Several weeks pass, and I become a deadly hunter. Thanks to Lyari, I am one with the darkness now, and thanks to Tanithil, I am one with my weapons. As we move deeper and deeper into hell, we come across more and more peri patrols. We deal with them quickly and quietly, and interrogate them whenever we can. As we go deeper, hell becomes colder. Eventually, we find ourselves in a singular cavern, larger than any of us thought possible. Miles upon miles long, and equally wide, the floor is a solid sheet of ice. Underneath the ice, humanoid figures are frozen solid. Every once in a while, one will blink, or move a fraction of an inch, telling us that these poor souls are alive, and that this is their torment. I don’t want to know what sin one might commit to be tortured like this forever.
A cold wind blows from the far end of the cavern, and we walk into it. None of us know why, but we all feel like our destination lies that way. However, after walking through the immense cavern for several hours, we notice a large pit dug into the frozen floor. We move closer to the edge of the pit, and then crawl on our bellies to peer over the rim.
The ledge we are on is about 50 feet above the floor of the cavern below. On that floor is a terrifying sight.
I see a large statue of a peri woman, beautiful but cold and evil. In her hands, she is holding human skulls carved into goblets, and they are dripping…poison I guess…into a circular pool at her feet. Opposite from her is a stone table, black stone further blackened by blood stains and bodily fluids. Chains with cruel hooks on the ends are wrapped around the table, and bits of flesh are stuck on some of the hooks. Grooves on both sides of the table lead into the pool and disappear into the black liquid.
As I look, several of the peri drag a prisoner over to the table. They slam her down on it, and secure her arms and legs with the hooks. She screams as the hooks puncture her, and keeps screaming until a priestess plunges a sacrificial dagger straight into her heart.
The woman dies, and her blood flows from the table into the pool of liquid, where it mixes with the poison dripping from above. The attendants remove the hooks from the victim’s body, then unceremoniously dump it into the pool. I watch it sink below the surface, while trying not to vomit.
A dozen or so cages placed around the altar hold about a hundred captives. Most of them are elves….members of the lost village presumably…but there are a few humans and dwarves in the cages as well. Twenty or so peri move around the encampment, continuing to perform mundane tasks with apparently no regard to the horrors happening around them.
I move back from the ledge, and both Tanithil and Lyari move closer to me. Tanithil speaks, his voice barely more than a whisper.
“Those are our people down there. Of all the horrors I had imagined, none were as evil as this!”
Lyari adds, “They’re sacrificing them, Tanithil! Why?”
“To summon Kivutar. The War of Souls. They’re hoping to score a decisive victory in the War of Souls by bringing Kivutar here, to hell. Right underneath Ahriman’s nose. Past the front lines, past all the fighting, and even past the rear reinforcements…straight here to the heart of hell. It’s genius, really.”
“You sound like you admire them,” I say.
“No. I admire the boldness and cunning of their plan, but those are my friends and family down there, and I intend to stop this,” says Tanithil.
“How have they been keeping all this secret?” I ask.
Lyari answers. “Most of the devils won’t come this close to Ahriman’s palace. Those that have business with the Archduke of Hell usually teleport directly there. The few that are here in the Plains of Desperation are just solitary guards on random patrols…easy picking for peri assassins. The noise down there is mostly contained by the pit they’ve dug, and the rest of it is carried away by the howling wind. It’s actually really lucky that we found it at all, and even luckier that we managed to reach it without encountering more peri. Let’s hope our luck holds through the rest of this day!”
“So what’s the plan?” I ask Tanithil.
“The plan is for you to go down there, looking like one of those dark peri. Open as many of those cages as you can, but tell the people inside to wait for my signal….use my name….and tell them to wait until I attack, then for them to rush out of the cages together. We’ll take the peri by surprise, and with any luck, we’ll get out of this with minimal casualties. Once you unlock the cages, move over to that altar, and get ready to start killing some peri.”
I grin, change into my peri persona, then start climbing down into the cavern below. Our luck, however, runs out almost immediately.
I land on the floor of the cavern, and start moving to the first cage. On my way there, I’m stopped by a peri female who demands to know where I’m going and what I’m doing. I must have hesitated for a moment too long, because she uncoils the whip at her side and strikes me across the face. It happens so fast that I don’t even see her move…I just feel the sting and notice that she’s suddenly holding a whip in her hand. Again, she demands to know where I’m going. My mind is blank, and she hits me with the whip again. And then again.
I’ve had enough of this shit. She tries to whip me a fourth time, but I snatch the whip out of her hand and toss it to the ground. With my other hand, I backhand her across her face.
She….wails. I don’t know how else to describe the high-pitched scream/cry/whistle that escapes her mouth. Whatever you want to call it, it fills the cavern with its unnatural sound. Every peri in the encampment stops doing whatever they were doing, and looks at us. Weapons are drawn, and all of our plans are for naught.
I draw my sword, and without realizing what I’m doing, I draw my hunting knife with my other hand. The female has pulled a scimitar out from…somewhere…and is attacking me with it. She swings it up from her hip, and slashes me across the chest. First blood to her, then.
I feint a thrust with the hunting knife, and bring my sword around, aiming to take her head. She doesn’t fall for the feint, and she ducks under my sword easily. She spins around, and it’s my turn to duck under her blade. I repeat the feinting move, but this time, I follow through, and plunge my knife into her stomach. She doubles over in pain, and the opening in her defenses allows me to bring my short sword down and plunge it into her back. She emits another one of those eerie screams, then dies on the floor of the cavern.
I turn around, and catch a glimpse of Lyari in battle. I thought she was beautiful before, but now she is a goddess. She isn’t fighting so much as she’s dancing. Her moves are liquid, one strike flowing into the next, and into the next. She isn’t using weapons, but her hands, elbows, and feet are little whirlwinds of death. She’s both blocking and striking simultaneously, and the peri surrounding her fall one by one without ever touching her.
Tanithil is up on the ledge still, firing arrows at every peri he can see. He fires two at a time, sometimes at the same target, and sometimes at two different ones. It doesn’t matter if he hits with one or two arrows…each target he hits goes down, and doesn’t get back up.
As I’m watching him, I see him drop his bow and scream, “Lyari!” I turn to look where she was standing just a moment ago, just in time to see her body slide off a peri’s blade and hit the ground. It’s my turn to scream. I pass out.