Thursday, July 26, 2012

Aether and Death: Chapters 4 and 5

Enjoy! And let me know what you think! :)
BTW, I'm not sure why some lines are highlighted in white, and I'm not really interested in going through the hassle of fixing it. Just know that it has nothing to do with the story :)
P.S. If you would like to start from the beginning, you can find the Prologue and Chapter 1 here, and Chapters 2 and 3 here.


The Crystal Grove, Dragonspyre

        If spiders could sweat, then Araki would have been drenched as he entered the tower. It sat ominously at the end of one of the streets, near the South Grove, menacing fireballs leaping out of the lava fields surrounding it. Of course, the hot climate of the desolate world of Dragonspyre was only half the reason for the discomfort the arachnid- who never left Grizzleheim for any reason other than this- was feeling.
        Naturally, Araki’s trip was not voluntary. Early that morning, two Draconians had shown up at the mouth of his cave, demanding that he come with them. As always, Araki had been polite and diplomatic, knowing that the Draconians had full authority to roast him on the spot if they so desired. He had instantly known why they had come. Some aetherdust had been taken- not much, though; in fact, Araki was sure that only the utmost scrutiny of the reserves would have even revealed that any was missing. Nevertheless, Loki had known. Somehow, he had known, and there was not the most miniscule amount of doubt in Araki’s mind that the Deceiver would not be happy.
        The Draconian on Araki’s right opened the door; the one on the left jabbed him sharply with its claws, ushering him inside. Araki, quelling his anger at the creature’s gesture, stepped over the threshold and into the dark room on the ground floor of the tower. In the next instant, he was shrouded in darkness as the door was shut behind him.
        The brazier at the far end of the room suddenly lit up, and behind it, a metal door lifted, beckoning Araki through and down into the depths of the forlorn building.
        Loki’s room was just as dark as the one on the ground level, but not for long. As Araki stepped inside, two torches on either side of him lit up, followed by a second pair, then a third, fourth, and so on until ten pairs of torches illuminated a pathway through the middle of the room.
        At the end of the pathway, just beyond the light, stood the sinister outline of Loki the Deceiver. To Araki, he was nothing more than a faint specter, not so much due to the spider’s poor sight, but because the raven was dressed entirely in black. The red pendant that Araki had sometimes seen him wear- what was it called? - glowed in the corner of the room. Loki never had it on inside the tower; he knew he had protection enough without it.
        When Loki spoke, he barely moved his beak, yet his voice was shrill and commanding. “Araki. Hello.”
“Hello, Allfather.” Loki demanded he be called this by all his servants. It was all Araki could do to keep from rolling his eyes as he said the ridiculous title.
        Loki took a single step forward- he was now just a hint more visible. He motioned to the torches with his sickle-like claw. “I know you don’t like theatrics,” he began. “So I decided to be as theatrical as possible. Nevertheless, I don’t want you here anymore than you want yourself here, so I will be quick. You know why I summoned you. Tell me.”
        Although he was sure he knew the answer, Araki also knew one could never be too careful with Loki. He spoke cautiously. “Because some of the aetherdust was stolen.”
        “Because you allowed some of the aetherdust to be stolen,” Loki corrected. “What in all the cosmos were you doing wrong that could have let that happen?”
        Araki sighed inwardly. This was where things would become difficult. “They were wizards, Allfather. They were both young, but powerful. We had them on the run, and we had almost overtaken them when one turned around and blasted us with fire magic. They were close to the entrance, and ducked into the cave that leads to it. A few of our ranks noticed them and continued the pursuit, but they never returned. It was an accident, Allfather, I promise. The wizards were lucky. They were very, very lucky.”
        “They entered your cave, Araki!” Loki almost shrieked. “They were looking for the aetherdust! Why else would they have gone inside? And by the way,” he added, more calmly. “You said they were both young. Do you mean to tell me that there were only two of them?”
        Araki mentally reprimanded himself for slipping up so easily. His intention had been to give Loki the impression that a horde of wizards had taken the aetherdust. How could he have been so careless?!
There was no backing out now. Sounding as regretful and apologetic as he could, Araki answered the raven. “That is correct, Allfather. There were only two.”
        Loki growled, obviously very annoyed. He began to shriek again. “You fool! How could you and your entire horde have let two young wizards escape with AETHERDUST?! Do you even realize how valuable it is? If they discover its secrets, it could mean the end of my designs!”
        Araki honestly did not know what it was that caused Loki to put so much value in the aetherdust. He had always thought it was just a reagent. But it wouldn’t help his position at all to admit that. “Yes, Allfather,” he lied. “I am aware of the value the aetherdust has, and I understand your position. I’ll do anything I can to remedy this situation. Just tell me what you require of me, Allfather, and I will take care of it.”
        Loki pondered for a moment. Araki knew he was considering whether he should dispose of the spider now, or give him a second chance.
        The pondering didn’t take very long. “Very well, Araki.” The arachnid sighed with relief. “One more chance for you. Your next course of action is quite obvious to you, I’m sure. Eliminate the wizards. And do it as quickly as you can. And, Araki, understand this. If you fail this time, then there will be some promotions in your army. I’d imagine there are a number of young, resourceful spiders who have twice the potential you ever did.”

