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Welcome to Imaginary Realities' mythic memoirs. Each month you will find here a new story; tales of astonishing adventure, daring deeds, surprising success or terrible tragedy - the stuff of myth and legend.
Your story is kept in here for posterity.
As is to be expected, our narratives are connected in some way to muds. Some are real epic adventures that actually happened on a MUD, recounted in a grand style. Others might be taller tales based on MUD events or merely inspired by a MUD world.
Yet, these stories do not simply leap forth, fully formed. No, these are your stories, sent in by you so that your words and deeds will live forever rather than fade into obscurity. This means this column will die a rapid death if no one sends anything in... Here's your chance - if you want us to continue presenting mud-fiction, contribute something. It doesn't have to be a fully fledged, polished product - anything is better than nothing and we can always work to give it a shine ourselves.
Last month, no one sent us a story. Not a whisper. In fact, if the feedback is to be believed, only one person actually read the column. I have heroically filled the breach myself, to provide another story this month - but I can not keep on doing this. Liberus Legendarum needs you!
In October 1995, an LP mud called New Moon first ran an epic event as a Halloween special. The mud's main town was overrun with undead creatures that proceeded to slaughter everything in sight - NPC and player alike. Low level players were forced to flee, new players were warned to stay away and the rest of us had a whale of a time working out what was going on and battling the undead legions. I was there as a high level elemental mage and enjoyed myself immensely as we teamed up into huge fighting parties to kill the rampaging creatures, work out where they were coming from and how to stop them.
This month's tale is inspired by the events of that original Halloween epic. I have not used real characters names and I have not followed exactly what happened back then and how victory was won (not least because my memory is not that good.) I have instead tried to capture the atmosphere and emotion of what went on, following the thread of events without being shackled by it.
I hope you enjoy the result. - Scatter ///\oo/\\\
Leviatha has been fun, but it is not home and Alira approaches Heliopolis' West Gate with a spring in her step. Her profits from Leviatha make a pleasant weight at her hip and she recalls her trip with amusement. The city of the plains had been one big gem; ripe for the taking. A place where her face had been unknown, its inhabitants unwary - and Alira's speciality is separating the unwary from their riches. Alira shrugs. Ah well - when a city's guards begin setting traps just for you, it is time to skip town. Thus she returns to her habitual haunt - the east coast city of Heliopolis.
As the road brings her closer to the gate, Alira starts to watch for the concealed path to the south that will take her secretly under the walls. An instinctive awareness leads her attention back to the gate. Something is wrong there. Passing her intended track, she clings to the shadows at the edge of the road - moving closer to the gate. The West Gate stands open, as is normal for this time of the morning, but where are the guards? The gate house seems deserted.
No guards means no reason to avoid entering through the gate. Alira's unease increases as she passes between the high turrets onto Main Street. Where is everyone? Unsettled, Alira abandons the road for the relative safety of the rooftops. From this vantage she can see further but the sights are not reassuring. The bustling market that throngs every day in Trader's Walk is missing. There are beggars' corpses in the gutter - not that dead beggars are unusual for Heliopolis but these look a fair bit more bloody than is normal.
Alira flits across the rooftops, heading south along Trader's Walk. There are more bodies in the streets and not beggars this time - ordinary city folk, faces she recognizes. Men, women, shopkeepers - even guards. Has there been an invasion? An army of the Sect from the swamps? If so, where are the victors partying?
Market Street comes into view and Alira catches sight of someone moving at the far end. She hurries to catch them - perhaps they can explain what has happened, give some clues. As she gets closer, she slows and then stops, watching. That is not a human shape - not quite. And it is not moving as a person does. She watches the creature enter the music shop - simply by crashing through the closed door. There are sounds from within and Alira drops deftly into the street for a better view.
The shopkeeper is screaming curses at the creature, beseeching the gods to strike it down. The creature seems confused, bemused, and turns clumsily bringing down a rack of instruments. This is too much for the shopkeeper. He grabs a club from behind the counter and charges, battering the invader. The creature ignores his attacks and plucks him effortlessly into the air. Before Alira's horrified eyes, the creature tears the shopkeeper apart and throws the gory remains into the street.
This is not on - not in my town. Alira considers the creature as it lumbers slowly out of the shop. Ok, I am not the soul of virtue and maybe I do prey upon these people myself and yes I have even killed some of them. But I am what they made me and this is my home. Whatever you are, you do not belong here and no one should kill profitable shopkeepers like that in my town. I am no warrior, but I know my craft. The element of surprise is all I need.
