B1 — 14. Omens of Madness

POV:  Fennel (Boss; Toad Warrior; Leader of his Clan’s Expedition)

The next chapter is from Elinor’s POV.  This contrasts with the previous chapter’s implications; there are some interesting developments afoot when you examine both together.  =))


Fennel popped his tongue a few times as he stared around their encampment, giving orders with the sounds to secure the prisoners; they’d just finished taking care of Elinor’s skeletons and the creatures’ rebellion.  They’d killed a few of the more rebellious ones to send a message.

The long one had been restrained in another cage, sealed by Valdar and Nadraca; in addition, he’d cast some mysticism that caused the creature to sleep.  Everything was calming down with Nadraca directing her people to prepare to retreat.

Valdar sighed as he walked up to him; Krava was by his side with his guard.  “It’s clear these creatures are intelligent; perhaps, very intelligent by Elinor’s actions.”

“They don’t seem to be physically trained for combat,” Fennel huffed.

“No,” Krava mused.  “They don’t, but they were still able to do decent damage; they’re quick learners, and they started aiming for our legs to hamper our…”

He cut off as a loud roar sounded in the distance; the call sent a shiver down Fennel’s spine, and every head tilted in its direction.

“That’s in the direction of the Deadlands,” Valdar growled.  “I don’t like that.”

Krava smirked.  “I’d say that means Dalria has engaged the beast.”

Valdar licked his lips before turning to Nadraca as she hurried over.

“Does this mean?”

“Yes, it appears as if she’s engaged the Elite Hunter,” Valdar replied.  “I don’t like this, though … that’s the direction of the Quen’Talrat stronghold.  How would Elinor know there was a massive battle there?  Out of every direction … if she can find more soldiers…”

“You’re giving it too much credit,” Krava chuckled.  “Dalria is capable; she may have recently qualified as a Xaria, but has more than proven her skill.”

“I’m not doubting your faith in her abilities … However, could she handle two or three more Quen’Talrat, even if they were normal soldiers aiding the Elite Hunter?”

Krava’s features sagged as he thought.  “She would be able to easily retreat and warn us, if that were the case.  If it was a real Elite Hunter, then I’d be worried, but it would take three of those bony creatures to pin her down, and they’d need to be coordinated.”

They each studied Valdar as he worked around his jaw, staring into the trees as more roars exploded around the jungle.

“What’s wrong, Valdar?”  Fennel asked.

He was silent as he crouched, five toes pawing the ground; his nose twisted as he licked his two protruding teeth.  “I just feel … uneasy.”

Krava’s tone turned serious as he bent to Valdar’s level.  “Is it the jungle?”

“The jungle?”  Nadraca rolled her eyes.  “The Mother Superior told me a story once about you speaking to the jungle.  You’re not saying you can actually speak to trees?”

“Have some respect,” Krava snapped, causing Nadraca’s nose to crease.  “Plant Callers are not to be mocked.”

“Is it the jungle?”  Fennel repeated Krava’s concern, tone lowering as he glanced around the clearing.

“The land is uneasy,” Valdar mumbled, and after a moment’s silence, he stood.  “Something’s changed.  Let’s join Dalria.”

“Are you … positive that you need my help?”  Nadraca asked, forcing a chuckle.

“Now is not the time to be shivering in fear,” Fennel huffed.

“I’m not afraid!  I’m just … concerned.  What if it returns while we are away?  If it breaks the long one out again, then it would be terrible.”

“It’s not a bad argument,” Valdar clicked his tongue with a hint of annoyance, looking around the camp.  “Very well, Nadraca, you will be our back-up plan.  If we do not return or send word within twenty minutes, then you are to leave with all haste and report to your superiors.  We each need to select an individual from our clans to deliver this message if we fall.”

The three other leaders swallowed, but separated to comply.

Fennel walked back to his camp, catching several of the living creatures eyeing him.  He didn’t understand their expressions yet, but knew it must have been hate or fear.  He licked his lips and popped his tongue a few times, signaling for his warriors to assemble.

