Crocodilian ~ Chapter 3
Tales of Havek: Volume One | Duration: 8 Minutes, 37 Seconds
III: A Totally (Un)Natural Interaction
Teleporting wasn’t easy. It took a lot of concentration and even more Energy, the latter of which depended on how far Ian wanted to go. The distance from the capital to the coast was manageable. He’d tested it before, although that was in the northeast and not the swamps of the south. The main issue with teleportation, however, was the potential dangers that awaited on the other side. Not that he’d accidentally impale himself on a tree trunk or phase into a wall, or anything to that effect, luckily that wasn’t a possibility. It was, at times, the lack of context, the disadvantage of entering a world that wasn’t yours and having to adapt on the fly in order to survive a new environment. This time was no different.
Ian Merstellar popped out of thin air and let out a yelp as gravity yanked him down. A framed map—the one he’d stood next to in the guild’s main hall—filled his vision as he tumbled backward, arms flailing. He hit the brown water face first with a smack, a bitter taste filling his mouth. One hand kept his nose from taking in any more liquid and the other hand, more importantly, prevented his hat from being devoured by the river’s hungry depths. The headpiece was of great importance as it assisted in his channeling of Energy. Other Blessed—the term used by those fond of Energy users—likewise possessed a conduit to strengthen their abilities. Why was it a hat of all things? Well, he had his own conclusions for that.
Breaching the surface, Ian gasped for air and treaded water until he coughed up what remained in his lungs. The map he’d accidentally transported with him sank, forever lost. That happened from time to time, things too near his person when teleporting got sucked into the vortex with him. He was working on it.
The map, he recalled, hadn’t displayed a river of this magnitude—fifty to sixty feet wide—in this region. Which could only mean one thing: no one had discovered it. Smiling, he pondered possible names to give it. Names such as Merstellar River and… nope. That’s all he could think of.
Content, he began to paddle to the nearest embankment, the same embankment where a large, spiked tail could be seen disappearing into the otherwise tranquil water. Ian promptly spun and swam toward the furthest embankment, the one that didn’t feature any predatory tails. His heart raced, his breathing erratic. He tried to tap into his Energy for a small jump. He liked to imagine a cup at the center of his midsection where the heat resonated and based on the cup’s fullness that’s how much Energy remained. Unfortunately, the imaginary cup was completely cold and empty. Only the passage of time could replenish the cup. And a jump like the one he’d just endured would take many, many hours of recovery. So he resorted to swimming harder, his arms and legs splashing frantically. Glancing back, he saw nothing, which terrified him more. He figured it wouldn’t surface before taking the kill strike, but he wasn’t an expert on the matter. It could be behind him, below him, to either side of him at this point. If he didn’t reach the bank soon, he’d perish in the only river he’d ever named.
A hard surface grazed his hand and he panicked, spinning in a torrent. His boot knocked against something below him and he tried to kick it away but it wouldn’t budge. Water filled his mouth again. He spit, gasping. He kept swimming with everything he had until his chest hit something too. It was right beneath him. He pushed with both hands against the grainy surface and popped up from the water, holding himself up, confused. Ian stood, the water level coming up to just below his knees. The river was much shallower near the bank than he’d thought. Very deceptive really.
Ian backed up to the bank’s plateau, his eyes darting atop the slow-moving current for any signs of the threat. Nothing. The back of his leg hit the tiny cliff and he swung up onto relatively drier land. A bearded man in nothing but overalls stood ten feet away, a crossbow pointed directly at Ian. He’d been so focused on the river that he hadn’t thought to look for other dangers, one of the risks of teleporting into unknown territory. Ian raised his hands in peace, dripping wet, boots squishing.
“Send me to Burg ‘n back,” the bearded man said. “What were you doing flailing about in the shallows?”
“I was, uh, swimming,” Ian said, cringing at his own answer.
“Didn’t look much like swimming to me. Plus, these waters are dangerous. Everybody knows that crocs roam these parts,” the bearded man said.
“Yeah, so I’ve heard,” Ian said, eyeing the weapon. “Hey, uh, would you mind not aiming that thing at me? I’d appreciate it.”
Ian knew it was a crossbow, but it wasn’t any crossbow he’d ever seen. The bolt was glowing red hot and a light spun at the base of the weapon like a lighthouse fixture. To be fair, Ian wasn’t a huge fan of weaponry to begin with, so maybe this was how all the new models looked close up.
“You could be here to kill me. Why would I lower my lightbow?” the bearded man said.
