TERA: For the Federation 2 – Idle Hands
My eyes began to grow heavy as my Pegasus continued soaring over the endless blue ocean and cloudy skies. I had found sleeping nigh impossible within the confining walls of Velika. The forests I had known for so many years were suddenly replaced by concrete walls that stretched taller than trees and blocked out just as much sunlight. Rather than rabbits and squirrels scurrying about the ground, far more pestilent merchants rushed to my side at every corner attempting to sell me a new set of earrings or perhaps a new gauntlet. All useless rubbish of course. Some discarded adventurer's loot being marked up to unheard of prices so they could pawn if off on unsuspecting foreigners like myself. Who knows how the humans and Federation Elites put up with that miserable city. As I ran over the countless ways in which Pora Elinu would make a superior capital of the Federation, my eyelids finally gave way, and I fell into a deep sleep.
My dreams were serene at first, at least in comparison to my waking nightmare in which I constantly imagined my family dying to the blade of a blood thirsty demon. Again and again I dreamed of the Letter of Marque I had burned behind the queen's back. I saw visions of her frantically sending out guards in search of me and then retiring to her quarters to meditate. I imagined battling great demons, cutting them down one after another with my superior skills. Finally I witnessed a parade in my honor as I returned a hero, with Wulynn and Surmun waving beside me. The queen stood far above the crowd on her palace perch, looking on proudly as her own Popori attendant had grown from a simple housekeeper to a hero of her people.
I awoke abruptly with a shock followed by a cold shiver down my spine. It was one of those strange dreams where you quickly forget the details upon waking, but know something important is left out of the details. Why did I feel so uneasy.. Samael. His eyes flashed through my mind, cold as ice and yet burning with some kind of unholy passion. I had only met him once during our expedition briefing, but his cold unfeeling tone left an unnerving impression that now had even infiltrated the subconscious of my dreams. I savored the thought of returning to Pora Elinu and not having to deal with career military types like him ever again.
Much to my displeasure we were still a few minutes out from the island. I eavesdropped in on a pair of nearby expedition members hotly debating whether treasure hunting or adventure was the primary reason for volunteering on this trip. I scoffed at both motivations but had nothing better to do than join in. The Castanic was a female native of the capital Castanica named Fadora, and her family lineage went back many generations to the War of the Rose. The Popori, who refused to reveal his real name and simply insisted I call him Platy, was obviously a foreigner (I personally had seen to ensuring few natives embarked on this mission after all). He carried the markings of a raccoon, but his fur was tinged blacker than most, leading me to believe he had spent quite a deal of time in the deserts of Southern Shara. I figured it would be good to have some close allies at my side once we reached the cursed island, so I introduced myself and explained my situation.
Our conversation was abruptly interrupted by the shout, "There it is! The Island of Dawn!" The announcement was made by my platoon's first sergeant, who was literally on the edge of his seat and dangerously close to falling from his mount as he shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun, taking in the beauty of the scene before us. At first I could hardly bring myself to look, imagining all the horrors Wulynn and Surmun had surely suffered there. However riding a Pegasus blind is not advised and out of caution I finally forced myself to look ahead at this horrible cursed.... island paradise?
Before me floating amongst the clouds was the most beautiful tropical island I had ever laid my eyes upon, even within the royal library's books. The obvious centerpiece, a massive tree, carried thousands of pink leafed branches stretching from one horizon to the other. The ground was covered in soft shades of green as smaller trees and grass swayed gently in the wind. Multiple piglings scurried about amongst the Norak beasts that peacefully grazed the endless fields. This didn't seem real. This didn't make sense. What was going on?!
Upon landing I immediately rushed to the central tree where the Federation had set up a basic base camp. I questioned Tribune Adria about the status of the island but was immediately dismissed as an over eager green recruit trying to make a good impression with my supervising officer. Despite my protests she passed me off to Adjutant Jorhop for assignment. Normally I would have pulled rank on her and demanded a status report, but this wasn't an option. The queen's message of my treason had undoubtedly reached Velika by now, and it was only a matter of time before head hunters would arrive to drag me back to Pora Elinu to face sentencing. I had to work fast and knew earning Adria's trust was the fastest way to get to Elleon's brother Leander, one of the few survivors of the Dawn Massacre crazy enough to have stayed behind to set up camp.
