Runic - Aeonian Overture

The realms float about in the neon cosmos of mystic forces long thought to be extinct, a universe known as Ambright where mana and technology can transform entire cities into prosperous empires. However, war has left many with a past haunted by those who lost their lives, as such the case with Glave Octus. He, a veterans's child of the same war that took his sister away, embarks on a journey to rediscover his bloodline. It will be a long trek that will take him deep into the underworld dungeons and lawless cities of Grove, the urban realm where he was born.

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4. Chapter 4 - Break Your Hand

 

 

"Vengeance is an echo of the victim's own crime."

-Meisu; Sage of the Lunar Water-

....

The gash of light that had stretched across the floor from the outside suns thinned out and disappeared as the door closed behind him. First thing was first. He ripped the left sleeve from his jacket into long tethers, and knotted them tightly around his forearm where the guard's deadly sword had done its work. Lacerations like these could greatly affect utilizing magic, as the channeling energy would become disrupted around the wound, and possibly cause him to Overdose. Blood was darker than most would expect, but still brighter than the shade of his untidy hair, which teetered between brown and burgundy. Now, with that out of the way, he looked with eyes wide and open, taking in a murky scenery. From this current vantage point, it was hard to see beyond the first twenty feet, but the bits that were lit by the wall mounted torches proved to be rather unnerving. The hard walls riddled themselves with cracks that extending down and across the floor, as if they were reaching out to grab something. Maybe they were trying to grab the empty crates in the far corner, or the old chandelier that hung low from above, waving idly. If a haunted mansion had an after life, this was it.

After the instinctive urge to turn tail and run passed, he reached into his bag and took out a book containing a map. He flipped it open, glanced at a page, and set it away. It was time to move.

The most traveled path is three leagues away, he thought. I'll start looking for clues there.

He managed two steps.

The grip of darkness was shoved down his throat by hands from the imaginary void, and turned the pores on his skin to drops of ice. Imaginary, yet, but alive and real enough to believe that these abrupt sensations were genuine. The dungeon, such as in the books made by travelers, breathed and came alive when trespassers were recognized. This super organism of cobblestone and hallways that once housed secrets simply too vile for the outside world, was easily angered.

Torches, and their was blood red rust peeling off in mangled curls off the walls, all radiated with a sense of distant, muted liveless. But he couldn't follow their command, for the darkness felt too heavy to lift a single limb to life. The air coiled with the sound of a flock of crows suddenly silent, and the buzz of Glave's own mind ringed and ringed and ringed with infinite humming, a long continuous chirp if a Bluejay couldn't shut its beak.

Thirty seconds had passed, and he hated the place already.

His inner mind reached out and took the next step, but the muscles that fastened his legs would not follow. Stopping the futile quest for movement, he concentrated his thoughts into pinpointed spears to shove off this madness of this new unconscious fear. The humming ring continued, however, as he sharpened his thoughts, it simmered. Breathe in, shut your eyes, then remember that your mind is a fragile structure that can be manipulated. Breathe out. It's best to simply slam shut the doors of dismay.

Glave opened his eyes.

The feeling was still there, though weaker and pushed off.

Not my brightest moments, his mind whispered.

Realizing his weighted deluge had lifted, he ran though the first hallway he could find, using his mana to detect life forms through the walls. The spaces between the stones let out a slow blue mist, but it didn't engulf the air. Rather, it hovered close to the walls as if afraid to venture any farther. He stopped to look and immediately felt the sensation of something behind him. An orange shadow made its presence known. Glave turned. There was no shadow, nor anything.

He soon took a rest, and parked himself against the wall, next to a dangling lantern and a large bag of dirt to sit on. Page 28 of the book housed rough maps of this level. As he looked at the glorified chicken scratch of paths and safer shortcuts, he always heard a strange trail of air folding off to his side. He checked again for the third time to see it was nothing. It could not be a goblin or an Imp. Half his body bent to peek around the corner.

A harpy? No.

He looked back to the page.

Yeah, it's rat for sure.

A drifting feather went unnoticed.

