Curious Adventurer

James was working after class with one of his star pupils, training her on not letting her guard down on mere leg or arm taps, which in the current year's style of foil fencing was not a scoring move. He assumed that the Epee training last year was too ingrained into her to move on without difficulty. He was just taking a short breather outside in the cold winter air while she got packed when a woman came to him.

She walked over to him slowly, but with confidence in a black, neatly trimmed, skirt suit and glossy black heels, complete with a silver lapel pin. Snow was drifting from above and settling into her honey colored hair which was trapped in a braided bun. She didn't seem to notice the cold.

Instead, her blue-green eyes were transfixed on James as she came closer, revealing something else; she carried a blue scabbard with silver trappings tied to the belt of her high waisted skirt. A sword pommel with silver filigree and a blue stone rested inside.

"Hello, James" she said as a coy smile curled to the corner of her lips.

"Already you have my interest. Let me grab my stuff. " He came back a few minutes later with a duffle bag and a backpack. "So, when do you want to duel?" He pointed at the blade. "Because I want to duel."

She stood in the cold her hand resting comfortably in the pommel of her blade as he went inside his studio. How strange, these people were here. He had not even asked her name or how she had known his, but had seen her weapon and immediately went to go get his gear.

When he returned with his equipment and asked for a duel, no questions asked, she raised a brow at him and chuckled at his eagerness.

"A duel is not what I came here for," she mused, with her smile growing, "But I will oblidge. It will help me test your worthiness."

He invited her inside his studio finally where several decorative swords rested on the wall, racks of practice swords sat to the left, and a large sparring platform sat in the middle of the room. He handed her a blunt heavy two-handed wooden sword and twirled his own lighter one.

"So we walk out with no more than bruises." He then walked up to the platform and took a few steps back, aiming his sword at her before raising it to his nose in a swordsman's salute. "When you are ready."

She took her time as he waited for her, slipping off her jacket to reveal her sleeveless blue blouse and a pink scar on her shoulder traveling down the length of her arm. She removed her actual blade from her belt and placed it gently beside the jacket on a nearby bench before climbing the platform.

Standing ready opposite of James, she held up the wooden sword to her eyes, and stared him down with a playful yet piercing gaze.

He circled the inner ring slowly, lifting his blade and showing an opening in his leg defense, holding his blade in an odd manner.

Lady matched his pace, circling him in kind with her eyes never wavering in their study of him. He had an obvious opening at his legs but held his blade in an odd manner. A blended style perhaps. She suspected a feint, but decided to test him anyways.

The wooden sword held solely in her left hand at the moment, she launched forward with her blade for a quick jab near his thigh, low, but not low enough to expose her self entirely.

He swung down and the opposing blade flew to his right. "Good spot." He continued to move the sword while he had control and spun it in wide circles attempting to disarm her.

Her grip was strong , and her wrist fluid with years of practice. The wooden sword would not be dislodged so easily from her grasp. She let him try though, until she rotated her hand breaking his edge- wise lock. With her sword free she immediately brought it back to a cross-body defense position and stepped back creating a gap once more.

He swiped at her sword with his, revealing no strategies or targets but simply testing her defense and reflexes. He was going to figure out her style before employing one of his own.

She caught the tap and brushed it away with speed and ease. He was testing her as much as she was testing him and her smile grew just a little. Good.

Circling a him a little more, she took his foot work and form...impeccible. But also a bit mechanical.
Stepping forward with a heavier strike aimed at his blade, she met his sword mid-way down its length and drove it up to the cross guard, wedging him in place.

"How strong are you, James?" she asked him with her eyes locked on his.

She had this time to notice, his eyes were closed. He pushed back with great force and pushed away, letting his left boot settle the temporary draw. "I prefer to work smarter, not harder." He twirled his blade getting a better grip and followed up with a lunge to her chest.

"Indeed!" She gained her footing again just as his strike came toward her chest. Strong and fast. Excellent.

With a whip of her wrist and a grunt, she parried and the two swords met with a resounding crack. "But what about your heart? Your soul?" she urged him through gritted teeth against the block, "How strong are they?"

He opened his eyes and tilted his head slightly, dashing back and swinging at her offhand arm. "I am an orphan and some say orphans are pure..." She blocked and he switched to an attack on the leg. "But besides ancestry, how am I to prove that?" a curved deflection that placed them in another clash of blades.

"The proper question is:" She blocked him again, turning his sword outward and away from her leg."Do you want the chance to prove it?" The move left him open for the briefest of moments and she aimed her blade point for his heart without a second thought.

James was aware that with the odd strike he was open to an attack on the torso, and dived out of the way, aiming 2 hard taps on either leg before rolling out of range and getting up. "Meaning?"

She side stepped him as fast as she could to avoid the taps and his sword grazed past her tight skirt hem instead, leaving a small breeze in its wake. He rolled away, leaving a fair distance between them again, so she squared him off and circled him.
"Meaning, you have been untested by this world," she said with a slow exhale, slowing down her heart, "Leave this world and discover where the darkness is it's deepest and the light its brightest. Come with me to the Soul Forge, James."

"Well then. Since you know my name..." He swung his blade at her left arm "May I ask yours?"

She twisted her wrist and blocked the swing, bracing her blade with her right hand against the force. "You may ask, but I may not tell," she replied with a playful smile, "I am known as Lady."

"Very well Miss. Mysteryofathousandsuns," He punched her gut with his spare arm. "I shall go with you." he pressed his sword to her neck gently, indicating that he had won before tossing the wooden blade off the stage and grabbing his stuff again. "Lead the way, Mysteryofathousandsuns."

She bent slightly at the punch, but showed no other signs of pain as he touched her neck with his blade. Smiling at the conclusion of the duel and his eagerness, she laughed at his teasing. Apparently, he did have some sort of humor under the stern looks and beard. "Lady will do," she said as she tossed aside her own wooden sword and retreated from the platform.

Lady slipped on her jacket once more and tied her true blade around her thick belt, while considering the man again. She had watched him for some time before making her decision to recruit him. In all that time, she had seen him as logical and straightforward, but detached from most things. What in his past made him so eager to leave his home? His students? His entire world. Questions filled her mind, but those would be better left for later. He had made his decision.

"Make sure you bring every thing you need," she called to him, "You wont be coming back for awhile. It's a long way to where we are going."

He dialed up someone on his phone. "Hey, Mavy. You know how a month ago I told you that you would get your chance soon? Well, I'm off on a trip with an undetermined return date, so here is your chance to lead. Yes..... Yes..... Teach him feints. Yes, I know. Your 'limited' knowledge will be enough for them. Alright. Bye." He switched out some things in his backpack for other things. "We heading to Timbuktu, California or Timbuktu, Mars Mysteryofathousandsuns?"

She raised a brow at him, as her left hand rested naturally on her blade pommel. Perhaps he was going to be more interesting than she had originally thought.

"Nowhere in this reality," she replied casually, "I hope you do not have problems...with....what is it they call it here? Motion sickness?"

"No, Mysteryofathousandsuns, I do not."

"Excellent," she replied as she pulled a slip of parchment paper from her belt, "Take a deep breath and whatever happens, do not stray from my side."

Holding the paper out between her fingers she whispered something, a single wispy word. A spark arched from her finger to the paper lighting it at the very edge. The red line of fire ate through the corner quickly with a puff of grey smoke.

The more the ember consumed, the more smoke appeared at an alarming pace, until it engulfed them both.
The haze was so thick the studio fell away and colors began to swirl through grey wall. Reds, purples, bright pinks, and sparkling blues danced around them.

Lady turned to James, her breath still held and held up her hand, encouraging him to stand still.
And then...suddenly they dropped. It was as if someone pulled the earth from under their feet. Air rushed past as the colors became a terrifying whirlwind. She held her breath and closed her eyes against the sensation of leaving her stomach behind. James resisted the urge to hurl but kept his eyes open.

They plummeted for what seemed like years, hair flying and clothes rippled down until the colors began to solidify around them. An invisible force met them with a jerking stop two feet above what looked like a hard stone path with vibrant green moss growing in the mortar. Whatever power held them up suddenly ended and they dropped again, slamming into the hard ground feet first. Lady landed on her butt with a wince and mutter. "Still need work on the landing."

As soon as they touched the ground he laid his stuff down and fell backward onto the stones dramatically, smiling at her sitting form and saying. "Thank you for taking the Kansas express. next stop, Oz." He sat up and looked around. "Where are we?"

Lady gave him a fox-like grin. "I'm not familiar with this land of Oz...but I doubt its anything like here."

Opening her palm she gestured to the path before them. A wide, cobble stone path lay before them, mostly taken over by vibrant green moss. Trees with arching branches and woven with vines followed the path on either side. Crickets chirped and lights of all colors danced around them in the in the late evening air which was warm, almost tropical. In the distance, past several cracked archways over the path, there was a shadow of a circular building with a magnificent dome on top.

The building itself was hard to see the in darkness, but the dome was brightly lit from an unknown source and made of appeared to be crystal. The crystal dazzled against the night sky which was blanketed by stars and swirls of greens, purples, and blues just like an aurora.

"Welcome to Otherworld," she whispered, "A place far beyond your home. To be here is to think beyond the reality that you know. The things you believe are"

Her words were cut short by whispering sounds. They seem to be coming from all sides and growing louder.

"Do you hear the wisper-men?"

Lady rose to her feet, the playfulness gone from her face. "Yes I do. We need to move."

Suddenly, the whispers stopped and a thin, broken shadow appeared on the treeline to their right. To James it looked like thin silhouette of a cloaked man, but rather than a face, 6 red glowing slits ran jagged across its face.

"I have no desire to fight you, Shade," Lady warned.

The creature made no attempt at a reply. Instead black shadow tendrils began rushing across the ground toward them.

James took out his sword from the pouch and sliced at the tendrils, attempting to cut them before they reached him.

The tendrils were unaffected by his sword swipes. The blade passed right through the tendrils and began wrapping around his legs. As soon as they touched him the sensation cold so deep sank into him, it burned at his skin.

He grabbed for a light in his bag, falling over and just barely reaching it. James tried using it on the tendrils.

The tendrils hissed and loosened their grip but did not retreat fully at the light in his hand. Lady had drawn her blade and fought back the tendrils attacking. Her silver blade shone brightly in the light and every flick dissipated the shadows.

"Back to the darkness with you!" She growled as marched toward the Shade.

The closer she came...the more the tendrils writhed away against the light until the monster screeched and fled back to the trees.

When it was gone she, returned to James and offered him hand up. "Are you alright?"

"Darkness monsters. Right. Another day in Otherworld." He took her hand and stood up. "Anything else that's Immune to swords?"

Lady hauled him to his feet. His attitude seemed flip and nonchalant about the encounter, but she suspected that it had rattled him more than he was willing to admit.

"He is a Shade, a dead soul and resident of Otherworld. Not the friendliest, though."
She picked up his blade before offering it to him, point down and pommel toward his hand with a flick her fingers.

"A mortal weapon will not be effective against many things here. You need a weapon born from the Soul Forge, like my Sperest," she continued, as she gestured to her softly glowing, silver blade held in her other hand, "That is our destination if you'd like to know more and continue to Carenium with me?"

He shivered to himself. "Yeah."

She returned his blade to him and lead him down the path toward the large beautiful building in the distance. Sperest stayed firmly in her right hand, as a light against anything else that felt like attacking.

"As I was explaining before," Lady said as they walked, "Otherworld is the true home to many of the creatures and figures you know as legend or myth. For example, that Shade we ran across. In your world they are known by many names; Akuma, Jumbee, Ragana... There are others you would recognize too, I'm sure you're familiar with the creature of Loch Ness? The life of Hades?"

James was only half listening. He had drawn back out his pad and went back to sketching the beauty around him. "Hades??? He normal power or godlike here too?"

As he was so engrossed in his sketching, a pinkish will o' the wisp danced around the back of his head teasing him and making her laugh just a little. He might wished he listened a bit more later on, but he would figure it out she supposed.

"The powers of a God to your world," she answered as she watched the playful light, "An equally powerful man here. And he isn't the only one. Many of the residents here are not beings to be trifled with, which is why the Soul Forge exists."

"Rrrrrright. So... When do we get to the forge?"

"It sits deep beneath the Carenium," she said pointing to the domed building they were trekking toward," and it is something you will have to enter on your own when the time comes. I do have a question for you however. Why did you come with me so willingly?
They came upon a large stone archway over the with a strange symbol carved in the middle stone. A delicate single sided axe surrounded by a swirling pattern. Lady curled her fingers of her free hand and placed her fist over her chest, as respectful salute.

"The symbol of The Guardians," she said quietly, "If you go through the forge and live. You'll be one of us. Well, whats left of us."

"I seek adventure, milady. I endeavor to learn something new. I bask in the unknown and strive to shine light upon it. That and your cause seems noble, and I always join causes worth fighting for." He paused and pondered for a moment while they walked. "Whats left of you? Are you near extinction?"

"Some have defected to the enemy Shadows of their own will," Lady replied, "And some...were...forcibly taken. Their minds ripped apart."

She was silent for a moment as they passed under another archway. "I am the last Guardian," she finally whispered.

The building grew closer and now it was evident that the Carenium was a open, circular courtyard with 3 tiers of arches supporting the glowing crystalline dome on top. Vines with large green leaves ran up the walls sprouting delicate purple flowers. There was nothing in the middle of building itself save for a beautiful mosaic on the floor, a swirling pattern of colors that lead to a bright 16 point star of gold and opalescent tiles in the very center. Here the air seemed less humid and had an energized edge.

She lead James to the center of the room and with a tap of Sperest the floor sunk, revealing a narrow staircase. "This is where I must leave you. Entering the Soul Forge is something you will have to do alone. Your soul is where the darkness is its deepest, and where the light is it's brightest; it will be seen by the forge in its entirety. I wish you luck, James. And also...thank you."
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Dragon Obsessed
Lady leaned against the frame of the dark doorway leading to the hospital cafeteria. Her eyes were unwaveringly set on the tanned, neatly trimmed face of Eyrth Hassan as he sat near the back at a long table alone on his mid-shift break. A clock mounted on the wall ticked, providing the only sounds in the vacant eatery besides the man shifting in his chair.
She had been watching him for sometime and decided to extend him the offer as soon as she had seen him work. She let him rest in silence for 20 minutes, after a difficult patient, and then walked over to him, her black heels clacking on the tile floor. Smoothing her black skirt, she sat in the chair in front of him, smiling kindly. "Hello, Eryth Hassan."

Eryth looked up at the woman, uncrossing his arms and sitting up straight in the chair. It was strange to see anyone around at this hour, much less someone who wasn't high as a kite or looking for somewhere warm to sleep.

"Hello? May I help you?"

"I am Lady" she replied, "And whether or not you can help me depends on what you decide after this conversation. First, I must ask you, a question, why do you love what you do, here?"

"Uh..." Eryth wasn't sure what to say, 'Lady' seemed like some sort of reporter based on the question, but no sane reporter was wandering the streets at three in the morning. "Well, I guess I like helping people. I think that this is the best way I can do it."

"What if I told that there was somewhere, with many people, that needed your help desperately?" She replied, looking him in the eye, "Would you try to help? Even if it meant giving up what you have here?"

"That's a good question... I guess if I really thought I could do more good there than here I would go. Why do you ask?"

"Because there is such a place," Lady said, her eyes looking a little sad, "It is very far away and dangerous...a sort of war zone as you would call it....terrible things are happening to the people that live there."

She paused and her eyes shifted down to her hands for a second, and a brief memory sparked in her mind, before she looked back to him. "This place would be dangerous for you. A test of your strength and resolve."

"Syria? I was thinking of flying out, I just think I can do more good here."

Her smile returned, but tinged with a bit of sadness. " Its much further than Syria. If you came to this place, came with me, it would mean leaving this world behind for an entirely new one. A place you must see to believe and one that is in desperate need of your care. You would be learning new skills, helping countless people and saving many lives."

She paused and stretched her hand out to his, a slip of parchment paper. "I believe you could do good wherever you are Eryth," she nodded sincerely, "But should you decide to help my me save it...take this paper and follow the instructions on it. It will lead you to me."

Eryth stood, taking the paper and fiddling with it in his hand, but not reading it. His blue scrubs shifting as he looked back up to Lady.

He took the paper and fumbled with it and she smiled. "Think it over, Eryth Hassan." When he looked back up she was gone.

Eryth looked around the cafeteria, not seeing any of the doors moving. He walked over to the front desk, still not having looked at the note. "Did a woman in black just come through here?"

The receptionist stashed her phone and tugged at her pink scrubs as she looked at him. "No, I havent seen a single soul in 20 minutes. Not since that Spivey kid with broken nose came through. Is she a patient?"

"No... no. Thanks." Eryth walked back to the cafeteria, finally opening the note.

Burn me.

He put the note away in his pocket, ready to get back to work for the hour left of his shift. The night was quiet, thankfully, and he had much time to think. Who was 'Lady'? How did she get in without even being noticed? Why the secrecy?

Was it just some elaborate joke?

He walked home the thirty minutes to his house and collapsed on his cheap bed, falling asleep for four hours before the sun woke him up.

The apartment looked much better in the dark. The stained paint on the walls were hidden and the cheap furniture indiscernible in the night. He stumbled over to the sink, moving over dirty dishes and rinsing out the sink before drying it with a cloth. He searched around in the drawers of the kitchen for a minute before pulling out a box of matches, placing the note in the dry sink and lighting a match. Without thinking much, he put the match to the paper.

The red line of fire ate through the corner quickly and a large puff of grey smoke mushroomed from the sink. Where normally the smoke would dissipate after a few moments, but the thick cloud only continued to grow, overtaking the sink and filling the air until the shabby apartment was no longer visible. Smoke alarms blared loudly as swirls of every color imaginable began to filter into the smoke, mixing with the grey.

Eryth struggled with the paper, trying to turn on a tap to put out the smoky fire but failing to find it with his hand. Suddenly, the floor vanished and he began to plummet downward in a swirl of color and forceful wind. He screamed and flailed his arms out to try and grab something, anything. His fingers raked through nothing but open air and swirling smoke as he plummeted down. He fell for what seemed like ages until the smoke seemed to thin, revealing a cobblestone path lay layered by vibrant green moss below him. Just when it seemed like he might crash into the ground, an invisible force stopped him mid air with a hard jerk.

From a few feet above the path a beautiful vantage of the area could be seen. Trees with arching branches and woven with vines followed the path on either side. In the distance, past several cracked archways over the path, there was a shadow of a circular building with a magnificent dome on top. The building itself was hard to see the in darkness, but the dome was brightly lit from an unknown source and made of appeared to be crystal. The crystal dazzled against the night sky which was blanketed by stars and swirls of greens, purples, and blues just like an aurora.

Waiting just a few feet below was the familiar face of Lady, but instead of her black skirt suit, she wore a blue tunic, pants, high boots and a long blade at her waist. She smiled broadly and gave him a small wave. "Welcome Eyrth."

Eryth spun slightly mid-air, not quite sure what to make of the fall other than trying to hold in what little food he had in him. "Lady? What is this? Where am I? Is this a dream?"

She out stretched her hand to him so could his decent. "I can assure you that this is not a dream," she smiled, "When we met, I told you that people in another world need your help. That is the truth. Welcome to Otherworld, my home."

"Well I didn't think that was literal. I have to work again tonight, how do I get home? Can I even go home? Why did you pick me to come here anyway, I need to make sure my shifts are covered. My family, they won't know where I've gone. My snake! My lizard!"

