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Twigs

You blink back the light filtering through the door as you sit up. Your body feels sore, and your head groggy, as though you had just awoken from a deep sleep. The hammock you were lying on sways gently as the ship’s cabin rocks back and forth.

‘Home sweet home,’ a voice says. A man with a bamboo hat stands just outside the door, looking across the waves. Something about this seems familiar. You pull yourself up and walk out onto the deck.

The man seems to be gone now. You hear a woman’s voice, but it seems slurred and distant. You can’t quite make out what she’s saying. You hear footsteps, and see somebody walk just out of sight, behind the cabin.

You follow quickly, rounding the corner to catch a glimpse of... Nothing.
You let out a low sigh.

Perception: Something catches your eye, and you bend down to pick it up. A plain black bobby pin.

You stare out to sea. A low mist hangs in the horizon, and the ocean surrounds you in every direction, leaving you alone on this empty vessel. You can see the water ripple as you hear the sounds of wind in the distance. You close your eyes momentarily, nothing more than a blink, as the scorching gale hits you. You feel the cool spray of water, and the scent of sulphur and disease envelops you.

It’s dark now. You can feel jagged rocks beneath your skin, stabbing you painfully across your body as you lie limply on the breaching stone, breathing raggedly as the sounds of the world surround you. A rhythmic thumping fills your head as the blood courses through your temples, almost overpowering the sounds of rushing water – a backdrop to the faded melody of wails and sobs you can hear in the distance. The dull thud of wood on stone causes your eyes to crack open, red light flooding in. Your eyes sting, burning painfully, as if you’d never used them before. Something hard presses against your shoulder, pushing you onto your back, sending spasms of pain up through your spine. Everything is a blur of red, orange and brown. Sky, land, water – You can’t distinguish any of these things.

A dark silhouette appears above you, reaching down at you with a grasping claw. You try to move, to no avail – Your strength has abandoned you. It lifts you effortlessly, a scaled hand around your neck, your body dangling below like meat in a butcher store.

A bestial face appraises you, its beady yellow eyes cold and inhuman. A filthy, writhing wreath of tentacles sits below two slitted nostrils. It stands like a man, wearing a tattered, hooded robe, swaying slightly as the current rocks the flat barge on which it stands.

Your eyes drift slowly downwards, widening as you see the mess that is your torso. Your head reels at the sight. Intestines dangle from a festering gash, hanging past your knees. Ruptured organs poke out, dripping fluids onto the ground. The creature raises its hand to your face, covering your eyes. Darkness engulfs your mind, as a sharp stabbing pain resonates through your skull. Then, nothing.


You awaken to the rattling and trundling of the caged cart you’re contained in. Several mutilated bodies pile around you, some moaning and weeping with pain, others drooling in a dazed stupor. A young man sits in the corner, sobbing quietly into his hands.

  ‘I should’ve listened to me mam… That Mercer’s no good, she said…  oh…’

He looks up at you. You’re taken aback by his appearance. A good portion of the left side of his face is torn to pieces, exposing the muscle and bone beneath. His eyeball is ruptured, most of it smeared through his bloody wounds.

You look outside, past the rusty metal bars. A stony wasteland meets your eyes. Jagged mountains pierce a blood red sky as balls of fire careen through the air. Bubbling pools are rivers dot the landscape, flowing into serrated crevasses. Viscera seems to be strewn all across the landscape, shards of bone protruding from the ground where some unfortunate creature has met its final end.

In the distance you can see figures marching in step, infernal soldiers mustering for some unknown battle.

A rumbling, grating noise fills the air, and the carriage begins to shake violently. You lose your orientation for a moment as the carriage is flung into the air, accompanied by a piercing screech and clouds of dust.  You black out for a moment as it returns to the ground with a sickening crunch.

Twigs, you pull yourself to your feet. The prison cart sits several dozen feet away, twisted and torn to shreds. Its driver, a hooded creature with a tentacled maw, pulls itself from the wreckage, its lower limbs badly crushed. As the dust clears, you catch a glimpse of what set you free. A massive, armored worm coils out of the ground, a viciously fanged maw distended as it plows its way into the rocky surface, taking the remainder of the carriage with it. Something tells you that you should turn tail before it comes back for seconds.

You wander across through the harsh environment for what seems like hours, breathing heavily as the hot air surrounds you. It’s impossibly humid here, as if the air here was just as saturated with viscera as the land beneath you. Something crunches underfoot. Whether it’s some shard of brittle bone or something else is beyond you. You’re just glad you have boots. Boots. How weird. You were sure you weren’t wearing any when you woke up. You decide to count your blessings.

