"Organizer of the forces of chaos."
- Charm: “You're out of compliance.” (smile)
- Adaptability: Needs development
- Planning: Jaw-dropping
- Survival Preparations: Jaw-dropping
- Wealth: Top 10%
- Weapons Skill: Samurai
- Intelligence: Logistical
- Warm Fuzzies: Irrelevant to doing one's job
- Leadership: High
- Mutation: Wyrm
Survivors at work
Like all the Guardians, ISTJ Sentinels will hunker down in bunkers when the world ends. Their bunkers are small and neat, and the ISTJ will only invite in a chosen handful of family and friends. They will also insist that the radio be turned off occasionally so that they can recharge their introvert batteries. ISTJs like their bunkers peaceful, quiet, and well ordered. That way they can get work done.
Since you do not know how long it will take until order is restored, you would be wise to bring some work down into your bunker with you. Cowering in a radiation shelter can be a good opportunity to catch up on old projects; straighten your filing cabinets; answer old e-mails; conduct performance reviews; balance the budget; conduct a fiscal audit; or even catch up on the mystery novel you got for Christmas three years ago.
Naturally the ISTJs who choose to work from home will stick to their 8 to 5 schedule. That goes without saying. Nor will they permit themselves to take sick leave for mere radiation poisoning. Their boss would expect nothing less of them, and there's simply too much work to be done to justify the time off. If zombies attack and the ISTJ is forced to halt work until they can drive the creatures off, they will feel guilty about it and put in extra time at the end of the day to make up for it. Some ISTJs will even work unpaid overtime to finish projects out of the fear that their boss would otherwise assume that they were goofing off while working from home.
Unfortunately, the ISTJ's mate (an ESFP Daredevil) will begin to feel neglected by the workaholic tendencies of their spouse, and may take to doing hilarious impersonations of the boss while sitting on the ISTJ's lap, making it hard to concentrate. The poor ESFP spouse will suffer almost painful boredom in the bunker, and will amuse themselves by clambering up the walls, bouncing around like a ping pong ball, and intermittently hurling themselves against the locked door with pitiful howls. It will be necessary to restrain them to prevent them from hurting themselves. No matter how much they plead and wheedle, do not set them loose; it is for their own good. You will have to take many such tough measures in the days to come.
For starters, you will have to decide what to do when the radioactive dustfall ends. Do you sign up to go live in an underground city (see the Guardian Survival Overview), or do you stick it out on the surface?
Once You’re Out
A surprising number of ISTJs (~18%, the highest of any Guardian type) will choose to stick it out on the surface. They will reason, “Why should I leave my home, hearth, job and roots just because it has become a mutant-infested desert? I was born here and I will die here.” (A prophecy that may be swiftly fulfilled.) The ISTJ will set to work on creating law and order in their little patch of terra firma.
Nature has equipped the ISTJs well for the task of restoring order, for this type makes natural soldiers. The core of the ISTJ is self discipline. By honing their fears and passions into iron resolve, they achieve unbreakable inner strength. The silent, stoic ISTJ warrior lives by a strict code of the honor. They do their duty and refuse to give an inch to chaos. Their determination the stuff of legend.
Though ISTJs work effectively alone, they prefer to organize into well-regulated armies with clear chains of command. The term “army” should be interpreted loosely—the army may be as large as a division, or as small as small as a lady’s church group. Either way, the ISTJs will ensure that the army is as organized, trained and disciplined as possible under the circumstances.
Since total zombie extermination is considered impossible, many people will learn to live with a less than adequate solution to the undeath problem. “It’s not any worse than rabies, really,” they’ll say, chuckling uneasily as they force a smile. This approach is intolerable to the perfectionistic ISTJs. They will eliminate all zombies in their area with the same obsessive compulsive fervor with which they attack the one cent deficit in their checkbooks or the stubborn stain on the saucepan.
Vast “zombies beats” will be organized, where soldiers walk step by step over vast stretches of ground, ensuring total cleansing. The engineer corp with follow behind, raising tremendous cement walls around the cleared areas. These modern Great Walls will hold the zombies hordes at bay more effectively than any army. (As a bonus, the Walls also keeps out bandits, mutations and those damn hippies.) Anyone wanting to enter the Clear Zone will have to pass through an extensive quarantine and character check. …Except that one guy who comes over the wall on a dark night, a festering zombie bite on his flower-tattooed arm. The Clear Zones will need periodic reclearing.
The ISTJ armies will not necessarily disband when the threat—zombies, bandits, etc—is done away with. Many will find that they enjoy their work and will decide to become full time mercenaries. These dedicated warriors will serve in the elite armies hired by post-apocalyptic city states.
Since many of these mercenary groups are derived from the various clubs and institutions to which the ISTJs belonged, they will often have names like “The Fairgreen Golfing Club” or “The Big Lake Homeowners Association” or “The Ladies’ Tuesday Bible Study Group.” (It’s really humiliating to be crushed by an army called the Ladies’ Tuesday Bible Study Group.)
