Category Archives: Otherworld

Otherworld Chapter Three

Read from the beginning HERE

The sunlight that greeted Droban’s departure from the village had seemed so warm and encouraging. Now it lit the scene before him so starkly it seemed the light existed merely to make sure he could avoid none of the details. The body had not merely been killed. It had been utterly consumed. It was barely recognisable as human. All life, all energy had been torn from it.

Droban had not been able to find Jeth when he rose but this had not caused him concern. There were many reasons Jeth may have been out and about and Droban had left without concerning himself about his friend’s whereabouts.

Without realising it, Droban was following Jeth’s path from the previous night as he started his journey. Droban had always left the village via the mountains rather than the plains for the simple expedient of disappearing quickly. This time he had found a grotesque cadaver cast in his path. Slung around the withered remains of its neck was a medallion.

Droban stooped to examine the medallion. It was as he thought. Grimly, he took it and stowed it in his pack. He had brought it back himself, years earlier as part of a goblin hoard.

Death in its many forms was not new to Droban. It seemed violence was a part of his life almost every day he was not in the village. But never this close to home. And never like this. He did not know what could do this to a life. Here was nothing so simple as death. It was as if life had been sucked into a vacuum, made as if it had never existed.

Droban would not survived so long as he had without senses developed beyond the normal range. Here his every nerve ending screamed that whatever had done this was still a present threat. The danger was still here. He was being watched. Danger was moving closer. Droban realised there was more than one threat nearby. He was being watched, had been for some time. The spy had crept closer. Was behind him.

His sword was at the stranger’s throat in an instant. His adversary, wisely, froze. He appeared unarmed and unarmoured. This meant he was either harmless or spectacularly dangerous. He wore deep azure robes with gold stitching around the edge of the hood, obviously expensive but bearing no identifying insignia or coat of arms. Perhaps only a simple traveler but more likely a magic user. A simple traveler was hardly likely to approach an armoured figure such as Droban silently and from behind. And only the most powerful of mages were likely to wander alone in any circumstances.

Droban knew this individual was almost certainly capable of launching an attack with a single word or gesture. He pressed the point of his sword a little harder against the stranger’s throat.

“Not a word,” he rumbled, his voice low and menacing. There was usually a magic user in the adventuring parties Droban joined so he was well aware that this potential mage would have many defenses. And attacks. He was confident none could be deployed at this range before a flick of his sword would open his opponent’s throat, ending any threat.

The stranger was holding perfectly still and, as per Droban’s instruction, silent. Now was a critical time. Droban could learn nothing if he didn’t allow his prisoner to speak but allowing his quarry any freedom of voice or movement could be fatal. The practicality of the situation meant the stalemate could not continue – it was either kill the stranger or allow him a little freedom. If Droban’s suspicions were correct, this mage could have attacked him from a distance before Droban was even aware of him. Still, no reason to let him off altogether.

“Explain why I should let you live.”

“Peace, warrior! I am not the one you seek. What you see before you was not done by me.”

“Who are you to know who or what I seek? I assure you now I have no wish to encounter whatever is responsible for this. I am drawn considerably more to one who would approach me with such stealth, seeking to catch me unaware.”

The magic-user faltered. If he held any prejudices about the intelligence of professional fighters, Droban would change his world view quickly. Droban was not fond of being underestimated. Those who did usually paid a heavy price. The mage held his hands open, palms outward to signify he intended no hostility. He slowly lifted his cowl.

The skullcap on his bald pate showed the first evidence of what looked like an identifying sigil to Droban. A pattern of intertwining spirals went around the circumference of the skullcap, reminding Droban of two snakes fighting. They even seemed to move independently as Droban’s viewing angle changed.

“I am the Magus Jura.” Not just a mage then. A titled wizard. Very powerful. Droban held his sword steady at the Magus’ throat. “You know who I am and what would happen if I were killed.”

It was not a question. But it was not a threat. The Magus was in no position to threaten. Droban held the power here. He could see the Magus was realizing the depth of his miscalculation and Droban intended to press home his advantage.

“I do not wish to know your name, magic-user. All it tells me is I would be a fool to lower my sword for a second. What I do wish to know is why you tried to attack me.”

