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The Road To Hell

by P L Nunn

 

Three

 

There was a hissing rush of breeze under the dark grate upon which Ryo stood. Not a breeze, really, more of a noxious exhalation of breath. Fetid, rotten breath, which one could only imagine the source of. Things skittered under the grating, as if a flood gate had been opened somewhere and the space beneath his feet suddenly filled with crawling, slithering things hidden by the darkness. Something scrambled across his toe and embarrassingly, humiliatingly he let out a little scream of revulsion. The foot was snatched up and shaken, and with renewed vigor he wanted to climb up the poles he was staked to and escape whatever it was that lurked under the grate in the floor. Only he was held fast and there was nothing to do but shiver every time something whispered past him and stand there shifting from foot to foot, hating himself for being so freaked out over something so small as a spider. It wasn't as if there were snakes under there --- oh god, oh god, oh god, please don't let there be snakes under there. Crawly things were bad enough. Snakes were intolerable.

Which was probably why the Servant weirded him out so badly. The thing was repulsively reptilian. But after hours and hours of being alone in the darkness -- even its presence would have been a welcome diversion.

He wondered if the guys were looking for him. He wondered if they'd found Seiji's car. He didn't want to think about Seiji's reaction to that. No, no, no. Veer away from that image. Seiji probably wouldn't talk to him for a month. Maybe more. Though perhaps, and he felt guilty for contemplating it, Seiji might forget his anger when he realized Ryo was missing -- gone -- captured -- hurt -- maybe on the verge of being dead. Perhaps he might escape Seiji's indubitably chilly wrath after all.

Of course, he might also end up dead in fact as well as theory and wouldn't have to worry about it at all. He wasn't certain he was willing to go that far to avoid a month of icy non-conversations.

There was a rustle in the darkness behind him. The sense of a large shape moving within the boundaries of shadow. He twisted, trying to see, but nothing revealed itself. It was all designed to freak him out. He knew that. The darkness, the occasional sounds. The exhaustion and pain of standing so long with his arms stretched taught to either side.

"I know you're there." He cried out. His voice only shook a little. "I'm not scared of you." Which was only about sixty percent lie.

"You're a fool then." A hissing whisper out of the darkness. It echoed off invisible walls. The air shifted around him, circling him like a predator circling prey. Slow, lazy movements. And why should the predator hurry, when he was stung up like the proverbial sacrificial lamb?

Stillness that lasted a handful of breaths. Ryo thought for a moment that whatever had been stalking him had gone away. Then it moved in from behind him and when it came the scant light that had provided him comfort was swallowed up by its presence.

It dwarfed him. He could feel the warmth of its breath on the top of his head. And in the same fashion that a child, terrified of the monster that lives under his bed, refuses to lean over and look under the skirt and confront the demon -- he could not make himself twist his head and look at it.

A slithering caress of cloth, a creak of leather and the breath shifted to brush his ear.

"Do you know how long I've thought of nothing but you?" A voice out of the crypt. Out of nightmare. Filled with venom and the power of the ages. Familiar. He heard it in his nightmares sometimes. But it should have been gone for good this time. Should have been dead. He had seen to that personally, with the aid of the white armor and the power of all the Ronin Warriors.

"You're dead." It was the obvious thing to say. His mind was not generating witticisms well at the moment.

"Of course I'm dead, you twit. Where do you think this is -- some back province of the nether region? If only that were so. This is the Abyss, boy. And you've marooned me here and for that you'll pay."

What did one quite say to such a thing? Ryo was momentarily struck speechless, processing various things that the servant had said -- that he had not paid the greatest of attention to, nor put the greatest of faith in.

"I'm dead?" but hadn't the servant been babbling about the smell of his living flesh or something?

"No, but you're slow." The great, the dire, the dread Lord Tulpa hissed with a show of peevishness. "I should have taken Strata first, he's more of an intellectual challenge."