ISTJ mercenary armies are different from (say) ESTP mercenary armies because they will actually obey orders and do not treacherously turn on their employers at the drop of a hat. For this reason, their services are greatly prized by ESTJ Underlords and ENTJ Warlords. But the price for the ISTJs’ professional services is high. Furthermore, if not paid promptly and in full, the army will collect the debt themselves by sacking their dishonest employer’s city. If there is interest due, they will collect that too, down to the last penny. They will not take any more or less than is due them. When the ISTJ army silently retreats from the shattered city, their bags full of duly assessed loot, those who would dare to abuse the system will take heed. ISTJs do not tolerate cheats and liars.
Unfortunately, so many ISTJs have gone into underground cities that there simply are not enough of them to clear every square inch of planet Earth. Resources will have to be allocated, and some areas will be designed “Unclearable at present time.” But what if an ISTJ happens to live in such an area?
Abandoned to their own resources, these ISTJs will fight a one man/woman war against zombies, mutations, bandits, and hippies. They will live on their stockpile of supplies as they grimly attempt to clear out their own personal clean zone. Some will succeed, others will die, but they will never give up.
However, matrimonial problems are on the horizon. The ESFP Daredevil spouse will be thrilled at the opportunity to live in a scarred hell filled with monsters, and will take to going out on all-night mutant hunting parties. Meanwhile, their long-suffering ISTJ mate will sit in the ruins of the house, waiting up till dawn for them to return. Arguments will develop over the ESFP's fun loving opportunism vs. the ISTJ's dutiful responsibility, and the qualities which once fascinated each partner will begin to drive them apart.
If the ISTJ is a male, the problems may be exacerbated by the fact that their ESFP spouse will initially be catching the mutant rodents for the dinner table. Artisans are natural hunters and gatherers, but the ISTJ will not appreciate this trait because all he will see is his own inability to kill rodents, marking him as a failure who cannot provide for his family. As a result, the ISTJ may become bitter and lose much of his self esteem. His ESFP wife will instinctively shun his gloomy visage and hunt even more frequently as a means of escape. Feeling abandoned and unloved, the ISTJ will sleep uneasily, listening with one ear to the horrific noises that can be heard outside the crumbling house.
On these dark, lonely nights, the ISTJ will begin to question the wisdom of his decision not to join an underground city, but alas, the cities will already have been sealed up by now. The ISTJ's next move may be to gather up his family, join a party, and try to make it a factory enclave. Many will go this route and become the party leader's trustworthy lieutenants, making sure that the party's gear is maintained in satisfactory condition and that food, water, and radiation pills are distributed equitably.
However, most ISTJs will just keep sticking it out in the skeletal remains of their house, come what may. Slowly conditions will improve. The backyard garden will be expanded into a proper farm, and the male ISTJs will tend it industriously. Fences will be built and the undead will be held back. The ISTJ will feel relieved when the first harvest comes in, and will perceive himself to be fulfilling his duties as head of the household again. This will cause him to lighten up, and his wife will stop avoiding him. By this time the glow will have worn off of mutant hunting, and the ESFP will stay home at night. Of course, there will still be the perennial Judger/Perceiver arguments about the state of the house:
ISTJ: “I notice you left empty shotgun shells all over the kitchen floor again. Clean them up, please.”
ESFP: “But honey, I was trying to hold off a zombie attack.”
ISTJ: “Then you should have picked them up after you were done. I have to live in this house too, you know.”
ESFP: “Fine, I'll just sweep them into this giant crack in the floor. How's that?”
ISTJ: “Put them away where they belong. Company will be coming over tomorrow and I want the house to look nice.”
ESFP: “But the entire world has been devastated. No one will care if it's clean or not.”
ISTJ: “Well, I will.”
The ESFP will grumble, but do as they're told. It's as if they think that just because the world is over, they can get lax about these things. But you know how important it is to keep up appearances. It wouldn't do to have your neighbors think you can't take care of your property.
ISTJs in the Caves
But what of the ISTJs who join the massive Guardian migration to the underground cities?
When the castes and guilds are laid out, the brave ISTJ settlers of Caves 1 - 20 will become the new warriors and manufacturers. As a member of the Warrior/Manufacturing caste, you will be entrusted with the important duties of defending your home and making tools for your new society.
It’s a good thing too, because no sooner will the caves cities be sealed off then mutant earthworms ("wyrms") as thick as water towers will erupt from the walls. Mutant vampire bats ("dragonbats") will shriek down from the cave ceiling and carry screaming citizens off into the night. The dread wums will crawl out of their crevasses and pull victims down into their inky black lairs in the heart of the earth. And everywhere, in every shadow and dark corner, there will be the ominous scritching and hissing of the nightmare oorrg.
