So, the original story can be found here. I was looking over some of my earlier work, and I believe this story could actually be fairly interesting, if I handle it right. I realise that it requires a bit of knowledge about some of my previous work, which might be a hurdle for everyone but the six people who ever read some of my early stuff ;p On the bright side, I'll eventually try to revisit and flesh out some other stories as well, probably re-tell them, AGAIN. Self-serving as it may be. If anyone has any questions though, perhaps I can start an OOC thread to handle anything if anyone's interested. As a warning about the original; I personally think its okay, up until the very last paragraph. If you read it, just skip that part, it's terrible. What I'll be doing first is essentially just editing the first portion of the story up until that point, in an attempt to make it look better. After that, I'm going to try and produce some new content. Some stuff will probably change plot-wise as well, we'll see. In any case, I'm looking forward to writing again after so long, hopefully this will be the beginning something good. Please enjoy!
- - -
The dreams were always the same. That sense of fear, that sense of inneptitude. Fire. Death. Destruction. It was everywhere, and he was left powerless to deal with it. He had watched his closest friends die within the blink of an eye. The dreams had been absent up until recently; he didn't know what had triggered their sudden return. Although the cause of all the pain and destruction had been dealt with, and his friends returned to him, the memories remained. They had haunted him for years, in fact, until his friends returned. Eventually they subsided, and he was able to return to normal. So why had they returned now? Twisting and turning until finally he pulled himself out of bed, the warrior known to his friends as Stick, but to a very select few known as Dierden Samshae wandered out of his home and under the moonlit sky. He ran his hands through his hair and rubbed his face. This had to stop. He couldn't continue on living with these memories. There had to be some way to rid himself of them. He looked around him. The moon faintly illuminated the stone wall that rose to meet the sky; the wall surrounded an area larger than any castle he had ever been to. He looked down. The dew-covered grass seemed to glitter beneath the starlight. It was beautiful, beyond words to Dierden.
Slowly, he made his way down towards the ground. Away from his home in the trees, and off to wherever his feet may carry him. After some time that he hadn't realised had passed, Dierden found himself inside one of The Pen's vaunted wooded courtyards. He blinked as he found himself infront of a large, round tree stump. On top of this tree stump were the initials of himself, along with those of his friends that he had brought with him from Gaia, his home world. He slumped to his knees. Running his hand along the treestump, feeling every little line and curve of his friends' initials and he almost wept. Being here somehow increased the feelings of fear and doubt that had recently resurfaced. This location, although a cheery one, reminded him of how he had abandoned his home world. How he had abandoned his duties to his deity, Attuana, the Goddess of Nature. That was it. It was such a long time since he had been connected to Her that he had begun to need that precious connection they once shared. This time he did weep, and cry out.
"I'm sorry! I wasn't ready! The challenge... it was too much. I couldn't handle it." he slumped over the treestump, and banged his fist on its surface. "I'm sorry..."
He felt something change. It was like he was moving, yet he was perfectly still. He didn't feel anything move around him, but still, he knew he had moved. Immediately after the sensation passed, he retched, a foul feeling manifested itself in the very core of his being and he began to vomit. He felt sick, and weak, and in pain. Not just physically, but down to his soul, it was worse than any nightmare he had been experiencing. Slowly, he opened his eyes, looked up, he gasped at his surroundings. Instead of being surrounded by gloriously living trees and plants, he was surrounded by ash and char. The air was clear, suggesting that these woods had been burned down ages ago. Something felt familiar, as if something inside him had been turned on. Shrugging, and wiping the vomit from around his mouth, Dierden left that for the future to discover. He still felt weak inside, and wanted to weep like a child some more, but he was beginning to feel stupid about it. Everything hurt, but right now he had more pressing matters to deal with than memories. Such as where he was.
Examining his surroundings again, Dierden couldn't help but feel that he had been here before. Something was nagging at him, as if something was horribly wrong, but he just couldn't place it.
"Something wrong?" an unfamiliar female voice asked from behind him.
Dierden jumped, startled slightly, "Huh? Oh, um nothing." he said as he turned around. It was a young woman who was standing behind him. She was fairly tall, just about as tall as Dierden. She had wavy black hair that cascaded almost to her waist that was only held back slightly at her neck. There was something to the look in her eyes, that almost made her seem vicious, but Dierden discarded it to a far-off corner of his mind. She was wearing clothes that mostly seemed dark red and gold-coloured, covered by a deep purple travelling cloak that seemed to be made out of a light leather. Dierden was guessing she was a mage or a sorceress of some sort. "I just... don't exactly know where I am right now. Heh."
