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Dramatis Personae

Races

  • Woodlanders - Forest dwelling; explorers; archers; rogues
  • Oceanics - Island dwelling; largely exploited by other races; slaves; duelists
  • Nords (Mountain People) - Mountain dwelling; brutish; dense; forgers; mercenaries
  • Moordwellers - Marsh/Moor dwelling; isolationist; tribal; migrant workers
  • Polycrats - Plains/city dwelling; scholars; artists; scientists
  • Celestials - End dwelling; also known as Gods; praised for their powers; dying race
  • Orc - Nether dwelling; grotesque in appearance; former servants of The Wild Emperor
  • Raptus - Plains dwelling; ancient creature once tamed by Herobrine; exceedingly rare; also known as Mobzillas
  • Endermen - End dwelling; former barbaric servants of The Mad King

Characters

  • Herobrine - Celestial Male; The Wild Emperor; brother of Notch
  • Notch - Celestial Male; the Architect; brother of Herobrine
  • Vitiate - Human Woodland Male; roguelike assassin; seeker of lost knowledge
  • Cannonwalker - Human Mountain Male; famed hero; slayer of Herobrine
  • Ned Edgewalker - Human Moors Male; trusted friend of Cannonwalker
  • Sam Darkwalker - Human Woodland Male; master archer
  • Zoomer - Human Oceanic Male; seasoned duelist
  • Vex - Human Mountain Male; bounty hunter
  • Vexa - Human Mountain Female; bounty hunter
  • Archibon von Oedifex - Human Woodland Male; Lord Protector of Aragon
  • Captain Connery - Human Woodland Male; Captain of the Aragon Guard
  • Lord Cenum - Orc Male; The Dark Lord; former officer of Herobrine; ruler of the Orcs and Nox
  • The Mad King - Human Mountain Male; identity unknown; fallen tyrannical ruler of the Overworld; defeated by Notch and Herobrine; presumed dead
  • The Lords of Penance - Six Dark Entities; identities unknown; rulers of the Nether
  • Servus - Human Oceanic Male; fisherman
  • Dalpurgis - Human Oceanic Male; slave foreman
  • Minerva - Celestial Female; grandmother of Notch and Herobrine
  • Avus - Celestial Male; grandfather of Notch and Herobrine
  • Lithium - Polycrat Male; technomancer
  • Mallace - Polycrat Male; wealthy business magnate
  • Empress Screen - Polycrat Female; ruler of New Detroit
  • Albert Spark - Polycrat Male; former resident of Corvus
  • Rocket - Woodland Male; renowned archer and mercenary
  • David McMartin - Moors Male; former resident of Corvus
  • Jeremiah Garland - Woodland Male; master marksman and friend to Cannonwalker
  • Baron Von Shush - Unknown race; traveling mushroom salesman and assassin



Terms

  • Zombie Plague - A recurring sickness in Minecraftia; turns victims into zombies
  • Elvish - Expletive; slang for Woodlanders
  • Coalcoke - Expletive; unknown origin; common among miners and Nords
  • Raven - A bad omen; common among Woodlanders
  • Mudstick - Slang for slaves
  • God - Alternative for Celestial
  • Medas - Offensive slang for Celestial

Places of Interest

  • The Crag - Site of the legendary duel between Herobrine and the Four Heroes; northern Kilran
  • Camp Dengar - Bounty Hunter encampment; northern Kilran
  • Aragon - Woodland citystate; ruled by Lord Protector von Oedifex; eastern Kilran
  • Nox - Ancient Orc city; ruled by The Dark Lord; the Nether
  • Vicis - Island town; slave trading center; southern Kilran
  • Thel Olihim - Pre-Human city of the Celestials; outer Kilran
  • The Broken Shores - Mass of floating islands of Endstone; The End
  • Imperium - Lost Celestial city; The End
  • Cruciatus - Ancent Celestial stronghold; The End
  • Urghast - A purgatory-like plane of existence situated between dimensions; everywhere and nowhere
  • Corvus - Abandoned former town
  • Morstock - Nether-scarred dwelling of an old friend
  • New Detroit - Bustling industrial city; Sivistys

Prologue

The world was as a forest as the news was like wildfire. After a year of turmoil, what remained of The Wild Emperor had supposedly been eradicated by the same entities that had been opposing him for so many months. As the four heroes traveled across Kilran searching for their foe, they gained the attention and praise from all they passed by. When they'd finally caught up with Herobrine on the first day of Autumn, the gossipers of Aragon were the first to hear.


The corrupted village named in honor of its founder had many questions. Who were these heroes? Why did Herobrine target them? Did they even have a right to be the ones to have the honor to slay the evil spirit? Kilran's united military had been disbanded centuries ago after Herobrine virtually obliterated it before his death, leaving the world in a state of anarchy. In response, villages across the world began to declare themselves city-states, taking matters into their own hands to defend against the ever growing monster hordes.


Aragon was among the largest and most powerful of these city-states. Ever eager to be the city responsible for the permanent death of Herobrine, they formed their own miniscule military to follow the tracks of the roaming heroes and do away with them so they could claim the glory for their own. Try as they may, though, the military never caught up with the heroes.


The bitter man looked upon the events with both unwavering interest and abject rage. Not even born with the right to have a surname, Vitiate spent the better part of his life attempting to learn as much as he could about The Wild Emperor and his fallen brother, Notch. Scouring the land for lost knowledge, he learned that their power was very much tangible, and could perhaps even be transfused from their blood and consumed to grant unimaginable power. He'd heard legends of the famed Golden Apples, sought after by kings and emperors across Kilran for their untold power. Soon, innocent curiosity evolved into envy, and eventually, jealousy. With each passing month, Vitiate grew more angry, enraged that he was not special in the way his idols were and had no way of obtaining the priceless relics.


Attempting to match their power, Vitiate tried in vain to delve into the dark arts, twisted magic that had been rumored to derive from the power of the Gods. But only a handful in any generation even had a spark of that kind of power within them, and Vitiate was not gifted like they were.


Soon, Vitiate began to erect shrines across the world in an attempt to communicate with Herobrine. At these shrines, he did unspeakable things - led a herd of swine into a lake of fire, convinced mothers to slaughter their own children under the threat of murder, and mutilated his own body, anything that might grant him an audience with the disembodied spirit.


When reports across the world began to detail the inevitable return of Herobrine in a vengeful spirit form began to spring up, Vitiate waited patiently, confident that the dark entity would reveal himself and offer to share his power. But as the months passed and more and more towns began to fall to him, Vitiate realized Herobrine had no interest in him.


He knew that the proverbial heroes would eventually slay Herobrine - it was inevitable. Given their alleged accomplishments, he began to suspect that they, too, were Gods. By gathering as many rumors and whisperings as he could, Vitiate began to narrow down the possible sites of Herobrine's death, using a combination of the heroes' travel routes and traces of their passing to pinpoint a precise spot.


Traveling far and wide across the land, Vitiate finally arrived at the site of Herobrine's death - an eerie crag, corrupted with purple overgrowth and lined with sharp, jagged rocks. Sure enough, at a small clearing beneath a massive cliff lay a simple memorial, marked only by a small rock with a crude message scribbled on to it:


"Let it be known that on the first day of Autumn, in the 42nd Harvest Year,

The Wild Emperor, AKA Herobine,

a wicked marr on the fair land of Kilran,

was slain by the greatest of friends who only sought to protect each other.

Each friend was given an equal share of Herobrine's prized heirlooms,

and his famed Apples of Gold were bestowed upon those who deserved them the most."

Chapter I - Chimalus

"We're going to need a bigger boat," Ned said as he gazed upon the crude raft and the massive river beside it. The four figures inspected their surroundings, each adorned in gleaming diamond armor battered from their most recent skirmish. The oldest, who took up an unspoken "leader," role, carefully removed his blue mask to reveal his scraggly beard, looking cautiously to the south.


"Maybe you could've spent the better half of the day making something functional instead of this admittedly beautifully crafted piece of flotsam," Zoomer condescended, looking upon it with disdain. Ned scoffed. "Why don't you make a boat then, since you obviously know so much about them."


"Maybe I will."


"Do it then!"


"Guys, I need food," said the third voice. The second youngest and least well built of the group, Samuel seemed clueless about most situations to the rest of the group, though could be useful enough when armed with a well crafted bow. Indeed, it had been several hours since the group last searched for helpings, all of their effort devoted to fetching Ned enough lumber for him to craft his famous "Trout Facecutter," Sloop. Evidently, the details of his craftsmanship were severely exaggerated.


Zoomer and Ned both turned over to Sam, both preparing to raise a finger and yell before the bearded man stepped in. "Enough," Cannonwalker said. "Sam's right. The boat can wait until morning. Right now, we should focus on setting up camp for the night. Besides, who knows what kind of raiders could be waiting for us down the river? It's best we go with plenty of daylight left," he concluded.


The others begrudgingly agreed and set about fulfilling each of their own designated scavenger hunts; Ned and Zoomer ventured into the roofed forest to the south of the river bay to search for wildlife and firewood, Sam scoured the moor for herbs and fresh streams, while Cannon stood watch on the coast, taking care to keep them all in his sight.


The sun began to retreat from the group's view a mere hour later, just as Cannon had suspected. As if searching for cover, the sun appeared to descend into the valley, swallowed up by the ever growing shadows at the bottom. The apexes of the massive rocky crags began to fade from view as well, obscured by the same shadows that had consumed the sun moments later. The only sounds that could be heard were the constant rumbling of the forest, the low hum of the recently erected fire, and the unmistakable chirp of a bluebird, refusing to retreat into the shadows with his brethren.


The intensely blue avian looked over the humans with consummate intent, keeping both eyes on Cannonwalker just as he watched his group. Every few moments, the bluebird would let loose a graceful cry and then retreat to another vantage point, never allowing the group to trace his calls and lay eyes on him. The bird felt an ounce of smug pleasure, recognizing that he was flawlessly winning this futile game of cat and mouse.


Finally, the moon began to creep into view - the jealous and smaller counterpart to the superior sun that, despite his mightiness, still craved peaceful slumber on occasion. When the sun slept, the moon took its place, leaching off its grace to appear mighty in its own right. Despite the deception, the moon still had a purpose to fulfill, just like the sun, and could be equally protective in nature.


The group began to close back in to their camp, all of them gathered around the healthy fire and savoring their few pickings. Sam relaxed on to his knapsack. "It's weird. Hero's dead, but... I don't feel any different. Like nothing changed. Was something supposed to change?" he inquired rhetorically. Cannon straightened his back and began to grasp the hilt of his enchanted golden sword, the metal emanating a sinister ancient power that was strangely calming to him.


He nodded. "I slew him with his own blade," he said. "Well, I suppose it's mine now. I sliced him right through the heart. Saw him fall. But I can still feel him. Nothing's changed..." Cannon trailed off. When he raised his head again, he noticed no one had been listening. Had he even been talking? The others carried on their conversation, excluding him entirely. Typical.


The ambient noises of the night and the forest combined were a perfect amalgamation of calm serenity and eager anticipation. The creatures of the night rattled and roared, some passive, and others on a constant hunt for the blood of those beasts that could not defend themselves. It was the nature of the world's order, but at times it upset Cannonwalker. How could it be satisfying for them to slay a defenseless creature? What kind of a hunt is it if the prey offers no resistance?


The moon rose higher into the sky and the fire dimmed further, prompting the group to begin to doze off. They decided it would be best if they rotated in and out of guard duty, one person standing watch at a time while the others slept, waking the next person in line when their hour-long shift ended and then going back to sleep themselves. Not a perfect system, but it was functional.


Three hours past midnight, it was Sam's shift, who'd been waiting all night in anticipation for it to be his turn (not quite realizing that he was the only one who wanted to do it). Half asleep, Ned approached him and slightly nudged him on the shoulder, making sure he was fully awake and then collapsing on to his makeshift bed made of foul-smelling bug infested sheep wool. Overwhelmed with joy, Sam leapt from his knapsack pillow and fetched his oak bow and a quiver of arrows, eager to prove himself a worthy archer.


The fire had all but faded, and now the only consistent sound that remained was the persistent laugh of the bluebird. Sam walked back and forth long the river's coast the camp had been situated along, flinching at the smallest sound, nearly pulverising several trout that hadn't retreated from the shallow waters when night fell. With each flinch, the bird seemed to laugh as if on cue, mocking him for his cautious nature. With each passing minute, he began to hate the invisible bird more and more.


Thirty minutes into his shift, Sam was fed up with the bluebird and made it his mission to find and kill it (or just flop his arms around to scare it away). Seeking a vantage point, he climbed to the top of a low hanging crag, perching himself on top and squinting his eyes in search of his target. He swerved his head back and forth, following every sound and movement searching for the bird.


Sam began to doze off, frowning with apprehension when he began to realize he'd never catch the bird. Just as he began to lower his bow, however, a fluttering could be heard in the distance, and lo and behold, the marvelous bluebird rose up into the sky, visible only through the dying flame, but still clear as day in the hunter's eyes.


Instinctively and with unmatched speed, Sam drew his bow back once again and shot an arrow in the bird's direction almost as quickly as it had taken flight. After a moment, he heard the unmistakable sound of an arrow meeting flesh, an effect he'd heard many a time in his past. He grinned wildly for only a moment before he felt a piece of sharp metal meet his neck and fainted.


Chapter 2 - Stranger

"Soon, you will see that it is not the bird that laughs... only yourself."


Vitiate, covered in a loose fitting charcoal cloak that blended in seamlessly with the shadows of the night, stalked the group of iron-wielding bounty hunters and their unconscious captors with unwavering attentiveness as they moved through the roofed forest. Moving with infallible swift and cunning stealth with a sharp dagger in hand, he followed their every move from the safety of the thick canopy covering almost the entirety of the forest, taking care to muffle each step he took as he taught himself to do as a young boy.


From the wooded ground, Vitiate heard a distinct group of voices, less dialogue and more babbling fools disagreeing over something (likely trivial). With age, he'd grown to look upon men such as these with particular disdain; they were the typical idiotic brutes, hired to do the bidding of any city-state that paid them enough coin. Counterfeit or legitimate, as long as they received something shiny for their troubles, they were satisfied. He had nurtured his hatred for them since he was a youngster, watching them drag off innocent victims to the dungeons, completely oblivious to what they were doing.


These bounty hunters had to die.


Clutching his freshly sharpened dagger tightly in reverse grip, the cloaked Vitiate leapt directly over the hunting party's woodland caravan from a massive darkwood tree to an overgrown red mushroom, nearly collapsing and falling over to the ground before steadying himself on the almost alien texture. The rogue held his breath tightly in caution. Would this be the end of his journey, so soon?


One single hunter noticed the rustling from overhead, aiming his torch upwards to the source of the noise. Illuminated, the red fungi shriveled slightly, attempting to block out the sudden influx of light. A female hunter who had been standing adjacent most of the hunt approached him by his side, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Vex, what have you seen?" she asked. The man lowered his torch, finding nothing in the shadows. "Nothing, Vexa. We carry on," he responded quietly. Judging from their similar complexions and rusty hair, they were likely mountain people, spawned from the same mother.


Mountain people (or Nords, as they preferred to call themselves) were known for their brutish nature, making the bounty hunting profession common among their kind. If Vitiate despised hunters, he might as well hate Nords; for almost their entire once-great culture had seemingly lost their way and resorted to the mercenary business. Vitiate was no patriot for his kind, but he certainly preferred their company over Nords.


Vitiate breathed a sigh of relief from the safety of the thick canopy he had dived into at the last possible moment. Before he could regather his senses, his ears caught wind of yet another set of voices attempting to converse. Judging by their hushed tone, they were likely the prey the hunters had been searching for. Restrained in poorly woven nets and tossed into the wooden wagon transported by the bounty hunters were the four heroes he'd like very much to meet. Everything was going as planned.


"Ned... see if you can reach my knife... it's in-"


Vexa glanced over to her captors from the front. "Stay your tongue or I'll cut it off, swarmbate!" she interjected. Cannonwalker fell silent from her words and then realized that the hunters had likely picked them clean of any weapons or valuables. The sword! he realized. If the bounty hunters realized just what they'd snatched, there's no telling what they might foolishly do with it.


The wagon abruptly grinded to a halt, stopped by another man adorned in rusting iron armor. Directly ahead, Vitiate noticed a mid-sized encampment; a mass of various sized tents built around an ancient stone building. Of course. These four fools had wandered directly into Nordic territory - the famous crags of Northern Kilran, likely crawling with crazed mountain men and bloodthirsty mercenaries.


"Halt! Where are your papers, filth?"


The two Nord siblings looked at each other, nodded, and proceeded to spit simultaneously at the man standing on guard. The man laughed and made a note in a log book pulled from his pocket.


"Welcome back, you cretin. What's your cargo today?" he inquired.


"Four prisoners, wanted by the Aragonians. Just a few runaway thieves," Vex said.


"Runaway thieves don't usually run about with diamond armor," the guard acknowledged.


"They probably stole it," Vexa suggested nonchalantly.


The guard nodded and signaled his colleagues up top to open the bridge on the side of the crude stone wall built around the encampment. The wagon began to move again, the two siblings in front with three other hunters flanking. Vitiate groaned. The entire camp had been completely shaven of any trees. Not even a touch of overhanging canopy extended beyond those walls. Vitiate was a master assassin and rogue, but light feet wouldn't help fight an army of disgruntled mountain people. He needed a plan.


The wagon was pulled into the camp and carelessly pushed into the wall of the stone building, its contents spilled on to the podzol ground and promptly seized by their captors. Upon having his net cut open, Zoomer bolted for the exit, only to be shot down by one of the hunter's crossbow dart. Cannonwalker attempted to run to his aid, his path halted by one of the guard's swords.


Vex chuckled. "He'll live. The dart was tripped with a small dosage of Silverfish poison. All that's going to die is his senses for a few hours. Hey, you're all Nords, right?" he asked as if he didn't just knock someone out. The three remaining captives exchanged looks, and then glanced at Zoomer. "I'm so sorry for your loss," Vex giggled. They hoped it was a joke. Were Nords usually jokesters?


"Come on. Into the dungeons with you until the representatives from Aragon arrive in the morning," Vexa said. Ned cocked his head. "So you're taking us to Aragon, huh? Too scared to go yourself?" Vexa scoffed. "I could walk into that Woodland hippie lovefest, violate every man and woman there, and come out without a bounty. Course I'm not scared. Those creeps just gave his very specific instructions about how to... handle you," she said with a grin. Ned gulped.


The three were pushed inside while Vex went back to fetch Zoomer, slinging him over his shoulders like an oversized sweetroll. Looking back over his shoulder to see if Zoomer was breathing, Cannonwalker was shoved back into line by Vexa as the group began to descend down the ancient stairs leading down into the dungeons. The door behind them closed a few moments later. He hoped the sound had marked his friends' late arrival.


After a minute of walking, the group finally made it into the central dungeons. Decrepit and dilapidated beyond repair, the dungeon looked as if it might collapse at any moment, only held together by a system of oak wood beams infested with termites. Lined with iron barred cells on every angle, one large cell towards the rear was cracked open just a sliver, welcoming its new inmates in with open arms. Vexa shoved them toward the cell. "Go on, then. Or it's the hole for you," she ordered.


Sam and Ned looked to Cannon. Sighing with apprehension, he began to walk into the cell, motioning for them to follow. Sam lowered his head and obeyed while Ned looked on Cannon with shock, refusing to believe he'd given up. Vexa nodded and slammed the door behind them, the iron bars locking in place with the sealing mechanism. "Try not to make too much noise," the bounty hunter suggested. "The dungeon will probably collapse on you if you yell too loud. Sound waves. Probably," she concluded before walking off.


Chapter 3 - The Caged Bird

"WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!" wailed Sam from inside the cell. Ned slapped him. "Keep your voice down! That bounty hunter was probably right. If we're not quiet enough, we could shatter those beams and be crushed.... maybe! So quiet, already!" he scolded. Before he could offer a response, Sam was silenced by a faint rumbling from above.


Sam crossed his arms with contempt. Cannonwalker stepped between them, breaking up the fight. "Enough already," he whispered. "We need to find a way out of here. I don't know what they've done with Zoomer, but if they're taking him to be executed..." he trailed off. "That's great," Ned chimed in. "But how exactly are we going to get out of here without bringing the place down on your heads?"


"With these," said a fourth voice, stepping in from the shadows without making a noise. Without hesitation, the cloaked figure pulled out a ring of keys and unlocked the fragile cell door, the sound of the iron bars moving masking the sound of the dungeon guardsman falling to the ground in a pool of his own split blood.


The cloaked man pulled the cell door open with care and motioned for them to follow him out. "Hey, wait a second... I'm not just going to follow some random dashing rogue out the door just because they have some keys," Ned said, refusing to budge. "Actually, you're going to do exactly that!" Cannonwalker interjected, following the lead of the stranger.


The group sprinted up the stairs under the guidance of the cloaked man, abdicating the direct and dangerous path of the main stairs and instead taking an alternate route through the twisting dungeon hallways. Approaching a doorway, the stranger detected a guardsman on patrol through the next hallway by his heavyset leather boots, whose sound resonated throughout that section of the underground complex. In the few moments of silence and stillness, the stranger's eerie mask - that of a dark crow with glassy eyes, resemblant of a Zombie Plague doctor - could finally be made out. Sam wasn't sure whether it was a mask intended to hide his identity or a true physical feature.


The guard was fast approaching, about to turn a corner into the small path the group was hidden in. Ned turned to the stranger. "Any more bright ideas, rogue?" he condescended. Sam, directly behind the stranger, rose his fists in anticipation as the guard drew near. Immediately as he turned the corner, the stranger leapt from the shadows and stuck a piece of sharp metal through his throat and threw his falling corpse to the ground, uncomfortably close to Sam.


"Hey, watch it!" he exclaimed, though the stranger had already begun to move, beckoning them to follow. Cannon admired his style. Finally, the group reached the end of the hallway, where a sealed door presumably leading to the surface had been situated on the wall. Sifting through his keychain for a moment, the stranger located the door's specific key, turning it ajar and beginning his ascension up the twisting spiral stairs.


The faint sign of light began to fill the room, accompanied by the welcoming scent of fresh air. Hours must have passed since their abduction - it appeared to be the earliest hour of the morning, the sky a calm blue as the moon began its retreat back into the shadows. Indeed, after a moment of climbing, the group arrived inside the hollow tunnel turning through the encampment walls, likely used as easy transportation for roaming guards, though none could be heard in the immediate vicinity.


The stranger relaxed against the wall, finding comfort on its hard surface and taking a moment to rest. He was quickly joined by his new friends. Panting for breath, Cannonwalker turned towards the rogue. "You owe us an explanation," he said, searching for air. The stranger nodded, throwing back his hood and gently removing his plague mask, revealing that he was in fact not a winged demon from the Nether, but a simple man much like them.


The man was slender in size, as Cannon had observed earlier. Beneath his mask and charcoal hood, he sported modest light brown hair, common among Woodland humans. His eyes - the most distinct of his features - were very oddly colored, one of them blood red and the other a golden yellow. Aside from his strange eyes, he appeared to be quite plain in appearance, lightly built and light on his feet like most from Western Kilran.


"My name is Vitiate," the man said, shaking his low hanging hair from his eyes. "I'm an apostle of Notch. He's sent me here to locate you, but he didn't mention anything about you being in the custody of barbarians," he explained. Cannon cocked his head. "But Notch is dead, just like Herobrine is," he interrupted. The image of Herobrine disintegrating into ashes flashed before his eyes for a moment and was gone just as soon.


"Gods are not so easily killed," Vitiate explained. "You got lucky and caught Herobrine napping. But The Architect is... resourceful. He has methods of retaining awareness of his surroundings, even in death. I would have guessed you'd known that by now," he continued, rising to his feet and peering out of a small crack in the wall to the encampment.


"How do you know about all this? How did you know Notch has talked to us?" Ned asked in disbelief. "Did you really think your efforts had gone unnoticed? All of Kilran knows your faces by now. And Notch is hyper-aware of your exploits, as well. He needs you. He's being secretive about it, but let's just say that Gods prefer to be able to strangle people themselves than just fling energy at them from afar," Vitiate explained.


Ned gazed wildly at Vitiate. "I wasn't implying he wanted to kill you," Vitiate said, waving his hand at Ned. "What I meant is that I think Notch wants to do what Herobrine did. Live again. Sure, it's hard to really be killed in spirit form, but when you have a physical host, your powers are virtually unlimited," Vitiate cited and stopped for a moment. "This world needs order again," Vitiate continued. "And we can't have order without Notch's help. Killing Herobrine has helped, but people have funny ways of screwing themselves over without proper guidance," Vitiate said decisively.


Sam shook his head. "I don't believe a word of this," he said with his arms crossed. Vitiate rubbed his eyes in frustration. "I just sprang you from a Norse prison and killed a dozen people for you and you don't believe me. I frankly don't care if I seem like a knight in shining armor to you or not, but you have an obligation," Vitiate said. "What do you mean obligation? What do I owe Notch?" Ned asked. "When a God calls upon you, you don't turn them down, especially when they want something. If you won't come with me willingly, I'll haul you all to Thel Olihim myself, but no matter what you say, Notch will get what he wants."


