To Awake

It's really sad


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1. the entire story

 

 

                Lofty spruce trees watched the campfire dance in the center of the small, muddy clearing like silent sentinels. Rickert’s eyes shone like the cerulean waters of a tropical beach, and like the trees they watched the ribbons of flame frolic in their mysterious dance. The wanderer’s mind was far, far away from that fire though; it was in a better place, a place that only seemed to exist in the realm of his memories.

Pristine white light flowed into the cozy cabin bedroom from an open window and past translucent curtains that rustled with the rhythm of the wind. Rickert sat upright on the bed, peering through the window and out into a verdant meadow warmed by the bright, unfolding morning. The bliss that pervaded his soul left him too serene for words or expressions, save for a small, knowing smile.

“Hey, come back,” murmured the gorgeous woman lying next to him.

Rickert’s lips moved as he said something, and the woman said something too, but cruelly he could not remember what the words were or what happened next.

                The wanderer shifted his weight as he sat gazing into the capering flames that taunted him. None of that mattered now. His friends were missing, and so was his treasured Julia. All of them vanished on the same day two weeks ago, and if he was going to find them alive he had better start searching with more haste. He didn’t worrying so much about his friends, given that they were seasoned mercenaries like him; if anything the bastards were probably getting drunk in a grimy bar of town he had yet to check.  Julia however had spent most of her life a protected jewel inside the walls of her nobleman father’s stronghold, hence she wasn’t used to dangerous things at all.

                Her father’s men had scoured the region within a two hundred mile diameter ever since she went missing, but to no avail. Homes and shops and buildings of all purposes from town to town were examined meticulously, as well as the farms and the hinterlands in between. However, the men had deliberately avoided exploring one place. It was an old mine that no one remembered the name of, a mine that wasn’t even listed in any sort scroll or record. Most folks doubted it even existed, but the few that still did pointed Rickert in the direction towards a small, gloomy forest bordering the rocky coast to the west. No one (to any living person’s knowledge) had ever heard of anyone returning from traveling nearby that forest, let alone the treasure hunters who had roved the forest for the fabled mine. Julia’s searchers had reasoned that if she had been taken there, her life would most certainly have succumbed to oblivion like the other ill-fated souls.

Except for Rickert, that is.

He didn’t care about dying in that gloomy place. His life meant nothing without her anyway.

And as Rickert considered where to search next, a knight appeared out of the woods.

Rickert lifted himself up, his abundant muscles showing through his traveler’s cloak. “May I ask your name?” he said in his gruff, low voice.

The knight stood by the edge of the clearing from which it emerged, facing Rickert soundlessly.

“Hello? You gonna say something?”

The knight, in its silver armor laden with intricate emblems, beckoned Rickert to come closer with a gauntlet coated hand.

Rickert scratched his shoulder-length, raven black hair. “I’m not following you unless you tell me who you are, buddy.”

The stranger looked at the floor, and after a pause headed back the way from whence it came.

He lifted a broad, light grey blade, a monstrosity lengthier than even the hulking man who wielded it. The stranger didn’t seem like much of a talker, and if he didn’t hurry up and follow along, he just might miss this chance of finding the mine, and Julia too.

“Hey, who are you!” Rickert panted after he caught up with the silver knight.

In response, the stranger pointed straight ahead.

There it was, a dark foreboding hole on the side of large tree.

Rickert let out a clownish grin. “Is that the mine? Damn Silver, you work quick! It’s alright if I call you Silver, right?”

Silver shrugged.

“Say, Silver, how did you know I was looking for the mine? Are you some kind of forest guardian or some shit?” Yet Silver had already submerged into the obscure opening, and as Rickert did the same, he found himself falling, falling, falling…….

 

A wall of water welcomed Rickert with an echoing splash. When he found his way back to the surface, he found himself in the middle of what seemed to be an underground lake. A vast dome of navy blue rock encrusted with stalactites and crystals radiating a meek white light hovered above. Waves softly swayed onto a nearby sandy shore.

What? How can a lake of this scope possibly exist down here? Rickert’s woolen traveler’s garb stuck to his skin as he slopped step by step onto the little coast. His ponderings however were left interrupted by the spectacle before him.

Standing seven feet tall, the lean humanoid creature crossed its arms. White furred and golden-eyed, the creature resembled the werewolves of myth, except it stood up straight with a noble poise. Pointy ears stood straight upon a head that looked like more of a Labrador retriever’s head than that of a wolf’s. The sable creature eyed him with a grim countenance and a suspicious glower.

Wide-eyed, Rickert raised his arms in surrender. “Hey, I got no beef, I’m looking for a human woman.“

The beast brought an axe from behind its back and charged at lightspeed towards Rickert.

The two opponents stared at each across locked weapons, one with fury and the other with astonishment.

