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Short Story- Litanu Isle, Part Two
Good Evening fellow Ashers! Here is the second story following Taro, Kamae and Satele as they discover the secrets of the Litanu Isle and how to fight the coming Ancients. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I have enjoyed writing it! If you do, let me know!
DISCLAIMER: This story is of my own creation. I have not spoken with any team member from Intrepid Studios. Future stories will change as more lore is learned. Character names, locations, and some creatures in them are of my own design and not considered canon. This story does have death and if you find it offensive please do not read.
This story is the second part in a series. If you have missed the first part, here is the link to that story. https://forums.ashesofcreation.com/discussion/48163/short-story-the-lions-pride#latest
Taro, Kamae and Satele watched as Ensign Gramhin and his men put the finishing touches on the memorial. It stood only a few feet high, with three spears standing at the peak. They tied cloths around these to resemble the mast of a ship. A ring of uneven stones was placed around it, completing the speedy work.
After their final goodbyes the crew returned to the boats to finish unloading. Gramhin remained behind. He raised a flask he carried and tipped it over. Amber liquid fell in a steady stream at his feet. When it was empty, he dropped the flask and walked up to the trio.
"I'm sorry for your loss, Ensign," Taro said to Gramhin as he approached. His eyes were red and puffy, though from spirits or grief they couldn't tell.
"Thank ye. I'll miss 'em, 'specially ol' Barley. He was part of the original crew, ye know, back when the Admiral was just a crewman like us. It's gonna hit him hardest I'm thinkin'."
"Their sacrifice won't be in vain," Said Taro as he offered a bow.
"I'll be with the crew gettin' the boats and packs taken care of. If ye need anything, ye know where to find me," Gramhin said with hints of skepticism in his voice.
"Satele is ready to map our location on the isle. Once we get the equipment and boats secured, we'll make ready to depart," Said Taro.
"Aye, sir," Said Gramhin with a salute, hand over chest, then made his way to the boats shouting orders.
Another hour passed before the crewmen had the packs sorted into two piles. One held the rejected equipment that was too cumbersome for the trek ahead. Those that had food and water were transfered to other packs. There was no sign of pleasure when they counted the rations. With three fewer mouths to feed, it would last well over a week.
The boats were pulled out of the water and turned over, covering the rejected packs. Gramhin ordered spikes planted on either side and tied with ropes. They hoped this would keep the boats from being carried off by strong winds.
Afterward, the company made its way to Satele. She knelt in the sand and spoke quietly to herself. A complex symbol laid under her massive form, pulsing with power. Wisps of vaporous smoke rose from its interlocked lines. Satisfied her spell had taken a life of its own, she stood.
In the space of several heartbeats, the vapor coalesced into the image of a small island. They could make out general landmarks but could not make out much more. Satele waved her hand and the image spun lazily above the symbol.
"Best I can gather we're here, at the southern tip," Satele said. She pointed to the translucent image. "There's a mountain or dormant volcano on the western end."
"The texts speak of a crypt at the foot of fire and earth. It has to be that direction," Taro said.
"A crypt?" asked Gramhin as he scrutinized the spinning image. "Why would ye be lookin' for a place of the dead?"
"During the Lightpact's research, a recording of texts describes a crypt where a group of cultists worshiped the Ancients. If so, finding this place could be the first step to understanding them," Said Taro.
"Or control them," Said the Ensign.
"No, that's impossible. The Ancients are the embodiment of the gods themselves. They're immortal and beyond our control, but not unstoppable."
"Ye ever fight one o' them Ancients?" asked Gramhin. It wasn't a serious question, Taro knew, but the point was clear.
"Bah, no point arguin' about it now. We're already here and I'd like to be off this beach before that storm wakes up," Said Kamae. She folded her arms over her chest for emphasis.
"Agreed. Now that we have a general direction, I suggest we start heading that way. The sooner we find what we came here for, the sooner we can get back to Lion's Pride," Said Taro.
