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RazorStar

Another Writing Project (Working Title: The Exiled World)

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Aw yes. :clap:

 

I look forward to the next installment.

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I'll read this later tonight when I get off of work, and I'll be sure to give you some good feedback. I'm glad these things are starting up again. Maybe I'll get back into posting stories, too, but I think we should all agree to read and provide feedback as long as we're all posting these pieces.

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This is kinda awesome.

 

You may have something here, Razor. Something with some serious potential.

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Extremely interesting, and anyone who can create a tangible, easy to visualize world is talented, imo. I wonder if you could focus more on the lack of light, in certain instances, so the idea that they're underground becomes more and more tangible to the reader. Great work, so far. I envy anyone who can create something like this.

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Yeah I was certainly thinking about more description on the light sources abound, both artificial and natural. I mention things like glowmoss and fireflies living in the world, but it's certainly true that the world is naturally dark, despite these things. Does the pacing feel alright? Not too slow or too fast for anyone? Do the characters feels like caricatures, or do I just need more time to flesh them out? Thanks for the positive feedback so far guys.

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Yeah I was certainly thinking about more description on the light sources abound, both artificial and natural. I mention things like glowmoss and fireflies living in the world, but it's certainly true that the world is naturally dark, despite these things. Does the pacing feel alright? Not too slow or too fast for anyone? Do the characters feels like caricatures, or do I just need more time to flesh them out? Thanks for the positive feedback so far guys.

 

The pacing is fine, and the characters are distinguished as uniquely themselves, so there's no hyperbole as far as I can see. The dialogue is fantastic in that both speakers are definitively different people in their word use, sentence structure, etc. That's the hardest part of dialogue.

 

Maybe a couple of critiques I'd have is look for words that might seem out of place in a fantastical world. "Heck" and "Undefeated" (it seems so sportsy, but perhaps only because we're avid sports fans) come to mind, though I didn't particularly mind either word. I'm also not positive that perspective is maintained, throughout, but I was never confused about who was speaking, so it didn't bother me.

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I haven't had a chance to read it, yet.

 

 

 

I'm not going to read this unless the Zack is based on me and not a douche.

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Yeah I tend to slip up with Narrative POV from time to time. I'm attempting to tell the story in third person as a subjective point of view, but I know I drift into first person, and even 3rd person omniscient.

 

And to answer your question Zack, Yes. There may be some cameos from some others members of TGP in this story. Get hype.

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I expect to be in this. :troll:

OH AND CAN I KILL A WES BASED CHARACTER. THAT WOULD BE AMAZING.

 

But in all seriousness this seems legit and I only have some issues with it. From how you described Crystalia it had a diameter of 20km and housing ~a million people. This leaves a population density of ~3175 people per square km (if my calculations are correct). When comparing that to New York at ~2,050 people per square km don't you feel that number's improbable?

 

But other than that I like the startings of this and I might have to start writing again as well.

Edited by SJConrad

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Crystalia is built on layers. if you're thinking it as simply a flat surface that'd be an incorrect assumption. It might be clearer to think of it like 9 layers, getting smaller from the centre. It's not a perfect assumption but it'll do. The central layer being a 20km diameter, the next two up and down being 80% of that diameter, then 60%, then 40% and finally 20%. So something like:

 

(100+128+72+32+8)*pi km^2 or ~1068 km^2. Which would then give you a population of density of approximately ~936 people per square kilometer. So I don't think my number is too unrealistic.

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Alright. I guess we'll get more descriptions as the story progresses and thanks for the calculations.

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I'm extremely interested in seeing more of this, Andy, and not just because "I" am in the story. Pacing felt great and the world, despite being contained underground, seems engaging. I'm generally pretty iffy on cliche-ish fantasy stuff, but if I found this on the shelf I'd buy it.

 

Now make the next chapter shittier so I don't have to slurp your cock as hard. :laugh:

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Much better writing than me, Raz. Even though it's not usually something I read, I admit I'm a little intrigued. Anxious to see what's what in the next installment. Well done.

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Alright then. Chapter 2 is complete. I have my own gripes about it, but I might as well post it up and see if you feel the same.

 

Chapter 2: Assignment

 

The gate had closed with a flourish, a loud thunk as steel met steel. Lucas gazed inside the hollowed out diamond, admiring the majesty of the brightened lobby. The stone was painted with bright murals, shadowing the history of former monarchs and prophets. The Discovery, Sight of the First Prophet, Explorers and Adventurers, Settling in the Beyond. All of these pieces were canvased in bright reds and vibrant greens. However Lucas had quickly shifted his focus to the tower of gray that stood in front of him. Gray of hair, gray of clothing, and unnaturally tall, the chancellor stood, imposing and mighty.

 

“Prince Lucas, it’s good to see you have returned.” His voice was sickly sweet, but his face was chiseled stone. He turned his eyes to Zack, “I trust you kept him safe after he ran off?”

