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Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Foreword

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

To those who played Alundra:

Nice game, isn’t it? No, really, why would I write a novelisation for this game if I didn’t like it? If you’ve read my other novelisation Breath of Fire III: Of Gods and Dragons, you might be expecting some major storyline alteration, but for Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape, I’ll be following the main storyline quite closely. However, you might feel it’s rather different from the game since I did some major changes to each scene, such as the order of minor things (i.e. talk to NPC A / NPC B / NPC C becomes talk to NPC B / C / A, etc), when and which characters are introduced (really, this game introduces too many characters at the beginning), total scene overhaul, extra story padding, etc… but the main storyline stays mainly the same. Still, hopefully I’ll be able to add more emotion to the story!

 

To those who haven’t played Alundra:

Well, you should, it’s a good action RPG game! I did find some parts of the story with plot holes… but if you don’t mind spoilers (or if you want to read this just for fun), I tend to describe everything as though the reader has never even seen the game before, so no problem there!

 

To those who have / haven’t played Alundra 2:

Ah, no worries; Alundra 2 is set in an alternate universe (at least I’d think so) and has no relations to Alundra as far as I can see, so there won’t be any spoilers from that game in this novelisation. I like Alundra 2 too, but I like Alundra more!

 

To every reader in general:

Beware of lengthy chapters; if you’ve read my other novelisation Breath of Fire III: Of Gods and Dragons, you’ll see what I mean. Regardless, I hope you’ll enjoy this story!

 

Thanks and Credits:

Thanks to Diana-HND for feedback on this story while it was in the forge!

Thanks to StrategyWiki (dot) org for being a good reference for the game characters because I couldn’t remember much of them pre-game!

Thanks to L0rdVega on YouTube (dot) com for the full set of Alundra playthrough videos; they help when there aren’t any game scripts available!

Thanks to Renuski on DeviantART for the dreamy fanart of Alundra! It helps with the enthusiasm when the going gets tough. xP

Thanks to Working Designs for this great game!

And thanks to you for reading my story!

 

Disclaimer:

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape is written by Estrelita Farr, who does not own anything from the actual game. And a terrible curse shall befall those who try to steal this story. xO

 

End Foreword.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Prologue

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

There once rose a kingdom of faraway lands,
There once ruled a legendary king revered by all,
There once stood a lake shrine, now beneath the sands,
There once befell a calamity that struck like a squall.

From the skies, a star fell onto the earth,
From the star, a great being emerged,
From the castle, the great king thought,
From its power, oh, what legend to be wrought.

With a contract between them, there was much to gain,
With a grin on his face, the being neared,
With a raise of his hands, a great light appeared,
With a burst of light, transcendent the king became.

On the lake, the new shrine staid,
On the pedestal, the being stood high,
On the king’s persuasion, the people prayed,
On the people, dreams were granted with a sigh.

Then,
Filled with power, the being deemed the people worthless,
Filled with ambition, he declared himself a ruler ruthless,
Filled with terror, the people unable to stand and fight,
Filled with darkness, nightmares plagued them day and night.

By the end of the great war the shrine of the lake sunken,
By the power of the seven crests the lake was sealed,
By the deeds of the heroes the seven guardians chosen,
By the command of the king the being’s images broken.

There once rose a kingdom of faraway lands,
There once ruled a legendary king revered by all,
There once stood a lake shrine, now beneath the sands,
There once befell a calamity that struck like a squall.

 

King Snow sat gazing upon the white ceiling, his cerulean blue eyes dull. His young face and royal garb covered in dirt and blood, his flowing long hair as white as snow.

The throne room was silent. Desolated. His subjects had all gone, either dead, fled or spending the moment with their loved ones.

They had only just won the battle, yet he did not feel elated. They had just subdued the evil demon god, yet there was this heavy weight upon his chest.

He knew. The battle might have been won, but the war would continue. As long as they could not kill the god, the war would continue. History would repeat itself. There would be more casualties. More fear. More desolation. An era of peace would end… and an era of darkness would come.

But no. He was a legendary king. Legendary everything. He would do aught and all to keep the demon subdued, if not dead. He owed the people that much, for what his father had done.

Then, his long pointed ears twitched at a soft sound. He gazed forward expectantly.

A circle of light appeared in the hall before him, shining brightly as an old man materialised within. As the light faded, so did the magical wind around him. He knelt down in respect, his cloak draped on the floor.

Snow stood up immediately and stepped forward, placing a hand on the old man’s shoulder. “Please, Lars, there’s no one here but us. There’s no need for formalities.”

“As you wish, my lord.” Lars slowly rose, his crimson eyes focusing on his king.

“How fare the people?”

“There are but a few survivors, my lord, perhaps a hundred of them or so. Vul is gathering them and performing a head count as we speak. But with the city entirely in ruin… they are in terribly low spirits.”

He heaved a sigh. “I thought so; ‘twas an emotionally exhausting battle. But we must do what we can to survive, and to preserve the peace for our descendants. What say the other heroes?”

“Six of them have agreed, my lord, all except Stenia. She is eager, but Wilda disallowed it. He mentioned that her task of observing the world through the waters is far more important than being a Guardian.”

He chuckled lightly. “They try to hide it, but it’s clear they care very much for each other. Very well; Wilda will become one of the Guardians, and Stenia will remain an observer of the world.” Then his eyes grew serious. “And tell me, Lars, of the thing I asked you before…”

“There is no denying it. ‘tis certainly possible to bend the force of nature to our will.” He slowly drew a scroll from his cloak. “The steps are all outlined in this scroll.”

The king took the scroll and unrolled it. His eyes scanned the document quickly, widened in surprise, then narrowed in understanding. He looked up. “When can we perform this complicated spell?”

“I have already prepared the necessary in the lake shrine, my lord.”

“Good. Let us go.”

Lars nodded and raised his hands. A dazzling white light engulfed both of them, and when it faded away, they were no longer in the throne room of the castle, but the throne room of the lake shrine. The walls a stunning white, the floor a shining gold, the crimson carpet led the way forward to the gigantic marble throne fit for a giant. The demon had once sat upon the throne, granting dreams to the people of the kingdom. Now he was a mere statue, his spirit weakened.

Six giant marble braziers arranged in a circle in the centre of the hall, devoid of flames.

Snow gave a nod. “Let us begin, Lars. Time grows short.”

“Yes, my lord.”

Lars stepped forward into the centre of the circle of braziers, his crimson eyes narrowed. His hands shining, he spread his arms to the side. The power tingling on his skin, the light extended to the braziers. The light grew brighter and brighter. Then, a large circle of light, a magic circle, appeared above the braziers, gyrating slowly like the gears of a gigantic clock.

The very air seemed to shake.

He waved both of his hands in a fluid motion, drawing runic characters in the air. As he drew, the runes appeared at the edge of the magic circle, shining brightly, their meanings unknown. The brazier blazed with azure flames that danced like graceful phoenixes.

One by one, the runes appeared.

One by one, the braziers blazed.

As soon as all the braziers were burning, the circle of arcane runes completed, the surroundings outside the magic circle and the circle of braziers grew dark.

That was when Snow stepped forward into the circle. With the determined flash of a blade, he drew blood from his hand. The crimson liquid dripped onto the light of the magic circle, then began to shine on its own and merge together with the runes.

The spell was completed.

His eyes closed, Lars started to speak. His voice was soft. Beseeching.

“Releaser… can you hear me…?”

Silence.

“Can you hear me, Releaser?” he asked once more, raising his hands. “I am the one known as Lars. I am a wizard, and one of the Guardians of the seal. Time grows short…” He slowly raised a wrinkled hand forward… towards an imaginary person.

Suddenly, images of a village flashed across the hall. Of a village among the wilderness, of its people living their lives peacefully… then of a nightmare filled with fear. Of flames. Of beasts.

Of impending doom.

“This is the darkness that is soon to befall Inoa,” Lars continued quietly. “It was what befell the kingdom past…” He waved a hand slowly. “North of Inoa is a deep, dark lake. Below its murky surface, a wretched demon slumbered. Yet, the foul beast stirs once more…”

Then, another voice filled the hall.

A deep, mocking laugh. A deep, triumphant laugh.

Suddenly, as though an arrow had pierced through his heart, Lars stumbled and clutched at his chest, gasping for breath.

Snow stepped forward quickly, fearfully, but he stopped himself in time.

No, he could not. He must not interrupt the spell.

“My time in this world has come to an end…” Lars coughed feebly, then raised his head bravely, his voice firm. “Heed my words, Releaser; travel to Inoa and use your strength to stop the demon before Inoa, and eventually the world, falls into his hand!”

The magic circle began to fade.

“I now travel to the next world…” His voice was soft. “It is all in your hands now, Releaser…”

And the magic circle shattered like a mirror into a million pieces.

There was a great flash of light just as his body collapsed towards the ground. The pieces of the magic circle faded away. The darkness disappeared. The braziers continued to burn with azure flames.

And Snow grabbed hold of his magician, holding him gently as he knelt on the ground.

“Lars!” he cried. “You… you didn’t tell me you’d sacrifice yourself for this spell!”

The old man smiled weakly. “Aye, I know you’d stop me if I did… this is for the best, my lord. This is but a small sacrifice…”

“But…”

“With this prophecy, he… the Releaser will be born from your blood. He will hear my message when the demon stirs once more, and he will end this war…” His voice grew firm. “I know of it.”

“Your wisdom know no bounds, thus the kingdom thrives while you are its advisor, but…” He shook his head. “To sacrifice yourself, and to tell your king to father a child to complete the prophecy… sometimes I know not what goes in your mind.”

He chuckled. “Perhaps I know not myself…” He slowly sat up. “I have yet enough strength for another spell… to seal the lake.”

There was a short moment of hesitation, then the king nodded. “I understand, Lars… you shall become the seventh Guardian, for your heroic deeds.”

He smiled weakly. “It is my honour, my lord…”

Moments later, there was a great flash of light. The sky darkened, a cold wind blew. Birds took to the sky in the panic as lightning flashed violently, as thunder roared ferociously. Beneath the gigantic magic circle of runes, the lake shrine sank slowly under. Away from the eyes of the world.

The seven Crests shone. Their light seemingly sad.

And, unbeknownst to the world… a great magician died.

 

End of Prologue.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter One: One Drawn By Dreams

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

The Klark, a great ship designated to ferry passengers between continents for a fee, operated by burly pirate-like sailors who never passed a day without a hopelessly out-of-tune round of ‘A Thousand Bottles of Rum’. With the same lyrics sang to different melodies each day, at first it raised multiple eyebrows, but as the journey fell into a monotonous routine, the daily singing was an amusement the passengers began to look forward to.

Today was a day like any other; sailors worked tirelessly all over the ship, passengers strolled around the upper deck of the ship. The sounds of the sea were soothing, a slow, comfortable pace compared to a busy city… it was truly a peaceful day.

“GET BACK HERE!!”

The calm was instantly shattered.

Passengers and sailors alike on the upper deck turned, wondering at the noise, before hurrying out of the way of a speeding seagull carrying a cloth bag and a racing young man, his orange ponytail gleaming in the sunlight. A woman shrieked as they passed her, causing her straw hat to fall some distance away.

“Sorry!” the young man cried as he ran, waving at them apologetically. “Blame the bird!”

The seagull shrieked and dived below deck, startling a man that was ascending the stairs to the upper deck, with its pursuer right on its tail. Down the stairs to the lower deck, through the large doors to the dining area and overturned a table, down a set of stairs to the kitchens and erupted the cook’s bad temper, through the door to someone’s room and dropped the startled passenger’s case of clothing, then all the way back out to the upper deck, startling the same woman that was ascending the stairs earlier.

The bird circled around the main mast and headed towards the bowstrit of the ship in hopes of losing its pursuer. The young man put on a burst of speed and leaped high into the air.

“Now I’ve got you, you stupid bi–”

Crash!

He collided into something big and fell flat on his back.

“Hey, what the…” he started, then trailed off as his cerulean blue eyes focused slowly upwards.

Before him was the biggest sailor on the ship, with great muscular arms that looked as though they could easily snap the main mast. The seagull perched on his shoulder, allowing itself to be petted by its master.

And he was certainly not happy.

“So, it’s you again, huh?” his deep voice boomed. “Always causing trouble… what’s yer name again? Bavoomda?”

The young man jumped to his feet and stood indignantly and fearlessly before the sailor. “The name’s Alundra! Since your pet keeps stealing my lunch, the least you could do is remember my name!”

“I could care less about your name! Lil’ Bits here wouldn’t hurt a fly, and definitely not steal some ketchup-haired elf’s lunch!”

“Oh, come on, your Lil’ Bits wouldn’t steal a ketchup-haired elf’s lunch? What do you call that bundle that bird’s carrying in his beak now if it’s not my lunch? And my hair isn’t ketchup coloured, it’s orange!”

His face started to turn a dangerous shade of red. “Yer asking for it…”

By now, passengers and sailors had gathered around the two of them, wondering what was happening. As they muttered among themselves, a new voice silenced them.

“What’s going on here?”

All eyes turned towards the voice. The captain of the ship stood at the top of the stairs leading to the stern cabins, his arms crossed. When he cast his eyes on Alundra, his face screwed into a scowl.

“You again? Whenever I find trouble, elf, I find you…” He glanced at the sailor. “Well? What’s the story this time?”

Alundra pointed an accusing finger at the seagull. “That freaking bird stole my lunch again, right when I put it down to get a drink, too! Can’t a guy get some peace around here?”

“He’s lying, Cap’n!” the sailor retorted. “He’s always teasing my poor Lil’ Bits!”

The crowd talked among themselves, as the captain fell into a contemplating silence. After a moment, he glanced at the sailor.

“You, cage yer bird up, or I’ll have it sold at the next port. And you.” He faced Alundra. “Keep a better eye on your lunch. We’re entering port tomorrow, so I trust you can keep out of trouble until then?”

“Yessir!” Alundra saluted and threw a victorious smirk towards the sailor.

“W-what?!” the sailor blurted out, but at the captain’s stern gaze, he grudgingly saluted. “Aye, Cap’n…”

Satisfied with the response, the captain curtly turned and left, leaving a chattering crowd, an unhappy sailor and an adventurer with a victorious grin.

Alundra picked up the cloth bag that contained his precious lunch and spoke, his voice deliberately loud, “Well, time to enjoy my lunch!”

With a laugh, he stepped away from the sailor, unperturbed by the curses that were thrown in his direction. He descended the stairs to his favourite secluded spot on the ship and sat by the wooden wall.

Lunch was a simple meal of bread, cheese and some meat, and it didn’t take long before he finished everything and tossed the wrapper into his bag. With a sigh, he leaned back against the wall and gazed at the sea.

The calm and gentle sea.

Despite his energetic chase earlier, he was rather deprived of sleep. He closed his tired eyes, listening to the soothing sounds of the sea.

The captain said they would arrive in Torla in another day, huh? It was about time.

It would be just another day before they would enter port at Torla. Just another day and he would be on his way to the village… just one more day…

 


 

Alundra found himself walking in the great darkness, along an invisible path that seemed to lead him somewhere. Several steps later, the path gradually narrowed into a small corridor, with worn wooden walls, with unlit candle holders that seemed to mourn.

He heard a voice. An old, tired voice.

“Releaser… can you hear me…?”

The quiet words reached out to him from the darkness. Softly, beseechingly.

Someone… seemed to be waiting within.

He continued forward, the wooden floor creaking loudly with each step.

The darkness soon lifted a little as lit candle holders began to line the wooden walls, revealing part of his surroundings. Dust covered furniture. Wilted remains of indoor plants. Religious symbolic patterns engraved onto the walls.

A crypt.

And someone stood shrouded in darkness, his features hidden by the dark cloak, a magical wind circling around him. The crimson eyes gazed at him, sadly, imploringly.

“Can you hear me, Releaser?” he asked. “I am the one known as Lars. I am a wizard, and one of the Guardians of the seal. Time grows short…” He slowly raised a wrinkled hand towards his visitor.

The hand glowed. Soft at first, then growing as bright as the afternoon sun. Alundra drew back and shielded his eyes as the light engulfed his sight, half-expecting something to hit him.

When the light dimmed, he was no longer in the crypt… but in a village.

The sky was an endless blue, stretching further than eyes could see. The deep green of the tree leaves rustled as a warm breeze weaved among them, as though whispering a deep secret. Above the sounds of the distant sea waves, birds sang in their high little voices as they flew playfully from branch to branch, and squirrels joined in the fun. The village dog sat under the trees, its tail thumping happily on the ground, with hopes of catching one of those little creatures… but alas, they were very much out of its reach and would not come down no matter how long it waited or how much it barked.

The children laughed at the village dog’s attempts and called it to play with them. The mongrel responded with a happy bark and a great leap onto one boy, showering him with licks, and they all laughed at its enthusiasm. The adults, young and old, smiled each time they set their eyes on the children and dog as they went on their usual daily tasks.

Inoa. A peaceful village hidden from the eyes of the world, a place that would bring warmth to the heart.

A faint pain throbbed in Alundra’s heart.

The warmth of this village could not be felt in his heart. He knew exactly what this place was, and what to expect.

A dream with the illusion of peace.

A dream that would soon turn into a nightmare.

He chuckled quietly to himself.

How many times had he been here? How many times had he had this dream? This nightmare?

Countless times. Countless nights.

And it all ended badly.

Fear gripped his heart, but he knew he had to endure. He knew what would happen, yet he knew he could do nothing to change it. But he had to endure. Until he reached the village for real.

And so, steeling his heart, he took a deep breath and stepped into the village.

Inoa was exactly the same as he had seen each time he saw this dream, and he had been here so many times he could recognise the villagers in an instant, their names at the tip of his tongue. There was Beaumont, the village mayor who worked hard to keep his villagers happy, his humble wife Thyea and his arrogant son Talis. There was Naomi, who owned a village store, and her husband Yuri who often explored the wilderness for herbs. There was the stern but kind Kline, the best hunter and archer in the village, and then there was Yustel, the old fortune-teller.

Jess. Bonaire. Giles. Sybill. Elene. Meade. Lutas. He could remember them all.

And they did exactly the same thing each time he saw them. Just like an old memory that kept on replaying over and over in his mind.

Without looking, he leaped into the air at the exact moment the village dog ran across his path, having remembered the painful crash the first time he was here. He sidestepped as a group of children chased after the dog, narrowly missing a long stick a boy was waving. He stopped just before old lady Myra tossed the washing water onto the pathway, to avoid getting soaked like that last time.

He knew exactly what to expect, and when.

But why? Why was he here? Why did he have to keep on dreaming this dream, to the point he could memorise everything that happened?

Why must it be him?

His questions went unanswered.

All of a sudden, dark clouds gathered and covered the sky, bringing forth a great darkness. The villagers froze in their tracks, their eyes glued to the sky in fear, as the village became darker than midnight.

A foreboding wind howled.

It was as though a great dark demon had come for them.

Children cried for their parents, unable to see anything. The adults shouted in horror, wondering what in damnation happened. The elderly remained silent, frozen by fear.

Lightning tore across the sky, making some of them scream.

Thunder roared furiously, like a great monster approaching.

Then, suddenly, everything around them was an explosion of flames. From the ground, pillars of flames burst upward like flame dragons soaring to the sky. From the sky, lightning flashed downward like shining-white dragons diving towards the ground. Flames erupted everywhere, like volcanoes ready to devour them alive, reducing everything to mere ashes.

Screams of agony filled the air.

The strong smell of char spread throughout the village.

People were burning alive.

Even a little girl was not spared, her scream echoing in the dark sky.

“No… no!!” Alundra yelled as he charged into a blazing house, ignoring the smoke, the heat, the flames. His mind focused on the little girl’s scream, his eyes searching frantically for her.

Flames burned him from all sides.

“Hold on! I’m coming for you!!”

He soon found her sobbing in a small room, still safely tucked in a cupboard beyond the reach of the flames. She was curled up tightly, clutching her beloved doll.

“Hey, are you okay?!” he cried, approaching her. “C’mon, we’ve gotta get out of here!”

The girl slowly raised her tear-streaked face, a little hiccup escaping from her lips. The expression on her face, however, made his blood curl with fear.

An emotionless face, golden eyes gleaming with the light from the flames.

Golden eyes… like a demon.

He then knew. He was once again unable to change the outcome of this nightmare.

The girl’s features slowly changed. Grey fur covered every inch of her skin, her face growing longer and longer. Her ears shifted upwards, turning into pointed grey ears. Her hands and feet turned into paws, with gleaming sharp claws, and a long bushy tail waved behind her.

All the while, her golden eyes stared emotionlessly at him, unchanging.

And the young man inhaled sharply as he stepped back.

A werewolf.

The grey werewolf snarled and charged into him with so great a strength that he was sent crashing through the walls of the burning house all the way outside. A pained gasp escaped from him as he crashed onto his back on the ground, pain cutting through him like a sword through flesh.

He coughed twice and spat blood onto the ground.

The werewolf that was once a little girl howled towards the dark sky, just a few steps away from him.

It was not alone.

Its howls were answered as more werewolves emerged from around it, all with golden eyes filled with bloodthirsty hunger.

And the young man, a trail of blood sliding from the corner of his mouth, found himself surrounded.

Helplessly unarmed.

With a unified snarl, all of the werewolves leaped simultaneously, their sharp claws extended, their fangs thirsted for his blood.

With a cry, he shielded his head with his arms and braced himself for the pain… but it never came.

At that very instant, a pillar of flames exploded from the ground and engulfed the werewolves like great talons grabbing upward. A wall of flame rose, devouring its powerless victims.

He could only watch in horror.

What came from them were not howls of pain.

Screams. Human screams of agony.

He shut his eyes tightly, turning away, but he was unable to erase the image that was firmly etched into his mind. He was unable to shut away the screams that came from the flames.

Pain stabbed his heart with each scream. His body trembled.

Why? Why did he have to endure this nightmare?

Why… did he have to see these people… these innocent people… suffer…?

Tears filled his eyes, falling to the dry barren ground like pearls.

Why… couldn’t he do a thing to help them…?

The blazing world around him faded away, leaving behind a dark, silent abyss.

From behind him, Lars approached him slowly. The crimson eyes were sad.

“This is the darkness that is soon to befall Inoa,” he said quietly. “It was what befell the kingdom past…”

Alundra did not turn.

“North of Inoa is a deep, dark lake. Below its murky surface, a wretched demon slumbered for a thousand years. Yet, the foul beast stirs once more…”

“But why me?” The young man rose suddenly, turning around to face the wizard, gritting his teeth. “Why do you keep showing me this dream?! Dammit, I’m already going to Inoa!!”

The wizard did not reply. The silence grew thick between them.

Then, another voice filled the darkness.

A deep, mocking laugh. A deep, triumphant laugh.

Suddenly, as though an arrow had pierced through his heart, Lars stumbled and clutched at his chest, gasping for breath.

The young man stepped forward in a panic.

“My time in this world has come to an end…” Lars coughed feebly, then raised his head bravely, his voice firm. “Heed my words, Releaser; travel to Inoa and use your strength to stop the demon before Inoa, and eventually the world, falls into his hand!”

Then, the old man began to fade.

“I now travel to the next world…” His voice was soft. “It is all in your hands now, Releaser…”

Alundra ran forward just as Lars’ body collapsed towards the ground… but darkness engulfed him. Silence filled his ears.

And the dream shattered like a mirror broken into a million shards.

 


 

Alundra woke up gasping, his eyes wide, his heart banging against his chest. His back throbbed with pain, where he had landed heavily on the ground, and the skin on his arms felt as though they had been partially burned.

It had been a dream… but to him, a dream felt real, as though it was reality.

The pain on his back and arms were proof of that.

He closed his eyes, breathing heavily as he leaned back against the wooden wall. The sounds of the sea were calming him down.

Then, he punched the floorboard.

“Dammit!” he cursed. “Freaking wizard! At least find another way to tell me instead of showing me this nightmare every night! Or at least tone it down!”

But he knew better. If it weren’t for the gruesome village scene, he wouldn’t have decided to travel to Inoa so easily… he would have brushed the dream off as merely something his subconscious mind randomly thought up.

He got slowly to his feet, casting his eyes on the never-ending azure surface of the sea.

It would take another day for him to arrive at Torla. Then another few more days to trek to Inoa. Then the nightmare would end.

He just had to be patient.

He gave a sigh and turned, returning to the more crowded area of the upper deck.

A gentle sea breeze blew, pulling at his fiery-orange locks.

Just above him, a young woman leaned against the rails, her golden blond ponytail dancing in the gentle sea breeze. The purple and white vest and the short grey skirt augmented her curves, the high brown boots showed her shapely legs. The white fur pelt around her shoulders fluttered like a restless bird. Her gloved hand brushed away the hair from her face, revealing her elven ears.

Alundra grinned, all traces of the dream gone.

Now that was a woman who had rejected all of his advances ever since they had boarded the ship. He wasn’t really a womaniser, often too focused on his adventures to spark a conversation with a woman, but this female elf… somehow, he felt he couldn’t resist talking to her, and his heart would often perform complicated flips when he was near her.

And it seemed he had another chance to talk to her today.

He stopped by a glass window, checking himself in its reflection. White turtleneck shirt and white pants actually looked white? Blue jacket not wrinkled? The armour strapped over his heart shiny? Brown half-gloves and boots not covered in dirt? Bearable enough.

Running a hair through his messy fringe, his elven ears twitching once, he approached her.

“Hey there, pretty lady!” he greeted with a grin. “How’s it going?”

The female elf barely glanced at him before rolling her eyes. “You again. What is it that you want?”

He leaned sideways against the rail beside her. “Oh, come on, Meia, you know it’s rare to find elves like us on the road; in fact, you’re the first elf I’ve seen in months! Can’t we know about each other more?”

She straightened and whirled gracefully around to face him. “I wouldn’t call an obnoxious man like you an elf. I don’t want to know more about you, so why don’t you hit on the other women on board and leave me alone?”

With that, she turned and left.

Oh well, he did try. Besides, even in the unlikely event that he could get a positive reaction from her, he wouldn’t be able to accompany her even if he wanted to.

He would arrive at Torla in another day. After that, after several days of trekking through the wilderness… he would arrive at Inoa.

Then the accursed dreams would end.

But he realised the sky was a great blanket of darkness. Lightning flashed across the dark clouds, followed by the low rumble of thunder.

He raised his head, the wind bringing the scent of rain.

A storm was coming.

Less than an hour later, strong winds rushed across the sky and heavy rain drenched the whole of the ship. Some sailors rallied the passengers into their cabins to ride out the storm, while others worked hard to lower the sails.

However, this was a storm unlike any other. The sea grew ferocious, rising and falling like a water horse trying to throw its rider off its back. The ship rocked violently to and fro, making passengers wondering wildly if the ship would shatter from the sheer force.

“We’re gonna die!” a sailor screamed. “We’re gonna DIE!!”

“Shut up!” the captain snapped, his eyes facing the storm valiantly. “I’ve sailed in storms twice as ferocious as this!” He swung a commanding hand. “Now get off yer sorry arses and finish yer jobs!”

The sailors stopped, as though stunned by his words.

“The Cap’n’s right!” a sailor shouted, though fear still showed on his face. “We’ve gotta trust the Cap’n!”

“Yeah!!” the other sailors cried in unison.

“Get to yer posts!” Merrick commanded. “Get the sails down!”

Then a fearful voice filled the air.

“C-Cap’n! The reef! We’re going for the REEF!!”

The captain’s eyes widened, and he yelled one last command. “HOLD ON!!”

CRASH!!

What happened after that was a sight to be truly beheld.

The ship struck the side of the cliff with such force that the bow of the ship was instantly shattered in an instant. A great crack sliced through the ship, throwing some sailors down to their doom.

And all Alundra could do was to stand there, his eyes wide.

He was about to see people die again. This time for real.

He growled.

No… no! He would survive, and he would not stand there idly!

Another crack cut across the ship, shattering half the cabin with one strike. A scream filled the sky as the room separated into two, and then tilted to force its occupants down into the sea.

Three women were there… and one of them was Meia.

His eyes narrowed, Alundra moved quickly. From the floor of his broken room, he sprinted across the remains of the wooden floor, the storm roaring ferociously around him. The two women continued to scream as they slid down the tilted floor and into the giant crack above the sea, never to be seen again. Meia reached out quickly for a swinging rope but missed it by inches as she headed towards the crack… then, Alundra grabbed her hand, his other hand clutching a sturdy mast.

“Hold on, Meia!” he cried. “Hold on!”

She looked up, her eyes wide. “Y-you!”

Gritting his teeth, he held on tightly, determined not to let go.

But fate was not on his side.

With another crash against the cliff, what remained of the ship was shattered completely. The sheer force threw Alundra off his feet and slammed him against a wooden wall, then into the raging sea.

The sea was merciless. He was tossed around like a rag doll, with no chance to rise to the surface for air.

A thick haze shrouded his mind. His lungs burned. His heart grew frantic, desperately fighting for air. His mouth opened involuntarily, but instead of air, water rushed into his lungs.

He crashed against the rocks. Pain stabbed through his head.

And everything went black.

 


 

Everything around him spun round and round, to the point he didn’t know which way was up or down. His head throbbing with pain, all he could see was a bright light that obscured everything else from sight. His body aching, he could feel a sandy surface beneath him, warm and damp. Gentle sounds of the sea filled his ears, water lapped at his boots in little waves… it felt soothing, like a lullaby that would calm one to sleep.

But no, he couldn’t sleep. He didn’t want to dream again. He didn’t want to stand there helplessly, as he watched the people burned alive again.

He had to get up. He had to get to Inoa.

He tried to rise, to stand and make his way to his destination, yet his body refused to obey, refused to move. He felt as though weights were pulling him down, as though he was encased in stone.

His head throbbed with pain. His mind felt as though covered in haze.

He had to get to Inoa.

At that moment, another sound came to his ears, above the hushing of the sea. Soft at first, it gradually grew louder and louder, nearer and nearer.

Footsteps.

Crunching slowly on the sands, then rapidly.

Someone was coming.

He looked up slowly, his eyes barely open against the bright sunlight.

The footsteps stopped. A face loomed into view.

All he could see was a dark shadow. The details were a mere blur to him, further distorted by the light behind the person.

“Who…?” he breathed out, his voice barely above a whisper.

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, a sudden haze took over his mind. All sounds faded, leaving him in cold, eerie silence. The shadowed face disappeared away like a fleeting memory, swallowed by the bright light…

Then everything turned into darkness once more.

 


 

The haze continued to fill every inch of his mind, blanketing his sight with darkness. From within the darkness, the silhouette belonging to Lars loomed into view, the crimson eyes of the old wizard gazing at him imploringly, beseechingly.

A bright light filled his sight. Then darkness again.

The village of Inoa basked in the golden light of the sunset sun. The people of the village scattered around the village, watching him warily.

But a split second later, he realised that Inoa was covered not with sunset rays, but with great blazing flames. The villagers were not watching him warily, but glaring at him angrily, accusingly. As though it was his fault.

Light followed by darkness.

Everything faded away to nothing, leaving him in the darkness, leaving him in the silence. He floated limply, unmoving in the darkness. He continued to drift endlessly, his mind covered in a haze, blanketing his sight…

Then, suddenly, he jerked awake.

His mind was instantly alert, the haze was completely gone. His muscles were tense, and a sudden fear gripped his heart. He sat up quickly… and was immediately hit by a wave of dizziness. Everything around him spun around quickly as though he was in a great rotating room, and he was only too glad to sink slowly back onto the pillow.

Wait, a pillow? He was on a bed?

His eyesight slowly adjusted, allowing his surroundings to slide into focus. He raised a hand up to his head, abruptly realising that there were bandages around his head and that he was not dressed in his own clothes, but someone’s oversized pyjamas. He was on a bed, though whose he wasn’t sure, in a small bedroom dimly lit by a small lantern hanging on the wall. The room was furnished with simple decorations – a faded map on the wall, a flower pot on the window sill, a wardrobe in the corner, a bedside table by the bed and a square brown rug on the floor – yet it gave a homey feeling as though he was waking up in his own room.

A chair sat by his bed, looking strangely empty. Someone had been here, watching him as he slept… but who?

His question was soon answered, for there were faint footsteps followed by the door opening. It was a rotund man about forty years of age, with neatly trimmed dark brown hair and moustache. His dark eyes twinkled as he stepped next to the bed.

“You’re awake!” he exclaimed. “This is progress! This is good! I was afraid you were having an eternal rest, you know what I’m saying?”

Alundra nodded slowly. This man looked familiar to him, but where had he seen him…?

The older man sat down on the chair. “My name is Jess. I’m a swordsmith here in Inoa. Decent money, make my own hours.” He shrugged. “No big whoop.”

Jess. Inoa village’s swordsmith.

The information struck Alundra like a hammer on a rock. Memories of the dream came rushing back to his mind… of the flames. Of the werewolves.

He was finally here. In Inoa village.

“You…” He coughed slightly, his voice hoarse from disuse. “You said this is Inoa?”

Jess nodded. “Right at the edge of the continent. You were on board the Klark, weren’t you?”

“How… did you know?”

“You’re lucky to be alive, you know what I’m saying? They’ve never found a piece of that ship bigger than my fist!”

Alundra froze. His mind replayed back the memory of the crashing ship, of the sailors screaming as they fell into the violent sea… of the elven woman he had failed to save.

“Were… were there any survivors?” His voice was shaking.

Jess shook his head slowly. “None except you…” Seeing the gloom on young man’s face, he stood up and clapped the latter’s shoulder. “But let’s not talk about that; let’s talk about you, my new friend! Oy, I almost forgot! What’s your name?”

Alundra blinked for a moment, as though he had been asked a difficult question, then he realised. “Oh, my name’s Alundra. I’m an adventurer.”

“Alundra, hm?” He gave a wide, amicable smile and held out a hand. “Pleased to meet your acquaintance, Alundra!”

He returned the smile and the handshake, feeling the calluses on the hands; probably from his swordsmith work. “I’m pleased to meet you too, Jess. I owe you my life.”

“I’m glad I could help, my boy. It didn’t look good for a while, you know what I’m saying?” He gently pushed Alundra back onto the bed. “Get some rest now, you still have that nasty bump on your head.”

The adventurer nodded slightly, caught by a sudden wave of exhaustion.

“You’re welcome to stay here until you’re fully recovered. I live by myself, so once you leave, I’ll be a lonely, old, fat man again.”

He said it humorously, but the young man could hear a hint of sadness.

Seeing the expression on Alundra’s face, Jess quickly added, “Not that you should feel about it…”

The adventurer chuckled lightly. “Then I won’t. Thanks for your help again, Jess.”

“I’ll bring something up later.” Smiling, the old man left the room, closing the door behind him.

Sighing tiredly, Alundra rested his head against the pillow and closed his eyes, his mind weighted down by exhaustion.

He could hardly believe it. He was here in Inoa much earlier than expected. He didn’t know if he felt happy or scared.

But all that mattered was that he was now here, in Inoa.

And once he had recovered… he would get to the bottom of his dream’s mystery.

 

End of Chapter One.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Two: One Trapped in Helplessness

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

Now that he had finally arrived in Inoa, Lars’ dream disappeared without a trace and Alundra enjoyed the first good night’s sleep in ages. As the warm sunlight shone through the window panes, he found himself fully awake and alert, without the haze that clouded his mind.

“Oh yeah!” he cried, taking in the warm morning air.

He leaped off the bed energetically, ready to start the day with a bang… but the moment his feet touched the floor, his knees wobbled beneath him, forcing him back onto the bed in a sitting position. Despite how energetic he felt, it seemed he still had to take it easy for a while.

“Oh, come on,” he muttered with a sigh.

He got up again, slowly this time. His legs trembled as he walked over to the wardrobe, and there, he pulled out his clothing, all washed and meticulously ironed. Jess had really outdone himself taking care of him.

Alundra took off the pyjamas and put on his clothes. First was the white pants and white turtleneck shirt, followed by the brown belt. He left the remaining three items in the wardrobe – his blue long-sleeved jacket, thoroughly crumpled at the elbows from being constantly rolled up, the little piece of armour with belt-like straps that he wore to protect his heart, and the sheathed long sword that was his weapon. After all, what could happen in this peaceful village while he was recuperating?

As he left his room, he saw that Jess’ bedroom was just to the right of his, as simply decorated as his room was; a single bed, a desk in the corner, a wardrobe in another. The two bedroom doors met at the hallway with the stairs that led downstairs… which he had difficulty descending as his legs trembled like jelly.

Downstairs, on the other hand, were half a blacksmith forge and half a house. Just across the main entrance was the forge, with various tools and equipment arranged neatly against the wall, and the other half of the floor was the kitchen, dining room and display area all rolled into one. The small stove in stood in the corner, a wooden table and two chairs sat some distance from it, and along the back wall were shelves, filled with display items such as armour, weapons and even pots and kettles. Crude, but it felt like home nonetheless.

At the little stove, Jess was busily cooking breakfast, which emitted such wonderful smell that made Alundra’s stomach growl in protest. He grinned to himself as he glanced at his rescuer – Jess really seemed hilarious with the huge frilly apron around his belly and one mitten on the hand holding the frying pan.

“Morning, Jess,” he greeted. “What’s cooking?”

The swordsmith glanced over his shoulder from the little kitchen and a smile formed on his face. “You feel strong enough to come down? This is progress, this is good!”

Alundra stretched and took a seat on the dining chair. “It’s definitely great to get off the bed! I’m not up to snuff yet, but I thought I’ll have a little look around the village, since I’ll probably be around here for a while.”

He nodded approvingly. “Good, good. The people of Inoa are very nice. Not as nice as me, of course, but they try.”

He grinned. “Really now? I wonder who tried to drown me in broth yesterday…” He slowly got up from the chair. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

“Make sure to come back in an hour, breakfast should be ready then.” He waved a spatula at the young man. “But if you start to feel weak, be sure to come back here and rest, all right?”

He nodded. “Sounds great, but…” He grinned again. “Your eggs are burning.”

“Huh?” He looked down and jumped at the wisp of black smoke. “Oy!!”

 


 

Inoa was a peaceful, quiet village, just as it had appeared in the beginning of Alundra’s dreams. The sun shining happily in the calming blue sky, a comfortable breeze weaving between the trees, the sounds of the sea soothing to the heart, a quiet settlement built on a hilly slope with two sets of steps – one stone and one wooden – to ease ascend and descend. The top of the hill was the northern exit of the village, where a lake surrounded by trees was the resting place for many animals. The bottom of the hill was where the southern exit of the village lay, where a great forest surrounded the houses like a protective wrap, and beyond that was the great blue of the sea.

He could not help but to feel a little apprehensive. After all, the dream had started this peacefully, before bursting into flames.

But, at least it was just a dream.

As he explored the village, the people greeted him either with warmth or merely cordially (“Hey, there! You’re the boy from the beach!”), but as Jess had previously told him, they all seemed to be nice people.

But no matter how it looked, this just seemed to be an ordinary village. Why did Lars ask him to come here? Was there something happening here that the dream did not show? Although he could recognise the people almost instantly, it seemed he still knew barely anything about them.

After a while of walking, he grew tired and decided to rest a little before heading back to Jess’ house. As he sat at the bottom of the wooden steps, a girl approached him.

“Hello, Alundra,” she said dreamily. “You’re the one from my dreams.”

Alundra blinked at this strange greeting, but recognised her from his dreams. This girl seemed around fifteen years of age, though she walked as though she was floating. Her short, silvery straight hair seemed dishevelled as though she had not brushed it for days, her yellow frock was wrinkled, and there were dark rings beneath her eyes as though she had not slept for days. Her crimson eyes gazed at him dreamily, but there seemed to be something more than what met the eye.

“Hello,” he replied and, pretending not to know her, asked, “Who’re you?”

“My name is Sybill. Nice to meet you, Alundra.”

“Nice to meet you too, but…” He shook his head. “What do you mean by ‘I’m the one from your dreams’?”

“You’re the one from my dreams, the one summoned from the realm of our unconscious.” She smiled serenely. “You’ve come to… save us.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Uh… okay.”

“Your appearance is just as it was in my dreams, Alundra.” Sybill paused for a moment. “Well… perhaps you’re a little shorter.”

“Shorter, eh?” He gave a cheeky grin. “But I’m still good-looking, right?”

She beamed. “Yes… yes, you are. A little short, but good-looking.”

Ouch. That still hurt. True, he was only five-foot-ten, not quite as tall as the six-foot-two men of the village, but being called short directly in his face was still rather…

“I have to return home now,” Sybill said dreamily. “I will meet you another time, Alundra. Oh, be sure to visit Septimus. His house is a little ways from Jess’, and he should be home now.”

On that note, she turned to leave, her dishevelled silvery hair gleaming in the sun.

Alundra shook his head. First it was Lars, then this odd silvery-haired girl… was this village really as ordinary as it seemed to be?

Once he had rested enough, he ascended the steps once more. Septimus’ house was just across the path from Jess’, a little cabin with a small windmill at the rooftop. Smoke was escaping from the chimney, indicating the occupant was home.

The adventurer knocked on the door.

No answer.

He scratched his head. Didn’t Sybill say this Septimus was home? Wasn’t there smoke coming out of the chimney?

He tried the door and found it unlocked. Pushing the door open cautiously, he peeped inside.

“Hello?” he called. “Anyone home?”

A voice answered from inside, “If that’s the grocer, please leave the food anywhere…”

Alundra stepped inside, closing the door behind him, and found himself in a large study, with a wide desk covered in papers and books on one side of the room and several bookshelves on the other. Sitting at the desk with a lantern was a young man, perhaps a year or two older than Alundra, with short, neat golden hair, dressed smartly in blue coat and pants. He seemed thoroughly engrossed with his paperwork.

“Hey there,” the adventurer greeted.

The blond-haired man turned, startled. “You weren’t the grocer? Oh, you must be the person Jess rescued.”

“Yep. I’m Alundra, an adventurer. Or the boy from the beach, as the others like to call me.” Grinning, he held out a hand. “You’re Septimus, right? Sybill asked me to come.”

Septimus returned the handshake, smiling. “Sybill did, did she? She may seem a bit odd to you, but she’s a nice person.”

He glanced at the books and papers on the table. “What exactly do you do here?”

He set down the book in his hand. “I’m a scholar. I study the human mind and the world of dreams. I came here three years ago to help the people of this village, but…” He trailed off.

Alundra felt as though he had suddenly stumbled upon the answer he was looking for. “You came to help the villagers? What exactly is happening in here?”

There was a long pause. An odd expression washed over Septimus’ face… was it sadness? Frustration? He turned slowly away and sat back down at his desk. “I… I’m sorry, but you’ll need to excuse me… I need to return to my research…”

He stepped back, wondering if it was what he said. “Uh, sure thing. I’ll see you later, okay?”

No reply.

Alundra stepped back outside and closed the door behind him, his mind whirling with questions. What was happening here? Why did Septimus travel all the way to this remote village with the intention to help? To help with what?

“Oy! Alundra!”

The young man looked up in the direction of the voice. Across the path, Jess was standing outside his house, waving a hand.

Alundra crossed the path and stopped beside the older man. “What’s up, Jess?”

“I was wondering where you’ve been to.” Jess’ eyes narrowed with concern. “You look a might pale, are you feeling all right?”

He grinned. “Hey, no worries, a little thing such as this isn’t going to bother me!”

Jess laughed and clapped a hand on the other’s shoulder. “This is good! Come, breakfast is ready and there’s a lot of food. I’m sure that stomach of yours can fit a lot, you know what I’m saying?”

He gave him a good-humoured punch. “Oh, shut up, Jess, I don’t really eat all that much! Besides, how would you know? All you gave me yesterday was broth!”

They laughed and turned to enter the house, but at that moment, Alundra’s elven ears twitched lightly as they caught a distressed voice across the path. At Septimus’ house, a small boy around ten years of age was banging on the door, his green hair tousled as though he had ran a long distance.

“Septimus!!” he cried, banging as hard as he could. “You have to come quick! Grandpa’s in a bad shape!” Tears slid down his cheeks. “Septimus!!”

But there was no reply at the door.

Alundra and Jess glanced at each other and rushed quickly to the little boy. The swordsmith knelt on the ground and put a hand on the boy’s shoulder, a concerned look on his face.

“Nestus, what’s wrong?” he asked, his expression growing grave. “Is it Wendell?”

The boy nodded tearfully. “Grandpa’s getting worse, I think he’s gonna die!” He grabbed Jess’ sleeve. “Septimus wouldn’t answer my door! What should I do, Uncle Jess?!”

Alundra frowned and knocked on the door. “Septimus! Come on, answer the door!”

But even he had gotten no replies.

He shook his head. “It’s odd, I was just here talking to him a moment ago.”

“Grandpa’s gonna die!” Nestus sobbed. “Septimus is the only one who can save him!”

Jess looked up at the young man. “Alundra, I’ll bring Nestus back to his house. Can you talk to Septimus?”

The adventurer nodded. “I will. I’ll bring him, I promise.”

He stood up and held out a hand. “Let’s go to your grandpa, all right?”

Nestus nodded tearfully and took Jess’ hand as both of them descended the stone steps.

Once they had gone, Alundra turned and tried the door once more. The door was still unlocked, allowing him to step inside, but unlike before, the curtains were all drawn. The lantern that stood on a mantelpiece was unlit, leaving the room in darkness.

“Septimus?” he called out.

He took a few steps in, passing the paper-covered desk that Septimus was working on before. Further in, among the many rows of bookshelves, he found the scholar curled up in the corner, his head buried in his arms.

“Septimus!” Alundra exclaimed, kneeling by his side. “What happened?”

A soft sob escaped Septimus. “I… I can’t bear to go. I can’t look into their tear-filled eyes… and tell them I don’t know what to do!” He suddenly punched the floor. “All these damn books, all my years of study, and I can’t free Wendell from his nightmare!!”

Free Wendell from his nightmare? Was the old man trapped in his own dream world? No, this wasn’t the time to be asking questions!

“Don’t give up so easily!” Alundra cried. “There must be something we can do for the old man, right?” He grabbed the other by the elbow. “Come on! Let’s go!”

The scholar looked up as his elbow was grabbed… then gasped as his eyes focused on the other man’s forehead. “W-wait! What’s that on your head?!”

He stopped. “What?”

The fiery-orange fringe was quickly parted, revealing a birthmark on the forehead. Unlike a normal red birthmark, this one seemed to represent a symbol, though what it was Alundra could never explain.

Septimus’ eyes widened. “C-could it be…?”

His voice trailed off, leaving a long silence in between. Suddenly, as though a valve had burst inside him, he leaped energetically to the bookshelf and searched quickly. He pulled out a book, glanced at the cover, and tossed it onto the floor. He took another book, but tossed it on the floor as well.

“Not this… not this… not this…” he muttered, then raised his voice. “Damn it!! Where is it?! Ah, here it is!” He pulled out a thick book with a faded blue cover and quickly flipped through it.

The adventurer gazed at him, wondering what was up. “Septi–”

“I was right!!” Septimus cried, turning around. “You bear the mark of the Releaser!”

Alundra blinked. “Wasn’t that what Lars– what’s this Releaser?”

He took a deep breath. “A thousand years ago, there was a long war with a demon god where he cursed the people with nightmares. After the demon god was sealed, it was prophesised that a hero with this mark, called the Releaser, will come and end the curse that befalls the people… the curse of the nightmares. Once this curse strikes, the people continue to sleep day after day, consumed by the nightmare… then they die.” He handed the book over. “This book tells of the Clan of Elna, the Dreamwalkers. They are elves who can enter other people’s dreams, and the Releaser is one of them… that’s you, Alundra.”

His head whirled with confusion. “Wait… wait wait wait.” He pointed to his forehead. “So basically what you’re saying is, I have the power to enter someone’s dream, and this mark shows that I’m the hero who will end this curse?”

He nodded. “I always thought it was a legend…”

There was a long pause as Alundra assimilated the information. After a while, he spoke, “…well, if it’s true, that’ll explain why dreams feel so real to me. Why I can run in dreams and tire, why I feel pain…”

Septimus grabbed the other by the shoulders. “But this is great! We can help Wendell now!”

His eyes lit up. “Hey, you’re right! It’s just a chance, but it’s still something! Come on, let’s go!”

Filled with excitement with a chance to help Wendell, both of them rushed out of the house and down the stone steps, eventually bursting into another house.

Everyone faced them in surprise. One was Jess, who had accompanied the boy Nestus home. The others were also familiar; Nestus’ twin brother Bergus, their father Meade and their mother Rumi… and their grandfather. Old man Wendell was lying on his bed, his eyes closed in slumber, but the expression etched on his face was of suffering. Of fear.

“You’re back, Alundra!” Jess said. “And you brought Septimus!”

The scholar quickly spoke up, unable to contain his excitement. “Listen, we found a way to help Wendell. Alundra has the power to enter dreams and change their outcome!”

“Really?!” the twin boys shouted.

“Oh, thanks goodness!” Rumi cried, clasping her hands together. “Praying at the shrine of Magyscar helped!”

“There’s just one problem…” Alundra scratched the top of his head uncertainly. “I’ve never done it before.”

The scholar flipped the faded blue book open once more, skimming through it quickly. “There are some instructions here. I’ll guide you, don’t worry… but listen closely.” He faced Alundra. “Once you’ve entered his dream, you must defeat the evil that threatens him. You have to be careful. Should he perish while you’re in his dream, you will too.”

“…that sounds fun.” He half-shrugged. “But I’ll do it. I’m the only one who can help him now, right?”

Meade nodded. “Thank you, Alundra. Please, help my father.”

“I will.” He moved to the side of Wendell’s bed, while the others stepped back to give him space, and glanced over his shoulder. “Okay, I’m ready, Septimus. Hit me.”

Septimus nodded and turned towards the book. “First, hold Wendell’s hand. Feel his pulse, and try to synchronise your breathing with his.”

“Hold his hand, feel his pulse, breathe in time with him. Got it.”

Alundra knelt down, gently touching the wrinkly bony hand… the hand that seemed so frail in his own, as though it was a flower that could wither away at any moment. The thudding of the pulse beneath his finger was so faint… like a life that would soon fade away.

He closed his eyes. Concentrated on the pulse beneath his finger. Tuned his ears to the sound of the faint breathing.

Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.

“Now try to feel his consciousness…” came Septimus’ voice, now sounding distant.

But he did not need telling; he could feel it. In the darkness within his closed eyes, he could feel it.

Another person’s presence, much nearer than everyone else’s, as though they were directly connected by a bridge, as though everyone else were standing a good distance away. A presence that he could only describe as a bubble enveloped him as he drew nearer, pulling him in like a weak whirlpool.

A cold wind blew, but there was no sound. Silence was thick in the air, as though it could be sliced by the mere sound of breathing.

Alundra slowly opened his eyes, and blinked in surprise.

He standing in the middle of a plateau suspended in the air like a pillar, one of many that rose from the abyss below, connected by flimsy wooden bridges that seemed as though they would crumble at any moment. Dull brown dirt covered the ground beneath his feet, where nary a blade of grass grew.

A place devoid of life.

This was… Wendell’s dream? A silent, death-filled place such as this?

The ground, the very air seemed to radiate the old man’s presence, and he could feel the old man’s heart beating inside him. When he stepped onto the crumbling bridge before him, it creaked loudly in protest upon bearing his weight… and a feeling of pain tingled in his heart. A feeling of pain that felt surreal – was the old man feeling this pain?

What if this was not just a dream? What if this was actually the depths of Wendell’s subconscious, in the form of the world that he was walking in?

Alundra felt like an intruder, a trespasser in someone else’s territory.

He crossed the crumbling bridge quickly but cautiously to another cliff, ignoring the loud creaking and the dull pain that came with each step. Then another bridge that led to another cliff. And another. And another.

After several bridges, he arrived at a much bigger cliff, the size of a garden. Several bushes lay askew, their leaves a dull brown hue, a sign of death.

He made his way towards the opposite end, where another bridge awaited, but stopped when he heard rustling from the bushes. From beneath each bush, a gelatine monster grew, a round white shape that dragged itself along the ground towards him.

“One, two, three… eight of them.” Alundra grinned. “Well, guys, it’s not your lucky day. Slaying monsters is my specialty! Get ready to… huh?”

Only to find his weapon gone.

He was wearing only a shirt, pants and boots when he had entered Wendell’s dream… and those were what he was wearing now.

He had left his sword and armour at home.

“Oh, crud.”

Sensing his disadvantage, the monsters suddenly grew larger, taking on a humanoid shape with a sword, and that was what they used to slice at him.

“Yikes!” he cried as he jumped back.

They advanced towards him, brandishing the gelatine swords menacingly.

“Well, I may be hopeless without a sword…” He charged forward. “But I’m not feeling hopeless! HEYAAH!!” Focusing all of his strength in his knee, he struck at one monster’s humanoid chest.

 To his surprise, the monster was more firm and bouncy than he had expected it to be. Instead of squishing the jelly, his knee was able to deliver such force that the gelatine monster was thrown over the cliff edge, right into the darkness below.

He looked down at the abyss, but there was no sign of the monster.

“Oooh.”

He glanced at the other monsters.

They were not as eager to strike now.

He grinned. “It’s your turn now! HAAH!!”

Kick, kick, punch, knee strike. Whatever that came to mind, he did it. Constant running from dungeon traps in his adventures made him fast and strong, and these jelly monsters were as bouncy as balls. In no time at all, all eight had been dispatched into the darkness below.

He dusted his hands and stood victorious at the centre of the plateau. Not bad for a swordsman without a sword!

Then, a bright light obscured his sight. Voices sounded in his ears.

Father… I’m hungry,” a little boy said.

I’m hungry too…” a little girl added.

There was a soft sigh before a male voice answered, “I know you are, but please bear with it for a while…”

Is it caused by what everyone is calling a famine?”

Yes… yes, it is. But I promise I’ll bring something good to eat next time… so please be good children and bear with it for a while, okay?”

And the voices faded away.

Alundra blinked.

What was that? A vision? A hallucination?

Shaking his head, he hurried on his way to the next plateau. He had to find Wendell soon… if these monsters were here, there was no telling what they would do to the old man.

More bridges, more plateaus. Each time there were dead bushes, there were more of these gelatine monsters.

And each time he finished the monsters off, he heard voices.

The two children who were starving. The father who was unable to bring a successful hunt home in the famine.

The two children who wanted to help, who quietly followed their father into the wilderness during a hunt.

And the father who could only watch helplessly as he watched his daughter being devoured alive, heard the screams of his daughter and the triumphant roars of the monster.

He could only protect his son.

Alundra blinked. What was this all about? Why would he hear voices after he had defeated these monsters?

“Help me… please, help me…!”

Alundra stopped. His eyes widened.

There, on the largest plateau he had seen so far, was old man Wendell.

Running among the scattered rocks to escape the horde of gelatine monsters.

The swordsman gritted his teeth and began to sprint.

The bridge was long. It creaked loudly with every step he took.

Wendell stumbled onto the ground.

The monsters were getting closer and closer to him.

“Hold on, old man!” the adventurer shouted. “Hold on!!”

The monsters took on a humanoid form. Raising gelatine blades.

And the old man was unable to get up.

“Oh – no – you – DON’T!!” Alundra leaped high into the air and kicked as hard as he could.

The sheer force of the kick knocked the first monster right out of the way. The other monsters turned in surprise. Before they could react, subsequent kicks cleared the area of them easily.

“Whew!” His breathing rapid, he straightened. “Good thing I made it just in time.”

Wendell slowly looked up, unable to believe his eyes, then cried, “Oh, thank the gods! A saviour came at last!” He slowly rose to his feet. “But who… who are you…?”

All of a sudden, more and more gelatine monsters gathered at their plateau, like rats summoned by a flute. They piled onto of each other, growing higher and higher…

The two of them could only stare forward in disbelief.

In front of them was not a pile of gelatine monsters… but one gigantic one.

The Gelatinoid.

“Uh oh…” The adventurer stepped back. “I think the good idea now would be…”

The giant monster gave a hoarse growl. A humanoid hand formed from the side of the monster, wielding a giant gelatine blade.

Alundra turned and ran. “…to RUN!!”

The giant blade crashed onto the ground, barely missing its targets.

His eyes wide with fear, Wendell scrambled to his feet and shuffled away as fast as he could. The monster eyed him, but a small rock that hit its head drew its attention.

“Over here, you freaking jelly!” Alundra yelled, throwing another rock at him, and sped in the opposite direction.

The monster roared and pursued him.

They raced across the plateau, and he tried to hide behind a giant rock. However, the Gelatinoid was as strong as it looked; with one strike of the gelatine blade, the rock was easily smashed into pieces.

“Oh, come on!” he shouted as he ran. “If only I had my sword, I’d be chopping it into pieces instead of the other way around!”

At that moment, he spied a flat piece of rock lying on the ground.

An idea formed in his head.

He glanced over his shoulder before lunging towards two huge boulders next to each other, with a small space in between them just enough for one person. He circled around it, making sure that the monster was chasing him, then ducked through the space between the boulders.

And the monster was stuck. Roaring angrily as it watched its prey escaping.

Alundra grinned and stuck his tongue at it.

With his pursuer immobile, he returned to the flat rock on the ground, gingerly picking it up. He smashed one side of it on another boulder, making it blunt enough to be safely gripped.

Just as he thought, it was shaped like a round, flat blade.

From behind him, a roar resonated across the plateau. He glanced quickly over his shoulder. The monster was catching up to him.

Instead of escaping, however, he sprinted towards the Gelatinoid. With a great leap into the air, he sliced once with his new weapon.

“TAKE THIS!!”

The rock sliced the gelatine form easily as a blade. Bits of gelatine oozed and bounced onto the ground, like white bugs jumping onto the ground. The monster roared in pain, splitting into many little gelatine monsters.

Which slowly merged into one giant monster once more.

As the Gelatinoid absorbed the smaller versions of itself, Alundra heard voices. Faint, but he heard them nonetheless.

Father… I’m hungry…”

Father, help!!”

No… no!! My daughter!! FEANA!!”

Alundra looked up, startled.

Weren’t these the voices he had heard earlier when he had defeated the little gelatine monsters? Weren’t these the voices of the father and the two children?

The monster continued to regenerate, glowing bigger and bigger.

Then, suddenly, Alundra understood.

The voices he had heard before were Wendell’s memories of his past. Of his hard times.

And this monster was not an evil spawned by the curse, spawned to chase the old man to his deathbed… it was the darkness within himself, given shape by the curse of the nightmare.

The desperation, the worry he had felt when his children were starving during the famine.

The frustration, the self anger he had felt when he was unable to bring home food for them.

And the helplessness. The agony of watching his daughter being devoured alive right before his eyes.

Helplessness. Pain. Frustration. Anger at himself.

Helplessness. The darkness within him that had grown over the years. Now in the form of the monster.

And he was reliving the helplessness again. Waiting to be killed by the monster formed by the darkness within himself.

The monster was still regenerating. Growing even bigger than before.

Alundra growled. He jumped over a lump of goo that bounced from the monster, spun on his heels and rushed towards Wendell, whose eyes widened in fear. The old man gave a cry when Alundra grabbed him by the shoulders and continued running, away from the roaring giant monster.

“W-what are you doing?!” Wendell cried.

The adventurer suddenly turned and ducked behind a large rock, breathing quickly as he clamped a hand over the older man’s mouth.

“Listen here, old man,” he said between rapid breaths. “There’s a way we can defeat that monster there, but I need your full attention. You listening?”

The old man nodded quickly.

“Good.” He leaned forward and gazed directly into his eyes. “I know for a fact that there was a famine here in the past and you couldn’t feed your family then. But when you went on a hunting trip, your children followed you and your daughter died. Am I right?”

Wendell became still. The old eyes grew wide, then they slowly closed. Sadness washed over his face… and he slowly nodded.

Alundra sighed and released his hand. “Look, it wasn’t your fault. You’ve done your best.”

He shook his head, the tears sliding down his cheeks. “It was… my fault. If only I was competent enough, I would have been able to save her… I always feel… her ghost was here… angry at me being unable to save her…”

“No, it wasn’t your fault. No one can blame you for her death now… in fact, they don’t. Don’t you see the happy family you have now? Meade, Rumi, Bergus and Nestus, they all care about you and are worried about you; they’re crying for you to return home!”

His eyes widened. “I… I can go home…?”

He nodded. “Everyone’s waiting for you. The sky is blue and the sun is warm there, unlike here where it’s all dark and gloomy.” He held the old man’s shoulders. “You’ve live so many years in guilt and agony now, and I think that’s enough. Your daughter loves you, and I’m sure she wouldn’t want to see you like this.”

There was a long silence. Wendell’s eyes grew distant, deep in thought.

Alundra felt apprehensive. Was he able to make him see things in new light?

At that very moment, a great roar resonated across the plateau.

The monster was back.

“Dammit!” the adventurer hissed and rushed out from behind the rock. “Hey, I’m over here!!”

The Gelatinoid roared again and formed a humanoid arm with a club, high above its head, then swung it horizontally. Alundra jumped back, trying to avoid it… but the end of the club crashed into him. The sheer force sent him flying some distance away into a large rock, which crumbled beneath him.

He groaned in pain. His head was covered in a haze.

And the monster, its great club raised above its head, loomed victoriously over him.

All Alundra could do was to stare.

And the club fell towards him.

“I see now…”

The monster’s arm halted in midair, frozen in place.

Alundra turned towards the voice. It was Wendell, who now stood tall, his eyes gazed forward. There was still a hint of fear on his face, but he stood straight and faced the monster directly, calmly.

“I see now,” he repeated. “All these years, I’ve been thinking about nothing but my daughter… and in the process, I hurt everyone else… like my son Meade.” He closed his eyes. “I have to put the past behind me, and ask Feana for forgiveness.”

The Gelatinoid slowly faded away without as much as a growl, leaving nothing behind.

Alundra gazed at him in awe. “Old man…”

The old man approached the adventurer. “What’s your name, young man?”

“Huh? Oh, it’s Alundra.”

He smiled. “Thank you for opening my eyes, Alundra. Thank you for freeing me from this nightmare.”

With that, Wendell slowly disappeared away as well, with a smile on his face.

Then, a great light engulfed the dream world.

Just before all of his sight was swallowed by the light, Alundra caught a glimpse of the dream’s ending.

Wendell hugging a little blond-haired girl, laughing with tears in his eyes.

And around them was a great field of flowers, a gust of wind blowing the flowers into the bright blue sky.

He was finally at peace.

 


 

Alundra groaned as he slowly opened his eyes, and found himself sitting on the floor beside Wendell’s bed, his head resting on the bed covers. He shook his head slowly to clear the haze in his head. He felt rather disoriented.

“Alundra!” Jess exclaimed, causing everyone else to look up.

Septimus rose from the chair. “You’re back, Alundra! How did it go?”

“How is he?” Meade asked anxiously. “How’s father?”

“Look!” Rumi cried. “Father’s smiling!”

She was right. Wendell’s body was no longer tense, he was no longer moaning, and there was a peaceful smile on his face. Alundra could not help but to smile as well; at least he was able to save his life.

Wendell stirred and slowly opened his eyes.

“Oh… where am I?” he muttered, slowly sitting up. When he saw everyone gathered around his bed, his eyes grew wide. “What… what in tarnation is going on?”

“Grandpa!” Bergus shouted. “You’re awake!”

“Yes, yes, I’m awake…” The old man looked out the window to tell the time, saw the afternoon sun shining in and gasped. “Egads! Can someone explain what in Hades am I doing in bed at this hour?!”

Rumi went to the side of his bed, holding his hand. “Don’t you remember, Father? You’ve been asleep for the past three days, trapped in a terrible nightmare… but you’re okay now. You’re awake, and more importantly, alive!”

He seemed thoughtful for a few seconds before slowly nodding. “Yes, I remember now… I was being chased by a foul, horrid creature. No matter where I fled in that terrible world, the beast found me. At last, I fell to the ground, too exhausted to continue…” He closed his eyes. “But it wasn’t just a monster… it was created from the darkness in my heart, the guilt from Feana’s death…”

Meade’s eyes softened as he knelt by the bed. “Are you still plagued from that time, Father…? I’m sure Feana’s long forgiven you for that…”

He smiled and patted his son’s hand. “I know, son. I saw her in that dream too…” Tears welded up in his eyes. “She was hugging me, and said she was happy for me…”

Alundra chuckled lightly. “I told you so.”

The old man jumped, staring at him. “Alundra! Why, you’re real! You’re not just in my dream!”

Bergus’ eyes widened. “Grandpa knows Alundra’s name!”

“He couldn’t have known that unless Alundra really went into his dream!” Nestus chipped in.

The other boy grinned. “How cool is that?!”

The scholar could not help but to smile as well. “Well then, Alundra, Jess, let’s leave Wendell alone for some much-needed rest.”

Alundra nodded and slowly got to his feet. Suddenly his knees buckled beneath him, causing him to fall… but Jess caught him in time.

“Oy!” the swordsmith cried. “Are you all right, Alundra?”

The swordsman man shook his head once more to clear his mind. “Whew, my head just went blank for a moment there… looks like all that running’s gotten to me.”

Jess put Alundra’s arm around his shoulder, supporting his weight. “You haven’t fully recovered yet. Let’s get you back into bed to rest.”

He chuckled a little. “Sounds really good to me right now.”

Septimus stepped out first, then Jess, while supporting Alundra. Just as they were about to exit the room, however, Wendell spoke up.

“Alundra… thank you so much for your help.” He smiled. “I will never forget my daughter, but I will work to move on from the past. After all, I have a happy family here.”

“T-thank you so much for helping Grandpa!” Nestus blurted out.

“You were super cool!” his twin brother declared.

Alundra gave a tired grin. “Now you’ll have to take care of him properly, okay? Make him happy!”

The boys nodded. “We will!”

Outside, the afternoon sun shone warmly onto them, as they climbed the stone stairs back towards their homes. Jess and Septimus were on either side of Alundra, supporting him.

The adventurer closed his eyes, feeling the warmth of the sun on his skin.

The darkness, the coldness of a nightmare… he had felt it. He had seen the power of the curse. Felt the familiarity of dreamwalking, but in someone else’s dream rather than his own.

He had found it. What Lars wanted him to do.

 

End of Chapter Two.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Three: One Overwhelmed by Darkness

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

After another good night’s sleep, Alundra felt even better the next morning, despite being exhausted by his first run in someone else’s dream. He got off his bed and stretched, glad to find his knees no longer feeling like jelly. In fact, he even felt like dancing!

Once he had dressed up (this time strapping the armour across his chest and the sheathed sword around his waist; he wasn’t going to be caught unprepared in a dream again), he went downstairs, only to hear the fading chatter of a group of visitors and Jess waving goodbye at the door.

“Hey, what’s up?” Alundra asked.

Jess turned, startled. “Oy, sleepyhead! Don’t sneak up on this old man like that, you gave me a fright!”

He grinned sheepishly. “Sorry ‘bout that.”

He took a deep breath. “Wendell was here with his family earlier. They came to give you this.” He handed a basket of assorted items – bottled jam, fruits and more – to him.

“Wow, they shouldn’t have!” He took a bottle of blueberry jam from the basket. “Let’s try one of these!”

Then, there was a knock on the open front door. The two of them turned in time to see Septimus stepping in.

“Good morning,” he greeted pleasantly. “Am I interrupting anything?”

Jess smiled. “No, you’re just in time.” He turned to Alundra. “I invited him for breakfast. Figured you two will have a lot to talk about, you know what I’m saying?”

The adventurer grinned. “Of course! After yesterday’s excitement, I have loads to ask!”

Septimus laughed. “We have a lot to plan, my friend. I passed Wendell earlier and he certainly looks well, thank the gods.” His eyes dulled. “If you hadn’t come, I shudder to think what might have happened instead, with my useless knowledge…”

There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment, then Jess gave a loud cry.

“Oy, breakfast is getting cold!” he cried. “Come along now, have a seat, have a seat!”

The other two obeyed and together they seated around the table, their eyes gleaming at the sight of delicious food on the table.

“Hey, Septimus,” Alundra started, as he buttered his toast. “You said there’s a lot to plan. What are we going to do now?”

The scholar shook his head. “I’m not sure yet. That’s one reason I came. I thought perhaps you may have learned something from Wendell’s dream that could bring us forward.”

“Something from Wendell’s dream, huh? Hm…” He thought deeply. “There was this huge monster in there, and it was near impossible to defeat it since I didn’t bring my sword with me… but when I struck at it, I heard voices.”

He leaned forward. “Voices?”

He nodded. “Voices from Wendell’s past… the monster was Wendell’s helplessness and guilt given shape, from the time he lost his daughter. When I told him to snap out of it, he did, and the monster just… disappeared.”

“I see… that explains the look of peace on his face, Alundra, just before you returned from his dream.” The scholar held his chin in his hand. “This is certainly interesting. So the curse shapes strong negative feelings into monsters to terrorise the victim… it makes sense, since normal dreams are woven by the subconscious mind. And Wendell isn’t the only one.” He set down his fork, quite forgetting about breakfast. “I’m sure you’ve met Sybill, who dreams when she is awake and see events that have yet to occur in her dreams.”

He blinked. “That silver-haired girl who looks pretty out of it? She did say something about seeing my arrival…”

“There’s also Nadia,” Septimus continued. “When she sleeps, nearby objects explode as though packed with dynamite.” He sighed. “I’m told that she’s not slept in days and teeters near insanity.”

“…this is all just weird.” He shook his head. “Why’s this happening in this village?”

“It’s a curse that befell this village centuries ago… word of it has reached far. I journeyed here three long years ago, believing I could determine the cause of the madness.” He closed his eyes sadly. “But I was a fool. All I’ve ascertain so far is the limit of my ability…”

The adventurer was reminded of the scene from yesterday, when he saw him curled up in the corner of his house, burying his face in his arms in sorrow and defeat…

Then Septimus looked up once more, his eyes glinting with determination. “But now that you’ve come, Alundra, everything’s changed. With your power and my knowledge, we can save the good people of Inoa! We can find the source of the evil nightmares and banish it to the eternal prison of history!”

Alundra grinned. “That’s more like it! A gloomy Septimus doesn’t suit you, after all!”

At that moment, there was another knock at the open door, and a young blond-haired man stepped in, donned in simple white tunic and pants. There was an air of quiet reservation around him.

Jess stood up to greet him. “Giles! What brings you here?” He turned towards the adventurer. “Alundra, this is Giles. He’s the chancellor’s assistant at the sanctuary.”

The newcomer nodded politely. “Greetings, Jess, Septimus, and Alundra. I meant no ill will in interrupting your breakfast. Chancellor Ronan has requested an audience with you and sent me to fetch you, Alundra. If you could come with me to the Sanctuary to meet him, he’d be most appreciative, I’m sure.”

Septimus shook his head. “Ronan wants to speak with you? That’s certainly strange, but you’d better see what he wants. I’m certain he’ll be pleased to learn Wendell’s all right.”

Alundra half-shrugged. “Well, this is a good chance to meet him. I’m mostly done with breakfast, anyway.” He turned towards Giles. “Lead the way.”

Giles nodded. “Follow me to the sanctuary, if you would, Alundra.”

 


 

The northern village exit was just a short distance away from Jess and Septimus’ houses, past the mayor’s large house. A little further from there, a small lake sat surrounded by trees and hills, where they passed a well-built man with messy blond-hair, large biceps and a jolly grin on his face.

“Yo, bud!” the man cried, raising a hand in greeting. “How’re you doing?”

“Same as always, Olen,” Giles replied. “I don’t believe you have met Olen yet, have you, Alundra?”

“Hey, you must be the boy from the beach!” Olen laughed and gave Alundra a friendly punch. “Great to see you well!”

The swordsman grinned at this friendly guy and returned the punch. “It’s definitely great to be up! Say, what’s that you’ve got?”

“Oh, this?” He held up a large, round and grey bomb. “This is a mining bomb. With this baby, our work will finish in eight point three seconds flat! Well, give or take a tenth.” He stowed the bomb back into his pack. “It was a pain in the butt to get this baby… it’s just too bad Jess doesn’t make them any more.”

“Wait, Jess used to?” He scratched his head. “I don’t know, but from what I see, he hardly makes any weapons, just lots of kettles and pots, even though he’s a swordsmith. You mean to say he used to make weapons?”

“You bet! The best weapons ever!”

Giles nodded. “Jess used to make a lot of weapons in his prime, attracting visitors from far and near, before he stopped years ago.”

Jess used to make weapons? That guy who had a frilly pink apron? Alundra found it hard to believe.

Olen spun the mining bomb with one hand as though it was a ball. “Well, I’m off to the mines. Since you’re interested, come along and I’ll show you the mining bomb in action!”

Alundra’s eyes gleamed. “Oh yeah! I’d love to come!”

Giles cleared his throat. “If I may… Chancellor Ronan is waiting for us, Alundra.”

His heart fell. “Oh, right. I forgot.” He turned to the miner. “Sorry, Olen, gotta go. I’ll come over right after though, hopefully I’ll make it!”

Olen gave a thumbs-up. “Gotcha! I’ll save one for you later!”

“Great! Thanks!”

From there, they parted. Olen went towards the west, and the other two in the opposite direction.

“Nice guy,” the adventurer commented.

Giles nodded. “He is. There isn’t a man nicer than Olen in the village.”

They continued a little further before their destination came into view. The sanctuary was a large building with colourful glass windows of angels bathing in the light of the sun. The building seemed impressive from the outside, like a grand cathedral Alundra had visited on his travels, but the interior, however, was rather dark and gloomy for a place of prayer. Dull red carpet lined the floor, between two sets of aisles of wooden benches, unlit candleholders stood at the sides of the main hall. The lit candles on pedestals created an air of eeriness, and the sunlight from the windows was not much help in lifting the gloom. And the thick smell of perfumed smoke tickled Alundra’s nose, not to mention making him feel dull and stupid.

The chancellor of the sanctuary himself, in Alundra’s opinion, was also as dull and gloomy as the sanctuary – an old, shrivelled man with a frown that seemed to be permanently etched onto his wrinkly face, a small white skullcap on his silvery white hair matching his white robe.

Giles gave a short, respectful bow. “Chancellor Ronan, I have brought Alundra.”

Ronan turned and stepped down from the platform. “Ah, Alundra. I am Ronan, the chancellor of this sanctuary.”

The adventurer held out his hand. “Nice to meet you. I heard you wanted to see me?”

The handshake, however, was ignored as the chancellor continued, “Yes, Alundra. I have heard that Wendell has survived.” He spread his arms to his sides. “The gods held forth a thread of salvation for his soul. Let us pray to the gods and thank them for their undeserved benevolence.”

He shook his head. “Uh, no thanks. I’m not really a fan of prayer…”

His eyes blazed. “Have you no respect for the powers of salvation? On your knees!”

Ronan stepped quickly towards him and pushed him down by the shoulder, so powerfully and suddenly that Alundra had no time to react. This old man was terribly fast and strong for his age…

Once more, Ronan turned towards the pedestal and raised one arm to the side, keeping a painful grip on the adventurer’s shoulder. “Let us pray to the gods and thank them for the undeserved kindness they have extended!”

Having no other choice, Alundra had to obey. Still kneeling on the floor, he looked up at the pedestal before him, a polished marble pedestal with two candleholders by its side. Atop the pedestal stood a wooden box, shaped strangely like a miniature house with its front doors almost reaching the bottom of its roof. The doors were shut, as though to hide its occupants… perhaps images of the gods?

Feeling the chancellor’s eyes burning onto his back, he sighed softly and gave a short bow towards the statue.

…and immediately felt a cold, sharp chill running through him.

Darkness clouded his eyes. A cold feeling of dread filled his heart.

And an almost inaudible voice laughed, resonating inside his mind.

He inhaled sharply in reflex and stood up quickly. He glanced at the other two, but they did not seem to notice anything.

Then, the dread and chill disappeared as quickly as they came, as though they had never occurred.

Was it… just his imagination?

Deciding that it was, he turned towards Ronan. “Is this fine?”

The chancellor nodded approvingly. “You have done well. You see, the gods do exist. They exist in the hearts and minds of those who pray dearly to them.”

“I get what you’re saying, but… is this going to be long?” He gestured over his shoulder towards the door. “I left some tangled knitting back at home, so…”

He gave a huff. “Yes, yes, you may go. Let us hope the gods will continue to be generous to us, undeserving as we are.”

“Right. See you then.”

With that, Alundra turned and strode briskly to the door, wanting to be out of the dark, gloomy sanctuary as fast as he could. The sunlight was glaringly bright as he stepped out, his eyes adjusted to the darkness inside the building, but it was warm on his skin.

“Whew! It’s just great to be out of there!” he cried, stretching in the sun, then paused. “Oh, right, I gotta head over to the mines… now which way was it again?”

He strode down the path, back towards the lake north of the village. As he stepped between the trees, he caught sight of a familiar girl sitting at the edge of the lake, staring at the lake as still as a rock. If there was a girl as odd as this, it had to be Sybill.

“Hey, Sybill,” he greeted. “What are you doing here?”

The silver-haired girl turned unhurriedly and smiled. “Oh, hello, Alundra. You look well today.”

He gave a thumbs-up. “All recovered, thanks to Jess.” He half-shrugged. “Anyway, what are you doing over here?”

“Dreaming.” She rose to her feet and dusted off the grass from her skirt, then smiled serenely. “I dreamed of you again.”

He paused for a moment, remembering Septimus’ words about her dreaming when she was awake. “What about me did you dream about?” He grinned. “Was I still as tall and dashing?”

She giggled. “Yes, but still taller than you are now. I dreamed the darkness trying to enter your heart, but you drove it back valiantly.”

Darkness? Entering his heart? Alundra wondered for a moment if the chill and dread he felt while praying in the sanctuary was real.

“Also…” The gleam in her dreamy eyes dulled. “I fear the darkness will claim someone close to us soon.”

“What do you m–”

Suddenly, a loud blast cut off his sentence, followed by a terrible tremor that spread beneath the earth. The ground shook so violently that the adventurer could hardly stand, and he quickly caught Sybill when she gasped and stumbled. The tremor lasted for quite some time before fading away as though nothing had happened.

“Phew…” Alundra stepped back. “Are you okay, Sybill?”

She nodded. “I’m fine. But that blast… it sounded like it came from the coal mine.”

A sudden chill gripped his heart. “We’d better have a look. I have a bad feeling about this…”

Without a word, they quickly made their way east around the lake, with Sybill leading the way to the coal mine. They passed through a wooden post towards the base of a small mountain, and up some wooden steps towards the large wooden structure that was the entrance of the coal mine.

The adventurer froze in his tracks.

The silver-haired girl inhaled sharply.

What used to be the entrance of the mine was covered in huge boulders… and Olen, covered in blood, feebly reached out for help from beneath.

 


 

Thunder growled in the sky the rain began to fall from dark clouds. The sound of rain splattering on the roof gave a soothing feeling, but fear continued to grip the hearts of those gathered in the hallway of the mayor’s house. The able men drenched from the rain and covered in soot, dirt and dust from heavy hefting to free the miners from the rocks. The women bearing clean towels and hot drinks to calm their family.

They were only able to free Olen.

Jess walked over to Alundra and Septimus, handed them each a cup of hot drink before sitting down. “Olen is a bright one, you know what I am saying? But he’s barely alive… did he have no time to warn the others before he escaped, I wonder?”

“…do you think he’ll make it?” The scholar’s quiet voice shook slightly.

Alundra shook his head, leaning tiredly against a wall. “I don’t know. He looked really horrible when we finally got him out.” He sighed softly, unable to forget the bloody sight of Olen reaching out to him… unable to stop himself from recalling Lars’ dream, of the villagers burning to death.

They stayed that way in silence, sipping the drink as they waited.

Footsteps resonated along the wooden hallway, prompting most of the people to look up, and at the sight of the village mayor everyone stood up and gathered around him.

“How did it go?”

“Has Olen survived?”

“Are we to rescue Zane and the others?”

The mayor, Beaumont, was a calm, strict man as he was tall and lanky, with his bald head, brown hair behind his ears and a brown beard. But even he sighed with tiredness and worry as he raised a hand for silence.

“The healer did her best…” he said. “It’s up to him now.”

A bent old woman behind him, her white hair pulled up into a ponytail, shook her head slowly. “If he does not improve soon… the child won’t survive through the night.”

Ronan stood up and cried, “Why have the gods done this to Olen? A kinder man does not walk this land!”

“Olen and the others are experts in their work,” the mayor stated. “But could one of them have caused this accident?”

Alundra spoke up, “Olen was mumbling the word ‘Murgg’ when we got him out…”

A collective gasp escaped the crowd.

“Those mad simians?!”

“How is it that we have had the misfortune of crossing those devilish monkeys from the tree?!”

“And it’s even more curious that they’ve attacked humans! They usually don’t do that!”

“The coal mine is near where the Murgg live,” Septimus refuted. “It’s quite possible their work disturbed them.” He crossed his arms. “But why would the Murgg react so violently in the first place as to cause such a terrible thing?”

“We have to save the other miners!” one man declared, drawing cries of agreement from many others.

Beaumont shook his head. “No. If we try to rescue Zane and the others, the Murgg might attack again… how can I justify risking lives to save lives?”

“But we can’t just wait for it to happen!” another argued.

Septimus nodded towards the adventurer. “Alundra… I think we both know what must be done.” He turned towards the mayor. “There’s only one way to learn what happened at the mine… that is, for Alundra to enter Olen’s mind and explore his dream, or whatever state he is experiencing.”

Beaumont stared at him in surprise. “Can that be done…?”

“Yes, but…” He faced the swordsman. “If Olen should perish while you yet inhabit his unconscious… you will surely perish as well.”

“No such thing as a free lunch, huh?” Alundra took a deep breath and stepped forward. “I’m ready.”

“Very well.” Beaumont opened the door to the guest room where Olen was resting. “Please be careful.”

He nodded and stepped through the door, but his heart grew heavy as his eyes rested on the still form of Olen, once a fit and strong miner… now looking strangely feeble as he lay on the bed, pale and covered in bandages.

A wave of guilt washed over Alundra’s heart as he knelt by the bed. Followed by a wave of determination as he took the miner’s large hand in his, feeling the fearfully faint pulse beneath his thumb.

