The Adventurer and the Imp
Part One: The Darkness
Once again the darkness gives way to a haunting, sickly light. Mushrooms slowly appear in the darkness of this timeless void. That unhealthy light seems to come from nowhere, until a glowing green skull forms from the blackness, hovering in the air. Its light increases and it reveals what has haunted my mind’s eye for what seems like forever. A lone fawn - a goat-man - sitting atop the largest mushroom, offering me death as a means of escape from this eternal torment. For surely if I reach out and grasp the skull he proffers, the poison will consume me, and I can at long last be rid of this darkness. I long for that end, for ANY end to this torture -but even as I reach for that release I pause.
What if there is another way out? What if this is the time that, when I turn down that poison - when I reject that easy way out - I will finally find salvation? I return my hand to my side, and turn to once again set out in to the dark. “See you next year then?” The fawn’s deceptively smooth voice breaks the silence. I do not answer. “It’s rude to turn down a birthday gift you know.” He calls after me as I stroll into the dark - holding onto that pinprick of hope with a fervor I haven’t felt since... since before the blackness.
As I walked away from the fawn, again darkness enveloped me. Time became something beyond my perception and the only sounds were the sounds of my feet and staff upon the ground. I began to think, once again, that I should’ve taken the fawns offering, and that another year of stumbling through this blackness would surely strip away my sanity completely. Just as that thought begins to take hold, a light appears in the far distance. I stumble towards it, confused - no light has ever penetrated the darkness before except the fawn’s. -
As I continue towards it, it gains shape. First it looks just like circle of light, then an eye, and finally like what it actually is; a large window looking out onto a far green country. In front of it is a low table set with tea for two, and nearer still is a person. I know that this can’t be real, but I step into the light nevertheless. The person, a girl in a yellow dress with her brown hair in a ponytail, turns to me. She smiles and says, “I’m glad you finally made it here.” She sits at the table and gestures for me to do the same. “I’ve been waiting for you.” She smiles.
I join her and ask, “Wha- whe- who are you?” The words come out cracked and dry.
She smiles at me, “I am Lucy. And this,” she gestures at our surroundings, “is tranquility - an in-between point for travelers leaving the dark realms. And I am your guide.”
Part Two: Training
“And as your guide, it is my job to keep you informed about the world in which you will be adventuring.” She smiled, “and to keep you alive of course. Now come with me.” She beckoned with her hand and walked up to the window. After pausing for a brief moment, she said “Just remember that this isn’t glass.” Then she stepped through the window and onto the grassy ground on the other side.
I gaped at her, “Wha- what on earth?” I stammered as I got to the window.
She reached through the window and grabbed my shirt, “Do you think this is glass?”
“Well, obviously not if you can ju-“ she yanked on my shirt, and before I knew what was happening I was standing on the other side of the window, blinking my eyes against the light.
“Now, if you’d please follow me.” She said as she turned and made her way to a small cottage on the banks of the nearby stream. I followed her, not caring where I was going as long as that blackness was gone. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the large window floating there, nothing but darkness and a table with tea for two inside of it.
“Rule number 1,” She said as we got inside, “This, is an Imp.” She held up a large spherical bottle with a small, dark, creature inside of it. “Do not, under any circumstances, let a Stoneburner Imp out of its vial.”
“Why not?” I said, peering at the horned creature as he scratched tiny claws across the glass.
“The short answer is that we often refer to these imps as ‘Roasters’ because once released they’ll roast and eat anything near them before returning to the void.”
“Don’t let out a Roaster unless you want to get roasted and eaten, go it.” I said, nodding and backing away from Lucy and the Imp she held.
So why do you keep Imps in bottles when they’re so dangerous?’ You might ask.” Lucy continued, “Because human, imps, when properly trapped give us access to magic.” Then Lucy raised her hand and a fountain of fire roared into existence above her. I gaped at her, not trusting myself to speak. “Let’s begin your training in earnest.”
The next month was grueling; I studied, worked my muscles, and practiced with the sword, bow, and shield. During my studies I learned about the different types of Imps; there were Roasters, Dirt-Devils, Shadows, Beacons, Frosts, Druids, and Zephyrs to name the most common ones.
I took easily to the sword and shield, and I had used a bow for hunting (I think), but the magic? At first the spells were tricky - I destroyed more than one set of clothes and nearly froze Lucy to the bone. But with dedication I soon began to master the spells Lucy set me to learn. The first spell I felt I had truly mastered was the ability to form a concentrated ball of fire and release it like an arrow at a target.
As I continued training, Lucy explained that every spell required a captured Imp of the appropriate kind to be in the casters’ possession, and that eventually the Imp’s power would diminish, and it would return to the void, where it would regain its strength and fight its way back to world of man to cause mischief.
