A Long Days Journey Into Hell — The Tale of Felicity the Fierce
Another episode in The Belman Chronicles.
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And You Thought Your Job Sucked
Fire. Shaped like a dragon’s head. Racing through the tunnel. Headed straight for her. It hit, knocking her to the ground. She tried to cry out but the pain was to great. Helplessly she watched as her skin turned black, and crumbled to ash.
Felicity woke with a start. She was still in her tent. Somebody had left food by her cot.
“I don’t want to go to work,” moaned Felicity as she picked up her breakfast.
The maple bacon donut dissolved in her mouth like salty sweet cotton candy. Not bad for a last meal.
The nausea from the anti-cancer potions eased a little.
Popping the last bite of the sweet treat into her mouth, she gave thanks to her savor, Cheesus. At least now, she had something to throw up. Dry heaves were the worst.
Felicity was one of four crawlers at the annual Belman fertility rite. In less than an hour, they’d descend into a fiery pocket of hell to retrieve ancient artifacts. Meanwhile a sadistic dragon would slowly roast them alive with it’s Pipe Organ of Pain.
This was her fifth time here. Why’d she choose to suffer like this? She told herself it was for Cassie, as she pulled out her magemirror so she could paint runes on her face, and braid her fake, fireproof hair.
“Shiri, open MageBook” she said, and checked out the spells people had been casting.
“You make the ultimate sacrifice. We owe you everything. Love from our family to yours.” — BelFarmer
“You give me courage to face the darkness. #shieldmaiden #felicitythefierce” — NorthGal
“Do it for your baby girl! #comingback” — HoneyMuffin
Felicity barely held back the tears and her throat throbbed. Fans kept her going, but her twelve year old girl, Cassie, was her reason for living.
Wincing, she clutched her side, trying to breathe through the pain.
She could feel the cancer spreading through her like squirmy maggots. How long did she have? A month? A year? It didn’t matter. Who wanted to live forever? Best to go out quick in a blaze of glory. Instead she’d be slow roasted alive.
But if she pulled off this last score, Cassie would be trained as a sorceress at RJ’s School of Magic.
Her mirror chimed. It was her daughter.
They had a call before every crawl, just in case.
“Mommy, I want you to know I love love love you! You’re the best Mommy in the whole wide world.”
“Thanks baby girl. I do it for you, so you can have the life I couldn’t.”
“Mommy,” Cassie began to cry. “Please don’t do it. I don’t want you to burn.”
“The Tortured One, the protector of Crawlers, walks with me. He gives me the strength to bear my burden. Remember what I always say? The more you suffer, the more it shows you really care.”
Cassie covered her face, clearly crying.
“Now. Now. Don’t you worry. I’m coming back out. I always do. Besides, they have good healers here, some of the best. Now, promise me you’ll study hard. One day you’re going to be the best sorceress ever.”
“I will mommy. I promise.”
“I’ll fight the dragons and you do your homework. Deal?”
“Kay dearest. I gotta go.”
They made smooching sounds and signed off.
Felicity lost her shit, sobbing. The tears poured down her face. You are coming out of this. You won’t let Cassie down.
It was like somebody had fanned the furnace. A hot blast of pain welled in her chest. She barely got the hankie to her mouth, before she began coughing bright red blood.
The fit subsided, and she began reciting the prayer the priest had taught her.
Tortured One, hear my prayer. Help me endure this suffering.
Lightgiver, guide me through the darkness.
Cheesus, you are all that is gouda. Please protect me and bring me home to Cassie.
By all the saints and spirits, I pray.
Breathing deeply, she put on her game face.
It was time to win.
Let The Trials Begin
“Welcome back,” said Aidel, the announcer for the Magic Mirror Network(MMN). “Mayor Tom Schniddlemeyer is on stage introducing our heroes.”
A short white-haired, plump man with an absurdly large top hat stepped out onto the stage. His bird’s nest of a white beard was decorated with flowers and bows to symbolize spring.
As he announced the other crawlers, Felicity watched from backstage, adjusting the full body leather armor that would protect her from the dragon’s lethal breath.
Strappin’ Jack carried a mysterious black leather umbrella and a huge pack. Kragnar the Barbarian’s crotch pouch was impressive, but RockNass’s badger headed, cock pocket was what caught her eye.
Slinging her shield on her back, she watched the crowd of technozombies. Their eyeMirrors were out, and they were bewitched by MageBook, or Feta or whatever it was called now.
