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    1. #1
      Cosmos's Avatar
        Cosmos is offline Grandmaster Wizard

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      The Spectre of Beckett's River

      Who doesn't love a good ghost story-horror-mystery-thingy on Halloween? I was going to use this concept for the contest but it became way too long so... guess not lol. As always, criticism is not only welcome but encouraged. If you think plot points are bad or the grammar is wonky I'm all ears; I did sort of rush to the finish to get this out by tonight because, well, a ghost story on Nov 1 doesn't really hit the same does it? Even better: as with most of my other stories I try my hardest to make sure this supplementary-to and non-conflicting with the game lore as much as possible, so if there is a massive discrepancy that I missed in my research, please please please tell me! Seriously, just knowing someone is reading helps calm down my ego. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy!



      The Spectre of Beckett's River

      The Zafarian Queen hardly seemed to live up to her name. The craft was a tiny one, barely a match for the hulking trade vessels that dotted the sky of the Mander’s homeworld. The boards creaked when facing even the tiniest of rapids, and a persistent stench of rotting wood emanated from the deck. A steady clunking rang out from its underbelly, as if the boiler were always within mere seconds of throwing in the towel, which gave the Mander and his scarab companion cause for some concern.

      “No waters the Zafarian Queen can’t master,” the captain said, assuaging the anxieties of his passengers with a hearty grin. In truth, the Mander did not even think the captain had comprehended his worries; he seemed utterly unaffected by the situation and continued to whistle a harmless but dissonant tune to accompany the din. It appeared the seasoned helmsman had grown so accustomed to the sound that he merely saw it as a feature of the thing—an integral part of the experience. “Some wizard magicked her right up for me. She hasn’t failed me since.”

      Despite these assurances, the opponent before her was vast: the River, as it was simply named by the native Zafarians. Birthed from the mountains surrounding Mirror Lake, it snaked its way through the winding jungle paths splitting there and merging here; it ran through the whole of the world and many voiced, though perhaps not loudly to avoid the disapproving glares that were sure to follow, that the River was more fundamental to the way of the Zafarian than the great Baobab itself.

      The turbulent whitewaters, in their rush to escape the interior, made a tradesman’s journey downriver a quick and painless affair. Go upstream, however, and one soon learned the true nature of the beast. It was simple, having to sustain the constant barraging assaults of the waves as one trudged upriver, to forget that this mammoth was a lifeline for the many tribes and peoples that lay upon the banks of its cloudy waters.




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      At one such riverbank in the Mander’s future lay Stone Town: the jewel of the Olyphant Nation. The olyphants—or elephants, to use the non-national term—were a proud, yet shrewd race known for their fair dealings as much as their unwavering resolve. How else could a civilization so massive and grandiose arise from the jungle floor?


      “Hold fast and don’t show any weakness, ya hear?” the captain cautioned. “We elephants put them Savannah lions to shame when we pounce.” The Mander nodded slightly as he shuffled his papers, acting as if the skipper’s words had spontaneously scrawled themselves down in the margins of his jottings, and he had merely moved to file them away for later.

      Prince Beckett. The Zafarian Prodigy. The Mammoth Mage. It had been generations since he set off on his Grand Tour, bouncing between the far-flung corners of the Spiral to hone his magical craft, and scarce leaving behind a mentor that was not impressed with his ability. He never lingered long, however, and his time was short; for back at his homeworld, a great war was brewing that threatened to destroy his people.

      The Silverback Invasion, as it is now known within the Olyphant records, was a years-long struggle between the upstart gorillas and the elephants that had seen atrocities committed by both sides. The Prince, recognizing this turmoil, began his interworld expedition to seek a power that would end the bloodshed. But upon returning home, and having announced that a solution had presented itself to him… the Prince drowned in the Elephant Graveyard.

      It was a case of grisly irony that he met such a fate in a small detached arm of the Great River that streamed peacefully past the tombs of his precursors. There he became an outcast for eternity—a body that was not laid to rest crowded by sepulchers of those that were.