“I’ll find out who did this to you, Olen.”

 


 

What greeted Alundra was a familiar sight – the wooden structure built into the mountain that was the entrance to the mine, where they had frantically dug Olen out… except that the entrance was now free of boulders. Inside the mine tunnel, the miners were energetically working on expanding the tunnels and mining coal in the light of burning torches on the wall, giving him a quick greeting as they bustled past with wheelbarrows or in carts full of coal.

“Hey, Alundra! You made it!”

Alundra turned. It was Olen, looking as well and enthusiastic as he had been at the lake, coming over to the adventurer and giving him another friendly punch. It seemed as though Olen was dreaming of the time right before the mine collapse.

The swordsman grinned and returned the punch. “Hey, Olen, how’s it going?”

“Pretty good! We’re pretty sure that northwest from here has tons of rich coal so we’re expanding the tunnels that way. Of course, digging that direction will put us near the Murgg tree, but who cares about that? The expansion’s going well, and it’ll be better with the mining bomb!” The miner grinned. “I’ve saved one for you. How about you talk to Zane about starting up the engine while I clear off the path for the detonation?”

“Sounds good. Zane’s the guy working on the engine?”

He waved a hand nonchalantly. “Yeah, he’s the grumpy baldy with a headband and weird moustache, you won’t miss him! Just enter the room near the entrance, yeah?” With a wave of his hand, he turned and headed into one of the deeper tunnels.

With little choice but to obey, the adventurer turned and followed the tunnels back towards the entrance of the mine, and found a room blocked off from the rest of the tunnel by wooden walls. As he stepped inside, he found himself staring at a humongous steam engine.

“Wow!” he exclaimed. “You use this engine to mine?”

Zane, the bald man with a headband and thick moustache working on the engine, turned towards him disapprovingly. “Get your facts straight, elf, we use this engine to move the mine carts along the tracks.”

He gave a sheepish grin, and got to the business at hand. “Olen wants you to start the engine, if you’re done working on it.”

The miner frowned. “Start the engine? Why didn’t he come and tell me himself?” He gave a sigh. “Fine, boy, I’ll do as you say. But I’ll have to talk to him about his choice of messengers…” He spat onto the ground before moving around the large engine.

Alundra followed him to a panel of switches, two of which were levers sitting side by side.

Zane stopped and faced him. “All you have to do is to throw the levers to the left, left, right and left. You can remember that, can’t you? Or is that too difficult for your tiny elf brain?”

He shook his head quickly. “Hey, I’m not that dumb!”

“Heh, at least you’ve got spunk.” He turned to the levers and threw them in the order he had specified, allowing the engine to start up with a roar and spew a large cloud of steam. “Go tell Olen I’ll see him later. Now scoot.”

“Yeah, yeah… I hear ya.”

Half-shrugging, Alundra exited the room and went further into the mines, asking quite a number of miners for directions before he was able to find Olen waiting at the end of a long tunnel.

“Yo, Alundra,” Olen greeted. “Zane got the engine started?

“Yeah, he did.” The swordsman shrugged. “He seems to have something against me though.”

He chuckled. “Don’t worry about him, he’s the same with everyone else. Anyway, let’s see this baby in action!”

Olen lifted the large round mining bomb, lit it with a torch, tossed it at the wall and yelled, “Gangway!!”

Both of them ran for cover as fast as they could, ducking behind the bend of the tunnel as the fuse shortened and shortened…

BOOM!!

The whole mine shook from the force of the explosion, which was so great that for a moment, Alundra thought wildly that the whole tunnel would collapse. But it didn’t, and eventually the dust settled down.

Olen cheered loudly. “Whoo hoo! All right!! Now we’re way ahead of schedule!” He stepped out from cover to inspect the extent of the demolition, but then exclaimed, “Hey, we bust through another tunnel!”

“Another tunnel?” Alundra grinned, feeling his adventurer’s spirit urging him forward for exploration. Picking up a lit torch from nearby, he raised it to light the way, squinting his eyes to see forward.

Something shuffled in the darkness. And another. And another.

And golden-red eyes gleamed.

Olen’s eyes widened. “W-what… what are those?”

More pairs of eyes started appearing in the darkness.

A snarl came from one of them.

A feeling of uneasiness grew in Alundra’s heart. Keeping his sword raised and steady, he whispered, “Olen, slowly step backwards, but don’t take your eyes off whatever those things are…”

The miner nodded, and together, they slowly inched their way backwards.

More and more eyes appeared in the darkness as the snarls grew louder and louder.

Alundra knew they couldn’t keep this for long. Feeling beads of cold sweat dripping down his face, he whispered, “On the count of three, we’ll make a break for it, got it?”

Olen nodded once more. “Got it.”

“One…”

The eyes drew nearer.

“Two…”

A loud snarl came from the darkness.

“THREE!!” Alundra yelled, and both of them immediately spun and ran towards the entrance.

They were just in time.

At that very moment, the creatures poured out of the dark tunnel and into the lit area of the mine, snarling viciously as they chased after them. Alundra glanced over his shoulder and caught a glimpse of something silver rushing by… a white monkey with gleaming golden-red eyes and sharp fangs, with a metal claw over its right arm.

A horde of white monkeys with metal claws. Running beside them, ready to jump and strike.

“This time I’m prepared!” Alundra cried, drawing his sword in a diagonal upward slash. “YAH!!”

His sword dispatched two monkeys easily. Another slash eliminated three.

But there were too many of them.

They surrounded the miners, blocking their path to the entrance of the mine. They slashed at them, bit them and screeched triumphantly at the blood.

Then, they discovered the box of explosives for mining.

A group of them began taking the explosives, tossing them at the miners as hard as they could. Some of the explosives fell onto the floor, some of them hit the wall… and some of them hit the lit torches.

Everyone stared in horror as the explosives went off in a rapid succession, a great tremor shaking the whole mine violently. Large cracks began to appear in the walls and ceiling,

And all Alundra could do was to stand there, staring at the horrifying scene of fear, pain, and death as the mine collapsed… as the men were buried alive beneath the suffocating dirt and rock.

Above the loud tremor, he heard Septimus’ voice shouting frantically in the distance, “Alundra, can you hear me?! Olen’s condition is worsening, you must return!!”

The swordsman shook his head and quickly detached himself from the dream, barely missing a large rock that would have fell onto his head if he was a second later. As he drew himself nearer to reality, he could feel a sharp pain… Olen’s pain.

 


 

His eyes snapped open. He gasped loudly as he fell backwards onto a sitting position, his mind disoriented from exiting the dream so suddenly. His breathing heavy, he could see a group of people gathered around the bed.

Olen screamed in pain, thrashing so violently that the others are forced to press him down.

“Olen!” Beaumont shouted. “We must calm him!”

Another man shook his head. “No… Olen!!”

The crowd started muttering, praying for their friend’s safety. They could only watch helplessly as Olen continued to thrash, his screams of utmost pain and fear striking into their hearts.

Then, he slowly began to calm down, his voice lowered to a mere whisper…

…and became still.

Someone gasped. Another started to sob.

Alundra stood up, his eyes wide. “No…”

Septimus lowered his head. “Olen…”

The old woman held the miner’s hand, placing a thumb on his wrist, and gently placed his on his chest. She turned to everyone else and shook head mournfully.

Soft sobs filled the room. Family and friends held each other.

Alundra’s heart throbbed with pain and guilt. He had left the dream just like that, leaving Olen to fend for himself in his dream…

And now he was dead.

Beaumont closed his eyes. “Olen was a good man. Even if he is gone, he will forever remain in our hearts.” Taking a deep breath, he raised his gaze to his people. “This must have been a terrible ordeal for you. I implore you to return home and rest.”

“What about Zane and the others?” one man spoke up.

He shook his head. “I understand you want to rescue them, but if the Murgg is involved, I will need you to be fully rested and alert. We will reach to a decision in the morning.”

The tired villagers nodded, noting the finality in the mayor’s voice. They slowly filed out of the house, returning to their respective residences in the night storm, leaving Alundra, Septimus, Jess and the mayor in the room.

Septimus turned. “Alundra, are you all right?”

“I’m okay, but Olen…” The swordsman closed his eyes, guilt deeply etched onto his face.

“What did you find at the mine?” Beaumont asked. “Were there the Murgg?”

He nodded and, slowly, recounted the dream to the others. When he had finished, the mayor gave a loud exclamation.

“You don’t mean to say the Murgg dug a tunnel into our mine? But why…?”

“I’m certain the mine shaft collapsed because of the Murgg,” the scholar stated. “They dug a tunnel into our mine, and when the hole was large enough…”

The mayor slammed a hand onto a table. “Those damned baboons must be planning an attack on our peaceful village!” Then, taking a deep breath, he continued, “But as the mine is now collapsed, it will take them a while to get into this village… go home and get some rest, we must strengthen our defences tomorrow morning.”

Alundra gazed at him in disbelief. “You mean… you’re not going to save the other miners?”

“No.” He glanced at all three of them. “I cannot justify risking lives to save those who may not even be alive.”

Septimus shook his head. “But…!”

He slammed the table once more. “That’s enough for today. I must begin arrangements for Olen’s funeral at once. Jess, I trust you can bring these two exhausted youngsters home to their beds.”

On that final stern note, the mayor left the room.

Jess shook his head and put his arms around the other two’s shoulders. “Come along, we should head back for a nice cup of hot drink. You come along too, Septimus.”

The two of them nodded, and together, the trio left the mayor’s house.

Outside, a young blond-haired woman ran up to the three of them, shaking her head.

“Tell me the truth, please, no one else would.” She shook her head. “Is Olen going to live? Or is he condemned to…”

Septimus was hesitant. “Kisha…”

Worry etched deeply on Kisha’s face. “Oh Septimus, all this feels like a strange, horrid nightmare… if it is, why can’t I wake up?”

“Kisha…” Alundra closed his eyes. “Olen is gone.”

She inhaled sharply, her eyes wide. Tears welled up in her eyes as she covered her face with her hands, then a sob escaped her as she abruptly ran away. Soon after, a door was heard slamming shut.

Some distance away, Giles stood silently in the rain, his eyes closed. “Oh, Kisha… my sister has strong feelings for Olen; if she learns he has expired, she will most certainly be crushed.”

The swordsman lowered his head. “I… I didn’t know. I just told her…”

He looked at him, but there was no accusation in his eyes. “I know. You’ve done the right thing, Alundra. Even if we were to keep this a secret from her, she would eventually find out. The gods can be cruel at times, events like this are a true test of one’s faith… I can only pray Kisha possesses the strength to withstand this cruel trial.” He raised his face towards the sky, letting the rain fall onto this face. “I, too, must endure…”

Alundra could say nothing as they left the chancellor’s assistant alone, but his heart was a torrent of guilt.

“Zane and the others…” He shut his eyes tightly. “I was there, watching them die as the Murgg attacked them and the mine collapsed onto them…”

The scholar glanced at him in concern. “No, Alundra, it’s not your fault. Don’t blame yourself.”

Jess placed a hand on the adventurer’s shoulder. “Septimus is right. Come, let’s return home and get you into bed. You must be exhausted.”

He was. By the time they had arrived at Jess’ house, he could barely stand. As the two youngsters tumbled onto the dining chairs, Jess fussed over them and prepared hot drinks and clean towers for them, but exhausted as they were, they would only be content with sleep and could not be persuaded to take to the beds.

As Alundra slept, he could hear the sounds of a hammer striking an anvil ringing repeatedly throughout the night… like the eerie chimes of a funeral bell.

 

End of Chapter Three.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Four: One Who Waits for Eternity

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

The sunlight streamed into the house, like a warm morning greeting. Alundra stirred and blinked his eyes, his mind dull from sleep as he slowly raised his head from the dining table he had rested on. His neck and back ached from sleeping in an odd position, but, he thought, it was the price to pay for not taking the extra effort to crawl into his bed, exhausted though he was last night.

Septimus was still sleeping with his head in his arms on the table. Both of them had thick, warm blankets around their shoulders, which reminded the adventurer of Jess… where was he?

A few more loud sounds of hammer hitting anvil told him the answer, prompting him to get up from the chair and enter the forge. The blacksmith was there, putting on the finishing touches on the latest item he was working on.

“Morning, Jess,” the young man greeted.

“Morning, Alundra.” Jess hammered a few more times before looking up, the dark rings beneath the eyes indicating he hadn’t slept. “Here, have a look at this.”

Alundra moved nearer towards the item and blinked. “Isn’t this a… mining bomb?” The realisation then struck him like thunder. “Wait, Jess, you’re working on a weapon! Not a kettle, but a freaking weapon!”

He gave a pleasant smile. “Let me tell you a story, Alundra. Hundreds of years ago, the people of this land prayed to idols… they were the material representations of our gods, you know what I’m saying?”

Alundra nodded, remembering the statues and portraits of gods he had seen in other continents.

“Then, the king decreed that all idol worship was forbidden, and the people had no choice but to comply. They watched the destruction of their statues in tears and thereafter lost their passion to create, even now.” Jess closed his eyes. “For many years, I was like them, having lost my passion to create weapons that I was once proud of because of my mistake. I believed that was the god’s way of punishing me…”

Alundra drew back slightly in surprise. So this was what Olen had meant when Jess had once made the finest weapons.

Then, the swordsmith perked up once more. “But gods or no, I must regain my passion, you know what I’m saying? I could hear Olen’s voice all night, demanding that I make the finest weapons once more… and that I assist in the fight for this land.”

“The fight for this land… you mean fighting the curse of the nightmare?”

Jess slapped the young man’s back so suddenly that the latter jumped. “Precisely! I’m going to help you with the only way I know, that is, to make weapons!”

He grinned. “That’s great! I get to see what’s so fine about your weapons, eh?”

He laughed. “I’m sure you’ll have the chance.” He patted his latest creation. “This is the mining bomb. It’s actually just a bomb, but since it’s used for mining, that’s what they call it. A nice way to get through the rocks, you know what I’m saying, Alundra?”

Alundra’s eyes gleamed. “With this, we can get easily into the coal mine!”

He shook his head. “But it’s just too dangerous to attempt, my boy.”

“But we can’t just leave Zane and the others in the mine if there’s even a slight chance of saving them!”

The older man thought for a moment before nodding. “All right, here’s the plan, I go to the mine. I see if it’s safe, and maybe I let you go inside.” Determination shone in his eyes. “One way or other, I’m going to keep you alive through this… wait here, all right?” Without waiting for a reply, he left the house.

The adventurer gave a sigh. “Oh, come on, I’m not a kid anymore…”

He stealthily picked up the mining bomb and stowed it into his backpack, and searched for more as he might need more than one. With his pack filled, he left after Jess, making up his mind to enter the coal mine no matter what.

After all, there might still be survivors in there.

 


 

The entrance of the coal mine was exactly the same as it was the day before, with its entrance blocked by boulders, the blood washed away from the ground after the rain. Some distance away from the entrance, some of the villagers gathered, some muttering prayers, others a little unsure as to how to help.

Beneath a tree, Jess was seen talking with two villagers, one of which was Lutas, a friendly young blond-haired man with a strong sense of honour and justice, who was the first to protest when the mayor announced they were not going to attempt a rescue mission. The other was Kline, a large man with long jet black hair, moustache and beard that gleamed in the morning sunlight. Though he was approaching middle age, he was still labelled the best hunter in the village, with the wooden crossbow strapped onto his back that was almost as large as he was.

“Hey, guys,” Alundra greeted as he approached them. “What’s going on here? Why are there so many people?”

Kline faced him. “I’m going into the mines. Some of them are thinking of coming along, as with Lutas here, but others are arguing against it because of the Murgg.”

Lutas nodded. “I disagree with Beaumont; even if there’s just a slight chance of saving them, we need to try. We still need to get rid of the boulders, though.”

Alundra pulled out a mining bomb from his backpack. “No problem there. Jess made some mining bombs and I brought it along. Count me in on this adventure!”

“Oy, are you crazy?!” Jess exclaimed, shaking his head. “You can’t go into the mine, you’ll be lucky to come out alive! I refuse to let you go!”

“Oh, come on, Jess, I’m not that bad with a sword and I’m pretty sure Kline’s not bad with a crossbow either!” He half-shrugged. “Besides, I know my way well enough in the mine, since I’ve been around in Olen’s dream.”

He sputtered, trying to give a valid reason. “You can’t… you shouldn’t…”

The adventurer grinned and crossed his arms. “Well?”

He sighed. “Oy, I give up…” He stepped forward and put a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Promise me this, Alundra. If you sense danger, don’t be a hero, just get out of there alive, okay?”

“No worries, Jess, Kline will cover my butt in case anything happens! Right, Kline?”

The crossbowman gave an impatient snort.

Lutas laughed. “I don’t believe you need to worry about him, Jess. Come, Alundra, let’s remove the boulders.”

“Got it.”

The elf lit the mining bomb in his hand and tossed it at the boulders. Everyone ran some distance away, hiding behind trees and rocks.

BOOM!

Within an instant, the boulders were turned into mere debris with one blast, clearing the entrance, reminding Alundra of Olen’s promise to keep a mining bomb for him. Once the dust settled, he stepped out from the cover, together with Jess, Lutas, Kline and several others.

The swordsmith had one last piece of advice for him. “Alundra, another dead victim won’t let the others live any longer, you know what I’m saying?”

Alundra gave him a friendly punch. “I’ll be back in one piece, Jess, no worries! You just go on home and get some rest. Making the mining bomb all night must have been tiring, right?”

He laughed. “All right, all right. Be careful now.”

“I will.” He stepped forward and glanced over his shoulder.

Kline turned. “We’ll go on ahead and clear the path of any Murgg we see.”

Lutas nodded. “I’ll get a few men and search the mine after you.” His eyes narrowed with concern. “Do be careful in there, Kline, Alundra.”

The hunter snorted and entered the mine entrance, with Alundra following right behind him.

 


 

The interior of the mine was similar to what Alundra had seen in Olen’s dream, except there were cracks along the walls and ground, the tools scattered all over, dark residue were left all over from by explosives… and dried blood stains marked the ground.

The aftermath of the chaos was worse than he imagined.

“Keep your eyes open, boy,” the hunter warned as he strode forward. “You never know when the Murgg will strike.”

“Y-yessir,” Alundra blurted out, startled out of his thoughts, and followed after him.

They walked warily along the tunnel, keeping their senses heightened in case of Murgg attacks. They cleared the engine room and several dead-end tunnels of monkeys before entering the tunnel that was connected to the one the Murgg dug. A few minutes later, they arrived at a shallow pool of water, with little choice but to wade through.

Then, a scream echoed along the walls, followed by several vicious screeches, prompting the duo to rush through the ankle-high waters around a tunnel bend as fast as they could. Soon they found a mine worker lying on the ground, frantically trying to fend off four white monkeys as they brandished their metal claws.

“He-help me!!” he cried.

Alundra started to charge, his sword drawn, but Kline yelled, “Get down!!”

The adventurer obeyed and ducked, barely missing a crossbow arrow that whizzed by his head. The arrow struck one monkey squarely in the forehead, immediately bringing it down, and more arrows followed suit to strike the other three down before they could do as much as screech. Alundra was amazed at the hunter’s speed and accuracy, but there was no time to be in awe. Both of them hastened to the worker’s side… but his condition was worse than they had thought. He was bleeding badly and was terribly pale – it seemed he had been injured for some time and had lost a large amount of blood in the water.

“Hang on!” Alundra shouted as both of them carried the worker to dry land.

“Kline… Alundra…” The worker coughed. “Leave me… I am not long for… this merciless world…”

“No, don’t say that! We’ll get you out of here!”

But he shook his head. “The others are still in there… please… save them…”

Kline clasped the worker’s trembling hand. “No, don’t speak.”

He smiled. “I’m glad, Kline… I could at least see your face before I go… you too, Alundra…” He coughed. “Please… help the… others…”

And, as they lay him down on dry ground, he drew his final, shallow breath.

Alundra shut his eyes. “No…”

Kline’s expression hardened, but his hand was gentle as he placed the worker’s hands on his chest as though in prayer, then straightened and glanced at the adventurer.

“We should move on ahead and clear the area of the Murgg,” he stated. “The others will carry him back to the village.”

The elf nodded wordlessly.

They continued on, but their search proved to be unfruitful.

Deeper into the tunnel, they found another worker, who did not respond… his body was already beginning to stiffen.

At yet another shallow pool of water, Zane lay in a crumpled heap… his hands already wrinkled like prunes.

All the workers they found further on were dead.

Alundra clenched his fists.

The tunnel descended slowly, as though they were walking into the deepest depths of the earth. It twisted and turned as though without a purpose, then widened into a large room without warning, with sunlight streaming in brightly from the exit on the other end.

A loud roar shook the ground, stopping the duo in their tracks, followed by several earth-shattering footsteps.

A horde of Murgg stood in a circle around the cave, surrounding the biggest ape the duo had ever seen – it stood towering at fifteen feet high, its crimson eyes leering down at the white monkeys, its grey fur bristling.

The numerous white monkeys jumped up and down as they faced the giant ape, chanting what seemed to be the name of their leader, “Zazan! Zazan!”

One of them chattered inaudibly, upon which the giant ape roared.

“What?! You haven’t found a Crest here?!” Zazan beat his chest. “WUKIKI!! The Lord has ordered us to find seven Crests! Seven! Yet you have only seemed to find a pitiful TWO!”

The crowd grew silent immediately, hanging their heads in fear and shame.

“GO and do not return without the remaining Crests!” He beat his chest. “Now get out of my way!”

The Murgg immediately parted, allowing a wide path for him to leave, his loud footsteps shaking the earth, and then followed him out into the sunlight.

Judging that it was safe enough, Alundra and Kline straightened and slowly stepped out of cover.

The hunter crossed his arms. “Hm… it said something about finding a Crest?”

Alundra glanced at him. “Do you happen to know what the Crests are?”

“No, I don’t. We’ll have to ask around Inoa.”

He shrugged. “Figures. Well, let’s go and see where this exit takes us.”

They stepped through the exit, wincing as the bright afternoon sunlight shone down upon them. They found themselves on a high cliff overlooking the base of the biggest tree Alundra had ever seen, a tree so large that it made the forest trees seemed like little toys. Standing at the edge of the cliff, they could see wooden huts at the base of the giant tree and wooden platforms around its wide trunk, where there were openings like the balcony doors to a tower.

And the place was crawling with the Murgg.

The hunter looked around the settlement. “Oh? It seems we’re in Murgg Woods, right next to the Great Tree. So my theory is right.”

Alundra turned. “Theory?”

“That the coal mine and Murgg Woods are connected… so this is the hidden entrance.” He crossed his arms. “We should head back to the village. Jess should be worrying himself sick about now.”

He grinned. “Seeing his reaction at the mine entrance, I don’t have any doubt. Lead the way.”

 


 

When Alundra and Kline arrived at the entrance of the coal mine once more, they found Jess waiting for them there, his eyes narrowed in concern.

“You were getting quite late, so I was worried…” The swordsmith smiled. “But no matter, I’m just happy you’re safe and sound.”

Alundra gave a thumbs-up. “Of course! I’m not an adventurer for nothing! But…” He lowered his head. “We didn’t manage to find any survivors…”

“I see… that’s quite unfortunate…”

At that moment Lutas came up to them. “Welcome back, Alundra, Kline. It’s good to see you back.”

Kline turned. “We couldn’t find any survivors… any luck?”

He shook his head. “None on our side either. The Murgg were merciless…”

The adventurer closed his eyes. “I see…”

Jess placed a hand on his shoulder. “You did well, Alundra. There’s nothing we can do but to accept that they’re gone. How about we go on home and have a warm meal?”

He nodded slightly. “Yeah… you’re right.”

“Good! Now put a smile on your face!” He glanced at the other two. “You two are welcome as well!”

Kline shook his head. “I appreciate your hospitality, Jess, but no. I should finish repairing that gate.”

Lutas smiled sheepishly. “I should return home, my wife might be worrying about me being in the mine. Next time, Jess?”

Jess nodded. “Of course, of course, you’re always welcome. I’ll bring some to your house later. Oy, I almost forgot!” He turned to the elf. “Sybill was looking for you earlier, so why don’t you see her while I prepare the meal?”

Alundra nodded. “Sure thing.”

With that, Kline headed back towards the woods. The others entered the village, then Jess waved goodbye as he stepped into his house. As the remaining two continued through the village, Lutas suddenly spoke.

“You know, Alundra, ever since you came to this village, Jess seems much happier.”

The swordsman glanced at him in surprise. “You mean, he’s not this happy before?”

He shook his head slowly. “He has always been a nice person, but his smile always seemed forced. When he lost both his wife as well as his newborn son, it changed him, and he no longer made weapons… it’s because of that awful tragedy that he is such a broken and humble man. He knows that death can call away those most loved at any time…”

His eyes widened. “He… lost his wife and son…?”

He nodded. “About twenty years ago, a monster made its first appearance in the forest. Kline took care of it… but not before it claimed its first victims, Jess’ wife and son and a few others.” He lowered his eyes. “Jess stayed home to finish a weapon, otherwise he would have gone with them and perhaps might been able to prevent their deaths. If the son survived, he would have been the same age as you are.”

“I see…” So that was what he meant by ‘his mistake’…

Lutas smiled. “But he’s looking better now that you’re here, Alundra. Please treat him kindly, all right?”

He grinned. “Of course! He saved my life, after all.”

He patted the other’s shoulder. “I’m glad to hear that. Now I should get going, or my wife will start looking for me. I’ll see you next time?”

With that, they parted ways.

Alundra descended the stone steps towards Sybill’s house, a quaint little cottage surrounded by trees and flowers. Watering a flower in the garden was a middle-aged woman, whom he recognised as Sybill’s mother. When he knocked on the wooden gate, she looked up and gave a relieved smile.

“Alundra, you’re here!” she said, stepping towards him. “Sybill’s been asking for you, wondering when you would come. Driving me crazy, actually! Would you be a sweet and go talk to her?”

The elf nodded. “I will, don’t worry about it.”

He entered the cottage, looking around for the odd silvery-haired girl, and found her seated at the dining table, staring pensively into space. He walked over to her and tapped her shoulder, startling her.

“Oh, Alundra, I’ve been waiting for you.” Getting to her feet, she smiled dreamily. “It’s good to see you return safely from the mine.”

He grinned. “Hey, it wasn’t much of a big deal, and Kline was with me.” He shook his head. “Anyway, I heard you wanted to see me?”

With a slight nod, she explained, “While I’m awake, I have dreams mode vivid than anyone can imagine. Not normal dreams, but terrifying visions of futures not yet beheld in this reality…”

“Go on.” He was beginning to believe her dreams were truly a portrayal of what would become. The day before, she had mentioned someone would soon die… and soon after, Olen did. But, even if he trusted her, he was unsure of what he could do to help.

“This time, Alundra, I saw a future more terrifying than anything before…” She shook her head. “Wait, I’ll show you my dream. Will you take my hand?”

He blinked. “Take your hand?”

“Yes, I can show you the dream I am experiencing now, if you would take my hand.”

He shrugged and gently took her hand. “Like this?”

She nodded and closed her eyes.

All of a sudden, Alundra found his vision failing him, the sight of Sybill and the kitchen blurring and blending into a giant swirl of colours. Darkness and silence filled his senses, yet he could feel Sybill’s presence, her very being, as though they were directly connected… then, a vision came flooding into his mind.

 


 

The village of Inoa was dark, foreboding… still and silent. There were no lights in the houses, no sound of chatter… no sign of life.

Yet, Kline was running as fast as he could, glancing over his shoulder as though he was expecting monsters on his trail.

Suddenly, a wolf’s howl could be heard just before him. He skidded to a stop. Golden eyes peered from the darkness, and he immediately dashed in another direction, up the wooden staircase.

More and more howls filled the air, golden eyes gazing at him from the darkness. Kline ran here and there, trying to escape from the howls… but wherever he turned, the howls followed.

He escaped to his cabin, hoping to find solace in it, but the door was locked. Frantic, he turned to run, but found himself surrounded by golden eyes, the howl of wolves.

Flee from here, beast!” he shouted, his hand reaching for his crossbow. “Or I shall slay you with–”

But he never had the chance to finish his sentence.

Abruptly, he doubled over in pain, clutching his head, and screamed.

There was a great flash of light… then Kline was gone.

In his place was a great werewolf, its golden eyes flashing as it gave a great howl to the dark night sky.

 


 

A green-haired boy – was it Bergus or Nestus? – was curled up on the wooden floor of a structure behind a locked door. One of the Murgg pushed the door and left it open for the others to enter.

A stream of white simians entered the boy’s cell and jumped towards him… then disappeared into him.

He never woke up.

 


 

A large wooden platform on a large tree came into view, upon which the Murgg were performing a strange dance in two large circles. Gazing upon them was Zazan, his crimson eyes flashing as he roared and beat his chest.

On an elevated platform behind him, the azure image of a large man appeared, his heroic cape flapping in the magical wind that circled him. His muscular arms crossed in nonchalant arrogance, the bright glow in his eyes would strike fear into the hearts of those who gazed into them.

And he slowly gazed upward at Alundra, who was nothing but a mere presence in the dream… and chuckled.

Soon, Releaser… soon.”

 


 

Gasping, Alundra quickly drew back and fell onto a sitting position on the floor, breathing heavily from the visions. He gazed wildly at Sybill, who shook her head ruefully.

“Soon, my dream will become a reality… they all do. That fact frightens me more than anything else…” She knelt beside him, her eyes filled with fear. “Please, you have to help them…”

Getting to his feet, determination blazed in his cerulean eyes. “I’ll do something, Sybill. I do whatever in my power to stop this curse. Don’t worry about it.”

The fear gradually faded away from her eyes, taking on their usual dreamy state. She straightened and smiled gratefully. “Thank you, Alundra. I truly hope the dream wouldn’t come true.”

As they left the cottage together, Sybill’s mother looked up at them and smiled.

“Thank you, Alundra,” she said. “I think you and Sybill are becoming friends, aren’t you? How cute!”

The swordsman stared at her.

Sybill giggled. “Mother, don’t scare him so.”

The older woman laughed. “Still, thank you for coming, Alundra.”

“I’ll, uh, see you next time,” was all Alundra could muster before he left, hearing the two females giggling behind him.

Sybil and him… together…? It was something he hadn’t thought of before…

The image of him sitting together with her at the lake came to his mind, the sky a golden sunset colour. The two of them were leaning closer to each other, just about to…

His face flushed a bright red, then he yelled towards the sky.

“Argh! Alundra!! Stop thinking so much!!”

 


 

The sunset sky was a great orange hue, with flocks of cawing birds flying across the sky to return to their nests. As Ronan completed the funeral rites, the villagers looked up from their quiet prayers and placed their bouquet of flowers at the newly raised tombstones at the cemetery just next to the sanctuary.

Jess knelt in front of Olen’s tombstone, placing a bouquet of nice-smelling yellow flowers onto the stone plate.

“Olen always did like a nice bouquet…” he commented.

Alundra found a lump in his throat as he knelt beside him, clasping his hands together in a silent prayer.

As the sky grew darker, one by one the villagers began to leave. The swordsmith stood up and placed a hand on the elf’s shoulder. “Let’s return home, Alundra.”

He shook his head. “I’m going to stay here just a bit more, Jess. Why don’t you go on ahead?”

He opened his mouth, ready to protest, but nodded understandingly. “All right, but be careful. Rumours of a creature seen near the cemetery are running wild in the village… I don’t know what kind of creature it is, but I don’t want you taking any chances, you know what I’m saying?”

He smiled. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. You’re such a worrywart, you know?”

He chuckled a little. “I’ll keep dinner hot for you, so come back soon, all right?”

With that, Jess turned and left.

Alundra turned his gaze back to the tombstone, and closed his eyes.

Olen… Zane… he didn’t know the miners long, but knew enough to see they were good people. His heart blazed at the merciless massacre, filled with a burning determination to end this curse once and for all. Yet, his mind whirled with confusion… how could he help the people of this village? What was it that was causing the nightmares?

“Releaser…”

Alundra’s elven ears twitched at the voice, prompting him to look up, but there were no one in sight. The mark on his forehead was shining a soft blue colour.

“What the heck…?” he muttered.

 “Releaser…” the voice called once more. “I implore you, come near to the resting place of those brave souls who have come before!”

“Well, so far, the only one who ever called me by that name is… where are you, anyway?”

The young man headed in the direction he thought he had heard the voice, which was somewhere towards the back of the cemetery, at the side of a high cliff. There, in front of a giant boulder, was a circle of soft blue light, the same hue as the light on his forehead, which disappeared just as he approached. Within an instant, the boulder abruptly receded into the ground and revealed a hidden entrance.

He caught a whiff of stale air, and grinned as he stepped inside. Already he was filled with excitement at the sight of an unexplored place.

It was rather dark, but his eyes soon adjusted, allowing him to view his surroundings. Dust covered furniture. Wilted remains of indoor plants. Religious symbolic patterns engraved onto the walls.

He realised with a start.

This was the crypt he had seen in his repetitive dream… Lars’ dream.

“So I finally get to see you, Lars…” he muttered.

Walking along the dust and cobweb-covered halls brought a feeling of déjà vu, as though he was reliving Lar’s dream once again. The crypt was much bigger than he initially thought it was, and there were many halls with plaques on the wall with lit candles by their side. He couldn’t resist the curiosity to read some of them.

The first one said, “Those who live life for others shall forever be remembered in this place.”

The second one said, “As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you will be. So be prepared to follow me.”

The rest of the plaques also had cryptic messages that were a little too much for his mind to handle. He shrugged and continued on.

Further into the crypt, he soon came across a very large room with a high ceiling, which was empty except for a slightly elevated platform, a stone pedestal on one side of the room, and lit candles in niches along the walls. There was an odd foreboding feeling as he stepped before the stone pedestal and read the stone plaque on it.

“Here rests Alundra.”

He drew back in surprise. “What?”

At that very moment, a strange wind blew across the room, putting out the candle flames, then faded as though nothing had happened. Alundra gazed around warily, narrowing his eyes to see better in the dim light, wondering if something was coming.

Then, a familiar old voice echoed across the room.

“You have responded to the outcry of my soul, young one, therefore I shall see if you truly possess the power of the Releaser!”

Suddenly, four pillars of cerulean flames burst upward from the centre of the floor, spinning into one pillar as the candles were magically lit once more. Then, the pillar of flame took on a new shape.

A humongous golem, made of strong orange rocks, leaning its knuckles on the ground like a gorilla.

Alundra stared upward at it, holding his sword that seemed rather insignificant. He suddenly felt very puny.

“Oh, crud.”

The golem roared.

He scrambled out of the way as a heavy punch smashed by his head, sending a wave of musty dust all over him as it struck the wall. He coughed a little at its overpowering smell, then gasped and rolled to the side as it punched again, this time hitting the ground.

“Man, you’re pretty fast,” he commented as he sped across the room. “But I’m pretty fast too! Hyaah!!”

He charged and swung his sword as hard as he could.

Clang!

“Yeow!”

The metal blade bounced off the stone fist easily, throwing Alundra off balance. He quickly recovered and leaped out of the way as the other fist tried to strike him. Realising that his sword was useless against stone, he sheathed it and continued to run, ducking and jumping to avoid being hit.

His mind worked quickly. His hand scrambled for something – anything – that would help in his backpack, finding nothing but healing tonics and mining bombs…

…wait. Mining bombs.

He immediately skidded and dashed in the opposite direction, nearly losing his balance from the shockwave of the golem’s punch on the ground right behind him. With all the strength he could muster, he tossed a lit mining bomb at the golem… which bounced off its chest nonchalantly.

Alundra stared at the bomb. The golem stared at him.

And the bomb exploded at its ankle.

The golem roared as it swayed dangerously. The swordsman’s eyes widened, and he hurried away as the golem crashed onto the floor, shaking the room so violently that a cloud of dust was raised into the air.

Coughing, Alundra tried to fan away the cloud of dust from his face.

But the golem refused to go down just like that – it slowly pushed itself up with one arm, fully intending to continue the fight.

 “Geez, you’re persistent, aren’t you?” He lifted another lit mining bomb. “Eat THIS!!”

He tossed it as hard as he could, watching it sail over the golem’s arm and bounce off its cheek, then it exploded in its face.

The golem groaned as its face crumbled into large pieces, falling onto the ground and shattered into smaller ones. The arms fell heavily onto the floor, still and silent.

Alundra stared at it warily. Was it truly down?

Suddenly one fist rushed towards him without warning. Alundra inhaled sharply in shock, with no time to evade…

…and the fist froze just inches before his face.

First the fingers crumbled, followed by the rest of the arms. Within an instant, the golem disintegrated in a great burst of light, forcing Alundra to shield his eyes.

At first he couldn’t believe his eyes, standing there in surprise. A moment or two passed, and he gave a loud cheer.

“Oh yeah! I did it!! Whoo hoo!!”

And he did a ridiculous dance.

All of a sudden, another gust of wind blew in the room, though this time the candles remained lit. An azure whirlpool of energy formed on the floor just before the stone pedestal, and in its centre, the dark silhouette of a man appeared, his cloak fluttering like a butterfly, his crimson eyes shone with amusement. The old voice that came from him was instantly recognisable.

“Never before in a few hundred years have I witnessed such bravery…” Lars chuckled. “…and such an odd dance.”

Alundra crossed his arms in indignation. “Yeah, yeah, laugh at my victory dance when you’re the one giving me those nightmares, demanding that I come to Inoa, then trying to send me to hell with this rock head… a guy’s gotta feel hurt, you know?”

The old man shook his head. “I do apologise for summoning and testing you, young one.”

“Well, at least all I’ve lost are a few weeks’ worth of sleep…” He half-shrugged. “So tell me the truth. Since you had to go such lengths just to call me here, I bet you’re going to say something like the world’s in danger, aren’t you?”

“Precisely. Please bear with this old one as I fear the explanation will be long.”

He sighed. “I knew that was coming…” He sat cross-legged on the floor and crossed his arms. “I’m ready, hit me.”

Lars nodded and began. “I am a wizard, one they call Lars the Wise, one of the seven Guardians of this land. One thousand years ago, a foul demon sought to mould this world into his black likeness, and one kingdom rose to rage a great war against him.”

He held his chin in his hand. “I thought I heard something like that before… isn’t that the legend of King Snow and the demon god?”

“Yes, though that is not a mere legend. King Snow led the war against the demon, sealed him in the shrine of the lake, and appointed us seven Guardians to protect the seal.” He shook his head sadly. “One thousand years has passed, and now that he has gathered enough power, the wretched beast sought to rule the world once more. He even commands the Murgg at this very moment to aid his full return to this reality.”

Alundra briefly remembered Sybill’s dream, of the Murgg performing a strange dance, of Zazan roaring over them… of an azure silhouette of a man behind him, his heroic cape billowing in a magical wind.

“I think that’s the guy in Sybill’s dream…” Alundra stood up, frowning. “Is he the one causing the nightmares in Inoa village?”

“I know not, though it seems plausible. During the war, he put a great many worshippers into a deep sleep filled with nightmares, eventually sending them to their deaths.”

His eyes blazed with determination. “Looks like the only way to find out is to destroy him. Since you called me the Releaser, there must be something I can do, right? But…” Then, uncertainty filled his heart. “How do I know I’m truly the one you call the Releaser?”

“Let me show you, young one.”

The wizard raised a hand, a soft blue light shining in his palm, and, without warning, the mark on Alundra’s forehead resonated with the same light. Just as it did when Lars called out to him at the cemetery.

The adventurer raised a hand slowly and uncertainly to his head. “What’s… this light?”

Lars closed his eyes. “This is the remnants of the spell I cast at the end of the great war a thousand years ago, to prophesise the rise of the Releaser… of you, young one. It is the bond between the prophesier and the prophesised.”

“A bond… I suppose that’s how you gave me those nightma– uh, dreams.” He shook his head. “But you’ve been calling me the Releaser… what am I supposed to release? The demon’s seal?”

“Aye, precisely. The Releaser is one who has the power to shatter the demon’s seal and lay him low with a mighty strike. Stretch out your hands, young one.”

Alundra obeyed, watching in surprise when a silver crest materialised from thin air and landed lightly in his outstretched hands. The crest had the shape of a silver hawk, spreading its wings majestically as its talons clutched onto a gleaming ruby stone.

“I entrust you with your first Crest…” Lars pointed at the crest in the adventurer’s hand. “My Ruby Crest, young one.”

“This is… a Crest?” Alundra shook his head. “Is this one of the seven Crests that the giant ape was talking about…?”

He nodded. “Yes. When the seven sacred Crests are brought together, the seal will be shattered and the demon will return… from there, your final task remains. That is, to slay him. The Guardians who yet remain in this land will guide you towards that confrontation.”

He digested all the information. “Okay, so as a Releaser, what I need to do is to find the other six Guardians, release the demon from the seal, then beat the heck out of him. Got it.”

“We Guardians will, of course, lend you what remaining power we have.” He waved a hand. “Come, stretch out your hands once more.”

This time, an old scroll materialised from thin air and landed lightly Alundra’s hands. He unrolled it slowly to read it, but all he could see was a whole series of undeciphered hieroglyphs, which made absolutely no sense to him.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“This is the Earth Scroll,” Lars explained. “It contains the secret to one of my best spells.”

“I see, thanks, but…” He held up the Earth Scroll. “How on earth do I use this thing? Short of letting it crumble into pieces on its own, it’s so old…”

He smiled. “That is something you can figure out on your own, young one… or perhaps with your scholastic companion.”

“Septimus? Right, I’ll get him to read it. But just one more thing…” He gestured at the stone plaque that said ‘Here lies Alundra’. “What’s with this thing?”

Lars chuckled. “You need not worry, young one… your namesake, Alundra, was once a great hero, who once fought for this land. There is no need to worry yourself over it.” He gave a short nod. “It is now time for me to depart… I will illuminate the path that will return you to the world of the living.” The wizard stretched out his arms, his dark cloak billowing as a bright light came from his hands. “Take care, young one.”

He grinned. “You too, old man. Don’t give me anymore nightmares, you hear me?”

The wizard chuckled, just as the room was overwhelmed with the bright light.

 


 

The light finally dimmed, Alundra found himself standing right before the rock at the edge of the cemetery, looking as though nothing had happened. For a moment, he wondered if it was all just a dream… but when he glanced down the Ruby Crest and Earth Scroll clutched in his hands, he knew it wasn’t a dream at all.

The sun had now completely set, the darkness adding an eerie air to the already-gloomy cemetery. Only one person was there; Cephas the cemetery caretaker, an old, winkled man with a bad hunchback, sweeping the leaves off the dirt path.

As Alundra passed by, the caretaker gave a knowing, toothy grin.

“It’s much too late to turn back now, friend. Trust me.”

 

End of Chapter Four.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Five: One Who Yearns for Love

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

“What?! You mean Kline will become a werewolf, Nestus or Bergus will be kidnapped by the Murgg, and the Murgg are backed up by a sealed demon god?!”

It was the next morning in the swordsmith’s dining room. The three of them – Alundra, Septimus and Jess – were seated around the table, enjoying stacks of pancakes with butter and maple syrup.

Alundra sighed. “I don’t know, Septimus. That’s what I saw in Sybill’s dream… and she said her dreams always come true.”

The scholar nodded. “That’s true. Everything she predicted so far will soon become reality.” He crossed his arms. “But she used to dream only of trivial things… why did her dreams become more sinister now? I fear dark times are coming soon, Alundra.”

“At least now we know the nightmares may have been caused by that demon from the war a thousand years ago, and the only way to end it is for me to hunt that bugger down. But the question is, where are all the Guardians?” He raked his hair in frustration. “Aaaaaaargh! How are we going to find all of them?!”

Jess shook his head. “This village is cursed, Alundra… you should have washed up on another beach, you know what I’m saying?”

The adventurer shrugged. “Why don’t we become more optimistic and say that my washing up on Inoa beach is a good thing?” He grinned. “Because if I didn’t, Lars could’ve killed me with that nightmare he gave me.”

 


 

It was a bright sunny day in Inoa, a gentle breeze weaving between the trees, the leaves whispering a soft, cryptic message. Alundra felt at ease, temporarily forgetting about the curse of the nightmare that befell the villagers.

As he descended the wooden staircase to the bottom half of the village, however, the peace was instantly shattered by an explosion. His heart jolted. Birds from the nearest tree took to the air in fright. Nearby villagers glanced at a particular stone cottage and merely shook their head ruefully. When Alundra glanced inside through an open window, he was surprised to find the floor was littered with broken pieces of a table.

The table had spontaneously exploded.

Standing up from a chair next to the destroyed table was a young woman, her golden hair gleaming in the sunlight that streamed through the window. She was quite pretty, her sky blue dress complementing her complexion… but beneath her bloodshot eyes were extremely dark rings. Glancing at the table, she hissed in frustration.

“Dammit,” she muttered. “I fell asleep again…”

Kisha, Giles’ sister, stood next to her, her golden hair the same hue as the young woman’s. “Are you all right, Nadia?”

“No, I’m not.” Nadia sighed and sank back into the chair. “But there’s nothing I can do with this stupid curse…”

At that moment, there was a scream at the door, drawing their attention. Old woman Myra was standing there, her eyes wide, her hands at her mouth, the bag of fruits fallen to the ground. She rushed forward quickly to Nadia and embraced her tightly.

“Sorry, Mother…” Nadia muttered. “It seems I broke another table…”

“No, no, it’s fine, darling,” Myra said quickly. “How about some coffee?”

“That would be great, Mother.”

As the old woman strode to the kitchen, Kisha sat on another chair next to her friend. “Stay strong, Nadia. I’m sure the curse will go away soon. I’m sure of it.”

Nadia smiled wearily. “Thanks, Kisha, but go home and don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine here on my own.”

She hesitated, but nodded a moment later. “I understand. Please let me know if you need anything.”

Kisha left the house, shutting the front door behind her, and sighed deeply. His eyes narrowed with concern, Alundra asked, “Is there anything I could help with, Kisha?”

She glanced up, surprised, then shook her head. “No… there’s nothing any of us can do. Nadia is inflicted with a curse that makes things around her explode when she sleeps. She worries for us, and for that, she hadn’t had a night of sleep in days. On top of that, her love for Bonaire is unrequited…”

“Bonaire?”

“Bonaire is her neighbour, a man the same age. But alas, his only passion is the ocean wave.” She closed her eyes. “I don’t know how long more she can go on like this…”

He placed a hand on her shoulder. “You look a little tired too, Kisha. Come on, I’ll walk you home.”

It was a short distance to Kisha and Giles’ home, a silent moment while climbing up the stone staircase. Once Kisha was inside her house, Alundra remained outside, leaning on the wooden fence, gazing upward at the clear blue sky as his mind whirled with thoughts.

An unrequited love towards her childhood friend? Maybe it was a curse related to the nightmares… if so, since the nightmares are a product of the victim’s negative thoughts, this curse might be due to Nadia’s unrequited love.

Bonaire, huh? Come to think, he hadn’t formally met him yet. Maybe he should pay him a visit.

Bonaire’s house was directly next to Nadia’s stone cottage, a small wooden cabin surrounded by trees and bushes. Outside, Nadia could be seen standing at the window of a wooden cabin, gazing longingly inside.

“Oh, Bonaire,” she muttered. “My heart is filled with love for you… and yet, in love, you and I are oceans apart…” She heaved a long, heavy sigh. “How I wish you could fill your mind with dreams of me… instead of riding silly waves in the ocean.”

With a shake of her head, she turned and walked sadly back into her cottage.

Alundra stepped out from his hiding spot on the other side of the wooden cabin. He sighed, wondering what he could do to help her. Glancing at Bonaire’s cabin, he walked to the front door and raised a hand to knock… but just as his knuckle was about to hit the wood, the door swung open abruptly.

“Huh?”

BONK!

Something thin and hard struck Alundra squarely on the forehead, knocking him flat on his back. It was Bonaire, a well-tanned young man with long ruffled silvery hair, dressed in shirt and pants of loud, colourful flowery patterns, his hand holding a large surfboard.

“Whoops!” he said as he helped the swordsman up. “Sorry, dude, did my bonzer hit you?”

The adventurer got to his feet and shook his head to clear the stars from his sight. “Your what?”

He grinned and patted the side of his surfboard. “My bonzer. Isn’t it totally rad?”

Unfortunately, he didn’t have the same taste for surfboards. “I guess it is… what do you do with it?”

“Are you kidding me, dude?! Surfin’s the life! Riding fully macking double overhead corduroy to the horizon… it’s the life, man!” Suddenly, he grabbed the other young man by the arm. “C’mon and I’ll show you!”

Before Alundra could decline, he was unceremoniously dragged through the village’s southern exit. Despite loud protests throughout the short trek through the forest, they arrived at a sandy beach by a tall cliff. Catching sight of the well-tanned man with the surfboard, several village children aged between eight and twelve, who were gathered at the beach with their surfboards, ran up towards him and cried excitedly, “Bonaire, Bonaire! Are you going to surf?”

Bonaire grinned. “Hell yeah! We’re gonna turn this beach dude from a kook to an epic surfer!”

“Yay!” the children cheer as most of them rushed into the waters.

“W-wait, Bonaire! I said WAIT!! WAI–” was all Alundra could say before he was tossed into the waters, where he was forced to cling onto the surfboard along an exceptionally turbulent wave.

Watching him struggle, the children laughed and Bonaire shouted in amusement, “Yo, dude! You gotta ride the waves like you mean it!”

“Like HELL!!” was the swordsman’s response, just as he fell off the board and landed face-first into the salty waters.

 


 

The sanctuary was dark, gloomy. Nadia stepped gingerly inside, wrinkled her nose at the perfumed smell from the candles, then closed the door behind her. She had never liked coming to this place… but today, she felt desperation pushing her towards previously unconsidered options, and she was glad that Ronan was elsewhere.

She approached the altar with heavy steps on the dull, discoloured carpet. Steeling her heart, she knelt before the altar, closed her eyes and clasped her hand in prayer.

“Oh, god… I know I haven’t been here much… but please… let me become Bonaire’s sole object of affection…”

Slowly, silently, dark mist seeped through the crack between the doors of the house-like object on the altar, weaved stealthily through the gloomy air around Nadia…

…and disappeared into her.

 


 

As the sky grew a shining golden-orange colour, a rather animated Bonaire, a group of excited children and a very exhausted Alundra returned to the village, completely drenched from their outing to the beach. They parted at the bottom of the wooden staircase, each child waving goodbye as they sped home for dinner.

As he turned towards the swordsman, Bonaire gave him a friendly slap on the back. “That was epic! We gotta do it again sometime!”

He shuddered to think about another surfing lesson, but mumbled, “Yeah…”

The latter grinned as he started towards his house with a wave. “Latronic, dude!”

He shrugged. “See you later… I guess that’s what it’s supposed to mean.”

Alundra started climbing the wooden staircase towards Jess’ house, desperate for a good sleep. Even the smell of Jess’ good cooking did not entice him enough to stay awake. After a few slow bites of meat, he dragged himself up the stairs and threw himself on his bed, quite forgetting to take off his boots, armour, sword and jacket.

After what felt like a short sleep, however…

BOOM!!

The explosion rang across the night sky, startling him awake. He bolted upright from his pillow, his eyes wide. It took him a moment to realise what happened before he ran the window, only to find neighbours doing the same, looking around warily in their nightgowns. Some even came out to investigate.

Alundra turned and descended the staircase outside his room, just as Jess exited from his with a lantern and a rather frilly dressing gown.

“What’s going on?” the older man asked. “It sounded like something exploded…”

“I don’t know, Jess,” Alundra admitted. “But I’m going to find out. I’ll be back soon.”

With that, he sped down the staircase, skipping the last two steps, and burst out the front door, where Septimus was already waiting for him.

“Alundra!” he cried. “I just heard that Olen’s house was smashed into pieces!”

The news took him by surprise. “Olen’s house?”

“Yes, though there are no traces of explosives…” His eyes widened. “Oh no… Alundra! We must go quickly to Nadia’s house!”

Without wasting any time, both of them descended the wooden staircase as quickly as they could.

The adventurer muttered, “She hadn’t slept for days, so maybe…”

Septimus nodded grimly. “I fear she might have fallen into a cursed sleep…”

At that very moment, the rain barrels near them detonated, spraying rain water all over them. Flower pots broke into pieces, spilling out the dirt, and a woman’s scream could be heard right after the sound of glass shattering. The two young men glanced at each other and the same thought came to their minds – they had to hurry to Nadia’s house.

Once they had arrived at their destination, they saw that a lot of villagers had gathered outside Nadia’s house, either praying or wondering what they could do to help. Alundra and Septimus made their way to Nadia’s bedroom, where her mother and friends were looking on fearfully… and Nadia lay still on her bed, her face pale, her breathing shallow.

“Nadia… oh, Nadia! Why did this happen?” her mother Myra wailed, burying her hands in her face. “Why did the gods curse my daughter then rip her from me? The world is a cruel and vicious place… I long for death’s comforting embrace…”

Kisha shook her head slowly. “My brother Giles has barred himself inside the house, praying to the gods for help… but, if they didn’t hear his pleas before, why would they hear him now?”

The girls in the room clasped their hands together in fearful prayer, holding in their sobs.

“It doesn’t look good, Alundra,” the scholar said, shaking his head. “I fear Nadia’s soul is slipping away…”

Alundra nodded and stepped forward. “All up to me now, I guess.”

The people in the room parted to allow him to kneel by Nadia’s bed and take her hand, which seemed rather small and frail in his. Feeling her faint pulse under his thumb, he closed his eyes and breathed in time with her, preparing to enter her dream…

…yet he could not feel her presence.

Beyond the darkness in his closed eyes, he should have felt her presence getting nearer and nearer, like a bridge forming between them for him to cross. Yet, he couldn’t feel her… as though he was on a broken bridge that led to nowhere.

All he could hear was her faraway voice, crying, “Bonaire… oh, Bonaire, darling!”

Bonaire? Did it mean her spirit had left her body to find her love, Bonaire?

That had to be it.

Alundra stood up, turning around to see everyone’s expectant eyes on him. “I couldn’t enter her dream… all I could hear is her voice calling out for Bonaire.”

Septimus held his chin in his hand. “Could it be that we have to bring Bonaire here?” He nodded. “We should. Let’s go to Bonaire’s house!”

But Myra threw herself at Alundra. “Please, please! Don’t go! Please save my daughter!!”

The adventurer felt a pang of guilt in his heart, but shook his head. “Myra, I want to save Nadia as much as you do! But she’s not letting me enter her dream, so our only chance is to bring Bonaire here! Please trust me on this!”

She hesitated, then opened her mouth to protest, but Lutas, who came up from behind Alundra, put a hand on her shoulder.

“Myra, ever since he came to this village, Alundra tries his best to help us and save those who are inflicted by the curse.” Lutas’ voice was soft, persuasive. “We all know Nadia has feelings for Bonaire, which may be stopping Alundra from helping her… please put your trust in him, Myra.”

Her eyes were tearing up, but she nodded slowly. “But please, please save my daughter…”

Alundra gave a nod. “I will, Myra, I swear on that.” He glanced at the blond-haired man. “Thanks, Lutas.”

Lutas gave a nod. “Let us go quickly to Bonaire’s house, I heard he, too, has fallen ill…”

True enough, as they entered into the wooden cabin, they found the surfer was lying still on his bed, despite his energy and enthusiasm during the surfing outing during the day. His warm, tanned skin was slowly turning clammy and pale… so much that Ronan was muttering by his bedside, “The gods are preparing to summon him into the light. Bonaire’s time has come…”

Kline shook his head grimly. “Bonaire’s always been a sound sleeper, but this is no ordinary sleep…”

“We must hurry, Alundra,” the scholar stated as they approached the bed.

Alundra knew, Unlike his first dreamwalk with Wendell, where he had only one person to save, and with Olen, where he only had to learn the truth… now he had two people to save in a possibly short period of time. He didn’t know if he could do it, but he had to try.

As he slowly entered Bonaire’s consciousness, he could hear the surfer whisper, “Sara, my love… I’m coming for you…”

And Lutas asked, “Who is Sara?”

 


 

What greeted Alundra was the scene of a great golden beach, a tropical breeze blowing relaxingly, the sunlight rays gleaming off the surface of turbulent waves, which, by the surfer’s standard, would be an ‘epic macking double overhead’ wave, whatever that meant. At the eastern edge of the beach, two huge cliffs overlooked, with a long wooden bridge that linked them together.

It seemed as though that was his next destination.

Just as he arrived at the base of the nearer cliff, he caught sight of Bonaire at some distance before him, facing the other way.

“Hey, Bonaire!” the swordsman shouted, breaking into a run.

Bonaire, apparently unable to hear, took a few steps towards the cliff. “Sara… Sara!” He grinned. “Don’t be shy, you tasty morsel of babitude! Let me check you out!”

“Heeeey!” he tried once more. “Hey, Bonaire! Can’t you hear me?”

Suddenly, a young woman materialised before them, her long golden hair gleaming in the sunlight, her long purple dress dancing playfully in the gentle breeze. She raised hand forward, gesturing slowly yet with a hint of playfulness. Her very skin seemed to shine. Alundra’s eyes were drawn to her lush lips, then to her curves. Alundra felt a strong urge to kiss the lips, and to run his hands down those curves… then he caught himself and immediately turned away, reddening.

“Here I am, you Greek god.” Her voice was soft, alluring. “Come to me, Bonaire. Hurry… hurry!”

With a goofy grin on his face, Bonaire ran up to her… and together, both of them disappeared into thin air.

Alundra wondered if this was the reason the surfer stayed in this dream… though frankly, he didn’t blame him. In fact he felt envious – that was one stunning babe!

“Dammit, Alundra, focus!” he muttered, starting to walk. “Remember what you’re here for!” He sighed. “Next time she appears, I gotta close my eyes…”

Truthfully, he doubted that would work.

Upon climbing the cliff, he found quite a number of caves littered about. Inside the caves was a labyrinth of stone, twisting here and there, linking each entrance together. After some time of navigating, he came across a large open cave and found Bonaire once more.

“Sara… oh, Sara… where are you going?” The surfer heaved a sigh and shrugged. “Throw me a bone here! Are you totally trying to guide me somewhere?”

In front of him, the young woman spun around and gave a mischievous smile. “Indeed I am, hunky buns. I am taking you to the gates of rapturous paradise.” She pointed at the exit of the cave, where the sunlight was streaming in. “Go through that door. That’s it… almost there, my sweet.”

Then, as Bonaire stepped into the sunlight, both of them disappeared once more.

Alundra, though strongly attracted to the young woman, had a bad feeling. He quickly sped through the exit of the cave, descending the other side of the cliff, then arrived at the long wooden bridge that joined the two cliffs together.

And there, on the other end of the bridge, was Bonaire once again, and Sara was on a ledge just above him. When she caught sight of the adventurer, a look of contempt washed over her face, which disappeared as she called out to the surfer once more.

“Make haste, darling Bonaire! Someone lies in wait to snatch me from you!”

Bonaire shook his head in disbelief. “That’s totally not going to happen! Nothing can keep us apart, Sara! I would pass up the most righteous swell for you!” He hesitated. “Bhuh… at least I think I would…”

She tried to persuade him further. “Just a few more short steps until we can intertwine our taut, supple flesh forever, darling Bonaire.”

That seemed to perk him up. The surfer picked up speed, the goofy grin etched on his face.

“Wait, Bonaire!” Alundra shouted as he ran across the bridge, but it was too late.

As soon as Bonaire arrived at Sara’s side, both of them faded away.

Then, suddenly, the golden-haired woman materialised right in Alundra’s path.

Alundra skidded to a stop. “W-what?”

Sara snarled. “I am the crusher of souls! I am immortal! And worse… I am pissed! No one messes with Sara and lives to speak of it!” She flicked her hair and raised a hand. “Let some of my closest ghouls impress this upon you!”

With that, she disappeared as suddenly as she had appeared… and several zombies took her place, moaning as they shuffled towards him.

He scowled. “Tch! You think this can stop me? Take THIS!!”

With skilful sword slashes, each of the zombies were easily dismembered and dispatched, allowing him to rush to where Bonaire was last seen. He entered the cave entrance he came across without a second thought and continued to run, his footsteps loud in the tunnel.

The grey walls gradually turned into brown brick ones, the tunnel gradually turning into a long hallway. Then, the hallway widened without warning into a large, rectangular shaped room. The two black statues of gargoyles at the back of the room stared at him menacingly, seemingly guarding a part of the wall that had the stone carving of an angel, its wings spread wide…

And there, braced against the angel’s outstretched hands was Bonaire, his head slumped forward, his arms spread at his sides against the angel’s wings… his tanned skin becoming as clammy and pale as it was in reality.

Sara gave a high laugh, spreading her arms. “Come hither, surfer boy, you’ll make a fine snack!”

“Not if I can help it!” Alundra shouted, running forward. “Take THIS!”

He slashed at the woman, but his blade only hit air. Sara disappeared away and reappeared somewhere to his right, flicking her hair.

“You’re the one from before…” she remarked. “No matter. I’m glad you’re here… I don’t think waveboy has the… meat to satisfy my appetite.”

He shrugged. “Can’t you just eat regular food like everyone else? Besides, I’m here to rescue him, so it’s not like you get to eat him, anyway.”

“What’s that? You’re here to rescue him?” She snarled. “Well, too late, punk! Bonaire’s all mine! Perhaps we can strike another bargain instead; I’d spare your life if you submit to me.”

Before he could open his mouth to toss a retort, she abruptly disappeared and reappeared in front of Alundra. With a sweetly smile, she ran a finger down the armour that shielded his heart. “You being my love slave isn’t such a bad idea, is it?”

Alundra stepped back, startled. She was close… too close. He could almost taste her scent. An overwhelming urge to kiss her, to touch her, rose from within him. Her skin seemed to shine, blinding his eyes, clouding his mind. He raised his hands, about to pull her into his embrace…

Awaken, young one! Fall not into her trap!”

Lars’ voice rang through his mind, snapping him out of his stupor. It took him only a moment to realise what was going on, and anger burned in his heart. Gritting his teeth, he drew his sword into one smooth arc, only to strike air once again.

“Dammit!” he growled. “Stop toying with me!”

Sara laughed, a high condescending laugh. “You men are all the same… easy to control. Unfortunately, when I tire of you, I shall be forced to devour you anyway.” Her form began to change. “Let’s get it over with now, shall we?”

He quickly jumped back as she took on a different form. Her clothes disappeared away to reveal a coarse, leather brown hide. A pair of large bat-like wings spread from her back. A thin, pointed tail swished behind her.

A gargoyle. Like the statues that watched him menacingly.

Alundra stared, unable to believe his eyes. To think he was actually attracted to such a hideous creature…

The gargoyle snarled as she rushed towards him, swiping with her sharp claws. He scrambled to the side and quickly raised his sword above him, just as her claws struck the blade. With a high-pitched cry, she suddenly disappeared into a round dark void-like portal, which, too, disappeared.

He glanced around quickly, warily, fully expecting her to strike at any moment.

And she did strike. The dark void appeared briefly behind him and fired a lightning blue sphere of energy. He tried to leap out of the way, but the sphere struck him like a thunderbolt, sending waves of numbing and pain through him. Sara took this chance to materialise through the dark void and strike at him, but he broke free of the pain and hurriedly ducked. As she streaked over him, he swung his sword as hard as he could.

The blade slashed right across the gargoyle’s back, drawing dark-coloured blood. A loud shriek filled the room, as the creature disappeared into a dark void once more.

Alundra blinked the pain away, breathing heavily, and forced himself to keep on moving.

Then, he stopped. His eyes widened.

Before him, Sara stepped out of a dark void.

And so did her six exact copies.

The gargoyles gave a high cackle of unison and fired energy spheres towards him. Alundra turned and run, swinging his blade at them in hopes of dissolving them.

But there were too many of them.

His cry of pain echoed loudly across the room. Burning electricity shot through his veins, pain filled every part of his body. The lightning bolts sparked uncontrollably around him.

And the seven gargoyles tackled into him, slamming him against the wall behind him.

Alundra coughed and spat blood onto the floor. As the gargoyles faded into the void once more, he tried to get up, but his legs gave way and forced him back on to the floor. His breathing was heavy, his blood was trickling down from the corner of his mouth.

Sara, appearing once again in human form, smirked. “Not such a big talker, are you now, pretty boy?”

The swordsman glared at her through partially shut eyes, but his pain-filled mind could draw no retort.

She laughed. “Since you’ve struck out on your end of the bargain, I’ll throw in a bonus; I’ll let you watch helplessly as I feast on surfer boy!”

His eyes widened. “N-no!”

Sara rose into the air as she transformed into the gargoyle once more, snarling as she rushed towards the still, pale figure of Bonaire…

Then she stopped and recoiled.

A faded image of another young woman took over her, and a familiar voice cried, “No! I won’t let you hurt Bonaire!!”

The faded image disappeared away as though it hadn’t been there, but the gargoyle shrieked as she writhed violently.

Seemingly torn between going for Bonaire and stopping.

Alundra stared, then shook his head and gritted his teeth.

Bonaire’s life was counting on him, and so was Nadia’s – he had to end this quickly!

With a loud cry, he forced himself onto his feet and charged forward, his sword raised and ready to strike.

And the gleaming blade pierced through Sara’s heart.

The gargoyle gasped as she recoiled back. Time seemed to stop… then, her appearance flickered between her gargoyle and human forms. She began to fade, then took on the appearance of another, yet familiar, woman… then completely disappeared from sight.

Alundra heaved a sigh, sheathed his sword. His legs trembled, but he had no time to rest – he pulled Bonaire from the wall carving of an angel, with patches of blood on the back of his shirt from being embedded in the carving.

The surfer stirred, shaking his head dazedly as he looked up. “Whoa, talk about dizzy, dude!”

Alundra supported him. “Are you okay, Bonaire?”

He grinned. “Okay is an epic understatement! At least, once the room totally stops spinning…” He looked up at the adventurer. “Thanks, dude, you totally saved my life. Who knew that betty was a total psycho? I’m, like, totally bummed out.”

He shrugged. “Well, when you’re in a dream and an extra sexy girl tries hard to get your attention, there’s got to be a catch somewhere, you know?” Remembering that he, too, was about to fall under her seductive spell, he coughed and quickly said, “Come on, let’s go. The others are waiting for us.”

Bonaire nodded.

With that, Alundra closed his eyes and made the leap out of the dream world… back to reality.

 


 

The adventurer slowly opened his eyes, then groaned as he felt the aches and pains in his whole body. He was leaning against a wall, with Septimus and Lutas kneeling by his side in concerned and sighing in relief when they saw him awake.

“Thank goodness, Alundra,” the researcher said. “You’re back.”

Lutas nodded. “We feared the worst when blood started flowing from your mouth… are you all right?”

“My whole body is aching… but I blame Bonaire’s surfing lesson for that.” He wiped the blood from his mouth and looked up. “I managed to defeat the thing that was keeping him in the dream, so Bonaire should be fine now.”

“That’s wonderful!” Ronan cried. “We should take this opportunity to kneel and praise the gods!”

At that moment, the surfer groaned a little and opened his eyes. “Ooh… where… where am I?”

Kline smiled. “It’s good to see Bonaire’s eyes bright again. I really didn’t think it was his time.”

Lutas walked over to the bed. “How are you feeling, Bonaire?”

“Where am I, dude?” He sat up slowly and shook his head. “Oh, yeah. Sara is history… but that’s a most excellent outcome in this case.”

The other villagers glanced curiously at each other, and Lutas asked, “Sara? Who is she?”

Bonaire sighed. “Sara was my dream girl. The betty I always wanted to land… but the betty I could never have. Totally a figment of my imagination. But in my dream, she was, like, totally real, and totally psycho… she didn’t want me to wake up!” He shook his head quickly. “Who knew my dream girl would turn out to be some kind of psycho spazzie?!”

Remembering how Sara had disappeared, Alundra grew quiet. He frowned as he quickly raked his head for all details of her defeat… she had taken on the image of a familiar blond-haired woman before she disappeared, but who was she…? It somehow struck chillingly through his heart when he saw it, but it was so brief that he couldn’t remember why…

Bonaire got off the bed, albeit a little shakily. “Alundra, dude, thanks again. Just when you defeated her, she turned into another righteous babe… I think it’s Nadia, dude. Speaking of which, I’ve caught her checking me out a couple of times.” He grinned. “I think she’s Bonaire material…”

The moment Bonaire completed his sentence, realisation struck Alundra.

“Alundra?” Septimus called.

The adventurer abruptly jumped to his feet, nearly falling over in his disorientation, and sped from the room. He didn’t stop when the scholar shouted his name, yelling apologies as he bumped into people.

After what seemed to be a long run, he finally arrived panting in Nadia’s room.

He stopped. His eyes grew wide.

His heart felt as though it had stopped.

Just above the bed, a cloud of dark mist escaped from Nadia, forming the silhouette of a familiar young woman.

Sara.

With a high echoing laugh, she flicked her hair arrogantly, then the dark mist faded into nothingness.

Nadia was eerily still. Her skin was white.

Alundra rushed to her side, putting a thumb on her wrist… and froze.

There was no pulse.

As his eyes widened in shock, as his knees buckled weakly beneath him… the cold, cruel truth struck him like thunder.

Nadia, who yearned for Bonaire’s love, left her body and entered his dream. She took on a different shape, enticing him in the form of an alluring, attractive young woman entirely different from herself, calling herself Sara…

…and it was Alundra who killed her.

 

End of Chapter Five.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Six: One Who Dreamwalks

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

With Nadia’s death, the very air around Inoa seemed to have changed. Dawn arrived, the sunrays glimmering onto the roof of the sanctuary… but even its warmth could not be felt in the heart of the people, as the chancellor read the funeral rites to the new tombstone that marked their latest loss. The villagers stood still as they listened, some stifling their sobs, unable to control their tears as they watched Myra screaming her daughter’s name, clutching the tombstone as though she could pull her back from the grave.

Bonaire, too, seemed shaken. He shook his head quickly, disbelievingly, then slowly, sorrowfully. “Nadia’s death is like… totally my fault. I feel so heinous…”

Guilt filled Alundra’s heart, pain tearing it apart. Even more so when Myra turned onto him and shouted tearfully, “Why… why didn’t you save Nadia? If you had come sooner, my daughter would still draw breath! Where were you?! Bring her back! BRING MY DAUGHTER BACK TO ME!!”

And all he could do was to hang his head, his stinging eyes closed, as though he could will the sight away… will the memory of Nadia’s demise away.

He wished he could bring her back. He wished he had not pierced through Sara’s heart with his blade…

…and leave Bonaire to his nightmare? To his death?

No… he didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know what he could have done.

The funeral ceremony soon ended, just as the sun was reaching its highest height. The villagers began to file out of the graveyard, many with red eyes. As Jess joined them, he placed a gentle hand on Alundra’s shoulder and glanced at him, at which the latter nodded and followed.

But Giles stood in his path. His sky blue eyes were cold, unforgiving, unlike the gentle, kind one he usually had.

“Since your arrival, many of us have perished,” he stated as-a-matter-of-factly, approaching slowly. “A mere coincidence, Alundra? No. A curse.”

Alundra gazed at him. “What… are you trying to get at?”

Everyone else stopped. They faced the two of them, mild curiosity crossing their faces.

“It is a curse brought upon us the moment you arrived…” The chancellor’s assistant raised a determined hand towards the adventurer, pointing an absolute finger at him. “You are an angel of death! A devourer of souls!”

Alundra stepped back, his eyes wide. “W-what?”

Kisha stared at her brother in disbelief, her eyes wide, her hands at her mouth.

Ronan stepped up to them, his eyes ablaze. “A true demon hides among us…” He raised a forceful hand at the swordsman. “Begone from this village, foul one!!”

The crowd started to mutter among themselves, some shaking their heads in disbelief, some looking as though the truth had finally dawned onto them.

“Devil! Murderer!!” Myra shrieked at the top of her lungs. “Will you steal my soul as well, filthy demon? I pray the gods strike you dead with a vengeance reserved for the worst of sinners!”

Some of the crowd joined her in shouting, the name-calling getting progressively worse. Even Bonaire shook his head and said, “Dude, you’re not the centre of the universe, okay? Maybe if you’d noticed sooner, Nadia wouldn’t have suffered her most heinous death! I’m still bent at you!”

Alundra stared at them, wide-eyed.

Within the blink of an eye… they had turned against him.

But a few people stood by his side. Jess, who shook his head and placed a hand on the adventurer’s shoulder. Septimus, who raised his eyes to Ronan and Giles. Lutas, who seemed unable to believe his ears. Kline, who crossed his arms. Sybill walked dreamily to his side, with her mother. Wendell, Meade, and the whole family sighed in disbelief. Many others, who seemed more level-headed, took their place by his side as well.

The two crowds glared at each other.

The once united village had been split into two… and Alundra stared in horror at what he had caused.

 


 

Alundra sat pensively by the lake, staring at the gleaming surface of the pristine waters, mostly hidden from passing villagers by a row of thick bushes. The soft chirping of the birds and the sight of deer taking a drink from the lake calmed him a little. There was nothing but peace. There was nothing here to throw him hated glances… no one to call him a demon and a murderer.

“A gilder for your thought?”

Alundra spun around at the voice, tense, then relaxed. “Oh, it’s you, Septimus… you gave me a fright.”

The scholar gave a sheepish smile as he cut through the bushes before sitting on the ground beside him. “Jess told me I’d find you here.” His eyes narrowed in concern. “Are you… all right?”

He turned his gaze back towards the lake. “Yeah, I’m okay. I’m just sitting here and thinking about stuff, you know? I know Lars called me the Releaser and everything, but I just feel so lost now.”

He shook his head slowly. “I’m afraid I can’t help you there… the Elna is very secretive, so their dreamwalking abilities are a mystery to us outside the clan.” He faced his friend. “You’re part of the Elna… weren’t you raised with them?”

He half-shrugged. “Nope, I was raised by an adventurer guy who found me. He did try to put me into a few orphanages since he travels a lot, but, well, they didn’t go well. So I travelled the world with him. No biggie.” He stretched. “What about you? You came here three years ago to help this village, right?”

Septimus gave a nod. “I was barely an adult when I came here, but my siblings were supportive.” At Alundra’s curious look, he smiled and continued, “I have six brothers and sisters, all older than me, and they’re all scholars, studying medicine, animals, ships… all sorts of subjects intrigue them.”

The adventurer sat up quickly. “So that’s why you’re called Septimus; you’re the seventh child!” He grinned. “So you’re like the baby of the family, right?”

He reddened. “That’s what everyone says when they find out…”

He laughed. “Just kidding, just kidding!”

They stopped chatting for a moment, enjoying the afternoon breeze, as Alundra lay on the ground gazing at the clouds and Septimus sat watching a rabbit cleaning itself.

Suddenly, Alundra jumped to his feet and gave a yell towards the sky, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!”

A flock of birds took to the air from the nearby trees, and Septimus jumped violently.

“Alundra!” he cried. “What’s the matter?!”

The swordsman inhaled deeply. “Whew! Just needed to get that off my chest. I do feel bad about everything, about Nadia and the villagers calling me a devil and all…” He clenched a fist. “But I can’t sit here moping forever, right? The sooner we get rid of the curse, the sooner the nightmares will end!”

Septimus nodded. “Yes, of course! Jess and I will help however I can… oh!” He dug his small satchel and took out an old roll of parchment. “Here, I almost forgot to give this to you.”

Alundra recognised the old parchment, which was the Earth Scroll, as old and battered as ever, and grinned. “Does that mean you found out how it works?”

With that, the scholar pulled out a book from his satchel, a thick book with the golden letters ‘The Ancient Lore of Magic’ stamped across its hard deep blue cover, and flipped through the pages quickly. “Let’s see… what number the page was again… aha!” He showed Alundra the page. “Here it is, read what it says. In the ancient times, the knowledge of magic is handed down from master to apprentice by magic scrolls, upon which the magic is sealed until the apprentice releases it.”

“So I’m considered the apprentice here and I have to release the seal on this scroll?” He shook his head. “How am I going to do that?”

He grinned proudly and pulled out another parchment, a newer one filled with scribbles and drawings. “I got it all outlined for you! Here, this is what you have to do…”

However, despite the directions given to him on paper, it took a good part of the day before the seal on the Earth Scroll could be broken.

“No!” the scholar said again, shaking his head. “You’re supposed to draw that crest like a dragon! Now it just looks like a chicken!”

“I can’t help it!” Alundra cried exasperatedly. “I can slay monsters, but I just can’t draw to save my life! Can’t you do the drawing instead?”

“No, because it’s part of the process, the apprentice has to draw the crest to break the seal! Come on, let’s do that again…”

Then, at long last, just as the sunset rays shone onto them, Septimus gave a cry of joy.

“You finally did it! Now we just need to wait for the seal to be relea–”

The unrolled Earth Scroll abruptly shone, the bright yellow light engulfing them entirely, forcing them to shield their eyes. Imaged flooded into Alundra’s mind, of meteor rains and earth-shattering tremors, and Lars’ words echoed in his mind, rendered intelligible by the rumble in the earth. A surge of power rushed in his veins, burning as though there were flames inside him.

Then, just as suddenly, everything disappeared, as though nothing had happened. Alundra sat up quickly, his breathing heavy, his eyes wide.

“W-what was that?” he asked, shaking his head. “I saw meteors and earthquakes, and Lars’ voice said something…”

“That’s the knowledge he stored inside the scroll for you!” Septimus said triumphantly. “Now you have the ability to use the spell, which he had written here ‘Meteor Rain’!”

The adventurer shook his head again, but didn’t feel any more powerful. He stood up, raised a hand towards the lake and shouted, “Meteor Rain!!”

Only the caws of the birds answered him.

He stared at the scholar.

Septimus thought hard. “I was right up to this point… maybe you need to do something else to cast the spell…?”

Alundra slapped his forehead.

 


 

For the first time after Nadia’s death, Alundra found himself heartily enjoying a good meal of stew, much to Jess’ joy.

“It’s really good to see you eating properly now, you know what I’m saying?” the older man said. “An adventurer needs to be well fed!”

Alundra grinned. “Of course! I’m going to need all the strength I can get!” He held out his empty plate. “Another serving, please!”

He laughed. “It’s certainly good to see you feeling better.” As he scooped some more stew onto the plate, he shook his head slowly. “These terrible happenings in our village are not your fault, lad. Don’t worry, regardless of what may happen, I’ll stand by you, son.” He handed the plate back to him. “All right?”

He smiled as he took the plate. “Thanks, Jess. It means a lot.” He shook his head. “I’m going to get to the bottom of this curse. Tomorrow onwards I’ll be exploring outside Inoa, looking for places I might find a Guardian with a Crest waiting for me.”

The swordsmith hesitated. “You know it’s going to be dangerous, son…” He sighed. “But I don’t think I can ever talk you out of it, can I?”

“I have to, Jess. It’s the only way we’ll get rid of this curse.” He grinned. “‘Besides, I’m an adventurer. I know what I’m doing, so trust me!”

He sighed. “All right, I suppose I’ll have to accept it… but I’m not going to let you go without help, you know what I’m saying?” He got up from the chair, went to the forge and returned a second later with a brand new weapon. “Here, take this, Alundra. Nadia’s death… inspired me to make it.”

Alundra put down his spoon and took the weapon from his outstretched hands, struggling with the weight. As he held it with both hands, he examined it. It was an iron flail, with a heavy metal ball the size of a fist hanging from the chain. He vaguely remembered hearing the sound of the hammer hitting the anvil throughout the night after Nadia’s death.

“I just finished it earlier while you were out.” The rotund man returned to his seat. “Every time someone dies, Alundra, an idea for a new weapon pops into my head, and I’ve never been so racked with guilt in my life! I tell you, that’s no small feat, you know what I’m saying?” He shook his head quickly. “All I can think of is that these weapons are a gift of inspiration from those who have died in this terrible plague!”

“A gift from those whom I failed to save, imploring that I save the others…” He put the iron flail down. “If you think of it that way, it’s not so bad, is it?”

He sighed. “Well, I suppose you’re right, lad…”

He grinned. “Good that you understand. What am I going to do if my weapon maker stops making weapons for me?” He held out his plate, now empty again. “Another serving, please.”

 


 

For the next few days, Alundra spent most of his time exploring the wilderness outside the village, searching for ancient-looking places where the Guardians may lay waiting for him, though he was completely unsuccessful.

He stumbled upon a large swamp, upon which a horde of lizardmen bearing armour and gleaming sabres gazed upon him… and he ran for his life just as they roared and leaped after him. No, no way he was going to risk his life against them without knowing for sure there was a Crest waiting for him there!

He stumbled upon an ancient giant statue of a man, which was built right into a mountain, with little doors that seemed to lead into caves. He entered one of them, finding himself in a tunnel lined with smaller statues of the same man, sitting on throne-like seats, and came face to face with a small green goblin wrapped in clothes. He raised both his hands in peace, but the goblin wasn’t to be fooled… with a high cry, a crowd of them went after him as they brandished newly-sharpened sickles at him, chasing him out of the vicinity before sealing all the doors.

He stumbled upon a large mountain, with the mouth of a cave beckoning him… from the top of a high cliff. He tried climbing up the cliff face, but the rocks kept crumbling and forcing him to slide back to the ground in vain. He noticed there was a trail of what seemed to be rock platforms flat on the ground, which would form a staircase of sorts if only they were at the correct height. He wasn’t sure if there was a Guardian in that cave… but he wasn’t going to try without knowing.

He thought he had finally hit home when he discovered an ancient shrine hidden in the depths of the desert, thinking that this was the sort of place a Guardian would hide in… but after defeating a great golem similar to the one underneath Lars’ crypt, there were no sign of a Guardian whatsoever. He gave a big kick to the nearby stone pedestal in frustration, then howled as he did the single-legged dance of pain.

The rest of his exploration certainly did not go well, either.

And to rub salt in his wounds, he heard Cephas the hunchback laughing as he passed by the graveyard, upon which the caretaker said, “You’re the devil, hmm? Heh heh, sure you are! Why, I can sense the festering black power within you!” And he cackled away into his wooden hut, leaving Alundra wondering whether he was serious or making fun of him. Most likely the latter.