Ryo blinked. Tulpa leaned closer, and the hard angles of armor pressed into Ryo's back. The sharp prick of nails trailed down his arm, starting at the cuff and ending at his arm pit. "But I wanted you more. Very much more. Do you know how limiting this place is? Can you imagine a being of my immense power being trapped in a sphere of hell? A tiny prick of a place. Filled with the slime of your mortal world. To be punished so -- unbearable. I needed a diversion. I needed a thing to take my mind off the boredom. Now its only a matter of deciding whether to kill you or keep you here alive in the midst of this pit of dead souls."

"You ---- asshole!" It was he best he could come up with, fighting back fear and shock. "If you think you can get away with this --- you are soooo wrong. You've been beaten before when you were alive-- you think you're so much tougher now that you're dead?"

"Where's your armor, little boy?"

"-------uhh."

Tupla's hands traveled around his waist, nails leaving welts in the skin as they passed.

"You're so -- soft -- without the shell of armor to protect you, boy. So helpless. And no matter how hard you wish it -- neither your armor -- nor any of the things of power that were mine -- can travel to this place."

The large hands spread flat across his belly, pressed him back hard against the broad body behind him. He bit his lip, to keep from making a sound. The hand slid down, covering his flaccid sex. Making it want to shrink up inside of him.

"What shall I do with you, to entertain myself, boy?" the fingers squeezed, sharp and painful, nails piercing the sensitive skin. A drop of blood welled on Ryo's lower lip and he forced it out from between his teeth.

"What do you think it will take to have you crawling at my feet, begging to lick the dirt off my boots?"

"It'll never happen." His voice was trembling now and no amount of stubborn pride could stop it.

"Really?" With a last cruel clasp, Tupla's hand drifted upwards, this time the nails raking deep, leaving bloody gauges from Ryo's pubic hair up to one slim hip. "Do you underestimate me, little boy, or overestimate yourself?"

"Fuck you."

Laughter. The hands left him. The overwhelming sense of presence pulled away. Blood dripped down his thigh. He tasted it in his mouth.

Tulpa was gone. The silent darkness was back. Only this time it held countless more unimaginable horrors. This time he knew the face of the monster under the bed.


Rowan picked up the longbow, testing the feel of its hard carved surface, the weight of its draw. It was crude, in comparison the bows he was used to, but according to Locksley nothing came into this place with the sporadic souls that were dropped here -- everything from the cloth of their clothing, to the weapons they wielded had to be made.

Don't waste the arrows. Locksley had also said, upon Rowan asking for them, the man looking him up and down as if he doubted he could pull the damned heavy bow, much less hit a target. Which meant recycled arrows. He had three he was wasting time with, a hundred yards from a much used grass stuffed target outside the little settlement. It had taken him three shots to get comfortable with the pull and the way the longbow shot. He hadn't missed the mark since. He was enjoying himself. He wished Locksley would come out and see, but he was busy showing Seiji maps of this place. A plethora of different maps that were not always accurate, according to Charlotte. This place -- this hell had a tendency to shift. Major landmarks, such as lakes, mountains, rivers and forest tended to appeared and disappeared at unspecified moments.

He drew back his arm, felt the fletching of the arrow graze his jaw, felt where he wanted the arrow to fly and let go. It hit unerringly dead center of the target, joining its two comrades in the straw.

"Bravo." Sai rustled through the leaves, looking lost in his oversized cast off clothing. Looking fragile and precious in the odd light of day filtering through the trees.

"Hey -- you get tired of talking shop with Seiji?"

Sai shrugged. "He wants to leave as soon as possible. There are a variety of paths to take -- none of which, Locksley assures us -- are particularly safe."

"When have we ever taken a safe route?"

"Not often enough." Sai agreed. He leaned against a tree beside Rowan's shooting spot and Rowan found himself at a loss for words. There was a secret he held that made him uncomfortable around Sai. He didn't want to keep it. He was afraid not to. He padded down the field to retrieve his arrows. He returned to his place, carefully placing each arrow, point down in the dirt. He drew the first one up, and focused on the target.