        Mavis regarded the Model MB with amusement as she ascended the front steps to the main building of the Metropolitan Manor. Since she had first met him, Duncan had had an affinity for old-fashioned things, and such a car as the one the Thaumaturge had parked in front of his apartment was no exception.
        She stopped on the small porch, and, staring a little further, studied the worker golem in front of the garage. Duncan had been working on constructing it for some time; it was almost finished now. Mavis had always been awestruck at her friend’s aptitude for machines, particularly with this last project. A big brass model known as a steam trawler, it was Duncan’s largest undertaking yet.
        Even more amazing than Duncan’s mechanical ability was his academic versatility. On the second floor of his apartment, Duncan kept his own personal chemistry lab for both scientific and magical experiments, and in the courtyard, various artifacts from all worlds of the Spiral created an impressive display.
Turning back to the front door, Mavis rapped lightly, and then tried the handle. Sure enough, it was unlocked. Duncan had been expecting her.
        “Duncan? I take it you’re home.” She closed the door behind her. “Duncan?
        “Upstairs,” Duncan’s voice sounded from above.
        As she crossed to the stairwell, Mavis admired the three mummies her friend had lined up against the opposite wall, each representing one of the three Elemental schools. Mooshu linens, practice mannequins from Scotland Yard, and Marleybonian photographs also habited the first floor.
        In the hallway upstairs, posters, playbills, and displays of crossed swords covered the wall. A telescope sat on the balcony, which looked out upon the beautiful night sky. Across from the balcony was the main upstairs room. While obelisks from both Mooshu and Dragonspyre had been placed near the doorway, most of the room was littered with maps, blueprints, and diagrams of all kinds. And at the far end of the room, in the alcove on the left, was Duncan Daystone, hunched over a large desk which was part of his lab. Two crafting stations and a second desk completed the area. Each table was populated with test tubes, beakers, Bunsen burners, and specimen jars, among other tools.
        Even though it was one o’clock (not that the sky indicated such), Duncan was still dressed in his nightshirt and cap. He had obviously begun experimenting on the aetherdust the moment he had woken up, and never bothered to dress. He seemed slightly frustrated.
        “Hi, there,” Mavis said cheerily, coming up behind him.
        “Hello,” Duncan responded tiredly. He didn’t turn to face her, but from where Mavis stood, she could see he was worn out. Heavy rings had formed under his eyes, due as much to his work today as last night’s adventures, she was sure. The Pyromancer wondered if he had even eaten since the previous afternoon.
        “How are things going?” Mavis asked, trying to hide the undercurrent of sympathy that had worked its way into her tone.
        Duncan shook his head feebly and fell back into the chair behind him.
        “I have never encountered such a mysterious material before,” he answered. “It doesn’t react to or with anything. I’ve burnt it, wetted it, mixed it with serums of all kinds, and still nothing has happened.”
        Mavis sighed. She felt bad for her friend, and although she was curious about the aetherdust, the priority now was getting Duncan some food and rest.
        “Maybe it’s not what we were looking for, after all,” she tried.
        “Impossible. Why else would it have been in an enormous cave, in sparkling mounds surrounded by water, with a teleport stone conveniently placed to take us back to Northguard?”
        Mavis couldn’t think of an answer, so she didn’t say anything.
        Duncan stood up and walked slowly over to the bed. He sat dejectedly on the edge and sighed, then got up again and began to pace throughout the room, a determined look on his face. Mavis watched him bemusedly. Duncan wasn’t giving up, even if he was half-starved and had barely gotten any sleep.
        She turned and looked at the aetherdust, in a small pile on the desk. She stepped over to it, and picking it up carefully in her hands, looked around for something to try on it. Most of the instruments were relatively foreign to her, but she wanted to help if she could.
        She transferred the reagent into its test tube, and was walking over to the other desk against the wall, when she heard Duncan exclaim from behind her, “Look out for the wire!”
        Mavis looked down just in time to see a long copper wire, stretching from behind a crafting station to a Bunsen burner on the desk, but not in time enough to stop herself from tripping on it.
        As she fell, the test tube hurtled forward. It smashed against the desk, the aetherdust spilling over a fragment of black cloth Duncan had out.
        The aetherdust sparked and crackled. Mavis looked up, but as she got to her feet, she suddenly fell back down again.
        Focusing on the desk leg, she learned why.
        The house had begun to shake. Mavis lay flat as the tables around her and the items on top swayed from side to side. Duncan shouted to her, “Mavis, get out of there!” She slid back on her stomach, just as a beaker came crashing to the floor.
        Duncan was running to the balcony. He leaned out over the railing, then quickly came back in. Bracing himself on a chair, he called out, “It’s an earthquake! The whole island is shaking like nothing I’ve ever seen!”
        Two more beakers fell, followed by the candle on Duncan’s bedside table. Then, just as quickly as it had begun, the shaking stopped. The entire ordeal had lasted no more than thirty seconds, but to Mavis it had felt like thirty minutes. She had never been through an actual earthquake before, and was reeling from the experience. She slowly stood up, exchanging wondering looks with Duncan.
        “What just happened?” she breathed. “What caused that?”
        Duncan let go of the chair and casually walked over to the desk where the aetherdust had spilled. Brushing it off the black cloth, he gently picked up the fragment and held it up for Mavis to see.
        “Do you know what this is?” he asked, wide-eyed.
        “Black cloth?” she tried, knowing there was more to it than that.
        “True enough,” Duncan smiled. “But you know me too well to believe that I would be keeping an ordinary piece of cloth in my laboratory.”
        “Well,” Mavis chuckled, “you’ve never exactly been the most organized person I know.”
        Duncan laughed. “Maybe so, but nevertheless, this cloth has significance. It was torn from the cloak of Lord Nightshade, way back during our early days of practicing magic. I picked it up after he was defeated, and have kept it all this time in a specimen jar. I pulled it out the other day to perform a few tests, but nothing I’ve done on it has been nearly as conclusive as this.”
        “So the aetherdust makes contact with Nightshade’s cloak,” Mavis thought aloud, “and both have some sort of magical property that causes them to react, with the earthquake as a result.”
        “Exactly!” Duncan said excitedly. Mavis smiled has she watched the brightness return to her friend’s eyes, and the color to his face. It was as if he had never been fatigued in the first place.
        “But how?” Duncan continued. “What type of reaction could create such a phenomenon, and why? What properties does the aetherdust contain that allow it to create the reaction? Is this reaction unique to interaction with the cloak, or will it occur in other scenarios?” He stared intently had the cloth, then at the aetherdust, then at the cloth again. Then, slowly brushing the sand-like material into another test tube, he walked over to the bedside table and set in a rack.
        Turning to Mavis, he said, “I know just the man to help us out. He is an expert in magical chemistry.”
        “But first,” Mavis said quickly, “Why don’t we eat something? You must be starving after all the work you’ve done.”
        Duncan smiled warmly, causing Mavis to feel strangely content inside. “A very good idea, Miss Rubyeyes. A very good idea, indeed.” He made a sweeping gesture with his arm towards the door. “Ladies first.”


