Roanoke Island… had been bigger, before the fall. Technically it’s still the same size, but the rising sea levels cut it’s land area by half and destroyed the old bridge that used to connect it to the mainland (from which it is further than it used to be for the same reasons).
It’s still a pretty big island, four miles long and a mile wide, rocky and sandy with trees and shrubs. It’s a pleasant place, or looks so from the outside. The ship Hunter had chartered had dropped the three travelers off at the north end but the crew remained aboard. They’re not being paid to accompany the trio and… this place has a reputation.
It’s certainly quiet. There’s not an animal sound or really much of anything. Just the waves and even those seem… muted, somehow.
The place is picturesque from afar, and Kaji really wasn’t sure what to expect from the place other than it likely being wilderness like much of everything else in this rift-strewn world. If this were his time and world of origin, he would have admitted that he hadn’t given the whole mysterious vanishing much belief. Now that they’re standing on the island, even without such stories to it, he’d definitely have to say that it feels like something’s…unusual around here.
He looks around, head tilting. “Okay, so this is…kind of creepy,” he observes, glancing to Hunter and Ardul.
Ardul is armoured, of course, as they step of the ship. She’s silent as she takes in the surroundings, a slight frown marring her brow. One thing that all have probably noticed is that she’s stopped calling Hunter ‘My Lord’ for the most part. Her wings are still the grey of Hunters fur, rather than the black/grey they had once been and there’s a slight metallic sheen to them from time to time when the light catches them.
“The stories those sailors tell, you’d think they’d know better. If this is place is haunted, it’s most likely by demons or D-Bee’s. Shall we look around?”
“A bit creepy, yes…” Hunter murmurs. He’s without his red coat today, and has been for much of the summer because… it’s summer. And it’s very hot.
“Sailors know that there are many things that go unexplained on the sea.” And sure there are explanations for most of them but the ocean is a vast and hostile place and Hunter will not begrudge them their stories. Perhaps he remembers similar about the void.
“According to what we heard, Nina is here somewhere. She’ll need shelter… and water. If those things are to be found here they’ll be close to the center of the island, don’t you think? Any ideas about where her… training or personality might send her?”
There aren’t even any animal tracks on the beach. Just… driftwood, leaves and sticks.
Despite the heat, Kaji’s opted to wear his usual long jacket. He just feels a bit better having it on, even if armor-wise, it really doesn’t provide much protection. He grips his spear in hand, having had it extended once they’d set foot on the island, using it to poke around at things aside from as a general walking staff.
“Haunted or not, there’s definitely something weird about the place. You’d think you’d at least hear bugs or birds or something, right?”
He tries not to stray too far from the other two, keeping an eye out of their surroundings. After so many years, he wonders if anything that would indicate where the old settlement had been would still exist. At the same time he keeps his ears open. If someone’s out here with Nina, then hopefully they would catch them by surprise.
“Nina may be here. Or she was … ” Ardul murmurs not quite trusting the word they received on that. The blonde glances around, brow furrowing more and her wings moving slightly in agitation. It’s so slight, Kaji might miss it but Hunter won’t. They’ve worked together long enough for him to know her moods.
“She’d seek somewhere defensible. Where she’s only only have one front to watch, preferably. Up high, if her wings are working – that reduces the threat after all.” So the top floor of a structure in a metropolitan setting. Or a cave system or a tree in the wilderness. “She was taught not to take fights she can’t win. She’ll be planning and watching for an opening.”
Kaji’s observation gets a look from the blonde and she smiles faintly as praise. “That is correct. You would. That we aren’t means there’s predators around. Either predators for us or our … prey.”
The trio walk toward the center of the island. The ground rises here, becoming rockier. Here and there there is evidence of prior habitation, a golden age town that once sat on this island but mostly it seems to have been consumed by nature. Which does make nature here more voracious than in most places. Generally… the bones of Mankind’s cities still stand in most places where he had significant presence.
The air seems to thicken around them as they press inward. The island terrain becomes wooded and the scrub underfoot thick. Going is slowish. Half an hour into the hike Hunter slaps at his face and looks about. “Felt like a spider web, but didn’t see anything.”