“What’s up with this place?” the adventurer complained loudly to Septimus and Jess at the next breakfast. “Everywhere I go there are monsters lurking about or some natural defence mechanism! Are the Guardians making fun of me?!”

Septimus laughed. “When you think about it, they had to guard the Crests for a millennium, so it’s not going to be so easy, right?”

He snorted. “Oh, come on, if the Guardians are so eager for me to help them, at least they should tell me where they are, dammit!”

“Have you been to the beach, Alundra?” Jess changed the subject as he buttered a slice of toast.

He blinked. “The beach?”

He nodded as he placed the toast on Alundra’s plate and started buttering another one. “The sea to the south has receded so far you can walk a great distance into the sea bed. I haven’t seen the tide this low in ten years!”

The scholar nodded, smiling. “Some of the villagers are going clamming today while it lasts. Let’s have a look, shall we?”

Alundra grinned. “Sure, why not?”

Jess nodded approvingly. “Good, it will be a good change of pace. More relaxing, you know what I’m saying?” He placed another buttered toast on Alundra’s plate, which the swordsman suddenly realised now had a high stack of toast.

 


 

The sun was shining brightly in the blue sky that was clear of clouds. Seagulls gathered in big numbers along the beach and the nearby cliffs, eyeing the seabed that was covered by sea water just the night before, now a wide mud flat exposed under the sun. The beach now stretched nearly as far as the horizon, to the delight of Wendell’s twin grandsons.

“Yahoo!!” Bergus yelled, running along the exposed seabed. “Last to reach the sea is a turtle!”

“W-wait for me, Bergus!” Nestus cried, chasing after him.

“Careful not to step on any shells, boys!” their father Meade yelled after them, leaning a spade on his shoulder. “We need them for dinner!”

A few of the villagers laughed as they stepped onto the mud flat with their equipment, preparing to dig for clams.

The mayor gazed at the much further sea. “I haven’t seen the tide this low in many, many moons. The timing of this bizarre tidal shift bodes ill for us all, I fear…”

Lutas shook his head. “It may be so, Beaumont, but let them enjoy themselves for the time being. After the recent events, they all need an emotional break now.”

“Yes… yes, you’re quite right. I’m going back to settle some documents, so enjoy yourselves.” On that note, he turned and returned to the village.

Alundra watched the twin green-haired boys ran all over the seabed, laughing merrily, as the villagers dug for clams and putting them into their water-filled buckets. At that moment, Kisha approached him timidly.

“Alundra… I’m so sorry.” She shook her head. “My brother, I fear, has crossed the line between belief and fanaticism. I don’t believe you had anything to do with the deaths of our friends.”

She spoke so sincerely that the swordsman’s heart warmed.

Lutas nodded. “If you are truly a devil, Alundra, this village would have been reduced to rubble long ago. I’m sure Giles will realise his error…”

He smiled. “Thanks, Kisha, Lutas, but don’t worry about it. I’m not taking it too seriously.”

Kisha seemed relieved at the thought and smiled back. “Thank you, Alundra. Please don’t think of my brother too unkindly.”

“I won’t, don’t worry.”

With a slight bow, she turned and joined the other villagers.

Lutas gave a sigh. “You know, when our people lost our ability to create a long time ago, we looked elsewhere to amuse ourselves. Along the years, somehow we developed the power to manipulate our own dreams, but more and more, those dreams are turning into nightmares… sleep has become a curse.”

Alundra turned towards him. “You don’t know when this curse started?”

He shook his head. “Unfortunately no, it started gradually… But, according to the stories, the first case was a villager who was a chancellor’s assistant like Giles.” He glanced at the adventurer. “Thanks to you, two people who were afflicted with the curse survived, but I hear Sybill’s dreams are getting more vivid and frightening… sadly, there may be a time when even you can’t help us any longer, Alundra.”

He gazed at the mud flat. “I hope not.”

 


 

In the midst of the clamming fun, time passed very quickly, and before long, the caws of the bird flocks in the sunset sky above signalled that it was time to return home. Tired out and carrying buckets filled with clams, the villagers slowly gathered their tools before moving back towards the village. Even the sea was already beginning to inch slowly back across the mud flats.

“Nestus! Bergus!” Meade shouted with his hands cupping his mouth. “It’s time to go home!” He shook his head. “Where are these two troublemakers?”

“I’ll help you look for them, Meade,” Alundra volunteered.

“Thanks, Alundra. I hope they haven’t gotten themselves into trouble.”

Together, both of them shouted and called, and even Septimus joined in, but there were no sign of the twins. As he walked along the mud flat, the adventurer caught sight of a pair of little shoeprints leading away from the general area the villagers were at. Frowning, he followed them.

He found himself walking around the face of a rocky cliff, further and further away from the other two, eventually reaching to the shallow beginning of the sea. Not convinced that the boys had gone swimming, he took off his boots and waded through the shallow waters along the cliff, carrying his boots with one hand.

He soon came across a small sandy beach surrounded by a rocky cliff and sea. The pair of small shoeprints continued on, eventually disappearing into a large cave in the cliff.

Into the darkness.

His heart skipping a beat, he spun around and shouted for the other two, who came quickly. Fear swept across their faces as soon as they lay their eyes on the cave.

“Nestus! Bergus!” Meade cried and made to enter the cave, but the other two held him back.

“No, Meade!” Septimus shouted. “It’s dangerous in there! A few more hours and the cave will be filled with sea water!”

“Calm down and let’s just think for a minute here!” Alundra said.

“No!!” The father shook his head frantically and struggled against them. “I’m not leaving them to drown in there!”

Septimus held him tighter. “Meade! Listen to us!”

He struggled even more. “Nestus! Bergus!!”

Alundra sighed. “Well, no choice then…” He let go of the arm, allowing Meade to advance a foot further, then punched him hard on the face.

The scholar stared, wide-eyed. “Alundra!”

Meade recoiled, holding his cheek where he was punched. “What–”

The adventurer crossed his arms indignantly. “Now that I have your attention, listen closely; you two go back to the village and get some help, while I go in and get the little troublemakers out. Okay? Deal? Deal.”

Septimus shook his head. “But the tide–”

“Think about it. The tide’s coming in fast so we don’t have time to waste and it’s probably dangerous in there–” He patted his backpack. “–and I’m the only one equipped to go in. And besides, Meade, the villagers trust you more than they do with me, especially after many of them started to believe I’m a devil.”

Meade lowered his head. “I-I suppose you’re right…”

“So go!” Alundra urged them as he put his boots back on. “I’ll get them out! And if this entrance gets flooded, I’ll just create a new one with Jess’ mining bomb!”

With that, he disappeared into the cave.

Meade took a step, as though about to follow him, but the scholar grabbed him by the arm and shook his head. The former stopped and closed his eyes, his hands clenched.

“Oh, god… please let Alundra return with my sons alive…”

 


 

The cave was made of cold blue stone, its walls uneven but rather smooth due to the constant pressure from the sea water. The ground had varying heights, sometimes forcing Alundra to climb upwards, sometimes downwards. There were seaweeds on parts of the floor, lying flat on the ground without the buoyancy of the sea water, utterly slippery to those who would step on them. He held the burning stick – a makeshift torch made of a spare branch he kept in his backpack – in front of him as he stepped carefully in the darkness, not wanting to be hurled down a slope or walk into a cliff.

Time seemed to slow down as he trudged through the cave. How long had passed? An hour? Two hours? It was difficult to know in the darkness.

After what felt like a long time, he abruptly stopped and knelt, holding his torch close to the ground.

A burnt piece of wood lay silently on the ground, next to an exceedingly squashed patch of seaweed at the beginning of a green skid mark, indicating that someone had stepped and slipped on them.

He moved the torch further to the front.

The skid marks continued down a dangerous slope, with crushed brittle rocks scattered along the ground.

Evidently, someone had stepped on the patch of seaweed and slipped all the way down the slope, dropping the torch.

Frowning, he straightened and continued on quickly, fearing the boys might be injured. He stepped carefully, one hand on the torch and another holding onto rocks or niches in the wall for support.

Soon, however, he heard two voices.

“T-there’s a light over there! Someone’s coming!”

“Heeeeeey! Come and save us!”

Alundra blinked. “Nestus? Bergus?”

Hey, it’s Alundra! Alundra! We’re here!!”

It was a few more long minutes as the adventurer traversed the remainder of the slope, before eventually reaching even ground where the two boys were shouting happily. They were covered in scratches and bruises, and Nestus was sitting on the ground with a slightly pained expression, but otherwise alive and well. Bergus was standing protectively next to his twin, yelling energetically. They spoke rapidly when he finally arrived at their side.

“Thank goodness you came, Alundra!” Bergus cried.

Nestus nodded tearfully. “We came exploring but fell all the way down here…”

“We tried climbing back up–”

“–but my foot was so painful when I tried to stand–”

“–and we lost the torch–”

“–we were so scared–”

Alundra laughed. “One at a time, I can’t digest so many words at once!”

The two boys stopped talking at once and smiled sheepishly.

“Since we’re all together now, we’ll get out of here, okay? Here–” He passed the burning torch to Bergus. “Hold this for a moment while I have a look at your brother’s foot.”

The boy nodded and held the torch just above his brother.

The young man set his backpack on the ground and knelt next to the sitting boy. “Where do you feel pain?”

Nestus gestured at his left foot, which still had his shoe on.

He loosened the shoe enough for a good look at the foot, but did not take it off. The swelling and slight bruising of the ankle told him what it was.

“Seems to be sprained,” he muttered as he dug his backpack for the first aid kit. Gingerly but deftly, he reinforced the support around the ankle with bandages, then tied the shoe again before asking, “Does it still hurt as much, Nestus?”

The boy shook his head.

“Good.” He stood up and held out a hand. “Can you try to stand?”

Uncertainly, Nestus took his hand and pulled himself to his feet. He seemed surprised to find he could stand and place some weight on his sprained ankle, and nodded enthusiastically. “It doesn’t hurt so much anymore!”

Alundra grinned. “Great!” He hoisted the pack onto his back and took the torch. “Thanks, Bergus.”

“But how are we going to get out of here?” Bergus asked. “Do you remember how to go back?”

The adventurer’s mind worked quickly. He did remember the way back to the entrance, but judging by the fact that the tide was rising quickly and that he had no idea how long he had taken to reach here… if they were to return the way he came, the entrance might already be flooded by now.

He held the burning torch upwards as he thought hard, the flames licking the air hungrily… then realised that the smoke from the torch was travelling inwards, not directly upwards – that meant there was another exit somewhere further in!

He grinned and took Nestus’ hand. “Come on, we’re going further in to find another exit. Take hold of Bergus’ hand so we won’t get lost, won’t you?”

The boy nodded and took his brother’s hand.

Together, in a line, they made their way bravely forward.

 


 

More time passed in the darkness of the cave, as the three of them continued on. Walking along the tunnels, sliding down slopes, climbing inclines, trudging through waters… but when the twin boys could hardly walk straight, Alundra knew they had to stop soon. Nestus was sniffing, unsuccessfully holding back his tears, his ankle throbbing with too much pain to walk and had to be carried. Even though Bergus was the fearless one of the two, he too had a look of fear that he tried to cover with a brave one. Even the adventurer was beginning to feel the strain, his shoulders and arms aching from carrying his backpack and the injured boy.

The smoke from the torch was still blowing inward, guiding them towards the exit, and they had been doing more climbing than descending, which gave Alundra hope that they could get out of this place safely, or at least an elevated dry place that allowed them to rest for a while.

They soon arrived at one.

It was a round room-like cave, with a rocky platform on one side. While the ground was damp, the platform surface remained dry, indicating that it had not touched water in a long time.

The smoke from the torch continued upward, attracting Alundra’s gaze… and there, at the roof of the cave, was an opening large enough for one person to pass through. The moonlight streamed down through the opening, like hope bestowed by the heavens… except that it was fifteen feet above ground.

Bergus slowly slid to a sitting position. “I’m cold… I’m tired… and I’m hungry…”

On Alundra’s back, Nestus muttered, “Me too…”

The swordsman shook his head. They were all too worn out and hungry to attempt any escape through the opening. The ground was damp, which meant the water might reach this far given time, but considering the platform was dry, it meant they could rest here for a while before the tide caught up to them.

He glanced at the two boys, who looked as though they were about to fall asleep any moment. “We’ll get some rest here, okay?” He nudged Bergus. “Come on, Bergus, let’s move over to that side.”

The boy nodded and they moved over to the rocky platform before settling down with a groan, and Alundra started working on a fire. Before long, a campfire was crackling between them, warming their cold hands, sending wisps of smoke out the moonlit opening above them, as Alundra adjusted Nestus’ ankle bindings.

“I’m hungry…” Bergus muttered, and his brother nodded, their stomachs growling mournfully.

Alundra dug through his backpack and held out a packet of biscuits. “Here, why don’t you have a bit of this?”

The boys’ eyes gleamed as they eyed the biscuits. Without a moment’s hesitation, they grabbed the package and began stuffing themselves ravenously, almost choking themselves.

“Slowly, slowly!” the young man said with a laugh, handing them a container of water. “Your parents would murder me if they found out you choke from biscuits I gave you, you know?”

A short moment passed as the boys recovered and they gazed at him in awe.

“Wow, you’re really prepared!” Nestus cried.

“It’s like we’re on a field trip or something!” his brother added.

Alundra grinned. “If this was a field trip, I would’ve given you sandwiches instead of stale biscuits!”

All three of them laughed, feeling their spirits rise for the first time since they were stranded in this cave. Nestus gave the remaining biscuits to the young man, who shook his head.

“No, these are for you two,” he stated. “I just ate just before I came.”

That was a lie, but the biscuits were only enough for one… and the two boys truly seemed exhausted. They seemed uncertain, but polished off the rest of the biscuits without much of a thought.

Alundra smiled. “Get some sleep now. I’ll wake you up in case anything happens.”

They nodded, drowsy now, and curled up together against the backpack. Before long, the two of them were sound asleep.

Silenced filled the air. A moment passed. And another.

Alundra sighed and leaned against the cold cavern wall. His mind whirled as he went through their escape options, keeping his ears open for any sounds.

Could they wait for the water to rise and float up with a plank? No, that would be too risky, and they didn’t have any planks. And with his backpack, he would sink right through.

Could they toss a rope up through the opening and climb through? No, Nestus had a sprained ankle, and he couldn’t risk sending Bergus through the woods by himself or leaving them here while he ran to get help.

He went through option after option, which got more and more ridiculous as his mind grew more exhausted.

Then, his stomach protested in hunger.

“Psh! Come on,” he muttered. “You know they needed the biscuits more than you…”

But his stomach didn’t agree.

 


 

Septimus ran as fast as he could down the wooden staircase, skipping the last two steps and skidding around the corner into Myra’s – and once Nadia’s – house. The villagers inside barely acknowledged his presence as they clasped their hands together in prayer, their eyes closed.

Upstairs, in a bedroom, some of the women sobbed. The men closed their eyes and shook their heads.

There, in the bed, lay Myra, her old wrinkled face pale, her eyes tightly shut as she lay trapped in a nightmare. Her voice, now hoarse and barely above a whisper, kept muttering her daughter’s name.

Lutas stood up when he saw the scholar enter. “Septimus, you’ve come.” He shook his head sadly. “But there’s nothing we can do. Without Alundra…”

The scholar shook his head wearily. “And there’s still no sign of him, Nestus or Bergus yet… Meade, Rumi and Wendell are nearly mad from worry.”

“It’s unfortunate… but we can only hope he returns in time – and in condition – to save Myra.”

Septimus opened his mouth to protest, but knew the other man was right. He sat down on a chair beside him, feeling despair overwhelming his heart like a wave of darkness. Just like the time when Wendell was ill…

At that moment, loud footsteps could be heard in the hallway outside the room, drawing attention from several people to door. Septimus and Lutas turned, standing up when they saw who it was, their eyes wide with surprise.

Standing in the doorway was a young woman, her golden ponytail gleaming in the dim light, her long, pointed ears visible at either side of her face. She gazed around the room, a cold, indifferent expression on her face, then rested her eyes on Myra. Without as much as a glance at the other people, she stepped over to her, knelt by her bed and took her wrist.

Septimus stared, wide-eyed, as the young woman’s body grew limp… an act he had seen only Alundra done so far.

Another dreamwalker had arrived in Inoa.

 


 

Alundra blinked as he stirred awake, looking up at the stone-cold ceiling of the cave. The boys were still sleeping by his side, dozing peacefully as though they were home in bed.

How much time passed? An hour? Two? It couldn’t have been long since he fell asleep without realising, since the sky through the hole above them was still a dark, starry blanket. The moon shone mockingly onto them, dangling freedom just out of reach above them.

He stretched his aching limbs and blinked the sleepiness from his eyes.

And he stopped.

A shallow layer of water covered the ground below the rocky platform. The sea water had caught up to them.

But it wasn’t the water he was staring at.

It was something lurking in the water… something blue was watching them. Something ghastly.

Suddenly, an old voice echoed loudly across the cavern, startling him. “Thief! Infidel! You shall regret the mere thought of defiling this sacred ground!”

The two boys jumped violently, instantly awake.

Alundra shook his head as he straightened. “Sacred ground?”

“Now, regret shall consume your thought as your soul is bled of what life remains in it!”

Bergus sat up and asked, “Alundra? What–”

The blue thing in the water came closer, allowing the adventurer to see what it was – a ghoulish face, like the head of a vengeful spirit that had a permanent scream etched to its face. It inched nearer and nearer beneath the waters, then suddenly rose upward like a liquid mountain. A hollow howl coming from the numerous faces on its surface, all with the expression of pain etched to their faces.

Nestus stared at it, wide-eyed.

“Both of you, get down!!” Alundra shouted and leaped from the platform, drawing his sword. He landed in the water with a splash, vaguely noting that the water was only up to his knees.

The monster gave a hollow howl as several arms made of water shot up from the water and rushed at him like charging beasts. He tried to dash to the side but the knee-high water slowed him down. The water hands slapped him painfully, knocking him hard against the cavern wall behind him.

“Ugh… damn water…” he muttered, pulling himself back up. “Take this!!”

He leaped forward and stabbed at the monster. The blade pierced through the water easily, with an odd sensation like poking a fork into a jelly, causing the monster to howl in pain.

Then, Alundra froze, his eyes wide.

Twenty water arms shot up and rushed at him, all eager to catch a hold of him.

He had no chance to run.

He gasped in pain as the arms pressed him hard against the cavern wall behind him. The monster gazed at him with its many mournful eyes.

Its many mouths opened in a silent scream and released a torrent of water-filled bubbles at him.

Some struck the water arms, combining with them for reinforced strength.

Some of them hit the walls and exploded, sending a splash of water over him and the twins.

Some launched themselves over him.

And Alundra suddenly found his face covered in water.

He couldn’t breathe.

Beginning to panic, he struggled hard against the water arms, his heart banging against his chest.

But the arms held him fast, like reinforced steel shackle.

He turned his head about, trying to break free of the water-filled bubble on his face.

But it held on tight. Determined to drown him.

His chest burned. His lungs yearned for air.

He had to escape! He had to!

He abruptly remembered the spell Lars taught him.

Meteor Rain… Meteor Rain!!

He tried to release what little energy left in him… but nothing happened.

His chest burned. His lungs desperately needed air.

And he opened his mouth against his will.

This is it… I’m dead…

“No!! Let him go!!”

Bergus gave a yell as he threw a piece of burnt wood – from the campfire – as hard as he could at the bubbles. The sharp end of the wood struck the bubble on Alundra’s face, bursting it into a splash of water.

Alundra gasped and spluttered as he fell to his knees, inhaling deeply and coughing water from his lungs.

Nestus trembled, but he joined his brother and threw another piece of wood, shouting, “L-leave him alone!”

The hands turned as though they were heads, and they faced their new enemies.

The two boys’ eyes widened in fear.

But as air filled his lungs once more, determination and confidence seeped back into Alundra. He glared at the monster, fury burning in his eyes, and began to glow. Hot energy rushed through his veins in waves, bursting with power.

“You’ll pay for that!” he shouted, clenching his fists. “METEOR RAIN!!”

A bright flash of light shot across the room. The monster drew back uncertainly.

All of a sudden, large meteors rained from the ceiling onto the waters, hitting all the water arms and bubbles in their path. The monster howled as the rocks struck mercilessly, releasing a splash of water whenever its body was hit.

The more the meteors hit, the smaller the mountain of water grew, and by the time the spell ended, it was half its original size.

Alundra grinned as he stepped forward, the light disappearing from his body. “Aha, so you’re vulnerable in that form, aren’t you?” He retrieved his submerged sword from the shallow water and held the blade in front of him, which was beginning to shine brightly. With a burst of strength, he rushed forward and jumped into the air, the shining sword above his head.

“Eat my charged strike! HYAH!!”

He brought it down in a powerful downward slash in a great burst of light.

And the monster was cleaved cleanly into two.

A hollow, mournful howl echoed across the room, just as a bright light engulfed the monster… then, the ghastly azure faces disappeared away from its body, turning it back into ordinary water that splashed back into the water on the ground.

The seawater became still, as though nothing had happened.

“Whew…” Exhaustion finally taking over him, Alundra fell back to a sitting position, breathing heavily and coughing out the remaining water in his lungs.

“Alundra! Alundra!” the twins shouted in concern. “Are you okay?”

He gave a tired grin and a thumbs-up, to their huge relief.

“Releaser…” an old voice – the one that had shouted at them before summoning the monster – said softly.

A golden whirlpool of energy appeared in the middle of the room, from which the dark silhouette of a man emerged, his cloak billowing in a hidden wind.

“Lars? No, wait…” Alundra stood up. “You’re another Guardian, aren’t you?”

“Indeed I am, Releaser…” the same voice spoke from the silhouette. “You are the Releaser of which Lars has spoken. I am Vul, protector of the Agate Crest.”

“First Lars, then you…” He crossed his arms indignantly. “Do you guys have grudges against me or something? Heck, you just set that thing on me – on us – and called me a thief! Do you think a thief will come back to the scene of the crime with two children?”

Vul lowered his head shamefully. “I do apologise for the trouble… I had thought–”

“Aaaah, forget it. What’s past is past. You said you’re protecting the Agate Crest, right?”

“Yes, but…” He gave a heavy sigh. “Sadly, the Crest is no longer in my possession… it was stolen by the Murgg this very morning.”

“WHAT?!” His voice echoed loudly along the tunnel.

“I have seen the power that you wield when you summoned Lars’ Meteor Rain spell, Releaser; not many are able to wield the spell as easily and efficiently as you have done–” The statement made the adventurer snort. “–and I sense you may possess the strength to one day crush the demon sealed within these lands. However, until that time comes, you cannot take the Murgg threat lightly.”

He nodded. “I’ve seen them around. It seems they’re searching for the Crests too.”

“Precisely. In their crusade to restore the demon to this world, they have already stolen the very Crest you seek.” He shook his head sadly. “Therefore, I give you the only power left for me to impart. Do stretch out your hands, Releaser.”

Alundra obeyed, catching an old parchment similar to the Earth Scroll as it materialised out of thin air on his hands. “This is?”

“This is the Water Scroll. Use it well, Releaser.” He lowered his head. “I ask of you… you must recover the stolen Crest!”

“Of course I will. That’s why Lars summoned me here, right?” He crossed his arms. “But can you at least tell me where I can find another Guardian?”

“Certainly. There is a Guardian residing northeast from here, in a deep swamp where the creatures of the lizard dwell.”

His heart sank. The heart of the swamp, the one filled with hordes of lizardmen that tried to chase him to hell when he stumbled upon it?

Shaking the horror from his mind, Alundra said, “The lizardmen’s swamp. Got it. Thanks. Also…” He glanced at the twin boys, who seemed confused. “Can you take us out of here?”

Vul nodded. “Certainly, Releaser. Please close your eyes.”

All three of them obeyed. Soft warmth filled them, just as another bright light could be seen through their closed eyes.

“Remember my words, Releaser…” The Guardian’s voice now seemed to echo. “You must not treat the Murgg lightly… you mustn’t!”

The pleading in his voice was a foreboding omen.

 

End of Chapter Six.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Seven: One Devoured by the Beast

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

When Alundra and the twins blinked their eyes, they found themselves standing atop of a large stone cliff overlooking the wide sea, a cold wind howling mournfully across its surface glimmering in the moonlight. There was an opening in the ground near them… which, they recognised, was the very opening they had glanced hopefully at from inside the coastal cave.

“Yay! We’re out!” Bergus cried.

“We’re going home!” Nestus shouted.

Despite his shaky legs, which had been weakened due to Lars’ powerful spell, the adventurer laughed, feeling thoroughly relieved to be out of the stuffy cave. Raising the backpack to his shoulders, he grinned at the other two and jerked his head towards the familiar woods.

“Come on, just a bit more until we’re home!”

The boys nodded enthusiastically and skipped after him, refreshed from their short nap.

After what seemed to be a short walk, they reached the wooden gate that marked the village’s southern entrance. The village, however, was shrouded in eerie silence in the darkness of the night, as though it was waiting for another life to disappear…

From behind them, several familiar voices could be heard.

“–no trace of them at all–”

“–cave must’ve been flooded by now–”

“–no choice but to tell the others they’re–”

“Surprise!” Alundra interrupted with a grin, as though he was organising a surprise party. “Guess who’s back?”

The group froze in stunned silence, their mouth open, their eyes staring at Alundra and the two boys as though they were creatures from another world.

Lutas was the first to recover and speak. “Alundra! You’ve made it!”

Almost all at once, it was as though a valve had been released within the rest of the group. They crowded around the adventurer and the two boys in excitement and disbelief, but not before Meade rushed forward and pulled his sons in a tight embrace.

“Nestus! Bergus!” he cried. “You’re back safe and sound! You must have been so terrified!”

“Not at all!” Bergus said, but at his brother’s sideways glance, he hurriedly continued, “Well, maybe a little…” His eyes lit up. “But dad, you should’ve seen Alundra! He was so cool!”

“He even used magic against the monster in there!” Nestus piped up.

The crowd gazed at the swordsman, some in awe, some disbelievingly. Some of them muttered something about magic being a lost art.

Meade faced Alundra and gave a deep bow of gratitude. “I really can’t thank you enough for saving my sons! If you haven’t been there…”

The adventurer smiled. “No worries, Meade. I’m just glad they’re fine.”

He smiled as well, gave another bow, then nudged his children back towards their house. “Come on, let’s go home. Your mother and grandfather are very worried about you two. Besides, it will be a change to tell Grandpa your story instead of listening to his.”

The two boys’ eyes lit up at the thought of telling their grandfather their story, and they spun around and sped energetically back towards their cottage, followed by their father.

“Alundra,” Lutas called. “I’m sure the tale of your adventure in the coastal cave will be fascinating, but we should head first to Myra’s house.”

Alundra nodded as the two of them strode briskly towards the old woman’s house. “Something happened?”

“While you were gone, Myra went into shock and collapsed. Now she lay trapped in a nightmare… I imagine the same would happen to me if I suffered such a tragic loss.”

His eyes widened. “Myra collapsed?”

He nodded. “Yes, but that’s not all. A young woman came to the village, went into Myra’s house and… well, she did the same thing as you when you entered Bonaire’s dream, so I believe she may have the same powers as you.”

Relief filled his heart. “Good, maybe it’s an experienced dreamwalker who can prevent what happened to Nadia from happening again… I really hope so.”

They lapsed into silence as they hurried to Myra’s house, where they were greeted by the familiar scene of villagers gathered, some muttering prayers, some muffling sobs. They squeezed through the crowd to the upper floor, where, in the dim light of a lamp, Myra lay in bed, pale and barely breathing. Cold fear filled Alundra’s heart.

“Alundra!” Septimus cried. “You’re back!”

The villagers in the room turned at his voice. Some of them gasped.

The swordsman’s eyes narrowed in concern. “How’s Myra…?”

Septimus shook his head. “Still the same as–” He turned when there was a slight rustling from the bed. “Oh!”

All the people stood up and straightened as Myra stirred. They gave a cry of relief.

“She’s alive – Myra is alive!”

“The stranger’s done it!”

At the side of bed, a young woman knelt, her head lowered and her eyes closed as though in a deep prayer. As she opened her eyes, she got to her feet and straightened without any sign of disorientation, as Alundra had often felt. He couldn’t help but to feel a bit envious.

The moment she turned around, however, he gasped.

It was Meia, the female elf he had met on the ship before he arrived in Inoa.

She was still the same as he had remembered. Golden hair that was pulled up into a ponytail seemed to shine even in the dim light of the lamp, the purple and white vest and short grey skirt wrapped around her curvy body fittingly, the high brown boots showed her shapely legs, her elven ears that stood out, long and pointed, like his. The white fur pelt around her shoulders fluttered slightly as though they were on a breezy hill.

She bent a little, laying her eyes on the old woman, and asked, “How are you feeling?”

“Much better… much, much better…” Her voice husky, Myra raised her eyes towards her. “How can I ever thank you, Meia?”

Seeming satisfied with the answer, Meia turned towards the rest of the people in the room, her cold blue eyes lay upon them. “Never underestimate the strength of evil. A single moment of weakness is all that’s needed to prevail… so you must prevent yourselves from dreaming at all costs. Forget the dead, for you will never meet them again. Pass your days quietly and the curse may never reach you.”

The crowd began muttering among themselves, seemingly uncertain with the statement that was thrust upon them.

Septimus shook his head in disbelief. “Stop dreaming? Forget the dead?” He stood up. “No, you’re wrong, Meia.”

The room grew silent at once. All eyes were focused on the scholar.

“You’re wrong, Meia,” he said again. “This isn’t right.”

Meia only gazed at the scholar indifferently, her arms crossed.

“What are you babbling about?” Beaumont demanded sharply. “Meia just saved Myra’s life, and yet you doubt her. Why?”

Septimus shook his head. “The people of Inoa have lost the power of creation, Beaumont, yet Jess is able to craft wondrous weapons, because he’s been moved to make them by the spirits of the deceased. When we create something, we turn a dream into reality. Creation and invention are part of being human… and so is dreaming.”

“What are you getting at, Septimus?”

“If we deny ourselves the right to dream, isn’t it right to say that we’re denying our own humanity? A person who dies is soon forgotten… unless he leaves a mark, a record of their existence. The weapons Jess makes are a constant reminder of Olen and Nadia. They do not want us to forget them. They want to live on in our hearts and minds. It’s part of being human.”

Silence filled the room once more, as some people shifted uncomfortably. Myra gave a sob at the mention of her daughter’s name.

Then, at long last, Beaumont spoke.

“I… can understand much of what you say… but if you die, you cannot create. You can’t dream.” His gaze hardened. “You can only decay into nothing. If I must choose between dreaming and surviving… I choose life.”

“As would I,” the scholar said, nodding. “But… what if there was a way to stop our nightmares? To turn them back into wonderful dreams again?” He shook his head. “I know it can be done. I know we can end these nightmares now and forever!”

Meia stepped forward so quickly that Septimus drew back, startled, thinking she was about to strike him down.

“It can be done, scholar, but at unspeakable risk!” she hissed. “You speak of humanity, and yet ask to put all of humanity in grave danger? Your idea is merely foolhardy and simplistic… nothing more.”

With that, she walked past him, causing a few people to jump out of her way. When she caught sight of Alundra, however, she stopped, her cerulean eyes registering the mildest surprise.

Alundra gave a roguish grin. “Hey there, Meia. It’s a small world, huh?”

“I heard there was another dreamwalker in this village–” Meia eyed him coldly. “–but I didn’t expect it to be you.”

He half-shrugged. “I didn’t expect it either. Just learned of my abilities after coming to this village… and I didn’t know you were one, too.”

“Hmph… stupid boy.” All eyes turned to Myra, who sat up slowly. “Meia saved me from your puny curse! Your powers are useless now, demon!”

Meia gazed at her, indifference on her face, then back at the swordsman. “I thank you for your attempts to rescue me on that ship, however failed they were, but you won’t gain any favour with me.” She stepped closer, focusing her eyes on his. “The evil that befalls this village is beyond your ability. I suggest that you leave.”

Without giving anyone a chance to retort, she strode on and left.

Lutas shook his head. “She doesn’t seem to like you, does she?”

The adventurer gave a wide grin. “But it does add to the challenge, don’t you think so?”

 


 

With her efforts in rescuing Myra from the clutches of the curse just after she arrived at the village, Meia made quite an impression upon the villagers of Inoa. As morning came, once more the air around the village changed.

Whereas the people were earlier divided evenly into two, with one side supporting Alundra and the other against him, now many had changed their minds. Alundra’s feat in the coastal cavern had led many of them trust him more, as they believed a demon would not go through lengths to rescue the boys, yet others thought it was a ploy to regain their trust. Meia’s capabilities in Myra’s nightmare, as well as her cold, indifferent, knowing demeanour, gained her quite a number of supporters, who believed her to be more experienced (which Alundra thought to be true) and more likely keep them alive. Those who were undecided, however, were torn between believing her words – to stop dreaming and live life quietly – and Septimus’ – to continue dreaming and not deny them their humanity. As Myra was thoroughly thankful to Meia for saving her – or perhaps this newcomer resembled her daughter – the female elf was welcome to stay at her house.

After their initial meeting, Septimus and Meia still strongly disagreed with each other on how to stop the nightmares and would launch into a heated exchange of words each time they met. And each time they met, Alundra felt his heart doing more and more flips as he laid his eyes on Meia, inclining to agree with her despite the fact he strongly believed Septimus was correct.

While the scholar continued to headbutt with her and was beginning to suspect she yet harboured many secrets, Jess, however, seemed more excited than usual when he learned the newcomer was a female elf with the same dreamwalker powers, and kept referring to her as “your lady friend” when talking to Alundra about her. The adventurer suspected he may be trying to get them romantically together… though he grinned at the thought.

In Alundra’s own words, the situation had just gotten a hell lot more complicated.

The days passed without incidents. The swordsman continually tried to penetrate the lizardmen-filled swamp in hopes of meeting the elusive Guardian, but each time he was forced to escape with a yowl, the horde of lizardmen brandishing their gleaming weapons. He had even tried stealth methods, including camouflaging in a large bush and dressing as one of them… but the outcomes were so embarrassingly horrible that he refused to speak of them when asked.

Four days had passed since Meia’s arrival at Inoa. The sun rose high into the sky, showering the village with its bright, warm rays. Alundra hoisted the heavy pack, replenished with the necessary supplies, onto his back and strode to Inoa Woods, planning yet another attempt to penetrate the lizardmen swamp.

As he passed a particular bright clearing just south of the village entrance, he caught sight of gleaming silvery hair, which made him blink for a moment before he realised it was Sybill. She was sitting comfortably in the middle of the clearing, staring dreamily into space.

“Sybill?” he called as he approached.

She looked up slowly at him and smiled. “Oh, hello, Alundra. I was just dreaming about you.”

He chuckled. “Always dreaming about something or other, aren’t you, Sybill?” Lowering his backpack to the ground, he sat beside her. “What about me were you dreaming about?”

She closed her eyes. “A great flower field, a bright smiling sun, the wind blows. I see white-feathered ostrich in silver armour, and you arriving on it, dressed a white nightgown.”

He froze for a moment before spluttering, “I’m riding a WHAT and wearing a WHAT?”

She burst into a laugh at his disbelieving expression, her voice high but pleasant to hear.

Watching her laugh, he relaxed and broke into a grin. “Oh, come on, don’t pull my leg, you know your dreams become real later on!”

Her gaze focused on him, her eyes filled with a deep emotion he had never seen before. “It would be good if it was real, though.”

He didn’t know quite what to say to that.

At that very moment, the crackling of dried leaves could be heard from behind the bushes near them, drawing their attention, followed by the sound of a crossbow firing and the shrill squawk that sent birds flying in a panic. Both of them peered between the leaves of the bushes and saw Kline picking up a dead pheasant by its legs, the crossbow arrow pierced cleanly through its body.

“Ooh, that must be his lunch,” Sybill said, getting up. “Let us greet h–”

“Stay down!” Alundra hissed, pulling her back down by the arm. He didn’t know what made him do so, but he knew there was something different about the hunter… something sinister.

Kline raised the pheasant to his face, looking as though he was about to sniff the chest feathers…

And took a large bite.

As though it was a big, juicy orange.

The blood splattered all over the front of his coat. It dripped from his mouth in huge amounts, but he seemed to even enjoy it, licking his lips.

The sight of it gripped Alundra and Sybill, cold fear washing over them like a waterfall. All they could do was to stare at him, stunned, as he strode nonchalantly back home.

“Did you see that…?” the adventurer had to ask.

Sybill nodded.

He shook his head. “I don’t believe it… I can’t believe it.”

“…a wolf with a black heart strikes from the shadows.” Her voice was soft, yet she was speaking in a singsong manner as though it was a children’s poem. “His fangs shine, wet with the red essence of hero.”

He gazed at her. “Sybill? Do you mean it’s… the dream that you showed me before, where Kline turned into a werewolf?”

She nodded slowly. “Don’t be a hero, okay, Alundra?”

“Usually I become one by accident…” He smiled. “But I’ll try not to.”

She smiled as well. “We can continue to dream, because you’ll put an end to this nightmare. I trust you.”

He didn’t know quite what to say to that as well. But he was beginning to think that, really, Sybill wasn’t all that much stranger than any other girl in this village.

 


 

To his surprise, when Alundra later related what he had seen in the woods, his scholar friend didn’t seem completely surprised or repulsed.

“I’ve heard stories from other people too,” Septimus explained. “Wendell has also seen Kline biting into a bird yesterday evening while he was on a walk. Nestus has said he couldn’t talk to Kline without the hair on his neck standing up. I, too, have seen him myself…” He shuddered slightly. “There’s something sinister behind his eyes.”

The swordsman nodded. “It sounds like he’s really turning into a werewolf, with the taste of raw meat and whatnot. The villagers have trusted their safety to him, so if it’s really happening…”

He shook his head. “We have to do something about it… perhaps we should wait for him to fall asleep, then explore the state of his mind.”

“Right. We’ll wait until tonight then.” He got up to leave, but was stopped.

“Hold on,” Septimus said, pulling out a piece of parchment from beneath a whole stack of papers on his desk. “I’ve just finished deciphering the Water Scroll, so–” He gave a knowing smile. “–let’s begin on the seal, shall we?”

Alundra groaned, but the only words he could muster were, “Freaking Guardians.”

As with the Earth Scroll, many hours passed before Alundra could unseal the Water Scroll – which contained the ‘Water Shield’ spell – and by the time they were finally done, it was so late that Jess personally came to Septimus’ house to get the swordsman home to dinner. It was only then both of them realised with a start that it was already nearly midnight.

After a hurried dinner, both swordsman and scholar exited into the moonlit night, feeling the cool breeze on their faces, and descended the staircase towards Kline’s house. Instead of going to its front door, however, they skirted around the back and hid themselves among the dense bushes there. Septimus peeked into the darkness of the house and shook his head.

“It’s all dark inside,” he said. “But it doesn’t seem he’s in yet…”

Alundra nodded. “It’s just a matter of time. However crazy he is, he’s got to sleep.”

With that, they settled down, keeping an eye out for the hunter. However, it seemed he had either he had gotten wind of them waiting for him or he had chosen specifically that night to be roaming about. Despite waiting for a good part of the night, there were no sign of him, and by that time, both of them were so tired they had caught themselves accidentally dozing off several times.

The adventurer yawned loudly. “Can we come back tomorrow? I’ve got a long-overdue appointment with the sandman.”

Septimus gave a heavy sigh, but nodded. “I think we’d better… perhaps we should come back at daybreak when he is confirmed to be in bed.”

With that, they got up and dragged themselves back up the staircase, bade each other goodnight and separated towards their own houses. Yawning widely, Alundra crawled into bed, looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

But a good night’s sleep was something he wouldn’t get tonight.

ROAR.

His eyes snapped open immediately, then widened at the sight of something on the ceiling just above him. The golden eyes pierced through him. He had only just enough time to throw himself off the bed before the thing struck, landing heavily on the floor and accidentally hitting his elbow against the wall. There was an ear-shattering crash as the nearby table overturned. His eyes watering from the numbing pain in his elbow, he peered through the darkness of his room to see what tried to kill him while he was asleep…

…Kline.

His burly figure stood on the bed towering over Alundra, his back hunched, his hands spread open as though extending sharp claws.

And his eyes shone a golden colour, the cold, cruel eyes of a bloodthirsty beast.

“Kline?!” Alundra cried, jumping to his feet.

“Hello, Alundra,” the hunter said, with the hint of a deep growl in his voice that was not there before. “I’m sorry to wake you at such a late hour, but I must ask a favour of you…”

He gazed at him warily, not quite knowing what to make of this. “What… kind of favour?”

He gave a low growl. “Will you show me the face of one writhing in the midst of unbearable pain? Or rather–” He grinned at the swordsman’s look of disbelief. “–will you show me the sweet life that flows through your body like warm wine?” He roared in laughter and spread his arms. “Show me, Alundra!!”

At that very moment, Jess burst into the room. “Oy! What’s going on, Alundra? I heard a crash–” His eyes widened at the sight of the intruder. “Kline!! How did you get up here?!”

Kline growled again, evidently annoyed by the interruption. “Alundra, you and I shall meet again. And next time, there will be no one to interrupt…”

With that, he leaped high into the air, suspended himself on a wall, then, with a great roar, burst through the window, shattering the glass.

“Oy! Where did he go?” The swordsmith turned to the young man. “This is very bad, you know what I’m saying?!”

Alundra shook his head. “There’s something wrong with Kline… I’m going to find him. I don’t think he’ll come back, so stay here, Jess.”

He nodded. “Be careful, son.”

With that, the adventurer grabbed his sword and armour before leaving the house, shivering slightly as he stepped into the icy cold wind.

Suddenly, in the distance, there was a loud scream.

He rushed, jumping down the stone stairs two steps at a time before skidding to a stop outside a stone cottage. At the window of the second floor above, Lutas was seen with a wooden bat, frowning as he glanced around.

“Lutas!” Alundra called. “What happened?”

The blond-haired man jumped at the voice, then relaxed. “My wife saw Kline peering through our bedroom window, with his beastly eyes… I was prepared to strike at him, but he took off.”

“Did you see which way he went?”

“I’m not sure, but he might have run up the stairs around the house.”

He immediately started running, shouting as he went, “Thanks, Lutas!”

As Alundra climbed the said staircase up, he bumped right into Septimus, who had just come out of his house in a blue dressing gown.

“Ouch! Oh, it’s you, Alundra.” The scholar shook his head. “What happened? I heard a scream…”

“Kline just scared Lutas’ wife by peering into their bedroom window,” Alundra explained. “He just tried to attack me in my room, too.”

His eyes widened. “What… Kline attacked you? Are… you sure it was him?”

“Yes, definitely. I was chasing him when I bumped into you.”

Septimus shook his head again. “I didn’t see him come by in my direction… he could be anywhere now, though. I wonder where he’s gone…”

At that moment, the mournful howl of a wolf startled them.

“Did you hear that?” Septimus asked uncertainly.

The swordsman nodded. “I think it came from this way!”

With that, they began a wild goose chase around the village, following the howls when they lost him and speeding after him when they caught sight of him. However, he seemed to have acquired a sudden increase in speed and was exceedingly fast and adept at staying beyond their reach. Finally, they slowed to a stop, huffing and buffing as they caught their breaths.

“This is silly!” Septimus declared. “We’ll never catch him at this rate!”

Alundra nodded in agreement. “He’s never been this fast when I was with him in the mines…”

“I think he’s toying with us, much like beasts treat their prey before the kill…” He faced his friend. “Let’s stick to our original plan of waiting for him to return home at daybreak, then we can easily enter his dream.”

He half-shrugged. “And hope he doesn’t drop in unannounced on us for the rest of the night…”

 


 

It felt as though Alundra had barely fallen asleep when he awoke to the scholar shaking him awake.

“Lemme sleep a bit more…” the swordsman muttered, burying his face in his pillow.

“It’s almost daybreak!” Septimus cried, pulling at the sheet. “We have to enter Kline’s dream, remember?”

He mumbled a few incoherent words before finally conceding to getting up. After washing up and a dose of Jess’ strong coffee, he was awake enough to notice that his blond-haired friend had rather puffy eyes, as though he hadn’t slept at all.

“Oh, I spent most of last night reading my journals,” Septimus explained. “I’m now certain that Kline is afflicted with the curse. Come, let’s go over to Kline’s house and see if he has returned home.”

They left the house some time later (for Jess had insisted on giving them some toast, buttering them as he said, “It’s no good to start the day on an empty stomach, you know what I’m saying?”) and headed towards Kline’s house at the bottom of the village, a wooden cabin that was now surrounded by people. As two of them weaved through the crowd, they heard the crowd muttering among themselves.

“The Murgg could attack at any moment! Without Kline to fight them…”

“Perhaps even Meia could not save Kline from his nightmare…”

Inside, the cabin was barely decorated. A table sat here, a cupboard stood there, a bed in a corner. On the floor, however, were animal fur of varying sizes and the wall displayed the stuffed heads of dead creatures. They spoke volumes of Kline’s hunting skills – the villagers did not call him the strongest for nothing – but he now lay in bed, his face deathly pale, augmented by the dark colour of his shaggy hair and beard, no stronger than the old men of the village.

By Kline’s bed, only the mayor and Meia were there, and they looked up when they heard Alundra and Septimus (who shot a sideways glance at the female elf) coming in.

“How’s Kline?” the adventurer asked.

Meia shook her head. “It’s too late. His body has been completely ravaged by the evil. There’s nothing I can do, and certainly nothing you can do either.”

“But surely there’s–”

“Do you understand? It’s hopeless.”

Septimus took a step forward, seeming spending quite a bit of effort not to throw another retort in her face, and calmly said, “Nightmares can be turned back into dreams, and we’re going to do it.”

Her cold eyes focused onto his. “I don’t think you understand… Kline’s soul has been devoured by the nightmare. The man who once lived in this body no longer exists.”

“But there must be something we can do, just let me enter his dream and–” Alundra began.

“And to hasten his steps to death? To destroy the nightmare that has overtaken Kline is to destroy Kline himself…” She faced the swordsman, her eyes piercingly cold. “Are you truly listening to me? You nod at my words, yet you refuse to believe… you think anything remains possible, yet you tempt fate!”

He raked a hand through his hair. “Oh, come on! Anything’s possible as long as he hasn’t cracked yet, right?”

Septimus looked up, turned towards the female elf. “Perhaps you’re the one who refuse to believe, Meia.”

An uncomfortable silence filled the room as the woman and the scholar stared at each other.

“Meia,” Beaumont finally spoke up. “Can you save our good friend, Kline?”

Meia shook her head again. “Though I may seem cold-hearted, there is nothing more I can do. Kline is destined to perish, I’m afraid…”

Septimus gazed at her confidently. “We shall show all that your theory is incorrect at best.”

She crossed her arms. “Even if you think me a fool, scholar, answer me this… who gave you the right to gamble with Kline’s life?”

He shook his head slowly. “Even if there’s a slight chance to rescue him, what person with a heart would not try to bring him back?”

Alundra half-shrugged. “If there’s even a slight chance Kline might survive, I’m willing to bet on that. I’m game.”

The researcher placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’m confident in your decision, Alundra, and in your skill. Please bring Kline back to us.”

He gave a thumbs-up before he knelt by the bed, ready to enter Kline’s dream.

 


 

As soon as Alundra opened his eyes, his body gave an involuntary shiver… and an exceedingly loud sneeze.

“AH-CHOOO!!”

As he sniffed, he shivered in the freezing cold. Everything was covered in snow around him, and the blizzard threatened to cover him in snow, too. In the distance, a stone spire stood high like a gigantic stalagmite, its tip seemingly brushing against the bottom of the dark clouds. The stone head of a gigantic dragon was the entrance to the spire, its open jaws releasing a yellow light from the lamp in its interior.

Alundra hurried between the open jaws through the entrance, eager to escape from the cold… but past the cave tunnel, to his dismay, the blizzard had free reign here as well.

“W-well…” he said between clattering teeth. “I suppose it’s a g-good enough reason to finish this q-quickly…”

Bracing himself, he strode onwards, preparing himself for what the nightmare might throw at him.

What lay beyond him was a place very much like the courtyard of a castle, its four sides surrounded by tall towers made of grey bricks, bracing mournfully against the storm. Small bushes littered the ground, almost completely buried under the snow.

As he stepped forward, rubbing furiously on his forearm to generate some warmth, he found Kline standing in the middle of the courtyard, his back towards the adventurer.

“Kline?” Alundra said uncertainly.

The hunter turned slowly and smiled. “Hello, Alundra. What brings you here?”

He took a step forward. “I came to free you! Only…” He shook his head. “You don’t seem to be caught, somehow.”

He laughed. “Will I be talking to you like this if I was? Come, I have something to show you.”

Alundra hesitated, wondering why Kline was acting curiously odd in this dream, but nonetheless followed him.

Both of them walking along a stone path littered with bits and pieces of snow, the storm suddenly calming down. There were several huge slabs of ice along the sides of the path, shaped like mirrors, so well polished that they could see their reflections in it. But Alundra could see other images in the ice as well…

A small boy, covered in dirt, dressed in rags that were about fall apart, his black hair so untidy that it looked like the mane of a beast. The city air around him was cold, grey… emotionless.

The small boy, finding solace among a pack of stray dogs, living off scrap and the meat of dead dogs and rats that were unfortunate enough to wander into their territory.

The small boy, tortured and tormented by large, well-fed boys dressed in rich cloth of the highest quality, beaten like a prisoner interrogated by a cruel captor. A female black dog from the pack rushed forward, baring fangs, ready to protect him… but she was struck down mercilessly, killed and branded an uncontrollable creature out to kill humankind.

Alundra shook his head. “Is this… your past?”

Kline nodded. “I was an orphan, thrown into a cold, cruel city without any means of protecting myself. My only family were the dogs you’ve seen… but when I was tortured by the mindless rich boys, my mother was called a monster.”

“Your mother…?”

“She was the black dog you saw… the one who cared for me. Here, there are more to see…”

More images covered the surface of the ice.

The small boy, finally pushed beyond his emotional limit, striking out at the rich boys, scratching and biting viciously like a rabid dog, his golden eyes gleamed with manic satisfaction at the blood that splattered onto the stone floor. He was caught and chained like an animal… the onlookers gazed at him with mere curiosity, as though he was an animal on display.

The small boy, chained and shipped to another city, perhaps someplace that could handle him better.

The ship, caught in a great storm, crashed into a reef and shattered into a million tiny pieces. The boy, unable to swim, was forcefully carried along the merciless sea that intended to devour him alive…

The familiar sight of the beach south of Inoa came into view. The boy, exhausted from the shipwreck, lay semi-unconscious on the sands, the water lapping at his feet. A burly old man, with a giant crossbow strapped to his back, knelt and gently lifted the boy, his kind face covered in pity.

Alundra felt as though he was experiencing the past himself… as though he was the boy himself. He felt pain when struck, anger at the people of the city… happiness and kindness towards the old man.

But no… he was not the boy. He was Alundra, the adventurer… the Releaser…

He was the Releaser.

Here to free the people of Inoa from the curse.

Here in this dream to rescue Kline.

Alundra’s eyes snapped open and he jumped back with a yell, skidding backwards as he drew his sword in one smooth arc. The blade missed Kline completely, for he had suddenly reappeared a few steps away. Breathing heavily, Alundra glared at him, keeping his sword poised to strike.

“You… you’re not Kline!” he hissed.

The hunter laughed, his form beginning to fade. “Oh, I’m truly Kline… after I have finished devouring his soul. Now I’m a mere part of him; there’s just a bit of resistance on his end.”

With that, he disappeared.

Alundra shook his head, looking around. “What?”

Kline’s voice echoed through the sky. “Still, it’s too bad the spell I cast didn’t overtake you completely, I’m sure you would’ve made a fine snack… if you still intend to save this man, come hither.”

The adventurer glanced forward and saw that there was another tower before him, its doors wide open. He sped through the doors, hoping that Kline was fine… then, with a start, he realised that the other side of the door was a high snow-covered cliff overlooking a great abyss.

Before him was the most hideous monster he had ever seen. It had the head of a brown gargoyle, its pointed ears very much like an elf’s, attached onto the body of a lizard, spikes running down its back… and instead of a chest, it had the mouth of a fleshy fly trapper.

The fly trapper mouth opened wide, revealing a set of long, claw-like fangs, and inhaled deeply, trying to suck everything in its path into it. The wind caused by the monster was so strong that it was like being dragged into a spinning vortex… and even as Kline was hanging onto a rock for dear life, his usually calm face now etched with fear, his grip was slowly loosening.

“Kline!!” Alundra yelled, sheathing his blade and running forward. “Hold on!”

“Alundra… you’ve come…” Kline’s voice was terribly weak. “I… can’t hold… for much longer…”

The swordsman sped forward as fast as he could, propelled forward by the vortex. Hanging onto a stone pillar, he reached out as far as he could and caught Kline’s hand. He cursed as his backpack opened slightly and dropping several healing potions to the ground, which were eventually crushed like ants between the fly trapper jaws.

“We’re going to get out of here!” he shouted as he pulled as hard as he could, fighting against the powerful winds. “Everyone’s waiting for you to come back!!”

The hunter shook his head. “No… no. I’m a monster… a beast that should have drowned in the sea years ago, instead of drifting here and rescued by an old man… I should not return to the village…”

“No!! You’re not a monster! You’re an established hunter and everyone looks up to you for safety! Didn’t they express their trust in you? They all said they have no fear from the Murgg if you were there!”

“…did you know that the taste of raw meat, barely cooked, is one that I have relished all those years? Did you know that there are times, when I was angry with people, I would have liked nothing better than to strike them down and bite their jugular? No, the safety of the village should not be left to one so close to the beast such as I… when I relish in the warm blood of a dead animal as I bite into them…”

“T-that’s…” He hesitated for a moment, then quickly continued, “That’s because you have different preferences! No one’s going to stop me if I like my meat burnt to a black crisp, right? And it’s normal to feel angry at people sometimes, but the difference is you don’t act on it! I know you! It wasn’t your fault that your body was attacking others against your will! We’ll get rid of this beast trying to do you in!!”

He chuckled softly at his words. “I appreciate the thought… but I’m afraid it’s too late…” Then, he gave a rare smile, a slow, sad smile that sent a piercing chill through Alundra’s heart. “Goodbye, Alundra… it has truly been a pleasure knowing you, as well as the other villagers… tell them for me, won’t you?”

Alundra’s eyes widened. “N-no… no, Kline! NO!!”

But it was too late.

With strength greater than a human’s, Kline pulled his hand away, causing the grip on his hand to slip… and, as he was sucked towards the monster’s open jaws, closed his eyes and gave one final wave of his hand.

And the monster’s jaws clamped tightly over him.

“NO!!” Alundra shouted, rushing forward, his hand raising the gleaming sword above him. “Let him go!!”

The monster laughed, a booming voice that rang across the blizzard. “I am the Soul Leech, and with this man’s soul, mine is complete!”

“No, it’s not!” He swung hard at the Soul Leech, the blade bouncing off its hard, metal-like hide. “Let Kline go!!”

The Soul Leech roared, releasing a flash of light that blasted Alundra away, filling him with burning hot pain as he crashed against a pillar.

Then, Septimus’ voice echoed loudly across the dark sky.

“Alundra! I pray you can hear this! Kline is writhing in pain and screaming madly! You must exit his dream at once!!”

“No!” the adventurer shouted again. “Kline… I can still save Kline!!”

“It’s too late!” the monster growled. “I may not have been successful in devouring your soul earlier, but I still have the chance now!” With that, the monster opened its fly trapper jaws once more, drawing breath in an attempt to suck him towards it.

“Alundra!!” Septimus’ voice shouted again.

Alundra had to admit defeat… had to admit that Kline was gone, and that he could do nothing to save him.

“I’m sorry, Kline… I’m sorry…”

With that, he turned and threw himself from the dream… feeling Kline’s presence rapidly diminishing from the dream world.

 


 

Alundra inhaled sharply as his eyes snapped open, having escaped from the dream so quickly. From where he sat, he could see Kline’s writhing body, screaming loudly in pain as he thrashed.

Before anyone could react, the hunter jumped suddenly and swiftly to his feet, landing on his bed with utmost ease.

“K-Kline…?” the mayor called uncertainly.

Kline whirled around to face them.

His eyes – gleaming golden eyes – gazed at them.

His mouth curled into a grin.

Then, he suddenly doubled over and clutched his head in pain, letting out a scream that would raise the dead.

Abruptly remembering Sybill’s dream, Alundra shouted, “Everyone, run! RUN!!”

The others gazed at him uncertainly, just as a great flash of light filled the room… and Kline was no more.

In his place was a large werewolf, its golden eyes flashing as it gave a great howl to the sky.

“RUN!!” Meia shouted.

The others did not need telling thrice. The moment they saw the werewolf, they turned and sped out of the cabin. Everyone outside scrambled on their feet, screaming as they hurried out of the way.

The wooden roof of the cabin abruptly shattered as the werewolf burst through with one powerful leap, landing nimbly on the remains of the building. He gave a snarl, his golden eyes focused sharply on the swordsman.

“My soul… screams…” a low growling voice came from it. “It screams for me to feast on…” He snarled as he swiftly rushed forward. “Alundra’s warm ENTRAILS!!”

“Alundra! Watch out!” Septimus shouted.

The werewolf pounced onto Alundra, but he threw himself to the side just in time, rolling on the ground before jumping back to his feet, his sword drawn. He glanced at the nearby villagers, some who had stayed to watch, then cursed under his breath and ran towards the village exit, intending to bring the battle to the woods. Away from the villagers.

But the monster was much faster than him.

The force of the strike was so great that Alundra was thrown completely off his feet, landing heavily and painfully on his back. He held his sword with all of his might against the sharp claws that were just inches above his heart, gritting his teeth as his arms ached with the effort.

The werewolf gave a triumphant howl.

Alundra’s eyes widened.

And it threw its head forward, ready to bite his jugular vein.

He closed his eyes tightly, waiting for the end to come…

But it never did.

There was a loud ‘shing!’ of a blade.

A deathly silence filled the air.

He suddenly felt the claws against his sword slacken, then the werewolf fell limply onto the ground beside him.

Blood was beginning to soak the ground.

There, on the werewolf’s back, was the hilt of a dagger, its blade pierced through the heart.

Meia, her face indifferent, had thrown the dagger with acute precision, her other hand holding an unused dagger.

Alundra slowly got to his feet, glancing downwards.

The werewolf started to shine a soft, mournful light.

There was another flash of light, then the werewolf was gone… and Kline’s body lay on the ground, covered in blood.

He was dead.

Alundra’s eyes stung. He closed them.

The nearby villagers, who had seen it all end, slowly gathered around the body, their heads lowered in prayer.

Lutas was the first to speak. “…rest well, friend. This village shall mourn your loss to the evil that plagues our very marrow…” He closed his eyes. “Thank you for being this village’s protector.”

“Thank you,” a few others murmured.

Ronan and Giles looked on from afar, but did not join the crowd. Without as much as a remorseful expression, the chancellor turned and strode back to the sanctuary, followed by his assistant.

Only Alundra saw them go.

More and more villagers came out of hiding and gathered.

Fear washed over the onlookers.

Kline, the strongest and most dependable man in the village… now a dead man, lying on the ground in a pool of his own blood.

If this could happen to him… it could happen to anyone of them.

The sun slowly rose over the horizon, showering them with the first rays of the day. It brought upon them a new day… and a new fear.

 

End of Chapter Seven.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Eight: One with Utmost Cowardice

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

As with the mornings after Olen and Nadia’s deaths, the atmosphere in Inoa was mournful, forlorn. Alundra lay in bed, tired out but unable to sleep, and he gazed through his bedroom window at the blue sky. Visions of Kline’s last moments in his dream – of his choice to die – haunted him.

There was a soft knock on the door, causing him to sit up. Septimus was standing at the open door of the bedroom, concern showing on his face.

“Hey, Alundra,” he said. “May I come in?”

Surprised at the request, the adventurer nodded.

The scholar pulled a wooden chair from the desk and sat on it, all the while focused his eyes on his friend’s tired face. “Are you… okay?”

“Yeah… I’m okay, sort of.” Alundra shook his head. “I’m just wondering if there’s something I could have done in Kline’s dream… if I could have convinced him like I did with Wendell.” He sighed. “He had such a horrible past, it’s not his fault that he had beastly tendencies, but he chose to… to die, instead.”

He lowered his head. “Frustrated that his body was acting against his will, attacking the very people he wanted to protect… perhaps, when he chose to die, he was thinking of us to the end…”

He nodded. “I know… he seemed to be the sort of guy. A bit hairy, maybe, but he was a good guy. Even when I was in the mines with him when the Murgg attacked, the first thing he did was to protect me… I won’t forget him, and I’m going to find that thing that took his life.” He shook his head. “So, what brings you here?”

“Nothing much, really… I’m just wondering if you saw anything in Kline’s dream that caused his beastly traits to be fully brought out.”

“Hm…” He thought for a moment. “I met this… thing what was impersonating Kline. I thought it was him when he showed me visions of his past, but it was actually a monster who called itself a Soul Leech. When I reached there, it had already eaten most of Kline’s soul…”

At first Septimus seemed thoughtful, then he gasped. “A… a Soul Leech?!”

“Do you know something about it?”

“Yes, but… wait! Give me a moment!”

With that, the scholar sped out of the room in a hurry. He returned a few minutes later, huffing and puffing from the run, his arm clutching a thick book.

“Here!” He set the book down on the bed, flipping the pages until he came to the one he wanted. “It says here that the Soul Leech is a monster that devours souls and their forms vary with each soul. It has about the same amount of intelligence as an animal, but as it consumes more of the victim’s soul, it absorbs his intelligence as well… not only that, it will be able to gain more and more control of his body as it devours more of his soul, and will eventually gain powers that the victim doesn’t have. In this case, Kline turned into a werewolf!”

Alundra shook his head. “Was Sara also a Soul Leech in Bonaire’s dream? Their forms are really different, but Sara was trying to eat Bonaire’s soul. But, in Kline’s dream, when it was personating him, it said it was already part of him… it tried to put me into this trance when it showed me his past, but I snapped out of it in the last minute.”

He nodded. “It was a good thing you did, otherwise your soul would have been devoured as well. It must have gained the power after eating most of Kline’s soul…” He closed the book. “But our minds have their own defences. The Soul Leeches are never be able to penetrate our minds ordinarily… there must be something, somehow, that caused the breach in Kline’s mind that allowed the Soul Leech in. And, the interesting part is, the only record of Soul Leeches in existence is during the war a thousand years ago, when King Snow fought off the demon that brought people nightmares.”

His expression grew grim. “Then that means the demon god could somehow inflict this curse on the people, even though he’s still sealed…”

“That’s true, we’ll need to find out how he does it. Maybe he’s getting stronger, strong enough to bring in the Soul Leech…”

They lapsed into a long silence.

The adventurer jumped energetically out of bed, startling the researcher, and stretched. “Well, sitting here isn’t going to solve anything! No matter how the demon can reach these people, I still have to gather the Crests and release him before I can fight him, right?”

Septimus slapped his friend’s shoulder. “That’s the spirit! It’s really disconcerting to see you all moody, you know?”

He grinned and gave him a friendly punch. “Who’s all moody? Come on, let’s see what Jess made for lunch this time!”

When both of them had gone downstairs, Jess was just done making lunch, which smell so wonderful that it made Alundra’s mouth water.

“Yo, Jess!” the swordsman greeted with a wave of his hand.

Jess looked up and smiled. “Hello, son. Had a good rest?”

“Not really, but you know, I’m as energetic as ever!” He gestured towards the forge. “I heard you working in the forge again this morning.”

He nodded. “Come on in and I’ll show you.”

Together, they all entered the forge. There, on a table, they could see a brand new weapon – this time, it was a large hunter’s bow. It was made of good strong wood, and even though the design was rather lacking, which Alundra didn’t really mind, he could tell it was really well-made as he fingered its handle.

“Kline usually used a crossbow, but he had a normal bow, too,” the swordsmith explained. “This is much like the one he used, except it shoots a little farther. No big whoop.” He gestured towards the weapon. “Try it, Alundra, you’ll like it. In fact, I think you’ll need it… you know what I’m saying?”

The adventurer took the bow, held it up in a shooting position, pulled at the bowstring and released it with a loud ‘twang!’ that made him grin. “Looks pretty good. Thanks, Jess. With this new weapon, I’ll have another go at the swamp today!”

Jess’ expression fell. “No, it’s too dangerous! Haven’t you heard the stories of a giant lizard at the swamp?!”

“Oh, come on! You know I have to go there because there’s a Guardian there! Besides–” He grinned. “–it’s all in the spirit of an adventure!”

He sighed. “Oy, when have you listened to me about the dangers of adventures?”

The scholar laughed.

 


 

After a hearty meal, Septimus was the first to get up from the table, stating that he would do more research on breaking the curse of the nightmare. Alundra was next, hoisting his newly-replenished pack to his back, preparing to go to the swamp once more. However, Jess called out to him just as he was about to step out of the door.

“Oy! Have you talked to Kisha yet, lad?” he said. ”She says Giles has been saying some disturbing things… I don’t think he would do anything, but watch your back, okay?”

The swordsman nodded and gave a wave of his hand to show he heard, as he continued out into the warm afternoon sun. He descended the wooden stairs towards a stone cottage and, glancing around for any sign of Giles, knocked on the door.

The door opened almost immediately, as though he had pressed an invisible switch when he knocked. A terrified Kisha looked out at him from the darkness of the house and gestured at him to quickly enter, which he obeyed. He found himself in a dimly lit house, which seemed perfectly ordinary except for the fact that the curtains were drawn across the windows, and a pedestal full of lit candles sat on one side of the living room. He felt the hair on the back of his neck bristling… this place felt similar to the sanctuary when he had been forced to pray to the house of the idol.

“What’s wrong?” he asked as she closed the door. “Jess mentioned something about your brother saying disturbing things…”

Kisha whirled around and gave a sob. “Alundra, watch out for Giles! He’s been mumbling something about your ‘tragic fate’!” She shook her head, her eyes teary. “Something’s happened to him, he’s not the brother I loved anymore. He’s become obsessed with the gods… and with you…” She covered her face with her hands. “I’m scared…”

He was taken aback, not quite expecting this at all. He slowly approached her and patted her shoulder in hopes of reassuring her. “I’m sorry to hear that, Kisha… and I’m sorry for having caused your brother to become like that.”

She shook her head and wiped the tears away from her eyes. “No… it’s not your fault. Still, be careful. I’m not sure what my brother is planning…”

He nodded and smiled. “Thanks, Kisha, I appreciate it.”

She opened the front door for him once more, allowing him to exit. As soon as he stepped outside, however, he came face-to-face with the person he wanted to see the least – Giles, whose blue eyes contorted with fury.

“Heretic!” the chancellor’s assistant shouted. “What were you doing at my house?!”

“No, Giles!” Kisha cried, stepping out from the house. “He just came to talk, nothing else!”

He glanced at her, then back at Alundra. “Your guise is about to be stripped away by the gods, Alundra. I will fight your corrosive influence until death, and everyone in this village will at last see you for the foul demon you are!”

With that, he stormed into his house, pulling his tearful sister by the hand, and slammed the door shut.

The adventurer just stood there, quite speechless. It seemed he had gotten even further on Giles’ bad side.

Meia, who happened to be nearby when it happened, crossed her arms. “It seems you’re even more incompetent than I thought.”

His heart performing a sudden flip, he spun around to face her with a grin. “Hey, Meia! Good to see you!”

Disapproval washed over her face. “I don’t think it’s good to see you. You don’t have the strength to defeat the evil, but I do, so I ask of you, just stay out of my way before you kill anyone else with your blatant incompetence.” With that, she whirled around and left with dignity, her long blond ponytail trailing behind her.

Ouch. That hurt. What a way to start the day.

 


 

The swamp was the same as ever – wet and boggy, filled with endless supply of irritating bugs and hordes of armoured lizardmen brandishing gleaming curved sabres. Alundra hid in the bushes, unwilling to charge blindly forward due to the many mishaps he had the last few times he tried to enter the swamp… but he was clueless as to how to sneak inside.

Then, he spied a floating green orb on small pedestal, sitting at the top of a small cliff that would be difficult to climb considering there were so many of these armour creatures around. Half-shrugging, he pulled out his new bow, aimed at the green orb and deftly fired an arrow.

Flick!

The green orb suddenly burst into a burning orange colour, a flame-like orb floating above the pedestal. At that instant, many of the lizardmen around the swamp fading into thin air, leaving only three of them.

“A device that makes the lizardmen disappear?” the swordsman muttered to himself. “No, that doesn’t make sense… maybe a device that generates fakes? Yeah, that makes more sense.” He grinned. “Well, whatever it was, it made life easier now.”

Seconds later, the three reptiles were lying in a crumpled heap, and Alundra tossed one of their fallen shields onto them, dusting his hands.

As he explored the area, he came across an area of raised ground deep in the swamp, in front of the wide face of a rocky cliff. Leaning against the cliff, surrounded by trees and tall shrubs, was a fifteen-foot high statue of a fierce lizardman, a blade raised high, its mouth opened in silent roar. He hoped dearly that the statue was just that – a statue – and there wasn’t a creature that big waiting for him in their lair.

He stood right before the statue, chin in hand, wondering if the statue was hiding something, but he had no chance to ponder as he heard some noises behind him. Alarmed, he looked around quickly for a hiding spot, then dived into the bushes just in time before a lizardman came striding towards the statue. It made a short, clicking sound followed by what he could only describe as a click, and, as a rumble resonated through the earth, the statue reacted by sliding heavily sideways.

Behind the statue was the hidden mouth of a cave on the rock face.

Once the statue halted to a stop, the reptilian strode nonchalantly into the cave, and there was another rumble in the ground as the statue started to move once more. Alundra reacted quickly. He jumped out from the bushes and sped right through the entrance, just as the statue blocked his way out.

Once inside, he found himself in a large cave, with deep waters weaving between raised rocky platforms and floating wooden raft-like platforms, like a canal. Small waterfalls were formed as water flowed out of holes near the ceiling and into the deep water. Burning torches were attached to the walls, illuminating the cave enough for him to see clearly.

He followed the lizardman in front of him while maintaining distance, hiding around corners of the tunnel or behind rocks to keep himself out of sight. They went on this manner for a good distance before finally emerging from the tunnel high up in a huge area of the cave, huge enough to fit a whole castle in it. From his high vantage point of view, he gazed down at the lizardmen and thought they were pretty civilised for non-human creatures.

On one side of the cave, a grand forge sat, with huge flames and great supply of metal as several reptilian metalsmiths worked on their latest weapons. On another part of the cave, large, burly lizardmen patrolled as their children practiced sabre slashes and spear-stabbing. At yet another area, group of reptilians were hard at work at building a wooden bridge of logs strung with rope across the canal-like deep waters.

However, some of the creatures were acting strangely. Once in a while, one of them would suddenly turn a pale grey colour, and upon realising it, it would rush to a nearby stone pedestal… just as it turned into stone. There were also several pedestals of statue-like lizardmen on them, some of which eventually came back to life.

Hiding behind rocks, pile of wood and carts of dirt, Alundra continued to stay out of sight as he kept an eye out for an indication for his destination. And he soon found one; one of the tunnels leading out of this area of the cave seemed to be heavily guarded by armoured lizardmen, whom were all wielding spears. A line of reptilians marched towards the tunnel, stopped to be inspected one-by-one by the guards before they were allowed to pass.

That had to be the way forward, but with the guards, it would be difficult to sneak past.

Then, the elf grinned.

He snuck some distance away, towards the edge of the waters near where the reptilians were hard at work building a bridge, and hid behind a tall stack of logs. Rummaging through his backpack, he pulled out two of Jess’ mining bomb, lit them, placed next to the stack of logs and scurried away as fast as he could, hiding behind a cart near the guarded tunnel.

The bombs exploded in a quick succession, blasting the stack of logs so forcefully that it actually sent a few of them flying a few feet away and sparked a fire on a few others. Having kept dry for a while, the logs quickly caught fire, spreading and growing so rapidly that in no time at all, there was a large bonfire in the cave.

The result was even better than he had thought.

The lizard workers hissed in shock and surprise, some hurrying away in fear or to summon more help while others valiantly trying to put out the fire. The guards at the tunnel glanced at each other uncertainly, not quite knowing whether to guard the tunnel or to help, then hissed in frustration as they rushed to help.

Alundra, grinning away to himself, snuck easily into the previously guarded tunnel.

The tunnel was long and winding, descending deeper and deeper into the earth, as though it would soon lead into the depths of hell itself. Logs strung together with strong rope turned steep ground into slanting staircases. Wooden posts and stone columns supported the tunnel walls.

Soon, the tunnel widened into a large hall-sized cave, with stone columns lining up the sides of the cave as though they were supporting the roof of a shrine, and in front of each column was a pedestal with the statue of a stone lizardman. On the ground between the two lines of columns and statues, the ground was covered by a stone floor – engraved with a strange pattern and runic characters – that led towards the other end of the hall, where a slightly raised stone platform stood bearing the weight of a fifteen-foot high status. This statue was not unlike the one Alundra had seen outside the lair; a giant lizardman with a special armour over its wide chest and muscular arms, the claws on its hands and feet curved and razor sharp, a hood hiding part of its reptilian head.

The elf stepped forward hesitantly, warily glancing at the statues on either side of him, then stopped as he gazed upward at the hooded reptilian statue. Remembering the creatures that turned to stone and came back to life in the previous cave, he hoped dearly that this one would not come to life and decide to have him for lunch.

“Hello!” he shouted as loudly as he dared. “I come seeking the Crests! Is there a Guardian here?”

His voice echoed loudly against the walls, then faded into silence once more. For a moment there was no sound, no movement… then an old voice echoed back at him.

“He who treads foolishly into the sacred keep shall reap the pain of a thousand crushed souls!”

Alundra groaned. “Not again…!”

He stepped back as the giant statue began moving, twitching and growling as its stone skin slowly turned back to pale brown and green. It gave a loud roar that shook the whole of the cave, then snapped its eyes open – great crimson eyes that shone with murderous intent.

It immediately lashed out at him with a swift strike of its clawed hand, but he threw himself aside and it struck the ground instead, sending pieces of stone all over. He charged forward with a yell and swung his sword as hard as he could, but the blade barely made a scratch on its hard scaled hide. Barrel-rolling to the side as the clawed foot tried to flatten him, he stowed away his sword and whipped out the iron flail, swinging it in a perfect circle above his head before letting the metal ball loose. It struck the monster on the foot, causing it to roar angrily towards the ceiling.

He shook his head. “Uh oh, I think I just made it angrier…”

Growling deeply, the giant lizardman raised its right hand to the side, and the normal-sized statues on Alundra’s left flashed a green light before coming to life, striding towards him with a hiss. Their leader then raised its left hand, and the remaining statues followed suit.

Now, thirty lizardmen stood facing him, grinning, as their leader stood towering over them… all wielding gleaming sabres and spears.

Alundra coughed nervously. “Okay, I think this is the time to… RUN!!”

He immediately spun around and fled, then there were collective roars and snarls as they all pursued him. They were faster than him, with heavily muscled legs built for speed on land, but as he sped into the exit tunnel, they all jammed up together at the mouth; all of them tried to enter at the same time.

He laughed as he continued to run, free of his pursuers… but not for long – the lizardmen were suddenly right behind him again before he had the time to even say “Gotcha!” Even angrier this time, the nearest one to him snarled and swung a sabre at him, but he jumped nimbly and released a blind punch behind him, knocking the lizardmen back into its friend behind him.

He burst noisily into the largest area of the cave, nearly running into the worker reptiles and the guards he had distracted with the bombs earlier. They hissed in surprise as he dashed past them and skidded to a stop at the edge of the waters. He whirled around, ready to change directions… but the lizardmen had already cornered him.

He had no way to run, other than to jump into the water and swim… which the creatures would do better than him.

The giant reptilian grinned and snarled, as though telling him he had no more place to run to.

He stared at them.

Then, as though an invisible voice had commanded them, all the lizardmen pounced at him at once.

“No!!” he cried, shutting his eyes tightly. His whole body starting to glow, he instinctively shouted, “Water shield!!”

There was a flash of light, then suddenly the monsters were all thrown backwards as though struck by an invisible force. Alundra slowly opened his eyes and gasped in surprise at a glowing sphere of water around him, shielding him from anything that threatened him.

He breathed a sigh of relief and laughed at his pursuers. “Hah! Who’s your daddy now? I dare you to try again!”

Growling, the lizardmen jumped to their clawed feet and struck again, only to be thrown back.

He laughed triumphantly at them.

Their leader hissed sharply at them, at which they all stopped and shirked back in fear, allowing it to step forward and prod carefully at the shield of water.

Nothing happened.

It suddenly grinned, and launched a powerful punch.

The water shield shattered as though it was a thin sheet of ice.

Leaving the adventurer vulnerable.

His expression fell.

The reptilians grinned at him and slowly approached him, as though daring him to laugh once more.

He chuckled nervously, inching his way back, but the heels of his boots touched the edge of the ground. “Look, come on, I’m sure we can discuss this amiably…”

But they didn’t seem to agree.

Suddenly he pointed and yelled, “Hey, look! A flying carpet!!”

They all turned.

He grinned and tossed a lit mining bomb at them, which exploded in a burst of smoke and sent some of them flying into the water. Laughing triumphantly, he slipped passed them and continued running again.

“Hah! Gotcha!”

The leader shook its head and snarled, directing its minions to pursue him. They were coughing and spluttering in the smoke, but obeyed.

In no time at all, Alundra abruptly found himself back in the large hallway where he had first met the leader.

“Oh, crud–”

The lizardmen finally caught up to him, their eyes flashing dangerously. With nowhere else to run, and this time out of ideas, the elf inched slowly backwards towards the end of the hall, racking his head for any hope of escaping this place.

“Are you sure we can’t discuss this amiably…?” he tried his luck once more.

They did a collective nod, approaching him with their weapons poised to strike him.

At that moment, the same old voice from earlier laughed and spoke once more.

“Hahaha… that’s enough, Max.”

The leader snarled in protest, evidently dissatisfied.

“He’s the one we’ve been looking for. Let him go, won’t you?”

It gritted its fangs, but eventually nodded. With a quick succession of sharp clicks and chirps, it ordered the other lizardmen back, putting some space between them and the adventurer, who wondered what was going on.

All of a sudden, a fiery-red whirlpool of energy appeared in front of Alundra, from which the silhouette of a cloaked man appeared, his golden eyes gleaming with amusement.

“Hello there,” he said. “Welcome to my sacred ground… I have come to be known as Jeal, one of the seven Guardians. You must be the boy Lars has spoken about.”

Alundra sighed in relief and half-shrugged. “I wish you’d find out about that before this lizard guy started to chase me… how’d you find out without watching the battle to the end, anyway? Both Lars and Vul had me defeat some kind of monster or other before they’d acknowledge me.”

He laughed. “If one comes in hopes of stealing my Crest, I doubt he would use such ridiculous and impractical battle methods as you. It was worth it to watch, though.”

The lizardmen burst into cackles, snorting in laughter.

Alundra threw them a dirty look, then realised and asked, “You guys understand English?”

The leader sniggered and made a few clicking sounds.

Jeal nodded. “Of course. They do understand English, especially–” He gestured at the giant reptilian. “–Max here, but the anatomy of their voice box isn’t quite suitable for speaking it.”

The adventurer stared at Max. “What did you just call him?”

He smiled. “Max. Short for Reptilicus Maximus, which is the English equivalent of what his people call him.” Then, shaking his head slowly, he continued, “One thousand years ago, when our people – the humans – prayed to the demon god, the lizardmen chose not to… you see, they believe in the spirit of warriors, rather than a god itself. For this deed, the demon cursed them for eternity, and to this day, they spend certain hours of the day encased in stone, unable to move until the moment of the curse passes.”

“I see…” He remembered what he had seen earlier, where some lizardmen turned into stone and some others coming back to life.

“In order to protect them and my possessions, I performed a complex spell over the marsh that will allow any intruders to see ten times more lizard warriors than there actually are.” He shook his head. “Needless to say, they do not wish for the demon to return to power, and they will help you–” At this, the giant reptilian glanced at him grudgingly, but did not protest. “–whenever you ask for it. I, too, will impart the last of my powers to you.”

At that moment, two of the lizards stepped forward, both carrying a small wooden chest. One of them held a Crest, a silver hawk clutching a gleaming sapphire stone, and the other a familiar, old and battered scroll.

The Guardian gestured towards them. “The Sapphire Crest and the Fire Scroll, the two items I have guarded religiously in the past thousand years.”

Alundra grinned as he took them. “That makes two now! Thanks, Jeal. Thanks, Max.” He glanced at them. “I’ll be sure to give this demon the good ol’ one-two on your behalf!”

The leader cackled and nodded approvingly.

Jeal laughed. “Good, good. I will now return you to the land of the humans… take care, Releaser.”

With that, the Guardian raised his hands, muttering the incantations to a spell as Alundra began the glow. The latter closed his eyes as usual while waiting for the spell to take him out.

Suddenly, the giant lizardman roared directly in his ears, making him jump violently in shock. As his heart raced, he glared at the reptilians, who were now cackling in laughter. Unfortunately, he had no time to get his revenge before he was to be teleported out.

“Goddammit!!” he cried, just as his eyesight was obscured by the dazzling light of the teleportation spell. “I’ll get you for this, lizard! I swear it!!”

 


 

When he returned to the village, the first thing Alundra noticed was that the air was eerily silent and that there was no one outside going about their daily routine at all. The windows and doors of each house were shut tightly, as though to yell at him there was no one at all. As he strode back towards his house, Jess walked as fast as he could towards him, his round belly heaving. When he arrived at the elf’s side, his breathing was ragged.

“I’ve been looking for you, Alundra!” he said. “I have news… bad news, of course. What other kind is there around here?”

Alundra’s eyes narrowed. “What happened?”

