A moment ago, I was curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor of my home, River Place. I closed my eyes and held my stomach, hoping the intense pain and screeching noise would go away. This wasn’t like any other migraine I’ve encountered before. The piercing agony made my body tremble, and the urge to vomit became unbearable.
I closed my eyes and, a moment later, I was surfing through a tubule of pure energy. Like water and electricity together, my body felt submerged in an electrical current. I had no chance to fight it. All the different parts of my body tingled, and on my skin I felt pinching and pulling and an incredible drawing from all directions. I was dumped like a piece of garbage out the other end of the portal. A disgusting, wretched smell forced itself into my nostrils. My body convulsed, but not because of the stench. Looking into the darkness around me, I was lost.
“Where the hell am I?” I asked myself.
I fumbled around as my sight adjusted to the dim surroundings. A dizzy spell hit hard, and I dropped to my knees. The urge to vomit was growing, but I managed to spit the building saliva from my mouth enough times to curtail the impending spew. A few moments later, the sour feeling subsided and I was able to stand.
A moment later, a familiar moaning led me to my best buddy, Deny. The silhouette of bodily energy surrounding his husky frame became my homing beacon. The aquamarine mana he exuded penetrated the inky blackness and thick fog. As I approached, his features became clearer. He was sitting on the ground, holding his head.
Deny’s eyes opened. “Goddamn, I feel sick. Where the fuck did we just go?” At least I wasn’t the only one to enjoy a round of vertigo with a shot of nausea.
“I don’t know. I can’t see anything.”
The entire setting was underground-cave dark. Minutes elapsed before our eyes adjusted to the drastic lighting difference. A fog coated the ground like a blanket, barely illuminated by the stars dotting the sky. Drifting clouds floated across, blotching out large sections of the only light source available. Everything appeared in tones of indigo, although the fog had a slight orangish tint to it.
Pinching his nostrils shut, Deny asked, “Hey Jack, what’s that smell?”
His voice sounded fainter than normal, as if my ears were plugged, possibly a blood clot build-up in the ears, muffling the sound. Most likely, it was the thinner atmosphere. Something was completely off about our new environment. The air was lighter, even with the dense fog, and the side effects resembled altitude sickness, from what I understood. Accompanying the lacking oxygen, the terrible stench was like death incense, with a hint of rotten flesh potpourri.
“It smells like your last bout in the downstairs bathroom.” I replied.
“Man, I told you that was Calvin,” Deny deflected the blame. “He’s the one who smelled like he just drank a gallon of poop soup.”
“Yeah, you don’t remember it?”
I shook my head.
“The beef stew or whatever Brian’s mom made that had us shitting like crazy for a week afterwards. I think it was tainted with syphilis.”
Bad thoughts mixed with a terrible visual. “Um, I’m not eating over there anymore.”
“That’s why I stopped going over there during dinner. Cats and dogs pull food off the table and they don’t even try stopping them.”
“What the hell!” I screeched, unintentionally feminine as something moved beneath me. I didn’t mean to cut Deny off.
Deny was startled. “Ha, you screamed like a bitch! What was that for?”
“The ground is moving!”
We inspected the floor and found that large objects were continuously wiggling underneath. A ray of vibrant light from the quarter moon penetrated just enough to let us know this clearly wasn’t our Reality. This was something far more disturbing. I honestly thought I was in the middle of another lucid nightmare. What appeared before us wasn’t logical. It was downright ludicrous. Random limbs, torsos, hands and feet were disregarded all around. As if we were kicking through a Nazi mass grave, or along a road during the Rwanda genocide, nearly the entire ground was covered. The difference here was that these appendages were squirming around, independent of each other.
Deny panicked. “Holy shit! This just ain’t right at all. That one grabbed my ass! What the fuck! How do we get outta here?” He tripped, then shuffled to his feet and jumped around erratically.
“Just relax, Deny. Your frantic mind isn’t going to help us get out of this mess.” I held my composure a little better than my counterpart.
“You relax! There’s hands and feet and shit. Where’s the rest of the body parts? Where’s the heads and torsos and all that?”
“I don’t know. Just start walking,” I commanded, hoping that providing direction would calm him.
Waves of cobalt moonlight filtered down through the amber fog, highlighting heads and torsos that were included in the body salad, but the arms seemed to wiggle to the top of the piles. Evidently the arms and legs liked to be on top.
