May 2017

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Sunder…

Dust Era…

Alsi, land of Fire-Forests…

In a struggling village…

Ehehehe, got another one”

Blackened fingertips plucked a squirming diamond spider from its silver web, taking great care not to damage it at all. For all the care that was taken, the spider wasn’t happy about this at all, nor was it well pleased to be placed inside a metal tube. Still, everything wasn’t all bad, there were holes in the tube for breathing at least.

Got enough now I think, don’t worry little friends, I’ll put you back soon”

Leaning up from the silver web was a human with long pointed ears, some manner of elf. It was clear to the eye what kind of elf the old man was. His skin was black and cracked, exactly the texture of charcoal, ash even falling from his body.

Raityne, Cinder elves. One of the gazed races, those who’s descendants were, depending on who you ask, either blessed or cursed by the gaze of the Dragon Sun, Zhulougr.

As with all his kind, he was devoid of hair and his forehead had a cross-like puckered cleft. Within the centre of that cleft, was a black bead. The Raityne cast no shadows, for that black bead is what became of their shadows, and it is by that they survived the brutal toxins of young Sunder. It is said that the bead acts as a third eye, giving insight beyond the material, but if it is so, then for many, and for this old man, it is a closed eye.

He wore trousers roughly made from the hide of some scaled beast, and his boots were hewn of metal lined with fur. The boots, due the years of care, had not one bit of rust. Elastic suspenders held his trousers up. The suspenders were likely also made from some savage beast or fiend. Tied onto these were pouches and tubes. His chest was bare apart from this.

Though an old man, and a wizened cinder elf, his stick-like body still showed strong muscle. He leaned back from the dark corner of his shack, from which he had just plucked the spider and grabbing an orange leather coat with metal plates, he left his bare hovel.

Dust as always swirled about the single street of the village. Shacks like the one he came from leaned against each other, as if together they would not fall apart. Or perhaps, had they not been together, they would indeed have fallen apart.

Surrounding the dirt road and the village was a forest of trees with bark no blacker than the old man’s skin. The leaves of these trees were flames, and in contrast to the state of the sleepy village, they danced with vigor, reaching to the skies and the noxious mist above.

Zhulougr still shone brightly through the mist, but then, considering that the Shroud had passed not long ago, it was still what counted for morning in Sunder. As the old man walked down the street, he passed by the village’s lone saloon. A building which had more bone than timber in its making.

Sitting outside, crosslegged and smoking a pipe of who-knows-what that gave off blue smoke, was the owner himself. Somehow, in spite of being a raityne himself, he was a little pudgy. His clothes, though drab grey were actually silk. Upon his head was a hat that was like an upside-down dish of woven red straw. He slowly blew a cloud out of his mouth and smiled at the sight of the old man.

Going out again?”

Ehehehe, I just can’t get enough” the old man replied.

Yer worse than me and my gas, take care of yourself, ya hear me? Rangers been saying everything’s quiet, but you can never be too careful”

Aww, yer more as like to die from yer gas than I am going out into the wilds”

Tch, ‘pose that’s what I get for worrying about a withered branch like youse.”

Just right, I’ll petrify long after yer gone! I’ll take good care of the saloon if youse want me to!”

G’wan, get! Who’d leave anything to an old rogue like you? I’ve a wife and kids!”

I’ll take care of dem too!”

Aye, after you lose your arms and legs to the beasts in the wilds, you’ll care for me wife and kids with your eyelids. Yer a gentleman, go go”

Ehehehe”

Shaking his head, the saloon owner managed to get up and return to the inside of the saloon.

As the old man continued down the street, he was accosted by a savage band of bandits! Not one of them came up much further in height than his knee, and all wore hooded ponchos of various materials, such as scaly hides, wool, or cloth. Each was lovingly made by their mothers! They were not bandits after all, but the young children of the village.

Ehehehe, what does the band of thieves want with me today?” the old man asked.

The children looked at each other, and the current ringleader (as determined by game of tag) stepped forth.