 

Zack tucked his helmet under his arm and gave a slight nod. “He came back just fine. A little out of it, but only because he didn’t find what he wanted to.”

 

“Are you injured, my prince? If you’d like, I can arrange for a doctor to meet us here immediately.” His voice panicked, but his gaze never softened.

 

“That will not be necessary Chancellor Edwards. I’m quite alright.” Lucas said. “I had heard you wanted to speak with me?”

 

“Yes.” He tapped his pointer fingers together, considering his words carefully. “I had thought this was too risky, but the king insisted upon it.” A slight crack, a stifled smile, imperceptible to all but the most attentive of people hid in his countenance. “Lucas Green, Prince of Crystalia and Prophet of the Great Furnace, you are charged with finding relics of our lost history in Valdor.”

 

“I heard Valdor had been picked clean through countless excursions.” Zack piped up, not trying to hide the confusion on his face.

 

“Were this merely a simple matter of taking the main tunnel on a pilgrimage, I’d agree. That road has almost nothing to offer besides prayer for the devout, as they walk along the steps of the First Prophet Alys. However…” He clasped his hands together, hiding them beneath a long gray beard. “One of our western expedition forces located a tunnel that looped northwards. They would have followed it further, but they were set upon by… something.”

 

“Care to be a little more specific?”

 

“I cannot tell you what they encountered, but I can say this. We had sent ten people down that tunnel. We came back with almost two. The other eight simply disappeared. The one who survived has gone completely mad.”

“You said almost two.” Lucas’ throat grew stiff.

 

The chancellor shook his head. “There were fragments of bones, skin and organ tissue, nothing substantial or whole. What compelled the scout to bring them back I cannot say, but he did not bring back a whole person, only pieces of his torso.”

 

Lucas gripped his head and closed his eyes tightly. “I don’t need to hear anymore, Chancellor.”

 

Zack stomped his foot on the ground. “Whatever was in there killed nine trained scouts, and you want to send the crown prince alone to handle it? Has the king finally gone mad in his old age?!”

 

Lucas stuck his arm out to hold the belligerent teenager back. “Easy, there is no need to insult my lord father, Zack. It’s not because I’m the prince. It’s because I’m the prophet.” His arms were shaking, but he kept his voice as steady as he could.

 

The Chancellor rubbed at his receding hairline. “I thought it was it was senseless to go alone, so I asked for ten guards to go with you. It makes sense for you to be well protected, and I can’t fathom what the King would do if he lost his third son as well.”

 

“That may be a bad idea.” Lucas tapped his cudgel on the ground, speaking with a deep voice not entirely his own. “It’s possible that whatever exists inside that tunnel felt threatened by the amount of people that went in. I would suggest no more than Lucas and three bodyguards traverse that tunnel.”

 

“If that is our god’s desire, I cannot argue.” The chancellor grimaced. He turned to Zack. “I ask you to keep an eye on our prince. Bring two guards you trust with your life. You are to set out tomorrow morning, when the glowmoss turns blue.” Zack gave a proper salute and shuffled towards the barracks, attempting to keep his anger in check. Screams of ‘Are you kidding me!’ and various obscenities could be heard moments later.

 

Lucas gave a slight shudder as he regained control of himself. The hostile takeovers were never a pleasant thing. It was like being shoved into the bottom of a lake and held under until God was done, waiting desperately for a chance to breathe again. “Is there any other news, Chancellor?” He spoke quietly.

 

“None regarding yourself, I however would like to hear about what you found. Normally when you leave, you’re out for many cycles and I’m tearing my hair out looking for you. Don’t tell me Zack actually found you before you went god knows where.”

 

“Whatever hair you have left.” Lucas chuckled, but a stern look shut him up right away. “I had to end my search early. There was a young mag-spider in an eastern tunnel.”

 

The chancellor thought on it for only a second, “Mag-spiders in the east? It’s not unheard of, but still rare. We don’t have the men to send on wild goose chases and-"

 

“Didn’t I just free up seven for you?” Lucas interrupted, pointing his cudgel at the chancellor’s long gray beard. “Besides, if the mission the King has sent me is anything, it’s a wild goose chase. Still, I follow orders, and so will you.” He attempted to replicate the Great Furnace’s tone. He only hoped it was as demanding from an anxious eleven year old boy as it was an ageless god. “Mag-spiders are a threat to our people whether they come from the west or the east.”

 

Chancellor Edwards for all his posturing took Lucas’ words in stride. “Very well, I will speak to Sergeant Frost about this tunnel. I will need any useful information you have of course, location foremost. From there we can stage an appropriate plan of action, and act within the week.”

 

Lucas pulled the notebook from his backpack, and carefully removed the pages from their bindings. “Here is a map of the entrance, its proximal location, and other important information. It’s a natural gas vent in there, so you’ll need masks.” The Chancellor took the pages and bowed deeply, looking over the notes and figures in great detail.