The wind rustles the summer leaves and both Kaji and Ardul might hear whispers on the wind in languages long past. Perhaps their names here and there. Or is it just their imaginations.
“There’s gotta be better places than this to hide out,” Kaji murmurs, more to himself than to the others as he continues to follow along, keeping to the middle of their trio.
The further inland they go, the more unusual it feels. The necromancer’s not sure what to call it. Oppressive? It’s really weird, that much is certain. His grip tightens around his spear. Hunter’s abrupt movement has him look over towards the wolfen in concern.
“I’d feel better if there were some spiderwebs or something,” he admits. He slows as the wind picks up, brow furrowing as he lifts his head. Maybe all this weirdness is playing tricks with his head, but then he figure’s it’s better not to take anything for granted. Just be extra careful..? Shaking his head, he pushes onward.
Hunter can tell by the way that Ardul’s head moves she’s hearing things, that she doesn’t say anything means she’s … not sure. “It doesn’t take long for places to be reclaimed by nature if left alone …” she observes but there’s something about this place that’s … wrong.
“What is it…” she spins to look at Hunter as he slaps at his face, coming to a stand still as she peers around and then back to the Wolfen. “A web, are you sure?” She checks his face for any marks from the encounter. “Might be some form of detection system. Be careful. I don’t like how the wind sounds.”
“People hide for all kinds of reasons.” Hunter murmurs. “Dinosaur Swamp is huge and hostile. If you didn’t know Vesper was north of here you might never go that way. The risk of travelling is great. Especially if you’ve found a place you can survive. Fresh water isn’t easy. Food though. That I have to wonder about. We haven’t seen anything since we got here…”
The wolfen checks himself but there are no marks. His ears perk and swivel. “I don’t hear anything.”
They know he’s got the keenest hearing of all. The air grows quite still and heavy. Almost oppressive. And then…
Hunter turns. It came from not far away. Just over that next hill.
“…you too?” Kaji asks, glancing back at Ardul as she mentions the wind. He nods grimly, turning to face forwards again. “…guess that’s true,” he says at Hunter’s words. It’s not like they know how anyone might have come upon this place, and especially if one was entirely new to the world, roaming blindly doesn’t seem like a wise thing to do, at least not without proper supplies.
“-you don’t? Not even on the wind?” Kaji asks Hunter. The general quiet of the area was a given, all the more noticeable when they stopped speaking. Eerie.
He doesn’t like the feel of the atmosphere. It’s almost like it’s alive, which is disturbing to think about. When the sound of a splash breaks the stillness, Kaji nearly jumps out of his skin. He sees where Hunter turns and looks in that direction as well. Well, that’s something to check out, definitely. A look to the two, a nod.
There’s an old ancient song about the name of the wind, Ardul hasn’t heard it else she’d be humming it now. Or at least humming in her head. “Me too?” she glances at Kaji in question and nods as she understands “There’s whispers on it … but if Hunter can’t hear them, I wonder if it’s just imagination and a side effect of the nanites.”
She might be forgiven for thinking that. They’d certainly messed with her psyche among other things.
The splash when it comes has her turning in that direction. “I can by cover by air. If this is an Iyesgarthian we’re tracking, they’ll be watching. I should be able to keep to sight of you as I fly…” Her wings flare then, almost gleaming as the light catches them – but she waits for confirmation before launching herself into the air.
Hunter frowns and breaks into a lope. That’s Ardul’s signal, and Kaji’s. From the air Ardul can see a pool, freshwater seemingly and fed by a stream that starts a bit further up, water falling into a bowl shaped depression. The water is bright and clear and as Hunter and Kaji crest the rise they can see someone swimming. Someone with wings and long blonde hair like Ardul’s. When she comes up… well, Ardul will know that face.
Nina, who is fortunately still clothed if barely, blinks in surprise at the visitors and then dives back underwater, swimming for the opposite end of the pool and her gear. Well ‘gear’. A stone tipped spear made of driftwood.
