Greetings, glorious adventurers! If you're joining in our Alpha One spot testing, please follow the steps here to see all the latest test info on our forums and Discord!

The Return

daveywaveydaveywavey Member
edited May 20 in Community Creations
Figured this was as good a place as any to put this...

I've had to start writing a story for a Creative Writing course I'm doing, so I figured I'd do an Ashes fan-fiction about 'The Return' from Sanctus to Verra. Since there's a Community Creations section, I thought I may as well post it here, in the hopes that someone somewhere might get as much enjoyment out of it as I'm having writing it.

Drop me a 'Like' if you enjoyed it even a little bit! I'll be adding to it as I go.
Daveywavey-member.png

Comments

  • daveywaveydaveywavey Member
    edited May 20
    The Return

    Terror scorched through the night sky as fireballs tore through the stillness and thudded into the ground, throwing up clouds of dust and debris on all sides. The earth shook, and the very air itself cried out in a terrified explosion. Panic gripped the settlement, and distant voices screamed over the chaos as more of the fireballs descended, the harbingers of death and destruction bringing with them their ancient curse.

    The dust began to clear, and Mal picked himself up from the floor. Looking at his hands, he found that they were not his own, and in his confused state, he peered over to the impact site where a glowing opening had appeared. He stood transfixed as the first of them emerged from the burning gateway; hideous creatures with evil at their very core, that appeared to taint the ground that they moved over. All around them, the ground cracked and tore, the trees twisted, and the plants withered, as the corruption spread like a plague.

    The earth shook once more as another fireball slammed into the ground nearby, and Mal was knocked off his feet and out of his trance. Fighting his way through the dust storm that scratched and nipped at his eyes, he righted himself and drew his sword.

    A woman’s voice, soft and gentle, yet firm and commanding, echoed through his head.

    “Run!”

    Without a second thought, he turned and fled, obeying the voice without question.

    Another explosion from beside him threw Mal to the ground, and he cried out in pain as his body hit a group of dust-covered rocks. As before, the cry did not belong to him, and he thrashed and writhed in his terror, trying desperately to get to his feet.

    Looking up, he saw the portal. This was where the voice wanted him to go. It was very close.

    He looked back to see the ground behind him tearing apart as blood-coloured crystals tore their way through to the surface. His sword lay on the ground only a few feet away, but there was no time. He left the priceless heirloom in the dirt, discarded and forgotten, and sprinted to the shining blue shimmer of the portal, pushing aside other fleeing escapees in his bid for safety.

    He reached the glittering edge of the portal and dived through without hesitation.

    Blackness.

    In the centre of his vision, through the darkness, Mal saw a faint orange glow. It started as a tiny dot, and increased in size until it suddenly exploded outwards in a brilliant and dazzling display of power and energy. Flames burst from the centre of the phenomenon, and all of a sudden, a screeching sound rang through his head as a flaming bird emerged from the middle of the fire.

    Mal stepped backwards and fell to his knees, as the creature drew near. Its form was breathtaking and should have been terrifying, but Mal could not feel fear at its presence.

    The woman’s voice called out, again.

    “The time is near. Be ready.”

    ********************

    Mal woke with a start and found himself curled into a ball on the edge of his bed. Despite knowing that he was alone in the room, he checked both directions to make sure that nobody had witnessed his embarrassment.

    Uncurling himself, he stretched out his tense limbs and gave them a vigorous shake, succeeding only in dislodging himself from the bed and falling to the floor. He grunted as he banged his head against the bedside table, and closed his eyes with a pathetic shake of his head. The day had hardly started, and already he was wishing that it were over.

    He stood up and walked across to the mirror, and saw to his satisfaction that his hands were indeed his own. The dream prodded at his mind, and he thought back to it. He had been dreaming this very dream for weeks now, and each time, he would wake as he dived through the portal. This time, however, there had been more. The blackness. The fire. The bird. And, the voice. It had told him that the time was near, but he was unsure, firstly what it could mean, and secondly why he kept having this same dream.

    The village clock tower chimed, and Mal put all thoughts of the dream to the back of his mind. Looking himself over in the mirror, he ran his hands through his hair, enjoying the prickly feeling of the short strands of brown that jutted out from his scalp. He had never liked wearing his hair long, and he ensured that he kept it as short as he could without looking bald.

    Carrying on downwards, he stopped at his nose, which he had always felt was too large and did nothing to hide the scar that stretched across his left cheek. He had caught the tip of an axe while defending the village from raiders, and his cheek had been split in two. Unfortunately for him, the scar now acted as an arrow, pointing towards the enormous boulder in the centre of his face. Aside from this, and a chipped tooth from a tavern brawl, he was pleased with what he saw. His muscled arms each bore a tattoo of double axes, crossed in the middle with the axe heads facing each other, and the rest of his body was similarly exercised and toned. Turning around, he examined his bare buttocks in the mirror, and with a nod, he gave each a slap, before moving off to wash up and get dressed.

    He left the house a short while later, and took the path leading to his work. He was a quarryman, and one of the only humans strong enough to do it well. Stone was the village’s main source of external wealth, and while this made the industry an important part of the community, he was very low down in the quarry’s hierarchy, not having the political connections held by the elves or the diplomatic shrewdness possessed by the dwarves. He longed to prove that he was destined for greater things, but in a village as small as his, opportunities were rare.

