Mike - In a World Ablaze
Mike found himself in the remains of a burnt out forest, sparks and ashes swirling in the air; in the intense heat, he was starting to regret his decision to go with leather armor instead of something lighter. He lowered his guard for a second to loosen some straps on his armor, but as the people around him began to move he remembered why he was there, and immediately began assessing the situation. He was standing on the edge of a large clearing with easily a hundred people inside, and he could see at least twice as many people outside the clearing, but he couldn’t tell how many people were deeper in the forest.
Most of the other people in the area were obviously on guard, but there were a few people casually standing around watching as if this was an everyday occurrence. A few yards farther into the clearing there was a man wearing leather clothes similar to his own but significantly fancier, flipping some kind of knife that oddly reflected the burning embers. Just past him in the other direction was a fully armored man that seemed so unphased by the heat he hadn’t even removed his large metal helmet, in spite of the fact he should have been dying from the heat. Trying not to draw attention to himself he looked over his shoulder and saw a girl who couldn’t have been out of her teens that seemed so oblivious to the world around her she sat down under a tree on the edge of the clearing and started admiring a softball sized crystal ball.
Of the hundred or so people inside the clearing none looked like they wanted to fight, but they all looked ready. Mike recognized the feeling in the air, nerves wound tight, weapons within reach, everyone sizing each other up, as soon as someone made the first move all hell was going to break loose. He slowly inched his way out of the circle and into the forest for cover, but before he made it a child started crying from inside the clearing, and everything exploded.
Mike had expected people to start swinging at each other, but the fighting had kicked off with a literal blast, and he found himself thrown against a tree hard enough to make his head spin. He looked in the direction of the explosion and saw the girl, clearly the epicenter of the explosion from the crater surrounding her tree, giggling at her crystal ball as it started spitting out tongues of fire. Mike started running. He turned his back to the clearing and tried to put as much distance between himself and that demon child as he could.
At first Mike was startled by the explosions happening around him, but the longer he ran the more he tuned them out. Before he finally stopped to catch his breath he had been so focused on running he thought he had left everything behind him, but when he finally did he realized he was still in the thick of it. Everywhere he looked there were dead bodies, but most people were still alive and fighting. Some looked like they were fighting for their lives, the same expression of terror on their faces that was probably on his, but every here and there were people who looked like they were enjoying it. The thought that someone could actually enjoy this much bloodshed nearly made Mike vomit, but he knew he had to keep it together to make it out alive. All the people using magic had acted like gas for the smoldering trees, fire was spreading almost as quickly as the violence had, after a minute to catch his breath he was back off running.
The sun was just starting to set when he finally made it out of the forest and to a town, and after a moment's hesitation he started looking for a place to spend the night. There were people in uniforms patrolling the streets that at a glance Mike didn’t think would take too kindly to him asking for help. They were wound tighter than the people from the clearing, reminding him more of prison guards than cops, and even if they didn’t kill him it was unlikely they would help him. He snuck past one patrol and into a back alley, slipping from house to house until he found one that looked abandoned. The house he picked had been almost completely boarded up, there wasn’t any glass in the windows so quietly prying the boards off one to get in was as loud as he had to be.
Unfortunately, Mike wasn’t the first to break into the house, and when he got through the window he found himself facing two other trespassers. Mike quickly pulled out his knives, but after realizing neither of them looked any more excited to fight than he did, he tried to calm them down and see if he could hide out with them, at least for the night.
“Let’s just take it easy guys, I don’t want to be here any more than you do, so why don’t we just stay in our corners and see what happens in the morning?” To his delight, they both relaxed, but neither put away their swords so Mike kept his knives at the ready. “How about we do some introductions? My name’s Mike, what about you?”
The one on the right didn’t say anything, but he did put away his sword and go into another room, so Mike figured he was out of danger for the time being. The one on the left still didn’t put away his sword, but he was willing to strike up a conversation. “I’m Caleb, and don’t take the silence personally, he hasn’t said anything to me either. You have any food? The house has running water, but I’d rather not eat the rats the other guy’s been killing.”
Sarah - Never Again
Sarah confidently stepped through the blinding light and into a cobblestone street. Her confidence held for a moment, but as more and more people popped into existence around her it plummeted by the second as anxiety set in. Too many people! Her eyes filled with terror and her legs began to tremble. She slowly began to shrink in on herself, trying to make herself as small as possible and practically crawled backwards away from the gathering crowd. She tried to steady her nerves but they just kept appearing.
