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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Coming Home
A Tale of Destruction, Redemption and Penguins

by Jeff Hersh (Shilree)

Chapter 5: Relics

Where, after braving storms and
surviving a shipwreck Shilree finds
evidence of the lost sea folk in the
least expected place.

Signature Divider

Shilree loved the sea. Ever since she was a child, her father would tell her and her siblings about his adventures as the captain of a merchant vessel. He would often keep them up late into the night with tales of fights with pirates, long voyages to exotic locations, and encounters with horrific sea creatures. Shilree’s mother, of course, always used to complain.

“Ridder!” her mother would scold. “You will give the children nightmares with such talk.”

Shilree’s father would just laugh and keep on weaving stories about his travels. Shilree supposed that her curiosity for the world outside of Diaria could be traced back to her father’s stories. She wondered what her father would say about her adventures. When she eventually got home, the two of them would have to compare their tales in front of the fireplace.

Shilree’s daydream was broken by the sound of footfalls behind her.

“Ok, now that we are at sea it is time to put some things straight, missy.”

Shilree turned to face the dark skinned elf Alderon, the captain of this ship, who the Emperor had “commanded” to take her out to sea.

“Which is?” she asked, with mock sincerity.

“The Sandy Claw is my ship. I am the one who gives the orders here. I don’t care if you are under your Emperor’s protection. The ship goes where I say,” Alderon said in his thick Caribbean accent.

Shilree smiled a wicked smile as she stepped into the elf’s personal space. “I see. Now it is my turn. Up until the point you deliver me to my destination, this ship is under the Emperor’s direction. You are just acting out his will.”

Alderon’s hands tightened into fists. Shilree could see some members of the crew taking interest in their conversation.

“The only will I act out is my own, you upstart...”

Shilree slapped him firmly across the jaw. The unexpected blow sent him reeling.

“Why you...” said Alderon as he righted himself. The Sandy Claw’s crew stopped what they were doing and watched the drama unfold.

“I suggest you watch what you are doing, kiljhac.” Shilree bent over and whispered in the pirate’s ear. “I have no wish to have you lose face in front of your crew. However, let me make this perfectly clear. You are to do as the Emperor instructed. If you or your crew so as much deviate one inch from your task, I have instructions to personally steer this ship into one of the maelstroms and teleport myself away. Have I made myself perfectly clear?”

Alderon’s eyes narrowed as he gauged Shilree’s resolve. After a moment he concurred.

“I see you are not stupid. Good thing for you. Now, let us go to your cabin. It is time for you to learn the course you are to take.”

Shilree briskly walked to Alderon’s chambers. Alderon, wiping blood from his mouth, followed.

Book Divider

“This is your course,” Shilree said, pointing to the map the Emperor gave her. “It is critical that we get to this point before sunset the day after tomorrow.”

Alderon examined the map with the keen eye of a seaman.

“Why the rush? Wouldn’t it be better to go this far, and make port here?” he said tracing the route on the map.

Shilree shook her head vehemently. “Definitely not. It is risky enough that we have to sail close to that island. It would be foolhardy to land there.”

“Really? A place where the Diari fear to tread? Sounds like fun.”

Shilree gave the elf a cold stare. “If you wish to commit suicide, do it after you drop me off. That island is Diar, the cursed island. It is full of horrors that scare even demons. Nobody who lands on Diar ever returns, at least not in one piece.”

“My cousin did.”

“What? You are lying.”

Alderon shook his head. “No, I’m not. Just before she disappeared, my cousin told me about her trip to Diar and her confrontation with a Diari madman. His name was Tarran. No, it was Tarakan. No, that wasn’t it. Well, it was something like that.”

Shilree’s eyes narrowed. “Talakan?!? Who, pray tell, is your cousin?”

Alderon sniffed with contempt. “You probably never heard of her. Her name was Shalini Kyber.”

Shilree was dumbfounded. “Did you say Kyber?”

Alderon nodded.

“About so high? Elven? Made a joke about almost anything? Right hand was a hook?”

“That’s her. Let me guess, you knew her.”

Shilree gave Alderon one of her better ironic grins. “Better than you know. However, when I met her, she called herself Threnody.”

Alderon looked Shilree over suspiciously. “She didn’t ever say anything about me, did she?” he said timidly.

“Not a word.”

“Oh.”

Shilree was looking back at the map. “Alderon, I can tell you stories about your cousin later. It is important that you understand the course. Our lives depend on it.”

Alderon looked back at the map. He had a feeling this was going to be one of those trips.

