Here There be Monsters
A build for Lands of Roawia (LoR) online role-playing game. LoR features motivating contests and character-driven stories.
The Spirit of Lenfald found anchorage just before nightfall in a wide cove just south of the mountains that loomed over this newfound land. Abner ordered the men to keep the ship some distance from shore to ensure that they would not run aground in some strange tide or come under attack by whomever (or whatever) might inhabit this place. From what Abner could see in the fading light, the waves appeared to break gently onto a sandy beach, which was dotted with palms and which quickly gave way to lush foliage. He could not make out much beyond that, but the land did seem hospitable and, as far as he could tell, uninhabited.
Captain Abner had decided to remain aboard the Spirit of Lenfald until dawn and then take a party ashore to search for water and food. Toliver had informed him that it would take at least a week for the experienced navigator to study the winds and tides here in order to estimate a heading for the return journey to Lenfald. Charting the seas and this new land would take even longer.
Abner was secretly very pleased at this news; he was eager to be back on solid ground where his knowledge and skills far surpassed those of anyone else on board. This was also the most exciting opportunity he had ever encountered- a chance to explore a place where no Roawian had ever set foot.
Scraff joined Abner at the rail. “I hope you’re itchin’ to get ashore half as much as I am, Cap’n,” said the marine merrily, slapping Abner on the back good-naturedly and undoubtedly leaving a large welt.
Abner grinned. “Aye, and if my good sense didn’t tell me otherwise, I’d have landed as soon as we made anchor here.” He looked down onto the fighting deck, where the men had hauled up the launch from belowdecks and were laughing and talking excitedly. “Have you selected your men for the landing party?” he queried.
“Of course,” replied Scraff, “Only the best. And they’re very eager for the sun to rise.”
Abner nodded. “And I with them. I think we will sleep poorly tonight, Scraff.”
It was indeed a restless night for all aboard the Spirit of Lenfald. The watch was set at half the men on deck in two-hour shifts to spot any possible signs of trouble. Many of those not on guard sat awake and talked quietly or threw dice in the dim glow of the lanterns.
Abner lay sleepless in his cabin, listening to the soft lapping of the water around the ship’s hull and the faint voices of his men out on deck. Thoughts raced incessantly through his head, denying him rest. He thought of the new day and what it might hold, if there were people in this new land and if they would be hostile to these newcomers. He thought of Serena waiting for him in Isil Oro, her beautiful eyes forever turned towards the sea. Would Toliver really be able to find a route home? Or would they forever be stranded here in this place, unable to return to Lenfald? That thought rattled Abner more than anything else. He sat up straight and sunk his face into his hands, sighing deeply. A knock came on his door.
“Come in,” said Abner hoarsely. He realized that he had not drunk any water in almost a day.
The door opened and Scraff stepped into the cabin. “I figured you wouldn’t be sleeping much either,” he said, drawing up a chair across from Abner’s bed.
“Nay,” said Abner ruefully. “And I doubted that you were getting much rest yourself. It seems that my mind is unwilling to quiet itself tonight. Sleep eludes me like a clever fox.”
Scraff chuckled. “Yes, much like a wily little fox. I wonder if there is anything much like a fox in this new land.”
Abner raised an eyebrow. “A fair point, my friend. Perhaps there are no creatures here like any we have ever known. And perhaps there are many things here that we have never encountered.”
“It’s the latter that is the greater cause for concern,” Scraff said casually. “Though I daresay whatever we encounter will be more pleasant than all the talk of this ‘royal wedding’ nonsense back home. Who really cares what dress Emmaline is going to wear? I thought declaring our independence would be enough to put a stop to the madness, but it seems to have only increased the gossip in the taverns. And Chartres! Don’t even get me started. We all know he’s a well-intentioned fellow, but who’s going to follow a king whose first act is to put his own ‘true love’ above the welfare of an entire land. I mean, he literally just looked at the young lady once-once! And now he’s in ‘love’ with her?! Um, HELLO! This whole business just has witchcraft written all over it!” Scraff hesitated as Abner burst into laughter. “What’s so funny?!” he demanded.
Abner regained his composure. “Tired of the nonsense?” he chuckled. “Why, you’re going on worse than any old maid!”
