Quote:In the Grand Church of Lecroa, there is a great artifact. They call it the Crystal of Truth.
On the Day of Truth, a group of apprentices are permitted to touch the crystal. Sometimes it will show a vision of the future. If this happens, the apprentice who touched it is granted full priesthood.
Edwin was one such apprentice. When he touched the crystal, it showed a vision.
A horrifying one.
A monstrous army swarmed across the land, ravaging all in their path.
For several minutes, the disaster played out in terrifying detail.
Then, suddenly, the vision changed.
A girl with long black hair donned a suit of armor, and carried a shining sword and shield as she climbed aboard her steed. She rode into battle against the monsters.
Then, something happened that no priest had ever seen before.
The vision divided in two, with different images appearing on different halves of the crystal.
On one side, the armored girl stood victorious, and the people rejoiced in freedom.
On the other, she was dead, from wounds sustained in battle. The image changed to her funeral, and then to the forces of evil overrunning the land completely.
There was much discussion among the priests who had witnessed the ceremony. It was clear that a great evil would arise, and soon. And if the heroine in the vision were to die, it seemed clear that all was lost.
There were murmurings about the vision, particularly that a woman would be their savior, but ultimately, it was decided that they had to act on it: the crystal had never shown a false vision before.
Several of the priests had noted the name on the gravestone during the heroine's funeral: Alicia Lakewood.
Edwin said he knew the name, and the face. There was a woman in his own village by that name, and she closely resembled the heroine from the vision, though somewhat younger.
He was given responsibility for guiding Alicia to her destiny.
He soon came to regret speaking up about it.
Alicia disliked Edwin. More precisely, she disliked the Church of Lecroa, and disliked Edwin by extension.
As a result, when he explained that Alicia's future was of great importance to the Church, her response was to shove him to the ground and walk away.
She turned back when he yelled that specifically, her future involved learning the art of the sword.
"Well, that's another matter," she said with a smile. "I've always wanted to show those smug knights a thing or two. When do we start?"
The next ten years were not very pleasant to Edwin. Granted, Alicia had started to dislike him personally somewhat less, but she was still just as difficult to deal with.
She was particularly troublesome when another priest of Lecroa arrived to see how she was doing; Edwin's vision had caused enough controversy by naming a woman as the savior. He dreaded to think of what would happen if the other priests found out she was an unbeliever as well.
But she did not share his concerns, and he had to go to great lengths to convince her not to get into a theological debate with his visitors.
Nonetheless, even that paled in comparison to his problems when the demons finally arrived.
It was a shock to Edwin to see the demons - he had seen them in the crystal's vision, of course, but that had still seemed distant. Now they were here, and real, and the worst part was that he was fighting them.
It had been made clear to him that "guiding the heroine to her destiny" included assisting her in battle, and Edwin was hardly the best choice for that job. He had trained alongside her over the last ten years, but he was far from her equal; in fact, he suspected he was probably well below-average as a fighter.
It was fortunate for him that the demons tended to focus on raw power over actual technique; even with his very basic level of competence, he was able to handle one or sometimes even two if he was very lucky or they were very small.
Alicia, meanwhile, had shown her prowess against the demons, and had so impressed the men that she was given command of the mission. She lead her army to several small victories, raising morale all around; this lead up to the first assault on one of the demon strongholds.
The Obsidian Spire had just suddenly appeared one day; some even suspected it was the source of the demons, or at least that it was somehow empowering them. Alicia declared to the army that today, they were going to destroy it, striking a major blow against the demons. The company erupted in cheers.
Except for Edwin, who knew that he was going to be riding in Alicia's unit, because he always did, and that meant he was involved in the most dangerous encounters, even if he mostly just stayed back and let the more competent knights do the fighting.
He was always very worried, even when the battle went well in the end.
This battle did not go well.
The demons guarding the tower were stronger and more competent than the ones in raiding parties. There were dozens of casualties in just a few minutes of fighting.
Nonetheless, Alicia pressed on. She could not allow the deaths of so many brave warriors to be in vain. The tower had to be destroyed.
At the tower's gate, an enormous four-armed demon stood watch. He hurled a blast of dark energy at the approaching riders; most jumped from their horses immediately. Two were not so lucky, and screamed as their bodies rapidly, but painfully, turned to ash.
The survivors fought hard, save for Edwin, who largely stayed back and tried to figure out what the demon was trying to do and warn the others. Despite his best efforts, three knights fell in the process of cutting off two of the fiend's arms; another died stabbing it in the leg.
Edwin was terrified. He had seen deaths on the battlefield, but never so many at the hands of one foe. Soon it was down to just Edwin and Alicia, and Alicia was badly wounded.
The demon grabbed Alicia with its last remaining arm; before it could do anything else, she stabbed it in the chest. It screamed as her holy blade pierced its wicked heart. Then it crumbled to the ground.
Alicia smiled triumphantly for a moment, then collapsed. Edwin checked her body; she was dead.
His immediate thought was "oh hell", followed shortly after by "what am I going to do now?"
Quote:Edwin sighed. With Alicia fallen, the world was doomed. The vision had been clear on that. Why stay and fight, in that case? Nothing he did would matter.
He turned around to flee. And then he saw the battlefield before him.
The other knights were not faring well; as best he could tell, they had lost half their number. They had not yet seen the carnage at the gate; they did not yet know Alicia had fallen. Would they lose their resolve if they heard?
He looked down at her corpse again. He could imagine her voice, what she would say to him if she saw him like this.
"Edwin, you idiot! I don't care what your silly magic rock said, this battle isn't over yet. We can still win, but we have no chance if you give up now!"
He wondered, briefly, if there might be a way to cheat the prophecy. Perhaps he could impersonate her, and carry on the mission in her stead? Or even turn to the forbidden arts of necromancy, and reanimate her corpse to fight on...
Suddenly, he heard a strange sound, like a flame lighting. He turned around, and saw a demon grinning wickedly, holding a shadowy fireball in one of its hands.
It hurled its projectile, only to be swiftly decapitated by another knight.
"What are you waiting for?" he shouted at Edwin. "Get to the tower! Before we lose any more men!"
Edwin nodded, and saluted.
"Understood! I will not fail!"
"May Lecroa be with you!"
"With you as well!"
As the knight raced away to face another demon, Edwin picked up Alicia's corpse and ran through the gate, unsure of what he would face.
He never expected the sight he found inside.
Looking for suggestions as to what's inside the tower. Feel free to make other suggestions if you want.
Quote:The tower was filled with strange and wondrous machinery, stretching all the way up the walls. The bizarre technologies alone would have shocked Edwin, had his attention not been completely diverted to the enormous demon they surrounded.
The hideous creature was large enough that it filled almost the entirety of the tower. Gigantic shackles held its feet and arms in place, and it stood eerily still.
Was this tower nothing more than a resting place for this monstrosity? Surely if it were to awaken, it could easily bring about the end of the world. Edwin shuddered at the very thought. His ruminations were interrupted by a booming voice.
"What have we here? It seems one of you mortals has managed to enter my spire after all."
Edwin looked up to find the source of the voice. He saw a figure in crimson armor and a black cape sitting on the great demon's head. The figure laughed and leapt from his perch, landing unharmed mere inches away from Edwin. He cast his helmeted gaze upon the prone corpse of Alicia, still in Edwin's arms.
"But your hero is dead, isn't she? You've made it all this way, and there's nothing you can do. Soon the mighty Rhakkashalgaros will awaken and destroy your pitiful world. And no matter what pitiful attempt at heroics you try, you are destined to fail."
The crimson knight walked over to a strange console and began pressing buttons on it, paying no heed to Edwin.
"I could simply kill you right now, of course. It would be so simple. But that would barely be any amusement at all. No, it would be far more entertaining to watch you crumble before the realization that your vision is coming true, and you have no hope of stopping it."
Edwin fell to his knees, dropping Alicia's body to the ground. His eyes welled up with tears. He felt powerless.
Then a thought struck him.
"How did you know it was my vision?" he asked.
"Because I saw it as well," the knight said with a fiendish laugh. "Behold!"
He pulled a lever on the console, and the machinery shifted. A large gem arose from the center of the floor. Edwin gasped - he recognized that gem.
"The... The Crystal of Truth?"
"Yes. Or rather, a second crystal, identical to yours. It showed me the same visions - and more. I knew the hero would come here, and I ensured my strongest minion would face her. With her death, nothing stands in the way of the Great Awakening."
The gravity of the situation was too much for Edwin. His despair was nearly overwhelming. Was there truly nothing he could do?
No. He could not accept that.
He rose to his feet as he readied himself mentally for what he was about to do.
Quote:The Crystal of Truth was where this had all started. It had shown Edwin the vision of destruction, and of the one hope that was now lost.
He decided that even if he could do nothing else, he could at least strike a blow against the accursed crystal and its damnable vision.
Edwin raised his sword and charged at the crystal. It might not be the same one that had started this whole disaster, but it would suffice. He brought down his sword and the crystal shattered into pieces, unleashing a blinding flash of light.
When Edwin recovered his senses, he found the crimson knight standing before him. The demonic man grabbed Edwin's arms and twisted them painfully. Edwin dropped his sword as he screamed from the agony.
"As futile a gesture as that was, we still had use for that crystal. I will have to punish you for destroying it. Once I've had my fun, I suggest that you simply sit still and watch the end of the world. Of course, if you insist, I can always see to it that you meet your end first."
The crimson knight's words angered Edwin. He struggled against the demon's grip until he could free one hand, then he punched his tormentor in the face with all his might.
Stunned for a moment by the blow, the crimson knight released his grip. Edwin seized the opportunity to strike his foe again, knocking the fiend away. It gave Edwin the opportunity to retrieve his sword.
"I underestimated your strength, human," the knight hissed angrily. "But it would be foolish to think yourself a match for me."
The knight held out his hands, and two swords of pure darkness appeared in them.
"Now, you will perish for striking me."
Edwin reflexively stepped backwards; he was better at avoiding combat than engaging in it. But as he did, he felt his foot slip on something - likely a shard of the crystal - and he fell to the ground.
The crimson knight simply laughed at Edwin's misfortune.
"What a pathetic excuse for a warrior. I'm astonished you've managed to survive this long. But that ends now."
The knight raised his swords and advanced towards Edwin's fallen form. Edwin tried to pick himself up, and as he did, his hand touched another shard of crystal.
What happened next astonished him.
What happened when Edwin touched the crystal shard?
Quote:The knight, the gigantic demon, and the tower itself all seemed to vanish around Edwin. He found himself floating in the air, surrounded by what seemed like thousands of crystals. Each showed a different vision.
In most, he simply died at the hands of the Crimson Knight. Others showed him terrifying images, even worse than the vision of destruction ten years ago. He saw the horrors of the demons' invasion and the awakening of Rhakkashalgaros.
The sight of it nearly drove him mad. He felt more helpless than ever, as though he had been taken out of time only to see how little he could actually do once he was sent back.
But just as he was about to cry out in despair, he heard a familiar voice.
"Edwin, you damned fool! You always give up so easily!"
It was Alicia. Slowly, a transparent image of her faded into view in front of him.
"Alicia?" he said weakly.
"Shut up, Edwin. You don't have time to ask questions right now. You want to look, over there."
She pointed to one specific vision, amidst all the chaos. In it, Edwin rolled to the right, dodged the crimson knight's blow. He then held up the crystal shard and shouted "I will forge my own Truth!"
Then the vision suddenly ended.
Edwin had so many questions, but before he could say anything, Alicia vanished. But he could still hear her parting words.
"Good luck, you idiot. Don't mess this one up, or I'll never let you hear the end of it in the afterlife."
And then, just as suddenly, Edwin found himself back on the floor of the tower once more. Acting quickly, he rolled to the right, and the crimson knight's swords struck the floor, creating a large gash across it.
Before his foe could recover, Edwin held up the crystal shard, as he had seen in the vision, and shouted.
"I will forge my own Truth!"
A flash of light surrounded him, and Edwin found himself suddenly clad in crystalline armor. His sword, too, had changed into a weapon of crystal.
The crimson knight simply sneered.
"Bold words, mortal man. But I'm afraid you'll have to practice your smithery in the next world."
The demon knight raised his swords and charged. But Edwin countered by slicing the dark swords with his own. Shining with light, the crystal blade simply eradicated the shadows entirely. The crimson knight was stunned.
"Impossible! How can a mere man wield such power?"
Those were the demon's final words, for Edwin's blade pierced his armor effortlessly and stabbed his wicked heart. He screamed in agony, and crumbled away to dust.
And then Edwin's armor and blade returned to normal. The shard of crystal was reduced to powder. It appeared that, mighty as this new power was, it was also limited. He began gathering shards for later use - perhaps the one he had used had been enough to change the course of the future, but perhaps it had not.
Suddenly, the tower began to shake. For a moment, Edwin feared that the demon would awaken. He quickly picked up a few more shards, as well as Alicia's body, and fled the tower to ready himself for whatever came next.
As he left, he turned and saw the tower sink into the ground. Just as suddenly, the demonic hordes turned and fled. The other knights looked around in surprise - had they won?
Edwin knew they hadn't. Not truly. He suspected that the demon, still slumbering, would awaken soon. Unless he stopped it.
But what could he do?
Quote:Edwin gathered his thoughts. The slumbering demon was still a threat, yes. But there were more immediate concerns.
The knights were in disarray; some were cheering the victory, others worried that this was a mere trick by the demons. It was up to Edwin to gather them, and ensure they were ready for the next fight.
He was somewhat nervous. He had given sermons over the years, of course, but those had been practiced. Besides, this was a somewhat different situation.
But the task had fall to him. He cleared his throat and spoke.
"May I have everyone's attention, please?"
Across the battlefield, the men turned to face him and saluted. He returned the gesture nervously, and continued.
"We have lost many of our number today. Among them, I am sad to say, was our commander, Alicia Lakewood. Before I continue, let us take a moment of silence to honor the fallen." Edwin bowed his head in prayer, and the knights followed suit. After a short pause, he lifted his head and resumed his speech.
"Some of you may have heard that Alicia was the one prophecied to save us from the demons. We did not speak of it much, but I am aware there were rumors - it was, after all, unheard of for a woman to lead a company, and a priest of Lecroa was always near her. With her death, no doubt you are concerned about our future."
Edwin paused and surveyed the crowd; there were murmurs passing through. He raised his hand to silence them.
"But fear not, my fellow warriors! For Lecroa has smiled upon us - within the tower, I found hope. We have not lost yet. A new path has opened for us, if we are bold enough to follow it."
The murmuring resumed. A rather large knight stepped forward and glared at Edwin.
"And what might this new path be? Did you really find something, or are you just trying to get us to keep fighting when we've already lost? What did you find, hmm?"
The knight's words stung. Indeed, Edwin himself was unsure if the shards could truly change destiny. But what other choice did he have?
Edwin summoned every ounce of courage he had and gave the knight the most intimidating look that he could muster.
"Alicia would be ashamed to hear you say such a thing," he said firmly. "She fought with every ounce of strength she had against the demons. You all followed her into battle, and she brought us this far. Would you dishonor her memory by abandoning the fight now?"
The knight was taken aback. He lowered his head shamefully, and walked back into the crowd. Edwin looked over his audience with a newfound confidence.
"Here is the task before us, men. Within that tower was an enormous demon. It lies in slumber now. I killed its protector, but the tower has fallen into the earth now, with the demon still inside. We must find some way back into the tower, and we must slay the demon before it can awaken. And in the meantime, we must continue the battle against the armies of demons that still roam the land - though our foes today fled, I doubt we have seen the last of them."
