The young man found himself on the cold hard ground, inside the darkness of a cave, the only source of light being the light coming directly down from a hole in the cavern's ceiling.
"How did I get here?"
He pushed himself off the ground and felt a sharp pain coming from his head.
He instinctively reached for the source of the pain, and felt wetness coming from it. He pulled his hand back and looked at it under the light.
"How did that happen?" He asked himself, looking around the dark cavern. He felt a bit nauseous after seeing his blood, but did his best to shake it off and focus.
He couldn't remember anything. He couldn't recall how he got there, how he hit his head, or even who he was. The only thing he could remember was his name.
He felt his heart sank that he could remember nothing else, but shook off these feelings quickly. Worrying about it now wouldn't get him anywhere. What he needed to do right now was find a way out.
He felt around and found that he was carrying a pack. He opened it up and found food, a weird crystalline stone, and bandages. He smiled to himself, thanking whoever he was for having the forethought to pack bandages.
After treating his wounds, he began to examine the stone, deciding to save the food for later. He looked at it carefully, wondering what it was. He tapped it a few times, and then smacked it against the ground once.
Suddenly the stone began to glow, shining and lighting his way through the darkness of the cave. Now with a light source in hand, Soren decided it was time to venture through the cave, and look for a way out.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed, but he felt lost to begin with, and that feeling had not subsided. But if he stopped now, he may very well stay trapped in the cave forever.
He turned a corner and found a withered skeleton on the ground, a book a few inches away from him.
"Not doing much to inspire confidence there, buddy." Soren remarked to the skeleton. He picked up the book and placed it in the pack, hoping to read it later... he had a feeling if he read it now he would lose hope.
He kept walking, and suddenly he saw a bright light coming from a distance. He felt his heart jumping inside his chest. He was going to make it out! He couldn't help himself; he ran straight for the light.
But it wasn't an exit.
It was a giant crystal, much like the stone he had.
For a moment his heart sank once more, but then he noticed something odd about the crystal.
There was a young woman inside.
He blinked, wondering if the blow to his head was making him see things, but try as he might, he was certain there was a girl inside that crystal.
Soren looked at the girl. She was at least in her late teens, possibly early twenties, with snow white hair cut short in the back and with bangs dangling in the front. She was dressed in a tattered white blouse and a brown ragged skirt. On her left arm was a shackle with a chain wrapped around her arm and she wore a leather gauntlet on her right hand. She was barefoot as well, and on her left shoulder was a strange mark, possibly a tattoo of some kind.
But what truly struck Soren was the look on her face: her eyes were closed, as if she were only asleep, but she had this almost sad expression... almost like she was in pain.
Soren stood there, mesmerized by the girl for a few moments, before coming back to reality. "What am I doing? I need to get out of here."
He was about to walk out when he tripped and fell to the ground, and he looked down and noticed what had tripped him up.
It was a sword, imbedded in the crystal that held the girl. It was an ornate blade, with a curved design suited for cutting, but with indentations in the blade making it easy to catch an opponent's strike. The handle was jet black with a ruby imbedded in the very center of the hilt, and the hilt curved in a way to protect the owner's hand, much like a rapier.
For some reason, Soren found himself drawn to the blade, but hesitated for one second after placing his hand upon it.
What would happen if he drew this sword?
He smiled to himself, shaking his head. He rationalized that having any sort of defense is good to have, since he had no idea what he would encounter down here, and with that, all hesitation left him.
He pulled the sword out of the crystal, and for a brief moment there was silence... and then, the crystal in front of him shattered, exploding away from the girl who rested with it's center.
As the girl fell to the ground, Soren ran up to her and caught her as delicately as he could. He looked at her and noticed that she was alive.
"Hey! Are you okay?!"
The girl didn't respond, she just kept her eyes closed. But Soren noticed the expression on her face had changed: she didn't look like she was in pain anymore, but she had an almost content smile on her face.
For a long moment, he wondered what he should do. Should he try carrying her back to the area with the open ceiling? No, he really shouldn't backtrack. Should he try carrying her to the exit? If he knew where it was, sure, but he didn't, so no. Should he try waking her up?
That seemed to be the only logical thing to do at this point. But how should he go about doing it? It would be rude to scare her, so shaking her or yelling to wake her would be bad.
He tried poking her in the cheek. "Hey... hey, wake up, please."
He saw her move a little, but she didn't open her eyes. He tried again. "Wake up, please."
