Lightbringer - Tome of Chaos Story

in #hive-133237 days ago

The village of Britemane was only just waking when Joaken arrived. Smoke puffed gently from the chimneys as fires were lit and breakfasts were made. A young boy darted from his home with a bucket in hand, running toward the well to fetch water. He quickly stopped short when he saw Joaken arrive, looking past the Efreet’s shoulder at the giant Roc behind him. With wide eyes he turned and dashed back the way he’d come.

Moments later a man appeared, fastening an apron behind his back as he came. “Morning to you, stranger.”

“Good morning.” Joaken smiled, waving to the boy who’d stuck his head out of the stone hut to watch. “I was wondering, good sir, if I might find a guide here, someone who could help me through the Timber Lunta forest?”

The man looked up at the sun and squinted. “There should be a traders caravan through here before midday, there’s usually a Venari scout with ‘em so you should be fine.”

“Excellent,” Joaken replied. “Then I shall wait with my bird until they arrive.”

“Nonsense,” the man said, “you’ll ‘ave breakfast with us. You look like you could do with a warm brew inside you.” Turning, he shouted to the boy. “Fetch the water then, Jacob! The bread won’t make itself.”

“That is most kind of you.” Joaken dipped his head. “I should like that very much.”

The day stretched on, and it was more like mid-afternoon by the time the trade caravan rolled into Britemane. The baker had been right, there were a generous assortment of skilled artisans following along, offering their wares. Joaken didn’t notice the Venari Scout, though. She melded into the commotion of the caravan as it unloaded and began to set up stalls. It was most peculiar, as even though his eyes were searching for such a creature, it was eventually her who found him.

“You’re looking for a guide?” a voice squeaked beside him, causing Joaken to flinch in surprise.

“Well—yes, I suppose I am,” he managed.

Her nose twitched from beneath the long hood, as she looked him up and down. “It’ll cost you ten pieces of silver, six now and then four when we arrive,” her voice came in rapid, high-pitched bursts.

“But you don’t even know where I’m going?” Joaken questioned, regaining some of his composure.

She nodded quickly. “Snik knows. Snik smells your magic, the same magic Snik smells near the caves in the forest. You want to go there. Tell Snik she’s wrong.”

“Well then, Snik is it?” Joaken reached into his pocket and removed a money pouch. It had been getting lighter of late and there were only a few coins left in it. He peered into the gloom before pulling the draw strings tight. “I can give you two silver now and then one gold coin when we arrive.”

Snik wiggled her fingers through the air, completing some unseen equation, the sun almost shying away from the brown leather of her long gloves. “That will have to do,” she eventually replied. “But I’ll only take you to the caves, not inside. We leave now, and your bird stays here. Snik doesn’t like birds.”

“Very well,” Joaken said, as he followed the cloaked Venari into the shade of the trees.

They had been traveling for most of the afternoon in silence. Trekking along small game trails and cutting through the less inhospitable undergrowth where they could. Joaken’s robes had snagged on so many briar patches and groping thorns that he had given up trying to release them, the tears, and rips evidence of his disregard.

The sunlight through the canopy had started to wane when Joaken realized that Snik was no longer with him. He called out for her, but received no answer. He grumbled under his breath, annoyed that she would disappear and leave him stranded in the middle of the forest. Joaken took a deep breath to calm himself. He hoped she would soon return, so he paused and rested against the large bole of a tree, draining the last few drops from his waterskin. The noisy torrent of the Naga River nearby coaxed him to its fresh delights, and he considered making his way towards the sound to replenish the empty skin, but something held him back. There was a strange feeling in the air. It may have been the sudden absence of his scout, or the cold grasp of the coming evening. He could even sense a slight shift in the elemental power due to his vicinity to the great river, but none of that seemed likely. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he made ready to continue on, hoping that wherever Snik had gone, she would be back soon. And that was when he saw the source of his disquiet.

“There’s no point in trying to hide, we’ve seen you!” A rough voice called out as Joaken attempted to hug the tree.

Three men stepped through the forest without making a sound. They were dressed in hunters’ garb and carried bows as well as long knives on their belts.

Joaken stepped away from his feeble attempt to hide. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen my guide, have you?”

“Don’t s’pose we have, stranger,” the same man answered. “But we can guide you anywhere you want to go—for a price of course.”

“Unfortunately, I spent the last of my funds on my absent tracker, a shame really as I’ve still not reached my destination.” Recognising bandits when he saw them, Joaken prepared his magic, but to his shock, the spell simply slipped through his fingers, a dull ache pressing at his temple.

