Cold Heart

 
Cold Heart

The cold air quickly wraps itself around Richard's sopping wet body. Only moments ago he was drowning in a car with his family, but now... he has somehow found himself on top of a mountain. He sees the body of a man the size of a cruise ship lying on the ground. Behind the large man are two cave openings spread about 500 feet apart. The man (if he can be called that) is wearing a shirt that is stitched together one giant chain link at a time. Laying next to the massive man, who is little more than a skeleton now, is a tremendous axe-like weapon on a pole. Despite his obviously decomposed state, the man does not exude the odor of decay.

There are large sheets of paper scattered around the area. Some seem to be spilling from the giant-man's pockets. His wet clothes are already starting to stiffen as ice begins to form on them. Cold shivers course through his body. Before he has a chance to really take anything else in, Richard discovers that he isn't alone. Two figures are standing in the snow nearby him. one of them he recognizes as the
Chinese man who came to him as his wife, and children were dying with him. The other is a young

hispanic kid that he has never seen before.

"Greetings again. I am Zhong Kui. You accepted my bargain. In exchange for your cooperation, I will save the life of your family. Are you ready Richard Heart? Are you ready to work on my behalf inside this terrible dungeon?" asks the familiar figure.


"Where the Hell am I? , who are you? , what is that laying over there?" Richards head starts to swim, he stumbles forward and just manages to stop himself from face planting in the snow. He forces himself to stand up, "Where are my family'?..Please say something"

"Surely you haven't forgotten me already Richard," states the tall Chinese man. Somehow Richard can tell that the man isn't speaking English, but he still seems to understand the words. "I am your sponsor Zhong Kui. As we agreed, I have brought you to another world. You do remember our agreement."

The man's words are more statement of fact than questions. "When we have finished talking, you will enter the cavern complex through one of the two entrances beyond me. I have something I need you to do in there. Many things if the truth is to be spoken. In return, your family is safe. Should you ever want to see them again, you will have to enter the dungeon. Complete my tasks and make your way back out."

The other man - the young man, barely old enough to be called that - remains quiet for the moment. He seems only half involved in the conversation as if distracted by something else.

Richard see's flashes of his familiy in the sinking car, and rembers the face and voice of the man in front of him. "I remember you, and yes I recall what I promised. How do I know you'll keep your promise?" Richard glances at the young man who has thus far remained silent. "Who is he? Another poor soul ripped away from his life and family?"


"At one time... yes." answers the kid. "Now, however I am another Sponsor. I will also be your guide, and I have become the embodiment of the dungeon itself. Don't ask, it's a long story. Zhong Kui is one of the few good Sponsors involved in this. I'm another, and Artemis is... to an extent. I'm not really certain about Lighthouse. Most of the other sponsors... well, they'll likely be a hindrance to their chosen champion more so than to you."

"As an example, you were my second choice. When the planning was happening for this new excursion into the dungeon, I had already hand-picked another. Then a spiteful demon saw an opportunity and snatched away my champion. He is still in there now, under the creature's influence and control. Be wary, for the unnamed, unseen demon is dangerous... but the Cat Lord is more dangerous." explains Zhong Kui.

"Yes she is." Snap-On interrupts. "And we need to get through this before she takes notice of our new contestant. He is better protected from her inside. Out here, she can do as she pleases. In fact I'm supposed to be trying to find a way to stop her."

"Contestants? Is this some sort of game? How long has this been going on for, when will I get to see my family again?" Richards eyes locked onto the decayed figure on the floor "What is that laying over there, I've never seen anything so large?" he starts to shiver, "I need to get somewhere warm before this cold kills me."


"Sorry... contestant was the wrong word choice I guess. I get... confused... sometimes. That's what we were when I first went through this dungeon as a player. That was when the Dungeon Master was the only Sponsor. But that time has been... reset... along with me. I'm the only one who really knows or remembers that time as far as I know," answers Snap-On. "I was myself then... and not this fleshbag kid."

"The creature is a titan. Most cultures have some mythology surrounding the Titans... perhaps yours did also. Basically think giant human with tremendous powers. That was the original guardian of the entrance. Even I don't know what happened to him... it was before my time."

"Let's move towards the two entrances, but we can't go in just yet..."
adds Snap-On.

The trio begin to move through the ice and snow, getting closer to the two cave entrances. As they move, Richard notices a set of keys in Snap-On's hand. The keys are larger than his house keys, reminding him of an old style of key. They appear to be made out of ice as far as the former stock broker can tell.


"As for your family..." begins Richard's sponsor as he holds up a hand. Colors swirl around to form an image in midair. He watches as his wife and kids start to drown in the water filling up the car. Richard is in the car with them. He watches himself somehow smash open the window of the car despite the massive pressure against the glass. When he watches the window get smashed there is a tinge of pain in Richard's hand. Looking down he sees that his right hand is broken and bloody. It wasn't like that before. Then he watches as he helps his wife and kids get free of the car, but doesn't see himself escape.

"They made it to shore. They will be found and rescued by a passing car. They'll have a bad case of hypothermia, but will recover with no real problems to speak of. You will be searched for, for weeks... but won't be found." The image fades, but the Chinese deity continues talking to Richard Heart. "If you can complete my tasks for me inside, and make your way back out through the exit, then you will return to your family. You can tell them that you emerged elsewhere, but had memory loss. Tell them whatever you like to justify your lost time."