“Whatever you do, do not lose those pages. We need them for the cartographer, after all.” He held the pages with even greater care, and gently set them aside on a metal stand.

 

“It will be done, my prince. Do you need anything else from me?” He spoke, head still slightly bowed.

 

“That will be all for now. Thank you Chancellor.” Paying him the proper respect, he bowed as well before setting off. If Lucas had heard the older man’s deep sigh, he had not paid it any mind.

 

Lucas descended from the central staircase, heading right into the belly of the castle. Further up held the throne room and various chambers for guests of varying esteem. At the apex were the royal quarters, for the king, the princess, and himself. If the upper floors were the symbol of influence for the crown, the lower floors were the symbol of power. The castle barracks was the first stop, the entirety of this first lower floor, along with the castle’s flanking towers all belonged to the guards and servants of the castle. Paying the hustle and bustle no mind, Lucas continued his descent.

 

The seat of the world’s knowledge laid bare for all to see. A great library sprawled, containing nearly all of the old books recovered from Valdor, as well as the new books written since discovering Crystalia. Lucas had read nearly all of them, from the old myths of vengeful and petty gods tormenting humanity, to the fictional accounts of warriors and wizards fighting monsters in a verdant land. There were even books written by former prophets, no doubt in an attempt to spread their gained wisdom across time. This room was open to all of those who fancied themselves scholars or truth seekers. Garvin’s Treatise on Underground Survival, and Garvin’s Edible Flora and Fauna stood out as the most oft read books in the archive, pages worn by countless scholars. He had come down here to do research on the western tunnels, but he was distracted by the shouting match farther inside.

 

“You cannot treat these books like pillows!” A squeal echoed out from a fevered squirrely man. “These are priceless artifacts, dated at least 100 BE! To fall asleep and bend these spines, this is outrageous! Preposterous!” He yanked at his long gray moustaches. “Inconceivable!”

 

“Shut it bug breath! Maybe if your lessons weren’t so boring I wouldn’t be falling asleep during your dumb lectures!” The teenager yelled back, tossing her blonde curls about in derision.

 

“Why I never! The crown princess should speak with dignity and-” He was briefly silenced by a long hard stare, given with as much contempt as a young girl could muster. “Don’t glare at me like that. I only admonish you for your own benefit. You must become a dignified member of society, someone the people can look up to with respect and admiration.” His lecture had hit a new head of steam, and the man seemed intent on speaking everything on his mind. The princess merely sighed and shrugged her shoulders in resignation.

 

The boy had let the argument go on, wanting nothing more than to go unnoticed by either his sister or the professor. He knew he’d be forced to mediate their silly argument, and tell them to play nice. He quickly dipped in between shelves, silently stalking towards the medical research books. He wanted the information fresh in mind when he would interview the lone survivor. His knowledge of the facets of madness was limited, but perhaps he could glean some important information from the survivor. He would need to examine what was left of the bodies brought back as well. Carefully pulling the bound notes from the shelf, he took a quick glance around to make sure no one was tailing him. Feeling safe, he carefully took a slow roundabout way towards the entrance, almost making it before bumping into someone.

 

He slowly looked up and came face to face with the princess. She towered over him, glaring with her hands on her hips. She wasn’t that much taller than him, but in that moment she looked like a giant. “Hi Rysette.” Lucas shifted uneasily on the balls of his feet.

 

“And just where were you? You missed morning lessons, and that old geezer took it out on me. Have you no empathy for your cute little sister?” She said, pouting all the while.

 

“I… I left a note. Besides I’m sure it couldn’t have been that bad. I was only out for one moss cycle.” Lucas replied, wondering what she had meant by little sister."

 

“Yeah, and while you had fun adventuring the great wide world, I’m stuck in this castle listening to old Mudmouth explain old dead religions and political rot. It’s insufferable.”

 

“Professor Monmouth may drag on a bit but he’s an intelligent person with a lot of valuable knowledge.”

 

“He’s a bore is what he is. I want to go out on adventures too, not be cramped up in this stuffy castle.” She took him by the shoulders and stared into his eyes. “Let me go with you next time, Luke.”

 

“No. I’m doing dangerous work. I can’t risk your life doing it.” Lucas said abruptly, weakly trying to shake her grip. He stared back into her eyes, a pure bright emerald green. “My business is too dangerous this time, even for you.”

 

“That’s what you always say.” She sighed and released him. “I know you’re trying to protect me, and I love you for it, but I’m the older sibling here. I should be the one trying to protect you. You always get into these risky situations without a care about anyone else. You aren’t alone.”

 

Lucas gave a soft smile and embraced his sister. “I know. And I do care. I always make sure I’m safe. Whatever I do, I know how to take proper measures. That is exactly why you absolutely cannot come this time. I’ll be safe, Zack is coming with me, and two other guards as well.”

