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Chapter One: The Sleeping World

​All was still within the confines of the 'Refuge'. Few lights shone within the dark, tomb-like cave. Row upon row of small, closed, cells hung from the walls and ceilings. Columns of machines rested in silent dormancy, traces of dust covering them. No marks could be seen on the floor, and indeed, the room felt as still as death itself.

Slowly though, warmth began to enter four special cells. Four beings within lay motionless, though slowly, their chests began to move, breathing in fresh air pumped into their resting areas. At last the doors over the cells opened, and the canister-like stasis tubes lifted, gently letting their occupants out.

Silence reigned again within the Refuge. As minutes passed, though, the quiet was broken yet again by the sound of joints moving and creaking. The four beings sat up, stretching stiff limbs and gazing around in confusion.

And so, at last, a plan laid a Thousand years before, commenced...

Drassnal sat up from the floor, his wings twitching in slight agitation. He shook his dragon-like head and looked around the massive chamber where he sat. Thousands of small, canister shaped cells lay about, while titanic structures of mechanical wonder stood tall and imposing.

Looking down from the marvels around him, Drassnal saw three other figures nearby, each slowly climbing to their knees or some other position where they could look around. Each seemed equally confused and disoriented.

They all waited several moments before one of the two females said, “Um, hello.”

“Hi,” Drassnal said awkwardly, his throat and mouth feeling like they had never tasted water and only been wrung in sand.

One of the persons sat up, though it was certainly hard to describe him as doing so. His insectile form was quite alien and hard to truly follow. His claws twitched, but he made no hostile motions at anyone. Instead, he said, “What sort of nest is this?”

All looked about again; the other female, a sturdy and naturally armored tigress, said, “It is indeed a very unnatural world in which we find ourselves.”

“Where is here?” Drassnal asked. His eyes continued to wander as he said, “In fact, who are all you? Who am I even?”

“You are Drassnal,” the first female said, “Our insect like friend here is Zxxss, the animal like person is Traela, and I am Loquina.”

“How do you know that?” Traela asked, turning in some surprise.

“Simple,” Loquina said. “All our names are written on the top of our cells.”

The other three turned, glancing at the canisters they had come from. Upon each one was a name written in lettering which glowed faintly. They all stared, the names somehow ringing within their minds. It seemed right to them, as if they had always known and yet, just forgotten.

“Well, one mystery down,” Drassnal said. “Now, only about a hundred more to answer.”

Traela walked around the room, almost as if she was sniffing.

“The answers have to be around here somewhere,” she said. “Or at least I would certainly hope whoever put us to sleep would be good enough to do that.”

The others slowly got to their feet as well, limbs and aching muscles creaking. Each felt as stiff as the machines surrounding them. There was no rust, yet each mechanism seemed frozen in place, as if they could never move again. The group also noted that although the chamber seemed in decent shape, many parts of the cave looked damaged, as if a massive earthquake had befallen the cave years ago.

“I think I found something over here,” Traela called, sitting near a panel, which was covered in writing.

The others walked over, gazing at the thing to which she pointed. They all stood, trying to read the strange rune-like letters before them. At first none seemed to be able to read any of the cryptic words, though slowly they began to remember. Moments passed before they finally were able to read the fantastic tale laid before them.

In the Process of Rebuilding our world, it has become necessary to seal all of us away. When the time comes, we shall arise again. When the Falling Dusk has ended, we all shall awaken.

For those reading this, you are those whom we have awakened first. You volunteered to head out of these caves first and find suitable habitats for us to live in. You are then to return and activate the 'Awakening.'

Should some of the critical machines here be damaged, there are several other places much like this hidden around the world. You can find extra equipment there to fix any problems.

Our hopes and those of the world of Azshrak go with you.

~The Ookren.

The four stood in silence for several moments after having read the message. While it explained what had occurred and what their mission was, much was still left unanswered.

“Well, at least we know the purpose of all this,” Loquina said.

“Why was the world rebuilt,?” Drassnal asked, somewhat sharply. “Why did they not have some other mechanical device do this for them? What are Ookren and why do we not remember anything?”

“You're asking questions we neither have answers to, nor was it intended for us to know,” Traela said. “I'm sure though, we will understand more clearly in time.”

