It was finally time to do something useful. For almost three months since the end of local equivalent of may we partied. This could be called an awesome summer, only I wasn’t in school or college, but in some world full of magic and monsters. I have a sweet life, can’t complain about it, but I should be more productive. I mean Elaya is the leader of our tribes and she is only fifteen now. Eleanor is the Queen of the kingdom and she does a great job. Aedim uncovered secrets of teleportation and other magics by using only bits and pieces I gave her. And I am here, spending a week of my time drinking with dragons.
When we were able to sober up, I told Regios that we should go to visit the Zone. Seeing how he was surrounded by three girls, he took my excuse to get away for a moment. So, we packed up whatever little belonging we had and quickly left the party. Mercissa also came with us, although I didn’t really want her to accompany me into the zone, she wanted to go with her future husband to wherever he would go. And honestly, out of all of us, she was the second strongest after me. If anything, I should be scared of Meriden getting hurt.
The Zone was few hours away. We landed in a large camp where there were a lot of monsters and some Val men. Looking around, their equipment is a little damaged and their supplies are not running out yet, but they would need some reinforcements soon. Regios already has the stargate in his city, but the ones that will be coming here are still being made, although they should be ready at any moment.
I talked to the men and they were glad to see me. I was a legend amongst Val people, my power was beyond any of them. My new transformation prompted some questions and I told them as much as I could, but didn’t say anything about my ability to transform others yet. It should be told by the elders later on when they work out any problems that might arise.
They were grateful for the elixirs that Nrogara creates, it saved many lives out here, although they were running low on them. Next shipment should be arriving within weeks, but they already have to ration it, treating only the gravest of injuries. There was the possibility of giving them blood from Meriden and Mercissa, as it too gained a healing factor, but I didn’t want anybody touching what’s mine. I am already here to help, they should be glad because of just that.
Giving my blood wasn’t an option. While I could seal the power to turn others in my Bloodborn, the seal was useless on me. I couldn’t stop people from transforming after drinking my blood, so it was out of the question.
Thankfully only Meriden was here out of all my girls, so people didn’t know about the transformations and they saw Mercissa for the first time too. The similarities between us were attributed to magic. Too easy.
We were given a large space to set up our tent. It was very big, bigger than most others, capable of fitting a dozen people. It was only four people at the moment, but while I was here the other girls might come to visit. They liked spending time with me.
While I was here I decided to help these people and used the port stone to teleport to Lilith, who was in the House of Bloodlust with Nrogara. I got a few boxes of the elixir and ported back to Meriden. Magic is wonderful.
The few extra boxes would allow to explore the Zone further. It was a good thing to explore it as there were many items that had miraculous properties and would help counter the effects of the darkness from within the Zone. Some of them acted like force barriers, preventing projectile attacks or some gave elemental resistance, weakening certain magics. Weaker ones had no drawbacks, but the stronger ones were seeping out the darkness, making their prolonged use somewhat problematic. I now had my own black flames, so it should be ok for me to use the strongest ones. I will speak to them about it later. It’s actually funny how here instead of radiation it’s darkness that does all the bad things.
Firstly, we are going to have a ’guest walk’ as people call it. Our little group with get a couple of veterans with them and walk around, trying to get used to the anomalies and monsters. At the close proximity to the boarders it is rather safe to walk around.
The group that accompanied us were two Val men, a short man named Giaz of Val’Hoona and an elf named Felmier of Val’Eris, a Minotaur and a Lamia. The group of four was one of the best in exploring the Zone and while they rested, they said it would be an honor to accompany me on our first entry. I didn’t protest, although I felt like I would be just fine, seeing as how I was the one who gave them most tips. They all had some gear to resist mind magics, as most intelligent monsters deeper in used it to attack.
We left most unnecessary things in our tent and kept the weapons on us. I had the sword, Feldrazil, and Meriden had a sword and a bow. Mercissa didn’t need anything, seeing as she was a dragon. Flaer also came along, she didn’t listen to my request to stay at the camp, but she wasn’t gonna fight.
From the main camp to the border of the Zone, it took us about a fifteen minutes walk. There we met a small group of magicians who were keeping up a ward spell, keeping the darkness behind a barrier. Such checkpoints were spaced out about one kilometer away from each other and it astonished me how monsters had this many magicians. It didn’t surprise me to learn that some of them were dragons.
