"The Labyrinth swallowed all... Innocents were stranded; sinners drowned in the depths; the damned vanished there. The great power was lost to Man, and Mother Earth turned her back to the new world. Only the cursed king on his throne in the abyss remembers the golden age." "In a vast and fertile land lies a small town known as Etria, a peaceful village that became famous for a startling discovery. A crack in the vast forest opened at Etria's edge, leading downward like a gaping maw. It all began there... Those who hear rumors of the labyrinth of Etria, whether young or old, begin to harbor dreams of exploring it. Riches... fame... prestige...all that and one more thing does the labyrinth promise: the true spirit of adventure, on the perilous edge of death. Today, like any other day in the new Etria, a youth walks through the town gates..."
"We walked soo far. Are you sure you know where you're going? Are you even sure why we're going there??" The young man jabbered to his friend. He adjusted his glasses with his hand, and fastened his backpack again.
The foreign swordsman continued steadily before pausing before a two story wooden house. He wiped his leather boots gently on the cobblestone road, scrapping off the mud. The debris bounced around into a little mound on the road. The house was at a set of crossroads, with two other buildings close by. From the aroma of freshly cooked bread, and the rounds of hearty laughter, one could access that there had to be a tavern around.
"Here we are. The explorer's guild." The ronin spoke, a noticeable accent in the way he accentuated certain words. "We'll be able to lodge in this city tonight, Rainus."
The young man squinted even with his glasses, at a sign post leaning in the moist, morning soil. He tilted his head to read the slanted words etched into the wooden sign.
"Etria..." Rainus sighed in relief. "We're finally here. Now where's the roasted meat and the fine wine?" His eyes widened, and he was barely able to contain his smile. The foreigner turned back with a grin on his face. He warmly puts his hands onto his friend's shoulder.
"Actually, I'm a bit hungry myself." His smile relaxed. "Let's take care of business first however."
"B-but.." The young man conceded, and straightened out his hunched back. "Alright. Let's go. But let's make this fast!"
The pair walked into the establishment. Their footsteps creaked and echoed on the wooden stairs. A few leather clad soldiers glanced in their direction momentarily before returning to sip their bowls of steaming soup. They continued, step by step up to the second floor. The pair paused on the top step. The wooden plank strained, supporting their weight.
The top floor of the building had an arrangement of round, wooden tables scattered across the platform. Surrounding the wooden tables would be five chairs to each table. A wooden sign stood at each table by the warm glow of candlelight. A slender lady walked slowly towards the foreigner, her hips swayed with each step. Her movements, slow and articulate.
"Hey stranger." Her eyes accessed the ronin from top to bottom. "A fine swordsman such as yourself belongs to the Order of the Scarlet Renegade." She stopped to cast a quick glance at Rainus. "Your friend, however, might not make the cut." Her voice was ice cold.
"We are a team, and I've no interest if we are to be separated." The foreigner looked away, disinterested.
Her stony eyes narrowed. "Humph" she scoffed. She turned slowly before departing. "You'll regret this day."
"So might you." The swordsman replied.
Though light shined brightly through a long double panel window, casting warm rays of light onto the floor, a good part of the room was still shrouded in darkness. Several doors were still shut despite it already nearing noon.
Sitting in solitude, an armor clad warrior gazed from across the room silently. The two warriors stared directly at each other, almost as if they were locked in mortal combat. Slowly, the swordsman approached the knight with Rainus following closeby. Several other inhabitants turned their heads in curiosity.
"...Are you sure-" Rainus started, but broke himself off.
"You're not from around here." The knight stated before rising up. His voice was deep, but yet, strangely soft.
"No, you're correct. Does my blade give away my identity so soon?" The ronin replied, amused.
"It's a fine specimen. I've seen few like it. I know everyone by their blade first." The warrior paused. "My name is Kain. What is your name soldier?"
The swordsman suddenly realized that his hands were tensely alert, resting within inches of his scabbard. He relaxed his hands and let them fall casually to his side.
"My friends call me Debonair."
"So, Debonair. What brings you to Etria? More specifically..." Kain's eyes narrowed. "What brings you here to me...?"
