Hi! So I've been lurking around the forums for a few years now, learning a bit about digital art, a bit about game making, and a lot about what a great community we have here! It's been an amazing experience, and I'm looking forward to the next few years. That said, I've recently taken a bit of a sabbatical while I relocated to Florida, and have been waiting on all of my household goods to get here since then (namely my computer). So, since I cannot work on anything commission or game related, I decided to do some writing! A dear friend recently got me interested in the concept of Indie Novels, and it was in brainstorming for a future game project that I just started letting it flow. I think I'll post what I have here as I finish each piece, but who knows? Maybe we'll end up with a novel, after all. I'd love any feedback if you have it, as I'm always looking to improve in anything I do. Right now, this concept is mostly formed in my head, so I'm just going to start letting it out a little at a time and we'll see what happens. I'll probably add edits in future posts, and who knows if things will still be in the same order. Might end up with a completely different start! XD Time will tell. Spoiler: Alora Gate Scribblings Prologue Beowyn wiped the blood and sweat from his brow, and replaced the tattered cloth bandage that covered his left eye. The battle had been vicious, and he was so very tired. He sighed, and surveyed the carnage before him. The air was thick with the scent of death, and a heavy fog had set in through the trees. Mangled bodies, and grotesque, mutilated silhouettes littered the forest floor. The Brood were a cancerous and determined lot, and damned near mindless in their thirst for human blood. They’d very nearly had him this time… clever bastards. They were getting smarter, and were drawing a bit too close to the shore for his liking. Beowyn slipped his stained, bloodsteel blade back into the sheath on his side. The leather was old, but still sturdy. Fashioned from the hide of a Brood Scavenger, its warm, rough texture was a constant reminder to him of what he faced; what they all still faced. The sheath would last for some time still, but the blade…well, that was a different matter. He’d knicked it quite badly in this last encounter, and a faulty blade would be of no use to anyone. A new sword would have to be commissioned if he were to continue upon this path. Beowyn needed to find a Bloodsmith – and preferably before the night was out. The aging Legionnaire kicked away a slain Brood body, and leaned against a heavy oak to catch his breath. There was something about the way they moved this time, he thought to himself. Like a pack, they attacked strategically to throw him off balance. These creatures had always been dangerous, but never all that bright, and never before had they moved with such precision. Something wasn’t adding up, and Beowyn meant to get to the bottom of it. The Shrelani Vale was only a few miles from where he rested. He required another sword, and the people needed to be warned of this pending threat. Gathering his travel sack, the weary hunter looked up through the wind-kissed trees to night sky. “The moon betrays,” he whispered, and moved off quietly into the wood. Chapter 1: Awakening Liam leapt backward, narrowly avoiding the slash of Eno’s sword. He smiled as he recovered, and came at her with his heavy hammer. He brought it down in a heavy arc over his head, and Eno was forced to roll to the side to avoid getting smashed. She grunted as she regained her footing on the forest floor, and came at him again. “You’re getting better, Liam,” she said with a smirk, and moved in with a series of thrusts and slashes that the boy had come to know well. He parried with ease, bringing the haft of his hammer up to meet her sword with every attack. The two moved between the trees in a dance that had become quite familiar. “Maybe you’re just becoming predictable,” he replied. Eno scowled, and dropped low to the ground, bring her leg out in a fast, wide arc. Liam cried out as his feet were swept from beneath him and he hit the ground hard. Eno was on him before he could move, knocking his hammer away and placing her worn boot against his chest. “Is that so?” she retorted. “You saw that coming, did you?” Liam grinned and pushed her boot away. “Help me up,” he said, reaching for her hand. Eno pulled her friend to his feet and sheathed her bloodsteel sword. Her characteristic black hood had fallen back during their skirmish, revealing the thick blond locks characteristic of someone with her gifts. They were matted with sweat, but somehow still fell about her face in a frame of natural beauty that would give any man pause. Her pale, smooth skin was flushed from the exertion, and her eyes flashed a brilliant green in the sun. She quickly pulled her hood back into place and started down the hill toward the village. “Come on,” she said, “we’ll be late for training.” Liam was still winded from his fall, though he would never admit it to her. He lifted his hammer and started after his friend. A subtle breeze had begun to pick up from the south. It rustled the trees overhead, and carried the faintest scent of salt from the sea. The forest was quiet at this time of day, and soon the sun would be going down. They needed to get back before nightfall. No one stayed out after nightfall. Shrelani Vale was nestled in the western most corner of Lauren, in a seaside forest once fertile and green, but had since known darker times. The war had been waging for as long as anyone could remember, and Liam was just