Crocodilian ~ Chapter 10
Tales of Havek: Volume One | Duration: 8 Minutes 16 Seconds
X: (Un)Tempered Times
Rainfall descended upon Yonledo as if it were penance doled out by the Almighty for having chosen to live there. It was the season for it after all, the season of tempestuous rage exhibited by nature, God, and men. The end of Ember and the slow creep of Frost was a time that never came willingly, and it was even worse for the regions in the south. Only hours into the coming great storm, the dirt road that was barely a dirt road melted into a slick, muddy mire. Yet, that was the only known route into Yonledo proper. Days of unrelenting rain later, there was no road at all, nor was there any sign of land at all. Everything had sunken beneath several feet of rising rain and sea waters. Another day, or so, and the upper halves of the mangroves appeared to stretch upward as if standing on tip-toes for a final gasp of breath, while the much taller bulbous trees went dormant, their petals shrinking inside the branches in preparation for the terrible winds to come.
Before all of this, before the mangroves were drowned, before the land was obfuscated, and before the dirt road that was barely a dirt road was erased into muddy oblivion, a distinguished guest had arrived in a horse-drawn carriage. The carriage was flanked by a half dozen armored soldiers on horseback. They were flagged down by a woman and escorted to the lift which was a large wooden slab tethered to a tide column just outside the town’s perimeter where the horses could comfortably stay during a storm and rise with the flood waters without harm. The lift was linked to the town by a series of walkways suspended along branches in the canopy with solar lamps ensconced in the tree trunks to light their way. The entourage consisting of seven men–meaning the entire horse-drawn carriage was for one short, extravagant man–were guided toward the largest structure in town by the young woman who had manned the lookout and flagged them to the lift. She was nameless and remained silent the entire way. She led them directly to the mansion and knocked upon the large double doors, the wood looking slightly off-color to the wood around it, and the six soldiers, the extravagant man, and the nameless young woman waited in the rain. The doors eventually opened.
“Well, well, well,” Mayor Penh said from the dry hallway of his mansion. “If it isn’t the head epistolarian himself. Quite the storm, eh? ‘Tis the season. You haven’t seen the worst of it yet though, I can tell you that much.”
“Hello, Mayor Penh, it’s been a while since we last met. Please, you should know my name by now. Call me, William,” William Yitlin said. The group stared at the mayor as he eyed them each with a smile. “It most assuredly is quite the storm. Are you… going to invite us in from the rain, sir?”
“Oh, yes. Apologies. Come in, come in. Dry off before you do though, I don’t want my carpets and furniture getting wet,” the mayor said, disappearing into the next room.
The soldiers in dripping armor looked at William and then at the nameless woman who simply squeezed out her soaked hair before following the mayor inside. William shrugged at the soldiers and grumbled as he stepped inside the hallway. They awkwardly bumbled about trying to shake off as much water as possible in the cramped space. After several minutes of this, the mayor called from the next room saying to forget it since it was a joke, which only made William that much more upset. The seven men stepped into the main room that featured a wall of animal heads and lush, albeit destroyed, furniture placed around a broken coffee table. There was an odd hole in the ceiling where greenish light poured in. The mayor sat at one end in a rather lavish chair, waiting for them to file in.
“Don’t mind the construction. Still working on getting enough wood to replace the damage. Please, take a seat wherever you like.”
“What on Havek happened here?” William asked, finding a spot at the end of a lengthy couch that had long claw marks where stuffing plumed out. He sunk down into the cushions, his feet dangling. He decided to take this opportunity to clean the water droplets from his round glasses. Five soldiers stood behind William in a line, some removing their helmets to hold under an arm. A soldier with golden armor and a cape hanging from his right shoulder stood next to William. He kept his helmet on.
“I figured that’s why you were here, letter man,” the mayor said. “What? Did you travel all this way to ignore me in person? That wouldn’t be kind of you.” William opened his mouth to correct Mayor Penh on his name again but figured he’d probably deserved that one, so he let it go. “I was attacked by a crazed man turned crocodilian beast. Luckily, my hunting days taught me that a blunderbuss to the face doesn’t feel so good. Not that I’ve been shot in the face, but you know what I mean.”
