The Approach - An Added Challenge
I will attempt to weave all 31 prompts into a single article/story. It's ambitious for a month, but it's already starting to come together, with a few of the words jumping out already. I'll be working on how to keep it from becoming a giant text wall, and put some images in as well. I should be able to get 13 into the story easily, but I don't think I want easy for this. I want to stretch and run with this. If I feel the shadow of burnout coming on, I will stop and take a breather as I'll need gas in the tank for NaNoWriMo this year too.
by RandoScorpio, MidJourney
I'm Nano, and I'm taking over! I'm popping in to cheer on writers, readers, and artists! Originally a NaNoWriMo mascot, I'm also looking forward to Spooktober!
I've called Nano in to help keep my motivation up, and remind me that November is coming. MidJourney will also be a crutch to lean on for the art aspect, but because I am not directly creating that art I will not be claiming it as part of my prompt completion.
My Spooktober journey ended a little too soon. So I figured I can go through the story I manufactured for the challenge and expand on the different areas of the tale as seperate articles. I would love if you read the story first and then visited the articles, but I'm not your boss. I don't want to be your boss either. Do it in any order you want...there are some spoilers for the story in the articles, but it's a pretty obvious story to begin with...anywho, enjoy the Spooktober nonsense.
Shadow, Darkness, Possession, Escape
Ruin, Whisper, Spirit, Haunt, Unquiet, Howl
Abandon, Chasm, Thorn, Mist
Relic, Portrait, Mirror, Broken
Flora and Fauna
Where are the Prompts?
Prompt words will be HIGHLIGHTED IN THIS COLOR. Some prompt words will appear more than once, and some of the more abstractable words will be used as threads to pull it all together. Notably the shadow, mirror, echo, darkness, and door prompts will likely feature heavily.
***This story contains (or will contain): Death (by drowning, it's a Verti), violence, a monster with entirely too many eyes (including an image), some spooky haunting things, mentions of death, mild peril***
This story is complete, but may be edited throughout the month.
Shadows at the Door
by RandoScorpio, MidJourney
On her way back from the toilet she opened the wrong door. This door didn't lead to the clean well appointed office of her co-worker, there was no sofa or soft cushions with encouraging words on them. This door contained nothing, a blackness that threatened to seep into her world.
She tried to close it on the darkness but tendrils reached out and wrapped around her wrists and ankles and began to tug at her.
"Rita," the darkness whispered her name with a sing-song insistence. A chill ran down her spine as she was pulled through the door and surrounded by that cool smothering shadow around her. Vanishing from the office and its familiar smells and sounds, falling endlessly.
She tried to scream in the void but no sound came out, only her name echoed through the shadows. She wanted it to stop, to let her go and be freed from this prison, but she only fell deeper into the abyss. The shadows squeezed her tightly and there was a wrongness in the way she was being pulled this way and that.
Soon the whisper became more solid and a single voice stood out amongst the eerie chorus. Rita had her small hands over her ears and she was huddled against the assault.
She flinched and squeezed her eyes closed tighter as a hand touched her shoulders, and the ground became solid beneath her. The sudden realness jolted her senses and her stomach flipped in mutiny. Rita clenched her teeth against the rising nausea.
"Don't touch me!" She screamed out and heard her words ring out and echo back to her. Was this a new space of nothingness? Nothing to stop her voice, just echoes and darkness?
"Be still Rita Winters. You're safe." The voice was soft and masculine in a way that drew her in and made her want to believe his words but the shadows still lingered in her mind.
"How do you know my name?" She curled a little tighter into her protective ball, not quite believing in his vow of safety.
"The Shadow told us."
The matter of fact tone did not amuse her. He made it sound so simple and straightforward, as if people being dragged through spaces by sentient shadows was a thing that happened every day.
"How did this Shadow know my name?" Rita began to uncurl and opened her eyes slowly. She winced at the bright sunlight that pierced her eyes, not the endless darkness she had been expecting. Around them a wide green field peppered with riotous colour stretched into the distance, Rita almost gasped as she took in all the wildflowers.
"We needed a Hero, and the Shadow found us the best candidate and told us your name." His hand was extended to Rita and he helped her stand.
The man was tall and lean. It made him look strong, but in a way that a willow branch will bend but not snap. His hair was a shocking white and left long down his back.
It was his eyes that were most shocking of all. They were a bright shade of violet that reminded Rita of spring crocuses peeking out of the ground. His skin was deeply tanned and it made everything else stand out. She stared, startled by the delicate beauty of all these features put together.
"It's not fair. I don't know your name." Rita pouted as she pulled her hand back to herself and tried to rid herself of the sensation of the shadows lingering around her like a cocoon.
"I am Nishka, high priest to the Shadow Lord." He bowed and his lean long lines looked elegant and painted a beautiful picture. Long strands of white fell around his shoulders in a glimmering cascade that looked like starlight in the sunshine.
For a priest of Shadows he looked awfully bright. He straightened and smiled; Rita could feel the heat of colour as it rose through her body. Nishka was definitely too beautiful and bright for anything related to shadows and darkness.