Cannonwalker rose from his resting place. "He has a point, Ned," he agreed. Sam chimed in. "You said something about Thel Olihim. What is that?" he asked. "It's an ancient temple, far from Kilran and in the heart of The Architect's old empire. There's a device there that runs on the power of the Gods themselves. Herobrine spent years searching for it, but could never locate it. I believe the device there can be used to restore Notch to his former glory. The only thing we'll have to do is get there, activate the device using those Golden Apples you fetched from Herobrine, and Notch will be on his way back to health," Vitiate detailed.


Cannon shifted awkwardly. "Well, there's one small hiccup in that plan..." he said.


"And what is that?"


"Well, we had the apples... but they're elsewhere now."


Vitiate stared coldly at Cannonwalker. "Where is elsewhere?"


"I gave my share of the Apples to Zoomer, and I don't know they've taken him. Sam sort of... fed them to his dog. Mut died from obesity after a few days," Cannonwalker explained. Vitiate reattached his hood and mask. "Then it's imperative we find him. Besides, I believe you're missing something."


Chapter 4 - Serendipity

"We really ought to just do away with him already. He's a lost cause."


"Quiet now, I think he's waking up."


"And what do you intend for him to do once he wakes up? Follow your every whim, make him play your little game? Really now, I'd like to hear just what you had in mind."


"What would you have me do, then? Give up, let him return home? You know I can't do that. This has to come to fruition. If it doesn't, who knows what might happen?


"Who are you trying to convince? Me, or you?"


"Both of us."


The sun, no longer desiring to wait patiently for its counterpart to flee, forced its way into the skyline, its imposing image frightening all of the night's shadows back into hiding. In the day, Vitiate and his entourage may be safe from the victims of the resurgent Zombie Plague, but they would have to take extra to not be seen by their foes, blending in with the night being their best method of avoiding detection.


Vitiate wondered if the night had betrayed them or the sun sought to hinder them. In the past years of his life, he wondered if either of them had truly been on his side. Nevertheless, adaptation was key, especially when the fate of the world was at stake.


Moving with haste, the rogue led his newfound allies into a shrub adjacent to the encampment's outer wall and began to survey the area, searching for any sign of Zoomer and their secondary target, the armory. Crouching his head just under the open air, Vitiate squinted through his mask and swept his eyes to and fro across the visible camp, landing on a large circular stone building to the southernmost point of the area near the entrance.


"I'll bet that's the armory," Vitiate said, pointing to the structure in the distance. "If they're keeping your supplies anywhere, they're probably in there. And I'll assume you won't want The Wild Emperor's sword in the hands of those dense Nords," he continued. Cannon roofed his eyes with disdain at Vitiate. "You'd do well to hold your tongue, thief. I don't take kindly to strangers with big mouths," he defended.


Vitiate realized his error and chuckled. "All apologies. I suppose you wouldn't want that thing in anyone's hands but yours at this point. You'll need to take your friends and get in and out as quickly as possible. There will be guards. Stick to the shadows, however many of them are left at least," he instructed. Sam chimed in. "You aren't coming with us?" he asked. Vitiate shook his head. "We have one more objective to tend to and we don't have enough night left to do one after the other. I'll sneak into the infirmary and revive your friend. With any luck, I'll be able to get him awake and back on his feet. If not, then you have my condolences."


The rogue signaled for them to get moving, and thus they went their separate ways, the three heroes making for the armory while Vitiate bobbed and weaved between the scattered tents on his way to the infirmary. The trio was able to to bolt for the armory with relative ease, taking cover behind the massive rectangular tent that stretched across the eastern wall and hitting the deck whenever a guard came within range on the wall patrol. It seemed at least one of them had paid particular attention to Vitiate's artful dodges and movements.


Vitiate, conversely, took a much longer route to the other side of the camp towards a smaller building, marked by a dozen bandage-wrapped soldiers laying on the grass outside. It was the infirmary, no doubt. Luckily, nearly all of the wounded Nords seemed to be sleeping like babies, getting their much needed rest they'd need to stand around like idiots again as soon as possible.


The thief sprinted across a small clearing to an unseen spot behind a small clay building situated on the encampment's northeastern edge, using the window ledge to ascend to the top of it and use the boost to leap to the top of the wall. With only a moment left before detection by the crossing wall guard, he leapt from the wall's highest point to the roof of the infirmary, his boots and light feet only barely minimizing the ensuing sound enough so as to not wake the sleeping hounds.


Taking only a moment to rest his nearly broken leg, he recuperated almost instantly and dropped to the grass below, sliding open the slightly ajar side window and climbing inside, to his great pain and discomfort resulting from his prior fall. Thankfully, the interior seemed to be completely empty of hostiles; anything less would have surely resulted in an untimely demise.


To the end of the room was the prize the thief had been pursuing the entire escapade: the heavily sedated Zoomer, lying deathly still on a rough bedroll with an array of crude tonics to his side. Vitiate shook his head. "No, those simply won't do," he said as he walked over and knelt at his side. It was time to put his skills to the test.


After fidgeting around in his pockets for a moment, Vitiate retrieved a small vial no more than an inch in size filled with a strange green liquid. Taking Zoomer's hand, he carefully poured the liquid into his mouth and began to mutter an incantation.


"Rise, child, and see the truth."


Zoomer began to shake violently back to life the moment he spoke, coughing and wheezing up nothing but his own air. Vitiate placed a hand on his shoulder, attempting to calm his fit. Beneath his mask, a small smile wormed its way on to his face, filled with glee as he began to manifest his powers. Soon, Zoomer relaxed and rose to his feet with Vitiate's help.


"Come on. Your friends will be on their way soon. We need to get moving," Vitiate said, starting back towards the window. Zoomer emitted a brief moan when he began to move, clutching his head as his eyes flashed red for a mere moment before returning to normal. "As you say..."


Climbing out of the window, the two looped back around the side of the infirmary to the shadows in the corner and almost immediately spotted the other three dashing towards the infirmary being pursued by a small army of Nords and a handful of regally dressed soldiers very different from their Nordic counterparts.


Cannonwalker led the group, once again brandishing his gleaming golden sword and using it to cut open the stomach of any Nords in his way. "We've got our weapons, let's go!" he shouted. Vitiate nodded and motioned for the restored group to follow him to the main door, once again brandishing his bloodied dagger.


The Nords were relentless. Soon, a group of archers began to gun them down, forcing them into a zigzag position as they rounded about the central building and towards their exit. Just as they began to turn the corner, however, a massive group of brown and green cloaked soldiers blocked their path. Attempting to run back the other way, they instead ran into more Nords flanking them.


Their leader, a heavyset man standing in the center of the line brandishing a drawn back longbow, stepped forward and addressed the escapees. "Stop right there or I'll shoot you down where you stand!" the man exclaimed. "I am Captain Zed Connery of Aragon under his Lordship Archibon von Oedifex. You and your brutish friends will be taken to Aragon where you will face the judgment of the Lord Protector, given a fair trial, and subsequently executed. Understood?"


"That doesn't sound very fair to me," Ned said.


"I agree," Sam added.


"I can see where you're coming from," one Nord said.


The five of them and Captain Connery all turned to the clueless Nord for a moment, the latter of which was especially bamboozled at the prospect. Taking the chance to strike, Vitiate drew out a smoke grenade with lightning speed and threw it on the ground twice as quickly, all of the surrounding guards and soldiers temporarily thrown off by the sudden movement while the escapees knew precisely what they had to do - run.


Vitiate and the others bolted with unrelenting haste towards the exit, not bothering to cut down any of their pursuers. Connery drew back his bow and aimed it directly at the fleeing Sam. "Stop it, I said! Or I'll shoot!" he threatened. Vexa, who had been watching the entire ordeal from afar, lowered her head in thought for a moment before drawing her crossbow and shooting Connery in the chest, penetrating his armor and sending him to his knees.


"I've had about enough of your damn antics, Connery! Come on Vex, let's teach these elvish pricks a lesson!" she shouted, prompting her brother and other assorted allies to rally to the cause, mowing down the squadron of Aragonians and allowing the group to escape. In disbelief, Cannonwalker halted and glanced back, staring at Vexa. "GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE OR WE'LL CARVE YOU, TOO!" she yelled, prompting him to mouth a quick "thank you," before rejoining the others in the chase.


Chapter 5 - Vitiate

The five heroes, once again reunited in their singular cause (that cause being run like hell) ran harder than any of them cared to recall, their primal instincts kicking in as disregarded the fact that they were all likely to collapse at any moment after several moments of running. None of them cared to look back, instead focusing their sights completely on their target. As the seconds ticked by, they drew closer to the exit, savoring in the notion that they might just make it out alive.


From the distance, a faint screaming could be heard, indistinct among the shared symphony of yelps, the sound of swords clashing together, and that of hot steel sinking into human flesh. Before Cannon could make out the voice, however, he and the others had already reached the exit, ducking behind the trees surrounding the massive encampment. Scanning the area, Vitiate spotted no sign of pursuers.


Sam, desperately choking on his own air, rushed to Zoomer's side. "Zoomer... we thought you were dead! What happened?" he asked. Staring off into space for a moment, Zoomer offered no clear response, only uttering an indistinct phrase from a tongue none of them could clearly identify. Vitiate gazed at him for a moment before returning to attention, setting his sights towards the horizon.


"We need to find the rest of those Apples. Without them, I don't know how much longer this world's going to survive. Aragon sending their puppets after you is just another sign that we're running out of time," he said impatiently. "We've had plenty of towns come after us because they could have profited off of killing Herobrine themselves," Cannon said. "Surely that's the only reason they're after us." Sam shook his head. "But Herobrine's dead. They hired Nords to hunt us down... what could they want with us?"


"Whatever it is, we can't risk them finding us again. When Connery and his goons don't return to Aragon, they'll know something's up," Vitiate concluded. Walking over and kneeling before Zoomer, he too had a lineup of questions. "Where did you last see the Apples, Zoomer?" he asked calmly. Oddly, the entire time Zoomer appeared dazed, unable to offer sufficient responses. The moment Vitiate spoke to him, however, he perked up, yielding an answer obediently.


"I last saw the Apples when I traded them to an Orc for 32 Diamonds. The Orc said he was working for the Dark Lord," Zoomer said without emotion or hesitance. Cannonwalker perked his eyebrows for a moment and then realized the gravity of the situation. "Zoomer, you dense spore! The Dark Lord is two dimensions over in Nox, and he's got an entire empire wrapped around his fingers! What were you thinking?!" he asked, shaking his head.


Sam stepped between them. "Wait, what's Nox? And who's this Dark Lord?" he asked. "Nox is an ancient mass of ruins in the Nether," Ned explained. "Millions of people are buried there. Our friend the Dark Lord led his legion of Orcs there after his master Herobrine vanished from the public eye. They've been building there ever since, but most people just pretended they were all dead after Hero disappeared. Evidently, they weren't," he finished.


Vitiate sighed. "The time for the blame game is long past. We need to find a way into the Nether, but it won't be easy," he said, stretching his arm. "Last I heard, all the Nether Portals were sealed off after Cenum led his army in there, and we don't exactly have the resources to make our own. Do you know of any others in existence, Vitiate?" he asked, trying to remain calm. Vitiate scratched his chin in thought. "There is one," he said. "But it's in the last place we want to be. I wish there were another way, but... we need to go to Aragon. The Lord Protector is keeping one in his little palace for safekeeping. Why he needs it, I have no clue. But it may be our only way to Nox," he said with a sigh.


Cannonwalker decided it was best before Ned could raise his hand to protest. "It's our only way," Ned. "I know you didn't sign up for this - none of us did. But if we don't, and if what Vitiate says is true... there's no telling what might happen if we don't get those Apples. You can stay behind and be escorted to Aragon forcefully if you want. But I'm going with the rogue," he said decisively.


Ned hesitated, but finally rose in agreement. "I won't let you do this by yourself, it just wouldn't be right after all we've been through. I've got your back, Cannon," Ned said, joining his side before Vitiate, crossing his arms waiting for the others to join. "Come on, Sam," Ned said, reaching an arm out towards him. "For old time's sake." Almost immediately, he took his hand and lept to his feet, eager as ever. "You too, Zoo-" Ned started, only to find that Zoomer had already risen, staring blankly at Ned expectantly.


"I guess you're as ambitious as Cannon is," Ned said jokingly, shaking off the awkwardness of the situation. "So, rogue... what's the best route to Aragon?" he asked, turning to Vitiate. "I thought you'd never ask. We'll need to head east towards the Great Plains, quick as we please. There shouldn't be much resistance on our way there. Most of the traffic in those plains is just wandering merchant caravans," he said. He had to strain himself to avoid showing any outward emotion. Because deep down, he knew that wasn't true. It was for their own good - if they knew what was waiting for them in the Plains, none of them would follow him.


"Righto. Plains, huh? I guess it'd be a welcome respite from these... mountains," Ned said, looking suspiciously at the towering crags. "If we're lucky, we'll be able to find some wild horses along the way and ride to Aragon in half the time. For now, though, we'll need to travel on foot," Vitiate said grimly.


The heroes traveled far and wide as the wooded valley eventually faded as all things did, eventually fading entirely as the flowery plains emerged from their shadows. The vast plans consumed the entire horizon, nothing but grass and beautiful flowers for miles. In some places for dramatically than others, the plant life prevailed, though not a single tree or animal could be seen. Ponds and lakes were just as scarce, none of them spotting a single solitary body of water until they were nearly six hours into their journey.


"Guys, over here! I found water!" Sam exclaimed. Cannonwalker was the first to begin running towards him, thirsty beyond belief and craving even a single drop of water. Upon setting his eyes on what Sam had found, however, he was stricken with grief. "It's disgusting... and only a foot long! I could drool this much!" Ned said. Cannon sighed. "We need to do anything to survive. I'm going to dehydrate soon..." he said in desperation.


Just before he could reach his face into the miniscule pond, Vitiate came up behind him and stopped him. "Don't drink that! Look at the algae in there. Not to mention how stagnant it is. If you drink it, you'll sure as hell die quicker than if you didn't," he warned. "How do you know? Are you some kind of water expert?" Sam asked. Vitiate scoffed. "That would be Zoomer," he said, pointing to the deathly still Oceanic standing atop of slightly elevated hill overlooking the horizon.


"Even if it is tainted.. we have to try. Besides, Sam's right... it might not even be-" Cannon's train of thought hit a brick wall as he heard a rumbling in the distance. "Everyone... over there!" he shouted, pointing into the distance. Indeed, four distinct shapes could be made out on the horizon, rapidly sprinting towards the group. Bracing for a battle, Cannon drew his sword and stood valiantly, prepared to face the attackers.


"HORSES!" Sam yelled. The beasts raced towards them with lightning speed, nearly passing them by before Vitiate made a strange whistling sound to halt them. All four of them obediently stopped, staring with bewilderment into the eyes of their new human masters. "Finally..." Ned said quietly as he began to climb atop one of them. "Wait," Vitiate said. "Considering how spooked they are, don't you figure they were running from something?" he inquired. "Nonsense," Ned said. "These things were probably just... migrating. Yeah, migrating. Nothing to worry about. So who's sharing?"


Cannon raised his hand. "I'll share with Zoomer. He looks like he could collapse at any second," he said, grabbing hold of the Oceanic and hoisting him atop the brown steed. The rest of them followed suit and designated their horses and continued their perilous journey towards Aragon.




Chapter 6 - Monster

A sickly feeling fell upon the heroes as their skin began to crawl as if bugs lingered inside them and their bodies felt crushed under the weight of the strangely augmented air. The formerly eerily calm plains had abruptly shifted from their constant tranquil state into something almost unnatural - the sky, gray as the eyes of a Woodlander, looked as if it might split open at any moment to swallow the lot of them whole.


The horses began to stir, their pace dulling just as the atmosphere around them. "Hey, wait up a second!" Sam yelled from the back of the group to get the attention of his fellows. "My horse... stopped," he said, quickly jumping off as the others fell back towards him. Taking a quick whiff of the air, Cannon realized something was amiss. Just as he began to turn back to his steed, he noticed that Zoomer had vacated it as well, now staring blankly up into the charcoal sky.


Vitiate was the last to leave his mount, taking ample time to observe his surroundings. He'd read about such things happening during great apocalypses in the past, centuries ago during the reign of The Mad King, but nothing like it within the past dozen decades. This was a poor omen to say the least.


Cannonwalker sensed Vitiate's distress as he joined the group. "What do you think it is? Is it... him?" the Nord asked. Vitiate shook his head. "No. Something much older. Something much more primal," he explained as the first drops of rain began to fall on his ears. Cannon looked at the rogue expectantly, but he offered no explanation, instead briskly walking towards the spooked horse.


Removing the glove from his right hand and placing it on the beast's snout, Vitiate quaked at the subtle messages he began to pick up. "This is bad," he started. "I warned you we shouldn't have taken this route. These horses were running from something. And whatever it is, we've walked right in its path," he warned. Before he could elaborate, Sam began to yell, pointing up at the sky curiously. "Look! A storm's coming!" he exclaimed.


The wailings of Sam masked the initial sound of the terrified horses bolting in the other direction, though not even the loudest scream could outshine the ensuing symphony of thunder accompanied by a daunting alien roar in the distance. "That's no storm," Vitiate said, gazing into the all consuming hurricane formation in the sky. "That's a monster."


The roar sounded again, this time much closer, and forcing the entirety of the group to cover their ears in pain. "WHAT IS THAT THING?" Ned yelled over the sounds. "I should have known," Vitiate said. "I thought these plains had been cleared centuries ago. Wiped of all remnants of Herobrine's Infinite Empire. Wiped of all those... things. But one must have survived... a-a Raptus!"


"You led us to a Mobzilla and you didn't even WARN us?!" Cannon yelled. "You've heard the stories, Cannon! Everything but his name had been eradicated over centuries! I had no way of knowing!" Vitiate yelled. Sam yelped. "Uh... guys?"


The ground itself felt as if it might collapse into a great hole, all sound but the dreaded rumbling of the gigantic beast before them completely annihilated, along with the spirits of its prey. Finally, the silence was broken in the most terrible way possible - through the infallible roar of the Raptus, shredding the heroes' ear drums as hurricane force winds knocked them off their feet.


"RUN LIKE HELL!"


The entire group did so even before hearing Cannon's yelp, including Zoomer, whose survival instincts finally seemed to kick in, but only in the face of imminent death. The beast, at least 50 blocks tall, began to give chase, remnants of its great and terrible roar still rippling across the plains. In desperation, Sam pulled out his restored bow fetched from the Norse armory and fired a single shot at the towering beast, the arrow harmlessly landing on its neck, prompting only a low growl of annoyance.


Ned turned back for only a mere moment and was completely mesmerized by the great beast before him, taking each step carefully and savoring the fear of its prey. Standing completely still in a trance not unlike Zoomer's, Ned gazed directly into the beast's eyes, completely dazed by their hypnotic yellow hue. Vitiate swore he saw the leviathan grin wildly for a moment before it began to hold its breath, its nostrils bleeding fiery black smoke. Just before it unleashed its hellish barrage, the rogue leapt at the mesmerized Ned and threw him out of the way, the two of them only narrowly avoiding the Raptus' flame breath.


The ensuing barrage of savage fireballs completely ravaged the landscape, annihilating the patch of ground the heroes had been standing on and revealing the hidden layer of bedrock below. The affected area caught fire and burned for only a moment before the drenching bleak rain extinguished it. Tired of the humans' games, the beast let loose yet another great roar, shaking the landscape only slightly lighter than his previous flame blast.


Ned drew his shortbow and joined Sam in attempting to wither the beast down, firing precious arrow after arrow and lining its black scaled body with unnatural bloody pores. As the Raptus began to turn around to face his attackers, one stray arrow from Sam's bow met its devilish eyes, prompting it to shriek wildly and begin to charge at him. Enraged as he was, however, he was unreasonably tall and fat and couldn't keep up with his prey.


Attempting to catch them from a distance, the Raptus began charging its flame breath once again, its razor sharp spikes located on its back beginning to glow a sinister crimson. In anticipation, the beast drew open its gigantic mouth, the faint light of the fire within beginning to emanate from its throat. Thinking quickly, Ned shot an arrow directly inside, meeting the roof of its mouth and causing it to choke on its own flames, desperately coughing up a fit of black smoke.


The beast attempted to roar, though all that came out was a shrill shriek and another puff of smoke. Vitiate ran to Cannonwalker and the others who had regrouped once the beast had been momentarily stunned. "We've slowed it down, but we need something more powerful. Something forged specifically to tame gigantic beasts," he said, pointing to Cannon's stowed sword hanging off his belt.


"The Blightsword," Cannon said, clutching it closely. "I've climbed worse things in my life, Cannon. Loan me your sword and I'll finish that thing off in a heartbeat," he promised. Cannon clutched the sword harder, silently unwilling to part with it. "Please, give it to me!" Vitiate begged urgently as the beast began to regain its senses.


Reluctantly but confidently, Cannon unsheathed the golden blade and handed it in Vitiate's gloved hands carefully. While he expected the rogue to quickly run off to slay the beast, Cannon instead noticed him slip into a momentary trance, almost outwardly ecstatic to wield the blade as a thousand senses awoke within him at once.


Finally, Vitiate properly took the sword and began to sprint towards the beast, quickly slipping out of his trance. Being a mere human, Cannon expected the rogue to have trouble leaping on top of the towering Raptus, though instead of taking his time to carefully select a route to take, he simply leapt an incredible distance directly on to its shoulder with speed that he'd never seen a mere mortal achieve.


Not even taking a moment to ground himself, Vitiate sprinted to the cranium of the now rising Raptus, regaining its senses after being wounded by the arrow. Not even noticing the rogue sneaking around on top of its head, it attempted to charge towards the four remaining attackers. Momentarily stumbled, Vitiate briskly stabbed the blade into the beast's massive head, penetrating directly though its skull and into its pea-sized brain.


The beast roared a mighty roar and began to attempt to shake off the rogue, only to be punctured once again in another soft spot. Now reeling in pain, the beast made a last ditch effort to scare off its killer by launching a barrage of fireballs into the air, but by the time they left his mouth he'd already plunged his blade directly into its one remaining good eye, permanently blinding it and forcing it to fall over violently.


Before it could recuperate, Vitiate quickly leapt to the ravaged ground and plunged the blade directly into its neck one last time for good measure. With one last desperate growl, the Raptus lay dead on the grass, slain by the assassin with supernatural speed and agility no man could ever reach.


"I believe this is yours," he said, tossing the Blightsword back to Cannon as he walked over to inspect the beast's corpse.


Chapter 7 - The City in the Forest

Six hours later...


The streets of Aragon were lit only by the dim shine of the city's few streetlights. Woodlanders were notorious for their hatred of disorder and were proud advocates of absolute silence during the dark hours. Not a creature was stirring on the hazy streets of the town... that is, except, for the five bumbling fools jumping from rooftop to rooftop, four out of them all having no experience with such roguelike maneuvers (one of which hardly even coherent).


Situated on the outskirts of the vast flowery plains on the line where the grass began to fade into woodland, Aragon was heavily defended from the ever growing hordes of plague zombies; in fear, the Lord Protector ordered that a great cobblestone wall be constructed around the town, though rumors persisted that there were creatures in the wilds that could perhaps penetrate their defenses. The Protector quickly dismissed all these claims, though he himself as a former Knight of Notch knew better. Vitiate understood that keeping these rumors under wraps was best so as not to send the people of Aragon into a frenzy - though perhaps, if given the chance, he would do it a bit more gently.


"In the three days we've been together, you've done some crazy crap," Ned said, struggling to hold on to the dangling rope. "But I think this is the craziest!" he exclaimed, finishing his ascension. The method of "climbing to the top of the wall and then throwing a rope over the side," seemed like a reasonable plan for ascending the outer wall, though the same couldn't be said in turn for the Rising Sun House, the home of the Lord Protector, the most heavily guarded place in Aragon.


"Yeah... don't you think they'll spit us?" Sam inquired from below. "They surely will if you keep whining so loudly! Now climb, dammit!" Vitiate said with cuffed hands from the top of the roof. Three of the group had made it to the top; Vitiate, Ned, and Zoomer looked from above as their comrades followed their path. After several minutes of struggling, the entirety of the group finally steadied themselves on the roof of the Protector's house.


"How exactly were you planning to get inside, now that we're on top of his house?" Cannon asked, looking to the cloaked assassin expectantly. "Simple. Come, and bring the rope," he said, walking over to the back of the house. Taking the rope and tying it around his waist, the rogue handed the end of the rope to Cannon, instructing him to hold on tight.


"See you on the other side," Vitiate said before abruptly hopping over the side, causing Cannonwalker to nearly keel over from the sudden force. Dangling from below, Vitiate gave a quick thumbs up, signaling him to lower the rope for a few more moments before making a throat-cutting motion to stop. From the rope outside, Vitiate peered into the back window, likely into a bedroom of sorts.