Cyclops Lane, Wizard City

        Duncan tipped his top hat to Privates Emerson and Sweeney as he and Mavis strolled casually through Festival Park. The guards nodded politely in return, and Duncan looked ahead to the circle where the street curved right. The yellow and gold paint of the buildings surrounding it shone beautifully in the sun; even for Wizard City it was a particularly gorgeous afternoon.
        Duncan crossed to the left side of the street as the pair reached the end of the park. Mavis, quickening her pace, sidled up next to him, saying, “So, explain to me again who this Aldous Pastfinder is, please.”
“I told you,” Duncan replied, “he is an expert in magical chemistry.”
“An expert, eh?”
“One of the smartest wizards I’ve ever met. He’s solved many a problem for me in the course of my experiments. He also knows a lot about history. When I undertook this isolation project, I knew it would only be so long before I went to visit him.”
“Why haven’t I ever heard of him, then?” Mavis asked skeptically. “I’d think someone like him would be quite the celebrity in the academic community.”
Duncan chuckled. “He’s not that kind of expert. He is… rather eccentric. Even I am hard pressed to believe some of his theories, and his potions aren’t always to be trusted. But Aldous means well, and is a good person. He just doesn’t have much interest in, or appreciation for, mainstream magic. Even as wondrous a place as Wizard City has its occult, and that is what Aldous likes to dabble in.”
They walked around the circle and came up, stopping at the edge, just as the incline ended and the street flattened again.
“This is it,” Duncan said. He knocked on the door three times, then tapped three times with his palm, then knocked once more.
There was no window in the door, just a small slot which slid open quickly. Two grizzled, old blue eyes peered out. A pungent smell emanated out the slot which Duncan found hard to place. Whatever it was, though, he probably didn’t want to know.
A rough, whistling voice sounded from behind the door. “Which one is it?”
Duncan leaned in close, trying to keep Mavis from hearing. “The one who eats bug eyes.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Mavis laughed.
Duncan sighed, his attempts to keep quiet obviously unsuccessful. He looked at Mavis embarrassedly. “Don’t ask.”
“Suppose you’re right. Half the reason it’s funny is the mystery of it.” She laughed again. Even though it was at his expense, Duncan felt elated by it. As a matter of fact, he had always enjoyed it greatly when his friend laughed. But he didn’t feel comfortable admitting it, even to himself.
The slot closed, followed by the knob slowly turning. Then the door opened, revealing an incredibly aged man. He sported a long, white beard and eyebrows, a small mouth which was almost completely overtaken by the beard, and no fewer than fifty wrinkles, large and small, across his face. His outfit looked like that of Headmaster Ambrose, although it was purple instead of blue (Duncan figured that had once been a style of some sort), and the size and arch of his eyebrows caused him to look permanently disgruntled.
  When he spoke, however, it was with a bright and cheery tone, and only a hint of a rasp. “Hello, young Daystone! Hello! It has been all too long since I saw you last. Now, with most anyone else I would believe the visit was due to not having things to do, but with you I know it is just the opposite. You must be up to something, and something important, to be paying me a visit.”
Duncan chuckled as Aldous led Mavis and himself inside, closing the door behind them. “Good day, Aldous. And, yes, I am up to something. I was experimenting this morning, and I came across a phenomenon which I figured only you can explain. This is my good friend, Mavis Rubyeyes. She has accompanied me on a majority of my adventures.”
“So this is the young Rubyeyes!” Aldous exclaimed. He took her hand and shook it vigorously. “I am glad to finally meet you in the flesh. Duncan is nearly always talking about you.”
“Oh, really?”
          Mavis smiled wittily, looking as though she was stifling a chuckle. Looking at her, Duncan smiled back, although he kept his head low. He hoped his cheeks weren’t turning red.
  Aldous, apparently, had realized he’d said too much. He quickly changed the subject, asking Duncan, “But tell me, Duncan, what is it you have come to me for?”
Grateful for Aldous’ understanding, Duncan immediately jammed his hands into his coat pockets, searching for the test tube containing the aetherdust. If there was one problem with these Marleybonian cloaks, it was that there were simply too many pockets. Finally he found the test tube, and held it out for Aldous to see.
“This,” he replied. “Aetherdust. I presume you’ve heard of it.”
“I’ve heard of it, yes.” The old wizard took the test tube and held it close to his eyes. “But I don’t know much about it.” Using his free hand, he created a circle around his left eye out of the forefinger and thumb. Out of nowhere, a monocle appeared inside the circle, which he used to focus on the contents of the test tube.
“Hmmm! This material is very rare. Consider me impressed. Where did you find it?”
“In an underground lake last night in Vigrid Roughland- mounds of the stuff.”
“Really?! Amazing! Then it follows that you were searching for it. Why?”
“We have reason to believe that the aetherdust is related to the isolation of Grizzleheim. There was a teleport stone in the cave, so someone must have put it there. And not only that, but I was experimenting with it this morning and, well…” Duncan stopped speaking, unsure exactly how to proceed. As far as he knew, no one had ever caused seismic activity before without the assistance of Myth Magic.
Mavis picked up where the Thaumaturge had left off. “Somehow, when a fragment of cloak made contact with the aetherdust, it set off a tremor which created an earthquake throughout Duncan’s castle. The cloak itself belonged to Lord Nightshade.”
Aldous perked up. “Lord Nightshade, you say?”
  The old man was suddenly over by the bookshelf. Putting the test tube on top, he began thumbing quickly through the thick volumes, some of which Duncan could tell hadn’t been touched in years. A few seconds later, he had located the book he was searching for, and held back a sneeze as he retrieved it and opened it up. The pages were noticeably yellowed, but perfectly readable.
“What’s on your mind, Aldous?” Duncan stepped over and watched as Aldous flipped through the book. “What are you looking for?”
Aldous stopped at a page almost in the dead center of the volume. On the page were four small pictures in a row, each of an article of clothing. The picture on the left seemed to be of Nightshade’s cloak.
Aldous pointed to this picture. He looked up at Duncan.
“Do you know what Lord Nightshade’s cloak is?” he asked excitedly.
“You mean aside from the garment worn by one of the most notorious wraiths in the history of the Spiral? No, I can’t say that I do.”
The old wizard’s eyes gleamed with enthusiasm. He tapped the picture eccentrically. “That cloak.” He paused dramatically. “It is one of the Artifacts of Death!”
Duncan eyed his friend quizzically. “The Artifacts of Death?”
“And what are those?” Mavis positioned herself next to Duncan, inspecting the pictures in the book.
“There is an old legend and little-known legend,” began Aldous, “which tells of four items, naturally created but with the appearance of being purposely crafted. It is said that these items are enchanted with powerful Death Magic, and, if brought together and activated, they will unleash a terrible force upon the Spiral. No one knows, however, what is required to activate the Artifacts, let alone what they would do.”
Duncan smiled. Things were starting to make sense. “Now we know,” he said.
“Yes, indeed!” Aldous grinned. “Now we know.”
“So,” said Mavis, “there are four Artifacts. Each look like ordinary items but aren’t, for if brought together and activated with aetherdust…” she trailed off.
“They would create a seismic cataclysm which could destroy the Spiral.” Duncan finished.
“And one of them ended up in the hands of Lord Nightshade,” added Mavis.
“I doubt he had any knowledge that his cloak was an Artifact,” said Aldous. “For the Artifacts have existed since the beginning of Death Magic, each residing in a different world, and changing its appearance so as to continue to blend in as the society of that world changes and evolves. Of course, they have changed hands many times, so much so that few today know exactly what and where they are.”
“How do you know?” asked Mavis.
“I am one of only a few left who actually believe in the Artifacts,” answered the old wizard. “I devoted a large portion of my life to learning as much as I could about them. This book,” he added as he tapped the page again, “is my own personal diary.”
“Well, aren’t we lucky to know you, Aldous!” Duncan chuckled. “Would you happen to have any of the other Artifacts?”
“Unfortunately, no. All four either ended up in the clutches of someone like Lord Nightshade, or simply disappeared, to be dug up one day like actual artifacts.”
         “Figures,” put in Mavis.
         Aldous smiled, then said, “Either way, by the time I figured this out, my age was already preventing me from attempting to recover them. By the way, would you, by chance, have brought that cloak fragment with you?”
         Duncan grinned, reached into a pocket, and pulled out the enchanted piece of cloth. He passed it to Aldous. The old wizard’s eyes gleamed with delight as he took it in his hands.
         “Amazing,” he said. “There truly is nothing looking out of the ordinary about it.” He inspected it for a few moments, a look of awe on his face the whole time. Then he set it down on the table, and turned back to Duncan and Mavis.
         “You must obtain the other three,” he said. “I told you aetherdust is rare, but you say you found mounds of it. Someone must be stockpiling the stuff, and if that’s the case, then they are probably looking for the Artifacts. Whatever happens, the last thing any of us want is those items ending up in the wrong hands.”
         Duncan stepped over to the bookshelf and picked up the test tube with the aetherdust. “What, exactly, are the other three Artifacts?” he asked, turning around.
         Before Aldous could answer, however, Duncan cried out as, stepping forward, he tripped over the black furry bundle that was Aldous’ cat, Merlin. The animal had decided to lie down directly in front of Duncan’s feet.
         Duncan managed to stop himself falling but the test tube had flown out of his hand, smashing, as fate would have it, directly on top of the cloak fragment.
         Not again, he thought. As Merlin meowed indignantly and strode away, Duncan began to feel a low rumble, which was quickly growing. He looked over at Aldous, who seemed simultaneously concerned and excited, and then at Mavis. The look on her face was one of pure worry.
         Duncan crouched low, bracing himself for the quake. Aldous and Mavis did the same.
         At that moment, the rumble erupted into a full-blown shake. Duncan held on for dear life to the table leg. Unlike the last time, all the aetherdust had made contact with the cloak, so Duncan had a feeling this earthquake would be more violent than the first.
         And violent it was. Duncan squeezed the table leg harder as all of Aldous’ house began to shake fiercely. Stacks of books toppled. Sculptures fell to the floor and smashed. An empty cauldron tipped over.
         Duncan imagined the chaotic scene outside on the street. Even in an area governed chiefly by Myth Magic, earthquakes of this magnitude were rare. He could see in his mind’s eye people running through the street seeking shelter, guards racing around trying to provide what assistance they could, the tents in Festival Park collapsing, the cobblestone road splitting, buildings crumbling a little as stones and bricks fell onto the sidewalk.
         His vision ended just in time to spy a large bust, teetering on the edge of a shelf next to Mavis, preparing to fall on top of her.
         Duncan called out his friend’s name frantically as he leaped forward and pushed her out of the way. At the same time, the bust fell, but instead of hitting Mavis, it blew to smithereens on top of Duncan’s head. The Thaumaturge cried out and slumped back to ground. The chaos of the quake continued around him, but he was becoming less and less aware of it. The last thing he saw before slipping away entirely was the look of dire fear on Mavis’ face as she watched him fall into unconsciousness.