We, uh, we wanna see the spiders again!”

Hoh? So you want to see the spiders? Well, I could show you…”

The old man stepped closer to the ringleader and then lunged, sweeping his hand at the poor kid’s ear.

…but you’ve a spider just here making a home in your ear!”

He displayed a diamond spider held gently in his fingertips.

The children squealed in dismay at the newfound existence of ear-spiders and fled in all directions, shaking their heads in case they too had spiders. Laughing, the old man placed the spider back in the tube he had taken it from.

A lot more of em these days. Gonna be a lot of mouths to feed” he mumbled as he left the village.

*****

It was dark under the acid, the light of Zhulougr did not cast far. Obscure lumps floated here and there, amid this, the bones bobbed in the current. Metal-like coral grew on both rock, bone and the more obscure matter that resisted the corrosion of the toxic waters. Things that bore a passing resemblance to fish swam lazily. A shadow followed them, stalking, shifting from bone to bone, coral to coral, keeping close to the loose bed of the acid lake.

It was biding its time. Closer. Closer.

Too far and it would fail to close the distance. The fish were slow, but they were not that slow.

When lacking in speed, patience is one of the greatest virtues of a hunter. Our shadowy predator was not lacking in patience. It was a being that would wait for days in one place if it thought that a meal would result from the wait. Not perhaps the smartest of creatures.

Feelers twitched in the acid, it felt that the fish were close enough, but just as it was about to move, the prey were spooked by something, and fled into various crooks in the coral. The hunter froze. It was aware that it could easily become the prey of something else.

Yet everything was quite still. The hunter took a risk.

A single compound eye opened up and twitched. The creature normally kept the eye closed because of the orange glow it had. What it saw was thin silvery brilliance! Disregarding all else, the hunter rushed out before this enticing prey could escape and bit down and grabbed with its claws. A moment later and the hunter realised its mistake.

It was not a highly nutritious and thin eel! It had bitten on something that stuck in its maw, that bonded to its claws! It thrashed in rage at being cheated, but very quickly rage turned to panic as it felt a great strength from the silver thing, an upward pull! It struggled but the strength was wily and used its struggles against it.

The hunter was drawn closer and closer to the surface! It could not escape! It had become prey!

Ehehehe!”

With a laugh the old man jerked his sliver thread and his catch broke the surface of the acid, sending a deadly spray of the dread waters flying. He slammed it against the lake shore, and taking a rock he had placed earlier he brained the catch! The catch itself was a ghastly creature with a white human-like flabby face, the rest of the body was covered in muddy shell, it was not unlike a one-eyed man-faced lobster.

Taking out a tube, the old man put the spider he had been drawing thread from back inside and then he took out a new tube and a new spider, teasing the poor thing to produce thread and then casting the line into the lake.

Think I’m lucky today Ehehehe, gonna get a big catch, big catch”

The old man continued his hobby until he got the feeling sticking around any longer would lead to getting eaten.

He was of course, warmly welcomed back at the village.

It was a brand new day in Elcon, the Sun was shining bright, staring down at everyone with his big eyes and happily swaying his feet. The snow that was ever-present glistened like badly made icing. In the distance a blimp-like creature honked cheerily. Amid the snow, a huddle of houses gathered together, silent and sleeping.

Within these houses, there was one quite lazy being slumbering gently. It was a small house with only one room, and in this room was a hammock. This quilted hammock groaned in time with the snores of its occupant. A mound of quilts covered the sleeper. There wasn’t much in the house other than the hammock. Just a table, chairs, the scattered pieces of some obscure elconic boardgame and a bottle rack. The chairs were plain rocking chairs made of blue wood and the table due to age was a rocking table that was also of blue wood. A gun, a blunderbuss of red-brown wood and crimson metal was propped up next to one of the wall, and along with it was a bag of metal spheres.

