Silence. Darkness. Solitude…
I woke up screaming, but my voice did not carry. I struggled to find air in the choking turquoise water, but to no avail. I was in a cold so deep that it shook the core of my very soul. Slowly, I felt the warmth inside my body literally freeze; first my hands and feet, my arms and legs, my stomach, my lungs, and finally, my heart.
Silence. Darkness. Solitude…
I woke up coughing while face down in the snow, naked. I picked myself up to discover I was in front of a large temple with a carving of a serpent spiraling up around the pillars and buildings, its mouth open towards the sky. I assume it to be Sylander. I saw a robe hanging from a branch of a tree in front of me, to which I grabbed it and put it on. There was a staircase leading to the temple and I made my way inside.
Walking down the hall, I began to hear chants. The same chants I heard while in the Temple of Sylander at Lyseria. I walked into a large room and saw lines of priests of all races, but mostly dragonkin, chanting continuously. There was another carving of Sylander, but this time his mouth was open at the end of the room, and there was an altar set in it’s mouth. The altar contained a basin of the same turquoise water from the Unfreezing Sea, and in the water, a white stone. I knew what it was. It was the Hearthstone of Ice.
“Well, if I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do this right.”
I stripped off my robe at the basin, and proceeded to enter in the water. I knelt down, and with both hands, reached to grab the stone. As I reached, my fingers froze, and as I cradled the stone, the rest of my hands froze as well, but they did not hurt. I was just beginning to think it was over when a terrible pain coarsed through my entire body. I screamed as I held on to the Hearthstone for dear life as it was disappearing into my hands. After what seemed like an eternity, the pain subsided, I rose out of the basin and stepped from the altar. Cold emanated from my body and I left small patches of frost with each step I took.
I looked back towards the altar and saw the carving of Sylander move, as if I was hallucinating. The head raised
and spoke in a deep, familiar voice.
“You have called out to me before, and I have answered. You have called out to Halis before, and both she and I have answered. The boy you saved before called to Elgas, and I have answered. It is said that water brings life, but all water begins as ice. Life stems from here. All that journey and cross over into death, do so by my hand. Those who return to the living do so in gateways that I provide. Asher, you are dead.”
I kinda figured.
“Now I have given you an opportunity to return to life. Behind this altar is a doorway in which you will cross over. Within it lies a portal that will return you to the living world. The Hearthstone that you carry with you will keep you alive for some time, but for you to survive the Unfreezing Sea, you require the Hearthstone and the
Mantle which rests at the bottom of the Sea, from someone who lost faith.”
Upon speaking those final words, Sylander returned to his original position and did not move again. I walked
around the altar to find the doorway Sylander spoke of and walked through.
The moment I walked through, I found myself once again in the goblin caves near Malatin, and directly in front of me was the amethyst altar to Calisto with Durin’s axe laying there. For a moment I stood there in disbelief. Then anger took over, not just towards Calisto and the Sentinels, but to myself as well. I was a damn fool to bring the axe back to Durin without thinking that someone had tampered with it. If I had thought things through, Durin would not have succumbed to Scald’s will. He wouldn’t have Malatinian blood on his hands.
If only I wasn’t so thoughtless.
But I’ll be damned if I let it happen again.
I began to pick up a large rock in front of me when I noticed that I was wearing my armor. In fact, all of my possessions were on my person. So I took my glaive and I did what I should’ve done long ago.
I destroyed the altar and that damn axe.
And then there was screaming.
Ear-splitting screams echoed behind me as I slowly turned around to see what was causing it.
And I wish I hadn’t.
Goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears and a cave troll filled the room to the brim. Looking closer, I saw a couple familiar figures in the crowd. On the troll’s shoulder, a goblin with a short sword stared down at me, foaming at the mouth, twitching every so often. I recognize Rabid Hate just about anywhere, that skittish little creep. Below the troll was the bugbear with the tiara that I had cleaved in half during my first trek in the caves. But on the head of the troll was a small bald boy with purple eyes. He did not scream as the goblins did, but he stared at me with more hatred than any boy should have.
I looked down and chuckled. “So this is what he means by ‘have faith’. It’s not just the faith in Halis, it’s the faith in myself…” I bowed down and said a small prayer to Halis, as well as Sylander for good measure. “Please protect me. And thank you.” I stood up and charged into the fray.
Rabid Hate screeched with glee the moment I charged. He jumped off the troll into the outstretched hands of a bugbear (who had a backpack of…more goblins?), who then spun and tossed Rabid Hate directly at me. I took my glaive and brought it down in an overhead swing to meet the airborne goblin and it hit him right in the nose. The problem is that it wasn’t the blade that hit him, but the pole. Miraculously, he managed to grab hold onto my glaive as he got hit, so basically I had a goblin on a stick. I spun around, cleaving through numerous goblins, trying to get Rabid Hate to let go. He didn’t, and instead crawled down and stabbed me in the leg with his short sword.