         His already terrible headache worsened by the bright sun shining down on him, Duncan groaned and opened his eyes. He attempted to sit up. His head exploded with pain in protest, and he quickly lay back down.
         Where was he?
         His vision was still a little blurry; he couldn’t quite make out the structure above him. He squinted hard and tried to focus, recognizing suddenly the statue in the middle of Unicorn Park. Reality began to reassert itself. Duncan was lying beneath the head of the statue, which was glowing green. Duncan furrowed his brow in confusion. He had never seen the unicorn glow like that before.        
        Another second of consciousness, and Duncan Daystone realized his feet were pointed towards Unicorn Way. A few wizards milled about on the street in front of him, and pixies, sparkling, buzzed overhead. Duncan smiled at the peaceful scene. He could remember a time, not too long ago, when Unicorn Way had been a fairly dangerous place to visit.
The statue head began to glow brighter, drawing Duncan’s attention back towards it. Why was it doing that?
He found out a moment later. A brilliant green beam shot from the unicorn’s horn, turning into a ring of light which surrounded Duncan. The next thing he knew, his headache was gone, and he felt completely refreshed. As he bounced onto his feet, he noticed a small group of figures coming around the statue, including Mavis, Moolinda Wu, and Headmaster Ambrose.
“Well done, Moolinda,” Ambrose smiled.
“Thank you,” the Life Professor replied softly. She looked at Duncan. “To be honest,” she said, “your injury was not very serious. I could have healed you on site. But I’ve been looking for someone to test out this new enchantment, and you were the perfect candidate. I hope that wasn’t a problem.”
Duncan beamed. You couldn’t find a more courteous person if you went looking for one.
“No problem at all. Thank you very much.”
She nodded in return, and looked like she was about to speak again, when a deep, stern voice interjected, “Right. Now that that little issue has been resolved, let’s talk about why you created an earthquake on my street in the first place.”
Professor Cyrus Drake came round the unicorn statue, joining the other three. His habitual rapping of his palm with his wand seemed stressed and impatient- well, more than it usually did, anyway.
Duncan sighed inwardly. He suddenly realized that he had known this was coming, from the moment the quake had begun. Professor Drake had gained more respect for Duncan and Mavis since they had stopped his brother from inadvertently destroying the Spiral, but he was still a short-tempered sort, and was undoubtedly much more eager to harshly reproach the student wizards than Headmaster Ambrose was.
         He wondered if Mavis had explained any the situation already, and asked such.
“She has not,” Cyrus replied. “I only just arrived here, after tending to the damage and chaos caused by you two.”
Sighing again, Duncan explained to Professor Drake and Headmaster Ambrose about the aetherdust- what it was, what it did, and how it required making contact with an Artifact of Death to activate.
He finished his story, and Cyrus snorted. “The Artifacts of Death!” he exclaimed. “That’s nothing but a legend! A fantastical fabrication created to entertain the masses of yesteryear. They don’t exist.
Duncan was about to retort, when Merle Ambrose turned to Cyrus, raising a placating hand. “Now Cyrus,” he said calmly, “something caused that earthquake, and I did find both aetherdust and a piece of black cloth at Mister Pastfinder’s house.”
“Where is Aldous, by the way?” asked Duncan. “Is he okay?”
“He’s fine,” Ambrose replied. “He’s assisting with the clean-up on Cyclops.”
“As he should,” Cyrus added. “He was responsible for the quake too. To be honest, I’ve never fully trusted him.”
No surprise there, thought Duncan.
Ambrose raised his hand again. He was obviously starting to become irritated with Cyrus. “That’s beside the point,” he said. “I’ve never particularly believed in the Artifacts of Death myself, but if my two finest students say they exist, then I’m inclined to trust them, as should you, Cyrus. You have before, and with more serious issues than this.”
Cyrus sighed exasperatedly, as if he had been waiting for someone to bring this up. Duncan was just glad it had been Ambrose and not himself or Mavis. He felt proud for what he had done to help the Spiral, but the last thing he wanted to do was hold it over someone’s head.
“Very well,” Cyrus said. “The Artifacts might exist after all. That doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that Cyclops Lane was thrown into disarray because a certain ‘hero’ doesn’t know how to handle them. Surely this calls for some sort of…”
He stopped suddenly as a large spider landed heavily on the ground in front of him. It screeched and leapt at Cyrus, who skillfully forced it back with a jolt of Myth Magic from his wand. The spider flew over the top of Duncan’s head, hitting the cobblestones with a crunch. The next moment, ten more spiders thudded down onto Unicorn Way. Then ten more after that, and ten more after that.
“Duncan?” Mavis sidled up next to her friend and asked quietly, “What is happening?”
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Duncan said grimly.
One hundred spiders were now amassed on the street, approaching the small group menacingly. They seem especially focused on Duncan and Mavis.
One spider stood off to the right of the small army- most likely a leader of some kind. He was directly facing Duncan. The spider shouted in an earsplittingly high pitch, “Attack!”
The first rank of ten spiders, fangs barred, lunged at the professors, who, despite their magical acumen, could not force every single one back at once. Three flew straight into Ambrose, scratching and clawing at him. The Headmaster dropped his staff and stumbled backwards as magical energy began to emanate around him. A sudden blue burst caused all three spiders to explode off him, whizzing back over the trees and into the wall of a house. Ambrose hurriedly picked up his staff and held it forward. It sparkled vibrantly, aching to blast an arachnid or two. Smarter creatures would have stayed away from someone as adept as Merle Ambrose, but spiders are not known for their intelligence, and the great wizard was soon zapping his attackers left and right, Cyrus and Professor Wu backing him up.
Duncan and Mavis, meanwhile, were having their own problems. No sooner had the head spider given the order to attack than it had leapt at Mavis, knocking her to the ground. This had been unexpected; the spider had been looking straight at Duncan. Mavis squirmed and struggled to get the spider off her. It dug at her face, attempting to open up a space big enough that it could sink its fangs into her, but Mavis kept it at bay, grabbing its legs to try to throw it off.
Duncan immediately brandished his staff, sending a flash of Ice energy in the spider’s direction, but to his astonishment, a blue aura momentarily formed around the spider, absorbing the Ice flash entirely. Duncan was dumbstruck. He knew spiders generally favored Thaumaturgy, but he had never seen one powerful enough to resist it completely before. He would have to switch tactics. Duncan waved his staff through the air in an arc, sending a brown bolt into the sky. As a result, a Balance Scarab popped into existence, landing on top of the spider and forcing it off Mavis. The two creatures rolled over onto the grass, the spider ending up on top. It promptly bit the scarab, which screamed and disappeared in a brown cloud.
Mavis scrambled to her feet and stood next to Duncan, holding her staff in front of her as well. They watched as the spider turned and called to two of his soldiers in a tongue Duncan had never heard before. They turned and lunged at the pair of wizards. This time, however, Duncan and Mavis were prepared. Mavis reacted first, summoning a sunbird which effectively held back one of the arachnids. The second, however, dodged the fire blast from the bird, re-pinning Mavis. Meanwhile, the head spider came at Duncan, forcing him down as well.
Duncan swung his head left and right, dodging the creature’s menacing fangs. His staff lay on the grass next to him- just out of reach. Of course! he thought.
In a surprisingly able feat of multitasking, Duncan maintained his alternating dodges as he stretched his middle finger towards the staff. Managing to get his fingertip over it, he pulled back, and the staff rolled towards him.
Relieved, Duncan squeezed his staff hard. He felt it begin to radiate Balance energy, the dial on the top whirring, its hand speeding across the numbers. A great burst of Sorcery magic flashed out the magnet, and the head spider was once again flipped onto his back.
Duncan flew to his feet and stood over the floundering spider, bracing his staff to knock him out completely. Before he could even concentrate on a spell, however, the spider that Mavis had struck back leaped onto him. Duncan cried out and slammed onto his stomach, his staff flying through the air and landing far away.
Duncan knew he wouldn’t be able to dodge the spider’s fangs if he couldn’t see them. He shut his eyes, waiting for the venomous appendices to pierce his neck. Instead, he felt a wave of heat surge over him, accompanied by a small, high-pitched squeal as the spider was thrown off. The smell of burnt exoskeleton hit his nostrils, and Duncan realized that Mavis had, once again, saved him from a painful demise.
The Ice Wizard stood up, brushed off his cloak, and looked at his friend. He smiled.
“Don’t mention it.” She returned the smile, her hazel eyes accentuating the forcefulness of the expression. Duncan faltered for a moment, his mouth dropping open slightly.
She frowned. “You okay?”
Recovering his composure, Duncan shook his head and blinked rapidly, feeling a might embarrassed. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.”
She smiled again, though it was lighter and more subtle than before. “Good.” Then, looking over his shoulder, she began to chuckle. Duncan turned around, and noticed that the streak of fire that Mavis had sent had struck the head spider as well as his henchman. That should make things simpler.
Duncan was wrong.
Separating from the main group, another spider- obviously a second-in-command of some kind- faced Duncan and Mavis, and gave a shrill whistle. Almost instantly, a hundred more spiders materialized over Unicorn Way, dropping to the ground and preparing to attack.
Mavis gulped. “This isn’t good.” The pair looked over at the Ravenwood teachers, who were actually starting to falter themselves. They didn’t seem any more ready to take on another hundred spiders than Duncan or Mavis did.
The army of spiders was slowly overtaking the small group of wizards. They inched closer and closer, their eyes shining hungrily. Duncan and Mavis, moving to assist the teachers, slowly strode back with their professors to the edge of Unicorn Pond.
Mavis gulped again. “This really isn’t good.”
Duncan stepped into the pond and waded through till his back was against the statue. He scanned the area, frantically attempting to come up with some sort of solution. Unfortunately, it seemed as though his innovative powers were failing him in this tense situation.
Then, miraculously, a bolt of lightning zapped down from the sky, frying the spiders closest to them. At first, Duncan thought some sort of divine intervention had gone on. However, looking up, he was elated to see three Grizzleheemian warships, with soldiers at the ready, slowly descending towards the street. As they landed, the bear soldiers sent down more and more lightning bolts, gradually decimating the arachnid army. Emboldened by the tide suddenly turned, Duncan stepped out of the pond and began summoning large snowballs to knock out spiders with himself, while Mavis brought down great flaming rocks. Thankfully, most of the spiders did not seem to have the impressive resistance to Ice magic that the head spider had displayed.
The ships landed, and the bears leaped out and began a more radical assault on the spiders. The spiders, their numbers now quickly dwindling, screamed and squealed as they were bombarded from all sides by bear and wizard alike. Within minutes, the battle was over entirely.
Duncan, scanning the regiment of bears, noticed the king of Grizzleheim, Valgard Goldenblade, standing at its rear. He smiled, nodded hello, and gestured for the king to come closer so they could talk.
Because the wizards of Ravenwood and the bears of Grizzleheim had much to talk about.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Whatever Happened to April?