The remaining forty-eight warriors leaped into formation.  “I’ll be taking a few of you with me to support Chiefs Valdar and Krava.  We’ll be providing support for the Xaria; Roax, you’ll be in charge while I’m away, and if word’s not sent back with further instructions within twenty minutes, return with haste to report.”

A few of his warriors nudged each other with wide grins, but he understood their feelings; they were going to support a warrior with the legendary title of Xaria.  Just being able to witness a Xaria fight was a privilege.

“As I said, should we not return within twenty minutes, you are to retreat immediately and bring word of this threat to Chief Gortaxa.”

Roax popped his tongue twice, accepting the order, and Grem popped his tongue once, indicating he wished to ask a question.  Fennel popped his tongue twice to approve his interruption.

“Are you saying that you might fail … even with a Xaria?”

Fennel worked his jaw around a few times before sliding his tongue across his two protruding teeth.  “We can’t be sure of anything.  We’re dealing with a creature that can raise powerful foes from the dead … perhaps even our ancestors.”

Each warrior eyed each other with nervous flutters in their throats, but it was Denral that was the first to speak.  “Yes, Sir!  May I volunteer to join you?”

“Yes, you may.  Denral, Grem, Forva, and the Kota twins, you’re with me.”  He turned to glare at one of the clanless vassals.  “Eltha!”

The woman shivered as her name was called, and she hurried to his side.  “Yes, Sir?”

“You will be our runner … you’re quick, after all.”

Her throat constricted with dread.  “To—may I ask to where?”

“We will be joining the Komath and Delthax Clans in pursuing Elinor.”

“T-that—creature that—that we found in—in the other world?”

“Yes, and you will be our messenger to return.”

Eltha began to quake as she glanced in the direction where the roars could still be heard.

Fennel popped his tongue with annoyance and he lashed out, backhanding the clanless across her face.  She dropped to the mud, quivering as she held her cheek.  “Don’t be a coward!  You’ll make the Roxim Clan look weak.  Stand up, and straighten your spine!”

She quickly got back to her feet, trying to lock her joints to stop shaking.  “O-of course!  I—I’m thankful for the Roxim Clan taking me in as a vassal!  I won’t bring shame upon its proud name!”

He sighed, rolling his eyes.  “Let’s go; the rest of you, keep an eye out for trouble.”

His selected group left with the sound of popping tongues, signalling his warriors’ respect and the acknowledgement of his order.

Meeting up with Valdar and Krava’s groups, they made their way into the jungle with their warriors.  They jumped through the low branches of the large trees, following the loud roars, but paused as the noise ceased.

Unease touched Fennel’s stomach as he swung down to the ground; a group of Teevers, shot out of the brush, running away in panic as the company surrounded him, their dark skinned tails and short legs disappearing into a burrow under a massive root.

“The Xaria defeated the beast, right?”  Denral asked with a grin, landing beside Fennel.

Krava hummed darkly, drawing everyone’s attention.  “Maybe.  What do you think, Valdar?”

“Give me a second,” Valdar muttered, bending down to the dirt.  He stroked the earth, closing his eyes.  Not two seconds later, his eyes shot open.  “Back, back!”

A few of them hesitated, but Fennel reacted instantly, following Valdar and Krava as they shot back the way they’d come.

“What is it?”  Krava asked, head darting around for danger.

“Something’s coming, and it’s silencing the entire jungle ahead of us!”

“What?”  Fennel growled, glancing back, but he couldn’t see anything.  He stopped after a few minutes of running as Valdar shot back to the floor.

He doubled back, noticing both Valdar and Krava breathing heavily.  Their age is catching up to them; even if Krava was once a warrior of the highest rank … time catches us all.

Valdar puffed out a few sharp breaths as he knelt down, hands digging into the dirt.  “It—it stopped … just a little past—past where we were before.”

The others soon joined them, each taking up a defensive position.  “What’s going on?”  Denral asked, not winded in the least as his young eyes scanned the area.