 

Rysette looked down and returned the hug. “You know I’ve been training with my hand to hand combat skills. I could probably beat half the guard one on one now. Soon I’ll be good enough to be your bodyguard. Then you won’t need that oaf Zack shadowing you all the time.”

 

“You shouldn’t try and be my bodyguard. You’re the princess. You have a duty to lead our people, now and in the future.” Lucas trembled and released her. “I… I have to do some research. This is really important so, I uh…” Stumbling for the words he was politely interrupted.

 

“Fine. I won’t do anything crazy. I just needed to vent for a little. When you head out tomorrow, let me know so I can say goodbye.”

 

He gave a small chuckle. “You just want to avoid the professor’s lessons for as long as possible.”

 

She simply shrugged. “That’s an added benefit.” She bent down and kissed him on the forehead, careful not to touch the burns that ran down the side of his face. “Stay safe little bro.”

 

“Yeah. Try not to give the professor too many headaches.” Lucas turned his back to her and strode out quickly, avoiding throngs of people with their noses in books.

 

He focused back on his task, tucking the books carefully into his backpack. He would need to examine the condition of the survivor before heading out, as well as meet the men who would guard him. He could trust Zack with his life, but the other guards were unknowns. Many had their own agendas in mind. Some were simply people who wanted power over the citizenry. In addition to guarding the palace and its residents as well as an expeditionary force, they were tasked with investigating crimes and capturing perpetrators. There were a few who would take their power too far, invading privacy, unlawfully restricting freedoms and rights. Naturally the royal family had the right to bestow and remove these privileges if deemed necessary. He could only hope that Zack had some good people in mind.

 

Lucas left the library quickly, heading further down the castle. Originally the basement was simply a dungeon, filled with cells. Punitive measures in the past were to imprison criminals in an attempt at rehabilitation. It was discovered that this placed too much of a burden on the rest of the citizenry to treat prisoners as rehabilitees. When the people could not afford to imprison the guilty, they exiled or killed the vilest of them, and subjected the rest to community service. Lucas had learned a lot, but most of the history he knew was from a shared experience with the Great Furnace, who had surveyed the change of society over countless years. Books only wrote so much down, and verbal history could easily be distorted over time.

 

These former cells had been transformed into the medical and science wing of Crystalia. All sorts of practical research was being conducted by the scientists and technicians who made this domain their home. Lucas knew where he was headed, the white padded room where the sick man was held. He gave greetings to a few of the scientists wandering about, apologizing to one for losing the torch he lent him. Batteries were difficult to make, and expensive too. Placating the man with the promise of the crown honoring its debts, he came upon the padded door.

 

A faint whisper, no more than a breath eked out. “They’re all dead.” A loud thump resounded, twice, and a third time rhythmically. “They came from the walls! I didn’t know! Don’t hit me!” Another loud thump, and Lucas could only think what would be happening if this man was not locked in a padded room. “It tasted so good! Like sweet sugar… but so bitter after. I could not have any more. But I shouldn’t waste! I ATE IT ALL.” The pounding stopped, as the man started whimpering. “John, where are you? I can’t see you anymore. Why can’t I see you John? I can only see eyes. Where are you?”

 

“He is too far gone.” The voice of the Great Furnace spoke. “I am sorry, but this will not yield anything worthwhile.”

“Wait. Perhaps there is more. I may not be able to speak with him, but I can listen. There must be a clue, somewhere.”

 

“That is naive optimism. I cannot stop you, but I ask that you don’t waste your time. No good can come from listening to mad men.” Lucas ignored him and slowly opened the door, and saw the man chained to the floor, hands and feet bound, shaking on the ground.

 

“You’re coming too, they said. Oh what a fun adventure we’ll have, they said! John, Jeremy, Jeff, Jason, Seth, Salem, Sandro, Kelly, Kim... The pain I left behind followed me. It’s in my bones! John, where are you? I’m scared! The pain followed me! I thought the nectar would free me from the pain! John, where are you?” The thumping continued, louder and harder. Screams were only slightly muffled by the padding. “IT FOLLOWED ME THROUGH THE WALLS! I’ll never be alone John! JUST SPEAK TO ME!”

 

Lucas shuddered and turned his back. He had underestimated just how mad this man was. Whatever happened had broken him without any hope of repair. Chances are the man would be mercifully euthanized. Lucas could only hope his suffering would end shortly.

 

Lucas turned to the doctor responsible for him. “Is there anything you can tell me about him?”

 

“He was of stable mind and body the last time we had done his medical checkup. It’s likely the severe stress of losing so many friends has caused irreparable damage to his body. We would notify the next of kin, tell them that he died honorably serving the guard, but like so many of our guardsmen, he was an orphan.”

