Castle Clash - "The New World" Novella



The Woodsman - Cerulean Rift

The morning sun woke me like every other day, rousing me for the usual tasks. I squinted my eyes and rubbed the dried crust from them before throwing back my blanket and rising from bed. The sun shined brightly through my windows, making the dust particles floating in the air glimmer. I walked to my kitchen to prepare myself a hearty breakfast before the day’s work began. My icebox and pantry were full of meats from my last hunt that I’d smoked and cured as well as greens I had traded with the town’s farmer for. I decided on venison and eggs to get me through the day. I cracked two eggs onto the stove and frowned at the low supply of wood I had left. I’d have to haul back extra, yet more work for an already busy day.

But soon the venison cooking in the pan filled the cottage with a savory aroma, and the troubles of the world left my mind. The wood in the furnace cracked and spark. The sounds and smells were familiar, comforting. I have always been a simple man. The adventure and the excitement that others might crave is not for me. I have never wanted to be a great warrior that bards sing of, an intrepid explorer unearthing ancient treasure. All I truly want from life is the peace of sitting at a table I have built in a cottage I have built, the sound of my children playing in my ears and the weight of my wife’s body close to mine.

I sighed. There would be no peace until the day’s work was done. And so, I did what I do every morning, eating my morning meal in silence. At least the meat was flavorful and juicy, the leafy greens fresh and bright.

As I ate, my gaze kept drifting towards the tiny pile of wood. I sighed in resignation. There were always a million little things demanding my attention, but without wood, I would find myself unable to heat my home, unable to cook, unable to build the things I needed to survive. But then, that was the way it was for everyone, from the Northern Kingdom to the Southern. Whatever we wanted to do, whatever we hoped to be, it all fell apart in the face of the demands the world placed on us.

The wife would have to wait. The children would have to wait. The chores would not.

At least I could spend my days in the forest. The fresh air and the sounds of the forest creatures and the sunlight would keep me company. It was not a glamorous life, but it was a good one, a simple one, and I am a simple man.

I put on my cloak, pulled up my boots, and slung my axe and bow and satchel across my back to carry. My knife hung on my belt and the ropes I would use to haul lumber were looped around my chest. These are my sword and my shield, the tools I use every day. After constant use, breaking and repairing, they have molded to my hands. Perhaps it is a silly thing, but I am proud of them.

Leaving my small cottage, I was greeted by lush green trees and hills rolling to the horizon. I see these things every day, but still they awe me. These sights are what I picture when I think of my life and my livelihood. The trees form canopies overhead and I walk in the shade. The frail blades of grass bend underneath my boots. I idly look from tree to tree, trying to decide which one to harvest today.

After cutting down a suitable tree, hacking it into logs, chopping those into halves and then fourths, I tie them into a bundle to carry back home. As I turned to leave, I felt a tingling on the back of my neck, the air suddenly alive with some kind of energy. I felt like I was being watched. I felt like I could almost make out something on the edge of my hearing. I felt frightened and excited and angry and joyous all at once.

Suddenly I heard a loud buzzing, like angry insects, like a mage preparing some destructive spell. I grabbed my axe and held it before me. If some mage had decided to make me their play thing, I would almost certainly perish, but at least I would die fighting.

Cautiously I began to take steps in the direction the noise is coming from. The trees and the brush had grown unnaturally thick, and they seemed to glow with an eerie light, like a firebug or some strange fungus. I lifted my axe, charged forward, and dropped the heavy tool in shock.

I found myself paralyzed by the sight and staring deeply into this radiating portal that hung in the air like a menacing rift, its cerulean glow stark and unnatural against the green of the forest. The blue light pulsated in slow, sweeping waves outwards from the center with sparkling flecks of white pulling in. The cool light bathed all my immediate surroundings and the tingle of energy I’d felt before became stronger and stronger. A low hum began to rumble, growing louder and more ominous. I had never seen a sight like this before, so beautiful and frightening all at once.

I don’t know how long I stood there staring in awe, but finally I came to my senses. I grabbed my sack and my axe and began running north as fast as I could.

Thunder God would want to know everything that had transpired here.

Druid – Crushed Leaves

This is my theory: the natural world is a single living organism. The entire planet is one creature, like the body of a man or woman, and we are the cells of that body. The body is well and we are happy when we perform our proper duties.

I believe that it is my duty to be a healer. My people come to me in their times of need, and I have never turned the sick and the injured from my door. There is no wound too grievous, no affliction too small. I heal the hunter whose hands have been cut by their bowstring, the Guardian run through by an enemy’s sword, the Pyromancer inflicted with magical ailments, the Treants whose battered fists have smashed through walls. I am happy to heal my people but my heart always sinks when the wounds of battle are brought before me.

For hundreds of years I have watched troops assemble, strategize, and sacrifice everything in the hopes of claiming glory and gold, mana and might.

The sacrifices have never been worth it.

Time has not aged me the same way watching these battles unfold has, watching the lords and ladies of the realm throw away the lives of their subjects like they were nothing. Indeed, I saw these tragedies first-hand as I was once a soldier myself. I dedicated myself to keeping my fellow warriors alive, healing from the back and leading from the front. I wouldn’t let them risk their lives without knowing that I stood by their side in all things. I believed that I could save them all. In my heart of hearts, I knew that was impossible, but I knew also that I had to try.

But the stakes changed. The clashes between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms became more deadly, the wars bloodier, the champions more eager for glory no matter the cost. I grew more detached and more bitter, my healing spells less effective. Finally I could bear the pain of seeing good men and women die no longer and I retired from the battlefield. I decided to dedicate my time to understanding the mind of the warrior and the general, the politician and the peasant. To do this, I would need solitude, and so I ventured deep into the woods of the Northern Kingdom. I found a suitable place far from any other settlement, and I used my magic to construct a great tower from the ground itself, rock and wood and earth.

I set about fasting and meditating for days at a time. Sitting at the top of my tower, looking out over the trees and the kingdom beyond them, I prayed to the spirits of nature to show me the path to peace for all peoples. At times, I wondered if what I was doing was right. I wondered if it might be better to remain on the battlefield and to bear my doubts and my burdens quietly, but the meek who needed my help still came to me. That alone reassured me that my task was worthwhile. I persisted in it for a long time, helping those who came to me and only joining the field of battle when it was absolutely necessary.

It was a beautiful spring day when I felt something amiss. Something weighed heavy inside my chest that I could not readily recognize, a sense that the world as I understood it had changed in a way beyond my knowing. I tried meditating in the hopes that some semblance of peace would come to me, but I found myself wholly unable to focus. Finally, I just gave up.

That was when I heard a sharp sound in the distance, fallen leaves and twigs being crushed by foot. My body tensed up. I stood and moved to the edge of the tower and looked over the side to see a common man dashing towards the tower.

An injured warrior perhaps? No, they’re approaching far too quickly to be injured…

The sensation of unease grew within me. At best, this approaching figure was a messenger bearing ill news. At worst… I couldn’t even imagine.

I headed downstairs to greet the interloper. He arrived dishevelled and terrified, his breath pumping in and out of his chest. I raised my hand to halt him, eyeing the scarred and discolored axe he had strapped to his back suspiciously.

“Come no further, woodsman. What brings you here?”

“Druid, Thunder God has sent me to fetch you! Please, you must come with me!”

I shook my head in disgust. Of course Thunder God would send for me. Doubtless he’d come up with some new military strategy and wanted my approval before consigning the lives of countless young soldiers to a meat grinder. “I have no interest in waging war for the egotistical interests of others, woodsman. You may tell Thunder God I said that.”

The man stepped forward, determination in his eyes. “My lord, I came here –”

With a wave of my hand, roots and vines burst forth from the ground, entwining around the man’s legs and grasping at his hands. I didn’t want to hurt him. If I had, the vines would have gone for his neck, his eyes, would have been covered in thorns. “You have come here with an axe and an aura of panic and desperation about you. Whatever it is that you have come here to do, I suggest you consider it very carefully.”

The woodsman’s eyes went wide in surprise, and he struggled against his bonds for only a moment before managing to find some reserve of calm within himself. He took a deep breath and tried to comport himself with an aura of dignity. Or at least as much dignity as a person can muster when they are in chains made of the earth itself.

“Lord Druid, I apologize for my behavior. I was in the forest, hunting and gathering, when I came across a disturbance most unusual. I sought Thunder God and--.”

My eyebrows knit themselves into a mask of suspicion. “What kind of disturbance?”

Succubus - Punk Duke

“I tell you, the chumps they got in the Arena these days have no idea how to fight. If it were me in there, I’d be hitting them where it hurts.”

“...”

“Weaken the enemy before going in for the kill, you know? Make them suffer for it!”

“...”

“You know what I like about you, Shaman? You’re a good listener. You always say the right thing.”

Shaman and I would usually sit on the hill outside the Arena and watch the matches from a distance. A lot of fighters used their free time to greet the crowds, spend time with their fans, do the social thing. That’s not me. The only thing I’ve ever cared about is winning. Whether the crowds were cheering or booing didn’t matter to me, so long as I was the best.

And I was the best. I am. I’m still the best, even if I’ve been cheated out of the title.

I was the champ until that cheating Pumpkin Duke knocked me off my throne and claimed my title. But that was a fluke. A one-time thing. I’m just waiting and training for my chance to take it back.

I’ve watched every single match since I lost my title. I’ve measured the range of every kick, the speed of every punch, and calculated the perfect counters to moves no one’s even imagined yet. I’ve seen the mistakes in everyone else’s fighting styles so I won’t make the same ones. And more than anything, I’ve replayed my match that damn Punk Duke in my head a thousand times.

I had a record of 96-0. I was unstoppable. I defeated most of my enemies with ranged attacks before they ever got close, and from there it just got easier. Everyone underestimated me, and I’d use that ignorance to my advantage. I’d go berserk, work myself into a frenzy, and then finally unleash Death’s Lash to finish them off. No one could beat me. I was the queen of the Arena. I had it all.

And then Pumpkin Duke showed up.

That stupid Jack O’Lantern had us all fooled. He looked like an overgrown child in an All Hallow’s Eve costume, and a crappy costume at that. When he stepped into the Arena, the laughter was deafening. Everyone thought the match would be over even faster than usual, myself included. The only person taking it seriously, the only person not laughing and cracking jokes was Pumpkin Duke himself. He just stood there in silence, staring, sizing me up.

I’ve always made it a point to decide how I’m going to win before the match even starts. I can read other Heroes the way Pyromancers read books. I can spot the weak points in their armor and the weakness in their spirit. There’s a thousand little tells you can look for: shaky hands, beads of nervous sweat sliding down the face, rapid eye movement. But PD stood absolutely still.

As soon as the match started he charged and unleashed a flurry of melee attacks against me. Even then I was still scoffing at his pumpkin-headed skills. Sure, he was striking with hands and feet faster than anyone I’d ever seen before, and sure, his entire body seemed suffused with dark and forbidden magic (in fact, he must have been cheating. He must have!) But I was still thinking, “Hey, I’ve got this. It’s all flash. I just need to keep blocking and dodging, and he’ll tire himself out.”

But he didn’t. Instead I was the one who started getting tired, and that stupid pumpkin grin didn’t change at all. I was sweating buckets, gasping for breath, my chest rising and falling like a scared little bunny’s (not that I was scared) and PD didn’t even blink. I fought to the end, but where I was fast, he was faster. Where I thought I was strong, he was stronger. And where my hits stung, his were devastating.

So yeah. That’s how I lost my title. And I’ve been planning my comeback ever since. I’m determined to show that punk pumpkin who’s the real boss of the Arena.

“Lady Succubus!”

I jumped, shaken from my thoughts. “Huh? What? Who?” I looked around and couldn’t see who was calling my name, but I sure as hell knew it wasn’t Shaman.

“Uh, Mistress? Down here?”

I looked down to see one of the Builders at my feet. Hideous little things they are, with their protruding jaw and spindly legs and droopy eyes and buck teeth. This one was wearing the leather cap and the bulky goggles that all Builders wear (don’t ask me why,) but instead of the coveralls you usually see them in, this one was wearing a fancy and frilly suit tailored especially to fit its tiny frame. The suit marked the little monster as an official courier.

“Oh! I didn’t know they were letting Builders be couriers now.”

The little green goblin ignored my comment, instead clearing his throat and giving me a military salute. “Lady Succubus! Lord Druid requests your presence at his tower!”

I frowned. “Uh, I don’t know if old Beardtree is aware, but I’m kind of busy right now. I’m studying so I can--”

“Lord Druid has called forth select Legendary Heroes for an urgent meeting about a disturbance in the forest!”

Despite myself, I smiled at that. Select Legendary Heroes? Finally, that crotchety old treehugger was recognizing my greatness! “Well, alright then. How can I say no to that? You heard the goblin, Shaman. Legendaries only, sorry. Same time tomorrow?”

Shaman replied with silence as always. I took it as tacit agreement with my words, as always.

As the Builder scurried away to go deliver his message to the next Hero, I spread out my wings in an extravagant flourish and took flight to Druid’s tower.

I can’t wait to see what this mess is about.

Thunder God - God’s Kingdom

The Northern Kingdom is the greatest in all the world. Our citizenry the most patriotic, our rulers the most noble, and our warriors the strongest. I’m reminded of these facts every time I lead a raid into the lands of the Southern Kingdom deep beauty and freedom I fight for during my battles with the Southern Kingdom while passing through the towns sustained by the mana mills, mines, and our warehouses. I firmly believe I have courageously lead my troops into past battle for a worthy cause.

As I approached the Druid tower I could not fathom what would necessitate my immediate summoning. To my knowledge no attacks had been committed against the kingdom. Druid would not respond irrationally to any attack nor initiate any advance that would endanger the kingdom either. In addition to having the title of Healer and leader he is also a close friend whom I trust with my life.

Upon arriving inside the tower I was escorted by one of the small, green and foul smelling trolls to the board room. There I found Druid and Succubus still in silence as if they had been awaiting my entry. Druid was standing by the balcony and an irked Succubus was sitting mid-air with her legs crossed and arms folded.

“You’d think for a god of thunder you’d be able to command the forces of nature to get you places faster.” Succubus greeted.

“Greetings. Druid, Succubus, what is the meaning of this urgent meeting?”

“There’s been a disturbance in the forest.”, Druid asserted

“What kind of disturbance?”

“We’re not exactly sure. It could be an enemy trap. Regardless, we should proceed carefully.”, he replied leaving the balcony and walking towards me.

I slammed my hammer down on the board room table, “We NEED to contain any threat that could possibly pose a threat to our kingdom!”

“What we ‘need’ to do is carefully investigate, Thunder God. Being rash will only get us into trouble.”, Succubus argued

“Then what do you suggest we do, Succubus? Now that you have chosen to invest yourself in the matters of the kingdom instead of yourself.”

“Enough!”, Druid interrupted, “We need to collaborate on a peaceful solution—”

“What if this thing leads somewhere?”, Succubus proposed.

Druid and I looked at each other speechless.

She continued, “What if it took us to another kingdom, or even another world? Imagine what we could find.”

“There could possibly be a bounty of resources!”, I shouted in excitement. I was truly overwhelmed at potentially tapping into resources that this world doesn’t have to offer.

“Yes and fathom the countless wars that would ensue trying to monopolize and harness those resources. I will not risk it.”, Druid spoke firmly.

All three of went back and forth for hours arguing over possibilities. We concluded a thorough investigation was in order. We would keep the news of this discovery as quiet as possible to not risk other kingdoms discovering the disturbance and marching in to usurp it. The three of us decided to pay a visit to the disturbance and see what would lie ahead.

Druid - Hero’s Shadow

Approaching the disturbance I could see a large blue rift with specks of white pulling towards the center. The rift glowed brightly against the shadows of the now dusk forest. I felt the humming described by the Woodsman vibrating inside my chest cavity. The decision was clear.

Without blinking an eye Thunder God spoke, “We’ll send Marksman and Dryad to do some reconnaissance.”

It was fairly enigmatic and captivating, this cerulean rift. We stood in silence, letting our gaze be pulled by the sight. I paused and turned to look at Thunder God. I was frightened that it was far more enticing to him than it should be.

Seeing the blue light consume Thunder God’s expression took me to a time when I would participate in defending the Kingdom from raids and other battles. Thunder God would instill pride for the Northern kingdom in the warriors. He would build a sense of camaraderie among them. He is an admirable Hero who exudes infinite passion for his kingdom, so much so it is difficult to not aspire to do the same. During battle he was the first to charge in, and would make every valiant effort to protect his warriors. His commitment to serve the place he and many others alike call home is honorable. But every Hero has his shadows….

During one particular battle where our kingdom was raided, many of our guardians, centaurs and pyromancers were taken out rapidly. One young hunter Thunder God had spent years training and pushing to beyond his limits as an archer in particular fought alongside him through and through. They covered each other against the enemy. The young hunter would clear the way and then Thunder God would come in and destroy the enemies fooled by the facade of a lone hunter being our only defense. This is the kind of man Thunder God was. He believed in equal partnership for the greater good.The young hunter and Thunder God kept plowing ahead during the battle, wiping out hoards of the raiding warriors until Thunder God lost sight of the young hunter. He began to internally panic, anxiously searching the battle field for the young hunter’s eyes to meet his. He eventually found the young hunter incapacitated behind a destroyed wall. The young hunter had dragged his body with what little remained of his life to cover himself not have his body mutilated further by surrounding demolition.

Thunder God immediately crouched to the young hunter’s aid and did his best to comfort him.

“I tried my best, Thunder God…”, the hunter whimpered.

“That’s—”, but suddenly another explosion hit, annihilating another resource building.

Seeing his kingdom crumbling and his protege slowly die before his eyes, Thunder God was hit with an overwhelming wave of fury and desperation.

“Pick up your bow, let’s go, we have to save our home!”, he yelled, spit and tears flowing from his face.

“....I...I can’t...”, The young hunter was losing more and more life by the second.

Thunder God tried to place the young hunter’s bow in his hand, knowing only the two of them could try to salvage something of the now remnant kingdom as a duo.

I watched this tragedy take place in the distance while healing other warriors. In the time Thunder God spent trying to salvage his already forsaken kingdom rather than bring me this young warrior he wasted a promising life.

This is the kind of man Thunder God became. A man who believes in sacrifice for the greater good.

Marksman - Shadow Warrior

“You must keep communication fluid between each other. You must understand you are completing this quest for the Northern Kingdom. The Northern Kingdom’s future fate and safety depends on the completion of this task. If you fail to complete this task it is by fault of your own. You are proceeding to take on this task at your own discretion. Whatever danger you encounter you two will have to fight without our immediate help. Do not let anyone know you are from the Northern kingdom. If you are given the ultimatum of life and death to reveal Northern Kingdom secrets you will choose death. Do you understand, Marksman?”

“Yes.”

Dryad - Rift Trip

Marksman and I accepted the mission of exploring what was on the other side of the Cerulean Rift. This blue portal sprung from nowhere in the forest and had the leaders of the Northern Kingdom apprehensive about what could ensue. We prepared ourselves for the mission as best we could before short notice. My mind was filled with all the anxieties of what impending doom there may be. Marksman as always kept to herself about those things. I assume if her exterior appeared impenetrable and strong, thus would be true to her of her insides. Before stepping foot into the portal we sharpened our weapons and wits in the forest.

Sitting on a nearby stump trying to soak in what may be the last sight I have of this world I decided to ease up the tension, “What do you think we’re going to find?”

Marksman continued preparing her bow and arrows. Her eyes fixated on every curve and edge of her tools, checking for any flaw that could cause misfire and cost a life.

“Aren’t you scared? I mean, it’s okay to say you’re scared. I know I—”, with her back turned to me she dropped her weapons and drooped her head. She quickly whipped around and approached me.

“No. No, I am not scared. Being scared means being uncertain and making mistakes. Making mistakes means death. Do you understand?”, her face inched closer to mine.

I know we were about to take on this mission and I didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot. Whether Marksman wanted to hide her fear or not wasn’t a problem for me. I was just hoping we could be honest about what was to come. If she thought I was weak she wouldn't trust me. And if she couldn’t trust me I might as well not be on this mission at all. She’s so tightly wound. I suppose she has to be this way to fulfill her purpose for the Northern Kingdom. There are so many lives depending on her.

“Do YOU, UNDER-STAND?”, she annunciated the syllables slowly for emphasis.

Clearly I did. But there are several matters at hand more important than having her know one can simultaneously be scared and brave.

“Yes.”

“Alright then. Let’s go. You follow my lead and my command. Don’t you dare try to have a ‘I-can-be-a-leader-too’ moment or you’ll get us killed. You’re here to support and follow me. If anything happens to me you find your way back and tell them what’s happened so they can prepare and protect themselves.”, she said dryly.

“Right.”, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and lifted my head and staff.

An aura comprised of green smoke surrounded Marksman and I, lifting our bodies above the ground. The aura enveloped our limbs, swirling and covering our chests, hands, thighs, and head, mimicking physical armor. The green smoke locked around our limbs and settled. I had placed a magic armor spell to protect us before going in. The green magic armor would absorb any magical ailments and buff minor physical attacks before being shattered.