      The details of the supposed remedy that the Prince had unveiled, or the topic of the cause of his death so soon after returning—both of these are only answered by speculation. What was known, though, was the speed at which the gorillas seized the initiative and drove forth the elephants from their sacred ground; the same land that they continue to occupy to this day.

      The Mander fingered through his notes on the legends put before him. Most were recorded many generations ago, and each filtered the Prince through various lenses. Some portrayed the valiant Prince as the desperate sort who tried in vain to find a respite for his people. Others are more mocking; the jester of an heir buzzing around the Spiral not knowing what to look for. Most, however, are more bleak and incriminating: the Prince abandoning his people in their time of need to chase fairytales.

      His eyes drifted lazily between the hasty scribblings of numerous theories and possibilities that a past self had seen fit to place below a crude overhead drawing of the graveyard. On it were noted the major tombs and mausoleums of notable leaders represented by imperfect circles and squares and the misspelled labels therein. Cutting it all in two was a thin slender line of ink: the river in which the Prince had drowned. The Mander had been unsure of how to tag it. To the admirers of the Prince it was Beckett’s River—or the River Beckett, if one was inclined to speak in poetry. Detractors insisted on a more unflattering name: the Moat. And so, not wanting to prejudice himself, he left the line blank.

      The rudimentary layout was not ideal, of course, but having taken the information from a nearly illegible scroll in Krokotopia, the likes of which the librarian had insisted were the most complete detailings to be found in the archives, he held it in his grasp with a certain assured authority.

      Those from Wizard City or Marleybone first stepping foot onto the golden sands of the Oasis often remarked aloud about the mysterious energy that suspended itself upon the sloping exteriors of the pyramids and fluttered within the billowing sails of flying ships carrying fine Krokotopian crafts to worlds beyond. The very scent of the place, outsiders would announce, held secrets regarding the whereabouts of exotic treasures and was always nearly on the precipice of giving them up like a child wholly unable to contain their emotions when entrusted with covert knowledge. Rarely though, did the sands of Krok offer their valuables so eagerly, and so it was that most curious explorer-types that ventured past the bustling marketplaces of the Oasis frequently retired to their homeworlds, sullen with shoulders hanging at their sides in defeat, when a golden sarcophagus rich with shimmering trinkets failed to materialize before them out of the dunes.

      The Mander, in contrast, being well accustomed to the riddles of Krokotopia sought his adventures elsewhere. Yet in a somewhat cosmic way, this wild world of great rivers and beasts reminded himself of home. Perhaps it was the uncompromising heat that oppressed all things that moved. Or the old myths stating that Zafaria and Krokotopia had once been one—the same river he now navigated having also fed his ancestors. Or maybe it was just his insectoid friend reminding him of those cool nights when he took refuge beneath the Krokosphinx.

      As if listening in on his thoughts, the small creature bounded about the deck happily, before plucking a crumpled newsprint from his stack of documents. “ANCIENT GRAVEYARD BESTOWS LEGENDARY ARTIFACT,” the headline read.

      The case was an odd one. Apparently, a Wizard City angler of questionable judgment had wormed their way into the heart of Zafaria on a crazed hunch of “big loot”. Then, only to have their suspicions confirmed, a rare wand of enormous power, miraculously and of its own volition, bubbled out of the graveyard's river. Or at least that was the tale the paper told.

      Yet though the story was, as far as the Mander knew, a widely reported one, the sagas of any subsequent expeditions to the site were few. The trek itself was a long and arduous trial, and the destination—the resting place for many forgotten spirits—left something to be desired within the minds of would-be glory-seekers.

      And the absolute incredulity of it was undeniable; did this wizard really believe readers would fall for such a ridiculous narrative? Surely this magical artifact was some sort of forgery, or maybe an exceedingly rare piece vomited from a crop of Evil Magma Peas—an action that they were often known to do. “See here,” one of the Mander’s acquaintances had joked before he set off, “the wizard said that it ‘cost a lot’. The Crown Shop raise their prices again, did they?”

