The Hound was almost nine feet tall and considerably longer from snout to tail. His moist and pervasive breath smelled barren. It was laced with bestial pheromones and a hint of sulfur that curdled the bile in my stomach.
The blackened steel chains that wove out of his thick, dark fur held me tightly above his head. They stemmed mostly from his back and some from his back. All from the spine.
Avalynn had a fiercely thoughtful look on her face.
And the Hound seemed amused.
That is when I noticed the furless patch on the right side of his neck. There, the skin was exposed and scarred as if met with corrosion. And his shoulder was hunched wider on that side. Amidst the burned skin, if it was even skin, was a piece of bone sticking out, with skin and nerve tightly clinging to it.
I recognzied it for what it was. A vertebra.
"Jerimiah," the links of the chain creaked my name against one another.
I heard wings flapping in the distance. It was faint and insignificant to me then.
Avalynn looked where I had fixed my gaze. And she smiled at what she saw there. Then she broke the tense silence, "Seventy years since you've laughed, eh?"
"Yesss," growled the Hound. "What's it to you, mortal?"
"How old is that wound?" she ventured.
"What wound?!" he barked.
At that, the chains let me slip out of their grip for a second, and I knew his glistening fangs would catch me before I hit the ground. But it was just a moment, and they held tight once more.
"There is no need to keep your dignity intact if you actually plan to kill us," she said. "Provided your head isn't severed... again."
"Grr... you speak nonsense!"
Severed head? I wondered. Of course! The vertebra! The picture of a two-headed dog entered my mind. Cerberus? No, Cerberus is three-headed. I whispered to myself, "Orthrus..."
The chains lifted me higher, and the Hound turned his head to look up at me in outrage. "What did you call me, son of man?"
None of us paid any attention to the continued sound of flapping wings in the distance.
"Orthrus!" I bellowed. An abrassive chain began slithering up my tunic and neck. "Brother of Cerberus!" A chain wound itself around my head, clamping my jaw shut. One of the links was barbed, and tore at my skin in a few placed.
He shook his head, "Your pronunciation is off, dead mortal."
"Cerberus is the gatekeeper of Hades, one manifestion of this underworld," Avalynn intoned. "But... Orthrus does not belong here. Unless..."
The Hound glared quite fiercely at the necromancer who had saved me. His chains began to tremble. His paws dug into the ground, nails hewing the clumps of hard dirt.
A smile spread across her lips. "You're already dead."
Then he pounced toward her, chains dragging me about in the air. I screamed as I was very nearly flung into the branches of a leafless, wizened tree.
Avalynn hadn't made a sound. And he was blocking my view of what he'd landed on. Hopefully just ground.
Then, a frightfully large, beady-eyed grey bird, like an overgrown pigeon, landed on a branch just in front of me. It cooed, fluffing its chest and cocking its head to the side. There was a corked vial tied to its leg and a tag. It contained a bubbly gold liquid, like champagne. The tag had two word on it: POUR JERI.
I assumed it was French. To Jeri. Or maybe an instruction to pour it down my throat? Whatever.
It cooed at me, and made a faint sneezing noise. Then it lifted its leg.
I snatched greedily at the vial and tore it off the bird's leg in a violent manner that sent the bird flying against my grip, trying to escape in the other direction. And this bird was pretty big, and pretty strong. However, the chains held me in place. Just barely.
The string snapped and the huge pigeon flew off into the cavernous distance.
Below, I could hear the sound of snarls, barks, scratches, and something bludgeoning that shook the chains. Words were uttered in a tongue I did not understand. And I teetered in the air, supported by the chains that held me aloft.
I wanted Avalynn to win. But I knew that if she did, I would probably fall to my death. Except... I was already dead. So why was I afraid of falling?
I examined the tag on the vial. POUR JERI. It was folded.
On the other side, was an emblem of six wings. They all spread out fromt he centre. Three spread left and three spread right. The trio was in pale but warm colours: red, orange and yellow in descending order. The other three were cool colours: purple, blue and green. Just as pale. In the centre of the wings was an R.
I opened the fold of the paper, and examined the inside of the tag.
L'AMBROSE DE REDOUANNE.
"What the heck is L'ambrose de Redouanne?" I yelled, clutching the vial close to my chest as the chains swung back and forth. It was a stupid question. I had probably mangled the proper French pronunciation. And not only was it not in Avalynn's nature to answer questions well, she was clearly engaged in more important things.
"Redouanne! Redouanne!" the chains hissed in fear. "Un ange de nos cauchemars!" My French was rusty. I had no idea what the chains were saying.
