Visible Inks

•August 24, 2009 • 3 Comments

This post doesn’t have anything to do with Honor Amongst Thieves, but since most of my readers (going off comments) like what they read here, I figured some of you at least would like to know about my new project I’m starting.

Visible Inks is something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile now. My Deviant Art page was perhaps, a small step in that direction but with VI, I’m finally just going for it. Basically, I’m looking to publish something on that blog at least once a day. Some of it will just be small things, a poem, a short prose. However, I do plan on doing series similar to HAT over there as well. The first of which is ‘Orphans’ a sci-fi story.

I might eventually merge the HAT site with it, I’m sure yet. But only time will tell.

For those of you who don’t care too much about things non-FFXI or non-HAT related I have a bit of news on HAT Season three! I’ve started writing it, yay! I’ve currently finished the first two chapters and I’m starting on the 3rd now. =)

So, that’s all of that. Please check out Invisible Inks, I think at one time or another there will at least be one thing for everyone. If you don’t like poems, prose are there. If you don’t like fantasy, sci-fi is there. If you don’t like drama, sometimes there will be comedy. It’s me trying to broaden my skills as a writer so please, do check it often.

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HAT Site Changes!

•July 31, 2009 • 1 Comment

With Sealed in Blood finally concluding and new ideas and stories brewing in my head, I’ve decided to do a bit of a make-over to the site. This will include both some physical changes to the look and style (if I can figure out how WordPress Themes work) and more importantly, changes to help make navigation easier.

You’ll notice to the right of this post, I’ve already made some easier to find archive pages for each series.

Also, in a few days be on the look out for an update as to what you can expect in the near future as far as new stories!

True Beginnings

•June 29, 2009 • 9 Comments

The great city of Aht Urghan Whitegate could be seen now, clear as day, as the boat bound from Mhaura sailed closer and closer. Sellsword and Kallo stood at the bow; the thief with his elbows resting on the railing looking down into the water as it crashed onto the boat’s hull, Sellsword standing straight with his arms crossed.

“That’s the whole thing,” Kallo finished.

Sellsword was quiet. “You’ve quite the demons to live with.”

“We’ve all got quite the demons to live with, my friend.”

The Samurai nodded solemnly as the boat slowly pulled into the port and docked. Several other passengers hurried off as port-workers hurried on to retrieve various cargo. For a while, Sellsword and Kallo stood just where they were in quiet contemplation. Sellsword put one hand at his side and rested the other on the hilt of his Great Katana, looked around, and took in a deep breath.

“The great majority of Vana’diel will live an ignorant, peaceful life, devoid of even a single moment of what select individuals such you and I must live with.” He turned toward the docks as a woman waved to him with a grin. “Some may say they’re the lucky ones. I, however, choose to think of it as such: I’ve been given the courage, the power and the ambition to keep the vast majority of Vana’diel from having to live with the things we do. For some, doing that isn’t enough…but every day I survive is another chance at life. Not just for myself, but for everyone I encounter…”

Kallo was silent, looking down into the water splashing against the port.

Sellsword looked over his shoulder at Kallo. “There was never really any need for an escort…” he said. “When I heard the Tenshodo were sending someone over as a liaison, I offered my services even though they were not required.”

“I don’t understand…” Kallo said, turning toward the Samurai.

“I just wanted to meet you, Kallo Landis,” he spoke as he walked toward the boat exit to the dock, “to hear that story. To thank you,” He walked down the plank and towards the woman on the dock.

“Thank me for what?” the thief called after him.

Sellsword turned back to him, “For reuniting me,” he smiled softly.

Kallo had just noticed her for the first time as she embraced the sellsword. Her hair was long and pitch black, reaching down to her lower back. She had a long, tall, slender figure. Straight to her back was a massive great sword, and at her hips two darksteel revolvers. She grinned back up at Kallo as she walked off and vanished into the crowd with Sellsword.

The thief struggled to find comfort in the wise words the sellsword left with him. He believed he wasn’t given a second chance, but rather condemned to live with the mistakes he made. He couldn’t save his lover, and he didn’t save his brother…

Kallo closed his eyes and recalled what had actually happened that night in the Arrapago Reef…

From a distance Kallo could see Akeem perched upon the bow of a dilapidated corsair ship. He silently made his approach as his fists were clenched tightly around his daggers; as Kallo got closer he called to him.

“Akeem!”

“I knew you’d find me…Brother.” He spoke without looking at the thief, “Motai helped you. I told him I was waiting for you,” He stood up and turned to look at Kallo from the top of the bow of the ship. “…So how does it feel?” He hopped down onto a large boulder nearly level with the boat and came down closer; he was ground level now but several yards away. “…Not going to talk to us?”

“Where is she?” Kallo said, his face contorted with anger.

“Now that you’ve felt my pain,” he smiled, “we can end this.”

His wrist flicked as he reached for his gun, but Kallo’s hands were always quicker. Before he could unbuckle the gun strap to pull his sidearm, Kallo’s hand had already let loose his dagger. Like a blade of grass in the wind it moved quicker than the eye could follow, and with hawk-like precision struck and stuck deep into the shoulder of Akeem’s trigger-arm. He winced in pain as he grasped the dagger. It took Kallo only a second to close the gap between them. Kallo put one arm on his brother’s uninjured shoulder and with his other hand grabbed the hexagun, tossing it over the edge of the reef and shoving Akeem backwards into the hull of the ship.

Akeem wrenched the dagger from his arm and dropped it to the ground. Kallo was on him quickly as he pressed his body against Akeem’s and put his second dagger to his brother’s throat.

“Do it, Brother…” Akeem whispered. “Do it…”

“…Tell me what you did with her…” Kallo spat through his clenched jaw as he pushed the dagger against Akeem’s neck, drawing a trickle of blood.

“Remember, I said before…” Akeem gasped as the blade pressed against him, “It’s not about winning or losing…” He smiled. “I lied. As much pain as you’ve caused us…” He chuckled. “I’ve done more to you than I ever could have dreamed…”

“Where is she!?” Kallo slammed Akeem’s body against the hull. He coughed and choked as he laughed.

“You’ll never know.” He grinned. “Her death is all your fault…and you’ll never know…and now you’re going to kill your only brother,” He smiled. “The only other person who ever believed in you, who would stand by you until the end…do it…you’re so goddamn helpless…do it!!” Akeem tried to push back, but Kallo swatted his arms down, reeled his dagger back and as he thrust it forward, something in Akeem changed.

“Kal, wait—” His eyes burst wide open.

The look Akeem gave Kallo, he recognized immediately. It was that same electric look of surprise that slowly faded to lifelessness; the one he saw in Tarawath’s eyes.

Akeem’s lips quivered as his chest heaved. Kallo held the dagger deep in his brother’s chest for a moment, his face riddled with bewilderment. Akeem’s arm shook hard as he grasped Kallo’s shoulder. “Kal…Kal…I…I’m so-sorry…”

Kallo couldn’t speak; he looked his brother deep in the eyes in complete confusion and puzzlement. He wasn’t looking at the man who murdered his fiancé; he wasn’t holding in his arms the man who had been after him since the rescue from the Oubliette.

He was holding his brother in his arms.

“…so…sorry…Kal…” he whispered. As Akeem slowly slid down the hull, Kallo crouched low with him in his arms. “He…he…made me…”

Akeem’s body went limp as what life was left vanished.

Kallo opened his eyes, and took in a deep breath as he wiped his sleeve across his face. He walked off of the ship and into the city of Al Zahbi.

The End.

Sealed in Blood

•June 22, 2009 • 4 Comments

I searched through those caverns for hours.

I didn’t find a single trace of Tarawath or Akeem. Even after the reality of the situation finally sank in, I just couldn’t bring myself to leave those caves without her.

Loss is a devastating thing. Everyone deals with death throughout their lives, but losing Tara was unlike anything else I had ever experienced. She was so much more to me than I ever imagined, and the fact that she was gone now…

Finally forcing myself out of the underground corridors, I eventually found out that the caverns were part of Halvung and the ruins we were in snaked under Mount Zhayolm. I made my way back to Al Zahbi. I stayed there for a few days, waiting and hoping to hear word…of what, I’m not really sure. I just couldn’t go home without her. I found myself losing connection with the reality around me; I’d just drift off thinking about her. All the times we spent together, all the plans we’d made. She was gone and now this was all I had left of her.

That sorrow, that guilt, slowly started to consume me. It wasn’t long before it was all replaced by anger and rage. I had to find Akeem. I knew of only one person who could help me do that. I tucked Tarawath’s Ruby into my pocket and boarded a ship bound for Windurst. It was time to give a visit back to Motai.

