The world explodes in light, colour, motion and sweet air. Harsh sounds of battle surrounds me as I inhale deeply, trying to get my bearings. Gradually I sit up on my elbows, trying to make sense of the scene around me. A new monster has arrived on the playing field. This one I know intimately, but she’s lost weight. The queen of the fieldrunners, devoid of her egg sack. With wild abandon she slashes at my new buddy. With practiced ease, he avoids some attacks, blocks others. He’s so much faster than I thought possible. There was never any chance for me to win this fight.
He grabs one of her scythe-like appendages with one hand, breaking it off with the other. Her blood sprays over him for a moment, making his skin steam on contact. Acid? With a missing limb, and a newly armed opponent, she changes her tactics. Her massive bulk shifts moment to moment from one side of the battlefield to the other, alternating between hacking at him with her remaining weapon, and spraying him with her own blood. I manage to get into a crouch without being noticed by the two fighters. My stealth skill has never been so handy. I grab my pack and head to the outcropping to get a better vantage point. By the time I reach the summit, they’re face to face. He’s missing a chunk out of his stomach, guts trailing around him. His blood is almost black. Undead?
She’s bleeding from her thorax, not the acid spray blood, but a viscous blue sludge. I finally understand what the guard told me about the fieldrunner combat form. I kick myself for leaving her alive, although it doesn’t look like she will be for much longer. Despite her massive size advantage, her attacks are slowing, while his are still as powerful.
“You bitch. She’s mine. I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you all. Teach you what happens.”
His voice is slurred, drawing out the words as if he’s unable to move his mouth properly. I get my bow and notch an arrow. I need to slow him down a little, otherwise he’ll just kill her and come after me. Taking careful aim at his legs, I let loose. He barely grunts as the shaft buries itself in the meaty part of his thigh. At the same moment, it all falls into place in my mind.
He’s decomposed, falling apart. Almost like an undead starved of mana for too long. But I remember him clearly, coming for me through the forest, hunting me down, splashing me with acid and finally dying in our trap. Incensed, I climb back to ground level. I put that shitheel down once with the help of a giant monster, and I can do it again. Drawing my gladius, I run towards danger. As I get closer, I realise how stupid this is. The air itself is shimmering like heat from the fighting. The dance they dance seems like nothing but brute force against sheer will, but the intricacies go so much deeper. I inspect the combatants.
FieldRunner Queen - Combat form. Former guardian of the fieldrunner heart. Never seen outside the hive while attached to her egg sack. When detached she dies within weeks, or when she devours the target of her fury. Champion of Ashlad
Not a lot to go on, but Ashlad. The Avatar of Chaos? Why would he be after me? And why would he empower a sludgepile like Huntex?
I’ll think of that later, when I have time. Taking a deep breath, I commit to the single stupidest thing I’ve done so far. With my sword drawn, I charge at his back. I feel my feet pounding the grass beneath my feet. The living spirit of nature all around us. Every insect in the light facepalming simultaneously as I slam into the so-called champion, barely shifting him at all. My sword stuck through a shoulder, I let go and jump back as he flails backwards for a moment, trying to swat me away like a bug. The actual bug in the equation takes advantage of the momentary distraction, swiping her scythe overhead diagonally, smashing it into his head, sliding off the skull and slamming into a shoulder, before the force of the attack brings him down to the ground, hard. A short frenzy later results in a corpse on the ground, and a hateful look from a furious queen.
“Look, I get it, you’re pretty pissed off.”
The queen hisses at me, the sound somewhere between angry cat and jet engine.
“I’m sorry I took your treasure, but I had to. I need it to protect everyone, don’t you get it!”
She advances towards me as I back up. This feels like a much more terrible idea than it seemed seconds ago. As my back hits the rock face, I know I’m out of places to run.
“Fine, go ahead. I’ll be back again soon, I’ll find this place, and all you’ll have cost me is some time, you.. You.. basic bitch.”
She raises her blade, dripping with ichor from some unseen wound. I tightly shut my eyes and wait for the killing blow.