You look down, still trying to come to terms with the fact that your guts are hanging out. You can feel them gurgling and churning, despite their mangled state. Something seems to be oozing down your hip. You should probably get those back inside before you lose them or they’re eaten by bugs. Speaking of which, you haven’t seen any around. You vaguely wonder where flies go when they die.

You spy something in the distance. Buildings. A town, maybe. You wonder how safe it is. You glance around briefly. A field filled with jagged, vitrified spikes… a river of maggots… streams of blood, pooling in the various recesses and cracks of the landscape… Well, it’s not like the alternatives are exactly appealing, either.


Katashi

It had taken months to find him. Months of searching and investigation. Months of dead ends. But now you’d finally found him. The man who had walked out of hell with little more than a pair of scorched boots.
He sits behind a cluttered desk in a tiny room filled with shelves and trinkets. The scent of grease and rust envelop you, invading your senses mercilessly.
Dark eyes stare up at you from beneath a folded slouch hat, set deep in a scarred and stubbled face. It’s hard to tell how old the man is, though it is obvious he’s no spring chicken.
“So…” he begins, slowly rolling something in his mouth. “Why should I help you, mate?”
You tell him you’re prepared to offer however much it takes, and place a bag of gold on the table.
He laughs. The deep chortle of a man who’s lived far past his time.
  “S’not the dosh that’s important, mate,” he says, leaning forward. “Just tell me why you’d want to get into the one place that everybody’s tryin’ to leave.”
You tell him.
He laughs once again, shaking his head with a smile on his face. He takes a deep breath before turning his head and spitting out the pyreseed in his mouth. The grain combusts as it touches the air, burning up completely before it can touch the ground.
  “Fair go. Can’t rightly say no to that, then.”
He stands up and extends his hand.
  “Name’s Falk,” he says, shaking your hand, “And I’ll be your hellbreaker for today.”


Preacher's Cove

A rusted sign sits motionless in the dirt outside the town. Filth cakes its surface, almost obscuring the faded lettering which reads “Hinnom”. The town sprawls across the edge of the bay, buildings and yurts packed close across the blasted coast. Despite seemingly being constructed from scrap iron, bone and anything else the residents could get their hands on, the buildings look sturdy and well-made.

As you walk into the town, you immediately notice something’s up. The streets are empty, and the air is still, weighing heavily on your body as if filled with regret. Nothing but now-familiar sounds of crackling fire and your own breathing reach your ears.

Perception: These buildings have been used recently, and you can see fresh tracks on the ground. Whoever lived here left recently, and without any rush.

A sudden sound cuts through the silence. The deep, reverberating ring of a tower bell. Your eyes are drawn to the source of the tolling sound, following a winding path up to the edge of the seaside cliff. There sits a building, perched high above the rest of the town. It is a church. Adorned with a simple belfry, this place of worship casts an oppressive shadow along the cliff.

>Explore town

The town is barren. Then again, it -is- Hell. You doubt many people’d have personal posessions lying about. However, you do manage to find a sturdy cleaver jutting from the top of a cartilaginous table.

Perception: You hear soft footsteps behind you, and you quickly turn to face the source. A dark-haired woman slowly approaches you, her stance casual and relaxed.
“You’ll be in trouble if they find you snooping around our here.” she says. She’s an older woman, probably in her late thirties or early forties.  Her white clothes are frayed and dirty, and her heavy boots have a thin crust of grime ringing the soles. Her eyes seem to be shut, or maybe she’s just squinting. She frowns before continuing.
 “…I haven’t seen you around before. Another idiot chasing rumours?”

She smirks as she notices your current state.
“Idiots’ll always be trying to get to the Cove. Go on and hop in the washtub. You deserve it if you’ve made it here alive.”

>Name?
“Don’t ask, don’t tell is the policy around here.” She says. “There’s a lot of power in a name.”

“You can call me Joyeuse; Joy for short” she says, folding her arms, “Though most people around here just call me ‘The Whore’. No prizes for guessing why.”
She laughs wryly, her face settling into a scowl.

>Where am I?
“Preacher’s Cove. A sanctuary for the damned. I don’t believe a word out of that fake priest’s mouth, but the devils seem to steer clear of him, and that’s enough for me.

>Priest
“A lunatic or a liar. One of the two. He says he’s an emissary of the One God, come down to Hell to find repentant souls and help them escape this torture. We call him Preacher.”

She stares at you with a serious expression. Crow’s feet mar her complexion, and dark bags hang beneath her hidden eyes. It seems her squint is permanent, and not a dot of white can be seen behind her surprisingly lush eyelashes.

“You’re still marked…” She says under her breath. “…How long have you been dead?”

