Viewing as Guest
Chapter 1: The Final Hero
Date Published: December 25th, 2014
Griff stood at the edge of a curtain of darkness and rain, the warmth of the sun beating down on his head. He appeared so tired, as he heaved in air like a half-drowned man might. The scabbard that hung loosely from his back no longer held a sword, while the one attached at his waist was just as empty. Across Griff’s body numerous wounds were visible, the tattered armor that barely clung to his torso filled with multiple holes.
The fatigued warrior stood up while he brushed his hands together, a new layer of dirt fell away from the mud coated fingers. Once, he had worn gauntlets, crafted of the finest metals imaginable, but he had also once had many companions with him on this venture. Seven strong they had started the journey, each one a well trained fighter who could hold their own against the worst.
Griff had learned their names, their faces, and their histories. He had led them, and in leading he had learned his own weakness: he had failed to protect them when it had mattered most. Six had died during the ambush led by Lyongrese’s most trusted, and Griff was forced to lay them all to rest.
To Griff it felt like it had happened centuries ago, but in truth only a single hour had passed. Only one since he had dug the graves with his own two hands, laid the dirt over their still forms and said a small prayer to Aphalia. Griff’s fingers slowly worked as he flexed each digit individually, testing each to make certain the fight and digging hadn’t ruined them.
He let out a long sigh while he lifted his gaze toward the heavens, eyes closed as he tried to center himself mentally. Both filthy hands raised to his head and ran through his short black hair. The moisture gained from the rain already seeped into the hair itself. As Griff opened his eyes he lowered his gaze once more upon the castle before him, attention fully given to the final challenge of his life.
In the distant past it had been a castle that belonged to the ruling family of Shinterra, a family that had brought prosperity to the lands for generations. They had constructed the building near the start of their rule, a vast fortress that stretched toward the heavens and spread out across the flatlands of the Mythron Expanse. With enough room to house an army of soldiers none had ever dared to assault the palace, and so it stood eternal against the passage of time.
Lyongrese had changed everything with his arrival, gone were the rulers who everyone had adored and respected. The towns and cities that had thrived turned into darkened hollows, battered by the cruel machinations of Lyongrese’s soldiers. In the past, the bricks and mortar had shone as though the sun itself had been encapsulated within, but now the palace exuded darkness even on the brightest of days.
The wondrous sky that had stayed so clear above the castle was now stained with black clouds, rain and lightning a constant occurrence. A stench most foul clung to the palace, while the trees and flowers wasted away into rot. While nobody had paid attention the soil itself had grown so dangerously toxic that the mere passage through it would often burn or ruin the flesh.
Griff picked his way across the black soil that lay ahead, his foot fell light and quick. The approach to the palace held no surprises for Griff, and no ambush nor guard revealed themselves to stop him. When he reached the massive double doors that covered the front of the palace he was a bit shocked by the lax security, though he also noticed that his boots had begun to dissolve from the acidic topsoil.
It was a matter of respect to knock on the door of a strangers home, and so Griff shoved both of the doors open without a single rap of the knuckles. He stomped into the massive entrance hall, his chewed up metal boots muffled by the carpet beneath. “Lyon get your worthless ass out here!” he yelled at the top of his lungs.
Within the vast and empty confines of the foyer there was no response to Griff’s bellow. At one time, the chamber housed a multitude of chairs and tables, but with the acquisition of the castle by Lyongrese all of those had vanished. The only bit that remained from the past was the dark red rug which stretched from the front door toward the entrance of the throne room.
Griff took a few steps forward with his gaze locked on the door ahead, it was obvious to him that Lyongrese would have hidden away inside the throne room, most likely lounging indolently on the throne itself. The mere thought of how Lyon might have treated the throne of the greatest family ever only angered Griff further.
So when a shadow detached itself from the ceiling above, Griff failed to notice it, nor did he notice the shadow land on the ground behind him with a quiet muffled thump. The figure stood up straight and lifted a shining silver weapon high, before bringing the blade in a quick slash toward Griff’s exposed backside.
A lesser man would have fallen prey to the surprise attack, but Griff had not survived the horrors of Lyongrese out of mere luck. Once the blade reached a few inches from Griff’s body the fact that it was there became obvious to him, and with a quick twist of his body he evaded the attack. Hands lifted to his face in a defensive posture, while he straightened his back and studied the shadowed figure before him.
Griff couldn’t help but to relax his fists, fingers uncurled a tiny fraction while his sense of danger decreased. “Evelynn?” he whispered out while he stared at the person before him.
What his opponent wore was in no ways armor, nothing even remotely close to useful for combat. Instead, it was a wedding gown crafted of the darkest hue and lightest material, a gossamer web of shadowed threads which interlaced flawlessly over her pale skin. Evelynn was a beautiful woman, one who had acquired the interest of many men in the past.
