Obelisk Shield: Part I - Tome of Chaos Story
“We’re taking fire!” the captain shouts, and a moment later, a thunderous explosion goes off. The airship lurches in the sky.
You stagger sideways, arms flailing wildly, slamming into one of the ship’s masts, and you go down in a heap. Your head is reeling. Your ears are ringing. Above, massive rotor blades spin furiously atop their masts, trying to beat the air into submission and keep the ship aloft.
It’s not working.
The ship lists dangerously to one side. You slide across the deck and slam into the gunwale. Others are less fortunate. They pitch overboard, and their screams are ripped away by gravity. Your stomach leaps into your throat as the ship begins a much too rapid descent toward the earth.
You struggle to your feet, holding onto the side of the airship with a white-knuckled grip. Far below, the dense wilds of Praetoria stretch to the horizon in every direction. Very soon, it’s not so far below. The wind howls and whips around you as the airship falls out of the sky. You grit your teeth and brace for impact and wonder why you ever agreed to take this voyage in search of a pipe dream.
All over the Splinterlands, the Chaos Legion took control of the battle arenas where you made your fame and fortune. Instead of peaceful contests of will using illusions conjured by magical cards, heathens like Grum Flameblade now use the arenas for actual sports of blood where people… well, you know. Where they actually die… or something worse.
But you aren’t a warrior, a spellcaster, or a fighter; you’re a battle mage, an entertainer renowned across the world for your prowess with magical cards, not a sword or spells. So when you received an invitation to participate in the underground battle arenas springing up across Praetoria–arenas that once again embraced civilized competition–you were skeptical… but when you learned the invitation included an all-expenses-paid voyage, a hefty benefits package, and a promise of more riches and fame than you’d ever known… your only question then was, “Where do I sign?” A rumor was also making its rounds that they had a new set of cards and a new set of rules, and you welcomed the challenge… and the distraction from the war and chaos that was tearing your world apart.
And now, here you are, falling out of the sky and crashing onto this godforsaken continent, and you’re going to die. All that fame and fortune, you’d trade it in for just one parachute.
The ground approaches rapidly. You’re close enough now to make out the leaves on the trees, an ocean of green. The howling wind pummels you. Something thumps against your hip. Your satchel. It’s filled with your cards. You reach inside and draw one at random. It’s a summoner, Lorna Shine. You fought and won so many battles with her Divine Shield.
The bottom of the airship skims the tops of the trees. You have seconds left to live. A sense of resigned melancholy fills you, and you close your eyes and hold the card up, just as you had so many times before while facing off against your opponent in the arena. If this is the end, your last thought might as well be of something you loved: the roar of the crowd, the anticipation of battle, the thrill of victory.
Later, you’ll wonder what really made you draw a card. You’ll wonder, too, why it was Lorna Shine. Was it fate, or just dumb luck?
A terrible roar resounds, like the entire world is being torn asunder. The deck heaves, splinters, ruptures beneath your feet. Your body is crushed, and your limp and broken form goes flying–
–no, wait. That’s not right. That’s not right at all. Your body isn’t crushed. It’s not limp, and it’s not broken. You do go flying, yes, but a shimmering halo of gold surrounds you, and it disappears as you hit the ground on your feet and stagger to a stop, breathing hard and heart hammering in your chest. You pat yourself down. Not a scratch. You turn and stare at the airship.
It is unrecognizable, just a strewn heap of broken planks and assorted flotsam at the end of a long clearing of harrowed earth and flattened trees. No one could have survived that.
Yet here you are.
Before you can give this miracle another thought, something high above catches your attention. You squint at it, shielding your eyes with one hand. At first, you think it might be another airship, citizens of Praetoria coming to rescue you. But no, it’s no airship.
It’s a dragon
As it draws closer you can make out its thick, spiny hide colored in hues of blue and purple. A chaos dragon. You’ve heard stories about them. They say their breath will melt you in your boots.
With one hand clutching your satchel of cards tightly to your side, you disappear into the wood line. The trees are dense. It’s all gloom and shadows beneath their thick canopy. You race away from the airship, trip and fall down, pick yourself up, and hurry on.
A mighty roar fills the air, and you glance over your shoulder. Even through the heavy foliage, you can make out the flickering glow of purple-black flames as the dragon blasts its necrotic breath upon the airship. You can only hope the beast didn’t spot you and come for you next.
You didn’t have time to grab any supplies. You have no food, water, or shelter. All you have are your cards which, by rights, should have conjured nothing but a useless illusion. For some reason, though, it had worked, infusing you with Lorna Shine’s power and protecting you with a Divine Shield.
