Taming the Depths
The krait convoy strode along the dark ocean valley as if nothing could conceivably be a danger to them. And they were not wrong. Even the large sharks and armour-fish roving through the reef were avoiding the procession, simply trying to survive the intrusion on their hunting grounds. Marazan was also trying to avoid the krait, but for a different reason; he had lost sight of his protégé. Oinula al’Fahrima had gotten word of this convoy from a group of quaggans they had met a week ago. The diminutive water-dwellers had been cornered by a band of risen when the two largos found them. As thanks, the quaggans offered food and shelter. That denied, they warned them of a large group of krait moving through the area. The mention of a religious group within the procession had drawn his young protégé’s attention. The priesthood among the krait rarely left their homelands, even after their forced relocation caused by the emergence of the dragon. So to a young largos still looking for a mark to bring home, the possible reward well outweighed the risk of stalking such a large group of the serpent-people. And as her master, Marazan was bound to follow, against his better judgement. He had said as much the day before, to which his apprentice had responded curtly. “Noted. Now help me find a campsite, the krait are stopping for the day.” The prophet at the center of the column was incredibly precious to the krait, so they stopped frequently to allow it rest. During such times the two largos would try and rest themselves, staying awake in shifts to deter the ocean life and keep an eye on the procession. In this manner they had spent most of a week, tracking the krait further and further along the reefs and rock formations of the Sea of Sorrows. Marazan reckoned they would be close to the midpoint between the shorelines to the north and the former human nation of Orr, the very same that had been underwater for hundreds of years then risen suddenly, casting all life in the Sea of Sorrows into turmoil. Something on the far side of the procession caught his attention; one of the armoured fish that lived in the reef had emerged from its hiding spot, swimming quickly towards the middle of the group of krait, heedless of the danger. Some other local predator must have taken the opportunity to remove a rival by chasing it into this new predator that had suddenly arrived in their habitat. The soldiers quickly formed a line, ready to chase it away, when the prophet raised a thin, sickly looking hand. The largest of the krait guards, a true brute of his species, lowered his weapon and leaned his head back, emanating a sound like that of a vast whale. All of the other guards lowered their weapons quickly, falling back to the processional line. The armour-fish stopped its headlong rush, turning gracefully towards the upturned hand that the prophet still held. Marazan had seen smaller armour-fish than that bite through heavy armour as though it were paper. Why had the guards stood down? Then the armour-fish nuzzled up against the hand, as though it were some pet wanting affection.
“That was unexpected.” Oinula was behind him, her dark-blue wings undulating slowly in the current.
He had known she was creeping up behind him but still affected surprise. “What have I told you about running off on your own?”
She raised a hand slightly, while keeping out of sight, as though chastising someone. “Young largos aren’t given Masters so they can run off on their own,” She held up the shark-tooth dagger she had fashioned herself, its hollow tip dragging a slight pink trail through the water. “But you also told me to experiment, so I did.”
Marazan recognised the colour immediately. “Redeye venom. So the armour-fish was your doing.” Outside their little hiding hole, the armour-fish was lazily swimming back to its lair and the krait procession was slowly starting to move again.
“Indeed. I was hoping it would show us something about the strength of their guards, but no such luck, apparently.” His apprentice pouted slightly, carefully cleaning the envenomed dagger then sheathing it.
Marazan looked about for their way to follow the procession. “Their leader is one of the largest krait I have ever seen, but otherwise their guards seems unremarkable. But I guess with that prophets ability, if it extends to all marine life, they would not need protection from the ocean life.” With a route forward found, Marazan signaled Oinula forward. Losing track of the procession would just be lazy.
As the two largos and their targets wound their way slowly along the ocean floor, Marazan kept a careful watch on the krait captain. He was, without a shadow of a doubt, the largest krait he had ever seen, though had belittled it so his protegé would not get unduly excited. She was already focused on the prophet. The life of the oceans still avoided the procession, but it never had to stop to fend off some wild beast. He could only wonder as to the purpose of bringing the prophet out here into the middle of nowhere.
One day they almost lost the trail; With a close call the previous day they were hanging further back than usual, so when the procession turned from the straight line it had been following for a day, they just barely spotted the tail end swimming into a wide tunnel. Marazan was unfamiliar with this stretch of water, so where this tunnel led was anyones guess. Still, his protégé was as keen as ever to keep up the chase, so he decided to let her take point. Neither of them knew the area, and she could always benefit from more training. Even during her home training, tracking had been one of her foremost fields of potential, but like all young prodigies, she needed experience, practice and discipline to shape that talent into something consistent.
Tracking the krait through the closed tunnel was frustrating for his apprentice. They were easy enough to follow; they made very little effort to conceal their tracks, confident that any local predator was either too weak to challenge the group or would be cowed by the prophet. On the other hand, they spread out more than out in the relatively open water, and since there was next to no cover in the rock tunnel, they had to stay a long way back, barely able to see the last of the rearguard. There seemed to be no other exits or entrances to the tunnel system, so while it winded its way, there was rarely any doubt as to the direction to go. As they swam painfully slowly through the tunnel, Marazan could not drag his thoughts away from the guard captain. Something about the brute disturbed him, pulled at some forgotten memory.
