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It has been two weeks since we first arrived in these strange lands. There are all kinds of fantasy worlds out there. All places that we wish we can escape to when the real world becomes too much. Our prison had become that for us. An escape.

Of course we still had a lot of questions. How did we get here? How do we go home? These thoughts burned like the candles at night as we quietly discussed these things. We had no clues to tell us about our arrival or how we would leave. 

In the meantime, everyone had found something to do, slowly assimilating to life in a fantasy world. Stephanie was training with the local militia. She would come back all bruised, sweaty, and smiling. She claims she’s in the greatest shape of her life.

Lucas has been practicing his archery and going on walks. He always liked doing side quests. He was ever ready to lend a helping hand around Rebel’s Rest. He often was joined by Hugh. The two have been spending a lot of time together lately. 

Rachel has been studying. She found resources at a local library, and had her nose in the books, soaking up all the lore on magic. I offered to give her the cliffnotes but she refused, saying it “was more fun” when she taught herself. I don’t know whether to feel insulted or impressed that I’ve been set aside for the world I made.

But I’ve been mostly busy with my new hobby. The blacksmith, Gillian, was an older man with a grizzled face. He was blind in one eye and spoke in a quick and gruff manner. He reminded me of an auto mechanic my dad used to visit.

Anyways he said he would show me the ropes, even though he already had another apprentice. Hilda was half my age and had much more experience blacksmithing. But she didn’t rub it in my face and even gave me pointers. Everyone loves heroes.

Through my lessons, I learned how to properly use my hammer. Turns out it is a magic hammer. All I have to do is hit things with it and it fixes them, or forges them into shape. That made work at the smithy’s a lot easier, and increased their productivity. I was soon offered a job, and have since been earning money for the party.

I also learned that with experience and the right materials, I could enhance items with my hammer. Therefore, I spent as much time as I possibly could at the smithy, working on whatever I could get my hands on. I maintained and repaired Stephanie’s sword, and with practice, made it as good as new if not better.

No one has talked about our next move yet. That means we’re settling. The longer we spent in Rebel’s Rest, the easier it was to forget the problems we left behind in the real world. Why shouldn’t we take our time? This was pretty much a vacation.

Today I was going to create my first weapon. I knew I would need something besides a hammer. The weapon wouldn’t improve with me like the hammer would, but I could at least defend myself.

I assembled a mass of steel ingots on top of the anvil. The ingots went into the smelter. As they came out I had a mold ready for them. Once cool enough, I opened the mold and moved the slab of metal to the anvil again. 

Two children stood nearby, watching me. It wasn’t unusual to have an audience. Not many people have seen a magic smith at work. I waved to them, and they waved back.

The sound of metal on metal rang as I struck the slab with my hammer. Nothing happened. That was okay. Nothing ever happened at first. As I continued swinging the metal started to heat up, as if I had stuck it back in the fire. 

The metal began to take shape as I pictured the final form of my weapon. My mind went back to when I made my first LARP weapon out of foam. It was so light compared to the mass before me. Blow by blow, the weapon was forged. 

I sank it into the waters for a final time. The steel had formed into a common sword. It would still have to be mounted onto a hilt. I would need Gillian’s help with that. Magic smithing was not entirely like blacksmithing. It was blacksmithing with shortcuts, but there were limits to its conveniences.

It was time for a break. I usually hung out with Lucas during my breaks. This time he found me. He was wearing an outfit that he recently bought with leather pads covering parts of his body. We had all invested in new outfits. But Lucas seemed excited today.

“I have news,” he said. “Do you remember the wailing woman?”

How could I forget? She had been wailing ever since we got to town. It never occurred to me to check on her until now. Lucas beat me to it, as he usually did.

“It turns out she recently lost her son. She thinks he was kidnapped. Guess by who?”

“Who?”

“The cult of the dark god.”

“No relation to the Dark Lord?”

“Not that I could tell. She said that there have been kidnappings like this one for ages.”

“That’s... great? I don’t see how that is much of a lead.”

“She followed them to the desert, and lost them at the tar pits near the oasis. She’s frightened to death that they threw him in as a sacrifice.”

“Oh jeez. There are tar pits?”

“Yeah, I followed up with some other folks, learning the folklore, and apparently that area is cursed. I think we’re onto something.”

“You might be right. Did you tell the others yet?”

“I told Steph, and she said she’d pass along the message. But I wanted to tell you.” 

“Why?”

“Don’t you think it’s kind of weird that the god you’re going to be doing favors for kidnaps children?”