Kaji still has his doubts about the whispers, especially at Ardul’s suggestion given they both apparently heard something, but there’s other things to look into now, and once Hunter dashes off, the necromancer follows. He compacts the spear with a word, just so he won’t accidentally trip himself up during the run as they hurry up over the hill.
Eeriness aside, the place is still kind of pretty, and it would be a nice spot otherwise, once they get to the top. But down below where the water is, and there’s someone here after all.
“Ah!” Kaji blinks at the winged woman in the water as she dives. “Ardul!” he calls upwards, before trying to pick his way down the slope to the pool below.
Ardul’s wings gleam as the light catches them. They are made of feathers, aren’t they? Climbing high enough to get a good vantage on the area, her eyes widen as she see’s the wings and the other woman. Circling around to come in from the other side, surrounding the other Iyesgarthian so to speak, the Winged Warrior lights on the ground near Nina’s gear. She’ll be there when the woman surfaces.
And … she’s not a taking a knee or showing her wings. At least … not yet.
“Approach carefully…” she calls to the others, fingers curling around the cylinder at her hip. She won’t go on the offensive but she will be prepared. Who knows what’s been done to this woman.
Hunter slides down to the bottom of the somewhat steep embankment with Kaji. He’s down by the time Nina emerges again and it is indeed Nina. Or if it’s not it looks very, very, very like her. She reaches for her spear and then stares up at Ardul. Slowly she draws her hand back and then looks to Hunter and Kaji. The wolfen, at least, is picking his way around the shore toward them.
“Who… are you?”
Her voice sounds rough. Disused. As if she’s been alone for a long, long time.
When she asks, Kaji and Ardul hear the whispers again. Voices in a hundred languages, some young, some old. Many calling out their names, if softly and as if from a great distance.
Kaji takes a few leaps here and there to avoid a fall, skidding down the rest of the way shortly after the Wolfen. He keeps his dagger-spear low, not wanting to look threatening, but wanting to keep on his guard.
When the other Iyesgarthian emerges from the waters, he slips his own weapon back into its sheath, holding his hands to the side in further encouragement as she refrains from claiming her own.
Kaji looks from her to Ardul. Did she recognize Ardul? He’ll leave the winged warrior to handle introductions in that case. That seems increasingly the case when the whispers come up again, his chin lifting suddenly, eyes flicking left and right. “…who..?” he murmurs.
Ardul isn’t wearing her helmet at the moment, so it’s possible for Nina to make who she is. Not the same woman who came through a Rift nearly two years ago, but close enough for these purposes. “Knight Commander Ardul Trasinger, Your Majesty.” The blonde answers rather formally and takes a knee. She doesn’t ‘show her wings’ as she would when Nina was her Liege Lord.
“You are Princep Nina Edwards, rightful ruler of Iyesgarth. We have come to find you …” beat “This is Kaji, a friend and my Companion, Hunter Greymane.”
The wind is messing with her though and she glances around trying to pinpoint just where those voices are coming from “You hear it too? Hunter, all is not well here … ” What was it Kazue had said about wind and Nina remembering?
Nina pulls herself from the water, slowly. She’s clothed in rough cloth that covers her but is… well, suitable for a hot and humid climate. She stares at Ardul as if trying to parse what she’s saying, as if the words don’t make sense to her.
“I don’t hear anything.” Hunter doesn’t. He believes they do though and it worries him.
“She said she’d forgotten her own name… and could teach Kaji would cannot be known, only taught. Whatever the hell that means.”
The wind kicks up more. Hunter can’t hear it but the whispering intensifies, no longer dismissible as simple leaves rustling.
“I… do not know that name…” Nina Edwards. She looks at Ardul confusedly. “But you… I feel like I know you…”
Behind Kaji rocks tumble down the embankment. Hunter turns to see a bare stone get exposed as the scree and dirt falls away. On it, carved roughly, is a single word: Croatoan.
He looks back at the two Iyesgarthians, flicks a glance at Hunter. Licking his lips, Kaji slowly wiggles his fingers into his belt pouch, tips brushing against the folded fan at the bottom. Would it help?