Upon returning to Windurst, every single inch of her beautiful landscape reminded me of Tarawath. Everywhere I looked, I could recall some memory. It was too difficult to face anyone; I wasn’t ready to tell the Federation that one of their most beloved stars was extinguished, and that it was all my fault. They trusted me, whether they wanted to or not, and I let them down.

Star Sibyl, especially…she had to have already known.

As I made my way secretly through the back alleys and paths of Windurst, I stopped by the Auction House of Windurst Walls and dropped a small package into the Delivery Box for Doctor Shantotto. Tarawath’s Ruby was inside…she’d know what to do with it. I couldn’t deliver it face-to-face…not now. Not until I had the head of the one who took her life would I offer my own to quell the thirst that I knew the people would have.

After this small detour, I made my way to Motai’s house on the outskirts of Windurst Waters. As far back as his residence was located, there was always some type of citizen wandering near, whether it be some enthused fan of Motai’s magic research, or one of the journalists from the Tarutaru Times. Knowing this, I couldn’t just use the front door, so I snuck in through the back. Motai wasn’t home at the time so I waited.

His place was so neat and nearly empty. He traveled so much that I found it hard to believe he called one single place home. As I walked slowly around, I came to a photo on his desk. It was a picture of two young Elvaan boys and a Tarutaru. One Elvaan was dressed in the trademark green of a Thief, the second from head to toe in the purple mail of the Dragoon. Motai was the Tarutaru, of course, and Akeem and I the Elvaans. The picture was taken so long ago, on the precipice of the La Thiene Plateau cliffs.

“You’ve come to asky-wask me to help you locate Keemie, haven’taru you?” Motai’s voice came floating gently through the air.

I put the picture down. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“You usually don’taru.”

“I need to know where he is,” I said solemnly. “It’s very important.”

“I just came from Doctor Shantotto’s house.” He spoke quietly as he moved towards me. “…Today’s mail brought some very sad news.”

I thought of nothing at that moment except my revenge. It helped me hold back any tears that I might have left to shed. My entire body was full of flames, but the sadness inside still seemed to quell them. I said nothing.

“Kallo-wallo?” Motai asked as he put his hand on my leg. “…I don’taru…know what to say…”

“Just tell me where he is,” I spoke calmly.

Because of the bond Motai shared with me and my brother, he had formed a very special, magical link with both of us. Though it was stronger in our youth, it has faded since we’ve all parted ways to explore our own worlds and pasts. However, if he tried, he could still discover the general locations of either of us.

“What happened?” he asked.

I clenched my jaw shut tightly and squeezed my eyes closed. I let out a long breath as I remembered to breathe, “…He…he shot her.”

“…No…no Keemie could never…” Motai trailed off for a moment, “…he’d…”

“He did,” I said, as I forced my breathing back to a normal, calm rate. “…He did.”

Motai closed his eyes for a moment; I knew he was concentrating… searching Vana’diel for Akeem’s location. He tilted his head as though he was listening intently to a faint whisper.

“…Where is he?” I asked.

“…He’s waiting for you,” Motai whispered, “in Arrapago Reef.”

I turned swiftly to leave.

“Kallo!” Motai called after me, “…What are you…” He couldn’t bring himself to ask, but I knew what he wanted.

“I’m going to kill him,” I said.

“Thataru won’t bring her back…” I stood still at the back entrance. “…and he’s your brother, Kallo.”

“Not for long… Not anymore,” I said as I vanished into the backwoods of Windurst Waters.

It took another two days before I was back in Aht Urghan. It’s amazing how one strong, overwhelming emotion can dominate your every thought… control your every action and ambition. Even at the time, I think I knew that killing Akeem wouldn’t bring me any satisfaction. I don’t know why I needed it. More than anything, however, I needed…I needed her. He knew where she was. That’s probably the part that ate away at me the most: that he knew where she was. I don’t know if I could’ve saved her, but her last moments should’ve been in my arms… They should’ve been with me. Not with him. He took everything that I had away when he took her. That’s why I needed to find him and that’s why he needed to pay.

I took another boat from Al Zahbi to Nashmau and went straight for the Reef. It didn’t take very long to find him at all. The first dilapidated boat I found, smashed by the rocks of the reef long ago, had a lone figure perched atop it.

“Akeem!” I shouted, the anger in my voice had control of all my extremities.

“I knew you’d find me…Brother.” He spoke without looking at me, “Motai helped you. I told him I was waiting for you.” He stood up and turned to look at me from atop the bow of the ship. “…So how does it feel?” He hopped down onto a large boulder nearly level with the boat and came down closer; he was ground level now but several yards away. “…Not going to talk to me?”

“Where is she?”

“Now that you’ve felt my pain,” he smiled, “we can end this.”

His wrist flicked as he reached for his gun, but my hands were always quicker. Before he could unbuckle the gun strap to pull his sidearm, my hand had already let loose my dagger. Like a blade of grass in the wind it moved quicker than the eye could follow, and with hawk-like precision struck and stuck deep into the shoulder of his trigger-arm. He winced in pain as he grasped the dagger. It took me only a second to close the gap between us. I put one arm on his uninjured shoulder and with my other hand grabbed his hexagun, tossing it over the edge of the reef and shoving him backwards into the hull of the ship.

Akeem wrenched the dagger from his arm and pointed it out towards me; I was prepared though. My other hand flashed my second dagger, quickly lacerating his wrist and disarming the blade. I put my dagger to his throat and he laughed.

“Do it, Brother…” he whispered. “Do it…”

“…Tell me what you did with her…” I spat through my clenched jaw as I pushed the dagger against his neck, drawing a trickle of blood.

“Remember, I said before…” Akeem gasped as the blade pressed against him. “It’s not about winning or losing…” He smiled. “I lied. As much pain as you’ve caused me…” He chuckled. “I’ve done more to you than I ever could have dreamed…”

“Where is she!?” I slammed his body against the hull. He coughed and choked as he laughed at me.

“You’ll never know.” He grinned. “Her death is all your fault…and you’ll never know…and now you’re going to kill your only brother,” he smiled, “the only other person who ever believed in you, who would stand by you until the end…Do it…you’re so goddamn helpless…Do it!!” He tried to push back, but I swatted his arms down, reeled my dagger back and sunk it into his chest. His eyes went wide. I pulled back and then pushed it in again. And again, and again.

Akeem stopped moving after awhile.

I took a few steps backward; the reef was unusually quiet. Akeem’s body lay there broken against the shattered hull of the boat.

At that very moment, as my chest heaved up and down and the adrenaline coursed all through my veins, I had nothing.

My only brother, I had just killed in cold blood.

I couldn’t return to my country – having lost what was most precious to them and to me. They’d want blood.

My love, my reason for living… gone because of my weakness. My failures.

All of this, all of what I had done, all of what I had let unfold – even the death of Faction 5…I was the only one left out of all of it. The fate of so many, sealed in the blood of my dead brother before me.

The Ruby’s Glow.

•June 15, 2009 • 8 Comments

As sentient beings, we are all creatures of habit. Throughout our life we all face problems, situations and though each occurrence may seem individual and original on its own they all share similarities and they’re all dealt with in similar means. This of course, varies from person to person. Few of us actually realize and identify with this – it takes a certain level of self-awareness to notice and in most cases, even come to terms with it. Those of us that do take notice to these patterns, take notice for a very specific reason. We haven’t always known. Nor did we just wake up one day and have a sudden revelation. No, we make these discoveries in retrospect, looking back on a very specific time, a very specific moment when circumstances force us to act outside of our comfort zone and deal with a problem in a way we had never dreamed.

My brother has become a very different person. Since that day I rescued him from the Oubliette, he has been strange and foreign to me. However, I never once, not even for a moment dreamed I would be the one to send him from this world to the next.

Not until he took the one person who meant more to me then my own life. Once he did that, once he put her in harms way – everything changed. I didn’t even think twice about what I would do to get her back.

I was not about to lose her, not like this. Not after what I’d done to her. I’ve failed her so many times for as long as we’ve known each other, loved each other. But never have I doubted her love for me. There was so much more at stake that I wasn’t even aware of at the time. All rational thought had left my body, all reason and logic was completely devoid – I had only a single objective. I had to get her back, and he had to pay.

“Tell me brother!” Akeem howled down the corridor as he made his way out of the caverns and back into the archaic halls of the Ruins, “How does it feel? Knowing your last words with your beloved kitten tasted so bitter?”

I was seething with so much anger, so much rage I clenched my jaw shut. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of getting inside my head. As I came around a large bend into an open room of the Ruins I saw Akeem standing at the top of several sets of stairs. I was on a platform surrounded by a large open pit. Below, in the pit were several clear cylindrical tubes descending far down out of sight. Akeem was grinning as he held Tara, she still looked unconscious.

