With a new name, and a slightly different writing style for this thread only!
Darkness surrounded me, and there was nothinâ€™ but the endless ache. I floated, not quite aware enough to recognize what was happening to me, dozing in the blackness. A part of me was still screaming, I think. Iâ€™m not ashamed to admit it.
And then, suddenly, I could see something through the murk. Light. Glorious, golden sunlight. I struggled to reach towards it, as it stretched to surround me. I could feel myself fallinâ€™, and for the first time since I could not remember, wind pressing at my face. The faintest trickle, barely anything at all, but I could feel. Lying on the ground, I could feel rock under my back, and light shone all around me.
I try to look towards the light, and see a vision of beauty; a raven-haired angel of mercy reaching down to cup my head. I cough, once, try to speak. My throat wonâ€™t respond; a few wheezes come out, nothing more. I try again, and this time it catches. â€œIf this isâ€¦ the afterlifeâ€¦ count me in.â€
She chuckles, and the vision breaks. Sheâ€™s a woman, not an angel, wearing tattered armour. Next to her crouches a man, barely older than a boy, really, all gangly and dirty, looking back behind her at the darkness of the tunnels under this gods-cursed mountain. From him, light pours out, fillinâ€™ the tunnel with radiance. You donâ€™t believe me? It was like the sun was setting right next to me, I swear. And then the kid turns to look at me, and thereâ€™s a half-filled golden disc shining on his forehead, but itâ€™s nothing next to his relieved grin.
â€œSorry, youâ€™re stuck here in Creation a while longer.â€ The woman helps me to my feet. It takes two tries; I was still pretty damned weak. Here, look. Used to be, this arm was all muscle. Now? Itâ€™s awful. Anyway, she grins at me, and she says, â€œWe were just in the neighbourhood, and you looked like you could use the help.â€
I nod, lookinâ€™ down at myself. My clothes are in tatters, but theyâ€™re all there, so I finish standing up. Iâ€™ve got a beard even thicker than I remember, red hairs sticking out every which way, and I figure I must look like the Wild Man of Chirost. I look for my hammer, but I donâ€™t see her. Probably dropped when those things grabbed me, who knows where in the tunnels. I swallow, and manage a smile. Still on dangerous ground, I figure, but better offâ€™n I was. â€œLucky for me. You honest-to-Dragons Anathema?â€
â€œHe is. Lucky us.â€ She smiles again, as the boy looks back down the tunnel, intently. I follow his gaze, and see those bastard tendrils that jumped me writhing at the edge of the light, dissolving into a black mist. As I put two and two together, she continues. â€œIâ€™m Elena. The kidâ€™s Kieran. Seems these monsters canâ€™t handle a little sunlight, so weâ€™re getting a rescue squad together.â€ She makes a face, her spirits dampening. â€œNot having the best luck so far. These things donâ€™t leave much behind, really.â€
I look past her in the other direction. Thereâ€™s a girl crouched near the edge of the light on the other side. Looks like a deer caught in a cougarâ€™s sights. Not too old, early twenties, maybe. Wearing travellerâ€™s garb, stained almost black. I figure if I sneeze wrong, sheâ€™ll bolt back into the darkness, and I turn to look at Elena.
â€œIâ€™m Khory. Been down hereâ€¦ gods, I donâ€™t even know. What day is it?â€
I mull that over a moment, put things together, and then sigh. â€œWhat date.â€
â€œTwelfth of Resplendant Earth.â€
â€œCrap.â€ I whistle. â€œTen days, then. No wonder Iâ€™m hungry. They sort of drop goop down your throat, but it donâ€™t taste like much.â€ Truth be told, I donâ€™t remember exactly what it tastes like. Everythingâ€™s a blur from the moment I was walking down a tunnel and the wall caved in, and those things were behind it. But thatâ€™s probably just as well; keeps me from having been alone down here and knowing it. I press on. â€œWhoâ€™s the girl?â€
â€œDonâ€™t know; she doesnâ€™t talk.â€ Elena sighs. â€œWe cracked her out a few minutes ago. She bolted right off, but sheâ€™s afraid to leave Kieranâ€™s light, so weâ€™re just letting her follow. Figure sheâ€™ll run soon as we hit ground level, or if the lights go out.â€ She sighs, shaking her head again. â€œAny more, Kieran?â€
â€œNope. The tunnel aheadâ€™s the last of the tendrils, too. We might have missed a few, here or there, in side tunnels, but we canâ€™t wipe â€˜em out completely.â€ He sighs, and turns back to me and the women. â€œItâ€™ll be centuries before they can repopulate. Maybe I can get lights down here before then.â€ He nods to us all. â€œIâ€™ve only got one more stop, and then we can get out of here.â€ He looks me over. â€œKhory, right? Is what I am going to be a problem?â€
I laugh out loud, the questionâ€™s so absurd. â€œBoy, you just saved me from one â€˜a the worst deaths I can imagine. Hells, these things were probably like to eat my soul up in one bite.â€ I grin, offering the kid my hand. Almost fall over, too, but I steady myself. It takes more than ten days without moving to stop Khory Ironthews, let me tell you. Anyway, the kid takes my hand â€“ and heâ€™s got a surprising grip for someone his size, which I suppose isnâ€™t that surprising. I keep going. â€œI owe you my life, and thatâ€™s a fact. Long as you donâ€™t try to get me sacrificinâ€™ maidens on an altar or some such, Iâ€™m happy to follow along.â€
He laughs, sort of half amused and half uncomfortable. Then he nods, his expression turninâ€™ serious. Turns and starts walkinâ€™ away. Elena and I follow, and after a moment, I hear the mystery girl scramblinâ€™ along behind us, trying to keep up and stay away all at the same time. Wonder how long it woulda been before I was like that, eh? He keeps talking as he walks. â€œWith the tendrils gone, I want to look over the tombs. We came here for them, we should see what theyâ€™ve got before we go. I donâ€™t think there are any more defenses to worry about.â€
â€œAnd then?â€ Iâ€™m a little worried about what comes next, let me tell you, but I keep my voice light. Iâ€™m a bit surprised when Elena answers â€˜stead of him.
â€œThereâ€™s a man by the name of Jarik Threespurs. You know him?â€ I shake my head, and she continues. â€œReal piece of work. Feeds people to the tendrils down here. Tried to feed me.â€ She gets a grim smile on her face, and Kieranâ€™s got it too, only it donâ€™t look so much scary as determined. Her, she doesnâ€™t look like a woman Iâ€™d want to cross, and I canâ€™t help wonderinâ€™ why the human looks more dangerousâ€™n the Anathema. Anyway, she keeps going. â€œAfter we finish checking the tombs, weâ€™re going to leave these caves, and weâ€™re going to go explain to Jarik the error of his ways. In detail.â€ She looks at me. â€œWe could use someone to keep bystanders from getting caught in the middle while we do.â€
And that, friend, is why you absolutely, positively, do not want to go into that bar and check out those noises you just heard. Trust me. Itâ€™ll be bad for your health.