Straining himself to look for any signs of movement or a clue to the portal's whereabouts, he began to hear the faint sound of footsteps emanating from the hall outside the bedroom. From the roof above, Sam poked Cannon invasively. "Hey Cannon, why are we here again? Also, whose house are we breaking into?" he asked. "Yeah, I've been wondering that too," Ned said, walking over to Cannon and leaving his lookout position.


Cannon sighed in frustration. "The portal, remember? We need to get to Nox because you sold an Orc a bunch of golden apples. We need those apples," he said, looking to Sam. "Okay, but why do we need the apples?" he asked in return. The four of them continued rambling as the dangling rogue below began to desperately tug on his rope, noticing the sound of keys growing louder and louder.


Ned was first to notice the tugging. "Uh, Cannon... you're getting a rope burn," he said, motion to his hands. He gasped, quickly pulling the rope back up as Vitiate vanished from the man's sight in the nick of time. "Really captain, I must object," the voice said. "Why should I have to retreat to my living space just because a few thieves were spotted on the town premises? What harm could they do to me?" he asked. "It's for your own good," a second voice said. Cannon and Vitiate recognized it instantly - Captain Connery, the commander of the Lord Protector's guard. He must have survived the skirmish at the Nord camp...


"Captain, I will be fine!"


"Lord Protector von Oedifex, I must insist you stay here, at least until we have the thieves in custody. The risk is too great. There is talk among the guards... they say it's them, my lord."


"Who's THEM?!"


"Them."


Archibon raised his eyebrow for a moment and then gasped in realization before nodding. "Very well. Take your guards. Find these prisoners and bring them to me... alive," he said. Captain Connery nodded. "It will be done, my lord," he said, vacating the room and closing the door behind him. Archibon gave a heavy sigh as the captain left, plopping down on his luxurious bed and quickly closing his eyes.


Vitiate pulled back from the building's edge. "Well, now what do we do?" Cannon asked. "The portal is probably in the dungeons, deep underground," Vitiate said. "But this may be our only way in. This better be the last time I have to climb through a window," he said as he peaked back over the edge. "Don't tell me you're going back down there," Ned said. "It's a tiny room! Nobody falls asleep that fast! We'll wake him for sure," he said. "Do you have a better idea?" the rogue asked, looking back and forth between him and the remainder of the group. "Then let's go."


Sam volunteered to surrender his one diamond sword and firmly plop it into the house's roof, tying to the rope to it and hoping that the dense gem would keep them supported. Vitiate went first, descending from the roof and unlocking the bedroom window from the outside. The dulcet tones of the Protector's snoring could be heard from the roof. Hopefully, they would be able to mask the footsteps of the intruders.


The rogue sheepishly stalked into the bedroom, staying as far away from the sleeping noble as possible as he waited for the remainder of the group to arrive through the window. Finally, the last one - Ned - made it through the window, and Vitiate once again led the group through the house's winding corridors to the dungeon below.


The group arrived in the main room of the house, avoiding the detection of the sparse roaming guards. Connery and his elite hunters were nowhere to be seen, likely searching for them elsewhere outside the home's walls. The black and white checkered floor was remarkably mesmerizing, likely polished daily by the "indentured servants," of the Lord Protector and his goons. Vitiate was all too familiar with the ways of Aragon.


"There," Vitiate said, pointing to an out of place spruce door on the side of the main staircase. "Do you reckon that door leads to the dungeons?" Cannon asked. Vitiate nodded. "It's out best bet. I don't exactly see any secret passageways of libraries in this place," he said. The rogue quickly made way towards the door, followed by his entourage.


"Not locked," Vitiate said as he approached the door. "Strange." Ignoring his intution, he pushed open the door and motioned for everyone to follow him inside to the dark rooms below. Indeed, the group had located the dank dungeons; it contained all of the normal atmospheric features of such a place, but it was strangely empty, as if emptied only moments ago.


"Come on, quickly. We need to find that portal before-" Vitiate was halted in the middle of his statement by a sudden low growl and a sudden purple flash emanating from the next room. Vitiate started to signal the others, but found that they had all already gathered around the obsidian portal, now quickly stirring to life as it sensed a mortal presence nearby.


"I guess this is what we're looking for," Ned said, awkwardly walking around the still-dazed Zoomer. "It appears so," Vitiate said, joining them. "But if we don't want to end up in a random cave thousands of miles from Nox, we'll need to configure it somehow," he explained, rubbing his chin in thought.


"Cannonwalker, stick your sword in there."


"What?"


"You heard me. Portals don't work off of anything tangible, but the best way to steer their cosmic controls is through requirement. Your sword is the closest thing we have to apples made of gold, so..."


Cannon nodded reluctantly, carefully placing in sword inside the wavy purple thread in the portal. Almost as soon as the portal met his sword, it began to tug on it, as if something on the other side began to pull as well. Within moments, the sword slipped out of Cannon's hands and into the other side.


"I suppose we don't have much of a choice now, then," Vitiate said, walking towards the portal. "STOP RIGHT THERE! STEP AWAY FROM THE PORTAL!" Captain Connery said as he entered the room.


"RUN!"


The five of them leapt into the portal, narrowly escaping Connery's blade. "Captain, shall we pursue?" an officer asked urgently. "No," he said. "Leave them to die themselves. No one enters that awful place and comes back alive. They will be their own doom," he concluded, stowing his sword.




Chapter 8 - Inferno

The first thing the group felt was fire, and shortly after that, terror. The portal had formed on the edge of a massive lake of fire, the sound flowing lava overbearing and accompanied by the shriek of a legion of Pigmen. Cannonwalker fell to his knees, the sensation hitting him the hardest after his previous experiences in the Nether. Vitiate, steeling himself from the darkness, pulled him to his feet and shook him back to consciousness.


The sight of the infernal realm was more unsettling than the thought of it. The symphony of a thousand souls screaming while lords of darkness played in rivers of blood was overbearing, driving all but one of the group to a temporary state of complete insanity. Vitiate dashed between them in attempt to restore their minds one by one, but it was a useless gesture - his mind was thoroughly protected, though the same could not be said about his allies. In the corner of his eye, six figures began to form; shadowy entities that reeked of death, faceless and nameless.


"We are the Lords of Penance. You have come to our realm, utterly unprepared. Tell me, you who would intrude on our perfect plane of existence - what are your names?"


The figures spoke in unison, though they sounded more numerous than just six reapers. Each distinct voice spoke as if thousands of more voices accompanied it, countless indentured souls obeying their masters' every command. "I see no reason to divulge my name to servants of The Dark Lord. Bring me your master and then we will speak," Vitiate said. In unison, the entities raised their cloaked hands and reached towards the rogue.


"We are no mere servants of the Orc fool. He has deceived us as he deceived so many before. Took our homes from us, drove us out... all under the protection of that Celestial fool, Herobrine. You will give us your name or we will pry it out from your gaping mouth."


"My name is Makrozoia. Thief in the shadows. Rogue of the night."


"Makrozioa... long life. We have heard your name before. And what of your cowering friends?"


"These people are Melampus, Stultus, Diuinator, and Percivil. We have been wronged by the Dark Lord. He has something of ours that we would like back."


The Lords of Penance showed no outward reaction, but Vitiate faintly heard the sound of communication. Not of any language he had heard before, but the sounds sounded distinct. If they weren't words directly, they must have been an incantation, or perhaps just the ambient cries of the Nether. The leftmost Lord nodded to the rightermost, and then returned their gaze to the rogue.


"We see the truth in your words. We will aid you in your quest to spoil the reign of the Dark One. We will give you safe passage into his city and guarantee your escape, but on one condition."


"And what condition is that?"


"We sense that you seek something from the Dark One. When you kill him - and you will kill him - we request that you retreive the amulet around his foul neck and return it to us. Do not wear it. Do not look directly into the gem inside. And most importantly, do not tell your friends of us. Simply return it to us when the time is right, and we will never speak again. Do we have a deal?"


Vitiate considered the offer for a moment and nodded. "We have an accord," he said, reaching out his cloaked hand to the figure in the center. The apparitions did approach him, but not in the way he had hoped - instead of shaking hands politely, they converged on him, their dark forms absorbing into his body seamlessly. He swore he could feel a bit colder...


The rogue returned his attention to his hysteric allies and continued to comfort them, and after a few healthy purges, the lot of them had returned to a stable state of mind. "You were out for about five minutes," Vitiate said. "Come on, we need to find Nox." Cannon darted his eyes back and forth in the magma cavern. "Where exactly are we going to find this lost city? It could be anywhere..."


To the side of the cave, the crusty and ancient Netherrack began to split open, revealing a dark path leading upwards to an unknown source of light. "Or there," Vitiate said, pointing to the clearing. Ned stumbled forward, only just regaining a clear state of mind, and began to head towards the cave, not offering a single word. The remainder of the group promptly followed him, unsure of what might lay ahead.


Gradually, the cave began to split open more dramatically, eventually becoming quite spacious as the light from above grew more apparent. "Quick, over here!" Vitiate said as he hid behind a natural wall just before the hole opened. "I can hear voices from above. I think we're close," he said, leaning to the side to get a better listen. Cannon nodded. "Not human voices either," he said. Ned quaked. "Orcs."


Vitiate took a few cautious steps toward the surface above, peering out to the scarred landscape. Strangely, it hardly seemed like the Nether anymore; no sign of the massive cave or any lava lakes. "I think... I think we're above the Nether," Vitiate said while keeping an eye above. Ned scoffed. "That's impossible. There is no 'above the Nether.' People have tried, but there's no way to get above that layer of bedrock," he said. Vitiate motioned for him to follow. "Then come take a look at this."


The rest of the group soon joined, lying on their stomachs and peering out to the ruined city before them. It was built almost entirely out of cracked stone and seemed close to total destruction, only a few buildings remaining amongst an entire region of destroyed buildings. Closest to them was the largest, a massive square temple with spiked sides, each corner producing an alien beam of red light into the dark sky. Such technology was completely beyond any of their understanding.


"I don't see any Orcs near here," Sam said. "Well, there's plenty. But it's almost as if we're invisible. How can they not see us?" he asked. Cannonwalker raised an eyebrow to Vitiate then returned to lookout. "We'll have to get moving fast," he said. "I suppose our best bet would be that temple there. It must be where The Dark Lord is hiding." Ned chimed in. "Hold on, why would The Dark Lord have them? Didn't Zoomer just give them to a random Orc back in the Overworld?" Vitiate shook his head. "All Orcs are part of their Lord's hivemind. They have no possessions. Their lives belong to Cenum," he said grimly.


Vitiate began to move, taking cover behind a cobblestone wall near the hole. Signaling that the coast was clear, the rest of the group followed, not daring to take a step out of order to avoid detection. Orcs were vicious warriors and infallible protectors. No man could stand against them without a severe number advantage.


The rogue was given pause. "The entrance to the temple is relatively sparsely guarded," he said in a worried tone. Ned shrugged. "Maybe we've caught The Dark Lord napping," he said. "Maybe it's a trap," Cannon added. "Do we really have a choice?" Sam asked rhetorically. The group momentarily turned to Zoomer for his two cents, almost forgetting that he'd been dazed for several days now. They'd have to take care of that eventually.


The group was on the move once again soon enough, approaching the massive temple and hiding on the side of the grand entrance's staircase. "Here goes nothing," Vitiate said, climbing over the wall and approaching the grand door, and, as expected, with no resistance. With haste, he pushed open the grand stone doors and stepped inside, revealing the grand interior; the entrance room was dotted with elegant statues of great and powerful Orcs, each one wielding a unique weapon. The walls were lined with red and black banners sporting strange arcane designs and Orc guardians stood on guard at every corner of the grand room, paying no attention to the intruders.


Finally, and most obviously, at the very back of the room was The Dark Lord's grand throne, slightly elevated from the temple's ground level by a set of wide stairs. The back wall was additionally lined with ornate display cases, exactly 5 on both sides of the throne. Of the ten, two of the display cases were completely empty of their contents. But the use for the display cases became obvious quite quickly, as in the remaining eight stands lay one Golden Apple each, gleaming with an intense purple aura and emanating an unnatural amount of power. Atop the grand throne was who Vitiate assumed the ruler of this ruined city was - Lord Cenum, The Dark Lord. Cannonwalker observed the Apples with equal fascination, but was stricken with unwavering anger the moment he met the gaze of The Dark Lord.


"YOU! IT WAS YOU THE WHOLE TIME? YOU'RE THE DARK LORD? I SHOULD KILL YOU, YOU BASTARD!"


Vitiate looked at Cannon in shock. "You know this person?" he asked suspiciously. Cannon nodded. "This slimy sack of coal-coke is Arcifex. He's been a thorn in all of our sides since we came to Kilran," he said, looking at the iron-clad figure on the throne with disdain. The realization quickly hit Ned as well. "Hey... that IS Arcifex! Or at least someone in his armor," he said. Sam gasped. "Someone kill him!" he exclaimed as Cannon drew his blade.


Arcifex laughed and clapped his hands as he made a slow descent form his throne. "My old friends, it truly is good to see you again," he said, removing his spiked helm. "I knew from the moment you sold one of my dear friends those Apples, I would see you again. And now, here you are, together at last. And you've brought a friend! Who might you be, friend?"


"My name is Vitiate. You have something of ours that we would sorely like back."


"Ours, you say? Forgive me, but I don't remember hearing anything about a man named Vitiate being part of the brave quartet that slayed The Wild Emperor all those nights ago..."


Arcifex grinned with smug satisfaction, delighted with himself that he'd been a step ahead of them the whole time. During the brief pause in conversation, however, something else caught his attention. Wrapped around his neck safely was the Amulet the Lords of Penance had told him about, gleaming brilliantly in stark contrast to the rest of his dark iron armor. The gem had an odd beauty to it; it shined an eerie purple and oozed a strange dark power that seemed to be the embodiment of chthonic power.


The Dark Lord looked curiously at Cannonwalker and the rest of the group. "Ah... you carry something else with you as well. Something dark. Something... ancient," he said with a wolfish grin. Now within feet of them, his eyes peered down to Cannon's blade, fascinated with its golden color and obvious immense power. "Oh, yes. The Blightsword. The slayer of legions. The favored blade of Herobrine, that is until it was so wrongfully taken from him."


Arcifex stalked around the group mischievously. "Herobrine was a good man, if he can be called a man. After serving under him for so long, it pained me ever so deeply when I heard that he'd been banished from this world," he said, clutching his chest melodramatically. "Oh, it almost brings a tear to my poor, poor eye. The only thing he left me... was this," Arcifex said, slowly and carefully drawing a great blade from his waist.


The room instantly felt colder and darker, as if all the warmth had been drained from it. Perplexed by the blade's power, Arcifex held it up triumphantly, revealing its shining golden cast. Like the Blightsword, the blade's base danced with enchanted power as if it could barely contain the immense energy stored within it. In shape, it was much more elegant than that of the Blightsword, appearing like a devilishly long katana with an obsidian handguard.


Time felt strangely warped as Arcifex drew closer with the blade, as if it had some sort of ability to warp the fabric of the realm. Its elegance and dark power was haunting. Arcifex smiled as he noticed the interest the group showed. "Remarkable, is it not? One of Herobrine's heirlooms, cconcealedfor centuries and uncovered just to bestow upon his greatest officer. Its repertoire grows, and most of its names would mean nothing to us - but most identify it as Invidere. I've always had a sneaking suspicion that somewhere out in the world, a twin of sorts existed, and for years I've researched the arcane properties of the blade looking for any sign of tangible energy. But the power of the Celestials is... intangible," he explained. "Please, tell me you've used that old artifact for more than just smashing people's heads in. It can do so much more, you know..."


Arcifex cackled wildly and aimed the blade at Zoomer, causing him to shake wildly for a moment and then levitate harmlessly up in the air, incapable of moving even an inch as time was slowed around him. He allowed the shock to sink in for a moment before releasing him, sending him to the ground, still dazed. "Hmm. You may want to get that.. checked out," Arcifex taunted.


The group moved back in fear of what else The Dark Lord may be able to do. Instead, he simply reached into his pocket and retrieved a single Golden Apple, gazing upon it for a moment before taking a quick bite out of it. Vitiate looked with disdain, prompting him to chuckle. "You want this, don't you, thief? This is why you came, is it not? To steal back your precious prizes and use them to restore your precious God? Ah, but you don't look like a man of Notch. No, you look like a man with your own goal. A very personal agenda," he said, chuckling as he took another bite.


Vitiate knew the tales of the Golden Apples all too well. Even one of them could make a man powerful beyond belief. If this was his second, he had no idea how powerful he might have become. "I know a great deal, thief," he said, drawing back a few steps. "You see, I have been fortifying. Preparing for what lies ahead. My minions watch over my city. They watch over my realm. My forces... are building. My army is laying in wait. I know what is to come. I know what is rising...


Death."


Vitiate drew his dagger and pointed it at Arcifex, poised to attack. Sam drew his enchanted bow in turn, knocking an arrow into place. Ned, freshly armed, drew a diamond and iron sword and aimed them both at the figure before him. Finally, they were joined by Cannonwalker, whose blade began to shake to life as it sensed its brother. The Dark Lord cackled once more and disappeared into a cloud of smoke and reappeared behind them just as quickly, launching a wave of dark energy at the group. Shaken by the blast, Zoomer joined in the battle as well, drawing a rapier that none of them realized he had been carrying. "Come! Embrace death!" Arcifex yelled, charging at the heroes.


Instantly, Arcifex locked blades with Cannonwalker, the Invidere and the Blightsword colliding with great force with the impact producing a wave of bright red sparks. Neither blade budged, causing Arcifex to fall back for a moment and expose himself to Sam's bow, all but one of the ensuing arrows missing him. The arrow met his chest, and although he gave a quick grunt, he didn't appear to be harmed. Ned charged in, first striking with his iron sword and blocking the parry with his diamond, saved from the death blow only by Zoomer's intervention. The two of them engaged in open combat for a few moments, their blades repeatedly crashing together in a flurry of strikes before the Invidere sliced clean through Zoomer's repair, cutting it in half and stumbling Zoomer back with a wave of blazing hot sparks that singed his arm.


Vitiate leapt behind him and attempting to stab Arcifex in the back, the latter narrowly blocking his attacker's dagger strikes with the Invidere's unrelenting protection. Not wishing to foolishly clash blades with his target, Vitiate dashed to his side and struck him with lightning fast speed and repeated the process for several moments with each strike coming centimeters closer to meeting Arcifex's stomach. When the rogue's dagger inevitably met the side of his stomach, he was hardly able to scream in pain before yet another arrow met his backside, opening him up for another one of Cannon's enchanted blows.


The Blightsword sliced across his lower chest, causing him to temporarily burst into flames before being extinguished, now seething with anger. Cannon charged in again, his blows quickly dodged by Arcifex before raising his blade to send him hopelessly into the air, allowing him to return his attention to Sam. Quickly, he attempted to knock another arrow, but Arcifex performed an open slash that only just met the center of the bow, instantly disintegrating it into flames and washing away all of its enchantments.


Sam darted to the edge of the room and hid behind one of the grand pillars. Attempting to finish him off, Arcifex sprinted after him only to have a piece of sharp metal lodged in his back - a throwing knife, produced from Vitiate's utility belt. The anger caused him to lose focus, lifting the curse on Cannonwalker and allowing him to walk on his own two legs once more.


The rogue sprinted at Arcifex even quicker, throwing another series of knives at him and chinking his armor with each hit. The Dark Lord swung around and slashed at Vitiate, who elegantly ducked just below the blade and slid to safety behind another pillar. Arcifex grunted then began laughing again, carelessly removing each thrown knife from his armor. "You think you can kill ME? A GOD? I HAVE THE POWER OF A CELESTIAL IN MY HANDS, BOY! AND I WILL SLAY YOU JUST AS I SLAYED SO MANY OTHERS!" he yelled.


Cannon, quick as he was, could not run to the other side of the room quick enough to stop the attack. He didn't have a bow, and Zoomer was still reeling in pain from the fiery blow. He had to think of something...


Please, tell me you've used that old artifact for more than just smashing heads in. It can do so much more, you know...


Without thinking, Cannon aimed the Blightsword directly at Arcifex and allowed its darkness to consume him, and in turn, empower the blade. For a mere moment, it shined like Invidere did, and just as the blade began to sizzle with heat, an overwhelming flash of light appeared in the other end of the room directly on top of his target, smashing several pillars to pieces and blowing a large hole in the roof. As it happened, the blade was good for more than just headsmashing... the very blade held the power of the Gods. Lightning.


Arcifex fell to his knees and dropped the shining golden blade, emanating waves of gray smoke, his armor completely melted. "What... sorcery... is THIS?!" he wailed. As the others looked in awe, Vitiate ran from behind the crumbling pillar and snatched up the blade, slicing Arcifex through the chest and quickly throwing a knife at his throat for good measure. His face filled with shock, and then was wiped of any expression at all. The Dark Lord fell to the ground, the stink of death coming off of him. He had been utterly eradicated.


The temple began to shake, the massive damage done to it causing it to finally buckle over after standing for thousands of years. "The temple is coming apart... we have to grab the apples and leave, quickly!" Vitiate exclaimed as he stowed the Invidere away, running towards the display pedestals on the other side of the room. Each person grabbed their share and stowed them away quickly before making a run for the exit. A stray piece of debris fell from the ceiling and nearly crushed Zoomer, prompting Cannon to push him out of the way and quickly helped him up. The five of them leapt from the exit in the nick of time as the entirety of it came down, collapsing on itself. The beacons atop the temple faded as their inner workings were destroyed. Nox had fallen.


The group expected resistance from the Orcs, but found none. Instead, the few of them outside the temple simply stared in awe as it collapsed, never moving, never blinking. As the group walked directly in front of them, they paid them no attention, their minds seemingly destroyed. Of course - Arcifex had been controlling their individuality, nay, their entire thought process. There was nothing left of them now.


"What's our exit route again?" Ned asked.


"The same way we got out."


Chapter 9 - Fall

"Death comes once, but we expect it all of our life. The fear of death is worse than death itself."

The five heroes made their way out of the city cautiously, looking behind their backs every moments to check for danger even when they knew there was none. The Nether had a strange way of altering one's mind. That much seemed apparent to Vitiate after all this time.


"You four keep going. I'll stand lookout and catch up when it's clear."


"If you insist..."


Vitiate did as he promised, keeping a whether out on the red horizon and remaining completely still before he knew the others were long gone. As the path closed behind them, he only hoped that, when his dealings were complete, it would open back up for him. The rogue set to work, clearing away a pile of crushed stone at a clearing near the hole they'd used to enter the city and gently placed down the gleaming amulet. He waited there patiently for a few moments until the first sign of darkness began to creep back up on him.


"We meet again, and we smell the aroma of freshly spilt blood on you. We have upheld our part of the bargain. Now, you must fulfill yours."


"That was the deal, was it not?"


Vitiate grabbed the amulet and presented it to the centermost figure, standing completely still as he reached out to them. After a moment of careful consideration, the middle figure crept forward and took the amulet from him, his cold black skin momentarily touching the rogue's hand and sending a shiver up his spine. The figure inspected it closely for a moment, nodded, and then stepped back.


"We are most grateful for your assistance."


"The pleasure was all mine. I suppose you'll be opening back up this path for me, as promised?"


"Of course. We are... men of our word, as it were. We hope to hear of your exploits soon... Makrozioa."


Though their faces were completely cloaked, Vitiate swore he could make out a sinister grin on one of their faces just before they vanished into puffs of black smoke just as they had entered. Unsettling. Perhaps it would have been best had he not given them that name in particular. The path leading into the ground behind him split open once more, the sound of the Netherrack moving apart extremely distinct and cringe-inducing.


"There you are," Cannon said as Vitiate joined the group. "We were starting to think you'd left us behind." The rogue nodded as the group began to move once more through the winding tunnels of the Nether, hoping to find their home portal before it was too late. Cannon retraced his steps as best he could, leading the group fairly confidently through a defined cave route. After a few minutes of traveling, he nearly hit his head on cave wall, reaching a dead end.


"I don't understand... it was definitely this way. Where did the portal go?" Cannon asked. "Let's split up," Ned suggested. "There's plenty of paths around here. Maybe we just took a wrong turn," he said. Just as they began to part ways, however, a new path became clear; to their left was an open room that seemed to just materialize in the cave. In the center of the mysterious was room was a Nether Portal, seemingly just lit moments ago and glowing a fresh magenta.


"Cannon, was this where we came in from?" Ned asked. Cannon rubbed his eyes in surprise. "I suppose... it must have been. Just my mind playing tricks on me," he said decisively. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Vitiate heard the faint sound of the Lords of Penance cackling. He hoped they weren't lying when they said that would be the last time they spoke.


"I wonder if it'll lead us directly back to the dungeons," Sam said. "It's better there than here. We have no choice. Besides, this place creeps me out..." Ned said while looking around the cavern. "Let's go then," Cannon said, leaping into the portal foot first. Ned followed, then Sam, then Vitiate, and finally Zoomer. The sensation of leaping into a Portal was familiar to Vitiate, though each time he did it it seemed to throw some new twist at him, never allowing him to prepare for it thoroughly. This time was no different.