We levitated back to the ground and turned our heads to look at eachother.

“Ready?”, Marksman asked.

Just as I was to reply I turned my head, hearing something in the distance. I chalked it up to my fear getting in the way and turned back to Marksman. I nodded in reply and we were off, running into the cerulean portal, first Marksman and then me.

Immortep - Forgotten Flower

“Nature is a volatile thing. Self-sustaining as it may be, its Creatures are often at war for survival. Similar to the fauna clawing at each other for mates, food and territory, there is also also the silent, passive war among flora. The spectacular feats of nature lie in the miniscule occurrences. The unlikely flower growing in the shade of the flower turned towards the sun. One easily blossoms, soaking in all the nutrients it needs to flourish, while the other thrives off what little it is afforded. Greatness is found in the thriving flower’s perseverance for triumph. The Southern kingdom is that thriving flower. Any advantage we can gain to survive is necessary. The Northern Kingdom monopolizes all the available resources. Their population is growing continuously despite any battles and past wars whereas our kingdom is withering by the day. Pumpkin Duke, you have restored glory to the kingdom by becoming the Arena champion and knocking off that insufferable pest Succubus into obscurity. Vlad, you have done excellent in training our troops to near invincible status. I credit you wholly with our last victorious raid on the Northern kingdom. We must forge ahead—” “My Lord…”, Werewolf creeped in through the door, interrupting my speech.

“Werewolf, it’s quite alright to inform me of your findings later.”

“My Lord, it’s critical.”, he tightly twiddled his hands.

“What is it then?”, I replied, irritated by his sheepishness.

“There’s an open portal in the woods of the Northern kingdom.”

“A portal? What did it look like?”, I questioned him in disbelief.

“Large and blue. There was a deep, constant rumbling from it. There was movement coming from it as well.”

“Well, where does it lead?”, I was growing more impatient with Werewolf’s vague details.

“They didn’t say, my Lord. I was scavenging the forest for resources when I discovered them—”

“THEM? Who is this ‘THEY’ and ‘THEM’ you speak of? Could you be any less informative with your information?”

“My sincerest apologies, my Lord. I saw Marksman and Dryad going through it. I don’t know what they were looking for but it appeared they were sent on a mission for the Northern Kingdom.”

“This information is vital, thank you, Werewolf. Pumpkin Duke, Vlad, let us forge ahead.”

Succubus - Thorn In My Side

I was walking through the Northern kingdom which seemed unusually empty. The warehouses, stores, farmers, mines, and mills looked abandoned. I paced slowly if any danger were to approach. It felt nice to be alone for a bit. I stopped to take a deep breath and look around. I heard a meek sound at my feet and looked down. A little mouse had scurried its way to my feet. I gazed at it adoringly. What a cute little creature! The mouse then scurried away from me as it once came. As my eyes traced the mouse’s movements, looking up I saw Pumpkin Duke standing in front of me.

“What are you doing here, Puke Duke? Did your big dumb head forget where the Southern kingdom is?”

Naturally he stood still, expression rigid.

“You are so annoying, you know tha—”, PD disappeared and instantaneously appeared directly in front of me, an inch from my face.

I was paralyzed, frightened by the details in his mug I had never been able examine like this before. Suddenly I felt an intense, piercing pain in my stomach. With a swish of his left hand, PD had spawned a spear and driven it into my stomach. I hurdled over in pain, breath escaping my lungs. His open fingers turned elegantly again and the spear slowly twisted clockwise inside me. I groaned loudly in agony, hoping someone would hear me and come to my aid but the kingdom remained desolate. PD slowly levitated upwards then backwards, watching me writhe, my pain eliciting no reaction. He extended the same puppeteer hand out towards me as if to offer help. I looked up with tears streaming out of my eyes, dripping down my face onto the ground. His gesture feigned mercy. His fingers slowly bent one by one into a fist before he jolted his arm backwards, commanding the spear to pull out of my stomach all at once with my insides.

“Why....are you d-doing….this?”, I whimpered with my last breath.

He simply stared at me.

That face would be the one to haunt me the rest of my life.

“Succubus, SUCCUBUS!”

“W-what??”

One of my minions shook me awake from this nightmare.

“Would you like pumpkin soup for your meal, Succubus?”

“I, LOATHE, PUMPKINS!”

Dryad - Unlikely Underpin

I feel weightless, yet there’s a blanket of pressure pushing down on me. We’re floating through a narrow strip of blue light, similar to the cerulean portal. A bright flash glimmers like sunlight reflecting off precious metal. I close my eyes slowly and after opening them find Marksman and myself lying on a mound of dirt. I am surrounded by flat land covered in a red dirt. This is nothing like the Northern Kingdom and we are far from home. I pull my torso from the ground and shake Marksman awake.

“Marksman!”, I shout, shaking her body, “Marksman, come on! We’ve arrived!”

She doesn’t answer. I slap her leg and figure she’s unconscious. I feel a weakness in my ankle standing up. I must have landed on it during the jump through the portal. Going through this portal took much more strength than I had imagined or known I possessed. After slowly pulling myself upright through grunts and shooting pains I raised my staff and cast a spell to have Marksman lifted and carried by yellow energy. Her body steadily rose and became gently supported. I was only strong enough to summon enough yellow energy to carry one of us. This would relieve me of any extra weight on my ankle and protect her from any attacks, should there be one.

Once I dusted myself off and attempted to throw myself into walking, I tried to be wary of any impending threat. I squinted my eyes but couldn’t see anything but a flat horizon. Everything surrounding us was red dirt. After walking I became weary of the red dirt being swept by sporadic bursts of cooling wind, causing the carried grains to scrape my face. I continued walking, trying to keep myself from collapsing and managing to supply a continuous source of power for the yellow energy shielding Marksman. The temperature felt like blistering heat in comparison to the cool Northern Kingdom I was so acclimated to. After walking for what felt like an eternity in the scorching sun, I started seeing a trail of smoke whisping upwards from the horizon.

I have to investigate that smoke…This portal cannot be a door to nowhere…If this jump really injured Marksman, the whole mission will have been in vain and my fault.

My contemplation was interrupted by a gust of wind directly overhead, preceded by a large winged creature shrieking. The creature was colossal in its magnitude and byzantium in its coloring. The webbing of its wings were like a burning sunset with tattered edges that whipped through the wind current. Its horns were two sharp and rusted pinnacles with receding ribbed edges. The creature’s rough exterior resembled cracked molten lava. The cracks in its skin glowed with a blazing orange that burned as brightly as its eyes. The creature must have missed our seemingly microscopic existence from the air and continued to fly ahead towards the smoke.

The creature’s brief presence crippled me with fear. As I watched it soar away I wondered if I could take it down on my own. I looked over to Marksman who still appeared lifeless on the cloud of yellow energy. I continued to wipe the sweat mixed with sand from my brow and squint my eyes, blinded by the sun in the distance. I kept walking on.

My acute ankle ache grew more hellish the further we walked. Every time I stumbled the yellow energy weakened, putting Marksman at risk of being dropped and left unshielded. Eventually I grew closer to the smoke and found patches of green grass. I slowly approached the green land and found a low standing wall to hide behind before plunging in. Looking over the wall I saw what looked like a town inhabited by semi-circular round creatures that varied in color moving around slowly and carrying on with daily activities not unlike the people of the Northern Kingdom might perform.

The creatures appeared to be made of some clear, gelatinous liquid and had small black eyes and round hands, and blushing faces. They glided across the town’s streets. The green ones had little mouths that hung open and looked as if they were continuously in awe. The blue ones appeared almost aquatic in nature. There were also purple ones that had small bat-like wings and fangs protruding from their mouths. The purple slimes had low flames emerging from the crown of their heads and dressed with a skull belt, but appeared just as harmless nonetheless. They moved slowly and didn’t make any noise louder than a hum. I watched them ogle prime cuts of meat through the windows of a butcher shop, sit around the town’s fountain with smaller, child-like slimes, gather around a community bulletin board, engage with each other at a cafe, and even interact at a trading post.

They were all so alien and strange and yet familiar. Their town operated similar to ours but appeared peaceful, free of the wars and the problems unique to our kingdom.

“What a wonderful and prosperous people, aren’t they?”

I turned around to see a half-woman, half-snake towering over me with a large grin on her face. Her smile appeared inviting and friendly but was contradicted by the menacing glint in her crimson eyes. From the ground I raised my gaze, startled by the serpent half of her body, a cascading scaly green tail with a pale yellow stomach. her hips were covered by circular pieces of gold encrusted with a diamond cut aquamarine jewel. Looking further up was the torso of a bare woman with wide hips and a small waist. Turquoise cloth draped across her chest in X formation from the ornate green, blue, and gold patterned necklaces covering her collar. Her wrists were adorned with turquoise bracelets. Her head was decorated by a regal blue crown embellished with gold trim and a blue-eyed cobra in the center. In her right hand she held a large blue and cream striped staff that tightly curved into a semi-swirl at the top. Her short hair was elegant and flowed with the gusts of wind coming and going. Her face appeared youthful and smooth with no signs of aging or battle wounds. Her crimson eyes, lined with kohl and framed by large wispy black lashes, were complemented by full ruby lips. I couldn’t decipher whether I was more mesmerized by her regal beauty or transfixed by her fearsome stature. Instead my mouth hung open, staring at the silhouette of her body created by the sun’s spotlight.

“You poor thing!”, she said sweetly, “Come, let me help you up!” She extended her hand for me to grab. I hesitated but decided it would be better for me to have this serpent woman aiding me than hurting me. I grabbed her hand and rose to my feet.

She paused to return my careful examination of her body with one of her own, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you around here. Or your little friend for that matter. Where are you all from?”, she swiftly wrapped herself around my body and poked her head from between my neck and shoulder to take a closer look at Marksman who was still unconscious. Her touch made me tremble but was simultaneously enticing. This enigmatic creature’s interest would be the end of me, I thought as I felt her pulsating breath against the space between my neck and shoulder. Curiosity will away draw you to what you want to understand.

She slithered from my body to Marksman’s side, “Your friend looks injured.”, her pupils waned as they scanned Marksman’s torn and bruised body.

“She passed out from the heat of the dessert is all.” I said dryly, trying to not attract any suspicious as a foreigner.

“Right. Well, if she is dehydrated and exhausted, she needs to rest and have her fluids restored. She cannot continue to lie afloat this withering cloud of yellow energy.”, her left eyebrow arched.

Immediately my stomach dropped. She knows magic. She must be a mage. I have to continue to be on guard.

A thick swirl of yellow energy circled her staff like a ribbon taking its form and illuminated the staff. The cloud of yellow energy carrying Marksman grew stronger and brighter, lifting her higher and forming a strong protective cocoon around her body. Our magic was congruous, working like a perfect chemical reaction.

“Thank you. We’ll be on our way now.” I turned my body to begin leaving but before I took a step, she spoke to stop me.

“That shield will only hold your friend over for so long. She needs somewhere safe to rest. You’re two outsiders in a new world, whose laws and people you know nothing about. You won’t make it far like this. Especially come night time.”, She piqued my interest once our safety was called into jeopardy. I turned around, “What happens at night?”

“The Council snatches up anyone or anything suspicious. How suspicious do you think you will look among slimes and oozes?”

I paused. She was right. Nightfall was coming and Marksman was still out of commission and regardless of whether she was trustworthy or The Council was real or fake, we were not in any position to take on any threat

“What do you suggest then?” I asked lowly.

“I’ll house you two until she’s better. then you can go on your way.” She spoke with conviction. “You need rest yourself. Otherwise, how useful are you to her?”

I dropped my head in shame. My purpose couldn’t be more clear and yet I was already failing. I have to complete my mission and save her any way I can.

“Where’s your home?”

Werewolf - Raw Hyde

“I know it’s here! I know it’s here somewhere!” My clawed hands dug deep into the grass as I searched the forest for the blue portal I saw Marksman and Dryad go through. With my nose to the ground I searched for any trace of either of their scents. I felt myself becoming rabid from the madness of following this erratic trail. The trail was repeatedly cut off by the interruption of magic. Dryad’s constant use of spells for shield and transportation interrupts the scent’s print through conflicting energies. As I remained low to the ground, crawling forward rapidly in a straight line I was pulled left from a weak trace, then right by a stronger trace. My focus splintered in every direction.

I can save my kingdom if I just find the portal! Then we can use it, yes! And then we will conquer the Northern Kingdom. Yes! It’s all so simple!

My head shot in the direction of something rustling in some bushes. Eyes sharpened, ears perked up. Someone’s there. Someone has to be there spying on me. What if it’s Thunder God. If I kill Thunder God and bring him to Immortep I will climb the ranks and gain respect in the Southern Kingdom. I will be the good Hero they want me to be. I will live up to my true potential.

I crouched and pressed my body low to the ground. Back arched, elbows and knees bent, tail stiff as a rod. My moment of glory was coming. I saw nothing but that bush. It was turning red and the sounds of rustling became deafening. Each sudden movement drove me madder. There was no consistent pattern, the smell was unrecognizable. With each rustle I counted all the mistakes that cost me or the Southern Kingdom something. Why did they keep me around, why were we so damned, why were we unable to find the portal first ? I could no longer take it and erupted, pouncing onto the bush.

I landed on Thunder God and thrashed my claws down in rapid succession before digging them in and tearing out chunks of flesh. With every plunge of my claws I felt a warm stream of blood gush out. I lunged my neck forward and began to take bites out of him, sinking my teeth in and twisting and turning my head savagely to break his bones between my jaws. In between tearing and chomping at him I let out yelps of frustration and anger. I ran out of breath and began huffing, looking at my blood-soaked fur. Overhead the night clouds parted and the moonlight shone on me and Thunder God.

As the moonlight shifted to me, I discovered I had massacred a deer. Its face was shredded beyond recognition. Its body looked as if it had been turned inside out. My rage was boundless and driving me to insanity.

Dryad - Sovereign Snake

The serpent took us to a small home hidden away on the outskirts of the town in the desert. By now it was nightfall and the desert had cooled immensely. The climate seemed fitting for a woman endowed with reptilian blood in her veins. Her home appeared to be a modest hut on the outside made from local resources and what little greenery was available to create shade. Inside she helped place Marksman on a cot as well as washing away her wounds. I carefully watched her every move, uneasy about her background and why he was so willing to help two strangers. She and I sat and watched over Marksman while hydrating with a special brew she conjured.

Sitting across from me she gazed deeply into my eyes

“You never told me your name, mage.”, her eyes glinted again, they gripped me in a way that seduced and wounded me simultaneously.

“Do you really need to know?”, I asked politely.

“Mage, you’re inside my home and asking whether I should know your name or not?” she paused and took a sip of her brew, “My name is Serpent Queen, pleasure to meet you.” she said looking up from her cup.

“Where are you from?” I asked with hesitation, “You clearly don’t look like the oozes and slimes around the town.” I tried my best to not be so interrogative with my stare and questioning.

“Well…”, she sighed heavily and looked at her cup anxiously, “I’m originally from somewhere very, very far away. A place that always seemed to be in crisis and I didn’t belong. I know it sounds strange but I feel at home among the oozes. Here…” she waved her hands, “...I am part of something I can be proud of. I contribute to a community that respects me.”, she suddenly looked sad.

“Is something wrong, Serpent Queen?”

“I miss my home though. It’s difficult to be so far away from home. I feel so alone at times. Like there’s no one of my kind who truly understands me. Do you know that feeling?”, her eyes grew larger as she drew closer to me.

“Sometimes.” I muttered and turned away.

“Come here. I want to teach you a joint spell so we can help your friend.”, she rose from her seat with enthusiasm. I could sense that her telling even a fragment of her story was like uncovering an old wound. She could leave her home and travel to the edge of the dessert to make a new one but it didn’t seem far enough, and yet she felt isolated and wished to return. What a heavy burden to carry. I got up from my seat and followed Serpent Queen’s instruction.

“Okay, follow me!”, She made a circular formation with her staff, “We have to do this together or it won’t work. It’s an old spell that needs the power of two mages. With a night’s rest she will be back on her feet and you two can be on your way!”, she said with a smile to which I nodded. “I will miss the company though.”

I turned my head away to hide my slight blushing.

We continued with the joint spell and watched as Marksman glowed and was momentarily lifted from the cot by the incantation. The aura that surrounded her glowed purple with bright sparks of blinding white light that lit up like bright fireworks. My eyes widened with awe, I had never seen anything so radiant before in all my years of doing magic.

“You see that? That’s what two great mages combining magic looks like.” she said looking over to me with a smirk.

“When two different types of magic meet, they often dance,” she said looking over to Marksman, “By morning she will be awake and be ready. Until then, good night, weary mage.”, she said slithering away into her bedroom.

I laid my body to rest in the cot next to Marksman. I felt an ache in my body that ran much deeper than my bones. My mind twisted and turned thinking of all the complications bogging us down already, but my body was losing the fight to sleep….

Marksman - Turn Blue

Upon opening my eyes I found myself in a stranger’s home. I jumped up and and looked down at my bandaged body. My mind raced to piece together how I arrived in this location but could only remember jumping through the portal with Dryad. I turned my head and saw a demon half-snake, half-woman staring at me with her large scarlet eyes, like a cobra eyeing its next meal.

“You’re awake. Finally. Now don’t make too much noise, I wouldn’t want to have to waste the spell that brought you back from your coma.”, her tongue slithered from behind her razor-sharp teeth extended outwards. I rolled myself from the cot onto the floor and grabbed my bow in one hand and the arrow in the other, swiftly pulling the arrow back and aiming at her in one sharp movement.

“Who are you and where are we?”, I demanded with the arrow targeted at her skull, right between the eyes.

“You recuperate very quickly. This will be pleasing for The Council…”, she turned her back and began to slither away. As she slithered away I sprung my arrow sharply at her spine. An inch before penetrating her bare back, the arrow became suspended in air, stopped by a blue force.

“Your arrows are useless here.”

Both our heads immediately turned at the sound of glass crashing and then looking to an empty second cot, presumably where Dryad slept.

The snake grabbed my arrow suspended in the air and began to slither around in search of Dryad, “Come out, little Dryad. Don’t be upset about me and Marksman fighting. We’re just getting to know each other.”, she grinned menacingly. Before leaving the room she turned back around and swished her hand upward with her staff. “Oh, almost forgot!”

I felt a tight clasp around my throat as I was lifted upwards by her magic. My body hung mid-air by the grip of her blue force around my neck.

Dryad came out of hiding surrounded by with the same protective green spell we used coming

through the portal. She raised her staff and attempted to unlock me from the serpent’s blue magic but to no avail.

“There you are!” the serpent smiled, “Now, up-up!”, she lifted her other hand and put Dryad in a chokehold as well.

“Why are you doing this?” Dryad struggled to utter. Her expression exuded betrayal, leaving me confused as to how long I was knocked out for.

“Well, here’s the thing, strangers. We...” she chuckled, “and by we, I mean The Council, don’t like strangers. Especially strangers who refuse to give any information about who they are while strapped with magic and weapons from the Northern Kingdom.”

Dryad and I were shocked to hear mention any knowledge of the Northern Kingdom.

“That’s right!”, the serpent began to laugh, “Surprise! I know about the Northern Kingdom! Now it’s time to hand you two over. This may hurt a bit. Oh, and before I forget,” she turned her head to Dryad, “Dryad, I’m sorry. I meant every word, though.”, She snapped her fingers, the grip disappeared, and everything went black.

Vlad Dracula - Blazing Blue

A warrior is only as useful as the creed he follows. When Immortep put me in charge of the Southern Kingdom’s troops I was handed a much greater responsibility than to just train these creatures to wield weapons and assemble for victory. I was chosen to assist in the much greater strategy of returning the kingdom to its former glory. I was found competent enough for this task. Werewolf had been MIA since delivering the news about the portal. Immortep decided the most rational plan would be to train a special operations team to go into the portal. Training warrior takes time. Each warrior wields their own specialty that requires specific attention. I trained my troops to truly believe their weapon was their most important limb, their only means of survival and freedom.

SHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPS

On this particular day I overlooked the archers practicing speed and accuracy, running exercises with targets in the fields. They plucked their bows with precision then tumbled to hit more moving targets. They were rapid and accurate, as I had trained them to be. I turned my head to watch the other troops when I suddenly began to see traces of blue whisping from the woods. I had never seen anything of the like before and squinted my eyes to get a better look.

Abruptly troops of warriors bearing the Northern Kingdom seal began to swarm the archers and the other troops. Their eyes blazed blue and they attacked mercilessly without flinching at the bloodshed. After assessing the distance and damage I summoned a swarm of bats with a raise of my hand and directed them to the Northern Kingdom troops. At once hundreds of black and hungry winged beasts flickered and screeched their way to tear at, thrash, and drain the troops of their blood.

While the bats feasted on the incoming warriors I engaged the other foot soldiers making their way to my courtyard in with hand to hand combat. I fought an endless wave of soldiers until I began losing stamina. I panicked. How humiliating would it be for the military commander to die here like this? At the last moment, the swarms instantly began to disappear before my eyes. I turned to my left to see Pumpkin Duke executing the relentless troops with waves of magic.