Eltha was doing her best to not show her quakes, but Fennel was too focused on the danger to pay the clanless much mind.  He popped his tongue four times, indicating that there was trouble behind them.  His warriors shifted their focus, spears and axes pointing in that direction.  “Something’s silencing the jungle.  Can you elaborate, Valdar?”

Clearing his throat, Valdar took a few more heavy breaths before rising.  “It’s like—everything ahead of us—everything has ceased all movement.”

“What could—could cause such a thing?”  Krava asked, drops of sweat beating down his neck.

“I—I don’t know,” Valdar replied.

Fennel popped his tongue twice, paused, and popped three more times, telling his men to check it out.  They shot forward without hesitation, leaving Eltha to clutch her empty hands as she waited for her own orders, not knowing their warrior language.

“My men will check it out, and one will return to inform us as they secure the site.”

Valdar breath a sigh of relief.  “I’m glad we have you with us, Fennel.  You’ve always been one to take quick action.”

“More importantly, how are you two doing?”

“Still kicking,” Krava chuckled, throwing out a leg with a grin.

“I’ve got my breath back,” Valdar sighed.  “Getting old is a bother.”

Krava smirked at his fellow chief.  “Experience comes with a price, my brother.”

“That, it does,” he chuckled.

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They waited with Valdar and Krava’s eight guards; they defended the area until Grem returned.  He shot out of the jungle, landing in front of Fennel with a salute, cupping his throat.  “We came upon a wall of gray that resembles the clouds.  It is smooth and reaches high into the sky, above the trees, and stretches a distance on either side.  However, it did not move for over three minutes; it is as if there is a barrier stopping its advance.”

“Very well,” Valdar chuckled.  “Let’s check this wall of gray out for ourselves.”

Fennel patted Grem’s shoulder, indicating that he was pleased, and they followed the young warrior to the site.

Denral rushed to meet them as they jumped down from the trees.  “No movement, Sir!”

The other warriors spread out as Fennel, Valdar, and Krava walked to the edge of the cloud.

“How strange,” Krava muttered.  “It’s like the smoke in the fire mountains … but it hasn’t acted like this in any of the stories passed down by our Elders.  How about your Clan’s history, Valdar?”

“No … nothing like this,” he whispered.

Fennel glared at the thick wall that obscured their vision.  “Could this be caused by Elinor?”

“I don’t know,” Valdar replied, licking his two teeth as he studied the slowly shifting cloud; it moved along an invisible wall, as if following the wind.

Studying it for several seconds, Fennel nodded to one of the twins.  “Toka, test it with your spear.”

She complied, poking it through the substance, but nothing happened.  Extracting the weapon, she glanced back at him, awaiting further orders.

Feeling a little antsy, he stepped forward and passed his hand through the wall, causing his warriors to gasp.

“Sir!”

“Allow me!”

“It’s too dangerous!”

He popped his tongue once, indicating for them to quiet down as he brought his hand out, flexing his fingers.  “Nothing.”

“Perhaps breathing the cloud?”  Krava mused.  “You recall the Deadlands expedition, Valdar?  A few warriors fell ill from breathing the clouds that left the holes and water.”

“I volunteer!”  Denral quickly offered.

Fennel sucked on the roof of his mouth a moment as he appraised the young warrior, and Valdar hummed darkly.  “Careful, young one.”

“Yes,” Karva nodded.  “Don’t mistake stupidity for bravery.”

Denral popped his tongue once, and Fennel’s brow lifted with curiosity as he gave him permission with two pops of his tongue.  “Respectfully, Elder Chiefs, the Xaria could be in trouble, and I believe haste is important in identifying this threat.”

“I can respect that answer,” Valdar sighed.

Krava agreed with a nod.

He turned his head to gain permission.

Fennel covered his throat in a salute, causing the other warriors to hastily mirror the action.  “Tie your foot with a rope in case we need to pull you out; you’ve brought honor to the Roxim Clan, Denral, whatever the results.”

