Chapter 1: A Warrior Comes Forth
The sun was shining brightly over the small village of Potos. The day was not yet over, even though the sun was now gently descending into the horizon again. In the meantime, business went on as usual among the people. From one end of the village to the other, the school bell rang out, signifying that the students were done another day of work.
"Are you sure?"
"Not really. I'm still not sure if I'm free that day. The elder might need me for some jobs, you know."
Lisa looked horrified at the prospect. "He'd never do that to you! He'd never be so mean as to make you work while everyone else is at the spring dance?"
Randi furiously tried to avoid looking into her eyes. Puppies had nothing or her when she really wanted something. "Well, you might be right. But that's not for... a whole week! There's no telling what could happen between now and then. You might suddenly change your mind or..."
She looked panicky now. "I'd never do that. Please, won't you be my escort to the dance?" She batted her eyelashes. "I can't think of anyone else I'd rather have at my side than a big, handsome guy like you..."
"Well... I guess I could mark that on my schedule," Randi agreed with feigned reluctance. His expression abruptly gave way to an easy-going smile. "But only if you'll get your old man to let you stay out after midnight."
She beamed at him. "You'll see! We'll have the whole night to ourselves!" Giving him a quick squeeze, she skipped off towards her house.
Randi chuckled to himself as he turned to meet two of his friends, no doubt having been watching the scene from a distance. Elliott and Timothy. Both good people in their own way. Elliott could be a bully at times, with Timothy often the victim. Both would deny the charge, but it obvious enough if you watched them long enough.
"Hey Randi! What's the news?" Elliottt asked with a smirk in Lisa's direction.
"Heh. You can scratch that goddess off your list for the Spring dance," Randi replied smugly. "With girls like her, you've got to act like you're doing them a huge favor by agreeing to go out with them, y'know?"
They both grinned, glancing over where Lisa had just entered her house. Randi was grinning too. Barely sixteen years old and having a figure that was enough to drive some nearby male students into failing grades, Lisa was a dream come true. He had been smart enough to sit in front of Lisa, in plain view of her should she happen to need assistance on her schoolwork, which was often. As good-looking as she was, Lisa was a far cry from head of the class. It was possible that his efforts was beginning to pay off. Gossip was that she had developed a crush on him.
"You ready for a romp through the woods?" Elliott asked.
"Sure," he replied. "Where to?"
Timothy spoke now. "Some knight from another city arrived here today. I overheard him talking with the Elder. He said that there's the hugest waterfall you've ever seen hidden away a few miles to the west. And there's some legend about a ghost and a treasure at the bottom of the waterfall! The knight's at the inn right now."
"You believe all this? From some strange knight?"
"He seemed to know what he was talking about," Elliott pointed out. "He seemed really worried too. He wanted to know if anybody had ever gone over that way. The Elder said that no one had gone there for fifteen years now."
Randi sobered up slightly. That was probably true. Fifteen years ago? That was when he had been found by the Elder... in the western lands, no less.
Although no one, the elder included, could even guess at the reasons behind his being left alone, the elder finding him had been a fortunate turn of events for him. Almost enough to make one superstitious.
At any rate, higher forces or not, Randi's growing up had involved nothing beyond pure tenacity and willpower. His origins had once made him an easy mark for insults and teasing, even the occasional fight. Then Randi had learned to fight. And fight extremely well. Now, as the elder put it, by the time anyone was tough enough to take him in a fight, they were too mature to want to try.
Nevertheless, Randi had never chosen to lord that fact over anyone around him. Realistically, there was no need to threaten friends, and the occasional person who didn't fit that description was still hard put to deny him a measure of respect...
"So what do you think?" Timothy inquired, snapping him from his thoughts.
Randi shook his head. "Just like that? You're gonna believe that kind of rubbish?"
"Most of the village does," Elliott retorted.
"Even the grown-ups," Timothy chimed in.
Randi made a face. "Then they're all a bunch of fools. I think it's time a couple of real men went to see for themselves!"
"What took you so long?" Elliott asked indignantly as Randi ran up to them several minutes later. He and Timothy were waiting at the gates impatiently.
"If we get caught," Timothy reminded him, "they'll never let us go."
"Don't sweat it. I just had to get my bandana. If we're going to find a legendary treasure, we might as well look the part, right?"
Elliott mirrored the grin. "Gotcha. Let's go."
"I heard the knight say that the treasure might be dangerous," Timothy offered hesitantly.
"Well, he's probably just some superstitious idiot," was Randi's opinion. "Ghosts don't exist, but I bet this treasure does. We'll be famous before this day is out, I bet!"