“They’ll be no magic in here,” the man sneered, holding the medallion from his own neck and dangling it in front of himself. “Now hand over whatever coin you have left, and we’ll be on our way.”

Joaken felt suddenly alone without his magic or Fogclaw to protect him. He cursed the Venari scout. He wondered briefly where she was, an absent thought that helped little in his current situation.

The leader moved towards him after replacing the medallion about his neck, whilst the other two fanned out behind, covering all avenues of escape. Joaken debated running, but the man would catch him within seconds. No, his life was worth more than a small pouch of coins. Reaching into his robe for the second time that day, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Careful not to look directly, he could just about make out the bandit furthest from him being dragged to the ground with Snik’s dagger slicing across his throat. Then she was gone from view again, only to pop up seconds later behind the other bandit, viciously stabbing him in the base of his neck with such speed that he didn’t even have time to scream before dying.

“Get on with it then, hand it over,” the leader ordered.

Joaken realized he had paused, clenching the money pouch to his chest. The other bandits were lying dead in the bushes now, and he was fairly sure their leader would not be too far behind them.

“I think…maybe I’ll keep hold of this,” Joaken started to return the pouch to his robe, watching as Snik stalked up behind the bandit leader and leapt onto his back.

“Snik smelt you lot a mile away,” the bandit’s eyes widened as he felt the edge of steel touch his neck. “Stinkin’ humans, you make more noise than a rabid boar.”

“N-now…there’s no need for violence,” the bandit gulped.

“What you say old man? You want Snik to stick him?” The Venari looked at Joaken, her eyes unflinching black pools of onyx.

Joaken paused for a moment, enjoying the bandit’s discomfort. “Maybe we should let him go, so that he might tell his friends about the dangers of Venari. It wouldn’t do for others to be meddling in the business of Snik, eh?”

“Snik want to kill him, but you’re the boss.” She eased the knife from his throat and jumped down, sliding out the bandit’s knife from its sheath as she went and cutting his bow string. “Snik will keep this though, so you don’t get any stupid ideas.”

The bandit stumbled back, eyes warily watching Snik as she twirled the two blades around in a dazzling display of dexterity. Edging away from them both, he shared one last glance with Joaken before turning tail and running, completing an intricate dance on his way to avoid the fallen bodies of his comrades. The noise of him crashing through the undergrowth was quite the contrast to the quiet forest setting Joaken had spent most of the afternoon in.

“You’re right, Snik, he is incredibly noisy for a hunter.” Joaken smiled. “It almost sounds like a herd of Biceratops are rampaging through the woods.”

The Venari looked up at him, its furry features unmoving. “We go now. Then Snik get paid.”


The vortex swirled before him, a maelstrom of chaos and night four times the size of a wagon wheel, ever increasing, desperately trying to push the rift wider with every spin of its purple light. Yabanius reached wide with his hands, gripping at the oblivion about him and drawing it in. With every movement, the rift’s opening decreased an infinitesimal amount. Yabanius’ mouth moved silently, as his fingers drew intricate patterns in the air, working with such speed they were a mere blemish upon the darkness. And as each runic combination was completed, the void closed that little bit more.

The vast shape of the otherworldly god, Uul, moved across the face of the portal. It dragged a shroud of hopelessness along behind it, a suffocating blanket of despair. Probing tendrils of desolation curled about the shifting rim, forcing it wider with every small pulse. A great eye passed by, peering into Yabanius’ world, glimpsing his very soul, and then it was gone again, replaced by Uul’s gaping maw. Chaotic words spewed forth, each syllable taking the shining runes from the air and destroying them with their vile connotations. And the rift increased in size by the smallest of fractions.

And so, this preternatural dance continued, back and forth between worlds, a momentous struggle that neither side dared to lose. A perpetual battle that hung in the balance, threatening to bring the Splinterlands to its knees. But unlike Uul, Yabanius’ strength had its limits and as the days passed by, he struggled to maintain his focus.

When the great unblinking eye of Uul saw him falter, it poured more of its chaos through the portal until Yabanius could see nothing but darkness. It filled his mind and threatened to choke the very life from his body. He stumbled and the vortex rippled, widening at an alarming rate. A shout from beyond followed, rumbling through the emptiness of space that hung between them, striking Yabanius and tearing at his soul like lethal talons, cutting and slicing away at the virtue and tormenting him with a bitter anguish. He dropped to his knees and the rift bulged outwards, an abhorrent smell overwhelming his senses as a flailing tentacle tried to force its way through the growing portal. It was over, Yabanius could not hold it any longer, he was utterly exhausted.

