Geek Elite Media Project: Art Meets Story
Art By Stephen Clark & Story By Jessica Bailey
The ache in his back didn’t ease as he tried to settle near the inn’s massive fireplace, the warm cobblestones of the mantle stained black with smoke from years of use. The pain in his joints always started whenever the cold season decided to sweep through, making his usual travels harder. Making the man who was used to sleeping under the stars have to use an inn for a well deserved nights rest during a simple winter storm.
The man settled into his chair as he observed those in the grand area of the tavern around him. Although the inn was for travelers, it’s long bar, big fireplace, and long simple wooden tables and benches also marked it as a great place for weary villagers to rest and chat to escape the storm. The room was filled with the constant chatter of the locals, most of them discussing how bad the storm was, how early it came, and how it would affect their crops. He simply wished to sit by the fire and perhaps have an ale or two, but he knew that it was probably not in the cards.
It was always a young who spotted his multicolored cloak first. A plain black cloak that had been infested with different fabrics hanging off of it like feathers. All in different patterns, all in different colors, all representing a different story for him to tell.
“A storyteller!” He heard a young exciting voice, trying hard to not yell but still being heard by half of the room anyways. Some talk stopped as eyes turned his way. The old man tried to look a bit more posed, trying to straighten his back, hearing his joints pop as he did so. He couldn’t quite hide the grimace of pain behind the smile as he waved once to the crowd.
“A story sir! A story on this stormy night is a must!” A young boy came up to him, pleading with big doe eyes.
“AYE! It’s been years since we’ve had a storyteller pass through these parts.” A man in the back proclaimed. A general round of ‘yeahs’ and nodding followed.
“They don’t tell stories for nothing.” A young woman came over, wearing a stained apron and setting a mighty pint of foamy ale “How about a nice warm room for the night, food and drink for free as well?” She asked. He knew it was to her benefit as well, her patrons would get absorbed in his story, drinking faster than they would as they listened, ordering more rounds of drink.
“That’ll do.” The man nodded his head.
“Who gets to pick!?” A young girl asked, her eyes moving rapidly as she looked at all the different fabric that could be chosen. He had quite a collection, being a storyteller for so many years.
“I will pick…if that is alright?” an older woman came, the storyteller recognizing her as the innkeeper. Clearly the grandmother to the woman who gave him the ale. She too looked as though she was feeling the storm deep in her bones. Her eyes were foggy, sight nearly gone he realized.
“Aye.” The storyteller nodded and let the woman move closer.
She looked over, with barely seeing eyes. He felt her hands along his back, moving some fabric aside till finally untying one square of fabric. “This one.”
She handed over the fabric, a soft baby blue with deeper blue swirls. In the center of the square a single sword.
“OH! It’s got to be the Lady of the Lake! A king Arthur tale right!?” A young boy shouted, so much glee on his face that the storyteller was almost sad that he would have to deny that joy.
“No…though I can see why you would think that.” The storyteller told the boy as the other young children settled down on the floor around him. All eyes were on him now, the tavern growing quiet that only the snaps of burning wood could be heard.
The storyteller took a deep breath, He hadn’t told this story in many years, in fact he may have only told it once, at the time when he recited it at the bard’s college in order to get the fabric swatch made.
He began his story like he began most of them… “This is a tale from Long Ago…
“Ten silver! TEN SILVER! I have TEN SILVER for a brave adventurous soul that will take me to the Dread Gloom Spring.” A young man shouted this as he stood on a table, in the center of an Inn’s tavern.
Most ignored his plea, a plea he had already made about the room to any he deemed strong enough to take him through that dark forest path to find the burial ground of the Seven Angel Knights of Galia.
“Ten silvers he says.” A man grumbled at the long bar. “Ten silvers to take you through the dark forest? Not a soul in this town will do it for less then ten gold.” The man laughed, others joining him. The young woman pouring ale gave a sympathetic smile to the poor bard.
“What is with all the goddamn yelling?” Someone muttered as they walked into the inn. The bard glanced over to notice a woman walking in, wearing worn leather boots, black trousers with a couple tears, a long tawny tunic with tears along the hem. Long golden brown hair hung down to the middle of her back, a couple knots in it, clearly in need of a cut. At her hip sat a sword. The only thing on her that seemed to be well taken care of. A dark leather sheath and the hilt a zig zagging of small leather straps. There was no guard on the sword, and the pommel was plain round well polished steel.
The woman stumbled further into the room, glanced up at the bard who still stood on the table and she raised one eyebrow at him, deep gray eyes glossy with drink. “You new here?” She asked before making her way to the bar. She slapped a single copper onto the bar and got comfortable on the stool on the far end. “One heaping pint please. Of your cheapest old-man’s-piss tasting ale.” She said to the barmaid.
“Coming right up, Min.” The young barmaid started pouring ale.
“Oy, you were wrong! That one will do anything for 10 silver.” A man elbowed one of his friends.
“Oh go eat a fat cock.” The woman grumbled into her piss ale. She turned on the man. “And what is this about ten silvers?” Her words were slurred and her gaze trailed back to the bard who was starting to feel utterly stupid standing on top of the table.
The bard jumped off the table and moved to the bar. “Ah, my fine Lady…” he paused in his approach when she gave him a long once over, then she looked down at herself and ran a hand through her hair, catching on a knot near the end. The bard cleared his throat, realizing that perhaps being called a lady may be a bit of an insult. “I am offering ten silvers to the brave adventurer who will take me through the dark forest and…”
“Sold.” The woman told him before starting to gulp down her ale, some of it trickling down the side of her mouth.
“You go into the dark forest with a woman and you will for sure die.” One of the first men that the bard had asked to take him to the Dead Gloom Spring. A burly sort with scars along his arms, short black hair and a sneer instead of a smile.
