A Party at the Red Pony – A Tale of Drinking in Sigil
Perhaps it was the dim lighting, the heady scent of the seventh stained mug of potent but unidentifiable alcohol or maybe it was the fact that the small tavern was crammed full of all manner of creatures bizarre and unimaginable but never had that woman looked any more beautiful to Kaliban as she did now.
Kaliban could not take his eyes off her—save for the brief moments when upending his mug and slurring an order for another. There she sat, also eagerly knocking back drink after drink so that a mountainous pile grew between them beneath the raucous cheers of onlookers penning them on all sides. It was a contest of spirits which built the great divide between them and—as Kaliban’s vision began to blur—it was the determination that he would see his consciousness across those wet and sticky vessels to the oasis of her lavish green eyes awaiting on the other side that motivated him.
To be certain, he knew very little of the fair Thia Nailo despite having spent a great deal of time sharing mortal peril with her. Albeit, half that peril was illusory and contained with the safe and impenetrable walls of the Nursery but had he not died in her arms? Had he not suffered both sling and arrows by her side? His heart had thumped with red-bloodedness and adrenaline. Could there exist a more perfect recipe for romance? Kaliban knew no others and he was well versed in recipes and concoctions.
Perhaps she would take great interest in that knowledge? He paused in his chugging to perceive the slight swoon of her head, the bright veins which glimmered within her pupils. She looked at him with eyes barely clear and a dozen sobering tinctures and inebriation remedies sprung to his mind. Surely even a place as strange and incomprehensible as this carried enough meadowsweet herb, fennel seed, gentian root and black horehound to stave off the disabling effects of their drinking contest.
Wait. Was it black horehound? Or was it chiretta herb? Or was that used in Widow’s Bliss? No, that was certainly strychnine which is incredibly time consuming and an enormous pain in the ass to extract from the plant’s damn seeds.
Have you any idea how hard it is to pulp a dozen tiny seeds with bleeding fingers while your mind begins to fill with their maddening juice while your matron screams profanities for how the Lord of Worms will use your corpse should you succumb to their delusive properties?
Kaliban briefly considered that as an opening to pleasant conversation but the barest scraps of sobriety still nestled in his mind cautioned against its effectiveness.
“The zombie falls behind! Is this the end?”
“I still have vim left in me, devil!” Kaliban shouted. At least, that was his intended response. Instead, he barely craned a drooping head in the direction of the grinning tiefling, his lips forming a long series of half-formed syllables which sounded more like, “shuv off yuus stoop-edd edded orn devl laidee…”
This prompted riotous cheers and laughter from the crowd. Certainly the party’s merriment was not that rare of a sport but even though their uncreative method for relaxing was likely seen day after day within the establishment, there were still those who worked the crowd in gathering bets over who would win between the tattooed man and beast bedecked half-elf.
Kaliban found another mug in his hand and muscles lifted it automatically to compliant lips with his fogged mind hardly perceptive of the entire procession. In fact, he couldn’t help but notice a strange pattern of extra mugs appearing at his elbow compared to the fine and beautiful Thia. Kaliban turned to Araven—the chief amongst the bookmakers—to contest this issue when he caught the telltale slump of his opponent’s shoulders.
Her fingers were barely able to wrap about the wood handle of her next drink and handsome Bill leaned in to whisper in her ear. Thia attempted to wave him off, her fingers tapping his chest as she fixed her eyes on Kaliban with determination.
He swooned. But Kaliban had seen enough people slip into peaceful unconsciousness to know that the woman’s constitution would not hold for longer. He looked down at the rolling green froth in his hands.
He knew what he had to do.
Kaliban leaned back on his chair, the legs creaking as the seat drew half to the air. He raised the drink to his mouth. He felt the warm liquid brush his lips. He closed his eyes and pushed off the flagged stone with his toes.
His chair collapsed against the ground in a thundering crash that broke over the cheering. His face grew warm and sticky with the fermented drink as it rushed from the skyward flagon’s bottom to bathe his face. He sputtered just enough from his nostrils to breath as he let brief emptiness wash over him.
But his shadows were not empty.
For a moment, the tavern vanished. The onlookers disappeared. Darkness consumed all, leaving nought but the tattooed man in a gaping nothingness.
Kaliban sensed their presence before he saw it. It was all over his skin, crawling across his face where once pleasant mead had stuck. They writhed, thousands upon thousands of small putrid worms. They clung to his flesh and clothes. They bubbled up from the darkness around his body, writhing their way into the folds of his clothes. Nothing could protect and nowhere was spared as the little creatures bore into flesh and muscle and tissue.
