TERA: For the Federation S2 Ep2 - To Hell and Back
By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), OnRPG Editor-in-Chief
Growing up I always heard death be compared to nothingness. The Void. The Other Realm. The Dream. A similar theme existed amongst the people of every land I studied. Yet how would they know what death is? Had someone come back and told them about it? I no longer needed to rely on the vague interpretations and religious doctrines of our people. For death had found me through none other than the Queen of the Argon's tainted magic.
The darkness existed for only a second, as if I had blinked and awoken in another world. I found myself riding a Pegasus within a warp portal. Except this warp portal ran vertically, and seemed to repeat on an endless loop. My Pegasus also was free falling straight into a near endless portal. After an eternity I saw it. A bright light awaited me, wrapped between the dreaming bodies of the sleeping Titans Arun and Shara. This was the dream from which all life was created, and all life was meant to return to. The warmth was overwhelming and I embraced it with open arms. However this blissful end was not meant for me. Not at this time.
Without warning an ethereal chain shot down the endless tunnel, wrapping around my neck and pulling me off my plummeting Pegasus. I struggled to break from from it but three more followed quickly after, strapping my arms and legs tightly together. A final chain formed an airtight seal around my massive belly and stopped my freefall completely. I was in a panic. Was this some kind of curse of the Argons? The thought that their poison seeped even into our soul and bound us to whatever nightmare those abominations originate from froze me to the core. In one swift motion I was pulled, back first, away from the glowing warmth of the light. The image of Arun and Shara's waiting arms robbed from me. My velocity increased as chain after chain swung down around my body, binding me tighter and tighter. The world around me grew fuzzy as a chain shot across my eyes, blinding me with its translucent form.
My body lurched as my mind and soul became one with it. As hard as it was to believe, I was back in Arborea laying flat on my back in Cutthroat Harbor. Had it all been a dream? I turned to my right as my blood ran cold with the image of Wulynn nestling closer to the Argon queen like a child to her mother. That part definitely had happened. The Argon queen's emotionless expression had changed almost imperceptibly to one of scorn. The chains that bound me were still there but fell to my sides weightlessly now that I existed in the real world. A terrible shaking of the earth managed to break my gaze from the Argon queen to look in the opposite direction.
There was Jelena, Elleon, Leander, Surmun, and Platypus standing atop a rampaging coconut crab. Leander was precariously holding a fishing pole with a coconut tied to it as a haphazardly designed lure to control the gigantic crustacean. Platypus stood with legs spread and arms taut to his sides as if nailed against a wall. The ethereal chains that had pulled me from the Void fell from his sides and crumpled down the sides of the crab, to no one's notice but our own.
"Dizzy dig you damn bunny!" Platy shouted as his mind returned to reality. I responded without thinking, frantically digging a hole with my gauntlets where I lay. I managed to get a small alcove and lay flat in it just as Leander whipped the coconut into the air, launching the crab over my body and smashing down straight into the Argon queen. Wulynn's body flew skyward like a rag doll as the queen pressed both hands together forming a forcefield that rejected the crab's momentum from smashing her into the sandy beach. Jelena dashed left and Elleon right as Leander tossed the fishing rod into the sea to catch Wulynn in the nick of time. Platy rolled to the side at the last moment as the crab and Surmun crashed into the ocean creating a huge splash that filled the air with salty mist.
"You abominations are all the same!" Jelena charged at the queen from the side just as her forcefield shattered, fragments floating into the air like weightless glass. The crab had pushed the queen into a bit of a sand moat ensuring that the only way out for the queen was up or through. Faster than my eyes could follow, the queen spun on her left heel, landing a solid back heel kick with her right leg against Jelena's exposed core where her two pieces of leather armor connect. She darted forward to follow up with the killing blow but was barely deflected as Elleon flashed in front of her and crossed his swords against the queen's flat palmed hands. Platy, recognizing now as the proper time, teleported to my side and began chanting purification charms as a small fairy thrall began breathing new life into me.
