Elnora Featherwind raced on her way down from the mountainous peak where she had made her recent discovery, her thoughts moving at even greater speeds.
As a magical creature, what she’d just seen was a Fæy’s worst nightmare come to pass. She shivered at the incoherent flashes of distant memories and fragmented emotions that tried to assault her. The collective memories of her ancestors were often overwhelming.
Unique to them amongst the races, the Fæy had a collective memory that passed from generation to generation. It was the collected wisdom of their entire race, and the reason they were so respected amongst the enlightened; with the exception of the militaristic Polarii who treasured and dreamed of enslaving Fæy for this very reason.
Regardless, that collective past was now telling her to run. As fast and as far as her feet could carry her.
A beawick was coming: a predatory magical storm that ate all other storms. It would eat anything to grow itself stronger, and the presence of magic was like the scent of blood that drew it closer.
Beawicks ate anything and everything that crossed their path, magical or mundane. They were insatiable twisted phenomena that consumed in order to grow exponentially more savage, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake… and that included the most potent source of magic known to exist: the souls of living beings, which they could rip straight out of their victims, leaving only the dead – and sometimes undead – husks behind.
But that wasn’t what really worried her in this instance, because you could outrun a beawick if it was not specifically targeting you.
What worried her the most was that beawicks were infamous for an entirely different reason: just glancing at one would cause unfathomable madness to seep into the mind of the beholder. A madness that compelled them to come closer, embrace it, and become part of it. If their body was unlucky enough, it would survive, and they would inevitably end up as one of its soulless thralls for all eternity.
The unwary – or uninformed – could fall victim to one just by being curious, or so her racial memories told her.
At that thought, a single sentence spoken by a wise ancestor in a forgotten memory rose to the surface to describe it: “A violently-winding, reality-rending, world-ending nightmare.”
She briefly considered using her Færie ring to escape to the refuge of the Fæon, but it was not in phase just yet, and escaping in this manner would mean leaving her fellow chosen, and everyone else at the settlement, to their fate.
Determined not to let that happen, she uttered yet another prayer to her unresponsive Goddess as she increased her pace.
She wondered why her Goddess was not responding at all.
Memeta had disappeared for a long period of time. She had not answered any of Elnora’s prayers; which was unusual, and quite worrying, considering Elnora was a devout [Priestess] of the Goddess.
She almost tripped in shock when there was a response.
It was dusk on the day of the blessing when Ethan finally finished interviewing the goblin, and they had established rudimentary two-way communication.
‘Badtooth’ was his name, and he was no longer a simple goblin, according to their simple conversation. Apparently, his consumption of massive amounts of plastic – which he deemed as edible food – had fuelled his evolution into a hobgoblin and granted him the class [Spell Eater], which allowed him to consume mana. Ethan suspected that the mana would only fuel Badtooth’s growth, as he was incapable of learning spells as far as they knew.
He’d also told Ethan about his journey, and how he had dug his way into the workshop out of desperation and hunger.
Their conversation concluded, and Memeta’s chosen started moving closer. Ethan had noticed them observing from a distance away, seemingly arguing about something in hushed tones.
As they made their way closer to him and the captive goblin, they gasped in shock when Ethan surprised them by opening the cage and setting his captive free.
“You have nothing to worry about. As per our agreement, Badtooth here will behave.” Ethan looked at the goblin pointedly with his last proclamation. The goblin nodded in affirmation, then spoke something at him in the goblin tongue and smiled.
“He says you have nothing to fear from him. He’ll be good–” Ethan quickly translated whilst shaking his head, “–especially if you give him treats.”
The gnome reached into her pouch and produced a piece of hardtack. Ethan observed the interaction as she timidly approached and handed it to a very happy goblin, who quickly gobbled it down.
“See? Nothing to worry about.” Ethan said as he approached them, with the goblin following him closely, “So, you’ve all been watching for a while, and I’m thankful for your foresight in not interrupting me, but I’m guessing you came as a group for a reason?”
