I had awoken, but I knew not where. Although assured of my conciousness by the blazing pain in my lower back, the colors slowly filtering through my eyes couldn't be anything but dream. I could tell I was still dressed in my nightsilks. Shoeless, of all the luck. Gone were the fated picks of Kelloch, as well as the gloves of my father. I heard something of a wheeze/groan over from the right, and squinted past a haze of hues so vibrant as to make the richest merchant weep. A broad expanse of tanned flesh, creased down the center by an intricate set of pleasantly unmoving ink marks. Grinner.
So called because of a ghastly boarding wound, Grinner ceaselessly smiled and constantly hissed. Loyal to his last drop, we'd been together for years; his body a patchwork of pigmented tales of our travels. My vision slowly clearing, it was easy to see he was bare atop with his mast-like legs clad in brown and black mottled travelling leathers. Black boots as well, with an ivory adornment on the side whos lethality was only known to the wearer, myself, and an unlucky few. A weight flew from my heart when the massive, inked man thumped over onto his back, his good eye focusing on me and giving a wink.
My wits returning, I glanced down at the back of my right hand. Upon my ring finger was a ring setting only slightly shorter than the bone beneath, and just as wide. Silver backed and set with a multitude of stones, it would fetch a more worth than a Ynyrr plantation and a crew full of slaves. A gift from the princess of Zhegwai, to whom I was briefly betrothed. For a full five months, it is said, she commanded her five most competent craftsmen to piece together this treasure.
With a tap of my finger, I set the precious metals and gemstones upon the ring's face into motion as a soft whirring sound arose from within. I heard a soft click as the compass ruby slipped into place, then a series of softer tics as it slowly kept moving around the circle of orichalcum it was set within. Confused, I glanced away. Grinner's one eye appeared as wide as a coin, and shortly mine couldn't have been much smaller.
I'd be a liar if I said I was not familiar with methods of incarceration. More than a few gaols had known my scent, most of them I departed from easily enough. A few required coin, a couple of them needed some fast talk. When diplomacy failed, there was always force. None had kept me longer than I'd wished to stay. Some had been dank, dingy affairs riddled with rats and roaches while others had been clean and sturdy and run with the precision of a clocksmith. On one memorable ocassion, the bars were gilded in gold. A political prisoner, they'd called me then, and I was treated better than most commoners can ever dream. Nothing like this.
The floor was a solid black stone, of that much it seemed certain. Easily fourty feet wide or more, it seemed to be the only solid thing besides my brother and I within this place. Around this surface bubbled and broiled a silvery, liquid mass from which things emerged. Things slender, things solid, things sleek and things squamous. Things vicious and pretty and perfect and wrong. Around them danced and seethed a crackling, whispering haze of prismatic flame and mist, through which swam faces of legends or forms more erotic and terrible than any words can capture. I greeted the sight above with a strangled gurgle of fear; Grinner just hissed.
A sweeping sky of red sand. Clouds of mesas, a roiling thunderstorm of red and grey inverted peaks lay on the eastern horizon bordering a blinding and glittering stretch of flat white. Packs of things were moving in that non sky, some decidedly larger than others. I was forced to look away lest I donate my dinner. Another glance at the ring told me it was still as confused as I was. One of the simpler clevernesses that my lovely Princess had had devised was a compass. The silver needle set in the dragonseye stone still spun slowly around with a soft whir. With a tap of my opposite index, I stilled the stone.
An absolute silence descended, depressing even the sound of my and my compatriots breathing. Soundlessly, the cavorting forms around us faded and fell like so much spilled liquor into the pool from which they came. Even above, the sky stilled. The singular eye of Grinner focused on me and narrowed, and I imagined the hiss as I saw his muscles tense. That tingle on my spine told me he was right. Though already soundless, it seemed the air around me grew even more still before I saw a shift in the color in the sky. A black something slowly spun and grew larger, rushing towards us. A chill descended.
Soon enough, there was no longer any red in the sky, all was black. Not a star within it, only a vague sense of whirling motion before my sore back suffered its latest abuse. With no preamble, warning, or anything, this crude but flawless black above drew me in with a vicious yank and all heat fled my skin.
Luckily I'd taken a mouth full of air just before. Seeing motion to my right, I slipped my gaze through the hazey nothingness to see Grinner, a cloud of air whirling slowly before him as it flew out of his mouth. His finger lifted to thrust forward before he exploded into slow motion. It felt as if I were moving in water, taking his queue, I hadn't even finished turning to look before I started to do my best to run. My eyes caught whirling visions of void around me, seething nothingnesses almost appearing to snatch or snap as we forced our way down this grim hall, the only features of which were a slight darkening to the ground that seemed possibly stone and pained the feet, and a miniscule glimmer at the other end. The air in my lungs burned like the most aged dwarven spirits. My vision started to swim as I saw Grinner go down beside me, small spatters of blood scraping onto the ground from his large knee before vanishing into the black stone. I spun and hooked my arm under his, yanking up on his massive form and pressing my lips to his.
