“This isn’t the first time that I’ve seen this place… I’m certain that it won’t be the last time either.” I thought to myself, approaching the ledge of a steep cliff that overlooked a vast valley which led into a large pocket of the Corruption.
My hands felt numb. The moist cool morning air, which smelled dissatisfying putrid do to the neighboring corruption taint, coursed through the smallest of pores in my armor and blew against my exposed face. I wasn’t particularly nervous. No, it was something else. Maybe it was because of her.
The Dryad, Faye, she was already here, waiting for me to arrive. Her sword, ‘The Blade of Grass’, was hung over her back. She was wearing the most clothing I’d ever observed her in over the two years we’d known one another. Her skirt reached down to her knees. It appeared too made of grass blades. No ordinary blades however, these long green strands of plant fiber pulsed with a powerful energy. I sensed it instantly. Her top could almost have been considered actual armor, if not for having only covered her breasts and half of her back. It was thick and plated with flowers and vegetation of all kinds.
“It took you long enough to get here!” she stated harshly, without so much as turning around to look at me. She wasted no time exchanging pleasantries. Typical of her nature.
“I’m not going to apologize for being late, if that’s what you’re after,” I remarked apathetically. “Do recall, you are the one who arrived early. I’m right on time,” I said looking down at the watch tethered to the wrist of my armor.
“Shadow armor, really?” Faye asked, still not bothering to turn around to look at me.
“How can you tell?” I asked with a faint chuckle, walking up beside her, overlooking the corrupt lands far below.
“It absolutely reeks of dark energy!” she hissed. “I could sense you coming from a mile away.”
“That’s the point though, isn’t it? If you can sense me so prevalently, then that means that the Eaters of Souls will likely be unable to differentiate me from any other dark entities. They’re drawn to the stench and weak energy signatures of your average human. Wearing this armor, they shouldn’t be able to sense me. At least not without getting too close.”
“Finally figured that one out did you?” she sniped.
“You’re in a lovely mood today,” I sigh.
“Glad you can tell. Best not to aggravate me then, hum?”
I grinned. “You’re actually wearing clothing. I’m shocked. Normally you walk around town completely nude.”
“We’ve disgust this previously. A Dryad has no use for clothing under lesser circumstances. We are one with nature and require no such subtleties.”
“Maybe so, but do you have any idea how distracting that can be for the town’s folk, seeing an attractive young woman like yourself strutting around mid-day in nothing but her own skin?”
That remarked acquired the desired effect. She glanced over at me from the corner of her eye. “Are you implying that you find me attractive?... This is hardly the place or the time. Besides, it is of little concern to me how human males choose to perceive me. I am not so weak minded as to allow their pitiful gawking to lesson my honor.”
“Uh hum, as you say, Faye. For the record, we do still have time. We can’t move into the corruption before sunrise. The patrolling Eaters will disperse as the sun peaks. They can’t tolerate the bright light.”
“Obviously I am aware of that,” she replied, hardly amused, staring off into the distance beyond the tainted mountain range and towards the heart of the Corruption.
“That being said, I’m curious as to why you showed up so early?”
“Don’t act so smug. This isn’t a game!” she scolded. “Countless lives rest upon our shoulders and you seek to temper and taunt me?”
“She really is in a terrible mood,” I thought to myself, looking away.
“If only I had the ability to make the sun rise more quickly,” she hissed. “We don’t have much time to accomplish our mission before the others arrive.”
“All the more reason to take things easy Faye,” I remarked. “We can’t afford a slip up.”
“You’re one to talk.”
I grunted. “I know you’re not in a fantastic mood...”
“Clearly the events of these past few weeks have weighed heavily on you. You’re the only one who understands the methods by which to cleanse the tainted lands, as such it’s easy to understand why you’ve been in such high demand lately. I know the ‘Admiral’ has you overworked and I’m sure you are feeling more than a healthy amount of stress.”
“Are you going to offer me a shoulder rub next?” she joked, tilting her head towards me and scolding me with her eyes.
“Look, all I’m trying to say Faye, is that I know we seldom see eye to eye, but I’m here in your service. That is, at least until the end of this campaign. After which, you’ll never have to see me again if you choose not to return to the island with us.”
“Hum… a tempting offer. If you do intend to aid me as I’m certain you’ve already been ordered to, I expect you to follow my commands without question and do whatever it takes to ensure the success of our mission.”
“I’m not here for selfish reasons. I have a great deal invested in this operation, as much as you, or anyone else for that matter.”
She laughed abruptly. “Ha! And what is it to you that humanity survives this war, a loner, selfish raider such as yourself who cares only for his own wellbeing. You would see the world burn if it brought you treasure and glory in the process. You have no friends, I learned that the hard way.”
