Taken From Thormun's Journal, Chapter 4
Journal Entry #37
“We’re going to die out here.” The voice is foreign. The words are rough and low, rasping softly past a dry throat. Raelin looks over at me through red-rimmed eyes. Her limp hair clings to her face. “We’re going to die out here.” The strange voice comes again from Raelin’s lips.
My tongue is swollen. My cracked lips try to form words, but nothing comes.
“Eight days we have been in this lifeless land. Our water runs dry. We’re not going to make it through. We have failed.” The desperation in Raelin’s voice is complete. Never before have I heard her accept failure as an option.
I hear a dull moan from behind. I turn just in time to see Shiori stumble and fall to her knees, then collapse face-first into the sharp volcanic rock that makes up the terrain here. Just as she hits the ground, the stones at our feet begin to shake and move. It’s as if the land itself sees we have been defeated, and prepares to deliver its final deathblow. A loud crack and boom beats against my ears. I look to my right side to see a distant mountain bloom with fire and ash. Turning back, I see the others looking up at the erupting volcano, awestruck. The distant fire reflects off their glassy eyes.
“MOVE!” Shouting, I snap them out of their daze. “We’ve got to get out of here!” Fire begins raining down out of the sky. Raelin strikes the ground with her staff, and her protective blue bubble surrounds us. The falling flames dissipate when they hit it.
“I’m too weak to keep this up much longer,” cries Raelin. Q-10 reaches down and scoops Shiori up into his robotic arms. The sound of hydraulics pumps loudly as the Soulborg takes off in a full sprint, leaving the safety of Raelin’s aura behind, arching over to protect Shiori from the fiery rain that bounces in loud pings off his metallic back.
“Go! Get out of here!” I yell to Raelin. I half expect a brave argument about staying to protect us, but surprisingly she speaks no words of rebuttal. She lets down her protective aura and takes to the sky, nimbly dodging the falling rocks of flame as she twists and rolls through the air. Sonlen raises his arm and his miniature pet dragon leaps skyward as well, following Raelin’s path to safety. I look over and meet Sonlen’s grim eyes. With a nod we both run in the direction that Raelin flew and Q10 ran with a broken Shiori in his arms.
Up ahead I see Q10 raise an arm. Two rockets launch from his wrist in quick succession. The first one flies straight and steady, finding its fiery mark in a bright explosion. The second rocket sails through the midst of the fireworks created by the first. It then changes its path in midair, twisting off to find another chunk of the volcano’s blazing spittle and send it blasting into a million pieces.
Running, I catch a flash of red and yellow out of the corner of my eye. A piece of the volcanic rock hurtles toward me, fixed on taking me out. I have no time to dodge, but react by lifting my seemingly indestructible right arm and knocking the rock away with surprisingly little effort, never breaking pace.
Journal Entry #38
The rain of fire trickles down to a drizzle, but the last of our waning energy was spent in the escape of a flaming death. Now a thick ash clouds the air, burning the eyes and throat. A terrible and consistent cough shakes my body as it tries to free itself of the ash. Raelin is forced to land, her coughing so bad that she can no longer fly. Only Q10 is unaffected by the weariness and the wheezing that nearly incapacitates the rest of us. He seems to be able to see through the ash as well, and guides us onward.
Out of the black fog darts a flash of red, but it is no flaming rock. Sonlen’s winged-lizards returns to his shoulder.
“Water lies ahead,” Sonlen states in his always low, always somber voice.
“It’ll only be more salt.” Raelin’s desperate voice wheezes between coughs.
“No, I don’t believe so,” states the Elf, never fully explaining himself.
Water is our only hope, so we all follow after the Elf, who has taken up the lead, praying that he’s right and that the water ahead is fresh and not more sea water. Otherwise we’ve traded a quick death for a slow one.
Forcing our weary legs to keep walking, breathing through cloth in a feeble attempt to filter out the ash, we reach the water’s edge. Cupping my blackened hands, I draw water up to my mouth. It is uncomfortably warm, but fresh. I drink it in gulps, spraying much of it back out through haggard coughs. I drop my face into the water, letting it wash away the black gunk from around my eyes and nose. Coming back up, I look over to see that the others are doing the same. Except, of course, for Q10 who, for all his hulking demeanor, gently feeds the water to Shiori. Like a great big ape caring for its young.