The initial polarity and gravity shift was overbearing, the dim light of the Nether seeming to be flooded with a ray of sunlight as if a hole had opened up through the ceiling, not only eradicating the shadows but also healing the cracks of the Netherrack and replacing its texture with grass. The lava that flowed within the cavern's walls began to lose its heat, replaced by pristine flowing water from the ocean. Regaining his senses, the landscape had gone from the Nether's eerie red glow to the sandy shored of a beach.


The ocean's tide dampened the inner sand and quickly retreated, repeating the process eternally every few seconds. Looking at his surroundings and past the vomiting fool around him, Vitiate could make out that they had washed up on some kind of atoll with no exit portal in sight. The beach formed a nearly perfect ring around a body of water in the center, the stagnant body a few mere shades darker than its relatives in the open ocean around it. This atoll didn't seem to be the only island in close proximity; an entire archipelago was in close range with the atoll in the dead center of it.


Sam coughed up a bit of saltwater and struggled to make his statement. "Where... where are we?" he asked. No one had an answer - at least no one he expected to. "We're west of Pelgram... on the outskirts of Kilran," Zoomer said with a blank stare into the horizon. "The dwelling of the Oceanics." Vitiate threw back his cowl and raised an eyebrow. "If this is true, we're nearly there. Maybe a three day walk to the south, back to the mainland, and we'll be leaving the Kilran continent and coming close to The Ancient Empire, former territory of Notch," Vitiate said with a short pause. "He inherited it." Sam coughed. "He inherited it? From who?" he asked. Vitiate chuckled. "Just trying to lighten the mood. The only problem is that, well, we're on an island. If we don't find a way south, we'll dehydrate within days."


"Hey you! Out there! Yeah, you! Are you slaves?"


The group turned like clockwork to the source of the noise and set their gaze upon a single man, waving his arms about wildly on a small raft-like boat. "I mean, not that I have anything against slaves... there's just a lot around here, you know?" The man landed the boat crudely on the atoll shore and walked toward the group. He was dressed in garb only a few steps up from rags, likely a sign of his lower class. His most distinctive feature was his tanned skin, not unlike Zoomer's complexion. So he was right...


"Are you fugitives?" the man asked. Vitiate drew a hidden dagger from his belt and help it up to his throat. "Your name. Now!" he demanded. The man threw his hands up in surrender. "I'm Servus. I'm just a fisherman but uh... I don't have a lot of fish. Never did. I'm from Vicis, down south. Just looking to earn a living wage. I'm no slave hunter, but uh, even if I was, you look like nice folk, so I'd let you go," he said.


Vitiate pulled back. "We're not slaves. Just travelers. We're looking to go to... Vicis. Can you take us there?" he asked. Servus shrugged. "If you don't mind the tight space, sure. I was about to head in anyhow. So how'd you end up on this island?"


"Our boat crashed," Ned lied.


"Where's the flotsam?"


"In the ocean."


Servus glanced towards the coast and shrugged, returning to the group. "If you say so. Let's get a move on before it gets too dark. We don't get storms much, but visibility is a sailor's best friend," he said proudly, motioning for them to follow him back to his crude boat.


Two hours later...


After a little too much smalltalk for their liking, the coast of a small settlement began to loom on the horizon, lit up by a system of tiki torches, each with a distinct color scheme. The island town was situated right on the coast, dozens of piers extending out into the ocean from the safety of the growing tides. As the sun began to set, the sky glowed a brilliant orange. Vitiate knew the beauty could fade into chaos in a matter of moments - he was glad they had the tide on their trip.


"Welcome to Vicis," Servus said as the boat washed up on the beach. Just as he began to speak, another buff man came into view, briskly walking out from the inner town. "Servus, you useless git! You're six hours late, where have you been? Do you have my fish? And who are these people? Slaves? You've been specifically instructed not to speak with your kind!" he boomed.


Servus shook his head. "No, sir. They're wandering travelers, looking to purchase some slaves from our glorious market! Perhaps they would even like to... purchase me?" he said, looking to the group with an exaggerated smile. The five of them shook their heads in rejection and walked off into the town, prompting a heavy sigh from Servus. The foreman rolled his eyes. "When are you going to pay your debt to me, Servus? We've been at this for years..."


The sound of their conversation faded as the group made their way into town. Upon closer inspection, it seemed to be built on a sort of sandy arm extending from the green mainland to the south - a light jungle that gradually faded into a river forest. The island to the south seemed almost completely untouched, and signs around the town warned travelers not to enter it for fear of a dark force residing in it. Inconvenient.


The group reached the town center - the "market," they'd heard so much about. Vitiate had an inkling about what might be sold at this market, though he was hoping it was not the truth. Cages lined the entire town center, each one of them filled with tan skinned slaves dressed in little to nothing. An obnoxiously loud auctioneer stood on top of one of the cages, advertising different slaves to each traveler who passed by. It was an unsettling sight.


He began to realize that he was not the only one who shared the view. Zoomer looked in abject horror at each individual slave, his mouth gaping wide open with shock. His dazed expression immediately shifted to one of anger, and a distinct snapping noise could be heard within all of their heads. He grabbed his half-broken rapier from his belt and began to wave it at the group, sending them all into a panicked state. Other bystanders gasped in terror and began to flee the scene.


"ZOOMER, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" Cannon exclaimed. He offered no response, only waving his sharp blade ever closer to Cannon's throat. Vitiate drew his dagger and poised to strike. "NO, DON'T!" Cannon yelled at him. "Don't kill him! We need to wake him up!" he pled. "And how exactly do you plan to do that!?" the rogue asked, dodging a blow from Zoomer.


The group continued to fend him off, desperately avoiding making any sort of offensive attacks. Suddenly, a pair of town guards appeared, each of them brandishing bows drawn back and prepared to fire. "NO!" Cannon yelled, aiming the Blightsword directly at them and calling down a bolt of lightning on their heads. In unison, the guards fell to their knees, most of their body parts disintegrating into soft ash as they fell. Cannon looked back to Zoomer, but only saw the outline of an armed figure running off into the distance toward another outer island. He began to sprint after him, only to be stopped by Vitiate.


"What are you doing?"


"Going after my friend, what are you doing?"


"Trying to stop a man from killing himself! I'm sorry about your friend, but he's gone. I've seen people go feral before, and that's exactly what he's done. We need to move on. We have a mission to complete. If we get out alive, we can go look for him, but for now, we need to finish this. We're so close."


Cannon looked off into the distance and reluctantly started walking back toward the town, offering no response to the rogue. He knew he had a mission to fulfill, but what would it matter if he lost a friend? "We need to get to Thel Olihim, quickly. We have everything we need. All that's left is the remainder of the walk. Or, in this case... run," he said, pointing to the growing number of angry guards. Before joining the group, Sam snatched a bow and quiver of arrows from one of the fallen guards as a replacement for his destroyed weapon.


The site of Thel Olihim loomed in the distance. Vitiate was right - they were close, and they could all feel it. But would it truly be the end of their journey?


Chapter 10 - Ascendance

"The tragedy of life is not death, but what died inside of us while we lived."

As night fell, the all-too familiar song of the night began to play once again, though this time the usual cries of the creatures of the night were accompanied by an old friend of the group. The bluebird laughed and chirped at them once again, invisible to their all too naked eyes and relentless in its mockery. Sam turned his head every few moments to search in vain for the bird, knowing all too well that he would never be able to be able to spot it.


The group, now traveling through the dense and pitch black jungle, drew closer to the site of their destination with every step. Something ancient began to resonate through the air, almost perfectly mimicking something similar to a speech pattern, at least they hoped it was mere imitation. The only source of light was the gleaming night sky, filled to the brim with countless stars billions of miles away from their reach. Some of them laughed, one cried... and most were silent.


"We need to make some headway. If it gets much darker we may have to turn back," Vitiate said, drawing his dagger to cut away a piece of overgrowth in his path. "I'm starting to feel like we should turn back regardless," Ned said, cautiously wielding both blades. "Something's wrong. I feel... strange. Like something is trying to talk to me," he said, looking back over his shoulder. "It's the call of the Gods," Vitiate said. "Ignore it and it can't hurt you."


Finally, a light seemed to begin to form at the end of the tunnel as the lush jungle began to clear and transform into a slightly mountainous landscape dotted with forests. If the jungle was strange, the forest was downright eerie, as echoes of the dead began to speak to them in slurred tongue and vague incantations. And surely it had to be the dead - the whisperings were desperate, as if trapped in a cage somewhere in the cosmos that they had been bound in for hundreds of years. No distinct words could be made out among them, only the unmistakable sound of suffering.


Finally, the jungle had completely faded from view, now only a distant humid memory in the distance. Surrounding them now was the sensation of maggots nibbling at their skin, as if millions of tiny bugs were falling on their heads as they passed under the dark forest. "Look, there's a hill there," Vitiate said, pointing to a break in the dense forest to the left. "Let's see if we can get a better view of the area."


The four of them climbed to the top of the grassy hill whose peak just barely rose above the almost perfectly flat roof of the forest. "I don't see anything for miles," Sam said. Ned nodded. "Have you led us the right place? This just looks like... wilderness," he said, looking to Vitiate. "There. To the west," he said, nodding to a small clearing next to two twin mountains that stretched high into the sky. Something could just barely be made out there, perhaps a kilometer or two in the distance; an out of place whitish color and what looked a splotch of red and a small golden gem. "That just looks like an abandoned camp," Ned said. "Probably abandoned a long time ago." Cannon shook his head, joining the group. "I can feel it too. It's calling. That's the source. That's what we're looking for," he said. Vitiate nodded. "Get the Apples ready."


Sooner than any of them could have anticipated, the group found themselves arriving at the tiny clearing before two great mountains, in a valley-shaped passing slightly below the rest of the forest. Vitiate rushed to the center of the clearing - there it was. The ancient device built hundreds of years ago, before the rise of humanity. Sam joined him soon after. "What is this place? It looks like it's been here a long time," he said, observing the surroundings. "This is Thel Olihim, or at least what remains of it. A great marble city built by a being higher than any other mortal. Father of many and Son of none. A Celestial, much like Notch and Herobrine," Vitiate explained, drawing closer to the device.


The device itself was circular in shape, about five blocks wide and made entirely of quartz. In the center of the device, a beacon-like object made of solid gold lying in wait. The device was protected from the harsh cold grass below by a red carpet, spread carefully across the ground, now stained by centuries of wear and tear. The beacon in the center began to glow to life as Cannon and Ned approached with the eight remaining Apples, each of them carrying four safely in their pockets.


"This is it," Vitiate said. "What we set out on this journey to do. All that remains is ritual," he said, turning to the rest of the group and reaching out one hand. "The Apples. Let's finish this." Ned and Cannonwalker nodded and handed him the Apples, each of which he set down carefully near the beacon until he held only one in his hand.


"One of the last remaining relics of the old days, long before your kind arrived in Kilran. An heirloom of the Grandfather of Notch and Herobrine. They were his finest creation, created specially to maintain the health of someone he loved so dearly until they were stolen from him. There used to be hundreds, but these eight are all that we could possibly find without going to... other places, as it were. The only hope Notch has to return."


"Sounds great," Ned said. "Let's get this over with until it's too late." Vitiate threw back his cowl and managed a small smile. "I always knew you were destined for greatness," he said, holding the Apple at his side. "You did your job, and for that I am grateful. But once something's use has run out, it must be... cast out.  And I no longer have any use for you," he said grimly, re-covering his face with his cloak.


For a mere moment a rustling in the forest behind him could be heard before a dark figure emerged from the shadows and lunged at the group with a half broken sword. Zoomer, enraged beyond belief, leapt ferociously at Cannon, prompting him to block the blow with his Blightsword. "Zoomer... WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! SNAP OUT OF IT!" he yelled. Vitiate chuckled. "The potency of the possession really depends on the willingness of the giver, though one with sufficient enough power may gain control quite freely."


Zoomer slashed at Cannon once again, only barely being held back by his defenses through his savage flurry. Ned, both swords in hand, rushed to Cannon's side and kicked Zoomer in the stomach, sending him to the ground temporarily, snarling at them like a mad dog. "Mental and emotional trauma can prove to be inconvenient, though they will ultimately be easier to break once they have broken themselves," Vitiate said as he placed one hand on to the Beacon.


The device began to spin to life, emanating a blinding yellow beam from its core up into the sky with a low hum. "Vitiate, you snake! We trusted you!" Ned exclaimed, blocking a strike from Zoomer. "Yes, I'm sure you did," he said as the Apples began to brilliantly glow to life. "And please, don't use that poor excuse for that name any more. I've never liked it."


Zoomer continued his rampage as the ritual began behind them. "Miss me?!" he asked with gritted teeth. "Zoomer, wake up! He's controlling you! Don't give in!" Cannon pleaded. The possessed Oceanic only offered a sinister cackling as a response, his eyes flashing crimson red for a moment. Behind them, the spinning quartz device began to slow in speed and the beam's color faded. The device had done its job, the eight Apples now glowing brightly before it.


The rogue grabbed the first of them and bit into it, his eyes instantly beginning to glow gold from beneath his cloak. In a few moments, the first Apple had been consumed, and Vitiate already began to pulsate with dark power. Cannonwalker, noticing the events past Zoomer, sprinted toward the rogue with great speed, prompting him to unsheath the Invidere and point it at Zoomer, causing him to levitate up into the air.


"Drop your weapons, all of you - or I kill him," he said calmly, taking the last bite out of the second Apple. Curiously, the blade in his hand began to lose its brilliant golden glow, instead fading into a gray color and now emanating a strange blue and black glow. "Ah, I was hoping it would do that soon enough," Vitiate said, gazing upon the blade. "The weapon recognizes its forger like a baby boy its father." Cannonwalker stopped dead in his tracks, aiming the Blightsword at the rogue for a moment before reluctantly dropping it on the group, a process Ned imitated, and shortly after, Sam with his bow.


Vitiate cackled as he finished the fifth Apple. "Amazing how quickly one can gobble these down. They're not like common Apples - the food of the Gods was always quite appetizing," he said as he lowered the Invidere and released his captive. Zoomer, still under his control, walked obediently towards his master and dropped his damaged blade. "The deed is done, my master," he said, bowing before him. Vitiate nodded. "And the deed has been executed quite nicely. Thank you for your services," he said as he finished the sixth Apple. Abruptly, Vitiate raised the Invidere high into the air and brought it down on Zoomer's head, slicing his head clean off. "I will be forever in debt to you, friend," he said with a cackle.


"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"


Cannonwalker grabbed the Blightsword from the ground and charged at Vitiate as he ate the seventh Apple, only to strike wildly at thin air as his target evaporated into a dark cloud. "These blades have always had the power to slay Gods. Mortals should be just as easy to exterminate," he said, appearing several feet behind Cannonwalker as he gobbled down the final Apple. Cannon charged once again, though this time Vitiate began to fly lazily up into the air, Invidere in hand as he looked upon the three remaining heroes with glee. Sam quickly fired an arrow towards the flying figure, though the projectile simply stopped dead in the air a few feet from Vitiate and fell to the ground. "You don't be needing those," he said as Sam's back abruptly caught fire, burning the remaining arrows to a crisp.


"Why'd you do it, Vitiate? You brought us all this way just so you could take the Apples for yourself?" Cannon asked.


"My dear child, are you really that dense? Of course not. I brought you all this way so I could take the Apples for all of us. Stay a while and listen."


The cloaked figure floated overhead, gray Invidere in hand, a smug look upon his barely visible mouth. "My story is legend. I was born Makrozoia, a Celestial - a God - but while I possessed much internal power, I could never manifest storms like my Father, or cause the ground to shake like my Mother. Despite this, with my influence I waged countless wars, and through the help of my followers I was able to transcend death much like my relatives.Taking the form of a burly Mountain Man in your world, I slew millions. For centuries, I ruled Kilran with the aid of my late father's famed Golden Apples, but the desire to be more loomed inside me every moment.


Try as I may, I could not become truly Godlike. As the years dragged on I soon knew that I would eventually require an heir. Notch and Herobrine were born days apart, both equally talented but driven by different internal desires. It only took a few days for me to realize that they had been born special. As they grew into young men, tales of their powers spread across the land. Every mortal feared or loved them. Envy began to gnaw at the lining of my sanity. How would you feel if you, born from two infallible Gods, could never manifest your own powers, and one day you gave birth to two children with greater abilities than you could ever muster?


They were my champions for centuries, but they knew that in the end, only one could survive and take my place when I finally died. But they had other plans. Together, they turned my armies against me and slew me, disbanding my Empire in its entirety days later. As my spirit roamed across the land, they lived in harmony for some time, but as the years went by they, too, began to grow apart. Friendship devolved in rivalry, and soon my two sons engaged in a Hundred Year War of darkness. Their constant feuds fueled my hunger for return. I lingered in the Void for years, taking centuries to gather enough strength to manifest once more. And now, I stand before you, no longer powerless, but in fact a God."


Cannonwalker watched his every move, blade in hand as he watched him float lazily around. "You're wrong. You may have the Apples, but even with those you aren't invincible. You've been slain before and you can be slain again," he said.


"Do you really believe that, after all this time? I've studied you for years, followed your every move. Ever since I heard your names, I knew that you were destined for greatness. No mortal can truly slay a God. So how is it, in fact, that you were able to defeat my son? You are descended from our kind, that much is obvious. I've spoken with your ancestors - most of them I killed like so many others. I may not have been able to topple Empires with my bare hands, but perhaps I could use my unique powers to sabotage that of other Immortals. I drained legions of them to become powerful, just as I have with you.


You may not be Gods yourselves, but you have just enough of their blood running through your veins to make me powerful. And with the help of my foolish Father's Apples, I can be so much more than a mere God. I will be the first Titan. I will be The Mad King of Kilran once more. Once I have extinguished all of the remaining Gods, there will finally be peace. The Great Titan will rule Kilran with a fair hand and there will be no foolish Gods to intervene on my Order and introduce Chaos once again."


Ned ran to Cannon's side. "Enough of your lies. God or not, nothing is invincible. You won't get your way as long as we're alive," he said. Sam joined the group as well. "Ned's right. We've got your back, Cannon!" Makrozoia cackled from above and swooped overhead, landing on a tree beside the device.


"My name means long life. I've endured for over 700 years. I've watched Empires rise and fall, including my own. Now the world will live in peace once again, as it did so many years ago in the name of The Mad King. Oh, how I miss that title. At least I have this on my side..."


The Mad King rose the Invidere high up into the air, shining a flash of dull white light into the sky and stumbling the group. When the opened their eyes once more, he seemed to have grown a pair of golden wings, shining brilliantly in the night. With another sinister laugh, Makrozoia disappeared in a puff of smoke and reappeared a mere few blocks away from the group, poised to strike.


Before the group could move in, Makrozoia launched up into the air once again and flew behind the group. Sam turned the quickest - the last thing he saw was a dark figure swooping down from the heavens before the Invidere cut clean through his chest, slicing him in half and causing his body parts to flop helplessly to the ground. Before he could react, Ned dropped his twin iron blades to the ground and fell to his knees, his stomach bleeding profusely. The last one alive, Cannon darted his head back and forth searching for any sign of his assailant, only to feel the cold sting of the Invidere a mere moment after Ned met his demise.


"I hope you enjoyed your aaccommodations Thanks for playing my little game."


Cannonwalker fell on to his back, bleeding from countless locations across his body as the world around him began to fade. To his side, his fallen friends lay dead on the ground, puddles of blood consuming the entire area. Makrozoia began to reform to his side with a puff of black smoke, carefully picking up the Blightsword. Like the Invidere, it too began to glow a deathly blue and gray. All Cannon wished to do before he died was to send one final curse his killer's way, but before the words could escape his tongue, death had embraced him coldly.


The four of them lay dead on the cold grass, their killer now long gone.


Chapter 11 - Afterlife

"Do not pity the dead. Pity the living."

The first thing Cannonwalker felt when he died was not pain - but oblivion. Like darkness in its purest form, as he tried in vain to look around him for any clue as to where he was, his gaze was only returned in kind by the blank and icy stare of the void. Soon, another sensation began to consume him - vertigo. The moment he became aware of his surroundings, he began to feel as if they were slipping away. He was falling, gaining speed every moment as the updraft pressed against his skin, peeling it back to the point of stinging. From some unknown source, Cannon could hear the faint sound of a group of voices resonating.


"He trusts too much. And now he's gotten his friends killed... like so many times before."


"Agreed. He should just give up now. It would spare him the trouble."


"He isn't worth it."


"But what fun would that be? No, we have a task to keep. Most importantly, we'd get to see it all happen."


"Oh, very well. I suppose he's had enough suffering for now. Let him rest before it starts up again."


"There is no rest..."


The void around him began to split apart as the speed of his descent sped up tenfold. The darkness began to tear itself apart, revealing a vivid layer of light from within. At the height of his descent - easily thousands of blocks a second - it suddenly ground to a halt, and though he expected his legs to be completely crushed the moment he hit the ground, he felt no pain, only apprehension in a haze of confusion.


Cannonwalker rose to his feet and pressed his hand up against the glass cage he had been imprisoned in, unable to see an inch past it as the outside seemed to be filled with mystic fog. The glass box was only two blocks in height and slightly less than a block wide. Claustrophobia began to press down on him as he banged both hands against the glass, desperately shouting his friends' names to no avail. The only thing he felt for several minutes was fear. Had he truly led his friends to their death? Was he to blame?


Cannon pressed up against the back of the cage. Strange - the backside was made of obsidian. Great, the box was situated on an obsidian wall. Now his hopes for escape were even slimmer. That is, of course, until the glass began to disappear, prompting him to instantly leap out from his cage and desperately gasp for the air. Dazed, it took him a moment to realize that someone had been speaking to him from afar.


"I apologize for the poor accommodations. I had to be sure you would all arrive at the correct spot and could not release you until I was sure you were the four people I was looking for. I had limited time, you see."


Cannon gasped once more and rapidly darted his head back and forth, making out a group of figures within the massive dark room. "S-Sam!" he said, looking to his left. Three more cages, identical to his own, lined the side of the room, each one emptied of their contents. "Cannon! Is that you?!" the man next to him called back. "Who's there?! Vitiate, you snake! Where've you gone!" another voice said from the end of the room. The mist around them began to clear, revealing that the room was made entirely of obsidian aside from the four devices.


"Ned, it's us!"


"Who is us?"


"US!"


"OH!"


Sam rose from his crouching position and walked towards Cannon, quickly joined by Ned. All of them were completely unarmed, only wearing the clothes they had been sporting at the time of their deaths. "How are we here?" Sam asked. "I thought we were..." he trailed off. "Dead?" asked a fourth voice from the other side of the room. "Yes, you were. Technically, you still are. But in all my years of being dead, I've found that death is only the beginning of a truly great and therefore terrible journey," he continued, holding his hands behind his back. The man seemed fairly old, dark gray hair covered by a golden laurel wreath atop his head. His clothes were completely white spare an extravagant jewel around his neck. One of his eyes was white, and the other a light red.


"You... are you... him? Vitiate?" Ned asked. The man shook his head calmly. "My father will be far from here by now. Vitiate, is it? He's been called many things in the past. Though I suspect that soon he will reclaim the name of Makrozoia. A pity," he said, head slightly lowered in shame. "You're Notch, aren't you?" Cannon asked, walking closer to him, prompting a subtle nod. "But Herobrine killed you years ago. Are we all..." Notch smiled. "You begin to understand. Before you ask, no, we are not in Heaven. We are a place far from there, but equally far from the Overworld and the Nether as well. This is where Celestials go to die. I've been trapped in here longer than I care to remember, imprisoned here by my brother. It took almost all the energy I had left to bring you here with me, but I believe it was worth it," he explained.


"I don't understand," Ned said. "If you haven't been able to get out, what good will bringing us here do?" he asked. "This prison was designed to hold Immortals, not mortals. If it senses that someone has been wrongfully brought here, it will release its contents. By now, my brother will likely have caught on to that concept, though I've been here a century or two longer than he. I had a.... head start, so to say," Notch said with a chuckle.


The God looked at them expectantly. "Well, give it a whirl, then! Walk over to the wall. With any luck, we'll be out of here in no time," he said, motioning to the northernmost wall of the prison. Cannon obeyed, walking briskly over the wall. After a moment of concentrating, something within the inner workings of the prison began to shake, as if his presence disturbed them. Sam joined him, followed by Ned, and within moments the entire box began to shake to life. The wall shattered into millions of pieces, and the prison instantly spat all four of them out, sending them all flat on their faces to the cold and harsh End Stone ground. Cannon spat out a host of yellow pebbles and looked back at the prison's interior. It had been smaller than he realized, but something else caught his attention. "Wait... where's Zoomer? Notch?" he asked, looking to the God.


As if on cue, another figure began to cough their heart out next to Cannon, concealed by a cloud of dust. Cannon rushed to his side and helped him to his feet. "That was NOT the way I wanted to go," Zoomer said with a grin, looking to the rest of the group. "It's good to have you back, Zoom," Ned said as he approached them. For the first time in longer than they wanted to admit, the four of them felt happy.