A loud snickt. A short tearing screech. A loud thump as she falls over. I open one eye in time to see him standing there. One arm missing, entrails trailing behind him. Gore lazily trickling down his side.
His speech hasn’t improved. He reaches out, grabbing my throat, lifting me off the ground, choking me out again. My world begins to constrict around me in the same merciless way as before. First I try to dislodge his fingers, but they’re like steel, unbending and uncaring.
Remaining Air: 50%
I flail my arms at him, try to reach his face, any soft meat to jab or gauge, but he’s too far, too much taller than me.
Remaining Air: 15%
My vision begins to narrow. I kick out as far as I can go, but there’s no way I can hit him or damage him more than the queen did.
0%. You are out of air.
I close my eyes, feeling the fight leave my body. He keeps holding me by the neck. Shaking me a little. I open my eyes, staring into eyes that are just as surprised as me.
“How.. Why? Die!”
He starts squeezing harder. My health starts falling, running towards zero faster than I’m comfortable with. I reach behind me, feeling for my backpack, feeling for anything I can use. Through the side, I can reach a small leather box. I fumble with the latch for a moment as I hear creaking from my neck. Inside, so fragile, I feel the petals. I grab one, holding it in my fist. I pull it out, holding it up in front of him. He makes a motion as to swat my hand away, but all he manages is an impotent shrug of his shoulder. I crush the moonsilver rose in my hand, and the world fades to white.
I fall to the ground. Breathing deeply, I enjoy the sensation. There’s no sound. Not even the thumping of my own insides, my blood, heart and other fluids. Of course there isn’t. I’m not alive. I don’t need any of that. Not air, not food, not drink. I was just so used to it from real life, I just kept having it. The world slowly comes back into focus. Dim, monochrome outlines at first, then more clear shapes. I see Huntex on the ground. His form twitching, but broken beyond help. In front of me, a giant shape has arrived. Snow white fur, powerful muscles, a broad face with two brilliantly white horns.
Summerling. Mythical beast said to have been kidnapped by shadow monsters ages ago. Skill increased: Zoology.
I manage to croak before being taken by a coughing fit.
The giant responds in a deep bass rumble.
“And you’re the undead. The fell creature that despoils my lands, and invites such creatures to wreak havoc.”
He looks towards Huntex with distaste. It takes me seconds to recover.
“I need your blessing. Please.”
He looks shocked.
“There are protocols, rituals, common decency to be observed! Why do you think you’re even remotely worthy of that kind of boon?”
I stand up as straight as I can manage. My health is regenerating faster than expected in his presence.
“I’m Shae of the Undead. I follow the orders of the elders to make up for my transgressions. Your blessing is one of the two remaining ingredients for the Crown of ..”
“The crown of the Valley. That cursed item will help you do what you want, but not what you need to do. It doesn’t matter. I withhold my blessing until you have found the last missing ingredient. When you have, come back to me, and I will make my decision. You will find me here.”
The massive creature turns around, walks to the other side of the clearing, and waits. Pointedly not looking in my direction.
I pick up all my things. After a moment's hesitation, I also check Huntex’s body for anything useful. He really is smashed. I don’t think there’s a single whole bone left in him. I manage to get him turned over, and step back in shock. He’s still alive. His face is a mangled mass of flesh and bone, but he still has one eye. It’s focused on me, and I can feel the seething hatred. The ruined hole where his mouth was bubbles a little as he tries to wheeze his angry words towards me.
“What happened to you?”
Gurgling, bubbles, nothing understandable. I stab my sword through his good eye, and he trembles a little, before going still. No more eye, no more bubbles. I wait around for a little to see him despawn. After 15 minutes, I give up and leave his body there for the animals to consume.
My mind runs at a million miles a minute while I travel east. Why did the Summerling treat me so poorly? Why not just give me the blessing and let me move on? And why did the moonsilver rose summon him? Questions without answers as usual. Absentmindedly, I rub the bracelet I got from Ephraim. Maybe he’ll be able to provide some answers, or at least give me some perspective. I take a deep breath and reach out with my mind.
“Hello Shae. It’s been a while. How can I help you?”
