Aren and the Ancient Boulder Turtle followed the purple and green swirls of light. The two peered over a tall bush, seeing what lied before them. There was a small, wooden cabin that radiated mysterious energy and surrounding it, a legion of skeletons, zombies, and ghosts guarded the area. The zombies limped and moaned, begging for someone to end their eternal servitude. The bushes rustled, and all of them turned, seeing a large boulder shuffle about. They continued to patrol around, moaning and screaming in pain.
Aren nudged the tortoise, giving him the stank-eye. “Are you trying to get us caught already? Stay still, please?”
The tortoise snorted and gestured to the cabin, asking how they will enter without getting caught, or so Aren thought.
“Yeah, stealth’s overrated. Sword’s blazing buddy… or for your case, shell’s blazing!”
The moment he jumped out of the bush, the undead turned their heads to the intruder. He used his machete to cut down his enemies. They fell to the floor, but after a moment, stood up and continued their chase. He chanted his spell, Sanctus Agni, engulfing the fiends in a light-blue, purifying flame. It didn’t take long before he secured the perimeter. Aren dusted himself off and gestured the tortoise to follow.
“Come on turts, we found the damned curse! We have someone to entertain!”
The tortoise nodded and came to his side. It grasped the cabin handle with its beak, but the door wouldn’t budge. The beast tilted its head, asking him to break down the door.
“Hey, that’s not nice. We have to be mannered guests and knock first.”
The tortoise gave the “Oh Really?” impression. Aren shrugged and used his knuckle to tap in a melodic rhythm. The door slowly opened and a sinister laugh soon followed, giving a chilling welcome.
“See, what did I tell you? Let’s not keep our host waiting.”
The two entered and Aren summoned a ball of light to ward off the darkness. The cabin trembled, twisting and turning into a strange form. When the quaking ended, the entire cabin interior turned into an enormous castle corridor.
“The work of a master mage. Phew, what a sight to behold.”
The tortoise grunted, walking ahead to find a path to the source of the weird energy. There were many piles of mortal remains scattered across the broken marble floor, many wearing and wielding various rusted equipment. Aren searched around while his friend was gone. He crouched near one bone pile, picking up a skull and examining it.
“Hello Mr. Skeleton, what are you doing here?”
He moved its jaw, pretending that the skull could speak. “Ah, hello Mr. Hero, what are you doing here?”
“Ah, nothing much. Dungeon crawling with a big Boulder tortoise. Weird, right? You know where the source of the dark magic is?”
“I’m dead, you stupid t***! How am I supposed to know?!”
“That’s incredibly rude, Mr. Skeleton. Now, where… Wait a minute.”
He threw the skull behind him and saw a ruined banner under another pile of bones. Since it was ruined beyond repair, he could barely make out the emblem of the flag after he took it into his own hands.
“Two-bay laurels with a sword between: an ancient faction for sure. I don’t recognize it. A relic from the past? Hmm…”
It piqued his interest, enough to wanting to search around more. When he made up his mind, his tortoise friend came back, and it seemed it found a path forward.
“Wait a sec, turts. I gotta check out some things. Time for some side-questing.”
Its eyes became sullen while it mumbled in a saddening tone when it glanced at the banner. It was strange for a random creature to be depressed upon looking at a humanly made object. Is it related to this ancient faction?
He flicked his finger and the ball of light came close to his side, lighting the way as they roamed the corridors. Some rooms were filled with ruined books and upon opening them, most had indiscernible hieroglyphs or faded out letters. His exploration soon ended upon seeing a skeletal hand holding onto a rusted medallion. Aren broke the arm in two and analyzed its center: an insignia of a star and a sun behind it.
“I see… ‘May the sun be your guiding star.’ The Emerald Knights. So, they were real, after all.”
The Emerald Knights were an army of paladins dedicated to rid of all the evils in the world during the Void Wars. Their leader, June Kyngeston, valiantly led them to countless victories. She was his mother’s role model, and it was her favorite story to listen and read to when she was a youngling. He searched through more of the many assortments of skeletal remains, finding many medallions beneath. All Emerald Knights, from the looks of it.