In the distance, a high pitched shriek cut through the air, but the heavily sleeping hammock owner just grunted and rolled over inside the hammock. The pattering of trotters approached the house, and the door was flung open with a bang, then closed with another bang. The hammock dweller did not awaken.

The one who ran into the house was a purple hog wearing a brown toga. He looked extremely agitated. He moved the table and then the chairs in front of the door before he went over to the hammock.

Wake up Phred! WAKE UP! WHAT ARE WE FEEDING YOU FOR?!” he squealed shaking the hammock.

Phred tumbled out of the hammock. A round bumpy red shell. Snores came from inside the shell.

The purple hog began shaking the shell.

IF YOU DON’T WAKE UP THEN EVERYONE IS GOING TO GET EATEN, THEN YOU’LL HAVE TO FEND FOR YOURSELF!”

Finally Phred stirred. First one brown hairy clawed limb extended out of the shell, stretching and cracking. A second limb came out. A third arm with a clawed hand came out to scratch the other arms, and fourth followed promptly afterwards. After that came a pair of furry spider-like mandibles, then three stalks with blue eyes on the end of them popped out, blinking blearily.

Phred finally noticed the purple hog before him.

Eh, Royale? Is it already time for breakfast?” Phred asked, rubbing his mandibles together eagerly.

The small purple hog called Royale clutched his head and gave out a distressed oink.

Breakfast? If you wait any longer, we’re all going to become breakfast? You need to do your job as village guardian!” he complained.

Eating right? Were’s breakfast?” Phred asked, still not taking in the situation and poor Royale’s panic.

Your job isn’t eating! Was what Royale was going to retort, when there was a savage growl and then something slammed against the door of the small house! It did not stop, but became fiercer and fiercer as it slammed up against the door!

What’s happened?” Phred asked, one eye on Royale and two on the door.

I woke early, so I went to do my morning chores, getting milk from the mottles and checking the underground crops for pests, but while I was checking them…”

Yes, Yes? What?”

The door burst open and a pack of cabbages running on their roots tumbled in, baying for blood! Their leaves rotated and opened in a horrifying maw! Royale fell behind Phred and shrieked.

They’ve gone bad!” he screamed.

Phred fell over as a cabbage jumped on his shell, but the vegetable was unable to use its leafy maw to break the shell, and so it ended up being used as a club by Phred to beat the other cabbages into submission. In short order the savage cabbages were reduced to green pulp.

When dead vegetable matter comes back into horrifying unlife, it is called truant. However it is not only dead vegetable matter that can start hungering for the living. When plants still living do this, they are simply called ‘bad crops’.

Phred loaded his blunderbuss and slung his bag of ammo over his shell.

It’s harvest time!” he declared.

He then heroically strode out of his house on two of his hands. Royale was about to follow, when a panicked Phred dashed back into the house. Hot on his palms was a swarm of baby beetroot, he slid back and fired off a shot at them, and following that he beat the rest into sauce with the butt of his blunderbuss.

Why didn’t you tell me that there’s so many of them?” He accused Royale.

The unfortunate hog shrugged.

You just went off on your own, what was I supposed to do?”

Nevermind. With these numbers, there’s probably a veggie king riling them up. I’ll have to slay that to get the rest of the crops to flee”

That sounds like a solid plan, while you do that, I’ll hide carefully. I wish you well!”

Phred stared at Royale.

Sweat started to bead on Royale’s head.

I-I’m going to hide now”

I don’t know the way to the underground fields”

Maybe it would have been better if I had been eaten in my sleep”

Don’t talk like that!”

Phred” -he actually cares about us?-

If that happened, who would grow my food?”

There was no resistance from Royale’s brokenhearted body as Phred tucked him under one arm and walked out of the house again.

Magic wards kept the snow back from the streets, and thus it looked as if they were in a tunnel with a ceiling of snow. Growling vegetables stalked the streets and the houses were silent, either because the occupants were asleep or were trying very hard not to attract the attention of the deadly people-eating vegetables. Phred was actually showing some intelligence and was trying hard to not attract the attention of all the vegetables.

