Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Horizon Black IV: The Finale

Last time, on The Long Game, Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar had infiltrated, stormed really, the gates of the secret superweapon base known as Horizon Black. The Shockrosia had been destroyed, and Kalgar's crew had fought their way through, and acquired, two new ships. The rest of Kalgar's fleet, fighting near the outskirts of the shoals, was being threatened with destruction by the giant death beam emanating from the base.

The stakes have never been higher, so let's get into it!

Dallas Kasaboski

The grounds inside the base were full of activity. In every direction, soldiers were running, organized, but in a hurry. The guards above the gate began yelling, alerting the base to our party's presence, and began turning their weapons inward.

After finding cover, Alvyn surveyed the scene. He noticed a long metal bar sticking out of a nearby bunker, and then several others. 

"A lightning rod?" Tong suggested.

"I could dispel the lightning," Kalgar suggested, pulling out his horn.

"Maybe, but with so many of them, maybe not. Heat dissipators?" Alvyn replied. "Kalgar, make it a calm day, but also one where the chances of dissipating heat are difficult and unlikely." 

Kalgar just looked at him.

"Hot as balls! I'll explain later!"

So Kalgar blew his horn, and the weather began to change. Then, they set off toward the bunker.

Nearing the door, Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar heard a voice cutting through the air.

"He's casting a spell!" Alvyn said, flipping down his goggles.

Over on a nearby gun emplacement, Alvyn could sense psionic energies changing.

"Mind control! Brace yourselves!" Alvyn called.

"Wait!" Tong said, his third eye opening, "It's not meant for us! He's aiming it at the water!"

Kalgar grabbed Tong by the shoulders. "Are you sure?"

"Yes! You know what that means?! Everyone get indoors!" Tong exclaimed.

"No!" shouted Alvyn.

"Yes!" Tong shouted back.

"We need to kill a wizard, otherwise we're going to have to kill another krakken, and that's not on my menu today." Alvyn quipped.

"We have to split up!" Alvyn said.

"No, we're stronger together!" Tong said.

"If we don't split up, we will lose something. You two, take out the energy beam, I'm going to fight a wizard. Tong, I need a lift."

The three smiled at each other. The fastball special. It had been some time.

Tong grabbed Alvyn and began running diagonally up the nearest wall. As he leapt from the stones, he sprouted wings of chi energy and, at the apex of his jump, threw Alvyn.

The crossbowmen, on top of the walls, in shock, began firing at him. Alvyn took a few out with his rifle. Looking out over the water, Alvyn could see what the wizard was controlling.

There, a large swell of ocean water grew and pushed against Kalgar's newest ship, tilting it on its side, as a colossal crab loomed out of the water and seized a hold of the ship.

The crew began to panic, trying to hold firm to the ship. Cannon-fire began, sporadically, but to no effect, the cannon balls just bouncing off its carapace. 

And then Alvyn landed, locking eyes on the Aesian wizard.

Back inside the fort, Tong was landing softly on the ground to see Kalgar carving a wedge through the soldiers through the bunker. 

Taking cover behind a wagon, Tong said, "Drakeswynd, how much do you remember Alvyn saying about the decomfobulator?"

"Some kind of glowing machine?" Kalgar shrugged.

"You call upon your god and I will call upon mine! We will find this machine!" Tong said, moving with all haste.

The road sloped downward, meeting a hole in the wall where the energy beam's cannon was facing out. It was a tight squeeze, but Tong and Kalgar made it inside. There, they could see that the cannon's barrel was 50 feet long, mounted to a swivel-type station. All around, they were surrounded by glowing panels, lit up brilliantly.

"Ioun!" Tong said.

Having spent some time with Alvyn, our two faithful friends had some idea as to what things were, and at the very least, were observant enough to note the power cable off to the side.

That's the good news, that they found the cable. The bad news? It was 6 feet thick. Sizing it up, they knew they could not simply pull it out of the wall. The whine of the weapon began picking up again. Inside, it was deafening.

So loud, in fact, that they did not hear the 20 men inside the bunker. Tong tapped Kalgar on the shoulder and pointed. There they were, soldiers and scientists of Aes, manning several stations. Turning cranks, staring at panels, writing things down, all stopping as they looked directly at Tong and Kalgar.

