Since time immemorial, darkness has been associated with evil and misfortune; as such, it has many forms. There is its base nature, which is simply an area devoid of light. Then there are other forms like despair, fear, torture, sorrow, pain, and many
Humans hate all the forms of darkness by nature. When cast into sudden darkness, they crawl their way to the light, no matter how painful it might be. In times when they realise there is no light to run to, they go crazy with terror and descend into utter despair. It is quite common for them to take their own lives even if they have food with them.
However, there are exceptions to this: Those who are born in darkness, and those subjected to so much of it yet possess so stubborn a nature, they evolve to adapt to it instead of giving up.
Syèl could not see, but felt the mass of hair resting on his legs. Fear had a way of tiring people out and Ouiji had given in to that fatigue. She had fallen asleep on his shoulder, then fell onto his lap a few minutes later.
For him, he was not sure which of the categories he belonged to. In a way he had been born in darkness but he had also evolved to suit the dark. Immersed in the darkness, he accidentally slipped into thoughts of his past… Of his very first memory……..
Covered in darkness, a heavy mass pressed down on him cutting off his supply of air and paralysing his body. His sole companions were voices drifting in from beyond whatever pressed down on him. He tried to call for help, but the mass on him stifled all his cries, and a thick metallic tasting liquid seeped into his open mouth, blocking both his windpipe and esophagus. He could not push the mass away because his hands were trapped by his side.
Oblivious to his struggle, a couple of people were having a hearty discussion somewhere close enough for him to hear.
“Hahaha, the fool should have just paid up.”
“Did you hear him beg for his son’s life?”
“Fat blobs like him are a waste of time. Where’s the kid?”
“Dunno. He must have run away and left his old man.”
“Che. This is why I hate these pricks. How does someone even get this fat living in a place like this?”
“Who knows? Come on Wes, the cops will be here soon.”
The sound of something being crushed was followed by one of the men sighing. “Sure, sure. Let’s beat it. Find the kid!”
“Sure thing boss.”
The trapped little kid was losing his battle, his lungs hurting more and more as they begged for air. Normally, he should have lost consciousness by then, but he had an uncommon willpower that kept his body just a bit longer in the fight. When he drifted off, he would will himself awake, pushing himself to live.
Unfortunately, even willpower had its limits and just as he was about to fall unconscious for the last time, the heavy mass was lifted off of him.
Light burned his eyes as he involuntarily sucked in a huge amount of air, coughing hysterically when he was done. Hands grabbed him roughly and dragged him to his feet, his legs scraping the rough ground. His eyes slowly got used to the light and he looked at the mass that had almost killed him.
It was an overly obese man covered in a red liquid he would later learn was blood. The man’s eyes stared into nothingness, carrying in them clear regret and pain over something. His back, legs and chest were riddled with holes out of which the liquid oozed.
The little kid stared at the man in terror, as an ungodly wail formed in his throat.
Ouiji’s sharp voice snapped him awake, and he realised he had fallen asleep sometime during his flashback. The sight of her worried face showed the curse had worn off and he had regained his sight. He followed her line of sight to his hand which was held her wrists in a death grip, causing her a lot of pain.
His eyes went wide with shock as he released her hand and backed away sharply.
“Are you alright?” Her eyes showed clear concern for him.
He gritted his teeth. He hated those eyes. “I’m fine,” he said, forcing a smile. “Come on, we’ve lost a lot of time.” He stood up, and walked away. His hurried gait showed he had no desire to discuss the subject any further.
Somewhat understanding the need for privacy, Ouiji followed closely behind.
This was very nasty maze. If it was not hard enough finding the way out, adventurers had to deal with getting blind and momentarily losing their search of direction. The fact that the walls of the maze all looked exactly the same made things worse on them. It was no wonder several had perished inside the maze.
None of these factors were of any consequence to Syèl though.
More of the poltergeists showed up, and they decided to leave them up to him. Since he was a mage, he could simply attack from range with his flames to avoid a chance of being blinded again.