At first it will be all the Warrior caste can do to hold this torrent of ghastly creatures at bay. But over time you will adapt. You will learn how to mount an organized hydrosonic defense against a wyrm. The dragonbats will be dealt with by creating a grid of spotlights and machine guns pointing up at the sky. Eventually these monsters will be domesticated, and you will ride them as you go about your duties. The wums will be driven almost to extinction after you will seal up their crevasses, destroying their natural habitat and raising a cry of outrage from conservationists. Eventually your Total Annihilation Plan for the wums will have to be canceled, and some crevasses will be left open in remote corners of the cavern as wum preserves. Although at first you will begrudge the beasts this mercy, later you will be glad you gave in, because wum meat is surprisingly rich-flavored and tender, and will become a staple on holidays. As for the oorrg, they are omnipresent and impossible to exterminate, but since they are frightened of light they can be easily kept at bay. You will harvest glowing crystals from nearby caverns and light the cave up with brilliant splendor.
After you've gotten the situation under control, you can turn your attention to pressing internal affairs. It falls to the ISTJs to enforce the stern laws governing life in the new civilization. As the protectors of order, they are the arm of justice in the caves. The Enforcement Guild will fight organized crime, enforce the codes for dress and hair length, and ensure that the Standard Operating Procedures Manual is carried out to the letter.
Out of all the creatures in the Caverns, none is so feared as the wyrm. Though these gigantic annelids can be held back with hydrosonic weapons, such devices work only when the wyrm has actually entered the Cavern. By then the beast is crushing entire city blocks with its eyeless, probing head. Almost as bad, their passage through the soil causes miniature earthquakes. When the ground begins trembling, the Warriors Caste knows there will be trouble. For over a century, the people under your protection will live in fear of these monsters.
It is not until the discovery of parasitic bonding (see the Guardian Survival Overview) that it will become possible to solve the wyrm problem. The ISTJs will capture young wyrms and introduce larvae into their brains. They will simultaneously introduce cloned larvae into their own skulls, thus enabling the formation of a psychic bond.
The first ISTJ to bond a wyrm will find it a very interesting experience. You are a warrior who volunteered to serve as an experimental subject in hopes of destroying the wyrms for good. The wyrm you bonded is a young thing, barely a foot long. The scientists keep it in a sort of aquarium full of compost and coffee grounds.
Over the course of several days, you become aware of the wyrm’s mind. You find it to be slow, deliberate and methodical, totally dedicated to its chosen task of sifting through the soil. It is also a coffee addict. The beast particularly enjoys Dark Dragonbat Roast, your own favorite brand.
Bemused by this unexpected bit of common ground, you dump in the leftover grounds from your morning coffee. The wyrm enjoys this unexpected treat, and you take a long sip from your own mug. You never thought you would have coffee with a wyrm.
As the wyrm goes about its unending labor, it “sings” to itself in deep, subsonic vibrations that you have no words to describe. You find them oddly…relaxing. In fact, the rhythms remind you of the odd vibrations that you sometimes felt through the Cavern wall. What if these were caused by wyrms? A fascinating thought. Sometimes you find yourself humming along as you go about your work. You also begin snacking. In the early days of the bond, you will eat and eat and eat without even realizing you are doing it. Suddenly you’ve gained ten pounds. You work it off in the gym.
Now that you've adjusted to the bond, the next order of business is to learn how to control the wyrm. But you quickly learn that it doesn’t work this way. You can make suggestions to the wyrm—like where to go to find the coffee grounds you dropped in—but not direct it precisely.
But as it turns out, you didn’t need to resort to coercion anyway. As you will soon discover, the strange song is a means of communion between the beasts. It serves to mark territory, summon mates, and “see” through the earth. You slowly begin to absorb the melodies that weave through your mind. Though you do not have the vocal apparatus required to produce subsonic vibrations, you can imagine them, and the wyrm seems to understand. You find that you can direct it to move from one side of the aquarium to the other, call it to you, and tell it when there is food.
You are also becoming sentimentally attached to the ugly little thing. When no one is watching, you take it out of the aquarium and hold it on your lap. Wyrms are highly tactile creatures, and love to have their segmented bodies stroked and scratched until they hum with contentment. You set it on the floor and watch it explore the laboratory. It’s kind of cute how it feels its way across the tiled floor—for such a boneless blob of muscle, it can really move. It discovers your kitbag and tries to wriggle inside. You laugh as it eats your sandwich. Sometimes you even sneak it extra food. Soon it has outgrown the aquarium, and must be released into the wild.
Seeing the earth through the eyes of your wyrm will be a fascinating experience for you. You had always experienced the rock as a hard boundary; now it becomes an ocean that you move through at will. Each kind of soil and stone feels different upon the spiny plates of your body. You nibble at the roots of trees and hunt other burrowing creatures. The cool, silent earth feels restful, almost like a library. Your dreams are filled with endless eating.
In the morning you wake up and find yourself human again. You go have breakfast, which is coffee with a bagel. Also, bacon, eggs, a bowl of cereal, a piece of fruit, another coffee, a doughnut, a muffin, a strawberry yogurt, a leftover taco, a quiche, and several other little snacks. (Another five pounds! Where did that come from?) So you go to the gym and work out again.