The tunnel terminated in a large cavernous chamber; colourful plants and fish skittered about, providing a curious lighting to the scene, with the only sunlight originating from a single hole in the very top of the chamber. The rock formations on the inside reminded Marazan of the center of a geode, but without the crystalline beauty. The chamber was easily large for the whole procession to gather in the middle, leaving the jagged edges free of guards. His protégé seemed to see none of that, and Marazan could see why; in the center of the chamber, a jet-black monolith, far bigger than any living creature in the cavern, had been erected, the trademark scraps of krait ‘architecture’ surrounding its base. Clearly, the prophets had been here before. The prophet was carefully shepherded into the center of the chamber, next to the monolith. With their destination reached, the krait procession, even the priesthood, seemed less reverential towards the prophet. As the priests began a series of krait dances and songs, filling the chamber with the sounds of their eerie voices, the guards began their own ceremony. The captain was at the center of a ring of supplicating soldiers, as the curious blue eyes that had attracted Marazan’s attention grew even brighter, shining like beacons in the dark chamber. The largos had fared better than most oceanic races when the sea dragon awoke, an accomplishment attributed to the wariness of their people and strength of the Tethyos houses. And Marazan suspected that being in this chamber ignored both of those advantages. There was some power at work here, beyond that of the krait priests and their aging prophet. The priests, all except one, began chanting and dancing around the krait altar, the harmonics of the chanting and the serpentine quality of their movements making for an entrancing display. The largest and eldest of the priests retrieved an object from the scrap around the monolith. A trident of some woodlike material, bound by vines and thorns, untouched by time and the seawater that had ravaged the items around it. A pulsing red crystal shard sat in its crown, displaying the power of its previous owner. Marazan had seen such a shard before; a shard of the Bloodstone, an ancient container of enormous power.
Marazan had seen such a shard before; a shard of the Bloodstone, an ancient container of enormous power. The shard held by the Largos was one of the most precious relics of the Tethyos houses. And understandably so, obtaining it had been a great adventure, Marazan reflected, briefly thinking back to his own apprenticeship.
The captain was now approaching the altar, slowly extending a webbed hand towards the trident. Blue currents of energy were slowly emerging around the extended limb, questing forwards towards the weapon. As the energy touched the weapon, the already-vibrant crystal shard exploded with light, casting the chamber in an eerie crimson. A word echoed through the chamber, seemingly coming from both from the krait captain and the ocean water surrounding them. Marazan did not recognise the word, but its mere presence was a weight on his mind. All the marine life in the cavern had become incredibly agitated. Whatever this was, it was incredibly dangerous. Too dangerous for two largos with no support.
“Oinula, this is too much,” he turned to his right, hoping to get eye contact with his headstrong apprentice, “We need-” The rock cover where she had observed beside him was empty. Looking for any sign, he scanned the chamber. Above the monolith, he could see a hint of blue untouched by the malignant light from the shard. The chanting in the center stopped abruptly. Marazan was looking, but his mind was occupied with considering how to stop his protégé from rushing into certain doom. All signs of care and ritualistic precision vanished from the procession as the krait captain grabbed the charged trident and slammed the top through the skull of the krait prophet, an gout of blood erupting into the seawater. The largos assassins clung to their rocky covers to avoid being pulled into the open as the energy pulled towards itself, briefly deafening all sound in the chamber. The trident had been replaced with something new; A long black rod, seemingly composed of the same material as the monolith that still stood in the center, surrounded by 3 writhing eels, snapping at the water and each other. A turquoise mist of power surrounded the surreal creation, showing itself to be subtly different from the vile power that now emanated from the krait captain. The brute rose, as much as possible for something with a serpentine lower body, and stared directly at him. Marazan knew when he had been detected. With a smooth motion from the wings on his back, he surged onto the smooth rock in front of him, sharp blades at the ready.
“Why are you here, largos?” Some magic was at play; Marazan found he could understand the monster though he spoke not a word of krait. The captain seemed unfazed by the ambush, but the soldiers at his command were not so disciplined. Some raced to surround him while others milled about the priests who were now clustering together, examining the eel-staff.
“Why are largos anywhere?” He mumbled through his breather. Then more forcefully, “To bring a prize back home. What was a Prophet of the Krait doing so far away from the safety of your cities?”
This close, the pulsing blue glow in the large krait’s eyes unnerved Marazan. They held some power he did not wish to experience further. He also realised he had lost track of his apprentice. He could only hope she would not do anything rash.
The captain seemed to deliberate for a moment, while the other guards had slowly surrounded the largos master. “The Dragon wishes servitude from all that live in its realm. As its servants, we fulfil its wishes.” A Dragon Champion. Marazan had heard of them from the surface, beings infused with the baleful power of an Elder Dragon. By all accounts, they were horrifying opponents and spread destruction and ruin wherever they went. His presence here could only spell disaster for the Sea of Sorrows and all who dwell on its shores.
