‘‘A War-Chief revolts’’
In the final years of Emperor Kurokal’s reign, great chaos swept across the empire of the Brave People, a dark tide of strife and upheaval borne across the waves of the Vaet by arrays of the grim human vessels of the Snake Rider people that had come to pillage a newly discovered land, one abundant in natural riches and the non-human populations of sentient creatures incapable of successfully turning back the in-roads of predatory humans. Savage battles were fought between frenzied, screaming armies of the Brave People, and the armored columns of human invaders as the latter sought to establish their own stronghold of might in the soggy soil of Tarrod at the expense of Eshal power and pride. At last, utterly confounded by the strange shining weapons and the fearsome tools of sorcery wielded by the terrifying soft-skinned demons, the hordes of the War-Chiefs abandoned the Eshal hold on the coastal provinces, fleeing further inland where the technology of human armies would not serve them well against the native warriors.
It was an enormous disgrace and insult, one that did not at all reflect well on the Emperor’s authority. Soon, as the warriors under his command found themselves consumed in bloody guerrilla campaigns against impotent human armies striving to sink permanent foot-holds in the heart-land of Eshal country, some of Larfu’s most ardent devotees begun to see a golden opportunity to at last pay the Wave Rider the homage that had been denied their unlawfully scorned god for far too long.
Many among the warrior caste, had inherited the deep-rooted grudges that their ancestors had held against the Empire and the meddling alien Cuada that had birthed it into existence out of the destruction of the old tribes predating the rise of the Emperors, were for the overwhelming part, clandestine members of the Brotherhood Of Larfu. Little surprise than that, that many among the Emperor’s regional armies were quick to read in the recent events of calamity, bright and joyful signs that the Prophecies of Larfu were close to fulfilling themselves, an event that promised to usher in a new era free of the Cuada’s taint and their suffocating hold on the mind of the Brave People.
Like all true believers, they lost little time reacting in what they deemed an appropriate manner, dashing oaths of allegiance made to a monarch descended from a long line of puppet abominations that had been enslaved by the machinations of an alien race guilty of subjugating a once ferociously proud and independent people with their outrageous religious fabrications and lies of being the Elder Children Of the Gods. As if those divine beings would have deigned to appoint such a stunted and misshapen race of freaks dominance over the worthiest of the Floating Land’s children.
One by one, some of the most prominent and decorated among the War-Chiefs begun to revolt against the authority of the ruling High Priests that governed the provinces of the Emperor on the behalf of their noble elder brother.
One such mutinous general was Huokorloctol, a War-Chief appointed to guard a vast province stretching along one of the last few coastal strips that the encroaching Snake Riders had not succeeded in seizing and colonizing. Consisting mostly of vast brown rivers coated and choked with masses of aquatic vegetation, it was one of the few areas leading to the coast that as of yet had lain unclaimed by the ravaging humans, whom fearful of the rumors involving ferocious behemoths lurking in the dark depths of these murky waters, and vast swarms of vicious insects that would reputedly rip open large bleeding sores in the soft skins of mammals as they thrust into the bodies of their victims their broods of wriggling larvae that would eventually begin to eat their hosts from within. For the time-being at least, the humans would not penetrate, and so the only obstacle immediate in the way of the wily War-Chief was the continued dominance of his detested master, the governing High Priest of that region.
On the sacred day dedicated to remembering the unlawful exile of the Wave Hunter, the War Chief and his warriors stormed the massive submerged temple cum palace monolith of the reigning High Priest during the absence of the former as the revered servant of the Gods journeyed via the water canals to meet his royal sibling the Emperor, to discuss with that august king. As the basalt halls and chambers of that commanding strong-hold were enveloped with a rapidly spreading red-cloud flush with the spilled blood of the High Priest’s children and his loyal retainers that had valiantly attempted to halt the invaders with their pathetically few numbers, the first steps towards establishing and independent fiefdom had been set in motion. Henceforth this province would become the the Domain Of Huokorloctol, a haven for all true Eshal that loved their heritage. No slimy Cuada scum would set foot in here, or a false priest from among their own people. The blood shed, and the still wriggling bodies impaled on stakes and fed to the sacred Red Sharks of Larfu, would certainly serve as a lingering reminder of of the War-Chief’s power and determination to hold on to what he had seized from the clutches of the Cuada dominated regime that had stifled its own people for so long.
