Edward and the Raven

Lilac. That's the smell that always brought Ed out to this nature trail. Dirt whispered beneath his feet as a soft breeze tickled the leaves of the oak trees. A small lilac bush grew wild amid the trail, surrounded by various other plants of all kinds. Trekking through the thinly beaten path of dirt and grass led him exactly where he wanted to go.

He trudged this path wearing a new pair of brown cargo pants, a thin t-shirt with the logo of his favorite beer "Shweitzer", and some basic sneakers. The week had been crazy working behind the bar. Being a bartender downtown meant an inordinate amount of people every night. It was a good living for sure. But hardly an ideal one for an introvert.

Wind blew and reminded him again of the smell of lilacs. This time it was accompanied by a smell he was entirely unfamiliar with. Musty. Earthy. Moldy. Mixing with the lilac creating a strange bitter-sweetness in his mind. Pulling out his phone, he checked the map he kept pulled up for long hikes.

This park had miles of trails. All of them were mapped, mind you. So even if he had no idea where he really was, he could check at any time. GPS was faltering, and couldn't pinpoint his location. No matter. It's not like he'd never been around this trail before. Rustling of a bush caught his attention, and he looked quickly to his right to see a deer prancing out of view.

Strange. He had never seen a trail branch off to the side. The tree line grew thick, and unfamiliar. Though he'd seen this trail before, this looked new. A small, incredibly worn down wood sign had a crude steel square on it, marked in sharpie with the words "Trail Closed". That's all Ed needed to see. Any time there's a trail closed sign he was sure to follow it down all the way to the end.

More often than not, it led to another trail that led to the main circuit. Sometimes it led to a dead end, and he simply followed it back. Not much to lose really. The grass grew taller and scattered between the gnarled oak branches. Something felt strange about them. Ed had never seen Oak trees grow with their branches entwined like that.

This trail must be something terribly special. The smell of tall grass and lilac faded, as a neutral smell of bark and mold permeated from the trail. Ahead of him the trail continued on a beaten path while oak branches gnarled even tighter and began to limit the light getting through.

It bent and curved for what felt like a good mile. Filled with the same plants, same trees. The only difference in scenery was the smell. Things started to smell cleaner. Fresher. More open. With a hint of musty mildew. Not long after noticing the smell, a cave appeared on the trail ahead. As he approached, the rustling of leaves startled him.

A raven flew out from the trees and landed on the path in front of him. It looked right at him. Stopping dead in his tracks, Ed felt a strange tinge of anxiety creep into his mind. Something didn't feel right. Yet it felt like if he didn't investigate, it would feel even worse. Cawing once, the raven picked at the ground. It picked up a small stone, round and neatly polished.

It looked back at Ed, and lifted it's wings to take off. Gracefully it flew up and back around into the cave behind it.

"Well then..." Ed muttered to himself.

It only felt proper to follow after it. Sure it was kinda scary, but that's part of the allure. What could be on the other side? Knowing this world, probably just a dead end. Or a bear. That's a possibility too. Feeling unsure of himself, Ed began to take that first shaky step. In the war against curiosity, Ed frequently lost.

The earth beneath his feet started to feel heavier. More real. It gave way like it was moist and fertile. Until he came to the cave. The smell of mold filled his nostrils, and he had to take his phone out to use as a light. Thankfully he had a flashlight app. Flashing it from wall to wall, it was difficult to really get a good picture of what the cave looked like.

He decided instead of trying to get a full picture, he'd just make sure he had firm footing ahead of him. Pointing the flashlight in front of him, he walked slowly but surely ahead. The steady hum of air moving through the stagnant cave made it difficult to concentrate. Still, he moved forward.

The sound of moving water made his heart jump. There was a river in this cave somehow. There weren't any rivers nearby. Hell, there weren't even any lakes nearby. He was really unsure of himself now, considering that was a sure fire sign that he'd stumbled on something no one else had before. Someone would have noticed a cave with an underground river in a heavy traffic state park by now, right?

He pushed forward, checking the battery on his phone. It was getting low, but it was enough to get him through and back. Hopefully. The sound of a rock skipping on the hard floor startled him. A caw echoed much louder than he'd care for, and the raven stood in front of him again. It bounced and cocked it's head, hopping towards him curiously. 

