Tales of the Underworld Contest

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  1. Fireangel

    Fireangel Avatar

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    UNDERWORLD TO THE SEA -

    "A song of stars, of silver stars, and one who fell below
    Into the sea, and came to land, to let her daughter grow.
    Beneath the sky, beneath the ground, a secret buried deep,
    She left her girl of silver hair to sing there in her sleep.
    Far from the stars the mother now shines up in the water,
    Silver starlight dust to lead a hero to her daughter.
    Oh! Long the lighted sky has shone unfurled through history,
    While here beyond the shimmering stars lay secret mystery.
    O hero fair! The darkness comes, the bleak and joyless Day;
    The underworld is climbing up, the Virtues fade away.
    O Avatar! We long have missed your foot upon our shore
    And in the dimming faith I add my voice to call you forth.
    But if of you I now do sing, oh will you come to me,
    Or will my voice be only like starlight upon the sea?" - Prophet Sterre

    Nota the Seventh, Arch of Oras Colony, let his lower lip protrude to show the youthful lore keeper his disapproval.
    Monereth felt no fear of Nota. He had been raised to understand the importance of lore keepers by the old ones of Oras. Not the official lore keeper of Oras yet, he must prove himself capable of the job. He ignored Nota's rejection, and drew himself up to his full height, placidly waiting. Arches were expected to display their dominance.
    Nota's gills quivered when he spoke again, though he was as slow and pointed with his words as ever. "Lore Keeper," he said with disdain, "you forget respect when you give your opinion."
    Yayneeb the Blue clicked with dryness in a nervous swallow. "Arch Nota, please--"
    Nota's brow lowered under blackening veins. "You are not to blame, but quiet yourself, Yayneeb."
    Monereth had waited long enough. "Arch Nota, let us not have a misunderstanding --"
    "Exactly," Nota interjected, "do not presume that you have arguments I have not considered. I am due more honor than this campaign you've led to discredit the conclusion I and The Six have rationally debated. The disaster is before us, and cannot be stopped. You resorted to name-calling in your speeches, opening The Seven to lose trust with the colony." He pointed a long talon at Monereth angrily. "Shame on you, Lore Keeper." Nota turned and moved to stare up through the water at the cavern above them. His long hands were clenched.
    "Come here, son. We stand in silver water now, while Breathers live apart in the world above, but black change comes. You're the keeper of history, so let me have my say in it."
    The lore keeper approached his elder casually.
    Nota unclenched a hand and let it gesture toward the cavern he'd been staring up at. "We all hear the song in the water. We know the Breathers have started it up again, and that it will bring more Breathers. We don't know that it will bring the Avatar, regardless of what anyone says. You do realize that the light in the water has dwindled greatly?"
    Everyone knew that was true. In many locations, the glow had faded completely, but even here, where it was brightest, the light of it no longer illuminated the shadows of the cavern ceiling. Spiders now made webs where none had ever been before this dimming.
    Nota frowned sternly. "The luminous substance, whatever it is, will cease to light our water. The evil from the underworld beneath us will come up in the darkness. We've already seen some of that. The lives of Oras Colony will come to an end; first by madness in the chaos, then by whatever comes to kill us in that chaos. That will be the end of our lore."
    "Isn't it possible that there are other ways for our people to adapt and survive?" Monereth asked quietly.
    "You should know better than most what lives in the lower parts."
    "I do. Yet we lived before the glow came into the water."
    Yaneeb cleared his throat. "That is true, Sire."
    Monereth stood his ground. "All of our people should decide whether or not we should prepare for the old ways."
    The Six were now murmuring to each other. The Seventh looked upon them with obvious exasperation.
    "Our lore holds the details of how our people lived in the darkness. If I could be permitted to share these details with our people, if we could practice some of these old ways, perhaps visit some of the old locations, what harm is there in trying to survive? I could present the information while still keeping you in a respectful light."
    Nota scoffed. "Where has the respect been thus far?"
    "I think I have been fair." Monereth leaned against a tall rock. "In my role as evil's advocate, I presented your side without bias. I didn't lump The Seven in with those of the doom prophets."
    "We are not in agreement with them," Nota said. "We consulted every possibility, including the Book of the Prophets, to gather information before coming to our conclusions. Facts have been found in their spiritual myths before, and it was also found at this point in history. As always, we see the design without coming to the religious belief that there is a Designer. The doom prophets, as you call them, do not approve of us any more than you and your followers approve of us."
    "Not all believers in the Book of Prophets are doom prophets. Many of us are optimistic of our survival, with the Designer's help. If we now separate as a people into those who believe we were created, and those who do not, our survival chances are much more bleak."
    "Bleak is the truth."
    "What if you are wrong?"
    "I am not wrong."
    "If you are wrong, no matter how minuscule the probability, do you suppose the Oras Colony will ever have use for The Seven again? Would any of your facts or wisdom have more respect than the lunatic rantings of the doom prophets?"
    The Seventh squinted at the lore keeper. "Explain how you expect to help our people learn all of the old ways before the chaos comes."
    "Many of us have already been secretly learning the old ways, Sire. Some of us have been scouting out the old locations -- we know it is against our laws -- and have found secure places to fortify ourselves. Some of us have been training for the fight against the lower underworld. Let those of us who are prepared help the rest of our people, including The Seven."
    Yaneeb blurted excitedly, "Sire, perhaps we can return to ancient ways. Even I have learned how to throw a spear with great accuracy."
    The Six exchanged looks with The Seventh. Nota looked suddenly very weary. The old one nodded slowly, coming to terms with his thought.
    "I will allow you to do as you like with your lore and your followers. Personally, I believe you shall be wasting your efforts, but so be it. There is no time to be at war with one another in these last days." He turned away from them all to look up again toward the large cavern above the water.
    Nireesh, one of The Six, spoke into the gloomy conversation. Her beauty, though aged, could still be seen. "We should tell Lore Keeper Monereth about the Shelter. Our colony should know that we also prepared to help them survive as long as possible."
    The Seventh groaned. "I suppose you want to tell them your other ideas as well? Spill out all of the lunatic plans now, Nireesh, before it is even time to go mad."
    "Now is the time to allow some freedom, isn't it? Some of us think there are better ways to survive than the old ways." She smiled shyly. "The facts do come out in the Book of Prophets, whether everyone agrees with those writings or not. What if there really is a great sea for us to live in, and a sky full of stars for us to live under, instead of these caverns?"
    Monereth was energized. "There's a formal Shelter?"
    Nireesh nodded. "Yes, but what do you think about the rest of what I said?"
    Nota pursed one side of his mouth. "Yes, are you going to move in with the Breathers above and live happily until the end of time?"
    The lore keeper laughed. "I wish that were a possibility, Sire."
    "Monereth," Nireesh nearly whispered, "does the lore teach anything of where the silver-haired girl might be hidden if she did exist?"
    "No. I guess you know the Book of Prophets says the Avatar will find her if anyone will. That's the only event that is supposed to stop the rise of the dark powers of the underworld, and that depends on whether or not the Avatar can stand against being corrupted. As far as the sea and the stars, I believe it when the Book of Prophets says they exist. Our lore doesn't hold any history except in the caverns, so I have no idea how we might go about making our way to the sea, but I'd be willing to try."
    "We all are going to be ready to try, I think, when the chaos starts. But if we wait until then--"
    "Hold on and stay put," Nota said firmly. "That's the best way to ensure that any of us survive, if there is a way. None of history teaches us about seas or stars or passages above. It does tell us what's coming for us. Maybe some of us can hang on until a better time. I believe the rest of it is for fools."
    Monereth looked around the room. Silently, they looked back at him. He realized they were all deep in thought and hoping for escape. He had no real hope to give them. "Arch Nota," he said, crossing his arms, "you're so certain that we're all going to die, and I'd like to really understand why you believe that. Explain it to me."
    "How can you ask me this with what we all know?"
    The lore keeper smiled in a friendly manner. "I'm not arguing. I understand what is supposed to happen. The light leaves the water, the evil comes out of the dark, the danger starts. Why are you certain we will all be defeated by it?"
    Nota sighed heavily. "The lore that exists about the time before we had luminous water is very sketchy. No one alive, or for that matter for three generations before that, has lived in the blackness that can be found in the lower caverns. We will not function, let alone survive.
    "Breathing becomes erratic, fear becomes overwhelming, and your eyesight will stop working if you're exposed to it for too many days. No one is immune to the kind of madness that will set in from that. Then you have the wicked creatures from below, and they will come up after us. Those creatures are strong and violent, while we ceased to have that kind of survival spirit long ago."
    Monereth rubbed his fingers on his arm. "I know you don't believe a star fell into the water to make it glow, but--"
    "That's a possibility, actually. Stars, if they exist, could fall from the sky, theoretically. Bits of rock fall from our caverns, and they sometimes have gems in them. These stars, whatever they might be, could fall, and one could have dropped the luminous rock into our waters. How a daughter comes into the myth, I have no idea, but it could mean something other than what is generally believed. If whatever 'she' is can be set 'free', by whomever this Avatar is, that might somehow seal the underworld creatures away from us. I don't pretend to know how, you understand." Nota shrugged.
    "I'll be," Monereth laughed. "You may not be such a heretic as you pretend, Sire. It isn't necessary that you have the same interpretation that others have of the words in the Book of Prophets, Arch Nota. It is only necessary that you believe the words to be true, and that you believe the Designer to be all He says He is."
    "Nevermind trying to convert him," Nireesh smiled. "Nota doesn't believe in higher powers than the mind, than thought, than nature."
    "The doom prophets have some interpretations that could help us, if they could be relied upon, but of course they cannot." Nota half-smiled.
    "What?" Monereth asked incredulously.
    The Seventh nodded. "Yes, since you spoke of differing interpretations being acceptable. They claim that these waters about us are guided by something called the moon, which is in the sky just as the stars are. There's supposed to be orbits of stars and the moon, or moons, depending on who's interpretation you believe. These seasons that we feel the heat and cold of below, are purportedly driven by the movement in the sky of these bodies in their orbits."
    Nireesh gasped. "I didn't know you let them tell you all of that. I feel confident that if we could use the measures and charts of some of the flooding and ebbing of our waterways, that we might be able to plot a way out to the sea above. Some of these things in the sky only happen cyclically. You have to wait for them to come again."
    "I've heard that," the lore keeper said, "but you must realize those sky words were said to other people than us. They were said to Breathers. Breathers make some kind of thing that carries them on top of the water of the sea."
    "That doesn't mean that we cannot get to the sea. Is there anything in the lore to map the flow of water in our caverns?" Nireesh sounded impatient. "We've got to get the Oras Colony out of here."
    Monereth turned abruptly to Nota. "I've seen the utter blackness of the caverns without the glow. I've felt the fear you've described. It was crushing, in some way. The thing that kept me from complete panic was the touch of the others with me. Of course, I knew that I could get out of the darkness. We could go back. It was sort of fun, being scared, when you knew you could get out of it, but--"
    "You will only be able to get close to the fires of the Breathers to get out of it once the water is gone, and the Breathers will probably leave," Nota proposed, "so what would anyone do then?"
    "If we built our own torches," Nireesh started, "but where would we keep getting more wood?"
    A crowd of the lower ranks of the Colony came into the underwater cavern, and spotting Nota, approached. They were angry and frightened. They bobbed their heads in respect, then drew nearer in a half-circle.
    The Seventh acknowledged his people with a returning bob of his head. "Something has happened?"
    Remil, one of the scouts, spoke. "We've been more cautious on our patrols since the song has been in the water all day, Sire. This causes our patrols to take longer. We've just found that more whole sections of water have lost their light. It is utter blackness in most of the caverns now, just two levels below us."
    A gasp went up at the news, and murmuring began anew.
    Remil cleared her throat. "That isn't all, Sire. This caused some of our people to panic. They despaired, Arch Nota. They -- four of our people -- sought out the Breathers to kill them. They said they would die in battle, and not in madness. They did die. They made first attack upon some Breathers, and didn't really put up a fight afterward."
    Nota glared. "Madness is what killed them, if they went to the Breathers and sacrificed themselves. That is not our way."
    Standing taller, Remil challenged, "It is not our way to cower and give up when disaster comes upon us either. We need our leaders to lead us, Sire."
    Arch Nota raised his aging brows, and tilted his head slightly at Remil. "Fair enough. I have heard enough. This is all coming to a finality. I am the leader at this time in our history, whether I will it or not. We are not Breathers, and cannot use fire in water. We cannot suddenly evolve and develop such abilities to glow. Do we even have time to do anything before the underworld comes upon us? These are debates your elders have been having within the Seven. Our answers have not been optimistic, to say the least."
    The old one sighed heavily. "What options we are left with are to survive as long as we can with shelter and supplies here, or to adventure out in exploration into the unknown. Whether the sea and the stars really exist, we do not know."
    Remil said, "Some of us know."
    "How do you 'know', Remil?" Nota asked rhetorically.
    She stated emphatically with her absolute faith. "I know!"
    "Yes, I thought so," Nota replied. "I suppose that to those of our people who 'know', for our colony to take up any decision other than the search of this promised sea and stars would be placing our souls in danger for all eternity. I wonder what happens to those who 'know' if we fail to find such a passage to such a place? Never mind answering, Remil. Let us hope that we will all survive to have such debates in the future. Very well. Lore Keeper, gather your resources, and let our scouts and the rest of us gather our supplies and what weapons we may. We will set out for the deeper waters of our caverns. It will be blacker and more dangerous than our worst imaginations. Yet we may find the sea. So let it be."
     
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  2. CaptainXJ

    CaptainXJ Legend of the Hearth

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    Excerpt from "Root Gallery"

    He knew he had made a mistake when he felt the second Lurker?s tentacle grasp his left ankle and sweep him off his feet. The sudden blow knocked the wind out of him and he felt his makeshift walking stick - currently his only weapon - go flying out of his hand. Try as he might, he could not catch his breath enough to yell for help. The Lurker was dragging him into the water at incredible speed, and the bard began to panic that he would be pulled under.

    Read the story in its entirety: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1QniJOqAd4hz6IiNJyz-0q694nmsCh9B4uZmavsra5UU/edit
     
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  3. Acrylic 300

    Acrylic 300 Avatar

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    Mind Flayer Passage

    ?YOU ARE NOT ME?! The young Paladin screams! A blood curdling echo falls across the cavern. This has become his routine. Realizing what he has done, and now yelling at his own reflection in the bloodied pool of water. Striking down hard at his image with a battle worn cudgel, then scurrying like a rat back into the darkest corner of the cave, away from the iridescent pool. Rocking back and forth, eyes darting wildly, chasing shades of insanity as they washed across his mind. Snickering madly and excitedly, nibbling crumbs of human remains from under his dirty bloodstained fingernails. The sweet stench of blood fills his nostrils as he grabs a handful of entrails from his fallen brother?s corpse and stands.

    Standing now, he drops the entrails. Still moving and contracting in protest of the cold hard rocky surface, the entrails finally settle. Then as if a new idea has crossed his mind he begins to shuffle back toward the pool; back to his own reflection. ?YOU ARE NOT ME!? He screams!

    With all of his will, he jumps head first through his own reflection in the blood filled pool. The chill is shocking. Oh! How clever, he has tricked himself! Now is his chance to end the pain. Diving deeper and deeper the pressure becomes more and more intense. How can pain be so comforting? Knowing the end is near brings comfort; the deep water pressure is comforting. The only sound in his head now is the pounding of his heartbeat, thumping relentlessly and then less relentless.

    The pressure on his body and mind feeling lighter and lighter. It barely takes effort now; he is flying, soaring upward. The Gods themselves caress his soul cleanse him from all sins. Born again, he crashes through the water?s surface and takes his first breath of air. Cleansed of blood, he chokes and spits and gasps for air.

    Memreck slid the memory orb back into the black pouch and into his robes as the ushers finished dragging the last of the unconscious students up the well-worn isle and out of the classroom.

    Memreck stared at the two remaining students for a long while before saying, ?This is how we salvage memories?. Then SLAMMING down the battered cudgel, He shouted! ?It all starts here?!

    As the student next to me slid out of her chair and on to the floor, the realization that I had just become Memreck?s apprentice slowly seeped in.

    --Memreck?s Apprentice
     
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  4. Acrylic 300

    Acrylic 300 Avatar

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    Mind Flayer Passage (final draft)

    ?YOU ARE NOT ME?! The young Paladin screams! A blood curdling echo falls across the cavern. This has become his routine. Realizing what he has done, and now yelling at his own reflection in the bloodied pool of water. Striking down hard at his image with a battle worn cudgel, then scurrying like a rat back into the darkest corner of the cave, away from the iridescent pool. Rocking back and forth, eyes darting wildly, chasing shades of insanity as they wash across his mind. Snickering madly and excitedly, nibbling crumbs of human remains from under his dirty bloodstained fingernails. The sweet stench of blood fills his nostrils as he grabs a handful of entrails from his fallen brother?s corpse and stands.

    Standing now, he drops the entrails. Still moving and contracting in protest of the cold hard rocky surface, the entrails finally settle. Then as if a new idea has crossed his mind he begins to shuffle back toward the pool; back to his own reflection. ?YOU ARE NOT ME!? He screams!

    With all of his will, he jumps head first through his own reflection in the blood filled pool. The chill is shocking. Oh! How clever, he has tricked himself! Now is his chance to end the pain. Diving deeper and deeper the pressure becomes more and more intense. How can pain be so comforting? Knowing the end is near brings comfort; the deep water pressure is comforting. The only sound in his head now is the pounding of his heartbeat, thumping relentlessly and then less relentless.

    The pressure on his body and mind feels lighter and lighter. It barely takes effort now; he is flying, soaring upward. The Gods themselves caress his soul and cleanse him from all sins. Born again, he crashes through the water?s surface and takes his first breath of air. Cleansed of blood, he chokes and spits and gasps for air.

    Memreck slid the memory orb back into the black pouch and into his robes as the ushers finished dragging the last of the unconscious students up the well-worn isle and out of the classroom.

    Memreck stared at the two remaining students for a long while before saying, ?This is how we salvage memories?. Then SLAMMING down the battered cudgel, He shouted! ?It all starts here?!

    As the student next to me slid out of her chair and on to the floor, the realization that I had just become Memreck?s apprentice slowly seeped in.

    --Memreck?s Apprentice
     
  5. Umbrae

    Umbrae Avatar

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    For easier reading and commenting:
    http://umbraes-tower.blogspot.com/2013/04/tale-of-underworld-freehand-fiction.html

    Can you guess this rare Ultima creature? :D

    Tale of the Underworld: The Freehand

    Torches crackled and spit as the group hustled down the tight cavern passageway. Discovering the series of fresh openings into the Underworld is what gave birth to such an ingenious plan. Positioned perfectly to prey upon the passing caravans that traveled along the road to the city all it took was a quick strike, a snatching of loose pouches and killing the strongest guards, to be followed by a fainted run back into the darkness. Always as predicted, those that remained would give chase to recollect their losses only to get turned around among the array of twisted tunnels. From there the band of thieves need only pick off their number, one by one, so they could return to plunder and kill whatever or whoever was left behind.