The woman just held out her hand to the bard. “Five silvers now.” She told him simply. “the rest when I get you through the woods.” The bard looked at her hand, old calluses covering them. Nails cut short, a few scars along her fingers. The hands of a person who handled a weapon in combat.
“Thank you for the ale.” The woman said to the barmaid. She stood up and held out a hand to the bard. “Min, at your service. Meet me at the eastern willow tree. We leave at dawn.”
“I was hoping we could…”
“I know walking through the dark forest in the night is something that you bards think create legends for you to sing about…but those legends all deal with someone dying. In this case, it’ll be you that dies. So if you want to live to sing about whatever quest it is we are about to go on, I suggest we leave at dawn.” Min pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Dawn it is.” The bard nodded to her. “Kyrillus is the name. Kyrillus the…”
“I’m not gonna remember.” Min said, patting Kyrillus on the shoulder. She stumbled out of the tavern just as she had stumbled in.
“Going through the light of day or not…” A nearby man said. “You go with a failed mercenary, you are going to die.”
Yet Kyrillus didn’t let the pessimistic views of the men in the tavern stop him. He was going to get to that spring, and he was going to write a song of the knights who died there; after he put together what exactly happened to them. It would make him the best bard in the land.
Kyriullus walked out of the small village to the east, spotting a willow tree and beyond that the shadows of the dark forest. Already there, armor gleaming in the light of the slowly rising sun was Min. Her armor was thick plated, and much like her sword, it was well taken care of. There were a few dents here and there to indicate it had been used and wasn’t just decorative armor. Her hair was spilling out of a helmet, an iron slated visor was held up, just over her eyes as she drank from a leather waterskin.
Min stood up straighter as he approached and didn’t bother to say good morning before motioning to the path that led into the dark woods. “Lead the way bard.” She said, placing a hand on the hilt of her sword.
“Right.” Kyrillus nodded his head once, adjusted the lute that hung from his back and started to walk into the dark forest. Once he stepped under the shade of it’s trees, the temperature dropped around them, making him rub his arms for warmth. Min trailed behind him, the only noise around them the sound of her armor clashing against itself as she moved, and the sounds of the wind swirling through the canopy above them.
“This forest used to be protected by many guardian spirits.” Kyrillus found himself saying after nearly an hour of utter silence.
“Uh-huh.” Min said, once again taking a long chug from her pouch.
“All of the guardians are dead now, killed by some horrible monster who has taken over this forest.”
“Yep. I live near it.” Min told him now. “I know the tale.”
“It’s not a tale, not even a legend. This happened only a decade ago!” Kyrillus turned to look at Min. Min just motioned for him to look forward and keep on moving.
“You don’t say.”
“Knights came into the forest, to stop the monster.”
“And none of them survived. The forest turned from being an enchanted glen to be dubbed the dark forest. Trade routes had to be altered and life as we know it changed forever as the guardians died and no longer protected us humans.” Min finished for him.
“But the monster was destroyed.”
“Was it now?” Min asked him. “get down.”
“Yes it was destroyed…” Kyrillus added.
“GET DOWN!” Min shouted, moving up to Kyrillus and shoving his head down with one hand, the other pulling out her blade with a sharp shrill piercing the quiet.
One quick slash had the two foot long vampire bat that had been aiming to tear into Kyrillus’s throat falling on the ground split in two. Kyrillus stared at the bleeding corpse of the big bat, red eyes dulling to black, green blood steaming as it spilled out on the dirt.
“Still monsters here.” Min pointed out. “Keep moving, if you want to get through this place before nightfall, we need to keep moving.” She shoved him along the path to keep him moving forward while she cleaned the green blood off of her blade.
“Oh no…I have no intention of getting through it.” Kyriullus said as he forced his shaking knees to start moving. “We are going to the Dread Gloom Spring.”
It took Kyrillus about twelve paces before he realized that Min was no longer following him. He paused and turned, staring at Min who was staring down at the bats corpse, she still held her sword, this time both hands on the hilt, gripping hard as if to help control the tremors he saw going through her.
“Min?” He asked, moving back to her.
“Why would you ever want to go there. It is a dark dismal place, the root of the evil of this forest.” She told him, still not looking at him though.
“Because twenty-one years ago The Seven Angel Knights of Galia died there. I intend to tell their story.”
“Seven knights went into the forest to save the last water guardian from the monster who was trying to kill it; they failed and they all died. The end.” Min looked at him now.
“They didn’t fail. The monster is dead.”
“If you go to that spring you are certainly going to find out. You want to prove yourself wrong bard?” Min asked him. She shoved her blade into the ground so it stood up and moved so they were face to face. “I will take you out of this forest and you can just keep those other five silvers.”
Kyrillus stood his ground. “I will be the one who writes the truth of their legend.”
“You won’t be able to write it when you are dead.” She shoved a single armored finger into his chest, forcing him to stumble back and he was grateful to his cheap leather armor he wore preventing a bruise from her poke.
“I’ll double the pay.”
“You could barely afford the ten silver.” Min shook her head and turned to retrieve her sword.
“For someone with Royal Knights Armor, you certainly are a coward.” Kyrillus said.
Min put a hand on the hilt of her sword, her body tense. He swore he may have just insulted his way into a beheading. She could get away with it too, they were in the dark forest, no one would think it was odd if he didn’t make it out of it.
She pulled the blade out of the ground and Kyrillus found the tip of that blade hovering near his exposed throat. “Fine. You have a death wish, be my guest. But you hand over whatever coin you have now.” She smirked at him. “I don’t feel like having to dig my coin off of your dead body.” She sheathed her blade and held out a hand.
Kyrillus took off his coin purse and handed it over to Min. She tossed it up, once, twice, as if judging how much coin was in it just by how it flew through the air. Satisfied she nodded and pointed beyond Kyrillus. “Continue leading the way.” She told him simply.