"The chains..." I managed to choke out though my voice cracked on the word, "They were your doing? How?"
"You aren't the only Popori who studied in the homeland brother. I learned quite a bit of forbidden magic when dabbling with the Witches' Academy in Pora Elinu. It's an ancient form of soul binding called Vow of Rebirth that can tie your soul to that of another. Of course the damage it can have on the caster is irreversible but without you wielding Queen's Law to protect me I was good as dead anyway."
"When did you have time to perform the ritual though?"
"That night before we met Elleon in the Halls of Shadow. We were face to face in our cots for a good three hours. I had plenty of time to bind us together in that period. Rather ironic considering I expected the Black Hood would be killing you. Who knew the Argon Queen would test the limits instead?!"
After coughing up a spout of infected silver blood purified by his Thrall of Life I grinned and smacked Platy in the face.
"Gah!" He cringed and grabbed his nose as a spurt of blood fell out. "What was that about?!"
"That's for having so little faith in me." I moved as if to hit him again but instead slapped him hard on the back, a sign of extreme respect amongst Popori. "And that's for saving my life!"
"Well now we're even. Don't go getting yourself killed again anytime soon though. Those chains cost me a year of my life minimum!"
Our reunion was short lived as we turned to see Elleon's head slam down into a nearby rock. His eyes fluttered and regained focus in a demonstration of unimaginable determination as he flipped and rolled back into the Coconut Crab's beach moat to dodge a silver fireball from the queen. The queen darted towards Elleon and then increased speed and vanished from eye sight. I was the first to spot the blurring whirl of death and pushed off on Platy as it cut between the two of us by inches. Without a moment to relax I jumped back to my feet, Platy's mystical auras renewing the life into my body, and threw my chain at a bewildered Leander, pulling him out of the queen's deadly path without a second left to spare. As the master Argon tore past she ripped Wulynn from his arms and threw her over her shoulder, making a sickeningly sharp 90 degree turn towards the still circling portal descending from the green clouds.
The queen stopped and turned to face our battered forces, her look of scorn replaced with the same emotionless facade she had first appeared with. Elleon and I rushed forward but an unholy light emanated from the portal as Argon behemoths easily the size of the Coconut Crab began descending from the portal as the queen ascended amongst them into the heavens. I glanced at Elleon and we agreed there was no time to think twice. Elleon violently descended upon the first Argon to land, disabling its massive body with one sword thrust to its throat. Sheathing his swords, he reached back and grasped my outstretched paw pad, tensed every muscle in his body, and slingshot me from atop the Argon towards Wulynn and the queen.
My voice seemed to resonate deep inside her mind as the grey fog shrouding her eyes faded temporarily. Her emotionless face became one of fear and deep anxiety as she reached out towards me attempting to push herself away. Our hands collided for one last time as the Argon queen's outstretched hand fell upon my unprotected forehead.
"Stubborn species. Must I really extinguish your spark twice?" She smirked as heat began to burn beneath the skin on my forehead. Wulynn turned and pressed her Dragon Wand against the queen's wrist.
"Implode!" Her voice resounded across the beach front as an orb of intense electricity and Argon magic orbited around a singularity of light centered on the queen's wrist. The world around me slowed down as the force of the explosion blew the queen and myself apart. My grip on Wulynn vanished as the queen tightened her hold on my sister. The spear I thought!
I reached back to extend the spear and give Wulynn something to grasp onto. But as it formed around my wrist I remembered the poisonous basilisk spine covered weapon I now held. The same weapon that had nearly robbed the spark from Wulynn just moments ago. I hesitated and shouted out her name one last time as her eyes again fogged over with metallic smoke.