Faisal cleared his throat and spoke up, “Yes, we were hoping you could help us understand what happened with the [Paladin].”
“And the […] ye used ta trick him.” Felwar interjected.
Ethan turned to the dwarf with a serious look, “I’m sorry, can you repeat that sentence?”
“The […] ye used?” Felwar looked confused.
Ethan was silent for a very long time, and when he spoke, he said two words.
The look of incomprehension in their eyes made him understand how Badtooth had felt all this time, and revealed a new fact to Ethan.
In this twisted universe… not all concepts were welcome.
He made a swift decision. That night when he went to sleep, he’d have his AI transfer the entire lexicon it had gathered by comparing words to meaning, and he’d no longer rely on The Wheel’s assistance for translation.
For now though, he instructed his AI to disable the translation uplink and started using a much more laborious method of talking, where he had to repeat after the AI and listen to the translation. It would all happen too fast for those around him to notice a big difference, but it was still a lot of work for him.
“Nevermind,” Ethan finally said, “I think The Wheel was refusing to translate for me.” He sighed when they looked at him inquisitively, “I didn’t speak whatever language you guys naturally spoke before now. The Wheel translated everything for me. It broadcast the translation directly into your minds, if my guess is right.”
They looked surprised.
“What?” He asked them, “I thought you already knew that I come from another world.”
They collectively gasped at his last word.
Nadeera gave him an odd look and spoke carefully, “You’re not letting it translate for you right now, correct?”
“Yes.” He responded.
“When you said ‘another world’, just now, you did not mean ‘another plane’, correct?”
“No. It was a different–” Ethan paused, ”–reality?” He enunciated after trying and failing to find a synonym for ‘universe’ in his limited lexicon.
“Then this means you are a… world-walker, yes?” Said Solinda in hushed tones.
“What does that even mean?” Ethan asked, “Eragoth almost killed me when she first met me because she thought I was one. What exactly is a world-walker?”
Solinda looked contemplative, before stepping forward and offering him her clawed hand, “I think this conversation should happen in private,” She turned to look at everyone else, and they all nodded, “Let us retire to your workshop to speak.”
He followed her there, as did the rest of the chosen. After hesitating briefly, even Badtooth decided to tag along.
In his tortured dreams, Adrian re-lived his entire life. He did it over and over, allowed only to make a single decision differently every time.
It would start with his first conscious memory, and the event that changed his entire life: the death of his entire family.
He was around 4 years old at the time. It was perhaps cruel to experience something like this at such a young age, but it did not matter to the bandits that raided, pillaged and killed his entire village, and most importantly: it didn’t matter to his own mind, that forced him to relive that memory over and over.
He had to see it all happen from his hiding spot, again and again.
His mother, raped and killed before the eyes of her 4 year old son.
His sisters, dead or dying in pools of their own blood.
His father, crawling to try and save them with his entrails dragging behind him in the loamy soil.
And every single time, young Adrian was forced away by his terror. No matter what he did, the outcome was the same: they all died, and it ended with the same conclusion: he fled in tears, and hid in the surrounding woods.
It then skipped all the time he spent digging up tubers and surviving by eating fruits and insects.
It skipped to his fateful encounter with someone who would later become his mentor and father figure; a [Priest] he’d met travelling the nearby road.
The man took him in, fed and clothed him, and asked for nothing in return. The man never even pressured him to reveal where he came from, or how a child like him became lost in the woods.
When Adrian had grown old enough to speak, and refused to answer those questions, he was left alone.
He grew up learning about the virtues of Order. How if Order prevailed, no injustice would be allowed. How Chaos gave birth to abominable practices. How Chaos was the cause of all injustices in the world.
In his own mind, the injustice done to his family would have never occurred if a [Paladin] of Order was around.
And so, that was what he set out to become. After the old [Priest] delivered him to a monastery, he’d lived there and helped with any tasks that needed doing.
As he grew older, and with the help of a [Monk] who lived at the monastery, he apprenticed himself to a retired [Smith] who was also a retired [Soldier] from days long past. The man had trained him in the arts of smithing, and when he saw him admiring a weapon, he also instructed him in the arts of of the sword.
