The Rise of Athios University: Part One

Lizardheart

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Special thanks to my dear consultants, Shadowstarcat and Peppyk. Your wisdom and advice is invaluable.

The Rise of Athios University

Martoph clutched the map with trembling hands. The swamp was a place he had always avoided, knowing the rumors of creatures and cannibals that lurked within, waiting for some foolish daredevil to wander through. Easy prey. He was no fool. Only the dire circumstances and the yearning that ached his soul could compel him to take this path, trepidatious as he was about the greater peril that lay in wait after the swamp.

Nothing had been the same since RedWarfare High burnt to ash.

In its wake, imitators and nostalgic shadows had arisen, mere mockeries of the grandeur that had resided in its classrooms. The pretenders could never understand the factors that had coalesced to form such glory—the brilliance of Principal Libraryaddict, the connection between the students, teachers, and staff, and the S&D spirit. Tears stung at Martoph’s eyes when he recalled those times, and what had become of everyone since then. Some had fared better than others, but all were lost in some way. He’d witnessed the hollow eyes of the teachers like Smaland who’d sought work at other schools, only to drift from place to place, and the despair of students like Lex, who’d been left to aimlessly wander the streets, begging for credits from passersby.

Even before Libraryaddict had ascended the mortal plane and become a higher being, Martoph had held a connection to those incredible nameless beings beyond mankind’s comprehension. Only occasionally had he tapped into it, knowing the danger in trying to harness their power. Never had it felt right. In his mind, he could see them wandering the stars, but knew his place was not with them, nor in service to them on Earth. Since Libraryaddict’s transformation, however, he’d known the truth. His true connection was meant to be with the newly risen eldritch being.

But he did not want to be like the pretenders, those who stole Library’s power or tried to recreate it for selfish purposes, only to poison those who set foot in their schools. What he did not know was if he was meant to be a servant, an avatar, or something else. A scourge? To purge the land of the blasphemers by force, and draw together the old community that way? He could see it, standing at the army’s forefront, great warriors like NightWolfy behind him, cutting down their foes, RedWarfare a living ghost coursing through them, seeking vengeance in their hands.

Maybe not. It was a terrible thought, to manipulate lost souls into becoming soldiers, to shatter what remaining spirit they had. He needed guidance.

Stinking mud and rot assaulted his senses as he followed the map through the swamp, his boots sinking ankle-deep into the squelching mud even on the firmest path. Above, the tree branches hung low, needle-like bright green leaves brushing against his head. The cone-shaped trunks were widely spaced, giving each ample room to breathe and grow, surrounded by knobby cypress knees that burst from the mud like buried fingers clawing for air. All the distance between the trees left a wide area for swaths of dark green-brown water. Occasionally, Martoph heard a splash as he walked, but when he turned all about, he could not spy its source. The waters were still.

As he followed the curving path outlined by the map, carefully avoiding bottomless bogs and sandpits that threatened to pull him deep enough to become one with the earth, the splashes drew closer to him. It was the same noise each time, a quick, sudden movement of water, entirely deliberate. Whatever creature was making that noise wanted him to know he was being followed. Reaching for his belt, he cursed himself for leaving behind the gun and only bringing the knife. But maybe the knife would serve him better. Melee weapons and bows were more in tune with the S&D spirit. Overhead, the tree branches shuddered, showering him with pine needles and leaves, and he shot his gaze upward. Crows. Two more splashes, in quick succession. Martoph broke into a run.

He stumbled off the path and one leg sank knee-deep into the mud. Grasping at overhanging branches, he struggled to haul himself free, urged on by the splashes that grew ever-closer, not daring to look behind himself. His foot shot out of the mud with a loud, wet smack and he raced onward, adhering more closely to the map.

At last, he spotted the cave, like a dark gray turtle shell half-submerged in the earth, reaching out, desperate to not gasp its final breath. An eternal monument to the moment before death. The ground grew firmer as he neared the cave, and he knew he would be safe from the swamp monster.

Still, he froze before the yawning mouth that led into darkness. Outside, the humid swamp was warm, the air so thick it was like a blanket. Inside, he knew it would be colder; he wished he’d brought a jacket. The one who lurked within was likely more dangerous than the predator that had hunted him all the way here. Perhaps what he was about to face was the true hunter, the other creature only the distraction, herding him to the true devourer.

But this was the only way. There was only one other with a true connection to both RedWarfare High and the higher beings.

