A Crimson Shore 24.3: The Eye of the Beholder

The four adventurers boarded a longboat and rowed towards the island in bright sunshine.  At their backs the sea sparkled.  Most of the crew had come up to watch them row away. As with most of the dread isles, the island of Cro’ah appeared to be mostly volcanic, covered in a thick dark green carpet of jungle. Layers of mud lay here and there in shallow areas, while jagged tips of eroded pumice waited for the unwary walker. A few insects and birds called and chirped. Everything looked wet, as if it had just rained minutes ago. Whatever lay inside the tangled webs of branches and leaves was quiet, well hidden behind the cacophony of the smaller things that wailed on and on.

With little in the way of trouble, Zy’an was able to find a perch for the longboat. Frank helped to tie it off, and the others, Thrak and Iricah, stepped up and out one at a time. So began the climb up a rocky face which looked out upon the sea, the ship and a few islands off in the distance.  The two were the worst at this type of feat and so they were sandwiched by someone in front and behind. They followed behind Zy’an and in front of Thrak.

The monk figured they would find an animal trail that would lead them to easier ground. He also was hoping memory would return to him.  There were images available.  His hands grasping a vine, a few trees, but the truth was there was little else yet.  Mostly, what he remembered wasn’t helping find a way into the island.  The darkness.

Thrak came up last, tripping along without his tail to support his weight at a steep incline.  No one commented though, for these were the moments when they all knew they needed their wits about them.

Step by step they meandered along the rocky ledge, winding back and forth along its side. They stepped as nimbly as they could through the roots that wrapped themselves like a spider web along the rock face. Iricah’s bags snagged once or twice, and Frank’s armor made the going tough for all of them as they needed to constantly stop and fashion a rope tie to him so he wouldn’t fall back into the sea. Finally, they made their way to a bluff, where they did indeed find an animal path into the interior and soon onto a flat mesa of dark black rock underfoot. Around them, immense leaves covered them and blocked out the sun.

Zy’an walked nimbly ahead. He wasn’t sure exactly what he was looking for, but he figured he’d know it when he saw it.  After some time, he realized it wasn’t going to be something he saw as much as something he felt. Memories flooded back to him. Memories of being here, hunting. Hunting in the darkness. The darkness that remained even in the daytime. The darkness in the light, Zyan.  That is where you are going.

“Do you feel that?” Said Frank who startled the monk from his reverie.

Zy’an felt it indeed.  A weight like something heavy placed on his shoulders. Something more too, he thought.  A heaviness to his breathing, as though he were breathing through liquid rather than air. Steps felt sluggish and he noticed too that sounds had a feint echo, as though they were reverberating off walls around him.  This was the place. Cro’ah. This was where he had learned the meaning of absolute darkness.

Zy’an saw Frank look around. They all feel it, a darkening.

He watched as the cleric conjured forth the guiding light of the flame which presently illuminated his hands. The silver rays shone outwards from each of them and it was then that he realized the darkness was not coming from the shadows of the leaves or something overhead.  It was as if the whole area were simply cast in the grey of dusk. The dark in the day.  Cro’ah. The name came back to him as well.

“I guess I’m not the only one,” said Iricah. “What is this place?” Zy’an could tell she was uneasy.  They all were. Many places in the world felt unnatural, but even in the most horrid of circumstances did Zy’an ever once feel like he did not belong.  It was here.  They feel it too. Because we do not belong here.

“It is Cro’ah, Madame Archeaologist. The place of darkness even in the day.”

“How will we find them?” Asked Frank. “The others?”

“We have a call, for just such an occasion, Frank.”

“Sounds like monk bullshit,” said Iricah.

“It is, Iricah,” said Zy’an with just the slightest trace of humor in his voice. “Unless you are a monk.”

