“I just think this is a good bonding experience, that’s all.”
“We’ve learned so much about each other.”
“I really think we’ve all grown as people, you know?”
“SHUT. UP. ZARTH!” Katya screamed violently, throwing her hands into the air. “All you have done for the last two days is talk, senseless BLATHER! Noise pollution that continually violates my ears, digging down into my brain! If they want to kill us in the arena they should just do it, not subject me to this TORTURE of being caged here with you!”
“Hey, we help each other.” I began, “You’ve got your crossbow, I’ve got my magic, Aeron over there-” Aeron turned at the mention of his name. “has his axe, and Barum has his shield. We all back each other up.”
“…I realize?” Katya eyed me suspiciously.
“It’s like a redundant system, if you will.” I continued.
“DON’T. SAY. IT.” Kayta’s eyes burned into my own.
“You know …”
“ZARTH, I SWEAR TO THE GODS-”
“In-caged the worse should happen…” I grinned my biggest smile.
“ROT IN THE DEPTHS OF TARTUS, ZARTH!”
“E-excuse me…” A voice spoke to the guards watching our cells. Out of curiously, our small party turned our heads at the new voice. The two guards watching us looked curiously at the man that had interrupted their quiet watch – Jerik himself.
Jerik. Most of the group hated him, but personally I just thought he had made poor choices. He didn’t seem to be actively seeking our deaths, which put him a rank above a lot of other people we had met here. Kayta didn’t quite feel the same though, so I kept that opinion to myself.
Suddenly, a flash of black flew at the back of the two guards, and they collapsed in pools of blood, neck’s opened by dual blades.
“Howdy. Thought it was ripe about time I set y’all lose, didn’t want you fellas getting’ rusty up in this here cage!” A voice called out from the darkness.
“Mrs. Rose!” I beamed, clutching the cage and starting into the darkness with exultation. Katya almost looked pleased, and even Aeron turned in curiosity.
“Your women in black, come to save you all, of course. We got everything set up for the escape, so come on now, and let’s getcha out of there.”
“A-and, um, let’s not forget who helped…” A meek voice arose from the corner. Jerik crouched awkwardly in a mixture of meekness and cowardice. He held up a rusty key, which Mrs. Rose took and began using to unlock the cell.
“Jeeerrrrik~” Katya purred, flexing her hands and smiling a dark, hate filled smile that I had come to fear. “Congratulations. You have now been taken off my ‘Need to kill’ list. You’re still on my ‘Want to kill’ list, but that’s more for pleasure then for necessity. I would almost consider you safe from us now. Almost.”
“T-thank you?” He quivered. “B-but you all aren’t really what I’m afraid of. We need to get out of here, and fast.”
Mrs. Rose began giving instructions about the rooms in the building. “To the south…”
To the south, there was the Armory, which we would be going first. To the north, ooh, I like going north. Except Shela’s to the south, so I would have to get her first and the rest of my gear, then wait for the other’s to get there’s too, oh, I wonder if they store other armor there too? Maybe I could grab some better armor, maybe a few extra rounds, some polish to give Shela that extra shine-
“ZARTH! Pay attention!”
“Bunnies?” I instinctively yelped.
“Augh…” Mrs. Rose sighed. “Whatever. Does everyone else understand the plan?”
“INDEED.” Aeron rumbled.
I ran to the corpses of the guards, and rummaged through their belongings. “Weapons here, get them while they’re still bloody! Ooh, Club for you…” I tossed a big looking club at Aeron, who caught it with two giant hands. “Um, dagger for you, Katya?”
“Please.” She spoke covertly, and I tossed her a dagger.
“Barum? I have a Maaaaace…?” I cringed, knowing that this probably wasn’t the weapon of choice for him. He simply shook his head. “Dagger…?” He glared, and I dropped the subject, and choose to wield the mace myself and have the dagger as a secondary weapon of choice.
“Now we need stealth for this-” Mrs. Rose began, and I took the opportunity to change everyone’s clothes to black. How easily magic came to me now! I grinned as I saw everyone slowly turn and glare at me, except for Aeron who didn’t appear to notice, or care.
“Let’s just go.” Mrs. Rose sighed, and I contentedly bound behind her.
“Quiet!” Someone hissed.
“MY CLUB IS STUCK.”
