War is Hell Preview
Rancid meat. That’s what that smell is. You try to open your eyes, but they are caked shut with dried blood. It is at that point when panic sets in. That rancid smell, that spoiled meat, could be parts of your body blown clear of the rest of you. The explosion was that intense. It wouldn’t surprise you if, upon regaining your vision, you saw yourself blown to bits and spread out across the hellish countryside.
You’re not alone. You can hear voices, but there is a vast white noise burying their words, veiling their identities. You try to move, but realize it is futile. Your whole body, or whatever remains of it, is completely numb. You have no way of knowing whether your attempts to shift your body succeed.
The voices get louder. Clearer. There are two of them. One, no, both are voices you recognize. You can’t make out a direction or a distance. In fact, the sound is…
The sound is from within your very mind.
You retreat to the Inner Sanctum, the dojo within your mind, where the voices are coming from. It is a place of broken serenity, as Crossel fumes and paces like a caged beast. The cosmic darkness that extends eternally outward had always made the Inner Sanctum feel vast and spacious. Now, the feeling you are getting is cramped and claustrophobic. You are about to ask the question, how did your Sankatte find their way into the Sanctum… when you began to piece together what happened. The explosion. Their sacrifice. Your decision…
(Moments after emerging from the Kouten hellryft…)
Laurence stumbles and lets out a scream. His words: NO GODS! He falls unconscious. Elosian bellows a warning. A warhorde approaches the hellryft. Some demons fight and claw to pass through. Saleos and a few others follow them back through to protect Shidi forces from unforeseen threat. Warhorde gets closer… panic. Outnumbered and outgunned, but not outclassed. How do you destroy a Hellryft. But, we’ll be trapped. Elo knows another way back, but it isn’t safe. A hellryft can only be destroyed by a blood sacrifice. One this size would need two to die. Crossel volunteers. You protest. He hit you! Enemies draw near. You shake off the pain, look back to see it. Adon and Crossel stand at the altar. You feel a rush of energy. This must be Aether. You get an idea. The sacrifice need only be one of blood and bone. You rush. You touch the heads of your Sankatte. The Aether in the air reacts. There is an explosion…
“You did this,” Crossel said, rushing you. You wheel around his sloppy, animalistic charge and send him sprawling harmlessly into the dark. Adon protests Crossel’s attitude.
“He saved us, Crossel.”
Crossel shakes his head and flings his arms out wide. “That wasn’t his decision, kid!” He turns to face you. “I… I’m sorry, Khulvos. I know what you meant to…”
“You are right, Crossel,” you say. “I didn’t have time to consult you. I had to act. Plus, you had just knocked one of my teeth out, so I was a bit disoriented.”
“I…,” Crossel begins. “We all became monks for different reasons. My reason was to deal with… rage. I am a beast, and that body… it was my cage. I became a monk to transform my cage into a shrine. I honed my body, trained ceaselessly, to carve myself into a temple. All my power, and… all my control…” he drifts off.
“I swear to you, brother.” You pause. “I swear, I will find a way to restore you to a body of your own, somehow. Both of you. We are Sankatte. Three as One. That is truer now than ever.”
“Thank you, Khulvos,” Adon says, placing a hand on your shoulder. “I trust in your judgment.”
Crossel glances to Adon, then to you, and offers a bow. “We are indeed Sankatte, and I, too, trust your judgment. I just…”
“Your body was your temple,” you say, returning his bow. “Without it, you feel lost. Trapped. Imprisoned in a new cage. I know of cages, my brother. We shall share this body until I can fulfill my promise to you both.”
The three of you nod to one another. You advance from the Inner Sanctum. There is feeling again. Pain. You’ll take it. You find a handful of dirt and push yourself up to your hands and knees. You feel a chill at your abdomen and hear the sound of blood spattering on the ground. You wipe the blood from your eyes, and you see your hand. It is different.
You are different.