It was woefully clear now she was a stranger in a very strange land, a land that worshiped a Shadow Lord, and saw the god or deities of light as evil. Rita just couldn't get her brain to keep it all straight. It flew in the face of everything she had believed.
Without light crops would fail, and people needed sunshine. She couldn't figure out why the shadows had become the most prominent religious feature.
She followed Nishka, and looking at his dark robes decorated with embroidered flowers in silver thread, Rita took stock of herself. Compared to the tall dark and very handsome Nishka she must have looked a mess.
Well, not a mess, but terribly out of place. Her black hair had been pulled into a tight french twist at the back of her head. It had started to pull free and wild wisps were floating in her peripheral. She tried to blow them out of the way, while also attending to her outfit. The billowing skirt she had chosen for work was thankfully longer than she normally wore. Judging from Nishka's robes Rita figured the general attire in this world was fairly modest. Her shoes were not practical for walking across the grass, the tiny kitten heels were puncturing the ground with each step until she finally pulled them off her feet. Carrying the shoes she looked less like a hero to pin your hopes on and more like a woman just crawling out of a bar.
She felt just as battered as a woman crawling out of the bar too. Everything ached as the adrenaline washed away out of her system. Following Nishka was taking every ounce of strength, all she wanted was to lay in the grass and sleep. Perhaps that would allow her to wake up out of this fever dream. She'd been working too hard lately. Maybe it was time for a vacation.
As Rita's thoughts slipped to tropical resorts with handsome pool boys, open bars, and all-you-can-eat buffets, Nishka walked on leading her towards a large temple.
The temple was constructed out of a dark stone that Rita couldn't place. Darker than obsidian drawing the light into it and creating a deep background for the inlaid gold and silver relief patterns. Flowers, people, animals, and vines that connected each tableau were intricately detailed and Rita could only gape at the masterpiece.
The entrance was a large double-wide door with two tall towers on either side. The wood was inlaid with the same dark stone in patterns that resembled letters. She couldn't read it but Nishka spoke words in a language that was unfamiliar and the doors swung open into a large room.
The ceilings were domed and highly decorated with paintings that showed nature and had dark stone around the edges as if the Shadow was ready to creep in and devour the world. It struck Rita that these people didn't worship the Shadow because it was great, but because it was merciful. They worshiped it to appease it. Obviously, deities in this world were far more proactive than her own.
In the Shadow Temple
Walking into the large room was like stepping into a great cathedral and Rita craned her head to look at everything on offer. The art was beautiful, but something felt wrong with the space, and she couldn't help feeling cold.
Nishka led her forward past vast pillars that supported the massive domed ceiling, his dark robes looked out of place as Rita watched him stride confidently to a dais. There was certainly an air of darkness and shadow to this place but it was almost like it had been pasted on the surface. A thin veneer of the deep shadows that had pulled her here.
Nishka swept down into another low bow in front of a figure who was taller and broader than him. This man looked more at home in the darkness, as if he was made of it. His features didn’t seem quite solid, she could only pin down his strongly hewn features when she looked at him directly. His wide shoulders left no doubt this man could fight.
Rita swallowed hard as she tried to curtsey, following Nishka's example of manners. Her eyes didn't leave the large man standing there in robes that looked wrong on him. Yes, black suited him, but the billowing fabric looked priestly while the man had the distinct air of a warrior.
Again the wrongness unsettled her.
"My Lord. I have brought you Rita Winters." Nishka proclaimed boldly.
"Very good, Nishka! I had no doubt you would." The large man's voice was like a thousand snakes slithering above a booming baritone. Rita tried to make herself seem smaller, not an easy feat when she was already easily the smallest person in the room and the centre of attention.
"Miss Winters, I am Alabaster, The Shadow Lord and master of this domain." The man climbed down from his place on the dais. "We are humbled to have you here, young hero."
"I'm sure there's been a mistake. I'm not a hero, I'm a secretary and I'd be glad to go home now. Please." Rita felt like she'd shake out of her bones as the pressure of Alabaster's gaze fell on her.
"Since you are new here," a hint of malice laced itself in the Shadow Lord's voice, "I will forgive your slight against the Shadow. You must understand that it doesn't make mistakes."
Nishka was glancing at Rita with concern and swept in front of her. "As you say, my Lord, she is new. Perhaps we should explain why the Shadow has brought her here?"
"Yes Nishka, you are correct. More explanation will save you from more blasphemy Miss Winters." The Shadow Lord turned away and led the small party toward a door at the back of the large space. Rita was glad to have his eyes off her, as though he had been smothering her and now she could breathe again.
Nishka flashed her a look of warning, she took it to heart and made a note to mind her words. This was not her world, and these people didn't play by her rules. She didn’t know ff she had been hard to summon, how easily could she be replaced?
The Shadow Lord held out his hand, it looked weathered and calloused not the hands of a priest or scholar. Those were the hands of a man who worked. That familiar feeling of wrong crept back into Rita’s bones and she resigned herself to let it settle there. The door swung open as if by magic and the three of them stepped into the room.
