Authors: Michael J. Ward
Tags: #Sci Fi & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Fiction & Literature
‘Come, we have to move. I can’t leave you here.’
‘I know.’ She staggers into you, putting her head against your shoulder. Wrapping an arm around her, you walk together into the passage – fearing what you may find on the other side. Turn to
The men exchange wary glances. Lord Everard is the first to answer. ‘Yes, we heard you were headed out to Lord Salton’s castle. We also heard you were ambushed by Wiccans.’
The elderly man raises a gnarly finger. ‘Understandably, we thought you dead. And why wouldn’t we?’ His robes swish around his heels as he paces the room. ‘The Wiccans spare no one. They don’t see the value in keeping hostages. Rather send their message in blood and ashes.’
Lord Everard frowns. ‘Although the palace says otherwise,’ he adds stiffly. ‘They say you are a hostage. No doubt to rally support for the war.’
You shake your head at that. ‘They lie, we were betrayed. I was never meant to reach Lord Salton’s castle. I think it was part of a plot. To be rid of me.’ You glance between the two men, expecting them to baulk at your claim. But they remain silent. Lord Everard sighs and nods.
‘I had suspected that was the case,’ he says. ‘We have much to tell you, Arran. And some of it will be . . . hard to take.’
Your weapons cut a swathe through the nightmarish creatures, their twisted bodies crumbling to dust around your feet. From the remains a ghost of each asynjur rises into the air, their tattered robes fluttering in an unfelt breeze. Then, one by one, they vanish – leaving only black whispers of smoke to trail away into the gloom.
Rummaging through their dusty remains, you discover one of the following rewards:
|Sinner’s shroud||Eir’s treads||Voice of Var|
|+1 speed +1 armour||+1 speed +1 armour||+1 brawn|
|Ability: bleed||Ability: heal||Ability: blood oath|
With the asynjur defeated, you approach the base of the tree. Straight ahead the ground drops into an uneven slope, leading into an earthen tunnel. To your right a series of knotted roots form a makeshift pathway, winding up around the trunk.
|Will you:|| |
|Enter the tunnel?||418|
|Follow the winding roots?||372|
The sky is a vast grey emptiness, barely touched by the dawn light. Frost cracks underfoot, dripping from the links of chain and iron struts – and the hundreds of cruelly-barbed spears that block your way. With a cry from one of the soldiers, there is a grating rumble as some hidden mechanism is activated and the chains clatter back through their ring loops. A moment later and the spear walls are lowered, one by one, like waves of grass, beaten back by the wind. And there, ahead of you, across a mile of iron-worked bridge, is the country beyond the rift. Skardfall.
The cart horse whickers nervously as Kirk leads it across the bridge spanning the eerie emptiness of the Great Rift. He is a short, well-built man, with a pug-nose and permanently disgruntled expression. He reminds you of a pit dog your brother Malden once owned, its face crumpled up into a mass of nostrils and teeth. Further ahead, silhouetted by the light, is a taller soldier, all lean muscle and sharp angles. He looks back at you, his hooked nose the only thing visible beneath his dark hood. Lawson, the other soldiers had called him. A short-tempered man and not one to be easily crossed.
You follow at the rear, with two fresh-faced recruits – Mitch, a young farm boy, enrolled in the army to earn coin for his family. He is thin and gangly, constantly on edge, as if at any moment he might bolt into hiding. Your last companion is the stark opposite. Confident and assured. A female knight fresh from the academy, her burnished armour the only bright thing on this sullen day. Her name is Henna,
and aside from the briefest of greetings, she has been content to maintain a dutiful silence.
Looks like you’re in for a fun day.
Loaded into the back of the cart are twelve barrels. Everard wants them filled with tar to help bolster the keep’s defences. As most of the horses won’t stand to be near the acrid-smelling pits, you’re going on foot – save for the cart horse, which Kirk insists won’t shirk away from anything. He tugs roughly on the reins, muttering curses as he attempts to coax the horse across the bridge. Evidently, heights didn’t factor into his decision.
Not the best of starts, but you won’t let it dampen your spirits; after all, this is your first chance to get out and explore the untamed wilderness of the north. The land of the Skards.
Once across the bridge, it proves a little disappointing. Bare rock and loose stone litter a featureless plain, occasionally zigzagged by crevasses and impassable ridges. Negotiating it with the cart is both tiresome and frustrating.
After several gruelling hours the land finally dips, bringing you into a valley of wind-sheared pillars and canyons. The ground is smoothed stone, occasionally forming shallow basins of still grey water. Kirk insists this area was once covered by ice, back in the day. But every year, the ice has crept a little further north, leaving channels of ice-melt in its wake.
A cold air gusts along the narrow gullies, pulling at clothes and biting at skin. Its mournful howl is accompanied by the shrieking cries of the birds, circling overhead and nesting along the jagged ledges.
‘Petrels,’ hisses Lawson, nocking an arrow to his bow.
‘Leave them be,’ grunts Kirk, glaring up at the pitted rock. ‘This is the birdman’s territory. Let’s not ruffle any feathers, eh?’
‘The birdman?’ echoes Mitch nervously. His eyes are already darting from side to side.
‘Yeah, one of the convicts from Ryker’s Island. Went a little crazy, you know. Thinks he can fly or something. Ah, here we go.’ Kirk halts in front of the party, throwing back his head to take in a deep breath. ‘Smell that?’
You pick up a sweet, pungent oily smell. ‘The tar pits?’ you venture.
‘Indeed, my green-gilled friend.’ Kirk flashes you an ugly grin. ‘Black gold. Come on, let’s get these barrels filled.’
