Originally published at: https://gemsofwar.com/lorekeeper-i-chapter-6-guiding-light/
The stars are our ancestors, sent to guide us
They are simply that - a guide - not a reason, not a purpose.
And they are especially not distant suns circled by other worlds!
--Equaala the Divinion Seer
Plans and moths have a few things in common.
Firstly, they’re quite often hatched at night.
Secondly, the most effective ones are kind of boring.
Thirdly, well… We’ll get to that.
Luther had plotted a course to bring them as close to Shentang as possible. His plan had been to sail down towards the coast of the Southwyld, and then skirt west around it for a few weeks until they reached the northern borders of the Leonis Empire. This would allow a reasonably safe passage up into the Maraji’s Spine, towards Shentang.
As plans go, it was a good one.
Which brings us to the third similarity between plans and moths. They don’t usually survive first contact with the enemy.
The enemy in this case was a large sea creature with a craving for ships.--------- o ---------
“Something’s wrong,” Amira yelled, hanging on to the mast, as the ship heaved from port to starboard.
“It’s just a little chop, girl,” Luther yelled back. A wave crashed over the side, plastering half his beard to his face. He scruffed his hand roughly through it, which left it sticking out at an undignified, but less ridiculous-looking angle. He grasped the ship’s wheel tighter. “It’ll pass. Just hold on! These waters are tricky!”
“I saw something out there, Luther,” Amira insisted.
“We’re too far east for Kraken, and Leviathan! It was just a wave. You haven’t sailed much, eh?” Luther got slapped by another wave, which he scowled at in a rather terrifying manner. If water was sentient, Luther probably would have stayed dry for the rest of his life.
“You’re a stubborn old fool!” Amira yelled back. “I grew up on a ship. You’re going to get us all killed!”
Luther motioned at one of his men to take the wheel. The soldier staggered over, and when he had hold of it, Luther let go and lurched over the deck towards Amira.
“Alright then,” he shouted into the wind. “Show me this-”
There was a terrible splintering sound from below decks, as if something had tried to tear the ship in half.
“You see?” Amira yelled in Luther’s face. “There. Is. Something. Down. There.”
“Can’t be rocks,” Luther looked both angry and confused. Mostly angry. “We’re too far off shore.”
The ship tilted sharply, unnaturally. There was another crash from below. Softer this time, but more drawn out. Luther scowled, and let out a deep growl, fiercer than the storm. He knew his way around a ship though, and he knew the Saber was done for. He could feel the broken hull beneath him, feel the water about to rush in.
“We’re breached,” he yelled. “Get to the boats! We’re going to start taking on water in a minute! Fast!”
A hatch opened at Luther’s feet, and a chubby, slightly greenish face popped out. It was Brian, and he looked in worse shape than the ship.
“Did somebody say ‘Bacon and Lager’?” he asked, sleepily.
“Brian!” Luther yelled at him. “Get your ass into a boat. We’re going down! And bring that damned bow up with you.”
Brian disappeared briefly, and then reappeared with Flammifer, crawling on his hands and knees towards one of the lifeboats. Luther came behind, giving him a not-so-gentle nudge with his boot to keep him moving.
Amira was already at a boat, tearing the canvas cover from it. Brian slithered in, with all the grace of a morbidly obese seal climbing onto a rock. Luther looked around. He saw his men swinging two other boats out and leaping into them. Fortunately it was only a skeleton crew, and there was room for everybody. He pushed the boat out over the side of the ship, when the Saber was struck for the third time.
They say the third time’s the charm. It wasn’t a charm for the Saber though. She was a sturdy ship, but she was never built to withstand being bitten in half by a creature five times her size.
Charm is in the eye of the beholder, however, and the third time was the charm for the creature that emerged from the Saber’s splintering hull.
Luther stood aghast for a moment. In his day, he’d stood against Daemons and Dragons, Behemoths, and Leviathans, but the mouth that emerged from his slowly-disintegrating ship could have swallowed most of those creatures whole. As the mouth opened, row upon row of sharp teeth, like deadly little flowers in the Widow Queen’s Garden, glistened with salt spray and saliva.
Luther only had a moment to admire the creature that was about to devour him however. The boat, with Amira and Brian, swung out into the water, and Luther lost his footing, as his section of deck broke away. He grasped at a piece of it, and caught hold, which was fortunate, as his heavy clothes would have dragged him under the waves. He hit the water’s surface with a bone-jarring crunch.
One of the creature’s eyes turned on him, as he hit the water, still clinging to his piece of deck. There was hunger there. Nothing else. Luther could see it. In the same way he needed to breathe, this creature needed to eat. And apparently ships and their crew were high on the delicacy list.
It was chaotic. The water was churning. The creature was leaning over him. Then he saw a brief flash of fur, as something alighted on his piece of deck, and leaped up towards the monstrous maw. A wave washed over him. He lost his sense of direction. And after what seemed like an eternity, someone was hauling him up into a boat.
Luther cleared the salt from his eyes. He was on the boat with Brian and Amira. Brian sat there, staring at Amira, a look of wonder on his face that he usually reserved only for large kegs of Dwarven ale. Amira was covered in blood. The spray had washed some of it off, but even so, it was a lot of blood.
“Did you just…” Luther stammered, groggily.
“It had a taste for ships and knights,” Amira grinned. “It will not soon look to eat a Sister again.”
Luther looked over at Brian. Brian never took his eyes from the Wargare.
“Stabbed it in the face,” the chubby squire said, awestruck. “She’s… amazing.”
Luther groaned, and closed his eyes.--------- o ---------
After the creature had gone, the sea slowly returned to normal. It was as if the storm had somehow accompanied it. Luther, Amira, and Brian floated for the rest of the day, exhausted, speaking little, and then slept fitfully through the night. They never saw any trace of the other lifeboats. But as the sun dawned, they did see land to the south.