This room was more modestly sized, with a large desk and chair crowding a back corner, and a pair of large wall hangings covered by black cloth. The door swung shut behind them and the lock made a loud click.
The Shadow Lord pulled the cloth off one wall hanging to reveal a large full length mirror in a golden frame carved with delicate scrolling details. At first glance the mirror was beautiful, if a bit eerie to look at. It didn’t reflect so much as devoured the images of the things in it. The longer Rita looked the more she noticed the damage. The bottom of the mirror was cracked and broken, threatening to shatter. Even the frame looked as if it might splinter at any moment.
“This, Miss Winters, is the Holy Black Mirror. One of our greatest and most powerful relics.” The Shadow Lord replaced the cloth over the mirror. “It is breaking, and without it we have no way to fend of the demons of light in this world. We will be absorbed into the light and the ground will burn and life will be destroyed as we know it.”
“Well, unfortunately I don’t know how to repair mirrors. Are you sure I’m meant to be a hero?” Rita picked her words carefully, but truthfully she didn’t know how to fix this mirror, or its frame. She didn’t even have any super glue to try.
“I am quite sure you are the one we need.” The Shadow Lord pulled the cloth from the second frame, and revealed Rita. She was standing there perfectly reflected as a still image painted with the utmost care to capture every fly away that stuck out of the top of her head. Her chest tightened and she reached out unconsciously.
“You mustn’t touch it.” Nishka’s hand clasped around her outstretched fingers, he felt like warm sunshine on her skin. “The Portrait is the second holy relic of the Shadow, a gift to show us what our hero looks like. It will shift and change to reflect armour and clothing but never a state of undress. It will show any injuries, and if the hero dies the Portrait goes black. That is when we know to summon a new hero.”
Rita’s mouth went dry. How easy was it to summon heroes? She didn’t have the strength to ask the question, and no one was volunteering the answer. Her fears of replaceability solidified into a stone that sunk to the pit of her stomach.
by RandoScorpio, MidJourney
Arming the Hero
"Nishka will show you out and give you the quest details." Alabaster dismissed us from the office space with a wave.
Exiting the room, Rita could see him replace the cloth over the Portrait. It made her more comfortable to know he wouldn’t be staring at it all the time. She focused on following Nishka who was saying something, but her head was swimming with information and she just needed some time to process it all.
"He's not the best choice, but with the mirror damaged, our more powerful mages are out fighting the light demons." Nishka led her out of the temple and to a small side building. It was still strange that this small collection of buildings was standing alone in a field. Rita wondered idly where the nearest village was.
"First, we'll get some armour and a weapon for you." Nishka threw open the wide doors and they were confronted with a wide array of swords, spears, shields, bows, and armour of every shape and size.
"I don't know how to use a weapon. I'm a secretary. I organise schedules, plan events, and manage phone calls." Rita backed away from the weaponry on impulse.
"It will be alright. The Shadow has chosen you, so there should be something here that you feel comfortable with." Nishka was already browsing through the armour collection. His long fingers leafed through fabrics and metal. "Although, we may not have much in your size as far as armour goes."
Rita groaned as she stepped into the utility room and picked up a few weapons. Everything was too big, too heavy, or too frightening to keep in her hands for very long. Nishka was piling armour selections on a chair in the middle of the room. Rita had given up holding onto weapons and simply looked at them like museum displays. Many of the blades had beautifully decorated hilts, complete with large gemstone pommels. She didn’t know the parts of the swords but still thought them beautiful.
“Are you sure there’s something here for me? It all feels like it was made for much larger heroes than me.” She tugged on a sword that slipped loose off the wall display and she cried out as it nearly pulled her to the floor as she tried to keep it from falling. “See?”
“That’s a two handed blade, and it is larger than most heroes could swing. Many of these weapons are designed for a specific type of hero. I’m sure there have been smaller heroes like yourself, Miss Winters.”
“Rita.” She waved a hand in the air. “Miss Winters is a bit too formal, they didn’t even call me that at work. Just Rita is fine.”
“Rita, then. I’m sure you’ll be able to find something.” Nishka’s warm voice wrapped around her name and colour rose to her cheeks at the pleasant sound.
She paced through the room more quickly, dismissing the swords, hammers, bows, and spears quickly. A small sparkle caught her eye as she passed another enormous sword. It was a leather belt studded with small crystals that looked like stars. Attached to the belt were two small daggers, and Rita pulled the belt out.
The dark leather was soft but sturdy to the touch, and she pulled one of the wickedly sharp daggers out of its sheath. The thin leather wrapped handle was perfectly fitted for her small grip, but it was no less decorated than the larger weapons that lined the hall.
“I suppose those were for you then.” She jumped at the sound of Nishka’s voice close to her ear as he bent to look over her shoulder at the daggers. “I apologise. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it, I was just really impressed with these.” She replaced the dagger to its sheath and tested the belt around her waist. It fit without needing adjustment.