      Still something about the account piqued the Mander’s curiosity: Prince Beckett had drowned in those very same waters. Thus far he knew of only himself that had made that connection, and as the pale buildings of Stone Town emerged from the tendrils of the jungle, he prepared to set off and hunt for the answers that would educate him on the powers at play.

      The busy markets of Stone Town’s Waterfront district gave the impression that here was not only the heart of the Olyphants, but of Zafaria itself. The Mander stretched himself side-to-side as he weaved between the multitude of patrons perusing the stalls of the Sook. Vibrant gold necklaces and baskets of juicy fruits shared their spots with more foreign luxuries: glittering porcelains from Mooshu as well as gemstones of some unknown arcane quality from Polaris. But answers were not to be sold in such a place; and, careful to keep his tail and the companion that rode upon it out of harm's way, he pushed himself into a little tea shop set aside for weary shoppers.

      Inside the tea shop a musty air dominated. A few small braziers provided some light, but the majority streamed down from a large rectangular opening overhead and bathed both the walls and tiles in a mystifying orange-red glow. A couple dozen customers sat on the hard-looking and uncomfortable seatings, drinking from plain cups with a distinctly melancholic expression upon their faces. In the center of the room, a saleswoman behind a squared-off countertop occupied herself with mixing a fresh batch of the beverage, seemingly doing so not for the surplus of buyers but to try and allay her own feelings of boredom. Conversation within was abrupt and fading; the haggling of the outside added its own cosmopolitan backdrop to an otherwise silent scene. It all had the purposeful ambience of some hurried stop on a long trip, where the goal of the establishment isn’t so much to offer relaxation or entertainment, but to usher visitors back out the door as quickly as they had arrived.

      Upon entering though the Mander became an object of note. His cyan exterior clashed with the abundance of warm reds and browns, and he no longer had a tide of shopkeepers and errand-runners to shield him. Suddenly the Mander shared an affinity with those alien things he had seen an instant before, as a flurry eyes of appraised him from across the room.




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      Soon it was apparent that those in Stone Town still held grudges over the horrors that transpired during the War, and many let out an audible sigh of content when they remembered the fate of the gorillas: all locked up in their little backward slice of Zafaria, as they were. He imagined his interviewees’ inner glee as they sat fantasizing about petty primitive squabbles between the silverbacks regarding which stick should be on top of the pile of firewood. Clearly the elephants were not without bias on the matter.

      In many ways though, inquiring about the War provoked some manner of both wonder and caution from the locals of the Olyphant capital. So much of their history—at least the sections of which are understood by those behind Baobab’s spiral door—revolves around the darkness of the Shadow Queen and the Council of Light. And thus few thoughts are spared toward the conflicts of the separate tribes themselves beyond the overarching narrative of Light and Dark. To an Avalonian or Pigswicker, such intraworld conflicts were just that: topics that were only of note to the inhabitants of that place. And perhaps, the Mander pondered, things were better that way.

      But now seeing as the destination of his journey traveled through gorilla territory the Mander sought any information he could obtain on the matter. So it was that the seeker and his scarab pined for answers.

      “Not many here know much of the Invasion,” remarked an elder elephant after being approached. The cracked and worn tusks of the elder communicated the possession of the knowledge the Mander sought. The left eye was nothing but an empty socket, and the right eye—though it took the two of them in with an unflinching gaze—had lost its keenness. “My great grandmother told me of the flight. The rain of silverback spears that fell upon young calves as families ran to the boats. ‘Escape! Escape!’ she would scream. Said more were lost in the stampede than to gorillas themselves.” The Mander felt a depressive blanket descend on them as the story was recounted. Patrons flashed disturbed glances from above their teacups, as if they too experienced that moment running from the warriors that skewered their forebears in a kind of multigenerational trauma.

      “And what of the young prince? Beckett?” Beyond the dim flames of a nearby brazier, the silhouettes across the shop twitched at hearing the name.

