Vayuna slept well that night, it had been a week since her wedding. She slept sound until her mind started to travel back to her fears, but before the dream could go wrong, it got even worse. She saw the faces of her abusers begin to cry; they looked directly behind her before they could even touch her. They were terrified of something; she could feel its warm breath against her neck. The defilers then transformed into the forms Nyx had left them in and fell into bottomless pits of fire, while Slinch alone sat curled up in a ball, scarred and scared. Whatever was behind her...was terrifying.
"Don't turn around," he said.
She attempted to turn, "Don't look at me; don't look at me! I'm behind you Vayuna...but I refuse to touch you..." he said. "A pathetic excuse for a fox, Vullgur is...why my blood is in him, I cannot fathom. He is weak, and a prime example why we are shamed. My blood is warm, my blood is hot; my blood boils and scalds my enemies. Your father’s soul is mine, Vayuna, and I have held my breath waiting for him to return home. You are called vermin, why? Why do they blame all of us for the fools I am forced to dwell bellow with? We are vermin, Vayuna, and yet your soul escaped...be free little stoatmaid, maiden no more. But what of your father, will you hear my voice?"
Vayuna was scared; she remembered all the sisters of her faith speak of the ruler of Hellgates. He who was born from the blood of all foxes, the melanstic black fox, and only living soul in Hellgates known above. His name…was Vulpuz.
In the dark of the night she was tossing and turning
And the nightmare she had was as bad as can be --
He drove us out of our wits --
A stoat falling to bits!
Then I opened my eyes
And his nightmare was me!
I was made the most terrible thing in all Hellgates.
When the royals forbade me they made a mistake!
Be sure maid, each of them paid
But one little fool got away!
Little Vayuna, beware,
Lord Badrang forsake!
“In the dark of the night hellgates will find her
In the dark of the night just before dawn!”
Revenge will be sweet
“When my curse you complete!”
In the dark of the night
He'll be gone!
I can feel that my powers are slowly returning!
Brush my tails; add a dash of cologne for that smell!
As the Pieces fall into place
I'll see you crawl into place!
For your father, Vayuna, your grace!
“In the dark of the night anger will strike her!”
Anger's the least you can do!
“In the dark of the night hatred will brew”
Soon he will feel that all nightmares are real
In the dark of the night
He'll be through!
“In the dark of the night
Vulpuz will find her
In the dark of the night terror comes true.
My dear, here's a sign –
You will all be just fine!
“In the dark of the night...
In the dark of the night...”
At last she saw him, he was huge. A fox bigger than a badger, all black with fiery red trim and three flaming tails. His eyes were snakelike and burning like hellfire. He was stronger built than any fox she had before seen. His armor was black and demonic, and his cloak was made of fur and black ash, trimmed with the wings of a bat. Claws of beasts tripped his shoulder plates, and there was not an inch of him that was not armored save his head. Long Wolverine claws trimmed his right gauntlet, while his left gauntlet had a withered rotting crippled old paw with six fingers strapped to it. Tiny dagger like blades formed the claws on his finger armor. He stood in the dark forest among ruins, cowering before him was her father, surrounded by the hellish creatures she hated more than life itself. Vulpuz was still singing his joy in their suffering, and his dark offer to her. The background voices were others who served under Badrang during his brief reign at Marshank, all given temporary leave from their suffering to serve Vulpuz’s dark whims.
Come you mongrols,
Fear for your master,
Let your anguish shine!
Show her now,
Yes, die ever after
“In the dark of the night...
In the dark of the night...
In the dark of the night...”
He'll be mine!
The cruel fox king laughed, and offered her his paw…he seemed eager to please for one so dark and powerful. Vayuna trembled in the sight of the fox.
"Please tell me this is a dream," she said to herself, it is often hard to tell if one is dreaming. "Where am I?"
"Yes, it is a dream, your body is asleep at home, but your mind is here, with me, in the Dark Forest. You know my name, and I know yours. Bring your husband and meet me in the Abyssal Planes, or the Forest of Weeping Ashes...let go of your fears of the below, it is dwelling there in damnation that is scary, not popping in to say hi" Vulpuz said.
"Vel-" Badrang choked, and was sent below.
"Everybeast has been decided for, but your fathers fate is uncertain. In the Fires of Hellgates, at the return of the Lord of Foxes, a question will be asked. A question that must be answered for your journey to end, and it must end in fire. The question, the final question...you know what question you've been running from, Vayuna! You must speak with three souls to advise you, the Voice of Crucivendette, Empress Nyx Vathari, the voice of your husband, and the Voice of Mercy and Forgivness, Nyxia Tenebrae. There is no right or wrong this time...you know what I want...his soul. Go below and face all your darkest fears. Do not let them rule you, rule them!" The Black One declared.
Vayuna held up her dove necklace. Instantly Fredrec was there at her side. They descended.
Hellgates for sure seemed scary, but they were about to discover the most shocking secrets about Zego himself, whether or not the recognized them. But no matter what, Badrang would have to face his future soon. Vulpuz waited, but he was far away. They descended down, down, down into the depths of Hellgates. Guiltless souls, facing the pits that Vulpuz ruled. What would await them? Below the Dark Forest they found the secret passage to Hellgates. They entered a black cavern of molten rivers and lakes. A narrow path led towards the mouth of the stone face of Lord Vulpuz. Its maw held the gates, and inside the mouth was the gatekeeper. The narrow path meant only one thing; even the righteous could visit Hellgates. Those goodbeasts would never choose nor be condemned to stay, but they would see and have the power to affect the eternal torment that awaited the damned. Guarding the gates, they were surprised to see a Black furred, yet still fiery eared, tailed and bellied squirrel. He held the sword Thorn, and he still had the scar on his face, but it glowed with more than hellfire. There were few fires that were not in that scar, but Zego had potential to command all of them.
