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After the pumpkin... How I became a putrefying corpse

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It has been nearly 5 months since my last sojourn here in the Citadel. Suffice it to say that my previous journey caught up to me in a most horrifying way. Despite its apparent success, my quest to rid my lawn of pumpkin scat unleashed consequences I was quite unprepared to deal with.

Thus begins my second tale of conflict and woe.

I was to meet with Franz in early January to discuss my embarrassing Ch'amway problem. I put off this meeting a few times; first because of the foul winter weather and then because I could not muster the courage to face his unsettling household. Neither he nor his had appeared in my dreams since my original journey and I was a little afraid of inviting them in once again.

Certainly my bad luck continued to plague me but I found it easier to rationalize away than I should have.

Had I known what was to befall me I would have acted much sooner. Far easier would it have been to take that long and twisted road to Franz's house than to face what I have faced since.

Perhaps I would still be alive today.


Looking back I can see the signs. They seem so obvious to me now but at the time I mistook the concerned looks and quiet hints from my wife for the misguided ramblings that the paranoid never fathom.

My mind had only just begun to crack. Those closest to me saw the signs. Little pieces here and there, just subtle enough for everyone else to mistake as simple quirkiness. The flitting ghosts at the edge of my vision causing me to look this way and that; the quiet, unsettling whispers I would snap at. The strangers in my dreams telling me the secrets my friends, family, and coworkers were keeping from me.

I became mostly withdrawn, excepting those manic episodes when I would overcompensate, so focused on pretending I did not know all these secrets, pretending that the voices and dreams were not getting to me. All the while expecting the world to turn upon me.

So it happened that on that fateful day, when I ignored the clearest signs of all, I ended up paying dearly for all of my hubris, for my blindness.

The game had started out well. A rousing session of Paranoia (oh, the irony!) played in chat.

--- Quote ---(13:14:59) (GameMaster): "Drop your weapons and await termination!"
(13:15:27) (Twitch-Y-XZZ-2): (I drop my weapon)
(13:15:56) (GameMaster): Twitch-R-XZZ-3 and Finch-R-OCH-2 are prepped for the mission
(13:15:58) (Twitch-Y-XZZ-2): I need to speak with one of you in private! It is of the outmost importance!

--- End quote ---

At this point I receive an urgent email from Franz.

--- Quote ---(13:16:24) (GameMaster): hold on, be back in a sec

--- End quote ---

No subject, the email consisted of a single sentence: "If ever you valued your life dear friend, run like all the Hells are after you."

It was at this point that I finally became aware of a slight stench, slowly becoming stronger. It smelled of mold and decaying vegetation.

The whispers, quiet for most of the morning, started up again:

"It's Franz. You cannot trust him. He is the one. Everyone is working for him. Stay. He is waiting outside to take you. Stay and wait. We will save you... Stay and wait..."

Mollified, I turned back to the game, catching up on the chatter I'd missed. The voices would keep me safe.

--- Quote ---(13:16:36) (Twitch-Y-XZZ-2): Whaaaa? Hold on, I'm dead allready? I didn't get a chance to say what I wanted!)
(13:16:54) ((Twitch-R-XZZ-): "Don't... Listen..... He'll steal your face like he stole mine...."
(13:17:29) (Twitch-Y-XZZ-2): I don't know what your goal is, you mutant scum, but you won't get away with this!
(13:21:27) (Twitch-Y-XZZ-2): How come every freaking time I try to do something, It is allready too late...This is starting to seriously annoy me.
(13:22:22) ((Twitch-R-XZZ-): Hey, I was being friendly until you accused me of forging evidence against you.
(13:23:29) (Twitch-Y-XZZ-2): I don't mind the backstabbing, but everytime I meet with an Npc they seem to run away after a few words or shoot me Before I get to try anything.
(13:24:26) (Twitch-Y-XZZ-2): Meanwhile, Everything seems to be a cakewalk for you.
(13:24:31) ((Twitch-R-XZZ-): Because your social skills are terrible.
(13:24:57) ((Twitch-R-XZZ-): You're built as a fighter. You should try to play like one.
(13:24:59) (Twitch-Y-XZZ-2): You don't know what I spent my Points on.....or do you?
(13:25:18) ((Twitch-R-XZZ-): No, I haven't kept track. You earn points in secret too.
(13:25:34) ((Twitch-R-XZZ-): Like you I can PM the GM with my PP.
(13:25:40) (Twitch-Y-XZZ-2): Talk about paranoia....I wouldn't be surprised at this rate.
(13:26:06) ((Twitch-R-XZZ-): No, but you may prompt me to scroll up through the chat and take a look
(13:27:56) ((Twitch-R-XZZ-): I need to knead some dough so I am reading, but will not respond until my hands are clean.
(13:27:58) (Twitch-Y-XZZ-2): I should not have died there. That's for sure.
(13:30:10) (Twitch-Y-XZZ-2): Everything is happening too fast in this game. I wanted Quick action, but this is ridiculous.