Martoph drew his iPhone, switched on the flashlight, grasped the satchel that held his offering, and descended into the cave. Just as he expected, a still chill lingered in the cave, no breeze behind it. It should have been warmer early on, but it was not. Unnatural. His footsteps echoed on the rock, leaving no possibility to sneak through, but he supposed it was wiser to not frighten the inhabitant. As he delved deeper, a dim, flickering light filtered toward him, growing brighter with each step. Carvings and paintings littered the walls, crude depictions of a man with a pointed nose and tall, spiky hair. In some instances, smaller figures knelt at his feet. In another, a man lay dead before him, and in yet another, the spiky man’s disciples chopped a body into pieces. Martoph’s heart hammered and his feet itched to turn back, but he pushed himself onward, toward the crackling of fire.

The cave broke into a room wider than the tunnel, but narrow enough to make a suffocating living space. A massive fire took up the cavern’s center, a great mass of logs, branches, and leaves, the flames licking at the rocky ceiling. The cave was filled with the scent of roasted flesh, but Martoph wasn’t sure what sort. Pig, cow? Human? Despite the comparative warmth within the chamber, his body went numb with cold as he thought which one it was most likely to be. On the other side of the fire knelt a shadowy figure.
 

Lizardheart

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“He told me you’d come,” a young woman’s voice said in a harsh, yet lilting whisper.

“Who?” His voice cracked as he gazed around the room, witnessing the paintings of the spiky man and other, more hideous and beautiful beings, some with tentacles, some with one eye, some with a thousand eyes. Some of these paintings were more explicit, some more gruesome. Martoph fixed his gaze on the fire; though he thought he saw figures flickering within, it was less terrifying.

“Isn’t it obvious?” She rose and stepped around the fire to face him. Peppyk’s head was hooded, casting a shadow over her face, but her arms were bare, showing off the muscles she’d built, likely from chopping and hauling wood, and possibly bodies. On each bicep was a tattoo. “WIL” and “SON.”

“I see.” What else could he say, for fear of offending her?

“Pay your respects.” She grabbed a staff that leaned against the rock and slammed it on the ground, the thud reverberating off the walls.

Martoph collapsed to his knees and his iPhone fell from his hands. His fingers trembled as he retrieved it, then reached into the satchel. He was better than this, he knew, but his pride was worth temporarily discarding in for the mission. To offend Peppyk, to offend Wilson, would impede his quest. He brought forth a stack of fanart, a fine mix with both innocent and lewd depictions, and proffered it, head bowed.

“What knowledge do you seek, Martoph?”

Hearing his name uttered in her slightly inhuman voice made him shudder. With a deep breath, he summoned his resolve and looked into her eyes. “I have come to seek out Libraryaddict, so that I may bring us to a greatness born from the S&D remnants that once lived within our high school. You know as well as I do the power that once lay within those walls, that made our people into something stronger, only for them to face a greater fall. I seek to renew them.”

She laughed. “A noble quest, but can’t you see that time is long gone?”

“Then I will lead us into a new age.”

“You’re a fool, Martoph, but your will is strong, and lacks the impurity of the defilers.” She nodded toward his fanart. “Cast it into the fire.”

As he turned and approached, the flames reached for his papers and licked at his hands, singeing his skin. Pain seared him, but he made no complaint, instead stretching toward the fire and throwing the fanart in. As the paper charred and smoke wisped upward, screams and wails cried out from within the fire. He closed his eyes, knowing it was not his place to look within; it might drive him mad, or turn him into a Wilson disciple. But that was not his destiny.

Peppyk inhaled deeply and stepped up to the fire, then stuck her face inside. The flames engulfed her and consumed her hooded, sleeveless black robe until she was encased in fire. The scent of burning flesh did not emanate forth. She separated from the fire with no sign of injury, her clothes unharmed, and faced Martoph. Her eyes were black.

“In his home at R’W’F, dead Library waits coding.” Peppyk’s voice was harsh, blending with that of some formless creature from beyond the void.

She had sounded the letters out strangely, but he knew that R’W’F referred to RedWarfare. “So I have to go back.”

Peppyk did not answer him, but twisted away and swept off into the darkness.

The fire hissed and wooshed, than suddenly snuffed out into nothing but red and green embers. Something small, pale, and wormlike, but with seven appendages, crawled within.

Martoph shrieked and fled the cavern, returning to the surface in mere seconds. Never would he have believed that the dank swamp would feel like a welcoming home to him. The trees were different, but they reminded him of the pine woods that bordered RedWarfare High. He’d skipped many a class to wander there.