The strumming of his lute filled the silence between Min and Kyrillus. He plucked the strings, trying to formulate how he was going to write the song for the Seven Angel Knights. Behind him Min repeatedly winced as he played.
“Did anyone ever tell you that your lute is out of tune?” She asked him. The first words she had said to him since the aftermath of the vampire bat attack.
“It’s perfectly in tune.” Kyrillus frowed and strummed the lute to prove his point.
“Ah…well, did anyone ever recommend you try a different instrument?”
Kyrillus stopped his playing and glared at Min. “I am a perfectly capable player, I’ll have you know.”
“Really…did…anybody in particular tell you that… perhaps your mother?”
“I’d like to see you play any better. What would a drunk mercenary know about the performing arts?”
“You are really one for the insults bard.” Min huffed. “We could use a rest anyways.” Min took off her gauntlets and the gloves she wore underneath. She held out a hand for the lute.
Kyrillus hugged the lute to him, as if insulted she would even try to play his instrument.
“You can hold my sword if you want.” Min sighed out, unsheathing the blade to hand it over to him. He just looked at her and the hilt of her blade. “Come on, you know you’re curious.” She smiled at him; a simple upturn of the right side of her lips.
They traded the sword for the lute. Min instantly started to strum, narrowing her eyes as she adjusted one of the strings to be a slightly higher pitch. Once satisfied she plucked away. Kyrillus wanted to use the time to study her sword, which was significantly heavier than he thought it would be.Yet he found his eyes on Min, watching as she plucked at the strings of the lute, playing a well-known song about a barmaid named Mary. He had to admit, she played significantly better than him. So much better he found his want to sing the song.
He did, and he found Min once again grimacing… “I uh…” She stopped playing. “We should continue moving.” She said.
“Right.” Kyrillus handed her blade over, yet in the small trickle of light that was seeping in from the forest canopy, he noticed the strange markings on the back of Min’s hands.Five ovals meeting in the center. Looking almost like a simple drawing of a flower.
“Where did you get those?” He asked.
Min looked at the back of her right hand. She took in a deep breath and reached for her sword. “It’s time to go. It’s going to be getting dark soon and we need to find a safe-ish place to camp.”
“Safe-ish?” He asked, realizing that she wasn’t going to open up about the marks anytime soon. He got his lute back, she got her sword back. She had quickly put her gloves and gauntlets back on, as if she could erase the marks that he saw from his memories if she covered them up fast enough.
“Nowhere in this forest is technically safe.” She pointed out.
“Wouldn’t it make more sense to just keep moving then?”
“You mean so we arrive at your Dread Spring in the middle of the night?” She huffed at him. “You may have a death wish but I don’t. Monsters have more power at night in this forest.” She led the way this time, keeping her eyes open for any possible safe place to settle down. She glanced up. “You okay with climbing trees?” She asked.
“Yes.” He told her. “Can you climb a tree wearing all that armor?”
Min glanced at him. “Worry about yourself bard.”
After another near hour of walking, Min spotted what she was looking for. A big sturdy tree that would easily hold the both of them on it’s thick branches. Branches that we high enough off the ground to protect from most of the creatures. At least the ones that were stuck on the ground.
“Scamper up.” She told Kyrillus. He nodded and looked at the lowest branch, still well off the ground.
“Do you mind giving me a boost?” He asked at the trunk of the tree. Min nodded and stood in front of him, holding her hands together to provide a foothold. He stepped into her hands and as he stepped up to the branch, reaching high for it, she just flung him up so he landed on his stomach over the thick branch with an oof.
“A warning would be nice. I had it.” He complained yet when he glanced down he noticed that she had tossed him up since something big and red was now pinning her to the ground. “MIN!” He shouted, yet she just punched the long snout of the four legged creature that looked almost like a skinned wolf than anything.
It flew back, gnashing black teeth at Min as she stood up quickly. She pulled out her sword, and the creature charged again. Min shouted at the creature, planting her feet and as the creature leapt to pin her again, Min just punched the creature on the top of it’s head, skull breaking with a crack as he metal gauntlets dug into the thin flesh there. The creature fell to the floor at her feet and Min didn’t hesitate to stab her sword down through it’s back, hitting its heart.
Kyrillus watched as Min caught her breath, sword still pinning the dying creature down. She shook her head and with a grunt, pulled out the blade. “Damn demons.” She muttered as she cleaned her blade of the green blood spilled on it. She then sheathed it and looked up at Kyrillus as he clung to his branch like a young baby bear.
“That is why we sleep in the tree.” She pointed out. “Get up higher so I can join you.” She told him. “I hope you have rope in your bag.”
He climbed higher as he was told, yet found himself constantly looking at the strange dead creature on the floor. Once he was settled he looked down to find Min charging at the tree. She leapt at the last second, then used the trunk of the tree to catapult herself onto the lowest branch by stepping on it with one foot. How she moved like that in her armor was beyond him. It had to be painful.
She reached a thick branch near Kyrillus and grunted in appreciation as he handed her rope. She put the rope around the trunk of the tree as well as around their chest, pinning them to the tree so they wouldn’t fall off.
Once they were safe and settled Kyrillus couldn’t help but look at Min and ask “What was that thing?”
“Who knows.” Min shrugged. “Some evil demon spawn I’m sure.”
“The type of monster that killed off the guardians twenty-one years ago.” She told him simply.
“About what I saw on your…”
“Goodnight Kyrilllus.” She said and she shut her eyes tight.
Kyrillus was sure she was still awake, as the night noises of the forest started; growls, howls, and odd screeching filling the air around him. He wasn’t for sure why Min wouldn’t want to talk about the marks. Yet one thing he was for sure of, neither of them would sleep well through the night.