    He turned left and headed along the side of one of the local taverns, and veered off between a series of narrow houses until he came to the fence that surrounded the village. Giving the usual nod of acknowledgement to the guards holding the gate, he passed through, and instead of heading straight to the quarry, he turned in the opposite direction, as was his usual routine. There was still plenty of time before work, and he liked to start the day by visiting his parents.

    A few minutes later, and he was at the graveyard, which was situated just outside the village boundary, by a large stone structure that was roughly circular in shape. The ground there was considered sacred, although nobody could remember why, and there were no records of who had built the structure, with its stone ring stretching upwards into the sky. Picking his way amongst the burials, Mal sat down on the grass beside his parents’ graves. He did not speak to them, for there was never anything new to say, but he would sit with them, and they would know that he was thinking of them.

    The bell in the clock tower chimed three times, and Mal stood up to leave. That was the signal that the work day was about to commence. He bowed his head and rested his hands over the graves, and then left without looking back.

    Waiting for him at the edge of the graveyard was his best friend, Kleb. Kleb was an orc, and they had been friends for years, close enough that they felt like brothers. He was of the Ren’Kai race of orcs, and so believed in honour and discipline above all things. Naturally strong, he was an ideal choice for a quarryman, and the two worked as a team that were widely regarded as one of the best.

    “Have they said anything back, yet?” Kleb teased, playfully poking at his friend’s morning ritual. In reply, Mal aimed an equally playful punch at Kleb’s arm.

    “Shut up, Kleb. You know, if you had one less feeling in you, I’d be digging stone out of your rock of a head.”

    Kleb roared laughing and slapped Mal on the back.

    “Come on, let’s get to work.”

    “Yeah, the time is near!” Mal replied with a chuckle, quoting the strange voice from his dream.

    Kleb shot a glance at his friend, stopping on the path.

    “What? What did you say?”

    “Oh, nothing. It’s nearly time for work.”

    Kleb eyed him with a fixed stare, before continuing on with their journey.

    “Okay. Well, let’s go, then.”

    ********************

    Iminna el-Eradelle was the owner of the stoneworks that was situated at the quarry. She had run it for decades, and knew the business inside and out. It was her money that had bought her brother, Olori el-Eradelle, the leading position on the village council, and it was she that had the network of contacts and connections needed to keep trade flowing in and out of the village. Despite elven society being fiercely patriarchal, she was in charge here, and there was no doubting that.

    While her brother had been bought his position, she herself had worked tirelessly for years and had put the effort in to get where she was. She was the first to the quarry every day, and the last to leave. She knew every member of each of her teams, and welcomed them in to work by name. There were very rarely any arguments or disputes at the stoneworks, for if they could not be resolved instantly, Iminna would become involved, and there would then be no winners. Her goal was to see her family name become part of the history of the world, and she was doggedly determined to see this goal through to completion. There were not many who doubted she would succeed.

    Mal and Kleb were standing in line, ready to pass through the gate into the quarry. As always, Iminna was present, checking on attendance and punctuality.

    “Good day, Kleb.”

    “Good day, ma’am.”

    “Good day, Mal.”

    “Good day, ma’am.”

    She stopped and took a long look at Mal.

    “You’ve been to your parents’ graveside, today?”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    “Good,” she replied thoughtfully. “Family is important. When all else fails, it’s family that you can always rely on.”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    She brought herself out of her moment of contemplation, and remembering where she was, she motioned for them to continue.

    They walked along the path down to the quarry and entered one of the huts on the quarry floor. Mal took off his jacket, folded it neatly, and placed it into his named box. Kleb removed his jacket and his shirt, preferring the freedom of movement that came with a bare chest. It also gave him the opportunity to flex his muscles to the other men in the quarry, in the hopes that one of them would take a liking to him. As he took off his shirt, Kleb’s tattoo came into view. It was a phoenix, coloured all in black, and it spread out across his green-grey back and the tops of his arms, and when he moved his arms in a certain way, it made it look like the phoenix was flapping its wings. It had taken a long time to get inked, and he was very proud of it. He ran his fingers up his head and along the braiding of his hair, the top-knot bouncing as he brushed past it, and turned to Mal with an excited smile.

    “You ready for today? I want that record!”

    “It’s ours!” Mal cheered, and the two of them marched out of the hut and began the day’s work.

    ********************

    The sun beat down mercilessly upon the two friends as they aimed their pickaxes at the stone with practised precision. Where they made cracks in the stone, they hammered in wedges to force the rocks out in blocks, as this made for the most efficient building material. As the rocks were ready to be moved, they were levered into position onto a series of cylindrical runners that led to a wooden sledge. This would then take the rocks away from the pit face for further processing.

    The third member of Mal and Kleb’s partnership was a dwarf named Fyӓrdrimm. He was unpleasant, even for a dwarf, and was disliked by most of the other workers. He had attached himself to Mal and Kleb after seeing their tremendous potential, wanting to be a part of their success. They in return recognised his drive and ambition, and despite Fyӓrdrimm’s personality, had begrudgingly accepted him.

    Like most dwarves, Fyӓrdrimm stood at shoulder height to a typical adult human, and like the majority of the Dünir race of dwarves, had a long and flowing beard. This was true of both male and female Dünir, although male beards tended to be more voluminous. His role in the team was to drive the sledge to and from the processing station, and also to look after the giant lizards that pulled it. Two of these lizards were attached to the front of the sledge, and it was the responsibility of the sledge driver to care for them both in and outside of work. They lived with him at his house, and he felt a stronger connection to them than he did for the rest of the community in the small village.