Whenever you want, you can call the wyrm to you. This may take several hours, but eventually it will erupt from the cavern wall (or the floor) nearby. By this time it is as big as you. You feed it coffee grounds and rub its eyeless head. It hums a pleasure song. Experimentally, you try strapping on a makeshift saddle, but it is difficult to ride a segmented annelid that expands and contracts itself rhythmically to move. Oh well, it was a good idea anyway. (The wyrm is amused by your efforts.) You run it through the tricks you have taught it, i.e. beg, roll, coil, and play dead. It nuzzles your kitbag until you give it a sandwich. You are beginning to find it harder and harder to imagine annihilating wyrmkind.
So you propose a different solution. At your suggestion, a Wyrm Corps is established. Relying on the fact that wyrms are territorial, the Bonded men and women of the Corps surround Cave Four with a net of “friendly” wyrms. These tremendous sentinels will stand guard against the wild wyrms, faithfully protecting their home. All they ask for in exchange for their service is coffee grounds and a little love.
Usually the Warning Song is all that is needed to deter the wild ones, but sometimes it’s not enough. Then strange, twisting battles will be fought below the surface. The Bonded will be empathic participants in these great contests, and will twist themselves up like pretzels as they strive against an imaginary foe. Very seldom does a wyrm die in such a contest, but if they do, the human partner stops eating and loses their will to live. The only thing that can save them from a slow death from heartbreak and starvation is to bond a new wyrm, but the loyal ISTJs feel like this will be a betrayal of their old partner. Still, their friends and family will prevail upon them, and they will finally obey their superior’s orders to bond again. This will bring them out of their downslide, and they will start eating again. But though they will regain the weight they lost, there will always be a touch of melancholy in their face afterward.
The Bonded and their wyrms will keep Cave Four safe for thousands of years.
But there is a more sinister foe waiting in the wings. The surface dwellers, who are all Artisans, will one day rediscover the “lost” city of Cave Four. Having no respect for property rights, they will come down in droves to loot its treasures. ISTJs will be called upon to drive back the hordes, and the Wyrm Corps will be an integral part of the offensive.
The Artisan army will be surprised to see a lone ISTJ warrior approaching their camp. “Who can this fool be?” they laugh. “Send out someone to grab them and loot their stuff.” A party of SPs heads toward the ISTJ, their small, stunted surface dweller eyes alight with greed. The ISTJ closes their eyes and kneels, pressing their fists to the ground. They hum a deep, angry note. And then the earth begins to shake.
All through the Artisan camp, pots and pans come clattering down. Badly secured tents pitch over, and the lizard-mounts used by the invaders panic and bolt. Then the monstrous wyrm erupts from the earth. Clods of dirt go flying for hundreds of meters. The SPs feel a deep vibration humming through their bones. For many, this is the last thing they will ever feel. The ISTJ hums the Roll Song. Men die like flies.
The surviving Artisans will learn to avoid soft, dry earth. Such is the dread struck into the enemy by the Wyrm Corps that the SPs will refuse to so much as set foot in a massed camp unless the ground has been salted and soaked with the most noxious chemicals known to Artisankind. Needless to say this will suck a lot of fun out of looting your civilization.
As for the lone ISTJ, the last glimpse the fleeing Artisans will catch of them is a lone figure standing triumphant. They will be munching a bag of chips.
Producers of Goods
But not all ISTJs will be warriors. The Sentinels will also be entrusted with the manufacturing sector of the underground civilization. They will grow food, operate mines, and design every object and building in the Cavern.
The principal ISTJ food production guilds are the Fungiculture Guild, the Algaculture Guild, and the Fishing Guild. Together, these three guilds keep Guardian tables stocked with delicious, nourishing staples. The Fungiculture Guild grows giant mushrooms, truffles, and Christmas fungus. Guardians will learn to prepare mushrooms in a variety of different styles: mashed, beaten, whipped, diced, boiled, baked and fried amongst others. Shady mushrooms will line the avenues of the avenues of the city, and families will use lichens for their shrubberies and hedges. At Christmas everyone will be issued a special green Christmas fungus cut into a cone shape. They will hang it with ornaments, put a "star" on top (the children of later generation will not really get it) and place presents under the lower protuberances. Working in the Fungiculture Guild will be a very rewarding occupation for many ISTJs, even those who become moldmen and Change.
The Algaculture Guild will work out in the main cavern's central lake, harvesting the luminescent microorganisms which give the water its warm yellow hue. Some of the algae will be converted into algent green cookies, crackers and flour, while the rest will be pressed for oil and ultimately made into biodiesel. A small segment of the algae will be made into pellet bait used by the Fishing Guild.
The fishers have a number of duties, the primary one being to snare blind cave fish in special traps and to monitor water quality. They will additionally issue permits to recreational fishermen and prevent poaching. If a "Nessie" appears, they will report the creature to the Krakenmasters Guild before it can reach land and wreck havoc.
