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Breathe the Polluted Air of Nethervein

The sun and the stars disappeared into oblivion. Day and night, the sky is shrouded in a giant sphere. Was our world ever different? We do not know. We all lost memory. Thousands of years of history vanished. Some recall only the last day, some remember one month. None more than a year. The peel of the sphere slowly crackles and its bowels glow in an orange light. Shards are falling on the surface of our dark world and they cause madness and destruction. Only a handful of us know that these are the remains of other worlds, the soulshards. A great power that banishes reason and sanity from our bodies awakes in their presence. We do not even know how to call our world anymore. When we look at the ominous sky with orange veins, only one name comes to mind - Nethervein.

Stories

Read the tales from Nethervein

The Lost Sky

Driven by the orange madness, Nethervein fell into an endless conflict. Broken but still greedy oligarchs formed the Syndicate. They devour meadows, rivers and forests. The sea is next. But it will not be consumed so easily. In its depths, creatures from different worlds awoke with fury in their veins and the Swarm emerged. Countless battles took place in Nethervein between these two factions. Men and monsters fight and die. The final clash is about to happen. But the greatest evil is yet to come....

Act I
Return of the Fallen One
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The Lost SkyAct I

Return of the Fallen One

Jitka Ládrová

When he walked away from this world, he did not think that he will ever return. He thought of nothing but revenge. Of his brother's killer. He was tortured by the idea that the monster who killed him is alive. Now, the old feelings had to step aside.

Thaddeus passed through the gate from the other dimensions and stepped forward. Dry soil cracked even more and the wind threw the omnipresent dust to his face. Although the angel was back to Nethervein, he did not feel like it. He did not recognize the places he helped to create eons ago. It did not occur to him that his absence can change his home so much.

He was walking through valleys and riverbeds, which did not see the water for a long time. He climbed the mountain tops and looked down. It couldn't be true. He remembered greenery, tall trees, the smell of grass and the singing of birds. He always found it so common, mean, as the human race. But now he's missing it. The world was shrouded in grey and gloomy mist.

Thaddeus began to wonder where they went wrong. The answer is hidden in his past. He looked up to the heaven with a little hope, but that didn't bring salvation. There were fiery red flashes of lightning. The clouds were soaked in blood and filled with despair.

If there was a hell, it bore the name Nethervein.

* * *

Acid rain was falling to the ground. Finally, he discovered a place with at least some moisture, but still the soil has received hardly any. Drops just hissed when they hit the ground and immediately evaporated.

Thaddeus wondered how the humanity could survive in such conditions. And has it survived at all? He has not met anyone for such a long time. But there is still a survivor - the murderer of his brother. He followed him up to here from other spheres. Finally he picked up his trail. Blind with revenge, he did not notice he was led to the place where he arrived at full of despair a long time ago...

He passed through the portal as many times before. He was alone. The brother, who was on his side all the time, left him. He died! Killed by the monster they called Wanderer. Wanderer in yellow. He was just as treacherous and egotistical as the color of narcissus, which has become characteristic for him.

Thaddeus screamed in pain. He had to release his anger. To send it into the world. Even so, more than is healthy remained in his body.

He fell crushed to the ground. His wings turned black and his skin turned pale. The very nature of his angelic strength was leaving him. As if he never stood over people, as if he were as common as they were. Pride, which pushed him to the bottom, was leaving his veins. He breathed it out with his mouth half open. He was on his knees for days, until he completely lost his superiority. Only then he was able to rise again.

He went to an unknown destination. His legs carried him without any help. He did not control his own body, although even as a fallen angel he had far more ability than most mortals. He stopped at the foot of the mountain and looked up.

High in the mountains there was a monastery. In the past he would fly up to it, but he was still not able to control his black wings. He began to climb like a man. The stairs were narrow and slippery. Any mistake however small it may be and he would helplessly roll down.

When he climbed up, his eyes met a man. The man dotted with scars seemed to be waiting for him.

"You are Thaddeus, aren't you?" said the reverend of the monastic enclave. His voice did not show any sign of emotion.

The angel wanted to ask him how he knew, but instead of this he nodded silently. He lost the last member of his family, but he suddenly felt like at home. He could not explain it.

Faith could be powerful. It could heal wounds and provide shelter for an aching soul. But even so, there was something above it and the reverend knew it very well.

Even the fallen angel still represented unspeakable power. Only if he could be tamed.

* * *

At that time Thaddeus did not see many things. He did not want to see them. Pretending that they do not exist was a lot easier. The problem was that they remained hidden even now, when so much has changed. But he recollected something.

Almost ten years passed since the death of Thaddeus' brother, and he found his lost power again. He still had black wings. In spite of this fact he had his strenght back.

