|Ebony Sands of Hell
Author: Midnight Sage PM
Stella Nightblade finds herself in a strange, shifting landscape full of ash-filled dunes and lit by an ethereal light. She is picked up by a motley gang of dune-rovers, who inform her that she's fallen into Hell. Her purpose: To get out. Alive.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure - Chapters: 4 - Words: 5,633 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 11-20-12 - Published: 08-15-12 - id: 3050816
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The rope twirled through the air, coming to a halt beside Captain Corchuk's muddy boot.
"What the heck is that?" one of his men said. He craned over the rope, then stared fearfully up at the blackened sky.
"Another one has fallen," the Captain said, gruffly. His gloved hand patted his beard. "Come, let us go. We must check the hills and see where the victim lays." He moved away from the motley patrol, gesturing for them to follow. "Come," he said.
"The rope... It's... strange, Captain." It was Peter speaking, a thin, gangly seventeen-year-old with a perpetually thoughtful expression. "It's turning red."
The Captain turned and stared at the distant knotted twine. Gasps of disbelief shivered through the squadron. "What? What is it?" Captain Corchuk angrily strode toward the group, shoving past them. "It's turning red?"
Preposterous, he thought, staring down at the rapidly-staining twine. What the heck is going on?
Twine was the signal of choice for the crater-demons that patrolled the outer gateways of Hell. The twisted ropes were always a sandy tan, indicating that the victims were recently fallen and in good condition. Crater-demons had a knack for tossing the ropes in the midst of the patrolling groups to alert them of newcomers.
"It's blood," Corchuk said, kneeling and staring at the strange object. "It's darkening with blood." He picked it up in a gloved hand and rubbed it between his fingers. The shiny leather glistened.
"I sense that something is amiss with this new fallen comrade. Perhaps he is injured, or in great pain. Come, we must hurry." The squadron set off across the shifting, black-sand dunes, which stretched under the blackened, hazy sky.
"I hope this isn't dangerous," a new guy said, nudging the others.
They ignored him, and the squad continued on in silence.
Faint mumbles sifted through the dark dreams of Stella Nightblade as she lay unconscious in the sand. Her black-leather clothing was hot and uncomfortable, and the glinting silver studs in her ears absorbed the heat and started to burn. Her short-cropped, dark-brown hair was dyed blonde at the tips, and her angular eyebrows furrowed.
With a sudden twitch, Stella slapped the burning ear-studs under her palms and sat bolt upright, wildly staring at the surrounding landscape. She couldn't believe her eyes.
She was sitting smack in the middle of a huge, shifting sand dune, its black sands cascading down its sides. "What. The hell," she said to herself. "What. The freaking hell is this." She got to her feet and stared around, eyes wide. "What the freaking hell."
"Heyy! You!" The voice carried on the wind, and she turned to see a motley crew of people running up the hill. Towards her. "Heyyy!"
Their leader was rough-and-coarse-looking, with a long, grayish beard, long trousers, and a makeshift snakeskin hat. The rest of the crew looked nearly the same, except that they were beardless and wearing strange dark-brown cloth, looking like a bunch of miners. "Who're you?" Stella called, eyeing them with shock. She thought she'd been hallucinating, but these people looked real.
The bearded guy reached the top of the dune and bent double, wheezing and clutching his knees. He straightened as the rest of the group reached him. "You're a... a lady," one of his men said, a lean, hungry-looking bastard. He had snakelike green eyes and a hunched-over back. A large backpack rested on his shoulders.
"Yeah, so? What's it to you?" she asked, eyeing him with suspicion. She could kill him off with one twist of the neck.
"Jake, settle," said the bearded man. He turned and walked towards her, then stopped, gloved hand outstretched. "We're the Patrol Squad," he said. He grinned and his eyes crinkled. "We're here to welcome you to Hell."
"You're freaking insane," Stella growled. She stared at the shifting black dune beneath her feet, then looked up at the dreary, cloud-blackened sky. "WHAT THE F*** IS THIS PLACE?"
"Hell," Jake said, coming closer. Captain Corchuk held out a hand and stopped him in his tracks. "Let her adjust," Corchuk said, glaring at him through bushy eyebrows. "You remember when you first landed? Good. Now stay put, son." Jake glared at him in fury, his snakelike eyes lingering on the Captain's makeshift hat. The snakeskin hat. He hissed under his breath and turned away, visibly fuming. "You think you're the boss," he muttered darkly.