The three of them needed no further incentive. Plunging into the thick brush, they headed due west towards a fairly tall look-out point that would provide a good place to decide on a searching direction. None of them had ever seen anything to suggest a huge waterfall, so they'd need some help before searching in earnest.
"What do you think that treasure is?" Timothy asked the other two, lightly stepping around twisted limbs and low-hanging branches.
Randi stepped over a fallen log. "I don't know. It must be worth something, that's for sure."
"Maybe it's gold!" Elliott suggested. "We'd be rich! We could go live in Pandora or somewhere far away."
"Pandora? That's a long ways away," Timothy said doubtfully.
Elliott scoffed. "If we're rich, we could get a horse and ride there! We could go anywhere we wanted to, idiot!"
"That's what I meant," Timothy agreed timidly.
"Pandora?" Randi laughed. "If this really is gold, I'd go to a real place to live. Maybe go to the Kakkara desert. I hear it's always sunny there and the girls are great!"
"How do you know that?"
Randi smirked. "Well, there have to be a few good looking ones right? And the weather's so hot, I bet they don't have to wear much clothing!"
The three all laughed at that, pushing on through the underbrush.
"Well, we're here," Elliott said, seeing the look-out point ahead. "The stranger said that it's to the West, right?"
"Pretty much. Nobody ever goes out there, but that doesn't mean there's nothing there. Take a look," Randi invited, gesturing west.
"That's the Midland Mountain range," Timothy said slowly, not quite understanding. "Past them are the Upper Lands."
"Idiot!" Elliott retorted, "of course it is! That must be where the waterfall is, ‘cuz the water needs a hill to fall down. This is supposed to be a huge waterfall, so it's gonna need a huge hill."
"Right," Randi agreed, scanning the area carefully. Now where would the best spot to find a waterfall be... his eyes suddenly caught a flicker of light, a reflection of the setting sun... "There!"
"Where?" the other two chorused.
"Did you see that? The sun reflected off something! I'll bet it was a waterfall!"
They looked doubtful. Randi smiled confidently. "Trust me on this one, guys. I know what I saw. Let's get moving. It looks like a bit of a walk to get there. We don't want it to get too dark before we arrive."
About two hours later, as the sun was beginning to creep below the horizon, the three began to make out the sound of water fall. It sounded as though an angry monster was approaching, or the biggest thunderstorm imaginable was headed their way.
"I told you," Randi said with a grin. "It sounds a long way off still."
"Then it must be huge," Timothy said nervously. "It sure is loud!"
"Maybe we'll send you down it," Elliott taunted. "You can tell us if there's any treasure at the bottom!"
They all laughed, even Timothy.
Half an hour later, the waterfall finally came into view. The path they had taken led to the top, offering a spectacular view of the countryside for miles in every direction. The water rushed over the edge of the cliff with frightening speed, racing downwards in a suicide plunge that ended when it smashed into the small lake of water at the bottom, sending mist up almost as high as the waterfall again. Spanning the falls was a solidly built wooden bridge, obviously there for a long time, but sturdy enough to be there for many years to come.
"Wow!" Timothy breathed. "It's huge! This must be the waterfall!"
Elliott scowled. "So what? Where's the treasure?"
"Keep an eye out," Randi suggested, doing so himself. "If it was in plain sight, someone would have found it by now. Come on, let's cross."
"Better be careful!" Timothy called out. "It might be slippery!"
Elliott sneered as he started across the bridge. "If you're scared, you can run back home!"
Not wanting to give any excuse for the insult, Timothy quickly followed, disdaining to look downwards, least he actually realize how high the waterfall was.
"What's the rush?" Randi asked with a laugh, casually strolling across the bridge. "The view is great!" He glanced downwards, enjoying the brief sensation of vertigo the view gave him. It was too high up to make out any details down below. They would have to work their way down, somehow...
"You going to high-dive or something, Randi?" Elliott demanded, continuing down the path again. "Let's get going!"
"Aw, wait up!" Randi yelled, breaking into a run.
"Maybe you shouldn't run..." Timothy began hesitantly.
"Argh!!!" Randi cried out as his foot slipped sideways on a wet plank of wood. "Help!"
The other two exploded into a dash as they saw Randi tumble over the edge of the bridge. In the nick of time, he snagged the lip of one of the wooden cross planks, stopping his fall. Unfortunately, his weight was too great and the plank, relying on only gravity to hold it there, was dragged over the edge with him.
In a heroic burst of strength, Elliott dove for the plank. Barely managing to snag it with his left hand, he once again stopped Randi's descent. His face went red as he strained to keep his grip on the slippery piece of wood. Timothy arrived, grabbing with all his strength. Slowly, but surely, they began to haul him upwards, but it was a painfully awkward process.
