Into the Rift

Once more into the Rift . . .
Led by the elf prince, Adros, a group of heroes returns to the Dead Worlds in a last ditch effort to find the living. But instead of survivors, they encounter beings more ancient and evil than even the foulest of Dead Gods.
Meanwhile, the Goddess Alana begins her own quest -- a journey back to the world of her greatest failure, the elven home-world, the land where she left her true love die. There, she must face her greatest fears -- and an enemy more powerful than anything she has ever known.

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“. . . This ingeniously hidden, nearly invisible crack . . .”

Huh . . .

Whatever the dwarf’s hands brushed upon, to Jessup, the surface was the same flawless, jet-black material as the rest of the object.

“. . . is a door,” TOphin said in triumph.

A door . . . Jessup wondered to himself.  . . . into that thing?

Dreading the inevitable harsh explanation from TOphin, he didn’t dare question him out loud; nor did he wish to ruin the dwarf’s rare, good mood.

Nevertheless, TOphin must have sensed his confusion. 

“Whatever this thing is, it didn’t come from this word.”   TOphin looked him directly in the eyes and joyfully continued, “If I had to guess, Commador, I’d say this thing’s a star-ship!”

“What?” was all Jessup could think of saying.

Oh boy, Jessup recognized that scrunched-up look upon the old dwarf’s face; his bushy grey brows mashed together, his whiskers quivered on his wrinkled cheeks.  I’ve angered him again.

His eyes were the final confirmation, the big brown orbs filled with rage . . .  But they looked past him, to the entrance of the cave, where suddenly Lord Adros cried out . . .

“Jinla . . .”

His voice deadened by the cavern walls -- her name reached Jessup as a hollow sound.

What the . . .

At the entrance of the cave came a muffled clanging of steel on steel. 

Turning from TOphin’s ‘door’, Jessup saw dozens of towering, sleek bodies stepping out of the rain; their flesh glistening as if pure steel, their eyes glowing pure white like ultra-hot embers.  Moving so fast he could barely see them, they stormed the entrance, which Adros and Jinla fought desperately to hold.  They stood a full head taller than even the elves, and moved with the same effortless, graceful motions.  And they were just as quick as the elven warriors.  Even the Mighty Adros, his staff spinning faster than ever, was losing ground to the metal giants. 

Before Jessup even had his blade unsheathed, the great elven weapon-mistress, Jinla was unconscious, and flying across the cave.

“Bloody hells,” the dwarf fumed.

TOphin charged forward, his pick and hammer clenched in his hands; Jessup right beside him.

They didn’t make more than a dozen steps before Lord Trenton was batted aside with a metal fist.  Laying on the cavern floor, he clutched his chest, coughing up blood.  Soon after he was downed, so too were the rest of the humans.  Instead of his blades, Drex waved his middle fingers at the metal giants; to which they replied by punching his bald head.  Drex was laughing maniacally at them right up until he lost consciousness.  The three female warriors, Alicia, Mika, and Yula teamed up to take down one of the behemoths, but its speed proved beyond them, as did its impenetrable metal flesh.  Having no need to defend against their attacks, it simply swatted the young women aside.  The red-haired Mika fell hard against the cavern floor, her right arm bent at an impossible angle, her lean body motionless except for the heaving of her ample breasts as she labored for breath.  Prince Kalan was a man possessed, swinging his blade like a savage . . . but to no avail.  The giants easily maneuvered their shiny metal bodies away from his powerful, but slow and clumsy, attacks.  A direct blow to his temple turned his stout, muscular body limp as jelly.

“No!” TOphin barked, pulling Jessup back by the nape of his surcoat.

Narrowly avoiding being pulled off his feet, Jessup recovered his balance, turned, and stared down at him with the most confounded look to date.  

What in the dead is the sour old dwarf up to now? Jessup wondered, once more biting his tongue.

Their companions were being overwhelmed! 

They were his friends -- the only ones he ever had – and they were in danger. 

Back at the farm, the closest thing he had to a friend was his pet piglet, Duke.  But on Jessup’s thirteenth cycle, that friendship came to a sad, and bloody end.  Sometimes in his sleep, nightmares of that day still plague his dreams -- his father looms over him, bloodied knife in hand, a look of pure contempt upon his face.  He had failed his father’s lesson that day, miserably.  What’s worse, he tried to stop the man from doing what he could not.  For his efforts, his father found a particularly thin, wiry, whip-like branch of yew and made sure the ‘lesson’ was permanently emblazoned on Jessup’s backside.

