Storytime – Into The Depths: Chapter 1
Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. I have however been staring at and poking at this story for so long now, that I figured I might as well release it as the first chapter of a story I truly hope to be able to keep going with. I know how such aspirations have gone in the past though, but if I ever hope to write a book, I need to train myself in how to focus on my fiction-writing as well.
Now, this story is part of the same world as the Wulf Manor introduction I did some months back (blimey, over half a year). I’ve tried to write it so that you don’t need to read the introduction to still follow, and hopefully enjoy, the story, but if you do want some more background it’s there.
With that said, I will just add that any input you want to offer is accepted, and if you don’t feel like it I’ll just keep writing as I see fit.
It has been said that war never changes, but what about the warriors that fight them?
The skies have gone black from all the smoke, even though it’s not supposed to be more than late afternoon at the most. The fighting has ground to a standstill, but the baron’s forces are still holding the high ground. Both sides have several mercenary companies in their employ in addition to their standing forces, but neither the baron nor the arch-duke have been able to tip the balance in their favour.
While the fort is not as grand as it used to be, it’s still good cover and makes for an excellent staging area. Colonel Bruner looks over his soldiers as they maintain their weapons. Smoke has obscured helmet visors, dirt has gotten onto power packs and the servos of the mechanised support have taken some bad hits. All in all they’re doing alright. They should be able to hold out till nightfall, which should allow them some rest till morning.
He heads over to the people on watch to check their spirits. Everyone seems to be weary after today’s skirmishes, but at least they’re still alert. He even gets a glimpse across at where the Maroon Llama mercenaries are holding out. No one he’s asked has had the faintest idea what a ‘llama’ is, but the company are good fighters, so it’s surely a fierce beast. Their snipers seem to be taking pot-shots at the enemy lines, and he wonders if they’re actually hitting anything. Sniper fire is not uncommon, but it always seems to be more testing than going after real targets. It takes a skilled shooter and the right angle to pierce the reactive forcefields. Some poor sod does get taken out from time to time of course.
He risks a glimpse down towards the enemy lines. Are they moving around down there? He pulls down his night-vision goggles and toggles them on. Something does seem to be happening. Perhaps they’re packing it up for the day. He wouldn’t blame them- a flash? Have they set up a new-
His thoughts are interrupted as a massive explosion hits the mercenary position. The forcefield held, and the Llamas are scrambling to respond. In the corner of his eye he catches another flash. “Get down!” is all he has time to yell before they’re hit. This one didn’t breach the forcefield either, but the air smells of ozone and the ground feels slightly unstable. That felt like a magical blast. Bruner gets to his feet along with the rest of his unit and looks down towards the enemy again. They’re charging up the hill! Madness! What are they hoping t- Wait…
A chill races down his spine as he adjusts his goggles to zoom in on the charging force. It’s not the whole enemy force, it’s a single company. The arch-duke has called in the wolves; meaning he is either desperate or fed up. Damn they run fast. They had been hoping the Clan would stay out of this conflict, but they had of course had to consider that they might show up and made some preparations. Hopefully it will be enough.
“Alright soldiers, incoming wolves, you know what to do!” He fires a flare into the air to alert his superiors. “Set up your flame-throwers, boost the shields as much as you can, get your amulets out and by all that is holy, don’t let them get too close!” His troops are already moving with discipline and precision and get everything set up promptly even as more blasts pound at their forcefield.
“Ready or not, here they come!”
Summer is nearing its end by Mchengi lake, but the air is still warm enough to encourage all the insects to fly free. The sun is breaking through the light cloud cover in several places, creating several sparkling spots on the water’s calm surface. Several of the local fauna stick close to the water in the heat, though the bugs threaten to consume them in their frenzy. Some of them hang around close to the rivers to attempt to scoop up any fish travelling close to the surface. A few opportunists even dive into the lake proper, as the heat tends to drive the bigger and potentially dangerous fish further down.
Near the southern tip of the lake people are scrambling around a craft sitting in the water. The deep-water exploration craft Humbago is nearly ready to go. The Dylarn Institute had finally gotten both the funds and permits to find out how deep the lake goes and what is hidden down in its depths.
Tleeren feels honoured to have been chosen as captain of the Humbago. It won’t be his first exploration mission, but there is great prestige in it, and he really does love his field of work. There might be lifeforms they’d never even seen before down there! And the craft itself is a marvel of modern engineering. It can hold six crew and carry supplies for nearly a month. There’s a vast range of advanced and basic gear on-board. Theoretically it can resist pressure halfway down to the planet’s core, but even with a pressure chamber that’s hard to test absolutely.
