Finding Sanctuary: Prologue
The following is a sequel to Murder in the Magic Kingdom, which can be found here.
Finding Sanctuary: Prologue
The first thing he knew was the temperature. Carl was hot. Wherever he was, heat radiated from the walls like an oven.
It was neat because only moments before, Carl wasn't. Popping into existence was an incredibly bizarre experience, although he supposed it was also incredibly common, as every other living unit had experienced it. Carl absently wondered if one's nutsack sticking to the side of their leg was a feeling that was equally universal. He decided he might ask someone, should he be lucky enough to meet other beings of intelligence.
Adjusting himself, Carl examined his surroundings, and found himself in a large, sandstone room. Five and half pillars stretched up to the roof, while chunks of the ceiling and the remaining half-pillar decorated the floor. The hole in the roof emitted dazzling sunlight that pooled in the farthest corner of the room. A word came to Carl's mind.
Carl looked down at himself, and saw he was wearing a plain black shirt, which was already starting to stick to his chest with perspiration. His chest itself was unadorned by any emblem. Another word came into his mind.
An ache appeared in the pit of Carl's stomach. He didn't know whether it was worry or hunger, but knew that both were appropriate at the moment. If Carl couldn't find a way to pay his upkeep before the turn was over, his life would end just as abruptly as it began.
Balls to that.
Carl renewed his search of the room in the hopes of achieving his goal. The room appeared to have two exits. One, a large stone archway leading into a dark corridor that presumably went deeper into the ruins. The other, on the opposite wall, was covered by a large flap of leather. Carl rolled his sleeves up past the elbow and went to try that one first.
A string of breathed profanities escaped Carl's lips after pulling the curtain to one side. The sunlight was blinding, and hot wind whipped him in the face. Stretching out before him was hex after hex of desert. One hex sandy, another baked and cracking soil, and in the distance Carl could see some tall red rock formations, but all looked equally desolate and uninviting. Desert hexes carried high movement and upkeep penalties for units on foot, and unless Carl chanced upon an oasis hex, he'd likely disband before he found anything useful. He'd have better luck searching the structure he was currently in.
Carl let the flap fall back into place, and roughly massaged his scalp. He felt his hand brush against something, and began investigating his head with curiosity as he crossed the room. He didn't have much hair up top, but what hair he did have was pulled back and tied into a short ponytail. A quick pluck revealed its color to be a silvery gray. Carl felt his face and discovered it was covered by a neatly trimmed beard. He stroked it thoughtfully, and then let his hand drop. His Signamancy was interesting, but he wasn't vain enough to deem it more important than the task at hand.
The darkness threatened to swallow him as Carl stood in the archway. Unlit torches lined the walls, but as Carl had no way to light them, they were useless. Lacking any other option, Carl placed his hand on the right wall and proceeded forward.
As Carl walked silently, he considered his predicament. He wasn't terribly frightened. He didn't expect that the Titans would have placed him on this world only to immediately snuff him out. It would make for a very boring story to tell before them. With no lord to serve, Carl decided that that was likely his first duty. To be interesting.
Time stretched on, and Carl's stomach rumbled, answering one of his previous questions. He amended his earlier thought. His first duty was to find upkeep, and hopefully to find something to eat. Eating would undoubtedly be the best thing that had ever happened to him, though it had little competition so far.
Carl stumbled as he ran out of wall, and then grimaced as he whacked the back of his hand trying to find it again. Behind him now was only the barest suggestion of light, and before him was a room of unknowable size. Uninterested in becoming completely lost in darkness, Carl began to feel his way around the perimeter the room. Part of him dearly wanted to head back the way he came. He missed the light. He only had his heartbeat to keep time with, but by his estimation, he'd now spent more of his life without sight than with. But he pushed forward. The desert remained a poor choice. Carl only hoped that he could find another room where the ceiling had collapsed.
A short time later, another string of muttered curses flew from Carl as he discovered the corner of the room by smashing his foot into it. He winced and hissed, cradling his wounded tootsies. Hopping on one foot to keep his balance, Carl removed his shoe and examined his toes by feel. Though they throbbed painfully, nothing felt broken, and his fingers came away dry. Carl hissed again.
No, not Carl. Something else.
Something in the darkness was hissing.
Carl stiffened and shoved his body back into the corner, straining his ears for another sound. The only thought that raced across his otherwise empty mind was that he hoped this wasn't what the Titans were interested in. Could they really be so cruel? To pop him in a den of monsters, surrounded by an inhospitable wasteland? If so, Carl resolved to tell his story quickly, and with as little detail as possible. Screw those guys, if this was how they got their kicks.
Carl took stock of his options, and found them to be few. He could sneak back the way he came and try his luck with the desert. He could try continuing along the wall and hope that whatever was in the darkness didn't find him. Or, he could charge into the darkness, armed with only twenty-five minutes of life experience. And a shoe.
Carl considered the object in his hands for a moment, and then heaved it as hard as he could toward the center of the room. His heart pounded in his ears (oh, THIS was fear...) for several beats before he heard a distant, dull thump. Judging by the time it took, this room had to be massive. He held his breath, listening and waiting.
The thing hissed again.
Was it further away? Carl thought so. He crouched, making himself as small as possible.
Another hiss, and this time he heard some kind of scraping sound. The sound of the creature was definitely getting quieter. Despite desperately wanting to bolt, Carl forced himself to move slowly as he rose to a standing position and resumed his path along the course of the wall. He pressed himself flat against it and inched forward, one step at a time.