The swordsman paused. He reached to his sash, and loosened a black, satin pouch. Carefully, he unrolled a parchment on the wooden table, and pointed at the insignia.
"That's the emblem on your shoulder plate" Debonair declared.
"So you've come for my head too. Is that it?" The knight replied cooly. "If that's the case, you've made a grave error... I just feel bad though that I would need to cut you down before your companion."
Kain stretched out his arms, and loosened his fingers; his steel gauntlets clinking. Debonair only now, sensed how massive this knight truly was. The ronin had to look up at him; the landsknecht clearly a head taller. His platemail glistened, and his long crimson cloak flowed freely to the ground.
Rainus looked around nervously. By now, there was a sense that all eyes were on them, though no one dared openly watch. The young man didn't want to get involved in a fight. He just got here, and his stomach hungrier than ever. He was still deciding if he could eat a whole hare or not.
"Hold." The foreigner said, discovering his sudden lack of words. "We did not come all the way here to seek death. Quite the opposite really." Debonair continued, regaining his composure. "Your reputation proceeds you. We-"
Kain raised up one hand and stood motionless. His gaze studied all aspects of the swordsman. Light frame, the raven haired swordsman was built for speed. His sinewy muscles enabled him to perform swift, decisive blows. His slender katana, concealed in a rich, magenta casing that had gold letters etched with the upmost precision. There were three mysterious characters, followed by the phrase "...careless as the evening breeze."
After what seemed like hours, the towering knight broke the silence.
"I know why you're here... and I accept your proposal."
Debonair's furrowed brow wrinkled with both intrigue and intensity.
"How does he know-"
His thought was interrupted by a sudden bang and a gust of wind sending his flowing hair over his eyes.
The swordsman peered into the door that blasted open, his hands again, alert and tingling. The sunlight from within the room illuminated the guild hall. Debonair looked on with obstructed vision and could make out a slender figure gracefully marching towards them. The figure stopped in front of the magnificent knight. Another followed closely, bouncing enthusiastically behind.
The ronin raised his hand to shield his eyes from the beam of light, and looked between two of his fingers. He identified two huntresses, both clad in leather with exotic animal fur wrapped around their necks. The lead had splendid golden hair; sparkling.
"Kain" she greeted the armored knight, who nodded in response. "How goes the search?" The huntress continued, impatiently tapping her long dark boots on the wooden floor.
The landsknecht tilted his head, motioning towards Debonair and Rainus. She inspected the duo, with her eyes almost a sliver.
"You sure Kain?" she questioned, recipient only to a solemn nod. "Okay then. I'll pack my bags." The huntress turned promptly and trotted back to her room. Her friend stood, wide eyed.
"H-hey. What's the big rush?" The second huntress chided, before breaking out into a delightful grin. Her carnation hair radiated to the pulsing beats of Rainus' heart. She leaned forward to the young boy, who seemed to hide behind the foreigner.
"Milady. P-p-please. That is far too close." The boy reproved with a blush on his face.
"My name is Alarcia." The huntress leaned even closer with a devilish twinkle in her eyes. The boy backtracked a couple steps and stumbled onto the ground. His hands braced his fall, but his book slided out of his hands and under the dusty table.
Alarcia laughed heartily. Her rich laughter resonating on the wooden platform.
"I can see this is going to be a fun expedition!" She said gleefully while Rainus still sat on the floor, blinking. "You there, what are you and your pal's name?" She pointed directly at the foreign swordsman, her joy still overflowing.
"This little man is Rainus, and friends call me Debonair."
"Nice meeting you Debbie, and..." She paused slightly. "Nice skirt." Alarcia had one hand pointing at Debonair's long flowing pants, while her other hand was covering her mouth. She turned and disappeared into the room; the sound of her laughter still echoing behind closed doors.
With one raised eyebrow, Debonair looked inquisitively at the burly knight.
Kain had already started relaxing, easing back in his wooden chair. His legs were resting comfortably on the tabletop. He crossed his arms and had a grin on his face. He shrugged his shoulders casually, the weight of his armor pulling his shoulder back into the recesses of the chair.
"Strange place. Stranger women." Debonair stated as he pulled his friend up.
