Crocodilian ~ Chapter 25
Final Chapter of Book I | 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. Chapter 24.
XXV: (Un)Charted Paths
After the storm subsided several grueling days later, the townsfolk emerged from their cabins to begin repairs. The water levels were still relatively high, but it was better to do it then than wait until they were suspended several meters above the water and risk a fall. Some things would have to wait as additional material was difficult to procure until the surrounding bay was no longer flooded.
The mansion had sunk completely during the great storm. As the waters retreated, the green glow of the solar stone rooftop beckoned to the surface like an otherworldly doorway. Richta announced Mayor Penh’s demise to a small crowd that had gathered to peer at it in wonderment. There was a barrage of questions and the Ohvlans patiently addressed the townsfolk’s concerns as best they could.
One inquiry that remained a mystery was the return of the crocodile man who many had witnessed from their windows. It was no secret that the hunter had transformed into the creature. It was also no secret that Ian had killed the beast during its rampage. But Ian Merstellar had also been bitten, and coincidentally another crocodile man emerged not long after. Rumors would turn into stories and stories into legend.
Ian and William had parted ways with the others before the town meeting took place. They borrowed the other boat, navigating it up river toward the cabin where he’d first arrived. William’s horse-drawn carriage would not be able to access the roads anytime soon, and the man didn’t want to wait a moment longer than necessary.
“What did you say you were going to name this?” William asked, breaking the silence between them as they cruised along the calm water.
“The river. I promised I’d let you name something if your mission here was successful. Well, according to my records, this river has yet to be named. What would you like to name it?”
“So you think the mission was a success?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say that exactly.”
Ian twisted around in the small boat. “But you did! You said it exactly.”
“No, I don’t think I did.”
“Yes, yes, you did. You said, ‘I promised to let you name something if your mission here was successful—what would you like to name it?’ That’s what you said!”
William took a deep breath. “I really don’t understand why this matters so much to you.”
Ian sat back and thought for a moment. “I guess… I guess I just feel somewhat responsible is all. Responsible for how things turned out.”
“Ian, if anything, you’re responsible for saving the lives of all of those innocent people back there. You saved that young girl. You saved me even. So, yes, I’d say the mission was a success. Now, what would you like to name the river? Before I scribble something nonsensical down and call it a day.”
Ian Merstellar recalled his once aching desire to be famous, and this was his golden opportunity to be in the history books forever. But he didn’t really want to be seen like that anymore, to be suffocated by clamoring admiration. He just wanted to exist in peace.
“Unkel Bo River,” Ian said.
William scribbled in his notepad. “In honor of the hunter? That’s… unexpected.”
“Oh, nothing,” William said, smiling.
They reached Unkel’s cabin and tethered the boat to a mangrove tree for Richta to retrieve later. The two of them wouldn’t be needing it any longer. William followed behind Ian as they made their way across the clearing and into the forest. William was taking detailed notes the entire way, even sketching at times when he noticed new, undocumented plants and wildlife. He expressed how much he felt like he was back in his prime, exploring the uncharted world.
The swamp had changed, and it wasn’t subtle. There were piles of grey ash strewn about in heaps of differing sizes, some resembled that of burned ropes strung along the paths between trees, while other larger piles took the place of the trees themselves. Entire sections of the swamp were charred and disintegrated.
“Do you think these were—” William started.
“Elek,” Ian answered. “This is what’s left of its imitation of life, of the mangrove spirit. This must be the remnants of its corruption.”
William knelt down to inspect the ash. He gasped. “Ian, look at this. What do you think it means?”
Ian crouched beside the older man and studied the green form sprouting from the dusty pile. It was a baby mangrove, the leaves soft and wet with dew. The ash had become a foundational base acting as a type of soil fostering the small tree’s growth. Ian thought he knew what it meant, but wanted to investigate further before jumping to any conclusions.
“Come, William. It’s getting late. We’ve got to get you back, remember?”
“Ah, yes. You’re right.”
Ian led William through the swampy jungle just as Tyvno had done with him. Ian enjoyed William’s company, the man was easy to converse with. He wondered if the clerk was going to write about him when he told the story of what happened here. It began to nag at the back of his mind so much that he figured he’d just ask.
