awning, he seemed to have gotten it on all the way. He reached for me though, pulling on a strap on the back to tighten the mask-like snorkel to my face.

“There, now you’re set. Wouldn’t want water getting in there, would we?” He teased, although his mask muffled his voice a bit.

I nodded, deciding to pull on it just a bit to make sure it was on tight enough. “You said these are going to recycle our oxygen? Are they respirators then?” I asked afterward.

“I hear everyone call them snorkels. This is my first time properly wearing one, so your guess is as good as mine. Lemme tell you what we’re looking for, though.”

Nodding, I listened to Sam during the time he took to gear up, tightening his mask a little more as he took a few steps toward the water. He slowly leaned down, diving into the murky blueish-grey of the waves before resurfacing, bobbing steadily in the fairly calm water.

Yet again he spoke, instructing me. “I know you aren’t a good swimmer, so just carefully climb into the water. We can lock arms so I can help you swim.”

Even though I was pretty soaked already, climbing into the water made me shudder from the cold. Trying to get it over with, I began to dive in, flapping my arms a bit to push my head back to the surface shortly after I submerged. Sam swam to be beside me just in case, putting his arm under mine to keep me lifted.

“How long are we going to be swimming for? Judging by the snorkels, I’m guessing we’re going down…?” I asked him through the chatter of my teeth.

“Yeah, the entrance to our next level is gonna be a rusted sub… Just know that it’ll come to us before we come to it if you get what I mean.”

“Some people drive a sub down here?”

Sam shook his head. “Nope, it just… appears sometimes. Levels work in strange ways like that sometimes.”

I only understood what he meant partly, though now I at least understood that we were looking for some kind of submarine down there. Gradually, I began to try and move my arm to lock with Sam’s as a sign that I was ready to dive with them. He seemed to understand my cue, tilting both of us to dive forwards, down into the slightly murky waves.

Down under the depths, I could see the extent of the litter that polluted the level. Various bits of heavier trash drifted and fishing lines, ropes, and chains from some of the abandoned rafts dangled haplessly in the calm. Light shone through the waves above in rays, barely illuminating the thin fishing line Sam clunkily pulled me out of the way. The hook was just about on level with my chest, still and motionless as it waited for a catch which never came.

The mask of the “snorkel” made it a bit easier to see under the water, although the rays of light from above occasionally glinted on the thick plastic, obscuring my vision as we proceeded deeper. The light began to become dimmer and scarce as we got lower down, culminating in faint visibility within the murky green. I could barely see anything unless it was right in front of me, including the few pieces of discarded junk that would occasionally brush past me whilst Sam and I swam.

While we did seem to be making good progress in diving deeper into the water, I still worried about the pressure and how long I would be able to keep up my swimming. Even though Sam was doing the majority of the work, my legs and arms still grew tired from the kicking and waving I did to swim. Included in my struggles was the building pressure from the depths we were pushing into. My ears began to feel a growing pain the deeper we went, popping gradually.

Despite the soreness and pain, I strived to push on, just as I did in the flooded stairwell when we escaped. My eyes focused ahead on the near darkness, distracting me from anything else. I nearly forgot I had the snorkel on until we hit something we couldn’t get past. Exhaling suddenly, I felt around in front of me, feeling along the intertwined fibers of some kind of rope. It seemed like we came to a net, though I could only tell because something just below was shining up at us occasionally in the water’s current.

Sam’s free arm waved in front of my face in the bobbing beam of light below. He seemed to be trying to convey something with some gestures, but I was too worn out to understand it. In the end, he seemed to let go of my arm, reaching for the net. Almost like he was climbing it, he began using it as a way to go down. With him as my only guide, I felt as though I had to do the same.

The both of us began to descend, growing closer to the light below. However, the closer I got, I soon grew to realize what it was. Caught with one arm through the net was a diver, tangled up in the lower bit of it. Somehow, the light of the flashlight on their chest remained on, despite how long decayed the body was. Upon seeing the skull through the goggles and mouthpiece of their oxygen mask, my eyes widened in shock, trying to back away from it.

In an attempt to snap me out of it, Sam grabbed my arm, tilting me to look at him. He dared to reach for the body, though I didn’t even want to look in its direction again. Regardless, he simply took the light from it, pointing it down to something below. I couldn’t make it out through the particles of sediment and debris in the water, though it seemed to be something large. My hopes were immediately raised, assuming we had just found the submarine that Sam told me about.

I detached from the net, following Sam’s lead as I now tried to swim after him on my own again. It didn’t take long for my eyes to catch glimpses of a few chains that rose from the depths of my peripheral vision. Large steel bulbs hung on the ends of them, lined with even rows of points. I carefully swam past one of the rusted metal spheres, recognizing them as dangerous–and most likely still live–naval mines. With another gasp, I pulled my attention away from the floating bulb, looking for Sam or the beam of light which gave away his position.

Sam was right against the surface of the rusted sub right below me, heading towards the large tower which looked to contain the hatch to enter. He was floating and waiting beside it, weaving the light to signal for me to come towards him. With all the strength I could gather left, I kicked and slowly drifted towards Sam, conserving my breaths within the snorkel as we both stood by the hatch into the old and abandoned sub.

The hatch looked to be completely normal, just as old as the rest of the sub. However, as I instinctually reached, it flashed and seemed to “twitch” out of place for a moment. It seemed to be struggling to stay in place momentarily, almost as if it were flickering in and out of reality. However, I figured this was just the sign that this was yet another way to noclip and transition to the next level. Sam and I reached it practically at the same time, trying to grab and twist the valve on the unstable hatch. However, as soon as we tried opening it, we were sucked right through the solid surface almost like a vacuum.

I called out in fear as I became disoriented, left in the dark as I felt the water rush and mix with air. It was like I was dragged into a whirlpool on my own, suddenly being dropped onto something dry, hard, and flat. The rebreather, snorkel, whatever it was on my face, had cracked from the impact of my landing, only noticeable when I opened my eyes and found myself in the lit corridor of some industrial interior. White, nearly tan painted walls of a corridor with multiple open passageways.

Simply based on the fact that I could see the same valve-like mechanisms on each of the doors told me that I was inside the submarine, or wherever that hatch might’ve taken me. Getting off the ground, I shook the water off my skin as it dripped off me.

“Shit… What now Sam?” I asked as I tried to take off my mask, turning around to see that he wasn’t with me.

I froze, seeing only more narrow corridors behind me, not a soul in sight. Now I was the one on my own…

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