Hola, everybody! Happy Cinco de Mayo! I honestly don't know much about Cinco de Mayo, other than that it is a Mexican Independence Day that isn't really an Independence Day, or something like that. If any of my readers are familiar with Mexican culture, please share your knowledge of the holiday, because I'm kind of curious :)

Anyway, I've spent the better part of my afternoon at the library, working on fiction (steampunk fiction, not Wizard101). About an hour and a half ago, though, I suddenly started feeling very poetic (not sure why), and so I figured I'd take some time to try my hand at poetry.

I've never really written poetry before, other than for school assignments, but the purpose of those was to imitate a certain style of poetry, and so I don't much care for those poems. They got me a good grade, but that's about as much literary merit as they have.

This, on the other hand, truly came from the heart- 8 four-lined stanzas, using a classic ABCB rhyming pattern (although a couple times I had to settle for assonance), and crafted from my own experiences, though it is very metaphorical. And it is, admittedly, partially inspired by the style and diction of my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson.

Please take the time to read it; I'm very enthusiastic to know what you all think!

Until then, Ponder On!    

Whatever Happened to April?

Whatever happened to April
And her light-headed joy?
She passed on by without a care
Making men from boys.

Her excitement, and sweet sentiment
Contagious though they were
Feel now as but a fantasy
Gone forever more.

She was not without her tribulations.
She was often sad.
But there was nothing more satisfying
Than turning sad into glad.

It was a wholesome satisfaction
And beautiful in that way.
Emotion rich and wonder wide
Each and every day.

But as quickly as she came to me
April up and went.
Snatched away one fateful day
And my bliss was spent.

But memories of her still linger.
They fill me with resolve
And hope that if I do things right
I’ll find her after all.

She will be slightly different
Even, perhaps, in name.
But from time to time, a spark will rise
And she’ll be April once again.

Whatever happened to April?
She was here, and now she’s gone.
I May or May not have a chance.
But I’ll muddle on.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Music Review: The Battle Rages On

Today I'll be sharing my interpretation of the Dragonspyre combat theme. Before I get to that, however, I would like to, briefly, give an explanation as to my prolonged absence:

1. New stuff for Christmas (effectively distracting me from Wizard101)

2. New stuff for my birthday (also effectively distracting me)

3. Doctor Who- Three weeks ago, I logged onto Wizard101 for the first time in six weeks, and pretty much devoted my weekend to catching up in Zafaria. The very next weekend, I discovered Doctor Who on Netflix, and have been pretty much obsessed with it since. Any Who fans out there will understand :)

And that pretty much concludes my explanation of my absence, though I would like to say one more thing. When I started this blog last July, I made two resolutions- 1. I would never go for more than three weeks without posting. 2. I would never title my first post after going a long time without posting "I'm back," or anything of that semblance. My first resolution was effectively broken a while back; I'm okay with that. May the Dragon Titan roast me if I every break the second one :)


I was going to review the main theme of Wizard101 today, but I decided at the last moment to review The Battle Rages On (my title for the Dragonspyre combat theme) instead, since it was about this time two years ago that I defeated Malistaire for the first time. So, without further ado, here is The Battle Rages On:

Credit for the "video" goes to HelpfulWizard on Youtube. The music itself was composed by Nelson Everhart.

The build-up at the beginning makes it clear right away that this a much darker land than ones previously visited; you've had your ups and downs in those other worlds, but it was always fun. Now, the fun is over. (I don't mean that literally, by the way. I'm speaking, more or less, within the context of the game.) The sound of the drums becomes quite prominent then, as if something is approaching. It's an army, an army of evil. Or is it? Maybe this army is on the side of good, but has been so subjugated by evil forces that it has no choice but to engage in vicious warfare. Whatever the reason, the trumpets and the drums tell you that there is a war going on. It is an ancient war, both by the means of its fighting and by the span of time itself over which it extends. And it is a war of epic, supernatural proportions; the choir vocalizing indicates at least that much. This isn't simply a battle between the armies of good and evil, it is a struggle for power between the very evocations of good and evil. They are locked in eternal combat, and both sides possess certain talents and abilities that the other does not, such that for a long time, the odds were even. But recently, evil seems to have won out over good, and the indications of this exist everywhere you look- terror, death, and destruction on a phenomenal scale. The trumpets and drums, low in pitch, evoke this sentiment. They tell of the destruction as effectively as the visions of evil themselves. Darkness, despair, evilness, terror- these all come to mind upon hearing those terrible low tones. And yet, at the same time, this music is fast, frenzied, and exciting- spurring you to continue your crusade for good; maybe you'll get lucky. Among the "lava, fire, and ghosts", there are those few who remain as a force for good, and you have added yourself to their ranks. Despite the darkness, the terror, and the despair, you fight, no matter how futile it may be. Benevolence is more powerful than it seems; so long as there exists a spark of benevolence- just a spark- there exists a spark of hope. And so The Battle Rages On. The Battle Rages On.

This is the beauty of instrumental music- it gives you the ability to construct from your interpretation of it a scenario unlike any other. This is what I do. Granted, in the case of W101 music, I have a bit of help from the premise, the back story, of the world, but 80-90 percent (depending on the nature of each individual piece) of my interpretation comes from the music alone. The Battle Rages On is actually a pretty enjoyable piece, which I've never really appreciated enough because I rarely visit Dragonspyre (It's my least favorite world. I'm not saying it's not good, I just don't enjoy it as much as other worlds). The drums and trumpets of battle are certainly epic enough, and the first time I heard the theme, the first thing that came to mind was the armies of old, such as the Greeks, Romans, and Persians. That contributed heavily to my interpretation of the piece. In fact, most of the Dragonspyre music is pretty good, but the distribution is terrible. Out of four major themes, only two are played outside boss rooms and towers, and one of those two is only heard in three different areas. Hearing the same theme over and over and over again throughout the course of the entire world gets kind of old (especially when it takes you three months to get through Dragonspyre- that used to be my record for longest time spent on one world, but I think my recent absence has now relegated that to the four or five months Zafaria will take). The same is the case with Grizzleheim, though having only three tracks and a smaller overall number of zones, as well as the parallel world concept, make it less offensive. I will say, however, that, without a doubt, the good outweighs the bad in the case of the Dragonspyre music, and the combat theme is the ultimate proof of that- it is certainly a suitable theme for the Malistaire battle, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the finale of the original W101 story was a major factor for Nelson Everhart in his composition of the piece. So next time you're hanging out in Dragonspyre, where there is always a "behind-the-fourth-wall" reason for defeating Mobs, remember that The Battle Rages On.

