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Good evening, fellow traversers of the firey wastes!
If you like this book, why not leave a comment? There is only so much shameless bumping I can do!
It appears this book is too long! Chapter 10 and onwards are located on post #4!
I am bringing to you a current project, telling the stories of several adventurers of the burning lands called The Nether. This story is set many years in the past, detailing an Explorer named Vladimir as he learns about the land that is closer than he ever dreamed possible.
This book (for it will be long once I am finished it) featues Scokeev9's mod named NetherCraft, a mod that makes the Nether survivable, but that doesn't make it easy. Feel free to download it here!
Also, if you feel like you want to contribute, you can either send in your ideas (PMs are preferable, but if you want to you can post on the boars below) OR you can even design a banner for this story!
Several things that should be noted if you want to provide content:
1. It needs to be organized. If I cannot understand it, neither can the readers when I try to write it: Garbage In = Garbage out.
2. I reserve all rights to change your idea to how I see fit if you give it to me.
3. Please don't complain if I do not add your story segment, since I cannot add EVERYTHING.
4. For the banner, I will give credit if a signature is not given, but please feel free to sign.
Also, this is a project that I will update every week. If I feel extra creative, I will post more than once per week.
Let me know what you think! Feedback is appreciated!
Without further to do, I present the first section of The Book of the Nether!
The Book of the Nether: Vol. 1
"Vlady! Vlady, wake up!"
It was a bright sunny day in the Taiga region of the world, where nothing could be heard except the excited chirpings of a small girl, aged twelve. As Vladimir began to stir to his sister's beckoning, he took input about his surroundings: he was in a wooden building with metal rimmed windows, stained oak door facing northward. A small chest was lying at the foot of his scarlet bed, and many paintings of his family hung on the wall behind it: his mother, Rachael, was standing behind a kneeling man with a long, black beard and a ring of branches perched precariously on his greying hair. Next to that was an image of a small girl, with bright red hair, stunning blue eyes, and even though the painting couldn't capture it, a very high-pitched voice.
"Quiet, Sam," he finally said to his sister. "You could rival a creeper with a voice that high." He swung his legs around and, as was his morning ritual, sprang from the mattress and smacked the ceiling with the palm of his hand. Vladimir was 6 feet tall, had the same black hair as his father, and a physique that made it possible for him to tackle several spiders at once without any problem. "What do you need, sis?"
"Chief daddy would like to see you!" she said at high speed, talking as if she wouldn"t have enough breath to say it. "He is sending some Explorers to gather some more ..." she screwed up her face in concentration, "matty-re-alls."
"All right," Vladimir sighed resignedly. Exploratory duty was one of the most boring jobs. "Tell 'Chief daddy' that I will be coming shortly-" Before he even finished the sentence, his sister careened out of the still open door heading towards the only building made of cobblestone in the village. He sighed, straightened his tunic, and proceeded to get dressed into his Explorer's gear. Once done, he started to head out himself towards the Chief's building.
When a Tribal turns 16 in the village, they take a test of endurance, intelligence, strength, and many other things. Depending on how they do on each of these tests, they are assigned a variety of jobs: Warrior, Archer, Craftsman, Farmer, Medic, and Explorer. The strongest of each group are assigned the title 'Vanguard,' leading the rest of the group and teaching their expertise. Since these positions are filled for life, it is definitely considered hard to get a promotion. As Vladimir walked into the Chief's shelter and noticed Vanguard of the Watchful Eye, the leader of the Explorers, he knew that this was going to be serious business.
Vladimir took his sword in his right hand and crossed the hilt over his heart, the customary solute. "I am sorry it took me so long Vanguard of the-."
The Vanguard raised his hand towards Vladimir, asking him to stop, and said in a slow voice, "No need for such formalities with me. Just call me Cross.'' The Vanguard slowly walked to the table where the Chief (Vladimir's dad) sat, and pointed to the map laid out across the table, starting to talk as if he was picking up from a conversation he started before I entered the room.
"It looks like that our resources are beginning to thin. As you know, if we do not get enough stone to complete our wall, we will be unable to stop the creepers that are still coming at us during the night. The stone," he continued, pointing to an area on the map south of the village, "is not the problem, since this quarry should last us until midsummer. The problem lies in the fact that we do not have enough resources to build our collective tools to mine the rock." He looked squarely into Vladimir's eyes. "Our iron supply is almost out. The only way to get more iron is to find a natural cave, but of course, we will need all of our top Explorers; any idea where we could find any?"
Vladimir smiled serenely. At 24, he was the youngest ever Explorer to reach the rank 'Traverser,' just a rank lower than Vanguard. "I don't know. Have you seen my sister? She would be quite a good Explorer."
"If it wasn't for the fact that we need those that can be agile and quiet, I would agree with you. Anyways," he continued, pointing at an area that was a little east of our village, "The Explorers have already noted that there was a huge cave system right here. So huge that it may actually hit bedrock. That is why I am tasking you and your team to investigate. There will be monsters, so you will need to bring a Craftsman and a Warrior with you. Any objections?"
"No, sir," He saluted again. All the while the chief sat quietly at the table.
"I think that it would be best for you and your team to depart tomorrow, after sunrise so you will have a lot more time in the day. Therefore," he said, finishing the meeting with an airy wave, "gather your team and have a good night's rest."
Chapter 1: The Team
'Running out of iron, huh?'
As Vladimir was walking away from the Chief's lodgings, he continued to think of the mission that was set forth before him. Passing many of the new Tribal recruits, though, he couldn't help but ponder how far he had come from in the past few years.
After you finish the many tests at age 16, you are considered a new 'Recruit' in the life of the Tribals. From then onwards, by proving your worth in the area you were assigned, your rank increased to Trainee, Sylvian, Credo, Sudo, Capillarean, Zuma, and finally Vanguard. This rank is always used in front of your position, so there always seemed to be somewhat of a rivalry between the jobs. Of course, between Zuma and Vanguard, there are names that are used solely depending on your job: Traverser was the title for an Explorer, Marksman for an Archer, Slasher was the warrior, Healer was the Medic, Swayer was the name for a Farmer, and Master was used for Craftsmen.
Vladimir was a very capable person, demonstrating time and time again the many virtues of an Explorer: agility, stealth, cunning, and discipline. Even so, he is not vain, becoming more and more surprised as he flew towards Traverser. ''Why does it always work out this way?'' he asked out loud.
''It is because, my good fellow,'' a voice from above him answered, ''people are looking out for you.'' A black haired man leaped from the tree that he was perched in front of Vladimir. At only 5 foot eight, he wasn't the tallest of the Tribals, but as Vladimir looked at his long-time friend Chris he felt that he wouldn't need any extra height.
''How is the new 'Treaverser Extraordinaire'?" Chris asked in a singsong voice. "To think you would be a bit happier about your promotion. But, oh, I see," Chris exclaimed in mock-understanding, "It is not something that a lowly Credo Craftsman like me can understand!"
"You give yourself little credit, since you could out-stealth half of the Zuma Explorers. You gave me a heart attack, jumping out of that tree like that!"
Chris gave Vladimir a slanted grin, showing a few missing teeth. "Tricks of the trade, my friend, for we have to be able to see what is useful, and what is not. It also helps I was running out of sticks and needed more."
Ever since they were 5, Chris and Vladimir have been the closest of friends. With the twin gifts of cleverness and speed, Chris was easily snapped up to be a very proficient Craftsman, even though he could have easily been an Explorer. "So what is this I hear about a deficiency of an all-important resource?" Chris asked slyly. "I was wondering when they were going to notice the lack of common sense."
"Aren't we allowed any secret meetings?" Vladimir retorted. "Gathering sticks, my foot! If I didn't know any better, I would say you were half-creeper."
"If so," Chris's smile did not even falter, "my distant parents wouldn't like me much for setting fire to my relatives. Then again, I never play nicely. But seriously," his smile finally fading, "we are lacking iron. That doesn't happen often, considering our quarry to the south. So, what is the plan, Vlad?"
Vladimir pondered his position. He needed a Craftsman, and Chris wasn't bad at all. "You can come with my group to the cave that they found. We will also need a Warrior; know any that would be willing?"
"Well, I know one, but that doesn't exactly mean that she would be willing. Remember dear old Rebecca?"
As Vladimir and Chris came towards the tavern that was set into the hillside, a lone Sudo Warrior approached them and saluted towards Vladimir. "You may not want to go in there right now, sir," the guard confided in the Explorer, "Flint decided to have a sparring match with the Zuma Warrior Rebecca. May he rest in peace," he added, shaking his head.
"Well, that is good," Vladimir replied, surprising the guard, "since he hardly gets any fun nowadays." Vladimir passed the guard with Chris by his side and swung open the door to the tavern. Apart from the cheering of the crowd around the walls, the only sound in the area was that of the clash of metal on stone, as a man and a woman were fighting with complete disregard to the surrounding bystanders. The man, named Flint, had shortly cropped raven black hair and a scar over his left eye, showing just how close a skeleton almost killed him. Rebecca, the female, who had long brown hair, was brandishing an iron sword against Flint's stone dagger. As Vladimir closed the door behind Chris, Flint did a feint to the right and ducked past Rebecca's swinging sword, and swept her legs right from under her. Jumping up and out of reach, the Sudo Explorer turned around towards the crowd, clapped his hands and said, "Ole!" While his back was turned, though, Rebecca thrust her blade purposefully to the right of Flint's head, slashing some of his hair, which fluttered peacefully to the floor.
"That will do, you two," Vladimir said as he stepped forward in the silence between the two fighters. Flint side-stepped Rebecca and replaced his blade in his sleeve, while Rebecca sheathed her sword and stood silently to the side. "You two seem to be having fun. If I didn't know any better I would call that dancing. What was that about, anyways?"
"Something about how rock should beat paper," Flint volunteered cheerily. "She kind of got offended when I said something about how 'rock would beat your ass any day.' I forgot the finer details as I was getting MY ass whipped."
Vladimir and Chris laughed openly. "Well," Vladimir said, getting to business. "Now that you two are acquainted, I was wondering if you could help us on a mission, Rebecca. For you, Flint, it is more of an order."
"Yes, sir, squad leader, sir!" Flint saluted, obviously enjoying making fun of his younger superior. At 32, Flint hardly had any fun nowadays. Rebecca, though, wasn't quite so readily cheery.
"What does this involve?" She said, looking a little disappointed at the company she would be spending the next while with. "Caves, dungeons, kamikaze creepers cruelly cleaning our clocks?"
"Straight to the point, I see. Yes, it involves a cave, to the east. It probably involves a dungeon or two. And ALL creepers are kamikazes. We need to find and gather more iron from a cave to the east," Vladimir continued, lowering his voice so the crowd around them wouldn't overhear. "Of course, we will need protection, that is why we need a warrior of such high calibre as yourself."
Rebecca narrowed her eyes slightly. "Why ask me? Why not ask one of the more experienced Slashers?"
"I am guessing," Chris intervened, looking at Vladimir, "that it is because it is both boring, and that you owe me a favour. And I was planning to use that for something more rewarding!" Everyone present knew of the time when Rebecca was wandering one of the deeper caves. As a creeper was creeping up on her, Chris (who was stalking her, though she didn't know that) set fire the beast, sending it flailing around and jumping in an underground pond ... which blew up.
Rebecca let out a steady stream of air, trying to calm herself. "Alright. Sold."
"Good. Now, Flint," Vladimir turned to the Explorer. "Where would your brother be this time of day?"
Flint actually rolled his eyes. "Where else?"
Steel was enjoying his quiet time surrounded by the rose bed beside his house. It was one of the only places that he could actually sit down and relax. Steel, who was Flint's brother, was quiet natured, had snow white hair, and a gash on his right cheek that he never talked about. As he stretched his limbs, ready for his afternoon snooze, he noticed four people walking towards him. "And one is Traverser Vladimir."
"So," Steel called out in his slow, calming voice, "what do I owe the pleasure of you coming to my humble abode?"
"Well, seeing as you are already sleeping with the roses," his brother called back, "we thought you wouldn't mind helping us with a little assignment. Village security, end of the world; you know, the usual."
"Usual, my left cheek," Steel snorted, slowly getting up. "I'd swear if we were anymore active, we would be taking the express ride straight to hell."
"Who knows where the road may take us," Chris quipped cheerily.
"Right over to the cave to the east, I would say." Vladimir took out his sword and looked at it passionately. "As you may or may not know, depending on your sneakiness factor," Again, he looked at Chris pointedly, who blushed slightly, "We need to find more iron to create more tools. Since we are using a stronger type of rock than the ol' cobblestone, the tools cannot be made of stone. Hopefully, we can find enough to build our wall by midsummer. In the mean time," Vladimir brandished his blade at this point and hit a fly that was buzzing by his leg, "we are to find as much of the stuff as we possibly can."
Steel thought for a moment, weighing the possibilities. "Seeing as I don't exactly like the idea of a creeper blowing a new door in the side of my house ... Who is coming so far?" He looked at Rebecca, iron sword strapped to her side. Then to Chris, whistling near the edge of the rose bed. Flint, stone blade tucked suruptisiously in his sleeve. Then, finally, to Vladimir, long, glistening sword held limply in his right hand, and a look of calm urgency on his face. "Well, we will need one more than this group, since we need five capable fighters."
"Why are you looking at me, Steel?" Chris asked sulkily. "A Flint and Steel is good enough fighting force for me! And I don't mean the tool."
"Nevertheless, we might as well bring at least a new Recruit with us, showing exactly how ... difficult our job is."
"That's exactly what we need on an important mission," Flint said sarcastically, "a kid fresh from his test. Wasn't that yesterday, Vlad?"
"Yup. It would be a good opportunity to get one of them past their first day of duty, and add another to our small squad. Let us find a newbie, then!"
Chapter 2: Vex
"What a day, what a day!" Vex had just left from the testing centre, where he received the results from his examination. At five-foot-six, he was certainly the shortest of the newest Recruits, but you did not exactly need to be tall to string a bow. As an newly crissoned archer, Vex had received a specially crafted bow from one of the Master Craftsmen, and with some extra pocket money he already purchased a stack or arrows, proceeding to practice straight away. "And why, may I ask, do they only sell the arrows in bunches of sixty-four?" he asked, to nobody in particular, sighting one of the bales of straw he was using for practice. "None whatsoever."
With a quick 'thwack,' he let loose the arrow, hitting the target squarely on the brightly painted circle. Today was going to be a good day. Or not.
Notching his next arrow, Vex felt an odd gust from underneath him. Slowly lowering his bow, he knelt down to the ground and felt the grass on which he stood. 'If I didn't know any better, I would say that something has ... awoken.' A small thought that even surprised him. Vex was interrupted from his thoughts by an armoured man leaning against the side of his house, iron sword strapped to his back reflecting the afternoon sunlight.
"Good evening, young Vex," the man greeted, straightening himself from the house and brushing some dust off of his shoulder. "You seem to be just as talented as Jack said. My name is Vladimir, a Traverser."
Vex gave the Explorer a long, searching look, trying to find out why he was here without actually asking him. Vladimir was a little shocked at the boy's appraisal, and skipped to the chase.
"Listen," Vladimir intoned cautiously, not wanting Vex to leave. "The Vanguard of the Speeding Arrow told me that you were one of the most talented new Recruits that he has ever seen, and our group needs another adventurer. The details," Vladimir held out a parchment envelope, which Vex took reluctantly, "are enclosed inside. Your Vanguard already gave the o.k. for such a mission. If you want to participate, come to the giant oak tree to the east of the village."
Vex gave a curt grin in response, and taking courage in this, Vladimir flourished his right hand in a royal wave.
As the Explorer was walking away, Vex notched another arrow, and shot it at the place the man was leaning not a minute earlier. Since his childhood, Vex has been very susceptible to the emotions of others; he could tell right away that the Explorer was nervous, not knowing what exactly to say. It was also a gift that got him into trouble at the school building, because he would know if the person teaching wasn't entirely honest. Such scepticism is not endearing to the higher ups.
After shooting his last arrow at the target, completing a formation of a circle on the bale of hay, he straightened up and finally opened the envelope. Reading through, he could see the unwritten information that was spelled out to him as if there was another page behind the one he was holding; the village was in danger, they needed him to help, cave to the east; all of that was there. What he read from what wasn't written was that there would be huge dangers, and that it could possibly take longer than the day that Vladimir promised at the bottom of the page.