There is a clamor; the beating of bootsteps, the scratching and scraping of claws on stone. You raise your head and wince from a pain shooting from your neck. The scene is… it is unbelievable. The hellryft has been utterly vaporized. There is rubble and gore everywhere for hundreds of feet. The warhorde has been decimated, and your allies? You see the remnants of the Legion Warhorde scouring through the bodies and rubble, producing the limp forms of Laurence and Elosian. The rest? You hope they made it safely back through the hellryft to Kouten.
They are coming for you, now. They are injured, but not as badly as you. You can’t die here.
You have… a promise to keep, and that means staying alive long enough to keep it.
They capture you. Just before they slide a shroud over your head, you see Elosian’s eyes open, bloodshot, and look at you. You call out to Laurence, twice, but get no response. One of the demons shackling your arms pierces you in the tricep with his claw, demanding your silence. You relent. You hear the voice of Adon, a voice of reason, saying that they wouldn’t have gotten him up and bound his hands if he was already dead. Crossel adds: “He better not be, for their sake.”
Within the Inner Sanctum
You retreat to the Inner Sanctum and Adon takes control of the body. Crossel is, as before, like a caged animal. He paces in a wide circle, his eyes darting back and forth, his teeth glinting in the amber glow of the Sanctum’s aesthetic light. You look at your hand. It is your own. The Aether, you believe, is the cause of your body’s transformation.
“Can we see what’s out there,” Crossel said, his voice buffeted faintly by his accelerated breathing.
“Normally, yes. From the Inner Sanctum we can see through our body’s eyes. However, they covered our head with a shroud. There’s nothing to see.”
“How do you avoid going MAD in this damned black silence?”
“It is this place that helps me to find peace, brother.”
“My peace was found at the other end of a tightly-curled fist.”
“As you said, Crossel, we all became monks for different reasons. Mine was to center myself. I was a man who became a monster. I couldn’t remain the monster, and I could never become a man again. I needed emancipation. I needed peace. I needed this place.”
“I needed to fight. Combat is my emancipation, Khulvos.”
“I understand,” you say, opening your eyes and standing to face him. You smile and bow, then take a combat stance. “I shall spar with you while Adon leads us onward. I shall do so whenever I am able.” Crossel smirked.
“This might hurt a bit, wise one,” Crossel said, whipping his fists in a series of tight angular motions before settling into the Vicious Cobra stance.
“Let’s see what you’ve got, lizard-man,” you reply, your knuckles cracking and muscles tensing.
“What the…,” Adon says, returning to the Sanctum to see you standing (barely) over a (barely) conscious Crossel. “Khulvosama?”
“Heh,” Crossel interrupts, “we were just sparring, Don. I need to let off steam if I’m going to survive long enough for the cow-man to get us out of here and into new bodies.”
“Speaking of which, what is happening with our body, Adon,” you ask.
“Exhaustion. It can’t function without rest. We should take the body’s advice, I think.”
“You hear anything from Elo or Laurence,” Crossel says, curling up into a seated position and taking a meditation stance. You and Adon follow his lead, the three of you forming a triangle with your backs to one another.
“I fear their injuries were far worse than ours. Laurence moans in pain occasionally. Elosian hasn’t said anything, but I heard our captors talking. Elosian’s last name is Sylvres, yes?”
“Yeah,” Crossel says. “What of it?”
“They have said ‘The Sylvres should fetch a hefty ransom, if he survives the journey to the Cauldron.”
“Cauldron,” you say. “Sounds pleasant.”
“Romantic,” Crossel jokes. The two of you laugh for a bit, wincing from the pain of your sparring. Though the two of you weren’t physically hitting one another, the Mind’s Eye makes the contact, and the pain, very real. You are thankful for that, as it may be the only way to keep Crossel from falling apart.
