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Scifi/Fantasy - Apocolypto

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Note: There's a few sections before we reach the Suggestion Phase here as I'm just catching up with this on the OP..



Prologue - Part I

The war was never ending.  It encompassed everything. The entire world, literally the entire world, was a battlefield scattered with the ruins of cities, even whole civilisations. Cultures had been wiped out, entire peoples erased, with no one left to remember they ever existed. 

Max sometimes wished he had been wiped out.  The miserable existence that he suffered, had suffered for almost all of his adult life, seemed to be more torture than it was worth a lot of the time. 

Maybe he had died, he speculated as he crawled through a sea of mud towards the forward lookout post.  Maybe he was in, what did the ancients call it?  Hey.  No, Hell, that was it.  Some kind of life after death for those who had lived less than perfect lives, if he recalled his mythology classes. Well, perhaps Zhong had made a mistake when he came up with the Unifying theory which finally disproved religion.  He'd obviously forgotten to carry a one or something.  He was dead and in Hey...Hell. 

Slithering over one more mound of mud, he took in the remains of the lookout post, and discovered that the soldiers manning it had been sent to their afterlives.  A worm mine possibly, by the looks of it, and a big one too, leaving a massive gaping hole in the ground where the bunker had been.  Chunks of battlecrete lay scattered around, blown outward.  Mixed in with that were numerous body parts, torn apart in the blast.  The head of one was directly in front of Max.  By chance it had been cleanly severed, as if with a laser, or sharp knife, and had landed right way up.  The woman's shocked expression glared at him accusingly, as if his late arrival was to blame for the whole fiasco.

Max slithered back behind the mud mound and rolled over onto his back, panting hard.  It wasn't the bodies that had upset him, it was the fact that he knew the woman, Sergeant Hooper, and if she was dead, which she very clearly was, then he was next in line for promotion.  To sergeant.  Widely held to be the most unlucky rank in the squad. 

Five-five squad, of which he as a proud member, had never, in its history, had a sergeant last longer than a week.  Even, famously, Sergeant Thomas, who was on leave when promoted, was killed in a freak accident involving a runaway vehicle outside a coffee shop.

It had become so bad that promotion had been made sequential, with those who had been in the group longest promoted when the, inevitable, vacancy arose. 

And now it was his turn.  Max wondered if he could lie, just report Hooper MIA, but he knew that would only stave off the inevitable. 

He was just about to start the long crawl back when something caught his eye.  Sticking out of the never ending mud was... something shiny.  Something that he couldn't recognise. 

Intrigued, he checked that the coast looked clear, and pulled himself over to the item.

Prologue Part II - Bar.

The bar was full of the customary atmosphere, which could be summed up as a 'dark murmer.'  The scattering of the usual customers, wedged into their chairs in the gloom, sat quietly, intent on the business of drinking hard and forgetting the real world as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

Dave had just refilled a glass for a regular that was half slumped over the bar when the door, a dark portal at the far end of the room, crashed open. 

Jumping back, he grabbed the baseball bat more out of instinct than anything else.  The last time someone had come through the door like that it had been two guys out of their heads on acid.  That wasn't pleasant.  The bat still had some ominous dark stains on it.

This time though, the barman quickly realised he was out of his league.  The man who entered, under normal circumstances, wouldn't have looked all that out of place.  He was a tall man, dressed in a long black leather coat that had definitely seen better days, stained, torn and ragged as it was.  His head was cropped short, with a tattoo on the muscular neck of some dark design.  His left hand held a giant pistol of unfamiliar manufacture, smoke still drifting out of the long barrel.  The other hand held a wicked looking hatchet, with congealed sheen coating the metal head. 

Despite all this, it was his face that caught Dave's attention.  It was a face that had seen hell, apparently hitting quite a lot of it along the way, judging by the scrapes, cuts and bruising that adorned it. 

As he staggered up to the bar, Dave stepped back.  It was the man's eyes.  They were dark, haunted eyes.  Eyes that had seen too much, eyes that even the dead wouldn't envy.

The stranger sat down heavily upon a stool, oblivious of the reaction to the clientele, half of which were making haste for the exit, the other half watching expectantly, anticipating something different for once.

With a clunk the man placed the gun on the bar, followed a moment later by the hatchet, which splattered the counter with dark liquid blobs.

"Beer," he said. 

Dave pulled a beer and put it down in front of the man, who had watched him intently as he prepared it.

"That'll be, er..."  He trailed off as those eyes bored into his skull.  "...on the house."  He watched as the drink was lifted to cracked lips and downed in one desperate gulping go, much of it spilling over the already ruined coat, before the glass was slammed back down onto the bar.

"Another."  The voice was slightly less hoarse this time.

Dave complied, watching as the second glass was treated to only slightly less urgent treatment than the last.

"Another?"  He raised an eyebrow as the stranger gasped for air, slumping forward slightly. 

As he began to draw another the door to the bar opened again, in a more normal fashion this time.  Instantly the man grabbed his gun and whirled around to point it at the man entering the room, who shrieked and scuttled back out, double speed.

"Er, I'd rather you didn't kill my customers," Dave said, as the man slowly lowered the weapon and, even more slowly, retook his seat.  "Or frighted them off either.  I have bills to keep you know," he hinted.

The gun was placed gently back on the bar, and the half full, or in this case, possibly half empty, glass was prised away by a dirt covered, scarred and calloused hand.

"They're coming you know."  The man spoke in a rough, throaty voice.  Then he lifted the drink.  This time the glass shook as it was emptied. 

Dave took a punt.  "They?"

His reward was to be grabbed by the collar and half dragged over the counter.  Despite his struggles, and Dave wasn't an overly small or weak man, the hand gripped him like a vice, and he was unable to resist as he was pulled forward, to end up nose to nose with his new client. 

"I can't go on anymore!"  The desperate terror in the voice scared Dave more than the unrelenting grip. "You have to take it.  Take it!!"  Something cold and metal was thrust into his hand.  "They can't have it!  It'll mean the end!  THE END!"

Then the world exploded.  Dave was thrown back across his bar as two shadows erupted from apparently nowhere, grabbing at his new friend and pulling him back off the stool, but not before the man had grabbed the hatchet. 

There was a flurry of violent activity.  The hatchet rose and fell, and blood splattered across the room and over the remaining customers now fleeing or cowering in abject terror.  One of the attackers, a blurry figure enveloped in a billowing black coat, fell back, and Dave caught a glimpse of an unnaturally white face before he was distracted by his new customer being thrown directly at him.  He ducked, and the bottles above him smashed as the man bounced off them and landed on him.

He started to push his way out from underneath the dead weight when it was suddenly gone.  He looked up to see an inhuman parody of a face glaring down at him.  One of the attackers.  It hissed at him, and then turned its attention to the man, which it was holding up with one large, clawed, hand.

Dave took advantage of the creatures distraction and rolled clear, dragging himself up onto the bar. 

Seconds later his shoulder was grasped by what felt like an iron vice.  He swung about to meet one of the attackers as he lunged forward, and then stopped.  Dave thrust the barrel of the large gun the stranger had left on the counter into the tooth-filled mouth - and fired.

The explosion deafened him, and the recoil threw him backwards.  He landed hard, the breath knocked out of him.

Eventually the ringing in his ears stopped and he clambered shakily to his feet.

The bar was a mess, blood and flesh splattered over everything.  He staggered over to the person-thing he'd killed, which now lay in a bony heap, its cape covering it like a shroud.

Dave wished he could think of something smart to say, like in the movies, but his mind had decided to go away and come back when things were calmer, so he just kicked the body as he moved over to his latest customer, who was panting in a very unhealthy way on the floor.

Kneeling next to him he winced. 

"Hey buddy," he said.  "Keep still, I'll get help."  He made to stand, but an arm shot out and pulled him closer.

"No.  They cannot be allowed to get it.  You...you need to go.  Run, kill them.  Find the other thr...th..."

He let out a last, final breath and slumped back.  The hand holding Dave relaxed.

"Oh shit."

Dave laid him down, gently, and then frowned.  It?  He remembered the item he'd been handed, and looked about, spotting something shiny on the floor. 

He picked it up and examined it. 

"Interesting," he said.

Part III - Assassin

Very carefully Shinto slid through the narrow tunnel. This was the most dangerous part, the place where he was most likely to be heard. 

This part of the tunnel, uncovered through meticulous research in secret archives, passed between the guardroom of the royal quarters on one side, and general Matxu's office on the other. The royal cadre were elite, but Shinto was more concerned about the general. He was a legend, with skills honed on the almost mythical temple of Ho-hun. 