“She’s five feet ten inches and filled with fury. Weighing 137lbs, this shield maiden is the underdog everybody loves. Lads and lassies, she’s the killer queen fighting for her daughter’s future and ours. Let’s hear it for Felicitaaaaaayyyyyyy!”
The sweet smell of beer, sweat and funnel cakes filled the air as she strode casually onto stage, hands raised high, her dark eyes outlined in black charcoal. The crowd’s roar was the loudest yet.
Then she made her best Felicity the Fierce Face and the crowd hooted and howled like bambonos from the southern desert.
Walking by the massive Barbarian, she shoulder checked him and he actually budged!
An “oooo-oooo-oooo” filled the air.
He nodded approvingly as he checked out her backside, following the short red braids over her black leather armor and stopped at the strange square shield she called a fire wall.
“That pretty hair is gonna get burned off at the first blast of dragon’s breath there sweetie,” shouted an old toothless woman whose large mole had a couple of whiskers sticking out of it.
The hair is fireproof, ya old bag. Felicity smiled but said nothing. Besides, she hadn’t had hair in over a year. Damn potions.
Personally, she thought bald was beautiful, but if something happened she might need to play the “damsel in distress” card to get out of the fiery underworld. Guys wouldn’t help a bald chick, but they’d save a red headed hottie and she’d do anything to get back to her baby girl.
“Fellow citizens and honored guests, today four brave crawlers enter Die Unterwelt to retrieve the sacred artifacts. By the Tortured One, they suffer so that we will not. They sacrifice their blood to Mycelia so that our crops will thrive and children will not starve. May the luck of the Players favor them and may they all return bearing boons.”
Trumpets blared and people danced around like monkeys as war drums pounded a song of resolution.
Felicity caught a blur passing over the crowd. It was an Eye of Dagoth, or Sky Eye. They were barely visible floating eyes that followed the Crawlers on their journey, broadcasting a live feed back to the MMN for everyone to see.
Mayor Schniddlemeyer summoned the Crawlers over.
“When the first Crawler returns victorious, the dragon will hear the crowd’s cheers and grow angry. Then you must race against a fiery death. We will risk our lives to save you if you make it back up to the third level, but no deeper. You will still keep all your treasure and glory points. The only other rule is no attacking or stealing from other Crawlers or their crew. The Sky Eyes will be watching everything.”
Oh, and I could tell you more…but if I don’t, our ad revenues will double. He smiled at the contestants, “May the Players luck favor you,” he said as he rolled imaginary dice.
Felicity knew that smile. I don’t care as long as my little girl gets her piece of the pie.
They drew lots and Felicity went first. Sword drawn, she stepped through the gateway and into the underworld.
Taking point was a mixed bag. Yes she had to spring the traps and ambushes, but she also got first crack at any boons the Players might bestow. She was going for the Shield of Shelandrigal. It was deep in the dungeon and she needed the head start. If somebody went for the closest prize, the dragon would start attacking so it was critical she didn’t squander any time.
The sickly sweet reek of gobblin urine punched her in the nose. It was their “welcome” scent, but quickly dissipated as she stepped cautiously down the stairs, and past the cave walls, before her toe caught on something and she stumbled.
It was the Belman curse. Even dwarves found their footing unsure in this dungeon.
The first tunnel she entered glowed with a purple and green bioluminescent fungus. At its end, a stolid white figure appeared out of the gloom. The Players had sent her a companion.
“Apotho Carrie’s the name. Felicity the Fierce, it’s a pleasure to serve such a renowned shield maiden,” she said. “I’m a combat medic and can hold my own in these tunnels.”
Felicity kept moving. “Praise the Players. You’re one of the best. Sorry I can’t stop. Every second lost brings me closer to agony. Which way to the Shield of Shelandrigal?” she said.
A dwarven war song croaked out behind her. RockNass, or ButtBoy, wasn’t far behind.
“This way,” said Carrie, ducking into a tunnel.
Passing a hole in the wall, Apotho Carrie pointed.
“I only made that mistake once,” said Felicity, recalling the first and only time she’d born the brunt of a direct blast of dragon’s breath.
“What burn butter did you bring?” asked Apotho Carrie.
“Barney’s Best,” said Felicity.
“Good. I have Hallowed Vera, and Sarah’s Super Savvy Salve.”
Felicity’s foot caught on a rock, sending her sprawling into the wall, almost giving her a concussion. This fucking dungeon!!!
