Erudhalion looked about him at the grave faces that surrounded him in his private council chambers. “My dear fellows, captains and holinesses, a month ago we received a most important message from Dextrus Flagg, leader of all Kaliphlin. He had sent out riders to all corners of the south, charging it’s lords and adventurers to bend all their efforts to locating and securing the fabled water gem of Historica. Legend has it that the gem can only be found by a true scion of Kaliphlin, so we must all do our part, for who knows which of us is fated to claim it? At the time I charged you in turn with finding out everything you could about the water gem and where it might be found, and now the time has come to report your findings. Come, tell me what you know!”
Commander Barold was the first to speak up: “My lord, our troops have searched every inch of Peregrinus, including its caverns and underground passages, and have found no sign of a secret hiding place for the gem. Nor have we neglected to search the hills of the mountain mummies and the surrounding mountains. Not even the fabled Rakath assasians can tell us anything about the water gem.”
Erudhalion nodded at this news. “Very well, Commander, thankyou for your efforts.” He turned to the grizzled harbourmaster. “Lord Meosphen, what news from your ships?” Eocher Mesophin leaned forward on his cushion : “My lord, I sent out ships to scour the coastline and small islands, as well as gather intelligence from every port in Kaliphlin. We even searched the dread isle of Arazi Audax! But no news of the crystal could we find .”
Erudhalion sighs. “This is a heavy blow indeed – I expected better news I admit. Still, thankyou for your dilligence Lord Mesophen, negative information is still information of a kind.” He turns last to the young priestess Nammuat. “Come priestess, I pray you have some better news for me? What news from the Valley of the centaurs and the sacred lake?”
Nammuat smiles. “No news but a dream my lord. While I was meditating by the sacred lake, an image of a great horse made of water came to me. It dragged behind it in its wake a tiny island with a cave like a mouth at one end. The water horse galloped toward me and as soon as it reached me i was engulfed in darkness.” She paused for effect, looking slowly around the room at the anxious faces that surrounded her. “And yet in the darkness something flickered – a light that slowly grew until I could make out its shape – a small blue gem, deep with the all the blues of every body of water that ever existed. I believe that I dreamed of this crystal we seek and the island that houses it. And I believe that the water horse knows how to get there.” She fell silent, and at once the others raised their voices in objection. “My dear girl!” cried Commander Barold; “You don’t know what you are talking of! Ask help from that trickster? You cannot trust him! We only have two more tasks to set him before he is free of the bottle, and who knows what revenge he will seek once freed? We should only use the water horse in the most direst of needs, not on some wild goose chase for a bauble!”
Erudhalion held up a hand to silence him and reluctantly Barold took his seat again. “I understand that asking the water horse to aid us is a desperate measure indeed, and I would normally agree you Barold, but I have faith in Nammuat’s vision – did she not forsee the great storm on the bay five years ago, and save us many ships with her advice? We have no other leads than this and on the orders of Dextrus Flagg, we are bound to follow what leads we have, palatable or not! No, we must ask the water horse for his help to find the water crystal. Make ready my ship, harbourmaster, Nammuat and I shall venture out past the heads before we release him, and then we shall see what he has to say!
In reality, the water horse was rather grumpy to be called on by the young Peregrinian lord. After being emptied out of the bottle well away from the coast, it dashed about, creating mighty waves that threatened to capsize Erudhalion’s sturdy cog. When it had spent its pent up fury, the water horse appeared alongside the ship in its bow waves. “What do you want now then?” it enquired sullenly.
“You ought to be more grateful” replied Erudhalion, “You are now a step closer to repaying your debt, and have a chance to stretch your legs as well! What we want is this – lead us to the fabled water crystal of Kaliphlin, help us to recover it and bring us home safely again. In this way you may complete your second ordained task.”
At this the water horse fell silent. “Ah,” he said at last, “the water crystal? Well well. I have heard of this crystal that you mention. Very old, it went to its long quiescence long ago. It is hidden in an island very far from here, and it is a perilous journey to get there! We must brave the stretch of water known as the Mashhuak gyre or crooked sea, and you know how many ships are lost there! But I can take you by the secret currents through the area, and Tiamat be willing, we shall arrive at the island before the smaller new moon.”
"And what is this island? Has it a name?” asked Erudhalion.
“It has no name, and appears on no map.” replied the water horse slowly.
“And what of the island’s guardian?” cried Nammuat; “The ancient texts speak of the elemental crystals being guarded by mighty beings, but you don’t mention anything of the sort!”
