Prologue


Joelmac hardly knew whether he was awake or asleep anymore. He knew it didn't really matter. He heard the laughter of the wicked ones who kept him trapped in this cell, and the screams and cries of his fellow prisoners, both in his waking hours and in his nightmares. He recalled all too clearly what the wicked ones looked like, and what horrors they had forced him to witness.

The wicked ones took pleasure in making Joelmac and the other prisoners watch, of course, making them know that their time would come. The wicked ones took pleasure in the trauma Joelmac and the other prisoners had endured, and the nightmares they'd suffered. The prisoners would continue to be tortured until their spirits broke, and then they would be the next to die.

Joelmac heard footsteps coming towards the large cage that held him. Realizing the wicked ones had returned, the boy began to shudder, before he retched all over the floor of his cage. The wicked ones had stopped outside Joelmac's cage, and he knew they were watching him. They could see how far his will had been stretched, and they realized that he was broken.

Joelmac's time had come, and that made him scream all the more. He continued screaming as the wicked ones unlocked the door to his cage, and two of them stepped in to join him. One of them came over and nudged Joelmac with his foot.

"This one?" one of the wicked ones who had entered the cage asked the other, pointing down at Joelmac. "He doesn't look like he's got much meat on his bones."

"That hardly matters, Humding," the other wicked one replied. "Tonight they want something more delicate...succulent, if you will. Our little friend is well-rested, and hasn't overworked himself. They say that he's extremely young and tender, because of that."

"Bah," the wicked one called Humding replied. "They ought to give us more of the choice prisoners, Bruddelmort-we always have to make do with the weak and sick."

"Then you tell them that," the wicked one called Bruddelmort replied, laughing under his breath as Humding instinctively flinched. "Now, come on-the witching hour has nearly arrived!"

Humding easily reached out and picked up Joelmac. The boy lay frozen with terror in his arms, completely cowed by the huge creature's size. Joelmac got a better look at Humding's fat, unshaven face, and shrank back from it, whimpering in fear. In turn, Humding looked down at him and only laughed.

Humding and Bruddlemort emerged from one of the caves, and Joelmac could see the beautiful starlit sky above him. It was hardly comforting, though-the vastness of that sky made him realize just how trapped he was, and how he would never be able to escape. Joelmac didn't get to see it for very long, however, as they stepped into another cavern and walked down a series of carved stone steps.

As suffocating and terrifying as the cave that held Joelmac's cell had been, this one was far worse. Hideous murals and bas-reliefs leered down from the walls. Joelmac shuddered at the sights of vile-looking demonic things and the disgusting things they were doing to their helpless victims. Groaning in horror, he tried to twist around in Humding's arms so he wouldn't have to look at the depraved scenes. Humding quickly realized what he was doing and forcibly turned Joelmac over, shaking him hard to force his eyes open.

The boy cried out again, which made Humding and Bruddlemort burst out laughing.

The stone stairs seemed to descend forever, until Joelmac and his captors finally emerged into a large cavern. Everything was just as Joelmac remembered it. In the centre of the cavern were a set of three stone tables drenched in blood. The wicked ones' former victims were lined up along one wall, forced to remain in silent testament to what their murderers had done to them. There was a large pool of water at one end of the cavern. A depraved altar stood at the water's edge, with human bones scattered on and around it. The same depraved murals and bas-reliefs Joelmac had seen on the stairs were on the walls of the caverns too, completing the horrific scene.

Two wicked ones rose from the stone tables they were sitting at to greet Humding, Bruddlemort and their prisoner. Their laughter overcame everything else assaulting Joelmac's senses. He felt as if he would go mad, as he thrashed about helplessly in Humding's grip. Desperate to escape, he struggled against Humding's iron grip, although it did him no good.

"Helpless little one, aren't you?" one of the new wicked ones asked Joelmac, easily taking him in her arms as Humding handed him over. "You've seen what we do, and what your fate is, haven't you?"

"Please…" Joelmac begged, his feet kicking helplessly in the air, as Humding and Bruddlemort turned and left the cavern by the way they came. "Please…"

"Do continue, child," the other wicked one leered. "Your cries are such sweet music."

Joelmac tried to silence himself, if only to deny the wicked one her satisfaction. For all his effort, he could not stop his crying.

"Such beautiful pleading. A pity it will not last much longer…are you certain that it is his time?" the wicked one who had told Joelmac to continue crying asked the first wicked one, who still held Joelmac. "This one would make a wonderful plaything!"

"It is his time, sister," the wicked one holding Joelmac replied calmly. "Nothing more and nothing less," she finished coldly.

"So be it," the other wicked one nodded. "Is Ublodine set to return?"

"She knows that it is time," the wicked one holding Joelmac reproached her. "Be patient, sister!"

Almost immediately after the wicked ones finished speaking, bubbles began to emerge from the pool on one side of the cavern. The bubbles gave way to splashing, as a third wicked one emerged from the pool and stepped onto the stone floor.

"Is it time?" the third wicked one asked eagerly, drool running down her chin. "Is it time?" she repeated.

"Is it time? Is it time? Is it time?" she continued.

"Of course it is, Ublodine," the wicked one holding Joelmac replied, walking across the cavern to the altar and laying Joelmac down on top of it. "You are prepared, my sisters?" the wicked one asked. All three of the wicked ones stood over Joelmac now, each on one side of the altar. The fourth side of the altar was taken up by an idol of the horrific entity to which the altar was dedicated, which stared down at Joelmac and made him realize just how truly doomed he was.

The wicked one who had placed Joelmac on the altar and held him down by his neck began a chant. It was an obscene, disgusting song that filled Joelmac with fear and revulsion.

He thrashed helplessly, but could not break the wicked one's iron grip as her sister, the second wicked one, added a second voice to the chant. The wicked ones' voices seemed to become one, blending together in a way that made the chant even more vile and disturbing. It became even worse when the third wicked one, Ublodine, the one that had emerged from the pool, added her final voice to the chant. The wicked ones' voices sounded like the gasps of the sick and dying, of victims who knew their time was come and that there was no escape.

Joelmac was in a frenzy now, screaming and crying as he tried to drown out the sounds of the wicked ones' voices. Those voices brought back the memories of everything Joelmac seen and heard since the wicked ones had taken him, the sight of the idol looming over him, and the realization that he was doomed. He was completely helpless, and yet he tried to fight it, something that only amused the wicked ones all the more.

Despite all of Joelmac's screams, the chant continued. Perversely, Joelmac's desperate thrashing became more and more frenzied in tune with the chant. Finally, the wicked one called Ublodine grabbed Joelmac by the throat, pulling him up as the other wicked one released him. Ublodine forced Joelmac to look into her eyes, until they were the only things he could see.

Uboldine's eyes seemed to pierce through Joelmac's sight, all the way to the back of his mind. His heart began pounding, the blood roared in his ears, and a crippling tension seized his limbs. Ublodine's gaze ravaged Joelmac's body, seizing it with pain before it began to shut down.

It was the last sight he ever saw.