"Is something wrong?" Very quiet question from Sai. It threw Rowan's concentration off. The arrow hit just outside the center circle.

"Is that a rhetorical question?" He tried to make it sound flippant.

"No. I mean -- with you -- and me?"

"I thought we'd talked about this already?"

A moment's silence from Sai. Rowan glanced around to look at him.

"We did," Sai agreed. "But something still feels --- wrong. It feels like something is wrong with you."

Rowan blinked. Sai was far too perceptive emotionally for his own or Rowan's good. Sai would know he was lying if he denied it outright. A lie between them wouldn't help. So Rowan told the truth.

"Yes. Something's wrong. No, I don't want to talk about it."

"Rowan, why?" Large eyes pleaded with him.

"Its not you. Promise."

"Then what?"

"Later. Just ---- later, okay, Sai?"

Sai didn't like it. But Sai also didn't like conflict or argument. He nodded slowly, a little hurt. A little confused. Not -- god, how had Rowan ever gotten so lucky -- angry.

Kento saved him from having to say anything more, when he came trotting up with the news that Locksley had decided to spare a guide to take them to the boundaries of the Eastern Pole in the morning.

They slept in one of the huts, in the company of a few of the overlappers who owned it. Rowan was wedged between Kento and Sai, both of whom were asleep within moments of laying upon the hard ground. Rowan couldn't seem to find slumber. He lay with his eyes open wondering dismally if his bad thoughts -- if his constant aura of disharmony towards Ryo these past weeks had somehow brought on this calamity. And if it hadn't -- he wasn't a person to place undue blame upon himself -- then he'd feel damn sorry if he didn't get the chance to set it right with Ryo.

"I'm sorry." He mouthed the words, a breath of a whisper. Sai mumbled in his sleep and snuggled closer against him. He rubbed his cheek against Sai's soft hair and wished the night over and them on their way.

But of course this was hell and the night seemed to last forever. When dawn finally did arrive, Rowan had just shut his eyes and found a slice of rest only to have Kento shaking him awake moments later.

Blearily he forced his body into motion. Forced down the bland, boiled tubers that served as breakfast here. Listened to the talk that swirled about the camp. About the foolishness of walking into a Pole. About what would happen to living bodies that were killed in a place of the dead. There were quite a few opinions on that subject. There did not seem to be any concrete facts though.

He was disappointed that Locksley was not coming with them. Kento was vaguely alarmed that Charlotte the Red was. She was a waspish and harsh taskmistress though, he had heard something about her having been a famous piratess when she was alive. Figured.

"How far is it to the eastern pole?" he asked Kento, sorry he had avoided the planning session yesterday evening.

"Maybe two days. If the lay of the land is consistent." Kento gave him a wary look. "They say that sometimes not only are things like forests and rivers gone, but everything. The earth just stops and there's nothing there but void. Then maybe a week or so later its back. Weird huh?"

"Totally."


Ryo screamed. He couldn't help it, the pain was too great. But his hand slid free of the cuff. Blood slick and throbbing, his thumb out of joint and sending waves of agony up his arm and into his brain.

"Godgodgod." He swayed against the post he was still attached to, pressing his face against the rough wood, wanting to clutch at it but afraid to move the hand that hung limply at his side. Through the pain though, a sense of victory swelled up inside him.

He was not helpless. Not soft. Tulpa dead or alive would not defeat him. It was just a matter of forcing his other hand through the manacle. More pain. He had to blind himself to it. There would be worse things if he didn't.

He managed not to cry out this time. Didn't do anything but sink to the grated floor when he slipped free, and curl there against the post, cradling his hands. There was a flap of torn skin on the left one that his stomach quivered to look at. He pressed the right one hard against his shoulder, flattening the hand, spreading the dislocated thumb until it snapped back into some semblance of normality. It hurt as much going back into joint as it had going out. He did the same with the other hand. He shivered convulsively, swallowing back tears, setting his jaw stubbornly as he pushed himself to his feet. Somewhere in the darkness there had to be a way out. It was only a matter of plunging into it to discover it.