This way now” Royale said, indicating that Phred needed to turn right down a street.

Rounding the corner, an aggressive artichoke leapt at Phred and tried to choke him! It had some difficulty with this as Phred’s neck was not visible, if indeed he actually had a neck in the first place. So, the artichoke settled for the next best option and tried strangling the life out of Royale. A hasty beating and Phred saved the hog from an unpleasant end.

They continued on like this, getting jumped by this vegetable or that vegetable, the vegetable having difficulty with Phred, attacking Royale, then being beaten by Phred. Royale was not happy about this arrangement, but Phred felt everything was fine. Finally they came upon one of the entrances to the underground farms.

It was however teeming with bad crops.

Oh dear” worried Royale

Well, this is a problem, I’ve got just the solution for this though”

Phred lifted Royale and placed him on top of one of the signs connected to a nearby building. It was a tavern with a happily drinking pig as the sign. The hog safely placed on top of the pig, Phred began the next step of his plan.

Wait, are you…” Royale began.

Phred climbed up the wall on the other side and with all his might tossed one of his blunderbuss rounds at the tavern! As soon as it made a loud bang, Phred vanished into the snow above. Royale could only wail in despair as the bad crops gathered around beneath him. A moment later, Phred fell from the snow right into the underground entrance. He gave Royale a thumbs up as he fell. Royale wept.

Underground, Phred sped past the bad crops, he wasn’t going to get into a fight with them. It would take too long. Dodging this vegetable and that vegetable and clubbing the odd one that he couldn’t evade, he made it to the underground farms! Straight away he could see what the veggie king was.

He had heard the villagers were growing a prize pumpkin. A king among pumpkins, and it seemed that with excessive pampering, the pumpkin had become spoiled, and went bad! It was a massive thing, being more than twice the size of him. As it noticed him, it got up, exposing a muscled lion-like root body and a mane of vines with lesser pumpkins fiercely snapping. The great pumpkin cracked, and that maw let loose a thundering roar.

With a blast of his blunderbuss, Phred cut off that roar! Sadly the round didn’t do much damage to the veggie king, and the lesser pumpkins shot out at Phred. He rolled as they crashed into the soil behind him. Some adventurous turnips tried to bite Phred while he was down, but he slapped them silly and then fired them at the pumpkin king with his blunderbuss!

Roaring at being pelted with hard turnips, the veggie king directly charged at Phred, who had no choice but to jump out of the way to avoid being crushed. Seeing that his attacks were not proving effective, Phred reloaded his gun and considered a different course of action. A lesser pumpkin shot out at him, and he stepped back to avoid it, then he lunged, grabbing the vine it was attached to, with a mighty yell he tore the vine apart! The small pumpkin grew still, and Phred knew then what course of action to take.

He looked around at the ceiling, checking for a handy stalactite. He quickly spotted an unnervingly pointy and large one. He just had to lead the veggie king toward it. The king in question pounced at Phred, who just flung himself out of harms way and began to flee like a bat. With a roar, the veggie king expressed its displeasure at his flight, and slowly prowled after him, pausing for a moment to swipe a bunch of cabbages in his direction. Avoiding the rain of hungering cabbages, Phred got in position, and the veggie king followed soon after.

Wishing to prevent any mishaps, Phred aimed at the stalactite and quickly fired. With a loud crack, the stone fell, and the veggie king had just turned to look up at it when the severed rock fell down and cut the great pumpkin right off. The whole plant collapsed, and Phred relaxed only when the bad crops had fled the farm in fear.

He let out a long breath and then looked sadly at veggie king. It was his prediction that he and the villagers would end up eating pumpkin for months.

I guess it would be too wasteful if I smashed it and claimed it happened in the battle” He mused.

In nothingness, in void, there hung what looked to be at first glance a furry sphere.

Hanging in the void, it was no sphere but a great furred body. It was clutching onto something that was hidden deeply within its fur. It was sleeping, and though there was no air, not even the concept of air in the void, it breathed.