As the silence overtakes you and you begin to fall into your meditative trance, you consider your Sankatte. You have heard the stories of Sharakh Hexan, and they seem relevant to Crossel’s current predicament. All monks require something to focus their faith on. Sometimes, like in your case, the focus is a goal. Sharakh’s focus was hero worship. During the quest to find the pieces of the Night Sword, Sharakh placed his faith in Drogyn Martok. His sheltered life before meeting Drogyn had not prepared him for the harsh realities of the world, so when Drogyn began to falter in his own efforts, showing signs of fallibility, Sharakh had a crisis of faith. When the time came for him to act, to be the hero, he froze. He let his old master, Gara, die at the hands of the druid Tempake. Sharakh fell into a spiral of confusion and rage. He lost his focus, lost faith in his hero, and it nearly cost him his life.
Sharakh had a second chance. For over twenty years, Sharakh fought to attain a new focus and regain his faith. His focus was hope. He hoped for the eventual return of Silas Vale, whom he served faithfully until his death at the hands of the Archangel, Belthazar. Sharakh was fortunate to have the opportunity to find peace after having lost it. His story was very much an inspiration for you, who had a lovely life and watched it wither and fester, only to be given a second chance to become whole again.
Crossel, like Sharakh, had lost his focus. His focus was his body. Within your body, shared or not, he would not find the peace he desperately needed. For now, sparring would suffice to sate him. Eventually, though, he would begin to spiral. You need to find a way to fulfill your promise to him, and to Adon.
Adon. You haven’t considered his needs, yet. In many ways, he is a far better monk than you may ever be. He was raised in a temple, learned temperance and tolerance and mercy, and knows even better than you that combat is often the resort of the desperate or the lazy. Despite your training and devotion to centering your soul, you still derive some pleasure from battle. It is one of the few monstrous traits you have not been able to fully suppress. Adon has no such joy in combat. As a result, when he fights, he often finds a way to win a bit faster, and in a manner a bit less flashy.
That modest zen has made him reluctant to express his feelings on having died. It is possible that he is so at peace, so perfectly centered, that the circumstances of his life are, like combat, simply mundane factors that ill concern him. If so, then young Adon has much to teach you.
The time you spend in meditation, time reflecting on your own past, is recuperative and directive; as much as reflection aids you in your lifelong goal of redeeming yourself for your past sins, it also provides you the guidance you need to stay focused on the road ahead. When all others panic and despair for the pits and obstacles in their paths, you face these obstructions with a calm resolve. Painful experiences, like being blown up, captured, beaten and lacerated, would have a far different effect on you than on the typical person. You have no pride in these qualities, but they do give you confidence.
Crossel, it would seem, has no problems expressing his displeasure at being tortured. For the past few hours, he has been in control of the body. He has made three attempts to break free and attack your captors, one of which succeeded in snapping the lower jaw from the skull of a demonic soldier. The body paid for his hubris when a jagged, cold point of a spear thrust clean through your left thigh. Adon asks whether it would be best to relieve Crossel of his control of the body. You simply smile, still in meditation.
“Any wound our body suffers will heal, Adon,” you say. “but our brother cannot get from meditation what he can from resisting our detainers.”
“The body bleeds so the soul can heal,” Adon replies. You nod wordlessly. Adon says “If you are not concerned, then I needn’t be…”
There is a stirring of the air within the Inner Sanctum. Your eyes opened and met Adon’s. Under normal circumstances, the Inner Sanctum had an eternal depth of blackness blanketing the horizon. There are times, however, when it is helpful to be aware of the body’s surrounds during a trance. What the eyes see, the mind’s eye recreates. Your captors abruptly remove the shroud from your head, and light bathes the Inner Sanctum. Crossel’s voice echoes throughout the Sanctum.
Meanwhile, In Hell…
“Are we there, yet,” he says to the demon to his left, “’cuz I was hoping to kill a couple of you guys along the way.” A demon with dark gray skin and bright blue thorny hair grabbed your body by the neck and dragged you to his face.
“You won’t talk so much when Lord Niska is through with you.”