Kain raised his eyebrows with curiosity as a rumble filled the room. Rainus smiled sheepishly and had his hand on his stomach.
"I've kept you long enough. Let's go, friend." Debonair chuckled.
Outside the Explorer's Guild, Etria brimmed with life. Wagons passed by, carrying various weaponry and fine goods. Merchants were setting up shop, and adventurers made last minute preparations as they anxiously awaited their journey into the labyrinth. Warriors from other guilds sharpened their swords and axes with rough stones, while others were tightening the straps to their leather armor. On a shaded patch of grass across from the explorer's guild, a small community of magic users were rehearsing their incantations. Inaudible whispers were heard from the cracks of their lips.
The door groaned behind them as Kain led Debonair and Rainus into the Golden Deer Pub. The tavern welcomed weary travellers with crackling fires, and the aroma of fresh mutton on a spit.
"Well met lads. Find yourself a seat and enjoy," said a barmaid passing by.
The group rested comfortably at a table, waiting for the food to arrive. The sizzling flame of the fire was almost drowned out by their empty stomachs. At long end, the jug of mead arrived, followed by several plates of mutton. Rainus grinned cheek to cheek, and devoured the food ravenously. Kain and Debonair joined in, although both were quiet as they ate. The meat felt especially succulent, and washed down nicely with the mead. After countless plates of mutton, they were joined by the two huntresses.
"I apologize for the lack of proper introductions earlier." Kaid said. "These are my trusted guild mates. I'm sure you both remember Alarcia". Kain grinned and continued, pointing at the blonde. "This is Krissy".
Krissy nodded courteously to the newcomers Debonair and Rainus.
Alarcia popped out from behind Krissy. Her curly, carnation colored hair bounced around in a swirl. "Despite what you think. She's actually an alchemist. She just likes how I dress." Alarcia wagged her finger and had a smirk on her face.
Krissy smiled wryly and blew on the tips of her fingers. A snowy mist gathered around, and blanketed the huntresses' face. When the mist dissolved, Alarcia's teeth were chattering, but her smirk and that playful finger had become frozen stiff.
"Y-y-y-you k-k-know it's true." The huntress shivered.
The pair joined them at the table and they all had a round of drinks while Rainus continued cleaning out plates of mutton. Alarcia had her arms propped on the table, looking at Rainus. "I've ate here all this time. And if I didn't know any better, he's making this place out to be the King's dining halls."
"You know what they say. Hunger is the best spice." Debonair replied casually.
The young man continued eating as a light conversation took place at the table. As he eased off, he was taken by a sudden wave of exhaustion. In his dream state, he could tell that the conversation had taken a turn for the serious.
"News travels fast." Debonair stated, a sense of urgency in his voice. "We must start the exploration immediately."
"It's a shame that my country has fallen so much. There are so few of us left serving the cause..." Kain's voice trailed off, as everything blurred out.
The sun hid beneath ominous clouds on the morning of the expedition. The atmosphere was stark and a light drizzle was starting to set in. Etria, disappeared behind them as they ventured into the lush forests. Their pace was fast, unforgiving, and borderlining reckless. Exotic plants and wild life surrounded them. There were beds of wildflowers that lulled the weary adventurer. Small, vibrant birds sung passionately through the top of their lungs.
"If only we could stop and really look at this place. At least have a quick sketch of these sights," admired Rainus.
As they advanced, a posted guard handed a blank canvas to the party. He went on to explain in excruciating detail about how the mapping process is essential to any adventurer's survival. Rainus' eyes latched on at two multicolored butterflies, chasing each other in an intricate aerial dance. They fluttered about, as if nothing else in the world mattered. Debonair shoved the blank canvas into Rainus' chest. "Here's your chance to be artistic." Debonair patted him on the back.
Krissy looked sharply at the foreign swordsman. "This is no time to jest here. If he's to be appointed the task, I expect him to do an impeccable job."
"Do not concern youself with this. He'll do a fine job." Debonair nudged Rainus lightly, who nodded quickly at Krissy.
The alchemist opened her mouth slightly, but hesitated. "Let's move on then."
