Setting the mood for a game is very difficult. It consists of many parts, and they are all hard to nail down. Usually, at some point in the creative process some sort of story comes to mind. I waste no time but write it as it comes to me. Generally the story isn’t even very good (as a literary work) but it’s invaluable to me in holding the moment and giving me something to return to. It’s a grounding influence for the pieces of the game and can help hold it together. So, in that respect I don’t care that the story itself may be poorly written. It just needs to be good enough to return me to the state of mind I was in when the idea for the game started to crystallize. Generally, the game itself evolves beyond the scope of the story and the two are not consistent by games end. But since stories don’t have game play, and games are really the players story, I don’t try to resolve the conflict. Following is the story for Etch.
Deep in the roots of a towering mountain a drop of water hangs from a stalactite high above a cavern floor. The drop slowly swells as more water seeps down the column, growing large enough to shed from it’s stony parent. Finally, it falls, beginning it’s journey down through the dark.
The drop’s passage is silent, it’s splash into a dark cold pool, however, fills the cavern with sound. At first the sound of falling drops is comforting. In the impenetrable blackness there is…something. After a time the small sound becomes piercing. The relentless fall and plop an anticipation and dread without end. Finally, strangely, the sound passes beyond perception. Without an act of will it can not be heard at all. Time passes…
A cool breeze gently rustles the leaves in the forest canopy and carries on to touch the long flowing raven hair of a slim figure standing at the base of a giant yew. The soft caress of the west wind does nothing to ease her frown, or avert her fixed gaze from a point focused somewhere deep in the trees on the far hillside.
“My queen, we must leave this place. There is not much time.”
She turns her head briefly, looking to the elven man standing behind her. Her timeless features transform from their previous intensity to that of desperate sorrow.
“I can feel them, Landon. As they are taken, I can feel their fear and panic. Then nothing, nothing at all.” Trembling, she lowers her head. Her hair hiding her, if only briefly, from the world gone mad.
The elven general raises his hand to rest it gently on her shoulder. “We must return and prepare our defenses. We have seen all that we have come to see. It must be enough.”
Once again, awareness returns to a soft ringing of sound, slightly discordant, a chime almost imperceptibly out of tune. Then again, the pitch altered, but the effect the same. A push of will, consciousness surfacing from an interminably long slumber. Drip..ping, drip..ping, drip..ping. Something has changed. Sound has returned. Its vibrating echo, incessantly, persistently, beat by beat reverberating through the crystal holding the weakened spirit fast.
“You must be mistaken!”, a voice more a plea than an assertion rings through the chamber. “They could not have come this far, this fast.”
The elf queen turns slightly in her throne to offer a response. “I have seen them magus. I have felt their magic as it pulled the life from our forest.” A pause, then softly, “All life.”
“Forgiveness my queen, but surely we would have known of their presence this close to our home. It simply can not be!”
“Enough!” Landon rises from his chair adjacent to the queen. “We have seen them. The Soul Takers are coming here, they are coming now. Erase your doubts magus, there is too little time as it is for us to spend it in debate.”
“The general has prepared his troops”, the queen interjects, breaking the rising tension with her soft voice. “We now ask that you prepare your mages. We have known of the Soul Takers for a very long time. We had believed this day would never come.”
“Hoped, you mean”, replies the general, seating himself once more. “In our hearts we always knew better. It has just been convenient to pretend otherwise.”
The imperfection of the crystal chimes again. An imperfection rising from the trapped spirits’s conviction to survive, it’s will preventing the crystal from locking into it’s final form and holding fast forever. Instead the prison is failing.
“How many scouts remain?”, asks the queen.
“It matters?”, replies the general. “None have returned.”
The spirit has endured time beyond measure. How long must it take for the continued sound of a drop of water to break the prison holding it?
There is no fire, no clamor of blades or hiss of arrows. The fall of the elven forest kingdom a soft sigh as all of it’s life is drained and withered.