She quirked an eyebrow at him. "Oh? That's... weird. You can't be *that* hung over, seeing as how the nearest tavern is over a day's walk away, and I'm not seeing any signs of a horse with you."
"Hung over? Horse? What? Actually, I don't know how I got here. I didn't come from any tavern, I can tell you that much." he was lying slightly, he had a feeling how he got here, he just didn't feel like mentioning it.
She blinked, eyed the tall man up and down then smelled the air, "You're sure about that?"
"Yes! ...I don't even drink..."
"Huh. So... let me get this straight, you don't know where you are, you don't know how you got here. Yet here you are, out in the middle of nowhere. Do you at least know who you are? Or where you're from?"
"Well, the name's Dierden Samshae, and currently I'm residing at The Mighty Pen Keep."
She mouthed the name incredulously, a confused look on her face, "The Mighty Pen? Can't say I've heard of it." she sighed, "I guess though, since I'm on my way out, I can let you follow me to the next town. Maybe someone there will know about your keep."
"Fine by me. I suppose it couldn't hurt to know your name, either."
"You can call me Deltradiel. Now, let's make haste, I don't really like to talk that much, and it's a long walk from here."
"Very well, lead on."
The woman started walking in one direction, Dierden eventually gained some form of a bearing and discovered they were heading due north. He still had no clue where he was, but he couldn't eliminate the whole feeling of something being horribly wrong, yet all-too familiar at the same time. Deltradiel was focused on the road ahead and didn't speak at all. Dierden was trying to take in his surroundings, in a futile attempt to remember something he was sure that was important. He was starting to get a suspicion of what was going on, but he just needed something to confirm it. Still, he remained silent. He was certain he'd find out in due time. In a matter of hours they came upon what appeared to be a burned and broken town. There was something about the air that seemed to keep the sun's light from fully touching the ground, which was ashen and grey. Soot covered just about everything, and there were dark stains on the walls and on the ground, suggesting a battle had once been fought here. A bloody and horrible battle. Dierden could feel it without even opening his eyes. Stepping over broken stones, Deltradiel continued northward at a normal pace. Something seemed to be pulling Dierden though. It was if there was something here that he needed to see. It wasn't until Deltradiel was out of visible range that Dierden noticed a faint glint of light from the shadows beneath a crumbled doorway. Hopping over a large rock and scooping away some smaller ones, Dierden was shocked to find something that wasn't completely covered in ash and dust. It was a stuffed bear, with tiny glass button eyes. It was nearly torn apart, the eyes hanging on by the skinniest of threads and its stuffing hanging out all over the place. Still, it was if Dierden could feel the warmth and comfort that the bear was meant to convey to the child it was originally meant for. For some reason he felt as if he should keep it, so he removed a kerchief from his pocket, carefully wrapped it up and tied it to his belt.
He looked around the town again, and could feel a great aura of sorrow and grief. But there was something beneath that. It was like a solitary ray of sunlight, shining into the gloominess of the dust and char. Somewhere inside him, he knew that light was shining elsewhere, as well. It was as if this ruined place still had a last hope, even though it was no more than a pile of rubble. Sighing, he continued on, and caught up with Deltradiel who was silent as ever. Onwards they went, into the north, towards some answers. That's what Dierden hoped anyways.
- - -
It wasn't until nightfall that Dierden and the ever-mysterious Deltradiel caught sight of the first signs of civilization in the distance. Torchlights glimmered through the clear night air; they were near a farm, it seemed. It also seemed as if it were a time for celebration, for the sounds of festivity and merriment could be heard faintly echoing across the plains. It must have been a good harvest season, by the once small town dweller's reasoning. Dierden looked eagerly on towards the direction of the farm, his intentions obvious.
"No." said Deltradiel firmly, her gaze intently set upon the torchlight, "I do not trust the people in these parts... We shall wait 'til dawn, when they are asleep to pass. Rest now, and I'll take the first watch."
Something about that statement disturbed Dierden, he couldn't put his finger on it. But he decided he was still out of his element, so he figured it'd be best if he took Deltradiel's advice. Even though they seemed like farmers, Deltradiel probably had a better idea as to what was going on. Not worried about the colder night air, the slightly hardened warrior just picked a random spot on the ground, stretched out and tried to fall asleep. After an hour, he finally drifted off, a familiar tune dancing through the air...