“She’s so beautiful, isn’t she?” Akeem said, “…I never wanted to hurt her. I didn’t. That much you can believe.”

“Then let her go…” I managed to spit out from behind my clenched teeth, “Let’s just settle this, you and me…”

“No, no. I can’t do that…no, no, no…” he half laughed, “This isn’t about settling. It’s not about who wins or loses. This has never been about that. It’s only about losing. I lost. Now you lose. Now, you…you feel what it is I’ve been feeling. All this time…you can feel…you can live with it…” his eyes were like stone, completely fixated on me, “…you think you can do that?”

“…I don’t think I’ll have to…”

Akeem was so focused on me, that he wasn’t aware of what was happening around him. To be honest, I wasn’t either until it was too late. Tarawath wasn’t unconscious at all, and Akeem realized that as the walls beside him began to crack and fracture. The water just on the other side started to seep through and thrash on the outside wildly. His eyes went wide with surprise as Leviathan’s mammoth body slammed hard against it, screeching in anger.

I took this opportunity the instant it opened. I bounded forward halfway up the first set of stairs, landing on the rail with nimble feet – arms to the side for balance I raced forward in very few steps and leapt upward with all my might covering nearly the entire set of stairs. Tarawath’s eyes were open now, she elbowed Akeem in the gut and pushed herself away as I landed on the corner of another railing then propelled myself forward. Akeem leveled his hexagun at me but he wasn’t quick enough. I collided into him, knocking him backwards onto the ground causing his gun to slide away. My hand had never been quicker to the hilt of my dagger – I raised it high just as the clear wall to my right burst open sweeping both of us away. Tarawath nearly lost her balance on the edge of the stairs but Leviathan swept her up. As Akeem and I were washed over the side along with the water we were filtered into one of the tubes. The last thing I saw was the archaic walls of the room shifting and sliding to stop the incoming water. As we were falling I felt a sharp pain in my left, lower back. I felt Akeem’s hand grab my shoulder pulling my body against his as he sank a blade deeper inside of me.

I ground my teeth in pain as I writhed in mid fall. I heard him whisper into my ear.

“Deal with the pain…I’m not going to kill you yet…” he said, “You will feel my pain…my loss…so don’t die on me yet…”

As we fell we passed through several red beams of light and the tube began to widen and flash with more lights. Just as our descent seemed to be at the end we found ourselves in a large dark room I could see the floor coming fast but our bodies suddenly jerked to a stop in the center of the room, as if something was holding us up. The entire room lit up with blue lights and the walls seem to come alive. Archaic gears lined every inch of the wall and started to vibrate and gyrate creating some type of artificial gravity in the room making us weightless. I grabbed Akeem’s hand from my shoulder and with the weightlessness of the room easily threw him over me. I groaned in pain as he had a tight grip on the dagger and it was yanked out of my back.

He seemed to regain his balance very quickly as he landed against one of the gears with quite a bit of grace. Bending his legs in he shot himself off the gear with amazing velocity as he propelled back towards me, bloody dagger readied. Because my reflexes had always been superior to him, and I was able to catch both his wrists in my hands. The fact that he was still a Dragoon made his jumps massive in power and caused both of us to flail uncontrollably through the air until we crashed against the other side of the wall into the gears. He had me pinned me down and was slowly overpowering me as the dagger inched neared and nearer to my face.

“Just a scratch…” he whispered, “I don’t plan on killing you, remember…” he grinned wickedly at me, “But we’ll see how many women you charm without that pretty face of yours…”

I couldn’t seem to overpower him at all, so I let go of his hand and jerked to the side. His strength and momentum caused him to drive the dagger straight through one of the prongs on the gear. It hissed and whirred as power faded from it. The weightlessness of the gravity suddenly changed. Along with a large clump of gears we fell hard toward the floor. I was able to grab a hold of a still functioning gear and swing myself back up, landing somewhat gracefully on a larger gear, through the pain in my lower back nearly caused me to lose my balance. I watched as Akeem hit the ground and the gears toppled down around him. He moaned in brief pain then stood kicking the gears away.

That’s when we both noticed it – several yards away from him was his Hexagun, laying on the ground. He broke into a run. I knew I couldn’t make it there in time, so I decided to try a little improvisation. The gear I was on wobbled a bit under my weight so I stood up and then threw all my weight down causing it to dislodge from it’s place on the wall and crash down past more gears.

They all whirred and whizzed before they shut down, shifting the gravity of the room again. The Hexagun, Akeem and Myself all became weightless once more. As he scrambled through the air towards his fire arm I launched myself off the wall and collided with him in mid air. He flailed past his gun as I reeled my arm back and sank my fist into his lower back.

He recoiled in pain then brought his elbow backwards into the side of my jaw with immense force causing me to loose my grip on him. He spun around and grabbed my harness pulling me back to him as he pushed his fist into my gut, then landed a solid hit against the left side of my face. I pulled my feet up and planted them firmly on his abdomen kicking him away as hard as I could.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was kicking him. As he regained his composure he noticed his gun now within arms reach. He grasped it firmly in his hand and took aim at me.

As all this was happening the entire room was bathed in a green aura, before Akeem was able to pull the trigger Garuda came down through the entrance in the ceiling, Tarawath mounted firmly on her back.

The Avian Avatar howled loud as it reared back and then thrust it’s arms and wings forward creating a strong gust of wind that propelled Akeem against the wall of gears with a loud thud. His body went limp and he lost grip on the Hexagun. The gravity too, was once again altered as he slowly drifted toward the floor and I also began to ascend.

As I touched down lightly on the ground Akeem’s limp body landed softly as well. Garuda touched down and Tarawath climbed off.

I turned to her instantly, but before I could take another step…

“Kallo watch out!”

The entire room rattled with the sound of gun shot. I felt my back explode with pain, my chest erupted in anguish as my entire body was lit a blaze! I turned to glance over my shoulder and Akeem was on his knees, Hexagun in hand, the barrel smoking. My eyes started to blur from the agony. Then, however, it slowly began to numb away. There was a soft glow in Tarawath’s direction. I looked down at my chest as the wounds closed and the skin faded back to normal. The pain quickly receded, but I found myself suddenly very winded and short of breath as I collapsed to the ground.

Akeem growled, “Those shots weren’t meant for you…” he stood up and walked towards me. Tarawath closed her eyes and put her hands together. Garuda howled again as she began to glow with power.

“Shut up!” Akeem pointed his Hexagun at Garuda and a burst of Ice exploded from the barrel and blasted the avatar. She was thrown back against the wall of broken gears as she winced in pain and slowly faded away.

Just as I was about to stand Akeem grabbed me by the hair and pulled me up, “I need you to stay down for a moment…” he kneed me in the stomach, pulled me back up straight and slammed the hilt of his hexagun down onto my face before dropping me to the floor, spattering blood out. “And now you darling…” he walked towards Tarawath.

“Get the hell away from me…” she hissed.

As he reached for her arm she swatted it down and delivered a nasty hook. His head snapped to the side and he spat red onto the ground. He growled and swung his arm at her but she ducked under the swipe with ease and planted another of her small Mithran fists against his chest. He coughed and staggered back in surprise.

Tarawath put her hands together concentrating deeply, but rushing her casting. A large dark, shadow-encrusted emblem of the moon appeared on the floor as a large canine began to emerge and take form.

“Aarg…not this time!” Akeem raised his Hexagun, aiming right for Tarawath.

“Tara!” I shouted as I reached out in vain.

The barrel of the gun exploded! The single shot rained through the room as my lover’s eyes shot wide open. They were filled with such surprise and electricity, as she staggered back they slowly began to drain of all emotion and life. She looked down her hands covered in red as she fell to her knees.

Akeem smiled as he glanced over in my direction, “Do you feel—”  the room suddenly started to shake and stir throwing everyone’s balance off. The still functioning gears all around us started to fail and fall away.

“Tara!” I called out to her as the entire room seemed to vibrate. She seemed so disconnected, she looked around blankly. Her eyes met mine for only a brief second, her lips began to form some words – but at that moment the floor all around us opened up and she vanished, as did Akeem. Before I could move, I too was suddenly descending down some long twisting passage. It didn’t last nearly as long as the previous fall. I landed on the hard, rocky ground of an underground passage.

I scrambled around pushing myself to my feet, breathing hard, still in a complete panic. My surroundings, the situation – it all began to slowly set in. Everything was so quiet…so still…I heard nothing. My entire body felt so weak, my knees wanted to give out. I wanted to just give up.

“Tara…” I whimpered. That look in her eyes. That emptiness. “No! …no…Tara!” I shouted. I heard nothing. I started to walk around the corridor carefully, there was no way those drops in the floor could’ve been that far away.

