Author's Note:

Fazar: Hey, guys! Fazar here, with another chapter of CURSE. Thanks for the positive replies, but you know, it would be really great if some people took the time to tell me what to improve about the story!

Grandpa Gunboss: Yeah, we'd appreciate it tons if you could take the time and say if you feel that the characters are out of their personality, if setting should be described more or less, whether scenes left a satisfactory or unsatisfactory impression on you, if a certain line was weak—you know, the works!

Fazar: You're not supposed to be here, Grandpa Gunboss. You don't appear until about 50 chapters from now.

Grandpa Gunboss: Call me Brondo. And dude, it's pretty boring to stand guard over the entrance to—

(Fazar slaps Brondo on the back of the head)

Fazar: SHHH! Don't spoil the story for the readers!

Brondo:Ow, sorry, dude. Just saying, I'm bored.

Fazar: Guess I better keep you occupied, or you'll be spilling spoilers for everybody. I'm giving you muse duty, and you're helping me out with comments.

Brondo: Sweet! Muse duty! My name's in bold, muwahahaha!

Fazar: So, yeah, send in what we need to improve...

Brondo: —like, you can't expect a dude to fix a problem unless you tell the guy what it is!

Fazar: ...and we'll make sure that we improve in the next scroll! Now, back to the story.


Fazar: Oh, dear God, what have I just done?…

Last time on CURSE…

Damus has had his last combat lesson from his teacher, Master Lamati, and he has finally bested her in battle. As a parting gift, Lamati has given Damus the Golden Mole, a large and intimidating-looking war hammer. She has also informed him that he is to report to Sitting Bull in a week's time. After Damus took his leave, he paid a visit to Professor Hencroft, who promised him an impressive new suit of armor. Hencroft also delegated to Damus a mission in which he must investigate a cave close to Perion that seems to be the center of several strange attacks by possessed animals. What will Damus find in the cave? Well, that's the second part of the scroll. The first part of the scroll establishes important concepts, so please bear with all the talking so that you can understand what's happening later in the story! It's time to join our Ellinian heroes in:

Scroll 02: Of Plots and Discoveries

Date: November 28, 1551

Time: 02:33 AM

Location: Concordance Outpost VII (Ellinia sector), Head Office

(A/N: For your information and understanding, Amity is both advisor to Hines and leader of the Concordance. He uses his position under Hines to overhear information that is vital to the Concordance.)

"Amity, there had better be no other way to do this or I will personally kick your ass," Aladar growled, barely managing to keep his anger in check as he stood on the cheap carpet furnishings of Amity's office. He caught himself tapping his foot irritably on the floor and stopped. From the corner of his eye, he saw Esther lean against the wooden doorframe, her golden head bowed and emerald eyes deep in troubled thought. As he looked at her, Aladar thought, We don't look anything alike, but we always depend on each other to help the other out. Hopefully, that's good enough to get us through this mission...

Amity sighed and turned away from the starless night that he had been staring at through the window. A single faded gold medallion was pinned half-heartedly on his chest, denoting his rank of admiral—leader of the Concordance. Unlike Esther, he was unmistakably the brother of Aladar. They shared the same deep, amber eyes and flaming red hair, with the exception that Aladar's was tied back into a long, rough ponytail whereas Amity's hair was cut short. Lines of exhaustion cut beneath Amity's eyes, making him look five years older than his real age. He ran his hand through his hair in tired impatience. "We've gone through this already, Aladar. There just is no other way. The Concordance's troops and supplies are limited enough as it is, and we were already being pressed to our maximum at the time when I learned that Hines had pulled his secret weapon out of his ass—"

Aladar snorted. "Yeah, everybody's been talking about Hines's stupid weapon, but since you haven't told anyone, nobody knows what the hell it is. Personally, I think any weapon he makes can't be that bad. After all, the guy's a complete dumb-ass—"

Esther lifted her head and smiled. "You're not giving him enough credit, Aladar."

"It's true, though," Aladar insisted. "The only reason why all the Ellinians think he's so great is because Amity is behind him to correct his mistakes." He turned to Amity, looking for support. "Amity, remember when he told you his idea of raising public support for the war, and it turned out to be giving everyone in Ellinia a roasted turkey?"

Amity grinned—the first grin he had made during their conversation, Aladar noted—but it faded as he started to speak again. "I back him up because I need to. It's necessary that I keep up a pretence of supporting him so that he doesn't suspect that I'm spying for the Concordance. But you're underestimating Hines—even though his political abilities may be weak, his magical work is very powerful. You don't understand the potential of his weapon because you don't know what it can do."

Aladar heaved a sigh. "And you're still not telling me what it is, are you?"