Again, she didn't wake. He decided it was time for a new tactic, and started to make buzzing sounds, while hovering his finger right above her. "Bzzzzzz... Bzzzzzz... buzz buzz." He then very lightly touched her brow, and almost as quick as lightning, the girl's hand shot forth and slammed into his finger. A little too hard, though.
"Owwww!" Soren grabbed his finger, nursing it carefully.
The girl sat up, yawning and stretching. She then opened her eyes for the first time.
Her irises were opal white, a far brighter shade than the whites of her eyes. It gave the girl an almost haunting beauty to her, despite how she was dressed. Soren sat there in silence as the girl stood up and wobbled a bit as she tried to balance herself.
"Where am I?" The girl finally asked, her voice ringing like a glass bell. She then finally looked at Soren, and in the darkness it almost looked like her white eyes were glowing. "Who are you?"
"My name is Soren... and that's all I know." He replied, before asking his own question. "Who are you?"
"My name is Aria and..." she cut herself off, grabbing her head. "I... don't remember anything else."
"You... don't remember who you are?" Soren asked.
"No... All I can remember is my name."
Just like me, Soren thought to himself, smiling without realizing it.
Aria blinked, looking at Soren. "Why are you smiling?"
"I honestly have no idea."
This produced a chuckle out of Aria. "You're weird."
"Right back at ya." Soren retorted, picking up the silver blade that had been embedded in Aria's crystal prison a moment ago. "Does this sword jog your memory?"
Aria looked at it, a bit nervous. She then reached out and picked it out of Soren's hands. She gazed at it for a moment before uttering a single word: "Rapture."
"What does that mean?"
"This sword... is called Rapture." Aria stated.
"Are you remembering something?"
"Maybe..." Aria said, her voice drifting off, as if she were now lost in thought.
After a moment of silence, Soren finally spoke up. "Anyway, let's find a way out of here."
"Right." Aria replied.
Soren and Aria wandered in the dark caverns, looking for a way out. Suddenly they both saw sparkling out of the corner of their eye, and headed towards it, hoping that it would lead them to some clue out.
What they found instead was a treasure pile... with a dragon's skeleton sitting nearby.
"That inspires so much confidence." Aria muttered.
"I said the same thing when I found that dead explorer." Soren responded.
"Oh? Did he have anything useful on him?"
"I don't know. I did pick up his journal though. Haven't read it yet..."
"Then let's read it now. I mean, we've been walking for a while now, so let's take a break and see what the guy wrote down before he died."
Soren, while he was against the idea when he first picked it up, now didn't really see the harm. The only thing in this cave that could have caused concern was the dragon, and it has long been dead.
Soren opened the first page.
"This is the journal of Jericho Godwall. If I am found dead, please return this journal to my family in the small village of Ixion."
"Great way to start your journal." Soren remarked.
"At least he cares about his family... I wonder how long he's been down here?" Aria asked.
"I wonder how long we've been down here..." Soren answered, before returning to reading the journal. For the most part it seemed like a rather standard story, him leaving his village and saying goodbye to his family in search of riches, coming across the cave and wandering in. The next few entries were of interest.
"I found a treasure trove! Piles of gold, silver, and gemstones that would put the king of Agharta to shame! However, I dare not approach it just yet. The dragon still slumbers, yet I am too scared to go near it."
"The dragon was alive when he wrote this." Soren looked at Aria. "Do you think there's more than one?"
Aria shook her head. "No... while I have little memory of myself, I do know a thing or two about dragons. And they are fiercely territorial. They would never share their mountain with another dragon."
"Then... maybe it died of old age?"
"Dragons don't just die, Soren..." Aria uttered the words darkly. "I think something killed it."
"There are deep gashes in these bones." Aria pointed out. "Whatever did this must have been strong... strong enough to penetrate a dragon's hide."
"I knew reading this journal was a bad idea." Soren sighed before returning to reading it.
"I found the most wondrous thing. A giant glittering glowstone! But the strange thing was there seemed to be a young girl inside. Dressed in tattered rags and bearing the mark of a thrall. I wonder who she was. But I probably won't get any answers out of her as she is now."
"He's referring to you in this journal entry." Soren looked at her, and she seemed lost in thought again, staring at the mark on her shoulder.
"'The mark of a thrall'? What does that mean?" Aria asked.
"We'll ask somebody when we get out of here." Soren noticed there was one journal entry left. "I just know I'm gonna regret this."