Keep calm, they probably won't notice you. Just count to ten and try to sneak away. As people began getting their bearings and a few looked in her general direction Sarah felt like they were sizing her up. Look the other way. Look the other way. Look the other way.
Tension grew until someone pulled out a sword and tried to stab someone else, only to get knocked into the air by a giant mace. Before the first body hit the ground the mace had already found two more victims. He’s coming this way!
Sarah’s heart tried to jump out of her chest as the crowd erupted into a mob and the man who was clearly the most dangerous one began meandering her way. Time slowed to a crawl as she frantically tried to find somewhere to hide. She spun around and found a door which she immediately ran through and slammed behind her.
Sarah slumped over on the floor to gather her thoughts, but before her heart had time to finish calming down Sarah looked around her new surroundings and realized she had just traded a large group of people who didn’t notice her for a small group of people all focused on her. The six men in front of her were squaring off to fight before she barged in, and now all had their weapons pointed at her.
The man farthest from her jumped at the chance to divert the obvious aggression in the room as far from himself as possible. “We don’t have to kill each other right? Obviously we have to kill someone, but wouldn’t killing her together be easier than a free for all?”
The first man’s words scared Sarah, but what she heard next chilled her to the bone. A man who couldn’t have been far from his teens off to her right spoke up. “We don’t have to kill her immediately right? I haven’t had a decent shag recently and from all the tight leather it looks like she’d probably enjoy it! What do you say? We can save the killing for after we’ve all had some fun!”
“Did you actually just suggest that? How can you even think about something that evil!?”
“Is what he’s suggesting really that much worse than killing her? Then killing each other? In the eyes of the law rape is less a crime than accidentally killing someone, and murder in the first degree results in life in jail at least. And we’re obviously ignoring laws here so why not rape her?”
This can’t be happening! I’m supposed to be strong here so why is it so much worse than back home? Sarah’s mind was screaming and her heart was pounding so hard it was starting to hurt. One. Two. Three.
“Well said mister lawyer man! See? We’re gonna kill her anyway so why not have our fun first?”
“Eh, I don’t know, we’re being forced to kill people, rape is too much for me.”
“I don’t even want to kill anyone, I’m just gonna leave and let you guys sort this out, you guys have fun.”
Maybe I can get him to help me! Sarah thought she just found a ray of hope, but as soon as it appeared it was snuffed out.
“Sorry, but just because I don’t want to rape her doesn’t mean I’m letting you go free.” The man who up until now had been the loudest protester deftly leapt across the room and buried his sword in the other man's back, then seemingly in slow motion returned to the group. “That was actually rather liberating, so which of you is going first? I’ll just hold her down and slit her throat when everyone’s done.”
“It was my idea, I should get the first go.”
I’m going to die. All the energy left in Sarah’s body evaporated in an instant as the eager rapist hungrily crossed the room. Worse than dying, I’m gonna be treated like a piece of meat. I wish I had died before ever coming here. I should have listened to the other kids and just jumped off a bridge, at least I would have been at home. Why did I ever think I could be strong here?
Suddenly something inside her clicked.
I am strong here!
This is my home!
Who are these nobodies to attack me in my own home?
She slowly pulled herself off the floor and focused on growing a throwing knife in her right hand. Her ring reacted instantly, and just like it had mear minutes ago, the Onyx stone on her ring grew into the desired shape. The attempted rapist tried to force her back to the ground, but she jabbed the knife up through his jaw then quickly pulled it out and slammed into the side of his skull with enough force that when she stopped her hand he kept moving and slammed against a wall with a terrifying thud before he fell over dead. She didn’t want to give the others a chance to regroup so she threw the knife at the closest assailant while she made an arrow and took aim at the others.
After their newly appointed leader was killed before he could react the rest of the group panicked and started running as far from the girl they thought they could overpower as they could. Too slow! Sarah’s body reacted automatically and the only thought that went through her mind as she let the first arrow fly was “I won’t be a victim anymore!”
By the time she calmed down there was only one man left cowering in a corner sobbing. As she calmly walked over to him he feebly begged for his life. “Please don’t kill me! I was the one that didn’t want to rape you remember? That has to be worth at least something right?!”
“You’re right, I should thank you for only wanting to murder me. You should know, you couldn’t have hurt me, weak weapons like those can’t pierce my Drake Leather. Now that I’m home I could probably have killed you all with my bare hands. On second thought, ants like you should be crushed under my boot!”