    This time one of them was able to lift a handsome sack of gems, but it was also host to a stronger contingent of people who were not so keen with its parting company. Such luck would now find them frantically darting toward plan B which led into a larger chamber buried along the interconnecting tunnels. With their loot stashed behind a small waterfall, this room contained many crevices and crannies in which to hide until their pursuers tired and gave up chase. The plan was perfect and had never failed.

    They were almost upon the cache when the first of their number began to scream. The scout's torch hit the wet cavern floor with a hiss. Just before it fizzled out the torchlight laid bare nothing but a severed arm. The mage among them quickly muttered a spell only for it to fail with a comedic popping sound and a harmless flash. Those that remained scattered into hiding wincing at the eery, wet mashing sounds they hoped was only the currents of the subterranean stream.

    The thief with the gem pouch gripped it tightly under his tunic, and ducked quickly into a small fissure along the cave wall. He could hear his comrades die one by one, like that of their past victims, only for the cavern to be drown in an ominous silence. Frozen with fear he struggled to control his breathing and remain as quiet as possible. As he waited and listened, the available light in the room slowly died as the last of the discarded torches lay sputtering on the dank cave floor. In the final flickers of light, he witnessed the gray stone of the wall before him slowly shift into a deep blood red. In horror he flinched as the wall cracked open in a large gape of teeth. Quickly, and in utter desperation, he plunged his dagger into the wall mouth and twirled the blade. There was a short yelp, like that of a kicked dog, as the mouth simply vanished into a puff of dust tainted by the strong odor of sulfur.

    The event was so bizarre he might have believed himself insane if not for the fact his hand and forearm were now encased within the fissure wall. As soon as he tried to move the pain overcame him. He could feel where his bone and flesh meshed with the rock, and even the smallest movement was agony. It was then, with perfect timing, that the cavern filled with the footsteps of his latest pursuing victims as he struggled to remain hidden and endure the tortured kiss of stone.

    ?What in the name of compassion happened here?? a voice echoed across the large chamber along with clanks and creaks of armor.

    ?I don't want to find out,? another voice boomed out in reply.

    ?Valor be with us, what a mess,? someone cursed. ?Let's search what's left of them and get out of here.?

    The room filled with the rebounding echos of chaos as the guard frantically searched the area. Beads of sweat curled off his face as the bone in his arm fractured slightly with every movement no matter whether a breath or shiver. He flirted with consciousness as the squad gathered their spoils and prepared to depart.

    ?No sign of the gems, but look at this,? he heard one say followed by the screech of twisted metal.

    ?That a breastplate?? quizzed another.

    ?I think so. Damn thing looks like it was gnarled by something.?

    ?Just keep moving,? murmured the echoes that faded as the company drifted away. ?We're going to get gnarled ourselves for losing that pouch.?

    He took some deep breaths and waited for his former dupes to gain some distance from his hiding spot. The bone had broken away from the stone while he had struggled to stay alert. Stumps of his radius and ulna rattled inside the flesh of his forearm as they grated against the rock. Carefully he reached for his other dagger and placed the sheathed blade in his mouth to allow him to grit through the pain. With a chuckle wrought from agony and fatigue, he pondered which was the greater loss, his hand or his primary weapon, both of which were buried within the wall before him. Biting down on the sheath he tore a strip of cloth from his tunic and twisted it around his embedded forearm. Slowly he positioned the dagger above his arm he took a moment to gather his strength. Sadly he was never good at carving harvest turkeys.

    So began Tom's journey in mastering the arts of the lefty, and the moment that would forever mark him as The Freehand. Returning with wealth only attainable as a sole survivor, he would become one of the first great pioneers of the Underworld. His enduring legacy, The Freehands, would become known as some the best sources of strange and rare oddities that the great darkness would have to offer.
     
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  6. Mishri

    Mishri Avatar

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    ?What do you think the old coot would do if he found out we were in his cave?? Thonel asked.

    ?Probably the same as last time, Ginlar would yell something about a drinekoth eating us and then fall down drunk.? Shaier said with a smile.

    Her brother grinned widely in remembrance as he pushed back his dirty brown mop of hair from his eyes, raising his lantern and peering into the darkness. They both blended in well with the rest of their village, brown hair and eyes wearing warn and dirty farm clothes. Shaier had even taken to wearing pants, despite their parent?s disapproval, but you don?t weed the garden in a skirt she told her mother when questioned. They were both small and skinny for their age, she at fifteen and he at thirteen.

    ?Maybe this time we can bring back that giant newt we saw.? Shaier said smiling.

    ?Eww, it was all white and slimy, and bigger than you! Besides, we are after real treasure this time, a sapphire or ruby is much better than a newt.? Thonel said.

    ?As long as some giant spider dragon thing doesn?t eat us first.? Shaier murmured.

    They both stopped walking, and looked around the darkness for creatures unseen. Thinking of the stories the old drunk farmer told everyone who would listen to him. He was exploring a cave set in a hill at the back of his field. It was small enough he had to crawl through it but it quickly grew larger so you could walk and then you couldn?t even see the walls from torch light. Jumping over streams and eventually a river with a bridge. Who made the bridge? How was he to know? But not much further he had found a diamond, near a sign that said beware of drinekoth. That was when he was attacked by a dragon-headed spider beast. He ran, barely escaping with his life. Despite the possibility of untold fortunes, he didn?t dare venture in again.

    ?Look!? Shaier cried with excitement, ?The newt!?. Her voice echoed throughout the cavern and Thonel saw floating in a large bend in the stream in front of them the giant newt, completely ignoring them.

    ?Shhh.. we don?t know what else is down here.? He cautioned.

    ?Come on, we both know Ginlar uses that story to scare people away from his treasure. He is just too drunk to come down here and find more.? She said confidently. Her darting eyes reveal her bravado as they jump over the stream.

    Their twin lanterns make a ghostly pair of burning eyes appear in the river before them and their breath catches as they see the small bridge the drunk spoke of. Her brother takes a firm grip on the pick-axe he brought and they proceed with small steps across the creaking bridge. After several steps and looking in all directions they let their breath out and grin at each other.

    ?Let?s find a wall and search it for gems.? Shaeir says in a hushed tone. Thonel nods and turns to their right. After several paces they find the cave wall. It is rough and brownish-red, he rubs at it and flecks of dirt fall off. He sets his lantern down and takes a look around before lightly tapping the cave wall with his pick-axe, scraping dirt and small rocks off.

    They both hear a skittering, scrambling, scuttling sound. He stops and looks around as she holds up her lantern. Nothing. She lowers her lantern when the sound is heard again. He takes a double grip on his pick-axe and looks into the darkness. A dragon?s head looms forward, it?s maw gaping with twin fangs glistening wetly. Gems and stones are lodged between it?s dull brown scales, their lanterns reflecting off of it to create a star filled night. They both put their backs to the wall and then they see it?s legs. A spider?s legs and body also covered in scales and stones both mundane and rare.

    Thonel raises his pick axe and lets out a cry, ?YAH!? before his swing can land the drinekoth pierces his shoulder with it?s front leg which ends in a large claw.

    ?NO!? Shaier screams.

    She hears a voice, booming loudly, ?Back beast! Back!?. From the side appears a middle-aged man, striding forward without fear. His unkempt beard hangs down to an old worn leather coat that reaches to the ground. His long silver-specked black hair is held back in a ponytail. Wielding an odd long spear with a hook near the end he makes jabbing motions at the drinekoth. It lets out a furious hiss and skitters away into the darkness.
    ?We must go quickly, before it returns with more!? He pulls Thonel to his feet and half-carries him away.

    ?Wait you are going the wrong way.? She says, pointing towards the bridge.

    ?No this way is safer, follow me.? The stranger says.

    They pass by a column in the cave and she can see scratched on its surface ?BEWARE OF DRINEKOTH? carved in the rock. ?A little late for that warning? Shaier mumbles.
    The stranger stops and pulls open a wooden door bound with iron set in the side of the cave. It opens to reveal a small room, a modest home with a bed, a fireplace, and a table. Shaier rushes to Thonel?s side inspecting his wound which is weeping dark blood from between his fingers as he clutches it.

    ?Will my brother be okay? Is the drinekoth?s claw poisoned?? Shaier questioned, concern covering her features.

    ?Hmm? Nah, that was merely a spyvern. Only it?s bites are venomous? he explained.

    ?What is the drinekoth then?? she asks.

    ?Oh... That would be me.? He flashes Shaier a toothy smile. His long coat begins pulsating. His sash falls away and the cloak opens, from his chest down is a mass of writhing tentacles, pink and orange, with suction cups, and bands of purple, they were actually beautiful. Thin as a wrist but numerous, moving about, curling around each other it was difficult to determine how many there were.

    Bang! Bang! The door shuddered as a voice from outside said, ?Drinekoth! We know you have the surface dwellers, let them go!?

    Disappointment covered Drinekoth?s face as he yells back, ?How am I to live on newt alone? This isn?t living!? He mutters other words lost to Shaier?s ears as he unbolts the door and opens it. There stood five other. That was when she noticed that their eyes weren?t just dark, they were solid black, and they carried no light with them as Drinkoth hadn?t either.

    ?Intelligent beings are not to be eaten, your banishment doesn?t change that. You should join the Deepwater clan if you don?t want us to stop you eating the two-legs.? Said a man with white hair hanging to his shoulders. His face was unlined but his old age was apparent on his expression and how he carried himself.

    ?Intelligent? Faw! Those giant lake squids that you all eat have more intelligence and are more like us than these two, venturing near the mouth of the spyvern lair like baby newts. You know I can?t stand the Deepwater as much as I can?t stand eating newts.? Drinekoth argued.

    ?We?ve had this argument enough, we wont hear it. Give them to us.? The leader said. Drinekoth looked resigned and stood aside as Shaeir and Thonel quickly scrambled out of the hut. Drinekoth closed the door and the leader motioned for them to follow him deeper into the caverns.

    ?I am Krindel, elder of clan Shoreline. Why have you risked your lives in the darkness, so far from your blinding topside?? asked their elderly leader.

    ?I am Shaeir, this is my brother Thonel. We were seeking treasures so we could escape our parent?s farm. They haven?t had a good crop in years and we no longer make enough to feed all of us.? Shaier said, Thonel could only grunt his agreement through the pain of his shoulder as they walked.

    ?Escape is it? Where would you go?? Krindel looked at her with an amused smile.

    ?Since I was a child and saw a sorcerer performing a light show for us, and healing our sick, I have dreamed of learning the ways of magic. But we had no money for training and the schools of magic are far away. Thonel has always dreamed of being Captain of a city guard, learning swordsmanship. The only thing people in our village know how to use is a hoe.? Shaier explained, her expressions changing from a dreamy hope, to the bitter reality with a frown.

    ?I see. Well, perhaps you have found your fortune and escape together. You see, we know the ways of magic. From what I understand it is different from the magic used on the above world, but if healing and light shows are your goal, we can surpass those if you have the ability and dedication. Our warriors have bested every man who has dared attack us in our homeland, you Thonel can receive the best training with us. I will admit that we will do this for you for selfish reasons. ? Krindel looked at them to gauge their reactions. The brother and sister were both looking at him with hope and desperation. He nodded and continued.

    ?We need liaisons with the above dwellers. They have been entering our lands more and more frequently, many of them attacking us on site. They call us monsters, we want them to know that we are known to ourselves as the Vasrelon, the transformed. We were once like you, which is why we speak the same language. We speak peace for our clan. But first, you must visit the Seer, it is custom.? As he finished Shaier realized that the cavern had grown brighter, still dark to her eyes, but clearly comfortable to the Vasrelon. Little frogs, fish, insects and fungus filled with a luminescence gave her just enough light for her to see beyond her lantern light, the features of the vast cavern, a massive lake with many dozens of huts made of mud and stone were staggered around the shoreline, where many of the Vasrelon were fishing and fashioning various objects that were completely alien to her. What function would a giant newt skin with many holes in it serve? Many of them paused in their work to eye her and Thonel. They stepped in front of one of the larger huts and Krindel opened the door, which was wooden. Where did they get all of the wood down here? She wondered.

    ?Not even announcing your presence? You must have something important.? An ancient Vasrelon with deep purple tentacles, the suction cups shriveled and dry looking, his voice cracking and wavering.

    ?You know that I do, as always; and as always, I wonder why you ask questions when you know the answer?? Krindel said.

    ?It wasn?t a question. But yes, we must begin. These are the two that I have seen. ? The Seer turned his face towards Shaier and Thonel, a milky glaze covered his black eyes. ?You are both going to learn our ways, and venture deeper into our world than any other human. You will become powerful? and dangerous...? The Seer looked away briefly before returning his gaze.

    ?You will protect our clan. During a great strife you will then venture forth to protect the entire underground world from the troubles of the surface world, where you will be humbled and learn the ways of your kind. This is when the two of you will be separated, never to be reunited. During your many travels you will suffer, you will be tested, and you will regret you took this path. I tell you this so you will make the decision you will make knowing the full implications.? The Seer said, the last sentences trailing quietly, as if knowing he needed to say the words but didn?t want to continue.

    ?Is this a magic you can teach me? Can I learn to see what will be?? Shaier looked at the Seer in awe.

    ?I cannot teach it. The vision is dangerous, some see only anguish, hurt, catastrophe and nothing else, they go mad from what they foresee. I cannot see that decision if you choose to make it.? The Seer warned.

    Thonel removed his hand from his shoulder, it appeared the bleeding had somehow stopped, and said grimly. ?I believe we are decided then, we will learn your ways.? Shaeir looked at him and nodded, her brother knew her mind and she would learn magic at all costs.
     
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  7. Sir Frank

    Sir Frank Master of the Mint

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    This has to be what they were talking about, said Sir Frank. It doesn't look like a door to me. Just a carving that kind of looks like a door in the lantern light.

    Markee Dragon squinted at the stone. The scroll didn't say carving. It said door. And it's right here where the scroll said it would be. It has to lead somewhere.

    Maybe it's just a carving that represents a door for some ancient ritual, Frank replied. Look how tight these seams are. A door that fits this tight could never be opened.

    Markee ran his fingertips lightly across the center of the carving. Do you see these runes here?

    Frank leaned forward. All I see are scratches. Could be anything.

    Markee stroked his beard and mumbled to himself, then announced, They look like runes I've seen before. Not exactly the same, but very similar. There are some here that are new to me. I wonder what they say.

    Frank shrugged. Don't know. I don't read runes, but never mind. I brought a key that should open just about any door. He put down his pack and unslung a mining pick.

    Markee raised his eyebrows. That's your plan? Just hack our way through?

    Yes, said Frank, and why not? I've been working stone for years. We'll get through this kind of stone in no time. If this is a door, we'll soon see what treasures it conceals.

    Well, let me copy the runes before you obliterate them. Markee put his pack down and dug out a book, ink, and quill, and began to carefully scribe. What if it is a door, but isn't here to keep people out? What if it's keeping something in?

    Nonsense, laughed Frank. What could live down here, sealed up for only the gods know how long?

    Well, I'm not sure, Markee answered, but I don't want to think about the possibilities.

    You read too many old stories, Markee. We didn't come all this way just to turn back without trying. I wasn't knighted for being cowardly. Frank began loosening up his shoulders, taking some practice swings with the pick.

    Markee snorted, Ha! I know why you were knighted, old man, and it turns my stomach.

    Frank roared with laughter. Well somebody has to do the unpleasant things! And I was well rewarded! If you are finished, stand back and let a man work.

    With a mighty heave, Frank swung the pick toward the door.

    A brilliant flash of white light blinded Markee while a clap of thunder rang through his skull. As his vision returned to normal he could smell burning wood and flesh. Frank lay sprawled on the floor, his hands blackened and bleeding still curled around a non-existent pick handle. Bits of charred wood all around the floor are burned from orange to grey. Near the door, the crumpled iron head of the pick cooled from white to orange-red.

    Markee knelt beside his old friend, and looked for signs that he was still breathing. Are you alive? he asked in a worried voice. Frank groaned. Digging into his pack, Markee found some bandages and began carefully wrapping Frank's mangled hands.

    Frank slowly opened his eyes. What happened?

    Some sort of magic ward, I'd guess, answered Markee.

    I can't feel my hands. Frank looked down as Markee kept wrapping. Well, at least they're still there. Mostly.

    Markee looked the door over. There's no mark from your pick. We need to get you back to town and have somebody take a look at your hands. I'll see if I can figure out these runes.

    Weeks later, Markee pounded on Frank's door. I've figured it out! I know how to open the door!

    Well, most of the feeling has returned to my fingers, Frank said, closing and opening his fists. We may as well try again. I hope you know what you?re doing.

    Frank and Markee returned to the cave and made their way to the bottom.

    Markee approached the door. Frank heard him make unintelligible mumbles.

    With a loud crack the door started to move. It receded into the wall of the cave and then swung open revealing a vast cavern. Inside, streams of water trickled down from cracks in the wall and ceiling, over and around magnificent rock formations, collecting in a small stream that ran away from the doorway into the distance. Almost every surface was covered in a layer of moss that glowed in different hues, drowning the dim light of the oil lantern. The hint of a path ran down to the stream and to a bridge leading across where the path continued on the other side.

    Frank gaped in awe. A bridge. You were right. Somebody made this place, and it must lead somewhere.

    The pair stepped through the door and into the cavern. As they descended toward the bridge, the stone door ground shut behind them.

    Markee turned back toward the door and spoke a few arcane syllables, and the door slowly opened once again. Well, that's a relief. Whatever happens, we aren't trapped.
    How do I get out if anything happens to you? asked Frank.

    You better make sure nothing happens to me! Hehehehehehe, Markee tittered. Oh, I'll teach you. After several attempts and corrections, Frank managed to activate the door.

    It's unnatural for a man to make those kinds of sounds, Frank complained. I hope there is no need for me to learn more. Magic? It's just wrong.

    Markee shook his head. Magic is a tool just like a mining pick or smith hammer. It just takes study and practice. And a fair bit of intelligence. Shall we go?

    No longer necessary, the oil lanterns were extinguished and put away. Frank tested the bridge, and finding it to be surprisingly sturdy, stepped across to the other side. Markee followed, and they carefully followed the path along the underground stream. After a couple of hours, the path seemed to split, one branch looking pretty much the same as other. In the fork stood a stone pillar with three flat surfaces carved on the sides.

    Markee scraped aside the glowing moss and found runes etched in the flat surface of stone. These appear to be names. I don't recognize this one, but this other seems to say Braunfels, which is the name of an ancient town that used to stand near where our village is today. The one on this side seems to say Coldwater. I've never heard of Coldwater.

    They're road signs? Frank asked.

    Markee nodded. I think so.

    Frank looked down each path, and back at Markee. Care to visit Coldwater?

    Again, Markee nodded. Sure! I'll wager it's an interesting place.

    About every two hours, the path split again. At each intersection there was a pillar with runes. The duo followed the path to Coldwater at every turn. Around what felt like midday, the two stopped for a rest.