Ed stared at it quizzically. It made it's way to his feet and looked up at him. Cawing again, he reached for his ear with his free hand.

"That's a bit loud, don't you think?"

It let loose a quiet squawk, and pecked at his feet a moment. Hopping around back over to it's pebble, picking it up and taking off into the air again. Shining the flashlight on it, Ed watched to try and see where it went. It flew forward a few feet, then dove downward. A caw echoed again after a few seconds. As if to beckon Ed forward.

His heart began to beat quickly, and he walked carefully forward. A few feet ahead he came to the ledge of a steep decline. It looked dangerous to try and walk down, but he could slide down slowly without any harm. Kneeling down on the ground, he sat near where the decline started and began to slowly put his leg over to start the descent.

Another caw echoed through the cave, reminding him to push forward. Slowly he descended down the rocky hill, trying to not rip his pants. The smell of water overwhelmed his nose, leading him to believe that there was an underground pool nearby. Something strange hinted in the air too. The smell of lilacs, but different in a way.

It smelled like lilacs, but it must be another type of flower he'd never seen before. The decline started to get slippery, and he began to slide involuntarily down. His phone gripped tightly in his hand, he pointed it downward a bit more to see where he was going. Directly towards a cliff. The rush of water started to fill the cave, and slowly he realized he could be descending towards an underwater ravine.

That did not bode well. He tried to no avail to grip the rock face he now slid awkwardly down at a much more alarming rate. His heart beat intensely, and fear began to grip him. This could end very poorly. A caw echoed through the cave, and calm entered him again. It was like the raven was telling him everything will end well. 

He tried to dig his foot into the rock regardless. His sense started to overcome his curiosity. Unfortunately, as his sense beckoned him to turn back, he was now too far into his adventure. The rock face grew slippery from the moisture, and even his clothes started to dampen. At this point, he knew that he would continue downward whether he liked it or not.

Placing his phone back into his cargo pocket as quickly as he could, he hugged the rock face. He was only feet away from the cliff face now. It was right there. A caw came again, and he took a deep breath. Closing his eyes, he loosened his grip on the rock face and let himself slide.

Fear quickly overcame him as he slid quickly down and over the side. Vertigo kicked in as he tried to tell his body to straighten out for the water. Thankfully the fall wasn't that far. Although if it had, he probably wouldn't have slammed his leg on the water's surface. The current was strong, and pulled him along at an alarming rate. Rushing back to the surface, all he could hear was water rushing by.

A caw echoed through as strong as the water, and he was pulled under again by the current. For a moment, he wondered how his curiosity could have possibly gotten him into this much trouble. Then he realized he didn't have time to think about what happened. He had to think of what is happening now.

He fought as hard as he could to stay above water. It was difficult, and the current pulled him under one more time. Water pulled him along like a rag doll until finally he felt himself free of the water again. Free of water, and of solid ground beneath him. Light filled his eyes, and it took a moment for them to adjust. He felt like he was falling, and a caw came to his side again.

A heavy breeze blew past him, causing his wet clothes to give him chills. His eyes adjusted quickly. What he saw, he couldn't even begin to comprehend. A massive red crystal illuminated in the distance. Towering above the trees with massive stone structures floating around it. Looking down, he realized he was slowly falling through the air. Not like normal. Safely falling.

A raven flew by with it's wings outstretched and it circled around towards him again. There was no sound from it, only the pebble in its mouth. What had to have been hundreds of feet below him was a structure like he'd never seen before. It was a shrine built around the basin of a waterfall. The one he had just been thrown out of.

The raven circled around him, and he felt his body tug slightly forward. As it flew back in front of him, this time he followed. An exhilarating feeling overwhelmed him as he glided on the air towards the ground. It led him swiftly away from the waterfall towards the woods below. Trees colored with greens of all colors, and even some reds.

The raven flew towards the ground, and the trees creaked and moved to greet them. A small evenly grassed clearing below rushed up to him, as he floated slowly down towards it. Falling awkwardly on his side as it let him down, he looked up to see the raven hopping up to him on the ground. A giggle came from behind him, as it placed the pebble in front of him.