He was younger, back in his earliest days as a man. The atmosphere was rife with cheer and pleasure. Previously in the day, the army he had just joined in had won a final coupe in a too long leg of campaigns against the nastiest horde of goblins in the mountainside. He was in the foothills now, his friends at his side, Tayne, Aidan, Rocoss and Roxxia. Everyone was cheering, singing and just having a jolly good time. He couldn't imagine things getting any better when all of the sudden the door to the tavern opened up and...
...the air was dark and heavy with ash. Fresh smoke hung low in the sky, and blood littered the ground around him. A burning sensation ran through his entire body, and he was thrown to his knees. With whatever will he had left, he tried to pull himself up. He had just witnessed all of his remaining friends perish at the hands of that terrible beast, and he was sure he was next. Looking up, a dark shadow loomed over him and...
...fire raged in the distance. This time, the pain was real and Dierden was no longer sleeping. There was a flame-scarred patch of earth next to where Dierden was lying down, and Deltradiel was nowhere to be seen. Any sounds of merriment and joy had been replaced by the crackling of embers under a bloody sky while the sun slowly rose to greet the gloomful morn.
Dierden rose slowly to his feet... and he slumped back down to the ground and retched. Then he flipped over onto his back and howled in pain. There was no doubt where he was now. He was on Gaia, his home world. His connection to Nature still remained, and now, he felt her pain. Whatever had been in this area last night had left its mark. Dierden could feel the burning, the flames, the deep gouges in the earth; he could feel it all and it wrought hell through out his entire being. Perhaps this was Nature's punishment for leaving his duties behind as Her avatar. Or perhaps this was simply a reminder as to why he had to return. He could figure out the divine nature of the situation as soon as he could figure out where he was. Hobbling his way to his feet, he slowly made his way to the farm house. That is, he slowly made his way to what remained of the farm house.
His mind back pedaled to the day before. He had gone to the grove within The Keep which had obviously brought him here. But when he arrived, he wasn't where he had departed from. He could be anywhere on Gaia; Destruction had spread its touch nearly everywhere before he had finally deterred it. Still, there was something familiar about the land he was in. That village they had gone through... Dierden sighed; he'd just have to wait. But what after he found out where he was? Was he going to find a way to go back and run away like a coward again? Or was he going to run back to Nature, run back and beg on his knees for forgiveness? It weighed heavily upon him, and he frowned. It was just the same as always. Whether he had his friends with him or not, he felt so alone. When responsibility reared its ugly head, Dierden ran. That's all he ever did, was run. Since he was a youth, he ran. When he was in the army, fighting goblins, he ran. When Nature presented him with his fated duty, he ran. After he finally accepted his responsibility and Destruction itself showed up, he ran. All his decisions had cost him dearly. He was so lucky that he had his friends returned to him, and he didn't even deserve it.
He screamed and fell to his knees. Between the pain from the land around him, and the weight of everything going on in his mind, Dierden couldn't take it anymore. The world was spinning around him, and the burning sensation of the dying ground was wearing him out. "I'm sorry! I am a coward!" he screamed to the heavens, "I never should have ran! I was just... damnit, I was just so scared! I wasn't ready for this, please... please forgive me... please..." Slowly, the land around Dierden stopped smoldering. Within a few moments, fresh blades of grass started to peek out from beneath the ash. The pain and burning soared throughout Dierden's body, but the earth around him was restored within a few minutes. Still screaming on the ground, Dierden didn't notice reality sliding around him. He twisted and spasmed until he felt a cool sensation wash over his body.
He was standing in what seemed like a never ending field of long grass and wild flowers. Trees dotted the horizon here and there and butterflies floated carelessly in the breeze. It was a paradise he had seen before. It was Her garden, which meant Dierden had been granted an audience with the celestial he was sworn to protect.
He spun around to face Her. Attuana, Nature herself. She had fallen in the battle with Destruction, but being the embodiment of ever-growing life, she was here now. She was the most beautiful thing Dierden had ever seen. Attuana appeared to Dierden in a humanoid form, most similar to a wood elf with long pointed ears and slanted eyes which shone a bright green colour. Her hair was a magnificent turqoise colour that hung loose to her hips and seemed to tickle the breeze. Her body was adourned in leaves and flowers of all sorts, covering her lightly green-tinged skin appropriately. The warrior could only do so much as kneel in front of his mistress.
"Rise, you may look me in the eyes."