“I admit that does sound strange.”

“Then why are we spending our time trying to reach the temple? What if he asks for something despicable?”

“I dunno. I still think we should check it out. God quests are supposed to be like side quests. They aren’t essential to beating the game. They’re completely optional, but have small rewards. If we don’t like what we hear and see then we can just leave.”

“I already don’t like the sound of it. But I agree. If nothing else, maybe we can rescue the kidnapped victims.”

“How many do you think there are?”

“Like I heard, it’s been going on for a while. There could be dozens of them. That is if they haven’t met a terrible fate yet.”

“Always looking on the bright side, I see.”

“Someone has to.”

“Alright. When should we head out?”

“As soon as possible. Steph’s already gathering everyone else.”

I finished my break and told Gillian that I needed to take off early. He grumbled, but I explained it was hero work. It was as good an excuse as any. 

The others were waiting at the hostel. Everyone had already geared up for the adventure. I quickly packed my bag and joined them. We had provisions and some equipment. Hugh had some of it stored away in his magic cape.

Everyone was wearing new clothes. Rachel now had a robe and Stephanie had a new cloak. The only exception was Az, who wore his signature vest and trousers. He elected to walk barefoot, as usual.

Together we marched out of Rebel’s Rest towards the tar pits south of us. The sun beat down on us. I was grateful we brought plenty of water, even though we were headed to an oasis. I wondered what we would find.

I would be lying if I said the cultists didn’t concern me. I didn’t come up with the kidnappings. That’s another curveball the game threw at us. Why would the Watcher need to kidnap people? I didn’t write this. Nevertheless, we were prepared for a fight. 

The oasis was an hour's walk from Rebel’s Rest. It was a paradise in the desert, but there was no one there. Just beyond it we could see the dark pools of tar. That was our destination. 

Sure enough, we found footprints indicating that we were not the most recent visitors. They led off into the desert, towards the tar pits. But the sun was already setting, and none of us wanted to navigate the pits in the dark.

I volunteered to keep watch first. Someone had to do it. Besides, if we all took turns it wouldn’t be a big deal. I would wake Az halfway through the night to take the second shift.

“You wake us if you see or hear anything.” Stephanie told me. 

But there was nothing. The sun went down, and one by one, they all fell asleep. 

The night was quiet. The air was cool. I sat by the embers of our fire, and reflected on our journey thus far, as well as life before coming here. 

I had never been in a fight before now, much less against monsters. I was never much of a fighter to begin with. I suppose that made me an easy target for bullies. I learned to stand up for myself over the years through words, not actions.

Words became my weapons, my tools. I read and read, getting lost in one fantasy after another. Lucas and Stephanie, my only friends at the time, entertained these fantasies and shared them with me. As a trio we were unstoppable. 

Then Lucas and Stephanie started dating. They spent more time together, and I just felt like the third wheel. For a time I separated myself from them, out of fear of the awkwardness I presented.

What I never realized was that it was never awkward for them. They genuinely like having me around. I didn’t know this until my senior year of high school. I was going through my first mental breakdown. My parents didn’t understand the significance of mental health, but Lucas and Stephanie were there for me. They were the ones who encouraged me to get help. 

I wish I could say that story had a happy ending. But when it comes to depression, there is no end to the story. Things get worse, then better, then worse again. It’s a vicious cycle.

My experiences that year opened me up to explore college life. I went to a different university, and studied my passion. I wrote for the college newspaper. I fell in love. I studied abroad. There are many tales to be told, but isn’t that the same for everyone?

Lucas, Stephanie and I lived together for a few years after college. Then they got engaged. Once again, I felt like I was intruding. I eventually got a place of my own, but it was at that time Hugh reentered our life with Rachel.

I admit, I was nervous when Hugh approached us at the bar. He and I did not leave things on the best of terms. To my surprise though, he apologized to me in confidence later that night. He recognized he was a douche at the time, and that he had some bad influences. 

He was also extremely interested in building the game. I forget sometimes that he likes fantasy as much as I do. He always had a “go get it” attitude that made his personality magnetic. 

Rachel, on the other hand, was not very interesting at first. She seemed to cling onto everything Hugh said and did. I think she played the flute in high school or something. In truth, I think she sometimes holds Hugh back. 

But she still played games with us. That counted for something. Over time, I grew to like her as a friend. I eventually opened up to her about my depression. She is a good listener, I’ll give her that much.

All of a sudden, I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I got the sudden impression that someone was standing right behind me. My hand dropped slowly and wrapped around my hammer. 

