So, I submitted an entry into the PS4 competition, but apparently the link was broken. I’ve messaged the devs about getting included, but gotten no response. Given that it appears less and less likely that the story I worked so hard on will get any type of consideration, I’ve decided to post it here for your enjoyment.
I hope you like it.To Cast a Spell By Semiba
Burning pain clenched Atlanta’s guts and made her want to vomit. It forced her into groggy consciousness, but her vision swam before it slowly came into focus. Above her, the sunset lit a violently purple sky. She carefully pushed herself up from where she’d collapsed and felt carefully for her wound. She found a massive splinter protruding from her gut. She clenched her teeth and yanked it out, hissing violently through her teeth and screaming as quietly as she could. She nearly blacked out.
After catching her breath, Atlanta pushed back on her haunches and looked around. Tassarion sat to one side, eyes rolled back in his head, gibbering quietly.
At least his head’s not pulsating anymore. No demons have crawled out any orifices. Call it a win.
Rowanne lay a few paces away, broken in a dozen different ways. The dryad wasn’t moving, but sap still dripped from the fresh tears in her bark. Hopefully that was a good sign. An unearthly howl pierced the night. About 30 paces away, pine trees began shaking violently. There was no breeze.
Atlanta rose to her feet, but almost fell over again from the pain. She straightened slowly, using her bow for balance. Instinctively, she reached for an arrow only to find her quiver empty. Patting her belt, her knives were gone too. A quick glance around and the only weapon was Tassarion’s staff. Somehow, even half mad, the wizard had managed to hold onto it.
Reluctantly, she picked up the staff and tested its weight in her palms. She could feel the magic in it, but she had no idea how to tap into it. It would serve as a club, nothing more. Or, if she was being honest, a marker for her grave.
The trees shook more violently. One snapped in half. Something dark moved beyond them.
“This . . . This was not part of the plan.”
The Day Before.
Raven sat by the campfire, doing his best to appear brooding and mysterious. It’s what he did; that, and lie habitually, but he was being provided little opportunity, a fact he found irksome. Atlanta was the one holding the cards this trip, and her bosom was giving away more information than her face was. He tried not to pay too much attention to her bosom. She had knives hidden in places he didn’t even want to think about.
“Tell me again. Why do we care about the Knights Coronet?” asked Rowanne.
“They stink of magic,” murmured Tassarion around his pipe stem. They are drawing power from somewhere, and now that the Shadow Dragon is dead, I presume the Hero wants us to find the source?”
“Not exactly,” said Atlanta. “We know the source. We’re looking for . . . something else.”
Tassarion scowled. Raven did his best to hide his delight at the old elf’s discomfort. Raven wasn’t the only one who despised being kept in the dark. He just happened to be better at hiding his displeasure.
They were camped in the northern region of Maugrim Woods at the foot of the mountains, having traveled by foot the past few days. Atlanta said that their destination was near, but also that she couldn’t say for certain where their destination was. If the Hero hadn’t personally asked Raven to come along, he’d have ditched long ago.
He said nothing.
Tassarion, however, said everything.
“Now listen here young human, I was slaying monsters before your great grandmother was even born. It is high time you spill the details of this venture. The Hero isn’t here to back you up, and if we’ve done all this walking for nothing . . .” The old elf caressed his staff and let the unspoken threat hang.
“I will tell you, as soon as I see the sign. I cannot tell you before. How many times do I have to repeat that?”
“Humans, Elves, no patience from either,” said Rowanne, her voice coming from the darkness. A vine extended into the light, selected a choice bit of loam from the eve of a rock, and withdrew.
“I’ll have none of that from you, stumpy,” said Tassarion.
“I have a name, you know.”
“’Rowanne.’ I refuse to have a conversation with you when you stand out in the darkness.”
“I refuse to stand next to a fire.”
“Well, then, I . . .” Tassarion trailed off, realizing he had painted himself into a corner.
Raven suppressed another smile.
The old wizard stood up using his staff to do so. As he drew upright, an odd look crossed his face. His body went rigid, arms flung to the sides. To Raven’s horror, the wizard’s face began to contort, and the top of his skull began to . . . pulsate.
Raven was on his feet, eyes tracing the darkness looking for the threat, the source of the attack.
Atlanta was saying something. “Calm down everyone. Come back. Tassarion is . . . ill. The fit will pass in a moment.”
Raven scanned the darkness one last time before slowly relaxing and coming back to the fire. He was unsettled and getting angry. Tassarion had collapsed into Atlanta’s arms, his head resting on the . . . bosoms . . . but his skull still throbbed visibly.
