Chapter 1: When it Rains, it Pours
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Stormy clouds had been gathering over the city for a few hours and there was the occasional rumble of thunder in the distance. The last few pedestrians on the street were scurrying about hurriedly to finish their business. Everyone was rushing to make it to their destinations before the rain would fall. Everyone except for one young man that is.

This man had medium length brown hair that hung past his ears in a messy mop. A pair of golden round-frame glasses sat on the bridge of his nose, giving him a smart (and perhaps a bit nerdy) appearance. He was wearing the uniform of a gas station clerk and walked with his head down staring towards the smartphone in his hand. His amber eyes shined, reflecting the backlighting of the messaging app.

As he continued on his way, it was as if he was in a trance. Paying no mind when others on the street rushed past him, he didn’t seem to notice the commotion. Perhaps he noticed, but he just couldn’t be bothered with it. The name badge on his chest read ‘Sayer Thorne’.

Recently Sayer had been down on his luck. During his time in university, he accrued quite a lot of student debt. At first he felt this wasn’t too big of an issue, he just needed to live modestly for a while until he paid it off. Everything was going fine for around a year after he graduated, but then the economy in his city took a sudden turn for the worse. He was laid off from his job and wasn’t able to find any other work in his field.

He didn’t have any family he could rely on for financial help. Sayer was an only child and he wasn’t particularly close with any of his cousins, aunts, or uncles. His mother had died when he was young and his father, in his grief, had become a belligerent alcoholic. Usually Sayer was the one who ended up sending him money to help out rather than the other way around. Over his years at university, the two had become almost completely estranged from each other.

With no other choice, Sayer chose to take a shitty part-time position at a gas station to keep up with his rent. Still this wasn’t too big of a problem. After all, Sayer lived in a single-bedroom modest apartment with his girlfriend, Molly. Splitting the rent of such a small place two ways was feasible for now, even in the heart of a major city. Besides, the situation was only temporary and he would find better work eventually.

But then today while he was working his clerk job at the gas station, Sayer received that message. The same one that he was staring absentmindedly towards even now. Of course it was from Molly, since he moved to this city for his original job and didn’t know anyone else here. Sayer was a reticent and taciturn person by nature with few friends.

[“I think we should take a break.” - Molly]

When Sayer first received that message, he didn’t react particularly strongly. It didn’t really register in his mind.

[“What do you mean?” - Sayer]

[“I just think it would be a good idea to go our own ways for a while. So you can sort your life out instead of being stuck in a deadend.” - Molly]

[“...You mean you want to break up?” - Sayer]

[“...Sorry. You’re a sweet guy, but I need to be with someone who has a future and more ambition.” - Molly]

After reading that, it was as if something inside Sayer had shattered. He had been muddle-headed for the rest of the day, methodically going through the motions, but without ever really being aware of his surroundings. Perhaps it was all the little worries that had been piling up in his mind, and when one more was added he finally couldn’t take it anymore.

A flash of lightning finally brought Sayer out of his daze. Only now did he notice that the street around him was completely deserted. The rain had finally come. First a few scattered drops. Sayer lifted his chin to gaze upwards at the gloomy sky above and let a few droplets of water splash on his face. And then as if the heavens themselves opened up a faucet, a sudden downpour erupted and blanketed the street. Within moments Sayer was thoroughly soaked to the bone. His clothes drenched and heavy, stuck to his body like cling film. 

Sayer’s first thought was to hail a taxi to take him the rest of the way home, but there were none around. In fact, Sayer didn’t recognize his surroundings at all. In his daze he must have wandered down a street he didn’t usually pass through on his commute. Most of the buildings around were abandoned shops that had boarded up windows or low income apartment complexes. 

There was only one place that had its lights on. It was a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop squeezed between two large brick buildings. The display window in front was fogged with condensation making it hard to see inside, but Sayer could make out a flip sign that read ‘Open’.

Without giving it too much thought, Sayer climbed up the steps and entered. The pleasant metallic chime of a brass bell jingled as the door swung open. Sayer found himself inside an old second-hand book store. Shelves lined both walls making the already cramped little shop even more so. The scent of the rain mixed with aged paper was strangely cozy. Towers of books stacked up chaotically, threatening to topple over at any moment. It seemed that the owner was a careless person. Or maybe there really was just no space. Straight across from the entrance there was an unmanned counter with an antique register. 

“Hello? Anybody here?”

The only answer Sayer got back was silence. For a minute or two Sayer just stood near the door, afraid that the water dripping off him might ruin the books and he’d be forced to pay for them. Eventually he started to carefully explore the space without touching anything.

Sayer’s eyes scanned the bindings lined up on the shelves one by one. He considered himself to be fairly well-read, at least when it came to fiction anyway, but he didn’t recognize any of the titles. Soon his gaze landed on a particularly odd book that laid alone on a lectern. It had a coarse leather cover and a buckle clasp on the front. There was no title visible on the front, only a strange symbol that gave the feeling of the occult.