Rainus quickly ran under a tree where one of the birds was perched, and plucked a feather from the ground before rejoining his group. As they proceeded through the forest, they faced light encounters ranging from overgrown rodents to various different bugs. They appeared agitated, and were hostile on sight. The young man wondered if it was the drizzle that was driving the creatures mad. He took out his canvas and was amused at what he had sketched.
Krissy narrowed her eyes and glanced at the young man, who quickly hid the map into his backpack. They continued to quickly traverse through their whimsical surroundings. The drizzle had turned into a steady downpour. The group seeked shelter temporarily under an ancient oak tree while the rain battered all around them. Krissy paced around needlessly while others unpacked their supplies to rest their aching backs. As the rain subsided, they increased their pace and hacked through different flying insects. With Kain and Debonair's deadly and precise blade strokes, they were able to slice through most of their adversaries.
As the day progressed, they had delved deeper into the labyrinth. Their stamina had been dwindling down before Rainus spelled relief to them. The young man closed his eyes, and a gentle light encompassed him. The light moved slowly from one party member to the next, much to the delight of everyone.
After twisting through different corridors, they noticed an oddly shaped stump that was entwined with vines. Kain sliced off the vegetation and noticed a wooden container. "Looks like other guilds haven't been paying attention." He rubbed his hands and blew a layer of dust off the chest. His eyes glowed as he revealed a strange curly wire.
"It's a warp wire." Krissy stated before anyone had a chance to ask. "In a nutshell, the wire will bring us back to safety should we ever need it."
"Since you're in charge of our health, take this Rainus." Kain tossed the wire to the young man, who fumbled it in his hands before stuffing it into his backpack.
Kain and Debonair continued to lead the group blade first through the maze. As the wild beasts grew stronger, Krissy and Alarcia demonstrated their prowess with arctic blasts, and quick snaps from the whip. They soon rounded another turn, and Alarcia's hands reached out at a green fruit dangling from a tree.
"Let's not forget what happened with the other fruit." Krissy warned.
"But it looked so good." Alarcia pouted.
"If not for Rainus, who knew what would have happened to you." The alchemist reinforced.
The huntress quickly dismissed that notion and happily patted the young man on the head. Rainus shrieked and quickly squirmed. He quickly backed up far behind the party. Alarcia giggled giddily. "This makes going down the all these stairs a lot more fun." She sighed in content as she eyed yet another tight corridor that led to a staircase leading down.
As they descended the stairway, they entered a large clearing.
Alarcia stood perked atop of a boulder, scanning around. "Looks like it's clear." She jumped down happily. "It's so nice to be in an open area like this. I was getting sick of the small pathways and such."
"I don't like this." Krissy whispered warily. "It's so quiet. I have this bad feeling we're being watched."
"R-relax. It's so beautiful here. Although, you talking like that is spooking me out a little." The huntress scanned again quickly, not as certain of herself.
"In any case, let's be on our guards." Kain addressed the party.
The pale sky darkened as the rain continued again. Kain and Krissy enshrouded themselves with their hood and peered out from under their cover. Rainus wiped his glasses with his hands constantly. As they hurried through the clearing, they couldn't shake the feeling that they were continuously watched, or worse yet, tracked.
"I don't like being followed". Debonair declared. "Whatever it is, it should show itself."
"I don't think we should go any further." Krissy advised.
"I thought you are always pushing to go forward." Alarcia added. "I agree with Debbie on this. I'm sure whatever it is, we can handle it." She grinned.
Kain pondered to himself. Time was not on his side. Whatever it is that is stalking them, they can't afford to wait around and let it make the next move. The landsknecht adjusted his gauntlets, and nudged his armor.
"Let's go!" The warrior exclaimed.
The party rushed forward, not quite certain what they would expect. They scanned around nervously in a circular formation. From atop a large tree, a gigantic insect descended upon them. It's hind legs hung on to large branches as it lowered itself from an upside down position. It opened up its wings, and glided down in front of them. The insect erected its thoracic body, and raised two large cleavers. The beast stared menancingly with its compound eyes; its acute vision narrowing down on its prey. The mantis advanced meticulously, occasionally flapping its wings which sent a horrific buzz and shockwaves all around.