Sure, Jessup had eleven siblings, but he wouldn’t say they were his friends.  He was the youngest of the bunch by a good five cycles, so they were more like his caretakers.  By the time he was born, his parents had grown weary of the cuteness of babes, so they basically left him to the mercy of his elder brothers and sisters.  Unfortunately for Jessup, to his parents, until he could work the fields he was just another mouth to feed. 

Other than Duke, he owned nothing – nothing material, that is.  His most cherished possessions of the time were the many tales his grandfather told of the Exodus and his journeys through the Rift.  When he knew him, his grandfather was a crippled old man unable to remember what he had for breakfast, yet somehow able to recall every detail of his days in the Dead Worlds.  His siblings often dumped Jessup into his bony (and usually soiled) lap, hoping to kill two birds with one stone – keep their rambling grandfather busy, and keep Jessup out of their hair. 

After his grandfather died, he basically had nothing left on the farm.  Times were hard in those days.  With twelve children to feed, food was scarce.  Any morsel he managed to claim from his elder siblings at the supper table was a victory.  But even so, the victories were small, and few and far between.  He always went to bed hungry; his growling stomach waking him throughout the night.  When he awoke in the morning, he often he lacked the energy just to crawl from his bed of straw.  And that was just the beginning of his day.  After twelve hours of digging through hard, clay-filled soil in the hopes of finding fertile ground, his aching body collapsed back into the bed of straw, weaker, and hungrier than before. 

Day after day, dawn continued to follow the dark of night.  Somehow Jessup always awoke with its light, to once more drag his famished body back into his father’s fields, where his contemptuous glare followed him with every passing second.  No matter how tired he was, he always worked and tried hard; but it was obvious – especially to his father – that he wasn’t much of a farmer . . . wasn’t much of anything actually.

What he was, was average.  Jessup wasn’t weak, but had a slight build no matter how hard he trained.  Standing just under six-standard feet, he was the typical human height.  All of his older brothers had the fortune of taking after their father in that regard – not a one of them anything less than six-standard feet tall.  And though for the most part, it was a difference of only by a couple inches, Jessup always marveled at what a difference those couple inches made.  To him, he always seemed to be on his tip-toes, reaching, only able to brush the objects of his desire with his fingertips, but never fully able to grab hold. 

The only physical feature he possessed that wasn’t average was his nose; an exceedingly long, narrow appendage, made even more absurd after it was reshaped into an “S” by several of his less than friendly ‘allies’ on the Wall.  What’s worse, when he forgot to breathe through his mouth, the appendage became a whistle.

The Wall . . . he thought things would be better there . . . how could they be worse?

No longer able to bare his father’s disapproval, he left the Outlands at the age of fifteen.  He thought his luck would change if he joined the garrison of Lock Core.  With his grandfather’s tale at the forefront of his mind, he dreamt of becoming a renowned guardian of the wall, someone people would look upon and respect.  Instead, he became a joke; the backwater rube who couldn’t stop gawking at the Red Wall, or take his eyes off of the Rift. 

He was bullied by his peers . . . beaten . . . and after he fought back – considered a trouble-maker and banished to the most inhospitable section of the Wall. 

Still . . . no matter his situation, he trained hard.  Took the mission seriously, and kept his eyes on the Rift . . .

Years later, his diligence finally paid off when he caught wind of a mission to the Rift.  They were little more than whispered rumors, but for a chance to relive his grandfather’s tales, and find glory in the Black Door, they were rumors he couldn’t ignore.  Risking being branded a deserter – and subsequently die a traitors death by fall from the Red Wall – Jessup changed his name and made his way to the Central Keep where the group of brave (or as most people called them, ‘insane’) warriors were said to have assembled. 

A more intimidating lot he had never seen. 

Ollius . . . as dark, dour and formidable as his grandfather described.  Kendal . . . so innocent, frail, and unassuming . . . yet a single glance from her fierce blue eyes and Jessup nearly pissed his pants. 

And then there was Adros . . . so regal, so stoic . . . so solitary -- even though he stood at the center of the gathering surrounded by his allies and friends. 

The very legendary figures his grandfather had spoken so often and fondly of stood before him in the flesh.  Suddenly, Jessup had second thoughts about joining them, not because he was entering the Dead Worlds through the Gate, but because he dared to do so with such a hardened and powerful group of warriors.  He was average . . . possibly even less than.  Even if they accepted his help, he never dreamed he could keep up with them . . . this group of living legends . . .

He imagined how foolish he must have appeared to them . . .