"Aye, sir," Said Grahmin with more than a little irritation. Taro couldn't blame the dwarf for his reactions. He had just lost three of his men on an Isle none of them wanted to be chasing ghost stories. If anyone in this company had a right to be upset, it would be him.
Their march lasted several hours. The conditions on the isle hadn't improved, but they still made headway. On the fifth hour, Taro called a halt for the day. They stood at the peak of a hill that overlooked a narrow valley. Gramhin and his men went to work setting up the tent. Thanks to Kamae's unique connection to the elements, starting a fire wasn't an issue. They ate their first meal in silence. Soon after, Taro decided to scout ahead for any potential dangers or obstacles in their way. Kamae didn't like the idea of staying behind, so went with him.
"This place ain't natural," said Kamae after they were well beyond the camp. She shouldered her way through a thicket of overgrown branches. One snapped and fell at Taro's feet. His eyes widened, not believing them at first, then picked it up.
"Strange," said Taro. He turned the branch over in his hand. It had a rubbery texture, thanks to the constant rain, with scale-like bark.
"Aye, that's what I said," retorted Kamae.
"No look at this," Said Taro as he handed her the branch.
"A twig..." said Kamae, not hiding the sarcasm in her voice.
"Yes, but what type?" He asked.
"Dunno. Me life has been on islands and those trees are all the same lookin'," said Kamae.
"Exactly," said Taro. When he realized Kamae wasn't following he continued. "This branch is from a spruce. It doesn't grow on islands or beaches, but in the mountains. This place is overgrown as though it's getting everything it needs. That shouldn't happen in this type of environment."
"Like I said, this place ain't natural. But how ye know that, anyway? Didn't ye grow up in a swamp?"
"My grandfather was a great hunter among my people. He didn't care much for sitting and waiting for his prey to come to him. When I was young, we would go into the mountains. I killed my first boar under a tree like this while it dug for food."
Taro took the branch from Kamae and ran his fingers over it as though it was that very tree. He lost himself in the memory and remembered how he felt. It was short-lived, however, when his ears twitched in warning. On instinct, Taro dropped to a crouching position and drew his blade. Before Kamae could react, a blue light appeared not six feet away from them. It was Satele.
"I guess you haven't lost all your orc blood," She teased with a chuckle.
"Shh. Get down." He ordered.
She did so without question. Satele learned from experience that those who don't follow orders were the first to die, if only from their stupidity. Kamae remained standing, thinking it silly to crouch with two orcs for company, but she brought her mace up in a defensive posture. They stayed in this position long enough for Taro's knees to burn with exertion.
The rain started again in thick globs. The noise was deafening and only added to the ominous, forlorn darkness. Taro wasn't sure of it at first, but he thought he heard a rattle. It was faint and was barely audible through the rain. His suspicions were confirmed when a second rattle answered the first.
"Back to camp, quick. Kamae, get fire spells ready," Taro commanded.
"What's gotten into him?" asked Satele as she and Kamae chased after the orc.
"Rattle-raptors," Kamae answered.
Taro made his way around the backside of the tent. So far as he could tell, the place was abandoned. The campfire was still lit, though dim as it fought off the onslaught of rain. Taro said a silent thanks yet again for having Kamae with them. Without her spell, this place would be too dark to see from his position.
A hiss greeted him in the dark and he froze. Taro brought his blade across his chest and looked in the direction of the noise. A pair of large, emerald eyes stared at him from beyond the darkness. He caught the slightest movement, like a shadow in a dark room. His instincts took over and the hunter dropped to his knees, sword raised like a spear.
In the same instant, he heard the rattle. At first, it was like the warnings of a snake daring larger creatures to step on it but then quickened. Then all noise faded. Taro's vision blurred and he felt something heavy crash into his chest.
Time escaped Taro. He blinked several times, the darkness not lifting. He knew he was on the ground and rain had awoken him. There was a weight on his chest like a large stone, but flexible and warm. He tried to move his arms and found he still had use of them. Taro gripped the strange stone with both hands and heaved. It landed next to him with a dull thud.