Min was on the ground by the time Kyrillus woke up. She was stretching he noticed, though for some reason her armor made hardly a sound as she did so. As if she had learned how to move with her armor, not against it. Kyrillus untied himself and climbed down the tree. He fell from the last branch, with a loud thud.
Min was there in an instant, helping him about. “About time.” She huffed at him. “Let’s get this over with.” She pointed to the path that would lead them to the Dread Gloom Spring.
With a nod, Kyrillus dug through his pack for some bread. He shared half of it with Min who took the half with a small nodded thanks. They ate the bread as they walked, once again in silence. This time Kyrillus actually tried to pay attention to the forest around him, trying to ignore the questions that he was desperate to ask Min about.
He didn’t last that long though, the temptation was too great. Still, he figured he would have to ease his way into it. Start off with a simple conversation. “It’s surprisingly comfortable in this forest.”
“Comfortable? In a dark forest infested with demons who are making screaming and grunting noises as we walk?” Min asked him now.
“Well, I mean the weather.”
“Wow, you bards can’t go a couple hours without talking can you?” She asked him. “Yes, the forest is at a relatively nice temperature. A little chilly, but not so bad that its painful or annoying.” She told him.
“So, since you live near this forest, do you know the original name of the Dread Gloom Spring?”
“I do.” Min nodded to him.
He waited probably three minutes before he looked at her.
“What?” She asked him.
“Well, what was the name?”
“You’re going to a place that you don’t know the original name of before demons took it over?” She asked him now. She placed both of her hands on her hips.
“Well, not a lot of people know it’s name, or a lot have forgotten it. I heard three differetn names for the spring in fact. The Water Guardian Spring, The Wishing Spring, The Immortal Spring.”
“All of those names are right. Most places with guardian’s protecting it have multiple names.” Min pointed out.
“Well…what do you call the spring?”
“a graveyard.” Min told him now. “A place of death that once produced so much life.” She took in a deep breath. “I don’t know how you expect to figure out what happened there just by being there.”
“I will search for clues. It is cursed land, forever stuck in a certain point in time. The point that those knights died. That’s why it’s called the Dread Gloom Spring. It hangs in dread, spreading gloom to all who see it.”
“Really, is that why it’s called that?” she asked him. Yet she paused as a thin fog swirled around them. The sounds of the forests quieted. “I suppose this would be the dread you are talking about?” She asked him, and he noted a slump in her armor, as if it was weighing her down.
Kyrillus also felt a heaviness sweep over him. The lute on his back pushing against the bones of his spine. The wind seemed to be slicing through the air above them, making sharp whistling sounds, or perhaps hissing sounds. He couldn’t quite place it. Breathing became difficult.
“We’re getting close.” Min said, unsheathing her sword. It shook just slightly in her hands before she rounded her shoulders just a bit, and took in a long deep breath. Kyrillus followed her through the gloom, as the whistling and hissing grew louder around them. So loud it almost sounded as though the forest was trying to talk to them. Perhaps trying to tell them to leave.
Kyrillus screamed when an orb of red light zoomed at them from the left. Min swung at it, the lavender light swirling slightly around her blade before just sliding through her. The fog grew thicker, he could barely see two feet ahead of him. Just Min in her armor.
An orange orb of light attacked from the right. Min once again swung at it, but it just flew through her. She screamed a loud sharp cry and then charged forward, holding her sword high above her head. Kyrillus followed, yet the fog was so damn thick. The noises were louder as well, and he realized they were indeed whispers, whispers from all around, of voices talking over each other.
“We shouldn’t be here at night.” He heard as he raced after Min. It wasn’t night though, they had arrived during the day.
“Don’t be afraid, we’ve been through worse.” Another voice answered.
Up ahead, Kyrillus saw a flash, this time of a yellow light. He heard Min scream again. “LEAVE ME ALONE!” She shouted.
“MIN!” he called after her, even as the whispers grew more urgent, as the temperature around him dropped to the point he could see his breath.
“We shouldn’t just blindly attack.”
“These demons are nothing.”
“We thought there would only be one, we need to regroup.”
“We NEED to protect the GUARDIAN.” The whispers were arguing.
“We need to stop the demon! It’s going to…”
“WE NEED YOU HERE!” A green light flashes just ahead of him, and Kyrillus spotted her armor as she screamed once again.
“BACK OFF!” Min yelled ahead. He heard a loud thud, of metal falling. Of Min falling. “STOP! PLEASE STOP!”
The fog cleared, and there was Min, sprawled on the ground, her sword still in her right hand. Six orbs of light surrounded her, each a different color. Red, orange, yellow, green, a light blue, and a deep dark blue.
The forest had cleared, the ground was wet and green, sparkling with dew in the sunlight. Sunlight that was reflected against the crystal spring in front of him. For the first time since he entered the forest, Kyrillus heard the sounds of birds chirping, the whispers gone. The orbs of light disappeared with a sigh.
Min grabbed the thing she had tripped on. She took in a long shaky breath as her armored fingers curled around the hilt of a sword. This one with a simple chain hanging off of it’s pommel, this sword was a jagged blade. “How can this be…” Min whispered.
She stood up, slowly, holding both blades and stared at the bright spring ahead of her. “How…” She said now. Kyrillus found his own feet glued to the spot as Min walked slowly to the edge of the spring. As she walked, the whispers started around him again. “We can’t afford to save it Minnetta. We are only here for the demons.”
“It’ll die…” Another whisper answered.
“We need your help to defeat this one demon. Let the other be distracted.” Another whisper said. The air filled with the sounds of battle. Swords clashing, demons growling, and something, something small he figured crying out in fear.
“I’m sorry.” Min said ahead of him. She stepped into the water, her armor sinking into the soft mud.