--- End quote ---

There was a crash from the back door, the sound of wood splintering and glass shattering. A feline hiss.

--- Quote ---(13:30:27) (GameMaster): Sorry, I need to cut this short. I will PM you both with some extra details later when I have the chance.

--- End quote ---

There would be no later, of course. The thing which came for me crashed and oozed its way through the house, coming directly for me. I think I heard screaming; most likely it was me but I do not know for certain.

It stank of dead and decaying things. It oozed black and green slime. Its bulk filled the hallway. It came for me with a thousand red eyes and a hundred scaly claws.

It slashed and I bled. It grabbed and I was powerless against the cold slimy embrace. It bit into me and I felt my ribs splinter.

And then I was devoured. Hell itself opened before me and swallowed me whole.

Heat. Flames. Stinging whips held by huge red demons of lore. Hundreds of impish Ch'amway skittering about and taunting me. Chains of red-hot iron.

This became my existence. Until the Necromancer, but I will get to him later.

In Flames

All those long months in hell, and believe me when I say that  I experienced far more than five months in that place, yet I could never tell if I was flesh or spirit. Had the beast opened a portal to Hell and sent me there, still alive but trapped? Or was I but a soul doomed forever to wander the halls of heat and flame?

Not that I had much time for such philosophical ponderings. The first few weeks in that place held my education on eternity. The demons took special delight in my misery and the Ch'amway were at their most vicious. You see, there is no sweeter soul to the fiends of hell than a new arrival; someone who still knows what hope is, who can still remember what love tastes like.

They put out my eyes on the second day. Sight was lost to me, yet the sound of their laughter continued unabated. I could not see the tools they used upon me, yet I could still feel the skin being peeled away from muscle and the heated brands that filled my nostrils with the scent of my own burning flesh. I could hear the voices of my loved ones calling out to me as I screamed but I could not see their faces. I could feel the heavy things which struck my fingers and toes but I could not see them coming, nor know when or if the next blow would come.

I could not weep, for the salt of my tears stung like acid. I did my best not to cry out, thinking I could keep from them the satisfaction of breaking me. Foolish and useless, for these beasts are beyond time and skill in their profession and have crushed souls far stronger than mine.

After these first weeks I was broken, delirious, less than a man. I was becoming a beast myself, sleeping little and only when exhausted beyond endurance, learning to choke down the gruel that was full of squirmy things and of the consistency of semi-coagulated milk with the strong taste of mold.

They threw me into a pit then, a small hole full of steamy air which reeked of sulfur. I struck my head against the rough rock walls on the way down. Dizziness overtook me for several minutes and without my vision I could not tell which direction was up. I stumbled, fell, struck my knee upon a pointed rock jutting from the side of the pit.

After a time I was able to recover and examine my surroundings, feeling my way around with twisted and broken fingers, shuffling on my shattered feet. The pit was small and uneven with many jagged stones poking out and not a single flat surface to lay upon or lean against.

Time stretched on and my sanity continued to thin. No food was supplied to me and I began to crave even the rough fare and attentions of before. The hole became my total existence and memories of life drifted away one at a time. Now and again I would hear a trickle of liquid running down the rock wall before me and I would lap at it like a dog. Never enough to slake my thirst, it was a torture all on its own. Yet I debased myself in gratitude for the slightest drop.