“I believe I have found some armour for you as well.” He held up a black leather chest piece. It didn’t look very protective or thick and Rita curled her nose up at it.
“Is there something a little more, uh, well, more?” She reached out to hold the leather armour and found it to be soft beneath her fingers, which caused her more alarm about the protective nature of the armour.
“You needn’t worry, Rita, the armour here has charms and protective spells on it. Even the thinnest leathers can be made to be impenetrable.” Nishka smiled and began to shepherd Rita out of the room. “Come, I will introduce you to Vertissimo and we’ll find some more suitable clothing in the dormitory out back.”
Rita marvelled at the elaborate housing complex. When Nishka had called it a dormitory, she had instinctively recalled her college days in a cramped shoebox of a room with another young woman. This stately building was a far cry from school housing. It was trimmed with gold filigree, silver statues, and delicate reliefs that were like the main temple.
“Please try to stay close Rita, the dormitory can be difficult to navigate for those not familiar with it.” Nishka offered his arm for her to hold on to as he guided her into the entry hall.
Opulent seemed a trivial word to use to describe the entrance hall and had she not been holding onto Nishka’s arm, Rita would surely have been lost in the glittering space. Like a magpie, her eye was drawn from one shining detail to another. She followed along beside Nishka as he swept them through rooms and hallways. The building was more like a rabbit warren with its twisting passageways and wide open rooms.
First, they stopped at a room where Nishka had a young woman dressed in a crisp black uniform choose clothes for Rita to wear. A pair of buckskin breeches, tall leather boots, and a simple black shirt to be worn under the leather armour from the storehouse. She let her hair out of the falling French twist and allowed the maid to braid the long black strands into a crown on top of her head. She found the outfit oddly comfortable and easy to move in. The outfit was finished by putting on the belt containing the twin daggers.
The unfamiliar weight of the weapons was unnerving as she took Nishka’s arm again as he rambled on about the history of the temple complex. She probably should have paid more attention, but the glamorous decorations and the strange feeling of the daggers dangling at her hips was more than distracting.
They entered a modest room with piles of books scattered on every surface. Rita sneezed as dust swirled through the air in great plumes. There was a startled yelp and the sound of books tumbling to the ground.
“Just a minute!” A trembling voice came from the back of the room, and a thin man crawled out of the pile of pages. “Master Nishka! I’m honoured and humbled that you’ve chosen to come and see me today!”
“Vertissimo, you needn’t be so formal with me. Please, I’ve come to introduce you to the Shadow’s chosen hero.” Nishka swept his arm out dramatically, flourishing at Rita. “This is the Hero, Rita Winters.”
“Oh, my! How exciting! Vertixio should be back soon. I’m sure the light demons he was sent to dispatch didn’t stand a chance against him.” Vertissimo staggered up to his feet, brushing dust off his long robes. He pulled out a chair and removed a book from the seat. “Please, have a seat while you wait.”
“Vertissimo,” Nishka said, smiling, “you will help the hero on her quest to fix the Mirror.”
“Yes, of course I’ll get some refreshments.” The man didn’t seem to register what Nishka had said until a few seconds of silence brought on a look of wide-eyed horror from the thin pale man. “I couldn’t possibly!”
He slumped into the chair that had been offered to Rita, cradling his head in his hands. She could see the light layer of dust still in his hair. “Nishka, you can’t mean to send me. I’d never survive!”
“We do not always understand the Shadow’s will, we simply do what needs to be done.” Nishka looked solemn. “Now that it’s settled, I will arrange for transport to the village and explain your quest.”
The Quest Begins
Rita stepped through a portal with Vertissimo, and the pair were left standing at the edge of a village that seemed abandoned. There was a forest that had begun to swallow the dilapidated houses, and she looked to Vertissimo with his thin frame and short curly blond hair. The man looked terrified, and she sighed.
"So all we have to do is hunt down this green slime creature and bring back enough goo to fill the cracks, right?" She pulled a dagger out and gave it a test swing. It arced smoothly and she barely felt the weight of it at all.
"Yes, that's right, but this whole area has a bad reputation. See where the ground is scorched," Vertissimo pointed to a few patches of dark charred earth, "the Light's been here, and I don't have a great reputation either."
"Well, I'm entirely unqualified to be a hero, and yet here we are," Rita said dryly.
"They call me Vertissimo the Mediocre for a reason, and you would be better off to wait for my older brother Vertixio the Magnificent." He was slouching in on himself, and Rita frowned at him.
"You can't be that bad, besides mediocre isn't so bad." She slapped him on the back and he straightened up a little.
"You don't understand, they say I'm cursed. I'm inclined to believe them, misfortune follows me and I can't cast spells quite right. I'm only able to do a few cantrips reliably." His voice was trembling and Rita reached up to grab his collar and pull his face close to hers.
"Enough wallowing. We've got a job to do, and I don't care what you aren't able to do, just focus on what you can do." She released his collar and started marching into the abandoned village.