Edwin raised his sword into the air.
"But we will not fear them! We will protect our kingdom - no, our world - from these monsters! No matter the odds, we shall not give in! We shall fight on! For the world! For Lecroa! And for Alicia!"
The men raised their swords in solidarity and shouted.
Edwin breathed a sigh of relief. It had been a difficult battle, and there was more to come. But they had won a great victory.
The men made camp shortly after. As Edwin lay down to sleep, he pondered the task that lay ahead of him in the morning...
Quote:Edwin's dreams that night gave him little comfort. He saw Alicia's death again, he saw the crimson knight laughing at him, he saw the great demon awakening and terrorizing the kingdom.
He woke up feeling as though he had barely slept. The memories were still too strong. He sighed, and prepared himself for the task ahead.
The men searched for underground caverns nearby, in hopes of finding a path to the tower's resting place. They failed.
A few knights wondered if the tower was even still there - perhaps demonic magics had moved it away, so the demons could launch their next attack elsewhere.
Several knights spoke to Edwin, suggesting possible moves. Some wanted to return to the castle, in case the demons tried to depose the king. Others felt the demons might strike at the Grand Church. A third suggestion was to check the nearest town - perhaps the demons had attacked, or at least passed by, in which case there might be eyewitnesses who could direct the knights in their way.
Edwin decided that, despite their reduced numbers, it would be best to split the company up and investigate all the major possibilities. One of the men asked which group Edwin would be going with. He thought on it for a few moments before announcing his decision...
You could suggest one of the places I listed, or you could suggest another location entirely. Also, feel free to suggest general courses of action.
Quote:Edwin left with the group headed to the Grand Church. In addition to shoring up defenses, he hoped to consult with the elders of the church; perhaps one of them knew more of the nature of the Crystal.
The knights rode on, and arrived at the Grand Church. Edwin told the knights to remain outside; traditionally, only members of the priesthood were allowed into the church itself.
Upon entering, an aide told him that he was expected. One of the older priests had seen a vision in the Crystal showing his arrival, and it hinted that he carried grave news.
He soon found himself before the Council of Elders, informing them of his failure to protect Alicia, of the second Crystal of Truth, and of the power its shards held. There was a murmur among the elders, and he was asked to leave the room for a few moments while they discussed this matter.
Edwin waited nervously until he was admitted back in. Then, the oldest of the Elder Priests announced the conclusion that they had arrived at.
What did the Elder Priest say? And feel free to suggest a course of action for Edwin, too.
(This post was last modified: 04-13-2012 06:41 AM by Dragon Fogel.)
Quote:The Great Elder spoke with authority.
"The Crystal cannot be wrong. So it is written in the Great Book of Lecroa."
Edwin was taken aback.
"But... Alicia has fallen! Are you saying that we are doomed?"
"No, of course not. Our conclusion is that a demon possessed you, and used illusions to fool us all into seeing a corrupted vision. We should have realized it before - a woman, the savior of all humanity? Ridiculous. You must be purified, so that we can see your vision for what it truly was. Surely this will give us the key to defeating the demons."
Two guards entered the chamber, and grabbed Edwin.
"Take him to the Hall of Cleansing," said the Great Elder. "He must not leave until the ritual is completed."
"But... The ritual will take two and a half months! The demon will surely awaken before then!"
"Nonsense, child. Lecroa will guide us to the truth, and to victory."
Edwin was shocked. The Church was clinging to its teachings desperately, yet they refused to face the prophecy of doom. And he was to be locked away for weeks while the demons advanced.
He knew he was no match for the guards of the Grand Church - they were far better trained than he.
But he had managed to retrieve a shard from his pouch before they grabbed him.
Boldly, Edwin shouted to the entire Council.
"I will forge my own Truth!"
Blinding light surrounded him, and the armor returned. It granted him great strength, allowing him to throw aside the guards. He ran out of the room.
"Seize the heretic!" the Great Elder shouted. "He cannot be allowed near the Crystal, lest he shatter ours as well!"
The idea struck Edwin as one with merit - he had a limited supply of shards, after all.
Striking down guards with the power of his crystalline armor, Edwin rushed for the Crystal of Truth's chamber. But, as he drew near, intending to shatter it, a new vision appeared on the crystal's surface...
Quote:Edwin saw himself, with sword raised, prepared to smash the crystal. Then, the vision divided.
On one side, he destroyed it, then cackled and turned his sword on the knights of the church. His crystalline armor changed to that of the crimson knight he had slain, and he formed an army. They chased away the demons, and then turned their attention to the people.
He would be known as Edwin the Bloody, ruler of the world. He came to seek immortality, and found it, changing himself and his army into demons...
On the other side, he spared the crystal. The guards ran in, and he fled, sparing their lives. He ran from the church, and from his men, and from the demons.
The demons overran the world, and Edwin simply hid for the rest of his life.
But suddenly, both visions vanished, and a new one took their place.
The world was consumed by darkness. The wicked roamed the earth, and the innocent lived in fear.
Save for one town.
An unfamiliar girl rallied the townspeople, and they fought against the demons. It was one glimmer of hope in a world of despair.
The girl lead them on to victory.
Only for the demons to return.
She fought them off again, and again, and again.
Suddenly, Alicia appeared over the image of the girl. She turned towards Edwin, and spoke. "There's always hope, Edwin. The fight may continue forever, but you can't give up. Remember that, or I'll pound your head in when you get here."
Edwin nodded meekly. "Now, listen closely. I've learned something important about these stupid crystals. They don't show the future, they create the future. There are four in all, counting the one you already destroyed; the demons have three, or I should say, two now. The last one is the only thing keeping them from controlling fate itself. If it's destroyed, or falls into demon hands, they'll be unstoppable. You can't let that happen."
Before Edwin could say anything, Alicia's image vanished, and the crystal was silent again. Heeding her warning, he decided to leave the crystal alone... but just as he was about to turn away, he saw one final vision.
He realized that it was his next destination.
Quote:The vision showed a long-abandoned house on the edge of Edwin's hometown. Edwin entered it, and pulled out one of the crystal shards.
He was about to see what happened next, but the sound of footsteps approaching convinced him to run. He would have to discover the house's secrets once he arrived.
He ran from the guards, knocking them aside, and fled the Grand Church. He hopped on his horse, ignoring the questions from the other knights, and began riding back home.
The knights were left dumbfounded, especially a few moments later when a priest ran out and told them to chase Edwin the Heretic. But he had already gained a substantial lead in the confusion, and his horse was the fastest among them. The knights sent to chase him soon returned, empty-handed.
It was a few days later that Edwin returned home. He barely recognized the village - it had been ten years since he had been here.
He came in at night, to avoid being recognized - he dared not deliver the sad news of Alicia, not while he had work to do, and certainly not while the Church was searching for him. He hid his horse in the nearby forest, and entered the decrepit house.
He had been here before, once, in his youth. It had been Alicia's idea. They hadn't found anything, however, and Alicia had soon gotten bored of the place.
But then, they had not possessed any shards of a Crystal of Truth in those days. Edwin held up one of his shards, wondering if he would have to use it up again. He readied himself to say the words, but then a bright light shone from the shard and he saw a strange gateway.
Realizing that this must have been where the vision meant to guide him, he entered the gateway, and everything went black...
Edwin woke up in an unfamiliar bed, stripped of his armor. He soon found it near the bed, and his other belongings - including the shards, thankfully - in a pouch on a nearby chair. He dressed himself and left the room.
Climbing down a flight of stairs, he found himself in an unfamiliar inn. The woman at the counter looked up from her book and smiled at him.
"Ah, you're awake. Haven't seen a knight near here in some time. We were beginning to wonder if there were any left. Have you news from the outside world, good sir?"
Edwin was unsure of what to answer, but a shout from outside gave him an opportunity to avoid the question.
"THE DEMONS! THE DEMONS ARE HERE!"
Edwin rushed outside; the innkeeper soon followed. A crowd of villagers had gathered in the town square, wielding pitchforks, torches, crudely forged swords, and other weaponry. At the front of the square was a single figure; Edwin tried to move forward through the crowd for a closer look.
"We'll show the demons!" the figure shouted. "We'll show them that we are not afraid! That even if the kingdom, the knights, and the church have abandoned us to our fate, we shall still fight! We will not submit!"
The crowd cheered, waving their weapons in the air. Edwin soon reached the front, and saw the leader who had inspired the town so.
It was the girl he had seen in one of the visions. She was here.
Edwin had so many questions, starting with where he was - this certainly was not his hometown. But they would have to wait. The demons were on their way, and he would aid as best he could. The girl, seeing him, seemed pleased.
"Ah, the knight. You've woken up just in time. Come with me, then - we could use an extra sword hand."
Edwin followed obediently - hopefully he could find explanations later. The townspeople scattered, and Edwin and the girl headed to the main entrance.
"There they are," she said, pointing to a mass of shadows in the distance. "They never learn a damn thing, always try to attack again. But they won't succeed."
Edwin simply watched, still unsure of what was happening. The demons soon came into view, and Edwin gasped in shock. Though he had seen many demons before, even he was surprised by what he saw approaching...
Quote:Marching at the vanguard of the demon army were a squad of knights. They wore no helmets, revealing their pale rotting flesh.
They were the walking dead. And more disconcertingly, Edwin recognized several of them.
But the greatest shock of all was the army's commander - Alicia, wearing a suit of disturbingly familiar crimson armor. She smiled and waved at him as she approached, in a mockery of a greeting.
"Ah, Edwin!" she said, her voice carrying the ominous echoes of the crimson knight's. "What a pleasant surprise to see you again. Have you come to die along with these pathetic..."
"NOW!" the unknown girl shouted. There was a loud noise, and a cannon fired from the upper floors of a nearby house. It struck the demonic commander in the head, bowling her over. She picked herself up, clearly angered.
"I see you've learned nothing, human girl. You are only delaying your inevitable demise. It would be so much less painful for you to accept that truth."
"Accept your truth?" she replied defiantly. "No, I think not."
The girl smiled slightly raised her sword - it was not nearly as fine as Edwin's. Several villagers ran out and joined her, and the next thing Edwin knew, they were shouting a battle cry. He found he knew what they were going to say, and joined in himself.
"We will forge our own Truth!"
The words echoed throughout the village, and a bright light shone from its center. The villagers' weapons shone brilliantly with the strange power, and as the demons advanced, they screamed with pain as the villagers fought back.
The creature that was both Alicia and the crimson knight snarled in frustration.
"Do you really believe we were not prepared for this? No, this time your pathetic village will fall. Behold! This day will be your last, humans!"
The commander raised her arms to the sky and cackled. Nothing could have prepared Edwin for what he saw happen next.
Quote:As the demon commander laughed, a great rift opened in the sky. From it, a massive black dragon emerged. The beast was surpassed in size only by the slumbering demon Edwin had seen before.
In the center of its underbelly, Edwin saw a Crystal of Truth; it was embedded within the dragon's scales. The monster roared ferociously, and small bursts of purple flames spewed from its gaping maw. It walked towards the village, the earth shaking with its every step.
"You are not the only ones with the power of a crystal," the demon with Alicia's face sneered. "But unlike you mortals, we know how to unleash the true potential within it. This mighty beast will burn your village to the ground with ease. And even if you were to prevail, all you would earn is the wrath of Rhakkashalgaros himself upon your village."
The village girl was unimpressed.
"If your Rakkasha or whatever he's called is so powerful, why hasn't he just come here himself? I think he's afraid of us. And you are, too." She turned to Edwin. "You there, knight! Keep watch over me while I kill the dragon. I've taken on smaller ones before, I know how to deal with them. But we have to act fast, before it can spew its flame - I don't think the village will survive a blaze of that size."
The girl ran towards the dragon, wielding her sword. Nervously, Edwin followed her, his heart pounding as he remembered the beast that had slain Alicia.
Would this brave girl meet the same fate, before he could even learn her name?
No. He could not let that happen.
The girl swung at the dragon's ankles, drawing its attention. It raised its foot, but she swiftly ran, leaping onto its claw and plunging her sword in just before it struck the ground.
The dragon shrieked in pain, but the wound was ultimately minor; nevertheless, it diverted the beast, and gave the girl an opportunity to start climbing its scales, heading towards the crystal in its belly.
But as she did, Edwin saw the commander, the crimson knight with Alicia's body, chanting strangely. No doubt she was preparing to cast some form of magic upon the girl. Edwin had little time to act, and so he made his next move swiftly.
Quote:For the briefest of moments, Edwin thought of throwing his sword, but he quickly dismissed it; such a heavy weapon would never make it all that distance. He needed something lighter, but that would hurt enough that it might at least distract his foe.
And then he remembered.
When Edwin had checked his pouch earlier, he noted that one of his crystal shards was particularly sharp. He had moved it near the top to keep it from poking a hole in his pouch, and so it was easy to retrieve in but a moment.
He flung it at the demon commander, and whispered a small prayer, hoping the shard would reach its mark.
"Fly," he said. "Fly like an arrow."
Much to his surprise, it did. The shard transformed into the shape of an arrow, and it flew easily through the air towards Alicia.
As it drew near, Edwin shouted another command, hoping to make the blow even more power.
"Be my sword!" he yelled. "Pierce that monster's foul heart!"
In response, the crystalline arrow became a sword, and it struck Alicia in the heart. She recoiled from the blow, unleashing her spell before she was prepared; a dark flame flew from her hands, but rather than striking the girl, it hit the dragon's right wing, leaving behind a gaping hole.
Edwin wasted no time. The demon commander was wounded, but not yet dead; he rushed over and tackled Alicia. As she was stunned, he pulled the sword from her heart, then touched it to his own blade. The new sword shone with a brilliant light, and Edwin could sense that it was even more powerful than before. He held it to her neck, but then he saw the look on her face.
"Please, Edwin," she said. "If you kill me, what hope will there be left?"
He paused for a moment. Then he spoke.
"You are not Alicia."
He sliced the demon's head off.
"After all, you didn't call me an idiot even once."
The body crumbled to dust, and Edwin turned his attention to the dragon. The girl was drawing close to the crystal in its chest, but the beast had covered the gem with one of its claws. It looked down at her, readying its other hand to strike if she came near.
Edwin's blade suddenly glistened, and for a moment, he saw a vision.
The girl struck the claw, and shattered the crystal, but the beast grabbed her with its other hand. She pulled a shard from the broken crystal, and held it up as the beast squeezed her body.
"I give my life for a new Truth!" she shouted.
A bright pillar light emerged from the crystal, enveloping girl and dragon. A moment later, nothing was left of either.
Edwin suddenly found himself back on the battlefield. The girl was about to strike the claw. The vision had not yet come to pass! He might yet have a chance to save her!
But there was little time. He needed to make his move now.
Quote:Edwin reached into his pouch for another shard. He hoped it would work as well against the dragon as it had against its demonic master.
Edwin hurled the shard, and once more spoke the words, this time shouting them with conviction.
"Fly like an arrow!"
Much to his surprise, however, the shard did not change, but instead fell to the ground. Then, an instant later, he found himself being pulled forward.
He looked at his hands, and found himself gripping a large arrow. It was his sword that had changed, and it was flying towards the dragon, seemingly of its own will. Edwin feared what would happen if he let go of it, and so he simply allowed it to carry him along.
The tip of the crystalline arrow hit the dragon's right ankle, and it reeled from the pain. The claw covering its crystal moved for a moment; seeing an opening, the girl prepared to strike.
