Thump thump thump .
It didn’t cease, it didn’t stop, a constant beating sound, low but distinguished. Akin to a conduit yet so much more sinister, worse, yet it was everywhere . Grian had found it increasingly harder to sleep, the sound followed him to all corners of the world, he could even hear it in the nether and the end now. At times it felt stronger, but it was a sound that followed him, he couldn’t escape it. It was louder than the ocean but more subtle than mobs, it had been weak at first, as he’d gotten to know the other hermits it hadn’t been all that bad… but then the war, it had become more prominent, during his build battle it felt like it was pushing him to win . Even his time as a hippie had not saved him, he could still hear the sound, rumbling just under the music that he and Ren had enjoyed while hanging around the camp.
Right now though, right now nothing was going on, there was no major events, just all of his friends and himself building minigames or tending their shops. Despite this the beating was louder than ever, like a drum rattling right through his ears. It was impossible to ignore now, impossible to just brush off as the distant noise of redstone machines, it was persistent, unbearable.
With a frustrated noise he gripped his covers and cast them off, standing with a huff and glaring up at the sky outside his base as if to dare any phantoms to come after him, it would be their mistake. It didn’t take him long to gear up, moving with practiced precision as he pulled on what little armor he cared to wear and grabbed his weapons. In a movement that nearly extinguished the torches near him he unfolded his almost oversized, robin like wings. They barely brushed the floor as he raised them for a large and powerful beat that took him to the air. Another powerful snap to burn off some of his tired frustration and he was propelled out of his base, leaving a scattering of brown and red feathers in his wake.
The night air was crisp, a little salty which matched his current mood, annoyed at the forced insomnia caused by this insufferable sound. It left him aggravated and as he flew past Scar’s base where he found himself half tempted to drop down and leave some sort of annoying trap. The sound was more important though, he needed to find it’s source once and for all.
He needed to make it stop.
Grian didn’t know exactly where this sound was coming from, but he followed the bone rattling vibration as he sailed along the winds, sailing past bases without much notice or care of who they belonged to. He let the rhythm call him, he didn’t even realize his wings were beating in time with it at this point. His mind honed in to a single focus, on how strong he could feel the song without melody. Before he really realized it he was long past any place explored by other hermits, the passing of several days had come and gone before he could even register the warmth of sunlight on his skin and feathers. Finally though, he felt a pull, downwards. The sound was loud, intense, so strong he felt he might faint, like it could change the very rhythm of his heart. His wings trembled with exhaustion once he set down on the edge of a crumbling stone structure, coated in dirt but no grass, no moss. The coarse floor was almost black, more gray than brown. There was a large hole ahead, where dirt was dispersed and crumbling stone stares led deep below. Despite the darkness Grian started down without hesitation, without concern, fully enveloped, completely entranced now. His wings dusted long lines of dirt off of the steps as he went, catching light, whispy cobwebs as he brushed through them. They clung to his hair and feathers but he cared not, unable to even register them beyond pushing them from his field of view. The walls were carved but the designs were time worn and long indistinguishable, whatever they had once depicted would forever be a mystery. Darkness wrapped the landing at the bottom of the stairs like the cloak of the reaper, yet Grian wasn’t afraid, he didn’t even reach for a torch as he ventured forward, his footfalls sounding in time to the rhythm, the sound guiding him past any pitfalls the shadows hid away. The funneling of the sound made it seem like a long corridor, the intensity was breathtaking, leaving Grian to labor for breath but he was ensnared, there was no turning back, no escape, no logical thought to pull him free of this spell.
Finally the corridor opened into a large room, the beating reverberating off of the high stone ceiling and wide walls. There was a faint, ghastly glow from a pedestal in the center of the room, the source of Grian’s plight and he headed towards it with no hesitation. Floating there, resonating the heartbeat so sinister, glowing faintly, was a single book. It’s cover was black, darker than coal, it was shut with a dangerous looking clasp, the tarnished silver looking sharper than necessary. The book looked old and worn but the power resonating from it had only grown with age it seemed. It’s call impossible to turn away from and so, Grian took hold of the old tome, wrapped his fingers around the clasp to open it. He didn’t even flinch as it cut his finger. The rhythm was so intense at this point he felt like his body would be shaken apart, he just wanted it to stop . Yet at the same time, with the book in his hands, he felt an overwhelming sense of death looming all around him and he for a moment felt he might die this moment. Still, the call had brought him here and thus… He opened the book… and was bathed in blessed silence.