"Were you there when Charlotte was telling us about the critters roaming about this place?" Kento asked, walking beside Rowan, as they tromped through the forest outside the overlapper's camp. Sai walked ahead, talking with Charlotte. Seiji had been keeping his own company for a while now. He was in one of those moods where his very presence repulsed attempts at socialization. Even if Rowan had dared try -- which he wouldn't. As if Seiji weren't already pissed at him. As if Seiji had a right. The whole miserable misunderstanding was between him and Ryo and Seiji had no business making it his affair. Even Ryo would be the first one to say that Seiji was neither his keeper, nor his protector -- so Seiji could damn well stay out of it. Which was as hypocritical a thing to think as anything he'd ever contemplated since if it had been Sai -- he'd have been all over the offender.

"Stupid. Stupid. Stupid." He muttered.

"What's stupid?"

"Nothing. What about these critters?"

"Totally whacked, ghoulish stuff. There're soul eating zombies who are s'posed to be dead who didn't make it through the transition from life to death completely and wound up here mindless and feral. You can hack 'em to bits and they still keep coming at you. Will gnaw the flesh right off your bones."

"Charming."

"Yeah, and then there's these things called Tyrigothos or something that are like big spiders and they get you and cover you with goo and feed off your soul for eternity while you're still alive. Then there are the Lythos -- the protectors of the poles. They're like these devil dogs that run in packs patrolling the poles, keeping people from escaping into the overlaps. When they bite one of the dead souls they poison the soul, blacken it until it shrivels up and dies and there's no coming back after that and there's no cure. Its just void. All the folk here are terrified of that end."

"Can't say that I blame them."

"You think its really Tulpa that snatched Ryo?"

"Makes sense. He'd have reason. He'd have the power."

"I thought we'd seen the last of that psycho. And here he comes back from the grave to haunt us."

"I wonder -- I wonder if Ryo's even still alive. He might have done him in already."

"I don't know."

"He's alive." Seiji said calmly from behind them. "We're too connected -- all of us -- for us not to know if it were otherwise."

"Yeah, but Sage -- Tulpa's got a lot of grudges to repay. Its been a day already -- "

"He's not impatient. He'll get more pleasure out of prolonging it. Now shut up about it, the both of you."

"We're just worried." Rowan said sullenly.

"Really? Are you, Rowan?"

"You shut up, Seiji. You know I goddamned well am. I wouldn't be here otherwise."

"That's not what I hear." Seiji's voice was calm, icy. Rowan felt his temper rising.

"Well I changed my mind. Is that okay with you?"

"No."

Rowan growled, stopping dead, clenching his fists and glaring down the path at Seiji.

"You wanna make something of it, Seiji? Come on."

Seiji lifted a golden brown brow. He could take Rowan hand to hand. They both knew it. Rowan didn't care. He just wanted the pressure off.

Sai thrust himself between them, glaring at Rowan accusingly. "What are you doing? Are the two of you mad? Have you lost your minds?"

"Get out of the way, Sai."

"No. God, will you tell me what's going on?"

"You haven't told him?" Seiji asked, and Sai turned to look at him expectantly. "Shall I?"

"Fuck you, Seiji."

"Tell me what?"

"Hummmm. Ask Rowan." Seiji strolled on, past a gaping Kento and a mildly curious Charlotte the Red. Rowan called him every dirty name he could think of under his breath.

Sai opened his mouth to voice a question and Rowan glared him into silence, stalking down the path in Seiji's wake. Damned prick. Damned ice hearted, blue eyed, golden haired prick.


There were walls wet with moisture at the edges of the darkness. They smelled of oxide and rust. They formed a circle around the place he had been chained. Without the benefit of light, he had to meticulously run his aching hands across the surface to find the seams of a door. For a while he thought there was none. But eventually he found it. And the fates must have been smiling some little bit upon him, for it gave under his hand.

