The Last Campfire
The embers whirl and dance away, carried by the cold wind. Like the fire burning fiercely in the ring of stones, the chattering of your comrades is infused with warmth. Yet underneath their cheerful, carefree words, you can hear a tinge of uncertainty. It is not a mark against their courage: to have ventured this far into the Netherworld means that every single one of them possessed the courage of a hundred men. It is an uncertainty borne of the fact that the foe you must soon face is deadlier and stronger than anything you have ever fought. After all, they do not call him the Demon Lord for nothing.
From his throne atop the black spire, the Demon Lord commands his legions of fiends to pillage and plunder the human world. He is a creature filled with the blackest malice, the embodiment of evil itself. In their time of need, man begged the skies for aid. The three goddesses that created the world and spun its fate answered man’s call, and selected from their ranks a Hero. A champion of the light. The sword that would drive back the darkness.
At least, that was how the prophecy went. High Priest Ardunnos at the Temple of the Fates had been quite adamant that his dream – filled, unsurprisingly, with nubile maidens in sheer gossamer cloth attending to gorgeous goddesses – was a prophecy from the gods. And so the Seven Kingdoms of Man had begun searching for a hero to save them: a champion that fulfilled the requirements of the Goddesses’ Prophecy. You remember the day that the emissaries came knocking at your door, the day when they revealed that you were one of the hero candidates.
A. As a member of nobility, you had been accorded the best education that money could buy in both swordsmanship and magic. A life of luxury afforded you many benefits, and to your family’s pleasure, they were not wasted on you. Your innate talent meant that you soon exceeded your peers, and as the war against the demons dragged on, it did not take long for hopeful eyes to turn towards you.
B. You were one of many to leave your struggling village for the capital, hoping to find a better life. There, against all odds, you were accepted into the famous Order of the White Falcon. They were an esteemed group of knights who had a long tradition of loyal service. You soon proved yourself as one of the best squires in the fortress, even besting some older knights in practice.
C. Your village was one of the first to be destroyed by the demon army. Orphaned at a young age, you were picked up by a band of roaming mercenaries. You spent your early years knowing only war, and nothing else. Thankfully, your luck turned for the better when you were bested by the greatest swordsman of the age. Impressed by your skill, he spared you and made you his disciple.
D. You lived the comfortable life of a merchant’s son, but your interests had always been towards scholarly pursuits and less about the chase for money – although you were no less talented in that field. Your family was kind and supportive, allowing you to take your own path. You did. You became the youngest graduate of the capital’s most prestigious academy, and a skilled magical researcher in your own right.
You met the others soon after that, and you had been together since. A motley crew that had been full of conflicting egos and dysfunctional personalities at the start… but the fires of battle have forged a bond that you have come to appreciate. You look at each of your friends in turn, while they sit around the campfire and talk.
“To be frank, I am not sure whether I dread the coming confrontation more, or its aftermath. As the leader of the Seven Kingdoms, my father will surely have me busy with the victory celebrations for months to come!” jokes Kyle Theseon. The dashing young knight – said by many be the most talented fighter in generations – is also royalty: the third son of Emperor Gradio Theseon. He had not gotten along with you at first, but saving each other's lives had soon put that feeling to rest.
“Celebrations are a fine thing, Master Theseon.” Althus, the protégé of High Priest Ardunnos and renowned warrior of faith, clasps his hands together as if in prayer. “It would be a good opportunity to give thanks to the goddesses for our success.”
“Aren’t y’all talking a bit too quick about success?” drawls the mysterious rogue, Syke Nimfeet. He has never spoken about his origins, but his mastery of stealth and poisons has bailed your group out of many tricky situations over the past year. “Of course, retirement’s good and all, but we gotta live first. Retiring to the grave ain’t in my plans.”
Kyle laughs. “Do not be so pessimistic, Syke! We will be victorious on the morrow, I am sure of it!” He glances at you askew and adds, “After all, we have the Hero, Fate’s Chosen, with us in battle!”
“Indeed,” nods Althus. “Atropos herself has decreed that our threads are to last beyond the battle with the Demon Lord, for it is his thread that shall be cut in our confrontation. Put more faith in your creators, Nimfeet.”
“Alright, alright. I know not to get into another of these debates with ya, Althus,” chuckles Syke. “Right, Lobelia, m’dear?”
The wizard scowls at him when he mentions her name. “Do not drag me into this.” But even the full, icy glare of one of the Nine Archmagi of the Tower, the most powerful magic organization in the world, is insufficient to smother Syke Nimfeet’s wide, cocky grin.
You see Rurik Magnussen shaking his head gently, his beard covering a faint smile. He catches your gaze and winks, demonstrating sharp instincts undulled by age. The master bowman is the oldest one here, and has constantly been a source of stability when all hope seemed lost. That he has not said anything so far means that he knows they are engaging in nothing more than banter.
All of them had their reasons for coming this far. So did those that had fallen along the way. Layla. Rennock. Talley. You still remember their deaths clearly, and the vows that everyone made: that those who remained would fulfill the wishes of those who had departed.
“You don’t seem to be particularly chatty tonight. Worrying about the dead again?” A tap on your shoulder gets your attention. It is Mieren Zaos, the wandering martial artist from the north who could match knights with her bare hands and feet. The wild, freezing lands there were beyond the rule of the Seven Kingdoms, inhabited by fierce, independent tribes. You had to wonder – just how did the emissaries pick a girl like this as a hero candidate? Watching your expression keenly, Mieren snaps, “Hey, you were thinking something rude about me, weren’t you?” She tosses her head in that distinctive, familiar way, her auburn hair glinting in the firelight.
“No, not at all,” you reply lightly. “I was just trying to remember what I was thinking when I joined up.”
As far as you could remember, at the time, your thoughts were of…
A. Justice. The suffering of the people must come to an end. You will lead humanity’s fight against evil in order to bring justice to the Demon Lord and his fiendish army. His reign of terror must come to an end, and you will be the one to do it.
B. Glory. Honour and glory. It would be a good way to prove yourself and increase your standing in the world. A hero would go very, very far in the power structure of the Seven Kingdoms. A messianic hero, even more so.
C. Materialistic needs. Money, women, and more money, not necessarily in that order, and more women wouldn’t hurt, either. Surely they will reward a hero handsomely. You are sure that you will be swimming in more than one type of booty if you survive.
D. Reluctance. If it were left up to you, you couldn’t even be arsed to lift your arse up and save the world. Let the world save itself for once, you have better things to do! But unfortunately, the amount of spears aimed at your neck has given you no choice.