The Fight of the Shattered Desert
The Fight of the Shattered Desert takes place during the End Times event.
Chapter 1[edit | edit source]
Valera spoke in hushed tones to her fellow Paladins, afraid to believe:
The Magistrate couldn’t be this reckless. Could they?
Valera’s hand traced a path across a tattered map, marked with pictographs and battlefields, knocking aside the meagre remnants of a too-small lunch. “From Serpent Beach, through Brightmarsh…” she trailed off as she deftly adjusted the positions of small carved figures.
She grabbed a handful of chicken bones, as if she might ask the divine for guidance, then carefully placed each bone on the map. A femur outside Stone Keep, two ulnas at Splitstone Quarry. Filling in for the Magistrate forces she knew were stationed at these critical points.
“In just two weeks...” Valera said, trailing off again, lost in thought.
Then, sharply: “Cassie, again, this week’s scouting reports.”
The huntress rattled off a list of sightings as Valera shoved leftovers across the map, covering the Realm with grape seeds and olive pits. It made no sense. There were too many sightings. The Magistrate’s forces had doubled.. no, tripled overnight.
The door to the hideout slammed open, bright light temporarily blinding the Paladins. Some shielded their eyes, Inara reached for her staff. The silhouette in the door frame pulsed fire. Then ice. Then fire. Then ice. What seems like eons passed before it spoke.
“I seek Valera,” she finally said.
Valera stood. “I am she.”
The figure bowed deeply, revealing an incredibly long lock of hair. Only one group wore their hair like that… but they were long gone. “A Warder,” Talus whispered. “But how?”
The Warder straightened, inhaled deeply, and began to speak.
“Valera, you have been an ally to my people for centuries. I am Imani, and I am all that remains of the Warders.
“The Beacon was lit. When I reached the isle, I found traces of your people. It was then I knew you must have summoned me to face the Darkness.
“The Warders have helped the Paladins before,” Imani said, slowly bowing deeply once more. “It would be my honor to fight alongside you. And perhaps… We can save this Realm together once more.”.
The Warder held her bow, awaiting a response. And Valera held her tongue at first, unsure what to say for the first time in a long time.
“Imani, it would be an honor to fight alongside you,” the Paladin said. “But it was not we who called you.”
“What?!” Imani snapped straight and held up a hand encased in fire. “The Magistrate summoned me?”
Valera shook her head, carefully.
“We reached the island just before them. We have no idea who lit the Beacon… there was no one there when our forces arrived.” “Then who?” Imani asked.
As if on command, the air sizzled and popped, a sound as loud as a lightning bolt but with a deep resonance that stretched beyond the cosmos. And then a masked man floated into existence in the middle of the safehouse, his star-strewn cloak betraying his identity if his elaborate entrance had not. Jenos. The Tau-Kor monk who stepped into the stars… and returned as a god.
“My apologies,” the so-called god said, absently brushing a speck of dust from his lapel. “I was… delayed by a large, armored man.”
Jenos looked around the room, surveying the motley crew of elves, humans, and Ska’drin that called themselves Paladins. They even seemed to have recruited a tortoise. And a tree?
“Ah, the Warder,” Jenos said. “I see you answered my call.”
Imani stepped back in shock, opened her mouth as if to speak, then closed it again and nodded.
“I bring a message from the stars. A message of your impending destruction.”
The Paladins collectively gasped, Tyra’s gun clattering to the floor harmlessly.
“Looks like I need to find another new crew,” a masked ninja said under his breath, while a bandanna-clad adventurer glared in his general direction.
“I have spoken with the moon,” Jenos said casually, as if such a thing were possible. “The Darkness is coming.”
“Pyre bless,” Valera said. “That’s it.”
“What’s it?” Ying asked excitedly.
Valera grabbed a blueberry, crushed it in her hand, and started speaking in unbroken sentences, like a woman possessed.
“Long ago, our moon was whole. It was united, like our Realm once was.”
She touched her blue finger to the map and began to draw.
“But then it shattered, broken, into thousands of pieces. We know not why.”
“Wishbone connected to apple core and lines became troop movements.”
“Some shards fell to the Realm. And where they landed, they killed all that they touched.”
Valera quickly sketched paths, and each path became an arrow, pointing at one, single location.
“All that remained was The Shattered Desert,” Valera said, stabbing her blue finger onto the lifeless barrens.
Imani nodded. “Then that is where we must go.”
Chapter 2[edit | edit source]
Wind beat down upon the Paladins, more grit than air, as horses neighed their complaints over the state of things. No matter where you looked, it was sand. Only sand.
Hot, dead, sand.
“Feels like home,” Sha Lin said with a smile.
“It used to be more like Grover’s home,” Valera said, nodding at the treefolk. “Before the broken moon fell.”
The Shattered Desert. It was here that shards of the moon once crashed to the Realm, killing everything they touched.