Rickert instantly stepped to the left and shoulder pushed the beast to the sand. There was no way this thing was going to butcher him without a fight.

The next seven minutes saw the lithe creature effortlessly evade wide sword swings, with Rickert barely managing to block the ruthless, graceful barrage of attacks.

This thing is anticipating my every strike. Heavily breathing, Rickert watched the beast race towards him. I can’t continue like this. I must do something it crazy, something risky.

The blur of snowy white almost upon him, Rickert roared and charged too, yet just as the two were about collide, the blur flipped over him. Rickert immediately fell backwards and tossed his sword over his shoulder.

He heard a yelp of pain. Lying on the sand, Rickert spun over to see the poor creature impaled through the abdomen by the colossal blade. It crumpled into a heap after Rickert retrieved his now bloody sword.

“What has happened here?” echoed a voice guttural and low.

Turning around, he saw a dozen of the dog men standing outside a tunnel across the shore. All but the one in the center, the one who had spoken, grimly gazed at the corpse of their dead friend.

Rickert’s eyes gravitated towards the carcass too. “Sorry. He attacked me and I had no choice but to kill him.”

The speaking dog man, their leader, said, “His abhorrence of humanity led him to slay hundreds of your brothers. It is sorrowful, but this hatred has sealed his fate. Do not be sorry.”

Rickert nodded slowly, and then grimaced. “What are you?”

“We are an archaic race from the city below. Humans began to mine around here. One day your kin mined too deep into the earth underneath. They found us. We made them go away, but a human managed to invade our city. He cast a spell. We cannot enter the center of our city now.”

Rickert shut his eyes for a second, accepting this was all real for now. “So that’s why anyone that goes near the forest above disappears? You kill them?”

“No. The human invader sends his monsters to the surface.” the dog man shuddered. “I do not know why you are here. Yet it seems your intentions are pure. Will you help us break the spell?”

Mopping the blood off his sword with a handkerchief, he rested the blade on his shoulder. “I’m in search of a woman. And I’m no wizard, but if I reach the city below I’ll try my best. It’s the least I can do after slaying one of your brothers.”

The leader’s golden eyes seemed brighter now. “A human girl? Shiny human may know where.”

Silver stood on its toes and waved behind the group of dog men.

“You ass! Where did you go?!” Rickert moaned.

The mercenary bade farewell to the talking beast and pursued Silver into the tunnel.

 

The two companions walked side by side through a narrow passageway. Hollow little rooms filled with the diminutive but hopeful white crystal light helped to guide them along the route, a winding serpent spiraling subtly deeper, deeper and deeper still into the Earth’s hidden heart. Wiping sweat from his brow, Rickert felt the hotness magnifying second after second, endlessly, yet he yearned so much to see the sun again.

“Look here Silver, I’m looking for a human woman. Blonde, slender, sorta tall, hazel eyes and the prettiest face you can imagine…….have you seen her?”

Silver nodded quickly, and just as he was about laugh in relief, he said, “Guys!!!”

Rickert was peering into one of the room, where his mercenary buddies Gaius, Roger, Sam, and Vigo huddled in a small oval. They said nothing, but when Rickert walked into the room, Gaius spoke through ginger locks over his face.

“We’re dead. We’re sorry we left you, bro. I think we’ve paid the price though, so don’t be mad alright?”

“Yes, we are sorry friend. I am a disgrace,” mumbled Vigo through his black beard.

“Hey, I should be the only one ashamed here!” Roger croaked. He lowered his brunette colored head. “It was my idea to come here.”

“Nah, man.” Gaius sneered sorrowfully, shaking his handsome face. “We all wanted part of that loot.”

Rickert sighed wearily. “This is no time for jokes guys. Let’s get going, it’s hot as shit here and I’m tired.”

“We killed all those horrid things, for you, ok? That’s because, we knew you’d come!” whimpered Roger through a smile. “We wanted you to be safe. We couldn’t find the treasure, so we made this place safe. That was my idea too, hahaha……”

Gaius turned to Roger. “Bro, just, I don’t think he expected to find us in this remote place.”

“Wait, the monsters under the invader’s control?” asked Rickert.

Vigo spoke. “Yes, the creations of the alchemist. We died doing battle with him, and the cruel sir used his magic to resurrect us. He knew you would come, for whatever reason. Now, will you kill us all?” Vigo stood up with some trouble. “We are too weak do the deed. Please, my dear old friend.”

“No! Wha-Vigo what are you doing?!! NOOOOOOO!!!”  Vigo wasn’t listening to Rickert, and instead hurriedly stumbled towards him, his rapier in hand.

Vigo’s long jet black hair waved wildly about, the man’s head rotating through the small space of that dimly lit room. Rickert brought down his sword. Gaius and Roger were standing up, looking sad.

Rickert knew then that they weren’t lying. Hardly any blood had escaped from Vigo’s severed neck. Wanting it to be over, he cut down his two friends standing up with a single strike.