There was a sudden hissing sound from behind them. The group turned and saw four sections of wall coming out, letters appearing on the ends of each of the sections. The sections continued to move until they were each a short distance out from the wall and then they stopped. There was another hiss and then silence.

The group walked cautiously up to the wall sections and noted their names were again written on them. At a touch, a door opened on each section revealing the items held therein. Each person slowly looked inside the sections with their respective names.

Within Traela's section, she was delighted to find a set of massive claws, as well as an animal shaped helmet and a tablet.

For Zxxss, he found a pair of large, oddly shaped, hollow blades as well as another tablet.

Loquina drew a small sword, helmet and tablet from her own container, along with a set of small flasks.

To Drassnal, he received a large, dark sword and tablet. He picked up the blade and gave it a swing, noting with pleasure how well balanced it was. He also felt that it fit his hands quite well. The tablet, however, was of little interest to him, for it merely said: Drassnal, Sword Fighter.

“Loquina, healer, blade user,” Loquina read off of her tablet. “Is kind, protective, passive and patient. Good for assisting the team.”

She picked up Zxxss tablet, the creature seeming to have the most difficulty reading it.

“Zxxss, rogue Skkrrk,” she said. “Feeds off of vibrations from living beings. Can use shock blasts when enough energy is collected. Waves can damage living creatures or stone depending on frequency of choice. Can also perform minor healing tricks.”

Traela read off hers, saying, “Traela, hunter and expert on surviving in the wild. Wields claws like she has had them all her life. Is fast and helpful in a fight.”

Drassnal looked up in surprise.

“Wait, your's say all that?” he asked.

“Um, yeah,” Loquina said, holding her tablet out to him for examination.

Drassnal looked at it, then back at his own rather blank slate. He blinked several times, trying to comprehend why his was so empty.

“What does yours say?” Traela asked.

“Just my name and that I'm a sword fighter,” he said. “That's not very useful in helping me know who I am.”

“We at least know our skills,” Traela said, spinning around with her over-sized claws. She tore at the air, moving with surprising speed and deftness.

Loquina put a hand on Drassnal's shoulder, saying, “It will be alright. I'm sure the answers lie ahead of us.”

Drassnal turned and actually smiled, saying, “Sorry, but I hate mysteries. To me, they are secrets and I much prefer a straight forward answer or method.”

“No sneak are you?” She asked.

“Definitely not,” Drassnal said. “For some reason, within the back of my mind, I feel that it is only honorable to do things directly. Truth is far more important then my own feelings, or perhaps even my own life.”

Loquina stared at him for a few moments before turning, her black and white armored skin shining in the small light of the chamber. She withdrew her small blade to her side and walked to a set of controls on a far wall.

“I want to check and see if the awakening mechanism is working,” she said.

Loquina pulled a few levers and pressed a few controls. There was a hum and whir of machines, and then a sudden warning sound. All eyes turned in alarm, even as she rapidly undid the controls she had pressed.

“That did not sound good,” Traela said.

“Something is broken somewhere,” Loquina said.

Drassnal immediately began looking around at the machinery saying, “Better find out what's wrong, if we are to get this thing working.”

They worked for an unknown length of time before coming to an agreement that a certain set of components were damaged beyond repair. Apparently, during the Falling Dusk, when the world had been rebuilt, some damage had occurred within the Refuge. Much to the four companion's consternation, no chamber could be found for the spare parts, this too having apparently been destroyed.

At last they stood, all four in front of the only exit they had been able to find in the massive chamber. They stared at it and the grim designs carved around it.

“Well, I don't know about you,” Traela said. “But I am more then ready to leave this gloomy dungeon and see the surface.”

“I know what you mean,” Drassnal said, twitching his wings which he had barely been able to use within the cave.

The four marched through the exit, their quest to seek out a new home and retrieve the replacement parts only now begun. How it was that they so easily set off without question or fear was something they did not even understand, though they did not question either. Apparently, they had been quite dedicated to this cause before they were put to sleep. Indeed, they did not quarrel nor fear each other or feel resentment.

Verily, they knew, even as they left, that no matter what they had been in the years before, they were now, friends...

To be continued in Part Two: Dread Caverns

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