When he got the [Warrior] class, the first thing he did was pledge himself in the service of Eterna.
It had required him to swear a binding oath, but that was not going to stop him. He’d made his decision to uphold Order a long time ago.
That was actually the turning point in his life. The decision everything else hinged upon.
But every time he made that oath, the dream would restart, and he’d live this torture all over again.
After what seemed like the millionth time, Adrian gave in. He didn’t make the binding oath, and watched something else happen.
He saw his life as it could have been. He saw himself become a master [Smith]. He saw himself pledging to the guild nation he lived in and becoming a [Soldier]. He saw himself through war and strife, upholding what he held dear and protecting the weak. He saw himself saving villages from the same fate his own had succumbed to.
He was later promoted to a [Sergeant], and then to [General]. He saw how order was at the core of every military doctrine, and how that order won or cost him entire battles. How without a military structure, battles devolved into a chaotic melee.
He reflected upon that. He was imposing order in his own way, but chaos in battles could not be avoided. It was the job of every [General] to impose order on their troops.
For once, he saw himself for who he truly was, without an oath binding him to someone else’s will. A man capable of imposing order without a greater cause.
In the end, he retired from the military, and saw himself settle and take a wife. He saw the faces of his children, full of life and energy, as they overcame their own challenges with big smiles. He observed the way his children – and later, grandchildren – acted and played with their peers, and he later watched them disregard his advice and blunder through life, learning new things by trial and error, by repeatedly failing at something until they made it work.
They all had different personalities, and they responded to the same challenges and situations very differently. Sometimes coming up with new and unexpected solutions.
It posed a new question, something that he’d never considered before: wasn’t chaos also a necessary part of life?
Out of habit – and stubbornness – he tried to answer that question in the negative, but then stopped himself. Without the element of chaos inherent to life, everyone would act the same. Everyone would look the same.
He thought on the ultimate application of order, and came up with a new vision of a world where everyone was a [Paladin] of Order that looked the same, acted the same, and crushed anything that dared to be different, or thought differently.
In such a world, his children and grandchildren would be the same person. They would make the same choices, and live the same lives.
The new revelation shocked him out of his slumber, and Adrian opened his eyes.
“From historical records, we don’t know much about world-walkers–” Solinda started explaining to Ethan in hushed tones, she pointed at her head, “–other than that… well… they were well known for thinking very differently from the rest of us.”
Ethan looked contemplative, and she continued, “Whilst they physically looked the same, world-walkers were never naturally born. They simply appeared amongst us at random. They were first seen many millennia ago, suddenly manifesting from thin air like you were purported to be.”
She paused to collect her thoughts.
“You must understand… while they looked the same, they had no knowledge of the cultural norms amongst the races they appeared to be. Their ignorance of our customs made our ancestors suspicious of them.”
He stayed silent, so she elaborated, “The records state that they were immortal and could not be killed. A world-walker that was murdered would simply disappear, then reappear as if no harm was done. Some tried to imprison them for the wrongs they did, but they’d always disappear after a certain period of time had passed, only to be seen again in a place far away.”
Ethan nodded for her to continue.
“They invented and discovered all manners of new things. They created the guilds to distinguish themselves, and those would – later in history – become the guild nations of today. The vacuum they left led to the creation of guild nations on the empty cities they built and claimed as their own. Their disappearance happened almost a thousand years ago.”
“They all disappeared? Just like that?” Ethan asked, gears turning in his mind.
“Yes. It was all very sudden.” Solinda said, “They had access to Spatial Magic, which allowed them to teleport and conquer distant planes.” She shrugged, “Those secrets were buried with their departure, but all historical records assume that they went to visit a different plane or returned to their own.”
Ethan started pacing, and Solinda elaborated a bit more, “You wouldn’t believe it, but they built on an unprecedented scale. They engineered things like [Wizard’s] Towers and citadels, golems and machines. They created new spells and taught the races to use coins, and some of them taught our ancestors new things. We owe them a lot of what we have today. Some of the races worshipped them, and some hated and reviled them for things they did.”
