In the darkness, a dragon screamed.

It seemed as though he had been screaming forever—screaming, falling, twisting end over end, his body buffeted by chill winds that cut through him like sharp-honed knives. The sounds of his own screams mingled in his mind with the shrieks of the wind and the cries of—what? He did not know. They echoed around him, bouncing off, passing through him as if there was nothing left of his physical body, but only the essence of what he had been.

The falling continued as the agony of the wind lanced into his bleeding body, opening wounds, searing flesh, eating through him, consuming him—he closed his eyes, trying to block it out, trying to think only of his redemption, of the fact that he had finally ended the thing that had begun so long ago with his father. The pain could not go on forever. The body—even a body as strong and powerful as his own had been—could only take so much punishment before the light of life ceased within it.

Still the screams persisted—his own and those around him. The echoes were mocking him, raising their foul voices to meet his, matching the tone and pitch of his cries, dancing around him and then flitting away in the wind. In contrast to his own ungraceful tumbling they seemed at home in the wicked winds, riding the currents like malevolent surfers. There was a sense of anticipation in the air. Something was going to happen. Something big. Their eyes followed him hungrily, though he could not see their bodies. There were only brief impressions, quickly lost.

He did not know how long he fell. Time and space seemed fluid, at the same moment immeasurably vast and unbearably claustrophobic. Clamping his eyes shut once again, he forced himself to clear his mind, to allow the pain to wash over him and move on, to wait. It would be over soon. His brother was safe. His brother's friends—the very friends he had sworn on numerous occasions to kill—were safe. He had redeemed himself. There was nothing to fear now. He would continue on to the next plane of existence—whatever that proved to be—with clear conscience and free mind. He clung to that thought in desperation, as the one anchor remaining to him. Soon it would be over.

The falling stopped.

There was no crash, no final shriek of agony as the momentum slammed his body down at the bottom of the chasm, impaled on spiked rocks or sinking into a quagmire of infinite depth. Instead, there was simply—nothing. No feeling. No sound. No—being?

He opened his eyes cautiously. All around him it was dark, the deep velvet blackness that tightens the eyes as they try to force even the tiniest bit of light from it and fail. He could not feel the ground beneath him. He could not feel the pain of his body. In fact, he could not feel his body at all. It was as if he was floating in some void. Was this what existed at the bottom of the Chasm? Nothingness? And if so, why was he still conscious? Why was he still alive?

Was he still alive?

One by one, tiny lights began to pick their way out of the blackness, like stars winking on. Around him, whispers formed—the smallest of sibilant sounds, incoherent and unintelligible. They were drawing closer, as the little lights were getting bigger. Something was approaching. He tensed—it was a strange feeling, tensing when one could not feel one's body. It was more as if his mind tensed. “Who—is there?” He could not hear his voice, only feel the impression of it inside his consciousness. He wondered if the thing had heard him, and then wondered if that concept was even a valid one here.

The whispers got louder, and he became aware that it was not an it—it was a they, and they were chuckling to each other. It was not a pleasant sound. It was, in fact, the sound of a large number of small and furtive predators circling a bit of prey that they already knew was theirs. The essence of a cat playing with a wounded bird.

The darkness lifted all at once for just a moment, and with it his confusion. He only got the briefest glimpse, but a glimpse—a visual reference—was not what he needed here. That was not at all necessary to his comprehension of the situation. All at once he knew where he was, and why he was here—and what was very, very wrong. The blackness engulfed him once again.

In the darkness, a dragon screamed as the sensation of falling began anew. He knew now that, despite his redemption, the only thing that awaited him was hell.

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Copyright ©1999, 2000 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of FASA Corporation.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.