"Coming to Otherworld is difficult, leaving is nearly impossible," Lady replied, "I did warn that you would be leaving your world behind."
The invisible force holding him up suddenly failed and he dropped to the stone path below

"As for your affairs, they will be taken care of by my comrade. You need not worry of your family or your pets."

Lady walked over and offered him her hand again, this time deep burn scars can be seen arching all over her palm around her thin fingers, disappearing under the sleeve of her tunic. "As for why I chose you, that's simple answer: You have a strong heart. You see things that would make most grow jaded and yet you continue caring and helping. Healing. That's why I chose you."

Eryth took her hand in his, pulling himself down from the air and landing his feet on the ground. The scenery was incredible, the bright greens of nature and fresh air were a nice change from the gray of the city.

"I can't believe this is happening. How am I supposed to help anyone here?"

Lady let go of his hand once he had his feet solidly on the ground and then smiled at him. "Your skills in medicine are already a gift and I have gathered some supplies for you, but if you wish to help beyond your nursing skills, you must enter the Soul Forge."

"I just know basics, I'm not a d-" Eryth's nervous voice broke as the second half of the message came to him. He became curious again at the words. "... Soul Forge? What is a Soul Forge?"

"To understand the Soul Forge is to understand fully where you are," Lady replied, "Tell me, Eryth, do you believe in myths and legends? That there is an explanation to the mysteries if your world? Say for example, the myth of Jinn? Or the manifestation of demons and spirits?"

"Well. Not really. I was a muslim a few years ago, but I left the church for personal reasons. They can't have been right about that though, it sounded so crazy."

"I cannot speak to whether your former beliefs are correct or not. There are some things in both our worlds that simply have no explanation," she replied, "But many creatures of legend and myth are real."

As she spoke pink and gold lights that had been floating lazily in the tree tops began to gravitate toward them slowly. They bobbed and fluttered over to them, swirling around his head. Some even landed on his arms and hair, leaving a pleasant warmth wherever they touched.

"Will o' the wisps. Celtic mythology says they guides to destiny. Japanese stories say they are mischievous souls sent to lead you astray. Otherworld is the true home for beings like these and many more. Some of them are dangerous and require careful watch. The Soul Forge is a place where weapons can be made to keep the peace and protect Otherworld."

One of the golden wisps landed on Eryth's nose and Lady chuckled. "They seem to like you."

Eryth stood as still as possible, not wanting to scare off the strange glowing things.

"Protect it from what?"

Lady reached up and with a gentle hand lifted the wisp from his nose. With a little purring sound it floated to dance around his head

"From itself, sometimes. Powerful beings sometimes require powerful guardianship. I am one such guardian," she replied tapping the sheathed blade at her waist, " A wielder of a Soul Forge weapon. There used to be many of us, but beings from another world have broken into the Otherworld. They have taken over the minds of both the dangerous and the benign people here. It's killing our world, Eryth."

"And you think I can help you?" Eryth asked, suprise and incredulity in his voice.

"I do indeed," Lady replied with a confident nod, "As I said, these beings will target the mind and heart as well as the body. I think you are strong, if you will stand with me. You wont be alone."
Suddenly, the wisps scattered from him, floating back to the trees. "That would be one of our other comrades on her way, I believe," Lady said as she grasped his shoulder and pulled him away from where he was standing.
A cracking sound echoed over head as a cloud of smoke curled in the air, opening up into a swirling portal.


Punmaker Extrordinare
Hazel loved the library, and not just because it was a great source of books. She loved it because it was a great place to read. She came to the library every afternoon after her classes where over. She’d fly in, grab a book off of the shelf, and plop herself in one of the several chairs scattered through out the building. If she was lucky she’d find one next to a window. Sure, she could just go back to her dorm room and read, but there was something about sitting in a room with a book, surrounded by more books, that made her feel more at home. The fact that she could just get up after finishing a volume and pick a new one from hundreds of other volumes, gave her an exhilarating feeling.

The library was a little more crowded than usual, today. It was the day that the library provided story time for the kids. The place was crawling with them, but Hazel didn’t notice. She was so absorbed in the book she was reading, she didn’t notice the clumping sound of little sneakers, and boots all over the library floor, or the occasional squeal of excitement as a small child discovered something that delighted him.

Hazel was currently reading Homer’s Odyssey, one her all time favorites. She had read it so many times she almost had it memorized and each time she picked it up she felt as she where reading it for the first time. There was always some small detail that she hadn’t noticed before. She shifted excitedly in her seat. She had just come to her favorite part. Ulysses had just stabbed Polyphemus the cyclops in the eye and escaped to his boat.

Cyclops, if any one asks you who it was that put your eye out and spoiled your beauty, say it was the valiant warrior Ulysses, son of Laertes, who lives in Ithaca.

She stopped reading and looked out the window. It faced the front lawn of the library. It had just been mowed and it was a lush green color. A couple of young toddlers where tumbling around in the middle of it. Cars came went back and forth on the street just across from the building. Hazel sighed and looked back at her book. Out there was the real world, not as exciting as the one in her book. She picked up her phone from the table and checked the time. It was almost four o’clock. Soon she would have to go back out in it, but she could stay for a little longer. Her shift at Taco Bell didn’t start until five. She settled down in her seat and picked up where she left off, eagerly turning the page to the next chapter.

Lady sat in an armchair down the row from Hazel as she read the Odyssey from a worn paperback. Truthfully, she had been keeping an eye on the younger reader for some time before she had finally decided to approach.
She saw Hazel check the time and then wiggle back down into her chair as she continued to read. Apparently there was more time to spare. Perfect.
Standing, she clacked ove in her black heels and trim black skirt suit, dodging a passing toddler or two as she came to stop in front of the oblivious Hazel. Smiling at her focus, Lady pulled out a coin and tossed it onto the book page she was reading.
A golden drachma in pristine condition now sat on the yellowed page.

Hazel started as shiny circular object landed on her book with a dull thump. What in the world? She picked it up and studied it. It was obviously a coin of some sort. It definitely wasn't American. At first she thought it might have been a toy thrown by one of the kids playing nearby but it felt too heavy to be plastic. Almost as if it where real gold, she thought. She she looked at it closer. It was the color of pure gold and there was an owl etched on one side and and a woman on the other. There where some tiny symbols on the side of the owl. They looked almost... Greek? It couldn't be. She grabbed her phone and did a quick Google search. She found an image of a coin and compared it to the one in her hand. It was a drachma! And an ancient one too! Well, at least a very convincing replica of one. She looked up and around for anyone who might have thrown it.

A tall, blond woman standing across from her caught her eye. She was neatly dressed, with a black skirt and black shoes. The woman was smiling in her direction. Hazel held up the drachma.
"Is this yours?"

Lady smiled, having caught Hazel's attention now. "It's yours now and it is indeed real. It was given to me by Hades. He has a bit a weak spot for betting. Consider it a gift of appreciation for some one who still reads the classics."
Lady pointed to the page, her blue-green eyes scanning the passage below before, meeting her gaze again. "The Cyclops has become a rather gentle soul since his visit from Ulysses. It's amazing how people can change, don't you think?

Hazel stared wide-eyed as this strange woman explained how she got the drachma. Her eyes got even wider when the woman mentioned Polyphemus’s apparent change of character.
“Uh, yeah, I guess,” Hazel stammered. “Did you say Hades gave this to you? Like, the Hades? The Greek god of the Underworld?” Her tone was inquisitive but there was a hint of skepticism in it. Hazel couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Either this lady was completely nuts, or there was something more to what she was saying.

"Yes, he did. Though where I am from, he is just a resident. Powerful and deadly enough, but a typical resident," Lady chuckled.
She turned her head and nodded at the window where green grass and blue skies sat. A beautiful day, but a mundane one none the less.
"You have an imagination beyond what others can fathom and you crave adventure...wishing that the creatures and the people you read about in myth are real, correct?" she continued, "I can tell you that they are real, Hazel, and they are from my world. Otherworld."

Hazel's first instinct was to get up and slowly back away, but curiosity held her in place. This woman seemed so sincere. She described Hades as if he were just some regular person, not the evil, cunning god she had read about. She didn't strike Hazel as crazy, and what she said about Hazel was surprisingly accurate. She did secretly wish that those worlds existed. They were so much more interesting than the one she was living in. How does she know my name? Hazel could have gotten up then and there and left, but she had to know more.

"Okay," she said slowly. "First, how do you know my name? We haven't met before have we? And second-" She paused. Never in her wildest dreams did she ever think she would have to ask this of anybody. "Myths are real? Like, all of them? Or just some? Can you prove it?" She didn't think she would get a convincing answer. This was a pretty crazy claim, but deep down she had a small glimmer of hope. Could it be true?

"This is this first time we have met, " Lady replied with a smile, "I know your name because I am not without my own gifts."
With that said, she held out her scarred hand and snapped her fingers. A graceful arch of blue electricity fluttered between her fingertips for a millisecond. A brief glimpse.
"As for your other questions, I am giving you a chance to discover that for yourself." With her other hand she pulled out a small square piece of parchment paper and held it out to Hazel.

Hazel’s eye’s widened in shock as blue electric light sprung from the woman’s fingers. Hazel couldn’t believe what she had just seen. It was impossible, fantastic, and more importantly, real. No human from this world could do that. Not with out some kind of electronic device attached to them somewhere.
“I-I,” She stammered. Then the woman held out a piece of what looked parchment. Hazel reached and took it from the woman’s grasp. It was then that she noticed the scars. They looked like burn marks. She was going to ask what had happened when the writing on the parchment caught her eye. It read, Burn me, in tiny neat lettering. She looked up at the woman. “What’s this?”

Lady smiled at Hazel. Her wide-eyed enthusiasm was refreshing, but there were things she needed to know before making any sort of decision.
"I suspected you would be excited," she replied, "However before you make your decision, know this: Coming to Otherworld means leaving this world behind. My home has many dangers from its residents alone and it is now under siege."

Lady folded her hands in front of her, unaware that her thumb was instinctively running over the scars.
"By burning this paper, you will be electing to come with me and help save my world. The task may cost you your life," she continued in an even tone.
Hazel looked down at the paper. This was her chance, to be the hero she always wanted. To be someone. Not just an average college student with an average job, living an average life. She knew nothing about this world other than it was filled with the creatures that she once thought to be myths. If something was threatening the existence of that world she had to help. But, what this woman had said did cause her to be a little uncertain. Hazel saw her idly rubbing the scars on her arms.

"What happened to you?" She asked simply. There were so many other things she could ask. But, the scars on the woman's arms told a story and that story could answer Hazle's other questions.
Lady's eyes dropped to her hands and then met Hazel's again. Her kind smile remained intact, but a touch of sadness lingered just behind it.
"In Otherworld, powerful people require powerful Guardianship to keep the peace sometimes," she replied, "My sword, Sperest is a Guardians weapon, wrought from the Soul Forge for that purpose. It has abilities that I used too soon in a desperate moment to protect a dear friend and it cost me."
Lady's eyes had grown distant for a moment, before a toddler grew fussy at story time, breaking the hold of the memory.
"No power or decision comes without a cost, Hazel," she said quietly, "Think over your decision and follow the instructions on the paper if you wish to join me. The drachma is yours to keep either way."
With that, she turned to walk away before vanishing all together, as if she were never. Only the paper and coin were evidence she had ever been there at all.

“Wait!” Hazel called, “I need to know more! Who are you?” But the woman was gone. Hazel huffed with frustration. How could she make a decision like this? Hazel felt a pang of sadness for the woman as she told her story. She had obviously been through a lot. Hazel could see it in the woman’s eyes. The woman’s words of warning did cause her to feel a little apprehensive. This was huge. Part of her wanted to help, but there was so much she didn’t know. She looked down at the piece of paper. The neat little letters that spelled Burn me, looked back at her. She sighed and stuffed the paper, along with the drachma, into her back pocket. She couldn’t make any decisions right now.

She grabbed up her backpack and checked out the copy of The Odyssey, along with some other books. As she was leaving the library building she checked her phone. It was five-thirty.
“Crap!” She was half and hour late and this wasn’t the first time this had happened either. Her manager was not going to be pleased. She half jogged half speed-walked to her car. After throwing her stuff in the back seat, she jumped in and pulled out of the parking lot and got on the road as fast as she legally could.

By the time she got to work it was a quarter to six. She yanked the doors and strode in quickly, shooting her manager, Karen, a sheepish smile as she passed on the way to the kitchen. Karen didn’t return the smile.

As she entered the kitchen, one of her co-workers called out to her.
“Hey! She’s alive! Slay any dragons princess?” Hazel rolled her eyes; but smiled.
“Shut up Ross,” She called in a playfully stern tone.
“Aww, dragon got away again. Better luck next time,” Ross chuckled. “You get clean up today. Karen’s kind of ticked.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” Hazel said dryly. She sighed and looked at the sink filled with trays and other assorted cooking tools. This was going to be a long shift.

When she finally got back to her dorm room, Hazel was exhausted. She flopped on to her bed and stared up at the ceiling, thinking about the events of that had transpired earlier that afternoon. She reached into her back pocket and pulled out the drachma. She held it up to the dingy yellow light on her ceiling. Even in this poor lighting the gold looked pretty. Next, she pulled out the paper. The letters where still there; inviting her into a world that only existed in books; or so she thought.

No power or decision comes without a cost, Hazel.

The woman’s warning floated back to her. Hazel sat up in frustration. What cost? What did she have to lose? What did she have here? Friends? She didn’t have many. She was a bit socially awkward, and the ones she did have where busy with either work or school. Family? They rarely spoke to her. Her dad was busy on a huge court case and her mom was swamped, doing twelve hour shifts five days a week. Hazel’s phone buzzed. It was her brother texting her. He wouldn’t be able to make it to her graduation. He had a huge project he was working on with a group of engineers, and they had made a breakthrough. It had something to do with robotics. Well, there goes that outing down the drain. Hazel’s frustration mounted. Everyone seemed to be doing something important, except her. All she was doing was spending her time reading old forgotten literature and making bean burritos.

Hazel got up from a bed and went over to a small desk in the corner of the room. She opened one of its drawers and dug around for a minute. There. She pulled out a small cigarette lighter. She didn’t smoke. She couldn’t remember where or how she got it. She brought up the parchment. She hesitated for a moment. Are you sure? She asked herself. She looked back to her bed. Her backpack lay there. Inside where books full of stories that where apparently true. She looked back at the parchment and lighter. The worst thing that could happen is that the parchment would burn up and nothing would happen. The best thing? She would go on the adventure of a lifetime. Hazel took a breath. Why not? She clicked the lighter several times until a small flame appeared. She held it to the parchment. The parchment caught Here goes nothing.

The parchment was consumed quickly, like a dry leaf in winter. Thick. grey smoke curled as the flames sparked over her fingers. and the haze poured out at terrifying rate. Soon her hand was no longer visible in front of her face, and her room was lost to the cloud. Then swirls of color began to filter through the grey, bright pinks, sparkling golds, creeping greens and blues. They all began mingling around her with the grey.
Suddenly, she was falling downward, as if someone had jerked the floor from under her feet. Cold wind rushed past as she fell through the smoke.
"Ah!" Hazel cried out. She became the swirling smoke and colors made her feel dizzy. She nearly passed out, but managed remain conscious. Terror gripped her heart as she fell. She shut her eyes held her breath as the cold wind chilled her body. She seemed fall for ages as the swirling wind took her breath away. With her eyes closed she could not see when the smoke began to fade away revealing a cobble stone path layered by bright green moss. On each side of the path sat massive trees with laced branches and woven with vines filled with dancing gold and pink lights. In the distance, past several cracked archways over the path, there sat a large circular building with a magnificent dome on top that was brightly lit and glittered like crystal against the star laden night sky.
An invisible force halted her fall with a jarring stop, causing her to hover in mid air.
"Hazel," said a familiar voice.

On the path below stood Lady in a tunic, pants, and boots with a sword on her hip. Some of the floating lights seemed to hide in her long honey-colored braid. A man stood to her who appeared to be of middle-eastern decent wearing nothing but pajama bottoms with tiny lizards printed on them.
Lady smiled as she reached up and offered her a hand down. "Welcome to Otherworld."
Hazel took Lady’s hand and floated gently to the ground. She was glad to have her feet touching solid earth again.

“Thanks, uh I guess.” She looked over to the man in the pajama bottoms. She waved awkwardly to him. “Hi, I’m Hazel.” She looked down and raised an eyebrow at his attire. “Nice pants.” Then one of the lights caught her attention. She peered closer at it. Her eyes widened in amazement. “Holy crap! is that a will o the wisp?”

Written in collaboration with @aryamajor
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Curious Adventurer
Eryth looked down to his legs as Hazel pointed out his pants, something he had never worn out of the house. Never worn around other people either, actually.

Lady guided Hazel to the ground. Her unbridled enthusiasm made her smile grow a bit more. It was relieving to see she had come as well. "Yes they are. They're quite friendly actually."

Lady grinned, her eyes passing between the two of them as the wisps began to return to their dancing. " We do indeed. Some of them are good friends of mine and some are dangerous. They live in a massive Warren near the mountains," she replied, "When we get to the Carenium I will show you a map."

A pink wisp untangled itself from ladies hair and floated over to Hazel's shoulder with a curious cooing sound. Many more had returned to Eyrth, clinging to his pajama bottoms.

"You're into dragons too?" Eryth said excitedly. "I mean..." He put his hand on his neck, still not wanting to move too fast for fear of scaring off the bright wisps.
"I'm into them and everything else!" Hazel replied excitedly. "I'm a mythology and folklore major." She giggled as the wisp cooed at her. "Hey there little guy," She gently stroked him with her finger. She looked back to Lady "So, what do we need to do? You said this world was in some kind of trouble?"

She looked at Hazel and nodded, sending the wisps in her hair flurrying away before they settled down again. "Yes, a darkness has taken over. I will explain more when we reach the Carenium, as I'm hoping one more will decide to join us and I can tell you all then. Until she arrives however, the island is...more or less safe to explore."

"What's down the path?"

"Let's go check it out!" Hazel started down the path. Excited about what she might discover.

Lady turned and looked down the wide path toward the crystalline domed building in the distance. "It leads to the Carenium.," she replied as Hazel took off running.

She chuckled as the wisps followed her like a happy glowing trail. "Perhaps you'd like some actual clothing, Eryth?"

"A shirt would be nice."

"Come and I will find you one." Lady started down the path behind Hazel who was far ahead by now.

Hazel passed under stone arch after stone arch drawing closer to the building ahead. The wisps followed her lighting the path until they seemed to scatter as if afraid of something. A massive raven appeared in the sky as a dark shadow. She laughed as the wisps chased her down the path. Then they scattered. Puzzled she stopped and looked around and didn't see anything. Then she looked up. Her jaw dropped. She had never seen a bird that huge.

The bird circled high over head against the light of the dome and gave a crackling caw before its massive wings tucked in and it dove for her, claws extended.
The large raven screeched as it dived for lady, pulling up at the last second and unfurling its wings, flapping them a few times before landing softly in front of them. A man of metal with crimson robes stepped off a handmade saddle and pet the bird while he did so. "Hello!!! Like Aster?" He looked between lady and the newcomer. "Recruit?"

Hazel's awe turned to horror as the the bird dove towards her at a terrifying speed. She yelped and dove to one side of the path landing akwardly on her side. "Ow" she groaned. She looked to see that it wasn't actually a flying deamon bird from hell. Relieved she stood back up and walked back over to where Lady and Eyrith where standing. "Your bird almost killed me back there." She said, rather annoyed.

