Chapter 1: You can’t die in the Safe Zone, but you sure can hurt.
He awoke into a world of black. And then, color. And finally, shapes. Shapes which soon became sharper and crisper. He recognized cold stone walls of brick, illuminated by flickering torches that cast eerie shadows.
The words were gone as quickly as they arrived, and he blinked in confusion.
“What’s an Isais?” he asked out loud, the words bouncing off cold walls.
That’s you, idiot.
He screamed and jumped to his feet. “What in seven hells!” he shouted, spinning in a circle, fists clenched. “Where are you?! Show yourself!” and though his words were loud his voice trembled with fear and a hope that nothing actually would emerge from the clammy black.
I’m in your head, fool. Calm down.
Isais’s body stopped spinning, though deep in his chest his heart raced and jumped and repeatedly swan-dived into the pit of his stomach. “Is this a dream? I’m dreaming.”
Maybe. I know how we can find out. See that rock?
Isais couldn’t say exactly how, but he knew just where the voice in his head was looking. “I see it.”
Pick it up and hold it against your hand.
Isais did so, his brow ruffling. “How is this—aaah!”
Without warning twelve legs burst from the sides of the rock, and a small head with a large mouth dug pincers into tender skin. Isais swore and flicked his hand, the vicious stone tumbling off into the dark.
“What the Pasht was that?”
The voice laughed. That was a rockmuncher! Hurts, doesn’t it? Well, at least now we know you’re not dreaming.
Torchlight made the blood leaking from his palm look like ink. He shook his hand and sucked at it, before pausing. “Is it… poisonous?”
Venom is passed on by bite- not poison.
“Oh. Well, that’s good to know,” he replied sarcastically. “So, is it venomous?”
Isais got the feeling that if the voice in his head could shrug its shoulders, it would have done. Possibly. I guess we’ll find out. If you don’t die, we can safely say it’s probably not venomous. In the meantime, we should get you some clothes.
“Die? Clothes?” Isais looked down. His skin was strangely pale, even in the gloom. Ivory and stained with dirt, much like the unflattering loincloth tied around his waist.
“Well… that’s just great. Where am I?”
Looks like a dungeon. Or a sewer.
The smell gave that away, Isais thought as he wrinkled his nose. “But where?”
Vermasse. The name was familiar. Awfully familiar. “The sewer is called Vermasse?” he ventured.
Vermasse is the world, idiot.
Isais closed his eyes, rubbing at the corners with a finger and thumb of one hand. He desperately tried to remember, but no matter how hard he focused nothing would come to him. His mind was empty aside from a few colorful blurs that darted around his spacious head too fast for him to grasp.
“How did you get inside me?”
I would like to know the answer to that one as well. There was an edge to the voice that made Isais even more uncomfortable.
In the depths of the tunnel, somewhere too dark to be seen, came the sound of something sharp scraping against rock.
Move. Now. Go!
And Isais obeyed, for the scraping was getting louder and his nerves more frayed. Cold settled over his nude body like a cloak. As the sound of scratching fell away it was replaced by that of his heart hammering in his ears and the running water growing deeper and faster beneath his feet. Torches lined the walls every so often, flickering valiantly against the dark and highlighting the slimy green plant life that grew among the small cracks in the brickwork.
He stopped. From somewhere up ahead came a smell that turned his stomach. It filled his nostrils and reminded him of death. Hesitantly, and with shaking fingers, Isais withdrew a torch from its bracket and held it before his face. The twisting shadows that it created now followed him through the dungeon shaft. A lump in his throat forced him to swallow, taking in a noseful of wretched air.
When it comes, you must use your power.
“What the Pasht are you talking about?” Isais regretted speaking immediately. His voice sounded unnaturally loud and the narrow tunnel carried it lord knew how far.
And then it came.
At first, Isais struggled to see what was rushing towards him. In the dark was a fast-moving ball of grey, red pinpricks that could have been eyes darted from wall to wall. Suddenly the dungeon was alive with a terrible screeching. Isais flinched, throwing his hands to his ears. Too late he remembered the torch. It fell from his grip, falling into the water where it quickly sizzled and died.
The world went completely dark.
“What do I do?” his voice shook.
Follow the eyes.
Two red dots approached in black.
Fear tore through him as he scrambled frantically for a weapon, hands searching in the foul stream.
You are the weapon you fool! Magic! Use your magic!
Magic? Well, why not. Jumping to his feet he thrust out out a hand and shouted, “die!”
Pasht’s balls. Think it. Imagine it. Will it!
He thought hard about the creature now circling him and how he could possibly kill it.
He imagined forces around him rippling, twisting and building— firing!
Isais willed it. He willed with all his mind. Stretched his arm as far as it could go, and then stretched some more. He willed and willed the energy to manifest itself, to banish the evil creature before him.
Still nothing happened.