As they neared the end of the maze, the enemies got trickier. Where there had once been only poltergeists, there were now poltergeists accompanied by skeletons of the dead.These were also low-level but they were quite fast, and increased in number per group as they approached the exit.
The final group comprised of five poltergeists and seven skeletons. They had guessed there would be a boss at the end of the crypt. As a result, they agreed she should keep her mana full since she was the stronger of both of them while he took care of the enemies with his spells.
Still pissed off by the memory, he pointed his open palm at them and a magic circle appeared under the group.
“<<Flame Spiral>>,” he said as a column of fire burst out from the circle, consuming all of the monsters inside. They crumbled to dust, leaving bones and coins as loot. He ignored them all as he stepped past their smoking ashes.
Ouiji followed his lead, eyes downcast. Her fingers clenched and unclenched over the hilt of her sword as she bit her lip, wondering what she could do to ease the atmosphere. She instinctively knew he would not take well to fooling around.
“RaaAAAH!” Syèl suddenly shouted and banged his head on the wall.
“W-what are you doing?!” she cried, reaching out to grab him but he turned to her and grinned sheepishly.
“Sorry,” he said with the weirdest smile she had ever seen in her life.
“I remembered something unpleasant and took it out on you. I’m really sorry,” he said, clasping his hands together and bowing his head.
“C-come on now! Don’t go apologising so suddenly. It’s embarrassing!” She said, waving her hands frantically in front of her.
“Good, then. Let’s get going… Prince.” He winked, dragging out the prince. He turned and ran down the last stretch.
“Don’t call me prince!” She cried and chased after him, smiling in spite of herself. It was nice to have him back.
The maze ended in a small hallway similar to the one under the temple. The burning ridges in the walls lighted the path, revealing a huge stone door at the end.
The duo stopped in front of the door, which was really a huge slab of rock with concentric semicircular patterns on it. They decided to wait for Syèl’s mana to return.
Usually this could take forever considering the vast amount of mana he had, but it only took a couple of minutes with the meditation skill which was unique to mages, priests, or anyone with a magic-related class.
Once he regained his mana they placed their hands on the door.
Here lies Alure, goddess of death, and Ferulic’s favourite child. Slain after trying to rescue her father from captivity, her spirit returned to the earth to regain her power once more for another battle. Unfortunately, she was captured and entrapped inside this tomb. Her spirit is guarded fiercely by a minion of The Destroyer. Only those of sound mind and strong heart may proceed.
Do You Wish To Enter?
“Well?” Syèl asked, looking at his partner, mocking in his eyes. “You up for it?”
“Hmph. Do not compare me to you. I am always prepared for combat. You sure you’re not going to bawl out crying over your past?” It was a very crass remark, and one that would annoy anyone on the receiving end.
Syèl however, was not like anyone else. He covered his eyes with his right hand, bending back as he laughed heartily. He made a ‘V’ with his middle and ring finger, opening just enough space for her to see his left eye which gleamed brightly. “Oh.. I was born ready.”
They chorused “Yes,” spells charged and swords drawn as the circles rolled into the ground, opening the path to the cave.
The smoke Kashi had seen came from a small village which the marker on the road had revealed to be Ranad. From first impressions, it was a really run-down place. The houses looked like they were going to fall to the ground at any moment, and the villagers (which consisted of only men) themselves were dressed in dirty rags denoting their poorness.
‘Uwaah. I can understand why no one wants to come here. These people are dirt poor.’ Kashi thought to himself as he walked through the town looking at the impoverished villagers. Most of them even looked liked they had not eaten in days. This gave the elf an idea.
He went to the town square – well, what he assumed was the town square. It was literally a small slab of stone that formed a square with dead flowers in the middle.
He took a seat on the slab and took out his pot. His cooking skills were at level seven which meant he could make some snazzy recipes. On his way to the village, he had done some hunting for animals, and though it had proved a lot more challenging than hunting in the forest, he had been able to snag himself a deer and a couple of Dusk rabbits.