one of many children orphaned by the endless struggle against the Brood. He didn’t remember his parents well, and that was likely for the best. So many these days lost their lives to a gruesome end. Memories like that were best left buried. As the trees began to clear, a looming wall of yellowed rock salt rose to meet the two friends. It was quite worn, but as strong as it had ever been, and towered the height of three men. The wall ran the entire perimeter of the large clearing they called home, and a massive bloodsteel gate served as the only entrance to the Vale. Upon reaching the gate, a Sentry moved to block their path. He was a tall youth, hardly older than Liam or Eno, but burly enough to be selected early for Garrison Duty. He was mean-spirited, prone to selfish pursuits, and had a nasty disposition. Like most of the young men of the Vale, however, he was completely enamored with Eno. “Let us pass, Brinell,” she said with a sigh. “Not until you give me the password,” he replied with a smug grin. The boy’s hand rested on the head of a great, double-sided bloodsteel axe, nearly as tall as himself. “There is no password, Brinell,” Liam responded. The boy scowled at him. “There is if I say so, runt,” he snarled. “Honestly, Eno, I don’t know why you spend your time with him. You need a real man.” Eno smiled sweetly, and reached up to gently caress Brinell’s cheek. Liam stared in open shock. “Well then,” she started softly, “you’ll let me know when you see one, will you?” Eno strutted past the boy, and Liam hastily followed. Brinell stood dumbfounded for a moment, but quickly regained his composure. “Hey, wai—!” he called after them. “Bye, Brinell,” Eno interrupted, waving over her head as they continued into the square. They left the Sentry kicking at the dirt as he returned to his post. Liam chuckled to himself. “Eventually, you know he’s going to get tired of you teasing him like that,” he said. Eno scrunched up her face as they walked. “Brinell is harmless,” she said. “Brainless…and harmless.” “True enough.” The Vale before them was alive with the activities of the dusk, as the light from the setting sun wrapped the world in a soft, golden glow. Farmers hauled in their equipment from the fields, and the sound of ringing hammers from the smithies droned on in the west. The inviting smell of fresh fish stew rose to meet the friends as they walked. Liam’s stomach grumbled, and he was suddenly quite aware of how long it has been since he’d eaten anything. Eno took her combat training very seriously, but no more so than Liam. He was bound to be the first of his generation to master the Malleum, or, “Hammer’s Dance”. The style was a lost combat art of the ancient Legionnaires, who’s numbers had diminished considerably over the years in the fight against the Brood. They had become so few, in fact, that very few people had ever seen a Legionnaire in person. Most of the order had either died, or gone into hiding; their time was long passed. Liam intended to change that; to restore them to their former glory. What was one missed meal now and again, for such a noble cause? As the two neared the square, women bustled about with their day’s end chores, carrying baskets of vegetables from the gardens, or herding the livestock into their pens for the night. Eno stopped and looked up toward the Church on the east side of the Vale. “Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow?” she asked. Liam nodded. “Definitely. Have fun with your training!”, he teased. Eno scowled at him, raising an eyebrow as she picked an apple from a nearby basket. “You’re very funny,” she said, and turned toward the Church. “Night!” Liam called after her. Eno didn’t turn, but waved as she walked, gnawing on her apple as she started up the steps. Liam inclined his head toward the sound of the ringing hammers. He needed to get back to his master to help close up the shop, but first, that stew pot looked just one big bowl too full… The Asag stirred against the walls of its cage, an endless, spinning vortex of nothing, and nowhere. Trapped between worlds, comforted only by a fathomless anger, and taunted eternally by the pain of the hunger. That wrenching, bottomless pain, tearing away at the creature’s sanity from somewhere deep within. Stewing as it had for a millennium, the Asag had gone mad with need, and unable to vent the frustration, unable to simply die, the creature had brooded on lustful revenge. The Asag was ancient. The Great Devourer of Worlds, and its time was coming again. Already its tendrils creeped through the lands of Lauren, the world of those filthy abominations. Mere morsels. Ungrateful crumbs. The beast would see them all fall. The Asag would devour their souls, and their world. Every. Last. One. But first, they would suffer for what they did, as the Asag had suffered. They would know pain. They would know endless, delicious pain. Soon the Gate would be fully open, and the day of reckoning would be at hand. The Asag smiled as only a terrible evil may smile, and it knew comfort from the agony. Liam stepped up onto the wooden porch of the his master’s smithy, and stopped just short of the door. There were voices coming from within, and Master Ambren did not like to be disturbed when he had a customer. Liam dropped down from the porch and went around to the water barrel beside the smithy, splashing water in his face and wiping away the grime of the day. He looked up. The moon had begun to rise full into the evening sky, and there was something foreboding about it’s light. “The Moon betrays,” he whispered to himself. “Right.” As