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Story The Twins: Test of Redemption

PaperLaur

Spazmatism
Originally inspired by a PlotBin suggestion. Took on a life of its own. Help.

-:-:-

The Twins: Test of Redemption

Once, two of the Moon Lord's servants were something more human.

A horrific fate; fallen guardians cursed to become the scourge of the land, eventually sealed by the spirits of light and darkness.

But the spirits are unbalanced and the world is in chaos.

The former guardians have been granted a chance, a test.

Save Terraria, and they will be forgiven for their sins, and relieved of their curse.

But fall to darkness again, and the Crimson will take them back...

-:-:-

Chapters List

Part One: Path of the Prophecy

Chapter One: The First Day [ Post #2 ]
Chapter Two: Surveying [ Post #4 ]
Chapter Three: A World Off-Kilter [ Post #7 ]
Chapter Four: Underpowered [ Post #9 ]
Chapter Five: Seeing Red [ Post #10 ]
Chapter Six: Intruder [ Post #11 ]
Chapter Seven: Journey to Rifdale [ Post #13 ]
Chapter Eight: Conflict [ Post #19 ]
Chapter Nine: Citizens of Rifdale [ Post #20 ]
Chapter Ten: Eye to Eye [ Page 2 - Post #27 ]
Chapter Eleven: Mannerisms [ Post #28 ]
Chapter Twelve: Exploration [ Post #29 ]

-:-:-

Characters [ In Order of Appearance ]

Ret [ Retinazer ]

[ Picture reference forthcoming. ]

Ret is known for being a man of action rather than words. The slightly older of the twins, Ret easily falls into the leader position of the duo, though prefers to lead and manipulate situations from the background rather than throw himself out into the thick of things. This reflects in his style of combat, with his attack preference being ranged, and his defensive style being standing back and dodging, firing from the sidelines while Spaz draws attention away from him.

Ret is the more logical of the two, often being the one to come up with plans. Like his brother, he despises the notion of being controlled by anything, and over time has become quite paranoid and suspicious of almost everyone. Determined and incredibly protective of the few he cares about, Ret obeys his own internal set of rules, though does not rebel against authority for authority's sake. No, he calculates the best move to make at any given time--when to obey, and when to go off on his own.

His fatal flaw is a strong pride that sometimes eclipses even his reason. He's obsessed with projecting himself a certain way and gaining a certain reputation, and will get extremely upset if things fly out of his hands. He may project himself as the calmer one, but if he's pushed to the limit, his anger is not something one would care to face if they wish to continue living. He also has a certain lust for power and control that's likely to get him in trouble one of these days.

Spaz [ Spazmatism ]

[ Image reference forthcoming. ]

Spaz can certainly be said to live up to his name. Energetic, erratic, and sometimes coming off as downright ax-crazy, Spaz is a spirited fighter who's a bit too keen on using violence to solve his problems. He can appear rather childish and irrational, throwing himself into things on emotion rather than thinking through the consequences. It's little surprise he's primarily a melee fighter, with magic as a backup for mid-range combat. His style involves a rapid flurry of quick strikes, overwhelming the opponent with speed and intensity--and if he does need to go ranged for something, he will completely spam that attack, giving an enemy nowhere to dodge.

Spaz can be said to be the mouthpiece of the two; talkative, blunt, and says exactly what he thinks of any given situation or person, regardless of the consequences. He does not care for any authority that isn't his older brother's, and will actively fight against any attempt to keep him in line, just for the sake of it. He's certainly the more emotionally-driven of the two, often not thinking his actions all the way through and acting on impulse. However, despite the impression he gives off of being the dumb blood knight, if he is thinking, he can be a highly dangerous fighter and opponent, determined, relentless, and powerful. Oftentimes, when it doesn't seem he's acting with any plan, he's running on his own internal plan that only makes sense to him.

His fatal flaw is wrath. Spaz will refuse to back down from a challenge, and is very big on revenge. His anger burns bright and is easily invoked, and he enjoys fighting just for the sake of fighting and "proving" his skill. He seeks glory and approval, and will do just about anything to get it and "look cool" to others.

"The Keeper" / Keeper the "Guide"

[ Image reference forthcoming ]

Not a lot is known about the man who calls himself only "the Keeper." He appears to have been sent to watch over the twins on their test and journey through no will of his own--in fact, he despises this job and is very vocal about it. But something keeps him from rebelling--perhaps it's a respect for whatever authority left him here, perhaps he has his own personal motives for wanting the twins to succeed, or maybe even a combination of both. Keeper fights with range and magic, but is most proficient--and greatly prefers--summoning and the use of minions. He tends to act as a paragon of defense while other entities fight for him, though can move very fast in his own right if he wants to.

He speaks little, and of himself less. When he does, he usually seems irritable. Overall, he projects a dark and even creepy aura, and definitely knows more about this situation than he's willing to tell. He's a major proponent of neutrality, and seems to desire to get the world back on track after the Moon Lord's interference.

Keeper has no idea how to act according to proper society, and seems to dislike people in general. Why he was put on this task, the gods only know.

Mercer the Traveling Merchant

[ Possible image reference. ]

Mercer is a young going on middle-aged man from the haven town of Rifdale, who works there as a merchant and often travels the land selling wares. He's talkative, friendly, and loves the idea of seeing new things--however, he can become very timid and nervous if pressed, and will avoid conflict at all costs. He isn't an initiator, tending to hang back and follow others, though with a positive attitude and care for others that lightens up a situation.

Alalia the Dryad

A fierce warrior of a nature spirit originally hailing from the jungle, Alalia can be said to be extensively patriotic to the point of being obsessive when it comes to her native land, and its former ally, the Hallow. She's lived for a very long time and is more intelligent than she lets on, but she tends to judge quickly and see things in black and white rather than shades of gray. Peaceful, kind, and wise under normal circumstances, downright bloodthirsty when angered, Alalia fights with magic and is almost a sort of nomad, traveling in and out of Rifdale often, though she is said to be one of the founding citizens.

Bailey the [Former] Party Girl

[ Possible image reference... ]

Bailey is an outgoing, upbeat, and extremely energetic woman in her early thirties, who was one of the founding citizens of Rifdale from twenty years prior. Mercer's wife and Tommy's energetic mother, Bailey refuses to let herself be dragged down by negative situations, and is always trying new things. Friendly and fiercely caring for her family and friends, despite her ditzy appearance, she is not one to cross--if anyone she cares for is in danger, she will fight tooth and nail to get rid of the threat. Though even through her constant apparent perkiness, there seems to be something hidden therein.

Bailey works for the stylist on occasion, and also helps to run the inn in Rifdale. She fights with explosives.

More to be added.

-:-:-
A/N: This started out as me sitting down and writing a chapter on a whim. Then it got way out of hand. I'm enjoying writing this immensely, and I really hope you guys enjoy reading it! This is my first lengthy writing project in a long time, so it may not be as up-to-scratch as I'd like at points, but I'm proud of how it's coming out, and have a lot planned.

Feedback is HUGELY appreciated--ESPECIALLY your thoughts on the characters, predictions on what's coming next, theories, et cetetra. EVERY post helps, feedback keeps me motivated, and every impression you can give me lets me know if I'm doing my job right and getting across what I'm trying to.

If you'd like to support the story, be sure to post, watch the thread, or give it a follow when it goes up on FF.net (eventually). Hope you enjoy!
~Laur
 
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PaperLaur

Spazmatism
Chapter One: The First Day

"Call yourselves Ret and Spaz. You're the Twins."

That was all they knew. Not what their real names were, not who they were, why they were here, or how they had gotten here in the first place. Indeed, they weren't even certain of where "here" was supposed to be. They'd simply woken up in a field of trees being badgered by a slightly wall-eyed man who wore the attire of a Guide, but had the demeanor of a grouchy caretaker who just wanted his job to be blessedly over.

"You both have copper tools. Get a house up before evening."

Neither of them had questioned how a house could possibly be built in that amount of time--they both instinctively knew that it was completely plausible in this world. And they also instinctively knew that being out at night in this place would be a very, very bad idea in their current state.

So, disoriented, lost, and rather confused, both sporting aching bodies and exhausted minds, they began to take their axes to the trees.

"Oi, who're you ordering us around?"

Ret grimaced. Spaz had only been quiet for a few minutes, likely trying to get his bearings. The man with the skewed eyes glowered at them, leaning his back against a tree at the edge of the clearing with his arms crossed.

"I am your Keeper."

"Keeper? You look like a Guide to me. Dunno how I know what that looks like, but hey."

Ret remained silent, watching the exchange out of the corner of his working eye while hacking away at one of the taller trees in the area. The man who called himself the Keeper scowled more deeply, pushing himself off from the tree and taking a few steps towards Spaz, who'd dropped his axe.

"Guide shall be my function for now, yes. It is not who I am."

"Who're you, then?"

"In time."

"When's 'in time'?"

"Spaz..." Ret decided it was a good time to interject, sensing that the Keeper was rapidly losing his patience. "I think we've got enough wood. Help me get a structure going. We can set up a workbench after we get the frame."

Spaz turned from his 'conversation', blinking several times before flashing a grin with a concentration of teeth that would appear rather disconcerting to any other human. "Yeah, already? Gotcha!"

He scurried over to the center of the clearing where Ret stood, pulling out his share of the logs that the trees broke into when felled. And together, the two began to build.

Overall, the two were taking their situation in stride relatively well, despite the fact that all they knew was what the Keeper told them; including, apparently, that they were related. Ret could believe this notion, even with his skeptical, clockwork mind. After all, they looked similar enough--After all, they looked similar enough-young men with shortish, reddish hair, and very pale skin, each of them with only one functional eye. Ret's right eye was covered with a simple black patch tied around his head, the other eye shining out amber, red in the light; Spaz's patch was on his left eye, a piece of dark green fabric tied around his head complementing his remaining emerald eye.

Together, they made something remotely functional as a human being, both in the physical and the personality.

The framework of the small box that would be their initial cabin was completed in no time. Ret set up the workbench and spent some silent moments crafting, robotic and dull in his actions. He'd felt rather out-of-it ever since waking up. Presumably, it had something to do with whatever had left their memories wiped, though he found it odd that he didn't feel as if that fact worried him.

Probably will tomorrow. Think we're both in for a rude awakening.

For now, he put one foot in front of the other, taking one breath at a time.

"Take the walls. I'll get the door."

Spaz gleefully picked up the bundle of wood paneling that his brother handed him, walking to the far end of the little wooden box and beginning to set up the side walls to block out the elements. Meanwhile, Ret quickly fashioned a chair and a door out of some of the leftover wood, hands moving quickly as if he'd done this sort of thing a hundred times. That seemed odd, considering the fact that he'd felt barely able to walk earlier. Again, he just accepted that it was something he'd try to figure out later, when they weren't in danger.

Ret placed the door in the entryway, hearing a thump as it fastened itself to the wood above and below, just as Spaz arrived with the rest of the walls. "Well! That wasn't so hard!" Spaz said with another grin, turning to admire their handiwork before his brother tapped him on the shoulder, rolling his eye. "What?"

"Light."

"Oh! We need light."

"Anything that keeps the monsters a few more feet away. Any gel on you?"

Spaz frowned and shook his head. "I've been with you the whole time. Slimes haven't been bothering us. Hey, do they usually bother us, do you know?"

Seemed that Spaz was the one a bit more curious about their situation at present. Ret shrugged, but was prevented from speaking by the Keeper shoving his way into the house behind them, looking cross, with some burn marks on his hands and a limp in his step (had he been limping before? Now that he thought about it, Ret noticed he seemed to just generally have difficulty walking.) The Keeper walked to the center of the room , pulling something out of his inventory and slapping a small pile of green, jello-like material onto the table, where it sat, quivering pathetically. The brothers stared at their grumpy overseer.

"...Feh. There. I helped. Don't expect this to be common."

"Why did y--"

Spaz abruptly cut off his sentence at the looks that both of the other men gave him, simply clearing his throat and making his way back to the workbench.

Within ten seconds, there was a bright torch attached to the wall, and their house was complete. It was small and modest, especially for three people, but it was workable and would keep the monsters of the night out--that was the important thing.

Ret poked his head out the door and stared into the sky, gauging the time by the location of the sun. "Just in time, too."

The Keeper nodded approvingly as he sank down into the lone chair. "You didn't die in the first day. Color me surprised. You're decent at getting back on your feet. Better than me." The brothers waited for him to elaborate, but he did not, simply folding his arms and staring at the floor.

Ret was the one who broke the silence as he closed the door behind him, just as the last rays of sunlight touched the house. "All right. Now that we aren't busy, 'Keeper', would you mind explaining?"

"In time."

Spaz seemed irritated, "What does that even mean?! Time's a pretty big thing."

The Keeper rolled his eyes, "It means I cannot say very much right now, I have a massive headache, and I don't want to spend all night talking either way. I told you what you need to know for now."

"I admit I'm not in the best shape myself," Ret replied, cutting off Spaz before he could say anything more, "This has all been quite startling, I'm sure you realize."

A low, almost alarming chuckle. "You have no idea."

A thud sounded through the house, indicating that the night had come and there was now a zombie at their door. Spaz raised his copper shortsword and made as if to head for the door, before Ret grabbed his arm and silenced him with a look. Spaz pouted, but dropped the sword at his feet.

"They won't get in, not tonight," the Keeper stated, answering the unspoken question with a gesture at the door. "Keep an eye on the moon, though. Blood Moons are a lot more common than they used to be."

Well great. Ret again wasn't sure how he knew what a Blood Moon was, but he did know it was bad news, and judging by the look on his brother's face, Spaz knew as well.

"Get some sleep," demanded the Keeper, and without another word, pulled a pocket guide on crafting out of nowhere and began to read.

Ret frowned and looked around the room, then up to his confused brother who looked as if he really wanted to say something. But Ret was the one who spoke, a slight smirk lighting his face for the first time.

"So. Would you like the floor, or the floor?"
 
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PaperLaur

Spazmatism
^ Thank you! It means a lot to know there's at least some interest, ha.

...Being awake until 6AM prompts ideas, so here. Have another chapter.

Chapter Two: Surveying

...

"You awake? Come on now, rise and shine. We're burnin' daylight!"

"Five more minutes..."

"Little brother...you need to...Augh...fine. You. Who are you?"

"Mm? Me? Name's Kyle. Resident Guide, at your service, sirs! And you two I'm guessing are candidates for the heroes?"

"The what? Please stop talking so loud."

"Oopsie, sorry there. You two are probably pretty confused. I guess I can explain that part later, but go ahead and start cutting some trees."

"Oh gods. Don't tell me this place has the zombie plague too."

"Afraid so. You guys're from somewhere else on Terra, right? Plague got the whole planet, don't forget."

"Great. ...All right, little brother. Get up."

"Mh...? Oh...we're alive...that's always nice...Better than the alternative...heh..."

"Get working on the trees with me. Kyle, how much area can we work with?"

"Well, all that's around here are trees and sunflowers. Nice flat plain for a while, then some little caves. Just watch out for out to the east, though. Hope you don't mind, but I was scouting around waiting for you two, and, uhhh...East is trouble. There's Crimson over there. You won't last a second there as you--what's with the look?"

"Big brother? What's wrong?"

"...Is there blood. Is there blood on the ground everywhere."

"Well...yeah...the Crimson's kind of bloody and gory and all that, that's why we call it--whoah there, partner, calm down, I said DON'T go over there, you look mad enough to blow..."

"He's right! Wait! Stop! Why're you so upset...?"

"...The Fleshlands. He's talking about the Fleshlands. It's here, too."

-:-:-​

Spaz awoke to a shaft of the morning's brilliance peeking through the door, falling over his eye and warming his face. The younger brother turned over onto his face, stretching out and yawning before opening his eye and propping himself on his hands, turning around to survey his companions' status on this dawn while absently rubbing his aching neck.

Ret was sprawled facedown on the ground, near the back wall. The elder of them had attempted to argue that he should sleep nearest to the door in case anything unexpected happened, but Spaz had managed to win the fight, claiming that the noises bothered him less than they did the other, and Keeper had told them not to worry about anything breaking in, anyway. Still, he could see his brother cradling his axe like a child's toy, and Spaz himself had slept with his shortsword nearby. Things were clearly different here than whatever world their vague memories implied they'd been in before. Even Spaz knew you could never be too careful.

Keeper, meanwhile, was in the exact same position that the twins had left him in last night; sitting at the workbench reading the crafting guide, though now his feet were on the bench and his head was tilted ninety degrees to the side, for some reason.

"How can you read like that?" Spaz blurted.

Keeper didn't even flinch, "Can't see that well. Trying to figure out what to do to make it easier."

"Oh! Maybe you need glasses!"

Keeper looked over his shoulder and gave Spaz a withering glare, though it was rendered a bit ridiculous considering his eyes were pointing in somewhat different directions. Spaz tried very hard not to laugh as their guide turned back to his book.

The young man pushed himself to his feet, peeking out through the holes in the door to check for hostiles before swinging it open to let in the morning air. He gave one of his trademark toothy grins at the sight of the world bathed in sunlight.

For some reason, it made him feel nostalgic for nothing in particular.

He turned back, striding over to peer over Keeper's shoulder. "Hey, I might be wrong, but aren't Guides supposed to know everything and stuff? Isn't that their little ability?"

Keeper didn't look at him, simply tilting his head to the other side. "You already forgot. I am not a Guide."

"Well sheesh, sorry then. Are we getting a proper Guide?"

"No."

"Why?"

"If you keep asking me foolish questions, you'll never find out."

"Someone isn't a morning person. Hey, did you sleep at all?"

"No need."

"...That's not creepy at all. By the way, your book is upside down."

Deciding he wouldn't get anything more out of Keeper than he already had, Spaz sighed and took several long strides over to his sleeping brother. Spaz wondered briefly why he was so open to the idea that this man--this man he had barely any memory of--actually was related to him. But he felt it was true. It was almost like a spiritual bond. Even if he didn't know Ret in his mind, he knew it somewhere in his soul.

He also knew not to try and wake Ret up within swinging distance of that axe.

"Ret! Retty, wake up. We've gotta get going!"

Ret's eye flew open and he abruptly sat up, taking up his axe in one hand and dusting down his shirt with the other. "Don't call me Retty," he replied, sounding and looking as if he'd just laid down a minute ago rather than having slept for several hours.

Spaz rolled his eye and offered a hand to help Ret up, which he took. "You aching as bad as I am?" he asked, half-jokingly.

Ret grunted, "Yesterday was worse." He stood, rolling his shoulders and testing the balance of his axe with a couple of practice swings. "All right, we should get right to it and see what's around here. Any resources we can get from the surface. Keeper, did you look around any before we came to?"

"Did you expect me to?"

"That's a no. So perhaps we can find some chests at surface level and start making a mineshaft and a plan." Ret quickly moved to the crafting table, picking up some of the logs from yesterday. "I'll get us some wood armor in case we run into trouble, and I'd like at least one of us to have a broadsword. Spaz?"

"Broadsword for me if there's enough. I want the range. Oh, maybe a bow?"

Ret nodded, "You take the sword and I take the bow?"

"Sounds fine to me."

Keeper watched their conversation like a tennis match, having finally put down his book. There was some amount of silence as Ret worked on the armor, throwing pieces back to Spaz as they were made. Again, the work went as if they'd done this a thousand times.

It wasn't long before they were both geared up, Spaz taking a couple of mock swings with his new broadsword and Ret testing out his bow's string tension and how he'd go about aiming with one eye.

They were as ready as they could be.

Ret said not a word as he walked out the door, with Spaz giving a cheerful goodbye. Keeper, as expected, said nothing, and they were off.

Birdsong echoed overhead and a squirrel brushed by the twins' ankles, the grass they'd cleared of trees earlier swaying in a slight breeze. The sun overhead brightened and warmed the vast land it touched before them, there was the blue glint of a pool of water in the distance, and overall, the place appeared to be downright idyllic.

The two knew not to believe that for a moment.

"East."

"...can...we go west, first?"