He took a deep breath and straightened. “Giles has taken ill; he’s the latest victim of the nightmares. It would be a shame if he were to return to Magyscar prematurely…”

He shook his head confusedly. “What’s mah-ghees-car?”

“I never told you of Magyscar?” He slapped his head. “Oy! I must be getting senile! According to legend, everything is created and destroyed there. We come from Magyscar when we are born, and we go there when we die.”

“So it’s sort of like a place where the spirit gathers?”

“Exactly! That’s where I’m going now, we are going there to pray for Giles’ recovery.”

He blinked. “Wait… you mean it’s a place you can go to? Where is it?”

He pointed towards the northern exit of the village. “It is north from here, near Torla Mountain… but you should be so lucky never to have to go there, you know what I’m saying?”

“Jess!” Lutas shouted from afar, waving a hand. “We’re leaving!”

Jess gave a wave of his hand in reply, then clamped a hand on Alundra’s shoulder. “I know Giles wasn’t much of a friend to you… but please help him.”

The adventurer grinned. “Come on, do I look like a bad guy to you? ‘Course I will!”

He smiled. “Glad to know that, lad.”

With that, the older man turned and left, joining Lutas and a whole group of villagers leaving through the northern exit.

Heaving a sigh, Alundra turned and went to Giles’ house. When he arrived there, he was fully expecting a group of villagers crying and praying like the last few times… but this time, the stone cottage seemed deathly empty as the windows and doors were left wide open, filled with silence, devoid of life.

Upstairs, in Giles’ bedroom, only five people were there – Septimus, always hoping he could help the victims of the curse; Beaumont, who felt it was his responsibility as mayor to remain in the village by the victim’s side; Meia, seemingly knowing what she was doing; Kisha, afraid for her brother’s life… and Giles, who lay on the bed, his skin extremely pale. His breathing was shallow, as though it would soon cease.

Meia was kneeling on the floor, her head bowed as though in prayer. A moment later, she got up slowly, turning around to face the others, who craned their necks to see if Giles would wake up… but, alas, he did not.

“It is too late,” the female elf stated quietly. “There is nothing I can do now… I am afraid Giles is fated to meet death, as with Kline.”

Kisha sank slowly to the ground, letting out a stifled sob.

Meia turned and strode towards the staircase, but stopped short when she caught sight of the other dreamwalker, whose heart did an involuntary flip once more. Her eyes narrowed, she shook her head. “Didn’t you learn anything from Kline’s death? Entering Giles’ nightmare would be madness, you’ll kill him and possibly yourself as well! Don’t let that foul trickster fool you into entering his world again…”

Then, she strode on, her ponytail trailing behind her.

Alundra scratched his head. “What was that all about?”

The scholar shook his head. “I don’t know. She went into Giles’ dream, but nothing seem to have happened… is it truly too late to save him?”

Kisha gave another sob. “I knew that Giles was headed for this dreadful fate, but it’s still tearing me apart inside…”

The swordsman walked past the others and stopped right next to the bed, gazing at the young man who had called him both a heretic and a demon, turning half the village against him…

The victim’s sister raised her tear-streaked face and stood up, her eyes pleading. “I beg of your Alundra, please enter my brother’s nightmare! Meia says it’s too late to do anything, but I want you to try… I can’t stand here and watch him die!”

He gazed at her. “Kisha…”

“Please… I know you have no reason to help my brother after what he said about you… but, I hope that you find it within your heart to forgive him. You’re my last hope… my only hope…”

“Hm…” Alundra glanced at her, then at Septimus and Beaumont, who were all focused on him. After a moment, he half-shrugged and said, “There’s something I need to do first… can you guys cover your ears?”

At first, the others glanced uncertainly at him, but they did not question him and obeyed, slowly clamping their hands over their ears.

He nodded. “Good. Now, let’s see…”

He faced the bed once more and took a deep breath.

“DAMN YOU IDIOT! YOU NINCOMPOOP! DIMWIT! MORON! IMBECILE! I HOPE THIS DEAFENS YOU! RAAAAAWR!!”

He yelled so loudly at the top of his lungs that he scared the lights out of the other three and made them jump violently.

“What on earth is matter with you?!” the mayor cried.

Septimus shook his head. “Alundra?”

The elf grinned over his shoulder. “He called me names, so we’re even now, right?” He faced Giles once more and took his wrist. “Well, wish me luck!”

With that, he closed his eyes and went through the familiar motions of dreamwalking, and eventually his body slacked.

The two remaining men immediately stepped forward to catch him before he fell and leaned him against a wall.

“That elf… he is truly selfless,” Beaumont marvelled.

Septimus nodded, smiling. “I know he will succeed.”

Kisha clasped her hands together and closed her eyes, muttering a desperate prayer.

 


 

As soon as Alundra felt his feet coming in contact with land with a soft thud, he opened his eyes and took in his surroundings. He seemed to be in a cave, with pale brown rocks that were streaked occasionally with white, that wound around so much that it seemed to be a complex labyrinth. Even though he didn’t carry a torch with him, his surroundings were illuminated enough for him to see clearly.

The light in the cave abruptly faded into darkness, startling him. A dull pain throbbed feebly inside him. But within a second later everything returned to normal as though nothing had happened. He placed a hand over his heart, where he had felt the pain… then he realised.

Giles was in pain. The very air of his subconscious dream seemed to tremble in pain.

His eyes narrowed, he hurried forward, hoping that Giles would still be alive when he arrived…

The tunnels twisted and turned, as though it was trying to keep him away from his destination. The light in the cave occasionally blacked out, sending waves of throbbing pain through him, and he grimly noticed that the pain was getting worse. He had to hurry.

Then, without warning, the tunnel expanded into a large room-like cave, with nothing in sight except sand, rocks, and…

“Giles!” Alundra exclaimed, running forward.

The blond-haired young man was lying on the ground, curled up tightly with his hands pressed hard against his chest. He was breathing shallowly but rapidly. His face was contorted with utmost pain.

Alundra knelt down beside him. “Giles! What’s wrong?”

Giles made the slightest movements towards him. “…ugh… t… this pain… is un… bearable…”

Suddenly there was a flash of light and images flickered across the cavern walls.

The edge of the high cliff crumbled, throwing an adult man and woman down into the violent, ravenous sea.

And the boy stared down at the sea, his eyes and mouth wide open in horror.

A rasping voice echoed across the dream cave. “That’s right… you killed them.”

Giles screamed in pain, writhing on the ground as though he was being burned alive.

The elf shook his head and shouted at the ceiling, “Where are you?! Show yourself!!”

Almost immediately, a familiar sight materialised out of thin air and landed heavily on the ground not far away from him… the Soul Leech. Its gargoyle head cackling in glee, the fly trapper jaws on its chest snapping open and close alternatively in eagerness, its claw-like fangs gleaming in the light of the cave. Its lizard-like body curved, and its clawed hands at the end of long, bone-like arms drummed the ground impatiently.

“You again!” Alundra cried. “You were in Kline’s dream!”

The gargoyle head grinned. “We meet again, dreamwalker… with that fiery soul of yours, it’s truly a pity I did not get to devour your in the beast-man’s dream.”

Beast-man? You’re the one who turned him into a beast!”

It cackled. “It was you who killed him… pushed him beyond the hope that he could live again, being the beast he was.” The long fingers on one hand pointed at Giles. “Can you defeat me and save this boy? His soul is nearly gone… only a mere drop is left.”

Giles whimpered.

It laughed. “Look at him… such a pitiful child. Shall I show you his past?”

Before the swordsman could retort, there was another flash of light and images flashed across the room.

A happy family – a man, a woman, a small boy and a small girl – strode hand-in-hand along the forest path, their golden hair gleaming in the sunlight. The birds chirped, rabbits bounded across the path, the deer glanced at them from a safe distance… it seemed nothing would go wrong on this fine, sunny day.

At the beach, a great stony cliff stood brave against the strikes of the sea against its face. The family stood upon it, watching the seagulls weaved in and out of the fissures in the rocks, where their nests were most likely hidden. A seagull flew down near them, standing right at the edge of the cliff, watching them warily.

Then, the boy rushed forward, releasing his hold on his father’s hand, laughingly reaching out with both hands to grab the seagull. The bird was too fast for it and soared to the sky easily, out of his reach.

The two adults gave a yell, but it was too late.

The edge of the high cliff crumbled. The boy screamed as he fell, his voice echoing above the waves of the sea.

The father reacted quickly. He grabbed the boy’s hand and, with all the strength he could muster, threw him back towards the safer part of the cliff. But saving his son came at a price. The momentum threw him off balance, towards the open sea.

His wife cried out his name and reached out towards him, trying to pull him back with both hands, but his weight was too much for her.

The cliff crumbled further as their screams echoed loudly over the sea waves… as they fell towards the violent, ravenous sea.

And the blond-haired boy stared down at the sea, his eyes and mouth wide open in horror.

Giles screamed in pain, grabbing at his chest. He writhed and thrashed on the ground of the dream cave, unable to bear the utmost pain that threatened him.

But the memories were not over.

A familiar man, donned in white robes and hood, knelt on the cliff beside the crying children – the girl, who was unable to understand anything more than the fear in her parents’ dying screams; the boy, who had realised the horror of what he had done. It was the chancellor of Inoa’s sanctuary who said the words, “It is not your fault, child… it is the will of the gods.”

And the scene changed.

The boy, slightly older and bordering the age of teenagehood, was kneeling in front of the altar in the cathedral, his head bowed low as he feverishly muttered the holy rites of forgiveness.

Suddenly, Alundra realised.

Giles, the boy who had caused his parents’ deaths. Giles, who had grown under Ronan’s care, who had turned to religion because of the chancellor’s guidance. His parents’ deaths shook him so terribly that he tried to forget them, tried to turn towards the heavens, that it was “the will of the gods” and not his fault. That everything that had happened was the will of the gods.

That was the sole reason he had become a religious fanatic.

He had chosen the path of the coward.

As Giles lay shuddering on the ground, too weak to scream, a satisfied grin broke across the gargoyle face of the Soul Leech. “Soon, the whole soul would be mine. You cannot imagine how incomprehensibly delicious the taste of a tortured soul i–”

Its sentence was cut off as a large metal ball struck its gargoyle face, knocking it back.

Alundra grinned as he retracted the iron flail. “Well, I take it that you’ve never tried lamb chop before.” He lit a mining bomb and tossed it onto the monster’s fallen body. “You can have a taste of this while I console my traumatised friend!”

And the bomb exploded in a burst of smoke, forcing the Soul Leech against the wall.

“Giles!” The adventurer turned and knelt next to the chancellor’s assistant, raising the latter’s head slightly with one hand. “Come on! Speak to me! Tell me you’re still alive!”

The chancellor’s assistant shook his head weakly. “I will… soon be dead… I no longer… have the right… to live…”

“Of course you do! What nonsense are you sprouting now? You can call me a demon, heretic, whatever, but not this!” He waved his free hand angrily. “What about Kisha? She’s crying her eyes out for you and begged me to find you even if it’s too late to save you! Everyone else went to Magyscar to pray for you to return to them! Heck, you pray to the gods, but you’re just a selfish jerk!!”

The blue eyes widened. “S-selfish…?”

“Yes, you’re goddamn selfish! Even if it’s heaven’s will, a babboon’s backside or whatever, the fact doesn’t change that if you hadn’t chased that seagull, your parents wouldn’t have to try to save you!”

“N-no…” He shuddered once more, his eyes shut tightly. “No… it’s not me… it’s not me who killed them…”

Alundra sighed. “Look, let’s change our angle on this, okay? Why would your parents save you? Because they love you! They don’t care if they die to save you, as long as you live your life fullest and be happy with what you do!” He half-shrugged. “Of course, praying to the gods isn’t at the top of my list of suggestions to you, but you get the idea, right? Maybe it was you chasing that seagull that caused your parents to die, but it’s not your fault, you know?” He raked his hair. “Aaaaaargh, that just doesn’t come out right!”

Giles chuckled a little, seemingly stronger now, and slowly sat up. “I get what you mean, Alundra… I can’t change the past, but I shouldn’t make my parents’ death a waste by wishing to die…”

He smiled and nodded. “That’s right!”

Then the rasping noise of the Soul Leech interrupted them. “I hate to break your touching reunion…”

Alundra and Giles turned sharply, the former with his sword drawn.

“You deprived me of a good dinner…” the Soul Leech growled. “How about paying it back by letting me EAT YOU?!”

With that, it snapped open its fly trapper jaws, spreading its claw-like fangs as it began sucking inwards.

“Giles! Get back!” Alundra cried as he started to run.

But the monster’s strength was incredible. Within moments, the tornado-like inhale power had pulled Alundra off his feet and towards its owner’s open jaws. The gargoyle head cackled just as he reached the fangs… but stopped when he hung on tightly with his hands and feet pressed tightly against the fangs, propping himself just inches away from the jaws. The Soul Leech snarled as the fly trapper mouth stopped inhaling and instead focused its strength on clamping its jaws onto him, which was met with equal strength by the adventurer, whose limbs shook with the effort.

“You seem to be tied up!” the monster said triumphantly, flexing its long, clawed fingers. “But I still have claws to strike you with!”

“Oh, yeah?” Alundra grinned. “You lost the moment you tried to suck me in, buddy – I could get close to you without being slashed!”

The large eyes widened. “What?!”

“Water Shield!”

There was a flash of light as the monster was knocked slightly back by the sudden appearance of the shield of water, just enough for Alundra to be freed from its jaws.

And, before it could recover, he yelled once more. “Meteor Rain!!”

Large chunks of rocks covered in burning flames fell down from the ceiling and peppered the monster mercilessly like raindrops. It had no way of defending against the rocks; its body was large, an easy target, and its bony, long arms did little as defence.

When the meteors stopped, the Soul Leech had been beaten to a pulp on the ground, unable to move.

“Aaaaaaaand–” Alundra leaped high into the air. “–the finishing move! HEYAAAH!!”

With one clean slice of his blade, the gargoyle head was completely severed from its body, dropping onto the rocky ground and rolling a few feet away. When it slowed to a stop, both the eyes and mouth were still widely open – a mixture of disbelief and shock.

Then, the body began releasing rays of bright light, more and more until it was as though a bright lamp… then crumbled into sand that disappeared in the wind that blew across the cave.

The swordsman landed neatly on the ground, sheathing his sword as he grinned.

“Another mission accomplished!”

With that, he prepared to make the leap from Giles’ dream, but before he completely left the dream, though, he saw a glimpse of the dream’s ending… the high cliff overlooking the calm, peaceful sea, baking in the sunlight.

Giles stood before a man and a woman, his head bowed, but the couple seemed to have felt that words were better left unsaid and pulled him into a tight embrace. At first, Giles’ eyes widened with surprise, then he began sobbing loudly… most likely his first time in over ten years.

 


 

Everyone gathered around Alundra as he stirred and shook his head groggily, still getting disoriented from dreamwalking even though he had already done it several times. The gaze from their eyes was hopeful.

“You’re back…” Kisha was the first to speak. “How… is my brother?”

He grinned and stood up. “Well, see for yourself!”

The others turned as though it was a command, rushing to the side of the bed… then exclaimed in relief when Giles groaned and stirred.

“Thank the maker!” Beaumont cried. “Giles has returned to us! This is a wonderful, happy occurrence! I don’t know if I could have dealt with yet another tragic death… but the people praying at Magyscar must be told of this happy news at once!”

“I’ll go,” Alundra said. “I want to check out the place, anyway.”

“Alundra… wait.” All eyes turned towards Giles, who slowly sat up with his sister’s help. “Thank you for saving my life, and I… I’m sorry for calling you names… you’re right, I’m a coward, and I took the gods’ words as the absolute truth… the more I feel guilty of my parents’ deaths, the more I turn to the gods… in the end, I even hurt my sister…”

His sister placed a hand on his shoulder. “Brother…”

He shook his head. “When Ronan said you were a devil, a heretic… I did not hesitate to believe it.”

Septimus held his chin in his hand. “Ronan was the one who called Alundra a demon?”

The mayor thought for a moment. “It’s certainly strange that chancellor Ronan isn’t here… he and Giles are like father and son. It was also Ronan who suggested we evict Alundra out of the village… and I must admit I did not disagree–” At Alundra’s look of horror, he quickly added, “–at first.”

Heaving a sigh of relief, the swordsman shook his head. “Nah, no big deal. ‘Sides–” He gave roguish grin. “I got even by calling you names as well.”

Everyone laughed, except Giles, who looked around confusedly, but did not press the matter as the others left the two siblings alone for a touching reunion.

Outside, Meia stood by the village fountain, apparently waiting for news that Giles had perished. When Alundra told her the good news, she stared at him with disbelief.

“Giles is alive?” she repeated. “You… saved him?” She snarled. “I don’t believe you! I must see him with my own eyes!”

And she hurried in the direction of Giles’ house.

However, at the northern village entrance in the distance, Alundra and Septimus caught sight of Ronan. The chancellor merely stood there, not joining the cheering at Giles’ recovery… when he caught their eyes, however, he gave a sneer, then turned and left towards the sanctuary.

The two of them glanced at each other, the same thought passing through their minds… was the chancellor just a strange, over-obsessed zealot, or was there truly something fishy about him?

 

End of Chapter Eight.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Nine: One Who Sees the Future

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

Magyscar was just a short distance from Inoa’s northern entrance, past the lake and a tall rocky hill, hidden in a small cave of greenish-black rocks at the base of a mountain. Inside the cave was only a small area, where a long altar stood bearing the weight of many candles. The gathered villagers stood before the altar, facing the cavern wall that was empty except for the stone engraving of a crest of some sort, praying for Giles’ save return.

However, it sounded as though they were persuading a very reluctant cat out of a hole.

“Giles… Giles! Don’t go that way, come here instead!”

“Giles! Yoohoo! It’s too early to leave us! You must come back!”

“You can’t leave us, Giles! What about Kisha? You can’t leave her! She needs your love!”

“Can you hear me, Giles? You’re not ready to return your soul to this place! Come back to join us!”

Alundra raised an eyebrow as he joined their flanks and asked, “Are you guys… praying?”

Everyone jumped at his voice, startled.

“Oy!” Jess cried. “When did you arrive, lad?”

The swordsman half-shrugged. “Only just. What are you doing?”

“Our souls leave this place when we’re born and return when we die. We’re calling out to Giles’ soul to prevent him from crossing over, you know what I’m saying?” Then, his eyes grew wide open as realisation hit him. “Oy! Alundra! Did you come bearing news from the village? What happened to Giles?”

At that point, the villagers gathered around them, eager to hear the news.

Alundra grinned. “He’s all good and safe, so you don’t have to yell for him anymore!”

There was uproar as the villagers cheered, their voices echoing loudly in the small cave. Jess, too, was grinning happily as he slapped the swordsman’s back painfully, declaring, “This is fantastic news! You’ve truly done a blessed thing this day, my boy!”

Lutas stepped forward, smiling. “Alundra… you’re an inspiration to us all. Witnessing your heroism makes me proud just to know you.”

Sybill’s mother nodded. “We’re lucky to have you here with us, Alundra!”

Many of the people gave him words of praise as they slowly filed out of the cave, making Alundra turn a bright red colour. Eventually the cave was empty except for him and the swordsmith.

“Off home we go, my boy!” Jess said. “I’ll make a nice dinner in celebration of Giles’ recovery and your brave feat!”

Alundra grinned. “Hey, that sounds great!” He gestured at the altar. “But I’m going to look around here for a bit, so you go on ahead first, all right?”

He nodded. “All right, but make sure you stay away from the fissure at the back. I think it could collapse at almost any time. That’s not good, you know what I’m saying?”

On that note, Jess went on home, thinking of the feast he would make that night, and Alundra approached the altar.

Beyond the candle wax-covered table, at the back of the cave, there was a fissure slanted to the right, almost as long as he was tall. Through the hole, he could smell the dusty, musty air, indicating there was a room behind it… but however, it was barely five inches wide – perhaps enough for a small monkey to pass, but definitely not him, especially with his backpack.

Could this be a place where a Guardian resided?

Lars stayed in a godforsaken crypt that was completely inaccessible unless he called out to them, Vul was in a coastal cave that was unreachable if it weren’t for the extra low tide; and Jeal hid underground in a lair guarded by ferocious, blade-wielding reptilians. On all three accounts, the Guardians stayed below ground level, their entrance not easily penetrated by ordinary people… they seemed to like deep, dark places.

And Magyscar had a plus point – it was a place where spirits gathered after death, and since the Guardians were all spirits, surely there would be one here!

Alundra grinned. “Oh yeah, I’m smart.”

He reached into his pack for a smaller mining bomb, lighted it and stuffed it into the fissure before retreating back to a safe distance and covered his ears.

The bomb went off in a loud, echoing ‘POW!’ and a thick cloud of smoke.

Coughing, Alundra fanned the smoke away from his face as an old, dusty, musty smell came to his nose. The fissure had been blown apart, revealing a hole more than large enough for him to go through. Raising the burning torch that was the branch of a tree he had severed earlier, he ventured courageously forward, seeking the Guardian that might very well not be here.

By the very stuffy air he was inhaling, this place had not had fresh air in a long time, perhaps a couple of hundred years, he thought. Darkness-loving bugs scurried about the ground, the walls and the ceilings, their many little legs moving in synchronisation beneath them. Thorny vine-like plants deeply rooted in the cracks within the ground spread expansively across his path on many occasions, determined to block his way, but these bushes were easily dispatched with the burning torch he was carrying.

Though he had expected at least some resistance, he had walked on and on without a much as a millipede sneaking into his clothes, and by the end of a good one hour, he had arrived at a very large cave with nothing there to greet him.

He paused, listening for sounds.

Other than the crackling of his torch, only a ringing silence filled his ears.

“Oh, come on! Is that all?!” he cried. “At least give me some interesting traps or something, won’t ya? Come on!”

And something landed heavily behind him, sending a low rumble through the ground.

He stopped. He turned slowly and hesitantly backwards.

From the darkness, something big emerged. Something long.

His eyes widened as its head entered the light of his burning torch.

The head of a human corpse.

Attached to the body of a gigantic worm at least twenty feet long, each one of their abdominal segments covered in gleaming steel plates, their legs puncturing holes in the stony ground.

A corpse worm.

He coughed nervously. “I suppose this is the time to run and scream like a little girl…?”

As though agree with him, the monster opened its mouth, released a wave of rotting smell, and let out a high pitched scream.

“Wargh!” he yelled as he jumped out of the way, just as the monster whipped its spiked tail-end towards him.

He sped around the cave, with the corpse worm hot on his tail screeching, raking his mind quickly for a way to defeat it. The moment it stopped to whip its tail towards him again, he leaped away and took the chance to strike at its side.

Clang!

“Yeow!”

The blade of the sword bounced easily off the steel plate, the momentum throwing him off balance. He recovered just before the monster whipped at him again and dashed backwards, sheathing his sword and pulling out the iron flail.

“If slashes won’t work, pure force should work! Take THIS!”

Clang!

“Oh, come on!” he shouted, just as the metal ball of his iron flail rolled uselessly back near his feet.

After that he tried a variety of other tools he had.

First was the hunter’s bow.

Clang!

Then the bomb.

Boom-clang!

Nothing seemed to work against the corpse worm. The Water Shield spell merely knocked it back. The burning torch merely made a minuscule black mark on the steel plate.

And Lars’ Meteor Rain spell was absolutely the worst.

Clang-clang-clang-clang-clang-clang-clang-clang!

“Alundra, you IDIOT!” Alundra yelled over the loud rattling as he clamped his hands over his ears. “You KNEW that was going to happen!”

After the conjured meteors had stopped falling, the corpse head leered at him, as though egging him on.

But he grinned.

“Well, I still have one more idea.” He clapped his hands together and gestured the monster towards him. “Come on! I’ll show you!”

Its eyes blazing, the worm let out another high-pitched screech and charged towards him, and he met the challenge gladly.

“Take this! HEYAAH!!”

And he gave it a great big punch on the face.

The corpse worm reeled, more in shock than pain. Its eyes opened wide, staring at him, stunned.

Alundra made a face at the bits of rotten flesh on his hand and quickly wiped it away. “Yuck! Don’t you ever wash your face? I hope the last time you washed isn’t a thousand years ago…”

It screeched and lunged at him in anger.

He grinned as he sidestepped nimbly out of the way, pulling out his sword with one swift motion. “But I’ve got your weak point now, and that’s your head! HYAH!!”

The blade gleamed in the light of his torch as it slashed, sending bits of rotten flesh onto the ground. But as luck would have it, the worm recoiled back just as the blade struck, minimising the damage it could have done.

Both adventurer and monster stood some distance away from each other, staring as they waited for the other to act first.

Then, a voice rang across the cave like blade cutting through flesh.

“ENOUGH!”

The corpse worm recoiled as though struck with a hot iron.

“Return to your nest… this boy is not our enemy.”

Its head drooped close to the ground, then it slowly and mournfully crawled back into the darkness.

Alundra shook his head. “What the… wait! I’m not done with you yet! Come on!”

He made to pursue the monster, but a flash of light stopped him. When his eyesight adjusted, he saw that it was caused by a green whirlpool of energy, the silhouette of a cloaked person emerged from it. Though this person was also cloaked like the other Guardians, Alundra thought amusedly that its body was small and shaped suspiciously like a female.

When the Guardian spoke, his suspicions were confirmed.

“I see that Jeal has kid not. You used such… truly unorthodox methods against my corpse worm.”

The female voice was low, yet with a firm note of strictness.

Alundra half-shrugged. “Oh, come on. So far, you Guardians haven’t been giving me really friendly welcomes… it was either trying to send me to hell and back with giant creatures, or watch me struggle and then laugh at me… with giant creatures! A guy’s gotta feel hurt, you know?”

The Guardian gave a quiet laugh. “We mean you no lasting harm, Releaser… we do have an obligation to test you to make sure you are not an impostor.” She spread her arms. “I am Uma, one they call Queen of Life and Death… protector of the Garnet Crest.”

He held out his hand, ready to catch the materialising items… but to his dismay, she shook her head sadly.

“Unfortunately, the Murgg came before you and stole the Crest… my servant was so angry he mistakenly attacked you. Please accept my apologies for his rash actions.”

He sighed. “Okay, so yours and Vul’s Crests were the two that the giant ape said they got… well, at least I have two now, so I’ll definitely get a chance to get to them.”

She nodded approvingly. “I will present you with the last of my powers… the Wind Scroll, Releaser.”

As the said scroll – old and battered like the others – materialised into his hands, he grinned. “Great!”

“This is the place where lost souls gather to pass the seconds of eternity; those who yet live and breathe have no place here. I shall return you to the domain of those yet alive.”

A light began to shine from the palm of her hand, obscuring all from sight. Alundra winced and shielded his eyes as the teleportation spell washed over him.

“Go forth now, Releaser,” Uma continued, her voice echoing now. “You are the last hope of this land. Without you, humanity is condemned to die a horrible death.”

 


 

The next morning, after Alundra dropped off both the Fire and Wind Scrolls at Septimus’ house (who began devouring them as though he was starving for a good mind-boggling challenge), he left the scholar alone to decipher the hieroglyphs and made his way out of the village in search of more places where the Guardians might be waiting for him.

As he passed by the lake a short distance away from the village’s northern exit, he saw the familiar silvery hair belonging to Sybill. She was once more seated by the lake, her dreamy eyes fixated on the surface of the water.

“Hey, Sybill,” he greeted, sitting beside her, and grinned. “You’re not having more dreams of me in nightgowns on ostriches, are you?”

She smiled. “Oh, no, not at all. Just you in a bright pink monkey suit.”

His expression fell. “That’s even worse.”

She laughed a little, but then shook her head and closed her eyes. “My futuristic dream is now at its most vivid, coming to the end of a story.”

“The end of a story…?”

“The dream will soon come to an end.” She gazed at him. “Do you wish to see it?”

He hesitated, wondering if it would show him victorious against the demon or his mangled remains… but he nodded.

She placed a hand on his, focusing her eyes on his. Alundra felt himself getting drawn in those staring eyes, further and further in… drawn into her dream world.

 


 

The courageous hero strode on forward, his hair blazing like the fiery shade of the sunset sun in the dark night sky, his sword gleaming in the light of the burning torch in his hand. The stone walls rose with intimidation, the stone guardians of the gates gazing at him with suspicious eyes.

 


 

Lutas’s eyes gleamed with fear in the dim light of the room. He spoke softly, his voice trembling.

You must ask Jess… no, you must demand of Jess that he create a new sword…” He shook his head and closed his eyes. “I don’t want to die, Alundra, I want to live forever if it were possible. But defeating the demon is far more important than any one life, including my own…”

Alundra closed his eyes. “You don’t have to do this, Lutas.”

He smiled ruefully. “I must ask of you to protect my wife for me…”

 


 

The castle courtyard was once grand, decorated with neat hedges and the most spectacular of roses. The stone path stretched before him, as though inviting him inside, yet the stone reptilian statues at the gate glared at him, as though they would shred him into pieces.

The castle loomed overhead.

 


 

Jess shook his head mournfully, fingering the blade of a magnificent sword on the table. “This… is the Holy Sword. I began work shortly after Lutas died…”

Alundra gazed at the sword, his eyes stinging. “Lutas… why…?”

His eyes grew determined. “With this weapon, Alundra, you can restore peace to our world once and for all. You can’t let the sacrifice Lutas made be for naught!”

 


 

Deep within the castle, a great demon rose. The empty torches on the wall flared up in azure flames, the heroic cape billowed in a magical wind.

The hero gazed up at the demon, his eyes determined, his gleaming sword at ready… the Holy Sword.

The demon leered at him. He raised his hand and pointed a finger forward.

A burst of light came from the finger. It flared up like a flower, bright like the sun yet cold like ice.

The hero entered a battle stance, holding the Holy Sword forward, ready to live to his expectations.

A ray of light shot forward, like a thin spear of white.

Then the light spread and overwhelmed the castle.

 


 

The dream drained away as Sybill withdrew her hand, leaving Alundra bewildered and stunned.

“That’s all to the dream?” he asked. “Lutas… and the…”

She nodded. “You fight against a black force of evil at great personal risk to life and limb. You are not afraid, just determined to emerge victorious… and you will be victorious.”

He gazed at her in surprise. “Did you see that in your dream? The one you showed me was such a cliffhanger.”

She smiled. “No… I believe in you, that’s why it will come true.”

He couldn’t help but to smile as well. It was one thing to receive insults and name-calling from some of the villagers, but quite another thing to receive a vote of confidence directly from this strange girl.

Sybill lowered her eyes slightly. “There’s something I’d like to ask of you… can you please close your eyes?”

He blinked. “What? Oh, okay.” He obeyed and closed his eyes, wondering what the dreamy girl was up to.

He felt a soft peck on his cheek. Startled, he snapped his eyes open and raised a hand to his cheek, watching her draw back slightly from him, her usually pale face reddened. The part of his cheek beneath his hand grew warm. He suddenly felt conscious of how close they were together… suddenly saw the strange, dreamy Sybill as a girl.

“I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time,” she confessed, her voice soft, her eyes dreamy. “Ever since I saw your arrival in this village in my dream.”

 “Sybill… you…” was all he could muster in his surprise.

“You’re the only one who would talk to me as a friend. Many people in this village are nice, but others are afraid to tread my path for fear I would dream of their deaths… some thought perhaps I could curse them by dreaming of them.”

“Ri… ridiculous!” he spluttered, standing up. “There’s no way you would curse them even if you have the ability! You’re just not that kind of person!”

She smiled. “Thank you, Alundra… it means a lot to me.”

They gazed at each other, emotion burning in the colours of their locked eyes. Alundra’s face burned, then he slowly pulled his eyes away in embarrassment.

At that moment, they heard a familiar voice calling, “Sybill, darling… where are you, honey?”

“Ah… that’s my mother looking for me.” Sybill smiled and slowly stood up. “There’s no need to give me an answer immediately, there will be more chances to ponder of this. So I’ll see you tomorrow, hero Alundra.”

As she began walking away, Alundra shouted after her, “I’ll give you an answer soon, Sybill! Let’s meet again here tomorrow!”

She whirled around, the ends of her dress fluttering, and gave the sweetest, warmest smile that he had never seen on her before. She gave a farewell wave and continued on, towards the path where her mother was waiting for her.

Lowering his hand from his cheek, he stared forward at the clear surface of the lake, quite unsure of what to feel.

Then, he gave a roguish grin.

Maybe being together with Sybill wasn’t such a bad thing after all… she was certainly more receptive than a certain female elf.

 


 

Later that evening, Alundra and Septimus had just broken the seal on both the Fire and Wind Scrolls (earning the adventurer the Flame Arrows and Wind Slash spells) when there was a sharp knock from the scholar’s front door, drawing both their attention away from the scattered papers on the desks. It was Meia, her cold eyes focused on them, lowering her hand from the door as she stepped towards them. Alundra could not help but to grin when he saw her.

“Meia, what brings you here?” Septimus asked in surprise.

The female dreamwalker glanced at both of them. “There is something that may interest you in your quest… I believe I may have found the reason why the villagers are suffering from the nightmares.”

“What?” he exclaimed, standing up. “Tell us!”

She nodded. “Ronan prays to the gods, but he has been the victim of a clever deception. He is worshipping the very evil from which he believes the gods shall deliver us.”

“He’s been praying to a black force instead of the gods?” He eyed her. “How… do you know of this?”

She turned and strode towards the door. “It is up to you whether to believe it to be true or false… go, see for yourself. Ronan should still be at the sanctuary.”

On that note, left through the front door, leaving the other two bewildered.

Septimus was the first to speak. “If that is true, we are all in grave danger… we must get to the bottom of this, Alundra.”

The adventurer nodded. “Let’s go. I’ve been having a funny feeling about that guy for a while…”

 


 

The sunset rays showered the sanctuary walls as they arrived a few moments later. The large front doors of the building were shut tight, as they always were in the evenings, and any amount of banging or yelling did nothing to summon the chancellor to them.

But both adventurer and scholar were not to be deterred.

“This is quite an unexpected obstacle and definitely unwelcome…” Septimus thought for a moment. “We appear to be without recourse… unless if we could reach the upper windows, perhaps they could be pierced to allow entry. However, I would consider breaking and entering – especially into the sanctuary – a somewhat drastic choice.” He smiled. “Eternal damnation is to be expected in retribution at some point, eh, Alundra?”

Alundra grinned. “Well, what’s eternal damnation compared to the thrill of seeing the look on Ronan’s face when he found out we thrashed his place?”

However, attempting to climb to the upper floor windows were proving very much more difficult than they thought. For a start, the stone wall surrounding the sanctuary were as tall as the upper floor windows were high and were as smooth as the surface of a stone path. There were also no trees or stones near or high enough for the swordsman to climb up, forcing them to climb on each other’s back in order to reach the top of the wall… though quite unsuccessfully.

It was not before both of them fell in a crumpled heap for the tenth time in a row that Alundra jumped to his feet and said, “Why the heck don’t we just break the bottom floor windows? It’s still breaking in, right?”

His friend laughed. “Tthat’s certainly true.”

A few minutes later, there was a new shattered stained glass window and both of them explored the interior of the sanctuary.

They were in the main hall, where Alundra had first met Ronan and was forced to pay respects to the house of the idol on the biggest altar at the back. The benches stood empty, devoid of practitioners, but the torches on the wall and the numerous candles on various altars continued to light the hall. The air was even gloomier than Alundra remembered.

“I’ll search the vicinity of the altars for anything unusual,” Septimus volunteered. “If there is any hidden mechanism, most likely it’s there. Ronan’s quarters are upstairs; give them a look, won’t you?”

“Right.”

He explored both the eastern and western wings of the building, both the lower and upper floors, but no matter how hard he looked, it just seemed to be ordinary cathedral rooms, albeit rather dusty. There was a large room with several beds, most likely for guests, but they seemed to have not been slept in for a long time. There was a kitchen, which was filthier than he would have liked, with baskets of vegetables sitting in a desolated corner. There was also another bedroom, which had only one bed, so it had to be Ronan’s bedroom… but other than the fact it was rather messy, with clothes strewn about, it seemed to be pretty ordinary as well.

There was a large library, which seemed to not have been dusted for a long time… but he noticed a path clean of dust on the floor, as though someone had frequently walked on it. It led to a particular bookshelf, where there was a one-inch gap among the books, just right for a missing volume. The sight of the gap stood right out at him, as though it was something he should take note of, but he couldn’t quite put a finger on it.

With nothing else to see here, he returned to the main hall to check on his friend. Septimus was standing next to a short bookshelf some distance away from the benches, staring intently at the bottom of a particular shelf.

“Found something?” Alundra asked.

The scholar nodded and pointed to what he was looking at. “See that? It appears to be some kind of a switching device, and quite well hidden at that. If I hadn’t searched that area a second time, I would’ve missed it… shall we activate it?”

He nodded. “Let’s see what this guy has to hide.”

Septimus put his hand between the top of the books and the bottom of the upper shelf and gingerly pushed the switch. For a moment or two, it seemed as though nothing had happened… then there was a short but loud rumble.

“What was that noise?” Septimus shook his head. “I can’t be sure, but I thought it came from the west wing…”

Alundra already began striding in the direction. “I’m on it.”

He entered the west hall on the bottom floor, re-examining the area a second time to see what could have changed, and noted with pleasant surprise that the stone double doors of a particular room – which was shut tight earlier – had now opened.

Inside was a dim hall, the torches on the walls barely lighting the area, and there were no windows from which the sun could shine its rays into. There were two rows of coffin lined neatly across the floors, but they were terribly dusty, and the decorative potted plants at the corners of the hall seemed to have long since wilted.

And, on top of a particular coffin, was a thick pale-purple book.

He scratched his head, thinking that the book seemed rather out of place, and strode over to it to pick it up.

But, the moment he was three feet away from it, the book disappear with a loud swoosh and reappeared on top of another coffin quite a good distance away. Frowning, he went for it again.

Swoosh!

Once again the book was elsewhere.

“Argh, come on!” he yelled, cracking his fists. “Okay, you asked for it!”

Swoosh! Swoosh! Swoosh! Swoosh!

A few long minutes later, Alundra was breathing hard from having chased the elusive book all over the room, and yet the book still sat on a coffin some distance away, as though mocking him.

“Freaking book…” he muttered under his breath and decided to give up for the time being.

Back at the main hall, Septimus was calling him excitedly.

“Alundra! Come here! I’ve found yet another switch!”

“Another one?” The swordsman jogged over to him, who was in front of a side altar with its surface covered with lit candles.

He pointed at the bottom of the altar. “Should I fiddle with this switch?”

He shrugged. “Why not?”

“Just asking…” He pressed the switch with an audible click.

A second passed, another second passed.

Then Alundra gave a yell and tackled Septimus out of way.

A giant spiked metal ball, larger than both of them, landed heavily onto the floor, crushing the stone platform… right where they were standing before.

Septimus sat up quickly. “A trap inside the sanctuary? Just what is going on here? I think we need to do more searching…”

Alundra shook his head. “What the heck is Ronan thinking?” He got to his feet and helped his friend up.

He dusted his tunic. “Thanks, Alundra. Thank goodness you’re here with me.”

He grinned. “Well, you can repay me by helping me with something… there’s this really pesky book that keeps vanishing before I can get my hands on it.”

“A book that keeps vanishing? Certainly, I’ll help you. Besides, I’m a scholar, locating lost and rare books is my specialty!”

A raised eyebrow.

The researcher smiled sheepishly. “A little scholar humour there… uh, well, never mind.”

Alundra laughed and slapped his back good-humouredly.

Both of them made their way back to the coffin room, where the book lay meekly on one of a coffin.

“Let me give it a try,” Septimus said, stepping forward to take the challenge.

But, as with Alundra’s attempts, all the scholar could do was to run all over the room while the book stayed merrily out of reach. Almost as soon as he had started, he came huffing and puffing back to his friend, who was laughing and slapping his knee.

“Oh, don’t laugh,” Septimus said indignantly. “You couldn’t catch it, either.”

The swordsman grinned. “But I’m sure that incredible brain of yours has a plan, right?”

He straightened. “Of course! The book has a mind of its own, but I certainly do have a plan! I’ve noticed the book tends to appear on the other side of the room and only on the coffins when approached… so here’s the plan. You chase the book while I wait here for it.”

His grin disappeared. “What?”

He grinned. “Well, I came up with the plan, so you get to chase the blasted thing around the room. And besides, you have more stamina!”

He grumbled under his breath, but there was certainly no arguing about that.

The book eyed him as Alundra crept nearer to it, then quickly teleported when he lunged at it. Muttering curses, he spun on his heels towards the other end of the rows of coffins, but no matter how fast he ran or grabbed at the book, it simply disappeared in a swoosh just a second before he could touch it.

Then, a few long minutes later, the book finally made the mistake of reappearing on the coffin right in front of Septimus, who immediately made a grab at it.

“I’ve got it, Alundra!” he cried. “I’ve got it!”

Alundra jogged back to his side, breathing heavily. “Great! We got the freaking book at last! What does it say?”

Book of Runes…” He flipped through the book, a thoughtful look on his face, but shook his head when he closed it. “But there’s nothing special about this book. One of my brothers studies runes, and I’ve seen this exact copy in his house.”

“Really? I wonder why Ronan would go through all that to bewitch this book…”

He placed the book in his friend’s hands. “Well, that’s up to you to find out. I’m going to continue searching around the main hall.”

The swordsman sighed as he twirled the book on a finger, looking thoughtful as he watched the scholar leave the room.

Did Ronan really love the book so much that he bewitched it to be elusive? But it made everyone, including himself, unable to read the book. What else would he do with a book if he didn’t want to read it?

Then, he remembered the library bookshelf with the gap made by a missing volume. What would happen if he put the book in there?

He left the coffin room and headed over to the east wing, passing by the main hall on the way. As he passed by, the scholar had such a look of intense focused on his face that Alundra decided to check up on him.

“Found something interesting?” he asked.

With his chin in a hand, Septimus was staring at the altar from which the chancellor usually preached from when there were practitioners sitting on the benches. “This stand seemed a little out of place, so I examined it more closely…”

“Really?” He could see nothing out of place with the altar.

He nodded. “It moved when I pushed it a little. Here, see for yourself…” He pushed the altar from one side, and it seemed to slide slightly sideways.

“Cool!” Alundra cried. “Is it hiding a secret entrance or something?”

“I don’t know, but something is blocking the stand from moving further. Maybe there’s another switch around here…”

“Well, good luck.” He twirled the book on his finger. “I’d love to help you, but I still have the mystery of this book to figure out.”

“Good luck to you too.”

With that, Septimus returned his attention to the stand, and the other left for the library.

When Alundra reached the room full of books, the gap in the bookshelf stood as plain as anyone could see, and he stuffed the book right into it.

It was a perfect fit.

Suddenly, the bookshelf began to shake, prompting him to take a few steps back, and then it slid sideways to reveal a small hidden room, where nothing but a small chest stood atop a pedestal. Inside the chest was rather dusty, as though no one had opened it for years, and there was a curious-looking key made of golden material with something that looked like a skull on its head. It had to be important if Ronan hid it in a secret room and bewitched the book that would allow its entrance.

Back at the main hall, Septimus was still standing by the stand that could move, staring intently at it with his chin in one hand.

“Look here…” he said, when the adventurer came to his side, and pointed at the side of the stand. “That seems to be a keyhole of some sort, but it’s quite unusual… I doubt I could fashion a key to fit it. I believe Ronan must have hidden the key to this somewhere in the sanctuary.”

Alundra grinned and held up the curious key. “You mean this?”

“A key? It looks quite unusual too. Let’s see if it’s a perfect fit…” He took the key and put it into the keyhole, then slowly and gingerly turned it clockwise.

There was a loud click from the stand, as though a lock had been released. Unable to conceal his excitement, Septimus gave the stand another push and it slid easily to the side with a low growl, revealing a set of staircase leading down to the basement.

“It moved! And behold! A concealed staircase!” The scholar turned to his friend. “I’ll bet you a hundred gilders Ronan not only knows about it, he uses it. But… for what?”

The swordsman shrugged. “And I’ll bet you he’s inside at this very moment, so why don’t we go and ask him? I’ll go first.”

Through the hidden entrance, the staircase descended quite a long way down, winding and winding as though they were descending an extremely tall tower. The torches on the wall barely lit up the secret passageway, but enough for them to see where they were going.

After what seemed like ages, they finally arrived at the bottom, where the path led into a large hall that was brightly lit. The stone floor was squeaky clean, the pedestals at the side of the hall were not dusty, and the green stone path in the middle of the hall led up to a raised platform with a wooden pedestal… on which Ronan was standing on. The wall at the back of the platform had a sunburst pattern, as though to depict a shining power.

Alundra’s eyes widened.

In front of the wall was the ten-foot high statue of a familiar demon… the demon that Alundra had seen in Sybill’s dream, the demon that stood behind the Murgg, his heroic cape billowing in the magical wind.

The demon Lars had summoned him to defeat.

And Ronan was praying to it.

Septimus did not see the look of disbelief on his friend’s face – he was focused on the statue, shaking his head. “This… is a statue of worship, a statue for the gods! It’s a crime to worship these idols, and here you are, breaking the law! Why, Ronan? Why?”

The chancellor gazed at them, an undecipherable expression on his face. “Now that the gods are not seen, they have been all but forgotten by sinful mankind. Called upon us only in times of dire need, the gods are angry for treating them this way.” He spread his hands to the side, as though receiving divine blessing from the heavens. “I am a faithful servants of the gods, as with my ancestral line of chancellors, and I continue to respect and honour them… we have violated the king’s law since its inception a thousand years ago. Yet we have not hidden that fact; most of the good people here know of my ‘crime’, and as with their ancestors.”

Alundra took a step back in disbelief… did the people of Inoa know it was a demon? Or had they thought it was a statue of the gods?

The scholar shook his head. “Are you saying the gods are angry with us, Ronan? That they are the root cause of the nightmares?”

“The only one who said the nightmares were the work of evil was Meia.” Ronan glanced at the swordsman. “Or… was it you, Alundra?”

“I don’t understand.” Septimus took a step forward. “Why are the gods, who created us, now torturing and murdering us?”

He did not seem annoyed by the relentless questions. “Because we have betrayed them, Septimus. When the king’s foolish edict was issued, we lost our ability to create, so, instead, we learned to control and manipulate our own dreams. We sought out happiness in worlds within our own minds. The domain of our personal id.”

“That much I understand, but–”

Ronan slammed a hand on the pedestal. “Don’t you understand? It’s not the gods who are at fault! It is us!”

Septimus opened his mouth to retort, but turned when a hand was placed on his shoulder.

“Let’s just go, Septimus,” Alundra said, shaking his head. “Talking to this zealot is a waste of time. He worships the statue like a god. I, for one, definitely don’t believe it’s a god.” With that, he whirled around and left for the staircase.

He could hear more footsteps behind him, which stopped, followed by Septimus’ voice.

“Ronan… we shall carry on in our fight against this evil that has come upon us, even if we find ourselves battling the gods themselves… for a god without mercy is a demon!”

The footsteps continued, and together, the two friends ascended the staircase.

Ronan shouted after them, “Oh, really? I’m sure the gods are cowering in fear at your ill-thought blasphemy, Septimus!”

And his cackling voice echoed after them, the voice of an obsessed zealot worshipping the very demon they had sought to defeat.

 


 

There was no doubt. It was a statue of the demon in the basement of the sanctuary… the very demon Alundra had been summoned to defeat, the very demon from the legend from a thousand years ago. Alundra could not help but to wonder… was Ronan the only one who worshipped him? Or had other villagers knelt before the ghoul as well?

The adventurer had no answer… but he had a troubled sleep.

Suddenly, a scream came from outside.

He sat up quickly, took a moment to register the scream, then immediately leaped off his bed, grabbed his sheathed sword and sped downstairs.

Outside his house, Sybill’s mother was screaming her head off, seemingly unable to stop, her wide eyes filled with shock.

Alundra’s eyes widened.

It was Sybill. Lying sprawled on the ground.

A few villagers, Lutas included, came running to see what was wrong, and their eyes were locked onto the body on the ground as well.

Alundra, knowing the others would take care of her, quickly glanced around in case he could still catch the attacker around…

And there it was.

Some distance away, he caught sight of familiar white robe trailing around a corner.

His eyes blazed.

With a sudden burst of speed, he sped forward, running after where he had seen the attacker last in hopes of catching him… but the moment he reached the corner, he came face-to-face with an empty road.

The attacker had disappeared.

He looked around, breathing hard, but when moments passed and the attacker did not return into his sight, thoughts of Sybill filled his mind. He hurried back, hoping frantically that she was still alive…

But, when he finally retuned, he knew from the people’s faces that his fears were realised.

The crowd parted to let him pass.

He fell to his knees by her side.

Sybill. Sybill as he had remembered, her dishevelled silvery hair that gleamed in the light of the street lamp above her, the dark rings below her eyes, the dress she had on this afternoon when he met her by the lake… she seemed to be peacefully sleeping, as though there wasn’t a care for the world.

But her neck was bending at an odd angle.

She wasn’t sleeping.

She was dead.

Dead… and he no longer had the chance to tell her how he was beginning to feel for her.

The memory of her kiss grew cold in his heart.

 

End of Chapter Nine.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Ten: One Haunted by the Past

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

The rooster outside crowed loudly at the start of a new day, just as the first rays of the sun showered the earth. Alundra felt as though it had been barely a few minutes since he returned to bed, unable to sleep, unable to think of anything but Sybill.

Sybill. The thought of her pained his heart.

She was only a young girl, barely fifteen years of age… not even an adult. Despite having dreams of eerily accurate and desolated future, she always smiled, albeit in her strange ways.

You fight against a black force of evil at great personal risk to life and limb,” she had said. “You are not afraid, just determined to emerge victorious… and you will be victorious.”

He remembered gazing at her in surprise. “Did you see that in your dream? The one you showed me was such a cliffhanger.”

She smiled. “No… I believe in you, that’s why it will come true.”

Her final smile for him was so sweet… so warm. He had never remembered her with such a smile before. Was that a smile of a girl in love? Was it because of love that she had placed her complete trust in him, and that she had believed he would succeed even if she hadn’t seen it in her dreams?

He wondered if she had dreamed of her own death.

Jumping from his bed, he went over to the window, pushed it open as wide as he could, and cupped his hands around his mouth.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!!”

A flock of birds in the nearby trees fled to the air in fright, and several villagers on the road below gazed up at him with a raised eyebrow. Behind him, loud footsteps thumped rapidly on the staircase, then his bedroom door burst open with Jess huffing and puffing.

“Alundra!” he cried. “What’s the matter?!”

Alundra grinned sheepishly. “Oh… nothing, really. Just needed some early morning stress relief.”

He heaved a sigh of relief and smiled. “That’s good, my boy, that’s good.”

At that point, he noticed the old man’s hand held a hammer. “You’ve been working in the forge?” He had been so immersed in his thoughts that he hadn’t heard anything from downstairs.

He gave a nod. “Follow me downstairs and I’ll show you.”

Once in the forge downstairs, Jess gave his work a few more hammering before stepping out and passing a pair of gloves to Alundra. It seemed strong and well-made, forged from a piece of strong green metal, yet flexible enough to be comfortable when worn… could it be made of adamantite? Or perhaps mithril? Whichever it was, Alundra could never tell the difference… but the gloves seemed to give him a burst of strength when he put them on.

His old, battered gloves now lying on the table, he turned to the swordsmith. “What’s this, Jess? It seems to make me feels stronger.”

“It’s a pair of Power Gloves,” the older man replied. “It makes you several times stronger; you can even lift heavier things you couldn’t before.” He shook his head worriedly. “When I woke up this morning, my hands were itching to create, so I ran down to the workshop and made this… almost without thinking. Then I realised that… another of the villagers must have died.”

He lowered his eyes. “I… see…”

Jess approached him and grabbed his shoulders, shaking his head again. “Please tell me everyone is all right, Alundra! Please!”

“I…” He closed his eyes, pain stabbing at his heart. “I… can’t. Sybill… she was… murdered in the night…”

He took a step back in disbelief. “Mur…murdered…?”

At that very moment, Septimus came running in, breathing hard. “Alundra, it… it’s awful! Sybill… she’s…” He stopped at the other two’s expressions. “You… already knew, don’t you?”

Alundra nodded. “I was there when she was found… and I saw the attacker running away. I tried to chase him, but he disappeared.”

Silence filled the room. Jess fell backwards into a chair, and it was quite a few minutes before he could speak.

“Who… would do this, Alundra?” he said. “What kind of monster would murder such a sweet, defenceless child?”

The adventurer had a good inkling… but as he was the only one who caught sight of him, he knew the others, except for Septimus and perhaps Meia, would not believe him.

Ronan… always Ronan. He was the one who first called Alundra a devil, a heretic, poisoning Giles’ mind with it, and he was the first to suggest to the mayor that he was deported from the village. He was the one praying to the damned statue of the demon… yet he still believed he was praying to a god. How, how could Alundra think of anyone other than him the one who murdered Sybill?

Septimus shook his head. “The trail of the killer has already grown cold… no one saw him or her, and her mother, who found Sybill, did not see anyone…” He placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I knew Sybill adored you… and you her. Be strong, my friend.”

Alundra nodded, but was too choked up to speak.

 


 

Sybill was a strange girl, but she was still loved by many nonetheless. It was evident by the muffled sobs from the crowd, the loudest one being her mother. However, compared to past funerals, this time it was quite a subdued affair. Sorrow certainly showed on the people’s faces… but fear was even more apparent. Sybill had perished not because of a nightmare in the dream realm… but murdered by a killer in the physical realm.

It chilled their souls to know that one among them was a cold-blooded murderer.

Alundra’s heart ached, yet was filled with a new flame of determination.

Never again. He swore on Sybill’s death that he would defeat this demon. That there would be no more deaths.

The funeral rites ended, and the crowd slowly walked out of the cemetery after paying their final respects to the newly built tombstone… now with Sybill’s name on it.

As some of them passed by Alundra, they had words of encouragements for him. Somehow word of his close – perhaps more than friendship – relationship with her had spread around the village.

“Sybill admired you long before the rest of us knew what to think,” Meade said. “You should reward her devotion to you with a prayer… in light of her recent passing…”

Lutas nodded. “Be strong, Alundra…”

He could only force a smile and mutter a word of thanks.

Even Cephas, the odd graveyard caretaker, was taken by a mixture of anger and sadness. “Humans, they’re hard to understand. Only a human is capable of such brutal act… especially towards a sweet child like Sybill…”

Alundra had no words to say.

However, he was stunned when Giles walked up to him, his eyes cold… and devoid of emotions.

“Sybill would still be alive if not for you… you… murderer!” he shouted. “Stealer of innocent souls!”

Didn’t they already settle the issue of his past that caused the chancellor’s assistant to trust the ‘god’ blindly in the first place? Unless he was influenced by…

Alundra glared at Ronan.

The chancellor merely shook his head in a way that the others could describe as mournful… but his eyes were harsh.

“She was so young…” Ronan said. “Sybill had only just begun her journey in life.” He placed a hand on his assistant’s shoulder. “It is understandable, Giles, that you are angry… at one suspected of murder.”

Some of the nearby people gasped.

Alundra straightened, his eyes blazing. “Are you accusing me of murdering Sybill, you hypocrite?”

Beaumont had immediately detected the trouble and was there by their side within the blink of an eye. He glanced at both adventurer and chancellor. “There’s no concrete proof that either one of you killed Sybill, so I ask of you, refrain from accusatory statements!”

Alundra and Ronan glared at each other for a few moments more, then the chancellor turned and left the cemetery, Giles following behind him like a pet dog.

Kisha took a few steps towards her brother. “Giles…”

The swordsman glanced at her in concern. “Kisha…?”

She shook her head worriedly. “Last night, I saw my brother quietly leaving our house… where was he going? And why didn’t he tell me about it? I cannot suspect my own brother, but it doesn’t make any sense at all…”

With a heavy sigh, she returned home as well.

The mayor hit the nearby cliff face in frustration. “If the nightmares weren’t enough, now Sybill was murdered in the vicinity of the village… her neck was broken like a matchstick! I refuse to believe that one in this village could be evil enough to commit such an atrocity!”

Sybill’s mother, who finally turned to leave the tombstone, came to their side. “I feared something like this would happen…” When her eyes focused on Alundra, she gave a sad smile. “Oh, Alundra… thank you so much for being her friend.”

Alundra shook his head. “No… it was a pleasure. I’m sorry for your loss…”

“Thank you. She was rather strange last night… since returning home from the lake, Sybill has not even one of her strange dreams, and she has the strangest look in her eyes…” She gazed at him. “What happened to her while she was at the lake, Alundra?”

A flash of memory, of Sybill’s final, sweetest, warmest smile. Of her soft kiss on his cheek. Of her still, cold body lying sprawled on the ground.

He closed his eyes and finally said, “No… nothing much.”

He strode over to Sybill’s grave and knelt. He stared long and hard at the words on her tombstone, which had the words ‘May your dreams be happy’ etched clearly on it, then clasped his hands and lowered his head in a silent prayer.

Goodbye, Sybill… goodbye.

 


 

Several days passed quickly, as though someone had pressed the fast forward button, but they were rather uneventful. Alundra spent most of his days in the wilderness, exploring and hunting for the remaining three Guardians, though he had no luck, only returning home for meals and to sleep. Jess and Septimus were understanding; they made an effort not to mention Sybill in his presence but only encouraged him as he continued his search, earning his appreciation.

When Alundra told him of his suspicions, the scholar, too, believed that Ronan murdered Sybill…or perhaps Giles, with the chancellor’s influence.

But then Septimus shook his head uncertainly. “But how would either of them know she was helping you?”

Both of them also met frequently in either one of their houses, discussing various plans. They knew they had many things to do – one, to search for the remaining Guardians for their Crests; two, to find a way to destroy the statue in the sanctuary’s basement; and three, to find a way to protect the villagers. These tasks, however, proved to be rather daunting.

And, finally, one day Septimus spoke of Meia.

“It’s been quite a while since Meia’s arrival,” he began. “Until now, we don’t know if she is friend or foe. I think it’s high time we find out.”

The adventurer shook his head. “She has already saved Myra and a few other villagers from their nightmares, even if she didn’t try to help Kline or Giles when she thought it was too late. Wouldn’t that make her our ally?”

“True… but the way she is, it’s rather hard to tell. Besides, we haven’t been telling her anything, but she knows the nightmares are caused by the demon, something that only you and I know so far. How would she know about that?”

“Okay, I don’t have an answer for that…” He leaned back against his chair. “But how are we going to find out? I don’t think she’ll give us a straight answer if we were to go up to her and ask her.” He gave a wry grin. “I think she’ll give me a big smack in the face first.”

He chuckled. “If we choose to do that, remind me to send you to do it while I watch from afar.” Then, his eyes lit up. “Wait! There is a way to know what she thinks! Why didn’t I think of it before? Alundra, you can enter her dream while she sleeps!”

He groaned. “Hey, if going up to her and ask her if she’s a friend or foe will earn me a smack in the face, what do you think she’ll do if she found out I entered her dream… without permission?”

The researcher crossed his arms indignantly. “Come on, do you have a superior idea?”

“No, but–”

He grinned. “Then it’s settled!”

He sighed. “Oh, come on, I’m the adventurer, I should be the adventurous one… did we switch roles somehow?”

 


 

It was still early morning, but most of the villagers had already completed their breakfast and were already up and about on their daily routines. Alundra and Septimus were hiding among the trees behind Myra’s house, peeping in the window to check on the situation. They found the old woman working in the kitchen as usual, but there were no sign of the female dreamwalker. Perhaps she was still asleep?

When Alundra knocked on the front door, they confirmed it.

“…you want to see Meia?” Myra asked, eyeing him suspiciously. “My darling is fast asleep, and she does not wish to be disturbed by anyone. Please go away.”

And going away was what he did, returning to their hiding place.

“It seems Myra is quite protective of her…” Septimus nodded. “I will distract her long enough for you to enter Meia’s chamber and her dream. Let’s do this before I lose my nerve, Alundra…”

The swordsman nodded. “Good luck.”

Septimus stepped out from the trees, brushing the leaves from his coat, then strode to the front door, took a deep breath, and rapped on the door. The old woman came out and, as with Alundra, looked at him warily.

He smiled pleasantly at her. “Good morning, Myra!”

“What do you want?” she asked, her voice filled with suspicion. “Meia is sleeping. Come back later.”

“Actually, Myra, I’ve come to speak with you about Meia… is there some place private we could discuss this?”

She leered at him. “What? If you have something to say, say it to me now. I don’t have time for your foolish games.”

He shook his head quickly. “No… not here. I promise it won’t take long, Myra. And I wouldn’t ask you to speak privately unless it was truly of utmost importance.” Then he added hopefully, “Please?”

There was a moment of hesitancy before she gave frustrated sigh. “Fine… fine! I’ll go with you and hear your little secret! But what could you possibly know about Meia that I don’t?” There was a moment when sadness flashed across her face. “I’m the one living with her… caring for her needs, not you…”

He nodded understandingly. “I really appreciate this, Myra. Perhaps this way?”

The two of them strode in the other direction, leaving the front door clear for Alundra to sneak through.

The interior of the house was still the same as the last time he came, when Nadia was still alive and inflicted with a nightmare – a few broken pieces of furniture, such as a table, lay lying around the house, as though they had been left there just as they were after her death.

Upstairs, Meia was lying in the bed that used to belong to Nadia. Alundra went to the side of the bed, ready to enter her dream, but his heart skipped a beat at the unexpectedly beautiful sight of her sleeping.

Her long, golden hair was loosened and spread neatly on the pillow around her head, shining like actual gold in the light of the morning sun. Her skin seemed soft and unblemished. Her face was beautiful, peaceful, without the cold, indifferent look or the frown she often wore when she was awake.

He felt as though he could not take his eyes off her, and he could almost feel Sybill’s spirit in his new pair of gloves encouraging him to kiss her, but he shook his head. Two weeks ago when Meia arrived, he would have jumped at the chance… but now, his heart still ached for Sybill, however many skips it would like to make at Meia’s beautiful sight.

Trying not to stare at her, he knelt by the bed and took her hand, which he could not help but notice was exceedingly soft and smooth. As he breathed in time with her, he slowly made the leap into her dream.

 


 

When Alundra felt his feet coming in contact with the ground, he slowly opened his eyes and was surprised to find himself in a beautiful garden. Trees stood overhead, shielding him from the warm sun, and flowers grew in the field like a blanket of colours. Stone paths led the way, with the occasional stone arch framing the way forward. A gentle breeze blew.

It was certainly peaceful and beautiful here, but Alundra could not help but to feel as though this was just a mask to her real feelings, as though she was pretending everything was fine.

He strode on, wondering what her dream laid in store for her.

And there, in the centre of the garden, stood a row of six statues. All of them were of Meia at different ages, most of them held an expression either of sorrow or fear… never one with happiness or contentment. The statues were wrapped in chains, as though their captor was worried they might come to life and walk away.

These statues seemed terribly out of place in this garden. Did it mean they were something that signified something to Meia?

Regardless of what it was, he could not let the chains mar the lifelike statues.

He drew out his sword and approached the first statue from the left. It was of ten-year-old Meia, her face lowered in sorrow, a line of tears streaming down her right cheek. His heart pained for her, and, with a great swipe of his sword, severed the chain easily.

The chains fell limply to the ground.

Suddenly, the statue came to life, colours returning to its features as it looked up slowly at him.

Then, there was a flash of light as memories washed through his mind.

 


 

A handsome man, a beautiful woman and an equally beautiful young daughter, all with the same gleaming golden hair and clear, sky blue eyes. They were laughing happily as they skipped through the flower garden very much like the one Alundra had entered. One moment they were sitting on a blanket on the ground, enjoying an array of delicious snacks, another moment they were chasing butterflies in the field. Another moment the man tried to catch some fishes in the nearby river, and they all laughed when he slipped and fell into the water.

Later, the same happy family was seen sitting in the sitting area of a one-room cabin, the man and the child listening intently as the mother read from a storybook.

And, much later… the man was gone.

The mother was down to her knees, her hands on the floor as her head lowered in dejection, tears streaming down her face as she howled and screamed in sorrow and pain. The daughter held her tightly, sobbing softly by her side.

The crowd behind them, all wearing plain robes with their hoods down in respect, had their hands clasped in prayer as an old man, dressed in a patterned hooded robe, recited the funeral rites.

And, before them, was a statue of worship… a statue of the demon Alundra had sought to defeat.

 


 

The adventurer looked up from the vision, wondering what to make of it. The living ten-year-old statue of Meia, the one whose chains he had severed, gazed at him with teary eyes.

Mother… Mother,” it said in a clear, steady voice. “I know Father died in a terrible accident… but you think it was because he didn’t believe in the gods?” It suddenly yelled, “Nonsense, I say!”

With that, it disappeared into thin air, leaving behind the empty pedestal it previously stood on.

Her mother had believed her father had died because he didn’t believe in the gods? And that god was… the demon that terrorised Inoa?

Intrigued the presence of the demon’s statue in her past, Alundra approached the second statue, which was still of ten-year-old Meia… but her expression was of fear and bewilderment. As with before, he severed the chains and the statue came to life, presenting him with its vision.

 


 

The library was old. Gloomy. The golden-haired woman was much thinner now, her face hollowed, with dark rings beneath her eyes… yet, her eyes had a strange gleam as she feverishly devoured books and ran among the bookshelves in frenzy for more. Books scattered on the floor, the piles growing larger and larger as books that had been scanned were tossed onto them. Her eyes teary, a hungry look on her face, the daughter was on the verge of crying, yet no amount of questions or touch would pull her mother away from the books.

They continued in this fashion for days.

The child had now learned not to ask her mother any more questions and sought to care for them both on her own. With what little money they had, she bought bread from the streets and brought them to the library table. When they had no money, she worked on odd jobs, but sometimes they went hungry for days.

Yet, when there were food on the table, her mother’s portion was untouched.

They continued on. For days. Weeks. Months.

 


 

The statue looked up at him with the same tearful eyes as it spoke.

Mother… Mother. It is fine that you still revere and worship the gods, but you have carried your belief too far. You strive to discover too much about the gods you worship. Your faith has transformed into an obsession…”

And it disappeared away like a fleeting dream.

Alundra stood there for a moment, shaking his head, feeling pity for the young girl who had to take care of both herself and her mother, who would not budge from her obsession for information on the very god they had believed in.

The third statue was still of young Meia, yet this one had an expression of utmost pain as its head was raised towards the heavens, its mouth was opened in a silent scream. He hesitated for a moment, wondering what would give her so much pain… then steeled his heart and severed the chains.

 


 

The daughter cried loudly, falling to her knees on the cold stone floor of the courtyard as she screamed and screamed, tears falling freely from her eyes.

Her mother was being burned at the stake.

The crowd booed and jeered at the prisoner from a safe distance, throwing whatever they could lay their hands on – stone, vegetables, eggs – at her. None of them came to help… none of them had a merciful look on their faces. In fact, they were watching in glee, as though they were taking pride in what they were doing.

It was as though she was a criminal.

No amount of crying and screaming from either the mother or the child would make them step forward and help. The woman continued to scream in pain as the flames devoured her hungrily… and eventually, she disappeared in the growing, roaring flames.

The fire soon died away, leaving nothing behind but ashes. With nothing else to watch, the crowd slowly dispersed, leaving behind the young child that was sobbing on the ground.

 


 

Alundra fell weakly to his knees, his heart pained from watching young Meia crying, from watching her mother being burned alive.

The statue sobbed, muttering, “Mother… Mother. I told you, I warned you! Everyone has secrets, even the gods themselves. And when you strive to expose those secrets… I asked you to be careful. I begged you, Mother…”

It faded away into the wind.

He shook his head, gritting his teeth. “Merciless bastards…”

He was beginning to understand her story. She had grown up in a community of religious fanatics praying to the visage of the demon pretending to be a god, and her mother, for trying to expose the truth of their supposed god, was sentenced to death.

The fourth statue was a continuation of the previous ones, a ten-year-old Meia with utmost fear on her face. Upon freedom, it released another vision to him.

 


 

The simple, one-room cabin that was once a warm, homely place was now completely cluttered. Anything that hung on the wall was pulled and thrown to the floor, anything in the cupboard was ripped out without mercy. The furniture were kicked down and smashed, the windows shattered into a thousand pieces.

And yet, the two hooded men, their faces contorted with fury, could not find what they were looking for.

One man gave a frustrated yell, and the other shook his head. They exchanged a few words, nodded, and grudgingly left the cabin, but not without first kicking the last standing chair.

A moment passed. Two moments passed.

A loose floorboard near the beds shook slightly before it was pushed from below, and a pair of blue eyes glanced out fearfully. The young girl slowly clambered out from her hiding place below the floorboard.

What was left of her house, of what her parents left her… was completely ransacked. Completely destroyed.

And she broke down, sobbing softly.

 


 

The statue shut its eyes in fear, its voice shaking.

Mother… Mother. They are searching… they are looking for me. Will they kill me, too? Will they burn me at the stake for my blasphemy? I don’t want to die… so I have no choice but to run, fast and far… goodbye, Mother.”

As the statue disappeared, Alundra approached the fifth one. This time, the statue was of a slightly older Meia, perhaps around fourteen years of age, and there was an expression of fear, yet awe, on its face. He severed the chains without thinking, waiting for the next vision to wash over him.

 


 

In an unfamiliar village, a man lay dying in bed, his face pale, his skin cold and clammy. His family stood sobbing by his bedside, unable to suppress their tears.

And the young girl, now older, held the man’s hands.

Her eyes widened in surprise as she drifted further from room and felt the man’s presence with her mind… and her eyes narrowed with determination. As she made the leap into the man’s subconscious, her body went slack, prompting some of the women to scream as the men scrambled to catch hold of her.

Time passed.

Then, the girl’s body came back to life, her seemingly-disoriented blue eyes gazing up at the bed.

And the man stirred. His eyes opened, clearly filled with life.

The family cheered and hugged each other in happiness, some laughing, some crying.

It was the girl who had saved his life.

 


 

The statue looked up, a mixture of awe and disbelief etched on its face.

Mother… Mother. I have found myself to possess the power to cure horrid nightmares. And, as I helped those afflicted with this curse, I learned the truth of our existence. We are not governed by a god, but rather, a demon adorned in light to appear as a god. He alone is the cause of the terrible, deadly nightmares. At last, Mother, I have beheld what you did… and it…” It closed its eyes. “…it frightens me.”

And it faded away.

Alundra didn’t know what to feel. He had discovered his own powers only because Septimus was studying about dreams and was able to guide him to dreamwalk… yet, as Meia escaped from the community of religious fanatics who had murdered her mother, she had to learn everything on her own.

He slowly gazed upwards at the sixth and final statue of Meia.

This statue was the present young adult Meia, the Meia that he had come to know. Unlike the previous statues that had expressions of sorrow, fear or both, this one gazed skyward with a look of strong determination.

With one final swipe of his sword, the final vision washed over his mind.

 


 

The familiar sight of a particular village came into view as the girl, now a young woman, passed an old, wooden overhead sign that said ‘Inoa’. She stopped, her eyes surveying the village.

She could almost see the azure visage of the demon, his arms crossed confidently, his heroic cape billowing in the magical wind.

Her hands clenched into fists.

Her eyes blazed with determination.

And she strode confidently forward, prepared to do aught and all to complete her quest.

 


 

The final statue of Meia, now came to life, straightened and gazed at Alundra without fear.

There was no hesitance left in its voice.

Mother… Mother. I have found him at last. The demon resides near this cursed village. He has paralysed these poor folk with fear… they are as cattle being led to the inevitable slaughter. If they only knew what I do, Mother… but it is my duty to destroy him. I will not fail, Mother. I cannot fail…”

And, as a gentle breeze blew, the statue disappeared away, leaving behind its pedestal.

Alundra closed his eyes, taking in the memories of Meia’s past.

“You’re strong, Meia…”

 


 

Alundra gave a soft groan as he slowly opened his eyes, noticing the chirps of the birds that came in through the open window. The sunlight streamed warmly into the room, augmenting the gleam on Meia’s golden hair.

However, she began to stir as well.

“Uh oh,” he muttered as he frantically searched for a place to hide.

But it was too late.

Meia opened her eyes, gazing at the ceiling for a while, then closed them one more.

“A dream… from the past…” she murmured.

She slowly sat up from the bed, stretching her stiff arms… and her eyes fell on Alundra, who was trying to hide under the table.

“Uh… hi?” he said with a sheepish grin.

Her gaze hardened. “A man watching my past from the sidelines… it was you, isn’t it?”

He shook his head and quickly came out from under the table. “L-look, Meia, I can explain–”

Her eyes blazed. “You entered my dream? You saw my memories?”

He hesitated, half-thinking of lying… but she had already seen him in her dream. With the smallest voice, he muttered, “Yes.”

The effect was instantaneous. He had expected her to rage at him, to strike him down as though he was the demon himself… but instead, tears welled up in her eyes, an expression of pain on her face.

He was stunned.

She merely sat there, shutting her eyes tightly as the tears slid down her cheeks, the pained expression etched onto her beautiful face.

He slowly approached her, extending a hand, wondering how he could comfort her…

“Stay away from me!” she suddenly hissed, making him jump.

He immediately drew back, obeying her and staying as far as he could. “Meia…”

“…out.”

“What?”

She stood up, her tear-streaked face now filled with anger, her eyes blazing with fury. “Didn’t you hear me? I said get OUT! I never want to see your face EVER again!!”

He stood there for a moment, stunned, then he heard Septimus’ voice from below the window saying loudly, “Oh! How could I forget? Myra, I’m running late for my weekly pedicure! Perhaps we can continue our private conversation another time?”

Meia’s eyes glanced at the window before focusing on him again. “You… and Septimus…”

Alundra lowered his head. “I’m really sorry, Meia… I promise I’ll make it up to you, somehow…”

On that final note, he climbed out of the window and leaped towards a tree, using the branches as steps to climb back down.

As soon as he was back on the ground, however, he didn’t move. Hidden among the trees, he slid weakly to the ground.

Septimus came around the back and whispered, “Alundra! What did you learn?” He suddenly stopped, shaking his head. “Are you all right? You look terribly drained…”

But Alundra didn’t hear him. He was focused on the horror of what he had done.

The memories of Meia’s past haunted his mind. The memory of her anger, her teary eyes, when she learned he had entered her dream.

When she learned he had betrayed her trust.

He had betrayed her trust.

The words echoed loudly in his mind.

He felt like the most despicable person in the world.

 

End of Chapter Ten.

 

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Eleven: One Who Sought to Redeem

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

Now that he had known the painful past Meia had, he had gain a new understanding, a new perspective of her. She wasn’t the cold, indifferent person she had shown everyone… rather, she as a child had gone through enough pain to stop trusting people entirely, believing them to be enemies, suppressing her pain within herself to allow no weakness to be shown to them. The beautiful garden in her dream was from the happy times she had with her parents… used to mask the painful memories that occurred after her father’s death.

He had told Septimus the bare minimum the next day, in order to protect her secret, and was glad when his friend understood and did not push for details.

“She’s not our enemy,” Alundra had said during their discussion. “She has her reasons for getting tangled up with the demon, but I can definitely say she’s an ally and will be integral in helping us against the demon.” He gave a heavy sigh. “That is, if she will ever forgive me for entering her dream…”

Septimus shook his head. “I’m sorry for making you do it, Alundra.”

Burdened by the guilt from betraying what little trust Meia had on him, the adventurer tried to meet her as much as possible to apologise to her. However, before he could open his mouth to apologise each time, the female dreamwalker’s eyes would narrow in disgust as she told him to leave. It had gotten to the point Myra, after learning what happened, roared in fury and sought to bash him to a pulp with a good, strong broom whenever she saw him.

Days continued to pass without events, much to Alundra’s frustration.

Despite his continual combing of the wilderness, he couldn’t find the three remaining Guardians. He had even gone to the lizardmen’s lair to ask Jeal on their whereabouts, but a thousand years of being isolated from the outside world had caused the Guardian unable to locate his brethrens, as the geographical terrain of the area had drastically changed from what he remembered. The lizardmen would help… but they couldn’t stray far from their home in fear of their curse of stone.

All in all, it hadn’t been a good week.

One bright morning, Alundra woke up as usual to the sounds of the birds chirping, washed up and went downstairs for breakfast. The monotony, however, was broken by Lutas’ presence in the sitting room as he stood talking to Jess and Septimus.

“Oh, good morning, Alundra!” the scholar greeted.

Lutas smiled. “Morning, Alundra.”

Jess thumped his back. “Had a good night’s sleep, lad?”

The adventurer nodded and stretched. “As good as it can get. What’s up?”

Lutas turned towards him and gestured outside. “Nava wants to see you in his cabin, Alundra.”

He blinked. “Who?”

Jess shook his head. “I didn’t think I ever told you about Nava. He is an old man who lives alone in a hut on the coast to the southwest. Not exactly a people person, you know what I’m saying?” He smiled. “But it’s nice there. I might move there when I retire…”

“I suppose I should make a move, then.” He grinned cheekily. “Or are you going to stuff me with more toast again?”

“No, it’s not toast today… but pancakes.”

Alundra groaned, and the other two laughed.

 


 

Further west from the southern beach where the villagers had once gone clamming was a smaller stretch of sand, where a lonely wooden cabin was built atop a wooden platform a short distance above the waters.

Jess was right, it was truly a nice place. Sitting on the wooden platform, gazing at the sea with the gentle breeze blowing… it was truly peaceful here.

He climbed the short staircase that led to the wooden cabin and, to his surprise, found Meia at the front door, about to knock. Repulsion flickered across her face when he approached.

“Were you summoned by Nava?” she asked.

He nodded. “Yeah. You too?”

Without answering, she knocked on the door.

“Come in!” the muffled voice called out.

Both of them squeezed through the small, narrow front door one at a time, entering the neat though cramped sitting room. The floor was spotlessly clean, the table had been laid with clean cups, and wooden stools had been arranged for them to sit on. An old man turned from the kitchen, approaching the table with a teapot in his hand.

“Ah, you’ve arrived,” he said. “Sit down, sit down! Fancy a cup of tea?”

“Tea?” Alundra echoed, as though it was the first time he had heard the word.

“Yes, please,” the other dreamwalker replied coolly, sitting down on a stool.

The old man approached, pouring tea into all three of their cups. Now that he was closer, Alundra realised he was rather small, barely five feet tall. His pure white hair was long, trailing down his back like a cape, and so were his moustache and beard. His ears were long and pointed like theirs, and he had on a pale yellow robe.

It was a while of silence as they all sat sipping their hot, steaming tea, the two dreamwalkers waiting for the strange old man to speak.

“You two must be wondering why I have summoned you here,” he finally spoke after a few long minutes. “I am Nava, which you no doubt already know. I know both of you, Alundra and Meia, and that you are dreamwalkers who have arrived in this troubled land to help the good people of Inoa.”

“How did you know?” the swordsman asked, surprised.

He smiled. “Do not underestimate this old one’s network of information.”

“But why have you summoned us?” Meia asked. “I doubt it is really just for tea.”

He chuckled. “Yes, of course, certainly.” His eyes scanned their appearances, the old dark eyes that were filled with wisdom. “As you two have no doubt, the nightmares are caused by the work of evil, a foul demon that has been sealed under the northern lake a thousand years ago. You, Alundra, bear the mark of the Releaser, the one who will finally bring the demon down.”

“The… Releaser?” Meia said, glancing at the other adventurer.

The old man seemed genuinely surprised. “You know not of the Releaser?” He shook his head. “Fear not, you can ask Alundra here to explain it to you later. But the true reason why I have summoned you two is because I know of the location of a Guardian.”

“You do?!” Alundra cried, standing up. “Where? Tell me! I’ve been searching for so long with no luck!”

“Calm down, young one. To the northeast from here is a giant statue, built in reverence to Nirude, a giant Guardian. Nirude is the sole surviving member of the Giant Tribe, or rather, the Gazeck as they were known. His powers were claimed by the demon and used in the service of evil, rather than good, and I believe that for that reason, he will be eager to aid you in your quest.”

“A giant statue, huh?” He shook his head. “I’ve been there before, but I had no luck because those little goblins shut me out from there.”

He nodded understandingly. “Ah, the dwarves. Miming, the leader, and his people pray to Nirude as a god, and for that, they will certainly fight extremely hard to protect him.”

He groaned. “Oh, man…”

“However…” He turned towards the female elf. “Meia, although you are not the Releaser, your power will help Alundra greatly. Will you accompany and assist him to Nirude’s lair?”

Meia glared, clearly showing she would like nothing more than to stay seas away from him, but she merely nodded curtly.

“Wonderful!” Nava cried, standing up. “Nirude’s lair is to the northeast. Go there, young adventurers. I wish you luck!”

 


 

After they had restocked their supplies, the two dreamwalkers set out through the village’s northern entrance in search of Nirude’s lair. Meia crossed her arms and stayed as far away as she could from Alundra, and she ignored him when he tried to make conversation as they walked.

“Nice day today, isn’t it?” he said.

Silence.

“Almost as though the weather’s making way for us, eh?”

Silence.

“Wonder if the giant will welcome us with open arms?”

Silence.

He sighed. It was certainly harder to make her talk than he had initially thought, despite being on this trip together.

They trekked up the uneven ground, which gradually rose higher and higher as they entered the vicinity of tall, grassy and cliffy hills. Among the cluster of hills, there stood a tall, grassy mountain with multiple levels of cliffs one side, where the giant stone statue of a bearded man was built into. There were many doors at various areas of the statue – the arm, the leg, the chest – which indicated this place was a fortress of sorts.

Little creatures around two feet high – either goblins or green-skinned dwarves – had made this place their home, with a long hooked nose and long pointed ears protruding from the sides of the long cap on their heads. They were dressed in simple tunic and pants, and they wielded sickles as a human would a scythe.

Alundra remembered stumbling upon this place once in his search for Guardians, and he was unceremoniously thrown out of the place by these goblins before the place was completely sealed. Would the same happen to them this time?

Apparently, it would.

“An invader!!” one of them cried with a high, shrilly voice.

“Invader!” another shouted.

“We must report this to Lord Miming at once!”