“Sorry about that. I don’t know what it is about this place,” she said.
“I’ll let you in on a secret girlfriend. This ‘dungeon’ is the stomach of an inconceivable monstrosity that lives beneath Belman.”
“The Cult of Mycelia…”
An angry roar echoed through the tunnels.
“A troll has our scent. Must move faster,” said Carrie, climbing down a ladder into a room. She noticed a blue glowing bottle sitting on a shelf.
“Minor potion of healing,” said Apotho Carrie. “Whichever Player is riding and guiding you has blessed you.”
A dark clad figure emerged from the gloom and Felicity almost jumped. “Pardon, I’m Master Thief and am sent to serve.”
“Sno’s the name,” said a merc, emerging from a different tunnel.
“Dayum girlfriend!!! The Players Luck is with you today!” said Apotho Carrie.
“Praise be The Players,” Felicity shouted fervently, her fist extended in salute.
“Praise be The Players,” said the squad.
And Then Everything Went Horribly Awry
Master Thief had just finished picking the lock when a deep rumble rolled through Felicity’s bones. She raised her firewall just before the blast of searing heat hit. A wall of orange seething fury billowed close behind.
“Get in. Now!” shouted Sno.
Everybody dove for cover as the fireball exploded into the room. The putrid sweet stench of burning hair filled the air.
She thought back to previous crawls and tried not to think how badly she’d been burnt before.
“Move!” she said as they raced to the other locked door.
“The shield’s through here,” said Master Thief.
I’m coming Cassie, she thought. Her hands shook as she struggled to put the key in the lock. She’d moved fast. Maybe this time she’d get out of here with only minor burns. The door swung open and she burst into the chamber.
The pedestal in the center of the room was empty.
Her heart sank. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!!!
The walls rumbled as an orange cloud roiled towards them. Instinctively she hit the floor, landing on an old rug.
Grabbing the rug’s corner, she pulled it over herself. The rug shot up, and flipped. Her head cracked against the stone…
No light. Head pounding. Sword hand…scalded. Players no! That could be fatal.
The rug pressed down and she struggled to breathe. Her elbow felt like it had been smashed by a hammer.
What now? There was too little glory in the Ankh, if this was her last crawl. She had to make a run for the Plate Mail of Shelandrigal. Fuck.
The rug pulled back and Apotho Carrie stood above her.
“C’mon. You got this,” she dabbed Sarah’s Super Savvy Salve on Felicity’s burns. The pain numbed.
“Drink,” she said handing Felicity the Minor Potion of Healing.
“What happened?” she moaned.
Master Thief lifted the rug’s corner, and it rolled over in mid-air before flattening out.
“Ain’t dat a flyeen karpit?” asked Sno.
Her face felt sunburned. Felicity winced as she smiled. “Everybody on.”
The carpet flew down the tunnel as fast as a human could run.
I really really really don’t want to be down here.
They were on the dreaded sixth level, the deepest most dangerous level of all and the dragons attacks were happening more often.
At least I won’t worry about stumbling.
Getting back up to level three would be tough, even with the key and the carpet.
“Stalagup!” shouted Sno, barely dodging to the side as the carpet swerved to avoid the hanging column of rock.
Her mouth was stuffed with a dry rag. Cradling her raw hand, she winced at every bump. She needed healing, and knew just the place to get it.
The carpet swooshed into a room lit by a blue white pool in a corner. Felicity sighed. Shelandrigal’s Breastplate wasn’t far now, but first…
She hopped off the carpet and stuck her hand in the ice cold pool. It tingled and glowed as it healed.
Players be praised.
Scooping up a handful of water, she drank deeply. Each gulp took away more pain.
Dirt shook from the ceiling and a blast of heat burst into the chamber. Felicity prepared to dive into the shallow pool, but thought twice. She really didn’t want steam burns from wet leather.
Time was running out. The sixth level was the worst place to be. Only the most daring, insane, or desperate crawlers came here.
“Faster,” she said, as they zipped down through the corridor.
An Unexpected Surprise
The Breastplate of Shelandrigal gleamed. The stag and lion on its golden facade glistened ferociously.
It was the most valuable artifact in the dungeon but there was no time to admire it.
“Much glory,” said Sno as he lifted the armor and Carrie pulled it on board.
Something black and slimy plopped onto Felicity’s hand.
“Get back!” she shouted.