Many of my wounds began to heal during that time, though they did so poorly. With no splints my hands turned into deformed claws and my feet would never again carry me without constant pain. No infections appeared but the slow healing of my exposed skin caused me to tear and scratch at the maddening itchiness. It felt as though a thousand insects crawled within.

At one point I distinctly remember reaching up to feel my forehead, to figure out why I felt something drip from it. It was then that I realized I had been rocking forward and back, forward and back, banging my head repeatedly upon the stone before me until my skull had begun to crack and blood dribbled down freely.

Without food and with so much time passing, my body began to eat itself. My ribs and collarbone jutted out. I would pass the time by feeling their contours and wonder at the detail to be found in them.

I have no sense of the time spent within that pit. It may have been as much time as my initial torture. Or longer. Or shorter. I only know that the last of my humanity, the last of my sense of self, stayed there when they pulled me out by a noose and threw me in The Cage.

Not all of the poor souls of Hell dwell in The Cage, for there are many layers and places in Hell, but there are so, so very many. The walls of The Cage are formed of some metal, the floor is rough stone, and the ceiling is far too far above to be found. You can hear the constant moan of the d**ned in The Cage, people gibbering madly, whimpering, crying out. Some are so broken they beg for more torture or to be placed in a pit once more. We were packed tightly, so that it was common to be shoved against a press of bony, smelly bodies, or to be trampled upon when trying to get the smallest amount of sleep. Small amounts of food and drink would be flung down at random intervals from above and I, without my sight, had no easy time of it.

At times they would grab a number of us and force us to dig in tunnels with dull axes. We were to widen The Cage, they said, to welcome the coming souls.

I heard them when they came for me. Somehow I knew that they were coming. I heard a scream of rusty metal as the gate opened and the sound of large demons striking with their whips and clubs as they came to me. Hot irons were clamped about my wrists and ankles and I was shepherded out.

I was soon to discover why I was in Hell.


Tired, malnourished, shambling upon my twisted feet, without hope, my humanity but a dim memory, I was forced to march a great distance. I suspect my captors had purposefully chosen the roughest path possible. In order to keep up with the quick gait they set, I could not slowly feel my way forward. Instead I knew only in which direction to go when they would jerk my noose one way or another. I could scarcely cry out before being yanked forward again whenever I smashed my knee into a jutting rock or set my crippled foot upon knife-edged stone; often with an accompanying cackle from close by. With the terror and the constant assault I barely noticed the heat from the irons which had already seared into the skin of my wrists and ankles.

The sound of other souls being tortured reached my ears from time to time, growing and shrinking in volume as we progressed through the tunnels. At one point the stone gave way to a sickening muck which smelled of filth, disease, and vomit. I could hear retching and the cries of men begging for mercy, for sweet oblivion.

One of the demons broke the silence, elbowing me in the ribs.

"Would you look at that? I just love it when their skin gets all puffy and stiff. What do you think, worm? If I poked him in the gut do you think it would burst? I just love it when they burst and all that green and yellow stuff comes oozing out. And the maggots, huh? The poor sods always think it's the last time they could possibly go down like that. They think their bodies couldn't possibly mend. But they do, and then we get to watch it all over again: sickness and goo, puss and worm. It warms my heart."

I could hear his grin, though I could not see it. My own stomach, empty for too long, caught all of the smells with a sharp clarity; it churned within and threatened to expel bile. I thought my lack of sight had spared me the worst but now my imagination stepped in to supply the details.

From there we walked out into what must have been a large, open space. Despite my blindness, I was certain we had left the tunnels and entered an outdoors of sorts. Heat pressed in all around me, as though I breathed air expelled by a great furnace. The stones beneath my feet felt as if they had been baking in the sun, making raw my tortured flesh.

I knew when we arrived at our destination because the ground beneath became smooth and the air freshened, cooling considerably. The sound of chains being pulled and stone grinding upon stone came to my ears. A stone gateway, perhaps, being lifted by slaves dragging on heavy chains.