Suddenly there was a lot of scurrying as the cliff became emptied of these creatures.

There, on top of the giant statue head, were a few dwarves. One of them had on a tall, straight white hat like a mitre, long white beard that nearly touched his toes, and a long red robe that trailed on the ground behind him. He pointed the crooked staff in his hand forward and spoke in a clear voice.

“Lock the entrance at once!” he shouted.

“Yes, Lord Miming!” one goblin replied.

“Leave it to us!” another added.

With that, the followers jumped nimbly down the statue, bouncing here and there as though they were fleas, and quickly barricaded all open doors. Some of them spread around the vicinity of the cliffs, activating their first line of defence; seven-feet-tall stone heads with the same shape as the giant statue stationed around the cliffs, their eyes shining a bright crimson as they sealed the doors.

Then, the creatures disappeared into little crevices.

Miming, who still stood atop the giant statue’s head, heaved a sigh. “Lord Nirude is in grave danger… I will have to fight, irregularity or no…”

And, with that, he, too, disappeared back into the statue.

Silence filled the air.

Alundra scratched his head uncertainly. “So, now what? They didn’t even try to talk to us, so how are we going to tell them we’re here to see Nirude?”

The other dreamwalker shook her head. “Even if you told them that, they would still barricade themselves inside. Nava did say they are protective of their god.”

“That’s true.” He suddenly grinned, whirling around to face her. “Hey, you’re talking to me again!”

She rolled her eyes.

He chuckled and glanced up at the statue where all the doors were tightly shut. “Well, if they don’t want to let us in quietly, I guess we’ll just have to break in!”

She nodded. “We have no choice. These stone heads seem to be their defence mechanism, so we should destroy them. I’ll take the one on the left side of the statue, and you on the right side.”

“Roger that. Here, take some mining bombs.”

Armed with some of Jess’ mining bombs, both of them parted ways towards the statue’s left and right sides, where the bright crimson eyes of the stone heads eyed them. At first the stone heads merely leered at them as they approached… but the moment they were close enough, the open mouths spewed fireballs at them!

“Yikes!” Alundra exclaimed, diving behind a huge rock just as the fireball landed where he was originally standing and burned away what little grass there were on the ground.

A well-aimed flying bomb soon put that stone head out of commission, however.

As soon as all of the stone heads were destroyed, all the doors clicked in unison then opened with a loud creak, leaving them to be freely accessed by any intruder. However, due to the uneven terrain, the only door the elves could reach was the one above the giant statue’s left foot, near the base of the grassy mountain.

The swordsman grinned and gave a thumbs-up. “Good work, Meia!”

She ignored him.

When they entered through the door on the statue’s left leg, they arrived in a large hall with a high ceiling, the stone brick walls with some moss growing on them that gave the place an old, ruin-like feel. There was a row of stone statues – of the same bearded, muscular man as the giant statue they were inside now – sitting on stone thrones lined neatly along the hall, and Alundra wondered if these were statues of the Guardian they were sent to find.

When they had entered the hall, the goblins stood around the stone thrones were taken aback.

“Dharmaka!” one of them exclaimed. “The seals didn’t seem to work… how about we run away like girls?! RUN!!”

And all of them scurried away, some through little crevices, some up the staircase on the other side of the hall.

Shrugging, Alundra followed them up the staircase, with Meia close behind him. They came face-to face with a high ledge, which belonged to a rather high platform on the other half of the room, which the Releaser had no hope to reach. Atop the high ledge were several dwarves, sneering down at the two of them.

“We cannot let you live even one moment longer, infidel…” one declared. “Take this!”

He ran over to where two levers were and pulled one of them. Giant spiders suddenly rained down on the lower half of the floor, and surrounded the elves with a loud hiss.

“You cannot run!” the goblins continued. “Your only duty is to DIE!”

A grin formed Alundra’s face. “Sorry, but I’ve an extremely late appointment with the man on the moon and dying will put a bigger dent on my plans!” His hand glowing brightly, he punched the air above him. “Meteor Rain!!”

Rocks materialised out of thin air and struck the monsters mercilessly. When the spell ended, the spiders were all curled upside-down, their thin legs sticking upwards.

The goblins’ jaws dropped.

“D-dharmaka!” one cried. “Perhaps this will chill his blood!” He ran over to the other yet-to-be-activated lever and pulled hard at it.

One part of the ledge started to move.

…and formed a neat stone staircase for the two dreamwalkers to climb.

They stared at the goblins.

The goblins stared at the one at the lever.

The creature by the lever laughed nervously.

“Uh… whoops, wrong switch. This is not good…” Then he yelled, “RUN! Run away!!”

The group didn’t need telling twice. Within a few seconds, they had all fled from the room.

Alundra scratched his head. “What was that all about?”

Meia glanced incredulously at him. “You can use magic?”

He grinned. “Courtesy of the Guardian who summoned me to Inoa, and his three friends.” He half-shrugged. “Well, it’s a long story. I’ll tell you later after we’re done with this place.”

She shook her head and strode on ahead, clearly uninterested in his story. Alundra sighed and followed quickly after her.

 


 

Lutas was breathing quickly. Droplets of sweat dripped down the side of his face. His eyes darted left and right, as though expecting to be attacked at any moment. His hands were trembling.

There was a snarl, then a wolf lunged through the bushes at him, its open jaws aiming for his throat.

Immediately his reflexes kicked in. He swung the long stick in his hands, striking hard against the wolf’s side. A yelp rang through the air as it fell onto the floor, giving him enough time to scramble to his feet and run in the opposite direction.

But the wolf was not alone.

There was a whole pack of them.

And they were faster than him.

In no time at all, they surrounded him, their golden eyes leering at him as he ran as fast as he could. His breath felt sharp in his chest. His feet crunched the dry leaves on the forest ground.

There was no way he could fend off a whole pack of wolves alone.

Certain they would be victorious, the wolves leaped into the air towards him.

He shut his eyes, ready to meet his end.

But the end did not come.

Something whizzed by his ear, whistling loudly, then there was a high yelp of pain.

“Lutas! Get down!!” a voice shouted.

He obeyed.

More whizzed by above him, followed by more yelps of pain. Some of the wolves growled viciously, then immediately turned tail and fled.

He slowly raised his head.

The ground behind him was littered with arrows, among the dead wolves.

He glanced forward, and broke into a smile of relief.

The villagers were here to save him.

“All right there, Lutas?” one man asked, patting his back.

He nodded. “Yes, thank goodness you all came just in time.”

Another man grinned, waving his bow. “We may not be as good as Kline, but we still can shoot!”

The men laughed and Lutas joined them, shaking his head. “How did you know that I was attacked?”

A man gestured over his shoulder. “He came running into the village, shouting that you were attacked by wolves.”

Lutas turned.

And his eyes widened.

Ronan. The chancellor, dressed in his usual white robe.

Again.

The priest sneered at him, then turned and left without a word.

Lutas stared after him, not quite knowing what to say.

It had already been the third time today Ronan had saved him from a fatal accident, each time with a look of utter disgust as though he would rather let him die. Was it merely a coincidence…?

The golden-haired man shook his head. He was generally a friendly person… but he was beginning to feel that perhaps Alundra’s great dislike and suspicions for the priest were well-founded after all.

 


 

By now, Alundra was gritting his teeth in infuriation. They had already climbed to the chest level of the giant statue lair, yet on the way, they were met with trap after trap set up by the dwarves. If it wasn’t a locked room where hordes of spiders were dropped onto their heads, it was a huge pit that couldn’t be crossed without walking on the stone bridge and being targets for the spears from the walls to fire at. If it wasn’t a stone head that spew fireballs like the ones outside, it was a stone head that spewed a freaking cannon ball. Heck, there was even once a goblin had tricked them into entering a cell and locked the door behind them, then let loose a falling ceiling with spikes!

And the worst of it was, he could never catch any one of them for revenge, for they were all very quick to disappear up the stairs or through little crevices. He was very nearly ready to pull out his hair in frustration.

“Argh, dammit!!” he shouted. “You’re asking for it, you... you… b–ARGH!!”

And he fell into a small pit that was barely hidden with large leaves.

Meia rolled her eyes.

As they climbed the staircases further, they arrived at a large room that was empty except for the staircase leading up on the other end. Between them and that staircase were only three goblins, who looked at each other nervously.

“Uh oh…” one of them began. “The infidels are here, but reinforcements aren’t here yet! What should we do?”

“Should we run?” another one suggested.

“No!” the third goblin said. “We’re the last line of defence between the infidels and Lord Nirude! We must defend him at all costs!”

“Infidel… infidel…” Alundra shook his head. “Stop calling us that, won’t you? Why not just ‘intruder’ or ‘assassin’? Just because we don’t pray to the same god as you do…”

“Shut up, infidel!” the third goblin cried. “Here we end your advance, now and forever!” He glanced at his comrades. “Formation forty-two! Ready the brain picks! Take them down, NOW!”

The dwarves gave a high yell as they charged, brandishing their sickles menacingly.

Alundra drew his sword out of its sheath. “Bring it on, midgets! I’m very keen to get my revenge! Get ready to–”

“No, don’t hurt them!” Meia growled. “Even if you’re the Releaser, I doubt he would feel inclined to help you if you hurt his people!”

He groaned. “Oh, come on! They’ve been making a fool of us with all their traps!” He gazed at her pleadingly. “Just a punch, please?”

She glared at him severely.

He let out a sigh. “Okay, okay…” He bent slightly in a battle stance. “Put them out of action without hurting them, huh? That’s tough.”

“DIE!” the running goblins cried, leaping high into the air with their sharp sickles poised to strike.

But Meia seemed to have an idea as she jumped back, her eyes focused intently on their targets. With one fluid motion, she reached behind, pulled two daggers from her belt and flicked them skilfully forward.

One of the goblins yelped as the two daggers caught him by the back of him tunic, the momentum pulling him backwards. The daggers lodged tightly in the wall, and directly below it the unhurt goblin squealed and shouted, but no amount of wriggling would free him.

Alundra grinned as he dodged a sickle swipe. “Hey, that’s smart!”

Using the exact same method, the other two goblins were easily put out of action, screaming obscenities as they were dangled from deeply lodged knives and arrows in the wall.

The swordsman laughed triumphantly. Even if it were only three goblins, he was satisfied with this small amount of revenge.

With that, they ascended the final staircase.

The top floor consisted of only a large circular room, with two oval openings in the stone walls that were the eyes of the giant statue they were inside. In the centre of the room, a slightly raised stone platform sat, but that was all.

The two adventurers stepped forward, wondering where the fifth Guardian was… then, as they stopped before the platform, the azure spectre of a giant head appeared above it, so large that the top of the head almost brushed against the ceiling. It had the exact same face as the giant statue, the stone heads as well as the smaller human-sized statues they had passed by – this had to be the Guardian they were seeking for.

“You must be Nirude,” Alundra said. “Right?”

The giant head nodded. “Truly I am. You have desecrated the sanctity of my ancient home… you must be an agent of the demon.”

“What? No way!” He stepped forward in indignation. “We came to talk to you but those stubborn goblins wouldn’t listen, so we had to break in!”

“Hm… perhaps you are not my enemy.” He frowned. “But neither have you proven yourself my ally…”

He sighed. “Oh, come on… so what do we have to do to prove ourselves?”

Nirude paused for a moment. Suddenly, there was a flash of light from his eyes, and the stone room around them melted away, as though it was a fleeting dream. The dreamwalkers found themselves standing on one end of an extremely long stone bridge, so long that they could not see the other end, floating magically above a dark abyss right in between two long cavern walls. The rocky, stalactite-covered ceiling blocked all traces of sunlight.

A colossal stone statue floated some distance away from the edge of the bridge, his stone body gleaming in the magical light of the cave, his chest even wider than the stone bridge.

And, on the left side of his chest, just above the stone bridge, was a gigantic heart bigger than both elves put together, beating realistically despite seemingly made of stone.

Alundra stared upward in awe. Meia gazed in disbelief.

“I have created this fold in space-time with my magic,” the loud voice boomed from the mouth of the stone giant, one belonging to Nirude. “We shall soon see whether you are enemy or friend… warrior or coward!”

Then, he strode majestically forward, his muscled chest tearing the bridge easily as though it was a thin piece of glass, the stone heart beating calmly. The shattered pieces of the bridge fell directly into the dark abyss… never to be seen again.

“Run!” Meia shouted and started to run.

“Of course I’m running!” Alundra yelled, running as fast as he could. “Who wouldn’t run when a giant’s trying to break the bridge you’re standing on?! The guy who chose to be a warrior must be NUTS!”

“Nuts or not, we have to fight him! We can’t just keep running forever if we want to prove ourselves to him!”

He groaned. “Do the Guardians really have something against me? They really look like they want me to die!”

The male dreamwalker pulled the hunter’s bow from his backpack and quickly nocked an arrow. In one flowing motion, he jumped, spun around and let loose the arrow.

Which merely bounced off the giant’s stone skin.

Cursing under his breath, he fired more arrows.

Her eyes narrowed, Meia flicked daggers forward two at a time.

But both arrows and daggers simple bounced off the stone skin. Two or three were lodged deeply on the chest, but the giant did not even flinch as he continued onward, his chest shortening the stone bridge that was their lifeline. Even a direct shot at the heart did not seem to faze him.

Neither did mining bombs and the iron flail.

“Oh, for gods’ sake!!” Alundra shouted as he stowed back the useless weapons into his pack, his legs running as fast as they could. “Something’s got to work!”

“Use your spells!” the other elf yelled.

“You’re right! Meteor Rain!”

The falling of magical boulders did not even slow Nirude down.

“You’re kidding me! Flame Arrow!!”

There was a burst of flames as magical arrows made entirely of fire shot towards the stone giant, exploding the moment they made in contact with its target. But like the normal arrows, they did not even faze him.

“You’re my last chance! Go, Wind Slash!!”

Magical gleaming blades of green light spun like boomerangs, sharp enough to slice anything in their paths… except, perhaps, the invulnerable god. Some became implanted in the stone skin, but that was all.

Alundra groaned. This was definitely not a good day.

Meia continued to throw more daggers, the determination on her face showed she was unwilling to admit defeat.

Shaking his head, he hardened his resolve.

Then, he glanced upward.

The ceiling was covered in gigantic stalactites.

He grinned. He had an idea.

“Wind Slash!”

The spinning green blades burst from him in a flash of light, spreading in all directions.

“It is FUTILE!” Nirude boomed. “You already know that will not work against me!”

Even Meia nodded in agreement. “You fool! That’s just the same as before!”

“No, it’s not!” the other dreamwalker shouted back, the grin still on his face as his hands were glowing once more. “Just keep throwing daggers into him! Especially at the heart!”

She glanced at him incredulously, but obeyed.

With her flurry of daggers, eventually the number of them lodged in the giant’s chest began to increase quickly. The triumphant grin on Nirude’s face started to fade away, replaced by winces.

The magical blades that were previously summoned sliced across the ceiling in a great sweep. Suddenly finding themselves free, the gigantic stalactites began to fall downward and strike like stone rain.

Nirude growled, the sharp ends of the stalactites cutting into his stone skin. He roared in pain as they exerted force onto the lodged daggers, creating an even bigger cut with their blades.

“Water Shield!” Alundra shouted. “Meteor Rain!!”

The shield of water surrounded protectively around the two elves as they ran, sending the stalactites away with a flash of light. Giant boulders rained down together with the stalactites, enhancing the force.

Then, as the rain of stone ended, the two elves stared at the giant.

It was a grotesque sight.

Parts of the stone skin on Nirude’s face and chest had been torn away, revealing the stripes of golden muscles beneath them… as though the flesh had been torn away as well. The heart, too, was no longer stone, its soft golden skin quivering as it beat rapidly as though fighting for life. The giant growled at them, his eyes narrowed in pain.

Now that part of his stone skin was gone, the elves’ attacks were now more effective. He roared in pain when daggers and Flame Arrows struck him directly in his heart, and when Wind Slash blades sliced at his golden muscles. He began to stumble, his hands reaching out to grab them.

“Meia! Throw more daggers!” Alundra declared, his hands glowing once more.

His reply was several more flicks of daggers, sending a battalion of daggers towards the stone giant.

“Flame Arrow!”

The fiery arrows struck the flying daggers with a burst of flames.

“And eat this! Wind Slash!”

The blades of light spread from him and struck the fire-coated daggers.

And the daggers struck the beating heart.

Suddenly there was a flash of light. Lightning shot from the blades.

Nirude roared in pain as he was covered in lightning sparks, electrocuting him through his heart.

The bridge no longer shortening, the dreamwalkers stopped, breathing heavily from the long run. Alundra grinned as he watched the lightning sparks escape the stone giant like a great white display of fireworks.

“Nice show, isn’t it?” he said at Meia’s stunned stare. “It worked better than I thought it would be.”

She didn’t reply.

The lightning sparks soon faded, causing the giant to fall forward… towards them. Alundra yelped and ran in the opposite direction, Meia slightly ahead of him.

But they didn’t need to.

A flash of light engulfed them just before Nirude landed onto them, then they found themselves back in the circular room they were previously in. Alundra heaved a sigh of relief and sank weakly to a sitting position, exhausted from the constant spell casting.

“Such resourceful survival skills…” Nirude wheezed, as his spectral head reappeared in the room with them. “I truly admit defeat.”

The swordsman grinned tiredly. “Hey, it’s not easy, you know, I’ve never done it before. It had a fifty-fifty chance of becoming either a fluke or a nice show, and it was nice of you to choose a show instead.”

He laughed. “Yet you are able to combine the two spells like a true magician.” He gazed at him. “But the names of the spells are familiar… could they be spells from the other Guardians?”

He made a face. “If only you’d asked before you tried to kill us… yes, I’ve met Lars and some of the gang.” He brushed away his fringe, revealing the mark of the Releaser on his forehead. “Does this prove it to you?”

He peered at the mark for a moment before nodding. “Yes, certainly it does… please accept my apology for doubting you, Releaser.”

“Good, because I really don’t think I want to fight you again!”

The spectral head laughed again. “Nor I you! You are one of the most courageous young man I have ever seen. You too, young lady.”

Meia nodded curtly in thanks.

“Now… a formal introduction is in order. I am Nirude, and I stand alone as the sole survivor of the Giant Tribe. The prayers of Miming and his people have sustained me these many years of solitude… however, even the power of prayers has its limitations, for now you can see, I am appearing to you as a mere spectre.”

Alundra crossed his arms. “Really now? I thought you took on this form because it’s just convenient. I really don’t know how your real size body can fit in this room…”

He chuckled. “Perhaps it does have its convenience.” He glanced at the two dreamwalkers. “Now that you have come here, Releaser, I must ask you… Nava sent you, didn’t he?”

He nodded. “That’s right.”

He smiled. “That is excellent. It proves he has chosen to fight the demon at last. I have waited for that confrontation for many, many years…”

“That funny old man? Who’s he, really?”

Before the question was answered, their conversation was interrupted by a high-pitched screech followed by the loud, heavy beating of wings.

Nirude’s eyes hardened. “Let me handle this, Releaser… step back.”

The two elves complied.

The beating of wings grew louder and louder, until its owner arrived in the room and landed right in front of the giant’s spectral head.

A demonic gargoyle.

He was humanoid in shape, slightly taller than Alundra when straightened. His skin was a pale grey, as though completely devoid of blood, and pointed ears protruded from the sides of his head. Toned muscles could be seen on his skinny arms and body, his blue pants filthy and ragged. From his back, two powerful leather wings spread, then were folded neatly behind him as he landed. When he grinned, two rows of gleaming fangs were revealed. His crimson eyes flashed with amusement.

Nirude’s eyes blazed. “Zorgia…”

“Why, hello, Nirude,” the gargoyle said, his voice rasping. “Not looking so well, are you?”

“You betrayed Wilda. You betrayed the Gazeck. And now, you have taken the foul side of the demon… anyone would be unwell looking at you.” He growled. “You are a mercenary bastard, Zorgia, deserving only death!”

Zorgia frowned. “You have quite the sharp tongue today, Nirude… why must you use words so sharp as to cause pain and hurt? Because you once cared for me, I had planned to spare you, but your little speech has changed all that.” He cackled and spread his wings. “The lord has ordered your death, and I’m now inclined to give him what he demands with pleasure!”

“Look out!!” Alundra shouted.

But it was too late.

The gargoyle had charged forward and, with a flash of claws and a burst of flames, struck the giant.

Nirude screamed in pain. His spectral head was flashing in an azure light, beginning to flicker like a light that was about to fade.

“Nirude!” Alundra cried, unable to believe the god was easily brought down.

“Such an ugly scene…” Zorgia stated as he straightened. “It’s only going to get uglier, if I have any say in the matter…” He grinned as he whirled around to face the dreamwalkers. “Which, unfortunately for you, I do.”

“You’ll pay for that, monster!” He charged forward, his sword raised.

But the gargoyle evaded the strike easily by taking to the air, hovering above. “It’s your turn to bleed … not that I hold a grudge, of course, I’m just following the orders for my lord and master.” He grinned. “A very prudent course of action, given his power, wouldn’t you think?”

Meia threw the last two daggers she had at Zorgia… which were easily deflected by a flick of a clawed hand.

His crimson eyes focused onto her in surprise, as though he had just noticed her. “You have a lady friend? You?” He chuckled. “All the more exciting… when I take her life before your eyes!!”

He rushed forward, a ghastly green fume oozing from his right arm. Meia, taken in surprise, had no time to dodge… and she had no more daggers to defend herself with.

“MEIA!!” Alundra yelled, running towards her.

It all happened in an instant.

Zorgia lashed with his claws, the green fumes from his arm trailing.

Meia drew back, shielding her head with her arms.

Alundra threw himself between them.

A flash of light.

Zorgia recoiled, snarling.

Meia’s eyes widened.

Alundra screamed in pain.

Blood dripped to the floor.

He fell weakly to his knees, his hands pressed hard against his chest.

Deathly green fumes burned the flesh on his wounds, three new deep, slanted gashes across his chest.

His heart had been protected by the small piece of armour he wore.

“Alundra!” Meia cried, kneeling by his side.

The swordsman’s eyes narrowed in pain, but he mustered a weak smile at her. “You… finally called me… by my name…”

She gazed at him incredulously.

“Touching, touching,” Zorgia said, a grin on his face. “But I’m afraid I’ll have to interrupt.” He flashed his gleaming claws, lightning bolts bursting from his hands. “You and I have business to settle at my master’s command, Releaser!”

Alundra straightened bravely, yet he was trembling in pain, the flesh on his wounds seemingly burning as though touched with acid. His legs trembled, feeling as though they would buckle soon.

But Meia, with a look of determination, took the sword from his hand and stepped forward. Her battle stance showed that she, too, was experienced with the weapon.

The gargoyle grinned gleefully. “It doesn’t matter who goes first, because in the end I’ll still be standing victorious!”

However, it seemed that this duel would be postponed to another time.

Footsteps drummed rapidly in the air, soft at first, then gradually grew louder and louder, closer and closer.

Zorgia hissed, the magical lightning sparks disappearing from his hands. “Well, aren’t you two lucky? It appears your munchkin friends have arrived to save the day!”

The female adventurer charged and swung the sword at him, but he easily evaded it by taking to the air, hovering high above her.

“The time has come for me to depart,” he declared. “But rest assured that I shall find you and finish this… like I did with Nirude.” He grinned. “If you must hate someone, hate my master, not me. I’m just a pawn, bound in gleeful servitude.”

He cackled loudly and swooped down low to give Alundra a well-aimed punch before flying up again, disappearing through the hole in the wall that were the giant statue’s eyes.

Within seconds, the owners of the loud footsteps burst into the room. Miming and all of his goblins ran towards them, stopped… and then stared in disbelief at Nirude’s flickering spectral head, his visage so faded it was as though he was about to disappear any moment.

The goblins turned onto the two elves.

Miming spoke softly, disbelievingly. “You… have slain Lord Nirude?”

“It is not us who slew your master!” Meia answered.

But the goblins shouted at them in rage.

“Murderer!!”

“Let me tear out their quivering gullets with my bare hands!”

“No! Hold them down so we can beat them to death!”

They screamed in their high voices as they rushed forward, their sickles gleaming menacingly.

“No!” Nirude boomed with his remaining strength, then lowered his voice. “No, my children… these are not the one who did… this to me. These two are the only ones who can save you…”

The dwarf king stepped forward. “Lord Nirude!”

“It is true, King Miming… they have the power to save this land… and return peace to the hearts and minds of all…”

He took a moment to take in the information and nodded. “I… understand, my lord.”

Nirude’s eyes turned towards the elves. “Releaser…”

Alundra took a few slow steps forward, his wound throbbing painfully, his body trembling.

“Alundra, you possess a strong name that shall serve you well. Please take another article that will serve you in like manner… my Crest, Releaser.”

Out of thin air, a Crest materialised and fell neatly onto the swordsman’s hand, the Crest of a silver hawk clutching a gleaming topaz. He looked up at the god. “Nirude…”

“The demon sent his minions to retrieve it, but they failed. I trust in your capabilities, Alundra. Despite hardships, you shall prevail!”

Suddenly, as Nirude’s head faded further, the statue lair began shaking violently. Several goblins yelped as parts of the ceiling broke and crashed near them.

“Lord Nirude!” Miming cried.

“My material form is at an end… leave here, lest you perish as well!” The faint spectral head of the god smiled. “I thank you for your prayers, my children, for sustaining me all these years…”

Then, Nirude faded away, leaving no trace of the god that was here.

The dwarves screamed in fear, running up and down, not quite knowing where to turn. But the goblin king, with no hint of fear on his face, firmly held his wooden staff that was now shining brightly.

“Come near, my people!” he cried. “We shall leave here alive by my spell!!”

Everyone scrambled to gather around him. Alundra limped to the crowd, with Meia supporting him, just as the bright white light enveloped them completely.

When the light dimmed, all of them found themselves on a high cliff across the mountain face where the giant statue of Nirude sat. To their horror, the stone statue was crumbling into pieces, crashing down towards the base of the mountain in a huge cloud of dust.

And, when the dust settled… the statue was no more.

The goblins stood sadly at the edge of the cliff, gazing at the remains of the giant statue… once their home, once the stone body of their god, now a mere mountain of stone on the grassy ground.

Miming lowered his head. “Farewell, Lord Nirude…”

They all closed their eyes and muttered their final farewells.

Meia strode over to the other elf, her eyes widened at his extremely pale face. “Are you… all right?”

Alundra shook his head, trying to clear the haze in his mind. “I’m… I’m okay, Meia. Let’s… get back… to… to…”

His mind went completely blank. He collapsed onto the ground.

There was a collective gasp in the air.

“Alundra!!” Meia screamed.

 

End of Chapter Eleven.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Twelve: One with the Passion to Create

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

He moaned.

His body felt heavy, as though he was weighted down by stone shackles. He was freezing, as though he had been thrown into a snow-covered field. His insides burned, as though he had been filled with molten lava. His head felt heavy. Hazy. Dizzy.

His throat burned.

Water… he needed water.

He tried to speak, but he was only able to make a rasping sound.

A high voice spoke near his ear, but it was terribly muffled and unintelligible.

A soft voice, a beautiful voice, spoke as well, near his other ear, but that, too, was incomprehensible.

He felt someone’s hand on the back of his neck, slowly lifting his head.

A bowl was placed at his mouth. Cool liquid flowed between his dry lips.

He swallowed.

The liquid cooled the insides of his body, providing him with temporary relief from the burning.

A moment passed. Another moment passed.

Then, suddenly, his mind cleared. His body was not as weighted down, as freezing or as burning as before.

He opened his eyes slowly, wincing slightly in the sunlight. At first, all he could see was a blurry sight, a mixture of colours, but soon his eyesight slid into focus.

He was lying on the ground under a tree, protected from the glaring sun by its expansive leaves, near the ruin of Nirude’s crumbled statue. His shirt and jacket had been removed and his chest heavily bandaged, the blood from his wound could be clearly seen. Meia and Miming were kneeling by his side, watching him worriedly, and there were traces of relief on their faces.

“Ugh…” He slowly sat up, leaning heavily against the trunk of the tree behind him. “It feels like I’ve just been to hell and back…”

“Very nearly so, Alundra,” the goblin king said. “You’ve been poisoned.”

He stopped. “Poisoned?”

“By Zorgia’s demonic poison spell infused in his claws…”

Meia shifted uncomfortably. “I… I’m sorry. If you hadn’t jumped in front of me…”

Alundra gazed at her. “It’s not your fault, Meia… I wanted to do it.” He coughed. “So, I’m poisoned. What’s happening next? An actual trip to hell?”

Miming shook his head. “No, not yet, but it will soon be. You see, we goblins are immune to most poisons and have lived in seclusion for generations, so we have neither a healer who is well versed in poison nor any antidotes… it was thanks to Meia’s suppressing medicine, made from herbs around here, that you are awake now.”

He smiled. “Thanks, Meia.” Slowly, he began to pull himself up to his feet, but his body was still trembling.

The other dreamwalker shook her head. “No… you shouldn’t move so soon.”

“We should get back to Inoa, no matter what condition I’m in…” He focused his eyes on her. “You know why. We shouldn’t leave the village without a dreamwalker for too long in case someone gets into a nightmare, and we can’t stay here because that flying bat might come back for us… we shouldn’t put Miming and his people in danger.”

She bit her lower lip. “That’s true, but…”

He smiled again. “Besides, I’m sure your medicine will work well enough to get me home.”

Miming nodded. “He’s right, and we don’t know how long your suppressant will work, Meia. It’s best he returns to the village for recovery before the poison overtakes him completely.”

Meia closed her eyes, paused for a moment, opened them again and nodded. “Then let us go, quickly.” She held the bowl in her hand, which contained a clear liquid, towards the other elf. “Here, Alundra, finish the medicine. I will prepare more for our journey.” She stood up and left.

Alundra obeyed, tipping the bowl to his lips and drank the solution in one gulp. It took a moment for the medicine to work, but soon he could feel his body no longer as weak, and that he could stand properly without trembling.

“Miming,” he said. “Thanks for your help. And I’m sorry for your loss… if we didn’t hurt Nirude too badly in that trial…”

The goblin king shook his head. “No, you are not to be blamed… and I apologise for setting my people and traps on you.”

“Hey, at least there’s no lasting harm done, right?” He waved a hand nonchalantly. “Don’t worry about it.”

Meia returned at that very moment, now holding a bottle of the suppressant and carrying Alundra’s backpack. He went over to her and extended his hand for his pack, but she shook her head. He sighed, but he knew there was no convincing her.

“We’re off, Miming,” he stated. “But where will you and your people go?”

The dwarf king smiled. “It may not look it, but this mountain has a complex system of tunnels. We can rebuild our home here. Be careful now, Alundra and Meia. From what we have witnessed of your skills, you may not require help from such weak ones as us… but if there is anything you require of us in your quest against the demon, we will gladly help. Lord Nirude would want us to.”

“Thank you, Miming,” Meia said.

“Good luck. May you be victorious in your quest!”

 


 

It was already late afternoon, the sun shining blisteringly hot in the sky. The journey back to Inoa was short and mostly downhill, but Alundra, now inflicted with the magical poison, had much less endurance than he usually did. Every so often, they had to pause to let him catch his breath… and there were several times when he stumbled heavily to his hands and knees, then unable muster enough strength to get up as his fever blazed once more. It was those times when Meia helped him to the nearest area shaded from the sun and gave him a dose of her medicine, then they stopped to rest for a moment while waiting for it to take effect.

They knew the road would long and hard.

Alundra, despite his suffering, had noticed that the other elf had been quiet since they left the dwarves, a thoughtful yet troubled expression on her face.

“A gilder for your thought?” he asked as they sat beneath a shady tree.

The moment the question was out of his mouth, Meia turned away.

He sighed, wondering if he still didn’t get through the barrier around her heart. He dropped the matter, closing his eyes as he rested.

But after a long while, she spoke.

“Why… did you save me?” She faced him. “Kline and Giles as well… why do you risk everything you have to save someone’s life? Even if you risk your very own life?”

There was no malice in her eyes. Only curiosity.

He gazed at her in surprise, for she had never posed him a personal question before. After a moment, he shook his head and smiled. “It’s because I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t try. I’d spend the rest of my life wondering what if, you know?”

A long silence.

He grinned. “Besides, better me than a stunningly beautiful girl, right?”

She stared at him before turning away, her face slightly red. “You’re… the most reckless person I’ve ever known.”

He gave a mock bow. “Why, thank you, Your Royal Highness.” Feeling much better after the short rest, he stood up again and stretched again. “Come on, let’s go.”

They continued on. Meia lapsed into another silence as they walked, seemingly thinking deeply about their last conversation. Since their trip to Nirude’s lair, Alundra had noticed she was more receptive to his words compared to earlier when she ignored him with a cool, indifferent expression.

The next time they stopped to rest, he tried his luck.

“May I… talk to you about your past?”

She stiffened, but after a long moment, she gave a curt nod.

He took a deep breath before he began. “Meia, I’m really, really sorry about entering your dream… we just wanted to check if you were an ally or an enemy, but I went too deeply in.” He shook his head. “No, please don’t blame Septimus… I was the one who went through with it, so I’m the only one at fault.”

She lowered her eyes, an unreadable expression on her face.

“And I just wanted to say, I’m sorry to hear about your past, and if there’s anything I can do for you, please let me know… okay?”

Silence filled the air.

He decided not to press further. He closed his tired eyes, feeling the wind blowing on his face, feeling the fever about to return.

“I… don’t blame you.”

She had spoken so softly that he thought he was imagined it. He looked up bewilderedly at her.

“I don’t blame you,” she repeated.

His eyes widened. “R-really…?”

“I don’t really find you all that bad…” At that instant, she turned away, as though embarrassed to find herself saying such words.

He laughed, completely relieved, feeling as though he just wanted to hug her. “I’m really glad, Meia. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

She shook her head. “You already did. You saved my life.”

His heart soared, and he grinned happily.

His happiness, however, was short-lived.

As they trudged through the wilderness, he grew weaker and weaker. The time spent walking between rests was getting shorter and shorter before he would collapse again, the fever burning.

The suppressant was losing its effectiveness.

The sky had grown completely dark, except for the last sliver of ray from the sunset. The birds in the tree had all gone silent. The crickets in the bushes had already begun to chirp, welcoming the darkness of the night. And yet, they still had some distance more to Inoa.

By now, Alundra was so weak that he could hardly walk, that his eyes could hardly focus more than a few seconds at a time, his body trembling, his breathing heavy. Meia kept glancing at him worriedly as she supported him with one of his arms around her shoulders.

Then, finally, he collapsed onto the ground… and became still.

He could no longer respond to Meia’s cries of his name. His eyes glazed, his skin burned as though on fire, and he was gasping for air.

Meia tried to shake him awake, tried to give him more of the medicine… but she knew.

The medicine could no longer keep the poison at bay.

He had already reached his limit.

She lowered her eyes and muttered, “I… I will be back soon.”

There was no response from him.

Tearing her eyes from him, she dropped his backpack onto the ground, spun around and sped as fast as she could.

It was barely a few minutes’ run back to the village, but it was the longest run Meia had ever felt. It was as though she would never reach the village… never get the help Alundra desperately needed.

But the village sign thankfully came into view.

She burst into Septimus’ house, causing the scholar to knock several books onto the floor with a start. But after a hurried, frantic explanation, he nodded grimly.

Before long, news had spread around the village that Alundra was in danger, and many of the men volunteering to retrieve him. Before long, Meia was back on the road, showing Lutas and Meade the way, while Jess and Septimus waited at home with the village healer, preparing water and anything else they would need.

A moment passed. It felt as though time had stopped.

Soon, Meia, Lutas and Meade burst through the door, carrying an extremely pale and barely breathing Alundra.

Septimus gasped. Jess’ eyes widened.

And the healer set to work immediately.

Jess, Septimus, Meia, Lutas and Meade stayed at the dining table, worry etched on their faces as they waited.

“Meia,” Septimus called, facing her. “What… happened at Nirude’s lair?”

The female adventurer lowered her head, unable to speak. A moment later, she started the story softly, from when they met Nava, the old man by the beach, to when Alundra was struck by Zorgia, getting poisoned in the process.

“A poison spell infused into his claws?” the researcher echoed. “Is that even possible…?”

Lutas’ eyes grew grim. “If that’s the case, we can only hope he can be saved…”

Jess remained quiet.

The clock ticked. It felt the wait would never end.

Just as the first rays of the morning sun dreamed through the windows, they heard the click of the bedroom door being opened.

They hurried upstairs to meet the healer, awaiting the news… and, to their joy, she smiled and nodded, though wearily.

“It was difficult as he did not respond to most of the medicine,” she explained. “But I have finally found a combination that worked for him. He will still have the fever for a few days at least, but it appears the danger is over. He will survive.”

Lutas and Meade cheered. Septimus began laughing uncontrollably. Jess did a strange dance. Even Meia could not resist a small smile.

Their friend was alive… and that was enough.

 


 

As Alundra lay deathly still on the bed, Jess, Septimus and Meia took turns to watch over him, looking for any signs of unexpected turn for the worse. A worried expression was etched on their faces as they occasionally rinsed the cloth in cold water, wrung it and replaced it neatly on his burning forehead. But three days passed uneventfully and his fever eventually subsided, and he showed the first signs of recovery by waking up.

When he did, he gazed up at the three of them, smiled faintly, and the first thing out of his mouth was, “So… when am I allowed to go… adventuring again…?”

“As spirited as ever!” Jess said with a laugh.

But as spirited as he was, it still seemed Alundra would be confined to the house even if the fever had gone.

The first day he was allowed to get out of bed, he could only limp outside his bedroom door before he would run out of breath.

On the second day, he was able to go all the way downstairs, yet he would collapse into a dining chair, exhausted and breathing heavily.

By the fourth day, he was able to walk one round around the village, but he still returned home breathless.

And, by the sixth day, he was still only able to walk within the vicinity of Inoa… and he was already going mad.

“Oh, come on!” he cried. “I feel like a rotting vegetable! Meia, duel me!”

She stared at him incredulously.

Jess was more receptive when he listened to Alundra’s complaints of being cooped up in the house, but even as he gave a gentle smile, he was firm that the elf should not be up and about so soon.

“But,” the old man added. “I’ll think of something, you know what I’m saying, my boy?”

That left the swordsman puzzled.

The next day, it was apparent what Jess was planning. When Alundra had woken up and gone downstairs, he was surprised to find a hearty breakfast prepared, a hearty lunch packed into a basket, and Jess, Septimus and Meia around the dining table.

“What’s all this about?” he asked as he took the last seat.

“Eat up, lad!” Jess said. “We’re going on a picnic!”

He stared at him.

The swordsmith smiled. “You might be surprised when we get there, you know what I’m saying?”

After a hearty breakfast, all four of them headed out of the village through its northern exit, past the lake, walking slowly along the dirt path.

It was a beautiful day, with the sun warm but not blisteringly hot, a gentle breeze weaving around them, the birds chirping merrily in the trees. Even if they weren’t out on an adventure, as much as Alundra would have liked, at least he was out of the house and the village for a while.

After some time, Alundra was beginning to gasp for breath. Meia went to his side, glancing at him worriedly, and the scholar asked, “Jess! How much further?”

Jess glanced back at them and smiled, gesturing forward. “We’re here!”

Alundra stopped, catching his breath, but he gazed forward in awe.

Past the trees before them was a beautiful sight. The first thing they saw was a high cliff, where a small waterfall was splashing into a large pond. Through the gleaming surface of the pond, they could see all kinds of aquatic plant life at the bottom, and among them, small fishes weaved playfully.

The surface of the pond seemed to sparkle… as though it was magical.

“What is this place?” Septimus asked curiously.

“This is the Fairy Pond,” Jess stated, setting down the lunch basket. “Legend tells of fairies sighted around this area, though I’ve never seen one in my life.”

“A… fairy pond?” Meia said, her eyes focused on the gleaming waters.

The old man nodded proudly. “Once we have rested, we have another place to visit!”

The other three glanced at each other, but did not say a word.

After a moment of rest, Jess pulled out four large rainbow-coloured umbrellas (which raised multiple eyebrows) and passed one to each of them before leading the way to the waterfall. Once there, he did not stop… no, he opened up the umbrella above his head and strode right through the waterfall, presumably into an opening behind. The others followed suit, wondering where he would bring them.

Behind the waterfall was a hidden entrance to short tunnel, which led to a large cave that was mostly covered by a shallow lake. This scene would have been rather ordinary if it were not for the surface of the water; it shone and sparkled on its own, illuminating the room without any need of a torch.

“Whoa,” Alundra said in awe. “Is this also part of the Fairy Pond?”

Jess nodded. “Yes, there is an underwater cave that connects this to the pond outside. See how the water shines on its own?”

Meia seemed thoughtful. “It seems to be full of magical properties.”

“Certainly,” the scholar agreed. “Perhaps some glow-in-the-dark particles… if my sister who studies chemistry were here, she would have been ecstatic.”

The swordsman knelt and glanced into the water.

A pair of cerulean blue eyes glanced up at him.

His eyes widened and he quickly stepped back… just as something rose up from the water with a bright flash of light that blinded them temporarily.

When the light dimmed, they slowly looked up.

It was an azure sprite, shaped like a woman with great feathered wings behind her, her long silky hair flowing between them. Her cerulean blue eyes – the ones Alundra had seen earlier – shone with kindness.

“I am at once amazed and proud that you have progressed this far, Releaser.” Her voice was soft, musical, echoing.

Alundra looked up at her in surprised. “How do you know who I am?”

She smiled faintly. “I am Stenia, queen of the waters. Your actions have been shown to my heart by the rivers and the oceans.”

Excitement rose with him. “You wouldn’t be a Guardian, would you?”

But she shook her head. “I have long existed before the Guardians, watching the warring history of the humans and gods alike with a heavy heart.” She shook her head slowly. “Over the course of human history, there have been many gods, and not long ago, there was a race of giant gods called the Gazeck.”

“Hey, wait a minute… isn’t that what Nirude is?”

“That is correct. The seven Gazeck were carved from stone by the hands of ancient humans, revered and feared by them… soon, their prayers gave life to the Gazeck, who truly became what humans believed them to be… but they did not want to share the power of human prayer. They fought each other, killed each other for it. Only Nirude chose not to fight his fellow gods and watched with a heavy heart as his brothers slaughtered one another. But, when the killing subsided, the ancient humans lost faith in the warring Gazeck… and Nirude found he was a god no more. A god cannot exist without the faith of others…”

Alundra lowered his gaze. He now knew the meaning behind Nirude’s last words to the dwarves, “I thank you for your prayers, my children, for sustaining me all these years…”

The female elf shook her head. “You know of the past behind the Gazeck… do you know of the past behind the demon that now lay sealed within these lands?”

Stenia nodded. “Yes, I do. Legend tells of him as a god who arrived in a fallen star from the sky… that is partly true. Many, many years ago, a star fell from the heaven. From this star, the ancient humans carved a statue and prayed to it. Like the Gazeck, he was born from the prayers of the people… but he was even more flawed than the Gazeck had become. He was not a god for which the humans had prayed… he used fear to gain the faith of the humans.”

Meia shifted uncomfortably.

Alundra glanced at her in concern, knowing that everything she had was torn away by the overzealous fanatics who prayed to the demon.

The azure sprite gazed down at them and continued her story. “But he feared the wisdom of humans, for he knew they could strip him of power. Therefore, he began slaying whoever seemingly threatened his existence.”

The swordsman clenched his fists, remembering Sybill’s unfortunate death.

She turned her eyes onto him. “Somehow, Releaser, you have managed to escape his machinations to this point…”

But their conversation was short-lived.

At that very moment, the cave started to shake violently, rumbling loudly like a furious roar. The ceiling cracked and dropped large rocky pieces near them, intending to crush them.

“He has been watching us, Releaser!” Stenia cried, her wings spreading. “He has used my own water against me! Quick, take my Ice Wand!”

Alundra barely had time to curse the demon when a stunningly white sceptre materialised and fell onto his hand.

The water sprite shook her head. “Leave here, Releaser! You must hurry, the destruction comes!”

Jess, Septimus and Meia started running out of the cave, but Alundra paused for a moment to yell, “What about you, Stenia?!”

Stenia smiled. “I am of the waters… as long as the rivers and oceans exist, I, too, will. We shall meet again, Releaser.”

With that, she turned into ordinary water that splashed back into the quivering surface of the pond.

Alundra shook his head and sped through the tunnel after the others, jumping to evade falling rocks.

Crash!

Boulders crushed the entrance of the cave just as the four of them burst out of the waterfall, falling onto the grassy ground. The once sparkling surface of the magical pond lost its gleam… now an ordinary pond.

Alundra lay sprawled on the ground, catching his breath from the sudden run. The sceptre in his hand, now that he had taken a closer look at it, shone as though it was made of white ice. The blue stone on its end, perhaps sapphire, had an uncanny resemblance to Stenia’s cerulean blue eyes.

Remembering how the water sprite had fallen, his heart grew even more determined.

The demon just gave him another reason to seek him out.

 


 

The four of them returned to Inoa later that afternoon, carrying the now empty lunch basket, silent as they thought of the event that had transpired at the Fairy Pond. As they passed the wooden sign that said ‘Inoa’, Septimus spoke first.

“I think it’s important that we learn of the demon’s actions in the past,” he said. “It might help us in our battle against him…” He turned towards the swordsmith. “Thanks for inviting me to the picnic, Jess.”

Jess nodded and smiled. “Join us anytime, Septimus, you’re always welcome.”

He returned the smile. “Thanks.” He glanced at the other two. “I’ll see you two later, all right?”

On that final note, he left towards his house down the road.

The old man turned towards the elves with a knowing grin. “Well, there is still time before dinner. I’m sure you two would want to spend some time with each other, you know what I’m saying?”

With a laugh, he, too, returned home, carrying the empty basket.

The two of them glanced at each other.

Alundra grinned. “Well, shall we humour him and take a walk around the village?”

Meia turned away, a little red, but obliged.

Slowly, leisurely, they strode along the village path and descended the staircase that led to the southern part of the village. After a while, however, Alundra grew weary and had to sit down to catch his breath. They stopped at a shaded area below a tree and sat on the grassy ground.

“Dammit!” Alundra cursed, breathing heavily. “Why can’t I recover from this poison yet?”

Meia shook her head. “It seems to be rather potent. But a poison spell… I have never heard of one before.”

“That gargoyle seems to be some kind of sorcerer… he used fire against Nirude, poison against us and was about to use lightning before the goblins came.” He clenched his fist. “When I’m all recovered… I have a score to settle with him.”

As they lapsed into a momentary silence, they heard footsteps near them – it was Lutas, who glanced around nervously as though he was being followed.

“Oh, Alundra!” he said, stopping near them. “I’ve been looking all over this village for you!”

The swordsman stood up. “What’s up, Lutas?”

He took a deep breath. “Listen… there’s something I need to ask you. My life has been in danger several times recently, and each time, Ronan appeared at the last minute to rescue me…”

The two elves glanced at each other at the surprising piece of news.

“Ronan… saved your life?” Alundra echoed.

The blond-haired man nodded. “Not only once, but many times. Despite being saved by him, rather than being grateful, I’m beginning to feel it is too coincidental, especially when he looked as though he would rather have me dead… I fear for my life, Alundra, with him following me to the point it seems to be stalking. It almost feels as though this was… what happened to Sybill.”

Meia shook her head. “We don’t know if Ronan has anything to do with that… but it’s best you remain indoors, just in case.”

Lutas gave a heavy sigh. “Yes… yes, you’re right. I will stay at home more, where it’s safe. I’m glad I have spoken to you, Alundra, Meia.”

With a farewell wave, he turned back towards his house.

A thoughtful look washed over Alundra’s face.

The female dreamwalker turned towards him. “I don’t know why Ronan saved Lutas’ life, Alundra, but you look like you do.”

He nodded. “I do… before Sybill died, she showed me one last dream. It showed part of my confrontation with the demon… and Jess was making a weapon called a Holy Sword after Lutas’ death.”

Her eyes gleamed with understanding. “So her dream told you that if Lutas died, his spirit would return as the Holy Sword… which means Ronan saved him to prevent you from getting it.”

“That makes sense. But how did he know about it? Sybill couldn’t have told him…”

Meia’s eyes widened with realisation as she whirled onto him. “Wait! Alundra, did you pray in the sanctuary? When I first came to the village, Ronan wanted me to. Of course, I refused…”

“What? No, I don’t think I di–”

He stopped.

There was once – just once – when Ronan had forced him to kneel before the strange house-like display on the altar, pushing him down to his knees with strength that belied his age. And, when he gave the slightest bow, he had felt a chill running through him… a cold sense of dread as darkness clouded his eyes.

At his expression of horror, Meia nodded. “I thought so. To pray is to allow the gods a window to your mind, Alundra. He saw your thoughts and learned of Sybill’s dream.”

Alundra slid weakly back to a sitting position, his eyes wide.

It had been his fault.

It was because of him that Sybill was brutally murdered.

Meia watched him with a grim yet concerned look on her face and gripped his shoulder. “Let’s go to the sanctuary, Alundra. Let us destroy the statue so Ronan will have nothing to worship, that’s the only way we can be certain to drain the demon of strength!”

It took a moment for him to digest the suggestion, but when he did, determination burned in his heart as he straightened. “You’re right. Let’s go!”

 


 

The sanctuary was still the same as ever; dim, dusty and gloomy. The two elves strode briskly, purposefully, towards the end of the main hall, towards the altars. There, they found Ronan standing on the exposed staircase leading to the basement… to the keep where the demon’s statue stood.

Ronan leered at them. “Well, well, Alundra. I see you are with Meia today.”

Meia stiffened, her hands clenched tightly. “The statue of the demon is hidden in the basement of this sanctuary. I can feel it even standing here!”

“Get out of the way, Ronan,” Alundra commanded. “It’s time to destroy that statue once and for all!”

She stepped forward in agreement with him. “Don’t try to prevent the inevitable.”

The chancellor snorted. “Hmph! Arrogant fools. Beaumont has always known of the statue in my sanctuary. Everyone knows. And they not only approve of it… they pray to it as well.” A sinister smile formed on his face. “How would they react, I wonder, if you were to destroy the object of their fevered supplication? I’d wager their reaction to be much less favourable than you would hope.”

Alundra gritted his teeth, but he knew that was true. They risked having the whole village turning onto them by destroying the statue now.

Meia placed a hand on his shoulder, her cold, indifferent eyes focused onto the priest. “Be it as it may… but this is not over, Ronan. We will prove it to everyone once and for all that the statue is the source of evil, and it will be destroyed.”

With that, she turned and strode towards the exit. The other elf glared at the chancellor before following suit.

Ronan had the last say.

“Those words of blasphemy shall return to consume you, heretics!”

He laughed.

His laugh echoed sinisterly along the walls of the sanctuary… and it brought a foreboding feeling.

 


 

“I’m sure of it, Alundra,” Meia hissed as they returned to the village. “Ronan is the murderer. What’s more, I believe he will strike again tonight… someone else near you.” She faced him. “We must strive to protect the rest of your friends. I will stay with Septimus. You must watch Jess.”

The Releaser nodded grimly. “I will. It should be fine as long as he stays inside.”

“I truly hope so. I’ll meet you at your house tomorrow morning.”

She turned to leave, but he placed a hand on her shoulder. There was something he wanted to say to her… but all that came from his mouth was, “Be careful.”

 


 

But it seemed Jess had other ideas. First he had surprised Alundra by taking him on a picnic (which, perhaps in the old man’s mind, was as close to an adventure as it could get), and now he surprised him by preparing a feast. He had invited Septimus and Meia over for the grand dinner as well, and, when it had grown dark, they sat around the dining table that groaned under the weight of the food.

“Wow, Jess!” Alundra exclaimed. “What’s the occasion?”

The old man smiled. “I just felt like cooking a lot today, you know what I’m saying? Meia even helped a little!”

He grinned as he turned to the other elf. “Really? You can cook, Meia? Which one is your dish?”

Meia frowned, her cheeks reddening a little. Then, she slowly and reluctantly gestured at a plate of something burned to a crisp.

There was an awkward silence in the air for a moment, and both Alundra and Septimus burst into laughter.

“I… I have never used a stove before!” she quickly admitted, evidently flustered. “Meals I cooked have always been over a campfire!”

Jess laughed as well. “Don’t worry, don’t worry! You’ll have plenty more chances for practice, so for now, dig in!”

The meal was definitely fun. The men exchanged stories, most of which were hilarious, and laughter ensued after each one. Once the laughter had subsided, Alundra began a thoroughly detailed account of his trips to the Guardians’ lair after he had arrived at Inoa.

“…then Lars dropped a freaking stone golem in front of me! That time I had nothing but a sword, which didn’t work, and the mining bombs – oh, by the way, Jess, they were awesome – they worked beautifully! I threw one at its leg and POW! Its leg just blew into pieces!”

As he detailed every battle with the monsters sent by the Guardians, both Septimus and Meia listened with rapt attention, occasionally gasping when he described an extremely close shave. However, none of them had noticed that Jess had grown quiet, his expression turning to that of worry when he listened to the dangers Alundra had faced all this while.

The joyous mealtime, however, soon came to the end. The dishes had all been cleared up, and Septimus and Meia stood at the door, waving goodbye.

“We’ll come in the morning, Alundra,” the scholar stated. “Goodnight!”

Meia nodded. “Goodnight.” Then, she mouthed, “Be careful.”

And both of them disappeared into the dark night.

Alundra stretched. “That was some great dinner, Jess, your cooking and forging are both incomparable!”

Jess smiled appreciatively. “Thank you, my boy.” His expression turned to that of concern. “Alundra, you should get some rest… you look pale, you know what I’m saying? You need to rest more in order to fully recover, before you can continue running around from one place to another.”

He grinned. “You made it sound like I’m a little mouse hunting for cheese.” He yawned a little. “But you’re right, I am tired. It’s been a long day.” He started to walk towards the stairs, but soon stopped. “Aren’t you sleeping yet?”

Jess, who was about to step into the forge, spun around. “What? Me? Oh, I feel like working in the forge for a while. I will sleep soon, don’t worry.”

“Right.”

There was a pause as they gazed at each other.

“Alundra?”

“Hm?”

“I just wanted to say, I’m really glad to have met you, Alundra…” Jess smiled. “You have always been like my son.”

The elf laughed. “Oh, come on! What’s gotten into you today, Jess? First the picnic, then the feast, and now this…” He nodded and smiled as well. “But I do think of you as a fatherly figure too, Jess. You saved my life, nursed me back to health, then gave me a home and stood by my side when there are others who would rather kick me out…” He crossed his arms. “And I still haven’t gotten around to repaying you properly yet, you know?”

The smile on his face grew wider, warmer… gentler. “I’m glad, my boy. Get some sleep now. Tomorrow will be another big day, you know what I’m saying?”

“Well, I gotta recover first before it’ll be a big day of any sort, right? Goodnight!”

On that final note, Alundra climbed up the staircase to his room, taking off his jacket, armour and sheathed sword. As he tumbled into bed, the rhythmic chimes of the hammer striking the anvil were like a lullaby… and he drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

 


 

The gentle rays of the moon streamed through the window into the room, illuminating the rotund figure of the swordsmith. He stood over the bed, watching the elf asleep on the bed, his young face peaceful as though there wasn’t a care for the world.

He smiled, gently yet sadly.

Then, he nodded to himself, as though fully deciding on something.

He walked quietly to the door.

He stopped.

He turned, allowing himself one final glance at the young man who had become his son, before steeling his heart.

And, as quiet as a man with a purpose could be… Jess stepped into the cold night air, the moonlight washing over him.

Tears were streaming down his face.

 


 

Alundra woke up with a start. His eyes stared blankly at the ceiling.

It was already morning, though only just. It seemed to be another nice day.

But there was a terrible sense of dread in his heart… a terrible sense of foreboding.

It was quiet… too quiet.

And Ronan’s last words haunted his mind.

Those words of blasphemy shall return to consume you, heretics!”

A chill ran down his back.

He jumped out of the bed, ignoring his trembling legs, and quickly dressed. He burst out of his room and stepped over to Jess’, knocking loudly on the door.

There was no response.

He opened the door.

It wasn’t locked.

And the bed was empty.

“Jess?” he called as he descended the stairs.

There was no sign of the swordsmith anywhere.

“Jess!!” he shouted.

He stepped outside into the sun, looking around for any sign of the old man.

And, in the distance, he could see Meia running quickly towards him.

Her expression was of horror.

“Alundra!” she cried. “It… it’s Jess! He…” Her voice trailed off.

“Did you say Jess?!” he almost shouted as he gripped her shoulders. “Please, tell me! Where’s Jess?!”

She averted her eyes. “He…” She shook her head and took his hand gently. “Come with me, Alundra.”

Too fearful to speak, he willingly allowed her to lead him out of the village… towards the graveyard.

He could see a crowd gathered at an empty area of the graveyard.

When they saw him arrive, they parted to let him pass, concern and fear on their faces.

And he froze.

It was easily recognisable. The large, rotund body on the ground. Cold and still.

Alundra fell weakly to his knees.

He knew.

Jess breathed the foul air of this evil world no longer.

 


 

Time passed slowly, as though the falling of sand of the hourglass had been slowed down. The sun shone warmly in the sky, but Alundra could not feel it.

He could feel nothing.

The crowd waited, some sobbing, some sniffling.

They looked up when Ronan arrived.

Behind him was a wooden casket, carried by two men.

They strode grimly forward, slowly carrying the casket… slowly lowering it into the newly dug grave in the ground.

Yet, Alundra could feel nothing.

Dirt was shovelled into the hole, gradually filling it up. Within moments, there was no more trace of the casket.

The new tombstone was raised.

Now carved with Jess’ name.

Group by group, the villagers stepped forward to pay their final respects to the newly departed, some lowering fresh bouquet of flowers to the pedestal.

Some also whispered words of condolences to Alundra. Lutas and his wife. Meade, his wife, his twin boys, and Wendell. Sybill’s mother. Kisha.

And yet… he still felt nothing.

The crowd gradually filed out of the graveyard, leaving Alundra, Septimus, Meia and Ronan to pray. First Septimus paid his respects. Then Meia.

Ronan did not even glance at the new tombstone.

He strode nonchalantly away. After a few steps, he stopped and whirled around, an arrogant gleam in his eyes as he spoke.

“Jess found you on the verge of death and nursed you back to health. And how did you repay his kindness, Alundra?” He stepped forward, his eyes boring into the swordsman. “You killed him.”

“That’s… that’s nonsense!” Septimus spluttered.

“This is not the time for games, Ronan,” Meia warned.

The chancellor pointed a finger at the Releaser dramatically. “I lay the blame for Jess’ passing solely on you, Alundra… no, murderer!”

With that, he turned and left.

His gleeful, sinister laughter rang across the now empty graveyard.

Septimus and Meia turned to their friend worriedly. Yet, after all that had happened, he merely stared at the tombstone blankly.

“A…lundra?” the female dreamwalker called uncertainly.

He did not respond.

The scholar heaved a sigh. “Come, Alundra… let’s get you home.”

He did not react to their words, but he obeyed when they led him all the way to Jess’ home… now his. They sat him at the dining table, but they continued to be concerned at his blank look.

Septimus shook his head. “Alundra, I… here… take this key. I found it clenched in Jess’ hand… I have no doubt his last wish would have been for you to have this…”

The male elf slowly took the small, silver key and gazed at it.

“If you need anything, Alundra… anything at all… I will gladly help you. All you have to do is ask…”

He remained still.

An expression of pain washed over Meia’s face. “Alundra…”

Septimus glanced at her and shook his head.

She returned the glance with reluctance… but she nodded.

Both of them slowly walked out, throwing several glances over their shoulders at him, before closing the front door behind them.

Alundra felt completely numb. He could feel nothing, hear nothing, see nothing… nothing at all.

He blinked slowly.

Somehow he was clutching this small, silver key. It felt cold in his hand.

He looked up.

The room was silent.

He had faintly remembered that Septimus and Meia were here… when was that? What did they say?

Then, he saw a blue chest, sitting on the table where Jess had often shown him his newest creations from the forge.

Alundra slowly got up, walking over to the table.

He glanced at the key before putting it into the keyhole in front of the chest.

It was a perfect fit.

Inside, there was a piece of parchment and a piece of silver armour, very similar to the one he wore now.

He raised the parchment to his eyes, and realised with a start that it was a letter from Jess.

 


 

 

Alundra,

If you are reading this, I must have expired. Oy! This is not good, you know what I’m saying?

 


 

 

He chuckled softly. The old man wrote the letter the exact same manner he spoke.

 


 

 

While you were sleeping, I went to see what Ronan was doing at the graveyard. I know you’re suspicious of him, and so was I. But I didn’t want you to take him on alone.

It filled me with fear, Alundra, when I saw them carrying you home that day, after Meia came running to say you were poisoned… you looked so pale I thought you were already dead. It was only then that I fully realised the danger you’re facing when you’re trying to free us from the nightmares… that you could die in the process. The stories you have told us tonight confirmed it.

I am very scared, Alundra. My hand quivers as I write. I must resist the urge to crumple this note and throw it away. It would be so easy to forget about Ronan, walk upstairs and retire. But I cannot do that, my boy. I don’t want you to be ashamed of me. So I have summoned up all the courage I have remaining to write this letter… before I go to Ronan.

Alundra, after my wife and son died years ago, I was a broken man… but your iron will and light demeanour have fixed me. I did not know you for long, but I’m glad I did.

Thank you, Alundra, my dear son.

Love,
Jess

 


 

 

Alundra stared blankly at the letter.

Jess… already knew he would die. He had forged the silver armour last night in preparation.

His final inspiration was… his own death.

It was he who had saved Alundra’s life.

You’re welcome to stay here until you’re fully recovered,” he had said, after he had rescued him. “I live by myself, so once you leave, I’ll be a lonely, old, fat man again. Not that you should feel bad…”

It was he who had acted like a father, unwilling to let him venture into danger.

All right, here’s the plan,” he had said, after making the mining bomb. “I go to the mine. I see if it’s safe, and maybe I let you go inside. You stay here, all right?” Determination had shone in his eyes. “One way or other, I’m going to keep you alive through this…”

It was he who had worried for his safety.

You were getting quite late, so I was worried…” he had said, after Alundra and Kline had exited the coal mine. “But no matter, I’m just happy you’re safe and sound.”

And yet, it was he who was appreciative of the elf.

I just wanted to say, I’m really glad to have met you, Alundra…” he had said last night. “You have always been like my son.”

Alundra suddenly realised that water was dripping onto the letter gripped tightly in his hands.

Tears were streaming down his face.

Disobedient to his commands to stop.

“No… Jess…”

Yet, through the tears, he could still see Jess’ warm, gentle smile.

Pain stabbed him in the heart. Again. And again.

He fell to his knees, clutching his chest.

And he finally broke down.

All that could be heard from the house were the screams of one who had lost a loved one… the screams of one beseeching the gods to stop the madness.

 

End of Chapter Twelve.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Thirteen: One Who Would Become a Hero

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

Meia was terribly worried, and she knew Septimus was, too.

Throughout the whole of Jess’ funeral, Alundra seemed to have gone completely numb, showing nothing but a blank expression on his face, giving only the slightest indications when spoken to.

And yet, after they had left him alone in his house after the funeral, they could hear the most bloodcurdling screams from the house… as though they were listening to one’s soul being ripped forcefully from the body.

The days that came after that were not any better.

A drastic change had overtaken Alundra. Whereas he had been light-hearted and energetic previously, now he always seemed lethargic and numb. He constantly slept, unable to stay awake for more than a few hours at once, even as his body slowly recovered from the magical poison wound inflicted onto him at Nirude’s lair. Even though he now responded better to their words, the same blank expression was on his face.

It was as though he had turned into another person.

Meia felt the anxiety, a dull ache in her heart as she watched him.

Then, she realised with a start.

Since when had she begun to care for him?

It had been years since she had let herself grown close enough to a person to care… perhaps since her mother had passed. It had always been easy enough to distance herself from other people, to allow no weakness to be shown to the demon. Yet, with Alundra, she cared for him as much as she had cared for her parents.

Before Jess had passed on, it was easy to see why people liked him. He was always light-hearted and energetic, always flashing his confident and sometimes cheeky grin.

But she had never let people like him close enough before. And she had met many in her long journey.

Even aboard the ship, where she had met him for the first time, she had felt she wanted nothing to do with him. Just another womaniser, she had thought.

Was it because he alone knew of her past and accepted it that she grew attached to him?

Was it because he alone risked his life to protect her?

She shook her head.

What did it matter now? Even if she knew why she grew to care for him, it would not help him to recover from this tremendous loss.

He had helped her. Accepted her. Protected her.

It was time for her to help him.

 


 

“Septimus,” Meia said one morning as they met in Alundra’s dining room. “I’m going to enter his dream.”

To her surprise, the scholar did not seem taken aback, but in fact nodded in agreement. “I was about to suggest that to you, but it seems you’re already a step ahead of me. I have been speculating the last few days…” He shook his head. “I believe Alundra may have closed off his heart and is now spending more time asleep than not to escape from reality into dreams… a self-induced nightmare, if you could call it that. Maybe he has had a happy past and is immersing himself in that…”

Her expression grew grim. “All the more to enter his dream.”

Both of them got up from the dining chairs and climb the staircase, opening the door to enter Alundra’s room.

Inside, the thick curtains were drawn across the windows, blocking the afternoon sun. The room was unkempt, as though no one had been here to clean in days… and there, lying still on the bed, was their friend. His sleeping face was calm, peaceful… as though the events that had transpired in the last few days were just a dream.

Meia gazed down at him, her heart filled with a torrent of anxiety, but she knew what she had to do. She knelt down beside his bed, gently held his hand, and made the leap into his dream.

 


 

The sun shone down warmly. A gentle breeze blew and the leaves of the trees whispered mysteriously. The birds chirped and weaved playfully between the branches.

She seemed to be in a forest of sorts. A secluded, peaceful place.

This was… Alundra’s dream?

Meia closed her eyes, letting her senses scan the area.

No, it seemed the demon was not here. She could not feel his presence.

She opened her eyes once more and strode forward among the trees, looking for any sign of the swordsman.

After a few steps, she stopped.

In front of her, a huge crystal stood in the middle of a clearing, the sunrays causing its surface to glimmer. Though it was made entirely of transparent blue ice-like crystal, it was not cold to the touch and it showed no signs of melting in the warm afternoon sun. And, right in its centre was Alundra, his hands clasped on his stomach, his eyes closed as though in deep slumber, looking as though he was floating as he was encased in the ice.

It was a beautiful yet somehow forlorn sight to behold.

Meia gazed up at him. Something so out of place like this in a dream world had to be something that signified something to him… did it mean he was locking himself in his dream so that he might not return to reality, to face the pain of losing Jess? Did it truly mean he was escaping from reality, as Septimus said? Or did it mean something else to him?

Then, a familiar voice spoke behind her, “Don’t think so hard about it, Meia… it’s a bit embarrassing to see you staring at my other me like that.”

She whirled around, her eyes wide.

There was Alundra, standing some distance away and smiling pleasantly at her. And yet, there was Alundra still encased in the crystal, apparently asleep.

“What are you doing in my dream?” the Alundra on the ground said, not appearing the least offended, and half-shrugged. “It’s not very interesting here, you know.”

Meia shook her head, approaching him. “I came to bring you back, Alundra, back to reality. You’re spending too much time escaping into your dream…”

He scratched his head uncertainly. “But I’m… did I really spend that much time in my dreams?”

“Of course!” she almost shouted, stepping forward quickly as though she wanted to strike him. “You have no idea how worried Septimus and I have been! Seeing you so weak and exhausted, unable to show any emotion, sleeping most of the time!”

He lowered his head, his eyes closed. “I… I’m sorry…”

She heaved a soft sigh and shook her head slowly. “That’s why I’m here… we’re here for you. Let’s return to reality.”

“No… not yet.” He raised his gaze, his cerulean blue eyes pleading. “There’s something I still need to do here…”

“Something… here?” She glanced at the crystal. “Does it have to do with you being encased in that?”

“Something like that. It’s there to remind me what I have to do here.”

She thought for a moment before nodded, her eyes focused on him. “I don’t understand, but I’ll help you. We’ll work together.”

He glanced at her in surprise. “It might not be pretty. You sure you want to do this?”

She nodded firmly.

Smiling, he nodded as well. “Thanks, Meia.” He gestured down the dirt path they were standing on. “We’re going to visit a few places.”

“Lead the way.”

Both of them started walking along a particular dirt path, away from the pyramid of ice where an image of himself was encased.

“So, what is it that you have to do here?” the female dreamwalker asked.

“I’m here to revisit my past. Actually, just a small part of it… but since you’re here, we should start over from beginning. It’s only fair that you get to see mine after I saw yours, right? And anyway, with you here, I might finally be able to advance forward. I haven’t been successful the last few times…”

She shook her head. “I still don’t know why it’s so important… are you sure you’re not just running away?”

He smiled. “Trust me, Meia… I’m not.”

She heaved a frustrated sigh. It seemed he would not admit exactly what he needed to do here, if it were not to escape from reality. Why would visiting the past be so important to him that he would spend most of his days sleeping? Would it truly help him recover from his grief?

As they walked, suddenly, the surroundings around them flickered, as though the sun was running out of fuel to light the world. Slowly at first, then faster and faster… and Meia abruptly found herself in complete darkness.

Followed by a flash of light.

The sun shone blisteringly hot in the sky, burning all it could see. There was no wind, the leaves of the trees yellowing. The grass on the ground was turning yellow as well. Wooden huts sat all over the village, haphazardly arranged by the dirt path.

A village.

Meia strode forward, not quite knowing where to go. Was this the place where Alundra had grown up? Did he spend many happy days here, running between the trees in the sun? But, as she recalled, he wasn’t as tanned as the villagers here.

She stopped. Her eyes grew wide open.

There, in the middle of the village, was a raised wooden platform with a staircase from the ground to its top. A Y-shaped post rose from its centre.

And there, his hands tied tightly to the arms of the post, was a small boy, around five years of age. The rags there were his clothes barely concealed the ugly bruises and wounds on his skinny body, his ribs showing plainly. Long, pointed ears of an elf protruded from the sides of his head, the orange hair that was like a mane on his head now dark with dirt and blood. His lips were dry and cracked from long exposure to the sun. The eyes were deeply sunken, the familiar cerulean blue was dull… the eyes of one who had given up on life.

It was Alundra. As a boy.

As he lay baking in the merciless sun, the villagers who passed barely glanced at him. Those who did either glared, sneered or threw rotten food or stones at him, as though he was the most abominable of criminals.

Yet, he did not move. He had resigned to his fate.

Then, a shadow was cast over him.

The dull blue eyes glanced up slowly.

It was a man, tall and well-built, his short, spiked dark hair and long dark coat made him stand out among the white robed villagers. A giant sword, almost as tall as himself, rested on his back. His chin was covered with short stubble. A brutal scar ran from the left side of his forehead down his left cheek, rendering his left eye useless. His right good eye, the colour of ebony, peered over the dark glasses resting on the bridge of his nose.

He knelt down, taking off his coat and covered the boy’s exposed back and head with it. His hand drew a water container from his many pouches, pulled out the cork and tipped it over the boy’s mouth.

The boy drank thirstily.

“S-Sir Crowe! P-please, don’t do that!”

The dark-haired man glanced over his shoulder at the extremely nervous village man some distance away.

“P-please, Sir Crowe!” the villager repeated. “They’ll have our h-heads for this, Mr. Mercenary, s-sir!”

The dark-haired man half-shrugged. “Oh, come on, they’ll have our heads for saving a boy from death?”

“P-please don’t loop me in with you, sir, I’m just the village guide…”

“Fine, fine.” He raised a hand as though he was reciting a pledge. “I swear on my heart that this merciful action of saving a child is mine and mine alone. There, happy now?”

“Yes, s-sir, but…”

Crowe pulled out a dagger from its sheath at his waist.

“N-no!!” the guide yelled, lunging forward to grab his hand holding the dagger. “Don’t free the d-demon, Sir Crowe!”

He stopped, shifting his incredulous gaze at him. “What do you mean by demon? He’s just an ordinary boy!”

The villager’s eyes widened. “Don’t you k-know, Sir Crowe? A person with e-ears like that is a d-demon! It’s a s-sign of a failed transformation from b-beast to human! The demons disguise themselves as humans and strike us when we’re the least aware!”

He continued staring for a moment, then threw his head back and laughed. And laughed. His voice spread through the village square, drawing curious eyes. “Elves, beasts that failed to disguise as humans? That’s really a good one! All the more I should free him!”

The guide stepped back slowly, his eyes widened further with fear as he glanced at his fellow villagers, now with looks of disbelief. “N-no! I’m not with this man! I’m not a h-heretic!!” With that, he turned and fled as fast as his legs could carry him.

Crowe looked at the running figure of the villager, an amused grin on his face as he glanced at the large group of villagers approaching the platform, their eyes blazing. “Heretic, huh? By the manner you guys are holding those sticks, I’m guessing I’m about to be put in my place.”

One of the people stepped forward, a large man donned in white robes with a hood that covered his head. “Step away from the demon, visitor, lest you will be branded a heretic!”

He shook his head. “Oh, come on! Saving a boy means I’m a heretic?” He gave an exasperated sigh as he drew a spherical ball from his waist pouch. “What’s the world coming to?”

At the sight of the item in his hand, the villagers raised their sticks in alarm, pointing the ends towards him, and exclaimed, “Stop! What are you doing?!”

He grinned and raised the ball above his head. “I’ll tell you about it next time, yeah?”

With that, he threw the ball onto the platform, causing a burst of smoke to spread all over the square in an instant. The people coughed continuously, their eyes watering, but when the smoke dispersed a few seconds later… both the man and boy were gone.

The scene faded away, the surroundings replaced by a small, barely decorated bedroom, barely lit by a small lamp on the bedside table.

Crowe sat on a chair by the bed, his good eye watching the small elven boy – his body bandaged – as he slept.

The boy stirred. His eyes opened slowly, looking up at the dark ceiling, slowly focused onto the mercenary.

Only the mildest curiosity registered on his face.

Crowe smiled. “Good morning. It’s really good to see you awake, you know? I thought you were a goner… don’t worry about those people who caught you; I brought you from that villager to this place, so they won’t find you here.”

The boy gazed at him.

“Oh, I haven’t introduced myself yet. I’m Crowe. Some call me a mercenary, but really, I’m just an adventurer seeking the thrill the unknown.”

Suddenly, there was a great flash of light, causing Meia to shield her eyes. When the light dimmed, she found the scene had instantly changed.

The small, dim bedroom was replaced with Alundra’s room in Inoa. Crowe was replaced with the rotund figure of Jess. And the boy in the bed was replaced with his adult self, his face extremely pale.

“You’re awake!” Jess exclaimed. “This is progress! This is good! I was afraid you were having an eternal rest, you know what I’m saying? My name is Jess. I’m a swordsmith here in Inoa. Decent money, make my own hours.” He shrugged. “No big whoop.”

There was another flash of light as the scene changed back to young Alundra with Crowe. And another when it changed back to the older Alundra and Jess.

Meia stared at the interchanging visions bewilderedly. What was happening? Why was the vision of his past interrupted by the time when he was rescued by Jess?

“Alundra?” she said, turning to face the real Alundra that was leading the way through the dream.

She gasped.

Alundra doubled over, his hands pressing hard on the sides of his head, as though he was in great pain.

“Jess… Jess…”

His voice was soft… extremely weak.

Meia’s eyes widened.

She had always thought of him as a strong person, with his energetic and confident demeanour… yet, the shock of Jess’ death had rendered his mind so unstable that he was confusing the past and the present.

It was not that he was strong. It was that he pretending to be strong, letting his loud voice drown his frightened one, letting his energetic self swallow the weak, vulnerable one.

Meia knelt by his side, gripping his shoulders and shaking him. “Alundra! Stay with me! We’re here to see your past, the one with Crowe!”

He looked up slowly, his eyes filled with confusion. “Crowe…?”

She nodded. “Yes, Crowe. Remember his tall stature, his black hair, his left eye closed because of a scar… can you remember? He saved you from the village… from being sunned to death.”

He closed his eyes. “…Crowe…”

The scene rewound. Once more, the dim bedroom came into view, the mercenary sitting on a chair and watching the sleeping boy. The boy awoke and looked around, his face expressionless.

Crowe smiled. “Good morning. It’s really good to see you awake, you know? I thought you were a goner… don’t worry about those people who caught you; I brought you from that villager to this place, so they won’t find you here.” He paused. “Oh, I haven’t introduced myself yet; I’m Crowe. Some call me a mercenary, but really, I’m just an adventurer seeking the thrill the unknown.”

At this point, the bedroom was about to fade again, and Meia could see the faint scene of Jess and the adult Alundra.

“Persevere, Alundra,” she said softly, her hands still on his shoulders. “Remember Crowe.”

An expression of pain was etched on his face as he struggled, the two scenes flickering around them… but he soon persevered.

The scene with Crowe continued on, as though the confusion had never happened.

Crowe shrugged. “Some call me a mercenary, but really, I’m just an adventurer seeking the thrill the unknown.”

The boy did not react. It seemed he had closed off most of his emotions… in that fanatics’ village, he might have been beaten each time he made any sort of noise.

The adventurer took a bowl of broth from the nearby table and held it out to the boy. “Have some?”

The young elf’s stomach immediately growled in protest. He paused for a moment, looking at him as though waiting for a master’s approval.

“Hm… looks like this is going to be difficult. Okay, so let’s do this your way.” Crowe leaned forward. “To be with me, I have some new rules for you, you listening?”

He nodded.

“Good. Now… three rules of thumb. One, you’re free to show your emotions on your face, cry if you’re sad, laugh if you’re happy, or generally make as much noise as you want to. Two, if you’re hungry, thirsty, or just want something in general, you’re free to ask for it. Three, I won’t beat you, or torture you in any way. Got that so far?”

Another nod.

“Good. So here’s a test for you.” He held out the bowl of broth again.

The boy stared at him for a moment, not quite knowing what to do. Then, as hunger grew too overpowering, he slowly took the bowl, his hands trembling, and began slurping the broth.

Crowe patted his back gently and smiled. “That’s a good start.”

The scene faded away once more, back into the peaceful forest the two elves were previously in. Meia held Alundra’s shoulders, shaking her head.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

He nodded wearily, his breathing laboured. “Yeah… sorry about that.” He placed a hand over his eyes. “That kept happening in the last few days when I tried to remember Crowe…” He lowered his hand and gave a faint smile. “I’m glad you’re here, Meia. You helped me through it.”

She paused, then spoke softly, “I’m… glad you got through.”

Both of them got to their feet, though Alundra a little shakily.

“But…” she began again. “That village…”

“I don’t know the name of that place or whether it still exists, but the people there prayed to some sort of god and believe that all elves are monsters trying to disguise as humans.” He gave a soft sigh. “My parents were tied up together with me, and they tried to protect me… but in the end they died before me.” He shut his eyes. “I was very close to going mad and ended up closing my heart… so it’s not that I don’t understand how Kline felt about his past when I was in his dream.”

She stared at him for a moment. “I… I never knew… I always thought you…”

A faint smile formed on his face. “That I’ve always had a happy past? That’s usually what people assume. I’ve never shown or told anyone else about it, Meia… you’re the first.”

She did not know what to answer to that.

And so, they continued along the forest path, allowing them to view more visions of the past.

Crowe nursed the young elf back to health, tending to his broken bones and bruises. The boy still hardly showed any emotions, but there were a few times when his hair was ruffled by the dark-haired man, he gave the faintest smile of gladness.

Once the boy had recovered enough, both of them left the place together, with the boy following the man like a faithful, loyal pet. Young Alundra sat on a horse that Crowe had purchased, knowing that he would tire easily at his young age of five, and they set out for another city.

But Crowe knew. He was an adventurer, constantly facing dangers of the unknown, and Alundra was too young to follow him. Even if he was skilled with a blade, he might not be able to protect him all the time. Not to mention that a boy would belong better among other children. He gave a sigh; he was beginning to grow attached to the boy, but… perhaps in a few more years…

At the many cities they stopped by, Crowe made it a point to visit every orphanage they had to offer. He spoke to the owners and caretakers, requesting that they took Alundra on one-week trials to see if he could fit in. And Alundra, barely showing any emotions, merely nodded when told to stay at the places, but there were times when Crowe thought he caught an expression of sadness.

However, it did not go well. When Crowe returned to the orphanages a week after he had dropped the boy off, he was surprised to see that none of the caretakers were willing to fulfil his request. Their complaints were different – Alundra disappearing for most of the day, causing trouble and disharmony among the children, unwilling to listen to the owners… the list grew longer and longer, but Crowe could not imagine him being a troublemaker. Could it be because he was an elf?

After the third city and the tenth orphanage, the adventurer raked a hand through his dark hair as he muttered, “Blasted people, they don’t even care about the life of this one child…”

He felt a hand pulling at his coat and turned. Alundra was gazing up at him with the cerulean blue eyes, but it was a long pause before he whispered, “I… want to be with you, Crowe.”

His eyes flickered with surprise. “…say that again.”

There was another pause. He repeated again, a little louder. “I want to be with you, Crowe.”

Crowe suddenly laughed, his voice loud enough to draw attention, as though he had found it funny. The boy stared at him in bewilderment.

The mercenary planted a hand on Alundra’s head and ruffled his orange hair. “Looks like you’re taking my three rules seriously, eh?”

And so, the long eventful journey began for Alundra and Crowe. As Meia strode along the dirt path in the dream forest, she could see the years pass like a fleeting wind. The small elven boy with barely any emotions grew to become a moderately tall teenager with a face rich with expressions, very much like the Releaser she had known.

The two adventurers shared peaceful nights around the campfire. They shared the thrill of venturing into the unknown.

And, of course, they shared a whole lot of chaotic adventures. There was never a place they had been to without at least a trap waiting to catch them, be it a pit trap, a spike ceiling falling onto them or a barrage of spears shooting out of stone walls. Once, in a deep ruin, they stopped to catch their breath after escaping from a series of traps… then, they could hear a low rumble in the ground.