Past the barrier the Zone started. The changes were swift, from the lush jungle it turned into a wasteland. Everywhere was dry ground, covered in black ash-like substance. The sky turned from clear blue to grey, with heavy clouds hanging overhead. The plants were mostly dead and the few plants that were alive looked to be dangerous. We walked amongst this dead land for a while, just studying the dangers of the periphery. Meriden was surprised to see this kind of place. She knew that I read fiction about it in the past and she wondered what kind of person would want to imagine such a desolate place. She totally didn’t get the whole idea of adventure and romance of your life hanging by the thread. It’s too early for her to understand it.
As we walked on, we saw the first monster. It was a boar, a big fat boar. Its tusks and snout were large, larger than normal. What made it truly bizarre were its legs. It had six insectoid legs, made out of three portions each. They had sharp spikes and edges, made for cutting into flesh and ripping people apart. It saw us and let out a loud shriek, showing its fury.
The four people with us prepared to fight, but I stopped them. It is time to show what Zern is made of. I take off my cloak and shirt, only leaving my stretchy pants on. They look good and fancy, but in truth they can accommodate my beast forms, so I always have such pants on, just in case. It was a gift from elves after they were impressed with Aedim.
I turn into my half drake and half bear form, combining both defense and brute strength. I look weird, being both a mammal and reptile, but I don’t care now. My form which combines all six powers is even worse.
I wait for the pig monster to charge me. It releases another angry shriek and starts running at me, two front legs ready to strike. It ran closer, bringing two legs up above and behind it, bringing them down once it’s close enough. I take it head on, trying to compare my strength, but the force is pathetically weak. I don’t know what I expected, I can fight a dragon, why would some pigbug pose a threat to me?
The monster tries hurting me, striking me with its legs, but I easily ignore the hits. They don’t even tickle me. Disappointing. I catch the legs and with a quick move remove them from their sockets. I throw away the two limbs and take the next two, also ripping them out. The beast falls onto the ground, only two of its rear appendages remaining. It tries to crawl away awkwardly, bit I use my tail and pierce its body. It twitches for few seconds and then goes limp. The legs are still twitching, reminding me of spiders.
“Well damn. I knew ye be strong, but not this strong.” The Giaz spoke with a heavy accent, akin to the dwarves. I had a slight feeling he was a half dwarf, as he was rather short but stout and muscly.
“Aha, I got a slight strength boost since my last Rite. I think walking in the zone should be ok now?”
“Well, ye ripped the poor thing apart. But these ‘nes are easiest around ‘ere, they’re the bottom of the food chain. Only barrel maggots are below them.”
“Aye lass, big fat yellow maggots that everybody ‘ere feeds on.”
Meriden didn’t like what she imagined. She wasn’t squeamish, but insects were not a thing she liked a lot. She hoped she wouldn’t have to meet one.
We left the remains of the monster and walked on. After few minutes I felt a foreign presence and walked toward it. In the place where I felt this foreign thing there was nothing, but I clearly felt something there.
“Aye, master found an anomaly. Tis a young one, only appearing after the last Release.”
“What’s a release?”
“Release is what happens from time to time, a massive wave o darkness washes over the place, makes new ‘nes of these and creates bunch of artifacts.”
“Yeah, it’s really good to enter the Zone right after one, there are plenty of good things we can get some bonuses for.” The elf with a fox tail adds to what his friend said.
“Aye, last time we got a good stone which repels the darkness. They are rare but they help a lot. We got a nice bonus from Regios for it.” Giaz laughs while making a drinking gesture.
“So, what you guys use to scout it out? Pebbles?”
“What would we use pebbles for? We use magic! Aye, Nerliss, show ’em.”
The lamia doesn’t say anything, but she takes out some grass from a pouch and sets it on fire, making a lot of smoke. Using some air magic, she guides it towards the anomaly, showing the edges. Once the smoke reaches the edge, it is sucked in and concentrated at the center. After a few seconds, a wave of air was unleashed from that point, releasing all the smoke.
“The crusher reacts stronger if ye put more stuff in. Throw in a corpse and ye get a fine bloody mist all around the place.”
This thing appeared after the Release, so it is formed by the darkness. What if I put more darkness inside?
“Guys, everyone step back. I have an idea.”
“What be master thinking?”
“Just give me a moment to try this out.”
I release the black flame and concentrate it all around my right hand. The I point it toward the anomaly and shoot it out. It’s like a flamethrower but with a tiny range of about a meter. The anomaly greedily eats all the darkness, making it disappear. My flame-clad hand doesn’t feel any changes, but the rest of my body begins to feel a pull towards the anomaly. I create the flame all over my body, releasing myself from its effect.
