Jan 25th, 2016
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  1. The teardrops of a lizard fell over the soil she sat on. Her husband's gravestone stood before her. In due time they stopped, as if she had run out of tears to shed. She stared on, stoic and expressionless, no thoughts crossing her mind, till her shadow began looming over the gravestone, giving away how late it was getting.
  3. She lowered her head and sighed aloud, cleaning off the tears that remained. 'Have I really been staring like this for hours?'. She still couldn't believe it. A future without him did not exist in her thoughts, and as much as she tried imagining one, she could not; not even a simple tomorrow.
  5. Maybe there was a way for her to be with him. There had to be a way. Nothing else crossed her mind. 'Till death do us part', she remembered. Seemed like an insult, now.
  7. Without him, living had lost its charm, though that thought alone brought another; that they could be reunited in death. She chuckled, knowing her husband would scold her for the idea.
  9. -----
  11. While trying to sleep sitting at the table, a lich heard someone knocking on the door. 'They'll go away soon', she thought, deciding to keep silent. They knocked on the door again. 'They'll get tired and leave'.
  13. The door swung open with a kick and struck the wall.
  15. "Necromancer Cyrene, I hope." The guest, a lizard equipped with sword and light armor, greeted.
  17. "I am Cyrene..." The lich answered in an exceptionally slow tone. "And you are?"
  19. "Aurelia. I need your aid."
  21. "You'll understand that my services aren't charity--"
  23. A giant pouch of coins fell on the table.
  25. "--...What do you need done?" Cyrene continued.
  27. "I need someone resurrected."
  29. "That's outside of my reach. Goes against my ethics."
  31. "...You have ethics?"
  33. "Was the word ethics...? Rules, common sense, what was it... You know what I mean, Aurelia. If I start resurrecting people, not only will there be lots of undying ones those going around, but there will be even more people desperately wanting to have an old relative or a friend resurrected. Suddenly news gets out, and everyone tries to hunt me down to revive their loved ones. You understand, I'm sure."
  35. "Is there no way to change your mind?"
  37. "Not for all the gold in the world. Really, even a kingdom's worth of gold won't hire enough bodyguards to keep the hordes from hunting me down, will it?"
  39. "I insist. Anything you want, I can get."
  41. "...You're starting to sound like that kind of people, Aurelia." Cyrene said as she leaned back on her chair, balancing herself on its two rear legs. "Shouldn't you leave that person to rest? The time comes for everyone."
  43. "It was not his time."
  45. Cyrene raised an eyebrow. "Who is this person you want back?"
  47. "My husband."
  49. "Husband... You are fairly young, so he must be too. Couldn't have been a natural death, I'm guessing."
  51. "It wasn't."
  53. Cyrene brought her hand to her mouth, silent, thinking, soon her eyes falling on the giant pouch of coins.
  55. "I guess I can make an exception. Most of my worries were because of people wanting to live forever or have someone else live far beyond their dying age. Still, what I said stands. The most I can do is bringing him back only for him to die of old age when his time comes. Take it or leave it."
  57. "I'll take it."
  59. "Very well. Still, you know that I can't just snap a finger and bring him back, right?"
  61. "...What?"
  63. "The entire... 'pool' of souls isn't at my disposal. I can't just scoop him out. He's in the underworld, and it takes a great deal of effort for me to even find someone. Notice how I said 'find'."
  65. "I can go there."
  67. "Courageous. I won't ask why you are this suicidal. I can send you there easily enough."
  69. "Is there a reason why you can't go?"
  71. "I'd rather not go there. It's not exactly a touristic attraction. Now, sit down where you are."
  73. While Aurelia sat down, Cyrene stood up and began moving furniture about. In due time, the middle of the room had been left empty save for where Aurelia sat, where the lich began drawing runes on the ground in a circle. Afterwards, Cyrene extended two crystals hanging by a pendant each to her.
  75. "Put one on. You won't physically go into the underworld, but your spirit temporarily will. A cheap copy of dying, if you will. If that crystal is destroyed while you're in the underworld and wearing it, you'll return to this world. Put the crystal on whoever it is you that you want back, and have him destroy it. Once you get there, you're on your own. His body is in the local cemetery, right? What's his name?"
