The first entry of the Fiction Anthology (Spring 2010 edition) is the first episode of Bardass!
Bardass! Quest 01 – Recover the Master’s Tome!
Thrust from the apex of majesty into the bowels of mediocrity, the former Balken spent many sunsets sneaking into the fortress of knowledge once touted as his personal study. He alone knew the secret entrance, and under candlelight, scoured for a method to break the curse of Duvall of Lorath.
With no solution to take as his own, Brier studied the great masters of the arts and discovered there yet lived one such master to unbind the chains of limit. Doreida was his name, and he was found in the land of Astoria where Kruseid reigns supreme.
Doreida: Aged as I am, your plight is one I deem myself capable of relieving. However, I will require something from you.
Brier: If it’s gold you ask…
Doreida: I require not gold. To perform the hex breaker, I need my tome of secrets. Unfortunately, an apprentice of mine has it, and has not returned.
Brier: He fled with it in tow?
Doreida: Nay, I know his character very well. If he yet lives, he would have returned it to me by now. I fear he has met his end in the Ruins of Kolizoan.
Brier: Then, in the ruins I may find your tome?
???: Master Doreida, if I retrieve this tome of yours, will you grant me understanding of the secrets within?
The chipper voice of a young maiden caught the attention of the two men. Tall and just a bit lanky, with long braided hair of sheen reminiscent of a late summer afternoon, Coleen’s slender features didn’t look the part of a weathered adventurer. However, her clothes were telling: a tunic woven of cloth from Rieve Elan noticeably stained with traces of different soils and bloods, and a dragon scale pendant that looked small, dull, rough, and slightly cracked – clearly not a tourist decoration but rather a trophy of a hard-fought conquest.
Doreida: If you deem yourself worthy, so be it. Just bring me that tome!
Coleen: I shan’t let you down! You, bard! Let us be off!
Brier: Coleen, was it?
Coleen: Coleen it is.
Brier: I don’t doubt your skill or experience, but the Ruins of Kolizoan is no easy expedition.
Coleen: No worries! I’ve already enlisted the aid of a Cleric!
Brier: However, it is also wrought with traps, so we need the skills of a Trapper or Rogue.
Coleen: Must we?
Brier: If you wish to live, yes.
And so the newly-formed duo inquired at the local bar for a suitable prospect, which was quickly found.
-End Quest Dialog-
Quest: Recover the Master’s Tome!
–The Ruins of Kolizoan–
Recommended level: 20-30
Party Leader: Coleen
Coleen [Mage] lv. 22
Title: Wanderer of the Plains
Solyn [Cleric] lv. 18
Ratchet [Rogue] lv. 26
Title: Lockpick me!
Brier [Bard] lv. 16
Title: Dark Bard
Familiar: Arco [Newt] lv. 2
The party passed through an empty berth that led into a small corridor.
Coleen: Ugh, it’s so dark in here… I bet there are traps all over the place.
Solyn: There are torches on the wall. I’ll go grab one and light it.
Ratchet: Don’t! Are you crazed?
Solyn: What’s your problem?
Ratchet: Amateur. That’s one of the simplest traps out there. I always bring my own torches. Mage girl, light this one up with your magic and you’ll see.
Coleen casts Nymphet of Flame!
The darkness is terrifying indeed, not due to its own form but for the forms it conceals. The ruin floor was covered in dust and bones. Countless were the shapes resembling men, all of them grasping a torch, all of them undoubtedly dead without a trace of attack.
Coleen: What happened here? There are no arrows on their bodies…
Brier: I thought I remembered that smell. “Dead Ash.”
Ratchet: So, the bard knows of it too.
Brier: I knew a girl that was into all kinds of poisons (and wouldn’t shut up about it).
Ratchet: Hm. Well, you’re right. Dead Ash is a powder that, when ignited, releases a highly poisonous gas.
Brier: There’s another effect too, isn’t there?
Ratchet: Right… it… creates Revenants… oh shit…
The shapes that were once men all animated at once and stood up. No longer men, they blindly attacked the ruin’s intruders.
Ratchet: We’re in for a fight.
Coleen: If they’re covered with that Dead Ash, I can’t use my fire magic…
Ratchet: Then use water magic! It’ll dampen the ash.
Coleen: There isn’t a source of water nearby!
Ratchet: Do SOMETHING!
Solyn: Putting vengeful spirits to rest is a cleric’s work! These poor souls deserve a guide to the land of spirits.
Solyn cast Merciful Rest on Revenant!
The gentle touch of the maiden turned the animated skeleton into dust – a purified ash free from its curse.
The party received “Adventurer’s Ashes!”
Ratchet: Hey, good going.
Brier: But she can’t handle all of them. Solyn, use that spell on my lute.
