Birch and Pine
Accipiamus duo capitis dolores diripio et vocate me in mane.
Chapter 1: The Drunk Guy
Bleek, Cody, Alex, and Rowan sat in the inn at Port Samuel. It was a relatively calm place, compared to many of the inns that Bleek had been to, following his drunken father to make sure he never got into any trouble. Bleek sighed and sharpened his Quartz axe. It was ancient and he always assumed it was diamond until some guy mining in the Nether found the new ore that was going to revolutionize Redstone production, according to the larger corporate entities. Of course, there were more pressing matters than the cool new Redstone materials, such as saving the known world from imminent destruction. They were playing a lively jazz piece on the record, "stal," and some other people were dancing. Rowan drank a bucket of milk. "Why don't they put this stuff in a glass?" he complained, then wiped off his milk mustache and adopted a more serious look. "I can't recall how" he began, "but I was stranded on a desert island for Notch knows how long with the most annoying human being in all Minecraftia. We tried to escape on a boat and nearly got killed by Cthulhu." Cody doubled over with laughter. "Cthulhu? Old wives tale. There are no scaly things in the sea aside from fish." Rowan shook his head. "Let me remind you that these Legions of the Nether you refer to don't exist either. So let me continue." Unfortunately, Cody had difficulty letting go of a good guffaw. A drunken man turned around. Oh Notch, no, Bleek thought, not a drunk guy. Cody was trying hard to compose himself. Alex rolled his eyes. The drunken man seemed offended. "You laughin' at me?" Cody took no notice. "YOU LAUGHIN' AT ME?" the man said in a louder voice. By now Cody had somewhat composed himself and moved away from the drunk guy. Unfortunately, Alex chose just that time to poke Cody in the side before Bleek could warn him that Cody was ticklish. Cody let out in a burst of laughter before he caught himself, but it was too late. The man stood up. He was a Villager, probably a Blacksmith and definitely not a young one. "YOU ARE LAUGHING AT ME!!," he yelled, standing up, " I'LL FLATTEN YOU, PIPSQUEAK OF A PIGMAN!!" Instinct took over and Bleek pulled out his axe, bringing down the handle on the guy's head. He collapsed, probably more from the alcohol than the blow to the head. Four large guys with tattoos glared at them. "C'mon, everybody," said Bleek, "I don't think we're welcome here anymore." Cody, Alex, and Rowan stood and while the guys tried to rouse the drunk blacksmith, they made for the exit sign as fast as Redstone.
Chapter 2: A Story in the River
The team was leaving Port Samuel, but Rowan stayed behind for one last look. He definitely remembered something about this city. How had he lost his memory in the first place, though? He had heard rumors that Blazes could steal your soul by taking your memories until you had no idea who you were, and then by stealing your heart. And rumor had it that soon, Redstone companies were expecting to make a device that could read your mind. But Rowan had no clue what had happened. There were vague impressions at the back of his mind ever since he had stepped into the port, but he couldn't place them. He needed to find something familiar, something that could trigger a spark. In the time he had spent at the port recuperating, there was only one place he hadn't explored yet - the underground river where some of the smaller ferries went through to avoid the larger ships. He stood at the entrance and recalled a vague impression of falling in, of clawing at the water, but that was all. He knew he had to try it, so he stretched out his arms and, taking a deep, tentative breath, fell into the water below.