  77. "Lucian. And yes, he's there."
  79. "I'll dig him up and have him ready for when you return."
  81. "How will I find him?"
  83. "If I knew, I would have told you, don't you think?"
  85. "Damn..."
  87. -----
  89. Opening her eyes, she saw the shack she was in again. The ruins of it, at least. The roof was gone, along with the upper half of the walls, taken by signs of abandonment. Clouds overhead tinted the world a darker hue, with the distinctive shade of blue from dusk present. Cyrene was gone. The underworld, no doubt. Quickly she checked herself, finding her armor and sword in place, along with the two crystals Cyrene gave her; the one she wore gleamed with green that revolved around inside, similar to stormy clouds trapped inside.
  91. Standing up and staring outside, she found the scenery the same as before, though having the same aesthetic as the shack. If it was a mirror world, then it'd make things simpler, as she'd not get lost. Where to begin, though?
  93. Aimless, she crossed the nonexistent door of the shack and headed off to the first place that came to her mind.
  95. Didn't take long, as the roads still led where she expected them to. She arrived to the cemetery, though as soon as she set foot in she noticed the greatest difference: All the graves had been dug up. Walking past one after the other, a hole remained where a body had once been buried. Her husband's resting place stood where she remembered it, but though the gravestone detailed his name, a hole remained where she had buried him.
  97. Before she knew it, she was already tearing up again. She rubbed her eyes and forced herself to think what to do. He'd surely be within the town. Couldn't have gone elsewhere in the short timespan between his arrival here and hers.
  99. Something caught her eye. Turning to see, she saw a hellhound peeking at her in the great distance. Just as their eyes met, the hellhound ran away.
  101. It came as a grim reminder that she wasn't alone in the realm of the dead. Quickly, she stood up and left.
  103. First place she went to, their house. It bordered the outer limits of the city just like the cemetery, something she always felt was too gloomy. She remembered a joke he told her time ago when they picked the place, 'you won't have to walk so much when you visit me'. He wasn't wrong.
  105. The door fell down as soon as she touched it. At least it lasted longer than the shack's, gone before she even arrived. Inside, nothing remained no matter what room she went to. Nothing useful, not even simple useless objects to spark some memories. Just the walls, the floor, and dust. As much as she had hoped otherwise, she could not find Lucian within, and so turned and left.
  107. Her second idea turned to be the nearby tavern. Used to be owned by an old couple, small place without many visitors, though charming because of it. Along the way, she passed through a plaza where a market used to be in. The numerous stands were gone, leaving just the fountain at the center, now completely dry.
  109. Footsteps echoed about. Such was the silence that she could heard them from so far away. Metallic, and numerous. Not taking chances, she ran off to one of the buildings and hid inside, peeking out from a window with a torn curtain.
  111. Four heavily armored men came to sight on the street, one by one as they passed a building into her view. The heraldry in their surcoats was unmistakable.
  113. The Order.
  115. The first one, wearing a helmet with a crest. The second, with shield and mace, along with a sword by his waist. The third, with a crossbow and a cloak that, as she narrowed her eyes, realized held massive amounts of bolts, as if ready for a lengthy campaign. The fourth one, rather than carrying a proper weapon, carrier on his person an axe, a pickaxe, a hammer, all kinds of tools tied to his waist and slung on his back.
  117. As the first one raised his hand, they stopped. The one holding his crossbow began loading it, and then aimed high. Curious, she followed the aim, till she saw a gargoyle looking at the knights from the roof of a tall building. The crossbowman shot, and the bolt pierced into the monster, turning it into smoke as soon as any contact was made.
  119. Her initial shock over such attack died down as she realized, 'the spirits of the dead won't die twice'. The knights might be the only living entities here apart from her. Soon, they continued walking.
  121. A fight with them would be suicide. Her puny sword would find it impossible to even find a weak point in their armor to exploit if it even had any, before getting outnumbered four to one and dying. Yet, she figured that following them would be the best course of action, if only to make sure they didn't find Lucian before she did.
  123. -----
  125. She must've been following them for an hour, at a distance so great she almost lost them multiple times. Peek now, peek later, both came at their own separate risks of losing them or being seen.