It hadn’t been easy getting the funds, and it had taken a lot of coaxing to get the permits in order as well. Mostly because the government officials had been skittish about actually asking the landowner, for reasons he wasn’t privy to. Since they had gotten permission the day after they finally asked makes it even more of a mystery to him.
It’s not something he’s spent a lot of time pondering, but considering the company present he can’t help it. The landowner herself is here with her mate and two children. They’re watching the scientists and launch crew get ready. Speaking of new lifeforms; they are among the strangest Tleeren has ever seen. He has difficulty imagining where they’re from, but thinks it must be far away indeed. How do they manoeuvre with just two legs? Knoureen has joked that the tails they all have are their third legs, but the captain doubts that’s true. Sure, they likely help with balance, but they don’t look like they can support much weight. Besides, the youngest child doesn’t seem to have one at all, but perhaps they only grow them when they get older.
And though you’d think having just one pair of eyes would restrict eyesight; his observations indicate they have very sharp vision. He doesn’t have any definitive evidence for that yet, but he’s feeling very certain of his theory. They seem to notice every detail of the launch even though they’re a distance away. In addition they all seem short, especially the women, who aren’t even as tall as the man, but since he hasn’t seen anyone else of their species he doesn’t really have a basis for comparison. He does know that the xeno-biologists at the Institute would give up their hearing to be able to study even one of the aliens.
There are a lot of stories going around about these people and the surrounding area, some of which have reached as far as the capital. While most of them are certainly mere superstition and exaggeration based on a lack of understanding, he can’t help but wonder if some of it might be true.
Some say that they came here because they are wanted criminals among their own people. Others say they are monsters that hunt our people at night. Both of which are ludicrous, of course. The government would have made sure all was in order before allowing them to settle down. There are several stories about how the landowner herself is a witch, and now that he’s seen her, he is more inclined to believe there’s something supernatural about her. She seems to stand out even among her family. And the woods appear to have changed since she arrived. People talk about hearing voices and seeing mystical happenings in there now. He had dismissed that as scaremongering until he came here himself, but there does seem to be something special about the forest compared to any others he’s been in.
He turns his attention away from the surroundings and onlookers and walks over to his second-in-command.
“How are things proceeding, Taklee? Are we still on schedule?”
She looks up from her datapad. “Yes, captain. We should be ready to launch by tomorrow morning. Have you greeted our audience yet?” she asks while glancing over at the aliens.
“I am not sure what to say,” he grunts uncomfortably. “Do we know for sure that they even speak our language? Or what their greeting customs are? Surely the Institute should have predicted that they’d come out and watch.”
Taklee’s shoulder plates flutter lightly with amusement. “They’ve been living here for years, I highly doubt you’re going to cause some diplomatic incident at this point. To be on the safe side, perhaps you should skip the touching, in case you’re allergic. One never knows with all that hair.” She keeps her tone remarkably straight and he eyes her for a moment before he slumps with resignation.
“Fine. I guess it wouldn’t be nice to skip the courtesies. The Director might tear my spine out.” His eyes smile wryly before he turns around and heads over in a relaxed stride.
Most of them turn their gazes to his approach, and he gets the definite feeling that the white-maned daughter is sizing him up. The youngest child seems so transfixed by the Humbago he doesn’t even notice Tleeren until he stops in front of them. Though his instincts are telling him it’s rude he has little choice but look down at them, and he entwines his right arms in the most neutral, yet respectful greeting gesture he can think of.
“Greetings, Lady Wulf. We- ah… we did not expect you and your family would be coming to spectate, so we have not prepared a tribute.” He chooses his words as carefully as he can and tries to pronounce her name as he’d heard it. He feels woefully unprepared and slightly annoyed at his lack of insight into proper procedure for these things.
In response she uses her tail (it didn’t look that long from a distance) with her single right arm to mimic his gesture. “Greetings!” she says in a heavily accented tone. Either she’s not using any sort of translator, or a really bad one. She also bares her teeth at him, which he is uncertain how to interpret, but since her eyes are smiling he assumes it’s a positive gesture among her people. Or she might be about to eat him.
“You would be the leader then? The captain?” Her slow drawl is somewhat fascinating, and he wonders again where these people are from as he inclines his head affirmatively in response.
“You are our guests,” she continues. “So surely the burden of a welcome should be on my back.”
