Chapter 20

Poison

By the time they reached their destination, the thought-numbing allure of the Gibson family beer had started to wane, leaving Dante to wonder whether Joel’s plan was such a good idea after all. Sure, he needed an escape, but this? The next drink couldn’t come soon enough.

Joel had brought him to Torsten’s other side. To those on the surface, Torsten was a quiet trading port and cultural crossroads on the border of Malkuth’s Fifth Circle, home to several thousand people who lived in scattered settlements surrounded by green fields and young woodland. Beneath the surface, however, in the caves and catacombs that once protected people from vague cataclysms and undefined abominations, lay another, more visceral world, a shadow society of bright lights and loud music, where every day was the last day on Earth.

This was a world salvaged from the remnants of worlds before, a world of rats, who had never seen sunlight nor cared to see it, and of ravens, who looked to the skies and worshipped their horrors with hedonistic aplomb. Neither cared for the future because they believed there was no future, and so they embraced every desire and forgave every vice, convinced that none of it would mean anything once Theia fell from the sky. Theirs was a world where Joel’s idea of fashion was conservative, where people patterned themselves with powders, paints and piercings, and some seemed to forgo clothing all together. On every corner and along every street there were characters bright and bold, from minstrels hawking their herbs through the power of verse, to sour-faced warriors with aging armour that told a hundred stories, to men and woman, young and old, offering their bodies for delights undreamed of and pleasures unparalleled. If there were laws of any kind, they were the sort people made for themselves. There were no Sophists to enforce the peace down here, and any who dared to try would find themselves at the mercy of the crowd, like a slab of raw meat dropped into a cage of wild animals.

And, at the beating heart of that orgy of violence, cast in fire and starlight, was the World’s End.

Dante had heard Joel and his friends talk of the establishment often enough, but he had always pictured it as some dark temple secreted away in the very depths of the underground — not, as it was, a part of the industrial ruins to the west of town. The catacombs had delivered them to what appeared to be some kind a sinkhole, a rift in the earth where the ground had given way and plunged half an unknown building into its depths. Looming over them, so tall Dante’s woozy stomach lurched with vertigo, was one of those derelict cooling towers that blotted the western horizon, giant obelisks to an age long gone. Its funnel rumbled with a harsh thunder of noise. Fixated on the wonder of it all, Dante stumbled straight into the arms of a lithe young woman with goldfire eyes. With a strange, inhuman smile, she purred at his apology and went on her way. Dante’s gaze followed after her. What little she wore clung tight to her curves and her legs, long and—

“Wait, is that a tail?”

The undertown has been around since long before Torsten’s founding, and has had dozens of different names depending on who was in charge at the time. Over time, however, as more and more people have moved aboveground and the cultures have integrated (as best they can) it has itself become a part of Torsten. The actual land around the World’s End is owned by a cartel of colourful individuals who aren’t willing to sell, despite a number of offers from businessmen who would rather like to get their hands on the associated resources.