Chapter 3: For The Love of Quartz
Cody was worried. As a commander of the Cyan Shirt League, he was trying to advise the mayor of Port Samuel. It was going badly. "What you're saying," said the mayor, "is that a giant army is riding out of Hell and is about to cause the end of the world." "Basically," said Steve to Cody's right. "I can assure you," said Cody, "I was there when they destroyed Oak Town! How else could a whole village turn into a smoking crater overnight?" The mayor shrugged. "Minecraftia as we know it is a strange place," he said, "it was only recently that we discovered entire societies of witches in the swamps. Who knows what mysterious force of nature was responsible for this?" Angela stood up. "Well, if Oak Town doesn't impress you, what about Vestian City? What forces could shatter the front gates of the city and slaughter millions of women, men and children?" The mayor raised his hands. "Please, are you telling me you believe these rumors?" "OH NOTCH, MAN!!" yelled Steve, "RUMOURS!? I WAS THERE, DON'T YOU TELL ME THOSE ARE RUMOURS!! I WATCHED SO MANY PEOPLE DIE, DAMN IT!" The mayor stood up. "I ought to arrest you for spreading malicious lies and verbally abusing the mayor of this city! Now, if we evacuate the city, many people will lose their jobs, including me! This port is about to get rich on Quartz, and I will hold Port Samuel together until the last penny has changed hands. We will not shut down the nether portal, and we will not take military caution. Do you know how much erecting a wall would cost? Take your doomsday talk elsewhere, Border maybe, or Port Richards, I would like to see them evacuate!" Cody could see there was no sense carrying on. He stood up and shook the mayor's filthy hands. "Congratulations, Mr. Mayor," he announced, "you have officially sold your soul to the devil, and now he's about to destroy this city! At least he'll give you lots of his Quartz!" Cody turned away and left the conference room, listening to Angela trying to intimidate the mayor. He left before the really good swear words started flying, so I won't have to quote it. In any sense, Cody was proceeding at a rapid pace to the edge of the city, where he ran into the forest and screamed his heart out. Suddenly, he heard a rustling. A Zombie Pigman scout? He saw a flash of red. Oh, Notch, a Reaper!! He drew his iron knife and slashed. Alexander fell back screaming. Cody tried to wipe the sweat off his forehead, forgetting he was holding a knife and screamed twice as loud. Alexander immediately jumped up and said "Thank Notch I found you! Rowan is drowning!" Cody tried to ignore the bleeding and turned to Alex. "Where?" "The underground river!" Cody ran for it. Alex was keeping pace with him. "A life lesson, Alex," Cody growled, "no matter how bleak a day is, there's always room for one more big, black cloud!!"
Chapter 4: A Mysterious Savior
Rowan sunk below the surface of the water and it reminded him of something. He had been pushed in by someone, someone he trusted, while his ferry was leaving. But who? He didn't know. He had met this person somewhere… a town, yes, but what was it called? The edge of his vision was blurring. He suddenly remembered the name just as huge, cold, metal arms reached in and pulled him to safety. He remembered that, too. An Iron Golem, and his name was… yes, it was Talos. He choked up water as Talos held him. He fell to the riverbank as Cody, Alex and Bleek arrived. "Is he alive?" asked Cody. Talos nodded his head. "How did he fall in?" asked Alex. Talos opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He looked beat up, as if somehow something stronger than him had punched him into submission. Rowan croaked. "I know him," Rowan announced, "this is Talos. He came from Border. We need to go there." Bleek groaned. "We just came from there," he complained. "I need to remember," Rowan said, "please!" Alex sighed. "Maybe if Rowan remembers something important, it could help us fight the legions." Rowan knew that there was something important, but he couldn't understand it. Something about… about a glowing light in the deserted streets of Border. An anomaly. "There's an anomaly there," he said, "and on the other side is the next clue." Bleek sighed. "Fine," he decided, "as if we have anywhere better to go." "Yeah," said Cody, "the mayor will be of no help. Everything went in one ear and out the other, because there's nothing in between but the word "profit." Rowan nodded. "By the way," asked Rowan, "what happened to your forehead, Cody?" Cody sighed. "I really don't want to talk about it, okay?" Rowan nodded. "I'll go buy some chainmail," he decided, "then we leave. In fact, we could all use some decent armor." Everyone was in agreement over that. Except for Talos, who had enough armor already. So it was decided. They would return to Border if there was anything left of it.
Chapter 5: Follow the Yellow Brick Road
"You know," said Alex as they were going, "there was a guy who wanted to sell me a sword that he said would never break." "Did you buy it?" asked Cody. "He was charging five diamonds. Can you believe that? Five emeralds, maybe, but diamonds? Only an idiot would buy that sword." "Unless he killed the guy," said Bleek. They laughed. As they were leaving, Alex saw a man lying on the ground. "Pay no attention," said Bleek, "if we're lucky it's just a drunk guy." "And if we aren't lucky?" Bleek sighed. "Then he could have gotten whacked over the head with a gold sword. According to Cody," he announced, "the legions are coming to Port Samuel. They'll be here by dawn tomorrow." A shocked Rowan turned around. "We have to help them!!" Bleek shook his head. "Steve and Angela say that the CSL will be providing as much help as they can. We have to go, because we can save more lives in Border than we can here." Rowan was about to argue, but he knew Bleek was right. Talos trailed on behind. "Does he have to follow us?" Cody asked, "it creeps me out." Rowan nodded. "Talos can be trusted," he announced, "I don't know why, but he can be trusted." Cody shook his head slowly. "Why won't he talk?" "I think he got beat up in a fight," Cody guessed, "maybe he got punched somewhere around the throat and his vocal cords are damaged. Then again, what do I know about iron golem physiology?" Suddenly, Talos started waving his arms excitedly. "Has he lost it?" wondered Bleek. "No," said Rowan, "he's trying to tell us something! But what?" That question was answered shortly. There was a snarling sound, and Rowan whirled to find a wolf glaring at him. "Nice doggie," he muttered. Within seconds, they were surrounded by several dozen nice doggies. "What do we do?" Alex said in a panicky tone. "Would you stop talking in that panicking tone?" chastised Rowan. "It's not a tone," yelled Alex, "I'M PANICKING!!!"
