Monday, March 26, 2012
WARNING: What follows is fan fiction of the most dubious caliber. "End of Innocence" is based off of an old MMORPG by the name of Everquest that my friends and I played throughout middle school. While the settings and contexts are ripped off of the franchise, the main characters and their stories are wholly original. (And no, I have not made any profit off of this unlicensed work, for any Sony lawyers slavering out there who are late to the party.)
This was mostly written more than six years ago, over a period of time during which I attended high school and enjoyed some underclassman experiences in college. The tone of the writing is quite dark, but I was not as twisted a kid as some of the writing may suggest.. I promise. You're probably also wondering why this post is titled "...and Prologues." Suffice it to say that I had a mild flair for pretentiousness even then, and, not having been satisfied with the single prologue I contrived, I shot for an even three.
I always try to compare any current narrative writing I undertake with these fine examples, so I thought I'd share. Enjoy the following fruits of adolescent nerddom.
(Copyright Sony Online Entertainment)
Prologue I - Feast of the Crimson Moon
Seize your mates and claim their line,
Embrace the hate and start to feed.
Draw from youthspring’s poisoned well,
While roots decay and branches fall.
She felt its strength and sudden weakness falling limp and silent beneath her. The tincture had worked on it exactly as it was meant to. Its blood ran between her slender midnight fingers as she drew them from its back. She removed it from her grasp and stood. It was on its back now, weak, dead. The human remained on the black ground, consumed of all its vitality.
She felt its primordial spirits still roiling inside of her angrily in displaced confusion. For the dishonor of housing the orphaned seed she would be well compensated, she told herself, when the time came.
She and the others were arranged in an inward-facing ring, all doing the same as she had done, leaving their drained vessels discarded on the dirt before them as they finished.
“It is done, sisters. Leave these. The wolves and the winds will bear no memory of their passing.”
She placed her hand upon her stomach, still heaving sharp breaths from this, the first part of what was to be a nine-month ritual of sacrifice.
A seedling cuts off twice as sweetly
From within the shade of a piney husk.
Let echo cries while the birth-bloods run.
There is no dark like after first sun.
Prologue II - Dealing Death
-Neriak- Third Gate-
Neriak’s Third Gate shut with a sharp clank, bringing about the stifling silence of night in the tomblike Dark Elven city. Now was the time when all cunning, underhanded activity of the daytime would cease, and the deep hours of slumber would commence. Dragoons silently patrolled the streets with a watchful presence in these hours, breaking up any skirmishes and dispelling any disruptions in the city’s Foreign Quarter. Any casually passing traveler would notice the intimidating Teir’Dal guards on duty at their solitary posts in their cold, black armor. Perhaps also would be seen the Queen’s High Guards marching along with an air of dignity, elite soldiers on more specialized missions delivered from the Lady Thex herself. But the true, ever watchful eyes of the city remained unseen behind shadowy crevices in the cavern rock, never to be suspected.
The Indigo Brotherhood had an unwavering grip on Neriak. No man left or entered its domain without its absolute knowledge of his passing. Its authority almost rivaled that of the Queen. The residents, whether be they Teir’Dal or some other foul race from the bowels of the Underfoot, were completely oblivious to the Indigo Brothers’ claim upon their every word and every movement. The solid walls of stone were their ears, and the wells of darkness were their eyes. There were rumors perhaps, fleeting ideas of the evil shadow guild’s presence in the Queen’s city. But none dared to find out for themselves, or press the matter farther than simple speculation. Times were good in the city, and prosperity reigned for now. Only when someone would stretch their neck out too far into the dark to see what lay beyond would things become unpleasant.
Gruftah, a particularly fat Troll bartender, was just closing up his shop in the Neriak Commons. He scratched his bare, mottled scalp with grubby fingers as he squinted futilely into the darkness outside the tavern. In the months that had passed since his arrival in Neriak, he thought he would have gotten used to the habits of daily life in the underground metropolis. Back in his homeland of Innothule, there was no need for occupations. What someone raked in from the swamp would be all that was needed for sustenance. The Troll still had not gotten used to discerning night from day without reference to the sun’s journey across the sky. In the deep underbelly of Norrath beneath the Forest of Nektulos, there was no sun, there was no sky.
The door behind him slammed closed as Gruftah squeezed his bulky frame through the jamb. He widened his large, round eyes, their pupils dilating in the dark. His heightened sense of vision allowed him to see things as if they were illumined by the absent sun, but even that quality did not come into use when it came to traversing the cold, dark streets of the City of Hate at night. He ventured out into the desolate avenues silently, not wishing to disturb the silence. His calloused bare feet trod on the cold flagstones as he quickly and quietly stole through the city back to the comfort of his inn.
