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The Atoll

“Fear not.”
Urshuk had decided to join the expedition to Nassajiin on a whim.
He had never expected to see such an undertaking in his time. Who would have? Even as a Dragon Knight, he would not be long remembered in the annals of history. Another vanguard against the menace of the draconic broods. The idea that such a momentous undertaking would be launched was too great a chance to miss.
He avoided the fact that this indicated he had only joined out of pride.
Despite his own motivations, the expedition was understandable. Contact with the natives, the serpentine Nagaj people, had been next to nonexistent since the Nagaj Age. But as the Age of Sorrows was drawing to a close, many were reconsidering the place of the mortal races in the world. They wanted to know; what they would know was of little consequence. Knowledge for its own sake was becoming ever more valuable.
Thus, the Adventurer’s Guild had proposed the expedition: five triremes of Adventurers and scholars knowledgeable in what little they knew of Nagaj culture from the few who dwelled on the continent of Akha would travel southwest along the Kashay Archipelago. The islands were rich in food and game, and would act as supply points for the fleet. They would follow the islands until they reached Nassajiin itself, and find whatever they could of the native cultures.
They had followed the plan to the letter, travelling along the abandoned islands until they reached one of the Forgotten Continent’s outlying atolls. There, they had found the first signs of the Nagaja.
A stone shrine, roughly cut from the surrounding rock, stood in the center of the shallow atoll. Elaborate patterns of coral decorated the shrine, and small statues seemed to have been placed in it as conduits to the gods that the Serpent-folk worshipped.
The voice had started soon after, whispering to anyone who drew near the stone structure. It spoke of not being afraid, but it was only making the fear of the men and women of the fleet more debilitating.
Urshuk frowned at the coral statue of a snake with four arms. Whatever inhabited the shrine, it seemed to be only loosely tied to the mortal plane.
“Continuing your vigil, Ormr-drengr?” An accented voice spoke from behind him.
Turning, Urshuk found Bjorn, one of the few Alfar in the fleet, examining a ceremonial spear from the shrine’s entrance. Few Alfar dwelled south of Alfarheim, and fewer still made efforts to truly join the societies of the realms that the Silver Horde, the dominant realm among the Alfar, wanted to conquer. Bjorn was among those few. Having lived among humans and Goblins for years, he had decided to take up the life of an Adventurer, and had been chosen as one of those sent with the fleet.
The knight nodded. “Aye. It makes me uneasy, hearing voices besides my own. Besides, if the Goblins got their hands on any of this, who knows what might happen.”
Bjorn grinned. “Don’t let Makla hear you say that. He’s quite excitable.”
Urshuk stared at the elf. “Makla… you mean the leader of the Goblins in our group? You know him by name?” Goblins were separate from the other races at the best of times. The wiry creatures were usually shunned from the civilizations of Southern Akha. Few knew a Goblin personally at all. Fewer knew them by their names.
Bjorn shrugged, frowning lazily. “When you’re an outcast, you naturally move towards the other outcasts. It’s how people work.” He turned to look at the atoll outside, leaning against the shrine’s entrance. “When are we leaving anyway, Dragon Knight?”
Urshuk walked over to stand beside Bjorn. “Soon. From what I heard the Captains saying, our fresh water stores will be full soon. Once they are, we’ll continue across the Jade Sea.”
“And once we’re across, we’ll find Nassajiin.” Bjorn continued to stare across the shallows. The semicircle of land around them had some plantlife, mostly reflecting the tropical region they were entering. “All-father above, I wish I’d stayed in Alfarheim, or even the Plains of Kurush. This heat is dreadful!”
The knight laughed lightly. “Then be glad you didn’t try to cross the Glass Desert. That wasteland is even hotter than this place, and not nearly as colorful.”
“Colors don’t mean much when you’re dying of heat.”