Chapter 6: Not-So-Nice Doggies
The group fled into the trees, but the wolves pursued them. "I just realized something," said Cody. "What is it?" asked Bleek. "The wolves," Cody realized, "they had purple eyes." Everybody looked at him. "Which means…" "Endermen!!" yelled Alex, "they're being controlled by one or more Endermen. Maybe Nethermen, I dunno." They found themselves in a clearing, and there were zombie pigmen there. One of them was holding the mayor's head. Alex vomited. The wolves surrounded them and formed a slowly rotating, contracting circle of snarling fangs and sharp claws. Bleek fingered his axe. For the first time, he realized he might die doing this, and he was frightened. He pulled out the axe just as a wolf leaped out at him. He swung and it went through the wolf's skull and killed it instantly. It was still twitching in its death throes when a pigman jumped out with a golden sword. Talos was clobbering wolf after wolf and slaughtering pigmen, and Rowan had taken a spear from the dead mayor, lying headless in the trees - the army had obviously attacked the port and the mayor had been killed fleeing with a bag full of tax money and a spear - and he was using it to attack the wolves. Cody had an actual diamond sword and was plowing through the pigmen, and somehow Alex had found a bow and was shooting the fleeing survivors. But it wasn't enough. Bleek blocked the swing with his axe and kicked the pigman in the groin with one leg while kicking two wolves back with the other. Unfortunately, that meant neither leg was on the ground and Bleek fell. The pigman was still reeling. Bleek was on his feet first and the axe lodged in the pigman's neck. It made a snorting, piggish sound and collapsed in a dead heap of pork. Gold nuggets clattered on the ground. Bleek grabbed up the golden sword and the scabbard for safekeeping and attached both to his belt. They couldn't hold off the wolves for long. Then he realized, if they were being controlled by an Enderman or a Netherman, then if he was killed the wolves would go back to being wild and probably start fighting each other. He relayed this to Cody, who was at the moment holding two wolves by the neck and holding his diamond sword with his toes and dueling three pigmen. "Go ahead," he yelled, "my hands are sort of full. My feet, too." Bleek ran towards what appeared to be the source of the wolves and charged, yelling a random battle cry that made no sense anyway and slicing through the wolven horde.
Chapter 7: Riding Into Battle on an Iron Golem
Rowan noticed a pigman riding a pig, ironically. He used the spear to skewer the pigman and stole the saddle, deciding it would look a little wimpy to ride a pig into battle. He ran to where Talos was fighting off the wolves and leaped onto his back, saddling him. He urged Talos after Bleek, having reached the same conclusion that he did. Talos plowed through the imposing wall of undead bacon and dripping fang like it wasn't there. Rowan cheered and his chainmail armor rattled as arrow after arrow struck it. His spear twirled, stabbed and pirouetted as it slew pigman after pigman. A wolf, unfortunately, leaped up and broke his spear, which really killed the party. He used the broken hilt to attempt to bash the wolf over the head, but he missed and the wolf leaped up and bit his nose. He screamed in pain and grabbed the spear tip, jabbing it into the wolf's side. It growled and nearly fell off Talos. Ahead was a pair of Nethermen surrounded by a protective circle of Blazes, Reapers and Wither Skeletons. "Kill the Nethermen," yelled Bleek, "that's our priority." Talos nodded understandingly. "Understood, Bleek," yelled Rowan, "but probably not that simple." Indeed, it wasn't.