But Edwin's eyes caught the dragon's other claw, preparing a swipe. He held up his arrow and pointed it straight at the dragon's hand.
"Fly like an arrow!"
Edwin was lifted into the air, and as he passed the girl, he pushed her aside just as she struck the crystal. She fell to the ground, and the dragon grabbed Edwin in her place.
He was unafraid. He still held the arrow; it was pulling on him as the dragon's grip tightened, but he knew he could still wield it.
"Be my sword once more."
The arrow changed back into a sword. Edwin used it to slice through the dragon's wrist, and the beast screamed as its claw plummeted to the ground. Its fearsome roar filled the air, as it started to fall to its knees; slowly, as the crystal shards fell from its belly, the dragon began to shrink.
"They must have used the crystal to make it that size!" the girl shouted. "Now it's just an ordinary dragon, and badly wounded. Strike now!"
The girl suddenly and swiftly leapt up to the dragon's back, striking its wings with her sword. It howled in agony, and the girl shouted to Edwin.
"This will keep it busy! Cut off its head!"
Edwin nodded in understand. He ran under its neck, watching nervously as small bursts of flame struck the ground near him. He soon saw a spot where the scales were lighter, and sliced with his sword.
The dragon's head fell to the ground, and its body collapsed soon after. Then it crumbled to dust, leaving only crystal shards behind.
Edwin's sword returned to normal. He looked back at the villagers; the demons lay dead at their feet, most of them crumbling. He breathed a sigh of relief as he retrieved shards of the dragon's crystal, as well as the shard he had thrown earlier.
The girl smiled at him.
"Very well done, Sir Knight. But tell me, what brings you to our village? For ten years, we have seen no visitors save the demons. We feared the rest of the kingdom had fallen long ago."
Edwin was puzzled. Ten years? The demons had only appeared a few months ago.
Had that gateway somehow brought him to the future?
And if so... was this village the last remnant of humanity?
What if he could not return to his own time?
Was there even anything left to fight for now?
The questions unnerved him. Then he noticed that the girl was staring at him impatiently. Her gaze reminded him of Alicia's disapproving glare.
Edwin realized that he would have to give her an answer, and thought about what to say.
Quote:Edwin considered telling her the whole story. After all, she showed no fear in the face of an enormous dragon; it was unlikely that she would be too shocked if he revealed he was from years in the past.
But he had doubts. For one, he still was unsure of exactly what had happened to him. And more importantly, he had no idea how to return. What if he was trapped here in the future, if that was indeed where he was?
He decided that, for now, he would not reveal everything. But he would tell her a tale that was close to the truth, at least. He did not wish to deceive her.
"I have been wandering the land, searching for a way to stop the demons," he said. "I destroyed one of their Crystals of Truth by sheer chance, and with the help of its shards, I managed to survive."
She looked at him with surprise.
"Have you been traveling all this time without a horse?"
"I had to leave mine behind some time ago."
"I see. That's a shame."
They walked on, returning to the village. The townspeople were cheering. An older man walked up to them and shook the girl's hand.
"You've saved us again, Mira," he said. "I don't know what we'd do without you."
"It's not all on me," she said modestly. "Everyone's done their part in this battle. And I owe this traveler my life, now."
"Ah, yes. The knight we found last night. What's your name, good sir?"
"Edwin," he replied. Then he turned to the girl. "I'd like to know more about this village. You've clearly challenged the demons many times; I believe there may be some clue in here to stopping them once and for all."
"Gladly. This way."
Edwin followed Mira back to the town square. A large fountain stood in the center; he had barely noticed it before, with the crowd surrounding it. He noticed that the water glistened.
"Look down there," Mira told him.
He did. He saw something shining in the depths of the fountain. He could just barely make out the shape, but it was familiar enough.
"A Crystal of Truth," he said.
"Ten years ago, a priest of Lecroa came here, carrying that crystal on horseback. He was badly wounded. With the last of his strength, he told us to protect that crystal from the demons, no matter the cost."
Mira looked down sadly.
"That cost has been high. I lost my parents to the demons eight years ago. This sword was once my father's."
"No, I am. You asked about the village, and I was about to explain. We decided to hide the crystal in the fountain, and soon after, the water started to look different. When we drank it, we felt stronger. We think the crystal empowered it. That's how we gained the power to fight back. And it's probably why the demons are so determined to destroy us - this crystal may be the last threat to their power."
"I believe there are four crystals," Edwin said. "I destroyed one some time ago, as I said, and just now we destroyed another. With this one here, that means the demons only have one left."
"There's another thing," Mira replied. "The priest had a book with him. Not many of us can read, but even those of us who can aren't able to understand it - we don't know the language"
"I was a priest of Lecroa for some time," Edwin said. "I may just be able to read it. May I see the book?"
"Certainly. You've proven your bravery today, and it may hold a clue to defeating the demons. I'll get it for you. Feel free to take a look around the town while you wait for me - if I don't see you when I get back, I'll just leave it with the innkeeper."
She ran off, leaving Edwin to his own devices.
Edwin's exploring the town. Feel free to suggest what he might do, and places and people he might find.
Also, I'd just like to take a moment to say that I appreciate the positive comments I've gotten on this adventure. I'm having quite a bit of fun writing it, and I plan on doing another adventure in this narrative style in the future. So I'm glad to know you guys are enjoying it!
Thanks to everyone for reading and suggesting!
Quote:The first thing Edwin noticed was that quite a few of the villagers were headed into a nearby building with a broken sign. He decided to follow.
Inside, he was greeted by the conflicting smells of ale and freshly-baked bread. Various patrons sat around the tables, talking, drinking, and eating; a glance to the bar revealed both a gruff, muscular bartender and a thin woman wearing an apron standing behind it. The man waved to Edwin.
"Well, if it isn't our new knight! Come for the victory celebration, have you? Have a glass of ale, on me."
Edwin walked over to the bar and waved the glass away.
"I'll have to pass, I'm afraid. Priest of Lecroa, not allowed to drink."
The bartender grinned, revealing his missing tooth.
"Priest and a knight, eh? Must be a good story behind that. I'd fetch you some milk, then, but I'm afraid our last cow died a month ago."
"Water will be fine."
"Just take a sip from the fountain if you want water. Not too much, though; that needs to last us until the next rain." The barman turned to his partner. "Hey, Sarah! Be a darling and fetch our new friend a bun, would you? I'll wager he could use a good meal."
The woman nodded, and handed a small roll to Edwin. He thanked her and ate it. The barman smiled as she walked away.
"Poor Sarah. Lost her husband and her bakery four years ago. Doesn't talk much, but she's a sweetheart. Makes a damn good loaf, too."
"This is indeed delicious. So you let her set up shop in your bar?"
"Works out well enough. People come here to eat, and to drink. Keeps things simple if they can do both in the same place." The barman sighed. "Don't know how long we can hold out, though. We may be able to fight the demons, but it's getting harder and harder just to get by. At this rate, it's a wonder they don't just wait us out."
"I suppose demons aren't known for the virtue of patience."
"Hah, true enough. Well, 'tis nice to see a new face around here. It may make the rations a bit tighter, but if you fight the next time like you did today, I should think there won't be many complaints about your earning it."
Edwin smiled weakly as he finished his roll.
"I suppose I'll be here a while, won't I. It must be hard on you all, having faced so many losses."
"Aye, that it is. But I'll say one thing for it... you learn to appreciate what you've got left." He pointed to a group of young men talking at a nearby table. "You see those three? Before the demons attacked, they were bitter rivals. For love, for money - they fought over everything."
"But not now."
"Best of friends now. Oh, granted, it wasn't always this way. Quite a few refused to listen to Mira when she first took up her father's sword. I'm ashamed to say I was one of them." The barman bowed his head and sighed. "We learned a harsh lesson in that next battle, at the cost of lives."
Edwin found himself at a loss for words. After a moment's pause, he got up.
"I think I'll fetch myself some water now," he said. "Tell Sarah the bread was delicious."
"She'll be glad to hear that," the bartender said with a weak smile. "Come back any time."
Edwin stepped out and returned to the fountain, where Mira was waiting. She smiled at him.
"I've got the book," she said. "Been talking to Old Jack, have you?"
"Old... oh, the barman! I never quite caught his name."
"He's a good man. Always been friendly, if a bit old-fashioned. Anyways, see if you can make any sense of this thing." She handed him the book.
Edwin looked at the cover and simply stared.
"What's wrong?" Mira asked. "You can't understand it, either?"
"No, I can. That's what's so strange. This says it's the Second Book of Lecroa."
"I never paid much attention to your religion. Is that an important book or something?"
"Until about ten seconds ago, I thought there was only one Book of Lecroa."
"Ah. Now that sounds very interesting. So what does this book that doesn't exist say?"
Edwin opened the book, and began to read.
What information did Edwin find in the book?
Quote:I have seen chaos. Destruction. The collapse of this world. All will crumble before the might of the demons. Not even the strongest or bravest warriors can defeat them.
This was the world's fate before I created the Crystals of Truth.
In my mind, I saw countless visions, all leading to the same place: the Great Awakening. Rhakkashalgaros, the mightiest of demons, would be roused from his slumber, and no force on earth could stop him.
Thousands of paths stood before me. Not one avoided this terrible fate, this inescapable truth.
And so, I made a vow. A vow that I - no, that humanity itself - would find a new path, a new fate. We would forge our own Truth, one that offered us hope.
This would come at a great cost, however. There was only one force I knew of that might be able to manipulate the truth itself - the Four Crystals.
Each of the crystals held the power of one of the elemental forces - fire, water, wind, and earth. It was through their power that we could channel this magic.
In order to change fate, I would need to fill the crystals with the essence of Truth itself. But in doing so, I would rob this world of magic, perhaps forever.
And there was no guarantee that the crystals alone would save us. But there was no other hope. Without the crystals, we would surely fall to the demons.
With heavy heart, I cast the ritual, and found my mind clear. I had lost the power of prophecy, and had created the Crystals of Truth - the key to humanity's future.
As I created the crystals, I infused them with a new truth - that Rhakkashalgaros will never awaken. So long as even one crystal remains whole, this shall be the Truth.
I wrote the first Book of Lecroa to help my disciples guide the future. But the crystals have warned me not to make this second book so easily found - even the Church founded in my name must not know of it.
I entrust this book to my disciple Rial. It is her task to preserve it. One day, this book will find its way into the hands of one who may change the future.
Finally, there is one more detail. I shall tell my disciples of this, but this tome shall be the only place where it shall be recorded or spoken of.
The crystals once held the essence of the elements, and allowed magic to be cast. They now hold the essence of Truth. In principle, they can still be used in the same way.
The rite I am about to describe allows one to use the magic of Truth. This power will surely be valuable if the demons return. The Elder Priests of my Church shall be the only ones trusted with this knowledge, save for those who learn of it through these words...
Edwin stopped reading.
"This... This is too much to take in."
"What? Is it the bit about the magic?"
"Everything! This is a complete contradiction to the Church's doctrine. Magic never existed, only the blessings of Lecroa and the Crystals of Truth! Rial, the only female disciple, betrayed Lecroa, and in doing so proved the inherent wickedness of women! Er, not that I ever truly believed that myself, but regardless..."
"All right, I get the idea, this isn't easy for you. But put that aside for a moment and read on! What does it say about the rite to gain magic? If we can perform it, that's bound to help us against the demons."
Edwin looked over the next passage. A frown crossed his face.
"I'm afraid it won't be that simple."
What has to be done?
Quote:The place where I cast the ritual is rich with the power of Truth. If all four crystals are placed near it in the correct positions, they will return to their original forms for but a few moments. Those standing within the square they create will be granted a link to the crystals; this is the power of Truth.
"And two crystals have been destroyed. I suppose that's not really an option."
"There's more. It seems that's just the first step, hold on."
This power may be granted to others; I will instruct my disciples to do this once they have chosen their successors, so that the Elder Priests may have the aid of these powers even once the crystals are divided. However, should calamity strike and the Elder Priests die out with no one taking on their powers, there remains one hope even if the crystals are shattered.
"Oh, this could be promising."
"I'm not sure. Usually this means doing things the hard way. And this next bit is difficult to translate, I've never seen some of these words before..."
If the four Heroes of Truth meet where I cast the ritual, under the light of a full moon, then the power of Truth will awaken in them.
"And that's what I've got from here. I think the next lines are clues to their identity, something about seeing a vision of each in each of the crystals, but there are a lot of words I'm not familiar with."
"Damn. Don't suppose there's anything else?"
"Er... I'll keep reading... oh dear."
"There's one more way, but... um."
"Well what? Out with it!"
If the situation is truly dire, there is one last way. The sacrifice of someone pure-hearted. Spill their blood upon a crystal, and it will gain power, granting its magic to the killer. This may not happen by chance, but by intent, and the sacrifice need not be willing. I hesitate to even write these words, for fear they shall doom some innocent soul, but it may prove to be necessary one day. This is something that not even I can foresee.
Mira and Edwin looked at each other.
"We are not doing that," Mira said firmly.
"Certainly not!" Edwin replied with conviction. "But, ah, that raises a question... what exactly are we going to do next?"
(This post was last modified: 04-13-2012 06:42 AM by Dragon Fogel.)
Quote:"Hmm. That is a good question, isn't it." Mira looked thoughtful. "It seems the best choice is to search for these heroes, but if you can't read the clues..."
"Indeed. Ah, pardon me for a moment. I just remembered that I came out here to get some water."
Edwin turned towards the fountain and took a sip.
"Wait," Mira said, turning towards him. "You said there was something about each of the crystals showing a vision of one of the heroes?"
"That's what I could gather, yes. Why?"
"Well, we have a crystal right here, don't we? Perhaps we can see the vision. It might give us a clue."
Edwin stared at her.
"I mean, it might not, but it's worth a try, isn't it?"
"...Yes. Yes, it is."
It only struck Edwin once Mira spoke of it. He had seen her in a vision!
Had the Grand Church's crystal guided him to one of the heroes? Was this why he had been sent here?
"What's wrong, Edwin?"
"Ah. Sorry. I suppose I was getting ahead of myself... I was wondering what to do about the two shattered crystals. But we can worry about those once we've had a look at the intact one."
"Well, you have shards from the other two. Perhaps we can still see a clue in those?"
Edwin pulled out two pouches, and removed a shard from each. He had put the shards from the second crystal in another one, as he was worried about how full the first was.
Then he stared at them.
"Well, this might work, but I haven't got the faintest clue how," he finally concluded. "I suppose we'll try the intact one first. Any suggestions on how we can get it out of there?"
Quote:Mira squinted and looked at the water.
"I think I can get a good look at the crystal from here."
"Well, perhaps you can, but we're probably not going to get it to show any visions this far out. Some rope, perhaps?"
"Can't you just swim out there? Or even wade, it's not as if it's that deep."
"Well, I suppose, but it is your drinking water..."
"The crystal purifies it. You're going to put it back straight away, aren't you?"
"Well, yes, but... I'm in armor... er..."
"You can take it off for a little while, can't you? It's not as if you have to undress completely."
"Fine, I'll leave my clothes at the inn. Give me a few minutes."
He walked off, taking the book with him, and headed to the inn.
Edwin returned a while later, wearing only a pair of shorts. Mira smirked at the sight.
"Please don't say anything," Edwin sighed. "I'm a bit... uncomfortable with this."
"Oh, perish the thought," she said, clearly stifling her laughter. "Just get the crystal, tell me if you see anything, and put it back."
Grumbling, Edwin climbed the edge of the fountain and stepped into the water. Mira watched, letting herself giggle a bit once he was some way in.