“Our orders were to kill the demon and protect the guardian, but the guardian is dead already!!”
“Things may have changed, but we weren’t sent here to save that thing.”
“It’s not a thing. Can’t you see it’s not a thing!?”
“I was wrong. I was wrong.” Min said into the water, stepping even further in. Her armor was heavy though. If she went too far in…
“MIN!” he shouted, yet she kept on walking.
“MINNETTA! LET THAT CREATURE DIE!”
“IT’S JUST A BABY! CAN’T YOU SEE? IT’S JUST A BABY!!”
More screams filled the air, followed by a frightful shriek. “I CAN’T. I WON’T.”
“MINNETTA! WE NEED YOU HERE!” There was a sound, a sound of a life being cut short. A grunt of pain, and then the last weeze of breath.“DAMMIT, NO TANYA!”
“Take me…just take me…” Min whispered. She walked further in, the water nearly to her chest now.
Kyrillus took in a long deep breath. “LADY MINNETTA de CHALSEY LAYADEN!” he shouted at the top of his lungs. Min stopped walking forward. The sounds of the battle from the past, the last battle of the Angel Knights of Galia stopped around them. The air cleared entirely of sounds as Min held both the swords down into the water, as she closed her eyes, tears starting to form. Kyrillus found his feet could move again, and he did, going to the edge of the water. “That’s your name isn’t it. “Lady Minnetta? The last surviving Angel Knight of Galia.”
She huffed out a breath, a soft sort of laugh as her hands started to shake holding the two blades. “Are you insane?” She asked him softly…even as tears spilled out of her eyes. “how could that be? It was 21 years ago?” She whispered. Her tears fell down her cheeks, spilling down her chin and dripping down into the water. The orbs of light appeared as the first ripples from her tears spread out through the spring. A soft humming filled the air.
“Min!” One orb seemed to say, it’s soft blue color glowing just a bit brighter.
“Oh little Minetta!” The yellow one was brighter now as it spoke. The six lights danced around her as she cried.
“I’m so sorry. Tanya…Reylia.” Min said to the lights. “I should have listened to you Shianne, Bethea. I shouldn’t have tried to save that creature. I should have stayed with the group as you said Ellora.” As she spoke, a soft violet light swirled around her armor. Enchanted armor. Armor that Kyrillus knew to be enchanted by the Sorcerer Queen of Galia.
“Women…you were all women.” Kyrillus said. “The famous Angel Knights, the protectors of Queen Zsophia.”
“Don’t cry Minnetta. Don’t fret.” The red orb claimed.
“You did the right thing.” The dark blue orb told her now.
“We were wrong. We were so very wrong.” The orange spirit told her. The orange spirit, one of the Angel Knights.
“I was wrong!” Min shouted at them. “I tried to save that creature while the rest of you died. I failed though…I wasn’t strong enough! And then I woke up…in the gloom. The demon you managed to slay bleeding out, the baby I tried to protect gone. The other demon about to eat me… I was going to let it. I really was…but I healed! I just kept healing! So I killed it. But I was cursed. Cursed with…”
“Look here…overdramatic Lady Minnetta thinking she was cursed with immortality.” The light blue one practically glowed with laughter he figured.
“Thinking that the Angel of Protection failed to protect something.” The red one moved closer to Min.
“I…” Min paused, as the water ahead bubbled and rippled. A head appeared of a creature Kyrilllus knew would be hard to describe in song. Silky blue scaled, mouth filled with shining golden teeth, bright purple eyes staring at Min. The blue scales shifted to gold down a long thin neck to a big round body whose back appeared just above the water.
“How…” Min whispered, dropping the swords into the water.
“You were right Min. We should have saved that baby. It was the child of the guardian.” The deep blue spirit explained.
“We lost sight of what we were supposed to be fighting for.” The orange spirit continued.
“You didn’t.” The green one pointed out.
“Minnetta.” Kyrillus said now. “You weren’t cursed. You were blessed. Those markings, on the back of your hand. They are the markings of the forest guardian. I saw them in the book about the guardians. The book that led me to this forest.” He pointed to the creature in the water in front of Min. “That creature has a mark too. There in between it’s eyes. Five swirls instead of five ovals. Swirls to represent the water.”
The creature lowered its head to Min and Min tossed off her gauntlets. She pressed a hand to the snout of the creature, and it closed its eyes. Nuzzling into her hand. The marks on the back of her hands glowed with a bright violet light, as the creature’s mark glowed golden.
It then left Min to twirl in the water, revealing flipper-like limbs as well as a long swishing tail.
“We’ve been here, waiting for you to come back, Minnetta. ” the red spirit said now.
“I couldn’t. I’m sorry. How are you like this? And why are your spirits the same color your armor could make?” She laughed.
“Oh who knows.” The green orb said.
“I’m sure it has something to do with how we are probably using what remains of those enchantments to stay here and wait for you.” The yellow spirit proclaimed.
“And now that you are here.” The dark blue spirit said.
“it is time for us to go.” The light blue one finished.
“GOODBYE MINNETTA!” They all said as they swirled around her. The water guardian let out a loud bellow as the lights swirled up and up into the sky before fading away. Minnetta watched them fade, tears still in her eyes.
Minnetta turned towards Kyrillus who was still standing at the water’s edge. “So now you have your tale bard.” She told him with a huff as she reached down for the swords she dropped. She started walking out of the water, holding the swords and when she reached the shore next to him, she dropped the blades on the sand there.
Kyrillus wasn’t able to take his eyes off of the water guardian though that was currently swimming circles in the massive crystal clear spring.
“So you knew the marks were of the forest guardian the whole time?” She asked him, nudging him slightly. Her eyes were a little red and puffy from crying, but for some reason Kyrillus felt that she never looked better.