Notch coughed from behind the group. "I hate to interrupt the reunion, but we have business to attend to," he said. Cannon nodded and returned to attention. "You brought us here, so I'm guessing you have a way out," Cannon said. Notch nodded. "Yes, of course there is a way out. I suspect it would be quite simple, in fact. But if we were to simple waltz out of here utterly unprepared, we would gain nothing but a second chance at failing miserably. Before we leave, we'll need a few things. First, a weapon. Second, an old friend," he said, looking out into the horizon of the End. Cannon realized that there must be hundreds of obsidian prisons scattered amongst the landscape, each one holding an Immortal. The realization hit him rudely.


"No," Cannon said. "No way. Not a chance in the Nether. Not an option," he said, arms crossed. Notch sighed. "It's not in my best interest, either. But he's our only chance to stand against The Mad King. We need him," he said. Ned coughed. "Who exactly are we talking about?" he asked. Cannon rolled his eyes. "Our friend Notch here wants to revive his brother to help in the final battle against The Mad King."


"NO. NO WAY, NOT A CHANCE IN THE NETHER!" Ned exclaimed.


"See what I mean?" Cannon said. Sam shook his head. "I think we should do it. Even if he'll probably try to kill us afterwards, better he kill us than him... again," he said. Notch nodded. "You need not worry about him. Last time, Herobrine had a bit of an unfair advanatage. I'm confident that, if the need shall arise, I will be able to defeat him," he said.


"Ahem," Zoomer said from the back. "With all due respect, is it really in our best interest to trust another stranger, after all this time?" he asked. "I've been here for too long, Zoomer," Notch said. "Herobrine admired our father's sinister ways too much for his own good. He twisted him, turned him into a clone of himself. Ever since he died, he's been growing into the man our father was. I don't blame my brother. I blame my father. As we speak, he'll be traveling to the four corners of the world, even outside of Kilran to reclaim his old wicked followers and convince them to rejoin his cause. His power is growing every moment. Without the help of not just my brother, but all four of you as well... I don't think the world will survive my father's reign a second time."


Zoomer clenched his fist in anger and nodded. "I have a score to settle. I'm gonna wear him like a skinsuit."


Chapter 12 - Dirty Wings

The five of them set out on their journey through the dark world, more than an uncomfortable fraction of them noticeably opposed to the notion of their goal. Ahead of them was the God Notch, leisurely leading them far and wide across the resting place of thousands of Gods to an unknown destination. Among them, an eerie mixture of hopefulness and emptiness occupied their minds as they traveled. Cannonwalker was the first to break the silence.


"You mentioned a weapon, Notch."


"Indeed, that is what we must retrieve first. It is an ancient weapon forged by my grandmother thousands of years ago. The Talon Cutter, she named it. Intended to end the rampage of The Winged Leviathan that once terrorized Kilran, it ended the reign of many other beasts during its years of service to her as well. But it is also a tool. Should her love ever die and be sent to this dimension, its second use would be to act as a sort of key to free fallen Gods from their obsidian prisons. When her love did fall at the hands of my father, she could never use it before she was ruthlessly killed in his rampage as well."


"So where is the weapon now?"


"My father stashed it away centuries ago, not far from his seat of power. In her dying breaths, my grandmother charmed it so he could never wield it. In response, he hid it away in a secure fortress. If he could not use it, no one could. I intend to relieve him of the burden of holding it so we may use it to free my brother, and perhaps use it to our advantage in the future."


"And... what will happen to it once its purpose is fulfilled?"


"It cannot be allowed to exist past that very moment. It must be destroyed, lest it fall into the hands of evil once again. To keep it would be to court death."


Cannonwalker considered the words carefully before returning to attention, focusing his eyes on the dark horizon of the End once more. "Near his seat of power, you say? he asked, continuing the conversation. Notch nodded solemnly. "Not far from it, at least. After slaying my grandparents, he chose not to base his empire in the Overworld, but here, in Imperium. Though, I suspect the place will have been long abandoned. He has no business returning here, at least not yet. Hopefully, he has not set his attention back on securing the Talon Cutter quite yet. I anticipate little resistance," he said.


The barren wasteland began to show signs of life. Purple plants that stretched dozens of blocks into the sky began to appear. Notch explained that they were Chorus fruits, the favorite snack of the Celestials. Before Ned could begin devouring them, however, he warned that the digestive systems of the Gods and humans were quite different when compared to each other.


"Hey, uh... Mr. Notch?" began Sam.


"Yes, child?


"Where exactly are we? I mean, I know we're in the End, but... where is the End? How far away are we from home?"


"Home is subjective. In a way, you are no further from home than you have ever been. But if the Overworld is beneath the Sky, and the Nether is beneath the Overworld, consider us another hundred or so layers down."


The journey continued as they entered into a forest-like biome, dotted with thick Chorus plants that formed a sort of natural canopy over them as they traveled. Cannonwalker only hoped that Notch knew where he was going, but they all knew that it was unwise to question a God when he's your only ally within several dimensions. He could sense the unrest in their hearts, but saw no use in openly addressing it. What good could it possibly do?


"Cannon," Ned said, grabbing him by the shoulder. "There's something moving over there. Look," he suggested, pointing into the distance. Cannon squinted his eyes and stared far off for a few moments. "I don't see anything there," he said shrugging. "There's definitely something out there in the plants," Zoomer said, stopping in his path. Sam agreed, stepping into view.


"Endermen," Notch said. "The former servants of The Mad King. Pay them no mind and they will cause no harm. Above all, do not acknowledge their existence," he said, motioning for the group to continue to follow him. As they traveled, the one single solitary Enderman seemed to multiply as more and more began to appear near the group, as if they were slowly drawing in on their position. "Do not look them straight in the eye," Notch said, turning his head back to face Sam. "They will take it as a threat and attack. Eyes low," he said.


One rogue Enderman drew uncomfortably close to Zoomer, prompting him to stand as still as a petrified statue. "Zoomer..." Cannon said. "Don't move." Zoomer began to hyperventilate. "What do you think I'm trying t-" he started before being shushed by Cannonwalker. Out of the blue, Notch turned back and began to stride valiantly towards the Enderman. Looking at the creature just below its eyes, he began to recite an ancient incantation, pointing directly at its chest. The creature shook its head in disgust and turned away.


Eventually, the group of Endermen began to lose interest, seeing the group as no threat to them as they obeyed Notch's commands. As the Endermen began to fade from view, the landscape began to change as well; the Chorus forest's density began to dampen and the landscape began to appear more cracked and dilapidated. Before long, the group had reached the edge of the island they had been traveling on and stared out into an endless Void littered with dozens of smaller islands suspended in space and time.


"The Broken Shores. We are nearly in range of our enemy," Notch said, gazing out into the oblivion.


The once faint echo of the void immediately began to intensify, now a nearly deafening wail of emptiness as the five of them stood on the edge of the world. Sam, mesmerized by the void's haunting beauty, peaked ever so slightly over the edge and nearly fell over from the resulting vertigo. Notch placed his hand on Sam's chest. "Do not tempt it. If it is hungry, it will consume you itself."


Ned joined the group and turned to Notch. "How exactly are we going to cross the gap? I don't exactly see any bridges around here," he said, gazing into the distance. Notch smiled. "You forget that we Celestials come from the End, just as these creatures do. Though it is quite different than when I was born, I still have at least some form of control over it."


The God raised his arm over the void and began to whisper something indistinct, causing the world below them to shake wildly. Suddenly, the gap between the island they were on and the one closest to them began to fill with a faint magenta color. Notch stepped carefully on to the light, subtly smiling to himself as he realized he had not fallen. The magenta bridge began to glisten with color, gladly welcoming the passing travelers. "Come," Notch said. "It is safe to pass."


The four mortals followed their caretaker with eyes wide open, bewildered by their method of transportation. Fascinated, Cannonwalker's eyes began to drift downward. "What did I say about looking down?" Notch scolded without looking back. Cannon returned his gaze forward quickly.


Finally, the group arrived on the next island, allowing dozens more to come into view. A handful of them were exceedingly small; some leaked a strange purple fluid out of their sides, some were comprised of priceless interdimensional ores, and a small fraction of them were host to bright purple beacons that shined into the sky (that is, if direction existed in such a world). Notch pointed into the distance to another large island. "There. Cruciatus - ancient stronghold of my people. I believe the Talon Cutter is hidden there," he said.


The group continued traveling across the mass of islands until they were within reach of Cruciatus. Nearly the entire island was covered by a massive obsidian fortress with numerous pillars spiking out from its sides. Cannonwalker could make out three purple beacons stretching into the sky - and something else that gave him pause. "There are people in that fortress!" he said. Notch nodded. "We were too late," he said. "The Mad King has dispatched his warriors to the fortress the guard the weapon. They appear to be dressed in Astral Silver - this is most unsettling. We thought we eradicated the last of them years ago by banishing them to Urghast. We were wrong, apparently."


"You're giving us more questions than answers," Zoomer said.


"There used to be thousands of Nightmare Warriors, the eternal partners of the Crimson Clerics. Both served The Mad King for millenia. These warriors are neither dead or living - they are against the very laws of nature and logic. My father rose them up from the depths of The Old World to do his bidding. If he has retrieved them, then the future of our world is grim to say the least."


"There must be an armory in there somewhere. Maybe we could blend in with them?" Sam suggested.


"It's impossible to fool a Nightmare Warrior, but they can be killed. Our best chance is to break into the armory and dress ourselves in their armor of Astral Silver, but we can't take any chances. We need to retrieve the bow and run. No exceptions."


Sam perked up just a touch when he heard Notch mention a bow, but quickly returned to attention. The God avoided the view of the dark warriors below as best he could, fabricating a path around the fortress using the tiny islands that orbited around it. With each phantom bridge, the group descended another 20 blocks or so until they had reached "ground level," with the fortress, wrapping around it and finally landing on the eastern wing.


From behind the eastern obsidian wall, the group made landfall. "This is the armory. If we can sneak around without being detected, we can sneak inside. I sense no one will be waiting for us, though I cannot say the same for the central point we'll have to cross. Quickly, now."


Notch wrapped around the wall first, safely arriving inside the small enclosed armory filled with chests and armor stands. Cannon arrived next, followed by Zoomer, then Sam, and finally Ned, who took the most care to avoid detection, keeping a keen eye on the Nightmare Warriors with each step.


With the whole group safely inside and with no Warriors in sight, they began to arm themselves in the garb of their enemies. The armor gleamed an eerie dark blue and gray, much like the Invidere and the Blightsword in the hands of Makrozoia. The swords and axes were identical in aesthetic, if not slightly more reactive to their owner's touches when wielded. All of them opted to wear the entire set of armor spare the helmet for the sake of identification, with all but two of them wielding the standard sword (Notch preferred his own powers and Ned dual wielded battle axes).


"I can sense the draw of the Talon Cutter from here," Notch said. "It's located at the top of this fortress, suspended in an energy field produced by the northernmost beacon. There's no use in deceit - we have to move fast and leave faster. If one of us falls behind, then I cannot guarantee your safety. Let's go."


The group charged out of the armory and up the massive central staircase towards the apex of the fortress. Sure enough, at the very peak of the obsidian complex lay a transparent beacon containing a strange object. Immediately, a group of three Warriors were alerted to their presence, prompting them to silently draw their swords and give chase. Now nearly halfway of the stairs and drawing close to the beacon with their pursuers close behind, a sinister whispering began to emanate from it, nearly stopping them in their tracks.


"It is an illusion! Do not stop!"


Cannonwalker crossed swords with the first Warrior atop a side balcony, clashing together with great sudden force and locking blades. The Astral Silver weapons screeched together, the Warrior gaining a momentary upper hand before Cannon elected to bash his face, forcing him to clutch his hand in pain for a moment due to the impact. The Warrior clutched his helmet in an attempt to remove it, but seemed unable to do so, prompting Cannon to take the opportunity to finish him off with a killing blow.


With the others now engaged in full open combat, Sam bolted for the beacon, finally arriving at the top of the fortress in the confusion. With each step, however, the dark whispers became more apparent and more deterring. A dark figure began to form before him, blocking him in his path.


"Still doing the dirty work of others? I expected so much more from a warrior like you. Are you really prepared to die for these people, your so called friends? You could be so much more if you only applied yourself..."


The shadowy figure drew closer to Sam and placed one its hands on his shoulder comfortingly. From behind, Notch yelled a word of warning his way. "Do not listen to it! It's him! Don't let him manipulate you!" he wailed.  Sam broke free from his daze and sprinted through the shadow, causing it to peel apart like dark fabric. The whispers abruptly disappeared, and the next moment Sam found himself with grabbing distance of the bow. Not willing to let himself be tempted again, he grabbed hold of it instantly, deactivating all three beacons the moment he layed hands on it. One Warrior sprinted towards him with lightning speed, poised to strike with his shining blade.


On a whim, Sam drew back the Talon Cutter, and lo and behold a flaming arrow simply appeared on the string, materializing the moment he needed it. The archer let the arrow loose, hitting the Warrior directly and instantly evaporating him, armor and all. Immediately after he fell, another squadron of Warriors began to surround the group, drawing in closer every moment. Sam ran back to the group to pick off a handful of Warriors, though even with the bow he barely made a dent in their numbers.


A flash of light enveloped the fortress, momentarily stunning the entire squadron. "RUN!" Notch said, materializing a glistening purple bridge that led off the island towards one of its neighbors.

Chapter 13 - Rusty Cage

Sam and the others gazed in awe at the gleaming bow, fashioned from the same Astral Silver metal that the Nightmare Warriors forged their armor with. The Talon Cutter emanated a strange echo, much like the whisperings of the Void in volume but much less threatening in nature. "Powerful enchantments have been placed upon that weapon," Notch said. "It is best that you use it sparingly."


"I don't understand," Sam replied. "Why would I want to use it sparingly if it's so powerful? This could win the war for us!" he said. Notch shook his head. "Surely, by now you realize that such a weapon in the wrong hands could be catastrophic? We can't afford to let that happen," he said.


The group looked behind their backs cautiously every few moments, only temporarily safe from from the Warriors as they seemingly had no way to leave their island for the time being. With heavy hearts in tow, the group continued their journey, knowing that their next objective would be to do something the likes of which none of them could envision themselves doing: free their arch nemesis. Somewhere out in the End, Herobrine lay in wait, patiently awaiting the time of his eventual escape, but blatantly unaware that it would come much sooner than a few centuries time.


The four mortals and their Godly friend ventured north; the further they traveled the less scattered the islands began to appear, the treachery of The Broken Shores soon a distant memory as they finally stepped foot on the mainland once more. "I doubt those Warriors would have just let us go," Cannon said as he moved with the group. "Do you think they'll send for help?" he asked Notch.


"Oh, they surely will. The only question is in what form."


"I don't follow."


"If the Warriors have contacted The Mad King, then by now his initial wave of confusion will have passed and he will have shifted into one of anger. He'll throw everything he can at us, and given that he has already revived a squadron of Nightmare Warriors in the time since he slew you, I would hate to find out what else he has at is disposal."


"So essentially, we're screwed?"


"Not if we cling to our only advantage - our only chance of victory."


"And what is that advantage?"


"Hope."




The deafening silence of the dark world began to split apart with rude abruptive force. At first, Cannonwalker believed it to be an illusion - a simple hallucination produced by the overwhelming and unending silence of hours of travel. Alas; the sound grew more apparent every moment, seeming to come from overhead. Ned shook his head. "Is that a dragon? Please don't be a dragon," he quietly begged to himself. "I've heard dragons before," Cannon said. "That's no dragon."


Notch looked above, silently studying the dark sky for a few moments before shouting in surprise. "AIRSHIP! FLEE!" The group fell into disarray, all of them sprinting in different directions as the shape of a large flying ship came into view. Immediately after it spotted its fleeing targets, a barrage of fireballs began to rain down from the sky, peppering the scattered group with cannonfire.


"Quickl! Behind the pillar!" Zoomer said, desperately sprinting towards a small obsidian spike extending into the sky. The remainder of the group quickly fell into line, following Zoomer to the safety of cover and nearly pushing each other out of the way in the confusion. Several fireballs nearly met their targets, stumbling the group and only further intensifying the struggle.


Finally, the entirety of the group had made it safely behind the obsidian pillar, the continuous stream of fire rocking and shaking it violently. "This thing won't hold for long. We need to do something," Ned said, battle axes in hand. Most of the airship was now firmly in view, comprised mostly of polished Endstone bricks and lined with strange purple stone. The ship was harshly equipped with three iron cannons on either side, its port aimed directly at the obsidian pillar as it peppered the structure into submission.  From within the ship, a faint purple glow could be made out, emanating from a  partially obstructed core-like device.


Sam risked peeking from behind the pillar at the massive ship, barely making out the possible weakness before being forced back into cover by another barrage of cannon fire. "There's something in the middle of the ship, just barely exposed on its belly," Sam said to the cowering group. "I think I might be able to take it out." Zoomer scoffed. "Your plan is 'shoot at a shiney thing on its belly?'" he asked sarcastically. "Well, yeah," Sam said. "Come on, the rest of you sprint out from the other side and cover me while I line up a shot."


There was a faint murmuring of opposition, but seeing as it was their only option, the bulk of them obeyed and quickly ran out from behind cover. Immediately, the airship began to fire upon them, nearly obliterating Cannonwalker had it not been for a conveniently timed defensive lightning bolt from Notch. Taking advantage of their distraction, Sam ran out from behind the pillar on the opposite side, taking half a second to line up a shot before charging up the Talon Cutter and firing directly into the exposed core.


A sound reminiscent of the cracking of glass could be heard as the ship tossed and turned, its Astral Silver dressed crewmen nearly falling off from the violent rocking. The core began to glow an even brighter purple as it overworked itself in an attempt to repair the damage. In tandem, Sam fired yet another shot at the core while Notch launched an additional bolt of lightning directly at the deck, both shattering the inner workings of its mechanisms and frying its soulless crew at the same time.


The airship exploded with mighty force, its hollow corpse falling helplessly to the ground with a mighty crash moments later as it lost its ability to fly, quaking the fragile landscape around it with a mighty collision. Flames spewed out from the wreckage, rendering the land around it uninhabitable. "We need to keep moving, fast. There will be more on the way soon," Notch said.


The group, now moving at a comfortably brisk pace, spaced themselves as far away from the wreck as possible, not realizing that within the hour they had crossed nearly 5,000 meters. "I can see structures in the distance," Cannon said, pointing ahead. "More fortresses?" he asked Notch, prompting one of his signature head-shakes. "We've reached another mass of prisons. I believe my brother is being kept in one of them."


"I still don't like this," Ned said.


"Neither do I. But not even all five of us can take down Vitiate-I mean, the Mad King. Just look at how easily he killed all four of us," Cannon replied.


"Just think about what we're doing. This won't end well."


"We have to try."


The first obsidian prison came into view, prompting Sam to draw the Talon Cutter. "So, how are we going to tell which one is Hero's? There's at least a dozen in this cluster alone," he said. "Trial and error, my friend," Notch said, motioning towards the first prison. At what he assumed the door was, Sam brandished the bow up high, mentally commanding the structure to open.


As soon as the door opened and the light seeped into the room, an awful shriek began to resonate from within. The light began to reveal a hideous creature in the fetal position on the other side - a two-headed Enderman with twin magenta streaks lining his chest and sharp hooked claws. The creature rose from its position and began sprinting outside, prompting Sam to seal the prison just in the nick of time before it escaped.


The group moved to the next prison and repeated the same process. Before realizing it was in fact not Herobrine, a swarm of black hornets seeped out of the prison just as Sam sealed the door again, flying high up into the sky and disappearing into the distance. Notch advised the group to leave them be, doubting their significance.


Sam and the others continued the process for another two rows to no avail, accidentally releasing another five swarms of various winged creatures, some fungi, and nearly being eaten alive once or twice by horrific non-human monsters. On the third row of prisons, the group was close to giving up


"I hate to admit it, but I may have made an oversight," Notch said. "Perhaps my brother is not hidden in one of these boxes." Ignoring his words, Sam moved on to the next prison, raising the Talon Cutter high up into the air and silently commanding it to creak open. Surprisingly, there was no initial response, only silence; after a few moments, the group began to light up, revealing its contents in full.


"Dare I even ask why my brother and the four mortals that killed me have just sprung me free from my impenetrable volcanic chamber of doom and gloom?"


Chapter 14 - Oblivion

The ever growing party, now at a comfortable six members, gathered at a clearing 20 blocks from Herobrine's now vacant prison, all of them keeping a weather eye on their newest ally. Surprisingly, Herobrine showed no outward desire to exact his revenge, instead fairly calm but still slightly perplexed with the situation at hand.


"Needless to say, I'm skeptical about our father returning," Herobrine said, arms crossed to his brother. "I remember it like it was yesterday. You were kneeling on the ground helplessly about to be decapitated by him when I swooped in and shivved him in the back with my sword. Speaking of which, where is that old backstabber? Last I saw it, you were using it to lacerate me," Hero said playfully to Cannonwalker.


"About that, were you aware it was a hand-me-down? Because when your dad, uh... killed us, he took it back. Must have missed it," Cannon said with a shrug. Hero stared him down, eyes flashing red for a moment as the already harsh landscape of the End seemed to grow even colder. The tensity was broken fairly promptly, however, as Hero immediately chuckled and shrugged back.


"Oh, whatever. Those things are easily replaced if you know where to get them. But that's beside the point. Notch, you old bastard. I think it's time we departed," Hero said, patting Notch on the back. "So it is," Notch said. "As for our mortal friends, unfortunately we cannot bring you with us. For the time being, our paths must diverge. We must attend to something together."


"You can't be serious," Ned said. "We just saved both of you and now you're leaving us? Where do you even need to go so badly?"


"To a place where mortals cannot hope to enter without resigning to never leaving. My brother and I must go to the Urghast to stop The Mad King from regaining too much of his lost army. You've seen what they can do - imagine if he's allowed to revive the entirety of it. That cannot be allowed to happen," Notch said.


"So where are we going, then? Home, to wait for you two to maybe pull off a victory?" Cannon asked them.


Herobrine chuckled. "Absolutely not. This concerns all of us. If I could, I would send you help, but I think by now all my reanimated corpses have turned to jerky. We can't hope to stop him alone. Notch and I will do what we can do at least lessen the waves, but the burden falls on you to stop what Mad-King's already pumped out. His first priority will be to wipe out all opposition - and that means obliterate all the city-states in Kilran. Aragon will be the first. You'll need to scurry on over there, win the Lord Protector's favor, and do what you can to keep that place intact," he explained.


"That's quite the change of heart since last time we spoke," Notch said.


"Excuse me if I'd rather not lose all my, eh... assets, to some pissy daddy who I thought I killed a few lifetimes ago."


Cannon coughed. "Sorry, but if I may ask, how exactly are we going to get out of here in the first place?"


"Teleportation. Wait, you're not a God. Oh, you'll probably have to just throw yourself off the edge then," Hero said.


Cannon wasn't sure what he was expecting to hear in response, but he'd been subtly hoping that it wouldn't be that. "So you want me to just tiptoe into oblivion and hope I land on someplace convenient?" Cannon asked. Hero shook his head. "I wish it was that exact of a science, but the Void in the simplest terms can act as a sort of... teleportation method," Hero said. "Unfortunately, you can't just wish really hard that you'll land on Aragon first try and will it to happen, it's more just up to chance."


"We send you our best wishes," Notch said. "We must depart for Urghast. Do what must be done - rally the forces of man and put an end to my father's cruel reign once and for all. We will do it together this time. We're counting on you," he said with a smile.


Cannon turned grimly towards the dropoff point of the Endstone island - a oneway ticket to the seemingly endless void. The dark oblivion called upon him once more, eager to embrace him once more. "You can't be serious," Zoomer said to Cannon. "I'm sorry. I'm not trusting any more strangers, especially when they have a history of deception. I'm not jumping," he said decisively.


"Well, you can jump or you can stay on the flying hunk of rock forever, boyo.  If I were you, I'd at least want to die honorably instead of sit through the inevitable slow and horrifying descent into madness. But that's just me," Hero said with his hands up.


Cannon extended a hand out to Zoomer. "Trust me," he said. Ned and Sam joined him as well, both looking nervously into the void below them. With a heavy sigh, Zoomer nodded and took Cannon's hand, the group of unsung heroes once more united shoulder to shoulder, prepared to face their greatest challenge yet. Herobrine called to them from behind. "Oh, one more thing! This might be the most important detail!" he shouted as they glanced back.


"Try not to land on your head."


"3."


"2."


"1."


Cannon took only a split second to take the deepest breath he had ever taken before making the leap into the void below, slightly relieved to see that none of his allies had hesitated either. Instantly, the cold touch of the darkness embraced them once more, identical to the feeling they had faced not long ago after meeting their dooms at the hand of The Mad King.


Cannonwalker began to struggle for breath, his air rudely leaving him the moment he had leapt. He gasped for air repeatedly in vain, unable to manage even a sliver of oxygen before something strange began to happen around him. Cannon looked to his left to see Zoomer was also struggling for air, gradually moving further and further away from him with every moment. It was the same to his right; Ned and Sam were steadily drifting away. He attempted to yell to ask if they were okay, but no words left his mouth.


