Drunk with Power
The blindness persisted for hours. It was unsettling, to feel the molding cave palpitate around me and to lack the sight to witness its imposing existence bearing down. But its breath was warm and damp, a sharp contrast to the inherent chill of the night air.
At least I thought it was night. Violent stars interrupted the darkness as they swirled across my peripheral. There was no solace in their false light, only the irritable reminder of my throbbing skull. Thick ropes prevented an escape from my stone prison. And that constant dripping. It was enough to hurl one into bouts of uncontrolled insanity. And I was falling...
Eventually my eyes began to adjust to the gloom but the perception of my captivity hardly changed; I was surrounded by a pulsating wall of rock, whose jagged teeth threatened to devour my frail scaled body. My throat was parched. I leaned down to wet my tongue with the stagnant pool I was lying in. It was revolting. Everything was spinning. While I remained motionless, my captivity continued to taunt my subconscious. The muffled sound of voices reached my ears through one end of the saturating darkness. They were getting louder. Closer. I spat out blood and waited for the inevitable flood of memories to drown me in their truth.
I reveled in the filth and slime of my home. Luxury is in the eye of the beholder - a necessity for those coddled in the falsehoods of fine silks and plush cushions. Such ignorance is disgusting. To feel my reverberating voice boom throughout the rocky passages was truly powerful and a delicacy preferred by the ambitious.
But I was one of a few remaining among a dying breed. The appreciation for living amidst the crudest of Nature's bounty had long since committed proverbial suicide. There was a time when I was forced to decline applicants for my regiment of capable sentries. But the silence was no longer broken by the metallic clanking of my instruments tuning their discipline. The flickering of torches was no longer interrupted by the ominous shadows of my malevolent mercenaries. And the screams of the incarcerated were no longer stifled by the orchestra of clubs on bone.
No. Now I was alone with a frantic mind.
A lull in the silence caused a thin smile to spread vaguely across my lips. Fresh meat. Perhaps I had been too eager in my condemnation of a broken world.
"Master Nasir n'Rotri."
A narrow gaze.
The distinct odor of rotting flesh lingered even after the dwarf had ascended the slippery mineshaft.
His frame was bulky, top-heavy, and bulging. A perfect specimen. Possibilities swarmed my mind, assaulting the origins of empires and nostalgia. A stone visage remained unresponsive to the sneer absently eroding my pronounced cheekbones.
"Can you wield a hammer?"
A noncommittal grunt.
Into the light scurried a scrawny rodent. Presumably rat. Their presence infested anywhere that possessed the slightest inclination of life or refuse. In a single motion, the orc stomped viciously.
A crunch and a bloody pile of pulp.
Damn the ur'Guard. Damn them and their masochistic hierarchy. Under normal circumstances I would have never questioned orders but this directive lacked reasonable motive. Especially on the eve of revival in the war against the Light. And the Supreme Commander of the Armies of Darkness chose me for this assignment. Me. En route to becoming the Queen's Own Torturer within the next few years and he throws me into a hole. It was insulting. If I had the authority, a handful of Grunts would fulfill this absurd contract. If I had the authority, this would be different. Much different.
I continued following the dwarf along the damp passageway. The filth wasn't unbearable, just excessive. The passage opened up into a dimly lit room inhabited by a skeletal figure clothed in soiled linens. Perfect. A cesspool with matching upholstery. But as it is always wise to hold one's tongue in the presence of new company, I retained my silence. A brief dialogue ensued of which I wanted no part; my eyes instead were drawn to a rat darting through the fringes of my sight. Filthy vermin. Come closer my sweet.
An uneven trail of bloody footprints followed us further into the gloom. It was impossible to believe that these caves could yield anything of significant value. There was no glitter of ore in the crevices, and the rock was too dull to suggest coal. Worthless.
The robed viscanti began to speak again, his raspy voice spewing a contorted collection of syllables. Unintelligible gibberish. A soft purple glow began to manifest itself from his fingertips. As it intensified I was forced to shield my eyes involuntarily. The ground shook and the stone churned as if it was a whirlpool. Something was emerging from within, but the glare from the arcane energies obscured my vision. The chanting ceased; the light subsided.
