The Story of Azaleth
Luke gasped as he sat at the trunk of the tree. His arms and legs hung limply at his side with his mind hazy with weariness. He staggered against the tree and slowly stood up, feeling the sun against his skin. He looked around, searching if anybody was around. After all, his being a dryad always got him into trouble. If someone found out that he was a dryad, he would end up having to fight his way out of being kidnapped.
“I’m gonna need a little light,” Luke gasped as his human skin shed away to reveal his true dryad form. “A little light and water never hurt.”
He walked away from the tree and stood on the ground, feeling the sunbeams that were tangled amongst the trees massage his skin. The cool winds from the forest soothed his exhaustion and his vigour away while he removed his boots to let the soles of his feet touch the ground. The moist soil greeted his feet kindly as the water from the soil began to flow into his body.
“Phew,” Luke sighed. He then looked up and smiled. “Thank you, Mother.”
The trees swayed with the winds, whispering. There is no need to thank me, my son. You are my child.
“Cap always told me to say thank you when someone does something nice for me.”
The winds and the trees giggled with a song. Cap must have taught you well.
“Cap’s his nickname. His real name is Brandon Hawthorne, sworn captain of the Warhammer.”
I see. Humans are quite peculiar, no?
“They truly are. They are rather odd.”
Odd? Why would you say that, my son?
Luke shrugged. “From the people I’ve come across, they don’t believe that good and evil can exist within a person. Others believe that their souls cannot be forgiven for the atrocities they have committed in the past. Some people are mean but many times, their noble intentions are misplaced.”
That is true. Sometimes, noble intentions may seem bad simply because it is in the wrong direction.
“But I’ve learned that being bad or evil can be subjective depending on who looks. But there are just some acts that cannot be permitted.”
The forest laughed with delight. You have learned a lot, my son.
“I don’t think I’ve learned enough though,” Luke admitted mildly. He smiled. “Cap promised me that one day I get to see people who are just like me. I’ve always wondered – what am I really like? How are the people like me like? Do they sleep the same way I do? Do they bask in the morning sun like I do? Are they able to hear the thoughts and voices of the animals just like I do? There’s just so much to learn.”
Even after Libraria?
“Books cannot teach me everything. They show me words and painted a picture with them. But to be there and see everything doesn’t just affect the mind but the soul.”
You’ve grown well, my son. Your father would have been every bit of proud as I am. But be aware, do not be naive to things. Things may not always appear what they seem.
“Well,” Luke chuckled. He scratched the back of his neck sheepishly. “I was just born five years ago.”
And those five years ago have been very fruitful.
Suddenly, Luke felt a sudden disturbance. The ground trembled and he could hear the ground beneath him crying. He staggered back in surprise as the mana around him began to smell. A putrid stench filled the air and overwhelmed the once dewy smell of the forest. He coughed and gasped, falling onto the forest floor. He managed to stop his face from kissing the dirt with his palms planted firmly into the soil. His head throbbed as if a knife had been jammed into his skull. He gasped and groaned in pain with images flooding his mind.
Green fires consuming an entire city.
People crying in desperation as they were slaughtered.
Blood splattering against the stone buildings.
Magic spells being exchanged between enemies and friends.
A woman cradling a baby in her arms while staring in horror as one of her infant’s brains had been dashed on the wall.
A cry of despair and helplessness as a woman stood by a withered book with a hooded shadow standing behind her.
Burn them all.
Cleanse them of their sins.
Burn them from the face of Zemlya!
Luke gasped as he was thrown back to reality, staggering and falling back. His heart pounded and throbbed against his chest. Sweat poured down his face and his mana spiked and jumped erratically inside him. What was that, he pondered and looked around. There was nothing in the forest save for him. He looked up into the trees and saw nothing before standing up.
“Mother,” he asked. “What was that? What was all that I saw?”
That, my son, was the war waged on Azaleth by the Knights of Madness. The knights of Queen Julia.
Luke’s blood froze. “Th-the Mad Queen?”
It was an act of desperation to save her overwhelmed city. The Queen of Azaleth invoked a spell so powerful that not only did it destroy the Knights of Madness but also robbed the citizens of Azaleth of their humanity.
“Their humanity? What do you mean?”
