The Elder Age
Height of the Jacaruku Crusades
The Many Isles
LI KNEW IT FOR A BAD OMEN THE MOMENT HE SAW IT. HE’D been readying his nets for the pre-dawn fishing when the unnatural green and blue aura bruised the sky. It appeared out of the lightening east and swelled, becoming more bloated with every passing moment. The bay was choppy as if as agitated as he, and he’d been reluctant to push his shallow boat out into the waves. But his family had to eat, and cramped stomachs belch no end of complaints.
Through the first of the morning’s casts he kept his face averted from the thing where it hung in the discoloured sky, blazing like the baleful eye of some god. The catch that morning was poor: either his distraction, or the fish fleeing the apparition. In either case he decided to abandon the effort as cursed, threw his net to the bottom of the craft, and began paddling for shore. The blue-green eye now dazzled brighter than the sun; he shaded his gaze from the points of alien light glimmering on the waves. He paddled faster.
A strange noise brought his frantic, gasping efforts to a halt. A great roaring it was, like a landslide. He glared about, searching for its source. The alien eye now seemed to fill half the sky. No remnant of the sun’s warm yellow glow touched the waters, the treed shore, or the dark humps of the distant islands. Then, with unnatural speed, the surface of the bay stilled as if cowed. Uli held his breath and ducked side to side in his tiny craft.
The eye broke apart. Shards calved trailing blue flames, arcing. A roaring such as he had never before endured drove him to clap his hands to his head and scream his pain. A great massive descending piece like an ember thrown from a god’s fire drove smashing down far to the east. A white incandescent blaze blinded Uli’s vision. It seemed as if something had struck the big island.
Just as his vision returned, another glow flashed from behind. It threw his shadow ahead like a black streamer across the bay. Turning, he gaped to see a great scattering of shards descending to the west while others cascaded on far above. He rubbed his pained eyes—could it be the end of the world? Perhaps it was another of the moons falling, as he’d heard told of in legends. He remembered his paddle; Helta and the little ‘uns would be terrified. He returned to churning water with a desperate fury, almost weeping his dread.
The hide boat ground on to mudflats far sooner than usual. Mystified, he eased a foot over the side. Shallows where none had ever stretched before. And the shore still a good long hike away. It was as if the water were disappearing. He peered up and winced; in the east a massive dark cloud of billowing grey and black was clawing its way up into the sky. It had already swallowed the sun. Untold bounty lay about him: boatloads of fish gasping and mouthing the air, flapping their death-throes.
Yet not one bird. The birds—where had they gone?
The light took on an eerie, darkly greenish cast. Uli slowly edged round, turning his head out to sea, and all hope fell from him. Something was swelling on the waters: a wall of dirty green. Floods such as the old stories tell of. Mountains of water come to inundate the land as all the tales foretell. It seemed to rear directly overhead, so lofty was it. Foam webbed its curved leading face, dirty white capped its peak. He could only gape upwards at its remorseless, fatal advance.
Run, little ‘uns, run! The water comes to reclaim the land!
Approx. 400 years BW (Before the Wall)
The Empty Isles
Temal pushed himself upright from the chilling surf and crouched, sword ready. He gazed uncomprehendingly around the surface of the darkening waters, wiping the cold spray from his face. Where have they gone? One moment he’s fighting for his life and the next the sea-demons disappear like the mist that preceded them. Weak coughing sounded from his flank. He slogged among the rocks to lift a soaked comrade: Arel, a distant cousin. Though almost faint with exhaustion, Temal dragged the man to shore. Survivors of his war band ran down to the surf to pull both to the reviving warmth of a great bonfire of driftwood.
‘What happened?’ he stammered through chattering teeth.
‘They withdrew,’ answered Temal’s older sword-brother, Jhenhelf. His tone conveyed his bewildered disbelief. ‘˜Yet why? They had us.’
Temal did not dispute the evaluation; he was too tired, and he knew it to be true. He had less than twenty hale men in his band and too many of those inexperienced youths.
‘They will return with the dawn to finish us,’ Jhenhelf continued from across the fire. Temal held his old comrade’s gaze through the leaping flames and again said nothing. At their feet Arel coughed, then vomited up the seawater he’d swallowed.
‘What of Redden?’ one of the new recruits asked. ‘We could send for aid.’
Faces lifted all round the fire, pale with chill and fear.
‘They could be with us by dawn…’
‘Redden is just as hard-pressed as us,’ Temal cut in strongly. ‘He must defend his own shore.’ He glance d from one strained face to another. ‘Redden cannot spare the men.’
‘Then…’ began one of the youths.
‘Then we wait and rest!’ Jhenhelf barked. ‘Arel, Will, Otten—keep watch. The rest of you, get some sleep.’
Grateful for the support of his old friend, Temal eased himself to the ground. He thrust his sandalled feet out to the fire and tried to ignore the agonizing sting of salt licking his many cuts and gashes. He felt the heat work upon him and hunched forward, hand across his lap at the grip of his sheathed sword, and through slit eyes he watched the mist climb from his drying leathers.