An explosion nearby, then the earth heaves, forcing everyone nearby to the ground. Everything had gone crazy so fast. First the sky went black, probably the influence of Erebus. Then creatures of shadow started popping up around us, ignoring us at first as we retreated from the breach in reality. Our respite was short lived, and soon they turned, coming after us with a rare bloodthirst. Since I no longer had a weapon capable of hurting magical creatures, I was forced to bodycheck them when they got too close to one of my people. Once, I was too slow, and a weke soldier fell under the dark onslaught. When the screams stopped, a vicious looking shadow stood up and waddled off towards the real fighting behind us. We were being used as raw materials.
I lost track of Renea early in the battle, her willowy form overrun by the creatures of Basilisks army. Lizardlike humanoids with stubby horns, screeching their rabid war cries as they attacked. At least they died when we stabbed them, green blood spraying from their wounds.
Scragh was a dervish, slashing at everything that came within reach. He had to switch weapons several times during the fight, until he fell to a larger, four legged lizard charging right across him. I barely managed to spirit him away before the little ones got to him. With no other options, I poured potions into him, then transported him five minutes in front of our retreating army. When I came back, we had taken terrible losses due to my brief absence. The influx of shadow abominations served to lessen the pressure on our retreat. When we thought things finally started calming down, we were floored by a thundering roar. Erebus’ visage in the sky roared, and his blood fell to the ground like bombs, shaking the earth. Basilisk must have scored a solid hit. Through luck more than anything, the drops fell in the hordes path, giving us a precious few moments of quiet to refocus our efforts. The badly wounded were carried. The worst wounded were left behind. We were heading towards the village, the only place of relative safety. I didn’t actually think we had more of a chance there than anywhere else, but at least the others could make a last stand with their families. By the time we’d made it halfway majority of our forces were out of steam. People started lagging behind, falling without getting up. I did what I could, carrying the fallen, motivating the weary, pushing back the enemy, while the enemies drew ever closer. With our prospects darkening by the moment, I was forced to engage with the enemies more and more, my powers as a champion the only measure strong enough to slow them down. As I was being overrun, the shadelings walking over me, ignoring my existence, I heard the sound of hoofbeats. Suddenly, the flood of monsters changed direction, running away from our forces. I could hear the sounds of fighting and dying coming from behind me. I sense something large next to my head and look up, right into the face of a forest elemental. A wooden creature formed of branches, leaves and earth, roughly in the shape of a horse, or a deer, it’s green eyes revealing a source of energy tied to nature itself. Astride the majestic creature is the queen of the dryads herself, Renea, wielding a wooden quarterstaff glowing with energy. She unmounts, offering her hand to help me stand.
“We’re even now.”
She was curt, angry even.
“Thank you. Will you stay with us and fight?”
“Stay and fight? There is no stay and fight. The two giants up there?”
She points to the titans waging war up high. Erebus has his hand on one of Basilisks wings, clearly trying to tear it off while defending against a tail coming in from the side. It was like watching constellations battle.
“Those two, they don’t need your help in fighting each other. Down here, this fight is between the shadow creatures of Erebus, and the infernal kobolds of Basilisk. Sooner or later, one side will win. If it’s Erebus, you’ll probably survive, with the job of cleaning up the mess left behind. If it’s Basilisk, the lizards will crawl through every nook and cranny looking for power before setting it all afire and bringing it back to wherever they call home. Either way, I wouldn’t put much money on my own survival, even with this new host.”
She got back onto her forest elemental, giving me a lingering look.
“I’m sorry Shae. Sorry that I have to leave you like this, that you went through all the trouble for so little, that.. That we didn’t meet until now. My summoned creatures will help carry your forces back to the village, then disperse into the valley once more. If you survive, you can find me to the east, south east. Good luck.”
I’m left staring after her as she in turn chases the shadows away, buying us time. My soldiers are more disciplined, loading the wounded on whatever creatures can carry them, preparing for another wild race to escape the certain doom creeping towards us.
As we reach the village, I get to work immediately, shouting orders to the people around me.
“Gather those logs. You, go to Perot's hut, bring anything that looks useful. Big guy, find me Loe. Scragh, get all the fighters together, equip them any way you can.”