    Frank spread out a tarp, dug a trail biscuit out of his pack, and refilled his canteen from the stream. Reclining on his pack, he looked down the path from where they'd come. The glowing fungus covering the floor had been crushed in their footsteps, but still glowed, perhaps a little less brightly. His gaze could follow their trail into the distance until the twists and turns hid it from his view. He had been keeping an eye out for evidence of anyone, or anything else passing through this underground world, but hadn't seen anything yet.

    Markee settled on the tarp facing their direction of travel. He pulled up some of the fungus at the edge of the tarp and examined it while they rested. These caverns were so vast and seemingly empty.

    Frank broke the silence. Six hours down this path with nothing but the sound of dripping water. I suppose that's better than something trying to kill us, but still makes for dull adventure. We brought enough supplies for three days, and as long as we have this source of water, we could last for about a week. I hope it doesn't take longer than that to find Coldwater, and that it?s worth the trouble.

    Another half day and several more turns of the path, just as the two are starting to consider camping for the night, the path inclined sharply up and ended in a wall. Sliding his fingers through the slime Frank found a vertical groove and followed it, tracing out the shape of a doorway. Markee swept away the moss in the center of the door and found the runes he was hoping were there.

    Coldwater. Markee turned and grinned. It looks like we have arrived. Do you want to try to open it?

    Frank spoke the difficult words. On the third attempt the door trembled and scraped into the cavern, revealing a pitch black tunnel sloping up. The two dug out their oil lanterns and started up into the tunnel. They don?t go too far before going around a slight bend in the tunnel and saw a faint light in the distance.

    As they approached, they saw the tunnel was filled with rubble, except near the ceiling there was a fist-sized opening allowing dim light into the tunnel.

    Climbing onto the rubble, Markee peered through the hole. It's the sky! I can see the stars, but I can't see where we are.

    Frank sighed, Well, I'm exhausted. We seem to be safe here. There's a closed door at the bottom of this hole, and nothing bigger than a rat can come in at this end. Let's get some sleep, and we can dig our way out in the morning.

    Markee looked outside and examined the stars for a long moment, then picked up a large rock from the pile and covered the hole with it. That should keep the rats out. You know, there's something odd about the stars. They aren't where they're supposed to be. They're off slightly.

    Maybe you're just tired? said Frank, spreading the tarp out on the ground. We can figure it out in the morning. He reclined on his pack, and put his sword in easy reach, just in case.

    Markee watched the flame of the oil lamp for a while and calculated star movements in his head until he fell asleep.

    A few hours later, Frank awoke to see sunlight around the edges of the rock Markee had placed in the hole. He roused Markee from his slumber, and then unstrapped the mining pick from his pack. It took just a few minutes to shift enough rubble to make a head-sized opening. Frank stuck his head through and saw the tunnel was in a small, thickly overgrown canyon. Several minutes work later, the opening was large enough to wiggle through, and the explorers pushed their way into the brush toward the opening of the canyon.

    As they emerged from the brush, they saw in the distance portions of a curtain wall and spires of a castle they recognized.

    Markee exclaimed New Britannia! That's a three day trip in good weather.

    Frank blinked his eyes several times. I see it, but how could that be We were only down there a day and a half.

    Markee was grinning from ear to ear. Isn't the world full of wonders! Did we just discover a safe and much shorter route from one town to another? The other passages probably lead all over this land! Suddenly, I can see expanding my business! We'll be in town by lunchtime. Drinks are on me!

    Weaving their way out of the canyon, they startled a hermit standing at the entrance to a small cave. He looked puzzled at the pair emerging from the canyon, not having seen them go in. He opened his mouth to speak, and with a crackling voice asked, Wanna buy a duck?
     
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  8. Archaaz

    Archaaz Avatar

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    The Expedition

    Noor sat silent and still upon a high outcropping overlooking the town of Niverale, nestled in the distant valley below. The sun had not yet pierced the horizon, and the world was still bathed in the gray miasma of early morning. A sudden late autumn breeze whistled down from the mountains above, and she pulled her woolen cloak tighter against the chill.

    Her perch afforded a splendid view of the town, spread out along both sides of the narrow valley, split by the gentle river Vuryn- a river that would slow to a frozen trickle with onset of the winter snows, and swell to a raging torrent with the spring thaw. Smoke from a hundred chimneys curled upward, dissipating wistfully into the pale, predawn sky.

    Noor had come to this town, to this world, a little over a year ago, by her calculations. She reflected on the world she had left behind- friends, family- lost to her now. The recollection brought with it the faint ache of mourning, for in that bygone world she had loved and been loved, had harbored great dreams for the future, had amassed an endless collection of cherished memories. Yet, the longer she remained in this new land, the dimmer those memories became, the weaker her ties to that previous existence. She was happy here. As strange as the notion seemed, she <i>belonged</i> here. She thought of that first day, the day of her sixteenth birthday, when she had gone to sleep in one world and awakened in another, and, as always happened when she recalled that time, her thoughts turned to the old gypsy woman-

    ?You?re early.? The words roused Noor from her reverie. It took her some moments to recognize the voice of her friend Jansa, dressed in the soft brown robes that marked her as an apprentice of the Mages? Guild.

    ?I wanted to watch the sunrise.? said Noor.

    ?Wish granted.? said Jansa, gesturing toward then horizon as the first blinding sliver of sunlight broke above the distant mountains. The two friends stared in rapt wonder as the golden orb made its leisurely ascent, igniting the clouds in a dazzling conflagration of violet, crimson and orange.

    ?Any trouble getting away?? asked Noor.

    ?None whatsoever. My studies are finished, for a time at least. Two blessed weeks of freedom.?

    ?And what do they teach you, all cloistered away in that tower?? Noor had not seen her friend in the three months since she had been inducted into the Mages? Guild, and was curious about her new life.

    ?Magic, of course.?

    <i>Of course,</i> thought Noor. But Magic? Real magic? The idea was too ludicrous to entertain- her own situation, and the events that had brought her to this world notwithstanding. ?Can you pull a rabbit out of a hat??

    ?A rabbit from a hat?? Jansa?s eyes widened a bit as she rubbed her chin in contemplation. ?That is indeed powerful magic, though of perhaps dubious practical use. I am afraid we have yet to begin our lessons in conjuring. Is this what the wizards of your homeland practice, then? Rabbit summoning? Yet you are no mere Rabbit Summoner, Noor of the Southlands, but a warrior, born and bred. ?

    ?Me a warrior? Hardly. Why would you think that? You know I am but a poor farmer?s daughter.?

    ?What?s this then, at your side?? said Jansa, indicating the scabbard affixed to Noor?s belt.

    ?Oh, this.? Noor blushed. She had forgotten the sword. ?If you are determined to go through with this insane plan, I thought I should have at least some form of defense.? She had borrowed the blade from her foster father, Estan Burwood, the blacksmith of Niverale, though she had neglected to tell him quite yet, about either the sword or this little adventure. Under his guidance she had even assisted in its forging. It was a fine, sturdy blade with few frills, but balanced and keen.

    ?Prudent, indeed,? said Jansa. ?But a sword is only as useful as she who wields it. Have you any experience with such a weapon??

    ?I have been practicing with Roderic in the evenings, when his duties are finished.?

    ?A finer teacher could not be hoped for,? said Jansa. Noor thought she could perhaps detect a hint of jealousy in the young mage?s tone, but could not be certain.

    ?That?s what I keep telling her.? A man?s voice. ?For her sake, I hope she doesn?t believe me.? The pair turned to find Roderic himself ascending the trail toward them, his strong, broad-shouldered frame clad in a lightweight suit of chain mail. His own sword, far superior to Noor?s, hung at his side in a fine scabbard.

    ?Ah, Sir Roderic.? said Jansa. ?The final member of our little excursion.?

    ?Not sir,? said Roderic.? Not yet. Just a humble squire.?

    ?Humble?hrmph. Speaking of lessons perhaps you could stand a few on humility from your pupil.? Noor blushed at the praise and stared down at her shoes.

    Roderic smiled at Jansa?s teasing and Noor?s embarrassment. ?I would no doubt benefit from such tutelage. Alas, my duties are many, and the days are short. And besides, I have other qualities that might be hindered by the addition of humility. Do you have the map??

    ?Aye, that I do.? Jansa produced a scroll from her robes, and unfurled it to reveal a map, copied in her elegant, meticulous script. ?It was no small feat procuring this copy. The High Mages do not readily part with their knowledge. The original was secreted away in a forbidden section of the library. Fortunately, a young scribe owed me a favor.?

    The map revealed that the distance was not long, but the way was steep. It took them some time to root out the trailhead, which was had long ago fallen into disuse and was overgrown, nearly indistinguishable from the surrounding forest.

    The group ascended the narrow trail, following Jansa?s map. As they climbed, the dense forest gradually turned to scrub, and finally the landscape grew barren, dotted only with sparse clumps of grass and the occasional lichen-covered boulder. Roderic took the lead, playfully slashing away at invisible enemies as he practiced the various attacks, parries and feints of his craft. <i>Still more boy than man,</i> thought Noor as she admired the strength and precision of his movements.

    At length the path evened out and crossed a stone bridge above a precipitous chasm before rising again on the other side. Jansa stopped at a small grouping of stones, the ruins of an ancient shrine. She knelt, placing one hand on the shrine. The other she brought to the small pendant she wore on a simple length of string around her neck. She appeared to utter some words, though Noor could not make them out, and then rose and followed Roderic across the bridge and up the sloping path. As she passed the crumbling monument, overgrown with the weeds of neglect, Noor saw that it was marked with a series of unfamiliar runes, worn smooth by time and the barely remembered caresses of untold pilgrims.

    At last they came to the narrow mouth of a cavern. A well worn stone stairway lead down into impenetrable darkness.

    ?I don?t like this,? said Noor, peering into the gloom.

    ?Sir Roderic, make note of the Lady Noor?s trepidation.?

    ?Trepidation noted.? said Roderic, not bothering to look up from his work. He had laid out three torches from his pack, and was busy lighting one with his tinderbox. After some strikes of flint on steel, the torch flickered to life. He handed a torch to each of his companions and lit them with his own.

    ?Remember, Noor,? said Jansa. ?You are a warrior.? With this the mage disappeared into the cave and down the stairs. Roderic trailed her. Turning back to Noor, he mouthed the word ?warrior? with as serious a look as he could muster.

    Noor sighed and followed her companions into the narrow grotto and down the staircase into the bowels of the world.

    The stairs descended some hundred feet, ending in a long passageway, which in turn branched into a number of winding tunnels. Jansa marked the walls with various runes, thus leaving them a path back to the surface.

    As they meandered through the snaking cavern, Noor?s thoughts returned to the day of her arrival in this strange new land. She awoke in a dewy meadow, the morning sun still low in the sky. Disoriented, perhaps still thinking herself in the throes of a dream, she cast about for any sign of habitation. The wind carried the faint strains of music. As if in a trance, she followed the sound, through the meadow, across a dusty road, and into a copse of pines. There, in a small clearing, she found a camp of brightly painted, covered wagons. The music drew her to the largest of the wagons, which she entered through a small door.

    Inside the wagon, at a small table, her face illuminated by a single candle, sat an elderly woman. She beckoned Noor to sit and offered her a cup of tea. In a voice like faded parchment, she explained to Noor that her old life was over, and that she was never to speak of it to anyone. She announced that they would invent for her a new past. She had been the daughter of farmers from the far south whose homestead had been overrun by bandits. Noor had been the only survivor.

    Noor accompanied the caravan north, to Niverale, where the old gypsy introduced her to Estan and Stredda Burwood, who took her in as if she were their own child. In parting the woman kissed Noor on he forehead with thin, velvety lips, reminding her silently of her promise to keep her past to herself.

    Since that day, Noor had thought on more than on occasion that she recognized something familiar in the face of a passerby, a secret connection, though she had kept her promise and not once revealed her true history. She recalled the ranting of a man some six months ago, claiming to have come from another world. He was never seen in Niverale again.

    Noor?s thoughts returned to the present as the group rounded a tight bend, and the passage opened onto a broad platform. Closer inspection revealed it to be a ledge overlooking a vast abyss. What they saw next struck the three of them mute with awe. In the middle of the void, suspended by unknown means, floated the remains of an ancient fortress.

    A cursory examination failed to produce any means of bridging the gap between the ledge and the fortress. Further inspection was delayed as a terrible cry rent the still air of the cavern. From out of the gloom emerged a creature Noor could not have imagined in her most horrifying nightmare. A great bloated head rested on a squat, powerful torso, its hide matted with coarse, black fur. In one knobby hand it held an enormous club riddled with cruel spikes. With a fierce roar the creature raised its mighty weapon and lunged at Noor.

    The beast was fast, but Roderic was faster. In an instant he had positioned himself between Noor and the creature. Shield upraised, sword drawn, he prepared for the assault. The creature swung, even as Roderic ducked, the mighty club missing the top of his head by mere inches. Roderic retaliated, striking the creature a glancing blow to the shoulder, unable to penetrate its thick hide. Enraged the creature swung hard, splintering Roderic?s shield and sending the young squire hurtling through the air to land in an unmoving heap on the cold stone floor.

    Noor cried out as her companion fell. Its attacker dispatched, the creature refocused its attention on her. She was aware of a faint chanting behind her as she fumbled for the sword at her side. The voice was undoubtedly Jansa?s, though the words were in no language Noor had ever heard. As the beast advanced, the acrid smell of sulfur filled Noor?s nostrils. A ball of brightly colored light exploded near the creature?s head. It shrieked as if struck, bringing it?s clawed hands to its face to ward off the burning in its eyes. Blinded, it stuck out wildly in all directions, narrowly missing Noor with a broad sweep of its club. She at last managed to draw her sword, but stood terrified, transfixed by the flailing beast.

    As its blindness wore off, the creature turned again to Noor, raising its club high over its head. Her heart sank in her chest. Her knees buckled beneath her. More spidery chanting from behind, the fetid breath of the creature replaced by the smell of garlic and a nauseous odor she could not identify. Noor closed her eyes, bracing herself for the coming blow that would, in all likelihood, end her life. The blow never came. After some moments Noor dared to open her eyes. The creature stood in the same pose, club upraised, face frozen in a snarling grimace of rage.

    ?That?s much better than a rabbit from a hat.? she muttered, her voice weak from a mixture of fright, awe and relief.

    ?Quickly,? cried Jansa, her own voice ragged with exhaustion. ?Kill it! The spell?s effects are but temporary, and I do not have the energy to cast another.?

    Despite Jansa?s warning, Noor hesitated. She knew that she should strike while the beast was still vulnerable, yet a certain reluctance stayed her hand. She had never killed anything, much less something in such a state of helplessness. She forgot momentarily the dangerous beast of a few minutes? past, and instead focused on the flesh and blood reality before her.

    ?Damn it, Noor! What are you waiting for? Strike. Even now I can feel life returning to the beast?s limbs.?

    Still Noor hesitated. Her grip on her sword tightened. She glance back at Roderic, unmoving, possibly dead. With an act of will, she quieted the pounding of her heart, stilled her mind, summoned her courage. She could hear Jansa shuffling toward her, and thought she saw the creature?s nose twitch.

    ?Strike!?

    Noor?s indecision shattered in an instant. She thrust upward with both arms, burying her blade to the hilt in the soft flesh of the creature?s neck. Shocked by the suddenness of her action, the finality, she released her grip on the sword. Reeling backward, she slipped on a slick patch of stone and sat down hard upon the unforgiving cavern floor. She sat in the flickering of the torchlight, awaiting the gush of blood that must surely follow such a wound, yet the creature stood frozen, her sword jutting from its neck.

    Suddenly the spell expired, releasing a surge of foul smelling gore onto the ground and splattering the front of Noor?s tunic. She was surprised to find that the blood was red, like her own. The creature, quite dead from the wound in its neck, and freed of the spell?s effect, lurched forward. Noor leapt out of the way, narrowly avoiding being crushed as the creature fell heavily to the ground.

    With the beast slain, the two young women rushed to the barely unconscious Roderic. Jansa examined his wounds, determining that the pain in his ankle was the result of a sprain rather than a fracture, and that, while his shield had absorbed the brunt of the impact, his arm was quite bruised and swollen, not to mention a bloody mess. She fashioned a sling for his arm from a bit of her robe, and applied a poultice to his wounds.

    The condition of Roderic?s ankle made walking impossible, so Jansa and Noor supported the young man between them, each offering a shoulder. Though they strained under his bulk and the added weight of his chain mail, they managed to lift him. Noor held the single remaining torch. As they passed the fallen creature, Noor spied something glinting in the torchlight. Leaving Roderic in the temporary custody of Jansa, she bent to investigate and discovered a small pouch filled with gems and gold pieces, which she stuffed into the pocket of her tunic.

    Slowly, cautiously, the three young adventurers made their way back to the surface, hoping all the while that they would not encounter another of the creatures- or worse- amid the winding tunnels. Jansa?s runes glowed a faint silver, easy to follow by torchlight, though supporting Roderic between them made negotiating the narrow passages a tedious, awkward affair. Hours passed as they inched their way ever closer to freedom.

    They came at last to the staircase, and ascended into fresh air and sunlight. Relieved, they rested on the sparse grass. Jansa checked Roderic?s bindings as Noor prepared a hasty meal of cheese and stale bread she had brought from home.

    ?It appears you were right after all,? said Jansa. ?This was little more than a fool?s gamble, born of the wild recklessness of youth. And dangerous besides. We could have- should have- been killed down there.?

    Noor?s thoughts were still far below ground, lost among winding subterranean passages, lingering among the ruined glory of the underground fortress. They had survived the adventure, if not entirely unscathed, at least without permanent injuries. The treasure she had taken from the creature, even split three ways, was a small fortune. She could repay, at least in part, the debt of gratitude owed to her new foster family; a new bellows for the smithy, a heavy winter cloak for Estan, a fancy new dress for Stredda- and for Leana, her young foster sister, a new doll. She held a particularly large ruby up to the sky, admiring its radiance in the light of the afternoon sun. ?Next time,? she said. ?We will be better prepared.?

    Her companions looked at her in surprise. ?Next time?? they said in unison. The trio?s laughter followed them down the valley, toward the distant rooftops of home.

    (2989 words, including title, according to Works)
     
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  9. Hazard

    Hazard Avatar

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    Tales of the Underworld: The Antechamber

    Luminescent lantern-light glittered off the gypsy's dilated pupils as he peered intently into the underground dark-water abyss, knees wedged in a kneeling position against the sides of his small handmade wooden skiff. Determined, the man methodically pulled up the slack from a rope that tailed into the deep, coiling it swiftly but carefully onto a nearby limestone outcropping.

    A small string of glowing orbs materialized from the depths of the seemingly never-ending natural water well, the gypsy plucking them out of the drink one by one, water from the thick glass globe lanterns sloshing about as the lichen inside provided a soft steady aquamarine glow.

    At the very end of the rope, a figure arose forth out of the watery dark.

    Breaking the surface, a pale diminutive hand thrust up and sideways, deftly swinging a small net filled with rocks onto the prow of the boat. Quickly following was the matted raven black hair and large brown eyes of a sopping wet woman of gypsy descent, rapidly gasping for breath in the thick cave air.

    ?You alright Viessa??, the man on the skiff asked. ?Any luck??

