As the bowman curled his fingers around the string of the weapon, his eyes narrowed in concentration. He took a deep breath and then let it out slowly before drawing back on the arrow. Only the sound of muscles tensing up was heard as he drew back the arrow to aim at his target- an apple that had been nailed to a tree trunk twenty feet away. Letting go with one hand, he aimed before quickly releasing the string of the bow, making sure not to lose any tension on it.
A satisfying swoosh sounded as it hit its mark, severing the apple in half. With a smirk plastered on his face, he turned to grin triumphantly at his best friend Tristan, who was standing with his arms crossed and eyes closed.
“Not bad, Vargas,” Tristan said with a slight nod. “You’ll get the hang of it after a few more tries.”
Vargas shrugged. “It has been three hundred years. What’s a few more tries?” He said before walking over to pick up the pieces of the apple. “Besides, I didn’t expect to be in here for this long anyway.”
They wanted to go home. And they were getting impatient. After all, death was but a door; it shouldn’t be locked from the outside.
The two archers had been stuck in this magical land for three hundred years already, trapped inside the mystical world like it was some kind of prison cell. But maybe staying here wasn’t so bad instead of a harsher unknown.
Every day was almost the same. They would wake up, eat breakfast, practice their skills with their bows and arrows, and venture through the mystical realm before dinner. It felt like time had stopped for them. The only way out was to find the portal that had trapped them here so long ago. They knew there was a magic portal that could take them back to their world, but the evil wizard who ruled the land had sealed it shut.
At first, they were hopeful. This would only be for a time. Once they searched and found the right answer, they would open the portal. However, the days passed into weeks and the months turned into years. The men wondered if they’d ever see another sunrise or sunset outside this place, let alone live through one more night. But each day brought with it the hunter’s hope, for it meant that today would be better than yesterday.
And yet, even the most patient of men had their limit. As time dragged on, they grew restless. They couldn’t stand the thought of living out their lives in this foreign place forever.
Tristan’s heart raced as he stepped onto the stone platform in front of him. His body felt shaky as he looked down at the ground below him. Vargas was next to him, standing at attention and holding his bow in a ready position.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Vargas asked as he looked at his friend.
“Of course I’m sure,” Tristan replied. “We need to try. Otherwise, what’s the point?”
The two archers walked up to the top of a mountain where they saw an old man sitting near a fire, roasting some delicacies next to a cottage. “Hello, friends!” said the old man. “Come and share what I’m cooking.”
They noticed their captor nearby. It was the wizard, Rurik, levitating at a distance, observing his two prisoners’ actions.
“You know the plan, Vargas.” Tristan assured him. “Nothing deviates us from it.”
The archers walked over and took a seat near the fire.
The wizard floated closer to the group. He stared off into space for a moment, contemplating the actions of the two, before looking over at Tristan. “So tell me youngins: What are y’all doing coming up here? Just passing through?”
Both of them shook their heads.
Tristan looked him in the eyes. “We have nothing left to live for here.” He answered firmly, his grip on the bow tightening. Vargas added more quietly, “It’s time to go home.”
The two of them attacked together, their arrows striking with deadly accuracy. They had been practising every day since leaving Kaverin’s camp behind. Their skill made quick work of the elderly man, his blood spraying everywhere.
“What are you doing?” The wizard Rurik demanded, facing them in rage through the splattered spectacle. Vargas lowered the bowstring and pulled back on it. His grip tightened on it in preparation for an attack. But Rurik backed away at the first sight of arrows pointed at him and tele-formed into the walls of the small cottage. The old man was about to say something when Vargas shot another arrow at him, this one piercing him through the throat. With that, the elder fell to the floor, gurgling and choking.
The archers were prepared for their most terrible battle ever. They were correct in their assumption that the old man was Rurik’s soul defence and now, with him gone, the wizard was vulnerable.
“Never did I believe the noble archers would slay a defenceless old man.” Rurik taunted. “But even with this surprise, you two are no match for me. This will be your eternal torment!”
“Get ready for anything, Vargas, he’s afraid.” Tristan observed.
