Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Decaying World - Chapter 7: A Rift Between Worlds

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Chapter 7: A Rift Between Worlds

It took them a few hours to reach Desson, a small settlement consisting of nothing more than a handful of beige stone buildings built around a well. Drake had always thought that his home town was one of the smaller villages on Meceruun, but Arlin was a city compared to this desolate town. Judging by the occasional patches of grass it might have been an oasis once but as the old man had told them: the desert won't stop till every trace of life has been extinguished. The village didn't even look like it was inhabited as there wasn't a single person in sight.
Where is everyone?” asked Maximilian while wiping sweat off his forehead.
Indoors, I assume. Who'd want to be outside under these conditions?”
Despite having most of his face hidden Drake still felt the immense heat of the desert sun upon his skin. He lost count on how often he stumbled and fell during their journey as the sun continually sapped his energy.
I thought these cloaks would be a bit more useful,” said Maximilian, wiping the sweat from his forehead once more.
How about you take it off then and see how worse it gets?” Drake chuckled.
I'd rather not. Hey, that building looks like a tavern. Might be the perfect place to waste some time while we wait for the temperature to drop.”
Shortly thereafter they stepped through the door and were greeted by complete and utter silence. Every single person in the establishment stared at the newcomers and they could hear sentences like “How did those strangers get here?” or “Maybe they know something about the pillar.” being whispered.
What? Never seen humans before?” exclaimed Maximilian loudly and the mob was taken aback, instantly returning to whatever they had been doing earlier. Conversations and laughter filled the room as normality ensued.

They spent about half an hour inside the tavern, mostly talking about completely trivial stuff while listening to conversations about the black pillar here and there. Only a handful of people didn't seem to care.
You don't happen to know anything about this, do you?” asked the bartender once.
Sorry. It wasn't there when we crossed the mountains and must have appeared some time after we set up camp. And if I'm not mistaken you seem to know more about this pillar than we do,” replied Maximilian.
The only thing we know for certain is who created it. It shouldn't have been possible, though, as that monster has been stripped of most of its power. Maybe the seal has weakened over time. That would explain why it was able to roam the caves despite being locked away.”
That's all the bartender wanted to divulge.
You could have ratted me out, you know?” whispered Drake after a few more minutes.
And traverse this desolate place all by myself? Not to mention the temple. Who knows what creatures lurk within.”
I thought you're a master swordsman.”
Which did me no good in the caves. I still need more power to protect Pagan. Anyway, you saved my life, therefore I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. Your story could still be made up but I'm willing to believe you, for now. And if I find out that you're lying...” his hand wandered to his sword.
I get it,” replied Drake and took another sip of cold lemonade. “I wonder how they manage to cool these. You'd think they could do something about the desert if it's magic.”
You'd need to be a very powerful mage to stop it from spreading, or even to return it to its former state. I doubt there's anyone left who'd be capable of such a feat.”
I guess you're right...”
More time passed while the sun continued to crawl over the sky.
So, what are you planning to do when—” Maximilian's question was cut off when someone crashed through the entrance door. A young man covered in blood stumbled into the room, his clothes were ripped to shreds. He limped into the center of the tavern before he collapsed.

Drake and Maximilian had been ushered to a table at the far side of the room as the inhabitants didn't want to get strangers involved in their affairs. The wounded man got medical attention on the other side, completely hidden from view.
Can you hear anything?” whispered Maximilian and Drake heightened his hearing.
Only incoherent fragments. Something about an oasis, a shimmering object and giant claws.”
Think we should help them out?”
Shouldn't we get to the temple as soon as possible?” asked Drake perplexed.
None of them look like they could put up a good fight. Their village could be obliterated while we're trying to get rid of Dorr'n Selkesch. He might be more dangerous but judging by the size of the pillar we still have time to deal with whatever attacked that guy, especially because the oasis can't be far away. He couldn't have run for hours with those wounds,”—he took another sip before continuing—“And this would be the perfect chance for you to prove yourself. Show me that you value human life!”
If you put it like we only need to find out where this oasis is.”
Let's just do what the old man told us. Get supplies as well as a map. If the latter doesn't help we can still ask someone. I can be very persuasive!” a wide grin spread across his face.
Yeah, I saw how well that worked out when Jessica urged you to teach me a lesson,” Drake smirked and Maximilian's smile faltered.
She'll be the death of me, eventually...” he sighed. “I really like here, for various reasons, but she can be unbelievably childish sometimes. She just isn't fit to be a queen yet. And I can't imagine being a king.”
Because you couldn't punch people in the face anymore?”
Shut up!” Maximilian grabbed his glass and chucked the remaining lemonade into Drake's face.

