This story was written by David (EmissaryWells) for the start of our alpha testing phase.
Into the Valley
The prisoners were herded into the mechanical lift, their captors showing no sign of listening to their cries of protest. The doors swung down, and with a jolt, the lift slowly began to slide down its tracks to the valley floor. The prisoners caught their last glimpse of the world above, the pristine city they were being evicted from. Some huddled in the corners. Others were resting casually against the walls, looking down into the valley as if they found the entire ordeal only mildly interesting.
The doors swung open, and the motley group of prisoners began to emerge into the cold and dark. Those too afraid to leave the lift fell into a heap as the floor opened beneath them, ensuring no-one stayed inside as it returned to the surface. The group now looked at their surroundings, unsure what to do. Even those who seemed quite relaxed in the lift now sat in the dirt or stood with folded arms, stern looks upon their faces. Over the few remaining hours of the night, most curled up against rocks and bushes and simply tried to stay warm until daybreak. With the rise of the sun came the realisation that the day was far more unforgiving than the night in this valley. The land was dry and there was no shelter or sign of water in sight. It did not take long for a member of the group to step forward and convince the group to move. A woman dressed in leather, with long braided hair and tattoos, rose to her feet and spoke in a calm voice that some could barely hear. “We will head South-West for a few hours, and rest during the midday sun.” Although hesitant, not a single person said a word before following the woman. They ventured out, to see what this barren land had to offer, if anything at all.
Unknown to the group was another band of misfits far to the South-East, who had also been thrown into the valley earlier that night. They had also been rallied by a self-appointed leader, and now headed South, hoping to find a way to survive. After a full day of travel, they came upon the ruins of what had once been a mining town. “Anyone that moaned and complained can lick my boots” their young leader said smugly. None had the energy to join in the banter, and they collapsed in the shade of the town’s structures. The settlement had long been abandoned, and all that remained were some crumbled walls and some evidence of how the people had lived. Carts, machinery and buildings all used to transport and process stone. Most important of all, the group discovered a well. It was sealed and obviously disused, but after working for hours in the cool night, they managed to reach the first puddles that meant their survival.
Having stumbled across another set of ruins, the first group of prisoners had also been fortunate enough to find water in an abandoned farming village. When morning arrived no-one stopped to think when asked to scout the surrounding area by the woman who had lead them to safety, who they now knew as Ahari of the hill people. The lands to the far West of the continent were cold, harsh and rocky. The hill people had learned to move around, relying on their intimate knowledge of the lands to follow herds and harvest sparse plantlife sparingly. Ahari had already begun teaching the group what plants to look for in the craggy rocks to be used in teas and broths.
Even the slowest of the group had realised that this was now their home, at least for the time being, and while water had kept them from dying a mere few days into their imprisonment, they would need more than that to survive. Group members returned with reports of plantlife and animals, which meant they now also had possible sources of food. After thanking the scouts for the information, Ahari looked toward a man returning from the centre of the village where a tall grain tower still stood. As the man came closer he held out his hands, offering something to Ahari. It was an egg, which she accepted and looked at curiously. She looked up as the man spoke to her, “I thought you should have this, Ahari. We all owe you our lives. You deserve a good meal at least.” Ahari smiled at him, but did not answer. She tucked the egg into a leather pouch at her side, and returned to talking with the scouts.
The residents of the mining town also knew that they were not destined to die in this valley, at least for now. They had scouted the surrounding area and found small sources of food, their young guide teaching them to scavenge in some unlikely places.
Our Prison, Our Home
Over the months the two settlements had grown, developing tightly knit communities and settling into living off what little the land had to offer. Some had opted to venture out on their own, choosing a life of solitude or surviving in small groups, but even they maintained some relationship with the towns. Each town eventually heard of the other, as word spread through chance encounters of these hermits, and both parties now pondered the fact that they had a potential ally or rival in the valley.
Weru, once a homeless child of the city streets outside the valley, was now the leader of the Southern settlement. Weru had often been forced out of the city and into the harsh deserts to the North during famine, and had become an expert at surviving in the desert environment. He demonstrated how insects could be found sheltering from the heat by digging in the sand, and hunted large desert animals, although they were very rare. Coating his weapons with potent poison extracted from tiny armored insects he kept at camp, he was able to kill these creatures with just a small dart or scratch of a dagger. Some of the others would cringe as he held his nightmarish pets with bare hands, as if they were kittens, and extracted the deadly poisons. But none could argue with how effective Weru’s methods had been so far.