      “Mattan,” the elder swiftly corrected, a sprinkling of annoyance coating his speech. “An elephant name. Strong. Proud. But, like a coward, he fled the field. Whatever returned to us was fanciful. Idealistic. Thought he could pray amongst the bones of our ancestors for strength while the enemy was already upon us. Hah! The spirits abandoned him to drown in that graveyard.” The elder’s tone lowered itself to a more somber note: “That next morning? Amidst the suffering of the flight? The spirits abandoned us too.” The Mander lurched back somewhat at the candidness of it all; and, to his surprise, the spectators watching from the shadows seemed to nod their heads in mute approval of the retelling. Or, perhaps, not approval but affirmation.

      The matter continued to hang with him as he disembarked onto the shores beneath the thick Drum Jungle canopy. A strangeness permeated the air as the only sounds that inhabited the thickets and tangles were the billowing winds that blew through the underbrush. For the center of gorilla life, the place was oddly deserted.

      The Mander and his companion moved quietly among the darkened huts and rickety boards, careful not to wake some sleeping giant that lay camouflaged within the trees. At any moment, he hypothesized, the greenery may well come alive in a rage and—upon seeing this loathsome blue pest skulking within their wood—snatch him up by the tail and gobble him whole with one sweep of their branches. Yet incredible as the daydream may have seemed even to him, it did serve to occupy his thoughts and push out the feelings of foreboding that accompanied the wayward vines that hung from the desolate treetops.

      How odd it would be if the elder’s story were true. For a land that had seen so much bloodshed only to be devoid of any life... The suggestion of something terrifying crept its way into the Mander’s heart and caused him to shiver. He even felt the almost imperceptible shudders of his partner as she stood watch on his tail. Where was everyone?

      It was then that just beyond the dense jungle leaves came the first sight of a large ornate gate flanked by two hulking stone keepers. And this weird spectacle poking its head through the dense leafage, the Mander could only assume, were the Mammoth Doors: the entrance to the Elephant Graveyard.

      And so indeed it was.

      In spite of his long travels, the display of the towering elephant guardians and their charge filled him with a sense of renewed vigor. After so long a journey on the River and through the inner depths of Zafaria, completion of the marathon seemed finally within reach. Standing there amidst the two colossi and the doorway to the field they unflinchingly guarded, the Mander paused and inhaled the damp smell of sprouting square root and decaying mist wood. “We made it girl.” The scarab companion fluttered about happily, doubtless also suffering from the sapping effects of the expedition and the toll of Zafaria’s muggy gloom piercing her carapace.

      The doors themselves, though still imposing upon the jungle below, also held an aura of tiredness. Much of the intricate carvings that once adorned their faces were faded and worn, as if the artisans had seen fit to only carve random splotches on the surface. The sculptures, too, embraced that feeling of fatigue. Neither showed any indication of stopping the Mander’s advance to the properties within their care. Soon, possibly just after the Mander and his friend had gone, they would walk over to the rapids, take a refreshing drink from the River, and retire for the night.

      The gate had been left slightly ajar, just wide enough for a mander to slip through without the risk of touching the wood and disturbing the quietude; perhaps this mystery wanted to be uncovered. But even during navigating this gap, the semblance of something sacred washed over him—something dead yet still aware and demanding of respect.

      Gone were the dominating warm tints of the Zafarian sun. The graveyard was a world of its own; the enduring souls reached skyward and blocked any potential disruption to their rest. Instead, a perpetual night prevailed, and what light gleefully flickered among the stone pathways and elaborate monuments came only from the blue-ish spirit torches that hid within concave indentations on the outside of various structures.




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      Despite the mood of the place, a kind of perplexing calm came to the Mander. After wandering through Drum Jungle, the marked untouchedness of the graveyard conveyed an odd notion of security. And though he had not before seen the place he now found himself in—the shabby map of his own creation being his only picture—he felt a distinct sentiment that everything was as it was meant to be. That was, until he came upon the water.

      It was not so large a thing. At its widest point, it measured hardly two full manders tail-to-tip. Yet apprehension shook the Mander all the same, as he shuffled forward and planted himself at the water’s edge. There was no reflection; only the dusky movement of the current’s shadows dispelled the appearance that the world had plunged into a dark and endless abyss at his feet.