There in the darkened jungle, under the overhanging fronds, Zy’an laid out his plan. So that he could find the faction of his monastery he hoped would be here, he must expose their position. There was little in the way of a choice, and so they all agreed to it. Not everyone liked announcing they were there. Something about this darkness told them to be cautious.  Thrak was not excited about hiding in the first place. Nothing new for the warrior, he was nevertheless outvoted. Thus agreed, Zy’an scrambled up a palm tree and nestled himself in among a frond at it’s base. While the others hid in the bushes and leaves on the dark soil, Zy’an then made a cry like an island bird. Three swift caws.

Hiding, they sat silent and waited. Nothing changed from the monotonous droning sounds of the insects and other creatures that inhabited the palms and canopy of the larger trees.  A few minutes passed, and Zy’an hid in his perch above them, atop and behind some larger and tougher fronds. He was looking for the tell tale giveaway he had learned hunting game here, the way leaves rustled without wind, or a lack of insect noise giving away a larger beast’s position. Behind the leaf, above it, he could use the light that shone through to see the canopy floor below. To see the shadows created by moving things.  But there was nothing. It’s darker here than I remember. The air is thicker as well.

All this way.  For nothing. Perhaps, he had read the signs wrong.

He was about to give up hope.  It was of course not a given he would find the other monk faction here. Just because a word had been scrawled on a wall in an abandoned monastery meant nothing he knew. He nearly called to the others to come out from hiding when two sounds came from the jungle and not from the same place. Something clearly was moving towards them, towards their direction.  From the left, something smaller, from the right, something much larger.

Zy’an froze. He risked a view from around the frond hoping his darkvision would give him the information he needed. Friend or foe?

He gazed in the direction of the smaller noise first. Zooming in, he knew it instantly.  The way it moved, zigged, zagged, nearly silent, but not to his trained ear.  It was a monk, and not just any.  This was a Way of the Long Death Monk. It was one of his people.  Stealthy, nearly undetectable and that was the give away. Someone had answered his call.  But still, friend or foe?

The larger noise brought his attention back to it.  While his view turned, the logical side of his brain blazed. This sound was brazen, purposeful.  Before he saw it he knew.

Foe.

Maybe it was the way it’s dark grey form glided through the jungle, as if nothing stood in it’s path, as if it made it’s own path. That shouldn’t be the case. The jungle dictated the movements of those who passed through it, not the other way around.

Maybe it was the size of the creature. As large as a hay-wagon fully loaded, a farmer’s cottage. It was enormous. Like a silent cloud, it just drifted right through the trees. Headed right for the others.

It wasn’t any of those things though that made him know this was a foe beyond his imagination. It was the feel of the thing.  The alien way it moved, it was as if the leaves wilted before it. The darkness seemed to follow it.  It just didn’t belong here.  Not in his world.

Zy’an had just a moment to react. He withdrew a dart and thrust it sharply at the base of a tree where he knew the approaching monk could see. Thump. With nearly perfect aim, the monk stopped, looking at the dart at his feet.  He disappeared into the bushes, just as Zy’an hoped he would.

“Run!!!!!!!!! Run!!!!!!!!!!!” He yelled from the tree tops. “Move your asses!” he shouted and then he jumped himself, down from the canopy, branch to branch, until he was near to ground level. Then, he turned and twisted over a branch and oozed upon the ground to run into the bushes himself, and as he did so he felt it. A heaviness, pulling on him.

He couldn’t help it. He turned and watched the dark grey form, the cart sized sphere float through the leaves. Atop it’s head stalks like great tentacles stuck out. Each was crowned by an eye which blinked and stared out menacingly in his direction, all 10 of them. But he wasn’t looking at them, for in the center of the thing, was a great and enormous eye.  An eye of pure evil, of complete wickedness fixed on him.

And in that moment, he had the sense of being underwater. He couldn’t help but think of it. The enormous pressure of the air, the floating stalks waving back and forth, the slow drift of the gigantic beast, hovering in the air as if it just should do that. His body felt slower to react too. He was nearly surprised when he thought to inhale and air came into his lungs not water.