The training continued on. Lucy said she had one full year to train before she had to send me off on my own. She wouldn’t explain why she only had a year, or what I had to do when I was sent out in my own, just that 410 days after my arrival, I needed to be out of her way.
The most difficult - and therefore most surprising - challenge I faced during my training was the removal and subsequent basting of the “Large Angry Chicken” that began terrorizing the village to the south. It turned out an Imp had possessed a farmer and conjured magical chicken food to grow the chicken to its enormous size. That same farmer cursed a chicken to stay stuck to my head no matter what I did. I eventually had to throw away my favorite cowl to get ride of the pesky fowl.
Part Three - The Journey Begins
My training complete, I set off to do as I saw fit with my new-found skills. I found a fishing village after a few weeks travel that was besieged by what the locals called ‘The One-Eyed Maw.’
This creature was unlike anything Lucy had told me to expect during my training. He spoke in broken words and sentences through the mouth in his face, the mouth on his torso easily devoured men, women, and children whole.
After I had slain the One-Eyed Maw, the villagers celebrated with a feast in my honor. They gave me many drinks and enough food for ten men. Exhausted from the fighting and then the celebrating, I fell into a deep sleep at the corner table in their modest inn. I awoke the next day curled up on a cot, not remembering how I had come to be there. A scroll waited for me on the bedside table, it’s wax seal was unbroken, and pressed into it was a 9 pointed star.
I sat up in bed and pulled on the wax seal on the scroll. The scroll unrolled on its own, smelling of cloves and the color blue, if that’s even possible.
The letter was from “The Star Wizard” who had apparently heard of my deeds and wanted to pay me to do a job for him. Not really having a place to go or any plans, I packed up my meager possessions and asked for the town smithy to sharpen my sword. Once I had re-sheathed my sword and collected some gifts from the townspeople, I set out towards the tower indicated on the map.
As I journeyed toward the lake and the adventure that waited beyond, my mind turned to the many myths and stories I had heard from Lucy. As I walked along the ancient road, I began to think about the Imps; small powerful creatures with seemingly endless hatred buried within them. Were they evil because of what we, what many adventurers like me, did to them? Using their powers until they were sucked back to the void - a place no one, not even Lucy, could tell me about? With no one to answer my questions but my staff upon the ancient cobbles, the questions churned ceaselessly in my head.
Part Four – The Imp
One night, while seeking out a shelter to spend the night in, I came upon a cave tucked within a dense grove of fir trees. Pulling out torch for light, I cautiously made my way into its dark reaches. A soft green glow - one that reminded me too much of the fawn- began to light the cavern. Some strange moss grew here, illuminating the rough hewn rock - and it was hewn, for surely no natural thing could make as smooth of a tunnel as this. Venturing deeper into the black I came across a pool of water, no wider than three feet across, that glowed with a pale blue light. For some reason I thought not about what nefarious beast of spell could take my arm as I reached into the pool. My fingers touched something smooth and warm; I palmed it and pulled. The sphere came out of the pool easily, and as it broke the surface of the water, the cave was lit with a warm blue-white light. As I stated into the sphere, two tiny eyes stared back at me. Even as I watched the whiteness resolved into the shape of an Imp. It’s horns were less sharp and it’s tail was rounded instead of pointed, but it was definitely an Imp. As I held it, the only thing I could think was how utterly precious this creature was. In all the stories Lucy had told me, never once had an Imp been anything but black as night, and made of evil. But as I looked at this pale blue creature trapped within the glass, I saw compassion and curiosity behind its eyes.
As I stood holding the orb with the blue-white imp inside of it, it melted. The orb dissolved into a glowing liquid that flowed down around my hands and looked on the floor. To my surprise the imp melted and it too flowed through my fingers and melded with the pool of liquid at my feet. Confused and curious, I stared at the pool of light, wondering what wild herb had played this trick on my mind. I had resolved that I was indeed under the effects of some mushroom and had made up my mind to go when two eyes formed at the center of the pool.
Even as I watched, dumbfounded, the pool grew and stretched and streamed together. The imp had more than doubled in size, and as we looked at each other, it made a soft, high pitched trill, almost like a small bell being rung, but not quite that sharp sounding. Then the imp simply... popped. There was no sound, or warning, or flash of light; the thing simply split into hundred of small droplets, like a raindrop hitting a window pane. Amazingly, those droplets then flowed, or floated, or rose through the air and coalesced into a ball. I stretched out my hand and cupped the ball, and as I did it resolved into the imp. It seemed to smile at me despite its apparent lack of a mouth, and then it trilled again; making perhaps the most joyful noise I could ever remember hearing.