Ret eyed his brother before letting out a sigh. "All right, fine, west. We're looking for surface ore veins, chests, pick up stone if you find it."

Spaz simply nodded as the elder took the lead, two sets of wooden-clad feet crunching the grass below. Spaz turned his head rapidly to try and take it all in, smiling his eerie smile and squeezing the hilt of his new broadsword--it felt good to have the weight of a proper weapon on him. He tested his sword on a nearby squirrel, which exploded into bloody pieces that scattered some ways over the plain. His grin widened.

Things were looking up already.

The level plain they'd built on began to slope downwards, and there was a slight overhang rendering the land dark. Ret used some of his gel and wood reserves from the previous day to craft a few torches, quickly fastening one of them to the wall before kneeling down. Spaz ran up behind his silent brother, cocking his head.

"Lesser Healing, one Recall, and a wooden boomerang."

"You take the boomerang. I can keep the potions?"

Ret nodded and handed back the items, before standing and tossing the chest into his hammerspace inventory. They walked a ways more in silence.

Something was nagging at Spaz's brain, something that had been bothering him for the entirety of yesterday. He decided now was as good a time as any to bring it up.

"...hey...Ret...you worried at all?"

"About what?"

"You know...we show up here with no memory of where we've been or where we're from...?"

Ret went silent for a moment, getting to his knees to mine a surface copper vein and some underlying stone. The copper was all gathered before he spoke. "...I'd say we do remember some things, wouldn't you?"

Spaz frowned, "Like what?"

"We haven't been trying to kill each other, so we accept we are related. We know how things work in this world. The laws, the cycles...we know those. Wherever we were, it was a world like this."

"...True...But are you worried at all?"

Another pause. Ret sighed through his nose, "A bit. Yes. I don't know what could've taken our memories, or why..."

Spaz hopped into the little hole Ret was creating to help him mine the stone faster. "Think we knew too much about something?"

"That isn't it."

"Then what?"

"...Keeper knows."

"What makes you think that?"

"Those Guides always know more than they tell."

"He isn't a Guide, though. Slime on your six, by the way."

An explosion as boomerang met green slime, and Spaz jumped up to catch the gel and coins.

"True," Ret replied without batting an eye, "But he gives me a strange feeling. And this world...We know it is similar to, but different from the one we must've come from."

"So what do we do?" Spaz pouted, climbing out of the hole and helping Ret up before they carried on west. "Do you have a plan?"

"...We survive until we can find out more. Perhaps if we attract a merchant, we can get more of an idea of what this world is about."

"That's boring. When do we kill things? I mean big things."

Ret chuckled, "In time."

"I'm starting to really hate that saying, you know..."

The two carried on, marking possible cave entrances with torches and cutting down some trees as they went, with Spaz setting down acorns from time to time. Little was found in terms of loot other than a couple of pots, much to the distaste of both brothers. It was almost midday when a shift in the ground from green to orange-yellow indicated that they were approaching a different environment.

"Desert. Careful."

Spaz trailed his sword through the sand, causing a rut marking his path as accurately as any footprint. He kept glancing behind them for enemies, but turned upon hearing the odd squeaking of a vulture in pain.

Ret was shooting it with a stony gaze as it attempted to swoop down at him. Spaz ran up behind and swung his sword while jumping, catching it with the very tip. Finally, something interesting...

Though Spaz noticed something unexpected as he jumped. Something off in the distance.

As the vulture exploded into feathers and loot, Spaz stood stock still, staring ahead at the small dune in front of him, attempting to squint and see anything behind the cactuses.

"Uh...Ret..."

"What is it?"

"...Zombies don't show up during the day, do they?"

"No. They hate light."

"Oh...Uh--and--Demon Eyes. Them too?"

"They can't see in the light."

"...Right. Demon Eyes aren't orange, are they?"

"Spaz, what are you talking about."

Spaz pointed ahead with his sword. Ret shielded his eye with one hand and took a couple of steps forward, trying to see, just barely missing the figure that shuffled behind a cactus.

But Spaz caught something else.

"...I don't...see anything..."

"Look out!"

Spaz leapt in front of his brother, practically throwing his sword at the odd sandy-colored Demon Eye that dive-bombed at the skeptical young man. Rey cried out and readied his bow as two more Demon Eyes appeared, as well as a zombie. Spaz fumbled and dropped his sword, but quickly scooped it up from the sand, standing with his back to Ret's with a wide, confused eye.

"Why are they here?!" Spaz yelled.

Ret said nothing, just grunted and fired at the already-injured Demon Eye. The arrow struck, but didn't seem to do much other than make the eye angry. It flew over them and tried to sweep at them from Spaz's direction, but Spaz caught it with his sword, inadvertently pushing the two back. Spaz turned to his brother for instructions, but caught nothing but that angered, bloodlusting look in his sparkling eye.

It was instinctive.

You get the zombies. I have range.

Spaz obeyed the unspoken command at once, running deeper into the desert and past the rapidly-firing Ret, sword swinging wildly and a growl tearing from his throat. His eye was practically lit up with the prospect of the fight as he jabbed the wooden blade into the zombie's chest. The zombie hopped back a step or two, but kept coming, and Spaz could see another approaching out of the corner of his eye.

Another stab. Stab, stab, stab. He could hear a demon eye exploding into bits behind him, and Ret letting out a war cry. The noise distracted Spaz just enough to let the zombie catch up to him, and he felt it biting down hard into his arm.

Spaz yelled and swung at the zombie once again, managing to lop its head off and cause its body to crumble. His eye was wide--the creatures of the night were powerful, especially with how weak they were right now, that's why they didn't go outside. But had they always hit that painfully? Had they always been that resilient?

Spaz was getting further and further away from his brother, but didn't pay attention, knowing his brother could handle himself and instead flying at the second zombie and praying a third one didn't show up. It was difficult to swing with the injury in his arm, but he managed, advancing and advancing, driving it back. It managed to strike him once or twice, causing a significant amount of pain and damage, and it seemed to be taking an interminable amount of hits

"JUST...DIE...! GO BACK TO HELL!"

As if obeying him, the next strike downed the zombie, and Spaz quickly fumbled in his inventory. He was weak and hurting, though hated that he had to resort to this simply because of a zombie.

Spaz downed the Lesser Healing Potion, feeling the almost-familiar burning and bubbling in his gut that he somehow knew would last a solid minute. Catching his breath and allowing the potion to work on his injuries, he turned to check on his brother.

Spaz was surprised at how far away he'd gotten battling the zombies. Ret was many yards away, throwing his boomerang at what now amounted to five Demon Eyes and a vulture. Spaz offhandedly wondered just how many arrows Ret had found, if he was using the boomerang now...

He was about to run to help, when he heard something behind him--a low, raspy, gutteral growl that turned his blood cold.

Ret heard it too, and turned, a Demon Eye striking him in the process, though he didn't seem to care. He was staring at something over Spaz's head.

"Spaz, get down!"

Too late. The thing struck him hard, and Spaz yelled, falling to the ground and feeling as if the blood were being sucked out of him. He swung blindly at his adversary and turned himself over to see it.

A very bulbous, flesh-colored, spider-like creature that seemed intent on tasting more blood.

He stared, then looked past the creature to see red stone nearby, skeletal trees blighting the landscape ahead.

...we went too far...

Ret leaped at the Blood Crawler, managing to knock it back a bit with his axe before glancing at Spaz.

"Potions?!"

"Just took, still sick. Got a couple extras from the pots."

"You have the recall?"

"Y-yeah--"

"Drop the healing potions and use it! By the time the sickness wears off you'll be dead."

"I want to help!"

Another swing as the Blood Crawler made another pass. "Don't worry, I don't plan to die this early, that'd be humiliating. I'll take care of this and get out of here. That thing hits hard with our armor, we can't wait for you to regenerate after knowing it nailed you. Just wait back at the house!"

Spaz hesitated, but he knew to trust when his brother made a promise. He wasn't about to die to a single Crimson enemy and a few rogue eyeballs. He was too stubborn to.

"...I swear if you aren't home in ten minutes I'm coming back there!"

Spaz pulled out five red vials and dropped them to the ground, then taking the light blue potion from his inventory and downed it in a single swallow, his eye slamming shut as a feeling of weightlessness suddenly overtook him. Blue light could be seen through his eyelid as the noise of the altercation faded away.

A bit of a longer chapter with something finally happening. Figured we had to get to something interesting eventually. I'm sure we all know the feeling when we suddenly realize we've gotten ourselves in way over our heads..

So. Why are there night enemies out in the desert, of all places?...

Oh, and non-story question. Would anyone be interested in me putting up little character bios in the main post? I could even try to draw them once my tablet comes in, just fair warning it won't be very good...
 
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^ Thank you! It means a lot to know there's at least some interest, ha.

...Being awake until 6AM prompts ideas, so here. Have another chapter.

Chapter Two: Surveying

...

"You awake? Come on now, rise and shine. We're burnin' daylight!"

"Five more minutes..."

"Little brother...you need to...Augh...fine. You. Who are you?"

"Mm? Me? Name's Kyle. Resident Guide, at your service, sirs! And you two I'm guessing are candidates for the heroes?"

"The what? Please stop talking so loud."

"Oopsie, sorry there. You two are probably pretty confused. I guess I can explain that part later, but go ahead and start cutting some trees."

"Oh gods. Don't tell me this place has the zombie plague too."

"Afraid so. You guys're from somewhere else on Terra, right? Plague got the whole planet, don't forget."

"Great. ...All right, little brother. Get up."

"Mh...? Oh...we're alive...that's always nice...Better than the alternative...heh..."

"Get working on the trees with me. Kyle, how much area can we work with?"

"Well, all that's around here are trees and sunflowers. Nice flat plain for a while, then some little caves. Just watch out for out to the east, though. Hope you don't mind, but I was scouting around waiting for you two, and, uhhh...East is trouble. There's Crimson over there. You won't last a second there as you--what's with the look?"

"Big brother? What's wrong?"

"...Is there blood. Is there blood on the ground everywhere."

"Well...yeah...the Crimson's kind of bloody and gory and all that, that's why we call it--whoah there, partner, calm down, I said DON'T go over there, you look mad enough to blow..."

"He's right! Wait! Stop! Why're you so upset...?"

"...The Fleshlands. He's talking about the Fleshlands. It's here, too."

-:-:-​

Spaz awoke to a shaft of the morning's brilliance peeking through the door, falling over his eye and warming his face. The younger brother turned over onto his face, stretching out and yawning before opening his eye and propping himself on his hands, turning around to survey his companions' status on this dawn while absently rubbing his aching neck.

Ret was sprawled facedown on the ground, near the back wall. The elder of them had attempted to argue that he should sleep nearest to the door in case anything unexpected happened, but Spaz had managed to win the fight, claiming that the noises bothered him less than they did the other, and Keeper had told them not to worry about anything breaking in, anyway. Still, he could see his brother cradling his axe like a child's toy, and Spaz himself had slept with his shortsword nearby. Things were clearly different here than whatever world their vague memories implied they'd been in before. Even Spaz knew you could never be too careful.

Keeper, meanwhile, was in the exact same position that the twins had left him in last night; sitting at the workbench reading the crafting guide, though now his feet were on the bench and his head was tilted ninety degrees to the side, for some reason.

"How can you read like that?" Spaz blurted.

Keeper didn't even flinch, "Can't see that well. Trying to figure out what to do to make it easier."

"Oh! Maybe you need glasses!"

Keeper looked over his shoulder and gave Spaz a withering glare, though it was rendered a bit ridiculous considering his eyes were pointing in somewhat different directions. Spaz tried very hard not to laugh as their guide turned back to his book.

The young man pushed himself to his feet, peeking out through the holes in the door to check for hostiles before swinging it open to let in the morning air. He gave one of his trademark toothy grins at the sight of the world bathed in sunlight.

For some reason, it made him feel nostalgic for nothing in particular.

He turned back, striding over to peer over Keeper's shoulder. "Hey, I might be wrong, but aren't Guides supposed to know everything and stuff? Isn't that their little ability?"

Keeper didn't look at him, simply tilting his head to the other side. "You already forgot. I am not a Guide."

"Well sheesh, sorry then. Are we getting a proper Guide?"

"No."

"Why?"

"If you keep asking me foolish questions, you'll never find out."

"Someone isn't a morning person. Hey, did you sleep at all?"

"No need."

"...That's not creepy at all. By the way, your book is upside down."

Deciding he wouldn't get anything more out of Keeper than he already had, Spaz sighed and took several long strides over to his sleeping brother. Spaz wondered briefly why he was so open to the idea that this man--this man he had barely any memory of--actually was related to him. But he felt it was true. It was almost like a spiritual bond. Even if he didn't know Ret in his mind, he knew it somewhere in his soul.

He also knew not to try and wake Ret up within swinging distance of that axe.

"Ret! Retty, wake up. We've gotta get going!"

Ret's eye flew open and he abruptly sat up, taking up his axe in one hand and dusting down his shirt with the other. "Don't call me Retty," he replied, sounding and looking as if he'd just laid down a minute ago rather than having slept for several hours.

Spaz rolled his eye and offered a hand to help Ret up, which he took. "You aching as bad as I am?" he asked, half-jokingly.

Ret grunted, "Yesterday was worse." He stood, rolling his shoulders and testing the balance of his axe with a couple of practice swings. "All right, we should get right to it and see what's around here. Any resources we can get from the surface. Keeper, did you look around any before we came to?"

"Did you expect me to?"

"That's a no. So perhaps we can find some chests at surface level and start making a mineshaft and a plan." Ret quickly moved to the crafting table, picking up some of the logs from yesterday. "I'll get us some wood armor in case we run into trouble, and I'd like at least one of us to have a broadsword. Spaz?"

"Broadsword for me if there's enough. I want the range. Oh, maybe a bow?"

Ret nodded, "You take the sword and I take the bow?"

"Sounds fine to me."

Keeper watched their conversation like a tennis match, having finally put down his book. There was some amount of silence as Ret worked on the armor, throwing pieces back to Spaz as they were made. Again, the work went as if they'd done this a thousand times.

It wasn't long before they were both geared up, Spaz taking a couple of mock swings with his new broadsword and Ret testing out his bow's string tension and how he'd go about aiming with one eye.

They were as ready as they could be.

Ret said not a word as he walked out the door, with Spaz giving a cheerful goodbye. Keeper, as expected, said nothing, and they were off.

Birdsong echoed overhead and a squirrel brushed by the twins' ankles, the grass they'd cleared of trees earlier swaying in a slight breeze. The sun overhead brightened and warmed the vast land it touched before them, there was the blue glint of a pool of water in the distance, and overall, the place appeared to be downright idyllic.

The two knew not to believe that for a moment.

"East."

"...can...we go west, first?"

Ret eyed his brother before letting out a sigh. "All right, fine, west. We're looking for surface ore veins, chests, pick up stone if you find it."

Spaz simply nodded as the elder took the lead, two sets of wooden-clad feet crunching the grass below. Spaz turned his head rapidly to try and take it all in, smiling his eerie smile and squeezing the hilt of his new broadsword--it felt good to have the weight of a proper weapon on him. He tested his sword on a nearby squirrel, which exploded into bloody pieces that scattered some ways over the plain. His grin widened.

Things were looking up already.

The level plain they'd built on began to slope downwards, and there was a slight overhang rendering the land dark. Ret used some of his gel and wood reserves from the previous day to craft a few torches, quickly fastening one of them to the wall before kneeling down. Spaz ran up behind his silent brother, cocking his head.

"Lesser Healing, one Recall, and a wooden boomerang."

"You take the boomerang. I can keep the potions?"

Ret nodded and handed back the items, before standing and tossing the chest into his hammerspace inventory. They walked a ways more in silence.

Something was nagging at Spaz's brain, something that had been bothering him for the entirety of yesterday. He decided now was as good a time as any to bring it up.

"...hey...Ret...you worried at all?"

"About what?"

"You know...we show up here with no memory of where we've been or where we're from...?"

Ret went silent for a moment, getting to his knees to mine a surface copper vein and some underlying stone. The copper was all gathered before he spoke. "...I'd say we do remember some things, wouldn't you?"

Spaz frowned, "Like what?"

"We haven't been trying to kill each other, so we accept we are related. We know how things work in this world. The laws, the cycles...we know those. Wherever we were, it was a world like this."

"...True...But are you worried at all?"

Another pause. Ret sighed through his nose, "A bit. Yes. I don't know what could've taken our memories, or why..."

Spaz hopped into the little hole Ret was creating to help him mine the stone faster. "Think we knew too much about something?"

"That isn't it."

"Then what?"

"...Keeper knows."

"What makes you think that?"

"Those Guides always know more than they tell."

"He isn't a Guide, though. Slime on your six, by the way."

An explosion as boomerang met green slime, and Spaz jumped up to catch the gel and coins.

"True," Ret replied without batting an eye, "But he gives me a strange feeling. And this world...We know it is similar to, but different from the one we must've come from."

"So what do we do?" Spaz pouted, climbing out of the hole and helping Ret up before they carried on west. "Do you have a plan?"

"...We survive until we can find out more. Perhaps if we attract a merchant, we can get more of an idea of what this world is about."

"That's boring. When do we kill things? I mean big things."

Ret chuckled, "In time."

"I'm starting to really hate that saying, you know..."

The two carried on, marking possible cave entrances with torches and cutting down some trees as they went, with Spaz setting down acorns from time to time. Little was found in terms of loot other than a couple of pots, much to the distaste of both brothers. It was almost midday when a shift in the ground from green to orange-yellow indicated that they were approaching a different environment.

"Desert. Careful."

Spaz trailed his sword through the sand, causing a rut marking his path as accurately as any footprint. He kept glancing behind them for enemies, but turned upon hearing the odd squeaking of a vulture in pain.

Ret was shooting it with a stony gaze as it attempted to swoop down at him. Spaz ran up behind and swung his sword while jumping, catching it with the very tip. Finally, something interesting...

Though Spaz noticed something unexpected as he jumped. Something off in the distance.

As the vulture exploded into feathers and loot, Spaz stood stock still, staring ahead at the small dune in front of him, attempting to squint and see anything behind the cactuses.

"Uh...Ret..."

"What is it?"

"...Zombies don't show up during the day, do they?"

"No. They hate light."

"Oh...Uh--and--Demon Eyes. Them too?"

"They can't see in the light."

"...Right. Demon Eyes aren't orange, are they?"

"Spaz, what are you talking about."

Spaz pointed ahead with his sword. Ret shielded his eye with one hand and took a couple of steps forward, trying to see, just barely missing the figure that shuffled behind a cactus.

But Spaz caught something else.

"...I don't...see anything..."

"Look out!"

Spaz leapt in front of his brother, practically throwing his sword at the odd sandy-colored Demon Eye that dive-bombed at the skeptical young man. Rey cried out and readied his bow as two more Demon Eyes appeared, as well as a zombie. Spaz fumbled and dropped his sword, but quickly scooped it up from the sand, standing with his back to Ret's with a wide, confused eye.

"Why are they here?!" Spaz yelled.

Ret said nothing, just grunted and fired at the already-injured Demon Eye. The arrow struck, but didn't seem to do much other than make the eye angry. It flew over them and tried to sweep at them from Spaz's direction, but Spaz caught it with his sword, inadvertently pushing the two back. Spaz turned to his brother for instructions, but caught nothing but that angered, bloodlusting look in his sparkling eye.

It was instinctive.

You get the zombies. I have range.

Spaz obeyed the unspoken command at once, running deeper into the desert and past the rapidly-firing Ret, sword swinging wildly and a growl tearing from his throat. His eye was practically lit up with the prospect of the fight as he jabbed the wooden blade into the zombie's chest. The zombie hopped back a step or two, but kept coming, and Spaz could see another approaching out of the corner of his eye.

Another stab. Stab, stab, stab. He could hear a demon eye exploding into bits behind him, and Ret letting out a war cry. The noise distracted Spaz just enough to let the zombie catch up to him, and he felt it biting down hard into his arm.

Spaz yelled and swung at the zombie once again, managing to lop its head off and cause its body to crumble. His eye was wide--the creatures of the night were powerful, especially with how weak they were right now, that's why they didn't go outside. But had they always hit that painfully? Had they always been that resilient?