“Do you think you could leave me out of your official write-up?”
“What ever do you mean?” William asked, likely feigning innocence.
“When you document the events that transpired here in Yonledo, I was wondering if you could erase me from the story like I was never here? I know you’re going to write this all down, I mean, someone has to right? But I just… I don’t want to be in it.”
William looked aghast. “I thought you wanted to be famous?”
Ian shook his head. “There are levels of attention that go beyond what I’d imagined fame to be. I just want some more time to figure out who I am. I don’t want someone else determining that for me, I guess.”
William nodded in understanding. “Well, I’ll see what I can do.”
Ian smiled. “Thanks. I appreciate it, Willy.”
“Please don’t call me that.” Ian pretended not to hear.
They eventually reached the hunter’s campsite at the heart of the swamp. The large formation was no longer there; a mound of soot sat in its place. After they climbed the short incline to reach the flatter portion of the plateau, Ian caught sight of more mangroves sprouting from the mound. He approached one of these small trees and touched an exposed root. He expected something to happen, to hear the voice of the mangrove spirit, or see images in his mind like the ones from his nightmares, but none came. All was still. He realized that he wouldn’t find the answers he sought so easily. Maybe she really is gone for good, he thought
“Is this what you came for, Ian?”
Ian turned. The guild clerk held up a tattered book, the top half of its cover and pages missing entirely. The hunter’s journal was ruined. He’d never know the rest of its contents. But he didn’t need to. He’d made his peace with the man. He also didn’t feel alone anymore, like the hunter was with him in spirit, or watching from above. Or maybe it was the fact that he’d passed on the so-called “curse” of the crocodilian to him.
“Not exactly,” Ian said.
The young man searched the ground in front of the formation and found what he was looking for: his hat. It had been trampled and smeared under a thick layer of mud, but that had protected it from the fire. He picked it up and slapped it against his thigh several times to rid the hat of the caked-on mire and muck. Thankfully, it was brown already, so it didn’t change the appearance of the hat too much.
Placing the dirty hat on his head, he posed for William. The man smiled, but was completely oblivious to the creature that had breached the water’s surface not too far off behind. Red-tinged spikes ran along the back of the approaching animal. Ian recognized those spikes.
“William, do not panic,” Ian said, holding up one hand to signal him to remain still.
The older man froze. “I’m going to panic now that you said that. What’s happening? Oh, please don’t tell me something is behind me.”
“A crocodile is behind you, yes. But I think it’s friendly.”
“Only one way to find out,” Ian said, moving past William. William turned to watch Ian cautiously approach the embankment. The creature stopped just short of coming ashore.
Crouching, Ian Merstellar was able to assess that the animal wasn’t overtly hostile, otherwise it would have struck him by then. The large crocodile waited, much like it had when he’d first met the beast in the company of Tyvno and the others. Ian scanned the swamp and noticed that the animal’s siblings were nowhere to be seen.
“Where are your brothers and sisters, huh?” Ian asked rhetorically.
The croc opened its mouth and snapped it shut with a pop, sending small waves to ripple outward. Ian didn’t know what that meant, but he felt compelled to reach out and touch the creature. As soon as his fingers brushed across the scaly skin, a rush of thoughts flowed into his mind, inky images painting somewhat of a picture for him to comprehend. The splotches were of isolation, emptiness, loss and desperation. Tears welled up in his eyes.
“I’m sorry, little one,” Ian said. “Don’t be afraid. I may not be your father, but I can be your new brother. You don’t have to be alone anymore. Welcome to the family.”
With that, the crocodile snapped around excitedly and swam off to disappear amidst the roots of the mangroves.
“What happened, Ian?” William asked. “What were you saying to it?”
Ian stood up and walked back to William, making sure his eyes were dry before looking at the man. “He just needed someone to talk to,” Ian said.
William’s eyebrows went up and stayed there for a long while. He looked as if he were about to ask a follow-up question but finally thought better of it. He, instead, asked, “What are you going to do after this? Will you come back here to Yonledo?”
Ian shrugged. “I don’t really know. I feel like there’s unfinished business with Tyvno, but I’ll need to track him down and talk to him. Other than that, Yonledo isn’t quite so bad once you get used to the fishy smell.”