Book Divider

The storm came upon the Sandy Claw just over a day out of the Diari seaport of Rektin. The waves pushed the ship about like it was a child’s toy. The wind and rain reduced visibility to almost nothing. Alderon, standing at the ship’s wheel, cursed out loud. He knew he shouldn’t have taken that bet back in Johan’s Cove. In a drunken stupor he had bet the captain of the Brine Lady that he could sail into Diarmn Bay, retrieve a bucket full of the blue sand from one the larger islands and return without any problem. All his loud boasting got him was the trouble of being caught by the Diari patrols and forced to act as chauffeur for some Diari with an attitude. Next time, he swore to himself, he would tone down his boasts, or at least boast of something he could achieve without risking his life too much.

It was taking all his and his crew’s effort to keep the ship on course. His passenger-- strange, he thought, that she never gave him her name-- was standing out on the fore deck. Maybe if he got lucky, a strong wave would come by and take care of this pest for him. After all, the Diari Emperor couldn’t blame him if she was lost as sea. Still, she was an attractive one. He was sure that with a few pints of rum in her, he could sample her charms. There was many a bawdy tale about Diari women who, while haughty and cold on the outside, were supposed to be like wild beasts in bed. He smiled at the thought. That would be something to boast about.

“Turn five degrees to port! We are heading towards the rocks!” she yelled at him.

Alderon gave a high sign and turned the wheel. He didn’t like taking orders, especially from a land lubber, and a Diari one at that. Nevertheless, it was clear he didn’t have much choice. Until he dropped her off in the middle of the ocean, he would have to do what she said.

“That’s better. Keep us on that course. If we are lucky, we will avoid the reefs,” she yelled at him again.

Alderon hoped that the Emperor’s payment would be worth it. If he wasn’t mistaken, this storm was starting to strengthen. Weather around Diarmn Bay had become increasingly hard to predict since the Madness. He was sure it was due to those accursed whirlpools that wandered the bay. Before everything went to hell, travel in the bay was hazardous, but possible. The giant maelstrom kept in one place, and as long as you avoided it and the Diari patrols, one could make a good life by smuggling Diari goods to various ports around Ataniel. People seemed to be willing to pay almost anything for a bolt of Diari silk or some of their exotic produce. Travel now in the Diarmn Bay was next to suicidal. The currents constantly changed, the wind could die out at any moment, and there were the sudden squalls that could blow a ship onto one of the many reefs around the bay.

Another high wave crashed over the deck of the ship. Some of the crew were thrown, but quickly recovered and returned to their stations. Alderon peered forward. Nope, the Diarian was still there. Her robes were drenched with rain and seawater. Alderon could swear he could see the outline of her naked form beneath those wet robes. He could imagine his dark hands moving over the Diari’s pale flesh. Her mouth placing kisses up and down his bare chest. Her whispering and begging him to please her.

“Alderon! What the FUCK are you doing!”

Alderon snapped to attention. Damn! He had drifted off again.

“You idiot kiljhac!” she yelled at him, “Turn hard to port NOW!”

Alderon quickly turned the wheel, but it was too late. The entire ship lurched as if a giant had picked the ship out of the water and dropped it. Just then, a wave came over the side of the ship and washed him overboard.

Book Divider

Shilree woke up on the beach soon after the storm passed. She had been lucky; if it weren’t for her new gills, she would have drowned when the ship hit the reef. Even so, her whole body ached. She quickly took inventory. Her protective robes were torn to shreds, but she had managed to hold on to her pouch and was still wearing her headband. Opening the magical container, she checked its contents. Everything was still there. Shilree sighed, thankful for small favors.

She looked around the beach. The bluish sand of the beach looked like the ocean had been solidified on the shore. Pieces of flotsam, no doubt torn loose by the storm, covered the beach. A few hundred yards off the shore, she could see the wreck of the Sandy Claw perched on a reef. It was obvious that the ship would never sail again.

“What the hell was that elven fool thinking?” she cursed in Diari.

“Well, looks like the drantri robes are next to useless,” she said, looking at her clothes again.

Shaking her head, Shilree removed the ruined garments and put them in her magical pouch. She took her old leather armor out from the pouch and put it on. Such armor would be useless underwater, but while she was on land she might as well wear it. After she finished dressing, Shilree strapped her pistol to her left hip and a long sword to her right one. Then she slung her bow and a quiver of arrows over her back.

“Well then, at least now I have some real protection,” she said to herself. Now it was time to see if there were any survivors. She wasn’t sure which island she was on. Until she found that out, she would need any surviving crew members to help her get off this rock.

She hadn’t walked more than a few yards down the beach when she saw the first body. Bending over it, she checked its pulse. Nope, dead. She was about to continue when she saw the trail in the sand. It looked like until recently, there had been another body next to this one. There was the unmistakable sign of the body being dragged from the beach into the interior jungle. Shilree looked for tracks of whatever dragged the body, but she didn’t see any.

