Himmelveil's Mightiest Heroes

Asa's Torment

Or Days Spent as a Trophy Paladin

Darkness.

Darkness and pain.

Cold.

Evil.

A rumble like a growl of thunder.

A burst of light and then blistering heat.

Burning.

Screams.

His own.

Laughter.

Not his own.

Darkness.


Darkness.

Burning and pain.

Asa muttered a prayer. The pain and discomfort relented slightly, sliding towards the back of his mind.

Laughter. Pure menace. It hovered in the air, smothering him, wrapping its tendrils around his pained mind.

He lay naked and prone across an uneven and alternately smooth and poking surface of what seemed to be metal and glass shards. Cold iron gripped his right ankle. Nearby, a chain slowly rattled. Suddenly, with incredible force, the chain jerked. His ankle snapped. He was flung to and fro across the darkness, first loose and floating, then snapping to the pivot of the ankle cuff. Each pulse drove needles of pain through his leg, stealing the breath from his lungs. He had just enough air to bellow as his hip was dislocated from the strain of the whipsawing. Back and forth he was thrown again.

“Yes.” As with the laughter, the gravelly voice slithered across Asa’s battered body. “Keep fixing yourself. That means more chances to play.”

Asa was dropped to the floor with disdain.

Pain.

Laughter.

Darkness.


“How manages his substitute?”

“Ably, Lord Ivereth. His friends realize not.”

“Yes. The power of the stone hides Kraserith from even the stoutest of defenses.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

“And the others?”

“As with Kraserith, they remain in the—“

“Silence! My prize is awake. He thinks I can’t tell. Go now. Tell Lord Onai the prize awaits him. Say no more.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

There was a brief scrabbling of claws on stone moving away into the darkness. But not utter darkness. There was light peeking in from somewhere above and somewhere beyond. It was brighter and from it Asa felt no heat or threat.

“I see you,” the voice grated. Asa shivered. He wondered about his friends.

Is this what they felt in the presence of these beasts?

Dragons. Asa knew what they were. He understood their language. But fear? He hardly remembered what it felt like to be afraid.

Is this fear? Is this the closest I can come?

“Are you ready for more … play?” it hissed.

Claws clacked across stone, getting closer. Leathery hide whispering and whooshing. Tinkling of metal and glass like water in a fountain.

Asa tried to make a fist as he braced for contact but he could not. His hand had been broken and he couldn’t close his fingers to his palm. The bones ground against one another unnaturally. He closed his eyes but it didn’t stop them from rolling back into his head at the sharp pain of the attempt. Something leathery touched his leg near the chain. The tip of a claw and a light scratch, like for an itch. The weight behind the paw was incredibly present, on the edge of delivery, but withheld, teasing. The pain tantalized in its absence but devastated at its possibility. Hot breath exhaled across Asa’s body stimulating the burned skin. Despite the heat his singed hairs stood on end. Even this most delicate a touch delivered on the threat. Then a stabbing pain as a single claw pierced his calf stealing his breath at its intensity, probing deep into the muscle. He groaned.

Laughter.

Asa sighed, gritting his teeth. “How long—“

“You get nothing!” Ivereth hissed, just above him. A burst of sulfuric breath blew across his frame boiling his sores and burns. Leathery wings began to flap, ever more rapidly, sending the hot air swirling around him, hotter and faster and more forceful. The tinkling of the metal, glass, and stone grew louder from the heightened gusts. “Call out to your god, Paladin!” it spat. “There is no rest for you here!”

It roared deafeningly. Asa didn’t know how long it lasted.

Darkness.


Silence. The evil was absent. Again there was an ambient light in the room, though Asa couldn’t really see much. Perhaps his eyes could adjust to the darkness. He knew he was alone so with more forthrightness he asked for the favor of the Nameless One to heal his broken body. His prayer was answered.

Breathing grew easier and the pain in his right leg retreated. His hip was still dislocated.
Asa closed his eyes and tried to center himself with his prayers. The last thing he remembered was defeating the dragon Garinch and pocketing the green stone.

Natasha and Quarion are dead!

He trembled.

No. Vondarra… she used a stone to bring them back to us. How was I captured?

He couldn’t recall.

Wait. Substitute. That younger beast mentioned my substitute. Does the team even know I am here? What are the dragons capable of if I have been replaced without anyone knowing? At least everything we are, it seems.

He shivered. Asa opened his eyes and could see but a little. As he suspected, he sprawled across a mountain of valuables: coins of all kinds, gemstones, and wealth beyond reckoning. Gold trophies.