Kalgar looked at the men, he looked at the barrel, and then he put his hand on the nearest panel countertop. With very little effort, he squeezed his hand through the countertop, all while looking at the soldiers.

The man nearest to Kalgar began sweating profusely.

Kalgar reached over and picked this man up, and threw him against the wall.

Then he moved to the next nearest man, and crushed the console.

Not so easily intimidated, several Aesian soldiers reached down and grabbed weapons of their own, snap-out batons.

Meanwhile, Tong pushed several people away from their consoles, and began pushing every button, pulling every lever, turning every knob. The whine of the energy became sporadic.

"Kalgar! It's working!" Tong shouted.

The men who were focused on Kalgar, turned to Tong and charged him. 

Raising an eyebrow, Tong simply walked up the wall to the ceiling, all while continuing to push buttons. Anyone who came close to Kalgar was punched or thrown down.

The whine continued growing louder. It began to give Tong and Kalgar a splitting headache. The Aesian guards had been wearing earmuffs, not that it mattered now as they were all unconscious.  

Nothing seemed to stop the weapon. The only thing they knew they could control was the steering mechanism. Time was running out. Kalgar grabbed the crank and turned it hard away from his fleet, toward the crab. Then they ran out of the bunker as fast as they could.

The high-pitched whine grew louder and louder and then, suddenly stopped. Then an explosion erupted as the yellow energy beam ripped out from the bunker toward the crab. The beam hit its back hard, slicing off the crab's left claw. It rocked from side to side, releasing the mast of the ship from its other claw.

Kalgar and Tong saw this from the road leading to the base. As they stood there, hoping their ship and crew survived, they heard someone breathing hard, behind them.

There stood a 3 feet tall gnome, half of his clothes burned off, his gear slung over his shoulder fastened by a belt. He looked horrible, but then he smiled, those pointed teeth and coal-black eyes twinkling. "How'd your thing go?" Alvyn asked.

" that a hand? Is that a hand grasping your pocket?" Tong asked.

"Oh, yeah, it's not mine." Alvyn replied.

"Ugh!" Tong responded.

Kalgar noted that Alvyn was holding a new staff, black, ornately carved, with runes carved into it.

Back at their ship, the crab had moved away and began sinking back into the ocean.

"So, there's, like, three towers left guys. I did one, and mine had a wizard on it." Alvyn said, sitting down for a short rest.

"He doesn't look good," Tong whispered to Kalgar, "And not the way he usually looks, which also isn't good!"

"Alvyn, do you want to get in my bag? I could carry you." Tong offered.

"Nope, I'm good. I think part of my insides is snakes." Alvyn replied.

Suddenly, a nearby gun emplacement erupted, cannonfire hitting the ground around them. Tong and Kalgar were knocked down, and smoking craters formed around their feet. On reflex, Alvyn was able to spot the attackers and roll aside, avoiding the blast.

"We need to get to those cannons before they reload!" Tong shouted, his ears ringing.

"Let's move, we can outrun them!" Kalgar said.

"Good!" the outline of Tong's body said in the smoke. Our Canitian monk was one step ahead of Kalgar and moved so fast that between saying the word and Kalgar hearing it, Tong was already 30 ft away from where he stood, gunpowder smoke clearing and trying to keep up.

Chi wings formed from his back and Tong leapt into the air, flying up the wall into the gunnery tower. The soldiers were not expecting him. They were easily defeated.

Alvyn and Kalgar moved toward the next tower. Despite overwhelming numbers, our party made quick work of all they came across. Few soldiers surrendered, as only the most devoted and fanatic would have been selected to guard a place such as this.

Some of the soldiers, retreating from our party, moved toward the main bunker and began pounding on the doors, shouting, "Release it! Release it! We have no choice!"

Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar looked at each other. What horrible monstrosity lay ahead?

The main doors were 20 feet tall, made of a solid metal, fashioned in the Aesian manner. They opened slightly, then blasted open. Kalgar, Alvyn, and Tong felt a gale-force wind hit them hard and pushed them back, knocking them against the wall of the courtyard.