He watched it all  in slow motion. A ray of seering heat shot out from one of the eyes atop a stalk, blasting an area of stone next to him. Splintered rock shot out and struck in trees, or blasted through the big jungle leaves behind him. Too close. And while he leapt to his feet and then up into the tree nearest to him he realized the sheer number of rays about to come his way. Each stalk had it’s own powerful ray he realized. This was a nightmare creature. And only one of me! Branch by branch, he jumped higher and higher, as the monster’s rays shot out and destroyed everything they found. One branch simply vanished when the ray crossed it just behind his footfall. Another seemed to freeze and then shatter into thousands of tiny pieces that then blew outwards in all directions.

I’m running out of branches here. At the highest point of the tree, with explosions and bursts behind him, step after step, Zy’an twisted and zigged and propelled himself off the tree’s trunk and out into the air, over the canopy of the jungle, as far away as he could. The grey beast below followed him in, the eye, as large as a shield, grew red and in horror Zy’an looked back to see a ray, as wide as the eye shoot out for him.

“Welcome to the surface!” yelled Iricah, who alongside of Thrak and Frank ran out from the bushes. Her shovel swung through the air and just as the beast’s ray shot outward towards Zy’an, it struck the shovel sending sparks off the metal spade in a golden shower of Trumplike proportions. The sparks sprayed through the air and sizzled out all around her. “You are one ugly, mother…”

“He looks like the asshole of that dragon we fought that one time,” quipped Frank. “Remember Thrak?” Frank too had swung into the fray, his shield out before him, he stretched out with his mace and caught one of the stalks at mid arc, smashing it into jelly. With a satisfying grunt, he struck again, and this time hit the beast along it’s massive body.  The mace bounced off it’s thick hide, but he could feel a concussion there.  It can be killed.  It is just a beast.

“That dragon’s asshole was more beautiful than this thing,” snarled Thrak. He had been learning from the others how the humans insulted each other in combat. Although a foreign idea to him at first, Frank was helping to explain to him how it could be a useful technique to startle an opponent.  Thrak wasn’t very good at it, and it didn’t seem like he’d be getting better any time soon. “This thing isss uglier than that asshole wasss.

Thrak’s axes hacked and slashed in his frenzy. But not before the creature veered towards him, casting it’s eyes, the large and those small in his direction.  One ray struck him in the torso and he flew back and struck a tree. Another struck him and Thrak froze, stunned.

Before Frank or Iricah could do anything, the beast floated towards him, it’s center eye growing red once more.

There was a swift movement above them, and suddenly Zy’an dropped from the sky, as it were, and landed atop the creature.  In the quickest of motions, he swung around, using the eyestalks to maneuver, ripping off two in the movement.  Zy’an landed before the beast, and like a snake, his fist plunged deep into the center of it’s eye, followed by another.

All around there was a cry, a splitting cry, unlike anything they had ever felt or heard. It wasn’t in their ears. It wasn’t in the air. It was in their minds. It was jolting, and painful. And they knew it was the creature’s death cry, even though it shouldn’t have been there in their minds.

The beast fell from the air, and landed on the ground where it tilted over, resting against a tree awkwardly. Looking at it like that, it was hard to imagine the threat it had posed. It was like a ball from one of the Cillandrial games. Waiting for a giant child to pick it up again.

Zy’an wiped his hands off in a pool of water in a crag nearby.  “Thrak, all know well that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

“Well this beholder’s eye won’t be seeing anything anymore,” said Frank. “Thanks to you. Well done Zy’an.”

“Thank you Frank,” replied the monk.  He explained then what he had seen, and how he had to warn away the other. “I am afraid though my call was not as successful as I thought, and since it nearly got us killed, I am not sure how to continue to find them now.”

“I don’t think you will have to worry about that Zy’an,” said Iricah. She was resting her arms over her spade, stuck into the mud at her feet and looking off into the jungle. There, standing not 20 feet away was a monk wearing the same garments Zy’an had always worn. He held his hand up, palm out.

“Welcome brother. Welcome to the place of the darkness in the day.”

 

 

 

 

 

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