The two prisoners were carried through the dank subterranean warrens for a greater measure of time than either of them could count. They had shouted until their voices gave out and struggled until their bodies were sapped of every last bit of strength. Swallowed by the mob of scarred and mutilated fanatics, the pair of wounded Amurai warriors had been reduced to helpless victims. As the repugnant procession of filthy rabble carried Starks and Martello deeper into the heart of their stronghold the only thing that the captive men could feel above the zealously delirious horde that encircled them and the pain of numerous untreated wounds was a sinister radiation of power that rapidly grew in intensity as they descended further into the dark.
Starks was pulled out of his latest exhaustion imposed stupor by a flare of pain that shot up though his leg as the men holding him began making their way down some haphazardly crafted stone stairs. As he was unceremoniously jostled from side to side by the throng of raving lunatics the Amurai felt repeated stabs of agony shoot out from the bloody rotting gash on his thigh. Starks felt a throbbing in his head and sweat on his brow. He was well accustomed to the cold that was ever-present in Frostdale but his body was wracked with violent chills. He submitted to the fact that a fever was setting in and his ruined leg would soon be the end of him. Starks managed a glance at the image of the hound on his breastplate by the graces of flickering torchlight. He knew that even if he were to escape the clutches of his captors, his time wearing the crest of the Amurai was coming to a close. It would just be a question of if it would be an infection that killed him or amputation and a future as a cripple that saw him doff the hound’s sigil forever. The man gave out a hoarse cry of discomfort as one of the fanatics that was holding him momentarily lost their grip on his afflicted leg.
“You cowards and fools. Leave him be,” came the exasperated and drained voice of Martello from close by. His voice could barely compete with the nonsensical ravings of the mob but Starks had an ear that was keen enough to discern the sound of his brother-in-arms distinctive cadence though all the surrounding madness.
“I am far from spent. Worry about your own skin,” retorted Starks though clenched teeth and waves of merciless pain. He started to laugh at the absurdity of his confidence in the present circumstances but what was intended as laughter came out as labored gasps as his damaged leg quelled any attempt at a courageous showing.
“I have my hide well looked after, my Brother. You need to have that leg seen about,” Called back Martello with a clear dose of concern in his words.
“I’ll be hobbling out of here before you. Pay no mind,” Starks managed to grunt forcefully after the mob took another sharp turn in its decent down the twisting stairwell.
Before Martello could continue the brotherly banter with his fellow prisoner the terse cutting voice of the man who had first greeted them in this place sounded above the roar of the mob. “The both of you be silent. You do not speak again.”
Starks and Martello let their voices rest after the threatening warning from their chief oppressor. Their silence was not long lived as the stairwell finally came to an end and opened up into an ominous looming antechamber. As soon as the grime ridden raving horde of misshapen men and women reached the hall their hysteria was instantly quieted and a solemn demeanor was adapted by all. The sudden change in tenor was what set the fear of death rampaging up and down the two Amuria’s backbones more than anything they had experienced since their capture. The hall was unlike the rest of the underground shanty where these miserable people lived in the shadow of the chimera. Above the warrens were a ramshackle collection of tattered ruins and shoddy hovels piled on top of each other. In this hall, splendor and refinement was readily apparent. All manner of assorted trinkets, trifles and other fantastic bobbles made the place a veritable treasure trove of materialistic desires.
The peculiar wonderment of the shining horde of gold, silver and other precious things was rapidly put to rest when a congregation of large chimera emerged from a passage at the far end of the chamber. These creatures were bigger than any chimera that ether of the Amurai had ever seen before. They were at least a head taller than any of the warped bear or lion joinings that the men had encountered on the battlefield. These monsters were an assorted lot bearing characteristic of serpents, wolves, birds of prey and at number of other animalistic qualities. They all walked upright and some even bore armor and weapons. These chimera were clearly more evolved than the primal sort of beasts that roamed the wilds and constantly hurled themselves at the seal walls of Argaia’s great cities. The elite monsters took up positions flaking the sides of the long passage of grandeur and stood fast. Despite their resolute posture it was plain to see the contempt and disdain they held for the pitiful humans cowering in front of them. The two Amuria were forced to their knees by the silent mob and then they had they heads pressed to the cold stone ground in a display of utter subjugation.