The route was well remembered in the Troll’s mind- a right at this turn; a left here; straight down this boulevard. This night was not unlike any other of the ones he had experienced thus far in his short time working the shop in Neriak. He let his gaze shift upward as he moved swiftly across the cobbled pavements. The cavern encompassing this section of Neriak was immense. The ceiling was far out of sight and even farther out of reach. Long, dangling tips of tree roots penetrating the cavern roof from the dark forest above was all that the Troll could observe. One could almost sense the vast emptiness overhead, even when focusing on the cavern floor. It was like a vacuum, an aspect missing of the Teir’Dal society that was present everywhere else. Reflecting, perhaps, the bleak emptiness of the Dark Elven heart.
A sudden pang of nervousness struck Gruftah. Paranoia mingled with fear within his head, prompting his shuffling feet to move ever faster. Right; left; straight down the boulevard. Home was but a few minutes’ walk away.
He remembered the words one of his patrons had muttered earlier in the day- something about an Indigo Brotherhood, an unseen connection through Neriak’s impenetrable gloom. Was it a band of smugglers, rogues, thieves? Or something more powerful? An omniscient threat? The patron had been unclear, but the latter seemed more probable. They worked for the Queen once, but now operate toward ends known only to them. Their eyes are the blank space before you, he remembered the man saying. Their ears are those of the next person you speak to. They are the room that you think is empty just because no one is there. Gruftah held his thick arms close to his barrel chest, silently cursing himself for going to work without a club, axe or defense of any kind. The Indigo Brotherhood- He had heard whisperings of such an organization before, and with every new rumor he found himself disliking his new niche within Dark Elven society more and more. Neriak was unsafe. Gruftah took on an all-out sprint as he rounded the final corner to his house. Then he stopped.
He heard something clambering above the short, squat buildings to his right.
His muscles froze in terror for several agonizing minutes when silence ensued. All he could hear was his heavy, labored breathing. He glanced above the buildings he suspected. Darkness, empty space.
After another moment Gruftah loosened his tense shoulders, and sighed, recognizing his baseless paranoia. To imagine! A Troll, lord of the swamp, marauder of Grobb, fearful of a few skinny, daylight-shy Inkies! A deep laugh resonated from his Troll gut as he drank in the absurdity of his present situation. He worked for the Dark Elves, did not fear them! He clambered off a few more steps, shrugging off his ridiculous, paranoid thoughts without a glance into the night behind him. Right turn; left turn; straight down the boulevard.
Indigo Brotherhood, Bah...
Lightning-swift and without another moment of anticipation, the Dark Elf cast aside his enchanted camouflage cloak and leaped out from the rooftop shadows. The careless Troll did not have but a split-second to react as the keen steel edge of a blade bit into the back of his neck. A second sword whizzed by, complementing the strike. With an electric sting and a snap, the Troll’s body crumpled beneath the shadowy victory of his Teir’Dal assailant. The final brutal twist of the Dark Elf’s jagged sword left Gruftah dead in the street, his unfunctioning eyes forever focused upward into oblivion.
Yiunu had performed his job, had earned his daily wages. A slight smile of triumph flickered across his indigo face as he regarded his most recent kill. The Troll Gruftah would not be missed, would in all probability not even be noticed as missing. The bartender knew too much, had heard too many things from the frequenters of the tavern, and was therefore a threat to his employers. The Dark Elf was a hired assassin, a ‘polisher’ for the Indigo Brotherhood ring, although he never called himself by that term. He needed not any sugarcoated euphemisms for the plain reality his actions constituted. It was no shame to him what he was.
Death was the only sure way to stop a rumor. But from death come more rumors, more threats, and more people needing to be dealt death. There would be more. There would always be more. He knew very well that it was a cycle, but it was one that, to his purposes, mattered not. Yiunu thrust his twin dirks into the loops of his belt as his face contorted into a twisted mixture of ecstasy and irritation.
“This is getting far too easy.”
He removed his bloodstained leather gloves slowly, methodically, and inserted them into an unseen pocket of his black silk tunic. He took one final quick glance at his most recent victory, swept his dark magic cloak back about his lean frame, and ran off into the night. Right; left; and straight down the boulevard; awaiting the next one to die.
Prologue III - Fall of the Crimson Moon
What had she done? What had she been thinking?
She once again awoke to find herself on the verge of vomiting. Violent dry heaves shook her body right down to her slippers as she stumbled across her bedchamber to the washbasin. She dropped to her knees. Facing the bowl’s dark waters calmed her convulsions slightly, and gradually they ceased altogether.
Still breathing heavily, she stood up and placed one hand on her swollen belly. It had been going on like this for six months now- the nausea, the pain, the tenderness. But now, as the time neared, it seemed to become ever more unbearable. After the desiccation ceremony nine months earlier, the essence had been allowed to fester within, burning and pushing and squirming as it grew like a tumor inside her. And the thing growing inside her seemed to be taking over her life- it ate her food, it made her sleepy, it made her sick. She damned herself for bringing this upon herself. In mere days, she would tell herself, it would all be over. The ritual would be complete. Innoruuk’s wrath, or at least her share of it, would be wrought. This she would say, but by this she could no longer abide.
