So, taking a page from George Lucas, I've decided to start this story in the middle, and you can all continue on from there and when this gains in popularity I'll put out the beginning. That way no one knows the origins and you can all be surprised when it comes :).
This Chapter is called The Great Wasteland
Lawrence wasn’t keen at first to start out the journey onto the Great Wasteland after his run in with the wurm. He felt a little safer after Link had swung in and saved him with his magic sword. But still he had the overpowering feeling that he was being watched, and in a place like the Great Wasteland where there was nothing but flat desert and dead land for as far as the eye can see it was hard to shake the feeling.
Lawrence tried to forget the stories that Johnny had told him about the soul sucking banshees that flourished the desert, or the Klackler, which from what Johnny had described sounded somewhat like a giant scorpion. Yet they had been walking for what felt like an hour and nothing had even come into their vision. Either the large creatures of this part of the land were excellent at hiding or something had scared them all away.
Again Lawrence had the uncomfortable thought of what could scare something that came from the deepest of one’s nightmares.
Lawrence looked over at Ashen. The old stubby dwarf was sweating up a storm and was breathing heavily. Obviously this mountain snow-loving creature was not used to the intense heat of the badlands.
Johnny had managed to conjure up some water, after two attempts of first creating a lightning only storm which almost hit Lawrence a few times and then dropping and entire lake of water over top of them. After he finally managed to magic up some canteens of water he assured Lawrence each time he replaced them that he had ‘got the hang of it’. Lawrence suspicion stuck though and he backed a few feet away every time Johnny was replacing their water.
Link suddenly came to a stop jolting Lawrence from his thoughts. The small elf looked ahead at something unseen and it seemed that he was sniffing the air cautiously. Lawrence wasn’t sure what was happening, but the others watched the elf with curiosity. Link turned and looked at Lawrence.
“A graveyard, about twenty yards ahead. It seems to be deserted sir,” Link reported, calmly.
Lawrence rubbed his chin in thought. A graveyard in the middle of the desert would have originally sounded like something of an oddity but now he was accepting these new things as regularities in this land.
“Is there any danger in passing through Link?” Lawrence asked.
Link stared at him for a moment as if assessing him. Lawrence felt uncomfortable when he did this. He felt that the elf maybe was unsure of Lawrence’s ability to handle certain situations no matter how tame.
“I don’t believe so sir. But if you would prefer it I can run ahead and scout it out first,” Link offered.
Lawrence decided to show the elf that he wasn’t scared of a ratty old graveyard in the middle of nowhere and shook his head.
“No Link if you think its safe than we will go together, I’d feel better with you sticking near the group anyways just incase.” Lawrence nodded slightly, self-assured of his tactical analysis of the situation. He had no experience in military operations but for a man who worked in an office all his life he was quite impressed with his own way of handling the situations.
Besides what could really be waiting for them in a run down old graveyard. Lawrence caught his thoughts. It could be the same thing that was waiting for him in the water in his journey across the river, or the jungle, the skies and the ground. If he should have learned something about this place so far it was that everything posed a threat to him and he should take every step with caution.
The order had been made though and he didn’t want to look like he was second guessing himself in front of his followers so he stepped forward with the air of man exhumed in confidence, but on the inside he was a little boy afraid of what was waiting in the closet.
He saw the grave yard a little more clearly now. Though it didn’t much look like a grave yard he was expecting. Than again he figured he expected rusty gates, disturbed dirt and a hanging mist. Instead the sun beat down on bleached stones, engraved with names he could barely pronounce and all of it was covered in a vast area of dead cracked dry dirt. Although part of his expectation was visible. A pathetic looking wooden fence was poorly constructed around the make-shift grave site, built as some last attempt to contain the dead that rested in their graves.
Lawrence squinted for a moment as though he had missed something. He looked again trying to see what he was missing. There was definitely something wrong with this graveyard.
“There’s no opening, it’s just fenced completely all the way around,” Lawrence said, voicing his observation.
Ashen nodded gravely and Link just stared into the distance quietly. It was Johnny who spoke up finally.
“Master Lawrence this grave yard is protected by white magic. The fence represents a force of energy around the site blocking anything from getting in,” he gulped nervously before finishing, “or out.”
Lawrence walked closer to the old broken down fence. It was falling apart in some places, only having one log of wood across instead of two. But there was no part of it where the encasement was ever broken. He laid his hands slowly on the wood, nervous at first wondering if touching something with magic might be the same as touching an electrified fence. As he laid his hands on the old rough wood though he felt nothing but the rough surface of the aged dried out log. He ran his hands along it slowly cautious still of splinters, but he found that no part of the wood was split at any point.
A loud cawing noise caught Lawrence attention quickly jerking his head up. On one of the old, sun-baked tombstones perched a very black looking crow. It looked at him as though possessing no fear of him whatsoever.
