CHAPTER ONE: IN WHICH WE MEET OUR HERO
Once upon a time, in a far off land that may or may not have actually existed, there may or may not have existed a town.
Not just a town, mind you. I mean, there was other stuff too. There were coursing rivers winding their way across the rich green countryside, towering mountain ranges capped with snow and laced with labyrinthine passageways, and vast beaches greeting the vaster ocean. There were islands of every climate one could imagine and a few that one could not, fertile wetlands providing a home for dozens of exotic species of bird and fish and glophnik, and many rustic yet populous colonies of humans dotting the landscape.
And there were trees. Lots and lots of trees.
But let's start with the town.
The unnamed town of Platz was the most boring, insignificant village one could ever hope to find. Home to scarcely more than five hundred people, it was the kind of town in which everybody knew everybody else, though none of them particularly wanted to. No persons of particular significance to the rest of the world ever emerged from such a hamlet, and few persons from said rest of the world knew or cared much about the town itself. Living as they did, not far from a major water source (Lake Blank), a major food source (the slightly-less-than-wild Woods of Ek) and a mineral reserve (the wondrous Gab Caves), the villagers had little use for trade and so the great cities and nations of the North, East, and South had little meaning to them, being hardly more than vague images and rumors.
And—if you didn't see where this was going—it was a village in which something incredibly extraordinary was about to take place.
On that fateful Tuesday, Bob the town drunk was lying in a (drunken) mess outside the tavern (where he got drunk). It was, naturally, the middle of the afternoon. He was rambling on about something or other—entirely incomprehensible to people around him, and not very comprehensible to Bob himself, but it gave something for his mouth to do in lieu of suckling a bottle. It started with him being angry with his dad, except he hadn't known his dad so did that make sense? Or wait, was that the whole reason he was angry in the first place? Was it his mom then? Anyway, it had spiraled off into a one-man discussion of the avocado and its uses in modern society.
All of this was most distasteful to the other villagers, but his drunken antics were something they had all grown to adjust to in the last several years. Indeed, every time the idea was proposed at a town council meeting of evicting the bastard for causing a public nuisance and/or failing to pay taxes, the majority of council members had grown to agree that ultimately they could afford his presence because of the prestige of having a town drunk. After all, they reasoned, all of the best towns had at least one drunk to call their own—or so they had heard.
So it was around this point in Bob's monologue on the value of the avocado that an even more thoroughly inebriated man exited the tavern, and tripped on Bob's splayed legs on his way to wherever it was he was going. As the man lay crumpled up in a heap by Bob's legs, Bob noticed that that this person happened to be dressed in a suit of ever-so-slightly rusted armor. Perhaps he was a knight.
It was in this moment that Bob decided he wanted to be a knight and have a suit of armor too, but he had a vague feeling the former would not come very easily, and the second was simply ridiculous. Further reflection eventually, in a roundabout way, led Bob to realize that he could simply take this man's armor—he certainly wasn't using it at the moment—and just tell people he was a knight.
And then the people in the tavern would never kick him out for severe drunkenness again.
And then all of his problems would be solved.
Oh, how terribly, terribly wrong he was.
So the intoxicated would-be knight claimed his armor from the mass of person at his feet (having enough sense to drag the man's body into a nearby alley first), and proceeded to feel damn proud of himself. He was a knight! Take that, society! Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzzzza…
Bob passed out.
Shortly thereafter, shit, as they say, got real.
The sky grew darker. Not the dark of dusk, but an unnatural dark. The clouds seemed drawn together, towards the bit of sky over this town, sealing it from the watchful gaze of day. Blood red provided the fill in the projection of the dark above. From every corner of the village people took notice, dropping what they were doing. Weavers and carpenters and blacksmiths and prostitutes all emerged from their workshops, whole families peered out the windows of their sitting rooms, merchants and prospective buyers alike forgot about their dealings—each and every one of them simply gaped upward at the enormity of their doom.
And then he appeared, floating imperiously over the helpless denizens of the town like an angel of death.
He seemed no more than a man: but very imposing man. Easily six feet tall, slim yet muscular, with a fair and handsome countenance. Though not a considerably aged man, his slick hair was a fine silver, matched by the cold grey of his eyes. He was clothed in black from head to foot, most prominently adorned with a billowing cape. Strapped to his back was fearsome-looking claymore, striped in blood. When he spoke, it was with a rich, deep, imposing baritone that seemed to fill every street and alley all on its own:
"Prepare, worthless dregs of humanity, to face your ultimate destiny!"
There was much in the way of panicked conversation among the people below at this proclamation. However, one skeptical voice called out from the otherwise quiet crowd.
"Wait, I'm sorry, who exactly are you?"
Some of the menace and grandeur dropped out of the man's voice. "Beg pardon?"
"I said—who do you think you are?"
"I am the Scourge, the Bloody Angel, I am your doom! I am Seraphoth!"
"Oh. Well, then let me ask you something, Mister, erm… Seraphoth. I mean, you just appear out of nowhere, turn the sky red, bring us all inexplicably out of our homes, and decide that we're going to face our 'ultimate destiny'. Um, excuse me, but don't we get any say in this?"
