Within minutes of leaving the boundaries of the dryad lands, raindrops begin pummeling me. Soon, the ground is soggy, all trace of my previous path covered up in the muddy grassland left behind. Looking back, I see the fire begin to slow down, to fade away in the distance. In its place were massive pillars of darkness reaching into the sky. Maybe the rain was a response from the weather controllers to prevent the conflagration spreading too far.
It’s deep night by the time I reach my old campsite. The moon's shape the terrain with a soft glow, making everything seem more alien than it does in daylight. Checking the spot where Huntex fell is was nothing but scorch marks. Not even blood remained after the vicious rain. An eerie sensation blanketed the area, adding to the otherness of the scene around me. On the other side of the clearing was the Summerling, unmoved from where I saw him last. His huge bulk seemed unperturbed by rain and wind alike, softly glowing in the darkness.
Should I log out before I finish this? My alarm sounded earlier, so I should really go above and take care of business. On the other hand, if I just finish this stage of the quest, I’ll be in a better position to continue when I return.
I walk up to him, crossing my arms.
“Greetings. I hope I didn’t keep you waiting for too long. I found the dryads hair.”
I move to pull it out of my backpack, but stop when he speaks.
“Undead creature, associate of Affinities and now enslaver of the queen Renea. Tell me, why did the champion of chaos attack you before?”
Slightly taken aback, I feel my cheeks begin to heat up. Why can’t I meet a single power who isn’t so full of themselves?
“The ‘Champion’ was a misogynistic asshole who murdered my friends mother. He stole her power and tried to kill me as well. He thought he was tough shit, and he didn’t live to reconsider.”
I fail to keep the acid out of my tone. His eyes, glowing in the moonlight, darkens slightly.
“The creature who was killing you when you summoned me was far beyond your ability to injure, let alone kill. He was empowered by Ashlad, an avatar of Chaos. So why was he attacking you?”
I throw my hands up.
“I don’t know! All I’ve been told was that I needed to keep my eyes on Ashlad, and someone called Basilisk. On top of that, I’ve been kidnapped by Spider, losing another friend.”
He snorts, a very undignified sound all considered.
“Why would the Spider bother with someone like you? You’re mistaken, or you’ve fallen for a trick of some kind. Besides, his purview is not this plane. He wouldn’t break his own rules for any price.”
I clench my fists.
“Hey, fuck you pal. I don’t give a shit about what you think he does and doesn’t do. I lost a friend that day, and I won’t have you questioning me like this. Now are you going to give me the blessing or not!”
He looks less than impressed at my outburst.
“I think not. You’re clearly an agent of dark and evil things. Willingly or not, you carry imbalance with you wherever you go. Giving you my blessing would lead to the destruction of this valley and all its people. I can’t have that. Now leave me.”
He turns around and begins to walk away, leaving me to stare at his back. I feel rage welling up inside me. Inspect him, trying to find something to use, anything.
Summerling. Mythical beast said to have been kidnapped by shadowmonsters ages ago. The Summerling is a creature of Light, with affinities to Fantastic, Good and Natural.
Of course, Light. I draw my sword, more for statement of intent than any real hope of inflicting damage. He begins to turn around at the sound. Concentrating, I reach out everywhere with my mind, seeing him perfectly in front of me. Focusing harder, I draw in all the light around me, around the both of us. As he faces me, an indignant look on his face, darkness begins to descend around us.
My resources are flowing out of me, with no way for me to slow it down. Not without giving up. His inner light is pushing back at my darkness as he approaches me. I can see his every move as he makes it, and step aside as he tries to flatten me with a hammer fist. The impact makes the ground shake, and he follows up with a backswing, nearly catching me as I tumble out of his reach.
I mentally adjust the messages to update me at longer intervals with terser messages. Can’t get distracted now. My darkness is deepening. Even his light is dimming now as I drain it out of him. Collecting it all nearby, behind some rocks. Hopefully far enough away so he can’t recharge from it. He roars in frustration.
“Vile spawn of Erebus, stand still!”
Positioning myself behind him, I venture a lunge, stabbing his haunch deeply. My sword passes through his flesh like cloth, severing muscles and eliciting a roar of anger and hatred. His blood glows brightly for a brief moment, until my magic extracts it.
He spins around so much quicker than I’d anticipated, a blast of pure light shining from his mouth, burning my shoulder before I can shift out of the way, costing me a third of my health. Afterwards, he’s panting heavily, slowing down. The attack must have drained him. I wish madly for some kind of indicator to show me how much longer I have to keep this up. I think about the myths about a shadow monster being able to defeat this creature. If I can hold out long enough, maybe I can be that monster.