Finally, most of our team reached a small room from beneath a ladder. It was a tight squeeze, but most of our team, Jerik excluded, made it down and were now hiding covertly in the armory. Once I made it down the ladder, I saw Mrs. Rose positioned behind one of the guards, ready to attack at the signal. Katya tried to sneak in the room, but snagged her foot on a vase, clunking it across the room.
“Oh, for…!” Rose cursed, taking the moment of surprise to slash at the man’s throat. The man screamed in pain and tore at his belt, trying to free his scimitar.
Time to shine!
Aeron was ahead of me, and dashed into the room. Katya pointed to one of the men, and Aeron raised a massive club above his head.
I dashed in, wobbling terribly due to the unfamiliar weight of the mace. Unlike Shela, the mace was terribly unbalanced and made it difficult to both walk and swing.
“Rrrrrraah!” I roared, swinging the mace at the man that attacked Mrs. Rose. The man jumped out of the way, Scimitar in hand, and slashed at Mrs. Rose again. He looked terrible; blood gushed from his injuries and he was visibly already fatigued and simply fighting for his life.
I heard the other man struggling as well against the combined forces of Katya, Aeron, and Barum. But I also heard another voice. I turned, intrigued, and saw a beautiful girl chained to one of the walls. She had beautiful long golden hair, bright blue, almost blurred eyes, a green floral dress, and was quite well endowed. She struggled fiercely against her chains, but only quietly whispered to herself.
Daaaang! Now that’s a girl ‘bound’ to get my attention. I’m not too partial to bondage myself, but with her at my side I could get into it. The question is, could I get back out? Hahaha. Well, I have always fancied myself as a bit of an escape artist…
“ZARTH!” Rose screamed as the man’s sword nearly cut me in half.
Oh right, we’re supposed to be fighting.
I swung my mace and smashed it into the man’s head, causing him to crumble in a heap of blood and brain.
“Alriiiight!” I hummed, turning to the other fight. The other man stood terrified, cornered by the three capable fighters.
“Drop your weapon, and we shall not kill you.” Katya hissed, eyes black with malice.
“…yeah, yeah, okay.” The man shook, dropping his weapon.
Oh, I get it! It’s a trick. Smart, Katya. I better guard his escape route, just in case he-
Aeron swung his giant club, still in the mindset of battle. Barum jumped in front of him, cringing and expecting the blow, but Aeron was about to divert the blow to the floor, causing the room around us to rumble.
“WHY HAVE WE STOPPED FIGHTING?” Aeron rumbled angrily.
“WE DO NOT HARM THOSE WHO HAVE SURRENDERED.” Barum roared just as loudly. Aeron looked surprised by Barum’s conviction, but did not challenge it.
Wait…this wasn’t a trick?
“Here honey, let me get those for you…” Mrs. Rose grabbed a key from the dead guard, and undid the locks restraining the girl. She then tossed the cuffs to Katya, who then handcuffed the living guard.
“So how’d you end up in this mess, Mrs…?” Rose asked the young girl.
“Ivy, ma’am. And to be honest, I don’t really remember…”
And I could care less…! I stood in amazement after I pried open the Armory doors. Weapons of all kinds were bathed in a holy glow, highlighting the key gem – Shela, unrestricted by any bounds, and absent of any traps.
‘it’s okay now, you’re with me….’ I cradled the musket in my arms, content that other than a poor cleaning job, they hadn’t done any damage to her. I found my armor lying next to the rest, and soon the other members of our little team of murderers began rifling through the stockpile of weapons and armor.
“WE SHOULD MAKE HASTE…” Aeron looked annoyed both at the time we were spending grabbing as many shiny things as possible, and at the fact that everyone ignored him. To my credit I did try to hasten my looting…
“Ready!” I grinned, Shela in hand and armor now snuggly fastened.
“Give me a few moments…” Katya asked as she continued sorting through the mess of armor, predictably trying to find items that would fetch the highest price. Barum all the while looked a mix of nausea and annoyance at our blatant thievery. “Alright, done. Let us be off!”
Aeron was the first up the ladder, followed by Barum, then Ivy, then me. Katya took her sweet time, most likely grabbing a few additional items on the way out.
Once we left the room downstairs, we re-grouped near our cell. Katya shared a similar demeanor to the time she was smiling at Jarik…dark, menacing, and…cruel, somehow. I didn’t like it.