“Sir!”  He swiftly pulled out a rope and tied his leg before tossing it to Forva.

The moment Forva secured the rope in his grip, he stepped into the wall of gray and vanished; the rope didn’t continue.

“Pull him out!”  Valdar yelled.

They tugged on the rope, more warriors rushing to their aid.  Denral appeared several seconds later; he wasn’t moving, and his tongue was hanging out.

“Denral!”  Fennel shot forward, checking his vitals; he breathed a sigh of relief as the others raised their weapons to defend against anything that might jump through the wall.  “He’s alive … I think he’s asleep.”

“Interesting,” Krava rubbed his chin.  “Some kind of defensive barrier to stop us?  This would have been quite useful during the wars.”

“Perhaps,” Valdar muttered.  “We don’t know how far this wall extends, but it must have caused everything in its path to sleep.”

“What if we hold our breath?”  Krava questioned.

Valdar moved to examine Denral, bending down to stroke his belly.  “That might work … I don’t sense any poison with him.  I can’t even sense what type of Mysticism this is … it’s simply as if he fell asleep.”

Fennel shook the young toad’s shoulder.  “Denral … Denral, wake up!”

Nothing they tried could wake him.

Stepping back, Valdar appraised their attempts with a studious eye.  “Who knows how long this sleep lasts … perhaps forever,” he whispered.

“I’ll go next!”  Toka offered, and her brother Roka offered himself shortly after.

A low growl left Fennel’s throat.  “I don’t like the idea of losing more of you to this … sleep, that we know nothing about.  However, we do need answers.  Very well, Toka, make sure not to breathe so much as a whiff.  Understand?”  He asked, saluting her.

The other toads followed his example, Roka looking a little disappointed he wasn’t chosen.

Without being asked, Toka untied Denral’s rope and fastened it to her own leg.

“I will be back shortly!”

She took a deep breath before dashing into the substance.  The rope continued until it was nearly out, and after a moment, it snapped taut; Forva held fast, but the pressure didn’t indicate panic.  After a short time, she appeared out of the gray.

She released a few deep breaths as she pressed a hand against her chest.  “It’s—it’s gray everywhere—I couldn’t see anything ahead of me.  I could only return by following the rope.”

“Well, I suppose that proves that,” Krava sighed.  “It’s activated upon breathing it in.”

“Yes, we will have to wait for it to disperse,” Valdar said, walking back several paces to sit on a root.  “Let’s send back our runners.  Tell them what has happened and order them to wait twenty more minutes; we will keep sending runners back to update them as we wait.”

The other runners left without prompt, racing back toward the camp; Eltha hesitated a moment, causing Fennel to shoot a scathing glare in her direction.  She dashed into action as she caught his eye.

The last to respond … that’s not the Roxim way!  After the bravery the others exercised, she shows the other clans hesitation … I’ll give her one more chance to redeem herself.

They waited for a time, watching the wall’s slow movements; it was shortly after the runners returned when the cloud seemed to vanish.  It happened in less than ten seconds; the impenetrable barrier evaporated to reveal a perfectly clear jungle.

“That was sooner than I expected,” Krava muttered.

Valdar released a low growl.  “We haven’t heard anything after the cloud appeared; I’m growing concerned.”

Krava nodded, and his tone darkened.  “Whatever this is, we have to hope Dalria made it out.”

Fennel glanced back at Denral’s sleeping form, lying against a tree.  “The cloud’s gone, but Denral hasn’t risen … Grem, guard him, and if he wakes, search for us.”

Grem saluted as they proceeded with caution, spreading out to avoid missing any signs of combat.  It took longer than Fennel expected to find traces of combat, but they passed scores of sleeping creatures.

“Here!”  One of Valdar’s men, his hushed words calling out to them.

They converged on the spot and began to study the scene; broken limbs and blackthorn barbs could be found around the area with the occasional bone chip.  They followed the destruction to a small clearing, where the main battle had taken place.

