“We did not go looking for a fight.” The Elder paused, looking skyward as though seeking answers from some unseen entity. He seemed to reconsider something and began speaking again. “I spoke an untruth. We did expect some resistance to dispatching the Horror they had captured, but when we arrived, it was after your Captain received the reports of what happened to the first volley of men to the island.”
Carlos remembered his Captain and got a sick feeling in his gut.
“He was beyond negotiation. He blamed us immediately for having withheld the information and costing him the lives of countless men under his command.” The Elder explained. “We told him he was warned, but he felt it had not been enough. He ordered our tribe be killed. And worse, he declared our women and children were to be taken and used as the vengeance seeking men deemed fit.” The Elder was sharp with his response, speaking with command, defending the actions of the tribe from over a century ago. “We had no choice but to protect ourselves. And more importantly, the world from the Horror. Were the circumstances repeated, we would do it again.” The Elder’s eyes were locked on Carlos, not deviating. “Without hesitation.”
The trio found themselves looking back and forth from the Elder to the army of warriors surrounding them, seeing them now in a different light.
The Elder suddenly sensing their rising fear quickly interjected. “It was a different time and a terrible circumstance. You have my solemn word no harm shall come to you now.”
Hayden turned to Carlos. “To YOU anyway.”
“All of you.” The Elder added, guessing what Hayden had said.
For several long seconds, which felt like hours, a calm settled back into the fireside pow-wow.
Carlos had long come to grips with the deaths of his friends, but the not knowing had left an empty feeling in his belly over the decades. Now having discovered the truth and his own Captain’s involvement in bringing about their end, it did not satisfy nor fill the hole.
“Be assured.” The Elder tried to explain. “We tried to convince your crew to retreat, but they were duty bound to their Captain and the memory of your lost men. Within minutes, your armoury had outfitted the remaining crew and attacked. And because they considered us savages, they expected an easy fight.” The Elder hesitated for a second. “In that assumption, they were wrong. As protectors of this island for over a thousand years, we have fought before and I suspect will again.”
“But your warriors barely topped a hundred.” Carlos stared around at the camp, sporting a look of incredulity. “My crew was at least two hundred and seventy men, fully armed and filled with fury… How could you have…?”
Danica cut him off, as a scientist and a woman of logic. “An army of a hundred warriors, trained in basic hand-to-hand combat and who can heal from almost any wound in seconds, energized as you described by the power of the island…” She softly argued. “Your crew could have been a thousand and they’d still have lost.”
Carlos bowed his head. He had to admit, the odds were against the crew. Once they saw the warriors healing from the attacks and still coming, their superstitious natures would have taken hold, causing untold havoc on the assault. Combined with the Horror and having already lost a third of the men, they would have been forced to believe they had found the camp of the devil himself.
The Elder remained quiet, allowing for Carlos to take the events in.
Carlos was calming down, his fear subsiding at the tribe’s long ago actions. He knew, in equal circumstances, he too would have defended his own people under such an onslaught. “What’s done is done. Let us return to my past. How did I get back to the ship? And how was I found in the middle of the ocean?”
The Elder gestured to the air. “With your crew dead and having saved you from the island, we knew we were poor caretakers for you. Unlike our warriors who intentionally seek out the island for its life giving power by stealing it from the Horror, you were completely unprepared for the danger and the repercussions. Combined with the time they kept you in their lair and fed upon you…”
Danica interrupted with a disturbed expression. “I’m sorry. Did you say fed upon him?”
“I did.” The Elder replied. “The island is barren of food. Mostly stone and rock. No sunlight means no flora. And of course, the Horror are not plant eaters. What they eat, they must capture. And most importantly, while the Horror feeds upon you, you feed upon it.”
All three of the trio exchanged a look of confusion.
“How is that possible?” Hayden asked.
“Sounds like a parasite.” Danica replied. “Likely some form of symbiosis.”