“Alright, my little group of assassins.” Katya purred, the dark gleam still in her eye. “I am a vessel of Abadar, Neutral God of Law. On this day however, I’m about to cause some chaos. Now, I’m going to turn invisible-”
“WHAT!?” I cried. “That is SOOOO cool. Can you actually DO that?!”
“…Yes.” She glared at me, clearly annoyed. “Anyway, I’m going to turn invisible, and free the slaves, then let loose the monsters as well. After that, we get inside Jerik’s cart, and we’re free. Questions? No? Good. Stay here, I’ll be back in less than four minutes.”
With a complex series of gestures, Katya vanished before our eyes. I leaned against the wall, waiting for her return.
‘Why does she look so…dark, sometimes?’ I thought to myself.
Maybe she’s hiding something.
Maybe she’s hiding a lot of things.
Maybe she’s evil?
‘Maybe…’ a final voice in my head spoke. ‘Maybe it’s just gas.’
I nodded, content with my conclusion. After waiting a few minutes, an out of breath disembodied voice met our ears.
“THEN WE LEAVE?” Aeron grumbled, impatient to vacate this place.
“Yeah.” Katya agreed. We all headed to the cart, which bobbed suddenly before we arrived. It took me a moment to realize that was the still-invisible Katya getting inside.
“Heeeeeeeeeeeey Jerik!” I hugged the timid, shaky man. “All aboard the freedom cart, population seven, destination, not-fucking-here!”
“Amen!” Katya smiled a true, honest smile. For once, it shook me. I didn’t have a joke prepared; I didn’t have a witty comeback. I just sat in the cart stunned, shocked at the rare beauty.
And just as quickly as it came, it vanished as the cart suddenly jolted to life. The Oxen in the from charged forward into the quickly setting sun.
Aeron sat quietly in the front corner, clutching his axe as if expecting a fight at any moment. Barum sat in full plate at the left front corner, looking lost and forlorn. Jerik was steering the Oxen from the front middle.
I, like most nights, was squished between three very attractive females. Katya sat to my left, and Ivy sat to my right, and Mrs. Rose sat in between us all.
A low, loud note suddenly filled the air. An alarm was sounding. Shit.
My gun was loaded, and I pointed it straight ahead sensing resistance. Katya also had her crossbow at the ready, and Ivy looked as if she was preparing a spell.
“The gate!” Jerik cried, pointing aggressively at the closing gate ahead with one timid, shaking hand. If I shot the gatekeeper, the gate would simply drop and we would never make it on time. I shook with indecision…what could I do?!
“He-YAH!” Katya screamed, branding the Oxen with a holy symbol with a smash of her hand. The Oxen roared in pain, and charged ahead clearing the gate and taking us to safety.
“Good thinking!” Ivy smiled at Katya.
“Indeed, nice work!” Mrs. Rose complemented. I nodded in agreement.
We rode though the town, and just before nightfall made it to the desert, where we continued our trek.
Katya made what could almost be passed as small talk with Jerik, and we learned his story. He talked about being a mage, and drew us a map of the surrounding area, which I didn’t really need. I knew all the lands like the smooth, cool touch of Shela, and my mind would always hold a better map then Jerik could ever draw.
I rested my head in my hands, and laid down on the flat wooden ground of the cart. I was content. My friends were at my sides, and we had once again escaped death in an amazing, heroic manner. This was all I wanted; to live a life of adventure, fight monsters I had never faced, and to tell tales of wonder across the campfire. As I drifted to sleep, I was content knowing this was exactly where I wanted to be…
“Zarth. Zarth. Zarth. ZARTH!”
“Mmmm?” I rubbed my eyes. “Mmmwhat?”
“Ox died.” Katya pointed to the dead Ox.
“I see.” I thought less than coherently. “But wait, if the Ox died…”
“Yes…” Katya waited patiently to finish my train of thought.
“Then…” I squinted, my sluggish, tired brain slowly connecting the pieces of this puzzle. “…we…we aren’t moving.”
“Very good! Now get your useless ass over here and help us cook it. It shall serve us in life and death.” She laughed at her little joke. “Then we’ll be off again.”
“Seems a bit barbaric doing you think?”
“Ehh, my conscience is clear.”
“…you would say that…” Barum hissed quietly to himself.
“I can butcher it if need be!” Rose piped up.
Together we made a fire, and roasted the best cuts from the Ox. Calling it a delicacy would be an insult – truly this was one of the finest meals I’ve had in a while.