Now it was time to return. He’d been right, too. This would be much more dangerous than wandering through the swamp. All sorts of people and creatures were drawn to places that held great power. He would need some help. From someone strong, who had not shattered after the collapse, but also held an emotional attachment to RedWarfare High’s downfall. Such a person could not only protect him, but also help him connect to Libraryaddict and the school. As Martoph took out his iPhone, the choice was obvious.


High above the land, Woaxa opened one eye within his mountain cave. Long had he slumbered. He ran a hand through his dark hair and looked down at his sleeping girlfriend, Shadowstarcat. How long had they lain dormant? His whole body ached, his mind was fuzzy—he could hardly remember his own name, though he had known Shadow by instinct. By the gods was he tired. And hungry. It had been a long time. Weak legs carried him to the chest where he’d stored his clothes and toothbrush, as well as his bow and arrow. Why had he awoken?

He lit the fire, then started the coffee brewing. The smell would wake shadow in time; he’d hate to be the one to do it. Once it was ready, he poured himself a mug, then tipped the burning liquid into his mouth, drinking it black. It took only moments for the caffeine to work its magic, loosening his stuff muscles and brain, allowing him to finally recognize the subtle change in the atmosphere that had brought him forth from the deep slumber.

Outside, Woaxa crunched through the snow in his bare feet, toward a wooden hut that stood just beyond the cave. He glanced at the sky and knew it was spring; soon the snow would melt. He pushed open the door and entered. The floor creaked beneath him and dust flooded his lungs, making him cough. Curled up on a cot was another man, also in a deep sleep, his face overgrown with facial hair.

Woaxa placed his hand on Psf’s neck. “It’s time. Something’s stirring.”
 

Lizardheart

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“You’re kidding me, right?” Elacain poured a shot of whiskey and downed it in one gulp.

“No.” Martoph held her gaze, not touching his own glass of beer. Needing a drink to calm his nerves would make him look weak.
“I’m done with that place. I’ve moved on.”

“Come on, you know your thirst hasn’t been satiated.”

“I am not thirsty.” Elacain slammed her fists on the wooden table. Others in the bar turned to stare at them.

“I meant your thirst for blood.”

“Oh. In that case, I am thirsty.” She grabbed Martoph’s drink and took a long swig.

“Exactly. I can’t do this alone. I’m not a fighter.” He folded his hands on the table and leaned forward. “Please, Ela, I need your help.”

She didn't answer right away. Instead, she pulled a cigar out of her leather jacket, lit it, and stuck it in the corner of her mouth.

Martoph watched her carefully. Reaching out to her had been a dangerous gamble; sure, she had been closely affected by the downfall of RedWarfare High, but she had also been one of the few people to not fall apart afterward. He eyed the black tattoos that snaked up and down her arms, as well as the pink scar that ran from below her right eye down to her chin and his stomach churned. She’d been hunting the Mineplex scourge for years. If he screwed this up, she could easily kill him.

“I don’t need the S&D spirit like you do,” Ela said.

“I’m not asking you to do it for yourself. Do it for me. For everyone else. We both know what happened to RedWarfare High never should have happened. Help me right these ancient wrongs.”

“Alright. I don’t want to have to go to your funeral.” Grabbing the whiskey bottle, she drank straight from it without removing the cigar from her mouth.

“Yes! Thank you, thank you.” He grinned widely and would have hugged her were they not separated by the table.

Elacain grimaced in distaste at his outburst.


Imllay thought she’d been woken by her alarm, but there was no buzzing. It was still dark in the dormitory. Her head swam with grogginess as she sat up and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. Why the hell was she awake? Despair sank into her stomach as she thought of the day ahead. Once, she, Nightwolfy, and Smaland had been teachers, distributors of knowledge, at the greatest high school ever known. They had dedicated their lives to enlightenment through the S&D spirit. Now, here they were, out in the wilderness, working as on-site staff at a preschool for the children of rich doomsday preppers for measly pay. The days were long, wiping snot off of toddlers’ chins and teaching colors to babies who still hadn’t stopped sucking on their silver spoons. Sleep was her only refuge. So why the hell was she already awake when it was still dark?

Her phone’s screen lit up on the nightstand and she finally looked at it. “Guys! Guys!” She jumped out of bed and shook Smaland and Nightwolfy awake. “Look at this text. It’s from Woaxa.”

A NEW DAWN ARISES. HE WILL BRING FORTH THE S&D SPIRIT. COME TO HIM.

“What the hell are we waiting for?” Nightwolfy rose from his bed. “Let’s go now.”

“But the kids,” Smaland said.

“Leave them! They’ll be fine.” Happiness surged in Imllay for the first time in years. She’d long stopped believing that any light lay on her life’s path, but she was eager to grasp it now that it had sparked. “They can stand a few days without adults.”
 