The reverend invited the fallen angel to his place. The final test in training, with which Thaddeus began after coming here, awaited him. The soul can grow only in the following way. In loneliness. Only that builds a strong personality. That was the philosophy of monastic enclave. The former cocreator of the world now had to prove the truth of this statement.

He appeared before the reverend. Everyone worshipped the highest official of the monastery, but the former angel, though he left pride somewhere in the dust, never did so. He just politely greeted his master, ready to hear the task entrusted to him.

"I have been watching you for a long time," the reverend said and broke the silence. "You are standing on your feet again, but still I can see that the past will not let you sleep peacefully."

Thaddeus was surprised to hear such words. It isn't as if they were not true. He just did not know the reverend would care about something like that. He himself had to deal with inner demons. He did not expect anybody to do it for him.

The master ignored his disciple's astonishment and continued: "The murderer of your brother is still on the move in other spheres. Go and find him. Take your revenge, so you can finally move on. I know that you underwent the training just to kill him someday."

Thaddeus expected such words even less. But he had no objections. Only one question. "What kind of man will replace me in training?"

The reverend got up from the table and walked to the window. A new disciple was trying first combat positions in the courtyard. "Not a man. A girl. She has already started her training. Her name is Iona"

"Since when do you train girls?" The angel raised his eyebrows.

"Since they are gifted," the reverend replied, though it did not sound like him. Even then it should occur to Thaddeus that something is wrong, but it did not happen. He accepted the answer and left. He was lost in thought. He called for revenge.

The master was right. Thaddeus never began the training in order to serve the enclave, although he pledged loyalty to the order at the entrance ritual and vowed to use his new abilities to protect the world. He always intended to serve only himself.

The reverend misjudged him. The angel, though fallen, could not be re-educated. He was regaining his power and intended to go his own way.

It was time to get rid of Thaddeus once and for all.

* * *

He knew his opponent's manners. His name was unknown to him and he did not really want to know it, but he was familiar with his practices. The traces headed for only one direction. Thaddeus knew that his tentacular enemy is able to take advantage of doubles. The man with a mask over his face was just trying to confuse him. But the fallen angel hold his ground.

He went to the opposite side and after a while he found traces of the true tentacle man. He walked faster. He felt he was close. And he was right.

He rashly shot a fire from his palm at him. He missed. He had within reach what he craved for. It was easy to act rashly. He drew attention to himself, but it did not matter. The enemy knows anyway that he is close on his heels. At least it will be a straight fight. Either he dies or the tentacle man. There was no other way.

A masked man drew his Sword of dusk that seemed to absorb ambient light in its midst. Not even Thaddeus didn't fall behind. On the contrary his weapon blazed and spread a warm glow to the wide surroundings. They were like two opposites.

Thaddeus switched from defence to attack and the tentacle man let him be. He was permanently scarred by the years of persecution and escaping just like the angel. But he still found pleasure in his life. He was not going to give up.

The man with the mask over his face called insects for help. People were afraid of them because they could cause diseases. But the angel did not mind. He swung a flaming sword and the wings of moths flared in fire. They burned to ashes within a moment and again there was just him and the killer of his brother.

The tentacle man's movements lost their power and he quickly ran himself out. He knocked the enemy to the ground and pressed him against it. He held the sword at his throat and was about to deliver a final blow, but the man in yellow was still resisting. The hand of Thaddeus was under his control. He could not move it.

"Do you want to end it?" said the tentacle man in a rasping voice. "Not so fast. You're just a puppet in others hands. You are heading for disaster."

"Nonsense!" Thaddeus shouted and pressed the sword even closer despite the enemy's defenses. It was just a matter of time before his opponent loosen his grip.

The man with the mask groaned in pain as his skin burned. But it did not stop him talking. The words were his last chance for life.

"He manipulated you. The reverend manipulated you. He joined the Syndicate, which is ruining our world and exploiting people who have survived. They wanted to take control of the entire planet and they knew that as long as you're here, they can't. Why do you think the reverend sent you away? To the realm where I was stronger than you. He wanted to wipe you out of this world forever!"

Thaddeus released his grip for a moment. It could not be true. But it made surprisingly good sense. He had it before his eyes all the time.

His head began to spin.

The tentacle man did not wait a minute and knocked the angel down using his last strength. He teleported. It was his only chance.

Thaddeus remained kneeling on the ground. On the ground, he created and swore to protect. Revenge waited for many years. Now more important task was ahead of him - to fulfil a promise and regain his honor of an angel.

* * *

Black wings grew stronger. In the color of darkness, he found something that flowed power into his veins. Maybe it was pride - an ulcer that torments mankind. But he was not a human. The pride was a part of him. To lay it down in the dust, in the arid desert, was a mistake.