He ponders her choice of words and guesses that this is simply a way in which their customs differ. “No need, Lady Wulf,” he assures her. “We already have everything in place. We do not wish to be a burden of any sort.” This causes her to curiously wave her left hand back and forth in a manner he doesn’t recognise.
“Nonsense, I do not want to be a bad host. I have a reputation to think of,” she states quite matter-of-factly. With all the rumours going about, he wonders exactly which reputation she’s speaking of. Then she presents him with a large wicker basket covered in red cloth. “I made this for you and your crew. Please take it, I insist.”
He feels a little helpless as he accepts it, as he knows it would be bad form to reject a gift. It’s noticeably warm, even in the summer heat, and there’s a strange odour coming from under the cloth. “Thank you. Erm…” He wonders whether it would be impolite to look under the cloth right away.
“They’re called cinnamon buns,” she helpfully explains (she probably notices his bewildered look) and bares her teeth again. “I made sure all the ingredients I used were not toxic to your people in any way.” The captain feels a bit dumbfounded by this proclamation and all he manages to do is thank her again and excuse himself after a round of introductions.
Her mate, Hamish, simply nodded and gestured with his long ears as a greeting. Tleeren wondered if they were even the same species now that he saw them up close. They looked somewhat similar, but the mate had a short covering of hair all over his body instead of clothing, and a much slimmer tail. The daughter, Lyka, raised a hand with an open palm straight up, a gesture he had only seen used to signal danger before. And the son, Weylin, half-hid behind his mother and stared at the captain with wide eyes, something he did his best to ignore.
He peeks under the cloth as he walks back towards the craft. Some sort of pastry with a curious smell. He had never heard of this ‘cinnamon’ before, and wondered if it was just a name, or the source of that smell. Maybe he could convince one of the others to try one first. For science, of course.
“How did it go, captain? And what’s that you got there?” The curiosity is Taklee’s voice is evident as he gets close to her, and he scrapes his hind leg against the ground to show his confusion.
“It was quite weird, number one. They’re the first aliens I’ve tried to have a conversation with. I couldn’t tell you whether it went well or badly. As for this…” He holds up the basket and lifts the cloth to let her see. Her expression lets him know she’s caught the smell.
“The Lady called them ‘cinnamon buns’. I have no idea what they are, apart from some sort of pastry.”
Taklee reaches out and picks one of them up. “Well, they’re warm. And soft. That smell though… I haven’t sensed its like.” Now it’s his turn to flutter his shoulder plates as she puts the ‘cinnamon bun’ back in the basket.
“I was assured they were not ‘toxic to our people’, which doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. Perhaps we can get one of the junior researchers to agree to an experiment.”
“What did he say, mummy?” Weylin pipes up after the alien captain is sufficiently far away. Rita reaches down and strokes her son’s head gently.
“He just wanted to welcome us, sweetheart.”
“Did he like the buns I helped make?”
Rita smiles as she recalls how Weylin ‘helped’ by tasting the buns both before and after they went into the oven.
“I’m sure they’ll all love them. We’ll ask them when they come back up.”
“I’d rather ask about how they’re… equipped,” Lyka chimes in and giggles, and her mother rolls her eyes.
“Maybe you should go into town and investigate sometime,” she retorts and her daughter blushes.
“I don’t even speak their language…” she mumbles and tries to turn her face away from everyone.
“Well, that’s not my fault, is it?” Rita teases and hugs Lyka from behind. “Besides, we do have translators somewhere in the house if you really wanted to,” she continues. Hamish puts a hand on her shoulder and she relents, releasing her daughter (who is quite red now) and leaning back against him instead.
They watch the alien crew work for a while before he speaks up. Lyka has walked back towards the house by this point; her curiosity satisfied.
“Are you sure you really want to follow them?”
She notes the hint of concern in his voice and twists around to give him a kiss.
“Yeah, it should be interesting. And don’t worry, I seriously doubt there’s anything bigger or badder than me down there.” She offers him a self-assured grin, and he sighs lightly before kissing her again. Weylin has gone back to watching the preparations of the deep-dive vessel with rapt attention, so Rita settles down with him and her husband, and takes out their packed food and they make it a small picnic. Once the little boy falls asleep they scoop him up and take him back to the house while the sun reaches for the horizon.
“I’ll be in the study preparing tonight, love,” she says to Hamish after they’ve put Weylin to bed. “Don’t wait up for me. I’ll wake you before I leave.” She smiles warmly at him and he draws her into a long kiss before letting her go.