"Aster?" *mock gasp* "Never! Kindest bird i've met. So, you are Hazel I assume?" He turned to the other. "And you Eyrith. I am Crimson, fellow guardian." He turned to lady. "Entered the forge yet?"

Lady walked over and crossed her arms, regarding her comrade with a raised brow. "James here has a penchant for the dramatic," Lady replied, "And of course they havent. One of them is wearing pajama bottoms and you've terrified the other."

"Not terrified. Just sore." Hazel grumbled. She eyed the bird warily.

"Do I need to pick a flower, Lady? Misteryofathousandsuns here usually collects dressed people, so what happened?" James asked.

Eryth looked down at his hands, remembering an article he had read on the internet before. Apparently wacky dreams like this were really terrible at making things work realistically, hands especially. He counted the fingers on each of his hands, then tried to pass his finger through his palm. Both checks seemed to say that this was real, but that was just crazy. "So this isn't a dream then? For sure?"

James walked over to Eryth and pulled out his sword from his belt sheath. He bonked the mans arm lightly with its hilt. "Feel like a dream?"

Lady motioned for Hazel to come over to her, offering a scarred hand to her. "Come and I will help the soreness" then she turned to James with bit a warning look, "Would you please stop attacking our guests please, James. Yes, Eyrth this is very much real. Pain, pleasure....the people...all of it. Otherworld is simply a different reality.'
"Magic," Lady added to his question, "You will see much stranger than simple aerodynamic flaws."

"Magic? Magic?! That's not an explanation... where does the magic come from? What are the rules? What are the physics, the chemistry, the math, the theory...."
Hazel walked uncertainly up to to Lady. "Uh, okayy," she said uncertainly. She wasn't sure what to expect.

"Rules? This is magic my good sir. The rules are dictated by gods and changed every 5 days. This is the physics bending force put in fantasy books and for when sci-fi writers get tired. It has no explanation. And trust me, going the science shock route just leaves you up at night."

"So it is like a dream... just a real dream. I think I can live with that."

"Glad you are on board. Mystery, would you like to explain the forge or shall we wait for the third recruit?"

Lady took Hazel's hand and the pommel of her sword glowed faintly as the soreness ebbed away. When she was done, she let go of her hand with a gentle nod. "That should make you feel better for a time." Turning two Eryth and James, she looked the two of them over. "Magic here is an unexplained energy, as James said. but it comes only with equal exchange. That being said, I think its best if I take them to the Guardian's quarters to await the 3rd recruit. They will be able to get proper clothing, and learn more there as we wait to see if our last guest will arrive."

"Alright. I will be off scouting with Aster. Looked like there was some rabbits I could swoop on and terrify."

Hazel was amazed as the sorness left her. Magic real magic! She couldn't believe it. It was in thing to see it in action. Another to experience it first hand. It also made her relize how powerful Lady was. She followed Lady down the path, rubbing her now painless side thoughtfully.

The building grew closer and now it was evident that the Carenium was a open, circular courtyard with 3 tiers of arches supporting the glowing crystalline dome on top. Vines with large green leaves ran up the walls sprouting delicate purple flowers. There was nothing in the middle of building itself save for a beautiful mosaic on the floor, a swirling pattern of colors that lead to a bright 16 point star of gold and opalescent tiles in the very center. Lady lead them to the middle and drew her sword which shone faintly, and tapped the tip of it to the center of the floor. A stair case formed leading down ward. "After you, Hazel and Eyrth," she smiled.

Hazel darted excitedly down the steps. She glanced behind her and shot Eyrth and Lady a grin then continued downward. She felt like kid in a toy store.
Eryth followed in after, the stone cool on his bare feet. "Just accept it... Sure... Sure..."

They found the stair case went down many levels, lit by gentle glowing wisps, most branched passages lead off to locked doors until she reached the ground floor. A beautiful banquet hall lay before them with a massive stone fireplace at the opposite end, carved with depictions of many creatures. Down the length of the hall was a massive oak table covered by a red runner and lined with dozens of high backed chairs, and above was a circular, golden chandelier. A man stood at the opposite end near the fire place.

One of the carvings showed a valiant young woman standing before a great gold and pink dragon, two much smaller black dragons by her side.
He was tall, with sandy colored blonde hair, wearing a black tunic and holding a crutch to his right side. Where there should have been two legs, there was only one.
"This is so. Flipping. AWESOME!!" Hazel shouted as she looked around her. Then she noticed the man. "Oops." She covered her mouth, realising how loud she had just been."

Her voice echoed loudly through the large hall and the man turned slowly using his crutch, to reveal a young, cheerful looking face. "Oh hello," he said as he looked Hazel over, "You must be one of the guests Lady said would be coming." He placed his arm over his chest and gave her as much of a bow as he could. "I am Victor."
Lady followed Eryth a few paces behind, noticing how he checked back to make sure she had not left.

"Hi," Hazel said in sheepish tone. She was still embarrassed about her outburst. Then she noticed Victor's missing leg. She tried not to stare. "I'm Hazel."

Victor looked to be about her age, but his blue eyes appeared as if they had seen much in their short years. He noticed her eyes shift down to his leg, or lack there of and back up to his face. "It's a pleasure, Miss. Hazel." He hobbled over to her and stopped just long enough to snap his fingers, a purple flower suddenly appearing in his hand. He offered it to her with a smile. "Welcome to the Carenium, m'lady."

Hazel smiled and took the flower. "Thank-you." She replied. She mentally kicked herself for looking at his leg. "Are you a friend of Lady's?"

"Aye, I was once part of her honor guard when she was shield maiden to the Black Guard," he replied brightly, "But...I seemed to have left something on the battle field, eh?"

"What? Oh. yeah I guess." Hazel laughed uncertainly. "Sorry, I didn't mean to stare."

He gave his crutch a playful tap and laughed lightheartedly. "It's alright, if it hadn't been for Lady, I would have died. She lost more than I did," he replied, "Besides, if I hadn't of lost this leg, I wouldnt have discovered a talent for magic." As he says this the purple flower gave a cheerful spark.

Hazel's eyes lit up in childish delight as the flower sparked. "That's amazing!" She exclaimed.

"Did you like the summoning parchments I made too?" he said with a bit of a mischievous smile, "They were some of my best."

"Summoning what?"

Victor glanced up, he had been so happy to see the pretty Hazel he had neglected the rest of the room. As soon as his eyes landed on Eryth, and Lady behind him he snapped to a straight shouldered stance. "M'lady, you have returned as well," he said quickly.

She nodded to him, a light smile gracing her lips, "At ease Victor. You know I do not expect you to rise to attention."

"Old habits," the soldier chuckled back as he relaxed. "Summoning parchments. The papers I made that brought you here. They take much effort and energy to make. How did they do?"

"Well I'm pretty sure my apartment couldn't get any more smoky, so it is probably fine."

"Well, I'm here." Hazel laughed. "It was a bit disorienting. But then again we don't use that sort of thing in my world. How did you make them" By know Hazel was practically bursting with curiosity.

"Alot of stored energy and a few bits of dragon ash... magic stopping you from hitting the portal seemed to work better, with more ash," Victor replied, "The first time m'lady here, used one she landed on her-"

"Ahem," Lady cleared her throat cutting him off. His face went pink and he stood a little straighter again. "Apologies, Ma'am...I uh...should I show them to a room?"
"Yes, I think so. I have some business to attend to in the Panel Room," she said to him with a chuckle.

"Follow me then," he said offering to Eyrth to join he and Hazel by the fire place.

Eryth walked closer to Victor, still looking at all the small details in the room, particularly in the hearth where the beautiful carvings sat. Dragons swirls with clouds, castles, and Greek temples, gryphons, and horses with horns and wings, flames curling, there were stones with strange markings underneath which were etched demons of terrifying faces.

Victor motioned them along, leading them both to an open stone archway to the right. His crutch clacked along the stone floor until it hit a plush purple rug that extended the length of the hallway. Rooms with neatly arched wooden doors lined either side of the hallway, dust collecting on most of the handles of all but 3, one of which was cracked just a bit so passerby's could hear a cooing sound inside, beyond that at the end of the hall ways another staircase, this time a rail-less spiral one that led to levels below.
"The Guardian bunk rooms," he comment. cheerily, "Never thought I'd see the inside of the Carenium, myself actually. Places like this aren't meant for regular soldiers, but Lady is of a different sort."
He hobbled along and showed Eryth to a room near the middle of the hallway, opening the unlocked door and showing him inside with a smile. "Your room, sir. Thought you might like this one, but if you don't find it to your liking, there are plenty more empty rooms to spare."

Inside Eryth's room was a large, neatly made bed with pillows and a plush green blankets. A simple, but well kept desk and chair sat in the corner under a large rug and a wardrobe in the opposite. It was altogether a plain room until his eyes hit the back wall where a massive tapestry took up most of the space. The tapestry depicted the dragon Warren high in the mountains. Dragon's of all shapes and sizes, colors and breeds were woven in with masterful detail. Some flew through the clouds, others walked through the forest and there were even some clashing in a fight on the edge of the scene. It was so well woven, it nearly looked real.

"You'll find some extra clothes in the wardrobe, but personally, I like the pants," Victor commented, "Feel free to explore when you feel like it." The he shut the door, letting Eryth to his thoughts.

Turning to Hazel, the young solider led her to the room beside the door which was slightly open. "I think you'll like this one," he said to her with a wink, "It's a personal favorite of mine."

He opened the door revealing a smaller room than Eryth's. A quaint bed with dark blue blankets and a star printed on each pillow awaited her, as well as a desk, black rug, and dark wooden wardrobe. "Smaller but not without its charm," he added as he pointed up to the ceiling. Above them a mural of stars sat. Making patterns of constellations Hazel wouldn't recognize swirled together with blues and greens of an aurora. Victor snapped his fingers and the stars began to twinkle of their own accord.

"I'll be in the great hall if I am needed m'lady," he said as he edged out of the room, "Otherwise...feel free to explore."
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Punmaker Extrordinare
Hazel's eyes lit up with delight at the the stars on the celing. "This is amazing! I love it!" She walked over to the wardrobe and flung the doors open; curious about what was inside.


Curious Adventurer
Eryth looked up at the tapestry, admiring the incredible amount of detail. It felt a little strange that they already seemed to know him so well, though Lady had known his name before they had even met, so perhaps it wasn't so crazy after all. He opened the wardrobe to see what he could find.

Inside the double- door wardrobe hung several loose fitting shirts ranging from black, white, emerald green and dark blue. Alongside those were several pair of pants and 3 tunics one of green, one of black, and one of blue. Two heavy belts with many leather pouches, two sets of boots sat tat the bottom, looking well polished. All very practical wear...for Otherworld. Additionally, there was a leather satchel that looked to be filled with something at the bottom.

Eryth pulled out the emerald shirt, putting it on and buttoning it up before picking out the leather satchel and seeing what was contained within it. Inside the satchel were several types of bandages rolled neatly in rows, a small knife, needle and thread. Common medical supplies.

There were many small vials that were not familiar at all. The vials included multi colored liquids labeled by hand in neat cursive. One with red viscous liquid read Gryphon blood while another milky vial was labeled Siren's tear. The only two that looked remotely familiar were a clear vial containing rubbing alcohol and another with a deep red liquid labeled 'Brandywine.'

He put the satchel down on the bed and removed his pants, putting on a pair of khaki pants, one of the belts, and a pair of brown boots. When he placed the satchel on the bed and began to change, a little giggle echoed through room. Eryth paused, looking around the room as he finished pulling up the pants.

A little human shaped shadow could be see under the bed, hiding just behind the wooden leg of the frame. He did up the fly of his pants and squatted down, looking under the bed. "Hello?"
A miniscule furry creature with a round blue eyes met him. It stood on two legs but as it scurried to the opposite side of the bed, dropping down to all fours with a frightened squeak.

Eryth stayed squatted, slowly and gently offering out the top of his hand for the strange animal. "Don't worry, I won't hurt you."

The little creatures head bobbed uncertainly and it took a few steps towards him hesitantly.

"Hi there buddy." Eryth remained still, smiling at the little creature.. The creature came closer a few steps at a time, blinking at him with its round eyes then it made a little giggle sound again before coming to sit next to his boot.
Eryth moved his hand slowly, seeing if the creature would let him pet it.

As his hand moved closer the furry creature shied away at first, until it sniffed his hand with a twitch of its pink nose, and then with a purr it buried its head into his palm happily.

He scratched the little creature's head. "There you go buddy." Eryth stood, sitting on the bed as he did up the boots and grabbed the satchel.

The creature followed him shimmying up the covers up to Eryth’s side and then to his shoulder. "Go?" It purred.

Eryth stood, admiring the tapestry again before walking out to the hall to find Lady or Victor for what to do next

The furball sat contentedly on his shoulder until he left the room. As he stepped onto the hallway it tugged on his ear and pointed toward the great hall to his right.

He was surprised to see that he was being guided around by some sort of cat-lemur thing, but he followed its directions anyway. It seemed to be rather smart as well, much smarter than a cat or dog. "You got a name, buddy?”

The calico'ed animal's head tilted, "Emee" The word came out as a squeak.

"Emee, nice. I'm Eryth, Emee." The man stepped into the great hall, his eyes drawn to the carvings on the fireplace again.

"Ery," Emee repeated as he purred.

When Eryth stopped at the fire place the furry friend left his shoulder and slipped up the hearth over the many carvings until it stopped over one of a man holding something star shaped in his hands. "Ery!" he eeped excitedly before returning to Eryth's shoulder and tugging his right ear. Another open stone door way lay to his right, mirroring the hallway he had come from.

Eryth followed again, walking along the hallway absent mindedly. "You're not gonna get me in trouble, are you?"

Emee gave Eryth a curious look with his big blue eyes and squeaked, "Ery, go!" Down the hallway to the right were many other rooms same as the other and a matching spiral stair at the end. He scurried down from his perched and toward the stairs, his little voice echoing. "Ery go."

He followed the animal, stopping at the foot of the stairs and looking as far down as the spiral allowed. Soft, flameless sconces lit the stairs as the spiraled down to a floor below. Emee skittered down the stairs on fours, popping up occasionally to see if his new friend was following.

"Wait up, I'm still sleepy." Eryth followed after, lacking the enthusiasm of Emee but still curious.

Emee lead him down to the second floor which was another hallway but rather than rows of rooms there was one single large set of doors in the middle. The doors were wooden and heavy with the same symbol seen throughout the building and archways. A single bladed axe surrounded by an intricate swirling pattern. Voices could be heard from inside, one a familiar one. Lady.

Eryth stepped up to the door, looking at Emee to make sure this was where he was being lead to before knocking on the large wooden doors.

" brought them here to help...yes...It does not matter that they came from the other side. Just as it does not matter that I was not your chosen either. What matters is saving-" Her voice stopped at the knock and footsteps could be heard coming toward the door. Emee tugged at Eryth's ear and squeaked.

Eryth raised his left arm petting Emee on his shoulder as he waited for a response.

The door opened and Lady stood there, her blue-green eyes searched the hallway. Behind her was circular room with a large dias in the middle but whoever she was speaking with could not be seen.


Lady frowned, seeing and hearing nothing, but obviously suspcious, until Emee giggled. "House sprites," Lady sighed, "Emee, now is not a good time to play. I promise to later."

Eryth waved, saying hello again before he realised that Lady was looking right through him. He looked behind himself before Lady mentioned Emee. Thinking quickly, he lifted the animal off of his shoulder and held him in his hands, looking at him to see if he could tell if it was his doing.

The sprite giggled as being lifted but nothing happened. "One of our visitors would play with you, Emee. Hazel is nice and Eyrth would probably enjoy the company. Dinner will be soon." Then she slipped back inside the door. Emee gave Eryth a little purr from his shoulder. "No see!"

"Oooh. You're a little trickster, aren't you."

He smiled, petting Emee again and walking back up the stairs, leaving Lady to her business. Maybe there was something a little less malicious to do while invisible.

When he made it back to the great hall Emee tugged him toward the wide stair they had originally come from at the opposite end of the hall. "Go see!"

Eryth followed along again, still stroking the fuzzy creature's head. "What'cha taking me to, Emee?"

Emee guided him up the stairs to the last door that lead outside. "Go.." he purred.

The door opened leading to a warm night. The wisps danced and upon noticing Eryth began floating toward him. Emee batted at them playfully with his paws before he lead Eryth to the back of the arched building and pointed to a ladder that was slightly over taken by vines and lead up toward the glittering dome. The little creature leapt off Eryth and began to climb, giggling as he did.

Eryth, feeling adventurous and still a little dazed, followed after mindlessly, climbing up to the dome after the little fuzzball.

When he reached the top he found a stone catwalk that circled the glittering dome. The wisps stayed lower out of the warm breeze trickling through but the dome provided plenty of light. The night sky was littered with stars and shimmering colors as birds flew high above.

He found they were on an island, of vine covered trees, surrounded by a gently waving ocean. Everything was bright except for a spot to his left. The sky was pitch black and vacant there. No stars, no aurora. Nothing. Emcee gave a shiver and slipped around Eryth's neck.

"That doesn't look good." Eryth commented, looking over to the dark patch in the sky. It seemed like a scar across the beauty of the night, a tumor of black. "What is that Emee?"

Emee stayed close, curling into his neck a little. "Dark..." he squeaked, "Dead."

"That's what Lady was talking about, isn't it. The big great danger that I can help fight... Oh, Emee, what did I get myself into now..?"

The critter nearly dove into Eryth's shirt when a bird with long blue wings and a sweeping tail swooped up from below and circled over head. "Did you find him Raina?" Someone called from below.

Eryth moved over to the edge of the dome, peering out to see if he could spot the source of the voice.

Victor stood far below, looking back up at him. The former soldier grinned and waved. "Sir! Lady asked me to find you! There's dinner in the great hall and she thought you might be hungry!" The sharp eyed bird crowed as it circled and Emee hissed at it a bit before hiding behind Eryth's head.

"I'll be right down." Eryth looked up at the bird quickly before starting to climb down. "I don't think Emee likes your bird."

The bird crowed again, diving back down to rest on Victor's shoulder. "Oh, Raina isnt mine," Victor replied, "She is Lady's. A Thunderbird actually. An older one at that- ow!" Raina gave Victor a sharp peck on the shoulder upon the word 'old'. Once Eryth was down, the solider lead him back to the great hall.


Hazel's dark wardrobe doors swung open wide revealing a variety of clothing and colors. There were black and tan pants, white, tunics of purple, black, white and pale green hung next to that, with matching undershirts. Several pairs of boots, both short heeled and lace up sat along two belts, one black with silver clasps and one brown with golden bits. Two corseted, dresses also awaited her. One was dark green with silver lace at the quarter sleeve and long sweeping skirts. The other was a pale blush colored dress with long flowing sleeves, off the shoulder, and golden flowers stitches delicately over the material.

"Wow," Hazel said as she ran her fingers across the fabrics. She lingered on the dark green dress. But, now was not the time or place for finery, so she chose the black pants, the green tunic and the lace up boots. She shut the door and quickly changed into them. After lacing up the boots she opened her door and stepped into the hall. She turned to her left, and slowly meandered her way down the hall.