Pin-prick blood eyes surged at him. It happened with a screech that turned into a growl.
Isais stumbled back and fell into the dark and the cold and the wet. Foul water filled his mouth as he tried to scream. Something sharp tore into his skin and he lashed out wildly, feet and arms kicking, punching and flailing. Teeth- definitely teeth- clamped onto a wrist and Isais swore. Fear and anger made something snap in the back of his mind, some instinct that urged him to fight. Again and again he thrust his free fist into the beast, snarling and writhing in the waste and refuse. Matted fur curled between his fingers and he yanked with all his strength. Still the creature’s jaws remained clamped. Whatever had fuelled Isais’ rabid attack began to leave his body as quickly as the blood that ran down his arm, replaced by the all to familiar feeling of panic.
“I’m going to die!”
And with that word the air changed. It rippled and flowed and coiled over him. Through him. Until it was no longer the air, but a force pulled from a thousand strands from a thousand different corners of his brain, building and building into a giant ball that filled his mind.
Pressure built too as the energy pounded at his skull. The creature was forgotten. Light filled Isais, blinding him from the inside. He knew he had to get rid of it; urged it to leave his body.
The creature squealed. A sound high and filled with pain. It was followed quickly by Isais’ own squeal as sharp teeth tore at his flesh and the beast was thrown through the air. Dizzy and dazed, Isais quickly pushed himself to his feet and scanned the black for any sign of those glowing red eyes. But they were gone, leaving Isais alone with the choking dark and sickly smell.
Well, not entirely alone. “What in the seven hells was that?”
“Gods. I feel so strong!” he declared, moments before collapsing to his knees.
You must let go.
“Let…what…go?” Exhaustion struck him like a hammer, sapping his strength and turning each word a marathon.
Release it. The power. Release it.
“Your instructions….are…as useless…as you,” Isais protested, yet he closed his eyes and disappeared inside himself. Slowly, the energy ball in his mind began to break apart and as it faded away the feeling of fatigue doubled and the pain of a hundred cuts and bites and bruises struck at once.
Get up, now!
“You get up,” Isais shot back, feeling out the wounds that ran down his arm. They were deep and horrifying.
Before the thing inside him could reply, something else flashed before his eyes.
Your attributes. I thought you’d like to see.
“What in god’s name are you talking about?”
The image flashed up once more at the forefront of Isais’ mind. He could see it clearly now, though none of it made any sense.
“I still don’t understand…” he was growing irritated and let his voice trail off.
This is the essence of you. It represents your power. It is part of who you are.
“Part of…? How? What am I?”
Another image flashed up then, clear and almost tangible. It was somewhere between the front of his mind and the back of his eyes. He felt almost that if he reached out a hand he might even touch it.
Race: Human. Corrupted.
Primary: Willpower Mage
Secondary: Berserker Soul.
“Whoa! Before you show me anything else, I want to know what this means. Corrupted?”
That would be me.
“But you’re not real!”
“No!” Before adding more softly, “none of this is real.”
Of all the souls to get trapped with, how did I end up with this idiot.
Isais collapsed into a sitting position. He didn’t care that the water now ran over his naked body. He didn’t care about anything.
“I don’t understand,” he said again in a voice that wavered. He suddenly wanted to laugh. To laugh until his own lunacy drowned the absurdity of the situation.
Don’t you dare go insane on me, threatened the voice. Just look.
Primary: Willpower Mage
Secondary: Berserker Soul.
Battlefield Aura: 0
“What does all this mean? You know what- no! Don’t tell me. I don’t care. This is crazy! Whatever this is, it’s not real. None of it is.” His arm sent waves of pain through his body and nausea replaced the hole in his stomach previously filled by his heart. Other feelings assaulted him too; strongest of all was hunger, followed soon after by repulsion at the thought of eating anything found in this wretched, foul-smelling place. Rubbing at his eyes, Isais pushed a palm into his head. “I need to lie down.”
No. Don’t rest. You must keep moving.
“Keep moving? Can you even feel my arm? I could have been killed!
Laughter. Not in here, it’s impossible.
“Look at me; I’m losing blood!”
It’s a flesh wound. Now you can’t die here but you can feel pain. A lot of it. So move!
Despite himself, Isais moved. On wobbling knees and one arm hanging limply by his side, he continued through the tunnel. The dark made it difficult to see. It twisted the world around him, and where he walked, he was sure a trail of blood followed. Blind and injured and carrying a chest full of terror, every slight sound became an invisible enemy. Every piece of debris below his feet was a monster in hiding; every change in the steady flow of the water was a demon creeping up on him. And so, when the walls slowly began to glow with the faint promise of distant light, Isais almost ran. It was only the betrayal of the wet stones beneath his feet that stopped him from doing so. When he did finally reach the torch Isais reckoned it was quite the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
In the flame’s light, he could see that the tears in his arm were swollen with red. Grey tufts of fur stuck to congealed blood, and Isais plucked at it with an expression of disgust and a mouth clenched against pain and revulsion.