Why? And how?
The rest of the day, you wander aimlessly through the woods, praying to the gods you don’t bumble into the Chaos Legion’s forces… or something worse. The airship was taking you to an arena, but you have no idea where that is. Hell, you don’t even know where civilization is. You have no destination and no one waiting for you when you get there. You’re not a ranger, tracker, or survivalist. What you are is hopelessly lost.
Birdsong and the soft innocent chitter of small wildlife surround you, but as the sun sets and night falls, the sounds of the forest take on a foreboding milieu: the rustle of brush, angry squeals, and the occasional beastly growl. You stop for the night in a small clearing and collapse on the ground with your back against a tree.
Your boots are fashionable but not exactly made for hiking, and your feet are killing you. You take them off and wiggle your toes. The air is chill, and you shiver and pull your cloak tightly around yourself, staring into the darkness. Your satchel rests on your lap, and you furrow your brow as you open it and search through the cards. In the compartment containing those of the fire element, you find a Malric Inferno. You pull the summoner out and study it. Your cards have never conjured anything more than illusions. What changed, and would it happen again?
You hold the card up, and power surges through you. A fiery glow lights the clearing. It’s coming from you. Like Malric Inferno, you are infused with flames. They warm your skin, yet they don’t burn you, your clothing, or your satchel. Okay, the summoners still work; how about the rest of them? You place the Malric Inferno on the ground and rummage around until you find a Fire Elemental card. When you hold it up, flames flare at the center of your little clearing. The grass begins to burn.
Yup. Apparently, you can now summon a corporeal likeness of all your cards. You return the Fire Elemental to the satchel and slip your boots on before stomping out the flames.
Is it you, or is it something nearby that is transforming illusion into reality? Maybe the cards work on all of Praetoria now. Gods, what if they work everywhere?
Your mind whirls with endless questions, and when the horizon glows with the light of dawn, you haven’t slept a wink. You struggle to your feet, hoist your satchel, and set off into the wild wilderness.
Three days pass without sign that you are anything but alone. No civilization, just a forest that seems to stretch on forever. Without your healing cards, your feet would probably look like ground beef by now. If only you had a card that could conjure a lavish five-course meal.
Midday of the third day, you climb a hill that rises barren from the trees. The forest stretches around you like an ocean of emerald green. No sign of a city, town, or hamlet to be found. Then you see it. There’s a massive volcano on the horizon, but that’s not what catches your eye. You stare, unable to believe what you’re seeing. There are tentacles protruding from the volcano. They’re nearly too big to comprehend. They flail at a sky shaded in indigo and violet and filled with dark, roiling storm clouds.
You’ve heard the stories. Who hasn’t? The tentacles belong to the dark god Uul, and as dark gods are wont to do, Uul would like nothing better than to consume the Splinterlands. However, whatever rift the Chaos Legion created for their invasion wasn’t large enough to accommodate the god’s immense form. If it were to widen and that thing finally slipped through, nothing would be able to stop it.
Even so, none of this deterred you from coming to Praetoria. Why would it? They were just stories after all. You didn’t want to believe them. Besides, you never thought you would leave the safety of the arena or the town in which it was harbored. You never thought you’d actually be staring directly at a dark god.
You imagine marching through the forest and up the side of the volcano. When you reached its summit, you would stand in defiance and whip out your cards, using them to sever each tentacle, and the earth would shake when they fell. Then you would leap into the dark god’s maw and go after its heart. When it beat its last beat and you emerged victorious, you wouldn’t just be another celebrity entertainer. You’d be known the world over as the savior of the Splinterlands.
Instead, you turn and head down the hill in the opposite direction, away from the volcano, away from those tentacles and the dark god Uul, and back into the forest.
Another week passes. You survive by drinking from dirty pools and streams so filled with silt you practically have to chew it. You eat leaves, roots, and the occasional bizarre-looking fruits and berries, hoping to the gods that none if it’s poisonous.
You are dehydrated, starved, and exhausted. You have no destination. There is no finish line. In spite of all that, you refuse to just lay down and die, so you continue on.
Every now and then, a ridge of mountains is visible through the thick canopy of leaves. You decide it is best to steer clear; who knows what manner of beasts lurk there. These woods are bad enough, thank you very much.
What was that? You stop and cock your head, listening.
There it is again. Voices drift through the forest, too faint to understand, but voices nonetheless.