“It all made sense when I thought back to how easily you killed those demons. Only guardians can really put up a fight against them. Though a guardian being an immortal knight, that’s new.”
“These demons came from nowhere, attacking and killing the guardian of this forest who was caught by surprise I believe, since demons don’t typically fight together. Our Queen got word and sent us to protect the water guardian. Yet by the time we got to the Lochness, she was barely clinging to life. We all charged one demon, the biggest one. Yet while we were fighting it, I noticed this little snake-like creature.”
“Snake? That doesn’t look like a snake.”
“Apparently it gains limbs as it grows…and a full body…” Minetta shrugged. “I didn’t know that at the time…I just saw this little snake creature and it was screaming for its life as the other demon tried to yank it out of the spring. I felt the urge to protect it. So I left my sisters…and I protected that baby with everything I had. The guardian we thought dying rallied and helped me…but as we fought the one demon together…the other demon proved too much for my sisters. They went down battling it to the death… when I realized they were gone…I passed out…and when I awoke…. I was alone. The guardian gone, and only one demon left, barely clinging to life.” She shook her head. “I think you get the picture. I figured I was cursed with immortality, for being a traitor to my sisters.”
Kyrillus placed a hand on her shoulder. “Well, the world will hear their song, and yours as well.”
Minnetta winced slightly.
“What?” Kyrillus asked.
“You really are a bit tone deaf you know.”
“Well, how else do you want your story told!?” Kyrillus clenched both of his fists.
Minnetta just laughed though. She nearly bent over with laughing. “Sorry…I’m sorry.” She shook her head. “But perhaps you could do just that?”
“What?” Kyriullus asked her now.
“Tell the story. Be a storyteller? You have the voice for it.” She pointed out. “Trust me, I’m a guardian now. I know things. I think.”
“A storyteller…” Kyrillus thought. Storytelling was already a dying trade. But perhaps he could bring it back. His teachers at the bards college did always say he was great at prose. And perhaps Minnetta wasn’t the first one to tell him he wasn’t the best performer when it came to song. Even his mother pointed out how sharp he was when he sang.
“Here.” Minnetta tossed Kyrillus his coin purse. “I’m immortal, so I really don’t need coin. You will need to get your storyteller cloak though. Perhaps though, for the story…you could leave me your lute?”
Kyrillus frowned at her, yet then he found himself smiling. Yes, she had given him a damn good story, perhaps an immortal guardian would have more use of his lute.
“And with it’s dying breath…the Elder Lochness Guardian rallied what she had left in her, and gave what remained of her powers over to the dying Knight Minnetta who protected her child. Lady Minnetta awoke to find her fellow sisters dead, and with a burning rage of hurt and pain, she slayed the final demon. A single powerful arch of her sword singing through the air as it sliced through the demon’s neck. Freeing the forest of those terrible giant monsters and becoming the new Forest Guardian. It took some time, yet within 21 years, the forest grew passable. The birds returned, and the smaller demons were gone. Now it is known at the Forest of Song, and it is believed that Guardian Minnetta travels around the woods strumming a lute and singing ancient songs.”
“The forest of songs!” One of the children at his feet said.
“That’s our forest!” A girl shouted.
“I’ve heard it! I tell you I’ve heard her singing!” A man raised his hand high in the back. “Wasn’t some ancient song though…was just a song about some curvaceous barmaid named Mary.”
The Storyteller smiled, he should have figured Min would still be singing that song. Perhaps when this storm passed, he would go by that willow, and enter the Forest to visit his immortal friend.
“Make sure you take her some of our ‘old-man-piss ale’ when you go.” The old innkeeper winked at him. Kyrillus watched as the woman, the young barmaid from his past walked away.
By Christopher Franey & Rafael Encinas
Hello again friends and we welcome you back to our adventures in these amazing runs which also happens to feature the returns of Steve Rogers and Bruce Wayne. I think we are in for amazing stories as we take a look at the trade paperbacks of Captain America: Reborn (featuring Captain America Reborn 1 – 6 and the digital prologue) with Batman & Robin: Batman & Robin Must Die! (featuring Batman & Robin vol 1 13 – 16 and Batman: the Return) alongside Batman: the Return of Bruce Wayne (collecting Return of Bruce Wayne 1 – 6). To make things easier in this discussion Rafa will be in ITALIC FONT and I will be in BOLD FONT. So, Rafa why don’t you open things up and treat us to your awesome insights to Captain America Reborn by Ed Brubaker?
Thank you, Chris! As always, having you to share in this experience makes reading through these tales that much more fun and insightful, and god! This was both a fun and insightful run of Captain America. Once again, Ed Brubaker knows how to set the pace to lead to an extravagant, memorable, and meaningful epic that could honestly be its own movie. Captain America: Reborn, like Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, as you will read shortly, is a culmination of events carefully set in motion. Brubaker has done a fantastic job of spinning his story of legacy, sacrifice, and redemption. We started this run with two best friends in Bucky and Steve, and now we get a return to greatness with an awesome team-up of two Captain America’s that just feels so triumphant!
This is the payoff to all of Brubaker’s groundwork which is the actual return of Steve Rogers; the return of Captain America. We continue to get premium quality in writing with all conspiracies and mysteries laid out for us. This is Brubaker’s crescendo, his climax into Steve Rogers’ ultimate clash with The Red Skull. What I love about this story is how Brubaker explores Steve’s history once more to ultimately bring him back into the present. It is interesting how this espionage, action-thriller transforms into a science fiction adventure with time travel guns and Nazi mind prisons. It is a story of the unstoppable will of a man who refuses to let evil win. The return of Steve Rogers felt great, and I absolutely loved it. What were some things you loved about this story, Chris?