They didn't need to persuade anyone as there was only a single oasis in the vicinity of Desson. Strange, the map still shows an oasis inside the village despite it only being a year old. Has the desert really spread that fast in a matter of 12 months? Drake scratched his head before he put the map away.
After stocking up on food and water, the load of which they divided amongst themselves, our heroes continued their journey towards the north-east. There wasn't much to be seen on the way, just a desolate wasteland filled with cacti, rocks and the corpses of animals killed by predators or the heat itself. Shortly before reaching their goal they saw the formation of a sandstorm in the distance and Drake cocked his head, baffled by what he thought he'd seen.
Maximilian walked a few more steps before realizing that his companion had stopped. “What is it now? I don't think we have to worry about the storm anytime soon.”
That's not it! I could swear that I saw a carriage being ripped apart.”
Oh god. Lets just hope it was abandoned...” despite his words Maximilian still made the sign of a cross in front of him, praying for the souls of potential victims.

They reached the oasis of Desson in less than 20 minutes. It looked nearly identical to the one they had woken up in, but that one had felt like a calm and peaceful place whereas this was filled by an overwhelming silence.
Something's wrong, but I can't see anything out of the ordinary.”
Drake's eyes wandered across the area while his hearing was heightened to such an extent that he could hear the movement of the grass itself. Maximilian on the other hand unsheathed his sword and walked in a circle, prodding the ground once in a while, as if expecting a giant beast underneath the earth.
I can't see any—”
Stop!” exclaimed Drake and Maximilian came to a halt. “Retrace your steps and talk while you're doing so.”
I hope you're not just making fu—”
Stop! Walk a single step forward.”
What is going on?” Maximilian raised an eyebrow as he did so, completely puzzled about what sense this ridiculous behavior made.
Perfect. Don't you hear anything?”
You're just screwing with me, right?”
No! Doesn't my voice sound muffled to you too?”
Huh, now that you mention it. But it vanished when I took one more step in either direction?” He stepped forwards, backwards and sideways, all the while talking.
No, it remains If you walk sideways.”
Drake walked towards his companion till only an oddly deformed palm tree separated them. Its trunk took a sharp 90° turn without showing so much as a crack in the wood. The rest of the tree was trying to lift itself from the ground, leading to a crooked form.
Didn't the wounded guy say something about a shimmering object?” Maximilian's voice sounded even more muffled than before, as if he was talking through a solid object.
He did. Do you see what he meant?”
Don't you? The air itself is shimmering, but only above the tree.”
Drake couldn't see anything before crossing over to the other side. Starting from the trunk, all the way to the tree's crown, the air was shimmering and billowing, as if it was alive. Strange, this reminds me of something... Before Drake could figure out what it was tiny strands of darkness appeared from the distortion and shot into the ground.
Did you see that?” Maximilian tried to point at them but they were already gone.
I did. What no—” the earth shook, followed by an explosion that covered the area in an impenetrable cloud of sand. A piercing scream echoed through the air while eight smaller earthquakes send tremors throughout the oasis.
What is tha—” a gust of wind closed in on Maximilian and he threw himself to the ground, narrowly avoiding an unrecognizable object. A loud snapping sound could be heard where his head had been, which also cut the tree in half.
Drake, can you hear me?” whispered Maximilian in vain as he could barely hear himself.
His partner had chosen to flee to higher ground, a rock formation a few feet away from the oasis. He was nearly thrown off when something large smashed into the ground. More sand was blown into the air, as if their attacker planned to keep them in the dark, preventing them from fighting back. From his new vantage point, however, Drake could see the top of the creature. What kind of monster is this? It has to be about as big as the entire oasis! A perfect target! Drake didn't want to agree with his primordial beast but it was right. Here goes! The shadow sword was consumed by darkness, which didn't look nearly as powerful as before. Must be because of the sun or due to a lack of blood, but it should be more than enough. Drake swung the blade from left to right, wary not to aim at the ground itself to avoid hitting Maximilian. A wave of pure energy shot towards the beast, obliterated all the sand on its way and fizzled out when it came into contact with the monster's crimson shell.
An ear-shattering scream echoed through the air and Drake was swept from his feet by a shock wave.
Meanwhile Maximilian had scrambled to his feet and hidden himself behind a group of trees on the other side of the oasis. How am I supposed to hit a monster I can't perceive? Seconds later a wave of darkness swept over the area, allowing Maximilian a clear view of the monster's front before it rammed its pincers into the ground once more to renew the sand cloud. A giant scorpion, I see. Maybe... he left his hiding spot to search for Drake while their enemy trashed around, still trying to find its prey.
Drake, are you okay?” asked Maximilian as he pulled his companion from the sand.
Perffecsshy”—he coughed and spit out sand—“ffine for sshomeone who jussht ate sshand,” he coughed some more while dusting the sand off of his hair.