“I did not attack you,” the Magus sputtered. “I would not have. There is danger enough here without creating more. There is an enemy here that would take great delight in attacking you and it is not me. I know your type, you’ve seen enough of this world to know immense force was required to kill this peasant like this. To kill in such a way is beyond any human power.”

Droban took his eyes off the Magus for the first time. He sensed something behind him had obscured the sun. But there it was, its yellow face beaming down untroubled. And yet he felt darkness growing. It was not the sun – his mind was being darkened. No. His soul. Something was clawing at his soul. Then he saw it.

It seemed like a cloud but it was rising from the earth, not resting in the sky. It was not a cloud. It was both more and less than a cloud. It moved towards them, a rising scud of black consuming the hillside. Roiling. Seething. Absolute nothingness.

“Warrior, it attacks! You cannot defeat it here and now, alone. We must escape. Release me and I will take us to safety.”

Droban’s prior dealings with magic-users and the aristocracy had led him to one conclusion: they couldn’t be trusted. The Magus was clearly both and Droban wasn’t sure which made him less trustworthy. In this case he did believe the Magus when he said the approaching something/nothing would destroy them. He also had no doubt the Magus could escape if Droban lowered his sword. He thought it unlikely, however, that the Magus would care to do more than save himself.

Droban saw two choices. He could either face certain death with the Magus or release him and face betrayal then death. He muttered a curse that he hoped would take the Magus and lowered his sword. The Magus disappeared. Blackness consumed Droban.

Everything disappeared.

Slowly the light grew. He was in another place. A small circular room with stone walls. The Magus was with him.

“You seem surprised, warrior. Yes,” the Magus mused absently, “I could easily have left you to die but you forget: I sought you out. I had no wish to waylay you… I need you. You must help me.”

Droban paid little attention to the Magus’ speech. More important to him was becoming familiar with his surroundings. He could cross this room in three strides if he needed to, although he would need to be careful to avoid tripping over the array of books, scrolls, parchments and mysterious devices that were strewn about the floor. The room was made smaller by the shelves that were also filled with a seemingly casual array of paraphernalia. Despite this apparent disorder, the Magus could secure at will whatever he sought: maps, histories, arcane tomes full of descriptions of otherworldly powers.

Droban could see only one door and one window. There were doubtless others only the Magus could find. Things were rarely as they seemed on the surface with magic-users. A cold wind gusted through the open pane. The narrow view afforded by the window was filled with a mountain range. They seemed to be about halfway up one of the mountains.

As far as Droban knew, this room might be the totality of the Magus’ domain but that was unlikely. He could have been in a tower, one tiny part of a castle or even a town. Even if the Magus was alone there would be magic wards both in this room and beyond to punish anyone acting against the Magus’ wishes. If he was to leave here safely, he was dependent on the Magus. For this reason alone Droban began to listen.

“We are in great danger, warrior. All of us!” His theatrics were as grand as his costume. “You saw that body, you know the dreadful threat of which I speak. I call it the Shadoeforce. It comes from another world, a dark reflection of ours. It is a terrible place of great empty darkness, separated from us by eternity and yet as close as the other side of a mirror.” He seemed like a grandfather telling fireside stories at bedtime to frighten children, not a great Mage saying anything of importance. Droban assumed the Magus thought he was talking down to his level. He let the insult pass. The magic-user amused him.

“Its true existence is in that emptiness, even though it has broken through the membrane separating our worlds only one aspect of its being is visible to us. Here it has found a place of energy, life. It would make this world its own, drawing off its life as we would take milk from a cow. It will steal all the energy it finds here, leaving our world a lifeless husk. It will consume us utterly.

“It must be stopped at its place of being. No power can stand against it in this world. You will not even be able to hide from it. Nor will I. Now will any power or powers in this world.

“Armies will be useless. Governments will be helpless. Mighty kings and heroes will be shown for the fools they are and none will survive.” He laughed. A sound that was not entirely bitter, perhaps thinking of those he would prefer to see dead. “Time is running out. Even now it may be too late. If you would see life continue, any life at all, you must help.”