“There’s…voices. In the wind,” he says carefully as his fingers curl around the thing and pull it out. As the wind picks up, he looks back at Nina and Ardul, slowly spreading the fan out in his hand.
Ardul hadn’t understood a thing of what Kazue said but not for a minute did she believe it was truly directed at her. Kaji was the one with fan, after all and had met Kazue well before them. Her job is to rescue Nina and get her to their people.
“We grew up together, Majesty …” Ardul answers, rising again. “And we’re here to see you to safety. We were told that you had forgotten yourself. I had for a while as well.” Not in the same way, she doesn’t think.
As Kaji takes out the fan, the frown deepens again but it seems … logical … that’s what they try. “Let’s see if we can help you remember and then you might be able to help my friend.”
“… I don’t remember you.” Nina repeats. “I’ve been here… since I woke up. It’s safe. You should stay. It’s safe.”
Safe. Hunter frowns and sees the word. Croatoan. Kazue had mentioned something about that.
“Do… I want to remember? Is it bad?” She seems fearful. The whispers are are almost deafening now and there’s a mounting sense of dread as if something is coming… or, perhaps not coming. As if something has noticed them and is turning their attention here. Nina cringes…
“… No. I don’t want to remember.” She cants her head almost as if hearing something. “It’s better to forget. Forgetting keeps me happy. You should also forget.”
Kaji frowns, looking concernedly at Ardul as Nina insists on her current state being preferred. He winces as the whispers increase around them, hands jerking up towards his ears, although the fan only comes up half-way as he’d momentarily forgot he’d been holding it.
“Getting worse…” he hisses, looking from Ardul to Hunter, the latter of whom seems preoccupied with something else. Turning his head, he looks towards the wall of stone that had been previously hidden, squinting before his eyes widen. Okay, so this is the place. But… Agh, what now?
The necromancer looks at the fan in his hand again. If the whispers are carried on the wind, will they go away if he stirs it up? The tension is definitely building and he’s almost afraid to find out what would happen if they just stood around, which itself becomes increasingly difficult for the insistent sounds that only he and Ardul seem to be able to hear.
He swings his arm out wide in front and around him, fan splayed flat against the motion to catch the air.
Ardul’s grey eyes watch Nina, as she draws herself up to her full height. She’s not sure why she doesn’t remember but she suspects it has something to do with the nanites. They either failed and left her amnesiac or they worked. Either way, they’re here now.
You will find her among the ghosts of those taken by the ancient watcher, Croatoan. That’s what Kazue had said.
“You need to remember, Nina. For the sake of your people …” The whispers in the wind has Ardul’s wings flaring out, a sheen rippling down the feathers as she instinctively reacts to danger. Hunter will see, at least, that the feathers seen to be metallic.
“It is watching us, whatever it is.”
The fan… calls the wind. Kaji knows that. It’s worked before. This time as he swings it… the whispers stop. The place falls dead silent. But there is no wind. The air, if anything, gets even more oppressive. Even Hunter can feel it now and his hand drifts toward his weapon.
“Something… is here…”
“Forget…” Nina whispers. “Forget, stay here. It’s safe…”
And then there is… a pressure. It pushes downward both physically and mentally and it’s almost like someone’s taking a razor blade to their minds, trying to flay away their memories.
Nina cringes again, her wings drawing inward. There’s… something on her back. It’s shimmering, blinking. Like there’s… something glittering just under her skin. Ardul might catch flashes of what look like Old Ieyesgarthian runes mixed in with symbols Kaji might recognize as kanji.
“Uh…” Things go silent, and Kaji’s not so sure that it’s any better than when the whispers had roared in their heads. His fingers tense upon the fan as the air around them is almost palpable.
“No, definitely not safe here, Nina-dono,” he mutters, barely able to finish before the pressure comes, and he cries out at its sudden and sharpness.
Stumbling forward, Kaji locks his legs, gasping as he tries to keep a grip on things. He struggles to lift his head, poising his arm again. It didn’t seem to like when he called the winds. Maybe he can give them some space if he keeps at it- like a barrier? Admittedly he’s never practiced in using the thing defensively, but it doesn’t seem an impossible idea in his head.
