Crocodilian ~ Chapter 24
Tales of Havek | Duration: 13 Minutes
Chapter 1. Chapter 2. Chapter 3. Chapter 4. Chapter 5. Chapter 6. Chapter 7. Chapter 8. Chapter 9. Chapter 10. Chapter 11. Chapter 12. Chapter 13. Chapter 14. Chapter 15. Chapter 16. Chapter 17. Chapter 18. Chapter 19. Chapter 20. Chapter 21. Chapter 22. Chapter 23.
XXIV: (Un)Ending Flame
Tyvno Marsden-Penh was no longer aiming the lightbow at Ian when he fired. He’d snapped the weapon toward the dark figure. The white-hot bolt pierced the dark figure’s chest, blasting open a hole. The dark figure looked down, shocked.
Then, it laughed. The hole filled back in like smoke swirling into a glass jar.
“What is wrong with you two? When will you learn that you can’t hurt me?”
Ian and Tyvno both stared blinkingly at the dark figure as it spoke. Small flames had sprouted at the edges of its fingertips, and it cocked its horned head at the strange phenomenon. It waved flaming hands in front of its confused face.
“What have you done to me?” the dark figure yelled.
Tyvno hadn’t missed. How could he? The formation was massive, and the dark figure hadn’t been his target in the first place. The demon twisted around to find that the fiery bolt had impaled the heart of the swamp.
“No,” it roared.
The dark figure dove toward the singed hole in the formation, prying at the heated bolt in order to pull it out, but to no avail. The heart-like formation slowly stopped its strange beating, the black roots and vines shriveling into a lifeless grey.
The dark figure was fully engulfed in flames when it turned back to face Ian. It took the form of Unkel Bo once more, pointing at him. “You think you can get rid of me, boy? I’ll haunt you for the rest of your waking life. I killed your parents and I enjoyed every second of it.”
“I forgave the man that caused that fire,” Ian shouted. “You’re not him, you never were. You’re nothing but a powerless wannabe stuck for all of eternity in the one place everyone hates, even you apparently.”
The demon yelled furiously and charged Ian. Ian tried to teleport but couldn’t tap into his Energy since he wasn’t in his crocodilian form. He braced himself against the flaming charge, the heat washing over him as it rampaged closer.
The dark figure exploded into a fine mist of bluish light. The flames dissipated, the tiny wisps blinking out as they settled onto the wet ground. Above the burning formation, Merai floated with an outstretched arm. She’d blasted the demon into bits with focused Energy. The girl had a weak smile on her face as she descended to hover before Ian at eye level.
“Thank you, Blessed one,” the voice said. It wasn’t Merai speaking, but the mangrove spirit. “I knew you were special from the moment you arrived.”
“But it wasn’t me. It was—” Ian looked over to where Tyvno had been standing, but the scribe was gone, the lightbow discarded in the mud.
The spirit continued, “My time in this form is coming to an end. The swamp will no longer have a protector. I can’t force you, but know that if you ever need a home….”
Merai’s toes touched the ground and the glowing tattoos covering her arms faded. The girl’s eyes closed and she fell limply. Ian caught her before she hit the ground.
“Wait, what do you mean? Why does the swamp need a protector?”
The girl’s eyes flitted open as if waking from a deep slumber. “Ian? Where are we?”
“Merai,” Ian said, more to himself than to her. He’d lost his chance to speak with the spirit, but he was glad the girl was back, unharmed. The flames of the formation were growing larger and the heat was unbearable even at this distance.
“We’re kind of in the middle of nowhere. Let’s get you back to your parents.” Ian would need to transform. “Look, Merai, don’t be scared. I’m going to change a little bit, okay? It’ll still be me, I promise.”
“Change?” she asked, looking up at him.
Ian stood, still holding her horizontal in his arms. He mutated quickly, his skin bubbling with foamy tissue that solidified into hardened scales. His head elongated into a snout which made it difficult to look down at her. Once he was completed, he cocked his head sideways to angle one narrowed pupil down to see Merai. Her eyes were wide and she didn’t speak right away. She threw out her arms above her head.
“That. Was. Wild!” the little girl screamed.
When the knife came down, Richta reacted instinctively to block it—using an open palm—which he immediately regretted as the blade pierced his hand. On the positive side, he prevented it from impaling his face, the negative was that Tamerond could still kill him with it. And it hurt really, really badly.
Richta used his other hand to grab his wrist in order to keep the blade away but the man on top of him had every advantage. The tip of the knife was mere inches away from his nose, and the closer it got, the less leverage he had to hold it back. All Tamerond had to do was lean forward to apply his entire weight and Richta would be dead.