Deciding that he would need more time to think about this, Vex gathered his arrows, put away his bow, and slunk away into his house.
Chapter 3: Something Wicked...
Darkness enveloped the mossy walls of the crypt. Severed for centuries from the land above, this system of tunnels has laid dormant, waiting for a traveller to open the gate to the surface world. One of the rooms in this vast labyrinth was made purely of cobblestone, with a huge ceiling lined with moss as if the green plant was holding the loose stones together. In the very centre of this room laid a small cage, just big enough for a small dog to fit inside it. Made of a polished brass and golden couplings, the cage gushed out an evil aura, telling anything that would pass by 'Run, for I shall get you.' Past this room was a door five metres high, made of cast steel with bronze overlays, and a handle at the dead centre of the door made from a deep purple amethyst.
Suddenly, a gruesome gust came from the bottom of the door, signalling the awakening something dreadful. At once, the cage was enveloped in fire, and a thick black smoke came spewing from every gap in the links. From the bowls of the cage sprang a creature that had never been seen before, growing to a full six feet in height in the blink of an eye. Skin of the colour of algae and hair that looked dishevelled, the entity started to shamble through the gaps in the rocks.
And with arms out stretched it released from its rotting mouth a moan ... that could wake the dead.
Chapter 4: Departure
"Oh, son of a..." Vladimir was cleaning his iron dagger inside of his house when it slipped and hit the broad side of his thumb. Holding his bleeding digit above the table, he examined the bloody gash that spanned his thumb. "Whoever decided that the Explorers should use these pieces of junk is an idiot." Because of his hatred towards daggers, Vladimir taught himself how to use both a sword and a bow. "And at no point have I regretted it."
Vladimir was getting all of his stuff ready to depart the next morning. The only reason he was bothering to clean his dagger was that he would need every weapon that he could use with him, just in case of dire circumstances. 'Now there is only one thing left ...'
He got up from his desk with his now gleeming iron weapons and walked to the chest at the foot of his bed. Lifting up the lid he deposited the tools in the chest and took his cloak out, laying it on his bed. He was just getting ready for bed when he heard a knock on his door, and a crimson blur came towards him out of the doorway.
"Whoa, Sam," Vladimir rose his hands out, bracing for impact. As his sister crashed into him, Vladimir fell into his bed and cradled her; her face was streaked with tears. "Whats wrong, sweetie?"
Wiping her face on Vladimir's tunic, Sam raised her head to look in his eyes. "I don't want you to leave tomorrow!" his sister wailed into his shoulder. "Why do you have to leave?"
Vladimir patted her head lovingly, trying to stop her crying; he hardly ever saw Sam this emotional. "I have to, to protect the village. I hope you understand."
Sam sniffed, tears still rolling down her cheek. "Promise to come back, 'kay?"
"I will, with all my might." The two siblings stayed like that for a while, just sitting and enjoying eachother's company for the last time in a while. As the moon started to crest over the northern mountains Vladimir lifted Sam off of his bed and stood her gently on her feet.
"Better get back to daddy, before the lights go out."
Sam openned the door and was about to exit before turning bacj to her brother with a questioning glance. "Why don't you come to the house anymore?"
Vladimir's gut wrenched with a pain that didn't heal. Refixing his smile, he said simply, "Dad does not like me much, anymore. Better get to bed." He kissed Sam on the forehead, and waved jauntily. "Sleep tight! Don't let the creepers bite!"
With a cheery smile finally back on her face, Sam scampered towards the house made of cobblestone, holding the family that he felt so exciled from. It didn't matter how well he did, or how many promotions he got, for it never seemed to be enough for the man who lived in the house that her sister was running so readily to.
With that last bitter thought swimming in his head, Vladimir climbed into bed and, fitfully, fell to sleep.
"Where the heck is he?" Chris was leaning against the eastern wall of the village, looking towards the gate. Sitting next to him was Rebecca, with her iron sword strapped as ever to her hip and iron chain-mail gleeming in the mid-morning sun; Flint was hanging from a tree upside-down trying to collect more sticks for supplies; and Steel was bussying himself by stareing at a rose as if he would never see wildlife again. "Why is it," Chris continued, looking towards Rebecca, "that Vladimir is always late? Why can he never show up at 10 for a 10 o'clock meeting?"
Rebecca blew a strand of hair out of her eye and looked around casually. "I don't see why you are so uptight. Explorers are always so strict about time. He will get here when he gets here."
"Personally," Flint chimed in, leaping from the oak tree and landing at their feet, "I think Warriors are TOO relaxed time-wise. I also find the longer we stay alive, the better!"
Chris scoffed at the thought. "Honestly, it won't be that dangerous. It is just a cave, and all. I don't see why we would even be gone that long; I would say a max of three days."
"Which reminds me," Steel stopped examining the flower and looked up. "What is with people and the number 'three?' Can't it be two days, or four? It always has to be-" Steel stopped talking and looked over towards the gate, where Vladimir was finally emerging.
As Vladimir came towards them, Chris snapped back to care-free mode. "Hey, oh fearless leader! Ready to get crackin'?"
"O.k., I get it, I am late again." Vladimir raisedhis hands in mock surrender. Looking around he counted the people around him, and came to a realization. "I guess Vex isn't showing up?"
"Not that I know of," Flint said, picking a spot in his sleeves. "I swear, if this dagger was any smaller, I would discard of it immediately and use my hands instead."
"That's what she said," Chris snapped his head up, thankful for the opportunity. A ring of laughter rippled through the group, bonding them a little closer together. Vladimir smiled approvingly, and looked once more towards the gate.
"Ah, well. I guess he isn't coming. Let us go, then!"
Packing up their things, the group started to head towards the east when a call came from behind them, asking them to wait. Sprinting from the gate, with his hooded green tunic rippling in the springtime breeze, came Vex. Stopping dead infront of the groupand unstrapping his stone bow from his back, Vex took a deep breath and looked straight into Vladimir's eyes. "I want in," Vex said in a quiet voice.
Vladimir looked at Vex, and then the rest of the group. Turning back to the young Archer, Vladimir said, "Welcome to the group," and left it at that.
While the adventurers started to head towards the unknown to the east, Rebecca muttered to Flint quietly, "And you say Warriors are always late."
Chapter 5: Trouble, with a Sprinkle of Red Dust
"Are we there yet? Ouch! You didn't need to hit me that hard!"
So far, the group had been walking for an hour, heading through the forests that laid east of the village. Flint, who was rubbing his right arm, glared at Steel, who had an expression fixed on his face that clearly said 'Who, me?' Rebecca was leading the procession, swinging her sword at thick, green branches that were impeeding their progress. Behind her, casually whistling a series of bird calls, was Chris, with his hands stuffed deeply in the pockets of his loose Chratsman's fatigues. Flint, still looking reproachfully at Steel, was trailing behind his brother, who was navigating a small flower patch that sprung up around their route. Vladimir was naunchalantly toying with the fastenner of his belt, undoing it and redoing it for the hundredth time. Lastly, Vex was quietly counting his steps, doing an odd little hop each time he reached ten.
"But, seriously," Flint finally looked away from his brother and stared fixedly at Vladimir, undoing his belt again. "When are we going to reach the cave?"
"Flint?" Chris looked at him, voice strained, but Flint was talking faster.
"It feels like we have been walking for hours, and you said that it would be a short jog away, Vlad!"
"It isn't like I am going to just find it without your directions, walking into it as if it was a giant pit, now am-" Flint was cut off midsentance when he proceeded to fall in the cave ... As if it was a giant pit. A series of small thuds issued from the mouth of the ten metre gash that yawned from the ground as Flint came to rest at the foot of a ladder.
"Well, now that we found it," Chris walked up to the entrance of the cave, kicking a sign asside that read 'Watch out for that first step!' "shall we go down the twenty foot ladder, or follow our good friend, the ragdoll's path?"
After voting for the former course of action, the rest climbed down the ladder a little more ceremoniously than Flint and found themself in a roughly hewn entranceway; bright red torches lined the walls of the chamber they were in, pieces of coal burning steadily in their brackets; furnaces were set into the stone with their bellies burning the last embers of fuel still in them; crafting tables lined the walls, suggesting that atleast five men were stationed here, working to process the materials into more tools for exploration; and a roughly hewn door, two metres high and fashioned haphazardly from many logs, was set into the rock as if it was a second thought. And, ofcourse, Flint was still rolling on the cobblestone floor, wincing and grabbing his leg.
Examining the furnaces, Chris called out, "Well, it appears that there is, in fact, iron in these caves." Chris held up a few iron ingots in his hands, showing ten gleaming bars. "This stuff is of a really high quality. What bothers me," he continued, studying the crafting tables on the other side of the room acutely, "is that there is still alot of materials on these benches. Whoever was here before us must have left in a hurry, maybe only grabing a few tools."
Flint finally stopped rolling on the floor in fake agony and got up, brushing his tunic and eyes raking the room. His face grew chalky, and with a quavering voice he said to the others, "Guys, look at this." Flint was pointing at a hole in the wall that clearly was patched with dirt many times. The dirt all over the ground wasn't the thing that caught his eye; caked in mud laid a blood-splattered Explorer's tunic.
After a long pause, where everyone simply stared at the torn piece of cloth, Vex said simply, "Seeing as we currently have 6 members in our party: four men and two women," he looked dispassionately at Flint, "it is safe to say that this was done to one of the Explorers who was stationed here before. I am not sure why, though." Vex ambled to the rags laying near the gap in the wall and riffled through the pockets. "Not much of value: a flint and steel, some string, a few feathers ... odd for there to be chicken killings this time of year. Other than that, and a few torches, nothing."
"Well, we cannot dwell on what has been done, right now," Vladimir spoke out, gazing at the door that was still infront of them. "The only way to find out more is to go through this door. Anyone care to do the honours?" Without any further promptings, Rebecca charged towards lone wooden obstacle and lept towards the gateway, crashing through the frame and splintering the wood into several planks. Vladimir just gapped, looking at the now-hole. "If I didn't know any better, I would say you are angry at someone." Rebecca just strutted away, angelic smile affixed on her features.
When the group walked through the now empty doorway, they noticed that all of the torches lining the walls appeared to have been blown out. The corridor that they were standing in streatched deeply into the stone, the walls all lined in cobblestone to keep the intended miners on the right track. Almost as if they were hung to keep the miners cheery, paintings lined the walls, but these images seemed as if they were taunting the group, reminding them of a past set of people that were here before. As the hall was engulfed in darkness the farther you looked, a faint breeze drifted slowly from the tunnel infront of them.
"Well," Steel intoned, uncharacteristically impatiant, "We better get along with it." Brushing past Rebecca, Steel barely went three paces when there was a slight -click- as the stone pressure plate was pressed under his weight.
The paintings dropped to the ground, revealing the real reason they were hung, and it wasn't for a morale booster; several mechanisms lined the walls, with a pulsing red gleaming in each centre. Before Steel could admire the 'beauty' of these machines, he proceeded to duck towards the ground as a volley of arrows soared through the air, criss-crossing the spot where Steel's white crewcut was a split second before. Trying to retreat from the impending perforating storm, his elbow grazed another such plate, openning a channel in the ceiling. As the light level of the tunnel started to increase, so did the heat, as a thick, glowing lava stream seeped through a gap above Steel's head.
Deciding that it would probably be a good idea to run before he melted, Steel ran back through the doorway where the others were hiding, ready to close the entrance for when he cowered through. As the lava lapped up against the gravel, Christ desparately through a bucket of water at the mess where it slowly solidified into chunks of harmless rock.
"You know, Steel," Vladimir said nonchalauntly, "I prefer you when you are over cautious."
When Flint gingerly removed the gravel that was in the doorway, the hall seemed to reveal the oddities that it enclosed more than before; the lava burned through the remaining paintings, showing stone edifaces with open slots set into them, and many more stone pressure plates had dislodged from the ground and appeared to stare at them as if to say "Ha!"
"This is odd," Chris knelt down next to one of the machines that was still clicking wildly in the wall. Reaching behind the mechanism via a hole in the wall, he grabbed something out of the hole and the machine whirred to a halt. In his hand was a glittering red powder. "Redstone. Must have been a repeater back im the wall that was set off." Chris looked at Vladimir, brow furrowed, "Someone was either keeping people out, or something inside. Didn't your Vanguard say that all the Explorers did was just find this cave?"
"He also said that there would be monsters, but nothing about traps." Vladimir looked around the hall, redstone glistening through the cracks of the cobblestone. "Something is not right, here. We do not know everthing we need to do this mission correctly; we have no clue what happened here, no idea about these traps, and we haven't even got past the second room." Vladimir paced slowly, trying to think of a solution to this daunting task. "All we can do is gather as many torches as we can, and explore as much as possible. Objections?"
The rest of the group slowly shook their heads, apart from Vex, who forced a smile as his face paled. "How about," Steel spoke up, looking slightly abashed, "someone else take the lead."
Chapter 6: A Pleasant Breeze
The adventurers slowly edged through the cave, making sure to check for any traps before placing a foot. Rebecca was once again taking the lead, iron sword outstreatched and chestplate glinting in the reflected light. Behind her was Vladimir, placing the torches that Chris was handing him on the right wall, showing the path that they have taken. Once or twice a hole seemed to open up from the darkness, cutting off their path, but both Flint and Steel covered up the dark void with cobblestone before crossing the expanse. Vex, though, was walking stiffly behind the two brothers, trying to determine the directiom of an odd breeze flowing through the cavern.
"Come on, Chris!" Vladimir dropped one of the torches in his hand that had gone out before he could place it. "I thought I said to light all of them before handing them to me."
Chris looked surprised at the outburst. "But I did! I have no clue why it went out."
"It's because of the breeze," Vex pointed out, looking down the passage. "It has been getting steadily stronger." Chris and Vladimir looked blankly at Vex, and then at eachother. "What?"
"What breeze?" Chris questioned Vex, eyes notched up a degree or two. "I don't feel anything." He turned towards the others. "Did you?"
"Other than a slight chill, no," Rebecca replied, coming to a halt at a fork in the passage. Vex, not completely sure what was happening, shut his mouth to see if the breeze would get stronger.
"Have I ever told you," Flint came up beside Rebecca and observing the two options that they had before them, "of the story about an adventurer named Cyrus? He was a strong and able warrior, capable of crushing a hundred creepers in a single blow. One day, he came upon a cross-road in his path with two ornately carved gates; one made of a deep purple stone, and the other crafted from a shimmering yellow glass. In front of these doorways were two men in flowing robes that matched the colour of their respective gate." Flint took out his dagger from his left sleeve at this point and started to toss it in the air, catching it as it went towards the ground again each time.
"A voice eminated from the two gates in unison, 'Ask one question, and one question only, and choose it well; for one of these Guardians tells only The Truth, and the other tells naught but Lies.'
"Cyrus looked at the two robed figures and made up his mind, saying, 'Oh Guardians of the Gates, tell me please, what would the other one say if I asked which way I am destined to go?' The two guardians silently stood there and, in unison, pointed back towards the way he came."
At this point Flint caught his dagger once more and threw his blade at the fork, where it embedded itself at the split between the paths. "So, Cyrus had a problem, didn't he?" Steel asked, looking to the right of the fork. "He couldn't go back the way he came because he was destined to enter one of the two gates. So, what did he do?"
"Simple: he walked to the glowing yellow gate, asking for it to open. The Guardian in the yellow robes opened the gate, there was a bright flash, and no one has heard of him since."
Vex walked up towards the fork and pulled the dagger out from the dirt. Once again, he felt for the breeze that was there earlier. He then spoke up towards the group. "The reason they didn't say which gate was his destiny was because that the person makes his own destiny: where you go to is your new destiny. The choice is destiny." He closed his eyes, as if he was sleeping, silently trying to feel the way. Then, without another word, he took the path to the left.
Vladimir stuttered after him, "Why that way, Vex?"
Without looking back, Vex called out, "It feels the most evil."
Steel sighed, resolved to the worst, "Like I said before; we never do get the cushy jobs. 'Feels the most evil,' and what do we do? We go towards the evil." He looked towards Vladimir with probing eyes, "Aren't we looking for iron? It seems like we are trying to find something a little more dangerous."
Vladimir took a deep breath, the weight of the decision pressing upon him. "We have to find out what is going on; not just with what is happening here, but also how this could tie in with the village. Anyways," Vladimir went on, starting to follow Vex as he continued down the tunnel, "we didn't find any iron yet, and there is something odd about that kid."