Sarah coldly drew back her foot and kicked the man’s head as hard as she could. His head rapidly snapped to the side and his neck appeared to be broken. Her assailants vanquished and her anxiety forced from the forefront of her mind, she finally got to absorb her surroundings and she realized she was in a bar of some kind. She made her way to the counter, putting away her bow as she did, and yelled at the bartender cowering behind the counter for a beer.
“Yes ma'am, right away! That will be-” As the man was about to ask her for payment she slammed another knife into the table and said “On the house, right?” violent intent dripping off every word.
“Uh, yes, it’s on the house ma’am.” The bartender quickly poured her a drink before looking at the carnage with an odd look in his eye. Sarah almost thought she saw a hint of greed, but decided to ignore it and go back to her drink. She quickly downed the pint of beer and started stashing needles and throwing knives wherever she could fit them, in case she needed one quicker than she could make them, as the bartender brought her another pint.
She took her time with the second pint, and as she did she noticed the bartender's greed had finally gotten the best of him. Sarah watched as he made his way over to the corpses and started delicately removing their rings. She thought it was fitting at first, they didn’t deserve them did they? But then another thought crossed her mind; why does he deserve them more than they do?
“Hand them over.”
“I-I’m sorry?” The bartender froze when he heard the disdain in Sarah’s voice.
“I said. Hand. Them. Over. They attacked me, I killed them, the spoils should be mine.”
Sarah took another minute to count out the rings and put them in a pouch on her belt. Once she was done she made her way to the back door, prepared to set out to reacquaint herself with her new home. She resolved herself to never hesitate again, she didn’t need to be scared of ants.
Ash - A Way Out
After a few minutes of talking that Ashley didn’t pay attention to, the man returned.
“You’re not going to stab me again if I give you back your sword are you?”
Ashley looked up at the man, he was still holding the sword she had stabbed him with, and since she clearly couldn’t protect herself with it she didn’t want anything to do with it.
“Please keep that thing away from me, I promise I won’t stab you, just don’t hurt me okay? I just want to go home.”
“Why would you want to do that? I’m sure you have people and things you want to get back to, but would it really be worth it?”
Ashley was stunned. Why would I want to go home? Why wouldn’t I? This whole thing is crazy! She stared at him speechless for a minute before what he said sunk in.
“H-h-how many people do you think are d-d-d-dead?” If I’m going to make it home, 99% of the other people here need to die. Is that really worth it?
The man thought for a second before opening his mouth again, and when he did, Ashley was once again rendered speechless.
“Gluttony, how many souls have entered the land of Death in the past 15 minutes?” As the man finished his question his cloak began to unravel, moving as if with a mind of its own and turning into a large snake, which started to speak.
“401,210,443 souls master. Are those fresh corpses? They look delicious.”
“They’re all yours. And Gluttony, make sure not to leave any loose magic around, we’ll probably need it soon.”
On its master's command the snake, Gluttony, unraveled again and the loose threads started swarming over the dead bodies, and in seconds it was as if they had never been there. Ashley couldn’t understand what was happening, she didn’t want to. That’s clearly magic, but magic doesn’t exist. I stabbed that man, I can still see the blood on the sword. Am I having a nightmare? Am I crazy?
The boy who was spitting fire a few minutes ago ran to the edge of the balcony and threw up over the edge. His face twisted with guilt and pain.
“How many people did I kill just now? A dozen? My God, what did I do?”
“I can’t bring those people back, but I think you just made those poor people below us very angry, so we should probably work on our exit strategy. You two with the swords bar the door while the pyro and I figure this out.”
“I know I don’t even have the crystals to teleport myself out of here, much less all four of us, and it’s clear you don’t have the right spell book, because, if you did, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
“Didn’t you hear the voice? We don’t need crystals to use magic here! Do you know of a spell book that lets you use the environment against your opponents, because that’s what I did to the two of you, or have you forgotten about that already? No, what we need is to focus our magic on teleporting ourselves somewhere isolated and planning our next move once we’re out of danger.”
Ashley was quickly losing track of the conversation, so she decided to just go with the flow and go along with what the people who clearly knew what they were doing said to do. She picked up her sword from the ground and took up a position by the door with the man in plate armor. The door looked rotten, even if they could somehow lock it anyone trying to get to them could probably punch their way through.
“What do you think our odds are of getting out of this alive?”