Neither of them noticed a pair of red eyes watching intently from the shadows.
Edwin soon reached the crystal, and bent down to pick it up. Just as he rose back above the water, he heard Mira screaming.
Edwin spun around quickly, and saw a tall, thin red-eyed demon with lengthy limbs holding Mira, its claws mere inches from her throat.
"Ah, excellent," the creature hissed. "Hand over the crystal, or I'll end this young lady's life. I suggest you avoid any trickery, it won't take me long to pierce her soft flesh."
Quote:Edwin stood for a moment in shock, then looked down at the crystal. He sighed.
"I suppose I don't have a choice," he muttered. He took a few steps forward.
Then a smile formed on his lips as he lifted the crystal up a bit.
Edwin flung the crystal towards the demon. The monster swiftly stepped aside, moving with incredible agility.
"How foolish," it cackled. "Did you really think you could strike a Shadowwalker so easily? And if the crystal shatters, we win, for we have the last one. Why would I take the risk of catching it?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. Did you think I was talking to you?"
The Shadowwalker glanced down, just in time to see Mira stab the sharp end of the crystal into its hand. It howled in pain, and released her. Before it could recover, she pierced its heart with the crystal, and its piercing scream echoed through the village as it crumbled to dust.
"That was far too close," Mira gasped, as Edwin reached the edge of the fountain. "It's been years since a demon's made it this far into the village." She frowned at Edwin. "And what were you thinking, trying a crazy stunt like that? You could have shattered the crystal! I could have been killed!"
Edwin looked embarrassed.
"Well, er, I glanced at the crystal and saw a vision where I threw it and you caught it..."
Mira glared at him.
"Let's try to avoid having it come to that in the future, shall we? We'll look at this vision, then you can put the crystal back and get your armor back on in case there are any other nasty surprises."
"Ah. Yes, that would be a good idea."
Edwin touched the crystal, and a vision appeared in it.
What did it show?
Quote:The crystal showed a beautiful meadow, with a forested mountain in the distance.
Then, suddenly, destruction rained from the sky. Shadowy meteors fell to earth, becoming demons.
As they arrived, the land itself decayed. The meadow rotted away, leaving a putrid swamp, and the mountain's peak burst, bringing with it an explosion of lava.
Suddenly, a thin young boy rode through the marsh on horseback. The demons chased after him, screaming wildly.
Then the vision shifted, showing the boy's face. Edwin and Mira gasped at the sight.
He had sharp fangs, pointed ears, and dark red eyes.
"He... He looks like a demon himself!" Mira stuttered. "What could have happened to this boy?"
"That's not all," Edwin said. "I think he's riding my horse!"
They stared at each other for a few moments. Edwin took the crystal back.
"I'd best put this back in its hiding spot," he said, walking back to the center of the fountain. "And then I'll get dressed. After that, we can think about our next move."
What's the plan for finding this strange boy with a demonic face?
Quote:"That's going to take some thinking," Mira said, as Edwin put the crystal back. "Perhaps we should meet back later. I'll see you at the tavern in a few hours, shall I? We can discuss plans then."
"I think that may be good, yes." Edwin stepped out of the fountain. "I can take some time to look over the book, perhaps I can find out something else. I'll see you at dinner, then."
Edwin returned to the inn and dressed himself again, then turned his attention to the book. He found that much of it was unreadable; it was filled with obscure terms that he had never learned. He wondered what secrets the book still held. Still, there was some information that looked promising amongst the unfamiliar words; in particular, a line about a "ghaltak leading between the past and future" caught his eye. Was that how he had made his way here? And was there some way he could return?
After a few hours, the innkeeper knocked on his door.
"Mira said to come and fetch you if you were still here by now," she said to him. "I think she rather likes you, young man."
"Er. Thank you. I've been a bit lost in thought. I'll be heading over to the tavern now, thank you."
He walked off, still holding the book. He had much to think about.
His mind was on a particular sentence he had just read, one which he already knew from the other Book of Lecroa and was surprised to see again:
"Sometimes, secrets must be kept. But sometimes, they must be shared."
He had taken it as a sign.
Mira was waiting for him, in a fancier dress than he remembered her wearing before. She waved him over to her table, where he found two rolls and some peas on a plate.
"I'm afraid it's not much, but it's what we've got," she said apologetically. "So, did you find anything else in the book?"
"Er. Perhaps. But it seems the book is filled with words that never came up in my studies." He paused. "Listen, there's... something I didn't tell you before. I wasn't sure what to make of it myself, but I believe you should know."
She looked at him expectantly.
"And what might that be, Sir Edwin?"
He leaned in close and spoke softly.
"I'm from the past, just after the demon invasion began. Somehow, I found my way here, to this future. And... I think I may need to find a way back."
She stared at him. After a few minutes of silence, she asked a question.
"But what happens to us if you go back? Will you be able to defeat the demons and save our village before it gets this bad? Or will nothing at all change?"
"Er... I honestly don't know. I think I found something in the book about it, but I could only make out a small portion of the words."
"Well, I'd prefer you found out about it before you go messing with time. Who knows what could happen if you make the wrong move?"
"I suppose... perhaps if I went back to what's left of the Grand Church, I might find something to help me translate... and I do need to leave to search for this demonic-looking boy..."
"Well, as for me, I'm trying to make up my mind. I'd like to help you out, but the village needs all the hands it can get..."
Suddenly, there was a shout.
"Demons!" someone screamed. "They're in the village! Everyone, to arms!"
"Damn!" Mira swore. "I should have guessed they'd try something after that attack by the fountain." She stood up and pulled her sword out of its sheath. "Luckily, I'm not completely unprepared."
Edwin drew his own sword and ran after her.
The village was filled with Shadowwalkers just like the beast that had attacked Mira before, and they were fierce opponents. They dodged the villagers' blows swiftly, and retaliated with their own deadly claws.
A few of the demons went down, but the villagers were suffering severe wounds. By the time five of the demons had been slain, three villagers had died, and a dozen more were too weak to stand. Meanwhile, the Shadowwalkers were still advancing.
"This is bad," Mira said. "The other one must have told them where the crystal was. That's why they're only attacking now."
"Damn!" Edwin cursed. "If I hadn't gone asking questions, they might never have realized it. I bear some of the blame."
"Well, there's not much we can do about it now except fight them off before they do any more damage," Mira said, thrusting her blade through the heart of a sixth Shadowwalker as it tried to lunge at Edwin. "Although if you've got any brilliant ideas, it would be nice to hear them now."
Quote:"I'm afraid I haven't got any," Edwin said, jumping back as another Shadowwalker leapt at him. Mira stabbed it from behind as it landed.
"Pity. Then I suppose we'll just have to fight them as they come."
Edwin and Mira soon found themselves being pushed back, towards the fountain. Another Shadowwalker lunged forward suddenly, and Mira pushed Edwin aside. The beast turned to face them, but the bartender rushed into the fray and struck it with a club, knocking it into the water.
There was a terrible shriek. Mira glanced in the water and saw the Shadowwalker melt into a black sludge, which soon vanished as the crystal purified the water.
"They can't go in the water!" Mira exclaimed. "That must be why the one before grabbed me. It needed you to take the crystal out!"
"Seems we've got a nice weapon, then," the bartender commented. He was interrupted by a shriek as a Shadowwalker's claws tore through another villager.
"It won't do us much good at this rate. We might win, but we'll lose a lot of people in the process." Edwin paused. "But there might be a chance. Hang on."
He shouted at the demons.
"Attention, demons! We know the water of the fountain can destroy you. You cannot claim the crystal, but we stand to lose many lives. Continuing this fight would be painful for both sides. And so I propose a challenge. Our champion against yours. Should you win, we hand over the crystal and assure your victory. Should you lose, the demons will not attack this village for another year."
A figure emerged from the shadows nearby. It had the shape of the Shadowwalkers, but it wore a dark cloak over its body. It held up its arms, and a double-bladed scythe appeared in them, with a dark aura about it.
"Your challenge intrigues me, human," it said, in a raspy voice. "You have crystal shards, do you not? If we both touch one and swear an oath, then neither side can renege upon our deal."
"I do," Edwin said, and he pulled one out.
"But I wish to negotiate one point. Should your side win, you will have one month of freedom from attacks, rather than one year. And it shall only apply within the border of the village. Any humans who wander outside, I cannot make any promises for their safety."
"Very well," Edwin said reluctantly. "One month."
"Excellent. Very well then, I shall fight on behalf of the demons. Will you be the village's champion?"
Mira tugged on his arm.
"This is a mad plan, Edwin. They'll probably find some way to cheat the bargain even if he loses. But if we're going through with it, I'm going to fight him. No offense, but your technique is, well, unrefined. I'm the best fighter in this village. Do you understand?"
Edwin considered her words carefully before replying.
Should Mira fight the demon? Or Edwin?
Also, feel free to suggest other things! Such as any terms that should be added to the deal, things to do once the battle starts, or any other ideas you have.
Quote:"I understand what you're saying," Edwin said carefully. "And you have a point. But, well... listen, there's someone you remind me of. Someone I couldn't protect. I don't mean to deny your skill, but it's very hard for me to ask you to..."
"My patience is not infinite," the cloaked demon growled. "I am holding my minions back for now, but if you take too long to choose your champion, I may change my mind. After all, this could be a stalling tactic."
"Ah. Yes." Edwin looked at Mira nervously. He still couldn't bring himself to do it.
Then a voice called out from the distance.
"If you're having trouble picking a champion, I'd be glad to take the role."
Edwin and the demon turned towards the voice. A man wearing a long coat and large hat walked towards them. He took his hat off and tipped it to Edwin, revealing his gray hair and stubble-covered face.
"The name's Blackbird. I'm a mercenary. Just arrived here an hour ago, I was checking out a rumor that there were still people all the way out here. And I'd just like to say that I'm the best there is. I'll take care of your demon problem... for a small price."
Edwin and Mira stared at him.
"What's your price?" Edwin asked.
"I heard that demon say you've got some crystal shards. Now, I've heard a thing or two about those, and they'd be real handy in my line of work. A man could build a good reputation with them. Give me a bag of those, and I'll take care of this guy in no time. What do you say?"
"Wait a minute," Mira interjected. "You're a mercenary? Still looking for work? We haven't heard from anyone in years, until Edwin appeared! Are you saying there are still other people out there?"
Blackbird turned his head towards Edwin slightly and winked.
"Let's just say, there are where he and I come from." He leaned in close and whispered in Edwin's ear. "And I can help you get back there. No extra charge."
Blackbird turned to the demon before Edwin could respond.
"You don't mind giving these folks a chance to consider my offer before the fight, right?"
The demon grumbled. "No. But again, my patience is not infinite. Be quick about it!"
"Yeah, yeah. And let's get the terms clear right off. No outside help, no harming bystanders on either side, no other fighting during the duel. If one side breaks any of those rules, they forfeit. And if I fight, I want a month free of demon attacks while I'm traveling, on top of you leaving this village alone."
"I agree to those terms, and add one of my own: No crystal shards during the battle."
"Well, what do you think? I'm pretty sure I can handle this guy without shards, but if one of you is going to fight, you might want to negotiate something else. It's your call, I'm just making my offer."
He smirked at Edwin.
"If you fight him, and live, I'll help you get back home free of charge," he whispered. "If the lady fights... well, then it's going to cost you a few shards. What's it going to be, champ?"
Who will fight: Edwin, Mira, or Blackbird?
If it's not Blackbird, will you negotiate something else for the right to use crystal shards in the fight?
And feel free to make any other potentially applicable suggestions, including things to do once the fight starts.
Quote:Edwin thought over the stranger's words.
He knew nothing about this man. But Edwin was not much of a fighter, and he certainly would be no match for this demon without the crystal shards.
And what could he offer in exchange for removing that clause?
But he could not bring himself to ask Mira to fight. She reminded him too much of Alicia, and however skilled a warrior she was, he was too worried about seeing her die. Especially if he could do nothing to help.
Besides which... Blackbird's words had piqued his curiosity. This mercenary seemed to be from his own time, and knew of a way back. That alone had raised his interest.
Still, an entire bag of crystal shards... And could he even trust the man? What if this was a ploy by the demons, and Blackbird would simply throw the fight?
Yet, it seemed the best choice. He just needed something to convince him it was a safe one.
"I am strongly considering your offer, Blackbird," Edwin finally said. "But I need to know one thing. How can I be sure I can trust you?"
"Straight and to the point. I like that," Blackbird smirked. "And here's my answer."
He took something out of his coat pocket and showed it to Edwin.
What did Blackbird show Edwin?
Quote:It was a book, bound in a shining green cover, with a shining jewel inlaid in the center. The title was in an ancient language, but Edwin didn't even need to translate the words to recognize it.
"The Book of Lecroa," Edwin gasped. "But the cover... this is how the very first book was described! This is the original! How did you get it?"
Blackbird handed the book to him with a smile. The jewel on the cover seemed to shine more brightly as Edwin took hold of it.
"Take a quick look through it if you still have doubts. I'm sure you have quite a few questions, but we can discuss them after this demon's taken care of."
Edwin flipped through. The text on every page was just as he remembered. This was the real book.
"I'll pay your price," he said, reaching for his pouch.
"I'd prefer the other pouch, actually," Blackbird said. "And just hand me one shard from it for now so we can bind this deal. I know you're a man of your word."
Edwin handed him the shard, a bit puzzled. Blackbird thanked him and headed over to the demon.
"Are you sure about this?" Mira whispered.
"Not completely," Edwin replied. "But this jewel... it's said that it resonates with the soul of its holder. And it was quite bright when he held it. I believe we can trust him."
Blackbird walked over to the demon, and held out the shard. The demon grasped it with a clawed hand.
"Here is the contract," the mercenary said. "You and I shall fight to the death, unaided. No one else shall attack for the duration of the battle, and we will not attack anyone other than each other. Neither of us may use the power of the crystal shards in our fight. If I win, then this village will be free of demon attacks for one month, as will I when I am traveling. If you win, then one of the villagers will give you their Crystal of Truth. I accept these terms. Do you?"
"I accept the terms," the demon replied.
The shard began to glow.
"We are now bound to the contract," Blackbird said, putting the shard in his coat pocket. "Should anyone here break the contract, they forfeit the challenge. The demons will not attack the villagers, and the villagers will not attack the demons. Nor will they interfere in our battle."
"Excellent. Then let us see how well you fight, human!"
"The battle begins once I draw my weapon, since you already have yours ready. Just give me a moment."
Blackbird smirked, and turned his head back to Edwin.
"Watch the fight closely, friend!" he shouted. "You might learn something useful."
He reached into his coat and pulled out his weapon.
Choose Blackbird's weapon! And also feel free to suggest things that might happen during the battle.
Quote:When Blackbird withdrew his hand, he was wearing a clawed gauntlet. He raised his now-armored fist and smiled, and then flung a half-dozen knives in the direction of the demon without a word.
The Shadowwalker swung his scythe, and knocked five of the knives to the ground. The sixth struck the demon's wrist; his glowing eyes narrowed as he glared back at the mercenary.
"First point to me," Blackbird said, reaching his other hand into his coat and pulling out more knives.
"A minor wound," the demon growled. "Insignificant. We'll see how you do against my blades."
The demon charged forward, spinning its scythe with great speed. Blackbird stood perfectly still as his opponent approached.
Then, just as the scythe drew near, he stepped to the side and the demon went flying past him, striking the side of a nearby building. It quickly turned around, just in time to block the knives Blackbird had flung at its exposed back.