His head is hovering near mine. I nearly stumble, righting myself before I embarrass myself.
“Hey Eph. How .. How are you?”
He takes a moment to consider before replying.
“I am operating at 60% efficiency, and three fourths of my memory banks are intact. How may I be of assistance?”
A pang of sadness intrudes for a moment.
“I’m sorry Ephraim, for what happened to you. Is there anything you need, anything I can do for you?”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand. I’m here to assist you. All I need is for you to query me.”
“Fair enough. Tell me, why would the Summerling be summoned by my crushing the moonsilver rose?”
A couple of beats go by before he answers.
“Summerling is and unknown term. Inferring from your statement and the system logs, it is a powerful entity in game, possibly mythic. Moonsilver Rose is an unknown term. Inferring from available data, it is a container of power, of the Natural and Light affinities.”
His eyes glaze over while he continues.
“Crushing the container would release said power into the world, attracting creatures aligned along the lines of the power contained. Probably a very rare resource. Raw power like that could possibly also be used for other ends, with the right tools. More information required for further hypothesizing.”
“Okay. So what about Huntex. What happened to him?”
“Huntex was defeated by the Summerling, a creature an order of magnitude more powerful than him, and possessing elemental advantages over him.”
I roll my eyes.
“Last time I saw him, he was a normal player. Now, he was a rambling monster. He didn’t feel quite like a player either. I mean, there was something there, but..”
“I have no data from your second confrontation with Huntex. During your first confrontation, your logs show he was a normal player, although he was under investigation. His account has been confiscated since then, tagged as inactive pending review.”
“How about the Dryads? According to my information, they’re supposed to be horrid monsters. And I don’t have any cold-iron weapons to fight them with either, so how should I deal with them?”
“Common dryads are Magical, Fantastic, Light, Good and Chaos. Their unpredictable nature make them dangerous to everyone, though to their allies they are more tricksters than terrors. They are nearly immune to physical damage, but your gladius should be able to overcome their magical defences without any problems. Talking should be the first option, in case you catch them at a calm moment.”
“But I’m pretty sure I’m aligned with Darkness, isn’t that going to piss them off?”
“Chaos is unpredictable. Maybe they’ll find you interesting.”
We finish off the chat and I put him back to his idle mode. One day I’ll find a way to restore him.
In the span of a few hours, the plains transform into a deciduous forest. Then, as I move further east, across the river I entered the valley in, the trees grow dark and gnarled. The ground changes from the verdant forest soil to dried up black dirt, devoid of life. Around me the air grows stagnant, and what little wind there is carries whispers. A litany of sadness, of death and loss, is expressed in a language I’m not capable of speaking, but understand perfectly. Here is a kingdom where something went wrong, and the anguish keeps me on the cusp of tears. After a few hours of walking through this, I’m emotionally exhausted, and even the sight of the triplet moons fails to lift my spirits.
A figure catches my attention, swaying gently in the oppressive atmosphere. I stealth closer, only to find a ghastly form strung up against a tree, no more than a skeleton. There’s no clear cause of death, and I cut it down, laying it against the ground to rest. As I stand up, I realise there are dozens more. First, every few trees has a skeleton, then every other tree. I work my way towards where the bodies are thickest, finding my way to a clearing, with a massive pile of wood in the middle. A funeral pyre. Moving closer, wary against the dead forest around me, I see another skeleton draped across the pile. It’s hands clasped around a dagger penetrating it’s chest. As I reach her, I examine the bones closer. It’s taller than the others in the forest, it’s remaining hair long and silken. I reach out, unceremoniously twisting the skull off the body, turning it in my head to investigate. The eyes are empty, nothing but black marks inside. I wrap my hand around it’s fragile hair, and yank.
“Waste not, want not.”
You have found Dryads hair.