More walking, but this time in straight lines with the occasional sharp turn. The demon which had so taunted me before went silent. In this place, I was jerked about only when I stumbled.

We stopped and waited briefly before being ushered into what felt like a large hall. How strange it was that, despite my lack of sight, I had begun to gain a sense of my surroundings. I knew that someone of some importance lay ahead of me because of the direction we took and the aura of awe from those beside me. I did not know when to stop, though, because I was struck suddenly in the face with something large and heavy; a scaly fist, mayhap, or a stone cudgel. I felt the blood trickle down my cheek but did not react to it.

"So, here he is," said a voice in the distance, both even and firm in tone. "The great treasure hunter. The robber. The thief. The defiler."

Something hit the back of my knees and I buckled, going down in a boneless sprawl.

"Sit up, oh great warrior," the voice said and my head was yanked upright, forcing me to rise to my knees. I swayed uneasily, not certain if I could keep from falling once again.

"Do you know who I am? Do you know what you have done to me?"

In better health and before the torture had cracked my mind wide open, I might have been able to figure it out. As things stood I could do nothing but stare blankly with my sightless eyes and work my mouth like a fish on land.

"I should make a shovel from your skull and have it used for cleaning the Tunnels of Filth."

Shovel? Skull? Something about that seemed familiar but I could not find it in the pain-filled fog of my mind.

"I suppose I can count myself lucky that you were so inept. I thought all of your cursed ilk knew enough to leave behind the mark. No matter. Your foolishness has given me all the opening I needed to make you pay. And pay you shall."

Silence reigned for a time. I supposed that he pondered something. I knew I should be frightened but I had been through so much. With the coolness of the stone against my legs and having a chance to rest away from the press of bodies in The Cage, I had my first moment of near-peace in a very long while.

"It appears they have broken you a little too much. No matter; we have plenty of time. Take him. Put him in a cell. Feed him. Do whatever it takes to bring him back. Just a little. Just enough so that I can see it in his eyes when he truly knows what is in store for him. When he learns the true extent of the wrath of the God-King Xbalanque.

"Now leave me. All of you."

Mercifully, I was picked up by my armpits and hauled from that chamber. I went limp, reveling in the simple joy of not having to walk upon my raw and broken feet. There would be food. There would be time away from all the torture and ignominious treatment. For at least that one moment, I would not be just one more animal in a sea of those who had forgotten what it meant to feel human.

The cell they set me in may have been poor by the standards of the living but to me it was a palace. I had a bed of straw to lay upon. They brought me water and a thin gruel that lay upon my stomach as sweetly as a king's feast.

Just before I was left alone, I felt lips press against my ear and a whispered voice spoke to me.

"Do not worry, Mystic. They will come for you. I swear you will eventually be safe but you must hold out a while longer."

With that, the voice disappeared and the door to my cell clanged shut.

I wept silently. Out of fear or hope, I still do not know.

The Flavor Of Freedom

I do not exaggerate when I say that my solitude in that cell was as near to heaven as one can get in Hell. So much time spent in the Cage, time that I perceived as eternity, had conditioned me to crave every inch of my own space that I could carve out. I did not act as the savage souls who terrorized their fellow brethren in flames, thereby earning themselves better treatment by the demons. I had been reduced to near catatonia in the press of such filth and humiliation. I had begun to perceive myself as a foul waste of flesh whose existence was an assault upon normalcy and decency. I took to tearing at my skin with my own deformed, long-nailed claws, giggling as I opened the old wounds, and feeling vindicated when the others would lap at my blood in frantic hunger and thirst.

But those weeks in that beautiful cell changed all that. Every moment I lived in those grand quarters lifted my soul and gave me hope. The quiet, the peacefulness, the sweet smell of musty dungeon, I loved it all. I tried not to think back to my time in the Cage, for when I did I found myself once again clawing at my own flesh. By the second week, however, this habit had mostly subsided.

They fed me for those weeks. Not with overt generosity, but with a regularity that I craved. They provided me with a chamber pot and emptied it daily. I had straw to lay on and a bench to sit upon. I could sit and listen for hours to the silence, broken only by the occasional squeak of a rodent or the clang of the door as the guards entered and left.