    As Mal and Kleb were levering the latest chunk of stone onto the runners and sliding it along to the sledge, Fyӓrdrimm was wiping down the lizards with a damp cloth, ensuring that their scaly skin remained moist in the baking heat. He stopped to adjust the canvas shelter that protected them from the sun, and gently ran a hand across their scales. He was the only sledge driver that used the lizards, most preferring other animals such as horses or mules, and while their intolerance of the heat made them undesirable to most, their powerful legs and unrivalled endurance made them ideal for the task.

    The block of sandstone skated over the runners and hit the lip of the sledge. Here, the momentum from its downhill journey caused it to tip and flip onto the sledge with a loud thud, the springs under the top deck shuddering with the impact. Fyӓrdrimm moved quickly to secure it in place, throwing straps over the top of it and fastening them on the opposite side. Every moment this process took was another moment that his lizards would be without the cloth, and so he never wasted a second.

    As he made his way to the driving seat, he shot a glance towards Mal and Kleb, who were stretching their backs after the effort of moving the rock. As he began to turn his face away, his eyes caught a discolouration in the pit face, and he stopped where he stood.

    “Hey, dig-monkeys,” he called out in his usual manner. “Look what you’ve got for me, next!”

    Ignoring the jibe at their profession, they followed the direction of his pointed finger to the discolouration in the rock, and their eyes widened. Kleb grinned.

    “A metal ore vein! We’ll get a juicy bonus for this!”

    “Then get on with it,” Fyӓrdrimm called out. “Before I get the whip out!”

    With a hearty cackle, he swung himself up into the driver seat, and the giant lizards’ strong legs lurched into action, pulling the sledge away towards the other side of the quarry. Kleb looked after them longingly, and drew a disappointed sigh.

    “Just once, Mal. Just once, I wish you’d let me hit him.”

    “You want to have to tell the boss why?”

    “I guess not.”

    “Just imagine hitting him, instead.”

    “I always do!” Kleb replied with a smirk, as they turned their attention back to the metal ore vein.

    ********************
    Daveywavey-member.png
  • NagashNagash Member, Leader of Men, Alpha One
    Always love reading people stories and even better when they are entertaining ^^
    nJ0vUSm.gif

    The dead do not squabble as this land’s rulers do. The dead have no desires, petty jealousies or ambitions. A world of the dead is a world at peace
  • It took some time to get enough material together to make the sledge trip worthwhile, but once full, the three workers stood and gazed with satisfaction at their work. A series of large blocks, almost bursting with tin deposits, sat on the sledge, tied together with Fyӓrdrimm’s tight knots. Mal and Kleb climbed up onto the top deck of the sledge, and Fyӓrdrimm sat himself in the driving seat. They would not risk taking this straight to the processing station, for there were great rewards paid out to those bringing metals. They would take this directly to the quarry supervisor to ensure that they got their payment.

    The quarry supervisor, like the el-Eradelle family, was of the Empyrean race of elves; a group dedicated to the dominance of the Empyrean ruling classes. Wherever they were to be found in the world of Sanctus, there too was their strict social structure with its highly organised and systemised government. The supervisor himself was called Margromi, and was from what would be considered a mid-ranking Empyrean family. He was stood near to the huts on the quarry floor, his white-blonde pony tail rippling gently in the light breeze that swept down the sides of the pit face. Just recently, he had become involved in a scandal involving his sister and some of the local orcs, and he had been forced to give up some of his political freedoms in order to keep her indiscretions private. Seemingly oblivious to his surroundings, his sad, grey eyes stared into nothingness as he stood in the sunshine and mourned the loss of his future.

    He was startled out of his reverie by the thudding sound of the giant lizards’ huge feet as they dragged the sledge up next to him, unaware of the value of the haul they were lugging, and content merely to be wiped down with the cloth after their run. Fyӓrdrimm dutifully obliged them, as Mal and Kleb jumped off the sledge and bounded gleefully up to their supervisor.

    “Margromi, sir!” Kleb called out, as he took Margromi on a tour around the sledge. “Look what we’ve got!”

    For the first time that day, Margromi smiled. He had a great respect for Mal and Kleb. They were both good workers that did not cause trouble, and they were long time employees at the stoneworks. To see them with such a bounty was a pleasure, and he joined in the excitement.

    “That’s quite the haul, Kleb. And, worth a nice bonus, too!”

    Kleb posed next to the tin, his phoenix tattoo spreading out its wings in triumph. Mal was used to his friend’s goofiness, but it always made him laugh, and he let out a splutter as he shook his head with an embarrassed sigh. Fyӓrdrimm joined them, his eyes bright with anticipation.

    “So, how much do you think it’ll be worth?” he began, running his hands over the rough surface of the rock.

    “That’s not for me to say, Fyӓrdrimm,” Margromi replied, before turning and calling out to a nearby runner. “You there! Send for the boss!”

    The runner immediately sprinted away up the slopes to where Iminna el-Eradelle was sat in her office, and Margromi turned back towards his crew.

    “Go and wash up, boys. She’ll be here in a moment.”

    Fyӓrdrimm led the lizards off towards a large canopy shelter, and Mal and Kleb entered a hut to wash the dirt from their bodies. There were a series of small bowls set into the wall of the hut, each fed from a system of channels leading from the nearby river. The two friends chatted merrily as they scooped up the cool, fresh water, and it was not long until they were presentable enough to go before Iminna el-Eradelle.