Deny and I aimed in a random direction since the mist prevented surveying landmarks to guide a clear visual path. The heaping organic mess was terribly cumbersome, like running through a river bank riddled with tree roots. I couldn’t imagine the physics of a place that allowed perpetual movement of limbs. Many weren’t fully formed, and almost none had open orifices, as if they were being grown like vegetables without the vines.
As we fought, kicked, and screamed our way along the limb plains, blue orbs of light leisurely floated through the foggy expanse. Not knowing what they belonged to, we didn’t dare call out. I was slightly distracted by irregular thumps coming from all directions. Something plopped onto the ground and the darkness allowed my imagination to run wild. Adding to our fears, something screeched from afar, bringing up ideas of banshees or wraiths.
“Man, where do you think we are?” Deny asked as he stumbled over a randomly twitching leg. “Goddamn it!”
“I don’t know, maybe this is a mutual nightmare,” I suggested.
“Do you think this is where the Addams Family got Thing from?”
I laughed. “Perhaps. Would you like to take one home?”
“Hell na!” Deny tripped once again, landing head first into another fleshy pile of grabbing hands and wiggling feet. “They got me! This is some creepy shit!”
I started laughing. “You alright?”
“Yeah, but this is really driving me nuts. I think I just stubbed my toe on that toe.”
Bickering back and forth, we didn’t pay as much attention to our trajectory as we should have. Warning signs presented themselves, but I was too busy listening to Deny hypothesizing about our new unknown environment. My subconscious noticed a dramatic diminishing in muffled foot echo. The numerous biological hurdles had decreased and the ground sloped. I stopped walking, but Deny didn’t take heed to my halt and he slipped. Slowly, he skidded down the embankment.
Deny yelled, “Holy shit! Dude, what is this? Help!”
I wasn’t about to jump down after him, so I commanded, “Use your abilities, fool! Get your ass back up here, now!”
Deny dug his feet into the shifting dirt and rocks, and used a mental boost to climb up. He quickly gained a perspective on how to utilize his telekinesis as a lifeline, and he climbed quickly. Moments later, he collapsed near my feet, breathing heavily.
“You could’ve helped me, dick,” he complained.
“I kind of panicked and it was really hard to see where you went.”
“Your instincts suck. Man, it looks like both of us have to work out the kinks in our Djinn abilities.”
In my most Captain Obvious statement, I replied, “We need to be more careful and watch where we’re going.”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
We stood still a few moments in silence, comprehending the close call. My heart raced, and not just because of the oxygen poor atmosphere. Deny sat motionless, listening to the strange wailing noises escaping the depths, as well as the shuffling of hands and feet moving behind us. I sent a pyrokinetic plume across the way, which remained visible for only a few yards before vanishing into the molasses vapor shroud. I pulled the cell phone out of my pocket to use the flashlight, but found a new problem.
“My phone ain’t working.”
Deny pulled his out as well and attempted to power it up. “Fuck! Man, we just got these things. Expensive ass bullshit, why don’t they work?”
“I don’t have a clue. Crappy craftsmanship maybe.”
“Na, I could believe that one of our phones was malfunctioning, but they’re new. It doesn’t make sense they both don’t work.”
“Yours worked before the portal, didn’t it?”
“Yeah. Damn! The light tunnel fucked up our devices? That’s some bullshit! Who the hell brought us here?”
“That’s what I’d like to know.”
Deny was fuming, but figured we needed to keep moving. “Should we follow this cliff?”
I shrugged. “Well, at least it gives us some sort of direction to go. Better than walking aimlessly.”
“Don’t you think it sounds like dolphins?” Deny asked about the screeches.
Maintaining a mid-air pyrokinetic blaze didn’t expend as much energy as they used to when I first experimented with the Grimoire, although I would’ve much preferred to conserve my assets for the unknown. The Grimoire was the best gift that the gods could’ve handed anyone, bestowing various mental and elemental abilities, and I just so happened to be that lucky soul. Deny was a lucky son of a bitch to be my friend because he was allowed to enter this Djinn lifestyle alongside me. The real reason we were chosen remains unclear. My Death God buddy, Thanatos, told me he was playing a game and I was his pawn. Until I understood the rules, I suppose I’d play along.