PD and I couldn’t battle the waves of Northern warriors for much longer. We would need reinforcements. Or to cut them off from the source.

Succubus - Disparate Triumvirate

Druid and I had been spending our time in his tower discussing possible plans of action for whatever would follow the reconnaissance mission. A few days had passed and Marksman and Dryad had yet to return. With each passing minute I could feel unrest replacing the spaces of peace in his mind. It was unusual to see Druid restless, even under these circumstances.

We had conversed in his study, but our talk had mostly given way to silence. I watch him alternate between pacing and staring out the window anxiously for the Heroes to return.

“Druid, I think we need to go ahead and be active about this portal. It’s still sitting there and they haven’t returned. Every minute they’re away someone else could be tampering with it.”

He remained silent, eyes still, looking outwards.

“Druid, we can’t go on wasting anymore time. We have to make a move and close the portal, or else go in ourselves!”, I yelled. His outward aloofness killed me. Why was he so removed once the Kingdom called for his attention?

Druid whipped around and shouted, “Don’t you think I know what’s at stake for us? What the cost of acting too slowly or too quickly is? Being prudent and yet treading so carefully another life is lost to not acting at all?”, his teeth gritted between each syllable. He stepped closer, “I am reminded everyday for the rest of my eternal life what is being lost and fought over. I refuse to close the portal and forget Marksman and Dryad. They will not forfeit their lives because of our impatience.”

“But what if they already have, Druid? Then we have left ourselves vulnerable as the next target.”, I retorted.

Druid began to close his eyes and chuckle, “I do not share yours and Thunder God’s special interests—”

“ I want to protect the people of the Northern Kingdom! Like you, Druid! And the citizens of whatever world or kingdom are potentially living on the other side of that rift from US!”, I yelled in one breath.

Druid was taken back by my political consciousness. We stared at each other in silence knowing we wanted to protect the same people but take action differently. We took a moment to reflect on our real obstacle being Thunder God and the chances of survival for Marksman and Dryad. I had been thinking about this for days now and came to a certain conclusion.

“Druid, I think we should send Assassin to find Dryad and Marksman.”, I murmured.

“And what if they’ve perished?”, he questioned.

“Then we will be more sure of our decision to close this portal. She’s undetectable, more so than Dryad and Marksman.”

“Do not speak ill of your fellow Heroes. They may have given their lives for us.”, he rebuked.

“Right. Assassin is the one, Druid. If she finds them she will bring them home for us. She will end this once and for all.”, I said firmly.

“It’s worth consideration. Time is passing in the meanwhile.”, Druid called forth one of the tower trolls and asked them to summon Assassin promptly for a meeting.

Druid opened his mouth to continue speaking before the ground started shaking. We both rushed to the windows to see swarms of troops bearing the Southern Kingdom emblem charging towards the tower. Druid immediately pushed me from the window before a barrage of arrows came through and pierced the back wall.

Druid and I took a breath with our backs against the wall.

“Succubus, you’re going to have to call for help!”, he shouted before pushing his palm out to cast a shield to protect the tower from projectiles.

“Druid, I—”

He interrupted, “NOW!”

I rushed to the top of the tower and took flight to find Thunder God and Assassin. Why would the Southern Kingdom attack so secretively? Druid’s tower has never been a prime target during battles. I soared as rapidly as I could and swiftly dove into the training camps where I knew I would find Thunder God training the troops.

“Thunder God!” I said landing inside one of the open buildings, clouds of debris dusting away at my hooves.

He was standing in front of a unit leading them in formation when he turned around. “Yes, Succubus?” Instantly he was alert and engaged.

“There are swarms of troops attacking Druid Tower! We need your help immediately!”, I shouted nearly out of breath.

He nodded and began calling out orders to his troops before grabbing his hammer and heading to the tower on foot with the rest of the warriors. I shot into the sky and returned to the tower where Druid was struggling to hold off the swarms by himself. Hovering in front of the tower I summoned a meteor shower that crushed and seared nearby warriors. Thunder God and his troops arrived in time to finish off the remaining soldiers. I descended to the ground and swirled my whip around my body to mar the warriors around me. I carefully struck the treant charging at me from the front and with a graceful cocking of my arm demolished the grunts trying to attack me from behind. As the fighting continued dark, ominous clouds closed in on the area over Druid Tower and began striking Thunder, hitting the last of the Southern Kingdom fighters. The cracks of thunder striking the chests of the warriors were deafening from close-range. Thunder God had swung his hammer and summoned the thunderstorm to end this battle for once and all.

After each of the soldiers had been finished off, we looked around at the destruction surrounding the Druid Tower. The damage done in such a short amount of time was unbelievable. Thunder God, Druid, and I gathered in the tower to discuss the recent happenings,but we largely stood in silence.

I broke the silence with the question burdening most of our minds, “What was this attack motivated by?”

“The Southern Kingdom has always wanted to dominate us! They saw their chance and went after it!”, Thunder God shouted, uneasy and angry.

“Then why would they have attacked my tower? If they wanted to hurt us they would have gone after our towns, our resources. This doesn’t make sense at all.”, Druid spoke pensively

“These weren’t usual Southern warriors…Something’s not right. If it was them, where was Immortep, Vlad, or Puke Duke?”, I wondered aloud.

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is a consequence of the rift being open. An unprovoked attack easily contained by us three could not truly be in the Southern Kingdom’s plans for domination.” Druid spoke.

“What if it was a distraction from something else?”, I asked.

Thunder God seemed to lose the last ounce of patience in his body and tightly clenched his fists in frustration, “This is a sign. They’ve discovered the rift and are taking it for themselves while we sit and argue over their intentions!”

Druid and I looked and each other and nodded, “Thunder God…” As I was beginning to speak one of the tower trolls brought in Assassin. Thunder God glanced over at her and appeared perplexed.

“Thunder God...” I continued “Druid and I have decided the next move should be to send in Assassin to retrieve Dryad and Marksman and confirm the status of their livelihood.”

Thunder God began grinding his teeth, “Then I will go with her and end this.”

I looked over to an annoyed Druid. Druid had easily grown sick over the years of Thunder God butting his head into every problem the Northern Kingdom faced and was ready to grab the reigns this time around.

“We’ve decided. We trust in Assassin’s abilities.”, Druid said trying to retain his calmness.

“We also decided to trust in the abilities of two Ordinary Heroes and look where this has gotten us. We’re being infiltrated!”, Thunder God shouted.

“Are you doubting the Kingdom’s warriors, Thunder God? Two warriors you trained, at that? Your leadership and strength are needed here, unless you plan on abandoning your post. We are wasting more valuable time squabbling over simple direction.”

Thunder God bared Druid’s lashing and ingested the information. He understood his duty was to his Kingdom first and Assassin showed enough diligence to be trusted with the task. While Thunder God and Druid continued to bring Assassin up to speed, I observed. If I ever thought Marksman was a stealthy Hero, Assassin was even more so. She stood stiffly, listening to their every word, nodding. She wore a cloak that took the form of a black cat’s head and ears complete with a pink nose and gold button eyes and matching trim. Her short, silver hair wisped out from underneath her hood. Her mouth was covered by her face mask. Her body was covered by straps of cloth across her chest and legs. Her weapon of choice were twin daggers encrusted with emerald jewels. Assassin is the strongest melee fighter in the Northern Kingdom, but keeps to herself and mostly serves as a mercenary.

“Succubus, take her to the rift.”, Druid instructed.

I wasted no time and we were off.

****

When Assassin and I arrived to the rift there wasn’t much to say after examination and understanding of the stakes. I took a long look at the rift, then looked at Assassin.

“Don’t die.”, I uttered.

Without breaking her gaze from the portal she jumped in.

Serpent Queen - Inadvertent Serpent

Once upon a time there was a young girl who the most beautiful and sad creature on the planet. She possessed all the physical qualities and makings for an adequate life and yet couldn’t find satisfaction in the qualities she had. She was always anguished by the things she was lacking in comparison to others. She never felt full and often felt hollow and jealous of others. Her pure spirit was slowly poisoned by insecurity and distrust. She spent most of her time alone and when she did talk to others she felt as though she was worlds away from connecting with anyone though they spoke the same language.

One day she befriended a man who comforted her by doing something most hadn’t thought to do: listen. She began to feel the heaviness in her heart slowly lift away. Eventually their conversations grew deeper than sad memories. They would spend every afternoon sitting in his garden and discussing hopeful things.This was their routine that she found comfort in. During one of their meetings he gave her a snake amulet to wear around her neck as a symbol of their new friendship. She had made a real friend.

To some he was a fearsome creature, tall in stature with sharp claws and a dark aura. When he stood beside her he resembled a long shadow. He appeared mute but only spoke when necessary. The few words he chose were structured with depth and poise. He looked different to her and she may not have looked different, but she felt very different. Their friendship was unlikely but equally important.

The little girl and her shadow spent one of their casual evenings sharing stories and literature when the shadow started to grow more distant. She noticed he would no longer give her words of wisdom when she divulged her frustrations. The shadow looked directly at her and began to shift his eyes constantly, giving the impression of paranoia over being watched. The girl began to feel his presence fade away until he became a ghost of the friend she once knew.

The time came when the girl awaited for her shadow on top of a hill overlooking a beautiful sunset. She thought it strange that he asked to meet her in a place they had never been to before. She waited and waited, admiring the setting sun by herself. Its warm and burning reds cooled to dark fuschias and purples. Most people remember the sunset and sunrise, but how often did they take the time to appreciate its absence? Eventually her shadow arrived and out of breath, apologized for his lateness. Faced with his presence, she looked down and then up into his eyes.

“That’s alright. I didn’t think you would come.”, she meeped, gradually furrowing her brow.

“I will always be with you, right here.” he said tapping the front of her head, “Even if my body isn’t.” he replied.

Momentarily they found themselves smiling at each other. His dependability softened his recent absence in her mind. As they began to sit and get comfortable they heard something in the distance. The girl ignored it, thinking it was just townspeople running errands on horse. She turned to her shadow to see him appear uneasy. A brigade of soldiers arrived on foot and a cart that resembled a moving holding cell. Her shadow valiantly stepped in front of her to shield her.

A man covered in feathers and holding a staff looked over to her shadow and shouted, “Come forward and leave the girl, Immortep. You are detained under the Northern Kingdom’s rule now.”

The girl was frightened and confused. What had her shadow done besides protect her? She cowered behind her shadow’s body.

The feathered man called for his guards to grab her shadow and place him in the cell. The girl broke her silence and screamed for them to let him go. The girl threw herself on top of her shadow’s body trying to keep him from the guards. She couldn’t understand why her shadow looked like he had given up when she continued to fight.

The guards peeled her away and tossed her aside. She picked herself off the ground and ran as fast as she could to jump on top of her shadow again. She began to wail loudly, using her voice like never before while her shadow remained limp. The feathered man grew tired of watching the routine and lifted his staff in her direction, placing a spell on her. The girl found herself face down and couldn’t lift herself to run after her now imprisoned shadow being carted away by the feathered man and his brigade.

She looked up to find the brigade much farther in the distance. Just as she tried to lift herself she felt no control of her lower body. She pushed with all the strength left in her arms, unable to raise her lower body. She looked down and saw her legs were gone. In their place she now had a long and scaly serpent tail. Looking at her new tail she screamed in terror. She wrapped her arms around her torso and sobbed a pool of warm tears down her hot and puffy face. She had lost her legs and only friend. From then on both would solely exist in her mind, as her shadow pointed out, where they would remain a memory.

From that day onward the little girl vowed to become a powerful mage and be the one holding the staff instead of having it used against her. The girl grew into a fierce Queen who was at the top of her craft. She enhanced century old spells and created her own incantations to be practiced for centuries to come. She found a new purpose to channel her energy into. But along with her amulet she carried a haunting past. As hard as she tried, she could never bring herself to escape the mental prison the Northern Kingdom memories had created. She closed her eyes and saw that ruthless mage clearly. She vowed to get her revenge on the feathered mage, the well known and prominent ruler whose love of power surpassed any love of healing. The mage whose magic had a body count higher than any rumoured survival rate! The right hand of the imperial Northern Kingdom machine also known as the tyrant Druid, would be executed when the time was right.

So how did she plan on doing this? The serpent girl left the Northern Kingdom entirely and became a wanderer. Living off the land, in search of somewhere to strengthen herself. One day she stumbled upon a fantastical blue rift whose light and aura called to her. Strange as it was, it drew her in, and emanated the same familiar comfort another creature who appeared “different” had in the past. Without any hesitation she went through the rift and found herself in a desert. She traveled until she found greener land where she amassed resources and began creating a life for herself. She encountered wandering slimes and oozes who sought her magic and help. Together they built a unique society based upon her memories of the Northern Kingdom fairly quickly.

The Slimes and Oozes trusted in her so much they made her queen. From her throne she planned the perfect covert infiltration to the Northern Kingdom. It would take a great amount of time but she knew well it would be worth it. The little lost girl who became an inadvertent serpent, grew and shaped herself into the Serpent Queen. She not only had her legs but her innocence taken away by a tyrant ruling under the guise of gentle healer.

He was going to pay in the most excruciating way. No matter what the price was. They were all going to suffer. I’d bet my life on it.

Werewolf - Strange Shadow

In my hours or days of lurking I found myself in front of the Druid Tower. My skulking would always bring me to the same spots. It was early in the morning and the people of the Northern Kingdom were still at rest when I cautiously crawled to Druid’s Tower. While still searching for the rift in the forest I heard loud noises coming from that direction. I began running on all fours towards the tower. The tall grass grazed my ribs with every stretched leap. The sound of my my paws heavy drop on the ground after every inward and outward flex shortened intervals with my increased speed. The smell of dew and smoke filled my nostrils and for a moment I was relieved of my anxiety until I reached the outskirts of the tower and saw Thunder God, Succubus, and hordes of soldiers battling.

I halted and took cover to take a closer look at what action was taking place. The soldiers bore the emblem of the Southern Kingdom but didn't look like our own. They didn’t fight like us, they didn’t look like us, and most curiously they had strange crests inlaid into their armor. I watched Succubus and Thunder God blast the imposters to pieces before deciding to run to the Southern Kingdom to inform Immortep of what I saw. Without drawing any attention to myself I fled the scene.

***

As I approached the Southern Kingdom’s base I was met with hordes of Northerner troops attacking PD and Vlad. My instinct to protect my home drove me to leap into the swarm of warriors and attack with the swelling rage inside me. Standing upright I clawed and ripped soldiers apart limb by limb with my clutch. I turned and pounced onto another and broke his neck inside my mouth. As more soldiers began to rush towards the three of us a heavy sandstorm erupted. Momentarily nothing was visible or audible but loud cries of agony. When the storm subsided all the soldiers lie dead on the ground and Immortep hovered over them. He had exterminated the troops with ease.

“WEREWOLF!”, Immortep raised his hand and with the curl of his claws my body was pulled by his force directly to his grasp, “What do you know about this?”, he said steadily growing angry.

“Immortep, those warriors, they aren’t from the Northern Kingdom!”, I yelped

“Then WHERE are they from, Werewolf?”, his patience was running thin.

“I was at Druid Tower and they were fighting Southern Kingdom troops!”

“We didn’t send any troops,Werewolf!”

“My Lord, forgive me, but neither did they. These warriors are imposters! They bare the kingdoms’ emblems but they are neither ours nor theirs!”, I said trying to escape the grip of his force.

Turning his head over to Vlad he asked, “Vlad, was there anything strange about these troops?”

“They were unlike the other Northern troops we’ve fought.”, Vlad said, “There was also no sign of Thunder God among them.”

Immortep then looked into my eyes, tightening his grip around my throat.

“My Lord, they had crests on their armor. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen. It may have been the source of their power. ”, I squirmed.

Immortep then dropped me from his grip and looked contemplative. I rubbed my paws around my sore throat that continued to feel the tightness of his clutch. His expression turned calm, “The portal is already at work and we’ve fallen behind. It’s only a matter of time before that ruthless Thunder God tries to harness the power of those crests.”

“Our special operations team was destroyed within minutes, My Lord. We’re clearly not able to face whatever is on the other side of that portal.”, Vlad declared.

“Yes, but perhaps we can operate defensively and seal it shut.”, Immortep responded.

Immortep, Vlad, and I turned to Pumpkin Duke. We would need a powerful mage to suppress whatever lie beyond the portal.

Dryad - Fortress Corpses

The lush, green hills of the Northern Kingdom roll and sweep for miles. The hills emit the sweet smell of flowers and withering dandelions. Where the bright lime and viridian blades of grass darken to a burnt umber is where the forest begins. The forest encroaches the nearby towns like a hovering shade.The sun peers between the sparse spaces in the forest canopies made from lush branches. The sun watches over us Northerners from the distance. The sun’s dependable warmth is comforting but the shoreline brings me the most peace. Watching the tides, pulled in by the moon, pull the sand is the most tranquil sensation that comes to mind. When I look out into the water I see a graceful creature covered in sheets of white silk hovering over the waves staring back at me. The sheets are carried gently by the salty wind, dancing with every temporal current of wind. The wind causes the sheets to take the form of curves and lines, running with the current. The creature turns and my heart turns heavy. The creature is faceless but they exhibit a grin that ruptures my chest—

My head feels like it’s going to explode and my ears are ringing from the loud echoes of an unseen creature’s screeches. My eyes jolt open and my arms and locked in chains against a wall with my body dangling next to Marksman.

“Where are we?”, I groan to Marksman, trying to regain consciousness.

“We must be in their fortress...The coordinates, I’m unsure of. I’ve been out for so long there’s no way for me to know now.”, She says lowly with her angry glare fixed straight ahead and away from me.

I look around trying to piece together how we ended up here. All I can gather is we’ve been captured.

“Why did you trust her. Why? Did she come from the Northern Kingdom? Was she from your tribe? What did she possibly do for you to TRUST HER WHILE WE WERE ON A MISSION?”, Marksman screamed agitatedly.

I paused, “She saved your life.”

I thought the serpent healing Marksman would be enough reason to trust her. I foolishly forgot Marksman’s focus was the mission’s completion above all, including her own life.

She went on, “You should’ve left me for dead. We’ve failed the mission and are as good as dead now. Thank you. Thank you for this, Dryad. I had a chance at a painless death and you one for redemption but now we will be slowly tortured for our kingdom’s secrets before we are discarded like the pathetic excuses for warriors we are—”

Marksman’s barrage of words came to a halt by the creature’s heightening screeches. The gray brick room we hung inside of had a grand perpendicular hallway where we could see the creature’s sinister shadow approach. The shadow enlarged as it stepped closer. My heart raced with each thunderous stride it took.

“Brace yourself. Say nothing. Choose death if you must.”, Marksman grunted, reiterating our code.

The shadow entered the room in the form of Serpent Queen followed by the flying dragon I had seen in the desert. The dragon dwarfed Serpent Queen in size but she matched it in fearsomeness. Serpent Queen slithered over to my dangling feet and looked up at me. Her ruby red eyes glimmered and made me wither even more. The dragon positioned itself steadily behind her, laboriously huffing out large gusts of air.

“You two have held up fairly well. Much better than expected. Maybe Thunder God hasn’t completely failed you both.”, Serpent Queen laughed.

“Why are you even doing this. We didn’t come here to hurt you, I swear it!”, I cried, hoping an inkling of her would show mercy.

Serpent Queen’s devilish expression faded to one of absence. She moved to the center of the room and began speaking.

“You didn’t come here to hurt us you say”, she mocked, “That sounds so strange coming from someone who came armed with weapons and spells for combat protection in effect. You expect me to believe the Northern Kingdom sent two of its strongest warriors to peacefully check out the Portal to the Lost Realm? The Northern Kingdom, known for conquering and monopolizing every resource in sight? Even if it means crushing kingdoms that desire peaceful co-existence?”, She paused with a grin on her face, exchanging glances with me and Marksman. “What you two have failed to recognize is that I know the Northern Kingdom better than you think. In fact, I know all of this because I used to live there!”

Marksman and I gasped at Serpent Queen’s revelation. She’s known the entire time.

“Yes! I grew up there as a little girl. I can actually credit the demon I have become to the Northern Kingdom! When I was a little girl your gracious pal Druid turned me into the serpent you see. I was a child, a citizen of the Northern Kingdom. None of this mattered in his eyes as I was associated with Immportep, someone the Northern Kingdom had targeted for disagreeing with their actions. Druid was not concerned with how he impacted my life from then on. If he was so capable of hurting a child back then, what hope is there for him treating us with kindness and respect?”, the dragon behind Serpent Queen punctuated her words with more tremorous screeching.

She went over to the dragon and began comforting it by leaning her head on his body, “Poor thing. He’s upset to see me this way.”, she continued petting the dragon tenderly, “This is Moltanica. He’s one of The Council members in the Lost Realm. I say member because he is not a disposable warrior or resource as you sort in the Northern Kingdom would say. He’s an equal. Moltanica protects all the Slimes and Oozes around here. And me of course.”, she grinned.