Spaz was getting further and further away from his brother, but didn't pay attention, knowing his brother could handle himself and instead flying at the second zombie and praying a third one didn't show up. It was difficult to swing with the injury in his arm, but he managed, advancing and advancing, driving it back. It managed to strike him once or twice, causing a significant amount of pain and damage, and it seemed to be taking an interminable amount of hits

"JUST...DIE...! GO BACK TO HELL!"

As if obeying him, the next strike downed the zombie, and Spaz quickly fumbled in his inventory. He was weak and hurting, though hated that he had to resort to this simply because of a zombie.

Spaz downed the Lesser Healing Potion, feeling the almost-familiar burning and bubbling in his gut that he somehow knew would last a solid minute. Catching his breath and allowing the potion to work on his injuries, he turned to check on his brother.

Spaz was surprised at how far away he'd gotten battling the zombies. Ret was many yards away, throwing his boomerang at what now amounted to five Demon Eyes and a vulture. Spaz offhandedly wondered just how many arrows Ret had found, if he was using the boomerang now...

He was about to run to help, when he heard something behind him--a low, raspy, gutteral growl that turned his blood cold.

Ret heard it too, and turned, a Demon Eye striking him in the process, though he didn't seem to care. He was staring at something over Spaz's head.

"Spaz, get down!"

Too late. The thing struck him hard, and Spaz yelled, falling to the ground and feeling as if the blood were being sucked out of him. He swung blindly at his adversary and turned himself over to see it.

A very bulbous, flesh-colored, spider-like creature that seemed intent on tasting more blood.

He stared, then looked past the creature to see red stone nearby, skeletal trees blighting the landscape ahead.

...we went too far...

Ret leaped at the Blood Crawler, managing to knock it back a bit with his axe before glancing at Spaz.

"Potions?!"

"Just took, still sick. Got a couple extras from the pots."

"You have the recall?"

"Y-yeah--"

"Drop the healing potions and use it! By the time the sickness wears off you'll be dead."

"I want to help!"

Another swing as the Blood Crawler made another pass. "Don't worry, I don't plan to die this early, that'd be humiliating. I'll take care of this and get out of here. That thing hits hard with our armor, we can't wait for you to regenerate after knowing it nailed you. Just wait back at the house!"

Spaz hesitated, but he knew to trust when his brother made a promise. He wasn't about to die to a single Crimson enemy and a few rogue eyeballs. He was too stubborn to.

"...I swear if you aren't home in ten minutes I'm coming back there!"

Spaz pulled out five red vials and dropped them to the ground, then taking the light blue potion from his inventory and downed it in a single swallow, his eye slamming shut as a feeling of weightlessness suddenly overtook him. Blue light could be seen through his eyelid as the noise of the altercation faded away.

A bit of a longer chapter with something finally happening. Figured we had to get to something interesting eventually. I'm sure we all know the feeling when we suddenly realize we've gotten ourselves in way over our heads..

So. Why are there night enemies out in the desert, of all places?...

Oh, and non-story question. Would anyone be interested in me putting up little character bios in the main post? I could even try to draw them once my tablet comes in, just fair warning it won't be very good...
Firstly, great story, loving it so far. Secondly, character bios + pictures would be really cool!
 

PaperLaur

Spazmatism
Thank you both, really! The support means a ton. Still can't believe anyone read this. Was just kind of a dumb spur of the moment thing, but it's really taking shape in my head.

I'll be updating the main post with links to every chapter soon, and the bios once I get my tablet and can attempt to (badly) draw something.

Chapter 3: A World Off-Kilter

Ret spared only a moment to ensure that his brother was gone as the blue sparks faded away, before turning to his real enemy, eye narrowed and every muscle tense. He knew this wasn't the first time he'd been in a fight, oh yes. The feeling was far too familiar--the world slowing down, pounding blood in his ears. The whole thing was exhilarating.

The Blood Crawler turned to him as he backed up a step or two. He was weaker fighting without his brother, but he was confident enough in himself, even if somewhere deep inside behind the violent response he was panicking. He'd have time to freak out about what was going on later. For now, there were the Demon Eyes and the great, ugly flesh spider with Spaz's blood dripping from its fangs to worry about.

He wanted to see its blood spilled.

Another step back before he flung the boomerang at the Blood Crawler--it struck, causing a wet, disgusting squelch to ring through the air, as if the spider's body was literally made of blood in a sack. Ret caught the returning projectile easily, internally cursing his weapon--he hated the damned boomerang. Sure, it let him stay further away, which he decided he liked, but it was so slow. But he had indeed run out of arrows, and hadn't picked some of his extra fallen ones up. They were back at the desert border, so he had only what was on him to work with.

That was fine. It'd be a challenge.

As the Blood Crawler dove at him, Ret darted to the side, attempting to get a swing in with the axe. He missed the spider, but managed to strike a Demon Eye that had also picked then to charge at him, sending it falling to pieces splattered across the ground. He didn't even stop to pick up the coins that had fallen out of it, making another dash in the other direction and taking another swing. This one connected, and Ret jumped backwards before the creature could retaliate, quickly throwing his boomerang at another Demon Eye.

His back was to the Crimson, now, and he didn't like that at all. The last thing he needed was more foes. Ret quickly pivoted around, flinging the boomerang over his shoulder and catching it with expert hands, over and over rapidly as it bounced off the eyeballs.

Splat, splat, splat.

Ret grinned.

The Blood Crawler attempted to bite into his armor, knocking him forward with its head a bit in the process. But that just let him get close enough to dispatch the final eye.

Only the one adversary remained. He looked it straight where he hoped its eyes were.

"YOU DARED TO CHALLENGE US?!"

...He honestly wasn't sure where that one came from, but he didn't care. With another cry he ran forward, swinging and swinging, hating that he had to be in so close. The Blood Crawler managed to bite him through his armor once or twice, including once in the neck, taking out a significant chunk of his strength. Ret hopped backwards out of the fray just long enough to take a Healing Potion before jumping back into it, now using the boomerang, over and over and over, the sickening noises of the creature's injuries near-constant with the speed.

And just like that, it was over. A final strike, and the creature fell apart. Ret stood still with his boomerang still raised, as if it hadn't quite registered that the enemy was dead.

But when the realization did hit, it only served to send a new energy through him as he looked down to see the creature's pieces scattered at his feet. He gave what was left of the Crawler a huge smirk, as if taunting it from beyond the grave.

"...I told him."

He knelt down in the bloodied, half-Crimsoned sand to search for the loot. Some meager coins...and a vertebrae. He took it like a trophy, before turning and moving to collect the money and lenses from the eyes.

Once he was certain he had everything, he stood straight, trying to catch his breath as he stared into the Crimson.

He already knew that he hated the place. Rolling hills turned to jagged peaks of deep red stone, and the land itself seemed terribly diseased. The sand near his feet looked as if all of the life and color had been drained from it, and even the sky and clouds above the place held the sickly red tinge. The only plant life around were the spindly trees and a few rather evil-looking 'flowers' here and there.

And yet, as disgusting as the place was...he felt a certain pull from it. A certain allure.

More difficult enemies. More challenging fights. More blood to wash the ground and mark that he was the most powerful thing in that corrupted world.

He hardly realized that he'd taken a step forward before noise from within the gory landscape snapped him out of his trance. Ret blinked, shaking his head a bit. No, what was he doing. He got the distinct feeling that this wouldn't end well.

Maybe when they had better armor, better weapons. Maybe when Spaz was here, too. Maybe then...then, they'd take it on.

He turned his back to the Crimson, staring down at the sand at his feet and noticing that it now spread beyond the enemy corpses. Had it been that far before? Tilting his head, he knelt, leaning forward to squint at the ragged border where the diseased sand gave way to pure desert.

...Was it just him?

It seemed that every grain of darkened sand sucked the life out of the one next to it, until it was dark as well. And it kept going, on and on, slowly, very slowly leeching purity from the soil, like a great plague.

Another loud noise from within the Crimson. He stood, glancing around to see if anything was nearby before beginning to trot back towards home, hoping that he could get out of sight before anything noticed him.

He wasn't sure, if he started another fight, that he'd be able to stop.

Something here was terribly, terribly wrong.

-:-:-
The little ramshackle cabin came into view after some while of walking. All the earlier adrenaline had left Ret's body at once, and his legs felt like they were made of stone. The last few yards seemed interminably long, but he pressed on, gritting his teeth and trying to ignore his still-throbbing neck. He had to make it. If only so he could demand answers to quell the anger and panic now impossible to ignore rushing through his mind.

He caught movement and glanced up to see that Spaz was sitting on the house's currently-flat roof, his legs hanging over the side and kicking against the wall idly. Upon catching Ret's eye, however, Spaz's whole demeanor changed, and he gave one of his signature toothy grins, quickly jumping off the roof and running towards him.

"Knew it! Knew you'd--oof. You look terrible."

A bitter chuckle, "Thanks." But the mirth quickly died. Ret glared at the ground, looking as if he were trying to burn a hole in the dirt with his eye. "Where's Keeper?"

"Been inside the whole time."

"Of course he has."

Spaz helped Ret trudge the last few yards to the house, holding a confused look but not saying anything. Even though he was exhausted in every sense of the word, Ret shoved Spaz away near the front of the house and stormed forward, gathering up all of his remaining energy as he slammed on the door.

"Keeper! Get out here!"

A moment of silence. Ret was about to knock again, even more furiously, when the door opened to reveal their guide's neutral expression. Ret immediately proceeded to grab his gray shirt and drag him forward, glaring down into his eyes.

"Why. Why are there night creatures out there? They are not supposed to be that strong. Why is there Crimsoned land so close to us--and why in the name of the gods is it already spreading?!"

Keeper's neutral expression had vanished the second he'd been grabbed. Now, he stared up at Ret with something altogether new in his eyes. Something very, very dangerous and very, very angry.

In a flash, Keeper's hand had flown up and latched around Ret's neck in a death grip that Ret was surprised didn't break bones. Startled, Ret released the other man, gasping for air as Keeper shoved him into the wall, that dangerous light shining out in his eyes as he spoke very coldly.

"Imbecile. You have no idea who you're talking to."

As quickly as the altercation had started, Keeper released Ret's neck, causing Ret to cough several times and clutch at his already-aching throat. Spaz had simply stared at the scene in a mix of confusion and anger, and looked as if he'd been getting ready to attack. But Keeper turned away, crossing his arms and generally looking as if nothing had happened.

"The world is...a bit off."

Ret pushed himself up, using the wall for support for a moment before standing on his own. He eyed Keeper with suspicion, a hand falling to the handle of his axe, but he said nothing, nor did he acknowledge what had just occurred.

"How so?" Ret asked, in a forced casual tone.

Keeper gestured for them both to listen, and Spaz tilted his head like a very confused dog. "You remember, of course, the spirits of light and darkness that have long fought for control of this world? The gods and celestial forces that try to keep them in balance--or on occasion, aid one side or the other and bring chaos?" Both twins nodded. "Under most circumstances, this all settles to zero. The light holds control of the day, the darkness holds control of the night. The corrupted lands cannot spread quickly, and the hallowed places are scarce. The spirits were barely kept in check, kept from doing anything extreme. Until, it was said, some hero would be born on Terra who could stop it. Who could pass a great test and take on those spirits directly, at their most aggressive. Who would defeat the guardian of the moon itself, the constant unbalancer. Who would be worthy of ruling this land blessed by the gods, with a fraction of their own power, even."

"...Are you saying we're those heroes?" Spaz asked after a moment of silence.

Keeper barked a laugh, "Hardly. You would never pass the test to unleash the spirits, anyways. No...You are here because that prophecy...did not come to pass. There was a...what is a proper saying...There was an error. A great big error that threw everything off-kilter. The dark spirits became too strong. Corrupted lands are spreading over the entire planet, with little that can be done about them. The moon's guardian is most definitely not being helpful. Chaos is beginning to roam freely. More monsters are terrorizing the lands. And as you saw today, the cycles are all wrong."

"So...you want us to get rid of the corruption?" Ret asked, unsure if he liked the idea.

"No, no. Then we would have the opposite problem. You two...You two are being tested."

Spaz rose a brow. "Tested why?"

"Maybe you'll get far enough to find out. I doubt it. You are powerful. The gods know this. So you have been restored from...previous states in order to attempt to fight the spirits of darkness and set Terra--or at least this island--back in balance again. The prophecy is no real concern anymore. What's important is fixing what was broken long ago."

Ret crossed his arms and nodded slowly, eye narrowed. This was all still very vague, and he didn't trust Keeper as far as he could throw him after what had just happened. "...So if we do this? What's in it for us?"

"Typical." Keeper grumbled, running a hand through his hair, "You follow the path of the prophecy for now, as closely as possible. You complete the test and prove yourselves to be fighters for balance rather than chaos. Once you have done that? Your memories are restored, and you go on as guardians to fight for Terra. You help push back the corrupted lands. You become gods on this earth."

"And what if we don't want to?"

Keeper looked Ret directly in the eye, that eerie light shining out once again.

"Do you know where you came from?"

"Of course we don't. That's the entire motive."

"...How do you think it would feel to be considered the scourge of the earth. To terrify all those who cross your path. To disgust and strike fear into the hearts of Terrarians everywhere...and yet be complete slaves."

"I kind of liked it until that last part," Spaz grumbled.

"Yes. Complete slaves. Cursed to live forever with your souls trapped and controlled by the Lord of the Moon. Unable to communicate. Unable to so much as think of your own accord. And destined to be brutally murdered over and over by those who call themselves heroes."

"Are you saying we..."

Ret trailed off, and Keeper let out a cackle.

"Are you willing to bet your lives that I am wrong? If you don't want the neutral ground...the Crimson will gladly take you back."
 
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PaperLaur

Spazmatism
^Thank you! I really do enjoy throwing those kinds of things in there. Just, like, nods to who the characters really are or game mechanics or whatnot.

Also, I had a huge idea brainstorm at one in the morning last night. Thought up some rather...interesting things that'll show up way later.

Chapter 4: Underpowered

"You think he was telling the truth?"

"Not on my life. Spaz, hold still, would you--I thought I spotted some ore but I can't tell with you waving the torch around like that."

"I'm not waving, I swear!"

"Well you're not the one using it to see."

"Well if you're so good at it you take the torch, I'll mine."

Spaz huffed, holding his torch out straight in front of him, which his brother took after a moment of glaring, passing Spaz his copper pickaxe. After spending what had remained of the previous day scouting east for easy supplies, they'd made a campfire, a furnace, and an anvil from a near-surface iron vein, and settled in for the night. As early the next morning as their bodies had allowed, they'd explored one of the possible cave entrances to the west, finding a surprisingly lucrative tunnel network leading into a cave or two. It had been quite some time since they'd disappeared beneath the surface, but they'd already found quite an amount of ore, as well as some Life Crystals and other supplies along the way. Other than the slight disturbance caused by bats and the occasional slime, the day was overall going much better than the previous--and their newly-forged copper armor certainly helped.

Over that time, little had been said. The two had conversed amongst themselves about what Keeper might have meant, but hadn't come to any solid conclusions. And when they'd asked Keeper upon returning why it had to specifically be them bringing balance, Keeper had simply grunted in response, and hadn't spoken a word since his partial explanation.

Spaz began picking up easily where Ret had left off mining towards the potential cave he'd seen. "Anyway, why would he lie to us?"

Ret gave a noncommittal gesture with one hand. "He probably did it to us in the first place. He's attempting to scare us into free labor, or using us for something, we cannot be sure..."

"Ret...Are you sure he's really suspicious, or are you just mad that he kind of tried to strangle you?"

"What?" Ret paused, hand reaching up to his much-abused neck, where there were now bruises from Keeper's sudden assault the previous day. "Are you saying that that alone doesn't make him suspicious? He could be waiting to kill us."

"Then why didn't he try to last night?"

"He didn't because I was watching him all night."

Spaz nearly dropped his pick. "Wait, are you serious?" He shook his head, groaning, "Reeeeet, that was dumb, no wonder you're so snappy today. At least we could've slept in shifts."

"He would've known. The man didn't close his eyes once."

Spaz harrumphed. Their conversation was briefly halted by Spaz finally breaking into the cave, and the two moved forward, Spaz switching to his copper broadsword (and quickly killing a wayward bat), Ret carrying the torch behind. Ret pointed out an underground cabin nearby, and Spaz was the one to move forward, Ret watching his back as he stuck the torch to the wall, opened the chest, and rifled through it.

"Hey! Hey, finally!" Spaz yelled, pulling out a round object and holding it up triumphantly for Ret to see.

Ret examined it, tilting his head before giving a half-smile of approval, "Magic Mirror. Very useful. Now we just need another one..."

"You take it. I've got some recalls. Also a ton of iron in here."

They moved on, taking the chest as a trophy. Sadly, that and a smaller iron vein were the only things around, and Spaz began mining downwards once more.

"But about what he said..." Spaz finally continued, once he was back in the rhythm of mining, "The whole 'slaves to moon person scourge of the earth' thing. Does that ring any bells for you?"

Ret considered briefly, "...I...I'm not sure."

"Well the Moon Lord sounds like a name I've heard of, and I dunno where I heard it, so if that means anything, there you go."

"...I feel the same. Still, that is insufficient evidence."

"I know, but it's all we have to go on. Do you have any other ideas?" The face Spaz saw Ret pull as he looked over his shoulder told him the answer. "You're supposed to be the logic guy. Don't make me do this kinda thing."

"...you're right," grumbled Ret, "I suppose we must do as he says for now. Though I don't trust him."

"Me neither." Spaz's usual energetic air dropped, and his eye narrowed. "Not after yesterday. He makes a bad move, we both nail him together."

Ret gave an eerie smile of his own in silent agreement. He seemed to be thinking about something. "...Though we should make a detour once we are better equipped to visit the Crimson."

"Why?"

"That...That could be our ticket to the upper hand..." There was something odd in Ret's eye, something greedy and malicious.

Spaz had no time to consider, as his pickaxe suddenly met air, sending Spaz off balance with a yell. The hole he'd made wasn't big enough to fall into, but Ret still leapt forward to pull him back from the edge, and the two had to catch their breath. Ret silently moved forward to shine his torch, but the hole was too small to see much other than a small glint on a new type of cave wall.

The two looked at each other and nodded. Ret stepped back, rifling through his inventory as Spaz opened up the hole he'd made further, eye bright at the prospect of more loot. Once the hole was sufficient for them to slip in and out easily, Ret moved to the edge to lower some rope to the cave's floor, and they both quickly slipped down, landing like experts. Ret pulled out his torch again the second he was on the ground, waving it around to find that they were surrounded by walls of bright grayish-white. A small pool of water sat to their left, and something was moaning and rattling from the darkness to the right.

"...Marble," Ret said with distaste, fastening his torch to the wall and switching to his once-more-usable bow. Spaz smiled viciously and pulled out his sword. Ret noticed Spaz's eagerness and tapped him on the shoulder. "Perhaps you hadn't noticed, but we're rather ill-equipped. We should--"

An angry crunching joined the rattling from the darkness, and Ret's sentence abruptly cut off. Spaz frowned and turned his head...only to see something he should've expected.

His brother had been turned to stone.

"Oh great."

The Medusa and the Hoplite who'd been lurking in the shadows abruptly flew forward, the Hoplite immediately attacking the frozen Ret while the Medusa attempted to get a clear shot to give Spaz the same fate. Spaz ducked away, swinging with a yell before running forward to try and take them down, his plan to simply fight until Ret was free. The Hoplite was barely moved by the swing of Spaz's sword, its armor blocking out almost any damage, while the Medusa kept trying to grab him from behind and turn him around for a clear line of sight. He whooped as he swung the sword around backwards towards Medusa's head, jumping away from both of them and briefly wishing he had some sort of middle-ground range attack to help him. Maybe later.

Ret broke out from the Medusa's curse, grunting in pain and stumbling a step before whipping out his bow and shooting the Medusa back as Spaz switched focus to the Hoplite.