Angels won't be dictated to by anybody. No one has the right.

He flew up the mountain with the monastery. He spent ten years there. Ten years. What does it mean in comparison with the memory of the world? Only an insignificant dot.

The reverend did not expect him this time. He thought the angel was dead. Again, a fundamental mistake.

Monks guards ran to him. They wanted to stop him, they had it in their eyes. Brave to the very end. His sword did not hesitate even for a second. He seared them and kept fighting. Further, until the last monk remained - the reverend.

Only now they stood face to face. The reverend knew his power is not enough against the angel. All he could do was to persuade him of his truth. But Thaddeus did not let him give any touching speech. He had just one question.

"Do you know what the word solitude means? The loneliness you have in the philosophy of your order?"

"The truth is quite otherwise. I had no choice. If I did not make an agreement with the Syndicate and joined them with our forces, the monastery would be closed down. All our efforts would be a waste of time. We cannot win the fight about the future of our world alone and we cannot ignore it!"

Thaddeus looked around at the remains of burning corpses and smiled wryly. "The monastery had already disappeared." With these words, even at the price of harming himself, he threw a firestorm against the reverend. It was not so merciful as his sword.

He looked into the eyes of his master as he was burning and screaming. As his skin was melting. It made him feel good. He felt satisfaction. And he was not alone, who enjoyed the sight.

When he finally looked away from the reverend, he saw a girl. Even though she was not a child anymore he recognized her. She was his successor, another disciple of the monastic enclave.

He looked at her carefully. He has never seen anyone like her before. Instead of half of her body she had spare organs. The arm, leg, torso... everything was made from metal. Her eyes showed, that he was not the only person to be harmed by the order.

"Do you also serve someone?" he asked. There was no anger in his voice. He did not want to hurt her like the others. He had even some understanding for her.

Iona said nothing, she just looked down. Her answer was clear to Thaddeus as well as the future.

The weight of the whole world fell upon him.

Killing the reverend did not help anything. His master was still right.

Not even an angel could win this fight alone.

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Voice from the Darkness

Long before the sky was shrouded in the darkness with orange veins, a wanderer was traveling throughout Nethervein. He came across a vision promising a great power from an other world and decided to follow it. Little did he know that years later this power will change Nethervein forever.

Act I
Echo of Another World
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Voice from the DarknessAct I

Echo of Another World

Vladimír Holý

It's snowing again. Why am I here? What brought me to this cold deserted place? I don't know. I hate snow. And apparently, there is nothing else. Just the ruins of a long forgotten city covered with a white blanket. I will not find anything valuable here. All the treasures were taken away by thieves and adventurers. People who used to live here left no legacy behind. Nobody knows what brough their doom. One day, all the residents just disappeared. It is said that the only thing left were pictures on the walls painted with their own blood. But even those are gone now. There is nothing but stones. So what am I doing here?

I have nowhere to go. I'm wandering without any aim. But I feel that someday, I will discover my purpose. Maybe today, maybe here. There could be more to this place than it seems at first sight. As if time has stopped here. It's because of the cold. And because of my solitude. I haven't met a soul for many weeks. I never needed company. And nobody desired to spend time with me either.

What was that? I heard something. I could blame the wind, but it's suspiciously quiet everywhere. Certainly I'm alone. I will look around more. I don't want to leave yet. I feel like there is something waiting for me. I just don't know what.

"This place is not yours", said the voice behind me. I quickly turned around and saw a shrouded figure. It was suprisingly close to me. Under a shabby cloak and a pointy hat was a woman. She looked young. At least in the face. But she was dressed as some kind of vagabond. However, her appearance was not the most strange thing. How did she get here? There were only my footprints in the snow.

"Who are you?" I asked terrified.

"Me?" she halted. She had a faraway look. Her eyes were twitching from side to side as if they were watching hundreds of different things. Yet she never looked at me.

"I'm not. Was. Will. Nothing else will."

"What's your name?"

"Fiera? Yes, Fiera. That is what they called the first one. That is what they call all of us. If they are able to talk. No one spoke for a long time. Talking is useless."

"What are you doing here?"

"Thousands of worlds, thousands of shards, thousands of reflections."

The woman apparently lost her mind. She could be dangerous. I found my dagger under the coat. She didn't even notice it.

"This place is not yours", she repeated. "Nobody is supposed to be here. Just Fiera. Just one. Just.... Just this Fiera."

"I'll leave. I'll leave immediately", I tried to reassure her.

"You will not leave. You will disappear", she screamed. For the first time, she looked directly at me. Her eyes were empty. A chill ran down my spine. I took a few steps back. Maybe I'll manage to run away.