And just like that, we were off once more! We walked the day in the sands, chatting and telling tales. More than once I was the center of attention, trading stories of my days in the earth kingdom, fighting with Oreads, and being a mischievous young lad. Barum’s sour temper slowly melted away, Ivy grinned at my crude humor, Mrs. Rose chortled at my puns, Jarid shared a snickered or two and even Aeron chucked a few times. The only one who didn’t laugh was Katya. She simply trekked on, uncaring to my jests.
Soon, night graced us with the setting of the sun, and the rising of the stars. The desert quickly grew cold, and Jerik supplied us with a small shelter and some burnable wood.
“I’ll take first shift.” Katya spoke in a low apathetic monotone.
“…I’ll join you.” I spoke. I wasn’t sure why I said that.
Katya gave me a suspicious, angry glance. “Fine.” Barum, you take second watch, Aeron, you take third.
“VERY WELL.” Aeron agreed, and Barum nodded in approval.
I sat on top of a flipped cart, looking at the night sky with Katya sitting next to me. My cloak kept me warm against the cool desert air, but next to me Katya shivered. She had never looked well ever since we met…something seemed off. Through sickness or fasting, her frame looked thin, and she always seemed so pale. This wasn’t the only way she wasn’t well though…
…of us all, she took the House the worst. Seeing my parents disgusted faces, and hearing them call me a failure tore at my being, my very soul. I felt myself, FELT myself being torn from the inside, and I felt a part of me crack internally. I kept my cool and I was still Zarth – tears streaming from my face, world broken and torn around me, but damn it I was STILL ZARTH – I still made it all a joke, and we still concurred that place.
My fear. My worst fear – rejection, failure, disapproval…
What kept me sane and what keeps me sane is that it was all a lie. My parents loved me, and of that fact I am sure. It tears at me to never have reconciled with them, and I promised myself once we left the house that I would write a letter to them. What would be inside the letter I still don’t know, but I would write a letter. One of apologies, one asking for forgiveness, and one telling of my adventures…though I would leave out select details of course.
Katya shivered again.
Katya. If the truth kept me sane, what kept her? She said she had killed her friend…and the House made her do it again. How can someone…recover from that? There isn’t a joke you can tell to fix that; there isn’t a clever pun that can make that pain go away. That’s a constant pain that is permanently branded into your heart.
Katya’s hurting. I see that. I can’t…I can’t make her laugh that away. Some days she scared me, like she was becoming a darker person. Branding the doppelganger, saying things like she took pleasure in killing others…
Katya shivered again. I took off my cloak and handed it to her.
“If I wanted your stupid, dirty cloak I would have stolen it by now.” She growled.
I placed the cloak between us, and didn’t respond.
She didn’t need Zarth right now. She didn’t need a pun, or a witty comeback. She didn’t need a joke, and she didn’t even need a lover. Right now…she just needed a friend.
After a few moments, she took the cloak hesitantly, and wrapped herself in its warmth.
“Why are you here, Zarth?” Katya looked at me, a look of hurt and concern in her eyes.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to say. Zarth would say something witty. Something dramatic, crack some joke about wanting to see the stars, and Katya somehow obscuring the view, or ruining the tranquility of the night.
But…Katya didn’t need Zarth right now. She needed me. So much of Zarth was such an act, a jest to appease others, a play to amuse those around me. Without that mask, who was I?
We sat in silence for the rest of the night, with her wrapped in my cloak and me starting contently at the starts. After our shift was over, I awoke Barum, who crawled to the top of the overturned cart. I placed my hands beneath my head, and closed my eyes, thankful for the darkness and warmth created by the cart. I felt myself begin to drift to sleep when a light voice interrupted my resting mind.
“…Zarth?” A voice whispered in the darkness.
“…thank you.” Katya mumbled.
“Don’t worry about it.” I smiled, finally drifting off to sleep.
“If you don’t get your head off my stomach in three seconds, you’re losing it.”
I woke up groggily, amused that I was currently using Katya as a pillow.
“Come on now, just five more minutes…” I begged, snuggling further into Katya. I heard the district sound of a dagger being drawn.
“I’ll have you know, there are fifteen different ways I could kill you right now…” She growled clutching the dagger above my head.
“Funny; I only know of fourteen different ways of pleasuring you- AUGGGHH” I shouted as she socked my groin with a balled fist. I crumpled to the ground, and she glared victoriously.
“Are you two lovebirds finished? We have walking to do.” Barum stared uninterested at our shenanigans.