Chapter 8: Out of the Frying Pan…
Bleek stabbed and slashed through three Blazes and ducked to avoid three fireballs. He grabbed up two blaze rods for safekeeping and felt a fireball bounce off his armor. It was a good idea, buying the armor. Talos charged through the wall of mobs and Bleek followed in his wake. A Wither Skeleton leaped out and swung his stone sword. Bleek swung and smashed it. The skeleton just stared at the broken hilt for a moment. Then, he smiled weirdly and ran. Bleek cut off his head. He grabbed up some chunks of coal and threw Rowan a bone. "Get that wolf off your back," he yelled. "Thanks," said Rowan who was busy hanging from the stirrups and swinging blindly at the wolf, which was clinging to his belly and snarling, "really helpful." A Reaper was behind him charging and Bleek decapitated it. A normal Creeper standing in the trees just stared at the dead Reaper and ran as fast as it's four legs could carry it. The Nethermen were still controlling the wolves and sent two or three dozen to corner Bleek, Rowan, and Talos between a rock and a hard place. Fortunately, you can break a rock with a good enough pick, so Bleek charged for the Nethermen, cutting down monster after monster, and decapitated one Netherman. This broke the other Netherman's concentration long enough for the wolves to go wild and start fighting. The one that Rowan was fighting devoured the bone and suddenly became far less aggressive. He wagged his tail playfully. "Attaboy, Scar," said Rowan, seeing the scar on the wolf's side and thinking up the name off the top of his head, "kick some rear!" Scar jumped up and ran to the Netherman, biting it. The Netherman screeched and teleported away. The wolves were by now totally out of control and Alex and Cody quickly dealt with most of them. The remainder were very hungry and wanted pork, so they attacked the pigmen, who fled into the forest. Talos finished off most of the remaining Blazes, Reapers and Wither Skeletons easily. Unfortunately, they weren't out of the woods yet. From the sky, Bleek heard a battle cry and he looked up, immediately regretting it. An army of huge, black, bird-like creatures were circling, ridden by winged female warriors. Others held lances and flew down toward the forest in formation. Whale-like creatures, once beautiful but now scarred and winded, were also ridden by the warriors and moved menacingly closer. "Valkyries," said Rowan in astonishment, "but I always thought they were a myth!" They broke formation and started flying towards them. "Where did they come from?" Bleek wondered. "The Ether," realized Rowan, "they were sent by The Voice in the Darkness. They were sent to kill us." Bleek raised his sword as one Valkyrie raced closer and closer and sword met lance as the battle began.
Chapter 9: …Into the Fire…
Talos was definitely a match for the Moas, but the Cockatrices were another matter. They were far more powerful in battle and the poor golem was even more damaged, not to mention that most of the Valkyries held magic warhammers that shot projectiles which even an iron golem was no match for. And if an iron golem wasgetting damaged, you can imagine that Alex, Rowan, Bleek, and Cody were getting pounded. Scar was too wounded to be of much help so Rowan was on his own slashing at Valkyries with the remains of a spear. He wished he'd bought the sword, but maybe someone else would need it. Anyhow, he knew he needed a better weapon. Bleek had killed a Valkyrie warrior and Rowan ran over to grab her lance. Better than nothing, he supposed, though he really wanted one of those awesome hammers. something that looked like a huge Blaze was coming closer and shooting fireballs, so he ran up to it and tried to stab it. It flew off and set the forest ablaze. Rowan jumped and faceplanted in a wall of blubber. It was an Aerwhale ridden by a Valkyrie. The Valkyrie was shooting at him with the hammer and he blocked with the lance. The lance was bent out of shape, but the projectile rebounded and killed the Valkyrie. He leaped up to the body and, flinging aside the broken lance and spear, grabbed up an intact spear, the hammer and a silver medallion. He decided to hang onto the medallion just in case. A symbol had been scratched into it, a symbol that looked like five ornately carved doors centered around a hoe - no, a scythe - and what appeared to be a Blaze Sword, a Valkyrie Lance and an Eye of Ender. There was also writing in the language of the Valkyries, and to his shock, Rowan found that he could read it. "I swear my honor to The Voice in the Darkness to serve him until death upon my sacred medallion to the queen." Rowan scratched his head and it hurt. Then, he realized it was obvious - he had lost his memory when he whacked his head! It wasn't redstone or a Blaze, it was a simple concussion! Somehow, the fact gave him comfort. He felt the ripple of muscles underneath him. It was the Aerwhale. Suddenly, he could feel it's pain, the pain of watching its pod, it's family slain, the pain of watching its beloved heaven destroyed and turned into darkness. It drew a tear, and he knew what to do. The Aerwhale flew into the air and Rowan, riding it, fired projectile after projectile from the hammer. Several Valkyries and the Cockatrices they rode fell dead. Another Cockatrice was coming closer and Rowan held up the hammer to block a poison dart, then skewered the Cockatrice with his lance as soon as it came close enough. It screeched, writhed and fell to the ground below, venom and blood spurting from its neck. That was an ugly way to die. Unfortunately, there were just too many Valkyries to fight, and the Sun Guardian - somehow Rowan knew what it was called - was still destroying the forest. Below, he saw his friends clustered around Talos about to be killed by Valkyries. He made up his mind right then and there, and he felt unusually calm about it. He made the Aerwhale swoop towards a pair of Moas and knocked off the riders with the hammer. He jumped onto one and cut the saddle and stirrups off the Aerwhale, watching it slowly drift away into the sunset. The sunset. The battle was about to get very difficult. His moa raced towards the ground and he aimed for where he could see a Creeper trying to flee from the fight. He reached out and grabbed it, and he flew on to where they were about to die. He was planning to make the Creeper explode, even though he knew he would die, and make it scatter the mobs trying to kill his friends. He didn't have to, though, for just then there was a powerful light. Somehow, it scared Rowan and he screamed, dropping the poor Creeper and falling off the moa. Then, he hit the ground and everything went black. Again.