Grian wasn’t sure how many days he’d been flying, he knew he was tired but the task at hand was too important for him to rest now. He was flying fast, his wings burned from the strain of the long journey and lack of rest, he was hungry but ignored that just as much. With a tilt and angle to his wings his glide turned to a loop and he gracefully circled down to a soft landing on the ground next to his DSD game. A smile, a sinister chuckle, pulled at his tired features and he strode forward a few steps, ‘Yes, this will do.’ He thought, before building a large black board with a skeletal hand grasping it. It was here he placed a lectern… and the black book. It’s glow had become so mild it wasn’t noticeable, but the cover seemed to have healed, it didn’t look nearly as old as it had in it’s tomb, it was almost unassuming, almost as innocent looking as any other book. The ‘game’ it offered was alluring, the riches it promised to the winner spurred the Hermit to comply to the book’s simple demands of him and only a short while later Demise was set, ready for the others to start writing their names down into the enchanted pages, to place offerings they unknowingly marked as worth their own souls into the adjacent chest. The first diamonds, the first name… Was Grian’s own.
No sooner was his name scratched down there was a shift in the air, a change to the very atmosphere itself. Though Grian was too tired to truly notice, too relieved to register any difference, the sky above shifted, an oppressive presence rose into the air like evaporating morning dew. He stumbled off and collapsed into bed, happy to rest, uncaring of the price of silence.
Settled on the beach of Tower Bay, Xisuma watched the sky with concern, as the sun dipped low the entire horizon was splashed in the most crimson of red he’d ever seen outside of the nether and his concern only deepened when the moon rose and it’s white surface was tainted with a tinge of red, a blood moon was rising. He stood, a feeling of unease settling in and in the distance… there was the faint sound of… a drum? A heartbeat? He wasn’t sure but he felt a pull to it.
Before the strange feeling could take hold he spread his wings, the dragonfly like appendages fluttering, the moon shaped circles on each casting a faint gold glow on the ground under him as he lifted up. It was often a bit of a struggle to get into the air but once there flying wasn’t that difficult. As long as he kept focused he wouldn’t drop out of the sky like one of Jevin’s unneeded blocks tossed from a wall. Fighting the wind only slightly, he took a route to Python’s towers, glad he didn’t have to fly far to reach the other Hermit. Xisuma landed softly in the grass between the towers and just a glance he spotted the hermit he was looking for.
“Oh, hey Xisuma!” Python said cheerfully, setting a block in place before turning to face him.
“Look up.” Xisuma said in an unusually grim tone and Python did, indeed, look up.
“Oh… oh dear that doesn’t look good.” The red creeper man admitted before glancing back to Xisuma.
“Can you hear that sound as well?” Xisuma asked and Python fell silent a moment before shaking his head.
“Alright. I’m going to investigate but I don’t trust whatever this is, I have a bad feeling. In the meantime if you could gather…” Xisuma fell silent a second, looking past Python as his mind focused on which hermits would be the best ones to act as anchors. Xisuma was oblivious to the way the light from his wings trailed across his entire body while he did this, his link to the very land allowing him to sense who would be unaffected by… whatever was coming. “Zedaph and Wels. Get them and meet me in the nether hub. I’m not sure how long it will take me to get back but this is urgent.”
“Consider it done.” Python assured him, his wasp wings spreading in the ready position to carry him in the air, their naturally red color glimmering in the strange moonlight.
“Thank you.” Xisuma nodded and kicked off the ground, his glowing wings fluttering as he carried himself up into the sky, flying the opposite way from Python.
The song was more enticing but still strangely melodiless as Xisuma landed on the pathway in front of DSD and a new game. He had to admit it looked a bit imposing with the giant skeletal hand draping over a massive black wall. Glancing to the left, just inside the DSD fence, Xisuma saw Grian dozing on a bed unceremoniously plopped there. Instantly Xisuma was sure that hermit had something to do with this, it wasn’t just proximity, he could sense something about the situation but he wasn’t sure exactly what it was yet. He approached the new stand, glancing from the chest on the left to the stack of them on the right to the lectern between. Something about the book settled there… it didn’t sit right with the Hermit Leader, still, it was his responsibility to investigate. The song gripped him as he approached the book, settling into the back of his mind like it belonged there, the strange rhythm seeming perfectly natural despite how much he knew it wasn't.