“That was nearly two years ago… I’ve changed since then, and I do have friends, as well as people I care about. I’d not expect you to understand.”
“Enough bickering,” she declared. “We’re already at one another’s throats. I have no worldly idea why the Admiral assigned you to this mission in the stay of any number of more competent, less annoying participants of our cause.”
I sighed. There was no further purpose in continuing this conversation. We were both far too proud and diverse in our ways of thinking to agree on much of anything. At the very least the arguments had helped to pass some time. The sun was barely kissing the distant horizon. Some of the nearest Eaters could be seen lowering from the skies, preparing to return to their underground burrows.
“I’m concerned about how you’re going to avoid being sensed?” I asked, looking back to Faye, who continued to ignore eye contact.
“I’m able to conceal my power, unlike you, who needs that repulsive dark armor to shield your mortal taint. Come to think of it, I’m surprised you even require dark armor. One would assume that your natural negative energies would compensate perfectly well on their own.
“Gee, thanks Faye,” I grunted. “Likewise, one would assume that your feminine charms would be enough. Instead you have to use that blessed armor to hide your purity.”
“You can tell that my armor has been enchanted? Interesting… You’ve improved your skills since we last… worked together. Who do I have to thank for that?”
“The Wizard of course.”
“Yes… of course. He’s about the only person who’d accept someone as misguided as you as his underling.”
“You would know.”
“Please,” she said, rolling her eyes.
I looked to my watch. “We’ve got about five more minutes before it’ll be safe to head down and begin spreading the purification powder,” I said looking over her to see where she was keeping the stuff. I couldn’t find it on her. Maybe she’d set it somewhere nearby to avoid me getting into it accidently?
“Stop eyeing me… It’s unsettling,” she groaned.
I looked away with haste and coughed. “I brought the rope,” I stated, dropping the huge coil at her feet.”
“At least you remembered.
“Hypothetically speaking, what would happen if I touched the powder directly?”
“You would die,” she remarked bluntly.
“Just like that?”
“Pretty much,” she said, shifting her hips.
“I’d like to think that I’m tough enough to tolerate some magic fairy dust,” I stated, rejecting her accusations.
“Don’t be stupid! Under that armor, and behind that sword, you are still just a mortal man. You can be killed more easily then you’re willing to accept. I’m neither mortal, nor of humanity. My essence resonates from the void itself. If I get killed I’ll regenerate… eventually…”
“With no recollection of who you were before…” I reminded.
“At least I will come back, reborn from mother nature. But you… if you die…”
“Yeah, I’m aware,” I replied, not much wanting to consider the thought. I’m far too young to die. “I prefer to think of myself as more than just an average man,” I said raising my Night’s Edge and looking down the blade confidently.
She snickered. “You really are a moron, aren’t you? See this is exactly the reason you need me around. Otherwise you’d try to use the purification powder yourself and end up dead. Too bad you can’t regenerate your physical form like Dryads can.”
“Believe it or not Faye, most normal people only live one lifetime.”
“That sounds truly terrifying… You have my pity.”
“Gee, thanks. What’s that stuff made of anyway, to be so filled with goody good energy?”
“All Dryad’s can produce it, however, I seem to be the only one left who remembers how.”
“Why not teach the others?”
“It’s not so simple. I wouldn’t expect a twit like you to understand the complications behind such a process. The powder is a highly potent concentration of light, good and purity, forged from the purest of all souls in a manner that would be impossible to convey with your limited human dialect.”
“You don’t say. It’s miraculous that you can make the stuff if you need a pure soul,” I thought to myself.
“If you even so much as touched, or breathed it in, then all the evil in your soul and body would be vanquished instantaneously! You would die a terribly painful death.”
“Hum. Reason enough to avoid touching it … Then again, am I really so evil?”
“I saw you kill a bunny with your axe the other day… does that answer your question?”
“What!? I was just trying to bring that tree down and the thing walked right where I swung. I didn’t mean to hit it!”
“I’m joking moron…” she snickered. “Believe me. I’m over five hundred years old, have lived multiple life cycles, and seen the horrors and pleasures of the void realm with my own eyes... I think I can tell what’s inside your heart well enough to know that you touching this stuff is not a good idea.
“I expect that you do have the powder with you?”
“I’m keeping it somewhere you can’t accidently find it… With magic I mean… You know, a pocket of temporal alternate reality.”
I gave her a look.
“Seriously, were you educated as a child at all as a child?”
“I can’t recall my childhood, you know that,” I said trying to think back to my first memories.