Hulking in raspy unison, a legion of armed skeletons stood ready. They were awaiting orders from their commander - me. The viscanti interrupted my consumption of power, rambling some nonsense about magic words, but my mind was in the future - a thousand loyal soldiers heralding my triumphant return to the Engine as a much larger cog in a much stronger machine. Enemies would fall. We would snap their heretic spines and guzzle the fluids within. Blood would be our war paint; skulls would line our citadels.
The viscanti was gone. A strict gesture with my hand causes the skeletons to spread out in a line; another wave and their weapons were raised. A drunken merian had been brought in the night before and business in the village came first.
I watched alongside as my contingent marched past a few strangling miners, towards the containment cells. Perhaps this entire endeavor was a blessing in disguise, and a curse upon my foes. Shivers coursed through my veins.
This was my element. I bathed in soot and showered in coal dust. Day after day, Father Sun continued His arduous journey across the Basin and was unsuccessful in bestowing His light upon me. But I didn't mind. The darkness of the mines provided a solace that the greenery of the forests never could. At least, not after she died...
I caught myself running my fingers across the surface of the crescent pendant around my neck. Reality rushed back. Reminiscing was dangerous, and inattentiveness could kill in the mines. Besides, she wasn't coming back.
We descended to the bottom of the shaft. The Master had decreed that an alternative tunnel be made, since the current openings were no longer offering profitable yields. The candles atop our helmets were lit and the work commenced. Today my pick felt unnaturally weighted. I didn't know why. She was only sixteen when they took her.
Each swing was more powerful than the last, and chunks of rock exploded in front of me. My intensity increased, evolving into the same bitter hatred that threatened to consume me daily. It fueled my addiction. My rage. My self-condemnation. I was supposed to be with her.
Beads of dirty sweat stung my eyes. Chest heaving, I stopped to catch my breath and tried to calm myself. The brandy helped. It was a nasty habit, beckoning me towards its infinite vices. But it was all that kept me from burying myself alive under miles of stone. Damn it to Nil. We had fought hours before.
My vigil was cut short by the clattering of shoddy metal. Poor craftsmanship. Nevertheless, it was not the most familiar sound down in the mines. Curiosity birthed inside me, immediately wailing for unwavering attention. I nursed its feeble form. Progress had been adequate thus far and time could be spared for the moment. Pick forgotten, flame burning low, I followed my ears back to the beginning of the cave. Was she even alive? Another swig.
The clamoring became raucous. I turned the corner and my breath evaporated. Rows of bones, plated and wielding spikes, blades, and bludgeons, moving as a cohesive unit. Dust broke loose from their limbs as they passed. They towered over me. A fearsome orc grunted and shoved me to the ground, out of his path. Their haphazard uniformity was inspiring. I wouldn't let them keep her.
A miasma swirled in my bowels, rising up, shuddering my ribcage. The beast inside wanted out; it was clamouring and starving for the savory cutlet of revenge. Sickly sweet smoke swirled from the grave of the now-absent flame. I breathed it in, mixing its ashen aroma with the fermentation still present in my throat. The darkness could not mask my smile. She would be mine again.
The voices had deserted me. Some of them. At least I wasn't alone anymore, but it didn't negate the despair manifest in the darkness. The spinning had also ceased, leaving behind an intensified headache.
Pinpoints of light emerged in the distance, accompanied by a chaotic thunder. They drew closer. My incarceration was at an end.
I struggled to my feet and clung to the cave wall to prevent a pair of shaking legs from buckling. I welcomed the light with a bittersweet animosity; it was a grateful contrast to the endless gloom, but my skull throbbed incessantly.
Dozens of glaring red eyes were staring at me. Certainly not a rescue party. Fear turned to vomit. It splashed over my feet. An orc seemed to hold the authority, but his weathered face was emotionless.
Curdling screams provided the perfect ambiance for my dinner of boiled rat.
Flecks of crimson marked the beginning strokes of my tapestry of domination.
Thick drops of blood landed on my empty brandy bottle, reminding me of her lips.