As sailors, you have to be extremely close to your friends. This wasn't the first time, it hopefully wouldn't be the last, but there was no passion in it. My lungs erupted with what remained, forcing it into his mouth before my hand clamped over his ruined lips. Bringing his hand up with my other, I replaced mine with his and turned again to hope. My head spun, fingers tingled and I could feel that weight in my gut trying to drag me down, take a break. Grinner broke past me by a step, two, and I felt myself tip forward. Then a pain on my head... someone pulling my hair.
Weightless. I was lost to the void, nothing but black all around and no light. Visions flew past my mind's eye... The Baron of Ghempshire watching from his balcony as his fields burned while I approached from behind, knife in my hand. Grinner sailing through the air, rope coiled around him and the mast, his axe prizing the head from the Emissary of Horinth and securing our fortune for years to come. The Princess of Zhegwai laying dead after throwing herself from the mast of her capture ship, screaming her blood curse upon me. Then the visions of the nomad the night before, and his oddly glittering liquor. His songs and tales of desert lands, revenge, and his parting words, 'May Lirathu claim your sleep tonight, showing you dreams beyond your visions. May Krath awaken you in the morn, the sand scour away your fortune.' I had been too drunk to care.
Pain flooded my body as the foulest of airs assaulted my dignified nostrils. Life rushed into my lungs, a fact for which I was extremely unthankful as the scent and taste forced my undonated dinner to now erupt in a colorful fountain. Begrudgingly I opened my eyes to a sight worse even than that hellish tunnel. Ancient bricks coated in shit, blood, and things far less wholesome twisted themselves into walls no more than eight feet apart. Shoals of trash, rotting flesh, rats and bugs larger than any I ever had been revolted by took up residence. Forcing myself to take a few more lungfuls of that foul stuff, I shoved myself upwards, Grinner standing to my back.
The sky... the sky was wrong. Surely this was Hell. Hotter than anything, the air a wretched soup that burns the tongue. Screams echoed up and down the twisted alleys under the baleful glare of the massive crimson orb above, laying flanked on the left by a large white moon. Both of these hung in a hazy sky the color of blood spilled in ale. As I stared upwards, I briefly saw a head pop over the alley wall, peering down at us before vanishing.
With a glance to Grinner, we set off. Doing my best to avoid the worst of the trash, I guided my un-shod feet over the foul ground. As we came around a corner that twisted almost completely around, I heard a hiss of pain from my right. Turning rapidly, I watched Grinner be hauled skyward by some sort of demon thing. Rotting, wretched flesh at a height of over twelve feet with arms whos knuckles could sweep the ground. Sunken, ashen-gray eyes rimmed with hateful, broken red. A cavernous mouth filled with jagged, rotting teeth opened and bellowed frightfully down at Grinner who glowered back. A scrape of boot on stone behind and I whirled, catching the dagger as a graze to my lower abdomen. An amateur, going for the liver. Painful, of course, but rarely fatal. He was taller than me, easily by two feet with slanted violet eyes that could have been elven if not for his stature. His cloak was covered in trash; a merciless grin met my eyes from below his shit stained hood. I was unarmed, he wasn't, and I had to figure out a way to change that. He struck forward with the speed of a snake and I felt the blade pierce my right shoulder as I didn't quite make it out of the way.
My hands moved on impulse, grabbing his wrist and pulling while snapping brutally upward with my other hand, catching his elbow. Folding the limb with a sickening crack, I heard a high pitched scream and reached for my new dagger. Not having time to puzzle over the glassy black blade, I merely yanked it free in time to realize my quarry was now a full ten feet up the wall and climbing... with only one good arm. I spun in time to see Grinner reaching for his boot and failing, his arm pinned to his side by the behemoth that held him. With a practiced overhand I sent my dagger flying. Most heros of legend at some point strike with a thrown dagger to the eye. It's just kind of a stock thing, you know? It happens. Dragons, demons, whatever. Some poor bastard catches a dagger to the eye. I've never wanted to be a hero. I went for the nuts.
Grinner hit the ground a moment after the raged bellowing began, and my humor faded as I saw the beast pull a spiked club from its back that was easily heavier than both me and my compatriot together. Part of the wall above us vanished in an architectural detonation as the club ripped through it. We departed.
We almost made it to the end of the alley. I heard a rush of wind, and half a wall took up the space where Grinner had just been. The dust cleared long enough for me to see his broken, mangled leg. A slim ivory handle and a steel blade jutted just barely from the top of his boot.
I heard a chuckle, and my vision went black.
But that's just how shit is in the 'rinth... send us your mighty, your brave, your powerful. We'll send them packing.
Armageddon. Where Pkilling is a profession.