A giant black Blob of Goo splatted on top of their head. Felicity rolled over the edge of the carpet, jamming her knee painfully into the floor. Then she pulled out her blade.
She tried to stand, slicing and tear her way through the slime but she couldn’t feel her hands or face and it was hard to tell which way was up. Desperately she cut and swiped, and finally broke through.
“Fire…only way to kill it,” she said, pulling the torch from her pack. She uttered a cantrip, a secret word, and it burst into flame. Master Thief was poking the goo with his torch. The abomination sizzled and popped then cringed away from the fire.
“Get off me!” she said, jabbing the blob as it crawled up her boots. Please don’t let me catch fire.
The blob slid away leaving behind a slimy trail of flaming piles of goo.
Why can’t I feel my hands and face? It’s the ooze. It’s a cursblessing from the Players. There was no time to think.
She flung her burn butter on the ground. “Worthless shite!”
Quickly she filled her empty jar with black ooze. Maybe she could grow it outside the dungeon.
“Everybody on the carpet. We gotta go.”
Sno pitched the armor back onto the slimy rug as the carpet started flying forward. Carrie slipped off the carpet, but Felicity grabbed a strap and heaved her up.
“Praise be the Players,” she whispered. She was in the game, barely.
Just When Everything Was Going So Well
The exit wasn’t far away. Without the carpet, they would surely have died by now.
As it was, their luck ran out as they rounded a corner on the second level. The jet of fire shot out of the wall hitting them squarely in the side. The carpet flipped and Felicity was thrown to the jagged stone floor.
Cassie stood in front of her in a field of cheese flowers. “Get up Mommy. Get up!”
But it was so peaceful here. It was Heaven.
Oh crap. Going into shock…
…can’t keep going.
Fortunately, if you could say it, you could still go a lot further.
Her wicked stepmother had taught her that lesson when she beat Felicity unconscious. When Felicity woke up, her stepmom did it again, and again and again.
It had been a cursblessing.
That day had been hell, but it had shown her the limits of endurance weren’t what she had thought they were. That attitude had defined her career as a Crawler. She’d been pushed beyond the breaking point so many times and somehow she always survived.
Why do I torture myself? Do I value myself so little? Let’s get real here.
My life has no meaning. I whore myself out to fucking hicks and their damn fertility rites. I trade pain for fame and gold. I must be one of the dumbest suckers in the whole Kingdom.
I’m done. Please deer Cheesus, just get me out of this and I promise I will serve you till the end of days. Just bring me home to my baby girl.
What was that mind protection spell? It was a litany she’d learned from the desert warriors.
Pain is the mind killer. It is not me. I will let it pass through me. Only I will remain.
“Uh, mi’lady,” said Master Thief.
“Wha???” moaned Felicity.
“The carpet’s gone. It flew off.”
Felicity struggled to her feet.
“Move. Out of time.” Blessed Players, please no trolls or gobblins.
A gobblin behemoth lumbered down the hall towards her.
Her luck had run out.
“We got dis!” cried Sno as her three companions ran towards the beast. Sno went low, and Carrie went high.
“Thank you friends,” she whispered. “I pray we meet again someday in the Fields of Fondue.”
The More You Suffer
Was doing so well, thought Felicity. Every step was agony, but strangely distant. That ooze had helped numb the pain.
She saw the shimmer of a Sky Eye near her face. Is it going for a flarking close up? She swiped. It clanked against the wall.
Owww..ow…ow. Shouldn’t have done that. She’d swatted it with her burnt hand and her shoulder…
She stood still for a second to let the pain subside. The MMN is a network of drama vampires feeding on my suffering.
Viewers everywhere were probably tuned in to see where or not she would die.
Not true said a deep voice inside her. Calm your mind. Breathe. You know why you are here. You are a holy sacrifice. Act like it.
You trod the path of the Tortured One, the path to a meaningful life of suffering so that others do not have to.
Must get back to Cassie…
The voice spoke again. “The more you suffer, the more you show you really care.”
A figure stood in front of her, beckoning her towards the exit.
It was him. It was the Tortured One, patron saint of the Crawlers. He had suffered like she now suffered. He had travelled through the valley of darkness and passed beneath the shadow of death. She began reciting his mind protecting mantras.
Thank you for this cursblessing, oh lord and master.
May I suffer so that others don’t have too.
Thank you for the chance to make a sacrifice that makes a difference.