Vertissimo straightened his robes and followed her with long, easy strides. He seemed to be more motivated as his brow tensed and he stared ahead.
Rita looked in through some windows and saw more of the scorching patterns, along with items left behind. The items told the stories of families torn apart by violence, and the odd skeleton told of death and loss. This village was as much a mausoleum as an abandoned living space.
Rita pushed forward with her one dagger drawn, thick trees and branches that blocked out the sun. It felt like the forest was swallowing her. A chill ran down her spine as she spotted massive versions of carnivorous plants. Venus fly traps, honeydews, and even massive pitcher plants.
Some looked big enough to swallow a person, and she made a note to stay well away from them. Her mind wandered to what the other plants were like here. Many of them were foreign, and she didn't have names for the beautiful blooms or stout mushrooms. It didn't feel safe to stop and smell them. She felt more comfortable with Vertissimo. Even if he couldn't cast many spells, at least she could lean on his knowledge of the world.
“Verti, where do these slimes usually live?” Rita scanned the area they were in for any trace of their quarry.
“Verti?” He looked at her, confused.
“Vertissimo is such a long name. I thought Verti suited you better. A little shorter and simpler, and better, in my opinion.” She wheeled around to look at him. “So, slimes. Where do I find them? I’d like to get out of here as fast as possible.”
“Right, they live mostly around the abandoned castle, at the heart of the forest.” He held his arm out to point the way.
The pair picked their way through brambles and past trees that seemed to reach for them. There were ripe red berries on a bush and Rita reached out for them. They looked like tart raspberries, and she had been a little hungry. Verti slapped her hand away from them.
"If you eat those, you'll turn into a berry bush." He warned sternly.
"Wow, they look like a regular berry from my world." Rita cradled her hand and shuddered at the thought of being turned into a bush. She wasn’t entirely sure why she had wanted to eat the berries in the first place. Smelling flowers had seemed like a bad idea, but the berries seemed to have called to her. “See, you aren’t mediocre at all. You saved my life today.”
Verti’s face went red, and he looked away from her face and mumbled something before leading her away from the bush. They made their way to the centre of the wood, and came to a wall of thorny bushes. It stretched as far as they could see to the left and right, and the castle was in sight beyond the brambles.
"How are we supposed to get through this?!" Rita exclaimed and smacked a branch with her dagger, expecting it to be stopped by tough branches. It went through the plant like a hot knife in butter.
"Might I suggest you cut your way through Miss Hero with the enchanted blades?" Verti sounded almost sardonic and Rita was glad he was relaxed enough to make fun of her.
"Couldn't a mage blast his way through this?" She teased back, and Verti sighed.
She pulled out her second dagger and began to carefully cut a path through the thorns and flowers. The thick branches fell to the ground and Verti cleared them away with great care. The thorns became longer and sharper as Rita neared the centre of the bramble.
"What is this thing and how long is this gonna take?!?" Rita almost snarled through gritted teeth. Her arms were burning, not with effort because the blades made the cutting easy, but the repetitive motion was tiring.
“A guardian briar rose. They’re used as a defence system. Not only are they deadly and dense, but they have beautiful foliage and flowers when they’re not corrupted and abandoned.” Verti explained while carrying a sizable chunk of the briar by a thorn and throwing it into the pile they’d accumulated.
The thorns began to shrink and Rita could see some light on the other side of her tunnel through the briar, and more importantly, a trail of green slime on the ground.
The hunt was on.
by RandoScorpio, MidJourney
Castle On The Hill
The castle was perched atop a hill and surrounded by a moat of mist that clung to Rita’s clothes and hair, while Verti seemed entirely untouched by it. It made her skin tingle where it made contact, and she shivered as it chilled her. It was like hands reaching out to her, a cold warning to turn back while she could.
"Don't get too far ahead. You could get lost around here." Verti was almost too close to her as they came out of the mist and got closer to the castle.
There were more vines and carnivorous plants around the dilapidated towers and walls. Roots and leaves were forcing their way between the stones, replacing the mortar and acting as supports for the crumbling ruins. The wind howled through empty corridors and it looked like they could collapse at any moment.
Rita focused on the trail of green mucus that led deeper into the castle. If the village felt like an abandoned graveyard, this castle was downright haunted. The walls whispered to her and the voices were distracting.
"What is all the whispering about?" She put a hand up to her ear to block the voices out, but it made no difference.
"What whispering?" Verti gave her a blank look, and she realised he couldn't hear the voices.
"Nevermind, I think this place is just getting to me. It's pretty spooky." She laughed nervously as they pressed on deeper into the ruined throne room.
Movement in a corner caught Rita's eye, and she smiled. There must be a slime somewhere in the room. She readied the dagger to strike whatever came out, but as soon as the creature slithered out of the shadows, she let out a scream.
"What the hell is that thing?!" She waved the dagger at the green blob with at least a dozen eyes that towered over a rotting throne. It was dripping green ooze that sizzled on the fabric of the tattered chair, but made no dent in the surrounding stone.