“Wh—”, Marksman attempted to interrogate but immediately had her mouth shut by a quick shot of magic from Serpent Queen’s index finger.

“But wait, there’s still more to share!”, Serpent Queen shouted with a grin, “I haven’t introduced to you the Hero who will single-handedly bring the Northern Kingdom to its knees single-handedly!”, she placed one arm behind her back and the other straight into the air, “Oh, Orksbane!”

A mammoth sized purple orc covered in brown leather straps and spiked armor consisting of shoulder and chest plates, and a horned helmet. He carried an axe in each hand. His arms swelled with muscle and his veins protruded to the surface of his skin. His immense shoulders were covered by skulls of former foes. His lower jaw had two inverted tusks jutting out. His eyes may have been the most frightening, as they gave his face a crazed expression. The orc stood in silence, his chest rising and falling with each breath.

“Meet your maker.”, Serpent Queen laughed slithering away.

“You’re as sick as those despots in the Southern Kingdom!”, Marksman yelled, trailing off, “Immortep would love you…”

Abruptly Serpent Queen stopped moving towards the hallway. Speaking slowly she said, “Say that name again.”

Marksman knew she had found the chink in Serpent Queen’s armor.

“Immortep. You and him. You’re the same.”, Marksman mumbled.

Serpent Queen’s eyes widened like a frightened creature. Momentarily she looked vulnerable, much like the night in her home. She stopped to reflect, then quickly snapped herself out of it.

“Orksbane, take care of them. Moltanica, come with me!”, she shouted before leaving the fortress.

Marksman and I braced ourselves, trying to retain calm and regulate our breathing as much as we could from our sore and cuffed wrists. Orksbane stood in front of us, staring intently, and measuring us up. He cautiously lifted his left arm, admiring and examining his axe.

“You two have secrets that I want to know. You can choose to tell me them now…”, he paused, giving us time to respond, “Or we can get to know eachother better first, if that helps.”

Marksman and I remained silent. We had taken our oath and refused to give up any information that might endanger anyone else. If our lives were the final price to pay then we had already accepted our fate.

Keeping his calm manner Orksbane continued, “I’m going to start with my left axe. I figure with this you will tell me most of what I want to know, maybe not.”, he raised his right axe, “By the time I get to this axe we will become such close friends you will answer every question I have with great detail.”, he looked up from his weapons and smirked at us, “Shall we begin?”

Immortep - Suffer Well

We as the rulers of the Southern Kingdom decided closing the portal would be the most sustainable choice. Pumpkin Duke, Vlad, Werewolf, and I were on our way to the blue portal Werewolf had spotted days ago to seal it shut. I had contemplated using the Crests spotted from the soldiers that had emerged from the portal to give us the edge we as a kingdom have needed for so long. The fight beforehand was too close for me consider endangering thousands of lives including families and young children. In my eyes it was not worth investigating if it meant one of our own would be threatened.

Upon arriving at the blue portal the light emanating from the spiraling center was magnetic. Each of us gazed on with a capitulant stare. The light grew more and more vibrant with each spiral’s pulse.

“It’s enticing. What could possibly be on the other side?”, Werewolf questioned aloud.

“Nothing we can adequately handle by ourselves without major risk.”, Vlad said looking around, making sure the perimeter was clear. Studying the portal, I knew I had never seen anything resembling such a sight.Pumpkin Duke promptly began analyzing and sizing the portal for any ideas on how to close it. The rest of us looked on or walked around, making sure no one was watching. Curiously I looked around the portal to see its immediate effects on the forest. The leaves underneath the portal were slowly decaying. The light coming off the rift was burning the plants and leaves, blocking the sunlight they needed to grow. The decomposing plants were the smallest repercussion. The more unstable this rift became, the graver the consequences.

Time passed and Vlad, Werewolf, and I began growing anxious. The sun was beginning to set and PD was still examining the portal in silence. PD often was silent, never out of inability to express himself, but rather to maintain reserve, distance, and calculation. I admired this quality in him, as often too many Heroes revealed their exact thoughts and next moves through their body language and mannerisms. PD was stoic, but wise.

Before PD said anything the portal began to flash violently. Surprised himself, he jumped back. The spirals increased in size and inconsistency. The four of us backed away, unsure of what to expect. A tremor pushed forth from underneath our feet, sending us flying onto the floor. From the ground we looked up to behold a large winged dragon shoot upwards into the sky like a projectile. Terror seized us from seeing such a massive creature unlike anything in our world.

“Immortep?”, a small voice spoke.

We collectively lifted ourselves from the ground. There I saw a familiar face joined to a strange snake body.

“Those ruby, red eyes…”, I said approaching the serpent creature, “Could it be?”

All my inhibitions disappeared. This beautiful, mystifying creature emerged, her silhouette traced from the portal’s blue light and framed by the dirt’s dust. My long lost friend. She slithered closer and stared at me, refraining from blinking and speaking. I placed my claws around her face, tilting it towards mine.

“Is it really you?”, I hadn’t seen her in ages. Her safety never left my mind since the day she was taken away. We had been apart for so long but to know she was okay was satisfying enough. Inside my body spoke for me, as if she was my missing piece. Oh, there you’ve been. I approached her slowly and wrapped my arms around her. Right now wasn’t a time for questioning. I was elated to know she was alive and well.

“Immortep…”, she gently whispered.

“Yes?”

I felt a deep puncture in my chest. I began to levitate in front of her. Attempting to move I quickly realized I was paralyzed at all limbs. Her face grew menacing. Werewolf and Vlad attempted to attack but were also deflected through paralysis. PD stared her down, trying to envision her first move. He shifted his right shoulder, trying to strike her with a sling of magic but was rapidly incapacitated by her paralyzing horror spell as well.

“Why are you doing this, little one? Have you forgotten your dear shadow altogether?”, I begged.

She met my groveling with silence.

“My name is not little one. It’s Serpent Queen. Have you fondly remembered a different version of our history, Immortep? You left me for dead that day, as I remember. You let Druid turn me into this beast before you!”, her steady talking transitioned into erratic screaming, “You abandoned me when I NEEDED YOU! And for that, both kingdoms will suffer!”, she threw her right arm backwards, and ignited the forest with uncontrollable flames. The dragon let out a loud piercing cry overhead followed by large breaths of fire and headed towards the Northern Kingdom’s towns.

Her paralysis spell was setting into the deep tissue of all my muscles. I realized pleading may be my only answer.

“Serpent Queen, I am not the enemy! That day I was taken away I didn’t want to endanger you anymore than I had. If I resisted, they were going to take you along with me. Believe you me, you did not want to go where I was going, nor endure the things I have. The moment I earned my freedom, I founded the Southern Kingdom. I hoped you would someday find your way to me... to our safe haven from those tyrants.”, I uttered slowly losing all ability to speak.

Serpent Queen grew increasingly tense, hunching over with her head down, clenching her fists at her sides and gritting her teeth. She looked up with tears streaming down her face.

“I don’t believe you! You never once looked for me after you were exiled! Do you know what it’s like to be so young alone and scared, without even basic understanding of what your identity or purpose was?”, she sobbed then retracted back into her state of rage, “You were supposed to protect me!”, she wiped her face and her expression changed instantly. “I’m off to meet Druid. Suffer well, old friends.”, She summoned a blue staff that spiraled rapidly, opening the portal wider and wider. A horde of shadow troops began marching out of the portal ready to attack.

“Toodles!”, Serpent Queen waved then disappeared. Werewolf, Vlad, and I began to turn limp as the soldiers came closer and closer. The soldiers were the same class that had attacked our base earlier. Just as my body could no longer struggle I heard a loud thud on the ground.

PD had placed an anti-horror spell on himself while staring down Serpent Queen that made him immune to her paralysis but imitated the effects to keep her fooled and himself safe. He released us from our paralysis with a counter spell and then started pushing back the portal soldiers with melee combat. As soon as Werewolf, Vlad, and I were released from our paralysis we joined in the combat against the portal soldiers. In the distance we could hear the echoes of the dragon’s cries. If Serpent Queen was adamant to show me no mercy I contemplated what havock she and the dragon would wreck on the Northern Kingdom.

Marksman - Purple Protector Orksbane continued to interrogate Dryad and I to no avail. He began by pummelling our stomachs and faces with his fists.I looked over at Dryad whose face was purple, her eyes were swollen shut. Blood and spit trickled from her mouth.

“Dryad, one more time…”, Orsksbane playfully swung his left axe, “What does the Northern Kingdom have its eyes set on in the Lost Realm?”

I was fading in and out of consciousness. Dizziness, setting in.

“Nothing? Okay.”, Orksbane readied the axe for strike, “Who discovered the portal? WHO OPENED IT?!”, Orksbane roared.

Dryad opened her mouth as if to answer. No, no, please, don’t.

“It was….me.”, she smirked with her last bit of energy.

Orksbane grew irritated, “Only a mage can open and close those portals. Last chance, WHO WAS IT?”, he yelled.

She looked like she was about to cave in. Her lips moved as if to speak but instead Dryad spit the blood from her mouth in Orksbane’s face. He responded by striking her with the blunt side of his axe and knocking her out.

Everything is so blurry…

I closed my eyes for a moment and opened them to Orksbane intense howling. My eyes widened to the sight of Assassin seated on Orksbane’s shoulders, struggling to slit his throat with her twin daggers. Orksbane pinched her off with his left hand and slammed her onto her back. I turned my head to Dryad in a panic but she was still unconscious. Assassin picked herself up and used her speed to slide between Orksbane’s legs, where she firmly stabbed one of her daggers into the back of his right knee. She kicked the same leg out, forcing him to fall to his already wounded knee. He groaned in agony at a decibel comparable to Moltanica’s screech. Between the fluttering of my drowsy eyelids they continued fighting until Orksbane got a hold of Assassin again and threw her body against a wall. Assasin’s body impacted through the brick wall and left her unconscious on the ground while Orksbane began treading towards us. His face looked gruesome as blood dripped from the Assassin induced slashes on his neck and hands. He picked up his axes and stepped closer.

He stopped in front of Dryad and cocked his right axe backward. Before swinging it forth a hand stiffly grabbed his arm. Orksbane looked alarmed. He turned around to find a furious Thunder God.Whatever I could feel left of my insides was elated to see our Hero here to liberate us, thought I was more ashamed of our failure. Thunder God swung his hammer into Orksbane’s stomache and their own combat ensued.

My wrists felt like they were shattering, bone by bone. Orksbane had tortured us to such misery I hoped I would die soon and finish this suffering here and now. The sweat dripping from my head down my face slid across every scrape and was hell to bare. The thuds from Thunder God and Orksbane’s fighting shook our chains, causing our swollen wrists to throb more. I wanted it to end desperately.

I closed my eyes and heard a metal clink. I fell to the ground and opened my eyes to see Assasin. Assassin had unsecured my cuffs and continued opening Dryad’s. I watched as she clung to the wall above Dryad and used the key she must have stealthily stolen from Orksbane to open the locks. This rescue prompted me to gather my remaining energy and carry Dryad’s limp body as she had done for me. Once Assassin released Dryad from her chains I caught her limp body. Assassin signaled me to follow her and we were off. We’d flee to the Northern Kingdom and recoup while Thunder God finished off Orksbane.

Exiting the fortress I looked behind me. I was in no shape to assist Thunder God, but I could protect Dryad. That was enough for now.

Druid - Carbon Trails

Things continued to stir from the tower as Succubus and I awaited Assassin’s return. Soon after we sent Assassin off, Thunder God left to command the Northern Kingdom troops to be on high alert and patrol the towns for any more of these fake warriors. The recent unrest had Succubus and I hyper-vigilant. We were confident in Thunder God’s leadership abilities but unsure of what the next impending wave of rift enemies would bring. I paced, contemplating what could possibly ensue after Assassin’s return. My mind, a place of mental and peaceful retreat was waning into a prison thinking of the direct consequences of each action and whose life I was potentially risking.

“Druid.”, Succubus’s voice cut my turbulent train of thoughts, “It’s alright. You don’t have to punish yourself. The Northern Kingdom does not rest entirely upon your shoulders alone.”, she said trying to reassure me. I had never seen Succubus somber. I could sense my mood was transforming her demeanor as well. Succubus’s friendship had granted me a powerful moment of relief. Her warm words dissolved the pressures of a leadership saturated in loss and regret. We exchanged smiles before hearing a roaring cry outside that shook the tower’s foundation and caused the surrounding wildlife to audibly scatter.

Succubus rushed to the window and looked back at me, “Wait here!” she shouted, before disappearing and reappearing outside to assess the commotion. Outside a colossal dragon stood behind a half-serpent, half-woman with a blue staff. I focused my energy and channeled it into listening intently to their conversation.

Succubus reappeared before the serpent and dragon, standing her ground firmly.

She aggressively spoke, “Don’t take another step, Stranger. Or slither further I should say. What’s your business at Druid Tower?”

The serpent appeared overly smug and pleased with herself. She looked up to the window I was looking out of and yelled, “COME OUT,DRUID. I’VE NO TIME FOR YOUR HIDING.”

Succubus looked at the serpent. “Let me put this plainly for you. He’s not home. Now what do you want?”, she said in a biting tone.

The serpent let out a chuckle, then smiled. She extended her right arm in front of her and made a push motion that shoved Succubus to the left, like a useless object off a table, by magical force. She then nodded her head, signaling to the large dragon. She took her left arm and pushed forth, then pulled back, causing the tower doors to violently open in one motion.

“Moltanica!”, she yelled.

The dragon stepped in front of the doors and inhaled a prolonged, deep breath before exhaling intense flames that blasted through the tower, instantaneously reaching every floor. Before I could respond and escape the inferno, the flames singed my garb and excruciatingly scorched my skin. Instinctively I teleported to the ground to relieve myself of the flames and reply to the serpent who so adamantly requested my presence.

When I reached the ground I quickly healed myself of my burns before turning my attention to the serpent.

“Ah, there you are. How wonderful of you to greet me after sending your dear assistant.”, the serpent mocked.

“Who are you?”, I calmly asked, trying not to further provoke the mage in a foul mood and accessorized with a dragon before me.

“This isn’t our first meeting, Druid. Though I am a bit hurt you don’t remember me. I want you to think very hard about this face.”

I sifted through every warrior’s name and face in my memory and couldn’t recall who this serpent was. Was she of the Northern Kingdom? Perhaps the Southern. I looked closely at her appearance… where was she from?

The serpent’s expression changed wildly of self-satisfaction to outrage. She spawned a staff, and lifted it upwards. A ring of blue magic appeared around Succubus’s throat and began to tighten.

“Any luck now?”, she growled

I focused harder under the pressure of saving Succubus. Those red eyes…!

“You’re the little girl…”, I recollected.

“That’s right, Druid!”, she confirmed as Succubus struggled for breath.

“You’re Immortep’s child!”, I shouted, “Now release her from your grip!”

“You fool! My name is Serpent Queen, and I am not Immortep’s child. He was my friend! I was the child you turned into a Serpent beast while trying to imprison him! But that didn’t matter much to the kind and noble ruler of the Northern Kingdom, did it? I was simply collateral damage!”, she continued shouting.

My mind raced with the grave reality of the atrocity I had committed.

“Do you have any remorse at all, Druid? You ruined my life and then come into my realm and try to divide and conquer my home as well? Have you not ruined enough lives?”, her screaming became more erratic and distressed as spit flowed from her mouth.

“Serpent Queen, please forgive me. I remember that day clearly now. I saw you and Immortep both wore the symbol of the serpent and concluded you were associated. It was not right and many actions this Kingdom has committed in the past have been erroneous. Please forgive me. I have been trying to correct these mistakes beginning with my own behavior. Please, release your magic!”, I pleaded.

She paused and looked at me. She waved her staff and the grip unlocked from Succubus’s throat, leaving her gasping for air on the ground.

“You sound repentant, Druid. Before I lived a life of mostly sadness, then shame trying to adapt to the miserable life you gave me. You say you are changing how you rule and yet invade my realm. You won’t change so I suppose I won’t be changing how unforgiving I am!” , She raised her staff and struck me and Succubus with shots of blue magic, that resembled the blue swirling from the cerulean rift.

Succubus and I exchanged quick glances before mentally deciding I would engage Serpent Queen in combat while she would take on Moltanica. Succubus leapt into the air and fought Moltanica aerially while Serpent Queen and I squared off in a battle of the mages. Despite being in our own world it appeared Serpent Queen and Moltanica were able to generously draw power from their own world due to the open portal. This was no even fight. Serpent Queen and Moltanica both carried crests on their bodies that enhanced their magic as well. From the start we were already overpowered.

Serpent Queen was able to pin me down with the force of her blue magic, crushing me effortlessly. Staring at her silhouette I could see Immortep, Vlad Dracula, Werewolf, and Pumpkin Duke in the distance heading towards us. I began losing hope for Succubus and myself. We might face our end without having been able to alert Thunder God or the Northern Kingdom troops to evacuate our citizens to safety or protective shelter. Werewolf sprinted on all fours rabidly towards me. I anticipated he would assist Serpent Queen by pouncing onto me as I was vulnerable and ready for the final blow. Just as he approached and leapt, opening his jaws for a vicious gnaw, he tore at Serpent Queen’s shoulder, sadistically taking her to the ground.

Vlad directed a wave of ruthless bats to aid in the feasting of Serpent Queen already underway. Slowly her crushing magic eased its pressure on me. Pumpkin Duke rushed to Succubus’s aid and distracted Moltanica while she used her Death’s Lash to bound Moltanica to the ground. We collectively continued weakening Serpent Queen and Moltanica. With Moltanica immobilized, as a last resort Serpent Queen let out a Toxic Mist that poisoned each of us, but we persevered. Each kingdom knew too much was at stake. And so we all unleashed our final blow, combining all our magic and force to stop Serpent Queen and Moltanica.

“STOP!”, shouted a shadowy figure from far away.

Our focus was cut off by a disturbed Immortep, rushing towards Serpent Queen.

“YOU’RE KILLING HER, ENOUGH!”, he bellowed.

I ceased my power immediately and commanded the other heroes stop as well. In the lifetimes I have known Immortep I had never seen him so full of sorrow and anxiety at once. My purpose was to protect. We looked on as he cradled her in his arms. What had I done…

Thunder God - Rogue Sentinel

The purple beast and I continued exchanging blows with each other in the fortress after Assassin had freed and escorted Marksman and Dryad. After Succubus had sent Assassin on her way I decided to put the troops on high alert and then follow Assassin here. Not being able to protect my own home with my own might irritated and undermined me. Druid was accustomed to others fighting for the safety he required but never bore the responsibility of being a defender and thus couldn’t understand. My duty to protect my kingdom from any outside danger brewed stronger in my heart than any need to sit on standby.

With every swipe of his axe I would evade by jumping or quick-stepping backwards. The orc eventually grew weary of my speed and grappled me again his chest, crushing my back by squeezing me tighter and tighter. I had to stop before he squeezed any hard. I took my hammer and berated his spine with successive pummels. Each pummel was more intense than the last, carrying my growing frustration. The orc groaned and dropped me after my hammer crushed through the skull armor protecting his shoulders. Upon falling to the floor I searched for his axes, hugging the ground with my body. Just as I retrieved one of the axes the purple orc charged at me, furious that I stole his precious weapon. As he stampeded towards me I flipped onto my back and erected the axe on my stomach, causing the orc to penetrate his chest with his own axe. The orc pulled away with the axe still inside him, roaring in agony.

I took the opportune moment to get up and collect my breath. This beast’s strength had me winded in a manner no opponent had before. I retrieved the orc’s other axe and rushed him, puncturing the other side of his chest. His deafening groans vibrated in the halls, causing the fortress to tremble. I took up my hammer, ready to pummel the submerged axes further into his chest cavity like two stakes when he stopped groaning entirely. The orc pulled out an axe with each hand and slowly began replenishing himself with healing powers. My mouth gaped open. I gave this beast all my fury and he was nearly perfect health.

He steadily walked towards me with no visible hesitation. I readied my weakened stance for whatever his next move was. The orc then grappled my arms, lifting me above him. His eyes burned blue with vexation.

“When will you learn?”, he mumbled before abruptly taking my torso and ramming my back across his bended knee. Everything came to a halt as I felt my back shatter before he dropped me to the ground. I could no longer move any limbs but my eyes. After disposing of me, I watched him pick up his axes and leave the fortress to hunt down the Northern Kingdom. The only thing worse than being defeated is watching it happen.

Orksbane - Blood Orc

Entering the other world I had no time to waste. I knew Serpent Queen was headed for Druid Tower after eradicating Immortep. I also had a sense of direction for her corporal presence. I rushed on foot to the tower where I saw many Heroes huddled around a wounded Serpent Queen and Moltanica. From where I stood she appeared lifeless and brutally injured. With each step I firmly planted into the ground I felt anger brewing inside me. My grip tightened around each axe’s handle.