Too late. She held out her arms to me and they burst forth with orange light. Or at least I thought it was light. Everything happened so fast. Two giant bright orange claws grabbed my whole body. They clenched me so tight that I could not move, not even scream. They violently pulled me and dragged me down to the ground.

I must have lost consciousness. I don't know whether I was awake or not. Around me, only darkness. I tried to breathe, but I could not. The orange claws disappeared, but something still clutched my throat. A terrible noise was yelling to my ears. It had no source, it was coming from everywhere and it didn't stop. The sound was deep and high at the same time. Like if everything I've ever heard was pieced together and released at once. This is my end....

I didn't die. Even after a few endless minutes of helpless gasps, I'm still alive. I tried to move my arm. To my surprise, I managed to do it. Too much actually. My hand shot out with supernatural speed and hit me in the face. I tried to clamp down on the ground, but in vain. There was nothing. I just floated in emptiness. In the darkness. And my every move was greatly amplified. I don't know how long I spent in this state. Hours, perhaps days. Hard to say.

Suddenly the blackness changed. It formed a shape. I'm not alone anymore. Something came to me. Or someone? The noise grew louder. I don't know how this is possible, but I managed to see something. It was still very dark, but I saw clearly. Directly in front of me, a vast body spread. Or rather a hundred mutilated bodies joined into one. Somewhere, I saw human hands and feet. Other had to belong to animals. And some could not come from this world. My world, that is.

Everywhere I looked, eyes were staring at me. My whole body was filled with some kind of energy. The presence of the creature quickly intoxicated me. I was filled with a feeling so unnatural yet so amazing. For the first time in my life, I have met something truly spectacular. But only for a moment....

Again, I was caught by the orange claws. They ripped me out of the blackness back to the snow-covered stones of the ruined city. The grip faded and I immediately collapsed to the ground. After thousands of unsuccessful gasps, I felt the freezing air.

I looked up and saw an incredible tangle of colors. The ruins of the city looked completely different. As if they were brought to life. In the snow and on the rocks, strange devices radiating bright beams were deployed. From each device, one color. All the rays then met in the sky and created a rainbow storm. I've never seen anything like this.

In the middle of all loomed the mysterious woman. Fiera. But this time, she was not alone. A short distance from her was another woman. They looked alike. The same faded coats and even the same hats. In fact, I don't even know which one is Fiera and which one is the newcomer. Their faces.... Their faces were also the same. Exactly the same.

"What you do is not permitted", said one of them.

"What I do is the only choice", other replied.

"What you do is a path to the end."

"The end is the only choice, Fiera."

"Your end, Fiera."

Suddenly, they both held out their hands against each other. The air was filled with missiles. No, it was not missiles.... Rather cracks. As if they unraveled our world and let in the horror from another world. Both women tried to avoid those cracks. But one of them was faster. The other didn't manage to dodge. She just slid limply to the ground. The snow around her body was flooded with blood. The cracks slowly disappeared. The surviving Fiera came to the dead one and pulled up her sleeve. She had a pale thin arm. Soft like the snow around.

"This one was new. No challenge", she sneered. Then, the woman pulled up her own sleeve. Her arms were covered with black scars. It might have been twenty, maybe more. She dug her finger into her skin. Violet light surrounded her for a while and then she gained another black scar.

"One less complication", she said to herself. So far, she remained oblivious to my presence. But everything must come to an end, in that, she was right.

"This place is not yours", she turned to me promptly.

This time I did not wait for anything and I began to run away. I don't know if she followed me or not. I was afraid to turn around. I was afraid to stop. I just kept running through the ruins on and on.

Suddenly, I tripped and fell into the cold snow. I remained lying. If she followed me, there was nothing I could do anyway. I was expecting to be taken away by the orange light again. I wanted it to happen. The visit of that strange place was scary, but I was looking forward to going back there. To experience the unreal again. To meet that creature again.

But nothing happened. No orange claws, only the white snow. I looked up and finally saw him. This time, he was all crimson. Stitched together from thousands of bodies. But something wasn't right. I realized that I was just staring at a painting on a wall. Breathtaking, yes, but not the meeting I desired. I got up and looked closely at the picture. I completely forgot about Fiera. Everything around here lost its color and meaning long ago. Only this painting glowed and attracted me. I stared at it for hours.

I know what caused the downfall of this forgotten city. I know who.

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Act II
New Age
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Voice from the DarknessAct II

New Age

Vladimír Holý

Summers passed, my body and face grew old. Otherwise, not much has changed. I had a dream. A nightmare. I was surrounded by darkness. And from it, the twisted creature from that painting on the wall stepped out. He was trying to say something. But he was too far away for me to understand. Yet too close to ignore. Every night, I had the same dream. Every night, he visited me in my sleep. It has been four years now, and every night was identical.