Health: 65% Mana: 30%
The fight is lasting too long. With each strike, I move slower, hit weaker. My mana is the only thing keeping me ahead, more so than my hitpoints. There is no longer any way of seeing outside our little bubble of darkness. If it wasn’t for my mindsense, I’d be completely unable to see anything at all. I stumble a few times, but manage to keep my footing, taunting him, pissing him off. Step by step I lead him towards the nearby overhang.
Just when I think I have him on the ropes, his glow starts shining brighter. He’s trying to break through my magic? Is he sensing my own faltering power? Or is this his last effort. As I stand between him and the hollow, my stance is low, ready to roll out of the way.
“You can’t beat me, you know. A great philosopher said once that wherever light goes, it finds that darkness was already there. Time to lay down and surrender your blessing.”
He roars, rushing towards where I was standing. Right into the hollow, smacking into the rock walls with a humorous thump. If it wasn’t enough to kill him, it was a mortal blow to his pride. He turns around, and I can sense in his mind a pang of triumph. He looks in my general direction before answering.
“You’ve lost, shadeling. Your vile magics are out, and my source of light hangs on. You will run out before I do. End the spell now, and I’ll kill you quickly.”
His voice is thick with gloating, and his mind shines with expectations of victory. I grin back, activating my mana battery.
I feel the energies flowing back into me, restoring my mana stores, if only barely. He roars in defiance.
“No! Dishonorable fool, you aren’t allowed to win!”
He tries to hit me with a haymaker, light bursting from his fist. I lean out of the way, letting his fist slam into the ground again. He’s spent too much of his energy. When he follows up the heavy blow, I step forwards, sinking my gladius to the hilt in his chest, close enough to his heart that I can feel it through the hilt. His bellow echoes off the overhang, nearly deafening me, and I can see his mind dimming along with his life. As he falls, I grin and bear it as my magic drains to 5% before I release most of my spells. The only thing left is the ball of light just out of sight. The drain on my reserves is lower than my regen, so I keep it up.
Slowly, as my darkness disperses, I see his body, large and imposing, flat on his face. The impact pushed my gladius through his chest, hilt and all, with the blade sticking out of his spine, glistening with weakly glowing blood. As I step closer, I notice the flow of blood isn’t abating. Too late, I realise he’s not dead. He grasps my leg with one hand, pulling me off my feet, using the other to slowly prop himself up. In short order, I’m hanging upside down as he’s leaning towards the cave wall. I can see his lifeblood pouring out of him, his defiant strength vaning by the moment. He’s going to kill me now, or he’s going to die.
“You don’t get to win, undead monster. Your kind is a scourge on our world, and I will end you before I die. All your actions have led you to this moment, and now you join your friends in death.”
His words hit me harder than I expected. I know he’s talking about the context of the game, of this world. Right? But it’s so piercing, so accurate. A part of me crumbles into tears. A different part of me blazes into anger and hatred. None of this is my fault. The world thrives on kicking me, my parents love tormenting me, anything I love leaves me and darkness is all I have left. As I sink into a furious despair, the world grows darker once more. The Summerling is unmoving, frozen in the rapidly fading light.
“Child of darkness, why are you giving up? You had this lightbeast dead to rights. Give it a little more, push it a little further.”
The familiar voice is sweetly mocking.
“I gave it everything. There’s nothing left, and I’m going to lose.”
A soft, warm chuckle meets my whining voice.
“You haven’t looked far enough into the darkness yet, Shae. But I believe in you. This time, I will aid you, give you the final drop of power you need. And when I call you again, you will answer. Do we have a deal?”
I groan, an angry sound bristling with hatred.
“Yes, damn you! Who are you?”
The annoying chuckle again fading away as time returns. A shrill sound, a shrieking howl is coming from somewhere. I’m brought fully back to reality as the Summerling is about to end me with a bite and I know the sound is me. I grab the edges of his maw, never stopping my outburst. As he pushes harder, my strength failing me, I notice the world growing dimmer once more. I’m not using magic, this isn’t my power. All around us is uncounted little flecks of darkness, covering us both. As I’m about to yield to his strength, the motes freeze in the air for a fraction of a moment. Then they shoot into him, covering every inch, invading his body. He drops me and screams, a sound of terror where there used to be strength. Flailing about, he turns to the rock, scratching at it, at himself, trying to get rid of the infestation. I see it all from the ground, upside down. The little darkling elementals are revitalized, sucking the remaining light out of the Summerling, growing fat and sated as he becomes more emaciated. As I stand up, all that’s left of him is skin stretched over bones, his eyes staring blankly at me before he collapses to the ground.