The principle of cultivating something for your own is a volatile and yet precise science. The way a kingdom takes shape is impacted by every single action, and inaction. Timing, resources, and Might all have influence of course, but the most important thing is what you will stand to protect. This is what determines the lengths you are willing to go,the precautions to take, and what precious commodity you risk as collateral. The kingdom that amasses too much and chases the spoils just slightly out of reach risks losing everything. While kingdoms satisfied with too little stand to gain nothing at all.

When you have built something from nothing you will not allow any false Hero tear away at what they think they are entitled to. They sent their best who did their worst, then sent the obnoxious Hero to perform an encore of embarrassment. The Council would only stand for so much before we had to set a precedent, that we too, would not become another resource to be monopolized by the Northern Kingdom. If protecting my home from a future raid was pre-emptive then I would make sure it would be the last time.

If they had taken out Serpent Queen so easily I wondered what would come next. I pictured a pillaging of our Crests, a colonization of our oozes and slimes, and Moltanica and I becoming Northern Kingdom puppets. My blood boiled as I approached the crowd of Heroes examining Serpent Queen’s body. Using magic I generated a line of open portals to the left and right of my scope directed at the Heroes. I summoned a flood of warriors from every angle, all ragingly teeming towards the Heroes with their weapons at once. They came to came to clash and I came to bury them.

NOTES:

Werewolf find himself in front of Druid Tower, sees the inlaid crests

Immortep is her friend?? Druid banished immortep, causing her to revolt

Immortep believes he is doing the right thing

Druid turned her into the serpent believing SQ is related to Immortep bc they both bare the snake emblem

SQ mad bc Immortep let it happen

As for Immortep, I still do not know what called for his arrest that day. I decided then I would become a mage and leave the Northern Kingdom. I left

Immortep - mad @ bc he didn’t try to gr

BLUE PORTAL = BLUE MAGIC = BLUE STAFF= SQ

Vlad’s troops attacked by heroes with inlaid crests+special abilities. assumes it is northern kingdom + starts war

After Fight they have a meetings

incredulous about southern kingdom bc no heroes were there

mention of inlaid crests

Thunder God wants to go in with Assassin (shows up anyways after she saves Dryad and Marksman)

Werewolf watched fight @ Druid Tower, took notice of Crests, tells Immortep?

close the portal

SQ - speech about why her actions are necessary,

The Lost Realm existed in peace, free of the Northern and Southern Kingdom’s histories and complications. Whether the Northern Kingdom planned to take further action and invade after sending Marksman and Dryad was irrelevant. They sent two Heroes armed to the teeth who wouldn’t reveal their intentions or how they re-opened a portal Serpent Queen closed ages ago. Then they followed with their Thunder God who aimed to destroy us. I would not stand for their terrorism and had to show them the true cost of their mistakes.

The Northern Kingdom was doomed from the start. Thunder God and his pals wanted an untouchable safety that called for total domination, which simply doesn’t exist. While Druid began shying away from the in’s and out’s of ruling a kingdom, Thunder God pushed harder and ultimately they couldn’t protect either interest adequately. The wheels of wreckoning were in motion long before the Lost Realm’s infiltration. Two kingdoms clashing eternally would never be satisfied at that. And to think this war was waged from Immortep failing to protect the innocence of a young girl.

v1.5

Castle Clash Novella

The Woodsman - Cerulean Rift

The morning sun woke me like any other day, rousing me for the usual tasks and without any special regard. I squinted my eyes and rubbed the dried crust from the inner corners with my fingers before rising from my bed. The sun glimmered brightly through my windows, highlighting the dust particles floating in the air. I walked to my kitchen to prepare myself a hearty breakfast before today’s arduous tasks. Looking inside my icebox and pantry for what could be prepared I found meats I smoked and cured from my last hunt as well as greens I had traded with the town’s farmer for. I decided the venison along with eggs I had stored would hold me over for the day. I prepared the two on my furnace and noticed I had a low supply of wood left. The venison cooking in the pan produced a savory aroma that filled the cottage quickly. The wood in the furnace alternated with the sound of crackling and sparks, sounds that have become a familiar comfort.

I sat down at my table to eat the meal I had prepared. The table was another one of my carved creations made from wood that was an adequate fit for a cottage occupied by one person. The venison was wholesome in flavoring and tender in texture. My meals were often a variation of animals hunted in the woods mixed with vegetables or bread I traded with farmers for at the town’s marketplace for while selling my own goods.

Because I lacked enough wood for cooking, fires, and heating my home for the week I decided I would dedicate the better part of my day finding trees aged enough to be chopped down. One of the reasons I became a woodsman as a young man is because of how much my life, as well as those of others, centered around the many uses of wood as a resource. I found myself being a much larger contribution to the Northern Kingdom and its citizens when I became a woodsman they could depend on to provide fuel for their furnaces and cut the lumber to build their homes and furniture. Those are not the only services this forest has provided me, though. Living in the forest I am surrounded by shade and fresh air that the trees provide me, and I am reminded daily that my purpose is meaningful.

Getting dressed I put on my cloak, pulled up my boots and slung my holstered axe and satchel across my chest and back to carry. My knife hung on my belt and ropes looped around my chest. These tools are integral to my life’s work. After their constant use and after some time, fracture or tearing, they have been repaired and enhanced many times. They hold the traces of my labor and have molded to the unique form of my hands. I’m reminded of this with their every use.

I ventured into the forest to fetch wood and perhaps hunt game I spotted along the way. Leaving my small cottage I was greeted by lush green trees and hills rolling to the horizon. Despite these things being routine they are not easily overlooked. These sights are what I picture when I think of being a woodsman. The trees form canopies that allow for little sunlight to peer through. Walking through the woods, feeling the frail blades of grass bend underneath my boots, targeting trees to chop and collect from.

After cutting down several pieces of wood into halved logs and then fourths I placed them in my sack to carry back home. Placing each log into the sack I examined the calluses of my hands, the marks of my labor. Suddenly I heard a loud buzzing sound that sounded similar to a shock of electricity. I immediately wondered if I was being watched and by who. I grabbed my axe from the stump I was using and assumed position for combat if anyone or animal were to attack. Cautiously I began to take steps toward a bush I assumed some muskrat was rustling in. The closer I came to the bush, it appeared more still. I lifted my axe and before I could take a swing saw a cerulean glow emanating from beyond the bush. The blue light pulsated in slow, sweeping waves outwards from the center with sparkling flecks of blue pulling in. The cool light bathed all my immediate surroundings and began to buzz louder and louder. I found myself paralyzed by the sight and staring deeply into this radiating portal that hung in the air like a menacing rift, starkly contrasting against the green forest A low hum began to rumble, growing louder and more ominous. I had never seen a sight like this before, one so captivating and frightening all at once.I grabbed my sack and axe and began running rapidly north as fast as I could. There was only one being whose knowledge I could seek.

Druid – Crushed Leaves

Warriors often come to me in times of need. I heal the hunter whose hands have been cut by their bow, the Guardian whose insides bleed from their external wounds, the pyromancer inflicted with magical ailments, and treants whose bruised fists have torn down endless walls. Seeing the corporal effects of battle lends my mind to contemplate the purpose of such pain. It seems undeniably clear what there is to gain and rarely reflected upon what there is to lose.

For hundreds of years I have watched troops assemble, strategize, and sacrifice all with the intention to claim Might, glory, Gold, and Mana at a much greater cost. It has never been my age that has matured me but the tragedies I have witnessed. I give thought to the days I was involved in combat as a means of support. I gave all I could to keep my fellow warriors alive as well as taking much of the damage for the greater good. I had convinced myself if I stood alongside and healed warriors in combat I could save more souls from a life lost in vain. As the warriors became more advanced and grew fierce in their insatiable need to conquer, the stakes rose exponentially. I discern the naiveté of my past logic now. If the will to fight is strong within the warrior then only their resolute minds can find the conviction to end this fighting.

In the Druid tower I meditate for days, inwardly looking for peace to better assist those who are victims of this savagery. The tower looms over the forest, positioned at the top of a mountain where solitude is momentarily obtainable. The highest point of the tower, or the bird’s nest, is the space my body solemnly occupies. There I intercept anyone in need of my help and heed any danger. On this particular day I felt something amiss. Something weighed heavy inside my chest that I could not readily recognize. Attempting to channel some semblance of peace my meditation was interrupted by a sharp sound in the distance of fallen leaves and twigs being crushed by foot. My eyes immediately shot open and my body tensed up.

An injured warrior perhaps? They’re approaching far too quickly to be injured…

Quickly I teleported my body from sitting on the floor to standing on the ledge of my tower to better perceive what danger advanced in the distance. With a slight squint I spotted what appeared to be a common man dashing towards the tower. The sound of his breath pumping in and out of his chest was alarming.

I halted him at the entrance of the tower.

“Do not step any farther. What brings you here?”

“Druid, I’ve–”

“I have no interest in partaking in any more combat for the egotistical interests of others.”

“You’re mistaken. I came here seeking your–”

“But you bare an axe.”

“What is a woodsman without his axe?”

“I presume as pestering and wasteful as this exchange.”

“Druid, there is a strange spectacle in the forest you must see! It’s growing louder as we speak!”, his brow pinches in distress.

My eyes steadily trace the trail of crushed leaves behind him.

“What kind of disturbance?”

Succubus - Punk Duke

“The best way to really defeat these chumps in the Arena in by draining them within an inch of their life.”

“...”

“Then you wait for the right moment before going in for the kill, you know, make them suffer for it!”

“..........”

“You don’t talk much,Shaman. But that might be my favorite thing about you. Lets me know you’re a good listener, really.”

Shaman and I usually sit on the hill outside the Arena and watch the matches from the distance trying our best to gather any type of enemy data to gain an advantage during our own matches.

I was the champ until Pumpkin Duke knocked me off my little throne to claim my title. I’m not bitter, I’m just letting him enjoy the bragging rights until I’m ready to come back and reclaim the title!

I watch every single match since I lost my title. I measure the depth of every kick, the speed of every punch, and calculate the perfect counter where there wasn’t one. I see the mistakes in everyone else’s fighting so I won’t do the same when my time comes. I replay the match where I lost my title in my head all the time.

I had a record of 96-0. I was unstoppable. I defeated most of my enemies with my ranged attacks. At first it took some teeny bit of effort and then eventually every match became a cake walk. They all underestimated me and I’d use that ignorance to my advantage. I’d go berserk on them then use my Death’s Lash to finish them off. Everything was in my favor and I was the queen until one day a mysterious challenger by the name of Pumpkin Duke, or better known as PD, approached. This smug cloaked pumpkin had me fooled. He looked like a rejected Halloween decoration, so I didn’t think there was much skill to anticipate. Awaiting the match to start in the arena he only stood still and stared at me while I sized him up. Before the start of any match is where I would determine how I’d win. I could spot the chink in any Heroes’ armor by how their hands shook, the pace at which beads of sweat slid down their face, or the rate in which they’d blink. But PD stood absolutely still. Once the match started he charged and rapidly berated me with every melee attack he could. At first it was a simple miscalculation on my part getting comfortable and thinking he’d be another easy win. But then I gave my all and I still struggled. I fought to the end, but where I was fast, he was faster. Where I thought I was strong, he was stronger. And where my hits were critical his were devastating.

That’s how I lost my title. And I’ve been planning my comeback ever since. I’m determined to show that PD punk who’s boss.

“Succubus!”

“Huh? What?” “Who?”, I looked around and couldn’t see who was calling my name. I sure as hell knew today wasn’t the day Shaman was going to start talking.

“Down here!”

I looked down to see one of the Builders at my feet. Hideous little things they are.

“Oh! I thought I smelled a troll.”

“Succubus, Druid is requesting your presence at the Druid Tower.”

“Has he finally recognized the injustice of my loss at the Arena? About tim—”

“He’s called forth select Legendary Heroes for an urgent meeting about a disturbance in the forest!”

“Oh. Alright, well you heard the guy, Shaman, Legendaries only. Same time tomorrow?”

Shaman replied with silence as always.

“See you at the tower, troll-y.”

As the Builder scurried away to the next Hero I spread out my wings in an extravagant flush to take flight to Druid’s tower.

I can’t wait to see what this mess is about.

The Northern Kingdom is the most superior and sound of all the world. Our citizenry, rulers, and warriors are the most intelligent, strongest, and noble. I’m reminded of the deep beauty and freedom I fight for during my battles with the Southern Kingdom while passing through the towns sustained by the mana mills, mines, and our warehouses. I firmly believe I have courageously lead my troops into past battle for a worthy cause.

As I approached the Druid tower I could not fathom what would necessitate my immediate summoning. To my knowledge no attacks had been committed against the kingdom. Druid would not respond irrationally to any attack nor initiate any advance that would endanger the kingdom either. In addition to having the title of Healer and leader he is also a close friend whom I trust with my life.

Upon arriving inside the tower I was escorted by one of the small, green and foul smelling trolls to the board room. There I found Druid and Succubus still in silence as if they had been awaiting my entry. Druid was standing by the balcony and an irked Succubus was sitting mid-air with her legs crossed and arms folded.

“You’d think for a god of thunder you’d be able to command the forces of nature to get you places faster.” Succubus greeted.

“Greetings. Druid, Succubus, what is the meaning of this urgent meeting?”

“There’s been a disturbance in the forest.”, Druid asserted

“What kind of disturbance?”

“We’re not exactly sure. It could be an enemy trap. Regardless, we should proceed carefully.”, he replied leaving the balcony and walking towards me.

I slammed my hammer down on the board room table, “We NEED to contain any threat that could possibly pose a threat to our kingdom!”

“What we ‘need’ to do is carefully investigate, Thunder God. Being rash will only get us into trouble.”, Succubus argued

“Then what do you suggest we do, Succubus? Now that you have chosen to invest yourself in the matters of the kingdom instead of yourself.”

“Enough!”, Druid interrupted, “We need to collaborate on a peaceful solution—”

“What if this thing leads somewhere?”, Succubus proposed.

Druid and I looked at each other speechless.

She continued, “What if it took us to another kingdom, or even another world? Imagine what we could find.”

“There could possibly be a bounty of resources!”, I shouted in excitement. I was truly overwhelmed at potentially tapping into resources that this world doesn’t have to offer.

“Yes and fathom the countless wars that would ensue trying to monopolize and harness those resources. I will not risk it.”, Druid spoke firmly.

All three of went back and forth for hours arguing over possibilities. We concluded a thorough investigation was in order. We would keep the news of this discovery as quiet as possible to not risk other kingdoms discovering the disturbance and marching in to usurp it. The three of us decided to pay a visit to the disturbance and see what would lie ahead.

Druid - Hero’s Shadow

Approaching the disturbance I could see a large blue rift with specks of white pulling towards the center. The rift glowed brightly against the shadows of the now dusk forest. I felt the humming described by the Woodsman vibrating inside my chest cavity. The decision was clear.

Without blinking an eye Thunder God spoke, “We’ll send Marksman and Dryad to do some reconnaissance.”

It was fairly enigmatic and captivating, this cerulean rift. We stood in silence, letting our gaze be pulled by the sight. I paused and turned to look at Thunder God. I was frightened that it was far more enticing to him than it should be.

Seeing the blue light consume Thunder God’s expression took me to a time when I would participate in defending the Kingdom from raids and other battles. Thunder God would instill pride for the Northern kingdom in the warriors. He would build a sense of camaraderie among them. He is an admirable Hero who exudes infinite passion for his kingdom, so much so it is difficult to not aspire to do the same. During battle he was the first to charge in, and would make every valiant effort to protect his warriors. His commitment to serve the place he and many others alike call home is honorable. But every Hero has his shadows….

During one particular battle where our kingdom was raided, many of our guardians, centaurs and pyromancers were taken out rapidly. One young hunter Thunder God had spent years training and pushing to beyond his limits as an archer in particular fought alongside him through and through. They covered each other against the enemy. The young hunter would clear the way and then Thunder God would come in and destroy the enemies fooled by the facade of a lone hunter being our only defense. This is the kind of man Thunder God was. He believed in equal partnership for the greater good.The young hunter and Thunder God kept plowing ahead during the battle, wiping out hoards of the raiding warriors until Thunder God lost sight of the young hunter. He began to internally panic, anxiously searching the battle field for the young hunter’s eyes to meet his. He eventually found the young hunter incapacitated behind a destroyed wall. The young hunter had dragged his body with what little remained of his life to cover himself not have his body mutilated further by surrounding demolition.

Thunder God immediately crouched to the young hunter’s aid and did his best to comfort him.

“I tried my best, Thunder God…”, the hunter whimpered.

“That’s—”, but suddenly another explosion hit, annihilating another resource building.

Seeing his kingdom crumbling and his protege slowly die before his eyes, Thunder God was hit with an overwhelming wave of fury and desperation.

“Pick up your bow, let’s go, we have to save our home!”, he yelled, spit and tears flowing from his face.

“....I...I can’t...”, The young hunter was losing more and more life by the second.

Thunder God tried to place the young hunter’s bow in his hand, knowing only the two of them could try to salvage something of the now remnant kingdom as a duo.

I watched this tragedy take place in the distance while healing other warriors. In the time Thunder God spent trying to salvage his already forsaken kingdom rather than bring me this young warrior he wasted a promising life.

This is the kind of man Thunder God became. A man who believes in sacrifice for the greater good.

Marksman - Shadow Warrior

“You must keep communication fluid between each other. You must understand you are completing this quest for the Northern Kingdom. The Northern Kingdom’s future fate and safety depends on the completion of this task. If you fail to complete this task it is by fault of your own. You are proceeding to take on this task at your own discretion. Whatever danger you encounter you two will have to fight without our immediate help. Do not let anyone know you are from the Northern kingdom. If you are given the ultimatum of life and death to reveal Northern Kingdom secrets you will choose death. Do you understand, Marksman?”

“Yes.”

Dryad - Rift Trip

Marksman and I accepted the mission of exploring what was on the other side of the Cerulean Rift. This blue portal sprung from nowhere in the forest and had the leaders of the Northern Kingdom apprehensive about what could ensue. We prepared ourselves for the mission as best we could before short notice. My mind was filled with all the anxieties of what impending doom there may be. Marksman as always kept to herself about those things. I assume if her exterior appeared impenetrable and strong, thus would be true to her of her insides. Before stepping foot into the portal we sharpened our weapons and wits in the forest.

Sitting on a nearby stump trying to soak in what may be the last sight I have of this world I decided to ease up the tension, “What do you think we’re going to find?”

Marksman continued preparing her bow and arrows. Her eyes fixated on every curve and edge of her tools, checking for any flaw that could cause misfire and cost a life.

“Aren’t you scared? I mean, it’s okay to say you’re scared. I know I—”, with her back turned to me she dropped her weapons and drooped her head. She quickly whipped around and approached me.

“No. No, I am not scared. Being scared means being uncertain and making mistakes. Making mistakes means death. Do you understand?”, her face inched closer to mine.

I know we were about to take on this mission and I didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot. Whether Marksman wanted to hide her fear or not wasn’t a problem for me. I was just hoping we could be honest about what was to come. If she thought I was weak she wouldn't trust me. And if she couldn’t trust me I might as well not be on this mission at all. She’s so tightly wound. I suppose she has to be this way to fulfill her purpose for the Northern Kingdom. There are so many lives depending on her.

“Do YOU, UNDER-STAND?”, she annunciated the syllables slowly for emphasis.

Clearly I did. But there are several matters at hand more important than having her know one can simultaneously be scared and brave.

“Yes.”

“Alright then. Let’s go. You follow my lead and my command. Don’t you dare try to have a ‘I-can-be-a-leader-too’ moment or you’ll get us killed. You’re here to support and follow me. If anything happens to me you find your way back and tell them what’s happened so they can prepare and protect themselves.”, she said dryly.

“Right.”, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and lifted my head and staff.

An aura comprised of green smoke surrounded Marksman and I, lifting our bodies above the ground. The aura enveloped our limbs, swirling and covering our chests, hands, thighs, and head, mimicking physical armor. The green smoke locked around our limbs and settled. I had placed a magic armor spell to protect us before going in. The green magic armor would absorb any magical ailments and buff minor physical attacks before being shattered.

We levitated back to the ground and turned our heads to look at eachother.

“Ready?”, Marksman asked.

Just as I was to reply I turned my head, hearing something in the distance. I chalked it up to my fear getting in the way and turned back to Marksman. I nodded in reply and we were off, running into the cerulean portal, first Marksman and then me.

Immortep - Forgotten Flower

“Nature is a volatile thing. Self-sustaining as it may be, its Creatures are often at war for survival. Similar to the fauna clawing at each other for mates, food and territory, there is also also the silent, passive war among flora. The spectacular feats of nature lie in the miniscule occurrences. The unlikely flower growing in the shade of the flower turned towards the sun. One easily blossoms, soaking in all the nutrients it needs to flourish, while the other thrives off what little it is afforded. Greatness is found in the thriving flower’s perseverance for triumph. The Southern kingdom is that thriving flower. Any advantage we can gain to survive is necessary. The Northern Kingdom monopolizes all the available resources. Their population is growing continuously despite any battles and past wars whereas our kingdom is withering by the day. Pumpkin Duke, you have restored glory to the kingdom by becoming the Arena champion and knocking off that insufferable pest Succubus into obscurity. Vlad, you have done excellent in training our troops to near invincible status. I credit you wholly with our last victorious raid on the Northern kingdom. We must forge ahead—” “My Lord…”, Werewolf creeped in through the door, interrupting my speech.

