Chapter 25: The Shattered World

Name:Book of The Dead Author:RinoZ
Chapter 25: The Shattered World

"Tell me you aren't serious, Dove."This chapter's initial release occurred on the n0vell--Bjjn site.

"You think I'd joke about this? By the sweet melons of Selene I wish it wasn't true, but unfortunately the local marshals have 'requested' my assistance for another week. A week! These fucking pricks!"

"So what are we going to do? Sit on our arse around the keep for even longer? That's bullshit, Rogil!"

The team leader sat in a chair that groaned under his broad frame, his hands rubbed slow circles around his temples as the group bickered in the sitting room of their suite. Too much time spent cooling their heels wasn't good for the group, they'd lose their edge if they stayed here for much longer. Already people were getting on each other's nerves, they needed to vent.

"We're going to head out," he finally said after the others had finally gone quiet. "Not for a full trip," he held up a hand to forestall the protest ready to burst out of Dove, "we'll do a four day patrol, work out the stress, pick up some coin and come back. By the time we get back, rest up for a couple days, Dove should be done with this nonsense and we can gear up to head through the rift. Sound good?"

"No," Aryll snorted, "but it's better than hanging around here."

Monica didn't look convinced. She massaged her forehead as she pondered their options.

"I don't know about this Rogil... we head out with only three we are going to be worse than shorthanded. We won't even have the summons to help out."

"I'm aware of that. We'll grab a rat or two on the way out to pick up the slack, and I specifically said a patrol, did I not? If things get tense we can pull right out and return to town, I don't want to take unnecessary risks."

"Fine," the mage sighed. "I just worry is all."

Dove sulked, his knees pulled up to his chest as he sunk into his chair.

"This is fucked," he complained, "I get dragged all over town to prod every piece of horseshit with a trace of magick in it and you guys get to hunt rift-kin. If I ever find out who performed that ritual I'm going to carve out their guts and eat their heart like an apple."

"Sounds like dark summoner talk to me," Aryll murmured.

"Oh fuck off!"

"We are sorry, Dove," Monica tried to soothe the testy Summoner, "we would all rather you were free and able to come with us. Who could have predicted the marshals would be this stubborn?"

The thin man sagged even further into his chair if it was possible, the tension draining out of him as he surrendered to his misery.

"It's getting worse and worse since they can't find any leads. There's no traces of whoever cast the stupid thing, we haven't found anyone with a class that might learn the spell, or teach it, or any motivation for the ritual in the first place! It's as if whoever's responsible did it just to stick a finger up at the marshals and then went to ground."

"Doesn't that mean you might be free soon?" Rogil asked hopefully. "If they aren't getting any further in their investigation..."

"As far as that prick, Langdon is concerned, not finding anything just solidifies me as a suspect, even though he's literally seen my thrice cursed status!"

"If he's seen that..." Aryll said.

"He thinks I might have falsified it, which obviously someone with access to evil magick fuckery would likely be able to do..." Dove said, sounding tired beyond belief.

Rogil raised a brow.

"I've never heard of it being possible to fake a status ritual."

"Oh it's possible," Dove told him, "but it's more than a little illegal, and you need to be digging into some rather awful classes to be able to do it. When they find someone who can do it they usually get palmed off to the magisters so they can make an example of them. It ain't pretty."

"How have I never heard of this?" Aryll wondered.

Dove laughed a little bitterly.

"This is usually mage business, Aryll, no offense. This is stuff we learn pretty early on."

Silence hung in the air for a long moment as each of them dwelled on their thoughts until Rogil broke the spell by clapping his thick hands together.

"That's it," he spoke sharply, "get your stuff together. I want to be out the door in one hour, no excuses. Anyone who doesn't meet the deadline is on latrines for the whole trip. Dove, you might as well get yourself down to the barracks and report for duty. The only thing you can do to clear your name is keep showing up and proving them wrong. If they try to move on you without evidence, I'll bring the whole keep down on their damn heads."

"Me first," Dove smiled with far too many teeth.

In short order the team was packed and ready to go, sans Dove who had sulked his way out the door under escort 'for his safety'. In a foul mood but pleased to be out of the keep, Rogil and the other members filed their paperwork and set out, the broken lands awaited.

"Team?" the guard on the keep gate asked as they approached.

Rogil palmed his face in irritation.

"Travis, I've walked through here with my team a hundred times, do you really need me to say it?"

The old man with the pinched face just squinted at him.

_________________________________

Despite everything Tyron couldn't deny the bubble of excitement welling up inside him the further they left the city behind. He'd heard about the rifts his entire life, his parents had made themselves famous for the many victories they'd won in places just like this. His uncle Worthy had done the same, earning enough coin that he could buy an inn and settle down with plenty left over. Even more than that, these were the places where people became strong, where they could polish their skills and level their classes against the unending flow of monsters who flooded through the rifts.