"I came back to the dragon's lair, and it was dead, being eaten by a giant eyeless serpent. I have heard stories of the dread Urocubus, the natural enemy of the dragon, but I never thought they really existed! I need to get out of here before it notices me. It may be eyeless, but I may as well be in this dark cave!"
The page had a blood splatter on it.
"Oh boy." Soren shuddered. "We should get out of here."
"Maybe we should take some of this treasure before we leave." Aria stated.
"It doesn't belong to us. We should just go."
"Technically it doesn't belong to anyone anymore, so that means it's up for grabs. And besides, we have no idea what awaits us outside this cave, so taking some of this may help us." Aria reasoned. As much as Soren wanted to argue, she had a point. He sighed and shrugged.
"Fine, but don't take too long. We have no idea when that vile creature will rear its ugly head." Soren shined the glowstone he was carrying and his heart sank when he saw something that looked out of place.
Scales. Bronze scales with a metallic shine.
Soren grabbed Aria by the hand and made a run for it, and he could hear the serpent slithering quickly behind them. He kept running until finally he reached a dead end.
"No!" He shouted, before turning to face the Urocubus. The glowstone illuminated the caverns enough for him to get a good look at the dragon slaying serpent. It was about the same size as the dragon, with bronze metallic scales and a crested head. It lacked eyes, instead having fins on the side of its head. A sickly green liquid dripped from its mouth that smelled awful and left no doubt that it burned to the touch.
His mind froze with fear as the Urocubus reared back, no doubt ready to lunge at both him and Aria. Suddenly he felt a shove and he was knocked to the floor just as the Urocubus attacked. He heard a shriek of pain and saw that Aria had taken the attack for him.
"Aria!" Soren shouted, finally snapping out of the fear that had gripped him.
Aria, still in the beast's jaws, shook her head, as if in an effort to keep herself from passing out. She gripped her sword tightly in her hands and brought it down upon the creature's head, the sword piercing through its armored hide like butter. The creature opened its mouth in agony, letting out an unholy wail, and Aria slid out of its mouth, falling to the cold cavern floor below, Soren immediately rushing to her side.
"Aria, are you alright?" He asked her as he looked at the wounds. She had been bitten deeply. He needed to find a way out of this cave and treat her wounds as quickly as possible.
The Urocubus, still in pain from the blow Aria dealt it, writhed in the air and began to slam its body against the cavern's walls, causing them to shake and suddenly the wall behind Soren and Aria fell, revealing the light of day. Soren wasted no time, as he scooped up the wounded girl in his arms and ran for it, praying the demon serpent wouldn't follow. Fortunately for him, the Urocubus despise going out into well lit places, so it remained in the cavern, nursing its wounds.
Aria slowly stirred from her slumber. "What happened?" She asked aloud, looking around. She closed her eyes and thought to herself.
"That's right. We were attacked by that monster... but... how am I still alive?" She looked down to where she had been bitten and saw that she was wearing bandages under her clothes.
"I-I treated your wounds." Soren finally spoke up from behind the tree, his face flushed. "Had a little trouble at first but I managed."
"What do you mean by 'trouble'?" Aria asked, confused.
"It doesn't matter." Soren stated. He opened his pack and pulled out an apple. "You need to keep your strength up. Please eat."
Aria nodded, and took a bite out of the apple. It was sweet and juicy and the texture was just right. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Soren smiled at her.
Aria continued to eat the apple until all that remained was the core. She was still hungry, but it was still appreciated. And there was another thing that was bothering her.
"What are we going to do now?"
"Well, I'm going to look for the town Ixion, mentioned in Jericho's journal. His family at least deserves to know what happened to him. I'll play it by ear after that." Soren stood up, and began to walk away, before turning around and facing her. "You're free to join me if you like, but it's entirely your choice."
Aria blinked, processing the words she just heard. "Free?"
"Yep, free to join me, or free to go your own way."
It was then that Soren noticed Aria was crying. "Hey! What's wrong?"
"Nothing." She smiled through her tears. "I don't know why, but hearing those words just made me so happy that I couldn't help myself."
Soren just stared at her for a moment before letting out a soft chuckle. "You are truly one of a kind, Aria." He reached out his hand. "Do you wish to join me on my journey?"
Aria grabbed his hand and nodded. "Yes, I would love to."
And thus did the two of them began their journey. But what sort of road do they walk, and what dangers await them? And will they ever discover who they truly are?
That, I'm afraid, is a story for another time.
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