“Oh, come on!” both of them exclaimed simultaneously before speeding in the opposite direction, just as a huge boulder turned around the corner of the tunnel towards them.

Certainly it was chaotic.

There was a flash of light as the scene changed.

As the two adventurers sat on the ground, in the warm sunrays that streamed between the leaves onto the forest clearing, a teenage Alundra asked, “Crowe, you’re such a great adventurer I thought you’d like dangerous places more… why do you like forests and flower fields so much?”

The dark-haired man smiled. “Don’t you? Places like this are always peaceful… like we don’t have to care about the rest of the world, about money… about bad experiences.” He closed his eyes and raised his head to the gentle breeze. “It washes away all the fears and anxiety in our hearts, don’t you think so?”

“I see what you mean.” He smiled as well. “It’s like everything that happened before I met you were just a dream…”

He suddenly reached forward and ruffled the elf’s hair. “There you go again! What did I tell you about brooding over the past? Accept them, they’ll always be a part of you, and what’s important is that you look forward to the future with a great confident smile and yell energetically, ‘Bring it on!’”

He chuckled. “You never let up, do you? But you’re right.” He stood up, raised his head towards the clear blue sky and yelled, “Bring it on!”

The wind blew strongly across the clearing, as though agreeing with him.

But the happy days did not last… they ended sooner than expected.

Crowe, the great adventurer with unrivalled strength, collapsed onto the ground one day as they were crossing a large grass field. Alundra, now fifteen, gave a cry in panic.

In the healer’s room at the nearest town, Alundra learned of it for the first time.

“I’m sorry,” the healer had said. “He’s stricken with a disease with no cure or hope. Once caught, it may manifest itself within ten days or ten years… and once he collapses, he will grow weaker and weaker and finally becomes confined to his deathbed. He has a few days left… a week, at most.”

“No… no!” The elf shook his head disbelievingly. “That can’t be true!!”

Crowe raised his head wearily to look up at him. “I’m sorry, Alundra… but I knew about it even before I met you. It’s the reason why I left to see the world… before my illness took me.”

He fell to his knees by the bed. “No, Crowe…”

“Alundra, my time won’t be long… I have one last request of you. Will you listen…?”

He nodded tearfully.

He smiled. “You know how I always like forests or flower fields… please bring me to one.”

A flash of light, and the scene changed to a vast flower field. Flowers of all colours blanketed the field, their petals and leaves floating about in the gentle breeze. The sky was a golden orange, the colour of the sunrays as it bid the day farewell.

“It’s great you found this place…” Crowe closed his eyes as he rested among the flowers. “It’s a good place to pass peacefully.”

Alundra knelt by his side, quite unable to speak.

He looked up slowly. “No, don’t look like that, Alundra… what have I taught you all these years?”

The elf shook his head quickly. “I… I know I have to look forward to the future with confidence and energy, but…” His voice trembled. “How can I, when I know you’re going to leave me…?”

The dark-haired man smiled. “No… I’m not leaving you, Alundra. We’ve created so many memories of our adventures together, and they’re all inside your heart. The memories are our bond.” He chuckled softly. “Besides, death is just another adventure into the realms of the unknown, you know?”

He laughed softly, yet the pained expression remained on his face. “An adventurer through and through… that’s the Crowe I know.”

He focused his gaze on the mark on Alundra’s forehead. “You may be an even better adventurer than I was, Alundra. Looking at you, I’ve always felt you have a big role to play in the future…” He placed a weak hand on the elf’s shoulder. “But should there be a time when you find it hard to step forward… hard to pick yourself up again after you’ve fallen down… come back here, where it’s all peaceful. Sit down, recollect your thoughts… remember what you have to do.”

He nodded tearfully and held his hand. “I… I will, Crowe…”

He closed his eyes. “You know, after I found out about my illness, I’ve always asked, why? What is the reason for me to live? Knowing that I may die any day… but you know… you changed everything for me. The reason I could look forward to each day… is because of you.” He raised his eyes and smiled. “I’m glad I’ve met you. Thank you for everything, Alundra… my son.”

And, as a gentle wind blew the flower petals around them… Crowe’s hand fell limply to the ground.

There was a flash of light.

In the light of the lamp that illuminated the dining room, Jess smiled. “I just wanted to say, I’m really glad to have met you, Alundra… you have always been like my son.”

Another flash of light.

Jess’ tombstone that stood silently in Inoa’s graveyard, basking in the golden sunset rays.

Another flash of light.

A mound of rocks and pebbles covered the ground in the middle of the flower field, marking the spot where a great dark-haired adventurer rested forever.

And Alundra stood over it, the wind weaving through his orange-hair that was as fiery-coloured as the sunset sky.

The silent tears streamed down his face.

 


 

There was yet another flash of light, causing Meia to blink several times before she realised they were back at the dream forest clearing, where the crystal pyramid and the sleeping Alundra was.

In the middle of the clearing, just a few steps away from her, Alundra stood facing away from her, his head raised towards the golden sunset sky.

“Alundra…?” the female dreamwalker called uncertainly.

“Jess’ death was so brutal… so sudden.” His voice was soft. “I kept wondering… was there something I could have done? Stayed up with him? Tied him up?” He closed his eyes. “I was so filled with guilt and grief, I couldn’t even muster the strength to put an expression on my face…”

Meia strode over to him and placed a gentle hand in his. “I understand. I felt the same way when my parents passed on.”

He turned slowly to face her, gesturing at the forest around them that was covered in beautiful golden rays. “So I came here to recollect my thoughts, not to immerse myself in the past. I was too broken up to remember how to pull myself back on my feet, so I wanted to revisit the time when Crowe passed away and listen to his final advice to me… to look forward to the future with confidence and energy, and that death is just another adventure into the unknown.” He smiled faintly. “He was like a father to me, as much as Jess was. It was Crowe who taught me how to smile and face the sun instead of the shadows… to be proud of myself. Jess reminded me of everything Crowe taught me.”

She could not help but to smile faintly as well, looking at the accepting, peaceful expression on his face. “You only needed to bring yourself back up by listening to Crowe’s words in your dreams… it means you never really needed our help to bring you back in the first place.”

“Do you really have that little faith in me? I must’ve looked really terrible if you had to enter my dream. But it wasn’t all wasted though…” He grinned. “You entered my dream, so we’re even now, and I get to see you with that concerned look on your face. Since when have you stopped being an ice queen?”

She turned away quickly, her face reddening.

He chuckled softly. “No… I have to thank you, Meia. Watching Jess die was like watching Crowe die all over again… maybe I never really accepted Crowe’s death all these years. I was so broken up, I couldn’t even recall the time when Crowe said his final words to me. Your presence here made all the difference… I was able to get the courage to face their deaths again.”

She gazed at him in amazement. “Alundra…”

He looked up at the crystal pyramid, at his image that was sleeping inside, and glanced over a shoulder at her. “Well, it’s time for us to leave this dream, don’t you think? Septimus would be worrying by now.” He gave a warm smile. “So I’ll see you back in reality, Meia.”

She nodded and allowed herself a slight smile. “And I you.”

Alundra stepped forward, walking through the crystal as though it was an illusion, and disappeared into his sleeping self in the ice. Then, the crystal suddenly shattered into a million pieces in the air… and the sleeping Alundra’s eyes opened.

As Meia left the dream, she saw a fleeting moment of the dream’s ending.

In the distance, Alundra turned to face Crowe and Jess, who stood side by side in the flower field. They talked softly for a moment, then Crowe ruffled Alundra’s hair, and Jess slapped his shoulder. After a moment, the Releaser nodded, gave them a farewell wave of his hand, and turned to leave.

He strode like a man with a purpose.

The confident grin, the one he had always worn, was back on his face.

 


 

The sky was a great blanket of gold and orange, the caws of the birds resonated as they returned to their nests. The graveyard was still as it basked in the sunset rays, and Alundra was thankful for the peace.

He knelt on the ground and placed a bouquet of flowers in front of Jess’ tombstone. He clasped his hands together in a silent prayer.

A man who had saved his life, who had tried to protect him from danger, who was like a father to him… who had died in this war against the demon. His smile had been warm to the very end.

Now, Alundra’s only regret was that he did not get to repay this old man’s kindness.

A moment later, he slowly straightened and, with a final bow towards the tombstone, turned to leave.

At the entrance of the graveyard, Septimus and Meia stood waiting for him, a concerned look on their faces. He shook his head and grinned, alleviating their worries.

Together, they left towards Inoa.

And Jess’ final gift, the silver armour on Alundra’s chest, gleamed faintly… as though his spirit nodded in approval.

 

End of Chapter Thirteen.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Fourteen: One Within the Crystal Mirrors

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

“So…” Meia finally said. “You were summoned to this village by one of the seven Guardians, Lars, and you’re the hero he prophesised, called the Releaser, to defeat the demon?”

It had been three days since Meia had entered Alundra’s dream, during the time the Releaser alternated between resting and sparring with other dreamwalker to regain his stamina and movements, though it was difficult as he had been bedridden for too long due to the poison and grief. Now that he was confident enough to take on challenges, they gathered in Septimus’ study room to plan their next move, the scrolls and books lay sprawled on the small table.

Alundra half-shrugged. “That about sums it up. I’ve been looking for the Guardians for the Crests, but I have only three out of seven now, and the Murgg have two of them… or maybe more by now.”

The scholar nodded. “Alundra has been exploring outside Inoa looking for the Guardians while I have been reading and looking for information that might be useful in our quest, but it proves daunting.”

“I see.” The female elf gazed at her two companions, her gaze absolute. “Perhaps I didn’t say this outright before, but I will join you to defeat the demon and rid Inoa of the curse. It certainly is our best chance.”

“Great!” Alundra said. “You’ve been dreamwalking longer than I did, so your experience will help us very much. Besides…” He grinned. “With your dagger skills, I’m glad you’re on our side!”

She gave a slight smile. “And you as an enemy will be rather formidable as well.”

There was a frantic succession of knocks on the front door, from a middle-aged man burst into the room, his beer belly heaving in time with his heavy breathing, his greying dark hair and beard damp with sweat. Alundra stood up in surprise; this was a person he had never met before, whether in Lars’ dream or after he arrived in Inoa.

“Gustav?” Septimus said.

“A…Alundra!” Gustav shouted between breaths that reeked very strongly of liquor. “Please, you have to help me! It… it’s my daughter Elene… Elene has collapsed!”

Meia’s eyes narrowed. “Then let us hurry.”

They left quickly, with Gustav showing the way to his house at a secluded corner of the village surrounded by trees. The sight of the praying crowd gathered outside the small cottage was now familiar to Alundra as he strode past them, but the sight of the cottage’s interior made him stop in surprise.

Dirt and dust settled on the surface of the furniture in the sitting room, while cups, plates and kitchen utensils were covered in what seemed to be rotting leftovers. Empty glass bottles, drained of their contents, were lay about abandoned – collected on the table, lying on the floor, stowed into a dusty corner. The swordsman felt nauseated.

Upstairs – especially Elene’s bedroom – was not any better. The furniture was strewn about, some overturned and some smashed, as though a tornado had come and knocked everything over. There was a bookshelf in a corner, but it was nearly empty as the books were on the floor instead, some torn to pieces. A young girl, perhaps nine years of age, lay between the greying sheets of the bed, motionless as her pale purple hair spread out messily from around her head, her face pale as with the other victims of the nightmares.

Septimus whispered closely into the elves’ ears, “This is not to be spoken openly but perhaps it may help… Gustav’s wife left him for a miner years ago, and since then he has spent most of his days drowning himself in liquor, never coming out of the house unless necessary, while Elene has grown mentally unstable.”

Alundra shook his head. “So far, we’ve only handled dreams of normal people… or at least, I’ve only handled that much. What do you think, Meia?” He stopped. “Meia?”

Without a word, the female elf knelt next to the bed, holding Elene’s hand in hers. She lowered her head and closed her eyes for a moment, then straightened once more and gazed grimly at her two companions.

“Her nightmare is much more complicated than I anticipated,” she stated. “She has multiple personalities, I’ve counted four of them. This is beyond my abilities…”

There was a collective gasp from the villagers.

“No!!” Gustav cried. “I’ll quit drinking! I’ll pour out every bottle of booze in this house; just help my daughter! Please save Elene…”

Alundra shook his head. “Nah, you guys got it all wrong.” He turned towards Meia. “What you really mean is you can’t handle it alone, but both of us together might do it, right?”

She nodded. “Precisely what I was thinking.”

He grinned. “Looks like you need to work on your phrasing. That’s exactly what makes people misunderstand you, you know?”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

The scholar chuckled. “It’s astonishing how close you two have become in a matter of days…” He shook his head. “But this will not be the same as the other dreams, as Elene has multiple personalities. Both of you must remember to be extremely cautious… for my sake!”

Alundra slapped Septimus’ back, surprising him. “Of course, but you’ll see! We’ll be back in no time!”

Both dreamwalkers knelt at either side of the bed, each holding Elene’s limp hand. Within seconds, their bodies grew slack, indicating they had made the leap into her dream.

Gustav closed his eyes. “Alundra, Meia… please save my daughter. I beg of you…”

 


 

Alundra was falling down and down… then suddenly landing on his feet on hard ground. Meia landed gracefully beside him, as though she had floated down rather than falling.

They were standing on a floating piece of rock that was rather square in shape, as though it had broken away from the bottom of a cave and floated to the sky. Large white clouds floated by nonchalantly, without a care for the world. At four corners of the platform, four mirrors stood majestically, their crystal frames glimmering in the light of the sun, each with their own colours – purple, yellow, red and blue.

Meia glanced at each of the mirrors. “The test begins. Our task is to destroy all the nightmares that have seized control of her subconscious. If even one remain, it’s likely Elene is doomed to perish.”

Alundra held his chin in one hand. “Hm… so far in the dreams, the nightmares are brought about by the dreamer’s negative feelings and can change the way he or she acts in reality, like Kline who tried to kill me even if it’s against his thoughts and feelings. Could it be that Elene’s extra personalities are created by the nightmare?”

“It’s certainly likely.” She turned towards him. “Have you met Elene before she was brought down by the nightmare?”

“No, why?”

“I’ve met a few people with split personalities during my travels, yet they still have the maturity and understanding of a normal person. Elene, however, talked as though she was in a world of her own – ordering imaginary guards to hurl me, a trespasser, out of her castle, trying to protect her flower garden from me, as though I would set fire to it… the villagers said she had been like this for years, ever since her mother left.”

He scratched his head. “Man, that’s complex…”

She nodded. “Come, we’ll see the world that Elene sees in her mind and make some sense from it.”

“Right.”

The nearest mirror to them, the one adorned with purple crystals, abruptly lit up, a ripple resonating across its surface as though it was water with a stone thrown into it. The ripple grew bigger and bigger as it pushed away their reflections, revealing a scenery of green before them, the winding path on the ground leading up a hill to a grand white castle that reached for the skies. Alundra gazed at the dazzling scene, which seemed as though it came right out of a fairytale.

As they stepped through the mirror, they entered the world that they saw on its surface, the path that led through the dazzlingly beautiful countryside to the castle city at the top of the hill. The city folk seemed happy and were full of energy as they went on their daily activities, and there were absolutely no sign of negativity – no poverty, no sadness and no burst of anger – anywhere they looked, even in the alleyways and pubs.

“It looks way too perfect,” Alundra declared. “There’s no way everyone is happy in a big city like this. There are always beggars with not enough money, fights going about in the pubs, thieves aiming for the defenceless in the alleyways…”

His companion shook her head. “The dream world within a person’s mind is manifested from the deepest feelings in the heart… and this is where Elene chooses to stay in, rather than the negative world of reality.” She glanced around the city. “That aside, this place is familiar to me.”

“Familiar?”

“Yes, but it’s not a place I have been to. Are you familiar with children stories?”

He scratched his head. “No, not really… I don’t really remember much of my childhood with my parents, much less stories, and Crowe doesn’t exactly buy books. Why?”

“It can’t be helped, then. One particular story, The Princess and the Stone, is where the intelligent princess stopped the war with a powerful demon by tricking him into a deal involving a stone. This place looks exactly like the castle city from the picture book.” She shook her head. “All children stories have happy endings. Elene is deluding herself.”

He crossed his arms. “Well, since this place is copied directly from the book, I’m guessing Elene sees herself the main character of this perfectly happy place. Let’s go to the castle and find the princess.”

They continued through the city, towards the large white castle that towered protectively over the city like a guardian, occasionally passing by groups of city folk praising the princess’ intelligence and beauty. Once they have requested an audience with the princess, the guards led them to the throne room. There, sitting on the throne decorated with jewels, was a very different Elene. Unlike her usual pale little girl appearance, here she was a stunningly beautiful young woman, her pale purple hair flowed smoothly to the ground in beautiful curls, the blue frock made of dazzling silk, the jewelled crown on her head, a confident smirk on her face.

“Welcome to my castle, travellers!” she said in a melodious voice. “I am Elenia, princess of this land. What is it that you seek from me?”

Alundra whispered, “Isn’t her name Elene?”

Meia nodded grimly. “Perhaps more of her delusions.”

“Well?” the princess said. “Or perhaps you are too dazzled by my beauty?”

Alundra gave an elaborate bow. “Certainly so, my princess. I have been so dazzled by your skin that glows, your hair that sparkles like the brightest star, that I have been stunned to silence. Pray, allow me to waste no more of your time.”

The female elf bowed as well, and whispered through the corner of her mouth, “What are you doing?”

“I have an idea, trust me,” he replied softly. Once he had straightened, he continued, “Your Highness, we have travelled from across the ocean to this castle and we have heard endless praise from people far and near, of your beauty and wits. Coming here, we cannot believe that one as young and beautiful as you is a ruler to this prosperous country.”

Elene laughed. “Beauty isn’t my only talent! To rule a country successfully, one must have an array of gifts and talents.”

“Like your quick-witted mind that deceived the demon?”

She smiled. “It seems even you have heard of that story. But it is not only wit and intelligence and beauty that earned me my position. There is also courage–”

He crossed his arms. “Courage, when you ran away from reality, Elene?”

There was a collective gasp from the guards and servants around the throne room. Even Meia stared at him.

The princess’ good-natured smile had disappeared. “What are you playing at, traveller? I, Elenia the princess, running away from reality?”

Alundra gazed up at her. “No, Elene, you’re not a princess, and this world is not real! You’re Elene, Gustav’s daughter living in Inoa, and this castle is just a place you copied from a storybook!”

The princess’ face contorted, the anger and hatred turning the beautiful face ugly as she shrieked, “I AM A PRINCESS! BEAUTIFUL AND INTELLIGENT!!”

She screamed and screamed at the top of her lungs, holding her head as though in pain. The throne room around them shattered like a broken mirror, just as a flash of light obscured their sight.

Then, a woman’s voice filled the room.

Stupid girl! Can’t you even listen to simple instructions like that?!”

Why do you always get in my way?! I don’t want to see your ugly face!!”

I never gave birth to a stupid and ugly girl like you!!”

The light dimmed, leaving the two dreamwalkers stunned and bewildered. When their eyes adjusted, however, they gasped.

The wondrous castle had turned into a castle made completely of ice. The walls were icy blue, throne was icy blue, and they could feel the freezing coldness of the floor through the soles of their boots.

And Elene was no longer beautiful Elenia the princess.

In her place was an ice girl, like an ice sculpture carved in the shape of a nine-year-old girl, her long ice hair flowing like water, her eyes shining an eerie blue colour.

“You’re a threat to my happy world!” the ice girl shrieked. “I must eliminate you!”

She screamed once more.

A blizzard broke out in the throne room, threatening to cover the two adventurers in snow. From the icy ground, three figures rose majestically – chess horsemen, made entirely as ice sculptures. Their horses reared as they charged forward, the shining lances aiming for the two.

Alundra and Meia quickly separated, running in two different directions out of the way of the charging chessmen. The male elf drew out his sword and struck one of them, but as it would on a piece of ice, the blade bounced off easily.

“Dammit!” he cursed as he jumped back. “We don’t have time for this!”

“Alundra!” Meia shouted, dodging another chessmen’s lance thrust. “This Elene is a fake, dreamers can never turn into monsters in their nightmares! Use your spells, I’ll look for vulnerabilities!”

“Got it!”

Two of the three chessmen gave a hollow cry and charged at him. He ran across the throne room, trying to focus enough to cast a spell. His hands began glowing brighter, little by little, but each time he was nearly ready to cast, the horsemen caught up to him with great speed.

He groaned. “Oh, come on! Give me a break here! I can’t cast a spell with you breathing down my neck!”

Meia suddenly lunged between him and the pursuing chessmen, throwing her daggers with great accuracy at the horses’ eyes. Despite being made of ice, the horses shrieked in pain and reared, trying to throw their ice riders off.

“Thanks, Meia!” Alundra shouted as he retreated. Finally able to focus, he raised his shining hand into the air. “Flame Arrow!!”

Hundreds of arrows made of fire rained down from the ceiling onto the moving ice sculptures, causing a small explosion whenever they hit. The chessmen and their horses gave a hollow cry as they melted quickly into puddles of water, and even the fake Elene melted as quickly as ice in the sun.

However, something emerged from the centre of her melting body.

An eyeball, with a purple iris that gazed fearfully at them.

Without a single bit of hesitation, Meia lunged forward and stabbed the eyeball right in the pupil.

A high-pitched scream rang across the room, forcing the two dreamwalkers to cover their ears, as the eyeball turned into dust that was blown away by a magical wind.

Suddenly, the ground shook violently. The ice castle started to shatter, ready to bury them under its shards.

“This world must’ve been gotten unstable!” Alundra yelled. “Let’s hurry back to the mirror!!”

Both of them quickly sped out of the ice castle, bursting through the ice gates as the castle came crashing down into a million ice shards. The ground continued to shake, shattering the city and its people that had also turned into giant ice sculptures. The mirror shone at the end of the ice path, as though telling them to hurry.

Within seconds, they burst through the mirror back onto the stone platform with the four mirrors, and then they heard an earth-shattering crash behind them.

All that was left of the icy world was a lingering darkness.

And the mirror, adorned with purple crystals, cracked and shattered into pieces that fell mournfully onto the stone ground.

Alundra sighed in relief. “Whew, that was close.”

Meia faced him. “Good thinking back there, Alundra. By forcing the truth on the fake Elene, all of her negative feelings emerged and forced her true form to show.”

“I thought that might happen, since she was trying to escape from reality.” He shook his head. “With a mother who always called her stupid and ugly, no wonder she admired the intelligent and beautiful princess from the storybook, even if she was haughty. Come on, let’s try the next mirror and find the real Elene.”

They turned towards the nearest mirror, the one with yellow mirror decorations, that had already lit up, its gleaming surface showing them a glimpse of the world it represented. Alundra inhaled sharply at the sight – a vast flower field, a blanket of flowers of all colours across the greenery, basking in the warm sunlight.

It reminded him of Crowe’s death.

His companion gazed at him in concern. “Alundra…”

“No… no, I’m fine. Just surprised, that’s all.” He smiled at her. “You helped me through my dream after all, to accept both Crowe and Jess’ deaths, so I’m not going to let it go waste.”

A small smile formed on her face. “I’m glad to hear it. Let us go then.”

They stepped through the mirror, walking across the field where the flowers danced lightly in the warm breeze. Not too far away, they saw who they had come for. Elene, similar to her real nine-year-old self, knelt by the flowers, tending to their needs with a loving, gentle look on her face, her long straight hair moving in time with the breeze, her simple dress dotted with traces of dirt from constant gardening. Even though she was not as stunning as her princess counterpart, she was still pretty.

The Releaser glanced around the flower field. “Does this place look familiar?”

“Hardly,” was Meia’s reply. “But there is a children story called The Garden of Flowers, where the flower girl has a power of plant life, using it to tend to the flowers and bring them back to life if destroyed.”

He nodded. “Sounds like our best bet. Let’s go and see her then.”

She held onto his arm. “Wait. Look.”

He turned.

In the far distance, something was approaching from the city that could be seen on the horizon. It drew nearer and nearer until they could see what it was – a group of richly-dressed teenagers on horseback, the smirks on their faces indicating they were up to no good.

Elene looked up at the drumming of hooves and paled. She quickly stood up and stepped between the newcomers and her flowers, her arms spread to the sides as though to stop them from advancing.

The group slowed to a stop in front of her, their leader, a brown-haired boy, called out to her.

“Hey, Eleya! Ready to be my slave yet?”

The others in the group cheered.

Elene shook her head quickly. “No! I will not be your plaything! I have to stay here and protect the flowers!”

It seemed she said the wrong thing, for the leader grinned. “Then, if I get rid of the flowers, you’ll come with me, right?” He turned to his friends and whistled.

“No!!” the flower girl cried again and rushed forward, hoping somehow to stop at least one of them.

But alone, she could do nothing.

The teenagers, grinning gleefully, descended from their horses and lashed out at the flowers.

It was a horrible sight.

The flowers, colourful in the sunlight, were mercilessly cut down with blades, mercilessly burned with fire. The flames spread to the rest of the flowers, turning them to nothing but ashes.

The flower girl, only nine years of age, sobbing loudly as she tried to pull the people away from her flowers.

Yet, the dreamwalkers did not move from their hiding spot around a tree… they knew that, in order to bring out this Elene’s negative feelings, they had to let it continue without lifting a finger.

And it soon ended.

“I’ll be back for you again, Eleya!” the leader of the group shouted before they all rode off again with a yell.

Elene knelt by her flowers, sniffing, and raised her hands to the dead flowers. A soft light appeared around her hands and spread to the flowers… and they sprouted once more from their roots, as though they had not been cut down or burned.

Her power to bring the flowers back to life.

She stood up and made to move to the next dead flower… but then someone grabbed her arm. She gasped and spun around, her eyes wide.

Alundra gazed down at her, a sad expression on his face. “You can’t save them, Elene.”

Elene tried to pull her arm away. “My name is Eleya! And I can bring the flowers back to life!”

As he continued to hold onto her arm, he felt guilty, but knew he had to continue. “No, Elene, face reality. You don’t have the power to bring them back to life… no one has. We all lose something that we hold dear at some points of our life.”

“No! You’re wrong! YOU’RE WRONG!!”

She screamed at the top of her lungs, forcing Alundra to cover his ear with his free hand. There was a flash of light, followed by voices.

No, Mommy! Kitty will die if you beat her!”

Shut up, you stupid girl! If this cat dies, that will give you an incentive to do some work!!”

There was a high yowl of a cat.

No! KITTY!!”

As the light dimmed, Alundra felt Elene’s arm in his hand disintegrating into sand. When his eyesight readjusted, he saw that both him and Meia were no longer standing on a flower-covered ground… but on a sandy desert.

And Elene was no longer recognisable.

All that was left of her was a sand figure shaped like her nine-year-old self, with golden eyes that shone eerily. With a shriek from her, three giant skeletal serpents leaped right out of the sand, spinning once above everyone’s heads before diving back below. The sand girl disappeared into the sandy ground as well.

“Okay, so this one is a fake as well,” Alundra said. “Now how do we beat someone who hides in the sand? Any bright ideas?”

“I only have one advice for you…” Meia began running. “Don’t stand still!”

“What–” His eyes widened as the sand below him shook. “W-whoa!!”

One of the skeletal serpents shot through the air, sending sands all over like rain, with him on top of its head. The serpent growled as it dived in and out of the sands, trying to throw him off, but he held on valiantly.

“Gah!” he cried. “I’ve got sand in my mouth!!”

Meia shook her head exasperatedly, continually running along the sandy ground to avoid being struck by the other two serpents. She aimed directly for the sand girl, knowing that it was she who commanded the serpents. However, the sand girl would only appear from the ground far away from the fray and would disappear below when the female elf was near enough to throw a dagger at her.

Holding on tightly to the back of the skeletal serpent, Alundra could see the action from his vantage point of view. As his ride reached the peak of its leap, he saw the sand girl rising from the ground once more, gazing at Meia, who was nowhere near her, with her shining eyes.

It was then he had an idea.

The serpent he was on started to dive towards the sand once more. When they were at a safe distance from the ground, he immediately let go and jumped towards the sand girl, who stared at him with wide eyes.

She had no time to react.

“Wind Slash!!” he cried.

A flurry of blades, magical gleaming blades of green light that spun like boomerangs, struck the sand girl mercilessly as he crashed into her with a yell. A cloud of dust rose into the air with a burst, and the skeletal serpents disintegrated into ordinary sand that fell to the ground.

The eyeball rolled away from the cloud of dust, its golden eye glancing around fearfully. Meia glanced at it, pulled a dagger from a belt and stabbed the eyeball unceremoniously. It gave a loud shriek and turned into dust that disappeared into the sand.

Coughing, Alundra emerged from the cloud of dust.

“What the…” he began, looking around. “Where’s that eyeball? I know I’ve got it somewhere here!”

His companion rolled her eyes.

Then, the sandy ground started to shake uncontrollably, signifying the world was becoming unstable. Both of them immediately ran for the mirror as the sands began flowing into the darkness below, like the sands of an hourglass.

Within seconds, what was left of the sandy world was a great abyss. The two of them watched from the safety of the stone platform as the mirror cracked.

The swordsman scratched his head. “Man, it kind of made me feel like a bad guy… I mean, she only wanted to protect her garden, but we just stood there without helping her.”

Meia shook her head. “It is for her own good. If we don’t do this, Elene might perish. You know that.”

“Yeah, I know… it doesn’t make it any better, though.”

They moved on to the nearer of the remaining two mirrors, the one with red crystals. Its surface gleamed as it showed the world beyond it – a series of cave tunnels, with rivers of burning lava weaving between the rock platforms that caused the walls of the cave to gleam a red hot colour. When the two of them stepped inside, they were greeted by a wave of scorching hot air, automatically raising their arms to shield their faces. Within seconds, they began to perspire heavily.

“Whew, it’s hot here!” the swordsman exclaimed.

Meia narrowed her eyes. “We should hurry. Though we are in a dream, extreme conditions will still affect us. We risk a heat stroke or other problems if we stay here for too long.”

He crossed his arms. “Hm… that puts a damper to our plans. Tell you what, I have an idea. Water Shield!”

As he raised his glowing hand, the familiar water shield appeared around the two of them, cooling the air within the sphere to near-room temperature.

The blond-haired woman shook her head. “A good idea, but surely tiring?”

“Nah, I’m using just enough energy to maintain the temperature. Good way to practice my spell control.” Alundra grinned. “Smart, eh?”

She crossed her arms. “I suppose. Still, even if you’re certainly more energetic than most, I doubt you can keep it up forever. Let’s go.”

After a while through the cave, it was clear how much of a maze the cave was. Upon turning left at a two-way fork, there was another fork, and upon turning right at that fork, there was yet another fork. After a whole series of forks randomly traversed with Alundra’s ‘intuition’, they soon arrived at a large cave, where the semicircle-shaped rock platform was surrounded by the biggest pool of lava they had ever seen.

There, at the edge of the ground, was an adult Elene, her long pale purple hair pulled back into a high ponytail, her body framed in onyx-black armour, her gloved hands wielding a long sword with a gleaming hilt.

And towering above her was a great dragon, its large body half-submerged in the pool of bubbling lava, the head on its serpentine head spewing white-hot flames.

“Puny mortal!” the dragon boomed with its deep voice. “You dare to challenge a dragon?!”

“I am Elexia, a warrior, and I’m here to slay you!” she shouted, wielding the long sword above her head. “Bring it ON!!”

“Wow,” Alundra said as he watched the clashing battle. “First a princess, then a flower girl… now a dragon slayer?”

“Sounds like The Dragon Warrior, another children’s story,” Meia stated. “A warrior is defeated by a demon terrorising the world and gains the power of a dragon powerful enough to defeat the demon.”

“Ah. Sounds like another fake.”

The two of them watched the ensuing battle, waiting for the moment when the story would progress. Soon it did progress; after Elene had dealt a particularly powerful upward slash, the dragon roared towards the ceiling and gazed at her.

“You have proven yourself worthy, warrior,” it said, spreading its wings. “Your heart is pure. I shall bestow upon you my power.”

Suddenly, there was a flash of light that blinded everyone, accompanied by an earth-shaking roar. When their eyesight adjusted, they saw that the dragon had disappeared, and that Elene was shining a bright white light.

“What… what power!” Elene exclaimed, raising her hands. “With this, I can definitely beat the demon!!”

“The demon in your mind, Elene?” Alundra said, as both him and his companion stepped out from their hiding spot.

The warrior spun around, surprised. “What? Who’re you?” She snarled. “Did the demon send you?”

“Yes, we’re fighting a demon, the demon that has consumed your mind!” He took another step forward. “You’re not a warrior, Elene, you’re a little girl living in Inoa with your father! This world isn’t real!”

She snarled. “You think I’m a weak little helpless girl in a desolated village?!”

“Yeah! You’re just running away and hiding here like a coward!”

Her eyes flashed dangerously. “LIES!! I am Elexia, a great warrior with the power of a DRAGON!! I’M NOT A COWARD!!”

She screamed towards the ceiling of the cave, just as a burst of light came from her.

A soft voice, a trembling one, filled the air.

Why… why won’t anyone help me…?”

Why does no one listen to my cries…?”

Somebody… somebody help me… I’m scared…”

A sudden wave of heat rushed across the room, and pillars of flames upwards from the ground. Alundra strengthened his Water Shield around him and his companion, trying to hold off the heat wave that was strong enough to burn them.

And there, among the pillars of flame, something rose gracefully into the air. It was a fire sprite, flames in the shape of a nine-year-old girl, with four pairs of fire wings spreading from her back. Her eyes flashed a dangerous colour of crimson, and she let out a shriek as more pillars of flames shot from the ground.

Both adventurers separated just as a fire pillar exploded from where they were standing, and the Water Shield shattered as though it was ice. Alundra fired three arrows in a rapid succession at the fire sprite, but she swerved around them with ease, her eight wings barely flapping. His companion’s thrown daggers missed as well and struck the cave walls.

Even the numerous boulders from Alundra’s Meteor Rain spell were easily evaded.

The Wind Slash spell, however, yielded better results. Rushing at insane speeds in a spinning motion, the blades of green light caught up to the fire sprite effortlessly, slicing her mercilessly into many parts. The sprite shrieked, her high voice echoing off the cavern walls. Alundra grinned, thinking that he had already succeeded so quickly… then his grin faded as the fire sprite burst back into her original shape, with no sign of wear. He held his shining hands forward once more, sending wind blades towards her, but the same thing happened.

Again and again the wind blades struck the fire sprite, again and again the fire burst back into its original shape of Elene’s nine-year-old self. Meia threw her flying daggers, aiming for the eyeball that had to be hidden within the flames like the previous two personalities, but blindly striking proved to be fruitless.

“Oh, come on!” the swordsman exclaimed as he jumped away from another fiery pillar that exploded from the ground, breathing heavily from the constant spell casting. “Something has to work! If only I could reach her with my Water S–”

“Alundra!” Meia shouted. “Try freezing her with Stenia’s Ice Wand!”

He blinked for a moment, then realised with a start. He rummaged through his backpack quickly, pulling out the sceptre that felt icy cold, its blue stone gleaming like Stenia’s cerulean eyes.

The Ice Wand, the final gift from the queen of the waters before the Fairy Pond was buried under the collapsed cave.

“Well, I hope this works!” Alundra held the sceptre towards the fire sprite. “Do your thing!”

Nothing happened.

“We’re depending on you!” He waved the sceptre. “Try this!”

 Still nothing happened.

“Oh, come on!” He swung the sceptre around randomly. “Work, dammit, wor– WHOA!!”

There was a sudden burst of ice from the Ice Wand, turning the nearby pillars of flame into frozen pillars of ice, and waves of icy-cold frost spread in between like fumes for some distance before eventually fading into thin air.

“Alundra!” Meia exclaimed, jumping back to avoid the ice wave. “Pay attention! Don’t use that thing randomly!”

“Okay, okay!” The Releaser shook his head. “How’d I know I’m supposed to swing it instead of pointing or waving it? These things just don’t come with instruction manuals!”

The fire sprite shrieked, spreading her hands. More pillars of flames burst from the ground, forcing the two adventurers to continue running.

“But at least I know how to use it now!” Alundra held the sceptre low and swung it hard in an upward motion. “Take THIS!!”

Ice burst from the blue stone of the Ice Wand, striking the fire sprite squarely on the chest without any warning. A shriek of pain echoed across the cave as the sprite slowly turned into ice, gradually crumbling into pieces that fell to the ground.

Amongst the glittering pieces of ice, the eyeball could be seen plainly, its red iris glancing around in fear. Meia, her blue eyes focused on it, threw a well-aimed dagger that struck it directly in the pupil.

There was another shriek, this time a soft one, as the eyeball crumbled into pieces that turned into dust. Accompanied by the inevitable shaking of the ground.

Both elves rushed for the exit, as the ground cracked and split to expose burning hot lava below, though Alundra, tired out from his constant spell casting, stumbled several times and fell over just as they reached the exit. The crack in the ground rushing towards them, Meia hoisted his arm over her shoulder and made the leap through the mirror.

The ground crumbled and disappeared into the darkness below. The mirror cracked and shattered into pieces, a silent pile on the ground.

No longer able to stand, Alundra sat heavily on the ground, his legs trembling, his breathing rapid.

“S-sorry,” he said. “I definitely used more spells than that against Nirude… guess I’m not quite up to snuff yet.”

His companion shook her head, kneeling beside him. “No, it’s fine. It’s remarkable that you’ve done this much after having just recovered.”

He heaved a tired sigh. “Man, I gotta exercise more after this…” He reached for his backpack, pulled out a bottle of healing potion and drank it all in one gulp. Tossing the empty bottle over the stone platform edge, he glanced at the last mirror. “Since there are four mirrors representing four personalities and we’ve destroyed three of them, does it mean the last one is the original personality?”

“It’s hard to say without entering the last mirror, though I’m inclined to believe it is another fake.”

“Why do you say that?”

She gestured towards the last mirror and the positions of the previously broken mirrors. “So far, we have seen three different personalities, all of which with admirable traits she wish to have. Since she has allowed the fake personalities full reign, it indicates she truly loathes herself.”

He saw the answer. “And if she hates herself, she’d never allow her original personality to show, which means the fourth one should be a fake!”

“Precisely.” She stood up. “I will go on ahead to the last mirror. Stay here and rest, Alundra.”

He began to rise as well. “No, just give me a second and I’ll be rea–”

“Stay here and rest,” she repeated. “I hate to say this, but you might just be a hindrance if you come before you have rested enough.”

He sighed and sat back on the ground. “Okay, okay, I’ll be a good boy and rest here.” He held up the Ice Wand. “Take this, Meia, just in case.”

She nodded and took the sceptre. “Thanks.”

With that, she turned and stepped into the mirror with blue crystals, eventually fading into the darkness. On the mirror’s surface, Alundra could see the faint outline of a town in the darkness of the night, with barely enough lights to illuminate the area.

A moment passed. Another moment passed.

Suddenly, the mirror’s surface was completely white. When the light dimmed, the town in the darkness had changed entirely to the interior of a cave, the surface of the deep water reflecting light onto the blue walls.

Meia had successfully aggravated the fake Elene enough to expose her true self and the true nature of this area of the dream world… to start a battle with the nightmare.

The Releaser glanced at the surface of the water in the blue cave. It looked deep. Knowing he couldn’t swim with his heavy backpack, he left it at the stone platform and dived into the water.

“C-cold!” he gasped.

Cold or not, he had to continue on. Feeling more energised after the short rest, he swam as fast as he could across the water, through the complex system of tunnels. The water itself seemed to shine, the light reflecting onto the azure cavern walls.

When he finally arrived, the first thing he saw was Meia standing on a stone platform, drenched as though she had been swimming, the sceptre in her hand and a dagger in the other. Some distance away from her, above the water’s surface, was a water sprite in the shape of Elene’s nine-year-old appearance, the azure eyes shining eerily, the eyeball with blue iris floating inside the sprite’s chest.

And a dagger was sticking out of the eyeball.

A high shriek echoed across the cave as the water sprite collapsed into the deep water. Then, as with the previous three nightmares, the whole cave began to shake.

It seemed he didn’t need to come, after all.

“Oh, come on!” the male adventurer shouted. “The least you could do is leaving me the honours of stabbing the eyeball!”

Meia rolled her eyes and dived into the water, rising to the surface before saying, “Save your breath for swimming back to the mirror.”

He sighed. “Sheesh…”

Both of them swam quickly back across the waters as the cave shook violently. Parts of the ceiling started to collapse, dropping rocks and boulders down into the deep waters, threatening to crush or drown the two of them. Within moments, they climbed out of the water and into the mirror, just as the world crumbled into the darkness below.

Alundra lay on the stone platform, his chest heaving. “Okay, I just think I had enough exercise for one day.” Sitting up, he started squeezing water out of his jacket. “So, what happened to the last Elene?”

The female elf stowed the Ice Wand back into Alundra’s backpack. “The children’s story Darkness of the Night, where a witch defeats the monster created by the townspeople’s negative thoughts and desires. It is an unexceptional story, but I believe Elene admires the protagonist for being calm, collected and unfazed in the face of the negativity. Something she lacked when faced with her mother’s scolding.”

He crossed his arms. “Hm… so the four personalities are all one part of Elene’s insecurities. Constantly being called a stupid and ugly girl made her feel like one, and that turned into the princess.”

She nodded. “The grief of losing her cat and unable to protect it became the flower girl, with the ability to bring plants back to life.”

“The warrior, who was unable to defeat the demon, was able to after receiving the dragon’s power. She was abused all these years… but no one came to help her.”

“Elene was always crying… she loathes herself for being so vulnerable and admires the cold yet calm magician.”

Having recovered his breath, the Releaser got to his feet. “So, now that we’ve defeated all four of the nightmares, where’s the real Elene?”

There was a moment of silence.

Then, the four piles of mirror fragments on the ground started to shine as they slowly gathered in the centre of the stone platform. There was a flash of light, and the pieces transformed into another mirror, one adorned with colourless transparent crystals. A ripple resonated across its surface, turning the adventurers’ reflections into that of darkness.

They glanced at each other before stepping through the mirror.

The mirror glowed slightly behind them as they ventured into the abyss, unable to see anything before them. However, they could hear a child crying, soft at first, then slowly growing louder as they walked towards it.

And there she was. Elene, in her original nine-year-old appearance, holding a stuffed toy cat tightly to her chest. Her pale purple hair barely touching her shoulders, her white nightgown bright in the darkness. She inhaled sharply and turned when she heard them approaching.

“No, don’t be scared, Elene,” Alundra said quickly. “We’re only here to help you.”

Watching them warily, the little girl held on tightly to her toy. “…who… are you?”

“My name’s Alundra, and this is Meia. We’re adventurers.”

“Adventurers? Like… the heroes in the books?”

He shook his head. “No, just ordinary adventurers, Elene. Reality is not quite the same as the stories, but it’s still a lot of fun!”

She lowered her eyes. “But reality is so… cruel. My mother always beat me, always calling me stupid and ugly, always destroying the things I cherish…” Tears glistened in her eyes as she lowered her head. “Why are we living, then…?”

He slowly approached the girl and knelt by her side, raising a hand to her shoulder. “Reality isn’t as bad as it seems, Elene. At this very moment, your father is crying at your bedside, swearing to stop drinking and throw every bottle out of the house.”

Her eyes widened in surprise. “My… father…?” She lowered her head once more. “But… he didn’t help me before… no one helped me before…”

He heaved a sigh. “He’s seen the error of his ways, Elene. He’s willing to change if only you’ll return to him.” He smiled. “Besides, you won’t be alone this time. I’ve seen my share of cruelty too, and I’ll be here to help you. And if you want, I can tell you stories of my adventures too. Won’t you give your father a second chance?”

She paused for a moment, her eyes flickering with indecision. Then, her hand gripping her toy, she gave the slightest nod. “But… my mother won’t… beat me again…?”

“No, she’s no longer here, and your father will protect you.” Alundra smiled encouragingly and took her hand. “Let’s go, Elene. He’s waiting for you.”

There was a long pause. She slowly nodded.

At that very moment, a ball of light appeared near them, expanding slowly like an open door.

And together, the three of them stepped into the light.

 


 

Alundra winced at the sunset rays that streamed through the window, slowly getting up as he waited for his eyes to adjust. Meia was doing the same, her golden hair shining in the sunlight. Everyone else in the room turned, their eyes hopeful.

“You’re back!” Septimus said. “How did it go?”

The swordsman grinned. “Perfect! Not only we got rid of Elene’s nightmares, we also got rid of her split personalities!”

“Oh, my daughter!” Gustav cried. “She’s no longer insa–”

Alundra got up and suddenly punched the father.

There was a collective gasp around the room, and Beaumont shouted, “What are you doing?!”

Ignoring everyone else, the male adventurer grabbed Gustav by the collar. “Elene was abused by her mother for years! Where were you? Why didn’t you help her?!”

Gustav’s eyes widened. “A…abused?”

“She hates herself so much that she tried to replace her personality with storybook characters, that’s why she appears insane to everyone else! What the HELL were you doing?!”

There was a pause.

Gustav lowered his head. “I… I never knew… I thought my wife truly loved me, but when she met that miner, her love for me turned to hate… and she finally left me for him. I was so shaken up, I just went on drinking every day to forget about it…”

Alundra slowly lowered his hand and crossed his arms. “That’s not an excuse.”

“Yes, I know…” He looked up and shook his head. “But I swear to you I’ll keep my promise! I’ll never take another drink as long as I live! My daughter deserves a father who doesn’t need a bottle to deal with life’s hardships!”

“…daddy…?”

The voice was small, trembling.

Elene was sitting up on her bed, her wide eyes focused on her father. “Do you mean it…?”

“Oh, Elene…” Gustav went over to the bed and held her tightly. “I mean it, Elene… I’ll never take another drink…”

Her eyes grew teary as she held him tightly. “Daddy…!”

Septimus faced the two dreamwalkers. “Another job well done, Alundra, Meia! I’ve never been more impressed!”

Alundra grinned. “Of course!”

Meia gave a slight smile.

And the three of them hit a high-five.

 

End of Chapter Fourteen.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Fifteen: One of Courageous Heart

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

“You know…” Alundra crossed his arms. “I think it’s high time we steal the Crests back from a certain band of white monkeys.”

From the other side of the dining table, Septimus choked on his coffee, while Meia stared incredulously at him.

“Oh, come on!” he protested. “If we’re going to beat them to unsealing the demon, we’ll need to gather all seven Crests, and they have at least two! Getting theirs will work in our favour, don’t you think?”

“Well, it’s not that we’re opposed to the idea, but…” The scholar shook his head. “Can we really do it with only the three of us? I know you two can hold your own against a small number of the Murgg, but the entire tribe…”

Meia seemed thoughtful. “Perhaps we don’t need to fight the whole tribe. Our only goal is to steal the Crests, after all. If we can create a diversion, one or two of us will be able to sneak in easily.”

“I’ve seen their little village from afar when I came out of the coal mine with Kline,” the swordsman said. “They live inside and around the giant tree in little huts and platforms, all made with wood. Something with fire should create enough havoc.” His eyes lit up. “Hey, why don’t we go and find the dwarves? If they can make explosive traps to catch intruders, maybe they’ll have something to distract with!”

“Hm…” Septimus held his chin in his hand. “Not a bad idea at all. I propose we split into two groups; one to scout the Murgg settlement, one to talk to the Nirude followers. That way, we can better plan our infiltration.”

“I’ll head over to the giant tree. Since I’ve been there before, it’ll save some time.” He grinned. “So what are you waiting for? Let’s go!”

 


 

The night was quiet, no sound of crickets chirping in the bushes. The moon shone pensively in the sky, illuminating the clearing and the roofs of the wooden huts placed haphazardly around the Great Tree. A soft wind blew, rustling the leaves and the bushes nearby. The small group of monkeys sat on the roofs in the moonlight, keeping an eye and an ear out for any sign of intruders.

All seemed well.

Then, they heard a high-pitched whistle.

Soft and barely audible, coming from a streak of light that shot from the horizon vertically to the sky. The whistle grew louder and louder as the streak of light grew closer and closer to its peak. Then…

POW!

The immensely loud sound was like the roar of a giant monster. The streak of light transformed into a colourful starburst.

The monkeys jumped and screeched in fright, scampering away as fast as their legs could carry them. They rushed into their huts and slammed the doors shut, shivering and shaking from the noise, wondering if there was great monster after them. A brave few placed an eye through the smallest crack in the window, but then screeched in terror and hid when there was another loud POW.

Another whistle sounded leading to the inevitable POW from the exploding starburst of light.

And another. And another.

POW! POP! BANG!

The sky was soon covered in starbursts.

It was a colourful sight to behold.

“WUKIKI!!” the giant white ape screamed, looking down from the largest hole in the trunk of the Great Tree. “Stop that racket AT ONCE!!”

One white monkey chattered rapidly, “Lord Zazan! There’s fire in the sky!”

“WHAT? FIRE in the SKY?!”

There was another whistle from a streak of light shooting up from the distant forest, then exploded in a satisfying POW.

Zazan growled and leaped right out of the tree, causing a burst of tremor in the ground when he landed. “The furless ones!” He glared at the quivering monkeys in the huts. “You call yourselves the Murgg? PITIFUL! Now GO and don’t come back until you have SLAUGHTERED every accursed furless one in the woods!!”

The monkeys gave a feeble sound of acknowledgement and hesitantly made their way into the forest.

He turned to his remaining followers – ten of them – by his feet. “Stay and GUARD the Crests! Now get OUT of my WAY!!”

The ten monkeys scurried out of the way, as Zazan stomped his way out of the settlement.

The primates glanced at each other, shivering in fear at their leader and the loud fireworks in the sky.

And then, they saw him.

Alundra.

Pointing his gleaming sword at them.

“All your base are belong to us!” he cried.

They didn’t move.

A grin broke on his face. “Heh, I’ve always wanted to say that. Did you like it?”

They glanced at each other for a moment, and gave a high screech as they flashed their sharp metal claws.

He groaned. “Oh, come on, can’t you guys take a joke? That was a classic!”

They screeched once more as they charged towards him. However, as soon as they were three feet away from him, there was a flash of light and a rush of magical spinning blades. The wind spell shredded them mercilessly, forcing them back and onto the ground, and they grew still.

“That takes care of the guards.” He sheathed his sword and glanced upwards at the fireworks. “These dwarves really have great ideas, whoever thought fireworks could scare the Murgg? I really hope they’re fine in the woods…” He stopped. “Who am I kidding? We’re talking about the dwarves so fast on their feet that I could never catch in Nirude’s statue!”

He shrugged, and began searching.

As far as he could tell, the huts scattered all over the clearing around the giant tree were as ordinary as primate dwellings could be, definitely too ordinary to hold the two valuable Crests that would unseal their demon god. Perhaps the Crests were kept in the Great Tree.

One particular hut, however, had a wooden staircase that led to the basement where there were several prison cells, one of which had a human occupant in it. It was a middle-aged rotund man, with dark hair and moustache and a large beer belly, dressed in familiar garments from Inoa.

The man smiled in relief. “Whew! Do my eyes deceive me, or do I really see Alundra coming down to save me?”

The swordsman blinked. “Hey, what’s an Inoan villager like you doing down here?”

He gave a huff. “What does it look like? I’m not here for a vacation, you know! I’d use my world-renowned skills as a keysmith and pick the lock myself, except they took my tools! Mind letting a fellow ‘furless one’ out?”

The prison was locked by a simple series of pulleys operated by a wooden lever. Upon pulling the lever, there was a clatter of bones and the soft creaking of a spinning wheel, followed by the crash of a falling weight accompanied by the whoosh of the cell gate opening.

The keysmith stepped out, evidently relieved. “I was beginning to get a little worried there. Thanks for springin’ me, fella. Just let me know if you need my services!”

“I don’t think…” Alundra trailed off, thinking hard, and continued, “Well, maybe I do. I’m looking for a particular item – two or more, actually – that the monkeys stole, called the Crests. They’re about this size. Know anything about them?”

“How should I know about that? I told you, I didn’t come here for a vacation!”

He sighed. “I suppose it was too much to hope f–”

“Just hold your horses, I’m not done yet!” the rotund man interrupted. “I don’t know anything about the Crashes or anything like that, but the big ape made me craft the most complex series of locks out of bones and wood to keep something as small as the thing you’re looking for, which I just finished a few days ago. Look me a damn long time, I tell ya!”

His eyes lit up. “Hey, that must be where they kept the Crests! Do you know where it is?”

“‘Course I do! It’s so darn complex I had to craft it where they wanted it to be! Though of course, I have a condition… on the way there, you walk in front of me so I have enough time to hide if you’re attacked, got it?”

With Alundra several steps in front and the keysmith giving directions from behind, they made their way across the moonlit clearing and entered the Great Tree by a hole at the base of its roots. Amazement washed over Alundra the moment he stepped inside – the interior of the tree was very spacious, as large as a man-made castle tower could be. The tree trunk was divided into floors, upon which the monkeys had separated into rooms. It must have taken the Murgg a long time to build it.

There, right in the centre of the tree, was a spiral staircase that stretched all the way to the top of the tower. Both humans gazed upward with a heavy heart.

“Uh…” the swordsman began. “Does the lock happen to be right at the top of that staircase…?”

The villager gave a sigh. “Don’t look at me, pal, I didn’t choose where to put it!”

He groaned. “Oh man…”

 


 

Meia ran through the woods, her footsteps lightly crunching the leaf-covered ground, her golden ponytail trailing behind her. She soon slowed to a stop by a large boulder, pausing for a moment or two, her elven ears listening for sound. Once she found it safe enough, she pulled apart the leaves of the overgrown bush by the side of the boulder, revealing a cave in which she entered.

Inside, Septimus and the dwarf king Miming looked at her expectantly.

“How fare the other groups?” Miming asked.

The elf nodded. “They’re fine. Two of the groups have run out of fireworks and are making their way out of the woods and hiding when the Murgg are near. The last group has a few more before they do they same.”

“It never ceased to amaze me how well it worked!” Septimus said, clearly impressed. “Alundra could even walk right through the front gates without being ambushed!”

The goblin king shook his head. “Getting him in is by no means a difficult task… getting him out is another story altogether, my friend. These fireworks were the only thing we could make in such a short notice, so it is now all up to him.”

“We really appreciate it, Miming.” The scholar smiled. “But don’t worry about Alundra, that guy can make anything happen!”

Meia nodded in agreement. “We should worry about our own safety, first. He’ll manage.”

 


 

After a few long, breathless minutes of climbing the tall spiral staircase, a huffing Alundra and a puffing keysmith dragged themselves to the topmost floor of the Great Tree Tower. There, they were greeted by a long hall enclosed by hard wooden walls, the floors giving a clear thud sound as they walked.

At the end of hallway was a wooden pedestal, upon which a small, docile-looking wooden chest sat, encompassed in two sets of rib bones. Feeling triumphant, the adventurer grinned and approached the pedestal, but halfway through the hall, his foot sank a square floor switch camouflaged as part of the floor.

The villager screamed in a panic and forcefully pulled him back.

And not a moment too soon.

Suddenly, there was a great whoosh of wind as something hanging on a thick rope rushed by just an inch before Alundra’s face. As his eyes widened, he realised he had just narrowly escaped death.

A gigantic curved blade.

He could have been sliced right into two.

“You never said anything about a trap!” he cried, whirling around.

The keysmith shook his head. “Hey, I forgot, okay? I remember every lock I made, but traps aren’t my thing, you know?” He straightened and grinned. “But don’t worry! Give me some time and I’ll have the Crusts on a silver platter for you!”

“Crests!” he corrected, but already the dark-haired man had started working.

But on a silver platter it did not come. Twenty-four wall switches, eight floor switches, a harpoon trap, a water trap, sixteen bone locks, fourteen wooden locks and twenty hurriedly-made keys later, a sweating keysmith turned around proudly.

“Here!” he said, handing out another hastily-made key. “It’s all yours!”

Alundra grinned and grabbed the key. “All right! Finally the waiting pays off!”

The wooden chest continued to sit in a docile manner on the wooden pedestal, now de-trapped and ready for looting. Alundra stepped forward, holding the key in his hand…

And stepped on yet another switch disguised as part of the floor.

SPLASH!

He just stood there, completely drenched, a bucket completely covering his head.

The villager chuckled. “Well, what do ya know? I missed one. Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure there are no more traps after that!”

Grumbling, the swordsman pried the wet bucket off his head and walked to the pedestal.

He paused.

Nothing moved.

Satisfied that there were no more traps, he placed the key into the keyhole and gingerly turned it. The lock opened with a satisfying click, allowing him to open the chest.

Inside, the two Crests seemed to shine, the shape of a silver hawk grabbing a gleaming gem – one white-grey agate, one rich-red garnet – in its talons. It seemed the Murgg were unsuccessful at getting more Crests.

“Oh yeah!” Alundra cheered. “Mission accomplished!”

The keysmith nodded, a smug expression on his face. “Told you there are no more traps!”

Pocketing the Agate and Garnet Crests, he turned. “Come on, I haven’t been hearing any fireworks for a while and the monkeys must’ve been done with searching by now. Let’s get out of here before they return!”

Eager to escape unscathed, the two of them ran down the spiral staircase once more, an easier task compared to climbing. Within a few short minutes, both of them arrived at the entrance hallway at the bottommost floor… and froze.

There was a short but slight tremor in the ground. Again and again, gradually getting louder.

The giant white ape was back. With his whole tribe of white monkeys.

“Uh oh,” Alundra muttered, leaning flat against the wooden wall with one eye out the open door. “Looks like the boss is back.”

“What are we going to do?” the villager said, shaking his head. “Any bright ideas on how to get past that ape?”

He grinned. “Well, as a matter of fact, I do.”

 


 

The ground shivered and shook each time Zazan took a step with his giant hand-shaped feet, with a tribe of monkeys following behind. As soon as he stepped through the wooden gates of their settlement, he saw the fallen monkeys on the ground and snarled.

“An INTRUDER!” he boomed, glancing around. “So the FIRES are only a DIVERSION?!” He glanced at the monkeys. “FIND the INTRUDER!!”

The Murgg gave a screech of acknowledgement and bounded forward, spreading across the clearing in different directions. Some entered the nearby huts, some heading towards the Great Tree. Then…

BOOM!!

The monkeys screeched in fright, their wide eyes immediately focused in the direction of the noise.

There was a thick cloud of black smoke coming from one of the huts on the left side.

BOOM!!

Another thick cloud of black smoke, this time from another hut on the right side.

They could see a great fire burning both huts, beginning to spread onto the tall wooden fence surrounding the settlement.

The monkeys screeched repeatedly, jumping around in a panic.

This could become a forest fire!

“What are you DOING?!” Zazan’s huge voice boomed. “GET rid of the fire AT ONCE!!”

And the Murgg immediately rushed towards the two locations to put out the fire.

 


 

Alundra and the keysmith exited the Great Tree Tower through a side door, away from the two burning huts, and quickly and stealthily climbed over the wooden fence into the woods. They moved as fast and silent as they could without alerting the simians, but they didn’t have to worry, for the monkeys were too preoccupied with putting out the fire.

Once they had run far enough, they slowed to a stop to catch their breath.

“That was GREAT!” the adventurer declared, laughing. “The look on their faces was priceless!”

The villager nodded in agreement. “Never in my life would I think of seeing something like that! You’re really something, fella!”

“We got the Crests AND a great entertainment to boot! Not a bad night, I’d say!”

Once Alundra had returned to the village outskirt (and the keysmith returned to his home), his companions and Miming were equally ecstatic at getting two more Crests. Five Crests, two more to go!

“Thanks for the help, Miming,” the swordsman said, turning to the group of goblins. “You guys were great!”

Miming smiled. “We are glad we could help, Alundra, Lord Nirude would have wanted us to. Besides, it was certainly entertaining to finally see the detestable Murgg in a panic!”

Septimus nodded. “I agree. I believe we have put a damper in their plans to attack the village, so we won’t have to worry about them for a while! It’s getting rather late, so let’s get ourselves to our beds and have a good night’s sleep.”

After a short farewell, the group parted and returned to their homes – the humans to the village, the dwarves to their caves. Alundra dragged himself up the staircase to his bedroom, suddenly feeling drained after the excitement had died down, and was glad to be able to finally collapse on his warm, inviting bed.

However, he felt that he had barely closed his eyes for ten seconds when he heard Septimus’ voice calling him.

“Sorry to wake you, Alundra… I bring worrisome news.” The scholar shook his head. “As if we should expect anything else in these dark times…”

The adventurer slowly sat up, blinking sleepiness from his eyes. “What? Septimus? What happened?”

“Giles is again trapped in a nightmare. Meia is at his house, but refuses to enter his dream. I don’t understand it…”

“If she wouldn’t enter, there must be a reason why.” He rubbed his tired eyes and jumped off the bed. “Let’s go, Septimus.”

The night was cool, quiet except for the chirps of the crickets in the bushes. At this time of the night, everyone was undoubtedly fast asleep, lulled by a false sense of security… but even as they lay deep in slumber, Giles’ life was in danger.

When the two of them arrived at Giles’ bedroom, they heard Kisha’s trembling voice.

“What… are you saying? Giles… cannot be saved?”

“It’s much too late for him, I’m afraid.” The female elf’s voice was heavy. “I’m sorry, Kisha…”

Inside the room, Alundra was greeted by the familiar sight of Giles lying motionless in bed, pale and barely breathing. Kisha turned at his footsteps and her eyes lit up with hope when they focused on him. But, knowing that Meia had had a good reason for refusing to enter Giles’ dream this time, he turned towards her.

“What’s on your mind, Meia?” he asked. “It seems you think it’s different this time.”

She nodded. “I can’t quite explain it, but… there is something about this setup, somehow. It reeks of the demon’s craftiness.”

“The fact that the nightmare returned after it was destroyed?” Septimus shook his head. “This has never happened before. I don’t know about you two, but I’m rather terrified…”

“Not just that, Septimus…” She glanced at her companions. “Why does the demon chose to inflict the nightmare upon Giles at night, when there is no one here to realise it but us? And Giles again rather than another villager?”

Everyone went into silence, looking thoughtful.

There was a groan from Giles. “U-ugh… please… s-someone… help me…”

Septimus shook his head. “There’s no time to lose. If we delay any longer, it may become too late for him.”

Alundra nodded and stepped next to the bed, reaching out for the victim’s hand.

“Wait…” Meia’s eyes narrowed grimly. “I may have gotten it.”

Her companions turned towards her.

“When the demon began using the nightmares,” she began. “He terrified everyone in the village to pray to the gods – or what they believed to be the gods – and he gained power with every prayer.”

The swordsman crossed his arms. “A pyramid scheme from hell, huh?”

“Yes. Now that both you and I are here, people aren’t afraid of the nightmares because they know we can stop them, and eventually they will realise that these dreams are caused by the demon. When they stop praying to him, his powers will fade into obscurity…”

Septimus held his chin in one hand. “Hm… so the nightmares were never meant to kill at first, not intentionally… only to frighten everyone in the village, to scare them into prayer. Now the nightmares have become deadly, though not to kill the people of the village… but you two. Giles is inflicted easily because of his piety. It’s likely his nightmare is specifically engineered to end both your lives.”

She nodded grimly. “Exactly. And if Giles wasn’t a target chosen at random, then the others…”

The moment the words were out of her mouth, realisation struck all three of them.

The people who had been inflicted with a nightmare so far had not been chosen at random.

They were killed because they had the ability to stand in the demon’s path.

Olen, who was supposed to die in the mines when the Murgg struck, managed to escape and tell the others of the attack in advance – through Alundra’s dreamwalking – thus putting the village protector, Kline, on high alert. Yet, his death had failed to take the Releaser with him.

Nadia, who had developed the ability to make things explode while sleeping, a power that would be devastating to the enemy if she gained the ability to control it.

Kline, the strongest man of the village, the biggest threat to the Murgg. Without him, the village lay as vulnerable as an infant in the wild.

Giles, who was the first to call Alundra a devil, whose death would create even more strife between him and the villagers, who would blame him in blind rage.

Elene, whose mental state was so complex that each of the dreamwalkers alone could not destroy the nightmare. It could delay them long enough for her to die, bringing them along with her.

Sybill, whose dreams were chillingly accurate visions of the future, whose dreams would only help the dreamwalkers.

And Jess… who saved Alundra’s life, who was like a father to him… who made powerful weapons brought by inspirations from the dead.

They all died for a reason. All to the demon’s advantage.

“I’ve been blind all along… it’s been a trap from the beginning.” Alundra clenched his fists. “So Giles wasn’t wrong when he started calling me a harbinger of death… dammit.”

Septimus lowered his head. “It’s like Stenia said… the demon used fear to gain the faith of the humans, but he himself feared their wisdom and would slay anyone who threatens his existence even the slightest.”

Kisha, who had been silent all this while, suddenly spoke up, “But you did it before, Alundra! Trap or no, I have faith you shall prevail once more!” Tears welled up in her eyes. “You must try to save Giles… please, I beg of you…”

They all gazed at each other.

The researcher sighed. “What should we do, Alundra? I think we both agree that Meia is right, but without your help, Giles surely dies…”

Alundra shook his head. “Meia’s definitely right, but I won’t be able to live with myself if I don’t at least try to help him. It’s just–”

Meia held a finger to her lips. “Shh! Did you hear something?”

All of them became silent at once.

For a moment or two, there were no sound… then, they heard a familiar screech from outside the nearest window, and another from the other window.

The Releaser placed a hand on the hilt of his sword. “The Murgg… they’ve surrounded us.”

Meia nodded. “I was right to believe it to be a trap. If we were to enter Giles’ dream and are unfortunate enough to be still inside when the Murgg strikes… we will perish along with him.”

At this revelation, Kisha closed her eyes. “I’m… I’m sorry… I just refuse to believe this is happening to Giles all over again…”

Septimus placed a hand on her shoulder. “No, Kisha, it’s not your fault…”

The swordsman went to the descending staircase. “Meia, I’ll go outside and get rid of them quickly. Stay here with them in case they sneak inside while I’m not looking.”

Meia nodded. “Be careful, Alundra.”

Outside, the Murgg lay in wait, ready to infiltrate the house when the time was right, but was unprepared to be struck first as they screeched in surprise when he jumped upon them. The first two were easily eliminated with a swipe of his sword, and the others scattered quickly.

“Oh, come on!” he shouted. “Why prolong the inevitable? Don’t be mad just because I started a little house fire at your place!”

He chased after them, sheathing his sword and nocking his bow for a long range strike. The first arrow pierced through one monkey directly through the head, and the second one through another monkey’s chest. As both dead bodies fell to the ground with a soft thud, three of the Murgg ambushed him from behind, screeching and lashing out with their metal claws.

But he was ready for them.

“Water Shield!!”

With a burst of light, the barrier of flowing water expanded from him, forcing all three monkeys back and causing them to land heavily on the ground. Within a second they were up on their feet again and leaped once more at him.

And he finished them all with one wide horizontal slash.

He grinned. “Oh yeah! Alundra – two, Murgg – one!”

Then, he heard Kisha’s scream. His grin disappeared immediately.

“Kisha!” he cried, running back towards the house.

Upstairs, in Giles’ room, Kisha sat huddled in the corner, her eyes wide open with fear, and a nervous Septimus stood in front of her with one protective arm. In the middle of the room, Meia twirled her dual daggers and sheathed them.

And at her feet were two dead white monkeys.

Alundra sighed in relief and smiled. “Thank goodness for your handy dagger skills.”

“And your swordsmanship.” The female adventurer nodded. “This is the end of the demon’s evil plot. Let us enter Giles’ nightmare together, Alundra.”

“Right. Let’s go!”

Both dreamwalkers hurried to Giles’ bedside, each taking hold of his wrist, preparing to make the leap into the dream world.

But it was already too late.

Giles suddenly screamed at the top of his lungs, his body thrashing in utmost pain.

Alundra’s eyes widened at the familiar event and he yelled at the others, “Everyone get away!”

“No!” Kisha shouted. “Brother!!”

They all quickly stepped back as far away as possible, with the scholar pulling a struggling Kisha with him. Giles continued to scream, his body writhing… then, he jumped swiftly to his feet, his eyes flashed a bright golden colour.

And a flash of light swept across the room.

Giles was no more… and in his place was a large werewolf, its golden eyes shining dangerously as it howled towards the sky.

Just like Kline.

Kisha shook her head in disbelief. “What…? No… my… my brother…?”

“He’s not your brother anymore, Kisha,” Alundra said with a heavy heart. “He’s now just a monster.”

The werewolf’s body flashed just as a low, deep voice came from it.

“The gods have spoken to me, Alundra…” it growled. “They told me to KILL YOU!!”

“NO!!” Kisha shouted once more, breaking free from Septimus and running to the werewolf. “Giles, listen to me! It’s Kisha, your sister! You’ve been deceived, Giles, he’s not one of the gods! He’s a twisted demon out to wreck everything we know of this land!”

There was a sharp snarl and a flash of claws. She hit the nearby bookshelf painfully and fell to the floor, her chest covered in blood.

“Kisha!” the Releaser cried.

Septimus shook his head sadly. “Whatever humanity was left inside Giles has been completely extinguished. All we can do to ease his suffering now is to… destroy him.”

The werewolf roared again, and there was another flash of light. As the others winced, however, they could see a faint image of Giles’ human form overlapping the werewolf for a split second… then disappeared away. The beast turned, its golden eyes focused on the fallen form of its sister, and slowly stepped towards her.

“Kisha… Kisha…?” the low voice growled. “Why… did this happen? Who did this to her?!” It roared. “I will strike down the beast who struck down my sister!!” It stopped, glancing at its clawed furry hands. “What… I… I did this…? I killed her? No… I didn’t! I couldn’t do this! It’s not me!!”

“Giles…” Meia said quietly. “He’s… fighting the demon in his mind.”

It suddenly whirled towards them. “You did this, Alundra! If you hadn’t come to this village, my sister would still be alive!! It wasn’t me, I didn’t do this!!” It roared again, then turned towards its sister. “Kisha… you’re my sister… you must believe me… no… it’s not my fault! IT’S NOT MY FAULT!!”

There was another flash of light.

“No… it’s not your fault, Giles… I know this isn’t you.” Kisha winced in pain as she slowly pushed herself to a sitting position, her breathing ragged, and she shouted as loud as she could, “Fight the black invader that wrestles for your soul! Fight him with the pure light I know resides in your heart!”

A flash of light.

A roar. A scream of pain.

The werewolf disappeared. The image of the blond-haired man was faint.

A flash of light.

The werewolf appeared once more, roaring towards the sky.

“Fight him, Giles!” Alundra yelled. “Fight the demon! You’re not a coward! Think of your sister! Think of Kisha!”

Another roar.

Another flash of light.

A scream of pain.

“Giles!” Septimus and Meia cried.

Giles’ image appeared faintly over the werewolf.

The werewolf roared. The young man screamed.

Another flash of light.

The werewolf disappeared. The faint image of the young man grew solid.

And Giles, exhausted, filled with pain, collapsed onto the floor.

“Giles!” Kisha shouted.

Everyone hurried to the fallen young man, with Alundra supporting Kisha.

Giles was barely breathing. His eyes, filled with pain, with guilt and sorrow.

“Kisha… I’m sorry…” He coughed weakly. “I’m not… strong enough to… protect you…”

His sister shook her head tearfully and held his hand. “No, Giles, you’re strong… you fought back the demon.”

“She’s right,” the Releaser said. “You’re the first I’ve seen to fight back the nightmare by yourself.”

Giles closed his eyes. “I wish I was strong enough… then this wouldn’t have happened in the first place…” He looked up slowly. “I’m sorry for the names I called you, Alundra. Even after you helped to destroy my nightmare, my mind was still overtaken by another… the first thing I did at the face of turmoil was to blame you for what I did to Kisha.” His trembling hand grabbed the hem of Alundra’s jacket. “Be… be careful of Ronan. There was something he did to me… even though I remember your words in my dream, my body did everything by itself…” His eyes glistened with tears. “Please forgive me, Alundra… it… it was me who killed Sybill… and Jess…”

It was Giles who had murdered Sybill and Jess in cold blood. Giles, under Ronan’s influence.

Alundra recalled the anguish he had felt at their deaths, swearing to make their killer pay… but now, as he knelt by the chancellor’s assistant, he felt no rage, no hate.

Only understanding.

He shook his head. “Thanks for telling me all this, Giles. It takes courage to accept something terrible you’ve done, even though it’s not really your fault… you’re no coward, Giles, you’re courageous.”

He smiled weakly. “Thank you, Alundra… I’m really glad to hear that from you… even after what happened between us…” He lowered his hand and placed it on his sister’s. “Kisha… I’m sorry for scaring you all these weeks… I truly thought that by trying to expulse Alundra… I was protecting you…” His eyes slowly closed. “I… love… you… Ki…”

And his breathing ceased.

Tears were streaming down Kisha’s face. “No… brother…!”

Alundra closed his eyes. “Goodbye… Giles.”

Septimus lowered his head.

And Meia reached down to close Giles’ now glassy eyes.

At that very moment, Beaumont barged into the room. “What in the name of all that is holy is happening in here?! Do you have any inkling what kind of racket you’re cau–” He froze at the sight of the blood on Kisha’s clothes and the dead bodies of Giles and the Murgg on the floor.

“Beaumont,” Septimus started as he straightened. “Giles is… he’s gone. He battled a new nightmare crafted by the demon, but his ravaged body could not withstand the power he unknowingly unleashed… he chose to die as a human being, rather than a twisted servant of evil. He died so that we may yet live.”

Beaumont’s eyes widened in disbelief. “W-what?”

The female dreamwalker nodded. “This has made our problem all too clear. The god you have been worshipping is not a kind and merciful being of light at all… he is a black wellspring of corrosive evil.”

He shook his head quickly. “But… it isn’t possible. We pray to the gods, not to a dark messenger of evil! We could never be deceived to… or… could we…?” He shook his head again. “No, this is absurd. I refuse to believe it!”

She threw up her hands in exasperation. “Ridiculous! We risk our lives to save the people of this village and everything is now clear before their eyes, yet they still don’t believe our warning! They don’t even try to understand! But… why am I surprised?” Her eyes cold, she turned towards the door. “We have always been outsiders, Alundra, Septimus. We’re always ignored until it’s too late.”

Without another word, she strode out. As she walked past him, a look of guilt, of indecision, flickered across Beaumont’s face.

Alundra sighed. “Meia…”

Septimus stepped forward and continued, “Everything she said is true, Beaumont. The people of the village have been praying to a demon. Even though they did it unknowingly, the demon used the power of prayer they gave him to craft the nightmares.”

The mayor shook his head obstinately. “We have prayed to the gods since we began to record our history, and we have relied on prayer to help us through our most difficult times! What can we do if you strip away our belief… our faith?”

Alundra glared at him. “I don’t think you understand, Beaumont. Of all the people in this village, Giles prayed at the sanctuary more for anyone for peace to return to the village, but it only made him the most vulnerable to the demon’s manipulation! Do you really want to trade your life for your faith and belief? Is it really worth risking your life over?”

He drew back. “I…”

Septimus gazed calmly at the mayor. “If you wish peace for this village, I believe you can pray for Alundra’s success in the fight against the demon. If the gods are going to save us from the evil, he is the saviour they have most certainly chosen for us…”

 


 

Saviour.

It was a word that had never crossed Alundra’s mind when he made the long journey to Inoa… when he had risked aught and all to rescue the villagers from the nightmares. It had never crossed his mind when he searched high and low for the dwellings of the Guardians, never crossed his mind when his heart was overcome by grief from losing loved ones, from failing to save them.

Even now, as he stood in his room, gazing out the window at the glowing moon in the night sky, these words felt surreal to him.

Anger. Determination. Revenge.

The strong feelings coursed through his heart, stronger than grief, guilt and helplessness.

His eyes blazed.

“This is personal, demon.”

And a deep voice laughed in his mind.

 

End of Chapter Fifteen.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Sixteen: One of the Flames

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

The next morning, after learning about Giles’ unfortunate death, a wave of fear shook the whole village to the point most of the people refused to come out of their houses. It was late afternoon before they could be convinced to attend his funeral, which became a quiet, subdued affair.

They stood with their heads lowered as the funeral rites were recited, their hands trembling… their faces etched with fear.

Giles, the one who had prayed the most other than the chancellor himself, was not spared.

Even though his nightmare was vanquished the first time, it returned with a vengeance.

No one was safe from the nightmares. No one.

It scared them.

Only Ronan did not show any sign of remorse or fear. His voice was slow and steady as he recited the funeral rites, an expression of boredom showed plainly on his face.

The villagers could not understand it.

Why? Ronan and Giles were like father and son. Yet, the chancellor seemed neither bothered when Giles was stricken with the first nightmare nor sorrowful now that he passed.

Ronan merely said, “It is the will of our god. We must be praying to the same god as the Murgg.”

The god of the Murgg?

He pointed an accusing finger at the swordsman, “Alundra is a blight in our lives! We must expel him from our peaceful village!”

Expelling Alundra when he could rid the village of nightmares?

If what the people were praying to was a merciful god… then why did their constant prayers go unanswered?

Why did Giles, possibly the most devout follower, cruelly murdered with a nightmare?

They began to question their god. They began to question their faith.

Then, they heard a loud blast.

Followed by a terrible tremor that spread far and wide beneath the earth.

The villagers screamed and shrieked as they tried to keep their balance, some grabbing hold of tombstones or tree branches. As the tremor grew stronger and stronger, one by one they fell onto the ground, then it suddenly stopped.

They slowly stood up, glancing at each other uneasily.

Did the coal mine collapse once more?

And one man gave a yell and pointed.

Everyone else turned. And screamed.

Thick black smoke rose from the peak of the distant Torla Mountain.

A long dormant volcano.

It was an omen.

One woman was the first to speak. “The… the gods are angry at us…”

The crowd began muttering among themselves.

Doubt. Fear.

There was nothing they could do.

They could pray and risk a nightmare stealing their soul.

They could stop praying and risk the volcano erupting and burning them.

Either way… they were meant to die.

“Psh! I don’t believe it!”

Everyone turned towards Alundra.

“Don’t you see?” he continued. “It’s the demon’s ploy to scare you enough to continue to pray to him!”

The people seemed doubtful as they muttered among themselves, then suddenly began talking all at once.

“But if we don’t pray…”

“What if the volcano erupts?”

“He might punish us all!”

Alundra sighed. “I guess Meia’s right. They’re not going to easily believe our warning…” He shook his head. “I’ll go to the volcano and find out what’s going on!”

Everyone gasped.

Septimus shook his head. “Are you sure, Alundra? It will be dangerous…”

“Of course I’m sure, otherwise I wouldn’t have said it.” The swordsman crossed his arms. ”Besides, that was one of the places I couldn’t enter while searching for the Guardians; there might be one there. Meia, stay here in case any more nightmares crop up like mushrooms.”

Meia bit her lower lip. “But…”

He shook his head. “I appreciate you worrying about me, but don’t worry, I have Stenia’s Ice Wand.” He grinned. “Relax, it’ll just be like the fire area of Elene’s dream!”

The scholar sighed. “Well, knowing you, you can’t say no to an adventure… just be careful out there, Alundra.”

 


 

Torla Mountain was situated somewhere northeast from Inoa, with a cave entrance that beckoned tauntingly to him from atop an exceedingly high cliff that Alundra had never been able to reach the last few times he was here. This time, however, the rock platforms on the ground were being suspended in midair by steaming hot geysers, forming a makeshift staircase for him to access the volcano’s entrance.

It was as though whatever it was that caused the volcano to become active was going out of its way to invite him inside.

He grinned. Of course he would go inside. How many adventurers could truly brag that they had explored an active volcano and lived to tell the tale?

Without a moment’s hesitation, he traversed the hovering stone platforms easily and entered the cave.

As with fire area of Elene’s dream, the interior of the volcanic cave was exceedingly hot due to the exposed lava pools and rivers – anyone who stayed in this condition for too long could suffer from heat stroke or other related illnesses… not to mention very nasty burns if an accidental fall into the lava pool would occur. But there was no fear in Alundra’s heart. With the Ice Wand in his right hand and the Water Shield to adjust the temperature around him, he strode courageously forward.

The tunnel was mostly linear, turning here and there, occasionally branching yet constantly sloping downwards, its walls covered with shining red-hot cracks covered in magma. As he followed the tunnel, he soon came across a lava river, which bubbled and gurgled as it flowed slowly along the ground.

Suddenly, something burst out of the burning surface with a loud screech that echoed across the cave and, without giving him as much as a chance to react, rushed towards him.

“W-whoa!” he cried and dived down towards the ground.

The ‘thing’ swooped over him, sending flickering embers all over him that singed his clothes. It moved in an upward curve motion, giving him enough time to turn and see what it was – three firebirds, birds made entirely of red flames, creatures that came to life when the volcano did. They screeched loudly and dived towards him once more, intending to strike him down.

“I’m prepared this time!” he declared and swung the Ice Wand. “Take this!”

A wave of white-cold frost formed in the shape of an arc spread from the head of the sceptre, engulfing the three firebirds entirely.

Within a second, the bird-shaped flames disappeared with a poof and a screech.

The remains of the ice wave became solid ice that crashed onto the ground.

“Not bad,” Alundra said, looking at the sceptre in his hand. “It’s strong enough to extinguish those bird flames. I wonder if it can do the same to lava…”

He walked to the lava river and swung the wand at it. The familiar frost wave spread and covered a small area of the lava surface, forming a patch of frozen ice. He was about to give a cheer of excitement, just as the ice cracked and melted into the lava.

He scratched his head. “Oops. Guess there’s too much lava for it to stay frozen.” He grinned. “But man, it’s powerful enough to even freeze lava, even if it’s only temporary! I’ll bet if I had to fight that dragon in Elene’s dream, it’d be a piece of cake!”

Fuelled with excitement, he continued quickly onwards, looking for more chances to test Stenia’s Ice Wand.

First was a boiling hot geyser of water that burst suddenly from the ground in front of him, giving him a split second to react and swing the sceptre… which resulted in a fountain-shaped ice sculpture that stayed frozen, even when he gave it a good strong kick.