Exposure to those same drugs used to weaken the humans must have numbed my sensibilities, another part of her began to think. This rationalization gripping hold of her as she stood before the basin, she finally vowed to end this charade of slow suicide masked as some ritual of vengeful piety.
“Innoruuk be damned,” she said. “I’ve got to get this thing out of me.”
There was a stone hearth in the corner of her room. She crept over to it, and, in trembling desperation, grasped the cold iron handle of a simple fire poker.
Footsteps approached the other side of the chamber door. Someone banged upon it loudly and called for her to open up, but it was barred shut on her side. She looked at the door in fear and got to the floor.
“This is Dragoon Drev’Tharn! I’ve heard reports you’ve been engaging in heresy-
The guard’s voice was cut off by the quiet murmurings of another outside the door. There was a shuffling of feet and brief muffled conversation, and the heavy footsteps of the guard retreated while this new throatier voice explained its speaker’s intentions.
“This is Agent D’Vinn of the Brotherhood... I have been watching you, and I know what you’re about to do. As a priestess of Thex, you need to open this door, or you will be charged with the highest treason. Let me in now, and you will live.”
Her heart began to pace even more rapidly. Turning away from the door, she lifted her robes and grabbed the poker handle firmly with both hands.
A thin silver dagger slid between two vertical wooden slats in the door directly beneath the plank that barred entrance into the room. The agent holding the dagger pushed upward, and the plank fell out of its hooks. The agent D’Vinn barged into the room.
“Rintal T’Gere, cease!”
“In the name of Hate, put down the... ah.”
More agents filed in after D’Vinn to see the subject sprawled on the floor. She was still breathing, but the blood flowing from her abdomen made it difficult for the agent to tell where she ended and the wound began. In the puddle below her lay a tiny body, the discarded token of her ritual’s terminus.
“It seems that the crimson moon has failed to rise yet again.” D’Vinn turned to the others around him. Some looked at the scene before them in disgust, some in anger. Still some, mostly those new to the Brotherhood, looked on in disturbed confusion. “I wish I could say this was not becoming a trend, but this heretical desperation isn’t uncommon in this newest batch of priestesses.”
One of the newer members spoke up. “But Brother D’Vinn, can’t it be argued that she carried through with her duty? It... it was almost out on its own already-
“Her hand nullified all of the rite’s sanctity the moment it grabbed the iron, Tl’Rath. She is a fool, a coward, and a spent woman. By orders of the Queen, she is to be spared the honorable flames of hate, and set to the earth below our feet so that we may tread upon the wretched decay of House T’Gere forevermore.”
“She’s still breathing. She’s not dead-
“To us, she is. Throw her in a hole somewhere. I will bring the remains of this... creature... to one of the high priestesses to defile.” He knelt. “Someone tell the guards that the Brotherhood is taking over from here.”
D’Vinn muttered to himself as the others departed the room, priestess in tow. “I must have a talk with Cristanos. All these wasted bodies over an old ritual... the cleanup is getting to be quite a nuisance.”
Pale burnt-orange reflections of a gaslight flickered amidst foggy Morrigan street. Chester could barely navigate the cobblestones before him as opaque, crepuscular tendrils chased away what little remained of a clear, starlit night. The Doctor passed alleyways and alcoves on either side that threatened to engulf him in their cloistered shadows. The city heaved with a Stygian rhythm that matched his own creaking pace. He slowly fought through the misty gauze until he finally reached the appointed location.
The signpost appeared as it was described to him; it depicted a black hourglass turned on its side, white sand split evenly between its reservoirs. A few words of text had been printed beneath the image, illegible in the fog. Chester stepped to the otherwise-nondescript doorway it adorned. He consulted his pocketwatch. The appointed hour drew close. It was dangerous for him- and for anyone, for that matter- to wait outdoors for an extended duration in such weather as this. He looked around and stroked his chin, a tic of impatience he had developed over his many years of meticulous punctuality.
The muffled plea of a foghorn heralded the daily delivery of ore to the distant harbor, rousing the usual early-morning cascade of chimney swifts from their unseen urban roosts.
A man approached the meeting place just as wan stirrings of sunlight began to creep over the city.
"Lyndrew," the newcomer announced as he joined Chester on the stoop.
"Chesterfield." The Doctor extended a gloved hand by way of introduction, which Lyndrew promptly dismissed.
"Our mutual friend told me much of your work, Dr. Chesterfield. I am eager to retain your services, but I would like our discourse to remain in strictly the most professional of provinces." He turned to the door.
"Very well." Chester sniffed, withdrew his hand.
