On the fringes of a vast desert, the sea of sand is disturbed by three sets of footprints left behind by travellers making the long and perilous journey to venture beyond the barrier of the burning sun.
“Are we there yet?” The tallest of the trio whines for the hundredth time that day. His backpack weighs heavily down on his shoulders, doing nothing to relieve him of the oppressive heat.
“How many times, Grant, we’ll get there when we get there.” The second of the travellers snaps, wiping beads of sweat from her tanned brow.
“But it’s so hoooot.”
“And whining about it isn’t going to make it go away.”
“Guys, guys.” The third and final member of the group sighs from two steps ahead.
Even though his face is bright red from the heat, as the leader of their little expedition, he flashes a confident grin at the pair.
“Chill. If this map is right, we’re almost at the end of the desert. And then…”
“Water?” Grant asks hopefully. “A spring, the ocean? Heck, I’ll even settle for a muddy puddle at this rate.”
“You’re such a baby.”
“Says the desert girl.”
“Guy! Come on, just a little further then we’ll be the first explorers in living memory to cross the desert.” Their leader sighs. “But maybe we could take a quick break first.”
“Oh, thank god!” Grant moans, instantly dropping to sit in the sand.
“I don’t see the point of this.”
“Ah, come on, Tara what’s the harm in some rest before we make the final push?”
“Just 'cause you have the map Casz, doesn’t mean you’re the boss.”
Casz shrugs, dropping his own backpack to rest his shoulders. “I never said I was,” he smirks, “but if you remember, you’re the one who wanted to come along with us.”
Scoffing, Tara, turns away, mumbling under her breath, “What was I supposed to do? Couldn’t just let you guys wander in the desert alone…”
“So… how much further is it?” Grant wonders, already feeling much better.
“Mmh, about half a day’s walk.”
“Seriously?! Uuuugh, why me…”
“Come on,” Tara grins, “The sooner we get moving the sooner we can get out of this heat.”
And so, the trio resumed their venture across the desert dunes, until finally, as the sun began to set, sand turned to grass beneath their feet, and they came to a stop.
Before them a vast valley of lush green grass spread out as far as the eye could see. Bordered by steep rocky hills and a waterfall that fell into a deep lake in the centre of the vale.
“We’re here…” Casz grins, holding out his map.
The vague drawings of a valley beyond the desert made real before their eyes.
It wasn’t long after that, that the trio quickly set about creating their new settlement. They dug into the natural caves in the hills, digging deep down to find the precious ores and minerals they would need to really get things going. Before long, they had everything they needed, the hills were rich in iron, which they mined to fill their forge. With a steady supply of iron tools, they could mine even more minerals, finding gold, lapis lazuli, red stone, and Grant was even lucky enough to find a few diamonds.
“Geez.” Tara whistled, at his find. “This valley is even more plentiful than I thought.”
“I know right!”
“I wish we could tell everyone back home…”
“Maybe we can.” Casz grinned, “I have an idea.”
“Dude, your last idea had us wandering the desert for weeks.”
“Relax, this’ll be easy.”
“Sure, it will…”
Easy as it turned out, was not quite what Tara would have called it.
Casz set them to mining as much gold as possible, spending days on end down in the mines, chasing the few veins of gold they could find, and smelting it into solid gold blocks.
Along with mysteriously inheriting a map that depicted a vast valley beyond the desert that isolated their home village, he possessed something unique and incredible rare.
“My grandfather once told me, that if I ever found the valley, that I would build a pyramid of gold blocks, and place this on top of it...” He grinned, producing a glowing glass box from his bag.
As he set it atop the pyramid, a bright beam of blue light shot into the sky.
“…and it would make a beacon.”
The three of them spent the rest of the night simply staring at the beacon, mesmerised by its light.
It wasn’t long after that, that others from their village began to arrive. They had seen the beacons light and knew it must mean that their brave explorers had succeeded. Those brave three become known as team Cactus, and they became the heads of the new settlement. Their makeshift camp inside the mountain began to grow, filling with homes of wood that spilled out to the valley floor beyond the caves. And for a time, the new settlement prospered.
But as time passed, rumours of unusual happenings began to stir.
It began with simple things; supplies turning up in chests that weren’t there before. New offshoots appearing in the mines that no one had dug, and no collapse were reported. Farmers found seeds in their grain store that they did not recognise, and fishermen from the river that flowed out of the waterfall lake reported strange sightings of large aquatic creatures lurking in the sand.
No one appeared to be in any kind of danger, but the more these rumours spread, the more curious Casz become. He was an explorer at heart, something else he inherited from his grandfather.
He knew he should be content with how things are. As one of the founders of the valley village, he has everything he could ever want or need. But he could feel it, something in the valley was calling out to him.
Calling out to be discovered.