    Stepping outside, they were blinded briefly by the sunlight, and once their eyes had adjusted, they saw a small group of people stood next to the sledge. Standing with their backs to them, and instantly recognisable, were Margromi and Iminna, but as they drew closer, Mal’s jaw clenched, and Kleb let out a low growl.

    Standing next to the sledge with her usual smug, self-satisfied smirk was their arch-rival, Grem. She and her team had a long-standing grudge against Mal and Kleb, and there were no depths that she would not stoop to in order to come out on top. Like Kleb, she was a Ren-Kai orc, although she did not follow their standard code of honour and respect. She was currently being congratulated by Iminna el-Eradelle, and she soaked up the praise with wicked delight.

    “A fantastic discovery, Grem. Well done,” Iminna was saying, as Mal and Kleb joined the group. “I’ll see to it that you get rewarded accordingly.”

    “Thank you, ma’am,” Grem replied obsequiously, shooting Mal a quick glance to check his reaction.

    “What’s going on?” Mal demanded, seeing Grem standing next to their sledge of tin deposits.

    Grem’s quarrying partner, Lel-ti’ar, stepped up to the sledge and ran his hands along the rocks. He was of the Py’Rai race of elves, widely known for their selfish determination to succeed at any cost, and Lel-ti’ar was no exception. There was a true hatred in his eyes as he glared at Mal, and he was clearly enjoying their latest offensive.

    “We’re just bringing in our metal for our reward.”

    “Your metal?” Mal shot out, a rising discomfort flowing through him as he turned towards Margromi, who was looking thoroughly sick and like he wanted to be elsewhere. “Margromi?”

    “Yes, Margromi,” Grem interjected, staring him in the eyes. “Tell us your thoughts on the matter.”

    Iminna el-Eradelle watched the exchange in silence, her cold and calculating eyes taking everything in. Like the others present, she was now focused on Margromi, and he made the mistake of making eye contact with her.

    “Supervisor?”

    “Yes, ma’am?”

    “Supervise. Or, I will.”

    With this, she turned and left, making her way back up to her office, leaving an uneasy stillness in her wake. It was a few moments before any found the courage to speak, and it was Kleb that broke the silence.

    “So, what about our reward?”

    “Our reward,” Grem spat out.

    “Stop!” Margromi called out, his face paler than normal and his eyes fixed on the floor. “The reward goes to Grem and Lel-ti’ar. I’m sorry.”

    Giving Mal and Kleb a last pitiful look, he moved off across the quarry floor, desperate to find somewhere to hide from his shame. Grem flashed a smile, and her eyes widened briefly.

    “You have no honour,” growled Kleb, utterly disgusted that another Ren’kai could act as she had.

    “I might not have your honour,” she replied, pacing slowly up to Kleb until she was a breath away from his face. “But, I do have your reward.”

    Kleb’s muscles tensed as he used all of his self-control to hold himself back, all the years of discipline and training fighting against his natural Ren’kai rage. It would do them no good to cause a scene at the stoneworks. Iminna would have them all thrown out, and they would be disgraced.

    “Just go.”

    “Come on, Kleb,” said Mal, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Let’s go and talk to Margromi.”

    “Won’t make any difference,” Lel-ti’ar butted in, his mouth twisted into a gloating grin of victory. “We own him.”

    “And, that means we own anything you find,” Grem continued. “Which means that we own you, too.”

    ********************
    Daveywavey-member.png
  • Margromi was sat by himself, head in his hands and fingers twisted into his hair, as Mal and Kleb approached. Such was his despair that he did not hear them draw close, and it was only when Kleb growled his name that he turned towards them.

    “Margromi…”

    “I’m sorry,” he muttered, unable to meet their eyes. “There’s nothing I can do.”

    “Nothing you can do, or nothing you will do?” asked Mal, trying hard to hide the scorn in his voice. They had always known him to be a fair manager, and this betrayal stung nastily. “What happened back there?”

    “They came over after you went to wash off. Made me say it was their load.”

    “But, how? You’re in charge, not them.”

    “And, what did they mean when they said they owned you?” added Kleb.

    A lone tear forced its way out of the corner of Margromi’s eye as he thought of his sister, and the lengths he had gone to in order to preserve her reputation. He angrily wiped it away, the droplet the final humiliation that he could bear.

    “I don’t owe you an explanation,” he bellowed, anger rising above his shame. “And, you are not entitled to pry into my private affairs.”

    “That metal was ours,” Kleb launched back, his own temper growing to match Margromi’s. “You have dishonoured us. Stolen from us!”

    Mal reached out and placed a hand onto Kleb’s shoulder. Ordinarily, Kleb was a fun and disciplined friend, but being a Ren’Kai orc, he had a furious core hidden beneath his seemingly easy-going surface, and Mal knew that Kleb hated to be disrespected.

    “Look, Margromi,” Mal cut in, trying to keep the conversation below the limit where Iminna would have to get involved. “You’re correct that we don’t have the right to your private life, but you absolutely do owe us an explanation. We worked hard for that metal.”

    Margromi’s shoulders slumped once more, and his eyes softened.

    “You always work hard. You’re the best we have. But, there’s nothing I can do.”

    Footsteps sounded from nearby as Fyӓrdrimm joined them. The lizards were safely under their protective shelter and had been wiped down and fed, and he had now returned to collect his reward.