"All the same, Vlad," Chris came up next to him, holding up the next lit torch, "this is a big cave system, and Cross said that it could go all the way to bedrock. Judging by how long we have been down here for we are going to need to set up a nitch in the wall and set up camp. I also find it a bit odd," Chris held a piece of flint in his hand and rapped on the side of the wall, "for the last few hundred feet, including that fork, the caves have been all man-made. It would be very hard to find any minerals with all of the holes filled up."
"I guess we will wait and see, eh?" Flint came up beside Chris and fished the redstone that Chris was carrying from his pockets. Taking the powder, he fashioned it on a stick and lit the end of it, making it glow a bright red. "Might aswell have a torch I can hold. I am bored!" Flint rocketed off and started walking by Rebecca, who finally put away her sword since nothing was happening.
Unfortunately, this boredom was not to last.
Vex stopped midstride, head cocked to the side. With one swift movement he pulled out his bow and notched an arrow, shouting over his shoulder to the others, "Something is coming, and I doubt it won any beauty padgents."
Coming from the darkness, with its arms out streatched and dirty rags clinging to its body, came a figure that definately didn't have any ribbons from the nearest fair. The figure was a man with pasty green skin the texture of seaweed, and had thickly matted hair plastered across his face. With a gash ripped deeply in his gut, the beast openned its gapping mouth and released a moan that announced the complete lack of life eminating from this rotting corpse. As the creature started to come towards them, lumbering onwards ever closer, Vex released the arrow from his fingers, and with a sickening squelch, the flint tip embedded itself in the beast's chest.
But it wasn't enough; the thing was still steadily approaching! As Vex retreated, dodging away from the clumbsy, rotting hands, Flint came forward, dagger extended from his right hand. Jumping upwards, Flint broughy the stone blade crashing down on the creature's extended arm, cutting a deep welt in the deep green flesh. As he was coming around for another assault, the creature flung out a drunken arm, catching Flint in the chest.
Coming from behind his brother, Steel took his own iron dagger out of his sleeve and lunged at the creatures chest, stabbing the foe in the heart. As his momentum felled the beast, Steel withdrew his dagger and flicked spots of blood from his dagger. As he was helping up Flint, however, the creature started to stir again, reaching out for the legs of the two brothers. Side-stepping both of her friends, Rebecca unsheathed her sword and jammed the blade at the spine of the beast. Now paralyzed from the waste down, the thing started to thrash around, trying to get towards the adventurers. With a final, sickening blow, Vladimir took out his own sword and smashed the fiend's head inwards with the hilt.
As Vladimir turned over the rotting corpse laying on the ground, he noticed something that made his stomach churn; what the man was wearing was a set of dark fatigues and a jacket emblazened with a Warrior's seal. That wasn't all, for when he check underneath the jacket, he pulled from the lining a snow white feather, flecked with crimson.
Chapter 7: The Cage of Fire
"What the- son of a- damnit!" Vladimir reeled back from the corpse and pin wheeled, falling on his back. Coming up beside him, Chris knelt down and checked the body of the Warrior, carefully examining the crest on his lapel. Taking the feather from Vladimir, he saw that the quill wasn't stained crimson by blood, but it was a natural part of the feather.
"Well, then," Chris rose from his position, a lot more calm than his friend, "it seems that what our esteemed Vanguard said was not entirely accurate. Not only did some Explorers come here, but also Warriors. Why would Warriors be needed in a place like this? If it was just for gathering iron, wouldn't just a few Explorers be enough?" Chris started to pace while Rebecca pulled the repulsed Vladimir up from the ground.
"You are missing a key point, though," Steel said, looking at Chris. "How the heck did this happen to this warrior? What happened here isn't just something that can be explained easily; something evil transformed this man. But, what, I do not know."
Vex walked back to the corpse and studied it acutely, as if examining the outer shell could tell him what caused such a curse. "Whatever it was, it was no longer human," he said to Vladimir, almost soothingly, "so you do not need to feel guilty about killing it." Pondering for a moment, Vex raised his bow up above the creature and said, "We shall now call thee the 'plague, eternal,' a living nightmare that never sleeps, or, in a tongue that has not been spoken in our village for a long time, 'Zombie.'"
Rebecca gave a slight wince as she balanced on her sore leg that she received from a misstep, and said with a broad smile, "What, 'living terror?' I don't think that thing is really alive, if you know what I mean."
"Close," Vex said with a curt grin, "'NONliving terror,' undead, if you will."
Flint interjected nervously, "If this happened to this warrior, way down in the cave systems, is it possible that there are more of them? I mean am I the only one who thought of that?"
"Flint, shut up. Remember the last time when you said you were bored?" Rebecca cut in, sword ready if battle recommenced. "Well, this is your lucky day. Let's go, everyone. Vex, grab that seal, I want to examine it when we have time. Vladimir, pull yourself together, we need you to lead us."
Taking a deep breath, Vladimir took out his bow that was on his back and notched an arrow while Vex did the same. With the two of them in the lead, followed closely by Rebecca's raised sword, they continued down the passage, looking for a new horde before it found them.
Nothing happened for quite some time. The slow drip of water echoed through the cavern, carving into the travelers' minds the sense of serenity, as if the cave was saying that the battle was done, and nothing else would come. A faint shaft of light cut through a crack in the ceiling, fogged up by the many bumps it had to travel to get to the party. As the group walked past a small hole in the wall, a faint breeze emanated from the gap, hints of lavender laced into the wafting tendrils that snaked through.
As Vladimir and Vex rounded another bend in the seemingly never ending corridor, they noticed a vaulted chamber made entirely of cobblestone; thick green moss hung from the walls and ceiling and another hole in the wall opposite of them seemed to open up into a much grander chamber. In the middle of this room, though, was a small cage, made from a highly polished brass and carved into intricate patterns. Set deeply into what seemed to be the front of the cage was the shape of a bird soaring from a nest.
"What is that?" Chris came up behind Vex and Vladimir, who were still in the doorway. Cautiously, Chris crept towards the cage, noting the golden couplings that laced through the lattice of the structure. Taking his stone pickaxe from his belt, he tapped on the frame and looked intently into the heart of the cage. "It's odd, I must say," Chris spoke with a troubled look on his face. "It is almost like there is some sort of smoke inside of this." And that is when the cage caught on fire.
Recoiling in horror, Chris only just managed to raise his pickaxe as a creature enveloped in smoke hit him square in the gut. Flying back, he tumbled over Flint and laid there, temporarily out of breath. "W-w-what in the world?" Vladimir stuttered, trying to believe his eyes. Four of the zombies from before came towards them, arms outstretched. In unison, they let out a moan that raised the hairs on the back of the party's collective necks.
Steel let out a sigh, pulling his dagger from his sleeve. "Let's get this over with. I need to water my roses soon." Lunging forward, he caught the first zombie, a ghastly fellow with a ripped shirt that barely covered his exposed chest cavity, square between the eyes and felled the beast with one more swift kick in the head.
"Remind me," Flint spoke up, finally extricating himself from his winded friend, and tossing his own dagger left and right between his hands, "to never mess with you and your roses."
As Flint charged towards lucky zombie #2 with Rebecca not far behind him, Vladimir steadied his bow, arrow notched on the string, and aimed towards another beast. "Hey, Vex," he called towards the archer who was busily laying many arrows into one of the zombie's chest, "can you feel if there is any wind right now?"
Vex laughed, switching his sight towards the head of the zombie and dispatched it with an arrow straight through the left eye socket. "Is there bloody ever! It must be stirring up the cage, for the wind started from that direction right before the fire ignited," Vex gestured towards the hole in the wall which they saw before.
Rebecca dodged the last zombie's laboured movements and swung out at the beast's neck, severing the head completely. With a quick boot in the still-moving face, Chris walked up and dispatched the snapping head. Looking over, though, he saw that the cage was still lit with a dangerous orange flame. "We better stop that thing before anything else pops out."
"I agree," Flint came up to the cage, twirling his bloody dagger in his hand. "Let's put an end to it." Stepping back, Flint wound up his legs and leapt through the air, plunging his dagger through the brass, driving the hilt inwards until it rested in the carving of the bird. As he pulled the dagger out, a burst of smoke issued out of the slit that was created, and the flame ebbed away, until, with a final crackle, it died completely.
Flint straightened up and looked at Chris with a gleeful smile. "Darn it, man. You really weigh a lot!"
"Blame it on all of this material I bring around with me," Chris commented, straightening his belt and grabbing his pickaxe. "Iron isn't exactly the lightest material." He looked around and spotted Vex kneeling at one of the zombies (the one with his face punched in). "What is it?"
"This one..." Vex halted, and started again with a slight squeek, "It also has one of those feathers, but that isn't the troubling part." Getting to his feet, he held up a small emblem in his hand, depicting an arrow notched on an intricate bow.
Vladimir took the emblem, staring at it and then the one on Vex's own chest. "Why would an archer be here aswell? This is getting even more strange." He started over to the cage, hole still ripped in its side. "The Vanguard of the Silent Arrow would have known if an archer came down here, and yet he allowed another come without hearing from the first? What the hell is going on?"
Chris came up to Vladimir, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Tell you what, Vlad," Chris said, eyes twinkling, "When we get out of that mess, I won't exactly try to stop you if you go after dear ol' Cross. In fact, I may even join in."
Vladimir looked up, smiling. "Anyways, lets continue on, since we have to continue anyways."
The group came towards the hole and entered into a grand chamber, much bigger than the last. The entire room was made of an untainted stone, holding no minerals whatsoever inside its heart. On the far wall, set into the stone so precisely it must have taken years to carve out, was a door five metres high made of a cast iron, studded with bronze. Carved into the metal were ornate scenes showing, in amazing detail, stunning trees and men with outstretched swords looking onwards to a bird with wings a spread and rays shining from its tail. The bird was perched on a brass handle that was jutting from the centre of the door, about two metres off of the ground.
Vex walked up to the door and looked at the base, examining the structure. There it was! The wind was coming out of the crack at the base.
"Well, then," Vladimir came up beside Vex, observing the gate. "I am guessing, seeing as this is the only way, we will need to open this somehow."
"Don't look at me," Chris held up his hands defensively, "I am not exactly Goliath; I'm just the looks in this outfit." Vladimir started to pace, trying to think of a way to enter. ' If only we could get enough force to open this. But we don't have anything...' But then he noticed something, set on the right side of the gate five metres away; it was a brass bracket that had ornate swirls set into the frame. Above that was a slight lip of stone, and a crimson glimmer twinkled at him from ontop of it.
"Flint? Come here for a second," Vladimir called towards the Explorer, getting excited. "Hand me your torch." Bemusedly, Flint held out his redstone torch towards him. Vladimir took the torch and relit it, placing it directly inside of the bracket set into the wall. From there it shone for a moment, mimicking the glimmer of the dust above it, before the sparkle on the lip grew brighter.
With an earthen shake that unsettled loose stones from the walls and ceiling, the door began to slowly swing outwards. Jumping out of the way from the swinging door, the group held its breath, waiting to see if anything would come out of the gateway. As the door slid to a halt on the wall, they saw that nothing was coming out. Taking heart from this, the adventurers walked into the next room, universily hoping that this room wouldn't open up towards Hell itself. As Flint was entering the room, though, he took his torch back with a disgruntled gesture., and continued into the room.
With a resounding thunder, the door began to slide back into its place, and before the party could even turn around to slap Flint, the 5 metre entrance way was blocked, sealing the group inside.
Chapter 8: Hole in One
"Dang it! What the hell happened?"
"Where are you?"
"I swear, when I get my hands on you, Flint!"
"Ouch! I never thought I would be this popular."
"Hold on, guys. It's bad enough without you ripping each other to pieces. Chris, pass me that torch."
There was a click of stone hitting metal, and the next second Vladimir could be seen by the flickering light of the torch he was holding. Looking around, he could see that the situation was dire. They were behind the giant metal door, alright, in a room that was just as big as the one that they left. The walls were made of an impenetrable rock, and the floor looked as if it was made of thick bedrock. Other than that, there was nothing: no torch brackets, no other doors... They were trapped.
"Ah, crud," Rebecca could be heard close to the closed doorway. "It looks like this way is blocked. We have just as much luck breaking through this door as going through bedrock. No TNT at all, last I checked."
"Nope," Chris affirmed, checking the walls for any vents, "none at all. So unless someone has the ability to summon the gods, I think we will be stuck here for a while."
"Might as well summon a hundred creepers, since we would have just as much luck with those," Steel noted in the background, lighting one of his own torches. Looking around, also, he noticed something that was very obvious to everyone: there was nothing to notice.
"This isn't exactly a standard creeper trap, though," Vex commented, leaning against the door barring their exit. "It required someone to use a redstone torch, meaning that it was laid for someone who wanted the door open. But, who would want to trap a few travelers?"
The silence lumbered on as the weight of the situation pressed upon them.
Darkness enveloped a giant room cast from a blasted red rock, reminiscent of fire. Great pillars came through the ground like deeply rooted trees, keeping the roof of the giant chamber from falling on its inhabitants. Torches lined the walls, faceted at regular intervals to provide an even light for those that slept there. Set into the wall at the back of the chamber was a nest made of wood, glowing a bright white, contrasting highly the dark red egg that it held safely inside its lattice of branches. Standing over the egg was a man with deep crimson hair, flowing red robes, and a ring of branches tied around his head. He stared at the egg, as if waiting for it to hatch, not noticing right away the person kneeling a few metres away from him.
"My Lord," the creature rasped, head bowed low over his tattered garb. "The group has almost arrived."
Not looking away from the nest in front of him, the man spoke in a gruff voice, eyes fixated on the 'spectacle' of the egg. "This egg is special. It holds our very future, the future of our lands. It is powerful, yes ... but it needs more. To fully hatch: that is my dream. I only hope that this latest group is strong enough. Wouldn't you say, Plack?"
The soldier wheezed, taking his time to marshal his thoughts. Swallowing, he said to the man, "So, my Lord, everything is going according to plan. I will make sure the way is clear from now on for them." The soldier got up, bowed, and turned around to exit, but halted suddenly as a blast of pure energy zapped him from behind. Looking over his shoulder, Plack saw that the man had stepped aside, revealing the red tendrils emanating from the egg. With a great shudder and a huge scream, the soldier was enveloped in the crimson light, encasing his body like the shell of an egg. As the man returned to his seat in front of the nest, nothing remained of the soldier except a faint hint of fried pork.
"Your energy may not be the strongest, but it will do to feed Him," The man sat, contemplating his next move in front of the egg, as if he was playing a game of chess ... where the result could destroy nations. "I need to make sure this group is strong: they destroyed the 'zombies,' as they called them, quite easily. Let's see how strong they truly are."
With that final pronouncement, he got up from his seat and patted the egg, sending his wish across the surface of the shell.
"*Sigh,* what are we going to do now?" Steel asked the group who was huddled against the wall. An hour had already passed since they were sealed inside the chamber. As the minutes ticked on, the impatience of the group seemed palpable.
"You know," Vex lifted his head from his arms, looking at Vladimir quizzically, "it's odd, but I thought that this was the room that the wind came from," He stretched out his fingers, testing the currents. "But there isn't anything at all. No wind, as if something is blocking it."
Vladimir shifted closer to Vex unconsciously, trying to figure it out. "What, like a wall that wasn't there before? Or if the ceiling or floor was recently attached?" He scratched his head, brow furrowed. "I find it odd that the wind would just stop as soon as we opened the door."
"I don't know how, but we have to find out ..." Vex suddenly stopped, eyes glazing over.
The hand was coming towards the artefact, the one that would free the world. Coming ever closer, as if only touching it would bring peace ... or war.
Vex shook his head, face ashened. Vladimir was talking to him, but Vex couldn't make out the words.
The hand brushed the surface of the object; sending ripples of power through the surface, making cracks of light appear. "With this, I shall bring you to ME!"
All of a sudden, the floor on which they stood started to crack and ripple, throwing the adventurers onto their faces. With every passing second, the stone fizzled and cracked, sending loose stones pinging against the walls. From the centre of the room a hole started to appear, widening with the cracks and spreading ever closer. As the hole consumed the torches on the floor, one of the tendrils of cracks seemed to grab hold of Chris, forcing him into the hole.
One by one, the rest of them followed into the dark abyss.