Lizardheart

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They met on the dirt road outside Hub Town early in the evening, when the sky was beginning to turn light pink. Clouds hovered on the horizon, but they were drifting away. The night would be clear, the stars open, waiting to embrace Martoph. It was a good night for his quest. The pathways were alive, the airways and spaces between worlds buzzing with energy, the old ones and creatures beyond reality awake and watching him, waiting.

“What the hell are you wearing?” Elacain asked. She was wearing the same leather jacket and leather pants from earlier and carrying a hefty iron sword in one hand.

Martoph, dressed only in white robes and sandals, spread his hands. “In order to better connect with the great ones, all parts of my body must be free.”

“Gross.”

He gazed down the path and found he could not move. It occurred to him just how difficult this task would be, and how unlikely his success was. Those other powerful beings were awake for a reason; they felt what was coming, and they were waiting to pull him away and take him into their own clutches, to make him a pawn in their own games beyond man’s comprehension. All his life, he had carefully navigated his connection to the wider world, fully aware of the consequences, never arrogant enough to think he could harness the old ones’ power for his own gain, never naive enough to believe they would benevolently welcome him into their arms and treat him with respect and dignity. Such beings would only drive their servants mad, morphing them into barely human monsters who lived and breathed only for their master. Martoph wanted to channel Libraryaddict, yes, but he also wanted to help others, those who had attended that school, and those who could benefit from something like it. He wanted to lift people up, for their own sake. Not for Libraryaddict’s.

It would all be for nothing if something else got its claws in him.

“What the hell are you waiting for? Let’s go.” Elacain’s voice pulled him out of his stupor and he started moving.

The road wasn’t long, but several times Martoph had to stop to remove a pebble from within his sandal as his toes began to cry with sharp pain. Each instance, Elacain huffed with annoyance. He noticed the way she held her sword and constantly checked their surroundings. She was itching for a fight, and he was glad for it.

A light breeze came toward them from down the road, and brought with it an acrid scent that caught in Martoph’s nostrils, growing strong enough to taste as they drew closer to their destination. Low moans drifted around them, and he wondered if they were the wind or something else.

The sun’s last rays glimmered from the horizon as they rounded the curve that led to the field of ash that had once been RedWarfare High. The ground was covered in the ash, a mixture of black, gray, and white that should have been carried away by the wind long before, yet still remained, as if held in place by some invisible force. Martoph remembered when great stone walls, painted red, rose in that place, towering high, making an outsider feel small, but making those inside feel warm and safe, at home. Gone. Just like that. Betrayal, soldiers marching, students screaming as the faculty and staff held back the attacking swarm so the students could flee into the pine trees beyond the school. In the last light, he could see those trees, dark, yet inviting, a promised safe haven as they’d always been. Between him and the pine forest lay the ash.

Just before the open field, a lone telephone pole still stood, its wires having collapsed long ago. A paper flyer was stuck to it, worn away by years of weather. They approached it, and saw that some of its information was still legible.

“WA T D

Gri g - 1 0 credits”

Elacain stiffened at the sight of it. Martoph wanted to say something, to offer some sort of comfort, but he didn’t know how, and was afraid of how she might react. The Mineplexian spy had never been caught. He and other powerful forces were still out there, still putting the scattered RedWarfarians’ lives in danger. So long as that anger and anxiety for her old friends’ safety remained, Elacain would never be at ease.

But as Martoph observed the expression on her face, a slight smirk with eyes full of thought, he supposed she was better off this way. The huntress lifestyle hadn’t destroyed her. When she’d started, secretly undergoing training from Mr. Nightwolfy after school, she’d quickly transformed into someone happier and more confident than she’d ever been before. He wondered if she regretted not starting sooner, perhaps even blaming herself, thinking that if she had, she might’ve been able to save RedWarfare High from the scourge. Such a motivation would explain why she had dived even deeper into the lifestyle afterward.

He turned toward the ashfield. It was time to face the past.

Something shifted.

No.

Many things shifted, drifting through the remains. Vaguely man-shaped, but floating or shambling. Wraiths, ghouls, creatures left behind or otherwise drawn to the power that idled in this echo of the past.

Martoph crouched and grabbed a handful of ash, letting it filter between his fingers. It was soft and still held a hint of warmth, though he was not sure if that was due to the sun or a remnant of the fire. Returning to his feet, he noticed his hand remained dark gray; no matter how much he brushed it off, the color would not leave, as if fine particles had permanently bound to his skin. He took his first step into the field, his foot sinking, his sandal filling with ash.