"You may pass into Hellgates, you are guiltless. But if you pass, I cannot control what you will face. Vulpuz is truly on your side at least for now, but do not think he will destroy you. Any questions mates, my choice was to be the Gatekeeper of Hellgates eternally. There are others, but I am the mightiest here. Fear not, for I am with you below, but fear for the guilty, you will terrify them. I truly am Zego, but this is only one of my many tasks. Loving Rose is me favorite," Zego said, and waited for them to reply.
Vayuna gripped Fredrec's paw until her husband's paw turned white.
"Vayuna, don't be scared, it's a dream," Fredrec whispered.
"I'm not scared," Vayuna replied. "Zego the Scar, we wish to deal out complete punishment upon Badrang for his crimes."
"There's no avoiding that now. He was given one comfort, but she will depart too. His only option is to be scattered on the winds of time to even get close to true glory. You may or may not find out a terrible truth, terrible but great. If you show mercy in the end, Vulpuz himself will have to yield, but I rather doubt it. Either way, even in your dreams, you are truly here, but even in the physical world you are not even close to being destroyed here. You have no idea what you are about to witness, but you, Vayuna, have the biggest responsibility to speak for so many voices including Rose's. But if she shared your burden...I truly fear for every and any soul responsible in the least. Even Fredric in his wrath has more mercy than I in his position. I am a beast of extremes; go too far either way, good or bad, there is an extremes response. Vayuna, please tell us you'll be ok, Slinch came the closest, but he escaped. He fears the other six, and three sixes will be below Vulpuz, for so many Devils will fear his names, but his number right now is 444. It’s too late to escape, the gate is unlocked, and you are about to enter and face both sides of so many wars. And yet, I found woodlanders in there as condemned. If a stoatmaid and a fox can get to the light in The Dark Forest, even the beasts associated with good can fall from grace, and yet, Vulpuz may not have even fallen close to where your father fell. I know of a certainty he is not responsible, for a single molestation. Once you know the truth, there's no going back. You may see it coming already...but are you prepared? Though I suppose it’s possible you’ll leave before you find out. Into the Inferno, you are free to pass. There is no escaping, only destiny," Zego said.
The truth about what? Vayuna looked at Fredrec, then back to Zego. "What....what do you mean about father not being responsible?"
Zego sighed, "Vulpuz himself is no rapist, but why he hates Badrang so much is a mystery. They say Badrang betrayed him, some say he harmed something that he cared for, something else...the prime monster in his heart tried to marry him, but she betrayed him, and he left her forever and took somebeast else to be his bride. Face him, face them, fire is all around you, it won’t be able to fully harm you...you have not angered the Prime Flame, go," he said.
"Go where?" Vayuna asked.
"Into the inferno," Zego answered.
"Show us the way;" Fredrec said.
"Go in, I can’t leave. But you will have other guides. Vulpuz will make sure you reach the end alive with your souls, and if you make the wrong decision in his eyes, he will have no choice but to respect it. Do you have it in you to brave Hellgates, I can't leave, but other aspects of me are down there, and they will guide you. You will have Nyx, you will have fire itself, and you will have someone else who is scared to death," Zego replied.
Vayuna nodded. "I understand. Let's go."
She and Fredrec entered the inferno.
The gates shut, and right before their eyes was a burning wasteland. Burning forests, massive mountains of fire, and burning plains.
“Abbandon all hope ye who enter in, for the fox king will always win,” said a paranoid withered old rat. They saw a great battle in the Abyssal Plains, a rebellion was under way, and they saw the armies of Hellgates under a standard of three tails and the trident of a monster. They could not die, but they could feel pain, and Vulpuz was absent, but his army was led by a wildcat with standard of a thousand green eyes, serving as one of Vulpuz's dark leutenants, he used her, she used him, what did it matter really? As for the rebellion leader, it was fox who betrayed Vulpuz too soon, and lost everything. Now he was losing the battle, and his fight was blocking the way. The safest route was through a scalding marshland, filled with the souls of the damned, and the deranged rat seemed to know the way around the demonic legions of Vulpuz, and the lost souls who rebelled. The armies of Vulpuz were they who had lost all hope of defeating the Black Fox, and they sang their song to discourage the enemies.
Where there's a whip, there's a way.
Where there's a whip, there's a way.
Where there's a whip...
We don't wanna go to war today
But the Lord of the Lash says: "nay, nay, nay!"
We're gonna fight all day, all day, all day!
For where there's a whip there's a way!
Where there's a whip, there's a way!
Lets fight, lets fight
A crack on the back says we're gonna fight
We're gonna clash all day and night and more
For we are the slaves of the Fox Lord's war.
Where there's a whip, there's a way.
Where there's a whip, there's a way.
Where there's a whip...
We don't wanna go to war today
But the Lord of the Lash says: "nay, nay, nay!"
We're gonna fight all day, all day, all day!
For where there's a whip there's a way!
Lets fight, lets fight!
"Abbandon all hope! Flee, flee for your souls! Your alive!? Run, for Bane and Tsarmina are back at it again! Tsarmina has once again sided with the Fox Lord, and she has been made an example of once to often, and if it happens again...eh! Wait, you are not damned, you don't even seem damned! Why are you here!? You do not belong here, why would old Scarface let you pass! Oh no...you bear Badrangs mark! Badrang is being pursued by the most horrific things I've ever seen, even I wasn't that ugly in life... I was taught to speak by Vulpuz himself, and he made me one of his servants. I am the Gloomer, and you are in the midst of a terrible revolution, led by Vilu Daskar, he is out to put Badrang to shame, but Vulpuz is not even humoring him. He was never as brutal as Badrang, but he was a murderer. I hate to think Badrangs daughter took inspiration from me to curse those abusers. I remember when Vulpuz ripped off Swarts paw, and kept it as a mantle! Sorry, you were saying?" the pathetic rat said.