“AGH! Little bastard!” I cursed. I grabbed him and lifted him off my leg. I quickly looked around to find a target to throw him when I saw what the bald boy was doing. He was still on top of the troll’s head, only this time his hand was on the troll’s forehead, it’s eyes rolled back, and it was lumbering slowly towards me. It was carrying a huge chunk of metal that I assume was to be a sword or club of some kind. Either way if I got hit with that thing, I’d be put out of commission.
On the plus side, I found my target. (See? Optimism).
I pulled my arm back to throw Rabid Hate (speaking of throwing, a bomb goblin passed over me and exploded behind me) to knock the boy off of the troll, but somehow during the throwing motion, my hand had gotten stuck in his mouth. With a little quick thinking, I used the momentum to my advantage and punched the ground through Rabid Hate. There was a small pop and no more Rabid Hate.
With barely any time to be impressed with myself, six hobgoblins pounced on me, but their attacks were barely noticeable. I did another spin of the glaive, throwing a little more power into it, and causing pink mist to appear where the hobgoblins were standing. I began to settle myself into proper position when the Tiara Bugbear walked up and smacked me dead in the chest with a morning star. It hurt, but nothing I couldn’t power through. I was surrounded by goblins again, so I figured if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I spun again and cleaved through all of them up to Tiara. I had managed to cut him deep, but he was still able to swing back. At the same time, the troll tried to hit me with his “sword”. Luckily, the troll missed, but Tiara still hit me in the chest again.
I shook off Tiara’s hit, and I tried to think for a second. The child is obviously the one in control of the troll, but I needed to figure out a way to get him off without hurting the child as much as possible. I figured the best way would be to use the goblinoids as stepping stones to tackle the kid off of the troll. I lined up my stepping stones and ran towards the troll. Unfortunately, the first goblin I stepped on apparently had a weak skull, because my greaves sank into his head, causing me to stumble forward as opposed to jumping. Using my momentum, I rolled underneath the troll’s legs, avoiding any other attempts of getting hit with a giant metal splinter. Right, time for plan B. I cut through the troll with an upward swing between the legs and through it’s spine to lame him. Lucky for me, he didn’t fall backwards, but instead crumbled to the side, causing the child
to fall off.
“Fuck off!” I yelled, and booted Tiara in the stomach, away from me. I turned to see the child standing on top of the troll’s head, point to me, and growl, “Kill.”
Then I heard screaming from every. Single. Goblin. In. The cave.
Every single one of them started to scream their lungs out. Their eyes rolled to the back of their heads and en masse, they all started charging towards me. There was no way in hell I was going to kill all of the goblins in this room, let alone the entire cave, but I still wasn’t leaving that kid here. I ran up to him, grabbed his skull, and with an effort of will, coursed through the Light of Halis to rid him of the evil spirit that controlled him. He stood shocked for a moment, then went limp, a puff of smoke dissipating from his mouth.
And then everything stopped. Mid-step, every goblin stopped and just stood there. A few moments passed by and still nothing. I took my glaive and test stabbed one of them. It died like normal but what exactly was going on? Was the child really controlling all of these goblins? One of the goblins started to blink. Then another. And another. And another. It wasn’t until the tenth goblin did I realize that they were all gaining consciousness, their eyes rolling back to normal. So I did what anybody else would do.
I put my glaive away and brought out my tower shield. With the shield on one hand and the unconscious child in my other arm, I rammed through the goblins towards the exit. It was easy at first. I was just plowing through them all as they were still snapping out of it.
Pat. Ping. Pang. Ping.
I started to feel resistance. They be pushing back now. But I’ll be damned if I don’t get out of here in one piece. I dug my feet with each step and used all of the power of my legs. I plowed through faster.
I had to keep going. I was almost there.
I looked up to see what stopped me, and Tiara loomed over me, one hand on my shield, the other swinging with his morning star, and it connected with the side of my face. I stumbled back a bit to lay on hands. I looked behind him to see if there was anything else, but lo and behold, the exit was right there.
“Screw this guy,” I thought to myself. I took out my glaive and, for an added sense of irony, smote him over the head and split him in half, the same way I killed him the first time. I gathered myself and the child and ran straight towards the exit. Soon after I started to run again, I sensed evil very close by. I looked down and saw the child take out a hidden knife. I hesitated, so sure of myself that I had taken out the evil spirit. I tried to swat away the knife but I missed in my hesitation, and the child stabbed me in the shoulder.