He still wore his hair in their customary style of a guardian of the wall; shaved on the sides, and trimmed short and evenly from his ears on up.  He even saved the standard longsword, and breastplate issued to every class 1 sentry of the Wall.  The breastplate was a scratched and dented piece of metal; likely repurposed from the early days following the Exodus.  The insignia indicating his garrison – a field of seven stars and blue, half-moon, setting over a skeletal head – was painted onto the breastplate, covering over the armor’s original emblem, which was worn beyond recognition.  The armor had taken on many new dents during his days in the Rift, as for the insignia, the moon and stars had long since chipped away, while the skull was now a blood-smeared inhuman looking stain.  Being the only weapon he ever owned, or could afford, Jessup cherished his longsword.  Though it too was a hand-me-down – heavily chipped and worn when he first received it -- he kept the edge keen, and even rebound the hilt with soft, oiled leather.

Before he knew what he was doing, Jessup was standing before Adros, looking up into his fierce and wise eyes of grey and white.  He stood up straight, held his head up high and introduced himself.

“I am Commador.”

He was certain those eyes would lay bare his every fault and find him unworthy – find him average; find the farmer, the failure hiding beneath a dented suit of armor.

But they didn’t . . .

The Elf Prince reached out with his long, elegant hand and welcomed him.

“Well met, Commador,” he said, accepting him into the group without question.

Afterwards, world after world he made his way with them.  He worked, and fought, as hard as he possibly could.  That, and he remembered the tales his grandfather told of the Rift, and used them as a training manual for surviving the Dead Worlds . . .

It kept him alive so far . . .

He found it funny . . . all that time, he had always thought them fond memories of an adventurous past, but now he saw them for what they really were . . . horror stories.  In actuality, his grandfather’s tales had been meant to frighten his descendants so they wouldn’t be foolish enough to enter the Rift.

He had more than his share of horror stories now.  If he survived this, he would make darn sure none of his descendants ever step foot into the forsaken Black Door ever again.

These fierce warriors . . . these living legends . . . once so intimidating, he was now honored to call them friends.  He wouldn’t let them be slaughtered like his poor little Duke.

He pulled free of TOphin, taking a step back to the battle.

The Rose Elf flew through the air, crashing into the cavern wall several feet away.

“What are you waiting for?  We have to help them!” he shouted down at the dwarf, far more concerned with saving his friends then angering TOphin.

To his surprise, TOphin’s dour demeanor somewhat softened.

“I haven’t always been the kindest to you,” he said, a hint of tenderness in his gruff voice.  “But no matter how I’ve treated you in the past, I know you’re a brave man . . . and a good one at that.  But if you had as much brains as you did guts, you’d see we’re soundly beaten . . . and if we’re to be any help to our friends . . . we need to run.”

Jessup felt insulted by the dwarf’s words but couldn’t figure out exactly why.  He did however, have enough sense to realize running did seem like the smart thing to do . . . but still, he couldn’t stomach the thought of abandoning his friends.  Even if he did survive, he would live the rest of his life cursed with nightmares of metal fists pummeling them into unconsciousness.   

TOphin must have seen the struggle in his eyes so he helped him decided; he slapped him across the face, saying, “For once in your life don’t be a fool, boy.  If you want to see them again, follow me and get the dead out of here!”

TOphin turned and ran – as fast as his stubby legs could carry him -- back to the end of the cave, where his ‘door’ was supposed to be.

Jessup took a final look at the battle.  The only one left was Lord Adros . . .  Alone, the Elf Prince held his ground against several of the fast-moving metal beings.  Jessup was gaping in awe at his ability – a true living legend.  It didn’t matter how often he had seen him fight, his grace and skill were a beauty to behold. 

. . . the One Elf went spinning after a blow landed on his shoulder . . .

As soon as he was overcome, the metal giants stormed the cave; some stopping to collect Jessup’s fallen companions, their sleek metal arms wrapping around their bodies and binding them like shackles.  One of the metal giants had Adros pinned to the ground beneath his metallic foot, its white eyes studying him intently; his mythical staff held in its gleaming fist.  In a blinding flash, its head turned to Jessup; its white eyes flaring ever brighter at the sight of him.  The grey and white eyes of the One Elf remained closed as the giant held Adros aloft in one metallic hand, his staff in the other. 

For a moment, Jessup was frozen, unable to tear his gaze from the light.

“Run you idiot!”

TOphin’s scream freed him from the giant’s hypnotic eyes, just as a pack of the beings bolted in his direction.

Jessup turned and ran for TOphin’s door.

It broke his heart to abandon Lord Adros, but what else could he do?  Even Drex, the best and most fearless of the human fighters, had thrown his weapons on the ground in submission. 

TOphin was right; even their group of fierce and legendary warriors were no match for these beings.  The only choice they had was to escape.  The dwarf was wise as well as crafty, if anyone could come up with a plan to save them it would be TOphin.

His confidence diminished when he joined him at the back of the cave, where he found the dwarf cursing profusely while his stubby fingers frantically brushed over the black wall.