The breath was uneven.

Floating around this being were segmented insects in serpentine form. They had no limbs, only heavy mandibles that covered mouths that fed on void and the parasites of the great furred being. These serpentine insects’ exoskeletons were as stone, and upon them, like barnacles on a whale, were tiny cities.

Though, in reality it was not that the cities were tiny, but that the scale of the serpent bugs was far too big.

The truth was, that the furry creature was protecting a dimension. Not that something has to be huge to do so, but it tends to be easier. This dimensional protector also happened to have a dimension inside it, quite apart from the ‘naked’ dimension it guarded.

A flickering appeared in the void, and then a part of it unfolded like the petals of a flower. After that, glowing blue train tracks burst out from the voidflower. Following the tracks, a dark blue train cab with no carriage flung itself out into the void. Unlike a normal steam train, the smokestacks swept and curled like sheep horns towards the wheels of the train. These bulging pipes strained and pumped navy smoke with stars in it into the wheels and as the wheels turned the smoke turned into the glowing blue tracks that the train ran upon.

Strips of metal were bolted onto the train to keep the whole thing together. The front of the train was like the beak of some bird, and the two white lamps on the sides gave it an unfortunate look. Basically the front looked like a very ugly and surprised bird, so surprised that its eyes were popping out.

Considering the rear of the train cab, one noun comes to mind. Organ.

Seriously wasn’t that just a pipe organ?

Sure, it was quite bigger than many pipe organs, but. Those distinctive bronze looking pipes… weren’t they the pipes of a pipe organ?

The train cab was a mere speck in comparison to the dimensional protector and the bugsnakes. As for the people inside the train…

Lunatic! You’re a menace to sane thought. Indecent and unscrupulous! If another moment had passed we’ve have been blasted to bits!”

The speaker was exactly what you’d expect to see if you carved a muscled statue of a man from marble, but cut the head off, drilled into it and dropped a small ginger dog into the hole, and for the final touch, slapping a green visor over the eyes of the dog. The floppy ears of this dog had adorably curly hair.

This dog being was currently pounding its marble body with its little paws in frustration at its companion’s incurable, except by death, recklessness.

Long deep breaths Mark. You know this high blood pressure ranting is bad for your health, you’re shaving years off your life like this!”

At first the companion of Mark looked quite normal. A human figure in a white jumpsuit-spacesuit, with a cylindrical creamy helmet. Then on closer inspection one could tell the head was actually a shell the creature was coming from and that instead of a pair of boots, there was another pair of gloved hands.

How this being spoke and how it eats or sees is a mystery best left veiled, but for those that wish to pain themselves, consider the nature of many shelled sea beings.

I’m shaving years off my life? ME? Not the madman, Doctor Hilophanti who waits until the Droppelian Hungership is just about to eat us to order the tunnel creation? Not him, but me! Ahaha!”

Mark grabbed Doctor Hilo and shook him. The poor dog’s eyes were rolling around in his sockets. He had quite legitimate complaints, but sadly the stress had robbed him of his senses. Identifying the problem but having no remorse, Hilo moved his rear hands to grab something for a placating treatment.

The inside of the train cab was bigger than should have been possible, but even then it was still cramped. Two beds were crammed into the space and at the front there was a huge mirror. The frame of which was made up of countless carved birds. There were also a few mirrors hanging from the ceiling, but the frames of these were birds that had the mirrors as stomachs. With a flicker, strange curved text appeared from time to time on these mirrors. At the wallside of the beds there were also a few mirrors. Stuffed everywhere else was a collection of levers, sticks, dials and buttons.

There was a total of two portholes in the room. One on the floor and one on the back wall.

What Hilo grabbed was a pot in the shape of a whale-like bovine headed being, near one of the beds. He deftly opened this pot and pulled out what looked just like a stick of wood. It was however dried meat of a particularly docile dimensional drifter. As soon as he shoved it in Mark’s mouth, the dog calmed somewhat.