Blood was pooled along the ground and plants with more slim corpses of the messy creatures; it was clear that Dalria had killed the creatures by their wounds.  However, there were no signs of the elite warrior or her foe.  Upon closer inspection, Fennel spotted a trail that had likely been made by the Quen’Talrat, leading toward the Deadlands.

“S***,” Valdar growled as he followed Fennel’s observations.  “It looks like Dalria was either captured or killed and risen.  It’s the worst case scenario.”

“How … it must have been that cloud,” Krava mumbled in disbelief.  “That … that creature used it to incapacitate the Xaria.”

“Runners, send back word!  We need to alert every tribe … s***, we probably need to warn every race.  There’s a new creature that threatens us all.  Runners, go, and return when you tell them to relay the warning!”  He shouted, causing them to dash back.

“What are we going to do?”  Fennel asked, running his hands down strange cold spikes that bit at the touch.  “We don’t know what happened here … it seems some strange mysticism is at work.”

“Can you ask the jungle?”  Krava asked.  “See if Dalria escaped and is still alive?”

“Give me a moment,” Valdar muttered, kneeling near the most disturbed section, where the majority of the battle had likely occurred.

The warriors took up defensive positions around them, securing the area; Krava and Fennel kept close to the Elders as he prepared himself.

Valdar took a deep breath before bowing his head to the dirt and muttering something under his breath, fingers digging into the dirt to sprinkle it across his head.  His hands slowly spread out as he continued to mutter, and after a time, he rose, spreading mud over his closed eyes as he looked around.

Krava seemed to be waiting for something, but this was a first for Fennel.  He watched the strange ritual with a furrowed brow, walking around to Valdar’s front; he stopped in his tracks as Valdar’s eyes opened, now clouded as gray as the wall that had barred their entrance.

“The jungle wishes to warn me … rarely has it shown me such depth.  I see the Xaria … Dalria has the upperhand; she swiftly killed the three creatures we saw, and had already wounded the … it was her father and mother.  Those two creatures … It seems the thin ones are the females and the large ones are the males.

“Elinor is in a panic … Her father is dying and her mother is at knife’s point while Dalria questions her; everything is within the Xaria’s control.  She confirmed that Elinor is one of a kind, and knows of no other creature that can raise the dead.  Dalria killed the mother, knowing that she must now kill Elinor.

“Krava, your Xaria is quite skilled … yet every fatal blow against Elinor is rejected and healed; she truly seems immortal.  However, the Quen’Talrat,cannot keep up.  It is only a matter of time.  Wait … her parents just died, and … the jungle shakes … something … something happened.  Elinor did something unheard of … something unspeakable … and it awoke.”

Valdar paused and began to quiver.

“What?”  Krava shouted.  “What awoke?  What happened?”

“The unseen eye … the infinite … the vastness awoke, and … it assaulted Elinor.”

“What?”  Krava stiffened before cold sweat began gathering at his brow.  “The vastness … you’re sure?  Elinor … that creature awoke the unseen eye, and—and it attacked her?  The eye … it’s never attacked in the stories … it’s only whispered to the past mystics.”

Fennel rushed to support Valdar as he collapsed in a shaking heap, eyes still clouded as tears fell down his cheeks.  “Elinor … she raised her parents, and—they’re powerful—beyond powerful … terrifying!  The mother—she repelled the—she actually repelled the unseen eye … she’s holding it off.  She caused the cloud with—with the jungle … using the jungle’s energy.  I’ve never—heard anything—felt anything like this.”

“What of Dalria?”  Krava pressed.

“Taken … Elinor is currently locked in battle with the vastness.  Her mother’s name is Tiffany … her father, Edmon.  They’re,” he cut off, shaking his head and swallowing hard.  “They’re strong—monstrous … worse than any Quen’Talrat Elite Hunter … far worse … unimaginably … and dark … so dark … twisted.”