Krissy took a few steps backwards while Alarcia cowered behind her. Rainus took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes in disbelief. The group was starting to lose morale, and Kain knew it. The landsknecht nodded to Debonair, who quickly dried his palms on his flowing pants. He tightened his grip on his katana and joined his leader in their rush. They splitted up in their quick dash forward before converging on the Mantis. Debonair's hands blurred as he rained slash upon slash on the creature's side. Kain aimed for the creature's hind leg. With a booming battle cry, he lept forward and unleased a mighty overhead chop. There was a huge clash of impact; steel on shell.
The warrior stood momentarily, catching his breath. There was but a small glimpse on his face, but his shock confirmed everybody's horror. His powerful assault did not severe the insect's limbs, but rather, undermined their disposition. The hardened carapace of the insect was hardly dented. The mantis turned turned its head slowly, observing the two pests around its legs.
"FALL BACK!" Kain turned and yelled to his companions. "Use the warp wire!!"
It was too late. With two swift strokes, the twin scythes bore into Kain's heavy armor. The massive knight dropped to his knees. His sword was thrust squarely in the grassy knoll and he leaned heavily on his blade as a crutch. His face was filled with perspiration, but determination was written on his face. He mustered up all his strength, and charged relentlessly at the monstrous beast. Rainus' quick incantations spelled relief to Kain's gaping wounds, as he advanced dauntless. Again, the sound of a tremendous impact filled the clearing.
The knight paused. He loosened his grip on his sword, which had pierced through the insect's leg. His expression was blank as he gazed at the scythe portruding from his armor. The weight of his armor pulled him down with a thud to the floor. Krissy bit her lips hard, and fought tears. Her hands glowed a luminous blue as bolts of ice launched from her fingertips repeatedly at the giant insect. This annoyed the mantis enough that its following attack grazed the foreign swordsman but still was enough to send him sprawling to the ground.
Alarcia had began to panic. "Hurry Rainus, hurry!". The young man was dumbfounded. His eyes stared wide and Alarcia's voice was drowned out in his head. His hands rummaged through his backpack, as he felt through his inventory. The huntress feebly attempted to bind the advancing foe with her whip, but the rope would not latch on. The mantis towered over them. It raised its deadly scythe, and prepared to deliver death and destruction.
"NOW RAINUS!" The dark hunter pleaded. Rainus suddenly felt a coiled string in his hands. He shook out of his confusion, and quickly raised the wire into the air.
*** The Labyrinth swallowed all... Friends are made, but friends could be lost; through the perilous descension, the labyrinth spares not. Through the daring adventures, the stories of great feat. Looms every corner the twist of defeat. For every great tale, told before morning unveils. Lies countless guilds, whose quests, failed.
Rainus shook his head. His eyes slowly opening. The protector aside from him spoke gently. "Are you okay Rainus?"
"Y-yes. Don't be concerned." He muttered.
The memories of that fateful night was a blur to him. He remembered awaking several days later at the Rooster Inn, with a few strangers offering him condolensces. He remembered vaguely, the force surrounding him, enveloping his reality and bringing him back into the haven known as Etria. However, one image remained. The landsknecht laid lifeless. His friend Debonair sprawled motionless on the ground. A lingering scream and a swoosh of the scythe. What happened to his companions remained a mystery. Everyday, Rainus woke up and awaited news of his party. After several weeks, there was no news on their status or whereabouts. One day, a neighboring guild travelled back, their faces grim. They unveiled a sack to the young man. Inside contained a tattered hood, and a battered shoulder plate. With great effort, he held back tears, and moved on.
It's been a year since he set out for Etria. He took a deep breath. Standing tall before the gates of High Lagaard, Rainus led his own party now. He trained vigorously for the past year. With more experience, he hoped to accomplish what his companions could not. As they prepared to enter, he realized that he still clung on to a strand of hope. He prayed that he might still run into one of them someday. Some way; some how.
Editor's note: Thanks for reading my story. Hope my adventure is a good bedtime "tale" for you. I love writing, and always run off at my keyboard when I really get started. Then I find it's past midnight and have to now shift from the dreamer to the dreaming. Since I don't wanna be a zombie at work, I'm signing off! P.S. To avoid confusion, I compiled all my previous editions together for better readibility.