I jumped up and spun around and assumed a fighting stance. At first I saw nothing. Then I saw two red eyes, faintly glowing in the dark. Then another pair appeared next to it. Then another.

Three figures stepped into the light. They might as well have been living shadows. My heart pounded. Night stalkers. Servants of Otomipent. Cultists who paint their skin black and swear only to live in the night. This definitely meant we were on the right track. But what did they want?

The one in front was holding something. It set it on the ground, and backed away with its companions, silently disappearing into the night, as suddenly as they arrived.

I thought to wake the others. But then I thought better of it. Whatever the stalkers were doing, they did not mean us any harm. They wanted me to see them. Whatever they dropped off was a present for the Chosen One. Me. 

Slowly I approached the item. It was an orb, a black pearl the size of a head. It sat neatly in the dirt. Seeing few options, I put my hammer away and picked it up. It was heavier than it looked. I held it in my hands and stared at it. I could feel it staring back at me.

A red light began sparkling in the center, like a star. My thoughts began racing, so fast, I couldn’t keep track of them. Then, clarity. My mind was empty. I felt like I had just meditated for hours.

In my head a voice spoke. It was not the narrator from before. It was a new voice, the voice of a mountain. It was the voice of a god. 

“WE MEET AT LAST, EMISSARY.”

The voice shook my brain. It took all my focus to decipher what it said. 

“Otomipent.” I said in a whisper.

“YOU MAY CALL ME BY THAT NAME.”

“What is this?”

“YOU ARE CONNECTED TO ME THROUGH ONE OF MY FETISH.”

The night seemed to swirl around me, taking gaseous state. My head started to spin. I couldn’t tell if this was real. “Am I dreaming?”

“DOES IT MATTER? YOU HAVE DONE WELL TO HAVE COME THIS FAR. BUT MORE IS REQUIRED OF YOU.”

I knew it. Otomipent wanted something. Something only a mortal could get done.

“What is it you wish me to do, Otomipent?”

“BE MY VOICE. SPREAD MY WORD.”

I was confused. “That’s it? You just want people to know you exist?”

“TOO LONG HAS IT BEEN SINCE THE WORLD HAS KNOWN THE POWER OF DARKNESS. TOO LONG, HAVE THEY PERSECUTED IT. I WILL BE IGNORED NO LONGER.”

Something wasn’t right. In the lore I wrote, Otomipent was a secretive god, who did not like to share knowledge of his existence. Something has changed. 

“TO THE NORTH LIES THE PANTHEON OF CELESTIALS. THEY HAVE CAST ME OUT. MAKE ME A PART OF THEIR COUNSEL AGAIN, AND YOU WILL HAVE WON MY FAVOR.”

My heart dropped further. The Pantheon of Celestials was powerful, and wary of outsiders. They were also elitist, and very skeptical.

“How will I do that?”

“YOU WILL SHOW THEM MY POWER.”

“And how will I do that, through miracles?” I got a feeling that I was about to become Moses going to meet the pharaoh.

“YES. IN YOUR HANDS LIES MY POWER. TO ATTAIN IT, YOU MUST COMPLETE MY TRIAL.” 

A sharp sensation went through my palms and fingertips, as if I had just been stung. I dropped the orb, which fell onto a rock and shattered into a thousand pieces. I looked at my hands. They were red and swollen. 

The voice continued, although the fetish was destroyed. “YOU MUST NOT LET THE SUN TOUCH YOU FOR THE NEXT THIRTY DAYS. DO THIS, AND YOU WILL WIELD MY POWER. FAIL, AND YOU WILL DIE.”

Pain was crawling up my arms towards my chest. “What do you mean?” I said in a panicked voice.

“DO NOT LET THE SUN TOUCH YOU, OR YOU WILL DIE. THAT IS YOUR TRIAL. SHOULD YOU SURVIVE, YOU WILL WORTHY ENOUGH TO BE MY EMISSARY. EMBRACE THE DARKNESS….”

I fell over onto my face. I felt awful, like insects were crawling inside my skin. I thought I heard someone shout. 

My thoughts began to slow down. It felt like I was dying. Someone flipped me onto my back, and I looked into the face of the devil. My vision sharpened for a moment. No, it was just Az. 

He turned and called out again. I could hear the others running over. I had to warn them. 

“Don’t… let the sun….”

It was all I could get out. My eyes fluttered shut. I fell into a feverish sleep, not knowing if I would ever wake up again


Submitted: June 10, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Jon Nathaniel. All rights reserved.

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