No longer having all of their humanity, they were condemned then as the one creature that had survived the burning and the damage. Their two legs were then split – not once – but twice on each with their appetites being less human as days passed.
“They turned into humanoid spiders,” Luke murmured. Realization struck him like a thunderbolt. “The people of Arachnos village! They’re – !”
Yes, the people of Arachnos are descendants of the once great race of that was Azaleth. The poor queen and her children received most of the damage. Her 12 sons and 12 daughters all condemned to have the grotesque appearance of the creature they deemed as a sign of calamity.
The dryad’s eyes widened. The queen had twelve sons and twelve daughters?! Astonishment flooded through him. That would explain why the village managed to keep themselves alive! With a lineage that expansive, they were able to preserve their race. But why would they detest magic? Why had Sandor been so hateful of magic? Their ancestors were wielders of magic!
It is not that they hate magic. But they fear its use.
“But why?” Luke shook his head. “Mana and magic are the sources of life in Zemlya. Denying your magic is like denying yourself.”
It is because it was he who had persuaded the queen to unleash the magic known as The Calamity. It was also he who made them forget their magic to keep the power in his hands.
“Who is this he? Do I even know him?”
Yes, you do, my son. And your friends are dangerously walking into his lair where he intends them to lure them as preys to his web of lies, deceit, and blood.
“Was it Sandor?”
Sandor is merely a victim. A pawn in his game. For the man who has tricked you knows of what you saw the night before. For he is also the one who welcomed you with open arms just like –
“Just like how a spider lures in the fly,” Luke murmured. The Forest’s words made Luke’s blood run cold. Brandon and Samantha were walking straight into a trap! “I have to find them! I have to find them now!”
Brandon found himself exhausted.
Fighting a beast that was literally ten times his size was not funny. He could barely get a shot in without worrying about the legs that were swinging to and fro and that could possibly knock him down headfirst into the abyss below. Brandon gasped and shook off his daze as he blocked another incoming attack with his gun blade before slicing off a segment of its leg. The colossal spider shrieked in agony before swinging one of its arms at him. The pirate leapt over the arm before landing on it, running on its outstretched arm as fast as he could.
“Fuck,” he gasped and panted for air. He looked up only to see shots of poison streaming towards him, groaning. “You’re kidding me!”
He drew out both gun blades and spun them, whirling them as fast as he could while deflecting the shots coming at him. Some were melted against the Neptunian steel and the others were flung away into the abyss below. He continued running while keeping up his deflects before he finally reached the shoulder of the giant.
“Alright, time to fight this bastard Luke-style,” Brandon smirked.
With one swift swing, he cleaved into the giant’s shoulder and left a large gash as he ran towards the other side. The spider-giant roared in agony as it tried to squash the pirate in his palm. Brandon yelped as he dodged the other hand trying to grab him before he sliced its fingers clean off. Blood splattered against his body as he jumped up onto his ear and climbed on the spider’s head. Its shrieks echoed and thundered throughout the cavern as he rolled and dodged many of the creature’s attempts to squash him.
“Well good morning, good sir,” Brandon sneered. He stood on top of its ear arch. “Fancy weather we're having?”
Enraged by Brandon’s comment, the giant humanoid spider swung its fist at him as Brandon leapt up. The creature shrieked as its fist knocked into its own temple, dazing it and causing it to stagger. Brandon snickered until he saw purple fireballs flying towards it and barraging the creature in its face. His eyes widened when he suddenly found Samantha throwing more fireballs at it in rapid succession.
“I HATE SPIDERS!” She wailed. She hurled more fireballs. “Burn them! Burn them all!”
He yelped and dodged a fireball nearly took off his head. “Sam! Watch it!”
“BURN ALL THE SPIDERS!” was all he heard from the panicking princess. “BURN THEM ALL!”
Brandon groaned; so much for being calm and confident in combat. Then again, he shrugged. It was Samantha’s first time fighting a creature so huge and in the dark. And, it just had to take the shape of her worst nightmare. The giant humanoid spider started getting its footing back and charged towards Samantha. Seeing that its target had switched, Brandon quickly put himself in front of the spider-giant’s big beady eyes.
“Oh wow, someone’s dreadfully overcompensating,” Brandon hollered and grinned mockingly in front of its eyes. “Not enough for anybody, eh?”