Crossel suddenly stomped on the demon’s foot, whipped his tail around its knees, and smashed his forehead into the bridge of its nose. The demon falls back, still holding Crossel by the neck, who uses the momentum to roll over the demon’s corpse, swinging his tail upward to hit another of the soldiers. You hear, and feel, a painful popping jolt as Crossel dislocates his own left shoulder. He leaps into the air, curling his knees up to his chest and tucking his feet back through his arms, which were up until that moment tied behind his back. In the same motion, he uses both feet to perform a handstand mule kick on one of the guards approaching his flank.
“Two on your left,” Adon exclaims from within the Sanctum. Crossel deftly arches backward and leans on his tail, wheeling an inside-outside kick around the right arm of a gaunt tiefling soldier. He twists violently to the right, dragging the tiefling into the other guard next to him.
“Thanks,” Crossel says, spinning in place to form the Hunting Hawk stance. Adon merely nods, looking at you.
“We are too injured to continue this, and we are still far too outnumbered. Was all that really necessary,” Adon asked.
“Yes,” you and Crossel answer simultaneously. You continue as Crossel continues the vain resistance. “He is sizing them up, and sending them a message. If this is the kind of resistance a Materian can provide…”
“They may think twice about trying to invade again,” Adon says. “but I doubt they are that smart.”
“No,” Crossel says, “They’re as stupid as they are ug…”
Everything goes black again as Crossel is smashed in the face with a spiked mace. Crossel appears, within the Inner Sanctum, a crumpled mess of blood and bruises. You and Adon rush to him and help him up. He spits out a tooth and grins, blood dangling from his mouth and running onto the dojo floor.
“Totally worth it,” he says, before falling unconscious to the floor. You look to Adon, then return to control the body.
Your left eye is swollen shut, and your jaw is broken, but three of your captors are dead. The remaining soldiers, who number in the dozens, are taking you much more seriously. You are being dragged by three of them, your feet and tail bound together beneath you. Laurence is visible near you, and he looks to be in dreadful condition. His head is a mess of arterial red. Elosian doesn’t look much better, but he is awake. The two of you meet each other’s gaze, then notice a dazzling yellow glow coming from beyond your field of view.
Moments later, you’re dragged through some sort of a portal, emerging in a wholly unfamiliar place. There is an acrid sting in your eye and an oppressive heat in the air. You see a pair of tall monolithic towers overhead, strands of yellow energy swirling between them to create the portal through which you just travelled. You can make out a circular pattern of red stone tiles on the ground between the two monoliths. Further ahead in the line of soldiers, you can hear low utterances between two demons. Somewhere to your left, you hear an thunderous racket, and you can barely make out what looks like a three-story tall chain of buildings roaring across the ground on a pair of metal rails. Black smoke filled the air.
“What the hell is that,” Crossel says, obviously feeling a bit better from his beating.
“I hope not to find out,” you mutter, though you can barely recognize your voice. As you are dragged through a puddle of a watery fluid, you are dropped for a moment, and the ripples flowing across the surface of the liquid slow. Your reflection is startling to say the very least. Some of what you see is obviously damage from the blast, and the subsequent beatings. However, there was no doubt about it. Your body had changed to reflect the three souls held within.
You take the brief moment of rest to gauge your surroundings. You appear to be within the high walls of a massive prison camp. You are on a parade path from the two monoliths to the warehouse-like structure where your group is being led. You see a crude painted sign over the main entrance to the structure, reading: ACQUISITION PROCESSING. There are four guard towers flanking the parade path, and you notice the presence of a sniper poised atop each tower, their aim fixed upon each of you. One of these snipers in particular catches your notice. It appears that this archer wears an executioner’s hood with no eye holes and an interesting sigil painted on the face.
“What is the significance of that one, Khulvosama,” asks Adon. You honestly don’t know.
They start dragging you toward the Acquisition Processing building again. Several sullen, filthy humanoids of different sorts, some of which are even human, pauses to peer at you, Laurence, and Elosian.
“Slaves,” you say, answering Crossel’s question. You notice a pair of the slaves, red-skinned elves, squirming at the sight of Elosian. One of them speaks to the other, but you cannot make out the words of their exchange.