Rurik, the old wizard, had transformed into a darker version of himself. Power flourished through him as he summoned magic that his opponents had never seen before.
A giant orb formed around the wizard, and beams of energy shot through it towards the archers. The force knocked them back, but their bows could absorb the energy that came from it.
“Aha!” the wizard mocked. “I see you have learnt the ways of magic yourself.”
The archers had enchanted their weapons, which allowed them to destroy the soul defence, and now defend themselves against their opponent.
The duo fired their magical arrows at their target, but the orb of magic lashed out and prevented every projectile from meeting its mark. With each counter attack, Tristan and Vargas were pushed further back, almost getting knocked completely off the mountain.
It seemed like Rurik would prevail in this skirmish. They almost expected it as he had a 300 year head start against them in this realm.
However, one should never underestimate the power of a persistent adversary.
Tristan, being the astute marksman he was, noticed a flaw within the protection of the wizard. Each time an arrow deflected, the energy needed left the area, and another arrow should strike the unguarded for a mere moment.
“Vargas, I need you to play the game we were playing earlier today.” He demanded.
“This isn’t the time for such games, Tristan.” He retorted. “We are about to fall off this cliff and you want to mock me for not being able to do something for an eternity.”
“Have faith! It’s either we do this now or never.” he answered back. “Between the eyes…”
The both archers stopped forward boldly, took their aim and fired simultaneously.
Both arrows impacted at their mark almost at the same time. Tristan’s arrow hit and deflected, opening up a small area in the orb. In the same heartbeat, Vargas’ arrow went through the orb and hit the wizard directly between the eyes.
The wizard screamed in pain, and a red line formed on his cheek and it started oozing black fluid down towards his eye and ear.
He rolled onto his side, clutching. He felt a piercing sting and burning sensation shoot through him, followed by weakness in his legs.
But then Rurik used an unusually powerful spell, one that burned through their defences like water through paper; even though the archers tried to dodge in vain-it did not seem enough to stop such terrible force.
Vargas’ strength gave out, and the longbow slipped from his hand, sending his arrows tumbling down the cliff-side.
Rurik cast his remaining spells upon the last standing archer, weakening him. Tristan, in agony, dropped onto his knee, and then dropped to all fours as the last vestiges of energy faded from him.
Tristan knew he had to act fast. Sucking in a deep breath, he steadied himself and lifted his longbow once more. Vargas lay at his feet, depleted and unmoving.
Rurik rose, covered in the fluid from his witchcraft and staring blankly at Tristan.
Something inside him snapped. As if fueled by anger and frustration, the dark power within him surged forth again. His mouth opened wide, and a voice echoed throughout the valley. It sent shivers down the spines of those who heard it. Suddenly, an enormous shadow appeared overhead. One which moved straight toward the stricken pair.
The beast swooped low around the two warriors and landed right next to them.
Tristan felt the air being sucked out of his lungs as the creature, a massive dragon, breathed fire at him. He deflected the blast with his enchanted weapon and rolled back to avoid any further attack from the blast.The flames scorched the ground where he had been just a few moments ago. The dragon roared at his weakened attack, a sound that caused the very earth to tremble.
Tristan’s vision was filled with smoke as he coughed and choked. He looked up to see the beast breathing fire into the sky.
Rurik chanted on the ground below, as if controlling the beast.
With a flick of his wrist, Tristan quickly shot towards the wizard, knocking him back down to the ground. The archer then focused his attention on the dragon above and steadied himself before releasing an arrow into the sky. It flew through the air with accuracy that surprised even him. The sound of it hitting its target echoed around him deafeningly as he let go of his tense muscles and sank onto one knee.
The last attempt at facing off against Rurik seemed never to end.
Then he saw something that gave him hope. A single drop of blood formed on the dragon’s snout. The beast’s nostrils flared as it took in the scent of its prey. It turned to look at the archer, a menacing grin crossing its lips.
Tristan looked up to see Rurik down on the grass, looking up at the beast with a strange expression on his face. He raised his hands and the dragon, confused by his movements, stopped breathing fire.
“Rurik,” Tristan called out weakly. “No, do not make this go any further.”