    “What’s that spiky-haired simpleton doing with our haul?” he said, watching Grem showing off her prize to the other quarry workers. He looked around at the other three with him, sensing the mood. “What’s the matter? You all look like a bull just assaulted your mother, and she enjoyed it.”

    Margromi scowled at the comment, so typical of Fyӓrdrimm, and Mal and Kleb closed their eyes briefly, wincing with embarrassment. Fyӓrdrimm was a part of their team, so they would stand up for him, but he was who he was. He was not always easy to be around.

    “Margromi’s decided that Grem and Lel-ti’ar deserve the reward for our work,” Mal stated evenly, looking over to the sledge where Lel-ti’ar stood, his long Py’Rai elven hair blowing slightly in the breeze, staring at Mal with a sadistic smirk on his face.

    “What? That’s absurd! Why should that wretch and her pet gremlin get our money?”

    “Apparently, there’s nothing he can do.”

    Fyӓrdrimm watched as Margromi sadly closed his eyes at the comment, and he paused. He had heard whisperings about an undisclosed scandal in Margromi’s family, and connected the two happenings instantly. There would be nothing they could do to alter his decision, and so they would have to try a different approach.

    “Well, some things are worth more than a man’s honour,” the dwarf began, to an insulted snort from Kleb. “Since there’s nothing you can do, and that you know we’re the ones that actually did the work, maybe there’s some other sort of reward you’d be able to give, that wouldn’t compromise you?”

    Margromi slowly opened his eyes, cautiously surveying the obnoxious Dünir before him. It was when a dwarf stopped throwing insults that they would be plotting something. He stared into Fyӓrdrimm’s wily face, and Mal and Kleb silently looked between the two, aware that something was happening and not wanting to disturb it.

    “You have a reputation as a fair man who rewards hard work. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to see our efforts ignored,” Fyӓrdrimm continued.

    Margromi stood up and faced Fyӓrdrimm, both men locked in a mental battle to end the conversation on top. He made a decision.

    “I can give you all the rest of the day off, at full pay.”

    “It’s a start, for sure,” Fyӓrdrimm replied, his brain whirring at speed, and calculating scenarios and probabilities. “But, it was a lot of metal, and a single afternoon ends pretty quickly.”

    “What were you thinking?”

    “I was thinking that three days ends a lot more slowly than a single afternoon does.”

    “Three days? The boss will need to check you in to the quarry each day. She’ll ask questions if you’re not there.”

    “So, what do you suggest?”

    “The afternoon off, for the next five days? You’ll show up as normal, but leave early.”

    “At full pay?”

    “Yes, of course.”

    Fyӓrdrimm turned to Mal and Kleb, who were standing there frozen, unsure what to make of the exchange. Fyӓrdrimm raised his eyebrows in question, and they both nodded.

    “We accept your terms,” said Fyӓrdrimm, nodding his head at Margromi with just enough movement to show him that they had got more than they expected.

    “Very well,” answered Margromi, suddenly feeling like he had just been manipulated once more. “Enjoy your afternoon.”

    With that, he strode away, increasing his pace as he went, before his flushed cheeks became too apparent.

    “Well, what are you waiting for, dig-monkeys?” Fyӓrdrimm called out, clapping each of them on the back. “Let’s go!”

    ********************

    While Fyӓrdrimm took his lizards off towards the nearby river for a drink, Mal and Kleb walked back to the village. They were still disappointed at the loss of their reward money, but the prospect of five short work days intrigued and excited them. More than this, however, they were upset at the actions of Margromi and how he had betrayed them.

    “I just can’t believe he’d do that,” Mal was saying, as he aimlessly kicked at a weed poking up from the roadway. “He’s always seemed like one of the good guys.”

    “And, to give it to them, of all people.”

    “Yeah.”

    “Thanks for keeping me calm, back there, Mal. I would have disgraced myself.”

    “You’d do the same for me.”

    “If you ever got angry!” Kleb laughed, light-heartedly poking fun at his friend’s usual even-tempered demeanour. What would be a furious rage in Kleb would present itself in Mal as an irritated annoyance.

    It was as they both neared Mal’s house that the bells began to ring. On the first stroke, the two friends froze, listening and waiting. As the chiming sped up and carried on, the ringer building their momentum on the rope, they glanced at each other and rushed into Mal’s house. A continuous ringing of the clock tower bell meant that the village was under attack. Mal threw an axe to Kleb, and picked up one for himself. Kleb usually wielded a warhammer, but he would have to make do.

    Dashing out of the house, they made for the village square. They still did not know the direction in which they were under attack, and the defence would be organised from the centre outwards. It was also where the village storehouses were located, and so would be the focus of the attack. As they approached the centre of the village, they could hear the fighting taking place close by, and ran to join it.

    Surging down the street in front of them was a group of raiders clad in the medium armour of front-line warriors. It was their task to hit their enemy and drive them backwards, whilst the lightly armoured skirmishers behind them did the killing. Their strategy required speed above all else, and it was their goal to push towards the storehouses and leave with what they could carry, before the village reinforcements had time to gather. Any defenders they injured, they would leave on the ground, preferring haste and movement over delivering a final blow. The front-line warriors carried a handaxe and a shield, and the skirmishers wielded a one-handed sword, leaving their other hand free to carry their plunder.