"Where is Badrang?" Vayuna asked the rat.
"He's running from six evil things, he fled into the Forest of Weeping Ashes, and Vulpuz has his army camped there. Through the marshes, but avoid the whisps, because there are whispers of evils that cannot sleep. Deep within the boiling fire marsh...are the tears of the Forsaken Vixen. Vulpuz cursed her, and her tears cast a terrible curse, and the curse will tempt you both to leave the others side for another. Don't follow the whisps," Gloomer said.
Vayuna nodded. She held up her dove necklace, which was flickering feebly. She whispered something and it glowed brighter. She and Fredrec found themsleves suddenly standing before a foggy marsh. Little lights bobbed here and there that Vayuna guessed were the whisps.
"Why couldn't you have taken us to the Forest?" Fredrec asked. Unknowingly, his paw tightened around his wife's.
"The presence of darkness and evil is too strong here," Vayuna explained. "If I tried to, it would be too much for the magic in the necklace and it would die, leaving us trapped here like a limbo."
Together, they took their first step into the bog.
"The forest is beyond the bog, and I fear if you become trapped here you would have to brave the gates of the Fox Lord to even have any hope of being released. The evil squirrel adulteress is trapped here, Mara has spoken to her, and she still seeks to challenge Vulpuz, but she is just a toy both sides play with, and she is beyond all hope of escaping her own shadow...or her terrible ally here," Gloomer said, leading them on.
A whisp flickered in front of them, and they heard somebeast weeping.
"Don't try to comfort her, she is wicked!" Gloomer said.
Fredrec looked into the light of the whisp. The weeping filled his ears and his paw began to slip from Vayuna's.
"Fredrec, no," Vayuna said firmly.
"But I must help her; she sounds so......" Fredrec pulled his paw out of Vayuna's and began to follow the whisp. Vayuna reached for him, but he walked off into the mist.
"NO!" Vayuna ran after Fredrec, slipping in the moss and brackish water. Gloomer let out a cry. Fredrec was gone from sight. Vayuna looked at her necklace, which flickered in the gloom. It didn't have enough energy to track Fredrec.
Fredric ran until he found a ghastly sight. An almost naked squirrelmaid, once beautiful, now absent of light and scorned by the elements. She was cornered by a massive tarantula, an angry tarantula. But which was the monster, he could not tell.
"I hate Zego, I hate Zego!" she sobbed. "I just want to win; I just want him to lose everything! I want him to lose his wife to someone, ANYONE!"
"You loved him once, but you are an echo of a greater sinner who committed a worse betrayal. You lost your husband for trying to seduce Zego the Scar, and you were filled with bitter resentment, and sought to ruin him. But in a higher reality...you were being groomed to be the Firelords...but he will not tolerate infidelity, so he left, and you never got the chance to be-" the Tarantula was interupted by the wailing of the damned, the squirrelmaid was bitter and hateful, what had Fredric come to save.
A cold bitter laughter filled the air, and the tarantula rose up facing behind Fredric, for he knew the Tarantula saw something else.
"Fredric, why did you marry the daughter of your enemy? Couldn't you have left her there? Maybe you want something better, something fresh.
The great spider went straight for whatever was behind him, and he turned to see the sight of a pitch black vixen with red eyes and long flowing hair. She appeared to be a dancer, an exotic dancer with daggers hiding in her wrappings. But he knew very well what she had to be. He felt the chill and the bitterness of Hellgates. He felt more evil than he had ever felt before. He felt...scared.
"Fredrec!" Vayuna's call sounded faint and far off. Fredrec stood there staring at the vixen. A cold voice purred in his head.
"You married the daughter of the beast who murdered your father and destroyed your mother," it purred. Fredrec closed his eyes and put his paws over his ears. He saw a vision of his father being felled by Badrang's sword, his mother being dragged away.
"They are alive; they're well," he told the voice. The voiced laughed coldly.
"Are they? What if your creator lied to you?"
"And are you sure that Vayuna belongs to you? Six vermin had her before you did."
"They forced themselves on her," Fredrec snarled.
"Was she telling the truth? How can you be sure that they had her consent? She just wanted to use you, Fredrec. She didn't care when you died."
"SHUT UP!" Fredrec opened his eyes. The vixen was still there, and the voice once again purred in his head.
"There is someone else for you. Leave Vayuna; she has nothing for you."
"Shut up," Fredrec growled. "I am stronger than this!"
The spider turned and leaped on Fredric. The fox felt the fangs of the great tarantula enter his ears, only instead of hurting him the voices were blocked out and he saw the poison they put in his mind pour out.
"Fredric, will you give me one night to make up for what-" the squirrel started to ask.
"Ssssilenccce worm!" a voice said.
Out of the bog, a gargantuan black adder emerged. The squirrel wench screamed and the great snake stared into the eyes Fredric.
"Look into my eyesss and you will not find peacce, but you will find a reasson to forssake doubt and fear. I will never be the pawn of any Devil sssave Vulpuzzz alone! I am not interesssted in marketing fruit of ignorancce, not to mention he hass hisss own, so why take yoursss?" the serpent said.
"Amadeus!" the sinful squirrelmaid sobbed.
"Get off me you eight legged freak!" The black vixen said tossing the spider away.
"Sssssorry Mara, but I'm not going anywhere," Amadeus said.
"Amadeus, how is it we keep bumping into eachother?" Mara greeted her old enemy.
"You and your massster usssed me and Vulpuz to take the blame for what YOU did! You turned entire ssspeciesss to your evil cause! You are to blame, assssssssss isssssss he, and now you will die! Or were you even born?" Amadeus taunted.
"Shut it, Asmo!" she scorned.
"Wrong ssssnake! I am the firssst, Asmodeus is a dessscendent of mine!" Amadeus said.