So he used every trick, every skill, every stealth incantation at his disposal. He doubted there was any other who could match him in this regard. 

It took nearly an hour to move through the two metre long section. 

Even then, when he finally dropped down into the small, hidden room at the end, now within the royal quarters, the most dangerous part was still ahead. Yes, he was confident he could find the item and eliminate the princess, after all, she was only young, and all the rumours about her abilities, even if true, would be no match for his years of training. No, it was escaping with the item and eluding the inevitable chase. That would be the real challenge. 

Shinto slipped into the corridors of the inner sanctum like a black cat on a dark night. Unseen, unheard he slid from one corner to the next, secure in the knowledge that the only people who were likely to be about were the royal family themselves, and possibly a servant. 

It wasn't long then, before he arrived at the door. With a gesture to invoke the cantrip of decisive action, he slid the door to one side and slipped into the room. 

Inside the room was sparsely decorated. At first glance one could mistake it for a peasants' room, but then, on closer inspection, you would notice the rugs, made of the finest silks, the trunk, desk, and chair carved by master craftsmen out of dark red, thousand year old mu-shi wood. The bed itself, with covers made from the wool from the legendary white mountain ox, and the pillow - flayed skin from the last of the defeated blue sword tribe, that now extinct warrior people. 

Yet none of this concerned Shinto. It was the head that rested on the pillow that his gaze alighted on. First her, and then the item, no doubt in the trunk. 

Time to act. He slid Silk Terror from its scabbard. The small blade was a legend in of itself, and tonight it would taste the blood of its highest profile victim to date. 

Sliding over to the recumbent form, Shinto raised the weapon and, in one smooth motion, brought it down for the death stroke. 

There was a breeze, and suddenly the princess was not there, the blade sliced the blanket, causing damage to that would cost a years wages of a village to pay to repair. 

"Assassin!" Behind him! 

He turned, even in his shock preparing for combat, pulling The Red Edge from its sheath. It was longer than Silk Terror, but still short enough to wield at close quarters. 

The princess, a tiny figure next to him, stood with her own blade ready. Her pose was that of Undying Snake, an impossibly advanced stance for one so young. Still, Shinto responded, adopting the attacking position of Silver Fire. 

They stood there for a moment, facing each other, evaluating. 

Shinto moved, using both blades in a combination attack of Thrust and Slice. 

The Princess moved. Her body impossibly sliding between both weapons using the Water in Air counter. Shinto could barely follow her moves, and had to do a backflip to avoid her. 

"Impressive Princess," he hissed, "but too slow." 

"Was I, assassin?" she replied, holding up her weapon. The steel was coated with something dark along one edge. 

Shinto looked down, to see his stomach open and his insides slip out onto the floor. He gaped at the young girl, as she stepped forward and raised her blade once more. 

- * - 

Princess Xy wiped her knife on the body of the would be assassin before sheathing it. Then she bowed to the ghost of her enemy, as ritual dictated. She had no wish to be haunted by his shade for disrespect. 

Protocol followed, she padded gently over to the secret panel in the base of her bed and opened it. Unrolling the purple velvet she looked at the shiny metallic object within. Soon, very soon, legend said, the time would come for it to be used. 

She hoped she would be ready. 

 Link

Ren

Note: There's a few sections before we reach the Suggestion Phase here as I'm just catching up with this on the OP..



Prologue - Part I

The war was never ending.  It encompassed everything. The entire world, literally the entire world, was a battlefield scattered with the ruins of cities, even whole civilisations. Cultures had been wiped out, entire peoples erased, with no one left to remember they ever existed. 

Max sometimes wished he had been wiped out.  The miserable existence that he suffered, had suffered for almost all of his adult life, seemed to be more torture than it was worth a lot of the time. 

Maybe he had died, he speculated as he crawled through a sea of mud towards the forward lookout post.  Maybe he was in, what did the ancients call it?  Hey.  No, Hell, that was it.  Some kind of life after death for those who had lived less than perfect lives, if he recalled his mythology classes. Well, perhaps Zhong had made a mistake when he came up with the Unifying theory which finally disproved religion.  He'd obviously forgotten to carry a one or something.  He was dead and in Hey...Hell. 

Slithering over one more mound of mud, he took in the remains of the lookout post, and discovered that the soldiers manning it had been sent to their afterlives.  A worm mine possibly, by the looks of it, and a big one too, leaving a massive gaping hole in the ground where the bunker had been.  Chunks of battlecrete lay scattered around, blown outward.  Mixed in with that were numerous body parts, torn apart in the blast.  The head of one was directly in front of Max.  By chance it had been cleanly severed, as if with a laser, or sharp knife, and had landed right way up.  The woman's shocked expression glared at him accusingly, as if his late arrival was to blame for the whole fiasco.

Max slithered back behind the mud mound and rolled over onto his back, panting hard.  It wasn't the bodies that had upset him, it was the fact that he knew the woman, Sergeant Hooper, and if she was dead, which she very clearly was, then he was next in line for promotion.  To sergeant.  Widely held to be the most unlucky rank in the squad. 

Five-five squad, of which he as a proud member, had never, in its history, had a sergeant last longer than a week.  Even, famously, Sergeant Thomas, who was on leave when promoted, was killed in a freak accident involving a runaway vehicle outside a coffee shop.

It had become so bad that promotion had been made sequential, with those who had been in the group longest promoted when the, inevitable, vacancy arose. 

And now it was his turn.  Max wondered if he could lie, just report Hooper MIA, but he knew that would only stave off the inevitable. 

He was just about to start the long crawl back when something caught his eye.  Sticking out of the never ending mud was... something shiny.  Something that he couldn't recognise. 

Intrigued, he checked that the coast looked clear, and pulled himself over to the item.

Prologue Part II - Bar.

The bar was full of the customary atmosphere, which could be summed up as a 'dark murmer.'  The scattering of the usual customers, wedged into their chairs in the gloom, sat quietly, intent on the business of drinking hard and forgetting the real world as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

Dave had just refilled a glass for a regular that was half slumped over the bar when the door, a dark portal at the far end of the room, crashed open. 

Jumping back, he grabbed the baseball bat more out of instinct than anything else.  The last time someone had come through the door like that it had been two guys out of their heads on acid.  That wasn't pleasant.  The bat still had some ominous dark stains on it.

This time though, the barman quickly realised he was out of his league.  The man who entered, under normal circumstances, wouldn't have looked all that out of place.  He was a tall man, dressed in a long black leather coat that had definitely seen better days, stained, torn and ragged as it was.  His head was cropped short, with a tattoo on the muscular neck of some dark design.  His left hand held a giant pistol of unfamiliar manufacture, smoke still drifting out of the long barrel.  The other hand held a wicked looking hatchet, with congealed sheen coating the metal head. 

Despite all this, it was his face that caught Dave's attention.  It was a face that had seen hell, apparently hitting quite a lot of it along the way, judging by the scrapes, cuts and bruising that adorned it. 

As he staggered up to the bar, Dave stepped back.  It was the man's eyes.  They were dark, haunted eyes.  Eyes that had seen too much, eyes that even the dead wouldn't envy.

The stranger sat down heavily upon a stool, oblivious of the reaction to the clientele, half of which were making haste for the exit, the other half watching expectantly, anticipating something different for once.

With a clunk the man placed the gun on the bar, followed a moment later by the hatchet, which splattered the counter with dark liquid blobs.

"Beer," he said. 

Dave pulled a beer and put it down in front of the man, who had watched him intently as he prepared it.

"That'll be, er..."  He trailed off as those eyes bored into his skull.  "...on the house."  He watched as the drink was lifted to cracked lips and downed in one desperate gulping go, much of it spilling over the already ruined coat, before the glass was slammed back down onto the bar.

"Another."  The voice was slightly less hoarse this time.

Dave complied, watching as the second glass was treated to only slightly less urgent treatment than the last.

"Another?"  He raised an eyebrow as the stranger gasped for air, slumping forward slightly. 

As he began to draw another the door to the bar opened again, in a more normal fashion this time.  Instantly the man grabbed his gun and whirled around to point it at the man entering the room, who shrieked and scuttled back out, double speed.

"Er, I'd rather you didn't kill my customers," Dave said, as the man slowly lowered the weapon and, even more slowly, retook his seat.  "Or frighted them off either.  I have bills to keep you know," he hinted.

The gun was placed gently back on the bar, and the half full, or in this case, possibly half empty, glass was prised away by a dirt covered, scarred and calloused hand.

"They're coming you know."  The man spoke in a rough, throaty voice.  Then he lifted the drink.  This time the glass shook as it was emptied. 

Dave took a punt.  "They?"