Still other ISTJs will become geological, structural, and civic engineers in the Engineering Guild. They will work hand in hand with the Manufacturing Guild to translate their visions into mass produced reality. To fuel their industry, the ISTJs in the Mining Guild will harvest metals, stone, and glowing crystals. They will also excavate tunnels for future expansion of Cave Four. The banes of these Guilds will be wild wyrms, earthquakes, and environmentalists.
Lastly, a select group of elite ISTJs will be assigned to the Inspection Guild. This guild has a unique position in Guardian society; it ensures quality control for all the other Guilds. Though somewhat resented by the other Guilds (who consider them too strict) they will continue to uphold the high standards with which they are entrusted.
In whatever Guild an ISTJ is assigned, they will serve their Cave well with their sense of duty, their meticulous attention to detail, and their courageous stand against the forces of evil disorder.
Romance Down Under
The natural partner for the ISTJ is the ESFP Daredevil, but no ESFPs will go underground. Therefore, you must choose another mate. The best option at this point is probably the ESFJ Bunkerdragon. Not that it matters what you think, since all matches are now arranged by the Taskforce Against Inbreeding. The TAI will select a beautiful ESFJ wife for you and #386482 and #89359220 will marry until death do you part.
Ah, but does she love you?
You'd like to think so, but it seems to you as if her wifely duties are being performed more out of a sense of obligation than actual affection. You had envisioned snuggles on the couch, breakfast in bed, a honeymoon at the Crystal Gardens Suite—but her response is lukewarm at best.
Eager to please your new spouse, you dutifully help with the dishes, bring her bouquets of colorful fungus, buy her presents, and even build on a new guestroom for when her mother comes to visit. (Her mother is also your mother-in-law, which makes this an act of self-sacrifice as well as love.) All to no avail. You cannot figure out how to scale the invisible wall separating you and her.
"I wish I'd never come down here," she says one day, staring at the picture of the old country, namely a little farm somewhere far, far overhead.
"Why?" you ask, hoping it isn't you she's thinking about.
"I miss my real home," she says, her eyes growing misty. "The sun, the rain, green plants growing, ocean waves, wind..."
"...Mutants, zombies, radiation poisoning," you say. You were young when you left the surface, and there isn't more to your remembrances than a few hazy memories of running for your life. Your wife is six years older than you; she sighs and nods, but her gaze is elsewhere.
More and more often you come home and find her looking at that picture. She doesn't mention it again, but you can see that she is thinking of the surface. She'll get over it, you think. It's just a phase.
You are still trying to tell yourself that four months later, only now she barely eats, and her gaunt face and sunken eyes remain fixed on the picture for hours each day.
"Are you feeling okay?" you venture at last. You aren't real big on talking about feelings.
She smiles weakly. "It's just a touch of mold. I'll be alright."
You try to bring her comforting little reminders of the surface—a sun lamp, a geranium, a soundtrack that plays the ambiance of rain and wind.
The geranium dies within a week from lack of water and you find the soundtrack in the trash can. In her sleep she mutters "Take me back, I don't want to go...take me back..."
You listen, heartbroken.
It is popularly believed that there is no possible way to return to the surface. But as a member of the Mining Guild, you know better. There is a way—the only problem is that to get there, you have to navigate a sprawling system of booby-trapped labyrinths that was commissioned by the Great Committee as part of a job creation program. The dungeons also double as habitat for wums, baby wyrms, and oorrg. You've heard of foolish explorers going into the labyrinths, but you can't remember a single story about one coming out. Even hunters seldom venture any further than the first level, and it is rumored that there are a hundred levels or more.
Before you aged out of the Warriors Guild and were transferred into the Mining Guild, you were part of an elite team of soldiers tasked specifically with monster control. The thought of venturing into the dungeons makes all your hair stand on end, but there is a small part of you that thinks it just might be done...if you had a map. It then occurs to you that your former unit leader, an ESTJ Underlord who got his hand bitten off by an oorrg, now works in the Cartography Guild as a shift supervisor.
You visit him at his lakeside house and share your dilemma. He does not approve, of course, but you bring up the fact that you plucked him out from under the fangs of a dragonbat and gave him an infusion from your own veins. He goes pale and instinctively rubs the side of his neck with his remaining hand, where two white symmetrical scars can still be seen.
"I'll see what I can do."
Later, he comes to your home. There is a sort of guilty look on his face when he passes you a booklet folded up into an accordion and sealed with Cartography Guild mark. "I'm probably signing your death warrant. But good luck," he says. You accept it gratefully.
Taking the paper up to your room, you unfold it. It is a complete layout of the dungeons with detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to reach the surface. At the end of the trek is a tunnel that fades off the edge of the page, marked simply "up." You smile grimly, and fold the accordion back into the booklet. Then you call your wife.
Without saying too much about where you got the map, you explain that it is possible to reach the surface—if she is willing to take the risks. You wax long on the savagery of the wums and oorrg, the length of the journey, the difficulty in navigating the labyrinthine maze that lies above the city, and the certain death that awaits at the surface. When you are done laying out all the perils, she says simply,
"I'll start packing."