I have to find out who he is. Where he comes from. What he is trying to convey to me. So far, my search was unsuccessful. I've traveled the whole world, went through hundreds of libraries, but the truth remains a mystery. The quest led me here to Mirsodes. A relatively large seaport full of stench and dubious people. At least that was the case years ago, when I was last here. The Noble House Accius of Mirsodes allegedly owns a book describing creatures from other worlds. Maybe it's a red herring. Maybe it's just a bunch of fairy tales. But this is my only hope.

A big event was being held in the city. Nobody talked about anything else these last days. A giant airship was about to take off. Rather than a means of transport, it was said it will be more of a city in the clouds. When I look at those dirty sewers around, no wonder that people want to live in heaven.

The construction of the zeppelin was located far outside the city. Nobody missed the take-off ceremony. Crowds flowed through the streets. I also joined them. I needed some distraction.

Truly, it wasn't an ordinary zeppelin. As far as the eye could see, there was lying this magnificent machine. I don't understand how something like this could take off. Hundreds of cabins, houses actually, stacked next to each other. Between them, all kinds of metal bridges, propellers and balloons. Indeed, it is a marvel of engineering. Of magic.

Crowds gathered around the wooden podium. A delegation was preparing for the opening ceremony. First to speak was an elderly gentleman who was so fat that he wasn't even able to get up from his mobile mechanical chair.

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome}, he croaked. "Surely you all know me. For those who came from afar, my name is Ekram Accius.}

That's him. This man is quite possibly the answer to my search. To my obsession.

"As a patron of this magnificent project, it is my honor to introduce to you the inventor who will relocate us to the clouds. Master Ramplpanker.}

People started clapping and a slumped man with burned skin waddled to the stage. Almost all of the masters of his order were so small in stature and unhealthy in appearance. This was caused by prolonged exposure to otrium, a magical substance that drives all of their experiments.

"Yes, yes. Ahem.... To this day, there is no bigger machine than Nobu Urdo that can fly. Its deck can hold exatly twelve hundred residents plus a hundred-member crew. Once in the air, Nobu Urdo will remain forever among the clouds. It will need only occasional deliveries of fuel, food and other supplies. Ahem.... I will not delay any longer so we can move on to....}

"A new age}, the chubby nobleman muttered in Ramplpanker's ear.

"Yes, yes. Ahem.... We are on the threshold of a new age. A more luxurious life than anyone ever imagined awaits us all....}

Ridiculous. Even if similar cities will flood the sky, it will only remain a privilege of the rich and noble. Others will stay in the dirt on the surface. The extraction of fuel required for the operation of these flying vehicles will destroy the earth's surface even more. The poor and underprivileged will suffer even more in the infested world of the new age.

But not me. I will gain power. I will not wallow in the dirt as the rabble, I will not run to the clouds as the nobility. I will visit another world. I have to get the book. I need to find a way to be reunited with the creature from my dreams.

After more speeches and the cutting of the red tape, the zeppelin began preparing for takeoff. Flowing crowds of passengers gradually filled the entire machine. Only Ramplpanker stayed on the stage. I heard that apparently he is afraid of heights. How ironic. On the contrary, Ekram Accius was the first on the luxury deck of his airship.

The propellers started to spin. Purple flames blazed all over the airship and filled the balloons with hot gas. The onlookers were deafened by a huge creak and, to the general applause, the construction lifted itself off the ground.

The zeppelin went over the water. The sea wasn't yet polluted enough by mining companies and the air above will be the freshest. A true paradise.

Suddenly, there was an explosion. One of the balloons burst into violet flames. The cloud city began leaning to one side and descending towards the water. Passengers ran around in confusion over bridges and screamed desperately. They had no way to save themselves. Violet fire gradually spread throughout the whole structure. Until a loud crash into the sea extinguished it. A giant wave heaved from the point of impact and after a while, the whole town disappeared under the surface.

All the people on the land remained standing in complete silence. Just Ramplpanker dispassionately took out his notebook and began to write something.

"Next time, reinforce the balloons}, he mumbled to himself. "And maybe even add lifeboats.... Yes, yes. If there is some space left. Ahem....}

The crowd fell into panic.

Apparently, we will have to wait for the arrival of the new age.

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Act III
Smoke and Shadow
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Voice from the DarknessAct III

Smoke and Shadow

Vladimír Holý

It was a great tragedy. Nobody survived. Some of the passengers burned to death, some drowned. Including Ekram Accius. The rest of his family remained on shore and escaped this disaster. Maybe now it will be even easier to get the book that will reveal to me the path to another world. The path to him.

