Meanwhile, on a nearby Island…
The old buzzard hag cast the bones.
“Death…” “War…” “Betrayal…” she croaked out what she saw. “The gods are troubled. Bring me my bowl!” she said without looking at anyone. A mirrored bowl was placed in front of her, and she peered into her reflection. After some time she spoke once more.
“The botts are not our friends. They are an abomination and must be cleansed from our land,” she said as she spat on the mirror.
“And you will lead us.” She turned and pointed at me.
“For the nest,” I said wondering why she would pick me.
I was not that high on the chain of command. My commander leered at me and scowled.
The only one that outranked the General was the Seer. She had been leading our people since the Fall.
“Make your plans…summon the pack…take down that Airship,” she said as she turned to go.
My commander walked towards me; this was going to be uncomfortable.
“I don’t know why she picked you. My guess is this is a suicide mission and she can’t afford to lose someone of value,” he said and laughed a little…a little too hard at the end. “You can have your pick of the men. If you have any sense you’ll take Braun. He’s a good strategist.” He summoned a Keeper, “Make sure he gets what he needs: weapons, ammunition, food. I’ll be in my quarters. Keep me posted,” and he walked off.
“Send for Braun. We will meet in the Sanctuary,” I heard myself say. “We must prepare for war.”
The Sanctuary had not been used since the Island Raids when the last Seer pronounced war. We had built great ships to cross the treacherous waters to bring back our spoils. Riches and treasures were plentiful in those days, and men had purpose. These days most of the fighting was between Clans and spread us thin; this would unite our people once more.
I myself had always enjoyed the times the botts would drop off their gifts and technologies. But, if the Seer says they are our enemies, I will wipe them into oblivion and bring honor to my Nest.
In the middle of the room there was a great Fellwood table. At its head a chair that had been grown and woven together from its saplings, forming an intricate throne. I heard footsteps and turned to see Braun enter the room, his tail high showing he thought himself above me.
“Greetings, Grim,” he said and gave a short bow.
“Braun,” I nodded, not knowing if I should remind him of his tail. Technically he was above me, but this was MY mission. I decided to let it go for now; no use getting on his bad side.
“By my estimates, the Airship should be coming in the next few days. If we don’t show up to greet them, they will think something is up.”
“Agreed,” said Braun. “Best to make everything look normal and take them by surprise. Who knows what kind of technology they have to defend themselves.”
“Their Airships have cannons on the side, if memory serves me. I’m not sure if they have any type of personal weapons,” I said as I pulled out the drawings of their ship from the archive.
“The General suggested we not damage the ship. We can use it to fly to their Island and wipe the rest out.”
That was a great idea, and I’m sure the General wants that ship. But, if I have it under my control, there might be ways to use it to my advantage.
“I will take that under advisement,” I said, although I knew it was the best course of action.
Over the next several hours, we formulated a plan that I thought had a good chance of working. The General was right, Braun was smart… too smart. I could tell he had something else working in the back of his mind. I’m not sure what, but I plan on watching my tail.
“Let’s call it a night,” I said with a yawn. “We have a good plan. I think the rest will work itself out. Let me know as soon as that ship is spotted.”
“For the Nest,” Braun said as he turned to go.
“For the Nest.”
When I made it home, the light of the fire was low and my mate made a hushing motion.
“Don’t wake the pups,” she whispered.
Our pups were still young and pink, not yet forming any hair. Their small eyes had only opened a few weeks prior. Six strong, healthy pups. Our life had not consisted of much sleep lately, so I made sure to speak as quietly as I could.
“The Seer chose me to lead a mission against the botts,” I said trying to keep my excitement down.
“What!” she said, a little too loudly as one of the pups started to fuss.
I waited a little bit before going on, making sure they went back to sleep. “I know” I continued, “it’s quite the honor, I will bring honor to our Nest.”
“Honor? I don’t give a rats tail about honor, you better bring You home to our Nest,” she said and I could see her eyes welling up with tears.
The Clochenraith were once feared among the Islands, we took what we wanted and took our spoils. But since the Great Fall, our land had been cursed, and now our soil could not produce the great trees needed to build our massive ships. These new flying ships would bring riches and glory back to our people, able to cross the waters with ease and bring back the missing artifacts.
The tale is that when the Fall had taken place it mutated things, us, to be exact. It’s said that Thim, the leader of a great tribe of warriors never went anywhere without his pet rat. One day, after coming back from the conquest of a nearby Island, Thim had noticed a strange Artifact that was oddly like the one on our own Island. When he placed the two Artifacts together, a shockwave went out across the land that mutated us into the creatures we are today. They tried to reverse it but nothing ever worked. It is believed that the other Islands hold the other Artifacts, and once they are all brought back together, they will restore our people. Our world now looks nothing like the tales of old. Everything that was alive before the Fall has turned into something… else.