"You are mine, fox. And your wi-" Mara began.
The squirrelmaid leaped on Mara and bit her ear, "You wretched creature, I hate you!" the squirrelmaid shouted.
"You served me willingly where Amadeus didn't!" she shouted back.
"Run!" a voice came.
Fredric was pulled back and found himself pinned down by Gloomer.
"Don't follow the screams of the damned; there are so few innocents here. Only the shadows of the goodbeasts, only the serpent king Amadeus, and the great spider Ranatal are the innocents I may speak of. But Lenora Snakeeyes...might as well be a weasel for the infidelity she played. Do not ask her other crimes; she is not here by accident! Vulpuz himself is here only by choice! Mara is not..." Gloomer hissed, and dragged him back to Vayuna.
Vayuna pulled Fredrec into her arms when she saw him.
"Don't you ever let go of my paw again," she said angrily.
"I.......I'm sorry....I....." Fredrec shook his head.
"Let's go," Vayuna said.
"Fredric was lucky Ranatal and Amadeus stood by him. Mara herself showed her traitorous face. This way, mind the damned, and don't worry about the snake coils, he won’t bite...usually," Gloomer said, leading them on
Out of the darkness, Nyx herself formed.
"It’s her...the Dark Empress," Gloomer said, backing down.
"I heard there was trouble, what happened?" Nyx inquired.
"Sister," Vayuna said, pulling Fredrec close to her. "Can you help us find Badrang?"
"Actually, the beast who knows where he exactly is would be Vulpuz. Few down here know who he is or where he comes from. Once you are through the bog, that forest has a spire filled with shadow bats, and other nasty things. All I know is that you might run into Nyxia, my namesake down here. She is fairer than I am, and much less potent. I...I will not intervene any more than I am required to. So much has changed, and now...hrmph, it’s up to you. We can walk through the black waters, or we can get you there faster," Nyx Vathari said.
"Mistress of the Shadows, you are truly a remarkable stoatmaiden," Gloomer praised.
"I stopped being a maiden a long time ago. I am an Empress now," she said.
"What's the faster way?" Vayuna asked.
"The fastest way would be to shadowgate you through the Marsh, right into the Forest of Ashes. Vulpuz has his army camped there, he loves the thrill of battle, and your safer with him than anyone else done here, save Gloomer, Ranatal, and Amadeus. If I mentioned other names, I would spoil the surprise," she said, and without another word, she sent them straight into the forest, and went to speak with the wicked squirrelmaid.
"Well," Vayuna said. "At least we're in the forest. Let's find Vulpuz."
Gloomer led them over the rocks of the woods.
"The legions of Vulpuz are everywhere. If I can’t find him, no beast can. The most terrible thing happened here...Mara witnessed something she shouldn't have, and she never forgot it. She looked into the pool and saw the future, and ran outside the forest and wept bitterly. The sorrowing of the damned and her cries to be avenged...created the Bog of Bitterness. She never forgot, and she never forgave. And when it finally came to pass...she was shattered. She keeps breaking, always hurting...inside...and others. She is evil, the most evil thing down here save perhaps the squirrel…unless there’s more like her. Without the cunning, the squirrel is only evil, not powerful, nor influential. Ah...the encampment!" Gloomer said.
They saw the most massive horde they had ever seen, and Vulpuz was in the midst of them. He was unrelenting in his commands, but he seemed as if he had nothing left to say as of yet. He sat on a rock, and his visage was covered by his terrible helm. A terrible iron helm decorated with the horns of a great eland, and fashioned like the skull of an unknown beast. His eyes were aflame, and they pierced the veil of fog surrounding them.
"Come down my child...I have ought to do with thee," the Black Ones voice echoed in Vayuna's head.
To Fredric, the voice said, "You have only a choice of evils...and there are plenty to choose and plenty to use. I think we both know what you’re planning to do to Nyx's gifts,"
To Gloomer, "Well done, you brought them straight to me. I did not waste my efforts on your behalf,"
Vulpuz seemed to have never moved an inch. He had more power than they assumed, but what else did he have that they did not know of.
Vayuna approached the fox lord cautiously. "Where is Badrang?" She asked him.
"Closer to my home, Baelstrung. He is in the Pass of the Serpent, Amadeus pays him no visit, he is far too busy with that squirrelmaid...there is no hope for her; she fell too far, too fast. And besides, she offended me greatly. She is as Mara herself, an enemy to me for eternity. But that is not what matters here and now. The Dark Empress favors Badrangs continued suffering and or penance down here. Nyxia is planned to be his only comfort in a world of suffering. She favors his pardon. You know what I favor; now you are elected to choose his fate. Be warned...you will meet the six again, only this time they will flee directly from you... No matter what...they will not leave. Fredric, I have a gift for you," at this, the Prince of Foxes reached into his belt and pulled out an extra tormenters whip. "This cat with nine tails has no mercy, and do be careful with it. It is not meant to kill instantly as Varagoths deathblades...but it causes tremendous pain. I think we both know what you’re going to use it for,"
"Master, what is to become of these two lovers?" Gloomer inquired.
Vulpuz waived his paw; he had no preference as to their fate at this time.
"Not leaving?" Vayuna echoed. "What are you talking about?"
Vulpuz growled softly, and narrowed his eyes, "Six damned souls doomed to die. The Seventh escaped, and the Tyrant fell. As for the six...whereas Badrang can leave upon your whim, the others cannot; and I will authorize the utmost cruelty regarding their souls. If you have a whim regarding their suffering, do be my guest...for you already are. Welcome to Hellgates, the terrible land eternally aflame, where cold dwells below...do not leave the one landmass you walk on, dip a single claw in the black waters surrounding our little home...and you will never forget," Vulpuz said.
"My Lord speaks of Perdition's Waters...so few ever see what is down there, and few to none see it and retain their sanity," Gloomer said, scared to beyond death of something more terrible than Vulpuz's dwelling place.