 

“You would tell the family he’s dead, when he’s still breathing?” Lucas said in an anger he had not thought he had.

 

“Martin Walls is too far gone. It would have been more merciful to say he had died in that tunnel, than show them what he had become here. I saw how you shuddered when you came upon him. I would not want his family to feel that pain. In a sense, he is already dead.” His voice had a dark chill. “If it merely was a broken body, perhaps he could recover, but we cannot fix a broken mind.” The doctor adjusted his spectacles. “If you are done with him, we can let him rest.”

 

Lucas nodded slowly. His brain was racked trying to understand the mad man’s words. Martin Walls’ words, he corrected, the man had a name. It all felt like gibberish, other than the names of the scouts who died with him. If he could gather anything from that, his memory was still there. Even if he could not grasp reality, he still remembered everything that had happened. Thanking the doctor for his time, he left the medical wing disheartened. He turned his head back to see the doctor prepping chemicals for Martin’s death. Unable to watch he hastened his leave, he would see no more. The silenced screams were all he needed to know the man had died in peace. His heart felt as if it would leap out of his chest. Lucas retired to his room, to calm his raging heart.

Edited by RazorStar
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I really liking the ambiguity and the unanswered questions. It's great not having everything spelled or laid out in front of us each chapter.

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I don't really see anything wrong with it, other than your use of the name Rysette.

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Rysette is a perfectly cromulent name. >_>

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Chapter 3: Lessons Learned

“So I take it this is a formal request then?” Captain Burton squared up Zack, eyeing him warily. He heaved a deep sigh and shrugged his shoulders. “You have my leave to borrow Instructor Rampage and Pikeman Cooper for as long as this mission takes.”

 

“Thank you sir-”

 

“However, I have conditions.” He twirled one of his long moustaches. “When you come back, you’ll work under me officially. Consider it payment for taking two of my best guards off the watch.”

 

Zack gave him a hard stare. “Frankly, I don’t owe you anything, Burton. This is a royal order from the King himself. I’m only telling you this to let you know where your guards are. I had no obligation to tell you anything, so just be grateful for that.”

 

The captain bellowed, “How dare you talk to me like that, you pompous little shit? Did you forget who taught you how to use the sword? I’ve been fighting mag-spiders for twenty years longer than you’ve been alive!” He puffed out his chest in an attempt to look menacing, but it just gave more attention to his protruding gut.

 

“First of all your seniority doesn’t matter and second I’d never forget who taught me how to use the sword. It certainly wasn’t you, with the way you flail your arms around, it’s a wonder you haven’t been made spider food yet. I protect the prince’s life while you get fat and cozy yelling at recruits. Now quit your bitching and get back to whatever it is that you do.” Zack turned his back and started to walk away, but he heard the click of a sword being removed from its sheath. With impossible speed, Zack turned on his heel and had naked steel bared at the captain’s throat. “If you had taught me the sword maybe I wouldn’t have seen that coming. Try that again Weasel and I’ll be taking your head for treason.”

 

A gaggle of soldiers surrounded the two, while the panicked man blurted out apologies. Noticing the stir he was causing, Zack put down his sword under the cries of “Get him!” and “Fight, Fight!” He gave the older man a hard shove in the chest and walked off. Pushing his way through the crowd, he found the man he was looking for relaxing by a rack of spears and swords. A tall lanky man, he had a few years on Zack, but none of the wisdom judging by the smell of vodka on his breath.

 

“You are going to be in so much shit when Frosty hear about this.” He laughed as he slicked back his oily brown hair. “I didn’t catch most of that conversation, just the part where you nearly killed Captain Burton.”

 

“Let the higher ups do what they will. I have a mission, and it just so happens you do too.” Zack put his hand on Cooper’s shoulder. “You’re gonna love this. Escort duty for the Prince.”

 

“Ah, what’s the King’s bastard got to do that’s so important? Heal the sick, walk on the lake of fire, take a real holy shit?” Cooper chuckled at his own joke, winning a smile from Zack.

 

“Nah, we’re going to an incredibly dangerous western tunnel. We sent in ten scouts, only one came back alive, and barely if Chancellor Edwards is to be believed. We are to escort the prophet through this tunnel and it is supposed to loop back around to Valdor. Fun right?”

 

“Burn me, Zack. You just had to drag me along for this didn’t you? Why couldn’t we just take the easy road to Valdor? No we have to go through the mysterious tunnel, where we could be attacked by spiders, or feral moles, giant maggots, and I don’t know what else! Flying lizards that breathe fire?” Cooper complained, but the grin on his face belied his words. Zack knew he was thrilled. The man lived for adventure, even if he’d never admit it.

 

“We start in the morning, so get ready for a long trip. Water, salted rations, you know the drill.” Zack said, letting Cooper’s complaints bounce off him. “Oh yeah, and Rampage is coming with us.” The groan from Cooper was palpable.