The spirit begins to exert its will. A faint whisper of magic, an aura of almost light flickers in the black.
The leaves begin to fall, a hissing rain of husks and then dust as the massive trees wither and die in moments. A blink in time to mark the passing of sentinels as ancient as life on the world itself.
The spark of light and magic pulses again in time to the falling drop of water, and with it the chime of the crystal holds slightly longer.
A figure approaches, a gem the size of a fist held casually in the palm of his hand. Wisps of light converge from all around, the essence of life drawn into the pulsing heart of the gem.
“And why not”, thinks the queen. “Nothing we have done has touched them.”
As proof of this the mage hurls a bolt of lightning at the approaching figure. The bolt begins wider than the elf mages outstretched hand, blindingly white in it’s intensity. The short distance between the two figures spanned instantly by the ravening energy, only to be drawn into the gem. The gem consumes the energy, and then more. The mage stumbles, falling to his knees, and tries to terminate the casting forcibly by clenching his fist. But the gem will not relent, it’s emptiness can not be filled. The blaze of power continues to flow through the mages closed fist, holding him fixed. The gems power walks the conduit back until finally it touches the mage with a tendril of blackness. With that, the mage crumples, fingers and hand falling in a cascade of ash, his entire body falling an instant later in a soft whoosh.
The discordance builds, with each ripple of sound it grows. The glow of magic illuminates the flaw in the imprisoning gem, a heartbeat without sound, a visual echo to the incessant fall of a single drop of water.
Landon rushes forward, elf forged sword swinging down to strike the gem. The figures arm does not flinch, the gem held easily in his hand perfectly still as the sword in its turn shatters. The jagged pieces tumble and spin through the air, continuing to deteriorate until nothing reaches the ground but metallic sand.
The breaking does not end there, the generals arm and then entire form crack and splinter. No blood gushes from the ghastly wounds, instead the man, armor and all, continue to splinter and full to the ground a dry pile of sand.
The elf queen gasps, a piercing sorrow fills her. Her companion, possessed of such strength, gone in an instant.
A surge of power, awareness returning in full, nearly overwhelming in it,s intensity. The sorrow of a memory only seconds old, yet eons gone, transforming to hot rage.
“So, queen. I have enjoyed my tour of your kingdom. It has been…invigorating.” The figure steps forward, a dark purple robe parting to reveal polished black boots with each stride.
“I have done you the courtesy of taking your soul last.” The figures lips part in an open grin, revealing perfectly white teeth that gleam in the starlight. His gaze holds her, a hunger lurks their even more dark and ravenous than that of the gem. A fear grips her now, so strongly her legs fold under her.
The sound holds, reverberating, the magic reflecting it back on itself until the chime becomes a scream of sound. The force of it nearly causes her mind to recoil, instead she holds, then redoubles the sound until the scream transforms into a crystalline shriek. She redoubles the shriek again, and again…
“Now, now, my lady. No need for fear. The transition is painless, and you shall live on for many years in my service.”
His laugh splits the eerily silent night, it’s sound pushing away all hope. His gaze holds her, pulls her, in her despair she can not find the will to resist. The taking happens quickly, a collapsing of perception around two predatory eyes and gleaming white teeth.
Magical light streams from a crystal now marred by a crack, the crack extending into the stone encasing it’s base.
“He should have slain me. He should have made sure the casting of his horrific spells drained me utterly. Instead, in his arrogance he placed me inside this cavern. A trophy of conquest, locked in a crystal prison, in turn surrounded by seals and wards meant to last for all time. His stolen immortality should have given him wisdom, instead his ignorance has given me knowledge. The Soul Takers use their crystals to trap our spirits and drain us to fuel their castings. But what they do not realize is that each soul, each mind, leaves it’s echo indelibly etched into the very prison that holds it. My power has returned, multiplied. I am more than an echo, for I never died. No crystal shale ever hold me again. I now know their structure more intimately than anything living. I will use their power to break free, then I will use their power to destroy them…utterly”