This was a great read and like you said, Rafa, it builds off of so much that Brubaker has created which helps me as a reader feel invested and validated with Cap’s return. Plus two Captain Americas fighting side by side was such a great visual that I enjoyed and look forward to what is next. Ed did so much with this series that there are so many talking points to look at; if we start with Steve Rogers himself, talk about the agony of having to be a passenger through your life but not being able to do anything for fear or destroying the timeline. That was a very clever trap that Red Skull and company created for Steve and I like that Steve actually found a way to use their own plot against them by way of the Vision. Once again the villains are just so much in this series but it works magnificently because at the time Marvel was going through the Dark Reign.
It was great to see Norman Osborn get involved, Dr. Doom has to share his genius once again and not let it be unsaid either, then to see Red Skull, Crossbones, and Sin all working this plan together was just awesome and not wasted pages or needless crossover. Sharon Carter had great moments as well with deciding to stand and face her actions in order to save Bucky; Sam “Falcon” Wilson also had great moments of being a hero saving the day. I even forgot how much Hank Pym was involved in this, of course as the Wasp…yup strange times at Marvel. Of course the big payout moment was the heroes having to fight to save Cap’s body while Steve and Skull fight over the mind, but when that finally happens and we see Bucky and Cap reunited, I can hear the audience jump up and scream! This was a great adventure and I really enjoyed revisiting; just a stronger testament to how amazing Ed Brubaker is as a writer. What would you say was your overall favorite moment Rafa?
That is hard, because there are so many standout moments. If I have to pick a favorite moment, I would have to say it’s the fight between Bucky Captain America and Red Skull Steve in front of the Lincoln Memorial; I mean talk about the symbolism and stakes in that fight. I really enjoyed how Red Skull was fighting both Captain Americas on both a physical and mental plane. It is a fight you feel invested in. After all the groundwork that Brubaker puts into his epic story, watching Steve overcome the Red Skull’s mind and bringing himself back is awesome! This to me is what makes all of Brubaker’s run so important. Also, I really enjoyed the moments where Steve is trapped in time. You can see how someone could become crazy from experiencing that.
Particularly, I love the scene where he relives the moment in which Namor dislodges him from the ice. The way he pleads for his friend to look at him feels so helpless and so sad. It was a poignant moment that showed me a man that was just tired. It is these moments where Steve is humanized, where he is made to relive the trauma of his life as he is trapped in the timeline of his past that makes this so much more endearing. You actively root for Steve to escape. Overall, this was something I truly loved about Brubaker’s Captain America; Steve is a man I want to root for.
Spot on observation that was a harsh moment and honestly when he couples that with saying he wished his eyes were closed makes me think how hard being the ice really was for him. Bryan Hitch did such a great job with that facial feature that I can’t help but feel for him. So now that we have shared about Steve’s return it is time to talk about the return of the Bat. For this read we would recommend the following road map of starting with Batman & Robin vol 1 #13 – 14, then Return of Bruce Wayne 1 – 6, back to Batman & Robin vol 1 for 15 – 16, and ending with Batman: the Return. Rafa why don’t you open this up for us as I know you really get into the mind of Morrison.
Thank you, Chris! Morrison is just one of those writers who does some truly weird things, but that just adds to the magic, and there is just so much magic in these stories! Morrison’s third volume of Batman & Robin, as well as his Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne read well separately, but are even better when read together as one cohesive story. Again, thank you Chris for providing the recommended reading order for these two tpbs. Volume 3 of Batman and Robin is entitled Batman & Robin Must Die, and it is a return to form for Morrison. This volume plunges us into the depths of a Gotham that has been doused in fire; a metaphorical fire that threatens to burn down the city. Doctor Hurt is back and with his 99 Fiends and Professor Pyg, he really causes some strong conflict for Dick and Damian.
The theatrics are turned up to eleven, and the art by Frazer Irving is truly something beautiful to behold; the way he commands texture and shadows is masterful and makes the reading feel much more pulpy which may be a way to pay homage to the Batman stories Morrison plays with. Personally, this volume felt like it could have been directed by Quentin Tarantino; akin to the likes of Kill Bill, it felt like an epic in the making. Morrison sets the stage for something big to happen; for some kind of payoff. And this is where I think this is a great read. It shows exactly how bad Gotham can get without the real Batman, and this is perfectly where The Return of Bruce Wayne comes in.
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne read so much better this second time that I read it. It is such a weird story, and it feels like Morrison has a fun time putting it together. The insanity of the plot with Batman never really dying (from back in Final Crisis) but instead being booby-trapped as a doomsday weapon by Darkseid and aimed at the 21st century is just peak Morrison. It feels so over-the-top, but in a good way. It plays to the campy absurdity of Batman’s original stories, and I think this makes it so much more endearing. I love how each chapter takes us into a new time period where Bruce is basically summoned to be an avenging demon, a dark angel of retribution! No matter where in the timeline Bruce ends up, he is always ready to help those that need help. We get a prehistoric Batman vs. Vandal Savage brawl; we venture to the Vanishing Point while Bruce takes on a hyper-adapter in an “old Salem-esque” Gotham; we get some pirate shenanigans; we get Jonah Hex taking on Cowboy batman. It is awesome because we get an anthology of different Elseworld Batmans, but it is all in continuity and it serves as a vehicle to explore the legacy of Batman, while at the same time bringing him back to the DC landscape.
Batman’s venture through time leads us to one undeniable fact: there will always be a Batman in Gotham. It feels poetic and it is just a really cool concept that is fleshed out really well. This is important because the story therefore becomes so much more than just a fun series of stories focused on different forms of Batman; ultimately, it builds upon itself. With all the talk of the bat-people, Barbatos, and songs of prophecy and superstition, this all creates a meta analysis of the Batman mythos. Both in the comic and out in the real world, we are allowed to see how the legend of the Batman gains notoriety based off of others misconceptions. This is how Batman works. It is not just his detective skills or dope fighting skills that make him a threat. His genius and his power stem from the fear and superstition that people build into his legend. This is just a man after all, but a man who allows others to feed into the legend of the dark knight. What did you take away from Morrison’s writings this week, Chris?