His reward was to be grabbed by the collar and half dragged over the counter.  Despite his struggles, and Dave wasn't an overly small or weak man, the hand gripped him like a vice, and he was unable to resist as he was pulled forward, to end up nose to nose with his new client. 

"I can't go on anymore!"  The desperate terror in the voice scared Dave more than the unrelenting grip. "You have to take it.  Take it!!"  Something cold and metal was thrust into his hand.  "They can't have it!  It'll mean the end!  THE END!"

Then the world exploded.  Dave was thrown back across his bar as two shadows erupted from apparently nowhere, grabbing at his new friend and pulling him back off the stool, but not before the man had grabbed the hatchet. 

There was a flurry of violent activity.  The hatchet rose and fell, and blood splattered across the room and over the remaining customers now fleeing or cowering in abject terror.  One of the attackers, a blurry figure enveloped in a billowing black coat, fell back, and Dave caught a glimpse of an unnaturally white face before he was distracted by his new customer being thrown directly at him.  He ducked, and the bottles above him smashed as the man bounced off them and landed on him.

He started to push his way out from underneath the dead weight when it was suddenly gone.  He looked up to see an inhuman parody of a face glaring down at him.  One of the attackers.  It hissed at him, and then turned its attention to the man, which it was holding up with one large, clawed, hand.

Dave took advantage of the creatures distraction and rolled clear, dragging himself up onto the bar. 

Seconds later his shoulder was grasped by what felt like an iron vice.  He swung about to meet one of the attackers as he lunged forward, and then stopped.  Dave thrust the barrel of the large gun the stranger had left on the counter into the tooth-filled mouth - and fired.

The explosion deafened him, and the recoil threw him backwards.  He landed hard, the breath knocked out of him.

Eventually the ringing in his ears stopped and he clambered shakily to his feet.

The bar was a mess, blood and flesh splattered over everything.  He staggered over to the person-thing he'd killed, which now lay in a bony heap, its cape covering it like a shroud.

Dave wished he could think of something smart to say, like in the movies, but his mind had decided to go away and come back when things were calmer, so he just kicked the body as he moved over to his latest customer, who was panting in a very unhealthy way on the floor.

Kneeling next to him he winced. 

"Hey buddy," he said.  "Keep still, I'll get help."  He made to stand, but an arm shot out and pulled him closer.

"No.  They cannot be allowed to get it.  You...you need to go.  Run, kill them.  Find the other thr...th..."

He let out a last, final breath and slumped back.  The hand holding Dave relaxed.

"Oh shit."

Dave laid him down, gently, and then frowned.  It?  He remembered the item he'd been handed, and looked about, spotting something shiny on the floor. 

He picked it up and examined it. 

"Interesting," he said.

Part III - Assassin

Very carefully Shinto slid through the narrow tunnel. This was the most dangerous part, the place where he was most likely to be heard. 

This part of the tunnel, uncovered through meticulous research in secret archives, passed between the guardroom of the royal quarters on one side, and general Matxu's office on the other. The royal cadre were elite, but Shinto was more concerned about the general. He was a legend, with skills honed on the almost mythical temple of Ho-hun. 

So he used every trick, every skill, every stealth incantation at his disposal. He doubted there was any other who could match him in this regard. 

It took nearly an hour to move through the two metre long section. 

Even then, when he finally dropped down into the small, hidden room at the end, now within the royal quarters, the most dangerous part was still ahead. Yes, he was confident he could find the item and eliminate the princess, after all, she was only young, and all the rumours about her abilities, even if true, would be no match for his years of training. No, it was escaping with the item and eluding the inevitable chase. That would be the real challenge. 

Shinto slipped into the corridors of the inner sanctum like a black cat on a dark night. Unseen, unheard he slid from one corner to the next, secure in the knowledge that the only people who were likely to be about were the royal family themselves, and possibly a servant. 

It wasn't long then, before he arrived at the door. With a gesture to invoke the cantrip of decisive action, he slid the door to one side and slipped into the room. 

Inside the room was sparsely decorated. At first glance one could mistake it for a peasants' room, but then, on closer inspection, you would notice the rugs, made of the finest silks, the trunk, desk, and chair carved by master craftsmen out of dark red, thousand year old mu-shi wood. The bed itself, with covers made from the wool from the legendary white mountain ox, and the pillow - flayed skin from the last of the defeated blue sword tribe, that now extinct warrior people. 

Yet none of this concerned Shinto. It was the head that rested on the pillow that his gaze alighted on. First her, and then the item, no doubt in the trunk. 

Time to act. He slid Silk Terror from its scabbard. The small blade was a legend in of itself, and tonight it would taste the blood of its highest profile victim to date. 

Sliding over to the recumbent form, Shinto raised the weapon and, in one smooth motion, brought it down for the death stroke. 

There was a breeze, and suddenly the princess was not there, the blade sliced the blanket, causing damage to that would cost a years wages of a village to pay to repair. 

"Assassin!" Behind him! 

He turned, even in his shock preparing for combat, pulling The Red Edge from its sheath. It was longer than Silk Terror, but still short enough to wield at close quarters. 

The princess, a tiny figure next to him, stood with her own blade ready. Her pose was that of Undying Snake, an impossibly advanced stance for one so young. Still, Shinto responded, adopting the attacking position of Silver Fire. 

They stood there for a moment, facing each other, evaluating. 

Shinto moved, using both blades in a combination attack of Thrust and Slice. 

The Princess moved. Her body impossibly sliding between both weapons using the Water in Air counter. Shinto could barely follow her moves, and had to do a backflip to avoid her. 

"Impressive Princess," he hissed, "but too slow." 

"Was I, assassin?" she replied, holding up her weapon. The steel was coated with something dark along one edge. 

Shinto looked down, to see his stomach open and his insides slip out onto the floor. He gaped at the young girl, as she stepped forward and raised her blade once more. 

- * - 

Princess Xy wiped her knife on the body of the would be assassin before sheathing it. Then she bowed to the ghost of her enemy, as ritual dictated. She had no wish to be haunted by his shade for disrespect. 

Protocol followed, she padded gently over to the secret panel in the base of her bed and opened it. Unrolling the purple velvet she looked at the shiny metallic object within. Soon, very soon, legend said, the time would come for it to be used. 

She hoped she would be ready. 

Ren

OKay then!  Voting is up!  And I believe this may be the first ever poll on the OP!  ::)

Scribe_siren

Good work C'ren, is there more in this story. I'll check the city. If not well -- Am I caught up?  EDIT: NOPE I"M NOT!!

So , The world is at its end and people still kill each other. I'd suggest being as discrete as possible throughout the whole of the story until you have no choice but to play all your character's blundering actions into the story.
Nice! Cutting into the body of the assassin.

Ren

"And then, the activation word," Salzar muttered the rune under his breath, "and we have..." He paused for dramatic effect, Alice was in the front row of his class, and watching with eyes wide. "A Dark Imp!" He pulled the cloth back with a flourish, to reveal the minor demon underneath.

The class gasped, and jumped as one as the summoned thing snarled at the sudden influx of sunlight and leaped forward, towards what it would see as food. There were a few squeals from the students as the small creature hit the protective wards and bounced off the invisible wall, followed by nervous giggles.

Salzar watched for a moment more as the imp raged against its prison, and then uttered the words of dismissal. There was a small puff of acrid smoke and it vanished.

The class broke out into applause, and Salzar smiled a wry and, what he hoped was a modest, smile. His eyes flicked over Alice, and he was pleased to see her clapping as eagerly as any of them. It was a petty trick really, but always impressed the new intake, as well as lasses in bars.

Holding his hands up for silence, he waited until quiet had once again descended before continuing.

"Now, what you saw there was one of the most minor of all demons, but even such a small creature is more than capable of killing an adult human. You have all been warded of course, and your wards would hold it off, but," he leaned forward to stress his point. "But, that was only the smallest of them. Larger demons would easily breach your wards. Thus conjuring anything without strict supervisions is totally forbidden. Anyone found doing so, who survives, "there was a nervous titter, "will be expelled immediately, with no appeal. Am I understood?"

The class signalled their ascent, and Salzar nodded, satisfied. The demonstration was useful to show the viciousness of the underworld beasts, as well as impress the more curvatious students.

"Now then..." he began, but was interrupted buy a perfunctory knock on the door, which was then energetically opened, allowing a small, wizened but still vigorous figure, to enter. The class leapt to their feet as the head of the school strode in.

"Headmaster," said Salzar, as the mage paused to acknowledge the students.

The head ignored him for the moment, addressing the students directly. "Class dismissed," he said. "Everyone out. Now." Despite his advanced years, his voice held a tone of authority that few took lightly.

