Crocodilian ~ Chapter 14
Tales of Havek: Volume One | Duration: 9 Minutes 46 Seconds
XIV: The Path of the (Un)Awakened
Ian Merstellar trailed behind Tyvno, who navigated the waist-high tide akin to someone accustomed to living in the swamp their whole life. Ian knew that simply wasn’t the case. The man had said he’d been a writer for the mayor, and so it didn’t take long for Ian to put two and two together. Tyvno was the scribe from the mayor’s letter that William had read aloud back in the city, the scribe that had supposedly been killed by a crocodile. Yet, here he was, alive and well. So what changes had Tyvno gone through exactly? Ian wondered if the former scribe was like Unkel Bo, and, if so, could he be trusted?
They’d traveled deep into the swamp, so much so that Ian felt lost having no reference points to guide him back to the river. The tropical figs with prop roots reigned supreme, growing alongside and even dominating the other plant life. Shapeless night creatures peered out with glowing eyes from their sprawling root shelters. If they were dangerous, they hadn’t taken any of the countless opportunities to attack. They merely watched the two strangers trespassing through their home with intense curiosity.
“Here we are, brother,” Tyvno said, stepping out of the water onto an elevated mound that was relatively dry. Nothing was really dry in the swamp during a storm. “I told you I’d bring you to the place in your visions. This is it.”
Ian looked around. Atop the mound was a camp consisting of a lean-to tent, a neglected fire pit, and dangling line for fish flapping between two leafless mangroves. What really caught Ian’s attention, however, was the thing on the far side of the mound; a mass of interwoven roots and branches that formed a curved wall that seemed to writhe the longer he stared at it—the heart of the swamp.
Ian slipped his way up the muddy slope, his eyes remaining affixed upon the formation. The wind tugged at him as if trying to pull him away from it. The patches of sky were blanketed by fast-moving clouds, flashes of lightning exploding like cannons firing upon one another in Heaven above. A voice whispered to him amidst the cascading rain but Tyvno spoke and it faded.
“Kinda wicked, eh?” Tyvno said, turning around.
Ian nodded, his words escaping him for the moment. Tyvno grew unnaturally rigid, pressing a finger to the space between his brow nervously.
Looks like we have company,” the former scribe said, looking at something behind Ian. Ian followed his transfixed gaze to the area where they’d been wading through the water. When he realized what it was, he gulped and took a significant step back.
“Don’t fear, brother, it’s just our younger sibling,” Tyvno said, and yet Ian could tell that even the former scribe hadn’t moved since laying eyes on the giant crocodile. It was the same one that had charged Ian the night he’d met Richta, the one that had eaten the howler. It was half submerged, although that did very little to make its size any less imposing.
“Easy for you to say, I killed its father, Unkel,” Ian said.
“Oh, yeah. Wait, which one? Its father or its uncle?”
“Not helping,” Ian said.
The large creature made no effort to approach them. Instead, movement came from the sides—all sides, Ian realized—as more spike-backed reptiles emerged from the waters and clawed their way up the muddy mound to flank them. A hiss came from behind. Ian turned to find the smallest of them—yet as large as any normal croc—rounding the formation with an open mouth, its scales a greenish yellow even in the dark of night. It stopped a few feet from them and closed its mouth, lowering its head and body to the ground. Ian counted five in all.
“Well, they haven’t killed us yet. What do you think they want?” Ian asked.
“I can’t say for certain, but I’d wager they’re trying to speak to us.”
Tyvno was the first to make a move. He crouched to touch the yellow croc and it snapped at his hand. He pulled away quick enough not to lose his fingers. “To Burg ‘n back! Nasty thing.” Its gaze returned to Ian Merstellar and Tyvno noticed the glaring truth. “It’s you they want, brother.”
“What do you mean? Like to eat?”
“No, simpleton. I mean, they must wish to communicate with you.”
Ian hesitated for moment, but stepped forward. The yellow crocodile did not move. Ian instinctively raised his unchanged arm and it opened its mouth in a sign of aggression. He regarded his reptilian arm. Flexing it, Ian came to the conclusion that he needed to treat it as a fully-functional limb and not a handicap. He placed the clawed hand on the crocodile’s snout, half expecting it to bite him, but it didn’t react. Images flooded his mind and he reflexively closed his eyes to better understand them. Ian saw the flashing history of Unkel Bo peeling them from their shells. Ian’s heart began to race. Memories of fish, lots of fish. There were eventually men with axes and tools. The mayor ordered them to build using the wood around the bay. Tide columns were standing tall, unmoving. Pain. Anger. Desperation. The last of the images were of Tyvno standing in this very spot, speaking to Unkel, half-changed and menacing.
Ian let go and sucked in a deep breath as he processed what he’d just seen. They were trying to tell him something. The brim of Ian’s hat covered his eyes as he spoke, “What did you say to him, Tyvno?”