“It’s a wonder you made it here.” She says, a little surprised. “You must be a hell of a fighter to have made it through with all your limbs still attached.” “Anyway,” she sighs, “We’d better get his permission for you to be here, elsewise you’ll  find yourself thrown out or worse.”

>Go to church

You follow the path leading up to the church. It seems the town was built around this single building, and while none are built directly next to it, they all seem to radiate around its location. Though you are still some distance away, you see the doors open wide. People begin to emerge, a large crowd pouring forth from its open gate and heading back towards the town.
  “Keep your head down, love.” Joyeuse says, “And don’t make eye contact.”

You pass through the ghastly crowd. All around you are the souls of the damned. All of them mutilated and warped in some way or another. Eyes hang from heads where crows had picked them out. Flesh droops and sags below weeping wounds and festering sores. Blood gurgles from slit throats and some limp along with crutches made from the bones of others. The smell of the wounded drifts with them, causing your stomach to turn in your hands as you clutch your organs.

Eventually, you pass them. The church is still a fair distance, and its doors are now closed.
Joyeuse glances at you. Maybe. Her head is turned slightly towards you, at any rate. She looks away again, towards the church.

   "Nothing. You just... remind me of someone. But I can't remember who." She shakes her head dismissively. "It doesn't matter now, I s'pose."

You reach the church. Joyeuse reaches forward to open the doors, but then stops. She turns to you, then places her fingers against her lips.
  “Shh.”

Perception: Straining your ears, you can hear two people conversing inside.


Katashi

Burning. Searing. Fire. Your body is burning. The crackling, popping sound of your fat. The smell of scorched hair and skin. Every inch of you is on fire. The skin is cracking. Black flakes falling off. Exposed bone and muscle. Every hearbeat sends molten metal flowing through your veins. End. All you want is this pain to end. An image flashes before your eyes. A familiar face.
  “AKIRA!”

You sit up, panting heavily. Your body is covered with sweat. Dim candlelight illuminates the stone-wrought room you are in. You appear to be sitting on a marble altar of some kind with your lower half covered by a thin white sheet. You are otherwise naked. You notice a purple glyph on the back of each of your wrists where you were pierced by the nails.

You turn your head, quickly taking in your surroundings. It appears to be a shrine of some kind. Many things are visible in the candlelight – Shelves filled with scrolls, a bas relief depicting some sort of battle, a man in black, carved sigils in the walls…
Wait.
You turn your attention towards the man. A tall man in vicar’s garb. This must be the priest Falk was talking about. Something about him is strange. He walks towards you with careful, measured steps. You feel your heartbeat accelerate slightly. You don’t know what it is. He hasn’t said a word and yet you find yourself instinctively not liking him. He seems human enough, but he seems to carry an oppressive aura about him. Something about his gaunt figure, or his tidy appearance, or just the fact that he’s a holy man in hell.

  “You are awake,” he states. His voice is deep and holds authority, almost as if his statement isn’t a statement at all, but a command.
“It has been a long time since any have passed through my gate,” he continues, narrowing his eyes suspiciously. “Was it the Order who sent you?”
Recalling Falk’s instructions, you tell him who sent you.
  “Then you are welcome here, child. I am Preacher, and you will find sanctuary here as long as you abide by my laws.”
He produces some simple vestments from a nearby cupboard and hands them to you.
  “We can discuss more when you are ready. I will be waiting for you in the chapel.”
He motions to leave, but you stop him before he goes. There was something that you needed to confirm.
  “Am I really in Hell?”
A slight glance. You can see the smirk on his face as he leaves. It’s all the answer you need



.You stand in the church. A simple, yet elegant affair that matches the prototypical image of a church completely, sans the crucifixes. You have had a brief conversation with Preacher regarding your mission and your means of returning.
  “The Hellbreaker has arranged passage for you back to Oron.”

Preacher’s voice is deep and resonating.
You affirm his statement with one of your own.
  “Then my role in this need be minimal,” the first voice says again. “Once you have retrieved her soul, you can once more rejoin the living. I can provide you with writ of passage and transport. However…”
A pause.
“You will fail. Alone, this task is an impossible one. You need a guide to navigate you across these treacherous lands. No such person exists here that would undertake such a journey, not even with the lure of escape to tempt them.”

A creaking groan echoes through the church as the door is pushed open.
“I will,” a confident voice declares.
A dark-haired woman strides in, her frayed white clothes fluttering as she walks. Lines of age edge her eyes, stuck in a permanent squint. If you had to hazard a guess, she’d probably be 40 years of age.
  “I know well the roads of Hell. I can be your guide.”