I was suddenly yanked back to reality as the entire halls of these caves was rocked by the sound of gunshot. I stood completely still, dreading the worst. Then I heard another shot followed by a faint heckling. Something told me he hadn’t found her first – even if he did…as much as it hurt to think about it, he would want to kill her in front of me. I just knew it.

Kallo?” a voice suddenly appeared in my head, “Come to the north Kallo…she needs you…” I recognized the voice.

It had to have been Carbuncle, he was trying to lead me to Tarawath. I closed my eyes and everything slowly stood still, as though it was locked in stasis. The dust falling from the walls stood still, the water trickling down froze. As everything around me seemed to stop I took off with incredible speed as a I fled through the caverns in the direction I was being called too.

After a few seconds my surroundings began to speed back up as I slowed down and the world around be returned to normal. As I rounded a corner, I saw her…my stomach turned over, my gut sank and my heart broke.

Haphazardly strewn about the ground in a thick puddle of standing water and her own blood lay the limp body of my Tarawath. I quickly knelt down beside her gently turning her over. Her hair was matted to her face with blood.

“…Tara?” I whispered as I carefully pulled her into my lap.

There was silence around me save for the dripping water from the ceiling.

“…Tara?” I rocked her gently in my arms, nudging her body. “T-tara?” my eyes started to blurred from the tears I was holding back, “Wake up, baby…please…” I pulled her closer to my body, “I need…” I started to gasp for air, my chest was tightening up, “I need you…” I whispered as I held her closer, “Please…please don’t leave me…”

“…tiger…?” her lips barely parted as she spoke softly.

“Tara! Oh, thank Atlana…oh, god…” I put my hand on her wound, applying pressure as best as I could. My heart was racing so hard, so fast. The desperate thumping was deafening to me. Accompanied by her pale, shallow breaths. I pushed her bangs out of her eyes and she looked up at me, just like she did every morning she woke up back in Windurst.

“…you haven’t looked at me like that in a long time…” I whispered, my lips quivering as I held back tears.

She smiled softly, then winced in deep pain.

The silence was quickly shattered as the caverns were lit by the sound of gun powder igniting. I pulled Tarawath closer to me as though to shield her from the menacing cackles of Akeem, his voice could be heard a bit clearer now as the gun shots disturbed the caves.

“Here kitty, kitty, kitties!” he crowed, “Come out, come out wherever you are!”

My attention was brought quickly back to Tarawath as I felt her cold, shivering hand touch my cheek, “Kallo…” she spoke shakily as she gasped for air, “…please, y-you need to go…” the words she spoke were so soft. “…please…leave me and go…” her eyes were so peaceful.

I pulled her closer to me and kissed the top of her head, “You know I’d never do that.” I whispered, trying to be calm but she could easily hear the fear in my voice.

She smiled weakly, she tried to laugh but didn’t have the strength, “Liar.” She grasped my hand and gripped it tightly, “You just can’t…c-can’t…can’t flee so quick…after doing it once…” her words slowly dwindled and trailed off as her breathing became more shallow.

I tried to laugh with her, but it was all to apparent in the tears I was trying to hold back that I was weeping instead. Her grip began to fade on my hand, I shook her gently as I stared down into her eyes, she grabbed my arm tightly as her body convulsed. She tried to whisper again, but her lips produced no sound.

I could still read what she had said, “…please. Go.” I shook my head, and at that time noticed the gun shots had stopped. In their place I heard the presence of boots splashing through puddles of water that had collected on the ground of the cavern.

I swallowed as hard as I could, but my mouth was so dry. I wiped the tears from my face. “I am coming back for you…” I said, clenching my jaw tight. “I promise…”

She nodded as she closed her eyes.

Letting go of her in that moment, was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. It was also the worst moment I’ve ever felt. I knew at that time I was letting go of a piece of my life that I could not live without.

As I set her down and stood up straight, I turned to where I thought the source of the sound was coming from. I drew my daggers, gave one last look at Tarawath…she was so silent, so peaceful…I could barely see her chest rising. I had to tear my eyes away from her and even though my body felt like it weighed a million tons…I forced my legs to carry me away from her.

The funny thing about enclosed spaces like this, is that sounds can play nasty tricks on you. One moment the boot steps can seem like they’re right around the bend. The next second…

There is a gun shot from the direction you just came…

In the brief few seconds it took me to get back to where I left her, our entire life flashed before my eyes.

When we first met, I came across her in Tahrongi Canyon. She was training against Yagudo’s using only her fists. Not many people know about that. Tarawath Jayles, the Great Summoner of Windurst started out as a Monk.

Our first trip together to Jeuno through the Merphitaud Mountains. She was so worried and concerned for me, she wouldn’t let me get three steps ahead of her unless I was silent, invisible and deodorized.

The many nights we spent sitting on the docks in Norg, seeing who could skip the pebbles closest to the docking boats after just getting lost in Sea Serpent Grotto.

The time we faced off against Shiva – before her and Tarawath pledged an eternal bond to each other.

The night I proposed to her, sitting behind the Rhinostery in Windurst Waters…always in the glow of the flowers.

I collapsed down where her body should have been. I fell to my hands as I wept, my tears adding to the pool of her blood. I caught a small glint of red out of the corner of my eye. My hand sought it out, trembling I picked it up and opened my palm.

It was her necklace…her Carbuncle’s Ruby.

It’s glow was gone.

The Lesser of Two Evils.

•April 23, 2009 • 8 Comments

My mother and father, as perfect together as I remember them, where two very different people. The things they accomplished as Thieves of Vana’diel, the infamy that followed them around the nations, they both had different outlooks on everything they did. For my father, it was a career, it was how he provided for his family. It was a choice he made that affected how and where my brother and I grew up, and of course, because of this it was the reason he didn’t want me or Akeem following in his steps. It’s also the main reason he never understood why I made the choice I did.

Like my mother, it wasn’t a career choice for me. It was a calling. It’s true, a lot of what I do is criminal, it’s frowned upon, a lot of people suffer. But the means justify the end, or at least that’s what we hope for. Sometimes, this back fires horribly and it only proves to propel our reputation further into notoriety. However, the few, perhaps even single time that a Thieves ill deeds provide the less fortunate and innocent a better opportunity, it makes all the bounties on your head worth it. All the jail time, perhaps even executions worth it. Stealing from the rich might not be the result every time, and giving to the poor may not happen as much as it should, but it comes with the territory. The fact of the matter is, there will always, always be something willing to do the dirty work across Vana’diel. If you put a man or woman whose intentions are completely selfish and evil, then suffering is the only reward you’ll find.

I don’t condone a lot of what I’ve done in the past, but I figure that if it wasn’t me who took on a lot of the jobs I have, the pain and suffering caused could have been a lot greater. I wouldn’t classify myself, my mother or my father – or anyone of our profession a hero by any means. However, there is a form of self-awareness that exists and in the end what I think we try to accomplish is to be the lesser of two evils. Sometimes we achieve that goal with flying colors, and other times, we forget that creed and we fail, becoming exactly what it is we’re trying to save the world from.

The final door snapped down behind myself, and my father on his side. The last room was entirely too close for my taste. I actually felt the rush of air on the back of my neck as the room echoed with the single thud of stone connecting with the floor. My father smiled across the two thick panes of glass and we both approached the devices that were in front of us. I put my hand on the fist-sized dial in front of me and after my father gave me an affirmative nod, I turned it. The entire corridor became alive with the grinding and awakening of age-old gears and cogs as a small door slid open beside the dial, allowing me access to the main corridor. As I stepped out I watched as a series of portcullis’ began to open connecting the inside of the Alzadaal Depths to the outside were the rest of our company was awaiting us.

Gideon and Faction 5, as well as Tarawath approached us. Katurian was semi-concealed in his shadow-form. Like a roving mist across the steely surface of an ice-slick glacier, it revealed his Elvaan form in portions for only very brief moments. It seemed the depths had a very adverse affect on his abilities.

“I have to say…” Gideon smiled, “You two had me worried for a second there.”

Tara joined my side and put her arms around me, “I’ll second that.”

“Oh, come now. There’s plenty of stupid things I’ve dove head first into and I always come out the other side.” I grinned.

My dad gave a half-hearted smile, “It only takes one though.”

All our attention was quickly drawn to the inside of the depths by loud gasp from Stitch, she stood past the final door at the edge of a balcony which gazed out across a very large cavern of mechanical make.

“Ooooh, by the Goddess I’ve never seen…anything so huge!” she rose to the tips of her toes as she gazed out across the expansive darkness of the room before us.