He returned his gaze to his left to see that Zoomer had now completely disappeared, his shape completely lost and consumed by the endless darkness. To his right, Ned and Sam had suffered the same fate. Cannon was now alone, the only things in view his freezing hands and the combined dark matter of the void that pushed up against him like a gust of wind.


Cannon closed his eyes, hoping that when he opened them, the darkness will have faded and he will have awoken from a long and terrible nightmare to find himself safely back in his warm bed, surrounded by his friends. The thought suffused him, and for a moment, he could swear that he was smiling, the everlasting coldness of the void replaced by the warmth of the living world.


When he finally opened his eyes once more, the darkness began to split apart like a ripped canvas as a great blinding light consumed his view, his hands no longer visible - his thoughts no longer his own, but that of millions. Suddenly, Cannonwalker was no longer falling, but instead levitating harmlessly, floating lazily through a bleach white stretch of time and space. Six completely dark figures, all of equal size began to form around him. It was an alien, yet familiar presence.


"We sense your distress, young mortal. Our master has sent us to give you clarity."


"Your throat may be temporarily unable to produce words in its current state, but your thoughts will do."


"On your current path, you will land somewhere in the middle of a desolate wasteland, devoid of any water or wildlife, tens of thousands of blocks from Kilran, or any civilization for that matter."


"But we can remedy that. We can land you and your friends at a safe place, not far from your destination. You will live and retain your armaments, equipped to handle the full extent of The Mad King's forces at least for the time being."


"All we ask is that one day, when we call upon you, you will aid us in our quest. What that quest is does not concern you. All that matters is that you swear you will uphold it, and when the time comes, you will execute it and we will never speak again. Do you agree to these terms?"


Cannon immediately thought "yes," in his head, indeed unable to form any sentences or any sound at all.


"The pact is sealed. You have our blessing, for now. If you are unable to defeat the Dark One, then we will mourn for you and your friends as the world crumbles in his hands. Farewell."


Chapter 15 - Restless Dreams

Time is like a leaf in the wind. Either it's time well spent or time well wasted.


The world unfolded before the four of them, a strange emptiness extremely present within all of their hearts that was quickly covered by a wave of exasperating nausea. The landscape was nearly unrecognizable, but the realization set in quite promptly once they had regained their footing. The wave of nausea had washed over them all, and miraculously, none of them had landed on their heads.


Ned was the first to rise, frantically breathing to recover the breath that he had wasted. Though his vision was blurred extensively, the area around him was unmistakable. "C-Corvus..." he whispered as Cannon joined him. They had landed in the very heart of the long abandoned city in the skeletal remains of Baron Von Shush's would-be place of residence.


Though most of the buildings hadn't fallen apart, it was clear that nature had begun to reclaim the entire area. A massive river now ran through the town, dozens of aquatic arms jutting out in all directions, covering the town in a watery grave of broken memories. Ned began to pace towards his former home. Burn marks still remained from Arcifex's assault so many years earlier, but the last thing that could be found in all of Corvus - particularly Ned's old home - was a fire. Ned's home had been completely flooded.


Broken valuables were sprawled out on his home's drenched cobblestone base, nothing immediately salvageable. Cannonwalker silently made his way towards his own former home, noting that it was mostly unscathed but his basement had been completely ransacked. The last he'd heard from Lithium, he was going his own way to "wherever the wind blew." Cannon assumed that he'd relieved him of whatever scraps that had been left behind after the mass exodus from Corvus. At least they didn't go to waste.


Eventually, Zoomer and Sam caught up with the others, blatantly unaware of where they had landed. He began to search around for Cannon and finally found him scavenging the ruined halls of the church. "What is this place, Cannon?" he asked. He wondered how he'd be able to respond. How could he even begin?


"This is - or was - Corvus. Ned and I used to live here with a few others before someone attacked and held the town for ransom. We eventually reclaimed it, but it was never the same," Cannon sighed. "We all ended up going our separate ways, but Ned and I met up again after a few months. Now... we've gone full circle." Zoomer nodded, breathing in the old air that ran through the abandoned settlement. There was something vaguely unsettling about it, but it didn't feel sinister or dangerous - more unknown than anything. It felt like there was once a great battle that took place here thousands of years ago and faint hints of the bloodshed still loomed, but the forces of nature had worked tirelessly to restore it.


"So this is Corvus? It's not as big as I thought it would be," Sam shrugged, joining the others in the dilapidated halls of the church. Cannon returned the gesture. "Maybe it would have been bigger if things hadn't gone so sour," he said. "It was out of our control," another voice said. "It would have happened with our without Arcifex." Ned joined the others, carrying a bag on his back filled with scavenged materials.


"Speaking of sour," Cannon smiled. "We should leave. There's nothing for us here besides memories." Ned nodded. "I agree, we should head to Aragon. But I think we need a replacement for Vitate, someone we can rely on to help us see this through," Ned suggested. Cannon raised an eyebrow. "You don't mean... Ned, I have no idea where he went. Minecraftia is a big place. Kilran alone is at least twice the size of Svistys," he explained.


"I think I know where he went. And if I'm right, we won't have to travel far," Ned offered. Zoomer coughed. "Exactly whom are we talking about here, if I may ask?" he inquired curtly. "Ned intends to seek out our old friend Lithium, but I don't think he even goes by that name anymore. It's a wild goose chase," Cannon explained. Ned shook his head. "Trust me. If I know Lith, he's holed up at Morstock preparing for his so-called Great Calling."


Cannon's eyes widened. "Morstock... of course! I think I remember the way, but it's treacherous. And we'll need to be fast if we intend to catch up with The Mad King in time," he said urgently. Ned fumbled around in his bag for a moment before grinning. "Don't worry," he said. "I think time's on our side for this one."


Chapter 16 - Dark Matter

"Do you reckon the boat will be big enough this time, Ned?"


The four of them stood at the edge of the peninsula that ran inward into the Corvus mainland and jutted out into countless rivers that cut through the deserted town like vines. Ned, after a few minutes more of scavenging, had constructed what he'd hoped would be able to take the quartet across the great ocean that separated them from their destination. Evidently, Zoomer was skeptical.


"I can only take so much banter in one day, Zoomer," Ned teased. Cannon was hesitant. "Are you sure it will hold?" he asked apprehensively. Ned's only response was a tired, yet fully aware facial expression; it clearly conveyed, perhaps even more concisely so than words could, "Of course it will hold."


Once all four passengers climbed aboard, Ned pushed off, sending the boat on a direct path southward. "So, where is this Morstock place?" Sam asked, possibly the most comfortable of all four of them. Ned ran his hand through the water, deep in focus for a few moments, before he could offer an answer. "Southern border of the Svistys continent. He set off a few months before the Herobrine fiasco, only giving us a vague idea of where exactly it was before leaving. It seemed like there was something there he wanted, though what exactly Lith was looking for in the first place and why he'd willingly go there, I've got no clue."


"What makes it so bad? I mean, how could a place called Morstock be dangerous?"


"Most of the maps of Svistys just cut off somewhere around it. A few just have a big red splotch where it supposedly is. Not great signs."


The tiny boat, sprawling with passengers, raced off into the sunset, its navigator dearly hoping that he had not made a miscalculation.




The putrid sulfur was the first thing that caught their attentions. It struck them like an arrow soaked in poison, and its effects made them sick to their stomachs. "What... is that smell?" Cannon cried, spitting the last word out as if it was a foul-tasting abomination of nature. The next thing that made itself apparently was the fiery glow intensifying in the distance. It was like the sun had exploded on the broken horizon, rapidly racing towards them to swallow them up in a blanket of hellfire.


All their eyes were transfixed on the shape in the distance. It appeared to be an island, but it was something more. Like all of the tricksters of the Beyond had conspired to create the most sinister mass they could imagine. From afar, it appeared as if the entire island was burning, but upon closer inspection, some areas appeared to be "safe," to land upon. Noticing one such safe spot on the western edge of the island, Ned adjusted the boat's course accordingly, hoping to make a safe landing.


The boat crashed violently into the side of the island, not quite severely enough to shatter its passengers' insides from impact alone, but enough to shatter the makeshift craft into countless splinters. The four swam ashore, immediately noticing that it was not rock nor dirt they stood upon, but something of much more sinister texture. The charred crimson ground beneath them burnt their feet as they stepped foot on the nefarious island, as if they were goose stepping on desert sands with their bare feet.


"Confounded!" Ned yelped, dancing around on the scorched shore, refusing to stand still on his own two feet for longer than a second at a time. Most of the others didn't fare much better, with Cannon especially uncomfortable in the intense heat even with the protection of his callused heels. Zoomer, however, maintained a smug grin on his face, his feet all too accustomed to the familiar biting warmth.


"Take heart and smell the ashes, friends," Zoomer began, surveying the distance. "We've arrived in Hell."


Eventually, the group as a whole had grown used to the climate, though Ned's face was still fixed in a perpetual grimance as they powered on. The four of them climbed up the small hill under which they had arrived with their boat to get a better look at the distance. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the island wasn't in much better condition, but one landmark immediately caught their collective attention: a massive spire at the other end of the land mass, towering into the sky and protected by a sizeable mote of what was undoubtedly molten lava.


"I'm guessing that's where we'll find Lith," Ned presumed, straining his eyes to see the dark red brick building in the midst of the massive desiccation.


"What, in the ten-storey hell tower surrounded by a lava mote? I could have guessed," Sam inferred.


The quartet made the painstaking journey across Morstock to reach the tower, dodging eratic flames and hopping over precarious lakes of fire. A cloud of ash washed over them once they arrived at the halfway mark to their destination, prompting them all to erupt into massive coughing fits. In the confusion, and with his vision hampered, Zoomer treaded onto a loose patch of ground that collapsed under him. He fell into a small chasm below, bruising his leg and sending a wave of pain throughout his body. Sam heard the screams below and quickly raced to Zoomer's aid, his arm's reach extending just long enough to pull his friend up onto solid ground. By the time the two of them caught up with the rest of the group, the four of them were standing before the massive tower, contemplating the best way inside.


The mote was filled to the brim with lava that stung them even from ten meters away. A single bridge extended over the hellish river but was severely delapidated and only two meters wide, threatening to crumble with one wrong step.


"We'll go in pairs," Cannon suggested, standing cautiously closest to the bridge, ignoring the intense heat that was washing over him. Ned stepped up behind him and wiped a bead of sweat from his brow, nodding to his friend before joining him in the precarious trek over the bridge. The two stepped slowly and with much consideration before each stride, mostly concentrating on keeping their eyes fixed upward. Towards the end of the bridge, the bricks below them quaked subtly and several pebbles fell into the devastation below, but in a matter of seconds Cannonwalker had made it safely to the base of the tower, followed quickly by Ned.


Zoomer and Sam breathed sighs of relief but soon realized it was now their turn to make the leap. Zoomer, flanked by Sam, proceeded ever so slightly faster than his predecessors, hoping to get the ordeal over with as soon as possible. Sam mirrored his sentiment and gradually picked up his pace until the two were near normal walking speed.


"SAM, WATCH OUT!" Ned screamed.


"HUH?"


Sam and Zoomer both looked behind them in horror, only to find the bridge was completely intact. Ned laughed merrily, and Cannonwalker reluctantly managed a few quick chuckles. Sam looked at Ned with malice and began walking again, but the next brick in his path immediately fell into the lava below, followed by most of the ground beneath him. He promply slipped and made a desperate grab to the closest stable foundation, barely latching on to the bridge behind Zoomer.


Zoomer rushed to him and attempted to hoist him up with great difficulty.


"Gah- come on, Sam, I'm not going to be guilty for the rest of my pitiful existence on your account!" Zoomer yelled, straining his back. He finally dragged Sam back on to the bridge and the two made a beeline for the tower, promptly catching up with Ned and Cannon with little breath to spare. Sam punched Ned in the chest before he could apologize, then proceeded forward towards the great tower door.


"I probably deserved that," Ned admitted, clenching his gut.


The group stood before the massive door of the spire, in awe of its scale but clueless as to how it was operated. It was sealed tight and didn't appear to have any sort of bell or even a keyhole.


"We didn't come this far just to be twarted by some door," Cannon said, crossing his arms.


"Not to worry, I may have our way in," Ned proclaimed, stepping forward. From his pocket, he pulled out a strange bone idol engraved with arcane symbols. The object began to glow an odd shade of green, and the great copper gears of the door began to turn. The doors flew open, welcoming the four of them inside.


"A gift," Ned explained to his awestruck comrades. "From our old friend, just in case I ever needed it."


The group crept inside the tower and gazed at the immense walls, all decorated with elaborate works of art depicting everything from ancient military generals to small red rabbits with white eyes. At the center of the staircase, a grand spiral staircase extended up to the unseen floors above. Delighted to walk on solid ground that wasn't as hot as a furnace, they made a long trip up to the top of the winding tower before stopping at a floor around three quarters of the way up.


The room was wider than the others, and containing noticeably less works of traditional art. The walls were all lined with worktables and desks occupied by alien tools and machines. An aroma of several different scents filled the air, just on the brink of being overpowering.


"What is this place?" Sam asked, inspecting a microscope fixed on a piece of ore that bore the luster of diamond.


"It looks like a... workshop," Ned managed, stepping over and oddly placed strand of yarn on the ground. "For a madman."


"Whatever this place is, I don't think we sh-" the words were ripped from Zoomer's mouth as the world split apart before them, sending them into a savage squall. Sam panicked and knocked over a potion that spilled volatile acid all over the damn place when it smashed into the ground. All of them clutched their heads desperately, attempting to drown out the blood-curlding occult wailing. Death, it seemed, was nearer than it ever had been.


"Aha! Caught in the act! Thought you could steal from MY laboratory, hmm? You thought hilariously wrong!" Another voice stepped into the room, inspecting the intruders with glee. From beneath his green goggles, though, a realization dawned on him as he got a closer look at the group of individuals in his lab.


"Oh. It's you." The man said awkwardly. He quickly ran off to another corner of the room, unfazed by the unholy screams of his friends. "Where did I put my milk? It must be somewhere. Someday, I need to organize all of this mess. But that can come later. First, as always, comes the heroic salvation of my bestest of friends..."


The man straightened his goggles and presented Cannonwalker with a bucket of milk and ordered him to drink.


"Drink, it will make you feel better!" he encouraged. Cannonwalker ignored him, still screaming as loudly as ever.


"I said drink!" No response.


"DRINK CANNON, YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT!" The man splashed a portion of the milk on to Cannon's face. The screams immediately stopped and Cannon began breathing again, his sight returning to him shortly thereafter. The bearded Nord looked with bewilderment at his old friend, still wiping the milk from his eyes and catching his breath.


"Lithium... is that you?" he asked meekly. Lithium ignored him, going from person to person and splashing large amounts of milk on their faces. After curing Sam and tiptoeing around the deadly acid at the corner of the room, he walked slowly to the front, where he inspected the four of them distantly. They were all panting ceaselessly, dripping with an odd white substance that one or two of them had begun to doubt was milk.


"You all look ridiculous," Lithium observed after a few moments of silence, taking off his goggles and tossing them aside. Ned regained his composure and stepped up to him.


"You tried to kill me - er, us!" Ned scolded.


"Yes, and then I succeeded in saving your lives, so, you're welcome, I guess," Lith shrugged. Soon, all of them had recovered from the spell, and turned to face Lith. "Look, you can't pin this on me. I get a lot of visitors from raiders. Times have been tough since the invasion."


"The invasion?" Cannon asked.


"Yes, my day is going great, actually, and I bet for time's sake yours is going just peachy as well," Lith rolled his eyes. "As I was saying, the whole world has been in a bit of a tight spot ever since that Mad King fellow came back. It was only a matter of time, I suppose. The most nefarious of us always come back, it just depends on what form they take."


"Details, Lith. I want details."


"Well, you see, sometimes they're resurrected as zombies by mad scientists, sometimes magic is involved, sometimes even a combination of the two..."


"Relevant details!"


"Fine. The cold hard truth is that most of Kilran is under the Mad King's control, and Sivistys isn't faring much better. New Detroit is one of the last cities in the area standing, and even that's subject to change. Occa is mostly untouched, but the so-called brave warriors of the Knights Thash are staying put in Medriaas until further notice, so the rest of the world is, well, screwed." The group exchanged worried looks with a hint of guilt.


"You said New Detroit is safe, but subject to change," Cannon recalled.


"Word is that the Mad King is about to mount a full scale assault on the city to wipe out what's left of the resistance - and some are speculating that he's going to lead the invasion personally..." Lith was solemn for a moment, but a grin stretched across his face after a moment.


"Here it comes," Zoomer said.


"I've learned a lot these past few months," Lithium began, leading the four of them to the top floor of the tower.  "Visiting old shrines, reading a lot of books written by dead people, doing a lot of yoga. These months have been a golden opportunity to concoct a theory. I think the time has come put it to the test."


The top room was wider and more open than all below it, occupied only by a large display case at the center. Inside was a glowing cubic object that pulsed with dark power, warping the room around it with visions of the past and future and whispering evil secrets in a forgotten language.


"I call it the Slip Device," Lith explained. "Its purpose is to quantify and harness something which I call dark energy. You're standing on a focal point of the stuff right now - islands made of Nether material don't occur naturally, depending on your definition of the word. It's everywhere, in everyone, but in some places or things it's... more concentrated.  Sometimes it's benevolent, and creates works of art that no human could ever recreate. Other times it warps and twists reality and creates dark and evil places, or dark and evil men."


Lithium stepped up the display case and carefully retrieved the device, rubbing a speck of dust off its base. It glew more intensely in his hand, as if ready to execute a command. "In the case of the latter, its practical uses are unsurprisingly limitless. Life is one of the most malleable things in this world. I believe that, if used properly, this device can be used to annihilate entire regions as this island once was, and kill anything - and I mean anything. Even gods."


"This sounds like a... doomsday device, Lith," Ned admonished.


Zoomer nodded in agreement. "Having all of this power would be too easy - not to mention, a recipe for disaster. There must be another way."


"They're right, Lith," Cannonwalker added. "This isn't worth it. Imagine how many innocents would die, assuming you're right about what this thing can do."


Lith shook his head. "You don't seem to understand. When will we get another chance to save the entire world like this? The Mad King is a god, not some ordinary man like you or me. Do you have a better option? Collateral damage be damned, even if the entire population of New Detroit has to die, wouldn't it be worth it to save millions from his wrath?"


"You... don't know him like we do," Cannon managed.


"I beg your pardon?"


"These past few months have been... odd, to say the least," the Nord continued. "We know the Mad King. He sort of convinced us to help restore him to power and then he killed us. Savagely. It's a long story and none of it would make sense, but trust us, there's another way."


"Yeah... Notch and Herobrine did it once. Maybe they can do it again!" Sam offered.


"And how exactly did Notch and Herobrine manage to kill the Mad King?" Lith asked.


"The Invidere," Ned and Cannon said in tandem.


"And do any of you have this Invidere?"


The four of them shifted awkwardly.


"Maybe Lith is right, guys," Sam suggested. "Hero and Notch won't be back for a while, and the Mad King has both the god swords that we know of. If he's going to New Detroit, then we have to do the right thing. The hardest decisions seem evil at first, but they always turn out to be the right course of action in the long run... right?" Zoomer nodded, silently expressing his approval. Ned and Cannon exchanged worried looks.


"Look, I'll let you think this over. But in the meantime, I need to ask you all something," Lith began, his aggressive tone vanished.


"What is it?" Ned asked worriedly.


"I know you want nothing to do with him since what happened, but I need to know if you've seen Arcifex. I realize you still haven't forgiven him for what he did to Corvus, and I won't try to convince you otherwise. But I need to talk to him. So... even if it wasn't on friendly terms, have you run into him, or even heard anything about him?" he asked hopefully.


The four of them barely managed to suppress the panic in their hearts, maintaing mostly blank expressions. They were all silent for a suspicious stretch of time before Zoomer spoke up.


"Nope, we haven't seen him, sorry. I mean, I especially haven't seen him, I've never met him after all. So I'll reserve judgment about the whole Corvus thing." Lith nodded sadly, silently pondering to himself.


"About the device," Cannon started, breaking the awkward silence. Lith perked up once more.


"I still have my reservations about it, but you brought up some good points. If we have the chance to prevent the deaths of millions, maybe a few thousand is worth it. If you can ensure we'll get as many people out of the city before we go through with it, you have my blessing."


The signature grin returned to Lithium's face and he clutched the Slip Device. Though Cannon maintained a kind smile, internally, he couldn't decide if he was more guilty for deceiving his friend or terrified that the blood of countless innocents may very well be on his hands in due time.


Chapter 17 - Atrocity

"What is this, Lith?" Ned asked.


"Patience, Ned, it's a surprise."


Lithium led the group out of the tower with the Device tucked away in his vest. As soon as they stepped outside, the heat began to dawn on them once more. It dawned on them that they would likely have to make the precarious trek over the broken bridge once more to get to mainland, though it seemed the scientist had other plans. As he stepped up to the edge of the mote, he retrieved an odd scroll from the holds of his vest littered with alien incantations.


"So, who's going first this time?" Sam wondered as Lith brushed past him. The scroll began to drip with liquid shadow as Lith whispered something ancient and dark, as if awakening it from a long and vivd slumber. Without hesitation, the scientist stepped off the edge into the lava pit, eliciting deep gasps from his four friends behind him. But instead of tumbling into the fiery devastation below, he continued walking, a dark cloud folding into existence below his feet as he walked further into nothingness.


"Aren't you coming?" Lith asked rhetorically as he looked back at his bewildered guests. Zoomer followed first, tiptoeing across the shadow, followed by Cannon, then Sam and Ned.

  

"Was that magic, Lith?" Sam asked curiously from behind, taking care not to put too much weight on the phantom bridge below him.


Lith chucked. "Not magic, Sam," he lectured. "Simply science."


Lith led them to a small clearing just beyond the mote, which was remarkably cool compared to the rest of the island with no immediate danger of spontaneous combustion. He carefully stashed away the scroll and his hands reemerged with the Device once more, which he immediately began to rub.


The Device began to hum to life once more as it had back inside the tower, and without warning Lith hoisted it into the air as far above his head as his arms would permit him. Immediately, the mechanism began to wail in an impressive and terrifying display of power. The area around Lith appeared strangely warped as the red brimstone below them rocked and waved.


A horrifying thought began to cross Cannon's mind as the Device activated: had Lith intended to use it on them? Had he caught them in their lie and chosen to swiftly exact his revenge? He looked with concern to his friends who shared the sentiment. The previously absolutely still air stirred to life, and in moments approached hurricane speeds. Ned began walking towards Lith, intending to stop him before it was too late.


A flash, a mere moment of darkness, and then the world returned to them. The moment they opened their eyes once more, they noticed the land around them had been completely changed. The crimson gravel beneath them was now composed of solid dirt and rock, the raging molten lava had converted into calm clear water, and the primal fires had all been quenched. Lith stared with envy at the Device in his hand, which now glew a brilliant red.


"This island has been cured," Lith said simply, still gazing at the Device. "The dark energy ripped from its core, never to plague it again."


"And where exactly has it all gone?" Cannon asked cautiously, still awestruck by his surroundings and relieved to see the color blue again.


"In here," Lith turned, showing them the Device. The red within it seemed angry, as if it had just been tricked into imprisonment and wished to escape so it may have vengeance on its captors. "Where it will be safe and released into the world again."


"Let's not waste any time, then," Zoomer suggested, unfazed by the occult ritual. "New Detroit is at least two days out."


Lith nodded. "Yes... we won't be getting there in time by conventional methods. We'll need a less traditional method of transportation. Besides, something tells me we're all due for an upgrade."


The scientist led his friends to a hidden cave nestled into the side of a small hill a short trip from the tower. Ten minutes ago, it may have been impossible to spot, much less safely enter, but now that the smoke had cleared, the gaping entrance to the hidden base was easily detected. As the group traveled further into the cave, unseen light sources illuminated the way, answering their call to attention.


The cave opened up into a sizeable circular hideout, decorated with countless bookshelves, furnaces, chests, and weapon racks. Much more than ordinary swords, though, these blades were fashioned from beautiful materials that the four of them had never seen before. Ned took a twin pair of silver cutlasses, Cannon elected for a large golden broadsword, and Zoomer chose an ornately crafted rapier, though Sam simply perused the selection without taking anything.


"Sure you don't want something more, eh... practical?" Lith asked Sam, taking note of the modest bow on his back that didn't seem to have any arrows to accompany it.


"I think I'll manage," Sam nodded.


"Suit yourself," Lith said, arming himself with a mechanical crossbow fitted with several slots occupied by small vials of colorful fluids. The scientist fastened his green goggles over his eyes and slung his crossbow across his back with a leather strap, leading the group into an adjacent chamber of the hideout.


With the flick of a discretly hidden lever on the stone wall, the next chamber was illuminated by a system of redstone lamps, revealing a mid-sized airship in the center reminiscent of the design used by the Mad King's warriors, equiped with two small swivel guns and a sleek engine with enough coal to power a month-long voyage. The vessel had the name Cascade engraved on the back in shining golden letters. Seconds after the ship came into the view, the pistons on the ceiling released, opening up the roof to make room for departure.


