Mrs. Rasmussen rushed into the lobby of the Sulfur Springs Resort Welcome Center. The woman’s gray hair was tousled, as though she had just stepped out of a wind tunnel. She still wore thick leather gloves and a matching leather apron. Smeared across the apron was a sticky ooze which caused a putrid smell to quickly engulf the room, but no one was there to notice. She looked around and literally not a soul was to be found, not even Charon. The absence of Hades’ ever-faithful receptionist could only mean he was on a ferry trip to usher more of the dead to their new homes.
Cautiously, she approached the door leading to Hades’ office. For a moment, she just stared at the door and blinked. Hades was rarely ever in a good mood when it came to unannounced visitors and he has had more than his share recently. Angering the Lord of the Underworld isn’t something Mrs. Rasmussen was eager to do and not something anyone forgets anytime soon. She thought about just turning around and returning to the fields. Tending to the larvae of the illithids was an arduous task. She rationalized no one could fault her for not abandoning her post.
But, if he found out what she had discovered and hadn’t told him, she knew he would be furious. She sighed at this no win situation. Just before she could knock on the door, it flung open and a startled Mrs. Rasmussen fell backwards. She winced as her backside slammed on the cold tile floor. Two tiny demons came bouncing from Hades’ office. Equally startled, the pair stared at the disheveled Mrs. Rasmussen.
A fat little imp, the color of amethyst, leapt comically behind his skinnier companion. Peering from behind, Lepta said with a tremble in his voice, “Oh, Drachma. We’ve been bad boys. Hades is gonna kill us when he finds out what we’ve been doing.”
Drachma stood a full foot taller than his spooked friend. Dramatically, he rolled his eyes and the slightest amount of irritation caused the color of his burnt-umber skin to deepen just a shade. “Look at you hiding like a big dummy. I don’t know why I even hang around you.”
“But nothing, Lepta. How is he going to find out? Is she going to tell him?” he said, thumbing at Mrs. Rasmussen still sputtering on the floor. “She looks as though she is afraid of her own shadow. Watch.” Drachma turned to Mrs. Rasmussen and taunted her, as though he was going to charge her. Instinctively, she flinched and clutched her hand to her mouth to stifle a squeak.
“Well, maybe you are right,” Lepta said, not quite convinced. “But I don’t like it when he dips us in the boiling oil. It hurts.” He shuddered at the memory of the last time the two troublemakers got caught stealing things.
Drachma flipped the golden coin he had been clutching into the air and allowed it to plunk into his side pocket. “Trust me. Hades isn’t going to miss one or two coins and she isn’t gonna tell.” With that, he turned and gave poor Mrs. Rasmussen his most menacing look. Frightfully, she nodded her head in agreement. Tiring of the situation, he gruffly added, “Come on and let’s head back to the pit, before Athlin sells those rollerblade things to someone else.”
“I wonder where he got them at.”
“For the love of Hades. Does it even matter? Let’s go.”
Mrs. Rasmussen watched the two bounce out the office and past the front window before she stood back on her feet. Taking a deep breath, she brushed herself off out of habit more so than practicality. She was eternally sticky and dirty from her labors. Deciding to forget about the two devilish imps, she marched inside and picked up a stenographer’s pad and a pen. With a sense of urgency, she began to detail everything she could remember.
She wrote about how she had tripped over an overgrown, gnarly root and had almost fallen through another portal while tending to the illithid larvae. Fortunately for her, the portal had closed again before her stumble sent her through. At first, she thought the portal had only been an illusion, a trick of the mind brought on by stress and dementia. After all, that was the only way she could explain to herself the little excursion to the Department of Motor Vehicles earlier.
It wasn’t till later when she was carrying buckets of excrement from the larvae chamber to the burning fields that she knew something was amiss. Off in the distance, she saw a swirling, bluish-white light appear. Another portal had opened. She set the buckets down and raced to get closer. Hunkering behind the charred remains of a once mighty oak, she watched intently. She expected it to disappear as quickly as the other, but it continued to pulsate with no sign of fading.
From above, she heard loud shrieks in the distance. Scanning the skies, shadowy forms approached. These forms rapidly became solid as they pierced through the blackened clouds. Without hesitation, they dove directly for the portal. As she watched, one winged creature after another flew into the gaping hole and disappeared. Grasping her hand on her mouth, she shuddered in terror. After the last creature flew through, the portal closed behind it. Mrs. Rasmussen didn’t know exactly what was happening, but she knew it wasn’t good. Without looking back, she ran as fast as she could to tell Lord Hades of these strange things.