    A heavy metallic crunch thundered through the air as the raiders’ front line clashed with the village guards who had formed up to repel the attack. Experience had taught that if they could stall the assault for long enough, the raiders would lose their speed advantage and would likely retreat. It had been a costly learning experience. Axes, swords, and shields smashed together as both sides fought to gain ground, the raiders using their momentum to force their way through.

    A shrill whistle cut through the air, and Mal and Kleb looked to its origin to find a tall elf motioning for them to follow her. They recognised her instantly as Emarra el-Eradelle, the niece of Iminna, and the daughter of Olori, the leader of the council. She ducked into an alley between two buildings, the bright white of her hair flashing brightly as she disappeared, and they ran to catch up.

    Without waiting for them, she sprang out from the buildings into the street, her two swords swinging through the air in a wild scything motion, as she cut into the back row of the skirmisher raiders. Blood sprayed as those closest to her dropped, and a cry of surprise broke out from the enemy. As they recovered from their shock and moved to intercept her, Mal and Kleb burst from the alley, axes swinging in a giant chop, and the two of them took position at Emarra’s flanks, protecting her sides as she tore through the lightly armoured warriors that were now penned in between their own forces and her blades of death.

    One of the skirmishers thrust their sword at Emarra, and Mal batted it away with the head of his axe. Stepping in close, he used his free hand to throw a punch into the attacker’s face, before burying the cutting edge into their exposed throat. Since he had come straight from work, he was not wearing armour, and so had to be careful, but the enemy forces were beginning to lose spirit.

    On Emarra’s other flank, Kleb was similarly engaged, using his innate strength to force off attacks, and striking back with his own weapon. With the distraction caused by their arrival and the pressure from the village guards, the assault faltered and broke, and the raiders routed into a full retreat. He tried to grab a fleeing enemy as they sprinted past, but got an elbow to the face for his efforts.

    Wanting answers, Emarra gave chase, hoping to capture one of the raiders for questioning.

    “That one! Don’t let him get away!”

    Mal and Kleb looked to where she was pointing, at one of the front-line warriors who was making his escape. He was nearly out of range. Testing the weight of the axe in his hand, Kleb launched it through the air. It streaked towards the raider, flew straight past him, and ended up bouncing along the ground with a thud. Mal sighed and gave Kleb a look.

    “Really?”

    Kleb grinned and shrugged his shoulders, before walking over to retrieve it.

    A shout from behind them grabbed their attention, and they saw some of the guards surrounding a fallen raider. Emarra el-Eradelle was already marching over to him, and so they fell into step and joined the group.

    The raider was in a bad way, having taken a sword to the abdomen, and did not have long left to live. Emarra crouched down next to him and grabbed his face, her fingertips digging into his face in her anger.

    “Who paid you to attack us?”

    The man’s eyes were beginning to glaze over, and she dug her fingers further into his head, the pain jolting him back to full consciousness. Repeating her question, the man gasped his answer, his breath becoming shorter and more laboured with every moment.

    “Village… downstream… paid us…”

    She exhaled furiously, and her nostrils flared. They did not enjoy good relations with their neighbouring village, who had, it seemed, taken it upon themselves to hire soldiers to attack and steal from them. She watched as the raider’s breath quieted and the blood stopped spurting, and then dropped his head back to the floor and stepped away. She intensely disliked her village and how it was run, but she disliked bullies even more vehemently. This was her home, and as long as she lived here, she would defend it. Despite her fury, she managed a weak smile for Mal and Kleb, and nodded her thanks briefly, before heading to the village hall to make her report to her father and the rest of the village council.

    The village guards began to clear away the battle’s aftermath from the streets, and Mal and Kleb assisted them. Very soon, a funeral pyre was burning outside of the village perimeter, and all was back to normal. The two friends stood side by side, watching the flames flicker and the smoke flutter and weave its way into the clouds. Kleb passed back Mal’s axe, and clasped him by the shoulder. After the killing, there were no words to be spoken, and Kleb left in silence. Mal’s thoughts drifted back to the morning and to his feeling of foreboding, and gave a sigh, before he too turned and headed for home.

    ********************
    Daveywavey-member.png
  • ZeshioZeshio Member
    Haven't read all of it yet but it's pretty interesting, keep it up!
  • It was as he was just a few paces from his home that Mal started to feel a slight tickling sensation behind his eyes, and he blinked his lids rapidly to remove the feeling. All of a sudden, his body was rocked by an unseen force, and he stumbled, winded briefly, and dropped to his knees. Throwing his head backwards, his eyes glazed over with an unnatural white fog, and he gasped as the vision took hold.

    He was suddenly back in the blackness from the morning’s dream, and yet again, the tiny orange glow exploded outwards in a brilliant display of power, and the awesome flaming phoenix drew near. As before, the woman’s voice called out to him.

    “The time arrives, and the portals reawaken.”

    The orange flames began to swirl, flickering around each other, winding and coiling until they formed a flat shape with a loop on its top. Mal recognised it instantly as the huge stone ring from his morning ritual at the graveyard. The voice called out again.

    “Come, my creation. One of the destined few. Return to Verra.”

    With that, the vision ended, and Mal found himself knelt on the ground with his arms outstretched, as if reaching towards the phoenix and the godly voice. Coming to his senses, he realised where he needed to be, and leaving his axes discarded and forgotten on the ground, he sprinted towards the graveyard.

    Racing past the tavern and ducking in between the houses, he burst through the village’s perimeter fence, not stopping to see the bewildered looks from the guards as more and more of the village’s inhabitants flocked towards the graveyard.

