The creaking chains attached to the six-limbed lizard’s harness could just be heard as the howling wind died down. The spines across its back flared as it raised its helmed head and roared at the blood red skies. Glaring yellow eyes hidden behind smoked glass lenses widened as if daring the gods themselves to meet its gaze. The lash cracked off its armored skull and the beast trudged on carrying the rough hewn cart behind it. The heavy wooden wheels shod in black iron crushing small stones beneath them as plodding as inevitable as death. The drove cracked his lash again and snarled at the basilisk in a foul tongue that in any other place would have rent the air with its evil. Here however, it was but a small spike within a vast plain of despair.

The drover’s lash wasn’t the only one in use at the moment. Behind a collared line of slave howled a massive armored toad barked orders for them to keep up the pace. All race, color, and creed were represented in this pitiful band. Here one fell and was dragged by his fellows until his neck snaped and is one more morsel for planes inhabitance. Before the toad could reach to the corpse the gnolls were on it. Scratching and clawing at one another to get as much meat for themselves as possible. Flesh and bone disappeared down hyena mauls and furry but human hands wiped blood from muzzles. The toad-demon barked for them to get back at their places. Grudgingly they returned to the outskirts of the caravan keeping one eye on the surroundings and one on the slaves, watching for their next meal.

Sitting in the back of ramshackle kart was a young man with horror on his face and despair in his eyes. The tattered green robes seemed much too big for him now, after so many days in the wastes. On his back was a leather satchel filled with tomes of long forgotten lore. He turned his eyes from the slaves and looked to their master. The mortal fiend sat next to the drover looking up into the glaring suns. There are only three today. As if Igan could feel the aged-before-his-time scholar looking at him Igan turned to look back and the true ruination of the man is as plain as a scar on his face. It is a scar, or more accurately a burn on his face. It is twisted hook running from the left side of the man’s mouth up to the empty socket where his left eye once rested. Necrotic flesh clings to blackened bone and yellowed teeth. Igan stepped into the kart proper and close the leather flap. “Problem lad?”

The scholar turned back to the line of slaves. “I didn’t sign up for this.” He shakes his head.

Igan gave a derisive laugh. “Did you come to the Dark Market of the Port of Skulls looking for passage to Pazuinia?” The young man nodded. “Did you pay me thirty gold crowns to take you with my caravan as I passed to the blasted wastes of the Abyss?” Igan wasn’t even waiting at this point. “You knew what an insane gods hell would look like, did you not? You knew that I dealt in flesh and bone, soul and sinew, did you not?” Igan hunkered down next to him, the slavers remaining eye glared. “Then you signed up for this, and you best accept what that means lest you find yourself out there with them. It takes more than simple coin to rip a portal between the worlds, it takes souls. I pay that price in tithe from my stock and it allows me control of the Dark Market, and I keep my word. But if you are having a change of heart I’m sure that I can let you off here. The vultures could use a meal, or perhaps the Feather Lord will find you and carry off your soul to line his nest.” A calloused hand collided with the man’s back. “Cheer up we’ll be in at the Fortress of Machia soon enough and you can have your answer.”

“How can you do this? You are not just selling these peoples bodies but their immortal souls.” The scholar was on his feet at this point. “This fair this isn’t right. Slavery is repugnant but a necessary evil. This, this is barbarism on an untold scale.”

Igan wheeled on him. “You want to talk about fair?” Spit flew from what was left of his lips. “Would you call a man who served the state and the courts his whole life, protecting crown and country, chosen defender and consort of the Queen herself, being cast aside by all he knew and called a traitor to his faith because he was the only one left alive to tell the Queen how her husband was burned alive by unholy flames, dying with cries to his god on his lips? Would you call baring a scar that no healer can heal for the rest of one’s life fair, because you tried to save your pigheaded ignorant lord from a death he forced upon himself fair? Would you call being an outcast from your friends and family with no place to find succor fair? Life isn’t fair you addled brained twit. If you hadn’t spent so much time in your books looking for the answer to a world without any you would know this by now.” Igan’s fist connected with the man’s jaw. He snarled at the toad-demon, “Collar him, he can replace our loss in tribute.”

“We had a deal!” The young man was screaming as the demon placed the collar around his neck.

“We had a deal. Should have read the fine print. It states that I have the right to replace my losses with whoever I so choose. That could be you that could be your mother, your baby sister. It is so easy for fiend to slip in when despair is in the air. Without you they’ll be destitute. Should have thought about that before you danced with the devil.” The man’s continued screams were lost amongst the howling of the wind.

* * *

Within the Fortress of Machi, on the infernal plane of Pazuina, Igan and the architect of Lord Myrr’s death watched Tattia’s fall unfold through a scrying mirror. The Master of the Dark Market turned to his benefactor. The fiend’s face split into a paint lipped grimace big enough to swallow a man. Igan took this as pleasure. “Soon Igan, your position of Master of the Dark Market, and a place in my court will be secure. The Demon Queen owes me much for what we have done today and she will reward us handsomely.” Igan simply nodded, served the nobility right as far as he was concerned. It shamed him to think that he once walked amongst their ranks. “Are you returning now or staying for dinner, you know there is always room at my table for such a loyal servant.”

Igan shook his head. “Time is money and I have a business to run.” The fiend tittered obscenely. “Though I have one question for you, one that I have wanted to ask for some time.” The fiend nodded. They both knew knowledge was as much power as it was currency. Igan had just secured his place, and now he wanted an answer. His patron was good with answers. “Why does the man who helped pin the Infernal Pact between Hell and the gods, dwell in the Chaos of the Abyss?”

Niccolo took a sip from a bone goblet while he pondered his answer. He had it, but it wouldn’t do to look to hasty in replying. “Tell me, where would all my rivals be least likely to be looking for me? As you say, I am a being of law, my hands helped pen the first Infernal Pact, I laid down the rules of the game, why would I choose to live anywhere other than the within the palaces I so rightly own? I think you have your answer.”

Igan nodded and turned to go. There business was concluded and the food-if you can call human flesh and blood food-was getting cold on the table. It was just one more transaction between two masters of the game.


City of Rhun Eichlos Eichlos