The students immediately gathered their belongings and, with only glances at each other, and one to Salzar from Alice Salzar was secretly pleased to note, they shuffled out. The head stood impassionately until they were all gone, and then closed the door with a minor wave of his hand, locking and sealing it with another small gesture.

Salzar raised an eyebrow as the other mage turned and finally spoke to him directly.

"I see you are still trying to impress the girls with petty tricks," he said wryly.

"It's an important safety demonstration," Salzar replied. "As you taught me in fact, Master Brull."

Brull sighed and shook his head. "I'm sure if you applied yourself to magic as eagerly as you did chasing skirt you'd have my job by now. Still, I'm not here to rehash old arguments. Something urgent has come up." He walked over to the nearest chair and slumped into it, looking worried.

Salzar frowned, this was not typical behaviour from his old mentor.

"Tell me," he said.

"Sit," directed Brull, pointing at the chair next to him, and waited until Salzar had done so before continuing. "There's a time of Convergence approaching," he said, getting directly to the point. "And there's..."

"Hold on, hold on." Salzar held up a hand. "A what?"

"Oh my boy! Your studies..." Brull trailed off. "Never mind." He leaned forward. "Every so often, maybe as far apart as one in a hundred thousand years, maybe as often as a decade, the bonding forces of the universes come into alignment. What does this mean?" he asked.

"Alignment? Oh, the barriers between them weaken. I thought that imp was easier to conjure than usual," he added.

"Exactly, this sort of alignment happens all the time, usually with two or three, maybe four dimensions aligning. However, a Convergence is when all of the dozens of the known universes align. This has an exponential effect, weakening the barriers far more than usual."

"Right, of course."

"Now, every so often, for reasons we're not totally sure of, though it may have to do with the possible undiscovered dimensions, this Convergence is even stronger than usual. There's even a possibility, not great but still, that some of the barriers may partially, or even totally collapse. I don't have to tell you what this would mean."

"Devastation," said Salzar, appalled at what he was hearing.

"Exactly. As a result, the first college of Mages created a device to strengthen the barriers until the danger had passed. This device was a massive undertaking, as you could probably imagine, and it has only been used twice in all this time, the last being well over three thousand years ago."

"The Great Sorceress Pu," said Salzar. "So the stories..."

"Were true," Brull nodded.

"So, what then?"

"There's a problem," Brull carried on. "The device has, possibly by malicious means, we're still investigating, been broken up and scattered through a number of dimensions. It's practically impossible to destroy, and, because of its nature, we can easily track it on this plane."

Light slowly dawned. "Oh no, so you're saying..." Salzar pushed his chair back impulsively.

"That's right, we need someone to go and gather the pieces."

"And you chose me? Why me? And why not a team?"

"You know very well why," Brull replied, crossly. "The energy transfer between universes makes transporting multiple people at once much harder. Besides, there aren't enough of us to spare."

"Oh, so I'm 'spare' now am I?"

"Don't be ridiculous. You know very well that you are one of the most powerful mages here, even if you are a lazy, womanising lech who doesn't study. Plus you have a knack for interdimensional stuff, probably all that imp summoning practice. And you're good with combat spells."

"But..."

"No buts," Brull slammed a hand down on the desk in front of him, suddenly angry. "It's been decided, you're going. I don't like it any more than you, but the decision's been made. Prep your stuff, you leave tomorrow."

Salzars' eyes widened. "Tomorrow?" he squeaked.

It looked like he wouldn't be making any progress with Alice then.

{}

"The pentagram is complete Master."  The junior mage bowed very slightly as Brull nodded in acknowledgement. 

"I hope you slept well last night," the master said, turning to Salzar.  "Dimensional transference can be traumatic."

"I'm well aware, as you know," replied Salzar, somewhat brusquely.  He was still angry about being blindsided by this whole affair.

Nodding, Brull reached into his robe and pulled out several items, which he passed to Salzar one at a time as he explained.  "Right, here is an energy wand. It's fully charged, but you should use it sparingly, you know how much energy each use goes through.  And here's something a bit more basic." He handed over a sheathed short sword. "It's been enchanted with as much power as it would hold, so be careful not to chop parts of yourself off.  Finally, here."  The final device was a small mechanical thing, similar to the pocket watches that were popular with the non-magical population.  "This is a pointer.  It will guide you to the nearest piece of the artefact.  If there are no pieces on the plane you're on, it will help get you to the next universe.  Don't lose it."

Brull paused and put his hand on Salzar's arm.  "I don't need to tell you how important this mission is," he said.  "Also, I wish I could spare someone to go with you. I myself would like to but..."  he trailed off and shook his head.  "Come on, we're going to cast a few protective spells on you, and then send you off on your way.  Unfortunately the nearest universe could be a bit rough."

"A bit rough?" Salzar looked up from stashing the devices he'd been given about his person in alarm.  "What do you mean a 'bit rough'?"

"Last time someone checked they were in the middle of a war," Brull explained, picking up Salzar's rucksack and guiding him over to the middle of the pentagram.  "Still, that was years ago, I'm sure it's all over by now.  You'll be fine."  He patted Salzar's arm and stepped out of the magic circle, to join the other mages who had assembled.

"Right, hold still, we'll cast some protective spells on you first."

So saying, he nodded at his fellows, and for the next several minutes Salzar was the recipient of just about every protective bit of warding he'd ever heard of, plus a few he hadn't.

After the last mage had finished, they all looked at one another and took a few steps back.

"Right, here we go then," Brull said.  "Good luck Salzar.  Ready?"  This last part to the other wizards, who nodded in reply.

"Very well." 

So saying, the group began casting the powerful inter-dimensional spell.  Salzar, having looked up the spell the previous evening, paid special attention.  He'd never used it before, and, if he was going to succeed in this task, he'd be needing it a lot.

The magical forces began to build, and he felt something like a breeze, although blowing in a direction that lacked any familiarity.  The force of the gale built, and the room began to dim.  Brull and the other mages began to fade, and a grey mist descended about him.  It thickened, until all he could see was fog.  With alarm, he realised he was no longer standing on a floor but floating, being blown along by the strange breeze.

He floated in the void, and panic began to rise. Something had gone wrong! 

Just as he was thinking of casting some kind of counter-spell the mist began to fade.  Slowly, a dim light began to filter through through, and gravity started to make itself felt again. 

His shoes touched ground, and then slowly sank into it. Salzar cursed.  Apparently he'd landed in a muddy field.

"Dammit," he swore, as the rest of the fog dissipated, looking down at his boots that were slowly sinking into a dark mire.  "This is not a good start."

There was a whistling sound, and he looked up just in time to see something land several metres away. 

"What..." he began, before the explosion nearly knocked him off his feet.

"Holy shit!" he said, feeling his body.  Luckily, it seemed as though all the wards had protected him against the blast. Without that protection he'd have been blown into small pieces.

As the smoke from the explosion cleared he took a better look at his surroundings. 

"Oh, this can't be good," he said. 

As far as he could see there was churned up mud. The landscape was potted with large craters, no doubt from explosions such as the one he'd just experienced.  Here and there were what looked like, distressingly, bodies, or parts of bodies. Some fresh, others less so.  Some distance away the remains of what could have been a small village squat like a horrible kind of mostly destroyed oasis.  Further away still, in several directions, wire and other obstacles were placed in no-doubt strategic positions.

"I'm sure it's all over by now," Salzar said in a mocking tone to himself. "Bloody Brull!  Shit!"  He winced as another explosion landed, not far away. 

"This can't be healthy," he muttered, moving away from his landing zone and pulling out the compass.  Flipping it open, he tried to make sense of where it was pointing. 

After a few seconds he managed to work out the runes, and looked right, to where it was indicating.

"Oh come on!"  Coming from that direction, still a little way off, but definitely getting closer, were a large group of figures, all dressed in brown and carrying what could only be weapons. 

They were heading his way.


Chapter I Part II - Dave

The metal thing was some kind of toy.  A small metal, old-fashioned steampunk style miniature thing, with a grill for a mouth and small red LED lights for eyes, currently off. 

Dave frowned.  What the hell was going on here?  He glanced at the three bodies that now adorned his place of work, in some cases in various locations.  His now ex-acquaintance had certainly done a number on one of them before succumbing himself.

Stepping over to the mostly-headless attacker he'd shot, he lifted the cape that covered most of the corpse. And screwed his face up.  The body was steaming, literally steaming, and it didn't smell pleasant.  As he watched the dead, for want of a better word, man, started to bubble and melt, taking his black leather garments along with him.

Stepping back, Dave watched as the assailant slowly and goo-ily spread out on his floor, staining it irretrievably no doubt.