The moment I desecrate the corpse pyre, I feel a change in the forest. The temperature drops, and an eerie glow suffuses the trees surrounding the clearing. I consider picking up the dagger before I leave. It’s a finely wrought cold-iron blade, but I decide not to. I have a feeling I’m going to need my mana regen real soon. I turn around to leave the clearing, gearing up for a fast run back, but change my mind before I go. Returning to the pyre, I get my firestarter, lighting the dry shrubbery below the skeleton, then run away. I can hear the roar of fire consuming the wood. Stopping at the edge, I see a massive bonfire, spreading across and outwards, threatening to consume everything here, including me. I keep running, hoping I haven’t made a grave mistake.
All I need to do now is get back to the Summerling without burning to death, and I’ll have all the ingredients for the crown. Luckily, now that I know breathing is optional, I can focus on running in stead. As a bonus, it prevents smoke inhalation damage. As my mind is wandering, I catch a glow out of the corner of my eye. Tumbling forwards, I try to roll, getting up to continue my run unabated.
Check failed: Athletics. You take 5% damage. You are prone.
Wiping out, I’m on the forest floor when a shining apparition of grass and leaves comes hovering over me. Drawing my sword, I thrust it into the spirit, banishing it to wherever electric ghosts go. Getting to my knees, I see five more glowing haunts approaching me from all around. I prepare for a lunge and dash towards the edge of the forest, but the moment before I spring, the dryad bursts into flame with a shriek. Somewhat stunned, I get up, cutting through the fiery remains of the angry dead.
You take 6% damage from fire. Health: 89%
More of them are incoming, dozens. I dodge and weave around some of them, taking damage from their ghostly claws. Others, I attack, leaping in blade first, dissolving them into their components. Some of the burst into flame as well, spreading the conflagration in new places, endangering everything here. Soon, I reach the edge of the forest, faster than I got to the center.
Health: 53% Stamina: 30% Mana: 100%
Out of nowhere, I spectral hand slams into me, through me. I can feel a chill going through my soul as I tumble to the ground, injuring myself badly.
You have taken 30% damage from a spiritual attack.
I stumble to my feet to see four figures approaching me, blocking my passage out of the forest. Over my shoulder, I see the conflagration approaching, closer by the minute. The lady in the lead, taller than the others, fierce and beautiful, steps forward.
“You had no business here. You broke the old truce, and now you need to die. Tell us your last words.”
Her pale, translucent skin perfect, her almond-shaped eyes staring daggers though my soul. I stand warily, sword at ready.
“Who are you?”
She tosses her perfect hair, the same hair I have in my backpack, flashing me a hungry, vulpine grin.
“I am Renea Lohra, the queen of these forests. I am the last queen of the dryads, and those were exceedingly poor last words.”
As she gets closer, her fingers grow to vicious claws.
“I need the dryads hair to finish the crown of the valley, and I’m not going to let you stop me!”
My voice feels ragged as I shout. The air is getting thick with smoke now.
“Dead one, I do not care about your reasons. You trespassed on our land. Even in death, we will assure the sovereignty of our dominion.”
Her eyes glow in the moonlight, in the reflection of flames from behind me. I don’t dare sneak a look at how much time I have before I burn, since she’s ready to kill me right now. Suddenly, in a burst of fire, one of her companions flare up, her tortured scream echoing in the night. The queen glances behind her, and I use the brief respite to analyse my opponents.
Renea Lohra Deceased Queen of the Dryads Handmaidens to the Queen. Member of the dryad royal court, lending their strength to the queen when needed.
I lunge, my sword on point. I barely touch her with the tip of my blade when she smashes her hand into my arm. Through my arm. I feel the deep chill in my soul again as a wisp of energy follows her strike. I jump back, weapon at ready, but she doesn’t follow me.
“Silly creature. All the power of undeath, and not a clue how to use it. If you stand still for a moment and close your eyes, I can put you out of your misery right now.”
Her voice is so melodic, beautiful. It plays so well with the moonlight and the flickering flames. I risk a quick look behind me. A flaming wall rages in the woods, eating into the trees. It’s so close now, I can feel it on my skin, in my face. The sight distracts me for a moment too long. When I turn back, she’s right next to me, her arm out to the side.
She smacks me aside, flinging me like a ragdoll into the nearby bushes.