"It's a green slime! It’s pretty big too. How lucky!" Verti took a step back towards the room's exit.
"That is not a slime. Slimes are small and round and a little bit cute. This thing has too many eyes! Why are there so many eyes?!" Rita dodged to the side as the slime lobbed a chunk of its body at her. It missed and seared the plants holding part of the doorway together. Rubble cascaded down the now unsupported section. The blob shivered and Rita screamed again as an eye bubbled up to the surface of the new slime.
She lashed out with the dagger at the smaller slime and it burst, leaving a small puddle of green goo on the stone floor. Verti reached out with the enchanted bag that Nishka had given them and the slime's remains were absorbed into the darkness.
"Good job! They aren't tough, just a little unsettling." Verti said as he held the bag up in triumph. "We'll need a few more, but this is a great start!"
Rita groaned as she rushed forward, not allowing herself time to think about what the green ooze would do if it landed on her. The best way to get rid of the nightmare fuel in front of her was to kill it. So she surged forward with the dagger drawn and sliced into the large slime by the throne.
It quickly burst with a gurgling sound and fell into a puddle at her feet. "You're right, they aren't that tough, but I still don't think they need that many eyes."
Verti was there with the bag before the liquid could reach Rita’s boots. “You’ll still want to be careful. Slimes dissolve living things, and materials that are from organic sources.”
“Why are we collecting them for that mirror then? The frame is made of wood, won’t the slime dissolve it?” Rita couldn’t shake the thought that collecting the slimes wasn’t the right way to fix the mirror.
Verti reached up to his head, his face twisted in pain. It seemed to pass suddenly, and he spoke as if nothing had happened. “The Shadow Lord will process it and make it work.”
Her suspicions that something was wrong with the entire world, beyond what she had been told, seemed to be solidified with Verti’s fumble. Rita let herself listen a little closer to the whispers that echoed in her mind. It took a few seconds to sort out that the voices were all saying the same thing. The languages were all different and their voices were clamouring together.
“Only one of you, and in English, please!” She shouted into the air, ignoring Verti’s confusion.
Beware the Shadow Lord, heroes are sent here to fall. We have all fallen, find the Light and shatter the illusion. The trembling voice of a young woman rattled around in her mind before there was nothing but silence. The sudden quiet unnerved her more than the restless voices. She almost craved their unquiet presence once they disappeared.
“What was that all about?” Verti reached out to her forehead. “You aren’t feeling ill, are you?”
“No, I’m fine.” She casually swatted his hand away, as her thoughts reeled and she tried to figure out how to make it out of this place alive when clearly it was the resting place of many heroes that had come before her.
Drowning a Verti
Rita got used to the many eyes of the slimes as they continued their hunt. Her mind was on how best to break the news to Verti and keep him on her side. There was also the matter of his curse of misfortune, who would do that to him?
She plunged the daggers into a slime and hopped back as the puddle oozed toward her toes. "Verti, doesn't something feel off to you?"
"What do you mean?" He bent and collected the green puddle.
"If the Shadow is so great and wonderful, wouldn't you think a dark place like this would be better off?" Rita wiped the slime off her blade before putting it back in its sheath.
"Well, I guess you might be right..." Verti winced and grabbed his head again, and Rita could hear a cracking sound inside her own head.
She pressed him further. "And again with the slimes, they'll never fix that mirror, and why is it so important anyway?"
"It holds the Light! It traps the light in it so that we're safe!" Verti fell to his knees as the cracking sound got louder.
"Then why is it so dark?! Has the Shadow Lord gotten stronger as it breaks? What would happen if it shattered?" Rita heard a resounding shattering in her head as Verti panted. Sweat broke out on his face and it looked like the man had run a marathon.
"I remember. Rita, it's not safe. Nowhere is safe!" Verti was shaking.
"Well, no shit. Why else did the world need a hero summoned?" She rolled her eyes and offered her hand to help Verti off the ground.
Verti slapped it away quickly as his gaze snapped up to a rotting support beam protruding from a crumbling wall. Rita jumped back as a black bolt of energy hit the ground next to her, scorching the ground. It looked like the scorch marks from the abandoned village, and things started to make even more sense.
“You must be Vertixio the Magnificent.” Rita pulled her daggers out, unsure how they would help in a long distance battle with a shadow mage.
“I am! How astute! My Lord warned me you seemed a little too sharp for your own good, but what a thorn in the side you’ve ended up being.” The man was tall and his hair fell long and straight with white and black streaked together. His eyes were narrowed, and it seemed like he was permanently in the shadows. “Vertissimo, it seems we’ll have to deal with you more permanently this time. How unfortunate. You’d been so useful.”
Rita saw the subtle motion of Vertixio’s hand and she dropped the daggers as she rushed toward Verti. There was realistically nothing she could do in a long range fight, but she could keep Verti in the fight, and hopefully he’d be able to keep them both alive. She pushed Verti to the side and stood where he had been. Water rose through the ground in an instant and engulfed her.
