Chapter list: http://tanadin.dreamwidth.org/382.html
Map of the western continent: http://tanadin.deviantart.com/art/
Minecraftian Waters, Central Sea. April 9, year 788. Time instance 483Z.
Ujhin leaned back in his seat, watching the sea pass by and the stars twinkle high above the ship.
He was alone, for the most part, his friends either sleeping for occupying themselves elsewhere. As much as he enjoyed their company- how it bit back the constant loneliness gnawing at his soul- he relished the night, for while they slept he did not have to and it allowed him to think things over and sort out recent events.
And recent events really needed to be sorted out.
First off, the leviathan still propelling their ship from underneath. That was an odd concept, but one that he could live with. Giant monsters doing inexplicable things was probably not the weirdest thing he’d encountered.
Second, the existence of the eastern continent. As casual as he seemed about it, Ujhin was thrown off by the idea of more to the world than the continent he knew. That there could be more, far more, than they’d ever seen, making their experiences limited and inconsequential...it disturbed him.
What threw him off the most, however, was his true identity.
Samuel Soares. He pulled the spear off of his back and ran his fingers over the smooth bone surface, noting how familiar it felt in his grip despite not having it long. Hadn’t Phyren mentioned it belonging to Samuel? To him? He shuddered and put it back. He couldn’t fathom the idea of being someone. Someone who had saved the world, two hundred years ago.
He couldn’t imagine what kind of pain he had gone through when he lost his wife and daughter. He couldn’t imagine what fighting the Hostiles had been like. He couldn’t imagine any of it.
A quiet squeak dragged him back to reality and he turned, frowning at Nelvethia as she clambered across the deck of the ship towards him.
“Aren’t you supposed to be with Eclipse? Where is she?”
“Sleep,” Nelvethia informed him, sitting down to look at him. “Sleep, sleep.”
Sleep and ass had been her first two words, the second courtesy of Vengeance. Eclipse had thought that hilarious while Nessy frowned disapprovingly as the hatchling stumbled around squeaking “Ass! Ass!”
“You shouldn’t be out here by yourself.” Ujhin started to get up, but as Nelvethia tilted her head quizzically, a shock of what felt like lightning ran through his head and distorted his vision, darkening all but the center as he looked out someone else’s eyes, someone long ago at something unfamiliar.
A woman dressed in black armor turned to look at him, face marked with odd tan lines. She smiled slightly before the pain and blurriness subsided, leaving Ujhin to lean on the deck and shake while the valk’vanor watched him.
As soon as he was strong enough to look up at her, she blinked once, got up, and strolled back into the ship, leaving him alone with his thoughts.
Vechs counted the Hostiles carefully a final time before nodding and glancing over at Iirkolav. All of them, minus Oros, were here, gathered around and watching them with varying levels of interest and anxiety. They were twitchier than usual, claws tapping and wings shuffling and tails flicking. Eyes darted from one face to another as they fidgeted.
Xevdramon was sitting on Kor’vah’s lap, snuggled against her feathers but with his eyes shifting between Vechs and Iirkolav. His wings shook slightly and Kor’vah carefully rubbed his back with her taloned hand, trying to calm him. Kyilld leaned against Shara’s side, comforted by the presence of one of her four arms around her. Specterveil twitched anxiously, holding the last few feet of his tail in his hands and gently running his claws over it again and again.
A burning fear, a pulsing terror.
They’re terrified, Vechs realized with a hollow feeling in his chest. I’ve never seen them so scared. He exchanged a glance with Iirkolav before he spoke, pushing his goggle up onto his forehead.
“Hey, guys. I’ve heard you’re not doing so well lately. What’s going on?”
“Nightmares,” Altair said immediately, his tail flicking restlessly. “I haven’t slept since the Infinity Hourglass. I was having trouble before then, too, but…”
“We’re seeing things,” Arcbiter mumbled, lowering his gigantic head to get more level with them. “Things we don’t remember seeing. It’s like nothing I’ve ever known.”
“What have you seen, Arcbiter?” Iirkolav asked quietly, stepping over and putting a hand on the Hostile’s upper jaw.