 

“You’re giving me flashbacks, man. ‘Hold your weapon properly, Steven, that’s not a cane.’ Or ‘What are you doing on the ground, Steven? Give me some real push-ups this time!’ Why him, and not someone else about our age? Officer Mathews or Kruger would have done just as well for this mission.”

 

Zack tapped his finger to his nose. “Honestly, I needed someone with experience traversing the western tunnels. I need someone who has actually been there before and survived. Rampage may not be the most agreeable person around, but his combat prowess is undeniable and he’s got the knowledge of anything that can happen out there. If I’m counting on you to cover the prince from the known dangers, I’m counting on Old Rampage to protect him from the unknown.”

 

Steven Cooper buried his head in his hand. “If you’re dead set on this, that’s fine, but how do you know he’ll consent? Rampage hasn’t left Crystalia in over five years. Are you even aware of the reason why?”

“I’ve heard whispers in the barracks here and there. If there is any semblance of truth to them, he’ll come along happily.” Zack said, with a mischievous smile on his face.

 

“I’m beginning to wonder if you even know Rampage. He doesn’t do happy. He either growls stoically, or he growls angrily. Happy is not in that man’s vocab.”

 

Zack’s brisk laughter caught Cooper off guard. “When have I ever disappointed you? Now come on, he won’t believe me if I come alone.” Practically dragging the older man, Zack strode towards Rampage’s classroom with boundless confidence.

 

Zack and Cooper walked along the connecting bridge between the barracks proper and southwest tower. A whiff of sweat bombarded the two as they came across a group of recruits running a circuit around the castle. Following closely behind them was another drill sergeant giving depreciating remarks to the people running.

 

“I definitely don’t miss recruit training. Between the drill sergeants, the sweat, the communal showers, and no women, I can’t think of worse things.” Cooper mused as they came upon the tower staircase. A short climb brought them to the room where Rampage held his combat lessons. Though he preferred a large war hammer, Rampage taught hand to hand combat to new recruits as well as anyone looking to train in self defense. Zack opened the door to find a group of young women listening carefully to Rampage’s lecture.

 

“Proper use of leverage can disable any foe, especially those much larger than you. It’s important to use an opponent’s strength against them…” Rampage looked down at the two soldiers standing in the doorway. “Zack, Steven, Welcome. Ladies, I think we just found some volunteers for you to practice the new moves I taught you. Don’t hold back now, they make look young, but they’re some of the finest recruits we have.” He said with a large grin.

 

“I told you he does happy.” Zack laughed.

 

“This doesn’t count. He only revels in my misery.” Cooper complained.

 

“Look at it this way. It’s a chance to meet women. You don’t get to do that very often. Really I think Old Rampage here is helping your odds out. They don’t call you Strikeout Steven for nothing.”

 

“I heard that, Zack.” Rampage butted in, his large voice overshadowing the giggling group. “Just for that I’ll have you go first.” He pointed to a slender girl, who couldn’t have been much older than Zack. Her long black hair was tied up in a ponytail, and she wore tight fitting clothes for ease of movement. She seemed confident in her ability, but Zack noticed her stance was off slightly. “When you two are ready, begin. Zack, go at her like you want to tackle her.”

 

“Try placing your dominant foot forward.” He offered as she stood ready. “It’ll give you more momentum to move around, and power to move me around.” She nodded and took his advice, adjusting her stance. Giving her affirmation, she prepared for Zack’s attack. He charged at her like a reckless drunk would, and quickly found himself turned around and on the floor. Peeling himself off the ground quickly, he looked at how excited the girl had been to bring him down and cracked a small smile. Rampage sung his praise for the girl’s throw. It took him a second to realize he had been thrown down, and not just pushed by momentum alone. Rampage called for the next student, and the practice began in earnest.

 

It felt like each woman was stronger than the last, though that may have just been the fatigue from constantly being thrown down to the floor. Rampage had taught these women well. Against an unarmed man they could take down any who was not trained, and even a few who were. Zack had used tricks he had learned from Rampage to keep the practice interesting, but naturally they were able to follow his basic feints. He didn’t want to hold back, but a hard glare from Rampage kept him from going all out. He had trained for years with a few life and death situations, but that ability should never be used on women defending themselves from a man. Once again he blitzed towards the next student, going for a grab around her waist. He felt his centre of gravity shift as a low kick to the shin twisted his momentum, and the hard chop to his side sent him sprawling to the ground.

 

Rampage gave a slow clap. “Excellent work ladies and you as well Zack. However we know you haven’t fully grown yet, so any student worth their salt could take you down. I’d say let’s practice with a real man, but Steven here is about manly as a crying babe.” The woman reached her hand out to pull Zack off the turf. She gave him a wry smile and smacked him on the butt as he walked back to the corner of the room. He did not try very hard to hide his grin.