"It will not be long before Lenora and Mara do battle to see who goes down there first. They will turn on each other, and only one will prevail. I favor the squirrelmaid…she is the lesser of two evils, and even lesser in power. I do not expect it, but it would be nice to have an easier run down here. As for the two of you, go through Batspire Rock, then follow the tunnels deep beneath the blood river, where bones rise up to greet newcomers. Then you will emerge and walk into Jormund, the pass. There you will find him, and don't show mercy," the Melanistic Fox instructed.
"We don't know where that is; how will we find it?" Fredrec said.
"You have a well-seasoned inhabitant of Hellgates as your guide; I think you'll be fine. In the meantime, it will not be long before Vilu himself comes up to challenge me, when he has neither the strength of arms, nor the strength of will. All down here save only a few died in cowardice, I did not die, I was born from the mind of a hero, and the blood of every fox. I became the Hellcaller, the one who will always be on the throne, next to my mate. You must know to gain this much power, I would have to be better than the hordes down here, or the punishment would rule me too. Do not mistake me for a pure woodlander; I am the impurity, and the more natural. But I am no Tyrant, nor my mate’s emotional tormenter. That is reserved for lesser beings, and I simply keep my grip on the more fallen. Those who hide from my rule are left to themselves, those who oppose it are shamed and beaten back...those who pretend to serve me are watched till they inevitably betray me. As for those who bow and do not rise up...they are given rewards," at this, he grinned at the Gloomer, who bowed himself before the Lord of Hellgates.
Vayuna looked at Gloomer. "Lead us," she said.
"This way," Gloomer said, and led them on into the darker parts of the forest.
Miscellaneous tribes of bats littered about, all vampiric. They grinned and they heckled and the watched closely.
"Messenger of Vulpuz; coming through!" Gloomer cried out.
"Now, now!" a deadly Vampire Bat Lord shouted and sent out his flyboys to attack them.
Just then the loyalist bats attacked the others.
"Take no heed, this happens all the time!" Gloomer said, and led them to a large dark spire with the grinning face of some frightening creature forged naturally or unnaturally into the rock. Dripping from the gaping jaws was what appeared to be molten lava, glowing unnaturally red, without any traces of orange or yellow, only some black.
"Were close, this leads to the secret tunnels under the river Phlegmorthus. Beware the flying mice and rats! Flying foxes don't usually come here, not sure why! We do have some though!" Gloomer called back to them, and they halted right in front of it.
Vayuna's dove necklace began to glow. "We're close to Badrang," she said, grabbing her necklace. Suddenly there was an awful screech and a flying rat flew at Vayuna. She screamed as Fredrec moved in front of her, ready to defend his wife. The rat easily dodged him and tore the necklace off of Vayuna.
"No!" she cried. "Now we'll have no way to get back!"
"The Lord of Hellfire might be nice enough to send you back...unless you agitate him enough. Lord Vulpuz does not appreciate certain things people down here do, and he makes it clear when he is unhappy. The deeper we go we may find a-" Gloomer started, as a massive orange red flying fox flew past them, leading a swarm of other bats. It was obvious all of Hellgates was a massive warzone, with undying soldiers.
"Find a what?" Vayuna asked when the bats were gone.
"We found one, moving on. In the end, I think there's more down here than we-" Gloomer accidentally put his paw on something. He picked it up, and found some sort of necklace.
"She's so beautiful...and so proud of her Lord. He loves her dearly...it is no doubt that is why there has never been anyone else. I must return it to her, but she is not mine, and we must all remember that down here. Anybeast who forgets...always...always...suffers. There is only one beast she knows, and he does not share that kind of emotion or power with anyone he considered lesser than him. He must have chosen her for a reason, she does not sully herself with others...just holds on tight, and he holds tighter...but she lets him. We should leave, give this to him, and he will be bound to let you out," Gloomer gave the necklace to Vayuna.
It was scratched, tarnished, but still good, and still carried great power. The necklace chain seemed perfectly intact, and there was no breaking it without terrible dark magic, or terrible unforgivable evil, though she knew not what. For some reason, she could feel that there was something down here Vulpuz was scared of, but of all the beasts in the world, she knew he feared Martin the least. Martin was feared by all vermin tribes, but they feared death, and Martin meant death. But beyond death, it was here they feared, and subconsciously, it was him. Who is this Black Fox, that feared not death nor Hellgates, so as to dwell in such a place without falling to it. Who could have overtaken such a horde of terrible undying things, and feared not The Warrior. The answer, an equal, someone of either equal or greater power. But something scared him, something that had everything to do with Martin. Whoever owned this necklace...she alone knew every secret the Hellcaller, had. But a question remained...why did he have a scar, who gave it to him? And why was Zego's fur blackened, and eyes turned to hells flame. Something was wrong, something was hidden. And who...would have married the Ruler of Hellgates. Who...was his consort? There was no doubt, Mara would have been, but he cast her down for the sake of betrayal, and a grave insult. As for this mystery creature, Gloomer seemed charmed by her, and all Hellgates sought her, but could not attain her. And the very hellfire laughed with Vulpuz. But still...who was he, and what was his secret? Perhaps he carried a darker one; perhaps that was the only thing he feared. She knew, and it brought them closer together. They were about to pass under the river Phlegmorthus.
Vayuna put the necklace around her neck. "Give it to who?"
"It’s not safe to miss what people say down here, weren't you listening? Fredric, your wife needs you to help her hear, she seems distracted. It’s not safe to be distracted in Hellgates. If it isn't clear enough this belongs to the Faithful Hellflower. Her pride is in her loyalty, and her lust is in her marriage. Vulpuz is the beast you must return this to," Gloomer said, seeming agitated.