He still had the condiments and spices he had bought in Kerta so he started cooking. Minutes later, the aroma from his dish rose from the pot. It branched out through the village, wafting into the noses of the villagers. It tickled and teased them, then like a snake charmer, lured them towards its maestro.
That’s right, gather, gather. The dark elf thought, his lips curling up in a sly smile.
One of the villagers stepped forward, hesitation in his eyes. “E-excuse me, good sir, could you spare me a bowl.”
Jackpot! Kashi hid his excitement behind a thoughtful frown. “Ah, I would love to but I am afraid hunting in this land is very taxing…”
“Oh, then perhaps I could give you some information on good hunting grounds?”
“Ah, your kindness warms my heart. Here, sit and eat. A strapping man such as yourself should not lack a warm meal.” Kashi gave the man a bowl of his soup.
The man took a small sip… “Oh.. Oh, sweet Aethir. How… how could something taste this good?!” Tears streamed down his cheeks, his face lighting up in a bright smile as he downed the rest of the meal in seconds.
“Me, me too!”
“I can tell you the history of this place!”
“I know places to avoid!”
The villagers cried one after another, eager to have a taste of the meal that had made one of their own shed tears of joy.
“There is no need to rush, my friends. There is plenty enough for everyone,” Kashi said. He kept on cooking for hours until he had exhausted all of his ingredients, but the information gained was worth it.
He learned from the villagers that their major fishing ports had been hijacked by gangs of pirates and Froggers(Frog men). The scoundrels had also placed hefty taxes on them which left them with nothing but scraps. To add insult to injuries, the villagers were not allowed to hunt for food without explicit permission from the pirates. Apparently, it was not just them; the same conditions could be said of several of the villages close to the Atled delta.
Oh, and their women had also been kidnapped. The men were especially sore about this above anything else.
One of the old men had a
long white goatee and mustache that was almost as long as the goatee. He
flicked it to the side, reminding the elf of characters out of kung fu movies.
“You have my utmost gratitude, Kashi-dono,” the man said.
“No. It was my honor to help my fellow countrymen. It is the least I can do to make up for my people’s past sins. And please, call me Kashi,” Kashi said, standing up and bowing respectfully.
“My name is Elecurb.
Itis good to see such chivalry in the youth of this generation. Most just want to become the greatest adventurer and forget both their homes and manners.”
“Ah, yes. It is such a tragedy, Elecurb-san.”
Elecurb eyed the dark elf, suspicion in his eyes. Years of wisdom and experience had taught him everything was not as it seemed. “What brings you to Ranad, Kashi?”
Kashi chose his words carefully. Lying was not wise as he believed old people could sniff it, but he
could not be completely either. “I heard the borders were in peril, and noticed none of my kind were coming down to help. Though I may be weak, I chose to come and help in any way I can.”
“Your words ring true. Come, walk with me dark one.”
Really? Dark one? You too? “Why have you not received any aid from the capital? I would assume the loss of so many shipping ports would damage your economy,” Kashi said, following the elder.
“Do you not know?” he asked. The dark elf shook his head, and he sighed, stroking his beard. “There is no capital… It has been completely occupied by Lizardmen, though there is news of a force rising to claim it in Kerta. Its commander was called Absalon I believe…”
Kashi managed to keep the smile on his face despite a burning inferno of anger just beneath the surface. “Oh, I pray they will be successful. In the meantime, I cannot bear to see your people in such dire straits. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“As a matter of fact, there is. But be warned: It is both dangerous and time consuming.”
“Time is not an issue when important lives are at stake.”
“Hohoho. You either possess Retskirt’s gift or you are a messenger from Aerith.”
“The god of trickery and deception.”
“Ah, I am afraid I am neither. Simply a concerned citizen.”
“It gladdens my heart to see such people still exist. There may be hope for us yet. Here’s what I want you to do…”
Liberate the Atled Delta
A gang of pirates and Froggers have occupied the major fishing ports, cutting off all income. Elecurb, mayor of Ranad had requested your assistance to rid them of this terror.