"It's too dangerous to go down any further," Ret called over his shoulder, "Get ready to bail."

Spaz, reluctantly, had to agree--they didn't even know what these enemies could do to them, if the Demon Eyes yesterday had caused such a fuss. A final slash at the Hoplite's throat, and Spaz feinted to one side, then ducked away to the other, running back and trading his weapon for the star-shaped bottle of Recall Potion. Ret had managed to back up while firing at the Medusa, and Spaz could see the glint of the torch's light off the glass of his new Magic Mirror.

They didn't even need to count out loud. Spaz guzzled the potion and Ret activated the mirror at the same time, and both vanished in a cloud of blue.

Spaz opened his eye only when the blue light had faded, blinking several times in confusion as he looked around. As he had yesterday, the two had appeared a few yards to the right of the house's front door, near the cozy, crackling fire they'd thrown together with some torches that hadn't gone out since. But this was different than yesterday, in that...

"It's night," Spaz pointed out, quite unnecessarily, "...We were underground that long?"

Ret didn't even bother to answer the question, quickly ducking into the dimly-lit house with Spaz close behind. Spaz slammed the door behind him, leaning his back against it as only a second later a zombie started pounding at it.

"That. That could've been really bad."

Ret grunted in acknowledgement, before looking around the small room. "...Where is Keeper?" His voice was full of barely-contained malice.

"Huh? He isn't here?" Spaz looked around, then turned and looked through the holes in the door, smacking it with his hand a few times. "Hey! Zombie! Get out of there, I'm not lookin' for your ugly mug. Don't you give me that face!" He hissed like an angry cat in response to the ensuing zombie groan, opening the door just enough to swing his sword at the zombie's arm and loudly shooing it. It didn't shoo, and so Spaz continued slashing at it until it fell into body parts that somewhat blocked the door from opening that way. Grimacing, he shut the door and continued staring out. "...I don't see him out there."

"Great." Ret began pacing about the room, appearing as if he hadn't even seen the brief squabble between his little brother and the undead. "He abandoned us. He's leaving us to die."

"I dunno what he's doing, but we've gotta figure out what we're doing." Slam, slam, slam, groan. "I think there are more of them tonight."

Ret pondered for a moment, before running to the anvil they'd set at the far side of the room next to the furnace. Spaz quickly followed, fishing in his inventory.

"Iron?"

"Anything you have. Did we get any silver?"

"Yeah, a little bit. Please make me a sword? Pleeease?"

"Armor first."

"Fiiiiiine."

And Ret set to work, Spaz helping as much as he could. They'd mostly found iron and copper in their exploits, with only a small vein or two of silver. It wasn't long before both of them were wearing iron. Ret also silently passed Spaz a silver broadsword, causing the younger brother to bounce up and down looking like a child on Christmas morning.

"I say we try to take out some of the night creatures," Ret stated, finally, "They may be stronger, we're going to need to be careful>'

Spaz remembered his chagrin at lacking range during the earlier fight. "...You think we can grab some stars?"

"Of course."

"But you haven't slept..."

Ret grimaced, "True, but I'd rather not have him return while we are sleeping."

"Aw, come on, you're being..." Spaz started to protest, but trailed off. "Actually, you're probably right."

Ret nodded, "Of course I am. Tomorrow we can improve the house. Get out a chest."

Spaz set down the gold chest from the house, and the two deposited everything they didn't need. They moved to the door, Spaz in the lead with his new sword and Ret behind with a lot of flaming arrows he'd made at his disposal.

Spaz let out a roaring battle cry, practically kicked the door off its hinges, and plunged his sword straight into the rather surprised zombie who'd been trying to get in.

Tonight was going to be fun.

-:-:-​

The whole thing was a blur, and significantly less fun than expected. Even in iron, the night creatures hit hard. And the two saw creatures out there that really shouldn't have been there at all--Antlions all the way from the desert, all varieties of Demon Eyes, The Groom and Bride themselves, and at one point a skeleton casting spells everywhere that had nearly ended their journey that very night. The battle was a success despite the injuries, though, with many fallen stars, lenses, coins, and other forms of loot collected.

But as they were attempting to survive the last hour before sunrise, after finally dispatching the caster, Spaz couldn't help but notice that Ret's aim was getting more and more off. He seemed weaker on his feet, like he was going to fall over any second, and despite Ret insisting he was fine when asked, Spaz made an executive decision and dragged Ret back into the house, boarding up the door. Ret did not protest or say a word, simply collapsing on the floor. And to be honest, Spaz felt like doing the same. Even he realized they'd gotten in over their heads and were pretty badly hurt, and now he was very worried about his brother's health.

Spaz forced a healing potion down Ret's throat before going to drop his stuff in their chest. Keeper or not, Spaz couldn't stay on his feet any longer. And judging by the fact that that Ret was out cold by the time Spaz had dropped off his stuff, even while sick from the potion, Ret had probably been even weaker.

But Spaz still thought that night had been awesome. He felt stronger than he ever had since waking up here.

Screw Keeper. We're stronger. We're gonna show him. See how he likes it.

Without even stopping to take a potion or remove his armor, and with zombies still pounding on the doors as the sun began to barely peek over the horizon, Spaz sank to the floor and was unconscious within seconds.
 

PaperLaur

Spazmatism
For the record, I check the views on this thread and even if you've just viewed and not said anything, I really really appreciate any view that isn't mine and freak out internally.

Chapter 5: Seeing Red

...

He found the other sitting in the branches of a boreal tree, staring out over the tundra towards the reddened horizon. The sun was just starting to near the tops of the trees in its ever-repeating loop, and he'd been getting worried for his younger brother--he usually didn't disappear like this. And as was apparent from the snow collecting on his iron helmet, he'd been here a while.

"Are you all right?"

The young man in the tree started, inadvertently knocking the pile of snow from his head as he turned. There was a brief, conflicted look on his face before he hid it with a typical smile.

"Yeah. Fine. Just thinking."

"Since when did you do that?"

"Ha, I know, right?"

Without asking permission, the slightly taller man clambered easily up the tree until reaching a branch supporting his weight a bit below his companion.

"So. What is it you've found so important to think about?" His voice was casual, but he knew that his brother was upset about something--honestly, he was, too.

A pause. The smaller man put his chin in his hands, looking back towards the jagged red land beyond the tundra. "I'm thinkin' about...y'know...all that," he replied, gesturing vaguely towards it.

"Ah. The Fleshlands..."

"I thought when we left, well...we weren't gonna have to ever see it again."

"According to Kyle, it's all over Terra. The Corruption, as well, which is likely the 'shadow land' those traveling merchants spoke of back home."

"Mhm..."

Another long silence.

"...Come on. What else is eating you."

The younger sighed and shifted his position to look down, meeting his older brother's dark brown, concerned eyes. He hesitated again before answering.

"...What do you think home looks like now?"

"I...it was spreading fast. It can't be good."

"You think everyone made it?"

"We can hope."

"...do you think we can ever go back?"

That was the question he hadn't wanted to be asked. He winced and briefly looked away. They were in their twenties and yet there was so much they hadn't done. They hadn't gotten "roles" like many of the others had...they hadn't had relationships...they hadn't gotten to do something useful for their town, and now? Now they were stuck running from the plague that had taken everything away, knowing any day it might catch up. And the road behind them was blocked off.

"I...think we may just want to make the best of what we have here."

The younger man physically slumped, but nodded, the look in his eyes telling the other that he'd already known what the answer would be. "Okay, I guess. May not be so bad...we can finally do something useful. Adventure, glory, romance, all that stuff we talked about when we were kids, right? Hey, if what Kyle said is right, we may be able to stop all this anyway...we could be heroes?"

Brown eyes narrowed--he could tell the other was upset, despite how he tried to hide it.

"One day. Maybe one day, if we gain enough power...Maybe. Maybe we can make it back there and purify it. For now, we have to wait. We have to learn how to fight, and stop its spread. Because I'll be damned if I'm letting it take here, too."

-:-:-
Ret was rather unpleasantly woken up by somebody nearby chewing. Loudly. With copious amounts of lip-smacking, to boot.

He groaned, turned over, and threw an arm over his face, his whole body throbbing with pain. He remembered the battle last night, and how it had strained him so badly that he'd been on the verge of passing out several times, mainly from exhaustion. He only vaguely remembered defeating the skeleton caster and being dragged back into the house.

So...he'd finally fallen unconscious, then. But how long had it been? And was--

Ret's eye flew open and he sat bolt upright, staring around the room frantically before finding him. Keeper was sitting at the crafting table, and proved to be the source of the agonizing lip-smacking, as he was currently eating a somewhat burnt fish in a rather sloppy fashion. Upon further examination, it appeared that he had cooked said fish at a shabbily-made cooking pot that Ret was almost positive they hadn't crafted at any point the previous day.

Before moving further, Ret checked the floor for his brother--there he was, near the door once again, sprawled over in a position that certainly didn't look comfortable, but was apparently good enough for Spaz to still be sleeping in. After determining his brother to be alive, Ret stood, bringing his sharp gaze to Keeper's face with a scowl tugging at his lips.

Keeper glanced up after tearing off another large chunk of fish with his teeth, staring dispassionately back at Ret. "There's more in your chest," he said, his voice muffled by a mouthful, "Had to fish up some things I could sell. Saved extra bass. Don't mention it. Really. Don't."

Ret's frown deepened as he shuffled over to the chest, not taking his eye off Keeper the whole time. He only briefly ducked his head to examine the chest's contents to, indeed, find a fair supply of cooked (though charred) fish on the top. He took one of these, examining it closely with a critical eye.

When he started sniffing it, Keeper groaned. "I'll take it if you don't trust me. I am still hungry."

Ret eyed Keeper for a moment before taking a nibble of the fish, not having utensils around. Keeper clearly had no idea how to properly cook, as the fish was one of the blandest things he could remember tasting (not that that constituted a lot of things), but it didn't seem that he'd poisoned it, either. Ret grunted in acknowledgement and grabbed some logs out of the chest, setting down the fish in order to craft two more chairs and placing one on the direct opposite end of the table from Keeper, the second next to the first. He took his fish once again, taking an aggressive, if much cleaner, bite.

Keeper leaned back in his chair, having been eyeing the fish the whole time. "Well. Looks like you two had an eventful night."

"When did you get here?" Ret was not having any of this casual conversation--he wanted answers.

"Not too long ago."

"Why did you leave us?"

"You were mining and I had to search for some things. No, I will not share any more of those things than I already have. I am not here to give you things. That is against the rules."

"What rules?"

"The test rules."

Ret threw a hand in the air, "All right, fine. So you went out and got things. Did you see what happened last night?"

Keeper nodded, standing to grab another fish from the chest, then going to the cooking pot. "A lot more monsters than there should be...some that should not even be here yet. As I said, everything's off."

"We nearly died."

"I can see that. Going out there was idiotic. You shouldn't have needed me to tell you that."

Ret opened his mouth to speak, but admittedly had no counter-argument. He took another bite to avoid having to respond.

Luckily, the subject was forgotten as Spaz groaned, stretching out as far as he could on the floor and giving a yawn that opened his mouth so wide it looked like he was going to dislocate his jaw. "Morn..." he began, before his bleary green eye found Keeper. "Gah!"

"'Morning' to you as well," responded Keeper, dryly, turning away from the pot.

Spaz stumbled to his feet, pointing at Keeper accusingly. "You left! You--"

"He was going to get supplies he says he's not allowed to share with us. There's cooked fish in the chest. It isn't poisoned, but it is burned, quite badly I might add."

Keeper tilted his head in confusion, taking another messy bite that crunched horribly through the fine layer of charcoal Ret was certain was on that fish by this point. "I don't know, I prefer it this way."

"I'm just glad you're eating that and not our faces while we were sleeping," Spaz grumbled, heading to the chest.

Keeper seemed to think for a moment, then smirked. "...I may very well consider that if you make me mad enough."

"What time is it?" Ret asked, quickly interrupting a discussion he was certain could only end badly. "I don't like the way you said 'morning'."

Keeper barked a laugh, "That's because morning isn't accurate. No one here has a watch, but it has to be at least six-thirty, maybe seven."

"...In the morning?" Spaz asked, hopefully. Ret had already slammed his palm nto his forehead.

"Not with your luck," Keeper replied, gesturing towards the door. Both brothers ran to said door at once, Spaz flinging it open and running out a couple of steps only to see the sun beginning to turn orange as it descended to the eastern horizon.

Spaz groaned and threw both hands in the air, while Ret grumbled to himself. "Are you serious?" Spaz yelled, "Are you actually serious--"

"You think you're upset?" Ret snapped, "We have wasted an entire day without accomplishing anything, and it may not be the best idea to go out at night considering what happened last time."

"I know that." Spaz stomped back into the house and sat down on one of the chairs, crossing his arms like a small child having a tantrum. "That's why I'm mad. You think we can make it back over to that mineshaft before night and just stick underground?"

"That isn't a good idea," Keeper interjected, holding up another fish as if to accentuate his point, "You cannot know what the moon is going to look like, and...well, if I were to make any sort of suggestion, it would involve staying put."

"You just said you aren't going to be helping us," snarled Ret, though he dared not show any physical signs of aggression--the finger-shaped bruises on his neck were still too fresh for that.

"The first part of that should be common knowledge, the second is just a suggestion."

"But I don't wanna sit here!" Spaz pounded a fist into the table, "I'm not staying here all night doing nothing--not even fighting a single slime or eyeball--with you and that...burning...fish smell."

"I have to agree. I would rather not spend an entire day standing around not accomplishing anything."

"Can we at least go outside and build? Just in case a merchant shows up, I think we got a lot of money last night. Pleeeease?"

Ret scoffed, "We can do whatever we want. We don't need his permission."

"...Oh, right! We can go build!"

Keeper seemed unfazed by all the shouting, simply chewing his food. It was only after the two had stopped and were both staring at him and he'd completely finished his third fish that he smacked his lips and spoke. "You can build, yes...but a merchant will never move in. Even if he did, he wouldn't stay for long."

Ret was about to punch the man, strangulation be damned. His fists were balled at his sides as he spoke through gritted teeth. "And why is that, exactly."

"You only looked to the east, didn't you?"

The twins glanced at each other, and came to silent agreement.

Ret was the one who walked out the door first, Spaz half a step behind. The sun was setting fast, shining brightly onto the backs of their heads as they rounded the house to look west.

Leaves were beginning to fall off of trees, and there were wilted plants everywhere, but otoher than that, things looked relatively ordinary.

As if expecting this, Keeper shouted from inside the house, "Farther!"

Ret huffed and stormed forward, Spaz following.

It didn't take them too long to get far enough to see the red on the horizon.

Both of them stopped and stared. It was unmistakable--the spindly, dead trees whose branches poked out like mutilated bones from scarred black trunks; the reddish ground riddled with strange growths...

It was what they'd seen their second day here.

Spaz just continued staring, opening and closing his mouth in shock. Ret, however, suddenly ran forward.

"Ret, wait, don't!"

He didn't listen. He ran, and ran, and ran as the sun slowly continued to set behind him. He ran all the way to the point where the pure forest transitioned...straight into crimson-tinted, diseased-looking sand.

Spaz caught up behind him, grabbing his arm. "We need to go back if we're gonna..." He trailed off, staring at the ground. "It...The whole desert?" Ret nodded once. "The whole desert. It got the whole desert, this fast..."

"And that's exactly what I was talking about."

Spaz glanced back, but Ret didn't even move, recognizing Keeper's voice and not even caring how he'd gotten there. No, he was staring once more into the depths of the Crimson, teeth clenched. He was angry. Angry at Keeper, angry at this world, angry at whatever force had stolen their memories, angry at the gods. It made his blood burn and all the monsters he'd slain last night felt like not enough to satisfy that anger even if he did it all over again. He was angry at himself for not being able to last longer, not being able to enter the Crimson before. Not being able to end that Hoplite and that Medusa. He was angry about being so weak...He'd once been stronger. That was something he knew without even needing any of his old memories. He could just feel it.

He didn't stop himself stepping into the Crimson this time. He didn't care how low in tier his armor and weapons were. He had his axe and he had his bow and arrows and he was going to show this land that it couldn't control them. He'd rule this land. He and Spaz would. It would make them more powerful than even the gods.

"...R-Ret? You okay?"

"Can't you feel it," he muttered under his breath, shaking his head violently, "We can't let it do this. We need to take it before it takes us..."

"Another suggestion," Keeper called, "This may or may not be exactly what got you in this situation in the first place."

"SHUT UP!"

Ret shot an arrow in Keeper's direction, the pseudo-Guide barely able to shuffle out of the way in time as the flaming projectile impacted and singed the grass where he'd just been. Ret notched another arrow, pulling back his bowstring for another shot, clearly intending not to miss this time. "You think you can control us. You think--"

Keeper suddenly pulled something blue and orange out of his inventory. Ret blinked, whipping his head left and right as two lasers shot from the Space Gun to either side of him. He then fixed his gaze back on Keeper, who once more had that look in his eyes.

The two stared each other down, Ret still pulling his bowstring while Keeper refused to lower the laser rifle.

"...I don't know if he's calling you to be that aggressive to me," Keeper said, voice perfectly calm despite the dark look in his eyes, "But I know he is the one trying to capture you in this. Mentally and physically. Your souls are already tainted by it. You're vulnerable. I suggest you turn back now. There will be balance even if I have to end you both for it."

"Hey guys?"

Ret didn't even look. "What is it, Spaz?"

"For the record, I'm on your side and I totally want to help you maul him. But we may have a problem."

"What problem?"

Keeper lowered the Space Gun and glanced around, quiet fury immediately dropping into a vaguely worried expression. "Well, uh," Spaz continued, and Ret finally looked over at him, "This is gonna sound like a pun, it really is. I swear it isn't a pun. But, are you...seeing red?"

Ret looked around as well, and his eye widened. He slowly released the bowstring so as to not waste the arrow, turning around in a circle to make sure what he was seeing was accurate. The sun was no longer visible, and the sky was mostly dark. However, there was something off in the west. Something red that wasn't part of the Crimson.

Things were growling in there--big things, many things. He could hear the moans of many undead in the direction of the house, and even a few explosions.

At once, the standoff was forgotten, and Ret shouted a string of curses, running backwards and firing at anything that moved within the Crimson. He didn't know what had come over him--maybe something was wrong with his soul like Keeper implied--but that didn't matter now.

"What is it?" Spaz called, pulling out his sword.

Ret whirled around and fired at a zombie heading straight for Spaz. Keeper growled and began rapid-firing the laser gun in a wide spread back towards the house.

It was only when Ret got a spare moment from shooting at the oncoming horde that he got to say something he could tell from his brother's facial expression was already known, even as the sky grew bright once again, now with red-tinged light.

"The Blood Moon is rising!"

A/N: Okay, two things. One, I know east and west sun and moon rising directions are flipped around relating to Earth--don't forget this is Terraria, so everything rises/sets backwards.
Two, this chapter kiiiiind of got out of hand and I'm not as happy with it as I could be. Honestly, I have less idea about how this part's going to go than I do of the events a couple of chapters from now. I'm just trying to get some things established, I guess?

Ret has no chill. Also, the fish are somehow actually relevant, I promise.
 

PaperLaur

Spazmatism
Another chapter! Whee! This project has lasted a week, which is more than I can say of a lot of other things I've posted on forums. I'm really good at starting things and never finishing them.
Also I was half asleep while writing a good bit of this chapter. I really, really hope I managed to fix all the times I used the wrong twin's name.

Chapter 6: Intruder


Spaz wasn't entirely sure what a Blood Moon was or what it meant, and couldn't recall ever actually being through one, but he knew it was bad news--and even if he hadn't, everyone else's reactions would've been a dead giveaway. Not to mention the intermittent explosions from back at the house, and things screeching from the Crimson.

He shouted and fell in line beside Ret, as Keeper shuffled over to stand in front of them, facing towards the house and rapidly firing lasers as a barrier to protect the trio as he slowly advanced. Ret seemed focused on enemies within the Crimson, and had a somewhat troubled look on his face that only had somewhat to do with the sudden influx of enemies.