Brier: Just do it.
The dark bard strummed his instrument and voiced a hymn he had remembered long ago, but rarely practiced.
Brier played “The Maiden of Echo!”
The melody was perfect and enchanting. His wailing voice soothing as a dozen feline’s death screeches on a silent winter night. The cleric’s spell became one with the melody and resonated throughout the ruins, putting to rest all of the undead minions before them.
Coleen: That did it, now stop singing!
Brier: I was just getting to the good part.
Ratchet: You mean it gets worse?!
Solyn: Let’s continue, shall we?
The tome was not among the ruins in the corridor. The apprentice was at least adept enough to see past the deadly trap here. But how far did he traverse, and for what purpose?
Deeper into the ruins, the walls faded into earth. The adventurers were now in a cave, darker and more expansive, hiding greater dangers.
Brier: The Ruins of Kolizoan were never completed. It was built on two sites, and they were intended to meet here. If we walk further into the cave we’ll find more ruins.
Ratchet: Huh. You mean after all that, we went into the wrong entrance?
Brier: Nope. This was the shortest path into the cave. The eastern entrance is longer because it starts from a summit. And I’ve got a hunch our apprentice friend met his end in this cave.
Ratchet: Tch. Not much treasure opportunities then.
Coleen: Sh. Do you hear that?
The cavern was never silent because of a single solitary rhythm. One might mistake it for a strong breeze, but there was no current in these stagnant depths. It was breath. The breath of a great and ancient dragon. Scattered about its lair were the bones of men and innumerable treasures.
Brier: There’s the tome.
Coleen: Just our luck.
Brier: The Kolizoans attempted to build a magnificent altar to their dark god in this cavern. They even brought in their great treasures as a tribute. But what they found here was death, and the tributes were lost forever to the dragon.
Ratchet: Bard, if you knew of such a story, why the HELL did you lead us here?
Brier: Because I need that tome more than anything else.
Coleen: I need it too, but I’m not about to get into a fight with that beast.
Brier: It appears to be sleeping now… Hm? Are those… writings?
Ratchet: Idiot, don’t get too close!
Brier: It’s… blood writings!
Brier circled the sleeping beast and studied the red writings. It was a powerful inscription written in blood, and its writer lay dead just outside of it.
Brier: The fool must have seen a passage in the tome and thought to use a blood ritual to trap the dragon while he took the ancient treasures. He used cow blood instead of human blood… but the ritual demands a living sacrifice. Dead blood won’t do, so it accepted his life as a catalyst.
Solyn: Why would he do this? Given the dangers…
Coleen: Who knows? The dead don’t talk.
Ratchet: But if I’m hearing you right, we can take all this treasure and split, right?
Brier: Yeah. Let’s take the tome and head back to the surface.
Ratchet: Heh heh heh… okay, everyone pull your share. One chest each!
Coleen: Not a bad haul.
The trek back to the surface was longer than the descent, but in time they were again in sight of the once death-filled corridor.
Ratchet: Come on guys, it’s not much longer!
Coleen: Well, he’s in high spirits.
Brier: Of course. He’s getting paid more than he bargained for.
Ratchet: You have no idea.
Brier: Hm? Arco? What’s going on?
Brier: He’s my, uh, pet.
From beneath Brier’s shirt emerged a tiny black newt. It climbed up the nape of his neck and onto his face before jumping out ahead of them.
Coleen: It’s cute!
Brier: What’s gotten into him though?
Brier knelt down and observed Arco before taking notice of it.
Brier: A tripwire. Ratchet, you missed one!
Ratchet: Huh. Hey, what do you know… I guess we were lucky.
Solyn: That’s a handy creature.
Brier: I don’t believe in luck.
Brier: What’s that smell?
Solyn: I think I smell it too… Unnh…
The young cleric fainted and dropped the torch she bore.
Brier: Solyn? Ah…
The bard was momentarily stunned. He had seen the expression many times before, but he never dreamed he would see it here, in these circumstances. In anger, he tore the torch from Solyn’s already cold grasp and threw it at the rogue.
Brier: You BASTARD!
Ratchet: Whoops, you caught me. Hyah!
The rogue crushed the torch with his boot while throwing a dagger at the tripwire. Bricks rained from the ceiling, falling on the bard and mage as the scene was abruptly made dark as the moonless midnight.
Ratchet: I was hoping the Ash would take care of all three of you, but the bard is a smart one. If you can still hear me, don’t fret. I’ll come back in a few days to take the rest of the treasure away from your suffocated bodies. Oh, and I suppose I should give you some light to keep you company.
The rogue lit two Dead Ash torches before making haste away from the poisoned corridor.