As we came closer to see the spectacle ourselves, it was very apparent why these were named the Alzadaal Depths. Stairs to the sides of the balcony went around the outside of the wall and traveled down, until there was only darkness. In front of us just a few feet under the balcony were several platforms, glowing and surrounded by archaic machinery buzzing with the slightest glow of life. Several hundred yards across the great gap, the dark chasm was replaced by a large field of land surrounded by water, which poured down into the chasm. On that raised area was what, I believe, was the most impressive of the entire ordeal.

“…Beastmen?” Tarawath asked as we all stood bewildered at what we saw.

“An entire subterranean settlement of them.” Vael pondered, “The ruins have been here for so long…it’s entirely possible, that even just a few emigrated down here in some fashion and flourished away from the prying hands of war and famine.”

Among them were Trolls, Mamool Ja and Goblins – but more then all three of those combined, the predominant tribe was Qiqirn.

“We’d better get started before attention is somehow drawn to us, yes?” Gideon said and she took begin to head for the stairs.

“Whoa!” My father moved to stop her, putting an arm around her stomach just before she touched down on the first step, “Watch yourself now…”

“What?” Gideon asked a bit irritated at the sudden intrusion as she stepped back and pushed my father off.

“These stairs aren’t in the proper position.” He pointed to the wall that the stairs would normally be built against, except they weren’t. The was a slight crease between the wall and the stairs. Because the doors had opened it loosened the grim and dirt enough that it began to slowly seep down. “My guess would be that just in some over-eager trespasser did managed to get by all that we just put behind us – they wouldn’t suspect the stairs to be rigged as well, and would take an very long, unfortunate fall to the bottom of wherever these lead…”

Gideon smirked a bit, “You know Long Ears…maybe we’re paying the wrong Landis to guide us through this maze.”

“I’m not arguing there…” I muttered as I looked over the entire situation. “We need to find a way down fast, though. There is a chance that if those Beastmen spot us – it won’t be a welcome party they send.”

“There.” Katurian pointed down to the platforms, “Those are the way.”

“And how could you possibly know that?” I inquired.

“…these ruins all made possible by the very enigma that seems to cloud my access to the powers of darkness. I can sense it. To the side of me I left years ago, it’s welcoming. The stairs were, to what I am now, very inviting…and would’ve been the end of me. The powers behind this place seek to enlighten, or if one isn’t interested in such betterment…destroy. It’s like these depths have a mind of their own…or so it would seem to me.”

“Well, let’s not waste any more time then.” I said as I looked over the edge towards the platforms, “…what we jump down onto the them?”

Stitch clenched her teeth together in a bit of anxiety, “Uh, that seems super safe, yea…”

Vael began to check around the edge of the balcony, “I would assume there is some sort of device which would function to raise the platforms.” He ran his hands along the edge until he stopped at a small square which was slightly ill-colored compared to the rest. He pressed down and there was a slight buzzing. The stairs suddenly collapses out of view and the gears under the platforms whirred to life and brought each of them to either side of the balcony.

Faction 5 stepped onto one and Tarawath and I took the other, my father turned back toward the exit, “Well, Kal…” he said, “This is where I turn back. I helped you gain access – If I came with you all the way, you wouldn’t really be able to call it your accomplishment now would you?”

I grinned, “I understand…years are starting to take their toll on you.”

“That may be, but it never stopped be from completing a job. Good luck to all of you, and may the Goddess be with you.” He said as he walked away, and the platforms lit up before whizzing quickly down beside the spiraled staircase towards the bottom.

As we traveled down further into the Alzaadal Depths, we were privy to the near bottomless oceans that surrounded the ruins. The thick, clear walls gave us a mirky, dark view of the oceanic life around us. Thinking back on it, it was about right here that things probably changed for the worse. I’ve always been a bit more like my mother, even my old man thought so, the way I operated, the way things turned out most of the time – I even fell in love with someone who shared my passion for changing the world for the better, even if it meant doing something to condemn yourself. Those last words my father spoke to me, changed something, only ever so briefly, but it changed it long enough to matter. You see, doing things that most people frown upon your entire life, just to help one innocent individual makes all the hate and punishment worth it. It works the same way though, just as one good deed can help you forgive a lifetime of crime; one misstep in judgment can condemn all the good you’ve ever done.

“Gideon! Vael! This is it!” Stitch exclaimed as she hopped off the platform before it stopped moving, “Kat c’mon! The Lieutenant is this way!” she started making her way down a single walkway in the center of what seemed like an endless pool of water.

“You’ve been to this chamber before?” I asked.

“It seems so. We were in a large chamber like this which seemed to be flooded, with only a single path in the center, but we came in at a crossroad, rather then just this one solitary path.” Vael informed me. “…Gideon?”

She frowned and let out a heavy sigh, “Yea…tell them.”

“Tell us what?” Tara asked stepping forward.

“Kat!! Come on!” Stitch yelled from a few yards ahead.

“I’ll take the little one scouting ahead.” He said as his shadows crept across his Elvaan body like ink blots.

“The artifact we came across that imprisoned our Lieutenant, it’s very reminiscent of the Astral Candescence.” Vael explained, “Except, instead of the light, comforting, almost tranquil feeling the Astral Candescence instills upon those who gaze up it – this one fills you with a void. A void that is dark, foreboding and chaotic. When we first stumbled upon it…Katurian’s powers, seem to respond to it. Like the small orbs here diminish it, this one amplifies him. Overcome with such greed, he attempted to make contact with it, that’s when our Lieutenant intervened and was ensnared by the artifact and trapped.”

“So, what exactly is it, you’re saying?” Tara asked, “…that Katurian is a danger once we find the artifact and you Lieutenant?”

“It’s always a possibility – but more then that, we’re barely able to fend off the demon the artifact has been sending to stop us. We fear…that once we find the artifact, we won’t be able to stop it. More then that, if there is a way to stop it…Katurian meeting with the artifact, may be the only way.”

“Which could then bore an even worse monstrosity.” I filled in the final piece of the puzzle.

“Katurian is aware of all of us this.” Vael added, “I know to a lot he seems like a truly evil man. However, he has a very strong sense of self-awareness.”

“What’s the plan then?” I asked.

“We have none.” Gideon said, she was facing away toward the direction Katurian and Stitch had went. “We just wanted to let you know…” her voice trailed off.

“If you would like to return, Mr. Landis…” Vael began.

“I’m here until the job is finished.” I turned to Tara and took her hands into my own, “Tara…”

“Oh, please, Tiger…” she pulled a way and put one hand on my cheek, “I’d think you’d know better then to try and send me home, by now.” She smiled up me.

“Boooooooooss!” Stitch’s voice came echoing down the chamber, “We’ve got a problem!”

“We’re on our way!” Gideon called.

I smiled back down at the love of my life, her lips silently formed the words, I love you. I mimicked it in return, I love you too.

As we came to the end of the chamber, it opened up onto another small balcony. There wasn’t a large chasm before us here, just another chamber, once again filled with water. There wasn’t, however a path before us. This time, the stairs on either side of the balcony led down to a pier it seemed. There was then a large dial before us that Vael theorized would bring the two large platforms on either side of the chamber together giving us a bridge to walk across. The problem that Stitch had found was that the Beastmen settlement from before, seemed to somehow migrate to this location and used this room as a water source. On the opposite side of the room, was a female Qiqirn and several smaller Qiqirn children.

“It seems, that if the dial is pressed, the two platforms on the side will slide into place…forming a bridge for us to cross. However, based on the elevation of the pier below us and the exit on the other side…when we release the platforms on the walls, they’re going to allow for a very large amount of water to spill in…likely, no higher then the platforms themselves…” Vael explained.

“But high enough that those Qiqirns over there would be drowned.” Stitch frowned.

Gideon crossed her arms in contemplation, “Unfortunately this seems to be the only way across…”

“No, there has to be another way.” Tara said as she walked forward onto the balcony, surveying the room.

The first thing that entered into my mind was those words my father spoke, “…never stopped be from completing a job,” and as I walked that fine line between being a villain and doing what I knew in my heart was right – I faltered.

I reached forward and putting my hand around the dial and I turned it. The click was deafening. Following quickly was the whir and cracking of ancient gears revving up and pushing the bridge into place.

“KALLO!” Tarawath screamed my name as she turned to see what I had done, “NO! STOP IT!” She ran to the dial, but it couldn’t be stopped. She watched on in horror as the Qiqirn’s attention was drawn to the moving gears. They had no idea what was happening and as the platforms moved into placed, they vanished into the rising foam of the rushing waters.

“…I guess that solves our problem…” Gideon muttered quietly to herself.

Tara turned to face me, “What the hell is wrong with you!”

