Fantasy piece I've been fleshing out.
The sanctuary was bleak; Captain Alastair Cascade’s predicament was bleaker.
Arms outstretched, he took a few steps backward, booted heels coming into contact with the stone pedestal behind him. His eyes, bright despite the danger of his situation, darted back and forth among the oncoming templars, their weapons brandished.
Alastair drew a deep breath, calculating his odds for survival. The resulting figure was not optimistic. “Perchance there’s an alternative to impalement or imprisonment?”
The warrior clergy moved forward, silent.
Alastair’s mind shifted, the past few days’ events dominating his consciousness as he groped for a solution.
* * *
The sun was bright and the skies clear. Alastair Cascade stood at the helm of the Wanderlust, inhaling deeply.
“Day like this almost makes you wish you weren’t workin’, what say you, Kor?” Alastair looked over the wooden wheel at his second-in-command repairing nets on the main deck.
The hulking figure gave a snort, weaving dried hemp in an intricate fashion contradictory to his enormous stature. The minotaur was massive, dark-brown fur and two ivory horns jutting from either side of his head. A cloth patch embroidered with a silver rune covered his left eye. Kor Stonehoof was Ship’s Mate on the Wanderlust, a title rarely given to one not of the main races; he had earned Alastair’s trust time and time again, with both surprising diplomatic methodologies and not-so-surprising brutality.
“Cascade, keep your focus on that wheel; leave the important tasks to me.” Kor glanced up but soon resumed mending nets.
Alastair grinned. “As you will, Lord Kor, as you will. The fish tremble beneath the looming shadow of such devilishly designed devices.”
Kor snorted again, remaining silent. He had crewed the Wanderlust long enough to know banter with Captain Alastair was an exercise in futility. He had the utmost faith in Alastair but was aware menial tasks were something the Captain made a point to avoid. He also knew the routine maintenance required in an airborne vessel like the Wanderlust was almost as important as expertise in manning the helm.
The Wanderlust was a marvel, a true pinnacle among the assorted airships navigating the skies. It was one of the fastest and most notorious vessels weaving among the clouds. From the sky-domes of Alabaster to the subterranean halls of Deepstone, the Wanderlust was known, for better or worse. Captain Alastair Cascade and his crew had a reputation for procuring rare and wondrous items; their methods unknown but their results the stuff of legends.
Their current course led them towards a collection of ancient ruins far off the coast of Tarwyn, one of the largest seaports in the Eastern Realm. Long headed by a prosperous consortium, Tarwyn was a hotbed of political intrigue as each company vied for the upper-hand through means both legal and corrupt. The Wanderlust’s handler, an arrogant aristocrat named La Croix, had informed the crew the island ruins possibly housed a long-forgotten artifact pertaining to Tarwyn’s line of succession—"He who held the Scepter, held the Rule,” he would drone. The litany of leaders ruling Tarwyn stayed constantly at each other’s throats and believed the scepter possessed requisite power to unify the tumultuous state.
What La Croix always failed to mention, however, was how he attained such illustrious information. Truth be told, Alastair never cared one way or another. La Croix was only a means to an end; Alastair enjoyed the thrill of adventure and the omnipresent danger always nearby. The artifacts and treasures he recovered were amazing to be sure, but Alastair never cared about their importance, never put much stock in their worth. The higher the stakes, the greater the rush was a credo Alastair embraced whole-heartedly. And Alastair loved to gamble with his life.
* * *
It wasn’t long before the sapphire ocean and its shimmering façade soon subsided, a collection of islands breaking the horizon. They were loosely gathered and adorned with groves of trees, dotted with small hills. From this distance they looked insignificant and bare, not a fabled relic’s potential resting place.
A little research tends to go a long way. Alastair never researched areas he prepared to plunder; books were boring and boring was not his way. Besides, the Wanderlust’s resident know-it-all, Kaylin, would be more than happy to share her most assuredly intimate knowledge on each and every blade of grass upon these islands. He could almost hear her now.
Ages ago, a druidic tribe had worshipped in peace among these secluded islands after years of journeying across the main lands, restless in their pursuit of a true home. Upon reaching the coast, their leader, Elder Oakheart, began hearing an unfamiliar song, a song that filled his heart with longing and love. His eyes were drawn to the ocean. He told his people what he had heard, that he believed Mother was speaking to him and salvation lie just over the waves. They built rafts from discarded driftwood and soon headed out into the ocean, coming upon their destiny with spirits high and hearts full. At long last, they were home.
It wasn’t long before the first seafarers out of Tarwyn, then just a watering hole for pirates and ne’er-do-wells, happened upon the islands and its strange, earthen-hued inhabitants. The outsiders believed these islands held an advantageous position as an outpost and storage spot for ill-gotten goods. Attempting to parley with the druidic order proved fruitless and the vagabonds soon retreated back to their fledgling port-city, muttering dark words under ale-soaked breath.
The ensuing invasion was not kind on the Tarwyn pirates. They came ashore with sadistic optimism, outnumbering the druidic order three to one. Unbeknownst to them, they were helplessly outclassed. Steel blades and iron arrows were no match for the fury of the waves or the savagery of the earth as Elder Oakheart and his kin channeled their awesome natural powers bestowed by a gracious goddess. Earthen spires spewed from the ground, hurtling groups of men high into the air; funnels of water erupted from the seas and crashed down upon the unprotected backs of the charging force, battering them senseless.
Pirates held true to a man regarding one thing--easy marks led to easy living. These island druids were earth-shaping demons in humanoid form. Their retreat was madness, a singular intent on survival the only conscious thought as remaining renegades clambered aboard what few ships remained, heading out to sea expeditiously. The druids were not malicious. They allowed the pirates to escape. They had relayed a wordless message to the early inhabitants of Tarwyn, accentuating it with natural ferocity.
Returning to their homes, the druids settled into a life of tranquility and reverence. Temporarily.