I waited a few days. I have been searching for so many years. I understood that haste can only harm me. I came outside the house of the Accius family. I knocked on the door and waited to see what happens.

Accius was an ancient clan. It never belonged among the richest and most influential houses. But Ekram didn't lack ambition. He bet everything on the invention of the city in the clouds and he lost. This is also a possibility. From averageness to nothingness. Even such a fate might meet me. But it will not happen. I will rise up far above the clouds.

A young white-haired girl opened the door. All in black, as was proper. She looked quite miserable.

"Who are you, geezer?" she said. She obviously lacked manners. Or she was just overwhelmed with grief.

"I was supposed to have a business meeting with your father.... My condolences."

"I don't care about business."

"Nonsense. Everybody wants something."

Of course, I did not come uninformed. I knew that it was Casquiel, a daughter of Ekram, who was standing before me. I also found that she had a fondness for a drug called anpya. Expensive, rare, but obtainable. I showed her a few marinated leaves of anpya and she let me in immediately. I found myself in a large entrance hall full of paintings. It was dominated by a family portrait. I almost didn't recognize Ekram Accius without his wheelchair. He stood alongside his wife and besides them, there were just two little girls in the picture. The nobleman had apparently two daughters. I didn't know that, I've heard only about Casquiel.

She led me into a secluded room. She didn't talk much. She just took the anpya from me and began to prepare a hookah quite expertly.

"So what'cha want, old-timer?" she asked lazily. She carefully spread leaves of anpya on the table and began to chop them up. I sat on the couch. Suddenly, I didn't know how to talk to her. How to make her give me the book. She didn't seem too mournful. She hadn't even realized in what situation she and her family is.

"Your father owned a book which I'm interested in."

"Books have a different prices. I don't know much about them."

"This one has value only for me."

"How much?" she said curiously and looked up from the chopped up drug.

"How much you say", I answered without thinking. Obviously, I'm no merchant.

"So we have nothing to talk about", she frowned. "You want to trick me, that's for sure."

"You have to give me the book!" I screamed at her.

"I don't have to", she whispered. Suddenly, she became a frightened little girl. But she din't stop preparing hookah. She mixed the anpya with tobacco and filled a ceramic pot.

"Oh yes, you do have to, little doll", I spoke to her harshly. "Your father is dead. The family wealth is lost. Soon, you will end up on the street and a girl such as you can earn money in only one way. You'll be grateful for anything I give you today.... You do have to give me the book."

Suddenly, she began to cry. She turned her back on me and walked to the fireplace. Her sobs echoed throughout the house.

"She doesn't have to", said a child's voice. It was not Casquiel, she was still crying. This voice was clear and hard. The room darkened. Around Casquiel, black smoke spread. No, it was not smoke, but a giant shadow. It had the outlines of a man. It just didn't belong to anyone. It moved as it pleased. It was alive.

"She doesn't have to", the shadow repeated menacingly. In its black hands, a dagger appeared. I will not test how real this dark mirage is.

"I brought a gift for Casquiel", I said as calmly as I could. I took several packages of anpya from my bag and carefully put them on the table.

"He will not hurt me, little sister", Casquiel said softly. The shadow still maliciously circled around me, and I rather didn't move at all.

Casquiel took a hot piece of charcoal from the fireplace and placed it on the water pipe. She lazily lay down on the couch, took the hose in her hand and began to smoke. The more smoke she exhaled, the more the shadow shrank.

"Go to sleep, little sister", Casquiel whispered and the hookah bubbled. After a few more minutes of smoking, the shadow disappeared completely and the room was filled with only sweet smoke.

"That-That was your sister?" I stammered.

"Yes.... She died. It's been a long time now. It was an accident. It wasn't my fault.... Really. It was an accident. I tried to save her. But she just lay lifelessly on the ground.... I brought a necromancer to her. He promised that he would return her back. Everything was supposed to be as before. But it was not.... He tricked me. Her body disappeared, and since then she is only a shadow. She remains close to me, my poor little sister. Sometimes, it's hard to comfort her. She suffers a lot."

I didn't know what to say. What life could she have with this specter always behind her back? I felt pity. For a while. This is not my concern. The world is full of bad things.

"At the end of the hall is a library. Take what you want and get out", she told me, exhausted.

I did as she said. After a moment of searching the shelves in the library, I finally found that tome. On the cover lay the word Grimoire. I briefly flipped through several pages to make sure that this is the right book and I quickly vanished from this cursed house.

I've got what I came for.