As the creature emerges onto the street, Alira is already moving. It seems slow and dimwitted and Alira has no trouble circling it and approaching unseen from the rear. Her trusty knife, Blade, slips silently into her hand. She steps forward and strikes, driving her weapon deep into the creature's heart. There is no resistance to her thrust - Blade slips into the creature as though it were butter. Alira steps back but her triumph dies before it even began. The creature turns towards her, unaffected by its wound.
It steps from the shade and with the sun full upon it, Alira begins to realize the true nature of her chosen enemy. It was human, once. Now it looks dead, long dead. Rotten flesh barely clings to mottled bone, putrid juices ooze from many gashes and wounds. Undead, Alira realizes in horror. How do you kill something that is already dead? And so strong?
Retreating, Alira pulls two of her throwing knives from her belt. One follows the other, cast at the creature in rapid succession. One direct hit on the heart, one in the throat. The creature does not even seem to notice them. Alira feels her mouth go dry and her stomach tremble as the creature approaches. You can not hit it, the unfortunate shopkeeper demonstrated that. Stabbing it does not seem to do much. I am faster but it is far stronger.
Sidestepping the creature, Alira brings Blade around in a vicious arc. The knife slashes through the sloppy flesh of the creatures arm and between the bones of its elbow. The creatures forearm drops to the cobbles and Alira smiles maliciously at her success. Movement on the stump of the creatures arm holds her attention and her smile quickly fades. The flesh is crawling, moving, growing. "No!" she breathes as the arm regenerates. "That is not fair!" But her attention has been held too long and a ponderous swing of the creatures other arm catches her off guard. The force of the blow slams her heavily into the shop wall, hard enough to blast the breath from her body and make her head ring. The impact shakes loose a roof tile, which shatters explosively on the cobblestones.
The creature approaches but despite being winded, Alira is not staying still. She rolls to one side, slashing out again. This time Blade slices through the creature's knee and as the noisome flesh parts, the creature topples. It hits the wall itself with a hefty crash and once again a roof tile comes loose - this time it snags at the lip of the roof and stops, dangling. Alira catches her breath as she spots the large, sharp-edged tile hanging over the creature. In one fluid motion she draws a third throwing knife and sends it speeding upwards. Her aim is true. As the creature rises, the tile falls.
Perfect! The putrescent head rolls into the road, severed neatly by the tile; its body slumps to the floor. "Cymoc is with me," Alira whispers, awed at her luck. She lingers, suspiciously watching the fallen creature. Is it going to grow a new head? She turns her gaze to its head. Or a new body? When it shows no sign of doing either, Alira quickly scales the northern building, returning to the safety of the rooftops.
Hearing a commotion to the north, Alira heads that way - springing nimbly from building to building along Pebblestone Avenue. She quickly finds the cause of the noise - a city guard is engaged in desperate battle with a skeleton. Undead! Has the city been overrun with them? Alira sighs, watching. The skeleton has a sword - ancient and well rusted, but apparently still very effective and its lack of flesh does not seem to stop it using the weapon with consummate skill.
What use knives against a skeleton? Nothing to stab, nothing to slash even if I could get past that flashing sword. Alira hesitates. A city guard - one of those I have fought myself, many times. Yet this is my city too, and guard or not, at least he is human. Remembering her previous success, Alira decides to try a similar tactic on the skeleton. As the guard's faltering defense brings the combatants below her, she takes a flying leap from the roof - crashing down onto the skeleton's back.
The boney creature staggers, off-balance. Alira tangles her legs with its and the two crash to the ground. She grabs the animated skull and tries to twist it off, but the unearthly force empowering it is too strong for her. The skeleton thrashes and Alira cries out at a shock of pain from her left arm. Clinging on with all her strength, she brings Blade to bear on the bony neck, forcing its needle-sharp point between the bones.
Suddenly a blue-white flash and thunderous bang throws the fighters apart. Alira instinctively rolls as she hits the cobbles; hearing Blade ring on the stones further away and a clattering of bones from the skeleton. As she cautiously rises to take stock, she finds the skeleton lifeless, its skull lying several feet from its body. Retrieving Blade, she finds her favorite weapon is glowing with a soft blue light. Alira laughs softly. I did it! She punches the air victoriously, "Yes!"
The movement sends a sharp pain through her left arm. It is bleeding freely from a slash from the skeleton's sword and seeing her own injury reminds her of the hapless guard. He is lying on the ground, half against the wall. He is looking Alira's way but seems to take little interest in the skeleton's demise. Moving closer, she realizes the guard is seeing nothing at all - her rescue was too late, his wounds too deep. Her mood turning grim, Alira takes a sash from his uniform and binds her own wound.