Have you ever fell through a hole? O.k., but have you ever dropped into a chasm? If so, you would know the feeling. You know you are going to die, but you cannot see the end in sight. You just keep falling ... falling ... falling ... "Waterfall?"
"You have got to be kidding," Chris shouted with laughter as he hit the water that was cascading from the walls. The water consumed the group, bringing them along the path that it had cut through the stone walls. As Chris shot through the wall, he entered a bright room, and only when the rest of the group arrived did he realize why. "Ah, crud."
The party were shaking the water off their clothes in a giant chamber, lined with stalactites on the ceiling, and five metres away the floor was completely filled with lava! The opposing wall had a lava fall set into it four metres wide, gushing over the floor and filling the room with an intense heat and light.
"Well," Vladimir said, getting up and examining the area in which they stood, "You do not see that every day."
"At least this room is light, "Flint came up beside Vladimir, back towards the warmth. "I hope it is easier to get out of this than that other room. Even so, there doesn't seem to be any exits except the waterfall behind us."
"And the falling lava before us," Vex walked up towards the other two, eyes focused ahead. "Trapped, indeed, unless someone knows how to cool that lava down enough to see what is past it. Any volunteers?"
There was silence for a minute, except for Chris's quiet rustlings in a corner. "How about we cause the water to meet with the lava? That should make it better."
Vladimir's eyes widened with shock. "Dang it, Chris. I thought you said you didn't have any explosives."
"Meh," Chris smiled passionately, holding what was unmistakably TNT. "I knew this wouldn't destroy metal, so I saved it." With that, he threw the lit stick of explosives at the lava fall, and caused all hell to break loose.
A resounding explosion echoed through the cave as the group launched themselves behind a protruding rock. A geyser of lava shot through the rock, meeting simultaneously a stream of water that gushed through the ceiling. As more cracks appeared in the ceiling, a veritable lake of water streamed through the ceiling cracks and hit the lava fall dead-centre, crystallizing it in place. The lava that was previously flowing on the floor solidified into rock, whereas the lava that was still in the air grew and turned to a deep purple glass. As the last dying embers winked out through the pressure of the water, the stream that came from the ceiling sank through the cracks, disappearing from sight.
"Gosh," Vladimir exhaled slowly after a long pause, staring at Chris, "you are worse than a creeper."
"Like I said before, Vlad," Chris took his tools and replaced them on his belt, "Tricks of the trade."
Vex stood, watching the scene before him. The area was darker than before, but where the lava fall previously sat a gateway made of a deep purple glass. Inside the frame was a solitary ember, burning slowly. As it was about to go out, Vex was almost flattened by the sudden gust of wind that came from the glass, smacking him against the wall with an audible "oomph," and causing the ember to ignite once more.
Where there previously was nothing shone a mysterious purple light, cutting through the darkness.
"You o.k., Vex?" Rebecca asked, voice strained. As she helped him up, Vex pointed towards the light that appeared. Rebecca looked towards it and pulled out her sword, swinging it towards the gate to get ready her stance. "Seeing as that is the only way out because Lord Creeper has sealed up the waterfall behind us," she glanced at the filled in hole that was once issuing water from its opening, "we should probably go onwards."
Flint walked up to the gate, and spoke almost excitedly, "I think this is like the gate that was in the story. But where it goes, I have no idea. The story never said where." Flint snickered, "Maybe Cyrus actually went into this gate!"
Vladimir came to the rest of the group, looking into their faces. "This may be the very last time we see home. If so, we are leaving a lot of people behind, without explanation." Vladimir remembered back to his kid sister, Sam, knowing that he may never see her vivid red hair again. "I know you may be leaving a lot behind, and therefore may not want to take this next step. If that is the case, you may stay here, if you like. I will understand."
"I'm definitely coming," Chris chimed in.
"Same with me," Rebecca spoke up, raising her sword.
"Count me in!" Flint and Steel replied in unison. In the background, Vex gave a small smile.
"With that said, let us move out!" And with that final pronouncement, the group strode into the gateway, weapons raised, and eyes affixed on the journey ahead.
Chapter 9: Cringe-worthy Testimony
The light encased the group, swirling around them in a kaleidoscope of deep purple hues. The ether in which they travelled sped them onwards, weightlessly following the path that they couldn't now escape. One moment, the area appeared to lighten from the dark colours they were surrounded in, as if there were windows to other worlds shining light through the cracks of their shades. Neither time, nor space, seemed to matter in this dark void.
Suddenly, there was a light that was brighter than the one in which they were flowing, coming closer and closer in front of them. As the adventurers shot through this strange light, there was an odd sensation that travelled throughout their bodies, from the crown of their heads to the tips of their toes. As the last boot buckle was devoured by this new light, the group fizzled from existence, leaving behind the world in which they were born.
From within a cave set deeply into a mountain came a startlingly bright purple light, cutting cleanly through the darkness. As the light steadily grew in intensity, a solid purple glass began to materialize at the heart, slowly growing and crystallizing until a shimmering frame stood, 5 metres tall and pressing into the ceiling and walls. As the light grew to a blinding glare, it receded with the same intensity that it had before and appeared to flow into the frame, swirling in the void between two purple pillars. The light finally grew dimmer, swirling indefinitely within the confines of the immobile frame.
The frame stood silently for a second, as if it was examining its surroundings. Appearing to accept where it sat, the inside of the gate grew brighter, and jettisoned six objects from its depths, one at a time, and onto the stone floor.
"Ah, bloody hell, that hurt," Chris got up from the ground, massaging the place on his head that he fell on. "Kamikaze boat ride, if ever I saw one. Flint, remind me to go on that water way with you after we get home, since that feels like a picnic compared to this."
Flint rose gingerly to his feet, helping Steel up at the same time. "I told you that it was fun, Chris. But you never listened until now." Flint looked around, checking to see where the heck they all stood. Vladimir was rising to his feet, cursing silently. Rebecca was already on her feet, but swearing rather vocally. Vex stood as if he landed on his feet without falling over, but was looking out of the mouth of the cave, mouth agape. Flint came over next to Vex, and mimicked the young archer's mouth action. "Vladimir!" Flint intoned, "It looks like we aren't exactly home anymore!"
"What are you talking about, Flint?" Vladimir asked, walking up to him at the cave's entrance. Flint didn't need to answer. They were standing inside of a cave near the crest of a giant mountain made of a blood red stone, looking out onto a valley of rocky hills and crimson dirt. Freckled across the lands that they could see were streams of searing lava, cascading into an undulating sea of fire.
"Wow," Rebecca came up beside Vladimir, and called over her shoulder. "Reminds me of my prom night; right, Chris?"
"Oh, stop going on about that, Becca," Chris sulked, looking at the spectacle himself. "It isn't like I could have done anything, seeing as you were the one who wore your armour to the dance, instead of a dress. And don't get me started about you being the only girl there with a sword." As Steel finally joined the rest, muttering something about his roses, Chris jumped down out of the cave and landed on a platform that was jutting out of the face of the mountain. "It appears we have finally gone to Hell, guys!"
Steel sniffed the air with mild concentration, and spoke in his slow, calming voice, "I don't smell any sulphur here, nor is there any brimstone, though there is a lot of fire. So, this can't be Hell, nor can it be our home with all of this unknown rock." Steel scratched his head, a melancholic smile tugging at the corners of his mouth,
"Neither Hell nor home."
"Well," Flint interjected, brushing the dirt off his shoes after he slid down the mountain after the rest of the group, "I don't want to be in neither, so let's call it that; we need to take the I out of Neither, thus we get the Nether." Flint came up to Vladimir, punching him playfully in the shoulder, "Unless you want to actually be in Hell, that is."
Vladimir grimaced, shot with a phantom pain. 'Unlike you, Flint,' Vladimir thought to himself, 'I am gone from my family, whereas you aren't leaving anyone behind.' Regaining his composure, he voiced aloud, "Well, we should check around to see what we are up against, for I find it hard to believe that we are the first creatures to set foot here. Be on your guard, and look for anything that may help us here."
The adventurers started to edge their way down the hill, being mindful of every step they took. The slope was not actually too steep on this side, though, and they eventually found their way to the bottom of the mountain. Near the end of the trip down, Flint was holding something in his hand, wearing a face of unquestionable confusion.
"I was thinking that we should at least know which way we were going," he said, holding his compass, "but the needle is just spinning wildly. Also, it isn't like we can look at the sun." He pointed up at the ceiling above them, a blanket of rock spanning the place where the clouds should have been, blocking any view of a skyline. "What is this place; is it a giant cave or something?"
They walked on for a few minutes, weapons raised and eyes searching for landmarks that will aid them in returning the way they came. As they rounded a corner in the natural valley, they spotted a humanoid figure hunched over, rocking back and forth on his feet.
"Hold forth, guys," Vladimir raised his clenched left hand, signalling the rest to halt. The creature was muttering to itself, but Vladimir could not make out what it was saying, nor in what language it was speaking. "It looks like we aren't actually the first to set foot here." Vladimir sat on his hunkers, running his fingers through his hair.
"Well," Flint spoke up, anxious to end the silence. All eyes turned towards him. "We have two options, really. One; we confront this new entity, and try to gather information. If it attacks, we attack back, but making sure not to actually kill it." Here, Flint gave out a nervous chuckle, looking at Rebecca. "Assuming we can hold back enough, seeing as some people hardly ever leave the tavern."
Rebecca simply scowled at him, making clear her intentions if Flint didn't shut up at that moment. Thankfully Chris intervened.
Here, Flint grinned even more at Rebecca, who in turn raised her sword slightly. "Option two is that we do not make contact and go around it. Vladimir, you are the leader. Why don't you decide?"
Vladimir weighed the options in his head, trying to determine the best route. Either they met these new creatures on their own terms, or the creatures would pay them a visit later. Neither option sounded tempting at the moment. "Well, we will meet these things eventually, so we might as well meet them now." At this point, Vladimir shook his head, trying to make up his dang mind. "We should send only two people to meet him, so we don't appear as ominous, but have someone guarding them from behind if something were to happen. Chris, you and Steel actually talk to it, and I will be behind you two with my bow ready."
"Hey!" Flint cut in, indignant, "why is it that they get to meet the new creatures!"
Rebecca actually laughed, chuckling silently before speaking in a quick and straight-to-the-point manner, "It is because those two can actually keep their calm, unlike SOME people we know. Flint blushed slightly, silently agreeing.
"Well, we are off," Chris called jovially, waving his hand to the other three. "Wish us luck!" As the three of them walked the twenty paces to the still hunched over creature, Flint muttered to Rebecca sulkily, "I still want to see the new creature."
"Hello, there!" Chris spoke to the creature airily, waving his empty palm at it. "How are you today? We wish to talk for a bit."
The creature stopped rocking, and looked around at the newcomers. Its face was still cloaked by shadows and its form was hidden. Chris stepped forward gingerly, ready to step back if need be. "I guess you could say we are new here, so I was wondering if you could help us, perhaps."
Finally the thing started to stand and its face was thrown into sharp relief, causing Chris to gasp. It was 6 feet tall and was humanoid, but there was little chance in mistaking it for a human. It had a pasty pink skin and rags hanging limply from its body. Sickly green wounds littered the surface of its body, and its face was that of a hog, complete with small tusks jutting from the sides of its mouth. It stepped towards the two adventurers, revealing that it was actually tending to a small sapling, glowing a bright white in the corner that it was hunkered down in. In its hand, though was a long sword made of a shimmering orange metal, held as if the wielder was debating on either attack or defence. Finally, it spoke in a gruff voice, tripping over its words as if it had just recently learned how to speak.
"What do want you, intruders?" It said, sword still wavering between offence and protection. "Why are you in land of fire?"
"So, you speak our language?" Steel asked, sheathing his dagger in good faith. "Where are we?"
The creature grunted, licking his lips slightly. "You in lands of The Master. You should not be here. Quick, there eyes everywhere!"
"Do you mean us, sir?" Chris asked, stepping back slightly. In the meantime, Vladimir notched an arrow on his bow, still pointing downwards. "Who is this 'Master' that you speak?"
The creature shuddered, eyes glazing over. With a timid squeak, his grip slackened on his sword as some fever took hold of it. It swayed on its feet, shivers cascading from its feet to the crown of its head. Sweat poured from its forehead, rippling through the valley of gouges set into its skin. As the spasms started to subside, the creature stood silently, sword still held limply on its side.
"Are you ok?" Vladimir asked tentatively, concern slipping in his voice. The creature's face lifted up, and the glint in its eyes sent chills through everyone's bones.
"On guard, guys!" Steel shouted, pulling his dagger out. The creature, without so much as a warning, lunged at Chris with his sword outstretched. With a quick 'twang' and a sickening 'thwack,' Vladimir released his arrow and hit the creature square in the chest. It staggered back, shook its head, and got very angry.
"You be strong," it said, snapping the twig that protruded from its breast, "but I have power you know not!" With a mighty lunge, it charged at Steel this time, bringing the blade of its sword crashing down on Steel's dagger.
"Dang it!" Steel shouted, pushing back against the blade and slashing at the creature's gut. The beast staggered back a step and charged again, seemingly unfazed by the new wound. "Our attacks aren't doing anything!"
The creature brought its sword onto Steel's dagger again, forcing it closer and closer to his face. From behind Steel came two sharp 'twangs' followed immediately by the arrows shot by Vladimir and Vex. As the arrows found their mark on its leg, causing the beast to stumble backwards, Rebecca came flying from behind the ridge where the creature was and landed a solid blow with the hilt of her sword. The creature flew backwards and landed, quite winded, on its back. Next, Vladimir came sprinting towards the fallen creature, taking his dagger from his sleeve and nailing the creature's right hand with it to the hilt, followed closely by Steel's.
"What was that about?" Flint asked, running up beside Vladimir who was still next to the thrashing creature. "Moreover, how did that happen? One minute he was sensible, albeit rather slow, and the next he was trying to cut us into pork chops. I mean, I knew your people skills were bad, Chris, but not this horrible."
"I have no clue," Chris shook his head, looking at the thing that was now yelling at them in a foreign tongue. "I just don't know. We have only been here for an hour at most, and already something wants to kill us?"
"Well, we need to wait to see if we can learn more," Vladimir said stoically, notching another arrow on his bow. "Look, he seems to be becoming more sensible."
Indeed, the creature's breathing was slowing down, becoming calmer with each second. Eventually, it tried to sit up, but was stopped by the two daggers still hilt deep in each of its hands. Looking around, it spotted Vladimir, who spoke quite clearly, "What was that about? Tell us, why did you attack?" Vladimir's bow was still notched, and the head of the arrow was pointed directly between the creature's eyes.
The creature spoke in its raspy voice, slowly and deliberately, trying to stay focused. "It happens to all us. The sickness blinds us, forcing we to do its bidding. It only lifts when we complete the task ... or when ..." At this point, the creature coughed up a huge volume of green blood, clotted and dead looking as if the blood hasn't done anything for years.
Vladimir stood silently for a moment and then lowered his bow, putting both it and the arrow away. "Who's bidding? Please, tell us!" The creature could only shake its head, obviously mourning the fact that it did not know. Knowing that the bonds were now useless, Vladimir stooped down and pulled both Steel's dagger and his own from the creature's hands.
As Vladimir started to straighten, the creature grabbed Vladimir's arm, pulling him down just enough so he could hear it. "Please," it said in its raspy voice, as its eyes were preparing for its final sleep, "Free us from him ... before ..." Its energy finally spent, the grip on Vladimir's arm slackened, following the owner into to place past these hellish lands.
Vladimir stood up, laying the beast's orange sword on its chest and folding its arms. "I will," Vladimir said as he turned to look past his team towards the mountain they came from. "Believe me, I will. But only when we know more." He looked at his team, clearly tired and bedraggled. "I don't think we can do much here right now. We know too little, things are trying to kill us, there is some sort of doomed civilization here, and we don't even know where 'here' is!"
Chris walked up to Vladimir, laying his hand on his friend's shoulder. "Come on. Let's just go back to the gate. If we can't do anything, we just can't. We can try later, but that will be later. Let us just go back." Chris turned to the others, "All in favour?" Spiritedly, the rest of the group started to head back towards the mountain, led by Steel, and followed at the rear by Vladimir.
"So, what was that creature?" Rebecca asked the rest, clearly confused. "I could have sworn that I had seen something like it before, but I can't tell where." She was obviously recalling its face, with a snout of a nose and hoofed feet. "Was it some sort of pig?"