Chapter 10: …And Saved by a Potion of Fire Resistance
When Alex woke up, he realized he had extreme motion sickness. He recalled advice somebody had given him - if you keep your eyes on the horizon, you won't throw up. He looked around to figure out where that horizon was. He was in a wooden room, and everything was swaying. He was definitely quite sick. But no - everything WAS swaying. He was on a ship, but how could that be? They had been miles from Port Samuel when they got attacked. And then - and then there was a bright light and all of the monsters that were attacking them - no, he'd been knocked out by a flying hammer and everything after that was a hazy blur. He attempted to focus on the horizon of a painting directly across from him and failed completely. Some guy heard the noise and ran in to clean up the unsightly mess. "Hi," said Alex, "sorry about the floor." The man was silent. Alex nodded slowly. "Can you talk?" The man kept cleaning. "Can you hear?" Alex ventured. The man still said nothing. "Um, where am I?" "On the SS Adventurer," he responded curtly and then left. Wobbling slowly, Alex hobbled out of the small room and walked down a corridor. He noticed how small everyone was. Then, he realized they were all pigmen, but they must have been midgets or something. He kept his hand on a stick he had brought, knowing how much trouble the zombie pigmen had caused. The brilliant rays of sunshine cut through the gloom and he stepped out onto the top of the ship. The sea seemed very choppy, completely white. Then, Alex realized it wasn't water. It was clouds. He fainted again.
Chapter 11: A Mysterious Veil
Rowan felt somehow at home in the sky. The feeling of flight felt familiar, and he felt that if he fell over the side he could soar away. He dared not try it, though, remembering falling from the moa, the light, hitting the ground. The moa, somehow it felt familiar too. He couldn't place it and decided to let the matter drop. One of the crewmembers came up to Rowan. "Nice view, isn't it?" Rowan nodded. "Stunning. I love the sky." The man nodded. "So do I. By the way, have you met the captain yet?" Rowan shook his head. "For that matter, I don't even know who you people are." He nodded. "Captain Redstone will explain." Rowan laughed. "No offense to the captain," he said, "but that might be an embarrassing name. Can I call him by his first name?" The man shook his head. "The first name is a little cumbersome too," he explained, "it's Thaddeus." Rowan marveled. "Captain Thaddeus Redstone?" "The second," he said, "at your service." Rowan nearly doubled over laughing. "Forgive me, sir," he laughed, "I'm not familiar with naval uniforms." Captain Redstone shrugged. "This isn't a naval uniform," he explained, "these are my pajamas." They were certainly the most formal PJs Rowan had ever seen. "I want a pair of PJs like those." The Captain laughed. "Don't we all." They walked over to the mess hall, where Cody, Alex, and Bleek were pigging out on steak, while the midget pigmen politely chewed their food. The officers were sitting around and joking, though they seemed very tired and looked like the seemingly jolly atmosphere was forced. They immediately stood and saluted when the captain arrived. "At ease, men," said Captain Redstone, and they sat back down. He walked over, and he was followed by a woman in uniform. "First officer Hannah Longcrest, reporting for duty, sir." He nodded. "At ease," he said, "and I'm glad you could join us. I presume your leg has healed." She nodded. "Completely, sir." He smiled. "Excellent, Hannah. Take the day off, you deserve the rest. Also, I'm sorry." She looked like she was fighting back tears. So were the other officers. Captain Redstone solemnly turned to the officers. "Men," he announced, "it is with a heart full of sorrow that I confirm all the 11 people who are on the list of missing personnel are confirmed dead. All the bodies were found last night. They will be shipped to Nodding Dock by the Dreaming Star in 7200 hours. I know you all had friends you lost that night, and so did I. But I want you to know, none of them died in vain. They went down fighting for a higher cause, and I am proud of them all." He hung his head. "Evigilantur et somnium nos valedicas." Everybody in the room repeated the prayer, followed by "Amen." The captain got some breakfast and left. Rowan's mind was full of questions. Who were these people? What had happened? And why was Cody staring at Hannah looking like somebody had bashed a brick over his head?