That thing that caused you so much stress and trouble was just a sewer rat. Gods, you’d better improve fast or this is going to be a short life.
“I don’t know what any of that means. And I don’t want to know.” He ripped the last piece of fur from his wounded arm with a yelp.
The voice laughed.
Up ahead, the tunnel widened, two narrow platforms opening up either side of the steady stream of water. They were dry and free of garbage and Isais took the opportunity to warm his feet now that they were finally free of the cold stream of waste. As he was doing so, something caught his eye. Torch light bounced off something shiny. Something that very much resembled an old treasure chest.
“What?” was all Isais could say.
Amazingly the lid flipped open easily, the small rusted lock and decayed hinges offering no resistance aside from a high-pitched screech that echoed throughout the chamber and made Isais’ ears twitch. Breath caught in his lungs and he dared not even move, expecting at any minute for a horde of enemies to rush him. When nothing but silence hovered in the dark, Isais allowed himself to breathe out heavily and peered inside the chest.
“Well, this seems…. unlikely,” he mumbled, pulling out a brown pair of tattered trousers and a white tunic. There was a hat, and there were even gloves too, but Isais ignored them, reaching instead for an old pair of leather boots. The items all fit him well, which only heightened his suspicions.
Feel any different?
“Not really. A bit warmer,” he replied, rolling his shoulders and enjoying the feel of the clean clothes on his battered and dirtied body.
Hmm. Disappointing. Still, it should mean nothing big is coming for us anytime soon.
“Enough with the cryptic messages. My nerves are already shot.”
At that moment, as if the gods themselves were laughing at him, the sound of more screeching filled the tunnel. It came now from all around. Above. Below. The left. The right. Isais spun and spun but could make out nothing in the dark.
And he did. Far quicker than the last time, he pulled and tore and struggled at the energy within his body. It was hard and it seemed whatever power hovered inside him was reluctant to be manhandled. It spluttered and fought back. As Isais worked on turning one side into a ball, the other would leak and unravel. With fear stripping him of calm he bunched up what he could hold of the strange force and waited.
And then waited some more.
The energy struggled. It was like trying to hold onto an angry animal, desperate to be free.
Isais turned, one hand lashing out reflectively. Energy rippled from his palm and a pair of red eyes were thrown back into the dark with an inhuman shriek. Grasping the torch in his injured hand, Isais scanned the corridors nervously. Whatever magic he wielded was taking a massive toll on his body and pulled at his eyelids. The urge to sleep was almost overwhelming.
Open your eyes, fool!
Eyelids peeled back just as something grey and round and furry lunged at his face. Isais yelled and threw up a hand as another creature was flung into the murky depths. At the same time, a third snarled and lunged. With no time to draw power, Isais lashed out with the torch. Flames licked at the beast, catching on its fur. A terrible, shrill howl rendered the air around him as the rat rushed into the water.
Isais collapsed onto his hands and knees, wiping sweat away from his forehead.
You mustn’t rest. Not yet. You’re so close.
“How the hell do you know?” Isais hissed.
I’m going to choose to ignore the tone. Use it with me again and I’ll settle myself inside your testicles and chew them off from the inside out. Now be calm. Anger is an after effect of human magic.
“If you say so,” but Isais didn’t push the matter any further, suddenly feeling very aware of his manhood and its vulnerability. He had no idea if the voice could follow through on its threat, but there were some things not worth risking, he decided.
He was saved from pursuing the thought further by bright words materialising once again behind his eyes.
“Oh, not now!” he growled, shaking the image from his head.
“At what? I don’t know what the words mean”
No. Not that, idiot. Look. Light!
Isais frowned. Up ahead the tunnel widened and- was that? Could it be? No matter how hard he blinked or rubbed at his eyes the image never changed. It was light! And not the inconsistent, angry light of the torch Isais still gripped. A surge of excitement forced Isais vertical, shaking legs propelling him into pale white and warmth where a huge hole in the ceiling above leaked sunlight.
“Thank the gods!” Isais gasped, enjoying the feeling of the beam on his wounded body.
“Door? You mean that huge lump of stone?”
It’s a door. Trust me.
Isais didn’t. But he decided to examine it anyway. The ray of light from above fell perfectly, almost intentionally over the slab.
“A door, huh?” Isais set his shoulder and pushed.
It didn’t budge. Not even slightly. Not even a creak.
He tried again.
“No good.” Hammering it with his fist, he shouted again, “no good!”
Pasht, you’re a fool. Look for the puzzle.
Is this your first time in a strange sewer? There’s always a damn puzzle.
“Pasht’s balls,” Isais muttered quietly, though it didn’t take him long to discover the voice in his head was right. He ran his less injured hand over carved stone and mouthed the etched words to himself.
But no answer came.