Amity smiled wryly. "No, I'm not. I said I couldn't tell you until you managed to complete your mission and gather together a group that's strong enough to handle the weapon. If someone backstabs you, at least they can backstab you without knowing all the information of Hines's weapon—or the Concordance."

Aladar opened his mouth to speak, but Esther raised her head and interrupted him. "Amity, wouldn't it be better if we could give some information so that the people we find would have a tangible reason to believe us?" Sensible as always, Aladar thought in approval, turning to Amity, but he found that Amity was shaking his head.

"Esther, I understand that it will be hard to try to convince anyone without proper information, but the threat of leaking Concordance information to potentially hostile forces is simply too high." Amity glanced at Aladar before saying, "You both know that survival is the primary objective of the Concordance—no matter what. And that even includes Hines's new threat. If the Concordance falls, so does the resistance effort against the war." He sighed and sank heavily in his patched leather chair, then continued, "Hines's threat is deadly enough. But we cannot afford to use any of our own troops to dispose of the weapon, because then we would simply be spread out too thin to hold the Concordance outposts. On top of that, we wouldn't be able to send any of our soldiers anyway, because none of them are fit to handle the mission—either their physical or mental strength is lacking, and sometimes both. That goes for all of them. Aladar, you and Esther are the best fighters we have, whether you admit it or not, and you are pretty much the only ones I can send on this mission."

Aladar glanced at Esther, searching for approval. Esther met his gaze and gave a small nod of approval. Aladar returned a nod of acknowledgement, then turned to Amity. "And what about you, Amity? You'll stay here to monitor things?"

Amity gave Aladar a wry smile. "Stay here, yes. Monitor things, yes—but only as best as I can with the stuff that we have here, since Outpost 01 was destroyed and the Concordance members within it obliterated."

"What!" Aladar and Esther both stared at Amity in disbelief. "Outpost mean the one in the Perion sector?"

Amity nodded his head sadly. "Yes...that one. Destroyed. And you know what that means."

Esther walked to the window and stared out at the ebony skies. Aladar shook his head slowly, silently honoring those who had died in the outpost, before moving on. It was necessary, in war. Casualties happened. But you couldn't let it get to you, otherwise you'd likely become a casualty yourself. Aladar looked up at Amity and spoke with an effort. "Destroyed...We're in deep shit now, then. Pretty much all our communications equipment was in the Perion outpost."

Amity nodded again. "Our technicians are rebuilding our equipment from scratch, but it's going to take a while. You're going to have to leave before then, because Hines's weapon must be destroyed as soon as possible. It's already had time to build up strength, so we need it to be out of the picture immediately. I have no idea how long it's been in place already—it might have been days, weeks, or months. We need it gone now."

"Right." Aladar scratched his head and sighed. "So, to recap our mission objectives—we're going on this crazy journey around the whole Victoria Island, bulldozing through a myriad of hostile enemy forces while staying in one piece at the same time, trying to convince the best enemy fighters that we can find to join us along the way, without information, without radios, and without any consolation from our dear commanding brother except that we are most definitely, absolutely bitch-fucked?"

Amity smiled. "Well, think about it this way: if the odds weren't so high, then it wouldn't be quite so fun now, wouldn't it?" he asked, clapping Aladar on the shoulder.

"You're an ass, Amity," Aladar said, shaking his head bemusedly.

Amity chuckled, and the bags beneath his eyes seemed to fade a little. "It's a requirement of a commanding officer, brother. Now move out. I want you gone by sunrise."

(A/N: Yeah, yeah, I know. This was all politics. But it was necessary to establish later concepts. Hope you aren't completely bored, because we are going to the ACTION part of the chapter now! WOOT!)

Date: November 28, 1551

Time: 04:06 PM

Location: Unexplored cave, two miles to the northeast of Perion

" 'Pick up anything of interest'..." Damus muttered to himself as he stood outside the cave, gazing into its shadowy maw. Dead trees surrounded him, their branches leafless, creaking ominously although there was no wind. "Well, things should get pretty interesting enough, from the looks of things here...No big surprise that the victims thought the animals were possessed. I'm getting spooked just by being in this place..."

Setting the bag of tools that he had taken with him on the ground, Damus retrieved from it a small flashlight and shone it into the darkness. The shadows parted grudgingly before the beam, but the light failed to penetrate more than twenty feet into the darkness. Damus tried to hold the flashlight in different positions to see more of the cave, but the light did not go any further. Damus even thought that the cave had actually become more sinisterly dark than before, and he thought he had heard a very faint hiss from the blackness. He stood still for a long moment, but the sound did not repeat itself.

Just my imagination, Damus told himself, looping his bag around his shoulder, before nervously adding, I hope. He unsheathed his Traus—he had thought the sword would be better than the Golden Mole in a reconnaissance mission—then plunged into the murky darkness of the cave.