“Werewolf, it’s quite alright to inform me of your findings later.”

“My Lord, it’s critical.”, he tightly twiddled his hands.

“What is it then?”, I replied, irritated by his sheepishness.

“There’s an open portal in the woods of the Northern kingdom.”

“A portal? What did it look like?”, I questioned him in disbelief.

“Large and blue. There was a deep, constant rumbling from it. There was movement coming from it as well.”

“Well, where does it lead?”, I was growing more impatient with Werewolf’s vague details.

“They didn’t say, my Lord. I was scavenging the forest for resources when I discovered them—”

“THEM? Who is this ‘THEY’ and ‘THEM’ you speak of? Could you be any less informative with your information?”

“My sincerest apologies, my Lord. I saw Marksman and Dryad going through it. I don’t know what they were looking for but it appeared they were sent on a mission for the Northern Kingdom.”

“This information is vital, thank you, Werewolf. Pumpkin Duke, Vlad, let us forge ahead.”

Succubus - Thorn In My Side

I was walking through the Northern kingdom which seemed unusually empty. The warehouses, stores, farmers, mines, and mills looked abandoned. I paced slowly if any danger were to approach. It felt nice to be alone for a bit. I stopped to take a deep breath and look around. I heard a meek sound at my feet and looked down. A little mouse had scurried its way to my feet. I gazed at it adoringly. What a cute little creature! The mouse then scurried away from me as it once came. As my eyes traced the mouse’s movements, looking up I saw Pumpkin Duke standing in front of me.

“What are you doing here, Puke Duke? Did your big dumb head forget where the Southern kingdom is?”

Naturally he stood still, expression rigid.

“You are so annoying, you know tha—”, PD disappeared and instantaneously appeared directly in front of me, an inch from my face.

I was paralyzed, frightened by the details in his mug I had never been able examine like this before. Suddenly I felt an intense, piercing pain in my stomach. With a swish of his left hand, PD had spawned a spear and driven it into my stomach. I hurdled over in pain, breath escaping my lungs. His open fingers turned elegantly again and the spear slowly twisted clockwise inside me. I groaned loudly in agony, hoping someone would hear me and come to my aid but the kingdom remained desolate. PD slowly levitated upwards then backwards, watching me writhe, my pain eliciting no reaction. He extended the same puppeteer hand out towards me as if to offer help. I looked up with tears streaming out of my eyes, dripping down my face onto the ground. His gesture feigned mercy. His fingers slowly bent one by one into a fist before he jolted his arm backwards, commanding the spear to pull out of my stomach all at once with my insides.

“Why....are you d-doing….this?”, I whimpered with my last breath.

He simply stared at me.

That face would be the one to haunt me the rest of my life.

“Succubus, SUCCUBUS!”

“W-what??”

One of my minions shook me awake from this nightmare.

“Would you like pumpkin soup for your meal, Succubus?”

“I, LOATHE, PUMPKINS!”

Dryad - Unlikely Underpin

I feel weightless, yet there’s a blanket of pressure pushing down on me. We’re floating through a narrow strip of blue light, similar to the cerulean portal. A bright flash glimmers like sunlight reflecting off precious metal. I close my eyes slowly and after opening them find Marksman and myself lying on a mound of dirt. I am surrounded by flat land covered in a red dirt. This is nothing like the Northern Kingdom and we are far from home. I pull my torso from the ground and shake Marksman awake.

“Marksman!”, I shout, shaking her body, “Marksman, come on! We’ve arrived!”

She doesn’t answer. I slap her leg and figure she’s unconscious. I feel a weakness in my ankle standing up. I must have landed on it during the jump through the portal. Going through this portal took much more strength than I had imagined or known I possessed. After slowly pulling myself upright through grunts and shooting pains I raised my staff and cast a spell to have Marksman lifted and carried by yellow energy. Her body steadily rose and became gently supported. I was only strong enough to summon enough yellow energy to carry one of us. This would relieve me of any extra weight on my ankle and protect her from any attacks, should there be one.

Once I dusted myself off and attempted to throw myself into walking, I tried to be wary of any impending threat. I squinted my eyes but couldn’t see anything but a flat horizon. Everything surrounding us was red dirt. After walking I became weary of the red dirt being swept by sporadic bursts of cooling wind, causing the carried grains to scrape my face. I continued walking, trying to keep myself from collapsing and managing to supply a continuous source of power for the yellow energy shielding Marksman. The temperature felt like blistering heat in comparison to the cool Northern Kingdom I was so acclimated to. After walking for what felt like an eternity in the scorching sun, I started seeing a trail of smoke whisping upwards from the horizon.

I have to investigate that smoke…This portal cannot be a door to nowhere…If this jump really injured Marksman, the whole mission will have been in vain and my fault.

My contemplation was interrupted by a gust of wind directly overhead, preceded by a large winged creature shrieking. The creature was colossal in its magnitude and byzantium in its coloring. The webbing of its wings were like a burning sunset with tattered edges that whipped through the wind current. Its horns were two sharp and rusted pinnacles with receding ribbed edges. The creature’s rough exterior resembled cracked molten lava. The cracks in its skin glowed with a blazing orange that burned as brightly as its eyes. The creature must have missed our seemingly microscopic existence from the air and continued to fly ahead towards the smoke.

The creature’s brief presence crippled me with fear. As I watched it soar away I wondered if I could take it down on my own. I looked over to Marksman who still appeared lifeless on the cloud of yellow energy. I continued to wipe the sweat mixed with sand from my brow and squint my eyes, blinded by the sun in the distance. I kept walking on.

My acute ankle ache grew more hellish the further we walked. Every time I stumbled the yellow energy weakened, putting Marksman at risk of being dropped and left unshielded. Eventually I grew closer to the smoke and found patches of green grass. I slowly approached the green land and found a low standing wall to hide behind before plunging in. Looking over the wall I saw what looked like a town inhabited by semi-circular round creatures that varied in color moving around slowly and carrying on with daily activities not unlike the people of the Northern Kingdom might perform.

The creatures appeared to be made of some clear, gelatinous liquid and had small black eyes and round hands, and blushing faces. They glided across the town’s streets. The green ones had little mouths that hung open and looked as if they were continuously in awe. The blue ones appeared almost aquatic in nature. There were also purple ones that had small bat-like wings and fangs protruding from their mouths. The purple slimes had low flames emerging from the crown of their heads and dressed with a skull belt, but appeared just as harmless nonetheless. They moved slowly and didn’t make any noise louder than a hum. I watched them ogle prime cuts of meat through the windows of a butcher shop, sit around the town’s fountain with smaller, child-like slimes, gather around a community bulletin board, engage with each other at a cafe, and even interact at a trading post.

They were all so alien and strange and yet familiar. Their town operated similar to ours but appeared peaceful, free of the wars and the problems unique to our kingdom.

“What a wonderful and prosperous people, aren’t they?”

I turned around to see a half-woman, half-snake towering over me with a large grin on her face. Her smile appeared inviting and friendly but was contradicted by the menacing glint in her crimson eyes. From the ground I raised my gaze, startled by the serpent half of her body, a cascading scaly green tail with a pale yellow stomach. her hips were covered by circular pieces of gold encrusted with a diamond cut aquamarine jewel. Looking further up was the torso of a bare woman with wide hips and a small waist. Turquoise cloth draped across her chest in X formation from the ornate green, blue, and gold patterned necklaces covering her collar. Her wrists were adorned with turquoise bracelets. Her head was decorated by a regal blue crown embellished with gold trim and a blue-eyed cobra in the center. In her right hand she held a large blue and cream striped staff that tightly curved into a semi-swirl at the top. Her short hair was elegant and flowed with the gusts of wind coming and going. Her face appeared youthful and smooth with no signs of aging or battle wounds. Her crimson eyes, lined with kohl and framed by large wispy black lashes, were complemented by full ruby lips. I couldn’t decipher whether I was more mesmerized by her regal beauty or transfixed by her fearsome stature. Instead my mouth hung open, staring at the silhouette of her body created by the sun’s spotlight.

“You poor thing!”, she said sweetly, “Come, let me help you up!” She extended her hand for me to grab. I hesitated but decided it would be better for me to have this serpent woman aiding me than hurting me. I grabbed her hand and rose to my feet.

She paused to return my careful examination of her body with one of her own, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you around here. Or your little friend for that matter. Where are you all from?”, she swiftly wrapped herself around my body and poked her head from between my neck and shoulder to take a closer look at Marksman who was still unconscious. Her touch made me tremble but was simultaneously enticing. This enigmatic creature’s interest would be the end of me, I thought as I felt her pulsating breath against the space between my neck and shoulder. Curiosity will away draw you to what you want to understand.

She slithered from my body to Marksman’s side, “Your friend looks injured.”, her pupils waned as they scanned Marksman’s torn and bruised body.

“She passed out from the heat of the dessert is all.” I said dryly, trying to not attract any suspicious as a foreigner.

“Right. Well, if she is dehydrated and exhausted, she needs to rest and have her fluids restored. She cannot continue to lie afloat this withering cloud of yellow energy.”, her left eyebrow arched.

Immediately my stomach dropped. She knows magic. She must be a mage. I have to continue to be on guard.

A thick swirl of yellow energy circled her staff like a ribbon taking its form and illuminated the staff. The cloud of yellow energy carrying Marksman grew stronger and brighter, lifting her higher and forming a strong protective cocoon around her body. Our magic was congruous, working like a perfect chemical reaction.

“Thank you. We’ll be on our way now.” I turned my body to begin leaving but before I took a step, she spoke to stop me.

“That shield will only hold your friend over for so long. She needs somewhere safe to rest. You’re two outsiders in a new world, whose laws and people you know nothing about. You won’t make it far like this. Especially come night time.”, She piqued my interest once our safety was called into jeopardy. I turned around, “What happens at night?”

“The Council snatches up anyone or anything suspicious. How suspicious do you think you will look among slimes and oozes?”

I paused. She was right. Nightfall was coming and Marksman was still out of commission and regardless of whether she was trustworthy or The Council was real or fake, we were not in any position to take on any threat

“What do you suggest then?” I asked lowly.

“I’ll house you two until she’s better. then you can go on your way.” She spoke with conviction. “You need rest yourself. Otherwise, how useful are you to her?”

I dropped my head in shame. My purpose couldn’t be more clear and yet I was already failing. I have to complete my mission and save her any way I can.

“Where’s your home?”

Werewolf - Raw Hyde

“I know it’s here! I know it’s here somewhere!” My clawed hands dug deep into the grass as I searched the forest for the blue portal I saw Marksman and Dryad go through. With my nose to the ground I searched for any trace of either of their scents. I felt myself becoming rabid from the madness of following this erratic trail. The trail was repeatedly cut off by the interruption of magic. Dryad’s constant use of spells for shield and transportation interrupts the scent’s print through conflicting energies. As I remained low to the ground, crawling forward rapidly in a straight line I was pulled left from a weak trace, then right by a stronger trace. My focus splintered in every direction.

I can save my kingdom if I just find the portal! Then we can use it, yes! And then we will conquer the Northern Kingdom. Yes! It’s all so simple!

My head shot in the direction of something rustling in some bushes. Eyes sharpened, ears perked up. Someone’s there. Someone has to be there spying on me. What if it’s Thunder God. If I kill Thunder God and bring him to Immortep I will climb the ranks and gain respect in the Southern Kingdom. I will be the good Hero they want me to be. I will live up to my true potential.

I crouched and pressed my body low to the ground. Back arched, elbows and knees bent, tail stiff as a rod. My moment of glory was coming. I saw nothing but that bush. It was turning red and the sounds of rustling became deafening. Each sudden movement drove me madder. There was no consistent pattern, the smell was unrecognizable. With each rustle I counted all the mistakes that cost me or the Southern Kingdom something. Why did they keep me around, why were we so damned, why were we unable to find the portal first ? I could no longer take it and erupted, pouncing onto the bush.

I landed on Thunder God and thrashed my claws down in rapid succession before digging them in and tearing out chunks of flesh. With every plunge of my claws I felt a warm stream of blood gush out. I lunged my neck forward and began to take bites out of him, sinking my teeth in and twisting and turning my head savagely to break his bones between my jaws. In between tearing and chomping at him I let out yelps of frustration and anger. I ran out of breath and began huffing, looking at my blood-soaked fur. Overhead the night clouds parted and the moonlight shone on me and Thunder God.

As the moonlight shifted to me, I discovered I had massacred a deer. Its face was shredded beyond recognition. Its body looked as if it had been turned inside out. My rage was boundless and driving me to insanity.

Dryad - Sovereign Snake

The serpent took us to a small home hidden away on the outskirts of the town in the desert. By now it was nightfall and the desert had cooled immensely. The climate seemed fitting for a woman endowed with reptilian blood in her veins. Her home appeared to be a modest hut on the outside made from local resources and what little greenery was available to create shade. Inside she helped place Marksman on a cot as well as washing away her wounds. I carefully watched her every move, uneasy about her background and why he was so willing to help two strangers. She and I sat and watched over Marksman while hydrating with a special brew she conjured.

Sitting across from me she gazed deeply into my eyes

“You never told me your name, mage.”, her eyes glinted again, they gripped me in a way that seduced and wounded me simultaneously.

“Do you really need to know?”, I asked politely.

“Mage, you’re inside my home and asking whether I should know your name or not?” she paused and took a sip of her brew, “My name is Serpent Queen, pleasure to meet you.” she said looking up from her cup.

“Where are you from?” I asked with hesitation, “You clearly don’t look like the oozes and slimes around the town.” I tried my best to not be so interrogative with my stare and questioning.

“Well…”, she sighed heavily and looked at her cup anxiously, “I’m originally from somewhere very, very far away. A place that always seemed to be in crisis and I didn’t belong. I know it sounds strange but I feel at home among the oozes. Here…” she waved her hands, “...I am part of something I can be proud of. I contribute to a community that respects me.”, she suddenly looked sad.

“Is something wrong, Serpent Queen?”

“I miss my home though. It’s difficult to be so far away from home. I feel so alone at times. Like there’s no one of my kind who truly understands me. Do you know that feeling?”, her eyes grew larger as she drew closer to me.

“Sometimes.” I muttered and turned away.

“Come here. I want to teach you a joint spell so we can help your friend.”, she rose from her seat with enthusiasm. I could sense that her telling even a fragment of her story was like uncovering an old wound. She could leave her home and travel to the edge of the dessert to make a new one but it didn’t seem far enough, and yet she felt isolated and wished to return. What a heavy burden to carry. I got up from my seat and followed Serpent Queen’s instruction.

“Okay, follow me!”, She made a circular formation with her staff, “We have to do this together or it won’t work. It’s an old spell that needs the power of two mages. With a night’s rest she will be back on her feet and you two can be on your way!”, she said with a smile to which I nodded. “I will miss the company though.”

I turned my head away to hide my slight blushing.

We continued with the joint spell and watched as Marksman glowed and was momentarily lifted from the cot by the incantation. The aura that surrounded her glowed purple with bright sparks of blinding white light that lit up like bright fireworks. My eyes widened with awe, I had never seen anything so radiant before in all my years of doing magic.

“You see that? That’s what two great mages combining magic looks like.” she said looking over to me with a smirk.

“When two different types of magic meet, they often dance,” she said looking over to Marksman, “By morning she will be awake and be ready. Until then, good night, weary mage.”, she said slithering away into her bedroom.

I laid my body to rest in the cot next to Marksman. I felt an ache in my body that ran much deeper than my bones. My mind twisted and turned thinking of all the complications bogging us down already, but my body was losing the fight to sleep….

Marksman - Turn Blue

Upon opening my eyes I found myself in a stranger’s home. I jumped up and and looked down at my bandaged body. My mind raced to piece together how I arrived in this location but could only remember jumping through the portal with Dryad. I turned my head and saw a demon half-snake, half-woman staring at me with her large scarlet eyes, like a cobra eyeing its next meal.

“You’re awake. Finally. Now don’t make too much noise, I wouldn’t want to have to waste the spell that brought you back from your coma.”, her tongue slithered from behind her razor-sharp teeth extended outwards. I rolled myself from the cot onto the floor and grabbed my bow in one hand and the arrow in the other, swiftly pulling the arrow back and aiming at her in one sharp movement.

“Who are you and where are we?”, I demanded with the arrow targeted at her skull, right between the eyes.

“You recuperate very quickly. This will be pleasing for The Council…”, she turned her back and began to slither away. As she slithered away I sprung my arrow sharply at her spine. An inch before penetrating her bare back, the arrow became suspended in air, stopped by a blue force.

“Your arrows are useless here.”

Both our heads immediately turned at the sound of glass crashing and then looking to an empty second cot, presumably where Dryad slept.

The snake grabbed my arrow suspended in the air and began to slither around in search of Dryad, “Come out, little Dryad. Don’t be upset about me and Marksman fighting. We’re just getting to know each other.”, she grinned menacingly. Before leaving the room she turned back around and swished her hand upward with her staff. “Oh, almost forgot!”

I felt a tight clasp around my throat as I was lifted upwards by her magic. My body hung mid-air by the grip of her blue force around my neck.

Dryad came out of hiding surrounded by with the same protective green spell we used coming

through the portal. She raised her staff and attempted to unlock me from the serpent’s blue magic but to no avail.

“There you are!” the serpent smiled, “Now, up-up!”, she lifted her other hand and put Dryad in a chokehold as well.

“Why are you doing this?” Dryad struggled to utter. Her expression exuded betrayal, leaving me confused as to how long I was knocked out for.

“Well, here’s the thing, strangers. We...” she chuckled, “and by we, I mean The Council, don’t like strangers. Especially strangers who refuse to give any information about who they are while strapped with magic and weapons from the Northern Kingdom.”

Dryad and I were shocked to hear mention any knowledge of the Northern Kingdom.

“That’s right!”, the serpent began to laugh, “Surprise! I know about the Northern Kingdom! Now it’s time to hand you two over. This may hurt a bit. Oh, and before I forget,” she turned her head to Dryad, “Dryad, I’m sorry. I meant every word, though.”, She snapped her fingers, the grip disappeared, and everything went black.

Vlad Dracula - Blazing Blue

A warrior is only as useful as the creed he follows. When Immortep put me in charge of the Southern Kingdom’s troops I was handed a much greater responsibility than to just train these creatures to wield weapons and assemble for victory. I was chosen to assist in the much greater strategy of returning the kingdom to its former glory. I was found competent enough for this task. Werewolf had been MIA since delivering the news about the portal. Immortep decided the most rational plan would be to train a special operations team to go into the portal. Training warrior takes time. Each warrior wields their own specialty that requires specific attention. I trained my troops to truly believe their weapon was their most important limb, their only means of survival and freedom.

SHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPSSHITSHITSHITSHITABOUTTRAININGTROOPS

On this particular day I overlooked the archers practicing speed and accuracy, running exercises with targets in the fields. They plucked their bows with precision then tumbled to hit more moving targets. They were rapid and accurate, as I had trained them to be. I turned my head to watch the other troops when I suddenly began to see traces of blue whisping from the woods. I had never seen anything of the like before and squinted my eyes to get a better look.

Abruptly troops of warriors bearing the Northern Kingdom seal began to swarm the archers and the other troops. Their eyes blazed blue and they attacked mercilessly without flinching at the bloodshed. After assessing the distance and damage I summoned a swarm of bats with a raise of my hand and directed them to the Northern Kingdom troops. At once hundreds of black and hungry winged beasts flickered and screeched their way to tear at, thrash, and drain the troops of their blood.

While the bats feasted on the incoming warriors I engaged the other foot soldiers making their way to my courtyard in with hand to hand combat. I fought an endless wave of soldiers until I began losing stamina. I panicked. How humiliating would it be for the military commander to die here like this? At the last moment, the swarms instantly began to disappear before my eyes. I turned to my left to see Pumpkin Duke executing the relentless troops with waves of magic.

PD and I couldn’t battle the waves of Northern warriors for much longer. We would need reinforcements. Or to cut them off from the source.

Succubus - Disparate Triumvirate

Druid and I had been spending our time in his tower discussing possible plans of action for whatever would follow the reconnaissance mission. A few days had passed and Marksman and Dryad had yet to return. With each passing minute I could feel unrest replacing the spaces of peace in his mind. It was unusual to see Druid restless, even under these circumstances.

We had conversed in his study, but our talk had mostly given way to silence. I watch him alternate between pacing and staring out the window anxiously for the Heroes to return.

“Druid, I think we need to go ahead and be active about this portal. It’s still sitting there and they haven’t returned. Every minute they’re away someone else could be tampering with it.”

He remained silent, eyes still, looking outwards.

“Druid, we can’t go on wasting anymore time. We have to make a move and close the portal, or else go in ourselves!”, I yelled. His outward aloofness killed me. Why was he so removed once the Kingdom called for his attention?