Then it happened. Without warning, Randi's grip on the plank suddenly ceased. Eyes wide with horror, he plunged downwards into the fury of the waterfall. Relieved of their burden, Elliott and Timothy fell back, the wooden plank spinning off into the air before fluttering down into the raging torrent after Randi. Elliott and Timothy looked at each other in horror for few breathless moments.
"Did he..." Timothy began, his eyes wide with fear.
Elliott's face was a mirror to his own. "Yeah! We'd better get back to the village for help! Come on!"
For a brief instant, Randi felt the same way he did when jumping off tree limbs into the lake near the village. It had always a challenge for him and his friends to try and find higher branches to jump from; to invent a more foolish stunt to pull on the way down.
Let's see them beat this jump... Randi thought murkily. Then his mind's clarity returned, and he realized that he was falling down the biggest waterfall he'd ever seen in his life. If he was lucky, he'd die so fast that he wouldn't even feel the impact. If he wasn't, he'd be in a lot of pain before finally expiring.
He found that he had a surprising amount of time to think... did he have any regrets? Well, he would have liked to go to the Spring dance with Lisa. Wouldn't he have looked wonderful with the Beauty Queen herself at his side. He found that his only other regret was that he hadn't found the treasure yet...
With a terrifying explosion, Randi shot into the heart of the falls, smashing through the surface of the water with an impact that left his eyesight blurry with pain. Then he was spinning like a top, occasionally crashing into rocks that sliced through his skin so efficiently he never even felt the objects. Then his head found one of the rocks and mercifully, everything went black for him.
Randi didn't know when consciousness returned, but he would rather it had waited. Pain shot anew through his entire body, making him realize that he was awake and aware again. Had he survived? He wasn't entirely sure. His entire body was numb, save for where he could feel the pain of bruises, perhaps broken bones. He smiled, stopping as soon as he felt the pain from the action. If he felt pain, he must be alive. He would live to tell about this...
He tried to move, but found that he couldn't get his body to respond. The muscles in his arms briefly tensed up, but it hurt too much to sustain the effort. He lay on his back for awhile longer before trying again. Feeling slowly began to return to his body. He was in the water, a shallow pool, no doubt. He could feel the current slowly pushing at his body, although too weak to have any effect. He must been carried beyond the foot of the waterfall somehow...
He took a deep breath, willfully ignoring the pain it caused. Was he paralyzed? He didn't think so. He could feel pain in every corner of his body now and realized that he was going to have a painful walk home. Would he even make it? He had no food, and was already feeling hungry. He would be forced to rest often in his condition. This wasn't over yet.
Gritting his teeth, he forced his arms to move, planting his palms in the soft river bed. He forced his mind off the pain by imagining what a hero he'd be when he finally made it home. He'd fallen off the biggest waterfall imaginable and made it home by himself to tell about it. He would make it home, he swore. After considerable effort, he was able to turn over on his hands and knees. From there, he was able to crawl to a nearby tree and use it to support his weight as he stood up. By the time he finished, his skin was covered in sweat. He smiled in spite of his condition. He'd fallen who knew how far and was already on his feet. He would make it if he had to cling to trees the entire way home. Now which way was home?
He glanced up at the top of the waterfall, still thundering down noisily. Near the top, the bridge was still there. They'd come from the left end of the bridge, so he'd travel that way. He was sure he'd eventually recognize some part of the woods. Carefully working his way from tree to tree, he made his way in the general direction of Potos. He'd make it home, he promised himself again.
Then he saw it.
A bright flash of light, like a mirror reflecting the sunset. He turned to see it again. When he realized what it was, he couldn't believe what he was seeing. No matter how he looked at it, it looked the same, as though it had a mind of its own, reflecting the dying sunlight into his eyes. There was no mistaking what the object was.
It was a sword. It was stuck into a stump in the middle of a pool of water with a simplicity that suggested it had always been there. The silver blade was long and smooth, looking as if the water surrounding it had elected to become solid. The hilt was overlaid in something that looked like a cross between gold and silver, with delicate lace-like patterns inscribed into it. A huge gem was implanted in the base of the hilt, causing tiny rainbows of light to scatter everywhere.
Randi sucked in a deep breath. He'd never seen anything so beautiful in his life. Instinctively, he realized what it was. It was The Treasure.
He abruptly let go of the tree, all the pain in his body instantly rendered unimportant by what he saw in front of him. He would take The Treasure home. Any then everybody would see what a brave adventurer he was. He smiled in anticipation as he staggered towards the sword, his injuries forgotten for the moment.