    She quickly nodded while still short of breath, deftly emptying the contents of the netting onto the floor of the small boat. ?Got a few more this time Xel. Give one a try!?

    Flashing a gap-toothed smile, Xel grabbed one of the dripping oval shaped rocks, held it aloft and slowly turned it, deliberately striking it against the nearby stone outcropping just so. Hoisting one of the water lanterns out of the slow-moving underground river, he held it up to the almost perfectly halved rock, the blue agate geodesic stone on the inside matching the wet agate and lightly glowing pendant encircling Viessa's neck.

    Xel gazed wide eyed at the haul. ?Yah. That?s a real beaut, will likely keep us from the old sketchy contraband byway for a quick month, no doubt. Here?s to hoping the others are uhh.. sellable.

    ?Fortune comes in with the tide? Viessa exclaimed grinning from ear-to-ear. ?Let?s get you back to the torch-work before that tide turns?

    The pair slowly waded out from the small recessed grotto off a large natural antechamber, a few blind cave fish darting away from the duo as they pulled the skiff to shore and beached the light craft far above the high waterline for next use. Hiking slightly up an incline and through a wavy and semi-slippery stone path, they both emerged into a large natural antechamber, one of the wondrous spectacles in this region of the world.

    ____________________________

    Xelander, Viessa and their father had landed in the subterranean cave system underneath one of British?s towns years ago. Their father Tellish was part of the gypsy enclave, a blacksmith and miner by trade, but had eventually gravitated toward a life in the upper cave system, marrying another one of his ilk from the Northeast early in his life. She had passed while the children were young, and their father eventually moved his trade in stages to take advantage of the well-trod entryway to the entrance to the dark Catacombs, ?New Britannia?s? alternative byway for those travelers of independent spirit.

    The family settled themselves in the entrance Antechamber to the main system of caves, quickly earning a monopoly on selling last minute supplies to those who were venturing into the depths. They peddled light sources, salves and natural herbs from the area, as well as items made from the stone and geodesic material they found throughout the upper system of caves. Viessa often fashioned these into small curios, dipped in water and smeared with natural bioluminescent; temporary glowing good luck charms for the long journeys and dangers ahead. A makeshift immovable gypsy wagon was also constructed on-site years past to add to the mystique and help sell whatever goods they could get their hands on.

    The Antechamber was reachable at the edge of the town over a thousand yards above, through a system of heavy stone doors, down several flights of roughly hewn torch-lit staircases, eventually heading to a small chokepoint and narrow tunnel leading directly to a heavy locked grate directly at the chambers entrance. Not too far beyond this point, the wagon sat, looking like the entrance to a great Carnival, the last stop before the oddities and assorted subterranean horrors of the Underdark began. All that was missing here was a Carnival barker selling tickets, especially apparent now that their jovial and larger-than-life father had passed. A few empty campsites also graced the area for those adventurers, merchants and sometime search parties or rescuers waiting for passage back to the surface. On the cave wall opposite was a large bass relief of a serpentine dragon, carved by their father as a cue point to tell tales, but marked up over time with the rough graffiti of those travelers who briefly stopped for a momentary rest to await the daily opening of the grate.

    Xelander and Viessa naturally took days on the surface as well, but would occasionally spend long stints in the upper cave system hunting for natural treasures, exploring every tunnel and chamber, and mapping out those alternative passages to the surface in case danger ever hit and they were locked in. Once a day, just before low tide and darkness took its hold in the cave system, the townsfolk would open the large stone doors and send a guard to open the grate, allowing parties of adventurers or any other person who paid the entrance fee to enter the town above. At this time two volunteer guards stationed further down into the Catacombs a bit past the Antechamber would swap positions.

    Many of the stories of the Catacombs would naturally pass to the siblings ears as those passing through were eager to tell them their needs, which strung along into stories of what these travelers had been up against. Those who were fortunate enough to return boasted about minor successes and gloated about utter misfortunes.

    From what the siblings gathered, the Catacombs apparently stretched the breadth of ?New Britannia? running underneath several inhabited towns and more than likely, underneath large bodies of water. While upper paths were a little less dangerous to trod, those that descended lower weren?t really cleared or mapped out and seemed to be reserved for the more foolhardy spirit to literally exorcise some demons with. Tales poured in of the various bandits, cutthroats and religious cults and guilds spread throughout the dark as well as tales about the rough-hewn dungeons filled with trapped treasures and crypts containing unspeakable undead horrors. There was a rumored underground city elsewhere in the world outside of British?s influence and countless souls had also told of wandering off the mapped route; wisp-chasers and all. Many travellers were picked off by living fungi, giant centipedes, spiders, and hordes of other lurking beings and their micro-societies

    The few surrounding leagues were fairly mapped out. Most of the those who returned from local excursions told grandiose tall tales of the wingless six-legged dragon Slythix and his reptilian minions, as well as the strange half-breed Vulc(ifar) who was rumored to oversee the Bloodrock orc mine and slave encampment; his hounds of hell not far from his side. Some say he was a fallen monk or maybe an escaped convict, while others swore he was pure demonic. One miner was heard joking, ?I reckon if he weren?t demon, them dogs wouldn?t be lickin all over his face with flames shootin? out of their mouths?.

    ____________________________

    Returning to their little rustic wagon and attached outdoor workshops, Xelander and Viessa quickly cleaned up, dined lightly near the campsite on some dry goods from town, leaving Xel to fashion torches in his workspace for the various souls that would presumably be coming down in the morning.

    Planting herself down on a small wooden workbench, Viessa took quick inventory of her small jeweler?s toolbox, before turning it over and carefully sliding off a secret partition to keep the poison needle spring intact within. The small ornate box is where she kept some of her smaller prized curios, but tonight she was looking for something specific. Slowly emptying the contents of the pouch into her palm revealed a jet black ankh on a leather cord, the symbol being comprised of rare dense rock that would never scratch and inset with a small beautiful red gem at its center. Her father had given it to her years ago for luck, something he had bartered off an underground traveler coming back out of the Underworld, the returning party having been literally decimated.

    Last night?s visitation by one of the monks of the Underdark had been a curious one. While travelers will see some of the cowled figures above-ground, one will typically find them in the Catacombs where they mainly roam the upper levels, aiding those in need. They are typically non-combatant but highly trained to protect themselves, aid others, and urge travelers to follow their lead through an old virtue system. Shrouded in mystery, one of their ilk had come through last night before the grate raised and the Underwatch relieved those volunteers who had served their time for the month.

    This monk who called himself Ceylon had been overly preachy that evening at the campsite, warning of getting waylaid by the anti-virtues and straying from the path. While Viessa and Xel thought themselves as good folk, others might not think so since they did dabble in contraband to earn a few coin, helping smuggle the occasional black market goods into the town above through secret passages when times were very tight. It wasn?t murder, but they?d definitely get locked up for a time or banished depending on the choice of cargo.

    While Viessa usually half-listened to what the monks sermonized, she did apparently take some of the talk with her to bed. An imposing dream that night had Ceylon stopping before her as he passed through the grate, gripping her arm and conveyed the following mentally, ?On darkest tide, virtue be thine armor?. Ceylon then turned and quickly moved off into the passageway beyond, Viessa?s dream abruptly ending.

    ____________________________

    It was the following morning in the Antechamber when things went horribly wrong. The light from the underground stream suddenly diminished to a record low level, signaling a dark ?night? for the Antechamber while the world up above was under a full sun. Not too far into this dark morning the sounds of faint yelling, metal on metal, and a blood curdling scream echoed from the doomed town guards farther down the cave system, jolting the two siblings from their morning tasks.

    Xel quickly lit a torch from under the nearby wagon, and grabbed a few items including a crossbow, having gone through this preparatory drill religiously over the years. Viessa grabbed a second crossbow from the wagon, taking up a defensive position another fifty yards away closer to the streambed.

    Oddly enough the cave grew slightly darker, as the stream off to the left slowed to a trickle, the biofilm somehow robbed of the water fueling its light. Fifty yards into the cave Xel quickly ground to a halt, as two entirely white scaled albino lizardman caught wind of his pungent human odor, immediately changing directions and pointing their crude trident and spear, bee lining quickly toward the new target, although somewhat wary of the lit torch he was swinging. ?Silshivth Tsysylv?.?

    Two flasks of burning oil launched back to back out of Xel?s hands, beaming one of the lizardmen straight in the chest, causing screaming and running toward the anemic stream, arms flailing overhead. ?Sthikth Cililsythk!!!? Xel ran forward firing off the crossbow with the other hand, quickly tossing it to the side and drawing a scimitar to take out the lizard with the bolt now protruding from its weapon arm, watching it fearfully jump back from the flames now licking the cavern floor.

    Meanwhile closer to the stream and in Viessa?s eyesite, a large red cloaked figure materialized out of a void, two huge infernal jet black hounds of hell dripping flames from their panting mouths at his feet. [How they were keeping cool via panting is anyone?s guess] Vulc! A catacomb legend had just materialized directly in her eyeline, her nerves now frozen in slack-jawed fear.

    Exploding flames from the nearby ignited oil snapped her out of the reverie as the figure drew a long wand from his cloak, nonchantly activating it with a word of power while looking over his shoulder, sending a small red flame hurtling straight toward Viessa.

    The small flaming missile landed a direct bullseye into the black ankh she was fortuitously put on earlier in the morning, its magical energy sputtering out like a dud town firework. Immediately following came the two demon dogs, their coal red eyes roiling in the dusky light of the Antechamber. Emitting otherworldly guttural growls the beasts bounded across the short distance between their Lord and their prey, Viessa stumbling backwards over the cave floor in nervous horror while fumbling with the crossbow. Point.. Aim... Release? The bolt flew true, but narrowly missed and slammed into the dirt near the hound in the forefront.

    Almost as if they hit an invisible wall, the two hellhounds completely pulled up, digging their large razor-like paws into the dirt, skidding to a halt. The whimpering doggy duo laid their heads to the floor, the black ankh giving off a slightly red hue. Vulc?s full attention was now on the gypsy woman as he stamped and stammered, his wand flaccid, his dogs lame. ?Nox.. sic!!? the legend yelled, now a frustrated caricature of his storied self.

    At this moment the last of their nightmares materialized, as a hideous high pitch screaming roar from farther downstream hit everyone in the chamber like a shock wave. A cone of thick globulated black acidic mist slammed into the area in back of Vulc and his hounds, sizzling and sputtering as it quickly ate its way through several natural rock formations in its path. While Vulc dove for cover and out of the equation, an enormous shape rose out of the riverbed close to the epicenter of the explosion, scampering forward on multiple legs as the natural dam that it had created from the springs upstream released from behind the aberration.

    Slithix. The white serpentine dragon had been laying in wait.

    ?Ruuunn!?, Xelander yelled, having finally felled the second lizardman with a scimitar straight through the chest. A second wave of the scaled black-eyed creatures was immediately upon him, with a few of the foul albinos immediately taking Xel down with a barrage of weighted nets, trapped.

    Slithix sprung forth, a sizable wall of water closing in behind that slowly lit up the cavern as it rushed forward. ?The Well?, a voice in Viessa?s head whispered, snapping her out of her panic,. She ran toward the far cavern wall, as the alabaster hued wingless dragon hurdled toward her at a rapid rate, its inky black soulless eyes intent on catching its prey. The white scaled creature scurried from wall to floor, shearing off small rock deposits, its six monumentally large legs sticking to natural features with the speed and agility of a much smaller reptile.

    Viessa arrived at the entrance of the grotto moments before the belligerent wyrm, forcing herself quickly through the slot and curved pathway leading to the water-well. Sprinting down the narrow and wavy rocky path, Viessa neared the well and . Her spindle-legs hit the slick patch near the top, sending her windmilling headlong into the drink, now currently about 15 feet removed from where the waterline usually sat. While she slammed into the water and all breath left her body, another large roar and acidic popping sounded in the tunnel behind as the beast finished ripping through the formation with brute force and some determined contortioning.

    Near breathless, Viessa floated about reaching wildly into the inky blackness, flailing downwards along the slick walls of The Well. Ten seconds later brought the drake, who slammed straight through the dark hole and into the drink, instantly raising the water level in the chamber while savagely snapping its ancient toothy maw repeatedly and randomly throughout the dark depths below. Finally spotting the target and edging in for the death blow, a current from the beast?s temporary dam smashed into the wyrm from the well?s spring-fed conduit on the opposite wall, also pushing Viessa into a narrow hidden side chamber and air pocket.

    She gasped wildly for breath as the momentarily phased beast quickly recovered and twisted around, snapping its jaws into the small cubbyhole where Viessa?s leg once sat, not knowing she had shot upwards on the wave of pressure.

    The small gypsy rose up on the wall of water created by the current, grasping blindly around her for something? anything. The churning water continued to rise while Viessa gasped until the water pressure level evened out, far from the top of the narrow chute. In time it slowly began to fall, although Viessa did not fall with the water. In both hands she clenched a rope that was hanging from a side passage just a bit further up the chute. This was an escape tunnel that Xel and Viessa had found several years back through exploration, carving out footholds all the way down the rock face and securing the rope every month or two.

    Viessa clawed her way up into the incline and toward the winding passageways that eventually led toward sunlight, while an eerie high pitched screeching roar echoed mutedly from behind several hundred feet of rock. Fortunately she had memorized this dark path to the surface while blindfolded with Xel. A flurry of questions circled through her head, fed by the adrenaline rush.

    What would become of her poor brother? What was this strange ankh? Who were these terrors after?

    There was only one certainty she did know.

    The Antechamber has been seized.

    [2999 words, inc. title per Google Docs. Also partially inspired by the underground artwork of Erol Otus]
     
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  10. kinkel170476

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    The children of the orphanage gathered around. It had been many months since a storyteller had visited them.

    There was something special about this teller of tales. To the children this man had the look of the old granddad who you could cuddle up to and receive praise, comfort and a big warm hug. Dressed in a worn brown robe, mud seemed to have crawled up his boots to his knees. You could see that he had been on the trail and with the weather being what it was this time of year, it was a surprise that the man wasn't more soaked. His black beard, streaked with a bit of white, made him seem wise and respected. Yes, thought the children. This would be good.

    The man sat down on a low legged stool. It was not without purpose, because the children all sat on the floor and he did not want to tower over them. With great patience he waited until the last child had found the right way to sit. Comfort was important, the old man thought and smiled to the child. A pretty girl with round deep dark eyes.

    He lifted his brow and asked, "Did you know, that many years ago. The rulers of this land held a contest every ten years, called the Tournament of Champions?"

    The children shook their heads, wondering what would come next.

    "No? Oh, it was the grandest of tournaments. It was a pull for every warrior and would-be-hero of the lands. To gather and attain the greatest of titles, The Champion.

    A young paladin of great virtue arrived at this tournament. His name, or should I say nickname, was not unknown to the commoners of the lands. Rake among friends, for he had held off a hundred bandits solely with a certain gardening tool..." The old man paused and his eyes scanned the faces of the children as they all laughed at the joke and some laughed a little later, not knowing why, but just happy to laugh with the others.

    "But indeed he had," continued the old man. "Of course, nobody called him that to his face. For he was also a fearsome warrior and unfortunately a bit arrogant and quick to anger. A proud young man.

    This year the contest was no different than other years. The contestants would have to travel the breadth of the land to collect the parts for the crown of champions. The most arduous and difficult part of that journey was to traverse the Crimson Mountains. However, our young hero had learned from an old sage that there was a shortcut through the mountains, leading deep into the earth. A dark and dangerous journey, but much easier than to travel through the cold mountain passes, facing harsh winds, rock slides and the high altitude... or so he believed.

    Rake entered this tunnel and took the shortcut beneath the mountains. He was the first to find and bring back the crown of champions. So he won." The old man leaned back on the stool and stretched his back a bit. "And for a time he felt that he was the happiest man alive."

    The children could see that the smile had faded on the storytellers face and it seemed that the room grew a bit colder. Instinctively the children huddled closer to each other, as if to keep this sudden newfound coldness away.

    "Every day was a feast, with new friends bought for money and a short amount of fame. But as the days returned to normal, it became apparent that Rake had become a different man. Where as before he was quick to anger, now he would start fights without provocation. When people came to him asking for help, he would scorn them and call them weak. Clearly, this was a changed man, and deeply troubled as well.

    And what do you think troubled him?", asked the old man. One of the children was quick to reply, "he had no more money." The old man smiled as many other possible answers was shouted throughout the room. Some including that he didn't get the princess, while others yelled back that there wasn't any princess in the story at all. Suddenly, the girl with the round dark eyes said calmly, "he had lost something in the dark."

    The old man stretched his arm towards the girl and complimented her. "Yeees, he had indeed lost something. But it was not a physical thing that Rake had lost."

    The look on the storytellers face grew distant and it was as if he seemed to be in a different place. But the children were enjoying themselves. Some of them had goosebumps all over, so captivated by the story, that they forgot where they were.

    His mind wandered.

    -------------------------------

    Rake was staying at the Inn of the Crowning Moon, when and old sage came to him. He found him in his room huddled up in a corner, holding a bottle of liquor so tight, it seemed to be the last vestige of hope to that thing he now called a life.

    The sage could not believe his own eyes. Was this the same person he had helped so many months ago? He looked and smelled like a man who hadn't bathed and shaved for several weeks. Many empty bottles lay scattered about on the floor around him.

    "It would seem you did not heed my advice," the sage sat down on the bed and looked at Rake with a judgemental glare.

    "Huh?" Rake lifted his head. Pain throbbing through his neck after sitting and sleeping in an awkward position. At first he did not recognize the man who had intruded upon him, squinting his eyes in the dull light from a single candle in the room. But then it suddenly dawned upon him. Reality came back like a bucket of water being thrown into his face. It wasn't pleasant. "I did heed your advice, old man", he sneered. "I took that blasted route beneath the mountains, I came first... I...", he started to hesitate, remembering the pain and the despair.

    The sage regretted the sternness in his voice and tried a milder approach. "But you ignored my warnings about the flowers, the scents... the underground forest... you entered it, didn't you?"

    "It seemed... the shortest way," he sighed.

    And then Rake began to tell the old sage about the underground forest he had entered. The shortcut beneath the mountains wasn't anything he had previously encountered. But armed with his sword and the well known fact, that noone and nothing had ever beaten him, he wasn't afraid. He was confident in his skills.

    At first it seemed wondrous and beautiful, with a strange green-blue glow that flowed from the various flowers and trees, giving the place a calm that seemed to soothe the soul. And the scents were the sweetest, like a full blossomed field after a hard winter. It was difficult to determine the size of the cavern, because the trees seemed to grow from all directions, bending and winding their way through the gloom.

    "I wandered for an hour or more. I really couldn't tell, because I forgot the passing of time, so it may have been more. But I couldn't find a way out. I tried to backtrack, but my path was gone. At first I just thought it was my imagination playing tricks on me, but then I realized...," Rake licked his lips and took a big swig from the bottle he was holding.

    "...the trees didn't want me to leave." Rake started laughing at the insane notion and then after a little while the laughter turned to sobs.