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Act IV
Secrets of Grimoire
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Voice from the DarknessAct IV

Secrets of Grimoire

Vladimír Holý

Again that dream. Again the voice in the middle of nowhere. But this night he was far louder. Previously he only whispered, but this time he screamed. He attracted me to him. I woke up covered in a cold sweat. But I felt joy. I've never felt anything like this before. I have to be on the right track. What else could it mean?

The same image that I saw in the snowy ruins years ago was staring at me now from the yellowed page of Grimoire. That was all. No description, no explanation. I still don't know who he is. Not even his name. If he even has a name. I only know that he exists, and I'm not the only one who saw him. Even this is great progress.

I got what I wanted, but it was not enough. I need more.

In the evening I went to the town. In Mirsodes everyone finds the cure to dampen their desire. I ended up in a dive right by the sea. Outside it smelled of fish and it wasn't much better inside. I sat in a corner and tried to ignore my surroundings. I had a few leaves of anpya left. I didn't give everything to Casquiel. I rolled a cigar and mixed tobacco with a bit of this intoxicating substance.

I opened Grimoire and began to study it carefully. It was pretty boring reading. Lengthy descriptions of strange animals, forest nymphs, aquatic monsters and various mythical creatures. Even their illustrations were somewhat uninteresting. Maybe it was caused by anpya which slowed my heartbeat and dulled my mind. I longed for knowledge of only one entity and beside that one picture there was nothing else in the book. As so many times before I would once again fell into despair without anpya.

Then, I came across the chapter that I have been looking for all my life. The book explained that all the creatures described come in fact from other realms. The world I know, is just one of thousands. The others are bound by completely different laws of nature, and this is the origin of all the magic. Sometimes these realms collide and in both worlds arises the place where the spheres overlap. The Grimoire denote these places as so-called bridges between worlds. I completely forgot about the anpya cigar and I eagerly read on. There is apparently a way to find such bridges.

Something that have already experienced the chill of death, but still did not submit to it. Something that was born in one world, but took a form in the other. Something that can survive anywhere, but still must wander.

That was everything the book said. The meaning of the lines escaped me. Anpya completely dulled my mind. I closed the Grimoire and decided to unravel secrets of this puzzle tomorrow. Again I returned to intoxicating cigar. Today I went a step further. I didn't realize how big leap in my understanding it actually was. I just smoked and idly watched my surroundings.

The dive was occupied by a strange mix of people. Mysterious faceless figures in cloaks were sitting in shady corners. Sailors were drinking by large tables and were boasting their incredible adventures. Among them, half-naked women were roaming and one by one were luring visitors into their beds.

"I saw him!" young man shouted by the next table.

"Bullshit! If you met him, you would bite the dust", another sailor countered.

"He was four meters tall, with yellow eyes and tentacles everywhere", the first one insisted. A similar creature I had just seen in the Grimoire. Some species from the sea.

"Apparently he is so furious that his own tribe banished him from their marine kingdom", an old gray man chipped in.

"I heard that the fall of the cloud town poisoned the sea far away and those aquatic monsters have no choice but to flee to the land."

"I saw him! How many times do I have to say it. He attacked our ship and killed half the crew! I was there!"

"And how does such a dope like you survived it?"

"He appeared quickly.... And quickly, he disappeared again. He swept over us like a wave."

"It's not like that. He avoids the sea and he roams seaports and kills everyone he meets and he leaves no survivors."

"One thing is certain. He is definitely not from this world", the old man finished the discussion. They were all nodding in agreement.

Not from this world. Such a creature could be useful.

"Just fairytales that don't even frighten my kids. You're just a bunch of fucking cowards, afraid of an ordinary lobster. If I'd met him, I would immediately have torn his gills with my sword."

Suddenly, a man in a smoky corner stood up and threw off his hood. He was not four meters tall, but three yes. And he hunched. He had a blue-green scarred skin and a fin on his back. His eyes glowed yellow and he had tentacles instead of the mouth. He made a fist with three giant webbed fingers.

"Fight with Garmor!" he yelled with inhuman voice.

A terrified sailor drew his sword, but before he could make a single move, the sea monster leaped toward him, and at one hefty punch blew his brains out. The dive erupted in chaos. Everyone tried to escape. Only a few courageous ones surrounded the monster with weapons in their hands. I remained seated. I was too drugged to get up.

The fight began. Garmor furiously pounded his fists all around himself. The men slashed him with swords and stabbed him with spears, but every blow made him even more furious. It seemed that nothing could stop him. Red blood of sailors and green blood of the monster splashed everywhere.

I still crouched in the corner and didn't know what to do. One of the fighters attacked Garmor's face. He cut off one of his tentacles, which flew the entire inn and ended up on the ground before me. I suddenly woke up. I grabbed the stubby tentacle and began to flee. It was still moving, but I clutched it tightly in my hand. Behind me I could hear the fading roar of the brawl and groans of dying sailors, but I did not turn around.