“Lovebirds!?” Katya hissed at the suggestion. “Why, if anything I wouldn’t want to be accused of stealing your boyfriend. After the hot tub and all that, I could see how close you and Zarth had become.”
Barum and I shared a guilty, knowing glance. With a subtle nod, a silent pact was made to never speak of it again.
We continued walking. With me supplying water and Jerik supplying food, I was content that we could survive several months here. It was quiet, serine, and while it wasn’t as intense as I would have liked, I wouldn’t mind spending some time here. The sand gave the desert a warm, rustic feel, and the occasional wind helped provide a moderate-
“ARRRG!” I screamed as a wall of force smashed into me. Before I could recover, Shela was already in my hands, ready to be fired. I glared around angrily to spot my attacker, but alas they were nowhere to be seen. “G-get down!” I shouted, warning the others as I readied a shot.
“There’s…no one here.” Jerik mumbled behind me.
“What!? I was just attacked! Hit by some unseen force, an enemy wizard’s spell! It’s called Feather Force or Wave of Foxes!”
“Zarth, calm down. You just ran into that.”
“That. The pillar of glass.”
It took me a moment, but then I saw Jerik was right. Standing in front of me was a giant pillar of glass, chaotically crafted, beautiful pillar of glass.
“What created these here pillars?” Mrs. Rose asked curiously.
“Great, great storms. These glass pillars resulted from the superheated sand formed from lightning strikes.”
“How long do you think this has been here? Decades, centuries?”
“Um, maybe a week…ish?” Jerik smiled awkwardly. “Usually they decay quite quickly, or fall and become part of the sand.
“Wait. Wait, wait wait.” Katya held up her hand in annoyance. “This was RECENT? Why couldn’t this giant, mega story happen again right now?!”
“Well, uh, I mean, nothing’s stopping it…” Jerik muttered.
“GODS, MAN! A storm of this magnitude would leave little left of us but our bones!”
“…you think there would be bones left…” Jerik laughed nervously. “W-we should get walking.”
We continued walking, and to our horror, dark gray clouds began to fill the once empty blue sky. Winds began picking up all around us.
“Shit!” Katya screamed, and for once I agreed with her completely. “Hurry up you fools!”
“There! There’s a cave in the distance; we’ll be safe inside!”
We dashed into the cave, feeling the sands tear at our flesh. We dove in, and to our horror, the cave was already beginning to fill with water.
“Quick, further in! Take a deep breath – especially you, DWARF – it’s our one shot.” Katya gritted her teeth, trying a rope around herself and throwing the rest to us. She grabbed a sweet breath of oxygen before diving in the chaotic, rapidly filling cavernous water.
I wasted no time tying the rope to myself and diving in. I heard Barum jump in after me. We dove under the waves, and soon found a tunnel leading up to a larger point in the cave.
My head broke from the water, and I looked around to see nothing but darkness. With a quick snap of my fingers, I summoned four shining lights to aid our sight. It appeared like a normal, large cave. What concerned me was the fact that it was still filling with water…the cave looked large though, and by far this was the safest alternative.
“Come on, hurry up! Drowning is one of my LEAST preferred methods of death!” Katya yelled, wrenching us all out of the water one by one. At last, we stood shivering by the shore of the large pool of water, overlooking the large cave.
“Well, we have several options.” Mrs. Rose began. “There are many different tunnels, but I would suggest-”
“One moment.” Aeron interrupted. We all turned surprised to the normally quiet fighter, who appeared to almost be mediating, breathing in deep, heavy breathes. We all waited for him to speak up, but he remained silent, as if concentrating on some divine task. Without warning, Aeron leapt into the air just as some nearly invisible black blob launched himself at Aeron from above. Wielding his axe, he sliced the creature in two; it’s black blood coating the ground Aeron landed on, and each half of the creature landing on a different side of the empowered, giant fighter.
“…Continue.” Aeron ordered, covered in blackish, ink like blood.
“W-w-well, l-like I was s-saying…” Rose began again, clearly shaken by Aeron’s prowess, “I-I believe it would be in our best interest to visit rooms that slope upward, so that we would be safer from the coming rain.”
We all agreed with her conclusion, and set off to the closest, upward sloping tunnel. Two giant mushroom like creatures stood in the room, appearing to be feeding off the remnants of some unfortunate travelers. Upon us entering the cavern, they began to crawl towards us, sending tiny spores puffing in the air where they went.