    Wiping his eyes and nose on his sleeve, Rake continued. "The place turned out to be a nightmare. The flowery scents played tricks on my mind. In some places of the forest I simply passed out. When I woke up, I was somewhere else or the trees had moved. And sometimes I was almost completely covered by small roots of the trees.

    The sage made a mental note of everything Rake told him, but stayed silent, not wanting to interfere with the story.

    "But the worst..." he ground his teeth and made a grimace on his face.. "were the dwellers." Swinging his free arm as if to make a sword thrust, he banged his knuckles hard into the wall. A bit of blood flowed down his hand. "Such strength," the sage thought. "Wasted."

    "Creatures of the dark, they had no eyes. Abominations! Hunched over like sick midgets with a brownish sick color for skin, only some parts of them covered in a slimy black fur. Their hands filled with poisonous needles probably from the various plants of the forest. And their faces, always smelling me, listening for me with their batlike ears. Sharp teeth drooling with the thought of my flesh. I noticed them swinging through the trees like a barrel of monkeys.

    To begin with they left me alone, studying me, waiting to attack until I was most vulnerable."

    Rake took another sip from the bottle. "I'm guessing I must have been down there for several days, foraging the place. The water from the plants and roots was foul and tasted bitter. I thought, this must be what sewage water tastes like." Rake laughed but soon went back into his depressive state of mind.

    "I was getting tired and dehydrated. Desperate to get out. Desperate to win the tournament. Desperate... then they came. As if they could smell my despair. My desperation. Curse them!"

    For a fleeting moment, Rake felt his fighting spirit return and the sage sensed that. A slight sliver of hope that this man might return to the way he was.

    "I slew so many of them. Heck, at one point I even thought that I had won and scared them off. I was wrong. With more slewn more came. They wanted to tire me, keep me off balance, but I didn't give up. Mad with fighting for my life and from the cuts and bruises I had received from their poisonous needles, I finally drove them off."

    Taking a deep breath as if after a long battle, Rake slowed the pace of the story. "I sat down, felt my heart beat slower. Good, I was still alive. The pain from the poison was subsiding. It wasn't lethal or perhaps I was just made of stronger stuff. I used to believe that, but not anymore."

    A tear ran down his cheek. It glinted in the dim light of the room.

    "It was then that I discovered the true horror of that place. Sitting there, resting in the forest, I heard the sound not unlike that of someone slurping up the gravy from a ripe piece of meat. I looked around but didn't see anything. Then...I saw it. The roots of the trees were drinking the blood from the creatures I had just slain. I couldn't believe my own eyes. I had to get up and away from this place. A small vine had already circled my wrist and was slowly drinking the blood from my wounds. My body felt paralyzed as I watched my blood seep away, but I knew I had to get up.

    Panicking I ran for my life, while razorsharp leaves fell from the trees. I felt alone and abandoned with no way out. Fatigue got the better of me and after running for a few minutes I fell onto a small patch of grass trying to catch my breath. Just as I was trying to gather my thoughts, the grass dragged me down into the ground. The earth drowning me. I spat out dirt and grass and with my last breath I screamed for help, but no one came."

    Rake emptied the bottle and looked at it with contempt before tossing it away. It rolled across the floor and stopped at the feet of the sage. He slowly picked it up, but before he got to put it down on the small nightstand next to the bed, Rake whispered angrily, "see that bottle? That's me! Empty, hollow and only for show..." He lowered his head and started crying.

    The sage put the bottle down quietly. "What happened?"

    A small sobbing laugh came from Rake. "I was still alive. The grass and the roots had dragged me down into a cavern beneath the forest. Lit up by a tiny sick orange glow from the moss on the walls." Rake spat on the floor. "I met a creature there.

    If the creatures above were abominations. This one was a true nightmare given life. The roots of the forest were attached to it and I could see that they were covered in blood. I should have slain this, this thing, but I had dropped my sword after the battle. It spoke to me and for a moment I thought that this creature might once have been human."

    Rake lifted his right hand with two fingers stretched out. "Two choices," he said as he tried to focus on his fingers. His hand dropped to the floor.

    Mumbling drunkenly Rake drifted off, "If I wanted to leave the forest.... I had to give something up. It was... so easy.... a choice..... I.... almost.... laughed..."

    Rake tilted his head back to the wall. It was clear that the alcohol was starting to take its toll. The sage stood up from the bed, walked over to Rake and shook him gently by the shoulders.

    "What did you give up?" the sage asked.

    Rake whispered. The sage could barely hear the words. A surprised look came unto his face. He stood up and walked over to the door. "You have to go back Rake. Reclaim what you lost! Do not give up so easily."

    An outburst of anger came from Rake, suddenly awake. "What do you know of it old man?" he spat the words out and tried to get himself up by leaning on the wall. A powerful but miscalculated punch directed at the sage brought Rake off balance and he stumbled onto the floor among the empty bottles. Fearing that he might be unable to calm the drunken warrior, the old man left the room quickly and shut the door. He half ran half walked down the hallway and a moment later he heard a bottle break on the door followed by a scream from a man deeply tormented.

    -------------------------------

    The storyteller noticed the curious looks from the children and proclaimed, "The End!"

    There was a small pause and then the children started yelling, "What did he lose?", while a few still wondered about what had happened to the princess.

    After they quieted down. The old man said, "Rake had lost his virtues."

    A confused look from the children. "What are virtues?", some asked.

    The storyteller smiled. He had them. "Now that is an entirely different story altogether. Would you like to hear it?" All the children nodded and yayed.

    "Well, a long time ago a gentle and wise king decided that...." and thus the storyteller continued his tales, late into the night.
     
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  11. Chripsy

    Chripsy Avatar

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    The Underwold as seen by the Tribe Of Strength

    This Tribe of Homo Sapiens Enhanced hung around for a while at the encampment helping others prepare for their departure. Metal was not available, as no one really thought about bringing any down with them from the crash site, except usable metal tools and implements. Wood and stone could be had, but wood for wagons was available. Members of the Tribe of Strength immediately became loggers later blacksmiths. They chopped and hewed the wood constantly for needy people. They formed their own logging guild. Their was an unofficial enmity between the Strength Tribe and the Intellect Tribe, as the members of the Intellect automatically thought of themselves superior and the tendency to make fun of the Strength Tribe was prevalent, but not in their presence of course. Word did get around though.

    When the Logger Guild was formed and the Intellect came to request wood, they would get a cold shoulder which then made them angry. Suddenly, the loggers had the upper hand. ?Who?s so smart now?? was a rye question. Prices went up when the Intellect came around. Power crystals were a premium and chemists knew how to ?cook and grow? them, but they had to have the small seed crystals, which could only be found in nature, mostly extremely deep in the ground in caves that had existed for a great amount of time. These crystals could be inserted in many tools to activate and power them. There were inserted in weapons and into crafting machines to strengthen them , heat them and give them power. Larger ones could be used to set up interconnecting systems of energy that can provide its unique power to whole castles, but use of them was kept at a minimum, because they did run down, and had to be replaced or recharged. Most of the weapons then that they had available were of older varieties, such as cannons as a lot more steal was had and stored than crystals. Training at the base in Marrs in the use of them and with bows and arrows was carried out, because no one at the time knew how life would be in a new environment. Many had brought Power Crystals with them down the mountain and these would constantly used for barter. A barter system was starting to come into play at the campsite. Many did not have muscular power, but did have other enhancements that seemed to manifest themselves. One group had eyesight that almost equaled that of an eagle. In the old lands of Earth they were used as spies or ?spotters? for a variety of organizations. With the use of curved lenses small objects, people, or animals could be seen at a great distance. The military trained them for special opts. Many of them became renowned as excellent markspersons and hunters. At the campsite they would go out on hunting parties to bag game, which they could see a long way off. It became apparent how the gifts were making existence so much easier. There were those that were called ?Fire Starters?. It was mostly small sparks, but enough to help start a campfire if needed, but the wood still needed to be dry. These were another of the myriad paranormals. Many had abilities that they still wished to keep secret and did not use them.

    The Strength Tribe eventually got the nickname ?Muscles?, which they really didn?t mind. They were tall, had a muscular body, wide shoulders, large biceps and arms, thick thighs and calves, and big hands and feet.

    They actually were the last to leave, even after Jonathan R. McClanahan and his staff, cleaning up the encampment, burning the last of the trash, and burying that which could not be burned. They said their last farewells to the area. A stone memorial marker had been erected to the Ark and the dead, and they stood silently with their hands over their hearts for a few moments. One had been designated to say a few prayerful words. Sometime later in the future and earthquake caused the side of the mountain to collapse and buried the memorial. It was never seen again. Artist and sculptors among the Humans, always looking for sights to image, on hikes along the mountain to the north noticed the large areas on the cliff walls that were perfect for chiseling and painting pictures. They also found a cave that went deep into the mountain. The Muscles helped built tall scaffolding attached to the mountain that the artists could use to climb to do their work. Large drawings of star formations high up side of the mounrain and into the caves were created. One star chart showed a sun in the upper left corner of what appeared to be a solar system with eight planets surrounding in various spots in their orbits.. These orbits are not like a traditional symmetrical orbit but a chaotic random order to what resembles planets around a sun. One with rings, one with a red spot, and others with noticable characteristics. One in particular was very pronounced the third one from the sun that was painted blue and had a large moon. It had an arrow chiseled in pointing toward it. The Inside the cave sculptors worked blocks of stalactites and stalagmites into animal body forms from the planet Earth. Drawings were made on the wall of the cave with different paint coloration. There was one drawing that showed the use of the power crystals in there various forms. One powering the way as lighting to the long cave. Another simple use was to place the crystal in the fireplace and us it to warm your home. Deeper into the cave a depiction of a strange square figured creature inside with fists shaped like hammers and people running from it. The artists took a long time doing there work with the help of the Muscles. When they were done they too went their own way. Even though people would occasionally view the paintings on the cliff walls from far off, and bizarre stories would arise from them, it was not for until centuries later they were rediscovered, studied and analyzed.

    The analyzed stories translated were of an Underworld with creatures both flying and crawling. The underworld wasn?t made of plain chiseled walls or simple water eroded caverns but of whole towns made of intricately carved roots and castles of crystals. Oddly enough the stories did not make mention of the inhabitants leaving or entering the Underworld. They stayed and evolved never needing to venture to the surface. In fact the discovery of the Underworld and its inhabitants only happed when the the Tribes began to encroach upon the Underworld in search of more Power Crystals. Only the most powerful few in all the Tribes know of what dwells deep in the Caverns. So the legends began of creatures that lived and dwelled deep in the ground were being described as evil and destructive. The stories of them were told to children in order to frighten them and keep them from exploring any caves. This was also to manage the mining and quantity of Power Crystals to the available market.

    You see if anyone new of the awesome power of the Power Crystals the entire civilization would be in turmoil. The depictions of a Sun and its associate planets in the caves and mountain walls being created were not of the sky and stars but of the special most valuable spawning crystal where all crystals start. The unique ability provides a complete catalyst of energy to support life. As the Sun heats and provides energy to the Surface. The Crystal provides the power of ten suns to the Underworld. Creatures more intelligent and sophisticated then mere Hammer Hands and Flying Moles are planning to defend the encroaching surface dwellers.

    Trees and shrubs have grown in front of an entrance cave and it was missed by most for a very long time. This whole area was included in the ?Forbidden Zone?, this was another reason that none would venture much into the cave or wander too close to the cliff walls. They were protected by taboos.


    It should be mentioned that in general most of the Muscles, but not all, distained the use of Crystal Power Saws. They preferred to forge their own axes from metal when it was available and hone them.


    https://www.shroudoftheavatar.com/?p=16474
     
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  12. DavenRock

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    The Underworld

    I awoke in a cavern, and was immediately filled with terror and anxiety as the cavern walls seemed to be moving closer to me in this dimly lit crevice. ?How did I get here, had I fallen, did an unknown enemy throw me down into this hard and wet rocky fold?? I know not and continue struggling to free myself frantically as if the only thing I had ever known was how to be trapped and subjected to my own demise. My entire body had been badly beaten and I feel the numbing sensation of it all. As I look around out of sheer lucidity there are shadows of stalagmites and stalactites smearing against the pale dewy walls of the cavern above me, which I think could only mean a source of light is somewhere close by. ?What am I going to do?? I asked. As if someone was there to hold my hand in a desperate time. I shift my weight in an attempt to free myself once again, and a sudden immense amount of pain travels through my body as if being impaled from one end to the other.

    Thinking again to myself, ?what could I possibly have done to deserve this fate?? Before I could even breathe a single breath, a drop of liquid taps me on the forehead, again and again, faster and faster, drops turning into stream and those streams turn into a flowing mass. I do not seem to care as even the thought of drowning eases my pain. The flood has reached my ankles and is flowing downward into the crevice pushing me deeper into the fold. I do not know why my eyes deceive me as they do but the liquid is luminescent! Nothing removes the emblazoned image from my eyes even after closing them, as if having looked at the sun. ?Do my eyes deceive me?? I said aloud. The strange liquid is to my knees now, and soon it will consume me entirely. However, just when I am about to give up and breathe the glowing liquid into my lungs, a backpack breaks into my stomach and knocks the wind out of me administering a just amount of pain that is a clear reminder of my fate soon to be.

    Grabbing ahold of the pack, I am gifted with immense amount of memories of better times, of great adventures, mastering trade at the market and honing my abilities to no abandon. The cold of the glowing flood soothes the pain that coursed through my body previously, and I have regained feeling in my legs. With the flood up to my chest all I can ponder is what I would do if given a second chance, what virtues I would uphold, and how humble of an adventurer I could be. Faster than I could beg forgiveness, I remembered that the backpack had hurt severely and gave me an idea to immediately dig within it. Low and behold a barrel of ale! Quickly, I drink my fill, letting the remainder drain into the glowing rush. The memory of sunken ships, marooned pirates, and empty barrels of rum floating in the sea rushes to my aid. While frantically holding the pack in the rushing flood and positioning the barrel into the pack, the flood is quickly making its way to my neck.

    Every time I attempt to free myself, these walls of the crevice seem to enhance their grip on my helpless body while the bright emanating liquid pushes me further downward. I thought to myself, ?I must get free; I must find a way to survive this horror!? All the while concentrating on my impending doom, the newly given pack shines with the element of the strange watery substance. I tighten my hold of the straps as the flood creeps up my neck nearly preventing me from breathing the dense air without swallowing it in heaps. Suddenly, the pack begins to tug at my hand and gives me surprise as my body gracefully becomes free of the grasping walls of the crevice, and I begin to follow the brilliant fast moving flood without choice or sense of decision. Floating on the brilliant sheen of this liquid, and allowing it to guide me in directions unknown pleases me to no fault. I immediately surrender to the feeling as the substance pushes onward, passing formation after formation, enjoying the serene calm and quiet sound of rushing water.

    There are gigantic columns that catch my eye, seemingly holding up the ceilings of the cavern with enormous breadth and importance and an endless darkness ahead of me. However, the bright liquid may suffice enough light as to pass through without angst. This flood is slowing and I can feel the bed of the glowing river. To stand is a painful experience and I somehow manage to ease my way over near the edge and grasp a stalagmite with waiting arms as if meeting a long lost lover. So many ambient sounds fill my ears, drops falling in the distance, the stream still flowing strong, and noises I cannot comprehend as animal, flying beast, or human. While I stand there catching my breath and absorbing the environment, I notice directly in front of me is a rather large patch of mushrooms, of which most are the size of my fist and a couple are the size of my head. I attempt to muster up the last bit of strength I have to climb up the edge leaving this retched flood and entering the magnificent presence of these gigantic mushrooms. Upon relaxing my beaten self in the patch of fungus, hunger strikes me like a hundred stones.

    Some hours pass after feasting on those mushrooms, and I must have fallen asleep because there are no more pleasing sounds of animals unknown. Everything is quiet. As if the entire cavern is frozen in time. There are a few drips sounding off in the distance as well as the sound of the stream. However, through the silence I hear something large moving, rustling very close to my proximity, echoing as it steps. There are awful sounds coming from this unknown entity. I do not recall ever hearing this before. ?Could this be a beast of sorts, a monster, a demon, a dragon?? I pondered. Daring not to delay my worries I immediately began picking what mushrooms remained and laid them over me as if digging a hole in the dirt to hide under. The rustling and snarling noises are becoming more prevalent. The echo of the beast is almost a clear unfathomable sound as direct as someone breathing in my ear. Mushrooms are covering my body from head to toe at this point, and I can only hear the beast moving closer.

    Breathing heavily and snarling, the beast is slowly stomping its way over towards me as I lay still underneath the safety net of freshly picked mushrooms. I can sense the beast leaning down, sniffing and smelling the patch of fungus, and smacking sounds are being produced as the beast feeds on the mushrooms closest to my body. The breath of the thing is horrible, smells of rotted flesh and putrid chemicals that fill the air around my nose and immediately causes me to cough quietly and soon turns into an unreal loss of breath. The beast is taken aback, looks surprised even, and at this moment the thought that it wants to eat me crosses my mind because of its huge shadow and awful sounds I had heard earlier. This is not the case, however because the beast sits still, gnawing at the patch I was underneath as if I had not moved, coughed, or startled it at all. The worry of whether this beast will chew far down through the patch far enough to meet my skin causes me to leap up out of the patch.

    Even after my quick exit, the beast sits still, seemingly contemplative of my existence. I think it knows I am here, or does it? Will it try to eat me, or should I eat it before it notices I am a threat? Without much more hesitation I throw myself onto the beast, which I had not contemplated how large this beast was beforehand, and the thing starts thrashing about, moving its upper body left to right faster than I am able to swing my arms. There is the sensation of someone gripping the flesh of my back and am suddenly thrown down falling into the patch of mushrooms. What was that? I immediately grab the strap to the backpack lying near the patch and toss it over my shoulder and the beast has gone, completely disappeared, without a sound. Was it the beast?s hand that threw me? Was it a human lost in the gigantic corridors of this underworld attempting to save my life? Suppose I will find out soon when the beast comes back to finish me off, if it holds a grudge.

    The several days that pass by after my encounter with the beast are filled with confusion about who exactly I am, and how I became stuck in a crevice of this monstrous cavern. Entire days have been filled with darkness, with the only light being shone from the river that passes through this place. After following the river for what I can say has been seven sleep cycles, I am still stuck in this place, listening to the noises and ambient effects of animals and water together. Just the sound of dripping water alone drives me crazy as I combine the last bit of sanity left to find a way to the surface. I keep pushing forward, down through the cavern that remains fit for a hall of giants or beasts that consume during the night. After looking around this place for several days, I have managed to collect a strip of cloth and wrap it around my clenched fist, and had dipped it in the glowing substance that comprises the entire river. With my fist glowing like torches I may finally find a worn pathway that will, hopefully, lead me to the outside world.

