//Welcome back everyone, for a new story and a new adventure! I mean it as exactly that, an adventure. However, not going to lie, this might end up being pretty stupid. The idea itself isn't too bad, and the story should be fun, but after playing a bit of SDV again in the beta to check a few things, it struck me how drastically different this would be from the game, and it just feels like I'm going to take WAY too many liberties and depart from the SDV "universe." Also, no lie, this started out as a collection of "hey, wouldn't it be cool if..." ideas that became a semi-coherent story that sounded like a fun adventure. Oh well, too late to back out now, I've promised everyone a story and I'm going to deliver, damn it! Going to try to keep up with my tri-weekly schedule, unless I get a massive case of writer's block, or it hits me how cripplingly silly this all will be and decide I don't want to embarrass myself any further. If you're just joining this series for the first time, go back and read the first story. Ha! "The first story." Like there'll be anything else after this. Thanks again for reading, here's hoping that this meets everyone's exacting expectations!// Sitting around the table at the community center, the members of the Elements of Sound and their support crew went back and forth about the set list for their upcoming gig in two weeks. Sam was only half-listening, as he'd suddenly gotten the inspiration for a new song and was busy scribbling notes in between plucking away at the strings on Harmony, which was being recorded by a microphone and laptop to his side. Lys had been bringing both Resonance and Harmony to practice, since it allowed Sam to do stream-of-thought writing with Lys's help on Resonance, and because Elliott could carry the second guitar, reducing Lys's burden. Sam looked up for a moment to make a note on a piece of paper that Lys was looking at, noticing that his friend wasn't reading, just lost in thought, smiling faintly as he ran a finger over the simple platinum ring on his left hand. Unable to stifle a laugh, he startled Lys, who realized what Sam found so funny and flushed a bit in self-consciousness. "You got so domestic since you got hitched," the spiky-haired man grinned, "it's actually kinda adorable, you know." Their friends chuckled at this, and Lys rubbed the back of his neck, smiling softly. "And it's also kinda weird. I mean, c'mon, where's that sassy flirt that we all grew to love, hunh?" "Do you remember when I moved here a year and a half ago? What I was like?" "Heh, yeah! You were so quiet and shy. ...And scared." Sam got thoughtful for a moment, putting his chin in his hands and elbows on the table. "I remember at the Flower Dance, you looked like you were going to run at first when we walked up, but then you smiled and it was so warm and friendly. I decided that I wanted to get to know you better, 'cause you looked like a nice person and I wanted to help you out." "And you know now the pain and fear that I was carrying, everything I was running from. Even after I learned that I could trust everyone, I still felt the need to wear a mask, and continued to hide behind a smile and a wink, keeping everyone at arm's length. I don't need to do that anymore." Lys reached over to squeeze Elliott's hand as he brushed the carved pendant with his other hand; it, the ring, and his earrings were his only jewelry now, as the guitar-pick bracelets and pendant were stored in Resonance's case. "You don't need to change, dear, I love you for who you are, as you are." "I want to be a better person, love, for all of you. And this time I'm changing because I want to, not because I had to." Sam nudged Lys with his ever-present grin. "Fair enough, but that better not mean you're like this on stage. Part of the draw is the sexy bassist being all hot and stuff." "I'm a professional and you know it. Don't worry, I've simply removed that mask, not discarded it. I'm still not completely in control of my fire yet, but I'm getting closer. I just don't want to burn anyone ever again." Abruptly, everyone looked up and turned toward the mountain. Alex's grip tightened on his soda can without realizing it, crumpling the empty container. "Did anyone else feel that?" "Yeah, and it wasn't an earthquake, it felt more...personal," replied Sebastian. Elliott was also perplexed, a look he did not often wear. "It felt like a ripple in my soul, as though cosmic agents had thrown stones in the pond of reality. My body is untouched but my spirit is wary." "Once again you know how to articulate what everyone's thinking, love. And it wasn't something like an EMP, 'cause we've still got power and nothing was damaged. Weird..." Uneasily, they returned to their previous discussion, except for Haley, who fiddled with her camera, unable to focus. About ten minutes later she dropped it on the table and stood up, knocking over her chair, turning again in the direction of the mountain. "Something comes." This sort of statement would normally have left Sam laughing, but they all felt it, and even he knew that something wasn't right. Lys dashed out the door, followed closely by everyone else, running to the town plaza, guided by some unknown force. Townsfolk who saw their sudden arrival gave them startled and confused looks, but paid them no further attention. Sam glanced around, scratching his arm without thinking about it. "Okay, maybe we're just all on edge, or going a bit crazy, 'cause-" "Shadows!" Lys suddenly spat, for the third time regarding the approach to the mountain with distaste. At first they didn't understand, until they saw a wave of darkness spreading down the road to town. It wasn't a solid object, simply hundreds of small creatures, numerous and swift, of shadow given form. Beasts, monsters, vermin... The tide of creatures was nearly a swell of void, drawing in light and sound, producing an eerie emptiness, moving as one, a single-minded mass. The swarm shifted, turning away from the plaza and