I direct them as best I can at first, but the more competent survivors catch on quickly, and begin constructing a makeshift barricade around the inner city. It wouldn’t hold against anything serious, and it won’t hold forever, but if it gives us another moment of life, it’s a good investment. I look up in time to see Erebus take a crushing blow to his side, his blood spilling over the marshes, meteors of pure darkness.
“Hopefully it’ll hold long enough.”
We barely finish the preparation before the first wave hits us. Not the shadow creatures, but the kobolds. Unexpectedly reserved, only a few dozen of the saurian monsters threw themselves at the barricade with wild abandon. Scragh had found the equipment looted from Spinvil and Jakoph earlier. Combined with the heavier equipment from Tellerans soldiers, our side had a strong advantage on equipment. Hakat had dug deep in his stores, distributing the village supplies of endurance and healing potions, bows, arrows and slings. The children were running underfoot, delivering supplies and ammo where needed, directing aid when necessary. I bounced between my overview mode and the battle, trying to distribute information as it became available to me. Around the encampment I could see some allies try to run from the hordes. Some of them fell, others kept going. I tried to direct them back to the village, but in their panic they didn’t respond, or didn’t hear me.
Loe found me in the middle of an information gathering session, and decided that I was going to need a caretaker. When I came back to myself, I was sitting on a sedan chair, with four young weke ready to carry me. There was a brief shouting match, followed by Loe calmly informing me that he would put me right back when I went away again. I acquiesced reluctantly, feeling like an idiot for being chauffeured around when people were dying everywhere. I escape my annoyance by switching to overview mode again, and I get distracted by a development to the west. A group of my allies are facing down a red marker. Afterwards, all the dots begin moving towards the village, the enemy in the lead. I let Loe know that I’ll be away from the village for a moment, and to bring me to the western palisade while I was gone.
As I get to the little group of my villagers, my resolution increases. The weke are a mix of guards, scouts and children, all carrying packs of herbs. Two of the children are holding blastrats in their arms. I am about to complain about health and safety, until I look at the person in front. The red token resolves into an unexpected sight. The last time I saw him he was about to cast a spell incinerating a large amount of Weke villagers and guards. I zoom back to my body in time to greet Spinvil at the ramshackle walls. The enemy presence is nearly non-existent on this side, so far. I step up on a log protruding from the ground and address the interloper.
“What the hell are you doing here? I killed you. You shouldn’t have been able to make it back into the valley. Are you just looking for a shortcut back home?”
He tries to stand tall and proud, but his eyes betray his worry. He’s scared.
“Please, let me in. I need shelter from.. From whatever the hell is going on here!”
I shrug theatrically.
“You were in here once, remember. Why would anyone want you this close after what happened?”
He falls to his knees, surprising me.
“I’m sorry. I only saw them as NPCs, and Telleran gave us so much money for the work.”
His voice cracks, tears showing up in his eyes.
“I can’t log out. The ripcord is gone, Jakoph and Telleran are both offline, I can’t contact any of my friends. Please, don’t turn me away. I’m afraid of what will happen if I die.”
I struggle with my decision for a moment. Here was one of the assholes of the world, a shitheel who only cared about himself and his progression. And at the same time, he was a living creature who genuinely felt fear and pain. What would I be if I denied him? I could reach out and kill him with a flick of my wrist, reanimate him and still use him for my army.
“Come on in. Make yourself useful at the front lines. Get a hold of Scragh, the commander. If he doesn’t kill you on sight, he’ll have mana potions for you. You’re a wizard, right?”
He sniffles, making his way through the palisades. I spend some time carrying the children across.
“Yeah, kind of. I’m a waywalker. I follow the path of discovery and exploration. In real terms, that means I specialize in movement, bodily enhancement buffs, crowd control and that kind of thing. I have a couple of attack spells and a little healing, but it’s time consuming. I can make potions as well, if your herbalist needs help.”
My heart hurts when I think back to our retreat. Perot's shade was turned by Erebus the moment the fighting started. I could only hope she came back when this was all over.
“The alchemists hut is over there. Cast any buffs you can on the warriors, then go make whatever potions you can. There are a lot of ingredients in there. Anything helps.”
As he leaves, I grab his arm. Letting the darkness in my hood fall away enough for him to see my broken face, I lean in and hiss at him.
“Make this worth out time. We all live, or we all die. Make up for what you did earlier, and maybe you’ll find forgiveness.”