He cringed at the statement. They both knew he could not. The pain would be too overbearing. It would be like trying to look into the eyes of one's lover after they had discovered you in bed with another. Instead, he accidentally let out a pathetic sob, then mumbled,
"Hello..." he didn't know what to refer to her as. If he was indeed still granted the responsibility of being Her guardian, Her avatar, then She was his mistress. If not, the formal title for a standard mortal was Mother.
"Do not pout in front of me. I did not recruit a child to be my guardian. I am not a child either, so do not act one. I understand your fear, little one. All is forgiven so long as I am standing here. I am giving you one more chance to redeem yourself, if you will be such a man as to rise and look me in the eyes."
"I..." it weighed heavily upon him. This was is it, his moment of truth. It was here that he decided his fate. Live on as a simple warrior, doing as what was dealt his way until eventually he met again with destiny; or he could live as long as Gaia did, serving his mistress with pleasure until the world was no more. He wanted to please Attuana, but looking eternity in the face was not an easy thing for Dierden. It was different for some to have fate shoved down their throats, but choosing was a totally different matter. He didn't know if he could do it. He didn't know if he could be like a hero in the stories. They always seemed to do the right things, no matter what. He blinked, and realised he had the badly beaten teddy bear in his hands. It seemed to be staring at him, almost smiling. He smiled too. This poor ragged thing was once meant as someone's comfort toy. This poor ragged thing would assure whoever once owned that everything would be okay, no matter what. Whoever owned it relied upon it for safety and comfort. This bear was a symbol of hope to that child. Looking at it again, Dierden found himself reminded of someone. It was someone connected to himself, and connected to that village.
Attuana quirked an eyebrow. "Aidan?"
"Yes, Aidan..." his half-brother. At times, his boss. Formerly, his war buddy. Always, his friend. Known as Sliver to some, Aidan was the leader of The Seven; the group who's goal was the safe being of the natural world. They had ran with him, without a second doubt. Aidan most of all had been brave, no matter the consequence. He was sure if Aidan had been given the choice, he would gladly take the position offered him. Aidan wasn't scared of anything that Dierden knew of, and if he was he didn't show it. He realised now, that this was his destiny. No man had ever been granted the ability to channel such power and such responsibility. It was his fate. Dierden could not escape it, whether he liked it or not. He laughed out loud. It was always like this with him, just when everything knocked him down and out, something changed. Perhaps he realised the hopelessness of hopelessness, or perhaps he was insane. Either way, there was no denying it: he had a job to do. Still, he couldn't look Her in the eyes.
Quietly, he stated, "I accept my fate. Consider me a tool that you may use to shape Gaia for the better. Consider me a shield to protect you from harms way. Lastly, consider me a sword to cleave all who would do harm to you. I am yours, now and forever." Slowly he looked up, and tried to meet his Deity's gaze. Attuana just grinned.
Dierden didn't like her grin. It wasn't right. A smile, he would understand; but a grin? That was just unkind. It told him that she already knew what he would decide. It told him that despite whatever he had decided for himself over the years, there was no avoiding fate. Most of all though, it told him there was trouble on the horizon. He had a feeling he'd have to be a sword soon enough. He wanted to laugh maniacally, he wanted to break down and sob like a baby. It was so hopeless, being anything but a monotonous servant. Since he was born, his life wasn't his own, and it made him cringe. He wanted to be happy to be serving such an important cause, but at the same time it tore him apart. He could never have a normal life. He would always have to be Attuana's lapdog, so long as the world existed. Perhaps, in time, he would be more prepared to accept his fate. For now, he just screamed inside. The stress was tremendous, but he had to pull himself together. Guardians are useless if all they can do is mope around, after all. It was kind of pathetic how easily he changed his mind these days, but what other choice was there? To be even more of a coward? It had to end.
"I am glad you decided to make the right choice."
"Choice? I wasn't aware one existed."
Attuana laughed, and it sent a chill down Dierden's spine. It was beautiful. Her laughter was melodious like that of a forest bird. He decided to smile as well.
"I suppose not. I am glad you have come to terms with that."
"I'm trying, anyways."
"Good. Anyways, in your absence, there have been a pair of villains that have slowly but increasingly been a thorn in our side. I believe you may have met one already, and I must say, you are lucky to be here today. I don't know why she let you live."
"The mage? ...Deltradiel?"
"The Red. She is a Dragon, one of the oldest living on Gaia. She must have had something planned. Perhaps she wanted to leave you a message."