In the West, Ahari returned from a day spent hunting small ground rodents with her winged companion. Ro, a large bird of prey, scanned the valley floor as Ahari directed it with whistles from below. The two had formed a close bond since Ahari had decided to keep and hatch the egg, a decision that had meant a valuable food source for the settlement. It was not unheard of in Ahari’s homeland for people to use birds and other animals to hunt in such a way, and her brother had a large bird which he had used to hunt for their family as they roamed the highlands. Her family would likely never see Ahari again, assuming she had died on her journey to the city to trade, or taken an opportunity to cross the sea and find an easier life elsewhere.
A scavenging party was waiting for the pair as the came towards the settlement, and walked out to meet them. They excitedly explained to Ahari that they had a substance traded from a hermit they had not met before. The hermit had demonstrated molding the soft substance into the shape of a blade and then placing it against a stone. The blade had then transformed in a matter of minutes to take on the strength and texture of the stone in sat upon. One of the scavengers held up the crude weapon as proof and handed it to Ahari. Over the next hour, they used the remaining substance the scavengers had traded to make two more blades against some solid stone farming equipment.
The following day, Ahari left the farming village in search of the hermit. She eventually found him in a small shack, not far from where the scavengers had encountered him the night before. With some stern convincing, the hermit agreed to take them to where he had found the substance. After a few hours of trekking South, the hermit pointed at a strange set of ruins with a dead tree in its centre, that looked a lot like a shrine. When Ahari began to move toward the ruins, the hermit held her back and pointed once more to the outskirts of the ruins. A slow moving creature wandered aimlessly, its gaze falling down to the ground. “What is this creature?” asked Ahari. The hermit turned to her with a worried face, “I believe they once lived in our towns. But something happened to them, and they seem to no longer need shelter or food. They are no longer human, and they are dangerous.”
Ahari told the hermit to return to his home, then carefully made her way down the slight slope toward the ruins. She kept low, hoping to get a closer look at the creature whilst remaining undetected. When she had covered about half the ground between them, Ro let out a cry from above, alerting Ahari to another figure emerging from the opposite side of the ruins. The figure was moving slowly and stealthily also, as it moved up behind the creature. It removed a stone blade from its belt and swiftly threw it, hitting the creature in the nape of its neck. It turned to start towards the figure, which Ahari could now see was a young boy, but before it had taken two steps its legs gave out and it fell to the ground and did not move. Weru scurried forward and knelt down to remove the blade, but rose quickly as he heard footsteps approaching. “A clean kill, and an interesting weapon. I think I may have something similar,” remarked Ahari, bringing up her own stone blade for him to inspect. “How did you make such a weapon?”
Looking at the blade Weru could see its clean, perfect shape, and knew there was no other way to make this type of blade in the valley. “Likely the same as you. A trader came into our settlement, claiming to have a material that could be shaped into another. We took what he had and asked where more could be found. A material like this is valuable for survival in a place like this.”
“And so it seems we are both here to find the source of this strange substance. I see no reason why we can not assist each other. We don’t know how many of these monsters are lurking in the ruins. Two blades are better than one after all”, she ended with a slight smile.
Weru was hesitant to agree, as it was quite obvious this sharp woman was the leader of what could be seen as his rival clan. Who else would come to investigate such an important matter? But he could see the value in co-operation in this instance. He gave a nod, and started toward the centre of the ruins. “Let me” said Ahari, stopping him. “My friend can warn us of enemies in advance. Your approach seems to work better with the element of surprise.”
Weru looked up to see the friend Ahari referred to circling above,“What a valuable companion! The assistance I receive from my pets is a little more…..passive, you might say.” Weru held up his blade more clearly, and the sticky poison could be seen smeared upon its surface. Ahari nodded with interest, and the pair slowly made their way into the ruins. Before they had made it very far, a cry came down from Ro, and following the bird’s flight patterns Ahari signalled that there was a threat behind a wall to their right. Weru crept forward and peered around the corner. He could see the creature only a short distance away. Its head was resting on its shoulder, so while it faced him, it did not look directly toward his position. Weru gripped his small blade, and rolled out from the corner, so close that he was able to nick its leg as he passed. He backed away nimbly on all fours as the poison went to work, giving the creature only enough time to turn and groan before dropping to the ground.