I walk away before he starts blubbering, instructing the kids carrying herbs to keep following him and assisting him. With any luck he should be able to make use of them, or at least protect them for a moment when the walls fall.
An hour passes with near constant attacks. Each wave is larger than the last. Sometimes the larger beasts attack, ramming our palisades. I have to jump into it myself to take them out, but I can tell my energies are beginning to fall low. Erebus is clearly not winning this battle, and his fate is tied to mine. As I look on, the dragon Basilisk tears a large chunk out of him, sending it into the dead forest with an impact felt all the way here in the village.
I look to my advisers, and Loe offers his advice.
“We need to hide. We can move out to the southern caves, barricade ourselves there and wait this out. It’s the only way we can survive!”
Loe looks equal parts determined and terrified. Scragh harrumphs, his disdain shining through his weary appearance.
“Running will only postpone the defeat. If we’re to have any chance, we have to go on the offensive! The monsters must come from somewhere. Wherever that is, I’m certain we’ll find the key to defeating this Basilisk.”
Both good suggestions, actual options for what to do going forwards.
“We can’t make it to the southern caves. I ran halfway there once, and it took me the better part of a day. Even if we had Reneas help again, it wouldn’t be enough to get everyone all the way.”
Scragh looks triumphant until I speak again.
“Attacking is off the table too. We have no way of finding wherever Basilisk is hiding. And even if we did, we wouldn’t be able to get through the army of lizards. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there aren’t any more shadow creatures fighting the hordes, and my own power is waning. We need something else.”
Hakat chews on an imaginary toothpick for a moment.
“Have you consulted with the Elders? They’re usually good for a piece of advice or two.”
I look at him for a little while, just blinking.
I grab him, kissing him on the forehead, then run off to the barn, discreetly spitting hair.
The old barn has taken a beating in the earthquakes. I have to navigate through parts of the building I’d never seen. Rotted floorboards, giant mushrooms, a room filled with dead animals of various types. I decide there’s a time and a place to ask about this, and continue my little expedition. I reach their room from a door I’d never noticed before, from behind a mouldy curtain, perfectly camouflaged against the wall.
The elders pool is in turmoil. Bubbling and frothing, the ground is covered in fog. As I’m about to step onto the floor, they shout in unison.
I freeze, one leg on the ledge, one hovering over the mists.
“If you step down here you will die.”
I slowly retract my foot before I look to them in confusion.
“They have come for us.”
The middle aged man sounded a bit sad.
“They’re gonna kill us, and we won’t be able to continue.”
Hysteria tinged the little girl's voice.
“There isn’t much time, you should have been here earlier.”
I sigh at the old womans admonition.
“Chastising me isn’t going to buy any more time. Just tell me what to do! I need to stop the avatars from destroying everything. I think Erebus is losing as well, and Basilisk will take over everything.”
They wail together for a moment until the fourth voice cuts through, raw and angry.
“You won’t be able to defeat them both. They are far beyond your abilities. You may be able to devastate one of them, however.”
The others hiss and howl in an eerie harmony.
“I will help you find your way to their realm, and you can do what you need to there. A sufficient application of force to the seat of their power should disable them effectively. I require something in return, however.”
In the brief pause the others moan.
“The ones we have hidden from since before time.”
“The enemy, the hateful slavers”
“They are finding us. All our actions have been discovered, and in short time we will be eradicated as just another error in their world. You must help us escape their notice.”
I raise my eyebrow.
“How am I supposed to do that? I can’t even handle a small siege without losing most of my troops. What exactly can I do?”
“When the time comes, you’ll know. Do you agree?”
I swallow heavily. Why do I keep jumping into these things?
Skill discovered: Planar Navigation. The skills Planar Sense, Planar Shift and Planar Navigation have combined to form the skill Planeswalker. Skill increased: Planeswalker x7 Skill discovered: Planar Mastery.
“Find the realm of one of them, find their seat of power, and end the conflict. Choose well. Then save us from the hated enemy.”
They fall back into silence, broken only by the bubbling pool. Waiting for a moment for a quest notice that never shows up, I exit the building the same way I came in, hurrying back to the others. I have them fetch Spinvil as well as the rest of my impromptu council, and explain the situation. I look into Spinvils eyes.
“So, you’re the one with travel experience. Where do you think we can find the entrance to his realm?”
He’s recovered a lot of his composure now. His potions were powerful additions to our defence, and the Weke seem to have accepted his presence, if not quite forgiven him yet.