Hazel passed by the room that was slightly ajar and there was a light shuffling sound from within. She paused when she heard the noise. Curious, she went back to the door and pushed it open

When Hazel pushed the door aside she found herself in a regular room. A simple bed, left unmade sat to the right while a desk and chair was positioned on the far wall. On the desk sat an open book and on the back of the chair was perched a beautiful bird with a long sweeping tail of bright blues and dark grey. The bird cocked its head at her curiously but did not make a sound as it regarded her with ice blue eyes.

Hazel slowly approached the bird; careful not to spook it. Slowly, she reached out to stroke it's feathers.
Its feet danced on the high back of the chair and it readjusted its large blue wings making the pages of the book ripple with the breeze

She smiled. "Well, aren't you a pretty bird," She turned her attention to the book. It felt like snooping but she couldn't help but thumb through the pages.

The pages were yellowed and worn written in a curvy messy handwriting. There were several pressed flowers between the pages...white and yellow orchid..a pink petaled daisy of sorts...and a golden colored one whose petals were almost frayed to nothing. Words flashed by as she thumbed through..."guardian"..."sperest"..."mallory"...

Hazel stopped flipping on the name "Mallory" Wonder who she is. She thought as she began to read.

Day 389 After the Rift: Mallory and I marched the Black Guard down the Shorin Valley. He sent four scouts ahead to assess the enemies’ defenses, but none have returned. He seems on edge after the retreat from Royn and Iravanis shines more brightly than normal. I’m afraid there will come a day when he will not be able to control the rage of his Soul Forge weapon and I may not be there to stop him again. I know he worries our numbers are so few and he dislikes the idea of pitting me in the field once more, but he says nothing.

Hazel's eyes widened as realized what she was reading. This is Lady's journal She was also slightly surprised to discover that Mallory was a guy. Oops. She felt bad for looking through the journal but she had to know more. She continued to read. Was this the friend Lady tried to save?

The next page skipped a few days and seemed to continue in more hurried scroll.

Day 402 after the rift: Betrayed. I cannot believe he would do this. He cost the men of the guard their lives and Mallory has lost his mind. The Shadows have taken him and everything in the valley save for Victor and I who is gravely injured, trying to calm him before I could get there. There is nothing left to do but retreat. I am the last.

So that's what happened Hazel stopped reading for a moment. Where these "Shadows." what they where supposed to be stopping? She flipped towards the beginning of the journal; hoping to find more about them.

Flipping to the beginning of the journal past several more names and places that were unfamiliar: Cyrun...Lenix...Lightening...Xandria...Then she came upon a page that was undated:

I have been taken on as the shield maiden of the Black Guard by Wyn Mallory. He has offered to train me as a Guardian to control Sperest, but there are things stirring in the east. Rumors of shadows coming alive have been trickling in and he says I may to train as we march.

The bird began to grow restless next to Hazel and it made a small nip at her shoulder looking at her with a warning gaze. James walked into the room and closed the book with a wave. "Wrong room, new kid. If you wanted answers, going through journals is not a way."

Hazel started and jumped back in surprise as the journal suddenly snapped shut. She spun and looked to see James standing there. "I-I uh." She looked away; embarrassed and a little annoyed that he had caught her. "Sorry." she muttered.

“Here are the rules. Common follow-able rules. 1. No man left behind. 2. We fight the good fight for whats right. 3. Respect. That includes. Privacy. And 2-3 others I can't remember. Now lets both get out of Lady’s room."

Hazel nodded and followed James out of the room. She was still irritated. She had been so close to finding out what it was they were fighting. Then James had to come in out of nowhere and scare the living daylights out of her for the second time. She continued on in silence; simmering in frustration.

The bird gave her a screech as she left and lifted from its perch to land on James shoulder and pecking at his robe. A feather from its tail wafted down next to Hazel.

He led her to his room, mostly simplistic, but of note there was a fractured mirror in specific places, a weapons rack next to a foam platform, and 2-3 comfortable chairs. He then gave some food to the bird and sat down at the end of his bed and motioned for her to sit in one of the chairs. "What would you like to know so badly that you are willing to pry to get it?"

The bird nibbled at its jerky treat and flew to the back of a chair nearby, looking as if it were listening.

She smiled as the bird landed on James. She picked the feather out of the air and admired it as they continued on. When they had reached the room Hazel took seat in one of the chairs. "I want to know what we're up against." She stated simply.

“"Really? Thought lady would have properly informed you on that. Quite simply, shadows, darkness, skeletons, demons, EVIL. Your usual bad guy lineup." He stretched out his arms and took his gloves off, revealing metal hands. "Much better. Hope you don't mind."

Hazel stareD in horror at Jame's metal hands. When she had finally recovered herself she spoke, "No, uh not at all." She swallowed. "What, um. What happened to your hands?’

"Side affect of the forge" He 'looked' at her horrified gaze. "Oh don't worry it was painless. Helped me through not getting a few scrapes now and then." He put his gloves back on and drew his hood more over his face so that only the glow of his eyes could be seen. "Next question?"

Hazel winced at James's explanation. Whatever this forge was she didn't want to be anywhere near it. "Who's Mallory?"

At the sound of the name, the bird stopped eating and stared at Hazel as if it could understand and knew the answer.Her attention was drawn to it. The flicker of intelligence in it's eyes was unnerving. "Um," she said in an uncertain tone. "Does that bird understand what we're saying?"

"Mallory is a former guardian who mentored lady. Owner of Iravanis. Quite the temper. Strong man... who sadly now works for the enemy. And yes, the bird can understand you."

At his words the bird shuddered its body and eyed Hazel before it’s head turned sharply toward the door. Moments later there was a knock at the door.

Hazel jumped at the sudden noise and turned to the direction of the door.

James took the book loosely in Hazels hand and stuffed it neatly under his pillow. Once he had returned to his spot at the edge of the bed he spoke to the door. "Come in."

The handle turned and Lady stood in the door way. Her eyes went from James to Hazel and then to the bird and back again. "I came to tell you there is food in the great hall." At the word food the bird flew to Lady’s shoulder and crowed. "I wondered where you went to Raina."

"Okay!" Hazle replied, a little too cheerfully. She got up from her seat. She glanced at James; silently thanking him for hiding the journal. "Raina's very pretty. What kind of bird is she?"

Lady grinned as Raina rubbed her head over her cheek as if she was petting the woman. "Raina is a Thunderbird. She can make quite a bit of noise, when she's feeling frisky, but she that isnt often these days." Her eyes fell to the feather and she smiled, "I see she gave you a feather."

"Yes she did," Hazel held up the feather. It felt soft and delicate between her fingers. Then Hazel's stomach began to growl; rather audibly.

She chuckled, "Keep it with you it might come in handy." She looked at both of them and the motioned them toward door. "I imagine you two are hungry. Come."

James slowly fell to the floor and said in a dramatic whisper. "Nope. Busy. Contemplating life's complexities. bleahhhh."

Lady raised a brow and looked to Hazel with a wry smile. "There are not terribly many of those your when you’re as hard headed and dramatic as he is," she chuckled.

Hazel raised an eyebrow brow at James's antics. "Yeah I bet." Her stomach growled again as she followed Lady out the door. She couldn't wait to get some food.

Lady guided Hazel from James' room, leaving him to decide it he wanted to join them or not. The smell of food wafted down the corridor and Raina flew ahead to the hall, eager for food. When they arrived at the great hall platters of food waited for them. Sandwiches with bright vegetables, a pot of lemon-herb smelling soup, piles of various fruits, even a few roasted chicken legs.
Victor stood at the end of the table with a grin and invited Hazel to a sit in a high backed chair at the corner. "M'lady, allow me."

"Thank-you," Hazel said as he helped her into her seat. She stared hungrily at the food she hardly knew where to start.

As soon as they left and closed the door behind them James quickly grabbed the book from under the pillow. He had one thing he just HAD to know, then he would put it back. He flipped through it quickly and almost skipped over what he was looking for. He pulled his elbow down in victory.

James' eyes fell on a yellowed page dated before the rift. One side had Lady's curvy hand writing and the other had a pressed purple flower gently tucked to the page.

The entry read: Mallory has been relentless in my training. He insisted on training me both on right and left hands, putting me through practice session after session. My hands are blistered but they are growing to callous now at least. I’m not sure why he decided to take me as a shield maiden. It seemed strange. He is kind to his men but his reputation precedes him and Iravanis does take hold sometimes though not as often as it once did. We went through my home province today. Of course only he knows that is my family land. I expected him to call me for more training but instead he walked with me and gave me a Purple-Piercer Rose instead. I did not ask why, but I suspected it was as much of a respite for him as it was for me.

He drew the flower into his red sketchbook, previously laid on his nightstand and closed the book, returning it to her room and heading down the hall to eat.

Victor pushed her seat in for her and then stepped over to another chair, looking at Lady expectantly. She looked at the table and then to the young soldier. "Where is Eryth?"

"He was not in his room, m'lady."

Lady frowned and gave nod to Raina who flew to Victors shoulder. "Take Raina and find him, he'll undoubtedly be hungry."

Victor nodded his back straightening as if he were a guard once more, "As you wish, ma'am."

"Thank you, Victor," she said as she sat down in her chair, "Help yourself Hazel. I hope you can find something you like here. I'm not as familiar with the food of your world. I do like the place you call Dominos however. Have you ever had it?"

James sat by the entrance as things happened around him. He raised a gloved hand open and sideways before poking himself in the chest and then poking the wall. "Not a ghost." He sighed and sat down criss-cross on top of his chair, praying silently.

"Yesh," Hazel said through a mouthful of chicken leg. She swallowed. "Good. But not as good as Pizza Hut." She spooned some of the soup into her bowl and took a sip.

The soup was lightly lemony with basil and rosemary broth mixed with rice and chicken. "Pizza hut," Lady mused, "Perhaps we can go there sometime...when things are better."

Lady looked to James as she offered him a sandwich, "You'll need to eat before you go to meet our last guest if she arrives, and before tonight."

"I will once my prayer is done." He said, unmoving.

Hazel nodded. "So, what was life like... You know before.. You know, things got bad?"

"It has been a long time. It almost feels a bit like a faraway dream now," Lady replied a bit wistfully, "Otherworld was full of life of all kinds. Much like your world in that respect. We have our fights and disagreements, as there are always, and the Guardians kept the peace. There were good times too. The alicorn migration every year...the giant fin-fish in the sea...Olympus at sunset..festivals and dances for every season...There were dark things in this world but there were also beautiful things. Otherworld was a place of balance."

James had finished praying. "Was."

A moment of silence passed between them. Lady nibbled at a sandwich, eyes cast down at the table until something seemed to catch her attention. "James, I believe our last guest is on her way," she said quietly, "I think it might be best if you are the one to meet her at the portal."

Hazel shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She decided to change the subject. "So what's next? Is there some sort of training we have to go through or something?" She snagged another chicken leg and took a bite. Hazel loved chicken.

Lady poured herself some soup and sipped a little spoonful before looking to Hazel with a nod. "It is my hope that you will agree to enter the Soul Forge and become a guardian like myself and James. Only a weapon wrought from the forge has been effective against the enemy."

"And lights."

Hazel stopped in mid chew. "The uh Soul Forge?" She swallowed. The same place where James had lost his hands? "I um okay!" Trying to sound less unnerved than she felt. She managed to sound more composed for her next question."So, how does the Forge make you a Guardian?"

"It doesn't, just properly arms you to be come one. Then its training."

"Right, go to the Forge. Get a weapon, learn how to use it then fight the badguys. Sounds simple enough." And hopefully not get burned in the process Hazel cringed thinking about James's hands. She was beginning to wonder what she had gotten herself into. "What kind of weapons does it have?"

"Its not what it has, its what it helps you make."

The Forge will looking into your soul and a weapon will be forged from what it finds within," Lady said as she put down her spoon, and glanced at her side, "Sperest and is abilities are a reflection of my soul. We are inexplicably tied. The same for James and Lueil."

Hazel's interest perked. "The weapon is tied to your soul? That's... Wow." She wondered what her weapon would be like. What would the Forge see in her? Only one way to find out. "Where is the Forge? Is it nearby?"

"It is and it isnt," Lady replied, "Someone wanting to enter the forge must face two challenges. I will be explaining more as soon as the others have joined us so everyone may hear it. However, I think you will do well, Hazel. You have a certain spirit, like my first recruit." Lady flashed James a little bit of a smile.

Eryth petted Emee again, letting the little mammal hide in the collar of his shirt.
Victor lead Eryth to the great hall where Hazel, Lady and James sat around the end of the long table eating from a variety of platters. "I found him m'lady," Victor said as he hobbled over.

Lady who looked to be talking to Hazel glanced up and gave him a warm smile. "You must be hungry, join us?"

"Sure, thanks." Eryrh took a seat, looking at the variety of food before them. He served himself some of the soup and took some bread to go with it. "Emee was showing me the night sky here. That dark patch, is that what you were talking about? The danger?"

Raina fluttered of Victor's shoulder and to a perch on a high backed seat as Victor hopped into a seat next to Hazel. Emee shuddered under his shirt color at thr mention of the darkness and Lady put down her spoon. "The Shadows, yes. They have taken nearly every thing on the mainland. Only a few strong holds remain, but even the most powerful of the people here are growing weaker by the day. They will be consumed soon too. Emee here is the last of his kind."

"Is there any way to bring them back?" Eryth asked, concerned.

Victor shifted in his chair uncomfortably next to Hazel and for once looked a bit sad. "I've tried many times to take the shadows from the minds of some of the people. Including house sprites like Emee. It never works. I managed to expel the shadows once from a gryphon, but only for a few seconds."

"So they're still alive, just being mind controlled? How can you tell that you aren't a silent carrier?"

Lady's as had grown a little distant and her fingers curled around her spoon tightly. "They don't take just the mind or the body. They take your soul. That immeasurable light that makes you who you are. Gryphons are a proud and spirited race which the shadows had difficulty taking. But such instances are rare. For others...they are alive within the shadows only as far as we know."

"But there is a chance? Is there some sort of "mothership" weakness we can exploit?"

Hazel picked at her food; her appetite now gone. The gravity of the situation was now fully beginning to sink in. Mind control? Soul possession? Crap, what have I gotten myself into? Monsters that attacked you physically was one thing. But your soul? That was a completely different ball game. She looked over at the frightened Emmee. A pang of sadness went through her chest. The last of his kind. Poor little guy. She held a piece of chicken out to him and made a soft "tsk tsk" sound with her mouth.

Lady raised a brow unfamiliar with the reference but Victor perked up next to him, "'Mothership like in this book I read from your world...they destroyed all of these things called 'aliens' by destroying their hive. It gave me the idea that if we destroy the source of the shadows the rest would die. I think its possible and so does Lady. At least we hope it is. It’s the only theory we have that will save Otherworld."

"I'm guessing you never did any sort of study on their social patterns or biology to see if they have castes or a queen."

Emee's pink nose poked out from Eryths shirt collar, twitching and then a paw emerged, grasping the chicken and pulled it into his hiding spot.

Victor frowned, "Study is one thing. Understanding is another. Lady and I have watched the Shadows many times but only from afar. To get too close is to be detected. We know they consume everything and they are well organized. However they can take on the forms of what ever and whoever they consume at will."

Victor frowned, "Study is one thing. Understanding is another. Lady and I have watched the Shadows many times but only from afar. To get too close is to be detected. We know they consume everything and they are well organized. However they can take on the forms of what ever and whoever they consume at will."

James pulled his jaw down so that his mouth was open, took some food and placed it on his metal mouth, and then closed his mouth and bounced his jaw several times to eat, so he had had a lot less then the others. He finished off the glass of juice he was drinking and decided to join the conversation. "They do have a system, though. I saw some rabbits taking orders from a shade once.... We just do not know who is on top."

“Well... can you tell if they act like a hive like ants or bees? Can we fool them ? How clever are they?"

"Clever enough to know who is on their team or not,” James replied.

“They can be tricked, and seem to have intelligence no matter the form. Even personality," Victor said as he chewed, "But they will definitely attack if given the chance which is why getting close for simple observation hasn't been easy."
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It was early. Much too early for any human being to be conscious, or so Alex thought. Ufortunately, she had been tasked with opening up the Gamestop. The task didn't require much labor from her brain, but it had forced her to leave the comfort and warmth of her bed. All in all, she found it was too much to ask of someone who had only had three hours of sleep.
"'Oh Alex,'" she mumbled in an admittedly terrible impression of her mother, "'One day you're going to look at your life and find you have nothing but regrets.'" She chuckled. "Well mom, you were right. One big pile of regret this morning." She yawned and looked around the shop. No customers ever came in this early, except on days of new game releases. Today was not such a day.
Normally Ricky, the store's manager, would have been there already but he had called in sick. It was the first time he had done that since Alex had come to work there. It felt almost like the laws of physics were being broken, and Alex had a strange sensation as if today would throw something unexpected at her. Perhaps she should have started keeping track of her horoscope, like her cousin always tried to convince her was the way to unlock all the secrets of the universe.
Quite frankly, seeing the store completely void of people made Alex a little antsy. She hoped some eaerly-bird customer would show up soon so she could focus on them instead of the dust particles swirling around the room.

The bell chimed as a man in red and gold robes walked in. He must have been wearing a mask, as his face was not visible under a layer of metal. He picked up Skyrim and walked over to the clerk. "Hello Alex, want the real version of this?"

Alex sighed deeply at the man's question. As strange as it seemed, the store's employees had to deal with questions like these more often than one would think. She had to admit she was impressed by his outfit. He had either spent a lot of money on it or a lot of work, and it almost made him intimidating. Now normally, she would address anyone in the store with a customer-service smile, but considering they were alone and the man didn't look like he was planning on buying anything, she figured she could drop the charade. "Look buddy," she said. "Cosplaying really isn't my thing. I can't sew, I don't have money, so that pretty much cancels any cosplay options for me." She shrugged. "But if this is about that convention people have been trying to get city hall to approve of, I don't mind signing a petition or something."

The man grabbed the Witcher from another shelf and placed it next to Skyrim. He snapped gloved fingers and then played with a ball of fire that appeared in his hand, tossing it from side to side and rolling it around his fingers. "Not cosplay, not on drugs."

Alex jumped back a few steps, a slight yelp escaping her. She stared at the flaming ball the guy was playing with and didn't know whether to be mesmerized or worried about safety hazard.
Her voice sounded a little shaky when she said. "Okay, well, first of all, kudos for eh... correctly guessing what my next question was going to be." She didn't take her eyes off of the flames as she spoke, her startled expression slowly transforming into a confused frown. "How are you doing that..?"

"It's a rather simple spell. My soul blade is a staff, so I got control of the elements. If you join me, you could get your own soul weapon. Complete with powers." he turned the flame ball into an orb of water. With his other hand, he took out his staff and laid it on the counter, its crimson sun floating between a golden crescent moon. The spikes on its outer shell seeming threatening but at the same time harmless. "Fight the forces that threaten this realm from another one, gaining powers and seeing things beyond imagination." He said in a deep announcing voice, turning to her and fading the water orb. "You in?"

Alex stared at that staff now lying on the counter, then at the orb of water in the masked guy's hand. She wasn't sure how to respond. When she asked him how he did the fire trick, of course she hadn't expected him to give it away. Magicians never revealed the secrets behind their tricks, right? But this, this was a little... elaborate. She could only think of one explanation for this.
"Is this a prank?" she asked, sweeping her eyes across the room in search of something like cameras or Ricky hiding somewhere. She found nothing, so her eyes automatically went back to the mask covering the stranger's face. "Are you messing with me?"

"Take off my mask." He pulled down his hood to reveal more metal features.