Over the course of a week you wrap up your affairs, gather all of your old Warrior's kit, load your guns, and tuck the map into your jacket. Your wife fills bags with food, water, clothing, and the family heirlooms. All too soon you are ready to leave. There is no night anymore, but just after the work shift changes to the leisure shift, when the roads are almost deserted, you set off. Your last sight as you close up the house is the goodbye letter sitting forlornly on the kitchen table.
The entrance to the dungeons is a Stygian hole guarded by twin gargoyles in the shape of wums rampant. Their stone tongues curl out at you hungrily as you stand there, staring. Your wife's face goes white, and for a moment you think her resolve is broken. But she turns on her flashlight and heads into the gloom. From deeper inside you can hear the oorrg scritching and crawling. You flick on your headlamp and follow.
Your flashlights play over endless corridors hewed from the virgin stone. A dragonbat statue startles you when you round a corner. You mount a spiral staircase carved in the shape of a coiling wyrm. Behind you, where your flashlight does not reach, the feet of the oorrg whisper over the floor. Again and again you whip your head around, only to hear them skitter off into the shadows.
The map shows where to walk via a series of arrows, but occasionally there are references to "BT12" or "BT986." You wonder what the numbers are referring to.
Soon you come to a pile of broken skeletons clogging the hallway. Your wife gasps, the beam of her flashlight trembling. Feigning calmness, you examine the map.
"BT...I wonder if that stands for booby trap," you say.
"Look, there are holes in the wall," your wife says, playing her flashlight upon some suspicious apertures that run in a line down the hallway.
You decide to try an experiment. Picking up a heavy block of stone lying nearby, you hurl it into the pile of skeletons. The floor panels depress under the weight of the stone and spears gash out of the wall and gore the air. The spears hang in space for a moment, then slowly retract into their slots. You note an iron-red coloration on the tips before they vanish.
You look at your wife. She turns to you and says, "Could you hold my flashlight while I crawl underneath?"
You cannot help but admire her fortitude as she pushes skulls and ribcages out of the way and belly-crawls underneath the spears. You toss the flashlight to her and join her on the other side.
"That wasn't so bad," you say, trying to sound casual. But really, you are thinking about all the other little symbols on the map: the WC, the D-Nst, the CVSoD, and the hundreds of other little BTs.
You and your wife pick your way through the tunnels, following the explicit directions on the map. Occasionally you find plaques on the wall that claim to point to "Shortcuts" or "the Surface" or an "Exit," but you steadfastly ignore them, obeying the instructions you have been given to the letter. It is obvious to you at this point that to stray from the beaten path would be tantamount to suicide. You must either go strictly by the book—no matter how unpleasant and illogical the instructions may seem—or die.
Your resolve will soon be tested when you come to a river of icy water roaring into a dark hole. There is a crumbling stone bridge suspended over the stream, and the map indicates you should cross. It also indicates a BT smack in the middle. There are no helpful skeletons and no sign of any trap. But there is a little door marked "Shortcut" that leads to a corridor paralleling the river. You and your wife can't help but look at the little door.
"We'd better follow the map," you say half-heartedly.
"Yeah," your wife says with equal lack of resolve.
"I'll go scout it out," you say, shrugging off your pack. "Light a lantern and hold it up so I can have my hands free, okay?"
You draw out your gun and gather up your courage. Slowly, holding your gun out in front of you and looking rapidly left, right, and overhead, you advance across the bridge. Will the floor fall out from under you? Will an axe whiz out of the dark vacuum and decapitate you? Are there poisoned arrows ready to spring out of nowhere? You hold your breath in anticipation; your heart throbs in your throat. The gritty stones crunch underfoot, and the chill, damp air swirls around you. You reach the center of the bridge.
A glistening tentacle rises dripping from the water and reaches over the railing towards you. You whirl and fire. Two ragged holes appear in the mass of muscle. The tentacle surges towards you and wraps around your waist. You are ripped off the bridge and the next moment a torrent of icy water closes over your head. You are pulled down, down, down into utter darkness.
You draw in a lungful of water—then air! Coughing and gasping you are dragged into a cave lit by the faintest yellow glow. You can hear of the slurping of monstrous tentacles on all sides, but see nothing except dark silhouettes like the limbs of a tree. A ruby eye gleams in darkness and the tentacle thrusts you towards a ring of twitching fangs. Your gun is still in your hand; instinctively you point it at the red orb and fire.
The burning eye dissolves in a splatter of ichor. The creature shrieks. Tentacles convulse and you slide free. Run, run, run! Blindly you lurch towards the source of the light. A slimy limb smashes your chest and slams you breathless to the ground. Gasping, you scrabble to your knees and keep moving. Can't stop now! You crawl over writhing tentacles—the light grows bright—you hear a voice—
You stumble up a staircase and emerge into bright, warm light. Your wife is weeping hysterically. You stagger out of the little door marked "Shortcut." She gives a shriek of relief and throws her arms around you.