You turn and hurry in their direction, then slow and stop. The voices rise, rough and angry. This time you proceed more cautiously, trying to avoid creating any sound, although it seems like you somehow manage to step on every dry leaf and twig in the forest. But the voices are loud, and they mask your movement.
Through the trees ahead, you see them: five figures in the armor of the Chaos Legion and a diminutive mole-like creature, a scavo, wearing a silver robe emblazoned with runes. One Chaos Legion soldier has lifted the scavo in the air by the collar of its robe, and he’s shaking it, spittle flying as he shouts.
“Last chance. Tell me where they are, and I’ll make it quick. Don’t, and I’ll cut you open and choke you with your own guts.”
For a second, you consider just turning around and slinking back into the woods. You’re a celebrity, you’re not a hero. Then again, you have never needed to be a hero.
You step through the trees.
The Chaos Legion soldiers turn to face you, eyes wide. The one holding the scavo drops the creature, but before it can scurry off, he kicks it hard in the head with a heavy leather boot. It tumbles through the litter of leaves on the forest floor and rolls to a stop. It doesn’t move.
The soldiers draw their swords and their axes. The surprise is gone from their faces. In its place are looks of murderous intent.
One of them, a dark-skinned man, sneers. “What’ve we got here?” He looks you up and down. “Fine piece of meat, even if a bit greasy. Maybe I’ll have a taste before we slice and dice.”
“You can have a taste after,” another says.
He shrugs. “Either way.” They all laugh.
Your heart pounds and your hands shake as you reach into your satchel. You draw a death summoner, Zintar Mortalis, and raise it in the air. Its power surges through you. A green mist swirls around your hands.
You drop the card. As it flutters to the ground, you draw two more. A purple, winged cat–the Dark Ha’on–appears in a burst of magic and rises into the air before you. A cyclone of leaves whirls as it beats its wings beneath the forest’s canopy. Drawn by its taunt, the Chaos Legion soldiers turn from you to the Ha’on and attack. As they do, you use the second card to conjure a Screaming Banshee. With a wail, it unleashes a bolt of death elemental magic that slams into a soldier and ignites those on either side of him. All three are consumed by magical flames and collapse. The Dark Ha’on finishes the remaining two with a swipe of its claws and a snap of its jaws.
Just as quickly as it began, it’s over.
Breathing hard, you collect your cards and return them to your satchel, and the corporeal manifestations vanish. You stare at the blood and the bodies. Before now, all your battles were fought in arenas. No one actually died. Was taking a life supposed to be this easy? You expected to feel regret, shame, something. Instead, all you feel is the same thrill of victory you’ve always felt after a battle in the arena.
The little scavo still lies unmoving on the forest floor. You hurry toward it. Blood pools beneath a nasty cut on its head, It’s breathing is shallow, but it’s alive. You use your Byzantine Kitty summoner to heal its wounds. After a moment, the scavo blinks, sits up, and peers about. When it sees the fallen Chaos Legion soldiers, it struggles to its feet, eyes wide.
“They are dead?”
“Then I owe you my life.”
It introduces itself as Ataka, then it glances at the corpses again. “The Chaos Legion.” It shakes a fist at them. “We’ve been working to bring the Obelisk Shield online, but their scouts are everywhere. They’ve killed many of my people. Now, there are so few of us left. At this rate, I fear we’ll never get it done.”
You furrow your brow. The Obelisk Shield? You ask what it is.
“You’ve not heard of it? Suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Much has been lost over the ages. My people and I, we’re technomancers. You’ve not heard of us, either? Well, we build apparatuses and infuse them with elemental magic.
“There is a legend that, long ago, our ancestors built the Obelisk Shield to tap the pure, concentrated mana of the Splinterlands. It worked like this: magic-infused stones were crafted and given to the mightiest of heroes. These heroes used their stones to create a network connected to eight obelisks. The network wove a shield of mana across the world, ensuring the fabric of reality remained intact and the rifts remained sealed.
“One of those obelisks is buried deep beneath this mountain”–Ataka waves a hand at a summit rising in the distance through the canopy of trees–”but the stones are gone, lost to time and memory. That’s what we’ve been searching for: the components we need to craft more stones. Because if we can get the Obelisk Shield online again…”
Ataka explains how it works, but there are lots of technical terms and multisyllabic words that you do not even come close to understanding. What you do understand is that this Obelisk Shield will close the rifts between worlds and stop more Chaos Legion forces from pouring into the Splinterlands. Without reinforcements, without additional weapons and supplies to fuel their war machine, perhaps the Splinterlanders will have a fighting chance against them.