The water has quenched my thirst and given back the feeling of life to my body. The ash has settled to the ground and everyone else’s cough has quieted, but mine has not. Even Shiori is sitting up on her own again, but I lay on my back, coughing and hacking uncontrollably. It feels as if I’m going to cough myself inside out. My lungs have taken in too much ash, I can feel them burning in my chest.
Sonlen’s little red dragon, every bit the member of this group that I am, waddles its way over to me. It’s sympathetic to my hurt, like the old hound we had when I was a kid who, when I skinned a knee or scraped an arm, would come and stick its head under my hand as if to say: “It’s going to be all right.”
I stroke the scaly head of that lizard a while, as I used to do to that old dog of mine. Then the little guy sticks its neck out and touches its beak to my chest. I grunt out one last cough and then the coughing stops. I breathe deep of the air and my lungs feel strong.
No joking, that dragon healed me with its very touch.
Journal Entry #39
Grass clings to the parched earth, with every step it grows thicker underfoot. We begin climbing upward over a patchy green hill, which blocks our view of the horizon. Reaching the top, all the land opens up around us. It’s like we stand on the dividing line between two worlds. Behind us lays the desolation of the Volcarren Wastelands and before us a lush green landscape fills our vision.
Snow-capped mountains rise up on either side of us like great walls. Those mountainous ramparts protect a valley of swampy wetlands below, a narrow canyon path cutting through the mountain range. Our road is already set before us.
Moving down into the canyon I feel no relief from the heat of the Volcarren, instead the air turns thick, heavy and wet. The moisture seeps into my cracked skin, but offers little comfort. Ahead I hear the babbling of a brook, calling to me like a siren singing her enticing song.
The mountain spring refreshes and brings renewed energy, but the air here smells foul. A great sense of foreboding quickly takes the place of the relief I felt after making it through the unrelenting land of the volcanoes.
Journal Entry #40
A vision of wellsprings has brought us here, far from the cold north of Nastralund, to the bug-infested bogs and jungles of the sweltering south. Raelin, Sonlen and I must make our way through this canyon and link up with Major Q10 and Shiori at the end of the Pass. Q10 and Shiori have been scouting ahead. It has been a while since we have heard from them. Raelin looks concerned.
I look up in the sky as we walk and I shiver at the sight of the large alien birds circling above us, an ominous warning of what we are approaching between the tall dark mountains.
My boot splashes into standing water and is sucked downward by the spluttering mud. The water is murky, an awful shade of rancid-green with a smell to match. I glance down at my slowly sinking foot and my eye catches on a floating object, bumping itself up against my leg. Some itch in the back of my brain has me stoop over to make a closer inspection. I lift it slightly out of the water, the clinging algae drips away, and then I drop it in gut-wrenching horror. A bloated arm lies there in the dim pool, lurid, and streaked with blue veins. I take a step backwards and look over the water’s surface. More of the same morbid bits bob their way around the stagnant puddle. The dead surround us, left here to rot in the mire.
Before I can even begin to react to what I’m seeing, a new terror seizes me. I stand transfixed, as a pale arm reaches itself up out of the slime. Raelin screams. Raelin, who is always unmoved in the face of battle, always brave, always bold, is now gripped with fear. A dripping torso pulls itself out of the water. Then another body emerges, and another. It is as if the dead rise from their slumber to rejoin the living. But these are not the faces of the dead. These macabre faces belong to the marro. They’ve hidden themselves among the corpses of their previous victims, lying in wait to ambush us.
The emerging marro carry the same weaponry as those we fought in Ekstrom. We’ve named them. The ones with the big electricity-firing guns, we call “Stingers” and we’ve named the ones with the twin pistols “Drudge.”
One of the Stingers points his charging gun in my direction. I fire my grapple skyward. It catches on a spindly branch growing out of the rock face. I pull a trigger and am jerked up, avoiding a deadly shock. I swing across the water and release the grapple, landing behind the Stinger that just tried to take me out. Before it can even turn around, I send its head rolling off of its shoulders, landing in the water with a splash.