"You're alive, you're alive," she sobs, clutching you and pressing her head into your neck. You want to savor it, but there is no time. You shove her off you, snatch up the bags, and bark, "Hurry! We have to cross now before it recovers!"
Then you race across—but she is still waiting terrified on the other side. Throwing down the packs, you fly back over the bridge, pick her up, and carry her over. The two of you run into the safety of the oorrg-infested corridor beyond.
At last you stop, panting, and sag in relief.
"What happened?" the ESFJ cries, finding a piece of dry clothing and beginning to scrub the slime off your face and arms.
You just shake your head. "I dunno. Maybe some kind of mutant octopus. Never seen one of those things before."
Your nerves are sort of shaken, and you decide to make camp for the night though you haven't reached the milestone you had set for the day. You find a side crypt and roll out your sleeping pads. Sitting down, you force an algent cookie and some dry fish into your churning stomach. Each scritch of the oorrg from outside makes your heart pound. You dry and clean your gun with unsteady hands.
It is only after you are changing out of your wet clothes that a terrible thought occurs to you.
You thrust your hand into your jacket and the map is still there. You yank the sodden thing out and undo the catch; the little accordion squelches open.
"Oh no," you moan. The ink has bled. Though the walls and arrows are still discernible, the little letters have all been smudged into oblivion. Your wife fights to hold back tears.
You unfold the accordion across the room to let it dry.
A little lantern at the doorway suffices to keep the oorrg at bay, and you lay down and cover your shivering body with a thin blanket. This is all you can take for the day. You were a fool to enter the dungeons, but it is too late now, because no power in the universe could compel you to go back over that bridge. From now on you have no choice but to venture onward. You close your eyes and try to shut down your adrenaline-flooded mind.
Then you feel your wife throw a second blanket over you. She tucks it up around your chin, warm and tight. Her lips lightly press your cheek, then she lays next to your and covers herself with the blankets. You cannot sleep that night, but your thoughts are not wholly unpleasant.
Ten hours later, at the beginning of first shift, you set out again. A quiet though sleepless night has sufficed to restore your nerves (mostly) and the map has dried. You tuck it back into your jacket and heft your pack.
Over the days that follow, you will have many such hair-raising experiences. You will fight your way out of a nest of wums—and lose your flashlight. You will tear your wife from the strangling clutches of a wyrm. On multiple occasions you will have to blast oorrg by sound alone while she changes the batteries in your sole remaining flashlight. You will almost drop this light after discovering the secret roosting grounds of the world's largest dragonbat colony.
At night, exhausted and anemic, you catch snatches of fitful sleep as your wife holds you close. You lay there silently, savoring the feeling of her head pillowed on your shoulder. You have received more affection from her on your journey through the dungeons than on your entire honeymoon. But a part of you wonders if it is just fear, and if her unexpected tenderness will vanish as soon as you reach the surface. Fear, or love? Grimly you reflect that the surface will probably offer an infinite supply of fear anyway, so it won't matter. Still, you want to believe it is real. You hold her tightly and caress her soft hair, savoring it while it lasts.
Somehow, almost unbelievably, you proceed down the accordion, a page at a time, a day at a time. There are no skeletons now; no one has ever made it this far. You count the remaining squares one by one each day, and say to yourself, "Only five days left." "Only four days left." "Only three days left." "Only two days left." "Only one day left." At last you turn to your wife and say simply, "Tomorrow we reach the surface."
A weak smile comes onto her face. She reaches over and squeezes your hand. "Thank you."
On the final day of your journey you are obsessively paranoid. You probe the walls for unmarked traps, draw your gun on shadow after harmless shadow, and keep watch on the rear with perpetual vigilance. All you can think of is that you are not going to die now, not when you are so close. But you do not meet any wums or dragonbats, and even the oorrg seem quieter. It is as if they realize how close to the surface you are, and instinctively avoid it. You are an old hand at testing for booby traps now, and effortlessly avoid a spike-filled wyrm pit, an arrow gallery and a wind tunnel.
"They're really running out of ideas," you joke as you edge along the wall, avoiding the pressure plates. Your wife laughs.
Finally, you are standing at the end of the last arrow on the map. There is a water-smudged caption on the map nearby, but you cannot make out what it says.
The room you are in is a vaulted chamber. In the center stand two rampant stones wums and two doors. A dusty inscription in the center reads, "One door leads to safety, the other to death. One wum speaks only truth, and the other speaks only lies. Ask one question."
You groan. "I hate riddles!"
"Invalid question," a dark voice declares, making you jump and point your gun at the statues. A supernatural chill runs through you.
"Who are you?" you say, looking for the source of the voice.
"Question limit exceeded," the voice declares. "No more questions allowed."
Your wife speaks up, "I think it's automated. Like with computers—they had them before the end."
Rather irritated now, you say, "I've solved the riddle. Hand me a grenade."
"We're out," says your wife.
"When did that happen?"
"When you killed the darkshrews," your wife replies. "The ones eight levels ago."