The former scribe’s demeanor shifted. His shoulders slumped and his face grew slack. “You can speak to them then? Interesting. I don’t know what you saw, brother, but it’s not what you think.”
“It was you, wasn’t it? You caused Unkel to rush to Yonledo knowing full well what he might find there. What did you tell him?”
“I did very little, brother. I simply told him the truth; that his crocodiles were attacking the town and if he didn’t wrangle them back under his control, the might of the Empyrean military would be called to destroy all of us. I didn’t mean for him to die. How could I have known? Also, I find it a little disheartening that the culprit in this scenario is the one casting stones.”
Ian stood and grabbed Tyvno by his ripped, muddy, formerly-white shirt. “It was self-defense.”
“I’m sure it was,” Tyvno said. “But don’t you see? Haven’t you realized the reason why we’re out in the middle of the swamp surrounded by man-eaters and we remain uneaten? Even after all of the visions and the signs you’re still clueless to the reality you now live. You are no longer one of them, brother. You’re one of us. These animals need us, and we need them.”
“You’re crazy, Tyvno.”
“I’m not crazy!” Tyvno yelled, batting away Ian’s loosened fist from his shirt. The word seemed to trigger something within him and his eyes flared with hatred. “The swamp has taken us as its own. You died the moment you were bitten. We’re but walking ghosts of our former selves, reborn and filled with the power we were denied in our past lives. The old man didn’t use it for its intended purpose, he cowered in isolation, hiding from the world as if he was Cursed. What a pathetic waste. This power is a Blessing beyond anything given to mortal men. We cannot squander this opportunity, brother.”
The giant crocodile rose from the water and shook the mound with each step as it closed the distance between them. Ian backed up toward the root formation, feeling trapped. Each of the reptiles stared at Ian as if waiting for an answer.
“I don’t know what you want from me. What do I need to do?” Ian asked.
“We have to take Yonledo, brother. That’s what I told the old man before he rushed out to save his children, but there is no saving them until all of the humans are removed from the swamp. This is our land, it always was. He didn’t understand it, but you do, don’t you?”
Ian Merstellar grabbed his hat and tried to access his Energy. He could feel it there in the pit of his stomach, but something was blocking it. Something had wedged itself between him and his ability to escape. He shook the hat and screamed, but nothing happened. He threw it to the ground and stomped on it. He felt like a helpless child, like the night his parents were taken from him by the fire, a fire started by the very same man who’d given him this curse and taken away his ability.
“Come now, brother—”
“Stop calling me brother, you psycho!” Ian yelled.
Tyvno stood up straighter, the edges of his mouth turning down in disgust. “You’re just like him. You can’t see what’s right in front of you. You’re so attached to what makes you weak.”
“I just want to go home. I should have never come here. I don’t care about fame or fortune or crocodiles or this town. I want my old life back.”
Tyvno shook his head. “There’s no stopping this, Ian. And if you’re not going to help me, I can’t let you leave.”
Before Ian had time to react, Tyvno lurched forward, deftly sliding across the mud with bare feet. His arm became inhuman, much like Ian’s, and the clawed hand clamped around Ian’s throat, lifting him up. Ian struggled to breathe as he grasped with both hands at the scaled wrist of the former scribe, his feet kicking at nothing but air. The yellow croc moved to bite Tyvno’s right leg, but unlike their first encounter, Tyvno was able to kick the creature back several feet. The giant crocodile stepped forward with an open mouth behind them, then stopped when Tyvno—in a half turn, still holding Ian up with one arm—hissed to show dominance of the situation. He turned back to Ian.
“I despise weak men that hoard all the power,” Tyvno said, his voice changing as his body transitioned into its crocodilian form. “I needed to see what you were, but you’re just like the rest. Same as the old man. Same as the mayor….”
“Tyvno, please, stop. Let’s…talk about…this.”
“I’m done talking, Ian.” Tyvno looked down at the crumbled hat beneath Ian’s dangling feet. When his narrowed pupils rose once more, he bore newly-elongated teeth. “Sometimes family isn’t forever.”
Ian’s eyes went wide as Tyvno thrust him back against the root formation. A sharp pain spread where his Energy usually formed. When the hand let go of him and he dropped, his own body weight forced a fire to erupt in his stomach. Ian looked down to find himself impaled and hanging on a sharp root jutting out from the wall. Through blurred vision, Ian saw Tyvno leaving atop the giant crocodile, the others following suit in the direction of Yonledo. The smallest of them watched Ian for a moment longer before slipping into the still rising waters and disappearing from sight. Ian tried to lift himself from the root that speared his stomach but the pain was immense. He felt the roots growing around him as if holding him hostage.
A woman in a hooded robe appeared at the center of the camp. Her hands were riddled with strange patterns and she lifted them to unveil herself as she stepped forward. Her eyes shone like emeralds and her face was sharp as carved wood.
“There you are, Child of the Light. You’ve been lost to the Dark for far too long. It’s time for you to wake up.”
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