"While inside, you should take it upon yourself to destroy any demons, devils and undead that you come across. There is a specific item located in the dungeon that will help you in this task. It should be well hidden, but it was used by the creators of this dungeon to keep the undead housed there at bay. The item is called the Soul Sword. Find it and use this powerful greatsword against the undead inside. Then escape the dungeon and bring it to me so that I can bestow the object upon a champion of my cause."

"There is a second item in this dungeon that must never leave. The powerful artifact is tome called The Book of Vile Darkness. It can warp and pervert any who try to wield it's power... or even carry it for too long. Find this book and insure that it stays in the dungeon or gets destroyed. The Cat Lord has convinced some of the others to find artifacts for her and get them outside of the dungeon for her to control. She is a selfish goddess, but this item WILL change that. Should she get it, she will become a powerful force for evil... she thinks she can bend it to her will, but she's the one who will bend... and then break. Do not let that book get into her hands... or the hands of anyone else for that matter."


"Take these crystal keys."
says Snap-On, cutting off Zhong Kui. He hands the keys to the shivering man whose clothes have already frozen. "They will let you access the shop again later. Use them in any door, but you only get two. Once you use them they are gone forever."

"Now you must choose your path..."
Snap-On gestures to the caves that they are approaching. "PAY ATTENTION!" shouts Snap-On as if he were talking to a large group of people, and not just Richard. "Both of the cave entrances you see will take you to the same place. But each one is a different journey. The cave opening on the
left will take you feet first into the uncertainty of destiny. There you will surrender yourself to whatever fate has in store for you. Going to the
right means that you have chosen a broader path, indicating that you will try to take control of your destiny, at least in some fashion. So choose wisely, it's only your future!"



Richard takes the keys. He looks at both entrances. He Feels drawn to the opening on the right. He starts to walk forward. Every step seems like a struggle in his frozen clothes, but he eventually makes it. "I feel drawn to this entrance for some reason, any final words of wisdom before I go in?" While Richard waits for their answer, he turns and peers into the cave entrance to see if he can make out what awaits him once he enters.



"Yes actually." says Snap-On as he approaches the still shivering man. He pulls out an envelope. The plain white paper is sealed. "This is from your sponsor. By the rules of this agreement forged by the Sponsors, this is a special quest presented to you, and only you. After you enter, and finish exploring the workshop at the end of this tunnel, and after you have been to the store, open and read it. But do this when you are alone, or find time alone. Completion of this task will earn you special favor with your sponsor in the form of a ring. This ring will save your life when you need it. Do not speak of your special quest to any of the others. They are each tasked in a similar way, but if you speak of the objective of your quest... you forfeit the prize."

Snap-On then points down the tunnel, "Now go. I'll see you on the other side."

Richard turns and peers down the tunnel. It is pitch black and nothing but the stone walls leading in can be seen. Richard follows the tunnel down. It takes a good bit of time to traverse the tunnel, but at least it is warmer than on the surface. He soon finds himself inside a strange... "workshop" as Snap-On called it. Strange vials and clothing can be found scattered all over the room. He finds a strange costume labeled as "marshal", and decides to put it on. He then drinks a vial marked "strength", and another marked "charisma". He can feel his body beginning to take shape, and his "costume" begins to warp and change the human. His body grows stronger than it was before. His "costume" then starts to imbue it's host body with special abilities and his mind begins to process just what this "costume" can actually do as it permanently bonds to Richard. A strange glowing
tattoo seems to grow and form on his left shoulder.

Before long, he can feel the power coursing through his body. He sees a doorway in front of him. He decides that it must lead to the "shop" that Snap-On mentioned. Not wanting to waste anymore precious time, Richard Heart moves through the doorway and onto the quest that will save his family - and hopefully himself.

He walks into another strange chamber. This one filled with shelves and racks. Every imaginable weapon, and too many that aren't, line the room. Two clerks are waiting by a sale counter at the far end. The door slams shut behind Richard and then vanishes. Two other doors marked exit appear. The slamming door gains the attention of the two clerks. One of them looks to be very human, and quite bored with his job. He looks over the counter and speaks through his beard and mustache, "looks like we have another one..."

The tall one leaning against the counter looks over a magazine that from the cover appears to be some kind of demonic porn magazine labeled the "Necro Boob-icon". The man, if he can be called that, looks similar to a human, but very much like a devil. He skin is bright red, and he has horns and a swishing tail. He appears to be wearing a baseball hat on his head, turned backwards, "Well Etnad, at least it's not another one of those douchebags from the Jersey Shore. Swear to god, I wanted to rip that guy's spine out of his a$$.."

The human at the counter laughs a bit, and then he gestures to a bag of coin, "This was left for you to spend. Everything is priced. Take your time and pick out what you need and want."

"I suggest buying a blow-up doll from our adult section... it's gonna get lonely in there." speaks the tiefling. Somehow Richard knows that the demon-looking man is called a tiefling.

"Lladnar!" shouts the human.

"What? Just sayin'..."


Richard looks at all the interesting and amazing items in this room and wonders where to start. He eventually starts to find items that he hopes will help him on his quest. Once he's finished he walks over the the two interesting characters behind the counter. "OK, this is the lot. How long have you guys been down here? Don't you get bored with just the two of you for company? Surely there must be something else you could be doing rather than reading porn mags " Richard gestures to the two doors at the rear of the room. "Any hints to which door I should take?"




 

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