Beyond it was a hallway. There was light here. Guttering torches sat in scones on the wall. Metal wall, metal grate upon the floor. His feet hurt from treading upon it. Carefully he moved down the hall, listening for the sounds of approaching guards. The only sounds audible was the bone deep groaning of this place, the distant drip drip of water. The occasional scurrying of things under his feet. He hated to think about those things. He had never been squeamish about such things before, but he had developed a distaste.

He turned a corner and came face to face with a man in leather armor. The man let out a sound of surprise. Ryo hissed and spun, slamming an elbow into an unprotected face. Ramming a knee up into that same face when the man staggered forward. He was on the floor at Ryo's feet, and Ryo was looking for more. But there were no more. Just this one who hadn't even had the chance to draw the short sword at his side.

Ryo reached down and pulled it out of its battered scabbard. A much used, poorly made blade. It felt heavy and clumsy in his hand. His thumb hurt wrapping about the hilt, but he forced it. He looked down at the body and assessed what else he could take from it. Boots and clothing for certain. He crouched and began to quickly strip off the piecemeal leather armor. Surely better than nothing, which was what he had now.

He left the body where it was, having no place to hide it. Skirted down the narrow, claustrophobic halls. A maze of them, dank and dark as a dungeon themselves. The stench was overpowering.

The clatter of booted feet and he froze, on the verge of fleeing back down the way he'd come. But retreating would only lead him back towards the pit he'd escaped from. He had the armor and the thin leather helmet. If he didn't act as if he were scared out of his wits, perhaps they might not realize he was. Perhaps they'd think he belonged here. He kept walking, turned a corner and passed without hesitation a trio of small, dusky skinned warriors walking the other way. Straggly, dark hair. Drooping mustaches. Small slanting eyes beneath sloping foreheads. The armor looked like something out of ancient Mongol history. He kept walking and if they looked back at him, he didn't see it.

Another victory. He was beginning to get his confidence back. He might just get out of here yet.


"What the hell is that?" Kento stopped dead in his tracks, staring ahead of them where the forest suddenly stopped and began to be obscured by a haze of white fog.

"I wish you'd stop saying that." Rowan muttered. "The hell is everything here."

But Kento had a point. One moment they were walking in a relatively comfortable temperature and the next, as that white fog seeped over the ground, it was like they'd stepped into the arctic circle. Rowan wrapped his arms about himself, wishing he'd picked out thicker clothes than he had. A thin white shirt and an overlong sleeveless tunic did not served to keep out the sudden chill.

"River of Ice." Charlotte said. "It shifts its course fairly often. Its closer than I'd thought it to be. It means there's a vortex nearby."

"A vortex?" Seiji asked, sticking his bare fingers under his armpits, a frown marring his brows.

"A place where some Pole Master or another sealed something. A place where power can't get into or out of."

"What would they seal?" Sai asked, shifting from foot to foot uncomfortably.

"Something -- or somebody they didn't like. A threat. A disruptive power. A competitor. Whatever. They don't need a reason."

"Interesting." Seiji said.

"Scary." Charlotte said. "If a Master was worried about it, then its not a nice thing."

"Can we cross this river of ice easily?" Sai wanted to know.

She shrugged. "There are usually ways. Bridges."

"Bridges? Who builds them?" Rowan.

"Who knows. Hell builds them."

Not an answer to make a body feel good about crossing said bridges. They walked into the cold created fog, onto ground turned hard with ice. The trees just stopped. A straight gash of a line where forest ended and winter began. The closest trees were frosted with ice, leafless and dead. Forty feet beyond the earth was sliced by the jagged banks of a river. A turbulent, white capped river littered with chunks of floating ice. Larger chunks of the stuff cropped up, islands in the midst of the water. Between them there was a narrow, precarious bridge running between jutting fingers of ice. Saying it was the width of two handspans was giving it undue credit.

"Holy shit." Rowan muttered. "You have got to be kidding."

Charlotte shrugged. "Hey, I'd just as well go back. Your call, boys."

"It doesn't scare me." Kento said and hopped out onto the thing. His foot slipped just a little and he put out his arms for balance. His resulting grin was not as boastful as it might have been.