Tamerond leaned forward to apply his entire weight. The knife came down, then stopped to tickle the eyelashes of Richta’s good eye. The pressure of Tamerond sitting on top of Richta lifted as the deputy commander tumbled over him. In the man’s place stood Amal with a broken oar. She was out of breath, her expression angry and simultaneously relieved.
“Richta. You’re hurt, Almighty, you’re hurt,” she said.
“Thanks to you I’m alive,” Richta said with a pained smile.
“For now,” Tamerond said, getting up. He touched the back of his head with his gauntleted fingers and they came back bloody. He snarled at Amal. “You. I remember you now. You’re the Steward that infiltrated Blokravn HQ and planted the explosives. Amal, was it? It’s you I should be killing for what you did to me.” He pointed up at his face.
“Amal, you have to get out of here,” Richta said. “He’s in full armor, you don’t stand a chance.”
“No, Richta, I can handle myself,” Amal said.
“You should really listen to your dying husband’s last wish. There’s not much you can do to save him now. Go on, run while you still can. No one’s judging you out here,” Tamerond said.
Amal looked down at Richta’s cut open shirt. There was a lot of blood. She stifled back tears. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Richta rolled over and got to one knee. He ripped the knife from his palm with a grunt. “How did I know you were going to say that?”
“A traitor and a terrorist to the very end. I’m going to enjoy this,” Tamerond said, taking a step forward, fists clenched.
The rush came faster than Richta could process. His mind imagined a hundred clamoring feet, but only three creatures emerged from underneath the cabin. Three regular-sized crocodiles, not the monstrous ones that had attacked Yonledo. One croc clamped its jaws down on Tamerond’s left leg. The armor protected him from the teeth but it immobilized him. He turned and hammered his left fist into its head, but it didn’t budge. Another one came around his right side and caught his other arm, dragging him off balance to fall onto his back.
Tamerond Blake yelled, which did nothing to deter them. The third crocodile chomped down on his other arm. There was a short struggle before the realization dawned on Tamerond what was about to happen. He gritted his teeth and his eyes went wide as he jerked his head toward Richta and Amal.
In unison, the three crocodiles death-rolled, flipping rapidly in the slick mud. Richta turned away from the resulting carnage. Tamerond’s screams died off just as quick as they’d began. His segments were dragged into the shadows by two of the crocodiles.
One croc remained, watching Amal and Richta with a bloodied maw.
“What do we do, Richta?” Amal asked.
“Just wait,” he said. “I don’t think they mean us any harm.”
Sure enough, it eventually turned and darted under the cabin to join in on the fresh meal. Richta collapsed to the ground again, his adrenaline waning. Amal rushed to his side, dropping the broken oar. She didn’t have her medical kit. She had no way of treating her husband’s wounds. Her mind raced as she tried to figure out how she was going to get him into the boat by the river and back to Yonledo.
“Almighty above, what did he do to you, honey?” Amal asked.
“He stabbed me a little bit,” Richta said, pinching his fingers together to denote the amount he’d been stabbed. “It wasn’t a whole lot, you know, just some.”
Amal shook her head and lifted his shirt. Her brow furrowed and her eyes darted back and forth. Her cold hand moved across his exposed belly and wiped away the blood. There was no injury to his stomach. She looked at him, confused.
“Is this some kind of practical joke, Richta?” she asked him.
He didn’t smile. “Yeah, I had three crocodiles tear a man apart for some cheap laughs. Tamerond tried to kill me. He stabbed me in the stomach and the hand.”
He showed her his hand, the one that the knife had gone completely through. He expected to look at her through the hole, but there was no hole. The wound had vanished. He twisted his hand to either side to inspect the anomaly. “What in Burg is going on?”
Richta’s back suddenly itched like never before, like he’d fallen into an ant pile and they were crawling all over him. He got up out of the mud and tried to reach where the discomfort had started to spread. Amal lifted the back of his shirt and gasped.
“What is it? Tell me,” he asked.
“Your wound has become… infected,” Amal said. What she didn’t want to tell him was that green bumps resembling that of crocodile skin covered the entirety of his back.
“That doesn’t sound good. Still doesn’t explain why my injuries vanished. Maybe it had something to do with those strange waves of light from earlier?”
A whooshing noise grabbed both of their attention and she dropped his shirt to look at what had caused the sound. Amal shouted when she saw the giant crocodile man standing nearby in the clearing, looking at them. She shouted again when she noticed who was in its clutches.
Ian Merstellar returned everyone to Yonledo after Richta convinced Amal that he wasn’t a serial man-eater, and after he’d mustered up the courage to teleport them all without leaving parts of them behind. Amal and Merai met up with Melani and the baby to check up on Yorn. Richta followed Ian across the boardwalk into his own home. The cabin was slightly flooded due to the destroyed section of the house that had been Merai’s room.