But what’s that? He blinks as he catches a glimpse of Nina’s back, easier to see perhaps for her wet clothing. That’s…really strange to see anywhere given that the only kanji he’s ever seen is what he writes. But what’s the rest of it? Well, first off…
Gritting his teeth, he waves the fan about again, a deliberate gesture, upwards, then back across, overhead.
Ardul sighs and doesn’t try to reason with Nina. If she needs to, she’ll pick the woman up and run with her. Wincing as the pressure hits her mind, the blonde takes a position guarding the Princep, her energy blade humming to life as she stands there.
“She’s been marked …” Ardul hisses at Hunter, not sparing time at the moment to read the runes. If she did, she might find they are symbols are forgetfulness – etched right onto the womans back. “We need to leave before it is too late.”
“Right this w-” Hunter gets clothes-lined by an invisible force and knocked to the ground. Mud sprouts up beneath him and he begins to sink. The island or Croatoan or whatever is doing this doesn’t seem to like him. It’ll keep the other two, but not him.
Nina is laughing almost hysterically. Maybe… psychotically. She’s rocking back and forth as Ardul tries to protect her. Kaji, may find that while Ardul has correctly interpreted the Iyesgarthian runes as ones enjoining forgetfulness, the Kanji… is written by another hand. And it’s a name. A name that isn’t Japanese. ‘Aprak-Tias’.
Ardul feels a push on her mind to take her place next to Nina. Something is trying to flay away her memories starting with the most recent and working back. It’ll take an act of will to hold onto them… and it’s going to be incredibly painful.
“Hunter!” Kaji shouts as the Wolfen goes down. He turns the fan sharply, sweeping it towards Hunter with the intent of blowing the mud back. Fine, this place wants to play it that way?
Turning sharply, he brings the fan up and once again tears it across. “Back off!” he shouts at…well, everything around them. It’s like they’ve unwittingly stepped into the maw of a giant angler fish. Their surroundings sure aren’t nice and innocent anymore.
He looks back towards the Iyesgarthians, eyes narrowing as he looks for the out of place kanji, trying to get more than just a glance. It doesn’t make much sense even then, but he tries to sound it out as he attempts to keep the winds up.
“A-pu-raku-teh-iasu..?” What the heck?
“No…” Ardul stumbles, physically fighting the mental compulsion she feels. When Hunter starts to sink, she cries out “Hunter. No … you will not have him. You will not have any of us …”
But there’s nothing to fight – at least not like she can fight. Magic and psychic attacks are still foreign to her and she’s helpless – stuck in her brain.
Hunter struggles, trying to get free of the mud, but something is pulling him back. He reaches for Ardul, trying to get a purchase on something that isn’t the ground, sure to betray him if he actually makes progress. “Ardul!” He coughs. The air is thick in his lungs. It’s hard for him to breathe.
The wind stirs as Kaji says that word. Perhaps… with just a little more force and a little more correct pronunciation…
Nina goes almost unnaturally still when he says that. “What… did you say?” She blinks and looks at Arudl.
He doesn’t feel like he’s doing much, but the trickle of sweat down the side of his face might testify to otherwise as Kaji tries to stand his ground, in a way, quite literally. But he senses it, that reaction, and to him it’s almost like a different stillness entirely as he takes it in.
The word obviously isn’t Japanese, but there’s something to it all right. Now that he has a better idea of what it sounds like, he can smooth out all the extra vowels and wonder and complain about why someone would write it out that way later. Right now, it’s all he’s got, and his friends are running out of time.
Fingers practically white against the teak and steel frame of the fan, he sweeps it back again, up and over his head as he glares in defiance of whatever unseen force tries to ensnare them in this forsaken place.
Sucking in a breath, he thrusts the fan downwards in a forceful ark as he shouts, “Aprak-tias!!”