But amidst the frenzied war-whoops and eager slaughter, a great worry pressed onto the mind of the War Chief. His victory had been quick, but the raging desire of a betrayed High Priest yearning to avenge the murder of his children and an act of unforgivable act of treachery, would not be tardy in coming either. At any moment his forces would have to be on guard against an imperial army come to wrest control of a valued region from a reviled usurping general. There was little doubt in his mind that he would be seen as a far greater threat than the little armies of humans throwing themselves ineffectually into the fatal interior of Tarrod. As of yet his position was yet precarious, perilously so
This was a grim worry that pressed on his mind even as his victorious warriors begun their messy feast, thumping on the dining tables with the hacked off limbs of their victims.
Little though he knew it, there was a strange phenomenon that would soon come to his aid. For as long as any of the residents could recall, the otherwise dense, slimy green mat of partially submerged vegetation draped across the surface of the rivers, had always been marred at certain points of the broad watery expanses, by odd rock formations that protruded from the murk like miniature mountains. Composed off an odd brittle rock and coated with a certain kind of dull brown gem-stone, they’d always made a curious sight, but had attracted very little interest from the reigning priestly administration, given the worthlessness of the gems as any kind of worthy ornament for the priestly elite or even the wealthier among the warriors. These drab, low-grade amethyst, were in the eyes of the Eshal, ugly stones useful only as sling ammunition for hunting marsh fowl if one could be bothered to pry them out from the rocks. ‘‘Larfu’s Tears’‘, the warriors would sometimes murmur among themselves, somewhat convinced that it was the rage and vindictive fury of their banished god that had tainted these stones eons ago, robbing them of their beauty and value so as to prevent them from adorning the bodies of the traitors that had conspired with the Cuada to forge an empire dedicated to exalting Larfu’s weak and bickering siblings, while the great wave Hunter himself had been abandoned by his people.
How then could they know that in another realm far across the Vaet, even further away from the Floating Land than the island homes of the dreaded Snake Rider tribes, there was another land, a distant world in which pitched battles had been fought to obtain the very stones that the Brave people scorned as being of no value?
Slowly, the fear of invasion begun to press heavily upon the mind of Huokorloctol, and his dreams became troubled with the thoughts of the emperor’s warriors battering down the doors of his strong-hold to drag him out of his lair beneath the depths of the river. So numerous were the rivers and streams leading to his strong-hold, that an army of warriors mounted on Great Serpents and Ranchowen, would not be long in coming once it got onto the march.
At last, increasingly dominated by the fear of the potential disaster that his act of rebellion would doubtlessly provoke, he turned to his most trusted adviser, Kurolos. A much respected shaman dedicated to the service of Larfu, his wisdom was held in high regard by his master. But he was far more than a wise adviser. Many considered him a seer, gifted with the ability to see searing glimpses of the future.
As Huokorloctol made his way to a hastily set up shrine to Larfu, a simple stone mound in a corner of a large hall-way, on which proudly stood a large bone statue of the god. But as he approached the menacing shark-headed effigy in the hope that Kurolos would be near-by, a peircing wail cut through the stillness.
A red cloud obscuring his torso, the shaman stood transfixed in the far corner, oblivious to the numerous lacerations oozing blood from his slashed chest. With his drah still clutched in a thin, trembling hand, Kuroloas hissed his words through a visage gripped in a rigid rictus of savage joy.
‘‘The Wave Hunter came upon me demanding his fee for he had something to send my way, a juicy morsel that might yet save you from the damnation the Cuada worshippers have devised for us. I saw myself face to face with a demon from across the sea, but this was not one of the Snake Riders. Nay, he did not wear their grab or adorn his hair with the white stuff. He was clad in red and gold, a dress fit for the Emperor himself, and held in his hands a stone, one of those dull pebbles that abound on the god’s Tears. Listen to me, these beings will promise great power when they inevitably arrive here, in exchange for those ugly stones warped by the Wave-Hunter wrath that they which they covet so much. But if we are to survive our encounter with them, we must exhibit no sign of weakness.. Like the god himself, they will be keen hunters, swift to devour any prey that shows signs of weakness. Ride the shark, and grasp its mighty weapons for your own Huokorloctol, for you are strong and swift’‘.
‘‘The Company Arrives’’
As the shaman predicted, humans would soon arrive, greedy and rapacious mortals that craved amethyst in large amounts.
