I A ghastly breath of stale wind coursed through the labyrinthine tunnels beneath the Southern Wastes. The nameless girl caught the tell-tale scent of spilt blood and decay carried upon its gentle current from the old mining shafts. Through the half-collapsed entrances into the Emerald Mines, a pleasant rush from hidden underground rivers echoed through the vast, lightless caverns of the Royal Den of Vipers - Surannir to the masters of these barren wastes.
The nameless girl would often journey on the treacherous routes through notorious criminal dens, simply to come rest by the long-forgotten tunnels near the underground river feeding the underworld haphazardly integrated into the mine that once thrived in this place.
In silence, she watched what precious sunlight crept this far into the caverns refract against the streams that coursed deeper than even the mines could venture. It was exceedingly little, but the refracted light dancing on the tunnel walls brought some small and merciful measure of solace that was all but void in the depths of the Royal Den.
Before the cleansing waters that she could not reach, a desperate, nameless girl contemplated on how her day had descended into peril on one of her foolish whims. She had played a henchman of the Obsidian Vipers for a fool in a skewed game of dice.
Her prize, several pieces of copper and an offer for less than savory work. His own prize, The nameless girl’s contract to take up less than savory work and slave for the Vipers for the rest of her life in misery and solitude.
Of course, the nameless girl had not tampered with the dice - a game for children who had entered the wrong arena. She had tried her hand to earn the coin and let the Viper win as she expected. It was the roast pieces of meat that he popped into his mouth on occasion through the game’s duration that murdered him.
The nameless girl had done as she was asked, and sprinkled her employer’s newest created poison -dubbed the Black Rot - across the entire skewed pig. She had poured a goblet of the vile stuff down its gullet too when no one had bothered to even watch over it being cooked.
The Viper she had played the odds against wretched, vomited, and writhed from the midday bell to the lightless onset of the evening dusk. What the nameless girl had not planned for, was the celebratory feast the Obsidian Vipers hosted for their victory of being the greatest thieves’ den in the Royal Pit. A score of Vipers across various ranks of their family spectrum were slain that night as well.
Threatened and infuriated, the Vipers thirsted for vengeance and sallied forth to scour the four corners of their territories in search of the vermin that had bitten them.
They hacked through their own flea-bitten serfs and prostitutes first, uncaring of who they uncovered and dragged out of their hovels, so long as evidence existed of a rat having crawled through the area. The tortured screams of the dying scattered hordes of the meek and terrified like an inferno uprooting all life in a forest.
What surprised the nameless girl as she heedlessly forged her escape through every cracked open nook and hidden crevice of the Den and that of the Emerald Mines, was the lightning speed the Vipers surged out to corner her. Soon, as she neared the underground rivers where she had always found haven, the frenzied screams of chemical induced rage soon drowned out the pitiful suffering of their victims.
It was only a matter of time before they had sped ahead of her to spring their ambush…
‘Oh amphetamine parrot.’ The nameless girl wheezed, exhausted from the constant pursuit. ‘amphetamine parrot - amphetamine parrot - amphetamine parrot!’
She charged onward and heedlessly hurled herself through every cracked open door into the homes of the impoverished, only to leap through gaping holes in their walls back into the twisted maze of the Royal Den of Vipers. She had tossed their dining tables and leveled decrepit bookcases to stall her pursuers for the briefest pause.
The nameless girl had no choices left. She had no leads, save only a direction. She had no solace of a definite, safe card to draw and play. If she was shunned and turned away from the only refuge, she would be fed directly into the hands of the V-
A rickety wooden door not even several steps away from her burst open with such force, she had to slide under the slab of termite infested wood as it flew off its hinges.
A lean figure of dark caramel skin, garbed in black leathers and fiery robes emblazoned with gold - stormed down the stairs toward her even as the nameless girl ground to screeching halt in the muddy grime.
The Obsidian Viper rattled with furious laughter as he reached out to seize her.
She twisted in his reckless grip on the scuff of her collar, tearing the fabric of her rough-spun clothes. A glimmer of steel cut across the damp and oppressive atmosphere of the lower depths. Rolling into her captor, the dagger hidden in her clothes tore a bloody slice across the Viper from cheek to the tip of his ear.
The chemically induced street thug reeled from an explosion of pain, one hand cradled over his right eye. The nameless girl pounced and buried the blood slick dagger to the hilt in the Viper’s throat, and twisted for good measure before resuming her flight.
Several voices ushered into earshot - so near their breathing echoed through the cavern she hurtled down at full-tilt. The sound of their footfalls giving urgent pursuit hastened her to the height of her limits. Whistling pierced the murky depths, culminating in the vicious impacts of javelins striking the earthen rock all around her.
The nameless girl descended further into the depths until the oppressive night thickened into a nigh impregnable abyss - void of any glimmer of the sun or moon. She reached out with bloodied, grasping fingers for any purchase so that she could find her way forward.
The Vipers hounded her in their relentless chase, somehow gaining on their prey. Her pursuers chortled and screamed constant, blood-curdling threats, hurling their javelins whenever they were convinced of their aim.