Hurrying further down the beach, she came upon corpse after corpse. Every so often, she would find one that was mauled, or found signs of one that was dragged away into the island’s interior. She started to have a very nasty feeling about where she was.

Shilree rounded a small bend and saw Alderon lying face down in the sand. She walked up to him, keeping an eye on the tree line. She crouched down beside him and checked his pulse. It was shallow, but he was still alive.

“I should leave you here,” she snapped at him in Diari, as she fished a healing salve out of her pouch. “But I am sure Flicker would like to see you again someday.”

Turning Alderon over, Shilree spread the slave on his wounds and over his chest. She then waved a foul smelling root under his nose. Alderon awoke with a nauseous cough.

“Elch! What is that awful smell?”

“Ferron root. It’s an old Diari herbal remedy.”

“Ouch! My head,” Alderon groaned as he sat up. “Where are we?”

“Stuck on an island, thanks to you. What were you doing, anyway?”

Alderon was silent for a moment. Shilree could tell he was trying to think up something.

“Ummm, I think the rudder snapped,” he lied unconvincingly.

“Uh huh. Whatever. It is not important. What is important is that (a), your ship is shattered into many pieces on a reef offshore, and (b), it looks like only you and me survived.”

“Oh, is that all?” he said, as an eerie bestial cry emanated from the jungle. Alderon looked at the jungle, back at Shilree, and then back at the jungle. “What was that?” he whispered.

“I do not know, but what ever it is, I think it has a big appetite.”

“Oh.”

Book Divider

“Where are we going?” Alderon asked, filled with fatigue.

“To that piece of high ground over there. I am hoping to get our bearings.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to cut through the jungle?” he asked between gasping breaths.

Shilree looked at Alderon in disbelief. “You must be suicidal. We do not know what things in the jungle are waiting for us. We are safer sticking to the beach.”

“I see.”

“For a pirate, you don’t have a lot a sense,” Shilree said.

“Well, I have not been one for a very long time.”

Shilree stopped and looked at Alderon.

“How long?”

“Ummm... well, I have been sailing for a long time.”

“How long?”

“This was my first time captaining a ship.”

Shilree looked up at the sky with an unmistakable “why me” expression.

“But I can kick some serious butt. You can ask Shalini next time you see her.”

“That might be a long time in coming, Alderon,” she said, starting to walk.

Alderon paused for a second, and then broke into a quick run to catch up to Shilree. “One second, what do you mean by that?”

“Well, I guess you would have found out eventually, but Threnody is dead.”

Alderon’s face turned white. “What?”

“I don’t know when she died exactly, but the Sunfighter is now in his fourth incarnation.”

Alderon looked crushed. “I cannot believe she is dead.”

“Well, as the Nylevians say, ’Shit happens.’ “

Alderon sat down on the sand. He looked as if he was about to cry. Shilree stopped and walked over to him.

“Look, we do not have time for this right now,” Shilree said impatiently.

“I don’t care!” Alderon screamed at Shilree. “She was my favorite cousin. I just assumed she was off someplace having a grand adventure. Now here you come along, some Diari bitch that hasn’t even told me her name, and tells me that she is dead. No ’I’m sorry.’ No, ’I hate to tell you this.’ Just ’Your cousin is dead, shit happens. Oh well.’ ”

Shilree sighed and her shoulders slumped. “Shilree. My name is Shilree.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Alderon said bitterly.

“Look, I know I have been a little harsh. I apologize for that. It is just that there is a lot at stake here. Let me ask you something. Did you know about the Sunfighter?”

“Yes, Shalini ummm... Threnody, told me all about the Sunfighter. How she was the third of many incarnations. That she was still Shalini, but at the same time much more.”

Shilree nodded. “Good enough. I have been friends with the Sunfighter since her first incarnation. When an incarnation dies, the souls and memories of all the previous Sunfighter’s get transplanted into a new host. So in that sense, Shalini never really died. She is just living in a different body right now.”

“Who?”

“A Riklandir elf. He calls himself Flicker. Last I saw of him, he was heading back to Riklandir. I am sure he would like to see you again.”

“I think I would like that.”

Shilree smiled. “Good, then let’s get moving. If we are where I think we are, we have to make that high ground before dark.”

Book Divider

They reached the high ground just before sunset. The point offered a great view of the entire island. The island was very large. In fact, they couldn’t see the beach, or the ocean on the other side of the island.

“This place is big,” Alderon said plainly.

Shilree nodded.

By the sun, she knew they were on the western side of the island. Placing the sun at her back she looked over the jungle covered hills and mountains of the island.

“What are you looking for?”

“Something I hope I do not find. Do you have a spyglass? I would prefer not to waste a spell if I do not have to.”

“Ummm, yeah. Here you go,” he said, handing Shilree the telescope. “Since when do spellcasters carry a bow and a sword?”