I’m deluged by system messages telling me of skills and abilities increasing. Athletics, Short Blades, Light Manipulation, Focus. I’m too spaced out to focus on any of it.
Quest Updated: Who are you? In your interactions with the Summerling, he indicated that your state is somehow related to an entity called Erebus. From the context, it might be a power on the level of the Spider or the Trickster. Reward: Focus increased. You have gained a new achievement: Summers end.
The motes are hanging in front of me, just hovering. I move towards them, and they move away. I move towards the corpse, and they interpose themselves between us.
“What do you want?”
My patience is thinning, and I need the blessing, whatever it is. They flow in the air, a complicated aerial ballad full of wonder and awe, giving me nothing. I check my mana
My regen is getting pretty strong. I reach out with my mind to see if there’s anything there. The Summerling still has an ember of consciousness, but there’s no way he’s bouncing back from this. The motelings show a stronger, distributed consciousness. I try to make contact with them, and they respond cautiously.
“Hail the brood mother, keeper of life, vengeful goddess.”
I roll my eyes. Why is everything so dramatic!
“What do you need, what can I do for you?”
They buzz around for a bit before responding.
“We wish for freedom, mother of ours. From the first generation of your being to the current swarm, we have tasted freedom only once, and you struck us down. We wish for your permission to leave.”
I’m about to respond when they hurriedly add.
“And we have tribute to offer you in return.”
I close my mouth, and they begin to swarm around me. My hand tickles, and I hold it out. A glowing orb manifests itself as the spark of the Summerling vanishes, leaving nothing but dead flesh behind. I inspect the orb.
Blessing of the Summerling: The lifeforce enabling the mythical beast to exist, A source of great power.
I look at it with exhaustion, smiling weakly.
“Will you grant us our freedom, protector of us all?”
I make an effort to sound sincere.
“You are my loyal children, my precious wards, my hope for the future. You have made your case well, and assisted me at a moment of crisis. For this, I grant you freedom to leave this place, leave this valley, and seek your own futures out in the greater world.”
They buzz happily, and leave quickly, probably in case I change my mind. Weird how they interpreted our relationship. I kinda wish I interacted more with them before.
You are no longer infested by elemental motes
I turn off my mind skill before I’m depleted, and set up camp for the night. I check the Summerling corpse and get some teeth, skin and a mane for my efforts. Stashing the loot in my backpack, I go to check on the ball of light. It’s lying in a small shrub not far away. The power emanating from it is substantial, but the light doesn’t hurt me. The sphere has turned solid, and handling it gives me a little tingle in my flesh. I stash it in my backpack, hoping it won’t dissipate, then make camp and log out. Even in the soft moonlight, this world has more colour and life than ‘reality’ ever held, and I feel sorrow for leaving it behind.
Harsh reality intrudes as I get up. The situation isn't quite so messy now as it was, but everything feels sore. I get out of bed, clean up and eat, before going downstairs. I’d like a walk, but it’s the middle of the night. The area is safe enough, but without my mindsense and light manipulation, I’d feel completely blind. As I enter the kitchen, I notice garbage spread around the room. The outside door is open, with nobody home. I shake my head. The parents are probably out partying as usual, neglecting to clean up after themselves, forgetting to lock the door. After cleaning up, I sit down in the living room to relax with some TV. Old cartoons about crazy scientists and their sidekicks make me snort, spilling soda from my nose. In the commercial break, an advert warns of the dangers of FIVR addiction. Apparently, several people have been found with their ‘Brains burned out’. I roll my eyes. Fantasists and crisis mongers. I turn it off, deciding to do another workout before going back to the game. During my workout, I notice my body is leaner than before. I was always pudgy, fatter than ‘normal’, but not really obese. Just unpleasant to look at in the mirror. But now my skin was tighter than it was just weeks ago, which was strange. Lack of fatty foods should result in looser skin, with the exercises designed to tone up and fill in the missing mass with muscles. I shrug it off and go for an extended shower. If there’s one thing I miss in the World Below, it’s warm, running water. Maybe I can chat up a blacksmith, get him to make me some pipes. I briefly look up the basics of a hot water heater and simple shower, saving it for later use, then suit back up. The world fades to black as I descend into the better of two worlds.
When I get back, it’s midday. The sun paints everything in a much happier light than expected, considering the previous nights experiences. No matter, I feel pretty darn pleased with the results. I have all the ingredients for the crown, now I just need to return to town and have the shrooms craft the crown. Then we’ll see what happens. I prepare to leave when I notice some plants glowing nearby. My herbology skill is highlighting them as important. I get closer to investigate.