He opened eyes which were immediately besieged by the pestilent creatures. They blinded him just as quickly as they numbed him to all sensation but their burrowing mouths. They wrapped about his lobes and dug into his ears and he was filled with the sounds of their chewing.
Within that cacophony rose a terrible voice.
“You forget yourself, my son.”
Kaliban opened a mouth to scream but it was filled with the multitude of green creatures.
“You think you can hide from me?”
He tried to struggle—to free himself from the crush of the endless bodies. The more his limbs thrashed, the more the shadows spewed forth the crawling tide.
“You think your profane worship of the flesh will cloak you?”
Above blazed two great orbs burning with a vermillion flame of such hatred that its heat burned through the creatures engorging themselves on Kaliban’s pupils. The darkness folded so as to form the hood of that ancient head. It leered upon him, pressing close so that its child-worms became singing. The screams of his children assaulted Kaliban. It was that hideous chorus once more. He could smell the burning of their flesh as their voices rose in piteous pleas.
His mind convulsed in the memories. Visions of that dreaded fissure returned and the children thrown screaming one by one into the pits before being joined by their frenzied parents in an orgasmic slaughter of captive and believer alike. The air was thick with their blood, sweat and excrement. It was an assault upon one’s very sanity with the unbridled violence enacted against detestable flesh at every turn. Skin and muscle was flayed, leaving behind nought but the blessed bones which—so fuelled by the blasphemous rites—took to their tattered feet to assist with the massacre.
Presiding over it all was the Bonemaster himself. The Worm that Walks.
Black sleeves raised heavenward as screams drowned out whatever words escape that black hood.
“Remember,” echoed that voice in his ears. “Remember and obey.”
Kaliban stood over the pits, looking down on the mound of bodies filling the unending earth maw which swallowed them. A dagger was in one hand and an initiate in the other. The poor creature was bathed in the blood of the child which he had just slain and pushed upon the mound. His eyes were unblinking as he stared naked over the carnage, chest heaving in its disgusting need to consume the stench of death surrounding him.
It was Kaliban’s duty. He raised the blade to the child’s throat. Even as his muscles tensed beneath the knowledge that he would be next, his mind had seemingly all but left the proceedings and only the will of the Wormgod remained, urging him on to completion.
He would have too. But he was interrupted. A hand stayed his.
The blade was plucked from his young fingers as his victim was raised from his grasp. Kaliban blinked in incomprehension. He vaguely recognized his shadow matron—that woman which had filled him with just as many toxins as she had forced him create—as she raised his brother to her arms. She fled, tears streaming her cheeks and was swallowed by the darkness.
And some deeply buried thought wiggled in Kaliban’s mind. At the time he was filled with only his thoughts of failing the great Bonemaster—of his inability to save his brother of shadows from the curse of life. But now, he recognized that the matron had always favoured the other boy. While she tormented Kaliban and the others beneath her care, that one child could do no wrong.
In this brief drunken recollection, Kaliban could not help but note how similar they looked.
Dumbly, Kaliban stood upon the precipice before hands came and claimed him as well. Hooded individuals, elder members of the cult, carried him from the fissure with eyes downcast and refusing to look upon the slaughter. He hardly knew them as they wept, whispering apologies as he was born away from the master. When at last Kaliban realized their intentions, he struggled until a sting along his arm burn hot with the welling of his own blood mixing with the sedative. But as darkness fell upon him, he felt their arms hold him tighter and tighter.
He could feel those hands now, starkly warm upon his cold flesh. Kaliban’s eyes broke open as his body jerked madly. But there were no worms covering him now. There was no hood bearing upon him.
There was just sweet, beautiful Thia blinking with bleary eyes riddled with what Kaliban can only assume was concern.
“Are you alright?”
Without thought, Kaliban rose lips to connect lips in an impromptu embrace. In that moment, time slowed as his mind drank deep every precious sensation. The warmth of her mouth drove away those dark shadows of his recollections. The moisture of the spilt beer singed the lasting sensations of the endless worms. The scent of her newly acquired bestial adornments drowned out the hooded master and his traitorous whispers.
Then her hands were on his bare chest, pressing him off and away. Kaliban collapsed against the floor, relishing the pain of his pounding head, weariness of his inebriated limbs and, yes, the feelings of the lingering kiss.
“We… should buy some… silver. In case of ravens…”
Thia stood and Araven was at her side, quick to pronounce her winner and collecting the scrip from those foolish berks stupid enough to bet on Kaliban. A few patrons tripped over him as they dispersed back to their own indulgences but even as boots left fresh bruises, Kaliban did not move until a reluctant Bill arrived to pick up his lethargic body and bear him back to the Whole Note.