Xisuma placed his hands on either side of the lectern, leaning in to read the contents of the book placed there. It… seemed innocent enough… he thought. It was fifty diamonds to enter the game, then write his name down… in his own blood.
“Bit dramatic…” He muttered as he continued reading over the rules, brushing off the odd rule even though his judgment would normally be better than that. Somehow the rules of dying putting players on the ‘dead team’ didn’t stand out as odd to him, that traps would start getting set for the other living hermits. A small part of him, a small voice in his mind tried to warn him that something was wrong about this, dangerous, yet it just wasn’t strong enough to stand against what at that moment looked like a perfectly innocent game. Drawn in, Xisuma found himself wanting to play, without further consideration he took the required number of diamonds from his enderchest and placed it in the chest beside Grian’s bet. He then signed his name, cutting his finger with the quill pen before gliding letters onto the page.
No sooner was the last letter down did the strange song fall away, leaving Xisuma staring at the book with a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach, the feeling that something was brewing and he was now trapped within it. Unnerved, Xisuma set the pen down and turned away, walking quickly back for the nether portal, he needed to report back to Python, warn them to stay away from the minigames district and that book.
It always felt like his wings had to work that much harder in the sweltering heat of the nether, this time was no different as Xisuma drifted down to the lower level of the hub. It was no small relief to let them go still once he touched down on the glass and he quickly glanced around to see if the hermits he’d requested to meet would be waiting. He was anxious to get what he’d learned passed on before the strange spell could alter his thoughts further, he was already disturbed by the trance he’d fallen into when he approached the book. He got the feeling that unsettling pull, that strange song, would only get stronger and ensnare more hermits.
He spotted the three milling about the market district portals and headed over, his expression grim, though only his eyes could be seen. His arms crossed and his pace quick as his mind quickly brushed over everything there was to consider, some of it felt oddly hazy, like it would be difficult to share.
“Ah, there he is. Did you figure out what the strange red sky was about?” Wels asked as Xisuma reached them.
“I did and it’s a bit disturbing. There’s a book in the minigames district and something is… something is off about it. Stay away from that area at all costs, understood? Once I was close enough I was left with no will of my own until I put my name in it.” Xisuma admitted, it was obvious from his voice alone that he was worried about all this.
“What kind of book is it?” Python questioned, concern lacing his voice.
“A book of rules, a place to collect the names of those who will enter a game. But it’s a game of life and death.”
“Wait, are you serious? It’s deadly?” Zedaph questioned, going pale at the thought, his blonde, batlike wings falling open and dropping to drag the floor as if pulled by a weight of dread.
“I had to find out what was going on and I did. Now, as best as I can tell you three have a better chance of avoiding the book’s call. What I need you to do is figure out if there’s some way to make whatever this is, stop.” Xisuma explained, dead serious.
“And if you die in the meantime?” Wels questioned, his tone was serious, his expression was that of the stalwart knight he was, but there was a slight twitch in one of his blue jay wings, a hint of anxiousness as he didn’t want such a fate to befall any of his friends.
“Then we find out what exactly death means in this game. No matter what happens to me, I need you three to keep looking, to find a way to free everyone this game ensnares.”
“Can’t we just… prevent anyone else from signing up?” Python asked thoughtfully.
“Yeah, that would solve the problem, wouldn’t it?” Zedaph added.
“I don’t think you can, but give it a try.” Xisuma shrugged.
Grian strolled through the market district with a carefree air, a casual pace and while he had a purpose for being here, he was totally relaxed. It felt like he’d been on edge for so long but now, now he finally had peace as well as direction. It was a blissful feeling. As he meandered along the path he kept an eye open for any other hermits and a smile split across his lips when he spotted two inside of Scar’s shop. Without hesitation he headed that way, giving no heed to the two’s possible want of privacy, considering they were amid a somewhat heated looking makeout session. Grian had a message to share and he didn’t really care if he was interrupting.
Grian stepped into Cherry Computers and lightly knocked on one of the glass doors, startling Iskall and causing him to jump back from Scar, who had previously been pinned to one of the display tables. Both were as red as the dust Scar sold here.
“My my… looks like we have a scandal on our hands. A Sahara board member in bed with Concorp.” Grian said with a teasing, laughing tone.
“It’s not what… hang on now Grian.” Iskall started to argue but Grian waved a hand.