Over the next few weeks, the Imp who I had taken to calling Curio, made our way due east. After a run in with bandits (who wished they had stayed home by the end of our encounter) and meeting few other travelers on the road, I began to worry we had taken a wrong turn. But eventually, after a day spent walking insight of the river’s gorge, Curio and I crested a steep rise and saw the port-city of Bandari lining the shore of Lake Mo-ref. The ogre guards and the wicked likes of the soldiers lining the city’s walls and gate bespoke a cruelty I did not want to get to know well. I had Curio hide in my pack, and we made our way towards the gates.
I made it into the city - only getting a few glares from the guards at the gate - and passed through the market to the docks. I checked at the dock station for any ships headed towards the City of Towers, and after conferring with the captain on price and trip expectations, I boarded the sleek, two-master vessel “The Cruel Arrow.” We cast off and headed east before the sun was down. I stared back at the city’s docks as we left a trail surf behind us. A lone black figure stood on the dock, and though we were too far away, I could feel his eyes trained on me. I put up my hood and went down below to catch some sleep.
Part Five: The Deep
The next week was grueling; for a cheaper fare aboard the The Cruel Arrow, I had opted to work aboard the ship cleaning and otherwise staying useful - as long as I wasn’t in anybody’s way - and the captain had made sure I had had no time to relax.
So I was exhausted on our fourth day on Lake Mo-Ref when I got to see why the sailors referred to it simply as “The Deep.” Just past noon by the sun’s position, the sailor in the fighting top called a word I hadn’t heard in previous days. “Kuu-domo! Kuu-domo!” She shouted, crossing her hands above her head. The crew burst into a frantic scramble, and before I had had time to guess what was going on, the ship jolted and turned so sharply I fell to the deck.
“Get up traveler.” The captain said in his clipped accent, “Few of your kind ever get to see the Kuu-Domo’s.” He laughed helping me up and walking to the railing. As we reached it, I was about to ask why we had changed course so suddenly, when something enormous - something mind-boggling gigantic - rose from the water in a rush. It looked almost like a fish - if a fish had ever been the color of night and big enough to swallow an entire ship and it rose into the air until it was a high as the forward mast. Then it turned and crashed down into the waves, landing right where our boat would’ve been if we hadn’t changed course. I gaped openly despite myself and stared as the ripples of the Kuu-Domo rose into waves that set the ship to rocking. “You would probably call it a...” the captain cursed, then called to one of his sailors, the woman answered back and the captain nodded, “A whale. That is your word for it. It is a sign of good fortune, and we have not seen one in many weeks; surely Bahati watches over you.” The captain smiled, and then cursed at me for not working.
Seeing the whale must have been good luck, for after nearly 4 weeks of travel, we finally reached the other side of the Deep. We hadn’t had any bad weather or run-ins with pirates, and we had even had a strong enough tailwind to arrive two days earlier than expected. I rose from my hammock and made my way up the stairs to the calls of sailors. I stepped on deck and breathed in the crisp salt sea air. After a few moments of staring our port side, I stretched and started to get to work. I turned around and froze in place. There, not more than half a mile from our ship was the shore, and on the shore was a giant. I cried out and set my feet in a fighters stance and prepared to summon a bolt of flame as I recalled every story Lucy had told me about the despicable giants of the east. But before I could form the words for my spell, and round of laughter washed over me. I spun to see nearly the entire crew laughing at me. The captain walked forward, breathing hard, “We never tell new travelers about him before we get here.” He laughed again and slapped me on the back, “I have surprised at least one person on each voyage to this coast, but I have never had someone prepare to fight Askari before.” He gestured for me to follow him, and we took up a place by the helmsmen, staring out at the statue. Now that I could study the giant, it was easy to see He was made of stone, and not skin and bone. Still, he seemed to be six times taller than the height of our ship’s main mast. He was covered head to toe in a type of armor I had never seen before and the halberd he held out over the water glistened in the early morning light. His eyes were ours if black, and two large fangs jutted out from his bottom lip, looking as menacing as the horns coming out of his helm.
“Askari?” I asked, not taking my eyes off of the giant statue.
The captain nodded, “The warrior who has guarded the city of towers since before my grandfather’s grandfather had taken his first steps.” The captain called orders to the crew, and soon we slowed, testing in the shadow of the giant guardian. “The legends say that long ago, he was bested by one of the kings of this city. Many people had died during the war between the giants and men, but the king did not want further bloodshed. So in an act of peace and mercy, he spared the great warrior, and to show his thanks, Askari vowed to never let war come to the city again.” The captain’s voice took on a different quality - instead it’s usual business-like tone, his voice began to sound wistful. “The stories say that if any army comes to this city with the intent to conquer, Askari will shed his stone skin and crush the invaders beneath his feet.”