“What made us all surprised about what you said is the fact that you made the same observation. Although they spoke our languages, some of them repeatedly made a reference to ‘translation errors’ whenever they discussed something we didn’t already know, and it was later established that they spoke their own language, and that it was The Wheel that made it possible to understand them at all.”
Ethan stopped his pacing. He was not perturbed by the news, as she expected.
Instead, he recognised a very important pattern here: these mysterious world-walkers she was describing weren’t inter-dimensional god-like beings.
No, what she was describing was the behaviour of players in a Massive Multiplayer Online Game, and by the looks of it, a subset of those players were responsible for displacing the Krell from their own plane.
Furthermore, if they all disappeared around a thousand years ago from this world, then that put their sudden disappearance in the same timeframe that the Krell exodus had happened. Were the two events related, or not?
He contemplated another important fact: Eragoth was slightly older than that – at 1,200 years of age – according to the one time he’d tried to [Analyse] her; which meant that she had lived to witness them, and may remember more accurate information about them.
All of that paled in comparison to the revelation that hit him next, though: he was inside a game! An actual game! No matter how realistic, complex, or elaborate the rules. A game was a game, and a game could be hacked.
No signs of his internal struggles were apparent on his features, and he elected not to reveal this facet of his knowledge – or meta-knowledge in this case – to his audience.
Even if they were ultimately Non-Player Characters to whomever had created this world, they were real to him, as real as he viewed himself.
That last thought gave him pause, however. Was his original world also a game? Was any of it real to begin with?
The possibility that his original universe was simulated had been endlessly debated in the past. In philosophy, fiction and literature, and even scientifically.
Ethan himself had entertained the notion previously, and found it almost a certainty; but a solid confirmation like this… it hit him real hard, and he struggled not to show his emotions visibly.
Ethan excused himself and went to his tent to have a quick dinner before sleep. He had a backup to make, and an entire language to learn whilst he slept.
The goblin reluctantly followed after him, but Ethan paid him no mind.
Kothar sat with Milandera and her brother, Normand, around the campfire. To say this was an awkward reunion would be an understatement.
The man was… odd. He kept making passive-aggressive, underhanded comments after he found out about their budding relationship, and the fact that he indirectly owed his freedom to Kothar’s intervention with Ethan had no sway in dissuading him.
Now, it was time for Kothar to turn the tables on him. He deliberated slowly, before finally speaking a question he knew Milandera forgot to ask.
“So, why was that Nephilim and his cult after you to begin with, Normand?” Kothar interjected in the midst of one of Normand’s underhanded comments, “It must have been something very valuable that you stole, for them to try and kidnap your sister over it.” He delivered the last nail into the fool’s coffin.
Milandera’s eyes sharpened with the mention of her kidnapping, and she turned around to face a very pale Normand who’d stopped speaking and transitioned into incoherent stuttering.
“Well, why don’t you tell us what you stole, then?” She said after a long pause of Normand saying nothing.
“I stole nothing…” He tried to say, but then she slapped him across the face, real hard.
“Talk… now.” She commanded, and Kothar tried not to chuckle at this turn of events. He was seeing a very new side of his partner.
The young man visibly deflated, and started talking in defeated tones.
“Well, when we were in the city last, I came across this hooded man…” He began a strange tale of how he came across the Nephilim, and how he had followed him to a strange cult with a secret hideout, where he’d snuck in and stole a book he'd found hidden under an altar, just because it looked odd and they were careful to hide it, which made him assume it was of great value.
The story ended with how he’d tried to fence it off to his contacts multiple times, with no success so far. He finished by saying how he’d left no trace of himself at the scene, and how dumbfounded he was that they figured out it was him at all.
“They obviously prayed to their god, you idiot!” Milandera exploded at him, “You don’t steal from the followers of a deity, they always have ways to find you if you do!” She seethed.