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Otherworld Chapter Two

[You can read the story from the start HERE]

The shadows deepened in the valley that sheltered the village known to its several dozen inhabitants simply as “Home”. If the elders were feeling pedantic the might point out to the younger residents that its correct name was Claven Hill. They didn’t bother making this point very often as the younger ones simply didn’t care. Here is where most of them were born, where most of them would die and, they often complained, where very little would happen in the intervening years.

A traveler has once called the place “the sticks” and the name had actually become popular with locals for a while. Because changes were so rare here, even the discovery of its derogatory meaning was not enough to cause it to fall from favour immediately. Novelty was a far more powerful force than embarrassment. It was boredom that saw the eventual reversion to “home”. After all, wasn’t that what it was?

There hand only ever been one stranger that anyone could remember seeing more than once. He had stumbled in, battered and bleeding at about this time of late summer, many years ago. He made it clear he intended no harm to the villagers and they helped him inside a hut to rest. One of the first questions he had asked was to know where he was. The answer “Home” had an unexpected effect on him.

“I’d always wondered where that was,” he muttered and then he laughed. “I’m glad I finally found it.”

Most of the villagers knew little about him, regarding him simply as the unusual stranger who made a joke of referring to their home as his own. It had to be a joke. He visited for no longer than a few weeks every year. Only a few knew this behaviour was a rarity for the stranger who called himself Droban. He rarely visited anywhere more than once.

For all his oddness no-one begrudged him his stays at Home. He was a hard worker and would often bring trinkets with him as gifts. Many of these were reputed to have mystical powers. All were beautiful and undoubtedly valuable. And there were rarely problems with bandits or wild things in the surrounding woodlands any more although Droban had never claimed this was anything to do with him.

Once he brought back a stone, perfectly round and coloured a brilliant blue that seemed to glow in the sunlight. He threw it into the stream that passed the edge of the village, remnant of the mighty river that had carved this valley through the mountains over millennia.

He told them the stone would guarantee the health of the water and lands around it and surely he had been right! Nobody could remember so many fish being caught nor such bounteous harvests as had been reaped from the floodplains each year since. Since this proof of the great power in his gifts they had become prized even more highly and were now given pride of place above the hearths and doorways of those lucky enough to own them.

There were many conversations about which treasure might possess hidden powers but few answers. Some even darkly hinted that if some item had beneficial powers, might not some harbour malevolent magic? Was Home in danger from the mystical items brought in by this stranger? Cooler heads would always note these dark muttering came from people who didn’t have one of Droban’s gifts themselves. While this sort of talk might raise some doubts, nobody ever gave up their own treasure.

On this particular evening, Droban was busying himself with the mundane task of woodcutting. Most in the village did not understand why Droban would leave what must undoubtedly be an exciting life in the outside world to play his part in the everyday chores that formed their dull lives. To those he would share any details with, Droban would say he considered his life more dangerous than exciting. He had come close to death more than once while pursuing his goals.

Beyond that, to lead a life such as Droban’s, one could not avoid generating more than the usual complement of enemies. The nature of Droban’s adventures resulted in most of his enemies were dead but there were still many roaming the world who had a score to settle. So this village, virtually unknown outside its borders, was to Droban a haven both mentally and physically. Somewhere to heal his wounds and ease his mind, knowing the dark forces of the outside world wouldn’t touch him here.

The axe in his hands had fallen on many a skull in its long and colourful past. Now it fell on wood with equal proficiency and a good deal less colour. With a sharp crack it split another block neatly in two, a piece falling each way to join the growing piles.

“You will be leaving us soon, won’t you?”

Droban was slightly surprised to see his questioner. Jeth had been ploughing the fields on the plain in preparation for this season’s sowing and although the sun had sunk below the rim of the valley, it would be quite bright beyond that for perhaps another hour.

Droban did not answer straight away. Instead, he continued splitting firewood. Jeth showed no inclination to leave without an answer so Droban stopped to talk.

“Yes, my friend, I am leaving. Probably in the morning.” ‘Friend’ was not a word Droban used often. His nomadic lifestyle didn’t allow him to form close bonds, even in this village. Jeth was a rarity within a rarity: someone Droban trusted. Droban saw the concern in his friend’s face and laughed gently. He knew that Jeth did not understand his way of life, could never feel the forces that drove him. Droban did not fully understand why he lived as he did himself, but neither did he question it. He simply knew what it was he must do.