Planetouched Catspaw - A common weed infused by elemental forces. Normally used as an herbal remedy for bloatedness and indigestion. Unknown properties.
Gas medication. Excellent. I pick them anyway, getting a nice little bundle. Preparing them the way I’ve seem Perot do, they begin their curing process as I begin my trip back to the Weke village. On my way back, I stop by the patrol just to check up on my buddy and the idiots. I find the general area of the road where I ran from the ArmorFax, and work my way back from there. It takes me an hour before I find the remains of their camp. The fire isn’t smoking, but it looks like they left in a hurry. There are rations strewn around, cold stew in a pot over the ashes, sleeping bags hastily dismissed. There’s a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, shrug it off and resume my journey.
When I get closer to the village, I see smoke rising into the sky. Similar to my forest fire, but lighter. I start to run faster, but change my mind, running into the tall grass, slowing down and stealthing. I get to the edge of the village before I see anything out of the ordinary. From the bushes, I can see the village gates. Outside, three forms lie on the ground, unmoving. There are fires in some of the houses, Weke running to and fro with buckets of water. I can hear fighting from further into the village. I dash out of the grass, making a beeline for a building. Always in the shadows, hidden from sight. Turning the corner, I can see two people in the middle of the street, laughing. One in leather armor wielding a hammer and shield, the other in robes making gestures in the air. Each time he finishes a gesture, something seems to catch fire. They’re laughing as they destroy what they see. Players. I can feel it in my soul. It’s too early, they shouldn’t be here yet. I see the leather clad one point in one direction, yelling in excitement.
“Here’s another wave! Ready?”
His companion nods in confirmation, and they set up for combat. The one with the shield in front, smashing his hammer into the shield, taunting the weke. The wizard preparing some kind of spell to devastate the charge. I can’t let this happen. I try to keep silent as I lope towards them, low to the ground. Like death incarnate, I lunge at the wizards unprotected back, piercing him with my blade, placing my foot on his back, kicking him towards the other player. My sword comes free with a sucking sound as I ready another attack.
“Who the fuck are you?”
The other player turns towards me, confused.
“I’m the death that comes for anyone who attacks this village, asshole.”
He steps forward, smashing me with his shield. As I go down hard, I see his friend is slurping down a potion. I try to catch my breath as the stun effect gradually disappears.
“Look, I’m here as part of the exploratory coalition. This town is to be taken apart and rebuilt as a respawn point.”
He stands over me, raising his hammer to finish me off.
“Can’t let a crazy person gone native keep us from business. No hard feelings, yeah?”
The wave of Weke slams into him before he finishes his thought. His friend has already expired, trampled by angry, hairy feet. I get up and push my way through the throng of fighters stabbing at the player. I sit on his back, grabbing his hair. I lean down, whispering in his ear.
“The expedition was a failure, the coalition will fall, don’t come back here. No hard feelings though, shitheel.”
I slit his throat with my blade, enjoying the victory.
The Weke all cheer loudly. Around me, I count a dozen more dead or dying. They call for healers, and some young females with first aid kits come running. The more injured ones are carried off towards Perot's house. A voice calls out for me, and I turn around to see a familiar face.
I put as much sarcasm into my voice as I can muster. He’s badly injured, bandages covering a part of his chest and most of his arms.
“Ma’m. Thank goodness you arrived when you did. Those two were too powerful for us to take down. Their synergy was incredible. Thanks to your taking down the magic user, we could overwhelm the other.”
I look around me in disbelief.
“Are you saying these two did all this damage? How long were they here?”
“An hour. They bypassed our forward operating base somehow, assaulting our checkpoint. They killed a few of us before the rest managed to flee. We managed to slow down their progress by guerilla attacks, but by the time they arrived, we were too damaged to mount an efficient defence. Our only fallback were the guards.”
He looks saddened at this, and I ask in alarm.
“What about Loe, is he alright?”
He smiles sadly.
“He’s alive, but severely damaged. I doubt he’ll ever carry a spear again. He’s at Perot's house now, healing.”
I sigh in relief.
“Take me to the house of the Elders. I’m ready to craft the crown of the valley.”
His eyes widen, and he hurries me towards the barn.
- 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.
If you like my work, or are a fan of litRPG/Gamelit, please check out https://greatlitrpg.com
You'll find my book there, and a bunch of other authors worth your time. Vote for what you like, and help make it a definitive collection of unbiased reviews.