Something else gave me hope, a thing which saved some shreds of my sanity and kept me from coming back as a mindless beast. My friend amongst the jailers visited me every day or two. He (I say he, though I know not if it was a she or an it; I could not tell by the quiet whispers in my ear) would tell me that Franz was soon to send help for me and remove me from this realm of death and horror. I was warned that Xbalanque would eventually call for me and that I would suffer mightily if I had not escaped by then. Timing was critical, my whispering friend said.

I waited, as ready as I could be. I practiced listening to every nuance of sound, felt for pressure changes to the air as the guards came near me, tasted the scents around me; all to test my ability to discern my surroundings by my remaining senses. By these methods did I learn to determine when the guards came and went, that there were others in cells but not nearby, the kind of food they brought me, how many guards were present at a time. Anything and everything that I could conceivably learn to do, I did.

The day came when Xbalanque called for me. A quartet, no a quintet, of guards came for me.

Three of them were large, lizard-like brutes who said little but who had always stood about warily whenever my cell door opened. This I could tell by the clacking of their claws upon the stone floor when they walked, the sibilant hiss when they spoke, the way their tails would swish impatiently, and the way I could hear them adjust themselves whenever I made the slightest move. In my present state I could hardly have been a threat; I assume they were more afraid of failing in their duty to the implacable Xbalanque than reacting to me.

This was the first time they had sent three of the creatures to guard me. Before only one or two had sufficed. I could tell by the tension and subtly hidden glee that I was about to be marched before the vengeful God-King.

The fourth and fifth visitors I knew. Both were what I called tenders. They were the ones to tend my cell as though for a kenneled animal, impassively changing my chamber pot, setting down fresh gruel and water, and refreshing my straw bed when necessary. The fourth I did not trust for I sensed a hidden sneer at my feeble condition whenever she observed me. The fifth, however, made my soul sing in joy, for I knew it to be my confidant. Was now the time for salvation? I wondered.

My friend was the one who clamped the irons about my wrist. As the iron rings were fastened, I heard the whispered message I hoped most to hear: "When I tap your left wrist you must turn in that direction and run with all the strength you can muster. You will have but moments for us to snatch you away."

I did my best to stifle a cry of joy, turning it into a muffled chuff. The other tender, mistaking it for fear, snickered.

"I think the animal knows its time of ease is finished."

Two of the guards positioned themselves behind me and the other walked in front. The first tender walked at my right side and my friend traveled at my left. I put out my hands in a weak motion as though I could not tell where the walls were. I felt a hand grab my left arm and lead me forward.

We had barely left the dungeon proper when I felt the signaling tap upon my wrist. The hand dropped away and I made my best effort at a mad dash. I suppose my face must have been split in a madman's grin as I charged bravely into the darkness. My moment had arrived and I would not disappoint my saviors.

My left shoulder caught the corner of a wall while my right foot simultaneously hit open air. I twisted, tumbling as I went down. Unable to save myself, I fell a fair distance until my flailing self struck another stone floor. My knee and shoulder cracked loudly upon the flagstones as my head snapped forward and did likewise. My lip split open and my nose cracked. I tasted my own blood.

My breath had been struck from me and my mind clouded over. I struggled to rise and continue my flight, but precious moments had been lost. My jailers caught up to me before I could stumble more than two steps forward.

I shrieked my rage. So certain was I of my pending escape that I had not considered failure. I wrestled against my captors, turning once more into the animal I thought I'd left behind.

So close! I thought. So close and yet further than ever!

Stronger now than when I'd first been brought to Xbalanque's palace, I struggled the whole way, flailing about madly and striking whenever I could work a limb free. I made them fight for every step that brought me closer to my doom.

And when they brought me before Xbalanque and told him that I had had the spirit to fight against them, he let loose with full-bodied laughter.

"Now you are ready, foolish mortal. You have spirit! You have anger! You have rage! And soon, you will have pain. Your cries of agony will feed my soul for a thousand years."


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