Standing inside the door was a fairly unassuming-looking human, except for the blue and purple flashes of light running over his skin, emanating from his chest, and sparking off of his fingers. His head twitched, but otherwise, he did not move.

"" Alvyn said, and suddenly Kalgar and Tong knew the worst was upon them. He was spellscarred, cursed with power, as Alvyn had been. A walking bomb and worse yet, he wasn't in control.

They looked around, all the soldiers were gone, fleeing away hurriedly and desperately.

"I can save you!" Alvyn shouted.

"What? How?" Tong replied, putting his hand on Alvyn's shoulder. "We don't have the Edge of Sanity this time."

"No, but we have the Edge of Destiny." Alvyn said.

The man was trying to speak, opening and closing his mouth several times, but no sound came out. The clouds overhead began to funnel and swirl above them.

Alvyn took off his hat and said, "I've got three plans: leave; use the bunker's heat dissipation rods to drain his power somehow; or...absorb the power myself."

"You can't do that!" Kalgar shouted into the wind.

"Actually, I can. And I am the only one who knows how to wield and then get rid of that power." Alvyn said, his eyes set.

Alvyn stood up, dropped his bandalier, and walked toward the man, wizard staff in hand. The gnome's eyes were filled with hate. Here he was, about to do something he swore he would never do, something he thought he would never have to face again. He pressed the end of the staff against the man's chest, the spiked end pierced his chest.

"Alvyn! NO! You don't have to do that!" Tong shouted, he and Kalgar had regained their feet.

"I...I have to let it out!" the man finally said.

Alvyn grabbed his hand, pulled hard, and tried to take as much as he could. Just as Alvyn was closing his eyes, he looked at his hand. Scarred as they were, he could see the Mark of Mercury. Branded by the dragon, Alvyn knew that the mark could alter fate. It could allow a person to ensure their success, or the failure of their enemy, but at what cost? He had sworn never to use the mark, it went against everything he believed in. Of course, he had sworn to end his life before ever taking spellscar-level power back again, and here we were. If this failed, it could kill Kalgar, Tong, everyone here. If he used the mark though...what did that mean for him, for his soul? 

Alvyn closed his eyes. The Mark of Mercury glowed a faint silver, white colour for a single moment.

Sparks erupted from the man, surrounding Alvyn. Lightning-shaped scars ripped through the metal doors, and the funnel clouds above slammed down into the two.

Tong and Kalgar were blinded, but they could hear it. The screams. More piercing than the screams of hell, louder than a thunderstrike, they could hear it.

Alvyn saw colours of all kinds. Flashes, moments, at one point he saw his own skeleton through his skin.

Then, everything stopped.

For a brief moment, the man appeared normal. He had just enough energy to say, "Thank you" before collapsing to the ground.

Alvyn passed out, falling beside him.

Tong ran up to Alvyn, dropped to his knees and cried, "Alvyn, why?" He shook the gnome gently, and his teardrops fell easily. Everywhere a drop fell, a flower sprouted, grew, bloomed, and died.

Kalgar walked over, his stride crisp and full of authority. He reached down and pulled the staff aside, acknowledging its importance.  

He placed his large, draconic hand on Alvyn's chest, and prayed to his god. Here, was a moment of sacrifice, a feat of strength not of arm, but of heart. Kalgar prayed to Kord for the ability to heal his friend, to honour his fighting spirit.

Kord's might coursed through Kalgar, into Alvyn. The gnome's body flinched, but he was stable. Looking over to the man on the ground, Kalgar noted that he was dead.

Alvyn woke up, and tried to stand. As he fell, Tong caught him, but sparks of power shocked him.

"No, no! I got this." Alvyn said, lying down.

"I would have rather died than see this." Tong said.

Alvyn's body heaved as he cried, sobbing with regret.

Kalgar moved over and kneeled above Alvyn.

"Alvyn, are you going to be able to walk?" Kalgar said. "We've got a job to do."

Alvyn lay there, moving only to spasm and cry.

"Who did this to you?" Kalgar asked, standing up and moving toward the doorway.