"Silence, foolish mortal!" the man bellowed, attempting to regain his unquestioned position as The Guy Who's Gonna Kill You All So Shut The Hell Up. But it was not to be.
"Whoa, wait—'mortal'? See that creates the implication that you're not mortal. So you're, what, you're a god?"
"You expect us to believe that? Just because the sky gets all spooky and you got your little hovering trick? Jeez, you sure are conceited!"
"Silence! I will end you!"
"Oh la-de-fucking-da! If you're so bloody powerful and God-like, why don't you just strike me dead right here? Go ahead! I dare you to try! Blow me up with your magical god powers! Go ahead!"
So Seraphoth did.
That's when everyone else started screaming and panicking. Seraphoth, now satisfied with his victory over the forces of reason and sarcasm, used his Evil Black Magic of Darky Darkness to set fire to the village one building at a time. Chaos ensued, and above this chaos Seraphoth hovered, watching everything intently. At this point he happened to spy the drunken wreck known as Bob, lying in his doomed little alleyway.
Bob had just stirred from his alcohol-induced slumber and was quite out of it. As such, when he gazed up into waking world, a world of fire and death and fiery death, and beheld the face of his destroyer, the cold, clutching fear he was seized with deep in his soul led him to react as such:
"Oh god no Mr. Bartender Sir I swear I won't steal no more! I got a problem! I don't got a problem! It wasn't me! I was tricked into it! My dog ate my homework! I don't know what I'm saying!"
Then something strange happened. Seraphoth gazed down upon Bob's pathetic bawling and gibbering, and smiled. Though it was a sign of happiness, it was so malevolent a leer that Bob immediately soiled himself and passed out, while the unnamed village of Platz burned around him.
When Bob came to the following morning, the entire village had been razed to the ground. Strewn across the area were chunks of wood, the bare remnants of a few housing foundations, and plenty of ash. There was not a body in sight, not even a charred corpse.
It was difficult for Bob, in his hung-over state, to comprehend the notion that practically everything he'd ever known was now gone, evaporated off the face of the planet.
The house he'd grown up in was gone—no effect.
The town square he's spent so much time wandering was gone—no effect.
The bar was gone—that hit him. That hit him hard.
Suddenly it all came rushing in: his life may have been dull and lonely and not particularly long thus far, but what little there was to know in his life was gone. Bob was helplessly, pathetically, and utterly alone.
Except not quite.
Some distance away a figure was shifting slowly through the light fog, inching closer to him. He sat up to get a better look at it, though part of him really wanted to not do that. If it were the crazy bastard who just blew up the town, Bob would really rather not know about his imminent death now, thank you very much.
However, as the figure approached, Bob saw that it was in fact an aged woman draped in a variety of bizarre shawls and odd accessories, a monocle seemingly sealed to her eye and a gnarled walking stick in her hand. She was peering about, examining every bit of ground in a very important manner. Bob had never seen her before and wondered whether she was a survivor like he was or from somewhere else entirely.
"Erm, are you okay, ma'am… lady… person?"
The woman's head whipped up and she peered through the fog towards him. She let out a gasp and ran comically over to him. Once there, she prodded him with her walking stick a bit, which rather annoyed him.
"Hey lady, what gives?"
Instead of responding, the woman dug a hand into some pocket or such deep within the folds of her ridiculous clothing, and pulled out a dash of salt. Eyes still fixed upon the personage of our hero, the woman took the dash of salt and threw it at him.
Okay, so what happened next is a little bit strange, but you guys gotta just roll with it for me. I promise, things will make sense later.
Bob turned into a pretzel.
See, I told you! But come on, stay with me now.
There's a good reader!
Yes, Bob turned into a pretzel. Not a regular-sized one, mind you, but a giant one. Roughly the height and width of a man who is unfortunately small, but not that small, just that degree of size where you look at him and you're not sure whether he's legally a dwarf and you can't help but feel awkward around the poor guy for some silly reason. That size.
Anyway, yes, so the point is he was a pretzel. It took Bob a while to process this. After all, he didn't feel markedly different in any specific way, but he knew he didn't feel quite the same as he had. All of his senses functioned as they normally had (a little below average), but it felt like the lines between them had blurred a bit. At some point, probably when he looked down at his body with his no-longer-existent eyes (it's a magical thing), he saw that he was shorter and pretzel-shaped.
"I knew it!" declaimed the woman suddenly and rather loudly; Bob found it alarming. "Pretzel Magic! My prophecy has been fulfilled!"
When Bob suddenly and abruptly transformed back into a human, he wasted no time in asking the woman what the hell she was talking about.
"What the hell are you talking about, woman?"
"Come, great sir," the woman replied, her voice brimming with excitement and mystery. "Come with me to my lair and I shall reveal all! I shall reveal… your destiny!"
Dropping the mysterious tone: "Hush now, just follow me already, I ain't gonna hurt ya."
For a long time (five seconds), Bob considered, and then, the thought ever present in his mind that he had nowhere else to go, acquiesced. The mysterious woman was clearly delighted, and she trotted off good-humoredly (but still mysteriously!) with the battered and bewildered Bob wandering sadly behind her.