Glave knew a bridge crossing an underground canyon was located two kilometers away, another fact made apparent on page 81, however, beyond that, the book showed no more Information. After he would sweep this part of the first level, that was his next destination. It was like walking through thin streets canopied by stone. A corner turned, a staircase descended, the unstable montage of this subterranean land consumed what was expected, and the wicked call of sounds thought to be impossible touched him over. He knew birds didn't flock underground, yet a sharp chirp stung his ears. He looked up expecting the sky, and made the sigh of middle mark disgust forgetting it wasn't there. A few seconds passed, then another hypersonic bird call scratched the air, closer this time. It sounded owl-ish; Perhaps one slipped inside while he was closing the entrance door. He decided to ignore it.

There were fewer areas to climb skyward and fill the space with his eyesight. Twice, he slid down a molded staircase rail just to feel the motion while keeping his senses pressed against this underworld's pulse. It was astonishing upon realizing it. In this entire area beneath Forktown, he had yet to see any criminals, or worse.

When he finally found the nerve, Glave shouted, "What's the big deal!" into the murk of a dim lit hallway. Even though nothing happened because of this, the black corners he turned now felt as if challenging his diligence. The lanterns flickered, asking him to yell once more, an enticing invitation to make that mistake again. He decided to stick to being quiet. If darkness had a mind, it was smarter than him. He kept thinking about what could make a person come down here on purpose. He was here to find clues, but maybe there was gold somewhere. The idea was plausible, like that old man he passed on the way to the dungeon's entrance.

The end stretch of a wide irregular room held the whisper of water dripping off the ceiling. He didn't think their would be water down here, but now that he thought about it, it made sense. The rain was most likely unable to trickle down this far beneath the surface because of the dungeon, forming a stream that ran along the stone. It oozed out blue light, a dance of lambency that wrapped the walls in aquatic lasso. The boy strode carefully beside the lighted trail. It was mana that probably got mixed with the rain and gathered here.

He knew birds didn't flock underground, yet a sharp chirp stung his ears. Glave looked up expecting the sky, and made the sound of disgust forgetting it wasn't there. Another hypersonic call came farther away this time. Now he went through a chambered room and flipped out a page and went on. His next milestone drew close. He opened the door to another room and peered inside. A skeleton framed its hand, waving at him, a motionless form. It wasn't all that encouraging.


"Classy."


Teardrop droplets peeled off from these cracks, dripping, making the tune of eerie music. The pilgrim wondered if, by some magnificent discovery, he would find an old clunky diver suit molding prostate against a wall. It was more mystifying thinking this was entirely possible, given how old this bottomless world really was. The water fanned out to become an extraordinary basin. It was quite a sight, and just wide enough that he would have to cross it. He ran his hand along the damp stone to keep himself straight, both feet sloshing around in the thick soup of radiance. It was a technique he had been using since he was very young to navigate through narrow alleyways when it had just rained, and the rise in sea level made every bit of walking a task in itself. Being waist deep now, there rose a fear that some horrible creature would jump out of the looming waters and pull him down screaming to the depths. It was like the days when Milos took him swimming in Wynding river, where he felt the sometimes icy water creep over his waist and that would startle him. To his left, the pathway dropped away to more traversal land, but part of that fear remained somewhere under his skin even as he raised out the basin, and resumed to a normal stride.

I'm really in it now, sis.

He stretched out his mind to fill the space, trying to detect life forms farther away. Why did I have to think about Milos at a time like this? Stop. He checked his arm again. Half the ripped fabric he tied on the injury was stained red with blood, but the bleeding had stopped, and that's what counted, and it was only a dull ache that radiated from the wound now, slow intervals of high and low pain.

The stream ended at a lake.

There was something else.

Waves of the water's reflection made the creature sitting there look embodied behind a cascading ripple of mystery, but it was obvious the creature, standing before him and peering down at the lake, was green; Green, and it looked Aven, its limbs pointed like a bird's, and an oval body that was slightly skinny. Its irises were perfect loops of cyan that outputted a faint inner aura.

"Leaves." Glave must have said it out loud, because the whatever it was looked at him with a glare so expectant and calm, he forgot what he was thinking about. He remembered. This thing had a tail, a tail that looked like a trio of narrow leaves moving to a waved pattern. It wasn't just the tail, under both of its arms were a wide set of feathery leaves that resembled contracted wings.

What in the world?

It was sort of this Aven Peacock, if those even existed.