I recognized these creatures. I believe we learned about them in my alchemy classes – they didn’t necessarily NEED to feed of humans, but were more than capable. Their spores could be lethal to humans, and my gun would do little to the anatomy of a plant. Plus, firing a shot in the cave could alert other, potentially hostile creatures of our presence.
They were probably just defending their territory. They had more than enough food to consume; we could just leave them alone to avoid a rather hazardous fight…
“Hey guys, let’s check the other caves…” I began slowly, biting my lip.
“And have these THINGS ready to flank us at any time? No thank you.” Katya rolled her eyes at my comment. “Aeron?”
“Introduce those Cretans to your axe.”
“Gladly.” He rumbled, stepping forward with his axe. Katya prepared her crossbow, and I sighed internally and grabbed my gun.
‘Zarth doesn’t know what these things are.’ I reminded myself. ‘Zarth didn’t take those alchemy classes, and Zarth wouldn’t hesitate before firing his gun.’
I gulped and took aim.
The creatures exploded with spores and bluish ooze as Aeron cut them open with his Axe. My bullets tore into the creatures and helped reduce them to little more than mushroom chunks, and Katya finished them off with bolts from her crossbow.
Aeron looked a bit bruised, but nothing terrible. He had been at the front, and received the worst of the damage. Barum also took a hit, but ducked behind his shield to prevent any further damage. His arm looked terrible, almost like some kind of infection. Katya looked a bit worn as well.
I smiled, and began to sing.
Aeron fought a giant beast,
Aeron fought a giant beast,
A giant, scary bear.
Everyone gave me queer looks, and we continued walking.
Aeron beat it colorless,
Aeron beat it colorless,
It’s a big black bear!
“Zarth, SHUT UP.” Katya hissed. I heard Aeron chuckle behind me, and his bruises healed ever so slightly.
Aeron flipped it upside-down,
Aeron flipped it upside-down,
It’s a Koala bear!
Barum laughed this time, and some of his infected arm regained its normal coloration.
“Zarth…!” Katya began, drawing her dagger and pressing it against my throat. I gave her my biggest, happiest, most carefree smile.
Katya hates my jokes,
Hates them, hates them,
She pressed the dagger further into my neck.
K-Katya hates my jokes,
They’re more then she can….bear.
“Damn it, Z-Zarth!” Katya giggled despite herself. Some of her wounds closed, and I looked at her with my best, sheepish, charming smile. “D-don’t do that, you idiot, you’ll alert everything here about our presence.”
“I want a present.” I grinned.
We looted the dead adventurers, and to our gleeful surprise they were quite wealthy. After splitting the reward, we continued to trek on in the dark cave.
“Aeron, do you see anything?” Katya asked.
“There is a T shaped intersection up ahead.” Aeron described.
“There appears to be a moss growing on one of the walls, and…foes.” Aeron spoke quietly. Axe in hand, he dashed into the room.
I grabbed Shela and prepared myself, Mrs. Rose grabbed her scimitar, Katya prepared her crossbow, Ivy began a summoning ritual, Barum raised his shield and raised his battle axe, and Jerik cowered in the corner.
Enemies swarmed us from the room. In the blink of an eye, two collapsed thankfully due to Shela’s readiness and perfect aim. Katya shot one or two, but it appeared bolts did not slow these plant like creatures down. Barum impaled one across the chest. The summoned conjured a small frog, which didn’t appear to be very useful. Mrs. Rose finished off the targets Katya has shot.
The amazing thing was Aeron. Enemies seemingly crumpled at his mere presence, and his axe cleaved those in twine that resisted his fearful aura. A single blow would end multiple creatures lives, and he struck in quick session, with a practiced, furious pace.
In no time at all, we were alone in the empty room, with only the smoldering corpses of our foes to remind us of the battle that had taken place. Suddenly, I heard a yell.
“THEY. ARE. INSIDE. ME!” Mrs. Rose yelled, scratching at her skin in horror. I looked down to see seeds BURROWED inside her arm, deep into the muscle. “AUUUGH! What do I do!?”
“…C-cut it off?” I offered.
“Burn it?” Katya suggested more helpfully.
“You’re all barbarians, you hear!?” She whimpered, cradling her affected arm.
‘A cure, a cure…’ I pondered to myself. ‘The moss! That must be the reason they kept it, to cure them of this disease!’