Worry about that later! Can you attack the scorpion once more?”
I sshuposhe,” his teeth cracked as he bit on sand. “But it'sh usshelessh.”
You don't have to hurt it! Just get rid of the sand for a few seconds and I'll do the rest.”
Drake nodded while a disgusted expressions passed over his face. His hands wandered aimlessly across his belt. Maximilian pressed a small metal bottle into his hands.
I'm returning to the oasis! Just make sure to hit the monster instead of me!”
Drake nodded once more before he opened the bottle and took a huge gulp of water. He gurgled for a few seconds before he spit it out.
That's much better.” Whatever you're planning, Maximilian, I hope it works, and with these thoughts he ascended the rock formation once more.
The scorpion had fallen into a rage by then and had flattened half the trees of the oasis as it tried to squeeze itself through to the other side. Stupid beast! You could have simply walked around it! thought Maximilian while waiting patiently for Drake to strike. He couldn't remain in his hiding spot for much longer if the monster continued to advance.
Shadows consumed the sand and the royal knight leaped up, just in the nick of time to avoid getting crushed by one of the scorpion's pincers. He stumbled forward, barely able to catch his balance, and followed the path cleared by Drake's attack. The magic had already faded away again but Maximilian saw all he needed to see. The scorpion screamed, sending another shock wave in Drake's direction, and failed to hit anything. Perfect! thought Maximilian as he ran towards the monster's head before it could hide itself once more.
What the hell are you doing?” screamed Drake from afar, but his words were swallowed by the scorpion's rampage. I really hope he planned to jump into that beast's mouth... His companion vanished from sight when the giant pincers blew more sand into the air. Is there nothing I can do? Let me take over and screw you!
Something smashed into the ground. Startled he jumped backwards while his heartbeat accelerated. The scorpion's sting was buried in the earth and its venom caused the sand to turn black and rubbery. Drake swung his sword at the tail but despite its sawtooth-shape it bounced right off.
This has to be a bad joke!” he screamed in frustration, but it was overshadowing by a blood-curdling roar.
Shock waves blasted all of the sand away and the sting was pulled back as the scorpion raised its body into the air, exposing its bottom half in the process. Would you look at that? Drake gathered his energy once more and a wave of darkness smashed into the scorpion's bottom. Some of it fizzled out like before, but the rest penetrated the cracks in the scorpion's exoskeleton. Shortly thereafter the beast's bottom was covered in fountains of blood and it fell backwards, racked with pain. Its legs shuddered and its pincers swept back and forth. Shortly afterwards it stopped moving entirely and its body started to evaporate. A giant pillar of black smoke ascended into the air and if it weren't for the flattened trees no trace of the battle would have remained. Even the blood was gone.
Drake spotted a lone figure lying on the ground and hurried towards him. “Maximilian, are you okay?”
His companion was clinging onto his swords, his knuckles had turned white, sweat was running down his head and his eyes were shut.
Maximilian!” Drake screamed at him before he slapped his face.
Ouch!” Maximilian yelled as his eyes snapped wide open. “Wha...Drake? What happened?”
You tell me. What did you do to the scorpion?”
Maximilian looked around in confusion. “Where did it go?”
Drake slapped him once more.
Could you stop hitting me?” he grumbled and leaped to his feet.
As soon as you answer my question!”
The royal knight raised his sword, plunging it into the air. “I rammed my blade into the scorpion's flesh. And then everything went to hell. Just a few more seconds and I might have fallen into the beast's stomach. So, what happened to it?” he asked while picking up the bag that had contained his supplies. Only a few fruits had survived the monster's rampage.
Its corpse turned into smoke and vanished.”
Fortunately we don't need any proof of our victory. Did you save your supplies?”
Drake nodded. “I guess we'll have to visit another village on the way.”
Shortly afterwards they were ready to leave when Drake's gaze fell upon the distortion from earlier, which seemed to have shrunk. “I'm not sure we're done yet.”
Because the air is still shimmering. Whatever created this giant scorpion must be on the other side of...whatever this is,” said Drake and walked towards it.
I hope it takes some time out. I don't want to fight another one of these.”
Drake reached out to the distortion and his hand vanished into thin air. He pulled it back quickly.
This must be some kind of portal.”
And do you happen to know how to close one?” asked Maximilian inquisitively.
How would I?”
His hand wandered across the surface, plunging in once in a while to see if he could pull it back every time.
It doesn't seem to be dangerous, for now. Maybe I can see where it leads.”
Don't complain when something bites your head off.”
Drake ignored that remark and breathed in deeply before he did the unthinkable: he plunged his head into the portal. Seconds later his entire body slipped through and Maximilian leaped back in surprise. I knew that it was a stupid idea...before he could despair a hand reached out from the portal, gesturing him to follow. I hope this isn't a trap. He walked towards the distortion and unsheathed his sword to be on the safe side. Within moments he was gone.
A winged creature descended upon the oasis. Its skin was a black as the night and it bared its fangs while sniffing the ground.