Sliding a cold cup of coffee to the side, she sat the pad down in the center of his desk. Relieved that she had done the right thing and not gotten yelled at, she turned to leave the office. As she reached the door, she hesitated and looked back at the unfinished coffee. Something wasn’t right about that; she had never known Hades to leave a coffee undrunk. Not sure what it could mean, she simply headed back to the larvae chambers. With any luck, they hadn’t noticed she had gone missing yet.
Anticipation of freedom from the vile pits of Tartarus caused me to twitch. Crouched behind the cool concrete pillar of the parking garage, I felt my muscles ripple beneath thick, granite colored skin. I wasn’t the only one. A nastiness of my brethren huddled and chattered to each other behind me. Ignoring them, I focused on the opening. The light of day was fading to twilight ever so slowly. The cool breeze of a Grecian night was a mere twenty meters away.
How I longed to feel the lift beneath my wings again. It’s been nearly thirteen centuries since I circled the darkened skies bathed in the light of the moon. Long were we imprisoned in the pits of Tartarus with nothing to absorb but the shadowed energies.
Worst of all, we were deprived of the hunt—the thrill of the hunt. How I longed to hear the terrified screams of my prey as they slowly realize they are breathing their last. These are the moments when sweet, delicious cortisol pumps through their veins, internally marinating their juicy flesh. The sound of their screams rouses your appetite to where you can almost taste their life in your jaws, but you must wait. Yes, you must deprive yourself of this immediate gratification—the satiation of blood lust.
A master hunter knows patience. Taking your prey too soon, the flesh will be tough, chewy and bitter. The hunt is not over until a calming realization surfaces in their eyes. You must wait until they stop begging for mercy or rescue. It is then they begin praying to their gods for salvation. At this moment, the body has finished preparing itself for the feast.
“Soon,” I thought. “Soon, the nightgoyles will own the night as our ancestors had done long ago.”
As I savored the delicious thoughts of times long past and times yet to come, a rhythmic thumping and squealing echoed from the chambers below. The sound was not unpleasant, but it drove me to be cautious.
“Kur!” A sandstone colored nightgoyle with the face of a lion called the others to attention. In unison, the chattering gargoyles fell silent and a sea of eyes turned towards the approaching sound.
Turning, I surveyed my comrades. Their glittering eyes, some red as the fires of Tartarus and others the complex golden shimmer of serpents, all showed their desire to attack. I nodded my approval to the lionesque nightgoyle. As a lion, he naturally occupied the position as captain of the wing. He proved he had not lost a step during his eternal imprisonment. With an air of respect, he returned the acknowledgement. As the dragon, the others would always defer to my orders. I gave them the signal to shift into the shadows and remain silent. Instantaneously, they did so without question.
The source drew closer. The sounds louder. I began to distinguish distinct sounds. It reminded me of the sounds from the pit when legions of demons clashed. The distorted clang of steel and the vibration of taut bows accompanied the footfalls of advancing armies. The powerful screeching and wailing of the sirens. It was beautiful. I felt a surge of adrenaline begin to rise inside me. Just for a moment, my wings rustled in titillation and then I too shifted into stone.
The war band was almost upon us, I could hear their leader declaring to their foes that they had another thing coming. For a moment, a feeling of affinity for these creatures washed over me. That is until I realized they were human and the feeling soon was replaced. In the matter of a second, I struggled with conflicting emotions. Part of me wanted to terrorize and feast on these worthy opponents. I wanted to hear their screams as their bones snapped like twigs in my powerful jaws. However, memories of the power of the great human armies from the past tempered my impulse to hunt.
Cautiously, I decided to hunker further behind the pillar before returning to inanimate stone. We will meet these vile humans again, but on our own terms. As I watched, a singular beast emerged from the tunnel. With a screech, it turned and headed to the opening like a metallic red streak. Just as it reached the exit, it paused for just a second. Did it notice us? But it didn’t stop. I watched as the smoky red lights that trailed behind it disappeared around the corner.
The sound emanating from the beast quickly faded as it sped away. From behind me, a pulsating blue-white light lit up the chamber. Looking over my shoulder, I saw another wing tumble forth from the portal. Scores of nightgoyles joined the already amassed forces.
“An-bal…kal,” I muttered welcoming the new arrivals to the mortal plane.
The portal closed and I returned my sight to the opening. Nightfall had arrived. With a wave of my clawed hand, I beckoned the others. Without hesitation, we sprinted for the exit and took to the skies. Circling the giant building that held the gates to our prison, hundreds of nightgoyles swarmed and blanketed the night sky. The feeling was just as I had remembered. Freedom. Power. Quickly, we achieved altitude. Without a word, we instinctually broke formation and set out to establish our lairs. The Children of Nightmares have returned.
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