  127. Yet, soon she heard noises. Didn't come from the direction the knights headed to, nor behind her, but aside in another part of the town. As she peeked, she saw the knights didn't react; maybe they didn't hear, or maybe they just didn't care. The fear that Lucian might be found by one of the monsters here instead of the knights overtook her, and knowing that no result was gained by following the knights, she quickly set off to where she heard the noise.
  129. Building past building, street by street, she ran on and on, till she heard a few more noises that prompted her to halt and listen carefully. She followed them through the street, till she reached the window of the building she heard the noises within. From the window, she peeked inside.
  131. Her eyes shot wide open, seeing within the building, past a ruined wall inside, her husband Lucian. Yet, what choked her throat from calling his name was the sight of another person with him. A woman, holding his cheek with one hand while the other rested on her chest, all in a loving manner while Lucian did nothing but stare. A valkyrie. Her heart began aching, feeling as if her chest could blow open at any second, while her shoulders sunk and eyebrows rose.
  133. "Join us..."
  135. It felt as if the whisper came from nowhere, yet at the same time everywhere, echoing in her head and all around her. Certainly not from the valkyrie or Lucian. The fright made her snap and quickly look around for the source, yet the next thing she saw was something pouncing on her, throwing her against the ground with a grunt. Immediately she saw it was the hellhound from before slashing at her, something she blocked with her arm.
  137. "Your presence has shaken our realm..." The hellhound said in the same tone as the ethereal whisper. No doubt, it was the source itself. "Join us... Make us whole again...!"
  139. Quickly she brought her free hand to her sword, and swung it at her as she unsheathed it, turning the hellhound into smoke at first contact just like the knights with the gargoyle before. Confusion set itself in her head as she panted, unable to understand what the hellhound had said, but soon remembered Lucian and the valkyrie. When she sprung to her feet and checked through the window, they were running again, backs turned to her, as if Lucian had never even seen her.
  141. "Luci--!"
  145. -----
  147. A splitting headache awakened her. She held no memories of ever going to sleep for her to wake up in the first place. With her eyes still closed, lying as she was while unconscious, she tried to remember what she had done.
  149. "Zog me... Dis fing is byootiful... I'z not gon' stay in dis squig pen 'nymore, hoho!"
  151. Barely able to decipher what it was, she realized she was not alone. She opened her pained eyes, barely able to see around in a blur, till her view cleared enough to see she now lied inside a building. In front of her, however, stood someone else. Not the valkyrie, and not Lucian, but it stared at something in her hands.
  153. It shined green.
  155. Her eyes shot wide open, then she checked if she had her crystal pendant. It was gone. The monster in front of her had it, though as soon as she turned to see the monster again, she saw how the monster stared back, both sides with a blank, petrified expression. An orc.
  157. "...Wot? You'z not s'pposed'ta wake up ye--"
  159. An adrenaline rush overtook her, seeing the crystal as the only way to get Lucian out, and so jumped to her feet with a warcry to launch herself at the now screaming orc.
  161. Both fell to the ground once Aurelia landed her tackle upon her, though instead of fighting she immediately reached for the pendant. The orc, realizing her intentions, too reached for the pendant, both pulling from the string till it tore and sent the crystal high above like a catapult. Both pushed each other aside trying to get within the predicted fall of the crystal, till Aurelia jumped high and grabbed it. The orc, however, grabbed her by the neck and pushed her down, reaching for Aurelia's hand. Both fell over each other to the ground.
  163. Something shattered.
  165. Both kept still, looking for the crystal. There it lay in front of the two, broken into a million pieces, with some of them in their own hands.
  167. "Me krista'!" The orc desperately grunted, crawling up to the shattered crystal and remaining on her knees collecting the pieces. "Ya brok it! Ya zoggin' grot brok it! Boss!" Immediately she stood up with the pieces and ran away, some falling down like a trail wherever she ran. "Boss! Da grot brok it!"
  169. What few shards remained in Aurelia's hands, she blankly stared at. Soon she began tearing up, with her expression unchanging, unblinking. She clenched her hands with the shards inside, narrowing her eyes and gritting her teeth. Then, she remembered; she had two crystals. Quickly she checked for where she hid the other, finding it in place. She put it on, and it began turning green with the stormy clouds inside.