I hope you enjoyed my review. I realize, as I conclude my post, how sorely I've missed blogging. That in mind, I hope to talk to you all again real soon.

Until then, Ponder on!        

Monday, December 12, 2011

Aether and Death: Chapters 2 and 3

Mid-term exams this week means no time to write a proper post till next weekend, which is the beginning of Christmas Break for me. (My Wizard101 time has been cut short, too.) But here are the next two chapters of Aether and Death to tide you over! :)


 The Jade Palace, Mooshu

     Mavis Rubyeyes kindly thanked the waiter taking up her plate as the main course of the Emperor’s luncheon came to an end. It had been quite a meal, as Mavis was now thoroughly stuffed, however she knew she would have to manage to save some room for what was bound to be a fantastic dessert.
     As she waited for the final course’s arrival, Mavis leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes, and listened to the array of happy chatter surrounding her. What a grand world Mooshu was! Its architecture, society, populace, and beauty had made it the favorite among the worlds the Grandmaster Pyromancer had visited in her and Duncan’s quest to defeat Malistaire, however, in light of that recent event, she had had little time to enjoy herself after leaving with the Dragonspyre key. Today turned out to be her chance to become reacquainted with this amazing world; she had received an invitation to a luncheon party hosted by Emperor Yoshihito himself. Upon arrival, the Emperor had officially thanked Mavis for the role she played in the rescue of Mooshu. She had then spent the remainder of that happy afternoon lunching like she had never before.
     The dessert arrived, a scrumptious-looking dish containing sugar cane as a main ingredient. Mavis was not familiar in the least with the dish or the other ingredients, but she greatly enjoyed what was possibly the most decadent dessert she had ever encountered. The highly content wizard was just launching into a conversation with the
Samoori next to her when a servant appeared by her seat.
     “A message for you from Marleybone,” he told her as she was handed an envelope with a seal displaying a bone.
     Curious, Mavis opened the envelope and placed it on the table. As she unfolded the parchment, she noticed its almost overly-fancy design, something characteristic of the only possible candidate to be sending her a missive from Marleybone. She could not help but smile when she found the handwriting to be just as classy:

Hello Mavis,

     How is the luncheon? The last I saw you, you were positively ecstatic over it. Did it meet your expectations? I understand the Emperor’s desserts are particularly delicious.
     Anyway, I was wondering if you may join me in Northguard this evening. I may have finally found the inspiration I was looking for. Thank you in advance.


     As tired as she was, Mavis was happy to join him. Duncan was a fantastic friend of hers; they had been partners from the moment the Undead had come into Unicorn Way. Neither of them could abstain from adventure for very long. And as she understood it, he was just as excited about his book as she had been her luncheon. What a day this was turning into! With her belly full and her mind in high spirits, Mavis stood up, said her good-byes to the other members at the event, and left the palace for the strange and wonderful village of Northguard.

     Duncan leaned against one of the many torches surrounding the arena in as the two bears in the center swung at each other with their wooden swords, practicing their fighting skills. They expertly struck out their weapons, trying hard to land one solid hit. Of course, both were so good that it would take a while for that to happen. The mock duel had been an exciting one so far, with many fantastic moves being displayed by both contestants. Duncan would have to remember some of them. He was somewhat skilled with a blade himself- fencing was a hobby of his- although he generally preferred the smaller swords of the Marleybonian gentleman to the giant, hulking weaponry that the warriors of Grizzleheim used.
     He turned his head to face the edge of the world, spying in the distance a large wooden ship, headed for the nearby dock. The bears on the wooden platform prepared the ropes for the oncoming vessel, and Duncan, coming forward, glanced over at the Spiral Door, wondering if Mavis had had to decline his invitation. His fears were uncalled for, however, for as the ship pulled up in front of the dock, the Door opened, a few wisps from the passageway spilling out, and Mavis appeared. Duncan smiled and waved her over. She returned the wave and proceeded towards the dock, where the bears had just finished mooring the ship. Turning back to the ship, he waved again, this time to the bear whom had appeared on deck, and stepped forward to greet him.
     Baldur Goldpaws smiled warmly. “Hello, my wonderful friends!” he bellowed kindly as Mavis approached, the hint of a happy chuckle present in his salutation. “It is a pleasure to see such fine young wizards as you! Tell me, what is it that brings you two to the once again prosperous world of Grizzleheim?”
     Duncan suppressed a chuckle at the Spiral merchant’s eccentricity. “Research,” he replied. “As you know, Baldur, I’ve been looking for some topic to cover in a book for the canines of Marleybone, and since I recently took an interest in the history of your world, I thought speculation on Grizzleheim’s isolation would provide a fascinating subject to focus on. Of course, it was you, Baldur, who found the key to escaping Grizzleheim by boat, and not only did it allow you reconstruct contact with other worlds, but it created an entirely new, more efficient method of trade in the Spiral. I, myself, am no merchant, and so I ask you now: how did you do it?”
     Baldur wiped his brow teasingly. “Whew!” he exclaimed at Duncan’s lengthy answer. “You, friend Daystone, have spent too much time in Marleybone!” Mavis laughed. So did Duncan. He nodded in agreement at the bear, who suddenly looked serious as he replied to Duncan’s inquiry.
     “To be honest, I’m not quite sure. I am a strong believer in the power of dreams to tell the future, and so my best response to your question is to say that the solution came to me during the night, when my body was relaxing, but my mind was obviously hard at work. I had been trying to figure out something for some time, so I suppose it only makes sense that such a dream would eventually occur. It had something to do with steering the ship, though I can’t quite remember what.”
     Duncan nodded again, somewhat surprised. He was a practical person, who believed that everything could be explained, even if that explanation entailed the use of magic. And in recent months, magic had explained almost everything. Dreams had never meant much to him- he rarely remembered them, and so the concept of a dream conveying a message was incredibly sketchy in his opinion. Nevertheless, he had seen too many fantastical happenings of late to doubt Baldur.
     As he was unsure how to continue, Mavis took over. “There must be something a little more concrete that you can tell us than that, Baldur, however I assure you that I do believe your account, and so does Duncan.” She glanced over at him, reading the dubious expression he was trying to hide like a book, allowing, he saw, the tiniest smile at his usual need for a tangible reason to all phenomena. “Tell me,” she continued, “is there anything particular or out of the ordinary that you may have done that day to bring about such a dream?”
     After a moment’s thought, Baldur turned to Mavis. “Actually, Miss Rubyeyes, there is. (Duncan smiled at the old-world tradition of calling women by their last name.) I had had to venture into the caves behind Ander’s Holt, to locate a material for a special cloak I was making. Aetherdust, it was, a very fine and coarse substance, the closest thing we have to sand here in this icy world. A bags full of the stuff, I remember, was surprisingly light, so I took plenty more than I needed, and it is a good thing I did. One week later, the Red Claw had pillaged the area. The aetherdust never made contact with my ship, however; I simply had an epiphany of how to steer it so as to deflect the invisible barrier surrounding our world at that time. I didn’t tell you at first because I did not imagine the two could be related. I treated it simply as coincidence.”
     Duncan beamed. This had been the explanation he was looking for. He didn’t think the aetherdust was the reason for Baldur’s ship breaking down the wall, let alone that of Grizzleheim’s isolation, but it was definitely a start. There was only one thing to do from there. They would have to go to the caves and find the aetherdust for themselves. He would also have to remember to thank Mavis later, for taking a handle on the situation when he was momentarily lost.
     Duncan thanked Baldur, who smiled and said he had been happy to help. Then, after taking delight at Mavis’ ready agreement to accompanying him in his spelunking, he turned to leave for the village of Ander’s Holt. The Grandmaster Thaumaturge glanced up at the sky. It was getting progressively darker, and Duncan knew that although tonight would be a long night, it would most certainly be an exciting one.


