Why are we brought to Outworld? What is our purpose? These questions plague many adventurers, arising in the dead of night to deprive them of sleep. Some seek out places of power or influence, while others want to merely find an escape, a place where they can live out their days in peace, free of the bizarre. Still others are driven by their search for answers, desperate to fill in the holes in their memory. Nearly every adventurer has some quest. Few of them find the answers they seek.
I stared at the rock rising from the center of the lake. “That’s a hand in there,” I said, staring.
Cain slowly lowered his rifle. “Yeah,” he replied. “Doesn’t seem to be doing much, though. We’ll leave it alone, dodge this encounter.”
His speech concluded, Cain turned away from the oasis, dropping his pack and grabbing some dry branches for a fire. I couldn’t turn away from the trapped hand, however. Only reluctantly did I tear my eyes away, joining my companion in opening a few cans of food to heat over the fire for dinner.
With our meal concluded, I continued to gaze out at the center of the shallow pool. “It’s a girl’s hand,” I said finally.
“What if she’s trapped? What if she isn’t some sort of monster?” I pressed.
Cain shrugged one shoulder. “Doesn’t matter. Not worth the risk of finding out.”
I turned to glare at him. “You know, you make out to be this experienced, well-traveled explorer,” I snapped at him. “But despite that, you don’t seem to care about anything that’s out there! Don’t you feel curious?”
Despite my outrage, Cain didn’t seem too put off. “Curiosity tends to lead to trouble,” he replied cryptically. “I’ve seen a lot, and most of it I’d walk right past if I could go back and do it again. I’m not set on searching out trouble. And things like that,” he nodded towards the crystal, “are trouble.”
I sat and considered this for a long moment, but finally dragged myself to my feet. “Well, I’m not going to walk past it,” I said, my mind made up. Picking up a heavy branch, I began wading into the pool, heading for the center. Behind me, Cain growled in frustration, but when I glanced back I saw that he had picked up his rifle and was covering me.
As I had suspected, the pool was fairly shallow – the water had barely reached my armpits by the time I stood at the center, next to the crystal and its enclosed prisoner. Now that I was closer, I could see that the hand was definitely feminine, and seemed to be stretching out as if trying to escape. “Here goes nothing,” I muttered to myself, and raised the branch over my head in an overhead blow.
The heavy impact of the branch left a spidery crack in the clear, smooth surface of the rock. I raised the branch again, slamming it down again and again on the rock. Finally, as I paused for a moment to catch my breath, I cocked my arms back for one more blow. By now, the crystal was entirely covered with thin cracks, distorting the view of the arm within. I brought the splintery branch down once more.
The crystal shattered, sounding like breaking glass. From the interior came a dazzling blue light, shining up like a beacon into the sky. Caught by surprise and half-blinded from the intensity, I staggered back a few steps in the water. As I blinked to adjust my eyes to the sudden brightness, I stared in awe at the pillar of illumination rising up from the ruins of the crystal.
Over a few seconds, the light began to coalesce, condensing inward to form some sort of shape. I raised one hand to shield my eyes, still holding the branch off to one side. As I watched, the light condensed and dimmed slightly, revealing a luminous female humanoid hovering above the water in front of me.
“Oh god,” I whispered, as the figure gazed down at me.
Behind me, I heard another groan from Cain. “Couldn’t leave well enough alone,” he complained. “Now we’ve got a spirit to deal with.”
I stared up at the girl, still slowly edging back out of the pool towards the dry sand of the shore. Her gaze turned to follow me, her pupil-less eyes glowing white. I wondered whether I should have heeded Cain’s advice and never touched the crystal.