Your wife says thoughtfully, "Computers aren't very smart. Let's walk out and come back in again. I bet it won't remember us, and then we can try again."
"It can't hurt."
You walk out and come back in again. You read the plaque aloud, "One door leads to safety, the other to certain death. One wum speaks only truth, and the other speaks only lies. Ask one question. Huh." You address both wums: "Which is the door that leads to safety?"
"This one," the wums reply in unison. You curse.
Over the next hour you try, "Which is the door that leads to death? How can I tell the door of safety apart from the door of death? How can I make the lying wum tell the truth? Are both wums lying? What is the name of the person who designed this puzzle? Where can I find him? How can I destroy the wums?" The answers you get are unhelpful, running mainly along the lines of "Invalid question."
At last, after several frustrating hours the facts add up to an answer. You and your wife go back out and come back in. You step forward and address the wum on the left, "What would the wum on the right say was the door of safety?" You pause, waiting for the usual "Invalid question," but instead the wum replies, "His own." Your mind twists as you undo the response. If the wum on the left is telling the truth, then the wum on the right would be the liar and would lie about guarding the door to safety when he actually guards the door to death. If the wum on the left is lying, then the wum on the right would be said to falsely guard the door to safety, meaning he would actually be guarding the door to death.
In short, the door on the right has to be the door to death.
You and your wife go over the reasoning several times together, and it makes sense to both of you. You hope.
Giving your spouse the map and packs, you check your gun. It is fully loaded. Time to test your theory.
Gun poised, you walk slowly though the left hand door—hopefully, the door to life. It is pitch black inside. Your wife's flashlight plays across gleaming metal floor plates. You stand there with gun ready, eyes probing the darkness.
"Please provide your citizen ID number to continue," a polite computer voice asks.
You hesitate for a moment. Could it be a trap? But you have no better ideas. You recite your 15 digit CAV number.
A light flares on overhead. Startled, you leap back. You are inside a little metal box. You catch a glimpse of a long row of glowing buttons labeled "LEVELS 1 - 250."
A disembodied voice gloats, "Going down to safety. Muahahahahaaa!" It is one last trick!
You throw yourself out the door. Behind you the doors slice shut, shearing off the steel toe of your boot.
From inside the closed box can be heard a muffled voice saying, "Level 250... Level 249... Level..." The voice is lost as the box descends into the earth. You climb to your feet.
"What happened?" you wife cries.
"That was door to life," you explain, wriggling your toes to make sure they are all there. "Life means safety down in Cave Four. What we want is the door to death—the surface."
Without farther ado you step through the door to death. Walking down a short corridor, you find yourself at a ladder with metal rungs. Stenciled above it is an upwards-pointing arrow that reads "Surface."
"It's okay, come on!" you shout back. You wife appears, carrying the packs and flashlight.
You climb the ladder, your wife right behind you. There is a hatch at the top, and you twist a handle to open it. The hatch squeaks open and falls back with a thud. A light as bright as a flash grenade pours down. You cringe, throwing a hand up to protect your eyes.
"The sun!" cries your wife. "Hurry dear, go up!"
Half-blinded by the light, you crawl up the ladder and emerge into an open place. Everything is a misty blur. You squint at the bright blue and green color all around you. Everything goes on and on, further than you can see. Your wife climbs up and stands there staring. Slowly your vision adjusts, and you see delicate two-headed dandelions growing in the ruins of a house. Sun dappled grass waves in the warm breeze. Beyond a tumbled-down picket fence, a zombie lurches towards you, moaning, "Braaaaaiiiins."
You raise your gun and blow its head off.
Yep, that's how you remembered the surface.
You turn to your wife and gaze into her tear-filled eyes, looking for the thing you have been searching for all your life.
"We're home," she murmurs, staring beyond you into the sky. So much for that.
You nod silently. Maybe now she can get a divorce and go find a man she actually wants. Your eyes fill up with a different kind of mist.
Stolidly you declare, "We should make shelter and try to find a town." You climb back down into the tunnel and retrieve the packs. Really you feel like walking back into the dungeons and never coming out again.
Without a word you begin constructing a sort of hovel out of the rubble blocks and rusty pieces of sheet metal. You put the packs inside. Then you go in and hide there, away from the sun and the happy face of your ESFJ wife as she picks flowers and oohs and ahhs over the sky, the clouds and the trees. It's obvious now that it was never about you. It was terror that drove her into your arms each night, fear that planted those tender kisses on your brow. There is nothing about you that could not have been replaced by another.
At last she comes into the shelter and looks at you with a questioning gaze. She has braided dandelions together and made a crown for her hair.
You can't take it anymore. You blurt, "When we get to town you can get your divorce!"
She looks stunned, then her face softens. She leans close and puts her arms around you. You sit there stiffly, unmanly tears welling up in your eyes.
She says, "I've been meaning to ask you where you wanted to take our real honeymoon."
Then she puts her arms around you and draws you down into a kiss. You crush her to you and return it with all your heart.
When you finally draw apart, you can see the love in her eyes.