I found something that have already experienced the chill of death, but still did not submit to it.

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Act V
Chill of Death
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Voice from the DarknessAct V

Chill of Death

Vladimír Holý

Only one person existed, I could go to. Kald'het. I've heard too much about him. A turncoat, a traitor, a renegade.... A necromancer. He once belonged to the guild of inventors. Its masters are not afraid of experiments, no matter how dangerous or perverse they are. But even they have limits. They are prohibited to combine otrium with living tissue. And that's exactly the necromancer's speciality.

I had to leave Mirsodes. Mad scientists seldom live among people. Especially when they were rejected by society. I didn't have to travel far. As the silhouette of the harbor dissapered behind me, I came across a tiny godforsaken road that led me to the residence of that madman. It must have been a magnificent castle in its time. I would think that the building was vacant ruins if it weren't for a few lights in its windows.

The night came quickly. It was already dark when I knocked on the front door. Sounds of the knocker echoed through the silent landscape. It took a while before the gate finally opened.

On my travels, I've seen all sorts of things. The man who is more interested in machines than life, the creature of the sea that scared all experienced fighters, and the specter of my dreams. This appearance, I didn't expect at all. He was a man. Yet all humanity vanished from him. Even worse, he has become this monster that stands before me willingly. Every part of his body was supplemented or replaced by a machine. He had a huge mechanical claw instead of his left hand. Transparent jars filled with yellow liquid grew from his skull. He didn't utter a word, he just stared at me. With one eye living and the other glassy.

"I-I need a service...." I stammered.

Kald'het only turned and disappeared into the darkness. I walked unsteadily behind him. The door behind me slowly closed. To my horror, I discovered that they were not wooden, but.... But alive. They were controlled by giant tendons. I didn't examine to whom they belonged. I caught up with my silent host and showed him the page of Grimoire. He enthusiastically studied the text, but still said nothing. We walked through the gloomy castle, and for once I was happy for the darkness. Who knows what other horrors would the light reveal.

We came to some kind of laboratory. A loud cry rang out and a musty smell rose from the room. I was frightened as we entered. Green pipes and purple vines were hanging from the ceiling until they ended in mutilated corpses scattered throughout the lab. Some of the bodies showed no signs of life, but some....

The most horrifying of them was a naked toddler with a huge mouth all over its face that screamed inhumanly without a pause. The other necromancer's experiments were similarly monstrous. Mutated bodies with giant tumors and hoses that pumped the magical otrium into them were littered all around the tables. On the floor, stinking pus and black blood ran down from the bodies.

"What kind of service?" Kald'het finally said.

I became completely speechless. I just silently handed the open Grimoire to the necromancer again.

"Something that have already experienced the chill of death, but still did not submit to it", he read aloud. "Something that was born in one world, but took a form in the other."

I showed him stubby Garmor's tentacle.

"Excellent. This is certainly not from our world. This is undoubtedly a part of an aquatic creature", Kald'het said fascinated and sniffed the tentacle. "Someone from another realm got lost and arrived at our seas. Perfect."

"Can you manage to create what the book describes?"

"Of course. But everything has its price. And this will be particularly high.."

I remembered poor Casqiel. Thanks to her I actually know Kald'het. It was this necromancer, who had snatched her sister from the jaws of death, and Casqiel suffered ever since. I expect a similar sacrifice, I know it. And I couldn't care less.

"I pay everything. I undergo whatever."

"I am not interested in money. Only knowledge," the necromancer whispered and dipped the tentacle into a glass jar with bubbling liquid.

"This book is yours."

"I get more knowledge from the experiment itself", he replied amused. "Sit down. Relax. The way I work may be somewhat uncomfortable for someone who is not accustomed to it."

Kald'het ripped a pipe from the wall and yellowish gas instantly filled the room. It had a strange, bitter taste. My head began to ache and my vision suddenly became blurry. I felt like I could faint at any moment. It was only my curiosity that kept me awake.

The necromancer moved to one particularly fat corpse on the table. He took his equipment and began sawing.

"My old master, Ramplpanker, did me a great favour. I've probably never had such a large supply of fresh bodies. Recently drowned on top of that, my favourite kind. Water causes everything to decompose so beautifully. It will go perfectly with your sea friend", the necromancer said contentedly while continuing his work. I slowly switched off. Yet I still saw him cutting off the drowned man's head, taking out half of his brain and carefully replacing it with a tentacle during the lengthy procedure. Then, darkness finally closed in upon me.

"This head now belongs to you. If you lose it, you will lose everything", the necromancer warned me. That was the last thing I heard.

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