Reluctant to climb with a bad arm, Alira presses on towards the town square on the ground but caution keeps her to the shadows. As she nears the edge of the square, movement ahead makes her reflexively freeze. Who... or what? As the three figures become clear, she heaves a sigh of relief - tension draining from her body. At last! Kal, Luken and Seia - real people who will know what has happened and who probably would not try to kill her.
Alira steps from the shadows and the three immediately react aggressively. "Hey, wait! It is me!" she calls and to her relief they relax a little. Kal eyes her over, the big mage obviously still ready to cast in her direction. "Look, I have already killed a disgusting zombie creature, shattered a skeleton and seen lots of fairly gross corpses," Alira continues, "I just want to know what is going on."
"Alira?" Luken, at least, recognizes her. The warrior seems as strong and handsome as ever, though sporting a number of fresh cuts and bruises. "I thought you were out of town."
Kal finally relaxes. "You killed a zombie and a skeleton?" he asks, "how did a lowly thief manage that?"
Alira tries to ignore the dripping sarcasm. "Skill," she replies flippantly, then admitting ruefully "and a lot of luck."
"You are hurt", Seia announces, breaking her silence. Alira has never gotten on very well with Seia - it seems her day-to-day business does not go down to well with the highly principled priestess. Seia takes Alira's arm and murmurs a prayer to herself. Then she unwraps the makeshift bandage and Alira touches her healed skin with surprise. Seia smiles, wryly. "Cymoc must favor you today."
Kal insists on knowing how Alira achieved her victories, and she quickly relates her battles. Kal is fascinated by Blade's new glow and after examining it he announces that the knife has somehow absorbed the magic that had been empowering the skeleton. Alira smiles. "I always knew Blade was something special."
Eventually, Luken fills her in on the state of the town. "The undead seemed to come out of nowhere - zombies and skeletons. They rampaged through the city, killing everyone left and right. The guards were utterly unprepared to deal with them and they fell like flies - the ordinary folk have either fled, died, or barricaded themselves inside their houses."
"We are trying to restore order," Seia continues, "We have got several teams working through the city and most of the undead are destroyed. Just a few stragglers like those you encountered have slipped through. The remainder are bottled in the northeast quarter."
"We are heading there now," Kal adds, then trails off with a distant expression. Alira gets the feeling he is listening to something only he can hear. "We have to get to the park," he announces, confirming her suspicions. "Apparently the undead are coming from a hole that has appeared there, in the ground."
As the three move out, Alira tags along. Far safer to be with those three, even if they are heading into battle. On route, they encounter several more zombies and skeletons but Kal and Luken between them easily despatch the undead. Seia treats the wounds they receive and Alira watches the effortless teamwork with disquiet. I am superfluous here, she realizes, but she can not bring herself to depart and hole up somewhere until it is all over. I will see it through, she decides, it seems safe enough with them.
The group reach the park. Here, undead are numerous and many people are heroically battling them. Among them are many notable heros of the city - warriors, mercenaries and mages of the Academy and College of Twilight. To Alira's surprise even a few members of the Dark Sect are dispatching undead, using their unique perspective to great effect. The normally neat lawns are awash with blood and strewn with bodies and bones from both sides.
Kal brings them to a halt and bids them all stand still. A muttered spell and Alira feels the air thicken around her, forming a semi-solid shield over her skin. Thus protected, Luken leads them into combat in the direction Kal indicates. Quickly they are surrounded on all sides by friends and foe, the warrior and mage working in tandem to dispatch the uncoordinated zombies and skeletons. Through her prayers, Seia invokes Cymoc to keep the undead from encroaching to the rear and Alira manages to make a contribution to the fight, distracting opponents to let Luken or Kal get in a killing strike.
After what seems like an age, the four reach the lip of a ragged hole in the ground. "We must enter," decrees Kal. "The source of the invasion is inside and the defenders cannot hold much longer." Luken, Kal and Seia jump down into the darkness without hesitation and Alira automatically follows. Only as they march into the darkness does she begin to wonder if she would have been better off sticking with the fight outside.
The tunnel is short; soon it opens out into a cavern within which another battle is raging. Eerie light from air born mage-spells flickers over the fight and Alira shivers, feeling all her hair stand on end. Fighting the town's defenders are not just zombies and skeletons. Swallowing, Alira fights a strong impulse to flee. Within the melee are vampires, swooping on victim after victim, ignoring wounds from mere steel.