“Guys, I have it! Just go up and touch the moss!” I smiled excitedly. “That will cure you!”
“Gross, YOU go up and touch it.” Mrs. Rose spat.
I rolled my eyes and approached the moss. It was true; the moss could just be deadly. I moved carefully, watching any movement come from the moss. It remained still. I moved closer. It continued to remain still. I walked confidently towards it. It spat seeds in my arm.
“AAUUUURRRGGGGG” I screamed as the seeds burrowed into my flesh. “GODS DAMN IT! Get it out, get it out!”
“We can’t cut it out, we need to burn it, you fool. Give me your dagger.” Katya lashed out her hand with an open, expecting palm. Whimpering, I handed her the dagger. She quickly lit a torch, heating the metal.
I tensed, expectantly as she handed Ivy the torch once she was done heating the dagger. I held my shaking arm in front of me, wincing and expecting the worst. I felt a warm sensation grasp me, but it was far from the temperature of the superheated dagger.
It was Katya’s hand in my own.
“This is so you don’t move.” She growled, holding my arm straight. She pressed the dagger to me, and I screamed in pain as I felt my flesh bubble and burn under the heat of the dagger. She quickly slid the dagger back and forth over the seeds, ignoring my screams and pleads as she did her dark deed.
Ignoring my screams…
As I shrieked, I noticed the pained expression in her eyes. As much as she talked about the enjoyment she would get from hurting me, she wasn’t enjoying this. As she ran the dagger up and down my arm, she looked like she was experiencing the pain with me, as if she really didn’t want me to suffer. This hurt her like it did me, and she was just doing this to help me, in some sort of twisted, kind gesture…
At last, she released the dagger, and I collapsed and clutched my burned arm. The seeds looked charred, but no more than the rest of my arm.
“You people are BARBARIANS!” Mrs. Rose wailed. “You will NOT be getting that dagger anywhere NEAR me, thank you!”
“I didn’t offer.” Katya rolled her eyes, handing me back my dagger.
‘She didn’t offer’… what did that mean? Was this some kind of special act, one which she would only perform on ones she trusted?
“T…t…thank you…” I stumbled, still in massive pain.
“Try not to be an idiot next time. Are we moving on?” Katya grumbled, eyeing the rest of the group.
It’s rust colored blood filled the ground,
It’s rust colored blood filled the ground,
It’s a big brown bear!
“ZARTH!” Katya spat.
“Yes?” I smiled, arm looking less terribly burned. She rolled her eyes, and we continued.
We walked for a while longer, checking each room carefully. At last, there was only one room left, filled with disturbing, dog like ant creatures.
“D..do we attack?” Barum pondered.
“I don’t know. What are they?” I asked.
“Stupid.” Katya answered.
“SHALL WE SMITE THEM?”
“I don’t know.” Katya answered. “They don’t appear to be hostile… still, better be safe then sorr-”
One antennae from the creature hesitantly touched Barum’s shield, rusting it on contact. He yelped and jumped backwards cursing.
“RUST MONSTERS!” I gasped, clutching Shela for dear life. “They’ll rust and destroy everything metal! KILL THEM!”
By the end of my speech, one already lay dead with a bullet hole instead of a brain. All my hate, violence went into that shot.
THEY. WOULD. NOT. TOUCH. SHELA.
“ROOOAAAAR!” Aeron shouted, cleaving the other. It dashed out of the way and grazed the Dwarf’s armor, and the Oracle. Both their armor rusted on contact, and they shouted in outrage. Aeron used the momentum from his first strike and sliced the monstrosity in half.
“Good. Dead.” I sighed. Barum spat on its corpse, throwing away the hilt of his shield – the only part of his shield left after it’s attack.
After Ivy graciously mended everyone’s broken armor (except Barum’s, because his shield couldn’t be mended). We continued walking, and eventually reached an alcove overlooking the desert. The storms continued through the whole in the floor. We choose to make this place our base, both for being the highest point and for the window to the outside.
We spent the next few days eating and chatting. I told amusing stories, Jarik explained more about his past. Other than that, we relaxed together in calm, nice companionship.
“Everyone. I have an announcement.” Katya said suddenly. I had been taking a nap, so I lazily looked up though the mess that was my hair. “You have all…….….Abadar..…joining the causes of law….…..pay….…
…so what say you?”