How about you get the mirrors going, we’re blind in here, I’ll get in touch with Bhiva and see if anything disastrous has happened.”

Mark looked like he would cry at any moment, but he sadly nodded while chewing on his stick of dried meat. He turned to the largest mirror and began pushing buttons, pulling levers and so on. Hilo was himself getting into some of that kind of action too. Though his target was the mirror next to his bed. After fiddling around, and even popping out something that looked like a board of keys…

Nothing happened.

Hilo whacked the mirror.

It flickered and a scene of flames greeted Hilo. This was however, a good sign. Amid these flames was a bundle of slender black rubbery arms with delicate hands and thin fingers. In the centre of this bundle was a blazing pink eye of flame.

How’s everything down there Bhiva?”

A sultry woman’s voice responded to him.

Ohhh~ Everything here is just fine, I’m amazed darling, with how you were going, I thought we’d become one as a beautiful firework, but you don’t have to believe me, you could come down here yourself and see~”

Em, well thanks, Bhiva, I’ve got to check some of these dials and things. Yes. Bye”

Sweating a little, Hilo turned the mirror off. He was quite aware that unlike Bhiva’s race, his kind tended to turn into a puddle when bathed in flame.

Doctor, we have visual” Mark called out.

On the large mirror was the dimensional protector.

Nobody’s detected us yet have they?” Hilo asked nervously.

Mark turned a few dials.

Only a matter of time”

Start the scan now, the quicker we find out what’s ailing the Bearyl the quicker we can give the treatment and leave”

Here it goes”

Mark began frantically manipulating the controls, while Hilo uneasily observed.

Almost clear… dogbiscuits! They’ve noticed us, but I’ve got the details, sending the details to your mirror now!”

Hilo laid down on his bed and the mirror at the side shifted to the head of the bed. Lines of text scrolled across the mirror casting their light onto Hilo’s shell.

A sound horn descended from the ceiling.

-Please identify yourselves unknown vessel, entering our voidspace with no ID is considered a crime, ID yourselves or we will be forced to take action-

Delay them” Hilo commanded.

Mark nodded and pulled a crystal wand out of its socket.

Sorry, we couldn’t quite catch all of that, a lot of our train was damaged in the tunnel we were in, could you repeat your last transmission?”

-Sure thing, we repea… wait a moment, that train, isn’t it? By the Bearyl! The Dimensional Tormentor! Quick, mobilize, mobilize! You sick monsters won’t have your way here!-

Dogbisuits. This would all be a lot easier if people didn’t believe those lies! Tormentors, hah, I’d like to see what’d happen to their dimensional guardians if we weren’t around!”

Well they’re too late, focus on manoeuvres Mark, I’m starting the treatment!”

Hilo slammed a button and a keyboard of organ keys slid out from the wall, he began to play it, and pale lights began to howl forth from the pipes on the back of the train. As Mark guided the ship to avoid various lasers being fired from the bugsnakes, he pressed a button to bring his bedside mirror next to him. The mirror flickered and Bhiva appeared on it.

Bhiva, get us ready to make another tunnel!” he barked.

So soon, I’ll take us somewhere safe this time, we’ll have to take things cool~ She can’t take too much punishment, you’ve got to be gentle with girls, or else they don’t like you Mark~”

It is a train not a girl!”

You’re no fun Mark, don’t worry, I’ll get her all fired up for you~”

The mirror blipped and went back to normal.

A stream of pale lights pierced into the dimensional protector, the Bearyl, causing the mighty creature to wail in pain. The bugsnakes had all turned towards the little train and all kinds of void-faring things were launching to hunt the train down!

Treatment administered! Get us out of here!”

You hear that Bhiva!”

Loud and clear, hold on boys, I’m going to be a little bit rough~”

Part of the void unfolded and formed a tunnel which the little train chugged into.

Once again, the train known as the dimensional Tormentor administrated life-saving medical treatment and escaped. It was a pity everyone believed they were just hooligans harvesting suffering.

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