The others look at what I am doing and Nerliss is tracking the range of the thing using smoke. Slowly it grows and soon reaches me, but it ignores me. It seems to ignore anything with the darkness element, or perhaps the element is immune to it.
Soon it gets big enough to completely swallow me and get close to the group. They take steps back and retreat. Meriden shouts for me to stop but I won’t stop until I get the result I want. I can still walk away probably, but I need to know if I am right.
“Master Zern, ye making it too big! I never seen one this big.”
The sounds that make it into the anomaly are all distorted, probably the after effect of the thing.
“Hah, that’s what she said!”
Seeing me not caring about the situation, Giaz smirks at my remark and Mercissa turns red. Damn it woman, I didn’t talk about you.
The anomaly is still keeps sucking in my energy, but I have plenty of it. Now that my whole body is inside it, I don’t really need to concentrate it near my hand, I can just make the dark flames all over my body very strong.
A couple of minutes pass and the group is a few meters away now, trying to shout something at me, but the sounds are too messed up, so I can’t understand what they are saying. Suddenly the anomaly starts shuddering, from the center of it the pulsing waves come crashing forward. They go past me, ignoring me but they seem to keep going once they reach the edges. They are not something to be worried about but they push the group back even more.
For a few moments the waves keep appearing, faster and faster, the delay between each one getting shorter. After few seconds there is no noticeable delay, the anomaly is trying to push everything away constantly. It still eats the darkness, but it looks like it’s about to collapse in on itself.
And it does. I only see it because of my inhuman senses but within fractions of a second the whole thing stops consuming my flames, cracks appear in the fabric of space, like the black lighting, but unmoving and unchanging and then it all comes together into the center, creating a perfect sphere. It is half transparent and cloudy, made of fleshy colored red material, with black threads inside. I can feel the darkness emanating from it. It seems harmless to me, but I don’t know about others. Does it even make a difference if my darkness was used for it? But regardless, my theory is correct. Anomalies create artifacts.
“I knew it!”
“Boy, did you just make that artifact? What is this magic?”
“Mages talked about how anomalies and artifacts seem to have a common origin, but for one to create the other… The idea was laughed at before.” Felmier is knowledgable on the topic.
“Well, now we know the truth. For some reason I think if I consume the darkness from the inside, it will unfold and create an anomaly.”
“Don’t ye be doing it now. We should keep going…”
Giaz didn’t get to finish his sentence. The sky suddenly began to darken and turned dark red, looking very evil. I had a bad feeling about it.
“Release! We gotta run!”
“We won’t get out of here in time! We need to find shelter!”
“There is nowhere to hide. We are dead men!”
“It wasn’t supposed to happen until next week!”
The group began screaming at one another. The air was filled with a loud sound, like a very powerful wind somewhere far away. Not having any better idea, I jump up in the air and make my wings appear. With a powerful flap, I send myself downwards at the ground, creating a crater. I shout for everyone to get inside and to try and dig themselves in. Using my tail, my wings, my hands I do everything to make it deeper. We can’t hear one another even when we are only few inches away. The sound gets too loud and I feel the foul energy coming towards us. I am sure I will be fine, but the others…
Once I feel we have no more time, I unfold my wings and cover everyone, trying to shield them. I make the flames appear, making them as big as possible and trying to engulf others with them. My two girls who had my blood easily catch on fire, getting covered by the black fire, but other five people don’t get it. Unless I want to hurt them, I can’t cover them completely. Let’s hope this will be enough.
Shielding others, I receive the full force of the wave. The low grumbling that was heard before quickly turns into high-pitched whistling, making my ears hurt. Then the darkness comes, engulfing everything, making the space distort around us. This seems to be a huge amount, something like this being on the periphery, surely it’s out of the ordinary. Here it should be very weak.
I can feel my senses screaming at me, telling me of the dangers that surround me. If before around us was mostly empty space and dead plants, now it felt like I was being crushed by something vile, some entity of great proportions trying to swallow me whole. After few seconds I suddenly feel emptiness above me, not the normal open air or the dangerous skies above the Zone but something like vacuum, an empty void with nothing in it. And from deep within the void I feel a single massive eye looking at me, trying to study me. The pressure is too much, it only lasts a second but it’s enough. I slip and loose consciousness, falling into the darkness that was around us all. I only hope that I am not the only one who will survive this.