Drawn like a moth to a flame, Sayer couldn’t help but inspect it more closely once his curiosity was piqued. He soon noticed that the book was as thick as a college textbook. The pages were brittle and yellowed. 

Sayer opened to the first page, but he quickly noticed that he didn’t recognize the language it was written in. Just as he was about to click his tongue in frustration, Sayer felt his head start to throb and his vision became blurry. He grimaced and rubbed his eyes until the sensation faded away. He then glanced back at the page once more. Surprisingly, this time the characters were English letters and he could read them. 

Sayer frowned and showed visible confusion. Had he just imagined what he saw the first time? His thoughts had been sluggish and fatigued for the last few hours.

The words at the top of the page read, ‘Melogos, the City of Light’. Quickly letting the unnatural phenomenon he just experienced slip out of his thoughts, Sayer started to read. He soon became enraptured.

‘So it turns out to be a fantasy novel.’ 

This chapter of the book described a magnificent ancient city built atop a rocky plateau. Grand stone cathedrals and castles dominated its skyline. Melogos, as it came to be known, was the most prosperous city for hundreds of miles. 

It was also the birthplace for the Church of Vera. The Church of Vera was a benevolent organization of healers which brought Melogos out of the darkness of its formative years and into its current era of enlightenment. 

Long ago a great plague had ravaged the city. Victims would blister with pus-filled boils. Their skin would blacken and decay before sloughing off their limbs, leaving behind exposed bone. All of those who were infected, without fail, would die a horrific and painful death within a few months. This terrible disease became known as The Rot.

The shadow of The Rot hung over Melogos like the blade of a guillotine. The people tried everything from prayer magic to healing herbs, but nothing could slow the disease’s spread. It had seemed that fate had decided the city would meet its end. But then just as everyone had fallen into despair, a miraculous cure was found. 

A medical student discovered the means to concoat a magical panacea, which he named ‘Angel’s Blood’, that could cure any illness including The Rot. The inventor, Solomon Rainecourt, held the fate of the entire city in his hands, but he did not take nefarious advantage.

Instead he founded the Church of Vera and used it to spread Angel’s Blood to the populace, free of charge or conditions. Solomon was the hero of Melogos, a saint sent by the gods themselves to save the city.

Even though the city was eventually saved, the loss of life was still immense. An entire district of the city had to be cordoned off. Nearly a hundred thousand souls were left to die in agony as the disease ran its course, but there was no other choice or even more would succumb. It was a great tragedy that the city would never fully recover from. Since then more than a century has passed, but the Old District remains sealed even now.

Not long after the tragedy of The Rot had settled and the people had yet to mourn, it was discovered that the spread of the plague was no act of god, but a terrible accident. The disease was artificial and had been unintentionally unleashed upon the city by a cabal of sorcerers. The sorcerers were using the disease for research purposes and somehow let it get out of control and into the general populace. 

Even though the spread of the disease was an accident, the outrage that was ignited was intense. Every last member of that cabal was rounded up and executed publicly. Not even their families were spared. The people were incensed that their loved ones’ deaths were caused by a group of arrogant scholars meddling with forbidden knowledge. The backlash didn’t stop there. Unrelated sorcerers were also hunted down and lynched without trial. Even a few ordinary places of learning could not escape the fury of the crowd. For a time the city became a lawless place.

It wasn’t until the Church of Vera stepped in once more, that peace and calm was restored. The Church put a stop to the lynchings, however it also established a prohibition on all black magic. From thence onwards, anyone found to be practicing black magic or researching forbidden knowledge was treated as an enemy of the Church and would be dealt with by the Inquisitors, a newly established branch of holy warriors tasked with protecting the people and maintaining order. These actions were shown the overwhelming support of the common people, and it wasn’t long before the nobility had no choice but to reluctantly support them as well. The Church of Vera became a true hegemon not just in influence, but also in military might.

The people’s hearts eventually stepped out of the shadow of the past. The miraculous nature of Angel’s Blood spread far and wide, and with it so did the influence of the Church of Vera. Melogos flourished into a great metropolis. Although after the plague the Church no longer gave the cure away for free, it still became a symbol for benevolence and enlightenment. The Church brought unfathomable prosperity to the city and ushered in a new age.

Sayer was fully engrossed in reading up to this point. Finally, he looked up and noticed that it had grown dark outside and at some point the rain had died down to a drizzle. He wasn’t sure exactly how long he’d been here, but it must have been for several hours. 

There was still no sign of the shopkeeper. Sayer was very interested in continuing to read the story, but he didn’t want to simply walk out without paying for the book. There wasn’t any price listed as far as he could see. He looked around the rest of the shop and noticed that every book that had price labels was $20 or less, so Sayer decided to leave $40 on the countertop just to be safe.