A howler screamed as if being eaten alive, and other howlers shrieked as they likely tried to save their dying relative. The two men looked at one another in bewilderment.
“Sure. Sure it isn’t,” William said. “On that note, I think it’s time I got back to my office. The humidity alone is enough to kill a man like me, never mind these man-eating crocs. Everyone knows—”
“Yeah, yeah, everyone knows that crocodiles attack people in the swamp. We get it,” Ian said with a smirk. “You ready?”
“Yes, Ian, I’m ready.”
Ian tapped into his Energy reserves and evolved into the crocodilian, tripling his size in a matter of seconds, his clothes tearing off of him. The hat remained snug and in place. William stumbled backward. The crocodilian took a few clawed footsteps forward to reach out a reptile hand. William swallowed.
“I forgot you had to turn into—well, that in order to, um, teleport.”
Ian nodded his large head and wiggled his lengthy nails in a taunt. William sighed. “Okay, now I’m ready.” William placed a hand on Ian’s and the crocodilian closed his eyes, imagining the location in which he was going to teleport. Then, they vanished.
When they arrived, Ian Merstellar immediately realized his mistake as there were other people staring directly at him in wide-eyed terror.
“Ian! I said my office, not the guild president’s front desk,” William shouted.
Ian thought the hallway in which William had always worked was the man’s office. Turned out that wasn’t the case. He looked around, unsure of what to do. One of the temporary clerks filling in for William passed out while climbing the tall bookshelf ladder. Luckily, some hardcover books sitting in stacks next to it somewhat broke his fall. Somewhat.
The other clerk sitting at the desk—an older woman with large round glasses and beautiful black hair tied up in ornate buns—blinked slowly, her death stare traveling from the crocodilian slowly to land on William. Shouts and screams echoed down the hallway from afar as people noticed the beast and sprinted for safety.
“William Yitlin, in the name of the Emperor and all that is sacred, whatever this is, whatever you’ve been up to, it had better be good,” the woman said, coldly.
“Ah, yes, Guild President Vistenna. I promise that it is good, very much so.” He cleared his throat and leaned over to Ian to whisper under his breath. “There’s no way I can omit you from the write-up now, kid. Sorry.”
Ian Merstellar gulped and tried to appear as non-threatening as possible. He so desperately wanted to teleport away and hide from the world forever. But if he learned anything from the past few weeks down in the swamp, it was that running had only prolonged his suffering. Ian fought the urge to flee, and owned the fact that he was who he was. He would no longer be his own worst enemy. He would have to learn—
“There’s the monster!”
Ian looked down the hall and noticed an entire company of soldiers rushing in his direction. They wielded dragonsteel blades and their shields shimmered in the light like ice as they charged forward.
“Ian, you’ve got to go, now!” William said.
Ian knew William was right. No more inner pep talks, this time running was indeed the answer. He gave the man an awkward fist bump, then stepped back closer to the wall. A new painting of the guild president’s family had replaced the blank space where the map of the continent had once been.
“Wait—” William started, but it was too late. Ian blinked out of existence, inadvertently taking the painting with him. William turned back to the stone-faced Vistenna. “I’m sorry about that Madam Guild President, things tend to…disappear around him, but he means well. He certainly means well.”
It was a morning like any other along the Terenthia River. The sky was an orange-pink haze, the forest alive with the soothing sounds of crickets and chirping birds. Marcus fished along the river bank every morning. It was the most active time of the day to catch fish, or, at least, when he had the best of luck. Although, he found it odd as the fish weren’t biting at all. During a normal hour, he’d have caught a dozen perch, but there hadn’t even been a nibble on the line.
He decided it wasn’t his lucky day, and began packing up. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a log floating downstream. He paid it no mind. When it grew closer to the shore despite the river’s strong current, he stopped packing his bag to study the driftwood. That was when he realized it wasn’t driftwood at all.
Marcus yelled and tried to escape, but the creature’s tongue was fast and powerful. It grabbed hold of him and swiftly pulled him into the water. No one would see Marcus alive ever again. The crocodile attack had come out of nowhere, on a morning like any other along the Terenthia River. Except on that particular morning it was far from the likes of any other, since someone had been killed.
The End… for now. This marks the end of Book I of Crocodilian. Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed it.