“I do not scorn your help in leaving, it is one of the few things I can rely on. You should not think me ungrateful in this. It is merely time for me to go.”

“Why must you go? Every time you go, seeking danger, I fear it will be the last time I see you.”

Droban laughed again, unaccustomed to having another express concern for his safety.

“There is no need for you to fear for me, Jeth. My time of ending is not yet here.”

Droban knew Jeth would not continue to question his motives. They had played through this scenario before, always with the same result. It was not in Jeth’s nature to tell someone their convictions were wrong. He did not know it but that was one of the reasons Droban considered him a friend. Besides all of that there would have been no point in further argument: Droban was not going to change his mind.

Jeth walked off after this exchange, not angry but still troubled, Droban could tell. He did not worry overly about Jeth’s reactions, he knew that Jeth found walking in the twilight eased his mind. After some time spent staring at the stars, Jeth would resign himself to things being as they were. There would be nobody else to argue with, in the morning Droban would simply be gone. He slept untroubled as Jeth continued walking deep into the night.

And did not return.



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Otherworld – Chapter One

“Christ! What’s that smell?”

“Dunno, it comes from that hole over there. I reckon the council workers killed someone and dumped the body.” Karen wrinkled her nose, “actually, I think the smell is worse since yesterday. Maybe there’s more than one body. They looked pretty shifty – I wouldn’t rule out they’re really a satanic cult of serial killers.”

For this I gave up a night of binge watching my favourite TV show? The only positive thing about the smell was that it was outside Karen’s door and not mine. And although I’d never smelled a decaying corpse I tended to agree with her council worker/serial killer theory.

“Only a dead body or a conservative politician would smell that bad,” I ventured.

“Still with the biting social commentary, I see. Watch out you don’t cut yourself on all that edge.”

“Really? That’s how it’s going to be tonight? Remind me again why I’ve come out rather than being home comfortable in my onesie?”

“I can’t believe that’s actually a question. In what world is you in a onesie a good thing?”

“Hey, don’t pick on my Totoro onesie. It’s great. I put it on and hang out at bus stops.”


“You know, recreating the scene from the movie…” Each word of that sentence felt like less of a good idea than the previous one.

“Uhhhh, I don’t actually do that.”

Karen pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed.

“Anyway,” I said, changing the subject, “that hole smells disgusting. Let’s go inside.”

“Nice escape attempt. Before we do, go closer and check it out. It’s even worse up close.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I’m watching a movie, if the probably evil character tells another character to look at the suspicious object/alien egg/portal to a hell dimension more closely I’m the first to complain that only a moron would do that. So don’t make this into a movie or I’ll think I’m an idiot as a character.

I mean, nobody would really fall for such an obvious trick. Except me, apparently. Honestly, it seemed like a reasonable suggestion at the time. I don’t know why I didn’t read anything into her sly grin as she suggested it. I obediently went and looked in.

Although we weren’t yet into winter it was getting dark earlier these days and shadows swallowed up details quickly as twilight set in. Tonight it was even more so because of the heavy, low cloud cover. The clouds were reflecting the street lights and made it feel like we were in a cave rather than out in the street. The closest streetlight was about halfway down the block. Its orange glow wasn’t strong enough to illuminate anything around us. I crouched down and peered into the hole.

Nothing unusual at first. It was basically a hole (what was I expecting?) – roughly circular, about an arm’s length across with jagged edges cut by some heavy tool. But at close range it was oddly different. It was filled with an impenetrable darkness. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up. An uneasy feeling of deja vu was coming over me. At this close range the stench was overpowering but the blackness drew me in. The darkness seemed to spill out, filling my vision.

Whoa, keep a grip on reality. You’re moving your head closer to the hole, that’s all. Closer to the blackness I’ve seen so many times. But this time it’s real. It’s beyond an absence of light. It’s something solid in itself. Lightning tears the sky. Lights up the whole street for one brilliant moment. Does nothing to the blackness in the hole.

Or… was that a movement. Something on the edge of perception…


A sharp push from behind broke the spell. I barely saved myself from what I was sure at the time was a nasty fall. I jumped up and yelled some more, this time directly at Karen who seemed to find no end of mirth in the situation.