“It’s okay, Martha,” I said. “I’ll come home, and with more riches than you and I can imagine. Now, I need to rest.” I put aside my uniform and snuggled into our nest. I was hoping sleep would find me easily tonight, but my mind was still racing from the day.
I woke up with a start. I must have slept through the night. The littles started to squirm and fuss.
“The ship is coming,” the messenger said.
“I’m coming,” I said, still in a hushed voice nodding at my sleeping pups. He turned to go and I quickly put on my clothes.
“I’ll see you soon, my love,” I whispered and kissed my sweet Martha goodbye.
“For the Nest” she said with a sigh. “I’ll see you at the Gathering.”
“For the Nest,” I replied.
As I got to the beach I could see the small ship in the distant horizon. It wouldn’t be long.
“Commander,” said a short tail. “We have set up a command post close to the beach. This way…” he snorted. I could hear his chainwhip as it drug on the ground behind him.
I could feel my blood boil with excitement. I hadn’t seen real action in years. The Pig corporal stopped and opened the tent door. I walked in to find the General and Braun looking over a makeshift table.
“Nice of you to make it,” the General said with disdain.
“I thought this was my mission, General. There was no notice otherwise” I said without thinking.
“These are my men…” He started to say more, but the Seer walked in.
“Calm down, General. Please, leave us,” as she motioned the door to him. Reluctantly, he left, but not without a parting scowl.
“You better not blow this, Grim,” he said walking away. A harsh reminder of the weight that was on my shoulders.
“Grim, come, sit down,” she said. Her rickety bones looked like they would fall off her body as she sat into the gnarly chair. “Tell us your plan.”
From there, I explained where our men would best be hidden and make use of natural cover and how many botts we should expect, but honestly I had no idea if this would work. These things might blast us from their cannons or rain lightning from the sky. I’d instructed the first wave to use grappling hooks to secure the ship. After that, who knows what will happen.
As the day progressed, you could tell the men were getting agitated. All this waiting could play on your nerves, but it wouldn’t be long now.
The next moments were a blur. We had instructed women and children to cheer as the ship pulled up to dock, hoping all would look normal. But one of the men got anxious and released his grappling hook before the order was given. The hooks were anchored onto huge trees so the ship couldn’t get away. The first hook had taken hold and started to swing the ship about. Not knowing what to do, the officer gave the command to fire, but most did not reach the ship. It was a blur of tails, swarming up the ropes, making way to the ship.
The botts were definitely surprised, but they managed to get a few of the hooks off the bow sending my men to their death. That’s when the cannons began to fire. The ship was now sideways to the dock and in perfect position to fire upon us.
Sand and rock flew everywhere as the ship sent blasts from its cannons.
Women and children were screaming all around me, my thoughts turned to my family and all I felt was rage. I sprinted toward the nearest rope and made my way up to the ship. I didn’t have time to think as one of the botts came towards the rope to try and cut it off. I leaped over him and landed on the bow. My ascent must have spurred my men as the pack came over after me. I tried swinging my blade against the machine, but it did no good. I gave it a solid kick, and it crashed over the side. I needed to find my way to the steering mechanism and get this ship pointed away from that beach!
As I made my way to the back of the ship, I saw a bott in front of a large wheel, much like the wheel that turned a rudder on our old wooden ships. That has to be it, I thought to myself.
Two botts came around the corner, but they were no match for my pack. They swarmed the botts and threw them over the side. The bott at the wheel turned to retreat, but my men were too fast, trapping him and sending him over to meet his friends.
I grabbed the wheel and spun it about. I heard the cannons retaliate once more. Two blasts hit the beach: one laid waste where the civilians had been arranged. My wife! My Pack!! I couldn’t think about that now.
The massive ship swung into the dock, crashing into it, but now close enough for the remaining pack to board. Two botts made their way toward me. My anger swelled inside. I released a growl from the depths of my soul and flung myself into the air. As I landed, I spun and caught the first bott with my tail as I turned and ripped the arms off from the other.
“You killed my family! Murderer!” I screamed as I bared my teeth ready to finish him. A net was thrown over the bott from behind.
“Sir, the General wants us to immobilize them for further questioning.”
“Not this one,” I said and flung him over the side.
The rest of the pack was now aboard the ship. They made quick work of the botts, who put up little defense. We found a section of the ship with hundreds of deactivated botts and kept watch to make sure they did not awaken.
“Commander,” I heard a voice say. “We found your family…”
My worst nightmare had just begun. I will not rest until every bott is destroyed.
Many died that day, women, children, good men. I’m not sure if it was worth it…