The old wizard seemed to snap out of his trance-like state and stared at Tristan for a few moments before turning his attention back to the dragon. Vargas, who was still lying in pain on his side, looked at the wizard.
“Deliver us back home, sorcerer. We need you to keep that promise!”
Tristan gripped the bow tightly but found that it had become too heavy for him to hold without using both his arms. But he did not want to give it up; it was all he had left to fight with.
The dragon roared once more and a blast of fire engulfed them. It felt like they were being burned alive. The enchantments they provided on themselves were the only things keeping it from actually happening.
Tristan let go of the bow and fell to his knees next to Vargas, throwing himself forward so that his head rested against the injured archer’s side. Vargas tried to move forward as well, but struggled. He could not do much except to feel hot pain radiating from the wounds in his body. He looked up to see the monster’s red eyes watching them from only ten paces away.
Rurik was silent and moving his hands towards the beast. The effort of controlling the dragon was draining him quickly.
“Please! We have been stuck here for 300 years!” Vargas continued. “We are tired, hungry, wounded.”
The dragon suddenly charged towards them. With surprising agility and speed, it leaped between the archers, and suddenly was thrown towards the side of the mountain, as if by an external force.
The wizard, taken out of his rage, fought against the dragon with his magic. He conjured spells that were slamming the confused creature into the mountain and causing it to roar in anger. It rushed the wizard and breathed fire at its once associate.
It slashed at the wizard, but none of the hits were impacting. His force field had returned. The dragon, seeing an opening, quickly flew above him and struck Rurik on his back. It pinned the sorcerer down and was prepared to go for the kill.
Tristan thought this was the end for them. He closed his eyes, prepared to meet his fate.
“Tristan,” Vargas said in a weakened state. “Up there.” He motioned to a damaged portion of the mountain the dragon crashed into.
The archer knew what his friend wanted him to do. With all the strength he had left, he grabbed his bow and fired an arrow towards the damaged area above.
Several boulders came hurtling down the mountain slope from high above and slammed into the dragon’s flank. The monster let out another roar and its spine rattled as another large piece of rock bounced off its back. The creature, perhaps feeling overwhelmed by the onslaught, launched itself upwards, away from the engagement. It spread its wings wide and began flying into the distance. Soon, the beast disappeared completely over some mountains in the distance.
“Tristan…” Rurik called to the archer. Tristan got up shakily to his feet and stumbled over to him.
“There is no portal. We are all confined to this realm. We can never return home.”
Tristan groaned under his breath. This wasn’t how things were supposed to turn out. Not this way.
“You lie!” he screamed.
“All these years I have been here have been a lie.” Rurik said as he coughed blood from his draining body. “The realm only exists with the sacrifices given to the beast. Without them, it will wreak havoc and destroy us all.”
He turned to Vargas, “You now have the truth I promised all those years ago. Now it is your burden to bear.” The wizard laughed. “For all newcomers who enter the realm, you two will now have to be their saviours and their hellstorm in this paradise.”
The wizard’s magic took over, the black ooze the archer saw before came out and attached itself to everything around it.
As it wrapped around Tristan’s hand, the archer thrust a dagger into Rurik’s heart. The wizard opened his mouth in shock as blood gushed forth. The evil magic subsided back into its host.
“Home…” Rurik muttered to himself, feeling an overwhelming sense of relief.
The wizard’s body faded into shadow until he had completely disappeared.
Tristan stood up and helped Vargas hobble back to the direction of their makeshift cabin, with no particular goal in mind.
Their wounds ached terribly, but it seemed like their bodies suddenly did not care about the pain anymore. They were tired, hungry, and emotionally drained, but they ignored it.
The archers were not entirely sure what to make of the events that had just transpired. The wizard that taunted them for so many years had just given them the keys to the land, but now they knew it came at a price.
Was this the ‘freedom’ he promised? To be the ones to control who is sacrificed and who is spared?
Were they being tested all this time?
But there were more important things to decide at this moment. They needed rest and food. And a drink would be good too.
Now they were in control, they would have the newcomers take care of all those things for them.
Perhaps this was their best fate to be trapped in this world…
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