"Well, that's the most fucked up thing I've seen in a while," he said to himself.  He glanced up.  The bar was empty.  All the patrons had obviously decided weird human-like people who melted were a step too far.

"Early closing then," Dave muttered.  He looked at the tiny robot in his hand again.  If the stranger was to be believed, the melted men were after this.  Turning it over, he noticed a tiny button at the base of the back.  He pressed it.

Immediately the little machine became active, moving in an impossible, almost human-like way.  It's head swivelled about and the now glowing eyes focussed on Dave.

"Urgent departure from this dimension is recommended," it said, in a smooth male voice.

"Er...Yes?"  Dave replied.

"Urgent departure from this dimension is recommended," the robot repeated, waving a tiny arm.

"Oh, well, sure.  Um..."

"Holder is new command user?" the machine asked, somehow sensing his confusion.

"Yeah, sure, why not."  Dave shrugged.

"Stand by for induction," it said.  "Hold device up to face."

"What?" Dave asked, confused now.

"New User to hold device up to face," it repeated.

Feeling foolish, Dave complied, holding the robot up and staring him in the tiny eyes.  "Like th..." 

His question was cut off as the robot's eyes flashed, and a bright light pierced straight into his brain.  There was a brief, but incredible intense, moment of the most excruciating pain he'd ever felt, and then a small beep.

Staggering back, Dave slipped on the gooey remains of the melted man and fell hard on his back. 

"Damn!" he shouted grasping at his head.

"Induction complete.  Reboot recommended if available," the voice of the robot said.  "Powering down."

A distinct click followed, and once Dave could focus again, he saw that the small recorder's eyes were no longer glowing...

Recorder?  Had he just called it that? 

Suddenly Dave knew he had. Because that's what the robot was, an alien recording device.  Without any conscious effort on his part, instructions flooded into his head.  The only problem was they came at him way too fast to process, like someone babbling at him at full speed on how to build a nuclear reactor. 

"Stop it!" he cried to himself. "Slow down!"

Immediately the flow of information slowed, and he no longer felt like he was drowning in a sea of words.

However, before he could do anything about this new information source, the recorder activated again. 

"Enemy portal detected.  Relocation recommended.  Initiate transfer?"

"What?  Er, yes. Wait, hold on a second."  Dave rolled over, wincing as he nearly cut himself open on the hatchet his dead friend had brought with him.  Grabbing the axe, he climbed to his feet and looked around for the gun.  If more 'enemy' were coming, that could come in useful too. 

"Portal initiation urgently recommended," said the robot, which he was surprised to find he was holding in his other hand. 

"Fine, fine," Dave said, finally locating the other weapon and, juggling the axe and the robot, retrieving the gun.  He managed to thrust it and the axe into his belt, where they were sure to fall out and land on his foot any second. 

Meanwhile, the recorded climbed nimbly up his clothes and stood on his shoulder, where, showing no signs of falling off, it began emitting a strange grating noise.

Dave stepped away from the melted man puddle and looked at the detritus behind the bar.  Amazingly, standing amongst all the broken glass, was an untouched bottle of vodka. 

"Just the ticket," he said, picking it up. 

Before he could unscrew the top though, the noise the recorder had been making stopped.

"Transfer initiated," it said.

The world turned white.

"What the fuck!??" Dave screamed, finding himself floating in a misty void. 

"User to remain calm, transfer is in progress."

"Fucking transfer what the fuck help shit!"  Dave ran out of breath, and was just gasping for air, which at least this void seemed to have, when the mist started to dissipate.

"Transfer complete.  Target particle occurrence ninety three percent likely within twenty sectors," the recorder stated. Then it climbed down into Dave's shirt pocket and went still.

"What the fuck?" Dave repeated, but more in wonder this time, as he took in his surroundings.

He appeared to be in some kind of oriental fairyland.  Pristine fields stretched out to either side of him, with various unfamiliar crops of different hues waving in the gentle breeze.  Here and there some kind of field worker, dressed in what appeared to be green silk robes, tended the plants. 

Dave himself was standing in the middle of a narrow road constructed from earthy coloured brick.  It led away over a hill to his left. To his right it wound its way into a small village of some kind, with narrow, pastel hued dwellings that rose three or four stories high. 

Beyond that, in the distance, more substantial buildings were huddled together on a hill. Resting on the summit was a kind of fairy-princess castle, with impossible spires stabbing skyward.

"???????"

"What?"  Dave turned, to see a small, wiry man addressing him.  He looked like the kung-fu teacher in the original Karate Kid, with grey hair tied up in a bun, and brown robes with dangling sleeves that covered his hands.  A long dagger was thrust through his belt.

"????? ????? ????" the stranger repeated.  Nodding gently and pointing at Daves' hand.

Looking down, Dave saw he was indicating the bottle of vodka, still unopened.

"Er, sorry bub, no speakee Japanese," Dave, the international diplomat, replied.

"???? ???? ???? ???? ?????" said the man, more urgently this time.

"Oh dear," Dave muttered.  "I don't think we're in Kansas any more Toto."

The gun fell out of his belt and landed on his foot.

The karate master gestured once more, pointing at the bottle, and then looking around, possibly for someone else to jabber at.

"You thirsty old timer?" Dave asked.  He looked at the bottle in his hand, and shrugged.  "Why not?  No harm in befriending the locals."  So saying, he twisted the top off and offered the vodka to the his new friend.

The result wasn't what he'd expected. 

With an angry shout, the man pulled out the dagger from his belt and took a swing at Dave with it.  "???? you ?????," he said.

Bouncing back, Dave cried out.  "Hey!  Did you... oh no!"  This last because the man stalked forward another few steps with his knife held in a dangerous fashion ahead of him.

"Fuck this."  Abondoning all hopes of a stiff drink, Dave threw the bottle at the man, who leaped to one side nimbly enough to dodge the errant container.  This did give Dave the chance to pull out his newly claimed hatchet though.  He wasn't going to risk bending down to recover the gun with Knifey McKnife face ahead of him.

His opponent slowed his advance as he saw Dave wielding the small axe.

"????? dare you ??????? me ?? forbidden ?????" he snarled. 

"What?  What did you say?"  Dave leaped back as the man thrust suddenly, nearly eviserating him. He swung his hatchet wildly in turn, not skillfully, but well enough to force the man back a pace.

"Listen!" he said, as they scowled at each other.  "I think we may have got off to a bad start, my name..."

"I care not what your name is filthy beverage carrier!  Nobody insults Marvak and lives to tell of it."  Marvak, if that was his name, then bounced forward once more, and with a skilfull attack, scored a thin cut on his arm.

"Ow! You fucker!"  Dave saw red, and countered with a swing of his own, which missed, and a kick to the nuts, which didn't. 

Marvak staggered, impressively keeping upright and at least half focused on Dave, as the barkeep made another wild swing, accidentally kicking the shotgun that he'd forgotten about at the same time.

There was a loud retort, as the firearm went off, blowing a large hole through the unfortunate Marvak, who managed to gape at him for several seconds before collapsing in a pile of blood and guts on the path.

"Jebus!" said Dave, gasping for breath.  He picked the gun up and looked around wildly.  The altercation had to have attracted attention, but the few people in the fields nearby only glanced over quickly, facing away when they saw Dave looking at them.

"Weird and disconcerting."  Dave put the hatchet back into his belt.  Then he walked over to his poor bottle of vodka, which lay leaking it's fluid out on the path, and picked that up.  There was about half of it left.  He took a swig before retreiving the cap and screwing it back on. 

His items recovered, he stepped over to look at poor old Marvak, who was still dead, spread out in the centre of a dark pool of blood, but at least he wasn't melting.

"Right then, not such a good start."  He reached into his pocket and pulled out his little robot.  "Hey, buddy, you awake?"

The tiny robot's eyes lit up, and it swivelled its head to look at him.  "Target particle detected north, within eighteen sectors," was all it said, before powering down again.

"Er, okay," said Dave. He looked around again, and then up.  Assuming the sun followed the same rules as he was used to, and there was no guarantee that was the case, and assuming it was afternoon, again no guarantee, then north would be over by the castle.  "Yeah, that would be about right," he muttered.

>>>

Very well then, short and, maybe, sweet this time.  And easy question to answer:  Where next?

To the castle?  Visit the nearby village?  Go and beat up one of the field workers?  Something else?  The world is Dave's oyster, help him eat it please!

<<<

Ren

Oops, thanks for pointing out I'd not posted all of this on here yet Scribey.  I've now done so, above.

