Vodola's End

(Author's Note: You thought it was over, didn't you? Wellll ... NO! As I hinted earlier, I did indeed write a death scene for Vodola - in Week Five, to be precise, when Vodie was leading Tundra for elimination right up to the last minute and it looked as if our favorite vixen was toast - and I think you'll agree that it's a doozy. A death scene so fantastic that it actually plays out over three distinct scenes in what would have been two separate posts.

Since I never actually had to use this in the game itself, I never bothered writing the lead-in, but presumably Vodola was snatched off the plateau where the castaways were staying at that point in the story and borne away to the secret lair of the basilisks. You'll also notice that no mention is made of the conspiracy between Maulseed and Canto Attia, since that subplot had not yet been introduced into the story by me or Pyr. And now, speaking of toast ... )

BRIDE OF THE RIVER OF FIRE

Vodola awoke to find her forepaws tied behind a post at her back, a small army of the sleek lizards encircling her on three side. All the reptiles gazed at her expectantly.

Across the clearing from her stood one of the rat savages, similarly bound to a stake. The look of terror on his face was excruciating, even though he appeared to be unharmed.

Where was she? This was no place on the island that she recognized. The rock and soil around her were black and devoid of vegetation, and everybeast stood in shadows. The lack of sun inspired the vixen to glance up. The vast bulk of the volcanic mountain loomed over them all, blocking out the late afternoon sunlight. They were right at the foot of the volcano, perhaps even within a gully that penetrated somewhat into its interior. This must be where these lizards dwelt ... which would explain why their lair had never been discovered by the castaways, who had made a point of keeping a respectful distance between themselves and the volcano.

It was ferociously hot here, hot like an oven. Vodola felt she might faint if her bonds around the post weren't holding her upright. The fur of the rat across from her was matted and drenched with sweat, and Vodola knew she must present a similar sight. She still wore her tattered habit, which didn't help the situation any. Obviously the cold-blooded reptiles would enjoy this heat, but it was punishing for furred creatures.

Enough light filtered down onto this ledge for Vodola to see fairly well. There was a drop in front of her - a place where the wide rock shelf simply ended, and beyond lay ... what? A dark black wall rose again a stone's throw beyond the edge, but what lay between could not be seen from this vantage. Her fear of heights began to play at the fringes of her mind, but she pushed those qualms back down as best she could. Still, a voice seemed to taunt her inner ear: What if that's a chasm that disappears into the depths of the earth, and you could fall, and fall, and fall ...

Vodola realized that all the lizards were swaying together, almost like they were dancing in place. There was no sound or music, no humming or singing or pounding of drums - just the eerily silent swaying back and forth. This was a ritual of some kind, and Vodola guessed that she and the rat were the guests of honor. Or the guests of horror, depending on what these lizards had in mind. She glanced again at her fellow captive; the rat seemed on the verge of literally dying of fright. Did he genuinely know what the reptiles intended? It was too bad the rats of this island didn't speak any real language. Then again, did Vodola really want to know what lay in store for her?

She glanced down, kicking the bottom of her robes away from her legs. Both her shortswords were gone. She felt naked and vulnerable without them. Not that she would be able to do much with her paws tied behind her back, but she supposed the lizards meant to untie her sooner or later, and when they did, she would have liked to have had at least a fighting chance. Of course, they'd paralyzed her once before to bring her here, and they could always do so again. But she suspected they wanted her alive for this ceremony, whatever it was, otherwise they wouldn't have waited for her to regain consciousness.

The lizards abruptly ceased their swaying and swarmed forward to surround the rat. One of the reptiles - it may have been their high priest, but since none wore clothes or markings of any kind, it was impossible to be sure - deftly severed the rodent's bonds with a crude black stone knife. The rat had no chance to run before the lizards grabbed him bodily, lifted him from the ground and bore him over their heads to the edge of the natural platform. There they paused for all of five heartbeats, letting the doomed rodent get a good look at what lay below. The rat soiled himself, releasing bowels and bladder simultaneously. Then he was cast over the ledge toward whatever lay below.

The anguish of his horrified scream was almost enough to make Vodola faint.

The lizards turned to her. Within moments they were surrounding her on all sides, their long, sharp, curving claws grabbing at her even before her ropes were cut. They knew she would be more of a challenge to handle than the terrified rat, and were taking no chances.

The moment her bonds were loosed Vodola sought to batter and club her way free of them. To her surprise, two fell under her bare-pawed assault almost immediately. These lizards were not so strong or fearsome, individually.

But dozens pressed in on her from every direction, leaving her no room to execute the proper defensive punches, chops and kicks that she'd learned at Maulseed Academy. She was simply overwhelmed, multiple claws grabbing onto each of her arms and legs and refusing to let go. As with the rat before her, Vodola was hoisted over their heads and carried to the lip of the ledge.

Vodola could not help but look down. The rat's scream had cut off abruptly, so she knew it was not a very long drop to whatever peril lay below. But no fancied horror of her feverish imagination could have matched what her eyes beheld now.

A slow-winding river of molten liquid rock ran orange beneath them, a diverted flow of lava from the volcano that briefly ran above ground here before disappearing below the island again a short way to her left.