Doctor Hurt is a super scumbag!! What a villain and I was so excited to see him back for his part in the “modern day” by trying to summon Barbatos and also getting to learn more about him. I will have to keep reading his appearances even after Morrison leaves the Bat books because I’m sure I’ll love to hate this character even more. Honestly that reading order helped make this even more exciting. With those two issues of Batman and Robin setting up just how lost Gotham City is getting, how wicked the bad guys truly are, and the fact that the Joker is going to help was just drama!! Then shifting gears to the Return of Bruce Wayne was interesting and like you said it created a bunch of Elseworld style tales but they are in continuity while also playing with DC Comics’ history of characters like Vandal Savage, the Black Pirate, and Jonah Hex.
I really enjoyed when Bruce got to the Pulp era in issue 5 and we come to find out the dame he helps sets him up for that crazy video that has been floating around since R.I.P. man did Morrison plan! But I have to say that if I read Return of Bruce Wayne on it’s own I don’t think I would’ve liked it as much, but adding Batman and Robin to it just made it so much better. Like Return of Bruce Wayne #6 felt very weak in regards to Bruce is back, but when he made his return in Batman and Robin #15 that was the moment I wanted to stand and cheer! Plus we still get great addons with issue 16 but seeing Bruce, Alfred, Gordon, Dick, and Damian fight to save Gotham City’s soul which was just B-E-A-utiful!! I love that Batman: the Return also sets the direction that Morrison will be taking Batman and family along with that introduction of Leviathan and some of those members; it helps that I remember some of the conclusion so it was exciting to see those seeds be planted.
I completely agree, Chris, that Batman: The Return was a great way to see how Morrison would be navigating into the next piece of Batman’s story in Batman: Incorporated. Like you, I think it is excellent to see Morrison planting the seeds for what comes next. It makes all the interconnectedness of his stories that much more exciting. All the lunacy and theatrics aside, The Return of Bruce Wayne and Batman & Robin Must Die both conclude into something truly cathartic, and something worth your time. In an adventure with Vanishing Points, time paradoxes, ancient bat demons, and designer drugs, we get a conclusion that reinforces the idea that Bruce has never been alone. Morrison’s Batman story is one of isolation vs. community. Morrison cleverly both narratively and symbolically “isolates” Batman through the introduction of Dr. Hurt’s isolation experiments at the very beginning of his run, but he then slowly introduces elements that shake this concept to its core.
Batman gets a son. Batman gets an heir to the Batman mantle in Nightwing. Morrison begins developing a sense of community for Batman. It takes all of the intertwined events of Batman: R.I.P., Final Crisis, Batman & Robin, and The Return of Bruce Wayne that allows Bruce to see that Batman has never been alone. Watching Morrison lay the groundwork for some truly thematic storytelling while still telling that story inside a bat-shit crazy narrative is both impressive and exciting. While we get lost in the absurdity of the drama, we don’t realize the nuance and attention to detail that Morrison puts into the Batman mythos. He creates a humanized Batman that may come from extravagant legend, but when all is said and done, Batman is still just a man. A man who dares to do the impossible. A man who, with a little help from his friends, is able to make the impossible a reality. I for one am so happy to see this fully realized version of Bruce. I look forward for what’s to come.
So I have to ask Rafa because I know you love toys even more than I do…what did you think of DC Direct’s offering of Return of Bruce Wayne figures? Did you get any of them and what are your thoughts on them regardless of owning or not?
I actually never picked up any of these figures. At the time they came out, I wasn’t really into them. As we all know there are three things that are absolutes in this world: Death, Taxes, and Batman Toys. However, I do think they are a really cool concept, and I am a big fan of owning them one day. By far, the Prehistoric Man-Of-Bats is my favorite but that cowboy Batman also just looks so cool. It is the fact that we can recreate these stories with these “elseworld” Batmen in plastic form which is insanely great! Now you can create your own Return of Bruce Wayne Story. Or you can even just put them in your office, and when they catch your eye at the end of a long day, you are taken back to these wonderful stories and your spirits are filled.
I tell you I miss DC Direct and am very sore that they didn’t make a Dick Grayson Batman figure, but maybe in some other Elseworld…oh well. Come back next week and join us as we continue to welcome back Bruce to the cowl and see how Steve helps to liberate Marvel from the bad guys as we read Batman: Bruce Wayne the Road Home tpb (collecting Bruce Wayne: The Road Home – Batman and Robin #1, Bruce Wayne: The Road Home – Red Robin #1, Bruce Wayne: The Road Home – Batgirl #1, Bruce Wayne: The Road Home – Outsiders #1, Bruce Wayne: The Road Home – Catwoman #1, Bruce Wayne: The Road Home – Oracle #1, Bruce Wayne: The Road Home – Commissioner Gordon #1, and Bruce Wayne: The Road Home – Ra’s al Ghul #1) and a double dose of Captain America with the Two Americas tpb and the Marvel event, Siege.
For Cap’s adventures we suggest the following reading order: Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield?, Avengers: The Way Things Are, Siege: The Cabal, Siege 1 – 3, Siege Captain America 1, Siege 4, Captain America 602-605...I know but you’ll thank me for it after that mess, haha. Please feel free to reach out to us and let us know your thoughts and opinions as we would love to get your views as well as share this excellent read of comics with you all; you can find me on Twitter as @StuffIShudSay and Rafa as @Mobilerafie, please check out all Geek Elite Media has to offer on this site as well as our podcasts and social medias and always remember to GEEK OUT!