“Oh, that. Most Diari are trained in more than one skill. It never hurts to diversify.”

Shilree extended the scope and focused on a spot of jungle next to one of the larger mountains.

Zhay farzin klacni!” she cursed. “I knew it!”

“What? What do you see.”

“Here, take a look for yourself,” she said passing the scope to Alderon. “Focus on that point, just north of that large mountain.”

“Uh huh.”

“Do you see it?”

“You mean that large area of marble structures?”

“Yes.”

“So?”

“So. Those marble structures are ancient Diari ruins. We are on Diar, the island of horrors.”

Book Divider

The fire offered the only source of light in the pitch blackness of night. Every so often an unearthly cry emanated from somewhere on the island.

“Let me get this straight,” Alderon said, “This island was once the Diari homeland, but thousands of years ago all these monsters appeared.”

“That is the story. Thousands of people were killed before the Emperor ordered the island abandoned. Since then, this place has been the strongest Diari taboo.”

“So how do you propose getting off here?”

“Well, for me it is not a problem. I have means. For you, it is a problem. Normally I would just leave you here, but I owe your cousin many times over. I can partly repay her by making sure you get off this island safely.”

“Oh. Well, I want you to know you really don’t have to. My family is known as survivors.”

“None of your family has ever been alone on the one place the oldest race on Ataniel actually have nightmares about. Alderon, this place is filled with things straight out of my people’s darkest fears.”

“That is why you are having me wear this silly piece of fabric around my head?”

“My robes were made of a special cloth which provides psionic protection to its wearer. The headband I am wearing is made of the same material. In theory, it should offer some protection for you.”

“So it will protect me from whatever is out there.”

“Not totally. Think of it as a psychic shield. It will give the things on this island a harder time in trying to do nasty things to your mind. Even so, keep your guard up. Things here are never as they seem. All I can say is trust your gut, not your senses. They can easily be fooled.”

“How comforting.”

“Now, you should get some sleep. I will wake you in a few hours for the second watch.”

“Sleep? Are you nuts?!?”

“If I remember my history, there is a large seaport on the eastern side of the island. If we are lucky there will be stuff from which we can build you a small ship. However, even without running into trouble, it will take us a few days to reach the other coast. Unfortunately, the beach turns into jagged cliffs a few miles north of here, so we can’t skirt the island. The quickest way will be to make our way through the jungle, into the ruins and to the eastern shore of the island.”

“What if something nasty decides to visit us while we’re asleep?”

“I have set up some magical wards around us. They should be enough to scare anything off. Go ahead get some sleep. You are going to need the rest.”

Alderon, unsure of himself, turned over and went to sleep.

Shilree looked at the pirate.

“Threnody, you have some interesting family,” she said to herself in Diari as she began her watch.

Book Divider

The next day passed fairly uneventfully. Shilree and Alderon broke camp at dawn and made their way into the dense jungle. Both of them watched every step they took, making sure not to step on something that would bite their foot off. Shilree estimated that they had only covered about twenty miles by the time dusk rolled around.

“The sun is starting to set,” said Alderon.

“I know. Let’s find a place to make camp.”

“I am not sure we will be able to find a clearing.”

“No. Not in a clearing.”

“Where then?”

Shilree pointed upwards.

Alderon gave Shilree a “you must be joking” look.

“It is the safest area. Up there, all we have to worry about are the arboreal predators. Down here, we would be dinner for anything that came our way.”

After a moment, Shilree found a large and strong tree. Examining it, she saw it looked to have thick enough branches to support both of them.

“Here we go. This tree will do.”

“Do you expect me to climb up there?”

Shilree smiled. “Well, it would be interesting to see you try, but now is not the time for frivolity.”

Shilree reached into her pouch and pulled out a feather. She then chanted a few arcane words and touched Alderon on his forehead. Slowly he started to float up in the air.

“Woah! Hold on here. You could have warned me.”

“Will yourself to that large branch about thirty feet up. I will join you in a moment.”

Alderon slowly drifted up into the foliage.

Once he was gone, Shilree pulled some powder from her pouch and drew a protective circle around the base of the tree. Then she recast the flying spell and started floating up after Alderon. She landed on the branch where Alderon was waiting.

“Welcome to Arboreal Arms,” Alderon joked.

Shilree smiled. “Now I know you are Threnody’s cousin.”

Shilree then threw a small stone down the jungle floor, and there was a pale blue flash from the ground.

“Warding spell,” she explained. “It should hold until morning.”

“No fire tonight?”

“Think, Alderon, if we light a fire here it would have two effects. First, it would attract every hungry carnivore within miles. Secondly, and most importantly, it would set the tree on fire.”

“I didn’t think of that.”

Shilree sighed, exasperated.

“Hey, I am not used to spending time on land.”