Vodola frantically clawed at the talons gripping her, trying any way she could to grab onto her captors so that they would be unable to hurl her to a fiery doom. A voice in her mind pounded against her skull: Not like this! This can't be happening! Not like this! Not like this!

But the lizards were too well practiced at this ritual, and knew how to elude desperate grasps from their sacrifices that might frustrate their efforts to feed their god of fire. In spite of her panicked grabs, Vodola found herself flung into the air over the chasm, the glowing liquid rock rising up to meet her.

She had not intended to scream; the agonized wail that forced its way between her lips was something that erupted from her of its own volition. It was every bit as bloodcurdling as the rat's cry had been.

The lava was so hot and liquefied that it actually splashed as she hit it. Her habit and fur burst into flame upon contact, but blazed for only a heartbeat or two before she sank into the lava, the molten rock engulfing her completely.

The pain was exquisite, excruciating beyond anything she had ever imagined. She was literally drowning and burning at the same time, her eyes instantly burned out of their sockets as the lava poured into her ears, nose and mouth. Every square inch of her body was being seared by temperatures seldom seen anywhere on the face of the earth.

And there, balanced on the knife edge of this indescribable agony, a war raged in Vodola's soul. She wanted to die, to pass out, for the pain to simply stop. But for that to happen, she must die, and there was still a part of her mind that railed against this fate and refused to accept that this was her end. Her stubborn will to live, and all her seasons of training at Maulseed, now became her greatest enemy as she sought for a way out of this predicament. There must be a way out. There must be ...

The pain went on, and on, long after any normal beast would have succumbed to this torture and lost consciousness. Her now-furless skin blackened to charcoal, and her inner organs began to burst as their water turned to steam, and her brain boiled in her skull. She could not tell when she actually did die, so focused was she on her spirit-destroying agony.

Even death brought her no release, as she carried her torment with her into the next world ...

00000000000

Far away, across the sea near the northwest fringes of Mossflower, the young male students at Maulseed Academy were settled in for the night in their dormitory.

Kincy the rat sat up in his bed with a strangled cry.

His weasel friend Trisko rolled over in the adjacent bed and stared through the darkness at the rodent. "Hey, wot is it, Mouse? Bad dream or sumthin'?"

"It's ... it's Vodola," the rat sobbed, tears in his eyes. "Something terrible has happened to her."

"Huh?" Trisko levered himself up onto one elbow. "Whaddya mean?"

"She's dead, Trisk! Vodola's been killed!"

"What? How could you know that?"

"I ... I felt it. She cried out to me. She was in so much pain ... it was horrible!"

Trisko climbed out of bed to comfort his distraught friend. "Hey, c'mon now, t'was only dream. Naught else it could've been. You know our squirrel princess, she's a tough 'un, a real survivor. She's alive an' well wherever she is, you c'n be sure o' that. An' she'll come marchin' back to us sometime this season or next, jus' like she said she was gonna."

Kincy settled back onto his pillow. "It was no dream, Otter. A vision, p'raps, but a vision of something that really happened. Vodola's dead. Our Vodola is dead."

The certainty in the rat's voice sent a chill down Trisko's spine and made the weasel's fur stand on end. "Well, ask Procter Erkan 'bout it in th' morn. That marten knows more about dreams an' such than anybeast at Maulseed. He'll tell you whether there's anything to it."

Trisko returned to bed, and was soon fast asleep once more, snoring softly. But no sleep came to Kincy for the rest of that night, as the rat sat propped up on his pillow, tearfully mourning the vixen friend he knew he would never see again.

DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT

Levet, Ciarnait, Athi and Orlic stood outside the gates of Dark Forest, awaiting the arrival of more of their companions from the island. They knew that at least two more of their fellow castaways, and perhaps as many as four, would be joining them here before long. None could venture past the gate and into the next life until this trial was complete - this they had been told, although they could not have said by whom.

Now the four spirits were wracked by the torture of Vodola's torment.

"Hellsteeth, why ain't she a-comin'?" Levet demanded to know. "It's her time. Don't she realize that?"

"Too stubborn for her own good," Ciarnait surmised coolly, even though her distress was as great as any of the others'.

"She's not ready yet," Athi shrugged. "Her will to live was stronger than any of ours. She'll be here when she realizes there's nowhere else for her to go."

"But the pain!" Orlic cried. "Can you feel it? My passage was so peaceful - I accepted my fate without resisting. How can she withstand it?"

"Mebbe she's afraid," Levet suggested.

"Or angry," Ciarnait said. "Outrage at such a fortune might make a beast linger, just for spite if nothing else. I almost turned down that path myself. I see now how wise I was not to."

"Selfish vixen!" Athi growled. "Doesn't she realize what this is doing to the rest of us?"

"How could she?" Orlic protested. "She has never been to the gates like we have. She knows only the world of the living that we have left behind." Orlic turned to the east, where the misty boundaries between the two worlds met. Although the vixen no longer possessed real flesh and blood, astral tears dampened the ghost fur of her cheeks. "Let go, Vodola! I told you once that I would welcome you as a companion in wandering the lands. Come now and we'll wander the paths of Dark Forest and discover them together. Please, Vodola, let go!"

They could only wait, and hope Vodola's wayward spirit would heed their pleas for her release, and theirs. And so they waited, at the gates of Dark Forest.