You have taken 15% damage Health: 5%
I get up, looking around. That was a much weaker attack than I expected. The queen keeps a haughty look as a second of her handmaidens bursts into flame. Her eyes narrow.
“Cursed undead. I won’t let you get away with setting my kingdom on fire!”
She screams towards me, a banshee in the moonlight. I turn and run as fast as I can. My endurance starts dropping immediately.
“You can’t outrun me in these forests. This is my domain. You flesh is weak, my spirit strong.”
I ignore her. She’s running out of time, but I don’t think she knows it yet. My wild flight takes me perpendicular to the great fire. I can feel my face roasting gently in the dry heat. Without looking, I’m certain the apparition is right behind me, slowing down moment by moment. When my endurance drops to 20% I stop and turn around. My health has regenerated to 15% now, and she’s further behind than she should be. I take a deep breath and extend my mind as she arrives.
“I’ve got you now, rotten one, you’ll rue the day you..”
I put my hand up, interrupting her.
“You’ve got nothing, and I won’t rue shit.”
I step towards her.
“I’m sick of you big bads attacking me, trying to push me around. This time, you’re going to stand still, and I’m going to beat your ass.”
She slashes her claws at me again, but her attack has almost no bite left.
You have lost 3% HP Health: 12% Mana: 75%
“Didn’t think I’d notice your friends dying there, did you?”
I draw my sword with exaggerated slowness. Her face is set in defiance, barely a hint of the uncertainty I know she’s feeling.
“You’re burning as we speak, aren’t you? Can you feel the flames?”
I slash out at her, my blade passing through her translucent body trailing wisps of ghost-stuff.
Your mana is at 70%
Her demeanor cracks as I ready another blow.
“Please, stop. I surrender. Can you help me? I don’t want to die again.”
I reach for my armband.
“Maybe. I have to ask my friend if we have any options.”
Ephraim materialises next to us. His mind shining dully in the flickering of flames.
“No time to chat Eph. Your memory banks, can they store other minds? Do you have room for a lesser mob?”
The queen wrinkles her nose at the insult. I ignore her. Ephraim considers the question for an agonizing moment.
“I believe I will be able to accommodate her. She will be in a state of pure data until you can obtain a new source of anima for her, as her current source will be destroyed by fire in approximately 30 seconds. Is this acceptable to you your majesty?”
She sighs, defeated.
“Very well. I surrender my mind to your safekeeping. When you revitalize me, I will reward you for your service, and punish you for your transgressions.”
You have discovered a quest: Restoring the queen The Queen of Dryads has agreed to your safekeeping. She would like you to find a way to resurrect her. Alternatively, you can always use her mind for other things. Rewards: Variable. If Renea is conscious at the end of the process, she will decide your reward. If she is not, you will have chosen your own reward. Failure: Animosity from Dryads everywhere.
Eph looks to me.
“Do you wish me to proceed?”
I nod, and he transforms into a nightmare. Tentacles of data whip out from his floating head. His eyes go translucent, showing a void inside him. The queen turns around as if to run, far too slowly for any real hope of escape. Each appendage seizes a limb, and she’s turned around to face the inevitable. A stream of black voidstuff shoots out of his mouth, impacting her chest with a hiss, spreading across her body until she’s completely enveloped. Then, as fast as it began, the black ooze retracts into him, the tentacles releasing the now docile spirit. When it’s all over, Ephraim returns to normal.
Warning: Your mana is 30%
He turns towards me.
“It is done. Do you need any further assistance?”
I shake my head.
“Then I will take my leave. Until next time.”
He vanishes. A moment later, I’m startled as the queens form bursts into flame. I look at her for a few eerie moments until she’s gone. Her expression never changes. A blank slate.
- Stranger in a strange land
Software developer by trade. Games developer by uni course. Shopkeeper in a previous life.. don't ask.
I took a look at my life recently, and realised I read too much. I watch too much tv. I play too many games. I consume too much. It was time for me to create instead, improve the balance of things. So I wrote, and I wrote, and I managed to finish a first draft. Then I went back to the beginning and started rewriting it, while working on the sequel.
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