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Shadow of the Wanderer

This short story first appeared on I Love Videogames, as part of the special column “Tales from Video Games” (“Racconti Ludici”). This article is the official translation and adaptation of the author itself.


Prologue – The Shadow

Pain. Pain in his whole body, filled with a kind of ever-witnessed darkness. A darkness he had only heard about.

He cast a last glance at his sword, his guiding light, his last hope to fight the outsider menace. But it was too far; and him, he was too weak.

The warrior was lying down on the ground, the eyes of everyone on him in a silent moral judgement. He had trespassed the border for the forbidden land, he had completed the ritual, he had woken up something that he couldn’t know and that he could never imagine. Something that corrupted him from the inside, and for what? But it didn’t matter. She was more important.

He couldn’t stop thinking about her, even as the darkness swallowed him. Even in death. The last idol had been destroyed, letting one last beam of light go in those lands; and it was too late for them to stop him in time. And yet, in his body, a small, unseizable feeling was telling him he had failed, and everything had been in vain. If it truly was too late, why didn’t she awaken? If he truly succeeded, why was he on the ground, agonising and weak for the inflicted wounds? If he truly had been loyal to the deal, why was he facing his ultimate defeat?

His thoughts started to abandon him. He was still conscious, but he knew he wouldn’t be for long. Life was slipping away from his body, while the priests all around were silently waiting for his inevitable end. Those fools, he thought; what could they know? What could they know about love?

All of a sudden, he felt a new strength rising up from his veins, a new power awakening in his muscles. He stood up, ready to confront his enemies; but he was not the same warrior he used to be.

He was a shadow. Ready to swallow light.

 

Chapter I – The Steed

«Agro!»

The call of the warrior echoed through the plains. His loyal steed had fleed, panicking, when the gigantic moving idol had knocked the ground with his majestic front legs. A few more centimeters, and they both would have been hit by the beast; luckily, Agro started to run away, leaving his master to dodge the fury of the creature with great agility.

But it was time to charge again. He didn’t know how, yet, but that enormous enemy had to fall that time too; there undoubtedly was a way to tackle him, although he couldn’t figure out how. Then, he started looking around.

Powerful jets of steam were scattered all across the plain, so strong they would knock over a whole temple. And that creature was nothing more than a moving temple; except that a shrine has strong foundations, not a soft stomach.

A few more arrows… Just a few more arrows, the warrior thought. But he needed Agro, to put his plan into practice: they would try to lure the huge monster towards one of the geysers, in the attempt to knock him over with some cunning. Hopefully, his intuition would be right. Hopefully…

And so it was. The huge tortoise was pushed upwards by the stream, but it was still able to stand on two of his four legs. Rocking around in that position, he was an easy target – at least for a few seconds. But the warrior couldn’t see anything useful to his cause.

The creature was majestic – perhaps too much. His idea was still not enough to outsmart it, and his tall body was too far from the young warrior’s grasp. His loyal steed threw him upwards at least twice, and at least twice the young warrior outstretched all his muscles, in the attempt to reach any handhold. In vain.

The stream of hot water stopped. The huge creature went back to four-legs, as furious as ever: it figured out the warrior’s strategy, but it wouldn’t make it easy for him to exploit such an advantage. The moving mountain lifted its face, unveiling four strange glands under his chin; and, when the warrior understood what was coming, it was already too late.

Four blasts hit the ground next to him, throwing him away from Agro and forcing the horse to flee. Wander was hurt, hit by some kind of dark magic, at halfway between the force of the thunder and the Sun; but this wasn’t the time to get lost in speculation. That monster had to fall, and quickly. There must be something I can do, he thought.

All of a sudden, he had an idea. Although light was feeble on that plain, the sun could still pierce through the leaden sky: keeping a safe distance, the warrior lifted his sword to the sky; and the sunlight guided his steps, once again, like it always did.

He called his loyal steed back. The monster had noticed his moves, and it would have been harder to lure him again towards another hot water stream; but they could do it, with some luck, and cunning. For some reason, that creature didn’t look very smart; it was as if it missed something, some fragments of a being that used to be. He only had to shoot a few arrows, to annoy the beast and lure it where they wanted; and the creature was two-legged again, bearily standing on the two legs that still touched the ground.

Two more arrows, he didn’t need more. Two arrows, one per leg, to hit those uncovered vital points, just above the hoof. And the beast tumbled down on his back, exposed to its enemy’s fury and adrenaline. The warrior pushed Agro at full gallop; and Agro threw him up, to a handhold on the gigantic monster, allowing him to start climbing towards the frailest vital points of the beast.