“To Burg and back, what happened in here?” Richta asked.
Ian held up a long finger while he shrunk back into his human form. He cleared his throat to make sure he could speak. “The crocs broke into the bedroom trying to get to William. I was able to save him at the last moment. It was pretty cool, if I do say so myself.”
Richta smiled. “Good to see and hear you again, kid.”
“It’s nice to be back, Richta. Um, could I have some clothes?”
Richta chuckled and led him into the main bedroom where he pulled out a shirt and pants from a drawer. “Might be a little big on you, but it’s better than nothing. That’s going to be an ongoing problem, eh?”
Ian took the clothes and slid on the pants first, then the shirt. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Turning into the crocodilian. It’s going to be a problem if you keep ripping up your clothes. Might want to travel with some spares.”
Ian nodded. “Why are you so normal about all of this?”
Richta eyed him momentarily. “I’ve seen my fair share of monsters in my lifetime and you’re not one of them. You’re a good person, Ian. Far better than me.”
“I think you’re a good person,” Ian said.
Richta stared at the wall for a long moment. “Thanks, but I have a lot to make up for.”
Ian didn’t really know what else to say after that and they stood there awkwardly until Richta changed the subject. “Thank you for saving my daughter by the way. I had no idea she’d been taken. I failed her as a father, but you stepped up when she was in danger. I’m grateful for that. Whatever you need, I’ll be there.”
“It was nothing,” Ian said. “Honestly, Merai was the one who saved me. Her power is incredible.”
“Her power?” Richta asked.
“You didn’t know?”
“About her power.”
“No, I know, you said that already. I meant, ‘know what about her power’.”
“Oh, I see. You wanted me to elaborate.”
Ian nodded, thoughtfully.
“You’re making me angry.”
“Oh, right. So, Merai must have a power that does something to people’s memories. I don’t think it affected us because we’re like her—we have access to Energy, I mean—which protected us. But when I was tethered to the mangrove spirit for a brief moment, I got this impression that the spirit must have inadvertently tapped into that power while trying to access Merai’s exceptionally large pool of Energy.”
Richta looked about the room in thought. His eye landed on the bed and he recalled that Merai was the only other person in town who had remembered seeing the mangrove spirit. It wasn’t that the spirit had erased their memory of her, it was that Merai had been erasing everyone’s memories all the time, the fact that no one remembered the spirit had only been a byproduct. The signs had been there, Richta just hadn’t wanted to see them. His daughter was Blessed like him.
“It was her all along,” Richta said, almost in a whisper. Ian looked like he wanted to hear more, but didn’t know how to ask. “Let’s get over to the other cabin and help them fix the front door. Wind and rain aren’t pleasant when you’re trying to avoid wind and rain.”
“Right,” Ian said. “I’ll do what I can to help.”
After erecting a makeshift barrier made from hastily nailed together pieces of the broken boardwalk, the group—William, Richta, Amal, Merai, Melani, and Ian—gathered in the least wet portion of the main room, many of them bundled up in blankets. Ian wasn’t cold. In fact, he felt quite warm actually, like an unending flame burned within him.
“How is Yorn doing?” Richta asked.
“He’s fine, just has a fever,” Melani said, pulling the blanket over her and the baby. “I’ve seen the miracles that Amal was able to pull off with you two, so I’m not worried.”
“Was he bitten?” Richta asked.
“Yes,” Amal said, curtly. Her and Richta shared a look.
“Why would that be significant? Was he poisoned?” Melani asked.
“Not exactly,” Richta said, before looking at Ian Merstellar. Amal watched her husband with dread-filled eyes. She hadn’t yet told him why his back had itched so fiercely. She, herself, didn’t want it to be real. Ian mostly kept his head down, looking at his bare feet on the floorboards.
“So Tamerond is dead? All of the soldiers are dead?” William asked, speaking for the first time since their return. Richta nodded. William’s shoulders relaxed and he looked away guiltily.
Amal broke the silence. “Ian Merstellar, I want to thank you again for saving our daughter.” Merai giggled. “I can’t begin to express our gratitude for your efforts, however, I’m not exactly sure what it is that you accomplished. Where did that monster take her? That includes you, Richta. What happened when you left us to go get the mayor? You both have a lot of explaining to do.”
All eyes were focused on Ian and he felt drowned by the pressure. “I don’t know where to start.”
“We should start from the beginning,” William said. The room's attention was diverted to the older man. “I’ll go first since I’m the reason Ian is here to begin with. You see, there was a letter from Mayor Penh that called for assistance from the guilds. It stated that townsfolk in Yonledo had been killed by a crocodile-like beast which was hard to believe at the time. I remember distinctly turning to Ian, and you know what I said?”