• Renata SC

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.