Your vote is still valid!  ::)

Ren

"Princess, they are waiting for you," May, her old servant, said.  May's eyes were on the floor, as was proper, but even so, Xy could feel the glare of impatience.  The princess didn't care.  She would come before her father when she was ready, and not before. It was her right!

Still, she thought, as she looked herself over once more in the mirror, even she had to admit that, finally, her attire was satisfactory.  Her long, pristine white robes hung down to her knees. A green sash was wrapped around her waist, and her simple gold necklace clung to her long, thin neck.  One thing was missing. Her main blade.  It was waiting for her in the throne room, along with the assembled court.  To be formally presented to her for her coming of age. She felt naked with only two daggers.

"Very well," she said.  "I am ready. Lead on May."

Xy stifled a rebellious titter at the servants sniff of disapproval. Using names for servants! Xy was traditional it as true, it would have been impossible not to be given her upbringing, but she also harboured thoughts of a more progressive nature.  Thoughts that, for now, she kept very well hidden. Even the next in line to the throne had to be careful when confronting the traditions that had dominated the empire for so long.

May led the way out of her chambers, and along the passage, through Xy's quarters.  Out of the doors, where two of the princesses' personal guards, both female of course, were standing at attention.  As she passed through they fell in behind her, walking in step, hands on their weapons, eyes darting left and right, ever vigilant.

Down the grand staircase, past more guards, house guards this time, and along the main corridor down to the throne room.  Those grand doors swung open slowly as she approached.  May stopped and stood to one side as they arrived, allowing her to enter.

Stepping inside the room, Xy's eyes went straight to her father, sitting on the imperial throne, dressed in all the splendour that could possibly be afforded to the Highest of the High.  His eyes met her in turn, and she thought she detected the hint of approval in them.  Her father had been her most staunch advocate through the years, to the point were he'd even taught in some of her weapon's classes.  An almost unheard of action. 

Xy glanced to her father's right, and steeled herself. Her mother was also looking at her, but this time it was a glare.  For reasons Xy had never really understood, her own mother had always hated her.  Xy's younger brother, on the other hand, could do no wrong.

The princess switched her eyes back to her father as she arrived at the base of the dais that his throne was placed on.  She fell to a single knee in front of him, and heard the collective intake of breath from the courtiers assembled for the spectacle.  Going down on one knee was usually reserved for a prince, and a warrior.

Her head held up defiantly, Xy stared at her father, daring him to say something.

The emperor merely made a very slight movement with his mouth, which she interpreted as a hint of a smile. 

There was a hiss of expelled air from the Empress, but her father ignored it.  Nodding, he allowed her to rise, which she did in one smooth motion.

"Xy, you are well come," the Emperor said. 

"I thank my Lord," she replied, dipping her head. The minimum courtesy.

Her father chuckled, obviously enjoying her show of bravado.  Inwardly, Xy smiled.  She knew him well.  He admired strength and courage nearly above all.  No matter who showed it.  It made him, in her eyes, the greatest man to ever sit on the throne.

"You are here because you are now a woman," the Emperor went on, this time in a louder voice, meant to be heard.  "Your childhood, that carefree time..."

Xy swallowed a grimace.  Hardly carefree.

"... is over.  Now you are here to proclaim your title and your ambitions."

Nodding again, this time in acknowledgement, Xy smiled.  The security this offered was invaluable to her.  With this ceremony, her place as heir would be nearly unassailable.

"Before I carry on," intoned her father, as the ritual prescribed.  "Does anyone have any objections?"

Xy held her breath.  It was unlikely that anyone would stand up, knowing how fond of his daughter the Emperor was, but even so...

The required time passed, and the Emperor nodded.  "Very well, I now declare Zheal Xy Ghlv Cha Zibath, my heir and woman proper, child no longer."  Her father looked at her.  "It is your right to demand a boon."

"My sword," she replied instantly.  No surprise there.  "And..."

"Two?" The Emperor raised an eyebrow.  "Speak on then."

Xy smiled, half mischief and half amusement.

>>>

Oh, didn't see this coming. Now it's there though, what could she also ask for?  Bear in mind she's in a very formal, rigid society. Imagine old Japan, but more so.

Let's have your ideas, assuming anyone is still here...

<<<<

Ren

Max grunted and ducked as he ran along behind the remains of the wall.  The curse of the sergeant was already making itself felt it seemed. Only seconds after he had he picked up the strange metallic object near the remains of the bunker, the enemy had attacked.  How they had got so close without anyone detecting them he didn't know, but he would worry about that later, should he have a later.

Initially he'd been lucky.  The attackers hadn't seen him, not expecting anyone to be there, and he'd managed to seclude himself within a pile of debris as the force passed by, on the way to the main attack.  Max itched to get back to his own lines to warn someone, but there was no getting in front of the enemy troops now. They'd get there before he could.

So he'd lay low until there was a break and scooted off at right angles, thinking he could work his way around back to his own lines. 

It wasn't to be.  Enemy troops were everywhere, advancing stealthily through no man's land.  It baffled Max as to how they were managing to elude all the sensors and surveillance of his own side. 

Moving carefully, he'd been forced further and further off course, until he'd ended up in his current position, in one of the many, mostly destroyed, villages that littered the battlefield, long since abandoned by whomever had lived here. 

He made it to the shelter he'd been heading for, a small brick construct of some kind.  Maybe it had once been a coal cellar or the like.  Now it was just useful cover.  Panting hard, he took stock.  He had his pistol, rifle and basic supplies, including a few rations, but no extra cover.  If he was forced to hide out overnight he was going to need shelter, or freeze to death. 

With that in mind, he eyed the row of mostly destroyed houses nearby.  One of them, amazingly, was nearly intact.  It even looked like it had more than one floor.  It would be a good place to shelter, with a view of the approaching area.  Decision made, he put his plan into action and pulled himself up and around the wall... and stopped.

There was a man there, obviously he was equally surprised at Max's appearance, as he was staring at him wide eyed.  He was dressed in some kind of dark leather outfit, with long boots, a cloak and a short sword at his side, of all things. Training took over.  Before he was even aware of it, Max had pulled his sidearm and fired.

The bullet slowed and stopped before it reached it's target, remaining still in the air for a moment before dropping, spent, to the floor.

The stranger looked wide-eyed at Max.  Max returned the stare, and then fired again and again, until the clip was empty.

Once again, there was no effect.  The bullets hung short of their target for a moment before dropping into the mud to join their brother.

"By the Universe!" Max gasped, taking a step back.

"???? ?? ??????," said the man, holding his empty hands out in front of him, an action that made Max squeeze the trigger of his now empty pistol again.

"?? ??? ????? ?? hurt ???!" said the stranger.

"What?"  Max stopped.  "What did you say?"  At the same time he felt something move in his pocket. 

"I said ?? ??? ????? to hurt you," repeated the man.

"Listen," Max said, suddenly remembering where he was.  "I don't know what in the Universe is going on, but we're in the middle of an attack here.  If you're not with them, then you're in danger."  He wasn't sure what it was, but he suddenly had the feeling that this person wasn't his enemy.

"What ??? you ???? say?" the stranger asked.

"What?" replied Max.

"What?"

The two men stared at each other in mutual bafflement for moment, before Max pulled himself together.

"Listen," he said, "we need to get under cover.  Come with me if you want to live."  He pointed at the house he'd spotted earlier.  Then, without waiting to see if he was being followed, he moved past the man and jogged towards his target.  After a moment he heard the stranger curse under his breath and follow.


Chapter I Part V - Salzar.

Salzar followed the soldier through the debris that littered the remains of the destroyed village.  The houses were made of dark brick; strange, ghostlike things, broken and abandoned for goodness knows how long in this sad, war torn world.  Maybe the soldier would be able to give him a bit of guidance. His pointing device had suggested a piece of artefact was nearby.  He'd no doubt have to dig through half a ton of mud to find it.  He glanced left and right.  Whatever this dimension lacked, mud was not on the list.

The warrior was heading towards a fairly intact looking house, moving with a practised gait through the uneven ground.  He was clad in a rather horrible grey/green coloured uniform, which was no doubt designed to help him blend into the terrain.  Slung over his back was a cleverly designed backpack, large enough to be able to carry a reasonable amount of equipment but sleek enough not to interfere too much with movement.  Over one shoulder was a long device, like a pipe with a handle and trigger.  This was a weapon, Salzar quickly decided, similar but larger than the one he'd fired earlier.  Luckily the protective magics that had been cast on him before he left were still strong, and hadn't had any problem protecting him from the projectiles.  Finally, his new friend was wearing some kind of helmet, the same colour as his uniform, that came halfway down his ears and slightly further down the back of his neck. 