Unfortunately, this move diverted its attention from the punch Blackbird delivered to its side. It screamed as his claws dug into its cloak.
"Sometimes, speed can be a disadvantage," Blackbird said calmly, pulling his claws out and jumping back as the demon swung in retaliation. "The faster you move, the less time you have to react. It may just give your opponent a chance to catch you by surprise."
"You dare to lecture me, human?" the Shadowwalker hissed. "I've won hundreds of battles! My scythe has claimed the blood of countless mortals!"
"That's another thing," Blackbird said, flinging another handful of daggers. The demon blocked them all this time, and started creeping forward. "You're letting your anger get to you. Bad idea. Makes you careless. Really, I didn't expect to be fighting such an amateur."
The demon howled, and leapt in the air towards Blackbird. The mercenary quickly backed away, and the demon's scythe struck the earth.
"See what I mean? You're opting for raw power over real technique." Blackbird flung another handful of knives; the demon quickly pulled its scythe from the ground and knocked them aside.
But it was not prepared for Blackbird's gauntlet flying towards its face. The glove struck its right eye, and it howled in pain.
"An effective strike, human," the demon snarled, pulling the claw away. "But it cost you your weapon."
"I've got more than one," Blackbird said calmly, reaching into his coat. He pulled out a pair of short rods attached on a chain, and started swinging it around. "And you haven't even landed a single blow on me. Some champion you turned out to be. Rhakkashalgaros must be so disappointed in you."
"Do you really think such a puny weapon is a match for my scythe?" The demon swung suddenly. Blackbird jumped to the side, but the blade still grazed his shoulder and he was knocked to the ground. He winced as he started to pick himself up.
"That's a pretty nasty blade you've got there, I have to admit. Stings quite a bit. And now I'll have to mend this coat!"
"I should think that will be the least of your concerns, mortal."
The demon raised its scythe and struck down towards Blackbird's prone form. The mercenary rolled to the side quickly, and groaned a bit as he got to his feet.
"Now you've made me get dust in that wound! Do you want it to get infected?"
"Why do you prattle on about trivialities? Have you no fear, human?"
"Yeah. But not for weaklings like you."
The demon swung its scythe again. Blackbird quickly ducked to the ground and rolled under it, smacking the demon's wrist with his crude flail. It dropped its scythe in shock; Blackbird used the opportunity to run up behind the demon and started pulling the chain of his flail around its neck.
"Looks like this fight's just about over," he said, pulling the flail tighter. "Shame, it was just starting to get interesting."
"How... odd..." the demon gasped as the chain tightened. "I was... about to... say the same!"
A great shadowy hand emerged from the demon's back, under the folds of its cloak. It flung Blackbird to the ground and held him there, his flail falling loose.
The demon retrieved its scythe with its other hands, and laughed.
"You did remarkably well, human. But this match was never close."
"You got that right, monster. Enjoy your last moments on this earth."
What does Blackbird do next?
Quote:As Blackbird spoke, he slipped his hand into his sleeve and retrieved a crossbow. In one quick motion, he fired a bolt at the demon's heart.
The Shadowwalker quickly stepped aside, keeping its third hand pressed on Blackbird.
"A good effort, human," the demon sneered. "But a wasted one. You gained a few more precious seconds of life."
"And a good shot at your back," Blackbird said, firing again.
There was a sound like glass shattering.
"Specifically, at the bottle of fountain water I planted there earlier. Shame you didn't catch that."
The demon screeched painfully as the water burned its flesh. It dropped its scythe and lifted its shadowy hand from Blackbird's body. The mercenary picked himself up and smirked at the writhing demon.
"It seems I win," he said.
"Then there's no need for me to hold to our conditions!" the demon shrieked. Its third hand quickly reached for the dropped scythe, and flung it at the crowd of onlookers.
Straight at Mira.
"Enjoy your victory, hunter!" the demon cried, its last words before it melted away.
The scythe was moving fast. Edwin knew he had mere seconds to save Mira. He couldn't let her die.
Quote:Mira barely had time to think before she was pushed to the ground. She looked up just in time to see the scythe flying towards Edwin.
"Edwin! Look out!" she shouted.
But it was too late. The spinning scythe struck Edwin, and knocked him into the fountain. The scythe disintegrated as it touched the surface of the water.
Mira picked herself up, and, preparing for the worst, she looked into the fountain for the body.
And then Edwin picked himself up, adorned in crystal armor.
"That was unpleasantly close," he muttered.
Blackbird ran over and grinned at the two of them.
"Glad to see you're all right," he said. "Now, about my fee..."
"Ah, yes." Edwin took out the pouch and offered it to the mercenary. "I'm afraid I used a shard from the pouch you wanted, I was in a bit of a hurry..."
Blackbird simply claimed the shards and laughed.
"Don't worry, there's plenty for my purposes. And besides, I'm sure there's quite a few things you'd like to ask me about." He looked around at the Shadowwalkers fleeing the village. "And it looks to me like we've got the time to talk now. Let's find a good place to sit down, and you can ask me whatever you'd like. But I'll warn you now, there are some questions I'd rather not answer just yet."
It's question time! What do you want Edwin (or Mira, for that matter) to ask Blackbird about?
(This post was last modified: 04-13-2012 06:44 AM by Dragon Fogel.)
Quote:"We'll head to the tavern," Mira said.
"A fine idea," Blackbird said. "I could use a good drink, if your bartender won't begrudge me one."
A few minutes later, the three sat down at a table, and the bartender handed Blackbird a mug of ale.
"You've done a good job tonight, Mr. Blackbird," he said. "We all owe you. No offense to you, Miss Mira, or to our good knight either, but I'd say this stranger gave that demon a harder pounding than either of you could have."
"I've got more experience, that's all," Blackbird replied. "But thank you for the drink all the same."
The bartender left, and Blackbird grinned at his two dining companions.
"Now that we've got the table to ourselves, what did you want to ask me?"
"By Lecroa, there are so many things, I'm not sure where to start," Edwin said.
"Then let's begin with a simple question," Mira interrupted. "Why the name Blackbird?"
"Ah, that's a good place to start," the mercenary replied. "Although it's not as exciting as you might think."
"I've been a traveler for quite a while now. Lost track of just how many years. But I remember when it all started... when I realized my home wasn't safe any more. I left quietly, in the middle of the night, when everyone was asleep, and made my way to the road.
And then... then I realized I had no idea where to go. I found a sign, but it was badly worn, and even if I could read, it wasn't as if I'd know one town from the other. I stood there for a few moments, wondering what to do.
And then I saw a small crow perched on the sign. It squawked at me, then flew off. I decided at that moment that I'd follow the bird and see where it led me.
In the end, I lost track of it, but I was just outside the gates of a city. So I made my way in, and that's where my career as a merc began.
In short, I call myself Blackbird in honor of the guide who set me on this path."
The mercenary took a sip of his ale and put the mug down with a smile.
"So, what else would you like to ask?"
Edwin finally settled on his first question.
"Those strange weapons. That book. Where did you get them?"
"The weapons are simple enough... I know a good smith. With some interesting ideas. You could call him my supplier, I suppose. Honestly, I've seen him make far stranger weapons than that gauntlet and flail. As for the book... well, that one's a trade secret." He grinned. "You might pry it out of me one day, but don't expect it to happen tonight."
Mira asked the next question.
"Are there... Are there other humans out there?"
"Not many. A few isolated survivors, they mostly avoid the demons by hiding. I provide them with food, messages from other survivors, and every once in a while, defense. Sadly, all too often, when I return somewhere, I find they've fallen to either the demons or to starvation. There may not even be any left outside of this town now."
The trio bowed their heads sadly for a few minutes. Finally, Edwin gathered the strength to ask another question.
"How do you know so much? About me, about the crystals, about the demons..."
"As I said, I've been traveling for some time now. I pick up a lot of information. I also have a few... unconventional sources. I might tell you about them later, but for now we'll leave it at that."
They sat there for a few moments as Blackbird took another sip of ale. Finally, Mira broke the silence.
"Edwin and I saw a vision in the fountain's crystal earlier today. There was a boy being chased by demons, but his face... He looked like a demon himself! Do you know anything of this boy?"
"You won't find him. Not now. It's already too late for that."
Finally, Edwin spoke.
"Really, this is the question that's been bothering me for a while. You've traveled through time somehow, haven't you?"
"This is a ridiculous notion, I know, but... are you me? In ten years' time or so?"
The mercenary laughed.
"I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you in that regard," he said. "If I were, it would be very dangerous to talk to you. Interacting with your past self can lead to all kinds of problems. It's not impossible to do safely, but in general it's something to avoid. In fact, we should have a talk about that before I help you get back home."
"You... You can do that?"
"Naturally. But there are some matters I'll have to attend to before we can do that. I'll have to explain a few things about how you got here, and what you'll have to do when you return... but there's no great hurry. If you have any more questions, you can feel free to ask them before I get to that."
Ask more questions? Do something? Or you can just say something along the lines of "Next" if you prefer.
Quote:Mira spoke up.
"If what you say is true - if you and Edwin truly have traveled through time - then what of us? Is the world fated to be like this if you go back? A final desperate, perhaps futile, struggle by the last remnants of humanity?"
"I wish I could tell you otherwise, young lady. The truth is, I don't entirely know myself. I've been able to make small changes to the timeline here and there. But a big event like this... There are so many causes, stopping one problem might not have much impact."
"What of the boy?" Edwin asked. "You said we cannot find him now. But what if I go back in time? Would I be able to find him then?"
"Perhaps. All I can tell you for now is that the demons have found him in this time, but once you return, you may have an opportunity. But there are some things I need to tell you first."
"I'm listening," Edwin said.
"First of all, anything you found here? It won't come back with you. That includes any food or water, so you might be hungry on the way back. That's why I asked for this pouch of shards; they're from this time, and they won't do you any good. But I still have some business to take care of before leaving here."
Blackbird turned to Mira.
"Likewise, that means she won't be able to come with you. Which means she doesn't have to worry about leaving the village undefended, at least once we get you back. If she wants to accompany us to the gate, that's her choice; I can get her back within the month."
"I'll go," she said. "I want to do whatever I can to help."
"I thought you might say that," Blackbird said. "And there is one thing you can do. You can't visit his time, not with the gate I know of... but you can come with him in spirit."
He pointed to Edwin's pouch.
"Give her one of your shards."
"Now, young lady. Repeat after me."
"To fight for my Truth, I pledge my spirit
Shard of crystal, carry my memories."
The shard glowed for a moment, and then an image of Mira appeared in it.
"Hold on to that," Blackbird told Edwin. "If you give it to her younger self in your time, she'll remember the skills she learned in this time, and a little about you. You'll likely need her help."
"But... That was ten years ago! She'll be awfully young!"
"Fifteen," Mira said. "But rather strong-willed."
"I don't much like the thought of sending a girl that young into battle either," Blackbird sighed. "But I fear it may be necessary."
"I have no objections. I was already learning to use a sword then; my father did not want to take any chances if the demons attacked us."
"Is that all we need before I go?" Edwin asked.
"Not quite. There's still one matter I want to have cleared up. Mira, has the crystal in the fountain always been in your village?"
"No. A priest of Lecroa left it here before dying from his wounds."
Blackbird held a hand to his chin thoughtfully.
"In that case, we have to take a look at it before we leave. I think Edwin will want to know where it came from."
Blackbird snickered at the sight of Edwin in shorts.
"You should try to get some more muscle, boy. You'll look better at times like these."
"I don't intend to be dressed like this for long," Edwin grumbled. "Especially since it's a rather chilly night."
He waded into the fountain and picked up the crystal, then carried it over to Blackbird and Mira.
"So what do we need it for?" he asked.
"Well, it's a funny thing about the crystals. They show the future from the perspective of whoever activates them. In other words, you might see visions of things that have already happened in this time, but haven't happened yet in your time."
Edwin gave the mercenary a blank look.
"I guess that's a bit confusing. Well, don't worry too much about the details of it; what's important is, you can get this crystal to show you where it was held before the priest brought it here."
"But if he's going to bring it here, do I really need to worry about it? I can't just smash it, that would doom this village."
"I think it's important that you go there yourself. Call it a hunch. Now, ask the crystal to show you its resting place."
"Oh Crystal of Truth!" he said. "Show me your resting place!"
The Crystal of Truth lay on an altar in a small, otherwise empty room. Two demons stood guard near it, scowling.
Suddenly, a wall opened, and a shadow appeared from it.
"We've lost a crystal," a harsh voice said. "We need to protect this one better. I'll be sending in more guards to join you soon."
The demons saluted. The shadow drew nearer.
"Protect this crystal with your lives. Is that clear?" it asked.
"Yes, my Lord!" the demons said in unison.
The shadow walked closer, and the light of the crystal soon revealed the figure.
It was the King.
"I had a hunch," he said. "You should definitely investigate that when you get back. You can bring the crystal here if you want, you've got to make a trip to meet young Mira anyway."
"Wonderful," Edwin sighed. He put the crystal back. "Well, it's late, so I may as well dry off and get to sleep."
"Good idea," Blackbird said. "We leave tomorrow for the Gate."
They arose early the next day, before the crack of dawn. Blackbird guided them to a horse and cart on the outskirts of town.
"It's a bit crowded in the cart," he said apologetically. "I wish I could offer you a more comfortable ride."
"It's all right," Edwin said. "I've dealt with worse. So where, exactly, are we going?"
Lesson of this update: Just because I didn't use a suggestion right away doesn't mean I won't sneak it in later.
So! What's the group's next destination?
Quote:"We're heading for Sunshine Fields," Blackbird said. "Hardly an appropriate name now, though. Thanks to the demons, it's decayed into a swamp, and the mountain nearby, which used to be lush and forested, is now a deadly volcano. There's a network of caves in there, haunted by restless spirits. The gate is deep inside."
Edwin and Mira looked at each other.
"Ah... That actually sounds rather familiar," Edwin said. "We saw it in the vision with the boy. He was riding through there on my horse while the demons chased him."
Blackbird pulled the reins of his horse suddenly. The cart came to a quick stop, surprising Edwin and Mira.
"Dammit!" he said. "I should have checked earlier. I'm going to have to ask the young lady to stay behind, in that case."
"What? Why?" Mira demanded.
"I thought we wouldn't run into a lot of demons on the way there," Blackbird explained. "But if you saw this place in a vision, then they'll be expecting you to investigate. Remember, they can see the same visions we do. That means we're likely walking right into an ambush."
"So what? I'm a perfectly capable fighter. If you're facing that many demons, you could use my help," Mira countered.
"Because if something goes wrong, I'd rather have you back here to figure out another plan." Blackbird dismounted, and pulled out a crystal shard. He whispered something into it, then handed it to Mira.
"Here. Hold on to this. If something happens to us, this will let you know."
"All right, fine. I understand. But you two had better not mess this up, you hear me?"
Blackbird tipped his hat and smiled.
"I'll do my best, young lady."
"And... I will as well," Edwin said, sounding somewhat less confident.
"You'd better, you idiot," Mira said, suddenly embracing him. "I'd hate to think you died because I wasn't around to watch your back."
She walked away, and waved as Blackbird's horse started walking again.
Several hours later, as evening fell, Blackbird stopped his horse again, this time less suddenly.
"We'll go the rest of the way on foot," he said. He reached into a sack in the cart, and pulled out what looked like a strange tube with glass coverings on both ends.
"What's that?" Edwin asked.
"A telescope," Blackbird replied. "It'll let me scout ahead." He held it up to his eye, and glanced forward.