    Times have definitely been better than this, as I recall partial memories of olden days, but never see any faces in my visions, only picturesque forms and shadows of people I know not. Maybe I will remember, maybe not. While walking and reflecting my lighted fist onto the walls of the cavern I begin to hear a faint sound not of this world, of beautiful presence, of heavenly origin. That is singing! Someone or something must be playing tricks. I place my ear to the closest wall believing it came from within, and cannot find the source of this trickery. I continue farther into the cave passing by the glowing columns that feed the river and find glowing balls of light surrounding each column. What is the origin of this mysterious liquid, is it these creatures feeding the columns? What?s in the column for it to be emitting this substance? I shrug the unanswered questions from my mind and continue walking beside the river. Looking down as I walk I notice footprints and follow them a few more strides and find a pathway ripe with freshly compacted dirt and fresh shoe and animal prints all the same.

    Echoes of the beautiful voice I heard so few hours earlier filled my ears, and I accept the image of faeries and mermaids singing to me attempting to win my heart. The darkness is still surrounding me even though the rag soaked in glow substance has aided my path, and the singing just makes my want to leave this place seem so much more appropriate. If only I had a lute, I thought to myself, and if I only knew how to play it. There was an inlet of stone close to where I was and I decided to lie down to sleep to the beautiful song echoing throughout the cavern rather than walk and be driven insane by constant noise of unknown origin. Dreams of wide open fields, children playing in the distance, and bright sunlight breaking through the clouds seem to go on for hours. I can smell the sweetness of the grass and the nectar of the bright colored flowers flowing in the breeze, and lose myself in the great field lying down in the grass. A burning sensation fills onto my face and I wake abruptly to a sliver of sunlight beaming upon me. I am blinded by its magnificence and sit in amazement until I am able to see. I finally made it.

    Rolling hills and tall woodlands stretch for what looks to be thousands of miles across the land with streams and rivers splitting the woods afar. I begin to hear the singing that saved my sanity, however it is much clearer than before as if being in the center of a theatre. Compelled by the music, I walk towards it thoughtlessly and autonomously begging to find the source. I come upon a fairly large log cabin that rests just on the outskirts of a split in the mountain. Having walked up to the front door and knocked attempting at finding refuge for a beaten stranger, no soul answers. I turn to find my own path and immediately notice a person sitting in a hot spring just below the tree line down the hill from the cabin. There is a waterfall coming from the mountain not a hundred feet from the top, and steam bellows from the pit of water this person is hidden well within. It is a woman with a thin curvaceous build and blonde long flowing hair.

    My intentions are good, however I have not seen another soul in so long a time, it seems like I have never laid eyes on another person in ages. I stand a small distance from the cabin, but notice the lady is not clothed, but is facing the waterfall opposite of myself. She waves her hair back and forth and throws it up into a form that suffices to keep her hair from becoming wet. I yell down to her, ?Hello there mi ?lady, I come from the underworld, I believe I am wounded and could use some shelter and care.? She responds, ?My cabin is right behind you, help yourself to some bread.? I thanked her and headed towards the front door and entered the cabin. Reeling from the effects of starvation, bruising, and possibly broken limbs I muster up enough gall to look in the hand mirror placed on the sewing stand next to the kitchen table. I do not recognize this face, it is mine, but who am I?

    Good amounts of days have passed by, and the lady had taken my wounds as severe and is nursing me back to health still. The person I have become since that hour of helplessness and possible drowning has turned me into a loving individual, and one day I will return to the world, and show as much compassion as mi ?lady Ariya has shown me.

    -=The Traveler=-
    DavenRock
     
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  13. rune_74

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    In the Darkness - By Dave "Rune" Blanchard

    The drip of the water was the only sound he had to drown out the monotonous silence that faced him.

    Drip.

    Drip.

    He was totally and utterly alone, well at least today he was. The occasional rat did tend to give him some solace even if the conversation was one sided and sounded rather like the ravings of a mad one. Being mad was a problem that was starting to concern him, however if he was mad he doubted that he would he wonder if he was.

    He couldn't honestly remember how long he had been trapped in the dark. He had no one to talk to, no one to share stories with as they passed by his wall. He remembered the grass and the way the sunlight touched him, it didn't warm him in the slightest. The cracks in the earth that came billowing hot dark ash around him also did nothing to make him feel. Strange he thought, the only thing that seemed to make him feel anything at all were the screams.

    Drip.

    Drip.

    Clunk.

    That sound, was he no longer alone? Perhaps, the rats had gotten a bit larger in the seemingly endless time he had been down in the dark. Time didn't really have meaning at this point, he had long given up on tracking the length at which he had been left here in the dark, alone. But, this new noise, perhaps it was a sign someone had found him, or something. The something part definitely didn't make him feel all that comfortable.

    Drip.

    Drip.

    Scrape.

    ?Hello??

    What is this? Someone is here, he was not alone. It had been so long he almost forgot what to say. He looked over to see a faint glow down the tunnel. Someone was coming he thought.

    ?Who is there...? He rasped gently in a voice that was seldom used.

    The light stopped moving, ?I....I'm Thomas...I can't see you...who's there??

    ?I am called Xnathin, Thomas....I do not recognize your accent....have you come from the city??

    The light started moving again, drawing closer. ?What city? There is no city near here.?

    Unsure. Xnathin paused. Who was this that did not know of the great city of iron magic. Wars were fought and great powers forged into existence in the city, it was all he had ever known. The towers and walls of the imposing fortress decided who was the rightful ruler of the area, well at least that is what he recalled and had overheard when people asked him directions, directions that were no longer any good. He knew every side street and every shop in the area, he prided himself in that. There were few others, that he felt knew as much about the pathways. Little use it was now.

    ?You are alone?? Xnathin whispers.

    The light stops.

    Xnathin strains trying to see the new companion with the welcoming light. ?Please, it is so dark here...I am alone.?

    Thomas came forward and looked around the area, he was taller and paler then the people Xnathin had seen before. He had not seen Xnathin yet, since he was still in the shadows. He was wearing some form of green armor which seemed to be quite worn, obviously it had seen much use. In his right hand Thomas carried a light source unlike any he had seen before, a small stone that gave off a pale white light. As he walked forward he shifted the stone to the other hand and laid his hand on the well worn handle of the sword on his waist.

    ?Who are you...come out of the shadows.? the man said.

    Xnathin frowned, ?How would you propose I do that? It's not like I can walk or I would have left here already. I'm not even sure where here is anymore.?

    The man gasped as the light lit upon what was the guide of lower Copper street who was now covered in the dust of an age long gone. Xnathin was a strange fluid mixture of stone and metal that formed a face framed in the mosaic pattern of stone designating the lower quarter. A magic creation made from the forging of soul, metal and stone. His eyes were dark and deep as they studied the man before him. He was at once alien and terrifying yet beautiful.

    ?Have you come to get me out of here??

    The man stumbled back as the face spoke, noting that although you could see the great craftsmen ship put into the face it was also quite evident it had been down here in the dark a long time, the cracks in the mosaic ran deep and disappeared into the lava rock that held it tight into the cave side.

    ?I'm not even sure what you are.? Thomas said, ?Why are you down here??

    ?What I am?? Snorted Xnathin, ?Are you telling me you have never required the aid of a street guide while walking the streets??

    ?I have never heard of such a thing, and I have been to many cities in my life friend, and I will tell you I have never seen one such as you.?

    Xnathin couldn't understand this, every city of the empire had guides. The emperor ensured that his most loyal scribes had the the glory to become a guide in one of the three great cities. This man mentioned many cities, which meant more time may have passed then he originally thought. Fear crept into the little bit of him that was able to still feel, the bit that still functioned as a sentient alive being. Over time it had grown smaller until he had figured out a way to slow the recession of his self.

    They shared stories for awhile, Xnathin learning that many years had passed in the darkness and that all that he knew was gone from the world above. The people he learned to guide and that honored his timeless sacrifice were gone from the world and he was left behind. A relic of a now dead civilization, he sat in the small pool of light and learned of the changes of the world above. Eventually Thomas left, promising to bring people to look at removing him from the prison of lava rock. Eventually they arrived and although a few engineers tinkered about and tried to understand the prison he was in they could not free him. They however made the area around him a bit more comfortable and provided lighting of a sort.

    Many years passed and people came and went since he was now a famous feature of the underworld, a voice in the darkness as some called him. He became a guide again, but not one of streets but of times and lost stories. People came to him to dictate their life stories and hope that they would live forever on his stone lips. He learned many things and became a famous sage of sorts, able to recall the most insignificant detail. He of course didn't give the information for free, for those that found him provided news of the world above He learned that he was a unique thing, trapped in the tunnels below the light of the world.

    He was neither happy nor sad, he just was in the darkness of the underworld.
     
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  14. coolphoenix

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    The Legend of Armik

    The underworld a open cavern with black moss growing on the walls. There is a green river going through it and ends up in a underground lake. In the middle of the lake under the water is a green crystal pyramid glowing brightly. Swimming in the water is a green skin humanoid wearing green moss around the waist and around the chest. Along the shore is a town called Tynor with its outer walls run down and some holes. The buildings are dusty and dirty with cobwebs. In one of the buildings light is coming from the window and under the door. Inside the house we see a fireplace with a roaring fire. A pot sitting next to the fire with its lid closed. On the table we see a lantern, two plates, some silverware, two glasses, and a pitcher. In the corner of the room is a bed with a chest in front of it. On the bed we see a five foot seven inch, brown hair, with medium built man. As the door opens we see the green humanoid walks in.

    Armik opens one of his eyes he sees a female about five foot five inches and wearing what looks like green moss clothes. Her hair was a light green while her skin was a darker green but her eyes were like emerald green. ?I see you are awake my name is Kaira? says Kaira while grabbing a robe next to the door. She closes the door and goes to the fireplace and puts the pot on a hook. Armik finally has both eyes open and tries to get up but yells in pain as he lays back down. Kaira runs over to the human and puts a hand on his chest. ?Don?t move you have been badly hurt and it will take time to heal you?. ?Where am I and what happen to me??. Kaira picks up a cloth from a bowl filled with water and wipes Armik?s head. ?I found you in the water and brought you here.?
    ?You must rest more in a few hours I will wake you up to eat.? She gets up and heads to the fire pit to check on the pot. Armik close his eyes and try to sleep. It was dark when Armik woke up only to hear crys of kids and women. Shouting men calling for arms then the door bursts open. Standing in the doorway is a green scale creature wearing a cloth strip around its waist and carrying a curved blade. Behind the creature Armik could see the town on fire. On the ground is burned bodies and a few green creatures chasing people of the town. The creature runs to Armik and swing his blade cutting him on the chest. Armik kicks the creature in the chest and rolls out of the bed to grab his weapons. He parrys the blade of the creature and with his other sword cuts off its head.

    The battle goes on for hours and after killing 10 creatures Armik falls to the ground. Armik wakes with a start and sees he is in his own home. The lady Kaira is sitting by the fire and looks at him.
     
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  15. Astor Cerberus

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    TO BE CONTINUED
     
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  16. Tartness

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    Stray Arrows - An Untold Tale of the Underworld

    This day was as unremarkable in every way as any other day with the sun above, there were no barbarians at the gate, nothing dead was walking the land, and not a storm cloud in the sky or a breeze to speak of.

    ?Savi!? a little voice cried. So why was it about to change its course? How could an ordinary day, suddenly, tangent into such a divergent path?

    ?Savi! Savi!? chirped a collective of equally enthusiastic voices.

    Perhaps it was an event which occurred on a different day, one of the fifteen thousand nine hundred and seventy-nine days which have now passed during High Circlemaster Savonia?s long life. An event on that day where history transpired that would make it anything but mundane.

    Parents were now trailing behind their young ones, who were now beside themselves after catching a glimpse of the Circlemaster walking through the marketplace. Savonia was very young for her famed accomplishments, most notably which is High Circlemaster, thus the knowledge and skill that is attributed to such a rank earns respect from all good citizens of the realm.

    The rush of water in a fountain was coming into focus now as Savonia approached the square, she is also now aware of the growing herd she has become shepherd to while walking. Careful not to lead on that she was being pursued by likely thrill seekers, Savonia walked to the fountain and with the greatest nonchalance took a seat on its edge.

    ?Oh my,? she let a hint of a smile pass by her lips. ?What in the world do we have here,? asked the High Circlemaster wondering which of the children would step forward first, and it certainly did not take long.

    An older boy of about thirteen, or so she had guessed, stepped forward and spoke with a commanding voice. ?I want to see some fire magic!? Almost immediately a younger girl stepped out from behind him as she pushed him aside.

    ?Don?t be such a pleb Davin, fire magic is so stupid,? she exclaimed. ?I want to see you summon a Unicorn!?

    ?A Unicorn,? he asked in a playful voice and then put his hand to his mouth to chough out a word; ?Stupid!?

    The argument continued and others chimed in on their opinion of what they wished to see. Savonia surveyed the gathering quickly then she pointed to a young girl who was held close and quiet by her dismal looking father, everyone was then very quiet as she spoke. ?What is your name,? she asked with an inviting tone. The little girl was obviously shy and her father spoke in her turn.

    ?Circlemaster Savonia I,? Savonia held up her hand with her index finger directed towards the sky and interrupted the father promptly.

    ?High,? she said strongly with a slight pause then continued, ?Circlemaster Savonia.? It was clear that the man was not corrected often, by the unpleasant look on his face, as she did so. ?Come now little one, what would you like to see,? she asked again.

    The little girl looked up slightly and softly spoke. ?High Circlemaster? I don?t want to see anything; I want to hear a story.?

    ?I think that is a very good idea,? Savonia said smiling at the young girl. ?There is nothing I like more than a good story. But tell me...? Looking over the crowd slowly, she continues. ?What kind of story should we tell?? Immediately a bustle of activity broke out in the crowd who were vigorously debating what kind of story they wanted to hear from her. ?I have an idea, why don?t we let the Virtues decide which story I should tell,? standing up to command attention from the onlookers, she draws out eight cards from her robe. ?I will select four cards at random, and I will then ask three questions of you which will then decide your story.?

    Much to the surprise of everyone Savonia without pause flung the cards out over the top of them, four cards fell to the ground disappearing as they hit. The other four cards hovered above their heads as they all let out sounds of mutual agreement in the display of her minor magic abilities.

    ?There,? Savonia declared. ?The Virtues have been chosen, Valor, Sacrifice , Honor, and Honesty? We shall now have a small trial, let us all see which Virtue is chosen and which story you will be able to hear,? she said with a degree of mystery. ?Davin, step forward.?

    Surprised, the boy stepped forward with no argument and with his demeanour being much more humble. ?High Circlemaster,? he asked inquisitively.

    ?We will begin with you young Master Davin,? she said as the boy now looked visibly unnerved. ?You are traveling a long road with your sister, in tow you have a wagon which is full with all your household goods being moved to a new home. You know that this road is known for thievery and criminal activity, and you can now hear someone approaching from behind you at a high pace. Sure enough as they catch up you glimpse a face easily recognizable from the bounty offices in the nearby villages and their Red Cloaks make a loud statement. Do you charge into battle early and bravely in an attempt try and limit the number of foes you face at any given time knowing that you could still very well fall in battle and leave your sister to the barbarians? Or, do you detach the Wagon knowing that you would have enough time to escape but that they would cease and loot all of your family?s possessions,? she cunningly asked the boy; knowing that there is no right answer, but that which the Virtues will summon in every individual.

    ?Well,? he said pausing briefly. ?I think,? pausing again, he thinks for a moment. ?I would leave the Wagon behind, and save my sister,? he chose to the surprise of some in the crowd, including his sister! ?Everyone knows of the Reds, they fight without honor and it would not be a true contest. I could end up losing both the Wagon and my sister, while if I leave the Wagon I know the dirty Red wretches will stop and I can save that which cannot be replaced, our lives,? he now said with great conviction.

    ?Very good Davin, your choice shows both maturity and logic,? Savonia said as she raised her hand, she motioned her hand forward and one of the cards fell to the ground disappearing. ?You have chosen Sacrifice.?

    ?Awww,? was delightfully sighed out by Davin?s sister who started to give him a sisterly hug, no sooner did he protest.

    ?Get off Mia,? he shot out as everyone let loose a laugh at the sibling public display of affection.

    ?Yes Mia,? Savonia chimed in. ?Now it is your turn to test the Virtues,? the little girl straightened up and stood tall, ready for her trial. ?Your mother has given you important information about your family, she has not told you whom it is about, only that you should tell no one. The next day she must leave and you are unsure why, your grandmother has come to look after you. Your grandmother asks where your mother has departed to, and what has she told you? Do you honor your mother?s request and tell your grandmother nothing, or do you tell her honestly everything your mother has informed you of??

    Promptly and decisively Mia answered. ?I would honor my mother,? said the girl. ?You never know who, or what is listening. Besides, my grandmother tells everyone everything,? she exclaimed as everyone giggled.

    Savonia smiled and replied back, ?Well, we don?t wish everyone to know our secrets now do we,? with the wave of her hand another card dropped to the ground then vanished. ?We now have two Virtues left, Sacrifice and Honor, and my next victim is?? she said as she squinted her eyes slightly and pointed at the girl who?s idea it was to have a story told in the first place. ?Step forward and tell me your name.?

    ?My name is Ashley High Circlemaster,? eagerly she said. ?What should I do,? she asked.

    ?Only let the Virtues guide you on your path Ashley, listen carefully,? Savonia said as she closed her eyes briefly. ?A very good friend of yours has been taken from you, taken from this world, from the vile forces of darkness of the Underworld. Do you sacrifice the memory of your friend and access into the Underworld by safely living above and sealing all entrances? Or instead, do you choose to honor the memory of your friend, and pursue the darkness knowing that few who enter into the Underworld, ever return,? Savonia asked with a grim tone.

    Ashley looked down at her feet for a moment and thought about her choice. She was young, but knew of loss through the death of her mother. If there was any chance to avenge or make right the loss of her, she would take it. ?I would go into the Underworld, and I would make them pay,? the girl answered convincingly.

    ?Yes, I do believe you would,? Savonia said with a smile. With a wave of her hand the sacrifice card fell to the ground and was no more. ?Only honor remains, and my story to you will be based on that Virtue of Courage and Truth.?

    Savonia then sat back down on the edge of the fountain, reached out towards the honor card and it sped into her hand, she tucked it back into her robe. ?How should we begin this story I wonder,? she asked aloud. ?How about,? she paused. ?With great power, comes great responsibility??

    Suddenly all of the children smiled and yelled out at once in a long drawn out ?No!?

    One of the children then added to that. ?We know that story, and I don?t like spiders!? Saviona was of course expecting such an outcry, so she tried again.

    ?Oh, ok. How about? There?s a hero, if you look inside your heart-?

    ?Ew? one of the boys yelled out. ?That isn?t a story, that is a song by a bard only my parents listen to,? he said frustratingly.

    ?Ohh, alright then, let me try one last time,? she said playfully. ?There was an ominous night sky above the heads of four young travellers, or maybe they simply thought it was menacing because they knew what was about to take place, where they were about to go,? said Savonia as her voice deepened. ?There was Karmin the bard, who was making notes in his journal on the markings strewn across a rocky face. Harcrow, a strong paladin is preparing himself for the upcoming ordeal. I was there too much as you see me now, consulting the moons and stars. Lastly, our leader? A fortified and very skilled warrior, yet at the same time reserved and tactful.? By now a hushed whisper of chatter had swept over the crowd at the mention of Savonia herself in this story, they wondered, was this a true story?