Next was a shallow pool of lava on the ground, slightly too far for him to jump. Without the slightest hesitation, he swung the sceptre at it, and the frost wave turned the pool into frozen ice, which stayed frozen enough to support his weight as he stepped on its surface. He grinned as he skipped and jumped as hard as he could on it… then, the ice began to crack. His expression fell, and he quickly leaped back onto the rocky ground before the ice shattered and melted back into the pool of lava.

Many frozen geysers, lava surfaces, firebirds and fireballs later, Alundra had gotten a general idea of the Ice Wand’s capabilities. It could certainly freeze anything regardless of its temperature, but the hotter or bigger the target was, the less time it would remain frozen.

Soon, he emerged from the tunnel into a huge area of the cave, large enough to fit a mansion, where he was surprised by a wave of heat, unbearably hot even through the Water Shield. He quickly readjusted the temperature, wondering what could have caused the increased heat.

He soon knew why.

Before him was a gigantic molten lava lake, its surface bubbling continuously like water boiling in a kettle, its large volume emitting much greater heat than the lava rivers and pools he had encountered on the way. The dry rocky ground he was standing on that expanded from the tunnel entrance was like a puny island surrounded by a sea of lava.

He had arrived at the heart of the volcano.

Could this be the cause of the newly active volcano?

“Welcome, Releaser.”

The voice was deep. Growling.

Alundra jumped in surprise, automatically drawing his sword from its sheath with his right hand, the Ice Wand in his left. Both sword and sceptre were raised, poised to strike.

Something rose from the surface of the lava lake like a growing mountain of golden-crimson fire, the lava spilling back into the lake like a stream of water from a waterfall. The exposed human-shaped torso and arms were muscular, the onyx scales gleamed with the golden-orange light from the lava and from the balls of flames settling on various parts of the body. The serpentine neck long and strong, fangs and claws that could shred one into pieces, wings that spread like the veil of darkness.

A great dragon, submerged from waist down in the lava lake, yet towering over Alundra as though he was an ant.

The adventurer could only stare upward, wide-eyed.

“Welcome, Releaser,” the same growling voice repeated from the dragon. “I feel the warmth of the Crests you already possess. I am Wilda, one of the seven.”

A great excitement rose from within Alundra. “By seven, do you mean you’re one of the Guardians?!”

“Indeed. I am impressed you have gathered five thus far…” He growled. “But until I am convinced of your true power, you will not gather the sixth.”

His expression fell. “Uh oh…”

He spread his wings. “Challenge me, Releaser!!”

The dragon threw his head upwards and roared loudly, an incredible roar that shook the entire cave. Parts of the rocky ceiling cracked from the sheer force of the roar, dropping large chunks of rocks into the lava lake and onto the ground.

Alundra winced at the loud echoing roar and covered his sensitive long ears. He glanced upward and jumped away in reflex as a large rock crashed beside him, showering him with rocky pieces, He quickly started running as more rocks crashed onto the ground around him, occasionally strengthening his Water Shield to knock the rocks off.

As soon as the rocks stopped raining down from the ceiling, Wilda roared and spat a jet of flame, which whizzed by its target’s head… and exploded violently on the ground.

He yelped, his eyes wide with surprise and fear. Again and again the flames exploded around him, with enough force to blow him away if he was near enough, and the adventurer was giving his all just to avoid them.

“Oh, come on, give me a break here!” he shouted indignantly. “I thought dragons can only breathe fire, not explosives!!”

A jet of flame exploded in front of him, forcing him to skid to a stop. He was about to turn and run in the other direction when another explosion in his path stopped him. He glanced up at the dragon, whose crimson eyes shone, who growled and released a wave of red-hot flames.

“No escape, huh? But I’m ready for you this time!” Alundra grinned confidently and swung the Ice Wand as hard as he could. “Take THIS!!”

A burst of ice and frost shot from the sceptre, spreading like a silver-blue arc as it struck the fire breath. Both ice and fire waves collided in the middle and extinguished each other out, leaving no trace of either on the ground.

Wilda growled, but before he could release another breath of fire, the swordsman gave a yell and swung the ice sceptre once more.

A focused blast of azure ice shot forward, like a gigantic spear of ice ready to pierce the strongest armour.

It struck the dragon squarely on the head.

Wilda roared in pain. The ice spread across his head like a great blanket of blue.

Within moments, the great beast of fire was completely covered in ice down to the torso.

“It’s my turn now!” Alundra cried as he rushed forward. “HYAAH!!”

He leaped high into the air, raised his sword above his head, and brought it down in a powerful downward slash.

The blade struck the centre of the dragon’s head.

A small crack appeared on the ice, spreading slowly at first, then rushing across the dragon’s body like a great snake.

And the ice shattered into a million shards.

Alundra jumped back, breathing heavily.

Wilda raised its head, his roar filled with pain.

The entire cave shook violently with the sheer power of the sound. The adventurer covered his ears and shut his eyes tightly, wincing from the ear-shattering roar.

It was a moment before the dragon finally lowered his head towards his opponent once more.

The swordsman gripped his sword and sceptre in a defensive stance.

“The Ice Wand…” Wilda’s voice was soft. “You have gained Stenia’s trust?”

The adventurer looked up, lowering his weapons. “You… you know Stenia?”

He gave a soft growl. “She and I are alike yet different; she was of the waters, I of the flames. I was once known as the King of Destruction… I was once a god. Humans have prayed to me, for fear I would destroy their homes. Humans have put me into books, to raise their children like valiant heroes who can defeat a god.”

Alundra was instantly reminded of the children’s story that Elene’s dream had taken as reference, The Dragon Warrior. He sheathed his sword and stowed the Ice Wand into his pack. “I see…”

He closed its eyes for a moment, as though reminiscing the past, and opened them again. “You humans have grown strong during my long rest, Releaser… I shall honour my vow.”

A soft ball of light appeared in front of the swordsman, materialising into a Crest that fell onto his hands. The Crest, as the others he had retrieved, had a silver soaring eagle, this one clutching a gleaming emerald.

Just as he was about to thank the beast, another ball of light formed in front of him, this time materialising into a sceptre. It was similar to the Ice Wand he had, but with notable differences. Its golden rod was warm to the touch, shining as though made of golden fire. The red stone on its end, perhaps ruby, bore a mysterious resemblance to the dragon’s crimson eyes.

He shook his head. “This is…?”

Wilda nodded. “The Fire Wand. If Stenia has entrusted you with her sceptre, then I shall entrust you with mine.”

He grinned. “Thanks, Wilda! I’m sure it’ll help greatly!” He paused. “Though… well… there’s this other thing. Is there any way we can calm this volcano?”

“Fear not,” was the dragon’s response, “For this mountain is part of me and is only active when I am awake. It will not erupt without my command. You no longer need to fear this mountain ever again.”

“That’s great news! I gotta go back and tell the people!”

He nodded slowly. “I shall use the power I yet possess… to return you to your world.” He closed his eyes. “Farewell, Releaser, I return to my sleep… this time for eternity.”

Alundra’s eyes widened. “N-no! Wilda! Wait!!”

But it was too late.

Within a burst of light, the Releaser was teleported out of the hot volcanic cave, without as much as a chance to say another word.

Wilda lowered his head.

“So weak… I have grown so weak during my long rest. Humans no longer remember my existence… there is no longer prayer to sustain me.”

He looked up at the golden-orange light at the ceiling of the cave, reflected from the surface of the lava lake.

“Stenia… as fate would have it, we could never be together. We are but two different beings… one of the waters, one of the flames… yet you understood me as you understood yourself. Mayhap I have earned the understanding of another… that is the reason you trusted him with your sceptre, is it not…?”

He closed its eyes.

“Mayhap I may still see you in my dreams, Stenia…”

The ground trembled violently, the earthquake resonating across the whole mountain.

And the volcanic cave collapsed.

 


 

“WILDA!!” Alundra shouted, starting to run.

The volcano was no longer smoking.

A short distance away from where he had reappeared, he arrived at the entrance, but however, he could no longer enter the cave… for the geysers were no longer supporting the rock platforms. The cave entrance was covered in fallen boulders… just like Stenia’s fairy pond.

He shut his eyes, gripping both the Emerald Crest and the Fire Wand in his hands… the dragon’s final gift.

 


 

It was late evening when the adventurer finally returned to Inoa, the sunset rays augmenting the orange colour of his hair. The village was quiet despite it was still light outside, for the people had stayed inside and refused to come out. There was one, however, who was standing outside her house, gazing upward at the sunset sky.

“Kisha?” Alundra called, approaching her.

She turned slowly, her golden hair flowing. “Oh, hello, Alundra. Welcome back.”

“Thanks.” He looked at her in concern. “Are you… okay?”

She smiled and returned her gaze to the sky. “I appreciate your worry, Alundra, but I will be fine. As long as I remember my brother, he will always live within my heart. I’m sure it is the same way you feel about Jess and Sybill…”

He closed his eyes for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, you’re right. Their memories will always stay in our hearts… a constant reminder for us to fight to live.”

She nodded. “Yes… a reminder for us. Sadly, the fear of death has gripped everyone and now they refused to leave their houses… as though they would be safe that way…”

“It can’t be helped.” He shook his head. “I’m going to tell the people the volcano’s no longer active. Can you help me?”

She smiled once more. “Yes, of course, Alundra. You’ve help me so much, this isn’t enough to repay you.”

He returned the smile. “Hey, don’t worry about it.”

They parted in two separate directions, stopping from door to door to tell the villagers of the good news. Alundra first stopped at the mayor’s house, then continued on.

And he saw.

In the distance… the white figure of the chancellor was staring at him.

The old man’s eyes flickered with glee. Excitement.

Anticipation.

 


 

Alundra was running. His footsteps echoed loudly on the invisible ground, his chest heaving with his laboured breathing. Sweat dropped from his face like beads gleaming in the darkness.

He felt confused. Why was he running? Where was he going?

He soon knew.

Suddenly, there was a burst of crimson light, blinding him. He recoiled, shielding his face with his arms.

Hot. Burning.

Flames.

Golden flames, crimson flames.

Covering Inoa.

Screams filled the air. Screams of pain, screams of terror.

The werewolves howled at the cold full moon.

His eyes widened, his heart filled with fear. He opened his mouth to shout, but no words came out. He leaned forward to run, but his feet refused to move.

Among the flames, the familiar white monkeys moved, spreading as much chaos and death as they could.

Above the flames, the towering silhouette of the Murgg leader Zazan roared in triumph.

And Alundra saw him.

Ronan.

Deep within the flames, gazing at the Releaser. Steadily. Calmly.

From behind the chancellor, the statue of the demon stood towering over him, its arms crossed, a confident grin etched clearly on its face.

No, it was not a statue.

It was the demon himself, his heroic cape billowing in the night. He raised his hand, pointing a finger forward.

A burst of light came from the finger. It flared up like a flower, bright like the sun yet cold like ice.

Alundra charged forward, his sword poised to strike, his mouth yelling the name of his enemy.

Then, a ray of light shot forward, like a thin spear of white.

Right through his chest.

 


 

Alundra gasped and sat up quickly, his eyes wide. He was completely drenched in sweat, his breathing rapid, his heart banging against his chest as though it would burst out any moment.

The night was quiet. The silence was deafening.

He closed his eyes.

No, it was just a dream… it was just a dream. Nothing had happened yet, and he had obtained the sixth Crest.

But worry took over him. The triumph of gaining the sixth Crest had long disappeared.

The sight of the chancellor gazing at him from afar. Seemingly filled with glee, with excitement… with anticipation. It filled his heart with fear.

When would the fanatic make his move? He had spent all his years convincing the people to pray to the demon, and now that their faith was dwindling, he had to have some kind of plan in mind…

And the Murgg. When would they finally launch their full scale attack? Ever since they had taken over the coal mine, they had done nothing but send small groups to cause trouble here and there, yet nothing serious enough to truly deter them…

Abruptly, someone banged on his bedroom door, startling him from his thoughts. Meia burst into the room, her breathing rapid as though she had been running.

“Alundra! Wake up!” she shouted. “Bergus has been kidnapped by the Murgg!”

The swordsman’s eyes widened.

Sybill’s dream.

The boy he had seen in her dream had been Bergus. Kidnapped by the white simians.

And in her dream… they did something to the boy.

No… it wouldn’t happen! Alundra refused to believe it!

He immediately jumped off the bed, grabbing his equipment. “Let’s go, Meia!”

Both of them left the house in a hurry, running along the stone path in the darkness of the night, their ponytails trailing behind them. They soon slowed to a stop in front of the house and knocked on the front door.

“It’s us!” Meia said.

The door opened slightly, just enough for the two elves to squeeze in one by one, before it was slammed shut and locked once more. Inside, the living room was brightly lit with lamps, as though it would ward away the shadows of the darkness… the shadows of the Murgg.

Alundra remembered vaguely he was here once before, to save Wendell, Meade’s father, from a nightmare… the Releaser’s first dreamwalk. It felt like so long ago.

Meade nodded at the two of them. He seemed tired, with dark rings under his eyes, his face ghastly pale with fear and worry.

“Thank you for coming at such a late hour, Alundra, Meia,” he said softly.

“I heard what happened,” the Releaser said. “I’m sorry to hear it…”

The father shook his head. “It… it was horrible. The three of us – my wife, my father and I – were down here talking after the boys have gone to bed when we heard the sound of shattering glass… and when we got there…” He closed his eyes for a moment. “…the Murgg were leaping out of the window and into the darkness… and my poor son was in their dirty grip…” He opened his eyes once more, filled with tears. “This is my worst nightmare realised! Alundra, Meia! Please! There’s no one else in this village I can turn to for help…”

Alundra placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, Meade, of course we’ll help you.”

“We’ll find Bergus,” the female adventurer added.

He nodded slowly. “Thank you… thank you both. I’ll take you upstairs…”

They strode solemnly up the staircase and along the hallway that led to the bedrooms. They passed the twins’ bedrooms, which were in a terrible mess – the window glass had been shattered and its shards scattered, books from the shelves were torn and strewn all over, the table and chairs overturned, the bed sheet partially shredded. Alundra shuddered to think what had transpired there.

There was a definite gloom in the air as they entered the master bedroom, where everyone had gathered. Wendell, their grandfather, sat on a chair with his hands leaning on his cane, as Meade stood behind his wife Rumi and placed a hand on her back. Rumi, her eyes red from crying, stroked Nestus’ head slowly as he lay sobbing in his parents’ double bed, slowing drifting to sleep.

But Septimus was furiously going through his journals, flipping page after page and book after book as he sat at the dressing table. His hair was messy, unlike its usual neatness, and only one of the buttons on this dressing gown was buttoned. The elves knew that he was up to something, and this was not a good time to be talking to him.

“It will be difficult to infiltrate Murgg Woods this time,” Meia stated softly. “What we did the last time will not work again, and there must be more guards this time…”

The Releaser shook his head. “Septimus seems to be on to something… let’s at least let him finish before we go.”

They lapsed into silence, the only sound was that of pages being flipped.

Soon, Rumi stopped stroking her son’s head and leaned back against her chair, saying softly, “Nestus… he’s finally asleep. He’s been crying so much… the two of them have never been separated before.”

Septimus suddenly stopped, accidentally knocking over a book onto the carpeted floor. He stood up, glancing excitedly at the others.

“Nestus is asleep?” he said. “That’s good timing! We’ll be able to find Bergus now!”

All the adults in the room stood up, approaching him.

“Come on, tell us!” the swordsman said. “What do you have in mind?”

The researcher nodded. “It’s incredibly simple. You see–” He held up the book in his hand, pointing to a particular page. “–identical twins not only look the same, but often have the same dreams.”

A look of realisation flickered across Meia’s face. “…you’re right. Because they are identical twins, they are of one mind. If they are both asleep at the same time, you can enter Nestus’ dream… and return to the waking world next to Bergus.”

“And that way, we can bypass all the guards!” Alundra almost shouted.

She shook her head. “But you will also be surrounded by the Murgg when you wake up.”

“Oh yeah…”

Septimus heaved a sigh. “I have a bad feeling about this, Alundra… don’t underestimate this challenge.”

He nodded. “I know. I’m the best person to go since I’ve been inside the Murgg village before.”

Meia stepped forward. “I will go with you, Alundra.”

The Releaser turned to her. “No, stay here, Meia… I agree with Septimus, I have a feeling something bad might happen tonight. Something worse than Bergus being kidnapped.”

Meade shook his head in disbelief. “Something… worse than Bergus being kidnapped…?”

They lapsed into silence.

Alundra untied a small pouch from his waist, the six Crests tinkling together inside. He handed it to his female companion. “Meia, keep the Crests safe for me, just in case something happens to me on the other side. I have trust in your battle skills.”

Meia nodded and held the pouch tightly. “I understand. Be careful.” Then, she added in a soft whisper, “I… always worry about you, Alundra.”

He grinned. “Well, don’t worry about me! I’ll bring Bergus home safe!”

On that note, he approached Nestus’ sleeping form on the bed and, as he held the small wrist and timed his breathing, made the leap into the dream world.

The others lowered their heads, clasping their hands together in silent prayer.

 


 

When Alundra opened his eyes, he suddenly found himself standing in a fortress-like building, the walls, floors and ceilings of the rooms painted a freezing cold hue of azure as though the very building was made of ice itself. Unlike the ice area of Elene’s dream, this place was not cold but instead maintained room temperature.

And, unlike his past dreamwalks, this time he was not searching for a nightmare. He was searching the point of connection between Nestus’ and Bergus’ dreams to cross over. He hoped that the kidnapped boy was asleep, though it seemed rather unlikely… how could one, especially a young boy, sleep in a place full of violent, man-eating monkeys?

As he walked, he had noticed that all of the rooms had one wall covered entirely with full-length mirrors, prompting him to pause and gaze at one of them.

Why would this dream have such a big mirror? And in every room?

His reflection gazed back at him. He couldn’t help but to notice that his hair was extremely messy; it was evident he didn’t tie his ponytail properly when he had woken up.

Then, he stopped.

The reflection in the mirror slowly transformed, from an icy-blue room to a warm-orange one. His image disappeared from the surface, leaving the room empty as though he wasn’t there.

He glanced over his shoulder.

The room he was in was still blue.

Then, it struck him. Excitement rose from within him.

Could it be that Bergus was finally asleep and the orange world in the mirror was his dream? Could it be that the mirror was the link between the two dream worlds, like the mirrors that led to four different areas of Elene’s dream?

He placed a hand on the mirror and pushed as hard as he could without breaking it. But his hand remained firmly in Nestus’ dream.

He sighed. Perhaps the mirror wasn’t the link after all.

With no other choice, he continued on, keeping an eye out for anything extraordinary that might allow him to enter Bergus’ dream.

When he entered a particular room some time later, however, he was greeted by loud familiar screeches followed by flashes of steel claws. His eyes widened and he immediately threw himself to the side into a barrel roll before straightening and drawing his sword.

The Murgg. Here in Nestus’ dream.

The sight of his brother stolen away by the vicious monkeys must have caused him to dream of them, reliving the nightmare.

They screeched and flashed their metal claws, leaping forward together in a group.

Alundra grinned. In one fluid motion, he pulled out the Ice Wand and swung it horizontally, sending a wave of icy-blue frost towards them.

The moment the monkeys were engulfed in the ice wave, they instantly turned to ice.

And the adventurer shattered them easily with a single swing of his iron flail.

Once the Murgg were removed, he strode on quickly.

The sooner they rescued Bergus, the sooner Nestus would feel at peace.

On the way, he met a few more white monkeys, too little of them to be a match for him. Then, as he glanced at the mirror, he realised that there were also white monkeys jumping about in the warm-orange rooms.

He was surprised. Even Bergus, the braver of the two, was having a nightmare filled with the Murgg?

But it made sense, since both of them often dreamed the same dreams.

Soon, he came to a particular room, where he found a huge hole in the mirror, spreading cracks across the mirror’s surface. Instead of a blue wall showing through the hole, however, there was a shining green portal, swirling like a whirlpool waiting to suck him in.

With a grin on his face and without a single bit of hesitation in his heart, he leaped through the portal.

And found himself in the same warm-orange room he had seen earlier, the same green portal shining behind him. On the surface of the mirror, he could see the blue room he was in earlier.

He had made it to Bergus’ dream!

That was all he needed to do. He made the leap out of the dream world, hoping dearly that what he did was correct.

 


 

When Alundra woke up and opened his eyes, he saw the familiar wooden walls of the prison in the Murgg settlement. With a jolt of excitement, he jumped to his feet and ran over to Bergus, who was still asleep on the ground.

“Bergus!” he cried, kneeling beside him. “Bergus! Wake up!”

The boy groaned and slowly opened his eyes. When he saw who was calling him awake, his eyes widened with realisation as he quickly sat up. “A… Alundra! You’ve come! The Murgg made me eat a fruit that made me sleep, and it gave me weird dreams… I dreamed that you walked through my dream to get here! Crazy, huh?”

He grinned. “That part was true. I came here through the link between Nestus’ and your dreams!”

His eyes widened once more. “Wow, really! That’s cool!”

As he got to his feet, he helped the boy up. “Are you hurt anywhere? We might need to make a run for it to get out of here.”

He shook his head. “No, they only made me sleep.”

“Good, let’s get out of–”

Alundra stopped in mid-sentence as he laid his eyes on the statue that stood on one side of the prison cell… the familiar statue of the demon.

It was confirmed. The Murgg was in league with the demon.

Bergus followed his eyes. “This status is different from the one in the sanctuary basement. See how his eyes are closed? Almost like he’s asleep… but even with his eyes closed, it still gives me the creeps! I won’t be cryin’ when all these are gone!”

The swordsman nodded. “That’s what we need to do; we need to destroy all of them.”

With several bashes with the iron flail, the statue was reduced to mere rubble, much to their satisfaction. With the same iron flail, the prison door that was made of both wood and bone was easily brought down as well.

They made their way slowly towards the hut’s exit, with Alundra in front and Bergus following bravely behind, walking along the hallway and climbing staircases two floors up. However, when they had made their way to the hut’s exit and entering the clearing around the Great Tree, they were surprised to find the whole place deserted.

Alundra felt suspicious. After the way they had infiltrated this place and stole the two Crests the last time, there should have been even more guards standing guard now, especially since they went out of their way to kidnap Bergus. Yet, as the two humans stayed hidden among the shadows of the trees, there were no sight of any white monkeys at all.

A feeling of foreboding rose from within Alundra.

He motioned to the boy to follow him, and together, they quietly climbed over the wooden fence and made their way quickly through the woods. Once they were at a safe distance, they slowed to a stop to catch their breath.

“I have a bad feeling…” the young man said. “Let’s hurry back to Inoa.”

Bergus nodded. “Yeah, I’m sure Mum and Dad are worried sick.” He abruptly grinned. “Well, how about a race? Last one to make it back is a Murgg turd! Hahaha!!”

Without warning, the boy suddenly started running, leaving Alundra behind.

“H-hey!” Alundra quickly chased after him. “Wait!”

They ran through the woods as though they were in a race. As they burst out of Murgg Woods and crossed the wooden bridge on a rushing river, they froze. Their eyes were wide open in fear.

From where they stood, they could see it.

The great dragon-like flames that stained the dark night sky with a brilliant hue of red-hot vengeance.

Inoa was burning.

“No… no!” Bergus cried, starting to run. “Mum! Dad! Nestus! Grandpa!”

“Wait, Bergus!” the adventurer shouted, chasing after him.

It was a short distance to the village, but it was the longest run Alundra had ever taken. When they finally made it, he froze, his eyes wide.

His nightmare, the dream that Lars had repeatedly shown to him before he arrived at Inoa, had been realised.

A burning Inoa. A death-covered place.

Bonaire’s still body was lying on the ground, his silver hair drenched in blood, his blue eyes glassy. There were many opportunities to talk to him… to join his surfing sessions… to apologise for taking Nadia’s life. But now, there was none.

Myra, her body still as her beloved abode was engulfed in thick black smoke. There were no more chances to ask for her forgiveness… for taking her daughter’s life from her.

Sybill’s mother, who had supported her daughter’s close friendship with the adventurer, who had never blamed him when Sybill was murdered. After losing her daughter, she had continued to pray for other people’s wellbeing… and now her life was taken.

Elene, whose life took a turn for the better after her nightmare was destroyed barely two days ago… now had become nothing more than a lifeless charred body on the ground.

And there were many more people who lost their lives that night.

These were the people Alundra couldn’t protect.

His eyes glistened with tears, obscuring his eyesight.

But no. He had to focus. He had to push down his grief and focus on protecting those still living.

He wiped away his tears. He steeled his heart. And he focused forward.

Both Alundra and Bergus finally arrived at the boy’s house… but they were not prepared for what they would see.

The house was entirely engulfed in flames.

And Meade and Wendell… their bodies lay in the path of the raging fire… their clothes drenched in blood.

Bergus’ eyes widened, then he started to run. “DAD! GRANDPA!!”

This time, Alundra was able to grab him by the arm. “No! It’s too dangerous!”

“No! Dad and Grandpa are still there! Let go! Let me GO!!”

The boy cried and cried, but no amount of crying would bring his father and grandfather back. He held on tightly to the adventurer, the one person who was still alive beside him.

And the young man held him close.

They remained that way for a moment. One crying his heart out, the other suppressing his grief inside. While the flames were burning all around them.

Finally, Alundra pulled away and knelt down, speaking softly, “Bergus, all this while you’ve been a brave boy. When you and Nestus were lost in that coastal cave, and when you were kidnapped by the Murgg… you’ve always looked forward and refused to be scared. Now I ask of you, can you stay brave for a little while longer and help to find your mother and brother?"

Bergus lowered his head, his eyes teary. After a moment, he nodded slowly. “I will, Alundra. We’ll save Mum and Nestus.”

He nodded, smiled and ruffled Bergus’ head. “Good. I’ll be here with you, so don’t worry.” He straightened. “Come on. Let’s go.”

Then, they heard a woman’s scream. Followed by a man’s frantic yell.

Some distance away, they could see what was happening.

Lutas, wielding a shovel, trying frantically to ward off the Murgg around him. He stood protectively over his wife, who was kneeling on the ground and holding onto a semi-conscious Septimus… the blood streaming down his head.

“Get away!” Lutas shouted, swinging the bat desperately.

The white monkeys screeched and leaped all at once, flashing their metal claws.

“WIND SLASH!!” Alundra yelled, his eyes narrowed, his shining hands aiming forward.

There was a flash of light as magical spinning blades of green light shot forward like boomerangs, accurately cutting the white monkeys as though they were swords swung by a great warrior. Within moments, the targets were all thrown to the ground, limp and unmoving. Lutas and his wife turned, and their faces were filled with relief when they saw who it was.

“Alundra!” Lutas cried. “Thank goodness you’ve come!”

“Are you guys okay?” the adventurer asked. “What happened to Septimus?!”

“We’re fine, but Septimus… he was one of the first attacked by the Murgg… at Meade’s house…”

The swordsman closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them once more and nodded. “We need to bring him somewhere safe… maybe Beaumont’s house. It’s the biggest one made of stone, so it should be safe from burning.”

With Alundra and Lutas both supporting a barely conscious Septimus, the blood running down the side of his face, and Lutas’ wife and Bergus following closely behind, they quickly made their way towards the mayor’s mansion. There were a few occasions when the Murgg ambushed them, but each time Alundra reacted fast enough to force them away with a Water Shield, then eliminating them with a Wind Slash. The constant spell casting was taxing, but this way they could get to their destination sooner.

The mayor’s mansion soon loomed into view, its strong stone walls warding away the Murgg as well as their intention to burn the building down. All the windows had been hastily boarded up with planks, further reinforcing their defence, and the heavy front door was shut tight. It had to be where the survivors had gone to.

“BEAUMONT!!” Alundra shouted as loud as he could, breathing heavily from the constant spell casting. “Let us in! QUICK!”

There was the sound of bolts being released behind the front door before it swung open to let them inside. Seeing the opportunity, a few of the Murgg tried to rush inside with a screech, but was quickly cut down with another round of Wind Slash.

Inside the mayor’s house was chaotic. The injured were everywhere, moaning in pain as they lay on the floor, their loved ones crying and tending to their wounds. Some were running up and down, trying to help as much as they could. And there were those screaming their lungs out, clutching their dead loved ones.

Bergus, overwhelmed by the sight, started to cry. Lutas’ wife embraced him tightly, her eyes closed.

“Bergus?”

Rumi came running, her eyes filled with tears of relief, and immediately knelt and embraced her son. Nestus, wailing loudly, clung onto his twin.

Bergus’ eyes were teary as well. “M-Mum! Nestus!!”

It was a touching scene to see.

But there was no time to waste.

Beaumont, the one who let them in, shut the door quickly and shouted, “Put Septimus on any space you can find! I’ll get the healer!”

Alundra and Lutas waded through the crowd of people, with the latter’s wife behind, and finally lowered the scholar on the floor in the corner of the sitting room. As they did, however, the scholar stirred.

“Septimus!” Alundra called, relieved. “You’re awake!”

Septimus looked up slowly, his eyes barely focusing, the blood flowing down between them. “A…lundra… she’s… still outside…”

“What?”

“Meia… she’s still… outside… hurt because… me…”

Alundra’s heart froze.

Meia was still outside.

Among the flames. Surrounded by the Murgg.

Lutas gripped his shoulder. “Go, Alundra! Don’t worry about us!”

The adventurer hesitated, but soon nodded. “Thanks, Lutas. Please, look after Septimus.”

“I will. Be careful out there.”

He turned towards Bergus, who was still crying and holding on tightly to his mother and brother, and ruffled the latter’s hair. “You were brave, Bergus. Thanks for showing me that courage.”

With that, he returned to the burning fray outside.

He began to run. His eyes watering from the smoke, his body aching from the constant spell casting, his heart banging against his chest.

The Murgg had crossed the boundaries between Nestus and Bergus’ dreams, just as he did, to launch a surprise attack on the village. The white monkeys, who did not have the power to dreamwalk… was able to do so because of the demon.

He met them in the dream, yet he did not stop them.

They had been here for the six Crests.

And it was he who gave them to her and told her to guard them.

Meia.

She had to be safe. She had to be!

Then, he saw her.

She was kneeling down, blood streaming down her arms and legs, her hand gripping her dagger so tightly that the knuckles were white.

But her eyes were cold. Focused. Like a lynx that would not go down without a fight.

The Murgg surrounded her in a circle. Jeering at her.

“Kill the furless one! Kill the furless one!” they chanted. “Smash the brain! Smash the brain!”

They all leaped at once, letting out a triumphant screech.

The fangs, the metal claws flashed in the golden-crimson flames.

Instead of shirking back in fear, she rushed forward with her bleeding legs.

The blade of her dagger gleamed in the light of the flames.

Within a second, three of the Murgg fell in a bloody heap. Within another second, another three were knocked back into the burning flames.

But she could not keep it up forever.

Alundra charged forward, screaming her name.

She spun around, her eyes widened in surprise.

The Murgg hissed and turned their attention to him instead.

His blade began to shine. The white light engulfed everything.

And, when the light dimmed, all of the monkeys had fallen to the ground, covered in their own blood.

Alundra, breathing heavily, fell to his knees, finally spent. His sword clattered onto the ground.

“Alundra!!” Meia shouted, dragging herself to his side.

“Meia…” His eyes narrowed in concern. “Are you… all right?”

She nodded. “I’m fine, but…” She closed her eyes. “The Crests… they got them.”

“What?”

She looked up, her eyes glistening with tears. “I lost them, Alundra! They stole the Crests!”

He gazed at her, as though unable to comprehend her words… then, suddenly, he reached forward and embraced her tightly. “You’re safe… I’m glad, Meia.”

Her eyes widened, then slowly closed.

Her arms held him tightly.

They were safe. They were together.

That was all that mattered.

And it began to rain.

 

End of Chapter Sixteen.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Seventeen: One Who is the Chosen Hero

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

The rain continued heavily all night, easily smothering the fire’s rage. It washed away the blood from the ground, drowning the cries of the people watching their loved ones die, or on the verge of it. Many tried to sleep, to recover their strength in case of another attack, others stayed awake and refuse to sleep for fear of being inflicted with a cursed nightmare.

Alundra, though exhausted from his constant running and spell casting while helping as many villagers as he could, insisted on watching over the injured people, including Septimus, as they slept. Meia, after getting her wounds – which were less serious than they looked – treated and bandaged, marched over to him and threatened him with her razor sharp daggers. Only then did he reluctantly agree to sleep… but dreams of werewolves and a burning Inoa tormented him.

As night turned to morning, the extent of the damage could be seen.

Out of the few hundred villagers, only less than a hundred remained. Of the houses in the village, only Alundra, Lutas and Beaumont’s houses remained.

The people now knew.

They were no longer safe anywhere. Either in dream or in reality.

Yet, some of the villagers insisted on leaving the house in the morning, to mourn their losses at the remains of their beloved homes.

Gustav, kneeling at the front door of what remained of his house, crying as he clutched the slightly charred storybook in his arms… the last of Elene’s favourite books.

Rumi, Bergus and Nestus held each other and cried at the side of two charred bodies by their house… the fallen bodies of Meade and Wendell.

Even Meia stood in front of Myra’s house, her eyes closed, her head lowered. Mourning the loss of the old woman who had treated her as her own daughter.

Alundra knew too well the grief they were feeling. He had felt the same with Sybill and Jess.

And now the pain in his heart was deeper than before.

He should have realised the Murgg he had encountered in the twins’ dreams were not part of the dream. They were real, travelling through the dream world despite not having the ability to do so…

“Diabolical brilliance…” Septimus had muttered the moment he woke up in the morning. “I never would have guessed the demon to be so damnably clever. Kidnapping Bergus and using the twins’ dreams to launch an attack on the village…”

The realisation made Alundra’s heart grow cold.

It was the demon who gave the Murgg the temporary ability to dreamwalk.

Because of his carelessness… Inoa had been burned down.

The six Crests had been stolen.

He sighed and turned his face towards the sky, feeling the breeze on his cheek.

“Alundra.”

He jumped and spun around. His eyes widened in surprise.

Cephas, the old hunchback who was the caretaker of the graveyard. A strange old man who often gave a knowing toothy grin when Alundra passed by.

The swordsman shook his head. “Cephas?”

“There’s no time to wallow in sorrow, Alundra,” the hunchback said. “The demon is getting stronger with each passing time, and only one Crest is left now.”

“W-what?” He stepped forward hurriedly. “How do you know about this, Cephas? Unless you’re also–”

He suddenly burst into laughter. “You think with this hunched back I can be among the top seven heroes chosen to be Guardians? Dream on, boy!” He shook his head. “But I guess you realise that Nava and I are different from other villagers.”

He nodded. “I did think so. It was Nava who asked told me that Nirude is a Guardian… and the offhanded remarks you said over the last few weeks did make me think a little.”

A grin formed on his face. “You probably don’t realise how different. You see, Nava and I are of the Zolist, a race of humans with tremendous lifespan, and we are the last of our kind. We were ordered by the Guardians to watch over the demon, to make sure he would never return, and to stop him if he tried.” He straightened as much as his back would allow. “At last, the time has come for us to follow through on our promise… when the demon surfaces, we shall enter his palace and destroy him.”

He lowered his head. “But, all of my six Crests are stolen, and I haven’t found the seventh…”

He slapped Alundra’s back so suddenly that the latter jumped. “Hah! Do you think I would tell you this if I didn’t know that already? The seventh and the last Crest is in Nava’s possession!”

The fact hit him hard on the head like a hammer. “W-WHAT? Nava is a Guardian? I never knew!”

Cephas grinned. “Go, Alundra! Claim it for yourself!”

He grinned as well. “Thanks, old man! And here’s a thank you gift!” He slapped the old man’s back.

“OW! You gonna pay for that, boy!!”

 


 

Nava’s lonely cabin sat on the south-western beach, the sea covered in the shadow of the cliffs that blocked the eastern sunrays from its surface. After a few short minutes of jogging from Inoa to the beach, Alundra climbed the wooden staircase and knocked on the door.

No response.

He tried again.

And still no response.

He half-shrugged and tried the door, finding it unlocked. He opened it and shouted, “I’m coming in, Nava!”

As soon as he stepped inside, however, he froze in his tracks.

The interior of the cabin was a complete mess, as though there had been a battle here, and in the centre of the mess… was Nava, his old, frail body lying in a pool of his own blood. His clothes were torn, revealing the bloody scratches on his skin, and a great amount of blood stained the back of his robes.

And, standing above him, was Zorgia. The pale-grey humanoid gargoyle, his wings spread, his crimson eyes gleaming with excitement,

Blood was dripping from his right clawed hand.

Nava’s blood.

Rage erupted within Alundra.

“You… you…” he growled and lunged forward. “MURDERER!!”

In one fluid motion, he drew his sword from his sheath and swung it in an upward diagonal slash. But just as it was a few inches away, its target disappeared and it slashed only air. He quickly glanced upward. Zorgia was above him, his great bat-like wings spread, hovering for a moment before diving, his clawed hand covered in crimson flames. Alundra leaped back just as the gargoyle struck the floor, barely missing Nava. The wooden floor was crushed, creating a small fist-shaped hole.

Zorgia grinned as he straightened, his arms beginning to ooze an all-too-familiar ghastly green fume. “Well, well, Alundra… I was about to come over to find you. How’s life been since we saw each other last? I hope you did everything you ever dreamed of doing.” He gave a nonchalant shrug. “I really would rather not send you to your final resting place with any regrets. I just hate doing that.” He crouched slightly, his wings spread, his arms poised to strike. “So, shall we dance?”

With that, he rushed forward with a snarl, leaving two trails of fumes behind him.

The same poison spell that Alundra had suffered many days before.

The Releaser narrowed his eyes, his sword shining, and yelled, “I’m not going to be fooled by that again! Take THIS!!” He raised his shining sword above his head and swung as hard as he could, releasing an arc of pure white energy.

The gargoyle’s widened in surprise as he skidded to a stopped, then quickly crossed his arms together over his face.

Both white arc and green fumes fizzled out like a candle flame overwhelmed by a sudden rush of wind.

Zorgia snarled. “I expected more from the Releaser!”

“I expect even less from you!” Alundra scoffed.

And they both lunged forward, blade and claws raised, unleashing a furious volley of strikes and spells.

Diagonal slashes that were evaded with a rush of wings. Claw swipes that were deflected with a swing of the blade. A blitz of arcane boulders crushing from the ceiling. A surge of white-hot electricity that crackled as it rushed across the cabin. A rush of ice-blue frost freezing everything in sight. A storm of golden-crimson flames razing anything it touched.

The swordsman gave a cry as he charged forward once more and swung his sword, now covered in a burst of light.

The gargoyle grinned. He did not even try to avoid the strike.

Instead, he leaned forward and lashed out with his claws.

Clang!

Blade and claws clashed together in the centre.

Alundra screamed.

White-hot electricity rushed from the claws. Through the blade. Into him.

Searing pain shot through his veins. Through every inch of his body.

Gritting his teeth, he pulled away quickly, jumping back as far as he could. However, as soon as he landed on the floor, his knees buckled weakly beneath him, forcing him to his knees on the floor. He leaned heavily on his sword for support, his eyes glaring at his enemy, his breathing rapid… his heartbeat erratic from the electric shock.

Zorgia grinned triumphantly, flexing his wings. Golden flames began to burn around his claws.

“You’re FINISHED!!” he shouted as he lunged forward.

The Releaser tried to get up, but his trembling legs would not allow him. He clenched a fist, trying to gather enough energy to form at least the Water Shield… but he could not focus.

He closed his eyes.

And waited for the pain.

Then, he heard it.

The whirr of a spinning dagger as it whizzed by his ears.

He looked up in surprise.

The dagger stabbed Zorgia right on the heart.

The gargoyle’s bulging eyes widened in shock and disbelief.

Two more daggers stabbed side by side, next to the first.

Metallic blue blood spurted out from the wound.

A strangled gasp came from the throat.

He reached out as he fell backwards… then collapsed onto the floor, the metallic blue blood forming a pool on the floor below him.

Alundra glanced over his shoulder.

Meia, her blue eyes narrowed, her arms and legs covered in bandages, her golden ponytail dancing lightly in the sea breeze that blew through the front door. In her left hand was an unused dagger, raised in preparation to throw.

He simply laughed and collapsed onto the floor; he couldn’t help himself.

She crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow. “If you could laugh, I take it that you’re fine.”

He slowly sat up. “I am, now that you saved my life. You came at just the right time.”

She shook her head as she stepped forward, her eyes focused on Nava’s still body on the ground. “No, I should have come earlier. Nava…”

The smile disappeared from his face as he shut his eyes. “When I came, it was already too late for him…”

They remained in silence, mourning their latest loss. Alundra felt a wave of despair washing over him… how many more people would he see die before him?

Then, there was a burst of light from behind the body.

A violet whirlpool of energy formed on the wooden floor near them, rotating steadily. From its centre, the dark silhouette of a man appeared, his cloak fluttering in the magical wind. The old voice that came from him was instantly recognisable.

“Now, now… there is no use crying over spilled tea, now is there?”

The Releaser’s eyes widened. “N-Nava?!”

“But you are…” Meia glanced at the dead body of the old man on the floor, then back at the spirit.

The spirit nodded. “Indeed it is I, Nava. Even after death, as long as we are still a Guardian, we will ascend as spirits and continue to guard the Crest that we hold. No doubt you have met others in this state, like Lars.”

Alundra grinned, relieved that the old man was not truly gone. “So they really mean it when they tell you to guard it with your life? Speaking of which, was your Crest taken?”

“No, fortunately not. Extend your hand, Alundra.”

A ball of light appeared above his hands, materialising into a Crest… the final Crest. The silver hawk clutched the gleaming diamond in its talons, its wings spread triumphantly.

“It’s time you knew the truth, Alundra Meia…” Nava continued. “The story behind the demon. I am sure you are familiar with the legend of King Snow.”

Both elves nodded.

And he began reciting the legend, the story that had been passed down throughout the world, through generations.

 

There once rose a kingdom of faraway lands,
There once ruled a legendary king revered by all,
There once stood a lake shrine, now beneath the sands,
There once befell a calamity that struck like a squall.

From the skies, a star fell onto the earth,
From the star, a great being emerged,
From the castle, the great king thought,
From its power, oh, what legend to be wrought.

With a contract between them, there was much to gain,
With a grin on his face, the being neared,
With a raise of his hands, a great light appeared,
With a burst of light, transcendent the king became.

On the lake, the new shrine staid,
On the pedestal, the being stood high,
On the king’s persuasion, the people prayed,
On the people, dreams were granted with a sigh.

Then,
Filled with power, the being deemed the people worthless,
Filled with ambition, he declared himself a ruler ruthless,
Filled with terror, the people unable to stand and fight,
Filled with darkness, nightmares plagued them day and night.

By the end of the great war the shrine of the lake sunken,
By the power of the seven crests the lake was sealed,
By the deeds of the heroes the seven guardians chosen,
By the command of the king the being’s images broken.

There once rose a kingdom of faraway lands,
There once ruled a legendary king revered by all,
There once stood a lake shrine, now beneath the sands,
There once befell a calamity that struck like a squall.

 

“We also heard a little from Stenia,” Alundra added. “The demon actually wasn’t a being from a distant star like the legend says… he was originally a statue carved from the fallen rock from the sky, given life by the prayers of the people.”

The Guardian nodded. “Yes, that is one truth that deviates from the legend… and there is another. Days were filled with death, grief, and fear as the nightmares plagued the people of the kingdom as they did to the people of Inoa. When they could not take it any longer, they rushed into the castle and overthrew the king. Blinded with fear, they thought the act would impress the demon enough to give them mercy.”

“Wait,” he interrupted. “That’s different from the legend. If they overthrew King Snow, then how did he end up leading the war against the demon?”

He chuckled. “Aha, that is again where the story deviates. You see, the king that sealed a contract with the demon was King Snow’s father. Unlike his ambitious father, King Snow focused on bringing peace to the land and declared war in hopes of defeating the merciless demon. With a sword he had crafted from the very rock that the demon’s sculptured body was made of, he led the war and personally joined the battle. But even though he was a legendary warrior, legendary smith, legendary everything… he could not destroy the demon entirely. He could only seal him.”

There was a momentary silence.

“So…” the swordsman started. “Where’s the sword that King Snow had now?”

Nava shook his head. “I do not know. Some said it disappeared after the war. Some believe it was passed down to King Snow’s descendants.”

He sighed. “Oh man, I thought we could gain some leverage with that sword…”

Meia turned towards her companion. “Maybe it’s best not to think about it. We don’t have time to leave this place and search for the sword, when the demon is getting stronger each day…”

“You’re right.” He turned towards the Guardian. “Thanks for the history lesson, Nava. We should get going and start planning on how to steal the rest of the Crests back.”

Nava nodded. “I hope the story will be of use to you two. Once all seven Crests are gathered, they need to be placed into the designated pedestals around the lake northwest of Inoa on a full moon night. Then, the seal will be released.” He spread his arms. “The final battle looms before you, Releaser. Think of me as you battle the foul being. The heavens shall cry out when his destruction is complete!”

He grinned. “Of course!”

The female dreamwalker nodded. “Goodbye, Nava.”

Alundra stood up from the floor, still feeling a little shaky from the electric shock he had been struck with earlier, then, both of them turned and walked towards the front door.

However, just as he stepped through the door, there was a snarl from behind him.

“That Crest is MINE!!”

“ALUNDRA!!” Meia screamed.

Something large tackled him from behind with a loud scream, knocking him violently against the floorboards of the wooden platform. The Crest dropped out of his hand as it struck against the wooden railing, which the attacker snatched up easily.

Alundra got up hurriedly and drew his sword.

His eyes widened.

Zorgia, panting heavily, clutching his bloody wound on the chest.

He grinned, his crimson eyes filled with triumph.

He leaped high into the air, his wings spread, and, with his remaining strength, threw the Diamond Crest as hard as he could.

And then, suddenly devoid of strength, the metallic blue blood spilling out from his wound… he fell over the railing and landed in the sea water.

Never to be seen again.

The Diamond Crest flew through the air and landed with a soft tinkling on the cliff behind Nava’s cabin.

The elves rushed as fast as they could… but it was too late.

A white monkey stood at the cliff, picked up the Crest and, with a high triumphant screech, rushed into the woods.

The last of the Crests was gone.

The Murgg had them all.

Alundra punched the ground furiously.

Meia shut her eyes.

They knew.

With all the Crests gathered… the time to battle the demon would soon come.

 


 

The hot afternoon sunrays streamed between the forest trees as the two dreamwalkers made their way back to Inoa, the loss of the final Crest weighing heavily on their hearts.

Meia lowered her head. “I’m sorry, Alundra.”

The swordsman turned towards her. “What for?”

“For losing the Crests. Even after you have entrusted them to me…” She shook her head. “I did everything I could, but I couldn’t protect them… or the people of Inoa…”

He smiled and placed a hand on her shoulder. “It’s not your fault, Meia. I shouldn’t have asked you to guard the Crests, because it only made you the Murgg’s main target.” He released a heavy sigh. “It was because of me that you got all those wounds…”

“No, don’t blame yourself.” Her eyes focused once more, filled with the same fighting spirit he had seen in her during the fire. “We can get them back.”

He shook his head. “No, I don’t think it’s a good idea. By now, all the Crests must be very well guarded… we could think about sneaking past the Murgg when they unseal the lake.”

She stared at him. “Fighting the demon with possibly the whole tribe after you?”

He half-shrugged. “Or we could ask Septimus’ opinion when he’s well enough; it’s his department after all. Which reminds me… why did you come and find me? Did something happen?”

She nodded. “Beaumont called for a meeting to discuss the next course of action, inviting a representative from each remaining family… Septimus asked me to get you, and he was explaining to everyone else about the demon when I left. Cephas told me you were looking for Nava.”

“A meeting? Well, I hope they’re more receptive about our warnings this time…”

It was a few minutes before they finally arrived at the village’s southern entrance. Alundra noted that the people who were at their destroyed homes had disappeared, probably at the meeting the mayor had called.

Beaumont’s mansion was quieter, calmer. The halls were emptier, for most of the villagers, even some of the injured, had gathered in the dining room. They squeezed together around the extremely long dining table, with some sitting on wooden boxes and stools pulled from various rooms of the mansion… but despite the fact that the room was so full to the point there was no space to even stand, everyone was deathly quiet. Some had their eyes closed, some lowered their heads. Their faces were grim.

As the two dreamwalkers stepped into the room, Septimus, who stood near the door, the bandage around his head showing traces of blood, faced them and nodded. “I just told them about the demon, about what we have been doing so far since you came to Inoa… what we tried to warn them.”

“I see.” Meia glanced around the room. “It seems you have all realised the truth now.”

Some of the people shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

Beaumont, who stood at the head of the table, turned towards them. “Yes… if only we realised it sooner. The truth behind the god we trusted our lives with…”

“Beaumont,” an all-too-familiar voice called. “Have Alundra and his friends turned you into a blasphemer?”

Everyone turned towards the door behind Alundra and Meia. The chancellor stepped slowly into the dining room, his white robe trailing behind him, his wrinkled face extremely grim.

Beaumont straightened. “I believe even the most faithful of us realise the truth by now, Ronan. The reason for the nightmares… and the reason for the Murgg attacks. You saw what happened to Giles, possibly the most pious among us.”

Ronan sneered. “Are you prepared to betray our gods? To cast aside your very faith?”

He closed his eyes and shook his head. “The gods we once knew… do not watch over us any longer.”

“The gods we once knew do not exist anymore!” Kisha shouted, her eyes glistening with tears of anger. “All we have been left with is a malicious tormentor!”

Lutas lowered his head. “I… think so, too. If there were really were gods, they would never do such terrible things to us.”

Many others started to shout as well.

“That’s right!”

“Is this how the gods repay us for our prayer and devotion?!”

“Maybe the gods have deceived us all this while!!”

Ronan abruptly slammed his hand on the table, silencing everyone at once. “You’re all fools! Why do you always expect more from the gods? Why are you not satisfied with prayer and simple faith in the powers above and their infinite wisdom, with the knowledge that the gods are watching over us and guiding us? Why should the gods have to prove themselves to you time and again? Or to anyone, for that matter?”

“Ronan.” Beaumont’s voice was firm. “We have been praying to a demon in the guise of a god of light, and that demon seeks to destroy us. It has become an undeniable fact.”

The crowd grew rowdy once more, everyone wanting to talk at once.

Kisha nodded. “That’s right, the demon has abused and betrayed us!”

“When our ancestors burned the idols and stopped worshipping him,” Rumi started. “He took away their ability to create… and us, their descendants, have been cursed the same way.”

“What are you talking about?” the chancellor demanded. “Instead of that, the gods have given you the power to control your dreams!”

Meia raised a hand to the air. Silence filled the room once more.

“You are all wrong,” she revealed. “You fail to understand what is truly happening.” She glanced around. “I did not understand it fully myself until a few moments ago… you think the demon became angry with your ancestors when they stopped praying to him, but that is not what really happened.”

The swordsman turned towards her. “Meia?”

“The gods’ life force is the power of human prayer, and the demon is no different. He was strong when the people of the past worshipped him and began to grow weaker when the idols were burned. As his strength ebbed, perhaps he wondered; what would happen if the people started praying again… but to a new god?” She shook her head. “He was afraid. Frightened that another god would be created in his place… that he would be forgotten and perish. To preserve himself, he had to make certain that we kept praying to him alone… and so he inflicted the cursed nightmares upon this village.”

The people were stunned. A collective gasp could be heard across the room.

Gustav shook his head incredulously. “He’s… afraid of us?”

“That is not true!” Ronan shouted.

Septimus held his chin in his hand. “I see now… I have always wondered how the demon took away the power to create from the people of this village, when he came to life from the power of human prayers. In actual fact, they have never lost the power to create in the first place… the demon never stole it away, because he never could. Instead, he went into everyone’s hearts and made them believe they have lost them. The proof is Jess, who regained his passion to create and made wondrous weapons to aid us.”

“The demon is nothing more than a vulture,” Meia stated coldly. “Picking at the exposed remains of our vulnerable spirits. When you thought your power to create had vanished, your bodies and minds reacted, and you gained the ability to control dreams instead. That made the demon even more fearful of you, for you were all becoming more powerful than him… and that was when he decided he had to kill the most powerful of us.”

All eyes focused at her in disbelief.

The scholar closed his eyes. “Nadia, who could make objects explode as she slept. Kline, whose strength was unrivalled. Sybill, whose dream told us of the future…”

Everyone lapsed into silence.

A moment passed. Another moment passed.

Everyone began to straighten. Their eyes focused, filled with anger and determination.

The answer was clear.

They could no longer trust the one they used to call their god.

Ronan’s eyes blazed. His winkled hands pointed at everyone accusingly.

“I will curse you!” he snarled. “I shall curse you all for the rest of your miserable existence!!”

And he stormed out of the room.

Beaumont heaved a sigh. “To think it was our own god who caused our nightmares, a destroyer of our own fabrication… it’s terrifying.”

“Such bitter irony, isn’t it?” Meia said quietly.

He nodded. “Yes. It seems we should not make this decision rashly… we should give it some more thought. We will meet again later to finalise our decision.” He glanced grimly across the room. “To continue to worship the demon as a god… or to challenge him with the powers we’ve amassed at the risk of our eternal souls?”

There was another moment of silence. Now that their anger had ebbed away, doubt had started to set in. They barely survived against the Murgg attack, how could they hope to battle against a god?

The villagers slowly filed out one by one out of the dining room, the able ones supporting the injured, their shoulders hunched from the weight of doubt. Within a moment, the room was all empty, except for Alundra, Meia and Septimus.

Then, the Releaser stood up, his eyes grim. “I’m going to see Ronan. I’ve a feeling he’s up to something… and since he hates me so much, I’d better get it out of him before he targets the villagers.”

“He has the demon on his side, Alundra,” Meia argued, standing beside him. “Anything can happen. I will come with you.”

The scholar nodded, getting up as well. “Count me in.”

Alundra hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “It might be dangerous… but you probably already know that. Both of you are in this as much as I am. Here.” He pulled out the Ice and Fire Wands from his backpack and handed them to the other two. “In case anything happens, just swing them. The demon might send another monster our way… or he might turn Ronan into a werewolf like Giles and Kline.”

He shook his head as he took the Ice Wand. “What about you?”

He grinned. “I have spells, remember?”

Meia held the Fire Wand at her side. “Let us go. The sooner we face Ronan, the sooner we will eliminate the people’s uncertainties.”

 


 

The interior of the sanctuary was dark. Gloomy. Even more so when Alundra first came to this place. Sunlight streamed through the coloured stained glass windows, but it was as though there was a thick black fog inside the building itself… as though something was evil was manifesting.

Ronan stood upon the elevated platform covered in dull red carpet, just behind the exposed staircase that led to the basement. He did not turn even when he heard the footsteps behind him, continuing to stare at the miniature house on the biggest altar that most likely hid the demon’s image.

“I knew, Alundra…” the chancellor started, then suddenly whirled around to face them, his eyes wide with fury. “I knew I should have smitten you when I first had the opportunity! Before you came, we all prayed to the gods, then you arrived. We began to die gruesome, horrid deaths as our gods turned their favour from us… our relationship with the gods were destroyed because of you!”

The swordsman lowered his head, despair filling up his heart. It was true that the deaths only started after he had arrived… but, how could he have ignored Lars’ warning in his repeated dreams of a burning Inoa? How could he have ignored the deaths, the torture the demon was putting the villagers through now that he knew the truth?

To his surprise, Meia touched his arm in reassurance. Her eyes continued to glare coldly at the chancellor.

It was a reminder.

Even if he did not arrive in this village… the demon would find another way to torment the people.

And he steeled his heart. This was the choice he had made, this was the reason why he had heeded Lars’ request.

A sinister grin formed on Ronan’s face. “But… it can yet be repaired. The gods will forgive us… if only we offer your soul in sacrifice.”

Septimus gasped. “Ronan, you wouldn’t…”

He turned back towards the altar, clasping his hands together in prayer. “My Lord, give ear to the supplication of your humble servant!” He suddenly spread his arms, as though receiving blessings from the heavens. “I beg of you, oh great one, to give me power to destroy the demon that is invading our dreams!”

“Ronan! No!” Alundra shouted.

There was a great flash of light, so bright that it obscured everything in sight. The three of them drew back on impulse, raising their arms to shield their tightly shut eyes.

When the light dimmed, they gasped.

Ronan was gone.

And, in his place, almost touching the high ceiling of the sanctuary, was a gigantic, gruesome, hideous monster.

Its head was like a white skull, with white muscles and skin stretching from the face to the torso to form the neck. The silver hair on its head stood on ends as though an electric shockwave had passed through.

The arms were skinny, muscular, disfigured. The right hand was clawed, like that of a werewolf. The left one was replaced by an emerald-green orb, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a cannon.

The back was riddled with bone spikes. Below the hip was a mere lump of muscle and skin that was not shaped into leg, supporting the weight of the body without mobility.

The muscles could be seen clearly on the torso, white as snow. There were loose strands of muscle and skin connecting from the shoulders or arms to the hip, looking as though there was once a purpose for them.

On the left side of the chest was a beating heart, the colour of emerald.

It was a failed, incomplete transformation.

It was as though they were looking at the result of a failed experiment. It was as though the god had abandoned his creation halfway through the process, leaving it as a disfigured, distorted monster.

Yet, Ronan laughed with pure ecstasy and glory.

“Such beautiful, powerful body!” he cried, spreading his clawed right hand and cannon-like left hand. “I shall not let you down, my Lord!” A sinister grin formed on his ghastly white face. “It seems the lord has taken pity on your miserable soul, Alundra. With this body, I shall slay you so quickly that you will feel no pain. Come now… step forth to receive your eternal judgment!”

He roared, the loud roar resonating across the room like the clap of thunder. The spikes on his back start to shine with a bright blue light, nearly enough to blind everyone. Lightning blue arrows made of pure energy abruptly rained down from the ceiling, fired from the spikes.

Alundra quickly stepped forward and spread his shining hands, the Water Shield forming around the three of them protectively just as the arrows struck them. The wooden benches near them were struck mercilessly by the arrows, easily shattered into pieces that flew all over the hall.

Suddenly, Meia rushed out of the barrier of water, drawing the monster’s attention.

“Meia!!” the other two yelled at the same time.

She ignored her companions’ cries, her body leaning forward as she reached to her lower back for her sheathed daggers, her other hand gripping the Fire Wand tightly. The magic arrows changed direction midway and rained onto her instead, but she weaved between them as though they were moving slowly. Her eyes focused intensely, she abruptly whirled on her heels and leaped high into the air, flinging dagger right at Ronan, which were easily deflected with a flick of the clawed hand.

But the swordsman understood. She did it to buy them time.

Releasing his Water Shield, he quickly grabbed Septimus by the shoulders and pushed him towards the door.

“Get to somewhere safe!” he shouted. “No offense, but we can’t focus if we have to protect you!”

Septimus nodded, holding tightly onto the Ice Wand as he started running towards the staircase leading to the next floor. “I leave it to you!”

Ronan roared once more, drawing Alundra’s attention back to the fray. Meia was running back and forth, parrying and evading the magic arrows as well as the monster’s lashing clawed hand, but despite her quick reflexes, one could tell she was breathing rapidly, clearly tiring.

“Hey, bonehead!” the Releaser shouted as he ran forward. “Eat THIS!!”

With all of this strength, he jumped high into the air, his shining blade poised to strike. However, he was violently struck down in mid-jump and he crashed down painfully on his back. His sword slid across the floor out of reach. His left arm had been grazed by something sharp, drawing blood that now trickled down to the floor.

As he looked up, his eyes widened.

Circling around Ronan was a line formation of ball-sized lump of flesh, their surface riddled with sharp spikes. They formed a uniform line in front of their master, their sharp spikes glinting in the light of the sun through the windows, and then stormed towards Alundra, who scrambled to his feet. He yelped and jumped each time the spiked flesh tried to strike him, barely missing him by inches.

“Alundra!!” Meia shouted and swung the Fire Wand as hard as she could.

A wave of golden flames rushed forward like a dragon’s breath – like Wilda’s fire breath – and engulfed the spiked balls. They fell harmlessly onto the floor as the strong smell of charred flesh spread across the hall, sending a wave of nausea over Alundra. Nonetheless, he ran as fast as he could and finally grabbed his sword off the floor.

At that very moment, he heard a collection of gasps, filled with disbelief and shock.

The villagers had gathered at the entrance of the sanctuary upon hearing the loud noises. Their eyes were wide open as they stared at the gruesome monster that stood before the main altar of the prayer hall.

Could it be… the demon?

Ronan chuckled. “Ah, so the people have come…” He raised the left arm and pointed the emerald-green orb towards them. “Come! Receive your FINAL JUDGMENT!!”

The orb began to glow with a white light that gradually intensified. A thin line of light, like a straight silver thread, shone across the room and aimed at the frightened villagers.

Then, the orb shone a dazzling white light, spreading like the rays of the sun.

Alundra’s heart froze.

A cannon.

The priest was willing to kill his own brethrens for distrusting their god.

The people screamed, some attempting to flee… but others stayed rooted on the ground, unable to move as they gaped at the light.

“NO!!” Alundra screamed and sped across the room as fast as he could.

“Alundra!” Meia exclaimed.

He skidded to a stop directly in between the monster and the villagers, his arms raised to the side as though to take the full blow, the thin line of light from the orb now aiming directly at his chest. His hands were shining.

“WATER SHIELD!!”

The azure barrier appeared in front of him, stretching across the hall horizontally to protect the villagers.

And, with a loud roar that shook the sanctuary like the clap of thunder, an enormous ray of white light shot towards him.

He gritted his teeth as he felt the overwhelming power of the ray crashing against his shield, leaning forward as he tried to hold against it. Pain shot through his arms, a burning pain like the rush of white-hot electricity. His whole body shining, he pushed the barrier forward, trying to channel even more energy into it, but it was taking of all of his strength just to hold it in front of him.

Before the tremendous power that rushed towards it… the Water Shield was like a vulnerable glass.

“Why, Ronan?!” he growled. “Why are you doing this?! You and your ancestors have been this village’s priest for generations! Aren’t you supposed to SUPPORT them?!”

Ronan laughed. A cold, cruel laugh. “Fool, the Lord is our salvation! If they cannot believe in him, then it is only fitting that he stops supporting them!” He raised his clawed right hand, new spiked balls of flesh forming and separating from the arms. “He has given me this body to pass on the final judgment upon all of you. And my verdict is, unfortunately… for you to DIE!!”

All of the spiked balls of flesh charged forward at once, like a barrage of strikes against the already weakened shield. Alundra began breathing heavily, beads of perspire flowing down his face in large amounts, his strength sapped by the Water Shield that was his lifeline.

The people’s lifeline.

“Alundra!” Lutas suddenly shouted. “You can do it!”

“We believe in you, Alundra!” Kisha cried.

“Protect us, Alundra!” a woman added.

“Alundra! Alundra!”

The crowd was calling his name.

They now trusted him more than they did their god.

Yet his heart was filled with doubt.

He could not hold on much longer.

“RONAN!!” Meia screamed, throwing a dagger with all of her might.

The dagger struck the left cannon arm, right through the wrist.

The monster howled with pain. The bright light then disappeared all at once, as though nothing had happened.

“W-whoa!” the swordsman exclaimed as he stumbled forward and fell flat on his face, the force of the energy ray no longer pushing on his magic barrier.

Ronan snarled, his crimson eyes glaring at the female dreamwalker, and pointed his cannon at her.

Alundra’s eyes widened. “MEIA!!”

Suddenly, a gigantic spiked ball of steel was dropped directly on top of the monster’s head.

There was the sickening crack of crushing bones.

The crimson eyes grew glassy… and the monster collapsed onto the floor with a loud crash.

Behind him was Septimus, standing next to a particular bookshelf, his hand pressed against the bottom of a shelf.

He had activated one of the traps that the chancellor had installed himself.

The scholar seemed surprised himself. “Is it… truly over?”

Alundra grinned. “Septimus! The genius has done it!”

Meia shook her head. “We should be cautious. He may be merely unconscious.”

The three of them approached the unmoving body slowly, cautiously. It seemed as though it was truly over… but then, suddenly the monster snarled and reached out towards them.

“GET BACK!!” Alundra shouted, pushing his two companions out of the way just as a white clawed hand grabbed him by the neck.

“Alundra!!” the two of them exclaimed.

“Now, now…” Ronan said as he pushed himself up and straightened to his full height, holding a struggling Alundra by the neck. “I am a man of the gods! You cannot defeat me so easily!!”

The swordsman struggled as hard as he could, trying to pull away the fingers that were pressing tightly on his windpipe, trying to focus his mind enough to cast an offensive spell.

But he had already spent all of his energy to hold his Water Shield against the powerful energy ray earlier.

He could do nothing more than struggle fruitlessly as his lungs burned for air.

“ALUNDRA!!” Septimus yelled, swinging the Ice Wand furiously.

The effect was immediate. The white-cold waves of frost engulfed the monster, freezing its whole torso, head and right arm up to the wrist. Meia sped forward and leaped gracefully into the air, her eyes focused intensely, then swung her dual daggers twice at the frozen wrist.

The arm shattered immediately, like glass, dropping the still-moving hand holding Alundra onto the floor. He gasped loudly, feeling the air rushing into his lungs.

Right at the sanctuary’s entrance in front of the crowd, Kisha knelt on the floor and nocked an arrow into the bow in her hand, raising it to the level of her shoulders like an experienced archer.

“Brother, with this talent I have discovered after you have gone…” Her eyes blazed, then she yelled as she released the arrow, “I’ll fight the gods themselves if that’s what it takes to restore peace to this place!”

The arrow shot across the hall in a curved line.

And pierced Ronan right through the beating green heart beneath the ice.

The crimson eyes bulged. He raised his head towards the ceiling.

“Oh… my Lord…” His voice was hoarse. “I… am your…”

A strangled gasp escaped his throat. His body shone brightly. Within a blink of an eye, the monster shrunk, reverting back to human form in an instant, his white robe shredded and torn.

Then, to their horror, he began to rot before their eyes. As though his very life-force had been spent.

The silver hair shrivelled and dried up, like bushes in a desert. The fair wrinkled skin darkened as though burned, shrinking as though it was a balloon with its air released.

He began to smoke, as though there was a fire inside him.

His eyes bulged, widened with horror. His mouth opened as though gasping for air.

He took a step forward, his hand reached out towards Alundra as though refusing to back down.

An inhuman cry rang across the sanctuary, sending a shudder up everyone’s spine.

And he collapsed.

Never to move again.

There was a deathly silence in the air.

A moment later, Septimus extended a hand to help Alundra up. “Are you all right?”

“I-I’m fine,” his companion coughed and took the hand for support to stand up.

The shocked crowd started to enter the sanctuary, their eyes focused on the chancellor’s still, shrivelled, darkened body on the ground.

They muttered disbelievingly among themselves.

“Ronan is… a monster…”

“Did he become one by… praying to the gods…?”

Alundra, Meia and Septimus did not answer as they stood by the body, their heads lowered. A few others, including Lutas and Beaumont, joined them.

“Good has triumphed over evil!” Kisha declared loudly. “Why are you saddened by his death?” She lowered her head. “He had done nothing to save Giles when he had been like a father to him…”

Alundra closed his eyes, unable to respond.

Septimus shook his head and spoke, his voice soft. “He trusted what he believed to be his god with his life, willing to let himself to undergo such an inhuman transformation to stop us… but in the end, he was just a tool, Kisha.”

Meia’s eyes were cold. “A mere pawn in the cruel game that the demon plays with our life.”

Deep in everyone’s hearts, they had already suspected… yet, the cold, harsh truth pierced them through their hearts.

No one was safe. Even those who would willingly give their lives for their gods.

 


 

Once the demon’s statue had been destroyed, the people quickly found the sanctuary’s basement to be the safest place to seek refuge from the Murgg and, with the remaining hours of daylight, started to move their remaining provisions there. Food, blankets, medicine, lamps… anything they still had, they brought with them.

As night slowly descended in Inoa once more, Alundra did one last search around the village in case there were anyone left behind, while Meia stood guard at the sanctuary’s entrance as the villagers returned one-by-one with their belongings. Septimus waited by the staircase leading to the basement as the people filed inside, mentally keeping note of the head count.

Once everyone had safely entered, the dreamwalkers and scholar went in last, making sure the altar was locked in place over the staircase before they descended.

There was an air of gloom in the sanctuary’s basement. The people sat around the room, talking to each other in hushed whispers. The chilling memory of Ronan’s painful death stayed in their minds.

When trio stepped into the room, however, everyone stopped talking at once and focused their eyes on them. Meia continued to walk, unfazed by the attention, while her companions hesitantly followed behind her.

Kisha was the first to stand up and clap her hands together, followed by Rumi and her twin boys, then Lutas and his wife. Then Beaumont. Then the others followed suit.

The room resonated with calm applause.

Septimus smiled and joined the applause. Even Meia did so.

“What?” Alundra stared around confusedly. “What’s this for?”

Beaumont cleared his throat, prompting the applause to die down. “Alundra, ever since you came to our humble village, you have done nothing but help whoever needed your assistance. Your first deed was to save Wendell from his nightmare–”

Nestus suddenly started wailing at the mention of his dead grandfather, prompting his braver twin brother to touch his arm and say, “Nestus, don’t cry… you’re not a boy anymore.”

The mayor cleared his throat once more and continued, “You saved Bonaire and Elene. You tried to save Olen, Nadia, Kline and Giles. You saved Meade’s boys from the coastal cave, and Bergus again from the Murgg. You even went to the volcano to calm it for us, however you did it, and you helped as many people as you could in the fire. And you showed us Ronan’s true face… or rather, the demon’s true face… and what would happen if we were to submit entirely to him. Yet, all this while… we have done nothing to repay you. We listened to Ronan’s accusations of you being a devil, and we contemplated his suggestion of expelling you…” He lowered his head. “All I can do is thank you… again… for your heroism. You are all that most of us have faith in anymore.”

The crowd murmured their agreement. Those who had called the male elf a devil lowered their head in regret and embarrassment.

“You have helped us so much, Alundra, especially my family,” Rumi stated, her hands on Nestus and Bergus’ shoulders. “We are indebted to you. We can never repay you… but we promise to help you whenever we can.”

Their heartfelt words and actions made Alundra turn a brilliant shade of red.

“Oh, come on,” he said, rubbing his head embarrassedly. “I didn’t do all that by myself. I had loads of help, especially from Meia and Septimus.”

Septimus shook his head. “Without you, we wouldn’t even make it this far.”

“But now…” the mayor continued. “We have to think of our next course of action.” He glanced at his fellow villagers. “We will stay here inside the sanctuary until it is all over; these strong walls will keep us safe if and when the Murgg attack again.”

“They do not need to break down walls!” Gustav suddenly shouted. “They can appear beside us through our own dreams! Or have you already forgotten what caused the fire that killed my sweet Elene in the first place?!”

“Gustav!” Rumi cried. “Both Bergus and Nestus are here with us!”

Meia shook her head. “Calm down. I can promise you the Murgg cannot invade our dreams. Bergus and Nestus are a special case.”

Elene’s father grumbled. “Fine… I have no reason to distrust you, Meia, but tell me this… if the demon invades our nightmares, what then? Not even you and Alundra combined could save all of us. All we are doing is waiting for him to extinguish our lives!”

“SILENCE!” she yelled, so loudly and fiercely that it made many of them jump. “We’re not here to die, Gustav! We came here to join forces and fight for life! Everyone here has suffered the loss of a loved one… so spare us your self pity!!”

Alundra stared at her admirably. It appeared even she could be over taken by anger…

“Please!” Beaumont said quickly. “Let’s calm down and listen carefully. Meia is right, we are here to join forces and fight for our lives. Though we have yet to regain our power to create, we still have our power to control our dreams… and that is our secret weapon.”

“What do you mean, Beaumont?” Lutas asked.

He nodded and glanced around the room. “Everyone, we are going to join hands and relax until we drift into sleep. And then, we shall dream the exact same dream… of a strong hero. A hero under our control, who shall join with Alundra to destroy the demon.”

There was a pause.

“To tell the truth, Beaumont…” a man started. “I can’t imagine what a ‘hero’ would look like.”

“Me too,” a woman said. “If even one of us has a different mental image than the others…”

The crowd started talking among themselves, an expression of doubt on their faces.

“I have an idea,” Septimus stated, and the noise died down. “Why not simply visualise Alundra? I think we are all very familiar with his appearance… and I cannot imagine anyone more heroic. Does anyone disagree?”

Beaumont nodded approvingly. “Not a bad idea, Septimus.”

“Yes,” Lutas agreed. “I can do that.”

Rumi smiled. “I think we all can.”

The Releaser grinned roguishly. “And if you guys can’t imagine what I look like, I’m just right here! Seriously though…” He shook his head. “Do I really look like a hero to you guys?”

The crowd glanced at each other, smiled and said unwaveringly, “YES!”

He scratched his head embarrassedly. “Oh, come on…”

“Well then, enough talk.” The mayor smiled at his people. “It is time for us to dream.”

Everyone drew closer to the centre of the room, forming a tight circle. They reached out and held each other’s hands.

Alundra stayed back, unsure as to what to do, but Meia gestured towards him to join.

“We are dreamwalkers, Alundra,” she stated. “Even if our powers are not quite the same as theirs, we can help their dreams to become stronger. The only problem is Septimus…”

“I know I’m not really from this land,” the scholar admitted. “And I’ve never prayed to the demon or attained the power of dreams…” He grinned. “But it’s the thought that counts, right?”

The three of them joined the circle, their hands linked with those of the person beside them. Everyone closed their eyes, and slowly drifted to a dream-like state.

Alundra imagined himself walking through the decorated interior of the castle, his sword drawn, his eyes focused forward. Just like the dream Sybill had once showed him.

The stone walls that rose to intimidate him. The stone guardians of the gate that glared suspiciously at him. He entered the deepest depths of the lake shrine, where the torches suddenly came to life with azure flames… and there was the demon, his heroic cape billowing.

Then, he saw an image in his mind, one outside his imagination. There was a soaring silver hawk, its wings spread majestically. The moment he blinked, however, he abruptly realised it was not a hawk… but a man with long, flowing silver hair, his ears pointed like an elf’s, his cerulean blue eyes shining with kindness.

King… Snow?

The silver-haired man smiled and extended his hands towards him, which held a glowing sword. Uncertain, the Releaser reached out and took it.

Suddenly, he felt a rush of power inside him, warm and energising. He snapped his eyes opened, waking up from the ‘dream’, and realised he was shining as well, his hands holding the sword given by the silver-haired man. The light did not last long, however, for it soon disappeared away, leaving him with the weapon.

It was truly a well-crafted beautiful sword, and it seemed to glow faintly even in the dim room. The blade was a mysterious silver colour, seemingly made of a material not from this world. Its hilt was a golden colour, crafted with the pattern of an eagle’s majestically spread wings. The azure jewel in the centre of the hilt bore an uncanny resemblance to the silver-haired man’s cerulean blue eyes.

The Holy Sword. The sword that Jess would have crafted if Lutas had died.

The villagers were surprised, not quite expecting their dreams to be able to create such a weapon for him, and gathered around him to get a glimpse of the sword.

“The jewel,” Kisha said softly. “They’re like your eyes.”

“My eyes?” the swordsman echoed. He had thought it looked like the eyes of that silver-haired man.

Beaumont placed a hand on the blade, a smile on his face. “This is what we feel, Alundra. We know you can defeat the demon. We give you all of our faith… our heart… our strength. All in this weapon.”

Alundra gazed down at the Holy Sword and his own sheathed sword, mixed feelings coursing through his heart. Then, he unstrapped his own sword at his waist and handed it to Meia.

“Meia,” he called. “We’re all fighting the demon. Even if he’s afraid of us, he’s still a god… we’ll need everything we can get. Here, take my sword, I don’t need two.”

She shook her head. “But that’s the one that Crowe…”

“You guessed, eh? Yeah, this is Crowe’s last gift before he died… but I’m lending it to you, not giving it to you, you know? Use it to protect the people while I find our good friend at the lake shrine.”

“No.” Her voice was resolute. “I will come with you. This place will hold off the Murgg, so our biggest threat is the demon… if there are two of us, there is a better chance to defeat him.”

“You’re right. Well, then take the sword.” He grinned. “And make sure to stay alive so that I can ask it back from you!”

Meia suddenly smiled. “Perhaps if I were in trouble… you will protect me from harm.”

He groaned. “Oh, come on! Don’t leave it all to me!”

“She got you, Alundra!” a man yelled.

Everyone laughed.

Septimus nodded. “Alundra… I am starting to believe you are truly our saviour, good friend.”

“Alundra,” Lutas began. “You may not be born in this village, but this is your home now. We are your friends… your family. We trust you with our lives.”

Friends. Family. The words touched Alundra’s heart to the point his eyes stung with unshed tears. He smiled as he gazed at the people of Inoa… the people who had become his family.

“Thank you for trusting me, everyone.” He closed his eyes. “I’ve been an adventurer all my life, travelling everywhere, exploring the unknown, with one man who was like a father to me. After he died, I continued to travel… but in reality, I might have been searching for a place to call home.”

Concern flashed across Meia’s face. He knew she must be reminded of his dream of the past.

“Even though I haven’t been here long, and I can’t say all the memories here are good,” he continued, then smiled again. “But now, I can truly call this place my home. I won’t let you down, everyone.”

Everyone burst into a cheer at the sincere speech, their voices echoing loudly along the walls of the sanctuary. Septimus laughed, clearly gladdened. Even Meia could not resist a smile.

Alundra grinned and held the Holy Sword above his head, their new hope.

“And now, it’s time for a counterattack!”

 

End of Chapter Seventeen.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Eighteen: One Sealed Within the Shrine

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

The full moon shone serenely in the dark night sky, the still surface of the large lake reflecting its calm golden light. A cold breeze blew across the waters, causing the tall reeds to waver. Around the lake were crumbled ruins, stone walls that had fallen apart from wear and tear, that were covered in moss, that seemed to tell a story of what happened in their prime. The small islands of land gathered at the perimeters of the lake, as though they were a crowd of people waiting apprehensively, unwilling to step into the centre.

It was though they knew that the lake hid something beneath its watery surface… something sinister.

The nights were usually quiet save the chirps of the crickets in the bushes and the hoots of the owls in the trees. Tonight, however, it was anything but quiet, for the sound of footsteps drummed against the ground.

The Murgg walked with all four of their legs, their metal claws retracted into sheaths, their golden eyes focused forward. The human followers, dressed in white hooded robes, who had come from far and near at the command of their god, strode behind with a purpose.

And the giant white ape Zazan, his footsteps shaking the earth, led the grim procession, towering high over them.

They gathered at the southern edge of the lake, slowly arranging themselves in lines that faced the waters, with their leader before them. On the three islands that pointed towards the centre of the lake, the seven stone pedestals stood like shrines on their own, like a tribute to a great king of the past.

The monkeys and people gazed eagerly forward.

The time had come.

To welcome their master back to the world.

Zazan growled and ordered his followers forward.

Seven monkeys, each one of them holding a Crest in their hands, nodded in reply and scampered forward. They crossed the wooden bridges that connected the islands, allowing them to approach the pedestals. As they stood before the intimidating altar, they hesitated for a moment, glancing at each other, and gingerly placed the Crests.

The Ruby Crest. The Emerald Crest. Agate. Sapphire. Garnet. Topaz.

And lastly, the Diamond Crest.

The moment the last Crest was placed on the pedestal, there was an audible click that drew everyone’s attention. The Crests began to shine a bright white light, like an intense lamp, then abruptly fired a thin pillar of white light towards the sky.

The monkeys at the pedestals screeched in surprise and quickly rushed back to their brethrens’ side.

A gigantic circle of magic appeared in the dark night sky directly above the large lake, each pillar of light etching magical runes into the circle. With a flash of light, the magic circle shot a gigantic pillar of white light downwards onto the lake, directly in the centre.

There was a loud rumble in the ground.

Then, the surface of the lake began to tremble.

And the shrine began to rise from the waters.

The outer stone walls rose with intimidation, partially covered with the green of aquatic moss. The stone guardians of the gates glared forward, as though to ward off any visitors. The long stone bridge rose, long and wide, parts of it covered with moss, the pillars chipped and crumbled.

It was vastly different from what they had expected. Vastly different from Inoa’s sanctuary that seemed to pale in comparison.

It was an actual castle. Built in times of glory for the one they believed to be a god.

The monkeys and people gazed at it in awe.

“The seal… is broken…” Zazan muttered, taking a disbelieving step forward. “My Lord! Your faithful subjects await!”

He was greeted by silence.

He was surprised. Didn’t they release the seal? Shouldn’t their master be free now, to give them commands, to reward them for their devotion? He felt the pangs of frustration.

Then, behind him, a few monkeys and people screamed in a panic. His blood boiling with anger, he whirled around to glare at them.

“SILENCE!!” he boomed. “This is an important moment, the moment when our Lord rises from his sleep! Why are you–”

His eyes widened.

Some of his followers, both primates and humans, have fallen to the ground. The others were rushing forward, claws and fists raised in preparation for battle.

He saw why.

And he snarled.

The goblins, known for their ingenious contraptions, firing bullets at the monkeys and followers that exploded with a bang.

The lizardmen, known as a tribe of warriors, charging forward with their shields raised in front of them.

A few humans, some firing arrows with great accuracy, some striking down with a slash of a sword.

All led by Alundra, the Releaser.

A war had begun.

 


 

Clashes of sword and steel rang across the battlefield, accompanied by screams from people and monsters alike. The fallen bodies were illuminated in the moonlight, sadly, despairing. The smell of blood and perspire was thick in the air, enough to be nauseating, yet the two groups continued to clash in the middle, one battling for their lives, one battling for their master.

Alundra gave a cry as he lunged forward, the Holy Sword in his right hand, the Fire Wand on his left. A slash of the sword brought down three of the oncoming Murgg at once, and a swing of the Fire Wand burned five of them down. Behind him, he could hear Meia keeping up with his pace, slashing the monkeys with his sword, the shattering of ice created by the Ice Wand in her hand.