“But your presence here changes little. I am finished here.” With that, the champion thrust the strange weapon forward. Marazan tensed, preparing to dodge whatever would be fired at him. He had fought enough spellslingers in his time. Nothing came. But something had definitely happened, as the fish in the cave all abandoned whatever they were doing and swam straight for him. None of them were dangerous to him in any way, and all of them should be skittish around anything his size. A swift sword-stroke sent one blue fish floating away, blood pouring from its severed fin, but the fatality did not deter the rest. They swam around him, biting with blunt teeth and dashing their small bodies against him. They did no harm, but made it nearly impossible to move or do anything against the advancing krait.
Then, as suddenly as they had attacked, the fish scattered, fleeing from the large predator they had found themselves next to. 2 krait guards stabbed with their spears as the shoal vanished, but Marazan managed to parry and evade, putting a more comfortable distance between himself and their spears. But only a few of the guards were still advancing on him. Most of them were turning around to help the champion as his right hand slowly floated away in a cloud of blood. Oinula al’Fahrima stood 2 spear-lengths away from the champion, holding the eel-staff in her right hand while her left held a bloodied blade.
“Good work, Master. I knew you could be relied on to take all the attention for yourself.” His protégé stood confidently apart from all the other beings in the cave, holding her prize. Marazan could not be sure of the weapon’s full capabilities, and had no great wish to experience them firsthand. Whatever they were, a Dragon Champion wanted hold of them.
“Oinula! Stay away from them!,” he swiped at the nearest krait, using his wings to propel him up and over their defenses. Now behind him, the krait guards jabbed at him with their spears, but the only blow to land is turned away by his armour. In front of him, the champion let go of his bleeding stump, the vile blue energies from earlier surging up his ravaged arm. “Do not let them reclaim it!”
“No worries, Master. I have no intention to-” A bubble of filthy water erupted from the energy, encircling Oinula before the young largos could react, causing her to immediately convulse and choke, even through the breather. One of the krait priests saw an opportunity and sprang forward, lunging for the staff. Focusing on the foul draconic magic, the champion did not notice Marazan before one of his blades was poised at the kraits throat. “Let her go, or your precious master loses a champion.”
The water-trap faded away as the priest put a hand on the staff. The hand is severed in a swipe of steel before it could pull the weapon away, revealing his apprentice to still be conscious and spoiling for a fight. after being subjected to the vile magic. She was pale, shivering, old wounds had reopened, but she could still escape. With a quick twist of his blade, the champion was nearly decapitated, the body slowly floating to the chamber floor as Marazan arrived next to his apprentice. They were utterly surrounded by the krait, the only way out would be up.
“Wha- *hrurk* What was *cough* that?” Oinula was barely upright as he frantically scanned both ways, keeping an eye on all the krait within the chamber.
“Dragon magic. We have to leave.” He would have to trust that his apprentice could regain her breath on her own. The krait were circling now, like sharks sensing a kill.
“The priests *cough* are cattle and the *cough* guards are -” Her speech was cut short by a racking cough. A quick glance showed Marazan that she was not fit to fight. Her skin was even paler now, her eyes bloodshot. The cough was simply further evidence.
“I am deeply sorry to say this about a Tethyos prodigy, but you cannot fight, Oinula.” He could sense that she was not happy about it, but over the last few years she had shown that she trusted his judgement when it was important. Luckily the krait priests were more cautious than their guards, so when the two largos leapt off the cavern floor, only the spears came for them. One blade failed to penetrate his armour, another was parried away but a third gained purchase, poking into his side. To his right, Oinula repelled all attacks against her, wielding the strange eel-staff with what seemed like practised ease. With a flick of his wings, Marazan surged forwards, burying his left blade in the face of a guard, the others shying away from suffering a similar fate. The largos jumped backwards, rejoining his apprentice who was likewise swimming for the break into more open waters. Ahead of him, Oinula had reached the edge of the hole when his momentum stopped entirely. Marazan looked down. The massive hand of the dragon champion was clamped around his foot. The gash he had sliced into its neck was glowing with the same vile blue draconic energies that it had displayed throughout their encounter, the energies surging around a body that should by all rights be still on the cavern floor. Around him, the krait were surging forward, one of them making a break for Oinula. He cursed under his breath. His protégé looked back at him, swimming as hard as her weakened body would allow. If he could buy her enough time, she would escape.
“You scaly wretches should really know when to quit.” Slashing his left arm out like a whip, one of Marazans swords was buried to the hilt in the back of the krait who had ignored him. His other arced out, drawing a crimson arc in the darkened water. The champion lost another hand as the largos assassin quickly swam backwards, gaining some ground for the most important fight of his life.
Oinula al’Fahrima tried to hold back another coughing fit. She might still be feeling like she had been poisoned, but that was no excuse for being discovered by lowly krait. She was almost home. The staff was still in her possession, the strange energies that had suffused and animated it had faded in the weeks since the battle. Marazan, her master, had not been of the Fahrima house, let along any Tethyos house, but she would make sure his legacy would be told until the oceans were no more.