The platform settled into a marsh. Normally, Yasena’s admiralty avoided unstable landscapes, but with the cloud cover how where they to know? Besides, Druni showed no ability to see through the fog any better than we. Keeping our mouths shut made traversing the grounds difficult, but it also kept us alive.
“Fucking marshland.” Drea said. She was the soldier I couldn’t take my eyes of off since I was recruited. “I think we should go back up and find a different spot. Tell em’ we scouted it out and it would be foolish to tether here.”
Errol pushed past Drea and stared into the fog his musket aiming at nothing in particular. I guess it was a sense of comfort knowing he held the gun even if it was for all intents and purposes useless against the Druni.
“Drea’s right captain. I t’aint approvin’ of this venture.” He stroked the butt of his musket without thought as he spoke. “Not a single bit. Air t’aint smelled right since we stepped off them platforms”
Captain Jessup rushed over and pulled Drea and Errol in close. I could make out the words by reading her lips.
“Shut your god damn mouths.” Captain Jessup mouthed to Drea. Errol sneered and lowered his musket as we moved further into the marsh. “We have a mission to scout out more than fifteen feet for fuck’s sake. Keep your eyes open and your guard up. I’ll tell you when you can go running back to the barracks. You can play cards and smell the roses.”
Not another word was uttered. Errol may be a big man with a big mouth, but he feared the captain’s wrath. She was a tough woman who took nothing for granted and took no gup from her soldiers. She had aspirations to be more than a captain and she’d be damned if a big dummy like Errol would ruin it for her by getting them all killed.
In an eerie silence we pushed on through the muck. Our steps slowed in the knee-deep mud. The murky water filled my boots. It was cold, but not freezing. Almost refreshing in a way. I hadn’t felt the chill of groundwater in months. The moisture pulled from the sky and the rain collected in the thousands of barrels that lined the streets of Yasena was pure and all, but there was something to be said for feeling the water squish between your toes as you took one arduous step after another. I found myself ignoring the exhausting efforts of walking.
I knew nothing of where we were. We could be a thousand miles from where I was picked up or right around the corner from my childhood village. Who was to say? The fog hung above the marsh and grew thicker with each step. It was almost as if the earth knew that strangers walked upon her. Once familiar faces, now shapeless. The sense of distance begotten from months of being airborne. Almost shunning the surface for fear of the Druni. The flotilla was a marvel of engineering, but at what cost?
We came up on an opening where the fog lifted. Errol and his buddies were the first to emerge and took a cautious look. The air was clear, but the trickling feeling of impending doom crept in to replace it. The field was vast and the grass waist high swaying peacefully in the morning breeze. I could feel the earth around me change, but I wasn’t sure how.
Then it dawned on me. I knew exactly what that feeling was.
“Everybody down!” I cried. “Get down and stay below the grass line if you know what’s good for you.”
Captain Jessup sprinted over to me and forcefully spun me in her direction as I lay on the ground. She was pissed, but she’d soon know why I had lost my mind.
“Are you insane Orphan? What did I say about being quiet? You trying to get us all killed!” She demanded.
I vehemently shook my head trying to stay silent. I didn’t have time to argue with her. So I grabbed her and yanked her to the ground. For a moment, we wrestled in the grass until she suddenly noticed the same sensation I felt. The ground was shaking. Not like an earthquake, but rather like the roll of a boulder.
Or the footsteps of a Druni.
We lay still, motionless, begging to forgo notice from the titanic beast. I couldn’t see it yet, but I could sense it. The rest of the scouts fell to the ground quivering with fear. Without the ships guns we were sitting ducks if it saw us. Beneath the skyline it was tough to get a mark on its location, but that was a fleeting sense of relief as the shadow from its massive size washed over me. This Druni was different from the one before. Taller and more fearsome than before. Each claw was the size of a single man, its eyes a maddening array of soullessness and desire to consume. A maelstrom of enigma making it impossible to tell where it peered off to. The body was covered in a patchy mixture of scales and ragged gray fur. A creature straight from the most faithful Sepulcharist’s nightmares.
I breathed a sigh of relief as he strode past one giant foot over the other blocking out what little sun had peeked through. I could see Jessup’s eyes shake it fear as it passed over us taking no notice of our presence. I closed my eyes in relief until suddenly I heard the shouts of the other scouts.
The Druni lurched down in a single motion and pierced one of the men with its massive claw. The brutal wound doing little to quell the agonizing cries as he was lifted high into the air. His life end in an audible crunch as he was engorged upon by the monster. The other scouts around had scattered scrambling for the woods. One by one each was plucked from the earth and tossed casually into the horror’s maw. A few scouts turned and fired in a last-ditch attempt to fend off their demise, but each round only nominally wounding the creature.
“We’ve got to help them!” Drea cried as she rose from the grass. “We can’t just let die out there. They’re our brethren!”
The captain tackled Drea to the ground pinning her beneath the grass line. Drea fought her arrest until she saw the beast glance in their direction.
“We’ll die too if we try to help.” Captain Jessup said, the finals sound of the dying echoing in the background. After a final musket round the air was still. The Druni surveyed the field looking for more, but thankfully he trod off away from us. Leaving us to tend to the wounded and the dying. There were no cries of anguish, only the deafening sound of the knowledge that none of the scouts survived the attack. We could only watch as the Druni, its eyes wide, push into the forest.
In the direction of Yasena.
“Yasena is tethered and blinded by that blasted fog. They’ll never see it coming. We’ve got to get back there and warn them!” Captain Jessup ordered before stopping to look at the remains of the fallen. “We won’t leave you behind I promise.” She said picking up the emblem of one of the scouts. I think his name was Pettigrew. I knew little of him, but his death was a reminder of what we faced.
We kept our distance from the Druni monstrosity as it boomed its way through the forest and towards Yasena. The tall pines sufficiently hid us from its diabolic gaze. Living off the land you see the worst of nature. Hawks snatching field mice from the swaying meadow, mountain cats prowling a deer and a snake eagerly consuming a toad. But for all the brutality there was purpose behind it. It was the natural order of things. The Druni were hell spawn in my eyes. No discernable purpose to the madness they wrought. Their eyes full of hunger always seeking nothing but the destruction of each living soul in their path.
“We’re right up on it captain. What should we do?” Drea asked taking a position only a few feet from my own.
I studied the creature as it hunched beneath the tree line trying to stay hidden from the Yasena spotters. We still a mile or two away, but given its size, the Druni knew it was easy to spot. I shivered knowing that it was smarter than a mindless beast.
“We oughta run back to Yasena, get aboard and get the hella here. We needn’t kill it. Just escape!” Errol added. His bravado receding like the ocean sands during high tide. He was tough when he could be, but not when he needed to be. If he made it out of this alive he’d be a changed man for at least a little while. Time heals all woods and undoes all good works if given the opportunity.
I watched the captain as she looked up into the trees. She was planning something ambitious, I could sense it and as if to confirm it she said.
“Call me crazy, but I’ve got an idea.”