“There must’ve been a large-scale battle here. Oh right, the last few lines from the story Mother told me. Hmm…”
He recited what he remembered from the tale:
“Oh, oh the Great Shining Emerald: her glint shined with glee,
Befall the sword of justice so Humanity can be free!
But alas, her fate was sealed upon the damned wood,
For He Who Shall Not Be Named unstruck, he stood.
Oh, oh Great Shining Emerald: fate comes to beseech thee,
Seal the Great Evil, but thou must give thy life,
So Humanity can be free…”
Then it hit him. Within the books he’d read, he remembered something: during the Void Wars, humanity and their compatriots were on the verge of extinction. As a last-ditch effort to save the world, all mortal-kind formed the Great Alliance. June was one of these leaders and she, along with her Emerald Knights, led the offensive. They fought heroically, but their efforts were for naught as many armies crumbled before the Great Necromancer, the villain responsible for the Void’s appearance. The remnants of the Emerald Knights and the Great Alliance brought the Grand Necromancer to a forest to seal him. They were successful and afterward, closed the Void Portal, thus ending the great Void War.
If the stories are true, then this place may be the forest where the Grand Necromancer was sealed. Considering that only he can open the portal and Void creatures running amok here and nowhere else, it was the logical assumption.
To that point, there was one thing that puzzled Aren. Surely, they will have someone, or something watch over the forest to prevent the Void from escaping. One that can watch for centuries, can easily navigate through the harsh environment, and knew the location of the seal. The tortoise was eyeing down the medallion with great despair. A glance at that single gaze and Aren knew.
Sound of clashing metal rang across the castle corridors, following a cynical laughter. It was time to meet the one behind the sinister energy. He prepared himself for the worse. He patted the tortoise’s back, lowering his eye.
“Come on, turts. Looks like the party is starting.”
The tortoise grumbled, shaking its head. It made haste to the echoes. Aren scratched his head and kept up with his partner’s speed. As they progressed deeper into the mysterious cabin/castle, a red carpet was revealed to them. The sounds of conflict amplified as they followed it and soon, a marble staircase. Sparks of metal flew at the stair’s peak. A flash of blood came into their vision, following a body tumbling down at the bottom of the steps. Aren frowned, realizing it was one of the search party members, and looked up to see the Captain was gazing down at them, horrified of the act he had committed.
“Very good, very good! Soon, your freedom will be at your grasp!”
The Captain turned; his hands trembled in fear. “F-Freedom, after all of this?! What more will you have me do, monster?!”
A chattering of teeth was heard. “There is… One more contender! Come now, new blood, face your fate before you!”
“Y-You! You’re Aren, the one who escaped from our grasp!” The Captain gripped on his bloodied sword tighter. “If I kill you… Then everyone—!”
Aren furrowed his brows. “What the hell happened to you? Where are your men? Wait, did you—?!”
“I had no choice! Those goddamn creatures were too strong and brought us here! It made us fight to the death and… and—!”
“Get out of here you dimwit!”
“C-Can… Can I trust you?”
Without hesitation, the Captain ran for his life. Dark energy lashed out in a tentacle-like fashion, trying to seize the man. Before the energy was able to reach him, they were burnt away by Sanctus Agni. The Captain twirled to the nearest corridor corner and disappeared after that.
He expressed a look of disappointment. “So much for moral support. Some encouraging words would have been nice.”
“Ho, what is this? A power that rivals mine?”
Aren readied his machete and walked to the top of the stairs. A mass of dark energy circulated around a single point and when it receded, a being appeared before him: it was a skeletal figure, striding with its ragged robe and along with its jeweled gauntlets and golden armor, it wore a crown of thorns and human remains. There were countless souls emitting from the being’s body, and the skeleton absorbed its newfound prey. It stared at him with a sinister smile and raised its arm to his new toy.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Aren remarked.
“Cower in fear, brave little ‘hero.’ Welcome to my domain: I am the Grand Necromancer.”