“It all depends on how quickly the magic nerds can get us out of here. Hey, I’m glad you guys are getting along now. I really am. But could you hurry this up! There were at least five people down there, including a couple mages, and I don’t know about you mister ‘I can break the rules of physics’, but I can’t fight that many people at once, and it’s a miracle they’re not here already!”
“Oops. It looks like I got a tad lost exploring the mechanics of teleportation, and I forgot why I was doing it in the first place. How long ago did they go into the castle?”
“The first one came in almost 2 minutes ago.”
“Oh, that’s good. We should have plenty of time then. From the fact they’re not here yet, we can assume they don’t know their way around any better than we do, and either don’t know how or don’t want to destroy the castle to kill us. This means we don’t have to worry about them until we can see them, if they take a wrong turn in coming to get us, then they’ll have to backtrack and try again. Although you are right about us needing to hurry, if I’m right they should still be a couple minutes away. But we’ll need all the time we can get to make a portal that actually goes somewhere.”
“If I understand what you’re saying correctly, you plan to make an actual physical portal that we walk through. But if we do that, then couldn’t they just follow us through?”
“Not if we only give it just enough power to send us where we want to go. Although it would probably be easier to make it stay open for a set time period, and make it close or break after the time limit is up. Either way, we should start work on it now, so we don’t have to worry about our uninvited guests while building it.”
As the ‘Magic Nerds’ got back to talking Ashley quickly realized she’d just give herself a headache trying to understand them. It’s like they’re speaking another language or something. Thankfully the man beside her was keeping track of time, because trying to translate the others gibberish had made her lose focus.
“Sorry to butt in again, but we’re approaching the deadline, and I don’t see a portal yet!”
After a few seconds of complicated magic the man she had stabbed seemed satisfied with their work and called out.
“Ok, portals done. Now where do we want it to go?”
“Anywhere but here!” Ashley called out in a panic just trying to get them to go faster.
“Yes, thank you, we’ve already established that’s the goal here. We’re looking for something more specific.”
“The Elf City!”
“It’s nice and close, but who knows how many people are already there waiting to kill us.”
“We could go to the Mahjuron Desert! No one would be going there to kill people!”
“Ya, because they’re not insane enough to think they could actually survive there long enough to find anyone to kill!”
Tango - a soldier
Sierra took cover behind a building as a giant boulder flew past where she had just been. If he doesn’t want to talk just kill him. Phantoms, kill the mage that just attacked me. She briefly closed her eyes and merged her consciousness with her summoned creatures as smoke bellowed out from every opening in her robes. She watched through the eyes of her Phantoms as they quickly reduced their target to ash. When she opened her eyes she saw concerned looks from some of the people she had gathered around her.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to convince anyone else to join us. Group up and follow me, the portal’s just a few minutes away. Veterans on the outside, do your best to protect the people who can’t take a hit. Everyone be especially careful of Fire Mages, we’re not as strong as we would be away from the river, but the desert still provides plenty of power for our spells.”
“Not that I’m not grateful for your protection Ma'am, but how are we supposed to trust someone who’s name we don’t even know?”
This one’s gonna be a problem. Sierra could tell he was scheming something, everything from the tone in his voice to his body language was clearly calculated to turn the others against her. I’m not sure what he has to gain from this, but giving them my name can’t hurt.
“Ta-” Why did I almost say that? My name’s Tango. No it’s not! What am I thinking? Why isn’t it though? This isn’t Earth, I’ve always been Tango here before, I can be Tango again. After a brief second of internal debating she decided.
“You can call me Tango Down, and you will be staying at my house, so I suppose you’ll be telling me your name so I trust you enough to let you in?”
“Of course, it’s only reasonable, my name is Ja-.” He noticed it too! “Hm, sorry, my name is Jabberwock, a pleasure to meet you.”
Tango watched the gears turning in Jabberwock’s head, him clearly struggling harder to come to grips with his new reality than she did. For now our priority needs to be getting to safety, I can't afford to think about this now.
“If that’s taken care of, we need to move out. Everyone form up!”
It was a miracle they didn’t lose anyone on the trip to the Housing District, but she felt more like cursing fate for putting her in another war torn desert. Jabberwock made a fuss about Tango opening the portal to her house, insisting his would be better, but he was quickly out voted.
After crossing the shimmering blue threshold, Tango held the door open for the others to follow her through. Most of the two dozen people had filed through when an unexpected voice came from across the garden.
“Lady Tango! I’m so sorry, I was unaware that we were planning on hosting today. Would you like me to begin preparing something for everyone to eat?”