"Yes, and no," Flint spoke up, busy kicking up dirt. "Remember that huge iron door we saw before getting locked up in that room?"
"Yeah, with that bird in the background," Rebecca nodded, remembering it clearly.
"Well, if I am not mistaken," Flint continued, flashing his broad smile, "I would say that the creature, whatever it was, was one of those things that was on the bottom of the door, looking towards that bird." Everyone was clearly surprised about Flint's momentary brilliance, while he looked at the rest bemusedly. "What? Just because I goof around means I can't be observant?"
"Anyways," Rebecca continued, pulling out her sword to examine it. "Why weren't our attacks as nearly as effective as they were before? Back near that cage, each of us could take maybe two of those zombies at a time, whereas it took almost all of us to take down that one creature."
Chris stepped in, matching Rebecca's stride so he could look at her sword also. "The iron looks like it lost its integrity, as if a combination of the heat and air sapped its strength. If so, it may be true for the rest of our weapons, as well as our armour."
They travelled the rest of the way in silence, laying each step down carefully. As they finally neared the bottom of the mountain they came from, Vladimir stopped, listening intently. "Hold it. Do you hear something?" Everyone stood, frozen in place. From behind them came a faint shrieking, as if the owner of the sound was in pain. The sound echoed, bouncing off the hills and stone around them, amplifying and distorting the sound until they couldn't tell the origin. As the shrieking reached an almighty crescendo, the owner of the voice rose above the hill behind them, showing the group what trouble they were in.
It was a gigantic floating monster, reminiscent of a giant squid, with nine swaying tentacles coming out from underneath its four metre wide body, and a ghastly white skin that surely could only be seen on ghosts. Its face, which spanned the entire front of its body, somehow showed a deep regret, as if the beast did something earlier that it could not take back. The closed eyes came level with the groups and, miraculously, the beast just started to float higher and higher, showing that the small newcomers were of little importance.
Just as Vladimir relaxed and was getting ready to tell his group to start climbing, the beast turned around to face the mountain and opened its mouth. From it came a deafening shriek as the creature opened its eyes and shot a humongous fireball at the top of the mountain. The ground under their feet shook as dust flew up above them, chunks of debris falling upon their heads as they flung up their arms to protect themselves. Vladimir gave the order to retreat, and the group followed him behind a ridge as the creature started to float away from the mountain.
When the dust settled, Chris poked his head out from behind the outcrop and called over his shoulder, "It appears our ghastly friend doesn't like mountains. Thankfully, it looks like it is still intact."
Vladimir let out a sigh of relief, slumping back against the wall. "Thank goodness. I would hate to know what would have happened if the cave was destroyed. But," he continued, looking himself, "if anything, the cave seems bigger. Let's get a move on, so we can get home a.s.a.p."
The group got up from behind the wall and started to trek up the mountain, kicking the loose stones out of the way. As they were nearing the lip of the cave where they came out of, Chris asked Vladimir, "So, what are you going to tell Sam when we get back from this adventure?"
"I guess I will tell her, honestly, that it was a real pain in the ..." Vladimir didn't manage to finish his sentence, for the thing that he saw next silenced him instantly. Within the cave the portal frame stood, silently awaiting for the group to arrive.
There was silence as the six friends stood at the gate, the light from its frame extinguished. Complete silence, because all of them knew that nothing could be done about it.
"Well, guys," Chris spoke up, turning around to face the crimson landscape, "That sucks."
"Pardon my French, Chris," Vladimir interjected forcibly, turning on his friend, "but no ! We are far away from home with no way of returning. We have no food, hardly any water left, and our weapons are slowly dying on us!" At this point he rose up his sword, showing the spots of rust that had appeared on the once gleaming iron.
"I am trying to have us keep calm, Vlad," Chris spoke slowly, annunciating clearly. "The last thing we want is to lose our focus."
"Focus on what?" Vladimir shouted, storming over to the portal's frame and gesticulating wildly at it. "We have no damn clue how to operate this! We don't even know what it is made out of! Chilled lava? I don't know if you looked around, but this place isn't exactly the location to make a frost box! And what do we do if we can somehow find the 'On Lever?' What, are we able to fly now?"
Chris sighed and looked at his friend. "No, we may not know how to operate it, and no, nothing cold will exactly work here, but we have to think rationally. If we let our anger run wild, who knows where it will ultimately lead us. All we can now do," Chris said, looking at the rest of the group huddled away from the argument, "is to help our friends survive. They are all we have." Chris's eyes began to moisten at this point, and he turned his face away. "They are all I have."
Vladimir shook his head, and again looked at the frame of the gate, standing innocently in the center of the cave. Chris was right. The rest of the group had a family to return to, but Chris... With a deep sigh his face visibly calmed, and he turned back to the others, back in charge. "So, my friends; what is our objective now?"
Steel got up from the wall he was leaning on, and took some dirt from his bag. Using the pick in his other hand, he broke some of the rock near the lip of the cave and placed the dirt inside the hole. After he finished some finer details, he got up and turned towards the lead Explorer. "We need to find resources, which WAS our original mission; I highly doubt we will find any iron in this place, though. Also, we have to see if there is any flora and fauna, since these two things will help us survive; if there are plants, there are ways to live." He paused, looking back out of the cave, gazing out towards the red expanse. "Our second priority is to get the gate back up, since even if we find some plants, I doubt we can exactly drink lava; I was never fond of hot chocolate. This objective, though, should work in tandem with finding out what is going on here, since we are in the dark about that."
Flint bounded up to his brother, tapping him on his head. "Finally, bro, you are actually planning stuff other than your garden!" Steel gave a slight smile, as Flint continued, "We should be off, then, since we have nothing to do here as of now. Let us explore our new land!"
"Well," Chris said, snickering, "I guess the Nether Exploratory Crew is a go!"
Vladimir groaned, walking past Chris and giving him a pained expression. "The name could use some work, but it will have to do. Let us now depart! And can we get some food while we are out? I'm starving!"
The group exited the cave, one after the other, passing the lone rose that was deeply rooted at the lip of the cave.
"Hey, guys! Look at this!" Flint slipped around a corner in their path after a few minutes and a moment later the loud sound of the hilt of his dagger echoed through the silence. As Vladimir and the rest finally rounded the corner, they saw a huge tree, gleaming with stark, white leaves, and a trunk more reminiscent of stone than wood. At the base of the large plant was Flint, hitting the trunk with the flat of his blade, creating an odd rock-on-rock sound that didn't make it seem like it was alive at all. The oddest part of the tree, though, was...
"Er, why is it glowing?" Rebecca asked, taking a slight step back as she looked upwards at the leaves. The tree, instead of making a broad shadow, was casting a faint light over the entire party, illuminating everything surrounding them. "It isn't like I am complaining, what with everything else we have to worry about," Rebecca continued, hesitating slightly, "but, seriously?"
"At least we can see everything around us if it isn't already on fire," Flint commented, trying to make an indent in the wood. With every stab of his dagger, a small scratch appeared in the wood; but as he brought the dagger to his face he noticed that the stone blade was half gone. "Well, that was useless," he said, getting to his feet.
With a casual glance towards his brother, Flint sauntered away from the tree a few paces, turned around, and rushed at the tree at full speed. Five feet away from the tree, he leaped forward and kicked one of the main branches of the tree 'kung-fu style,' breaking off a large section and landing painfully on his back.
Without sparing a second glance at Flint, Chris picked up the branch and shoved the majority of it in his bag. "You never know when this could help us," he said, looking towards Vladimir. "Our tools aren't working, so we may have to start from scratch, so to speak. For some of us," he stopped, finally looking at Flint, "it is easy."
"You're welcome," Flint mumbled, getting up to his feet and brushing the dirt off his leggings. He then fished a golden pocket watch from underneath his tunic and glanced at it. After a few seconds of obvious confusion, and several slow blinks, he looked upwards at the sky disgruntled.
"What's up, Flint?" Vladimir said, poking fun at him a little, "Did the fall stop you from focusing right?" Wordlessly, and still looking at the 'sky,' he showed the face of his watch to Vladimir. The face of the watch was spinning wildly; one moment, the sun symbol indicated that it was high noon, and the next the crescent moon showed it was a few hours before midnight. After staring blankly at the watch, now saying that dawn was fast approaching, Vladimir shook his head and spoke to the group.
"Well, this world is full of surprises, but I bet we all knew that already." He paused for a minute, shaking his head slowly. "All the same, we are all tired, and a little worn out. With that in mind, we should probably find a place to set up camp; preferably somewhere NOT next to a giant lava ocean."
The group walked a few metres away from the glowing tree and, using the rest of their cobblestone supply, built a small stone house. Once finished, the group turned in for the night, all sharing the same dread of what was to come tomorrow.
"Daddy, why can't I come with you?"
A little girl in a red dress was standing at the doorway, looking towards a tall man with a long, flowing robe standing on the gravel lane. Turning around, the man kneeled down and beckoned the girl forward, and she rushed to embrace her father.
She loved her daddy, with his short brown hair and deep green eyes that twinkled like the stars above. His polished steel plate armour clinked as he stood up, still gripping the girl's small hand, and he talked to her in a soothing voice that reminded her of the whispering wind.
"It's ok, my dear rose petal. I will be back soon. Daddy needs to protect the village." He bent down, kissing his daughter lightly on her forehead. Straightening, his eyes drifted towards the cobblestone building that was his home, standing proudly in the centre of the village.
"But, daddy!" she pleaded, pulling lightly on the silver cloak with her tiny fingers and gazing up directly into his eyes, "Why can't I come? I wanna be with you!"
His smile deepened, but his eyes visibly saddened. "Don't worry, love, this will not be dangerous. I will be back in a week, at most."
"Pwomiss?" the girl said, tears welling up in her eyes. "Pwomiss that you will be safe?"
"I do," the man said, and his soft voice reassured the girl deeply.
An Explorer came up from behind the man and saluted, iron sword strapped to his belt. "Chief Cyrus," the Explorer said, relaxing when he saw the small girl, who decided it was best to hide behind her father's cloak, "I heard from Vincent that the preparations are complete, and we should be able to head out to the new cave north of here. We should depart now, sir."
"Alright," Cyrus sighed, turning around to his daughter again. "Take care, my sweety. I will see you soon!"
As the two men headed towards the main gates of the village, the faint smell of lavender still remained in the air, as the little girl watched daddy leave the house ... for the last time.
Rebecca awoke in the middle of the night, panting and covered in sweat. "Dammit," she swore under her breath, falling back onto the patch of red dirt that she fell asleep on. The smell of flowers was replaced by the rancid odor of sweat and foul dust. Lying awake on the ground, Rebecca pondered that day, 15 years ago, when her father disappeared from the village. Even though the wound that was left from that day had healed over, the thoughts that she couldn't do anything about it still kept the scars fresh. "To think that after all this time, I am now the one to have disappeared without a trace."
With a small -squeak- of the door closing, she walked out of the cobblestone house, vaguely resembling the one that she used to live in as a little girl. Stepping lightly on the rough rock, Rebecca slowly walked over to the edge of the ridge that the group was standing on and sat down. In a way, this fiery landscape reminded her of that time when she heard that she no longer had a father, that he was...
"Hey," a voice called quietly behind her, jolting her slightly as she looked around wildly for the newcomer. Turning, she saw that it was Steel coming towards her, where he stood a few metres away from the edge, looking towards Rebecca. "What's wrong?" Steel said, in his slow voice, full of genuine concern.
Looking back out towards the gigantic lava ocean, Rebecca sighed and got up to her feet as well. Back still turned towards Steel, she spoke up. "This place can be quite beautiful, if you look past the darkness. Like, when you first enter a giant cave, all you can see is black. Once you light it up, though, you could find that it is actually very beautiful."
"The thing is," Steel said, walking up beside Rebecca, "This place is pretty lit up as it is, wouldn't you say?" As he said this, a ghast, one of the giant floating jellyfish shaped creatures with long, swinging tentacles, drifted past an outcropping a hundred metres away. It turned its pale face towards them, eyes closed as if it was sleeping, and casually floated away. Head still turned to the view ahead, Steel noted, "You still didn't answer my question."
Rebecca sighed and sat back down again, looking at her iron-clad boots. "The thing is," she started to say, hesitating, "is that I keep getting the same dream, over and over again."
"As far as things go, though," Steel noted, smiling slightly, "it could be a lot worse. At least your flowerbed didn't shrivel up. But," he continued, spreading out his arms, "it would be almost impossible to keep any flower alive here. Small miracles."
"It's about my father."
Steel's smile froze, and he let his arms drop back to his side. Voice tender, he simply asked, "Cyrus?"
Rebecca nodded. Knowing there was nothing else to do, Steel raised his palms up in a defeated gesture, and said, "We should go back to bed. Knowing Vladimir, he probably has some plan for tomorrow, and will want us up as soon as possible."
Rebecca stood, brushing the dust off of her armour, and followed Steel back into the house for bed.
Nether Research Journal
Written by: Chris Suez
Since coming to this world, it was very apparent to me that our knowledge of our surroundings was limited, to say the least. The Craftsmans’ Research Book that I had received from Vanguard of the Knowing Mind was severely lacking in any intelligence about where we are now. What we do know is that all we know is useless. Especially how we make our weapons.
The weapons we currently have are degrading rather quickly; the wooden handles of our tools are cracking, and the steel blades of our swords are rusting, even though there is no water present at all. Our stone appears to be cracking as well, so even Flint's dagger will be useless later on. This degradation seems to be caused by a corrosive entity in the air, that is stealing all of the nutrients from anything that makes contact. The only things that do not break up are things that are currently residing here already, and for some reason us. Why this is, I have no clue, but that shouldn't be the main point. So, the only tools we can make have to come from the Nether itself. That leaves two VERY abundant areas in which to work with: the trees, and the rock.
I will need to look into the properties of these materials, as soon as Flint shuts up. He is currently running around, spouting something about his pants being on fire. I told him not to try to wash his underwear in the lava stream, but he never listens. Just because it flows as fast as water here, doesn't mean the lava is any less dangerous! If anything, it makes it worse.
I have just finished the analysis of the glowing trees. The Florus Luminous (as I like to call them, the Glowood Trees) appears to have a high strength threshold. In fact, the only reason Flint managed to break the branch of the tree was because the idiot kicked with the grain. The wood is much stronger than the pines and oak of our world, and should be able to be shaped into handles and blades for weapons.
The rock, on the other hand, is very brittle and can be broken easily. This "Netherrack," for I cannot even call it rock if a single punch can put a dent in it, can still be formed into stable tools with the right processing. The stone needs to first be pressed into the tool's blade, and then wrapped around the glowood handle. Once this is done, the netherrack tool becomes more durable and actually usable.
Unfortunately, neither of these two materials can be used as any sort of makeshift armour. They just don't have the ability to take any sort of direct attacks. The glowood seems to be able to withstand concussive blasts (thank goodness I had some more gunpowder to test this), but cannot be formed into any form of defense. Possibly, it can be crafted into a shield, but that is for another entry. The netherrack can't even withstand a fist, let alone an explosion, so it is useless for anything other than building and rudimentary tools.
If we cannot find any type of minerals to make more powerful weapons and armour, then exploratory missions will be unable to continue. With that being said, we can make do with what we have as of now, but supplies are low, and the situation is not exactly getting any better.
Chapter 11: Pyrid
"Dang it, Vladimir, wake up!"
"Quiet, Sam," Vladimir mumbled, still half asleep. "You could rival a creeper with a voice that high..."
"Rival a-? Now is not the time! Wake. Up!"
Vladimir slowly rose off of the ground, rubbing his back; sleeping on rock was maybe not such a good idea. After a deep yawn, he got to his feet and quickly slapped the ceiling with the palms of his hands. Turning around, he was shocked to see Rebecca standing right in front of him, arms crossed, and tapping her foot on the ground agitatedly. That wasn't all. The air's degrading effect was obviously still there, because she was clad head to toe in rusting armour, and where her once brilliantly gleaming iron sword used to be, was a corroded piece of metal strapped to her side.
"What is happening?" Vladimir asked, wide awake at last. He looked around and noticed that the others were already outside the make-shift house.
"We have to run. They are back."
Picking up his rusted sword and splintered bow, Vladimir asked puzzled, "Who?" Without sparing a glance, she pointed out the doorway towards a rocky hill.
Over the hill, framed almost poetically by a burst of flame erupting behind them, were several of the pig creatures that they met before. Bodies covered in gruesome, green gashes, and all holding brilliantly orange swords, they stood on the top of the hill with the same glazed look that fell over the beast that they slew before.