"No horseplay, Kento. Just go across." Seiji frowned at him.

Seiji followed, Charlotte did. Sai hesitated a second, staring distrustfully at the narrow ice the others were treading upon, then sighed and moved out onto the bridge. Rowan readjusted the bow on his back and followed. A bow given to him by none other than Robin Hood and therefore a thing to be treasured.

It was not surprising then, when the ice at the edge of the narrow bridge splintered from the weight crossing it, and crumbled sending Rowan's feet out from under him, making a precarious perch even more ungainly -- that he was more interested to keeping hold of the bow than fighting for his own balance. When he thought about it later, he should have let the damned bow drop and saved himself a great deal of pain and discomfort -- but hindsight was generally a good deal more reliable than harried judgments.

He heard Sai's cry of alarm, vaguely heard his own hiss of surprise as his world went vertical and solidity disappeared from under his feet. Then with a force that knocked the wind out of his lungs he hit an all enveloping cold. A cold so profoundly shocking that he forgot everything -- including the drawing of breath -- as it sank its fingers into his flesh, into his very nervous system and slapped him senseless. Then he went under -- literally, figuratively -- and ceased to feel the pain or the shock anymore.


Ryo found a cramped passage that hinted at the smell of fresh air. Well, somewhat fresh air. At least better than the stale, oxide laden stuff he had been breathing. He followed it to a metal door that led out onto a long, crenulated catwalk. There was sky overhead and open air. Suppressing a whoop of victory he slunk out onto the walk, scanning both directions for guards. He had exited from a tower of sorts, and interspersed along the very long catwalk were other jutting, blocky towers. The wall on the inside rose up farther than he could see, even leaning back against the edge of the walk. With his back between two blocky crenulations he also got a rather unobstructed view of the sky. Not a proper sky at all, but a shimmering veil of violet that sort of glowed, casting everything in an eerie, monstrous light.

Shivering, he shifted to look down. He was perhaps two hundred, three hundred feet above a barren, uninviting landscape. But the tremendously large structure in which he found himself sloped gradually outwards with level after level of catwalks just like the one he had come out upon. It was shaped sort of like an Aztec pyramid, with systematically larger blocky levels. If he was lucky, and particularly agile he thought he could scale down its length. He put the sword in his belt and flexed his sore hands. It would be a while before they were back to full working order. If he had to do any intricate swordwork -- which he frankly doubted was possible with the sorry excuse for a sword he had appropriated -- he'd be in trouble.

He found a likely place to scale down. Made the lower level with relative ease. His feet touched ground and a set of guards came out of a recessed portal. Whether they'd seen him descend from above or not was questionable -- but they headed his way regardless. He let out a breath of frustration, trapped. To run would pretty much assure a cry of alarm went up. He stood his ground, fighting the impulse to lay his fingers on the hilt of the sword. Let them pass by like the others. Just one more bit of luck.

They looked at him, nodded and started past. One of them said something. Entirely unintelligible language. Ryo blinked, wondering if a nod would suffice. He tried it. The pair paused, the one who had spoken staring at him with small, black eyes.

He said something else -- an obvious question that only wanted an answer. Ryo could not give him one. He nodded again, helplessly and the two guards exchanged suspicious looks.

He was found out. He knew it. The only thing to do was make a move before they did. Before they could shout out or draw weapons against him. What he wouldn't give for a little real armor or at the very least a pair of exquisitely balanced katanas. He made do with a fist square in the face of the one who'd spoken to him. And a side kick to the other's mid-section which sent the man sprawling, gagging after air.

The first one roared in fury at him, spattering blood from a profusely bleeding nose. Came at him clutching after the curved dagger at his belt. Ryo blocked the blow with a smoothly drawn blade of his own. Spun on the movement and brought the edge of the sword up under the man's jaw. Nasty cut. Messy one. He'd done it out of desperation -- not having the time to think about if these men were human and if this was murder to stain his hands.