    Arriving at the site, he saw a small crowd of villagers, including Kleb. They were frozen in place, staring at the sky. Following their gaze, Mal looked upwards to see the sun shrinking from all sides in a bizarre eclipse, as dark tendrils streaked their way in from the edge, meshing together as they joined, and covering the ground below in a dark haze. As the tendrils met in the centre, the earth beneath their feet began to shudder and shake, the noise of which bellowed in a deep roar.

    Without warning, the tendrils blocking out the sun began to blaze and exploded outwards in a dazzling arc, and a brilliant beam of radiant energy thundered down onto the stone ring. The stones themselves began to glow, superheated by the beam’s power, and a shimmering blue mist appeared in the centre of the ring, the waves of energy rippling across the surface in deep pulsating movements.

    Just as suddenly as the event had occurred, all became peaceful once more. The sun shone clear through the pale blue sky, and the earth was still and silent. The people, too, were completely noiseless, some stood gazing in awe, and others sat where the earthquake had knocked them, all motionless before the divine majesty of the enormous, glowing gateway.

    It did not take long before the rest of the village came to join them, and very soon, the entire population was stood amongst the graves, staring at what had always been an unusual yet boring stone structure of unknown origin. Nervous mutterings broke out amongst the newcomers, but for those who had been drawn there, the chosen few that had been granted the dreams, the portal promised a new beginning, and a new adventure.

    ********************

    A whole village meeting had been called. All of the adults were present, the situation having been deemed too traumatic for children’s ears. The discussion had been going on for some time, and as happens in local politics, the discussion had become a debate, and had since turned into a full blown argument. Olori el-Eradelle, the leader of the village council, was chairing the meeting, his long golden hair drooping over his pale face, and his terrified eyes betraying his true feelings on the matter.

    “But, what is it? And, why is it here?”

    “It’s always been here,” a voice called out from the assembled masses, who were tightly crowded into what would have ordinarily felt like a reasonably well sized room. “I’ve heard there are more spread out across Sanctus.”

    “Well, it hasn’t always been glowing!” another voice shouted across the room, to murmurs of approval.

    “Or blocking out the sun!

    “Or shooting lightning! It’s evil!”

    “It’s on sacred ground! How can it be evil?”

    “Sacred to who? Nobody knows anything about it.”

    More and more villagers joined in the shouting contest, each determined to win the argument for their side. Olori stood and tried to call for quiet, but the commotion only became louder.

    “It’s an invitation. An opportunity!”

    “I have to think about my children, and that thing’s dangerous!”

    Among those few in the room who were remaining quiet was Iminna el-Eradelle. She was not on the village council, but had a customary chair at the side of the council table, and she had been listening carefully and watching the to and fro between the two sides of the argument. She was still undecided about the portal, but unlike the panicked villagers crammed into the hall, she was weighing the situation’s costs and benefits, as if it were a new business venture to consider. She allowed the arguing to carry on for a few more moments before she rose from her seat, standing in perfect stillness. The noise stopped in an instant, all eyes towards the true power in the village.

    “Is there anybody here with any solid information about this stone ring?”

    The silence continued, some too afraid to speak out to Iminna, and others waiting as she were for the answer.

    “Is there nobody who knows anything about it? Anything at all?” she carried on, determined to use reason and knowledge to make her decision.

    Mal gently cleared his throat and raised his arm.

    “It’s a gateway. A doorway to somewhere new,” he answered, before his brow furrowed as he replayed his own words in his mind. “Or, to somewhere very old.”

    The murmuring from amongst the villagers started up once more, with one side asking where or how he knew this information, and the other side agreeing with him. Iminna raised her own arm, and as before, the room fell silent.

    “A doorway, you say?”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    “To where?”

    Mal took a shallow breath, aware that he had no evidence for what he saying, and that all of his supposed knowledge had come from a series of dreams. He looked up into Iminna’s eyes, desperate to say something, yet equally desperate to keep his dignity intact. Thankfully, the decision was taken from him, as a quiet whisper from the side of room interrupted the questioning.

    “To Verra.”

    Everyone’s attention was now focused on Emarra el-Eradelle, who was stood staring into space, clearly reliving the visions that had also been granted to her.

    “What is Verra?” Iminna asked, burying her eyes into Emarra’s, watching for any sign or reaction.

    “It’s another world. The one before Sanctus.”

    One of dwarves on the council, of the Niküa race of dwarves, scoffed and spat on the floor. Unlike the Dünir dwarves, the Niküa did not generally have facial hair, and so his derisive sneer was visible to all.

    “We’ve lived on Sanctus for thousands of years, for all of recorded history. How would you know what came before?”

    “I only know what I’ve seen.”

    At this, Olori’s head snapped upwards towards Emarra, his jowly cheeks jiggling slightly at the movement, and he glared at his daughter.

    “Emarra!” he shot out, breaking his way into the conversation. “That’s enough.”

    Iminna silenced the village leader with a wave of her hand, her attention still with her niece.

    “Where have you seen this world?”

    Before Emarra could answer, Olori had rejoined the conversation.

    ”She’s just a little girl who has strange dreams. They mean nothing.”

    “They’re more than dreams, father,” Emarra retorted sharply. “I don’t know what they are, but they’re more than that.”

    The mention of the dreams had caused a reaction from some of the villagers present, the ones who had been first to the portal. Iminna had noticed this, as she made it her business to notice such things, and she had begun to understand that there was more going on here than her brother had realised. She looked back over to the main body of villagers, finding out Mal in the throng.