What the..? Alex stared at the guy's head as it gleamed in the light if the ceiling of lamps. She blinked a couple times to snap herself out of it. "What is.. I mean. Your head it's eh..." She fought to find the right words. "You must love metal."
Now she had to fight the urge to smack herself. "I mean, not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, you look pretty cool." She wasn't sure if she was making it any better, but well... at least she tried.

"Side effect. But I ask you, who would go this far for a prank?" He pulled off his gloves to reveal metal skin, showing it to Alex before casting another fireball.

Alex could think of a couple people. Though it would depend on whether all of it was real. She looked the guy over from head to toe one more time, and made a decision. She'd play along. Whether or not the guy was telling the truth wasn't of importance to her right now. Her gut told her to at least hear what the guy had to say.
"Well, I suppose not a lot of people would," she said. "But the real question here is, what do you want?"

"You. Save the world. Another dimension. Wasn't kidding." He picked up his staff and put it back on his back, pulling out a paper from his pocket and handing it to her. "Burn it when you are ready, but I suggest getting some things for the trip first. You will not be heading back... It was hard enough fighting to the portal to get here once." He placed a couple of doubloons on the two games and putting his hood back on, twirled his cape and disappeared.

"Wha-" Alex looked around the store, but there was no sign of the man anywhere. If he had left through the front door, the little bell would have notified her. She sighed. "Never did like magicians," she mumbled.
It was then that she noticed the shiny gold coins he had left on the counter. Intrigued, she picked one up. She had no idea what it was, but stuffed them in her pocket anyway, along with the piece of paper he had handed her.

The rest of the day was agonizingly uneventful compared to the masked stranger's visit. Customers came and went, just like any other day. The only difference was the heavy presence of the coins and the piece of paper in Alex's pocket.
When Alex was finally allowed to go home, she felt like she had spent years in that store.

As soon as Alex walked through her front door, she emptied her pocket on the dining table. Then, she sat down and stared at the contents.
"Strange day..." she mumbled to herself. She tried to remember everything the stranger had said to her. Something about another dimension, burning the paper and not being able to go back. "I can't believe I'm seriously considering this..."

She started pacing through her appartment, trying to talk some sense into herself. "I mean, I know better than this. The guy was just a weirdo, right? And I mean magic is one thing but another dimension? Leaving for another dimension?"
She paused. "Leaving..." She looked around her appartment. Dirty walls, ugly furniture that was more than ready to fall apart, a fridge with most likely spoiled leftovers. Leaving.
She looked over at her PC. An old thing, yes, but still functional. What had the magician guy said again, real-life version of Skyrim? Alex chuckled. "I hope they do have indoor plumbing," she mumbled. "But leaving is... Okay, no no. No, I can't just leave. Besides, pinning the hope of finding some sort of destiny by burning a piece paper given to me by a stranger with a mask on is... absolutely crazy."
She stood by this thought. It was crazy. Insane. She continued thinking this as the picked up the piece of paper from the dining table. She continued thinking it as she lit a match. And, when she watched the first spark hit the paper, she said it out loud for good measure. "Oh my God, I'm crazy"

A red line of fire at through the paper quickly causing a strangely voluminous cloud of grey smoke. Rather than fading away as the paper was consumed the haze grew larger and thicker, filling the room to the brim and blocking everything from view. Colors began to mix with the grey; first red, then yellow, blue, green.
The colors swirles together and for a moment all was still. Until suddenly the floor seemed to vanish beneath her feet and she toppled down, falling faster and faster as air rushed past.

Alex had dropped the piece of paper in all the chaos, but she had no time to worry about where it had landed. As she fell, her thoughts were a panicked chaos, wondering what was happening and whether it was real. As she seemed to speed up more and more however, the most prominent worry in her messy thoughts was what would happen once she inevitably reached the ground.

The smoke began to thin and she came to a sudden, jerking halt. She found that she was hovering several feet above a wide, cobble stone taken over by vibrant green moss. Trees with arching branches lined the path while the night air was warm.
In the distance, past several cracked archways over the path, there was a shadow of a circular building with a magnificent dome on top.
Directly below her on the path, James waited, hood drawn and arms crossed.

"Welcome to the otherworld, Land of all the myths being real. The others have already been shown to their rooms. Follow me." He motioned her to follow down the path to the large domed building. "Most of what we would call fantasy is a reality. Gods, Monsters, Magic. You will be fighting with us guardians to stop a recent invasion attempt by the shadows, who- if you know who they are, work much like the flood, but you know... black instead of tan. In order to do that you will be given the powers that come with a soul forge the weapon. As you have seen, mine is a staff, but what it is, depends on your personality. The blade is an extension of yourself." He stopped in front of a symbol with a shield axe in a swirling pattern. James placed his gloved hand over his chest to his right shoulder and bowed his head. "The guardian emblem." He turned to check if Alex was getting all this.

Alex had to take a moment to realize what was happening. She felt her heart rate speed up as she looked down. The ground was there, but she couldn't touch it and it made her nauseous. She noticed the masked man from that morning was standing there, talking to her about all kinds of things that went above her comprehension. Well, aside from the word 'welcome'. The fact that there was at least a greeting was positive thing, she hoped.
When he started walking away however, motioning for her to follow him, she felt her panick increase. She flailed around a little, to no avail.
"Wait!" she tried to say, but her voice was hoarse from the screaming she had done during her fall. "I can't- I mean- ...the ground??"
The words had barely left her mouth before the strange force keeping her from the ground disappeared and she fell, hard. She rubbed her backside with a painful expression on her face, and then threw a glare at... well everywhere because she really had no clue who was responsible for the bruises she was developing now.
It was as she let this glare travel around however, that she was reminded of her predicament and her heartrate sped up again. "Oh my God," she said. Then she repeated it.
She shakily made her way in the direction the masked guy had gone, staring all around. When she reached him, she finally managed to produce a somewhat coherent sentence.
"You- You were not kidding when you said- I mean- Another dimension??" Her voice broke, but considering her current situation she thought the fact she wasn't sinking to the ground in hysterics was enough achievement for the day.
She squeezed her nose shut and tried to breathe, but no air flowed through her nose. She wasn't dreaming. "Oh my God," she said, yet again. Sure, she wasn't religious, but her upbringing has emphasized the guy's part in so called miracles and destiny and the like. She needed someone to blame right now and she couldn't really think of anyone but the big man. And herself, but right now was not the time to contemplate Alex's flaws as a human being.

"No, I do not usually lie. I tried to warn you." He paused for a moment. "You okay in there? Yo. Otherworld to Alex. Need you ALIVE to fight the darkness. Don't quit day one." He took her shoulder to balance her and started his conversation again.

The words 'other dimension' floated through Alex's head, doing nothing to decrease her panic until something clicked. She had left. That was what she wanted. The whole reason she burned that piece of paper was so she could leave. She hadn't believed it, but she had hoped and well, she was here now. She had left.
Alex blinked a couple times, snapping back to reality. Suddenly, she found herself smiling. "Quit?" she asked the masked guy. "Q-Quit? Are you kidding me? Mask dude, this is the best day of my life. Unless, of course, if this all just a hallucination. Oh, who am I kidding? Even if it is a hallucination this is still the best day of my life!" She paused, a look of reflection briefly crossing her face. "Wow, that sounded a lot less pathetic in my head." She shook her head to clear her thoughts. "The point is, I've been waiting to leave that shitty, boring, meaningless, whatever that life was, behind and heh. I guess I did it. I feel a little light in the head right now, but I did it." It was at that moment that the rest of the words the masked dude had said emerged from the sludge that her mind had become. Her bliss at the disappearance of her old worries diminished somewhat.
"Wait a minute, darkness? You mentioned something like that in the store this morning too. What's that all about?"

"Ergh.... Lady is better at explaining the evil we are facing... I am crimson. Here, let me show you to your room."

Alex figured somewhere to sit or lie down was exactly what she could use right now, so she shrugged and nodded. "Eh, sure."
She felt the fatigue of her 'journey' catch up to her, as well as the emptiness of her stomach. Considering she had burned the piece of paper as soon as she came out of work, she hadn't had dinner yet. "You guys wouldn't happen to have any snacks around here, would you?" she asked.

"Yes, but dinner is coming soon." He led her into the building and upstairs to a set of rooms. He dropped her off in a blank one with a bed, closet, dresser, nightstand, windows, that sort of stuff. And then left to investigate some rustling coming from one, saying as he left. "Hope you packed. Dinners downstairs."

Alex found herself in a fairly plain room. A bed with silky grey covers and a pile of soft pillows on top was at the back of the room. A desk and chair sat to the right along the wall by the door and a dark wooden wardrobe waited for her to the left. A black fur rug made from some unknown animal was sprawled over the stone floor. Along the wall beside the wardrobe sat the most prominent feature. A large kite shield painted black with a grey and white bird was mounted on the wall. Above that sat a dagger with a ruby red pommel and dark iron filigree up the slender cross guards. It was dusty as if it had not been touched in a long time, but looked sharp at the tip nonetheless.

"'Hope you packed', he says," Alex mumbled, "Why yes, I packed my invisible suitcase right before traveling to this other dimension. It was all planned, obviously. I come here every summer." She chuckled at her own joke, then let the silence take hold of the room again. "I really need more friends," she told the empty room. It didn't answer.
As she did this however, she finally allowed herself to take in the interior. She was stunned at the room's maginificence. Looking at the shield and dagger mounted on the wall, she felt her face take on an expression of awe. She didn't dare touch them, though.
In the beautiful room, Alex knew she stuck out like a sore thumb in her hoodie, jeans and worn coat, but she didn't really care. The clothes were comfortable. She turned to her favourite part of the room: the bed. She took off her coat, letting it fall to the floor rather unceremoniously as she dropped herself onto the silky sheets.
"I could get used to this," she murmured, her face buried in the pillows. She would have fallen asleep right then, if it weren't for the demanding presence of her empty stomach. It growled discontently, and eventually she let it overrule her tired brain.
"I think the guy - Crimson, was it? - said dinner was downstairs."
So she left the room, in search of dinner.


Curious Adventurer
As Victor spoke his eyes glanced behind Lady to see Alex strolling down the hallway and enter the great hall. He pushed his chair back and rose to his one foot quickly. "M'lady," he said as she entered, giving a little bow and a smile. Lady rose as well, turning to greet you. "Welcome Alex."

James rose and stepped over to draw a chair next to his.

Alex paused in the door opening, not sure how to respond. "Ehh... thank you...?" she looked behind her to see if there was any royalty or something coming through, considering the bow one of the men in the dining room just made. She didn't see anyone. She looked at the woman who had just greeted her uncertainly. "How do you know my name...?" she asked.

"That's a good question. How did you know about us and where to find us?" Eryth asked.

Hazel looked up and over to Lady. She had been wondering the same thing.

"Well not to appear like stalkers..."James trailed off.

Lady looked as though she had expected the question and motioned for Alex to join them. "I know your names because I had to observe you," she admitted calmly, "I had to know what you were like in every day life. The Soul Forge is incredibly powerful. I could not simply let someone enter it without having seen who you are and how you handle yourself. I do...apologize...for the spying though."

Just how much did you... observe?" Eryth's voice trailed off slightly, a tinge of embarrassment bleeding in. Lady turned from Alex to Eryth.

"Nothing too intrusive I assure you," Lady replied, "We all have our secrets." Victor continued to stand, refusing to sit until Alex and Lady had taken their seats. "Lady watched many people before deciding to invite even James here."

Alex took her seat, eyes fixed on the food on the table. It was quite weird that people had apparently been keeping an eye on her, but she was way too hungry to get upset about it now. She couldn't muster up much focus on the conversation, with most of her attention turned to the food, but she realized that half of what the woman had said made no sense to her. She figured she had some catching up to do on what was going on. "What's a soul forge?" she asked.

Lady nodded to Victor and he eased back into his chair as she remained standing. Lady walked over to the fireplace with its carvings and pointed to it. "Otherworld is home to all the creatures and people your world believes are myth and legend. There are powerful beings here, beautiful and deadly. Like your world...we do not always get the Guardians have been here since the beginning. Protecting and serving the people of Otherworld. The Soul Forge gave them the means to do that. The Forge is able to look at you, your soul, and craft a weapon powerful from the essence of what it finds. These weapons are powerful. Magical. And are fueled by your soul"

"I am guessing by the choice of decor around here and the swords on your hips that we aren't getting AK's."

Lady gripped Sperest and pulled it from its sheath with a ringing sound of metal. It glowed lightly as she cradled it in both hands, offering them a look. "A sword is not always the weapon forged," she replied, " James, if you would please show them your own weapon?"

"Only if you call it by its name."

Lady shot him a look. "Please show them Luiel so they understand."

James stood and pulled out his staff from its hidden spot behind his robes, twirling it midair dramatically without touching it and letting its base hit the ground before grabbing it and fiddling with one of the spikes and making sure it was sharp.

"So that's a no on the rifles?"

Victor looked to Eryth, "I'm not sure the Forge knows what they are. But I've seen them in books."

"Probably not," James commented.

Alex looked at James's staff, remembering it from this morning. "Wait a minute, you said you could control the elements with that thing." She looked curiously at the blade the woman was holding. "Can your weapon do that too...?"

"Each weapon has its own abilities based on what soul powers it. As for myself, Sperest has abilities that I cannot let loose in the Carenium," she replied, "I can say that these abilities come at a cost. By using a Soul Forge weapon you will be bringing the energy of your soul into the outside world. Both the light and the darker that make you who you are and that takes a toll. No power comes without a cost."

"Also simply having a Soul Forge weapon does not guarantee mastery of it," she continued, "You will have to learn and practice."

Lady looked to all of them, meeting the eyes of each with Sperest in her hands, "It is my hope that you will all agree to enter the forge and become a guardian."

Alex raised her hand. "Well, I'm in!" Then, she lowered it again with a slightly more hesitant expression on her face. "Or eh, am I supposed to take the time to think about this first? Because from where I stand it's either this or my job at Gamestop and well, that choice is a pretty easy one to make."

James nodded to alex and then returned to facing lady. "And after the war?"

"The Shadows have over taken most of Otherworld and many of the Guardians have been taken with it....or defected...." she continued, "I am the last and I cannot save this world on my own. That's why I brought James here and why I have asked each of you to join me as well. What I ask is not an easy task. The Forge will change you; this world will change you. You may not come back."

"But once this world free, you will have the option of staying, or you may return home as the portals will be open once more and travel will be possible."

Victor gives Hazel a nudge and added quietly, "I wouldn't mind if you decided to stay, m'lady."

Victor's nudge brought Hazel out of her thoughts. A sudden surge of resolve came to her. "No, I'll go." She looked to Victor and his leg. Then to Emmee who was still hiding under Eyrth's shirt. She still had a nagging feeling that she was in way over her head, but this was her chance, to make a difference, to do something significant. "I want to help." She said firmly.

"Changes like metal skin."

Lady looked to James, her blue-green eyes scanning over his face. "Yes, like metal skin. What the Forge sees can be projected to you."

Alex was slightly taken aback. "So... the Forge is sentient? And it can change us whether we want it to or not?"

"Correct," she replied, " In the past Guardian's were chosen based on pedigree...and sent to the forge at lead to some difficult changes to enter the forge that early and still could, even at a later age."

"I suppose I am in. You said I could do more here than back home, you're probably right," Eryth said finally.

Lady smiled at all of them and sheathed Sperest. "Thank you....thank you all. Otherworld is indebted to you. As am I."
"Please enjoy the rest of your dinner and if you have questions...please , James and I are here to answer."

Emee gave a purr from inside Eryth's shirt collar.

Eryth broke off a small piece of bread, passing it back to Emee in his shirt. "I'm going to need a bag or something for you, Emee."

A paw reached out and took the bread into the shirt with a contented sigh. Lady chuckled at the sight. "He seems to have taken a liking to you. He'd probably love to come with us.

"So, where are y'all from? America?"

"America, definitely. More specifically California." Hazel said, she finished her apple and placed the core on her plate. "I go to school at UCLA."

"Oh, you're still in uni. What are you taking?"

Mythology and Folklore," Hazel replied. She held out a piece of cheese towards Emmee, trying to coax him out of his hiding place. "Very nerdy I know. What about you?

"I'm a nurse, finished uni a few years ago. -And I'm from New Zealand, Wellington."

A sniffing sound could be heard from Eryth's shirt and the little creature could be seen moving around until his head was free from the collar. His big eyes blinked at Hazel and then to the treat before slowly crawling out the rest of the way. "Cheese!"

"Oh! New Zealand really!? Wellington! Wow they filmed part of The Lord of the Rings there!" she paused. "But I suppose you knew that." Hazel's eyes lit up when Emmee finally crawled from his place "Hey there little guy," she cooed. "Come get the cheese." She looked back up. "Where'd you find him?"

"He was just hiding under my bed, actually. He showed me around a little bit after that."

"He's a house sprite," Victor commented, "They are playful, occasionally tricksters, but they dont mean any harm by it."

Emee reached for the treat and took it from Hazel before hopping over to Eryth's shoulder to hers to munch on it.

Hazel chuckled as Emee scampered back up Eyrth's shoulder. "He really likes you."

"Well that's good, I like him too." Eryth scratched Emee again, finishing the last of his soup. "So you said the forge made things based on your soul, what did you mean by that?"

Lady returned to her seat and sat back her chair, considering how to answer the question. "The Forge will look at you, what makes you who you are, both good and bad and will forge a weapon compatible with and powered by what if finds. Which is why i have chosen you all at an older age than a guardian from here would be sent to the forge at. Ive seen...greatly powerful...but terrible weapons wrought from the Forge. Ones fueled by anger and self loathing....and even when people change...the weapon remains. "

"But I've never handled anything other than a knife in my life, what sort of weapon would it give me?"

"I find that the Forge knows what you need...or do not need..." Lady admitted, " I grew up around spearmen. The Forge gave me Sperest instead. James is a master swordsman. It gave him a Luiel, a staff. And when I think about both of our pasts, both were exactly what we needed."

"As for you, I cannot say what weapon will be forged, but it will be the one you need and even if you dont have the skill to use it now. You will learn," she added with a smile, "But you wont be alone."

"So I guess I'll just have to wait and see. Is there anything else important we should know?"

"There were will be two tasks to face before the forge will look at you," Lady said, "and that is something I cannot give you forewarning of."

"They are different for everyone?"

Lady smiled as Emee curled up around Eyrth's neck, contentedly full and closed his eyes. "One is, and one is not," Lady replied, "Traditionally, the candidates would enter as a group and face the first task together, then the second task will present itself individually. I had a...non-traditional start to my guardianship and faced both alone, so I'm not entirely sure how it will be when you enter as a group in the morning "

"You? You're not coming with us?

No, I have already faced the tasks and will be not be allowed to enter," Lady said, "And neither will James. You, Hazel and Alex will do well though, I'm sure."

"You'll do great," Victor added, "Lady did choose you for a reason."

"Well... I guess we don't have a choice anyway."

"Oh, I found a satchel in the wardrobe full of vials of... well, magic stuff I guess. What is it all for?"

Victor grinned."Those are the medical supplies Lady had me gather for you," he said brightly, "I think I got nearly everything you'll need. Just go easy on the Siren's tears...they are difficult to get ..particularly if you're a man."

"Well, I'm more used to isopropyl alcohol and ibuprofen than griffins' blood and sirens' tears, could you teach me how to use them?"

"Who will teach them swordsmanship? You and I are both skilled in our respective styles, but I do not think we have the time to teach them both."