“Look! It was there and I took it, end of story.” He said, trying the foolish justification of ‘it just happened, live with it’, and was justly rewarded with a harder slap from his furious sister.
“No. More. Stealing.” She got into his face and stated fiercely, “Especially while we’re here. Understood?”
“Fine! Have it your way!” He visibly wilted and shrunk back into himself.
“Where is that book now?” She fixed him with an unstoppable glare.
He gave in and lifted his shirt, then plucked it out of his waist. He handed the tattered-looking tome over to her.
“How did you even hide that when they searched you… wait, don’t answer that. I do not want to know.” She said in disgust.
Milandera opened it to the first page and tried to read, then stopped herself with a palm on her forehead. “This is terrible, just looking at the words gives me a headache.” She pouted, then handed it over to Kothar to try, “Can you read any of it at all?” She asked.
Kothar – now of all days, fortunately literate – tried his hand at reading it. The first couple of pages were in languages he didn’t understand, but they gave him a profound headache all the same.
He flipped it to the last page, and tried to read that instead.
Surprise flooded his features as new words were magically being etched near the end of the page. His eyes widened as he read more and more of what was being written in front of his eyes.
He quickly closed the tome and stood back up, trying to resist the enormous urge to throw up his lunch.
He had to get this to Ethan, now.
Giran gasped in shock as Adrian opened his eyes in her arms.
Finally! He was awake, and surprisingly, not dead.
For that, she was thankful; although she still doubted whether she owed his survival to a divine or not.
She’d been hugging him close, and as she tried to move away from him, she heard him utter a single sentence that would change both of their fates.
“Don’t let go.” He whispered.
That broke the floodgates, and her eyes overflooded with tears.
“You’re alive.” She said breathlessly.
“Yes, and I’m sorry for everything that happened.” He said weakly, “Forgive me, please. I now know what a fool I was.”
“Don’t speak.” She whispered gently, and held him tighter in her embrace.
They stayed that way for a very long time.
Elnora Featherwind was on her last legs, she’d made it most of the distance to the settlement, and was now ahead of the incoming disaster by a large stretch.
The problem was that the beawick did not get tired. It did not rest. If she stopped to rest now, she’d doom them all to an early grave.
She spurred herself faster, she was almost there.
Another Roc tried to descend and snatch her out of the sky. She apologised to nature as she blasted it with a burst of magic.
She hated violence, like most of her kind. Given a chance, she’d talk to the Roc and dissuade it from viewing her as a potential meal. There was no time now, however.
She climbed another obstacle, and came across a Krell patrol.
She breathlessly uttered a single word.
Her word shocked them all, and their shaman’s eyes widened.
Then horns started to blow.
Ethan was about to settle down for sleep. The goblin had settled into the corner of his tent after their quick shared meal.
He’d just put his head to the makeshift pillow and closed his eyes when several things started to happen, all at once.
First he heard Kothar calling his name from a distance, and it seemed he was rushing over in a hurry.
Then he heard the horns blow, and bolted awake.
Whatever was going on, he was very glad he hadn’t initiated the backup process yet. Nothing would have been able to rouse him from that state.
He quickly got up and started dressing again.
“Ethan!” Kothar burst into the tent as he finished putting on his pants.
“What’s going on, man?” He asked Kothar with a frown as he finished cinching his pants tightly, “Is it an attack? What are those horns?”
“Why? What’s going on?”
“A beawick is coming!” Kothar said as he rushed him out of the tent.
“What the hell is a beawick?” Ethan asked.
“I don’t exactly know, but I read about it in this book, and it says we’re in grave danger, too.” Kothar said while pointing at a book he was handling carefully.
“What? How would a book know about us or current events?” Ethan asked in bafflement as he slipped his right arm into his shirt.
“I’ll tell you about it later. Now move, we’re about to be eaten by a magical storm!” Kothar bellowed.
“Oh, fuck me.” Was Ethan’s response as he put his head through the shirt and finished dressing.
He’d forgotten his shoes.
