Ananke didn’t know where she and her companions were anymore; she only knew that it was cooler there than it had been before – and that had to mean safety.
She stood to the side, listless, as the others set up camp for the night. She knew she should help; knew she should be working with the surviving members of the companions to start putting their group back together again, and rallying for tomorrow.
But what use was she to them now? Ananke looked down at her rock-encrusted hand.
She recognized that she should be in excruciating pain – and that the fact that she wasn’t, should be of concern – but all she felt was a white-hot numbness that burned in her chest. As the memory of Ront’s smile swam before her eyes, Ananke slowly sank to her knees in silent anguish, cradling what was left of her arm.
As her knees touched stone, as the surrounding shadows swallowed her and hid her from view, Ananke heard a scream – a curdling death scream, that gurgled with blood. Ananke whipped her head around, looking back into the darkness from where they came… but there was nothing. As she continued to peer into the blackness, she felt a reverberation up her arms, as if she was running someone through with her sword.
Ananke curled into herself; the sickness and revulsion rolling through her in waves. She had never taken an innocent life – not in all her time on the surface, or her time lost in the Underdark – not until the Halfling…
That night in Yuk Yuk and Spider-bait’s lair, Ananke had laid awake staring up at the ceiling – eyes no longer seeing, ears no longer hearing – as she relived that terrible moment over, and over again in her mind. She shouldn’t have acted so rashly; she should have carefully cut into that writhing mass of webs to check first… she should have known that the creatures therein would have needed some kind of sustenance… She should have known better. She should have done better.
But she hadn’t; instead, she had murdered the Halfling. She asked no forgiveness of her Gods, for there was no forgiveness to be given for such a heinous act. So she prayed, with everything there was in her to pray; she prayed that the Gods would welcome the Halfling into their fold, and speed him safely into the next realms. She prayed he would find peace.
But clearly the Gods were unsatisfied with Ananke’s penance. Clearly, they had felt more punishment was needed.
From her place in the shadows, Ananke looked over at the group – every one of whom was wounded, and suffering; or, dead. Her actions had wrought this; she was sure of it. Ront, the first being in this gods-forsaken place to show her true kindness, was dead because of her. The Gods had seen fit to lash out at Ananke in a most insidious way: by attacking her companions… her clan. She should have been the one to die; not Ront. She should have read the warning signs faster, should have anticipated the danger… should have gotten Ront out of the way before any harm could come to him.
Instead, she watched as lava enveloped him; felt as lava dissolved him away, wrenching him out of her grasp.
She looked down at her hand, and knew that THIS is what the Gods considered suitable penance for the life she took; knew that now she would be nothing but a burden to her companions; knew that if ever she made it out of this eternal darkness, her days as an Armorer were over. But she would continue on, because she didn’t deserve death. She deserved to suffer, and she would bear it with as much grace and dignity as she could muster.
Slowly, Ananke lowered the rest of her body to the cavern’s floor to sleep; though, she knew sleep wouldn’t come: only fits of waking dreams, where the dead would haunt her for her sins.
As she lay, yet again, staring up at the ceiling, Ananke realized that she could no longer imagine a time when they would be free of this place; where they would escape from the darkness into the light, and return to the lives they had left behind. All that stretched before her, and all that stretched behind her, was blackness and death. And all the while, unbeknownst to her, that darkness had been etching away at her soul; causing parts of her to whither up and slough off, like scales during a summer molt.
Now, laying there, tracing the remnants of her left hand, Ananke recognized that the darkness had already won: even if they made it out of the Underdark alive, there wasn’t enough left of her to return to her previous life.
The darkness, and demons, and death had already won.
At some point in the night, sleep took Ananke; but it was fitful. Terrible screams and gruesome smiles filled her dreams.
But then, those smiles and screams morphed into a pulsing blue darkness that enveloped her. It swarmed, slithered, and oozed into her body; and as it moved through her, the pain that Ananke had been waiting for finally came. The nerves in her hands were alive with heat and light and pain.
In her dream, Ananke threw her head back to scream; but no sound escaped. There was an immense pressure on her chest, drowning out her screams, making it almost impossible to breathe…