The giant spider humanoid roared and tried to squash Brandon only for the pirate to jump out of the way. Brandon clucked his tongue in annoyance as he slid down its back with its fingers trying to grab him. Brandon’s eyes widened at the sight of the end of the slide. Quickly reversing his grip on his sword, Brandon then jammed his gunblade into its back. The giant spider humanoid shrieked as Brandon drove his blade downward, trying to slow down his fall. A large gash appeared from its shoulder going down to its back and Brandon found himself dangling fifty feet up in the air with the pebbles and small pieces of flesh falling into the abyss below him.
“Damn, I’m not going to be in another chapter if I die like that,” Brandon whistled. He then drew out his other gun blade and buried it into its flesh, hiking his way up. “Time to put my arms into good use!”
He grunted and hiked his way up, hauling his body up with his upper body strength. He could feel the strain in the muscles as sweat poured down his temple. The last time he did something this strenuous was when Luke and he were trying to escape a cannibalistic tribe. Fireballs roared and exploded over his head as some crashed into the creature and sent it staggering backwards. He yelped as his grip loosened on his sword, nearly throwing him into the abyss.
“Well, this is wonderful,” Brandon groaned. He hollered over the explosions. “Sam!”
Unfortunately, he heard nothing but the fireballs continuously crashing against the creature.
“Shit, now this is just great,” Brandon groaned. He shook his head. “She can’t fucking hear me.”
He hauled himself up higher as the strain traveled down all the way down to his abdominals. He could feel the burning in his fibres as he made his way up. A gasp popped from his throat and more sweat poured down his face with his body struggling to make its way to the top. Before he knew it, he suddenly saw the cavern ceiling crack up from above him. Brandon’s eyes widened in terror as he hauled himself up faster, trying desperately to avoid the debris that fell towards him.
“Shit, shit, shit,” was all that ran through Brandon’s head through that one moment. Another boulder flew towards him as he narrowly managed to dodge. “Fuck!”
He winced as his palms were now sweaty and loosened his grip on his gunblades. The pirate’s heart sank as he began plummeting down to the darkness below. Brandon howled as he fell faster and faster as he tried to twist his body in mid-air to remove his coat. Gusts of wind blasted and tossed him around until a root suddenly grabbed him. His eyes widened when he looked up and saw Luke standing on another root.
“Need a lift?” Luke beamed.
Brandon shook his head as relief flooded him, laughing airily. “Fuck, I thought I was going to die.”
“What kind of First Mate would I be if I let you die?”
“A shitty one.”
“Yes and I prefer not to be the stinky one either.”
Luke waved his hand as the root carried them up towards a platform nearby. Brandon exhaled in relief before tumbling down on the ground and landing flat on his back, gasping and panting in exhaustion. Luke stepped down next to him and offered his hand which the captain took gratefully to help him up. It was only then that Brandon noticed that Luke wasn’t shrivelling up. Brandon’s eyes widened in astonishment.
“Luke! You’re not – !” He gasped.
The small boy shrugged. “Dead? Sad? A vegetable? A cabbage?”
“You’re not withering!”
“Yeah, cool right?”
Brandon shook his head. “What did you do!?”
Luke pulled out a pouch and revealed a bag of mushrooms inside. “I ate one of these.”
“Those are Deathcap Mushrooms!”
“Luke, you fucking poisoned yourself!”
The dryad frowned at him. “Cap, I’m not human. I’m technically a plant, remember?”
“I don’t get poisoned easily by natural venoms. Most especially if they’re fungi.”
It was only then it hit Brandon. Luke was a dryad and being a dryad allowed him to take on the properties of most plants that he either ingested or touched. As long as he knew what the plant was, he could easily assimilate its properties! He remembered the time Luke had taken on the properties of seaweed only to be nearly washed away when the high tide came in.
“Oh right,” Brandon shook his head with a chuckle. “You can copy plants.”
Luke nodded. “Yeah and that’s how I got here. I noticed on my way down that there were a lot of Deathcap Mushrooms. So, I took a few and ate them. I didn’t know they had some game-y taste though.”
“We usually roast them so they don’t taste like rotten sausages.”
“Oh, that explains a lot.”
Brandon nodded. “Thanks for being here, mate. Needed someone reliable.”
Luke grinned. “Aww, you missed me.”
“Yeah, I missed shooting you in the head.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.”
Before the two pirates could catch up, they heard Samantha screaming. “BRANDON, HELP!”
Luke then turned towards the large creature before them. His eyes widened in admonishment. “That’s the creature I fought yesterday!” He gasped. “B-but how did it – ?”
“Stay hidden without making a ruckus?” Brandon shook his head. “You tell me.”
“Never mind. We have to go find Sam! She’s going to faint if we leave her alone! She’ll get killed out there!”
“Meh, I think she’ll last.”
“What are you talking about!? She’s screaming and wailing!”
“She’s been throwing fireballs in rapid fire ever since we got here!”
Luke raised an eyebrow. “She can make fireballs now?”
“Surprised? So was I,” Brandon shrugged as he bolted towards Samantha. “Besides, I want another shot at Spider Giant over there. I wasn’t finished with him yet!”
Luke nodded until he realized he had something to tell Brandon. “Cap, wait! I have something to tell you!”
“Can it wait?!”
“ – If it can then, tell me later!”
Luke groaned before bolting after his captain. “Yes sir.”
Samantha wailed as the creature got closer. She could feel her throat running dry and her mana burbling hotter and faster inside her. More fireballs formed around her as they zoomed towards the angry raging spider-giant. Fear filled her as her stomach turned around in knots. Her feet froze where she stood as her palms became clammy. Her voice shut itself in her throat as it refused to help her make a cry for help. She yelped and blasted more fireballs as its hand reached out to grab her.
“LEAVE ME ALONE!” Samantha screamed.
The amount of fireballs doubled as it swirled and converged on its palm. As the hand got closer, she shut her eyes as the fireballs died out. She shuddered and trembled in fear as the hand slowly closed in to grab her. Was this how it was going to end? In the hands of an angry spider-giant thing? She shook her head. That wasn’t how she wanted to die!
Suddenly, the mana roiled inside her. Her eyes widened when the mana from the city and her own meshed together. It swirled and burned inside her as it fired from every fibre from her body. The glyphs around her glowed brighter as the one on the floor shimmered with a beam of light, swirling around her. She gasped as more power flowed into her hands. Where was this all coming from? Feeling the raging power, Samantha finally gathered her composure and directed the blast towards it.
“Get away from me!”
The blast shuddered and shook the cavern with such tremendous force that the beast staggered back. Her eyes widened with amazement when she suddenly saw more vines shooting from the ceiling of the cavern whipping and snapping at the beast knocking it back. She looked up only to see Luke in his full dryad form – with his leafy appearance and mismatched eyes.
“Luke!” She cried out. “I’m so happy to see you!”
Luke nodded and saluted the princess with a boyish grin. “Sorry for the late entrance, princess. Had to do a little research!” He then hollered. “Cap, take your chance! He’s yours!”
Samantha then turned to the ground where Brandon burst out from one of the buildings and cleaved the tendons on the knees. The creature wailed as it staggered back with the vines punching it farther and farther until it reached the edge. Seeing that it was from the edge, Samantha then gathered all the energy into her pendant. Her eyes narrowed when she hollered.
The blast shot out from her glowing pendant, knocking the creature right off its feet and sent it tumbling off the cliff. It wailed and cried out in agony as it tried to attack once more only for its head to slam into one of the cliffs and the buildings. Its grip slipped as it desperately tried to take hold on one of the towers, causing the other towers to break in its hands. Unable to grab anything, the giant spider humanoid roared and screamed in terror as it began to plummet into the darkness below.
Samantha gasped. She did it! She actually managed to fight a large spider-like creature! Even with her fear staring straight at her face, she managed to blast it. She shakily made her way towards the cliff, meeting up with Brandon and Luke only to see white lights rising into the air from the abyss below.
“Wow,” Luke gasped. “What is that?”
Samantha shook her head. “I’ve only read this in books. It’s called the Rain of Souls. This is the path souls take when they’ve been released.”
Much to their surprise, the white lights swirled and formed a young man standing before them. He appeared to be in his twenties, handsome with bright red hair. He had a gruff look but his eyes had a kind gaze in them. A small smile curved up his lips as tears fell down his eyes.
“Goodbye, sister.” Was all the spirit said.
With his last words, the spirit vanished and ascended straight into the skies past the cavern ceilings that hung over the fallen empire of Azaleth.