“Sylvres,” says Adon. “I can read lips. I guess that means you can too, Khulvosama.”
“Sweet, ‘Don,” Crossel adds. “That should come in handy, no?”
“Yes,” you agree. “Can you see what they are saying, Adon?” You brought your gaze to rest on a pair of tall, gaunt demons conversing in the entryway.
“…if that’s really the Sylvres, Lord Niska just hit the jackpot.”
“They’re really interested in Elosian,” Crossel says.
Within the structure, the demons begin to separate you and Laurence from Elo. They seem to be taking Elosian toward a set of stairs leading underground, while you and Laurence are pushed into the warehouse structure itself. You appear to be in a queue of some sort. There is a teifling in front of you, a young woman, crying and begging for her freedom. A squat black-skinned dwarf with fiery hair, an Azer, brands a number into her skin above her left breast. She shrieks in pain, but the numbers fade away, invisible to the eye. The Azer passes a ringed hand over her chest, pausing to grope his victim, and the numbers reappear as the metal reflects against her skin. She is then shoved forward. You are next. The number is seared into your flesh, but your monastic training allows you the luxury of a dull numbness.
“Go ahead, dwarf,” you say, “Try to grope me.”
The Azer’s face displays a nervous dread and he passes the ring over the numbers quite quickly, squeaking out the word “next!” You approach and catch eyes with a peculiar demon, an Incubus, you think, whose gaze rubs Crossel the wrong way.
“What are you lookin’ at,” Crossel says. Somehow, the words force their way out, even though you have control of the body at the time. A demon smashes you in the back of the head with the handle of its sword.
“Get this one processed quick, Lone,” your attacker says. “He’s in desperate need of an attitude adjustment.”
“I… can’t,” Lone said. You look up into his eyes. There is something there, beneath the surface. You think yourself a fool, but you would swear the Incubus was actually concerned.
“Why the hell not?”
“It is Materian. It reeks of mana. The processing would likely render the acquisition worthless to Lord Niska. I don’t know if you wish to take that chance, but I certainly do not wish to disappoint…”
“Alright, then,” the guard said, shoving you to the left, toward the exit.
“Same goes for the other Materian,” Lone said. “Until the master says otherwise, yes?”
“…yes,” the guard replied, a bit too quickly, in your opinion. Did that Incubus just use his power of diabolic persuasion to… save the three of you from indoctrination?
You are then moved toward a set of stairs leading underground. They replace the hood over your head again, and you get the feeling the remainder of your journey will take a while. You retreat to the Inner Sanctum and let Adon take control of the body for the time being.
“An ally,” Crossel asks.
“You noticed that, too,” you reply. “I am not sure, but I would not soon trust a demon to be my savior.”
“Sylvres,” Adon whispers, “is the Infernal word for ‘savior’.”
You and Crossel look to one another, and then all three of you feel a tremendous, searing pain in your chest. The feeling is that you have been impaled by cold metal rods, two of them, below the shoulders and on either side of the heart. The pain is excruciating, and all three of you let out a roar of pain. You hear Laurence shriek in pain as well. The hood is removed from your face, and a dim, red glow pervades the Inner Sanctum. Blood flows from your chest, and from Crossel’s, and from the body’s. A macabre sight, Laurence in front of you, hung by hooks, dangling, being hoisted into the air, is reflected on the blood-splattered floor of the Inner Sanctum. You collapse, barely clinging to consciousness. Adon retreats within and crumples in a heap of sanguine pain. Crossel stays standing, reaches out as your body is hoisted skyward, and then he too falls down.
To Read The Next Chapter of Wyrmshadow Adventures: War is Hell, Click Here!
Chapter 1: The Dreamers in… Hellbound
Chapter 2: The Dreamers in… Life In The Cauldron
Chapter 3: The Dreamers in… The Waking Nightmare
Chapter 4: The Dreamers
Chapter 5: The Dreamers in… Escaping The Cauldron