So intent was Salzar in studying the fellow, he nearly bumped into him when the man suddenly stopped, holding up one hand in, belated, warning.

"What..." Salzar started to ask, but was immediately shushed.

The soldier, carefully and quietly, unslung his larger weapon and did something that made a kind of a metallic clicking noise.  The man looked back at Salzar and pointed ahead, at the doorway they'd been heading for.

The mage felt a slight thrill of excitement run through him.  There was an enemy nearby! He'd never been in any actual fighting, though he knew several battle spells.  With all his wards, this would be a perfect time to try them out, and he had the wand and the sword too, if he needed anything more. 

Thus emboldened, he tapped his colleague on the shoulder, nearly making the poor man jump out of his skin. 

"Let me go first," he whispered.

"No, there are at least two, maybe..." the man started. 

"It's okay, I've protective wards."  The soldier stopped speaking and looked puzzled, but then stepped, carefully, back.  No doubt he thought that if this strange man wanted to get himself killed he wasn't going to stop him.

Muttering an offensive spell under his breath, Salzar crept carefully forward, sidling up towards the doorway.  As he did so his heart began to beat faster.  This wasn't a practice scenario at his college.  These people were deadly serious.  For the first time he began to appreciate the enormity of what he'd been thrust into.  He shook his head. Too late to back out now.

Ducking down he, very quickly, stuck his head around the doorway, took a mental snapshot of the room, pulling it back just as fast. 

Evaluating what he had seen, he decided on an aggressive approach.  As much as to do something before he totally chickened out as any other reason.  Moving before he could change his mind, he readied his spell and dived into the room, rolling on landing before coming up, ready to cast.

The world exploded in noise and light as several previously hidden shapes opened up with weapons not unlike his soldier friend's long stick.

Maybe these men had better sticks, or maybe theirs were just more powerful, but these projectiles knocked him back slightly.  Suddenly angry, he loosed his magic.

The spell was called Blue Snapper, and it threw from six to several dozen small blue, explosive, energy bolts from his fingertips.  Salzar had chosen this as his specialist offensive spell in battle classes, because it was a relatively lower power spell to cast, quick, and could take out multiple opponents.  Of course, back in college he'd only used it on dummy targets.

He wasn't ready for the real thing.  The three men that were firing at him simply exploded as the bolts hit home, splattering the surroundings with blood, flesh, muscle and bone. 

"Fuck me!" Salzar said, shocked at the result.  He stopped and stared at the gruesome mess, and thus reacted too slowly when the fourth man stepped out of cover with some kind of metal ball in his hand.  He was about to throw it at Salzar, when there was a single retort from the doorway.  The enemy soldier was thrown back as his friend's weapon's projectile hit him in the chest. 

"Get down!" shouted his new pal, as the enemy fighter fell backwards, releasing the metal ball, which rolled a short way away, coming to rest against the wall.

Salzar was too slow.  There was a huge explosion, and he was thrown back violently in an orange cloud of fire, to smash against the something hard.  Even with his protective wards, he felt the heat and power of the device.  The impact winded him, hard, and he slid down to land in a crumpled heap on the dirty floor.


Chapter I Part VI - Max.
 
Ducking quickly back quickly, Max felt the earth shake as the grenade went off.  Orange flames licked past him, out of the doorway, followed by a cloud of brown dust. 

Coughing slightly, he waited a short time, letting the dust settle, before peering back around, fully expecting to see the stranger scattered over the floor.

Instead the man was merely lying on the ground groaning.  Max shook his head in amazement.  Not only had the fellow taken out three soldiers, conclusively, in the blink of an eye, but he'd survived half a dozen machine gun rounds and a grenade.   He didn't know what the man had, but Max wanted some of it.

Glancing around first, it was unlikely anyone else had survived, but years of war had made him careful, he made his way over the stranger, who was slowly sitting up and dusting the dirt off his odd outfit.

"Are you alright?" Max asked him, offering him a lift up.

The other nodded and took his hand.  Max pulled the fellow up, wondering at the smooth skin of his new comrade.  Whomever he was, he certainly wasn't from around here.  He itched to know, but first things first...

"We need to secure a spot, upstairs might be best," be said.  "Hopefully with the attack going on, all this won't be noticed."  He gestured at the gruesome scene they were standing in the middle of.  "Wait, let me check for anything useful."  Leaving the other to get his bearings, Max scouted out the enemies' former hideout.  One of the machine guns still looked serviceable, the others having been rendered useless by the grenade.  He picked it up and slung it over his shoulder, and retrieved all the remaining ammunition he could find, plus a couple of grenades and a few other choice items. 

By the time he'd finished he was rather encumbered.  He would have to sort things out later.

The man was looking at something in his hand, a kind of watch perhaps, and frowning.  As Max moved towards him, the man's eyes widened. 

"You!" he said, startling Max and nearly making him reach for his pistol again.  "It's on you!"

"What?"  Max replied.  "What is it?"

"Do you have a..." the man hesitated. "I don't know what it looks like," he said, as much to himself as Max.  He looked up again.  "Do you have, er, something odd on you?"

Frowning, Max was about to say no, but then he remembered the small metallic thing he'd picked up at the bunker. He hadn't had any chance to inspect it before the attack, simply stuffing it in his pocket, and had been too busy since.

"Let's get secure first," he said, in way of reply.  "It will be getting dark soon.  Come on, I want to see if we can find a way upstairs."

"But..."

"Secure the area first,"  Max berated his new friend.  "I don't know where you're from, but death is around every corner here.  Now..."

Without waiting for a response, he moved over to a doorway he'd spotted near the corner of the room.  It was behind a pile of debris, and it took a bit of a struggle to reach it, but reach it he did.  Even then, he had to risk making a noise kicking the remains of a door away.  After that though, he slid easily through, and was delighted to find stairs leading up beyond, and pretty much intact too.

Moving carefully in the gloom, there was no window here, he crept carefully up, pausing a moment to wait for the stranger as he slithered through after him, muttering to himself all the while.

Shaking his head at such childish behaviour, Max carried on up, and was rewarded by an almost clean room, with a old, but still usable bed, a table and several chairs. There was a skeleton in one corner, dressed in ancient tattered rags and holding what looked like a book, but otherwise the room was almost a museum.  He shook his head.  Whomever the unfortunate tenant was, he, or she, and their people had long been overwhelmed and subsumed by the war. 

"Oh my god," exclaimed the man, as he stood beside Max and looked around.  "There's a dead person here!"

"Yes?"  Max replied, raising an eyebrow and moving over to the window, careful not to walk in front of it.  "There are dead people everywhere.  Surely it's the same where you come from.  Where is that by the way?"  He peered carefully round the edge of the frame, through broken glass, and scanned the terrain beyond.  There was no sign of movement nearby, though he could see the glare of fires burning in the distance, towards his lines.

"We usually bury our dead," the man replied, ignoring the other question.  He strode over to Max, and Max had to put an arm out to stop him standing in front of the window.  It was as if the man had no concept of basic warfare!

"What?" the man asked.  "Oh, don't stand in front of the window right?"

"Where are you from?"  Max asked again, by way of reply.  "And what's your name anyway?"

"Oh, sorry.  Where are my manners?" The fellow held a hand out.  "Salzar.  My name's Salzar, Master Magician, well Junior Tier Master, but still.  And you?"

"Max,"  Max replied, looking curiously at the outstretched hand of this odd chap.  "A what?"

"Magician," said Salzar, still holding his hand out.

"What's a magician?"  Max enquired.

Sighing, Salzard lowered his hand.  "Oh dear, this is going to take some explaining."


>>>>

Okay, it's weak I know, but the Suggestion Phase here is: What form does the artefact shard take, that Max has in his pocket?  The only constraints are that (currently) it's small and metallic looking.  Anything and everything else in on the table. 

And thank you for reading!

<<<<<

Ren

Dave
 
The castle was much further away than it first appeared.  Dave wasn't sure if that was because there was something odd about how far things seemed in this world, wherever he was, or he just wasn't used to being outside of a city, where you couldn't see more than a block or so.

In any case, his journey so far had been devoid of excitement, which was certainly not what he'd been expecting.  After his brutal killing, in self defence he justified to himself, he'd expected a big hullabaloo and outcry, and people looking for him.  In fact, there had been nothing. 

He'd dragged the body off the road, and, feeling like a grave robber, searched the poor departed for anything valuable.  There was a pouch with six square coins of some undefined metal with a hole in the middle, which he'd, slightly guiltily, sequestered.  Apart from the knife, which Dave decided to leave, there was nothing of else of apparent value or use, so he'd laid Marvak, if that had been his name, in as a respectful position as possible by this side of the road, and moved on.