Brier: We’re trapped and don’t have much time before that gas reaches us. Can you use air magic?
Coleen: Yeah, but I can’t guide it under all this rubble.
Brier: That’s where I’ll come in.
Brier plays “Surface-Seeker’s Elegy!”
Brier: Combine your spell with my song, and we should be able to blast all this gas out of the ruins.
Coleen casts “Wingbeat of Arcane Wyvern!”
The Dead Ash Torches were put out!
The Dead Ash fumes were successfully expelled!
Coleen: Nice work, bard.
Brier: Yeah, but now we have to get ourselves out of this mess.
Brier: We better bring her with us. The old man should be able to expel her body of the ash’s effect so she doesn’t go Revenant on us. And she deserves a proper burial.
Coleen: What happened? I thought that torch was safe.
Brier: Take a look. The innermost layer of the wrapping is lined with trace amounts of Dead Ash. It’d take a long while before the flame hits it, so we wouldn’t be in danger until near the end of the expedition. He was planning on this from the beginning.
Coleen: The evil prick.
Brier: It’s a shame it had to claim our cleric friend here. I never had the chance to teach her about life.
Coleen: Huh? What does that mean?
Brier: Oh, you don’t know about clerics?
Coleen: What about them?
Brier: Never mind. Let’s just head back to town. I still have the tome.
The two braved the way back to civilization from the lost ruins, the fallen cleric carried by the bard.
Coleen: You know, you’re not like a lot of other bards I’ve met. You’re very quiet. And you’ve got a pretty terrible voice.
Brier: That’s why I’m a Dark Bard.
Coleen: “Dark Bard,” huh? Pretty strange.
Brier: You’re strange.
Coleen: Excuse me?
Brier: You’re a pretty experienced mage, I can tell. But do you always travel with pick-up groups? Not too many solo mages out there, especially one so young.
Coleen: Flattery will get you nowhere, bard. Besides, you look a lot younger than me.
Brier: Oh, I’m older than you think. So, why travel by yourself? What do you seek?
Coleen: . . .
Brier: I won’t laugh or judge you.
Coleen: It’s not that.
Brier: Is it a secret? I promise not to tell anyone. Except Arco here.
Coleen: Heh. Well, I guess I do owe you. To tell the truth, I’m looking for the Dark Lord Balken.
Brier: Didn’t you get the message? Balken’s dead.
Coleen: That’s what everyone says, but I don’t believe that. There was no corpse. And then there were those wars where all those generals were pretending to be Balken. There’s no way he’s dead. He’s just hiding.
Brier: Well, I suppose that is a popular theory. But what are you going to do once you find him?
Coleen: Kill him.
Brier: Ah ha ha… Kill him? The stories about his strength aren’t exaggerated you know. And if he is indeed alive, that means the Seven Heroes themselves weren’t enough to take him down.
Coleen: I know I wouldn’t beat him in a one-on-one situation, especially if he was at full power. But if he’s hiding, he’s hiding for a reason. The Heroes probably weakened him, but not enough to kill him. I’ve been training my whole life to fight Balken. If he’s in a weakened state, I’m sure I can defeat him.
Brier: And the reason you want to learn those secrets from the tome?
Coleen: Well, you can’t be too careful. What if I find him just when he’s finished “regenerating” or whatever? I have to be strong enough to hold my own against the fully-powered Balken.
Brier: Smart. So what did poor Balken do to deserve your wrath?
Coleen: Killed my parents. And my brother.
Brier: What, personally?
Coleen: Yes. I’m sure of it. My parents were both generals in a resistance army. My brother was the leader of their ace squad. I was only in training at the time, so I couldn’t help them. They managed to push forward all the way to Balken’s capital. We were so hopeful of victory. Then a messenger came informing us that the Dark Lord himself challenged the entire resistance and beheaded the leaders himself without having so much as scratch on his armor. The monster placed their heads on pikes for a full month!
Brier: Oh… Yes, I remember… hearing… about that…
Coleen: It won’t be enough just to kill him. I want to humiliate him before everyone from my country.
Brier: Well… good luck with that.
The returning party arrived at the house of Doreida, who purged the body of Solyn of the effects of the cursed air and lay her in a coffin for later burial. He immediately set to work on fulfilling his promise and sought for a way to cure Brier’s curse.
Brier: Can you do it, Doreida?
Doreida: I have all the materials gathered for the ritual. Listen, all blood curses create an invisible mark over the afflicted’s body. But, once these marks are visible, it should be simple to undo them. This ritual will make your curse visible. Once they are, it’s just a matter of undoing them with the proper curse breakers one by one.
Brier: Then do it!
Doreida: Then, by the name of the God of the Unliving, Gulderrahan, I offer a tribute to forbidden knowledge! Reveal the Blood!