A hand touched his shoulder as the tentacle flailed wildly.

“I will take it from here, old friend,” came Aggroedius’ voice, pushing the dread from Yabanius' body and casting it aside.

The great wizard clapped his hands and the tentacle shuddered, desperately trying to drag itself back through the portal and away from the baritone voice that began to chant with a deep hum that resonated through the yawning cavern. As the tentacle disappeared the eldritch eye returned to gaze through at this new vexation that was preventing its arrival. And with every echoing tone from Aggroedius, the rift decreased in size until it was back to where it had been when Yabanius began. The ordeal was over for now, and the game started again with renewed vigor.


Joaken followed the sound of water as he made his way through the tunnels, moving ever downwards, into the cold darkness. A flame danced upon his outstretched palm that helped to light the way. His thoughts returned to Kiara, and he wondered if the defense of Cloudgard still stood strong or if the Chaos Legion had conquered the mighty citadel. He pushed the concern from his mind, nothing could help them now apart from Agrroedius. He pressed on, more determined than ever.

Winding around a long bend in the passageway, the tunnel opened up into a vast cavern. The sound of water echoed about the cave, as it cascaded in from various tunnels, feeding the enormous subterranean lake. Joaken noticed a light in the darkness at the far end of the cavern and started towards it. Along the way he felt various magical wards as he passed safely through them, each one probing at his mind as they determined his intentions.

When he finally came upon the whirling vortex, he saw Yabanius, standing before it, his hands shifting quickly as his lips moved in silence. Joaken’s eyes were drawn towards the purple hue and a sudden sickness arose inside of him. It felt as though he was being compelled to strike the wizard down with his fire and it was almost impossible for him to turn away from the void. Heat prickled along his neck, and the flame drew away from him as he reached for it. An unblinking eye appeared in the vortex and stared at him, an alien voice speaking in his mind. Joaken desperately searched for the comfort of the one flame, but it had shrunk far too deep within him to be found. Still, unsummoned by him, flames sprang forth from his hands and roared angrily at the cold air about him. The fires begged to be set free, to be thrown at the form of Yabanius as he tirelessly worked. Joaken’s will was no match for the beast that compelled him, and he jerked forward, stumbling towards the wizard. A tear touched his eye, he had come to help the wizards, not destroy them, yet he was not himself anymore and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

“Ahh, a visitor,” came a comforting voice and Joaken felt the compulsion swiftly leave him as the fires in his hands died away. “You are the first to find us, a journey that must have been long indeed, I should imagine?”

Joaken spun around and saw an old man standing before him. Long robes and beard, as white as snow. “Aggroedius, is it you? Have I finally found you?”

Aggroedius held a finger to his lips and led Joaken away from where Yabanius worked. “We should not disturb him; his work is vitally important.”

The tears fell freely now, a mixture of joy and relief filling Joaken. “Your daughter told me you were here. I come with her blessing, but she is in dire need of your aid.”

“Do not trouble yourself, she is alive and well, and Cloudgard still stands.” Aggroedius’ words continued to reassure Joaken. “But tell me Joaken of the Efreet, why are you here?”

Joaken slowly sat down feeling the tiredness of the past weeks suddenly weighing heavily upon him. “I do not know where to begin, so much has happened between the Chaos invasion and the betrayal of the Wizards’ Council?”

“The Chaos Legion invasion I am all too aware of, but this betrayal of the council is news to me.” Aggroedius poured a drink from a small kettle that he lifted from a fire, handing a cup to Joaken as he joined him around the fireside.

Joaken went on to tell him of his meeting with Berlius and the giant’s lost magic. Between sips of the hot sweet liquid, he told Aggroedius of Portia and her betrayal. The old wizard listened in grave silence, his eyes not ever leaving the Efreet’s. When Joaken was done, he could see new lines of concern etched upon the wizard’s face.

“It makes sense now, I could not understand how the veil of magic above Praetoria had fallen, but your words grieve me.” Aggroedius leant back against a rock, and he drank from his own cup. “Portia has made a grave mistake if she believes that she can control the forces she plays with, for they will utterly destroy her. You can see that it is taking all our power to prevent the rift from opening wider and allowing the foul, eldritch god entry. I will not say its name, but you felt a tiny fragment of its strength when you first arrived. Yabanius and I take our turns to keep it at bay.”