Shilree shook her head and reached into her pouch. “That rapier you have is not going to be enough if something decides to visit us. Use this.”

Shilree handed him an ornate short sword.

“It is of Diari design and carries an enchantment. It is made for six fingers, so you might have a hard time using it, but it is a nice magic weapon.”

Alderon swung the weapon back and forth trying it out.

“I see what you mean. The balance feels off.”

“For a five fingered hand it is.”

“Oh.”

“Do you want to take first watch tonight?”

“Umm, sure. I will wake you in a few hours.”

“Do that. Remember, keep alert.”

“I will.”

Shilree then leaned against the trunk and quickly fell asleep. Alderon sat on the branch, clutching the magic sword to his chest. He stared out into the blackness, terrified of what might be lurking there.

Book Divider

The night was surprisingly uneventful. Shilree woke Alderon at dawn. He could tell she was not happy.

“What’s wrong?”

“We weren’t attacked last night.”

“That is a bad thing?”

“Here it is. I was expecting a su-monster or a nightcreeper at the very least. This means that something else is tracking us. Something that has made it very clear that we are its prey.”

Alderon shuddered. “So what do we do?”

“Well for one, we are not going to do what it expects.”

“Which is?”

“Come down from this tree.”

“Then how are we supposed to...”

“I memorized extra flying spells last night. I should have enough to get us to the ruins. Once we get there, we should be able to find some sort of shelter.”

Shilree took two feathers out of her pouch and cast the flying spell on each of them. Alderon and Shilree met above the tree canopy. Both of them looked around to get their bearings. The ruins were still a ways off.

“I think we can make it,” Alderon said.

Shilree nodded. “If we are lucky.”

“I think we should fly a bit higher than we are right now,” Alderon said with a burst of insight. “I do not know what sort of creatures are on this island of yours, but I am sure they have means for snatching flying prey.”

“Good thought.”

Both of them headed higher and flew for the ruins in the east.

As they took off, a dark shapeless form climbed to the top the tree they had spent the night in. A multitude of red eyes watched them fly off. After a moment, the thing climbed back down to the jungle floor, without making a sound or disturbing a single leaf.

Book Divider

They made better progress than expected and managed to reach the edge of the ruins by the early afternoon. Shilree and Alderon agreed that it would be best if they kept flying as long as they could. An hour before dusk, they landed and searched for some shelter.

“I have to give your people credit, Shilree. They really knew how to build.”

“They sure did. You should see the Academy in Diaromyn or the main temple of Pysyri in Ekyarn. Both are perfect examples of classical Diari architecture.”

“I think it is doubtful I will ever see either of those places.”

“Oh, that’s right. Sorry.”

“That is okay. So, where do we go.”

“To tell to the truth, I do not have a clue.”

“Great...”

Shilree tapped her fingernail on her front teeth as she thought.

“Well, let’s keep heading east.”

Alderon shrugged and followed the Diarian into the ruins.

Book Divider

Early in the evening, the shapeless thing entered that same clearing at the edge of the ruins, where Shilree and Alderon had stood just a few hours before. It oozed over the ground like it was trying to smell it. Hundreds of intelligent and malevolent eyes looked in every direction and then focused at the path Shilree and Alderon has taken. With a wet sound it gathered itself into a humanoid form and slowly walked after its quarry.

Book Divider

Alderon and Shilree found shelter in the ruin of a dwelling. Once both of them were sure nothing was hiding in the building, Shilree cast protective wards at each of the possible entrances.

Shilree was hungry. She hadn’t eaten since before the shipwreck. She thought about setting a snare or two, but she didn’t want to risk the very real possibility of whatever she caught trying to eat her instead of visa versa.

“Hopefully, this will be the last night we are here,” she said, staring out a window.

Alderon nodded.

“What is the game for tomorrow?”

“We head for the ocean and harbor area. Once there, we try to find you stuff to make a small ship.”

“Sounds good, but...” Alderon held up his hand, telling Shilree to be quiet. He cocked his head as if he was listening to something.

“What?” Shilree asked.

“Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“That grumbling sound.”

“That must be my stomach.”

“No, not that. It was different.”

Shilree turned away from the window.

“What are you...”

Something battered itself against the wards with great force. Shilree jumped back and let out a scream of surprise.

“I think what ever has been following us finally has caught up,” Shilree said.

“No kidding.”

The thing furiously hurled itself against the wards over and over. With each blow, the wards sent out of a jolt of blue fire. However, each blow was visibly weakening the wards.

“I think we should get out of here,” Alderon said, drawing the Diari sword Shilree had given him.

“Where do you suppose we can go?”

“Ummm, good point. Do you think the wards will hold?”

As if to answer him, the ward by the door failed, and blackness filled with malevolent red eyes entered the building.