he rounded the porch to the stairs again, the door was thrown open, and a lone figure strode out into the square. His heavy boots creaked against the wood of the porch as he walked, and Liam could not help but notice the dried blood spattered about him as he passed. The figure was shrouded in a worn heavy cloak and wide-brimmed hat, each tattered to the point of disrepair, but despite this, he moved with a purpose, and Liam could clearly see the outline of light armor beneath the cloth. An empty sheath was just visible at the stranger’s waist. Liam shrugged it off as the figure moved off toward the Inn, and he turned to find his master’s silhouette standing in the doorway. The warm glow of the forge burned softly behind him, and cast a thin pillar of light out across the night grass. Liam could just make out Ambren’s face, and he seemed to stare after the stranger for some time. Finally, Liam felt the need to break the silence. “New commission, Master Ambren?” he asked. His master nodded. “Come, boy. We will need to start on this one immediately.” Liam’s shoulders dropped as his master returned to the smithy. Of course they would. He was exhausted from sparring with Eno, but knew better than to argue. Master Ambren was not one to tolerate arguments, and Liam was not keen to the idea of a lump on his head. Ambren was a mountain of a man, strong, with a grizzled beard, and long white hair that he often tied behind him. A heavy scar ran the length of his face on one side, from eye to chin, and while Liam had always been curious, Ambren never spoke about his past, and Liam never asked. He knew only that he was apprenticed to the best Bloodsmith on this side of Lauren, and that was enough. Ambren was teaching him a trade, and he was teaching him to fight. He would need both if he was going to join the Legionnaires someday. Liam followed his master inside, rolling up his sleeves as he closed the door behind him. “So, what are we making, Master?” he asked. Ambren was busy digging through the ore pile that he kept behind the heavy oak door. He would select a piece, grumble under his breath, and then toss it behind him. The forge was not very large—hardly enough space for its purpose—but it sufficed for the work they carried out for the Vale, which was typically not much more than horseshoes and tool repair. Liam did occasionally get to work with bloodsteel, but it just wasn’t as often as it used to be. The shop had two hearths of thick stone along the wall, and three anvils for working the steel. Several cooling agents filled barrels throughout the room, and the walls were adorned with varying sizes and shapes of hammers, tongs, punches, and bits. There were two smelts, one large and one small, and finally—there was their iron converter, “Bessie”. She was the heart of the shop, and the hulking, pear-shaped basin in which the master “cooked” his alloys to remove impurities. It was essential to bloodsteel production, and Liam loved to watch it work. In a fit of frustration over his fruitless search, Ambren finally turned to Liam. “Where is the Velusian, boy?” he asked in exasperation. “The Velusian?” Liam replied. “Wow, he must be a really important customer.” “Nevermind that. Where is it?” “I separated it a few weeks back,” the boy continued. “as you asked me. Finer steel to the loft.” Ambren’s irritated expression cleared as he remembered the conversation. “Right. Well, don’t just stand there, boy! Fetch the steel! And bring 3 rocks for the smelt while you’re at it.” “Of course, master!” he said, and hurried up the stairs. Liam set to work, gathering the materials they would need to form a bar of bloodsteel. He pondered the strange figure he saw leaving the shop before, nearly forgetting how tired he was in the excitement. Velusian steel was some of the very best to be had. At least, it had been, before their forges fell to the Brood. Liam recalled the stories Ambren had told him when he was younger. The Velusian forges had been legendary, and it was said the light of their furnaces could be seen for miles around. Their smiths were the very best of craftsmen, generationally skilled, and had invented an alloy of the purest iron and a heavily guarded secret mixture of rarer metals. The end result was a steel both lightweight and immensely strong, the likes of which the world had never before seen, or had since. Liam knew that Master Ambren was not prone to just giving this material away, given the rare nature. He concluded that anyone warranting such a high grade weapon was either eccentrically wealthy…or heavily involved in Brood combat. He descended the worn stairs of the loft with a renewed interest in this stranger. He deposited his raw materials on the wooden table next to the forge and turned to his master. “Master Ambren?” he asked. The old smith had already set himself to his task, setting out his tools and putting on his heavy leather apron. “Stoke the fire, boy,” he replied dismissively. “and fill Bessie’s belly with the rocks and the steel. We’ll need plenty of hot air for the compression.” Liam pursed his lips and set to work, realizing that he was not going to get a straight answer out of the old man for some time. Ambren got this way when he set his mind to a project, and Liam knew better than to push the issue. He’d find out soon enough what all the fuss was about. The two worked long into the night, with Bessie’s fire burning bright in hues of blue and red. By morning, master and apprentice had created a bloodsteel bar of the highest caliber. With it, they could begin the process of drawing out a formidable blade.