Rita held her breath as panic threatened to set in, if she could avoid drowning Verti could still save her. She could hear Verti’s muffled voice. He was shouting and beating his fists against the edge of her water bubble. Pushing down the fear and panic, she smiled and shrugged. She pointed up at Vertixio and gave a thumbs down. Verti looked up at the laughing Vertixio and then everything seemed to happen almost in an instant.
“Verti Versi!” Vertissimo cried out loud enough for Rita to make out the words clearly. The spell shot from Verti’s hand like a shooting star and struck Vertixio squarely in the chest. His concentration dropped, and the water splashed down around Rita who gulped at the air around her.
Vertixio lost his balance on the beam and tumbled backward. He landed with a splash in a giant pitcher plant. The water that splashed over the edges of the pitcher looked thicker than just water. There were muffled cries and the sounds of thrashed as the plant’s lid closed on the now drowned Vertixio.
Verti helped Rita to her feet. “That was stupid of you! How could you put that much pressure on me?!”
“Easy, you aren’t cursed. You were just trying to use the wrong magic.” Rita squeezed the water out of her hair and shivered as wind blew across her wet clothes. “Now, let’s go kill the Shadow Lord.”
“We can’t.” Verti grabbed her arm as she tried to walk away.
“Sure we can. We have a bag full of green slime, we’ll just kick down the door and melt him like the Wicked Witch of the West.” She ignored his confusion at the reference.
“That isn’t what I mean. The Shadow Lord isn’t really the Shadow. He’s a hero, like you, possessed by the Shadow.” Verti was still holding her back. “If we kill the man, the Shadow will just hop into your body and use you to keep doing as it pleases.”
“Do you enjoy making life difficult?” She asked rhetorically. “Fine, what do we need to do then?”
Vertixio, you are a Verti. You shall not be killed by fire, swords, arrows, or magic. You must take care to avoid water. For when you meet your end it will be through drowning
Then I will pass on my curse to another, name him Vertissimo and we’ll be done with this nonsense.
by RandoScorpio, MidJourney
How Do You Kill A Shadow?
The pair raced down the hill, away from the castle, and back to the village where the portal was waiting for them. Rita felt the ground shaking and the spirits of the dead heroes screeched a warning in her mind as the mist shimmered in front of them.
"Wait!" She grabbed Verti's arm and dug her heels into the soft ground. The pair slid and fell as the ground opened up in the forest. The new chasm swallowed everything in its path.
"What the hell?!" Rita leaned over the edge, but she couldn't see the bottom.
"He knows we know. He'll try to make it as hard as he can for us to make it back." Verti was digging into his pocket as he spoke. "You should step back from the edge. We don't know if he can collapse the edges."
by RandoScorpio, MidJourney
Rita stumbled back to a safer distance. "Can you get us across?"
"Probably. I'm still trying to remember all my magic." Verti pulled a loose thread out of his pocket and held it between his palms. "This will either work, or kill us painlessly."
"I feel so reassured by that." Rita rolled her eyes and crossed her arms as he looked at her over his shoulder. "Well, get on with it. We're equally dead if it doesn't work, right?"
Verti mumbled a few words and as he pulled his hands apart a glowing bridge of light stretched across the chasm and coalesced as a rainbow. Verti stepped onto it tentatively and as it held his weight his shoulders relaxed and he sighed.
Rita walked up to him brusquely and grabbed his arm to drag him to the other side. "Good. It worked. Let's get going."
Verti stumbled as Rita dragged him at a breakneck pace across the deep abyss below them. Getting to the other side, Rita rested her hands on her knees and panted as she tried to catch her breath. “That was terrifying. Let’s never do it again.”
Verti broke into laughter so hard, he started to tear up. “Oh thank goodness,” he spoke between fits of giggles, “I thought nothing was going to actually scare you. I mean, the slimes spooked you, I know, but I thought nothing actually terrified you!”
“Everyone’s afraid of something, and forgive me if bottomless pits of inky nightmare darkness are high on my list of things that scare me!” Rita blushed furiously and strode off towards the village. “If you can pull yourself together a little, let’s get out of here and kill a shadow. Which would sound ridiculous in any other circumstance.”
“We’ll have to lure the Shadow out of the hero’s, that is, Aleksy’s, body before we can kill it.” Verti wiped his eyes as he easily caught up to Rita with his long legs. “Are we going to plan?”
“I’m more of a fly by the seat of my pants person. Let’s wing it.” She shrugged and pulled the daggers out before stepping through the portal and coming back out in front of the Shadow Temple.
It was missing its splendour and shine as Rita and Verti emerged. The dark stones seemed to have swallowed the golden details, and Rita wondered if there was ever anything more than the darkness to begin with. Was it all a trick? The grass was even dry and dead at the base of the temple.
She threw open the wide double doors and found the Shadow Lord back up on the dais. Her blades glowed gently as rage bubbled up in her. “You meant for me to die! That’s an asshole move.”