The dead silence of the cave was severely unnerving. By the light of his glow-in-the-dark watch, Damus could tell that it had been twenty minutes since he had entered the cave. Twenty minutes that had been filled with a menacing silence, broken by nothing save the sounds of Damus's own movement. As Damus looked up from his watch, he unintentionally kicked a small pebble, sending it clattering away down the long length of the cave. The rattling of the pebble filled Damus's ears, and he froze. If anything living was in this cave, it surely would be alerted to his presence now. He stood there in breathless anticipation for a long minute, but nothing came. Carefully, quietly, he started moving again—then stopped, thinking to turn off the flashlight to avoid detection. But then the thought crossed his mind that he would be in pitch-black darkness. He kept the flashlight on.

Another corner. Damus edged to it, placing his back against the wall. Cautiously, he peeked around the corner, flashlight in hand.

The passageway held nothing. Warily, Damus turned the corner and inched forward. Suddenly, the passageway in front of him widened. It was the doorway to another chamber of the cave. Damus passed the beam of light over the decrepit outer edge and saw strange symbols carved into it. Ancient runes, Damus realized as he examined a small, crumbling block of cave rock that had fallen from the doorway. He picked it up and stuffed it into his sack, then stepped through the doorway, his flashlight and Traus at the ready. As he entered the chamber, a warm yellow light flickered into existence and flowed from the ceiling to the center of the chamber, illuminating it but keeping the areas near the walls of the room in darkness. Startled, Damus held back at the entrance of the room, but nothing else happened.

I'm getting a bad feeling about this, thought Damus, unnerved. There's only so many more times I can push my luck before something happens... He scanned the outer edge of the room, but the chamber's light revealed only the center, and, strangely, the flashlight did not pierce through the darkness for more than a few feet. Damus tried waving the flashlight in different positions, then gave up and turned his attention to the center circle that the light illuminated.

The outer edge of the circle was surrounded by six tall pillars of white marble. The floor of the light-filled circle was rock, plain but smooth, unlike the rest of the cave that Damus had seen. In the very middle of the center circle stood a small pedestal, about two feet high, with an indistinguishable object resting upon it. Damus walked up to the pedestal and examined the object. A doll? Damus asked himself in surprise as he looked at it, careful not to touch it. What's a doll doing in this place?

The object was indeed a doll, but it was nothing like the kind of doll that a child would play with. To Damus, it faintly reminded him of the sort of doll that was used in voodoo. This doll was obviously old; the stuffing was falling out in clumps. Cautiously, Damus stretched out a gloved hand to the doll. Suddenly, his glove became warm and glowed a bright red for a moment, then the heat and light faded as quickly as it had come. Must be the anti-energy function that the Prof built into the glove, Damus reasoned. He carefully reached out, then grabbed the doll and waited in anticipation for something to happen.

Nothing did. An unprovoked sense of dread gripped Damus. Suddenly, he was anxious to get out of the cave. Quickly, he took off his gloves and stuffed them into his bag, making sure that they were kept firmly wrapped around the doll. He re-looped the bag around his shoulders and left the room at a swift pace. But as he crossed the threshold of the doorway, he heard a chilling moan from the room behind him. Damus whipped around, sword in hand.

The chamber had changed. The yellow light from the ceiling had disappeared altogether, so that the inner circle was no longer illuminated. Now, a spectral mist, ghostly blue in color, wafted up from the ground that had been in darkness a minute ago, outlining the outer ring of the room. The mist rose up from the entire ground of the outside ring, which emitted an eerie blue light up to the ceiling. As Damus watched the mist rise, he caught sight of six dark shapes atop the high pillars. The shapes leaped down from the pillars and landed. Damus switched on his flashlight and shone it on the nearest figure. The beam of light struck a slack face, which was a horrifying pallid gray in color. But it was the eyes that raised the hairs on Damus's neck. The pupil-less eyes stared blankly at him, devoid of any kind of animal intelligence that might have previously existed within them. An blood-curdling scream emitted from the beasts, striking fear into Damus's heart.

He turned tail and broke into a dead run—the first time that Damus had ever fled from a battle. The ghoulish shrieks of the beasts followed him relentlessly, echoing and re-echoing chillingly against the walls of the hellish cave. Long after they had faded away, Damus continued to run, the blood-curdling screams of the beasts still resounding in the hallways of his mind.

A/N: Well, now it's getting more obvious why the story is called CURSE, isn't it? I didn't mean to make the first part so political, nor the second part so dark in plot, but I guess they came out that way because they had to. Again, please leave CONSTRUCTIVE comments. And I might be changing scroll 01 to add a new concept of Damus's origins.

'Til next time—