“Well I can assure you I’m not here to do that. I don’t have any weapons, or lightbows. See.” Ian slowly opened his long coat.
“Whoa, whoa. Slow your roll,” the bearded man said.
A splash came from behind Ian and he remembered the thing in the river. He wanted to move away from the bank but couldn’t be certain the bearded man wouldn’t shoot him dead. That heated bolt looked like it could cut through solid rock. He’d need to talk to him, ease his suspicions.
“Look, my name is Ian Merstellar. I’m a famous explorer.”
“Famous, huh? I ain’t heard of ya.”
“You have now,” Ian said with a wink.
“Hmm, fair enough. What ya exploring then? Shallow waters?”
Ian scanned the clearing and realized it had been man-made. All that remained of the mangrove trees were dozens of roughly chopped stumps sticking up from the matted green grass. To the edge of the clearing was a cabin where the man likely lived, despite its lopsided nature. The man was barefoot, tall and lanky, and balding on the top of his head. His overalls were tattered and unwashed. He looked… wild.
“I’m searching for a town. I was sent by the Cartographers’ Guild to investigate some rumors, and possibly name some stuff. Like this river here, which I’m naming Merstellar River. What do you think?”
The bearded man became lost in thought, his eyes twitching to look about the empty space between them. “B-But that’s my river. Why would you get to name it?” he asked, beard and voice quivering.
“Oh? Uh, I guess I didn’t think about that.” Ian needed to keep the man stable, or face the possible consequences. “I could name it after you then. What’s your name, sir?” Ian asked, feigning a toothy smile.
“Unkel Bo,” the man said, standing up a tad bit straighter.
“Uncle… Bo? Wait, who’s uncle?”
“That’s my name. Unkel Bo. You got a problem with it?” Unkel Bo said, re-centering the crossbow on Ian’s chest.
“No, no, no. Sorry. Didn’t mean to offend. I like it. Actually, Bo River has a nice ring to it.”
“Unkel,” Unkel Bo stated.
“Uncle as in brother-of-a-father uncle?”
“Huh? What are you on about with fathers and brothers? It’s just Unkel and Bo. Got it?”
“Uncle Bo River it is,” Ian assured, brows raised high. “Now then, you seem like a busy guy out here all by yourself doing… stuff. Might you be able to point me in the direction of Yonledo? I need to meet with the Mayor—”
“Yonledo?! That town is a disgrace. And that Mayor is even worse. Mayor Penh,” Unkel Bo spit after saying the name, “what an awful man, wanted me to kill everything in these swamps. Nah, buddy, I don’t do that anymore. I’m a man of nature now. I’d rather protect these creatures than kill ‘em. That Mayor though… he could drop dead and I wouldn’t care one bit.”
Ian began to put the pieces together in his mind. “Oh, wait, so you’re the hunter that the letter said had gone missing. Now it all makes sense. You’re alive! That’s great news.”
“I ain’t no hunter. Not anymore,” Unkel Bo said. “I’m a protector.”
“Protector?” Ian asked. “Protector of what, if you don’t mind me asking?”
The former hunter named Unkel Bo locked eyes with Ian Merstellar.
“I do mind you asking.”
Ian gulped. Another splash came from the river and he tried to look over his shoulder but couldn’t make anything out in his peripheral vision. He could’ve sworn he heard something breathing.
“Yonledo is that way,” Unkel Bo said, pointing to the mangroves to Ian’s right. “Just follow the river until it reaches the sea and turn left. After a while you’ll come across it. They built that abomination in the bay there. You can’t miss it. But hurry. Ain’t smart to be out and about in the swamp at night.”
Ian nodded. He hesitated, then began walking in that direction, his wet boots squeaking loudly with each step. He tripped on a stump and tried to look casual but felt awkward with the crossbow still following him. He finally turned his back to the man and trusted he wouldn’t get shot. After he reached the edge of the clearing and the mangroves blocked out the afternoon sun, he looked back.
Unkel Bo had lowered the lightbow and the spinning light grew dim at its base, the bolt’s redness fading along with it. From afar, Ian watched the bearded man walk up to the bank and squat down. He spoke to something in the shallow water but Ian could no longer see from this vantage point. Unkel Bo jerked his head up and stared at him. A shiver went down Ian’s spine and he dashed into the mangroves in the direction of Yonledo. He concluded that he’d be perfectly fine not seeing any more spiked tails or lightbows of any kind for the rest of the trip.
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