      Looking either left or right, if he traveled far enough up or down the bend, a geographer would dictate matter-of-factly that he would inevitably find the crashing waves of the Great River. The Mander was not convinced. For such a waterway was tricky—and it was not above betraying the truth of its origins or terminus if it so desired.

      His partner looked up at him worriedly, the shape of the beetle somewhat melting into the riverbank while being cast in the dismal lighting. And, though he was here and knew what he knew, he felt a nonplussed expression form on his face as the seconds became minutes.

      Though he watched the river for any sign or indication of the extraordinary, nothing materialized. Instead, the water stared back at him, silently indicating that it was his duty to make the first move.

      “Beckett!” the Mander called. He waited a moment as his voice echoed, now suddenly aware of the stillness. Even the magical flames that dotted the grounds slowed their dance. He tilted his head down slightly, trying to show a premature apology to the incorporeal spirits that would soon emerge from their tombs and demand punishment for such a headstrong breaking of the peace. But it never came. There was no response.

      “Mattan!” the Mander bellowed, more confident than his previous sally. No response.

      Then, breathing a deep courage into his chest, the Mander took his first step into the water. The frigid mud of the riverbed stuck to his heels. With each pace more of him disappeared into the weird ethereal dimension below the surface.

      As he advanced further, the sounds of his friend flittering wildly on the bank complemented his trudging footfalls. He spared a peek back in her direction, and saw her shady outline dashing about the water’s edge in a fit of frenzied concern; the Mander had certainly just committed an unforgivable sin.

      But it was all done in an instant. The Mander searched about him, the puzzled demeanor returning. He was at the center of the river, yet the waters barely reached his shoulders! The floors coated themselves with the normal silts and sediments that he wiggled in between his toes, and nothing at all unnatural. No treasures and no remains.

      He turned back and radiated a look of astonished amazement at his scarab friend. She had stopped her outburst and now sat, staring straight ahead, completely still—fixed in the ghastly glow of the graveyard. Then, without a warning and without sparing a moment to process the action, a shadow passed over her, and she jumped into the water.

      The Mander lunged forward as if by instinct, beating through the liquid obstacles in the way with a fervor that had never possessed him before. Reaching the landing of her descent, he kicked and swept his arms through the area—each movement opening a miniscule window and revealing nothing but the damp riverbed before the picture was again swallowed by the unceasing waters.

      He scanned the place for hours. When his limbs grew tired from continually beating back the onslaught, he resorted to crawling on his hands and knees through the whole length of the muck to feel for anything along the bottom—even a dead husk—that would give him closure. But there was none to be had. She had vanished, teleported by the waters to some otherworldly plane. He could do no more.

      The waves lapped at his ankles tauntingly as he emerged and limply threw himself on the banks like a piece of worn flotsam finding sanctuary at last. His hand reached for his chest as he attempted to calm the painful exhalations that would occasionally become coughing fits—his lungs attempting to spew out the dark liquid of the river that infected them. Then, as he sat there recovering, the grim realization finally took hold: the waters had defeated him. Instead he resorted to glaring at the victor with such a hateful intensity that it seemed as if he was trying to banish the whole thing with his eyes.

      Then the currents, having finally judged a call worth responding to, produced an answer. As if rejected by the depths of Tartarus, out of the water emerged a figure climbing onto the opposite bank. It stumbled out of the depths with a great splashing, determined to break the ominous silence that, thus far, only the Mander had interrupted. The limbs jerked between each movement, pausing for a second or two before again springing to life to continue their sporadic gait.

      The Mander sat there breathless as the scene unfolded before him, too terrified to run or yell or do anything at all. At once his mind appeared to unhinge on its own accord and deny him any sort of action. His skin, having already matched the pale blue of the spirit torches, now saw fit to empty itself of all color, dumping whatever hues remained into the dismal river at his feet. The creature, though still lurching its form forward, unleashed a chilling atmosphere that rivaled the deepest chambers of the Krokosphinx; it reached across the bend and gripped the Mander's soul in an embrace of pure icy terror.