“Come on, damn you,” he growled.  “What’s your bloody secret?”

He riffled through his pockets, holding various devices up against the wall.

As the beings came on, Jessup held his longsword in front of him; but he had seen what became of the others and the futility of the blows they did land. 

He knew darn well, he may as well have been holding a twig.

They were nearly upon them . . . their metal limbs click, clacking against the floor as they crawled ever closer, their burning eyes so near and so bright they were blinding to behold.

Slim, metal hands reached out to Jessup . . .

Behind him, there came a grind of metal on metal, and a joy-full bark . . .

“Of course . . . electromagnetic trigger.”

In one pudgy hand TOphin held a pitch black rock; crystal flecks sparkling inside it like twinkling stars.  With his other hand, he reached out to Jessup.

The next thing he knew, the rough hand was clenched upon his wrist and pulling him through an oval-shaped hole in the wall.

“Get in, boy!”

Not that he needed the encouragement or aid, nevertheless, TOphin pretty much threw him through the entry.  Jessup skidded into the room, his body jostled as he slid across the bumpy metal floor.  Strange patterned grooves zig-zagged across the entire surface of the floor, continuing up the walls as well.  He lifted his head as he came to a stop.  The chamber was massive, stretching out into the darkness for as far as he could see in all directions.  The walls were giant interlocked metal arches.  It felt like being inside the ribcage of a giant beast, the many lines etched into the surface its veins.

Just beyond the door, glowing metal eyes focus on them.  Stretching their shadows endless oblivion of the chamber.  By whatever miraculous means TOphin had managed to open the door, he reversed the process.  The oval door ground shut, but far slower than Jessup would’ve have wanted.  Inches from sealing, Jessup was on the verge of exhaling in relief when a metal hand shot out, latching onto the door and halting its progression.  The hand began to glow with the same fiery white light that filled their eyes, but before it could fully charge, TOphin’s hammer slammed down upon it, repeatedly.  He pounded away until the glow faded, yet the hand remained, and it began to pry the door back open.  Without thinking, Jessup got to his feet and leapt at the door; his longsword slamming down mid-flight.  His blade connected with the hand, but before his feet hit the floor, the blow sent him reeling back, his entire body vibrating.  As his nerves settled, he regarded his chipped blade in sadness and disbelief – knowing there would be no easy fix to replace the missing inch or so of steel from his blade.  As for his foe, he didn’t manage to sever the hand, but he at least cut through its metal, ‘skin’, exterior.  Within the exposed wrist, corded wires pulsated with bright, neon light.  TOphin’s pick pierced the opening, severing the wires and sending a spray of glowing chemicals into the air.  His hammer rained down, driving his pick further into the limb.  With his foot against the door, he pried with all his might.

“Damnit, Commador!  Don’t just stand there, help me tear this bastard apart,” TOphin shouted.

Jessup dropped his chipped blade then took hold of TOphin’s pick with both hands.  Bracing his feet into the grooved floor, he put his entire weight into the weapon. 

The hand flew into the room . . . still grasping, its innards glowing, the iridescent blood sputtering out into the otherwise utterly dark chamber. 

Jessup collapsed to the floor, the stocky dwarf falling right on top of him, knocking the wind from his lungs.

The door sealed shut. 

TOphin was surprisingly quick to get back to his feet, his pick immediately slamming against the opening mechanism of the door, further secured with several booming strikes of his hammer. 

“Won’t hold em long,” he said, reaching a hand out to help Jessup to his feet.  “Whatever this place is, we have to go, and find somewhere to hide.”

“What about the others?” Jessup asked, still not eager to leave them.

“We’ll have to figure that out later.  What we need to worry about now is saving our own asses.”

He focused on the severed hand, still flailing about in the last twitches of its death throes.   

“If we can harm these things . . . we can kill them.  I’ll just need time to figure out how.”

A series of loud booms followed his words as the metal beings began forcing their way through the entry.

“We need to move.”

The door flexed inward, large dents suddenly covering its surface.

Jessup looked out into the black abyss of the endless chamber. 

“It’s so dark . . .”

He wasn’t sure what he feared more, the unknown darkness of this ‘starship’ or capture at the hands of these metal men.

“How will we find our way?”

“Here . . . take this.”

TOphin gave him the severed hand.  Reluctantly, Jessup took hold of it; the neon fluid sputtering over his clothing.

“What about you?”

“Don’t worry, about me, boy.”

How could he not be worried?

“I’m at home in the dark.  Just try to keep up.”

The pounding continued behind them, followed by a giant crash.

Holding the robotic hand in front of him like a torch, Jessup followed the dwarf into the unknown depths of the starship. 

 

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