“Big bloody joke! I nearly fell in!”

“Oh come off it, that huge head of yours wouldn’t even fit, let alone the rest of your body.”

I was slightly surprised she only managed one put down between the gales of laughter, which was the only positive thing for me in the whole situation. Still, i could hardly blame her for laughing. The simplest of tricks had worked. Hole in the ground, Michael looks in, Karen goes “BOO!” Michael is scared half to death and almost falls in. But even the embarrassment of the situation could not completely kill the feeling that something was lurking there.

“That hole is really weird. It isn’t normal. They should fill it in.”

“Freaked you out, huh?”

I could have denied it. But there was hardly any point. It was obvious. I was freaked out.

“Remember that feeling. It might come in handy during the game.”

Another huge warning sign that got right by me. At the time I was glad for the change of subject and I leapt upon it eagerly.

“So who are we waiting on?”

“Nobody. Everyone else is busy. It’s you and me alone tonight.”

I swear I am not stupid. Looking back, this and all the other warning signs were right out in the open for me. But I didn’t see the setup coming. Like the sly grin earlier, this went right over my head. On the surface, this was nothing outlandish – I had played solo adventures before. So I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary.

We left the hole to its own (undoubtedly evil) devices and walked up the stairs, each one creaking its protest, to Karen’s flat. Like me, Karen was living away from home for the first time to go to university and we both reveled in having complete control over our environments for the first time. It’s funny when I look at my friends’ places – we all clearly decided there was no way we were going to decorate the same way our parents did. We were going to express our individuality. Which made it really disturbing to acknowledge how similar so many of our homes were.

The furniture was mostly second-hand, more about comfort than looks. Maybe we bought it from an op shop or an online trading post, maybe we scored it from our parents or maybe it was what I called “urban recycling” – someone better off than us dumped it on the footpath to be collected with the rubbish but some opportunistic students liberated it before it was carted away. Cheap is good – free is better. Like the vinyl lounge I had. Sure, it was the ugliest thing I had ever seen but I didn’t have to pay for it and it could fit four people. We covered the walls with posters of bands our parents had never heard of and played music they didn’t understand.

“Do you want a cuppa before we start?”

“Oh god, yes.”

A pre-game cup of Earl Grey tea was somewhat of a tradition in the circle of gamers that Karen and I played with. I think it started as a Star Trek TNG reference (“Earl Grey – hot” as ordered by Captain Picard) that was intended to be ironic but over time it simply became the thing we did. After the ordeal I had been put through it was a necessity.

We had the usual argument about me taking too much sugar (I know people who take way more than three) and how only philistines have it with milk. Then we were able to settle down. Between sips, I passed the time by reading the side of the box the tea had come from to discover the enthralling story of how many Earls Grey had had this tea blended especially for their family. I was struck by the use of surname only in the signature of the current (sixth, I believe) Earl Grey.

“What sort of wanker uses only one name?”

“You mean like ‘Droban’?”

Ouch. She got me there. Droban was the name of the character I had been playing for years and would be playing in tonight’s game. He was my favourite character. Karen made the comment seem lighthearted, barely a barb at all but there was no mistaking her meaning. I knew what her smile was this time as well. An extra smackdown putting me well and truly in my place. I started to realise now I was in trouble. She was attacking my character before we even started.

She was out to get me.

This particular character did use more than one name originally. I initially called him “Droban The Terminator” and you honestly don’t have to tell me how juvenile that is. In retrospect, being sixteen hardly seems a good enough excuse. It took me a couple of years of derision about “macho fantasies” to swallow my pride and cut the name back to Droban. And now that was working against me.

“OK then, assuming the personal insults are done with, why don’t we play?”

Karen walked past me into the lounge room. She seemed to enjoy my discomfort and was doubtless planning to increase it as the night wore on. For the moment though, she was content to set up the game.

All the components were in one box: dice, pencils, mapping paper and rule books. One box and our imagination were all we needed. It was enough to create whole worlds. I sat down opposite Karen, ready to begin. Every game was a fight for survival and I knew tonight would be even more so. Nobody liked to lose characters and the dungeon master (DM) would usually cut you some slack if you played creatively but the game wasn’t as much fun if your characters weren’t at some genuine risk. So occasionally much-loved characters that had been developed over years would be killed.