“Wild Plains,” Luther said gruffly. “We were closer to land than I thought.”
“I raise a toast to Undine, King of the Sea!” Brian said, but his bright smile soon faded, when he realised there were no goblets of ale within easy reach.
“You want to toast Undine?” Luther asked. “Grab an oar, and let’s get the hell out of his kingdom.”
The 3 of them took turns rowing. Brian first, until he turned green and threw up over the side of the boat. Then Luther. And when he got tired, he grudgingly gave the oars over to Amira, who had been watching him struggle for the last 50 strokes with a grin on her face.
They took turns thus, speaking little, and as the sun climbed into the sky, they finally reached the shore. They climbed out. Luther and Amira dragged the boat up onto the beach, and Brian crawled out behind them. When he finally had dry land under him, he shakily stood up.
“I raise a toast to Silicus,” he proclaimed, “God of-” That was too much for him though. He fell to his knees and threw up again.
“Well, we don’t have a flag to plant,” Luther said, scowling at his squire, “but I guess that will have to do.”--------- o ---------
It was humid on the beach. And a swarm of midge flies soon found the travellers. They were relentless, buzzing, biting, and generally getting places where they shouldn’t.
Luther cursed constantly, slapping at them, and grumbling under his breath.
“Wait here,” Amira said, and ran off up the beach, into the undergrowth. She soon emerged carrying a small succulent plant.
“Rub this on your skin,” she suggested, “and over your clothes.”
She showed them how, then passed the plant to Brian, who tried it and passed it on to Luther. The midge flies still buzzed incessantly, but now they kept their distance. Luther glanced over at Brian who was beaming like a child, and seemed just about to say something. Luther decided to head him off.
“Brian,” Luther growled, “if you raise a toast to the God of Insects, Succulent Plants, or Miserable Humid Beaches, I will rub this plant down your throat!”
Brian gulped and said nothing.
“Good,” said Luther, turning to Amira. “We need to figure out a path to Shentang.”
“It would seem we have three options,” she said. “Travel east to the Centaurs,and try to find a ship, or travel south through Tauros lands, and try to make it into Maraji’s Spine.”
“And the third option?” Luther asked.
“Push our boat back out to sea, and paddle west for 3 months,” she chuckled.
Luther scowled, and looked like he was about to answer back, when he stopped and slowly laughed. “Very well. I’m too old to row for 3 months, and I don’t like our chances with the Centaurs. I think we should head straight for the mountains.”
“I agree,” said Amira, raising an eyebrow at Luther’s civil response.
“Cheers!” added Brian, raising an imaginary cup.--------- o ---------
The group traveled south into the Wild Plains, scavenging supplies as they went. It turned out both Luther and Amira were accomplished at rustling up food. Luther hit two rabbits with Flammifer, which seemed a waste of the ancient magical bow’s power, but he reasoned that going hungry was a bigger waste, For her part, Amira vanished and returned with some berries they could eat. Brian was, of course, quite useless, but he looked much healthier now he was on dry land.
Still, Luther wasn’t terribly young, and Brian wasn’t terribly fit. With all the events of the past few days, they soon began to tire. The Wild Plains were tough going. Here at least, in opposition to their name, the plains were anything but flat. As the group picked their way down a rocky ravine, both Brian and Luther fell behind. Then, as they rounded a small boulder, they saw Amira face to face with a Tauros Warrior, both of them frozen in place about 20 strides apart. Amira had both her daggers in hand, while the huge Tauros had her bow trained on Amira.
Luther sized the creature up. Like most of her kind, she was bulky, and almost three hand-widths taller than him. Her hide was pure white - very unusual - and she carried two weapons; the first was an ornate horn bow that was trained on Amira, the second was a large fiery axe strapped across her back. It was a sure sign she was somebody of rank within the Tauros. It meant she could be reasoned with… perhaps.
“Hold!” yelled Luther. The Tauros’ eyes flicked towards him, but her bow never wavered from Amira. “We’re not here to cause you any trouble”
“You are passing through my lands,” the Tauros rumbled back. “You have already caused me trouble.”
“We’re heading south towards the Spine,” Luther replied. “Our ship was wrecked, and it’s the quickest route. We’d hoped to pass through and have nobody notice.”
“Nobody notice?” the Tauros laughed. “The Warg is light on the plains, but I’ve been tracking you two since you left the beach! You make more noise than a Gorgon in a gravel pit!”
“I don’t suppose you’d consider letting us past?” Amira offered.
The Tauros laughed again. “Your timing is poor. The clans have gathered and are currently moving east. We are taking back our ancestral lands from the Centaurs. But even if I were to let you go, others would find you, crashing around like calves.”
“Then we’re at an impasse,” Luther replied. “But perhaps we could offer a trade.”
“What do you have that I might possibly want?”
Luther reluctantly held out Flammifer.
“I do not need a pretty bow, ” the Tauros laughed again. “This bow was my mother’s, and her mother’s before that. Five generations have held it.”
Luther thought for a moment. “You said you were going to war?”
“Yes. What of it?”
“I am a Knight Commander of Sword’s Edge. My name is General Luther. I may be of some assistance in your upcoming battles.”
The Tauros slowly lowered her bow, and made a strange sound, like a snort. Eight more Tauros archers stood up in view. The group had been outnumbered all along.
“Very well, General Luther,” the Tauros replied. “If you speak the truth, I accept your offer. My name is Cloudstalker. If you can help me plan this battle, my clan will guide you to Maraji’s Spine.”
“And if we can’t help you?” Amira asked.
Cloudstalker turned away.
“Then the Gorgons will eat well tomorrow,” she replied.