For decades, the DeMadden Company had sough to maintain its grip on sources of that all precious-gem required to power magical devices on Acqua. But the rise of the Kraken dominated fiefdom had resulted in these vast monsters seizing some of the most lucrative sources of amethyst for themselves, compelling the Company Admirals to scout further and further afield from the shores of Banhosea and even those of Acqua all together. Competent sailors and skilled fighters, the men of the Company were not afraid to make potentially dangerous voyages into previously unchartered waters to search for a way out of the strangle-hold that the many-armed monsters had imposed on the proud institution they served.
Of late especially, there had developed a great interest in a distant land by the name of Tarrod. Many of their captains had encountered a strange race of barbarians in the great markets of Calan, Caladin’s imperial city, men who stiffened their hair with clay and called themselves Snake Riders. One of them, a merchant who had drunk too much cheap wine after successfully selling a sizable amount of his ambergris to a wealthy noble, had told stories of his people setting up a nascent empire in an alien continent that was always partially flooded. A vast land of rivers and mangrove swamps, it was peopled by all manner of bizarre creatures that thrived on the abundant natural treasures that country had to offer. Among them existed an agressive race of fantastic eel-men that called themselves the Brave People. They had previously controlled a large empire before the Snake Riders had come, and even now, the vast interior still lay mostly in their hands.
When news of this discovery reached the ears of the Company Admiral, their interest was immediately piqued. Amethyst reputedly mined in the submerged continent had been found on display in Calan. If they could make their way into the deep interior, perhaps they might be able to exploit all available amethyst deposits. But it would have to be a strictly trading expedition, one done somewhat discreetly so as to avoid provoking the wrath of the Snake Rider kingdom. Nothing could be gained from engaging in war-fare with either the barbarian colonizers or the war-like natives that had thus far proven more than capable of holding onto most of their empire.
In the dead of night, three vessels touched at Cruas Bay, the sole stretch of coastal land which as of yet lay, unclaimed by the Snake Riders due to their fear of the terrible biting insects that infested the rivers lying within. But the Company’s explorers had come prepared. Garbing themselves in all enveloping robes and hoods, they leaned over their railings staring with keen interest as their sleek cruisers sailed aboard the river leading into the wet-lands beyond. There was a powerful sea-breeze coursing through the dark skies, and they made good progress, the sleek hulls of their ship cutting through the brown waters.
And in that moment, the first steps towards the prophecy were fulfilled.
The Brave People are adept at lurking unseen in their native country, and the warriors of Huokorloctol were no exception. All but hidden from the lights of the ship beneath a thick mass of algae floating on the waters, a scout gasped in astonishment as he watched the floating marvel move past. They had been told that the demons sojourned on the waters in large castles that could stay afloat, but this was the first time he had witnessed such a thing. It was true, their potential saviors had arrived. Losing no time, he swiftly made his way back to his base beneath the surface and informed his commander of what he had just beheld. In less than fifteen minutes, Huokorloctol himself heard word of the ships that had sailed into his domain.
And he was swift to take the appropriate steps. When the three cruisers had covered a few leagues, the waters around them suddenly begun to boil with numerous thrashing shapes. With their limited visibility in the night, the mariners aboard the ships could only sight so much with what scant light was provided by their lamps, but what little they did was enough to terrify them. Strange amphibious creatures bearing a grotesque and unnatural resemblance to eels merged with bipeds, set astride vast aquatic monstrosities whose vast bulks could easily be seen. Most unsettling of all, was one especially large and hulking creature seated on a hideous kraken that glared balefully at the frightened men with its massive red orbs. Back in Acqua, the men of the Company had had good cause to loathe and fear these vicious creatures, and so they found themselves awed by this bold being that would dare mount such a savage beast. This was clearly an individual that wielded authority over these freakish beings. Decked in glimmering gold, and brandishing a vast bone spear in its right hand, the very sight of this inhuman warlord atop his ghastly steed, was enough to send the marines of the ships rushing to their stations at the vast spear-guns that lined the sides of their ships. But before the battle could begin, the Kraken rider begin to wail in strange, slithery tones. Perceptive enough to realise that the creature was attempting to communicate with them , one of the Company mages begun to translate its speech with the aid of an enchantment.
As they slowly listened to the creature’s strange cries via the channel of communication the mage had opened up, it soon became evident that the leader of this freakish army wanted to show them something. A quick of flick of its wrist and a very small object landed aboard the deck of the lead ship. One of the crew-men bent over to pick it up. It was an amethyst stone.