Griff took a step forward, one hand stretched toward the woman he had loved all of his life. Her flawless black hair that pooled down from snow white skin, her supple red lips which promised a glorious kiss. It was only when Griff saw her eyes that he recoiled in horror, his mind beginning to snap back to reality.
What had once been eyes as red as any ruby had gone empty. With pure white eyes, the dead wife of Griff stared at him mindlessly. Evelynn came at him again with the sword and let loose a horizontal slash that threatened to cut him into two pieces. The movements of her body were erratic, as if something or someone else manipulated her with strings.
Griff escaped the attack with a quick backstep, but he had still become shaken by the sight of Evelynn before him. Out of all the people that Lyongrese could have chosen this was the most effective, but it also only added to the weight of Lyon’s sins. Griff’s hands curled once more into fists, though a trickle of blood began to come out from between his tightened fingers.
He studied the weapon that Evelynn held and recognized it, it was the great sword Caelmor which had been used to slay the archdragons. It was capable of piercing anything thanks to the blessing of Aphalia. It was a weapon made by a Goddess for her faithful that she so claimed to love.
When the next swing of the sword came Griff stepped to the side, nearly ready to ignore it entirely, given how poorly the corpse of Evelynn wielded it. With a sickening crack the arm that held the sword twisted and went toward Griff’s face, at an angle that would have been impossible for anyone living.
Eyes widened in shock, Griff swayed his head out of the way of the stab before it could skewer his brain. After a quick hop away to give himself some space to work with, Griff reached to his cheek and ran his finger along the fresh cut he had gained. His attention was forced back to the animated corpse when another bone cracked loudly as the body lunged at him, clearing the vast gap between the two of them.
Sloppy attacks came at Griff at a disturbingly quick pace, with contortions of the body intermixed the sight of which made Griff wince. Any time he felt a hint of safety the puppet that was Evelynn would deny it, bones snapping even as the sword thrust at him from incomprehensible angles. To watch her body as it broke over and over again almost made Griff sob, though he bottled up his sadness which he had begun to feel and locked it deep within.
It was not her fault that she attacked him, the woman that Griff loved could never be hated by him no matter what happened. As such he had yet to attack her. The thought of striking out against Evelynn was nearly blasphemous to him. However, this was a belief that had begun to shift, as the puppet’s broken arms and legs bled out a black ooze that was most definitely not ordinary blood.
Though puppet’s broken legs should not have been able to support her weight she nevertheless somehow stood, her arms still raised into a battle position even though they had been fractured in multiple spots. The puppet’s neck had even snapped, which had caused the head to hang forward and flop about at random with every movement.
“I’m sorry,” Griff said, while his right hand was raised up before him. His index finger arced through the air, an action that made it look like he was writing symbols. Griff had to make an unpleasant decision, either he could leave his former wife to continue falling apart, or he could do what he should’ve done in the first place.
The puppet, draped in black, stalked toward him yet again, the empty gaze of the former woman focused entirely on Griff. When it leapt into action it was already too late for the corpse, as a wall of fire erupted from the ground before Griff. Like a tidal wave, it rushed forth into Evelynn and continued onward, carrying the deceased with it even as the carpet and rest of the room caught aflame.
As Griff twisted his right hand and motioned upward the wave of fire formed into a vortex, one that devoured the puppet that was his wife. For a moment, the body hung, suspended in the flames. Then the pale flesh and ebon dress were reduced to ashes which scattered upward like a plume. The sword that the corpse had used against him fell with a clatter on the carpetless part of the room.
Griff watched the ashes as they floated downward, yet there was no sadness visible on his face, instead there was rage. An anger which threatened to consume his very soul and turn him berserk. With only thoughts of murder in his mind Griff turned to the throne room door and began his march across the vast foyer.
There was no hesitation when Griff kicked the sturdy door so hard that the hinges ripped free from the wall, the wood sent hurtling into the throne room. He stalked into the chamber without a single thought to defense, his aim instead to find the bastard who had used his wife and end him forever.
Griff’s eyes darted from the left to the right while he scanned the interior of the throne room, the once glorious and pristine place the royal family had ruled from. Gone were the golden furnishings, and gone were the tapestries and the stained glass in the windows. No more could one even find the most basic of furniture, nor even the chandeliers that had hung above. Only a carpet that covered the span of the room still remained, along with a single throne made of bronze centered on a dais.
Long white hair had been pulled back into a ponytail, while blue eyes were framed by a thin pair of glasses. The face looked as though someone had chiseled out a flawless man from marble, with skin so smooth it defied common sense. A dark green gloved hand reached up to the glasses to slowly remove them. The man tilted his head slightly while the glasses came off.