Ardul feels Hunters claws as he manages to grip her ankle and it anchors her. Gives her something real to focus on. She’s strong, he knows that and with her wings she provide a steady an anchor. Which she does – managing to compartmentalize the attack on her mind. “I … am here, Hunter…”
Cousin. She is that. Cousin to the Princep of Iyesgarth and the word has never felt so sweet in her ears. “It is I, Nina. Ardul. I am here and I can’t say how pleased am I to hear you say that. If you give me a moment, I’ll be right with you …”
Everything hinges on Kaji now.
Hunter finally struggles clear of the mud with Ardul’s help though trapped as they are, that’s a temporary solution. Then Kaji shouts that word. It echoes in the still air and…
There is a single whisper. One that doesn’t sound like the others. Eimai Edo. And then the wind rushes through the glade as if a damn had burst. It swirls dust and splashes water and tosses pebbles and when it passes there is a being floating in the middle of the pond. It is gaunt, has no visible mouth or ears but it’s eyes burn red with malice and blood drips from its long, needle like fingers.
“Forget…” He says. This… must be Croatoan. Or at least a manifestation of him…
Kaji blinks, his hand still held outwards in the end position of when he’d brought the fan down. He hears the whisper, but he’s not sure what to make of it, but then the wind picks up, whipping his jacket about as it passes through the area. Quickly he glances back towards his friends. He hadn’t heard wrong, had he? Nina had sounded like she remembered. Hunter and Ardul, are they freed? And–
“Gyah! What is that?!” he yelps, jumping back as he looks towards the pool and the thing floating at its center, fan pointing at it both accusatory and perhaps attack-ready. The word spoken has Kaji looking with a grimmer expression.
Ardul stumbles backwards as Hunter comes free and the very air around them stands still before it rushes through. Her blade extinguishes and the blonde spins towards Nina “As you were trained, Princep …” she calls, continuing her movement round to Hunter again, drawing one of his pistols as she does.
As the wraith, or whatever it is, floats in the the middle of the pond, Ardul doesn’t hesitate. She pulls the trigger.
Nina pulls Hunter’s other gun and also fires. The light burns through the wraith. It turns toward the two Iyesgarthian women and lunges…
Only to be caught by the wind. It’s spun into a whirlwind. Razor sharp rocks are picked up, cutting it over and over again until it disippates into ribbons of crimson energy.
It’s over. Kaji has learned… the name of the wind. And Ardul has found Nina.
Hunter caughs. “Ow…”
The fan is held still but still directed, and once the target, the culprit has been made known, Kaji doesn’t even flinch as both Iyesgarthians commandeer the Wolfen’s guns and shoot at the Croatoan monstrosity. The winds rend the form into nothing, and even then he remains calm as he watches the last of it disperse. It’s only then that he slowly lowers his arm, breathing out a slow sigh.
He looks over at the others, turning about stiffly. His legs aren’t too happy about having been stuck in such a tense stance.”
Everyone okay? Hunter? Ardul? Um…Princep?”
Ardul is still after she shoots, making the threat has been eliminated for good. The weapon is returned to Hunters holster and grey eyes check her Wolfen companion first, the ‘ow’ is noted but she knows him well enough to know that he’ll if there’s a problem. Kaji then gets her regards “All well, Kaji? That was excellently done…”
The wings are still splayed and everyone can see now they have a metallic sheen to them. Are they metal or is it just a affectation? As they watch, with the threat dealt with, the sheen ripples again and dissipates.
Finally, Ardul turns Nina “It is good to have you back with us, Cousin. I can see you haven’t forgotten your training…” beat “And as much as I might like a family reunion, I don’t think we should dally. This way … there’s a boat waiting to take us to safety.”
Kaji can hear echoing female laughter accompanied with the twang of koto strings. Kazue was watching, of that much he can be sure. What more this will bring to him… that’s an excellent question. Something, that much is certain.
Hunter picks himself up. He’s muddy. And sore. But he’s alive. “It’ll probably reform. We should get out of here before it does, Ardul is right. Come on.”
“Who is…” Nina starts.
“Later.” Hunter says and motions them on. “Come.”
Hunter, Ardul and Kaji set out for the infamous Roanoke Island in search of the Princep Nina.
July 28, 2411