toward them, sensing... something. Panic now gripped the townsfolk, who now saw what bore down on the town, and those who were not paralyzed with confused fear ran. His friends were right behind him and fanned out to break the wave, throwing themselves against the sea of shadow. The rage and fire Lys hadn't felt in so long burned hotly within him, and he charged the oncoming onslaught recklessly. There was something new there, however: power. Instinctively, he reached out for it, drawing in energy until he couldn't hold any more. It needed shape, form, use... He knew what it could do, what it would do, and gave it that shape, that purpose. But it needed one last thing, a spark, an initial flame... Reaching into his pocket, he flicked open the lighter that he now always carried and lit it with a practiced motion. The flame caught, and he could feel it, he knew how it danced and moved. It felt alive, like an extension of himself, and he called upon it. The flame melded with the power he held, allowing him to summon fire of his own, which wrapped and spiraled around him, gathering energy with each pass. Guiding the fire as an extension of himself, he lashed out, sweeping the front ranks with a swath of flame that obliterated shadow-creatures ten feet deep and just as wide, leaving nothing but a smoky wisp of un-light. Elliott felt something tug at his mind, and glanced out of the corner of his eye to see the large decorative fountain in the middle of the plaza, merrily splashing. It called to him, he reached out to it, and it flowed to him. Water was slow to move, but once in motion it was unstoppable. There was a moment of pause as he felt it merge with his essence, becoming part of himself. Infusing it with power, he nudged it to get it moving, flowing out of the fountain as a single mass, then guided it as it picked up momentum, rising high over the ranks of the army of shadow-beings, crashing down as a tsunami in the center, scattering them like twigs in a whirlpool. Most, however, were destroyed in the initial impact. Nudging the water again, he reformed it and sent the torrent coursing up the hill to the back of the swarm, bisecting it before calling it back, allowing gravity to do the work in crushing his enemies again. She had always envied the wind, the way it was always so free and uncontrolled. Abigail loved the sound, smell, and feel of the breeze, and enjoyed windy days, even though she was the only one. Now she could feel the wind, its power, her power. So free, so strong, as gentle as a breeze but as destructive as a tornado. Inhaling deeply, she breathed the air of her home, tasting it properly for the first time, feeling power course through her and making her feel lighter yet stronger than she ever had before. With a flick of her fingers, she sent the energy spiraling tightly, tiny at first, but gaining strength and velocity as she focused, dropping it in the middle of the pack that Elliott and Lys had carved off with their own attacks. The wind served only to ripple the surface "skin" of the creatures at first, then buffeted them, then lifted them into the air as the vortex took form. The vacuum of negative pressure created began to pull in more creatures, which flailed helplessly as they were whirled in an increasingly faster and more destructive pace that shredded them into smoky wisps. Energy and Sam were synonyms; he was always in motion and perpetually cheerful. The Sunshine Child, he was often called. But it wasn't sunshine that now caught his attention, it was the crackling of power lines overhead that he had somehow never noticed. Opening his mind, he reached out to the electricity without really knowing how, just already knowing how, and grinned as he felt the lightning answer his request. A brilliant white arc leapt off of the pole into his waiting hand, danced around and down his arm, spiraled around his chest and up his other arm, and leapt like a trained animal off of his other hand, aimed at the pack that was nearly on top of him. Crackling thunder followed behind the trail of zig-zag light as it hopped between shadows, briefly illuminating them before they exploded into nothingness. Laughing, he called down the thunder again, but from the nearest four poles, not one, causing devastation among the creatures that never slowed in their advance. Sebastian had never called himself brave. Smart, but never courageous. But in this moment, something awoke in him, and he followed his friends with the intention to protect. He stopped abruptly, feeling something. Kneeling, he put a hand to the ground, listening to it, feeling the vibration. The earth called to him. Almost all of his life he had lived on that mountain, had walked its slopes and traversed the upper levels of its mines. He had always been stoic and reliable, like the earth. And like the earth, he would not be budged unless he put his mind to it, and now he would show them what would happen when the earth itself rose up. Focusing his mind and power, he sent it into the ground in front of him, rippling the stone, feeling the energy wave travel ahead and under the army, where it erupted upward in sharp, jagged spikes in some places, and ruptured into ragged chasms to consume in others. Those lucky enough to evade both of these attacks still found themselves staggered as the ground rumbled beneath their feet, knocking them down and into each other. If Alex could choose one word to describe himself it would be "steadfast." There were many who would be surprised that he knew the meaning of it, but he wasn't stupid like many had thought, and he was fiercely loyal and protective of those he cared about. Now, something terrible threatened all of that; his home, his friends, and his family. Angry, he felt himself become more aware of something. Something that could help. Casting about, he saw one of the wood-and-metal park benches in the plaza. The metal, something about it... Grabbing the arm of one bench, he pulled, and the metal stretched