Into the Rift

Once more into the Rift . . .
Led by the elf prince, Adros, a group of heroes returns to the Dead Worlds in a last ditch effort to find the living. But instead of survivors, they encounter beings more ancient and evil than even the foulest of Dead Gods.
Meanwhile, the Goddess Alana begins her own quest -- a journey back to the world of her greatest failure, the elven home-world, the land where she left her true love die. There, she must face her greatest fears -- and an enemy more powerful than anything she has ever known.


15. DREX




He gasped as his head arose.  The scent of rot filled his lungs, the taste of it lingered on his tongue.  He waited for the slime to drip down his face and then opened his eyes, finding the waves crashing together, endlessly and in all directions.  He saw no walls, only a sky glowing eerily blue and an ocean of blood and shit.  Everywhere he looked he saw the shadowy threads; tubes writhing in the distance, plunging in and out of the water.

He took the foul air in – along with a healthy drink of the reeking mire – just as another wave came crashing over him.  

Gagging, he was dragged under once more. 

On and on it went, his body bobbing up and down; a quick breath here, a gulp of muck there.  Sometimes he would come up puking, the taste of vomit on his tongue somehow less repulsive than that of the water.  To stay afloat, he clung to whatever he could find; often misshapen chunks of flesh and bone, so twisted and alien he couldn’t even iMagine what their biological function could possibly have been.  At one point he thought he held a leg, until he the waves subsided and he realized the lump of flesh he mistook for a toe more closely resembled a nose, and the handhold he had sunk his finger into was actually an eye socket.  He wasn’t sure what the hell he was clinging to after that.  Whatever they were, they floated atop the frothy surface, bumping against him; the ungodly biological flotsam the only thing keeping him from drowning.

Meanwhile, as he struggled to stay afloat, like parasitic worms, white tubes scoured the bloody soup, sucking up the odd body parts and even less recognizable lumps of matter.  The tubes blackened as they filled, then screeching, slimy bits of flesh dripping from their hooked lips, they retreated to the darkness above.  Their hunger only briefly sated, they dove back in again, causing foam-covered waves to roll across the surface. 

Such was Drex’s fate; forced to cling to the limbs of some unimaginable beast just to catch his breath. 

He was far too injured and weary to do otherwise, for after he was captured, while hanging, the wires cut him deep.  He did his damnedest to wiggle his free, but the harder he fought, the tighter the wire constricted.  It wasn’t until the stars filled his eyes and the blood came gushing out of him that he realized he had fought too hard.  The last thing he remembered was the darkness closing in on him and the ground drawing closer to his feet.  He was out cold before he hit the spreading pool of blood on the floor.

He should be dead.  From what he remembered, it was a big damn pool of blood below him – surely enough to drain his wicked heart.

And Drex should know, he had seen it many time before; but until now he had always been the cause of it.  No, Drex wasn’t accustomed to being a victim, to being prey.  In more ways than one, this journey into the Rift was a new experience for him.

Hell, to be honest, there was a time Drex used to look forward to watching his victims bleed out.  Other men would run; for fear of being caught, or just in shame of what they had done.  But Drex liked to stay, to watch it, to watch as their eyes close . . . as the crimson pool grows.  He had always been fascinated by that moment – that last breath, the final dim thump in their chest.  Every time he had hoped he would see it . . . something . . . something meaningful.  To see the proof which all men seek. 

It wasn’t that he expected a grandiose miracle -- to see their souls come rising from their chests; golden gates splitting the sky.  But maybe, just maybe, there would be an inkling, a glimmer in their eyes as they died; a brief acknowledgment that they entered the afterlife. 

But every damn time, it was always the same; life leaves their eyes, but if there’s a soul it’s nowhere to be found. 

The blood still fresh on his knife, he would sigh in disappointment . . . life was pain and misery, a soggy pool of feces he was forced to trudge through – his current situation being a prime example. 

He wasn’t the greatest fan of the Maker, but he honestly did hope there was more; he was so eager for something else to look forward to. 

As he bobbed helplessly in the unwholesome broth he couldn’t help but wonder, should he be so eager to be done with it, a man like him?  And if there was an afterlife, did he really want to go there? 

Hell no. 

Drex had a feeling that the Maker would barricade the golden gates to keep him out of paradise.  No doubt he was destined for somewhere else; perhaps a place even worse than the Rift, if such a thing were possible . . . and there he would stay for eternity, reckoning for his sins. 

Yes, he killed many men in his life – women too.  Sometimes it was just to watch them die, but sometimes they actually deserved it.  Pretty much anyone foolish enough to stand in his way met their end at the edge of his blade, their blood draining out around his boots. 