We had just arrived, and with all things considered, this might have been the best section of the new landscape. The possibility of falling into the chasm was a good counterargument, and won the mental debate. The firelight did little beyond a ten foot radius and Deny made it perfectly clear with his body language that he was scared to death of the ledge. The slope maintained a clear path for us to walk along, although I was terrified of slipping the way Deny had. We stuck close to the dividing line between body parts and clear pathway.
Noticing a handful of bluish hued orbs much nearer than before, my curiosity grew. I was unsure if they intentionally avoided us or resumed their natural course, oblivious to us.
“Hello!” I yelled.
Deny panicked and scolded me, “What’d you yell like that for?”
“I want to see if someone can help us.” I answered calmly.
“Man, I hope you didn’t just fucking get the attention of sandworms.”
“This ain’t Beetlejuice or Dune.”
“How do you know?”
The cerulean orb came to a grinding halt a few yards away. A woman approached, enhanced with a bright sky blue mana, holding a glowing crystal. That bright blue gem was the mysterious orbs’ origin. I almost couldn’t tell if the illumination was from her mana, or if she really glowed bright blue in the dark surroundings. A long robe-like garment covered to her mid-shins, and unexpectedly, she was barefooted. The woman was filthy, with dirty smudges all over her clothing, face and legs. Despite her lack of cleanliness, she was incredibly attractive.
“What are you doing here?” she asked in a sweet, feminine, but distressed voice.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” I answered, then glanced over to Deny. “Can you understand her?”
Deny nodded. “Yeah, but how is she talking English?”
“I guess you don’t remember the omnilingualism chapter Narkissos’s half of the Grimoire.”
The abilities of the Grimoire were amazing. With omnilingualism, the language barrier between cultures would no longer be an obstacle. I no longer needed endless hours trying to learn how to say cat or library in foreign languages. I had been given the key to freedom of all forms of speech. I had been given the master cheat code to the best of life’s hacks. Cheers to Narkissos and Hecate for hooking me up.
“Oh, yeah!” Deny was proud of himself. “Good thing I read that shit.”
I replied to the woman’s question, “We have no idea how we got here. We don’t even know where here is.”
“This is Netherworld. You do not belong here.” Her voice was stern, but not hostile.
I replied, “Sorry, but it wasn’t our intention to stroll through. Somehow, we just showed up, and we have no idea what’s going on.”
“Just appeared?” The firm tone changed to curiosity.
“Well, we were introduced into some strange Djinn world. I’m sure we’re here for an important reason. An hour ago, there was a noise so high pitched it made our ears and nose bleed. We came through some sort of portal and were unceremoniously booted out here.”
“Yeah, landing in a field of body parts is some bullshit.” Deny said.
She looked at him, confused, probably misunderstanding his dialogue. “I must take you to Lord Aeetes, who might know why you are both here. If he doesn’t know you’re here, then something definitely is wrong.”
“Lord Aeetes?” Deny attempted the pronunciation. It was slightly off, but a good first time effort.
“Yes, he’s the ruler of Netherworld.”
“What is your name?” I asked.
“Well, Freya, nice to meet you. I’m Jack, and this is Deny.”
Freya nodded as a sign of acknowledgment. “Come, and follow me.”
We followed our new host. Deny nudged with a smile and whispered in my ear, “Dude, she’s kinda cute, ain’t she?”
I nodded and grinned. “Yeah, the dirty girl I always wanted.”
“Do you think that she has the same pieces as normal girls do?”
“I’d hope so.”
Keeping Deny from asking other random sexually related questions that might be off-putting to our new host, I deflected, “What does Aeetes do?”
“Lord Aeetes is the one who maintains balance in this region of our land, sort of an arbitrator. When problems arise, he helps sort them out.”
“Should we be prepared for him to be angry for us being here?” Deny asked.
“I wouldn’t think so. He’s a fair lord, albeit strange.”
“Like, what kind of strange?” That’s a relative term, considering where we’re at.
“I suppose you’d say eccentric, I think that’s the word he used to describe himself.” Freya’s characterization of the man didn’t help much to create an image in my head. Aeetes’s identity remained unclear.