 

His mind was filled by similar memories, as Agro was falling down the cliff. Once again, his loyal steed would rather sacrifice himself, to save his master. With a simple buck, Agro had launched the warrior on a safe ground, beyond the falling bridge; a few seconds later, the ground under his hooves gave up, bringing him down in the river below. Agro was no more, after so many adventures together, after so many enemies defeated, after so many obstacles, and after many pulse-pounding and adrenaline-charged battles.

«Agro!»

The call of the warrior echoed through the valley. His loyal steed had fallen, down towards an abyss of death, leaving him alone at the doors of the last obstacle. But the warrior didn’t allow himself to spread one tear: he stood up, turned around, and started climbing the last cliff that would lead him to the end of his journey.

I can’t give up… Not now.

And he didn’t.

 

Chapter II – The Colossus

A deafening hiss started echoing in his ears. A blast, just a few metres from him, had forced him to look up to the sky: the last Colossus stood out there, on the horizon, as tall and majestic as the Shrine of Worship. The rain hit his face, as the gigantic wizard was stretching its arm in the warrior’s direction; then, a lightning bolt sprouted from his left hand, darting at full speed towards him. He threw himself to the left, behind a shelter, and managed to dodge the explosion; but the sound had been too violent, and his inner ear had certainly been damaged in some way.

I can’t give up… Not now, he thought. He had gained a lot, over the course of his journey: he had become stronger, but he similarly lost a lot. His mind went back to his beloved, still lying down on the Shrine’s altar, and to his loyal steed, who had fallen a few minutes earlier. He looked at the wizard, a moving mountain standing up from the horizon: a thunder ripped the sky beyond the beast, and projected a threatening silhouette over the clearing. The warrior snarled, and stood up: he wouldn’t be discouraged by the power of that enemy.

With all his muscles tight, the boy started running towards the next shelter, and the next one, and the one after that. He threw himself into a hole, rumorously falling on the ground to dodge another bolt, but he didn’t stop: his adrenaline pushed him on his feet once again, and the young man resumed his run to the Colossus, without thinking twice or stopping once. The climb to the head wouldn’t be easy, but he would do it anyway: he had no choice.

When he reached the Colossus, he was schocked by the beast’s greatness. He was at least five-hundred feet tall, and he wore an ancient stone armor that would protect him from any existing arrow. Luckily enough, that stone armor also provided an endless series of indirect handholds.

Before throwing himself at the first one, the warrior stopped to think. His mind was filled by the memories of the last fifteen opponents: creatures that were as majestic as this one, ancient and powerful, and that he took out with the grace and the determination of a flea. Gladiators, phoenixes, birds of prey, sand-worms, there had been nothing capable of stopping him; and he wouldn’t stop even now, in front of such a frightening enemy.

It didn’t matter how majestic, ancient or powerful they could be: those creatures were nothing but an obstacle, an obstacle between him and his beloved’s smile. And there was nothing as precious as redemption, or another chance to see her alive.

I can’t give up… Not now, he repeated again to himself.

And he didn’t. Determined as a hawk, Wander jumped to the first handhold; and he started, resolute, his climb towards the depths of Hell.

 

Chapter III – The Beloved

The warrior stood up, taller than ever, stronger than ever. He spoke, but not with his voice, nor his muscles, nor his will.

«Thou severed our body into sexteen segments for an eternity», the warrior said, addressing the High Priest, «in order to seal away our power…»

The High Priest was petrified in front of that stately dark creature. He had failed: he couldn’t save the warrior, he who completed the forbidden ritual. He who was, now, imprisoned in that huge shadow’s body, tall enough to be compared to one of the fallen idols at the sides of the nave.

«We, Dormin, have arisen anew», the creature resumed, shortly before striking the ground with its first, fiercesome attack towards its enemies. The priests dodged it, but the strike was so powerful, on the ground, to shake the very foundations of the whole Shrine. Those who were still standing up were shaken by an incomparable survival instinct, and started shooting desperate darts from their crossbows to defeat the dark creature. But it was pointless: that shadow was too powerful.

The warrior, lying beneath the shadows, appealed to all his muscles, all his renewed strength to defeat his opponents. He was surprisingly looking at them from above, a position he had never witnessed in his whole life, as his body was giving birth to a dark power from every pore. The Dormin had awakened, and their fury was unstoppable.