“Sybi-what?” Carlos asked. Not being a scientist, the term escaped him.
“Symbiosis.” Danica repeated. “It’s basically a relationship in nature where one organism lives off another with both partners sharing their endeavors with survival being the ultimate goal. An evolutionary ’give and take’ if you will.”
Hayden turned to the Elder. “Then why not let those things on the island starve? If they’re so evil, letting them die of hunger sounds like a great plan.”
The Elder shook his head sadly, like he was lecturing a young child. “Believe me when I tell you, we have tried. Many things, over many moons, and no matter what is attempted, the Horror survives. Always present, undying, unrelenting and forever breeding more of them.” The Elder for the first time since they started, looked defeated. “And worse, hunger can breed the instinct they have coveted so well...Survival. We determined a long time ago, as long as we keep them fed, even if only a little, they are kept satisfied, and more importantly, contained. A prisoner will not attempt escape if they have what they need and don’t know what awaits them beyond.”
Carlos asked again. “But I’ve not yet heard how I was found lost at sea?”
“We placed you back on board your ship of course” The Elder answered. “We presumed your own people would be better suited to care for you. That and as a group, we voted that sending you back in your state would be an added warning to anyone who would attempt a return to seek out the island. It would let it be known for all who might try; the reward for such an incursion would be a repeat of your condition and the fate that befell your crew.”
Hayden gave a soft wolf whistle. “Message delivered.”
“As for the ship, some of our finest warriors took your boat back to the ocean, as some of your men had taken a shining to them and showed them the ease of sailing it. Teaching us savages if you will.” The Elder cracked his neck with a quick jerk. “Once free of the shore, we pushed her off and let the winds carry her where they may. She rode steady and we ensured the ship was fully stocked with fresh foods and fluids for you. As for your mind, that was yours to find again.” The Elder clapped Carlos’ knee. “And by your return today, you did.”
Carlos felt he learned all he wanted to know on how he got to the ship, so he posed the next question that had always eluded him. “Can I be killed?”
The Elder laughed. ““Of course you can. Though it is much tougher, death can still take you. A blow to the head or heart will work if strong enough. The importance is stopping the flow of blood. When that river fails to run, your life will come to a certain end.”
Danica had never expected to get so much information so easily. She had a question of her own. “When you speak of the Great Sleep, do you mean the Horror hibernates?”
“I know not of this word.” The Elder replied. “Call it what you will. The Horror goes into a deep sleep, not unlike death, unable to awaken for many, many moons. Two full seasons.”
Hayden nodded to Carlos and Danica. “I would conclude that to be about six months.”
Danica pursed her lips. “With the lack of food, it is logical. Eat for short periods and sleep for more, slowing down the metabolism in hibernation to savour the little they have.”
“In fact, you’re very fortunate...” The Elder interrupted, looking to the trio and back to Carlos. “Fortune follows you a lot.”
“Tell that to my psychiatrist.” Carlos smarmily shot back.
The Elder stared in some confusion. “Your who?”
Carlos waved his hand. “Never mind, it was a joke.”
The Elder rubbed his hands to the fire for warmth. “Well this time you have chosen to visit is only a few moons into their Great Sleep. They will remain this way for many more moons.”
“Thank God for small favours.” Danica commented. “Can any of the tribe help us, maybe even lead the way?”
“No.” The Elder replied instantly. “We must always pay great homage to our God before making such an incursion into the Horror’s lair. It is not a trip we take lightly. It takes months of planning and preparation. If you must go now, you go alone.”
“Wonderful.” Danica stated.
The Elder tried to raise her spirits. “Know this. During their sleep, our tribe frequently visits the island and observes the Horror. During its rest period, we have wandered the caves without their interruption. And once, a young member even struck one and it did not awaken from its deep slumber.”
Carlos finally smiled. “I like that.”
“But make no mistake…” The Elder warned. “They’re not dead. They can be awakened. The cave walls echo sound and can make even the drop of a fruit that much louder than when first made.”