"What was that?" Corchuk asked. "Nothing," Jake said, and fell to the back of the squad.
Stella stared at them, daring them to come nearer. "Well? If this is Hell, then who the heck are you?"
"Captain John Corchuk," the man said. He smiled, and his grey bushy moustache parted to show his front teeth. "This is my squad. We patrol the Hills."
"Sh*t," Stella said, and took off running.
"HEY! WAIT!" The squad started after her, huffing under the load of their heavy packs.
This place is surreal, Stella thought as she ran, freely, the sandy grimy wind blowing through her hair. She sprinted down the side of a dune, feeling it shift under her as she ran. Strange, but I feel free here. There's room to run, and sprint, and fly. Room to run from the Patrols. She leapt off the top of the neighboring dune and soared through the air, landing heavily in a burst of sand at its base. She kept running. Free... free to run...
"HEY! STOP RIGHT THERE, YOUNG MISS!" The fading voice of Capt. John Corchuk sounded after her. "STOP!"
Heh heh. Screw that, she thought as she put on a burst of speed. This dream was way to awesome for her to get caught. The dunes flew by, and several were now flecked with patches and streaks of grey. The landscape is changing, already, she said in her mind. Why would it change so fast? Am I passing a borderline, a limit? She actually didn't give a damn. After all, this was all some freakish weird dream. If I'm in Hell, then gee, this place ain't as bad as I thought. She crested another dune, arms pumping, and reveled in the sweat pouring down her back and soaking the soles of her feet. This is the life, the absolute best type of life...
She skidded to a halt and stared at the edge of the dune in horror.
The shifting sands abruptly ended, stopping as though cut off by an invisible blade. The straight edge of sand plunged deep into the earth, forming the border of a deep, blackened pit. Cracked rings of mineral salt laced the edges of the drop, and a terrifying stench rose from the bowels of the earth. It smelled like a mixture of tar and fermented rubber.
Stella backed away from the drop and turned, seeing the pursuing squad as though for the first time. "STOP IT!" she screamed at them, and was pleased to see them slow to a halt. They were midway up the nearest dune, and panting heavily with exertion. "If you come any nearer, I'll fling myself off this edge!" She pointed dramatically at the drop. This dream is freaking great.
"Oh, I wouldn't do that if I were you." The cackling voice came from behind her right shoulder.
Staring at her was the wide, grinning face of a red-skinned demon, with wispy strands of oily black hair framing its large, ice-blue eyes. Its nose was flat and squished, and its teeth were yellow and uneven. A spool of saliva dropped from the corner of its mouth.
"YAAA!" Stella kicked the nasty thing and it flew through the air, tumbling down into the pit.
Captain Corchuk placed his hand on her shoulder. "Come, child. We must go from here. The way is steep, and the dunes in this region weep with ash." As he spoke, a blackened dune from across the gap widened and grew, and sparkling patches of grey were revealed. "You must come with us. This is not a dream. This is your new reality. And you must face and fight it, if you ever wish to return."
Stella's shoulders drooped, and she sighed with annoyance. "You bastards. Do you really think I'm going to join all of you in trampling the hills?" She glanced up at the bearded man, whose eyes were hidden behind the bushy eyebrows. He grunted. "You must, and the reason is staring you in the back."
Stella turned to face the pit again, and her stomach lurched.
Staring at her was a bevy of demons, red-skinned and identical to the previous one. They licked their lips.
"They don't attack us when we're in the squad; patrolling the hills is our purpose in this land. As long as we follow our purpose, we do not die. Come with us, and avoid a painful death." The bearded man strode back to his group.
Stella followed, keeping an eye on the hungry red devils perched at the edge of the precipice.
"Glad to have you join us!" shouted one of the guys. Captain Corchuk scanned the group and bellowed at the man with displeasure. "Whitman! We're on a schedule. Keep an eye scanned for Fallen Ones!"
The man dropped his head and nodded. "Aye, Captain," he said faintly.
A rope plunged through the cloudy layer from high above, twirling and twisting as it looped its way down through the air. " 'Ere's another one!" yelled a dark-skinned man, squinting and pointing up into the gloom. The rope plunged to the earth, rolling down the side of a far-off dune and coming to a halt at the edge of the blowing sand.
"Let's go, gang!" Captain Corchuk sprinted towards the thing and the stampeding squad followed.
This is one weird heck of a dream, Stella thought, and sprinted after them.