Something jumps on me from behind. Sharp teeth bite into my shoulder. Grunting in pain, I reach back and catch hold of the thing. It’s a marro-like animal. It has an elongated, hard, green shell for a head and a fleshless body. It claws and snaps at me like a rabid dog. I throw the hideous thing into the swamp and step on its green shell of a head, applying pressure on it, until it cracks and collapses under my boot.
I turn around in time to see two more the green-headed creatures jump at me, knocking me backwards into the water. I cover my face with my metallic right arm to fend off their bites, swinging blindly with the sword in my other arm. I fight for air, the marro-beasts holding me underwater. My struggle quickly drains away the oxygen in my lungs, panic and arm flailing sets in.
Just as I am about to breath in swamp water, the weight lifts off of my chest. I sit up gasping for air. A rasping yelp of pain comes from above me. Glancing up I see the two marro creatures suspended in mid-air, writhing and yipping in pain. Across the water I spot Sonlen, both of his arms extended, and his eyes closed as if in concentration. Sonlen makes his hands into fists and a final pair of yelps cry out from above me, the creatures go limp, and plunge down into the water.
I stand, letting the water and slime run off of my dripping clothes and face. I look around me. Raelin towers over 3 marro, slain at her feet. The little dragon sits on top of another prostrate marro, still snapping at the back of its neck. Only one marro remains, one of the Drudge. It stands for a second, looking at me, and then turns and runs. I fire my grapple at its back. The line goes taut and I yank the Drudge backwards off of its feet. I hop up out of the swamp water and stand over the heartless creature, executing it with a pistol shot to the forehead.
Journal Entry #41
We approach an ancient and beautiful valley after having met up with Major Q10 at the mouth of the Narrows. Unfortunately, the Soulborg brings sad tidings of Shiori’s capture at the hands of the inhuman monsters, the marro. As I survey the terrain of the vale I see in the distance, along the riverbed, a large shelf of stone jutting up from the flat floor of the valley. This seems a perfect location to ambush the marro troops escorting Shiori west.
As we make our way to the ambush location, I once again see in the sky the large birds circling above us and casting their carrion shadows upon our fateful path.
We lay low on the stone ledge, waiting, watching. The first marro rounds the bend in the riverbed, coming into view. Several other follow him. They surround Shiori, who looks bruised and battered but still fights against them as they drag her along. Behind the marro run a number of the green-domed creatures hoping back and forth across the riverbed, snapping at each other playfully.
Just as they pass by us, we make our move. Raelin puts a protective aura around us. Q10 fires a hailstorm of bullets from his left arm, moving it from left to right, mowing down four of the ‘green-domes’ at the back of the pack. Shiori takes advantage of our distraction. She steps on the foot of the marro drudge holding onto her right arm, it lets go of her and she uses that freedom to incapacitate the Drudge hanging onto her other arm, slipping away from her captors. I charge out to join the fray, giving Shiori a clean getaway.
Q10 continues to rain machinegun fire down on the swarming marro, picking them off one by one. I quickly dispatch two of the marro who manage to engage me in hand-to-hand combat.
Sonlen’s dragon flies over my head and dives at one of the marro stingers, with a snap of its powerful jaw the dragon cuts through the cord connecting the marro’s massive gun to its body. A yellow liquid squirts out in a gush and the marro drops its weapon and collapses face first into the ground.
One of the Drudge stands 30 yards away, both of its guns trained on me, squeezing off bright blasts. One of the bolts of light grazes my leg, burning through my fatigues and a layer of skin. I twist my sword around letting it catch on the sun. I reflect the sun’s rays off my blade and back into the marro’s face. It shields its eyes from the brightness long enough for Raelin to fly past and plant her spear into its chest.
Raelin lands and claims her spear back from the chest of the fallen marro drudge. Two more of the Drudge close in on her. She raises her weapon to the sky and sends it spinning on the end of her hand. With a flash, she turns the spear around her back, thrusting it into her enemy, Following the motion of the spear, she spins her body around, bringing her dance to an end with a lunge as she kills the last of the marro that still offered any resistance against us.