“They were just Beastm—” I was silenced by the hard sting of her hand across my cheek.

She stared at me for a moment, everyone was completely silent. Not even Katurian seemed to dare move a single muscle. I opened my mouth to speak but she cut me off.

“Don’t even…I…can’t even speak to you right now.” She turned swiftly and descended the stairs, making her way towards the bridge.

That’s all it took. One moment, one single second of misjudgment. I felt heavy, like the very center of my gut homed a ton of Darksteel. Stitch pulled away from the balcony’s edge and descended the stairs following by Vael and Gideon. Katurian was looking right through me, those dark eyes burning a hole hotter then I’ve ever felt before.

“Come on Kat…” Stitch called back and he dismissed me quickly before following down the stairs.

I followed.

For the next few chambers and passageways no one said anything. I caught up to Tarawath and put my hand on her shoulder, but every time I tried to get her attention her, she’d shrug away move ahead of me a few steps. After awhile, we entered rooms that seemed to be unfinished, the mechanical walls started to slowly give away to rock and natural formations – the pathways were a mixture of the two as though this part of the ruins was destroyed, missing or under construction.

Eventually, after getting tired of the silence and Tara trying to ignore me, I put both hands on her shoulders and spun her around.

“Don’t touch me!” she spun around.

The others stopped I looked to Gideon, “Go, we’ll be there shortly.”

She nodded and motioned for the rest to follow her.

“Let me explain…” I started.

“No, Kallo. I will not let you try to justify what you did. I feel like I don’t even know who you are…”

“I’m a thief! Sometimes I have to do things I don’t agree with.”

“I know you, Kallo Landis. And no matter what the size of the check, the Kallo Landis I feel in love with would have never so easily dismissed a life like you did. Ever. So, you can say whatever you need to make it right in your own head…I can’t look at you right now…” she turned her eyes down and I found myself with nothing to say. She wait a few minutes, the silence was nearly painful. She turned slowly and when her back was to me she straightened back up and quickly followed after Faction 5. After only a few steps the silence was shattered by Vael’s thundering voice.

“Beastmen!” he shouted down the hall.

Tarawath and I quickly broke into a run as we rounded the corner we came into a large chamber filled with many boulders and crevices, it had seemed as though it was being carved out but construction was stopped. Vael and Katurian were both up front, Vael was holding into a large polearm using it to hold back several Mamool Ja and Trolls. Katurian was projecting a large dark wall of energy, though he seemed to be struggling to keep his composure. Gideon was only several feet away holding Stitch in her arms with a dead Qiqirn several feet away, a single bullet hole in its head. Tarawath and I ran down to Gideon.

“Help her!” Gideon said as Tarawath kneeled down next to Stitch before she stood, drawing her Greatsword and running into the fray.

“Stitch, honey?” Tarawath put an arm under her head and tried to talk to her.

Her entire body was convulsing as she gripped her stomach. Blood was spilling out from behind her as well, the Qiqirn mut’ve snuck up on her and put his blade right through her back.

“It…ugh…” blood slowly began to seep from her lips, “Hu-urts…she stuttered. I feel heavy…” she moved her hands and looked down at the wound, “Ooh, that’s bad, huh?” she looked up at Tarawath, her lips were colored crimson as they seemed to curl up into a small smile, “I could fix that…for you…” she whispered.

“No, no, Stitch…just stay quiet, I’m going to help you, ok?” Tarawath said as she put her hand over Stitch’s wound and a small, gentle light appeared around Stitch’s stomach.

“I’m going to help the others…just yell if you need anything…” I said kneeling next to Tarawath.

“I’m fine. Go.” She said coldly.

As I rushed in to help Faction 5, Stitch’s eyes went very calm and eyes closed a bit as she gasped under the touch of Tarawath’s healing magic. She shook her head slightly and moved to stand a bit hazy.

“Ooh…that was…mm, hurt a bit! Thanks Miss Tara!” she had her usual spunk back and joined us in the fight.

I quickly put many Beastman between myself and everything else, slashing and stabbing at any open target I could. As I did, I had this very strange sense of dread suddenly come over me. Like something was watching, the walls of the cavernous room were dark and dank and it seemed like nothing more then the Beastmen would crawl out of the woodwork. I did the best I could to put it out of my mind

Katurian had concentrated what power he could muster and collected a good amount of his shadows onto his hands where they solidified around his fingers into long, grotesque looking claws, resembling that of a Taurus. As he shredded foe after foe, I saw their skin where the claws has lacerated them, slowly beginning to decay just from the touch. Troll and Mamool Ja a like feel to their knees writing in agony before their life was cut even shorter by a decapitation or a disembowelment. The smaller Qiqirn thieves and rogues he grasped right by their tiny little heads and frames and after holding onto their squirming bodies for several seconds they went limp, as he dropped them their heads had been shrunk into nothing but a smoldering black lump of skull and flesh. Even without his full power, the dark influence he wielded was frightening deadly.

Vael, being as non-lethal as possible, served as quite the polar opposite to Katurian. He had disarmed a large halberd from a Mamool Ja, and used it skillfully to parry incoming attacks and disarm whatever weapons they had. He would then lunge around bashing his opponents in the side of the head with the flat part of the halberd rendering them unconscious. Not, that it matter too much – very often Katurian came swooping by slicing their throats open with a single claw from his monstrous gauntlets.

The battle was begging to go just fine, the Beastmen were starting to clear out and suddenly a shot rang out across the cavern and the wall beside my head splintered apart! The blast was more familiar then Gideon’s dark steel revolvers though. It was the sound of a Hexagun. I spun around quickly to see Akeem, a sly grin painted across his face, an unconscious Tarawath in his arms and a defiant Stitch standing before him.

“My quarrel isn’t with you, little hume.” He sneered.

“That’s ok! I was planning on gutting you like fish, anyhow unless you let Tarawath go!” Stitch smiled sweetly, her daggers drawn.

He dismissed her threats to look straight at me, “Now it’s my turn.” He pointed his Hexagun straight up and pulled the trigger. A red orb began to grow and collect in size at the end of the barrel.

“Akeem! Stop!” I pushed past the Beastmen as I finally broke free of the state of shock seeing him here had put me in. I couldn’t seem to push through the Beastmen quick enough, they kept grabbing at me, pulling me back. The Fire Shot from his Hexagun discharged as he took several feet back the explosion sent Stitching flying backwards hitting the ground as rocks began to fall and collapse baring the way back.

Tara!” I screamed in vain, of course.

“Get a hold of yourself Long Ears!” Gideon called over to me as she carved a wide arc into the Beastmen, “We need to deal with the problem at hand – we’ll get your girl back!”

My entire body felt sluggish, like I was wading through Pashow swamplands in Thick Gear. I didn’t want to fight Beastmen, I didn’t want to find their damn Lieutenant, I had to help Tarawath, I had to get her back! I could not…I would not, fail her twice in the same day. There was no goddamn way. The reality of the situation was quickly shattered as I failed the rest of my comrades.

“Ugh! Eeh!” there was a loud shriek from behind me that only could have came from Stitch, I whirled around and no more then three feet from me Stitch stood frozen and immobilized with a Qiqirn shank buried deep into her gut. Her hands shot out quickly around it’s throat and as it drove the dagger deeper into her she took several steps back towards the wall, her grip around it’s next tighter and tighter until it went limp and she dropped it. A few more steps and her back her back hit the wall as she slumped to the ground.

“Ooh…Gid…? Vael, Kat?” she whispered reaching out for them.

“Oh, Goddamnit…” Gideon saw the blood spewing forth from Stitchs wound once again, “Katurian! You need to save her! The Summoner is gone!”

“I’m a little pre-occupied at the moment!” he growled back as he was beginning to become overwhelmed as a new wave of Beastmen seemed to appear.

The entire situation was becoming more and more chaotic. I didn’t know what else to do, my instincts of course, drove me into battle helping to dispatch as many Trolls, Mamool Ja and Qiqirn as I could – but even doing so I felt so completely and utterly helpless. I could only watch on.

“Its…it’s, fine…I’ll be a-alight!” Stitch smiled as a deep crimson began to trickle down her lips. “I’m…” she hushed her voice to a whisper, “I’m the, the mage…” with trembling hands she placed her hand against the wound. “I…can heal me…” she held her hands there, her eyes alive and glowing with hope. “…heal me…” she whispered smiling down at her wound through blood-stained teeth and blood-soaked lips, she started to tremble more, “…Heal!” she shouted as she slowly started to push her fingers into her wound, “Aaah!” she cried out loudly in pain as dark crimson flowed forth.

“STITCH! Stop it!!” Gideon called as a Troll planted his fist into her back, grabbed her by the shoulder and threw her hard against the wall.