The talk of weapons was very interesting to Alex, but she had one worry. "What about archery?" she asked. "I mean, have there ever been guardian-archers? Because back in... well, the normal world I did archery. Is there any chance of getting a bow?" She did her best to sound neutral about it, but the truth was that the prospect of having to learn how to handle a different weapon from a beginner's level seemed very tiring to her.

The young soldier counted his fingers, trying to recall what he had put int he satchel for a moment and turned to Eyrth, obviously excited to explain. "Siren's tear is what you would anesthetic. It will numb an area, clean it, and if its taken as a drink it will lull you into a trance or sleep depending on the amount. Gryphon's blood is a powerful will prevent bleeding if used locally and if you drink it the stuff gives you a boost of energy, raise blood pressure like an adrenaline shot of sports. There is alcohol in there for cleaning and brandywine for pain?"

"There is a chance, yes. I know a bit about archery, but not enough to make a robin hood. There is also magic which I think I should teach considering Lumil, but you do put up a good point. What will we do with weapons nobody knows how to handle?"

The forge will give you what you need, not necessarily what you want," Lady replied, "But there is a chance for a bow. There have been bowmen Guardians in the past."

"As for training, they will simply have to learn," Lady said, "And you and I will discuss the details of who will do what once they enter the Forge. Considering we do not know what they will be returning with as of yet."

"I only bring up swordsmanship because no matter the weapon they need to know some basics else they present an easily exploitable weakness. My weapon is a staff, but that does not mean I cannot do some damage with a sword."

"Against some of the creatures in Otherworld yes," Lady replied, "However, you learned fairly quickly that only a Soul Forge weapon is effective against well as the enemy. If you wish to teach some basics to anyone willing to learn, it may be useful however."

"The training room on the terrace level should be large enough for that."

Raina gave a loud crow from her perch, "Yes, I know Raina," Lady replied, "It's late. Feel free to continue eating and talking more, but I have some tasks I must complete before rest. I do recommend that you get some sleep before tomorrow morning however."

Lady bid them good evening, Raina following close behind her like guard. "I should also get back to my workshop," Victor said as he stood and grabbed his crutch from behind his chair. He gave a bow to everyone, " If you're wanting to look around a bit more there are some interesting things downstairs and you can always come by my workshop. M'ladies and sirs, if you will excuse me." With a particularly happy grin at Hazel, he hobbled off to the corridor to the left where their rooms were.

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Curious Adventurer
Alex felt the fatigue of the day starting to settle in, but she refused to let it take control just yet. How could she be in a castle and not go exploring? Maybe it was just her gaming instincts talking, but the idea alone sounded ridiculous to her. Especially because there were apparently interesting things to be found. “I think,” she said. “I’ll take the opportunity to look around before going to bed.” She looked at the other people still in the dining room. “Anyone wanna come along?”

"I can give a tour if you would like, but after that I have some things to do in the third tower."

Alex smiled at Crimson – or James, or whatever his name was. She made a mental note to ask him about that if she got the chance. “That would be great,” she said. She looked at the rest of the people in the room so see if any of them wanted to join.

"I would be happy to tour a bit, get my bearing here."

James lead the to the right of the great hall where the same corridor Eryth had been down earlier waited. More bedrooms lined each side, all of which were closed and had dust on the handles as if they had not been used in a very long time. Soft glowing and flameless sconces lit the way as he lead them down the spiral stair case at the end of the hall and into the 3rd level where the massive oak door carved with the symbol of the Soul Forge awaited. He pushed the doors open to reveal a circular room with a large dias in the middle. Surrounding the dias were circular benches. Almost like a theatre. On the walls sat tapestries depicting great battles and many weapons of all kinds. Bows, swords, and spears, shields and daggers. All Soul Forge weapons.

This was the inner sanctum, the meeting place of the panel and the Guardians...and...the entrance to the Forge below.

"What is this room?"

Lady appeared in the doorway with a raised brow and Sperest at her side, "This is the Panel Room. Our inner sanctum. It where the ruling panel of guardians convene and where large meetings of the entire corp would occur." She walked over to the middle dias and it is also the entrance to the Forge."

Alex looked in awe at all the weapons on the wall, particularly the different types of bows. "Who did all these belong to?" she asked.

"Those are the weapons of Guardians who have passed. There have been many before us, but once the wielder dies, the weapon no longer works," Lady said, "James has a favorite weapon around here somewhere...which was it?

As Alex looked over the bows, she found something familiar on the floor underneath a large, ornate looking long bow. It was the dagger from her room. Its red pommel shone in the soft light and the dust was gone.

Alex stared at the dagger curiously, but - similarly to when she saw the weapon in her toom - she didn't dare touch it. "Huh?" she said. "There was a dagger just like this one in the room I was just in."

Lady stopped looking at James and turned to Alex, her eyes settling on the dagger. For just a moment, her poised demeanor flickered and she grew pale. "What room were you given, Alex?"

She did her best to remember what the room had looked like. "Ehm. gray bed covers I think? And there was a black fur rug on the floor... That dagger was on the wall, along with a shield..." She frowned. She couldn't quite remember what the shield had looked like exactly.

The description was enough to make Lady frown. "Mallory's room."
Crossing the room she picked up the dagger and the pommel glowed brightly in recognition.

"Coraxe, has a mind of its own. Its not a Forge Weapon, but it was a gift from a very powerful bring here in Otherworld. It chooses who it likes. Hold out your hand Alex."

Alex did as Lady asked and held out her hand. "Who is Mallory..?" she asked tentatively. The frown on Lady's face gave her the idea it wasn't a pleasant person.

Lady placed the dagger in her hands and watched carefully. The pommel gave a red flash of light and a buzzing feeling sank into Alex's palm. "Mallory was a Guardian and he was my...friend. He is part of the Shadows now though," she replied quietly, "Coraxe seems to like you though. You must have something in common with Mallory or myself. You should keep it.

"I'm sorry for you loss," Alex said softly. So it wasn't the person that was unpleasant, but the feelings of grief that accompanied thoughts of the person... Alex felt a little guilty for asking about it. She curled her fingers around the hilt of the dagger solemnly. It was beautiful. She found it difficult to believe it took a liking to her, but she was glad it did. “Those shadows… They can only be defeated with Soul Forge weapons, right? So… Coraxe wouldn’t work?”

Indeed, Coraxe would not work against the shadows," Lady replied, "However, the shadows are not the only thing we may have to worry about. There are things that live in Otherworld that can be just as dangerous if crossed. Coraxe would be very effective against them if needed. it is particularly effective against demons and spirits."

Alex felt some of the nerves from earlier, when she had just arrived in Otherworld, resurface. "Right, spirits, demons. Nothing new," she said in a shaky attempt to make a joke. "So, the Forge is sentient... the knife is sentient... How much more in this world is sentient? I mean, of the things that are not... usually sentient."

"Emee seems pretty sapient for a "pet," said Eyrth

"Emee..?" Alex said. During dinner, she hadn't quite spotted it yet, but now that she looked over at Erynth she noticed something was hiding underneath his shirt.

Lady laughed and it was pleasant, bell like sound. Emee popped his head out of Eryth's shirt with sleepy eyes. The little furball gave a yawn and started to purr by his ear.

"Oh wow..." Alex said. "Ehm, it's cute?" She wasn't very good with animals. She could handle cats, because they mostly did their own thing while Alex did her own thing, but she never liked them enough to get one of her own. She just didn't really get how people could get so obsessed with animals just because they were small and hairy.

Lady's laugh rang through the hall as Emme poked his head out from Eryth's shirt, "No, Alex, not everything has a mind of its own," Lady chuckled, "Your wardrobe will not give you fashion advice nor will the teapot sing you a song. Though I have met a particularly talkative lamp, well, the Jinn inside of it, was anyways."

"So I guess that means the singing teapot from Beauty and the Beast is not an inhabitant of Otherworld," Alex said. "But Jinns are? Do they really grant wishes?"

"They do when they want to," she chuckled, "The idea that they are slaves to whoever owns their lamps is a human addition to the mythology. They are quite able to do what they please. Though their magic has a limit and causes them to sleep for sometimes thousands of years. The one I came across was in a treasury owned by Hades and the Jinn was quite eager to have a conversation."

"If you come with me, I'll take you to get a belt and sheath for Coraxe," Lady added as she gave a nod to the dagger in her hands, "The original was lost with Mallory."

"A sheath would be very nice," Alex said. She was a little excited about it, if she was honest. Maybe she really had been corrupted by all the video games she played, and her high school math teacher's worries had been just. Oh well, if video games hadn’t corrupted her, something else would have surely come along to do it instead. “Wait,” Alex said as she realized what else Lady has said. “Did you just say Hades? So, not only creatures, but gods exist here as well?” She looked around and lowered her voice as if someone might overhear them. “Is Jesus here?”

Lady motioned for them to follow her and assumed that they all would, as she lead them out of the Panel Room to and back to the spiral staircase. "Hades, and those like him are not Gods, though they enjoyed the reputation when they used the portal to go on...a your world. It took the Guardians quite a bit of time to reign them all in. He has great powers, but he is not all myth would make him seem. Neither are his siblings. The Olympian clan are notorious, but no more Gods than you or I. As for this person you refer to....Jesus? I have not heard of a man or creature here by that name. But many here creatures go by multiple names in your world, depending on the culture. Is he a popular figure in your world?"

"Eh well, yeah, Jesus is pretty popular in our world... He's kinda known as the son of God? But considering gods aren't really gods here I don't really know whose son he is." Alex shrugged. "I guess it doesn't matter... He was mostly a big deal to my parents." She thought about her parents then. It was strange, but she didn't really miss them. Was it because she had been living alone for so long? Or had the real implications of coming to this world just not sunken in yet?

Lady lead them up the spiral stairs and into the great room, considering Alex's comment for a moment. She paused at the fire place and looked up at all of the swirling,, intricate carvings until her eyes fell on the symbol of the Soul Forge. "There are things even this world cannot explain," Lady said to Alex, "We can harness the power of your soul as an energy. And while things should logically be balanced, we do not know what gives us that spark." Turning to look at Alex, she gave her a gentle smile. "There are things at work in both worlds beyond our comprehension.

Alex smiled a little grimly. “Right, because a world where stuff simply makes sense would be too easy,” she mumbled. Her eyes kept going back to Coraxe the sentient dagger. It was certainly a good example of something that didn’t really make sense to her. She didn’t mind so much in this case, though. “Are those shadows things we can’t really explain too?” she asked. She had to say she was curious about them, no matter how worrying they were.

Lady lead them on up the stairs at the back of the hall as she spoke. "Yes and no," Lady admitted, "We know they are not of this realm. They came through a large rift near a portal. One that is not a natural link such as the one between our worlds. They can also take the form of creatures I have never seen before and they consume everything. Victor theorizes that these beasts we are unfamiliar with may be the shadows natural form. Or that there are other realms...other realities that these shadows have consumed before coming here. Beyond know there is indeed a source, they are a mystery."

She lead them up the stairs and eventually stopped outside a heavy door which appeared locked until she grabbed the handle. A heavy click could be heard and she pushed the door open to reveal a massive armory. Suits of armor sat on stands, one silver set with a blue laurel on the shoulder guards and breast plate gleamed brightly. There were leather bracers and vests on others, scabbards hung from the wall along with racks of regular blades of all kinds. To the left were bow racks and bins of arrows along with hard leather quivers. A table sat in the far corner sporting various sized sharpening stones next to a rack of spears. More old Forge weapons lined the stony walls where there was room.

Any worries Alex had about the shadows disappeared when she saw the interior of the room. Especially the different bows and arrows caught her attention, and she immediately felt a little more at ease. Coraxe was a dagger, something she didn’t know how to work with, but the thought of being able to continue practicing archery – even if the Forge didn’t give her a bow – calmed her a little. “You know,” she said. “When James tried to get me to come here by comparing this place to Skyrim, I thought he was just trying to convince me. But this… Well I can see the connection now.”

She looked at Alex,puzzled for a moment, and then understanding. "Oh, one of James' games," she chuckled, "I am not sure of the similarities, but I am glad you seem to like them. Most of these are regular weapons kept for practice or general defense of the Carenium. Of course there is no one left to use them, so you are free to use what you like." She walked over to the wall and lifted a black leather sheath from a peg on the wall, and offered it to Alex. "Try this one."

“Ah, thank you,” Alex said as she took the sheath. She sheathed Coraxe, and as far as she could tell it was a good fit. “What else do guardians fight aside from shadows…? You mentioned spirits and demons before, is there anything we should be worried about?” As much as Alex liked the way Coraxe looked, the thought of having to use it against anything made her a little queasy. She hoped handling a dagger would be an easy thing to learn, but knew deep down it probably wouldn’t be.

“Hmmm,” Alex hummed while lost in thought. The term ‘peace keepers’ echoed through her head. “I don’t know, it seems that every time groups like that exist someone lets the power get to their head and they end up ruling after all…” She quickly realized how that hadn’t been the most tactful thing she could have said. “Ah, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to eh, insult the guardians or anything.”

Lady smiled an almost sly grin. "You're smart Alex. And also not entirely wrong. The Guardians not without their faults. They are rigid and traditional. I was not trained as a traditional Guardian because of their ways. I was considered a pariah...and outcasted...for my views."

Alex was surprised to hear that. Lady’s confidence made it seem as if she was in charge of the guardians and always had been. Alex wondered just how many guardians there had been once, before those shadows came. Even if they did manage to defeat them, would things go back to the way they were before? “Why did you join the guardians?” Alex asked.

"Traditionally Guardianship was bestowed upon the oldest child of certain families," Lady replied, "My older brother certainly agreed with the tradition. However, I have never been one for tradition and I suspect neither have for if things will change. I cannot say, but I hope they do."

"Perhaps you should rest now," Lady said to Alex, "You have a long day tomorrow and you should rest. I do suggest changing clothes though."

Alex looked down at the hoodie she had been wearing all day. It looked pretty out of place in the impressive armory. “Yeah, I suppose,” she said. Now that she thought about it, she felt the fatigue from earlier that day re-emerge. “Resting sounds good,” she said while trying stifle a yawn. She turned to the door, hoping she would be able to find her way back to her bedroom… or Mallory’s bedroom. Either way, there was a soft bed, which sounded heavenly to Alex at that moment.

She found herself in the great hall again, having left Lady and Eryth in the armory. The food that had been on the table had been cleared by someone, but whoever they were had left no trace behind them. The room stood empty and her footsteps echoed through the room on the stone floor. To the left lay the hallway to her room, and to her right the mirroring hallway that had taken her to the Panel Room below.

Alex felt as if the silky bed, which she had already made acquaintance with earlier that day, was calling to her as she made her way over to the bedroom. Once she found herself in the doorway however, she remembered something. Mallory's old room. She looked down at the sheathed Coraxe. “Your old owner, huh?” she mumbled. The dagger didn’t answer. Alex rolled her eyes. “Of course the sentient knife doesn’t speak.” Her eyes fell on the dark wooden wardrobe, then on the hoodie she’d been wearing all day. “Well, Lady did say I should change clothes so… I guess it’s fine if I look around a bit.” She looked down at Coraxe again. “And since you were left here, who knows what else could be here…” She shook her head slightly and frowned. “Stop talking to inanimate objects, Alex,” she mumbled. She walked over to the wardrobe and opened it.

Inside the wardrobe hung several tunics; 3 of black with a raven insignia on the left of the chest, 2 red and one of white that appeared to be more of a formal wear. 2 white undershirts and one black accompanied the tunics. A black belt was coiled in the corner, next to a pair of boots that would be much too large. There were also several pairs of pants of dark brown and black. The contents were fairly simple and would be loose fitting on her but not overly so. At the bottom of the wardrobe, something had been scratched into the wood.

Alex smiled appreciatively at the tunics. She thought they looked comfortable enough, which was a relief. At least she wouldn’t have to wear uncomfortable dresses. She looked more closely at the insignia on one the black tunics. “A raven…” She looked over at the shield mounted on the wall, which also had an illustration of a bird on it. “They sure do have a bird theme going on around here,” she mumbled. She turned back to the interior of the wardrobe. It was then that she noticed the scratches on the bottom of the wardrobe. She kneeled, so she could get a closer look at what it could be.

The carving was a roughly sketched rune, vaguely reminiscent of a celtic design but a bit different. It almost looked too intricate, and as if it were moving. Coraxe began to glow faintly as she drew closer to the symbol.

She had no idea what the carving was exactly. In the corner of her eye, she noticed Coraxe’s pommel glowing and her heart sped up a little. She had the ridiculous thought of a dog growing excited – or nervous – when he smelled something his owner didn’t. “What eh… What’s wrong, buddy?” she said shakily. Normally making light of the situation did wonders to ease her nerves, but right then it wasn’t working. Alex took Coraxe out of its sheath and held it closer to the mark carved in the wardrobe, to see if that would change anything.

The glow grew brighter the closer the blade came to the ruin and buzzed faintly in her hand, almost like a soft electrical current passing through. The rune appeared to react to Coraxe in turn and began to brighten and glow until something began bubbling up from the carving. A black tar seeped through the scratched and welled up into the bottom of the wardrobe. The puddle grew and grew until it began taking the grotesque shape of a blackened, skeletal hand.

With a scream Alex jumped up and away from the wardrobe. Coraxe was still in her hand, its tip now pointed at the hand forming at the bottom of the wardrobe. Her heart was beating so fast she thought it might tear her chest open and her breathing was bordering on hyperventilating, but thanks to the adrenalin coursing through her veins, her mind was pretty clear. She had never fought with a dagger before in her life, but… well, she knew how they handled daggers in Skyrim so damn it how different from real life could it really be? “You-you wanna fight? You skeleton motherfucker?!” Brave words, but her voice was hoarse and shaky which caused the fire in her tone to be a bit less than she would have hoped. Her eyes remained fixed on the tar seeping through the cracks in the wardrobe. She wasn’t such whether it was bravery or fear that kept her rooted to her spot.

The hand formed into a broader form, growing slick, black claws with serrated edges. An arm bubbled forth followed by shoulder, then another hand. The tar creature was ripping its way out of the rune, pulling at the doors until a dog- like head emerged along with a torso. Black tar dripped from the half-formed monster as it growled. Two large eye balls mulled around its forehead until settling into malformed sockets. "You are not the man," it stated with a gravelly voice.

The tar creature's eyes rolled about looking at the room and then turned back to Alex, sniffing the air. "The man is not here," he growled, "You have summoned me...girl."

The sight of the creature was absolutely horrifying. Alex had no idea what it was, but even at Lady and James’s mentions of shadows, demons and spirits she could have never conjured up such a nightmarish image. She would have had half a mind to run away or beg for mercy, but instead she remained standing, still rooted to the spot. “The man?” she said. “No, I’m not the fucking- who is the man??” Then, she realized the other thing he had said. “Summoned? What? No, I didn’t fucking- I mean I didn’t mean to-“ she continued to stammer for a while, until she finally gave up on trying to be coherent. In all the chaos now going on in her mind however, she had noticed one thing. The creature was not attacking her. So that meant she didn’t have to attack it, right? She thought it was a logical conclusion, but still didn’t lower her dagger. Better safe than sorry. “What are you?” she asked. She tried to go for a confident, demanding tone. She had no idea if her hoarse squeak had had the desired effect, though.