Spaz knew why the look was there. He knew he wasn't the intellectual of the two, but he wasn't stupid--he'd felt the same strange bloodlust and pull from the Crimson that Ret had, that attraction to it. But he didn't have an attraction to power--just the challenge. And he didn't like the idea of being controlled by any weird force.

"Ret?"

"Move, we must return to the house!"

"Recall?"

"No, the monsters would stop us and Keeper cannot recall."

"So we're protecting Keeper, now?"

Keeper grunted from the front line, briefly glancing back at them over one shoulder, never ceasing his stream of fire. "Well, at this point, I am protecting you--now if you two would kindly be a help--!"

"I'm not letting him die before we know more about him," Ret said, his voice firm even as his eye looked troubled.

After knocking a Blood Crawler away and setting it on fire with a gel-tipped arrow, Ret pivoted back around to face the house, Spaz falling in close behind and keeping his gaze behind them. The Blood Crawler seemed to attempt to shake the fire off of itself, before letting out that odd, throaty growl and diving towards them. Spaz caught it with his silver sword, and it flew backwards a few feet, before the fire reduced it to ash.

Something else was advancing towards them from the bloodied lands, though--this one a vaguely humanoid figure, but with a horrible, distorted face taking up its entire front. Behind it came a mummy wrapped in dark bandages, and a few small, jumping creatures that weren't really possible to describe without their name; Herplings.

"Weeeeeee've got a lot of guys coming!" Spaz warned, even as he darted forward to engage the Face Monster. The thing howled as it was struck, taking a swipe at Spaz and knocking him back a bit, the blow stinging even with iron. Spaz let his momentum carry him back as the Face Monster shambled towards him, slobber dripping in thick strings from the teeth in its far-too-large mouth. A second to rebalance, and then Spaz charged forward, ramming the monster with his own body before pulling back his sword to stab it right in the mouth. It collapsed in pieces to the sand.

Spaz caught a couple of lasers out of the corner of his eye and turned to watch as Keeper, an enraged yet almost pleased look on his face, shooting at the mummy and the Herplings. As far as Spaz knew, a person had to channel their magical energy to use the Space Gun unless they had armor to charge it for them, and had Keeper even taken a break the whole time?

"Don't focus on them! Move!" Keeper called.

Spaz shook his head rapidly to clear it, swinging over his shoulder at the mummy and unraveling it before turning to face forward with Ret. They'd only advanced a few paces away from the start of the crimsoned desert, and seeing all the undead, Dripplers, and eyeballs facing them down...Spaz could tell they had a long way to go, ad though admittedly excited for the battle, knew from the previous night that it wasn't going to be as fun as he hoped.

...And a slog indeed it was, though the twins were high once again on the fight, allowing that to consume them and drown out their worry for at least a little while.

It really wasn't more than a lot of zombies, eyes, and the Dripplers until they drew nearer to the house--though they were unnervingly damaging, with a couple of well-timed healing potions and Keeper holding a defensive line for them, they were able to make it without severe injury. However, from around the area of the house, the explosions were much, much louder--and one could hear shots in the chaos, as well.

"What?" Keeper shook his head violently, clenching his teeth. "Those are supposed to be sealed!"

"Which ones?!"

Keeper pointed with his gun, firing at a group of three figures standing on balls that were hanging around outside their front door. Spaz's eye widened as he realized that they were the source of the explosions--they were throwing bombs around the front of the house.

"Clowns?!" Ret shouted, "Are you telling me that now clowns are--"

"Yes!" snapped Keeper, "They're vicious, and they shouldn't even BE here."

"Target them!" Spaz called, dashing as far forward as he dared while Ret turned to fight enemies behind them.

He knew better than to get in Keeper's way without his permission, but a nod and gesture from their "guide" was enough permission for him. He ran forward, racing around the house to stand behind the trio of clowns, who were clearly focused on something else. As they were distracted, Spaz approached, getting up close behind them before slashing at one of the rubber balls with his sword.

As he'd expected, it popped, and the very startled clown fell flat on his back. Spaz whooped in triumph at his idea actually working, before cutting open the other two bouncy balls.

All the clowns were most definitely focused on him now, and approached as one, all holding explosives. Spaz backed up and up, knowing instinctively that Ret was planning a way to help him. Indeed, a few regular wooden arrows began firing out of nowhere, and Spaz looked up, grinning as he caught sight of Ret standing around the corner of the house with his bow, having swapped out his ammo to avoid lighting the explosives. One of the clowns growled, throwing a bomb in Ret's direction--the taller man easily darted backwards and out of range.

Shots suddenly rang out, surprising both of them. Spaz jumped back as a bullet whizzed past, but it wasn't aimed at him. The clown next to him, however, exploded into pieces. If Spaz squinted, he could see that the door was partially open, the barrel of a revolver sticking out, and the red light of the moon overhead shining off a pair of frightened eyes within. Spaz's eye narrowed, but he couldn't do anything about the intruder before taking care of the other two clowns.

Spaz backed out of the fray to avoid the bullets, and Ret and the mysterious gun-wielder made quick work of the remaining clowns. The twins glanced at each other, as if in silent conversation, before Spaz burst through the door, grabbing the man inside by the neck and throwing him against the back wall while Ret ran in and slammed the door behind him.

The man gasped as he was flung, reaching a hand up to try and pry Spaz's fingers away while his revolver clattered to the floor. Spaz gave a low growl and raised his silver sword threateningly, causing the man to freeze.

The twins got a good chance to look him over in the red-tinted torch light. He was a shorter man who could reasonably be in his thirties or later, with dark brown hair holding some strands of gray, all wrapped into a small ponytail down the back of his neck. He wore a top hat with a feather sticking out of it, and was sporting a long traveling cape of dull blue material that matched the color of his eyes. Under that was a reasonably nice button-down in gray, and brown pants. His shoes looked worn.

"Who are you?" Spaz snapped, hardly noticing as the sound of lasers grew closer and Keeper entered, slamming the door again and rushing to the chest to get some wood to board it up.

The man wheezed in Spaz's hold, clearly terrified. "I-I am peaceful! I'm just a human!"

"Tell us your name and why you're in our house!"

"M-Mercer. I-I'm just a simple traveling merchant and I--I found your house to take cover, I was going in this direction but the Blood Moon hit..." He trailed off, staring past Spaz at something. "...Y-you, sir! Are you the one I was speaking with earlier?"

Spaz chanced a look to see Keeper had finished boarding the door, and was now leaning against the opposite wall, catching his breath and massaging one leg. He looked up, "Oh. Yes."

"The one who didn't have any coins so I asked you to pay me by fishing?"

Keeper pulled a face, "That was humiliating."

"I'll have you know, sir, that the Sitting Duck's Fishing Rod is actually quite valuable and you're lucky I was willing to loan it to you. I have a family to support!"

"You know this man?" interrupted Ret, lowering his bow slightly and looking between the two men. Spaz was wondering that as well, but was more focused on holding Mercer against the wall. He was clearly spooking the merchant with the look on his face. Maybe it was the teeth. Good, as far as Spaz was concerned. He liked it when people were scared of him.

"I found him earlier when I was searching for supplies," Keeper responded, quite casually considering the zombies wailing at the door and another clown throwing explosives in close proximity.

Mercer nodded shakily, "He told me there were a couple of people this way who may need help--are you the charges he was talking about? Sir, uh, are these your children?"

Keeper went rigid, crossed eyes wide. He looked like he was going to be sick. "What? No! That is disgusting, and I am not one easily disgusted."

"S-sorry. Sorry I just assumed--"

"Why did you tell him about us?!" Ret snapped, turning completely to Keeper. And Spaz was thinking the same--he'd wanted to at least tolerate the guy at the beginning, he really had. But over time, he'd just been acting more and more screwy. Spaz could definitely understand Ret's constant paranoia with him, as he was starting to want to stick a sword through the guy, too, answers or not.

Keeper glared at Ret, "Because I saw an opportunity and knew you two would not survive out here, not with the Crimson moving that fast. I knew you would need somewhere else to stay, and traveling merchants always come from somewhere."

"I thought you weren't gonna help us," Spaz pointed out.

"I know. Don't think I'm doing this out of the goodness of my heart--I have none. I do however have a vested interest in you two not going back to your previous states, and the prophecy being properly fulfilled. Mercer! Where did you say you were from?"

"Oh! I-it is a town called Rifdale. Not too big, not too small, good place."

"Can you get us there tomorrow?"

"It is a long walk--"

"Wait!" Ret cut in, "Do we get any say in this?"

"Well, unless you would like the Crimson to spread directly over this house..." Keeper replied with a roll of the eyes.

The brothers watched each other for a moment, but were unable to come to a proper conclusion right away--and the distracting noise of zombies pounding on the door was not helping. "...Can we talk about this in the morning?" Ret asked, sounding resigned.

"Fine," Keeper said, "I just hope you two don't plan to go back out there."

Ret groaned and lowered his head, making a vague gesture in Spaz's direction. Spaz took it to mean he should release the man he was still holding in a threatening manner, though he was reluctant. If Ret was so paranoid about Keeper, why wasn't he afraid of this random guy who'd basically broken into their house?...But he obeyed the silent command regardless, giving Mercer one last glare before dropping him to the floor and stepping back.

"Don't shoot us. Or do. Might be fun." He looked at his sword lovingly. "You know that saying about not bringing a knife to a gun fight? This doesn't count as a knife."

"All right, calm down," Ret said, rubbing at his temples, "That banging is giving me a headache."

"My headache never went away," grumbled Keeper, sitting down against the far wall. Mercer said nothing, simply holding a hand to his neck and trying to recover from what had just happened.

"Those clowns--they won't break the door, will they?" Mercer asked eventually, a hint of fear in his voice.

Keeper waved a hand dismissively, "Those bombs only harm beings, not buildings."

Spaz flopped down into one of the chairs at the crafting table. "Those guys are weird. What did you mean when you said they were supposed to be sealed?"

"The spirits of light and dark--those clowns are part of that. They should only appear on Blood Moons after the guardian of the Underworld is defeated. The same with those...small bug creatures from the Crimson, they should not be here either."

"We've been noticing a lot of problems in Rifdale as well," Mercer said, nodding gravely, "The town's always been heavily fortified against the Crimson and Corruption, but we get some unwanted intruders now and again. The amount's only increased since the town was founded twenty years ago." He pulled his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them, a worried look crossing his face. "Frankly it's unsettling. We're not quite sure what to do...All I want is for my family to have a nice place to stay."

"You have a family?" Ret asked, though he didn't sound as if he really cared. Spaz simply stretched out in the chair, trying not to look at anyone. He still kind of wanted to go out there, but knew that'd be suicide.

Mercer nodded, "A wife and a little boy around five. You'll see them in Rifdale--uh, if you decide to go, that is. Your, ah...friend now has enough money to keep you two settled in the inn for a few days at least."

Ret raised a brow and turned to look at Keeper, who huffed and said nothing, folding his arms. An awkward silence stretched through the room, with no one making eye contact.

Mercer was the one who spoke up, raising a hand as if asking permission, "...Do...you want to get some sleep? I mean if it's all right I'd like to lay down--"

"Sleep?" Spaz snorted, gesturing at the door, "Ha, you seriously think anyone can sleep with that going on?"

"The door should be fine," Keeper said, "I will keep my eyes open."

"And I've had a long day," Mercer added, "It's a long way from Rifdale...I just hope they're all right tonight."

Spaz scoffed, tucking his chin into his chest and frowning. This Mercer man seemed awfully sentimental. As far as Spaz was concerned, the only thing he needed was his brother--the leader, the order-giver, the one he'd follow to the death. Who needed anything else? It was just too much to try and care about. It had to be exhausting.

Spaz watched the boarded up door, checking for holes he might be able to see through. A big part of him still wanted to go outside, and was upset at his own weakness. He imagined Ret probably felt the same. But Spaz had always been more of the fighter, and so far, he hadn't gotten to take down more than a few zombies, having been rendered inferior by way too many other things for his liking.

He glanced down at his battered chestplate. Maybe if he were to get better armor...there were merchants in towns, right? And if a merchant wasn't coming to stay here...

He glanced over at Ret, and knew from that resigned look that he'd come to some similar conclusions.

If they wanted to survive this and become strong again, Rifdale might be their best bet.

A new character, a new arc, and now we move into the story proper!

Now, just so I can gauge whether I'm doing things properly, I'd like to ask some questions of you guys--and feel free to give your general opinions or thoughts on how the story is going, characters, your expectations, et cetera. ALL of it is going to be a huge help in planning and tweaking things I haven't yet written. May wind up giving questions after every chapter just to get people involved.

So. Which of the twins do you think would be more likely to go on a murderous rampage? Basically who'd win the hypothetical "Most Likely To End Up Totally Evil And/Or Insane" category in the hypothetical yearbook.
Is Keeper actually going to be a help, is he going to stab them in the back, is he making all this up for free labor, is he just a plain old sourpants, or is it something else entirely?
Out of all these guys, who would you guess would win in a fight? Or like, at least arm wrestling.

Thank you and I will see you next time.
 
Great chapter once again! Well, I think that Ret would be the one that goes insane. He just seems the most likely to be drawn over to the Crimson. I like to think that Keeper is trying to keep them alive, as he seems to not want the world to be in such disarray. And, Keeper obviously wins in an arm wrestling match.
 

PaperLaur

Spazmatism
Keeper obviously wins in an arm wrestling match.
Ha! I don't think I properly described his appearance, since I wasn't entirely sure what he was even going to look like when I started writing, but he's a big dude, so yeah, that's probably accurate. They're lucky he's more ranged (well, more accurately, summoning) than melee, and seems to not want them dead. Probably. I mean, he did claim he may be willing to eat Spaz's face, so...

Thanks for the reply, a part of that (won't say which) actually was a really big help. Any replies, feedback, questions, speculation or anything makes my day and tells me what other people are thinking in responseto what I'm laying down here. Also we're almost at 200 views! Yay!

Now onward!

Chapter 7: Journey to Rifdale

That night was, as one might expect, a near sleepless one for the twins. The constant pounding on the door and the walls made it difficult for one to get comfortable. Keeper, of course, did not sleep, as seemed to be his norm. Mercer, meanwhile, apparently was too exhausted to have any difficulty passing out in a matter of seconds.

The most Ret found himself doing was dozing on and off as the sounds of the chaos outside filtered in through the boarded door. He glanced over to Spaz every so often, usually finding Spaz staring right back at him with a dull, bored look in his eye. Ret couldn't blame him--he already knew that Spaz probably wished he were strong enough to be out there fighting, and honestly, Ret wanted to as well. But after what had happened earlier, he was wondering whether avoiding as many fights as possible might be the better idea, especially while the Crimson was nearby. He didn't want any force like that taking hold over his reason.

It felt like ages before the noises of the monsters outside began to fade. Ret shifted in his seat, waking himself from another fitful doze to glance at the torch on the wall. It seemed that all light, whether touched by the moon or not, ended up tinted to red, and he remembered the torch being the same. But the torch was back to normal, birds began singing outside, and he could hear undead feet shuffling through the grass outside, away from the house.

Ret stretched his stiff limbs as Keeper stood and went to unblock the door. Spaz rolled over from the position he'd taken facedown on the floor in some bizarre attempt to get more comfortable. As the wood was knocked off the front of the door, early-morning light fell onto the floor of the house; still dim, but enough to keep the night creatures away.

Mercer appeared to notice everyone's movements and sat up from where he'd been using his cape as a blanket. Given everything that had happened yesterday, he seemed remarkably pleasant, flashing a weak smile. "Morning, then. I, ah, hope you all slept well?"

Ret said nothing, pushing himself out of his chair and turning to give Spaz a look. Spaz nodded, and slowly got his feet under him.

"We'll be right back," Spaz grumbled, and followed Ret out the door.

There was quite a number of bunnies hopping around outside the house. Birds were in the air, and the sunlight once more covered the land in some mask of elysium, as if the carnage the previous night had never occurred. All the blood from the downed clowns had faded away, and the grass was as pristine as if the twins were the first two to set foot on it.

Spaz attempted to shoo a bunny away from his ankles as the two walked a ways out from the house so as to not be heard. "Okay, is this about the whole town thing, because I was thinking."

Ret raised a brow, "Since when did you do that?"

"Ha, I know, right?" Spaz crossed his arms, "Not sleeping leaves you too much time to think, not enough doing. I tell ya, I'm bored as all hell. Except hell's probably more interestin'."

"So what were you thinking?"

"Right, okay. So! We don't have nice armor. These things are steamrolling us. I don't like getting steamr--would you get out of here?!" Spaz kicked the bunny that was sniffing his shoes. Said bunny gave an offended sniff before hopping away. "And the nice weapons take a while to get. So--"

"You're thinking that if we go to Rifdale, we could get better supplies," finished Ret.

Spaz nodded, "Yeah, basically that. I was wondering, do you trust this Mercer guy?"

"Not at all."

"Good. For a second there I thought you'd gone insane."

"At least one of us has to have a head on their shoulders. I will take on this heavy burden." Spaz huffed, shoving Ret lightly away with a hand. Ret smirked briefly, before his lips pressed into a thin line. "No...The only ones we can trust are each other right now. Rifdale does not have to be permanent. We can go, gather supplies, and figure things out from there."

"I'm all for anything that means I can stick a sword in a few of those blood spiders. Count me in." Spaz looked uncertain for a moment, "...What about Keeper? You still want to wreck him?"

"No..." Ret shook his head, "I...am not sure what came over me. We're still following him for now."

Spaz fell silent. When he eventually spoke, his voice was unusually quiet. "...I feel it too, y'know. I don't think as much, but..."

"I don't know what it is and I don't like it."

"What do you think it--"

A new voice interrupted their discussion. "Well? Are you coming or not?"

The two turned to see an irritated Keeper sticking his head out of the doorway, another practically disintegrated fish in one hand.

The twins spared one final look of confirmation before Ret began to stride back towards the house. "Yes, we will be taking up Mr. Mercer's offer. Spaz, help me pack up everything important from the chests."

-:-:-​

"You think we should take the wood from the house, too?"

"...Leave it. It is a sign of where we began."

Both twins were standing outside the house with full inventories. They'd decided to take the tools and more valuable ores they'd gotten from the caves, as well as anything they might be able to sell for a decent profit. Keeper claimed to have what few supplies he'd obtained on his person, and Mercer, of course, was a traveling merchant, so needed no preparations

"Where do we go?" Keeper asked, gruffly.

"East, straight off east," said Mercer, pointing. "Though I warn you there's some troubled parts we'll need to cut through, and the walk could take most of the day."

"Then we had better get going," Keeper replied, and without another word, began shuffling off in that direction.

Mercer blinked, staring off after Keeper before glancing back at the twins. "Is he...always like that?"

"Yes," Ret said, "and I don't imagine he's going to stop being like that. Let's go before he leaves us behind."

Spaz snorted, but began walking when the rest of the group did. "How far can he get, huh? He walks all funny."

"I can hear you."

"I said nothing."

Mercer tapped his hands together anxiously, moving to walk just behind Keeper as if he weren't the one who actually knew where they were going. "So, ah, who is he?" he asked eventually, pointing to Keeper's back.

"A creep," Spaz said.

"We don't know," Ret quickly added, "He says he's our guide, but he isn't by role."

Keeper let out a long-suffering sigh. "I can still hear you." He looked back at them, one eye on them and the other pointing much further out in the direction he was walking than was normal. "I am taking on the role of a guide for...reasons. And not because I wanted to."

Mercer nodded, clearly confused. "I see. Did I catch your name?"

"I am just the Keeper."

Ret frowned, "That reminds me. We never got a proper name. Would you--"

"No."

It was clear from Keeper's tone that the conversation was over. Ret looked over to see Spaz was clenching his teeth, and tendons showed in his neck from straining. He was angrily muttering to himself.

Ret decided to start a new topic before Spaz did something they'd all regret. "Mercer. What's this town like?"