“Make your offerings,” came a malevolent voice from the shadows of the passage where the group of chimera had just entered. The words dripped with power and dominance. The sound of the voice slithered through the dim room and enraptured all who heard it like the coils of one of the mighty river constrictors that swam the waters of Silverwood. After the faint echo of the words faded form the antechamber the sound of massive hooves clacking against stone cut the ensuing silence.
Starks felt no more pain, not even from the gaping wound on his decaying leg. The battered man felt no hunger or fatigue. The voice filled the man with only dread and the realization that his life was likely drawing to a rapid and even immediate end. Starks recoiled in disgust as he witnessed the response of the men and women gathered in the antechamber. Unsurprisingly all the motley folk fell to their knees and adopted various postures of deference but what followed was a grim precursor to something assuredly horrific.
As the Amurai caught bits and pieces of the bloody display from the corner of his eye he felt he belly churn and bubble. The mob all began to cut and claw at their own bodies. After a few moments of animalistic screams and grunts several of the filth covered lunatics had opened fresh wounds and poured a generous amount of their own blood on the clod stone underfoot. The most fervent of the lot went so far as to slice off a finger, toe, ear or some other small body part and cast it into the center of the room. Starks could not twist his head far enough to see the reaction of Martello at his side but he could hear the repulsed reaction of his brother-in-arms well enough. It seemed as though Starks was not the only one whose stomach could not take the grossly vile display.
After the masochistic show was over the hands that held Starks forehead to the floor loosened their grip and he was able to raise up to his knees and see the full terror of what filled the room. Starks felt like he was looking into the past. The man had somehow drifted into a world that he only knew from the fireside stories of his ancestors. He was within throwing distance of living history. The twisted goat emblem that was carved into the foreheads of all the fanatics present there suddenly took on a whole new meaning to the Amurai. Starks drank in the image of a muscular green scale and grey fur clad body, one great spear like horn set beside one horn broken down to the quick, and one eye black as the soot in the streets of Blackcloud next to one mangled sightless eye. The wounds that this ferocious twisted goat creature bore were unmistakable and leapt straight from the pages of history texts. Straks saw with his own eyes the handiwork that the legendary founder of the Amurai, Sir Liam Broadcliff, had wrought at the second battle of Rayward’s Gate. Starks looked at the imposing and dauntless body of one of the very first chimera to ever walk the face of Argaia. The man had never in all his year’s wearing the hound’s sigil though that he would be face to face with Koin.
“Speak now,” Koin said to the man who had lead the mob, with high contempt laced in it’s words. The age old beast kept it’s one good eye trained on the kneeling Amurai and it was only a gesture form one of the creatures talons that indicated it was addressing the man who lead the procession.
“My master, Your forces were able to claim these two dogs during one of the attacks outside the Frostdale wall. We now present them to you as tribute to your victory and gratitude for your mercy,” said the man to the legendary chimera with a voice that was suddenly meek and childlike.
A long span of dead air reigned it the darkened room as Koin continued to regard its tribute with a menacing stare. The beast’s eye found its way to the armored hound embossed on the breastplate of the Amurai and upon seeing the symbol one of its hands found the nub of its broken horn. It looked as though the thing was recounting the vivid memory of how it had suffered so grievous a wound. As the silence endured and the monster continued to probe at its broken horn Koin’s face adopted an expression of bitter vengeance “See that they speak all that they know. When you have drained them of all valuable information it will please me to slay them with my own hands,” Koin spoke in seething anger.
A moment of quiet hung until it was shattered by the strongly unhinged sound of Starks laughing wildly. All eyes were drawn to the bizarre spectacle of the laughing man. Starks nearly fell to the floor in his amused fit. The man was only just able to raise a hand to quell the look of concern that had come over Martello’s face.
Starks had thought that his end would come by the claws of some forgettable chimera, the blades of these sad people who worshiped the spawn of the red rain or from the rapidly spreading infection in his leg. Instead Starks reveled in the fact that his doom was to come from the very hands that had ended the lives of some of the greatest Argaian heroes to ever draw breath. While it would be a horrid gruesome end, it was the kind of death that every Amurai dreamed of.