"Ridwan's Ambrosia?" Avalynn offered a translation, crying it over the tumultous sound of the battle below. All I could see was a blur of lavender fabric, and a wake of many crushed bones and much torn fur.
"Ridwan! Ridwan!" the chains hissed. "What of Maalik? Wha-a-at of Ma-a-alik?"
That had to be English. I held the vial closer to my face.
"Drink it!" Avalynn bellowed.
"No!" hissed the chains.
The Hound stood on his haunches and swung both paws at Avalynn. There was a gray barrier of bone and flesh in front of her. He tore a chunk out of it and swung back again, trying to break it.
"Hold him still!" I said. "I'll spill it!" I regretted saying that immediately, because the Hound began to run around her.
"My magic is gaining power over you, Hound," she said. "Your dead bones can't resist me forever."
At that he leapt forward, crushing her barrier.
With a movement of her hand, a pillar of fused bones rose out of the ground and swung at him. He yelped and stepped back. It had hit one of his hind legs, leaving a trail of black, inky liquid.
I pulled the cork out, quickly replacing it with my thumb. At that, my eyes widened. It tickled frothingly against my flesh. My thumb felt such pleasure, I could not help but roll my eyes into the back of my head. Then the chains shook more violently than ever, and one let go of my leg.
I was glad to be free, but more afraid than ever of falling to a harm worse than death. What liquid torture churned in the stomach of this beast, I did not want to know.
The chains tried to wind their way around my most mobile arm. As they immobilized it, I swung it toward my other arm, of which I could move only the forearm. I slipped the vial from hand to hand, then raised it toward my face.
The liquid was soothing against my thumb. I longed to taste it, to replace the blood that lingered in my mouth.
There was no way, now, for her to keep him still enough to steady the chains. He slashed at her, and she ran about. Skeletons and zombies ran at him here and there, and once I saw the bones of an elephant-like creature resurrected.
I clenched my fist against my mouth, like a baby sucking thumb, though my thumb was inside the vial, within my fist. I moved it out of the vial, bracing myself all the while. Then she hit him with something in an untimely manner, and he lost control of the chains.
This sent every drop of golden liquid foaming past my teeth. It filled my cavities and washed away the plaque. The bacteria was cleansed from my tongue in a euphoric flow. I had never tasted such divine ecstasy, as much a sinner as I had been.
I shut my eyes.
It trickled down my throat.
In seconds, it took hold of me as the chains clattered about and my body was bruised and beaten against the rocks below. I was numb to the pain. All I cared about was the fresh vitality simmering to a boil within me.
The chains let loose. She had cut them from him, surely, for I could hear him stomping around with a stumble or two.
"He is demolished," said the Hound. "Leave this place. He is too broken to escape now."
I did too, within my mind. And I raised one eyelid, peering over at them.
He seemed to have her cornered. Drool hung from both sides of his gaping jaw.
She clapped her hands together suddenly, eyes open wide. And at the same time, I heard a snap.
The Hound faltered, his haunches falling.
One of his back legs, the bleeding one she had injured earlier, had snapped clean in two.
With amazement at my new strength, I pulled the chains off me one by one, and rose to my feet. He did not seem to notice me. My wounds were healing unimaginably fast. And I was full of questions, as usual.
"It's going to wear off," she said to him, though I reckoned it was meant for me. "But for now, you might as well help."
"Huhh?" he growled deeply, as he struggled to get to his feet. "I'm going to eat you whole, mortal witch. I am going to let you suffer in the acids of my belly. And when I'm done with you, you will be nothing but dung to line the gardens of the underworld."
By then, I had effortlessly lifted one of the fallen pillars of bone into the air. I jumped high into the air, higher than I had ever been able to. I felt invincible. The realm was no longer eroding away at my soul. Escape felt possible. Hope felt present. And like a javelin thrower, I sent the pillar plunging into his back as he stared her down.
The Hound screamed. And that deafening scream became a howl.
"Thanks be to Ridwan," I muttered. "Whoever that is." Nobody could hear me over his howl. Not even me.
After he had come to terms with his pain, the shortened chains on his back pulled it out of his back, and he turned toward me, snarling ferociously. Regardless of my strength, he was still much larger than me.
The smell of him, so close to me, made me nauseous. I reached for the broken bones beside me and flung them at him.
Avalynn? Help? I thought to myself. I didn't know where she even was at the moment.
He pounded his way toward me as I made my retreat, and then he caught my left leg in his mouth and tossed me into the air, ready to catch me in his open mouth. Air ran through my hair and tattered garments. And then I reached the height of his toss, and began to fall toward glistening fangs.