“I’ve seen…” He took a deep breath. “I’ve seen destroyed landscapes, spread out before me. They’re seared and burned to nothing but ash, with smoldering embers left behind where there was once life and joy. Arcvain, Draemae, and Saltar’vesque are sometimes there, but their eyes are red, awful, awful red, and...and…”
“And we’re smug,” Arcvain whispered, bones creaking as he shifting uncomfortably to lean against Arcbiter. “We’re happy and we’re smug. We’ve...we’ve destroyed lives and we like it. We feel awful when we awake, but…”
The claws on Saltar’vesque’s feet dug into the ground, creating furrows in the dirt. “I like to destroy things, but not real things. Things you can fix. Not out of the Vortex.”
The Hostiles all mumbled in agreement. They weren’t particularly destructive, but sometimes their fun got a bit out of hand and the Davions had to act as a repair crew. It was the price they paid for looking after twenty-one monsters, but they wouldn’t change it for the world.
Vechs put a hand on Iirkolav’s shoulder and lowered his voice. “Should we tell them?”
“It might scare them more.”
“It would help them understand what’s happening, and what they’re seeing. They’re not like that anymore.”
Iirkolav lowered his eyes and slowly nodded, sitting down and pulling Vechs down to join him. “Do you guys remember how we told you that you had been made long before you were activated and brought to life here, in this sector?” They nodded assent. “That was true, but it wasn’t the whole story.” He glanced at Vechs to continue.
“Before this, you were active and down on Minecraftia. But you weren’t meant to be.” Slowly, alternating every now and then, Vechs and Iirkolav told them the whole story of the Hostiles, starting with the creation of the orb that would eventually become Arcvain and ending after the defeat of Specterveil and the end of the corruption.
A tale of blood and strife.
“After that, you were free,” Vechs finished. “It was safe to bring you back and we did, and that’s the life you’ve known.”
The Hostiles watched them with looks of varying levels of horror, shock, and anxiety. Zyr looked thoughtful, however, and was the first to speak.
“I...remember, some of this.” His mandibles clicked and his claws tapped. “I remember stabbing Etho and Blame. And I remember being...sorry.” He looked down at the ground. “But I do not remember much else. I remember Aureylian, but that’s it.”
“I remember being killed by Specterveil when I betrayed him,” Kor’vah said quietly. “I’ve always had a hazy memory of the world going black and there being only Vechs, but I thought it was a dream. Perhaps not.”
“I remember tearing someone’s heart out,” Altair almost whispered. “A boy with teal hair.”
“Carl,” Iirkolav mumbled. “Damned fool didn’t listen to me…”
“You had no control of yourself.” Iirkolav got to his feet and spoke louder, startling the Hostiles. “None of you were in control of yourselves. You were so wrapped up in the corruption that you weren’t you. It’s not like that now, and it won’t ever be like that again. What you remember are the actions of someone else. You don’t need to worry about that, okay? That’s not who you are.”
Es’vek looked at him hopefully. “You promise?”
“We promise.” Vechs got to his feet as well. “You’re the Hostiles. Our Hostiles. Not the corruption’s.”
That seemed to be enough to cheer them up and dispel the worst of the terror, but now they had a new fear burning within, and Vechs feared that it was one he couldn’t quell.
Endira ran her hand over the hilt of her sword slowly, thoughtfully, as she considered drawing it. At night, especially, the blade’s dark surface was intriguing and drew her to gaze into it, but she shook her head and pulled her hand away. Gazing into such an object was dangerous, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to risk it.
After all, the sword was made by someone who had no business making magical weapons.
The blade of Kaareth Opron was an artifact of times long past, forged in blood but redeemed in darkness and shadow. It was an odd way to look at it, but it had been in her family for two hundred years, every since Onai Daraloh had obtained it from a shadow elementalist during the quest to defeat the Hostiles. She could see the changing of hands clearly when she looked deep into the blade’s surface, but tonight, she didn’t dare.
Instead, she had a specific goal in mind, one that finally convinced her to stand up and leave the room she shared with Eclipse and Nelvethia. She carefully shut the door behind her and navigated to Vengeance’s room, the one he technically shared with Ujhin but usually holed up in alone as Ujhin preferred to watch the stars at night.
She knocked and wasn’t at all surprised when Vengeance answered, his hair a mess and his eyes dull with exhaustion. Despite that, he couldn’t sleep, troubled as he was by the thoughts in his head. The exact nature of these, Endira didn’t know, but she had a few good guesses.