In an absurd world, sacrifice brings meaning.
Because I suffer, a mother won’t watch her child starve to death.
I suffer because I have the strength to bear what would destroy others.
I was lost. But now I’m found.
I am the tortured one who died so that others might live.
Each step felt like a hit from that old witch’s switch. In the blink of an eye she saw the cycle of violence and hate that had haunted her family for generations.
I forgive you, for you knew not what you did.
But I do. And that curse ends with me.
Tortured One please take my burden for I can bear it any longer.
Felicity’s toe bumped stone, but she didn’t fall. Looking up she saw she was at the bottom of stairs. She’d made it. She was so close. But close only counted with ballistas and trebuchets.
The dragon’s roar shook the tunnels. This was the sound of THE apex predator and she was its prey. So she did what prey does and froze in terror.
The wall of heat seared her skin. She felt like she was standing on the LightBringer itself.
Suddenly, the bright orange ball burst into the tunnel like a pack of hell hounds. Oh Players no…please no.
It was getting closer.
Please no…not again. Please.
Felicity cried just a little as the wall of fire rolled closer and closer.
It quickly dimmed, and disappeared in the darkness.
She was alive.
Felicity turned and began walking up the stairs.
The crowd was the quietest crowd in the history of the crawl. Jaws hung loosely, and tongues lulled out of mouths.
Then it exploded with laughter and hoots and hollers making the most noise in the entire history of the Belman Crawl, except maybe once. Peasants jumped up and down in ecstatic glee.
Her trial was complete. She had been reforged in fire.
Blessed be the Players. Praise Cheesus. And most of all thank you Tortured One.
Two Years Later
Two years later, The Belman festival was in full swing, and the streets were busy busy busy.
A grilled cheese sandwich hung above the door to a shop called The Sacramental Sandwich. The place served mostly comfort food.
Looks yummy, Raistlin thought, as he turned up the walkway to The Tortured One Crawler Supply.
A young girl skipped up its stairs, turning to smile at him before going inside.
This store was owned by Felicity the Fierce. The five time crawler had a spiritual epiphany and had been miraculously cured of her cancer. Now she sold the best gear on the circuit.
He noticed Felicity the Fierce’s Fire Fudge sitting on a shelf. The label read “Prevents, Numbs & Heals Burns.”
“Genius,” he thought.
“Did you feed Monster?” asked the woman behind the counter. Judging by her short red hair that must be Felicity.
“I’m on my way,” said the young girl, grabbing a bucket and slipping out the back door.
RJ noted the Yew log behind the counter, from which hung a crucified man and a vulture eating his liver. It was the Tortured One.
He stole fire from the gods. As revenge they cursed him to eternal suffering, but they couldn’t take the knowledge his sacrifice gave rise to all of civilization. Why haven’t we set him free?
“May I help you?” asked the lady.
“Are you by chance Felicity?”
“My name is Raistlin Jazir, M.D., err that is Magical Detective. I have a niece who was infected by a zombie mushroom and I’m looking into miraculous cures.”
“According to my priest, The Tortured One didn’t perform a miracle,” said Felicity. He took away the self hate that was causing my cancer, but he didn’t cure me. He just helped my body heal itself.”
That was disappointing.
The two talked a little more before wrapping things up.
“Is that your sandwich shop next door?”
“Yes,” she said.
“You have a lot of energy,” he said.
“Almost dying will do that to you,” she said with a wry smile.
“What’s your specialty?”
“My signature sandwich was sent to me from the Savor. It’s slices of sourdough filled with gooey melted cheddar, grilled onions, fig jam, and aioli. It’s crunchy, fried cheese crust is divine.”
“I call it the Grilled Cheesus.”
— — —
A lot of work goes into these stories and audio books. If you liked this episode, please subscribe and give me a clap. Share it with a friend.
Explore the technomagical world of the Belman Chronicles in these other installments:
Welcome to the Dungeon — The Story of Strappin’ Jack Hawthorne
A Long Day’s Journey Into Hell — The Tale of Felicity the Fierce.
Kragnar the Barbarian — Kragnar goes hunting for the most valuable bushmeat in the kingdom, at the Belman Crawl.
Why Cheesus is My Lord and Savor — Dinosaurs, asteroids and the reason we can love.
The Strange Gift — There’s a sucker born every minute.
The Butterfly’s Shitstorm — Monster right’s activists’ small actions have unintended consequences when they free a gobblin.