The minute he gripped his hands around the shiny hilt of the sword, he knew something was wrong. He felt a strange warmth spread through his hands and up his arms. Alarmed, he tried to release the sword, but his body refused to respond to his commands. The warm feeling spread through his entire body until it finally faded away into nothing.
Randi blinked in surprise, feeling lightheaded. What had just happened? Maybe there was magic at work. He'd never actually seen magic, but he'd heard plenty of stories. Magic could do almost anything, the stories claimed. Maybe magic was protecting the treasure. He experimentally tugged on the sword. It didn't budge. Swallowing, he yanked on the sword with all his strength. Without a sound it slid out of the stump, causing him to fall back in the water, re-soaking himself in the process.
The uncomfortable feeling was abruptly overshadowed as Randi realized that the sword was beginning to burn in his hands. He yelled in pain, trying to release the weapon, but his hands refused to respond. The blade of the sword began to change from the brilliant silver metal to what could only be described as a glowing rod of light. Randi's eyes watered from the brightness, but he refused to move his gaze from the blade, for fear he miss something special.
With a shriek, a beam of light blazed outwards from the blade, arcing into the sky as fast as Randi's eyes could follow. In the corners of his vision, Randi could see the surroundings lighting up with an unnatural intensity. After what seemed like an eternity, the light finally faded from the blade. As soon as the spots had cleared from Randi's eyes, he refocused his gaze. What he saw before him made his heart lurch.
Something was in front of him.
He blinked, correcting himself. Someone was in front of him.
"Who... are you?" he asked in disbelief.
It was a man, dressed in rough looking armor, a sword-less sheath at his side. His face looked worn and haggard, his clothing torn and ripped. His eyes looked... sad.
The man shifted his position slightly, prompting a gasp from Randi as he realized that the man was transparent... he could see base of the waterfall right through the man...
"Y-you're... a..." his voice had lowered to a bare whisper. "...g-ghost..."
"Randi..." the ghost whispered. "The sword..."
Before the sentence could be finished, the ghost faded away, leaving a dumbfounded Randi to stare at the emptiness in its wake. Had he just seen what he thought he'd seen?
"What about the sword?" he whispered quietly. The question went unanswered as he glanced down at the weapon. Once again, his heart lurched.
The beautiful sword he had held was no more. In its place was a old, worn relic of a sword, the hilt nothing more than a crudely forged metal grip, the blade simply a sharpened piece of metal, rust beginning to appear on it. Randi felt like he'd been stabbed through the heart, so dismayed was he at seeing the sword's condition. Where had the beautiful sword gone to? The burning heat he had felt before was no longer present. Only the cool dampness of the wet sword hilt remained. Maybe this had something to do with the magic of the sword. He had no way of knowing for sure. But he may as well take it home with him. Maybe he could get it to change back to the original sword somehow.
His thoughts abruptly returned to reality. He had to get back home. In his condition, that would be a challenge. Wearily, he turned himself around, heading back to the tree line where he would have some support. The instant he took the first step, he realized that something was different.
Looking himself over, an expression of confusion crossed his face. He was still a mess, but the awkwardness and the pain that had come with the bruises and stiff joints were gone. Although his appearance said differently, compared to how he'd felt before, he felt completely rejuvenated.
He glanced at the sword again. He didn't know how this had happened, but he was willing to bet that the sword was somehow responsible. It had somehow... allowed him to ignore his injuries, but he couldn't even begin to guess how. He gripped the sword tightly, his resolve to keep the sword strengthened all the more. For whatever reason, by whatever means, this sword might be saving his life right now. He would make it back before nightfall now. He broke into a brisk walk back towards his village, occasionally looking back over his shoulder as if he was afraid something might be following.
It was a strange trip home for Randi. In his right hand, he held the old sword tightly, as if he might be needing it at any moment. He was quick to dismiss the notion. He barely knew which end of the sword to hold, let alone how to fight with one. It was just his imagination playing tricks on him. Nevertheless, he increased his pace a little. It wasn't pleasant, being out in the middle of the wilderness alone like this. He'd be near helpless if a mountain cat or a bear took a disliking to him.
He was abruptly wretched from his thoughts by a sharp tug on his leg. He turned to face the offender, not even considering the fact that he was supposed to be alone. What he saw made his heart skip a beat. A thorn bush was wrapped around his leg and tightening rapidly. Randi yelled in surprise, yanking his foot away. The thorns dug into his flesh, but broke away when Randi pulled hard enough. By the time he'd regained his senses, he had already backed up six feet, instinctively holding the sword up in front of himself for a small measure of protection.