"Ye alright there, Taro?" came a voice from behind. He turned to see Kamae. Fire encircled her mace like a torch, which she held above her head. Next to her came Satele with her spear ready and looking for potential threats.
"I'll recover," Taro said in a shaky voice. He pushed himself to his feet and checked himself to make sure there were no new holes. Finding none, he looked around.
"Is that what you warned us about?" asked Satele pointing behind Taro.
He turned to see the form of a raptor, larger than most of its kind, with greenish-gray skin and a spiked, domed tail. His sword protruded from its chest. The body twitched as blood pooled around the raptor. Taro pulled his sword from it then wiped the blade clean.
"They're called Rattle-raptors, an apex predator in the jungles of Verra. I didn't know any lived on islands," he said.
"Aye, they do," said Kamae. She made her way over to the beast. Satisfied it was dead, she kicked it for good measure. "Not many can live on them. They attack anything in their territory, especially their own kind unless it's mating season."
"Where are Ensign Gramhin and his men?" asked Satele. Kamae looked around, just now realizing she hadn't seen them.
"I don't know. That one ambushed me from behind when I approached the tent. My guess is they ran out of fear during the first attack," said Taro.
"I'll gather what supplies I can. They couldn't have gone far," suggested Satele. Taro nodded but stopped and stared at Kamae when she gave a humorless laugh.
"Aye, that simple, eh? Searchin' for a half-mad crew in the dark with creatures and gods-know-what else waiting behind every bush."
"We have no choice. We got them into this mess. It's only right we save those we can. They would do no less for us," Taro said.
"There is another reason too, Kamae. Ensign Gramhin has a speaking-stone. Without it, we won't be able to contact Lion's Pride and there are many leagues between us and dry land," said Satele.
"Alright, alright. I get ye point but after we find them I'm not goin' another step until I've had me rest. Me legs are already screamin'," said the dwarf as she rubbed her knees.
They searched the camp without further debate. Taro and Satele went through the packs and gathered all the food and water they could carry. Their preparations ended when the silence was broken by a scream from the tent. When they entered, they found Kamae standing there with her back turned to them.
"By the gods..." she said in almost a whisper. They didn't have to wait long to see what troubled her.
In the center of the tent laid the body of a man. His leather armor was torn in his mid-section with a clean slice extending from the neck to navel. His ribs were exposed and cracked as if chewed on. It was a gruesome sight but wasn't the reason for the stout dwarf's dismay. The crewman's face stared at them with unseeing eyes. Green liquid seeped out of his nose and ears. His mouth, bloodied and ripped, was frozen in a silent scream.
"One part of the riddle is answered." Said Taro, who snapped out of the shock quicker than the others. He walked over to the body, leaned down and pointed at the green liquid.
"This is the rattle-raptor venom. They stab you with their toe claw and the effects are almost instant. My guess is they were already asleep in the tent. Based on his position, it looks as though he ran in here to warn the crew and paid for it. The others must have fled while the raptor began to feed. Then it chased them into the valley."
"Why weren't they affected by the rattle?" asked Satele.
"It don't last long," said Kamae in a shaky voice, "Must have worn off before the beastie finished eatin'. They're all dead by now I'm guessin'."
"Maybe, but there's still hope. If they've regained their wits they might be able to fight it off, or..." Taro stopped, not wanting to finish the thought.
"Well, we best get to it then. If we stay here any longer, me legs are gonna go out and not even a dragon will make 'em move again." Said Kamae.
The trio left the tent, secured the heavy packs on their backs and entered the endless dark. Kamae was the last to leave. When the others cleared the camp, she called forth the elements again. The fire grew in strength and from it came the body of an uncoiling snake. It bobbed its head back and forth, staring at the shaman. On a silent command from Kamae, it turned and stuck the tent until it was all ablaze.
Smoke rose from the hill like a warning beacon. The land about them fell silent, save for the wind and rain. Whatever lived here, intelligent or not, held its breath for the coming storm. For the first time in untold centuries, the four races were on Litanu Isle and with them came fire and death.