… And just like that, the pain was gone, swallowed in blinding, deafening darkness.
Flynn Flashwood awoke with a start, eyes open wide to see not oblivion, but the sunshine. A sun more welcoming and warming than any he’d ever experienced. Far away from the bitter, violating cold of that terrible place, he knew. One moment ago, Flynn had been in that alien contraption, feeling as if his very blood had been replaced with bubbling acids, an agony unlike any he’d experienced sucking the life from his body. Then suddenly he was here, lying back in the sand, a glass of wine in his hand, the sound of the ocean lapping entrancingly just a few hundred yards away.
“Beautiful day, is it not?”
Flynn looked up, instinctively squinting as his eyes turned toward the sun… except the sun did not dazzle or obscure in any way. It hung in the sky, brightening the world and burning nothing, not too bright at all. Not too hot. Nothing here was too much of anything. It was all perfect.
The man stood before Flynn grinned widely, a neatly trimmed beard framing a pearly white set of too-perfect teeth. A mocking eyebrow was raised below a mop of curly black hair. On either side of the man, two half-elf women were giggling, and the man’s arms were draped across their naked shoulders.
“Mercy… you bastard.”
Flynn got to his feet to greet his uncle, the brigand king, the liar and the cheat. B’Sar “Mercy” Ebonflowerwood, the “great” progenitor of Zoa’s hundred bastards, with two women on each arm and a drink in each hand, unmistakable in his decadence. Flynn wanted to hate that lying, cheating, murderous piece of shit. But this place felt like home, and Mercy… felt like family.
“Guilty as charged, Mr. Flashwood. Of course, you know all about that. You know who I am. More than my children ever did.”
“What… is this place?”
“It’s death, my boy. This is where all my worthy bastards come when Kalamar’s finally had enough of their shit. As you can see… it’s been a long time since we’ve had a visitor. Apparently not too many of you ever quite made the grade.”
Flynn looked around as he sipped his wine – a wine not too sweet, and not too dry – and noted the distinct lack of any others on this seemingly endless beach.
“You want something else to drink?” the brigand king asked. “Some women, perhaps? Men? Whatever you want, just ask. Better yet, just think it. It’s all yours, boss.”
“I’m… fine for right now. So I died, huh?”
“Looks that way. S’what happens when you let Risk take the rudder for you. Roll the dice one too many times, and you soon find yourself in debt. The house always wins, Flynn. It always wins in the end.”
“I have so many things to ask, uncle… or great uncle… or… actually, first question – exactly HOW are we related, anyway?”
“Well, interesting story there. The Flashwoods, you see…”
A tearing sound cut the man off before he could continue, as the very fabric of this place pulled itself apart. Mercy smiled smugly.
“Well well, maybe you’ve got a few more chips on the table than I thought, boy.”
Flynn was about to ask what Mercy had meant, but felt the pull in his gut, and simply knew what it meant. He could feel hands reaching for him, a voice calling out. The chill winds and the pain and the suffering… Brand telling Flynn to come back. Flashwood looked toward his uncle… or great uncle… and the brigand had no drinks in his hand, no women on his arms. He was smirking, arms folded.
“You can always stay, you know,” he said. “Nobody ever has to go back. Just tell your friends you’d rather say goodbye to the struggle, the loss, the agony. Stay here. Drink. Eat. Fuck. Conjure two-bit good-for-nothing market sellers and let a crossbow bolt off in their stupid fucking face day after day after day.”
“I can’t,” the young bard replied. “I have to go back.”
“You won’t abandon your friends, eh? Or is it that the fate of the world is just too important to ignore?”
“No… the way I died was really, really fucking stupid. And I can’t let Brand look better than me.”
“Spoken like my true nephew… or was it great nephew? I guess we’ll have to wait for the answer. Shall I, uh, hold your drink for you?”
Flynn handed his wine glass over to Mercy, who took it and nodded in respect at his young ancestor.
“Don’t you go drinking that now,” Flynn warned. “I’m coming back for it.”
“I’m sure you will be. But, y’know, it’s getting poured over somebody’s tits regardless.”
… And just like that, the pain was back, swallowing Flynn with a blinding, deafening cacophony.
“I feel better than ever,” he shouted, holding back tears.