The canyon widens, bringing you to the banks of an immense lake of black tar. Smaller pools lie to either side, several dotted with islands of rock and coarse grass. As Kirk and Lawson start to unload the barrels, you become aware of a grief-stricken howling. At first you wonder if it is a trick of the wind, but the sound only intensifies, reverberating from the walls of the canyon. It sounds like some creature in distress.
‘Look, over there!’ Mitch is already scurrying down the slope, to where the black tar laps thickly against the pebbled shore. He hops onto a boulder to give himself an elevated view of the lake. You hurry to his side, scanning the black waters until you spot the disturbance. A large, shaggy-haired creature is mired in the tar, beating its arms as it tries to free itself. But each frantic movement only serves to ensnare it further, the sticky tar clinging to its matted hair.
‘What is it?’ You squint, trying to make out some features. The tar already coats much of the beast, but you get the sense of a muzzled face, a pronounced forehead and two curving horns.
‘Yeti,’ says Lawson, taking aim with his arrow.
‘What are you doing?’ gasps Mitch, putting out a hand to stay the intended shot.
‘What do you think I’m doing, runt? Putting it out of its misery,’ Lawson furrows his brow in concentration. ‘It’s just a juvenile. Ain’t got a hide worth skinning.’
‘Don’t waste the arrow, Law,’ grumbles Kirk, walking over.
‘But you can’t just leave it!’ Mitch looks around frantically, then his eyes fix on the cart. ‘We could use a rope. Get the horse to pull it free.’
Henna appears at your side, hand resting casually on her sword hilt. ‘It’s hardly likely to thank us, is it? I don’t fancy a crazy yeti on the loose.’
Lawson lowers his bow, glancing towards Kirk. ‘What’s it to be?’
The pug-faced soldier grins. ‘Let the rookies decide. One vote to save, one to kill. Up to you now, green gills.’
|Will you:|| |
|Vote for the beast to be saved?||216|
|Insist the beast is put out of its misery?||128|
You ascend a short staircase into a wide, vaulted chamber filled with musty-smelling shelves and stacks. The sight of the familiar library chokes you, bringing back memories of your days as a child, hiding here, lost amongst the many storybooks. You pass between the tightly-packed shelves, your hands running along the spines, leaving a smudge of dust on your fingertips – everything feels real. Exactly as you remember.
You pass the empty tables, passing through a doorway into a small reading room. This had always been your favourite place – the one you came to at night, to read and be alone, to stay awake and avoid the nightmares.
You see yourself, a pale ghost, reclining on the window seat beneath the pitted pane. Moonlight filters in through the glass, joining the amber flickering radiance from the candles on the table. A dozen books lie scattered across it, all your favourite storybooks. Whereas most of them lie open, their pages flicking back and forth in an unfelt breeze, two of them are closed, their titles glowing with a green light of their own.
Drawn to the closed books, you scan their titles, already knowing from their binding and size what volumes have been highlighted to you:
The Astounding Adventures of Skyhawk the Sharpshooter
The Magnificent Mind of Theomus the Thinker
|Will you:|| |
Skyhawk the Sharpshooter?
Theomus the Thinker?
You hurry to the centre of the clearing, grabbing the discarded water flask from next to the traveller’s body. To your relief it is nearly full, the sound of sloshing liquid audible from inside. Popping open the lid, you put it to your mouth and take a thirsty gulp of its contents.
It isn’t water. You turn your head away, preparing to spit it out. But then you pause, realising that its flavour is far from unpleasant – putting you in mind of milk and honey, with the sharpness of cinnamon. You swallow it greedily before taking another mouthful, marvelling at the surge of strength now flowing through your body. Its effects are almost as potent as the dragon leaf.
Congratulations, you have now gained the following backpack item:
Pot of might (2 uses)
Use any time in combat to
by 2 for one combat round
As you are about to leave, a glint of something bright catches your eye. Leaning in closer, you see a ring on one of the skeleton’s fingers. Its silver band glows with a soft green light, suggesting it could be magical in nature.
|Will you:|| |
|Take the ring?||116|
|Leave it with the skeleton and continue?||19|
The black slush shifts and slides underfoot as you make your way along the alleyway that cuts between high granite hills. Firelight illuminates the mouth of several openings above you, reached by ragged-looking rope ladders. You wonder if some of the populace has resorted to living in caves hollowed out of the rock.
People trek back and forth, picking their way past the rubbish and squalor. As before, you feel ravenous eyes watching you, appraising your gear, weighing up your ability to defend yourself. Hands never stray far from weapons. ‘Accident alley’, the locals have named it. You can see why.
The broken door scrapes stubbornly against the floor as you shove it open. Ducking under the low lintel, you enter the room beyond. The area appears to be a storeroom filled with crates, barrels and rotting sacks. Most of the floor is littered with scraps of wood and metal, where someone or something has smashed its way through the room. The ceiling above is panelled wood, covered in green mould and dark stains. At the far end one wall has caved inwards, the stones scorched by an explosion of some kind. The resulting rubble forms a crumbling slope, leading up to a torn hole in the ceiling.
As you scan the store for anything of interest, you become aware of a knocking, tapping sound coming from your right. Anise has already edged past you, holding out the torch towards the noise. As her light sweeps the area, it illuminates a row of crates and barrels. One of the smaller crates is trembling and shifting slightly, as if something inside is beating against the wood, trying to get out.
|Will you:|| |
|Open the crate?||232|
|Break open one of the barrels?||156|
|Climb the rubble to the room above?||272|
|Retrace your steps and use the stairs?||111|
You slash and blast at the shrieking monsters, cutting through their leathery wings and sending them spinning away into the abyss. The rest of the flock gather to attack, but with an extra burst of speed you are able to outrun them.
For successfully defeating the terrordactyls, you have gained the following item: