- “Amnesia? I guess that means I’m the protagonist.”
“Get up.” It was a woman’s voice. “Get up or I’ll kill you.”
The man felt something cool against the base of his neck. He opened his eyes to a rather tall woman, probably just under six feet, with a blade extending towards him out of view under his chin. He looked down, then back up at the woman, then back down at the blade.
“What?” he asked casually.
“State your name and business.”
“Name: Bastien. Business...” he paused to think for a moment. “I suppose my business is sleeping.”
“What do you mean why? I was tired, obviously,” Bastien carefully pinched the blade with his left hand and pulled it away from his throat. The woman jerked her arm, cutting the tip of Bastien’s finger as she re positioned her sword at the base of his throat.
“I mean why here? Of all the places to nap, why here?”
“What’s wrong with here?”
“You’re either blind, dumb, or guilty,” the woman pressed the point into his neck just enough to draw blood. Bastien’s eyes darted back and forth, taking in his surroundings. He was lying in a bed among the charred rubble of what was once a small building. The walls had all been smashed and the roof was nothing more than a few scorched wooden beams which let the sunlight bathe the blanket of ash that covered the floor. What looked like the remains of a bookshelf lay scattered among a small stone platform which would have been the kitchen. Through a hole in the wall Bastien noticed that there were many more structures that had suffered a similar fate.
“Wait, you think I did this?” Bastien puzzled. “No. No, no no. I was sleeping.”
“That’s it? That’s your defense?” the woman allowed a smile to briefly grace her lips. “What a pleasant surprise. It’s been a while since I got to kill someone.”
“Whoa, whoa, wait!” Bastien scrambled to propel himself backwards onto the floor and away from his impending demise, but the woman’s sword remained at his neck as she followed his movements. “I-I was here, sleeping. I didn’t do anything! I swear.”
“What were you doing before that?” her voice remained calm. “Speak quickly.”
“I don’t...know...” Bastien replied hesitantly. “I just remember waking up. That’s it.”
“Okay. I don’t believe you,” the woman’s eyes were burning bright orange with rage. “I’d ask you again, but you’d give me the same answer, so rather, tell me why your life is important.”
“I don’t really know. I don’t remember anything...maybe I did do this, but maybe I tried to stop it. Could you really live with yourself if you harmed an innocent man?”
“Yes,” the woman responded without pause. She withdrew her blade from Bastien’s neck and lifted it to her face. Her tongue slithered out from between her pristine lips and caressed the blood. Her body shivered visibly as she did so. “But I won’t.”
“T-thanks?” Bastien hadn’t really taken a chance to look at the woman until now. She had removed a small handkerchief from a leather pouch about the size of a head, which was firmly secured to her waist, and began meticulously wiping down her silver sword. The blade was bright, almost glowing, with the words ‘If you can read this, it’s already too late’ elegantly engraved along its length. The tip was curved almost into a hook and the base tapered into a hand guard that wound around the ivory handle and intertwined with her fingers. As she sheathed her weapon, Bastien noticed that the gauntlet on her right hand was almost three times the size of her other one. Her armor was composed of thick interlocking steel plates with silver floral detailing along the joints. There was a circular emblem on the chest piece which vaguely resembled a moon, but had floral patterns similar to the rest of her armor in and around it. She had a thin face with well-defined cheekbones. Her nose was straight, almost to a point, with a bump on the bridge. Her ruby hair was arranged in a tight bun that rested atop her head. “Why are you here? And what’s your name, I guess.”
“Valkyrie Randgris, Head of the Royal Guard, sworn protectors of the Divine King, Leinhardt,” Valkyrie took a knee, placed her hand over her chest, and bowed her head as she rehearsed her title. She stood up again and lowered her hand. “You may refer to me as Lord Randgris. There were reports that a dragon destroyed this village. I was sent here to investigate.”
“Just you?” Bastien stood up and attempted to brush the soot off of his ragged clothes. “They sent one person to fight a dragon?”
“It takes but one soul to dispel a myth,” Randgris reached up and released her bun causing her hair to erupt over her shoulders. “Dragons aren’t real.”
“So... Who do you think did this?”
“Oh, right,” Bastien nervously ran his fingers through his ragged ashen hair. “What does that mean, exactly?”
“You’re my prisoner for the time being,” Randgris replied as she walked through the remains of the collapsed doorway. “You’ll follow me until the time when I’ve decided if you’re guilty.”
“If you try to leave, I’ll kill you. If you try to assault me, I’ll kill you,” Randgris interrupted. “If you do anything that I do not approve of, I will kill you.”
“That’s very reassuring,” Bastien reluctantly followed her outside, choosing to step over the demolished wall instead. The pungent smell of burnt wood lingered in the air. “Assuming I didn’t do this, who or what would be your next guess?”
“See any bodies?”
Bastien kicked over a few roasted beams as he quickly scanned the area. “No.”
“Usually bandits leave communities alive, for the most part, and use them as a sort of renewable resource. The King’s disciples are the only group known to slaughter towns; however, they leave bodies,” Randgris allowed herself to release a reluctant sigh. “Which leads me to believe this is the work of monsters. I suppose it’s possible a band of goblins took the corpses, but why would you be left unscathed?”
“These buildings look like they were smashed. Aren’t goblins rather small?”
“Yeah, and there aren’t a lot of creatures that can produce fire unassisted,” Randgris remarked as she knelt down and lifted some soot to her nose. She took a deep breath and held it in her lungs for a moment. “It reeks of bile. As far as I’m aware of, there’s only one creature large enough to smash buildings that can produce flames. It must be the work of a chimera.”
“That’s the three headed thing, right? Goat, lion, snake?” Bastien asked uncertainly.
“Almost. Goat, lion, salamander. I didn’t think they still existed, but nothing else could leave footprints like these,” Randgris remarked as she traced her hand along the inside of a large paw print
“What about these smaller ones?”
Randgris glanced over to Bastien, who was crouched down pointing at the ground. There were tiny footprints around most of the collapsed walls.
“Perhaps goblins were involved after all,” Randgris pondered. “Maybe it wasn’t a chimera after all. I have heard stories about goblins taming small animals. I suppose it’s not unreasonable that some sort of goblin savant could tame something like a bear.”
“The goblins took the bodies then, yeah?” Bastien stated through his question. “So, what, you’re going to report back now?”
“No, that would be a waste of time. I can handle a few measly gobbies,” Randgris failed at her attempt to sound cute. “Besides, you can shield me from their sticks and stones.”
“Damn,” Bastien groaned. “I was hoping you’d just let me be on my way.”
“On your way where?” Randgris’ question hit his ears like a knife. “You’ve got no idea who you are or where you’re going. Unless you’ve been lying to me.”
“No, no, you’re right,” Bastien replied apologetically with his hands raised in front of him. “I’d probably just wander around and die anyways. It’d be better for me if the last thing I saw was the face of a beautiful woman.”
“Or a goblin’s ass,” Randgris spat as she grabbed Bastien by the arm and pulled him in her direction. The pair began to follow the tracks out of the devastated village into a field. The sun was high in the sky and small mountains were visible in the distance. The field was open and the grass was green. White weeds speckled the plains, sending a sour scent into the air.
“We’re going to slay these things, right?”
“But I don’t have a weapon...”
“You don’t think I’ll need one? What if I get attacked?”
“Stay out of my way and you’ll be fine.”
“How many goblins usually run in a pack?” Bastien inquired.
“The proper term is horde and usually around a hundred, sometimes two.”
Bastien was silent for a moment, allowing the information to sink in. “What you’re saying is that we’re going to be walking directly into what we can only assume is the hive, or lair, or domain or whatever the proper term is, of about one to two hundred small, angry humanoids that very likely have at least one trained bear at their disposal, and you want me to be unarmed?!”
“Correct,” Randgris brushed her hair over her shoulders. “It’s a lair, by the way.”
“Since I’m obviously not along to help, can I just wait outside?”
“Any particular reason?”
“You could run off.”
“Right. So, what if one of these goblins comes at me? You’ll deal with it?”
“Hit it. It really isn’t hard.”
Bastien released a long sigh. The duo was nearing the modest mountain, which had a small, jagged hole in the base that was lit with crude torches. The repugnant odor of death hung in the air.
“You mentioned the King’s disciples earlier, didn’t you?” Bastien asked. “Like, the Divine King’s disciples?”
“The Cockroach King’s disciples,” Randgris replied with disgust. “He thinks he’s the king of scoundrels, when really he’s the king of rot. He lives in filth, calls the sewers his castle.”
“Wouldn’t it be easy to capture him, then?” Bastien inquired.
“He’s constantly expanding the sewers, making it very difficult to navigate. Not to mention that he’s practically got an army down there,” Randgris explained as the couple approached the opening in the mountain. There was a single goblin posted at the entrance who was sleeping slumped against the wall.
“Is that normal? Just one?” Bastien asked. “I always think a lookout should be two people at the very least.”
“Goblins are stupid. That being said, no, it’s not normal. I suppose it’s possible they’re celebrating their successful raid.”
“Why would someone build a village this close to a goblin lair?” Bastien whispered as Randgris approached the sleeping goblin.
“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that,” Randgris reached out and grabbed the goblin by the throat with her right hand, lifting it into the air. A slight smile peaked out from her lips while the creature squirmed and struggled as it gasped for air. “Maybe this is new.”
“Why is one of your gauntlets larger than the other?”
“Oh, oh, oh! I’m glad you asked,” Randgris’ face lit up as she tossed the lifeless corpse to the ground. “Perhaps you’ll get to see in the cave! Oh, that reminds me, don’t speak another word until I tell you to.”
Bastien nodded in compliance and followed Randgris into the mouth of the cave. The pathway was damp and littered with stalactites, giving the feeling that they were climbing into the mouth of an enormous beast. The pair wandered carefully through the broad passage, listening for any signs of life. They passed many crude drawings scratched into the wall of what appeared to be goblins slaying animals. They heard noises approaching them from within the cave. Two goblins rounded the corner, grunting and groaning at each other in a primitive language. One goblin stopped about ten feet away from Randgris, but the other kept walking and talking until it bumped into her. They both turned to run, but Randgris was upon them with lightning speed. She grabbed one by the head and crushed its skull with her oversized gauntlet. She leaped towards the second goblin and unsheathed her sword, splitting it in half with one swift motion. Randgris cleaned her blade and put it away, then beckoned for Bastien to follow. Bastien took a moment to collect himself, then caught up with her through a brisk jog, making sure to give the corpses a wide berth. The pair continued through the cave, eventually coming to a fork.
“Left, or right?” Randgris asked.
Bastien nodded left. Randgris ventured right, with Bastien following close behind. The couple stopped at the entrance to a moderately sized room. There were three rusted iron cages on either side filled with rabid wolves. A bucket of flesh sat beside each cage. There were two additional exits, one between each set of cages. From his position at the entrance, Bastien could see what looked like human arms sprawling out from the doorway to his left. A single goblin was stumbling haphazardly around the room dragging an awkwardly large sword for his size.
“Kill it and I’ll let you have a weapon.”
“With my bare hands?”
Bastien carefully approached the seemingly intoxicated goblin head on. It took longer than he was expecting for the goblin to finally notice him. It stumbled towards Bastien, struggling to lift the rusted sword over its head. When it finally did, the goblin leaned forward a bit, allowing gravity to assist his swing. Bastien simply grabbed the sword and took it from the goblin, then smashed it in the face with the side of the blade, knocking it unconscious.
“Well done, I suppose,” Randgris complimented as she grabbed the sword out of his hands. With her oversized gauntlet, she pinched the blade of the rusted sword and ran her fingers down to the base, stripping away the rust on the edge of the sword. She did the same to the opposite side as well, then handed it back to Bastien. “This is your prize.”
“Great,” Bastien sarcastically remarked, giving his newfound weapon a few test swings. It had a lot of weight to it, but otherwise fit him perfectly.
“Shall we continue?” Randgris asked rhetorically with her hand extended. Bastien gently brushed her hand away and continued along beside her, resting his sword on his shoulder.
“What were those wolves for?”
“I don’t know,” Randgris hesitantly responded. “This is very strange. Even with a hobgoblin to guide them, they would never keep that many animals.”
“So, you think someone is leading them?”
The duo rounded a corner to find an enormous banquet hall filled with rambunctious little red humanoids. There were enormous kegs filled with goblin mead on both sides of the chamber which the goblins were fighting over. Several large tables were arranged hastily in the center of the room with no real order to their positioning. A few of the goblins were smashing their hands and whatever other implements they could get a hold of onto some pots that they had looted from the village to create something that resembled music. The floors were covered in a mess of mismatched carpets and blankets with gold coins strewn about. Goblins were swinging from the chandeliers causing the light in the chamber to flicker. The goblins were too busy gallivanting to notice Bastien and Randgris.
“Should we-” Bastien didn’t have time to finish his question. Randgris had already drawn her sword and was waist deep in goblin corpses. Bastien followed suit, although in a more subtle manner. He approached his adversaries from behind and felled them with a single cleave.
“Did you see that?!” Randgris shouted excitedly. “Watch this!”
Bastien glanced over to witness Randgris pummel a goblin’s skull into a fine paste with her gauntlet. He was both disgusted and amazed simultaneously as he continued to cut through the goblin horde. The goblins proved to be much less of a threat than Bastien had anticipated, allowing the pair to finish them off quite quickly.
“That was fun,” Randgris remarked. Blood dripped from every inch of her body as she approached Bastien. “I wonder if there are any more...”
“I have to admit, that was kind of entertaining.”
“I don’t see any other exits here; we should circle back around. This lair seems pretty new, so I doubt there will be many more rooms.”
The duo returned to where the paths split and took the opposite passage. It was just like Randgris had said: the passageway led to a large room with only one exit. The walls of the room were lined with golden sconces which radiated light. Gold coins and various small gems were piled along the base of the walls, some of which spilled onto the red carpet that lay in the center of the room. Upon the carpet lay an enormous creature, about the size of a large shed. The creature had three heads: one of a salamander, one of a lion, and the last of a goat. The salamander was covered in glossy copper scales and had black, charred teeth. The lion’s regal mane shielded its body, which was that of a lion, from view. The goat had mangled horns and chipped teeth. Bastien found it odd that each head had different eye colors. Red for the salamander, purple for the goat, and gold for the lion.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” the lion spoke first.
"We’ve been waiting for you,” the goat remarked. “It doesn’t hurt to include us.”
“Does it matter if I include you? We’re all attached. I think that when I say I it’s assumed that I’m referring to all of us.”
“Well, yeah, I had assumed you were referring to all of you, I guess. I kind of just thought you couldn’t talk,” Bastien commented. “But when you said you were waiting for us, were you referring to just one of us or both?”
“We weren’t actually expecting either of you, we just thought it would sound mysterious,” the salamander spoke.
“Why would you tell him that?!” the lion roared. “It completely defeats the purpose of saying it!”
“Are we going to fight?” Randgris asked impatiently.
“I’d like to avoid that,” the three heads replied simultaneously.
“Allow us to introduce ourselves,” the lion spoke. “I am Aristotle.”
“I am Socrates,” the goat chimed in.
“And I’m Plato” the salamander hissed.
“And we are The Philosophers,” they all said in unison.
“Did you burn down that village?” Randgris asked bluntly as she pointed her sword towards Plato. “I’m pretty sure that guy can breathe fire.”
“We just told you our names,” Aristotle responded with a tone of annoyance. “Could you please use them?”
“Yeah, you’re being very rude,” Socrates commented.
“Okay. Plato, did you burn down that village? You are a salamander, correct?”
“You’re quite mistaken. Plato can’t breathe fire, he’s but a simple newt.”
“He’s right, see?” Plato replied as he took a deep breath, then exhaled upwards, bathing the ceiling in a sea of flames.
“Damn it! You are so stupid!” Aristotle screamed at Plato. “You can hear my thoughts and you still mess up? You were supposed to pretend! You idiot!”
“I’m sorry, Ari,” Plato had an innocent look on his face. “I wanted to look cool.”
“You guys are like a bunch of kids,” Bastien observed.
“Since it’s pretty obvious you’re guilty, I’m afraid I’m going to have to slay you.”
“Now just hold on a second,” Socrates interjected. “Don’t you want to know about Bastien over there?”
“Yeah, yeah. If you kill us, you might never learn about his mysterious past.”
“I’m sure you’re just hyping it up,” Bastien replied. “I was probably a farm boy or something.”
“You’d better speak quickly, then.”
“He doesn’t actually know anything about that guy,” Plato commented. The beast clawed at the salamander’s head with one of its enormous paws.
“You don’t know anything, Plato!” Ari bellowed, shaking the room. He looked back at Bastien with a gentle grin. “Please don’t listen to him. How would I have known your name if I didn’t know anything about you?”
“He’s got a point, Randi,” Bastien said as he began to turn his head to look at her. He managed to get about half way through that action before he felt the cold steel of Randgris’ gauntlet on the side of his face. Before he knew what had happened, he found himself wedged into a small indent in one of the walls that had been created by his body. It took a few seconds for gravity to work its magic, but he soon found himself collapsed on the floor.
“If you speak to me in such a manner again, I won’t be so kind,” Randgris’ voice resonated with anger as she approached Bastien. He clutched his chest as he coughed blood onto the floor. His words came out as sharp unintelligible gasps while he tried unsuccessfully to bring himself to his feet. Randgris grabbed him by the throat and lifted him in the air with her right hand. She bit the fingertip of her left gauntlet and slid it off, slipping her bare hand under Bastien’s shirt, placing it on his chest. A faint light emanated from Randgris as Bastien felt a warmth fill his body, almost like he was filling up with liquid. The pain he was feeling disappeared and he felt rejuvenated. Randgris took a sharp breath before removing her hand and replacing her gauntlet.
“You could have killed me!”
“Quite right. Now you know how little your life means to me.”
“Ooooh, harsh!” Plato teased.
“Tell us what you know before I start chopping heads,” Randgris had the hilt of her sword firmly gripped.
“Before we tell you, I need you to promise you won’t just ‘chop heads’ as soon as we tell you,” Ari demanded nervously. “We’ll even give you our most prized possession.”
“If your information is acceptable, I’ll spare you,” Randgris forced a smile. “I promise.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, I’m all about avoiding conflict, but you guys seem afraid of her. What’s up with that, you look like you could easily take her on.”
“Whose side are you on?” Randgris glared at Bastien.
“Y’know, he’s kind of right, Ari,” Socrates stated.
“It’s simple,” the lion chuckled. “I don’t like pain.”
“Oh, okay,” Bastien replied with a stunned look. “So, what’s up with me?”
“We don’t real-”
“We can tell you why we destroyed that pitiful excuse for a town, but we don’t have any real information about you,” Ari interrupted Plato. Randgris removed her sword halfway from its sheathe. “It was dragons!”
“Dragons don’t exist,” Randgris drew her blade.
“That’s where you’re wrong, you see. Dragons do exist, to some extent, and one rewarded us with the riches you see around you for destroying that pitiful village.”
“Kind of a shitty reward,” Bastien scoffed.
“It wasn’t a very difficult job.”
“Do you have any proof that they exist?”
“The Philosopher’s Stone!” Plato shouted. “It was named after us, you see.”
“I don’t want to hear you say another word until our guests have left, Plato,” Ari commanded with a stern tone.
“What’s so special about it?” Randgris inquired.
“Dragons are ethereal beings. They can manifest themselves into a physical form at will, but are naturally incorporeal. You could be speaking to one and not even realize it.”
“How did you find one, then?”
“It presented itself to us. Told us we could refer to it as Ignis, Keeper of the Flame. It said we’d get a modest reward if we destroyed that little settlement.”
“Where did you meet it?”
“Deep within Mt. Violent and Painful Death Awaits All Who Enter.”
“Th-there’s no way that’s the actual name!” Bastien burst into hysterical laughter.
“People just call it Mt. Violens, but yeah, that’s the name,” Randgris explained calmly.
“Is there a story behind it?”
“Every night screams would echo from within the mountain. Everyone assumed they were from people who ventured inside in search of treasure or adventure. Either way, it got to the point where the locals decided to give it a name that would keep people from going inside.”
"Anyway, the Philosopher’s Stone allows you to see the true intentions of any person. This includes dragons.”
“So, you’ll give it to us, then?”
“If you leave us in peace, yeah.”
“What if we refuse?”
“Please don’t include me in this, I don’t want to fight,” Bastien pleaded.
“You’re my prisoner, remember? You don’t have a choice.”
“You can either take it from our corpse, or we can just give it to you and you can leave,” Ari explained. “Really, it should be a simple decision.”
“Unfortunately, I have a job to do,” Randgris readied her sword and placed her body in a limber fighting stance. She allowed herself to smile. “I’d apologize, but I’m going to enjoy this.”
“Ari, we should just leave,” Plato cried out. “I don’t want to fight her.”
“Silence!” Ari growled as he rose to his feet. “I’ll not run from a fight! I am no coward.”
“You’re going to be the death of us, Aristotle,” Socrates sighed.
“If you stand idle, you’re going to be next, Bastien.”
“What am I supposed to do? It’s huge...”
“Hit it, idiot!” Randgris cried out as she charged at the beast.
Plato bathed the western portion of the room in flames, while Socrates began to chant in an unfamiliar language. The area just below the ceiling began to fill with dark clouds as lightning struck the eastern portion of the room.
“You’ve only got one option!” Ari shouted as he charged forward. Bastien kept a healthy distance between himself and the action.
Randgris darted to the right, weaving between the thunderbolts as she re positioned herself behind the Philosophers. Plato twisted his neck and took a deep breath, preparing to cover the rear.
“Damn it Bastien! Give me a hand!” Randgris shouted as she leapt at the wall, then kicked off propelling herself into the air and avoiding the flames. She held onto her sword with both hands as she plunged it into the beast’s back. The Philosophers shrieked in pain simultaneously as they rolled onto their back, forcing Randgris to jump off. She landed a few feet away from Bastien. The Philosophers quickly recovered and began to sprint at the pair. Randgris shifted her weight and twisted her body in preparation as the Philosophers pounced at her. Her fist shot forward like a meteor, connecting with Ari’s face mid-leap and knocking the massive creature off course, which caused it to tumble to the ground. The heads cried out in pain as they cringed on the floor.
“Go! Now!” Randgris grabbed Bastien by the arm and flung him towards the fallen beast. Bastien flung his sword wildly at the Philosophers, but all of his strikes bounced off of its rough hide. “Thrust, you idiot!”
The Philosophers rose once more with a newfound rage. Ari unleashed an ear shattering roar that knocked Bastien clear across the room. Plato spewed magma around the vicinity while approaching Bastien. Randgris used this opportunity to approach the monster and stab through its side. The beast swiped at Randgris, knocking her to the floor. Ari turned his attention to Randgris, pinning her down with one paw and lunging at her with its powerful jaws. She managed to wedge her sword in its mouth as she struggled to hold it back. Bastien ran towards the beast and slammed his sword against the ground launching it into the air. He jumped onto the creature’s back, then into the air again. Grabbing his sword, he spun to the ground, cleaving through Plato’s neck. Blood and magma spilled forth from Plato’s stump, coating the floor as the Philosophers clamored around the room. Socrates cried out in pain while Ari bit down, shattering Randgris’ sword into three pieces.
“Sverker!” Randgris cried out while the beast reeled in pain and fell to the floor. Bastien dashed to Randgris, who had picked up Sverker’s pieces and was weeping on the ground.
“We need to go,” Bastien said calmly as he picked her up. The remaining Philosophers were rampaging around the chamber, shrieking and crying in blind anger. Bastien pulled Randgris out of the room, slipping on the blood that had gushed from Plato’s severed head on the way.