“Master Lawrence please be cautious that could be what this white magic barrier was put up to keep in,” Johnny called out to him.
Lawrence spun around scoffing.
“Johnny don’t be ridiculous its just some old crow hanging around he probably comes and goes as he pleases, its not unusual to find crows around grave sites where I’m from,” he explained in an annoyed tone.
He turned back around and came face to face with a great lion-like creature with fire for a mane and licks of flames for a tale. Its fur was the colour of the sun. It roared at him and spewed fire from its mouth. Lawrence closed his eyes expecting to be crispier than an over cooked slice of bacon. But he did not even feel a lick of a flame. He opened his eyes and saw a wall of flames a few inches in front of his face but coming no further. Lawrence realized that the white magic barrier had protected him from this new creature. He fell backwards crawling back and landing up against Link.
“What the hell...where the bloody hell did that thing come from, it wasn’t in there a few minutes ago,” Lawrence cried out.
Link looked down at him, and Lawrence felt those eyes judging again.
“It is a Grave Wight sir,” Link explained simply.
Lawrence looked to Johnny for an explanation. The small dragon was staring at the hulking beast now throwing itself against the rickety wooden fence, the fence was not even shaking by the smallest inch.
“Johnny,” Lawrence called out.
Johnny’s beady frightened eyes flew to Lawrence.
“Sorry Master Lawrence. A Grave Wight is a creature which makes its home in or near a graveyard. It feeds off of the essence released from a body after the soul has left it,” Johnny explained quietly.
Lawrence laughed nervously.
“Well apparently it likes roast crow because from what I can see it sure made quick work of that old crow in there a few seconds ago.”
“Master Lawrence the crow was the Wight,” Lawrence continued, “A Wight of any sort has the ability to change its form, a sort of shape-shifter as you might put it Master.”
Lawrence was not impressed by this idea at all. The thought of something that had just tried to cook him being anything or...anyone.
“Johnny does it have the ability to take humanoid form?” He asked, taking a serious tone.
Johnny rubbed his snout slowly.
“I suppose it would be possible Master Lawrence. The only thing about that is that it would not be able to talk as we do, it would only be able to make guttural animal noises.”
Lawrence snorted at this.
“I’m not sure whether to be happy or more suspicious. We’ll have to be more careful with others that we meet from now on than, and can you please let me know about any other type of shape shifting dealies before I run into one face to fire again,” Lawrence grunted in annoyance.
Johnny nodded in compliance, Lawrence then ordered that they set up camp for the night just outside the graveyard. He wanted to study this Wight a little further. He sat on a rock near the fence and watched as the Wight now changed into a large spider-like creature and paced back and forth its eyes never leaving him.
He smashed his hand into the pool of water in front of him as he replayed the scene with the wurm over and over again. His iron clad fist shaking the small stone fountain that held the scene in its depths. There was a scuttle of nervous movement as one of his beetle-like minions drew back in terror.
“Why can’t you fools do anything right!” he screamed out in anger.
He played the scene again and again watched as Link appeared from nowhere and slay the giant creature.
“That god forsaken, meddling elf can’t keep to his own business,” he scowled across the room at the remaining griffin rider standing near the door holding his helmet in his hand, “and you can’t even bring him to me without getting attacked by manticores. Is all my training put to waste on you useless riders when you can’t even hold off a small herd of unintelligent scavengers?”
He thrust his hand outwards at the rider and steam poured from the man. The rider screamed out in pain as he began to melt his skin falling loosely from the bone and turning to waxy liquid on the ground, until finally he was just a steaming pile of liquids which soaked into the stone.
He grabbed the small fountain by the base and threw it across the room water flying everywhere and got up from his bone-made throne.
“Out of my way you pathetic excuses for minions,” he yelled enraged as he flew from the room in a fury, “and find me that human.”
He slammed the door behind him leaving a trembling group of beetle-humanoids in his wake.
Lawrence woke up shivering. It wasn’t the cold that had awoken him from his sleep though. He looked around. His band of misfits was all asleep with the exception of Link who only slept during the day and if he called it sleep Lawrence could never live like that. He looked at the smoldering fire and wondered what happened to attending to it.
Lawrence again remembered that it wasn’t the cold that had woken him though. There was something else. He remembered now, he had distinctly heard a woman’s scream. As though in terror. He shivered at the thought of who was out there in the night being attacked by whatever hunted in the darkness.
Lawrence looked towards Link. He was perched on a rock looking off into the darkness no motion in his limbs or body at all. Lawrence then decided to check on their magic caged friend. The Grave Wight, which Lawrence had lovingly decided to nickname Graven, was sitting attentively watching him with shinning night vision eyes as some type of wolf. Lawrence couldn’t make much out in the darkness but Graven still looked menacing in form. And it always was watching Lawrence, but those eyes almost looked trusting, more than menacing. Lawrence began to wonder if Graven was put there to keep passer by’s safe, or to cage it in for another reason.