Scraff laughed heartily and grinned. “Guess I miss Lenfald a bit after all.”
As the first light of day broke over the eastern horizon, the landing party was already climbing into the launch. Abner took a seat and reached for an oar, but Scraff’s big hand interceded.
“Nay, Cap’n,” he said. “You don’t get to do that kind of thing anymore. Your place is right there,” he pointed towards the prow of the boat, “lead us.”
Scraff’s words weighed heavily on Abner as he moved towards his place at the bow of the boat. He understood perfectly what Scraff had meant. They were no longer going to be at sea, where the experienced navy men could guide Abner’s decisions. Land was solely the ranger’s territory, and the entire party would be dependent upon his skills.
The entire crew of the Spirit of Lenfald turned out to bid farewell to the landing party. The men shouted and waved as the rowers dug their oars deep into the waters and the little boat began its journey towards the shore.
Abner stood at the prow, bearing the colors of Lenfald as they flapped proudly in the wind. On his left stood Toliver, navigational instruments in hand, staring intently at the shoreline. To his right sat Bram, his tool bag slung across his body in case the boat was damaged during landing. Scraff waited near the stern with his marines, whose eyes scanned the shore, searching for any movement or signs of trouble.
It did not take them long to reach the shore. As soon as the launch ran aground, Abner leapt from the prow, his boots landing lightly in the surf. He splashed through the shallow water onto the beach, then raised the standard over his head and planted the colors firmly into the sand.
Scraff came up next to him. “That seemed excessively dramatic,” he quipped. “I should be more careful with my words to you.”
Abner chuckled. “Careful there, Commander, or it’ll be thirty lashings for you!”
Scraff shook his head merrily, glancing briefly around to ensure his marines were in proper position on the beach. “Alright, alright, I relent,” he said. “So what should we call this place?”
Abner shrugged, then pointed at the flag he had just planted on the beach. “ Let this place be known as New Lenfald!”
Scraff couldn’t help himself. “New Lenfald,” he said with a smirk. “How original!”
The rowers moved the launch out of arrowshot from the beach to await the return of the landing party. Abner fanned the men out behind him and began moving inland. The terrain was fairly easy to navigate, as it rose very gradually towards the tall mountains to the west and the foliage was manageable. Grasses and shrubs covered the ground but the trees stood in small clusters and did not impede the group’s passage.
Abner noticed that apart from a few strange-sounding birds calling into the morning air, the land was mostly devoid of sound. A few rustles in the grasses alerted him to the presence of small creatures below, but they stayed mostly hidden from view. Those he saw reminded him vaguely of animals in Lenfald, but they were distinctly different; a brightly colored lizard with an enormous sail on its back, a furry little rodent that took off squeaking through the brush, and some other totally foreign species.
The party continued to move north, keeping the ocean in view, the terrain remaining mostly the same. After several hours of walking Abner suddenly held up his fist. He motioned for everyone to get down, and the men dropped to the ground, hidden completely by the grass.
Scraff made his way slowly towards Abner. “What is it?” he hissed.
Abner put his finger to his lips, closing his eyes and turning his ear northward. He smiled with recognition and opened his eyes. “Do you know what that is?”
Scraff was perplexed. “What?” he asked incredulously.
Abner stood up and addressed the party. “There’s water flowing just north of here,” he said triumphantly. Come on, men, it’s probably fresh!”
The men got to their feet and continued cautiously forward, clutching their weapons tightly. Ahead of them grew a thicker line of trees and low vegetation, stretching towards the ocean to the east and far inland to the west.
“That’s got to be a river,” Abner stated, “And by the sound of it, there’s plenty of water for the crew.”
It was indeed a river, and quite a broad one at that. Its water rushed mightily east until it spilled out across the beach and into the ocean. The river was a beautiful sight to behold as it wound its way through the foliage, forming whitewater as it surged through the rocks.
Abner went down onto the bank and bent down, dipping a hand into the cool water and touching it to his lips. He tasted it carefully, then scooped out more of the refreshing liquid with his hands and drank. At that moment Abner thought it was the sweetest thing he had ever tasted. He turned back to the rest of the party.
“It’s safe, men!” he called. “Come and drink your fill.”