"Let's shut this place down. Let's stop those who did this to you, Alvyn."

Alvyn reached out and grabbed what once was steel door. Weakened through the exchange, the material crumbled in his hand. He stood up, reached out, and the wizard staff flew through the air into his hand. He was enraged. His clothes were in tatters, his skin was cut and peeling.

"Alvyn Sehanine," Tong intoned, "Twice born, thrice cursed."

As our party stepped inside, the bunker appeared empty. Several floors were abandoned, and while paperwork and equipment lay about, nothing was heinous enough to stand as proof of the superweapon program, nothing they could use to convince the public.

Until they reached the bottom level.

There were 6, heavy, steel doors barring their way. They were labeled Materials Research, Preliminary and Speculative Design, Manufacturing, Prototypes, Test Results, and Final Records. Each door was larger, and more formidable than the main doors had been, above.

In the centre of this room of doors was a medium-sized, featureless, black cube, with a lever. Holding the lever, was an ancient-looking human, wearing a simple black, Aesian military uniform, bearing the rank of admiral.

He looked over Kalgar, Tong, and Alvyn, slowly. "I assume you're the ones leading this assault on my facility." He said, with malice in his voice.

"And I can assume you are the being who has done this once again to my friend." Tong said.

Alvyn said nothing, his rage in fine control.
The old man seemed weak, his arm slipping slightly.

"You don't intend to leave this place alive, do you?" Tong asked.

"No." Came the simple answer.

"Why defend a mechanism that has brought pain to so many?" Tong continued.

"Defend?" the man said, raising an eyebrow. "That's not quite the word I would use."

"Does that lever blow up the place? A self-destruct?" from Alvyn, this time.


"Okay, I ate your last self-destruct. Pull it, I dare you!" the gnome's teeth were barred.

"You seem to be operating under a false presumption." the man replied. He released his hand from the lever, "I've already activated it."

Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar sighed.

"As a failsafe, as we speak, my men are destroying the records and prototypes from each room."

"Tong, can you take care of that?" Kalgar said.

"Sure!" the monk said, disappearing at once.

" know what happened here. your base?" Alvyn asked.

"Of course."

"So, you have all the records." Alvyn said as he walked forward.

Tong popped back. Kalgar nodded in understanding.

"Alvyn. The doors. Tong can't get through." Kalgar said.

The gnome stopped. His fists clenched at his side. The doors. Three feet of steel in depth. And me with this fresh, raw power, Alvyn thought. He stepped toward the door marked Final Records.

The old man attempts a smile at this. "You may have time to save 1 or 2, or maybe 3 of these rooms, of course even if you do, you'll be just in time for the self-destruct to activate."

Alvyn turned around. He looked more closely at the man and the box. The man appeared to be telling the truth. The box was shielded, but simple, and...seemed to contain a person.

Kalgar and Tong looked at Alvyn, and as his face changed into a horrified grimace, so too did their own. They knew what was in that box. Another superweapon. Another person tortured and imbued with uncontrollable power.

Kalgar looked at the box. It was built into the floor. Can't move it. Alvyn nodded. Kalgar looked at Tong, and the door. Tong nodded.

Alvyn waved a hand and the giant steel door just melted, hissing into black smoke. Inside, people were lighting fires, destroying records, with a look of panic on their faces, but they continued their work.

The gnome stepped toward the box, and the old man stepped between. Kalgar stepped up. "Move." he commanded.

"No." the old man responded, whose will was strong.

Kalgar grabbed him by the shoulder. With surprising dexterity, the man reached into his coat, pulled out a dagger, and stabbed Kalgar, aiming for his stomach.

His plate armor stopped most of the force, but then the blade suddenly heated, vibrated, and melted its way through Kalgar's plate! The blade cut deep into Kalgar's stomach, and felt as if it was twisting, burning, from within.

The man grabbed the hilt, turned his wrist slightly, and looked as if his next move was to move the blade up through Kalgar's chest.

Kalgar grabbed the man's wrist and stopped him. The old man was straining, putting all of his strength, all of his will into this. His veins were bulging, his skin was stretched, the strain was too much.