Vayuna thought she was just rubbing off on him, but she then had the premonition that it wasn't her being slow that bothered him. She was in danger, and she kept getting into worse danger. She wasn't in a place where she could let distractions affect her without risking her life dramatically. First the bog almost claimed Fredric, now she wasn't reading the words Vulpuz or her guide spoke to her all the time. How could she have known...she was the vulnerable one, and the most targeted. For a second, for the time she was here...Mara would focus on her. But she was lucky the squirrelmaid chose to fall right at this time, because another unforgivable sinner, another creature so evil, repentance and mercy were not possible...it was not something any beast could ignore. How many were down here?
"Here we are...under the river, be careful of the dripping ceiling, its hot. It doesn't matter if I get burned, I'm dead. You two would be injured, and I am not capable of healing you, or protecting you for long. Bones litter the riverbed, and then we will reach Jormund, Amadeus lair. Baelstrung is where Vulpuz makes his home, inside is the upside down castle Badrang made his home when he ruled here. Vulpuz came, and turned his entire world upside down, especially his castle, and then he fixed it into a far more elegantly wicked fortress. He does not care if we should run and hide from him, Badrang would have abused us all. The last time I heard somebeast compare our ruler to your father, he threw a stone, and took great offense. Vulpuz hates your father, I do not know why. But I suspect it has something to do with that ratmaid, he calls his queen. I must always remember she is his, all of us must, or we will burn, and he will make us the base of his throne," Gloomer mused.
"All I want to do is deal out father's punishments and get back home." Vayuna said sternly. "I don't want to linger in this hole,"
Fredrec was twisting the whip he had been given by Vulpuz. He knew exactly what he was going to use it for.
"I'd like to leave myself," a voice said, and immediately a marlfox in raggedy crimson robes stepped out of the darkness.
"Don't-" Gloomer began.
"Don't forget I stood against Badrang once or twice myself," the marlfox said.
Fredrec moved protectively in front of his wife, "Who are you, and what do you want?" he snarled.
"A little more respect and a little less snarl would be...a better option. My name isn't important, Gloomer," he glared at the Gloomer.
"Be careful, he's a sorcerer," Gloomer warned.
"I assure you, I'm not as brutish as your father, I have alternate means of handling trouble. To be honest, I'd be amused to see what you did to him when you find him. From what I know, he's hiding in Jormund, Amadeus usually avoids him. If you need any help getting their faster, liberating me from this pit would be all it takes," the sorcerer fox said.
"Forgive me.....I am protective of my wife," Fredrec regained his calm. "What does it take to get you out?"
"Take me with you," It just so happens Vayuna has the means to release me, by placing a single drop of living blood on the door that way. Once free, I will lead you to your father," the sorcerer said.
"My lady, please be careful, this is none other than-" Gloomer began.
"My name is Morthos, and I am a renowned warlock, and former ally of of Vulpuz. I know who and what he was before he descended to Hellgates to reign over the rabble you'll find down here," the warlock marlfox said.
"Living blood?" Vayuna echoed. "I'm sorry; I'm not sure if I can trust you."
"Can I trust you? The answer is no, but we are stuck down here until our jobs are done. Help me get out, and I'll get you to Badrang. Did I mention I have a personal grudge with him too? Now Gloomer, please let me speak to your companions without any rude interruptions. I would sincerely like to get out of this pit!" Morthos said.
"What do we have to do to get you out?" Vayuna asked. "What do you mean by I have the means to help you out?"
"Like I said, I'm a sorcerer; I can get you there faster. And yes, I'm afraid you have to help me get out of this tunnel, or I'm certain there would be more difficulty on your quest. In other words, I can make it easier," Morthos said.
"Or worse," Gloomer said.
"Oh, what’s this?" Morthos summoned something in his paw, "Would you like this necklace back? I found it near the entrance to my dungeon, and summoned it for you,"
"Agreed," Fredrec said. Vayuna held out her paw.
"Yes, I'd very much like it back," she said. "Please."
"Then it’s yours, all I require is you let your shadow blood run a teensy bit on the stone slab over there, and I shall give you this, and aid you in the final humiliation of that treacherous Badrang," Morthos said.
"So I just.....cut myself?" Vayuna screwed her face up.
"On that rock, yes," Morthos said, pointing.
"I fear we do not have a choice. Morthos would not let us pass if we do not free him. I just hope Lord Vulpuz is not angered," Gloomer said.
Vayuna pulled out her dagger and knelt by the rock.
"Vayuna, I'm not going to let you do this," Fredrec grabbed his wife's wrist.
"I'll be fine, Fredrec; let me go," Vayuna pulled free of Fredrec and slid the dagger over her paw, leaving a bright red line of blood behind.
She let a few drops fall onto the rock, waiting to see what would happen.
The stone disintegrated, and Morthos smiled. He walked over to the tunnel and found that he was indeed free. He smiled and turned to Vayuna.
"My thanks to you, shadow child, I'll help you find Badrang, in fact, I have means to get you as close as I can right now, but I only have two paws, so we would have to leave someone behind. Or, if you'd rather, we can walk, your choice," the Sorcerer said.
"Mistress, be careful, The Dark Sorcerer is dangerous, and he fought during the Crucivendette Wars on the side of-" Gloomer began.
"I can speak for myself you insolent water rat! True, I used to play chess with your enemies, but now, since the war is over, I am done with Umbra. And as for your sister, I think she's a much better ruler, don't you? So much more reliable, powerful, and more civilized than that fool of a tyrant was. I know he says he turned over a new leaf, but I doubt that matters to any of us, especially the management," Morthos explained.
"We can walk," Vayuna said. "I'm not leaving anybeast behind."
"Well then, Gloomer, you’re just going to have to shut your trap for the journey, because I would just as much like to see Badrang suffer, as all of you. Carry on," Morthos said, and led the party above ground.