“Cougar bait.” Cooper mumbled under his breath, shaking his head. Quickly sniffing his breath and checking his hair, he came up to the centre of the room. “Go easy on me” He professed to the next woman up. A young waif with a hooked nose and bright blue eyes, she gave him a mischievous smile. She gave a quick glance toward her instructor who gave her a slight nod and a hollow grin. She cracked her knuckles loudly and struck without warning.

 

---

 

Rampage concluded his lesson with great fanfare. The ladies happily thanked him for the lesson and strode out at their own pace. A few of them whispered into Zack’s ear as they walked out, while ignoring the other man still lying on the ground.

 

“Are they gone yet?” Cooper moaned, slowly lifting himself up. “I haven’t been this sore since… well… I can’t even remember man. Burn me, could my sense of timing be any worse.” He started trailing off, muttering all manner of stupid things.

 

“Yes. You did good work today. Normally I have them practice on each other so it’s nice to bring someone who is closer to the danger they face.” Rampage’s eyes narrowed.

 

“Closer to the danger they face? Isn’t this just a general self defense course?” Zack asked, scratching at his ear.

 

“In name, certainly, in reality this is an anti-rape defense course.” Zack gave a startled yelp while Cooper picked himself off the ground a lot faster. “I don’t know if you’re aware, but there has been an increase in rape across Crystalia. Each day, it gets harder and harder to provide food and that puts the people on edge. So when they snap, they make the worst decisions possible. The guard cannot be there to stop every attack on a woman, but I thought maybe I could provide a way for the victims to have a fighting chance.” Rampage gave a heavy sigh as he relaxed his shoulders. “But I’m sure you didn’t come here just to volunteer. Why did you two come to see me?” He flexed his right hand, clenching his metal fingers into a hard fist.

 

“More bad news I’m afraid.” Zack pulled a chair out of the corner of the room and sat down, staring the old soldier in the eyes. “I’m asking for a favour. The chancellor has appointed me for to escort the prince through a western tunnel. It’s believed our scouts have found another way to Valdor.”

 

Rampage’s eyebrow perked up. “Normally the chancellor is level-headed. There’s no way the King would allow his third son into the west tunnels. Not after what happened to the first two.”

 

Zack interrupted. “From what I heard, this is the King’s order. Because Lucas is the prophet, he believes that he’ll be protected from the dangers in the caverns, much like how the Great Furnace protected Alys on the way to Crystalia.”

 

Rampage muttered under his breath, “Fucking unbelievable. The shit he puts that kid through…” He glanced up again at Zack and then turned to Cooper. “So he’s got you strung along too? Seems like this is pretty important, you’ll need to be briefed about this tunnel from the scouts that came back, given seismic data for the area, work out a supply chain…”

 

“You make it sound like you’re not coming, old man.” Cooper tried chucking, but ending up coughing as he rubbed his bruised ribs. “You’re going with us, guaranteed.”

 

The older man’s brow furrowed as he gave a scowl that would frighten the most hardened of men. “I will not leave the city.”

 

Cooper shrugged and turned to Zack who seemed to be in deep thought. “So, you would let his third son go into the tunnels alone? Is that what you’re telling me? Because from someone who calls them self ‘Rampage’, this cowardly act names you ‘Craven’.”

 

“You think you can appeal to my pride? Zack, listen to me. I’ve seen horrors in those tunnels I won’t soon forget. I’ve lost many a friend to sinkholes, cave-ins and mag-spiders.”

 

“Including Prince Gareth and Prince Graham Green.” Zack piped in, “Didn’t they die because you failed to protect them?”

 

“I did not fail my liege lords! They ordered me to come back alive, and let them know what had happened. And I came back with their bodies on my shoulders and that stupid queen spider’s head on my axe.” He slammed on the desk with his metal hand. “It may have taken my hand, but I took its life and the life of all the other spiders in that tunnel. I avenged the deaths of Lord Gareth and Lord Graham!”

 

“Did you really?” Zack spoke again, getting a sharp look from Cooper. He had wondered what Zack was going to do to convince Rampage, but pissing off the largest man in the barracks was never a good idea. “Because from what I hear, you turned tail and ran. You let the royal bloodline die because you were too cowardly to own up to your failing. It was Alistair Gibson who had defeated the Spiders in that cave, including the Queen you boast about slaying. He let you take the credit because you were his friend, and because you are a good person. How would they feel if they knew the truth about you?” He rose from the chair he was sitting on and came face to face with Rampage, staring up at his dark bloodshot eyes. “How would they take it if they knew you were a deserter?”

 

Rampage reached out to throttle the teenager but stopped as his metal fist came close to his prone neck. His mark of shame, those missing fingers had been reminder of his sin. His failure. Whenever he woke up he would look at his hand and shake in anger. He looked down at the boy and saw flashes of his late friend Alistair in his hard gaze. “It seems I have no choice. Very well, you have my hammer, Zack. Now leave before I change my mind.”