With incredible reserve, even under all his pain, Kalgar squeezed the man's wrist slowly, until it broke. Then, he gently pushed the man back. As the blade was just leaving Kalgar's body, the man put a hand to his chest, gasped, and died. 

Shaking his head, Kalgar lowered the man to the ground, and took a knee. The attack, and his restraint, had taken a lot out of him, all at once. He could have stopped the man earlier, prevented the attack, crushed the man with little effort, but he didn't. He let the man deal his final blow, for two reasons: the man was no threat to him, and the strength of the man's conviction spoke to Kalgar.

What these people were doing was Wrong. Completely. Without question. Yet these people were not mindless. Not all of them were blind or dominated to act; many, including this man, believed these superweapons were not only the wisest course of action, but the only one. It would take a lot more than exposure and force to overthrow these ideals. Kalgar was strong, but he would have to work hard to turn this tide.

Meanwhile, Tong had stepped into the now opened room. As he did so, he tapped his staff to the ground, and a white mist began to appear around him. With both hands on the staff, Tong twisted, grinding the staff against the floor, willing his pupils to appear. Pulling them from wherever they had been, through the Reverie, he summoned them to this reality. It was difficult to maintain the connection, something was shielding him, but the memory of Alvyn's sacrifice spurred him on. Rather than appearing as mist-like ghosts of themselves, Tong summoned flesh and blood people.

"Record everything!"

Students stepped out of nowhere, pulling records away from Aesian guards. Another stopped a torch from dropping on a pile of papers, and suddenly a metallic hand reached past Tong, grabbed a stack of books, and vanished back into mist and smoke.

Tong was sweating, straining, chanting, speaking in languages long forgotten.

Back in the main area, Alvyn looked at the cube. He took a deep breath and suddenly, the air around him began burning in a series of red sigils, signs, formula, floating around him. Through it all, Alvyn remembered the cube. He remembered his time within the cube. His early life. 

The cube began to dice, break apart on a fundamental level, until it was no more. Inside, was a young girl, no more than 6 years old, chained to the floor. Her face, red, strained, she looked as if she had never stopped crying a moment in her life.

Alvyn looked back over his shoulder. Tong had just finished with his pupils, the room was empty, even the corpses of the Aesian guards were gone.

Alvyn could see Tong and Kalgar. Without looking at either one, he said, "Leave."

Tong looked at Kalgar.

Without saying a word, the three exchanged a lifetime of conversation. Debating, arguing, proposing and shutting down ideas. Tong's eyes pleaded, Kalgar's glance turned various shades of anger, Alvyn's eyes were resolute.

Tong moved forward, put a hand down on Alvyn's shoulder, then walked away. 
Kalgar looked away, then back. There was no way out of it this time. They had faced the impossible before, but this time, luck was not on their side. It wasn't right. Alvyn was the one who started all of this.

It was Alvyn who had brought them together. Alvyn's was the voice of reason when Tong's and Kalgar's ideologies clashed. It was his determination that had shown them that there was no other way, that every effort must be made for the greater good.

No matter the cost.

Kalgar looked down at his friend. His ally. His brother. And he said, "Stay strong. Thank you, Alvyn." And then he left.

Once alone, Alvyn sat down next to the girl. He knew what she was going through. The pain, the torture, the power, it was all-encompassing. It was total.  

Alvyn glanced about the room. Making up a spell off the top of his head, he warded the room, tight. Nothing could see in. Nothing would get out.

Then, with needle-like precision, he tore a hole into the Reverie

Tong, boarding the ships with Kalgar, suddenly dropped to his knees. The invasion, the violation, he felt it, and it was brutal. It felt like Alvyn was reaching into his ribs and pulling.

Alvyn looked at the girl. He then reached into her mind and pulled the only human thing left, the only part of her that was her, out of her mind and forced it into the Reverie. Suddenly, Alvyn could see her mind, afresh, anew, all at once.

The room around him was a hellish, nightmare-scape. The doors were jagged, the walls were lava, and next to the girl, was Alvyn, a horrible, horrifying monster. Broken, terrible.