Saying that I had paid attention to half of what she said would likely be the biggest lie I’ve ever told. Whenever she starts talking about the gods, I kind of zone out. Or anything about the law, to be honest. Still, this is something she wants, and hey, I like it when she’s happy. No one spoke up, so I decided to be the first.
“Sure, but on one condition.”
“What, Zarth.” She grumbled, more stating the question then asking it.
“I want one hug.”
She looked me over, before giving me the most hate filled, icy glare I’ve ever seen – and I’ll have you know I stared at a basilisk right in the eye. I stood up grinning, and Katya sighed, and gave me the most awkward, distant, cold, uncaring, disgusted hug I’ve ever been given.
“Thank you.” I lied. I could care less about the hug, but maybe it would make her think in the future. Make her think that she really did have friends she could count on…
“…the HELL!?” Katya yelled suddenly, one the terrible hug had ended. She looked in horror behind me. I turned out of curiosity to see a mural of us hugging on the cave wall, except on the wall we were fully embraced, and Katya had a kind, wide smile.
“Hey Katya, look, we’re on the wall!” I smiled, in typical Zarth format. “And you’re smiling too, just like you were when we hugged!”
Jerik cackled behind us, and Katya realized he was the source of the unidentified magic. With a quick sock to the jewels, she reduced us both to quivering masses on the floor as she growled under her breathe.
“Totally…worth…it…” Jerik gasped, clutching his manhood in well-deserved pain.
We slept that well that night. In the morning, the storm had subsided, but much of the desert was still filled with pools of water. In theory, the water would quickly evaporate, and we would be on our way before nightfall. Fate, however, had other plans.
“IT’S A GIANT PURPLE WOOOORM!” Mrs. Rose screeched, pointing a shaking figure at a giant purple figure in front of us, nearly ten feet in height.
“Actually dear, that’s a centipede.” I grinned, shakily grasping at Shela, taking aim with my gun. Aeron grabbed at his Axe and stepped forwards.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I am OUT.” Jerik hollered, jumping down the hole. Katya was quick after and Barum as well. Aeron gave me a quick nod before hopping down, and soon I was the last one still standing. It was a twenty five foot drop into sandy, murky water. I couldn’t allow Shela to get wet, and honestly I doubted both the ferocity of this giant centipede and the cleverness about jumping to what could be our deaths.
‘If all YOUR friends jumped off a cliff, would you, Zarth?’ I heard my mother’s voice echo in the back of my mind.
Wincing, I slid my body down until I was handing off by just a hand, lowering myself down as far as possible, minimizing the distance I would fall. ‘Zarth may blindly follow you guys like an idiot, but damn it, I’m not going to break his leg doing what that fool would do!’
Once I was satisfied I was as low as I could, I dropped myself and fell into the murky sand. Thankfully, I was able to keep Shela from the water as well.
We all scrambled onto the closest mound of dry sand. Barum didn’t swim well, and it was an amusing sight to see the fully armored dwarf being carried with one hand by Aeron.
“So now what?” Ivy asked, overlooking the swamp like desert. “We’re not going to swim…right?
“No, we’ll just sit here for a few hours.” Katya began, “By then the water should have all but-”
Just then, a giant tentacle burst from the ground and wrapped around Aeron, bounding him from his Axe. Katya’s crossbow was already loaded, and everyone was in a fighting stance at a moment’s notice.
I pulled at the trigger with my gun, but my gun suddenly felt alien in my hands. Something wasn’t right…
BOOM! Fragments of the shell exploded outwards, and in shock the gun caught against my skin and tore a noticeable chunk out of an artery in my thumb. My first misfire! In all the months I had owned Shela, she had never treated me like this! I always kept her clean and pristine…some of the sand must have found its way into the barrel!
As the others fought, I quickly sucked some blood out of my wound and cleared the misfire. Once finished, I loaded another shell, and aimed appropriately.
Fortunately, my companions had already felted the foe.
“Damn, and all I wanted to do was give Aeron a hand…” I grinned.
“Your weird, perverted magic MAY heal minor wounds…” Katya spat, “But I’m sure it’s actually cancerous and killing us on the inside.”
“Love you, Katya.”
She rolled her eyes.
We waited for a few hours, until finally the sand was safe to walk on. Surprisingly, the town was closer than Jerik thought, only taking two days to transverse. After the relatively short walk, we got to the city. People were a welcome site, and I missed the buzz of average day city life. Now, I could finally write that letter to my parents I’ve been meaning to all this time…