Druid whipped around and shouted, “Don’t you think I know what’s at stake for us? What the cost of acting too slowly or too quickly is? Being prudent and yet treading so carefully another life is lost to not acting at all?”, his teeth gritted between each syllable. He stepped closer, “I am reminded everyday for the rest of my eternal life what is being lost and fought over. I refuse to close the portal and forget Marksman and Dryad. They will not forfeit their lives because of our impatience.”

“But what if they already have, Druid? Then we have left ourselves vulnerable as the next target.”, I retorted.

Druid began to close his eyes and chuckle, “I do not share yours and Thunder God’s special interests—”

“ I want to protect the people of the Northern Kingdom! Like you, Druid! And the citizens of whatever world or kingdom are potentially living on the other side of that rift from US!”, I yelled in one breath.

Druid was taken back by my political consciousness. We stared at each other in silence knowing we wanted to protect the same people but take action differently. We took a moment to reflect on our real obstacle being Thunder God and the chances of survival for Marksman and Dryad. I had been thinking about this for days now and came to a certain conclusion.

“Druid, I think we should send Assassin to find Dryad and Marksman.”, I murmured.

“And what if they’ve perished?”, he questioned.

“Then we will be more sure of our decision to close this portal. She’s undetectable, more so than Dryad and Marksman.”

“Do not speak ill of your fellow Heroes. They may have given their lives for us.”, he rebuked.

“Right. Assassin is the one, Druid. If she finds them she will bring them home for us. She will end this once and for all.”, I said firmly.

“It’s worth consideration. Time is passing in the meanwhile.”, Druid called forth one of the tower trolls and asked them to summon Assassin promptly for a meeting.

Druid opened his mouth to continue speaking before the ground started shaking. We both rushed to the windows to see swarms of troops bearing the Southern Kingdom emblem charging towards the tower. Druid immediately pushed me from the window before a barrage of arrows came through and pierced the back wall.

Druid and I took a breath with our backs against the wall.

“Succubus, you’re going to have to call for help!”, he shouted before pushing his palm out to cast a shield to protect the tower from projectiles.

“Druid, I—”

He interrupted, “NOW!”

I rushed to the top of the tower and took flight to find Thunder God and Assassin. Why would the Southern Kingdom attack so secretively? Druid’s tower has never been a prime target during battles. I soared as rapidly as I could and swiftly dove into the training camps where I knew I would find Thunder God training the troops.

“Thunder God!” I said landing inside one of the open buildings, clouds of debris dusting away at my hooves.

He was standing in front of a unit leading them in formation when he turned around. “Yes, Succubus?” Instantly he was alert and engaged.

“There are swarms of troops attacking Druid Tower! We need your help immediately!”, I shouted nearly out of breath.

He nodded and began calling out orders to his troops before grabbing his hammer and heading to the tower on foot with the rest of the warriors. I shot into the sky and returned to the tower where Druid was struggling to hold off the swarms by himself. Hovering in front of the tower I summoned a meteor shower that crushed and seared nearby warriors. Thunder God and his troops arrived in time to finish off the remaining soldiers. I descended to the ground and swirled my whip around my body to mar the warriors around me. I carefully struck the treant charging at me from the front and with a graceful cocking of my arm demolished the grunts trying to attack me from behind. As the fighting continued dark, ominous clouds closed in on the area over Druid Tower and began striking Thunder, hitting the last of the Southern Kingdom fighters. The cracks of thunder striking the chests of the warriors were deafening from close-range. Thunder God had swung his hammer and summoned the thunderstorm to end this battle for once and all.

After each of the soldiers had been finished off, we looked around at the destruction surrounding the Druid Tower. The damage done in such a short amount of time was unbelievable. Thunder God, Druid, and I gathered in the tower to discuss the recent happenings,but we largely stood in silence.

I broke the silence with the question burdening most of our minds, “What was this attack motivated by?”

“The Southern Kingdom has always wanted to dominate us! They saw their chance and went after it!”, Thunder God shouted, uneasy and angry.

“Then why would they have attacked my tower? If they wanted to hurt us they would have gone after our towns, our resources. This doesn’t make sense at all.”, Druid spoke pensively

“These weren’t usual Southern warriors…Something’s not right. If it was them, where was Immortep, Vlad, or Puke Duke?”, I wondered aloud.

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is a consequence of the rift being open. An unprovoked attack easily contained by us three could not truly be in the Southern Kingdom’s plans for domination.” Druid spoke.

“What if it was a distraction from something else?”, I asked.

Thunder God seemed to lose the last ounce of patience in his body and tightly clenched his fists in frustration, “This is a sign. They’ve discovered the rift and are taking it for themselves while we sit and argue over their intentions!”

Druid and I looked and each other and nodded, “Thunder God…” As I was beginning to speak one of the tower trolls brought in Assassin. Thunder God glanced over at her and appeared perplexed.

“Thunder God...” I continued “Druid and I have decided the next move should be to send in Assassin to retrieve Dryad and Marksman and confirm the status of their livelihood.”

Thunder God began grinding his teeth, “Then I will go with her and end this.”

I looked over to an annoyed Druid. Druid had easily grown sick over the years of Thunder God butting his head into every problem the Northern Kingdom faced and was ready to grab the reigns this time around.

“We’ve decided. We trust in Assassin’s abilities.”, Druid said trying to retain his calmness.

“We also decided to trust in the abilities of two Ordinary Heroes and look where this has gotten us. We’re being infiltrated!”, Thunder God shouted.

“Are you doubting the Kingdom’s warriors, Thunder God? Two warriors you trained, at that? Your leadership and strength are needed here, unless you plan on abandoning your post. We are wasting more valuable time squabbling over simple direction.”

Thunder God bared Druid’s lashing and ingested the information. He understood his duty was to his Kingdom first and Assassin showed enough diligence to be trusted with the task. While Thunder God and Druid continued to bring Assassin up to speed, I observed. If I ever thought Marksman was a stealthy Hero, Assassin was even more so. She stood stiffly, listening to their every word, nodding. She wore a cloak that took the form of a black cat’s head and ears complete with a pink nose and gold button eyes and matching trim. Her short, silver hair wisped out from underneath her hood. Her mouth was covered by her face mask. Her body was covered by straps of cloth across her chest and legs. Her weapon of choice were twin daggers encrusted with emerald jewels. Assassin is the strongest melee fighter in the Northern Kingdom, but keeps to herself and mostly serves as a mercenary.

“Succubus, take her to the rift.”, Druid instructed.

I wasted no time and we were off.

****

When Assassin and I arrived to the rift there wasn’t much to say after examination and understanding of the stakes. I took a long look at the rift, then looked at Assassin.

“Don’t die.”, I uttered.

Without breaking her gaze from the portal she jumped in.

Serpent Queen - Inadvertent Serpent

Once upon a time there was a young girl who the most beautiful and sad creature on the planet. She possessed all the physical qualities and makings for an adequate life and yet couldn’t find satisfaction in the qualities she had. She was always anguished by the things she was lacking in comparison to others. She never felt full and often felt hollow and jealous of others. Her pure spirit was slowly poisoned by insecurity and distrust. She spent most of her time alone and when she did talk to others she felt as though she was worlds away from connecting with anyone though they spoke the same language.

One day she befriended a man who comforted her by doing something most hadn’t thought to do: listen. She began to feel the heaviness in her heart slowly lift away. Eventually their conversations grew deeper than sad memories. They would spend every afternoon sitting in his garden and discussing hopeful things.This was their routine that she found comfort in. During one of their meetings he gave her a snake amulet to wear around her neck as a symbol of their new friendship. She had made a real friend.

To some he was a fearsome creature, tall in stature with sharp claws and a dark aura. When he stood beside her he resembled a long shadow. He appeared mute but only spoke when necessary. The few words he chose were structured with depth and poise. He looked different to her and she may not have looked different, but she felt very different. Their friendship was unlikely but equally important.

The little girl and her shadow spent one of their casual evenings sharing stories and literature when the shadow started to grow more distant. She noticed he would no longer give her words of wisdom when she divulged her frustrations. The shadow looked directly at her and began to shift his eyes constantly, giving the impression of paranoia over being watched. The girl began to feel his presence fade away until he became a ghost of the friend she once knew.

The time came when the girl awaited for her shadow on top of a hill overlooking a beautiful sunset. She thought it strange that he asked to meet her in a place they had never been to before. She waited and waited, admiring the setting sun by herself. Its warm and burning reds cooled to dark fuschias and purples. Most people remember the sunset and sunrise, but how often did they take the time to appreciate its absence? Eventually her shadow arrived and out of breath, apologized for his lateness. Faced with his presence, she looked down and then up into his eyes.

“That’s alright. I didn’t think you would come.”, she meeped, gradually furrowing her brow.

“I will always be with you, right here.” he said tapping the front of her head, “Even if my body isn’t.” he replied.

Momentarily they found themselves smiling at each other. His dependability softened his recent absence in her mind. As they began to sit and get comfortable they heard something in the distance. The girl ignored it, thinking it was just townspeople running errands on horse. She turned to her shadow to see him appear uneasy. A brigade of soldiers arrived on foot and a cart that resembled a moving holding cell. Her shadow valiantly stepped in front of her to shield her.

A man covered in feathers and holding a staff looked over to her shadow and shouted, “Come forward and leave the girl, Immortep. You are detained under the Northern Kingdom’s rule now.”

The girl was frightened and confused. What had her shadow done besides protect her? She cowered behind her shadow’s body.

The feathered man called for his guards to grab her shadow and place him in the cell. The girl broke her silence and screamed for them to let him go. The girl threw herself on top of her shadow’s body trying to keep him from the guards. She couldn’t understand why her shadow looked like he had given up when she continued to fight.

The guards peeled her away and tossed her aside. She picked herself off the ground and ran as fast as she could to jump on top of her shadow again. She began to wail loudly, using her voice like never before while her shadow remained limp. The feathered man grew tired of watching the routine and lifted his staff in her direction, placing a spell on her. The girl found herself face down and couldn’t lift herself to run after her now imprisoned shadow being carted away by the feathered man and his brigade.

She looked up to find the brigade much farther in the distance. Just as she tried to lift herself she felt no control of her lower body. She pushed with all the strength left in her arms, unable to raise her lower body. She looked down and saw her legs were gone. In their place she now had a long and scaly serpent tail. Looking at her new tail she screamed in terror. She wrapped her arms around her torso and sobbed a pool of warm tears down her hot and puffy face. She had lost her legs and only friend. From then on both would solely exist in her mind, as her shadow pointed out, where they would remain a memory.

From that day onward the little girl vowed to become a powerful mage and be the one holding the staff instead of having it used against her. The girl grew into a fierce Queen who was at the top of her craft. She enhanced century old spells and created her own incantations to be practiced for centuries to come. She found a new purpose to channel her energy into. But along with her amulet she carried a haunting past. As hard as she tried, she could never bring herself to escape the mental prison the Northern Kingdom memories had created. She closed her eyes and saw that ruthless mage clearly. She vowed to get her revenge on the feathered mage, the well known and prominent ruler whose love of power surpassed any love of healing. The mage whose magic had a body count higher than any rumoured survival rate! The right hand of the imperial Northern Kingdom machine also known as the tyrant Druid, would be executed when the time was right.

So how did she plan on doing this? The serpent girl left the Northern Kingdom entirely and became a wanderer. Living off the land, in search of somewhere to strengthen herself. One day she stumbled upon a fantastical blue rift whose light and aura called to her. Strange as it was, it drew her in, and emanated the same familiar comfort another creature who appeared “different” had in the past. Without any hesitation she went through the rift and found herself in a desert. She traveled until she found greener land where she amassed resources and began creating a life for herself. She encountered wandering slimes and oozes who sought her magic and help. Together they built a unique society based upon her memories of the Northern Kingdom fairly quickly.

The Slimes and Oozes trusted in her so much they made her queen. From her throne she planned the perfect covert infiltration to the Northern Kingdom. It would take a great amount of time but she knew well it would be worth it. The little lost girl who became an inadvertent serpent, grew and shaped herself into the Serpent Queen. She not only had her legs but her innocence taken away by a tyrant ruling under the guise of gentle healer.

He was going to pay in the most excruciating way. No matter what the price was. They were all going to suffer. I’d bet my life on it.

Werewolf - Strange Shadow

In my hours or days of lurking I found myself in front of the Druid Tower. My skulking would always bring me to the same spots. It was early in the morning and the people of the Northern Kingdom were still at rest when I cautiously crawled to Druid’s Tower. While still searching for the rift in the forest I heard loud noises coming from that direction. I began running on all fours towards the tower. The tall grass grazed my ribs with every stretched leap. The sound of my my paws heavy drop on the ground after every inward and outward flex shortened intervals with my increased speed. The smell of dew and smoke filled my nostrils and for a moment I was relieved of my anxiety until I reached the outskirts of the tower and saw Thunder God, Succubus, and hordes of soldiers battling.

I halted and took cover to take a closer look at what action was taking place. The soldiers bore the emblem of the Southern Kingdom but didn't look like our own. They didn’t fight like us, they didn’t look like us, and most curiously they had strange crests inlaid into their armor. I watched Succubus and Thunder God blast the imposters to pieces before deciding to run to the Southern Kingdom to inform Immortep of what I saw. Without drawing any attention to myself I fled the scene.

***

As I approached the Southern Kingdom’s base I was met with hordes of Northerner troops attacking PD and Vlad. My instinct to protect my home drove me to leap into the swarm of warriors and attack with the swelling rage inside me. Standing upright I clawed and ripped soldiers apart limb by limb with my clutch. I turned and pounced onto another and broke his neck inside my mouth. As more soldiers began to rush towards the three of us a heavy sandstorm erupted. Momentarily nothing was visible or audible but loud cries of agony. When the storm subsided all the soldiers lie dead on the ground and Immortep hovered over them. He had exterminated the troops with ease.

“WEREWOLF!”, Immortep raised his hand and with the curl of his claws my body was pulled by his force directly to his grasp, “What do you know about this?”, he said steadily growing angry.

“Immortep, those warriors, they aren’t from the Northern Kingdom!”, I yelped

“Then WHERE are they from, Werewolf?”, his patience was running thin.

“I was at Druid Tower and they were fighting Southern Kingdom troops!”

“We didn’t send any troops,Werewolf!”

“My Lord, forgive me, but neither did they. These warriors are imposters! They bare the kingdoms’ emblems but they are neither ours nor theirs!”, I said trying to escape the grip of his force.

Turning his head over to Vlad he asked, “Vlad, was there anything strange about these troops?”

“They were unlike the other Northern troops we’ve fought.”, Vlad said, “There was also no sign of Thunder God among them.”

Immortep then looked into my eyes, tightening his grip around my throat.

“My Lord, they had crests on their armor. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen. It may have been the source of their power. ”, I squirmed.

Immortep then dropped me from his grip and looked contemplative. I rubbed my paws around my sore throat that continued to feel the tightness of his clutch. His expression turned calm, “The portal is already at work and we’ve fallen behind. It’s only a matter of time before that ruthless Thunder God tries to harness the power of those crests.”

“Our special operations team was destroyed within minutes, My Lord. We’re clearly not able to face whatever is on the other side of that portal.”, Vlad declared.

“Yes, but perhaps we can operate defensively and seal it shut.”, Immortep responded.

Immortep, Vlad, and I turned to Pumpkin Duke. We would need a powerful mage to suppress whatever lie beyond the portal.

Dryad - Fortress Corpses

The lush, green hills of the Northern Kingdom roll and sweep for miles. The hills emit the sweet smell of flowers and withering dandelions. Where the bright lime and viridian blades of grass darken to a burnt umber is where the forest begins. The forest encroaches the nearby towns like a hovering shade.The sun peers between the sparse spaces in the forest canopies made from lush branches. The sun watches over us Northerners from the distance. The sun’s dependable warmth is comforting but the shoreline brings me the most peace. Watching the tides, pulled in by the moon, pull the sand is the most tranquil sensation that comes to mind. When I look out into the water I see a graceful creature covered in sheets of white silk hovering over the waves staring back at me. The sheets are carried gently by the salty wind, dancing with every temporal current of wind. The wind causes the sheets to take the form of curves and lines, running with the current. The creature turns and my heart turns heavy. The creature is faceless but they exhibit a grin that ruptures my chest—

My head feels like it’s going to explode and my ears are ringing from the loud echoes of an unseen creature’s screeches. My eyes jolt open and my arms and locked in chains against a wall with my body dangling next to Marksman.

“Where are we?”, I groan to Marksman, trying to regain consciousness.

“We must be in their fortress...The coordinates, I’m unsure of. I’ve been out for so long there’s no way for me to know now.”, She says lowly with her angry glare fixed straight ahead and away from me.

I look around trying to piece together how we ended up here. All I can gather is we’ve been captured.

“Why did you trust her. Why? Did she come from the Northern Kingdom? Was she from your tribe? What did she possibly do for you to TRUST HER WHILE WE WERE ON A MISSION?”, Marksman screamed agitatedly.

I paused, “She saved your life.”

I thought the serpent healing Marksman would be enough reason to trust her. I foolishly forgot Marksman’s focus was the mission’s completion above all, including her own life.

She went on, “You should’ve left me for dead. We’ve failed the mission and are as good as dead now. Thank you. Thank you for this, Dryad. I had a chance at a painless death and you one for redemption but now we will be slowly tortured for our kingdom’s secrets before we are discarded like the pathetic excuses for warriors we are—”

Marksman’s barrage of words came to a halt by the creature’s heightening screeches. The gray brick room we hung inside of had a grand perpendicular hallway where we could see the creature’s sinister shadow approach. The shadow enlarged as it stepped closer. My heart raced with each thunderous stride it took.

“Brace yourself. Say nothing. Choose death if you must.”, Marksman grunted, reiterating our code.

The shadow entered the room in the form of Serpent Queen followed by the flying dragon I had seen in the desert. The dragon dwarfed Serpent Queen in size but she matched it in fearsomeness. Serpent Queen slithered over to my dangling feet and looked up at me. Her ruby red eyes glimmered and made me wither even more. The dragon positioned itself steadily behind her, laboriously huffing out large gusts of air.

“You two have held up fairly well. Much better than expected. Maybe Thunder God hasn’t completely failed you both.”, Serpent Queen laughed.

“Why are you even doing this. We didn’t come here to hurt you, I swear it!”, I cried, hoping an inkling of her would show mercy.

Serpent Queen’s devilish expression faded to one of absence. She moved to the center of the room and began speaking.

“You didn’t come here to hurt us you say”, she mocked, “That sounds so strange coming from someone who came armed with weapons and spells for combat protection in effect. You expect me to believe the Northern Kingdom sent two of its strongest warriors to peacefully check out the Portal to the Lost Realm? The Northern Kingdom, known for conquering and monopolizing every resource in sight? Even if it means crushing kingdoms that desire peaceful co-existence?”, She paused with a grin on her face, exchanging glances with me and Marksman. “What you two have failed to recognize is that I know the Northern Kingdom better than you think. In fact, I know all of this because I used to live there!”

Marksman and I gasped at Serpent Queen’s revelation. She’s known the entire time.

“Yes! I grew up there as a little girl. I can actually credit the demon I have become to the Northern Kingdom! When I was a little girl your gracious pal Druid turned me into the serpent you see. I was a child, a citizen of the Northern Kingdom. None of this mattered in his eyes as I was associated with Immportep, someone the Northern Kingdom had targeted for disagreeing with their actions. Druid was not concerned with how he impacted my life from then on. If he was so capable of hurting a child back then, what hope is there for him treating us with kindness and respect?”, the dragon behind Serpent Queen punctuated her words with more tremorous screeching.

She went over to the dragon and began comforting it by leaning her head on his body, “Poor thing. He’s upset to see me this way.”, she continued petting the dragon tenderly, “This is Moltanica. He’s one of The Council members in the Lost Realm. I say member because he is not a disposable warrior or resource as you sort in the Northern Kingdom would say. He’s an equal. Moltanica protects all the Slimes and Oozes around here. And me of course.”, she grinned.

“Wh—”, Marksman attempted to interrogate but immediately had her mouth shut by a quick shot of magic from Serpent Queen’s index finger.

“But wait, there’s still more to share!”, Serpent Queen shouted with a grin, “I haven’t introduced to you the Hero who will single-handedly bring the Northern Kingdom to its knees single-handedly!”, she placed one arm behind her back and the other straight into the air, “Oh, Orksbane!”

A mammoth sized purple orc covered in brown leather straps and spiked armor consisting of shoulder and chest plates, and a horned helmet. He carried an axe in each hand. His arms swelled with muscle and his veins protruded to the surface of his skin. His immense shoulders were covered by skulls of former foes. His lower jaw had two inverted tusks jutting out. His eyes may have been the most frightening, as they gave his face a crazed expression. The orc stood in silence, his chest rising and falling with each breath.

“Meet your maker.”, Serpent Queen laughed slithering away.

“You’re as sick as those despots in the Southern Kingdom!”, Marksman yelled, trailing off, “Immortep would love you…”

Abruptly Serpent Queen stopped moving towards the hallway. Speaking slowly she said, “Say that name again.”