Fear flowed through Alderon. “What is that thing? I can feel it trying to get into my head!”

“Don’t think about it. Repeat a single phrase over and over again in your mind. It will act as a kind of mental shield,” she said, backing up and drawing her pistol.

“As you say, but what is it?”

Shilree fired her pistol at point blank range. The bullet passed through the thing, not even affecting it. All the red eyes focused on Shilree.

“I think you were right, Alderon.”

“What?”

“Run!”

The two of them took off through the building and out the back door, as Shilree lowered the wards. The thing was right behind them. Shilree could feel it trying to get into her mind. It was like a fetid mental tentacle stroking around her brain.

The two of them turned corner after corner, but they couldn’t lose the thing. Then, Shilree pulled the Staff of the Walker out of her pouch and grabbed Alderon’s shoulder.

“Hold on!” she yelled, and the world became a quick blur around them.

After a few seconds, they stopped on top of an outcropping of fallen columns and broken walls a good distance away from where they had been.

“What is that?” Alderon asked, pointing at the staff.

“Something I picked up during my travels. I will explain later. For now, I suggest we find somewhere to hide. That thing is still after us.”

Alderon nodded in agreement.

It only took them a minute to find a hiding spot, a chamber hidden under the fallen rubble. Soon after they Squezed into the hiding place, the thing approached, making sniffing and slurping sounds as it moved along.

“What is it doing?” Alderon whispered.

“It is tracking us, you idiot. Now shut up!” Shilree harshly whispered back as she pressed herself and Alderon into the shadows.

It sounded like the thing was right outside the entrance. Shilree felt a wave of nausea overcome her. She barely was able to fight it back. Alderon, however, was not so fortunate. His violent retching alerted the creature, and it slowly oozed its way into the room.

“Sorry,” Alderon said, wiping the vomit from his lips. “I couldn’t help it.”

“Never mind,” Shilree said, searching through her pouch. “Tell me, how strong are you?”

“What?”

The thing was now all the way in the room. Moving as if it had all the time in the world, it started to gather itself into a solid form.

“It is a simple question. How strong are you?”

As the thing solidified, tentacles with razor sharp teeth extruded from its shapeless center.

“Better than average.”

Shilree removed a perfect crystal sphere from her pouch as one of the tentacles took a swipe at her. She ducked the blow with no problem. Whatever this thing was, it was slow.

“Do you think you can throw this at that thing, strong enough to shatter it?”

“Sure.”

A large blood red eye opened in the center of the black mass. Shilree felt waves of malevolent emotion emanating from the thing. She concentrated on shielding her mind. The thing’s psychic assault was intense. Shilree feared that she wouldn’t be able to resist it much longer.

“Then do it,” she said, placing the sphere in his hand. “Just make sure you keep maximum distance between us and the point of impact.”

Alderon nodded and threw the sphere with all his might. As soon as the sphere left his hand, Shilree grabbed his shirt and pulled him down behind the large stone she was using as cover. The thing saw the sphere and reached for it but the sphere passed through the creature as if it had no more substance than smoke. The sphere landed just behind the thing, hitting stone and shattering. A huge explosion ripped through the room with the sphere’s breaking. Alderon and Shilree held their hands to their ears to block the sound of the concussion, as they crouched behind the large rock. Fire and energy swirled about the room, and the black thing disintegrated under the barrage. Soon after the thing was blown to pieces the roof caved in, burying Shilree and Alderon under tons of rock and marble.

Book Divider

Shilree awoke in darkness. She could feel Alderon was next to her, still breathing. She tried to move her leg, but the sharp pain told her that wasn’t such a good idea. However, she could feel the Staff of the Walker in her hand. She thanked the gods of fortune for smiling on her. They had a way to get out of this tomb of rubble.

“Alderon, are you awake?”

He grunted an affirmative.

“My leg is broken, but I think I can get us out of here.”

“That would be a trick,” he said, as rock dust settled on them.

“Can you grab hold of me?”

“I think so. Jeez! Well, that one is broken. Let me try the other.”

Shilree hear Alderon move and felt his hand grab the back of her shirt.

“Good, now hold on. We are going to fall a little bit.”

Shilree invoked the Staff of the Walker and a portal opened beneath them. The two of them plunged into the hole and found themselves outside in the light.

Shilree could see her leg was bent at an impossible angle and some bone was sticking though her thigh. Looking at Alderon, she saw he was not in much better shape. His arm was a sickly mottled black and red, most likely from internal bleeding and the fragmentation of the bone. He clutched at his side as well and blood ran from his forehead.

“Shilree, you look like shit.” Alderon said plainly.

“You should see yourself, kiljhac.”

Alderon then started to laugh and stopped as the pain hit.

“So, what now?” he asked.