The road was well maintained, although it had certainly not been made from anything he would have called 'modern'.  It appeared to have been constructed of finely ground stone, melded together in some way, like gravel with glue.  It was comfortable to walk on, with a slight elastic property, and he'd made what he thought was good time, all the while trying to make sense of the last few, bewildering, hours.

So far, he reasoned, the small robot that had, somehow, transported him here, was what the 'melted men', as he'd decided to name them, were after.  And yet it seemed, from what the little robot had said, that there were other 'pieces' to the, well, puzzle.  It followed, therefore, that this was just a piece of a larger game, and it also followed that the melted men would be coming after this piece too.  Which meant time was of the essence.

He trudged onwards, making his way along the pathway, meeting very few people along the way, all of whom appeared to be simple farmer folk who gave him puzzled looks and a wide berth.  Dwellings were far and few between here, and those that he passed were set back from the road, and appeared to be simple, single floor houses.  Most could be described as 'rude', he decided.

As he walked up and down the slight hills towards the castle though, the surroundings became more suburban and less rural.  Traffic increased, and the people he passed seemed to be dressed in more sophisticated outfits, with the women garbed in fantastic silk-like gowns of many colours.  The men were less flamboyantly attired, mainly appearing in dark brown robes.  Most wore daggers at their belts, and some, short swords.  Dave felt very out of place amongst them, and he was the subject of many a strange look.   

It's like ancient Japan, he thought to himself, except the people were taller than he would have though for that era, and didn't look very oriental.  Indeed, their skin colour was much the same as his, a 'standard' Caucasian, with hair that was mostly dark.  The faces though did look slightly Asian, although with slimmer, longer noses than he would expect from that region. 

In short then, nothing like anywhere from his world.

Standing out as he did, and approaching the castle, which was now visible over the rooftops of ever larger buildings, he was not overly surprised when a squad of four official looking people in red outfits approached him. 

The group, three men and one woman, all wore the by now familiar silk-type robes over what appeared to be leather armour.  Their also wore some kind of protective leggins, and long black boots.  Each had a long, slim sword hanging from their belt, and three of them also sported a rather absurd, triangular, helmet.

Dave stopped as the from man, a fellow alarmingly tall and muscular, approached him and bowed slightly.

"Hi," Dave said, with what he hoped was a winning smile.

"Visitor," the man replied in polite, but firm and, more importantly, understandable, tones.  "May I please see your warrant?"

"Er, okay."  Dave pulled a face and decided on the straightforward approach.  "I would be happy to oblige, except I'm not sure what a warrant is.  I mean, I know what it is where I come from, but I suspect that won't be what you're talking about."

"Where are you from?" the man replied, apparently unphased.

"Oh boy, that's a story, suffice to say, you'll not have heard of it I'm thinking."  Dave smiled again.

"What is your destination and business here?"  The man was apparently imperturbable.

"I was heading towards the castle," Dave nodded at the one visible tower.  "I think there's something there that I need to..."  He stopped.  Four swords were now only centimetres from his throat.

"This is not allowed!" hissed their leader.

"Woah, take it easy big fellow," Dave replied, taking a step backwards.  The swords followed him with utter accuracy.  These people weren't as boisterous as his poor deceased friend Marvak it seemed, but just as fervent.  "I'm here to see the person in charge," he said, upping the game.

"What?" the man replied, apparently confused. 

Dave took a deep breath.  "Here's something I never thought I'd say," he muttered to himself, before facing his new pal again.

"Take me to your leader," he said, clearly. 


Xy.


Princess Xy caressed her sword, newly restored to her at the direction of her father. 

She held it, still sheathed, in her hand as she supervised her new domain, still barely believing that her father had acquiesced to her request. 

The man in front of her, Masqiz, she knew his name to be, bowed low as she strolled into the stone walled room.  Her personal guards stopped at the entrance, by her command. 

"Princess Xy," Masqiz said.  "It is an honour to..."

"Quiet."  Xy cut him off with a sharp word and a gesture as she looked around.  As she suspected, her presence was not welcomed.  It was an upset in the status-quo, and if her people had one weakness, it was that they didn't like the status-quo disturbed. 

So she had decided upon a strategy, evolved it actually, over many hours of planning should this eventuality actually come to pass. 

Xy was highly intelligent, and this, in a female, was something that, in her world, was barely acknowledged as possible.  Only her status, and the Emperor's fondness for his eldest daughter, had managed to propel her this far.  She had to make a strong impression from the very start.

"I am Princess Xy, as you well know," she said, addressing the many staff in the room.  "I have been given command of the Imperial Defence Force by my father, the Emperor."  She paused and glared at everyone, daring them to challenge her in any tiny way. 

"You will listen to me."  She walked forward, between the desks, glaring at the workers as they stood to attention.  "You will obey me."  She practically snarled at one man who dared to look her in the eye.  He quickly dropped his head.  "I will tolerate no insubordination.  My word is law, second only to my father.  Is this understood?"

"Yes Commander," the whole office replied as one, trained to obedience.

"Mmm," Xy replied.  She knew what she looked like to them.  A young, untried girl, using her position to play at being in power.  "Who is the best swordsman here?"  She asked.

There was hesitation.  The staff looked at each other, confused.

"Who?" she demanded again, far more forcefully this time.

Almost as one, the whole office pointed to a large man standing in the corner. Xy had overlooked him before because, despite his size, he appeared to blend into the background.

"Who are you?" she demanded, walking up to him.  She had to crain her neck.  The man was a mountain, large in stature as well as height. 

"Commander, my name is Yran," he replied. 

"Mmm."  Xy narrowed her eyes.  The man was a giant, but had the ability to appear smaller than her.  There was more to this person.  Still, she had to make a point.  "Good.  Outside."

Obediently, Yran nodded and filed out into the courtyard.

Xy looked around.  "You may want to watch," she said, before following.

*

It was moments later, but it felt far longer.  Yran stood opposite her, surrounded by onlookers.  Xy herself evaluated the man as they prepared.

Her opponent was a giant, that much was very clear, but it was also obvious, to her at least, that that was what he expected people to see.  From the way he held himself she knew that he was very aware of his surroundings, and that every movement he made was carefully calculated.  Others wouldn't have seen the way he held himself, the way he purposely moved, but she had been trained by the very, very best.  The ones that trained the ones that trained.  She had spent a large proportion of her young life to the marital arts, with access to resources only those at the very top had. 

And she was good.  The best, her instructors had said, grudgingly because, even though she was Imperial, she was a female.  This attitude, all by itself, drove her harder than anything else.

"Sergeant Yran," she said, in a loud, clear voice.  "You have my permission."  She paused.  "No.  You are commanded to attack me.  You are commanded to do your very best to kill me."  She looked around.  "You are all witness to this.  In the unlikely circumstance that I am hurt, or worse, this loyal trooper is not to be held to account.  Do I make myself clear?  This is by royal decree."

There was a general, but accepting, movement around the yard.  Even so, she knew that, should the poor man kill her, he would not be allowed to live.  A person killing a member of the royal household and walking away?  Unthinkable.  Even so, this was part of the responsibility of command.

"Very well then."  Xy looked at the poor Yran.  "Soldier, you are commanded.   Commanded I say, to try and kill me in single combat, by whatever means necessary as you would on the battlefield.  Do you understand?"

"I understand Princess," Yran replied, smoothly. 

Xy smiled to herself.  The man had accepted her challenge.  She would have a fight worth the name it seemed.

"Very well."

She pulled Silver Terror from its sheath and assumed the, appropriate she felt, position of Royal Eagle. 

Smiling, Yran drew his own blade, and stepped forward, into the stance of Dark Edge. 

And attacked.

>>>>>

Oooh! Fight!

However, time for some thinking.  I want something unexpected to happen here, maybe that interrupts the fight, maybe, well, I don't know, it is unexpected!

So, er, what is it?  Come on chaps, I need Insparatium!!

<<<<<<

Poison

I thought I'd read the first chapter of this one, but just got sucked in!  I think this is my favourite of yours so far Ren.

Tough call for ideas though.  I mean, the most obvious thing is Dave showing up, but I don't think that would be unexpected.

Mmm, how about some attack by a third party?  I'm not sure what that would be though.  Maybe the younger brother somehow gets involved?  There could be some political shenangans there.

Sorry, no great ideas this time.
New writer.  Be gentle!

Ren

Yes, sorry for that!  TBH, I was half tempted not to put in a SP this time.  I only stopped there 'cause I needed a break, and it would have been a bit long otherwise.  Perhaps I could have done better.  Ah well...

Thanks for the suggestions anyway!  ;D

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