So, with pickaxe and torch in hand, he ventured down into the mines, heading for one of the new offshoots. Just like the other villagers had said, the one he found wasn’t here only a few days before, and there was no pick marks from digging and no sign that the surrounding rocks had caved away. It was as if this had somehow always been a part of the cave system. “What secrets are you hiding down here…?” Casz couldn’t help but mumble as he took his first tentative steps down the pitch black tunnel.
Lit only by his single torch, shadows danced across the walls as he felt his heart pumping in his chest. He hadn’t been this excited since the day he left the old village, something that feels like a lifetime ago, and yet was really not that long past.
Casz jumps, whirling around as he’s startled by the sudden sound of stone hitting stone, but as he does, a gust of wind blows out his torch.
“Crap!” He cries, now plunged into total darkness.
In his excitement to explore the caves, he forgot to bring some flint to relight the torch… Stuck in the dark, he considers trying to retrace his steps, and hopefully make his way back to the main tunnel, when something catches his eye.
It’s very faint, and he would never have noticed it with his torch still lit, but it’s definitely there. A faint, low greenish blue light coming from further down the tunnel.
He knows the danger of wandering the caves lost and without a light, but he can’t seem to pull himself away from the glow. That same mystery of the valley he felt before is calling him once more, and even though it’s against his better judgment, he heads towards the light.
The rocks grow narrower as he goes, but that doesn’t stop him.
The glow brightens as he turns a cramped corner, forcing him to crouch to move further in, but then, the tunnel opens up into a wide cavern, its walls glowing that same greenish-blue thanks to some sort of gemstone he’s never seen before.
The walls of the cavern are completely smooth, forming a perfect sphere, too perfect to be natural. Casz doesn’t know how or why, but he’s certain, this cavern was made by someone. Someone who inhabited the valley before him and the villagers…
As he steps into the cavern, something grinds from under the stone surface, and he feels it rumble as a pillar rises up out of the ground in the centre.
“Whoa…” Eyes wide, he tentatively walks towards the pillar, finding it inscribed with strange ruins he’s at a loss to translate, and sat within the middle of the pillar, is a single book.
The leather jacket is worn and covered in a layer of dust and grim, but what really intrigues Casz is the fact it’s glowing, just like the wall but much brighter.
It’s at times like this, Casz wishes his grandfather was still alive, he’s sure the old man would’ve had a field day with this.
He knows it might be a trap, but he’s too curious not to reach out and take the book.
The second he does, he regrets it as the entire cavern begins to shake.
Holding the book to his chest, he turns and runs, ducking back out the crawlspace sized tunnel just as the cavern begins to sink, blocking off the exit behind him as he hurried to leave.
With the glow of the book, Casz is able to escape the dark tunnels and find his way back to the mines. When he returns, everyone is concerned.
They all felt the deep tremors coming from the caves, and worried that he might have been caught in a cave-in.
“Damn it, Casz!” Tara cries, punching his dust covered arm, “don’t ever go off like that again! What happened to team Cactus?!”
“Sorry.” He apologises, flashing a sheepish grin. “But you won’t believe what I found.” Bringing only Tara and Grant to his home, he reveals the book he tucked away under his shirt.
“What… is this…”
“It’s so… glowy…”
“I have no idea.” Casz admits with a wide grin, “but I think this is the key to all the strange happenings in the village.”
Carefully, he peels back the cover, opening the book, but frowns.
Much like the pillar, it’s written in some kind of runes he’s at a lost to translate. Not to be dissuaded, he claps his hands. “Okay, time to figure out what this says!”
But it’s not as easy as he’d hoped.
Time passes with the trio going on secret expeditions to the mysterious new tunnels, collecting anything and everything they can about this past group of inhabitants. Finding scattered fragments of their writing, and painstakingly working out a means of translation. Until finally, they begin to gain a glimpse into the secrets of the glowing book.
“Okay.. let’s see…” Casz mumbles months later, surrounded by a table full of notes and stone shards of runes. “Pengu’s Journal.”
“So, this belonged to someone called Pengu? That’s a weird name.” Tara frowns from her place slumped between her chair and the side of the desk as she watches Casz work, Grant long since fallen asleep on the floor behind the pair.
“Seems like it… anyway, if this rune means this.. then… it reads; find the nine… forge the gift bringer… of Cursed Flesh… Burning Spirit… Friend Nugget… Sacred Feather… Soul Silk… Glassed Eye… Ancient Dust… Radioactive Rabbit Foot… And Bone Wand… worn together… their powers are awakened…” Running his finger over the complex rune writing, he sighs,
“And that’s about as far as I’ve got. I’m still not sure what even half of these runes mean, so it might not be too accurate…”
“That… was no help.” Tara sighs.
“Well it’s not the easiest thing to translate, but I think, we have to find these things and make them into something we can wear, like armour.”
“And how do you suppose we do that?”
Casz grins, “I have an idea.”
“Oh, here we go again…”