    ?The moons were both full circle in the correct position, you see, you just can?t stroll up to and into the Underworld. No you must speak to the Universe first, understand it, breath it,? she said with a sigh. ?Live it. ?It is time to speak the words,? I said, ready to open the way into the shadow. ?Everyone took a step back, and there was a great shaking of the earth as I spoke the words ?IN VAS ORT POR YLEM,? Savonia said with a deep voice. ?The dust cleared, the way was now open for us, and just as we started to collect ourselves and make our way in the most unexpected thing took place. ?Rain from the great Ring,? the High Circlemaster shouted with an astounded look on her face.
    Again all seemingly at the same time the crowd huffed out sounds of amazement at news of the Ring Rain. Rain from the great Ring in the sky does not fall frequently, perhaps once a year, and is greatly celebrated when it does. For with the Ring Rain comes high fertility and long lasting regeneration to the lands for all.

    ?The Ring Rain brought a smile to our faces, but there was also a very surprising glow coming from deep within the opening into the Underworld shadows,? she said observing the look of wonder expressed by the group. ?You see for when the Ring Rain is falling on the earth, something causes her underbelly to become alive. Not alive like you or I but alive with action none the less, the wonderful glow seemed to pierce the shadow and drive it back.

    We entered and drove deeper into the earth.

    ?What beauty,? said the bard Karmin with a half grin.

    ?I don?t know about that,? Harcrow grumbled. ?It still feels like we?re crawling into mother earth?s arse,? Savonia imitated with a thick northern accent and wide smile. Listeners in the town square seemed to grow every minute Savonia was there, and all were now laughing out loud at Harcrow?s commentary.

    ?The spaces got bigger, the glow from the Ring Rain got brighter, and we made our way through several large caverns before happening upon the most wonderful stream running through the rocks. The stream was glowing brighter than the other parts of the Underworld, a shade of blue and green almost magical in nature I had never seen before.

    ?Let?s follow this river, down over that small bluff,? our leader said with a sense of determination.

    ?We came now to the edge of a small cliff; a waterfall flings itself over the ledge and batters the pool beneath. The Underworld seemed to open up right before our eyes,? she said as she made a big wide motion with her arms. ?So magical was the glow of the blue-green water now scattered across the banks of the stream as it runs into the distance. Across the smooth flowstone you could see mushrooms and outcroppings of crystal, the columns reached high into the cavern where you could even see the glow on the jagged stalactites. It was astonishing, the Ring Rain had made such a dark evil place where only shadows come to live, very beautiful. It also gave us the advantage of long sight in a place where it shouldn?t have been possible to see so far.

    ?There, I see them,? our leader pushed out in a disgusting tone. ?Savonia, reach out, tell me what you can see quickly,? he commanded.

    I knelt down with haste, closed my eyes and concentrated. The distance was far, but I have been able to see further in my mind?s eye before. I put one hand now into the stream and one onto the ground, slowly it began to focus.? Which she reproduced for the onlookers, putting one hand in the fountain then the other hand on the edge, closing her eyes.

    ?There,? I said, lifting my hand out of the water pointing to an area slightly above the flat area that stretched out before us. ?archers, and a group of spearmen? They are waiting for us.? It seemed that our prey was expecting company. Then a shiver ran down my spine? ?He is here,? I softly whispered. ?There, with a small force? I pointed my finger to a group of blended figures in the distance.?

    ?Ok,? our leader said, as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Putting his hand on my shoulder softly, he brought me out of my concentration. I stood up and took a deep breath looking back out over the huge Underworld cavern. ?Harcrow, Savonia, Karmin, deal with the archers and spearmen. I will surprise him then deal with him alone; his minions are no match for me. Do not attack until I have their attention.?

    ?Yes, sir,? said Harcrow in his deep brutish voice.

    ?Aye, and don?t go easy on them now,? yelled Karmin as he collected his things and made ready his bow and arrows.

    ?Myself, I simply wished him luck and advised caution. It was no ordinary man he sought out after all? ?May the Virtues be with you friends,? he said to us before we turned to walk. Drawing his swords, he then made a fast pace towards the enemy he has relentlessly pursued across the lands and into the very depths of the earth.? She paused now and had a sip of the fresh mountain water from the fountain, noticeably; everyone was hanging on her every word at this point.

    ?It wasn?t long at all, though it seemed like it took the three of us ages to catch up to the enemy group. We hid from any chance of their sight catching us and waited.?

    ?We can see him from here,? shot Harcrow promptly.?

    ?Wait for his signal,? cautioned Karmin as he made ready two arrows on his bow.?

    ?Seconds after that, he began running towards the enemy?s encampment without an ounce of fear in him.? ?Well that must be it,? I said half in a laugh.

    ?Harcrow looked up at the enemy formation keeping watch,? ?Yeah, that?s it, wait till their attention draws? replied Harcrow with a sense of urgency now in his being. I looked back and I saw our leader bear down on his enemy, they had seen him now sprinting towards them and leapt up in surprise. He was quite correct, they were no match for his trained hand in battle as he cut through them very quickly,? she continued.

    ?He came to the first two men still in a dash, bending slightly he reached forward with his right arm and sword and took one of their legs off as he swept by. Keeping the forward motion he brought the same sword up to parry the second man?s strike, and then buried his second sword deep into the soldier?s chest. Kicking aside the third to expose his stance and finish him off he turned to face the fourth but as he did, he suffered a strike from behind. Yelling out in pain, he dodged yet another attack from the front turning with a quick slash fatally dealing with his foe behind followed by a thrust with the other hand into the chest of the enemy he just dodged. The fighting now drew the attention of the group close to us, Harcrow charged,? Savonia exclaimed.

    ?Karmin let loose his arrows, each finding a spearman as a target quickly, and no sooner did he have another arrow ready to fly. There was only a small group of archers, I summoned the power of the Ether and brought the cave down on top of them with a huge roar. The next roar came out of Harcrow as his hammer swung through the air lifting one of the spearmen up and sending him crashing down onto two others. The battle was over before it ever really began?.

    ?Now, turning back to see our leader, there were but three men left standing,? she yelled with excitement to the gathered group of listeners. ?They proved to be as equally unmatched as the rest; one man charged with a spear, our Leader crossed his swords and parried downwards,? she said as she crossed her arms and demonstrated. ?On the way back up, both swords parted quickly from opposite directions and found his foe?s neck. Then quickly he threw one of his swords into the solder now running towards him putting an end to him and leaving but two men left on the battlefield??

    Savonia?s demeanour changed. ?However there was something that none of us could see. Hidden away, around the corner into the shadows was another small group of archers. Before any of us could react, a flurry of arrows spring into the air from their bowstrings and sailed towards our hero. I began to channel this to him very quickly. The archers were free firing now, our leader saw the arrows from my mind and rolled out of the way and back on his feet balancing himself with his arms out and then it happened. One stray arrow reached is wrist and he lost all control of his arm, his sword dropping to the ground with a clang, and he fell to his knees. Looking up grimly at the evil staring back at him and smiling, he felt another sharp pain?? she said visibly saddened.

    ?Another arrow had struck him through the back. Furious, I used every ounce of strength in me to summon onto them fiery hell, the flames burned them to ash in seconds. But it was too late, as our hero fell, the foe he sought to destroy simply turned and walked away knowing that he did not need to fight,? she stated cheerlessly as she sat down.

    ?Harcrow, Karmin, and I rushed to his side to dress his wounds. We did manage to get him out of the Underworld but he passed from this life shortly after, looking up at the twilight sky and twin moons, with the Ring Rain falling down onto his face,? she softly said and stopped talking.

    ?High Circlemaster Savonia, that wasn?t a very happy ending,? one of the children said gloomily.

    ?No it was not,? she answered back. ?Nor are most true stories about great heroism my young friends, take notice of this lesson.?

    ?Yes High Circlemaster,? said most of them, followed by a collective thanks as she stood up.

    ?May the Virtues take care of you all,? she said smiling as she turned and started to make her way back out of town to wherever it is she calls home.
     
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  17. Robert Reise2

    Robert Reise2 Avatar

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    The Rise and Fall of the Nechroneon Magi

    The air fills with dust as a train of wagons roll across your path. You shield your eyes from the thick cloud passing before you and you breathe deeply before it enters your lungs. The bright sun cooks your face and a bead of sweat rolls down the small of your back. The strange covered wagons that fade into the distance entice you to lumber forward. Your mind retreats inward as you recall a time when water was a beckon away and the warmth of the sun was a luxury. Perhaps it is fortuitous, but suddenly the caravan?s image ceases to fade from your view and it begins to grow. You move towards it, half in desperation, half in caution.

    You approach the last wagon in the train hoping to find comfort in the dark shade within? A voice comes from an aged woman inside. ?Greetings traveler, how have you come upon this wandering wagon train, mid day in the dead heat??

    You hesitate to respond, but reluctantly say, ?I have come a great distance.?

    The crone ponders this for a moment and says, ?Already your honesty is in question. Are you really the Avatar of virtue everyone claims you to be??

    You stare gaping at the cloaked elder, then you begin again, ?The gate, it brought me here, I have traveled a great distance.? You feel a pang as the urgency of your voice betrays you.

    The hunched gypsy stares at you and a smile creeps across her face as a staccato hissing shakes her shrunken body back and forth. She only stops to speak briefly before cackling once more, ?Great distance? The caravan, now that is a great distance. Perhaps if you saw me when I first embarked on this journey, you would not shield your eyes from my trampled features.?

    You open your mouth about to respond, but the crone stops you short.

    ?I think we already know how well you lie Avatar? Relax and let me tell you why you are here.?
    The woman reaches towards a battered chest and pulls out a notched pipe and begins to draw on it, resuscitating the charred leaves back to life. She clears her throat and fills the wagon with a deep foggy aroma. From a pouch in her clothing, she produces a deck of cards. She holds the deck in her hand and begins to lay them all, on the table. ?You sense a strong foreboding in this realm. There is doubt in your heart? ?

    ?I feel my ability to interact with this world has diminished. I?m beginning to think my influence on this realm is not unique?? You unlatch your cantina from your side and drain half of it as you feel the skin on your back grimace.

    ?Yes Avatar, if one could enter these gates then perhaps another? Even someone as transcendent and preeminent as you does not hold total mastery of the sun, moon and stars. You have entered in to this world numerous times. So many in fact, the lines of time blur? Can you recall the span of time you have passed over while in this realm? Can you account for all that has gone through these gates? If only you knew??

    You ponder that for a moment as the wagon jerks over a rock in declaration. The caravan continues on to its unknown destination, but you find your thoughts and resume, ?It never occurred to me??

    ?Fool? you never wanted it to occur to you. Your time here was special, but not as special as you once thought. What must take place for the audacity for someone to assume they are the center of the universe?

    Perhaps it was your naivety and gullibility that drew you here? Upon your introduction to this realm, your gaze was void of guile and intention. The true greatness of your virtue was merely a glimmer in your eye. As your knowledge of this world grew and the charge lay before you, your task to aid the realm?s inhabitants, big and small became apparent. You were the embodiment of three principles and your ambition did not cloud your spirit. However, there were those that came before and after who were not so fortunate.?

    Part 2
    The rough and wise elder displays a candle and with a snap and a poof the light flickers and falters as she brings the long piece of tallow down to relight her pipe. She then gives it to you as she signals to a flap on the back of the wagon. The candle drives out the cold purple night while you wonder how much time has passed in this rickety caravan.

    You start again, ?But what does this all mean, where is Lord British?? The crone cuts you short with a sharp motion.

    ?Where you are now does not matter yet, where you came from is more important. The Great Council was one of the wisest creations of his magnificence, Lord British. Of the first council, collectively they embodied the apex of the Love, Truth, Courage and the eight virtues. Where one man could be flawed, the eight could birth absolute truth.

    Some would say the council had power to reason beyond Lord British. Those who would say this would of course not hold bountiful company. A mysterious group from beyond the gates believed that entrusting one Avatar to each virtue was the only way to balance the council and prevent the corruption of The Ultimate Codex of Wisdom from those unworthy? Those who thought their plan was worthy were known as the Nechroneon Magi.

    Because of their task as Avatars of the 8 glorious virtues, the Nechroneon Magi could not hold position on the Great Council, but they could however ensure the timeless function of protecting and nurturing the old world across all known realms. The old world as you know it now, faced many years of strife and without Avatar, our lives would all be much different. Time passed, dauntless, ever present it withered the old world and its inhabitants. The Great Council changed countless times, but all the while the eight Nechroneon Magi remained passing between one realm to another, guiding and directing the branches of time like ivy through a lattice fence
    .
    It was their desire to influence vast amounts of time and space while remaining uncorrupted by the time they monitored. It is not completely known how they were to accomplish this. Because of their adherence to one singular virtue, each Magi was unable to see the consequences of dropping pockets of influence into a world little by little over hundreds of years. They knew this was a problem so the Magi were developing a contingency plan to shepherd the realm in their absence.?

    Part 3
    The caravan rolls to a stop, perhaps for the night. A nomad beckons you to make a fire. You crack your flint and spark a shard into scraps from your tinderbox and breathe into the clump slowly giving life to the tiny light that draws the camp closer.

    Your ears register a deep thud across the fire to reveal the younger members of the camp dragging logs and seats for the camp followers. The woman you were speaking to sits down and begins her tales once more.

    ?In the stirring inky abyss of the world beneath our own dwells an innumerable pool of writhing, teeming and devouring life. We shall name only the most pertinent species of these twisted catacombs. The Motgol, a resourceful race of rodents who before the christening, scavenged, slept among filth, and crawled through the caverns, clawing and pawing at what few others could see. It was then the Nechroneon Magi stepped in to move their hand of influence across the blank countenance of the Motgol. The Magi bestowed upon the Motgol a hastened comprehension, understanding and desire for magic and for the knowledge of the Overworld.

    For hundreds or years, the Motgol perfected and mastered the teachings of the Nechroneon Magi. They quickly developed into furry, long tailed sentient beings. There in those putrid caves, they developed a cast system, they created a triumvirate to uphold their own three principles and they were surprisingly adept at mastering the magical arts of camouflage, illusion, and illumination.?

    The Fire pops as you push a stick into it to it stir the coals. By now the entire camp has retired to some unknown resting place, but this old crone continues to spill her tale of Avatar. In her soft, quivering, leather tongue, she begins again.

    ?The aspiration to be virtuous above all else was the flaw of the failed Motgol experiment. It was in the end, what became the downfall of the Magi?s vision. The Virtues were never meant to split apart from one another. They were meant to fit together, balance one another and any one would be unattainable if balance of them all could not be achieved. The Magi however could not see this. They believed the power they had over the virtues was the essence of the Avatar. The Magi?s desire to remaining hopping from realm to realm was also a fatal mistake in the development of the Motgol.

    Without guidance, the Motgol perverted the teachings of the Magi. The attempt to quickly teach the eight virtues was hazardous and to leave the Motgol, while only returning briefly was even more perilous. The Motgol High Council began to believe that their Magi benefactors did not care enough for them to teach them the true ways of the virtues. The Motgol instead sought out their own paths to reach the pinnacle of these virtues. Their principles were Life, Death and Time. Being a newly enlightened species of rodent left much to be desired about their ideas of morality and virtues, but their idea of power and deception was keenly honed in the hundreds of years living in pure darkness.?

    Part 4
    As the words echo through the purple wind, you lay across the warmed ground as the fire slowly dies. You hear the gypsy trail off as your eyes get heavier and heavier. You draw your eyes open and close as you close your eyes one last time?

    Your footsteps patter softly throughout the jagged hallway and a dark robe unfurls in and out of the blackness as the flicker of your torch catches the ends of it now and then. The moon shaped pendant around your neck begins to wax as you near the others.

    You hear a voice faintly in the distance of the cavern, ?It is Honor. He has come at last.?

    The light before you grows and you observe the dance of flames on a wall. As you pass through the opening you are greeted by 6 other hooded strangers.

    ?Hail, I have come though I don?t know why I was summoned,? You say unknowingly.

    A voice in the center beckons you. The pendant around your neck reaches its apex as the moon opens wide. You bow, but when you rise, your eyes find themselves on a tall visage adorned with 2 of these strange talismans.

    ?Honesty, where is Compassion?? You ask hesitantly.

    A calm and transcendent voice replies, ?He has fallen. His tangibility has left all realms, but he is here with me now and we will all share his Virtue henceforth. ?

    ?It seems the Motgol have at last come to the barrier of their virtuous studies.? You express sullenly.

    You hear another voice from the dark hood, ?Justice will find them soon enough.?

    ?Brother please, our goal here is to act with Virtue, not with the antithesis.? The voice flows out of a woman in a white wave of soothing guidance.

    You look around at the faces, the woman, the hooded figures, the man with the 2 moons, the imposing silhouette and the red glow seemingly emanating from him.

    You earnestly say, ?We most seek council with Chronos, Neos and Necros. It is the only way to clarify this awful notion.?

    The echoing voice of Honor fills the cavern, ?The Motgol are lost to us. Neos is dead. There is no amending this. What has been given will now be taken away.?

    Suddenly a guttural voice freezes the air, ?The will of the Moonkeepers will not so easily come to pass. The Moon is only as strong as the Sun that can be seen upon it.? With a gust, the torches are extinguished, but not before the true glow of the room is emitted from the 7 robed figures in center of it.

    A chorus of booming voices calls out, ?We are Time, Life, Death, We are Avatar, we are your creators!?

    Suddenly, the cave begins to rumble and shake more violently. ?Your time is over Magi?? whispered the tendrils of a wisp in the dark. ?BEGON!?

    The air in the cave suddenly begins to rush forward, scurrying and screeching filled the hall, as the Magi lie frozen in place. A crash of water rips through the cave and with it, scattered robed bodies as it pulls them through the maze of tunnels.

    Part 5
    You awaken with your head gashed and bleeding into your eye, your body stretched in all direction as you float in mid air, surrounded by a dark glow. You struggle to see around you, through blue light. You glance and observe 3 more glowing tombs such as yours. You cry out, ?Avatars are you hurt??

    The melancholy timbre of Spirituality calls out to you, ?I am badly hurt, my leg is broken. We were taken by a great flood that dashed us through the catacombs. Honesty and Valor are the only others left.? You are filled with anguish and despair as you ponder the lives of your Avatar brothers.
    Suddenly, the twin voice of Honesty beckons to the darkness, ?Nechros, Chronos, release us and the folly of our captivity will be forgotten.?

    Nechros appears before you stepping slowly around the dark cave. His cavernous voice and glowing blue eyes trace him as he paces through the chamber. ?You will never again step through another gate to another realm ever again. The powers of your Lunette Apertures are sealed within this blue vortex, made from the very same moonstone used to craft your pendants and the gates which sent you here. Your enlightened self interest set forth a path you were unable to stray from. The Virtue you desired for us was yours, but not our own and your complacency for our development was your final failure. Now you will rot within this cave for an eternity with the rest of your Avatars to serve as punishment for the enslavement and corruption of an entire civilization.?

    You feel a chill shoot down your back as your hear Spirituality begin to sob.