Finally getting to the rest of the group, Vladimir pulled out his bow next to Flint and asked Chris, in a low and fervent voice, "What are these, anyways? I still don't know anything about them, except from the little we gleamed from the creature we killed before."
"I was doing a bit of research on the body of the one we killed," Chris spoke quietly, obviously nervous. "It had the same structure as a human, but obviously boar-ish in nature. It seemed to have been possessed by some sort of battle fever when it attacked us, but I cannot tell if there was any sort of physical cause of that."
They didn't exactly look happy, either. One of the creatures, who was clad from head to toe in a sickly green set of leather armour, stepped forward and gesticulated wildly towards the watching humans. And then, in a low, rasping voice, it spoke.
"Travelers from the Overworld," it said in perfect English, albeit with a guttural accent, "welcome to our land. We, the PhoAl, would like to be the first to welcome you ... with open arms." At this, the creature opened his arms as if he was going to reach out and hug them. The effect was enhanced even more with the gleaming sword still clenched in the creature's left hand.
"Not too welcoming, wouldn't you say?" Flint muttered under his breath, trying to keep the fear out of his voice. He had a point, Vladimir thought as he looked at the other warriors. Each of them had the same glint in their eyes that they saw earlier, and all had a sword strapped to their side.
Pointing his sword towards Vladimir, the creature said clearly, "I have a proposition, young warrior. Our master has taken a liking to you. He needs the type of power that you possess. In fact," he paused, laughing and looking at the rest of the group, all of them staring at him in obvious trepidation, "he needs all of your power. Each and every one of you."
The creature appeared more humanoid than the rest of his companions. He was standing perfectly upright, facing Vladimir with a confident grin affixed on his face. Attached to his green leather armour was a scarlet cape, and at the place where the cape connected to the shoulders were bright orange emblems emblazoned with the insignia of a bird.
"Well," Vladimir replied, slightly hesitant; having a sword pointed at your face tends to have that effect, "as enticing of an offer that is ..."
All of them turned, looking not at Vladimir, but at Vex. His bow was lowered, and he was lounging on a boulder next to the house as if this was just another routine house call from a travelling salesman. Arms crossed, he looked straight at the leader with a penetrating gaze, giving everyone the feeling that he knew every single thing about the one he looked at.
The leader, obviously, was just a bit perplexed. "Aren't you..." Regaining his composure, the leader said in a low voice, "You refuse, eh? When we so graciously gave you this offer to ... further develop our power, as well as your own ..."
"If it is so important," Steel said, just as menacingly, "why doesn't 'your master' come and ask us himself? Why send an errand boy and a couple of escorts?"
The 'couple of escorts' roared at this, shouting at him in disjointed English.
"How you dare mock we!"
"Strike you down!"
"What is an 'escort?'"
This jumble of shouting, cursing, and mocking was punctuated every so often with a slight oink, or a stamping of hoofed feet. Finally, the leader silenced his fighters with a wave of his hand, and replied curtly, "Our master is currently busy with more pressing matters than the likes of you. In fact, you should be honoured that the leader of the PhoAl would even ask you to join! Insolent fool!" His voice was steadily rising as he spoke, spittle spraying as he shouted the last syllable. Noticing the less than impressed faces staring up at him, he asked Vladimir directly, "Well? Are you coming, or not?"
"Thanks," Vladimir said, stealing a glance at Rebecca; he knew that look in her eyes. "But, no thanks. We'll take our chances by ourselves. If you excuse me, though," he continued, putting away his bow and replacing it with his sword, "I am going back to the camp fire; need to warm up a bit in this bitter cold.
An arrow sailed through the air and passed right by Vladimir's head, nicking him next to his left eye. As the blood slowly trickled down his cheek he looked up towards the creature to the leader's right, holding a slender white bow with the next arrow notched and ready to fire. The leader looked towards Vladimir with a smile stretching across his face, and raised his free hand to wag a finger at him. "It looks like we have someone with a little spunk!" he said, grinning even wider. "Tell me, you little comedian, what is your name?"
Taking a strong stance, with his rusted sword in his right hand pointed towards his opponent, Vladimir said in a confident tone, "I am Vladimir Drackens, and we are The Guardians of the Gate!"
There was a silence that swept across the crowd of warriors as he made his pronouncement. All of the opposing fighters looked towards the Explorer that stood in their midst, and as the silence became more pronounced, the smile that was moments before affixed on the lead warrior's face flickered and died like the last embers of a bon fire.
"So, young warrior," the leader said, in sober contemplation, "I will also tell you my name." He stretched out his arms and raised his brilliant orange sword high above his head with his left hand, causing his scarlet cape to ripple behind him in a sudden gust of air. With a deep and haughty breath, he pronounced proudly, "I am Shank, The Destroyer, and this is my sword, Pyrid." Lowering his sword once more, he gazed at Vladimir with more conviction. "You said your name was Vladimir Drackens, am I right?"
Vladimir nodded, wiping the blood away that was still slowly trickling down his cheek. "Yes, I am. So what? Does it truly matter what my name is?"
"Why, yes," Shank said in mock surprise, "it truly does matter. I like to remember the names of the ones I kill. Not many people with the last name of Drackens, though. I have only met one other with that name."
"But, no matter," Shanks continued in a business-like tone. "I guess it is time to kill you and the other 'Guardians.'"
"Hey, Vladimir?" Flint asked, sidling up to him as Shank's men were receiving their orders.
"Is now the best time?" Vladimir answered as he did his best to rub as much rust off of his sword as he could; all he succeeded to do was to add some nice rustic colours to his Explorer's garb.
"Now is as good as any, really." Flint drew one of Chris's experimental daggers from his left sleeve. The dagger had a white hilt made of glowood that curved upwards into a rudimentary guard. The blade itself was made of a solid netherrack that was treated in one of the furnaces that Chris managed to construct. The blade was a darker red than the normal netherrack, and had fewer rough edges. It was pretty much as good as his old stone dagger, except for the fact that this one hadn't turned to dust like his old one. "Rest in peace, Betsy," Flint muttered, staring at his new dagger. A tear actually came to his eye.
"Flint, get on with it!"
"Alright! I just wanted to ask... why 'The Guardians of the Gate?'"
Vladimir stared back towards the mountain which they came out of the day before, thinking. "Well, we came from that gate, right? And I know that we won't be able to get out of here without it. So, we need to protect it. Plus," he continued, with a wry smile, "it sounds a lot better than the Nether Exploratory Crew."
Vladimir turned towards the rest of his group. All of them looked nervous, but that was understandable considering what they were up against; two dozen armed men ready to attack. They were dangerous, they were fierce, and let's not forget just a bit 'ticked off.'
"O.k., guys," he said, looking at all of his fighters. It may be four-to-one, but his were the best. "Fighting stances!"
Rebecca stood in a sturdy back stance, corroded armour clinking and her sword held steadily above her head in both hands, pointing towards the impending attack.
Vex vaulted off of his rock and made his way to the roof, where he stood with an arrow notched on his bow, green Archer's tunic flapping in the breeze.
Chris took out one of his pickaxes that he made out of netherrack, similar design to Flint's dagger, and walked forward to stand to the left of Rebecca. He stood tall and purposeful, pick in his right hand and in no particular stance.
Flint and Steel both had their daggers drawn, Flint's in his right and Steel's in his left. Back to back, they slipped into a tranquil stance with their arms hung limply by their sides, and heads both turned to look directly at Vladimir, waiting for the next order.
Vladimir took his rusted iron sword and stabbed it into the brittle rock in front of him. As he pulled his bow off of his back once more he notched one of his arrows on the string and leveled his sight towards Shank. As the seconds ticked on, Vladimir and Shank looked into each others' eyes, waiting for the other to move.
"Warriors of the PhoAl," Shanks yelled, sword above his head.
"Guardians," Vladimir spoke quietly, knowing that they could hear him plainly.
Chapter 12: Close Call
As the Guardians leaped forward and the PhoAl aimed their bows, an explosion ripped through the make-shift building in which the adventurers were sleeping in, sending up dust and brittle netherrack in every direction. Skidding to a halt, Vladimir turned around to look for the source of the explosion, shielding his eyes from the debris still hanging in the air. The others also stopped in their tracks, and all looked towards the rocky ridge that was there moments before. As the dust finally settled, clearing their lines of sight, the true horror of the situation became apparent.
“Vladimir?” Flint started to say, twirling his dagger in his fingertips, “Permission to speak, oh highly exalted Traverser.”
“Go ahead,” Vladimir replied, walking calmly back to his sword and pulling it out of the ground, “but I think I already know what you are going to say.”
Now replacing where the cliff was, floating slowly upwards with its solemn face directed towards the creatures on the ground, was a giant ghast, much bigger than the ones seen before, but perhaps mainly due to perspective. Measuring a vastness of about four metres in height minus the nine swaying tentacles, the eyes of the ghast flickered slightly, almost as if it could see the small creatures on the ground through its eye lids. Slowing its ascent as it reached a height of 3 metres above the ground, tentacles reaching towards the rock face, it stopped and turned its closed eyes towards the only pigman that wasn’t cowering in fear.
Shanks sighed deeply, crossing his arms across his chest while looking straight at the ghast. After a few moments, he turned and shot a look of pure venom at the six people who he was about to kill. “Well, Drackens,” he says, picking up his gleaming orange sword from the ground, “it looks like you and your ‘Guardians’ are lucky today. Believe me, though,” he finally turns, pointing his sword Pyrid towards Vladimir’s heart, “The next time you see this blade, it will slice through your body and feed the scraps to the imps!”
As he turned, a blast of green light enveloped him and the rest of his men. One second he was there, the next he vanished as if he never existed.
“Coward,” Chris spits, dropping his pickaxe onto the ground and hunkering down. “Things get hot for a few minutes, and he runs away like a bleeding goat.”
“Hot for a few minutes?” Flint chimes in; catching the sentence like it was a goldmine. “Where have you been for the last day or so? I haven’t seen so much lava in my entire life!”
“Seeing as we are in the ground right now,” Steel slowly speaks, glancing from one to the other as if they were school children, “I would say that we are surrounded by magma, not lava. But putting that aside,” Steel’s voice hardens slightly as he turns his eyes on Vex, still standing with his bow drawn, “that man, or thing, seems to know you from somewhere… Do you know him somehow, Vex?”
Vex was still staring out into the distance, distracted as if the sight of the rocky red pillars in the distance were the most important things in the world to him.
Startled, Vex looks around, seeing Rebecca face to face with himself, concern evident on her usually harsh face. As she scrutinizes him, one of the leather straps that was holding her rusty shoulder pads in place snaps, sending the plate clanging to the ground.
“No,” Vex finally mutters, turning his face away. “How could I have seen him before? After all, I am only sixteen, and it looks like he has lived nearly ten times that.” Vex twirls his bow around and straps it on his back. Striding back towards where the house used to be, he states matter-of-factly, “We need to get moving. Knowing our luck, we are going to have company. And judging by the state of everyone’s equipment, we are not ready for that.”
Vladimir couldn’t agree more; action, any action at all, beat standing around doing nothing. But he couldn’t shake the fact that Vex’s bow alone showed no sign of damage whatsoever. “Alright, then, let’s go. Rebecca, gather our surviving supplies; Flint and Steel, I need you to check the perimeter, see if you can find anything useful that perhaps was left by our gracious friends. Vex, join Rebecca. Chris, can I have a word for a minute?”
As the others went off to do their respective tasks, Vladimir pulled Chris towards one of the ridges that over looked the lake of lava and took Chris’s pickaxe in his hand. Turning it over, Vladimir took in the smoky white glowwood shaft, entering the head of the pick made of a dense netherrack that obviously took Chris a long time to strengthen.
“Sorry, Chris, just admiring your craftsmanship,” Vladimir says as he hands back the tool to his confused friend. “What I really wanted to talk to you about is whether or not you would be able to make any weapons for us out of the supplies that we have. Judging by Rebecca’s cursing, though, I would say that we only really have this glowwood and netherrack at our disposal.”
“Well, yeah. I suppose so,” he replies, looking a little sceptical. “I would be able to make a few swords in about an hour. I think I managed to get the technique right, after finishing Flint’s dagger.” He shoots a venomous look towards Flint, who just happens to be looking the other way.
“That’s good to hear.”
The two of them stand awkwardly, looking at one another.
“What else is there?” Chris says, sensing how ridiculous the scene would look.
“Oh, all right. Nothing gets past you.” Vladimir takes a deep breath, looking at the sword strapped to his side. “I was wondering if you noticed anything about that Shank’s sword, Papyrus, or whatever he called it.”
“Yeah, whatever. Anyways…”
“What you are asking was in the minute or two that I saw the sword - a sword that I have never seen before, I might add – did I manage to dissect what it was made of and why it is so special?”
“Well, if you put it like that.”
Chris smiles, gleaming as if he was hanging from a tree while listening into a conversation that he wasn’t supposed to … like that would ever happen. “If so, you would be right, at least partially so.”
Chris begins to pace the bank of the cliff, ignoring the sharp drop beside him. “The sword Pyrid is made of a metal that I am never seen before, that much is true. This would obviously mean that there are many new metals in this world that are impervious to the degrading effects of the air.”
To illustrate this, he pulls out his iron pick from his pack; the pick is thoroughly rusted, with more holes in it than metal at this point. To show the contrast, he brings up his new pick made of netherrack, that still showed no disintegration.
“Obviously this Pyrid is neither unique, nor would it be made of the only type of metal that there is in this world; as you know, our world has many different metals, so there should at least be that many here, though probably not made the same way. Thus, there must be some other sort of metal that we can find, if we are able to live past the weekend.”
“But that can’t be all, though,” Vladimir interjects, trying to remember every detail of the sword he saw. If he strained hard enough, he could see Shanks pulling out his bright orange sword, swinging it towards them, shining white guard winking at him. “What about the hilt and guard? Those did not look like they were made of glowwood.”
Chris scratches his non-beard, looking out thoughtfully. “I was wondering when you were going to get to that. No, it couldn’t have been glowwood, from the limited knowledge I have on that particular flora; there were no impurities, such as the darker grain of the wood. I honestly have no clue what it could be. Though, it must be pretty strong.”
He takes a few glowwood sticks that he had in his side pocket and breaks them over his knee. “A metal blade would last a lot longer than these twigs.”
Vladimir nods, turning his head towards the burning ocean. “Once upon a time, I wished for some heroic adventure, to try to impress my father somehow. Now I kind of regret that dream, after finally living it.”
“’Only when we are dreaming,’” Steel speaks slowly, alerting the two to his presence, “’do we realize how much better it is to be awake.’”
“Oh goodness, who are you quoting, bro?” Flint bounds up behind Steel, slipping his dagger bag into his sleeve. “Please don’t turn out to be one of those girly Medics; I couldn’t bear the shame of disowning you!”
“I wasn’t quoting anyone, ‘bro,’ just need to reach my quota of conventional wisdom.” Steel swipes at his brother who glides just out of reach from the half-hearted attack. “At any rate, Traverser Drackens, we have found something that may interest you to some extent, depending on how much you love things on fire.”
“Depends;” Vladimir says drily, rolling his eyes and straightening his sheath, “is it a good ‘going to warm us in this sauna’ fire, or a ‘I’d better run away now’ fire?”
Flint’s smile widens, causing the scar over his left eye to become more pronounced. “What do you think?”
Flint and Steel led the other two towards a deep gash that ran through the ground, spanning four metres across and two deep. Nearing the hole, Vladimir caught a whiff of some sort of strange aroma, strongly reminiscent of burnt wood. This was an odd observation, because the only type of tree that was in the Nether was glowwood, and that never burned. “What the heck did you guys do, Flint?”
Flint looked aghast. “Why do you automatically assume that I was the one that did this? I feel hurt, Vlad.”
“That’s because it is always you who does everything, Flint. I remember five years ago when I heard that you decided to storm the Ghost Town; damn near lost an eye to a skeleton, then blew up the place with enough TNT to rival a thousand creepers!”
“And who was the one who killed all of those creepers to get the TNT?” Flint looked hurt, rubbing the scar on his face. “Took a while to amass all of that gunpowder, but it was worth it!”
“Anyways,” Chris interjected, deciding that the charade should probably end, “can you tell us exactly what happened, Steel?”