He found himself able to create dark flames, filled with such power that would turn any living being into ashes. He found himself bearing a supernatural strength, a divine power belonging to the deepest darkness. And he would do anything to use it until the last drop, erasing those filthy humans from those lands, and saving his beloved’s soul.

Right – her. The girl still lying on the altar, maybe waiting for the ritual to be fully completed. He was so close, but, now that the Hight Priest was trying to stop him, so far at the same time. He wouldn’t let anyone take her away from him; not now, that he was in control.

As he was thinking about her, he was distracted by memories, and forgot to observe his surroundings. Perhaps for too long; enough, anyway, not to notice the High Priest’s run towards the top of the Shrine, up the spiral staircase, with the Ancient Sword in hand.

Maybe they were fleeing in fear. Maybe there still was hope. Maybe…

«Be gone, foul beast!»

The priest’s cry resonated through the whole Shrine, a curse made stronger by a magic power he couldn’t confront. The sword fell down, from the top of the Shrine, towards a small pool of water in the center of the spiraling staircase. Its descending ark felt like an omen, a space of many, small instants pushing him towards the end; and then, it happened.

The Ancient Sword crushed against the water pool. Its power opened a mystical portal that started to attract the warrior, dissolving his flesh and spirit. The shadow surrounding his body vanished, decomposed, making room for just two demonic horns on his head; and Wander resumed his human form, as the Dormin was being sucked away by the magical portal. But it wasn’t enough: the power of the sixteen Colossi, the sixteen fragments, was still in him, corroding him by the inside.

The portal craved for his soul, made dark by the power of the Dormin. If there was a small remnant of a human soul, in his body, the portal couldn’t figure it out: his muscles were pulled by the swirl to the pool of the Shrine, and it looked pointless to even try and resist it.

And yet, Wander fought. His eyes looked at his beloved, the young girl who lost her life because of him. An unforgiveable sin, something he could put to rest, if only the Hight Priest didn’t step in. As every fiber in his body was trying to escape, throwing itself towards the altar and light, his guts filled with hatred: hatred for human beings, their taboos, and their selfishness. Hatred for love, that pushed him so far and deluded him he could survive, by corrupting him from the inside.

But all the hatred he felt was not enough: she was more important, she had always been. And Wander was still trying to reach her, to jump towards the altar, desperately trying to look at her one last time, touch her one last time, kiss her one last time. Perhaps she was about to wake up, perhaps he would have seen her smiling once again; perhaps, if he resisted enough.

But his strength started to abandon him. He knew he couldn’t resist the portal forever, and he should have let go. But he couldn’t: she was still there, lying on the altar, motionless, lifeless. Maybe there truly was nothing else to do; maybe, all his efforts had been in vain. But her memory would stay with him, even after his body’s disappearance, even after the end of his soul. Maybe, after all, the ritual had not been completed.

And maybe it was better this way. The past they shared was too strong, too powerful to be lived again. Maybe he should have never gone to those lands… But he knew he tried, he knew he did all he could. And that was enough.

The body of water was behind him, just a few metres away. He had gone over the ark of the main nave, despite his body’s continuous efforts to fight it. Every muscle was still leaning towards the altar, in a last hope to see her waking up. But, maybe, it was finally the time to let go. To give up, to accept his fate.

Wander stopped fighting. There was nothing he could do, he didn’t have a choice anymore, if he ever did. He let the whirlwind drag him over, for the last metres, to the mystical portal that would erase him from existence. He had done so much; but it wasn’t enough.

A few moments before falling into the portal, Wander threw a last glance at his beloved. She was still there, motionless, lying down on that ancient stone shelf. Still lifeless.

Wander gave up. He smiled, and let himself go one last time. As he was falling down, his mind was shrouded by thoughts; and, in every single one, she was present.

«Farewell, my Mono», he whispered. And the portal swallowed him, erasing the memory of Dormins from those forbidden lands, forever.

Wander vanished, becoming nothing but a shadow in the dark past of those lands. The portal sealed; and the young Mono opened her eyes, greeting life once again.

Not far, a loyal steed was coming back, limping, to the huge Shrine of Worship, looking for his owner. Not far, a horned newborn threw his wails to the sky, in the middle of a dry water pool, at the center of a spiraling staircase. Not far, a forbidden land shone of a new light: the light of a new dawn.

 

Copyright © 2018, Anthony Wolf – All rights reserved.

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