Freya was a fast walker and we needed to speed up to prevent becoming lost in the fog again. Our unwarranted presence drew attention from other glowing blue orbs, apparently belonging to other men and women inhabiting Netherworld. A strong gust of wind momentarily blew the fog away from the section of corpse pieces, and I began to understand what was going on. These people loaded the assortment of partially developed bodies into wheel-barrel style contraptions, and tossed them into the pit that Deny and I narrowly missed.
“What was the sound that came from the chasm?” I asked Freya.
“A high pitched whine. I’ve been hearing it for quite a while. It sounds like sea creatures.”
Freya thought for a second before answering. “It was most likely from the Cthulhus. There are beasts down in the depths that I cannot describe. The Cthulhus make that call when they are hungry. We feed them with the meat that grows at night.”
“Yeah, that was disgusting.” Deny cringed.
“Deny almost fell in.”
Freya replied, “That wouldn’t have been good. What happened?”
“We weren’t watching where we were going and he slipped down the slope.”
Freya showed a look of concern. “How’d you manage to free yourself? If you fall too far, there is nothing to grab hold of.”
“We can do certain things with our minds. Something was given to us by the gods, and telekinesis was one of them.”
“I wouldn’t feely share that information,” Freya warned. “I will not exploit that ability, but others may definitely take advantage of you.”
“Duly noted.” I wasn’t even sure why I divulged our skills so freely. It was a slip of the tongue that I didn’t mean to repeat. It wasn’t as if I was any more careful in Reality, so apparently, I was the guy who couldn’t hold hot water. It would probably be wise to take Freya up on her advice.
“Where do the body parts come from?” I asked.
“Do you really want to know?” Freya inquisitively glanced at us.
“Would you mind?”
“You see that fog?” she asked.
“It is made from mana and flows into the Lifestream. You see how it runs along the plains?”
I nodded again.
“That leads to the Lifestream. With that mana cloud, my elders said that our old Lords, Erebus and Nyx, designed this world to convert certain disturbed bits of energy into bodily shapes. If a full person forms at night, it’s said they are worthy of punishment and must head to Tartarus.”
“Does that happen often?” Deny asked.
“It happens plenty of times, although it seems as time moves forward, the mana of each soul has lessened. I’m not sure why. It’s as if each soul coming through receives less of the collective mana.”
“Tartarus is Hell, right?” I questioned.
She nodded. “I suppose that would be a fitting comparison.”
“This Netherworld is like Grand Central Station to the Lifestream and Tartarus, I take it.”
“I’m not sure what Grand Central Station is, but it sounds appropriate. Time has changed this landscape much, but certain features remain. The Cthulhus were here long before I was born, long before the Great Fire. They are some of the beasts that managed to live.”
“What’s the Great Fire?” Deny asked just before I could get the question out.
“Eons ago, a great race had developed machinery far beyond their own control. One of those devices incinerated Netherworld’s upper protective air in an attempt to kill off the gods they despised.”
“I think I remember the story,” I said.
“How?” Freya seemed surprised.
“A woman named Arinna told me about the Old Gods, the Machina and Magi, and a man named Osiren.”
“You know the story I know, then. Did this Arinna tell you what happened to the Magi?”
“I don’t recall.”
“You’re looking at one of their descendants right now.” Freya smiled. Her body seemed to relax with my understanding of her history.
Now I had a visual acknowledgement of another one of the old stories. I wondered what Freya looked like cleaned up. Even with the filth, she was cute, and a nice introductory example of the old race. With the crystal’s light, I couldn’t tell if her hair was really blue or if it was a trick of the sapphire glow.
“You’re really a Magi?”
Freya nodded. “Yes. I suppose your knowledge of my people might be a clue that you’re heading in the right direction.”
“Good. I didn’t think I’d ever end up in a place like this.”
“Why, what’s your home look like?”
“A lot more lively,” I replied, trying to think of how to break down Reality for someone. Instead, I redirected the question. “I’m just wondering one thing, how is it possible to breathe if the atmosphere had been toasted?”
“I don’t quite understand what you’re asking. The sun comes up and burns everything. When the sun is down, we can go out.” Apparently Earth science or health classes are nonexistent here.
“Yeah, but if that’s true, doesn’t the air burn too?”
“I don’t know. I’m sorry. I’m sure Aeetes can explain it to you when we reach the Necropolis.”