Flint childishly sticks his tongue out at his brother, who kneels down at the crater to examine a particular crack. “We were, of course, looking around to see if we could see anything else that was different about this world, when we noticed this particular spot. There was some sort of substance here that I didn’t recognize, so I took one of the torches closer to have a better look.”
Here, Steel smirks ruefully at Chris, slightly embarrassed by the story. “Unfortunately, it appears that whatever the substance was didn’t take too kindly to the torch; started to catch fire, and went through all of the rock. From what I could tell, it was a slow but very energetic burn.”
“Very foul odor,” Chris observed, rubbing his nose agitatedly. Stooping down, he reached into the hole with one hand and pulled out a hand full of a glittering emerald powder, slightly singed, and reaking of burned wood. Turning his head sideways, he said to Steel, “Would this be the culprit?”
“Yeah, I would say that would be it. Perhaps it could be useful if we find more of it.”
“Quite useful, indeed.” Chris reaches into his bag and pulls out a flask, taking a pinch of the emerald substance and depositing it into the container. “If you can gather some more of that from the crater, that would be incredibly helpful. I’ll see what I can do with this.”
As Chris starts to walk towards Rebecca (probably to grab some possible materials from what they found) Steel leans in towards Vladimir's right ear and says in a quiet voice, "He seems to be liking his power of being a scientist here, isn't he?"
"If you ask me," Flint whispers in Vladimir's left ear, "he has always been like that."
"Will you stop that, you two?" Vladimir swats away the two brothers: Flint rebounds enigmatically, while Steel simply goes to work on collecting the emerald powder. "Now is not the time to fight amongst ourselves."
Vladimir sighs, taking his sword back off of his hip and replacing it over his shoulder and strapping it to his back. 'Sure,' Vladimir thinks to himself, looking back towards the hill where the pigmen were not an hour before, 'things may be dangerous, but they don't seem overly complicated as of yet. Sure, we have an odd group that is out to kill us, with a possibly evil agenda, but it doesn't appear like it will be something that we can't handle. I mean, it isn't like stuff can get worse than hell!'
You should never really think that.
Turning back, Vladimir catches the sight of Rebecca running up towards him, panicked look on her face as if something had seriously gotten worse.
"What is it, Rebecca? If I didn't know any better, I would say that Chris was yelling something." He was yelling, but the exact things he was saying was unclear.
"Vex," Rebecca pants, taking a bit of cloth in her hands and throwing it to Vladimir; he knew what it was. "He is gone."
Vladimir laid down against the rough padding, fingers interlocked behind his head. Chris had said that these new beds were strong enough to hold three people at once plus extra, a fact that Flint had to test right away by jumping up and slamming into one of the small cots with a perfect pile-driver.
“These beds are made of interlaced glowwood planks, making them quite durable to unforeseen accidents,” Chris explained calmly while Flint rolled on the ground clutching his elbow. “The fabric, however, was made using the leaves and a few things that I found … here and there.”
“Oh, come on, Chris,” Vladimir heard Steel say enigmatically, “We are going to be sleeping on your wonder-fabrics, the least you could say is what they are made of!”
There was a slight pause as Chris seemed to consider the matter. Vladimir knew what type of craftsman Chris really was, though: the only reason he wouldn’t boast right away was that the secret was a little…
“Ok, then.” Chris cleared his throat, “I took the leaves of the glowwood trees, and noticed some sort of sand at the roots. On closer inspection, though,” Chris said in a spooky voice, “I could see faces, swimming through the sand, contorted as if they were screaming in pain. So, naturally, I took this sand full of the souls of the damned, cooked it with the leaves in the furnace, and then wove it together into the material you are laying your head on!”
Vladimir could hear the muffled sounds of Rebecca as she bolted off of her cot, her swearing only matched by the snorts of laughter from both Flint and Steel. It was a perfect picture: Flint and Steel laughing, Rebecca cursing fluently as she started towards Chris, Chris in turn smirking as he ducked a violet gauntlet, and Vladimir relaxing, gazing towards the others with a small smile hidden at the edge of his lips. There was only one problem, though.
‘Has it really only been sixteen days?’
“What the hell do you mean ‘he is gone’?”
Vladimir was sprinting back towards the broken building, glancing over his shoulder at Rebecca to make sure she wasn’t falling behind. He knew that the pieces of fabric that Rebecca had definitely came from the same tunic that Vex wears, but that could have just meant that there was another archer in this world. ‘For all that I know,’ Vladimir thought as he sped ahead, ‘this world does not exactly play by the rules.’
“I don’t know, Vladimir,” Rebecca huffed behind him. “I just remember that Vex was looking through the rubble for some time around where he put his sack, and when I turned back he was no longer there. And, sir,” she said, exasperatedly, “can you please slow down?”
Warriors are known for many things: their superior training in armed and un-armed combat make them the perfect soldier, and by the time you achieve the rank of Zuma you could easily level an entire village. Their main drawback, though, is that they can easily loose in the 100 meter dash to an Explorer. A Zuma Warrior may be able to level the village you are in, but a Traverser like Vladimir would be able to stab you in the back before you realized there was someone left.
"There isn't any time to slow down, Rebecca," Vladimir said, turning his face forward again. As he neared the edge of the cliff, Chris waved him down and started to explain the obvious.
“I hate to tell you this, Vlad, but there doesn’t seem to be much sign of him,” Chis said exasperatedly, fidgeting with his pick on his hip. Noticing this, he dropped his hand, saying towards Rebecca, “Sorry, I get rather scatterbrained when under this sort of stress; thank god it doesn’t happen that much. For instance, the last time I broke away a cobblestone wall only to find a-”
“Chris, now is not the time!” Vladimir said tensely, finally removing his poor excuse for armour; all that Vladimir had on left was a simple Explorer’s tunic, similar in design to Flint and Steel’s, but without the hood.
“Sorry!” Chris apologized, back-pedalling both physically and verbally. Turning around, Chris grabbed the tunic that was on the ground, evidently Vex’s. “Well, I found this right over by the pile of rubble that Vex was searching through, I am sure Rebecca would have told you at least that much. This tunic is remarkably well preserved, though, considering how long everyone has been here for.”
“Not entirely, though, is it?” Vladimir remarked, taking it from Chris’s hands.
“Right. There are a few areas of fraying, especially at his nocking hand where the arrow would sometimes hit the fabric. Other than some odd burn marks, though, there seems to be no damage.
Turning it over, Vladimir noted a large diagonal burn on the back crossing from the left shoulder to the right hip. The burning also seemed to encompass the cuff of the right sleeve. “It is almost as if his bow caught fire somehow,” Vladimir remarked, speaking much more calmly than he felt.
“I also noticed that, though I am not quite sure what to make of it,” Chris said, taking the tunic back from Vladimir for a closer look. As Chris placed his hand on the patch a puff of smoke spewed out, the smell reminiscent of burning oak.
“I would say that you should put it down before it disintegrates,” Rebecca coughed as the smoke cloud floated towards her face.
Placing the tunic down gingerly, Chris looked out towards the ridge of the cliff, overhanging the lava lake that was below it. Turning his head, he took in the mountains that were to the left of the cliff, streatching outwards for as far as he could strain his eyes. Next to those was a low valley; in contrast to the mountains, this area didn’t seem to be made purely from the blood-red netherrack. Splashes of orange and purple could be seen dotted on the small hills that made the majority of this region. Finally, in the last cardinal direction, there appeared to be a dense forest of glowwood trees.
“You know, guys,” Chris spoke up, the exasperation in his voice appearing to evaporate slightly, “it would probably be for the best if we just keep walking, since at the mo-”
“What the hell do you mean, Chris?” Vladimir gapped, gesticulating wildly towards the Craftsman. “Vex is currently out there, with no clue on how to reach us, and you want us to just forget that he even existed?”
“If you would let me finish,” Chris continued, forcing a calmness that Vladimir obviously did not have at that moment, “I would tell you why, and there are mainly two reasons; One, if Vex managed to disappear for whatever reason, whether kidnapped or merrily skipping through the rose bushes, looking for him in a place that we are so woefully unfamiliar with is nigh impossible. Second:” here, Chris looked around the wreckage from the ghast’s attack pointedly, “how would we be able to survive long without any water! The blasted fireball blew everything away, and what little water that was left has probably long since evaporated!”
Of course he was right, as was usually the case, but it didn’t mean that Vladimir would give up that easily. “Ok then, Chris, what else would we be able to do? That Shank character is most likely waiting for us to make a move away from what little we have here, getting ready to report our movements to that sick “master” that he has.”
“Honestly, Vladimir, if that was the case we would be dead by now! Don’t you think that Shank’s master would have killed us already if he wanted to? He has this entire realm beneath his fingertips, for all we know! And besides,” Chris steamrolled on before Vladimir had a chance to cut in, “If Vex would have gone anywhere, he most likely would have also searched for water!”
There were a few tense moments as Chris and Vladimir stared at each other.
“And besides,” Flint bounded in, jumping from the only intact wall (which then crumbled), “I bet he would be looking for cover right now, seeing as he is probably naked now without that tunic on.”
“Always the charmer, aren’t you?” Steel came in, glancing at the other four standing facing each other.
Seething a little, Vladimir resigned himself to the inevitable. “Ok, fine. Where would you have us go, considering our options?”
“Well, there really is only one direction that makes sense right now, since we should make finding water our main priority. I think that we should start towards the trees, for obvious reasons.”
“Hey, Chris?” Flint sidled up, whispering in Chris’s ear. “There aren’t exactly many botanists here that would understand why that would be the case. Mind telling us?”
“Sure thing, Flint,” Chris sighed, glancing daggers in the general direction of Flint.
“Well, as any sane person would realize, most plants need water. Seeing as trees are also plants,” Chris pauses as Flint gasps, “there should be water near the trees.”
“For the sake of argument, though,” Vladimir interjected, “seeing as most of the Nether doesn’t play by the rules nicely, why should this be any different? Why wouldn’t everything evaporate like everything else has so far?”
“Would you rather look in the lake of lava, if the rules are bent so much?”
“Point taken. All right, seeing as we have nothing else to do, let’s pack everything up and head on out while ‘the sun is still shining’!”
“Wait a minute, aren’t we…”
“I know that, Flint, now shut up.”
After gathering up the remainder of their supplies, the group started off towards the forest that they could see off in the distance. Unfortunately for them, it is really hard to estimate the distance that an object is when it is really far off, and this was exacerbated by the heat haze that lingered in the distance.
Ten minutes into the walk and the trees did not look as if they were any closer. Twenty minutes in, and the extreme heat of the air started to affect their vision.
“Ugh, I am exhausted!” Flint gasped, flopping himself on the closest patch of dirt that he could find; it was hot to the touch, so this didn’t help much. “Any longer, and I feel as if I am going to faint!”
“Yeah, I am not liking the prospects right now,” Chris added, lying down on a slightly cooler patch near Flint. “I am guessing that the currents are pulling hotter air in our direction. Probably just our luck that we had to choose this path; we better find some sort of rock face, where we won’t be directly in the wind.”
Vladimir started out towards a rocky cliff that jutted out of the ground to their side. Noticing how much cooler it was standing right against the face of the cliff of netherrack, he only just realized that there was a slight wind that was blowing against their backs, bringing hot air from, perhaps, the lava lake that they had left less than a half hour before. Waving, he called out sharply, “Ok, guys, it is much better over here! Come on and rest, before we bake!”
Before Flint could jump up and make a few dramatic bounds towards the cliff, the ground beneath Vladimir’s feet started to tremble as if the ground was resonating with some unknown source. The vibrations increased, steadily growing at an alarming rate, making loose rocks jump out of the ground and forcing Flint to halt in his tracks. Rocks flew everywhere, dust thrown up into the air to produce a light mist of grit, and a steady stream of pebbles shook off of the rock face to settle at Vladimir’s feet, causing him to strip and land on his rump.
Just as suddenly as it had started, though, the vibrations ceased. Getting back up to his feet, Vladimir brushed off the loose dirt that clung to his body and looked around. The rest of the group stood in various states of shock, either clinging onto the ground or laying spread-eagled in the dirt.
“Well,” Vladimir spoke matter-of-factly, having finally brushed off the dirt that stuck to his hair, “that wasn’t so –”
The crack ran across the ground, snaking through the dirt and breaking down the rock wherever it found a weak point. As the crack reached the group, it circled around Vladimir as if it was a live serpent, and then sped off in the opposite direction. As it continued off into the distance, the bottom of the mountain opened wide in a cracked-tooth laugh. Before he had a chance to blink, Vladimir was consumed in the chasm that had opened underneath his footing, and fell deeply into the hole that had found him.
Falling, speeding through the air, arms wide open to try to impede his progress, Vladimir fell in the wide vertical tunnel that he now found himself in. At times like these, Vladimir’s survival instinct kicked in and he found himself in a steely calm that only came when his life was in true mortal danger. Without thinking, he reached out with one of his hands, closing it into a tight fist, and slammed it into the rocky face that was in front of him. The resulting push flung him against the opposite wall and he stuck his feet out to push himself off again, righting himself in mid-flight, and slowing him down sufficiently for his next move. With his decent now much slower, Vladimir managed to grab onto one of the stalagmites that was on the rock wall, and he stopped himself ten meters before he would have impacted the ground below.
Sighing at the close encounter with death, he released his grip once more and bounded off of the wall, coming to rest on the floor of a new cave.
“That wasn’t so bad,” he finished his sentence, daring the world to interrupt him again. His hand slightly smarting, he looked up at the hole where he had come from. Even as he watched, though, the rocky expanse above him collapsed in upon itself, effectively sealing him from the rest of the group.
‘Well, now,’ Vladimir thought to himself, walking out towards a dim light in the distance. ‘This sucks.’
The funny thing is, though, that if he strained his ears, he could hear a slight rustling sound before him. ‘Now is not the time to relax, though, seeing as I am alone. Also, my hand really hurts right now.’
Vladimir had always found that being alone was comforting, with nothing distracting him except his own thoughts. Growing up, he found that he never really wanted to make too many friends, even though he was thrust into leadership at such a young age; it was hard to be a kid, and being the son of the Chief didn’t gain you as much respect as you would think.
Vladimir’s personality was close to a lightning bolt; quick thinking and quick tempered, if you were too close you could sometimes get shocked. He did have a sweet spot, though, and was usually quite placid when his sister was around. The relaxation helped, but if he was away too long, he was bound to start yelling at people who perhaps didn’t deserve it. ‘Perhaps.’
Not noticing where he was going, Vladimir started to slide down a steep incline, his footing slipping on the sand beneath him. Before having time to even blink, he skidded down the embankment and landed in the last thing that he expected: water.
“What the heck?” Getting to his feet once more, he looked out at the water that was flowing around his waist. The water flowed at a slow pace, snaking out of sight as if it was part of a great river. Sure, it was quite warm and even bubbled in places, but the refreshment was certainly a blessing. “Finally,” Vladimir called out triumphantly, stooping down and raising the blessed liquid to his mouth. After probably an hour of standing out in the great heat that was the Nether’s main land, the warm water cooled his parched throat, soothing his dry lips as it passed by.
All was well, for what type of luck would have brought him to a place like this?
“Who dares to drink from the river of my people?”
Vladimir abruptly turned, water dripping from his mouth and hand reaching out towards the hilt of his sword. Up on the opposite bank of the river stood a humanoid figure, though it was hard to tell how close to human it was. Appearing to have the physique of a young adult man, the person before Vladimir had grey skin, black hair, and what could only be described as tribal markings across his face and bare chest. His leggings appeared to be made of green leather, and his right hand was laying on his sword, which was attached horizontally on his waist at his back.
“So,” the man continued, speaking in an accent that was similar to a village to the south, “you are the one who fell, are you?”
“You could say that,” Vladimir said nervously, hand still firmly clenched around his hilt. Looking back behind his shoulder, Vladimir asked nonchalantly, “Are you the one that somehow ripped open a mountain to get me here?” He was quite interested in the man’s gauntlets, which were made of an odd black metal, seeming to reflect light in an impossible quantity.
“Yes, I was,” the man said, pulling out his sword from his sheath; it was a gleaming white blade, complete with a brilliant pearl hilt and augmented with an orange guard. “I brought you here to see how well the ‘Master’s’ pawns can fight against a true warrior, one that has been fighting for much longer than a simple outsider-”
“Wait, wait, wait; you said that you opened up the ground from underneath me? What’s more, it was only to fight me?” Vladimir laughed openly at this, clutching his sides from the pure comedy of the statement. “And how, might I ask,” he continued once he pulled himself together, drawing his iron sword out in turn, “how did you manage to split the ground like that?”