The strategy they had all agreed on was going as planned.

Miming and the dwarves hid behind shelter and fired bullets that exploded with a bang upon impact from their latest contraption, similar to the one they had made to shoot fireworks during the Murgg Woods infiltration. Septimus, his ability to think much greater than his ability to fight, stayed with them to coordinate their attacks.

The giant lizardman Reptilicus Maximus – or Max – and his reptilian warrior tribe charged directly into the fray with a snarl, their shields raised to bash, their sabres poised to strike, their muscular legs trained for speed on land. Some stayed behind and guarded the weak goblins from the fray.

Most of the people of Inoa stayed behind in the safety of the village sanctuary, drifting in a sleep-like state of mind, tapping into their power of dreams that the demon had grew so afraid of. Others – including Lutas, Kisha and surprisingly Gustav – had decided to join the battle instead. Kisha, with her newfound talent of archery, pierced the enemies with absolute accuracy. Lutas, despite his calm demeanour, slashed with his sword with astonishing ferocity. Even Gustav, who had lost his beloved daughter in a fire merely days after beginning a new life with her, fought furiously with a battle mace.

The plan was going well.

Yet, they had not expected the demon’s human followers to come from other places… including the city where Meia’s mother was burned to death at the stake.

Some of them quickly fled the moment the battle started, their loyalty to their master unable to overcome their fear of death.

The others, however, were clearly fanatics. They had the same wild eyes that Ronan had when he submitted to his god, willing to throw away his life to redeem himself… and as they rushed forward without any weapons, their bodies slowly transformed into hideous white creatures.

Just like Ronan.

Alundra hesitated.

A monkey screeched and rushed at him. He struck it down easily and raised his sword to strike another.

But it wasn’t a monkey. It was a fanatic. A whole group of them, their hands raised. Ready to push him down, ready to claw him, ready to strangle him to death.

No… he couldn’t. He couldn’t strike down a fellow human… even if they had transformed just like Ronan.

“Alundra!!” Meia shouted.

With a swing of the Ice Wand in her hand, the group of fanatics were frozen solid.

He spun around to face her, his eyes wide. “Meia, you…”

“We can’t pity them, Alundra!” she said. “They are like Ronan, submitting themselves to the demon, willing to accept his words as truth and ours as lies!”

He lowered his head. “But they’re still…”

She shook her head and tried to rephrase her words. “Their minds are gone, Alundra, captured by the demon’s lies and false promises. And you know what happened to Ronan… they will meet the same painful end if they continue. The kindest thing to do would be to end their lives.”

He paused for a moment, recalling Ronan’s final moments that was filled with utmost pain, and he nodded. “You’re right… thanks for reminding me, Meia.” His eyes blazed. “We have to continue on!”

She nodded approvingly. “Let’s go!”

Both of them continued to run, weaving between their lizardmen comrades, striking down any enemy they come across. Alundra’s heart jolted with each fanatic he struck, but he knew he had to continue.

It wasn’t just a battle against an evil god.

It was a battle for their lives. For their freedom.

But the enemy wouldn’t let them charge right through to reach the lake shrine. As they skidded to a stop, they looked slowly upward.

Before them was the gigantic figure of Zazan, the leader of the Murgg.

“Who dares to challenge me?!” he roared, then his eyes focused on the two elves. “What? Humans?” He growled. “You… you are the sworn enemy of the Murgg… of the Lord! I shall feast upon your quivering entrails!”

The swordsman groaned. “Oh, come on! What’s with everyone’s fixation on my entrails?!”

His companion shook her head slowly. “We don’t have time for this. The shrine is just behind him… yet we cannot ignore him.”

Then, they heard heavy footsteps behind them.

Max strode over to them, his giant sabre lowered, and held a hand in front of the dreamwalkers, clicking his tongue as though to tell them to go. He stepped forward to face Zazan.

The chief of the lizardmen and the leader of the monkeys.

Both equally tall at fifteen feet, staring eye-to-eye.

They roared loudly and clashed in the centre, iron fists against metal sabre.

And a great battle raged between them.

“Let’s go, Alundra!” Meia urged.

“Thanks, Max!” Alundra shouted. “Be careful!”

The two elves quickly ran around the clashing leaders and stepped onto the stone bridge that led to the lake shrine.

The Releaser stopped for a moment, glancing back at the battlefield.

Fire from the goblins’ explosion had grown, staining the night sky a golden-crimson colour, overwhelmingly hot as they surrounded the battle site. Some of the lizardmen had turned to stone from the demon’s curse and one had already been accidentally shattered by Zazan’s powerful fist. Some of the Murgg had reached to the dwarves’ positions and scattered them, while the villagers and lizardmen tried desperately to hold them off.

There were dead bodies of the lizardmen, goblins and humans on the ground. Covered in blood. The injured screamed in pain, unable to move.

Their lives, their freedom were riding on him.

Pain and despair filled his heart, then replaced by determination.

By hook or by crook, he would emerge victorious.

He turned towards the lake shrine.

His companion nodded at him.

And together, they ran forward, to where their final battle awaited.

 


 

They ran along the stone bridge, their footsteps resonating through the dark night sky, occasionally interrupted by splashes as they stepped on puddles. The stone was partially green with moss, slippery and damp to the touch. The stone pillars along the sides were worn, broken, some crumbled and some fallen across the bridge. Dead fishes lay upon the stone, their glassy eyes glowing in the bright moonlight.

The bridge stopped, turning into steps. It climbed high into the air, leading towards the imposing walls. At the very top of the stone staircase, the metal gates were raised. As though inviting them inside.

The courtyard was grand. The carefully-trimmed hedges formed a maze, with stone paths that would guide one around. The most spectacular of flowers adorned the garden, colourful, almost sparkling. Creature-shaped topiary and stone statues of beasts gazed forward, once drawing admiration from visitors… but now, as the courtyard lay empty without a soul, they had an eerie air about them, as though they would come to life. The outer walls surrounded them, closing in like the walls of a prison.

Alundra could not help but to notice that, unlike the bridge they had crossed, the ground here was completely dry, untouched by the lake. There were no dead fishes, there were no aquatic moss, and there were no reeds. The hedges, flowers and topiary, too, seemed too well taken care of. Yet, there was not a soul to be seen.

As though they had been static in the last thousand years.

He could feel it. The power of magic was thick in the air. Crackling softly as though waiting for the right time to detonate.

“I know my timing is horrible, Alundra…” Meia suddenly spoke. “…but I must tell you something.”

Her companion faced her. “What is it?”

She hesitated for a moment, biting her lower lip, then continued in a soft voice, “I have the most sickening feeling within the pit of my soul… the feeling that the demon is more powerful than any of us dare to believe.” She shook her head quickly. “I don’t know what has come over me, Alundra. I feel so strange. I don’t understand it…”

“Maybe… it’s fear?” He grinned. “I never knew you as the type who gets scared, Meia.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, sometimes talking to you is just pointless…”

He chuckled. “Oh, come on, I’m just joking…” Then his expression grew more serious. “But you’re right, we do need to be careful. But god or not, there must be something we can do.” He glanced around the courtyard. “And there’s something strange about this place. Just feel all that magic power…”

She nodded. “Perhaps we will find our answer within.”

They continued on, following the stone path that lay before them. The lake shrine loomed above them, built like a castle preparing for a siege.

The path led directly to it. Above the stone steps, the great double doors stayed open for them, large and heavy. Guarded by two stone reptilian statues, their fanged jaws open as though to snap at visitors the moment they passed. Their eyes glowed eerily.

Inside, through the double doors, the shrine was even more spectacular than the courtyard. It could even be called a castle. The king who built this had stopped at nothing to keep his god happy… so that he could harness his power.

The luxurious carpet of crimson red spread across hall, the floor and walls spotlessly white, stainless as though they had been cleaned and just dried minutes before. Expensive tapestry and expressive paintings hung from the walls, the suits of armours that stood guard along the halls gleamed. The torches on the walls blazed… but with frozen orange fire.

They passed through a library, the books suspended in midair just inches away from their shelves as though they froze while falling towards the floor. The dining room was brightly lit, the long dining table laden with silverware and plates of luxurious food, still seemingly fresh a thousand years later. Flying gargoyles – like those in the villagers’ nightmares – stopped in midair, their eyes bulged, their fangs bared, their claws poised to strike… as though they were statues.

Could it be that time… had been stopped?

They soon arrived at a large hall, the equivalent of the throne room of a castle, the walls a stunning white colour, the floor a shining gold, the path of crimson carpet leading them forward. A gigantic throne made entirely of white marble, standing majestically on the raised platform at the far end of the hall, made as though fit for a giant. And there, in the centre of the hall, were six marble braziers arranged in a circle, so large that they could fit a round table each. Azure flames blazed from them, unlike the frozen torches on the walls of the castle, like azure phoenixes dancing gracefully.

Alundra inhaled sharply, drawing back.

The power of magic was even more overwhelming in this hall. Thick. Suffocating. Seemingly reacting with his body… with his energy.

“Alundra?” the female dreamwalker called, and, as surprise flickered across her face, gazed at him. “Alundra, your forehead… it’s glowing.”

He blinked. “What?”

He could see it. The soft blue light that now felt familiar. Coming from above his eyes.

His birthmark, the mark of the Releaser.

“Releaser…” a familiar old voice resonated in his mind. “It is I, young one.”

“Lars?” he said, surprised. “What’s going on?”

“I am speaking to you through the bond we share, the bond between the prophesier and the prophesised. The seven Crests have been gathered and the seal on the lake broken, and now you venture into the lake shrine… I cannot be more proud of you, young one, yet time grows short. I must tell you of the second seal.”

“The… second seal?”

“Yes. The first seal was that on the outer walls, a barrier that allows nothing to pass through it, a spell that keeps it submerged in the lake. One that becomes the demon’s prison. However, unbeknownst to the other Guardians, His Majesty King Snow and I developed another seal from forbidden magic… a spell to stop Time.” There was a soft sigh. “Time is a powerful force of nature that should never be trifled with, yet, for fear of the demon’s return, we still created such a seal…”

“A seal that stops… Time…?” He shook his head. “We already used all the seven Crests, so how do we release it?”

“That, I believe, is a question whose answer you already know.”

“What? But I don’t–”

Then, realisation struck him like a bolt of lightning.

So that was why he was called the Releaser.

He was the only one who could release the seal. The seal that stopped Time.

“The demon is stronger than we have initially thought…” Lars continued. “As a small number of people continued to offer their prayers to him throughout the thousand years, he gradually gained enough power to free his spirit from the seal of Time, though his body remains sealed… and, from there, he inflicts the cursed nightmares onto the people of Inoa. We had thought that by stopping Time, we could stop him…”

The Releaser suddenly remembered the repetitive nightmare Lars had given him before reaching Inoa… where the latter had died at the end. He looked up. “You… sacrificed your life for this?”

He could almost see the silhouette of the wizard floating before him, smiling sadly.

He was speechless.

King Snow and his people had sacrificed so much… yet they could not defeat the demon, merely sealing him in the lake.

Alundra began to doubt. Could he alone, with Meia, defeat a god when a whole kingdom could not?

The Holy Sword grew warm at his waist, as though to remind him.

No. He had already come so far, for the long awaited confrontation. The people of Inoa were depending on him. The Guardians were depending on him.

His heart blazed with determination once more.

“A seal that stops Time?” Meia suddenly spoke, shaking her head. “Did Lars really speak of the forbidden magic?”

Her companion turned to her and nodded, his mark still shining. “Yeah, he said there’s a second seal that does that… but the demon managed to break his spirit free from it because he was getting stronger from the prayers over the years he was sealed.”

Her gaze hardened. “People from my city, no less.”

“Yeah… that’s why he could torment Inoa with nightmares.” He gazed at her. “I’m going to release the seal… are you ready?”

She nodded. “I’m ready.”

He took a deep breath and looked up resolutely. “Okay, Lars, please show me how to release the seal.”

“I will guide you, young one,” the wizard stated, then his voice faded away.

The Releaser stepped closer to the six burning marble braziers, the azure flames crackling as they burned, stopping in the middle of the circle. A slight force pulled at his hands, as though to guide him. Images flooded his mind, filling him with the knowledge to release the seal.

He closed his eyes.

His hands shining, he spread his arms to the side. The power tingling on his skin, the light extended to the braziers. The light grew brighter and brighter. Then, a large circle of light, a magic circle, appeared above the braziers, gyrating slowly like the gears of a gigantic clock. The ancient runes floated at the edge of the circle, shining brightly, their meanings unknown.

The very air seemed to shake.

He raised his right hand and flicked it in a fluid motion, his finger drawing runic characters in the air. As he drew, part of the runic characters in the magic circle faded away into nothing, the corresponding fire in the brazier smouldered and flickered out.

One by one, the runes disappeared.

One by one, the braziers flickered out.

As soon as all the braziers went out, the magic circle instantly shattered. A flash of light and a wave of force shot across the hall. Gasping in surprise, the elves raised their arms defensively, shutting their eyes against the powerful wind and the dazzling light.

Multiple crashes echoed across the castle, as the floating furniture and books fell to the floor. Roars rang across the halls, as the gargoyles became unfrozen. The flames crackled as the torches on the wall came back to life.

Then, a feeling of foreboding, impending doom.

From within the bright light, a great being emerged.

The skin a pale grey colour, like the skin of a statue that came to life, the body covered in toned muscles. The head with a sharp chin, the silver-grey hair that stood on end as though struck with lightning. The heroic cape billowed in the arcane wind, in time with the white loincloth.

The crimson eyes shone with evil.

The demon.

A god so feared that his name was never mentioned… even among the most loyal of his followers.

He stood towering over them, almost double their heights.

Alundra gritted his teeth. Even from where he was standing, he could feel the power of the demon… much greater than the power he had felt from Nirude, Stenia or even Wilda, who were gods themselves.

“Never has freedom bore such a sweet aftertaste,” a deep voice came from the demon as he flexed his hands, cracking his fingers. “Patience has its limits after a thousand long years…” He looked up slowly, straightening, then gazed forward at the two dreamwalkers. “…you are the one whom the wizard termed the Releaser?”

The swordsman looked up defiantly. “Yeah, and I have a score to settle with you!”

He sneered. “The Guardians have become senile in their old age… why else would they trust the Crests to a bumbling child?”

“Hey, I’m eighteen, you know! Oh wait…” He paused for a moment and crossed his arms. “Now that I think about it, maybe I just missed my nineteenth birthday a few weeks ago…”

Meia shook her head in disbelief.

The demon laughed. “A fearless, spirited one! Too bad you are the Releaser… now that you have come this far, you shall find that your fate is merely to weep bitterly in the face of defeat.”

“Oh yeah?” The swordsman drew out the Holy Sword from its sheath, the blade glowing faintly. “That’s what the bad guys in books always say, so we’ll see about that!”

He snarled. “My bloodthirsty minions shall satisfy your death wish!” He raised a hand, shining brightly with an eerie blue light. “BEHOLD!”

Roars and screeches rang across the halls from behind them, prompting them to turn, then their eyes widened as they quickly dived to avoid a barrage of claws. Gargoyles swooped down upon them then hovered above, snarling and baring their fangs as they beat their bat-like wings, their crimson eyes glowing.

The dreamwalkers slowly stepped backwards with their swords raised defensively, Alundra with the Fire Wand and Meia with the Ice Wand, their backs eventually bumping into each other.

They were surrounded.

Two of them, against at least thirty gargoyles.

“If you were me,” Alundra started, without turning towards his companion. “What would you say in this situation?”

“Oh, come on?” Meia guessed.

He grinned. “Damn right!”

She chuckled softly.

And they charged forward into battle, their swords gleaming in the light of the burning torches.

The gargoyles shrieked and rushed towards them, their razor sharp claws covered in magical flames, frost or lightning.

Alundra glared fearlessly at them as he swung the Fire Wand hard at the incoming monsters. Two of them shrieked as they were burned instantly to death, dropping to the floor as black unrecognisable bodies. The smell of charred bodies filled the air. The other fiends merely swerved out of the way and snarled as they lashed at him. He hurried out of the way, but not before one on them slashed him painfully at his left side. Gritting his teeth in pain, he quickly started to run across the hall, with nearly fifteen gargoyles hot on pursuit.

Meia, breathing heavily, her Ice Wand strapped at her waist, jumped to the side just as a gargoyle struck and hit the ground instead, and then brought both sword and dagger in her hands to two graceful slashes. The blades sliced the jugular vein, drawing blue blood and a strangled gasp as the monster bled to death. However, as she stopped to eliminate one of them, the others took the chance strike her instead. She hissed in pain as the claws struck her back, creating three deep gashes from which blood dripped to the ground, then immediately threw two daggers right into the gargoyle’s eyes.

The monsters roared. The dreamwalkers ran.

A flurry of claws. A flash of steel. A scream of pain. A thundering roar.

There were too many of them. Each time the two of them stopped to attack, they were immediately struck by a torrent of claws. Before they could even defeat ten gargoyles, they were already covered in deep wounds and gashes, their blood dripping freely to the floor.

Then, Meia screamed.

Two gargoyles charged into her with such force that she was thrown several feet into a corner, striking her head brutally on the hard, cold wall. Dazed, she lay there, unable to get up.

And all of the monsters rushed at her.

“MEIA!!” Alundra shouted as he rushed between her and the monsters with a hastily cast Water Shield.

The fiends were immediately thrown back. Snarling, they tried again, striking the shield as hard as they could. Again. And again.

The Releaser gritted his teeth, his breathing rapid. Blood flowed down from his forehead into his eyes, burning them. Sweat dripped down his neck in large amounts. His shirt was stained with crimson blood.

His strength was waning. He knew his barrier would shatter soon.

“Meia!” he called again, keeping his eyes focused on his shield. “Get up, Meia! ME–”

He stopped as a dagger suddenly whizzed by his head and stabbed a gargoyle tried through the heart, causing it to fall with a satisfying crash. The others stopped, their eyes bulged with surprise. Two more daggers shot out of the barrier, striking two more of them down.

“It’s too early to assume I’m done,” a soft voice came from behind him.

“Meia!” Alundra cried, relief flooding into his heart.

His companion’s gaze grew resolute as she pulled herself to her feet, albeit a little shakily, and drew more daggers. “Hold that shield as long as you can, Alundra!”

He nodded as he channelled more energy into the shield. “I’ll leave it to you!”

The fiends, sensing a change their opponents, snarled and immediately intensified their attempts to break the barrier. The swordsman held it as long as he could, his eyes tightly shut, the perspire flowing down his face and neck. His arms burned with the strain.

Now that she could concentrate, Meia’s daggers were deathly accurate. Even if the monsters were continuously flying, the blades would stab them either through the neck, head, or heart, drawing blue blood that spattered over the golden floor.

One down. Two down.

After fifteen daggers, the one-sided attack stopped.

Meia had run out of daggers.

But she was not done.

She reached for the Ice Wand at her waist, then at the Fire Wand at his backpack, and swung them both at once.

The gargoyles shrieked with fear and tried to flee, but the frost and fire waves were much faster than them. Within an instant, all of them had already frozen solid, crashing onto the floor and shattering into pieces, or burning into mere charred bodies.

His Water Shield fading, the Releaser gave a tired sigh and slowly sank to his knees, completely exhausted. His companion placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Good work, Alundra,” she praised.

He grinned. “You’re the one with the bright idea. It’s just too bad we didn’t do it from the start though, look at all those cuts we have…”

They stopped immediately as the demon growled from his white marble throne.

“Why do you defer the fate that awaits you?” he said, standing up. “Submit to destiny and free your soul! For no matter how much tears you cry, or how desperately you beg for mercy…” He spread his shining hands. “You shall perish!!”

Suddenly, the castle started to tremble violently, as though a giant was trying to shake them out. The two elves quickly retrieved their fallen weapons, the swords and daggers covered in blue blood, and stood side by side, preparing for the next battle.

But they knew. They were too exhausted, too injured to continue.

A pillar of golden light abruptly shot through the floor towards the ceiling, creating a hole through the stone as though it was a spear piercing through flesh. Another pillar shot upward. And another. And another.

Then, the floor crumbled.

The many pillars of light joined into one, shining upwards, bright and intense. The many holes expanded into one, revealing a dark abyss. A great burst of wind shot through the gap in the floor like a vortex, a great force pulling everything but the demon god upward. The elves screamed as they tried to run, but the force was too great for them. They were sucked easily into the air, tossed about like a rag doll.

And they heard the flapping of wings, the heavy whoosh from a large creature. Rising through the gap in the floor.

The onyx scales gleamed in the pillar of light. The two pairs of bat-like wings spread like the darkness. The tail spiked, as though it was attached to a steel spiked ball. The muscled chest was a great golden colour, like the flames that burned Inoa down. The golden eyes shone.

A dragon.

The beast roared loudly, its eyes blazing with the desire to kill. Spreading its four great wings, it lowered its head and rushed forward like an arrow. Its jaws were opened, the fangs gleaming in the light.

Directly at Alundra.

“Alundra!!” Meia exclaimed.

The swordsman held his sword in front of him, his eyes narrowed, and prepared for the strike. The fangs and blade clashed, echoing loudly across the hall.

He swung the Fire Wand at the dragon.

The beast snarled in pain and drew back.

He gave a yell, slashing as hard as he could.

The blade cut across the golden chest.

The dragon roared, beating its wings.

Suddenly, the pillar of light and vortex disappeared away, as though nothing had happened.

The wind no longer sustaining their weight, the two dreamwalkers plummeted downwards, and crashed painfully onto the floor.

Alundra gasped, the pain surging through his body.

He heard a loud rumble in the ground next to him. As though a large creature had landed.

The dragon.

His eyes snapped open as he raised his sword once more… but it was too late.

The beast snarled and lashed out with its fangs. Biting him in the left shoulder.

He screamed. His voice echoed loudly along the hall.

The blood dripped to the floor in large amounts.

“ALUNDRA!!” Meia shouted, throwing a dagger as hard as she could.

The small blade scratched the dragon in the eye. It roared in pain, releasing its victim and soaring into the air.

She started to run towards him, shouting his name.

But the attack only enraged the beast. Having calmed down enough from the surprise attack, it glared at her with its one good eye.

She skidded to a stop, holding her sword and dagger in an offensive battle stance.

And they clashed in the middle.

Alundra, his eyes shut tightly in pain, his breathing rapid, gripping his left shoulder.

A pool of blood had already formed beneath him.

He heard the sounds of metal striking metal. A roar. A scream.

Meia.

He sat up slowly, his body trembling from pain and blood loss. The armour that protected his heart fell to his waist, its shoulder strap torn by the dragon’s powerful bite. His eyesight blurred, then refocused. He glanced around for weapons.

Her fallen dagger. Just next to him.

He grabbed it with his right hand, bloody from his deep wound, and threw it as hard as he could.

The dagger merely bounced off the beast’s hard onyx scales.

But that was enough to attract its attention.

Roaring, the dragon turned and charged towards him with a great flap of its wings. It inhaled deeply, its throat shining.

And it released a fire breath.

Too exhausted, too hurt too move, he could only close his eyes and await his fate.

But the sound of hurried footsteps said otherwise. It made his heart stop.

Meia. Running to save him.

His eyes widened.

“NO! MEIA!!” he shouted, trying his hardest to summon another Water Shield.

She stopped right before him, her arms crossed before her face.

The Water Shield flickered feebly around her.

And the entire wave of fire overwhelmed it.

She fell slowly backwards.

Filled with a sudden burst of energy, screaming her name, Alundra ran forward to grab her, kneeling beside her as he lowered her to the floor.

Her arms, body and legs were a ghastly red colour. A severe burn.

She smiled weakly up at him. “So it seems… I finally repaid you… for that strike you took for me…”

His eyes stung. “You… you idiot!”

Her eyes glazed, then they closed.

“No…” he muttered, lowering his head.

Tears streamed down his face.

But the beast roared once more, its good golden eye glaring at him, and released another breath of fire.

His heart was filled with rage. Energising his body.

He grabbed the Holy Sword from the floor. With a yell, he charged forward, the blade shining brightly.

“TAKE THIS!!”

He swung the sword upward, releasing a powerful white arc of energy that completely absorbed the fire breath and struck the surprised beast in a flash of light.

From within the bright light, Alundra emerged, his eyes blazing.

His sword stabbed the dragon directly in the heart.

The dragon roared with pain, a long, mournful roar. It threw its head upwards, as though facing its god… then crashed sideways onto the floor.

Never to move again.

But he didn’t stop there.

He continued to run, his sword shining.

The demon’s eyes widened.

Within an instant, Alundra appeared in front of him and brought his sword down in a powerful slash.

The demon roared in pain, the azure blood flowing from the new diagonal wound on his chest.

The Releaser drew back, breathing heavily. His wound started to throb painfully once more, his body trembling.

“Y…YOU!!” the god yelled, his eyes wide with rage. “How dare you seek to humiliate me in my own sanctuary!!” His hand began to shine. “For your defiance, you shall drink the bitter cup of DESOLATION!!”

He raised the shining hand and pointed the finger forward.

A burst of light came from the finger. It flared up like a flower, bright like the sun yet cold like ice.

Just like Sybill’s dream.

Alundra quickly raised his sword. His eyesight began to grow hazy. His mind began to be shrouded in a fog.

No, not now! I have to go on!

From the finger, a ray of light shot forward, like a thin spear of white.

“WATER SHIELD!!” the Releaser shouted as he thrust his hands forward, the water barrier flicking feebly.

The ray of light shattered the barrier easily.

His eyes widened.

And the spear of white pierced through his heart.

 

End of Chapter Eighteen.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Chapter Nineteen: One with the Power of Dreams

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

It was dark. Nothing moved.

It was silent. Nothing made a sound.

He was drifting in the darkness. Floating, as though without a purpose.

Where was he? What was he doing here?

He couldn’t remember. His mind was filled with haze. Dull and slow.

His body was tired. Exhausted. His limbs felt as though they were encased in stone.

Then, he heard a voice. Soft, incomprehensible.

He opened his eyes slowly.

All he could see was a great darkness.

The voice came again. Louder. More insistent.

“Someone…?” he said and tried to sit up.

His body refused to listen.

“…Alundra…”

The voice was louder. Clearer. Calling his name.

He struggled, trying to move at least his hands. He was using all of his strength, and yet his body didn’t budge.

“ALUNDRA!!”

The voice was so loud that it gave him a jolt. His eyes snapped open and he immediately winced in the bright light.

“Ah, finally,” the same person said exasperatedly. “Really now, you took so long to respond that I was beginning to think you’re really dead.”

Alundra groaned, sitting up slowly, his eyesight slowly adjusted to the light. He abruptly realised that he was sitting on hard ground, feeling the tips of the grass underneath prickling him. The sky was a soft blue, the white clouds floating lazily in the sky. Colourful flowers surrounded him, basking in the sunshine, dancing lightly in the gentle breeze.

A vast flower field, a blanket of colours. Much like the one Crowe had been buried in.

And there was Crowe, sitting cross-legged beside him.

He jumped in surprise. “Crowe?!”

The dark-haired mercenary raised a hand in greeting. “Yo, Alundra, how have you been?” He grinned. “Well, seeing how we’re both here, I’m guessing you’re not doing not too good.”

“This is…?”

Then, memories suddenly came rushing into Alundra’s mind.

The lake shrine, the seal of the seven Crests removed.

The lake shrine, the seal that stopped Time broken.

The lake shrine, where the demon stood, the heroic cape billowing in the wind.

The lake shrine… where the demon’s power pierced him right through the heart.

He raised a hand quickly to his chest. His clothes were back to normal, the armour back on his chest, protecting his heart. The wounds he had gotten during the battle in the lake shrine had all disappeared.

A mixture of relief and confusion filled his heart.

“The last thing I remember was…” He shook his head. “Where am I, Crowe? Or rather, why do I see you when you’re supposed to be dead? Unless I’m also…”

The dark-haired adventurer half-shrugged. “They say when you’re about to die, you’ll see two things; the place you want to be the most, and the people you want to see the most, even if they’re dead.”

“So I’m almost dead…” He lowered his head, thinking of Inoa and its villagers… he had failed them. He had failed to destroy the demon god.

He suddenly slapped the young man’s shoulder. “Well, don’t go on giving up yet! I’m not finished!”

He blinked. “What?”

He grinned. “Because you seem to be a rather special case. Look behind you.”

“I am?” He quickly glanced over his shoulder… and his eyes widened.

Meia. Standing behind him. Like him, her wounds had all disappeared, as though they hadn’t gone through the battle.

“Meia…?” he muttered, slowly standing up. “I thought you’re…”

The female dreamwalker shook her head. “Even if we’re here, Alundra, all is not lost yet.”

“What? What’s going on?”

Crowe suddenly laughed and glanced to the side. “You see! I told you he’d be clueless!”

“He’ll catch on sooner or later!” a familiar voice spoke. “He’s a bright lad, you know what I’m saying?”

Alundra turned quickly. “Jess?!”

Jess, the swordsmith. His rotund figure was unmistakeable.

“How are you doing lad?” Jess asked, smiling. “I hope my last gift to you was useful.”

Crowe snorted. “Yeah, fat load of good it did to him against that last hit that brought him here.”

“No offense, Crowe,” a serene female voice started, “But I think without it, he wouldn’t have come this far.”

Sybill. The young silvery-haired girl, who often dreamed of the future.

One by one, more and more people appeared in the field. All the people whom Alundra had failed to save.

Meade, the blond-haired father of the twins, who had died in the fire trying to protect his family from the Murgg. He smiled. “Alundra, thank you. My family is all indebted to you… first you saved my father, then my children twice. I only regret I cannot repay you for it…”

Wendell, Meade’s father, the first person who was inflicted with a nightmare after the Releaser arrived in Inoa, gave a toothy smile. “Thank you truly, my lad! Even if I have passed on, I feel at peace… and it’s all thanks to you for helping me!”

Giles, Kisha’s brother, the chancellor’s assistant who succumbed to his injuries after fighting off his nightmare. He smiled sadly. “I saw what happened to my sister after I passed on. She has grown so much more assertive, unlike her usual meek self…” He shook his head. “Please let her know I will always care for her, won’t you?”

Olen, who had perished after the mine collapsed due to a planned Murgg attack. He grinned and gave a thumbs-up. “Yo, bro! How’s the mining bomb Jess made for you? I heard it was THE bomb!”

Bonaire, the silver-haired surfer who had died in the village fire. His enthusiasm gone, guilt was etched on his face. “Hey, Alundra, dude… look, I’m really sorry for blaming you for Nadia’s death, it was really my fault that I didn’t realise her love for me sooner… I feel so heinous… ow!”

Nadia, who was killed as Sara in Bonaire’s dream, had slapped him on the back of his head. “Bonaire! Did you really blame him for that?” She shook her head and turned to the Releaser. “I’m really sorry, Alundra, this bonehead never learns. I know your blade was the one that ended my life, but don’t beat yourself over it, okay?” She smiled. “Because thanks to you, you opened Bonaire’s eyes for me.”

Myra, Nadia’s mother who had perished in the fire as well, nodded. “Alundra… I’m sorry for believing you were a devil. The pain of losing my daughter so suddenly was too painful for me, and blaming you was easier than to accept she was gone…”

Kline, the village hunter who had turned into a werewolf, who had chosen to submit himself to the nightmare. He crossed his arms and spoke gruffly, “What happened, kid? The demon got the better of you?”

Elene, Gustav’s young daughter who previously had split personalities, smiled sweetly. “Thank you, Alundra. After you helped me with my nightmare, Daddy was so wonderful… even if I didn’t have much time with him, I’m really happy. Can you please tell him for me?”

Even the gods he had met appeared.

Nirude, the dwarves’ god, his spectral head floating in mid-air, gave a short bow. “I thank you for helping my people, Alundra.”

The queen of the waters, Stenia. “I see you have made good use of the Ice Wand… especially against dear Wilda.”

Wilda, the fire dragon, growled slightly in embarrassment.

Everyone Alundra had met before, who had died, all spoke words of praise and gratitude to him. Those who blamed him before apologised. Even those he barely knew yelled encouragements to him.

He gazed at them in awe and amazement. “Everyone… thank you. I’m sorry I couldn’t save any of you. But there’s just one thing…” He shook his head. “Can someone tell me what’s going on around here? I’m a hell lot confused!”

Crowe laughed and ruffled his head. “Oh, come on! Haven’t you been listening? You’re a special case!”

“But I don’t get it at all!”

The mark of the Releaser started to shine a soft blue light once more, causing the crowd to become silent, just as an old voice spoke.

“Pray, allow me to explain it to him.”

The crowd parted slowly, allowing an old man to pass. He was dressed in a long, thick robe, the hood lowered, his long hair and beard a bright silver colour against the dark colour of his robe. The wrinkled face was familiar.

Lars the wizard.

He smiled. “How are you, young one?”

Alundra shook his head. “Confused! Everyone suddenly popped out of nowhere, and even you too! Maybe you can tell me what’s going on!”

He chuckled. “Certainly. Allow me to explain. Crowe has mentioned that when one is about to die, they will see the place they wants to be at the most as well as the people they wants to see the most, dead or alive. But you… you are different, young one.” He gestured at the people around them. “However briefly you have met or spoken them, even if they had passed on to the next world with your best efforts, you have touched the lives of these people. You, a complete stranger, an outsider, have tried aught and all to rescue them. They have watched you since the time of their passing, cheering you silently from the world beyond.”

Jess smiled and nodded. “The memories are a bond, Alundra. If we keep the memories in our hearts, the dead will never be forgotten.”

Crowe grinned. “Didn’t I tell you? Death is just another adventure into the realms of the unknown!”

“But that is not all, young one,” Lars continued. “Not only the dead, but even the living. Your bond with them is strong, for they now place all of their trust in you.” He gestured to the side. “Look.”

Everyone turned.

There, the part of the field gradually faded away, replaced by the familiar basement of Inoa’s sanctuary, the statue of the demon god lay in pieces. In the centre of the room, the villagers sat in a tight circle, their heads lowered, their eyes closed as they drifted in a dreaming state.

Alundra gazed at them, unable to believe his eyes.

“Everyone…?”

 


 

The basement of Inoa’s sanctuary was dark, barely lit by torches on the walls, yet without the demon’s statue gazing over them, the air was no longer gloomy and despairing. The villager sat, a peaceful look on their faces as they dreamed.

Bergus opened his eyes and looked up.

“Alundra?” he called uncertainly. “Is that you?”

But there was no sight of the adventurer.

His mother Rumi turned towards him.

“Bergus, no,” she said. “We have to continue to dream, otherwise Alundra’s life will be in grave danger…”

He shook his head obstinately. “But Mum! I woke up because I heard his voice! You must’ve heard it too!”

“Bergus… Alundra isn’t here, so there’s no way you could have heard his voice. Go to sleep, quickly now.”

On her other side, Nestus looked up as well. “M-Mother! I heard him too… I heard Alundra speak!”

The mother sighed exasperatedly. “Alundra isn’t here, he went to do battle with the demon to save the lives of the people of this land…” She stopped. “What? Alundra? No…” She shook her head. “It’s not my imagination! Alundra! It’s Alundra!”

Within a few seconds, everyone else looked up in the same direction, pointing and muttering, a look of surprise etched onto their faces.

A blind woman nodded. “Yes, I can see a light… small, but strong!”

“What’s going on?” a man said. “We aren’t dreaming, yet we can see and hear Alundra!”

The people muttered confusedly among themselves.

Beaumont gazed at his people. “Everyone! I think we succeeded! This must mean that our dreams and prayers reached Alundra’s heart!”

Everyone stopped, gazing at the silhouette of the Releaser that they could see, then started shouting encouragements.

“Oh, Alundra… please be careful! You must return to us!”

“Alundra, I know you will fight through the obstacles in your path! Be strong!”

“Don’t doubt yourself! I believe in you!”

“My prayers and my heart are with you! Please take strength from that!”

Rumi shook her head, her hands around her twin boys’ shoulders. “Alundra… can you hear our voices? Our prayers?”

Nestus laughed happily. “If we can hear his voice, he must be able to hear ours! Alundra! Promise you’ll come back to us! Promise!”

Bergus grinned. “No way the demon can beat him! He’s too strong, and too cool!”

The villagers continued to shout, their voice echoing along the sanctuary walls.

“Alundra! I know you can do it!”

“You must emerge victorious!”

“Live, Alundra! LIVE!!”

Then, the sanctuary’s basement began to merge with three other scenes.

On one side of the room, the stone walls faded, replace by the dim interior of the lizardmen’s cave. The young and the old, who did not join the battle, roared, chirped and clicked their tongues as loud as they could.

On the other side of the room, the stone walls disappeared to reveal the dark interior of the dwarves’ home. Those who did not join the war shouted and yelled in their high little voices as they jumped and waved their torches.

And on another side of the room, the faded walls revealed the great battlefield, the humans, lizardmen and goblins who banded together to fight against the Murgg and the demon’s fanatics. Septimus. Kisha. Lutas. Gustav. Miming. Max. Even as they battled, their eyes blazed. Their hearts encouraged their hero.

“It’s all up to you now, Alundra!” Septimus shouted, his face covered in beads of perspire and blood. “But come back alive!”

Kisha fired an arrow before yelling, “I know you can do it, Alundra!”

Lutas nodded, breathing heavily with his sword raised. “I believe in you!”

Gustav focused forward, his mace poised to strike. “Get revenge for us, Alundra! For my sweet Elene!!”

Miming smiled. “It’s all up to you now, Alundra, for Lord Nirude!”

Max grinned and growled.

People of all shapes and sizes. From the three vastly different races. The young. The old. The living. The dead. They all shouted encouragements to their hero, fully placing all of their trust, all of their faith in him.

“Alundra!” they all cried. “ALUNDRA!!”

Their mind, heart and soul were one.

Because of their hero.

Alundra.

 


 

Alundra was speechless. Everyone was cheering for him not only to win the battle, but to live and return to them alive.

He had become someone important in their lives.

Meia smiled. “Alundra… you may not know it, but you have touched all of our hearts and changed us for the better. Now we all fight alongside you.”

Crowe grinned proudly. “See? I told you I had a feeling you’re part of something big!”

Jess nodded. “Even we, those who have passed, will support you to the end.”

Sybill gazed at him dreamily. “We are your strength, Alundra.”

The crowd in the flower field began to cheer, yelling his name.

“Alundra! Alundra!”

The Releaser gazed at them in awe, quite unsure what to say. He felt happy, proud.

He had finally belonged. These people were his family.

Then, Lars held a hand up for silence.

“Young one…” he began. “There is one more person whose heart you have also touched. He will tell you the truth.”

In the silence, the sky darkened, the black clouds covering the sun shining in the blue sky. Then, in a flash of light, a small group of people appeared.

The remaining four Guardians. Vul. Jeal. Uma. Nava. They smiled and nodded encouragingly at the Releaser, then parted the way for a man to pass.

The man with flowing long silver hair that seemed to glow, his ears pointed like an elf’s.

Alundra’s eyes widened. “You… you’re that guy who gave me the Holy Sword!”

The silver-haired man smiled serenely. “Yes, I am, Alundra. I am the one they call King Snow… the one who led the war against the demon a thousand years ago.”

There was a collective gasp from the crowd, both living and dead.

King Snow… the legendary king.

“It’s time you knew the truth, Alundra…” Snow stated. “A thousand years ago, these seven Guardians and I led the war against the demon… but we could do no more than to seal him in the lake shrine. By the time the war was over and the lake was sealed, there were few of us in the kingdom left, even less than the people in Inoa now… but we realised we have gained a power. A power that was passed onto us, most likely accidentally, from the demon himself.”

“What power?” Alundra asked.

“The power to enter dreams… to dreamwalk. To turn dreams into reality. It is the same as yours.”

Alundra gave a gasp of surprise.

The power to dreamwalk.

What the Clan of Elna were well-known for.

Could it be…?

The king nodded. “It seems you have guessed it. We, the survivors of the war, are the forefathers of the Elna… your ancestors.”

“Then… the dreamwalk ability that we have…” The male elf shook his head disbelievingly. “Is yours? Passed down to us? From the demon himself?”

He nodded. “His very own power, becoming a part of us. All of the Elna have the ability to dreamwalk… but you are different, Alundra. A thousand years ago, Lars has sacrificed himself to use the forbidden magic, passing the power of the prophecy through my blood… to you, Alundra.”

“To… me? I’m a direct descendant of you?”

He extended his hands, the Holy Sword materialising on his palms. “You, as the Releaser, have the power to wield the Holy Sword, the sword crafted from the very same star the demon is carved from. With this sword, and the power to dreamwalk passed down through our blood… put an end to his reign.”

Alundra took the Holy Sword, which was glowing faintly in his hands. Warmth came from it, seeping into his hands, energising him.

Snow smiled. “Perhaps this time you will achieve what we could not a thousand years ago.”

“You can do it, Alundra!” Bergus cried from the sanctuary.

“Yeah!” Nestus yelled.

And, suddenly, everyone burst into an uproar, shouting encouragements at Alundra.

They all shouted his name.

Their prayers, their faiths.

Touching his heart. Seeping into him like power.

His body began to shine a bright light.

His heart was filled with renewed determination.

Then, he turned towards Meia.

He smiled and extended his hand. “Will you fight with me once more, Meia?”

She lowered her head, then raised it once more with a smile and took his hand. “To the end, Alundra.”

Through their touching hands, the bright light spread from Alundra to Meia. Both of them shone, feeling the warmth, feeling power within them.

The power of dreams.

Alundra gazed at the people. Crowe. Jess. Sybill. The villagers. The Guardians. The gods. The king. Everyone who cheered his name.

He smiled. “Fight with me, everyone.”

And a thunderous cheer echoed across the flower field.

 


 

The demon sat upon the white marble throne, bidding his time before he regained his full strength once more. He could see the great battle that raged outside, his followers the Murgg and the humans against the united humans, dwarves and lizardmen.

He sneered.

No matter. Once he regained his strength, he would have the power to obliterate them properly. Like ants with a step of a shoe.

He was a god. Nothing could stand in his way.

A thousand years ago, he had been afraid. Terrified. Fearing the people would no longer pray to him, that he would die a slow, horrible death without the power of prayers. Yet, even with his images destroyed, there were still people who prayed to him in secret, giving him strength.

Strength enough to break his spirit free from the seal of Time. Strength enough to reward those loyal to him. Strength enough to inflict fear upon Inoa.

And he laughed. His voice echoed along the walls.

Then, a burst of intense white light that engulfed the entire hall.

“W-what?!” he exclaimed, shielding his eyes with his arm.

He could feel it. Power.

It was the light of a god.

But… how? How could it be possible?

He had already eliminated Wilda, the fire dragon, the king of destruction, during the war, causing him to fall into a long sleep for the whole thousand years.

He had destroyed Stenia’s dwelling, the fairy pond, the moment she had appeared in front of the Releaser, and she would no longer be able to rise.

He had stolen power from Nirude a thousand years ago and sent his best gargoyle Zorgia against him, who had been successfully killed in his own lair.

All the other gods had also been removed. The warrior god, who turned to life from the lizardmen’s prayers… was not yet strong enough to fight him. The monkey god, who had never received much prayer from the Murgg to begin with, had been easily replaced as the simian’s god.

How? How could there still be a god who could rise against him? Had he overlooked any potential gods? It could not be. Stenia’s waters had been useful in providing him information. There had been no more gods in these lands other than him.

Unless… no, it could not be.

When the light dimmed enough to see, he gasped.

Alundra, the Releaser. With Meia beside him, holding his hand. Their wounds completely healed, their bodies reenergised.

They were both shining.

No… not both of them. When Meia released her hold on his hand, the light around her disappeared.

It was Alundra. Shining. The unmistakeable light of the gods.

Had he… become a god?

Alundra gazed down at his dazzling hands, quite unable to believe his eyes. The cuts remained on his clothes, the jacket, shirt and pants shredded as though they had gone through a room filled with blades. His armour hung uselessly at his waist, its supporting strap torn. The dried blood was there on his skin. But, through the cuts of the clothes, there were no wounds. His muscles were not aching. He felt refreshed as though he had just woken up from a restful sleep.

He had been completely healed by the power of prayer. Energy surged through his veins at lightning speed.

Warm. Powerful.

He felt as though he could destroy a whole castle with a single punch to the wall.

He glanced at Meia. Surprise was clearly etched on her face. In that moment when they had temporarily held hands, she was shining as well, her wounds miraculously healed, her energy restored.

They both now knew the extent of the power of prayer. How it was able to turn a lifeless statue into a god.

The demon snarled, drawing their attention, seemingly threatened.

“You… what are you?!” he shouted, standing up quickly.

Alundra half-shrugged and drew the Holy Sword with his right hand, the Fire Wand in his left, grinning now that he felt confident. “Just your average adventurer looking for the thrill of the unknown!”

Meia raised her borrowed sword, together with the Ice Wand. “Your evil reign has ended, demon. We shall settle this here, once and for all!”

“Insolent fools!” the demon roared, his body beginning to glow, his crimson eyes burning with rage. “An insignificant human such as you will not defeat me! I am a god! I am MELZAS!!”

There was an abrupt flash of lightning, engulfing the whole hall in its light. Their surroundings shattered into pieces as though it was a mirror.

 They were no longer in the lake shrine hall. They stood on an invisible ground, unable to see anything but a deep blue colour that swirled around them, like the rushing surface of a river.

A psychedelic portal.

A fold in space-time, like the one Nirude had created.

Alundra and Meia stared before them, their eyes wide.

It was a grotesque sight.

Before them was a platform seemingly made of flesh and cells, with veins running and branching all over, throbbing and pulsating with azure blood.

Two giant eyeballs as large as a boulder, the iris a glowing crimson colour, hovered like the head of a gigantic serpent connected to the veins from the ground.

Two gigantic hands, larger than two humans put together, floated in midair, its flesh and muscles visible as though its skin had been torn away.

And the head. Supported by a column of veins that twisted and rose from the ground, it was large, shaped like a skull with pale-grey flesh and muscles running along its surface without the skin. At the top of the head, the numerous brains stacked on one another, as though they had been stolen from many other beings. The eye sockets were hollow, empty, the eyes torn out.

Melzas. The demon god.

The god who treated people merely as tools, as his source of power.

Now he looked like the demon he truly was.

The head snarled. His voice boomed from it.

“Now, like the mortals that you are… you will DIE!!”

A roar rang loudly across the psychedelic portal like a shockwave.

The dreamwalkers focused, their weapons raised.

This was it. The final battle.

They would win, or die trying.

The eyeballs shone, pulsating with energy. From the pupil, a ray of burning hot energy shot across the platform. The elves separated and started running forward, their blades gleaming in the light. The energy rays sliced the air between them, seemingly slicing the very space. The gigantic hands lunged, the fingers spread wide to grab them, but they merely jumped to the side, barely looking up as they continued to run, their eyes focused resolutely forward.

They were aiming directly for the head.

The eyeballs blazed, seemingly threatened. As their enemies approached, they charged forward, slamming their bodies directly on the ground in hopes of hitting them. A cloud of dust rose to the air, then parted as the dreamwalkers emerged over the eyeballs, their swords shining.

But the demonic head grinned. The mouth opened.

From the throat came a burst of light.

The elves’ eyes widened, their arms raised to shield their heads. The Water Shield quickly formed protectively in front of them.

And the bright light engulfed them entirely.

The force was so great that it sent them flying twenty feet away, the fleshy platform cushioning their fall. The smoking Water Shield faded away. They scrambled to their feet, just as the floating hands stormed towards them.

There was no time to dodge.

With a yell, Alundra brought the sword up in a powerful slash. Blue blood spurted into the air, like the deep colour of the ocean. The bleeding right hand drew back in pain. The other hand rushed past him, barely missing its female target, and was mercilessly frozen solid by the Ice Wand in her hand. Enraged, the giant right hand charged once more, the blood dripping in large amounts.

“Oh, come on!” the swordsman shouted, jumping to the side. “Give up already!”

“Watch out!!” Meia screamed as she bashed him out of the way.

An energy ray from an eyeball shot past them like a lightning bolt, searchingly hot. Meia screamed in pain as she fell forward. Her sword and Ice Wand fell to the ground.

“Meia!” her companion exclaimed, holding her steady by the shoulders.

Her back was severely burned.

Just like the time she had protected him from the dragon.

“I-I’m fine,” she forced through gritted teeth, her trembling hand pushing him away. “Go… just go!”

“But–” he began uncertainly.

The sound of ice cracking caught his attention.

The frozen left hand was breaking free from its icy prison.

And he looked up just in time to see the right hand rushing towards him. Alongside the energy rays.

“Oh, come on!” he yelled as he jumped forward, his hand shining. “Give me a break here!”

The Water Shield spread in front of the two elves just as the energy rays struck, spreading like a flower. The force was so strong that it knocked him backward, his weapons falling to the ground… and the bleeding right hand grabbed him.

“Ungh!” he grunted as he struggled.

“Alundra!” Meia shouted, forcing herself up. With a trembling hand, she drew a dagger and threw it as hard as she could at the hand that held her companion.

But pain weakened her accuracy. The blade merely grazed the top of the hand, not enough to cause it to release him.

And the other floating hand, having broken free of the solid ice, grabbed her.

The two elves, rendered helpless in the demon god’s floating hands. The head laughed triumphantly.

“Impertinent mortals!” he boomed. “It has been an entertaining moment, but your miserable life ends here. DIE!!”

The fingers drew tighter. And tighter.

Threatening to crush the life out of their victims.

Alundra gritted his teeth. He tried to focus on a spell, but the pain disrupted his concentration. He fought harder, but his attempts were futile. The fingers were too strong for him.

He could hardly breathe.

He was like a mere rag doll in the merciless hands.

He could hear the people’s voices in his mind. Screaming at him to live. Screaming at him to win. Yet, even with the power of the people’s prayer… he couldn’t fight against the hand that held him. Wasn’t it supposed to enhance his abilities… his strength? His speed?

No, there was no noticeable change in his speed or his strength. The only difference was that warm power surging quickly inside him, as though in frustration, as though aching to be released.

Had he been wrong? Did he still have to do something to tap into the power?

Suddenly, he understood.

The power of prayer was the power of dreams. The people’s dreams of an era of peace, of freedom, of him as the hero who would bring them that era. By itself, it would do nothing.

He had the ability to dreamwalk, to enter dreams, to turn dreams into reality… to channel that power of dreams into his weapon.

His weapon, the Holy Sword. Made of the same star as the demon’s body.

He steeled his heart. He now knew what to do.

He closed his eyes. He focused.

He could hear it. The loud breathing from the demonic head. The throbbing pulse through the fingers that held him tightly.

He timed his shallow breathing with it.

Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.

He could feel it. The foul presence of the god.

Within the darkness of his closed eyes, the power of prayer was shining as it gathered around the mental image of himself like wisps of light. It was warm, like the hands of the people who prayed for him.

It gathered at his hand, solidifying into a familiar item.

The Holy Sword.

The weapon made of the same magical star rock as Melzas.

And the foul presence was there, in front of him.

It was clear what he had to do.

“TAKE THIS!!” he screamed.

The mental image of himself swung the sword as hard as he could.

The power rushed through him like a searing hot serpent and into the Holy Sword in a great flash of light. The dazzling arc of white light erupted from the blade, slicing through the air, closing the distance between him and the demonic head in an instant.

An explosion rang loudly through the air.

The giant hands abruptly opened, dropping the two elves back onto the fleshy platform. Alundra gasped, the warm air rushing into his lungs as he knelt on the ground. He could hear Meia’s ragged breathing near him.

The Holy Sword was back in his hand, despite it falling to the ground when he was caught. As though it had magically materialised into his hand, like the image he had seen in his mind.

The smoke around Melzas cleared. Part of his head was covered in painful burns from the strike.

He snarled.

“Death is too meagre a retribution for you for striking against a god!” The demonic mouth opened once more, the light shining from the throat. “For your rebellious spirit, I shall deliver to you eternal PAIN!!”

Alundra gazed forward determinedly, the light around him spreading into uncontrollable lightning sparks. The power grew hot inside him, gathering at his hands that held the Holy Sword, burning into his palms.

He grinned. “You’re too kind, Melzas, but you should enjoy it yourself!” He raised the sword high above his head, forming a bright pillar of light that shot directly upward. “And here’s my last gift to you! HYAH!!”

With all of his might, he thrust the Holy Sword forward.

The power exploded from him, a huge ray of intense light shot through the air like a gigantic roaring dragon.

Melzas’ eyes widened. The light in his throat faded. His hands quickly lunged in front of him, forming a magic circle etched with shining runes.

The ray struck the barrier with an explosion of white light. A shockwave of energy spread forcefully across the whole of the psychedelic portal. The ground shook. The very air trembled with power. With tension.

But the demon god held. His crimson eyes flashed dangerously.

Alundra gritted his teeth as he held on tightly to the sword.

The power burned. As though he would soon burst into flames.

Pain shot through him. As though he was exploding from the inside.

His mind was filled with pain.

His consciousness was rapidly fading.

Too strong… the power was too strong.

His mortal body could not withstand the power of a god.

If this continued… he would die.

Yet he pushed on. Holding on tightly to the sword. Despite the burning pain.

His heart had come to terms with his decision. If he could defeat the god and die in the process… so be it.

Then, he felt a hand gripping his. Touching the sword.

Meia. Her golden hair gleaming in the light. Her blue eyes resolute.

He felt the pain inside him decreasing, as the light spread to her.

The power was channelled evenly between the two of them.

She was taking some of his pain.

“Meia, no!” he exclaimed. “You’re hurt!”

“I’m in this as much as you are, Alundra!” she shouted. “We’re both dreamwalkers! We’ll do this together!”

He hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “We’ll finish this!!”

The two of them stood side by side. Their hands touched. Holding the Holy Sword together.

The power surged through their veins. Rushing into the sword. Turning into pure energy that shook the very air.

The power of human prayer.

The dreams of an era of peace. Dreams of freedom, to live as the people wished to live.

The people shouted the name of their hero and his companion.

Alundra. Meia.

They would bring them peace. They knew it.

The ray of intense white light grew stronger. Forcing the magic barrier back.

Melzas’ eyes flashed with rage. With frustration.

With fear.

“FUTILE!” he roared. “It is FUTILE! I am a GOD! I AM MELZAS!!”

The magic barrier shattered.

The demon screamed in pain.

Then, the entire space was engulfed in a great explosion.

 


 

Alundra and Meia fell to the cold, hard floor, breathing heavily with their eyes tightly shut in pain. After a moment, the Releaser quickly sat up, looking around.

They were back at the throne room of the lake shrine. In the middle of the circle of marble braziers that held the seal that stopped Time.

And there, in front of the throne, was Melzas. His original humanoid form. Kneeling on the ground. Breathing heavily.

“How… how could this be?” he spluttered, shaking his head. “How could an insolent mortal stand before a god?! You… what are you? That power… you are not mere mortals!”

The dreamwalkers stood up slowly, their bodies trembling from exhaustion, yet their eyes were focused. Determined.

“Well, it looks like a thousand years of being sealed has dulled what little brain power you have,” Alundra scoffed. “Have you forgotten? The power of prayers is what turned a statue into what you are, giving you life, but now, the people of this land have chosen to trust their dreams to me instead. It’s kind of embarrassing to say, but…” He grinned. “Looks like I temporarily became a god, too.”

“A… a god?!” the demon spluttered.

“The demon god Melzas.” Meia’s eyes grew cold. “A god exists only if the people wished for it… without them, there will be no gods. Now, in their hearts, you are merely a tyrant revelling in power.”

He snarled. “Curse you! I curse you, Releaser! Without you, the mortals would have perished! Instead, I have come to this humiliating end…”

The mark of the Releaser suddenly shone. Lars’ voice filled Alundra’s mind.

“Your victory has nearly been realised, young one,” the wizard said hurriedly. “Listen carefully to the words I speak! You must burn the demon’s remains with the sacred fire to destroy him once and for all!”

“Sacred fire…” Alundra thought for a moment. “Wilda’s Fire Wand?”

Meia picked up the fallen golden sceptre from a few steps away and walked over to his side, handing it to him.

He shook his head. “No, you do it, Meia.”

Uncertainty flickered across her eyes. “Are you… sure?”

“I’m sure. With this, you can come to terms with your past, right?”

She smiled. “How thoughtful of you.”

With one graceful swing of the sceptre, a wave of golden-crimson flames spread across the hall, engulfing the weakened body of the demon god.

Within the blink of an eye, Melzas was abruptly covered in flames, as though they had ignited a barrel of oil.

His crimson eyes blazed.

“Your victory shall never be complete, humans!” he roared. “The peace you and the other mortals long for shall never be fully realised; as long as mortals harbour darkness within their hearts, evil shall exist! It is an incontrovertible fact, and darkness resides within every mortal heart! Even yours, Releaser!!”

Alundra crossed his arms, watching the burning god unwaveringly. “Aren’t you being too pessimistic? As long as people harbour darkness in their hearts, evil exists… but the same goes for the opposite. As long as there are still people who harbour kindness and trust, good exists. The world exists in balance, you know?” He grinned. “Hey, I just sounded like really smart sage there!”

The god had no more words to say. He screamed in pain, his voice echoing loudly throughout the whole castle as he burned to death...

Within moments, all there was left were dark ashes.

The demon god was no more.

Meia closed her eyes. “It’s over.”

The male elf gazed at the ashes. “It’s ironic… during the war, he tried to scare the people with nightmares, but ended up giving them the power to dreamwalk that was passed down to the Elna, to us. And he was defeated by that very same power that used to be part of his own…”

Suddenly, the floor began to shake violently.

The lake shrine was crumbling.

 


 

“Fight!” Septimus shouted, breathing heavily, the blood dripping down his face. “FIGHT! Alundra and Meia are fighting the demon for us! We must buy time for them!”

The sounds of swords clashing could be heard. Miming and the dwarves, now their contraptions destroyed, joined the battle directly with their razor sharp sickles. The lizardmen, their numbers greatly reduced due to the curse of the stone, continued to fight ferociously. The humans joined them, their spirits raised.

Then, a roar of pain rang across the battlefield.

Everyone stopped.

The monkeys screeched in fear.

Max, the giant leader of the lizardmen, had stabbed Zazan, the huge leader of the Murgg, through the heart.

Max roared triumphantly. A victory cry resonated through the air.

Then, a loud rumble in the ground, cutting their victory short.

One monkey looked upwards and screeched in panic.

They all turned. Their eyes widened.

The lake shrine was crumbling right before their eyes. Falling into pieces that dropped into the turbulent waters. Crashing down as though its support had suddenly been taken away.

Waves of water crashed against the bank of the lake, as though threatening to bring the people down with it.

A whirlpool formed in the centre of the lake, its great force pulling what little remains of the crumbling shrine beneath its watery surface.

Everyone was frozen. Unable to move as their eyes were fixated on the scene.

Within moments, the lake calmed. The castle was nothing more than a pile of rocks underwater.

Then, they saw it.

On the remains of the broken stone bridge, a bright light approached. Warm. Dazzling.

It was Alundra. Shining like a celestial being.

Meia strode beside him. Like a warrior basking in triumph.

The people stared at them.

All of the lizardmen began to glow in a soft, warm light, which then faded away slowly. Those turned to stone and were still whole came back to life. If they didn’t know better, it had looked like their curse of turning to stone, inflicted by the demon god, had been lifted.

The human followers of the demon god, the ones who had turned into hideous white monsters, suddenly screamed. Within the blink of an eye, they reverted back to their human form, their robes shredded and torn.

And, just like Ronan… they started to rot.

The hair shrivelled and dried up. The skin darkened as though burning to a crisp, shrinking as though their blood were drying up.

Then, their screams of pain fading away, they collapsed onto the ground… turning into dust that were blown away.

The demon god’s power could no longer sustain their bodies.

Yet Inoan villagers, the dwarves and the lizardmen dared not believe.

Had they… truly won? Had the demon truly been vanquished?

Alundra stopped, the light around him slowly fading away. His birthmark shone a soft blue light once more.

The silhouette of the wizard Lars appeared before him. Smiling. Filled with joy.

“Thank you, Alundra,” he said. “Thank you for keeping true to my request to the very end. Now that Melzas has been defeated, we are now free from our thousand years of Guardianship.”

The Releaser shook his head. “You’re… going to die?”

He chuckled. “We have already died a long time ago, only to remain as spirits to protect our Crests. Now, our vows fulfilled, His Majesty King Snow and the other Guardians have already passed on to the world beyond, together with your friends.”

“But… what about you?”

“I came to bid you farewell, Alundra.” The same soft blue light surrounded his hand. “That is the privilege I have for being the one to prophesised your coming.”

He grinned. “Well, it’s been the heck of a time with you, Lars. Wherever you go after death, don’t give anyone else nightmares, you hear?”

He laughed. “Fare thee well, Alundra, the Releaser! The hero who has defeated a god!”

On that note, Lars faded away into nothingness, together with the blue light on the mark of the Releaser. As though he had never been there.

Alundra felt a tinge of sadness in his heart. Even if Lars was already dead… it was hard to say goodbye.

Meia placed a hand on his shoulder.

He nodded.

Together, they strode forward.

The crowd slowly parted to let them pass. The remaining Murgg stared at him uncertainly, unsure of what to do, what to feel.

They stopped in front of Septimus, their companion. The scholar smiled at them.

“I take it that you’re victorious?” he asked.

Meia nodded, smiling slightly.

Alundra grinned and gave a thumbs-up. “You bet!”

As though a valve had been released, a thunderous cheer rang loudly across the battlefield. The Murgg, screeching in terror, scampered back to their home by the Great Tree.

Soon, all the people who had been praying – from Inoa’s sanctuary basement, the lizardmen’s cave and the goblin’s dwelling – gathered at the lakeside to see the destroyed remains of the lake shrine with their own eyes, shouting, yelling, crying in happiness. The humans cried and embraced each other. The dwarves did a strange dance. The lizardmen punched each other lightly out of pure happiness.

They were free. Free to live their lives as they wanted. Free to dream as they like. Free to create whatever their passion chose to.

The sun began to shine over the horizon, spreading its rays along the surface of the lake, filling them with warmth.

It was the start of a new day, the start of a new life.

A new beginning.

An era of peace had come.

 

End of Chapter Nineteen.

 

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Epilogue

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

“THREE CHEERS FOR ALUNDRA!!” a man yelled.

And the crowd erupted in an ear-splitting roar.

The night after the fall of the lake shrine, the village of Inoa was a place filled with excitement.

At the centre of the village, at a wide open space, was a huge bonfire, its hot flames at least fifteen feet high. Barrels of rum stood meekly at the side as a long line of people waited their turns. The villagers of Inoa sat, danced, talked, laughed and sang around the fire, armed with mugs of rum or a musical instrument.

Joining them were Miming and the dwarves, laughing in their high little voices, some of them bravely attempting to drink several mugs of rum despite getting easily drunk due to their small stature.

Among them were the Max and lizardmen, who turned out to be heavy drinkers and were the loudest and rowdiest of the lot. They suddenly began their own string of contests, starting with arm wrestling.

Septimus stood by the bonfire, retelling the story of the whole adventure from the very first day the Releaser had arrived to the end of the war, but the people were filled with too much excitement to listen to him seriously – some of them had even begun enacting their own versions of the adventure. Meia merely stood there, stone cold, as she stared at a goblin acting as her, with coiled rope on his head as her golden hair and a spatula as her sword. Alundra was laughing his head off, slapping his knee… until he saw the lizardman acting as him – with ketchup on the head for his hair, a heart shaped picture drawn on the chest with ink as his armour, and a frilly pink skirt. There was an uproar of laughter.

Then came a new batch of barrels of rum.

Gustav, the village’s heaviest drinker, suddenly guffawed and made it his point to get all young adults to drink. The first target was Septimus, who tried inching away and refusing to take any form of liquor… until he sighed and eventually relented. One mug. Two mugs. Three mugs. His face was growing redder and redder by the second. He started to rapidly churn extremely long and complicated words that no one knew the meaning of. Then, to everyone’s surprise, he strode confidently to Kisha, who sat chatting with Lutas’ wife… and gave her a kiss on the cheek. She stared at him agape, looking as though she would murder him… but she smiled and embraced him.

They all cheered the new couple.

Pleased with his success, Gustav then went over to Meia and tried to coax her into drinking some rum. She quickly shook her head, seeming satisfied with her one cup of fruit juice. He pressed on further, thinking she would eventually agree like Septimus, but he was wrong. Her cold eyes flashed dangerously and she drew the sword at her waist, brandishing it as though she was performing a sword dance. Gustav squawked in fear, mumbled some incoherent words, and hurriedly escaped. Everyone burst into laughter.

Finally, he went over to Alundra, grinning as he handed a mug filled to the brim with rum.

“Go on!” he cried. “You’re the main star of the day! Drink up!”

Alundra scratched his head uncertainly and spoke so softly that barely anyone could hear him. “I… uh… I really can’t… you know… hold my drink…”

His eyes bulged with surprise. “WHAT?! And you’re the hero who saved our asses?! I don’t believe it! Drink up!!”

He sighed. “Oh, all right… all in good fun, right?”

The swordsman sat at one of the wooden tables they had set up for the celebration, upon which the mug of rum stood. He gazed at it intensely, as though he was sizing an opponent up. He grabbed it, gulped the whole mug down, and slammed it onto the table.

There was a pause. Another pause.

And he collapsed onto the table.

Everyone nearby gave a cry of alarm and rushed to his side.

“Oh my god! He really can’t hold his drink!”

“Are you all right, Alundra?”

“Alundra! Wake up, Alundra!”

“ALUNDRA!!”

 


 

Days passed. The excitement from the celebration slowly died down, and the restful feeling of peace slowly set in. The sun shone merrily in the blue sky. The people of Inoa worked hard to rebuild their village, starting from their own homes. Some of the dwarves, who were well-versed at building, and the lizardmen, who were stronger than the average human, volunteered to help.

“Now,” Miming said, fiddling with a knee-high statue head of Nirude on the ground some distance away from the rest of the construction. “Once you have done that, all you need to do is to flip this switch.”

The circle of human children around him gazed at the statue head doubtfully. Septimus, who knelt among them, stared intently at it.

“Hm… such a design could really allow it to shoot a cannon that far?” he muttered, fascinated. “Goblin technology is really beyond me!”

Bergus crossed his arms. “Come on! Are you sure this little thing can really do that?”

“Well, in theory, that is,” Miming remarked. “So far my designs had less than zero-point-zero-one percent of failure.”

“Show us, show us!” Nestus cried excitedly, jumping up and down.

He nodded. “Step behind me, please.”

Septimus and the children slowly moved behind the goblin, who then fiddled with a switch behind the stone head that was almost too difficult to see.

Suddenly, there was an exceedingly loud explosion.

A large cannonball was fired high into the air, into the light of the sun…

CRASH.

“MY HOUSE!!”

Everyone stared.

“RUN!!” Bergus abruptly shouted.

And the children and dwarf king immediately scattered.

Septimus glanced around confusedly and quickly scrambled to his feet as well.

“Miming!” he shouted, as he sped beside the goblin. “I thought its accuracy was dead on!!”

Miming shrugged. “It was… at least, in theory.”

And, as they continued to run, Beaumont’s voice rang through the air. “SEPTIMUS! MIMING! GET BACK HERE!!”

Some distance away, at the outskirts of the village, Alundra and Lutas moved slowly as they carried one large log from the forest to the village, each supporting its weight on his shoulder.

“Come on, Lutas, we’re almost there!” the swordsman said, beads of perspire sliding down his face. “Heave-ho! Heave-ho!”

“You’re pretty strong, aren’t you?” Lutas remarked, his breathing slightly laboured. “Must be all that adventuring you do!”

He grinned. “Of course!”

As they walked slowly, they felt a slight tremor in the ground. Again. And again.

Max, the giant lizardman, was striding casually past them.

Leaning five logs on his shoulder as though they were rolls of paper.

Alundra gazed at him, suddenly feeling rather insignificant, then, unable to stop himself, he shouted indignantly, “Oh, come on, Max! You show-off!”

Max stopped and turned. His golden eyes gazed down at them.

And he grinned.

He strode over to them and grabbed their log with one hand, stacking it on top of his five logs before casually striding back towards the village.

Alundra made a sound similar to a strangled gasp and immediately chased after him, yelling at the top of his lungs. “TIMBER THIEF! STOP HIM!!”

Lutas laughed.

At the edge of the village, Meia rolled her eyes at the swordsman’s antics and resumed her stitching work, seated at a table covered with a bundle of cloth. Lutas’ wife approached, bringing more cloth, and turned to her, smiling pleasantly.

“Have you gotten far?” she asked.

The female dreamwalker hesitated. After a moment, she slowly spread out the cloth in her hands.

The curtain she was making… looked like the patched robe of a beggar.

 


 

It was peaceful, yet it felt as though the days were passing by quickly. Within the blink of an eye, several weeks had already gone by, upon which most of the house construction had been completed.

Alundra gazed around the village of Inoa from the window of his room, a feeling of pride filling his heart. This was a place he could call home, where he had friends, where he had family. And he was proud to say he had a hand in its reconstruction.

But the adventurer’s spirit ached inside him.

It was time to leave. To return to the realm of the unknown.

 


 

The sunrise was beautiful. Breathtaking. The golden rays spread across the sky, like the wings of a golden bird bringing the start of a new day. The light dawned upon the graveyard, blanketing everything in warmth.

Alundra knelt at Jess’ tombstone, his hands clasped in prayer.

He had never seen the spirits of the fallen villagers again, after that time when he had almost succumbed to death in the lake shrine. But he knew they were there, watching him proudly, smiling in gratitude.

They were at peace. At peace enough to move on to the next world with no regrets.

Having done with her prayer, Meia rose from the front of Myra’s grave and approached him.

“Alundra,” she called. “We should go.”

He opened his eyes and slowly rose. “Let’s go.”

Septimus stepped away from another villager’s tombstone and nodded at them. “Come, I’ll follow you to the village entrance.”

Together, they left the graveyard.

They strode past the sanctuary, the place of worship where Ronan had led everyone to pray to the demon, where he had turned into a monster to execute them for betraying their god. It was now no longer a place of prayer, but the villagers had never forgotten how the basement served as a shelter against the Murgg attacks. Inside, the damages had been repaired, the furniture and floor meticulously cleaned.

And there, on the main altar of the hall, was a statue. The carefully carved stone sculpture of the Releaser, his eyes gazing resolutely forward, his sword raised confidently.

It had become a shrine to the people’s hero.

Alundra shrugged. “I’m never going to get used to this. It just feels so embarrassing.”

“You will, one day,” Meia stated.

The scholar nodded. “Definitely. After all, you’re Inoa’s hero. These people will remember you for life, and they will pass down your story to their descendants. Besides…” He grinned. “With all that prayer for peace, you might just become a god again!”

The Releaser shook his head. “Sounds tempting, but no. Where’s the thrill in the adventure if I become a god?”

The three of them left the sanctuary, turning right towards the village’s northern entrance, where the lake’s surface shone a golden colour.

“Well, here we are,” Septimus stated, slowing to a stop near the entrance before facing his companions. “This is as far as I will come with you, Alundra, Meia.”

Alundra shook his head. “Are you sure you won’t come with us?”

“I’m sure. Even though the people of Inoa won’t be having anymore nightmares, they still have their power of dreams that I want to study. I’m a scholar who studies dreams, after all, this is what I do.” He smiled. “But it’s not like we won’t see each other again. You’ll come back to Inoa, won’t you?”

He gave a grin. “Of course!”

Meia held out a hand with a rare smile on her face. “We will return.”

Septimus shook her hand and grinned. “You’ll learn how to cook before then, won’t you?”

Her face flushed a bright pink as she quickly pulled her hand away.

Alundra laughed.

At that moment, a soft drumming of footsteps on the ground could be heard, then grew louder and louder, prompting the trio to turn.

There, at the village’s entrance, every single person had gathered, with a grateful smile on their faces.

The humans, who no longer had to worry about nightmares or death, who could dream as they like.

The dwarves, who had fulfilled their master’s wish, who no longer had to hide in fear.

The lizardmen, who no longer had to fear the curse of the stone.

They all cheered when the dreamwalkers arrived.

Alundra grinned. “You guys are all up early, aren’t you?”

Meia shook her head. “And we thought of leaving without a word…”

Septimus chuckled. “Well, I knew they would be quite unhappy if you do that, so I told them beforehand. Why don’t you at least give them… or rather, give us a chance to thank you?”

“Yeah!” the crowd shouted.

Beaumont, the village mayor, stepped forward and cleared his throat. “Alundra, Meia… we thank you for saving our land. If it weren’t for you, none of us will be standing here now.”

Max nodded and clicked his tongue.

“We are all indebted to you, Alundra,” Miming said, smiling. “For a thousand years, there had been no communication whatsoever between the three races. Fearing the demon, we dwarves and lizardmen hid away ourselves, never thinking of rising against him…”

“And we humans have lived our lives in ignorance,” Kisha added, “Never realising we were praying to a demon disguised as a god of light…”

“But thanks to you,” Beaumont continued, “I think now we can all work together to form a peaceful community.”

Everyone nodded and shouted in agreement.

They had all fought together, prayed together. It was clear that strong bond had formed between the three races.

Septimus began to clap. Everyone else followed suit.

The applause rang loudly in the air, the applause of gratitude from the united people of the land for the dreamwalkers.

“You were super cool, Alundra!” Bergus suddenly piped up.

“Yeah!” Nestus cried. “Super cool!”

The Releaser laughed. “Well, Bergus and Nestus, make sure you grow up to be strong protectors of this village!”

“We will!” the twins said simultaneously.

Septimus smiled. “We’ll see each other again, my friends.”

And so, the elves turned and started their journey across their lands, waving their hands as the distance between them and the people grew.

But Alundra knew. He would be back one day.

To the village that had become his home.

 


 

The sun shone merrily in the sky, the grasslands basking in its warmth. The birds chirped musically in the trees as the squirrels bounded up and down playfully. The rabbits watched the travelling adventurers from a distance.

Meia stretched her arms, a look of contentment on her face. “I never knew it feels so relieving to settle the past.”

Alundra smiled. “I felt that way when you helped me in my dream, to accept Crowe and Jess’ death.” He shook his head. “So what are you going to do now? I mean, all this while you’ve been trying to track down Melzas. Have you thought about what to do after that?”

She shook her head. “No, not yet… but now, I have all the time in the world to think about it.” She turned to face her companion. “I should thank you for that.”

He grinned cheekily. “Well then, Meia, how about repaying me with a kiss?”

She paused for a moment, as though surprised at the request, however jokingly it was. She gazed at him, then smiled as she stepped forward.

And she kissed him softly on the cheek.

His eyes widened. His hand went to his cheek that now felt warm.

His heart felt as though it had stopped in shock.

She giggled lightly and ran a few feet away, holding up the sheathed sword in her hand. “Also, Crowe’s sword is still with me. If you want it back, you’ll have to chase me down first!” Laughing, she turned and sped across the grassy plain.

It was a while before Alundra finally snapped out of his stupor, and by then, she was already quite a distance away. He quickly rushed after her, his heart beating rapidly, shouting as loud as he could.

“Meia! What was that kiss for? Does it mean I can raise my hopes up? Meia? Meia! Oh, come on! MEIA!!”

They continued to run, together. Across the plain, through the thunderstorm, over the mountains. Disappearing over the distant horizon.

A brand new adventure awaited for them. It would be difficult, no doubt, but that didn’t matter.

They were together. That was all that mattered.

The sun shone merrily in the sky.

 

There once sat in a forest a village cursed,
There once surfaced a lake shrine once awed,
There once ascended a great being, a demon heartless,
There once rose a hero who became a god.

Within the wilderness, an adventurer traversed,
Within the village, a young man emerged,
Within the sky, a foreboding wind howled,
Within the dreamscape, the shadow scowled.

Hark, the young man warned,
Hark, a demon in guise of a god!

But alas, they scoffed heedlessly at his words,
And branded him a devil accursed.

From that moment,
The village did the darkness overwhelm,
The people’s minds no longer a safe realm,
From the darkness the beasts surrounded,
The funeral bells rung, the mournful dirge sung.

Hark, the young man warned,
Hark, a demon in guise of a god!

At last, they nodded fiercely at his words,
And banded together against the demon accursed.

With the mark of the Releaser, the young man chosen,
With the words of the king, the Holy Sword bestowed,
With the blood of the Elna, the power of dreams glowed,
With the power of prayer, a new god transcended.

By the power of dreams the demon ceased,
By the death of its master the lake shrine crumbled,
By the end of the great battle the sun rose from the east,
By the light of the sun the three races united.

There once sat in a forest a village cursed,
There once surfaced a lake shrine once awed,
There once ascended a great being, a demon heartless,
There once rose a hero who became a god.

 

End of Epilogue.

Chapter Text

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape

Afterword

Written by Estrelita Farr

 

Author’s Musings:

Ah, the sweet taste of finishing a long project. Alundra was one of those projects that took a long time to finish due to numerous delays. I mean, it took me one whole year before I could even start properly on writing!

Of course, I blame the PS3 and online games for that. xP

The main Alundra soundtrack used while writing this novelisation are Meia’s Dream and Dreamwalker (OC Remix). :D

 


 

Why choose Alundra for a novelisation? Why not other games?

I did consider quite a number of old games I wanted to novelise, but I finally settled with Alundra. It’s a fun game, a change from the turn-based RPG I used to play then, and some of its really confusing puzzles really stuck in my mind. The biggest nightmare for me at the time was the spirit puzzle in Lars’ crypt… as a kid, how was I supposed to know I was supposed to pray to the spirits in the order of their seniority? Maybe I’m just a blur-case. xP

I do like stories where dreams play big a role in the storyline (in this case, the dreamwalking ability and the nightmares that plagued the villagers), but the main reasons why I chose this game was because 1) it’s a PSX game so it’s easy to emulate on my laptop, and 2) it’s an action-RPG, so its storyline is shorter than normal RPGs and therefore should take less time to finish than BoF3… or so I thought. Turns out it was harder to write than BoF3. x_x

 


 

What are the challenges of writing Alundra?

Did you have to say challenges? The path of writing this novelisation is riddled with challenges! When I was planning to write this, I never thought I’d face so many!

Alundra was one of those games with storylines that somehow don’t quite match up with my logical side. There were quite a number of scenes that made me scratch my head and say, “Hey, that doesn’t really make sense!” or “Why on earth did they do that?” Each time I meet one of those, my hand itched to fix it… that’s why you see a lot of scene overhauls in this novelisation. o_o

For example:

  • Beginning, upon the ship to Inoa. Why are there seagulls on the ship? Seagulls don’t follow ships because they gather places with food such as ports.
  • Before Kline’s nightmare. After Kline tries to kill Alundra, our hero goes outside and bumps into Septimus, who so happens to be taking a leisurely stroll outside your house… especially since Lutas’ wife screamed right after seeing Kline peeping in through the window (Lutas mentions it if you talk to him the next day), wouldn’t at least some people be alerted that Kline is running wild? Too strange a coincidence, if you ask me.
  • Why go to the desert shrine when there’s no storyline purpose there? Solely for extra game time?

Another challenge I had was there is no pre-written game script. I thought it might cause some problems since I was used to writing BoF3 with a game script, but it wasn’t too bad playing the game for the script then using them to write. But in the end, because of the above challenge (total scene overhaul), I didn’t really use much of the game script anyway. o_o

Yet another challenge I had was the story timeline (when the war with Melzas occurred). According to the game, fifty years ago was the time when the king decreed that all idol worshipping was banned and all statues were destroyed… but, somewhere along the line, it was also mentioned that Melzas was a thousand-year-old demon. Since the lake shrine was just to the northeast of Inoa, I thought fifty years was too short because the old would still remember the war with Melzas. If they still remember the war, wouldn’t they listen more closely to Alundra and Meia when they tried to warn the people about the supposed god they were praying to? I chose to make it a thousand years instead of fifty years, because then there would be generations and generations of villagers worshipping Melzas, and you know people tend to resist change when their ancestors have done it for a long time. xP

And, of course, the last challenge I had was… after writing that poem thingy for the war a thousand years ago against Melzas (in the prologue), I was stuck for a long time when trying to write the poem thingy in the epilogue corresponding to Alundra’s adventure. Next time, no more poem thingies for me!

But despite the challenges, in the end it looks like this novelisation turned out well, even if it was delayed countless times. :D

 


 

Will there be other novelisations in future?

Of course! In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been writing Legend of Legaia while posting weekly chapters on FF (dot) net. I wish I could say I’m almost done with it, but sadly, I got tied up with online games as well… and a few other hurdles in writing the novelisation. x_x

Legend of Legaia is a typical RPG game, with all the traditional elements of an RPG with a battle system that I quite like. It is set in a world where there are creatures called the Seru, which will give humans extraordinary powers when merged with them. The world thrived with the power of the Seru for a long time. Then one day ten years ago, the Mist came out of nowhere and engulfed the earth, rendering all unworn Seru attack humans with crazed aggressiveness, and all humans wearing Seru will turn into a zombie-like mindless monster. Not good times, definitely.

One main reason why I chose this game is because… the main protagonist is a blue-haired guy. xP

 


 

Special thanks to all readers and reviewers out there!

Without you awesome people, I wouldn't have finished this novelisation. :D

Thanks for your support, everyone!

 


 

Added 16 Sep 2018: Special afterword for readers of Archive of Our Own!

Hello, AO3 readers! You may not know, but I originally posted this story over at FanFiction (dot) net way back in 2011 when I completed it. And today (16 Sep 2018), I decided to post it here at AO3! Do note I did so without changing any of the writing, except for some spelling and grammatical errors; it's so that I can look back and see how much I've grown as a writer since then. :)

Alundra: Shadow in the Dreamscape is still one of my favourite stories and I still read it every now and then, even though I wrote it myself! Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this story as much as I've enjoyed writing (and re-reading) it. :D

Also, in the above afterword (which was also written back in 2011, by the way), I mentioned I was working on a Legend of Legaia novelisation... which, sadly, isn't in the works anymore, due to various reasons. I wanted to mention that in this updated afterword so that people won't be expecting it to come out anytime soon. I may still work on it in future, who knows? We shall see!