Monte Cook

The Glass Prison


Run. The mournful baying of the demonic hounds rolled across the landscape from behind Vheod. He couldn't be sure exactly how far behind him they were or when they might catch up to him. All he could do was run. The thorns of the gnarled brier that covered the plain tore at his flesh as he ran, but he did what he could to ignore the pain. The malevolent brier hungrily absorbed Vheod's blood, not allowing a single drop to touch the ground. He didn't worry about the wounds. Vheod was grateful no trail of blood would betray his passage. The thorns drank it all in.

Vheod Runechild's body ached from hours of desperate flight, much of which took him through the Fields of Night Unseen, a meadow filled with vampiric thorns. His limbs grew more and more resistant to each step. Cold sweat ran down his back and clung to his neck. Vheod longed to draw his sword and hack his way through the brier, but he feared leaving an obvious path that his pursuers could trace.

Take the intelligent approach, he kept telling himself. Vheod knew the challenge was to not allow his fear and exhaustion to overwhelm his thoughts. He had to keep a cool head and ignore the deadly forces that marshaled against him. Startling images of the terrible, hungry mouths of the vorrs that chased him came unbidden into his mind. He gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes, forcing himself onward.

The Taint formed a new, beckoning shape on his arm. The crimson, tattoo-like mark flowed across his flesh like a thing alive. Its changing shape resembled a hand slowly urging him forward. He ignored it.

The field of black thorns flowed over hill after hill. Nowhere offered Vheod relief from their constant clawing at his legs as he ran, the vorrs close behind him. The sky above him bore a reddish-brown hue that recalled either rust or dried blood. Not even the whisper of a breeze came to alleviate the dry, parched heat. The thorns required blood, not water to live. The skies of the nether planes were selfish with their gifts, and usually bestowed moisture only in the form of dangerous storms. Vheod, however, would welcome a storm at this point-it might aid in his escape. Knowing that wishing for help from the environment in this plane of darkness and evil would avail nothing, Vheod pushed himself to keep running.

If I stop, he thought, Nethess's hunters will find me and will offer no mercy.

The rush of air as he fled pulled at his long, brick-red hair. It fluttered along with the tattered, violet cloak that whipped behind him like an extra, frantically flailing limb. It caught on thorns and slowed him, probably even left behind bits for his pursuers to find. Reaching behind him he gathered as much of it as he could and wrapped its length around his arm so it would no longer tangle in the twisted, pointed brier. He wished, too, that he could shed his black steel breastplate. Vheod would do anything for speed now.

For a time the only sounds Vheod could hear were his own labored breaths, the soft footfalls his boots made on the ground, and the tearing of his flesh by the thorns. The vorrs howled again, their baying louder than before. His fear granted speed to his feet, and he ran on faster and faster. He veered to the left, then to the right.

The hounds bayed again, louder still, and from right behind him. Had they caught his scent? He could hear the blood-lusting-no, soul-lusting-glee in their cries. He thought he counted three, if not four, of them from their sounds. He had to think of a plan and quickly.

Let them come to you, he told himself. Fight on your terms, not theirs.

The terrain here rose and fell in rough, jagged little hills amid the thorns. It occurred to Vheod that perhaps he could use that fact to his advantage. Again he veered to one direction, then another, but his mind focused instead on a plan-and on picking his moment carefully.

Leaping into a narrow gully that probably once guided a small brook, Vheod drew his sword and spun even as he struggled to keep his footing. The ravine was deeper than he realized. His foot slipped under him, but somehow he managed to stay standing, though his body twisted around awkwardly. The first hound leaped over the gully, thinking Vheod had done the same. As it flew over the gully, Vheod sprang upward with his blade. It was barely within his reach, and the lunge sent Vheod tumbling off-balance, yet he felt the tip of his sword strike something as he slipped. The yelp from the creature was shrill, its gut torn open. The blow sent it spinning around in midair. The vorr landed to Vheod's side, not to rise again.

The next vorr dived down into the ravine, the bristling, brownish-black hair on its back as rigid as daggers. Vheod pulled himself to his feet and lashed at it with his sword, but the blade cut through only empty air. Abyssal magic had granted these creatures incredible speed. The vorr lunged. Its bite almost caught a bit of Vheod's leg in its jagged, frothing jaws. Vheod's second blow split the gaunt, ragged head of the beast in two.

He turned. The glaring, hungry eyes of the third vorr focused on him and narrowed. Thin legs spread wide, as it thrust its head at him. Savage jaws snapped at him again and again. Vheod pushed the hungry beast back with desperate parries and thrusts.

As he fought to hold the beast back, his ears caught the sounds of a fourth hound on its way. Vheod knew he was in trouble. He had to try something different-and quickly. He reached inward. There were black portions of Vheod's soul that he only rarely allowed himself to see, but now he would try anything. He didn't close his eyes but instead simply looked within rather than without. His body raging with heat and sweat, at the center of the darkness within him he found his own cold, icy heart. It was an empty and motionless place, but he found what he was looking for. In a few short instants, Vheod called on the power innately entwined about the inhuman portion of his soul. Born half tanar'ri, magic flowed within his veins as surely as blood. It came eagerly when he called to it- perhaps too eagerly.

A tingle of chill fingers ran across his skin as he filled himself with the unleashed power. It felt as though the cold would eat away at his skin from the inside, and his muscles all tensed at once. Tapping into that Abyssal energy, he forced the ground away from himself. He pushed down with all his inner might. Beads of sweat ran down his temples and even into his eyes, but he kept them open. Even in the short time it took to call on the power, he was terrified to take his eyes off the demonic hound.

As he concentrated, Vheod rose into the air, levitating out of the reach of the attacking vorr. As he did, the last of the tracking hounds reached the top of the ravine right at his level. Watching its prey float up into the air past it, the beast stood wide-eyed long enough for the swing of Vheod's blade to slash across its face. A second blow brought the creature's life to an end. Vheod looked down at the vorr still in the ravine as it snarled up at him. If the beast had been capable of speech, Vheod knew that snarl would be a curse. Muscles aching, he realized he would have to end this battle soon. The long chase had weakened him too much for a protracted fight.

The beast's hateful gaze unnerved him, and Vheod couldn't stay aloft forever. Rather than wait any longer, he released his grip on the power that held him aloft and let himself drop. As he fell, he pointed his sword down. Blade-first, he crashed into the horrid hound. Vheod's own grunt on impact was drowned out by the vorr's shrill bellow.

As Vheod tried to untangle himself from the beast and get to his feet, his hair covered his face. Seeing nothing, he heard only snarls and whines. By the time he stood, the snarling had stopped. Vheod pushed his hair away from his eyes. His sword remained thrust into the vorr, pinning the now still creature to the ground.

Vheod knew that more would come. He stood for a moment over the bodies of the creatures he'd slain, hoping to catch his breath. Syrupy slime and blood covered his tattered clothes and armor. Panting out tired breaths, his body's aches seemed to beg him to sit or lay-even amid the pricking thorns. He had to push himself onward, however. He couldn't allow himself to think of anything but his goal. He had to escape the Abyss.

Escape presented a great challenge, however, for entrances and exits, often called portals, were hidden and usually guarded. Once the Abyss held something in its fetid grasp, it let go only reluctantly. Vheod had always been within that grasp-he'd lived here his entire life. As horrible as this malevolent plane was, he had little knowledge of anywhere else. A childhood in the deepest, foulest realms of the Abyss had taught him little except how to survive. A half-breed human-tanar'ri could only live among the fiends and horrors spawned in this darkest of otherworldly pits if he could protect himself. The fact that he'd somehow survived against such horrors had to count for

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