"Now you're traveling in style. All aboard, then!" Lith exclaimed, hopping into the luxurious pilot's seat. Cannon and Ned manned the two cannons while Sam attended to the engine and Zoomer took the opportunity to lounge around in the passenger seat. Lith flicked the ignition switch and in moments a myriad of gears stirred awake and activated the engine's coils; the propeller blades began to spin faster than any of them could detect, and soon enough the airstrip had left the base and flew west towards Sivistys mainland.




Six hours later...


Soon after the sun had begun to recede and the crescent moon came into view, the sound of cannon fire and burning wood filled the air, stirring the crew of the Cascade awake. Even with a bird's eye view of the plains below, it was difficult to see the ground, and there was no telling what dangers lie beneath them.


"I think we're close!" Zoom yelled over the noise, spying the outline of a large palace in the distance.


Lith nodded, keeping his eyes fixed ahead. "Sam!" he exclaimed. "Deactivate the engine coil, it's time to go in for a landing!"


"WHAT?!" Sam screamed, straining to hear the pilot.


"Stop the engine coil, we need to land!" Lith responded.


"WHAT DID HE SAY?!" Sam boomed.


"BRACE FOR IMPACT!" Lith called to the others.


A flaming cannonball raced past the airship, nearly colliding with the propeller. Lith veered to the left to avoid taking a hit, straight in the direction of the city. Moments later, another cannonball flew just past them, then another. Ned left his station at the gun and raced to the engine and deactivated the coil, immediately halting the craft's acceleration and slowing the propeller. The pilot pulled up slightly to avoid crashing too violently into the ground and began a cautious but hasty descent to the ground, dearly hoping that the emergency landing would be bearable.


The Cascade collided with the groud, digging into the grass and kicking up mounds of dirt directly into Lith and Zoom's faces. Spitting out a pebble, the pilot turned back to survey the damage.


"Is everyone alright?" Lith called.


"Vaguely..." Cannon complained, clutching his arm.


"Nothing important broken," Ned breathed, adjusting his twin blades so he wouldn't impale himself.


"That was the most fun I've had in... three days!" Sam exclaimed, waving from the wrecked engine room.


"I am also relatively fine," Zoomer nodded.


Lith looked back at the controls and sighed to himself with wide open eyes, silently expressing the purest form of "This is not how I thought I'd be spending my night."


The group crawled out of the downed airship and dusted themselves off, making sure they hadn't lost anything. Lith peaked inside his vest to check on the Device, which still pulsed an angry red. Alarmingly, though, the sound of marching became clear in the distance, slowly but surely growing louder with each passing second.


"It's time to go," Cannon stated simply, and the five of them pressed on towards the gates of New Detroit. Luckily, they had crashed only around fifty meters from the gates, and could make out armed guards in the distance. As they approached the stone ramparts, a loud voice addressed them coldly from above.


"Stop, in the name of Empress Screen!" the head guard exclaimed, training a crossbow on Ned. The group felt dozens of eyes trained on them, and a healthy amount of bows and other lethal ranged weapons as well.


"We've come to warn the Empress of a great threat coming to ruin her city!" Lith yelled with cupped hands up at the guard.


"If you've come to warn Her Majesty about the Mad King's horde of warriors from the Beyond rapidly approaching her kingdom, then I'm afraid you're about six hours too late!" the guard retorted.


"You must let us in, they'll kill us!" Sam pleaded.


"How can we even be sure you're not just spies for the Mad King? I'm afraid I must ask you to leave, or we will be forced to exterminate you!"


"Let us in, you confounded blowhard!" Ned threatened.


The guard prepared another rebuttal, but was interrupted by another voice from above.


"Guards!" the voice ordered. "Open the gates, and let these men inside. Now." The guards snapped to attention and immediately did as the man ordered, and the gates of New Detroit swung open, allowing the group inside. They quickly dashed in, allowing the guards to promptly seal the door behind them.


The five of them stopped and panted once inside, catching their breaths after sprinting in. "We can't thank you enough, whoever you are..." Cannon said, eyes fixed on the ground. The stranger stepped down from the ramparts to meet the men.


"For my old friends in their time of need? No favor is too much to ask," Mallace insisted. Cannon immediately recognized his voice and looked up, soon joined by the others.


"Cannon," Mallace nodded.


"Ned. Trim that beard, you vagrant," Mallace ordered.


"Sam. I see you are still something of a disappointment, but I'm sure it's all part of the plan," Mallace lamented.


"Lith," Mallace simply nodded.


"Zoomer. What an odd name. What an odd man," Mallace remarked.


"Well, it's not actually my real name, but-" Zoom started.


"Shhhh," Mallace interjected. "I have powerful friends who wish to meet you. I don't need to know why you're here, but if I can be of assistance in this... most darkest of hours, then you can count on my help. For a price."


Lord Mallace led them to his estate in the outskirts of the city. The streets were filled with people variously panicking and dryly observing the situation at hand. Most of the people of New Detroit, however, were tucked safely inside their homes, convinced that the conflict would resolve itself in time if they simply refuse to acknowledge it. Most of the guards had been dispatched to guard the outer wall, leaving the streets largely unwatched by the law.


The group entered the estate quickly, shutting the door just before a cannonball landed outside. The foyer was occupied by three familiar individuals, whom the group quickly ran to embrace.


"It's about time you guys got there," Albert droned.


"And not a moment too soon," Rocket added.


"We thought you'd turn up here when we heard the news," David welcomed them inside.


Cannon sighed happily. "I wasn't expecting a reunion," he remarked. "Where have you guys been all these months?"


"We've been looking for you guys," David explained. "Ever since we heard you four killed Herobrine, well, we just had to catch up again. But then all this business with the Mad King started, so we met up here in New Detroit and we've sort of been here ever since."


"Under my roof," Mallace reminded them.


"Oh, stow it," Rocket scoffed.


"So, what brings you all to this death trap? Some new scheme?" Albert guessed.


"Something like that," Ned shrugged.


"We need to evacuate the city as soon as possible," Lith explained, casually wiping his goggles up to his forehead. "We have something - a weapon - something that can kill the Mad King. But it's deadly, and I think it can kill a lot of people at once. A lot. The plan is to lure the King into the city and activate the Device right on top of his head, but not before getting as many people outside New Detroit as possible to minimize the collateral damage."


"If you activate this weapon of yours, won't it annihilate both you and the Mad King?" Rocket speculated.


"I have also wondered this," Zoomer affirmed.


"Not to worry," Lith began. "I have programmed the Device to emit a protective field around whoever activates it, thereby protecting both him and anyone within his immediate vicinity from vaporization."


"It's not a lot," Ned said. "But it's all we have."


"Say we went through with this plan of yours," Albert questioned Lith. "How do you plan to evacuate so many people so quickly, before the Mad King gets here?"


"We need to get an audience with the Empress. She's our only shot at this," Cannon explained.


"Impossible," Rocket interrupted. "Her palace is the most protected place in the entire city besides the outer wall. There's no chance of sneaking in without being detected."


"Not to worry, I have another solution," Mallace stepped into the foyer. "My position can get you in through the front door. The Empress will have no choice but to hear me - er, us, out."


"We'll let you handle this," Rocket offered. He turned to Albert and David. "Come on, let's see what Mall's got in his basement that we can use as weapons if things get hairy."


"Don't touch anything you can't afford!" Mallace called back as the group departed for the palace.


The intensity of the cannon fire had increased dramatically in the past few minutes. It seemed every few seconds or so, another explosion went off in the city, accompanied by a few seconds of mortified screaming. The group, led by Lord Mallace, made a mad dash for the doors of the palace, which were guarded by two men in glimmering diamond armor.


"None shall see the Empress in this dire hour," one of the men commanded, brandishing a blade.


"Do you have any idea who you're dealing with, you spoiled lapdogs?" Mallace threatened, going right up to the guard's face. "Do you have any clue how much money  I have?"


"No."


"Then clearly you are not only blind, but also a fool! Now, open these doors or I shall have you in chains of the Empress' authority! Is that clear?!" Mallace demanded. The two guards exchanged blank looks for a few moments before shrugging and opening the massive palace door.


"I can't believe that worked," Ned said.


"Of course it worked," Mallace scoffed, gulping.


"Stop! Stop this at once! No uninvited guests in Empress Screen's palace!" a posh voice called out. A little man rushed in front of the group, decorated in lavish blue clothing.


"Blau? Is that you?" Ned asked.


"My name is Sir Ramsey Harrington, servant of the Empress! Please vacate the palace at once, or else!" Blau demanded.


"Or else what?" Mallace scoffed, pushing him aside. Blau fell to the ground with a thud as the group brushed by him, paying him no mind.


"I knew I should have stuck to entrepeneurship..." Blau muttered to himself, tossing his hat on the ground in frustration.


The group headed directly for the inner chamber of the palace, the location of the Empress' decadent throne. From inside, the sound of a middle aged woman screaming at terrified advisers made itself abundantly clear, prompting the group to slowly and respectfully tiptoe into view.


"And who are THESE ruffians?!" the Empress screeched in disgust the moment she laid eyes on the six strangers who had just walked into her throne room.


"I have no clue, your majesty. I will remove them at once," a hulking man in diamond armor said as he began to make his way towards Mallace.


"I think not," Lord Mallace protested. He motioned for his friends to follow him inside.


"Oh... it's you," Screen observed distantly as he stepped closer. The massive armored man stepped off to the side.


"Who else, your Majesty?" Mallace asked.


"What do you want, Mallace?" Screen asked with malice.


"If I may," Cannon began. Mallace bowed and allowed Cannon to step forward before Screen's throne. "We fear that the Mad King... is more powerful than the city realizes, or is prepared to defend against."


"Is that a threat, you vagabond?" Screen gasped.


"Of course not, your Majesty," Cannon corrected himself. "I only wish to warn you that to stay and fight may be an unwise course of action. We have heard... rumors, of a secret weapon in the Mad King's possession, a sort of secret weapon of his that he intends to use on the fair city of New Detroit. I am concerned that the only effective method of avoiding utter annihilation may be to abandon the city entirely, a mass evacuation, if you will, in order to save as many lives as possible."


Screen cringed in disgust. "What is this... total and absolute nonsense this man is saying?" she entreated. "No. I refuse to even entertain this common criminal. I will not have creditors in my seat of power, my THRONE ROOM, soliciting my kingdom from me using simple tricks and lies! Rufio! Have these men escorted out!"


"As you wish, your Highness," the armored giant obeyed. Rufio simultaneously shoved all six of them directly out of the throne room and out into the street, back into the warzone outside.


"That... didn't quite go as planned," Mallace observed, brushing his jacket off.


"I think we have a bigger problem," Zoomer said, pointing into the distance. At the east wall of the town, a massive fire was growing, and in moments a thunderous explosion erupted, blowing a hole in the stone defenses. Warriors clad in shining cyan armor flooded into the city in hordes, cutting down dozens of guards at a time. The Battle of New Detroit had begun.


The group rushed toward the conflict and passed by Mallace's estate, meeting up with Albert, Rocket, and David, who had quickly gathered their weapons and rushed to the battle as soon as it began. The nine friends charged at the wall and collided with great force with the Nightmare Warriors, clashing swords and firing off countless arrows. The city's guards, instilled with a sense of valor and pride at the sight of the so-called ordinary citizens rushing to arms, rallied and redoubled their defense, pushing back against the alien threat with steel will.


The Mad King's legions were comprised of more than simple footsoldiers, however. A great roaring deafened everyone in the city, and moments later a monstrous six meter tall Enderman with sharp claws and crashing jaws burst through the wall, thrashing and slamming both friend and enemy alike. Attempts to shoot it down with arrow fire were in vain, as the great beast always managed to warp to safety before any projectile managed to meet its massive target.


The city's forces were being overwhelmed. Covered by the intervention of the Ender Reaper, smaller Endermen and additional Nightmare Warriors flooded New Detroit, arriving in massive waves every few seconds. Just before hope was lost, though, a hooded figure in black robes leapt on to the Reaper's back and clawed a sickle into its flesh, sending it reeling in pain and temporarily unable to teleport. A deadly accurate arrow immediately pierced the area right between the beat's two purple eyes, forcing it to collapse on to the stone ground.


Dozens of defenders descended upon the beast, ripping and stabbing it to death until they were sure it was dead. The hooded figure, along with the unseen marksman, caught up with the group and quickly reaquainted themselves.


"Garland! And... Baron? Is that you?" Lith asked, tilting his head. The black robed man blinked its red beady eyes once and nodded quickly in confirmation. Garland retrieved the arrow from the Reaper's head and put it back in his quiver.


"We thought you could use the help," Garland explained.


"We were probably going to be fine, but thanks anyway," Sam shrugged.


"Tsk tsk. The little archer desperately defends his masculinity. This amuses me," Baron commented monotonously.


"Hey, why don't you come say that to my face, you cree-" Sam started, but he was hushed by Ned. Baron clicked in amusement.


"Let's focus on the matter at hand," Cannon ordered. "We've got them on the run for now, but they'll be back soon, and in greater numbers..."


"Then let us make ourselves ready for their return," Garland offered. The others nodded in approval, but before they could begin planning, a great dread washed over them, as if the tide had suddenly been turned in the enemy's favor before they even struck. What color remained in the city was immediately drained to a dull gray, heralding the arrival of a primordial evil. A sinister cackling was heard nearby in an adjacent street, rapidly approaching. Lightning rippled from building to building, and unholy fireballs leveled entire city blocks.


The Mad King had arrived in New Detroit. And there was hell to pay.


The King, clad in crimson armor and robes with a great demonic helmet covering his face, swooped into view with great golden wings that glew brilliantly in the night. In his right hand, he brandished the massive Blightsword, and in his left, the deadly Invidere - a duo fit for a God. The moment the ancient spirit laid eyes on the group, he almost audibly grinned from cheek to cheek.


"So," the Mad King boomed, his voice reverberating off the walls of the city. "My old friends have finally revealed themselves to me once more. I was wondering when I'd see you again. And now that I smell your fear once more, now that I taste your pitiful desperation again... I have never felt more alive." He glided towards the group with lightning speed, forcing them all to scatter like thieves caught in the act. He cackled manically as he tossed fireballs left and right, chaining in savage lightning strikes with the Blightsword occasionally to keep his prey on their toes.


He was enjoying this. It became apparent that although any of his nine targets could die at any moment, he wasn't making a serious effort to kill them - it was all just a sick game. The Invidere remained firmly planted in his hand, itching to instantaneously slaughter all of them at once without its edge even slightly dulling. The Mad King had them all on the run now; they sprinted for dear life down a narrow street, jumping and dodging ethereal blasts of power and turning corners every few moments in vain efforts to throw their pursuer off. But it was no use. Now he had grown bored of playing with his food and began pressing the assault, ready to finish his old enemies off - this time for good, he would make sure of it.


Sam was knocked directly off his feet into a patch of grass. He heard the screams and cries of his friends behind him, but more so, the ceaseless cackling of the Mad King. But just in front of him was the Talon Cutter, his only weapon in the midst of all the chaos, and the only thing he could think to do was crawl for dear life to grab hold of it and at least die fighting.


He grabbed the bow and drew back the string, prompting a magical flaming arrow to appear in the string, ready to be fired. After taking aim for a few long moments, Sam fired directly at the Mad King. The demon reacted just in time, barely doding the glowing arrow as it flew past his face and dissolved into ash as it hit a building beyond. But instead of continuing his assault, the King stopped dead in his tracks, descended on to the ground, and turned to face Sam, completely and utterly bewildered.


"You... how did you get that?!" the King demanded, aiming the Invidere at Sam. They were a mere twenty meters apart from each other, a distance, the King could close in mere microseconds. Sam took aim and fired again, prompting the King to roll out of the way. Another second and another shot from the Talon Cutter, but now the Mad King was angry and almost afraid, if such a being could truly experience fear. Sam pressed the assault further, but his aim grew sloppy, and before he realized it, the King had ascended back into the air and spread his wings to their maximum span, preparing to drop on Sam with the full fury of the Invidere.


But the Mad King had grown sloppy just like his prey. Before he could deliver the killing blow, a merciless barrage of cannonballs and illegal fireworks collided with him, fired from a cannon manned by Lith and one of the last members of the city's guard. The King was blasted into a clock tower, absolutely discombobulated from the unorthodox attack. Lithium cheered and shook hands with the guard, then ran to meet back with his friends.


"Come on, we have to get out of here! We'll live to fight another day!" Lith exclaimed as he pulled Sam up from his feet. Elsewhere, the remainder of his friends were slowly regaining their composure and jumping back to attention. As Lith tended to Cannon's wounds with a regenerative potion, however, the dark presence returned, no longer annoyed, but simply angry.


Lith quickly turned around and fired a noxious gas arrow at the Mad King, but the King was faster, dodging out of the bolt's path and suspending the scientist up in the air with the Invidere. As he prepared to deliver his vengeance strike, though, another rarely used ability of the Invidere resurfaced.


As he held Lithium in the palm of his hand, the King simultaneously experienced all of the human's past and present; he peaked into his dreams, his aspirations, his regrets, what he would be leaving behind if he were to die. All of this unwillingly and in the blink of an eye - a seldom used power of the blade that he had long forgotten even existed. He sensed a great deal of strife and hardship in the human's mind, but one particular burden stuck out. The Mad King grinned.


"What's this I sense, little human?" the King asked, feigning concern as he released Lith from the aerial suspension. The others raced to his side to help him up. "You are lost. You are missing something... someone. An old friend, perhaps? It seems you've been... deceived."


Zoomer gulped and stepped closer to Lith, who unfastened his goggles and tossed them aside, willing to listen to what the demon had to say.


"Your... friends. They have lied to you. They're keeping something from you. A deadly secret," the King teased.


"Show me," Lith demanded.


"With pleasure," the King nodded, aiming the Invidere at the scientist once more. A thousand visions flooded his mind, forcing him to scream out in anguish. Cannon attempted to help him up and urged him to snap out of it, but Lith neither heard nor cared what he had to say. One particular vision of the past came into view: a fortress in the Nether, ruled by his old friend - Arcifex.


Arcifex was fighting Cannon, Ned, Zoomer, Sam, and some other unseen foe to the death. He was putting up a good fight but quickly being overwhelmed. Cannon had something in his hand - a great golden sword that had the power to wield lightning. Arc never stood a chance once Cannon began to use it. His old friend was completely evaporated by Cannon's lightning.


Lith shook from his dreamlike state and immediately saw that the Mad King was wielding the very same sword that Cannon had used to kill Arcifex.


"It's a shame about your friend. An even greater friend that these... cretin, would try to keep the truth from you. You're smarter than that. You always have been," the King teased.


The scientist breathed slowly. There was nothing but cold hatred in his eyes now. Slowly, but with determination, he pulled out the Slip Device from his vest and began to activate its mechanism. Immediately, it hummed to life, and the crimson glow within it grew more intense by the second.


"LITH, NO!" Cannon yelled, attempting to swipe the Device from his hand. But a flash of light sent him reeling, and a glowing golden aura shot out from the cube. It seemed most everyone and a handful of injured guards had been near Lith when the aura was discharged, but spying beyond the bubble, Cannon noticed Rocket, Mallace, and David caught just outside. Rocket was desperately attempting to break through to the other side, but the aura was completely impenetrable. The Mad King hovered just outside the radius.


"Farewell, Lithum, I'm sure we'll meet again soon. I appreciate your gesture of kindness. If you'll excuse me, I have a meeting with the Lord Protector of Aragon, and I do detest tardiness," the Mad King cackled as he flew off into the night, safe from the destructive effects of the Device. The wind accelerated to dangerous levels and torrents of rain began to fall, signaling the coming of a great darkness.


Zoomer ran up to Lith. "Lith," he started. "I'm sorry. I never should have lied, it was wrong of me - but you need to stop this! Before it's too late!"


The anger had disappeared from Lith's eyes, and he was now simply at a loss for words. He showed no signs of resentment towards Zoom for the lie - only complete hopelessness.


"I... I don't know how... I can't..." Lith tried to say, but he could hardly put together a coherent thought. The wind accelerated and the sky begin to turn a sinister crimson. As the heat began to rise, Zoomer knocked the Device out of Lith's hands, but the moment the cube hit the ground, an explosion of energy emitted from it, knocking them all to the ground unconscious.


When Cannon awoke, the Device was gone, and Lithium was nowhere to be seen. The world around him as far as the eye could see had been completely devastated, apart from the tiny sphere the Device had protected around itself. The air was thick and heavy, weighing a great physical as well as mental toll on him and all of the other survivors. The only sound was fire, blazing endlessly in the night. Though there was no one left alive for miles apart from the six of them, Cannon could still hear the screams and cries of the innocent. The echoes of the dead.


New Detroit was not the only thing destroyed that night.


Chapter 18 - Counter Gambit

The morning after the attack was not chaotic. It was not a sprawling mass of panic and distress. It was simply quiet, and eerily so. As soon as the aura fell, Cannon and company raced to find their old friends Rocket, David, and Mallace, but all that remained of them was a pile of dark ash that blew off into the wind as soon as it met the ground. The lucky few survivors roamed the winding streets of New Detroit, solemnly looking for any more survivors; it was a useless gesture.


"Albert," Cannon tried to say as his old friend rummaged through the wreckage of Mallace's ruined mansioned. Albert remained silent. Cannon sighed and joined the other survivors who had gathered in the town's center.


"Mmm," Baron nodded, his tone now more solemn and respectful than any of them had ever observed. "Many have died, yes. But we must honor the dead by returning the favor to their killers."


Garland shook his head. "This isn't our fight. We have other obligations - we need to warn the other cities in Sivistys about what's happened here."


"Perhaps you're right," Baron conceded. "Perhaps I could get used to being a messenger. Fighting is bad for the back, anyhow." Several people walked off, just leaving Zoomer, Sam, Ned, and the newly arrived Cannon.


"This... is the end," Ned started weakly, the word just barely coming out of his throat as he clutched the blade on his right hip. "Isn't it?"


"Not yet," Zoomer answered, more determined. "We lost last night. Badly. In fact, I've never lost harder in my life..."


"We get it," Sam rolled his eyes.


"Let me finish," Zoom continued. "Killing Herobrine, I thought, was a turning point for me. I'd killed a God, so I could kill anything. But that was just the beginning. We started this all those months ago back in Kilran, and we've made some pretty epic mistakes, but we need to finish this. We owe it to ourselves... and to everyone else," he offered, reflecting on one particular detail. Silence.


"To Aragon, then," Cannon said, breaking the silence. "We'll finish this or die trying."


"To Aragon," they all repeated.


Ned was skeptical. "That's all well and good," he said. "But last night was a complete slaughter when he showed up. How are we supposed to kill the King without the right tools?"


Cannon pondered for a moment. "Who said we didn't have the right tools?" he asked, motioning to the Talon Cutter bow on Sam's back. Sam clutched it suspiciously, then nodded.


The group met back with Garland and Baron, who were preparing to depart for Mount Augusta. "I hope to hear good news from you soon," Garland remarked, slightly drained from the prior events.


"We'll do what we can," Zoomer nodded.


"I hear you're en route to Aragon," Garland continued. "Given the distance and the state of your... ride, I think I can offer an alternate method of getting there. There's a boat docked in a river a few miles to the west. The river leads directly into the ocean, and the boat will get you to Aragon in a jiffy if the tide is with you."


"Another boat ride," Zoomer reflected. "I can't wait."


"You have our gratitude, Jerry," Cannon thanked him.


"It's the least I can do. I think I spied a chink in the Mad King's left wing when he was flying off," Garland offered, gesturing to Sam. "Maybe you got lucky once or twice. Perhaps time is on your side after all. But not for long, as it were." With that, Cannon and Garland shook hands, and they were off to the west to face whatever fate was waiting for them back in Kilran.




The day was young when the company arrived at the gates of Aragon. The sun sat lazily on the horizon, slowly edging up into the sky to reclaim its blue canvas from the pale moon. The tiny cobblestone wall erected around its perimeter was still intact, though quickly falling into disrepair as strange creatures continually pounded it late in the night under the cover of darkness. Two archers noticed the group at they approached the wall, but didn't stop them from entering, allowing them to walk right in.


The streets of Aragon were considerably more lively than that of New Detroit, though there was an apparent air of hushed tension as news of the city's fall reverberated throughout the town's wooden foundations. The Rising Sun House, situated against the southernmost section of the wall, was practically swarming with guards armed with longbows. He had apparently spared no expenses when it came to security on account of the recent razing of New Detroit.


"I don't think we have any aristocratic acquaintances here," Zoomer observed. "How are we supposed to get inside?"


"Well, we've done it once before," Ned offered. "Let's do it again."


The group snuck through a street adjacent to the House's large courtyard, ducking behind a small cubic house as a cadre of guards passed them by. The back of the cobble wall was apparently even more dilapidated than the front side, riddled with small holes and indentations left by the creatures of the night.


"This again..." Sam moaned.