William nodded. “That sounds… like quite the ordeal. I think it may be partially why I’m here. You see, I haven’t traveled all the way to Yonledo in an official capacity. Guild President Vistenna did not send me here, she doesn’t even know I left the city. I’d like it to stay that way.”
The mayor’s chin was driven down and his neck bloated outward. “You mean you aren’t here about supply shipments. What about my letter? That map-maker said you got my letter and that he’d been sent by the Guild, so I assumed–”
“Map-maker? Do you mean Ian? He made it here to Yonledo?” William asked.
Mayor Penh cleared his throat. “So he was one of yours. I was skeptical at first, but he did save my life. He killed the beast when neither I nor my personal guard could. A handy fellow to have around, that map-maker. Even if he did seem a little off the wagon with the whole teleporting thing.”
“Was? So he’s…” William couldn’t bring himself to say the word. He’d taken out his savings to pay for the armed escort and carriage. Luckily, he was still on paid leave but he could care less about the money. William had taken it upon himself to be fully responsible for whatever befell the young man, but he hadn’t thought it would come to this. It had felt wrong from the very beginning to send Ian on this mission.
“Oh no, he’s alive. He’s being treated by the town nurse. The kid’s a hero. Definitely going to be famous after word gets out. You had to have seen the crocodilian first hand to really know how significant a feat he pulled off. Its hide was like armor, its claws daggers and those teeth… I see them every time I close my eyes.”
William leaned forward, his feet almost touching the ground. “Thank the Almighty, he’s alive. A crocodile attack? My word, I should’ve known this was going to happen.”
The mayor squinted his eyes, likely thinking something ironic. William remained lost in thought. The golden-clad soldier cleared his throat and spoke in a rather deep voice. “Pardon my interruption, Mayor Penh, sir. I’m deputy commander of the 50th Battalion of the East Empyrean Forces. I’d like to know more about this crocodilian thing. Are there any other threats like it? I guess I mean to ask, are there more of them?”
The mayor’s eyes widened for a moment. “Deputy commander? Here? My dear letter man, you really did fork out some cash for this escort. Who is this map-maker to you?” When William didn’t respond, Mayor Penh continued to answer the deputy commander’s question. “The crocodilian is dead. No need to dwell on it any further. The crocodiles are still an issue though, but I’m hoping I don’t need to explain what a crocodile is and how not to get eaten.”
Unbeknownst to the mayor, behind the expressionless faceplate, the golden-clad soldier grimaced. “Pray tell, how was the creature killed if its scales were like armor? What was its weaknesses? You said it was a man before it turned. Who was the man? Where is his body now?” the soldier asked, adding ‘sir’ a few moments later as an afterthought.
“What’s it to you, deputy?”
The soldier stepped forward, a hand on the hilt of the sheathed sword at his side.
“Now, now, Tamerond, no need to get riled on this extraneous line of inquiry. The mayor makes a good point. I don’t see how any of that helps us on our mission. I think we should go see Ian Merstellar and make sure he’s alright,” William said, sliding from the cushions to stand.
Mayor Undrey Penh’s eyes were wide and his mouth hung open for only a second before he snapped it shut. He spoke in a monotone, clipped voice as if no longer present. “Yes, yes. You should go see the map-maker. He’s at my guard’s residence. My assistant will take you there.”
The nameless woman stepped forward in between the mayor and the golden-clad soldier, who backed away. William had forgotten she was even in the room.
“You won’t be joining us?” William asked, pausing as the soldiers filed out into the main hallway.
“Something has come up. Go on without me.”
William squinted as he peered over his glasses at the mayor who had grown sweaty and fidgety. Then he left with the group, led away by the nameless woman. As soon as the doors closed, the mayor rushed from the chair into his bedroom, almost falling into the big dresser opposite his bed. He yanked open the top drawer and tossed about the night clothes stuffed inside. He found what he was searching for: a leather bound booklet. His hands shook as he opened the book to find the phrase written a thousand times over, filling every page in an endless scrawl of black ink.
Tamerond Blake killed my family. Tamerond Blake killed my family. Tamerond Blake killed my family. Tamerond Blake killed my family. Tamerond Blake–
That was when the first crack of thunder sounded overhead and the waters of the swamp began to rise.
The Storyletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.