like taffy, coming apart from the wood. He had to fight, this was his home, these were the people he cared about, he needed a weapon. The metal understood, and he poured his mind and power into it, forming a warhammer, something that should have been too heavy and unwieldy for anyone to use, but felt light and responsive in his hands. Without a second thought, he dove into the melee, swinging wildly, crushing and scattering the shadow beasts. Haley had always been popular, but still always an observer. She saw everything, but rarely talked about it. She had always just been there. Now, she could see everything, and she knew how to use it. Without words, just thought, she saw her friends fighting against the shadow army and guided them; ensuring that their attacks would complement and not collide, assisting each other in watching each other's back. With a focus that she had developed over years of photography, she watched both the entire fight and its individual components, directing and assisting her friends, and with her guidance they drove back and destroyed the shadow wave, leaving behind an eerie silence that slowly faded to allow sound and light to return. Before anyone could celebrate, the shadows rippled again, stretching and melding, and from them something grew. It was...something... Twenty feet tall and bipedal with batlike wings protruding from its back, it was birdlike, though the term that might come to mind to those of a classical education was "wyvern." The only thing that wasn't completely ebony-dark were its eyes, simply orbs of pure white. Sleek black teeth in a gaping void of a maw opened and roared, and it lashed out with a powerful forelimb that ended in three long, sharp talons. Lys and Sam dove aside in opposite directions as Alex ran in, blocking the strike on the haft of the weapon, and remembering the weapons training that Lys had given them before, continued the flow with the movement to deflect the attack away and charge in with one of his own. His hammer struck it firmly in the leg, causing it to stagger and swipe at him again. "It's solid, so we can kill it," Lys snarled, "Elliott, cover me!" Running in from the side, Lys whipped out with a tendril of fire, intending to strike and slash. He scored a successful hit, though the skin of shadow melted back into place. Sam's lightning crackled over its surface, making it hiss in anger, but seemed to do no other damage. Sebastian and Abigail had teamed up to take it off-balance; the wind battered it from every direction as the ground beneath it rippled and shook, keeping it from gaining a sure footing. Despite this, it remained upright, and reared back to lunge at them and snap at Elliott, who had looped a solid coil of water around a wing and was trying to pull it to one side and take it down. He barely dodged it, and stumbled himself as the beast turned sharply, pulling him along, not expecting it to do the same to him. Releasing the water completely, he tried to call it back from its scattered state, not paying attention for a moment. The beast continued its pivot, now snapping its jaws shut mere inches from where Sam had been, but was too fast to catch, its tail coming around and catching Elliott in the chest and sending him flying backwards, bouncing off of a tree, where he didn't move. "Shit, he's down. Sam, check on him, I'll-" Alex was interrupted by a howl of rage. The air around Lys now rippled with heat, and the beast ignored his friends to charge him, seeing the new threat. Before anyone could move to assist, a spiral ring of fire surrounded it, causing it so stop and roar with pain. This quickly became a white-hot, twisting column of incandescent flame, an inferno that obscured the beast from vision and whipped the air around them with the heat of an oven. As quickly as it had begun, the fire dissipated, leaving behind nothing but stone that had melted into a misshapen solid shape and bits of glass where sand had fused together. Panting heavily, Lys swayed on his feet, still holding on his palm a dancing flame. "Nngh, damn, I was careless," groaned Elliott, standing up with Sam's help, "that was amazing dear, how did- Ah! Lysander!" The rage that had powered him through the entire fight faded at the sight of his husband, safe and unhurt, and Lys collapsed. Elliott rushed to him, sighing with relief to feel breathing and a pulse. "He seems to be fine, but at the same time, what all of us just did right now should have been impossible. I would claim it a dream, as would most of you, but dreams have never hurt like that." "This was no dream, wordsmith, and the wizard will see you know," offered a new voice. They all sought for a name to put to the face of the raggedy, unkempt, yet unassuming man, dressed in tatters and holding a strange, small piece of carved hardwood and wound with vines. Linus, he was called, they finally remembered. He saw the questions that they were about to form and shook his head. "He will answer and explain it all, though it may take some time. This was neither chance or a mistake, and your help is needed. Your home is in danger and you have been chosen to fight for it. And yes, your companion will be fine," he reassured, nodding to Lys and Elliott, "the wizard will make sure of that. Here, this will take you to him right away." Placing the wooden item on the ground, it stood on its point without assistance, and a bright circle appeared around it, interlaid with runes and arcane symbols, which flared brightly to open a portal above it into... nothing. It was six feet in diameter and completely flat, with an edge sharper than a razor on its side. Elliott picked up Lys and strode toward the portal without hesitation or to wait for his friends, stepping through it and vanishing. The others paused, unsure if they should follow, until Sam shrugged and grinned. "It's not the weirdest thing we've done so far today, yeah?" He leapt through as well, and after a moment of hesitation, everyone else followed.