Turns out the Federation had other plans for me and my motley Popori and Castanic crew. Day 1 we were ordered to route a band of Ghilliedhus, trees brought to life by the magic of the rifts. These in particular held so little magical charge that they often would fall to pieces tripping over their own feet from a stiff stare of one of our soldiers.
Day 2 was an exercise seemingly designed to test my patience, as we wasted military issued bombs blowing up test dummies and breaking useless mud piles apart with our pick axes to learn the ways of mining ore. How green were the troops they assigned to this mission?
I declare you my Island of Dawn rival. The first to find Wulynn wins silly rabbit!
Day 3 was the breaking point for me as I was ordered to tend a fire at base camp until 'I felt well rested.' Once I reluctantly admitted that I was in such a state I was asked to climb the tallest mountain on the island to pick a flower. The reasons behind this were unknown but Platy complained during dinner that he had been forced to climb the tallest mountain to plant some native root. The same plant I had pulled from the peak and nearly died carrying back down earlier in the day. In hushed tones I whispered to Fadora and Platy telling them to meet at my cot at 24:00 hours. Every day wasted lowered the chances of finding my family alive and I wasn't about to spend another sun cycle playing boot camp with my inferior superior officers.
24:00 was downtime for our platoon, which was conveniently stationed at the southern side of the great tree. I and Platy were assigned to keep watch that night for fear of wild piglings interrupting Adria's beauty sleep. We reported in as the last sergeant turned in for the night. We immediately met up with Fadora and set out towards the forbidden east side of the island. First stop? The wreckage of the Audacious along the eastern shoreline. As we clambered over the increasingly rough terrain it became clear there was a sharp contrast in the natural order of the plain. At one point, Platy the mystic was so overwhelmed by the pressure in the air that he froze in place... at least until Fadora pulled his tail to wake him from his delusions.
"If my greed for treasure gets me killed, I need to know I have a mystic at my back to keep me from going into the light," she joked.
Neither of us chuckled at the concept and the mood of the party quickly worsened. We tread carefully from that point on as neither Norak nor Pigling called this part of the island home. Instead starving two headed cougars seemed to prowl in the shadows, eying us for a moment of weakness with their calculating yellow eye slits.
Despite our eerie journey we arrived at the ghost ship rather uneventfully. We split up to explore the ship as quickly as possible and get back to camp if no clues were found. I already hoped to return to my warm cot as the fear of demons imposed on me just as strongly as the fear of discovering the fate of Wulynn or Surmun. As I climbed through a porthole blown wide open by a backfired cannon, I heard rustling within the ship. I extended my lance and lifted my shield and peered around the corner only to find an unlit aisle with open doors on both sides, no doubt the former location of the sleeping quarters.
I tip toed down the hall as stealthily as one adorned in heavy armor could, then slowly moved my right eye to the peephole in the door. I was met with a clear blue eye staring back at me, and before I could raise my shield I found the solid normetal forged door slam into me face first. I fell to the ground in a thud along with the rusted door as the clang of metal on metal echoed throughout the ship. I was comforted to know that I just had to hold out until my allies arrived, assuming they weren't already half way back to base camp running like cowards. I immediately attempted to crawl to my training lance but felt the shard pinch of a staff placed on the back of my neck just before I could grasp the mechanical handle.
"Turn over and state your purpose," boomed the clear articulate sounding Elven voice.
I rolled over to find myself face to face with none other than Leander, Elleon's brother and head of the Island of Dawn research and archeology team. Not seeing a reason to lie, I went against my natural instinct as a Popori and spoke the truth.
"I'm here to find the truth about Elleon... and the fate of two of his soldiers," I stammered.
"Then we haven't much time. You're a brave one for meddling with a conspiracy that could shake the very foundation of the Federation. On your feet Popori," spoke Leander as he forcefully dragged me to my feet, thrusting my shield back into my open paw. I looked to the porthole to see a lightly tanned Castanic female warrior, eyes narrow and face emotionless, holding Platy and Fadora tightly by their shoulders. I knew then I was no hero. My silly attempt at independence was going to get us all killed!