A creature burst forth from nothingness three feet ahead of him, a shadowy wraith with a blackened skull for a head, its jaw hanging open, homophobic slurs emanating from within. Tattered green and gray clothing hung off its body and its eye sockets held spinning pools of darkness. It bolted toward him, hands outstretched.

Martoph froze, transfixed by the eyes.

Elacain leaped forward and lopped off the wraith’s skull. Its final slur died in a hollow gasp as it collapsed into a pile of nothing but clothing and lifeless bone. Elacain’s body heaved with ragged gasps as she turned toward her companion. Sweat trickled down her face. “What was that thing?”

“A RedWarfarian who could never leave and could never grow up.” He plucked the skull from the ground and held it out at eye level, inspecting it. “Alas, I knew him.”

“Brutal.” Martoph had expected some smart or irritated quip from her, but she was quiet, her eyes wide as she peered at the skull, then turned to look around them. There were so many more wandering in RedWarfare High’s ghost.
 

Lizardheart

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He’d always thought the broken RedWarfarian refugees a sorry sight, but Martoph realized they had been spared a much worse plight.

“So what are you looking for?” Elacain asked.

“I don’t know exactly. A spot where I can vibe.”

“What?”

“Somewhere I can easily connect to Libraryaddict, somewhere important to him. Maybe where his office was.”

“That was in the center of the school, right?”

“Yes. Let’s go.” Martoph forged ahead, his eyes set on the center.

The last sunlight had faded, and the first stars twinkled above while darkness cascaded around the lonesome pair. The shadows became more lively and rushed toward them. Inhuman voices struggled desperately to sound out the homophobic slurs they wished to lob at the interlopers. High-pitched screeches mixed with childish laughter as ghostly forms came for Martoph and sought to consume his flesh and feed on his connection to Libraryaddict and the S&D spirit.

Elacain cut them down one by one. Intangible forms dissipated, physical monsters fell apart into a mix of body parts and gore. She made no complaint, but she did not sing with joy. These creatures were no Mineplexians. There was no pleasure in killing them. Only duty.

The wraiths began to gather in groups. A trio of skull-topped beings with gelatinous centers came for Martoph; he ducked a swipe from hefty clawed arms, and above his bowed body Elacain stabbed her sword into the monster’s midriff and it burst apart. Slime splashed into Martoph’s face and hair. He rolled to dodge another attack, then tried to wipe the sticky substance away, only for his hand to get stuck. Sprawled on the ground, he looked up to witness Elacain battling the other two.

Moon and starlight illuminated her form as she brandished her sword and faced the monsters without flinching. They lunged forward in unison, but she dodged backward, and they staggered off-balance. Before they could recover, Elacain surged forward and swung her sword in a half-circle before her, slicing both in half with one movement. She jumped back so she would not be splattered by their bursting guts.

Elacain laughed triumphantly and spun to face the other advancing wraiths. As she raised her sword, they drifted back, and she laughed again.

Hope swelled in Martoph and he rose to his feet, awed by his companion’s martial prowess. Moonlight reflected off Elacain’s sword’s silver surface, and the wraiths recoiled from it. Martoph had no doubt that there was something greater involved, perhaps Elacain, the light, and the sword combining to channel some of the true S&D power. So long as the light reflected off the sword, the wraiths remained at bay.

With his newfound resolve, Martoph strode toward the ashfield’s center and met no resistance due to Elacain’s protection. It took only a minute for him to reach the place where Libraryaddict’s office had once stood. He knew the place when he found it. Closing his eyes, he inhaled deeply. Yes, Libraryaddict had spent much time here. This had been his place.

“You ready?” Elacain asked, a hint of nervousness in her voice. The wraiths were beginning to circle, a few dozen of them, still giving them a wide berth, awful words creaking out from sparsely used ghastly imitations of vocal cords. Her sword couldn’t reflect the light in every direction at once. One brave beast broke from the circle and came for her, but she slew it with ease. The others stayed back, but they were growing restless.

“I—” his voice broke off. He’d wanted to say yes, but he realized that what he’d found was only a remnant of Libraryaddict’s past. Powerful, yes, but not what he was looking for. There was no link to Library’s new form. “It’s not here!” His voice rose in a frustrated whine.

“What the fuck do you mean it’s not here?” Elacain swiped her sword at the advancing wraiths, causing them to jump back.

“This isn’t the place. There has to be somewhere else that meant more to him.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know, by the gods, damn it all.” He kicked at the ash and sent a cloud into the air, then proceeded to choke on it; he coughed hoarsely, doubled over. Maybe Peppyk had lied to him. He hadn’t even considered that before.