"It's worse than I thought," the mercenary said. "See for yourself."
Edwin took the telescope and gazed through it himself. He saw a series of tents, with demons walking around between them. Large fires lit the night sky.
"They've got an entire camp set up there!" Edwin exclaimed. "How are we going to even make it to the caves?"
"I've got a few things that could come in handy here," Blackbird said, heading back to the cart. "But I won't lie; this isn't going to be easy. There's no way we can reach the caves without passing through there, and my bargain won't protect us when we do."
"All right, what's the plan?"
"Hold on. Let me get my supplies together first."
What supplies is Blackbird bringing? And what's the plan for sneaking through the demon camp?
Quote:Blackbird pulled out a large crossbow, a rope, a net, a bucket, some flint, a strange vial, and three small balls. He then gathered a few small bags.
"This should do it," he said, handing Edwin the bucket, the rope, and the telescope. "Hold on to those. I can keep most of this in my coat until we need it." He strapped the crossbow to his back and started walking. "And try to keep up with me. It's going to get a lot tougher if we get separated."
Edwin followed the mercenary for some time, until Blackbird suddenly stopped.
"Telescope," he said. Edwin handed it to him, and Blackbird looked around.
"This should be close enough. Put the bucket down here and we'll get started."
Edwin did so.
"What do you need it for?"
"Well, it's a lot more convenient than a bubbling cauldron," Blackbird said with a chuckle. "I've got some mixing to do."
The mercenary took several bags out of his coat and opened them up; most held strange powders that looked identical to Edwin. One contained unusual looking leaves. Blackbird poured several of the powders into the bucket, and then added a few leaves. He put the bags away and stirred the mixture with a wooden spoon, then started a small fire with the flint and a few stray sticks.
"Hold that over the flame," he told Edwin. "We'll need to wait about a minute before it's ready to use; it should be ready by the time I set up the distraction."
Blackbird took the crossbow from his back, and pulled out the strange vial. It contained an unusual black liquid. He dipped a crossbow bolt into it, and then loaded it in. He held the telescope to his eye, looked for a bit, and then fired the crossbow in that direction.
The bolt streaked through the horizon, bursting into flame as it did. Blackbird smirked.
"That should hit just at the west side of the camp," he said. "And now for the east side."
Blackbird dipped another bolt into the vial, loaded it, checked with the telescope, and fired again.
He glanced through the telescope.
"Yep, that's done it. They're checking out both fires, and they're preparing two attack forces. That means fewer demons for us to sneak by in the middle."
He put the crossbow on his back again, and looked at the bucket.
"It's ready," he said, mixing the contents with the wooden spoon. "Put that flame out before they notice it."
Edwin kicked some dirt over the fire, and handed the bucket to Blackbird.
"What exactly is this?" he asked.
"The alchemists call it invisibility powder," he said. "Although it doesn't work as well as the name suggests. It really only works at a distance and in low lighting. Luckily for us, it's nightfall."
"So we try to keep our distance from the demons?"
"And their fires, yes. We'll try to get through without drawing their attention, but I can't make any promises. And keep up with me! We don't want to lose sight of each other while this stuff's on."
Blackbird lifted the bucket.
"One last thing. This stuff doesn't last forever. We've got about an hour to get through the camp before they see us again. So don't dawdle!"
"Good. Close your eyes; it gets hard to see if you get this stuff in there."
Blackbird reached a hand into the bucket, and flung the powder over Edwin, then over himself.
"Open your eyes," he said. "We're moving now."
They ran across the open plains towards the camp. Fifteen minutes later, they reached the outer edges, and carefully made their way past a sentry as his back was turned.
They slipped through the camp, avoiding fires and guards, hiding behind tents when needed. A half hour later, they could see the other side.
"Good, we've got plenty of time," Blackbird whispered. "We just need to get through this part, and..."
"And then you're out of our territory, and so attacking you would violate the terms of our agreement," a voice hissed from behind them. "I do wonder what you're so eager to find here, though."
Edwin and Blackbird turned around to face the demon. He was about the size of a young boy, had short and messy black hair, and red eyes. He wore a familiar set of clothes, and was mounted on a demonic horse.
"He... He's the boy I saw in the vision!" Edwin exclaimed. "But he's become a demon?"
Blackbird nodded sadly.
"I was afraid it might come to this," he sighed. "I suppose you're going to alert the others now, Damien?"
"Well, I could," the demonic boy said with a smirk, dismounting his steed. "On the other hand, I've been bored to death sitting in this camp all day waiting for something to happen. If I just sound the alarm, then where's the excitement? We'll just guard all the exits, call the scouts back, then find you and tear you apart limb from limb before you can make it out of the camp. That's so boring."
Damien folded his arms and grinned at the pair.
"So entertain me. Show me something more amusing than watching your gruesome demise, and I'll forget I ever saw you two here."
Quote:"Give us a moment to discuss this," Edwin said. Damien nodded, and Edwin and Blackbird whispered something to each other. Then Edwin smiled and turned back to Damien.
"All right, Damien. First, just to make sure there are no tricks, let's bind this agreement with a crystal shard," Edwin said, pulling one out. "You don't have a problem with that, do you?"
"Not at all," Damien smirked, grabbing the shard. "What are your terms?"
"Blackbird here is going to write down a little poem," Edwin said. Blackbird nodded, and pulled out a quill pen, inkwell, and scrap of parchment. "You'll turn your back and read it out loud, then turn around again while I prepare myself. If I make you laugh in the next minute after that, I win and you let us go. Otherwise, you're free to do what you will with me."
"Oh, wait! One last little bit, just a matter of convenience. I won't have time to put the shard away. So could you hold on to it and give it back to me once the contest is settled?"
"Fine, fine. I accept those terms as well. Now give me the poem."
Blackbird handed it over, and Damien turned around.
"You can start reading any time," Edwin said.
"Yes, yes, hang on. All right..." Damien squinted at the parchment.
"To fight for my Truth, I pledge my spirit
Shard of crystal, carry my memories."
"Not much of a poem," the demon-boy said, turning around. "All right, let's see what you've got... Hahahahaha!"
Damien found himself cackling as Edwin, having stripped down to his shorts, began dancing. Or more accurately, flailing about foolishly.
"Victory is yours," Damien chuckled, handing the shard back to Edwin. "And all it cost you was your dignity. Enjoy your freedom, mortal."
"Thank goodness," Edwin muttered as he started putting his armor back on. "Oh, and thank you for the crystal shard, I'm sure you'll appreciate it the next time I see you."
"I've got no idea what you're on about, but I'd move quickly if I were you. After all, your agreement only applied to me. But there are others in this camp."
"I'm aware," Edwin said, as he slipped back into his breastplate. He and Blackbird quickly ran the rest of the way out of the camp.
"I'm surprised you could slip in and out of that getup so quickly," Blackbird said with a smirk.
"Oh, be quiet," Edwin muttered. "Let's get to these caves."
The pair walked through the swamp, rather uneventfully, until they arrived at the mountain. Blackbird pointed to a cavern.
"The gate is through here," he said. "But I should warn you about what we'll be facing. I already mentioned the restless spirits, but they're the least of our concerns. They'll mostly try to distract you and trick you into meeting your doom elsewhere."
"By luring me into a pit of lava?" Edwin asked.
"That's one possibility. But there are other dangers in these caverns as well."
This is going to be my last update for a while, as this is the last day of the U4G contest. However, I intend to keep going with this once the judging period is over.
In the meantime, feel free to suggest what other dangers lurk in the caverns!
Total wordcount so far: 18151 words. Thanks to everyone who read through all of them!
Well, the U4G contest concluded, and I ended up tying with "And Then There Was A Sailing Boat" for third place. Thanks to all of my suggesters - this adventure has been built on your ideas as much as mine, and trying to fit some of them in has been a delight.
Now let's get this going again, shall we? From here on out, I might not update quite as often as I did during the contest, but I'll still probably update at least once every two or three days. We'll see how it turns out.
"For one thing, the floor isn't stable in some parts of the cave," Blackbird explained. "You need to be very careful where you step."
"Oh, well, that doesn't sound so bad..."
"It wouldn't be, if this cave wasn't warped by demonic influence. The place is alive, and it doesn't like mortals poking around inside. It'll move the floors around, drop stalactites on you, sometimes even the walls will try to crush you. And if you do fall in a hole, it can make you fall forever, never hitting the bottom."
"What? Then it could simply trap us in there until we run out of air!"
"It could, but it won't. It always gives you a fair chance to escape its traps; as best I can tell, it's looking for entertainment more than it's actually trying to kill anyone. But that doesn't mean it's not deadly."
Edwin stared at the mouth of the cavern. It seemed to be shifting a bit. Almost as if it were laughing.
But he was resolute. If this was his only way back, then he'd take it.
"I'll be careful, then."
"Good," Blackbird replied. "You'll need your wits about you. The cave likes to throw surprises at you, so I've got no idea what exactly we might run into. Just be on your guard, and stick close to me. There's nothing in there I can't handle, but I can't watch out for you the whole time too."
"Understood. I'm ready."
"Good. We're going in."
They entered the cavern, and with a loud rumbling, a wall of stone covered the entrance behind them.
"The cave likes to do that," Blackbird said, rushing forward and jumping over sections of the floor. Edwin ran after him and followed as best as he could.
"So how do we get out?"
"You're using the gateway. If you have to come here in your time for some reason, well, the cave lets you out when it's through having its fun with you. Which could be a while."
"Duck," Blackbird said, crouching down and sprinting across the floor.
"What? Oh." Edwin once again followed the mercenary's lead. A fist of stone burst out of the wall where he had been standing just a moment ago.
"That was uncomfortably close," Edwin commented.
"Get used to the close calls," Blackbird replied, suddenly leaping for the wall and clinging to loose stones. "If you let them get to you, you won't be able to concentrate enough to notice the next one."
Edwin leapt onto the wall after Blackbird, and climbed across himself. He gasped a bit as sharp stone spikes popped out of the floor below him.
"You seem to know this place rather well," he commented.
"I've had practice," Blackbird replied. "It's never the same twice, but I can spot some of the cave's tricks. Now come on; we're almost out of the first passageway." Blackbird pointed to a gap in the cavern walls up ahead. "But don't dawdle."
"I didn't plan on it," Edwin said, running after the mercenary through the passage. He was rather unsurprised when another rock wall emerged behind him, though the sheer speed of it was discomforting.
"So the cave doesn't like us turning back, I take it," Edwin said.
"Shh!" Blackbird said. "Keep your voice down and listen closely."
Edwin cupped a hand to his ear. He heard a strange gurgling sound.
"What was that?" he whispered.
"Just giant slugs. But it's better not to get their attention." Blackbird replied.
"They aren't actively aggressive, but the slime trail they leave behind has severe hallucinatory effects. It only lasts a minute or two, but between the cave's traps and the spirits, that can be long enough to mean the end for you."
Edwin ran up ahead to a bend in the tunnel. Sure enough, there were two enormous slugs oozing through the tunnel. One was moving away from them along the floor, the other towards them along the ceiling. He turned back to Blackbird.
"Well, you're the expert," he said. "How exactly should we handle this?"
Quote:"There's three things you need to know about dealing with these slugs," Blackbird replied. "First, like I said, they're not actually aggressive. Second, they're easily distracted."
Blackbird picked up a rock and hurled it down the corridor, striking the far wall. The slug headed their way suddenly turned towards the wall and began climbing down it, staring at the rock.
"Now we run," Blackbird said, dashing down the corridor.
"Wait, what was the third thing?" Edwin gasped.
"I'll tell you when we hit the other side! Just keep running!"
They dashed through the tunnel. As they did, Edwin felt the ground begin to shake.
"That'll be the cave," Blackbird said. "It's trying to spread the slime around! Just keep running!"
Edwin was easy enough to persuade on that matter. After a few minutes, he saw they were nearing the slug, and it let out an odd howl.
"Ignore it. It's just confused," Blackbird said, hurling a second rock to the end of the tunnel. The other slug turned towards the rock as it struck the wall, and like its partner, simply stared.
Edwin continued to run. He soon heard the slug's roar again, this time much louder.
"Are they normally that loud?"
"Question time can wait for the other side of the tunnel. Keep moving! And follow my lead!"
They were nearing the slime on the floor. Blackbird leapt for the wall, and crawled across it as fast as he could. Edwin duly followed, though his armor made him move much slower.
He noticed that below them, the floor had disappeared, save for the section that had slime on it.
"Move faster!" Blackbird said, leaping to the opposite wall. "That wall's not going to be safe forever."
"I'm moving as fast as I can!" Edwin shouted back.
"Trust me, you're not. You'll learn that by the time we get through this cavern."
As if to emphasize the point, Edwin felt a spike beginning to form under his hand. He panicked, and rushed forward.
"That's more like it!" Blackbird said, leaping to the floor. "Now hurry! I know how this cave works, and there's not much time before the door closes on us!"
Edwin rushed forward, leaping off the wall towards the floor. He gasped for breath.
"No time to relax!" Blackbird shouted, running towards the second slug, which was now howling like the first. "Keep moving! Don't stop!"
Edwin obediently rushed after the mercenary, trying as hard as he could to ignore the slug's howls.
The next few moments went by in a blur, perhaps due to Edwin's exhaustion. Everything happened in quick succession.
First, Blackbird rushed through the hole at the end of the tunnel.
Second, the cavern closed.
Third, Edwin reached the wall.
Fourth, Edwin watched as the slug turned a bright red and sprouted wings. The second slug flew down the tunnel, similarly-covered.
And also breathing fire.
"Was this the third thing?" he shouted at the wall.
"Dammit!" Blackbird's voice yelled back. "The slugs changed, huh? Hang on, I'll get you out of there. But you'll need to hold the things off."
Edwin pulled out his sword and stabbed the nearby slug before it lifted off. It collapsed, but a hideous vapor soon emerged from the hole in its corpse.
"Oh, and the third thing was, whatever you do, don't pierce their outsides!" Blackbird's voice shouted. "They're filled with a hallucinogenic gas that comes out in the slime."
"You should have told me that sooner!" Edwin shouted, as the world around him began to blur.
"You should have moved faster," Blackbird snapped back.
Edwin was about to respond, but then he found himself no longer in the cavern...
Edwin's hallucinating! What does he see?
Quote:The seas were rough.
Captain Edwin The Beardless and his crew had been caught in the storm for three days now, and it showed no sign of relenting. First Mate Blackbird had climbed to the crow's nest in hope of finding safe harbor nearby with the help of his spyglass, but he hadn't said a word since then.
And then, suddenly, he spoke up.
"Cap'n!" he shouted. "I see a shadow in the fog! It's another ship headed our way! They'll crash into us!"
"Man the lifeboats!" Edwin shouted. There was a mad scramble as the men rushed around the deck to escape.
"Captain! She's getting closer!"
There was a loud thud. And then, suddenly, the ship stopped moving.
"Mister Blackbird," Edwin said, looking over the edge of the bow, "I don't believe that was a ship."
An enormous orange kraken had grabbed the ship and was holding it over the water. Strangely enough, the beast had a feminine face and long black hair. Even more strangely, it had the ears of a rabbit sticking out of its hair.
"Alicia," Captain Edwin said weakly.
"You're useless, Edwin!" the kraken screamed, shaking the ship. "You've always been useless! These silly crystals and gateways haven't changed a thing! What could you even have done if your first mate hadn't challenged that demon for you?"
"I... I..." he gasped.