Carlos started to understand now why the whispering seemed so loud to him so long ago. The question remained what the source was.
The Elder crossed his hands over one another and glowered. “Also be forewarned. Two of the Horror do not sleep during this period. They are the caretakers of the island and the guardians who watch over the others. They move about the island like soldiers, setting traps, protecting its sleeping brethren. We call them the Sentinels.”
Hayden gestured for the Elder to draw the Horror, clearing a sandy spot before him on the ground until it was smooth.
Everyone around the fire looked stricken at the request, chanting and muttering loudly to one another, some visibly upset.
The Elder seemed angry, brushing the sand back into a random mess. He fired back with some fear in his voice. “Recreating its picture could give it power. We refuse to take the risk.”
“There goes a hope we’ll know what we’re up against.” Danica sighed.
Hayden decided to change the topic seeing the anger and fear he had instilled with his request, unaware how truly terrified they were of re-creating the Horror, in any form. He asked the Elder. “How deep is this lake around the island?”
The Elder offered his hands up in an expression of surrender. “We have no idea. Deeper than our longest ropes I can tell you. Plus the water is not like a riverbed. It is not a gradual descent into the depths. It drops off the edge like a cliff. Dry land to water’s edge dropping to incalculable depths immediately.”
“Amazing.” Danica noted. “Not unlike the Marianas Trench off the coast of Australia.”
“Sure.” Hayden noted with sarcasm.
The Elder said something else and Hayden had to pause to confirm it.
Hayden turned to Danica. “He says the lake water burns, both hot and cold.”
Danica offered a quizzical expression. “How is that possible?”
“Until a week ago, we were trying to figure out how there could be an island without a sun, so whatever it is, it’s obviously possible.” Hayden responded.
“We call it Fire Water.” The Elder explained.
“I’ve never heard of it.” Danica replied.
“Our God created it as their prison.” The Elder offered.
“So let’s go with they have no flipping clue.” Hayden winked as he turned to Danica. “See, no colourful metaphors.”
Danica was not satisfied with the answer, but she also smiled at the fact Hayden was trying to change. In fact, as she thought about it, the only reason he was doing it was for her. It made her feel a little good inside.
In those seconds, the Elder turned his wrist over and held up his inner forearm. The skin was smooth, almost like glass, and hard, scarred along the edges.
Hayden gestured to the arm as he listened to the Elder. “He says this is what the water did to him.”
Danica examined it. “It looks like he put his hand into a campfire.”
Hayden reviewed it as well. “I guess ‘Fire water’ is accurate then.”
Danica resigned herself to stop her speculation, at least until she could see the lake for herself. “So how do we get across it then?”
The Elder held up his two hands and moved them like he was using an oar in a canoe. “There are three boats. Each are crafted to protect the occupants from the water. Each boat can carry six. Under no circumstance do we leave a boat on the island. All come back or you will be forced to return for it.”
The trio nodded their understanding.
The Elder took on a most unpleasant look. “Please understand my words. I hold to my oath, while in this village and amongst my people, you will come to no harm…”
Hayden could feel it. “I sense a ‘but’ coming here.”
The Elder continued. “But like your crew, we will never stop those who wish to go to the island. If you seek out its power, you must seek out its Horror.” The Elder’s smile stiffened as he spoke. “But if you or your friends try to leave the island with the Horror, know our vow still holds firm…”
Danica dreaded what was about to be said.
“Thus for such a crime, you will all share the fate of those who tried before you.” The Elder said it so calmly, so matter-of-factly, it was utterly frightening, clearly communicating, the price would be their lives.
The Elder then smiled anew and clapped his hands. “But if all you have is curiosity, though we feel it is foolish, go as you will.”
Hayden leaned back and finished his beer, giving the bottle to an excited young teenager who wanted to have it. “Not the warmest sendoff I’ve ever had.”