And if the rifts close, what happens to Uul? With any luck, the dark god and its oversized tentacles will either be gone or cut in two. Either option suits you just fine.
Against your better judgment, you agree to accompany the technomancer into the mountain and help restore the Obelisk Shield. If it is everything the scavo says, the risk will be worth it. Besides, what is the alternative? Keep wandering around the forest hoping you don’t cross paths with more Chaos Legion lackeys or some voracious beast looking for its next meal?
You’re scrambling up the rocky terrain at the base of the mountain when a cry goes up. Far below, a swarm of Chaos Legion soldiers bursts from the tree line of the forest.
“They’ve spotted us,” Ataka says. “Hurry!”
The two of you break into a run, legs pumping and thighs burning as you make your way higher up the mountain’s slope, the Chaos Legion in pursuit. The scavo slips and goes down, and you grab its arm and haul it to its feet, and the two of you race for your lives.
Breathing hard, you glance over your shoulder. They’re gaining. Something in the sky catches your eye. A speck in the distance. As it draws nearer, you realize what it is: that damn chaos dragon again.
Higher and higher you go, until you’re no longer running. You’re climbing. If either of you slip, it’s over. The soldiers are closing in. The shadow of the chaos dragon blots out the sun. The sheer face of the mountain rises before you.
“There!” The technomancer points.
You search frantically and see it: the mouth of a cave. It’s too far above. You’ll never make it in time. You climb faster.
At last, you haul yourself onto a level stretch of ground and sprint toward the mouth of the cave. A mighty roar fills the air and drowns out everything else. You swear you can feel the hot, fetid breath of the chaos dragon at your back as you dive into the cave and a blast of necrotic energy consumes the land outside.
You are still alive.
“We made it!”
But when you turn, all that’s left of Ataka is a bubbling pile of goo on the rocky earth outside.
The chaos dragon circles and swoops toward you. As it inhales, you scramble deeper into the cave. A blast of necrotic energy, and a terrible crash as the rock above the entrance collapses, sending a thick cloud of dust and debris into the air, sealing you in your tomb.
All is darkness.
You cough and choke, eyes burning from the dust. You hold your cloak over your mouth until the dust settles and you can catch your breath. Then you fumble blindly to open your satchel.
Each elemental deck is tucked into its own compartment. You don’t need sight to know where they are; you know it by heart. When you wield your Alric Stormbringer card, the power of its water elemental magic surges through you, and a purple flame appears in the palm of your left hand.
You’re not in a cave like you thought. You’re at the beginning of a tunnel that carves its way deeper into the mountain, sloping down into an obsidian darkness. At least you’re not trapped, but without the technomancer to guide the way, how will you find the obelisk? How do you know it even exists? All you have is Ataka’s word. For all you know, the scavo was crazy. Or lying. Or both.
Either way, it’s no use sitting here feeling sorry for yourself. You hoist your satchel of cards, brush the long white beard of Stormbringer aside, and start down the tunnel, flame held high to light the way.
The passageway twists and turns and, when it divides, you choose a direction at random. Occasionally, you hit a dead end and have to backtrack. The tunnel slopes endlessly downward, deeper and deeper into the earth. You lose all track of time. Hours pass… or is it days?
Perhaps you should turn around and head back to the surface and the mouth of the tunnel. Maybe you can dig your way out. But with all the twists and turns and intersections, you have no idea how to get there. You are already lost. You would just get more lost.
Down, down, down you go, until you’re certain you’re descending into the very bowels of the underworld. The rough rock around you is slick with condensation. The air grows cold, and you hug your cloak tightly around yourself. Your breath plumes with each exhale.
You slow and stop. A trick of the dark, or is that light ahead? You stumble forward. Yes, a soft glow emanates from around the next bend. You approach cautiously and peer around the corner.
The tunnel opens upon a massive chamber. Your mouth drops open, your eyes widen, and you let out a gasp. It’s unlike anything you could have imagined.
What you see before you, it will change everything.
Collect special Limited NFTs related to this story at https://www.splintertalk.io/nfts/
Story: Joey Shimerdla
Editor: Sean Ryan
Narrative Lead: Joey Shimerdla
Character Art (cover): Candycal
Illustrations: Mateusz Majewski
Graphic Design: Tamer "Defolt" Oukour
Voice Acting: David Dahdah
Music and SFX / Post-Production: Isaria
Creative Director: Nate Aguila