    The chorusing echo of Chronos? voice recites your final eulogy. ?Your moonstones will sustain your life indefinitely, or as long as the gates remain active. The corruption of your virtues will slowly devour your existence and all the will remain will be an abomination of your vice.?

    Slowly, the darkness of the chamber fills your eyes as you fade into the pitch blackness of the cave. A white warmth begins to bathe you as you struggle to stand. A smoldered pile of charred earth and dead logs are all that is left. The wide set of wagon tracks fade off into the distance. Where did it all go? What can you do now? You pull up a log and begin to wait.
     
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  18. Baron Elvish Dragon

    Baron Elvish Dragon Avatar

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    I decided to try something a little odd. I am not sure it came out well as to my eyes it feels a bit clunky but I wanted to try something new and different from how I normally write so I figured I would try writing in the first person.

    Instead of just declaring it not good and burning it in a fit of self-consciousness I figure hell it might suck but at least I will have posted something :)

    So without further ado here is my underworld story.

    ?Sublime contentment?
    by Elvish Dragon

    The cold damp, dank wall serves as my only anchor. The cold and unforgiving darkness offers no respite.

    This has definitely not gone according to plan.

    Stumbling slowly forward, I drop to a crawl. Feeling my way forward to avoid sharp rocks, I find I have plenty of time to contemplate my errors.

    In the darkness I can almost smell the meat cooking on the spit at the Blue Sow, the memory of that place taunts me.

    An image of his face springs to mind, unbidden and unwelcome.

    He was a lone friend in the confusion, offering me comfort in a strange place, stranded without coin or reference. The echo of the cold taste of his honey mead taunts me.

    Should I have suspected him when he spoke of treasure and adventure in the depths?

    Should I have questioned why the ruins he spoke of were untouched?

    Perhaps.

    But I had no idea how I got here and worse, no idea how I could get home. All I remember is tripping on a root and falling into a cave. When I awoke, here I was. At first I thought I was stuck in a ren faire. No one spoke on cell phones and everyone spoke so strangely. And worse, everyone seemed to fear me for no reason.

    So when my one friend offered me adventure and wealth, of course I said yes. When he led me to this place striped me bare at swordpoint and pushed me down a hole laughing, well lets just say hindsight is 20/20 and leave it at that.

    Slamming my head on a stalagmite, I realize that perhaps reverie is not a productive way to get out of this mess.

    Feeling my now tender head, it occurs to me, I really do smell meat. And that sound... it sounds like the echoing sounds of rough voices and arguments.

    A faint glow appears of the darkness as if it is for the sole purpose of guiding my way. I shouldn't rush. My current predicament should teach me at least that much. Plus I don?t think my knees and head could take it. Creeping slowly forward, I make my way towards the light.

    Approaching what appears to be a small cavern, I see a small gang of rough men playing a game with tiles. It appears from the look on their faces that the largest of them is winning. The clink, clink of the tiles is almost mesmerizing. It almost comes to blows. Apparently the large man wins and stands gloating over the other two. As the others settle back, the winner goes towards what looks to be a pile of rags and throws a bucket of water on it.

    What I thought was a pile of rags starts moving. Is that a hand? An arm? A face? It is a girl!

    As she comes to awareness, the man seems to decide it is taking too long and kicks her in the side. She wakes with a start. The look of abject panic in her eyes seems to elicit a dark grin from the man. He begins fumbling with his belt. The meaning of the act does not seem to be lost on the girl. She can?t be more than fourteen. She looks around frantically.

    Her eyes meet mine. Their expression is all I need to act.

    Running forward, I tackle the large one to the ground and yell, ?RUN!?

    The others stare for a moment in disbelief. Perhaps the sight of a half naked man running from the darkness and tackling their fellow is enough to surprise them. Whatever the reason, a moment is all the girl needs. She takes off into the darkness.

    A faint glow in the direction she is running makes me hope that she will get away to safety. Maybe it is reflected daylight out of a cave mouth.

    A sharp pain radiates from my back. As my legs fail, I feel the cold, hard cavern reach up to greet me.

    Yelling to the others, the man I tackled gives chase, either assuming I am dead or not caring. The others follow quickly, one spitting on me as he passes. It is clear that the girl is a bigger prize than I will ever be. Hopefully I bought her enough time.

    As the life fades from my eyes, I notice a brief glint in the dirt. I reach out towards it. Slowly pushing the dust aside, even as the last vestiges of of my sight fade, the shape of an ankh takes shape in the debris. Maybe it was discarded here. Maybe it has lay here in the cavern for years. I don?t know. All I know is that as I grasp the medallion to my chest, a feeling of sublime contentment passes over me before there is nothing.

    All is Dark...

    But wait...

    Where am I?...

    Am I dead?...

    Afterlife?...

    [End]
     
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  19. Mitch [MGT]

    Mitch [MGT] Avatar

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    Hail and well met fellow traveller, please join me for a tale that is as dark as the souls of the harpies that reside in the nests of the Western forests. Draw your chairs close and hold those dearest as if for the last time because these are hallowed nights that we struggle to survive. I can't promise you that the sun will come up on the morrow for each and every one of you but that's still more than I can say for the sad souls that found themselves in the depths of hell not too long ago. Let me retrace their steps for you as I have heard them retraced to me so that we may pay homage to their trials and tribulations.

    It all started with as harmless an act that could be imagined, a fair and happy couple adopting a child from the monastery next to their village, a more pure and decent act of compassion you will not find. The young boy was a mystery to the monastery as he was simply left at the steps one miserable and stormy night. He was fairer than one might deem normal and before this couple arrived he rarely left the monastery and even after they brought him home he still insisted on staying inside on the most bluebird of days. At first the couple was not concerned with this behaviour, simply believing that the boy was adjusting to his new home, he had clearly suffered in his past.

    As time went on, the boy would wake up in the night and begin to scratch the door of the home, first slowly and quietly, but soon he dug his nails into the fibres of the door until the wood splintered underneath his finger nails and they bled. One morning the couple woke to their new son missing from their home, with the door open and bloody finger marks running down the centre of their door. The couple raced to the monastery and prayed that they would find their boy there but alas he was nowhere to be found. They sat on the steps of the monastery and wept for their poor fortune, believing the virtues had forsaken them.

    A man approached them, he was older but hardened, wearing the simple robe of one who is devout in his spirituality. He extended his hand to the woman and he helped her to her feet.

    ?I believe I know where your son is.? He said.

    ?Where?? The father gasped.

    ?In the cave where I found him, almost a year ago.? The old man replied.

    ?A cave? That explains how pale his skin is, living in a dark place. He stays inside when other children would gladly run outside and play.? The father realized.

    ?The poor dear never goes outside, this explains his behaviour.? The mother sobbed.

    ?Come with me, I?ll take you there.? He gestured for them to follow him and he led them both to a cave entrance. He knelt to the ground outside the cave, drove his hand into the loose soil and plucked a black onyx from the earth. With a whisper, the black onyx lit up like fire and he proceeded inside the cave.

    The entrance was riddled with sharp rocky formations that resembled teeth but the couple was brave and determined to find their son. After a few moments of following the old man, the cave opened up into a great cavern and they could just make out the stalactites looming high above them. The old man held the glaring onyx up above his head and it went out, and all was dark. Then slowly a light began to emanate from all around them, a dark green hue that illuminated their faces and slowly their eyes adjusted to the miraculous site, the cave itself began to glow. The cave seemed to come to life before their very eyes; water ran through the rocks around them, an underwater tributary system. The sharp smell of sulphur ravaged their nasal passages, how they didn?t notice the stench before could only be attributed to their distress.

    They hopped from stone pedestal to pedestal, fearing what may swim in the depths of that water. The cave was cold and the moist air pervaded their very bones, they had not planned for such a journey but their elderly companion was not fazed by it. In the distance they heard a crash and they swung around to face it.

    ?It would be best if we don?t linger.? The old man whispered.

    They planned a route around the river away from the recent disturbances, purple flecks of light seemed to dance in front of them; they appeared to be fireflies. Upon closer inspection they found them to be iridescent moths, something that took the couple by surprise. Nothing seemed to surprise the elderly man. The mother reached out to grab one, they were agile little things. They filled her with joy and wonderment; they reminded her of another time, a better time. When she managed to pick one from the air, it shriveled and died in her grasp, and the world seemed dimmer for it. The father grabbed his wife and turned her to face the path ahead, which was littered with bones, from what they could not be sure. The old man knelt to examine the bones and found them to be from small animals and the scales of fish.

    ?Whoever was here, has been surviving off the flesh of the land.? The old man stated.

    ?Is this a good sign?? The father asked.

    ?Too early to be sure.?

    They came to a point where the river widened considerably and they could no longer cross back and forth. They decided on the left hand side and continued toward two towering stalagmites which framed a natural staircase. The path up the stairs grew darker and darker until it was out of sight. The stairs were peppered with tiny mushrooms, the moss was growing thicker with each step they climbed, making the rocks feel softer under their feet. The air grew warmer and more dense as they came to a small hollow close to the cave?s ceiling. The smell of sulphur was soon replaced with the scent of wood burning.

    A flickering orange light contrasted the green and blue hues of the cave light around them. As they reached the top of the stairs, they could make out the silhouette of a small figure huddled around a fire, it was their boy. The mother raced to her son to embrace him but the boy shied away, she paused and knelt next to the fire allowing her eyes to adjust. Behind the boy she saw the remains of two adults who were dressed in beautifully embroidered clothing, but not of high quality, perhaps they were travelling merchants or gypsies. She could see now that his eyes were puffy and red as tears ran down his cheeks.

    ?These people were very dear to you.? She said.

    The boy nodded.

    ?What happened to them??

    The boy gestured above the fire where they could make out a small crevice that allowed the light of the moon to peek through into the cave.

    ?Did they fall down here?? She asked.

    The boy nodded.

    ?When I found him, the parents had passed; he was nestled among them and did not want to leave their side but I urged him to come with me.? The old man said. "I'm sorry for not telling you this sooner but the boy deserves a warm and welcoming home."

    "I know this is very hard for you but would you give us a chance to take care of you little one?" The mother whispered gently.

    The boy nodded.

    Together they left the dark, sulphur infused cavern and made their way back to their home.

    They turned to the old man and asked "Thank you for your help saving our new family. What can we call you?

    The old man smiles and says "please, just call me the Avatar."

    What can I say, I like a happy ending, I hope you children enjoyed my story. Go with Virtue.

    -Mitch, the scribe.
     
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  20. Duke Gréagóir

    Duke Gréagóir Legend of the Hearth

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    A Story of ?Beauty in the Underworld?

    We start in a small village outside the capital city in Lord British's realm. in this village is a girl who loves to play with her pet dog and neighbors cat. The village is not to important as many nobles consider it too small for them to place their residence. Many nice small homes exist and one of them belongs to the a family who has not realized that their little girl will soon face a scary and dark journey.

    Keira is playing with her dog Princess when a rumble is heard across the land. Keira and Princess are both scared and rush into the house. Keira checks the house for her parents and does not find them. She mutters to herself out loud, "Hmm, they must be tending to the fields." "Lets go Princess", says Keira to her faithful dog and rushes to the fields. It is getting darker and darker quickly as Keira and Princess run to find Keira's parents. "This is odd Princess", Keira mutters while gasping for breath over the bumpy terrain. Keira thinks, "We must get to them sooner". So she turns towards the stables. In her way is a wild brown mare that is startled and starts to nervously buck upwards as Keira approaches. "Whoa", Keira says while Princess cowers behind her master.

    Keira is no normal girl, she has a uncanny connection to animals and starts to calm the wild mare with soothing words, "It is ok. We can travel the world together. Good. Will you be my friend?" These words Keira has heard many times when she is playing at the stables with her dog, Princess. After a few tries the wild mare is calm and is happy to assist Keira with getting to the fields quickly. Keira grabs Princess and jumps on the mare's back.

    This village girl is feeling happy, as her new mare is galloping closer and closer to the place where her parents are when another large rumble is heard for many fields. Startled, Keira and her companions stop unbeknownst to them the ground gave away at that very instant. Falling and falling into the darkness Keira went. It seemed like they fell forever tumbling over and over and over again. Keira?s mouth tasted like dirt and dust as the darkness covered her descent. Crash! Keira landed against the bottom of the darkness. Her body hurt all over as she lay scared and the feeling of alone embraced her. The horse rustled and made a noise. Keira thought to herself, ?I must see if Princess and the mare were ok.? Keira called out for her faithful companion Princess but no sound returned to her. Afraid Keira remembered in her pouch were some flint and steel with a little bit of floss. Keira quickly made a little fire and surveyed the surrounding area. Princess was not to be found. ?Maybe Princess jumped away from the rumble and is still on the surface?? Keira hoped to herself. ? I must see where I am?.

    Slowly Keira approached the mare and reassured both of them that everything would be ok with a soft and smooth stroke on the mare?s head. Keira knew that they should start to move in the darkness hoping to find light. Thoughts of the Otherworld kept crossing Keira?s mind that she quickly dismissed as not to scare herself more than what she was already. Slowly both Keira and the mare moved connected in the dark like a web between a spider and an attached leaf. Against the dark and moldy smelling wall they both started to move.

    After what seemed an eternity Keira saw light in the distance that echoed that they were in fact underground. ?Is this the land of the dead?? Keira mumbled to her mare companion. The mare shorted in a frantic short like he understood Keira. This was not a normal bond between the mare and Keira; it was a bond of friends, of companions who journey to the end finding adventure and companionship. In an instant the light was gone. Keira stopped as she heard loud snorts and dirt being ruffled like a hot knife through butter. ?Oh Oh? Keira thought as she trembled as fear overwhelmed her. The brown mare ran ahead away from Keira without being told.

    Keira followed at a good 4 horse pace behind until light once again appeared. Fire bristled through the cavern ahead illuminating like hair standing on the skin. Smartly the brown mare returned to Keira?s side making many noises that echoed down the cavern. ?This is not good? Keira thought and stood next to the mare holding on to the back part. The illuminating fire was getting more distant and distant now so Keira followed, as it was the only source of normality in the darkness. Keira know knew that she was not dead in the Otherworld but underneath the land she called home.

    It was straining her trying to keep up with the light in the distance as it moved further away from Keira. Keira dared not to run as to not alert what ever it was making the light down the cavern from her. Thoughts of Princess her dog entered her mind over and over as she worried how Princess was. ?I must not be distracted and concentrate on the task at hand?, Keira reminded herself. If she could mount the brown mare it would take less time but the cavern was too small to be horseback. Further and further the illumination kept up until a different lightness entered the cavern up ahead. ?Maybe it is outside?? Keira thought which hasted her pace. The artificial light did not come back as she ventured toward the mouth of the cavern.

    Careful Keira looked out and realized this was not the outside light she was craving for. It was a cavern with burning bodies, human bodies set flame. Looking beyond the opening Keira saw small lizard a little bit larger than her dog, Princess. ?That small lizard with wings did that?? Keira thought as her nerves raced. Suddenly Keira realized the small lizard with wings was a baby dragon, a drake in fact. She had only heard stories of drakes and their larger parents dragons. If there is a baby there must be a mommy looming around. Keira looked and looked while her new brown mare had different ideas. The brown mare bolted across the room into another corridor up ahead. Keira pressed towards the drake slowly and quietly. How hard would it to be calm a drake?

    Keira approached the drake who noticed her and started snapping in her direction. Keira dated back as flame emerged towards her. Keira cowered into a ball confused at her thoughts betrayed her. ?Wait?, Keira thought as she lunged towards the drake, ?I will have to show this drake who is boss.? Keira started to kick and punch the drake who was suddenly surprised at her actions as pain started to be felt across his snout and body. Keira did this before calmly showing the drake that pain and misery could vanish as her calm soothing words could bring him pleasure. Confused the drake snapped at the girl with not very good aim as his eye hurt when he blinked. The drake did not like the new feeling and with a few more blows against his body the calm soothing words from this girl started to make sense. The drake cried out looking for his mother, aide did not come. Louder the drake cried for his mother, aide did not come. Fear started to overcome the drake, stronger and stronger fear.

    Keira did what she needed to do repeating, ?We can travel the world together. I have always wanted a pet like you. Good?? over and over to the small lizard with wings. Yea, that sounded nice the drake thought. Another mama! Slowly the drake stopped snapping at the new entity in his life and started to coo at her. Keira giggled as the drake accepted his new role in the world, err underworld. Keira was the accepted master of the drake as he followed Keira around.

    Keira thought to herself that the baby dragon took a lot longer than the brown mare to befriend. She remembered how short it took for the stable masters to befriend horses once they were proficient at it. This was a real task to tame a baby dragon. Keira felt pride in knowing that she now had 2 more friends in her life beyond Princess, her dog. Keira started to worry about her parents unknowing if they were safe. Keira followed the path the brown mare took as she was thinking if he smelled the outside. Keira found a torch on the ground left by one of the burning human corpses. Once lit the torch provided amble light to subside fear of the darkness.

    After what seemed like many moons Keira found a startling discovery. A river illuminated with some sort of eerie blue light. ?Wow? Keira thought. Suddenly next to the river is Mama dragon! Wait, mama dragon was eating while lying down. Mama dragon?s back was towards Keira as Keira was approaching the end of the cavern. Keira was confused on what to do next. Suddenly the mama dragon smelled Keira and slowly turned around. My brown mare, Keira?s thoughts entered her mind erasing the notion of the danger that suddenly should of overwhelmed Keira. ?How could you?? Keira screamed at the larger dragon once Keira saw the horror that the large dragon was feasting on her brown mare. Call it stupid that Keira did not run, some may call it being brave. Keira?s thoughts were not firing inside of her head as hey should. Dead horse or large dragon? What takes precedence?

    In the moment it was the horror of seeing the dead horse before here across the room. As Keira?s emotions start to subside and clear thinking entered her brain. Keira focused on the large dragon only to see that it was opening its mouth as taking a large breath. The drake, mama dragon?s baby, rushed to place itself in between his secondary mama and his primary mama. Surprised the large dragon stopped and shouted like dragons do at the baby dragon. Surprised the drake shouted back in dragon speaks as to say, ?this one is ok. She can help us.? Surprised the large dragon started to move towards her baby and the humanoid but was met with a large pain as her side was already split open from a previous fight. Mama dragon stopped and cried in pain. Both Keira and the drake rushed towards the large dragon to see what made her stop. Keira kept her distance, as she knew a small girl would be an appetizer for a large dragon. Both the baby dragon and the mama dragon cried knowing that the large dragon did not have long yet to live.

    Keira waited until the drake?s mama fell to eternal slumber in the Otherworld away from the Underworld she called home. Keira kissed the head of the drake in appreciation of defending her and for the sorrow the baby dragon felt for losing his primary mother. Keira?s emotions overwhelmed her as she thought about losing her parents as to feel what the baby dragon was feeling. A tear fell from Keira?s eye onto the snout of the drake and they mourned together.

    Keira and her new friend did make it out of the underworld together. That is another story my friend. Take up another ale and I can tell you the rest.


    More original fan fiction stories to come for the Shroud of the Avatar at http://www.ultimamuseum.com/CODB/
     
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