     Throughout the village of Ander’s Holt, large fires lit up the already beautiful Grizzleheim night as the villagers, celebrating their return home after the long and dreadful siege by the Red Claw, cooked what were unusually hearty meals, singing and laughing as they did so. Duncan and Mavis were both tempted to stop and join the festivities, but, knowing there was work to be done, instead proceeded without hesitation to the three caves at the edge of the village.
     It became much darker as they got farther from the center of Ander’s Holt. The wide-open mouths of the caves greeted the two wizards like malevolent spirits of the earth. Spider webs were stretched across all three entrances, leaving little room for anybody to pass through. Duncan shivered. He had encountered spiders numerous times before, but such occurrences had been in areas of ample light, not a pitch black cave.
     He turned to Mavis, nodding in the direction of the webs. She nodded back to him, and tapped her staff lightly on the ground. The top was suddenly consumed by fire, and Mavis carefully stepped in front of each cave, tipping her staff towards the entrances. The spider webs instantly disintegrated; the large flames lapped momentarily at the Pyromancer. But Mavis remained calm; this was nothing she hadn’t done before.
     As the fire in front of the rightmost cave died away, Mavis looked back at Duncan, who smiled in amusement at how calm both of them were. He straightened his helmet by pulling on one of the horns, adjusted the knapsack around his shoulder, and studied the caves. The middle one appeared to be the largest. He started towards it.
     “Right.” Duncan gestured for Mavis to follow. “Let’s see where this takes us.” He tapped his own staff, causing a blue globe to appear, emanating light. Mavis’ fire staff provided her with a lantern as well. Not long after entering the cave, this strange orange-blue glow was their only light source.
     Naturally, Duncan had been in caves before, and this cave wasn’t much different than others he had visited. It was cold, damp, and, of course, very dark. The sound of water dripping was the pair’s only companion, and Duncan could feel them getting consistently deeper underground. Despite numerous similarities, however, Duncan’s instinct told him that this cave was unique, that it held secrets the likes of which very few souls had ever been privy to. Such an instinct sent a chill of excitement down the Ice Wizard’s spine. Perhaps he and Mavis would be the next two to whom those secrets were revealed.
     As they continued their trek, however, Duncan became less and less sure of this. They had been exploring for what, at the very least, must have been a good hour and a half, and so far nothing had turned up. The cave seemed to go on forever; Duncan had no idea how far they had gone.
     Mavis was also concerned. “You do realize,” she said, trying to urge Duncan to go back up, “that however far we travel, we will have to go the same distance on our way out. I find it hard to believe, at this point, that there is anything down here. It is late enough already. Let’s leave now, so we can have enough energy to explore one of the other caves tomorrow.”
     Duncan turned his head to regard her. The tone of his reply indicated that he knew Mavis was right. Nevertheless, he did not want to give up just yet.
     “We may yet hit upon something. It would be unwise to go back now. Five more minutes, then…”
     “Look out!” Mavis shouted, but it was too late. Duncan let out a startled cry as he became tangled in an impassable mess of spider web. He tripped and fell forward, the globe on his staff going out. Duncan reprimanded himself inwardly for not looking ahead; after all, he had known from the start there were spiders about.
     He sat up. The cave was suddenly filled with a disturbing pattering sound. Duncan quickly re-lighted his staff, in time enough to see a large horde of giant spiders, colored an ice blue after their school of focus, racing towards the two wizards. Mavis was slowly backing up. Duncan, getting to his feet, joined her.
     “Run!” he cried out. “Go!”
     In the next instant, Duncan and Mavis spun around and broke into a desperate run for safety, which Duncan knew would be a while in coming. He was relatively useless against ice spiders, and there were too many for Mavis to take alone. Their only option, as far-fetched as it was, was to try and escape.
     Duncan, however, was frantically trying to come up with an alternative. The spiders were quickly and easily gaining on him and he knew it would only be so long before they were run down. Suddenly, Mavis screamed and crashed to the floor. Duncan spun around, skidding to a stop as he did so. He noticed where she had tripped on a root. Before he could even think to bend down and help her up, though, the first few spiders in the group had reached her. For a split second, Duncan thought the worst, but the next thing he knew, Mavis had thrown the arachnids back with a great blast of fire from her staff.
     Impressed, Duncan offered Mavis his hand and pulled her up. They were about to begin their sprint again, when Duncan noticed something out of the corner of his right eye.
     “Come on!” he shouted, keeping his hold on her hand as he pulled her towards an alcove, somehow missed before. They huddled up against the wall. Thankfully, the spiders in the front of the group didn’t notice them, most likely due to the confusion Mavis had caused. The majority of the creatures rushed past, but a few clever ones spun around suddenly and lunged at the wizards.
     Once again, Mavis raised her staff. She uttered an incantation, causing a small but threatening fire snake to appear- out of nowhere, it seemed- and strike back at the spiders. Duncan looked on as the spiders, leaping towards them, were flung back in midair, emanating a tiny scream.
     But the snake wasn’t enough. No sooner did the spiders hit the floor than, somehow, they were back on their legs and lunging again. Mavis couldn’t keep up with the constant barrage of creatures. Duncan tried to assist her with his own serpents, but to no avail. They backed up against the wall again, the small group of spiders effectively beginning to overwhelm them.
     “What do we do?” The fear present in Mavis’ voice was all too evident. Worse still, Duncan could not even begin to envision an escape strategy now.
     Suddenly he heard a noise, like that of the ground breaking. And sure enough, it was. In the next moment, Duncan found himself falling through a hole which had suddenly opened up beneath them, Mavis and the spiders tumbling down the cavern with him.

     Mavis frantically scrambled for a handhold as she tumbled off the rock surface she had hit, with nothing but a violent underground river swirling below her. But it was no use; the side of the rock was wet and smooth. For a split second, Mavis believed she was done for, but in the next moment, she felt Duncan’s hand, comforting and warm, wrap around hers, stopping her fall as soon as it had begun. She smiled up at him, having no idea how her friend had managed to catch her so quickly, but grateful all the same.
     She offered him her other hand, and he lifted her back onto the rock. The spiders struggled to stay afloat in the raging waters, but of course it was in vain. Mavis and Duncan watched as the eight-legged creatures disappeared silently beneath the waves.
     Mavis turned around and surveyed the area. To the left, a little ways away, was a waterfall. To the right, the river became even more violent as the water was concentrated into a small tunnel. Ahead, a wooden bridge, leading to a small hole in the cave wall where there was- of all things- a teleport stone. And on this little rock island, which had effectively saved the pair from a similar fate to that of the spiders, were mounds and mounds of black sand.
     For a moment, Mavis was dumbfounded, but then it immediately hit her.
     “Aetherdust!” shouted Duncan and Mavis at the same time. They glanced at each other, chuckling at their simultaneous conclusions.
     Duncan rushed towards one of the mounds, scooping up a great handful of the stuff. He passed some to Mavis. It felt surprisingly light and airy, and as the grains fell from Duncan’s hand to Mavis’, she could have sworn it was sparkling in the air. She tossed it up, confirming her assumption. Duncan watched in amazement.
     “How did you know it would do that?” he asked her.
     She smiled cleverly, replying in a slightly mocking tone, which was nonetheless friendly. “Observation.” She knew Duncan would understand what she was referring to- the process of logic and science of which he was sometimes infatuated with.
     Duncan returned the smile, indicating that he knew what she meant. He then turned his attention back to the aetherdust in his hand, scrutinizing it further.
     I wonder why it’s black,” he mused, producing a small vial from his knapsack. He filled it with the strange material, before placing a cork in the top and slipping it back into the pouch.
     “I can’t wait to test this,” he said excitedly.
     Mavis glanced around the area one more time, taking in the fantastic scene before gesturing towards the bridge, on the other side of the rock.
     “Shall we?” she asked.
     Duncan nodded. “Indeed.” The pair proceeded towards the teleport stone, thankful for its presence.
     “And you thought we wouldn’t find anything down here,” Duncan said teasingly. The two wizards’ laughter rang happily throughout the cavern as they began their return home.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Surprise! Aether and Death: Prologue and Chapter One

Hey everybody! Happy Thanksgiving!

Check this out! I've been debating for a couple weeks whether or not to start releasing this now or to wait some. But I'm just so excited to share this!

Enjoy! And let me know what you think! I'd love to hear feedback!