"Oh!" Mercer's dark blue eyes lit up, "Rifdale's a wonderful little town. Like I said, it was settled about twenty years ago by some refugees. The Crimson took over their base, and they couldn't defend themselves from it anymore. My wife was one of those refugees, actually--left when she was very young, doesn't like talking about it. Oh, I probably shouldn't say things like that." A nervous chuckle, "It started out as a few little buildings and, well, it got bigger! Some of the original founders have moved on to other places--I know the original Nurse left to help wherever needed, and the Dryad keeps coming and going from what I hear. Some of them...ah, well, twenty years is a long time for some. But it grew, and grew, and grew! And now it's a thriving community still led by its founder, an old wizard who got everybody out and onto this continent in the first place."

"Are there a lot of people?" Keeper asked. Ret was surprised he even cared.

"A good amount, yes. And everyone's very friendly!"

Keeper did not look happy with this, and Ret smirked. Maybe someone would push him down a peg once they got there. It'd be a win-win.

Try and be so high and mighty then...

As Mercer had predicted, the walk was a long one. The group had to fight off the occasional slime, and Spaz kept picking on squirrels, but overall, it was a rather uneventful trip...until the sky suddenly clouded over, and it began to snow.

Mercer raised a hand for them to stop, despite the fact that Keeper was still in the lead. "Careful, there's a tundra patch. It isn't all that dangerous, but there's Corruption spreading in here. Like the Crimson, but...very dark, and very...purple. Look out for big holes in the ground, if you fall down one of those, chances are no one's seeing you again."

Luckily, the twins' armor helped a bit against the sudden temperature change. Mercer wrapped his cloak tighter around himself for warmth, clearly having been prepared for this, while Keeper looked uncomfortable, but said nothing.

Ret couldn't recall anything specific about the Corruption. He suspected he'd never encountered it in his past, as he must have the Crimson. All he knew was that it had something to do with shadows, and it was a rather unpleasant place to spend any length of time. As purple ice began to show ahead, along with spindly trees and evil weeds like the Crimson, he clenched his teeth--he wasn't about to let whatever had taken over his mind in the Crimson do so again.

Keeper fell back as they entered the Corruption, allowing Mercer to lead the way. The traveling merchant seemed to know what he was doing, picking out a path around the chasms in the ground. Strange flying beings were beginning to gather around and follow them, and Mercer urged them to move faster--something about "Corruptors spit at people" and "not fun getting hit, let me tell you."

Ret tried his best to recognize something in this place, looking around. Purple slimes, purple-tinted trees, purple...everything, and deep violet light pulsing from within the yawning, vertical chasms below. He slowed his step to get a bit further away from Keeper before he dared speak.

"Spaz, do you recall anything about--"

Spaz wasn't standing next to him.

Ret blinked, then stopped completely and turned around. Spaz stood several yards behind, at the edge of a chasm they'd snuck past.

Oh no.

"Spaz!"

"Huh?" Spaz jumped a bit and looked back. Ret quickly closed the gap between them, forgetting the other two men for now. Spaz took another quick, guilty look back at the chasm, before turning around completely, running a hand through his absurdly messy hair. "Oh, heh, sorry. Just...wondering what was down there. There's something big there..."

"Those are massive drops. You'd die."

"I'd be careful...I just wanna see!"

Spaz knelt down, peering over the edge of the dropoff once again. Ret sighed and bent over, grabbing Spaz's shoulder roughly.

"We need to go."

"Didn't you wanna beat up things in the Crimson? To get more powerful? Look!" Spaz pointed down into the chasm, where some sort of creature was meandering about, spitting green flames. Spaz was grinning. "Isn't that neat? Wonder if I could get something like that if I killed i--"

"Don't. Don't you dare go down there."

"...c'mon, just a bit...maybe I can nail one of them with your bow...?"

"They're too powerful."

"I can take them! All I want is the cool green fire stuff! I need some kind of magic..."

The two were staring each other down, now. Ret's gaze was steely, while Spaz was pleading. Ret knew exactly what Spaz might be feeling right now, and he did not like it. He was one thing. His little brother was entirely another.

"Do you want it to control you?" Ret warned.

Spaz seemed to struggle for an answer, before his shoulders slumped. "But...ugh...fi--" Spaz's eye suddenly focused on something behind Ret, and he yelled. "Look out!"

Spaz attempted to tackle Ret out of harm's way, knocking him into the corrupted stone, but it was too late. Something that felt vaguely wet had already smacked into his back.

For a second, Ret felt nothing but the weight of his brother and the uncomfortable sensation of lying on rock.

And then, it started burning.

Ret was screaming before he knew what was happening, and Spaz leaped to his feet to kill the thing that had spat at Ret. The creature exploded to pieces, but all Ret could focus on was the pain where the Vile Spit had connected, and a weakness spreading slowly through his limbs from the point of contact. Fists clenched and unclenched, but grew weaker by the second, and he hissed through his teeth, screwing his eyes shut.

He could hear footsteps coming towards him, and his face began to burn, though it had nothing to do with the acid. He couldn't let anyone see him down, he couldn't look weak, not to anyone--

"Corruptor got you?"

He wanted to kill Keeper right then, but he didn't have the strength. He made a displeased noise that should be answer enough.

He could hear Mercer let out a little 'oh'. "...That isn't good. You're--you're going to be very weak for a while, we should get moving. We're about halfway through, but you won't be able to take any kind of hit very well, and don't even think about attacking. We have a new nurse in Rifdale, but, ah...she's a bit busy, perhaps our dryad can do something for you! She's good with curses. Removing them, I mean."

Ret dared to squint open his eye, only to see the other three standing over him, Mercer offering a hand to help him to his feet. Ret didn't trust it--no, Mercer wanted to shove him into the chasm, didn't he? Ret glared at the merchant, setting his hands behind him and attempting to push himself up on his own weight. But his arms felt like they were made of slime, and he quickly sank back down.

Much to his humiliation, Keeper was the one who took the initiative to get him to his feet. Rough hands grabbed him and shoved him upright, where Ret swayed, about to tip over. Keeper practically threw him over to Spaz. "I'm not carrying him."

Ret was relieved when his brother caught him, glad to be in the custody of someone he actually trusted, but that didn't stop the burning embarrassment. Why did he have to look so incompetent in front of everyone, including his brother he was supposed to protect...

"More are coming," Mercer broke in urgently, "We should go."

The group did as was asked, with Spaz helping Ret stay on his weakened feet. Ret found himself barely able to put one foot in front of the other without huffing and puffing like a steam engine, and cursed himself internally every step of the way.

"For once I'm not the one in trouble," Spaz said, obviously trying to lighten up the situation.

Despite a weak body, Ret's gaze was so hostile it caused Spaz to physically flinch.

"We never speak of this again."

-:-:-​

The sun was beginning to set. They'd been walking along pure, relatively flat land for some time--a relief for everyone, but especially Ret, who still hadn't quite recovered from the Corruptor's blow. He'd told everyone he was fine an hour ago, despite the fact that he couldn't quite walk without a hint of a stumble. And Mercer had been keeping up a string of endless, irritatingly perky chatter that no one in the group had responded to in the past thirty minutes.

"...I couldn't get little Tommy to walk to me no matter what I did, I kept trying and trying and oh, we were afraid he was going to be a late bloomer, but no! No, she...she makes a big show about him being a main event and makes all these funny noises and--he walks! He walks right to her, I don't understand how she does it. She got him to read by using chocolate and party poppers, he loves both of those things, I guess he just got more of his mother's--oh!"

Mercer abruptly stopped, pointing straight ahead, up a small hill. The others halted as well and followed his gaze. Up on top of the hill, a few buildings could be seen, surrounded by fencing, with a gate out in front that they were walking to.

"Rifdale! Just up here. The Dryad will get you fixed up, Ret, don't you worry, and we can all rest for the night and I can--they probably worried, I bet they worried, I hope at least, not that I want them to worry, but it feels nice to be worried about, if you understand me."

"Shut up."

That was Keeper, who'd been looking more and more uneasy the entire walk. But honestly, if he hadn't said it, Ret would have--the situation was bad enough without Mercer babbling like a fool. Meanwhile, Ret was about to arrive in town looking like he could barely walk.

Mercer opened his mouth as if to protest, before closing it, making a "zipping lip" gesture, and leading them onto a path that wound up the hill to the front gates. He kept starting to say things, before apparently remembering that he was supposed to be quiet and stopping himself. The starts and stops were irritating, but Ret much preferred this to the earlier banter--which usually involved Mercer asking if he was all right about five times a minute, and constantly apologizing, despite Ret's insistence that he not bring it up.

Mercer arrived at the gate and opened it easily. Upon the confused looks he was given, he beamed with pride. "It's set up so that zombies can't figure out how to get the door open! We still get the eyes in here, can't do anything about that without blocking out light we need for crops. But you'll find narrow streets help keep them out. Look out, there's a trench around, helps cut us off in case things go sour and leads to a mineshaft. There's a bridge right here--Ret, are you--"

"I am fine."

"All right, good!" Mercer led the way across said wooden platform bridge, still smiling. "This town was made to be able to sustain itself if the evil got too close. It's brilliant, really brilliant."

Off the bridge, into a field of grass and flowers, and onto stone cobbled roads. Ret glanced up from where he'd been staring angrily at his feet to take in their new home.

The place was relatively modest. Thin streets, as Mercer said. Most of the buildings were wood or stone, but with intricate paint jobs or decorations hung up to make them unique, and planter boxes of varying colors attached to the outside walls. Mercer lead them into the town square, where there was a pool of water that looked as if it couldn't decide whether it was a fountain or a small lake. The streets were thin, as Mercer had stated, and so it looked like there were even more people rushing around than there actually were. Many of them stared at the newcomers, or waved a greeting to their returning traveling merchant--and an infuriating amount asked if Ret was hurt.

Keeper, meanwhile, had gone from vaguely uncomfortable to something along the lines of mortified, walking very slowly and very stiffly, staring around warily at all the people as if they were disgusting and planning to infect him with some deadly disease. His ruddy complexion had gone almost white, and his lips were a thin line barely visible under his nose.

That uncomfortable look was the only gratifying part of this for Ret, as he glared at the people who pitied him.

"Mercer, where is this dryad?" he asked, voice harsh.

Mercer winced, "She's staying at the inn. That's the tall building--not quite an inn, some of the rooms are rented like apartments, it's quite nice! We should spot her nearby, she loves being outside."

"Don't like people?" Spaz asked, obviously noticing Keeper had flinched.

Keeper scowled dangerously in Spaz's direction. "When I came here, no one told me I'd be interacting with a large amount of...people."

It sounded almost as if he'd been about to say something else, but stopped himself. Ret filed that away for later, for now more focused on looking as strong and angry as possible while in his weakened state.

Mercer parted the small crowds ahead of them easily, and the tall building he spoke of came into view. It was easily the largest thing in the town, mostly crafted of wood, but much fancier than the rest of the houses. Tall and wide both, with glass windows on every side of every floor that allowed the setting sun's light to filter into dark rooms, or little homes lit only by a torch or chandelier.

The merchant stopped near the front door of the building, before glancing around, gesturing for the trio to wait, and running around to the side of the building.

"Alalia! Layli, are you there, I found some people who are going to need to stay for a bit, and one of them got hit by a Corruptor on the way here, terrible luck, really. You can help, yes?"

Shuffling, and then the sounds of of bare feet slapping against stone from behind the building.

"Hold on, I was tending to the planter boxes."

A woman with bright green hair practically down to her waist, and even brighter green eyes appeared around the corner, holding an herb bag in one hand and a Staff of Regrowth in the other. Her skin was tanned from the sun, and there was a lot of it--apparently, dryads didn't care to wear a lot of clothes, as the tall woman was mostly clad in a dress of leaves, and was barefoot.

"Where is the hurt one? I can get some purification powder to help with the sting, and there's the nurse..."

The dryad trailed off. Mercer clapped his hands together happily, appearing not to notice. "Oh, yes! It would be the man in the eye p--well, they are both men with eye patches, the tall one, you can tell which one, he looks terrible at the moment--my apologies, Ret..."

But Mercer trailed off, just as the dryad had. And it felt like the world froze for all of them. For the calm look on the dryad's face had abruptly faded to something surprised--no, stunned. She stared directly at Ret for a moment, then at Spaz, and left her gaze longest on Keeper.

She gasped, shuffled back a few steps, and screamed.

...uh, thanks for the...warm welcome...dryad?

Anyone have any idea what she's screeching about?--hint, it more than likley isn't Ret's devilish good looks and gentlemanly charm. Or Spaz's sense of humor (he's been pestering squirrels this whole time, come on.)
In fact, Ret's been a bit of a hypocrite. At least we have Mercer to provide comic relief while Keeper's being a grump and the twins are getting themselves killed and/or manipulated by evil forces of evilness. Any thoughts on those?~

Okay tbh my world IS in hardmode but I've been able to play very little of that since it was my friend that accidentally put my world into hardmode so i'm probably getting everything wrong and my world isn't even corruption wiki save me
 
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neoselket

Ice Queen
this is fantastic. you really nailed the twins' personalities. the writing is engrossing, and leaves me wanting more. great work!

also, could you tag me when you write a new chapter?
 
Oh. I see where this is going... Hmm, my answer stays the same, Ret would be the most likely to go crazy. But that is such an interesting choice, to make it so each brother is drawn to one of the two evils. Would that make it so Keeper is drawn to the Hallow? Or maybe the Purity? I love this story so far! And the Dryad definitely knows too much, and the trio could hit a snag in their adventure because of her.
 

Clancy117

Spazmatism
I may have overlooked something but what happend to Kyle? You know, the Guide from chapter 2? (not Keeper).
 

PaperLaur

Spazmatism
this is fantastic. you really nailed the twins' personalities. the writing is engrossing, and leaves me wanting more. great work!

also, could you tag me when you write a new chapter?
Like I said on your profile, thanks so much for the support and compliments! I'll be sure to tag you. If anyone else would like me to tag them on a new chapter, let me know!

Oh. I see where this is going... Hmm, my answer stays the same, Ret would be the most likely to go crazy. But that is such an interesting choice, to make it so each brother is drawn to one of the two evils. Would that make it so Keeper is drawn to the Hallow? Or maybe the Purity? I love this story so far! And the Dryad definitely knows too much, and the trio could hit a snag in their adventure because of her.
I don't know, would it? Interesting theories, there. The Dryad definitely knows some things and is going to end up being a bother, I can tell you that. But I can also tell you her reasoning is solid, at least in her mind. Thanks for the continued support!

I may have overlooked something but what happend to Kyle? You know, the Guide from chapter 2? (not Keeper).
Oh trust me, I haven't forgotten about Kyle. In fact, he's actually going to be pretty important which I didn't expect myself but hey. Blame a lack of planning on my end in expanding on that part--there should be more explanation for the big chunks of italics soon. I'm just trying to space it out.

No chapter yet, probably later today, but I do have an update--I updated the main post with links to the chapters and character descriptions. I got my tablet, but am still figuring out how to use it and draw, so references may not be up for a while.

Also, as you might have noticed, the story's going to wind up having two parts, or two main arcs. We all know Terraria--you can guess where the break-off point is going to be.

Thanks again for all the support! See you (hopefully) later today!
 

PaperLaur

Spazmatism
New chapter time!

Followers: @neoselket , @PersonaTea

Chapter 8: Conflict

The sudden shrieking actually made Spaz jump, staring at the girl with the green hair in confusion and surprise. The girl had a pair of lungs on her, that was for sure, and she looked downright horrified.

The dryad spluttered for several moments, struggling to find words and pointing at them wildly with the staff. "K--you--how--"

She abruptly stopped stammering, and turned all of her focus to Keeper, dropping the herb bag and beginning some sort of magical gesture with the free hand while pointing at Keeper with the staff. Spaz could feel a sudden drop in his strength from the nature magic, and grunted. Ret threw an arm in front of him as if to shield him, despite the fact that he was in a much worse position.

The dryad's bright eyes were practically glowing in anger as she stared down the altogether unfazed Keeper. Her voice was practically a growl. "What did you do to him? Why are you here!?"

"Are you from one of the hallowed places?" Keeper seemed to be taking the panicked yelling in his face quite well.

The dryad huffed. "No. I am from the jungle."

"...Does that have anything to do with the hallowed land, I can't keep up, I seem to remember--"

"We are allies! They are our friends! And you--"

She seemed at a loss for words, shaking her head and suddenly swinging the staff at Keeper like a sword. It wasn't a weapon and didn't do a lot of damage, but Keeper still grimaced and took a step back when it smacked him in the head. Spaz just watched the whole thing play out--this was admittedly a lot more entertaining than anything else that had happened on the trip, and Keeper deserved it after everything else.

"Wait! Wait!"

The party turned to look at Mercer, who was staring at the dryad in horror. "A--Alalia! What's come over you?"

"Why did you bring them here?" Alalia asked, a tone of desperation in her voice.

"I--I, ah--they were in trouble, they were off to the west and the Crimson was about to spread through their house--the older man with the funny eyes actually found me--"

Alalia shook her head violently, hands shaking. "Do you know who these people are? They'll kill us all, Mercer. They're going to kill everyone in this town."

"What?" Mercer turned to stare at the twins and their impromptu guide.

Keeper sighed, "I'm not interested in killing anyone unless someone provokes me. Waste of time."

Alalia turned her harsh gaze to the twins. "And you two. Are you back to finish--"

"We've never even been here!" Spaz shouted, flinging his hands into the air, "This is just about the best welcome I've ever seen, somebody screeching in my face! It's been a long walk and that guy--" he pointed to Mercer--"wouldn't shut up the whole time, and my brother got spat on by a giant...corrupted flying tick thing!...Was that a tick? Actually I don't think it looked like a tick. It looked like a really big mutant insect or something. Anyway...And you!" He took a step forward and shoved Alalia back, scowling and showing an impressive amount of teeth, "You're gonna fix him, do you understand?"

She glared up at him defiantly, "I do nothing for monsters like you, Twins."

Spaz had been building up a lot of anger and a lot of energy over the past couple of days, and it was a bad idea for anyone to challenge him in the antsy state he was in. However, sadly enough, he took her defiance as a challenge.

Keeper tried to protest, and Mercer's jaw was dropped in dismay and fright. Spaz didn't even look back as he shoved her into the wall next to the door of the inn, his expression going from a snarl to a grin. "Monster. You think I'm a monster, huh?"

"Don't act as if you don't know exactly what I mean. I remember the night, not so long ago, you came and set half the town on f--"

"I. HAVE NEVER. BEEN HERE!"

A brief mix of confusion and surprise showed on the dryad's face, before her jaw set and she kneed him, knocking the wind out of him. He took a step back, but was unable to recover before the dryad dropped her staff and pointed both of her hands at him, palms forward. A great wind began to blow, and leaves flew at her as if she were some kind of magnet for them. She thrust one hand forward, and Spaz yelled as his arms were bound by leaves twisting into rope around him. He growled and struggled to escape, but the vines constricted him ever further--

"What in the name of bacon ice cream is going on out here?!"

Everybody froze. Even the leaves in the air seemed to stop as everyone's gaze immediately went to the front door of the inn. There, a short woman stood in the doorway, wearing a pink shirt and very loud, mismatched striped socks. Bright blue eyes shone out above a petulant frown, and her dark hair was well-styled, falling to her shoulders and curled up at the ends, with bangs coming almost to her eyes, and a few pink streaks therein. She looked to be in her late twenties or early thirties, but only due to the laughter creases starting to show around her eyes.

Mercer sighed in relief, practically slumping onto the ground. "Oh thank goodness."

The woman gasped, "You're home!" She turned back into the building. "Tommy, your father's home--I'm so glad you're all right..."

The lady whom Spaz could only assume was the wife Mercer hadn't shut up about the entire trip rushed forward to meet them, beaming. A young boy with fuzzy brown hair and the blue eyes of his parents poked his head around the door, staring at all of them, but leaving his inquisitive gaze on Spaz, who was still tied up.

"...Mommy?" the boy asked, pointing, "What's Layli doing to him...?"