With that, he held the book under his arm and left the shop. About 15 minutes later, Sayer had reached his apartment building. His apartment was on the third floor and the building had an old-fashioned elevator with a manual gate. It screeched noisily as he closed it behind himself. One of the lights in the corridor that led to his door was flickering and gave off a hum like a fluorescent bulb. He unlocked his door with the key and flicked on the light as he stepped inside.

His apartment was.. more empty than he remembered. Sayer was suddenly reminded of the message that Molly had sent him earlier. He realized that she had already moved out and taken her things with her. There was no long talk. No goodbye. She was just gone. Had she already been moving her things away before she even sent that message? Was that really how things would end, just a text and nothing more? They had been together for two years.

Sayer tossed the book down on a coffee table and collapsed back into the couch. The moment he sat down, it was as if all the energy was just sucked right out of his body. He didn’t even feel like getting up to go to his bed. Putting his feet up and laying out on the couch, Sayer decided he’d just read another chapter or two of the book and fall asleep right there. 

Years after the plague, the price of Angel’s Blood gradually began climbing higher and simultaneously was diluted to become less pure. The Church of Vera stated that the ingredients to create the miracle elixir were running out. But despite the steep hike in price, the demand for the drug remained just as fervent. It was discovered that not only could Angel’s Blood cure any disease, but it also boosted longevity. Some of the founding members of the Church were still alive over 150 years later.

At the same time strange occurrences had been happening within Melogos. Many people went missing one after the other. A few bodies were discovered dismembered or with wounds made from claws and teeth covering them. These occurrences were at first attributed to sorcerers working in secret, but the truth became known eventually. Those people were killed by a monster loose in the city. 

The beast was hunted down by the Inquisitors. Those who had seen it described it as having the appearance of a pale spider covered in skin with black spikes instead of its two foremost limbs. Even after the creature was killed, the disappearances did not stop. It didn’t take long before a second monster was found. And then a third. Each one had a unique appearance, but all of them were twisted fleshy abominations.

These monsters were tracked down and their nest was revealed to be within the ruins of the Old District. Somewhere there still remained a secret path that led into the Old City. A group of brave volunteers ventured forth into the sealed district to find the source of these creatures. None of them returned except for one. Not only did he bring news that the entire district was overrun with these things, but he also brought back something very valuable. A bottle of pure undiluted Angel’s Blood, a hundred times more potent than the modern variety, from the first stock made just after the plague’s outbreak. 

This news set off a storm of both fear and excitement. Countless groups of treasure hunters formed parties to try their luck within the ruins of the Old District. Bringing back just one bottle of Pure Blood would let them turn rich overnight. In addition, some people brought back relics recovered from fallen noble households. The Church did not officially condone these expeditions, but it tacitly allowed them to exist in the dark. Afterall, someone needed to venture in and cull the monsters so their numbers wouldn’t get out of control, and the Church would rather not use their own people to do so if someone was volunteering.

Monster hunting became a fashionable new profession and Melogos experienced its second renaissance. Many taverns and meeting places resounded with stories of hunters who struck it rich after surviving perilous horrors, becoming overnight celebrities. The leaders of the most successful hunter groups along with the merchants that catered to them became a new class of nouveau riche that could rival the nobility. The vast majority of those who entered never returned, but this did not deter the foolhardy thirsting for wealth and status.

Sayer turned to the next page and then wrinkled his brow at what he saw in confusion. It was blank. He tried the next page and the one after, and they too were blank. In fact, the entire second half of the book was completely empty of words. Did the author just give up halfway through? Why even bind the blank pages if that was the case?

Sayer turned one more page and this time let out a sharp breath through his teeth. He had accidentally given himself a papercut in his haste on the coarse parchment. A single drop of blood fell onto the page and spread out in a spiderweb pattern. 

Almost as soon as the paper began to stain, the droplet was mysteriously sucked dry and the stain disappeared. Sayer narrowed his eyes and leaned forward to observe the book more closely. His pupils suddenly shrunk to the size of pinpricks as he watched new words materialize on the previously empty page.

[“Sayer Thorne inadvertently completed the blood ritual and activated the Portal Tome, arriving in Melogos from another world.”]

For a few seconds, Sayer just stared at those words in stunned silence, unable to believe what he was looking at. Unlike the previous words, this sentence was written in crimson rather than black.

“What the fu-”

A sudden tearing sound cut off his sentence before it could leave his lips as a rift in space opened right before him. Paper, silverware, and anything small that wasn’t tied down in the room began to fly around wildly. Sayer’s hair billowed as a great suction force began pulling him towards the rift. Fear gripped his heart and he struggled to resist with all his might, but the suction force only continued to grow stronger. He held onto the edge of the couch desperately until the fabric finally tore and he was hurled backwards into the rift. The moment he was pulled inside, the rift disappeared without a trace and the book plopped down onto the coffee table as if nothing had happened.