What he saw in front of him almost made him lose control of his bladder. It was a living thorn bush. The center stalk looked like a medium sized tree stump, covered with thorns the size of knives. Coming out from the center stalk were countless thorn-covered branches, each one anywhere from four to six feet long. They waved around with silent, deadly abandon, reaching out in his direction. Randi could only watched in morbid fascination. He'd never seen anything like it before.
Finally, he got up the nerve to toss a stick towards the seeking branches. Before the stick even hit the ground, the branches twisted up and wrapped around the stick, dragging it towards the center of the stalk. To Randi's horror, the top of the center stalk pulled open to let a four section jaw piece emerge twisting around slowly. It focused on the stick, and before Randi could think to blink, it lunged forwards to grip the stick, snapping it in two effortlessly.
Randi backed up slowly, swallowing the taste of bile in his throat. What kind of plant was this? It barely qualified as a plant. It was more like a monster! Could this thing eat a person? He was about to toss a bigger branch towards it, when the plant tensed up. Randi backed up some more. There was a quiet ripping sound, and the plant abruptly rose half a foot from its hole in the ground, now showing six stubby leg-like growths around its base. It turned on its base hesitantly for a moment. Then it began to shuffle towards him, the arms still reaching towards him with deadly purpose.
Screaming in terror, Randi spun around and ran as fast as he could towards the general direction of the village. He didn't know what it was, but he wasn't about to wait around to find out if it ate people! He ran like a man possessed, jumping over logs, ducking branches and clearing streams without effort. Only one thing mattered- getting back to the safety of the village!
Randi almost cried for joy when he finally caught sight of the protective fencing around his village. Against overwhelming odds, he had survived the day! He laughed foolishly. He'd have a story to tell everybody! As he approached the gate, he began to notice something was wrong. There were three men at guard at the gate to his village. They looked ready for action, and when he got closer, Randi thought they looked scared. They stared in disbelief when they saw him.
"Randi!" one of them breathed.
"We heard that you'd..."
Randi sucked in a few deep breaths of air before he could reply. "Long story. You won't believe what I saw back there!"
They shook their heads. "Monsters, right?"
"I'll say! The plant was huge! It snapped a branch the way you'd snap a twig! And it had a mouth!"
"They're everywhere!" the first man agreed.
"And that's not all," the second man added. "Even the rabbits are changing into monsters! Sammy got attacked by two of them and got ripped up bad! We're on the watch for any more monsters. Go see the Elder. He's worried sick about you! Elliott and Timothy swore you were a dead man!"
Randi puffed out his chest. "Takes more than a waterfall to kill me, right? Where's the Elder?"
"At his house, talking with some stranger. You'd better go see him right away!"
"I'm already there."
Randi didn't make it to the Elder's place before he was intercepted by several people.
Elliott and Timothy both looked pale as they took in his arrival. "Randi! How'd you survive that, man? That waterfall must have been hundreds of feet tall!"
"You think a little waterfall is going to take me out?" Randi replied smugly. That was said more for the benefit the third person with them.
"You did WHAT?!?" Lisa's eyes were as wide as saucers. "You're lying!"
Elliott shook his head. "No lie, Lisa. We were crossing the bridge above the waterfall, and Randi fell off and took a dive. I didn't think anybody could have survived that!"
"I had to survive it," Randi corrected smugly, quite aware of Lisa adoring gaze. "It wouldn't have been any good for me to die and not find that treasure, would it?" He held the sword up for them to see. "It looks like garbage now, but you should have seen it before! I don't know what's with this sword, but it gave off the craziest light show when I grabbed it!" He decided that he wouldn't mention anything about the ghost. No sense in letting them think he was crazy.
The three of them all looked shocked. Timothy was the first to speak. "We saw a huge flash of light over in that direction! Practically the whole village saw it!"
"I was there," Randi agreed. "And then I faced off the hugest rose-bush you've ever seen. It had to be five feet tall at the base and it had branches too thick to put your hands around! It snapped a branch as thick as my wrist!"
"What did you do?" Lisa asked in awe.
"It was too big for me to attack it with this ugly sword, so I baited it with sticks and rocks and snuck past it while it was distracted," Randi explained shamelessly. There was nothing wrong with stretching the truth a little. Fishermen did it all the time.
"Randi!" The Elder shouted, having looked out the window and spotted his assumed-dead charge. "I heard that you..."
"You think Randi's that easy to kill?" Lisa scoffed at the Elder, before Randi could even think to reply.
The Elder paid no mind, eyeing Randi sharply. "All things considered, I think someone would really like to talk with you, Randi."