"Hm?...Oh!" The woman turned to look over the twins for the first time, surprised. She turned to Alalia. "What are you doing?"

"You don't understand, Miss Bailey," Alalia said, her voice cold, "These three are major threats."

"No, no, no, you've got it wrong." Mercer quickly waved his hands in front of him, "Bailey, dear, I--I ended up with nowhere to stay when the Blood Moon hit, but I had met that man over there earlier that day. He paid me by fishing, isn't that something? Wasn't sure what to do when he didn't have the coin for that extra meteorite from the one that dropped near here last week. He told me he had some people he was looking after, and they had a house and--well, the man who's currently tied up may have tried to kill me, but it all turned out well in the end and they let me stay! The Crimson was coming up fast, so I offered to take them here so they can be safe--poor people have very little equipment and one of them got hit with a Corruptor, been stumbling all--oh, dear, he's looking at me funny again--ah--but yes! That's where I've been."

Bailey folded her arms, looking between the ragtag group in turn. "Is that so?"

"Please, please believe me, we cannot allow them to stay," Alalia pleaded, "They are not who they claim to be!"

"Lady, I don't even know who I claim to be," Spaz grunted, struggling once again to break from the vine ropes. "Four days ago we wake up in a field and that freak over there? He tells us 'oh you guys are called this, build a house.' That's IT! Never been here, never been anywhere. You gonna try and fight me about it, 'cause I will."

"You are in absolutely no position to fight right now."

"...So what!"

Alalia paused for a moment, looking him over, then turning to Ret, who'd been watching with a scowl the entire time, and had retrieved his bow from his inventory. "You...You do not know...?" She shook her head, "No, you are lying, you simply want to--"

"I can explain everything if you put him down," Keeper grumbled. "Including why I'm here, though I still cannot fathom why they picked me of all people."

"Layli..." Bailey looked to the dryad, "Let him go, we don't need to fight. Who says they won't be fun additions to the town, anyway!"

"I..." Alalia hesitated, before sighing and lowering her hands. The leaves immediately fell from around Spaz, and the young man stretched out his arms. Ret gave him a warning look, which Spaz rolled his eyes to in response--he swore everyone thought he was stupid, sometimes. He was calm. Or could be calm. He wasn't about to attack her again.

"Now." Alalia bent to pick up the dropped herb bag and staff, her voice stern. "Would you care to give your explanation?"

"I'd like that too," Ret added.

Keeper glanced between them, frowning. "...Alalia the Dryad. Come with me. This is not something for them to hear yet."

"What?" Spaz groaned, "Seriously, you're doing this weird mystery junk again. I think we have a right to know."

"If what I believe is true," Alalia mused, darkly, "you do not even want to know."

"We'll get these two settled while you're off talking," Bailey said with a smile at Alalia, "You can handle yourself." She turned her energetic gaze to the twins. "You're staying in the inn, aren't you?"

Ret looked to Spaz to speak. "Uh, I guess that was the plan?"

"Come right on in, we're always welcoming new faces!"

Keeper shuffled off down the street, gesturing for Alalia to follow him. After a few moments of grinding her teeth, she followed. Bailey picked up Tommy, and they and Mercer quickly went inside. Spaz walked in after, glancing back only to see Ret stumble and almost fall over at the threshold, letting out an angry curse under his breath. Spaz grimaced--Alalia still hadn't healed his brother, and that didn't sit right with him. Spaz quickly grabbed Ret's arm and helped him balance, and the two continued forward.

The room they entered was spacious and cozy, immediately feeling like some sort of home. Windows were set in a wall facing outwards from the main part of the city, into the grass beyond, and the room was neatly furnished with wooden tables and chairs, and even a couple of fancier chairs and couches. A fireplace was roaring against the back wall, and beside it, a crafting table with two bottles resting on it. Wooden stairs led up to a second floor, and there were a few paintings and banners decorating the dark wooden walls that Spaz could only assume came from the boreal trees in the tundra. It smelled like food and freshly-cut wood, though it was clear this building had been around a while.

"I'm sorry, it's not as bright as I'd like," Bailey said, sheepishly, "I didn't build this place, just work here now. Hospitality and all that. Oh, and I work with the stylist, she's a dear, and I do some other things. I do a lot of things. And I take care of this one." She bounced her son in her arm as if to make her point. "He's enough of a job for anyone. Now, sit down anywhere. Names?"

Spaz helped Ret sink into a couch against the back wall, and plopped himself down next to him. "I'm, uh...Spaz? I guess? And he goes by Ret?"

Bailey looked over Spaz quizzically, up and down, before doing the same to Ret. "I haven't met you before, have I?"

"No?" Spaz frowned, "Why?"

"Oh, way you talked reminded me of someone. Want some pho? We have a lot of pho, Mercer refuses to stop buying it and trying to sell it to people. You must've walked a long way..." She snorted, "That's pho sure."

Ret groaned and let himself flop over sideways on the couch, looking as if he wanted to sink into it and disappear. Spaz couldn't stop himself from laughing a bit. "Eh, sure."

Bailey moved to a chest in the corner, "So you came from the west?"

Spaz could tell his brother was in no mood to talk, so he decided to tell the story. "Yeah, we just kinda showed up. Creeper Keeper back there hasn't stopped bossing us around. We just wanna get some nice materials and go out and fight stuff."

"You should go find the merchant. Mercer's working to take over his business someday." Bailey came over with two plates for them, while Tommy began asking Mercer questions about his trip in the background. "Looked like you were already getting into fights. You're gonna need to be careful, people getting hurt's definitely no fun. We've got enough to deal with on either side. Oh! Elric's going to want to meet you, he's the mayor. So Crimson almost got you?"

Great. This one talked even more than the last one. At least she wasn't rambling sentimentally about her family for an hour. "Mhm."

"I remember that happening to me, not a fun time. Sorry about Alalia; known her since I was pretty young and she's always been that...intense, but she's a nice woman, honest."

Spaz noticed a change in the room's lighting and glanced around. Was it just him, or were the flames from the fireplace more reddish? Mercer glanced up from answering his son's incessant questions, taking a step to the window.

"Oh my, another one."

"Two in a row?"

Ret attempted to push himself up on his arms, this time mostly succeeding. "What? Another Blood Moon?"

Mercer nodded grimly. "First time I've ever seen it happen."

"On the bright side, though...well, it explains Alalia," Bailey said, with a sheepish little smile, "She always got sort of testy around the Blood Moon. But we've never had two in a row...Weird things like that have been happening a lot lately. Call us an 'interesting things' magnet."

The door slammed open, cutting off the conversation. Keeper was the first to walk in, rubbing a bruise in between his eyes Alalia must've inflicted. Said dryad stormed in after, looking cross but resigned. Without a word, Alalia went over to the couch and grabbed Ret by the shoulders, pulling him into a sitting position and causing him to yell and nearly drop his half-eaten plate of pho on the floor. She'd stowed her staff and herbs, and now held a bag of Purification Powder, which she reached into. She pulled out a hand coated with the white powder and unceremoniously shoved this hand down the back of Ret's shirt under his armor. Spaz tried to keep himself from laughing at the mix of humiliation and indignation on Ret's face, but was unable to stop himself from snorting behind his hand.

"Woooow, bro, you--"

"Don't. Don't you dare even continue that sentence--gods above why does your hand have to be so cold?"

Alalia harrumphed and pulled her hand out. "The stinging should be gone. How is your weakness?"

Ret pulled a face, extending his arms to either side and rolling his shoulders a bit. "It is...getting better..." he muttered. The dryad gave him an intense look. "Ah...thank you...?"

Alalia nodded, backed away, and stormed straight back out the door. Keeper watched her go with a distasteful eye, before sitting himself down at one of the wooden tables.

Bailey also looked like she was trying not to laugh. "Sorry again. She's a bit straightforward."

Tommy had been staring at the scene in confusion the entire time. "Mommy, why is Layli so mad?"

"Because the red moon's out. She doesn't like the red moon."

"Like Nurse Emily?"

"Yes, just like Nurse Emily."

"Why?"

"...When you're older. Let's get you some dinner."

"Is it the same way the monsters get mad at the red moon?"

"Wh--hah, goodness no, at least I hope not. Come here." Bailey led her son by the hand towards another room connected to this that must've served as a kitchen, Mercer following behind. "You! I didn't catch your name. At the table. I hope you had a nice talk."

Keeper just rested his head in his hands, grumbling curses. Spaz snorted, before standing and walking over to Keeper.

"So. How come she gets to hear it and we don't?"

"Because if she didn't hear it, she'd be attempting to kill us at every turn." Keeper rubbed at his temples, wincing, "You are going to have enough things to fight if you wish to defeat the underworld's guardian without adding her in."

"Why was she so mad at you, huh?"

"...If you've had an opinion about something for a very long time, it's difficult to think any differently."

Spaz crossed his arms, waiting for Keeper to elaborate. As he should've expected, Keeper didn't

Spaz turned to the couch to finish his pho. Bailey soon returned with dinner for her family, and offered Keeper something--Keeper refused, and quickly asked if he could go upstairs. The two spoke about payment for a bit, though it was quickly settled, and Keeper dropped a handful of coins onto the table for Bailey to take. She gathered the coins and traded him a key.

"You said you'd be staying somewhere else?"

Keeper nodded, and Spaz could hear Ret sigh in relief.

Bailey remained energetic and perky the entire time, even while attempting to get her son to eat vegetables. Mercer mostly sat back and watched the conversation with a smile on his face. Ret didn't look impressed, but Spaz couldn't help enjoying it a little bit. He still didn't like their situation, and wanted to get back out into the fight, but at the very least this was a release for his energy. And it was better than sitting in a tiny cabin all night while zombies pounded at the door--now he could eat while eyeballs pounded at the walls, though this was much less frequent than it had been.

Keeper quickly excused himself and left after leaving the key with the twins, and as the night wore on, Bailey eventually decided it was time for Tommy to go to bed, much to his chagrin. Considering that Ret looked like he was going to collapse, Spaz jumped in to say they'd be going as well. Awkward goodnights were shared before the two climbed the stairs to the third floor, where they'd be staying.

The room was, just like the ground floor, relatively cozy. There was a dresser in between two beds facing in opposite directions, and a window behind the dresser. On one side of the room stood a chest, a table, and a piggy bank. The whole thing was lit up by a copper chandelier, and made of wood like the lobby.

Ret immediately fell onto the bed nearest the door, groaning loudly. Spaz ensured the door was locked, before moving to sit on the other bed.

"Nice to have something other than a floor, huh?"

"...I don't like this."

"We're getting right to it, huh?"

Ret turned over to look at Spaz, "That dryad may very well know as much as Keeper, and she's powerful. Something about us coming here..."

Spaz frowned, "I don't think we've ever been here. Do you?"

"...It...looks familiar."

"To each their own. Bailey asked if we'd met."

"Probably a coincidence."

"...I don't know."

"Do you remember something?"

"Nah. At least I don't think so." Spaz laid down on his back. "Maybe he's right and we aren't gonna be able to find out until after we beat up the underworld guy."

"Then we'd best ask him how exactly it is we get there--how we get strong enough. Even you can agree going to the Underworld now would be an awful idea."

"We'd be literal toast."

"Exactly."

Silence. Spaz watched the chandelier closely as if it held all the answers to their problems. An idea struck him.

"Hey, Ret, what if we--"

He was cut off by snoring. Spaz sat up, glancing over to see that his usually light-sleeping brother had gone out cold, and hadn't even woken up for talking. He laughed a bit, pulling an extra blanket from his own bed and throwing it over Ret. He then pulled off his armor for the first time, revealing his dirty tunic and pants before he buried himself under the covers as well.

"Night to you too, bro."

-:-:-​

"I knew you could do it! I just knew it!"

The two had stumbled in bloody and holding a couple of bags worth of loot. Both looked tired and worn from spending the night fighting, but seemed exhilarated all the same.

The green-eyed young man grinned, "It was no problem! Stupid eyeball was no match for us. And I got a cool shield so I can run into people like it did. Looked like fun."

"Kyle, who is the woman wearing leaves?" the elder brother asked.

"Oh, her? I told you you'd catch the attention of a dryad once you downed Cthulhu's Eye. This is the dryad! She can tell you how much Crimson there is nearby."

"Okay...So...Miss? Can you tell us?"

"You are 10% Crimson."

"What? You're supposed to talk about this place, not us."

Bright green eyes stared them both down, holding within them something cold, and maybe a little bit afraid.

"You are 10% Crimson."

Bit of a long one, but then again these are all long. So!
What could Alalia's beef be with Keeper, I wonder? What's with all this "do I know you"/"you've been here before" stuff? Basically...what's going on? Seems like a lot of mysteries are showing up. And yuqestions you'd particularly care to have answered?~
And oh, there's Kyle. Told you.
Again, thoughts and predictions are always awesome, and feedback is a huge motivator!
 

PaperLaur

Spazmatism
Apologies for the delay on updates, it's been a busy couple days. I can tell you how these doofuses probably celebrated April Fools--Bailey put buckets of confetti on everyone's doors to dump confetti on them, Spaz probably used the day as an excuse to sneak up behind people and screech at them, and Ret insisted that the day was stupid, then tried to convince Keeper he had a Keeper Voodoo Doll. Keeper was unimpressed.
Also Alalia and Keeper have "what's an april fool" in common since Alalia doesn't keep up with stuff as she's so old and Keeper just doesn't know how proper society functions.
Mercer didn't do anything because he hates it when people are mad.

Anyways, update, ToR is now being posted on Fanfiction, so be sure to support it over there and tell folks! The more people read, the more likelihood I'll get comments and know how it's doing and if things are coming across okay.
Thanks for over 300 thread views! =D

Followers: @neoselket , @PersonaTea

Chapter Nine: Citizens of Rifdale

...

"Now where did we put those lenses...I swear he keeps moving everything around..."

The dark-eyed man grumbled to himself as he searched their basement storage for the items. "Ah, here we are...This is the accessories chest, why did he put them in the accessories chest. They belong in the 'important' chest." He rubbed his face with a hand, sighing. "All right, how many...Thirteen. So enough for one more. We already have some crimtane at least, and all the tissue samples we could ever need. We'll head to an altar with these and maybe the Eye will drop enough to make up the deficit..."

"Hey! Hey, Randy!"

He glanced up. "What? What is it?

"Come up here!"

"Why?"

"Because I think you need to see this, that's why!"

'Need to see' from his younger brother could mean anything from a horrendous monster to a particularly interesting-looking butterfly, but his voice sounded urgent. The elder took the lenses from the chest, throwing them into his inventory before slamming the chest shut.

Torchlight lit his path back to the stairs leading to the house proper, and as he pushed the trap door up to enter the back of the main living area, he couldn't help but notice that almost everyone in their little settlement seemed to be standing around looking at something. Frowning, he pulled himeslf out, kicking the trap door closed behind him.

Everyone seemed to hear the door slam, as several turned to look at him as one. There was a range of expressions on their faces. The demolitionist looked confused, the dryad grim. The nurse seemed to have no idea what to think of whatever development was occurring. The arms dealer's expression was vaguely uncomfortable, the stylist was concerned, and the angler looked excited.

And then there was Kyle, who was wearing his usual smile, if a little worn. He gestured towards them, and reluctantly the man drew nearer, the small crowd parting for him to see what was going on.

His younger brother stood at the front of the crowd--and in front of him, standing at the door and shivering from the outside rain, a girl who was probably in her early teens at most. She had hair dyed bright pink that came to her chin, though darker spots had been made visible by the rain. Her eyes were a confused blue, and she was wearing a pink shirt and striped socks up to her knees.

"O-oh, hi!" The girl noticed the young man and waved, "Uh, you're his brother, right? Do you guys need any fireworks--don't worry, they didn't get wet, I brought a backpack, uhhh, confetti?" She gave a strained grin, bouncing on her heels. "Really, I don't mind, you could use something to brighten this up. Throw a party!"

The man frowned and walked to her, kneeling in front to get closer to her height. "Where did you come from?"

"Waaaaay east. Super duper far, long walk, my feet don't really like me right now but it's okay, because I found here." She was speaking very fast. "And I brought some party things with me, was wondering if I might be able to sell them."

"Where are your parents?"

The girl looked stricken for a moment, before shaking her head. "Oh, it's okay, they're fine. Perfectly fine. Uh, so, confetti?" She stuffed her hand into the pink backpack she'd dropped to the floor, pulling out a handful of streamers. "I have grenades, too!"

"Throw her out!" the demolitionist yelled, indignant. The girl flinched.

"Hey, cut that out," the younger brother said, kneeling down as well. "She looks like a lot of fun! And lost. Hey, you got anywhere to go?"

"Uh..." The smile dropped for a second, and she shifted uncomfortably, "...Nope."

"You want a place to stay? Night's coming..."

The bright expression went a bit dark and a bit frightened as she glanced back over her shoulder at the door, "...It'd be nice just for, uh, a night..."

"Then it's settled." The younger brother gave a huge grin, "You can stay here if you want, we've got plenty of room! You can stay with Nurse Claire if you want, she's been taking care of Izzy--the kid with the hat. Oh, or Layli, but Layli's kind of scary. ...Annabel? Pink hair sticks together..."

"Wait, wait," the older said, waving a hand, "Are you sure this is..."

The pink-haired girl gave him a look. A look so full of hope and excitement that he just couldn't shut her out of his heart, the heart that had begun to distrust everyone in this house who wasn't related to him. She was still so young, and who knows what she'd been through. His brother clearly got the feeling, judging by the look on his face, that the girl needed to be here. And the younger one had always been the better judge of character. He might be angry and stupid on occasion, but no one could deny that.

"...All right."

The demolitionist groaned, but the general consensus seemed to be positive--taking in a kid would likely do no more harm than Izzy's arrival had, and the boy needed a friend anyway. The girl's face lit up.

"Hey, we get to be your big brothers for a bit," the green-eyed young man said, his grin back in full force, "I mean, we're going out to do something kind of important tonight--weren't we gonna fight that eyeball again? Yeah, we've been fighting a ton of stuff, and we dunno you or if you're staying. But I wanted a little sister, y'know. What do you think?" The girl nodded, and he laughed. "Awesome! Well, nicetameetcha. Name's Sherwin, he's Randall."

The girl held out her hand to shake his, looking immensely relieved.

"Bailey. I'm Bailey."


-:-:-
"Hey, hey! Geez, aren't you supposed to be a light sleeper?"

Ret shifted, groaning as he began to come back to consciousness. Someone stopped poking him in the neck.

"Thank the gods. Was gonna dump a water bucket on you next."

He squinted his eye open to see his brother standing at the side of the bed. His tunic was still filthy, but his hair was a wet mop around his head and his face was clean. "Bathroom we missed coming up here," Spaz explained.

"...You took a shower?" Ret shook his head, sitting up and starting to look worried.

"Well, washed my head is more accurate. Is it bad that I didn't remember what was under this patch because I had to take it off and holy mother of Hell--"

"Please don't continue that." Ret ran a hand through his own hair, rendered dirty and greasy by the past few days. He glanced back to look through the window, only to see the sun was far past up. "Spaz, what time is it?"

"Oh, uh..." Spaz sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck, "It miiiiight be close to noon."

"What?!"

Ret rolled out of bed and stumbled to his feet, staring around in alarm. Spaz stood to his full height, waving his hands in a gesture of peace. "Hey, figured you needed it. Ever since you decided to spy on Keeper you've been a bit weird."

"You should have woken me up." Ret was furious, but more at himself. "Where is he?"

"Oh, um...I already went down to talk to Bailey and apparently he came by super early to tell her to tell us that he was gonna go explore the cave system under town to get some stuff most of today. Apparently said we should 'do what we will with our time' or something."

Ret slapped a hand into his forehead, clenching his teeth, "Great. Now we cannot ask him about our next step to the Underworld..."

"I know. Boring day. Hate it too. Maybe you should come down though, she was...worried?"

"That Alalia isn't back, is she?"

"Long gone."

Ret let out a slow groan. "Fine, then. Can I--"

"She's kinda been saving breakfast for you."