Carl had his eyes scrunched shut, and he didn't know how many steps or heartbeats had gone by before his fingers curled around another corner. He suppressed a sigh of relief and made his way through the door before opening his eyes. Before him was another hallway, shorter than the last. It opened into another room, faintly illuminated by another light source. Although the light was dim, Carl still felt himself squinting. He gratefully broke into a brisk walk, the fastest pace he felt he could safely move at.
Upon entering, Carl found himself in some kind of gallery. Statues manned each of the walls, though they had all seen better turns, as had the room itself. Smaller than the first room, it was in no better state of repair. More bits of ceiling had fallen in, allowing glorious sunlight to enter. The statues themselves were carved of the same stone as the rest of the structure. Once, they might have been intricately carved, but now their features had worn smooth. Except for their eyes. Empty sockets followed Carl's every step. It appeared as though someone had pried gemstones from their stony faces.
Carl moved to examine the statue closest to him. He was freshly popped, and his upkeep reflected that. If he could find just one overlooked gem, he should have enough to last the turn. He started at the head and worked his way down, ending with the accumulated piles of crumbled sandstone at the base. Finding nothing, he moved onto the next one.
And the next one.
And the next one.
Four statues in, and Carl was beginning to feel like he was on a fool's errand. The room looked thoroughly picked over, and he was running out of time. And statues. He bent to examine the base of his current subject, regardless.
At which point the top half of the statue exploded into a shower of dust and debris.
Carl threw himself flat and rolled to one side, coming to his feet facing the middle of the room. He franticly tried to blink the grit out of his watering eyes as he sought the cause of the statue's destruction. His vision cleared, and for a moment he wished it hadn't, just so that he could be oblivious as to how screwed he was. Two words formed in his mind, and tumbled out of his mouth. The first words he had ever spoken aloud.
Before him was a Battle Snake. Twice as long as Carl was tall, he somehow knew that these heavy units were common ferals in desert hexes. Dangerous at both ends, Battle Snakes were equipped with massive fangs, and a tail ending in a mace-like spiked ball. It must have swung its tail at him just as he had bent over. He had been too engrossed in his search to notice it enter the room.
He noticed it now though, for all the good that it did him. The beast had recovered from its failed attack and was readying for another strike, tensing its body in preparation to lunge at him.
Carl felt rage well up within him. A sizzling energy deep within his chest, spreading throughout his entire body. He hated the Titans for popping him here. He hated the desert for trapping him here. But most of all, he hated this flipping snake. As the snake launched itself towards him, Carl felt time slow, and he detachedly wondered if there was a way to fight such a creature with only your bare hands. The energy crackling within Carl's body congregated at his knuckles, and he found himself leaping into the air. Instinct took over, and Carl shouted without thinking.
"SURE YOU CAN!"
Time snapped back to normal as Carl's fist collided with the underside of the Battle Snake's big, stupid head. Carl landed lightly upon his feet, while the snake landed with a heavy thump several feet away. In a distant part of Carl's mind, he realized that he liked to hear himself talk, so he decided to introduce himself.
"Hello, you sand-sucking, cobbler's reject. My name is Carl Innuendo. And I, am a Shockmancer."
The snake recovered its lack of feet and glared at him. It hissed angrily, and began to position its tail for another attempt. Carl grinned.
"Bring it, you unfinished lizard! SHAZBOT!"
A bolt of electricity shot from Carl's outstretched fingers and carved a meaty chunk from the snake's abdomen. It writhed in pain and flung its tail back at him. Carl dove to one side, rolled, and came to his knees firing another spell. This one went wide and struck another sculpture. Today was not a good day to be statuary.
The snake took advantage of his poor aim, and began to close the gap. From his kneeling position, Carl couldn't gain any leverage from which to strike, and the snake was coming so quickly, any shot he could make was likely to be thrown too wildly to land. Once again, instinct took hold.
"FA REY DO!" he shouted, placing his fingertips beneath his chin and flicking them forward. The resulting sonic attack lifted the reptile into the air and tossed it backwards, giant cracks appearing in the pillar directly behind it. When the bulk of the creature struck the weakened support, the pillar practically disintegrated. Huge sections of the ceiling gave way, making great rumbling thuds as they fell. When the dust cleared, it revealed the Battle Snake buried beneath a pile of rubble, its eyes scrunched into X's. Carl coughed and waved his hand in front of his face. This BS was done.
Well done, as a matter of fact. The entire room smelled of cooked snake. Intrigued, Carl retrieved one of the still smoking nuggets of snake his spell had blasted off. After a sniff, he took an experimental bite. Hmm. Chewy, perhaps a bit dusty, but overall, not the worst first meal one could ask for.
As he took another bite, Carl discovered yet another surprise. His sonic attack had taken down part of one of the walls. Beyond the breach, once more Carl could see only darkness. This time however, he had an answer for it. Using the last of his juice, Carl lit one of the many torches adorning the walls and took it to investigate. Through the rift was another room, and what's more, it didn't appear to have a door other than the one he had just made. Carl supposed the entryway had been hidden behind one of the statues. He was chagrinned to realize that the destroyed statue was one that he had already searched prior to his fight with his fallen lunch mate. It hadn't even occurred to him to look for hidden rooms. Putting the rest of snake bit (slightly more than a mouthful) into his mouth, Carl stepped into the secret room.
And in doing so, Carl Innuendo began the biggest adventure of his life.
Artwork by Spruce
Oh, duh, I now see that the artwork was done by Spruce. Well done, Spruce.
On another note, I think it's amusing that we have two stories starting at the same time about barbarian casters popping in ruins, and the characters couldn't be more different. One is a pious fellow who seems to be blessed with nothing but good luck, and the other is an irreverent ass-kicker who appears to be well and truly booped by circumstance. Was this choreographed?
Well, here's hoping that both of their fortunes take a turn in the next installments!