 

“Good.” Zack’s stare was still hard as stone. “I will not let you fail Prince Lucas like you did Gareth and Graham, so trust in us. We will survive unscathed and find this new path to Valdor. You can still be redeemed.” Finally relenting, he turned back and walked out the door. A stunned Cooper quickly followed him out, leaving Rampage to stew over old wounds.

 

As soon as they were out of Rampage’s earshot, Cooper bellowed. “What the hell Zack! Instructor Rampage was never a deserter. He really fought through that spider queen and her babies. He carried back the Princes with all of his strength right after losing his hand. He’s a god damn hero.”

 

Zack gave a deep sigh as his shoulders sagged. “And yet he still took my words as truth.” He thought back to something the former Captain had once told him. “Truth is relative to the person you’re talking to. It doesn’t matter what you know, what you heard, or what you perceived to be true. All that matters is the perception of the person you’re talking to. Understand that, and you will understand your enemy.” Zack clenched his entire body before giving out a long breath. “I did a horrible thing.”

 

“Yeah, isn’t that an understatement.” Steven gave Zack a gentle pat on the shoulder. “Relax, and take some more deep breaths. Then maybe you can explain to me what the hell actually happened there.”

 

Zack nodded, talking the arm off his shoulder. “Put simply, Rampage feels deep regret for what happened that day. I would bet he constantly thinks about what happened that day, and that shapes his life in order to compensate for his mistake.” Zack shook his head. “Not that I’m judging him for it or anything, but you can see how it’s affecting him in our simple actions today. He has a strong desire to protect victims, and to prevent people from ever becoming victims.”

 

The pair continued to walk until they reached the top of the tower, to gaze out at the city from up on high. The fireflies were fluttering about in bright green and orange hues, while the city proper was surrounded by a bright yellow glow. The heat from the magma deep below had powered most of the machinery in Crystalia, including the artificial lights. Deep in the tunnels, they could not dare hope for such brightness. Only the soft glow of glowmoss would accompany them into the depths.

 

“As you were saying, does that mean you have dirt on everyone?”

 

“No, hardly.” Zack kicked at the ground apologetically. “Only the people I know well. That’s why I hate what I just did. It was necessary, but… was it really necessary?”

 

Cooper laughed and pulled a flask from his coat pocket. “Care for some? It’s some of my family’s special blend.” He jiggled the flask in his hand, letting the vodka swish around. “Cooper family vintage, because no matter where you are or when you are, there’s always someone fermenting alcohol.”

 

Zack thanked him for the offer but declined. “I’ll have to apologize to him later, after we make it back from this mission, of course.”

 

“If we get back.” Cooper said, taking a swig. “In case you’re forgetting, this is a dangerous mission.”

 

“Always be certain of your actions. In battle, hesitation is a right strictly reserved for the dead. In life, hesitation is the end.” Zack reminisced. “The former captain taught me so much. In honor of his memory, I carry his legacy. And his legacy was about standing firm in the face of danger, confident in the face of fear, and alive in the shadow of death. We’ll be coming back home. You, me, Rampage and the Prince.” He stood up and gave a dramatic pose for extra effect.

 

“I wish I had your confidence, kid.” Cooper laughed, and then drained his flask in one big gulp. “I have to drink to get mine.” The glow moss slowly began shifting color, shifting from red to orange. “Looks like it’s time to go home. I’ll see you in three moss cycles then.” Cooper shifted slowly, rising like a shadow before skulking down the tower stairs. Zack stood staring over the edge of the tower, admiring the scenery for a while, basking in the pale orange glow.

“Captain Gibson.” Zack spoke, his eyes downcast as the lakes below. He scowled as bitter memories coursed through his brain. “I vow to bring them back alive. I vow to come back alive.” He stomped down the stairs, his mind racing.

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Best chapter yet. You've made Zack into a straight badass. Have you heard me mention before that mostly older women hit on me? Because that cougar line was perfect, lmao.

 

I like that Zack adheres to his "code" and that he's analytical and quick with a scathing remark. It was also nice to see that he doesn't revel in hurting good people and to see another layer of his personality, as well as the hint to more of his backstory.

 

Steven Cooper was hilarious. A few of his lines actually made me laugh out loud, so well done.

 

 

 

I honestly have no criticism. I think it flows well and the story is coherent and engaging. Like I said previously, I appreciate the hints at future storylines and the unanswered questions that arise from them.

 

Your writing is maturing and the dialogue is the height of it all, in my opinion. Your characters never speak just for the sake of it and when they do, it's often times profound in nature. That, I feel, is something that sets apart great writing.

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I pretty much hated Risette in P4, so any reference to that makes me cringe.

 

Best chapter yet. Great work. :yep:

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Old Tommy :ooo:

 

Good stuff as usual :yep:

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