The creature continued to form, tar brewing up from the closet as the first bits of him to emerge were beginning to cool and solidify. His face was more dog-like now, with a muzzle and long teeth, but no discernible features other than the two grotesque eyes which were yellow. "I am a Baku," he said as his voice crackled, "You wish to make a pact? I will take your nightmares away...for a price."

Alex was certain now that the creature was not planning on attacking, which eased some of her panic, but not nearly all of it. She kept Coraxe raised with its tip facing the creature, forming a type of barrier between her and the Baku. “A pact to make my nightmares disappear?” Alex frowned. “I don’t think so. I may not be majoring in mythology, but I know enough. Deals never end well. Besides, I can handle nightmares, I’m not a damn kid.” Her voice was becoming steadier now. It seemed her body had finally realized fear wasn’t getting her anywhere, so the Adrenalin in her body was being used on a different emotion. Anger. She bared her teeth. “Who is the man? Mallory?” Her courage sank a bit as an idea occurred to her. “You’re not a shadow, are you?”

The Baku heaved one lupine foot out of the wardrobe and it hit the stone floor with a splatter of oozy black goo, followed closely by the other. Trailing bits of tar left over began beading toward him, filling in his form. He was well over 6ft tall and his six fingered hands carried claws. "The man...had many nightmares...rage and fear were his plague...his price was a heavy one...but his hopes were delicious payment. He sealed me from the shadows..." The Baku, now fully formed, gazed at Alex with hungry eyes. "He sealed me with that wretched blade... no matter...I hunger...are you sure you do not wish to make a pact? Your mind seems...refreshing."

The Baku was over a head taller than Alex, which made looking up at him quite the exercise for her neck. Now that it was fully formed, it was terrifying in a different way that it was before. Alex felt herself starting to shake, but she didn’t feel the fear like she did when the hand had first shot out of the wardrobe. She was probably in shock. “W-Well, as flattering as it is to hear my mind is refreshing,” she choked out, “I do not want to make a pact with you. I don’t know what your relationship with ‘the man’ was, but I do not consider my nightmares a plague and I can assure you my hopes would definitely not be delicious.” She finally managed to lift her foot, and used this regained ability to take a step backwards. “I-I don’t know why he sealed you with this, but I’m sure it was… a eh, a misunderstanding?” The ability to moved her feet had not come accompanied by her courage. The Baku’s sharp gaze made it impossible to find it.

The Baku wiggled his fingers and his jagged claws clacked together as he looked down on her. His mouth worked its way into a horrifying grin, bearing his black, oily teeth. "You fear me...girl..." he cackled, "But it is not me you should fear...I cannot touch you without a pact.....but the Shadows...they show no such restraint. I remember from the man's nightmares. When you are ready to make a deal...and you my name. And I will come." With that his form collapsed as another hair-raising cackle echoed through the room. The black tar seeped into the floor, dissipating until every speck was gone. Like it had never been there at all. The rune in the wardrobe had also vanished.

There were exactly two seconds of silence after the creature left. Two seconds that Alex spent standing frozen in her spot, until the silence was broken by the sound of Coraxe clattering on the floor. Coraxe was followed by Alex. Her whole body shook as she sat on her knees on the floor. She clasped her hand over her mouth and squeezed her eyes shut in an attempt to calm herself. Slowly but surely, her breathing slowed down until she finally was on a normal rhythm again. Her heart wasn’t done drumming in her ears yet, but she suspected it would take all night if she was going to wait for that to stop. She didn’t touch Coraxe as she crawled over to the wardrobe to see the carving had disappeared. She closed the doors, then turned around to lean with her back against them. She sat like that on the floor for a while, staring at Coraxe and thinking. If the shadows… the things they would have to fight… would be worse than this... Alex felt as if a fist had emerged from her stomach and was now squeezing her heart. What had she signed herself up for? Would she be able to do this? She buried her face in her knees and took a deep breath. In… and out. Another deep breath, and another. Until her thoughts stopped screaming at her, and she stopped feeling like she wanted to cry, turn tail and run home. “Sleep,” she mumbled. “Sleep now… worry later.” She leaned heavily against the wardrobe as she pulled herself to her feet. Then – in similar fashion as she had done earlier that day – she dropped herself onto the silky sheets. She was asleep before her head even hit the pillow.

Eryth left from the group as the tour was dismissed, lost to his own thoughts. He meandered back to the room he was staying in, absentmindedly petting Emee as he did. This was it. It was the fork in the road that he was waiting for. Some major decision that would change his life, give it some real meaning. Not just the nursing, not just the endless grind of working and going home alone to sleep for work the next day. He was worried, nervous, excited, happy, scared... too much was on his mind. He wouldn't even be able to sleep at this rate, and having just woken did not help. He quietly entered the room with the dragon tapestry and took off the shirt and pants, leaving both in a neat pile at the foot of the wardrobe. Maybe he could sleep. Maybe.

He shot straight up in his bed as he heard a scream. It was Alex, at least he thought it was. He stood, rushing over the door and grabbing the knob before he realised he was not wearing any pants. He looked down to his little lizard sweats, thinking to himself. What was he doing? He didn't know what was going on, or if he could even help. Maybe it was a trap, or Lady was actually some perverted serial killer who made their victims trip out before the deed... No. None of that made any sense. He walked back to the bed, lying down and noticing Emee curled up at the foot. He picked him up, lying down and cuddling the little animal as he waited.


Hazel lingered at the table for a bit after the others left. She was in a bit of a state of shock; the Shadows, the Soul Forge, guardians. All of this was real and she was going to be part of it. It was amazing, terrifying and overwhelming all at once. She couldn't believe it. She wouldn't be able to go to sleep right away, so she decided to walk around for a bit. Victor mentioned a workshop. Wonder what he's up too. She Rose from her seat and snagged an apple from the fruit bowl. She went the same same direction he went; eating the apple as she walked.

Hazel passed several rooms; her own, Eryth's, what was now Alex's room with the door standing wide open, and Lady's room where the door was now fully shut. At the very end of the hall near the spiral stair case that lead down to another level, was a door wear sounds could be heard. A clattering sound echoed from within followed by Victor's voice. "No , no, no...dont run...away! And....they're gone...."

She made her way down the staircase; her boots making a soft clumping sound that echoed off the walls. When she reached the door she hesitated for a moment; hearing the commotion inside, then knocked.

A few moments passed as more commotion could be heard and then the quick taps of a crutch making its way across the room. Victor opened the door with a quizzical look on his face and bit of dirt smudged on his forehead until he realized who it was. Then a large smile immediately sprang to his face and he quickly wiped at his forehead. "M'lady! I thought you would still be in the great hall."

He moved aside so she could come in and gestured with his free hand, "Please, come in. It's very messy...but..."

Inside really was a mess. A bed was covered in books of all kinds, dusty tomes, newer printed novels, and even a few comics. There was a large wooden table nearly covered from corner to corner in all sorts of things. Parchments and quills were scattered about, vials of every color imaginable, a mortar and pestle with a bright orange powder inside, scales and tubes, zig-zagging and dripping into bowls. A viney plant with deep blue leaves and stem sat in the corner and had taken over much of the wall and ceiling with yellow flowers. A kite hung from the ceiling as well as multiple other plants. A terrarium sat next to the bed and seemed empty.The wardrobe was chained shut. The entire room smelled slightly of flowers with an overlay of burning candle.

"We just finished dinner. Lady went to bed Alex and Eyrth went exploring. I-" She paused when she saw the mess. "... decided to do a bit of exploring myself." She continued, once she got over the shock. The books and comics caught her eye. "You must keep pretty busy in here." She stepped into the room. It was indeed messy, but it had it a charming quality it. This place had been lived in. There was such a thing as too clean. Too clean felt sterile, and unfriendly in her opinion. She pointed to the terrarium. "Did something escape? I thought I heard some commotion before I came in."

Victor rubbed the back of his head sheepishly and glanced to the little box on the floor, "Aye, I did...I was trying to use a few Hundun...uh...little chaos spirits to charm something for me. But...chaos is as chaos does."

"Wow. They really did a number on this place." Hazel chuckled. The comics and books caught her eye. "You read?"

"I love it," Victor said as he stepped over to he bed, "I learned when I was a soldier and Lady keeps bringing me books back from your world." He reached down and pushed some of the books aside until he pulled out a worn paper back. "Have you read this one? It's about this boy who found out he could do magic."

Hazel recognized the books iconic cover. "Oh! Harry Potter! Yes, I read this when I was younger. This series is amaaaazing! How many have you read?"

The young man's blue eyes grew wide with excitement, "There are more?"

A flood a questions followed: "Does he ever leave the Dursley's? What happens to the Voldemort fellow? Are there very many spells? You know I thought the way magic worked in this book was didn't make him tired. Not like real magic. Or will it later on?"

"Woah, Woah," Hazel held up her hand, laughing. "No, the magic doesn't make them tired. It's the wand that pretty much does all the work. As for your other questions, you should read and find out." She winked. "When this is all over I'll bring you back the rest from my world." then an idea came to her. "Or, better yet. I'll bring the books and the movies! I'll bring my laptop." She grinned. "Ever see a movie?"

"Ive heard of them but never seen one. Lady says they are pictures that move so people can watch?" Victor said with fascination, "I dont know how it works, but I'd love to see it."

"You'll love it. I-" then she thought of something. "Oh shoot! You guys aren't powered by electricity!" her face fell slightly. Then brightened. "Well, I'll just have to take you to my place then."

Victor's brow raised in surprise and he looked at her excitedly, "Really? I could come to the human world with you? That would be...that would be amazing!"

"Hazel yeah! you'll love it! As soon as this is over I'll show you around." She grinned excitedly. She looked around the room. "So, what else do you do here besides read?"

Victor stepped over to his messy work station and motioned for Hazel to follow. "Oh, I mostly work on learning more about magic and how I can use it. I got into it after I couldn't be a soldier anymore. Would you like to try? I could show you the first thing I learned."

Hazel's eyes lit up with excitement. "Heck yeah!" she exclaimed. "I'd love too!"

Victor grinned at her excitement and a pulled glass contain from his, removing the stopper quickly. He shook out something that looked like seeds into his hand and then came back to Hazel, offering his palm. In his hand sat 3 tiny blue seeds. "The first thing you should know about magic is that it comes from within," he said, looking at her intently, "It's a transfer of your energy, to what you want to happen. Give me your hand."

Hazel nodded. "Okay," she tenitavely held out her hand.

He tucked his crutch under his arm so he could use both hands, one to hold hers steady and the other to slip the tiny seeds into her open palm. "Close your eyes...and focus. Think about your energy moving to the seeds. Willingly give it to them. See them grow in your mind."

Hazel did as she was told. She closed her eyes and tensed as she concentrated as hard as she could; willing the seeds to grow.

A warm feeling washed over her hand, slow at first and then more intense until it felt almost a little too hot. Victor chuckled, keeping his hand under hers as he watched the seeds crack open and tiny bright blue sprouts curled up with baby leaves unfurling. "Hazel, open your eyes, now."

Hazel open her eyes and gasped. She wonderingly stroked the baby plant leaves in her hands. "That was amazing," she whispered.

He smiled as he looked from the plants in her hands, to her eyes. "Your first try at magic and you're a natural," he said sincerely, "Feeling okay? Not tired right?"

"I do feel a little sleepy. But I'm not sure if it's the magic or all the food that I ate." She yawned. "That was amazing Victor thank you for showing me this." She smiled and fingered the tiny plants.

Victor let go of her hand and nodded. Stepping over to the desk he grabbed a jar with some soil inside and offered it to her, "Keep them. Once it grows some flowers, those will glow at night time.

Hazel took the pot from Victor. "Thank you! This is a wonderful gift." She yawned again. "I should probably be getting to bed. It's probably pretty late."

He nodded and escorted Hazel to her room, opening her door for her and giving her a little bow. "I'm glad I had the chance to talk with you tonight Miss Hazel. Rest well and pleasant dreams."

Hazel gave Victor her best version of a curtsy and smiled warmly at him. "I enjoyed our chat as well Mister Victor." she said playfully. "Thank you again for the flowers and for showing me how to do magic. It was wonderful. Goodnight." She slowly closed the door then turned and went to place the pot of flowers on the desk. After doing so she flopped on her bed without bothering to look for any sleepwear she was too tired. She gazed up at the twinkling stars smiled. Then slowly drifted off to sleep.


Lady left the 3 newcomers to sleep and wandered down stairs looking for James. Perhaps he was in his...sanctuary? She hand remembered when he wandered off simply because she had been speaking with Alex but now she wondered what the old sword master was up to. She came to the door of what was once an old bedroom and knocked once.

The door opened of its own will, slowly creaking to reveal a moved bed and various items around them, things like piles of red coins, a trench coat (;)), a fake cloud in a bottle, a model spaceship, a blow dart gun, a toy dagger, and in the center next to an umbrella holding up a quilt..... A dirty young man next to a similarly dirty young woman. 16, possibly 17, standing and smiling in front of a large derelict building. Slowly orbiting this bed was James, sitting crisscross on the air floating elemental orbs around him. "Hey, lady." He said, without turning or opening his eyes.

Lady looked around the room, thinking of when she had first discovered the man in his world. He had forsaken more...sentimental...belongings in favor of seeking a redemption of sorts. Over the past year she had seen him grow from his stiff, perfectionist ways to more of a spirited man. It was good to see him evolve as he hand, though they'd had their differences and still did even now. "Hello, James...I did not mean to intrude. Should I return later?"

"Welcome to the third tower." He said, raising his hands around the room and magically moving a few things before falling into a chair and looking at her. "I think this is the first time you have seen my 'shrine'."

Lady raised a brow at James and then looked to the newer addition to his hiding spot. Even after a year, his flair for theatrics was something she had not gotten used to. She simply had not been raised to expect or act like he did on occasion. It made her secretly wonder if he might be part of the Olympian clan somewhere down the line...they had always been dramatic too. "That is indeed a new addition. You've been busy with it I see." She walked closer, careful to keep Sperest from bumping anything, and examined the picture. "Is that woman your sister?"

His demeanor became serious. "Yes, it is. My big sister." He leaned forward and put his hands together before resting his chin on them. "Turns out she was kidnapped and taken overseas. The letter is behind the frame."

"You mentioned something happening to her, " Lady said, "And that she helped you, but you never told me how."

"She helped me survive out in the world. Work a job. Get an education. All from 12. She is the reason I am not a dead starving orphan story on the news."

"Sounds as if she really cared for you," Lady said, "My own brother...well, he did not care for my choices and made it clear." Picking up the frame she ran her fingers over the glass. as she continued to look at the picture. She found it amazing they had things that could capture a moment like that. She wished she had one of these photographs things with Mallory, but she would never admit it. "May I?"

He gestured to the letter. "Be my guest." There was a shine in his eyes that was not there before. He hid a light sniff under the rustling of adjusting in his seat.

She flipped over the frame and read the letter, her blue-green eyes, passing over the lines and noting a few drops of something that had stained the page. "I am sorry for your loss, my friend."

He nodded and got up to pick up the trench coat. "Remember why I call you mystery?" James was smiling weakly, trying to move on to more light-hearted and amusing stories.... because she was the second person who ever knew about his sister....and that letter."

She put the frame back where she found it with a gentle hand and then turned to James as he picked up the strange coat. "Yes, the woman from the jungle," Lady chuckled, trying to let him cover.

He set down the coat and then picked up the blow-dart gun, moving his hand across its smooth surface. "Eventually did join its rival clan though. That was weird."

James blushed under his face of metal, and It was noticeable in his voice. "Yes, but I like someone else now."

Lady gave James an amused look. "Aye, I imagine you do have an interest given how popular you are with the water nymphs."

James laughed for a few seconds before altering his face so it was less metallic. "Thanks for that. You know, you never really know how uncomfortable having a skin of steel is until you take it off" He looked at her with his ocean deep eyes, no longer hidden under plates. "You smell good. Is it okay if I sketch you here?" He said, taking up his book and quill.

Lady watched as James used some of his energy to manipulate his image, turning his eyes back to their original shade. "You are getting better at using your energy," Lady noted, "If you would like to sketch me, I do not mind."

He started to sketch her, his quill being the only sound in the room for a few seconds. "Would you like to ask about any of the others? I do not think I have told you of the Crimson Star."

Lady's eyes roamed the room. It was obvious he wanted to tell her about some of the things he had collected from his world, and she admitted some of them fascinated her. She picked up the toy dagger out of habit and twirled it beneath her fingers. It lacked the true weight of a blade, but the motion still felt familiar in her hands. " Crimson," she mused, "the name you call yourself to tease me?"

He shrugged, the plate features returning as he dipped his quill in ink. "Like the color. Color of Lumil. Color of my robes." He sketched some more. "Sir sounds like boot camp, and like we are married." He shot a smile at lady. "...And I do not think anyone would get any of the other nicknames I have. Like little bit."

She wasn't familiar with the term 'boot camp' she knew enough for his point to come across. "You have many other names? My father used to call me "dancing eyes." My eyes were just never sparkling for house duties or governing," she replied, "Who was it that called you 'little bit?'"

"My sister. It is from a movie."

Moving pictures. Another thing in the human world that had fascinated her. She had never seen a movie, but she had seen the massive displays in their major cities. "Oh, from one of your movies. Is your Crimson Star also from a movie?"

"No, it is a secret organisation with links to various governments they influence. Really good parties." He mused."Always bring bananas."

"Good there dancing at these parties?" she asked curiously, "I used to dance at the festivals...the last was with the Black Guard at Henge....Mallory asked me..." She stopped herself and shook her head. "I hope we can have nights like that again in Otherworld. I know I have not said it often, but thank you James. For coming here."

He stopped sketching. "Yes, there is." James watched her internal conflict for a few seconds before getting up and doing some thinking of his own. Should he? He should. He wondered how to properly... yes. "To dance? You miss him don't you?"

She grew quiet at the question and her expression tried to settle into her usual poise. "He was my... friend. Many feared him because of Iravanis, but he was more than his blade. "

"So we have both lost those with reputations separate from their selves." He reached out with an arm, paused halfway, and then continued and gently pulled her into a hug.

Lady stiffened at the sudden show of affection, particularly from the swordsman. She gave him a small, slightly awkward hug back, unsure how to react and then pulled away. "I should go. Tomorrow is going to be a difficult day on everyone."

James scratched nonexistent hair and quietly hit himself in the back of the head. "Yeah. See you." He looked over at the picture and flicked a tear from his face before conjuring up the orbs and meditating once more. He knew the hug was a risk, and that it probably was clear she would not get it.... but he needed one more then he would like to admit. Sharing about family only brought him questions nobody could answer, and sadness. He switched his mind to thinking about training the new ones as he circled the memories and grew tired from casting the fire.
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Curious Adventurer
A brisk and singular knock greeted Hazel, Eryth and Alex followed by the pleasant but muffled sound of Lady's voice through their doors.
"Good morning, friend. There is breakfast in the great hall, please help yourself to as much as you like and then join me in the Panel room down the spiral stairs. Bring anything you wish to take into the Forge with you."

Lady returned to the great hall and gave a nod to Victor who stood by the fire place waiting for the others to emerge from their rooms. "Good morning, M'lady. Breakfast?" he asked with a bright smile.

She looked to the long table where where a bowl of fruit, plate of fresh toasted breads with butter and jam, and a plate of bacon sat waiting. The sweet scent of the bread and savory smell of the hot bacon were tempting to her taste buds, but her stomach disagreed. Despite her long, nearly sleepless night her appetite was non-existent at the moment. There was too much to be done to think of food.

"Thank you, Victor, but I think I will simply go down to the Panel room to prepare," she replied to the soldier.