“This is why we care about the Knights,” said Atlanta. “This is the sign. I’ll say more once Tassarion comes around. I don’t want to have to tell the story more than once.”
They watched as slow minutes passed, and gradually the old elf roused, managing to sit up on his own.
“Tassarion, I couldn’t tell you until now, but the spell you learned in the Temple of the Moon, it wants to be free. It is trying to bore its way out of your skull.”
The old elf glared and tried to say something, but all that came out was a croak.
She touched his leathery face gently. “We are searching for the remaining Knights because they are key to getting that spell out of your head before it kills us all.”
Atlanta sat back and scooted to a clear space in the packed earth. She began to sketch. “Now gather around. The plan starts out simple enough, but gets more complicated from there. First, we have to kill some knights.”
The next day . . .
Rowanne exulted in the shine of the sun on her leaves, the wind through her branches, the blood providing fresh nutrients to her roots. It was a glorious day.
She couldn’t help but admire the fresh evergreen fir trees this far north, so much more verdant than the deep forest back home. She missed home.
A knight poked her with a sword.
Rowanne’s bark crinkled into a frown. She put her root down and thrust it back up out the earth underneath the impudent cretin, skewering him from groin to chin. He hung for a moment, like a macabre marionette, before she let him fall to the earth.
The battle was pitched in a deep valley in thick forest. They’d come upon the Knights Coronet near sunset, exactly as Atlanta had predicted. That was unsettling. Atlanta had always been a pleasant, competent human who fought better than the toughest Treant, but she had never been magical. Atlanta girded her flower well for pollination, as far as humans did at least, but disdained the more mystical and magical arts. Now that she had suddenly turned into a Seer, well, it was like a Treant suddenly going from Spring to Fall overnight. It just wasn’t natural.
Rowanne impaled another knight while she ruminated on it.
Her companions were quite busy, as humans tend to be. Raven flitted from shadow to shadow, using surprise to find the soft spots and stab them repeatedly. Atlanta was more direct, favoring shooting people in the face with her bow.
Tassarion was busy lighting people on fire. Rowanne disapproved, on principle, but it was entertaining to watch—from a distance.
“The summoning is happening! Somebody lite a fire under the Warlock!” Atlanta shouted as she danced back from the twin blades of a knight who had gotten too close.
Tassarion obliged, directing his staff and shouting, “Infernous!” A gout of flame sped forth, igniting the Warlock’s robe. The twisted, hunched man howled in pain as magical fire engulfed him, but his hands continued waving in arcane patterns, even as the flesh burned from them. Putrid stink filled the air.
Thunder cracked loud and close, and a line cut the air before expanding into a massive ethereal gate the height of five men.
The growl from inside was pure terror, even to a dryad.
There was no mistaking it.
Kerberos was here.
Um, we missed a few details at the campfire . . .
“Wait, you want us to let them summon the Guardian of the Underworld? Are you insane?” said Raven.
“We have to time it perfectly. The warlock has to die right as he opens the gate. If he doesn’t he’ll close it as soon as Kerberos comes through.”
Tassarion coughed and hacked, clearing his throat and working up the ability to speak. “How do you know all this? Last time I checked, you were a disgraced pirate captain with no ship to sail, not the mad prophet.”
Rowanne’s face loomed suddenly into the firelight. “Hush, old man. She has risked all to help you. She deserves respect.”
“The old man is right though,” said Raven. “How do you know all this? More importantly, why is everyone ignoring the fact that she wants to leave a gate to the Underworld OPEN!”
“When the Hero and I trained with the Centaur Star Gazers—you know, after we killed Orion—“
“Orion?” said Rowanne.
“Their tyrant god. He had it coming. Anyway, after we freed them, the Star Gazers taught us how to catch glimpses of the future. Snippets really. I hadn’t seen anything important until . . . this. I saw Tassarion begin to have fits, saw what would happen if we didn’t take this journey.” She shuddered, and made a little explosion gesture with her hand.
There was silence for a moment.
“OPEN! We’re leaving it open!” shouted Raven.
“Of course we are, how else are we supposed to go through?”
“What?” rumbled Rowanne.
Raven had fully lost patience, something Atlanta had never seen. “I did not sign up to go into the Underworld. Did you Rowanne? We did not sign up for this!”
“Of course not. You’re not going,” said Atlanta.
“Of course I’m not. Wait. What? I’m not?”
“Well, someone has to keep Kerberos busy.”
Back to the Action!