Journal Entry #42
After the ferocious battle at Montiqua Ledge, we decide to stay together and avoid any major conflicts by staying off the cleared paths. A sense of dread almost overtakes me as we emerge into a clearing and see what could only be described as a marro parasite: a humongous creature that is glowing and pulsating out of the choking natural spring.
Out of the top this ‘leech’ drops a large larva sac that starts to tear itself open almost immediately. What emerges from within is a marro stinger, and the horror hits me. This is where the marro have hidden, and we must destroy this grotesque monster before more can be made for the numberless hordes of Utgar.
I lead the others forward toward the giant claw-like parasite. More larva sacs hold to the thing, wriggling with life. The newly born marro stinger stumbles to its feet, but it is weaponless and flees when it spots us. Three of the green-headed creatures we’ve taken to calling “nagrubs” stalk about the marro hive. The nagrubs are sightless and lick at the air like snakes, tasting for their prey. We are downwind from their flicking tongues and so make a stealthy approach. As the nagrubs discover us, we discover that they are the least of our worries.
At the far end of the clearing more than a dozen marro come marching into view. Behind them all stands a goliath of a creature with a marro riding on its back. The thing’s eyes glow red, its mouth is lined with pointed teeth. It looks . . . hungry.
I turn my gaze from the marro giant in time to see a nagrub leaping at Shiori. I yell out, but she has no time to move. She throws her arms up in front of her face, but the nagrub’s teeth don’t find their mark. Raelin darts in front Shiori, holding her spear with both hands, and beating back the nagrub attacker. The creature tumbles backwards and then retreats back to safety, the other nagrubs following after it.
The ground shakes. The marro giant trudges forward in great strides, passing by his smaller brethren, who scramble about trying to avoid his heavy footfalls. One of the marro moves a little too slowly and is caught, screaming, between bone and earth.
Q10 steps forward, standing between the oncoming giant and us. Two rockets sail outward from his wrist, trailing with blue flame. The rockets find the giant, hitting it in its right shoulder and its left thigh. The brilliant explosions daze my eyes. When my vision clears the giant stands there, stunned but unharmed. He shakes off the explosions like a boxer might shake off a blow from a weak opponent.
The giant’s orange, glowing eyes burn brightly. It leans forward and releases a chest-rumbling growl. Reaching out a long arm, it wraps its fingers around one of the nagrubs that scurry about its feet. The creature flails, hopelessly attempting to free itself the giant’s grasp. The giant grabs onto the nagrub’s thrashing rear legs and with a jerk, frees the thing’s body from its armored head-plate. It tosses the meat of the creature into its wide mouth and drops the green shell at its feet. The giant chomps down twice, making the noise of cracking bones, and then swallows. Its feast seems to give it a new energy as it begins stamping forward once again.
Raelin takes flight, making her wings carry her high into the air. Then she dives, aiming her spear at the head of the marro giant. Before she reaches her target, a bolt of amber light collides with her frame. Shot by a marro Drudge, Raelin is sent spiraling from the sky and lands in the shallow swamp waters behind the giant.
I cry out. Rage replaces fear. I charge forward, drawing my blade. I raise my sword over my head, ready to strike with the next stride. I bring my blade down in a forward stroke, waiting for it to bite into marro flesh. The stroke goes wide and a giant hand collides with the side of my ribcage sending me airborne in a rush of pain. I hit the soft swampy ground and slide several feet before I stop, face first in the muck.
I lay there on the ground for a moment determining not to let the pain overtake me. I turn myself around and use my sleeve to wipe away the sludge from my eyes. With my re-found vision I look up to see the wide-mouthed gun barrels of three marro stingers staring back at me.
Journal Entry #43
The marro look from one to the other, pleased with their prize. They have me pinned against the ground, defenseless. My mind races.
One of the stingers leans over and spits at me before pressing its gun to my head. I shut my eyes and clench my jaw. Images flash in my mind. Thoughts of home, of Earth, thoughts of Mom and Pop sitting on the old porch swing wondering if their boys will ever come back from the war, thoughts of my brother, still fighting in the Pacific theater, and thoughts my three sisters, trying their best to help take care of the farm while their brothers are half a world away… and more.