“The ancient texts speak truly” said he; “but all I know is that the water crystal needs no guardian other than the island itself. Another thing - I can certainly lead you to the island, and I swear on my salt to bring you home again should you survive, but recover the gem? That you shall have to do yourself – I cannot help you there.” Erudhalion and Nammuat looked at each other, weighing the water horse’s words carefully.” Erudhalion’s mind was full of doubt as he turned back to address the water horse, but his voice rang out clearly: “Very well! Lead us to the island!”
The Mashuak gyre is a stretch of ocean that lies well south of Kaliphlin, and few mariners have returned from beyond it, earning its name of “the crooked sea”. Those that do return speak of fearsome storms, unpredictable winds, and even whirlpools and sea creatures! Some say that the sea is actually a giant living entity that suffers none to cross its entre breadth. Having heard all the stories, the crew of “The Albatross” were understandably apprehensive about entering it, but their loyalty to their lord and captain was such that none made any complaint. The water horse could be seen dancing and plunging into the sea ahead of The Albatross’s bow, pulling her behind him. Days passed into weeks, until time itself became so distorted in the twilight zone of the Meshhuak gyre that none could tell the exact date anymore. Many adventures were had along the way and many a narrow escape from one danger or another, until at last came a cry from the crow’s nest – an island, dead ahead! Erudhalion rushed to the bow.
“Is this the island?” he shouted to the water horse.
“Indeed it is” he replied, “I shall take you to the entrance, but there I must leave you. I cannot enter the island, its magic is too great even for me.”
Erudhalion turned to see Nammuat staring at the island intently. “It is exactly as it was in my dream!” she exclaimed. “See the cavern there – the one on the end of the island? That is the darkness that engulfed me.”
“Then that is where we must go!” muttered Erudhalion darkly. “Let us prepare the rowboat!”
Erudhalion and Nammuat paddled cautiously across the narrow stretch of water between the ship and the island, watching it grow larger as they drew near. The island was almost perfectly oval in shape save for one small peninsula of rock on its nearest narrow end, like the head of a turtle peeking out of its shell, the cavern being its gaping mouth. The other sides of the island were a uniform dashed pebble that quickly rose to well vegetated, shrubby ground. The island even supported some palm trees on the higher slopes, however, no animal life could be seen, not even birds. The whole island felt eerily silent, as if waiting for the two adventurers.
“I don’t like caves in general” grumbled Erudhalion, “and I like this one even less than usual! Look at it! Like some giant maw ready to swallow us whole.”
“I know what you mean” replied Nammuat, “I wonder if this formation is natural, or if it has been carved in some way? It even looks like it has eyes!”
“Watching us no doubt” said Erudhalion with a shiver as they negotiated the cavern entrance. “I’ve changed my mind – I’d rather be inside now, away from the island’s sight!”
The main mouth of the cavern was deep, with many moss-covered stalagtites reaching down from the ceiling, like teeth or long bladed daggers. At the back of the cavern, a smaller arch led into a water-filled stone passageway.
“Will the boat fit?” wondered Nammuat aloud. But it did, just, and the adventurers pressed on in their exploration. The passage was narrow and winding, and it took all Erudhalion’s skill as a waterman to navigate it. But eventually, just as their lamp started to gutter and fail, they noticed a faint glimmer up ahead.They rowed towards it eagerly, straining to be rid of the dark, and on rounding the final bend in the passage, they saw that they had arrived at a large chamber. Easing the boat gently into the chamber, they saw that the light came from a narrow skylight high in its large domed roof. It streamed down onto an island in the centre of the room, and in the middle of the island, something glittered
“The water gem!” breathed Nammuat, “Look Erudhalion! My dream spoke truly!”
“I can see other things as well” muttered Erudhalion “This chamber is a charnel house!” For indeed the island was littered with a great many bleached bones!
They rowed up to the edge of the island and beached their rowboat on the shore. At close quarters they could see the water gem more clearly. It sat in the middle of a broad well, an ocean on an island inside another island in an ocean. The gem seemed fired with the light falling on it, and in its depths Erudhalion and Nammuat could see all the many hues and changes of the oceans and seas, rivers and lakes, and even rain. The pool surrounding the gem was too large for them to simply reach across and grab their prize, but Erudhalion seemed reluctant to swim across the well to claim it.