    “Mal?”

    “Yes, ma’am?”

    “Have you also had these dreams?”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    “So, this Verra world exists?”

    “Yes, ma’am,” Mal replied, trying to keep eye contact with Iminna despite the agitation caused by his response. “I believe so.”

    The noise level increased once more, this time needing more than just Iminna to quieten it back down.

    “What do you know of this world?”

    “It’s not unlike our own, ma’am. Except, something bad happened there.”

    A slight rustling began across the room, but none would risk interrupting Iminna el-Eradelle again.

    “What happened?”

    “They were attacked, ma’am.”

    “By who?”

    “I don’t know, ma’am. But, they weren’t any creature I’ve seen here on Sanctus.”

    He paused for a moment, trying to find the right words.

    “They’re old, and twisted. Deformed, almost. Like they used to be normal, but got changed, somehow. They came out of some big gateways and started killing everything.”

    At this, the room erupted into chaos, and the village guards had to step in to keep the peace, although they too were shaken by Mal’s account. The mention of hideous killers emerging from a gateway had not made the appearance of the nearby gateway seem any less terrifying.

    “So, we’re to expect a horde of vicious creatures descending upon us?” Olori called out, rising to his feet once more and flailing his arms in an overly dramatic motion.

    “No, Leader Olori. It’s not like that.”

    “Oh, really? You say these murderers came out of a gateway, and you tell us that we have a gateway outside the village! What are we to think?”

    “It’s a different kind of gateway,” Kleb called out, coming to his friend’s defence, and shooting him an encouraging nod from across the crowd. “That one was a burning, orange gateway. Ours is the one the people escaped through to safety.”

    “How can you be sure?” asked a Dünir member of the council, as she stroked her long, grey dwarven beard. She liked to do this when she was thinking, and it also helped to ease her mood when she was faced with a stressful situation. She was answered by an anonymous declaration from one of the assembled villagers.

    “The voice! Tell them about the voice!”

    Olori lifted his hands, motioning for quiet.

    “I think we’re putting far too much faith in these dreams. I can’t risk this village’s safety based on mere fantasy.”

    “Fantasy?” hissed Emarra from between her clenched teeth. “You’ve seen the gateway, father. That’s beyond fantasy.”

    “Oh, because a talking phoenix told you? There’s no such thing as a phoenix. They don’t exist,” her father spat back, the two of them already having had this same argument a number of times. “You, my girl, need to grow up, and focus on what’s important!”

    A deep breath from Iminna once more held the room’s attention, and she let it out slowly. She had made her decision.

    “I won’t lie. The prospect of another world excites me greatly. The possibilities alone…” she began, drifting off a little, before bringing herself back out of her imagination. “But, knowing that there’s an army of monstrous killers on the other side rather overwhelms that excitement. Our first priority must always be to look to the safety of our village, and that is why we must block up the gateway.”

    A round of applause erupted around the village hall, drowning out the cries of disapproval from those on the opposing side of the discussion. Emarra had stepped forwards, mouth wide in astonishment.

    “No! Aunt Iminna, we have to go through!”

    The Dünir council member called out once more, leaning back on her chair with a grin. She was enjoying the spectacle.

    “Quiet, elf-child. Don’t embarrass your father further.”

    “I’ll have stone brought from the quarry,” Iminna continued, ignoring the protest from her niece. “We’ll wall it off on each side, and that will be the end of it.”

    Through the noise of the cheering, nobody heard the sound of the door opening, or the voice calling out for the council. It got closer and closer as the newcomer approached the front, pushing their way through the collected throng of villagers until they emerged at the council table. Surprised by the sudden interruption, the council turned their attention away from Iminna.

    “Ermas, you have news?” Olori asked, addressing the newcomer with some surprise in his voice.

    Ermas was one of the village’s messengers, and had recently been sent to the village downstream, the same one that had paid the raiders to attack. It had been her job to try and repair their relationship, but she had been unsuccessful in this task. She now stood in front of the council table, all eyes on her.

    “Leader Olori, council members. I came as soon as they’d made their decision.”

    “What decision? What’s happened, Ermas?”

    “The sun went dark, and there was lightning,” she began, to a series of concerned looks between the council members. “The lightning hit the stone ring by the lake downstream, and set it alight. Or, it’s glowing, at least, with some sort of energy. Apparently it’s a door to another world, and they’re going through to colonise it.”

    “What?” Olori gasped, looking to Iminna for her advice. “They’re going through?”

    “Yes, Leader. They’re spending three days in preparation, and they’re setting off on the fourth.”

    Olori motioned to the other council members, and they rose from their chairs and made their way to the back of the room. Iminna joined them, and they all busied themselves in quiet debate, out of earshot but under the gaze of every adult in the village. After a number of minutes, they returned to their places. Iminna wore a satisfied expression, but Olori looked paler than normal, and his voice trembled slightly as he delivered the announcement.

    “My good people,” he started, placing his hands on the table to steady himself. “The council has decided that we are to brave the gateway. We will send an expedition to build a new village, and to expand our influence into this new world. There will be two days of preparation, and then they will leave on the third day.”

    The village hall once more broke out into chaos, and as the guards tried their futile attempts at regaining control, Mal looked across the room at Kleb, and they both smiled. Their minds were made up, and they would make sure that they were on the expedition.

    ********************
    Daveywavey-member.png
Sign In or Register to comment.