Shilree dragged herself next to the elf, wincing in pain. Once she settled next to him, she started rummaging through her pouch.

“Now, we hope your family’s luck holds out,” she said, pulling out four vials filled with liquid and a small bowl with some salve. She gave two of vials to Alderon. “Drink those.”

Alderon managed to open the vials with his one good hand and drank their bitter contents. Shilree did the same. Both of their wounds started to heal soon after they imbibed the liquid. Shilree then took a healthy dose of salve and rubbed it on Alderon’s shattered arm. The arm slowly started to heal with the salve’s application.

“Now, I need your help, pirate. I am going to brace myself and you are going to get that bone back in my leg.”

Alderon looked at Shilree’s leg and turned white.

“Don’t faint on me, damn it! I need you here and conscious. I cannot use the salve on my leg with the bone hanging out. You have got to do this!”

Alderon swallowed hard, and with obvious pain slid himself down to where he could get a grip on the leg.

“I take it you have never done this before?” Shilree asked.

“You could say that.”

“Ok, this is what you are going to do. You are going to slowly, I repeat slowly, move my leg into the proper position. While you are doing that, you will ease the bone back in. Make sure you do not tear the flesh. This is going to hurt me like hell, so I more than likely will be screaming my head off. You have to keep your cool. Once it is done, take the rest of the salve in this bowl and cover my leg in it. Put most of it on the wound itself. Got it?”

Alderon nodded.

“Ok, then,” Shilree said, bracing herself. “Do it.”

Alderon did as Shilree instructed. She was surprised how long she lasted before fainting from the pain.

Book Divider

Shilree awoke to an awful smell. Her eyes jerked open and saw Alderon waving something under her nose.

“Ugh, let me guess. You found the ferron root.”

Alderon smiled. “You have lots of interesting stuff in that pouch. It took me a while to find the root.”

Shilree leaned herself up against a large stone. “You didn’t take anything else, did you?” she asked suspiciously. All she needed was for Alderon to get his hands on some of the nastier things she had in there.

“To be honest, I thought about it. However, I figured that if you caught me you would leave me here to rot.”

Shilree smiled. “I see that you gauged me correctly. How long have I been out?”

“Only an hour or so. The salve took a while to work. You were really hurt.”

Shilree grimaced and tried to stand. It was slow going but she managed it. Every inch of her body hurt, but she was whole again.

“Can I ask, what was that thing you had me throw?”

“A little item of my creation. It actually wasn’t made to be thrown, but tends to explode if it shatters. Nice for inexperienced spellcasters, but ungodly dangerous for more powerful ones like myself. I only use them if I am really in a jam. This was the first time I ever used one as a weapon, however.”

“Nice. Do you carry around anything else that will kill you if not handled correctly?”

“You would be surprised, Alderon,” she said cryptically thinking of her two prisoners.

Shilree looked up at the sun. It was mid-morning.

“Well, let’s get down to the docks and find you a way home.”

“The sooner the better.”

Book Divider

The two of them limped the mile or so down the road to the ancient docks. As they walked, the healing potions and salve continued their work and with each step they limped less. Before long they were mostly back to full health.

Shilree was in a morose mood. She was not actually expecting to find anything to be of help for Alderon down at the docks. At least, she felt, it was near the ocean and thus she could swim away. If it turned out that she had to leave Alderon here, she would kill him painlessly before he knew what happened. It was more merciful than leaving him for the inhabitants of the island.

They reached the summit of a small hill lined with columns when Alderon pointed at something on the water.

“Shilree, is that what I think it is?”

Shilree squinted. “It looks like a ship. Let’s check it out.”

Shilree was still on edge from their encounter with that shapeless thing. Whatever it was, it was able to scare all the other monsters away from them. She knew that unless they got off this island by nightfall, they wouldn’t see morning. Face it, the odds were good that they wouldn’t even see midnight.

As they got closer to the boat, Shilree could see it was a small vessel about the size of a small Riklandir boat. Its design, however, was one Shilree was not familiar with.

“Do you recognize it, Alderon?” Shilree asked.

“I was about to ask you the same thing. I gather it is not Diari?”

“Nope. Still, it looks seaworthy.”

“Hmmm, I will be the judge of that. Boats are my area of expertise,” he boasted.

They reached the boat a short time later. Alderon gave the vessel a quick look over.

“Looks good,” he said. “We are lucky, it still has a reasonably good sail and the rudder is solid. I think I can manage it. I wonder what it is doing here.”

“As do I,” Shilree thought suspiciously.

Shilree was inspecting the ship’s hull when Alderon interrupted.

“Ummm, Shilree, I think you should come here.”

Shilree walked around and boarded the boat. Alderon was kneeling over a mummified corpse covered with a blanket.