My mind reached the same blockade that it had each time prior. The earliest of my memories were of the guide and waking up on that island. I have no idea how I came to be there or what happened to me prior. I must have had parents, or friends of some regard? Who was it that put me there? Did I strand myself? Did I cause myself to forget? Why would I have done something like that?... Who else could have? The guide, Brian, knew nothing about where I came from. He said he found me, lying near the beach. Funny thing too, for it was close to a year later that I found a young child on that same shoreline. Where do these people keep coming from? Perhaps the same place I did.
“What are you thinking about?” Faye asked interrupting my thoughts.
“Why, could you hear that?”
“No, I can’t read minds, just, emotions… I could feel the uncertainties coursing through you. Is all well?”
“It’s nothing Faye, don’t worry about me, alright.”
She sigh. “All I ever do is worry about you, moron. If not for me you’d be dead many times over.”
“Actually, Molly, the nurse, seems to be the one who heals me most of the time.”
She sigh. “I trust that you brought the other thing I asked you to, yes?”
“Ah, yeah right,” I said pulling the Clentaminator from its holster across my back. “You have no idea what trouble I had to go through in order to convince the Steam Punker to hand one of these over. Where I wonder does she even get these things? The technological level of this device is well… above most weaponry available to us, since the war that is.”
“It’s not a weapon at all. Don’t you know what this does?”
“It possesses the ability for long ranged distribution of solutions, such as purity and my powder.”
“You’re going to feed it your powder as ammunition? Does it work like that?”
“As long as you had the Knox, the Goblin, modify it properly the yes it should. Did he say that it was prepared according to the specifications that I provided him?”
“Um, yeah. He seemed to have a hard time modifying it though… Hey wait, it just now occurred to me, why can he touch the powder!? He can’t possibly be more pure then I am…”
“He is not a human, or of the corruption, thus it doesn’t affect him in the same way.”
“So basically I’m the only one who can’t touch it?”
“No, the guns dealer Andre, as well as most of the humans you know would be incapable of touching it. Can you even imagine Andre attempting to contact something so pure? I can’t even keep this stuff in the same building as him, else the purity might rub off on his tiny little evil mind.”
“That’s a bad thing?”
“It would kill him…”
“Right… Good to avoid that if at all possible. We need his underground trading network to smuggle in the majority of our weapons onto my island. Without him, I can’t imagine how else I’d come about getting my hands on military grade technology.”
“What about your close friend, the Admiral?” she hissed.
“I’m not technically part of his military ranking system, so, giving me weapons wouldn’t at all sit well with the Council. He’s done enough for me as it is. I’m the one who owes him.”
“Yes, I suspected that was the reason you accepted his ‘orders’ to protect me. Why else would you be here, risking your life for others.”
“Hey… Come now. You make me out to be a villain, much more so then I actually am. I care about my personal interests, yes, however I have concerns for the survival of my race as well.
She didn’t respond.
“Could we please get this operation underway? The sun has risen to a sufficient height. The Eaters have pulled back.” I said uncomfortably. She had a special talent for producing these types of awkward situations.
“Don’t rush me,” she said, poking me in the chest with her middle finger. The energy from her purity burned, like a kiss from a hornet’s stinger. The contradicting energies wanted as much to do with each other as she wanted to do with me.
“Ah! Don’t touch me while I’m wearing this! Your purity stings like a…”
“Yes I’m aware,” she said cutting me off. “How do you think I keep Andre away from me? Rest assured, I suffer from touching your armor as much as you do. Now, get that rope established around those rocks. Tie it nice and tight so that we don’t fall. It’s a long way to the bottom of the canyon.”
I nodded, picking up the rope coil. I walked over to a large outcropping of jagged grey rock in close proximity, which had purple moss growing all over it. The moss twisted towards me as I neared, as though it wanted me to come closer. I wrapped the end of the rope around a sturdy clump of stone and knotted it three times, before tossing the heavy coil over the cliff. It plummeted to the bottom and I could hear it slap loudly against what sounded like water.
“The rope is secure. Let’s hurry, before any worms that might have heard the noise decide to surface.”
She grunted… “This is going to be a long day… Before we go further… Try not to do anything terrible stupid.”
I smiled widely, amused at the thought. “Let’s hope that we go undetected for as long as possible. The last reports of enemy movement in this region suggested that well over three million hostile signatures patrol this segment of the Corruption boarder. While that number will diminish significantly now that it’s becoming day, I don’t much want to face off against those odds.”
“Agreed,” she nodded, “It would also be best that Karrel not become aware of our presence for as long as possible. Once he senses me, he will do all that he can to insure our destruction.”