Joaken shivered. He could only imagine the power beyond the rift. He had barely even glimpsed at it and the creature out there had almost consumed him. If it had not been for Aggroedius, then he had no doubt he would be dead now, having doomed them all. Even the one true flame had not been able to do anything against the swaying force that had assailed him.

“So, are you telling me you can’t leave this place?” Joaken asked.

Aggroedius slowly shook his head. “Not until this rift has been closed, Yabanius and I cannot go anywhere. We are stuck here in the darkness of this ancient place, preventing the arrival of our enemy’s god and holding the fate of the Splinterlands in our hands.”

Joaken shifted, the sudden discomfort of Aggroedius’ words upon him. “Then I fear all is lost. What are we to do against the Chaos’ legions and Portia the Betrayer, without you or the rest of the council to stand with us?”

“Each of us can only fight the battles before us, Joaken.” Aggroedius shared a sad smile. “My daughter, Kiara, fights hers in Cloudgard together with her people. Yabanius and I, toil down here, away from the bloody conflict above, but it doesn’t mean our struggle is any the less important. There are others out there as well, that labor in their own way. Tell me, have you reached the end of your own quest?”

“I was hoping that answer might have been with you, Aggroedius Lightbringer.” Joaken returned the smile, but his heart was heavy. “Now, I do not truly know. Who would have thought that hope could be so difficult to find?”

“There is always hope my friend, of that you can be sure.” Aggroedius placed his cup down and reached for a small parcel of smoked fish. “When we found our way down here, despair ate away at our resolve. How would we find sustenance in such a place, where our strength would need to be fed and watered whilst we battled with the rift? Look what hope has provided.” He swept his arm to encompass the great lake. “We have food and water aplenty. Every problem has its solution, sometimes one must just change the angle they look at it from.”

“But the Chaos throngs are boundless, there are hordes of them as far as the eye can see.” Joaken fought against the hopelessness that threatened to consume him. “What can be done against such a thing?”

Lifting a clay pipe to his lips, Aggroedius took a burning piece of driftwood and touched the ember to his pipeweed. “Even as we speak there are plans in motion. The die will soon be cast, and our fortunes bound to change.” He puffed on the heady smoke, blowing delicate rings into the air before him. “But these things will not happen without the help of the people. I have a task for you—if you will take it?”

“I will do whatever I can.” Joaken felt a spark ignite within him. “Ask and it will be done.”

“Help is it hand, Joaken of the Efreet. There is more out there in the cold void, more than this god who promises only annihilation. They are called the Riftwatchers. Soon they will be ready to join us but there are further preparations that must be made first. I had hoped to complete them myself, but as you can see, we are busy here. Now, you will be my herald, Joaken. You will open the way for them to come.” Aggroedius reached into a bag lying next to him on the ground and took a scroll from within, handing it to Joaken. “This is what will save our world.”

The scroll was ancient, the edges torn with small bits of parchment flaking away. “What is it?” Joaken asked, holding it with care.

“It holds the words that must be spoken and the rites that must be invoked, but it relies greatly upon the band of people you gather to complete it. You must look for the dwarf that is loved by her people and who walks with the river elf, and the girl that was born beneath the crossed skull upon the oceans of the world. Their paths bring them closer to you with each passing day and soon you will meet. Then we might find allies strong enough to help us prevail against this fell tide.”

“I will do this, Aggroedius, may the one flame give me strength.” Joaken pushed himself to his feet. “But what of Portia the Betrayer?”

Aggroedius stood with him. “Do not concern yourself with that, there are those that must handle her. Travel to Praetoria, in the Wild North East. Within the depths of the Abyssal Canyon you will find the ruined temple of the elements, that is where this scroll says you must invoke the ritual. Soon I hope there will be enough numbers to staunch the flow of chaos, Joaken. When the Riftwatchers arrive, maybe then we can save our precious world.”



Collect special Limited NFTs related to this story at https://www.splintertalk.io/nfts/


Credits:

Story: Daniel Beazley

Editor: Sean Ryan

Narrative Lead: Joey Shimerdla

Character Art (cover): Candycal

Illustrations: Larissa Senties Ibarra

Graphic Design: Tamer "Defolt" Oukour

Voice Acting: David Dahdah

Ending credits song: AfterSound

Music: Isaria

Post Production: INFLUX Pictures

Creative Director: Nate Aguila


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