“You’re supposed to be utterly unsuitable to play the part of hero. So how is it that my most powerful mage is dead, and you are standing unharmed in front of me?” The Shadow Lord raised an eyebrow as Verti came in with his palms glowing brightly. “And, to top it all off, you’ve broken that half-wit out of my illusion!”
The Shadow Lord pulled out a large two-handed sword and stalked toward the pair. His bulky frame told Rita all she needed to know about how unlikely she’d be to survive a single blow. She took a steadying breath and swallowed hard as she prepared to duck and dodge for her life. Verti slipped away from her side and ran towards the door while the Shadow Lord’s attention was on Rita.
“You’ve been picking people that have no chance of surviving, and using them to destroy the mirror!” Rita accused as she rolled out of the way of a strike that dented the stone floor without nicking the blade.
“Even with the body of a hero, I can’t touch that blasted mirror. People from your world are usually so gullible!” The Shadow Lord hefted the blade at her. “No matter if you’ve figured it all out. I’ll just rebuild the illusion. Nishka’s too weak to stop me, anyway.”
Rita jumped back and out of the way of the next swing of the large blade. The sword sliced through a pew and shattered it into splinters. Her heart was racing in her chest as she tried to figure out a way to chase the Shadow out of Aleksy’s body and buy time for Verti to fix the mirror. It was in this moment she regretted the decision not to plan their attack.
As she dug deep for the answers, a warm, comfortable heat radiated from the daggers. A soft glow suffused her hands and the pommel stones changed from inky jets. In her left hand, a glittering sunstone filled with shining flecks that looked like stars, and in her right hand, the stone changed into an iridescent moonstone. The Shadow Lord backed away from the light and stumbled. He was off balance.
Rita dashed forward with the light bared at her foe. The Shadow seemed to race through the hero’s body, trying to avoid the light. The large two-handed sword clattered to the ground, and the Shadow fled Aleksy’s body and tried to race across the ground and back to the dark stones of the temple. Rita drove the daggers down on the fleeing shade.
A loud screech filled the space, echoing like a choir song of agony, as the blades pinned the Shadow to the ground. Rita was disoriented by the loud noise and blood trickled out of her left ear while a loud high-pitched whine drowned out almost all other sounds.
“Any time now would be fantastic, Verti!” She yelled.
“We’re working on it! Hold it just a little longer!” His voice sounded muffled, like she was trapped in water again, and the sound was still continuing to fade. He said something else that she just couldn’t hear. The lights of the stones on her daggers flickered, and she could feel the Shadow struggling against the blades, doing its best to escape.
A large hand on her shoulder steadied her, and the massive blade she’d been dodging came down on the Shadow next to her daggers. The sapphire pommel was glowing just like her daggers. Aleksy nodded grimly at her as they both doubled down their efforts to pin the Shadow. It felt like time was stretching on forever as they held it down, and eternity seemed to pass before Verti and a battered Nishka emerged with the mirror. The frame looked mostly repaired, but the glass was still broken.
Verti was trying to speak, but the horrible ringing in her ears had reached a fever pitch and Rita couldn’t hear what he was saying. He flailed his hands wildly when they’d put the mirror on the ground. Nishka still held it tall beside her and Aleksy. Verti was grabbing her shoulders as she looked at him blankly. He was pulling her away from the Shadow, and she fought back, trying to keep hold of it.
Verti’s features softened, and he let go of her shoulders, smiling gently. His hand was outstretched, asking her to trust him. She felt the strength going out of her arms and she was grateful to take his hand. Aleksy rolled back and away from the Shadow as Nishka’s mouth moved in what Rita could only guess was a chant. The Shadow tried in vain to slip away. The mirror drew it into the glass and where the Shadow’s darkness touched it, the cracks filled and disappeared.
It took a few days and some magic to help Rita’s hearing return to normal. She still had a high-pitched ringing that never seemed to fade, and while annoying, it wasn’t life threatening. Vertissimo was renamed from mediocre to marvellous. Nishka regained his memories of being the Lord of Light, and the darkness that had spread across the world was receding like a tide.
Nishka called Rita to the small office at the back of the temple, which had been reclaimed by the Light and shone like a beacon of gold and silver. “Would you like to return to your world? You were summoned as a hero by the Shadow, so it may be difficult, but I could try to open a door to your old world.”
Rita hadn’t dared hoped of making it back home, resigning herself to that door being locked forever. By all rights, she should have been happy to hear Nishka might send her home, but she was filled with a feeling of unease and dread. “Well, what does the Portrait look like?”
Nishka pulled the cloth off the frame and revealed a beautiful painting of Rita and Aleksy standing back to back in their armour. Behind Aleksy was the moon and behind Rita was the sun. She smiled and threw her hands up. “Who am I to argue with a magic picture? Besides, who’ll keep you all out of trouble if I’m gone?”
Nishka laughed and replaced the cloth over the Portrait. “You were certainly the hero we needed, Rita. Help me look after those two, won’t you?”
Rita chuckled as she turned to leave the room. “Honestly, it’s you I’m most worried about, my Lord.”