Trophy. I am its trophy.

He spat, but nothing came of it. It was difficult to move his jaw. His lips cracked and clung together. Asa realized with urgency how hungry and thirsty he was. Simultaneously, he spotted a plate of meat and flagon close at hand. Fresh.

It is feeding me. Should I let it?

He reached out and pulled the flagon close. He titled it towards his mouth and poured. Cool. It chilled him as he drank it down. It wasn’t quite water, but it refreshed. He grabbed the plate and voraciously devoured the smoky meat which lay upon it. Not recognizable, but it brought satisfaction to his belly.

I must keep my mind. And that requires strength. And that requires food and drink. No question the beast could keep me alive with its magic, but I can’t let it. I will suffer the indignities of it providing for me, but I won’t let it do for me that which I can still do for myself. I will feed myself and heal myself and live. I won’t break. I won’t let it see me broken. It is not my master.

Minutes passed and Asa must have dozed. He awoke with a start as metal clanged nearby. In his sleep he had knocked over the flagon. It bounced down the dragon’s hoard spilling its contents along the way. He groaned, suddenly, convulsing as the food within him churned. He turned to the side and vomited. It wasn’t poison, he didn’t think. Just an unsettled stomach stirred by the absence of food.

Had it been days? How long have I been here?

Asa prayed again seeking solace in his Lord. His body strengthened. The pain ebbed. He slept.


Asa jerked awake at a beast’s coarse leathery paw stroking his shoulder and then held perfectly still.

Evil. But different. Stronger. Older.

“Your strength has returned, dear one,” it purred. “My pet!”

Laughter.

“Tell me about Himmelveil.”

Asa remained silent.

“Tell me about Himmelveil.”

Silence.

“Is my brother taking good care of you? Do you like your food and drink?” Its voice was dark and muscled, raspy and powerful, but it kept its tone level, almost friendly, throughout the threat.

Silence.

“Your god lies when it tells you to not fear me.”

Silence.

“We have time.”

It shifted its immense mass and casually moved away.

Asa breathed deeply and prayed for calm. He trembled.


“Tell me about Himmelveil.”

Burning.

“Tell me about Himmelveil.”

Crushed and snapped bones.

“Tell me about Himmelveil.”

Sleeplessness.

“Tell me about Himmelveil.”

Claws.

“Tell me about Himmelveil.”

Friendliness.

“Tell me about Himmelveil.”

Deafened.

“Tell me about Himmelveil.”

Buffeted.

“Tell me about Himmelveil.”

Spat upon and taunted.

“Tell me about Himmelveil.”

Silence.


The days passed without count while Asa strained to maintain his Self.

The physical brutality hurt him but ultimately ebbed with time and prayers and healing. It reminded him of the strength of the Nameless One. There was solace in that. There was power in that. He suspected the beast knew this, but it couldn’t help itself from its evil nature.

At the limit of his willpower, of his ability to withstand the onslaught, the beast ignored him. Asa knew when the beast was nearby. So when it rested or watched or purred with contentment having ceased pouring malice upon Asa, Asa trembled at its absence.

Am I no longer important? Am I no longer your prize? Your pet? Speak to me! Please. I’m still here.

But the beast gave Asa nothing but silence. There was nothing to withstand, no pain from which to steal confidence, no perceived frustrations from which to purchase joy, however fleeting.

Asa yearned to hear its voice. He longed to call out and break the silence. Multiple times he swallowed an emerging cry into groans.

Speak to me or I will. No! I’m still me. For now.

But the cracks were showing. No doubt the beast was aware and as it had taunted Asa, it had time. All the time that it wanted.


“Asa.”

He stirred.

Find me, Darkness. Keep me safe.

The last beating, following the silence, was relentless and Asa retreated into his darkness. More often than not he preferred it there. There was no peace for him anywhere else.

“Asa! Where are you?”

Asa groaned.

Stop taunting me, Beast. Just lie still and it will leave me be.

“Asa!” a familiar voice pleaded.

Asa stirred again.

Was that Quarion’s voice? No. The beast always has something new to try.

Laughter.

Asa heard the beast move, but cared not to watch it.

Find me, Darkness.

He kept his eyes closed.

“I see you,” it hissed.

More laughter.

“Oh, Asa, my pet, what have you done?” it said, twisting the word you with amusement and a hint of concern.

“So now they know. Will they come for you, dear one?” it mused. “Let them try.”

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