They emerged to find a massive canyon made up of obsidian and basalt. The ominous rocks felt as if they themselves were watching them, but that only meant that something else was keeping an eye on them.
"Badrang should be somewhere in that canyon, so stay close, and avoid crevices. This marks Vulpuz's most well-guarded territory, so I'd urge you to take caution. Funny how things turned out," Morthos mused.
"I just hope he is not angered by us freeing you," Gloomer said.
"I hope not too, but I suppose he's forgotten who gave him the power he used to rise up as Lord of Hellgates, and overthrow Badrang. That's right, I made him what he is from-" the Sorcerer began.
"Enough," a deep and familiar voice said.
"Oh...my lord," Morthos grinned.
"Lord? You little traitor… And what are you doing with these heroes?" the voice replied.
Vulpuz emerged, and he looked very unamused.
"My lord, forgive us, I-" Gloomer began.
"Silence! I suppose Morthos would not have allowed you passage, and Vayuna had not learned to control her shadow powers, but still! Morthos the Dark Sorcerer, did my wife ever forgive you? No," Vulpuz said, walking up to the party.
"Ah, yes, have you told them your se- ack!" Morthos said, then being grabbed by the throat said no more.
"Oh don't worry, I'll tell them my origin story as soon as the time is right. In the meantime, you are free, and I'm going to make sure you are put to good use, if you are useful at all," Vulpuz said.
"Wait," Vayuna cried. "He was going to help us find Badrang!"
"Don't trust him, he manipulated several wars, and in fact was one of the enemies during Crucivendette, just ask your sister," Vulpuz replied.
"I kept him in line, didn't I? But don't worry, I want to see what they do with him," Morthos told the Fox Lord.
Vulpuz sighed, "Follow his stench, and I will be right behind. You four go ahead, and if the Sorcerer tries anything, I'll transfer him to a much more intolerable prison, if the last location wasn't enough," he said.
"Well then, do you kiddies have anything to say to the Meleneistic One?" Morthos asked.
"Alright," Vayuna said. She turned to Morthos. "Lead on,"
Morthos led them through the serpents pass, while Vulpuz stayed behind. Gloomer seemed not to trust the Sorcerer for good reason, but he kept silent. They passed through several black rock formations until they reached a cave.
"He's in here. I can't tell you what dreadful evils you'll find in here, but he is one of them," the Sorcerer said.
"Mistress, be careful, for I would expect the tormented six to be in there hunting your father," Gloomer said.
"Hmmm, I expect Vulpuz's spare whip to be of good use to you, Fredric. If you need my witchcraft, feel free to ask," Morthos commented.
"We should be alright," Vayuna stared into the gloom of the cave. She and Fredrec joined paws. Then, they stepped into the cave.
Morthos led them through the tunnels of the cave, and then he stopped and pressed his ear against the cave wall.
"Here we go, the darkest cavern I should say," Morthos said, and lit a fire in his paw.
"My strength is slowly returning to me...my time in Hellgates is numbered. Sorcerer, can you tell us what you sense?" Gloomer asked.
"He is running; the souls Styx claimed are pursuing him. Hrmph; can't say I disapprove of Vulpuz's methods. But it looks like they're headed our way..." the Sorcerer replied.
Vayna nodded to Fredrec, who readied his whip. She drew her dagger.
Morthos walked in first, "Oh look, there's a ledge, and there they are," he said, and lit the cavern with dark magic. "Great Scott, you're friends are hideous. What did your daughter do to them?"
"Morthos!?" came the familiar voice of Badrang the Tyrant.
"It’s been a long time, and I have some visitors for you," the sorcerer said.
"Get these things off me!" Badrang shouted.
"Really, no asking how I've been here, where you left me with Vulpuz!?" Morthos shouted. "It’s funny how once again I am on top, and you are down there, hrmm, hrmm,"
Morthos motioned for the others to come; it was now their time to face Badrang.
Vayuna stared in horror at the six vermin who were attacking her father. Badrang caught his daughter staring and looked up at her. He reached a paw in her direction.
Vayuna felt her whole body fill with anger, "Did you help me when those vermin were ravaging me?!" she screamed at her father. "I begged you to make them stop and you laughed!! You LAUGHED!!!"
She hopped off the ledge and straightened to face Badrang. The six vermin saw Vayuna and tried to run away, screaming. Fredrec stood in their pathway, brandishing his whip.
"Now it's just you and me," she said to Badrang. Badrang backed against the wall of the cave.
"No, Vayuna, please.....I'm sorry," he cried.
"It's too late for that; look where you are now!" Vayuna stood closer to Badrang, holding her dagger up. "I always wanted to kill you after that," she snarled.
Badrang fell on his paws and knees at Vayuna's footpaws, sobbing.
"Please, Vayuna. I am your father! I pulled you out of your mother's womb....please....spare me!"
The sound of Fredrec having his revenge on the six vermin reached Vayuna's ears. She ignored it and focused on her father.
"No father would allow such evils to happen to his daughter," she said. She plunged her dagger into Badrang's back over and over. He screamed, but he was helpless against her wrath. Vayuna was finally having her revenge on the beast who had ruined her life.
Badrang fell to the cave floor, bleeding. It was clear he was alive when the fox Lord kidnapped him, but he would soon join the dead of Hellgates.
"How fitting," the voice of the fox devil came. "You thought you had escaped me, but I'm afraid not. I see now that Nyxia is too ashamed to face your daughter, did you even tell her the bulk of your crimes?"
"Vulpuz...tell her...the truth..." Badrang breathed out.
"What, my life story? I'm not so sure she wants to know who I was, but I can promise her, I was nothing like you before I descended to rule," Vulpuz said.
"Only one beast hates me enough to orchestrate all this...I should have killed you at Marshank," he said.
"Ah, the old you returning. And what good would it have done you. You think I still wouldn't have gotten what I wanted? You honestly think I would surrender to mortal death?" the Black One mused.