This cannot possibly be happening. Ravens cawed from all around him. Swarms of them were circling above. 

"Welcome Ed." The voice of a sultry woman was behind him. It was accompanied by the strange smell similar to lilac.

The Valhalla Protocol - Labyrinth of Daetheria

A crystal explosion had broken the silence within the massive mossy stone halls of the ruins of Daetheria. It was the home of a notorious Minotaur that resided below his home of the Valhalla Rise. Jericho had grown up there, unknowing of the vast world that lay beyond the endless seas that raged hundreds of feet below the edge of the Rise's bluffs. There was only one way in, or out. A tunnel that had been sealed ages ago to protect us from the world's dangers.

A cough came out of nowhere, as he felt his lungs were filling with blood. He never thought he would even be beyond that tunnel, let alone running for his life from a Minotaur. Feeling his side for the shard, he concentrated on the point that felt worst, and imagined it healing all the way through. A green light emanated from his well worn leather gloves. He wasn't much of a fighter, but he knew a trick or two to stay alive. Tremors pounded like thunder and assaulted the very ruins with the Minotaur's rage.

“Your people's gall never ceases to amaze me. First, you tell me that you require aid. Then, you tell me you are of Valhallan descent. I've had interactions with humans many times in my day young one, but my axe has had many, many more!”

Looking back, Jericho picked up the pace as his wound healed. The beast was five times his size, and he wasn't exactly scrawny. The roar of a massive stone axe dragging through the labyrinth made his ears begin to lose the ability to hear anything but. It was grinding away at his very core. Nervously, he tried his best to come up with something to diffuse the situation.

“I'm terribly sorry if I disturbed you! I assure you I meant no harm! If you are unwilling to render aid, I will gladly leave!”

The noise of the beast's laughter nearly knocked him over. A tribal cloth was all that covered the furred beast. His horns had rings pierced through them, many with skulls attached. A necklace adorned with what must have been dragon teeth and a large uncut ruby left Jericho wondering if it was functional. Hoof after hoof battered the stone beneath, growing ever closer to it's prey. Looking around, All he could see were lines of separate tunnels in front of him.

He had a feeling the beast wouldn't allow him to make it that far. All he had left were his wits, and he wasn't sure what good those would do. Still, something must be done. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small vial of glittering white dust. Popping the lid off, he poured the entirety of it into his hands and let it fall loose. Readying his legs, he grasped the hand full of dust and turned to face the Minotaur.

Throwing it as hard as he could, each grain exploded into a blinding burst of light. The beast began to run forward and covered his eyes, believing it to be a simple illusion. Unfortunately for him, Jericho had picked up a trick or two during his experimenting with magic.

The dust covered the Minotaur and as it made contact, each little grain exploded with a burst of air and threw him forcefully onto his back. Jericho wondered how long that would keep him down.

The Valhalla Protocol - Odin's Labyrinth

Caverns surrounded him and appeared to shift as he gazed around speechless. No one direction felt like the right way to go. Somehow he had found himself in this labyrinth filled with the stench of decay and blood. Checking his gear, he realized that he was somehow stripped of everything but his bow. Perhaps the enchantment that bound it to him allowed him to keep it even within his dreams.

Imbibing a strange bowl of liquid at an altar wasn't normally the way he found his way around. These however were some extreme circumstances. Wilhelm was honor bound to allow him time to complete the ritual, and that's all he could do to figure out a way out of this mess. A Minotaur wasn't exactly something he wanted to fight. So now he's here, trying to figure out which part of the cavern holds the prize he seeks. 

Stone was carved in places, while the natural openings within the rock a blurred white light through them. To his right was a dark cave that echoed with the sound of running water. In front of him was a tattered and moldy ruins entrance with a stairway leading down. Light crept through the stairway, hinting that he would at least be able to function normally there.

To his left appeared to be a small outcropping in the cave with a large pond. The face of the water was so still he could see there was another tunnel leading through under the water. He could also see something stirring at the bottom of the pool. As he noticed the movement, the sand shifted and began to part. Instinctively, he dodged backwards. Just as he tumbled backwards, a grotesque mass of mud snapped out through the water. A massive eye opened in the vaguely human figure.

"Who are you to disturb this hallowed ground?!"