I would have to think quickly tonight if I wanted Droban to get through.

“So where does this epic begin?”

Karen smiled another enigmatic smile. Usually I would assume she was trying to put me at ease. This was definitely not usual. I was playing not so much against the Mona Lisa as against that shark in Finding Nemo that is welcoming its new “friend”.

“It starts easily enough. First up you’re recuperating from your previous adventure.”

“Fine, where am I?”

“In a village.”

“Have I been there before?”

I had. The dice rolled. The game had begun.

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Otherworld – An Introduction (NOT an apology)

I have a dream. I say “have” rather than “had” not because I think I’m Martin Luther King (although, yay equality) but because the dream is recurring. I don’t have it every night but I might have it tonight. It’s never exactly the same twice but the essential element is always there.

The blackness.

I’ve never tried to analyse the dream, never done any web searches for its significance. And if you’re reading this, please don’t look it up and tell what you now “know” about me. I’m not interested in any amateur psychologists thinking they know my inner secrets. Prior to now I’ve never even told anyone about it.

Originally I planned to write about the dream for a creative writing assignment. I’ve never written anything more than a few pages long and the major assignment this semester is supposed to be 20,000 words. Which has me freaking out. I think Professor Grivas (or GBH as we call him) saw the terror in my eyes because he pretty much taunted me about it being beyond my capabilities.

Then as per usual, he lumped the whole lecture into “your generation” and challenged us to do better than some trashy social media post and write not only at length but also without using internet slang, abbreviations or “memes”. Pretty sure he doesn’t get memes but nobody pulls him up on it any more because if we ever try to explain memes to him he goes on a huge rant about Marshall McLuhan and Richard Dawkins. Last time I’m pretty sure I saw spit foaming at the corner of his mouth.

When I told me dad about how GBH carries on, he said GBH sounded like a “typical Boomer prick.” So far as I know they’re only about 10-20 years apart in age but I never point this out.

So I’m writing longer than a tweet. No gifs, no listicles. And trying to not come across as if I’m on 4chan.

Back to the dream. I can’t remember the first time I had it. But I not only avoid looking up the meaning of it, I usually avoid facing why I don’t want to analyse it. But I know the reason. It’s the same reason I avoid tarot cards or having my palm read. I’m worried what I’m told will turn out to be true. And I’d rather not know.

It’s the blackness I don’t want to know about. Let’s get real, that’s bound to mean something. The blackness that hides something.

Another thing that’s always the same in the dream is I don’t see the blackness at first. It’s so black it’s like a void that my eyes (or my subconscious given this is a dream) skips over. It’s as though I’m simultaneously unaware of the void and aware that something is missing. The critical point is always when my brain goes “Hey, there should be something there…”

At that moment that something that most definitely is there reaches out and grabs me by the throat and I wake up in a cold sweat. So I suppose we’re talking nightmare rather than dream. It really scares me not because of the undoubtedly horrible monster that grabs me (and I have no memory of ever seeing what the monster looks like) but because it’s always so normal to start with. It’s never been in a haunted house or a scary cave – it happens in such everyday places.

The monster’s been under my bed (classic), in my wardrobe (ditto) and even in the back of my Volkswagen. That was the one that really got me, I mean, as if there aren’t already enough ways to die in a ’61 beetle with a hole in the exhaust pipe and bad brakes. I got such an old car because it was a “classic” and I thought it would make me look cool. It kind of does but it costs a lot to keep on the road and is a real bastard to drive. And I won’t even go into my friend Ben’s nickname for my German car which tries to gas me.

What I’m trying to say is that’s why I’m telling this story. When a dream like that slithers out of my unconscious and into the real world I get a bit jumpy. That’s how Karen was able to affect me so much in the dungeon. Oh wow, as soon as I wrote that I felt compelled to add a qualifier. We were playing Dungeons and Dragons – a “dungeon” is what we call an adventure even if it doesn’t involve a literal dungeon. Back to my point – seeing the blackness in the real world was the reason I was so jumpy the whole night, nothing else.

I’m sure of it.


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