Toliver and Bram eagerly rushed to the water’s edge and were soon joined by half of Scraff’s marines. The others kept watch in the foliage until their comrades had finished drinking.
Abner walked back up the bank to where Scraff stood in the grass.
“We should send some of the men back to the launch so they can fill the ship’s water barrels,” said the ranger. “It’s been too long since the crew had fresh water.”
Scraff agreed. “Yes, we must do this immediately. But you have something else in mind for those of us who do not go?”
Abner looked inland. “I think we have a bit of exploring to do while the day is still young, no?”
“Aye, Cap’n. Let’s get these men on their way so we can continue.”
Bram and half of the marine contingent moved out and retraced their steps south towards the beach where they had landed. Scraff, Toliver, and the remaining marines formed up again behind Abner and they headed west, following the course of the river as it headed inland towards the mountains. They journeyed forward into early afternoon, talking quietly amongst themselves and pointing out various unfamiliar plants and animals as they noticed them.
As they walked the landscape started to change around them. The slope of the ground became steeper, the trees grew larger and closer together, and the undergrowth grew taller and thicker.
“It looks like we might be getting into the fringes of a jungle,” said Abner. “Keep close together and don’t lose sight of the man to the front or the side of you.”
No sooner had these words left Abner’s mouth than the foliage suddenly opened up into a small clearing. The ground was bare except for a strange brown rock and some bones laying about the area.
“Something big died here,” started Scraff, taking a step forward, “Those are some big bones. And what about this rock,” he continued, picking up the brown stone. “It’s a bit lighter than I expected.”
“Scraff!” hissed Abner. “Those bones aren’t all from the same animal. And look! They’ve been scarred by teeth!” He drew his sword quickly.
Scraff dropped the rock he was holding and it hit the ground with a hollow thump. He reached for his sword and a terrifying bellow roared out of the foliage before them. Heavy footfalls pounded towards the clearing from the far side and the men could hear plants and small trees being trampled by whatever approached.
“What in all Roawia…” said Toliver fearfully.
“I have no idea,” replied Abner. “But whatever it is, it’s huge and it’s angry!”
Another deafening bellow pierced the air, much closer this time, and the foliage just ahead of them began to shake.
“Brace yourselves!” yelled Scraff, his sword pointed menacingly at the bushes in front of him.
The beast burst through the curtain of leaves and into the clearing, kicking up a small cloud of dust as it skidded to a halt in front of the men. Two large horns protruded from its beaked head, which protruded from the largest shell any of them had ever seen. It let out another tremendous bellow, turning its head towards each member of the party in sequence, as if demonstrating its superiority.
“What is that thing?!” yelled Scraff, keeping his blade pointed at the massive beast.
“I have no idea, but I think I know how to get rid of it!” replied Abner. “Everybody fall back slowly!”
Scraff look at Abner quizzically but motioned for his men to withdraw from the clearing. The beast stamped its foot but did not move towards them any more. When they were at what the thing considered a safe distance, it moved forward and nudged the rock that Scraff had picked up with its beak. A tiny head poked out of the rock, craning its neck around towards the beast. The rock suddenly sprung to its feet and scurried under the horned beast’s legs.
“It’s a little one…” said Toliver with wonder. “No wonder that thing came running- that’s the mother!”
The two beasts grunted to each other and moved back out of the clearing the way the larger had come. Abner sheathed his sword and breathed a sigh of relief.
Scraff spoke up. “So we just met a giant turtle with horns. Nothing serious,” he said, sheathing his own weapon.
“Tortoise,” Abner corrected. “Definitely a tortoise. And judging by those bones, it doesn’t exactly eat a diet of plants.”
Scraff shook his head. “Excellent. A giant carnivorous horned turtle. And you wonder why I like staying at sea.”
“Tortoise,” replied Abner. “Let’s call it the bull tortoise, since it charged at you like that.”
“I’m touched. You named an animal kind of sort of after me,” said Scraff.
“Don’t start thinking you’re special,” jabbed Abner. “Now I think this is our cue to head back to the launch. We’ll sleep aboard the Spirit of Lenfald tonight and come ashore again at daybreak with a larger party and enough supplies for a multi-day excursion.” He started off towards the sea. “And no more picking up rocks, Scraff!”