“Thanks, bro,” Gaius said with his last grin.

“You’re a good friend Rickert, hahaha.” That childlike laugh died forever, along with Roger.

The glassy eyed man looked at Sam.

The boss of the mercenary party, Sam was a legendary warrior. The dark-skinned man was typically merry and relaxed, a kind man who joked very often. If you could’ve seen him through Rickert’s eyes then, you’d agree most likely, except you would’ve noticed an overwhelming mellowness in the eyes that gazed back into yours. He just seemed way too sad to be happy now. The bright hope sparkling in Sam’s stare spoke to Rickert, and that stare told him to go find Julia. Somehow, he knew.

The speechless, broken man watched his boss pull out a vial of poison and drink it down.

Silver entered the room, and sat down next to the crouching wanderer. The knight put an armored hand on Rickert’s left shoulder.

“Silver, did I do the right thing?”

Silver nodded slowly.

 

Hours went by. Rickert fixated his empty gaze on the ground always, so he couldn’t tell what they were passing. It didn’t matter, he trusted Silver now, his new and only friend.

He stopped walking after his head collided into something hard. He looked up. A huge, archaic metal gate fraught with symbols stood before him. Silver knocked civilly.

“Wh-oh right, the city.” Rickert breathed softly. Knocking more forcefully, Silver waited, and afterwards waited for the gate to open completely. The knight held one of the mercenary’s hands and led him inside.

Absolutely everything about the vast, sprawling city was utterly immense. Pitch black rectangles for buildings were almost obscure amidst the darkness of the vast cavern, save for the glittering little lights dotting the metropolis. A few dog men watched the two walk towards the inner city, but Rickert didn’t notice.

The two companions soon came to another gate. This time, two dog men guards opened the gates for them.

“Are you ready?” said a familiar voice.

The beast leader looked down before them from a balcony that extended from this second wall. Silver and Rickert looked up at him. Both nodded.

“Good. I will do what I can to help.”

Silver let go of his hand. The two walked inside into the inner city.

 

The gate shut harshly behind them. They found themselves at the end of an ancient, gigantic coliseum of sorts. Thousands upon thousands of dog men were present on the seated areas of the arena, glaring at the thing at the center of it all.

The monster was the most enormous living entity Rickert had ever seen. Rather portly with an ample, protruding abdomen, it had two misshapen arms rivaling the size of some of the buildings outside. Beige, tattered fabric for skin encompassed the monster in sown together patches. It carried a long chain, with two gigantic metal spiked balls on each side. Its legs were short and thick, but they still carried the titanic monster rather quickly throughout the spacious arena as it lumbered towards the motionless Rickert.

Rickert instantly forgot his grief and rolled to the monster’s side, dodging a ruinous vertical strike from one spiked balls.

“Now. Strike the alchemist, Volzhin.” said the talking beast to Rickert from the audience.

The mercenary froze. “What?” He peered upwards. The monster’s head diluted to a pointed end from the wide base between the shoulders, and two round black holes for eyes rested right below the top of its head that drooped forward. A huge tongue emanated from the thing’s drooling mouth.

“Alchemist.” Rickert pulled out his great sword, shut his eyes and tightened his grip so much his body and blade quivered violently. “Y-you.”

Silver, who had sprinted to the other side of the coliseum in the meanwhile, whispered something inaudible. The knight lifted an armored hand in the monster’s direction, and a large ball of white fire hurdled towards it. It disappointedly sizzled onto the thing’s back.

Slightly irritated, the mutated giant headed towards Silver.

Sober and calm now, Rickert lowered his head, eyes still closed.

Sam, Vigo, Gaius, Roger. For you guys. And for you too, Julia. You too.

He sprinted at fullspeed, and as he did so he noticed countless bombs flying overhead. They exploded onto Volzhin and blossomed into a flurry of bursting colors resembling fireworks.  Scarlets and golds, pinks and sapphires and yellows splashed fantastically onto the dazed monolith and outwards into the dark cavern canvas. Rickert stopped right under Volzhin and saw Silver magically procure a lengthy icicle whip. He fervently slashed the stump legs while Silver lacerated the giant’s body with punishing skill.

Rickert smiled at the dog men’s work, yet before he knew it the festival of chaos was over. The fireworks disappeared, and the wounded creature regained its senses. The human combatants ran far away as the enraged titan began to twirl both metal spheres. The spiked globes spun like orbiting planets and plummeted onto the stadium ground like meteorites; Silver and Rickert scarcely rolled and dodged past the repeated blows. The dog men watched in active silence.

What can I do now? I can’t even get near this thing without almost getting squashed. Just as he evaded another vehement bash, he heard a resounding thud.