My mind snaps back to the swamps of Valhalla when I feel the hard metal of the stinger’s gun fall away from my temple. I open one eye and watch the stinger fall to the ground beside me, a kunai lodged in the back of its neck. Focusing beyond kunai, which is sticking up just inches in front of my face, I see the weapon’s owner, Shiori, with a smirk drawn on her face. The other two marro hovering over me hesitate just long enough for me to draw my sword. Their hesitation costs them their lives.
I crawl to my feet, swallowing down a swell of pain. Running with a limp, I make my way to the place where Raelin fell. A marro pokes at Raelin’s limp body as I approach, without missing a crippled stride I draw my pistol and down the insolent piece of scum.
Reaching Raelin, I kneel at her side and hold her head in my lap. I watch her for signs of life. From out of the corner of my eye, I catch a marro heading my way. Without looking away from Raelin’s face, I aim my gun in the direction of the marro and fire off three rounds, one of them finds its mark and the marro falls, splashing into a pool of standing swamp water.
Her breathing is shallow but she’s alive. I lift her into my arms and try to stand. Intense pain shoots across my side and up my spine. I crumple to my knees.
If I can’t take Raelin away from danger, I’ll keep the danger away from her.
Propping myself against my sword, I stagger to my feet. Even if the entire world stands against me, I will stand and protect her like she has protected me so many times before.
Journal Entry #44
Slowly, I turn myself around in a circle. I let the air move in and out of my lungs in a deliberate and steady rhythm. I take in all that is happening around me.
Shiori fights a pair of marro drudge, nimbly avoiding blasts from their weapons and sending a barrage of shurikens back in return.
Sonlen stands on a patch of raised ground where the Marro Hive has pushed itself up out of the swamp. Lightning comes screaming from the mouth of a stinger’s gun, headed straight for him. The elven mage pulls his arms up and catches the leaping bolts of light in his hands. With a push he sends the electrical energy back at the awe-stricken marro below. The marro falls face first into the ground, smoke rising off of its lifeless body.
Q10’s hydraulics whine and stutter as he grapples with the giant skinless-creature. The marro that rides on the giant’s back thrusts its spear down at Q10, cutting through a thick bundle of wires in the soulborg’s shoulder. The severed wires spit out black fluid and Q10’s arm goes limp.
The nagrubs, teaming about the giant’s feet, begin piling on top of Q10, they bite and claw, struggling to find holes in his armor. He manages to shake one of them off and spray it with a round of machine gun fire, but another takes its place and the powerful machine falls backwards.
I start toward my wounded Soulborg ally, but a squad of marro block my path. The marro open fire on me. I spin around and fall to my back, narrowly evading the bolts of light that fly overhead. I flip over onto my stomach and fire my grapple, wrapping it around the feet of one of the marro. I pull the trigger and bring the grappled marro reeling in toward me. I grab the thing around its neck and use its body to shield me from the incoming fire of the others. My marro shield quickly goes limp in my arms after it sustains a blast to the chest. One of its guns drops loose from its hand and swings from a line of purple tubing that connects the gun to the marro’s body. I grab the dangling weapon and start firing back at the other marro, downing them one by one.
Sonlen is down on one knee, his head is bowed, and his eyes are clenched shut. He’s putting all of his effort into restraining the marro giant, who he has anchored to the ground by a series of magically woven vines.
Q10 has managed to kill off two more of the nagrubs that have wrestled him to the ground and Shiori hurries to his aid.
The marro giant and the nagrubs are the only threats remaining. I start to hobble in Sonlen’s direction to help him fight the giant but freeze in my tracks when I see what’s going on behind him. The Hive drops three larva sacs to the ground. Out of each sac crawls a newly born, but fully developed, marro. I fire at one of the marro but miss it as all three of them dive into a pool of nearby swamp water and disappear from sight.
My poorly aimed gunshot whizzes by Sonlen’s head, breaking his concentration. The marro giant frees himself from Sonlen’s vines and runs at the exhausted elf. I turn my pistol on the giant and begin firing. Fwwap, fwaap, fwaap, three bullets beat against its bony hide. It’s enough to make him angry. He turns his attention toward me.