Darkness swallowed the master’s tribute, and markings appeared over the bard’s body. Like dark thorns, they appeared to twist over each other around his body, nearly covering every inch of his skin.
Brier: What is it? Are you saying you can’t do it? I thought you could break every curse there is!
Doreida: Separately, yes. Even multiple ones is possible. But what is written on you makes this task nearly impossible. It would take years to finish. You have curses layered upon each other. One hex protects the other, protects the other, and so on! Who in the world could have done this to you, boy?
Brier: Some guy from Lorath, a long time ago.
Doreida: Lorath! Oh dear…
Brier: Is that bad?
Doreida: The Lorathian curses are a lost art that not even this tome holds the secrets to. And thanks to the Dark Lord Balken burning down their entire kingdom, I’m afraid there’s no one left living who can undo your curse. Save for one. Duvall of the Seven Heroes. And I wouldn’t count on his aid.
Brier: So I’m going to be cursed forever?
Doreida: Well, there is only one way to stop a blood curse of this magnitude cast by a Lorathian. You must bathe in the blood of one.
Brier: There’s no easy way out then, is there?
Doreida: No, I’m afraid not.
Coleen: How are you cursed, Brier?
Brier: As you can see, I have a lot of curses. But probably the most annoying one is the one that freezes my body as a weak 15-year-old. I can’t even gain an ounce of muscle.
Coleen: Oh god… So the reason you can’t sing…
Brier: I was a late bloomer. This was about the age my voice started to break.
Coleen: I can’t think of anything more humiliating than that.
Brier: I can. But believe me, there aren’t a lot.
Coleen: So what do you intend to do?
Brier: What else? I’m gonna go pay a visit to a certain someone in Lorath.
Coleen: You’re insane.
Brier: You have your path and I have mine. For your sake, I hope they don’t cross again.
Coleen: My beef isn’t with Duvall, don’t worry. Besides, I’m gonna be here for a long time, honing my craft. So, are you leaving town now?
Brier: In the morning. There’s someone here I have to pay a visit to.
Darkness falls, and a single man rests at an inn. But he senses danger and throws a dagger at his door.
Ratchet: Tch. Missed. What do you want?
Brier: Just a bit of retribution.
Ratchet: That voice… the bard. So you escaped.
Ratchet: Heh. Well, I hate to break it to ya, but I’m a better fighter than you. You can’t do a damn thing. I’d love to see you try.
Brier: Oh no, I agree with you. In fact, I can see all the traps you’ve laid around here. Very impressive. And you’re right: there’s nothing I can do. My friend Arco here on the other hand…
Brier takes out a pouch and a metallic object.
Ratchet: Drop the knife. I’ve got a bead on your head.
Brier: It’s not a knife.
Ratchet: What is that… a spoon?
Brier: Yes. And in my other hand…
The bard pours a powdery substance into the spoon and lowers it to his familiar.
Ratchet: That… Is that from the ruin?
Brier: Correct again. It’s Dead Ash. My familiar, Arco, is immune to all poisons, including the Dead Ash. In fact, he feeds on them. This is just a little midnight snack for him.
Brier: Arco is a smart one. He can see through your traps as well. And he’s small enough to get into a lot of nooks and crannies.
Brier: And he’s got a killer bite.
Ratchet: I didn’t take your treasure… call off the lizard… That cleric brat meant nothing to you and you know it!
Brier: True. Not exactly eye for an eye.
Ratchet: This won’t kill me. I’ll kill you if that thing bites me!
Brier: True again. After all, the full effects of Dead Ash are only realized when they’re burned. But Arco regularly feasts on other poisons. One of them, Rodiga Venom, causes the most excruciating burning sensation. It also slowly moves throughout the entire body. Before you die a full week later, it feels as though the entire body is in flames. Ironically, the only way to stop the infection is to apply a flame to the wound right after it enters the body.
Brier: Oh yes. Half of the fun is seeing what you choose to do. Will it be the painful death? Or will you burn yourself after bitten in the hopes that you might just survive the vapor from the Dead Ash? Oh, and the second half of the fun is guessing where Arco will bite you. By the way, I gave him some pointers. You don’t want to be bitten where I want him to.
Ratchet: Bard, I’m telling you! CALL HIM OFF! Ah… ah… AAAAAAAAAAAGHHHHHH!!!!
Brier: I have to say, it’s a fitting end for – what did that girl call you again? Ah yes, “the evil prick.” I’ll see you in the next world, Chet.
In the next chapter of Bardass! Brier gathers ingredients for an aged alchemist trying to create an the fabled Grand Panacea! Will it be enough to break Brier’s curse? Will he even survive to try the medicine?