"...Ugh. Just let me take off this damned armor."

Ret really wished he had the time to make himself look decent. As he pulled off his breastplate, he could see his own shirt was sweatstained and dirty, and his hair must've looked like more of a wreck than Spaz's did. At this rate, the town would assume he was homeless. ...Which on second thought, he supposed he technically was, but he did not want to appear that way, if only on principle.

But he supposed it'd be worse to look like more of a layabout than he already did. He kicked off his greaves and tossed his helmet onto the bed before nodding, allowing Spaz to lead the way downstairs.

The main inn floor had a small amount of people present, certainly more than the previous night. There were a few with no discernible role sitting at tables talking and eating, while in one corner two very heavily-accented men--one wearing overalls and the other a turban--were having a rather intense argument that, from what Ret managed to catch, involved the merits of lime green. A dark-skinned man in a trenchcoat with his feet on the table seemed to be trying to win over a redheaded young lady, but she soon tired of him, smacked his shoulder with a wrench, stood, and left.

"Oh, you're here!" Ret turned to see Bailey standing at the door to the kitchen he'd seen earlier, waving and still wearing that smile that could rival Spaz in energy, though far surpassed him in friendliness. "Good to see you're okay, hope you slept well?" Ret muttered to himself, staring at his feet, not wanting to admit how long he'd been out. "Good!" The woman clapped her hands together, "Come here in the kitchen, made some oatmeal--better than it sounds, trust me, there's raisins in it, and we've got bacon. I put the bacon in the oatmeal usually but, ha, didn't wanna mess around without asking."

She hurried into the kitchen, and Ret reluctantly followed, Spaz now behind him. "Don't mind the burning smell," Bailey called at the face Ret made upon walking in, "Your cross-eyed friend wanted toast, but kept putting the bread back in the toaster over and over and over. I swear the thing was practically ashes before he was happy with it. Oh, yeah, he told me to tell you--"

"He's left for today. I've heard."

"Okay good, it gives you a nice chance to check out the town. Mercer's working with Milton the merchant today, and Tommy left for school, so I can show you around if you want--I'm not the one who runs this place, after all."

As she spoke, Bailey moved to pass Ret a bowl containing some sort of yellowish oat mush, and a spoon, and after glancing at Spaz--who'd more than likely already eaten the stuff, and nodded heartily in approval--took a bite. It wasn't bad, to be honest. Spaz attempted to be stealthy as he shuffled over to the counter for what Ret assumed was his not-first piece of bacon.

"So, you two lost your memories?" Bailey abruptly asked, causing Ret to nearly choke on a spoonful.

"Wh-what now?"

"Your brother told me."

Ret turned to glare at Spaz, who had a strip of bacon hanging out of his mouth. The older brother put his hands to his head as if it were already aching. "Why did you feel the need to tell her this."

"Well..." Spaz pulled the half-eaten bacon out of his mouth, gesturing with it to accent his words, "We were talking, y'know. She got to talkin' about 'at least Cthulhu's Eye didn't show up to mess with us again' and I had no idea what that is and apparently everyone knows what that is so one thing led to another and yep."

Ret sighed. He supposed it wasn't too much harm--he'd yelled it to the dryad in front of Mercer, anyway. "...Well, that is correct."

"Sheesh, that's gotta be rough." Bailey sat at a small table in the kitchen, beginning to pick at her own half-eaten oatmeal. "What caused it, any ideas? Bump your heads?" Ret shook his head. "No clue? Guess that would've gone with the memory, now that I think about it. Hope you're able to get it back..."

"Keeper said we'd remember stuff once we beat the guardian of the Underworld," Spaz added, cheerfully. Ret glared at him--he was giving away too much information, and he didn't trust this woman.

"The guardian of th...oh..." Bailey dropped her spoon into her oatmeal, staring down at her feet with a troubled expression, the first one they'd seen on her.

Ret rose a brow, "Do you know anything about what he spoke of?"

"Uh...it's sort of common knowledge. Our old Guide knew, some people hear rumors. No one knows if it's all true or not." Bailey glanced up between them, confusion etched into her features. "Are you sure you have to do that? By all accounts it's a death wish. Doesn't it have to do with that prophecy?"

"According to Keeper, yes." Ret was intrigued, now, and if she already knew that much, a bit more shouldn't cause too much damage. "He said that the prophecy went wrong somewhere, and that we must fix it to bring back balance." He left out the 'test' part, and sounded rather skeptical throughout.

"...Well." Bailey gave a sad little chuckle, something strange in her eyes. Neither of the brothers were under the impression that she was even capable of being sad, so they took considerable notice. "...He's not lying about the prophecy messing up, I can tell you that..." She cleared her throat, shaking her head. When she spoke again, her expression was neutral, if not a little worried, and her voice was hushed as if she didn't want anyone else to hear. "The underworld guardian he's talking about, if it's the same thing from the prophecy? That's something 'living' in the Underworld people call...uh...the Wall of Flesh."

"The what of what?" Spaz asked, around a mouthful of bacon, "That sounds both disgusting and kind of cool."

Bailey pulled a face. "It's gross. Really gross. Well, at least we think. Some people say it's made of damned souls and demon corpses--or, uh, other dead things. Others say its got a hundred mouths on strings that reach all the way to the surface and munch up naughty kids. Keeps them from going out at night, I guess, but I'm never telling that story--I'm not that mean. That just sounds horrible and traumatizing. Anyway, some people say it patrols the Underworld as, like, an overlord? But others say it's just sleeping, waiting for the prophesied hero to show up and challenge it by making some kind of sacrifice. That's the version our Guide told us, and he was a smart guy. I'm gonna believe him."

Spaz looked fascinated, while Ret made a face. "And, why is it waiting, exactly?"

"To test the hero's skill, according to some people. No one really knows why. We think it might be hiding something, some claim it's guarding treasure because of course everything is money. Either way it's apparently really strong. If you're not a part of the prophecy, I don't know why your friend would be making you fight it."

"How do you know we aren't?" Spaz asked, indignantly.

Bailey went very quiet for a couple of seconds, before quickly standing and tossing her three-quarters-empty bowl in the sink.

"I think it's about time for me to show you around town! You definitely need to meet the clothier first--yes you can have more bacon, Spaz, you don't have to just stare at it like a hungry puppy, that face just looks so sad--and Ret I hope you realize you're going to eat more than that, grab an apple or something before I have to shove it in your face--okay, come on, let's go, time's a-wastin'!"

Her smile was ever-so-slightly forced.

-:-:-​

The day was bright and clear, with barely a wind or a cloud. The air was warm, and despite his current mangy appearance, Ret was glad he didn't have his armor on anymore. The sun was already high in the sky, and it seemed that Rifdale's citizens were taking full advantage of the wonderful weather. People were talking outside houses and on whatever sides the narrow streets allowed. There were plenty of citizens sitting around the fountain as the three passed by, with Bailey pointing out houses all the while.

"That's Kyle's place, he's a Guide--the Guide, he calls himself, he's funny like that. Sad you missed him, he's a good guy. He said he was going to be heading out exploring a bit on his own--pity he didn't say goodbye before going. It's been about a week already, though, he should probably be heading back soon. And that's Stella's barbershop--she's a new stylist in town, love working with her and getting work from her. She did these highlights and always gives Tommy the cutest haircuts. Oh! There's the place we're looking for!"

She stopped, pointing at a dark building made of bricks and wood, with a stucco roof and torches attached to an overhang in front of the door. "That's Cyril's," Bailey said, "Swear the man hasn't gotten a day older since I met him. He makes and sells clothes and, hope you don't mind me saying, but, sorry, you kind of need them." She crossed her arms in response to Ret's glare. "Well I'm just being honest here, sheesh. You both look like you wound up tied to a really hyper wyvern's tail and dragged all over the place, you can't exactly deny that. He's really good, makes a lot of nice things. And don't worry, I'll pay, my thanks for making life interesting."

Ret grunted in acknowledgement and followed the overly-perky woman to the door. He'd gotten sick of the rambling a long time ago, but had mostly tuned it out, only listening for key words and people who might be important. Bailey opened the door, which caused a loud bell to ring from the frame. She held it for them, and Ret muttered an obligatory "thank you" before taking in the place.

It was all dark wood, with a brick floor. A silver chandelier was hanging from the roof, and there was what looked to be a living wood table in the center of the room. All about the large space were mannequins, womannequins, and clothesracks. There was noise coming from behind a door behind the counter to the side of the building.

"Cyril?" Bailey walked around the counter and knocked on the door. "Cyril, we have some new faces!"

"Eh?"

There was rustling from the back room, before the door opened and someone walked out. The room was dim, but his red hat and cloak could be easily defined. He was an elderly man with blue eyes shining out from a weathered face with mixed laugh and worry lines. His hair was a long, silvery color, matching the beard that came to partway down his neck, and he wore a dark tunic and blue pants.

"Well hello there!" the old man chirped, striding around the counter with surprising energy for his age and moving to stand in front of the twins, holding out his hand. "Nice to see new people. Name's Cyril; boys, you've got a friend...in..."

He trailed off, stopping short in front of the twins. Those piercing blue eyes moved from jolly to analyzing, and Ret didn't like how that gaze seemed to stare straight into his soul. Those eyes had clearly seen more than the man's appearance suggested. There was something haunted and deeply troubled there. The man gave off the impression that he knew things--more than any man should.

"...oh," he whispered, before glancing over to Bailey with concern.

Bailey seemed not to notice, "They blew in with another young--well a bit older, but not old old--man from a place off west that was getting overtaken by Crimson."

Cyril nodded slowly. "I see..." His gaze never left the twins.

Ret was becoming uncomfortable. "What? Why are you looking at us like that?"

"You wanna start something, old man?" Spaz asked with a scowl. Ret quickly put a hand on his shoulder.

Cyril waved a hand, "I apologize. I, ah...thought I saw something in your eyes." Though from the look he was giving them, the subject wasn't done ruminating in his mind. He still acted as if the topic was over, clapping his hands. "So, I would assume you're here to get something to wear? I mean, that's what I do, and you look--"

"Yes," Ret snapped before he could insult their clothes.

Cyril nodded, "Makes sense, makes sense. Hold a moment." The old man ducked into the racks of clothes in his store, muttering to himself as he thumbed through shirts. "What do you think of this, ah...what should I call you?"

"He's Ret and that's Spaz," Bailey pointed out.

"I know how to say my name," Spaz grumbled, causing Bailey to snort.

Cyril nodded sagely, as if he'd been expecting this answer. "Ret, then. What do you think of this?"

The man walked back over to the group, holding some items in his arms. Ret frowned, taking the clothing and examine it. The outfit consisted of a dark gray, nearly black shirt edged with crimson at the V-shaped hem. It was fastened with metal buttons painted black far up the neck, and with it was a jacket with red at the edges of the opening, that came almost to his knees in the back. The pants were also black, with a multitude of pockets, accented with silver. Ret raised an eyebrow as the man ran off to find some other items. The fabric was of high quality, and the style was like the man knew him...which was rather suspicious and unnerving.

"And I have nice boots and some belts you can hold ammunition with," Cyril called, "Now for the other!"

Spaz had been staring at the clothes that had been given to Ret with a hint of jealousy, but now looked up. This time, Cyril brought back a slightly longer tunic, in a dark green, with gold at the collar and a green belt to keep the looser part of the tunic in check. The pants were brown and cut for movement, and there was no jacket or cape present. "No capes," Cyril stated, "They make it harder to move. I can get you straps or scabbards to keep weaponry."

Spaz looked like a child who'd just gotten the best birthday present of his life as he examined the clothes against his body. Cyril gave a knowing smirk, and Ret glared at him. How did he know them down to, apparently, their fighting styles? Ret certainly had questions.

Bailey, however, gave an excited squeal, and insisted she buy everything for them. Upon trying on the clothes, they somehow fit very well, and Cyril allowed them to walk out with the outfits, thick boots for both of them, and whatever accessories he'd mentioned they might need. All the while, the man watched them closely, in that disquieting way that suggested he knew a great deal of things he wasn't supposed to. There was a certain eerie aura about him, that haunting feeling taken up to eleven.

But he was kind enough to them, and made energetic chit-chat with Bailey the entire time. When the three left, he tipped his hat to them politely.

"Be seeing you, partners."

Ret glanced back with a frown. "Not if we see you first..." he murmured to himself.

It was late afternoon by now. The crowd of people ebbed and flowed in intensity, and Bailey seemed to love every second of it. Ret, meanwhile, was made uncomfortable by all of these people, though tried to carry himself with pride.

"Bailey! Bailey, dear!"

"Mommy, mommy, mommy!"

The voices of Bailey's family cut through the general murmur of Rifdale, and Mercer, carrying Tommy to keep the child from getting lost, burst from the crowd with a huge grin. Bailey smiled back and ran to hug them both, leaving the twins awkwardly to watch.

The little family wound up talking for an excruciatingly long time. Ret had to stop a bored and antsy Spaz from sneaking off every few minutes, until Mercer finally seemed to notice they were there. "Oh, and you two!" Mercer beamed, "I hope you're enjoying our little town."

"The clothes guy is creepy," Spaz stated.

Mercer's smile dropped a bit, "Oh, ah, I hear he has a bit of a troubled origin. Something about being cursed, he can unnerve some people. But it's all better now! Oh, and speaking of meeting the town..." Mercer seemed rather excited about the next part, "I spoke to Elric, the mayor. He wished to meet you and your friend for dinner tonight--I can see you have nice enough clothing for it, he won't mind."

Ret ground his teeth, but Spaz just tilted his head. "What kinda food?"

"He's a bit eccentric, but I know he'd be happy to meet you, and he cooks...well, he's a wizard by trade. He knows how to cook even if it can be a bit off the beaten path." Mercer gave a nervous chuckle, "Anyway, do you know how we could get in contact with Keeper?"

"Keeper does whatever Keeper wants to do," Ret grumbled.

Mercer's face fell, "Oh...Well we can hope he returns before nightfall. Things get nasty in the caverns about then, I don't even know if he took armor with him..."

"He'll handle himself."

"Yes, yes, of course! Anyhow, we've told people to inform him to meet at Elric's house--the big one to the far east--in roughly two hours. For now, Bailey, you could always introduce them to some others? I'll take care of this little fuzzball." He ruffled Tommy's hair, which Tommy didn't seem to appreciate.

Bailey nodded. "Of course! Would you two like that?" She glanced back at them.

Ret looked to Spaz, desperately hoping he'd claim to be tired. But to his dismay, Spaz's response was "sure thing!"

Sometimes, his brother seriously frustrated and confused him.

-:-:-
Elric's house was very...interesting, to say the least. The two were able to tell what house belonged to the wizard before Bailey even had to point it out. The thing was a haphazard mess that looked as if someone had just thrown blocks together, all clashing in style and painted in bright colors.

Mercer, Tommy, and Keeper had already beaten the trio there. Mercer was wearing clothing that differed little if at all from his traveling merchant garb, while Tommy's hair was combed, and he was clad in a little blue polo and khakis. However, everyone's gaze was drawn to Keeper, and Ret had to keep himself from laughing at the absolutely agonized expression on his face--a look that made the whole day of being shown off to Rifdale worth it.

Keeper had traded his oversized gray shirt and jeans for a suit. A dark purple vest came to the middle of his thighs, and was buttoned at the bottom. He was also wearing gray dress pants, a white button-down, and a deep purple bow-tie. His hair was actually combed, and his face was even redder than usual. He looked like he wanted to run away and jump straight back into the mineshafts--and in general, a bit like a sack of sweet potatoes stuffed in a dress.

Bailey gasped and clasped her hands together, beaming. "Oh my gosh! Did Cyril and Stella set that up for you?"

Keeper gave an incredibly stiff nod, his expression indicating that he could be sick at any moment.

Ret couldn't stop a snort from escaping. "Evening."

"Not a word. Not a word from you." Keeper gave a snarl that was actually rather frightening despite his current appearance.

"But you look dashing," Bailey said.

"I am not supposed to look dashing, or charming, or pretty, or whatever other pathetic words you lot use to describe physicalities that agree with your set of arbitrary standards! I swear the gods just keep having more of a laugh at me and this humiliating situation they've put me in..."

"You must be a lot of fun at parties." Bailey rolled her eyes, striding past the grouchy caretaker to knock at the door--a dark wood that stood out alarmingly against the bright blue walls surrounding it.

Several moments passed, with no response. Bailey frowned, tilting her head and knocking again, a bit louder this time. Ret tore his gaze from Keeper's pained expression to look around, visually gauging the time--the sky was beginning to darken as the sun hid once more. He really hoped there wouldn't be another Blood Moon, but it would be a short time before they knew for sure.

"Elric?" Bailey jiggled the doorknob, only to find it turned. "I wonder if he went somewhere...He knew we were coming, didn't he?" She turned to Mercer, who nodded and shrugged. Bailey hummed to herself, looking to the door and hesitantly pushing it open, peeking around. "Eir--oh, there you are...what...?"

She turned back to them with a confused look, before pushing the door open. Ret looked behind her to see a room that was even more chaotic than the outside of the house, full of clashing furniture that were crafted out of everything from cactuses to alien metals, the only constants being the books on a variety of bookshelves lining the walls. Lighting fixtures of various styles could be seen, but all were turned off, drawing the eye to one light coming from a living wood table in the center of the room. There, a man wearing purple wizard's robes and an impressive beard sat, staring into a crystal ball that gave off a light glow. His expression was slashed with a vaguely irritated frown.

"No, no," he muttered to himself, shaking his head, "You can't be serious. Not after the Blood Moons...What do you mean? Augh, if you're going to talk to me, do it clearly. None of this riddling nonsense!"

Spaz wasn't one to be ignored. He took a step forward. "Hey! Uh, you Elric?"

The wizard jumped, letting out a yelp before turning to look at them, the glow in the crystal ball dimming. "Goodness!" He set a hand over his heart, hazel eyes wide, "You spooked me! Is it that l...Oh dear. Oh dear, dear, dear--how close is it to sunset? Bailey?"

Bailey frowned, confused. "A few minutes...? I apologize for walking in on you. Is something wrong?"

"Is something wrong? HA! Everything's wrong, everything's been wrong for over twenty years, you should know that."

Bailey winced, "Well yeah, but I meant tonight..."

"Ooooooh, toads' whiskers," Elric muttered, standing and beginning to pace around the table, before aggressively pointing at the twins. "You two! The newcomers, right? The twins and the--well, whatever we're calling you? I certainly hope you have good equipment with you."

"Why?" Ret asked, frustrated with the man's lack of directness, "What were you looking at?"

Elric threw his fists to his sides, giving a comically angry expression, though his words were very, very serious.

"...We may need to cancel our dinner plans, I'm afraid. Nobody expects breaking news from the cosmos. Well." His eyes narrowed. "...I've been told...an evil presence is watching us again tonight...but it's...stronger than before...The celestials are...interfering."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Spaz asked, glancing around, "...What's with the faces?"

Bailey had gone rigid, drawing Tommy instinctively towards her as if to shield him. Mercer's face suddenly drained of color. Keeper's misdirected purplish eyes had gone wide.

"...Now of all times. Of course it would..." Keeper muttered to himself, then shook his head, turning back to gauge time left before sunset.

"What is it?" asked Ret, partially not wanting to know.

The last of the sun's rays left the streets. A great rumbling could be heard in the distance--like thunder, before Ret realized it was a being making that noise.

Keeper yelled something in an unknown language, before bolting off down the street, calling over his shoulder.

"It's the Seer of the Overworld!"

"The what?" Spaz looked to Bailey, whose expression had fallen to a grim determination.

"...It's what we were talking about earlier. The Eye of Cthulhu is coming."

Elric nodded gravely.

"Yes, but not just any variant. The celestial allies...have made it stronger than ever."

Okay for some reason this chapter was really awkward to write, but at least it's done now.
Question of the chapter for you guys: what's your opinion on the characters in general so far? Do you have a favorite, and if so, why them?
And is there anything you're curious about, any unanswered questions?

Former eyeballs versus current eyeball. Place yo bets.
 
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