Katurian’s eyes were starting to glow that ominous yellow they always did when he was in full Shadowform, but he was still overwhelmed being the closest to where the new wave of Beastmen had entered. “Vael!” he shouted, “I need help getting to the little one!”

Vael’s concentration was broke as he noticed Stitch for the first time. His face went pale and flushed as white as the Beaucidine snow.

We all watched on helpless in horror as Stitch coughed up more blood, digging deeper and deeper into her stomach, her hands from the fingers to the elbow covered in blood. She wasn’t even looking at what she was doing anymore, her eyes were glazed over, her face pale, and still she smiled whispering, “I’ll heal…I’ll save us…” her voice puttered out softly as her body came to a complete stop and she stared back at us, a white angel perched on the floor – mouth and hands covered with blood and the mark of violence on her stomach.

“No! No! Stitch!” Gideon was nearly crying as she gripped her Greatsword with both hands and cleaved through the enemies before her. She was driven by anger and rage – but Vael, he was driven by something unknown to me even now.

He said nothing, no tears, no grunts, no howls or cries of sadness. His pale face faded back to it’s full color and as a Mamool Ja halberd struck towards his size, he snatched it out of midair and yanked it towards him pulling the Mamool Ja forward into his other waiting hand. He palmed the entire skull of the Mamool Ja and crushed it between his fingers. His fist went flying target after target, with such deadly accuracy and such brute force even amongst the rest of the violence and chaos I could hear bones snapping and breaking. Two trolls, just barely larger than Vael grappled him, both holding onto an arm as a Mamool Ja swooped in with a scimitar and lunged towards Vael – the reptilian warrior made it’s mark driving the blade deep into Vael’s stomach. The behemoth of a Monk didn’t even flinch. He thrust his arms forward with such ferocity, that he brought both trolls together like symbols in a band, crushing the Mamool Ja. Then he grabbed one Troll by the head and the wrist and pulling both ways, split it’s upper torso open with one swift tear. As the second troll stood up Vael grabbed it by it’s throat and put his fist into it’s face one time – as it dropped dead to the floor, I could see Vael’s punch had caved in the front of it’s skull. Upon killing Stitch these poor Beastmen had evoked a Galkan Retribution, not even Raogrimm himself could have ever anticipated. This was the ancient Rage of the Galka in all it’s horrible, deformed glory.

Katurian and Gideon dispatched a few more Beastmen along with myself – but none of our tallies even came close to Vael as he turned this seemingly normal cavern into his own personal blood gallery. As the last Beastmen fell breathless and limp to the floor Vael kneeled beside Stitch’s body, he gripped the scimitar still impaled inside of himself and slowly pulled the long, jagged blade out tossing it to the side. He scooped Stitch up in his arms and pulled her close to his body. Gideon walked up slowly and put her hand on his shoulder.

“Vael…” she said, awaiting a response. “…Vael…?”

Katurian approached her side, “He’s gone…”

There was a slight silence, then Gideon turned swifly, shoving Katurian away, “This is your fault!” she screamed at him.

He looked confused, but said nothing.

“Why didn’t you just heal Stitch?!” she shoved him again, “Why? You use to do that! What the hell is wrong with you that all you can do is bring more death?” She went to shove him again, but he grabbed her by the wrists.

“…my oath to that girl, was to follow her until she dismissed me. To quell my hatred for life until she decided my time with her was done…” shadows slowly started to seep across his body, “She’s gone. My oath is void.”

From all around Katurian there was a very quick explosion of dark mist – like an engine letting off steam. It propelled Gideon backwards into the rubble blocking the way we came. She writhed around gripping the side of her face as he skin seemed to bubble and burn from the heat. I started to move but she put a hand up forcing me to halt, as she stood back up there was a very apparent change in her. She was hunched lower then normal, her eyes were dark green and glowed with a feral instinct.

“You will follow her to the grave then…” Gideon growled, baring fangs I had never seen before. She pounced toward Katurian who pulsed with another burst of dark steam. This time, however, other then scalding her skin further it seemed to have no effect on Gideon. She pinned him to the ground and raised her hand high into the air, her nails were more like Gnole claws as she swiped down shredding his chest, one after another. Katurian vanished for a brief moment in a cloud of smoke, but his dampened powers wouldn’t allow him to move very far in that gaseous form. He reappeared standing, hunched over, blood running from the wound in his chest. Gideon pounced toward him again, he put up one hand and a blast of dark energy erupted propelling her into the rubble behind her with such force that she crashed through it, opening a passage just big enough to crawl through. Katurian could sense life and death – he knew she wasn’t down yet. He took a few weary steps forward and Gideon once again, teeth bared, leapt toward him pinning him to the ground against and with such speed and viciousness begin to tear the Elvaan apart limb by limb.

My attention was suddenly taken away, however, by the only thing that could pull me from such a situation. Through the hole in the rubble, hanging on a broken rock in the wall was a small ruby necklace. The path was open, I could purse Tarawath and Akeem. I didn’t even hesitate, I crawled through the rubble and made my way back into the ruins of the Alzaadal Depths, leaving the sound of animalistic slaughter behind me.

Spitting Image.

•April 8, 2009 • 6 Comments

“Alright! So, I have a question for you!” Stitch exclaimed suddenly as we were finally advancing toward where the ‘main’ entrance to the Depths is considered to be. “Mr. Thief, you have a device you got from Naja to get us into the Depths, ya?”

“That’s right.” I answered her.

“So…how’d we get in before then without a device?” she questioned Gideon.

Vael answered her, “It’s my assumption that because the Alzaadal Ruins are so vast, there is still quite a bit of them left unexplored and as such there may very well be other entrances into the depths not yet discovered. We got in through one such entrance.”

“Aaah! That big door that shut behind and took Kat’s arm off, eh?” Stitch giggled.

“Wouldn’t be the first time.” Katurian whispered, “Probably won’t be the last.”

“In theory, ” I began to explain, “We very well could find a way to infiltrate the Depths without the use of this trinket, but I don’t think we’d be as lucky as you all were when you found that entrance. Could take us weeks, even months.”

“Alright, hold up a moment.” Drevan put his hand back towards us, “The entrance is just up a head. But, being the main point of the Depths there are a couple Immortals guarding it.”

“How many is a couple?” I asked.

“Last I knew, probably 6 or 7 and…where’d that Kat fellow go?” my Father asked looking around.

Katurian had in fact, vanished suddenly without any of us noticing. Before anyone had any chance to offer an explanation, one was given to us. There was a very brief scream in the direction of the Depths entrance and then Katurian suddenly materialized in Shadow Form behind my father.

“Our problem is solved.”

Quickly hurrying to the entrance we were greeted by Katurian’s redecoration. There were several spots around the entrance that were simply large area’s of ground, rock, foliage and the depth walls itself covered in blood and gore.

Tarawath gently laid her hand on my shoulder and looked away as though she was going to be sick. My fathers mouth was nearly hanging on the floor, but he said nothing.

The doors to the depths themselves were massive pieces of architecture. An enormous archway with various runes and etchings made from top to bottom, and in the very center of the door down near the bottom, no high then a Hume would stand was white glowing orb. I left Tara’s side for a moment and took out the device I had taken from Naja.

“OH!” Stitch exclaimed suddenly and I think everyone jumped a little bit, “I have another question!”

“Heh…what is it Stitch?” Gideon asked arms crossed and a look of amusement on her lips.

“So, if the Empire has ways of opening this door and getting inside, why is it so special? Why isn’t just part of the other ruins? You know? Those don’t need some super, secret special device to be accessed.”

I put the device near the orb, “You’ll find out shortly.” There was a single red button on the device and upon pressing it the doors emitted a loud crack and long, ancient roar. The glowing orb lit up and hummed as the massive plates slowly began to slide back into the rocks which surrounded them. Immediately I was hit with a mixture of dead air and mildew coming from inside the depths, as well as fresh air rushing into the doorway from behind me. I peered into the opened gateway as the rest of the group gathered around me.

My father chuckled, “Well, I guess that would be your reason.” He smiled as he pointed to another set of smaller doors several yards in front of us.

“Well, this is exactly why we hired your son Mr. Landis.” Gideon smirked

“And exactly why I brought the old timer.” I patted my father’s shoulder, “Shall we?”

“For some reason it doesn’t surprise me you need me to do your all your work for you.” He snorted, “…your mom had to do all mine.” We walked into the large opening just inside the door, “So what do we have here?”

“According to what Miss Salaheem told me…these here.” I pointed to a set of vials shaped like hour glasses in the wall, affixed in such a way they could be rotated, “Will start the trial.”

“The trial, huh?” my father inspected closely without actually touching them, he looked to the other side of the room on the side of the door opposite to us. “Same fixtures over there.”