It was so easy, to kill.  Life beat him bloody in every other endeavor, but when it came to killing Drex was a natural.  It was the one thing he was good at -- damn good, and the one thing he could take from this reality, life.  And so it was; Drex carved his way through the Seventh World, killing for coin . . . and sometimes just for fun. 

Wasn’t that the point to it all, kill or be killed, survival of the fittest?  He had heard many a fool talk of the Maker’s path as if it was some spiritual journey to peace.  But history told another tale; evolution was a bloody path, those who survived left carnage, not peace, in their wake. 

Unlike the rest of the world, he didn’t hide who or what he was.  Some called themselves soldiers, warriors, and the most arrogant ones swordmasters.  Those titles were lies to hide what they truly were, killers one and all.  It’s what they were born to be, what the Seventh World demanded of them – hell, it’s what the universe demanded of them.  Whether it was the Age of War or the Exodus, it was always the same – fight or die. 

Only the strong survive.

Drex was doing the Seventh World a favor, these so-called warriors of peace forgot what it took to get them there, the mountain of dead men their ancestors had to climb to reach their new home-world.

Drex was their reminder that the world was not safe.  That evil existed.  And that in the end, only those anointed to the evil would be strong enough to survive it.

But was he strong enough?  He thought so, until he faced Adros. 

When he heard the Elf Prince had returned from the wilds he couldn’t ignore his chance to test his skills against those of the legendary elf.  He gave it his damned best, but sometimes the legends live up to their reputations.  Adros was a prime example.  To his shock, Drex was ridiculously outmatched.  It wasn’t Adros’ strength, his size, or even his magical staff that was his greatest advantage – though all proved formidable.  It was his style, so effortless, so utterly instinctual.  Adros could have ended it at any moment, but he didn’t.  At first Drex thought he was being toyed with, and oh how he longed to bury his blade into the elf at the thought of it.  But as the fight wore on he realized Adros wasn’t toying with him – he was testing him. 

He too was looking for something . . . something meaningful.  Much like Drex sought the souls of those he killed Adros was seeking Drex’s soul; to see if there was more to the man than just murderous lust. 

He must have found what he was looking for, something Drex didn’t even know existed.  Why else would he have let him live?

He learned a great deal in his battle with the One Elf, primarily being that Drex would never be stronger than the evil inherent in the universe unless he faced it head on – as Adros had done. 

That’s why he came.  He didn’t give a damn about finding survivors.  Drex came to face the legends, the legends of the Rift. 

Before he came to this world, he had done a damn fine job of it too.  The more of the dead ones he sent to hell, the stronger he became.  And where the weak found only despair, he found opportunity; a chance to push his body beyond the limits of what was possible in the Seventh World.

But this place, this hell was something else, and it damn sure wasn’t in any legend of the Rift Drex had ever heard of.

He breached the slime-coated surface once more.  This time, after catching his quick breath he opened his eyes to find one of the tubes closing in on him.  The circular mouth opened wide; hooked teeth lined the perimeter while deep inside glimmered rows of serrated teeth.  Every motion of the worm-like body started the teeth churning; opening and closing together like razor sharp scissors.  The mouth moved towards him, stretching wide enough to swallow him whole.  Drex knew that once those hooks took hold there would be no backing out; his body would be sucked in and ground within its gullet.

It was only by luck he had escaped them thus far.  But Drex was never one to rely on luck for survival.

He took a deep breath, fighting the urge to vomit up the fluid he recently ingested.  He let go of his floating body parts, allowing the muck to take him, to let his body sink to the depths of the pool.  The water churned above him as he sank.  The lower he went the thicker the liquid became, until eventually his body halted, suspended deep within the thick mire.  There he hovered, holding his breath, praying for the water to calm and the tube to pass him by.  As he waited his skin began to itch; mildly at first, but it took only moments and then the itch became a burn; a few moments more and the itch was an inferno.  He bore the agony as long as possible – and could have borne it even longer – but his lungs demanded air.  With his flesh on fire and starving for breath, Drex clambered up the muck. 

Surprisingly, it was thicker than he thought – or he was weaker.  He could barely raise his arms above his head, let alone swim his way upward.  For the first time in a long, long while Drex felt fear.  His arms and legs barely able to move, he saw the specter of death approaching.  Maybe it was the end he deserved: to slowly disintegrate, his every cell dispersing, becoming one with the vat of shit.  But it damn sure wasn’t the end he had in mind for himself. 

Teeth clenched, dying to inhale – even if it was the fetid water, he punched and kicked his way upward.  He made some progress, yet he couldn’t resist it anymore . . . the deep longing took over and he filled his lungs.  The shock to his system sent him flailing even harder.  Using the spasmodic motion to propel to the surface he fought on, even while drowning to death. 