  171. 'What do I do when I find him?', she thought. Only one crystal for the two of them.
  173. No use dwelling in what ifs if she can't even get to him in the first place.
  175. -----
  177. The trail of shards led far into the town's heart. They shone like stars on the empty, dead streets, sticking out from wherever she looked. At the same time, however, monster activity seemed to have increased. Every now and then she saw harpies and gargoyles flying about. Remembering the hellhound's words only increased her paranoia.
  179. Still following the shards, she started hearing a violent, repetitive noise. Turning the corner of the street, she found the source; the knights stood in front of the town hall's doors, one repeatedly trying to smash it open with a pickaxe. The shards, too, led there. Perhaps the knights saw and followed them?
  181. The knight tore the lock completely apart, leaving a gaping hole where it once was, and sliding the door open with a push. He stepped aside, letting the knight with mace and shield enter first, till the rest followed in.
  183. She cursed in her own mind at how her only clue of Lucian's whereabouts lead to the same place as the knights.
  185. "Make us whole again..." The ethereal whispers echoed, frightening her into looking at all sides with sword drawn. Nothing was there.
  187. With those monsters around, perhaps she'd be safer stuck in that building with the knights. At least she knew what to expect. Swallowing her fear, she rushed inside.
  189. The trail ended as soon as she stepped in. Better that way, to have the knights looking everywhere instead of walking straight to her goal. She could hear their footsteps a distance away in one direction, and so walked to the other for her search.
  191. -----
  193. Door after door, room after room, desperation sank in as she found absolutely nothing. Took too long. She already reached the second floor. No longer did she have the certainty of the knights' whereabouts; they could be anywhere, they could pop up at any moment in front of her.
  195. Metallic footsteps. Tempting fate never meant much to her till now. Already shaking and sweating, she threw herself against the door of the nearest room and rushed inside, closing it behind her. The first thing that caught her attention was a half-ruined bed, immediately throwing herself under it.
  197. The footsteps passed by the door, yet it felt as if someone stood in place. As soon as she realized that, the door slowly opened with the creak of the door handle and the hinges. From under the bed, she could see just the footsteps of the knight that entered and walked inside.
  199. Seconds felt like minutes, and minutes felt like hours, seeing the knight walking around, till he walked directly to the bed. Her heart climbed to her throat, seeing those armored feet pointed at her at arm's reach. They turned, and Aurelia felt the knight sitting on the bed on top of her. She wanted to give a sigh of relief, if it wasn't for the absolute silence of the room.
  201. The head of the pickaxe broke through the bed, driving down and embedding itself against the floor, a hair's width away from her head. Her eyes shot wide open, her expression disfigured, ears rang by the sudden noise of impact so close, and quickly covered her mouth with both hands to prevent a scream from getting out. The shaking became uncontrollable.
  203. Noises came from the bottom floor. Couldn't decipher what it was, but immediately saw the knight jumping to his feet, taking out the pickaxe, and rushing outside.
  205. As soon as the footsteps died down so far away, she got out, stood up, and peeked out the door. Now she was alone. Yet, as she kept quiet, she started hearing whispers. Her curiosity spiked as she noticed it came not from the ethereal voices, nor from the knights. She walked out, and followed the whispers.
  207. Came from behind a door. Hearing closer, she realized that one of them was Lucian's. Immediately she kicked the door open as hard as she could, and stormed inside with sword ready.
  209. Inside she saw the orc, the valkyrie, and Lucian flinching by the sudden entrance.
  211. "...Aurie?!" Lucian called.
  213. "Lucian!"
  215. "Boss, dat's da grot!" The orc cursed.
  217. "Who is she?!" Aurelia called, pointing her sword at the valkyrie, who stared back in shock. "I saw you two in that building like an hour ago, who is she?! What were you doing with her?!"
  219. "Aurie, calm down, I'll tell you! Her name's Laura, she found me when I woke up in this place! That's all!"
  221. "Hey, Lucian... Who is her...?" Laura asked, hugging his arm while moving closer, staring at Aurelia with discomfort.
  223. Aurelia's eye began twitching, just as a frown cemented itself and her teeth showed in grit. Her sword shook just from how tight she gripped it.