So the stranger was still here, Randi realized. But that was good now. Maybe the stranger would know something about the mysterious sword that he'd found. Maybe he knew how to make it look good again. Randi glanced down at the sword. If he'd didn't know better, he'd have sworn the rust was growing visibly. It didn't look like it was capable of cutting through a slab of butter right now.
"Is he the boy?"
Randi glanced over to the right and swallowed nervously. No question about it, he was facing the mysterious stranger. And when all was said and done, this stranger no longer seemed like a source of information. He looked a source of death.
"I dare say he is," the Elder agreed wearily. "His name is Randi."
The stranger took one step forward, covering a considerable distance in the process. Randi had to restrain himself from backing up in response. The stranger towered a good six inches over Randi, which was no small feat, considering that Randi was relatively tall for his age. The stranger was obviously some type of warrior, judging from the huge pieces of armor plating covering much of his body. Randi wondered how the man could even stand up straight under the weight. One look at the massive muscles over his body provided an answer. This man had biceps in his fingers. The stranger frowned at Randi, his grey eyes scanning him up and down, but quickly focusing on the rusty sword. He scratched his greying beard before speaking.
"Where and when did you get that sword?" His voice was low and gruff.
"This afternoon, over by a huge waterfall," Randi replied, acutely aware that a crowd was beginning to gather around them, wondering what was happening.
"Who gave it to you?"
"No one." Randi carefully kept the nervousness from his voice that he felt inside. Had he done something without knowing it?
"Then this means we have a problem on our hands..." The stranger's head abruptly perked up, as if he had heard something. Suddenly his eyes opened wide. A harsh metallic ring sounded as he yanked his long sword from its scabbard, holding it at the ready. "Everyone back up! Get away from here!" His free hand inflicted a vice grip on Randi's arm, preventing him from obeying.
"What's going on?" Randi demanded, trying to free himself.
The man fixed his eyes on Randi. "It's coming for you."
"Who?" Randi demanded, looking around in bewilderment.
The man laughed grimly, looking around in a calmer fashion. "Don't you mean what? You still like your new treasure? Well, a lot of things out there are going to be wanting to take it from you!"
The ground suddenly exploded in front of them, huge chunks of dirt and rock flying up into the air. Randi froze in shock, but the man's sword quickly lunged into the cloud of debris. Randi heard a scrape of metal on something that wouldn't give way to the sword's edge.
"Fall back!" the man hissed, knocking Randi back with his free hand. Randi tumbled head over heels from the force of the impact, barely quick enough to roll with the blow.
Randi scrambled to his feet and watched as the cloud of debris slowly cleared, letting them see the source of the disruption. What he saw made his knees go weak with fright. All the blood drained from his face as he bent his neck backwards to look at the monster standing a mere eight feet away from him.
It made the monster plant he had faced before seem like a water lily in comparison. It was a bizarre, mutated version of a common bug, scaled up until it was over ten feet tall. Each of its six legs were lined with razor sharp spikes, ending with needle-point pincers that made a loud clicking noise as they snapped together fiercely. With a bizarre roar, the creature reared up on its rear four legs, lunging forwards at Randi with its remaining front two. Randi yelled in terror falling backwards as he tripped over his own feet. As it turned out, this saved his life, the claws whistling harmlessly over his head. Before Randi could think to turn and run, the monster was already attacking him again. This time someone else jumped in front of him.
The stranger was attacking the monster now, swinging his sword with deadly aim, its steel blade slashing across various parts of the monster, trying to cut through the armored shell that protected the creature. But it was futile. The armor was too thick, even for someone of the stranger's strength.
"Attack it!" he hissed at Randi.
Randi looked horrified, taking several steps backs. "You couldn't touch it! You think I'm going to touch it with this sword?"
"It's too strong for me to kill!" the man said, giving ground to the monster's slow advance. "You kill it or we all die right here, right now! You may find that sword will surprise you!"
"I'm not a warrior!" he protested.
"You'll have to be one now," the stranger spat at him, "because it's coming after you first, so you'll be the first to die!"
With a shriek, the creature lunged at Randi, both front claws bearing down upon him with deadly intent. Randi fell backwards at the last moment, the claws ripping deep gouges into the earth.
With a shudder, Randi felt the ground below him give way.
The ground approached all too quickly. With a jolt, Randi went tumbling, barely keeping hold of the sword. Coughing amidst the dust, he scrambled to his feet. Looking around frantically, he quickly located the massive bulk of the insect, even as he fixated upon his position.
"Attack it!" the stranger yelled. "It's your only chance!"