A bright red bird broke through the sandstorm into the Paladins’ view, soaring overhead with a screech. It tumbled through the air, catching the wind just in time to land gracefully on the shoulder of a redheaded huntress.
“Cassie, report,” Valera said.
“It’s hard for Zigs to see much in this sandstorm,” Cassie said, the bird chirping in her ear. “But it looks like there’s a canyon up ahead that might provide some shelter.”
The bird screeched violently, batting its wings before taking flight in a huff.
“Also, Zigs says he misses the forest and would like to go home,” Cassie said with an apologetic smile.
The Paladins rode in silence for what seemed like eternity, their capes flapping violently in the harsh wind. There was no sense of time or distance, just a dull roar of wind and sand.
Forms began to surface from the sand: tall wind-sculpted bluffs bearing just the slightest traces of hearty vegetation. As the Paladins rode further, it became clear - not just the wind was carving this stone.
“Barbaric…” Inara said softly.
Crags and buttes had been shaped into crescent moons and graceful fox sculptures.
“We are treading on holy ground,” Imani said with a frown, bowing her head and drawing small arcane circles with her fingertips.
“This place has naught to do with the Pyre, Warder,” Furia said, her wings arched behind her shoulders. “Wherever the cosmos touch the Realm, they find foolish men willing to worship them. They are far from divine.”
“That,” Jenos smiled, “is one point we would agree on.”
The canyon closed to a tight chasm, one rider-wide at best. Valera slowed her horse, alert as the Paladins began to funnel through. “Eyes up everyone,” Valera said. “The Magistrate must be here somewhere.”
“Feels like an ambush…” Tyra said as she scanned the cliff tops for motion, her rifle at the ready.
Valera’s horse whinnied, shook against the chasm’s tight confines, urging her to go faster. But the legendary warrior was steady, constant, slowly leading her meagre army through… and into a massive clearing guarded by two gigantic fox statues, their tails curved into the shape of a crescent moon.
“This feels more like home to me,” Makoa said slowly.
A crack of thunder struck, a sizzle of electricity and the taste of ozone. It was an explosion of force, a cloud of dust that blew away the sandstorm save for some dust devils on the horizon, ending with an impact that staggered the Paladins and made their horses rear up.
But the sizzling sound did not end. And there was no lightning strike.
Only a tear in reality, a portal spinning through the air, radiating with some otherworldly power.
An elf rode forward, her expression unknowable because of a veil, but her eyes entranced by the portal in the sky.
“Ying, no!” Valera screamed.
As she neared the portal, the elf illusionist’s movements stretched and slowed. She tumbled towards the sun as if gravity no longer existed. Her mount’s legs began to work double-, no, triple-time as it spun through the air, looking for some surface to find traction.
And then Ying disappeared.
“Ying!” Sha Lin screamed, burying his head in his hands to hide the tears that he knew were coming.
A green-gloved hand tapped Sha Lin on the shoulder.
“I’m right here, silly,” Ying said. “Remember, the whole illusion thing? But that portal seems weird…”
“It seems like a source of great power,” Imani said, one gauntlet shielding herself from the rift, the other prepared to strike.
Jenos stroked his chin, lost in thought as he stared into the portal. “Something not of this world, to be certain...”
A loud screech broke Jenos’ concentration. A screech that kept growing louder, and louder, frantic and distraught.
“Zigs!” Cassie said, pointing into the distance. “The Magistrate!”
Figures came into view on the horizon, accompanied not by dust devils but pillars of smoke and sand kicked up by countless legions.
The full might of the Magistrate bore down on The Shattered Desert.
To see the full might of the Magistrate arrayed like this? It was what he lived for.
He brushed some sand out of his short brown hair, polished the gold accents on his belt buckle. Savored the sound of thousands of soldiers’ feet, beating the sand in unison.
The man walked slowly, sure of his mission, the wind whipping his red coattails against dark trousers.
Time was short. The Shattered Desert was near. And with its power, the Magistrate was certain of victory.
Chapter 3[edit | edit source]
The sky still sizzled and crackled. The air still reeked of ozone and an otherworldly rot.
But the rift in space was no more.
Now there was only a hulking man, knelt atop a shadowy spire of wind-blasted sandstone.
“Paladins, to arms,” Valera said quietly, the Paladins’ leader’s eyes intent on the massive figure.
“He might be as large as that House Aico fellow,” the so-called god Jenos whispered.
Even the ancient Makoa nodded his assent to Jenos, pawing at his anchor. He almost seemed challenged by the colossal man.
Valera’s eyes darted back and forth between the still figure and the impending dust storm on the horizon. It was no mere sandstorm -- the full might of the Magistrate’s army was bearing down upon the Paladins’ position.
The sun shifted, and rays reflected brightly off the man’s back.
Valera’s full attention was turned to the strange new features revealed. A gleaming backpack, with tubes and tanks full of some luminous liquid. Eyes that still glowed from his now shaded face.