“I don’t care what you do in your spare time or who with, it’s fine.” Grian smiled.
“Wait, are you serious, you don’t mind?” Scar asked, surprised, Iskall looked equally shocked.
“Of course not, we may be rivals in business but we’re all friends at the end of the day and you and Iskall make a cute couple.” Grian said with the warmest, friendliest of smiles.
“Well… that’s a relief.” Iskall said, letting out a breath.
“I’m still going to tease you to no end, of course.” Grian smirked.
“I’m really not surprised by that.” Iskall sighed.
“That aside though, I’m glad I found you both, I have a new game in the minigame district, well, more of an event because you have to sign up. There’s a deadline.” Grian explained, excitement bubbling at telling the other two.
“Oh, sounds like fun, I’ll have to check it out.” Iskall nodded, as did Scar.
“Yeah, me too.”
“Hrmf. If you can get past Mr. Wels the Knight.” Came a new voice, disgruntled and Grian turned to see who had approached the shop, it was Keralis.
“Wait, what do you mean?” Grian asked, confused. The new hermit walked past to join them inside the shop, giving Grian a view of Keralis’ bee like wings, they were on the small side, almost not proportionate to his body. He hadn’t really spoken to Keralis much yet.
“I mean that meanie is hanging out in front of the signup booth not letting anyone near, not even this innocent gambler. He even yelled at me!” Keralis explained, quite annoyed and disappointed.
“Don’t worry about it, just come by and sign up later, alright? I’ll have a talk with Wels.” Grian assured him turning to leave, his earlier happy mood disappearing in a blink at the news. While he didn’t let it show the fact someone was blocking entry into the game had his feathers ruffled in the worst way.
Stepping through the portal at the minigames district he spotted Wels right off, over by the demise board, kneeling in front of the lectern but with his back to the book. Grian could feel the dissatisfaction in the songless melody that rolled out from the pages. Setting his shoulders and making his posture as casual as he could Grian headed towards the knight. Wels had his sword stabbed into the ground in front of him, one hand wrapped around it’s handle, the other resting upon its pommel. The knight was down on one knee, his face downcast so Grian couldn’t see it at first. As he got close though, Wels looked up.
An easy smile slipped onto Grian’s face, seeing the state of the Knight, it was clear Wels was having to really fight to resist the book’s call like this. A bead of sweat ran down Wels’ face as his eyes met Grian’s own.
“Oh come on, why don’t you just sign up?” Grian asked with a friendly tone.
“I won’t be signing up and neither will anyone else. This book is something bad and I’m not going to lose anyone else to it.” Wels said firmly and Grian felt his smile fall away, whatever his expression became seemed to confirm something for the Knight. Grian watched as Wels’ determination seemed to redouble, stubbornly staying right where he was.
“Fine. Have it your way.” Grian said, his tone more threatening than he realized it could be but he turned away, walking down the path until he was out of Wels’ line of sight. After a moment’s thought he spread his wings and took to the air, heading for the Hippie camp. Sailing over it he saw there was still a community of Hipillagers living out their lives in peace, Renbob’s RV was gone though and Grian didn’t really give much thought to where the Hippie might have headed off to. He just landed in the vacant spot and glanced around, spotting the chest he wanted after only a moment. He went over, opened it up and sure enough, it was still loaded with crossbows and rockets intended for scaring foxes. Weapon in hand Grian slammed the chest with as much force as he snapped his wings, throwing himself into the air almost haphazardly but quickly gaining control of his assent. He made a beeline back to the demise board, landing atop the skeletal hand as quietly as he could. He knelt there, glad the sun cast his shadow behind him so Wels would have no warning as Grian took aim. They were weaker rockets, not intended to do much damage but Grian was hoping a direct hit to the back of the Knight’s helmet might be effective. Grian fired and grinned at the shower of sparks that sent Wels’ helmet flying. There was a clatter as the Knight collapsed on the ground beside his sword, motionless.
Grian hopped down, wings spreading to let him float gracefully down where he knelt beside Wels. The Knight was motionless, his armor made it impossible to tell if he was breathing or not but there were a few smouldering burns on the back of his neck and head. A wicked laugh escaped the builder as he stood, pulling Wels’ sword from the ground and flinging it at the river before taking hold of the Knight by the neck of his chestplate. He scooped up Wels’ helmet as well and dragged the unconscious hermit towards the nether portal. He couldn’t have anyone interrupting like this, it was unacceptable.