“Well, I do have to admit, I’m amazed you made it this far,” Lyongrese told Griff, while he folded his glasses and placed them gently on the arm of the throne.
This was the man who had murdered so many people, who had crafted armies of monsters and legions of psychopaths. It was the monster who had the ability to break anyone in half, and was not afraid to demonstrate that ability. The evil person who had used Griff’s own wife as a puppet and killed everybody else he knew.
There was a reason why Griff had not leapt to the attack already, it was the mysterious crystal sphere that Lyon held in his left hand. The orb was easily the size of Griff’s own head, and it had waves of white and black that rippled over it in no discernible pattern. Out of everything he had seen in all his years of fighting against Lyon’s armies that sphere was a mystery which he felt would not bode well for the confrontation.
“Oh, are you interested in this?” Lyon inquired of him from the throne, before giving a low chuckle. With a creak he lazily rose from the throne, his right hand pushing gently against the armrest. Lyon reached down with one gloved hand to smooth over his loose shirt, before he placed the hand behind his back.
“What have you done?” Griff growled from between clenched teeth. He yearned to leap over and rip apart Lyongrese, to tear the man limb from limb and beat him to death with his own body parts. Yet patience was required, only an idiot would blindly attack Lyon when he held a mystic artifact.
Lyongrese slowly lifted the sphere up so that it was level with his own head, gazing into its murky depths with fascination. “Oh, nothing much,” Lyon commented, before he shrugged his shoulders. “I merely discovered the soul of Shinterra.”
If it was possible for the dead palace to grow quieter, in that moment, it would have. Griff took one step backward in shock. With his eyes so wide that it almost hurt and a paled face the seasoned warrior stared at Lyongrese and muttered: “That’s not possible.”
“Stop being such a dunce,” Lyon chastised Griff, before he pulled his right hand out from behind his back and motioned toward the sphere. “I have this do I not? Is that not proof enough? Can you not feel the life of our entire reality within the palm of my hand?”
“You should not have that! You don’t deserve that!” Griff yelled at Lyon, his composure slowly recovering as he began to lean forward. His hands once more clenched into fists while his anger which broiled beneath the surface burst once more upward. “You’ve done enough damage!”
Lyon threw his head back and laughed loudly, his empty hand lifted up as though to beg for Griff to stop with the jests. “Please! No more! Stop with this idiocy!” Lyon pleaded, before his head once more inclined to look at Griff, a tear in one eye. With a swipe of his glove he took away that tear, then flicked it from his finger to the floor. “Do you really think I care about damage?”
“It’s your world too! You should care! Why don’t you care!” Griff roared at the man in front of him, the fool who had taken a beautiful realm and turned it into a nightmare.
Lyon lifted his right hand up and casually tapped at the sphere in his left hand, a tap which generated a tingle of bells. The coloration of the orb shifted from black and white to a combination of red, green and blue, before it resettled once more to the monochromatic style. “You think like the ant that you are, Griff Emrys,” Lyongrese told him even as he sneered. “You scurry in your little hole, satisfied with the extent of your knowledge of the world. You trust in your knowledge, yet are so pitifully unaware of the great things that lay beyond it.”
“You’re not making any sense!” Griff told him, while he slowly moved his fists to his sides, knees slightly bent and body tensed for conflict. “Put down the sphere or not, I promise I’ll kill you slowly for your crimes!”
“Suicidal fool,” Lyon scoffed before he lowered the sphere to waist level. He confidently strode toward Griff while his right hand lifted up, fingers curled into a fist of his own. “Very well, lets see how you fare compared to your predecessors.”
The blow came so fast that Griff’s ability to sense impending danger was of no use. Rather,all he was able to do was leap backward with the blow to try and soften the impact. Regardless, he was still tossed clear out of the throne room and back into the cavernous entrance hall, his body tumbling across the burning carpet.
By the time Griff stood up his clothing had already caught on fire, and with a panic he patted at the small flames to snuff them out. Hearing Lyon clear his throat, Griff looked up, cursing at himself. All he could see before his head snapped backward was Lyon’s right knee seconds before it impacted into his face.
The back of Griff’s head slammed against the floor, softened slightly by what was left of the carpet. Before he could even have begun to recover Lyon had already placed a boot onto his chest, while he peered down at the injured would be hero. “Why do you even struggle?” Lyongrese inquired, while his boot ground harder into Griff’s chest. “Go live with the few humans that still remain. Try to make something out of your meager short lives. Maybe you can even keep the last few dozen from dying.”