The body was about six feet tall. By the look of it, it had been here for a very long time. It was obviously male and looked like he had had a very strong build. Shilree moved the blanket, and tried to control her surprise at what she saw. The corpse didn’t have legs. Instead, his spine continued on below his torso and ended at a network of fibrous bones that spread out like a fan.

“What is he?” Alderon asked, holding up the corpse’s hand. It had six fingers.

“Diaryn,” she said flatly.

“Diar-a-who?”

“Diaryn. They are a Diari offshoot. Long thought lost.”

“So what is this Diar-a-min...”

“Diar-rin,” Shilree interrupted, sounding out the name phonetically.

“Sorry, Diaryn doing here on a boat?”

Shilree shook her head as she examined the body closer. “I do not know, Alderon.”

“What should we do with it?”

Shilree didn’t answer right away. She saw that the Diaryn’s other hand was grasping something. She was fairly certain Alderon didn’t see it. Quickly, she moved the blanket to cover the corpse.

“Tell you what, Alderon. I will move our friend and you get the ship ready. You want to be as far as possible from this island before nightfall.”

“Ok,” Alderon said, and moved to the other end of the ship, preparing for the trip.

Shilree quickly pocketed the item the corpse was holding and dragged the body onto the docks. She then walked back up to Alderon, taking a piece of vellum and a pen out of her pouch.

“Alderon, pay attention, this is what you are going to have to do. That map I brought with me is now useless, we are beyond the two day window it was good for.”

“Uh huh.”

Shilree proceeded to draw on the vellum as she talked. “You best bet is to follow the coast south. Once you reach the island’s southern point, head directly west, back to Diaria. I cannot guarantee you will make it, but it is the best bet.”

“Ummm, small problem, how do I get past your people’s patrols?”

Shilree thought for a minute and pulled a pill out of her satchel. “This is a kind of a magic pill. Swallow it and you can assume any shape for one day. That should be enough time to get to Ekyarn.”

“Why the hell do I want to go there?”

“Shut up and listen. Once in Ekyarn, give this note to a constable,” she said scribbling something on a scrap of paper. “It says you’re mute and, well, an idiot. Don’t give me that look! Now pay attention. The note goes on to say that you are looking for a priestess named Anjra, at the main temple of Pysyri. They will guide you there. It is common for those with mental defects to seek help from the clerics of Pysyri.”

“I see.”

Shilree then took an empty Pysyri crystal out of her pouch and placed it against her forehead. After a moment of concentration, she gave it to Alderon.

“Once you meet her, give her this crystal. She will get you across the northern borders and into the Seven Princedoms. Once there I am afraid you will be on your own.”

“I think I can manage from there.”

“Good. Now look at this.”

Shilree then cast a minor illusion of a nondescript Diari man in the palm of her hand.

“Remember this form. This is the shape you must take. Note the color of his armband. That denotes you are mute. Whatever you do, do not speak! I am assuming you do not know Diari. Using the dual pretense of being mute and an idiot should get you past any Diari security and safely to the temple, without having to explain yourself.”

“Good assumption. What about you?”

“As I said before, I have my own way for getting off this island.”

Alderon nodded and boarded the boat. He unfurled the sails, and Shilree untied the moorings. Soon, the boat with Alderon left the docks, and he was off.

“Good luck!” he yelled back at Shilree as he left the harbor.

Shilree waved back at the elven pirate. She couldn’t help smiling. Even though he was a bit of a fool, she liked him. He reminded her of herself at a more innocent time. When she saw his boat clear the bend at the end of the harbor, she turned back to the Diaryn corpse.

“Now my friend, let me see what you were holding.”

Shilree took the item out of her pouch. It was a small mottled black and silver pearl.

“Strange,” she thought, as she put it back in the magical pouch. “Must be important for you to have brought it here. Or were you trying to take it from here?”

That idea disturbed Shilree. What could be so important to face this place?

“Never mind, friend,” she said to the corpse again, “it is time for the real hunt to begin.”

Shilree stripped off her armor and removed her underwater gear from the pouch. She quickly put the skimpy protective gear on, strapped a dagger to her leg and another one to her arm. She then secured her pouch and turned one last time to look at the ruins. The sun was starting to set, but she wanted to look at her people’s ancestral home one more time. If she was lucky, she would never be on this island again in her lifetime. Still, the place had a beauty about it and it did have the lure of ancient times as well as a feeling of home. After looking her fill, Shilree turned from the island and dove into the sea.

After she left, a black, multi-eyed tentacle touched the water where Shilree had entered it. The blackness solidified into a humanoid form with an octopoid head standing on the docks. It gazed contemplatively at the surf through solid white eyes. Without warning, it then disappeared with an inrush of air leaving behind nothing but the sounds of the jungle coming alive with the night.

History

On to Chapter 6

'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

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