There it was again another shriek of terror. Loud and close, it echoed across the wasteland shivering the bones of every creature with good in its soul. Link had moved. His perch on the rock forgotten he was slowly moving towards the sound in the darkness. Lawrence began to panic. He wasn’t sure why though just a wave of fear washed over him. He looked around worried. Johnny and Ashen never stirred. Lawrence shook Johnny under his small blanket.
“Johnny! Johnny, Goddammit wake up!” He yelled.
Johnny groaned and blew out a small puff of smoke in reply opening his yellow eyes shinning bright in the night gloom. He shot up quickly staring in all directions at once.
“Master Lawrence, what is happening, what shall I do, who is in danger?” He grabbed his wand without a second though and sent a large spark of energy out of it which flew into the sky and lit up like a group of fireworks.
Link had disappeared and Lawrence was glad so, this little show Johnny had just put on might as well of called every hunting beast in the night towards them.
Johnny looked in dismay as the light show subsided and left a large cloud of smoke that slowly drifted away. Lawrence shook his head.
“Master Lawrence you must never awake me in such a way you startled me I though you were in danger and my magic is not easily controlled when I am panicked,” the small dragon meagerly explained.
“Never mind that Johnny, there were shrieks in the night, what is it?” He shook the dragon expecting an answer right away.
Johnny was almost in shock and Lawrence immediately stopped shaking him feeling badly right away. He took a different approach quickly.
“Johnny, Link and I woke up to a loud shriek and we both heard it again a few minutes ago. Do you know what it could be?” he asked.
Johnny nodded gravely.
“I’m afraid I do Master Lawrence. It is the lady of the desert Master, the Banshee.”
Lawrence eyes reflected fear in the yellow glow of the dragons’.
“They shriek to panic us to make us run and scatter. That is how they hunt. They come to suck our souls Master Lawrence,” Johnny uttered.
Lawrence stood up and stared into the direction Link had disappeared into. He squinted his eyes trying to see. But he could barely see beyond his own hands, let alone into the darkness of the desert.
Ashen had woken from all the noise and was grumbling something about how dwarves needed beauty sleep. Lawrence put up a hand to hush him. The dwarf fell silent. The desert did as well.
The frightening shrieks no longer echoed across the Wasteland. Nothing else stirred either. Even Graven had settled down as a cat-like creature perched atop a tombstone watching Lawrence silently.
“Johnny what can stop a Banshee?” Lawrence said quietly.
“Banshees are made up of only pure black magic. So a creature either of pure black or white magic would be able to kill a Banshee,” Johnny replied.
An idea struck Lawrence suddenly and he looked back at Graven. Johnny picked up right away shaking his head steadily.
“That is a most dangerous option to consider Master Lawrence. Graven is a powerful creature made up of only black magic,” Johnny protested nervously. “Pure black magic is unpredictable and untamed. If you were to release Graven, he may turn on us and wait for the Banshees to kill us so he can feed on our essence. If Graven were to attack us I would not be able to contend with his magic.”
Lawrence gazed past Johnny at Graven again. It was staring right back at him with those eyes. They were so full of trust and concern. There was no hate there at all. Lawrence felt a connection to the creature as well, as though this was all supposed to happen.
Just then Link flew into sight rolling backwards and into a stance. He stood his ground sword drawn shield out as he waited staring at something in the
darkness. There was a sound of scuffling and grunting and then something ragged and covered in torn cloth clawed its way through the sand towards Link.
It resembled something of an old wrinkled woman but it had long yellow claws as fingernails and Lawrence could not see its face as it was buried behind a tangle of mucked up grey-white hair. Lawrence could not see any legs behind it just the torn cloths that made up its coverings.
It hissed and clawed it way closer to Link, who was gradually backing up slowly. Lawrence realized that Link seemed very agitated by this presence, almost frightened.
The creature lifted its head and the lines of wispy hair parted revealing a mouth. The mouth began to open and the shrieking began again, though this time it was ear piercing and Lawrence had to cover his ears. The Banshee then lifted itself with its arms and then its hands left the dirt but still no legs protruded from the rags. It was merely floating into the air still shrieking so loudly.
Link swung in fierce retribution at the loud creature but it stopped his sword with its shrunken bony hand, holding the blade tightly before using it to throw link against the wall of white magic. Link sunk to the ground and didn’t move.
Lawrence felt his heart stop. Now there was nothing to protect him from the Banshee. Ashen was just a regular humanoid and Johnny was not even close to being strong enough to go up against a being of this strength and power. The Banshee turned to Lawrence and the two cowering companions. It cocked its head to the side as though indecisive. Then it began to float towards them menacingly holding out its bony arms moaning.