As the four prepare to join the fight, a trio of wraiths come screaming down upon them and only Seia's instinctive response prevents their chilling touch. She raises her amulet of office and Cymoc's holy power blazes through it to drive the wraiths aside. Terrified, Alira cowers against Seia.
Luken assesses the battle with assured skill. "We cannot win this, here," he says grimly. Kal agrees but suggests they press on.
"The source of their power cannot be far away now," he explains. "If we can destroy that, we will not need to win here."
So saying, he leads off across the cavern. The alternative being to be left alone against the gruesome horde, Alira stays with the group. What am I doing? Why didn't I stay in Leviatha? Why didn't I go hide somewhere? I can add nothing here, I am no warrior, no mage, no fighter. Hell, I am bad myself - no kind of hero.
Kal and Luken cut a path through the melee, not so much fighting the enemy as shunting them aside. Somehow the group reaches the other side of the cavern intact and they pause just long enough for Seia's prayers to address their injuries. A tunnel leads out of the cavern, dark and foreboding. Kal begins to cast a light spell but recognizing it, Alira stops him. At last, a chance to be useful! "Better to enter unseen," she says, "And surprise is on our side."
Luken agrees, and Alira takes the lead as they enter the tunnel. Her heart pounding loudly in her ears, she picks the way silently through the gloom with the others following as best they can. A noise ahead triggers her honed instincts and at her hushed signal they flatten against the wall. A group of mismatched zombies and skeletons hurry clumsily past to join the chaos in the cavern. Cautiously, Alira leads the group on. Finally the tunnel opens out into a dimly lit chamber. First in line, Alira peers in and is hit by an overpowering sense of evil. She recoils into the tunnel, only able to shake her head at Kal's questioning glance.
Seia also has picked up the evil presence. She mouths the word to the others. "Lich!" Alira remains pressed against the shadowed wall, badly shaken. A lich??
"It is the source," Kal breathes, "We have to kill it." Luken is incredulous.
"A lich?! Kill it?" he whispers, "Are you mad?"
Seia steels herself. As priestess of Cymoc, all that she stands for demands that she destroy such a powerhouse of evil. The lich represents total opposition to the principles of Cymoc. "We must," she whispers. "Cymoc is with us." So saying, she steps boldly into the chamber. Kal and Luken exchange horrified glances but unable to let their friend face death alone, they follow her inside. Only Alira remains, trembling, in the tunnel.
Madness. They are insane. A lich?! One mage, one warrior, one priestess against the personification of death itself? Three frail humans against the greatest undead. We are doomed. We are all going to die. Alira struggles with her fear but it is all she can do to stop herself fleeing in panic back to the surface. She remains frozen in her hiding place.
>From within the chamber issues a clear voice, Seia's voice.
"Cymoc, Goddess of Light, hear my prayer.
Against forces of darkness, I invoke thee.
Against death and destruction, I invoke thee.
Against terror and chaos, I invoke thee.
Aid thy servant in thy will, Cymoc, I invoke thee."
A soft light begins to radiate from the chamber, it is touch calming and reassuring. Alira breathes easier, but only for a moment. Another voice issues forth, making her skin crawl.
"Ahhh. Whatss thiss?" it hisses, "a rightiouss little priesstesss with two brave little friendsss." Alira shudders, cursing the fear that immobilizes her. Three friends, she adds to herself, three brave little friends... But she cannot bring herself to step forward and speak the words. "Thisss sshould be... briefly entertaining," the voice of the Lich concludes, oozing confidence. Then, a little startled, "What?"
Seia's whisper carries to Alira's keen ears. "Cymoc has bound it to this place," she tells Kal and Luken. "It cannot retreat to its home realm but it is up to us to destroy it."
"So mote it be." Kal's voice. Alira can picture the mage's stony, determined expression in her mind. The sounds of battle commenced beat at her conscience. The orange glow of fire flickers into the tunnel accompanied by the sound of Kal's fireball exploding. Luken's battle cry and subsequent shout of pain. Seia's determined prayer, beseeching Cymoc to protect them. A blue-white flash and a crack of thunder, Kal's pained cry this time.
Unable to endure the sounds of her friends battling for their lives, Alira forces herself to look again into the chamber. The lich is tall and foul, skeletal, with tatters of skin and robe hanging from the shriveled flesh over its bony frame. A raw blue glow surrounds it and the powerful wave of evil rolling from it is nauseating. Luken and Kal are still standing, though visibly hurt and weakened. As Alira watches, Luken strikes again at the Lich but his mighty sword is easily shunted aside by the light surrounding it. A flick of its arm and Luken is flung backwards as though struck with a huge hammer. Behind them, Seia has sunk to her knees. The divine light of Cymoc shines within her and through her but the harsh glow of the Lich seems to sear it away.