      And as he watched the figure slowly emerge from the dark prison, the identity of this stranger came to him all too quickly. The mass still twitched as its blackened feet wrenched themselves upon the banks; but the Mander knew, after seeing only the silhouette, that this figure, this unruly horror, was—the Prince.

      The eerie shuddering persisted as the body—abruptly stopping its ascent out of the abyss, yet still facing away from the Mander—began speaking in a flurry of hushed chanting that, although seemingly soft, bounded across through the air as if the figure was whispering directly into the decrepit ear of the burial grounds. The phrases came too fast to comprehend, such that the Mander was not even sure of their nature: their purpose, meaning, or even their language.

      Then, still uttering hurried incantations and twitching violently, the Prince began to turn toward him. Illuminated in that faint spectral light was an elephant that appeared utterly devoid of all being. Ornaments rusted and broken, hung from corrupted tusks: molded by some foul parasite within the riverbed. The eyes held the Mander in a lifeless stare, with irises long since decayed into a hollow nothingness. An ungodly stink wafted from the demon, such that, if the Mander had time to study the form in a clear light, he believed he would no doubt find every spoilt trapping of flesh and carcass that had ever sunk beneath the waves of the Great River sewn into its hide.

      It was that skin of the beast, though, that most petrified him; a baggy decomposing suit that struggled to maintain its character without bulging or collapsing in on itself. From this distance it seemed that, underneath whatever remained of the Prince’s cruel visage, the skeleton was nothing more than a loose frame of twigs ready to snap at any moment and cause the whole deception to be revealed. Deep within himself the Mander was glad for the trickery; for he was certain that should the mask slip he would discover an entity so wicked and so vile that it would surely kill him in that very instant rather than risk its true disposition be discerned.

      The head of the “Prince” gave a strained and mechanical bow of acknowledgement before crumbling. In a flash, the monster disintegrated: all the matter becoming a viscous, inky liquid that began a slow and agonizing descent down the slopes of the waterfront and back toward the safety of the river.

      The Mander, still too exhausted and frightened to do more, simply watched it go. And the creature, having contented itself, did just that.

      The graveyard’s sky was still a black glass when the Mander awoke. The spirits had left his body untouched, perhaps thinking that his soul had already departed to join them in the afterlife. He lay there a moment, his muscles aching from his previous exertions and recalling his frenetic hunt for his companion. Ingesting a mighty heave, he sat up and scanned the area—almost expecting her to be nestled there by his side.

      Instead, he found a chest, worn and waterlogged. His senses tingled as he reached for it, the contents leaking through its wooden cage. And then, without allowing any other wretched thoughts or memories to manifest themselves, he coolly stood, lifted the gift, and walked away.

      His hands clung to the small box with a steadfast tenacity; he was uncertain of what else to do with them. The skipper muttered grumpily in the background, complaining about schedules and waiting and all such things, but the Mander was elsewhere. For the order of the events that transpired still played in his mind in a dim haze of terror and shock. The recollection continued to course through his veins with a murky bite that made his whole body feel profoundly dirty and unclean.

      From that water, he concluded, had surfaced something completely alien to the known magics of the Spiral—something that transcended the petties of necromancy or the banalities of shadow creatures. It was, perhaps, the combined dread of an entire race bearing down upon one soul, rending it from its person, and casting it across the waters to drown in the depths. Some erstwhile conscience that, having absorbed into itself a breed of unknown energy lingering for generations, had coalesced into a monstrous and grotesque creature desiring only to taste the most basic miseries.

      The Mander’s memory wandered back to the small newspaper story that had begun his odyssey up the River. And, as if the ghost of his friend still jumped beside him, he plucked the clipping from his pile of papers and rested it upon the box in his lap. This deal had cost too much.

      Last edited by Cosmos; 12-30-21 at 1:01:17 PM. Reason: spelling ninja edits
      Come back alive. It'd be an awfully empty galaxy without you. - Garrus Vakarian // I also write my own stuff ~

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