"Yes, the farm house."
Dierden cringed. He thought about the music that drifted towards him on the breeze the night prior. It reminded him of his childhood. Then he remembered the immense pain he felt upon waking. The people at the farm had been slaughtered while he slept, completely unaware. He was surprised to hear a low growling noise, moreso when he realised it was coming from him. Shaking his head, he looked down once again at the stuffed bear in his hands. He was inadvertantly strangling the poor damaged thing. If it seemed to smile at him before, it looked like it was gasping for air now. He calmed himself down, slowly lowering his hands to his sides.
Attuana continued, "I do not know her intentions, I'm afraid. What I do know is, she's made acquaintanceship with an old friend of yours. Surely you remember Tayne Demeron?"
Dierden's eyes widened in shock. He remembered Tayne from his soldier days. Tayne was his first real friend; without him he probably wouldn't be alive today. Although, without him, he wouldn't have almost died, either. When the Tor'alasian army had nearly finished off the goblin hordes from the Nurram mountains, and Dierden had first discovered the vaunted 'BigPointyStick' as it was referred to by the goblins he had unleashed an earthly force that left himself and his fellow soldiers weakened for nearly a month's time. Through some miracle they had survived, but once they recovered Tayne had made an attempt on Dierden's life. They fought nearly to the death, until Dierden managed to use some trees as weapons against Tayne. His former companion then fled, and Dierden hadn't seen him for nearly two decades since. He was almost certain he'd taken care of Tayne for good. Now he had to deal with a man who had twenty years to plot vengeance, and train as much as Dierden had, or more? It was a scary thought.
"Yes, it will be a challenge, Tayne is a mad man. He does not hold back, and he is well-equipped for many situations, as my lesser agents have learned. With the assistance of Deltradiel, he will be a fearsome opponent."
"Then it is imperative that I get the Miershiera. But... it resides on another plane currently. It is safe, but I can not retrieve it. Can you send me back to The Pen?"
"I am afraid not. I can only send you to Gaia. Unfortunately, I am not skilled in the arcane arts and such can not create the type of cross-planar portal required to send you to Terra."
"What? But you are a goddess! You can do as you will." Even though he believed what he was saying to a certain degree, he knew he was being childish.
Attuana frowned, replying, "No, I can not. Even with my powers, I can only do so much. I am limited to my elements. I am the Goddess of Nature, Dierden, not magic. I wish I could do more, but I can not."
"Fine! Just send me back, I will find a way myself. If I don't get slain by this ancient dragon mage."
"Calm yourself, child!" Dierden cringed again. For Attuana to call him child was insulting considering his position as her guardian, her avatar. "I do not wish to see you come to harm, and I especially do not wish for you to mope about like this."
He took a few deep breaths in an attempt to relax. "I am sorry, mistress. This is all happenning so fast. In any case, you know very well that I am powerless here without the Miershiera, which is on Terra. If you can not create a portal for me to get there, perhaps you know where an existing one could be, or perhaps you could contact someone who could create one for me?" He was implying one of the other celestials of Gaia. Surely they communed with one another, so surely Attuana could get someone to create the portal necessary.
It seemed Attuana understood exactly what Dierden was thinking. "Unfortunately, I can not. Since Destruction's rampage over Gaia, as well as the other gods' domains, things have changed. The other deities have become reclusive, protective and some a little paranoid." That was unreal. Immortal beings suffering from mortal fears. But then again, as Dierden remembered, 'immortal' was a loosely defined property. "Also, I'm sure you know about Tayne's resentment for magic and magic-users. As he gained power, he set about on removing as many casters of the arcane, the divine and the natural as possible. Through a combination of cunning, madness and tenacity he succeeded to most terrible results. There isn't a mage school or church left standing on the globe. Any gathering of any sort of magic user met with Tayne's devastating wrath. With Deltradiel's help..."
"Wait, I don't know why I didn't think of that before. Why did he agree to let a dragon, essentially the living essence of magic help him?"
"I can not say for certain, but I can speculate on a few possibilities. I imagine they shared a lust for destruction. Perhaps one had machinations involving the other that have yet to fully involved. Maybe it was Tayne's madness. Regardless, the why isn't important. They must be stopped in order for Gaia to grow again."
Dierden clenched his fists. "They will be stopped. By me." Doubt was shoved to farthest corner of his mind. He would end this threat to his home and make things right. He would find peace at last, and redeem himself hopefully in the eyes of his Lady, but most importantly, to himself.