The way before me is steeped in shadow and absurdity. The road continuously shifts, either widening or constricting, as merging paths feed into what is evidently the main route into the city. Capillary sidewalks and makeshift bridges funnel all manner of noise and agonistic miscreants toward me. The deeper I wander into the city, the more I am victim to the flow of newcomers shuffling in the direction of the assumed terminus: a squirming mountain of laughing, screaming corpses in the distance.
w h i s s s s s
s s s
s s s
s s s p e r s
The ground is soft beneath my feet. I smell wet iron, salt, fresh mint, putrefaction, bile, ammonia, and sulfur. Every breath is acid on my languid tongue. This is a landscape woven of vibration; although I cannot hear the raucous banquet around me, I feel deep reverberations wash over my skin with every new step.
I can hardly surrender my senses to the orgy of despair: scarred nightmares wander alleys groping wildly at empty darkness, contorting and smiling with madness, or lust, or both. Skeletons vomit in the shadows of monoliths that reach up, up, up to the blistered sky. Atrocities breed new atrocities; together they piss, bleed, cum, curse, and howl at the feet of the stone gods around me. A new sin blossoms down every hallway. Every new sin is worse than the last.
A dolphin-shaped creature with four very large bloodred eyes wobbles past on legs thicker than my waist, shouldering me off the side of the path and nearly knocking the egg out of the satchel.
The creature unfurls two hidden arms from its backside and gestures crudely without a glance.
Did I say that out loud?
Holding my breath. Waiting to see if—
No. No, I couldn’t have. The creature warned
You will be Separated.
My throat is choked with dust and stench. My eyes dance between the maze of endlessly converging paths and the creatures that blunder unflinchingly about me.
A parade of riders squirms past, close enough to raise alarm. Their begrudging mounts are shaped like oversized dogs but are largely human in form; long folds of skin hang in loose sloughs around the jowls of each beast. Their heads droop, save for one or two of the braver-looking ones. The riders have had less than a trophy hunt, it would seem. Many of the poor beasts look as though they’re not sure if they’ll be fed or eaten come nightfall.
Stumbling wayside and to the rear of the party is a gang of half-caged slaves, chained at the ankles. Most of the creatures have a single arm or leg run through with spiked chains. A few of the more unfortunate ones strangle and spit blood through rusted cages around their throats.
What is this place?
to the surface and die
c h o r u s
a r o u n d
r e s p o n d s
and all at once, every fiber of my being sees her