The giant sat in the center of the stadium, wriggling under rows of icicle whip constricting its entire body. Rickert rapidly began to climb the towering monster, gripping thick threads of ice and the skin bulging in between along the way. Soon, he made his way to the back of the monster’s squirming head, hanging on with his left hand for dear life. Rickert breathed in and plunged his sword for all he was worth into the base of the head.

The monster stopped moving. He retracted his blade, and air poured out of the opening. As the whole of it deflated gently, Rickert wondered if it was really a monster at all. What had become of alchemist Volzhin crumpled into a heap of fabric. A door appeared at the other end of the coliseum.

Rickert reached the ground, and he felt Silver hug him tightly. He couldn’t stop himself from beaming. Hearing footsteps, he turned and saw the dog man leader.

“Well done my human brother.” The dog man was panting and smiling from ear to ear. “We can return to our homes now. We are eternally grateful.”

Looking around the coliseum, Rickert saw a sea of smiling, panting dog men, staring at him kindly. He could he see the talking leader wasn’t exaggerating.

“Hey buddy, how is it you can talk?”

But the dog man just smiled his dog smile, panting happily.

Letting go of Rickert, Silver grasped his hand and led him to the new door.

 

The pair found themselves in an alchemist’s laboratory at the top of the tower. It was full of advanced technology Rickert didn’t really understand. He doubted anyone on the surface had seen anything like this either, but he was mostly focused on one thing as he stopped himself at the center of the room, his back to the knight.

“Say Silver, you’re Julia, aren’t you?” he said playfully.

A sickening thrust. Rickert looked down to see a silver fist and arm through his chest.

“Yupp.” said Silver. She took off her helm, revealing beautiful blonde curls and an exquisite face.

Blood started to drip from Rickert’s mouth, yet Rickert could still manage to croak, “This is just a dream, right? We’re dreaming, right Julia?”

Julia retrieved her arm from his chest. “In a way,” she said placidly. She began to tinker with some of the controls in the laboratory.

Falling to his knees and the palms of his hands, he started to bleed more and more. He eyed her with sorrowful anger. “Can you tell me what’s going on? Why did you just do that?”

Julia continued her work, focused, but she still replied, “I’m really sorry, Rickert. Really sorry.” She turned to look at him with sincere sympathy. “You would’ve stopped me from entering the portal, and I really couldn’t wait any longer, I just have to escape. So, I had to kill you.” Julia went back to fiddling with the controls.

Rickert gasped softly for air. “W-what portal?” And then he spotted it right in front of him. Three steps led to an ornate circlet ten feet in diameter.

Julia sighed. “The time portal can only accommodate one soul. And, Dr. Volzhin and I have been working so, so hard on it for the past three or so years. You see, I’m his apprentice. He was the court alchemist in my father’s stronghold. He I have a special type of mind, a mind apt for alchemy, and he asked me to be his apprentice.” Her pretty face gleamed, but the next second became gloomy. “But when we completed the portal two weeks ago, he decided he had made a huge mistake. He decided it was better that no one found about it, so he sent me home via teleport runes. Yet, when I came back to check on him, he had transformed into monster and cast a spell over the inner city. He wanted to make sure no one ever reached the portal, a creation that not even he could undo. That’s, that’s why I needed your help.”

Rickert punched the floor. “You crazy bitch. I would’ve let you go through that damn portal if you really wanted to.”

“It destroys the body of whoever enters it.”

“Damn it Julia! Please stop!”

Yet Julia kept tinkering with the controls.

“I’ll be given a new vessel, don’t worry.” The tone of her voice became increasingly frantic. “I’ll be able to enter other worlds, other points in time, all at the whim of my thoughts. And, I’m sorry you had to kill your friends, and I’m sorry you have to die now. Rickert, look now, the entire point of this existence in this world is to grow and to remove that which will hinder us from evolution. Our souls begin like blocks of marble, and the sanctification process is the chipping away of the unnecessary parts of our souls. It’s suffering, yes, but eventually we shall become beautiful statues, beautiful beings. This is alchemy at its core, Rickert. Your entire life journey is alchemy.” And with that, she pulled a lever.

A swirling white light became visible within the portal.

“Julia, I love you. Please stay.”

Julia said nothing and walked past the portal. The swirling light dissipated.

Rickert was left utterly alone. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a rope. Retrieving the tool, he stepped onto a chair and tied the rope around his neck and around an overhead vent pipe.

“Did I, did I deserve this?” he croaked.

Rickert died.

 

He woke up. He was lying on a bed, in a cozy cabin room. His home by the meadow, yet, everything seemed much, much brighter now.

He looked the bed, expecting to see Julia. Yet for some reason she wasn’t there sleeping, and for some reason, he didn’t really care. He felt far too happy and light to be worried about anything right now.

He spotted his friends talking to each other outside on the meadow. He got out of bed, walked out of the room and joined them. The friends talked merrily in front of the morning sun.

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