Lawrence made a split second decision. If he was going to be killed he was at least going to try to protect himself.
“Johnny let Graven out,” he yelled to the dragon.
Johnny was frozen to the spot with fear and the Banshee hovered ever closer to Lawrence its mouth opening slightly the moans turning into a loud groaning.
“Johnny release Graven now!” Lawrence spun around and pointed at the creature in the graveyard pacing back and forth now still in cat formation.
Johnny turned to the fence in fear.
“But, Master Lawrence...” Johnny sputtered.
“Now Johnny,” Lawrence cut him off.
He turned back, the Banshee had disappeared. He spun around looking in all directions wildly and in fear.
“Where is it, where the hell did it go?” he cried out. “Johnny let the damn thing out.”
Johnny waved his wand and shot out a large bolt of lightning at the fence. Nothing happened.
Lawrence’s heart sunk. Johnny wasn’t even strong enough to break the spell around the fence.
He felt a hand as cold as ice, touch his neck. Putrid smell filled his nostrils and he heard the sound of laboured breathing behind him. In horror he turned his head slowly, wisps of wiry white hair fluttered in front of his eyes. His sight fell upon a leathery looking mouth with chapped dry lips. It opened quickly and shrieked at him. The hand closed down on his shoulder, the claws cutting into his skin.
Lawrence yelled out in pain. He realized that this was the end. The Banshee was going to suck his soul out. He closed his eyes not wanting to see the fate that awaited him.
He was blown back suddenly but an enormous force he felt his back hit something wooden and break it apart. He shook his head and opened his eyes slowly trying to make them focus.
The Banshee was lying on the ground again a few yards away hissing and clawing towards the group again. Lawrence felt a sudden heat near him and a bright shining light began to show. He turned to see a giant fiery bird with wings fully extended blocking him from the reach of the Banshee.
The bird threw its head back and crowed in a guttural sound and it echoed across the Wasteland. It looked back down at Lawrence. Its eyes shone bright with the fire of anger. But Lawrence recognized something about those eyes. Before he could remember the bird took flight, meaning to lead the Banshee into the air.
The Banshee, angered by its ruined meal screeched at the bird and followed it into the air shrieking the whole way as the bird flew higher and higher.
Lawrence watched in amazement as the two separated a short distance away to assess each other quickly.
“It’s a Phoenix, Master Lawrence, the God of the desert. That Banshee must have angered it and now it has come to lay punishment on the shade,” Johnny explained, surprising Lawrence.
Lawrence was awestruck and couldn’t form words as he watched on. The Phoenix crowed again a loud war cry and then flew towards the Banshee at astonishing speed. The Banshee was shrieking and zig-zagging across the sky as the Phoenix approached it.
It put its arms together and from its hands formed a ball of darkness growing larger with each second. It grew larger than the Banshee and almost the Phoenix itself. Then the Phoenix struck the ball at top speed causing an explosion of atomic proportions fire flying everywhere.
The entire sky clouded over in smoke and Lawrence could no longer see anything. He squinted hard and then saw something small and black falling from the smoke towards the ground. It hit not too far from them in an enormous dust cloud.
The Phoenix then appeared shooting down towards the ground at what assumedly was left of the Banshee. It opened its beak wide and shot a line of fire towards the settling sands. The fire stream hit the ground with enormous impact.
Lawrence watched in amazement as the Phoenix then also hit the ground causing a ground shaking explosion knocking Lawrence to the ground again. He looked over his knees at the area where the Phoenix had hit again covered in a cloud of dust and sand.
But as it settled he could clearly make out the extended figure of the Phoenix and as it shone brightly through the clearing grit it crowed one final time in victory. Though its light suddenly faded and it began to shrink slowly. Lawrence got up quickly and ran towards it. He felt an overwhelming concern for this creature that had saved his life.
As he got closer he could no longer see the Phoenix and his heart sank. He slowed his pace and walked slowly towards the giant crater in the sand where the fight had ended. Slowly falling to his knees and staring at the smoke.
Johnny flew up beside him and landed on the sand next to him. Ashen was left behind to tend to Link.
“Master a Phoenix cannot survive for very long. It only has so much energy before it once again becomes the egg that encases the God before it is unleashed again to exact justice.”
Lawrence looked around sadly for the egg hoping maybe to take it with him. But as the dust cleared he saw not an egg but a small cat-like creature asleep in the centre of the crater.
In shock Lawrence whipped his head back around to the graveyard. The fence was completely shattered all the way around. Lawrence realized what had happened. Quietly he walked over and picked up the sleeping cat, carrying it back to the small camp, Johnny in tow.