Marksman knew she had found the chink in Serpent Queen’s armor.

“Immortep. You and him. You’re the same.”, Marksman mumbled.

Serpent Queen’s eyes widened like a frightened creature. Momentarily she looked vulnerable, much like the night in her home. She stopped to reflect, then quickly snapped herself out of it.

“Orksbane, take care of them. Moltanica, come with me!”, she shouted before leaving the fortress.

Marksman and I braced ourselves, trying to retain calm and regulate our breathing as much as we could from our sore and cuffed wrists. Orksbane stood in front of us, staring intently, and measuring us up. He cautiously lifted his left arm, admiring and examining his axe.

“You two have secrets that I want to know. You can choose to tell me them now…”, he paused, giving us time to respond, “Or we can get to know eachother better first, if that helps.”

Marksman and I remained silent. We had taken our oath and refused to give up any information that might endanger anyone else. If our lives were the final price to pay then we had already accepted our fate.

Keeping his calm manner Orksbane continued, “I’m going to start with my left axe. I figure with this you will tell me most of what I want to know, maybe not.”, he raised his right axe, “By the time I get to this axe we will become such close friends you will answer every question I have with great detail.”, he looked up from his weapons and smirked at us, “Shall we begin?”

Immortep - Suffer Well

We as the rulers of the Southern Kingdom decided closing the portal would be the most sustainable choice. Pumpkin Duke, Vlad, Werewolf, and I were on our way to the blue portal Werewolf had spotted days ago to seal it shut. I had contemplated using the Crests spotted from the soldiers that had emerged from the portal to give us the edge we as a kingdom have needed for so long. The fight beforehand was too close for me consider endangering thousands of lives including families and young children. In my eyes it was not worth investigating if it meant one of our own would be threatened.

Upon arriving at the blue portal the light emanating from the spiraling center was magnetic. Each of us gazed on with a capitulant stare. The light grew more and more vibrant with each spiral’s pulse.

“It’s enticing. What could possibly be on the other side?”, Werewolf questioned aloud.

“Nothing we can adequately handle by ourselves without major risk.”, Vlad said looking around, making sure the perimeter was clear. Studying the portal, I knew I had never seen anything resembling such a sight.Pumpkin Duke promptly began analyzing and sizing the portal for any ideas on how to close it. The rest of us looked on or walked around, making sure no one was watching. Curiously I looked around the portal to see its immediate effects on the forest. The leaves underneath the portal were slowly decaying. The light coming off the rift was burning the plants and leaves, blocking the sunlight they needed to grow. The decomposing plants were the smallest repercussion. The more unstable this rift became, the graver the consequences.

Time passed and Vlad, Werewolf, and I began growing anxious. The sun was beginning to set and PD was still examining the portal in silence. PD often was silent, never out of inability to express himself, but rather to maintain reserve, distance, and calculation. I admired this quality in him, as often too many Heroes revealed their exact thoughts and next moves through their body language and mannerisms. PD was stoic, but wise.

Before PD said anything the portal began to flash violently. Surprised himself, he jumped back. The spirals increased in size and inconsistency. The four of us backed away, unsure of what to expect. A tremor pushed forth from underneath our feet, sending us flying onto the floor. From the ground we looked up to behold a large winged dragon shoot upwards into the sky like a projectile. Terror seized us from seeing such a massive creature unlike anything in our world.

“Immortep?”, a small voice spoke.

We collectively lifted ourselves from the ground. There I saw a familiar face joined to a strange snake body.

“Those ruby, red eyes…”, I said approaching the serpent creature, “Could it be?”

All my inhibitions disappeared. This beautiful, mystifying creature emerged, her silhouette traced from the portal’s blue light and framed by the dirt’s dust. My long lost friend. She slithered closer and stared at me, refraining from blinking and speaking. I placed my claws around her face, tilting it towards mine.

“Is it really you?”, I hadn’t seen her in ages. Her safety never left my mind since the day she was taken away. We had been apart for so long but to know she was okay was satisfying enough. Inside my body spoke for me, as if she was my missing piece. Oh, there you’ve been. I approached her slowly and wrapped my arms around her. Right now wasn’t a time for questioning. I was elated to know she was alive and well.

“Immortep…”, she gently whispered.

“Yes?”

I felt a deep puncture in my chest. I began to levitate in front of her. Attempting to move I quickly realized I was paralyzed at all limbs. Her face grew menacing. Werewolf and Vlad attempted to attack but were also deflected through paralysis. PD stared her down, trying to envision her first move. He shifted his right shoulder, trying to strike her with a sling of magic but was rapidly incapacitated by her paralyzing horror spell as well.

“Why are you doing this, little one? Have you forgotten your dear shadow altogether?”, I begged.

She met my groveling with silence.

“My name is not little one. It’s Serpent Queen. Have you fondly remembered a different version of our history, Immortep? You left me for dead that day, as I remember. You let Druid turn me into this beast before you!”, her steady talking transitioned into erratic screaming, “You abandoned me when I NEEDED YOU! And for that, both kingdoms will suffer!”, she threw her right arm backwards, and ignited the forest with uncontrollable flames. The dragon let out a loud piercing cry overhead followed by large breaths of fire and headed towards the Northern Kingdom’s towns.

Her paralysis spell was setting into the deep tissue of all my muscles. I realized pleading may be my only answer.

“Serpent Queen, I am not the enemy! That day I was taken away I didn’t want to endanger you anymore than I had. If I resisted, they were going to take you along with me. Believe you me, you did not want to go where I was going, nor endure the things I have. The moment I earned my freedom, I founded the Southern Kingdom. I hoped you would someday find your way to me... to our safe haven from those tyrants.”, I uttered slowly losing all ability to speak.

Serpent Queen grew increasingly tense, hunching over with her head down, clenching her fists at her sides and gritting her teeth. She looked up with tears streaming down her face.

“I don’t believe you! You never once looked for me after you were exiled! Do you know what it’s like to be so young alone and scared, without even basic understanding of what your identity or purpose was?”, she sobbed then retracted back into her state of rage, “You were supposed to protect me!”, she wiped her face and her expression changed instantly. “I’m off to meet Druid. Suffer well, old friends.”, She summoned a blue staff that spiraled rapidly, opening the portal wider and wider. A horde of shadow troops began marching out of the portal ready to attack.

“Toodles!”, Serpent Queen waved then disappeared. Werewolf, Vlad, and I began to turn limp as the soldiers came closer and closer. The soldiers were the same class that had attacked our base earlier. Just as my body could no longer struggle I heard a loud thud on the ground.

PD had placed an anti-horror spell on himself while staring down Serpent Queen that made him immune to her paralysis but imitated the effects to keep her fooled and himself safe. He released us from our paralysis with a counter spell and then started pushing back the portal soldiers with melee combat. As soon as Werewolf, Vlad, and I were released from our paralysis we joined in the combat against the portal soldiers. In the distance we could hear the echoes of the dragon’s cries. If Serpent Queen was adamant to show me no mercy I contemplated what havock she and the dragon would wreck on the Northern Kingdom.

Marksman - Purple Protector Orksbane continued to interrogate Dryad and I to no avail. He began by pummelling our stomachs and faces with his fists.I looked over at Dryad whose face was purple, her eyes were swollen shut. Blood and spit trickled from her mouth.

“Dryad, one more time…”, Orsksbane playfully swung his left axe, “What does the Northern Kingdom have its eyes set on in the Lost Realm?”

I was fading in and out of consciousness. Dizziness, setting in.

“Nothing? Okay.”, Orksbane readied the axe for strike, “Who discovered the portal? WHO OPENED IT?!”, Orksbane roared.

Dryad opened her mouth as if to answer. No, no, please, don’t.

“It was….me.”, she smirked with her last bit of energy.

Orksbane grew irritated, “Only a mage can open and close those portals. Last chance, WHO WAS IT?”, he yelled.

She looked like she was about to cave in. Her lips moved as if to speak but instead Dryad spit the blood from her mouth in Orksbane’s face. He responded by striking her with the blunt side of his axe and knocking her out.

Everything is so blurry…

I closed my eyes for a moment and opened them to Orksbane intense howling. My eyes widened to the sight of Assassin seated on Orksbane’s shoulders, struggling to slit his throat with her twin daggers. Orksbane pinched her off with his left hand and slammed her onto her back. I turned my head to Dryad in a panic but she was still unconscious. Assassin picked herself up and used her speed to slide between Orksbane’s legs, where she firmly stabbed one of her daggers into the back of his right knee. She kicked the same leg out, forcing him to fall to his already wounded knee. He groaned in agony at a decibel comparable to Moltanica’s screech. Between the fluttering of my drowsy eyelids they continued fighting until Orksbane got a hold of Assassin again and threw her body against a wall. Assasin’s body impacted through the brick wall and left her unconscious on the ground while Orksbane began treading towards us. His face looked gruesome as blood dripped from the Assassin induced slashes on his neck and hands. He picked up his axes and stepped closer.

He stopped in front of Dryad and cocked his right axe backward. Before swinging it forth a hand stiffly grabbed his arm. Orksbane looked alarmed. He turned around to find a furious Thunder God.Whatever I could feel left of my insides was elated to see our Hero here to liberate us, thought I was more ashamed of our failure. Thunder God swung his hammer into Orksbane’s stomache and their own combat ensued.

My wrists felt like they were shattering, bone by bone. Orksbane had tortured us to such misery I hoped I would die soon and finish this suffering here and now. The sweat dripping from my head down my face slid across every scrape and was hell to bare. The thuds from Thunder God and Orksbane’s fighting shook our chains, causing our swollen wrists to throb more. I wanted it to end desperately.

I closed my eyes and heard a metal clink. I fell to the ground and opened my eyes to see Assasin. Assassin had unsecured my cuffs and continued opening Dryad’s. I watched as she clung to the wall above Dryad and used the key she must have stealthily stolen from Orksbane to open the locks. This rescue prompted me to gather my remaining energy and carry Dryad’s limp body as she had done for me. Once Assassin released Dryad from her chains I caught her limp body. Assassin signaled me to follow her and we were off. We’d flee to the Northern Kingdom and recoup while Thunder God finished off Orksbane.

Exiting the fortress I looked behind me. I was in no shape to assist Thunder God, but I could protect Dryad. That was enough for now.

Druid - Carbon Trails

Things continued to stir from the tower as Succubus and I awaited Assassin’s return. Soon after we sent Assassin off, Thunder God left to command the Northern Kingdom troops to be on high alert and patrol the towns for any more of these fake warriors. The recent unrest had Succubus and I hyper-vigilant. We were confident in Thunder God’s leadership abilities but unsure of what the next impending wave of rift enemies would bring. I paced, contemplating what could possibly ensue after Assassin’s return. My mind, a place of mental and peaceful retreat was waning into a prison thinking of the direct consequences of each action and whose life I was potentially risking.

“Druid.”, Succubus’s voice cut my turbulent train of thoughts, “It’s alright. You don’t have to punish yourself. The Northern Kingdom does not rest entirely upon your shoulders alone.”, she said trying to reassure me. I had never seen Succubus somber. I could sense my mood was transforming her demeanor as well. Succubus’s friendship had granted me a powerful moment of relief. Her warm words dissolved the pressures of a leadership saturated in loss and regret. We exchanged smiles before hearing a roaring cry outside that shook the tower’s foundation and caused the surrounding wildlife to audibly scatter.

Succubus rushed to the window and looked back at me, “Wait here!” she shouted, before disappearing and reappearing outside to assess the commotion. Outside a colossal dragon stood behind a half-serpent, half-woman with a blue staff. I focused my energy and channeled it into listening intently to their conversation.

Succubus reappeared before the serpent and dragon, standing her ground firmly.

She aggressively spoke, “Don’t take another step, Stranger. Or slither further I should say. What’s your business at Druid Tower?”

The serpent appeared overly smug and pleased with herself. She looked up to the window I was looking out of and yelled, “COME OUT,DRUID. I’VE NO TIME FOR YOUR HIDING.”

Succubus looked at the serpent. “Let me put this plainly for you. He’s not home. Now what do you want?”, she said in a biting tone.

The serpent let out a chuckle, then smiled. She extended her right arm in front of her and made a push motion that shoved Succubus to the left, like a useless object off a table, by magical force. She then nodded her head, signaling to the large dragon. She took her left arm and pushed forth, then pulled back, causing the tower doors to violently open in one motion.

“Moltanica!”, she yelled.

The dragon stepped in front of the doors and inhaled a prolonged, deep breath before exhaling intense flames that blasted through the tower, instantaneously reaching every floor. Before I could respond and escape the inferno, the flames singed my garb and excruciatingly scorched my skin. Instinctively I teleported to the ground to relieve myself of the flames and reply to the serpent who so adamantly requested my presence.

When I reached the ground I quickly healed myself of my burns before turning my attention to the serpent.

“Ah, there you are. How wonderful of you to greet me after sending your dear assistant.”, the serpent mocked.

“Who are you?”, I calmly asked, trying not to further provoke the mage in a foul mood and accessorized with a dragon before me.

“This isn’t our first meeting, Druid. Though I am a bit hurt you don’t remember me. I want you to think very hard about this face.”

I sifted through every warrior’s name and face in my memory and couldn’t recall who this serpent was. Was she of the Northern Kingdom? Perhaps the Southern. I looked closely at her appearance… where was she from?

The serpent’s expression changed wildly of self-satisfaction to outrage. She spawned a staff, and lifted it upwards. A ring of blue magic appeared around Succubus’s throat and began to tighten.

“Any luck now?”, she growled

I focused harder under the pressure of saving Succubus. Those red eyes…!

“You’re the little girl…”, I recollected.

“That’s right, Druid!”, she confirmed as Succubus struggled for breath.

“You’re Immortep’s child!”, I shouted, “Now release her from your grip!”

“You fool! My name is Serpent Queen, and I am not Immortep’s child. He was my friend! I was the child you turned into a Serpent beast while trying to imprison him! But that didn’t matter much to the kind and noble ruler of the Northern Kingdom, did it? I was simply collateral damage!”, she continued shouting.

My mind raced with the grave reality of the atrocity I had committed.

“Do you have any remorse at all, Druid? You ruined my life and then come into my realm and try to divide and conquer my home as well? Have you not ruined enough lives?”, her screaming became more erratic and distressed as spit flowed from her mouth.

“Serpent Queen, please forgive me. I remember that day clearly now. I saw you and Immortep both wore the symbol of the serpent and concluded you were associated. It was not right and many actions this Kingdom has committed in the past have been erroneous. Please forgive me. I have been trying to correct these mistakes beginning with my own behavior. Please, release your magic!”, I pleaded.

She paused and looked at me. She waved her staff and the grip unlocked from Succubus’s throat, leaving her gasping for air on the ground.

“You sound repentant, Druid. Before I lived a life of mostly sadness, then shame trying to adapt to the miserable life you gave me. You say you are changing how you rule and yet invade my realm. You won’t change so I suppose I won’t be changing how unforgiving I am!” , She raised her staff and struck me and Succubus with shots of blue magic, that resembled the blue swirling from the cerulean rift.

Succubus and I exchanged quick glances before mentally deciding I would engage Serpent Queen in combat while she would take on Moltanica. Succubus leapt into the air and fought Moltanica aerially while Serpent Queen and I squared off in a battle of the mages. Despite being in our own world it appeared Serpent Queen and Moltanica were able to generously draw power from their own world due to the open portal. This was no even fight. Serpent Queen and Moltanica both carried crests on their bodies that enhanced their magic as well. From the start we were already overpowered.

Serpent Queen was able to pin me down with the force of her blue magic, crushing me effortlessly. Staring at her silhouette I could see Immortep, Vlad Dracula, Werewolf, and Pumpkin Duke in the distance heading towards us. I began losing hope for Succubus and myself. We might face our end without having been able to alert Thunder God or the Northern Kingdom troops to evacuate our citizens to safety or protective shelter. Werewolf sprinted on all fours rabidly towards me. I anticipated he would assist Serpent Queen by pouncing onto me as I was vulnerable and ready for the final blow. Just as he approached and leapt, opening his jaws for a vicious gnaw, he tore at Serpent Queen’s shoulder, sadistically taking her to the ground.

Vlad directed a wave of ruthless bats to aid in the feasting of Serpent Queen already underway. Slowly her crushing magic eased its pressure on me. Pumpkin Duke rushed to Succubus’s aid and distracted Moltanica while she used her Death’s Lash to bound Moltanica to the ground. We collectively continued weakening Serpent Queen and Moltanica. With Moltanica immobilized, as a last resort Serpent Queen let out a Toxic Mist that poisoned each of us, but we persevered. Each kingdom knew too much was at stake. And so we all unleashed our final blow, combining all our magic and force to stop Serpent Queen and Moltanica.

“STOP!”, shouted a shadowy figure from far away.

Our focus was cut off by a disturbed Immortep, rushing towards Serpent Queen.

“YOU’RE KILLING HER, ENOUGH!”, he bellowed.

I ceased my power immediately and commanded the other heroes stop as well. In the lifetimes I have known Immortep I had never seen him so full of sorrow and anxiety at once. My purpose was to protect. We looked on as he cradled her in his arms. What had I done…

Thunder God - Rogue Sentinel

The purple beast and I continued exchanging blows with each other in the fortress after Assassin had freed and escorted Marksman and Dryad. After Succubus had sent Assassin on her way I decided to put the troops on high alert and then follow Assassin here. Not being able to protect my own home with my own might irritated and undermined me. Druid was accustomed to others fighting for the safety he required but never bore the responsibility of being a defender and thus couldn’t understand. My duty to protect my kingdom from any outside danger brewed stronger in my heart than any need to sit on standby.

With every swipe of his axe I would evade by jumping or quick-stepping backwards. The orc eventually grew weary of my speed and grappled me again his chest, crushing my back by squeezing me tighter and tighter. I had to stop before he squeezed any hard. I took my hammer and berated his spine with successive pummels. Each pummel was more intense than the last, carrying my growing frustration. The orc groaned and dropped me after my hammer crushed through the skull armor protecting his shoulders. Upon falling to the floor I searched for his axes, hugging the ground with my body. Just as I retrieved one of the axes the purple orc charged at me, furious that I stole his precious weapon. As he stampeded towards me I flipped onto my back and erected the axe on my stomach, causing the orc to penetrate his chest with his own axe. The orc pulled away with the axe still inside him, roaring in agony.

I took the opportune moment to get up and collect my breath. This beast’s strength had me winded in a manner no opponent had before. I retrieved the orc’s other axe and rushed him, puncturing the other side of his chest. His deafening groans vibrated in the halls, causing the fortress to tremble. I took up my hammer, ready to pummel the submerged axes further into his chest cavity like two stakes when he stopped groaning entirely. The orc pulled out an axe with each hand and slowly began replenishing himself with healing powers. My mouth gaped open. I gave this beast all my fury and he was nearly perfect health.

He steadily walked towards me with no visible hesitation. I readied my weakened stance for whatever his next move was. The orc then grappled my arms, lifting me above him. His eyes burned blue with vexation.

“When will you learn?”, he mumbled before abruptly taking my torso and ramming my back across his bended knee. Everything came to a halt as I felt my back shatter before he dropped me to the ground. I could no longer move any limbs but my eyes. After disposing of me, I watched him pick up his axes and leave the fortress to hunt down the Northern Kingdom. The only thing worse than being defeated is watching it happen.

Orksbane - Blood Orc

Entering the other world I had no time to waste. I knew Serpent Queen was headed for Druid Tower after eradicating Immortep. I also had a sense of direction for her corporal presence. I rushed on foot to the tower where I saw many Heroes huddled around a wounded Serpent Queen and Moltanica. From where I stood she appeared lifeless and brutally injured. With each step I firmly planted into the ground I felt anger brewing inside me. My grip tightened around each axe’s handle.

The principle of cultivating something for your own is a volatile and yet precise science. The way a kingdom takes shape is impacted by every single action, and inaction. Timing, resources, and Might all have influence of course, but the most important thing is what you will stand to protect. This is what determines the lengths you are willing to go,the precautions to take, and what precious commodity you risk as collateral. The kingdom that amasses too much and chases the spoils just slightly out of reach risks losing everything. While kingdoms satisfied with too little stand to gain nothing at all.

When you have built something from nothing you will not allow any false Hero tear away at what they think they are entitled to. They sent their best who did their worst, then sent the obnoxious Hero to perform an encore of embarrassment. The Council would only stand for so much before we had to set a precedent, that we too, would not become another resource to be monopolized by the Northern Kingdom. If protecting my home from a future raid was pre-emptive then I would make sure it would be the last time.

If they had taken out Serpent Queen so easily I wondered what would come next. I pictured a pillaging of our Crests, a colonization of our oozes and slimes, and Moltanica and I becoming Northern Kingdom puppets. My blood boiled as I approached the crowd of Heroes examining Serpent Queen’s body. Using magic I generated a line of open portals to the left and right of my scope directed at the Heroes. I summoned a flood of warriors from every angle, all ragingly teeming towards the Heroes with their weapons at once. They came to came to clash and I came to bury them.

 
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