Yet, right next to these two monsters, sat a cute, little girl, and a young, almost chipper-looking gnome.

The gnome said, "Hey."

She panicked, but then relaxed. This gnome appeared different. 

"I'm Alvyn, what's your name?"

She didn't know why, but she wanted to move her mouth. She wanted to respond, but she didn't know how. She had never learned to speak, spent her life in a box, but the Reverie, the plane of knowledge, helped her connect to this creature. She responded with words she never knew before.

"I'm Ree."

"Hi Ree. I'm really sorry." the gnome replied.

"I'm scared."

"I know, I'm scared too."

Inside the Reverie, rather than being chained to the floor, she was simply tied. So Alvyn untied her, and patted her head.

A fragment of the real world pierced through the scene. Drawn by Alvyn, filtered by his perception, he gives her this gift. For the first time, she sees the world as it was, and realizes, it wasn't all terrible. She looked at the gnome, so confused, and so lost.

"I don't have time to explain, Ree. But, something bad is going to happen. Something worse is going to happen."

She didn't respond. She couldn't imagine anything worse. Her whole life has been nothing but worse

Alvyn took her hand, placed it on his chest. "Do you feel that?"

She nodded.

"That's the thing that's you. That's why you know that. But yours...yours is broken."

She tilted her head slightly.

"But that's okay. That's what they wanted. A broken you. They wanted a broken me, too. If I could, Ree, I would fix you, and then you'd be like me."

She looked at him. More tears formed. Not from pain, but because she could see in his mind why she couldn't be fixed.

"So, I need you to trust me. Can you do that, Ree?"

She bit her lip, and nodded.

"Good, good." Alvyn said.

"Because you and I, Ree, we're going to be the last. We're going to be the last, Ree!" With tears in his eyes, he head her tight.

" could escape, if you want to. There's t-t-ime." she stuttered.

"You've been alone too long, Ree. I'm not going anywhere."

She buried her face in his chest and whispered, "Thank you."

Back on the ships, Kalgar was routing the fleet, and using his horn to help them sail away at breakneck pace. The sails were full, too full, about to rip.

Off in the distance, back at Horizon Black, came an explosion. It was brighter than 100 suns, yet the sound was distant. The shockwave rushed toward them, moving toward them faster than anything Kalgar had seen before.

Before he could even issue orders, the shockwave parted, wedged apart, split perfectly, missing Kalgar, Tong, the entire fleet. The tsunami followed. Its waves eclipsed the sun, the roar of the waves was deafening. It was a screaming, primal, eviscerating sound that left everyone deaf for minutes after.

When the glow in the distance, and the waters around them, finally settled, the island that had been Horizon Black, was gone.

Tong stood up, "It's impossible..."

He could feel something, no...someone in the Reverie. Someone who shouldn't be there. Some scrap of a consciousness.

"Kalgar, I can feel a whisper. Alvyn's gone, but not totally."

The Aesian Dragonborn scratched his head. He could hear Tong's words in his mind.

"There's a fragment here. A remnant of power, both divine and arcane."

"Where?" Kalgar thought.

Tong swept his hand aside, and Kalgar could see the Reverie made real.

"His love, his sacrifice, something brought him here. He had no gods. He had nothing, and yet he gave EVERYTHING! I don't know what this is, but he has left a mark on the Reverie."

An image of milk appeared before them. Swirling, constant, white, and pure. Now, a drop of ink splotched the image. Mixing, turning, disseminating, fading away.

"What's left?" Kalgar thought.

"Nothing...everything. Not a life, I don't think, just a feeling." Tong answered. "I must meditate." he stormed off.

Kalgar blinked, then shook his head. 

The ships moved as one, sailing off to the east.

Whew! That was quite a post, but we didn't feel that stopping in the middle would do the story justice. That was a long, emotional ride, and we hope that you have enjoyed the journey as much as we have. This will be the last post for quite a while, as the creators of D4sign haven't played The Long Game in some time. 

We're looking to the new year with hope for more adventures, but life is tough, and scheduling is even more difficult. We hope to move this forward, together, when the time is right, and with your support. 

Thanks for reading!

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