“Yea. The theory is, that behind this big door is the way into the Depths, the main way. Sort of like, what a Grand Hall might be.” I pointed to the two doors on the side, “These doorways lead to two passages that run parallel to the Grand Hall. Unlike the Grand Hall, however, at the end of these passage ways are two terminals. Both of which must be activated simultaneously in order to open the door to the Grand Hall.”

“Well, that doesn’t seem to hard!” Stitch appeared suddenly between the two of us, “Why’s it such a big secret then?”

“The terminal paths are rigged with fatal booby traps, perilous death pits and other such unsavory obstacles.” I grinned.

“Ooooh, K! This is definitely not my area of expertise!” she turned on her heals and walked away, Katurian was near as well over hearing the explanation of the situation.

“The problem, however, is even worse then that. Not only do the terminals need to be pressed at the same time…but we’re timed on how quickly we get there and we must arrive at the same time. At key points throughout the side halls large flood gates drop down blocking the return. These will fall if either, (a) the time limit for each section expires, or, (b) someone completes the section – there are, they think, pressure plates the end of a section so if the two participants don’t complete each section at the same time…”

“Game over.” Katurian says, coming closer. “So that’s why you brought your father?”

“Just as all the great Alchemists familiarize themselves with the works of each other; just as all the famous Goldsmiths are aware of each others talents; so to, are the most notorious and inventive of Rogue’s and Thieves aware of how the underground art works.” I said looking first at Katurian, then over to Drevan.

“Except for one.”

“It was never proven, however,” I smirked and my father returned the smile full of pride, “If any of them were linked or how many actually pulled off the heists. But, there was a pair of thieves who are infamous throughout Vana’diel not for their reputation, or their names – as those are still unknown – but only for the unsolved burglaries and thefts that remain unsolved and to this day still baffle authorities.”

“And I suppose this is where I’m suppose to believe it was your father?” Katurian hissed.

“Of course not.” I said, “They were unsolved. Who knows who it could be.”

“Mmm.” Katurian shrugged, “Regardless, I see one…two fatal flaws in your plan.”

“And that would be?”

“In this case? Elvaan error. You’re both only human beings after all. No matter how well practiced or physically engineered you believed yourself to be – there’s still room for error. Even though you’re linked by blood – timing is still a very critical issue on the other side of these walls.”

“And I suppose you have a better solution?” Drevan asked crossing his arms.

“Shadows move without restraint or rules to govern them…” Katurian said as he slowly began to dissipate from his shadow form into pure dark energy – like a mist he began to swirl and thin out. As this was happening several small orbs on the walls, which I believed to be only decorations at this point, started to glow a soft white color before faint beams of light shot from each into Katurian and quickly reverted him back to his Elvaan form. He looked just as confused as we did, before we could say anything and I silently instructed my father that we shouldn’t say anything, Katurian went up to one of the Orbs.

“What is it Kat?” Gideon came in, she had also witnessed the event.

“These orbs…they look very similar to the Astral Candescence.” He said, “They aren’t…but, there are rumors of other Astral Candescence being hidden away inside the ruins. Perhaps these are somehow linked to them? They work as a…security device, for…unwanted magic.” He turned back to us, “I can be of no use here.” He quickly left the room to the outside where the others were waiting.

“…and no got turned into a pile of burning flesh. I say that’s a good omen.” I grinned at Gideon.

“Just get us inside, Long-ears.” She returned to the others, leaving me and my father alone in front of the massive gates and two small doors.

“Shall we then?” Drevan asked walking over and taking his place in front of the left door. “…how do we get them to open?”

“Oh…um…” I inspected the door and then turned my attention to the small hourglass like item embedded in the wall. As I took a closer look, it seemed it was affixed to some type of swiveling device. The moment I touched it, it began to glow and hum similar to the orbs on the wall that sapped Katurian’s powers. The doors then shot open.

“Not bad, Kid.” My father smiled, “I’d be impressed if I thought you’d done that on purpose. Now…show me you following in my footsteps wasn’t a complete waste!” my fathered and I both stepped through the threshold, the doors shutting down tight behind us.

Once in the hallway, I could see that it was indeed one long gauntlet of death. Small holes in the sides of the wall foretold of darts or arrows. Further ahead I heard the scythe wisp of terrible pendulums and the echoing sloshes of deep pits homing a watery tomb. To my right was a solid wall, but to my left, was a clear glass and a view into the middle corridor that led into the depths. Just behind that was another clear wall were I could see my father also taking in his surroundings which from what little I could see was just like mine. The sight line must’ve been put in place so that the two attempting to override the fail safe could time their movements more precisely. My fathered nodded to me. We began.

I took a step forward and as soon as I did, I felt the slight pressure and click of a trap plate. The walls began to shift and I noticed the tiny holes in the wall began to swivel and shift slightly. My eyes went wide as I heard a distinguishable click, the sounding of bolts being loaded. In the tiny cramped space it was impossible to know exactly where they were being loaded into. Though it could cost me a bit of time, I had no choice but to recklessly throw my body weight backwards towards the door as quick and hard as possible. I hit the door hard, knocking the wind out of my lungs as a spray of needle-like darts puffed out of the floor and the wall in a pattern so precise, it left no room for error…or even breathing from my judgment. I glanced over to my father, great minds must think a like, he had done the same as me. As I watched the apparatus, it seemed it had three phases; the first sprayed mostly floor darts straight up, with a few wall darts forward, there was just enough room for me to shimmy along the wall. The second phase, which came three seconds after the first, sprayed mostly wall darts, straight across the hallway, and a few floor darts towards the glass wall, giving me a split second to put myself on the floor against the solid wall. The last phase was a mirror reflection of the first, coming two seconds after the second phase, which meant I’d need to make distance to get ahead of the angle of the wall darts as they shifted back. By the time I had my timing down, my father had already gone, one phase ahead of me. I caught him flash a competitive grin towards me, either he had a lot of faith or…yea, I’ll stick with that one. My father must’ve had a lot of faith in me.

I hit the ground hard against the corner of the solid wall as I heard the darts loading up. The good thing about this phase, is with the angle of the floor darts, there was a constant opening all down the path, so though it was a short time I was able to crawl a few feet before I had to shot back up and bound across the way and line up correctly that the third phase barrage didn’t pin me to what I was sure was a venomous death. I’m pretty sure I saw Drevan misjudge a timing at one point, and though he was lucky not to take any darts to his persons, he did lose time, which worked out better for us because we both ended up stepping on the next set of pressure plates at the exact same time – giant slabs of concrete fell down behind us blocking off any point of return at this point.

Before us now stood a different type of obstacle, one not of wits and calculations as before, but of balance and agility. The sloshing sound of watery grave stood before me. A long pit that went so far down it was almost impossible to make out the array of pikes and other tools of impalement at the bottom with several skeletal forms. Above all of this was several shifting platforms and rotating beams. This might have been a bit more easy if it wasn’t for the dripping condensation on the ceiling splattering them with a slick and slippery coat of sea slime. I peered over quickly to my father, and there was no sight of him. Panic began to quickly set in, when he suddenly appeared from below the platforms and beams, landing on one on of the large platforms and wiping his hands clean. He must’ve been using the bars and supports on the platforms to swing across, rather then take the risk of slipping off the platforms as he stepped from one to the other. He was making very quick headway as I still stood stupefied on my own end at what I thought to be his near demise. I had the dexterity to mimic him, but again, his false start was more of a challenge then it was of ignorance. At that moment the solid wall caught my eye, I hadn’t noticed it in the room before, but the fact that this room was victim to the elemental of the sea the wall had begun to erode slightly. An idea began to spawn in my mind as I took out my dagger and gripped it hard in my hand. I braced myself, hunkered down as I tensed my muscles and in a burst of speed as I thrust my dagger into the wall as a hold I focused all my energy into quickening my movement, the speed of my body, everything seemed to slow around me as I scaled forward across the wall, the dagger in the concrete giving just enough support to keep me from falling to fast. I made it just far enough that as I lost my grip and fell I was able to reach a hand out and grab the support of a platform moving away. I’d have to be fast to pull myself up before the platform shot back and cut off my grip. I sheathed the dagger and swung myself forward, backwards then as I came forward again lifted my legs, wrapping them around the beam in front of me, letting go of the support on my hands just as the platform shot back around. I quickly sat up and grabbed the beam my legs were on pulled myself up. My father was grinning across at me, hopping back and forth carefully from the last two platforms – he had technically beat me, but I could tell he was still a bit impressed. Even though he’d never admit it. I hopped a few more and was right even with him.

We stepped on the next pressure plate at the same time as the doors slammed down behind us again…