Fennel found himself hesitating as Valdar clawed at him, eyes wide.  “Retreat—we must—we must retreat.  We must gather—prepare!  Ruthless orange eyes … glowing and blue fog from unyielding black metal protection … they’re—they’re nightmares—merciless horrors brought to life—their presence—their loyalty—single-minded.”

“Valdar,” Fennel grunted, finding it impossible to pry off the Elder’s death-grip as he clung to him, quivering uncontrollably.

“Elinor—she’s colossal … the fire … I hear it … the whispers within … a sharp crack that penetrates her spirit … the jungle quivers … the pain … death, Fennel … you brought—you brought the Empress of the Dead to our world!”  He screamed.

“Valdar, get … Valdar!”

The Chief released him, falling into a seizure.  Fennel dropped to his side in a panic, but the Chief’s body had already relaxed, eyes red and glistening, wide with terror.

“Chief!”  Fennel shouted, shaking the toad, but he was unresponsive.

Valdar’s guards rushed to his side with cries of confusion.

Krava tossed Fennel off the fallen toad with surprising strength, checking his vitals.  His face sagged as he whispered, “Dead … he’s dead.”

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“What?  How … what?”  Fennel felt numb, knees weak.  “Not now … how could this happen?”

“Whatever he saw … it terrified him so much that,” Krava took a sharp breath.  “It was too much for him.  When he communes with the jungle … he’s sensitive to a great many things.  Exposing himself to both the vastness and whatever Elinor brought back … Tiffany and Edmon, Elinor herself … it was too much for him.”  He worked around his jaw, releasing a long breath, clearly fighting back tears as he closed the old toad’s eyes.

Krava swallowed hard, mumbling, “If Elinor is a female of her race … could she procreate”

The thought hadn’t crossed Fennel’s mind, but it sent a horrified jolt through his body at the uncertainty in the Chief’s tone.  Krava turned to the stunned warriors around him, and after taking a moment to collect himself.  “Valdar—sacrificed himself to warn us of this danger.  Whatever it was … this threat was powerful enough to—to drive a Chief to madness … a Chief that had seen many horrors in his life.

“Elinor is such a threat, that she awoke an ancient evil, and that being instantly attacked the creature … yet even the vastness is being beaten back.  This is unprecedented … nowhere in our history…”

The old toad warrior swallowed back his emotions.  “I’ll be sending word to every clan … there will be another War Council—a Union of Tribes.  We cannot let this chance Valdar gave us go to waste … I won’t.”  He whispered.  “May the ancestors forgive … our ancestors … what have we unleashed?” 

Krava straightened, glaring in the direction Elinor had left.  “Fennel, we need scouts.  The best you can offer.”  His sharp green eyes shot to him, and he could see why this old toad before him had once carried the title of Xaria himself as he took charge.  “They’re to run—as fast as they can.  They are never to engage; I don’t care if it brings dishonor on your entire clan … this is bigger than one clan.  This is war.  They need to be fast, and disciplined—they cannot fall or they will be risen.”

Understanding the decision, Fennel saluted him.  “Consider it done.”  Turning to his warriors, he barked, “Warriors, we are on the dawn of war!  If you engage—if you die—then you will bring upon your family and clan the highest form of dishonor … treason.  Watch and report!”

Every warrior saluted, eyes shining as the sound of war rippled through their bones.

He turned to Roka.  “You’re in charge of the first unit, and Toka the second.  Abandon a unit if it falls; I’ll be assigning Eltha to act as the messenger between your two groups, and I’ll let her know … one mistake, and she’ll be abandoned, clanless again.”

Both twins nodded, eyes steel.  “We won’t let you down, Sir!”  They both stated and vanished into the forest, clicking their tongues to determine who would get which warrior.

I’ll have to tell Grem and Denral the situation on our way back.  This is the dawn of another legendary era … all my training, built for this.

Valdar’s guards mournfully picked up their charge, tears cascading down their cheeks at the dishonor; an Elder Chief died on their watch.

“We don’t have time to waste,” Krava muttered, his old cheerful tone gone, replaced by cold steel.  “Let’s go.”


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