The pair engaged 2 more monsters in the same way, the use of scouting and stealth proving extremely efficient as they made their way deeper into the ruins. Perhaps they became over confident, or simply misinterpreted Ro’s signals, but as Weru crept toward their next enemy, he was set upon by another from behind. The creature gripped his throat and lifted him clear off the ground before he could react, the shock also causing him to drop his dagger. Ahari fell upon the attacker, bringing a powerful upward slash deep into the underside of its shoulder. The arm holding Weru’s throat went limp as its muscle and tendons were cleaved apart. Ahari then brought her knee up and into the side of the creature, sending it staggering to the ground. The second creature that Weru had been approaching was now well and truly alerted by the sound of fighting, and was already coming up behind Ahari. She spun around to face it and struck out with a kick, connecting with the creatures shin, causing it to stumble. As it fell down, it grabbed ahold of her wrist, stopping her from delivering a finishing blow. As she struggled with the creature, Weru’s poisoned blade flew past her, landing in the creature’s chest. Its grip loosened, and she turned to face Weru, who sat by the other monster, which he had dealt with before assisting her. Both sat, breathing hard for some time. “Two blades are indeed better than one”, Weru finally said, laughing between breaths.
They recovered from the engagement, and made their way to the centre of the ruins without any further incident. There they found the strange tree growing from a fountain. It had no leaves, but seemed to be very much alive. The fountain it grew from seemed to be flowing, not around, but from beneath, as if it were a window into an underground river. Contraptions hung in the fountain, plates of stone and wood with grooves running across them. Weru pulled one of the plates out of the water and studied it, “this is the same substance that made our blades”, he said, scraping a small amount out of a groove with his finger. “It seems it is part of the water, and the boards accumulate a build up over time.”
“But why does it does it not turn to wood, or stone, or even water for that matter?” Ahari pondered, “It is surrounded by these.” Weru shrugged. “Unless” Ahari continued, “the substance cannot take form when being disturbed by the moving water. It needs to remain undisturbed in order to begin changing!”
“You could be right. But who really cares? As long as we have found it, and can continue to use it. But this seems such a small amount. There must surely be more. I think we should further explore these ruins. There seemed to be a tunnel leading underground near where we ran into trouble with those two creatures. It looked like just a cellar, but if the substance is beneath the earth it might be worth checking.” Ahari agreed, and the two made their way back the way they had come and entered the opening.
The Aftermath: A War For The Valley
Those tending to the meagre crops in the farming village looked up to the sky as they heard Ro cry out. They searched the horizon for Ahari, but did not see her. The bird circled down and landed by the well in the centre of the settlement. Having not once seen the bird leave return without Ahari, the group were immediately concerned. Within half an hour a party set out in search of their leader. The clan of the mining town had been search of Weru for two days already. The young leader had set out by himself without telling anyone of his plans. It was not unusual for him, but the group knew he would be heading to the ruins in the centre of the valley, a dangerous place to go alone.
Both parties interrogated the people living in the foothills, and cleared the ruins of the creatures, searching it thoroughly for any sign of their leaders. But none was found. During this time, the two parties did not cross paths, and only heard whispers of each other told through the linked ears and mouths of the desert people. They learned that both leaders had been in search of this strange substance, and had gone looking at the same time. It was then that confusion turned into suspicion.
A party from the mining settlement set out once more to search for signs of Weru, hunting and gathering as they went, this time heading further North. They came across the fields of the farming village, and approached cautiously. As they drew nearer the field workers saw them, and some called out in alarm. They had never encountered an armed group of outsiders in all their time in the valley, and were shocked to see one now. Members of the farming clan who were patrolling the other side of the field, rushed toward the noise, and seeing the group in their midst drew their weapons. A heated standoff lasted only a few seconds before nervous fingers let arrows fly, and a battle erupted in the fields. Minutes later the mining villagers were forced to retreat in the face of their enemy’s numbers on their own land, leaving several of their party dying in the field. The farmers buried several of their own also, and when each party returned to their settlement that day, they brought with them talk of a confirmed enemy.
Scouting parties became war parties after the fight in the fields, and each settlement began patrolling their borders in strength. They raided each others’ lands for resources, often having bloody battles in the process. This back and forth of engagements went on for just over a month, before the farming village decide to take the battle to the doorstep of the mining settlement, in answer to the raid on their fields that had started everything. They crafted new armor and weapons, inscribed with an eagle to honor their lost leader, and set out to besiege the mining settlement. When they arrived, the clan had been forewarned of their movements, and were prepared to defend their gates. They flew flags painted with poison barbed tails, and their armor was stained red in honor of their crafty young assassin leader. The eagle clan eyed the defenders, and began to set up camp in sight of the walls. They were in no hurry. The war for the valley had begun. In the morning, they would fight for their leaders, and for the valley that was their home.
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