Tassarion was cross, more so than he’d been in a hundred years. He vented that frustration—and some pent up magical energy that had been hanging out in his kidney—into speed roasting the last remaining knight coronet. He felt old for the first time. Whatever was eating the inside of his skull, it had sapped him more than he was willing to admit. He finished cooking the knight and turned to look for any stragglers.
It was then that he heard the growl. He had encountered Kerberos before, but only from a great distance. He’d wished it had been farther then, and much, much farther now. He could smell its breath, the stink of putrefying flesh with a magical tinge of decaying souls.
The creatures head—heads—emerged from the portal, and its enormous body lumbered forth, larger than a small house. The shaggy heads fixed the heroes with gazes full of madness and fury. Three heads, three heroes.
Raven was nowhere to be seen.
“Damn rogue! I knew he’d flake on us,” Tassarion muttered. He readied his staff and all the magic he could muster.
There was a small movement in the shadows, shadows that shouldn’t be there, and Raven appeared under Kerberos’ center head. The sun flashed off a massive dagger as he stabbed it into the monster’s snout and sliced it right up the middle. And then the man was gone to the shadows once more.
Kerberos howled in pain, thrashing and swinging shaggy heads from side to side, searching.
Raven’s voice yelled from the trees, “Come on you Sheggra shagging sheep dog! Come and get me if you can.”
It didn’t even roar, merely leapt 30 paces and was in the woods in a blink.
Atlanta appeared next to Tassarion. “I’ll say this for the man, he has balls. We don’t have time to waste. Lets go.”
She strode to the portal, a gaping, fiery hole that drank in the light. Atlanta hesitated a moment, then strode inside. As Tassarion watched, the portal shrank bit by bit. With a swallow, he too stepped inside.
Rowanne followed, but stopped in the mouth of the portal. Tassarion paused as well, turned to the woodland creature, and simply said, “Thank you.”
Rowanne nodded. She stopped in the opening, sunk her roots, and began to grow. Her limbs quickly reached the edges of the portal and braced it. Tassarion could hear creaking, and Rowanne grimaced.
“Good luck,” said the dryad.
Inside was a nightmare, made only worse because Tassarion’s head had begun to throb. He had to get the spell out! The book had said it could destroy the world, rend open holes into infernal dimensions. It had been used once before, unleashing daemons across Krystara, daemons who still plagued the land. It was never to be used again.
Perhaps, cast from this side, it could close the hole and reverse the damage. Perhaps it could save them all. He had no choice but to try.
He did not walk far before finding a mound of demonic and undead corpses. Atlanta had been busy.
“Hurry up you old fool,” she snarled while stabbing a ghoul in the eye with a dagger. “Cast the spell!” She grabbed an arrow, knocked it in a blink, and shot a wraith at point blank range.
Tassarion planted his staff, closed his eyes, and began to cast the spell that should not be cast. The pounding in his head intensified as he pulled magic from his bones and sinews. The agony was becoming unbearable. His skull was ripping apart. He let out a low moan. “I’m dying. I have . . . to . . . finish . . .”
“Men always say that.”
“Just cast the damn spell!”
Last time at the campfire. I promise!
Raven paced the packed earth surrounding the campfire. “So, we fight a dozen knights, kill a powerful warlock, challenge a demigod, stroll into the Underworld, use the most dangerous spell in existence, and then stroll home, clicking our heels along the way. You. Are. Insane.”
“If we don’t, Tassarion’s head explodes and rips a hole from our world into some unknown realm.”
Raven seemed to pause for a bit, weighing the possible benefits of this choice.
“So I have one more question, oh lady of visions.” He gave a mocking half-bow. “Do we all come home from this insane adventure? What does your vision say?”
There was a long silence.
Atlanta jumped at the shout. It had come from Rowanne.
“I . . . I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know,” asked Tassarion. His eyes were very cold.
“The vision ends when you cast the spell.”
The Final Showdown.
Tassarion shouted a final phrase, clapped his hands and a flash of light illuminated the Underworld for one brief, horrifying instant.
The sound hurt Atlanta’s soul.
The brilliant flash showed daemons and undead crawling, slithering, and writhing as far as the eye could see. The undead stood all around appearing as statues in their brief illumination. Sucking black abysses were anchored to the walls and floor that seemed to drink the light as it passed. In the far distance, beyond miles of broken landscape and broken bodies, a skeletal figure sat on a burning throne. It smiled.
The flash lasted but a moment. The agonized screaming that came after seemed to last forever.
Nearly blind, Atlanta used the mayhem to escape. She turned, “Let’s move Tass—“ Tassarion was lying on the ground, arms spread wide, eyes rolled back in his head.