Drake stood on a walkway that resembled glass and stared into the colorful abyss. Once in a while he was able to catch a glimpse of a dream, but it vanished as soon as he focused on it.
Where are we?” asked Maximilian after stumbling through the portal, readying his blade to strike down any monsters.
Inside the Void, the dreamworld.”
I thought you needed to sleep to get here.”
It is still another world than can be accessed if you manage to open a portal,” said an immaterial voice.
Show yourself!” Maximilian yelled and turned in circles, keeping an eye out for enemies.
Don't be so tense, Maximilian. It's just the Alp.”
Shortly thereafter the Alp manifested in front of the portal. “Now where did this come from?”
I'm more interested in why it created a giant scorpion that tried to kill us,” interjected Drake.
This world is given form by its inhabitants, therefore I presume the scorpion is part of a dream that escaped into reality. It could have been much worse, though. I should close the portal before something more malicious gets out.”
I don't suppose you can help me again?” asked Drake.
Depends on what you want. I'm not supposed to interfere when it isn't absolutely necessary.”
Says who?” asked Maximilian while also trying to pull down the Alp's hood. It ended with him flying backwards.
Please, don't try that again. And I'm not supposed to interfere because it can have unintended consequences. We already had to adapt to some of these changes.”
Who is we?”
Drake, how can I—”
Don't ignore me!” Maximilian yelled and was about to grab onto the Alp when he was pushed back by invisible hands.
Stop asking these questions! I'm not supposed to tell you! Not yet, anyway!” the Alp still had his back turned to Maximilian, but he was obviously on edge.
It's okay, Maximilian! Lets just get out of here!”
You can't be serious! He knew what was about to happen to your father and he seems to know much more than that! Don't you want to know what's going to happen next? Or why exactly you've been chosen by Modera?”
Of course I do! But I failed to save my father despite knowing that he was in danger...”
Only because someone interfered!”
Drake was silent for a while, remembering the giant snake in the forest. “Well, yeah...but I'm not convinced it would make a difference to know the future. And the Alp obviously doesn't want to talk about.”
Even if I wanted to, I can't.”
Maximilian had to clench his fists to prevent himself from hitting the Alp. He would never withhold vital information and couldn't understand why anyone would do so. Instead he walked towards the portal, only to be stopped by Drake's outstretched hand.
Not yet! Alp, can you change the portal's destination?”
You want to get to the facility, I guess?”
The what?”
The temple.”
The Alp cocked his head and listened for a moment. “A few days don't seem to matter. I'll grant your wish,” and with these words he walked towards the portal and jabbed his hands into it. It was engulfed by a bright light and the image of the oasis changed into an unrecognizable mess of colors.
Something tapped Drake on the shoulder and the moment he turned around a shadowy tendril grabbed him by the neck and tried to pull him into the abyss. Maximilian reacted instinctively and cut through it with a single slash.
What the hell was that?” yelled Drake as he stepped away from the edge.
The darkness that slumbers at the bottom of the Void. You've been there before but it's not as dangerous when you're asleep. That's why you should never physically enter the dreamworld. If you ever stumble upon another rift in the world: warn me and leave!”
The light around the portal receded and the movement came to a halt. Instead of the oasis it now showed the place where the desert shifted into a swamp.
That's about as close as I can get. You'll have to walk the rest of the way.”
Better than having to cross the entire desert. Thanks for your help,” Drake stretched his hand towards the Alp but he only stared at it.
Oh yeah, thanks for all your 'help'!”
Maximilian spit on the ground and stepped through the portal. Drake sighed as he saw him re-appear on the other side.
I'm sorry.”
Don't be. I understand why he's angry at me and you have every right to behave the same way. It still doesn't change a thing.”
The Alp vanished into thin air before Drake could reply.
Don't you need to close the portal?” he yelled into the Void.
It will disappear as soon as you leave.”
And that's exactly what happened. Shortly thereafter hundreds of tentacles appeared from the depths, unable to find their target.

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