Randi cursed inwardly as he forced himself to hold his ground. The stranger had better be telling the truth. Because right now, all he wanted to do was survive this. If attacking the creature was going to do that...
The creature started shuffling towards him.
"Now or never!" the stranger yelled. "Act fast and it won't be able to stop you!"
Randi swallowed. He'd have to trust the stranger this once. He gripped the rusty sword in both hands, lifted it over his head, took a deep breath and lunged forward...
Randi was abruptly woken up by a splash of cold water on his face. He sputtered, hacking water from his mouth and trying to get to his feet. He could feel grass beneath him, which meant he was back on the ground again. He had a splitting headache right now. Rising was an awkward task, since his right hand seemed to be holding something tightly, and he refused to let it go for some reason.
An arm clamped around his upper arm, supporting him firmly. "Are you okay, boy? You took a nasty knock back there."
Randi recognized the stranger's gruff voice. He turned to face him accusingly. "You said it wouldn't be able to stop me..."
"If you were quick enough," the stranger retorted. "I've seen new army recruits swing faster than you did back there. You're lucky that monster had nothing going for it except armor. You won't find it so easy next time."
"Next time?!" Randi said, now fully recovered and angry. He looked around, quickly spotting what he was looking for. Nearby, there was a massive hole in the ground. At the bottom, the monster lay on the ground, almost completely split in half. Greenish blood slowly drained from the carcass and soaked into the ground. This sword was obviously more than it seemed.
His gaze turned back to the stranger. "What's going on here? I never asked for any of this! It has something to do with this sword, doesn't it?" He looked at it accusingly, willing it to disappear. It didn't oblige him.
"It has a lot to do with that sword," the stranger agreed. "But I'm afraid that it now has just as much to do with you yourself."
Randi gripped the sword tightly, then tossed it to the ground. "Well, at least I can get rid of half the problem."
The stranger looked disgusted. "And what is that going to accomplish? The sword's still in this village."
"Then you take it with you," Randi offered. "I don't think anyone else here wants anything to do with it."
The stranger looked angry for an instant, than shrugged indifferently. "You're probably more right than you know. I'll make a deal with you."
"That's right. I'll leave for now. If you... have a change of mind, you're welcome to find me at the Water palace. If you change your mind, take the sword with you, okay?"
"I'll consider it," Randi said, obviously not intending to do so at all. "Good day."
The stranger smiled and began walking the other way, leaving the village. He gave the sword a glance, then continued onwards, gradually disappearing from sight as he rounded a bend in the trail.
Randi scowled. "Good riddance. Somebody get rid of that stupid sword. That's no treasure. It's cursed or something."
Several seconds later, a mild exclamation of surprise was heard from the blacksmith who had made a beeline for the sword. He had no doubt been curious how such a rusty thing could have cleaved the monster in two. Randi turned to see the blacksmith straining to lift the sword, as if it weighed too much to carry.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Too..." the blacksmith sat back with a gasp, "...heavy!"
Several other men quickly crowded around to try. All met with the same success. For some reason no man, or even men, could budge the weapon from where it lay on the ground. Finally they gave way and gestured for Randi to try himself.
Randi cautiously approached the sword. It had some magic to it, he was sure. This must be some new trick. He carefully wrapped his hand around the handle, expecting to be burnt again. Nothing happened. He tried lifting the sword. It felt perfect in his hand. Maybe even a little too light for a sword.
The crowd gasped in shock as they took in the spectacle. The blacksmith was no weakling, but he hadn't even budged the sword. Yet here was Randi holding it effortlessly...
"Randi..." the Elder began slowly. "Perhaps it would be best if you removed the sword from this village."
He meant well, but Randi was in a bad mood now. "Oh, that's how it is, huh? Take his side?"
"I didn't mean that. Since you seem to be the only person able to move the sword, I was suggesting you take it a distance from this village and return when you're certain that it's disposed of."
"Oh," Randi replied, a little chagrined. It wasn't like him to lose his temper that easily. Maybe he needed some sleep. It had been a busy day, after all. "Um, yeah, I'll do that."
"No!" a voice yelled, making everyone turn. "Get rid of both of them!"
He bristled at the old woman. "You don't know what you're talking about!"
"I know enough!" she retorted, approaching him. "You heard that man before! The sword's only half the problem. We'd accomplish nothing by getting rid of the sword and leaving you here to attract the monsters!"
Now people were beginning to nod in agreement with the lady. Randi's eyebrows narrowed angrily. This sword was becoming more trouble than it was worth.
"We've already had a few people hurt by those monsters!" another man piped up.
"And they're getting bigger all the time!"
"What if more of those huge monsters come?"