Lyndrew rapped on the door. They stood in silence for a few minutes before the door opened.
Inside a smallish man greeted them and told them to wait. The master would see them in a moment. The Doctor handed his top hat and gloves to the man in a bundle. To the chagrin of the insistent valet, Lyndrew remained decked in his coat and tweed flat cap. The valet shuffled off in an injured huff.
As Dr. Chesterfield adjusted to the low light of the building's interior, he noticed they were standing in a spacious residential foyer. A winding staircase before them opened up into a formidable mezzanine encircling the room's second floor. The mezzanine was lined with great mahogany bookshelves of countless tomes.
"Where are we? It is not often I make my way to the Westephraim."
Lyndrew sighed. "We are in the antechamber of Lord Byridge. Did you not read the dossier our mutual friend so generously supplied? This is where the device has been kept since its discovery. It is the most secure choice of quite a few poor options."
"Then my briefing differed from yours. Dunston told me that I was to apply my archaeological expertise to inspect the actual discovery site."
"Yes, and my exolinguistics abilities shall complement your more.. atavistic specialties."
Chester was grateful to have exercised foresight in handing his gloves to the valet, or else one surely would have struck Lyndrew's impudent cheek. Before he could formulate a properly affronted response, a voice boomed from above.
"Now, now, we will have no such belittling talk. You have both been chosen for your strengths in this delicate matter." A wide gentleman appeared on the balcony. He was clad in a garish yellow smoking jacket and held a long-handled cigarette. He gently puffed on his accessory as he regarded his visitors through a lemon-tinted pince-nez. "Though you have never met me, Dunston vouches for each of your respective qualities of character, and your published works more than speak for themselves."
Chester puffed out his chest and smiled. Lyndrew crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes at the eccentrically garbed Lord Byridge.
"Dr. Chesterfield, your studies have taken you all across Colubus, exploring the sites of ancient civilizations. I followed your work on the clockwork nomads with particular gusto."
The host turned to his other guest. "And Lyndrew, your translation of contemporaneous accounts of the Great Atrophy has spawned entire fields of discipline concerning the birth of the modern world."
Chester's eyes widened. He turned to the man next to him and blurted, "YOU are the great J.A. Lynne?"
Lord Byridge roared with a near-deafening laugh. "Ha! Didn't expect a man so young, eh?"
Lyndrew rolled his eyes as he turned away from the dumbfounded Chester. "Yes, THAT J.A. Lynne. Please, spare me your supplication. It is foolish to focus on past accomplishments when there is so much that remains to be uncovered."
"And that, gents, brings us to the matter at hand." Byridge grunted with weighted strain as he managed to waddle down the staircase. "Your set of skills is ideal for understanding the origin and function of the device in question. I take it you folks have already met my homunculus?"
It took the Doctor a few moments to realize that the nobleman was referring to the valet who, in retrospect, did strike him as unnaturally small of build.
"Mark XX3, I presume?" Lyndrew inquired.
"XX3.4, to be precise." Byridge specified with a smile. "He will be as tall and as sophisticated as you one day, Lynne." Lynne silently glared at him in response.
"He will direct you to my study, where we have been holding the object for several months." He clapped three times, and the homunculus reappeared and signaled Chester and Lyndrew to follow.
The study was enormous. Its banisters of brass and teak framed a library that made the foyer's own collection appear quaint in comparison. A variety of globes stood at a man's height on the floor, fully equipped with the ocular assemblies needed to appreciate the meticulously depicted terrain ridges of Colubus.
But most impressive of all were the contents of a glass-paneled box on display in the middle of the room. Chester's jaw dropped upon seeing what was inside, and he even heard Lyndrew gasp quietly.
"It is... it is... organic," remarked Chester.
"It is alive," remarked Lyndrew.
"Its name is Roland, according to an analysis of the identifying documents that accompanied him," stated Byridge as he appeared behind the pair of academics. "And those same documents claim that this being is from the Century 21."
"Impossible," erupted Chester. "According to what little we know of the old-style date system, that is.."
"..before the Great Atrophy," finished Lyndrew.
The three observers drew closer to examine the specimen. "Object Designate: Roland" lay beneath the glass covering in a comatose state, its autonomic processes continuing to function at a slow, barely perceptible rate.
"Have you ever seen it before? Flesh and blood?" asked Byridge soberly.
Lyndrew removed his cap and scratched his head. "No."
As the trio leaned closer, the bright blue light from their mechanical eyes imbued the pale, breathing frame before them with a warm glow unmatched by the coldness of their own, fully metallic bodies.
Outside the house marked by the sideways hourglass, the morning's fog had dissipated. Beneath the image on the sign, words, in the modern tongue, came into focus: "01100111 01101000 01101111 01110011 01110100 00100000 01101001 01101110 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01101101 01100001 01100011 01101000 01101001 01101110 01100101?"