"Look...at his face," Badrang said as he died.
Morthos summoned Badrangs spirit, and Vulpuz started chuckling darkly.
"I suppose it’s my fault your like this Vulpuz...I made the darkness in you, and Morthos brought it out," Badrang said in regret.
"Oh, don't think I wouldn't have come out sooner or later. But it’s true; your actions cost you dearly, and now look at what I hid from you. All the lies making you think I was on your side, but no!" Vulpuz ranted.
"What's going on," Vayuna cried.
She looked down and realized she was stained with her father's blood. She staggered back. She felt strong paws grip her and straighten her.
"It's alright, Vayuna," Fredrec breathed in Vayuna's ear. She realized he too was covered in blood. "It's over,"
"I want to leave this place now," Vayuna said.
"Oh by the stars, you’re not shying away from it are you. Deliver final judgment on his soul, and then you may leave. I've worked too long and too hard for this!" Vulpuz shouted.
"But I don't know what to do!!" Vayuna shouted back at Vulpuz. "I didn't even want to come here in the first place!"
Vulpuz glared, "I want his fate decided, and that decision rests with you. All has been dealt with him except for a few final judgments. If you don't make this judgment you are making my job all the harder," Vulpuz growled.
"Tell them the truth, why don't you tell them who you were before Morthos woke you!" Badrangs ghost shouted.
"Is there any apology he can give us? I may be accounted for, but what do you want to see!? Make your decision now, and I promise, I will give suffering to each of the souls you want punished. This is what they made from me, this is what was hidden," Vulpuz ranted.
Vayuna glared back at Vulpuz, "Destroy their souls! Make them burn!" she cried. "It's not my place to judge."
"And what of your father? Shall I give him the same fate?" Vulpuz inquired.
Badrang paled, he knew Vulpuz as a vengeful soul, but hats worse; he seemed to know something the others didn't.
"I want his soul consumed by eternal flame. I want him to relive all his horrible deeds and regret them, but never be able to repent for them." Vayuna said. Badrang let out a scream and reached for the edge of his daughter's dress.
"Vayuna, how could you?" he wailed.
Vayuna kicked her father's paw away and moved away from him. "How could you ruin my life the way you did? You are no longer my father," she turned her back on Badrang.
Vulpuz smiled cruelly, "Your sister will be pleased. His soul will be mine until the final day. At that point I can no longer command his fate," the dark fox said.
"It’s funny how you heroes fall..." Badrang chuckled darkly. "First...I see the great hero of the Northlands become Lord of Hellgates, and forget it ever happened. Then I see my daughter turn into her sister,"
"Nyx Vathari has done better by herself than by your side. I think it’s just what she chose," the fox lord mused.
"You have everything, Vulpuz! What more do you want from me?!" Badrang yelled.
"How should I know? I won," Vulpuz mused.
"Gloomer, today is your last day in Hellgates, and once again Morthos, you have another chance to not cause me grief!" Lord Vulpuz declared.
"And what of Badrang’s wife?" Nyx's voice came.
"Oh, yes, that will be a problem; she was to be his only comfort. I can't make decisions for her, but I honestly don't know what will happen next. Badrangs past is certainly more frightening than she suspected, and it was til death do you part..." Vulpuz said, in confusion.
"I don't care, Lord Vulpuz, and I personally can't believe your other self was this fair," Morthos said.
"Don't cross me, Morthos," Vulpuz said.
"So it’s true...you're..." Nyx began.
"What's all this?" Vayuna questioned. "What's going on?"
"You can stay or you can leave at any time. As for what’s going on, I'm going to see what happens next," Vulpuz said.
"I've been here for an eternity, Badrang only just got here. As for Nyx, she looks like she's seen a ghost," Morthos said.
"Of all the dirty tricks, you wiped my memory," the Empress said.
"Leave me," Badrang said, without hope.
"Gladly, but I hope you know now that sometimes there aren't any second chances," Nyx said.
"Morthos, leave us," Vulpuz commanded.
The Sorcerer teleporte, leaving Vulpuz, Gloomer, Nyx, Vayuna, Fredric, and the hated Badrang.
"Fredric, these souls were supposed to suffer a fate worse than death alive, not die," Nyx complained.
"Oh believe you me, they'll receive no mercy," Vulpuz said.
Nyx looked at Vulpuz, "I'll leave, but what has been kept from me will not," she said.
"It wasn't intentional, Miss Vathari. I've been down here a long time, and had to make due with useless vermin who turn on me without thinking of the consequences that follow," Vulpuz replied.
"Well," Vayuna said, ignoring the moans of her father. "I think it's time we left. I'm done here."
Fredrec handed the whip back to Vulpuz.
Vulpuz took at smiled, "You have done well, I must enquirer of the seers down here on a matter of urgency. As for you, you may stay or leave at your whim," he said.
"My lord, am I truly ready to move on?" Gloomer asked.
"Yes you are, and I hope you're pleased with yourself, as this was well done," Lord Vulpuz said.
"I will see my father’s punishment through. You two don't have to watch, in fact, you should probably go," Nyx said.
Finally Vayuna's necklace lit up. She took Fredrec's paw and grabbed the necklace in her free paw. She and Fredrec closed their eyes. When they opened their eyes, they were back in bed. They returned to their sleep after a long journey, and on the morrow Vayuna would find she still had the necklace that belonged to Vulpuz’s wife. This means they would have to return, or summon Vulpuz out of Hellgates. True, they could always call a friend to go for them, and one probably would. Seasons later, they would inevitably find out a secret that passed them by, the dark terrible secret that was spoken of so many times. And who truly brought evil to their world, was it Mara alone, or a handful of forgotten vermin? It was over, but was it the end? The answer should be obvious by now, for there is always another tale after every end.