  225. "Woit... Oi, ye haz 'nutha krista!" The orc exclaimed, trying to come closer, yet as soon as she was within arm's reach, Aurelia punched her in the gut without warning, making her collapse on the floor in pain.
  227. Lucian let go of Laura, and stepped up to Aurelia. "Aurie, what are you doing here? Tell me you didn't die..."
  229. "Die? No, I got a lich to bring me here. I'm here for you."
  231. Something struck against a window. Aurelia walked out the room to see the windows at the hallway, and saw a harpy that had tried breaking in, yet failed. She and the others stepped to the window, yet outside they saw a great number of monsters, both on the ground and in the air. Must've been hundreds if not thousands, all staring towards the town hall.
  233. "Zog me..." The orc muttered, holding her stomach still in pain. "Stukk 'ere fer yeers, still I'z not seen 'nyfin lik dis..."
  235. No way out, looked like.
  237. Now the reminder of the last crystal struck her, just as she grabbed it and stared at it.
  239. "Hey, Lucian..." She called. "Can you do me a favor? Just a single one."
  241. "Hm?"
  243. "Put this on." She said, taking off the pendant that turned black as soon as it left her neck, handing it to Lucian.
  245. Confused, he grabbed it, stared for a second, and put it on, gleaming green once more.
  247. Though Laura and the orc had been staring at the window, when they turned to see Lucian and the pendant, their eyes shot wide open. Gibberish came out of their mouths in desperation as they attempted to take hold of the pendant, yet Aurelia gripped it tighter to the point of breaking before they could do anything. Lucian, then, turned into smoke, along with the pendant.
  249. "What did you do?!" The valkyrie shouted, tackling Aurelia and bringing her down to the ground. The orc, however, more than angry, became depressed.
  251. Aurelia landed a punch, right in the head, throwing Laura aside. Yet, just as she was about to stand up and continue the beating, she saw the valkyrie changing in appearance, something even the orc became confused by. Her skin, her hair, her outfit, all began losing color, turning into what Aurelia had heard were corrupted valkyries. Why she changed, she did not know, but it probably had something to do with accidentally knocking her out. Even now her hand started aching, having thrown too much weight into that strike. What a jealous woman she had turned into.
  253. "Oi... Dat fing aint... 'Old up, dat fing cheated me!" The orc said, staring at Laura's body.
  255. "What?"
  257. "Dat grot sed she knew a wayz out! She'z used me! She'z wanted dat guy! She'z aint even care for da kristas when ya brok it, only for da guy! Oi, laddie, sorre for dat otha krista... Me'z gon make up fo dat, me promises."
  259. Aurelia sighed. "Lucian and I would return to this place in due time either way. We'd not live forever. I guess I'll have to wait till he gets here in a couple decades..."
  261. "Wot 'bout da grots ootsidez?"
  263. "Any better idea than fending them off?"
  265. "As ye sez..." The orc said, leaving to the room and then returning with a hammer that looked more like a mishmash of different objects tied together. "Da 'umies gon fite 'em too. Fink we could--"
  267. Violent noises from below again, things shattering, others thrown around.
  269. "--I bet da zogging 'umies did dat."
  271. Aurelia stood up and carried Laura's body over her shoulder, then left for the bottom floor, with the orc following her.
  273. "Say, what's your name?"
  275. "Me'z name? Orkia."
  277. "...Orkia?"
  279. "Aint no grot orkia dan me, hoho."
  281. -----
  283. They reached the bottom floor, seeing the knights below from the hallway. Massive clouds of black smoke dissipated while they moved about, soon barricading the door with furniture. Then, the knights spotted Aurelia and Orkia. Aurelia, wishing no fight, raised her hand high, still walking closer. Then, she threw Laura to the ground towards them.
  285. The crested knight walked closer, and looked at Laura.
  287. "You understand what she means to us, right?" He asked.
  289. "...No?"
  291. "We have been chasing after a dark valkyrie that has been switching from the world of the living to the world of the dead. Has corrupted a few of ours, and we believed she takes advantage of those new to the underworld. You beat her up before we even found her, apparently..."
  293. "Oi, dont dat mean dis Lucian guy was gon be cheated too?" Orkia asked Aurelia.