Zoomer climbed up first, helping the others up when he reached a safe spot halfway up the wall. Three or four guards were closeby and likely to let their eyes wander in their direction if given the time. With the help of Zoom's aggressive encouragement, the group began climbing again, and soon reached the top parapet. Carefully and with much silent prayer, they leapt one by one from the base of the wall down to the roof of the House. Cannon, the last to arrive on the roof, collided with the wood with great unintentional force, forcing it to emanate an obvious creaking noise that several guards could detect from below.


"Up there! Stop them!" a guard screamed, firing an arrow up at the roof. But the group had slipped inside through an ajar window before most of the nearby guards could spot them, just narrowly avoiding a barrage of poison tipped arrows from being fired directly at their heads.


"That was close!" Ned exclaimed, dusting off his armor. Soon, though, they realized what room they had barged into.


"What the... who could be up at this hour... the... OH GOODNESS! GUARDS! HELP!" Lord Protector Archibon von Oedifex screamed, slumping up in his bed and covering his face with the sheets. From below, it sounded as if a small army was racing up the stairs to assist the Protector. Ned quickly grabbed him and held his blade to his throat as the guards stormed into the bedroom.


"You... you again! But there's one less of you this time..." Archibon whispered as Ned held the blade closer to his throat.


Captain Connery pushed to the front of the gathering of guards with his rapier drawn. None of the other guards dared move an inch forward, though Connery pushed inched closer to the intruders with each second.


"Yes... it appears these wild vagrants have come back for more humiliation," Connery taunted.


"Actually, we technically beat you last time..." Zoomer shrugged.


"No," Cannon proclaimed, gesturing for Ned to drop the sword. "Not again. Not like this. We're not here to hurt anyone. We're here to help."


"He's lying," Connery guessed. "He'll say anything to get himself out of trouble, like the rat he is." Ned hesitantly stowed his blade and pushed the Protector forward to the group of terrified guards. Connery helped him to his feet and moved in to apprehend the intruders.


"No, stop!" Archibon ordered the Captain. "I want to hear what they have to say."


"But... sire, with all due respect, these men tried to kill you..."


"Let. Them. Speak."


Connery sighed deeply and moved back, still keeping his rapier drawn in case any of them tried anything.


"We come from New Detroit," Cannon began. "We were sent here by Notch and his... brother, to stop the Mad King."


"You witnessed the devastation of the Mad King firsthand?" Archibon pressed with curiosity.


"Well... to be perfectly honest, it wasn't really his devastation per se, but that's not important," Cannon continued. "What we do know is that the Mad King is coming here, to Aragon. He means to make an example to you for the other citystates: fall in line with his rule or be annihilated."


"My men are more than capable of warding off some dusty spirit," Connery scoffed.


"I'm sorry, Connery," Cannon sighed. "But you're mistaken. The Mad King is hundreds of years old, more powerful than any other living being, and invulnerable to all harm. All harm from conventional sources."


Sam equipped his bow and drew back the string, prompting a gleaming arrow to fold into existence, ready to be fired. He quickly stowed it once more to afford a tragic misfire.


"What's stopping us from simply taking that bow and killing him ourselves?" Connery flourished his rapier subtly.


"I trust these men, Connery," Archibon sharply impressed upon the Captain. "They are the only ones who have faced the Mad King and lived to tell the tale, and I believe they may be our only chance at survival. Not to mention, any friend of Notch is a friend of mine." The Lord Protector displayed a golden ring on his left middle finger engraved with a shining laurel, the symbol of Notch. Cannon observed that Connery wore an identical ring on his hand as well.


"How can we aid you, travelers?" Archibon asked.


"New Detroit fell because it wasn't prepared," Zoomer explained. "You need to dispatch all available guards to the outer wall and have spotters everywhere to make sure the King isn't able to swoop in unannounced. After that, the bow is our only chance." Archibon nodded to Connery, who immediately departed the bedroom to see to the respositioning of the guards.


"I never learned your names," the Lord Protector remarked quietly to the four of them.


"I'm Cannonwalker, this here is Zoomer, that's Sam with the bow, and this is Ned," Cannon introduced them all on their behalf for times' sake.


"I see," Archibon said. "I always believed Notch was telling the truth. Some were skeptical his prediction would come true, but I stayed faithful. I see now my trust was well placed."




It was high noon. All of the guards had arrived at their new positions, and all angles were watched, even the quiet and dark jungle to the town's east. No one dared say a word for hours, but soon enough, the silence was broken, and a low rumbling was heard in the distance to the west. Cannon, Ned, Sam, and Zoom all rushed to the western wall to confirm their suspicions: the Nightmare Legion, their cyan armor glinting in the daylight, had arrived, and much sooner than expected.


"It's time," Cannon said to Sam. Sam clutched his bow with determination and slightly shaky hands. He slowly knocked an arrow and aimed into the horizon, where tiny, shadowy figures were now amassing in the hundreds. His grip was remarkably steady given his predicament - that is, until the ground began to rumble with violent force. Aragon was being bombarded, much like New Detroit.


"Man the guns!" Ned yelled. The four of them each grabbed a cannon and began firing at the enemy catapults. With great difficulty and following the razing of four buildings within the wall, all of the in-range catapults had been eliminated, and the skies were safe for the time being. Valiant guards fired arrow after arrow at the ever growing hordes below, but the legion steadily inched closer to the wall.


The western gate blew open seconds after the Nightmare Warriors arrived at the wall, and in moments the city had been breached. But the guards were ready for them: instead of pouring in dozens at a time, only a precious few warriors slipped past the wall, all of whom were quickly picked off by the four heroes below in melee combat.


"We're pushing them back!" Sam exclaimed, landing another arrow in a warrior's chest. But just after his proclamation, a dark wisp manifested directly behind him, and he immediately felt the sting of cold otherwordly steel pierce the back of his armor. He fell to the ground, only suffering a minor wound but still reeling in pain.


The Mad King, in all his glory, folded into view behind the fallen Sam with the Invidere in his right hand and the Blightsword hanging from his belt. He was completely silent, his eyes fixed on the fallen enemy before him. He quickly moved in to finish the job but was tackled from the side by Zoomer, who wedged his blade into his exposed abdomen. The King yelped in pain, but it was more a minor annoyance than a serious wound.


"Get away from him!" Zoomer exclaimed, retrieving his blade from his opponent's gut. The Mad King hissed in cold anger, almost visibly electrifying the air around him. Zoom gasped in shock and backed off, stunned. Before he could make his next move, however, Cannon and Ned had joined the fight, helping Zoom and Sam to their feet. He had been surrounded. A swirl of dark energy began to surround him, accompanied by a chorus of screeching lost souls.


"You... you think you can harm me?!" the King scoffed. "You are weak... fleshy beings, bound in your pathetic human forms. And soon I will erase you and all that you love from history. My vision will be all that remains!"


While the King's gaze was on Cannonwalker, Sam drew back an ethereal arrow and fired it directly at his back, forcing him to scream out in anguish. The scream was absolutely crippling to everyone around him, but it was a scream of pain. He was panting heavily, liquid shadow dripping from his wound. The arrow faded away with a tiny flash of light, leaving an open gash in his back.


An unseen assailant approached the King from his side, prompting the four heroes to back away in fear. Sensing that someone was coming, the King quickly recovered from the pain and attempted to bring the Invidere down on his enemy's head, but the glowing golden blade, to his horror, had been intercepted by another weapon of the same ancient material. Bewildered, he turned to face his new opponent.


"Miss me?" Herobrine cackled, locking blades with his father. With both hands, he clutched a weapon of his own: an ornately crafted cutlass with bright red jewels on its hilt. Enraged and desperate, the Mad King pressed the assault and drew the Blightsword with his free hand attempting to behead his son, but it, too, locked with a new opponent at the last possible second.


Notch raced into the battle with a bright golden scimitar, colliding with the Blightsword. The Mad King pushed furiously against both of his sons, but their strength combined was arguably equal to his own. Taking advantage of the distraction, Sam drew back another arrow, but before he could fire, the King disengaged from the blade lock and jumped thirty meters into the sky faster than the eye could see and violently crashed back down, smashing the cobblestone below his feet and sending all his foes flying backward.


The King stared wide-eyed at all his opponents for a few solitary moments, then fear gripped him, more than it ever had before. After a split second decision, he evaporated into black smoke, fleeing to parts unknown. Hero and Notch jumped to their feet and helped their mortal friends up, all of them shaken from the attack but instilled with a sense of valor.


"I regret not returning sooner," Notch began as he helped Ned to his feet. "Our father had awakened more of his sleeping followers in Urghast than we predicted, and we were forced to close the portal there permanently to prevent them from flooding the entire world. The immediate threat of a full scale invasion has passed."


"It took some doing," Hero explained, brandishing his new weapon. "But it's refreshing to get back into glorious battle after all these years."


"Where'd you two get those?" Cannon asked, in awe of their new weapons.


"I told you, the weapons of the Gods are easy to find if you know where to look," Hero answered. "But that's beside the point. We heard about New Detroit."


"Oh..." Zoomer muttered.


"Worry not," Notch cut him off. "We know of what transpired. I do not think it was your fault... directly. We'll have to speak to this friend of yours soon. No one man should have so much power in his hands."


"Eyes on the prize," Hero reminded Notch.


"Naturally," Notch nodded. "I believe it's time to take the battle to our father."


Chapter 19 - The Waltz is Over

The afternoon directly after the Battle of Aragon was rife with hushed optimism and quiet excitement. The gossipers that began the season musing on the death of Herobrine and the return of the Mad King were now speculating on the nature of the former's return, and if the recent events may spell the final defeat of the latter. The children sang preemptive songs of the Mad King's death.


"Mad King, Mad King, king of the dirt! Mad King, Mad King, look at that girth!"


Notch, Herobrine, Connery, Archibon, and the four travelers met in the courtyard just outside the Rising Sun House. The numerous archer guards still valiantly patrolled the walls surrounding the city, keeping steady eyes on the horizon, though the general consensus was that the Mad King wouldn't be returning to Aragon anytime soon. Herobrine's arms were crossed and Notch stood with his hands clasped behind his back in a professional and collected manner; it was evident both of them were eager to leave.


"You have our eternal gratitude," Archibon smiled and bowed slightly, looking to Notch.


"And thank you, my old friend, for having faith," Notch nodded slowly.


"Yes, yes, we're all one big happy reunited family. Heartwarming. But it's time to go," Herobrine rushed them, tapping his left foot with a hummingbird's speed.


Notch gazed up into the sky to see the sun was threatening to set within a few hours. "And so it is," he said.


Notch and Hero said their final goodbyes and began walking off towards the city's gates. Cannonwalker and the others soon followed, but they were halted by Connery, who put a blade up against Ned's chest.


"When I first laid eyes on the four of you, I was convinced you were nothing but common criminals, the rejects of society whose fate could only be the hangman's noose," the captain remarked sternly. "But you've all shown more courage than I could guess on hundred men might in their entire lifetimes, and you've given the people of Aragon more than they could take. Finish this. For all of us," Connery finished, stowing his blade. "I believe you may be our last hope."


The four of them rushed to Hero and Notch's side. The two brothers were breathing deeply, as if they were about to deliver rousing speeches to an unseen crowd.


"What was that about?" Hero asked.


"Just an old friend," Ned shrugged.


"It's time," Notch began. "Stand in a circle, hands together."


The four of them did as they were told, with some hesitation.


"Uh... how's a friendship circle going to help us?" Zoomer asked skeptically, but Notch was silent, eyes shut.


The wind began to blow, though it was not a savage wind as the Mad King might conjure; it was calm, almost inviting, and as it flowed through their hair, it almost bestowed upon them a vague sense of peace. Curious onlookers observed the ritual with unerring interest, careful not to wander too close. The wind had kicked up a multitude of loose leaves, pebbles, and grass that licked at their faces. A stray piece of cobblestone hit Sam in the face, prompting him to begin swiping around with his arms. When he opened his eyes to see if the threat had passed, he found himself standing atop a little hill at the center of a massive plain of grass.


The others opened their eyes one by one to observe their new surroundings, though as they slowly recovered their senses, it dawned on them that this place wasn't new in any sense of the word.


"We're back in Kilran," Cannon observed. As he squinted his eyes, he spotted a small ruined village in the distance, where few buildings still stood. Much of it had been charred beyond repair by manic arsonists in the night, and it had likely been looted of its valuables long ago. Still, vivid in their memories was the chapel that stood in the center of the town, harboring a strange and unnatural portal within.


"The town of Satus," Herobrine remarked. "In hindsight, perhaps I could have chosen a better place to base my operations in the mortal world. Though I do have a soft spot for burnt villages. I have no regrets."


"This is a place of great evil," Notch explained. "Greater evil than when you were here last. The portal within the chapel is our only way into Imperium, the seat of my father's power. We are fortunate to have gotten here before-"


The calm silence of the plains unfolded in a split second, and the horizon was filled with tiny glinting figures in armor of cyan. The Nightmare Legion had arrived.


"RUN FOR IT!" Ned began.


"No time!" Hero shouted. With a quick whispered incantation, all six of them were invigorated with a sense of newfound strength and agility. The two Gods lifted slowly into the air, and were quickly followed by their four mortal friends, to their surprise.


"I... I can fly!" Sam yelled in disbelief.


"It's simply a matter of believing!" Hero shouted back. "Follow my lead!"


The six of them raced through the air with invisible wings towards the ruined town. In moments, a barrage of arrows was upon them, and they bobbed and weaved to avoid being pummeled. At an impressive speed of about twenty meters per second, though, they moved faster than any of the warriors could see with their naked ethereal eyes, and were approaching the town in good time.


The spell that granted the mortals the ability to fly, though, was beginning to waver. Hoping not to plummet to their untimely deaths, the four travelers gradually descended to the ground until the blessing was lifted, and they tumbled a safe distance down on to the cold cobblestone paths below. Notch and Herobrine swooped in and helped them to their feet, and just as soon as they had fallen, they were sprinting towards the dilapidated chapel.


Nightmare Warriors stormed the town, pushing over natural barriers made by the fallen buildings and firing countless arrows in the general direction of the heroes. They were soon upon the steps of the chapel, and upon entering quickly found a glowing End Portal in the center, still alight after all these months. Gazing into the portal itself was akin to staring into the endless Void beyond the world, where light was a distant memory and death reigned supreme.


"How do we know where we'll land once we go in?" Cannon asked, taking cover behind a cobblestone wall inside the cluttered chapel. A great roaring was heard nearby, followed by another. They had brought Ender Reapers, the same beasts that almost singlehandedy wrecked entire sections of New Detroit.


"I have a plan!" Hero assured him. The trickster God stood at the base of the portal's frame and began to wave his hands and utter ominous words in an ancient language. The portal began to rumble, as if initially rejecting his interference. The artificial wind it generated caused his tattered black cape to flutter wildly. Soon, though, the rumbling died down, and the inky black texture of the portal dulled to a calm gray. The outline of a massive city on the other side was just barely visible.


"Inside, quickly!" Notch yelled. He leapt directly in, followed by Hero. Hesitantly, the four mortal heroes followed them, just barely disappearing within the portal before two Ender Reapers descended upon the chapel, savagely ripping it apart in a matter of seconds. Behind them, the End Portal closed, the twelve eyes exhausted from the energy required to transport six individuals to the other side.


They arrived in the End completely disoriented. No longer an endless expanse of bear Endstone, the gargantuan city before them was hauntingly beautiful in its sheer size and scale, but it quickly became apparent that it was, for the most part, a dead city. Purple chorus fruit plants enveloped many of its buildings, losing the battle to "nature" as the residents of the city disappeared centuries in the past.


At the center of the city stood a massive and terrifying spire that pierced the haze of lazy magenta clouds that loomed over Imperium and the surrounding area. Beacons of pure supernatural light from within the tower stretched into the sky, humming with dark power. At the top of the spire, a faint golden glint could just barely be seen from below.


"Any more fancy spells?" Ned asked Herobrine.


"I believe the time for magical trickery has passed," Notch remarked as the golden glint leapt from the tower and rapidly descended down to the ground. Avoiding a direct collision, the Mad King fluttered his wings just before landing, allowing him to float comfortably to the paved ground below. He still held both the Blightsword and the Invidere in his hands, now aimed directly at the six assailants before him.


"No more surprises," the King spat. "You have willingly come to Imperium, my throne, to meet your deaths. I am eager to oblige your request."


"I have defeated you before, father," Notch said calmly, drawing his golden scimitar. "And I will do it again."


"We have defeated you before," Hero coughed, drawing his cutlass.


Cannon and company drew their weapons as well, most of them trembling in their boots, but determined to stand their ground nonetheless. Sam held the Talon Cutter nervously, preparing to draw back the string. The Mad King was silent for a moment, then erupted into a one-man chorus of hysterical laughter.


"Come, my sons! Embrace your doom!" he yelled, charging at Notch and Herobrine with enhanced speed. The four heroes prepared to charge into battle, but a squadron of Nightmare Warriors was upon them in an instant, preventing their advance. A flotilla of airships was quickly moving into position over Imperium, preparing to raze the entire city in a rain of fire.


"In here!" Ned exclaimed, leading the others into an open building nearby.


The Mad King had been taken by surprise before, but he had been waiting for his sons this time, gathering his strength for what could be the deciding battle of the new Resurgent War. Hero and Notch, pushing with all their might, could not break his stonewall defense, rendering the three-way blade lock a stalemate until the Mad King let loose a terrifying scream that pushed both his sons back and shook the foundations of several nearby buildings.


He immediately recuperated from the self inflicted blast and flew up into the air, using the Blightsword to pummel Notch into the ground with erratic lightning bolts. Hero regained his composure and kicked a fireball directly at the King, temporarily stopping his barrage. The two collided with great force and grappled each other, attempting to grab the weapons out of each others' hands. Notch attempted to rejoin the fight, but by slightly angling the Blightsword, the Mad King was able to smite him with another bolt, knocking him back to the ground.


The bolt shook the building the four heroes had entered, causing part of the ceiling to cave in and crush two pursuing Warriors. They raced up several flights of stairs to the roof, where several ancient cannons with strange arcane mechanisms were still operational. They set to work arming the End cannons, which curiously used no ammunition, instead firing blasts of pure End essence. They fired directly at the airships overhead, almost immediately wrecking three of the closest ones. Several surviving airships fired indiscrimately back at the city in response.


One of the blasts collided with the ground directly under the Mad King and Herobrine, forcing them to temporarily withdraw to regain their senses. Notch, battered but not beaten, jumped back into the air, scimitar drawn. The three of them engaged in brutal aerial swordplay, slowly ascending higher up into the air. Their golden weapons clashed with each other with extraordinary force in response to each parry, sending orange sparks flying in every direction.


The four adventurers continued to fire at the airships above, and in time the flotilla had been vanquished. Warriors immediately began to pour on to the roof, forcing them to abandon their cannons and face their new foes. These Warriors were stronger and more tenacious than any they had faced before, as if they were empowered by the location. Mostly free of assailants, though, Sam turned to observe the aerial battle just beyond the roof, and saw that the Mad King was slowly pressing the advantage against his sons.


Notch and Herobrine were both skilled duelists, but their father was a warrior, seasoned by dozens of battles to the death and hundreds of years of experience. With two God swords in hand, every one of his attacks was intended to kill, never purely to block or parry. His two sons were quickly being overwhelmed. Desperate to help them and end the battle once and for all, Sam quickly aimed a magical arrow directly at the King, who remained more or less stationary throughout the scuffle.


Completely enthralled by the battle, the King almost forgot about the four parasites who had accompanied Notch and Herobrine. He sensed the arrow racing towards his head a moment before it would have collided, and held up the Blightsword to deflect it. To his bewilderment, the instant the arrow collided with the broadsword, the weapon burst into millions of tiny shimmering golden shards, leaving him with only the Invidere to defend himself.


Notch and Herobrine quickly seized the advantage and began to overwhelm their outmatched father. The King adopted a completely defensive fighting form, a startling contrast to his previous aggressive stance. The brothers nodded to each other and Notch withdrew from the duel, leaving Hero to spar with the King himself. Thinking he could take one of his sons with ease, he let his guard down, allowing Notch to fire a blast of pure kinetic energy directly at his chest, sending him flying into the spire with impressive velocity.


The last Warrior on the roof was just barely dispatched, leaving the three heroes bruised and cut beyond recognition. They quickly joined Sam at the edge of the building and gazed with suspense at the smoking crater in the side of the tower. After a few moments of silence, a piercing ghostly ringing was heard, forcing them all, including the two Gods, to clutch their ears in an attempt to drown out the sound.


The Mad King emerged from within the building, tossing his horned helmet aside. Beneath the armor, he still bore the form of the possessed Woodlander - light brown hair, pale skin, and red and yellow eyes - but all of his features were somehow darker and more hateful, as if the immense darkness had taken a toll on his physical shell. His face was twisted into an expression of pure contempt and cold rage.


Above his head, a horrible void was opening up that began to vacuum in everything near it; the spire quickly collapsed with much of its support ripped from its foundation, tons of loose Endstone was being dredged up from the ground, and the six of them were inching closer and closer to the black hole by the second. Cannon and company desperately held onto the curved roof of the building, while Hero and Notch flapped furiously in the other direction with their invisible wings.


"You cannot escape," the Mad King said calmly, his voice just audible above the painful ringing and savage unnatural winds that slowly pulled his enemies towards the singularity. "All hope is lost. I have taken it from you. There's nothing left to do now but die, as you were always destined to."


The black hole reached its apex, threatening to burst with tremendous force, ripping apart the entire city in the process. Hero and Notch just barely managed to momentarily break free from the trance, meeting each other's gazes for a split second. Though they had exchanged no words with each other, they both knew exactly what had to be done.


The two twin Gods stopped resisting the pull and allowed the darkness to wrench them directly to its source with their golden blades drawn. In the solitary second it took for them to reach their target, a vivid expression of fear occupied the Mad King's face, immediately replacing the previous one of hatred. Hero and Notch collided with the father as the black hole burst, causing them to absorb the brunt of the explosion.


Red and blue energy spewed in all directions, choking the area like fog for a few moments before dissipating completely. The building the four heroes had been standing on collapsed, sending them all tumbling to the rubble below. Their armor prevented them from breaking anything important on their way down, but by the time they reached the ground, they had all been dazed seemingly beyond recovery.


"I... is he... is it over? Is he dead?" Zoomer asked weakly. Ned coughing up a puddle of blood was the only response he received. Sam clutched his head as it pulsed with extraordinary pain. He felt around for the Talon Cutter before finally seizing it. Relieved, the moment he dared open his eyes, he saw a figure in black and red armor leap from the rubble of the spire, prepared to slice him into bits with the Invidere in hand. The Mad King had come to finish the job.


Sam flinched and held his hands in front of his head, hoping his death would not be painful. A moment passed, and he was not apparently dead. Another moment, and he still breathed. He opened his eyes once more and the King was still suspended in the air, completely frozen in time; as a matter of fact, everyone and everything from his cowering friends beside him to the dull yellow pebbles flying through the air was frozen - that is, everyone and everything except he and his bow.


He held the Talon Cutter up in the air once more, taking careful aim at the Mad King's chest. With pinpoint accuracy, he fired off one arrow, then another, and another, only relenting once he had fired the fourth shot. The four arrows froze in the air the moment they were released from the bow, all aimed at different spots on the King's exposed chest. Closing his eyes, he uttered a silent prayer for a few moments until opening his eyes once more.


The Mad King, littered with arrows that disappeared the moment they hit their target, was blown back at least fifty meters. Every muscle in his body immediately wavered, rendering him a lifeless ragdoll as he flew back, leaving a trail of thick black blood behind him. He let go of the Invidere the moment he was shot, allowing it to fly gracefully into a pit of fire nearby.


His rule had finally come to an end.


Sam, limping, tossed the Talon Cutter aside. The bow disintegrated the moment it hit the cold ground, leaving behind a cloud of dull orange sparkles. He helped a bewildered Cannonwalker to his feet.


"What... just happened?" he asked.



Sam shrugged. "Our destiny was fulfilled."




Cannon, Sam, Ned, and Zoomer gathered at the edge of Imperium. They stabbed their blades into a mound of hard Endstone and left them inside, creating a modest memorial for their two fallen friends, Notch and Herobrine. They mourned silently, reflecting on the adventure behind them and what dangers may lie ahead.


"I guess he really was a hero after all," Cannon reflected on the trickster God.


"Well, he did try and kill us..." Zoomer added.


"If I've learned anything these past few months," Ned began, staring solemnly at the memorial. "It's that men can do strange things when they're consumed by envy."


"You can say that again," Sam agreed.


The four of them stepped away from the memorial and peaked over the edge of the End. Before them was an endless sea of darkness, but the Void was not strictly a force of evil. The only way back to the land of the living was jumping, and there was no telling where they might land.


"Guys..." Cannon started.


"What?" Ned asked.


"It's been a real pleasure," he said.


"Agreed," Ned nodded.


"Agreed," Sam said.


"And no matter what happens, I-"


"Oh, can we just go already? I need a change of scenery!" Zoomer exclaimed, plunging into the darkness. Cannon chuckled and followed him, then finally Ned and Sam. As they tumbled into the vast expanse of the Void, the darkness slowly gave way to piercing light.


A new adventure awaited them.


Epilogue...

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