For a moment he thought he saw it . . . the miracle, the heavenly glow beckoning him to the afterlife.  But no, as he swam closer it became clear it wasn’t the welcoming light of heaven, but the cold blue glow of hell.  He strove for it nonetheless, perhaps strove to it even harder, knowing he wasn’t yet dead. 

Then the light faded, and only blackness took its place.  That’s when Drex knew he was truly screwed, and his actual death was on its way.  Only the faintest light remained as he slipped into death.  He reached out to it.  His hand took hold of something . . . something soft, soggy to the touch.  It broke apart in his grip but he clung on, grasping until he felt the hard bone within. 

Pulling on it as if it were a lifeline, Drex arose, black water spewing from his lips. 

It was awhile before he stopped choking on his own vomit, and longer yet before his burning lungs stopped aching for air. 

During the struggle, he faded in and out of consciousness . . .

He awoke to a break in the waves.  His body slumped over a sizable (but unrecognizable) chunk of flesh.  Lifting his head, he nearly screamed in pain, but the sight of the distant tubes made him bite his tongue.  His entire body was on fire.  Beneath the bluish light he saw his arms, and the ruptured blisters covering his skin.

As if the vat of blood and body parts wasn’t bad enough, now Drex could add acid to the mix.  Thankfully it was only in the lower levels, but still . . .

He suddenly realized what this was and where he was. 

He should have been dead . . . or at least die at some point.  Then his body would sink, and it would be digested.

He was still in the triangular structure – in its belly.  He was being converted into energy in the mechanized gut of the ship.  The bloody brine he was floating in, it was the food of their captors. 

But it was sustenance.  Perhaps the only reason he yet lived was because he drank so damn much of it.  The metal bastards must have thought him dead when they tossed him in, but little did they know . . .  Drex was a tough son of a bitch, and even more importantly, he was a survivor.

Another tube scoured the nearby froth.  This time he didn’t hide from it, this time he did what he did best -- survive.  It must have sensed him; the hooked mouth opened wide as it swung his way.  It dove down, its gullet churning like a meat grinder as it came for him. 

Drex kicked free, stuffing the floating carcass down its throat as it plunged into the water.  It brushed his legs as it continued to dive.  He reached out, his blistered hands taking hold of the tube.  It was difficult to grip; slick with mucus, and ribbed with veiny growths.  If it wasn’t for the texture, in his weakened state he never could have held on.  He managed to wrap one arm around it, as if he had it in a headlock, and then threw his other arm around, clasping his hands together.

Drex was a killer, but more importantly he was a survivor.  No matter what it took, he was going to survive this as well.  Like all other challenges in his life, he would surmount it, emerging victorious stronger than before.

As the tube dove into the water, he went along for the ride.  He held on, even as it plunged into the thick acidic depths.  There it fed.  And there he burned anew.  Meanwhile, the air drained from his lungs and the shroud of death came closing in.  Growing faint, his grip slackened as his slipped into death.  Yet he hung on, deciding he would arise with it, or die then and there. 

At last it finished its feast.  Still clinging to the now blackened tube, he arose with it.  Lungs heaving, he broke the surface.  The blue light became utter black as the tube rose, screeching, to the air.  Far below, the fetid pool vanished. 

As it continued the ascent, he began to slip down the tubing; its surface slicker than ever, his arms burning from fatigue and his most recent acid bath.  Drex began to worry it would never stop, and he would slide down the tube and free-fall into the water below.  His arms and legs were spent, but he wasn’t giving up . . . he bit down into the tube, locking onto rubbery, ribbed flesh with his jaw.

When the blue light finally appeared, he grunted in relief.  His ride took him into a barreled chamber; the walls covered in pulsating blue veins.  Nearby, he saw several more tubes, wriggling as they excreted their feasts into a pool below.  The pool was black as pitch, but around it the blue light was almost blinding to behold.  The veins of light originated from the pool, branching off from it.  He followed the biggest branches; eyes burning, through a fog he saw their destination, a field of pulsating blue pods. 

His tube hovered over the pool, unleashing its cargo like a loose stool.  Seeing the pods, Drex had more reason than ever to believe his theory way correct.  He let go . . . falling into the pool below. 

Too weakened to swim, he sank into it.  The pool was deep, far deeper than he could have iMagined.  For an eternity he sank.  He gave all his strength to holding on to the tube, there was nothing left.  Nothing even to cling to. 

He drifted into the abyss. 

For as long as he could he held his breath. 

Then, with an involuntary gulp the dark liquid filled his lungs . . .


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