It is toying with them, Alira realizes, it could kill each of them instantly if it wished. And Seia... she knows she has lead them to their deaths, she knows. Looking at Seia again, Alira feels the soft glow of Cymoc's holy power suffusing her. Slowly, her terror subsides, replaced by a steely calm. Kal's declaration again rings in her mind, "So mote it be." We are dead anyway, perhaps this way it will at least be quick.
Alira draws Blade, finding its familiar fit in her hand is comforting despite its new glow. Its glow. The glow of the knife is the same color as the Lich's shield - the glow that came from the undead skeleton. The Lich is practically a skeleton, is not it? And undead... I wonder, I wonder.
For a long moment, she hesitates. Kal's anguished cry as the Lich effortlessly deflects another spell spurs her to action. Hugging the chamber wall, Alira enters the chamber. I am only going to get one shot at this, it must be a perfect sneak. The Lich's attention is on the other three and Alira begins the most difficult stealthy approach of her life. The Lich momentarily turns towards her - she freezes instantly but Luken takes advantage of the movement to attack, diverting its attention back to him. Alira remains frozen in place. What am I doing? This is madness. After several eternal seconds she convinces herself to start moving again. Slowly, silently, invisibly she creeps into position, behind the Lich.
Finally, she is ready. Blade in hand, Alira begins her approach - soundlessly stalking the Lich to get in range. Away from the chamber wall now, she is seen at last by the others. Kal and Luken increase their futile attacks, striving to keep the Lich from noticing her.
All too soon, Alira is where she needs to be. Now is the moment - now or never. Death or glory. Mere inches away from the noisome creature, it is radiating evil suffocating her senses. Now is the moment. Strike or die. Fame or death, but at least quick death...
Strike or die.
Alira's aim is perfect. The glowing Blade screams through the Lich's glowing aura and bites deep between the bones of its neck. For a frozen instant, nothing seems to happen. In the next, everything. The knife's glow brightens rapidly and then with a deafening crack, it explodes. The flash momentarily blinds Alira and pain rips through her hand. Crying out, she staggers back.
As she blinks the tears from her eyes, she sees the fearsome visage of the Lich filling her vision.
"Die..." The word hisses from its rotten jaw, carried on a vile black vapor. Alira's frightened gasp betrays her, drawing the dark spell into her body. No! Do not breathe... do not... Clutching her ruined hand to her chest, Alira takes a couple more unsteady steps backwards before her legs collapse underneath her. Her vision clouds with dark red mists and the sound of her ragged breath and slowing heartbeat rings ever louder in her ears. Slowly, the sensations of the world fade away into nothingness. As the blackness envelops her, Kal's words again echo through her failing mind. At least it is quick. So mote it be.
Transfixed by Alira's fate, Kal and Luken are snapped from their momentary daze by Seia. She alone has noticed a vital change - "Its shield is gone!" she hisses.
Immediately Kal returns to the offensive and a furious fire storm swirls into being around the Lich even as it turns back to them. This time there is no blue-white glow to shed the force of the magic and the Lich screams in rage and pain, unable to escape the elemental fire. Taking his chance, Luken steps forwards with his sword singing through a rapid arc. This time, nothing shunts it aside and the lethal metal whips through the fire and smashes through the bones of the skeletal neck within.
The remains of the Lich crash to the ground and Kal lets his conjured fire die. Silence weighs heavily in the chamber. Gradually the sound of distant cheering begins to echo through the caverns.
"Alira!" Luken and Kal run to the fallen girl, Seia is already there, kneeling over her. She is chanting the prayer of resurrection over and over but Cymoc's holy light has faded and finally she trails off and looks up at her battered friends.
"It is too late," the priestess whispers. "Too late. I am too exhausted, too slow..." A tear leaks from the corner of her eye and trickles down her cheek. "She never knew." Seia mourns, her voice tight with pain. "She saved us all... saved the whole city. She never knew."
This column will depend on your contribution - all of you out there who are exploring, adventuring, creating legends on muds every day. Send in your stories and become a part of the bigger myth. We can polish any rough spots, smooth out any bumps - or if you wish, even write your story for you if you give us enough detail of what happened and why. Simply use the form provided, or send in your story via email.
August 2000 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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