“You need to hurry. Look up.”

A stray cloud drifted toward the moon.

“What’s the point? This is a huge area—there’s no way I’ll find it.”

Elacain grabbed him by the collar of his robe using her free hand and lifted him off the ground. “Listen here, we came all this way and risked our lives. I didn’t do all this just for you to be a big baby and give up. Get it together, Martoph.”

She dropped him, and he trembled slightly. But she was right. They had come all this way. And couldn’t he still feel the energy in the air? The link was somewhere, he just had to find it. “Let’s move,” he said, breaking into an immediate jog.

They went quickly, their footsteps kicking the ash into the air. It choked Martoph’s nostrils and lungs, but he did not slow down. The scent reminded him of gunpowder.

Gunpowder.

Wheels began to turn in his head, his subconscious mind processing something that he couldn’t quite place. Gunpowder. Gunpowder. It reminded him of something, but what?

The moon went dark and a zombified wraith loomed toward them. Its skin was yellow and rotten, and it still held its real eyes, sunk deep into his head. This one did not utter homophobic slurs, just low moans, filled with pain and hunger.

Elacain prepared to strike.

“Wait!” Martoph cried, and she stopped. He peered closely at the zombie and recognized it. “That’s no ordinary wraith, Ela. That’s Kinglouis!”

“He’s a goner, Martoph. Look at him. All rotted, wants to eat our brains, living with these awful creatures in this awful place. We have to kill him.”

“But look, his eyes. He still has his eyes.” Gunpowder still whirled in his mind. The paths were coming together. “There’s something left of him.”

Kinglouis growled gutturally and leaped toward Martoph with sudden speed, grasping his shoulders with both hands and heaving him to the ground.

“King! Kinglouis, it’s me!” Martoph did not struggle, but a sob choked his throat as Kinglouis snapped at his face.

Elacain hauled the zombie off of Martoph and threw it aside. “I have to kill him.”

“Please!” Martoph scrambled to his feet. “Just, just hold him off, okay? I know where I have to go now. We can save him if I reach Libraryaddict.”

“Where are you going?”

“To the gym. To the Home bleachers.”

“Go!” The wraiths were all headed for Elacain, drawn in by her fight with the Kinglouis zombie and desiring to kill the sword-wielder.
 

Lizardheart

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Martoph dashed for the far corner of the ashfield, memories blooming in his mind. How had he forgotten? The pandemonium that day had been astounding. In the moments before the RedWarfare-Mineplex game was to begin, Vugh had shown up with a gun, intending to kill Libraryaddict and RiotShielder. Only, Peppyk had arrived and shown them the light. A beautiful polyamorous relationship had blossomed between the three men. That was the moment that had changed Libraryaddict’s life and meant more to him than anything. Tears sprung to Martoph’s eyes as he thought about it.

Behind him, he could hear Elacain’s shouts. He glanced over his shoulder and saw her fending off a horde of wraiths and keeping Kinglouis at bay. There was no time to dwell in memories.

When Martoph reached the spot where Libraryaddict had sat all those years before and joined with his lovers, an incredible force flowed through him and brought him to his knees. Reaching inside his robe, he felt around for the knife hidden within, took it out, then sliced open his palm. He gasped at the sharp pain, but slammed both hands down into the ash. It mixed with his blood and coagulated, the irritant burning his hand.

“Libraryaddict.

“Libraryaddict.

“Libraryaddict.”

He took a deep breath, then shut his eyes and concentrated. He cut off the sounds of battle from his mind, forgot all the scents that surrounded him, and let go of all the pain he’d suffered to make it this far. All his worries melted away, and he opened his mind to the realm beyond the stars. He spiralled high above his body, but kept his hands firmly planted on the ground. Space drifted around him. Ethereal beings swept past. Ghosts, spirits, angels—he ignored them. Other things that he could not see. Whispers crept into the back of his mind. Thousands of rapid whispers that he would have to strain to understand. He resisted the temptation. If he deciphered the utterances, he would be driven mad. Something tugged at him. An invisible tentacle wrapped around his ankle. A claw snagged in his hair. Powerful beings wanted him. Wordless promises buzzed in his spirit. Money, power, fame, control, followers, ascension. All he had to do was turn and follow them in a different direction. In his heart settled the understanding that he was weak, that he could not stand against them, that he was hopeless and should just give in, to make it all easier.

But he resisted.

Those beings’ grasps slipped away.