And an arm that was no arm at all. In its place was a massive gun, glowing and ticking with technology beyond that of the Paladins… or the Magistrate.
“This man must be why the Magistrate are here,” Talus shouted.
The Paladins’ eyes all turned to Talus at once, their mouths all whispering “Shhhh.”
But the man was already standing, had already heard Talus’s outburst. Before the Paladins could react, his gun-arm was pointed right at them.
“The Magistrate?” his deep voice bellowed. “Are you the Magistrate?”
“Nay friend,” Valera said. “We are what remains of The Paladins.”
The man lowered his arm, just a hair. Then he snapped his aim tight on Valera.
“Is the Darkness here?” he bellowed, his aim quivering for a moment. “Are you corrupted?”
Valera slowly lifted her hands, empty, showing the man her palms.
“I know not of what you speak,” Valera said, and the man slowly lowered his gun-arm.
“But the Magistrate will soon reach the Shattered Desert,” she said, pointing to the horizon, “and we believe they are here searching for something.”
“It’s the Darkness, I believe,” Jenos said. “At least, that’s what the moon told me.”
“Again with the moon...” Koga said under his breath, rolling his eyes.
“We believe time is short,” Valera said.
“Shorter than you believe…” the man mumbled, deep voice trailing off as his glowing eyes studied the ground, glanced back at the Magistrate’s forces, then met Valera’s gaze.
The hulking man sprinted towards the edge of the spire, moving far quicker than seemed possible for his stature. He leapt into the air, almost effortlessly, his mass pulling him faster and faster toward the ground. Then, just feet from the ground, time seemed to slow almost imperceptibly, and the figure landed without a sound.
He extended his massive left hand -- the only one he had -- and grasped Valera’s in a shake.
“They call me Atlas,” he said. “I have returned from the Realm’s future.”
Cassie gasped and clasped her hands to her face, the sudden motion knocking Zigs from her shoulder with an angry squawk. The bird circled, then landed on the one nearby tree… who responded with a slow, drawn-out sigh.
“The future?” Imani said, incredulous. “Even the Warders do not wield that power.”
“It is true,” Atlas said. “I have studied the past. The Warders did not have this ability.
“But developing this Crystal technology was the future’s last hope,” Atlas said, casting his eyes to the ground. “I am the future’s last hope.”
Two veiled elves appeared on either side of Atlas, wrapping their arms around him in comfort.
“Only one of you?” one elf said.
“That must be terrible!” the other said.
“What went wrong?” Sha Lin asked, suddenly more interested now that the elves had shown interest in Atlas.
“The Darkness,” Atlas said, the glow of his eyes now focused on Sha Lin. “A creeping, otherworldly corruption. It eats and spreads, spawning foul abominations with the strength of a dozen common men.”
“Sounds like a worthy hunt,” Tyra said.
A wry laugh escaped Atlas’s lips. “We tried. And failed.
“In my future, you’re all dead.”
The Paladins gasped. All save for Valera, intent as ever on Atlas’s words.
Atlas’s gaze locked onto Valera. “I know you now. I recognize you from the ancient books. From stories my father told.
“Valera, is it?”
The near-immortal Paladin nodded, sharply, not wanting to interrupt.
“You survived much longer than the others. To a point where there was no Paladins, no Magistrate, only the Darkness and those who stood against it.
“But in the end, none can stand against the Darkness. The only chance to stop it is to make sure it never exists.”
Valera paused while the words sunk in, making sure Atlas had finished.
“Atlas, help me understand,” she started, gesturing to the horizon. “The Magistrate… if they are not here for you, then for what?”
“For a power they do not understand!” Atlas said, clenching his fist, taking a deep breath, then relaxing.
“The ancient texts claim the Magistrate saw a chance at victory, to destroy the Paladins. Their wisest scientists -- and darkest dealers -- turned to the legend of the Shattered Desert. They came here for the power that could turn lush forest to barren desert.
“They came here for the shards of the moon, the stones that fell here,” Atlas concluded with a snarl.
“Stones do hold great power…” Inara said, softly.
“But stones could not do this alone,” Imani said. “The moon does not harbor such Darkness.”
“No,” Atlas said. “The Darkness is not of the moon. But somehow, it is harbored in the shards. Hiding.”
“Perhaps the moon’s power trapped it, prevented the Darkness from breaking free,” Jenos said.
“But in their rush for power, the Magistrate accidentally unleashed it,” Valera said.
Atlas nodded. “As I understand history, it was as you say. The exact details are lost to time.”
“So what do you want us to do now, time guy?” Koga said. “In case you forgot, the Magistrate are coming, and we’re out of time.”
Atlas paused, surveying the ragtag group of Paladins, then nodded.
“We must stop the Magistrate,” he said. “But first, we must find help.”
Gallery[edit | edit source]