I holster my pistol and ready my sword, gripping it with both hands. The lumbering giant shakes the ground with the planting of each foot as it makes its way steadily toward me. Its tooth-lined face seems to grin at me, sensing my fear. My mouth feels dry. Using my sleeve, I wipe away the beads of sweat from my forehead and re-adjust my grip.
Just as the giant comes within striking distance, its back bursts forth with smoke and fire. The creature stumbles forward, stunned from the blast. I leap and lunge. I drive my sword deep, burying it in the giant’s chest. The giant sways on its thick legs. Its glowing eyes dim and then go out. It falls backwards, crushing its rider underneath its own weight.
With the giant fallen, Q10 comes into view. He stands there with one arm dangling off his body, hanging by a few thin cords. Smoke rolls out of the cannon on his other arm. The sides of my mouth tug themselves up in a cynical grin, but quickly fall flat again as bolts of marro gunfire zip past my head and land in Q10’s chest. I spin around to see that a marro drudge has come, seemingly, out of nowhere. Both of his guns are alight, sending their blasts in my direction. I stoop low, shifting my sword into my robotically aided hand. I extend my arm and with a powerful swing I send my blade wheeling through the air.
The blade plants itself in the ground directly behind the attacking drudge. The marro stands frozen for just a second, its bony fingers no longer pulling on triggers, and then it falls, its body split in two halves.
Next to the broken marro, two more drudge pull themselves up out of the swamp. These two, and the two halves of the other, make up the three marro that the Hive just gave birth to. They seem to have tunneled their way under the swamp water to re-emerge there, where my back was turned. The two living marro crawl on their hands and feet, making their way to the lifeless bodies of their fallen comrades. The newborn marro pull away tubing and weaponry from their dead and attach it to themselves. They are re-arming, continuing the fight.
“ENOUGH!” I cry out in a mixture of exhaustion and rage. I draw my pistol back out of its holster one last time and fire two shots. Both marro collapse to the ground. I drop my gun and fall on my knees. Fatigue overtakes me. I lie down and stare up at the sky.
I hear Shiori tending to Q10. I hear a loud cracking noise like the breaking of bone as Sonlen destroys the Marro Hive. I listen for sounds of Raelin stirring, when I hear none I force myself to crawl to her side. She leans her head towards mine and opens her eyes. I reach out my hand and lay it on top of hers.
Journal Entry #45
I have no time for the feelings of satisfaction after the destruction of the Marro Hive and its Hivelord for, far above us, the large carrion birds that have followed us for so long through the mountains are finally descending. As I prepare myself for battle, Raelin points out (with her far-reaching eyes) that these are not birds. They are Kyrie of the Moon Tribes.
Raelin continues in a weak voice, sapped of her strength as a result of her injuries, “My father would sing to me when I was small, a lullaby made up from parts of the ancient songs of lore.” She begins singing in a soft and longing tone,
On the Wings of Thorian,
Across the fires Volcarren,
Flies a blade that hides,
From wicked eyes,
Of the Great Moon Tribe
Your sword Drake, it was forged here in the south and brought to us in the north, at a time of great need, by the kyrie champion of old—Thorian, of whom there are many more songs that can be sung. These Kyrie that descend upon us now, they must be remnants of Thorian’s people.”
Three tall kyrie, garbed in animal skins and bird feathers, fly down out of the sky and land before us. One of them steps forward and begins to speak but the language is foreign. I look over at Raelin and can tell that she doesn’t understand them either. I stand and try to signal to the strange kyrie that we cannot understand them, but Sonlen interrupts me.
The rarely heard voice of the elven mage cuts cleanly through the air, “They say that they have been watching us and that they know us to be friends of Aquilla.” Sonlen begins speaking in the odd language of the foreign kyrie as if he has spoken it all his life. After a short dialogue between the kyrie and elf he speaks up again, “They are taking us to a place of healing waters, where we will be able to quickly recover from our wounds, and then they will take us to their leader … the one they call Aquilla.”