Martoph found Libraryaddict. Waiting for him amidst the stars. He could not see him, but he could feel his presence. Cold, but welcoming. Dangerous, but merciful. Tinged with madness, yet bursting with brilliance. He reached out into the void until his hand burned with cold fire. Communion was established.

“I didn’t think you’d actually make it this far.” Libraryaddict said.

“Well, I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Your quest is ill-advised.” His voice was like thunder, reverberating all around Martoph and through his mind and spirit. It was enough to rip a weaker person apart, but Martoph remained whole.

“Aren’t beings like you supposed to be eager for your followers to do such things?”

“I never hungered for power. I was never interested in leading people. I just wanted to create a grand school.”

“And yet you brought so many people together to become a force greater than they were apart. All those students and staff, uplifted by the S&D spirit, uplifted by you.”

“Those days are over. RedWarfare High is gone.”

“But the spirit remains. Why did it have to die? It doesn’t even make sense. Mineplex should have wanted to harness its power, not destroy the place.”

“Don’t you get it?” The world shimmered around them, and suddenly they were in RedWarfare High’s gymnasium, a blurry gray memory. The floor was scattered with bodies, both RedWarfarian and Mineplexian, and awash with blood. Screams and warcries filled the air. Libraryaddict knelt at the top of the Home bleachers. “Mineplex didn’t burn down RedWarfare High.”

Libraryaddict took out a box of matches, lit one, and dropped it. The fire spread rapidly, consuming wood, plastic, and stone alike, and soon they were in a gym filled with towering flames. Blasted by heat, Martoph didn’t think he could stand it for long.

“Why?” Martoph shouted to be heard above the roaring flames.

“We were defeated! I didn’t want my staff to die for this place. I didn’t want Mineplex to abuse it, or leave it as a shell. You saw the wraiths in the ashfield, Martoph—think how many more would have come back and sat in empty classrooms, wasting away to nothing, becoming mere mockeries of who they were meant to be. I did it for them.”

He remembered Kinglouis and Elacain then and knew he had to hurry. “But these people still need the S&D spirit. Don’t you understand?”

“I know.” The flames ate away at Libraryaddict’s flesh. “I want to lend you my power, but RedWarfare High is no more, and it mustn’t be resurrected.”

“Then from its ashes let me birth something new.”

“Very well.” Libraryaddict’s voice no longer came from the form that now burned. “Hold on to your compassionate spirit, that you may not repeat the sins of RedWarfare High.”

A force like a great wind slammed into Martoph and he was bowled over, into the flames. Fire sank beneath his skin and snaked its way through his body. He screamed as all his insides seared, every inner nerve shrieked, but his outsides remained untouched, unharmed. Heat. Everything inside was so hot, he was certain his eyes would burst from their sockets. But with the pain, he did not grow weaker. Inside himself he felt an opening, like a thousand eyes he hadn’t known he possessed cracking their lids for the first time and seeing all the connections in the universe that no one could understand. Muscles that had lain dormant and unused stretched for the first time.
 
Last edited:

Lizardheart

Well-known member
Joined
May 25, 2020
Messages
81
Martoph’s true eyes opened and he was kneeling in the field of ash. The pain inside had dulled, but he still felt warm, and more energized than he’d ever felt. Looking down at the hand that the ash had stained, he saw that it was now orange and yellow, the colors swirling together like an eternal flame. He gaped at it in wonder.

A groan above caught his attention and he looked up to see a wraith leering over him. He froze. He didn’t know how to use his newfound power, and it wasn’t like it had any offensive use anyway. Black saliva dripped from the creature’s skull as it reached for him. Martoph squeezed his eyes shut and cringed backward.

A gunshot cracked the open air. Reopening his eyes, he saw the remnants of the wraith, bits of skull and smoking clothing lying in the ash. Turning, he saw Elacain standing in the middle of the field, breathing heavily, the moonlight illuminating her shocked face, and holding a pistol in her outstretched hand, the sword in her other. He hadn’t even known that she brought a gun.

Kinglouis reared behind her and struck her down with his fists. Her weapons flew from her hands as she fell.

“Ela!” Martoph scrambled to his feet and raced toward her. Kinglouis crouched slowly, rotted skin sloughing off his legs due to the friction, and leaned his face down toward hers, jaws snapping.

Reaching them just as the zombie was about to bite into Elacain’s nose, Martoph placed his en-flamed hand on Kinglouis’s cheek, unwittingly sinking it a couple centimeters into the gooey flesh.

His hand glowed. Kinglouis’s whole body glowed. His jaw parted in a voiceless scream. The light grew in intensity, blinding Martoph and Elacain.