The thing took one last look at the water before standing at a height of Glave's shoulders. Glave pulled back, trying to be ready for anything. It was then, slowly, that he looked above its head to see even more of these strange appendages coming off in a straight line, a completely natural Mohawk structure.

"What? Does it look like I'm going to eat you?", said the creature, stopping its slow approach toward him. There was a second passed of Glave being surprised, because this whatever it was appeared something from a child's wild daydream. Perhaps he was actually passed out near the entrance, and this was all a product of a tired mind.

"Just a dream", Glave said, trying to do so casually. It didn't come out that way.

The creature spoke again. "I seldom get many pilgrims down here. You don't look like a criminal."


"I'm not," Glave replied, astonished that this creature was not a mere product of imagination, because again, it responded.

"Oh then you're lost."

"It's not that either," he replied

An orange light blinked.

The thing mumbled something in a language Glave didn't understand, then it made a casual walk around the lake, about to disappear around a corner. Right when it was out of sight, the orange light flickered again, suggesting that this was in fact a dream. First a Peacock, now this.

That is, until he realized that even dreams could not conjugate what happened next.

The spark liquified, and it bubbled up across the lake in front of him, then, like a star spangle filled bombshell, exploded with fire and energy that filled the emptiness. His arms reeled up to protect him, but his skin did not prickle in heat. Nothing was felt, it was seen and that was all.

Then everything turned nebulous.

There was a shape that morphed inside the pyre, an oval shape with a long neck. His brain fired sporadically, trying fill in the gaps in detail. The shape moved out while folding its glorious wings, landed silently, and stood regarding him with eyes sprayed with rainbow pigment, eyes with the universe inside of them. Glave saw it take a step closer, perhaps to touch over him with its light painted body splattering the air. Indeed, there was an aura in its presence, from the radiant red and gold wings right down to its brilliant blue ribboned tail. From the foster home? He didn't feel this creature belonged in a dungeon, of all places, and he was still trying to convince himself that his eyes were not playing games. As this creature's form became clear, so did the notion of him finally accepting that this was real, as no one could mistake what was before him.

The Phoenix moved to the tempo of Glave breathing. Its feathers waved to its sides, glittering sparks wherever it happened to be standing. As soon as the bird made eye contact, it fanned one of those wings to where that other green creature was leaving. As it did, its strides made it seem like it was fixed to gravity half as strong. He listened closely, for he thought it had also murmured something, but soon it went up fading in sparkling whirls, turning its landing spot smoked with burning. A few torches violently dislodged themselves from their stands and fell down, almost all of them clattering to the floor creating a mess of burnt wooden sticks. It was gone. It was over. It was magnificent.

And apparently, he unintentionally shouted because of it all, because the same green creature was back, looking a him as if he acted spectacularly stupid.

"Did you see phe-", Glave stammered. "The thing that.." He tried to make a serious face, but there was no face. "You didn't see it!"

"No I didn't. If you're not lost, then your dimwitted."


"I'm not any of that" Slowly, he leaned over. "I'm looking for clues. I'm trying to find someone."


The creature appeared as if what he said shook about in its brain, then he briefly asked if this strange creature knew why the dungeon was empty. It hadn't a clue. So now, they were simply looking at each other awkwardly, for a long time.


"By the way, they call me Char."


"I'm Glave."


"I know."

"That's not true." The boy stepped back, like one would do to a wild animal. "We just met."


"I know a lot of things. Mana isn't just for detection, like you seem to be doing right now."


"I don't mean to come off rude, but I can do more than just that."


Char's eyes lit up for perhaps a millisecond, as if a LED bulb had been given increased voltage. "That's for sure," he said, and pointed where the torches fell. "I hope one of them isn't making a mess."

Glave felt half guilty about the mess he had made and half surprised that the creature could even speak his language. He instinctively started to help this creature pick up the candles and torches that were now scattered about the floor. What am I doing? He thought, Who cares about cleaning up. I don't even know who or WHAT I'm helping and where IT even came from, or where the Phoenix came from. I don't know what's going on anymore!

Before he knew it, Char had snatched the torch he was trying to pick up and added it to its own collection.

That was the final straw. Glave had pretty much decided that he didn't want to stick around for another week of this dungeon cleanup. He scurried for the nearest path out to the main hallway, trying to disappear unnoticed.