The Elder seemed to be considering something. He spoke to one of the warriors to his left.
The warrior seemed shocked at the suggestion, arguing back.
The Elder repeated his remark, more firmly, cutting off the warrior with a look.
The warrior bowed his head and departed.
“What was that all about?” Danica asked Hayden.
Hayden looked on with some confusion. “I’m unsure. But he told the warrior to bring us something.”
“What?” Carlos asked.
“We’ll find out shortly I suspect.” Hayden replied.
The warrior returned, still sporting a dissatisfied look on his face, carrying a small leather canteen, approximately the size of a hardcover novel. It had a small cap on the top, sealed by some form of dried sap and looped by a long leather strap which allowed it to be carried over the shoulder.
The Elder took it gingerly and extended it to the trio.
Hayden gestured for Danica to take it.
Danica did, giving it a small shake, feeling the liquid inside splash about. She turned to Hayden. “About half a litre of whatever it is.”
The Elder gestured to the cask in Danica’s hands.
“This will protect you from the Horror.” The Elder explained. “In the event one attacks. It will repel them. But please know to use it sparingly as this small quantity took us two years to procure and create.”
Carlos and Hayden motioned for Danica to keep it.
Hayden noted to Danica to consider this a very great gift as the tribe are entrusting us to our mission and giving their only defense to virtual strangers, when they could be saving it for themselves.
Danica offered a genuine thank you to which the audience all bowed their heads.
“And know this.” The Elder lectured. “Though potent, it does not last long, so if utilized, retreat should be your only option.”
Hayden gave a thumbs up. “Run away… Consider that our number one plan.”
The Elder finally commented as he rose, readying himself for bed. “But make no mistake, do not underestimate the Horror. If they awaken, all is lost.”
The trio took the warning to heart.
Within seconds, one of the warriors came out of the woods. He sidled up to the standing Elder and whispered to him.
Hayden frowned as he listened. “It appears four giants are approaching from the west. According to the scouts, they will reach the cave entrance by tomorrow afternoon. They are mired in the deep woods and marsh.”
Danica looked shocked. “You mean the Thornes?”
“Know any other giants?” Hayden queried.
The Elder spoke again.
“The Elder has advised us to get some sleep.” Hayden translated. “He claims a better rest before facing the island is vital to our success.”
Carlos nodded. “Then we’d better get some sleep. So we can rise early.”
They all, the trio, the Elder and the audience exchanged messages of good night and many turned, stumbling back to their camps and tents of ramshackle huts.
The Elder took Hayden aside and whispered something. After a few seconds, the Elder pulled back, his face an expression of dismay. He shook his head and departed for his bed into the night as the remaining fire was dying out.
As they departed, Danica came up to Hayden’s side. “What happened?”
Hayden nodded. “He was warning me of the cave system going down and its vast complexness. He was going to explain to me how to find my way down until I showed him the map on your Smartphone.”
Danica patted her back pocket in dismay realizing it was gone. “Did you steal my phone?’
Hayden gave her a sour look. “Steal is such as harsh word. I prefer borrow.”
Danica snatched it back and pocketed it in the front of her pants this time.
Hayden continued. “When I informed him of the chamber and the cave map, he was shocked. But he was pleased to hear it was destroyed. All he could say was ‘I knew that son of mine would do something foolish like this. If he had only stayed at home with his family.’ And then he left to bed.”
Danica found her left eyebrow rising. “Son? But the chamber is over four hundreds years old.”
At this Hayden could only smile and shrug. “I’m only repeating what I was told.”
The trio shared a look of quick understanding, some things were never meant to be found.
Danica stood, motioning her departure for sleep. “Then come tomorrow, we’ll find our Lost Island, followed by a way to take the prize from the Thornes for our very own, without inciting the tribe into killing us.”
“Nice Danica.” Hayden threw in. “Just what I needed to hear before bed.”
Carlos laughed as they all went their separate ways to crash for the night.