Badtooth followed the curious humans, this Ethan West, and the other big one as they rushed away from the tent.
He was about to sleep when the strange loud noises woke him up, and he wondered why they were blowing their warhorns now, of all times.
Was this strange city under attack?
Then he heard the term ‘beawick’, which The Wheel quite literally translated to ‘very bad storm made out of magic’ in his mind.
Then the big human confirmed it for him.
A storm? Made out of magic? For real?
It was the perfect meal.
Badtooth rushed forward in the direction of the warhorns, leaving the unwitting humans far behind.
He bellowed a jubilant warcry as his feet carried him in a northerly direction.
This was going to be the biggest meal of his life.
Aylin Merza stirred from her meditative state to the sound of warhorns.
Were the Polarii launching their offensive on this mountain already?
It was certainly possible that they were.
She rose slowly and exited the tent, following all the hubbub around her on their way to the distant source of the warhorns.
She looked around to see if any guards were following her out of habit, and was pleased to see that there weren’t any. Either this attack was deemed more important, or they had placed a measure of trust in her after she publicly devoted herself to a shared faith.
Either of these options suited her tastes just fine, and in case it was the latter, she’d prove them correct by not trying to flee at the first chance she got.
Speaking of which, they hadn’t fed her the nightly dose of their magic-inhibiting poison yet today, so that was also a good sign. Maybe she could try helping with this attack, if only to make them trust her more? It would certainly be better for her if they started trusting her with magic.
She had no compunctions about attacking her late nation to gain the trust of the Krell. Here she wasn’t bound by stupid Polarii rules, at least. Nobody here would try to put her on trial for dabbling in forbidden magic, especially if she were to be careful, she thought.
More and more Krell rushed around her, carrying weapons and wearing armour. They started marching in a northbound direction, and she followed them out of curiosity.
The Polarii would not be attacking from the north, so who was attacking?
She arrived at the gate to witness that captive goblin from earlier rushing past the guards. They tried to spear it through but the little bugger simply dodged to the side.
What was going on? Was it a goblin attack?
She then noticed Ethan West and his friend Kothar screaming at the guards trying to kill the goblin to stop, which they did. They rushed out of the gate after the small creature, so she followed with haste.
She finally reached a ledge where a crowd had gathered to watch something in the far distance, and she heard murmures she soon recognised.
“Beawick! It’s a beawick!” She heard people whispering. There was a Krell patrol returning with an exhausted [Færie Queen] in tow.
Her eyes widened and she looked at the horizon again. This was a legendary event. The rest of Memeta’s chosen had arrived by this point, and were speaking in hushed tones with Elnora.
“The Goddess said what!?” She heard them utter in passing, but Aylin was too curious to stand still and eavesdrop.
She advanced past them, and towards Ethan West, who was talking to Kothar.
“The book does what!?” She heard him exclaiming in incredulity.
She moved past them too, and looked towards the horizon, and now she could clearly see the magically charged tendrils reaching above the horizon, writhing clearly in the sky. Her eyes confirmed what her ears had refused to believe.
A beawick was coming.
Devourer of worlds.
The eater of civilisations.
Panic quickly rose within her, and her first impulse was to get out of this area and escape; but she also knew something else.
The beawick would stop at nothing to end all life. It would eventually claim her, no matter where she went.
It would eat the entire world, in the end, and it didn’t matter where you ran to. It would come and find you after consuming everything else in its path.
Aylin surrendered to her fate. She’d die a proud woman.
She looked closer, and there was a small projectile creating a dust trail, headed straight towards the beawick.
If you looked – or rather, listened – closely, you’d immediately discern that this was, in fact, a screaming goblin, accelerating at unprecedented speeds towards its own doom.
Today, she’d abandoned her faith, entered a new one, saw the Eye of Eternal Judgement get decimated for the second time in her life, and now there was a Beawick coming to devour her whole world.
And there was a goblin running straight at it.
She closed her eyes. It was a strange day, indeed.
[Character sheet is not available at this time. Please stand-by for a very very huge pending update.]