"It's not safe here," Char said. "Where are you heading off to?" He was calmer, eyes not as wide and alert. The boy had all the intention of lying right now, however that came through as pointless. This odd creature could supposedly tell names without word of mouth. It was completely a stupid power if it existed. If he did in fact lie, that had the potential of sounding suspicious. It was best if he, well, told the truth.


"The clues that I'm trying to find aren't here, so I'm heading for the bridge because it leads to the second floor."


"Looks like you have a companion then", Char said, and tilted his eyes back at the lake, for some reason. "I'm going there as well."

"I'm not sure about this."


"Oh? Well, listen closely. What do hear?"

 

The boy listened, harder, harder still. "Nothing."


Char nodded a small nod. "Like you said before. Normally, this place is never empty. That's why it's best we come together. A dungeon is never quiet, ever. Something is certainly admits when you can't even hear a rat close by."

In response, Glave tensed, relaxed, tensed, all because his mind was fighting over the decision.


The Peacock sighed. "Look, I'm not with the town guards, but that scar on your arm looks like the product of one. Now, we have to hurry before we become part of this noiselessness."


"Alright," Glave nodded, and looked to the place where the Phoenix had appeared, then turned back. "The buddy system, as they call it."

....

Time seeped into the past, and half an hour went by. Glave was wondering where his new company was taking him. The creature of unknown origin had already led him past several large pools of water and many narrow hallways that expanded into great rooms of flat cobblestone. He looked over his shoulder ever so often, and would always get a crawling chill down his frame when he saw the emptiness that stared him back. He had tried to wash his face in one of the well shaped holes of water, but was immediately stopped by a hand in front of his chest, and was told they could be poisonous.

Char did not look big or scary. Glave guessed that he was just an inch or two shorter he was, maybe even shoulder height. It became impossible not to ask questions, so he just let the first one pop out like old chewing gum. Unfortunately, it was a stupid one.

"Hey Char?" he said to him. "Why do you look like a Peacock?"

"What do you mean -a what?"

"A Peacock -your tail feathers remind me of a Peacock."

"They're not feathers, and what's a Peacock anyway?"

"Well, it's a bird...with bright feathers."

Char glanced his tail. "I look like that?"

"Kind of, yeah, well, just that one part."

"That quite the observation, interesting," muttered the Peacock. "It's growing darker as we go along. Here, observe this." A bright orb of white light manifested itself in Char's hand, illuminating the darkness in a twinkling halo. The ball extended out into a thin sheet of green mana appearing like paper, bending and molding itself into a new flourished form. It completely changed into something sharp, and soon clenched in his hand was a living halo, a perfect saber stabbing the void with its shining glister. Char's tail also gave faint light, a kind of bioluminescence that caressed his body. Then, the he turned around and declared, "This will make our travel easier."


This was ridiculous, not to mention impossible. There wasn't a scrap of mana to be pulled from the air this far underground. Yet, his new companion still performed as if he was outside. It almost made the boy irritated, for he had to make careful preparations in case the event of using his shield was needed. Drinking mana straight from a bottle was revolting at best, and even that was a drainable source of power. It made this odd creature appear differently, at the way its body had its light contained somewhere within, yet spreading out with his eyes being faint blue rings for eyes, as if someone had consumed an object that was really bright, so bright it glowed through skin.


"Standing around will get you killed, come on", Char called, seeing that the pilgrim hadn't moved in the past few seconds.


"Don't worry." Glave stopped looking at the fresh weapon and caught up. The walk continued among blue mist and blooming ominous turns, and descents down staircases winding in wide loops down and down the throat of this cobblestone organisms. Each second was mixed with an ethereal feeling only realized if one could truly marvel of how unorthodox this place was. Its presence exceed physical understanding, because it was more than a physical location. It was, in a dramatic way, a place where the mind mixed into reality, creating something utterly different. Particles rose from cracks edged between stone bricks and it filled the space like a low hovering nebula, unworldly, almost disorienting, and ironically, his new companion looked just right within this strange world.


Char slowed down, and called his name calmly.


"What", the response sounded too quick. Crap.


"You want to know why I haven't struck you down yet, hm?" He halted abruptly, and the body nearly bumped into him.