“I hate to bother you and I hold no illusions about you liking me, but it’s important that we talk.”
“Is now really the best time? I’m trying to sleep.”
“And what a fantastic job you’re doing. May I come in?”
Vengeance slowly nodded and backed out of the doorway, slowly sitting down on his bed and watching as she sat on Ujhin’s. “What’s this about, Daraloh?”
“The Heart of Pain.” She motioned vaguely at the gem that hung around his neck. “It gets stronger the more you hurt.”
He frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Whenever you are in physical or emotional pain, it glows brighter. Did you not notice how brightly it was glowing when you were telling us about Samuel? Did you not feel the power radiating off of it? It’s called the Heart of Pain for a reason.”
“Really? I never would have guessed,” Vengeance groaned. “I thought it was called the Heart of Pain because it hurts like a bitch when you jump into it.”
“Yeah, yeah, stupid plan, but we really didn’t have any other choice.” Vengeance stretched. “Was that all you wanted to talk to me about?”
Endira ran her fingers over the blanket she was sitting on several times before speaking again. “What we do will determine the fate of this world.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m kinda used to it by now. Hello, two hundred and twenty year old man here. Previously in a prophecy. Used to this kind of bullshit.”
“Things will never be the same.” Endira’s rusty eyes locked on Vengeance’s, making him freeze at their depth. “When you took down the Hostiles, things returned to the way they were before they ever came, for the most part. Some things got better- the wilds flourished, the natural disasters became more predictable, and no traces of corruption were left. But this?
“This will change everything. What we do will either bathe the world in eternal corruption or complete the cycle of the Dragon Unknown once more.”
Vengeance shivered, tearing his eyes away from hers. “I hate this destiny bullshit. I don’t want to determine the fate of worlds. All I wanted was to live a decent span of years, have a good time, and look fantastic. And dammit, I’ve only gotten numbers one and three lately. Two’s a bit off and on.”
“You may want to reconsider three.”
“I’m gonna punch you.”
Endira rolled her eyes and got to her feet. “I’ll leave you be, now. You should get some sleep. We will arrive at the eastern continent in a few days, according to Malkyr.”
“What, you can’t ask the shadows when we’ll get there?”
“Are you kidding me? They only tell me what they feel like saying. Right now they’re chattering on and on about some idiot on the lower deck cheating at a game of cards and failing miserably.”
Vengeance snorted. “Ameteur.”
Endira nodded once before leaving the room, carefully shutting the door behind her and making her way out onto the main deck.
She needed to look at the night, and perhaps the stars could comfort her growing anxieties where the shadows could not.
Vechs was heading towards his room to get some sleep when someone slammed into him. He swore and barely caught himself, turning to berate them for their clumsiness, but paused when he saw that it was the odd Davion, Xero.
Xero quickly recovered his balance and started speaking quickly, ignoring an oozing wound on his side. “Nozvalu sent me to tell you that the battle is going badly. Without Norazdomu, we’re starting to be pushed back, and it’s only the voidclaws keeping our heads above water. Alvaria is missing and we think Jeb might have imprisoned her somewhere.”
Vechs flinched but Xero wasn’t done. “We’ve lost a lot out there and Nozvalu doesn’t think we have any chance of winning. Even Mezeron has been called in to help, but he can’t combat the elven for much longer.” Xero’s wings drooped. “And I’m so tired. We’re all so exhausted but we can’t stop fighting, we can’t…”
“We need to get you to the medical wing.”
“No! No, I can’t...I have to get back-”
“Get some potions from my mother, at least!” Vechs grabbed Xero’s shoulders and shook him gently. “Charging back out there isn’t going to help them any. If you can bring them potions, you might buy them some more time. We just need to stall until Vengeance and the others get their asses over to the eastern continent and do whatever they need to do.”
Xero nodded slowly, swaying when Vechs let him go. “I-if you say so.” Vechs pointed him towards Skera and, as Xero turned, hit him hard on the back of the head, knocking him out. Vechs quickly caught him and shifted into his monstrous form to carry him back to the medical wing.
A saving jolt.
“Sorry, but I’m not letting you go back out there like this,” he mumbled, glancing down at Xero’s face before walking through the hallway to where Doc could help him.
He may have been a monster, but he wasn’t an evil monster.