When their vision returned, they saw that Kinglouis had been restored. His skin was no longer rotted and his eyes were in their natural place, holding the sparkle of aware intelligence.

“Welcome back,” Martoph said. He tried to sound lighthearted, but his voice was weak.

Kinglouis looked into his eyes. “Prophet.” His own voice was hoarse and broken. His vocal cords must have been rotted away, still in the process of repairing themselves.

Elacain finally got to her feet, wincing. Her ankle had been sprained, but her face held a look of grim determination. “You did it,” she said to Martoph.

He nodded. “But there’s a long way to go. It’s time to leave high school behind and build something new. A university.”

“We succeeded here—I think we can do anything.”

Kinglouis opened his mouth, uttering hoarse noises until something finally came out. “Wa…ter.”

“Shut up. We didn’t bring any,” Elacain said.

Glancing around the ashfield, Martoph noticed that the wraiths and ghouls were gone. It must’ve been the light. He supposed they wouldn’t return; the S&D spirit would go away from this place with him. “Let’s go,” he said. And they followed.

A hooded figure stood at the edge of the field. He knelt as they approached.

“Prophet,” he said, “long have I waited for you.”

Martoph started. “Really?”

“Yes. I knew one would come, someone who could harness the S&D spirit and lead the people to greatness.”

“Did you go to RedWarfare High?”

“No. But I always wished I had. I can help you.”

“Uh, does this guy seem a little shady to anyone else?” Elacain asked.

Kinglouis groaned.

“How can you help?” Martoph asked. The thought of the project ahead was daunting, and he was eager to take as much assistance as he could.

“My pockets go deep, my prophet.”

He paused to consider. The project would be incredibly expensive, and he had little money of his own; not to mention the RedWarfarians hadn’t become rich and successful since the high school’s downfall. Perhaps this was the universe finally making things easy for him. “Okay, I accept. What’s your name?”

The figure turned his head upward to reveal a face vertically half-covered by a white mask. “My name is Puzzle.”

As the group headed back to town, Martoph’s heart was alive with optimism and wonder. He couldn’t wait to bring old friends back together, to uplift them from the dark, and to take in new recruits who had never been blessed enough to experience RedWarfare High. Even money wasn’t going to be an obstacle.

Everything seemed like it was going to work out just fine.


--


Check out part two here!
 
Last edited:

Lizardheart

Well-known member
Joined
May 25, 2020
Messages
81
thank you for blessing the community with a new story :)
It is my pleasure. And it should be known for all that Woaxa's incredible reading of my old RWF High story, Ela's Love, is what inspired me to write this, breaking an ancient vow.
 

Geronimo Stilton

New member
Joined
May 30, 2020
Messages
2
Lizardheart, this is an incredible and moving story - a very fulfilling sequel to your RedWarfare High series! I very nearly squeaked (like a mouse) at the part where Martoph met Libraryaddict. The magic of this tale had me on the edge of my seat! I can see that your writing skill has only gotten more developed since the last time I had the pleasure of reading it. I can barely contain my excitement for the next part of your story!
P.S. - If you'd ever like to write for The Rodent's Gazette (my famouse newspaper), a position is always open for you!
 

Lizardheart

Well-known member
Joined
May 25, 2020
Messages
81
Lizardheart, this is an incredible and moving story - a very fulfilling sequel to your RedWarfare High series! I very nearly squeaked (like a mouse) at the part where Martoph met Libraryaddict. The magic of this tale had me on the edge of my seat! I can see that your writing skill has only gotten more developed since the last time I had the pleasure of reading it. I can barely contain my excitement for the next part of your story!
P.S. - If you'd ever like to write for The Rodent's Gazette (my famouse newspaper), a position is always open for you!
Wow, this was very mice of you! I would love to work for your famouse newspaper. I desperately need the opportunity. Thank you very much, Mr. Stilton. I hope you are looking forward to part two.
 

Elacain

Active member
Joined
Jun 1, 2020
Messages
28
thank you for realizing my dreams of becoming a hardened warrior..... i can't wait for the next installment!!
 

TheMemeHunter

Member
Joined
May 31, 2020
Messages
17
I was really hoping for the beeg yoshi to come into play along with the bwf reference but that never happened so I guess ill give it a story/10
 

Mythless

Moderator
Moderator
Joined
May 29, 2020
Messages
100
Wow, this was a very well-crafted story. Brilliant job, brilliant imagination, and brilliant overall.

Seriously can’t wait for the next part. I’m not much of a reader, so I guess this says a lot xD
 

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