“Oh, perfect. Naptime.” She moved quickly, picked up the frail old man—who was surprisingly heavy—and began to sprint toward the gate in the distance. It seemed much smaller. Looking closer, it was much smaller, and Rowanne was bent nearly in half, struggling to keep it open.
“I’m coming!” she yelled.
She didn’t make it. The rush of the explosion slammed into her back like a massive hand and flung her to the ground. The thunderous crash that followed left her ears ringing. She lurched to her feet, disoriented, and hauled Tassarion up once more.
And then she heard it. It was a voice, a very familiar voice, crying exultant in the distance, “I AM FREE!”
She heard a snap, heard Rowanne cry out in pain, and flung herself and Tassarion at the tiny hole that remained.
Meanwhile, in the woods . . .
Raven stood still as a statue, plastering himself against the bark of a tree, thinking very quiet thoughts. He was running out of moves. Running out of forest too. He’d lost count of the times he’d stabbed Kerberos, how many times he’d cut the monster’s hamstrings, how many woodland creatures the thing had consumed in order to regenerate . . . It was getting a wee bit exhausting.
That, and the monster had taken to knocking down trees, leaving him with fewer and fewer places to hide. There was an angry snap and bellowing. It was only a matter of time before he had no place to hide.
And then he saw it, a brilliant flash that shown through the trees. Raven felt the magic wash over him. It could mean only one thing: They’d pulled it off! By the gods, they had cast the spell and pulled it off! Tassarion would be more insufferable than ever, but THEY HAD PULLED IT OFF!
He felt it then, a waft of fetid breath, not even enough warning for him to dodge aside. His world lit up in agony.
And here we are, back at the beginning.
Atlanta swayed on her feet. Nope, this was not part of the plan at all. She planted Tassarion’s staff for a moment and leaned on it. She felt the blood trickle down her abdomen, further soaking her clothes. Much of the blood was daemonic, and that stunk worse than the corpse ichor that plastered her sleeves.
Being eaten by Kerberos would at least end the smell.
She readied the staff once more.
“You must be tired. The heaving is . . . impressive. More so than usual.” Raven limped a few steps more to stand at her side.
“Nice of you to show up.” Atlanta nodded toward the trees. “That our friend?”
Raven turned from her to look at Tassarion and Rowanne. He ignored her question. With his back turned, Atlanta could see blood flowing freely from deep claw marks that had shredded his clothing. She wasn’t sure how he was still standing.
“My friend is here,” he said quietly. He stepped over by Rowanne.
Atlanta was touched. She hadn’t known Raven to care about anyone, let alone Rowanne. He bent over, but instead of touching Rowanne, he picked something out of the grass. He held aloft a shining, prismatic gem.
“Chaos gem,” he said, tossing it in his palm. “From the closing of the gate.”
That, that was more like Raven.
A roar came again, and Kerberos lumbered forward, favoring his front right paw, blood flowing from all three maws. The far left head hung limp. The other two heads were missing several teeth. Raven had given the Hellbeast all it could handle.
Atlanta took an involuntary step back anyway, and readied the staff. “You get left, I’ll get right.”
Raven was gone.
Kerberos slowly walked forward but closed the distance deceptively quick. To Atlanta’s horror, the creature’s wounds healed as it approached, and by the time it was close enough to smell, all three heads were snarling. She couldn’t run, she could barely walk, and she wouldn’t leave her friends. Unlike Raven, she knew what that word meant.
Kerberos lunged, but stopped quickly as something smacked it in the chest. The sparking chaos gem fell to the ground.
It howled, a howl that rivaled the agony of Hell, but the howl grew more distant. With a faint “pop,” Kerberos dissolved into the gem itself.
Raven stood beside her, appearing from nowhere, but she was too tired and too injured to care.
“Sorry about that. My throwing arm is shot, so I had to let him get close.” He bent forward and picked up the gem. “I’m just going to hold onto this for safe keeping, okay?”
Atlanta slumped to the ground. The voice she’d heard deep in the abyss echoed in her ears, again and again, I am free. She began to cry, something that she had not done since she was a little girl.
Raven stood by, puzzled. “I checked on Rowanne and Tassarion. They will recover. We were victorious. It’s okay now.” He patted her on the back awkwardly.
She cried harder. She choked out the words, “You don’t understand. You don’t understand.”
“Yes, I do. It’s over.”
“No, nothing is over. We didn’t seal any gates, demons will come, and so will he.”
“What? I don’t understand. Your vision . . .”
“. . . was given to me by the Star Gazers. The Centaur oracles. The same centaurs who worshipped Orion, the god we killed.” The next words were almost a whisper. “The god we just freed from the Underworld.”