"You couldn't even protect me! One woman! How do you think someone like you can even hope to protect the world?"
Edwin found himself unable to speak as the pudding in the air filled his lungs. He began to sink in the large pile of worms that had suddenly popped into existence on the deck, and found himself back in the cavern, with legs dangling from the ceiling and kicking at him.
And then he awoke.
"Ow!" he said, as a large bat kicked him in the shins.
"Good. The remedy must be taking effect," Blackbird said. "I don't think I could carry you much further before the crystal gives out."
Edwin looked down, and saw that he was being held by a large crystal arm. Blackbird's body was covered in a large mass of crystalline armor, and his other arm was a massive drill.
"I figured if you were out of it, I may as well brute-force things," Blackbird explained, and then leapt across a large pit of lava. He put Edwin down, moments before his crystalline armor disintegrated. An imposing cavernous hole lay before them.
"We're almost at the gateway," Blackbird continued. "This should be the final hallway. But be warned - it's going to be the worst. And you may not be ready for it, considering you didn't see what I had to deal with to get here."
Edwin stared at the hole, and turned to the mercenary.
"I will do what I must," he said, though there was a hint of nervousness in his voice. "I owe Alicia no less."
"Glad to hear it," he said. "Now, let's go see what the cave has in store for us, shall we?"
They stepped through the hole, and Edwin gasped in shock as he saw the path that lay before them.
What will Edwin and Blackbird have to go through to reach the gateway?
Quote:The walls of the cavern ahead were lined with corpses - most of them skeletons, but a few still covered in gruesome rotting flesh. Worse yet, the bodies were moving, and the skulls clattered their teeth, as if they were clamoring to escape their stone prison.
It was a disturbing sight, and it was only enhanced by the presence of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of giant slugs crawling all over the walls of the lengthy hallway. In the middle of the floor, at the bottom of a slope, an enormous moth sat still, laying out gigantic eggs every few minutes which soon hatched into the monstrous gastropods.
"This won't be easy," Blackbird muttered quietly. "If we disturb any of the slugs, the mother will turn her attention to us."
Edwin looked at the ever-growing numbers of slugs crawling out of the nest.
"That looks to be an awful lot of slugs to potentially disturb."
"And a lot of slime. Frankly, getting you past this is going to be tough. If it were just me, I could probably handle it, but I'm not the one who has to reach the gateway."
The duo looked on at the monstrosity below, lost in thought.
"But you said the cave always gives its prisoners a chance," Edwin said. "There must be some solution. We just need to think of it."
"Well, if you have any ideas, I'm all ears," Blackbird said. "But you'd better come up with them fast - that moth queen won't lay eggs forever, and when she stops, she's going to be very hungry."
Edwin racked his brains for a plan.
That's as far as the adventure has gotten. Suggestion time now!
(This post was last modified: 04-13-2012 06:44 AM by Dragon Fogel.)
first off: take the time to actually read it! It's not a bad use of minutes!
But if you simply must hurry here is my possibly immaculate summary.
(okay so I wrote "inaccurate" but the iPhone autocorrected it. IT MUST BE RIGHT)
So Edwin is this priest dude who sees a vision in this MAGICAL TRUTH CRYSTAL where this girl he knows (Alicia) either defeats the coming DEMON HORDE or dies and the world is destroyed.
Edwin's RELIGIOUS ORDER OF TRUTH CRYSTAL AND WOMEN ARE BAD task Edwin with training Alicia and protecting her. He does this except for the protecting her part. Alicia dies during a raid on a large DEMON TOWER and edwin has an OH SHIT moment. He carries her corpse into the tower in a "maybe we arent all screwed" attempt and meets some RED DEMON who is all "ha ha ha I killed your hero."
RED DEMON reveals that he also has a TRUTH CRYSTAL, and Edwin having yet another OH SHIT moment breaks the demons crystal like a whiny baby.
RED DEMON is mad but Edwin kills him because the shards of TRUTH CRYSTAL gives Edwin temporary MAGIC ARMOR POWERS.
RED DEMON dies but mentions BIG DEMON is still gonna destroy the world so Edwin goes to his religious order to figure out what the hell guys.
The RELIGIOUS ORDER OF TRUTH CRYSTAL AND WOMEN ARE BAD think Edwin is full of it and want to imprison him but MAGIC ARMOR POWERS is having none of that and Edwin goes to smash their crystal but apparently the demons have two more crystals and smashing the humans crystal is just one more way for BIG DEMON to win. So instead he runs away to this town this vision showed him but that town is IN THE FUTURE. WHAT?
So FUTURE TOWN is the last surviving town against the demon hoard and after a series of fights and OH SHIT moments, Edwin gets to know a nice girl named Mira who reveals the secret location of that town's MAGIC TRUTH CRYSTAL.
then Edwin reads a book.
Some more OH SHIT stuff happens and some guy named BIRDBEARD shows up and saves the day and also he is a TIME TRAVELER. Sweet. Edwin has another vision and goes to find a demon kid riding a horse and an underage Mira in the past.
They find the kid but it's the wrong time so Edwin gets naked and copies the kids memories. Then Edwin and BEARDBIRD go into a tunnel full of slugs that fly and a moth that lays eggs because this will get them to the past I think.
Anyway right now they need to get through this cave by either sneaking past everything or murdering everything. Both are difficult tasks and we need to suggest how that would go down.
...maybe I should read that again.
Blackbird> RIDE THE MOTH
Edwin > magic armor gas mask
(on this graph we can see that time invested in an adventure does not correlate with the overall quality of suggestions.)
(This post was last modified: 04-15-2012 03:57 AM by btp.)
"I may have an idea," Edwin said. "Do you think I could create some sort of mask from a crystal shard, to protect me from the gas?"
"Worth a try, I suppose," Blackbird mused. He handed Edwin a shard. "Here, use this one; yours are best saved for after you get through the gateway."
"Thank you." Edwin thought over an appropriate incantation, and then settled on it.
"May the air I breathe be true!"
In a flash of light, a strangely-shaped crystalline helmet covered Edwin's face. He stared at Blackbird through a transparent visor.
"It appears to have worked," Edwin said. "Now, you said you could likely get through this on your own?"
"I've got experience with this cave, and I'm not held down by that armor," the hunter replied.
"All right. Then you go ahead with your own plan, and keep the moth distracted if you can. I'll try to run past the slugs while this mask lasts. If anything goes wrong, well, I suppose I'll deal with that when I get there"
And with that, Edwin rushed forward. Blackbird smirked as he looked at the giant moth.
"Look at that fool, rushing headfirst into danger with only the barest hint of a plan. Now that brings back memories."
Blackbird leapt for the wall just as the floor collapsed below him, and quickly grabbed onto one of the embedded skulls. Just before the bones bit down on his fingers, he leapt for a rib cage further up the wall. Quickly, but deliberately, he made his way higher up the cavern, towards its ceiling.
Edwin would have been impressed by the hunter's agility if he had taken the time to look up. As it was, he simply rushed through slugs blindly, ignoring the toxic fumes from their slime trails, and rushing forward, unsure of how long the crystal would protect him.
And then he stepped the tip of a slug's tail. It turned towards him and screeched loudly. The noise echoed through the crystal of Edwin's helmet, nearly deafening him.
Nonetheless, Edwin pressed on, only stopping to regain his bearings when a massive spined leg dug into the stone behind him.
The slug's cry had drawn its mother's attention. The moth was trying to crush him, and he had only avoided that first blow by pure luck. He would have to pause and predict its next strike - but could he afford the delay while deep in this pit of toxins?
And then he heard Blackbird's voice from above.
"Keep moving!" the hunter shouted. He grabbed onto an arm sticking out of the ceiling, and leapt from it onto the moth's back.
Edwin's short time with Blackbird had already taught him to obey orders. He kept running forward, as Blackbird kicked the titanic insect with great force.
The moth seemed confused, and tried to strike the intruder on its back, losing sight of the other one threatening its young. When the flailing of its limbs failed, it started flapping its wings, and smashing into the walls of the cavern.
And then Edwin felt the ground under his feet starting to give way.
"Damn this cave!" he shouted, running forward faster and leaping with all his might into the air. He caught one of the moth queen's spiked legs, and grabbed onto it for dear life, now worried about the stability of the rest of the ground.
"Nice move there, youngster!" Blackbird shouted down to him. "Now, have you got any bright ideas for what we do from here?"
Edwin tried to think, but he was hardly in a prime position for it. And it didn't help matters that he could feel his crystalline mask starting to fade away; soon he'd be exposed to the gas and even less helpful. He began climbing the moth's leg in hopes of delaying his next hallucination, and as he did, he shouted back the first idea that came to mind.
"Perhaps you could strike it in the head with a crystal weapon?"
"Can't see how that would help, myself, but it's not as if I've got any better ideas," Blackbird replied. "I'll give it a shot." He reached into his pouch and pulled out a shard.
The moth's head was a fair distance away, and Blackbird's seat was rather precarious. After a moment's thought, he decided on the most appropriate weapon to call on for the task.
"Grant me a flail!"
The crystal changed into a morningstar, and Blackbird swung it at the moth's head. The spiked ball dug in and the moth started to screech horribly as it continued its wild flight.
And then, suddenly, its screeches changed to words.
"VERMIN!" screamed the moth. "YOU DARED ATTACK MY CHILDREN, AND NOW YOU WOULD HAVE THE GALL TO USE ME AS A MOUNT? I AM NOT A PLAYTHING FOR VERMIN!"
"Is... Is it talking?" Edwin gasped.
"The crystal must be translating its thoughts!" Blackbird shouted downward. "I've never seen anything like this before." He turned his attention back to the moth. "Can you understand us, too?"
"VERMIN HAVE NO WORDS I CARE FOR," the moth said. "YOU SHALL BOTH PERISH FOR TRESPASSING IN MY NEST, AND THEN YOU SHALL FEED MY CHILDREN."
"Well, I suppose that answers that question," Blackbird muttered under his breath. "Maybe we can talk this thing into letting us off near the gate, one way or another. But how should we go about it?"
Wait a moment...That moth's screeching sounds an awful lot like Friar Lepid when he used to chase bats from his parish's belfry. He used to care for silkmoths. (his parish was known for it's textiles). You had heard rumors that he grew a little too fond of his moths, but you only met with him a few times after that whole "vision to end the world" thing.
Of course you might be wrong and just hallucinating that whole thing.
Okay Edwin, you gots to use your crazy pantsless power!!!
How about... TELLING HER YOU LOVE HER!
Okay, if she's right there behind the SUPER IMPORTANT TIME PORTAL, then what you've got to do is just do or say something that will trick her into letting the two of you switch places. Maybe hold a hostage or say that you will go get eaten willingly and do NO HARM AT ALL if she just let's you get crushed to death by her.
Alright, so what if you told her something about how her kids would be safer if they didn't have to be near that big camp of evil?
Hows-a-bout something involving parents, is Blackbird a dad?
Maybe mentioning something that might make her less inclined to pig out and eat you or something, like maybe having her kids to it because they'd presumably be easier to outrun or something?
"GIVE US A SPORTING CHANCE?"
"WHAT WOULD YOUR HUSBAND THING?"
"DO YOU REALLY WANT TO EAT US WHEN YOU LOOK LIKE THAT? I MEAN, I DON'T WANT TO BE RUDE BUT HONEY, YOU NEED TO WORK OUT SOME MORE. YES, YES, I KNOW, WITH ALL OF THE CHILDREN SLUGS YOU JUST DON'T HAVE THE TIME... WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME THAT YOUR HUSBAND SAID HE LOVED YOU?"
As Blackbird puzzled over their situation, Edwin suddenly shouted.
"We'd be a terrible meal for your children!" he screamed. "We're awfully fattening. And what sort of parenting is this? Don't you realize there's a camp filled with demons not a mile away from here? Your children won't be safe! Honestly, does your husband know you raise them like this?"
"HOW DARE YOU TELL ME HOW TO RAISE MY CHILDREN, VERMIN! AND MY MATE'S OPINIONS ARE UNIMPORTANT! I DEVOURED HIM WEEKS AGO!"
"Oh, well, that explains why you're so overweight!"
"DO NOT TEST MY PATIENCE, VERMIN!"
"...I hope Blackbird thinks of something soon," Edwin muttered. "I'm running out of distraction ideas."
"IT'S A GOOD THING YOU BROUGHT HIM TO ME WHEN YOU DID, I DOUBT HE'D SURVIVE THIS MUCH GAS AT ONCE."
"Well, you've got gas... wait, that voice sounds familiar!"
Slowly, Edwin's eyes came into focus and he saw Blackbird standing over him, as well as an elderly priest.
"Ah, good. When I struck that beast in the head, she went down right away and dropped you in the gas. I think your mask was already fading. I wasn't sure how to get you out, but then I tried to pull the crystal out of her brain. I think it struck a nerve and sent that leg sticking right up. You were delirious, but we made it to the gateway."
"Oh. Good," Edwin said awkwardly. "Er... that moth didn't talk, did she?"
Blackbird stared at him. "No."
"Just trying to sort my thoughts out." Edwin turned to the other man. "And, um... Father Lepid, what are you doing here? Am I still hallucinating?"
The old priest shook his head. "No, no. I fled here when the Grand Church fell. Before the cave was transformed. Unfortunately, that meant I was trapped in here when the transformation happened; luckily, Blackbird happened upon me before I starved."
"Unfortunately, the old man's not really in any shape to make it out of this cavern," Blackbird interjected. "So I've been stopping by regularly to bring him food and water. It's how I learned this cave so well."
"And in exchange, I provide him with medicine, for himself and for the poor souls caught out there," Lepid concluded. "Such as the remedy for the hallucinogens. I had to give you a stronger dose, you consumed quite a bit of gas."
"Ah... oh." Edwin rubbed his head. "That may be why I still feel dizzy."
"I do apologize. I only had a chance to study the natural form of the hallucinogen back at home. Do you recall my silkworms?"
Edwin nodded. "Yes. I recall that some of your parishioners were, ah, concerned about them."
Lepid sighed. "Well, perhaps I was a bit obsessed. Brought some with me when I fled, and, er, dropped them on the way here. The dark magic flowing through this cavern transformed them into the creatures you saw. So I feel a particular responsibility to keep them from harming anyone."
Edwin paused. "Wait. Why is this place safe, then?"
"The gateway radiates holy energy," Blackbird explained. "It's enough to keep the cave from messing around here."
"Sadly, it means I don't see much scenery," Lepid sighed. "I can't use the gateway myself; it seems to be for return trips only."
"And speaking of that, it's about time for you to head home," Blackbird said with a smile. "Although, you might have some more questions for your old friend here first; he may just know something that could help you out."
Question time! And general suggestion time if you feel like it.
Yeah, a general history of the last days of man would be pretty nice. Any allies that could help you would be great too. Also any known locations of truth crystals.
Oh as a side note, mention that you had battled a mockery of Alicia before. Does he know anything about the ritual that caused that, is there a way you could prevent that from happening (like finding her remains)? I suppose it's not mission critical, but it's disappointing for her to fall into a fate like that.
Oh also ask about Rhakkashalgaros. What did he do exactly?
"What happened, exactly? The demons have taken most of the villages, and I've heard both the castle and the Grand Church have fallen. How did they manage this? And when? Did any humans turn on us?"
Father Lepid sighed.
"I'm afraid I can't be of much help to you there. I was a bit preoccupied with treating the sick and wounded, and I preferred to keep to myself, my herbs, and my silkworms when I had the time to spare. But I'll tell you what I remember.