The last comment was the deciding factor. Almost entirely at once, Randi found the entire village staring him down, their message unmistakable.
"Wait a moment!"
To his surprise, Randi found that it hadn't been him who'd spoken. It was the Elder. At that instant, Randi couldn't begin to express his gratitude towards the man.
The Elder continued, having the attention of all the people now. "We must keep our minds focused. There is more happening here than anyone knows, but we must not let it make us afraid. Randi, I'm afraid that for the good of this village, I am going to have to ask you to leave this village. On the other hand, we will do everything we can to assist you for your journey."
Randi wordlessly nodded. It was obvious that he couldn't stay here any longer. The villagers had made up their mind. He was inwardly grateful to the Elder for going so far as he had. "I'll... leave as soon as I can," he said quietly, trying to give some reassurance to the nervous villagers.
The Elder didn't waste time. "Roger! Daniel! Put together a pack of dried food for him. Randi, you might as well get together anything that you want to bring with you."
Randi nodded curtly, starting off towards his house. His fingers were white around the handle of the sword, his grip was so tight. The Elder was following behind him, looking concerned, but holding his tongue. When they were finally inside, the Elder stopped at the doorway while Randi went upstairs.
Randi slowly went up the steps, still trying to accept what had happened. This was insane! His own village was kicking him out because of a stupid sword that had some stupid magic that made everyone think it belonged to him! He glanced at the stupid sword again.
It wasn't even a nice sword. The rust was literally flaking off with every step he took. If he hadn't seen the monster for himself, he never would have figured it capable of cutting anything at all. Maybe he'd find some polish for it. Maybe it looked nice under all that rust. He grabbed his belt knife and quickly ran his belt through the small sheath for it. It had always served him well. He wouldn't leave it behind this one last time. He grabbed his blue weather cloak from its hook and tied it around his waist. It was a good one. Lightweight, yet not cumbersome. It was simply a second shirt, but it was a waterproofed and warm shirt.
So what was he supposed to do now? Wander around for the rest of his life? Go to another city? Where was another city? The only other city he really knew of was Pandora, which was supposed to be a few days away. And it was supposed to be huge. What was he supposed to do there?
Randi gritted his teeth. Obviously, his village hadn't bothering thinking about such questions before demanding that he leave. Or the fact that he would be next to helpless on his own against any more monsters.
Perhaps he could live in Pandora? He could always work for short periods of time if necessary. He was a strong young man and would surely have no trouble finding odd jobs in different villages. That being the case, there wasn't much else that he needed. He would be fine the way he was. He hoped.
With a resigned sigh, he left his room and headed back down the stairs to where the Elder was waiting. He might as well be on his way before any more monsters found him.
The Elder met him at the bottom, his eyes looking sad. "Randi..."
"What's to say?" Randi growled. "I'm being kicked out because this village is full of cowards. I suppose it's a miracle they even let me get a couple things from my room!"
The Elder shrugged. "I can't very well argue with that. One way or another, this village will send you away. Here's some food to keep you healthy for a short while."
Randi accepted the pack resignedly, but was surprised when the Elder grasped one of Randi's hands and put something into it. "I don't know if this village would approve of this, but what they don't know won't hurt them. I don't know how much this will be worth in other villages, but it's what I had set aside for you for the day when you finally made up your mind what you'd do with your life here. Since your life seems to be making up its own mind..."
Randi managed a smile. "Isn't that the truth?" He looked at the pouch of money. It felt heavy, although he didn't know what kind of metal was inside. But it was the thought that counted. He grinned at the Elder, the man who had raised him as best as he could. "Thanks a lot. For everything."
"It wasn't as bad as I had feared. You always were a strong boy, Randi, and if I'm any judge, you'll soon be a strong man. Don't let this village jade your outlook on life. Perhaps you'll find happier place elsewhere. I sincerely hope so, and if you could find it in your heart to write me a letter sometime?"
"I promise. The day I get settled somewhere."
"Then don't let this old man keep you. I wish you well, wherever you might go."
Randi nodded briefly, blinking rapidly. Finally he turned and walked out the door, heading towards the village exit. Several times he glanced briefly at the villagers as they watched him go, hostility written across their faces.
It was near the exit that he caught sight of three faces in particular. It was Elliott, Timothy, and... Lisa. For an instant longer than the rest, he held their gazes. It was for long, but it was long enough to see that they looked no different than everybody else watching him. Any hint of comradeship or concern was completely erased from their face. He might as well have never spent fifteen years in the village with them. He no longer had any place here. For the first time in his life, he felt completely alone. His fists clenched together as he passed between the gates of the village.
He was on his own now.