“Pray that you will not have to find out, outsider,” the man spoke straight faced, bringing his sword up in front of him to point the hilt at Vladimir. “Let’s just say that I will only need this blade to defeat you!”
The assailant lunged forward, giving Vladimir only enough warning to bring up his own blade to block the thrust to his head. Sluggishly shifting his stance in the water, Vladimir pushed his sword forward, swiping at his attacker with the flat of his blade. Jumping out of the way, the man brought his sword up high and brought it crashing down towards Vladimir’s head, which he deflected by bringing up his own blade.
Holding this stance for a few moments, Vladimir gasped “Why would you want to attack me? What have I done to you?”
“All pawns of the Forsaker shall be killed,” the man said forcefully, lifting his blade to swing it at Vladimir’s side, which managed to make contact with his tunic.
“We only just got here, damn it!” Vladimir yelled, lunging backwards to the bank of the river. Frustrated, he took his sword and pointed it at his attacker’s chest, “We have nothing to do with this ‘Forsaker’ that you are talking about, we don’t even know who the hell he is! Damnit, if anything we are on the same side, for you said he was pulling our strings?” Vladimir took his sword and plunged it into the sandy embankment, “Let’s just say I am a little ed off at him!”
There was a silence as the two fighters stared at each other, waiting for the other to react. Finally, the man walked back to the other side of the river, turning to face Vladimir again. “Fine, if you aren’t going to tell the truth…”
Oddly, the man sheathed his sword, stowing the blade back behind him. Before Vladimir had a chance to throw up a look of confusion, the man brought his fists together in front of him: a resounding wave hit Vladimir, and he had to grip onto the hilt of his submerged blade to keep himself steady.
Chapter 14: Heated Valley
Vladimir didn’t get a chance to finish the thought, as a huge wave from the river stirred up and launched forward, slamming into the bank where Vladimir stood. Still gripping onto his sword, the wave lifted him and threw him bodily into the cave that he entered from.
Slightly dazed and thoroughly soaked, he grabbed the rags of his hood and forcibly tore it off, throwing it back down the steep incline that moments ago was a refuge. Finally glancing up after quickly checking the state of his still rusting armour, he noticed the same fighter standing on the bank opposite, fists raised as if to take on the world.
His gauntlets caught Vladimir’s eyes, though: they were somehow different from the black metal that once encased the man’s hands. Before, there were vague etchings that marked the backs of the hands, spiraling through the fingers and back towards the arms. Now, those same etchings glowed with a soft light, contrasting the metal in such a way that made the air look like it was shimmering.
“Come on, man, what the hell!” Vladimir shouted, rummaging on the ground for his rusty sword. “First, you cause me to fall down into this hell hole, and then you attack me without provocation when I have my first decent drink in days!?” Finally lumbering to his feet again, he points the tip of his sword at his attacker. “You me off!”
Still as ever, the man solidifies into a short stance, a position most favoured my many martial arts. Bringing his right fist up, he quickly lunges forward and throws a right hook. Vladimir, still not fully ready due to the twenty metre distance between them, gets caught off guard as a huge concussive wave blasts him from his left side. Still not done, the man then dashes back and throws an upper cut with his left, and almost simultaneously a chunk of the ground rips open and knocks Vladimir’s chest, damaging the ripping the tunic that only now remained.
As the man starts forward again with another attack, Vladimir ducks and dodges the concussive blast that would have hit where his head was just moments ago. Lunging quickly, he dives into the water and starts to swim as quickly as possible.
“What the hell?” he finally finished his first thought, weaving through the narrow river as a few geysers of air shoot through the water. It was almost too sudden: first, he was attacked by the man, claiming that the river was owned by his people. Then, he suddenly sheathed his sword after saying something about a ‘Forsaker,’ whoever that was. Now, Vladimir was running, or more accurately swimming, away from some unseen force that was causing huge waves, destroying rocks, and generally putting him in a really bad mood.
Peeking out of the water for air, Vladimir noticed that he was a hundred or so metres away from the initial embankment that he first stood, and quickly swam towards the sand of the river. “Ok, ok, I know you are not happy!” he calls out into the sudden silence, trying to shake off the droplets of water that clung to his blade. “Can’t we at least talk about this, so I know why the hell you are so angry?”
Before Vladimir managed to fully catch his breath, he noticed a swift movement from his left and brought his sword up, quickly parrying the heavy gauntlet’s blow. Off guard by the sudden defensive tactic, the man shuffled backwards, giving Vladimir enough room to lunge forward with his own attack. Bashing the point to the side, the gauntlet returned full force in a quick jab which, even though it did not make contact, sent Vladimir staggering backwards. Still not done, though, he twists his sword backwards, smacking the flat end of the blade onto the man’s side, nicking the grey skin right above the hip.
Sensing a hint of weakness, Vladimir dashes to the left and smacks the gauntlets downward, causing a small rumbling in the ground beneath, and throwing up just enough dust to hide Vladimir’s movements. As the dust quickly settled, the man found the point of Vladimir’s blade inches from his throat, and a grim smirk of confidence accompanying the Explorer’s face.
“You know,” Vladimir said casually, bringing the edge of the blade to a slightly safer, yet still as deadly, point to the side of the neck, “now would probably be a good time to talk. Who are you talking about when you refer to this ‘Master?’ I assume it is someone that I should know about?”
The man echoed Vladimir’s grin, and said very calmly, “You can drop the charade, you know. You aren’t fooling me!” He quickly batted aside the point of the sword with his right gauntlet and, as Vladimir swung the blade again, proceeded to give a hefty punch to the flat of the sword.
The sword started to reverberate, rust and dust alike shaking loose and revealing the small holes in the blade. Still shaking violently, cracks rip through the blade, causing it to look like an artefact that belonged in a long forgotten dungeon. Suddenly, as Vladimir stared at his once proud weapon, it stopped shaking, and after a second that felt like an eternity, the blade disintegrated into dust, leaving only the wooden hilt and metal guard intact.
Vladimir turned his head to look at the man, who stood up and dusted off his leggings of green leather. Smiling, he brought up one of his black gauntlets, which even then had an odd rippling aura around it.
“What are you talking about?” Vladimir spat, still holding the hilt of his disintegrated weapon. Even then, the iron dust floated down the river.
“Did you not hear me?” the man said, seeming to take great enjoyment at his enemy’s disarmament. “I’ll say it again, then: the name of these gauntlets is ‘Resonare.’ It is a powerful weapon, wouldn’t you agree?” He walked around Vladimir, still stunned at what had happened. “Resonare is an artefact that I discovered. I won’t go into the science of it, but it has the ability to produce sound waves at will. Fun isn’t it?” He laughed out loud, taking great enjoyment in the circumstances. “And now, I get to kill one of the pawns of that old goat.”
“…You would laugh at a warrior grieving over his weapon?” Vladimir slowly got to his feet, turning around. A tear peeked out of the shadow that hid his face. “Laughing on the battle field, while my father’s blade lies before me!?” The shadow fled, and what it left was a look of righteous furry on Vladimir’s tear-streaked face. He lunged forward, jabbing the hilt of the sword into the man’s chest. “I. Will. DESTROY YOU!”
“What the hell?” Now on the defensive, the man attempted to bash the sword hilt aside, but to no avail. Vladimir’s sharp jabs stabbed the man where no blade could. Even though he had the upper hand, even though just moments ago he was the only one with a true weapon, the man was getting driven back with such ferocity that it seemed as if an angry god was just then attempting to smite him.
“I don’t get it!” he whispered quickly, not daring to take his mind off of the beast that was still bashing away, spinning and weaving from his gauntleted attacks. “Why can I not hit him? This is not the skill of someone under febris! Was I…” He didn’t have time to entertain the thought, though, because Vladimir proceeded to throw the hilt of his sword towards the man’s head. Ducking wildly, he turned just in time to find Vladimir behind him, fishing out something from his belt. Before he could react, however, the netherrack dagger swiped across his face and cut a long gash just below his left eye, drawing blood.
Picking up his hilt again, Vladimir lunged forward, knocking the man to the ground once again. Placing his left foot squarely on the man’s chest, he raised the hilt high above his head and …
*Thwack!* His eyes rolled back as the hilt fell to the ground, and a trickle of blood ran down Vladimir’s neck. Now unconscious, Vladimir slowly rolled off of the man as small footsteps approached.
A small figure appeared out of the gloom, white stick perched on its left shoulder and right hand stretched out in a welcoming gesture. “Need some help, Seb?”
Steel rose shakily to his feet as Flint bounded towards the crack in the netherrack that was quickly closing in on itself. Before he had a chance, however, Chris thrust his pickaxe out and caught Flint by surprise, sending him a few feet to the left of where the crack closed.
Getting up again, Flint rounded on Chris. “What the blazes was that for? I could have gone after him!”
“And what good would having been crushed by rock serve anyone!” Chris shot back, still brandishing his netherrack pick. “I hate to be a geologist right now, but those types of fishers close from the bottom up!”
“And what does that matter?” Flint pulled out his dagger from his sleeve and threw it at the cliff’s face, embedding it to the hilt. “I still could have made it!”
Chris was silently looking at Flint, but Steel interjected then. “Because, idiot, if it just managed to close at the top, that would mean that the bottom would have already been closed. You would have been pulverised.”
“Always the charmer, Steel,” Rebecca came in at that point, having just shaken loose the dirt from her armour. “If I could speak, though, wouldn’t it be good to keep moving?”
“And what the hell will that do?” Flint, who was so jovial most of the time, was now a bundle of anger, turning towards Rebecca.”
“I have to agree,” Chris also looked confused, stowing away his pick before he had a reason to use it. “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to attempt a rescue mission? I mean, it is Vladimir, our Traverser extrordinair.”
“Which is precisely why we should keep moving for now,” Rebecca continued, moving purposefully away from the spot that Vladimir recently vanished from. She stopped as a wave of heat issued from the lava lake below, cracking her already dry lips. Licking them quickly, she stated with full conviction, “Vladimir is a very capable fighter. If he were to meet some assailant, even if it was one of those pigmen from before, I am sure he could handle himself. And besides,” she continued, turning around to face the rest of the group, “we need to find water. I’d give it about an hour before we can’t even think straight in this heat.”
Silently, Flint went over to the side of the cliff and yanked his dagger free, stowing it away in his sleeve. Chris, however, looked to the direction that they were travelling to, and didn’t like what he saw.
“We are definitely more than an hour away from those trees, guys,” he said aloud, rubbing off a bit of sweat from his forehead. “But looking to the right, I see a bit of a valley.” Squinting, he saw something that caught his eye. Mixed with the red of the netherrack, he saw some rich oranges, and what looked like a few purple tinges. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that there is gravel over there.”
Steel walked to stand beside Chris, looking out towards the same valley. “Ok, there’s gravel over there. So what?”
“It means that there is a possibility of water in that direction. Gravel usually is fragmented rock that is eroded off of the rock face by constantly flowing water. For instance, piedmont gravel is a type of course gravel that is carried off from higher places to settle flatly on the ground, since the water flows more slowly at that point. Also, lay gravel-“
“We got it, Chris,” Rebecca interjected before he could enter lecture mode. “But it has probably been many, MANY years since water flowed through the river. Wouldn’t that mean that there won’t be a trace even when we reach there?”
“True, but it may lead us to where we can find some water. Also, past civilizations may have lived near a river’s bank. We might, if it is true that we aren’t the first to arrive here, be able to find some supplies, at the very least get an understanding of how such people survived.”
There was a silence as the four contemplated their own thoughts: Chris, vividly imagining the past civilizations that may have been there; Steel, who was even now wondering what type of flowers he could find near the past river; Rebecca, contemplating the tactics of leading the group through the valley; and Flint, who was simply wondering when his last square meal was.
“Oh, alright!” Rebecca finally exclaimed, breaking the silence. “But, since Vladimir isn’t here right now, I am going to need to take the lead here. Any objections?”
“No, your highness!” Flint flourished, as Chris and Steel shook their heads and rolled their eyes at Flint’s eagerness.
“Well, then. Let’s move out!”
Ten minutes later, the group found itself in the entrance of the valley, looking downwards to a winding gash that cut into the netherrack face. To either side of this were huge piles of deep purple gravel, very course and thoroughly weathered. To either side, huge walls of cracked netherrack arched upwards into the heavens, breaking off in either direction to plateaus kilometers above. What was most noticeable, though, was the searing heat emanating from all directions, causing the mouths of the four adventurers to resemble the deserts far to the south of their village.
“Are you sure this was such a good idea?” Steel whispered, sidling up to Chris as Flint started sprinting towards a large pile of light orange sand. Steel pulled out his rusted dagger from his inner sleeve and held it at the ready, looking around anxiously. “This would be a good place for an ambush.”
Chris glanced side-long at the cliff faces to the right, ignoring Flint as he started to climb to a higher vantage point. “You have a point, but if anyone was planning to I am sure they would have already attacked us. And anyway,” he continued, looking back towards the cut in the rock valley, “it is better than dying of dehydration.”
“Point taken.” They were interrupted by a sharp yelp of pain, followed by several curses. They turned in unison to see Flint running off quickly as the smell of burned leather wafted towards them. Covering his nose from the stench, Chris look at Rebecca, fluently swearing as she swatted away the sand from her face, leaving small burn marks where she brushed away the grains.
“Didn’t anyone tell you, Flint,” Rebecca spat as she got rid of the last speck of grit, “that sand gets very hot when the area is hot? The bugger jumped into the sand pile and managed to spray the dang stuff everywhere!”
“So that’s why he ran off with burnt boots?” Steel asked as Chris stooped to take a closer look at the sand.
“He better stay away from me, or else I’ll burn his ass later!”
“You are partly right, Rebecca,” Chris walked over to a pile of sand that was hidden in the shade. It was a light, luminous orange that seemed to radiate a soft light. Taking out his pick, Chris scooped up a sample of the fine sand and, rummaging in the folds of his shirt, pulled out a glass vial and collected it.
“Since when have you carried around vials with you?” Rebecca asked, both annoyed and a little impressed.
“Since that time that one of the villagers to the south threw a few of them with acid at me,” Chris replied, stowing the now filled vials in his breast pocket. “I’ve learned to be tactical. As I was saying, you are partly right. This sand is hot, that is true, but it doesn’t seem to be due to convection.”
“Convection?” Flint asked, slightly limping over after changing his shoes. Interpreting the look from Steel correctly, he said, “Since the time in that tundra area, remember? I always carry extra shoes.”
“It pretty much means that the sand wasn’t heated up by the surrounding air. It’s almost as if it’s …”
“Please don’t say alive, because that would be too much,” Rebecca sighed, knocking off a few flecks of rust from her armour.
“No, nothing that mundane,” Chris smiled as he took another vial sample. Holding it up, he shook the vial over his head and threw it down on the ground a few metres away. Immediately, the sand inside of it burst into flames, causing the surrounding netherrack to kindle and catch fire.
“Great,” Rebecca breathed, stepping back from the pile of sand and feverishly rubbing away the stray grains from her hair. “Just what we needed: flammable sand.”
I've been waiting to see something this good on the Minecraft forums for a while now. The pace isn't too fast like usual, there isn't a rediculous ammount of things that you can't actually do in Minecraft, and the female character isn't a romance tool. WONDERFUL! Please keep writing!
Despite me not liking the Nether very much, I'm really tempted now to use NetherCraft again....
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"Look at me still talking when there's science to do. When I look out there it makes me glad I'm not you."
I love this book!!!!!! I have been checking two to three times a day for updates! I have a minor suggestion and haven't read the comments so sorry if someone already said this but, I was thinking that maybe they should go to the Nether in like chapter 9 but not know it right away.
Wow, I had forgotten you were working on this for a little while! Bookmarking so I'll remember next time. Turning out great. I love the way you introduce each scene with detail, but not too much detail. You really should become a writer of fictional books, heck, you could even get this book published when completed! =D
Chapter 8 is finally released. The next chapter (or two) may be delayed slightly because my next two weeks will be very buisy. THanks for those who PM'd me with support, and to all of those readers who keep on reading.
By the way, thanks for 1000 views!
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Life sometimes hits people hard ... sometimes you do better getting back up again than not getting hit at all. -WayofTime