“I don’t trust this water!” he hissed at Nammuat. “See how it glows! Who knows, if I tried to swim across I might find myself filleted like these poor chaps underfoot!”
“I agree” said Nammuat gravely, “perhaps we should try lifting it off its plinth with something long? Would one of the oars be long enough, do you think?”
“Let’s try…” replied Erudhalion. “And Nammuat? Grab your weapons – who knows what will happen when I take the gem. I don’t see anything around that could be a guardian, but something made this pile of bones. We must be on our guard!”
Erudhalion grasped one of the oars in one hand and leapt lightly onto the low stone wall surrounding the pool. He extended the oar as far as he could toward the water crystal. With two hands on the oar it was just too far, but shifting to one hand meant that he could just make it! With infinite patience he started to ease the oar underneath the gem on its plinth, prising it loose. Sweat ran down his brow as he worked the oar completely underneath the crystal…
“Nammuat! I think I have it!” he cried.
At that moment a great rumble could be felt in the very walls of the chamber. Losing his balance on the wall, Erudhalion teetered on the edge of the pool, and the crystal started to slide across the oar, threatening to fall into its depths.
“Don’t drop it!” cried Namuat.
As the crystal fell, in desperation Erudhalion batted at it with the oar. The edge struck the underside of the gem, tossing it high in the air, just as another savage, grinding rumble ripped through the cavern.
“I can get it!” shouted Erudhalion.
He sprang backwards, losing his footing and falling among the bones on the ground. As the gem sailed past his head, he threw out a hand and felt the gem fall into it truly. He gripped it hard to his palm.
“Yes! I have it Nammuat! I have the water crystal!”
As he turned to face her in triumph, he was suddenly aware that the ground beneath their feet was no longer level – in fact it was listing alarmingly. The waters of the pool glowed and seethed, and the water surrounding the island on which they stood bubbled and started to slowly rise.
“Ah, now I understand!” yelled Nammuat, “It is as the water horse said! The crystal needs no guardian but the island itself. And the face at the entrance, do you remember? The island must be alive!”
“We are inside the guardian then!” replied Erudhalion with rising horror. “And the island is starting to dive – I can feel it. We must get out quickly if we don’t want to drown and be digested!”
Nammuat was already moving towards the boat.
“If we get the rope and attach the end to the anchor, we might be able to snag something on the roof and pull ourselves up to the skylight” she shouted. As she reached the boat, another list of the cavern floor overturned the rowboat and sent her sprawling. Erudhalion hastened to assist her. He dived for the boat and wrestled it again to the island. Thankfully the rope was stilled coiled underneath a bench and the anchor was easily retrieved. Nammuat joined him, sighing with relief. Quickly they joined the spare rope to the anchor rope.
“Now for the hard part” said Erudhalion through gritted teeth. Wrapping one end of the rope around his waist, he grasped the anchor, took careful aim at an outcrop of rock near the skylight, and hurled it high. And the two adventurers groaned as it clanged uselessly against the rock and fell to the ground again. Again they tried and again, whilst the convulsions of the cavern around them continued. At one point, some of the rising water grasped at Nammuat’s heel.
“Ow!” she cried, “The water is hot! Erudhalion, we have to get out of here if we don’t want to be boiled alive!” With one last mighty heave, Erudhalion desperately hurled the anchor skyward, to see it sail clear through the skylight. Cursing, he prepared to pull it back, but it had finally stuck fast on something. He laughed aloud in relief.
“At last! I was starting to think we’d never get out of this accursed place! Quick, you first Nammuat. Drop everything you don’t need, speed is of the essence if we wish to get out of here in one piece!”
Nammuat didn’t need to be asked twice. With an athleticism that her sedentary profession gave no hint of, she went up the rope like a rat up a drainpipe, and Erudhalion lost no time in following her. As he gratefully hauled himself up the slender lifeline, he took a last look back at the devastation below. The cavern was on an acute angle, the water below starting to steam with noxious fumes and their sturdy boat was being bounced around the walls like a child’s toy. Then he turned his back on it and concentrated only on reaching that small, blessed circle of freedom above them.
Well, this is as far as i got with this challenge - i had planned another small build to show the the animated "turtle island" from afar as it breached the water, but no time, alas! Perhaps i shall tackle it sometime soon as a free build. Anyway, i hope you have enjoyed the tale up to this point, and thanks for looking and reading!
Possibly to be continued...?
Edited by gabe, 14 May 2012 - 12:55 AM.