"I served in the village of Aven, as you'll recall. It was one of the first to suffer from the demon raids. But the demons seemed more concerned with razing the buildings than in killing us. They slaughtered any villagers who got in their way, but if we fled, they ignored us. Perhaps they sought something in our village.
"Regardless of their reasons, most of us survived, and we fled to the Grand Church. It was a long way, and we had no horses to ease the journey, but I knew we would be safe there. We arrived shortly after you had delivered the news of Alicia's death. I was shocked to hear of it, and even more that you had been declared a heretic; but those thoughts soon became buried as I devoted myself to my work.
"Due to my expertise in herbs, I was quickly assigned to aid the medics, and it kept me quite busy. It was rare that new arrivals were in good shape, after all. And it seemed that the demons had stepped up their attacks, perhaps emboldened by the death of our prophesied hero; I soon gave up trying to keep track of all the villages that fell, as the sheer number was depressing.
"It was a mere two weeks later that the castle fell. I recalled that much clearly, as I was surprised to see several knights in my makeshift infirmary. From that day on, there was a sense among us all that the battle had already been lost.
"Yet the days continued as usual. More villages fell, and more refugees arrived. I was busier than ever. I lost track of how long it was then - it might have been days, weeks, even months, I was too busy to care.
"And then, suddenly, the demons struck the Grand Church itself. I am not sure how they did it; perhaps they sent spies along with the refugees, or perhaps they had simply gained enough power. Whatever the case, they soon overwhelmed all of our knights, and the rest of us fled. I do not know how many survived that attack, or the harshness of the world now that the demons reign."
Edwin looked down sadly.
"Blackbird," he said, finally. "If I go back, is there some chance I might stop this?"
The mercenary shrugged.
"Could be. As I said, I've never managed a large-scale change." Then he smiled. "But if I were in your shoes, I'd go for it. If this ruined future really can't be changed, then what do you stand to lose by trying?"
"Thank you. Now, I suppose I still have some questions..."
Still going to answer questions from the last suggestions, but this was getting a bit long. So feel free to ask more questions before I update again.
"Has anyone else used the gateway?"
Father Lepid shook his head.
"Not since I've been here. I don't know any more about it than what Blackbird has told me. You can have a closer look at it once you're ready to leave if you'd like."
"And is there a way I might return to this time?"
Blackbird spoke up.
"You could always try coming back the same way you got here, but I can't guarantee you'll like what you see, or even that you'll be able to get back to the return gateway again. I'd suggest you take care of what you can in your own time before you try it."
"I understand. One more thing, Blackbird. You said you've managed to change the future in small ways. Could you tell me more about that?"
Blackbird paced around the room and said nothing for the better part of a minute, then let out a small sigh.
"I'll be honest. Every time I've tried to change something for the better, something else has gone worse. If I stop a man from breaking his leg, he'll break his arm instead. If I save one man's life, another dies. I've never changed the outcome of a battle or prevented a war, and to be quite honest, with that track record I'm not sure I want to see what would happen if I did."
Edwin looked down, dejected.
"So if I stopped the demons from winning the war... might I bring on as great a catastrophe?"
"It's possible," Blackbird conceded. "But let me ask you this. You saw that vision of Alicia facing the demons, did you not?"
"Yes. And it showed that we would lose if she fell."
"And what did you do when she fell?"
A determined look crossed Edwin's face.
"I swore to fight on. It was what she would have wanted."
"And what would she want you to do now?"
"She would want me to fight for a better future than this."
"Then you'd best not disappoint her," Blackbird said with a grin.
"I will not. It would be a disgrace to her memory..."
Edwin's face suddenly turned pale as his words trailed off.
"What troubles you, Edwin?" Father Lepid asked. "You seem worried.
"I have another question. An important one."
"Go on," said the older priest.
Edwin took a deep breath before he continues.
"When I came to Mira's village, it was attacked by knights who had fallen in battle. And Alicia, or rather, a demon inhabiting her body, was their commander."
A look of worry crossed Blackbird's face, but he said nothing.
"Is there some way I can prevent this perversion of fate? I realize necromancy is a forbidden art, and you would know little of it, but might there be a way to sanctify her corpse?"
Father Lepid mused.
"The best I have is a guess. There's an old funeral rite which may be of help here. It was considered outdated even in my youth, but there were a few aging traditionalists who requested that it be performed at their burials."
"Why do you think it might help?"
"As I said, it's merely a guess... but the rite was said to date from the time of the Conqueror."
"The Necromancer-King," Edwin said breathlessly. "His army of the dead was feared across the entire realm. Even bodies that had been reduced to ash could rise up under his command."
"You know your history well," Father Lepid replied with a nod. "And so this rite may just be what you need. I should remind you, though, that this is only a guess. And the rite, though not complex, may take some work to perform."
"Tell me," Edwin said. "I cannot let the bodies of my comrades be misused."
"There is a flower. Red petals, a white center. It only grows high in the mountains, and there are few patches left. Sprinkle the petals on the corpse, and let a loved one speak these words:
"To you who have passed on,
I pledge to live with your memory.
As we bonded in life, so shall we bond in death."
"Thank you," Edwin said quietly.
"I cannot promise this will work. And, of course, as it needs a loved one, you may not be able to protect all the fallen knights even if you were to find enough flowers."
"I must try," Edwin replied. "They gave their lives for a better future, I cannot allow the demons to make a mockery of that sacrifice."
"You are a brave young man, Edwin," Father Lepid said, tears welling up in his eyes. "And to think that the Church, in its last days, called you a heretic! I can only hope this injustice will be righted when you return."
"It is enough to know that there are good men on my side. Thank you, Father, for all you've done for me."
Edwin embraced his old colleague, and turned to Blackbird.
"I believe I'm ready to return," he said.
"Not quite," the mercenary grumbled. "There are some questions you're forgetting to ask. I've got info you'll need about Damien when you return, and I also need to tell you some important things about Rhakkashalgaros."
For these last two questions, you get to help me come up with the answers! I've got some things in mind, but there's no reason I can't add a few details from your suggestions.
Nah, nah I'm just joking...but seriously he does look a lot like you, are you sure you didn't fool around some during your pre-priest days? The town he was born in is known for its...fraternizing...with lesser demons. Though it is situated at a place where the barrier between the realms is naturally thin, so it makes sense for the inhabitants to have contact with that realm.
As a churchman of TRUTH CRYSTAL AND WOMEN ARE BAD he would probably know about /that/ village. Welp! He's already a heretic so no harm done going there now!
Rhakkashalgaros, isn't even a demon at all, but some other thing that was banished to their realm and slowly took control. Its name is reminiscent of Lord Rhak, a mythical leader from eons ago who was said to have aided the gods in forging the truth crystal. It's uncertain if Rhakkashalgaros was Lord Rhak, or if Rhak was the one who banished it in the first place. The information is sketchy because it comes from a patchy comparison of both the pre and post demon invasion lores.
Demons are a prideful bunch and the knowledge that their big bad isn't even one of them is a closely guarded secret even in future times - gaining that knowledge was a feat of its own. Rhakkashalgaros, appoints spokesmen to help spread his influence in both the demon and human realms. The demon knight Edwin defeated when he shattered the truth crystal was one such spokesman. The risen Alicia was another.
It is also known by other names, Great Corrupter, Devastation, The Abyssal. Though these names are more or less honorifics given by the spokesmen, they are recognized by demons (and more knowledgeable/subjugated humans).
DF, that didn't happen to be a cyborg Necromancer King did it?
(This post was last modified: 07-16-2012 05:15 AM by btp.)
"All right, then. What do I need to know about Damien?"
"Well, as you may have guessed, he's been partially corrupted by the demons. In your time, at any rate; as you saw, in this time he was almost completely demonic. To be perfectly honest, up until he gave us that chance to escape, I thought there wasn't any humanity left in him."
"You think that was a sign of humanity?"
"Just a small one. But let me start from the beginning, I think it will be simpler to explain that way."
"There was once a small village, not that far from here. It was founded by a great sage, long before Lecroa's time.
"He chose to build his village there for a reason: it was where the boundary between the human world and the demon world was at its weakest. So he had crafted a great magical seal there, and the villagers were to be his disciples, and maintain the seal so that the demons would not escape into this world.
"And so for a long time, the villagers protected the seal. But as time passed, the purpose of the village was forgotten, and as more time passed, it was even twisted.
"Because the boundary between the worlds was so weak, the villagers gradually became aware of the demons on the other side, and dreamed of the horrific torments they would bring to this world. Most passed it off as nightmares, and told no one, but a few saw these dreams differently.
"They welcomed the demons."
"It's Lasphem, isn't it," Edwin interjected. "The Forbidden Village."
"You've heard of it, then."
"Of course. The full details were always unclear, but we were well aware that a demon-worshipping cult had taken control. They held the rest of the village hostage, save a small number of escapees, and the King was reluctant to order an attack until... their safety could be guaranteed..."
Edwin's voice trailed off as realization struck. Father Lepid looked on in puzzlement.
"What's wrong, my boy?"
"I saw a vision. The King, or perhaps an impostor, was in league with the demons. Could he have been on their side even that far back?"
"There's no way to know for sure, and it hardly matters at this point. Regardless, I suppose you know enough about the situation that I can skip ahead a bit in the story."
"Though the cultists welcomed the demons, they were not completely corrupted by them. Indeed, they treated the prisoners well, refusing to kill even those that managed to escape; rather, they spoke of the glory of their demon masters, and the rewards that would await the faithful. Their goal seemed to be conversion, not slaughter.
"Naturally, a few desperate souls did convert. But many held firm. And the faithful, in general, regarded the converts with even more disdain than their original captors.
"But there were still close ties between some, no matter their choice. Mothers still loved their sons, brothers still loved their sisters. In the end, there are bonds stronger than simple faith.
"And in one case, there was a bond between lovers. Though she would not abandon Lecroa, he had sworn himself to the demons. They wished to marry, but the cult would not allow it unless she renounced her faith. And of course, she refused.
"But no doubt you know well how stubborn young lovers can be. In the end, they decided to take matters into their own hands, wed or not. They were always careful not to be seen, but in the end, they could not escape discovery. Not once the child was born.
"The cult's leaders were furious. This was a direct challenge to their power, and from one of their own no less. You might think they would administer beatings to the transgressors, but no; they were not so direct. They were, however, no less cruel.
"As punishment for their defiance, the couple's son would be offered to the demons as a vessel, and then taken away to be raised in secret by cultists in another city. Neither of them would see their child again."
"And that was Damien?"
"Good," Blackbird replied with a grin."I didn't have to spell it out for you."
"But how did you find out all this?"
"I heard the tale from his parents; one of his father's compatriots in the cult took pity on them, and helped them escape. From what they told me, it sounded like the cult was preparing a ritual and their benefactor wanted to spare them before it began; and given that the demons were first seen a few days after that, I think we can make a pretty good guess about what the ritual was."
"Damn," Edwin muttered under his breath.
"Regardless, you need to find Damien, and help him overcome the demonic influence. I have reason to believe he'll be drawn back to his birthplace, so that would be the place to look. Of course, it will also likely be dangerous; if it's not outright swarming with demons, their cultists will still be running the place. And they won't take kindly to outsiders barging in."
"It seems I have quite a few things to take care of," he said. "Is there anything else I should know about Damien?"
"Yes. Don't let him use that crystal with his future memories right away. He might be overwhelmed by memories of the demonic side taking over; in fact, the small spark of humanity he still retains is the only reason that it might work out at all. You need to make sure he doesn't use it until he's strong enough to resist the demon."
"I understand," Edwin said. "And what can you tell me of Rhakkashalgaros?"
"Less than I'd like," Blackbird grumbled. "I've only got one piece of info, and it was damned tough to find it out. But you need to know it."
"What's that?" "He's not a goddamned demon at all!"
Edwin blinked as he took in Blackbird's revelation.
"I don't understand. If he's not a demon, then... What is he?"
"I don't know what he actually is," Blackbird sighed. "But if you end up having to face him, which I fear you may, you can't fight him as if he's a demon. He's something else entirely, something ancient."
"Why do the demons revere him so, then?" Edwin asked.
"As best as I can tell, he was banished to their realm, asleep even then. But he could influence the minds of demons, just as they can influence the minds of men, and slowly they came to obey him."
Blackbird pulled out a small flask from his coat and took a sip before he continued.
"That said, demons are prideful. They don't like to reveal that they're following a non-demon, and indeed, it seems only his closest followers know even a fragment of the truth. You could force every one of them to tell you everything they know - no easy task given the power he's granted them - and you'd still be left with little more than I've told you now."
"That's all you know?" Edwin asked.
"All I know for sure, at any rate," Blackbird said. "I could tell you some half-baked guesses, but I don't think they're good enough to be worth keeping you away from home for any longer."
"I suppose not."
"And speaking of that, it's best you return now. This way."
Edwin followed Blackbird to a tunnel in the back of Father Lepid's cavernous new home. The old priest limped along behind them slowly. Before long, the tunnel seemed to end, and then Blackbird simply gestured for Edwin to step towards the wall.
As Edwin approached, a bright sphere of white light appeared from nowhere.
"This is the gateway," Blackbird explained. "Just step into there and you'll be back in your own time. Remember, you may be a bit hungry when you reach the other side."
"I'll keep that in mind," Edwin replied. "Blackbird, you've been a great help to me. Not just because of what you've told me and because you guided me here, but because of what you showed me."
"If you want to repay me, try your damnedest to fix things when you get back," Blackbird said with a smirk.
"That seems a fair price," Edwin laughed. He turned to the aging Father Lepid.
"Father, it was good to see you again," Edwin said. "It gives me great comfort to know that someone in the Church still has faith in me."
"May Lecroa guide you," Father Lepid replied, bowing his head slightly. "I wish you the best, Edwin."
Edwin returned the gesture, shook Blackbird's hand, and stepped through the gate.
And then he woke up.
Edwin groaned a bit. He was sprawled out on the floor of the abandoned shack. And, he noticed, he was more than a little hungry.
Was it a dream? An elaborate vision? Or had he truly traveled to the future? In his current state, all seemed possible.
Quickly, he checked his pouches. A crystal shard was missing, and two were carefully kept separate from the rest.
So it had been real, or at the very least something close to real. The Crystal of Truth had not guided him here simply to hallucinate.
Edwin breathed a sigh of relief, and reflected on what he had learned, and what he had to do now.
The King was in league with the demons, and held a Crystal of Truth. And the castle would soon fall. Edwin had to reclaim the crystal, and if possible reveal the King's deception and fight off the demons' attack.
What was more, the priest who had brought the Second Book of Lecroa to Mira's village had come from the castle. Might Edwin find the book there, as well?
And he had to find the young Mira. Edwin sighed sadly. She was so much like Alicia, strong in spirit, and refused to give up even in the face of overwhelming odds. Edwin needed to find her village, and give her the crystal shard to pass along the memories from her older self.
And then there was Damien. The boy was slowly turning into a demon, and Edwin had to save him. And hopefully gain his help.
The magic of Truth. Four heroes were needed. Edwin knew that even if he, Mira, and Damien were three, which was hardly certain, there was still a fourth to be found. Where would he even begin to search?
And, of course, he was hungry. For that matter, he was unsure if his horse would still be where he had left it.
He lifted himself off the floor, and thought about what to do first.
Phew! Finally back in the present, that took longer than I thought.
So what's Edwin's next destination? And how is he going to handle his more immediate needs of food and possibly transportation?
And, as always, if you have other suggestions for what he can do, go ahead and speak up.