A spark ignited in the darkness. An intense fiery glow that caught the nearby shadows aflame. An incredibly brief flicker, near enough that she could reach out and grasp its warmth. As swiftly as it came, the candle of light was snuffed as if robbed of fuel. The nameless girl tried to arrest her loping speed, instead slipping into a slide through the unstable mud flows on the cavern floor.
The spark ignited once more before combusting into a flood of flameborne light. She raised her hands in pitiful defense of being reduced to cinders as the flames crashed over her body. An explosion without warmth to the flame whipped and lashed, but could not scorch her. The surprised screams of her pursuers, more from sudden terror than actual death, became snuffed out of existence as quickly as the flameborne explosion withered into nothing.
She did not realize that her eyes were shut until the roaring in her ears dissipated. Quivering hands removed themselves from where they latched onto her face as a makeshift shield.
She flicked open her eyes, then forced them shut from the acrid smoke wafting from burning braziers on ancient vine coated walls of weathered, wet slick stone. Crystalline waters streamed through ornate drains near to overfull from an underground river’s gentle falls. Her eyes followed a cobblestone walkway that ran straight to a great set of doors carved from onyx. Ancient calligraphy, drawn and crafted from pure silver, was inlaid across the polished stone.
A clattering of armored footfalls approached hesitantly from behind, their confidence and surety challenged by fear of the unknown.
‘Encircle her.’ One of them commanded. 'The Royal Viper would glimpse this wretch before we put her down. Don’t stand so idly! Do your damn jobs!’
The Obsidian Vipers scurried to obey their master, but their eyes continued to steal glances around their enigmatic surroundings.
‘Don’t just gawk at her, fools!’ Their commander encouraged. ‘Seize her!’
An armored boot kicked Voshki across the temple and sent her clattering to the stonework with a sharp yelp. Another several kicks forced her to double over on her side in pain. Scarred, mutilated hands seized her by the arms and pinned them behind her back. She felt the heated burn of rough rope being pulled tight across her wrists.
A morose voice like that of a sullen widow crept out of the dark behind the gang of Vipers.‘What’s happening out here?'
The Viper nearest the source of the voice scrambled forward with an open palm raised.
‘Halt!’ The Viper screamed furiously, but behind the facade, the nameless girl detected a note of superstitious terror. ‘Return back the way you came, hag! This doesn’t involve you..’
‘Are you jesting?’ Another Viper arched his brow. ‘Skewer this whore and let’s move on.’ He hawked and spat in the direction of the mysterious voice.
Their commander began to issue orders. ‘Faris, guard the girl! The rest of you, encircle our heroic woman here and silence her protests.’
The Obsidian Vipers unsheathed their weapons in unison, all manner of wicked blades laced with dark crimson venom. They stormed forward as one unit to corner the patch of darkness where the torchlight could not touch.
‘Offerings for the Lady of Misery and Sorrow.’ The voice proclaimed in low undertones. ‘Join the Black Descent then, cowards.’
The mere mention of the Black Descent threatened to snuff the flame of the braziers for the briefest moment. The nameless girl jumped as any nearby traces of light wavered momentarily. To their credit, the Obsidian Vipers seemed resolute in their confidence.
‘Enough…’ The grizzled viper commanding his band of subordinates gestured toward the hazed outline of a woman eclipsed by shadow. ‘Break this be-atch limb by limb. Bring me the head when you’re done.'
One thug charged and caved in the skull of the insubstantial figure, dispelling the illusion with a brutal hack of his club. None noticed their leader's severed head tumble from his shoulders until it smacked the ground with a wet thump.
The remaining vipers whirled around and regarded the corpse where it had fallen in place on its knees. A frozen chill breezed by each of them as they readied their weapons for another assault.
Two of the Vipers sprung forward, war cries on their lips as they closed the gap between them and their foe. The woman neatly lifted her slender blade and parried a reckless hack of a nicked, tarnished weapon. Her physical form seemed to meld into the shadows as she stepped around the vicious swing of her other attacker.
The spiked club gripped in both of his gloved hands cleaved harmlessly through the dissipating shadow, only to crush in the teeth of his comrade who had charged in with him. The brutality of the blow obliterated the Viper’s jaw and knocked him out of consciousness the moment he collapsed onto the cobblestone path. One of his comrades mercifully ushered him from the mortal plane.
‘Three souls.’ The woman coalesced between them and answered with two flicks of her wrist.
Another victim's weapon clattered to the ground, an urgent hand over his ruptured wound where his heart rested. The bruiser with the gore-slick club staggered and wheezed out a long, agonized scream as his torso began to fall apart.
‘Begone from this place.' The woman demanded of the three remaining souls standing frozen in place, seized by horror. ‘The Black Descent was not meant for your souls.'
The Vipers heard her command and scrambled to obey. The Obsidian Viper by the name of Faris considered the nameless girl in his grasp. He did not think long before relinquishing her and joining his comrades to vanish into the dark.