"First time out to the rifts?" the woman, Monica asked him.

Tyron tried not to blush.

"Is it that obvious?" he said.

"A little," she laughed, "not to worry. I can remember the feeling the first time I came out here. No matter how much you know, it's never quite enough to prepare you."

She reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Don't worry. We're just skirting around the edges on this trip. It's an ideal situation for someone like you, a chance to fight some monsters, see the broken lands for yourself without having to jump through a rift."

A snort came from behind them.

"Tell me you aren't hitting on the rat, Monica. He's eighteen for goodness sake," the scout, Aryll drawled.

The mage narrowed her eyes and slowly withdrew her hand.

"I was trying to reassure him. Not all of us are so thirsty we see ulterior motives in every interaction."

"Both of you shut up," the leader growled, anger clear in his tone. "Eyes out, no mistakes, that includes you kid. Time to work."

Properly chastened, Tyron snapped his gaze to their surroundings as they continued to walk. An hour ago they'd left the town behind and already the road was gone, naught left but a wide dirt track that wound its way through the trees. He was reminded of his final desperate journey through the forest before he'd reached Woodsedge, when he'd fought rift-kin again and again until his minions had fallen in his defence. Against even weaker monsters his two skeletons had proven to be unable to compete, against the true terrors of the rifts, he had no illusions as to how he would fare. The only reason he could travel in this area with any semblance of safety was because of the company he was keeping.

A tense silence descended on the four figures as they continued to follow the trail, each of them eyeing the woods with weapons drawn until Rogil brought up a hand.

"We'll break from the trail here and circle to the west. Aryll, stealth up and range ahead, no more than two hundred metres, all right? We're short-handed, so keep the formation tight."

"Got it."

By the time Tyron had turned around, the scout was already gone, invisible to his eyes as she slipped away, making use of her skills to slip between the trees, moving from shadow to shadow to hide. Palms a little sweaty, he brought a hand up and tried to focus on the mana bolt spell. Cautious, his eyes flitted between the trees and he tried to find any sign of monsters before they descended on him.

Rogil led the group away from the path and they were soon deep between the trees, no sign that the worn trail had ever existed. With his broadsword in hand, he walked forward at a steady pace, Monica and Tyron stepping carefully in his wake.

As if they crossed an invisible line Tyron felt a ripple pass over him, like a shiver and he gasped out loud and looked around himself in wonder.

Something didn't feel right, suddenly. He stretched out his hand in front of him and it felt like it was kilometres away, instead of right in front of his face. When he drew it back the seconds dragged out until it felt like minutes had passed before it returned to his side.

"What is happening?" he whispered.

"It's a rift," Monica answered, her voice low. "The border between worlds is thin here. It can do strange things to your perception. Focus."

They continued to advance and gradually he grew used to the strange sensation. Time and distance just didn't feel as they should, they were bent, or warped in some strange way. As he struggled to adapt, the trees became thinner around them and things began to open up. Rotten logs, smashed branches, and huge gouges in the dirt became more common, Tyron saw a boulder, shattered into a thousand pieces wedged into the dirt as they stepped around it.

One didn't need to be the son of the Century Slayer to realise that these were the remnants of battles between slayers and monsters. His heart began to pound in his chest and he took deep breaths to stay calm. He could understand what Cilla had been saying now, that only a half of the rats would make it back. Despite knowing as much as he did, it was still disorienting and intimidating when you actually set foot here.

"Kid, get up here."

He was snapped out of his meditative thoughts when Rogil called him. The team leader stood atop a small rise beside a broad oak tree, eyes forward as he waved Tyron forward with a hand. He glanced toward Monica and she met his eyes and gave him a quick nod. Encouraged, he walked forward, his eyes tracking from flank to flank as he watched for trouble.

"What is it?" he asked quietly.

Rogil pointed forward.

"Take a look kid, something you can't see anywhere else. Drink in the view of our shattered world."

Tyron frowned and turned to follow the line of the slayer's arm and gasped. He knew about it, how could he not? He'd read about these places, listened to every story that his parents had to tell with rapt attention. Despite that, he was still shocked by what he saw.

Over the rise the world was... wounded. The trees grew thinner until there were none and what remained was a tortured and cracked landscape that pulsed with strange energies that faded in and out of view in a mind bending display. Overhead the sky roiled and twisted, a permanent storm that wrapped around itself like a den of snakes. Worse still were the fleeting glimpses of alien landscapes that overlay the land in front of him that stung his eyes and he felt a headache form the longer he looked.

Then there were the monsters. The rift-kin crept over the land or railed within their doomed worlds as they sought a way to cross over.

"So many..." Tyron whispered.

Rogil grinned.

"Means we're never out of work. Welcome to the broken lands, kid. Try not to die here."