"What makes you believe that?" Glave felt his heart clog his throat. His feet were firmed in preparation, arms slighted parted from the sides. Watch the blade in his hands, he thought. It might jolt at me any second. Get ready for a forcefield.


Char didn't attack him, and said, "Here. Take it."

 

Glave's hands awkwardly caught the saber that was tossed. Char's weapon, the one that could have ended his life, now cupped in his palms. It didn't feel hot, but it was heavy.


"I don't know what Forktown has been telling you, but not all of us are here to kill or bargain illegal trinkets."


"You're still going to tell me exactly what you are, right?"

"Right now, lets just get to the safe spot. One thing at a time, if you don't mind. Now give my saber back."
 

He handed it back, and they kept walking.


"So, how good are you at using mana? I imagine that you got the basic concepts of how it works, correct?"


This question came as a surprise. "What makes you think I can use mana?" Glave asked, bearing a veil of hesitation.


"You mean that mess back there wasn't you?"

"Guess I do have to take credit for that. It was my shield. I'm still not sure how much force I can give it before I can harm me." Glave decided not to reveal what really happened, not to someone he just met, like putting a cover on a memory dosed with majestic fire.

"Overdosing. Is that right?" Char inquired, stopping dead in his tracks, almost causing Glave to bump into him. Then, in one slivering flash of time, Char swung his saber back in a narrow arc that gleamed sharply a rich neon emerald. The boy's shield barely had time to materialize. The collision was striking; the space around them poured in flowing waves of green and blue light as it mixed with the sparks cascading off the blade. The heavy boom ricocheted, and Char jumped back, with a complexion that was equal parts stunned and confused.

"Do you mind?" Glave blurted, stricken by the sudden attack. "You didn't want to kill me. You said that!"

The Peacock muttered, "Had to test the shield out for myself, of course. I can see how it got away from you."

"Well if the urge hits you again, just open your mouth and ask, alright." Glave's volume rose again above normal talk, so he winced.

Char turned back, but passed on strange glances before resuming his path forward.

More distance was made. A rat scurried across their way, but these were not just ordinary rats that crept under floorboards. These looked like giant rats from up in the mountains of Dunnland. After a flood some hundred years back, the rats fled into the deeper depths of the sewers. Finally, there something that resembled of monster, not that he was looking forward to it. But then there was Char, this bird owl lizard two legged thing that wasn't big or scary, with a tail, that could make swords....with mana. Nevertheless, nothing was emerging from the darkness and attacking them, and he noted that as odd. It was like running through of wolf infested forest, and not meeting a single set of teeth. It was just like before. Besides the rat, nothing else seemed to exist.

That was all about to change. The first sign of danger made its presence known, in the form of dusty flakes sliding around them and falling to the ground where others gathered, while the motion in Glave's throat clamped shut. Char was alert again, raising his saber overhead to cast brightness all around. A shadow filled what was light. Then the scream, the raspy scream that reverberated from everywhere. Had they imagined the whole thing? No, the horrifying noise clumped behind him, and they turned around to see a disfigured wall of bumps and warts, and a pointed nose. A Hag stood before them, a fiend with its frail blue pimpled skin and fingers capped with nails long enough to pass as knives.

Char hissed stiffly. "Well, I guess we made to too much noise after all."

The withering began.

The mad beast projectiled down the hallway like a possessed rag doll launched from a nopalm cannon, shutting the space between them in a pale streaking blur, with its long fingernails extended and curved madly to tear apart anything that touched them. Char had a blink to react. In one streamlined slash his emerald saber cleaved down and slivered through the Hag's wrist that was accelerating toward his chest; His blade of light sliced through like butter, a perfectly aimed counterattack. The Hag let no whimper in agony escape even after he kicked it in the stomach sending the monster skidding back across wet stone. The severed appendage flew off and tumbled aimlessly across the ground, and still it twitched around with little jolts of life. For a moment, it was quiet, with only the lifeless body folded over, motionless, with a limb missing. Then with a gurgling whisper, a thick gooey substance was trickling from the wound, but it wasn't the color of blood. It slowly gushed out of the exposed flesh and onto the ground, forming a thick pool of black gunk. In just seconds, a voice bubbled up from the oily puddle. It rang not in the air, but in Glave's brain; that same voice thrashed and kicked about, something that no other voice could do.

"I have found you. The king will be proud."

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