But after the first few pulsing spurts of blood, the man stiffened, eyes rolling back and crumpled. Before he could hit the ground his body began to steam, emitting a foul, sulfur-like odor. Armor, weapons and all dissipated into the air.

Ryo made a small sound of surprise, then glanced warily to the other guard, who was curled up, clutching his gut. Either kill the man -- was it killing when they were already dead? -- if he believed what Tulpa and his slimy servant said -- or leave him and have the cry raised once he was back up on his feet. Ryo couldn't bring himself to strike a downed foe.

He spun, running down the walk, looking for the best way down. Found it and clambered down. Nothing to bar his way on this next level and he made it to the wall closest the ground before he met further resistance.

This time there was no question they were on to him. They rushed at him en masse, a group of rough, feral looking men. No hesitation. He cut into them with the fervor of the extremely desperate and the uniquely talented. He might have learned the skills of war due to the damned armor, but the knowledge and the intrinsic reflexes had stuck for good. Without or without mystical weapons. Maybe he couldn't do the damage without -- but against foes with no sign of magical prowess and little more than brute force to back them up, he managed rather well.

The air around him was filled with sulfur and the fog of dead souls going wherever it was they went in this place. And when it cleared and there were only the downed, moaning bodies of the ones to which he hadn't delivered lethal blows -- something slithered with dry rustling movements towards him.

The servant. The sinuous, black coiled figure that was far from human that had drawn him here from the woods back home and plagued him when he was chained helpless. Clearer now, like a great snake with the upper body of a man. So black it sucked in light like a sponge. It hissed at him when he stepped towards it, sword point held forth threateningly.

"No closer."

"Where will you go, boy?" It swayed there, moving its willowy arms through the air as if the movement were a nervous habit. "There is nowhere here for the living. No place to hide from the master's reach."

Ryo said nothing. The way down here was not so easy. This last defensive catwalk had a perpendicular drop that he could not easily make without the benefit of armor to enhance his physical prowess. He backed away, looking for an escape. He didn't want to risk a broken leg, but there might be no other choice.

"Do you know what's out there? Moors and marshes filled with things to make a dead soul tremble. Things that would love to sink their fangs into living flesh. But then, so many things here would."

"Fuck you." Ryo couldn't help but hiss at the thing's leering grin. Every step he took, the servant advanced. The thing just made him nervous. More nervous than Tulpa -- who was at least a known factor. He could comprehend Tupla's motives. Tulpa, when you got right down to it was not that hard to understand.

"If the denizens that populate the marshes, the souls that inhabit this pole, do not get you, then the predators that roam it will. The Lythos never loose prey. And they will scent you and hunt you down. Do you know what they will do to you? They'll drive you to exhaustion -- play with you -- torment you -- until you can not go any further, then they will rip you to shreds. If you were already dead, your soul would shrivel up and die. No further reincarnations. No rising to a higher plain. No further chances of redemption. What they'll do to a living victim will be interesting to see. The master will be disturbed if that happens. He has plans for you."

"The both of you can go ---- " He did not want to say hell. Most certainly did not feel comfortable uttering that epitaph.

There was a break away ramp leading down. A rickety, lashed together thing. There were barrels at the top of the catwalk, as if someone had been receiving them up the makeshift ladder and neglected to take it down.

The servant saw his gaze flicker towards it. A twitching spasm of the powerful coils and the thing launched at him with much the same precision as a striking snake. Ryo let out a furious yell, slamming himself against the fortress wall to avoid being hit. Then when the Servant's lunge carried it past him, brought the sword down upon its upper torso. The blade, surprisingly enough cleaved right through. The blood was minimum. Two severed halves thudded to the stone walkway. Both halves spasmed madly, the top one hissing obscenities at him, reaching for his legs with its long arms. Ryo hopped nimbly out of the way, backing a few steps with his eyes glued to the thrashing body, then turning and dashing for the ladder.

He shoved the sword through his belt, gore and all, and started down. From the distance, out on the moors, a faint howling cry could be heard.

 

To be continued . . .

 

 

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