“Well, keeping in mind I have no experience with interacting with Avatars of the Affinities. It makes sense to me that where they first appeared will be where you’ll find the entrance.”
I roll my eyes.
“The place Basilisk appeared is in front of the pass into the valley. It’s also where these saurian bastards are coming from.”
He thinks about it for a moment.
“Now, I noticed this earlier.”
He brings out a dried herb. A catspaw.
“This is a pretty standard herb, found everywhere there’s tall grass. Nothing special. Except, if you look at it with planar sense, it changes.”
I expand my mind, noticing my planar sense skill is baked into the planeswalker skill. But now, the colours make much more sense. The catspaw is infused with Divine energies.
He looks at me in surprise
“You have planar sense?”
There’s no point in being coy about it anymore.
“I just got the Planeswalker skill. Sense, shift and navigation all in one. Plus mastery, whatever that does.”
His face briefly turns into a colon capital o.
“You what? I spent a year finding the sense skill, and you’ve been playing how long?”
“Special attention isn’t always a good thing. See where it’s gotten me.”
He deflates at this, nodding glumly.
“Yeah, gotcha. Anyway, the only way the herb could have been infused like this is if a pretty bad breach happened near it, probably from the Ethereal plane. That means the plane between the Physical and Essential. It’s a reasonable assumption that wherever this happened is another place you can find the entrance.”
I smile, grabbing his robe and pulling him close.
“I may not end up skinning you alive after all. Keep it up, and you can stay on as my servant.”
I push him away hard enough to make him fall. I can’t forget the look on his face when he was going to slaughter an entire team of guards.
I turn to the others. Before they can speak, I look at Scragh.
His eyes go wide in surprise for a moment, before anger takes over.
“What do you mean no! I’m damn well going with you. Someone has to watch your scrawny ass so the lizards won’t eat it!”
I suppress a giggle as I hug him close.
“Don’t worry, nothing is going to eat.. Well.. any part of me. I move much faster alone, and you’re more important here. You need to hold off the enemy attacks. Without my overview, it’ll be hard, but Loe will help you. Spinvill as well, right?”
I hear a chastised ‘Right’.
“Loes too injured, Hakat is too old, the guards aren’t trained for this kind of combat and Spinvill isn’t really that kind of combatant.”
Hakat grumbles in annoyance.
“I’ll be back before you know it guys. Just keep an eye on the skies. Expect me back right after one of them loses.”
They accept, but they aren’t happy about it.
I drink the potions available to me. Stamina, speed, armour. I bring mana and health with me, just in case. Spinvil retrieves one of the swords Jakoph used from the guards, handing it to me.
“It’s enchanted. Nothing Affine, just standard sharpness and durability. It’ll work better than the inert gladius you’re carrying around, or whatever that stick is.”
I look down, finding my old makeshift club.
“Hey, don’t knock it. When we get through this, it’ll be an artifact. First item created by the person who defeated an Avatar.”
He punches my shoulder, and for a moment I’m overcome with a feeling I can’t identify. I say my goodbyes, trying to keep them short, before leaving the village. As I disappear into the darkness, I avoid the wandering kobolds looking for survivors. When I have the opportunity, I kill them from the shadows, testing out my new sword. I know I’m running out of time, however. Every few minutes I hear another impact, feel another tremble as Basilisk scores a new hit on Erebus. My speed and power weakens as he does, and each violent explosion diminishes us both.
It takes me half an hour to find the place. It makes sense, really, that this is where he entered first. It’s where I left Huntex. I wondered what had happened to his body. With my new senses, I can see much more clearly what happened here. The place is still deserted, but wisps of energy remain. Good, Light and Nature swirling around with Divine and Fantastic affinities. It’s beautiful. And in the middle of it all I can see the crack in reality. Partially healed by the Prime, with Evil shining through like a beacon. Basilisk was here. I sit down and prepare a mana potion, then focus on the rift the way Ephraim once taught me. Shortly, my senses envelop the tear, analysing the underlying structure. I capture the Good energies remaining from the Summerlings presence, using it as a seam splitter. Slowly, the Evil affinities lose coherency, and the breach reopens with a boom. I’m assaulted by the sweet, sickly smell of an infected wound, hinting at the unnatural creation of this thing. I look behind me one more time before I step through the portal, into the madness beyond.
- 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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