"As you wish, m'lady," he replied, though his expression seemed more concerned now.

She gave him a gentle smile of assurance and made her way to the Panel Room below.

Eryth finally managed to fall asleep sometime far into the night, being woken abruptly at a knock at the door. "Mhmm." He rolled over, squeezing the plushie in his arms a little tighter and slipping back to sleep.

Emee made a muffled squeak as Eryth's arm wrapped around him too tightly and then began scrabbling away. "Ery...Ery!"

He opened his eyes, noticing that he was not in fact at home cuddling with the custom plushie, but was still in the drug-trip dream-world. He loosened his arms around the fuzzball, letting Emee crawl free from his grasp. "Mm. Sorry Emee."

The house sprite crawled free and padded over to Eyrth's head, giving him a nudge with his paw. "Ladeee."

Eryth rubbed his eyes, sitting up on the bed and putting his feet on the floor. He couldn't have slept more than four hours, but it would have to do. He put on the same pants, a white button down, and slung the curious bag of magic healing things over his shoulder. "Mm. Something smells good." He put his arm out, Emee quickly climbing up it to his shoulder, before heading down to the dining room, following his stomach.

Emee curled around Eryth's shoulders as if he was meant to be there and pointed down the corridor to the great hall. "Food!"


Alex awoke to the sound of a knock and Lady’s muffled voice. She sat up in bed, trying to recall where she was exactly. It all came flooding back when her eyes fell on Coraxe, still lying on the floor. All sleep cleared from her mind immediately as she jumped out of bed and threw open the wardrobe doors. The mark was still gone. Alex sighed in relief. Her eyes fell on the clothes stored in the wardrobe and she realized she would have to change, both because her current clothing didn’t suit Otherworld and because she had just slept in them. She took one of the black tunics from the closet, along with a white undershirt and black pants. It was slightly loose fitting, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed by the addition of a belt. The only problem were the shoes. Alex didn’t need to try them on to see they were more suited for a giant than her tiny feet.

She wondered if she needed shoes down in the Forge… When she had finally bought enough time getting dressed, Alex turned around nervously. Coraxe was still lying in the exact spot she had left it the night before. Its pommel was no longer glowing, and it now seemed like just a regular dagger. It still looked beautiful, though, and it still looked very sharp. Seeing it like this, Alex was reminded of why she hadn’t dared touch the thing the first time she had seen it on the wall. She shook off her worries. The Baku was gone, and wouldn’t return unless she called upon it. Or at least, that was what he had told her.

She picked Coraxe up from the floor and put it in the sheath on her belt. She wasn’t really hungry, but entering the Soul Forge on an empty stomach didn’t sound like a great idea to her either. She opened her door to get breakfast, when she noticed a pair of boots waiting for her outside her room. Alex smiled. Perfect fit. With slightly lifted spirits, she made her way towards the great hall in search of breakfast.

Victor turned at the sound of boots coming from the hallway. Alex was coming down the hallway in a black tunic with the raven on the left side of the chest. His Lord-Commander's sigil. It was good to see it again, even he was the last man not taken by the shadow from the Black Guard. He smiled and gave Alex a polite bow. "M'lady, Good morning. Please help yourself to some breakfast."

James was just finishing making some eggs for the small banquet before them, talking to victor about where lady went when he had started them, when Alex came in in new other-world clothes. "Morning. Eggs?"

Alex looked behind her, to see if anyone was coming in that deserved a bow. Then she remembered Victor had done the same thing when she arrived in the great hall the evening before. She felt a little embarrassed as she realized it was for her. “Eh, good morning” she said. She took the seat Victor had pointed out and smiled at James. “Eggs sound good.” She looked at the breakfast table appreciatively. She was very impressed, mostly because she could barely make a peanut butter sandwich without messing something up. “Wow, everything on here looks amazing… Who made all this?”

Victor grinned, feeling a little pride in his handy work. "I usually make the bread but James cooks the eggs and bacon...when we have them. The jam is the last bit we had, courtesy of the forest fairies."

As Eryth entered the room, he gave nod and a similar greeting. "Good morning Sir, please help yourself to any you'd like."

"Morning sleepless. I shall heat up the bacon in a second." He conjured an orb of flame and hovered it over the bacon and toast for a few seconds. "There." He waited until the others had sat down to sit himself, looking down at the doorway for lady.

Eryth took a seat, staring at all the food groggily. He grabbed a strawberry off a platter, giving it to Emee on his neck. "You got coffee?"

The sprite took the strawberry between his paws and began nibbling on it happily, some of the juice dripping on Eyrth's shoulder.

"Nope. No coffee beans. I can get a pail of water if you want."

Victor spied James looking down the hall and guessed what he might be thinking. "Lady said she wasnt hungry and would be waiting in the Panel room." Then he turned to Eryth with a curious look. "James mentioned coffee once. What exactly is it?"

"Beverage that contains an ingredient that works really well for waking the drinker up," James said.

"Yea. What he said. Caffeine. It's a drug."

"Oh, it is used for energy then? I think I have something..." the soldier began making his way down the hallway toward his workshop, the crutch clacking against the hard stone floor.

When he returned, he carried two vials in his free hand and set the before Alex and Eyrth. The vial was small with no more than 2-3 tablespoons of bright blue liquid inside. "That will give you a good energy boost. And it tastes delicious."

Alex lifted the vial and let the liquid swirl around a bit. It looked… interesting. Drinking a strange bright blue liquid however, was not something she was very keen on doing. No matter how desirable an energy boost sounded. “Victor… what exactly is this?” she asked.

"Looks like gatoraid."

Alex nodded. "Radio-active gatoraid," she mumbled.

Eryth opened the vial, smelling it.

Victor looked a little puzzled at the word gatoraid but decided to ask about the word later. "Its like a tea, made from the petals of a blue flower called a Shurlok. " When the stopper is removed, a sweet mint smell wafted from the vial.

Alex took a tentative sip, sampling the shurlock tea’s taste.

Eryrh took the entire vial in one shot before he felt a tiny paw tugging on his ear. He passed the mostly empty vial, save a few drops at the bottom, to Emee.
The tea is minty and a sweet as it goes down. Victor looks a little surprised as Eryth takes down the whole vial in one shot and then passed the bottle to Emee who eagerly took last few drops.

He shivered, the drink hitting him like he had just shot an pack of redbulls into his heart. His eyes opened wider and his groggy slouch straightened out. "Yea... Wow. That'll do it."

Alex chuckled at Eryth's reaction. "Jesus, dude. Do you drink your coffee like that too?"

"Well you don't usually measure the caffiene in coffee as kilograms."

Alex looked at the blue substance with an eyebrow raised, then carefully places the vial back on the table. "Right... and eh, how much coffee do you usually drink per day?"

"Too much. I work nights most of the time."

Alex's look of amusement was now replaced by a look of interest. "Oh really? What do you do?"

"I work... Worked as a nurse. Overnight caretaker."

"Ohh nice. So I guess that means if we get hurt in this whole, you know, shadow war thing, we can turn to you?"

Emee gave a sudden shudder, his calico fur fluffing up and his eyes grew wide, before he leapt from his perch and scurried over the table nearly knocking over Alex's plate as he ran.

"What the-" Alex drew back her chair slightly as Emee ran past her. She started at the furry animal as it ran. "Something tells me you shouldn't have given him the shurlock tea..."

"I find its more potent in smaller creatures," Victor said as he watched the energized Emee leap from the table and to his crutch. He wobbled trying to keep his balance as the sprite ran up to his shoulder and into his blonde, fly away hair. "Go!"

Victor laughed and let the sprite play as he looked to Alex. And what is it you did in the human world, Miss?"

Alex was very aware that, especially compared to Eryth's former job, her job at the Game Stop was not very impressive. "I eh, worked at Game Stop," she said. "It's a store," she clarified for Victor, realizing he probably wouldn't know human store names. "Not the most... significant job I suppose. But hey, I'm here now so it doesn't really matter, right?"

"I wouldn't say anything is insignificant," Victor chuckled as Emee tugged at his hair, "I was just an honor guardsmen, and now I'm here in the Carenium of all places, even though I'm no Guardian."

Alex frowned at that. “What makes someone a guardian?” she asked. “I mean, it just seems like such a big thing, but I don’t understand what sets them apart from everyone else. Apart from the soul weapon, that is…”

"Well, the Guardians were usually chosen based on family. Families descended from the first Guardians. There are many, but the first child born to the next generation is trained and sent to the forge. Man or woman. Really they're just like you and I," the soldier said, "Though simply going into the Forge doesn't mean you'll get a weapon I've heard of first borns being rejected."

"I gotta say you're making me nervous about what's down there..." Alex chuckled. "I guess I'll just have to wait and see for myself, huh?" She kept her fingers crossed under the table that she wouldn't have to face anything like the Baku again.

"I was a fencing teacher..." He chucked as he said this next bit. "So you can guess my surprise when a staff suits me most." He took Lumil and fenced the air for a few seconds dramatically watching for their reactions.

"So... The staff actually does magic stuff? Are we talking about Harry Potter or Merlin the wizard here?" Eryth said.

"Mer...lin...? It's much more complicated then that.... Like Nicholas Flamel magic.... If you have read that series."

"Energy, auras, that sort of stuff."

Alex chuckled at James’s antics. “Do you ever wish you’d gotten a sword instead?” she asked.

"Eh..... I do not really know... I am decent with a sword.... but lumil really fits me in unexpected ways."

Alex nodded, a thoughtful expression on her face. "Hm, so I guess the Forge really knows what you need as opposed to what you want..." She grinned. "By the way, do you always use magic or do you sometimes just," she made a motion as if swinging a baseball bat, "simply wack someone over the head with that staff?"

James mimed the baseball swing as an answer.

He then shifted his staff so it hung overhead, and then threw it into the ground with a 'thump'. "Didn't want to scream the pass bit... we are indoors, after all."

Victor looked confused at James' reference and then to Alex with Emee still playing wildly in his hair." Human world thing?"

Alex nodded in response to Victor's question. "Human world thing," she confirmed. She gave James's staff a concerned look. "Is it... healthy to slam it on to the floor like that?"

"Oh he is fine."

"He? Does it talk too?"

Alex sighed. "Right, right, almost forgot. Sentient weapons..." she mumbled.

James slowly tilted his head to face eyrth and then put one gloved finger up to his metallic lips.


Alex shook her head. "I swear to God, if I make it out of that forge alive and my weapon starts speaking to me I will jump out of a window."

James cracked a grin. "No. I only call lumil a he because all weapons are part of the wielder. If it we were in the appropriate discussion I would call my arm a he."

Victor raised a brow. "Ive never heard of Forge weapons speaking. But they do have influence and feeling. Sometimes strong feeling. Mallory's weapon was an example of that."

Alex sat up at the mention of Mallory. She was, after all, almost certain the Baku had been referring to Mallory when speaking of 'the man.' She tried to sound neutral as she asked: "What do you mean?"

James gave victor a warning look and decided to sit down and start eating without hazel.

The soldier shifted uneasily on his crutch now, having been shot a look from James. Mallory had been his commander, however and the man's reputation was no secret. " Mallory's weapon was called Iravanis. It was one of the most powerful weapons Ive ever seen. The power took a toll effected his mind in terrible ways. Lady...well..."

Alex realized the subject was probably a sensitive one, and smiled apologetically. “Sorry, you don’t have to tell me about Mallory if you don’t want to…” She was silent for a moment, looking for the right words. “I’m just worried, you know? I mean, we’re new here, obviously. If there are possible, unwanted side effects to getting one of those weapons it’d be nice to know about them beforehand.” The Baku’s words echoed through Alex’s head. ‘When you are ready to make a deal… and you shall… one day…’ Had Mallory’s nightmare-plague been caused by his weapon's effect on his mind? Would Alex one day find herself…? No. She would never make a pact with that creature. However, a small part of her wondered why, if she wasn’t planning on calling him back anyway, she had kept quiet about the Baku’s visit from last night.

Victor nodded, noting Alex's expression had gone from curious to more of a troubled look. "It's alright. I wouldn't worry too much over it. It's one of the reasons Lady chose you older than someone who would traditionally be sent to the Forge," he said, " Traditional guardians are sent at sixteen... its a rough age for anybody right? Mallory's weapon had been born with anger, and rage is what Iravanis was fueled by. Lady was the only one I saw who could calm him down really and even then she had to fight him. Their first duel had a reputation about it on its own in Otherworld..." He realized he was rambling when Emme squeaked 'Lady!' causing his cheeks to turn slightly pink. "Apologies."

No worries,” Alex said. “I like hearing about this stuff. I mean, if we’re the next generation of Guardians, then we should at least know our history, right?” Not to mention all the other reasons the subject of Mallory was intriguing to Alex. She had his old room, his old knife, had – completely by accident! – unsealed his old Baku… It would have been weird if she wasn’t at least a little curious about him.

"History is important here," Victor replied, still slightly sheepish, "Much of human history has Otherworlder presence from what Ive read. Until they sealed the gates."

"... So you're saying that all the mythology and crazy stuff that we can't prove ever happened might have been from Otherworlders... and when they suddenly stopped happening as we got better at science, that was the gate closing?"

"Did they seal the gates because of the shadows?"

"Sort of," the soldier said, "A lot of Otherworlders stopped going to the human world because it began to get dangerous. Your science grew as the people here retreated. Eventually it was thought best to close the gates all together. To keep us separate for everyone's safety. The Shadows have broken through with their own power some how. It makes me wonder if they can do the same into your world."

"Not if we stop them here." Eryth said, slightly too confidently. Maybe the tea was getting to his head.

"Right," Alex said, a little overwhelmed. "Well, gotta first survive getting the only type of weapon that can actually defeat the things..."

She ran her fingers over the pommel of Sperest. The metal was warm and the swirling patterns of the filigree were calming. Her own sort of rosary. The blade had been as near a constant comfort for her for a long time and the habit had crept up on her since the fall of Iyrn's Gate...since Victor lost his leg...since her brother...Mallory...

She shook her head, clearing the thoughts from her mind. It would do no good to follow her thoughts down that dark road. There was too much to do. Looking around the empty Panel Room, she wondered what it had been like when Guardians met here, filling the rows of benches and listened to the Panel speak. All of that energy in one place had probably been nearly overwhelming. When she had stood here twice before...and only once before the Panel...she had done so alone. There had been no fan-fare of pageantry for her as there would have been for proper candidates and there wouldn't be for the three humans either.

Lady gazed at the broad oak doors she had left open for the others. They had been closed to so many, including her, but now that could change once Otherworld was safe. The thought lifted her spirits a bit and she stood a little taller.
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Punmaker Extrordinare
Hazel started awake as the rap came on her door. She jerked up and looked around; a surge of panic seizing her chest. Where am I? Then the memories of the previous day came flooding back to her. She flopped back on the bed with a huge grin on her face. She was in a completely different world.

"Coming!" She called. She went to the wardrobe and quickly changed her clothes. She yanked the door open and walked briskly down the hallway and into the dining hall. "Morning!" She said cheerily. She grabbed a seat next to Alex. "Man it smells good in here."

*Victor stood a little straighter at the sight of Hazel entering the room and gave her a bow, forgetting Emee was latched on to his head. The house sprite topples down with a squeak and landed on all fours before scurrying back over to Eryth's shoulder. "Good morning, Miss Hazel," he said with a smile before giving an apologetic look to the house sprite. "Sorry Emee."*

Hazel laughed. "Hey, Victor," She said. "Poor Emmee." She grabbed a plate and spooned some eggs into it. Then she noticed the bacon.

"Bacon! Food of the gods!" she exclaimed. She took a bite and smiled as pure bacony goodness flooded her senses. She was in heaven. "So," she said through a full mouth. "I don't know about you guys. But I'm hoping to get a bow from the forge."

*credits to @aryamajor
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The tense atmosphere caused by shadow-talk quickly dissipated upon Hazel's entrance. Up until that moment, Alex had believed the concept of 'morning people' was made up in order to hide humanity's collective uselessness in the mornings. As she had learned in Otherworld however, barely any of her ideas on how the world worked were true. Not that she had many to begin with.
In a way, Hazel's early-morning cheerfulness was refreshing, and a welcome change from Alex's own depressing thoughts. She grinned when Hazel mentioned wanting a bow from the forge. "Same here," she said. "Guess we'll be archer buddies then."


Punmaker Extrordinare
Hazel swallowed her bacon and grinned.

"Really!? That's awesome!" She tore into another piece of bacon. "Whoever cooked this bacon did it perfectly." She swallowed again. "I took some archery lessons at a renaissance fair once. But that was a long time ago. This one time my brothers offered to buy me one and-" She paused. Her brothers, she hadn't thought of them since she had gotten that text yesterday. She took another bite of her bacon. She didn't tell them anything. She hadn't spoken to her parents either. "They, um bought me a kids bow and arrow set instead." She said finally. She picked at her eggs; her appetite suddenly gone.


Old Fashioned
"Thank you, I am glad you like it. There will be dessert in a moment, then it's off to see if your soul agrees with you both." He ate while she paused, remembering much too late. It was relly stupid for him to have forgotten something so possibly important to them, and sooo not him. Must have been his excitement about the newcomers. "Oh yeah, I have taken care of any surface problems like relatives, jobs, pets, things of that sort; So there is no need to worry about that. "


Dragon Obsessed
Eryth felt a pang of guilt. He had left everything behind without saying a word. His mother was going through a rough patch with her cancer looking like it was on it's way back, and the few friends he did have would worry about him. He hoped they would, at least.

"What do they think happened to us?"


Curious Adventurer
"They don't think anything happened to you," Victor said, as he eased himself into a chair, "I came up with the idea of using what you would call doppelganger spirits, and James helped me catch them. They normally stick to the shadows and are a pain to deal with ...but since the Shadows started taking over they have been fleeing and are easier to catch. Most of the time they just look like little dust bunnies until they take a form. James made sure they took your form and they should follow your lives accordingly."
He paused for a moment and give Eyrth nod. "However, we didn't think it would be wise to have yours trying to attempt your work. James made sure there was you call it...a " leave of absence" applied for, in your case "


Alex raised an eyebrow. "And do these doppelganger spirits know how to act like us or do they continue sticking to the shadows and being a pain to deal with? I mean, either way I don't think any of the people in my life will notice any difference, but still." She shrugged. "I'd like to know what kind of thing is living in my house."


Curious Adventurer
"They're copies of you, essentially, they have no personality of their own," Victor said trying to put Alex's mind at ease, "The reason they are hard to deal with is because when you catch them...they have a nasty habit of turning into whoever is trying to catch them. I'm sure you could imagine arguing with yourself."

"I... I guess that works. It'll be tough to make rent if I'm not working but... He could probably last at least a month," Eryth said.

"James informed us that you paid to live where you were," the soldier replied, "It's been paid well ahead of time. Though Lady says the land lord was quite reluctant to be paid in gold."

"You paid him in what? We use money there, gold is... At least fifty bucks per gram. How much did you give him??"

The young man's blue eyes flicked upward as he thought about how much gold he had put in the bags and converted it. "Well, I studied your measurement systems a bit in a book Lady brought back to me. Let's see: There was 50 gold pieces in each bag, each of which would be roughly a gram e or so a piece...that would and three quarters ounces....?"

"I hope it was enough to cover your expenses, we can't go back now, since I'm out of dragon's ash to make the summoning papers."

"That's fine for my rent for five months. If everything goes swell you might have just saved me a few months' rent"
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