Griff lashed out with his hands in an attempt to strike the ankle of Lyon, but the foot lifted free from his chest before the blow could land. Lyongrese took a quick step to the side and swung his foot back in a slow movement, then delivered a sharp kick underneath Griff’s side. The hit was strong enough to lift Griff into the air and send him hurtling across the room.
Griff sailed through the air in a long arc, before his body collided with the stone wall with enough force to dislodge a few bricks. His body crumpled to the ground, and only through sheer force of will did he manage to catch himself, landing in a crouched stance. “Ahhh!” was all he could manage to utter, his one knee touched down against the ground while both hands pressed temporarily to the cold floor.
“Well, at least you’re faring better than Maerdor,” Lyongrese told him. “I would clap for you, but my one hand is a bit full holding all of reality.”
Griff coughed up a bit of blood as he struggled to his feet, and then lifted both hands before him. An intricate pattern was steadily carved into the thin air before him, before he flourished his hands in the direction of Lyongrese. “Stop joking around!”
A wall of blades emerged from nothingness, sharpened spears and swords that hurtled toward the deranged Lyongrese. “Why are you so bad at magic?” Lyon wondered aloud, while he casually waved his right hand in front of himself. Every single blade struck a wall of granite that had formed much like they had. The granite then fell to the ground along with the innumerable blades. “I mean, seriously? Blade wall drawn by hand? How are you a Divine Guardian when you can’t even cast magic by pure thought?”
Griff did not respond to him, his hands had already moved about in the air once more. With a flourish of his hands the world around him grew hazy, a sphere of mist erupted outward with tendrils of white. A fog bank had appeared in the foyer and it showed no sign of stopping, as it coated every patch of the room with a white haze.
“A smokescreen? Smart, but what’s the point?” Lyon asked, before he began to chuckle in a low tone. “Even if you’re able to hit me you can’t kill me. I. Am. A. GOD!”
There was a cracking noise as though someone had stepped on a pane of glass, and then Lyon began to realize what had happened a moment too late. Down slowly fell the pieces of the sphere, while the container that held back what he called a soul was opened. A well placed toss of a sword, one which had been used against Griff by his dead wife.
“Who said I was aiming for you?” Griff retorted, before he spit in the direction of Lyon. He had gambled, the so-called soul of Shinterra being broken free might help him, or it might end the world itself. For all he knew it could do nothing, but no matter what he considered it a winning scenario so long as Lyon suffered.
“You fool! You idiot!” Lyon screamed from his place within the fog bank. “You don’t know what you’ve done!”
Griff would never need to hear more as all he felt was a blast of pressure from in front of him, a wall of sheer force that tossed him like a rag doll through the stone wall behind. Even as he rolled across the filthy ground and muck outside he could feel his mind slipping, consciousness fading away from the abuse it had taken. A moment later and he was gone into the darkness of sleep, even as the world around him shook.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
It was the cry of animals that awoke Griff from his slumber. He groaned even while he struggled to push against the dry ground beneath. About him the flow of air blew fresh, while every sense in his body warned him that something was off. The tired and battered man stood up, his body hunched over from the pain brought on by the action. Darkness enshrouded him as the night had fallen at some point, the cool air coated him even as he struggled to regain his senses.
He coughed once more, a bit of blood sent up from his injured lungs. Griff’s mouth felt almost as bad as the rest of his body, but he had felt worse a few times in the past. All in all he could safely guess that he would survive to recovery, unless Lyongrese or someone else came along and murdered him.
With a trembling finger he traced a simplistic symbol into the air and released the spell. A white light imbued his body which began the slow work of healing his wounds, the shallow scratches the first to vanish. Griff straightened his back with a grimace, a deep inhalation of air pulled in while he opened his eyes wide.
It was the first thing he saw that made Griff freeze where he stood, mouth hung open as though he was no more than a bumbling oaf. Of all the people in Shinterra Griff was arguably one of the most well traveled, having gone from the scorching Savage Fireplains all the way to the Frostbound Prison. Each place had held it’s own natural wonders, creatures and even ruins from ages long since past.
So it was easy enough for Griff to recognize that he stood within the confines of the Dragontooth Forest. It was an infamous place filled with all manners of deadly creatures, including the Rattan and the ancient dragons. Griff had explored it almost eight years prior in a single venture that taught him the harshness of the place. Yet what he viewed now was not the Dragontooth Forest he had grown to quickly loathe, but something significantly odder.
The vast pillars of metal that stuck up out of the forest was what confused him, massive columns which stretched so high that some threatened to scrape the clouds. Inside each of the towers he could see a multitude of glass windows, and beyond those people moved in such great numbers that Griff’s mind staggered.
“Where the hell am I?” Griff asked of himself, before a gigantic dragon swept overhead and hurtled deep into the labyrinth of metal and stone.