I dug out the knife but what was next? I took out the evil spirit, so why is this child emanating such a powerful malice?
But what was the correct choice? I had already tried saving him, and yet he remained evil. Some people are just born this way. But does that justify killing a child? Maybe, given the circumstances. Is it possible to drive out the soul-deep hatred within him? I could give it a shot. It’s better than nothing.
Once again, I put my hand on his skull, and with more effort, called forth the power of the Hearthstone of Ice to drive away all of the child’s malice and hatred. Coldness erupted from the pit of my stomach, coursed through my arm and into the child. He slowly became bathed in ice and all evil within him disappeared. Still carrying the child, I ran towards the exit. I saw turquoise water on the other side with what appeared to be crashed ships on the ground. Is that the bottom of the Unfreezing Sea? Doesn’t matter, I have to get out of here.
I held my breath and crossed the threshold and the child dissolved in my arms, his spirit rising up to the heavens. Which would be all fine and dandy if it wasn’t for the fact that I was in frigid waters, trying not to drown. I managed to get a decent amount of air before running into the water, but I had no clue what to do then. Then I remembered something Sylander told me, “…you require both the Hearthstone and the Mantle…” I was missing the Mantle, so I looked around for something of the sort. 80 yards away, there looked to be a piece of equipment that wasn’t frozen solid, so I slogged my way over there as quickly as I could. I tried to use a sunken boat as support to help propel me forward, but it only disintegrated the moment I touched it. After what seemed like a century, I reached the Mantle. I took it off of the corpse of the previous owner and put it on myself. I have both the Hearthstone and the Mantle.
I couldn’t swim with all of my armor and weapons with me, but I didn’t want to risk leaving them behind, in case Sylander wanted to turn it into another “sacrifice” for the Hearthstone and Mantle. So I tried to float my way up. Using the Hearthstone, I created an ice ring big enough to float with me on it. Slowly, I rose towards the surface, with each passing second harder to keep my breath held. Half-way up, I lay on hands to expel water from my lungs and give myself some more time. I had to hold on. It hurt so much, but I had to hold on. My lungs felt as if they were being crushed. Then the ice I made stopped floating, but miraculously, I saw the tail of Sylander within arm’s reach. On impulse, I grabbed Sylander’s tail and thought kind, non-threatening thoughts, hoping he’d take me up.
Once I grabbed the tail, I was shot through the surface of the water and thrown onto a boat and into my comrades, Verik, Able and Adrian. While I laid in a pile of dust that somehow appeared there, I saw Aslan standing on the mast of the ship while Vyertinn floated in mid air. Apparently, everybody scampered to avoid the tide I caused to get out of the water. Verik, after he got out from under me, rushed to help heal me. I thanked him and while the others talked to Sylander, I scooched myself to a wall to catch my breath and gather my thoughts.
But really, there wasn’t anything else to gather. If there was anything to learn from this, it is that I am still weak. Hordes of goblins will be nothing compared to the army Calisto will gather, if he hasn’t already. The test of endurance I just went through will be nothing compared to fighting for days on end. I have the Mantle of Sylander and the Hearthstone of Ice, and it still isn’t enough. I need more power to end death incarnate,
Kerald, and even more power to end Calisto. I need more.
I shuffled up to my feet and walked to the rest of the group. I waited politely for the conversation between Sylander and the group to end before I said my piece. It ended and Sylander looked at me, and for the first
time ever, I did not shiver out of fear, nor out of cold.
“I have a request.”
“Yes?” Sylander spoke.
“I would like two of your scales to forge them into something that will help protect the people who can not protect themselves.”
“Bold,” Sylander said through what seemed to be a smile. “Very bold.”
“As the wearer of your mantle, it only seems fitting.”
Sylander leaned towards the boat, his scales exposed to me. “Take two of your choosing. But you must pull them yourself.”
The group was discussing what to do with the scales. Tower shields and armor came to mind but I mentioned combining a scale into my glaive. Sylander chuckled slightly and said, “I have something better for that. Pull open my scale to see my flesh. Plunge your glaive into my side. If you take the scale off, you may keep it. However, this will count towards your second scale.”
With a little buffing help from Verik and Vyertinn, I managed to pull off a large scale, exposing the flesh of Sylander. I pierced deep in his side with my glaive. Blood sprayed a little bit on me, but my glaive managed to soak up everything else. I pulled it out, and thanked Sylander for the aid.I picked up the large scale (sheesh this thing is heavy) and found a nice corner to sleep in.
It’s been a long day. I think I deserve it.