"Farewell inferior creature. Should we meet again before my armies crush your tree into the ground, I would to see you prove to me the value of your race. You now carry a weapon cursed with Argon magic. Use it well for no Federation minion before you has had access to such power." The final words between the queen and I before she disappeared into her portal burned into my mind as harshly as the scar she had left on my forehead. As I plummeted back to Arborea alongside a small army of Argon creatures. I landed atop an artificial tower constructed by Platy, breaking my fall perfectly. The beach was fast becoming a bloodbath as Argons tore into the local wildlife and any Gula unfortunate enough to have survived my earlier onslaught. Elleon rushed to the side of Platy's tower with Jelena slung over his shoulder. Leander held himself up with the cleaver of a Gula as he unleashed slash after awkward slash at the smaller Argon creatures surrounding us. Even his near limitless Elven mana had been pushed to the point of exhaustion.
The mouth of Platy's Thrall of Vengeance spewed forth blast after blast of fire but the Argon waves continued to slowly close in. Our party was entirely out of stamina when the familiar sound of shaking earth raised hope in all of us.
A wave of water rushed over the beach as the Coconut Crab with Surmun at the head exploded from the Ocean depths. Surmun inhaled a massive breath of oxygen as he brandished the muddy fishing pole with coconut still in tow. Everyone gripped onto the Thrall Statue as the wave washed over us, knocking all surrounding Argon's to the ground and away from us in a flash flood. We climbed to the tallest point of the statue and jumped aboard the rampaging crab as it slammed and crushed along the bodies of the hapless Argon minions. Everyone let out a cheer as steel and magic whizzed by our retreating Crustacean tank. Jelena's head cocked to the side as she looked at the horizon while leaning against Elleon for support.
"Castanica bless me! Kaia's Sword!"
Atop a distant hill stood Sophilia, a powerful and revered Tribune from the Castanic capital of Castanica. She waved her arm forward as a small army of Humans, Castanics, and Amani began to flow over the hillside bearing the markings of Kaia's Sword. I had heard the legends of this vigilante group of fighters but never believed such an organization held such numbers as this!
"Kaia's Sword believes in the will of the Amani Goddess Kaia and meditate tirelessly each day to seek her wisdom and learn from her tactics. Kaia be praised she must have foreseen these events and sent them to counter the invasion."
The battalion filled the wake of sand kicked up by the stampeding crab as the clash of steel and sorcery filled the air behind us. I sat up with a startle as I heard the rumble of steel landing on the crab behind me. To my disbelief it was Dougal, Seir's Consul in Velika.
"Sir Leander! I didn't expect to find you in such an unusual condition but Seir ordered I deliver news to you as quickly as possible. The Argons have made the first move and invaded Northern Shara. Val Kaeli has fallen without a fight and the invasion forces are pushing relentlessly towards Kaiator. Samael has vanished without a trace and all of Velika is in a panic without his leadership. Fraya of Allemantheia demands your immediate return home to plan for the coming invasion."
"It was all a diversion to draw attention away from the Castanica attack. The Argons have completely outdone us." Leander moaned. Elleon though was preoccupied with another nuance of Dougal's words.
"Samael's choosing a time like this to make his move? That bastard!" Elleon grit his teeth at the thought of Samael's greed causing the destruction of the Federation. "Samael isn't missing Dougal. He's on his way to betray the Federation by reviving Lok. Where is Seir?"
"Scouts should be arriving in Velika shortly to warn of the Argon invasion of this continent. I suggested we meet in Castanica to formulate a plan for defending our continent."
"Meet him at the Pegasus post and tell him to head to the Ruins of Lok. Today we expose Samael's lies to the entire Federation and clear the name Elleon!"
As we rode off towards Castanica on our unusual mount, something caught the corner of my eye as a light tap fell on my shoulder. I looked around by no one was behind me, or for that matter how could they have pulled themselves onto the crab without notice. I chalked it up to fatigue but couldn't help feeling like I saw the grin of a twisted and sickly Popori cat in a flash of subconscious memory. Must be my imagination.