“Ah, you’ll be fine. Just think of all the stories you’ll be able to tell when this is over; all the epics they might write about this!” Urshuk took a stone from the sandy floor and cast it into the atoll. “You might be immortalized in song, for all we know.”
Nodding, Bjorn stood up straight. “I’d like that.” He grinned at Urshuk. “You think that my story will end with me marrying the Jarl’s daughter?”
Urshuk laughed. “Don’t push your luck.” Turning, he saw a woman in armor walking toward the shrine. The red color of the chainmail she wore marked her as another Dragon Knight.
“Knight Urshuk,” she said before turning, “Ser Bjorn.”
“Lady Maral.” Urshuk bowed. “What seems to be the matter?” Maral was his senior in the Order, and was one of the most combat-tested, having fought and slain eight dragons in her time among the Knights. The fact that three of those were fully grown to the age when they were generally considered too great a threat even for the Order further distinguished her.
“Nothing substantial, yet.” Maral frowned, the livid scar across her lips contorting with her face. “The mages want to know if there’ve been any changes to the situation with that voice. I honestly think that we should get out of here, but they insist that this might be a significant discovery.”
Urshuk quirked an eyebrow. “Nothing much, that I noticed. It seems to have stopped speaking to me for now.”
Bjorn nodded. “It’s been quiet for about an hour. I want to think that it’s decided to leave…”
“Never assume that something is gone merely because you can’t hear it.” Maral was looking at the shrine rather than either of them. “A dragon can be silent despite its size, so this could be something just as dangerous.” Thunder rolled across the atoll from a distant storm. “I need to convince the other captains to keep moving. This atoll won’t protect the ships from a hurricane. You two keep-” Her words were interrupted by the voice resounding in their minds, louder than ever.
“I am.”
The air rapidly grew cold, and the storm clouds seemed to rush to cover the small island.
Maral’s eyes widened at something behind Urshuk. Turning, he braced himself for anything.
What he saw was beyond even his best preparations.
It was in the form of a man, garbed in a long robe. A pair of feathered wings covered his feet, another covering his face. A third pair seemed to keep him in flight several feet above the ground. The air around him seemed to turn to ice, and everything surrounding him seemed to drain of all color.
Maral spoke first. “What are you?”
The winged man was silent for a moment. “I am.”
It drifted forward, the aura of cold and colorlessness moving with it. Urshuk and Bjorn backed up in a panic, trying to draw their weapons. By the time he had successfully drawn his axe, Urshuk was standing in the atoll’s shallows. He could see the storm getting closer with unnatural speed.
The colorless being reached its arms out as though to welcome a friend. “Oblivion is painless. Fear not.”
“Daemon…” Maral could barely speak out of shock.
“All-father protect… We need to get away from here! Now!” Bjorn turned, running for the nearest ship. The two Dragon Knights quickly followed, barely noticing that the few who remained on the atoll were running alongside them.
They quickly scrambled to scale the ramp leading to the deck, only allowing themselves to regain conscious thought once they were safely aboard.
The ships were in chaos. The fleet’s mages were casting whatever spells they could prepare, and every available archer loosed arrows in the direction of the Daemon.
“Brace yourselves!” A voice called out to every man and woman on the deck, moments before a gale of magical wind pushed the ships away from the atoll.
The Daemon hovered at the edge of the sea, seemingly calm, before a lance of white light shot out from its hand. The light broke the forward mast of the trireme Urshuk had boarded, causing it to collapse into the deck shattering wood and nearly crushing several crewmen.
“Why would a Daemon be here, of all places?” Urshuk turned to Maral. “Is it trying to keep us away?”
Maral looked up at the sun, its light barely shining through the fading clouds. “We’re headed southwest.” She turned back to him. “If it was trying to force us away from the Forgotten Continent, why did it force us toward it?”
Urshuk blinked as rain began to fall. He had no answer for her. Gulping, he turned to look at the atoll.
The Daemon was gone, nowhere to be seen.

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