  295. Aurelia kept silent momentarily, then raised her voice again towards the crested knight. "We're stuck in this world for now, and those things out there are as hostile to us as they are to you. Maybe we could fight them off together? Then, we'll be on our way without bothering you any longer."
  297. "...You're already better than most of the monsters we hunt; those that are closer to animals in behavior, like those outside that want you dead. Consider it done."
  299. "Before anything, I have one question."
  301. "Go ahead."
  303. "How did you get here? Is there a way out for you?"
  305. "I know necromancy, though I am not powerful enough to take you and the orc back before you ask. I can only focus enough to affect five people at the very most. I arrived here with three other men because I wished to take that dark valkyrie with us. Why do you not return the way you came?"
  307. "Our method is gone."
  309. "...You have my condolences."
  311. "Incoming, unknown monster! Clear!" One knight shouted. He and the two others rushed away from the door.
  313. Smash. Crack. Echoing thuds at the door that shook all the furniture behind it like a battering ram, till they were all struck aside. At the door appeared, apart from the thousands of underworld monsters outside, a wight giving off an eerie aura.
  315. "Mortals..." She spoke, sharing the noise of the ethereal whispers for all to hear. "Your presence shakes the balance of our realm, and you've stolen one of our own... A thousand deaths will not repay the debt of our stolen kin..."
  317. "Oi! Me gotz sumfin for ye!" The orc announced, almost as a taunt. "A mezzage!"
  319. "What does that message say...?"
  321. "It sez yer a grot!"
  323. The wight stood in place, but the monsters slowly advanced, prompting all to make ready. The slow march turned into a light jog, then, into an all-out charge towards them.
  325. Just as impact was a given, a violent hurricane struck all, making them cover their heads with their arms. When Aurelia opened her eyes again, she saw the hordes standing still like the wight, staring, yet in front of her stood a familiar figure, holding a staff with both hands against the ground, with a red crystal hanging by the curved tip.
  327. "...Cyrene?!"
  329. "Cyrene..." The wight spoke in her ethereal voice. "You come back after abandoning our kin...? Have you decided to return to us...?"
  331. "Can't leave you alone for a minute, Aurelia? It was a good thing that Lucian told me where you were..." Cyrene chuckled, before addressing the wight next. "I'm not here to return. I'm here to take something back. You hate the living when they're here, right? I'm sure you won't complain."
  333. "They've stolen one of our own... They must die a million deaths before this sin is atoned..."
  335. "The one they stole will be back. I took him from here. I promise you, he'll return when his time comes. Consider it a loan, if anything."
  337. "...They must leave. All who are among the living here must leave. I will accept that the one taken from us will remain away, as long as he returns in due time. Leave, now."
  339. The knights gathered around Laura. The crested one began chanting an incantation, and then after a minute, they turned into smoke, dissipating and leaving nothing behind.
  341. Cyrene, at the same time, took out two crystals from her robe, holding them in front of the orc and the lizard. The two of them grabbed one each, and put them on their necks.
  343. "Oi, 'relia... Me guesses dis a gudbai... I'z lived far 'way, so we'z not gon meet for 'while."
  345. "I don't think Lucian and I will move to another town any time soon. Think you can visit?"
  347. "Aye, me'z gon try. Aint got no zoggin' fing left in me loif either. Yeers 'ere, y'kno. E'ryone's finks me'z ded. Wait fer me, alroit?"
  349. "Alright."
  351. "We'z breakin' the kristas at same time?" Orkia asked with a smile.
  353. Aurelia chuckled. "Sure."
  355. "Alroit. Wun..."
  357. "Two..."
  359. -----
  361. Her mind flew about, making her almost lose balance as she sat on the ground. Slowly, she opened her eyes, all blurred as if she had just woken up. She saw Cyrene, sitting on a chair holding the staff with the red crystal hanging. Yet, before she could say anything, Cyrene pointed aside with a finger. Aurelia turned her head, and saw Lucian sitting just beside her, immediately locking eyes. Aurelia's vision began blurring again, this time as tears started to come out, along with a painful chuckle and a sniff, seeing Lucian reacting the same way.
  363. "Lucian..."
  365. "Aurie..."
  367. Without even a warning, Aurelia jumped and threw herself into Lucian's arms, both falling on the ground hugging each other and laughing.
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