Their fear all but pushed aside by the all consuming hunger for amethyst, a two way conversation now opened up with the aid of the invaluable mage, and the Company’s agents soon became aware that the denizens that they’d encountered were the Eshal that the Snake Riders had spoken off. These ones had large deposits of amethyst which they would be happy to allow the Company exploit, in exchange for a security pact and access to advanced weaponry. It was a reasonable and very acceptable demand. From what they’d learned so far from their strange hosts, the Eshal had sworn in the name of their god to to never abandon their ally should the Company become such. They’d hear heard that these alien folk truly feared and revered their cruel and vindictive gods. Such an oath would not be take lightly then. And it would be useful to arm a loyal potenate should the Snake Riders become envious and endeavor to interfere.
With months, a settlement sprung up on the river surface as employees of the Company flocked in to set up their amethyst mining camp. Large long-houses thatched with palm fronds were erected on stilts driven deep into the muddy river-bed to house the teams that would paddle to the strange to the odd rock formations covered with the amethyst. Amply supplied with a grease that repelled the dreaded he insects, given mer-folk slaves to scrape off the amethyst, and protected from river predators by armed parties of Eshal mounted on large monsters, life was not too bad.
Meanwhile, some of their engineers were commissioned to fashion ships and weapons for the forces of the War-Chief. Opening up large forges and boat-building work-shops, they begun their work quickly to satisfy their patron, and soon a small fleet of five gunboats had come into Huokorloctol’s possession. Initially crewed by Company marines, they soon pased into complete Eshal hands as the War-Chief requested that the marines train his own warriors to handle and use them. This wish was quickly granted as the Company was quick to understand the fact, that apart from amethyst, other precious resources like gold and rare woods could be gained from weapons sales as the War-Chief rapidly expanded his fleet. Moreover, with their allies patrolling the river to ensure that their transit camps along the banks leading out to the ocean were alway safe from Snake Rider pirates, they could do business safely.
Relations between the Company and its potenate had grown to be generally good, with both sides profiting immensely from their relationship. But tragically, greed had gotten the better of some of the Company’s officials. A certain captain, desirous of seizing control of the amethyst isles with the intention of declaring himself lord of this domain, turned renegade, mustering a small army of malcontents. Abducting the War-Chief’s most favored son as a hostage after inviting the latter over to a function at his lodge, he subsequntly ordered some of his collaborators among the marines serving the War-Chief, to steal ten of the War-Chief’s fleet and employ them to mount a blockade on the waters surrounding the Amethyst isles. Feeling very confident and assured of his success, holding as he did, the native ruler’s son captive onboard one of his stolen gun boats, he was fast in calling for Huokorloctol to abdicate and surrender the reins of power to him through his appointed envoys.
But he had failed to reckon with the deadly force warding this chosen paradise of the true believers.
One night, as he paced the small margin of one of the isles with some of his personal guards, impatiently awaiting the answer to his demands, he found his bare sole cutting itself on something hard and pointed. Annoyed, he lit his lamp and lowered it, intending to have a good look the offending object
Embedded in the bottom of his naked foot, lay an amethyst gem. As he reached with his hand to remove it, something terrifyingly surreal begun to happen. Skin ripped and burst all over his body, as amethyst gems literally begun to thrust their agonising way out of his body, transmuting flesh and bone into gem-stones with fatal swiftness. His screams lingered for only a few brief moments before his vocal cords finally ceased to exist. Where a man had stood, now existed only a man-shaped mass of amethyst, part of it seemingly imprinted with an almost human expression of terror.
What belonged to Larfu’s followers, could never pass into the hands of others though force, for otherwise his tears would eradicate the traitors that had dared to claim that which was not theirs.
When news of the would-be-usurpers’s gruesome fate reached his ears, old Kuroloas was pleased. The Wave Hunter had heeded his pleas and his lord would never have to fear treachery from the rapacious humans again. The Domain Of Huokorloctol would outlive all threats and grow to become a powerful empire. For this was a story only begun. And with a gaze of utmost gratitude, he beheld the black statue of Larfu, too lost in adoring worship to pay heed to the searing agony inflicted by the drah currently occupied in removing the skin from his right arm. Much blood would he shed to thank the Wave Hunter for fulfilling the power he had promised.