One thing. It is a little difficult to read, as it is single-spaced. I tried double-spacing it, but that was even more confusing. It shouldn't really take away from the story any, though :)

 By Duncan Daystone
     Valgard Goldenblade looked eagerly at his scribe, Erik Lorelighter, as he was presented with a rather large book. The cover was made of a fine brown material and was carefully etched with large golden letters that read, “THE ISOLATION PERIOD- PART I.” Valgard smiled at Erik and took the volume. He glanced at the title then looked up at the bear scribe.
      “Part One?” he asked. “What are you trying to say, Erik?” 
       Erik replied to the king of Grizzleheim with a look that said, “You know.”
      And Valgard certainly did know. Erik was one of many who believed that the terrible time of isolation that had befallen Grizzleheim would eventually end. Valgard himself was skeptical of the idea, but respected the opinion of the majority of Grizzleheemians. In many cases, it was the king’s tolerance that made him such a popular leader, and the current state of things in Grizzleheim was a perfect example. Yesterday, Valgard’s adviser had suggested that he send out an expedition to look for other worlds on the Spiral. A merchant, Baldur Goldpaws, had developed a way of leaving the realm of Grizzleheim not by using the Spiral chamber, but a boat. Valgard was currently in the process of deciding on the adviser’s proposition, one of the most difficult of his reign.
     Suddenly, Valgard’s thoughts were interrupted by Erik’s voice, asking if he may approve the new rune. Snapping out of his daydream, Valgard instructed the scribe to leave the throne room for now. He would get back to him with a response in due time. For now, however, he had a more serious issue to consider.
     The king was about to learn just how serious this issue was.
     Erik had just turned to leave when a page burst through the doors with a worried look on his face. “King Goldenblade!” he shouted. “The world of Grizzleheim is falling apart! The Red Claw has pillaged the village of Ander’s Holt, the grendels have laid siege to Draugarth Fort, and the Coven are headed for the palace at this very moment!”
     “What?” Valgard stared at the page in disbelief. “If what you say is true, then we all must leave immediately! Tell me, do you know if the Coven plan to sack Northguard?”
     “The scouts who sent me here say it is unlikely for now. The villagers should be safe for the time being, but you yourself must be gone before…”
     The page never finished his sentence. At that moment, the door burst open in a shower of death wisps. The page shrieked and dove into the corner. A skeleton hand followed the sparks, reaching out and grabbing Erik. He screamed aloud before he collapsed, dead as a doornail. “Your punishment for treachery was quite overdue, Erik.” A raven dressed in all black, except for the ruby red Mystic Talon around his neck, stepped inside the throne room. A sneering black beak protruded from his hood. The skeleton hands that had killed Erik receded into the staff he carried, which glowed vibrantly with the colors of death magic.
     “What do you want, Loki?” Valgard eyed the raven with a terrible gaze that was not characteristic of his demeanor. “I suggest you make it quick. I have a two score of guards collecting as we speak to haul you out of here.”
     Loki the Deceiver snickered. His staff glowed brighter, as did the pendant. “Your bluff, Valgard, is quite comical,” he replied. “Alas, even if your pathetic little threat was true, it would take much more than forty bear guards to take me down. I came here for two reasons. One has already been taken care of. The traitor Erik Lorelighter is dead. The second is a message for you. Let it be known, Valgard, that the bears’ dominance in Grizzleheim is coming to an end. Before long, it will be the ravens of the Coven who will be in control.”
     “Never!” Valgard roared. “The fierce benevolence of the bear soul will always win out over you and your vile raven clans!”
     Loki snickered again. “We shall see then, Valgard, who emerges as the winner. Will it be Claw- or Wing? We shall see.” He cackled menacingly and raised his staff into the air. Then, as quickly as he had appeared, Loki the Deceiver vanished in a cloud of skulls.
     The page, whimpering, peered out from under the corner table. He gasped at the sight of Erik lying on the floor. Valgard stared sadly at the lifeless form. For some time now, he had known in the back of his mind that something like this would occur. And now, whatever was happening to Grizzleheim had begun. It was at that moment that Valgard understood that things were truly bad. And even he wondered if the great world of Grizzleheim would ever be safe again.


Fifty Years Later
The Royal Museum in Marleybone
     Smash! Thump! “Ouch! That smarts!” Clancy Pembroke hopped around on one foot as a result of the gigantic book Theories of Marleybone landing on top of his toes. Pembroke cut quite a comical figure for the curator of the Royal Museum, and the wizard Duncan Daystone couldn’t help but chuckle as he watched the spectacle.
     Realizing the fool he was making out of himself, Pembroke quickly regained his composure before looking embarrassedly at Duncan and the third member of their party, Albert Quickhammer. Some time ago, the Thaumaturge Duncan had helped recover the various unabridged history books in Marleybone. Now he wanted to relocate them to the museum, a task easier said than done. Albert, being a furniture vendor in Wizard City, had a few tricks up his sleeve when it came to moving large, heavy items, which was quite useful, especially considering that the books had been scattered all over the city. Now however, the three had almost finished their work, moving the last book into place in corner in the museum, when Pembroke, the weakest of the trio, had let go of the side of the pedestal that he had been holding. The book and the pedestal had come crashing down, and this had started the sudden hoopla in the usually serene museum. The book itself had not suffered any damage, but the pedestal was ruined.
     Albert bent over to pick up the pedestal’s pieces. As he did so, he looked at the embarrassed Pembroke and smiled. “Don’t worry about it, Mr. Pembroke,” he said jovially. “I have plenty of spare pedestals at my shop. Let’s clean this debris up and then I will head back to Wizard City as fast as I can to grab one.”
     “I do apologize for my blunder,” Pembroke said. “I am not usually this clumsy.”
     Duncan smiled that soft, all-knowing smile of the Grandmaster Wizard at Pembroke’s tiny fib. “No matter,” he replied. “We shall not be set back too much. If you will hand me a broom and dustpan, John?” Duncan turned to Albert’s apprentice, who raced to collect the tools asked for by the well-liked and respected wizard, the Savior of the Spiral that he was. He returned a moment later. Sweeping up the remnants of the pedestal, Duncan lifted the dustpan and dumped its contents into a refuse bin nearby.
      “You’d best be off, Albert,” he continued. “Clancy can attend to his foot, and I think I will go explore a bit.”
      Ever since he had first set foot in Marleybone, Duncan had been looking for a chance to enjoy a thorough exploration of the Museum. Alas, he had been so busy lately, what with Draconians and the like, that it was not until now that he had gotten a chance. Along with being able to learn more than ever before about Marleybonian history, Duncan was also looking for inspiration for his book. Because he was seen in Marleybone not only as a hero, but an academic as well, Duncan knew that any nonfiction book he published in Marleybone would be successful, if only he could figure out what to write about.
      The main exhibit in the museum was on the various fantastic artifacts that had been discovered by archaeologists visiting in Krokotopia, however exhibits also existed containing items from MooShu, Grizzleheim, and even the fall of Dragonspyre.
      Duncan gravitated toward the Grizzleheim exhibit fairly quickly; he had recently developed a great interest in the recent history of this barbarian world that, somehow, had a charming touch to it nevertheless. What was it that had sent them into that terrible period in their history during which they had been cut off from the rest of the Spiral for years on end? How had they come under siege by the ravens and grendels the way they did? Wait a second! That was it! A book on the isolation of Grizzleheim would be the perfect way to begin his writing career! Sure, the research would be a little difficult, but Duncan was one who greatly enjoyed a sliver of mystery and adventure. And after the research had been finished, then writing a book would be the perfect way to settle down after the wild experiences he had had since first setting foot in Wizard City.
      Duncan whipped out a pad and pencil and began to intently study the Grizzleheim exhibit, looking for anything that might get him started. Hundreds of ideas were already racing around in his head, and he couldn’t wait to sit back and take it all in. There was much to do before that, however. After he finished helping Pembroke, he would have to get to Grizzleheim right away. For such a mysterious topic, field work would certainly prove the most efficient method of research. 
     Looking back, Duncan would be very grateful he had involved himself in it all when he did. Otherwise it might have been too late, for all the Spiral.